The minute I found an obedience class, I signed us up. The class was taught by a painfully thin, gravelly-voiced instructor who chain-smoked during the break. She knew dogs, and she knew people. She had seen everything, and almost nothing shocked her.
Lexi, who found being in the company of twenty strange dogs and
their people overwhelming, could find no better way to
deal with her emotions than to let out a high, continuous, unremitting
whine. She whined as she sat, she whined as she stayed, as she heeled, as she came when called. I tried shushing her. I tried ignoring her. I
tapped her muzzle. I growled. Nothing worked. The instructor pretended she didn't hear her, but I could tell that she was dying for a cigarette. So, for the first time in decades, was I.
The class lasted six weeks, and so did Lexi's whining. Miraculously,
however, when we showed up for the next six-week session, the whining
stopped. So did the panics at bicycles and skateboards and trucks. Overnight, the puppy had grown into a self-assured, agile and
fearless adolescent. An adolescent girl-dog with an automatic adoration for
human males, particularly my husband.
Never mind that I was the one who fed and
brushed her, who took her to class and on walks--my husband was the one
whom she adored. One look from him made her day. A word, a touch would literally fling her down on her back. Perhaps he reminded her of the boy who was her first
owner. Perhaps she was captivated by his remoteness. Or maybe it was pheromones.
From the beginning, Lexi hated water. She never failed to walk around instead of through a puddle. We used to take her to a certain beach on the Chesapeake Bay where dogs were allowed. Invariably, there were flotillas of black Labs chasing sticks amid the waves, but Lexi would stand on the beach and concentrate on staying dry.
There was an old, broken-down pier jutting a good fifty feet out into the water. To get on it you had to scramble up some half-rotten pilings and then balance on a narrow plank laid on top of them. My husband would climb onto this thing, and Lexi, left behind with me on the shore, would start to whine. Then she would tremble. And then she would go after him. She would cling to the pilings with her nails and somehow clamber onto the planks and follow him, the waves crashing below her, to the very end. There, with much anguish and whining, she would manage her four feet so as to turn around on that one narrow plank and follow him back to dry land.
Despite her progress in obedience and her excellent house manners, she was quite a handful. It was her intensity that I found so difficult to deal with. Twenty times a day, while I was napping, or cooking, or painting, she would come to me, nail me with her piercing eyes and ask “What now? What else can we do right now?” Mentally and physically, she was exhausting to be around.
Try as I might to make her life interesting, Lexi was bored. She needed to be out rescuing lost hikers, or guiding the blind, or making arrests. I was in a perpetual state of guilt and agitation over this. When she was about a year old, I decided that agility might soak up some of that energy. This was before agility had become as popular as baseball. Classes were practically nonexistent, so I was glad that there was a group that met at a nearby park.
It was a beautiful day, and I was hoping that Lexi, who had, by dint of my signing us up month after month, become quite the star of her obedience class, would do me proud. The minute I let her out of the car, I knew that this was not to be. The fact that she attended an obedience class with a large number of dogs every week, and that she was used to paying attention to me in the presence of those dogs did not mean a thing. This was a different class in a different place, and these were different dogs. The time of day was different, too. And because of that, every bit of work I had done with her went out the window.
Gone were her sits, her stays, her heeling. She tugged at the leash; she lunged, in the best of spirits, at other dogs. The training collar, which I would snap and release to get her attention, made not a bit of difference. But it did get the attention of the event's organizer, who told me in no uncertain terms that choke collars were prohibited in agility, and asked me to remove Lexi's immediately.
When Lexi realized that she was only wearing her leather buckle collar, she lost the last shred of restraint. I might as well have put a leash on a wild stallion for all the effect it had. She flew over jumps and dashed through tunnels of her own accord, oblivious to my commands. She had a wonderful time.
When the class was mercifully over, the organizer came to where I was putting the training collar back on Lexi, gave me a look of pity mixed with contempt and said, “We don't allow hyperactive dogs with no obedience training in our group.” (To be continued.)