Progress...With the Dog Not the Mother

I found a perfect parking space up front at the dog manners class. Grandma sat in the front seat so she could see all the action yet remain comfortable. Mom generously held Chase on his leash while I went to find another link for his S&M collar. It had gotten a little snug and I couldn’t put the collar on.

I noticed that no matter how early I arrived at class, the evil pit bull was always there first and eagerly checked out the doggie buffet. She also took a choice spot in the waiting area with a great view of all the dogs.

One of the instructors helped me add a link to the collar. A small dog fight broke out among three of the dogs in the waiting area. Another instructor reprimanded the owners and told them that socializing among the dogs was not allowed.

I found my mother by the minivan and we put Chase’s torture collar on. I then found a secluded place well behind the pit bull and away from the dogs who “socialized” too much. Mom sat at a picnic table with her book. About three weeks ago, I met another owner who arrived each week with his full-figured wife and their 10 month-old well-fed Golden Retriever. He always approached me and said hello to Chase and asked me all kinds of questions about my dog. He told me that Chase was so beautiful and sweet. Now I had visions of “PUPPY STALKER” running through my head.

This Sunday, Puppy Stalker approached me and began to pet Chase. He said that Chase would make a great running dog if I ever decided to take up running. I told him that Chase loved to run and was very fast. Puppy Stalker agreed and said that he was amazed at how fast Chase was when he was running with him in the field. Shocked, I realized that my dear mother apparently let a STRANGER run around the field with my puppy while I was adding a link to his collar! I sent an evil curse in her general direction and vowed never to trust her again.

Class was now in session so Chase and I ran over to join our quickly diminishing group. Down to five dogs now and that included Chase. First, we practiced all of the things from the weeks before. We got to walk our dogs in a circle to the commands of an instructor. Chase and I were really good at the “Slow”, “Normal” and “Fast” commands. Even the “About-Face” and “Halt” were perfect. It was on the “Turn Left” and “Turn Right” that the trouble began. For those of you who truly know and love me…”left” and “right” are not my strongest suit. I had the leash tangled up between both hands and was unable to look at them to determine which hand formed the “L” shape. This is the only way I can remember left and right. As an instructor approached us, I quickly explained that it was not the dog’s fault that I didn’t know my left and right. The instructors looked at each other and one nodded and said “handler error.” I also heard choked laughter coming from the picnic table where Mom was sitting alone. Her two small companions of classes past were absent.

Next we practiced figure eights. Because the aggressive dog class was so small this week, too, one of the instructors came over to our class to watch. I was actually grateful because he took one look at Chase and announced to the class and the regular instructors that “this dog was a hunting dog and was never ever gonna to want to walk slow”. I felt especially smug because the regular instructor always used her prissy terrier to demonstrate new and exciting moves. Her terrier, Katie, pranced around the arena on tippy-toes.

The instructors decided that our dogs were ready for a good citizenship practice run. While one instructor passed out the AKC Good Citizenship pamphlets to all five of us, the other explained that this was a great certificate to get because it could reduce your homeowners insurance if your dog happened to be on the aggressive dog list.

I glanced over at the Aggressive Dog Class and wondered why the pamphlets weren’t being passed out there. Basically, to get the certificate, your dog must pass a series of tests and then is declared a “good citizen”. Unfortunately you must use a regular collar while taking the test. I will need to gradually ease Chase off the S&M collar so he too can become a “good citizen”.

We then practiced a series of “stays”. First up was “Sit and Stay” for 2 minutes. Chase got very bored with this after 30 seconds and lay down to find a stick to chew on. I had to drag him back up. Two minutes seemed like an eternity when I constantly had to drag my puppy off the ground. Next was “Down and Stay” for 2 minutes. Chase was very good at this. Matilda the hound dog was down but in a position to “spring” back up.

The instructors stayed near her to see if this would happen. It didn’t. Finally it was the dreaded “Stand and Stay”. Most of the dogs did not do well and Chase was no exception. He would stand for 10 seconds and then sit. I will have to work on that.

While the instructors praised us and went into great detail about how much progress each dog had made, Mom yelled from the picnic table that she would no longer need the 2x4. One last class and the adventure will be over. I do find it strange that I have met a lot of new people and I can only remember their dogs’ names!


