School Daze

It occurred to me that Bat Girl might benefit from a little time spent at charm school. She is a lovely hound but a little lacking in basic manners so I hopped on Google to find a training class for us. A little research and we were soon signed up for a basic obedience class. I was quite excited by this prospect as I had visions of an obedience champion just waiting to be discovered.

Soon the day of the first class arrived. Bettina and I headed out to meet our destiny. There were about 10 other dogs in the class with us. It was a good mix of breeds (though heavy on the hound family) and ages (just over a year to nine years). Class was held in a middle school gym. Surveying the scene that first day, I thought to myself that this would be just the thing to calm Bettina down, give her a “job” to do, strengthen our bond and improve our communication.

Bettina, on the other hand, seemed to have completely different ideas about her goals for class. She is, apparently, a bit more of a skeptic than I am. Some things were not included in the equation when I made plans for the class and Bettina very quickly began practicing her “communications” with me just moments after we got through the door.

To get into the gym, one must descend a flight of stairs with roughly 15 steps. I have been a bit lax and Bettina has not really mastered stairs yet (I know, shame on me). We have just 4 steps leading in and out of the house. Her method of traversing those has been to go down one step, maybe two on a good day, with her front end. The back end stays firmly planted on the top step. After a moment’s reflection, she hurls herself out into space hoping to simultaneously clear the stairs and land on four feet. She has had moderate success with this technique at home. Occasionally she will bang her hind legs on the bottom stair or end up fighting for footing because she landed on an ice patch or other slippery surface.

Bettina was quite excited to see what sort of adventure we were going to have as we approached the gym. We got through the door and she stopped dead at the top of the stairs. This was something she had never been confronted with before in her limited experience and she didn’t know that stairs came in different configurations. She stubbornly held her ground as I tried to coax her down. She fixed me with a hairy eyeball that clearly said I had betrayed her. Deeply. Other class members began to pile up in a line behind us that stretched out the door as I, to no avail, tried to reason with a two year old. I ended up hoisting her up as best I could and schlepped her down the stairs. An auspicious beginning.

No matter, I thought. A few stairs won’t stand between us and obedience glory. After all, I had been the one remiss in not preparing her for differing flights of stairs. I set her down at the bottom of the stairs and headed off to the opposite side of the gym to check us in. It was only a matter of seconds before I realized something was very wrong with that picture. I was heading for check in, but Bettina was not. The leash pulled me up short and I turned to see a small black greyhound, legs locked, leaning backwards against the tug of the leash with all her might. Good grief!

I spent some time pleading with her to come. Two embarrassments in the first 5 minutes. My dream of obedience gold was growing a little hazy. Eventually, she decided to trust me and tentatively took a step…and froze again. The gym floor was a surface she had also never encountered before and by the looks of it, she wasn’t finding it very much to her liking. Another baleful hairy eyeball for mumma.

With the prospect of standing in that spot for the rest of class, the instructor kindly rolled out a rubber matt for us to use. This was just wonderful with Bettina, but not so much for mumma. The matt was set up down the exact center of the gym. Everything we did, all our practice, was done in the center ring.

As the classes progressed, Bettina was proving to be a genius. She mastered down, sit, wait, touch, target, loose leash walking, leave it and paying attention. She was a rock star! I was so proud the first time we were called to demonstrate our prowess for the instructor and the whole class. I stepped forward. I turned to Bettina and firmly asked for a down. Just moments before she was running through sits and downs over and over again, perfectly. She was even offering them spontaneously in the hopes I’d give her an extra treat. But as all eyes were on us, she stared at me like I had three heads. I waited a few endless seconds and asked again. I know you are not supposed to ask for the behavior more than once, but it was very quiet in that gym and I felt compelled to repeat my command. Maybe she hadn’t heard me. She blinked a few times and then decided to wander off towards the instructor to see if perhaps she had a spare treat she wasn’t using.

I called her back and asked for down a third time. Third time is a charm, right? Not so much. She began an inspection of the terrain in her immediate vicinity, checking to see if any extra treats had dropped to the ground. The instructor finally said that perhaps we should move on to someone else, and we did. As the next dog was dutifully doing his downs and sits every time he was requested to do so, Bettina sauntered back over to my side and dropped into a down position. Everyone was looking at the dog currently demonstrating his skill. No one was paying us any attention to see Bettina’s triumph. I swear I saw her smile contentedly to herself.

As we progressed through class, Bettina continued to behave like a model citizen when no one was looking. When people watched she dropped all pretense of civilization. Still, she did enjoy class, if only to see the other dogs, spend some quality time with mumma and stuff herself with cheese and hotdogs. On our very last day, we had a “final exam.” A miniature version of a rally obedience course had been set up, with each station requiring one of the skills we had learned in class.

I knew Bettina was ready. We had been working for weeks for this very moment. My girl would finally be able to show her inner canine Einstein. A couple of dog/handler pairs went through the course before us and they passed with flying colors. Then we stepped onto the course. I looked at Bettina. I could just see in her eyes she was ready to do this in a big way. The first station required us to demonstrate our skill at down. This was an easy one for Bettina. I had been asking her for downs before giving a treat, before getting out of the car, before eating, just about any time. She would automatically anticipate the down most of the time and drop before I could ask.

I turned to her and asked for a down. She felt it might be more fun to say hello to the instructor. At the next station, “Sit”; she tried to jump into my treat apron pocket and get her own treats to save me the trouble and both of us the time of performing a sit. At the next station, “Wait”; she headed for the nearest dog to renew acquaintances. At “Leave It” she went immediately for the lower level treat concealed in a dog bowl and attempted to eat it. By the time we got to the end of the course, anyone watching us would have had to assume that this hound had not attended any of the classes and simply showed up for the exam. My nerves were shot. Bettina was thrilled with herself.

Still, we received our diploma of graduation from basic obedience. I suspect you get one just for attending class, like when they give every kid a ribbon or trophy for participating. It was a great experience and I think Bettina enjoyed herself immensely, but I definitely feel like it left me in a school daze…