Wednesday, January 13, 2016
Learning with Liam
Bill is out plowing overnight slop. Soothing Celtic music is playing. Foster lies on the bed next to the computer, and Liam is sacked out on the floor in between the computer and the bed.
All is peaceful and calm-----a far sight from what we encountered at last night's noisy gathering where loud, piercing voices sounded off and beady eyes emphatically stared at each other for at least an hour.
No, I'm not talking about Sandpoint City Council meetings, designed to discuss whether or not to bring in Syrian refugees infused with flesh-eating diseases or perhaps those of another alien ilk who've been known to shoot too damn many squirrels in the Sierras.
Nah, this gathering really had no political or racist motives, but there WAS a way to shut down the craziness, for a while anyway.
The participants last night represented a mix of ethnic origins----black and white, brown and tan, chocolate and white and brown.
Three men, one woman, I'm guessing, so it wasn't exactly equal opportunity among the sexes, but I will tell you that the one German-bred woman sure did let the guys know who wanted to run the show.
Fortunately, for us, there was no age discrimination but almost.
"Oh, look at the puppy," the receptionists said as I walked through the door of the pet lodge with Liam, asking where the night's obedience class would be held.
That question brought forth immediate concern.
"How old is he?" one of the ladies asked, while loving our wiggling, tail-wagging, lick-yer-face Liam.
"Thirteen weeks," I said.
"Oh--h-h-h," she said with a skeptical expression, later suggesting that I might want to enroll Liam in the puppy class, held on Wednesday nights.
Bill and I noted that we were flexible and agreed to see what Glenna, the instructor whom I'd contacted about last night's class earlier, thought.
Well, Glenna thought it was A-Okay for Liam, who was first in the door of the upstairs classroom at Pend Oreille Vets, to attend last night's class.
That conversation marked pretty much the last moment for me to hear any complete sentences uttered by Glenna.
Further attempts at comprehension on this first night of doggie obedience class reminded me a bit of those occasional choppy, in-and-out-of-zone cell phone conversations.
Bill and I stayed in the same zone with Liam for most of the evening, but there was definitely an abundance of cacophonous interference in the classroom communications system, including a good share of coming directly from our beloved Liam.
It all began with the entrance of the German Shepherd, followed by the two handsome, sleek bird dogs.
Since Liam and the German Shepherd female were held down by their parents (note the plural) directly across the room from each other, the two got off to a rousing start at a free-for-all doggie debate.
Meanwhile, the two instructors went about their business, apparently quite used to out-of-control students.
Well, I guess their behavior does make a lot of sense!
After all, it was the basic doggie obedience class. If all dogs obeyed their masters or mistresses every minute of the day, these ladies would be out of a job.
So, I'm sure that when each first session starts out with such chaotic and noisy pandemonium, the teachers simply smile inside, "Ah, job security."
In the meantime, owners are thinking such nightmarish thoughts as, "Is my baby gonna flunk this class? Are we gonna get out of here alive?"
Well, class got started after Glenna proudly paraded her two well-behaved, laid-back pooches into the room. The pair have certainly "been there, done that" with other people's out-of-control dogs.
I think she had a Pavlovian motive by showing off her dogs, and it was NOT aimed at the canine students. Instead, Glenna was probably teasing us owners with well-behaved, four-legged carrots, showing us that if all went well, our dogs could certainly act the same.
She also brought around the true Pavlovian magic for the students-----treats----whispering directly into my ear, because it was so loud everywhere around me, "Give Liam treats." I think she did the same for every student-owner group.
So, having taken doggie obedience classes with both Kiwi and Foster, I had come prepared with a bag of treats, only I was holding on to Liam so hard that it was impossible for me to let go and reach inside the fanny pack to grab some goodies.
That was Bill's job at the very first doggie obedience class he had ever attended.
I do believe he looked shell-shocked for most of the evening and was secretly plotting what required event might be going on down at the Presbyterian church next Tuesday evening.
Still, he did respond when I barked at him, "Fill out the form . . . yes, he's had his shots . . . he was born Oct. 7, 2015."
I also barked when Bill asked me to sign the form.
"You sign it; he's your dog too!" I reminded him. I'm sure at that moment Bill would have been happy to relinquish all claims to Liam, but being the gentle soul he his, Bill performed his assistant to the handler duties just fine, including handing over the treats.
"I have a feeling Liam's gonna need to go No. 2," I said to Bill later in the class, knowing that what goes in must come out and there was a lot going in.
By that time, he had consumed approximately 50 treats almost nonstop, but every time he did, the barking stopped, for about ten seconds.
Glenna made me feel good when I actually heard her say that "you might be giving your puppies treats every 20 seconds . . . but you can eventually stretch that out."
That's good because I don't know if Co-Op Country Store has a large enough supply of those little chewy morsels to get us through seven weeks of obedience.
Besides the "meet and greet," definitely the scariest meet and greet I've ever encountered, we also went through orientation on preparing for class, necessary equipment and what to bring to each class. That includes something like a towel or a small rug for the dog to occupy as "its" space during sessions.
Glenna said I could bring Liam's mattress to class------that is if he hasn't chewed it to smithereens by next time.
We actually did practice some leash work. Glenna introduced a new technique from prior classes on getting our dogs to heel. It made a lot of sense and, for the most part, there's not much tugging going on.
Our wonder dog Liam breezed through his individual practice, at least with Glenna. Let's just say his mistress is climbing a steeper learning curve. The nice part: Liam quit barking for leash practice. That was good.
When we went back to our space, however, and the bird dog down at the end, which Liam had not seen, showed up for its leash practice in the middle of the room, doggie decibels once again went off the charts.
That initiated a desperate session of stuffing even more treats down Liam's throat along with a gentle admonition from Glenna to get our pup to look at US and not the other performers.
Mark that on the long list of things to practice during the next few days' of homework.
Another item occurred to me after last night's session, and this is one week after Epiphany. What if treats were brought to all political events or town meetings, and every time the discussion got out of control or beyond absurd, somebody fed the offending loud mouths a treat!
Maybe that's the secret to bringing back some civility to public discourse. Of course, with some of the "discourse" I see on Facebook, I don't know how we could send the offender a treat to shut them up . . . . maybe sending an image of some delectable dessert as a comment would do the trick.
I think I'm gonna try that next time I read about refugees shooting too many squirrels in the Sierras. In the meantime, I've got obedience work to do with Liam and more treats to buy. I'm also hoping to get some good candy for Bill so he'll keep coming to class with me and Liam.