Boot Camp Distractions

Another Sunday and once more dog manners had arrived. Mom chose to stay home and help Dad drill more holes in the kitchen ceiling where they were attempting to hang a new light fixture. It wasn’t a pretty sight or sound so Grandma, who was mostly deaf but could still apparently hear them bicker, decided to go with Chase and me. She was happy with my parking spot choice and once more decided to stay in the car. The evil pit bull was grinning at Chase and eyeing me as we walked to the waiting area.

Chase was always very exuberant when we first arrived at the class as he thought all of the dogs were his friends. The trainer suggested that I take him off the puppy chow and put him on adult dog food. She thought that might help in calming him down. If only I could see five years into the future at that time, I would clearly know it was the breed and not the puppy chow. The six-year-old from last week came over to say hello to Chase and asked me where my mother was. I guess they hit it off. Disappointed that my mother wasn’t there, she perched on the picnic table alone.

A rather large lady waddled over and pet the pit bull. She kept telling the owner in overalls how sweet pit bulls were and how it was so sad that they were so misunderstood. The pit bull agreed because she kept grinning and I swear she had those clear blue eyes rimmed with red fixated on the woman’s throat.

Our class was super small because there was no Chihuahua, the Carolina dog was MIA, Sugar Pie was gone and the other small ball of white fluff had played hooky.

First we showed off our dogs’ figure eights. Then we proved they could stand. Next we walked in a circle and followed commands like “Halt” and “About-Turn” and “Left Turn”. I felt like I was in boot camp. It also didn’t help that I cannot figure out my left from my right. Never could and this class was no exception. Then we learned a new trick. It was called the “Return”.

The best way to describe it is your dog sits facing you. Then you take his leash and by doing fancy things with it in your hand and behind your back, the dog comes to you, walks behind your back and pops up on your left side and sits. It’s like a line dance almost, which I am not good at. It took me 7 years to learn the electric slide and I still have to look at my feet! I find it works much better after a few cocktails. Too bad I didn’t have a few before the class. My dog was smart and figured it out despite my awkward footwork.

Finally, it was time to play “Distract Your Dog”. This consisted of your dog sitting next to you and watching you. The instructors would come by and try to distract the dog. Fortunately I had plenty of Cheese Nips on hand and nothing could distract Chase. He was one hundred percent focused on my pocket.

Class was over, which was a good thing because Chase was on the ground chewing on a stick and basically acting like a puppy. As we walked back to the car, I couldn’t see my grandmother and began to worry. I opened the front door and discovered that she had put the seat back and was taking a nap. So much for grandmotherly comfort and Aggressive Dog Class gossip.

Chase got into his cage and took a short snooze. I could actually hear him snore. I wondered if he was dreaming as I drove back home.


Don't Hit Your Dog With a 2x4

Mom and Grandma accompanied me once more to witness Chase and me behaving ourselves in dog class. Grandma was especially pleased when I found a parking space right up front so she wouldn’t have to actually leave the car. Mom helped Chase out of the back of the car while I got myself organized. As I walked over to take Chase from her, I noticed that Mom was doing a crazy little Riverdance routine in the middle of the parking area.

Apparently she had been waiting patiently on a fire ant hill.

I took the dog and walked over to the waiting area, leaving my mother to the fire ants. The demonic icy-blue-eyed pit bull was already there and she was grinning. Did you know that pit bulls could grin? Well, they can. Probably happy to see more selections on the menu to attack. Her owner was there as well in his usual attire of overalls and a white t-shirt.

Mom walked up to me. She told me that she stopped the fire ants from crawling up her leg. I looked down and was horrified to see that she had pulled her white socks up over her black pant legs! This was almost as bad as the time I introduced her to someone and she had tucked her shirt into her underwear! Chase and I slowly eased away from “Knicker Mom” and found a relatively normal dog owner to chat with. Mom moved on to ask the trainer if a 2 by 4 board worked well in dog training. The trainer looked startled but another owner with my mother’s unusual sense of humor volunteered that it worked best with a nail in the end.

I pretended to ignore my mother and walked into the classroom area. Chase did not drag me this time. Instead he tried to sniff his way, which is apparently a doggie no-no so I now need to teach him the “No Sniff” command. Good thing he was neutered.

