As much as I had been looking forward to my three-week trip to California, I also felt reluctant to go. It seemed I was just starting to make a connection with Rocky, and then I left. Would I have to start all over again?
My first day back with her was on June 28. We were joined in class by the big Mastiff, Danu, and a new little herding dog named Fling, there for her first day of class. (It’s funny; training is just like going to a dog park. I’m learning the names of all the dogs, but not, so far, the names of the handlers. It’s impossible not to learn the dog names, as every command starts with the name: “Fling, sit.” “Danu, stay.” “Rocky, come.” You get the picture.
We started off as always with sits, the most basic command, then worked on sit/stays and down/stays, now up to 10 seconds. Danu was having a “I don’t really want to pay attention to my handler” day, so Jared, our trainer, was assisting with some stern corrections. Add that to the fact that Rocky looked at Jared the entire time we were in the room, and I was getting a little frustrated. It was as if I wasn’t even at the other end of the leash.
However, I knew this was mostly because I had been away, and she hadn’t seen me. It was a case of “Who are you again?” On top of that, I was feeling a bit “whooshy,” which is my short-hand way of saying I was weak and kind of on the edge of having a paralysis attack – which I did not want to happen. (Not that my preferences have ever mattered in the least.) To make matters worse, I had forgotten both my cane and my bottle of water.
As we moved on to other commands, Jared had me take Rocky into the adjoining training room, so there would be fewer distractions. I worked on straight line heels, where I say, “Heel,” lead off with the left foot, step one step, then stop, and Rocky is supposed to sit at my side. We also practiced “Comes,” where I stand in front of her, step back to the end of a loose leash with her in a sit position, say her name to get her attention, and BEFORE she moves, say, “Come,” and she is supposed to come and sit at my feet. Rocky was doing great on these two exercises – except every time Jared would poke his head in the room, she would do her “sit” backwards, facing him instead of me. Gaw!
Finally, it was the end of class, and we returned to the main room for our last exercise, the extended down/stay, where we stand next to our dogs for about 10 minutes. Sabrina looked at me and said, “Are you OK? Do you need a chair?”” I mumbled, “I’m fine.” The woman working with Fling said, “Are you just saying that?” To which I had to honestly answer, “Uh, yeah,” as I started to wobble. The kennel assistant, Laurie, and Sabrina both grabbed a chair and brought it to me. I guess it’s not as easy to hide what’s going on as I sometimes think.
On July 1, I returned to training, and Jared asked right away how I was doing. I happily reported I was feeling stronger. I found we were working with Fling again. Her handler immediately said, “You look better today!”
We increased our time on sit/stays and down/stays to one minute, and again worked on name/come commands and straight line heels. By the end of the class, I felt I had made that connection again, and Rocky was working beautifully with me. Jared said he would keep us in the Obedience One group for another week or two, then bump us up to Obedience Two. That means we’ll start moving out into the world, beginning our access training, getting used to people, elevators, electronic doors, cars – all those things a dog is not exposed to when training in a kennel.
Even more importantly, Rocky will start coming home with me soon, first for overnight visits, then longer stays, and eventually for good.
One of my favorite parts about these nights is this – whenever we enter the training room, Rocky runs up to give Ripley a nose kiss. Usually during the training session, I don’t use treats as a reward, except at the very end for new tasks. This drives Ripley crazy, because she is so food oriented. Why is that other dog getting little cookies? So as soon as we finish, I walk Rocky over to where Ripley is sitting, next to Sabrina, and give Ripley the “down” command, then reward her with a treat. Rocky always lies down, too, right next to Ripley. Double treat. That’s the way the evening ends – Rocky and Ripley side by side on Ripley’s blanket, with Rocky’s tail wagging madly.
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