As you all read yesterday, Riley joined our family in January 2002. He was about three or four months old (sometimes in our sentimental way we like to think he was born Oct. 14, 2001, the day Toby died), skittish, shy, suspicious, afraid of everything. He seldom made eye contact. He went his own way. He bonded with Boscoe immediately--truly, madly, deeply--but not with us.
His previous owners had done some housebreaking, and he has only had two accidents in the house, both within days of our bringing him home. The first wasn't really an accident--I looked around to let him out, couldn't find him, and then seconds later he bounded up from the basement, looking refreshed and cheerful. He'd have been whistling, if he knew how to pucker his lips. So I went down to see what he'd been up to, and found a small, neat fresh turd.
He needed obedience training. He didn't come when called, he didn't sit on command (though he did sit beautifully whenever he was waiting to be fed), and he definitely never stayed.
So I signed him up at Dog Days over on Grand Avenue, about four miles from our house.
Getting him there was complicated. He was afraid of the car, and even a short trip was fraught with problems. I'd put him in the back of my Subaru, he'd jump out again. I'd scoop him up and stuff him back in the car and try to slam down the hatchback before he could jump out again. He'd leap over the seatback and curl up on the driver's seat. I'd open the door to get in and he'd jump out ....
Once on the road, things got even dicier. Even though he was not yet bonded with me, he saw me, at least, as someone who might protect him when the chips were down. Or maybe it was a matter of "better the devil you know." In any case, he'd crawl onto my lap and shiver in fear as I drove down Lexington Parkway. At first, I found this charming, if cumbersome, but as the weeks went by and Riley grew, it started getting a bit dangerous. Especially when he got a little bolder and decided to stand up. On my lap. I'd shove him to the side with one hand, while steering with the other.
We finally made it to Dog Days, walked in the door, and Riley promptly screamed. The small front room was filled with Bernese mountain dogs, who were all just getting out of class. These are big dogs anyway--hulking and hairy--but from Riley's perspective, they were enormous.
The instructor said it was my fault for not clicking quickly enough, but I did the best I could. I worked on it at home, in the yard, in the park. If there were treats handy and he was hungry, he'd obey. No treats, no obedience, baby. (It is better now, but it is not perfect.)
On our last class, we got to show off how much our dogs had learned. This was a moment I had been dreading.
One couple didn't use the "come" command; they had taught their dog to come at a high-pitched "ooooo weeeee, oooooo weeee!" Their thinking was that at a dog park, crowded with dogs, it might be confusing for their golden retriever to hear "come!" shouted from people all over the park, but not many people would be calling "oooooo weeee."
And then it was Riley's turn. I brought him to the end of the room and made him sit. He sat, nonchalant, as though he could take it or leave it.
I crossed the room. Cleared my throat. It was do or die. "Riley, come!" I called, with as much warmth and enthusiasm and hope as I could muster.
Riley looked around the room in a bored sort of way.
And then the instructor said something that seared into my brain, flooding me with humiliation. "Uh oh," she said.
That was as far as we made it in class. There were two more sessions, but we never went back. I continued to work with Riley at home, and he's much better now--he comes when called, unless there's a squirrel or a cat in the general vicinity--but he's still pretty nonchalant about this whole obedience thing.
A couple of years later, I saw the instructor and her German shepherd at the dog park when I was there with Riley. Riley, please obey me, please obey me, please obey me, I pleaded, sending thought waves in his direction. Or, at the very least, don't humiliate me.
There were no incidents. Riley raced around the park, zoomed up the sides of trees after squirrels, the German shepherd went swimming. The dogs, thank god, ignored each other. I don't know if the instructor recognized me or not.