Thursday, November 3, 2011

homework for life

We just got home from puppy class and I'm sitting here feeling sad that our six-week course is already over.  The full truth is that that hour has been the highlight of my week for the last few weeks. I have more thoroughly enjoyed that hour-long experience of being in a room with other puppies and their people and our genial teacher Erica than really truly anything that's happened to me for a long time.

That probably seems kind of sad, right?

But really, it isn't. What I love about puppy class is that while I'm in it, I am utterly incapable of multi-tasking.  It takes every bit of attention to focus on what Erica is saying over the noise of other people and their dogs and their kids and every ounce of coordination to manage the verbal cue, the hand gesture, the delivery of the treat at the precise moment.  It's thoroughly engrossing and also so very entertaining.  I know there are moments when I'm enjoying myself too much, laughing with too much abandon, having to remind myself to close my mouth while I'm listening to all of the instructions.

I love it.

Honestly what could be bad about being in a room with 6 or 7 puppies, especially because there are intervals in which we let them go, off-leash, and they run and roll and bite and play.  Being with dogs, being with puppies, always feels like such a treat to me.  It's so deeply pleasing to watch how they do things, and even more so to put my hands on them, pet their sweet heads, feel their bony skulls under my fingers.

Mr Burns was a little crazy in class tonight.  We're not supposed to feed our dogs before class so that they'll be more treat-motivated.  He was particularly nuts for treats tonight, a little nippy as I was handing them off to him, pumping him with goodies and Good Boy as he held his relaxed position in sit or down.  His main strategy when playing with the other puppies is to throw himself on his back, offering up his belly and neck, then rabbit-kicking his playmate in the head. He's good at some things, and on others he needs a lot more practice.

I guess that's one of the reasons I love puppy class so much-- it's that it really and truly makes a difference.  What we do in this class, what we do as homework, the constant repetition of the commands and gestures, the insistence on good behavior, matters.  It will make the difference between an out-of-control 70-pound monster or a docile giant we can take everywhere with us, not straining at every bit of stimulation, begging for food.

And of course, the training is mostly us.  We knew this going into it, having learned this lesson with Jasper oh-so-many years ago.  The training is mostly of the people, supporting us in being in the lead, in being consistent, in using positive reinforcement to reward the behavior we want, minimize if not eliminate that which we don't.

It's homework for life.

For a lifelong school-nerd, this is pretty much nirvana.

Our six weeks in class flew by, but we're already making plans to take the next session, beginning December 15th, on our way to ensuring that Mr Burns grows into a vgb [very good boy].  It's the least we can do for him.  And for ourselves.

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