Saturday, October 8, 2011

go play!

Our boy Burns, Roger (brown), Jesse (b&w)

I am such a nerd for school that I am even nerding out over puppy class.  We've had two so far in the series of six, and already, as is my wont, I am thinking about signing up for more beyond this first course.  We did this same puppy training, called Sirius, with Jasper, and it's even better this time through.  We received a companion book and DVD in the mail yesterday, so I'm reading the book, taking notes, highlighting passages -- you know, straight-up geeking.  I know what we develop in Mr Burns now will last his whole life.  No pressure or anything, but seriously: the degree to which we're consistent in our puppy-training directly translates to how good a dog he will be, for life.

Like all school for me, puppy class is just so fun.  Well, duh, it's more fun that regular people-school since there are 10 puppies in the room, which provides for pretty much non-stop delight.  [The people, on the other hand, are fodder for another post, I'm afraid, along with people at the dog park.  Jeeeeeez.]

One element that makes puppy class a particular treat is that we have an EXCELLENT teacher.  Do you know how rarely I feel like I can call a teacher all-caps EXCELLENT?  Leaving aside yoga teachers, since I'm especially blessed in that area, I do feel like it's rare to come across someone as EXCELLENT as Erica, Mr Burns's puppy class teacher.  I mean this in all sincerity, even though the use of screaming caps might make it seem as though I'm being facetious.  It's just really and truly such an honor to be in the presence of someone who is so clearly doing what she is meant to do, so in her element when with the puppies and us newbie pup-parents.  She is completely masterful when teaching, and I particularly love how mindful she is of the time, always wrapping it up, neat little bow, in the 60 promised minutes.

Fortunately, Mr Burns finds her equally entrancing.  Otherwise, I'd be in that situation I was in with The Kid all those years ago, where I'd take him to Clean Well-Lighted Place for story-time on Sundays and then be mad when all he cared about was the muffin and running around, interfering with my listening pleasure as I sat there with the kiddies, mouth open, completely inside the story.  Nope, Mr Burns is into it, too.  Good thing.  He's so chill but also smart, a combination I aspire to.

And Mr Burns is hell-bent on being the best trained dog on earth, Canine Good Citizen, therapy dog, you name it.

There is just so much in puppy class that's valuable.  It's too bad there aren't puppy classes for parents of human children -- I'm telling you, it would be so useful, instead of just reading a book or two here or there and then figuring it out in the confines of your home.  There are just so many priceless lessons packed into the puppy training, which is all based in reward not punishment, in encouraging the behaviors you want with treats and praise, thereby minimizing those you don't.  It's completely not grabby, not angry, not punishy.  So refreshing.

Here's some great stuff we worked on last time, which I think translates well into other aspects of human life.

- Settle.  During class, where there are tons of distractions, other puppies, kids babbling, when Mr Burns is chill and settled, we are just pumping him treats and praising him for Good Settle.  How awesome is that?  Wouldn't you love it if somebody was giving you constant cookies for being all zen and shit?  I ask you: how can you treat yourself for your Good Settle?

- Point the butt at it.  During class, if things get out of hand, we are instructed to just point the butt at whatever it is.  So let's say if Mr Burns should inexplicably start barking at another of the dogs, we turn him around so that he's no longer facing him/her -- i.e., point his butt at it -- and boom, no barking.  Do it next time something is rankling you, making you want to bark: don't keep facing it.  Point your butt at it.

- Go Play!  When it's time for Mr Burns and a select few others to have their free-play, we take him down from our laps, all four feet on the floor, and as we're unhooking the leash, we say, quietly in his ear, "Go play!"  These words mark a threshold, give him permission to tear it up, go nuts, run, gambol, frolic and have fun.  Too often I can feel like everything I do has the same tone, is basically the same experience in a different location.  How different it is if I too say these words, as I'm untethering myself, Go Play!  Right away, I'm wagging.  You will be, too.

- Too bad!  Since this training is not about punishment but about positive reinforcement, with a lot of emphasis on the puppy puzzling out what's wanted (since they don't, doy, speak English), whenever something happens that is not what we want -- hard-mouthing, jumping up, snapping -- the response, as Erica demonstrates it, is to say, "Too bad" without rancor and walk away.  All Mr Burns wants is to be with us.  So he's figuring out that to get that, he needs to not do the stuff that generates a Too Bad.  I'm imagining myself, a la Erica, holding up a hand, spinning on my heel and walking way, tossing the Too Bad over my shoulder, at work, when something untoward happens.  How quickly might things change?  Why not, without rancor, walk away from situations that are spiraling out of control to allow for reflection, then a fresh start?

Necessarily there's more, but even these four little puppy class lessons make me just so happy.  The training is *always* more for the people, really -- we need to be trained in order to ensure we can train happy dogs perfectly suited for a domestic life filled with people, strangers, children, shoes and couches.

But I'm really thinking about the training totally differently this time, seeking what I might take away for my own self, too, finding a lesson in absolutely everything.

And since I'm being so nice and quiet, could somebody please bring me a treat?


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