The lesson du jour was a figure eight. This is how it worked: two owners with their dogs pretended to be poles. The dog and owner doing the figure eight stood in the center and then wove around the “poles” in a figure eight pattern. My nine month old puppy was up first and I was super proud that he did it perfectly. Most of the dogs did it well with the exception of the Chihuahua drag marks in the dirt. Even Matilda, who now had a fancy S&M collar in a larger model, was behaving herself. I heard my mother’s voice close by. She apparently found me and was now chatting on the picnic table with an audience more her own age: a six-year-old and a twelve-year-old. To my dismay, her pants were still tucked into her socks. The kids didn’t seem to mind. I hope she didn’t start a new fashion trend.

Next up was to get your dog to stand.

This seemed easy in theory but we had been telling our dogs to “Sit” or “Down” when they had been standing perfectly fine in the beginning. Now try to get them to stand. I told Chase to stand. He looked at me and sat. I told him again. He lay down. It wasn’t just me. Soon everyone was hauling their dogs up and I was extremely grateful that Chase weighed merely 32 pounds!

As we left, our instructors reminded us once again of the three P’s”: Practice, Patience, and Praise! They may add another one soon: Please don’t hit your dog with a 2 by 4!

A New Model

While I was on vacation in Maine, Brad generously offered to take Chase to his manners class. I called Brad that Sunday afternoon to remind him. He said he was looking forward to it, although I sensed a touch of sarcasm in his voice.

Then I headed off to Kennebunkport, Maine. I was unable to speak to my “substitute” until later that night. Since everyone else had turned in early (overdose of Kennebunkport shopping) the only place inside the house with a little bit of privacy was the bathroom. I suppose I could have gone outside with the icy cold tundra-like weather but I am a self-proclaimed wimp when it comes to cold weather. So, bathroom it was. I asked how the class went. Brad just kept saying "oh my god" over and over again. I started shaking with silent laughter but I think he sensed this because then he demanded to know if I was laughing. I lied and told him absolutely not but I kind of choked that out so I believe he knew I was laughing. I asked him how the dog had misbehaved - he just kept saying that it was awful and that he would never take him to manners class again.

When I returned to South Carolina, he filled me in on more of his adventure. As soon as he arrived at the class, Chase decided to express his excitement by squatting and leaving behind a not-so-small token. Brad was not pleased with Chase's charming habit. The lesson that day was to get the dogs to lie down. Brad felt very confident because this is what Chase does best. You tell him to sit, he lies down, you tell him to lie down, he does it. You call his name, he lies down. He is really good at the "Down" command. Brad told him the command. Chase did not lie down. Absolutely refused to lie down. The trainers couldn't get him to lie down. All the other dogs were lying down except for the big hound dog named Matilda. She was baying. Matilda's owner looked over at Brad and attempted to negotiate a trade. As appealing as an over-sized baying hound dog was, Brad turned down her offer.

The next class, I was planning on going it alone but my grandmother and mother thought that it might be amusing to come watch the Chase and Sarah "Manners Class Sideshow". As I was lovingly dragged by my puppy into the classroom area, my instructor decided that his choke collar wasn't really working and it was time to upgrade to a newer model. Another instructor fitted Chase with his very own 2004 S&M Gripper Collar. This model had lots of mean looking pincher things on the inside of the collar. If the dog even breathed too heavy it would pinch his neck in an unpleasant way. You don't have to choke the dog anymore. This was now my most favorite collar! My dog was star puppy once more. He "heeled", "stayed", "sat", and "lay down". Matilda was told to get an S&M collar after baying throughout the entire class. Her owner kept holding Matilda's mouth shut but you could still hear a loud muffled sound.

One of the class features that week was to hide behind the shed and call your dog. Now, the dog is supposed to run and find you. I called my dog. My dog ran and found my mother. I think he might have been a little miffed about his new collar.

The next task was to "get your dog to weave in and out of the poles in the ground." Most of the dogs, including howling Matilda, managed to do this with some success. Chase got to the starting point. I told him to sit. He sat down backwards. Okay - off to a good start. We started to navigate the course. Chase managed to walk into every single pole. I now was painfully aware that he would not qualify for the downhill skiing event in the next Winter Olympics. I returned to my spot and watched with glee as the next person dragged his Chihuahua behind him through the course. Am I a bad person? The tiny football shaped dog was tumbling through the dirt like a missed field goal.

Class finished and we walked over to visit Grandma. She told me all of the bad things that happened in the Aggressive Dog Manners Class which was closer to her chair. Grandma always had a way to make things better!


