Sunday, November 22, 2009

Back To Square One

Wolfie is three years old today. He is big, and black, and powerful. He is in the flower of his doghood.

But, sigh, he's still a work in progress.

We took him out on a walk for the first time in quite a while today, and the lamentable state of his training became apparent.

“What!” you say, “you mean you don't walk your dog regularly—like, every day, morning and night?”

You see, in the country things are different. I can—and do—wear Wolfie out throwing balls for him in the front field with one of those thrower thingies. Or I take him into the woods behind the house—off leash of course, which means it doesn't really count as a walk, from a training point of view. And I take him for weekly herding lessons, which encourage him to think for himself, and to think that he is in charge of those sofa-sized sheep.

But today's walk was the regular kind, on leash, down a dirt road near our house. And he didn't do well. Did he pull on the leash? Did he drag me down the road? Did he chase cars? Of course not—I'd be long-dead if he did. What he did was to walk ahead of me to where he was just about to pull on the leash, at the point where the leash is not taut but not loose, and it's not clear who's in charge—him or me.

My husband was holding the leash when we came to a house with a Border Collie running loose. She caught sight of us and ran barking towards us. She wasn't being aggressive, just territorial. Her owner was outside and came over and put her in the house.

And Wolfie? Did he walk past on a loose leash, ignoring her fits because he was 100% attentive to our signals? Was he focused, was he calm, did he make us proud? Not a bit. Instead he barked furiously and his hackles stood up and he pulled at the leash so that if I'd been the one holding it he would have yanked it out of my hands. Then probably nothing much would have happened—he is not aggressive towards other dogs, he would have realized that this was a female, and so on. With a smaller dog, this incident would have been a mere blip in the Sunday morning stroll. But with a dog the size of Wolfie, it was upsetting.

The minute we got home, I called his all-wise obedience trainer. Her message was two-fold: don't make a big deal out of this, and go back to square one. In short: lots of brief sessions of leash training, just in our driveway; lots of recalls with tons of treats; gradually longer leash walks to various places; lots of focus and attention and patience on my part.

How many hours have I spent training this dog since he came to live with us as a toddler? How many obedience classes have we attended, how many hundreds (thousands?) of dollars paid to ensure he would be well-behaved?

Dog training, alas, is not like riding a bicycle. Once a dog learns something, he has to keep learning it, or he'll promptly unlearn it. Eternal vigilance is the price of a good dog. And lately, what with the new puppy and the baby goats and those heady herding lessons, my vigilance has slipped.

Watch out, though. Achtung! I have girded my loins and steeled my resolve. I wasn't brought up by German nuns for nothing. I'll make a well-mannered dog out of Wolfie yet.

4 comments :

  1. Wolfie sounds pretty well-mannered to me. But maybe my standards are low. I wonder if the problem is simply that you haven't walked him in a while. After a trip up North, where Riley has run free in the great north woods for two weeks, he is always difficult to walk on a leash the first couple of days. He has forgotten that he needs to be tethered. But after a day or two of normal leash walking, he's back into it.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Wolfie will be right back to where he was shortly. You know it's the humans that are trained and the dog just responds ;-) Have a great Thanksgiving!

    ReplyDelete
  3. laurie and mrb, Wolfie appreciates your votes of confidence!

    ReplyDelete