At our dog obedience school, Twin Cities Obedience Training Center, Margot and I are in Beginner 3 — for the fourth time. By now, we’re supposed to be able to complete a down stay at 15 feet, carry a little barbell, and heel around the ring, off leash, with other dogs galloping along beside us.
I believe in dog training.
We’re not very good, Margot and I. I’m clumsy, look down too much and don’t hear well. Margot is as pretty as a Westminster champion, but she’s easily distracted by the other dogs when they look at her or if they jump around and act happy, as dogs are inclined to do. She barks a lot.
Still, we’ve signed up for the what will be our ninth round of classes in the two years since I adopted Margot, then a neglected wreck with dandruff and a bad case of kennel cough. Through our training we’ve learned what to expect from each other and to appreciate the unexpected.
At one of our earliest classes a black dog, that memory has transformed into a cross between a Clydesdale and King Kong, put Margot, who is a Pomeranian, in his mouth and toted her across the ring. One of us remained calm – it wasn’t me. Margot shook off a shower of saliva, her only ill-effect, and calmly sat next to me in perfect heel position. I learned that she is brave. She learned that I am not.
When we performed her “let’s speak French” trick in front of the whole class, I discovered that she is a ham. When she heels smoothly around the ring with her now-lush fur flowing, I appreciate her beauty. When we perform an about turn and she is inches away from my size 10 and a half sneaker, I respect her trust (I really am seriously clumsy). And we both astound each other with how many treats a Pomeranian can eat.
For Margot and I, our weekly hour, face to face, learning to work together to accomplish deceptively simple tasks is a revelation. The occasions when our eyes lock at a hard-won success are, frankly, a joy. I don’t know of another school experience I’ve had where the right thing to say is almost always “yes,” where trust, mutual respect, kindness, fun, and ear scratching are the outcome of all homework assignments.
Margot and I believe that in our next round of classes we’ll manage to hold a stand. We’ll get a pretty good figure 8 at least once. We’ll only bark 50 percent of the time. And we believe that even if we are in Level 3 forever and we never join the smart, sophisticated dogs in Advanced, we will be closer, nicer, more trusting, more fun, and generally better beings through dog training.
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