Lessons Learned at Dog School

The second Sunday of dog training had arrived. I had purchased a leather leash for Chase because a trainer the week before had told me that would be the best. Chase developed an appetite for leather and chewed through the new leash on the short drive over to the training field. Fortunately I had arrived early and was able to call Brad to bring me a new leash. I requested a non-leather one since Chase was so fond of the first one.

I leaned up against a tree and yanked back on Chase's short tattered leash as my super smart puppy lunged at a demonic looking pit bull with icy blue eyes. The owner, a man wearing denim overalls, assured me that it was a "safe" pit bull. Yeah right. I then listened to a speech about how pit bulls were so misunderstood. How about so highly publicized EVERYWHERE as being aggressive?

Five minutes and several hundred tugs later, Chase was thirsty, so I let him drink a little directly from a bottle of Dasani water as usual. He preferred to drink directly from the bottle and refused to drink from a bowl so I stopped bothering to carry a bowl with me.

Brad finally arrived with a new leash and we walked into the classroom area and got in a semi-circle position with the other classmates. Chase promptly assumed the squat position and took the biggest dump of his life. I set the water bottle down and got a bag to clean up this steaming mountain of dog doo. The instructors had us introduce ourselves and our dogs. I discovered that, at 9 months, Chase was the youngest member of his class, which ranged from 1.5 years to 6 years. The pit bull was in the other group, which curiously contained other pit bulls, German shepherds, Dobermans, and Rottweilers. I suspected doggie profiling but was perfectly happy to stay among the labs, retrievers and Yorkies. The instructors told me not to expect much from Chase because he was so young.

First command: SIT. Chase sat. Surprise, surprise. He lacked an attention span, however, so after about 20 seconds of sitting, he dropped to the ground and started to clean his private parts. I yanked him up by the choke chain. The next time he got bored with sitting, he dropped to the ground and began to frantically dig a hole. I yanked him back up and decided to give him a drink of water. No water bottle. I looked at Brad who was holding the bottle which was now about half full. I asked Brad if he was drinking the water. He told me he was. I told him who was drinking from it earlier. Brad looked a little sick.

Next we all walked our dogs around in a big circle. Chase did fine. A large lady in front of us with tiny frou frou dog kept dragging her dog. Literally...there were drag marks in the dirt. A big strong man was coaxing "Sugar Pie" - a teeny weeny dog that looked more like a hamster with a long puffy tail. He looked at me and said that he was subbing for his mom who was the real owner of Sugar Pie. A large hound dog kept lunging at Sugar Pie - I think he was hungry. I was feeling much better about my dog's abilities after that "lesson". I threw away the chewed up leather leash on the way back to my car and smiled as Chase curled up on the back seat ready for a nap. School is tough!


All Choked Up and Nowhere to Go

Quickly I realized that my puppy needed to be trained. He had some basics down like “sit” and “paw” and “bow to Sarah”; however I was beginning to realize the value of “stay” and “come”. I signed him up for training offered by the local dog club. The club focused on manners, obedience and agility and met each Sunday for sixteen weeks. I just knew that he would be a star puppy after sixteen weeks of training.

I drove to the first class which was held in a large fenced-in area with lots of agility equipment. Chase, nor I, had ever seen that many dogs convened in one place and he was determined to meet each and every one of them.

After registering (or forking over a large sum of money), his tasks were to meet all of the other dogs in the “classroom” and to master walking through the rungs of a ladder that was laying on the ground in order to build trust and confidence.

After yanking me throughout the classroom area trying to meet every dog, including a giant Schnauzer and a larger Burmese Mountain Dog who rolled over on him, an instructor took pity on me and offered some advice: “yank back really hard on the choke chain and choke him”.

Then the instructor took me to the ladder and told me that most dogs balk the first few times or refuse to go through the ladder at all. Not my dog. He loved it. Practically showed off. The instructor felt that it was a fluke and made me take Chase through the rungs again, still with the same results. It gave the other owners a glimmer of hope. I stood back to watch the rest of the class thinking the dog expert didn't know what he was talking about. I was wrong - all of the other dogs would sit down and dig in, refusing to go through the ladder or the owner would adopt a drag and shove method that involved dragging the dog forward and shoving him back in when he attempted to leave the ladder.

Armed with my new self confidence in dog training, I took Chase home to practice with the choke chain. My dog had other ideas. He quickly realized what was choking him and, as soon as the leash was attached, he either grabbed the choke chain in his mouth or grabbed part of his leash.

