Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Week #3 of Obedience Class

First, let it be said that I am really a very clever dog. I understand all sorts of phrases and words--things that my people never even taught me--I just figured out their meaning by simple observation. For example, If one of my people says to the other, "I am getting sleepy," it doesn't take a genius to figure out that I might as well go to my crate, because they are about to go to bed. My people already know that I am smart. I do not know why they thought I needed to go to school to prove it to other people, too.

As I understand it, they want me to obey their commands when I am in public. I, myself, do not understand this. When I am in public, I feel a great compulsion to protect my people against what I perceive to be danger. The whole world outside makes me quite nervous. I do not trust strange dogs or strange people. Therefore, I feel that it is my responsibility to act tough and warn them that they better not come too close. For some incomprehensible reason, this makes my people very unhappy. When I bark or do my warning "woof-and-bounce" that is meant to make me look threatening, they speak quite harshly to me. I initially assumed that their displeasure meant that I did not do my job properly. Now that I have started going to dog class, I am beginning to figure out that the rules of social behavior are not quite what I had originally thought. This is going to require a good bit of getting used to.

I had a very quiet early puppyhood. I lived with my breeder and my brother until I was 10 months of age. It was a peaceful life. There were other German shepherds around, but my brother (who was always bigger than I was, and kept me safe from danger) was my constant companion. I loved my breeder and her granddaughter, who would come and brush me and walk me around on a leash. Sometimes I would go to see another human relative, but I never had to interact with strange people or dogs. I was happy this way. My current humans had sent some of their clothing for me to sleep with before they came to take me to my new home, so that when we first met, I felt like I had known them already. My new home was very peaceful, too, and we did not meet many strangers on our walks. I heard my humans talk about taking me to school, but it sounded as if there were some reasons they could not do this, so I assumed it wasn't important for me. I must have been wrong about this, since I am enrolled in school now. They said that I needed to know how to behave properly in public.

The first week of class, I was so anxious that I could not concentrate on anything. I know that my human partner (the female one) was saying words to me that I had heard before, but I did not even register on what they were. The one command I did do a good job with was the one to "come." My partner told me to stay on one side of the training ring. Then she walked to the other side. When she said "come," I was delighted, so I ran to her--very happy to be safe again. A few times, when I walked near another person and their dog, I woofed and bounced, and my partner scolded me. This made me even more anxious, because I did not understand why she was unhappy with what I did. It seemed to me that she needed protection. It was not my fault that she did not see the danger.

That was week one. On week 2, I relaxed enough to notice that I frequently got delicious little treats if I paid attention to my partner. I was still very anxious, but started to remember what she meant by "heel," since we had worked on that exercise at home.

Tonight, which was week 3, I finally had a breakthrough, although this new understanding did not come until the end of class. I had heard the instructor talking to my handler (partner) and suggesting that she discontinue the collar-jerk and her harsh tone of voice when I did my woof-and-bounce. She said that it seems to increase my anxiety. If I am anxious, I cannot concentrate on the obedience exercises. The goal was calm control. My handler was not to allow me to forge ahead or whine. However, instead of telling me that this was bad, she is supposed to stop walking and wait, without saying anything. When I am quiet (not whining) and can walk without pulling on the leash, we can walk ahead quietly. It took us about 20 minutes to leave the building and make it to the car, because we would go a step or two and have to stop. This was because I forged ahead or whined in my excitement to go home. However, I finally got the hang of what I was supposed to do--I don't know why it took me so long. I was just so excited about going to the car. However, I liked the fact that my partner was calmer with this approach. It made me much more relaxed.

You just wait..... I'll be an obedience graduate yet! I might even like it. After all, I AM smart.
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