Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Dog Tales: Obedience School

Soon after William came to live with me, I signed us up for obedience classes at the Columbia-Greene Humane Society. As I recall, it was a six-week program, with hour-long sessions once a week. The first four weeks went swimmingly. William was well behaved and got along nicely with the other dogs, except for one feisty little guy who kept barking at him and every other dog. I was conscientious and consistent about practicing what we'd learned during the time between classes. We were above average students, until we got to Week 5, and it was time to learn "stay."

The routine was the dog sits, the human gives the "stay" command (word and hand gesture), the dog stays while the human walks away. At first, William and I didn't do too badly because we humans were only expected to step back a few paces. William kept his eyes fixed on me as I backed away, looking confused and a little unsettled, but he stayed put.

Then the instructor upped the ante. After commanding the dogs to stay, the humans were to turn their backs on the dogs and walk away. The goal was to walk behind a building--totally out of the dog's sight--and the dog was supposed to sit motionless until the human returned and released him from "stay."

We tried. I commanded William to sit, and he did. I commanded William to stay, and he did. I turned to walk away, but before I had taken the first step, William was right beside me. We tried again. The same thing happened. We tried a third and a fourth and a fifth time. The same thing happened. The instructor gave us special attention and encouragement. We kept trying; we kept failing. At the end of the session, we were the only ones who had not managed a successful "stay." As we left, the instructor encouraged me to keep practicing at home until we'd mastered it.

In the car after class, William seemed dejected. He'd been a stray. He'd been a shelter dog. He'd been without a human of his own for God only knows how long. At home, he followed me from room to room. The first time I left him alone, he'd had an anxiety attack and chewed a couch cushion. How could I possibly expect him to sit obediently and watch me abandon him? 

So I gave him a hug and kissed him on the muzzle and whispered, "You don't have to learn that." And thus my velcro dog and I became obedience school dropouts.         

No comments:

Post a Comment