So...when I pulled back to choke him....he pulled right back.

“Tug-of-war-while-walking-your-puppy” is not as fun as it sounds. I noticed that the neighbors’ mini blinds appeared to be pulled back slightly on their front windows. Maybe I was saving them a lot of money on cable. Why watch reality TV when there is a show going on right across the street?


My Little Runaway

Chase was nearly five months old when I decided to take him to see my friend. Shane lives in a very rural area of South Carolina, and even though it is merely 20 minutes from my house, it is a completely different world. His portion of the road was paved several years ago but the rest is packed clay. At the time, there were mostly trailers and a scattering of houses. Much of that has changed now with the horse farms moving in and purchasing acres of land, but five years ago, it did not hold a lot of country charm.

Shane had called to tell me about his new Shih Tzu puppy. My Southern four-wheeler riding, Harley Davidson aficionado, beer guzzling, deer hunting friend had bought himself a frou frou dog. This I had to see with my own eyes. When I arrived, his niece’s dog, Slash, was playing outside and Chase was excited to see him. Since the property was over ten acres, I didn’t have a problem leaving Chase outside to play with the Chocolate Lab. I peeked inside the guest bathroom where Shane was keeping his puppy. It looked like a small hamster. Unimpressed, I went back outside to check on Chase. It had begun to rain and I called for both Chase and Slash. The Lab responded immediately but there was no sign of my puppy.

Shane joined my search party of one and we scoured his property for nearly an hour until the drizzle turned into a monsoon. Drenched and cold, we retreated into his home. I called Brad who arrived in record time. The three of us searched the property again, this time including an additional 20 acres of surrounding woods. Brad and I followed one of the four-wheeling trails for a couple of miles. We could see Chase’s paw prints in the soft dirt and every few hundred feet or so it appeared that Chase had dug a hole toward the side of the trail. The path ended at the edge of a remote piece of property with the side of a trailer visible from the woods. There was still no sign of Chase. Back at Shane’s we decided to pile into the truck and search the surrounding roads.

This decision did not make me feel better. Each dirt road that we thought Chase could have roamed boasted dismal dwellings and questionable residents. One man claimed to have seen him but asked for a photo to verify this. Brad and I realized that we did not have any recent photos of Chase. Our puppy was difficult to photograph because he was so energetic and he grew so quickly that there seemed to be differences in his appearance each day.

A group of pale, skinny people living in quarters no better than a lean-to told me that if he was “purdy they was keepin’ him”. Driving the roads and scouring the woods until 1:30 in the morning, we finally called off the search to get some sleep. Brad and I slept on the floor and I finally fell asleep. My mother arrived at 5:30 AM and we began to search again.

Brad and I walked through the woods once more but still did not locate our puppy. I was grateful that he had been micro-chipped but wondered if someone would even bring him to the shelter. We got back in the truck and drove the same dirt roads again. One man said that he had seen Chase the day before which encouraged me. He told us to check with a man up the road who owned many hunting dogs because he might be there. We spoke with that man who said he had not seen him.

Mom found a small trailer colony that looked like it had been hit by a tornado. The people there told us that they shot any dog that ventured onto their property. We maneuvered up a narrow dirt trail that was lined with signs bearing sentiments of “Turn Back Now” and Proceed at Your Own Risk”. The trailers on each side appeared to be slightly crushed with insulation and belongings forced through the exposed crevices. New cars were parked in the cesspool driveways indicating that the trailers were occupied. Brad carefully backed out and I prayed that Chase had not wandered up there.

We also discovered a gang of dogs on one of the roads. The pack consisted of large dogs such as German Sheppards and Rottweilers. There were also Chows and Pit bulls who were card-carrying members. These dogs were sneaky and would lie in the deep ditches by the side of the road. When our car would approach, the dog in the ditch would jump up and lunge at the car window. While the occupants in the car were distracted, the other gangster dogs would leap from their hiding places in the woods and give chase. Clearly walking around on foot and calling for my dog was out of the question.

Mid morning we decided to give up the search. I planned on making posters and distributing them in the area and to the local vets and shelters. I could only hope that someone would call the phone number on his tag. We reconvened at Shane’s for a quick nap. Mom decided to go home. As she was leaving, she saw Chase traipsing up the driveway. He was very happy to see us and was on his best behavior for at least two hours. It was just long enough for Brad to snap some new pictures of him…just in case.