Friday, June 21, 2024

Insight: Barking up the right tree II

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

When our dog Fancy arrived in our household, my wife and I had no clues about how to coax proper behavior from a puppy. Our previous dog had been older when we adopted her and required little training. However, this new puppy was a boundless bundle of energy, and every experience was new to her.

Ed Pierce and Fancy upon completion of
her Basic Obedience Training class in 2017.
While working for the newspaper, I had met a well-respected dog trainer who offered weekly lessons in a large garage adjacent to her home that had been converted into a training facility and kennel. I asked the trainer, Carolyn, if we could bring Fancy for Basic Obedience Training on Saturday mornings near our home in New Hampshire and she agreed.

For the next four months, we spent an hour every Saturday morning at Carolyn’s studio practicing basic commands and taming an incorrigible and spirited little creature with a mind of her own.

We learned how to sit and stay, lay down and come when called. We learned how to walk properly on a leash, how to heel, and basic doggie manners when encountering other dogs nearby.

Carolyn was also a breeder of Dobermans, a type of large dog which must have seemed intimidating to Fancy when she saw them there during her training.

At first, I wasn’t sure any of this was going to work. Fancy was intensely curious and somewhat anxious. She didn’t like being put on a leash and balked the first few times that Carolyn tried to teach her something new.

She was put into a crate in the mornings when we went to work, and we hired a staff member from the school where my wife worked to come in several times a day and let her outside for a while.

The crate was kept in the dining room and somehow it didn’t take Fancy very long to figure out if she leaned hard enough on a side of the crate, she could get it to move on our wood floor. That’s how I came to regret hanging a nice jacket over the back of a dining room chair one day only to come home from work and find the jacket torn to pieces inside the dog crate by Fancy.

She also severely tattered several of the sofa cushions and anything close by she could find to chew on. My wife tried recovering those shredded cushions, but they were too far gone for salvaging. When we eventually placed the sofa by the road hoping some impoverished college student would see it and haul it back to their apartment, we were mistaken. It sat there for weeks with its ratholes, and I ultimately had to pay a junk-hauling service to relocate it to the dump.

The puppy also had atrocious table manners. During dinner, if you weren’t careful, she would jump and snatch items off your plate in a fraction of a second. I can’t begin to tell you how disappointing it is to sit down at the supper table to a full plate of food only to have a puppy leap and in one swoop grab a Sloppy Joe sandwich and swallow it whole. It didn’t matter what it was, it could be burgers, grilled cheese sandwiches, or slices of toast, anything you fixed to eat was fair game for Fancy.

In discussing this bad behavior with Carolyn, she suggested either putting Fancy in a crate in another room during dinner or placing her on a leash and keeping my foot on the leash to prevent her from leaping up and grabbing food off the dinner table while we were eating. We tried the crate option first but abandoned it because we couldn’t stand the crying, loud whining, and barking coming from Fancy while we were eating. The leash idea worked better, but have you ever tried to eat a meal one-handed while holding a dog leash in the other hand?

Over time, Fancy came to love going to Caroline’s for training on Saturday mornings. She did learn how to sit, stay, heel, lie down and come and she even was able to exhibit those tasks on cue and off-leash.

She scored 100 percent on her Basic Obedience Test and graduated from Carolyn’s Canine College with a certificate and a trophy. Because that training was successful, we continued visiting with Carolyn and Fancy eventually completed Good Neighbor Training and Therapy Dog Training with her. She was able to sit quietly when surrounded by a dozen other larger dogs and not growl during her final Therapy Dog test.

More than anything, the training was beneficial for Fancy in learning to control her excitement and teaching her the correct way to behave and how to interact with people and other animals.

Fancy is now 8 and has settled down quite a bit. She loves going for walks in our neighborhood and is great with children and is very gentle. On occasion though, every now and then she feels compelled to leap and grab a burger off our dinner plate, so we’ve adapted to eating in a guarded manner and not to walk away from the table, even if only for a minute, leaving our plates unguarded. <

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