There’s a program called Puppy Kindergarten and I enrolled Lucy in it this past Saturday.
It didn’t start out well.
Within minutes of arriving in the parking lot of the Evergreen Barn in Mendocino, Lucy got so hopelessly tangled up with a border collie that the owner and I had to restrain our dogs while someone else removed the collie’s collar and untangled the leashes.
When the puppy group was released for play in the training room, my normally mellow darling turned into a psychotic tweeker.
Cesar Milan says not to take your puppy’s behavior personally. But how do you manage that while five other “parents” watch in horror as your great white shark ruins the delicate balance of Puppy Kindergarten?
Expert trainer, Elaine Miksak, asked me to gently coax Lucy into the “time out” area and keep her there until she settled down.
Try as I might to get Lucy’s attention away from chomping on the other dogs’ necks, it was a no go. It would have been far easier to pick her up and haul her out of Puppy Kindergarten forever.
Elaine, bless her heart, finally intervened to skillfully move Lucy away from the action.
After a few minutes, she settled enough to be allowed back into play. However, I was asked repeatedly to intervene by going to her, calling her name while gently clapping my hands, moving backwards and coaxing her to follow. This simmered her down for about 15 seconds at a time.
A gorgeous four-month old golden retriever dabbled in the play, but when it got rough, took refuge at the feet of her owner. I found myself standing by him after my one hundredth “coaxing” of Lucy to stop her bullying ways.
“We used to have a golden retriever,” I said. “He was perfect.”
He gave me a weary smile, almost as if I’d said I’d once driven a Mercedes and now drive a 20-year old piece of crap Geo—almost as if to say, “I don’t care to hear your tale of woe.”
His look made me realize that I believed Lucy was less than the others, that she would never be more than the snapping, barking creature that she was at that moment.
A few minutes later, play time was thankfully called to a halt and we were asked to leash up our dogs. Lucy thrashed as we walked to my chair. She lunged to incite the other dogs to play. I quietly soothed her into a sit.
Elaine gave a sweet lecture on I don’t know what because I was giving myself a silent lecture to straighten out my thought process with my dog.
This was Lucy’s first experience with playing with puppies outside of her littermates. In her defense, littermate play is like my childhood—a turbulent mob of sibling rivalry. Lucy took what she had learned in her kennel at the Humane Society and transferred it to these strangers.
Most of Lucy’s experiences are first-time. It is up to us, as her owners, to be patient with helping her learn. It is a daily process. Unfortunately, I am not good with daily processes.
New mantra: I am good with daily processes.
After Elaine’s lecture, the puppies were allowed two additional mosh pit sessions intermixed with two basic training periods. (It was the longest 90 minutes in recent memory.) In the end, Lucy sat quietly at my feet before slumping into a down position. One of the “fathers” commented on how well she was behaving.
I wanted to proclaim, “This is the puppy I know, not that monster from before. She is a good puppy, I swear she is.” I wanted to cry. Puppy Kindergarten was hard. It was really, really hard.
This class helped me realize that my initial two weeks with Lucy had turned me into a neurotic mess. My desperate need to make certain she is well behaved and the dog everyone loves gave me occasional bouts of vertigo.
As I write this, she is quietly chewing a rawhide bone on the rug in my office. She has had two walks today. She has met people on the street and exhibited great affection towards them. She has been played with and loved.
She is perfect right now.
She will be perfect as she grows older.
I need to calm the hell down.