Thursday, January 14, 2016

Roz's First Day of (Obedience) School

     I begin with apologies to my friends whose kids with major life accomplishments, I feel I have not adequately emoted...
     Thinking over my closest, one's daughter just completed nursing school, with job lined up and life moving swimmingly. Another friend birthed an artist...a sculptor to be exact. A deep-thinking soul whose work is amazing. (I know I've said I'm proud. I just don't think I've said it enough.) I have another, whose daughter is a school counselor...PhD in psychology, works with troubled teens...increasingly on call for the traumas and tragedies that too often lead our newscasts. Another friend's daughter is a brainiac...newly engaged, she just aced the bar...Former president of her last school's student body she may someday be president. (If only we could plug her in now.)
    In short, I have some seriously gifted girlfriends raising seriously gifted daughters. And while one can never brag too much on these things (after all, they've had 20 plus years to perfect their profession) I now touch my toe into the shallow waters of their ocean, for only now have I felt their pride (on a microcosmic level mind you, but a mother's pride is a mother's pride)... This week we began . . .
     Puppy Obedience Class. (Yes. I realize it's a stretch here. But stay with me.)
     Leaving 4 big dogs behind, Roz squirmed in the passenger seat, her water in one cup holder, a Red Bull in mine. (Save your judgment; it was early. We needed it.)
     Pointing Jeep towards Nashville, Roz was more confused than anything and at first, not nearly as excited as I felt she should be so I sang to her, trying to pep her up for what was to come...(Our radio's been broken now for nearly a year; this is our time for bonding.)
     Within the hour we offloaded her from her co-pilot perch, leash attached; dog confused. (The co-op she recognizes...She's a hit at TSC...She's a regular at our local pet supply store. And she especially loves when we pull in to Room in the Inn to see all her friends. But today was different and she knew it. This was an all new experience. This was BIG (literally--as in parking lot, people, hustle and bustle) ....Lots of strange sites,  smells, and even strange dogs ....(What? DOGS? Insert Scooby-Doo "rut roh " here)
     What time I wasn't singing, I had been reflecting ... on what I'd gotten us into...what I had committed this little fuzzball to. To be clear, it is not lost on me my own subconscious desire to add a little more discipline to our lives--Never trained a dog before, but I knew "I" could use some structure. My life has become one endless cycle of re-routing plans ever since farming. A goat born here changes an appointment there.  A morning lost in writing alters the afternoon game plan for errands. At first I blamed Mother Nature where changes in weather can rule out an entire crop and an unanticipated storm can re-work your day. But there's plenty of this that just comes from working with creative energies for a living. Be it writing, producing or co-venturing on another's project, there has come the need for me to stop and regroup...Intentionally adding something of discipline into my day to day felt in order.  And since they don't have obedience school for people, I made Roz my excuse.
Roz...Gearing up for an evening at RITI
     Never have I taken a dog to obedience school; most plan this around a need, such as the puppy that keeps tearing up your pillows or the one that suffers from panic attacks when you walk out the door. Such were not our reasons. No. Roz's reasons involve a newfound career move born of an incident that took place last November. It was a conversation with a homeless man that instigated an entire whole chain reaction. (Can we agree? The Lord can use anyone to get a point across.)
     A little background...
     I hit the campus of Room in the Inn as I do every November. Some faces are familiar. Some faces are new.  I was downtown reuniting with fellow volunteers and guests alike--folks I had not seen since March (when our regular season ends). It's not uncommon for folks to ask about the farm...the garden...the critters. This year I had something new to share, that being Rosebud and her pups that were at the time of our season's launch, about 5 weeks old, so I was sharing cell phone pictures, clips of nursing pups and the goats they're born to protect. I had also confessed that I was trying hard not to keep a pup myself as 4 grown Pyrs is a lot in anyone's book.
     In talking with a new guest I had not met before, he took a glance at the pix and said "I'm getting one of those!" (I was pretty certain he was confused or hopeful or both, but I had to ask: "Are you sure? These are Pyrenees. They get pretty big."
     "Yeah, I'm already on a list...They're assigning me one as a service dog."
     (Again, I'm sad to say, my initial response was: you must be mistaken. A quick mental picture of Rosey as a seeing eye dog ended abruptly as I thought of how quickly she bolts at deer...Could not imagine a Pyr in service training...I couldn't imagine training a Pyr period.)
     But the service dog he was describing had nothing to do with eye-dogs...nothing to do with drug sniffing. Seems when I wasn't looking, someone out there spotted that Pyrs are among the best breed going to assist someone who might be suffering from something psychological ...challenges such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
     My new friend went onto explain that as a returning soldier he had been diagnosed with PTSD, and once his housing came through, a dog was next...but not just any dog-- a Pyrenees. And a trained one at that. First I'd heard of this; clearly I was gripped.
     Back home, I spent the rest of the night and half the next week, googling organizations, studies and the like. I watched videos; I called friends in high places asking "Whose idea was this?" and "How can I help?"
