Down East 2013 ©
Our little dog Scamp and I went back to school this week. I think I told you we took a class right after Charlie and me got him. I mean, he arrived from Poodle Rescue on a Friday, and we started on Monday. Scamp and me hadn’t really bonded yet. I’d call his name, and he’d turn toward me then cock his head, as if to say, “Who the heck are you?”
In retrospect, that first class was really more for me. When we got our standard poodle Belle, she was six years old and good as gold. I could leave her in the car with my grocery shopping, come back, and Belle wouldn’t have touched a thing. Now, I’m talking rotisserie chicken, deli meats, the kind of stuff that makes my mouth water when I get a whiff of it as I open the car door.
I would never try that with Scamp. No way! That little rascal will chomp on just about anything that drops on the floor: pencils, pens, socks, to do lists, you name it. One of Scamp’s favorite pastimes is chewing a hole in a dog toy and working all the stuffing out. I’ll walk into a room, and there he is, surrounded by a pile of white fluff, nose buried in his deflated toy. Well, he’s still a puppy. Not even two.
So I needed some kind of training to start things off right. To be honest, I should have looked around a little more. That first place we went to was kind of harsh. “Beginning Obedience” was the name of the course. The instructor acted like a drill sergeant, and there was a lot of jerking on leashes and pushing dogs into position. It worked for some, but Scamp wasn’t buying it. Besides, there’s no way I’m going to spray him in the nose with water and vinegar to get him to stop barking. I just don’t have it in me. So after six weeks, Scamp came home with his diploma and we called it quits.
But right before last Christmas, Scamp was attacked by a plott hound when he was out walking in the woods with Charlie. I think that hound, who was off leash at the time, must have mistook Scamp for a rabbit. Charlie and the other owner got them apart before any real damage was done, but since then, Scamp has gotten more aggressive with other dogs, almost all of them bigger them him. When he meets a dog, he’ll sniff them kind of nice at first, then lung. I suppose he wants to get them before they get him. Show them who’s boss. But all it does is get the other dog riled up. Scamp is only fourteen pounds ringing wet, but he has the heart of a lion.
Regardless of how cute he is, it’s just not OK to go around acting like that, so I knew it was time to find another class. I started asking around, and my niece Caitlin told me about a school she’d heard of just down the road from us that did positive reinforcement training. Sounded good to me, so I gave them a call. I knew it was the right place for us when I heard the name of the class: “Basic Manners.” Sounds kind of like a Montessori school for dogs, doesn’t?
Scamp usually wears a harness, but we needed a regular collar for this class. So I went to a new little shop that just opened up in town. Scamp and I browsed around for a while. He likes to sniff at the toys. I ended up finding a wicked sharp collar, turquoise with red, purple and silver.
I says to Scamp, “What do you think, little guy? Is this manly enough for you?”
The sales clerk’s a big, strappin’ young fella with a spider tattoo on his neck. Todd, he said his name was. “I choose metrosexual collars for my dogs all the time,” Todd tells me. “They love ‘em.”
“Alright then, we’ll get this collar. But Scamp, I’m telling you up front: no manicures and no hair gel, OK?”
Todd fitted the collar to Scamp, all the while talking baby talk to him. When we were checking out, I notice some doggie snack bars by the register, “Oh, look Scamp: carob and cherry. They almost look good enough for me to eat.”
“Oh, they are!” says Todd. “Everything in here is human grade. I’ve had one of those. They’re tasty!”
At our first class, we made a spectacular entrance. I was picking up my Ida-Scamp name tag, and the little bugger slipped his collar and took off like greased lightening. Of course, this got all the other dogs going. It took the instructor, Jennifer and me two, three minutes to catch him. Jennifer helped me tighten up the collar, then Scamp and I grabbed a seat. As you can imagine, the little guy was jacked up from his little adventure, but by and by he settled down.
It looks like this school is going to be a good match for us: kinder and gentler. There are even screens on either side of the room where you can bring your dog if they need a time out. Jennifer and her assistant look like they could be friends with Todd or my niece, Caitlin (think tattoos and body piercings), but they’re all about positive reinforcement. We’re learning the kind of method they use to train whales and horses, animals that are too big to force into submission. I figure if it worked for Shamu down to Sea World, it’ll should work for Scamp.
So far, he’s loving it! The first session, the dog gets rewarded for pretty much anything. What’s not to like about that? And because we’re told to bring “high drive” treats, Scamp was extremely motivated. Heck, I’d sit and make eye contact for some string cheese and a chicken sausage made with pure maple syrup!
That’s if for now. Catch you on the flip side!
(Listen to the podcast of Ida's column here. )