     To be clear, Pyrs are not known for being "trainable" as say ...a German Shephard or a seeing-eye dog. You google their heritage and you read words like "stubborn" or "strong-willed"... these adjectives usually come after "exceedingly large" and "expensive to feed" and the all famous "nocturnal" (meaning they bark all night and sleep all day...Trust me on this one. Then again, there is a great peace that comes with those nocturnal barking rounds.)
     So here I am with Roz...13 weeks old and newly vaccinated so as to enter this class. They say the ideal age is somewhere between 10 and 14 weeks for starters. Suffice it to say, despite the large breeds she's in training with (the Rott and the Weimaraner in particular) Roz was already head and shoulders above them in size...her laid back attitude in 180 contrast to the other, more "trainable" breeds. ( Roz was so laid back it was comical AND ironic given the shoes and ribbons she'd torn to shreds the night before, but at least this left her tuckered out by the time we got there. Not a lot of anxiety going on with Roz...even in a room full of strangers. Like Granny-Rosey, Roz is very much her own dog.)
Roz's Next-Chair Neighbor and New Best Friend
 The PetSmart classroom is located center of the store, so that onlookers and those considering the same can witness just what takes place. Last to arrive (yes, we know who needs the discipline) Roz and I took the last seat available, which stationed us between an 8-week old Weimaraner (talk about energy) and a teeny, tiny Yorkie (equally rambunctious; also known for yapping). Between the two --a mountainous Roz...30 pounds of fluffy white cloud only heavier and a face that said, "Who are these people?"
    First order of business, we were handed a clicker, sounds for which are to become synonymous with such things as her name, good behavior and eye contact, all of which, (once you click) mean a seriously tasty (read: expensive) doggie treat. (Note: same doggie treats are handed out to the Yorkie are were handed out for Roz...That she didn't go AFTER the Yorkie's to me, should've netted her a ribbon, if not additional treats, but what do I know. Roz was being such a good gurrrl. Quite frankly, I was amazed.)
     The name thing she got in spades. (Of course we'd been singing it all the way there.) The sitting part (if it meant a treat) she got equally well. ("Can I get two if I go ahead and lie down?") The clicker thing made her cock her head sideways with the cutest confused expression, but in time she gathered that the treat wasn't coming until she acknowledged it, skills for which don't exactly come naturally to one who's never taken a dog for training before. (Eye contact THEN click? Or click to get the eye contact. This took us a minute to coordinate. May've been a blonde thing. Roz, on the other hand was there to do whatever. The clicker part was more confusing than anything but saying her name, getting her to look eye to eye, that came naturally. Then again, she comes from a long line of eye-gazers...Plus I was holding a treat. Ok. What's next? )
     Next, we took a break in which we were led on a guided tour of the store. Leading the entire class through a Canine Candyland of Bouncy Burrows and Holee-Treat balls and indestructable KONG toys and game-playing things,  we were taught things like why a $30 elk antler is a better investment than a $.99 rawhide chew (if you account for the potential vet bill). All in all, highly educational, if nothing else I'll know where to find our aisle on future visits without having to ask for help. On the other hand, given the puppy-eye-level placement of this smorgasbord of delights, I felt it slightly inconsiderate (if not downright abusive) to expect a 10-week old pup to be still while being taunted by all the temptations.
     But more amazing yet, was Roz (who just the night before had pulled out EVERY toy she owned --and a few of mine--as in one last hoo-rah before the disciplining began). In total shock to me, Roz was not phased in the least by these things...Instead, Roz, who was closest to the door when leaving our training area for this little tour, (we were last in if you'll recall, thus nearest to the door) Roz held back...allowing everyone else to follow the leader first. Even when a fellow classmate offered to let us go before him and his Snickerdoodle, Roz remained poised, her herding instinct kicking in. Once everyone was in the aisle (and a long aisle it was-- long enough to host a dozen dogs, each with 2 or more family members) Roz observed her flock, strategically parking herself between the entire group and the rest of the store.  Roz (back to the group) had assumed her position and parked her body so as to serve as lookout, for this, her newfound substitute of a family.
     Back in the class area, we practiced clicking again before being asked to sit in a large circle. (This one was a new one on me, and one I feared might be our undoing.) Side by side with our beloved pets in front of us, we were to pass our babies to the person on our right, so that each of us would meet each of the other dogs (while watching our dogs look back in confusion). On this, Roz (at first) did not do so well; but halfway in (i.e. directly across the circle from me, watching her mama make over an adorable Rottweiler pup), she started to grasp the concept...they were moving her back my way. She would be coming back around before it was all said and done (big sigh). Her mommy would not be leaving without her. So long as I didn't walk out that door, she was cool and began to make friends with the other doggies' mommies. (Good gurrrl Roz. Good gurrl.)
Mommy's On a Bathroom Break. Gotta Guard Her Door.

     After this, we were given the opportunity to ask final questions. (I have to restrain myself in these moments; I asked only my fair share.) We were given some homework, a folder of things to read later and "suggestions" as to what things we might invest in next for new areas of training that are to come.
      Roz and I said adieu to our newfound friends ... and left the store with $40 worth of an antler and some treats. Exhausted she slept all the way home. (This time I didn't sing.)

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