Saturday, October 20, 2007

Couper Goes To Kindergarten - Week 1

Everybody got up early on Saturday for Couper's first day of Kindergarten. Couper's Mommy had her alarm set for 7:30AM, but got up before it went off. Big Buddy had his alarm set for 8:30AM, but got up before it went off (OK, 2 minutes before, but that counts). Couper was involved in both wake-ups, so I think he was excited.

The first unexpected problem was what to wear. Couper's Mommy insisted I wear clothes, but said that I did not have to wear a suit. I was going to wear my III Dachshund Brewery shirt, or my "I Love My Wiener" shirt, or my "My Wiener is Huge in Japan" shirt, but was not sure if any of those would be appropriate. (Yes, I actually do own all three.) I somehow felt that would be like wearing a Yankees jersey in Fenway. I finally decided on a neutral blue shirt.

Couper's Mommy and I were nervous. Our vet in Havasu, when noticing Couper's aggression, told us that training classes would do him no good. He told us he was already too hard wired. He put Couper on Puppy Prozac to calm him down. We give it to him less than prescribed and a little less than even we feel we should. However this morning, we made sure that he got a dose. Good idea? I haven't a clue.

We got to Petsmart a little early. Couper was in top form, barking at everybody in the parking lot (actual parking lot picture to the right), at the entrance, at the cashier stands, and in the aisles. As we were walking down the toy aisle, he decided he needed to poop. Let's just say it wasn't one that was easy to pick up and leave it at that. It is a good thing that Petsmart provides bags, paper towels, disinfectant, and hand sanitizer. After cleaning that up, we were ready for class.

When we were there last week, we had signed up for the puppy class. Even though, at five, Couper is not a puppy, the trainer said that the curriculum was the same and since he was small, it should be no problem. As the time worked best for us, and we got the sense that the trainers got commission for signing up people, we took the puppy class. I was a little concerned it was going to be a Jethro Bodine in 5th grade situation.

The class was a little smaller than we had expected. There was one little dog (breed name and actual name forgotten) that was 3 months old and 3 pounds. That dog was held by a child who was there with her younger siblings and her mom. She sat right next to us. Across from us was a puppy German Sheppard and his owner. Couper was his barky self. The little dog was a bit of an instigator. The German Shepard, who was already big, seemed a bit scared of the situation.

The instructor was indeed the one who signed us up last week. For legal purposes, we shall call her Ms. Puppyteacher. (Being that we do not know her last name, that may actually be correct. Please do not sue us if it is.) As she was talking, the German Sheppard kept whining loudly. Finally, Ms. Puppyteacher reached into a cabinet, pulled out a spray bottle, and zapped the German Sheppard with water. It sat him right down. Meanwhile, Couper was randomly barking and occasionally going at the little dog sitting next to him. When Couper got really worked up, Ms. Puppyteacher shot him with spray water too. Kind of. Seems Ms. Puppyteacher is no Sundance Kid when it comes to shooting water bottles. She mostly hit my leg. Couper was no big fan of this one way or the other. He barked and lunged at Ms. Puppyteacher, which prompted more mis-directed spraying. She finally came to the conclusion that Couper was not intimidated by the spray bottle. However, my left foot remained calm and attentive for the rest of the class.

Spray bottle notwithstanding, the first thing Ms. Puppyteacher told us is this class was going to be about positive reinforcement, not training by intimidation. It was treats for good stuff not shock collars for bad stuff. Without saying it directly, it was the opposite of "Dog Whisperer" philosophy. That was fine by me. I do not want Couper to be scared of us. Just to listen to us every once in a while.

Our first lesson was to teach the dog to recognize when it is doing something good by being rewarded and given a positive word. The suggested word was not "good dog", which in actuality is two words, but "yes", which is actually one word. It is very difficult to break from saying "good dog" and for those of us who grew up with the Knicks, harder yet to say "yes" without breaking into our Marv Albert voice. "Quick release by King, Yessssssss! And it counts!!". This is going to take some work.

Our next lesson was to have the dog look at us when we call its name. The catch is that the dog's name can only be said once. No, "Couper, hey Couper! Couper!! Couper!!! Damn it Couper, stop looking at the freaking toy and look at me!!!!!!". This just reinforces the dog ignoring you. She did not say anything, but I could tell that Couper's Mommy was wondering if this works with Big Buddies as well. Maybe she did say something. I forget.

To reinforce the positive and the name calling, we played a game where we hold yummies in our right hand; have the dog sniff and go for those yummies; call his name; wait for him to look us in the eyes; then give him his reward yummy from our left hand. It took Couper about three tries to cut out the middle man and go from the right hand bait immediately to the left hand reward. No eye contact necessary.

The final lesson was to say something to the dog when it is exhibiting bad behavior. One would suspect that if good behavior got a "yes", bad behavior gets a "no". No. Apparently "no" is said too often in the general household for the dog to give it any specific meaning. Is that scientifically proven? Nope, nobody knows. Perhaps the study was done in the Roper household. (Yes, it took three posts to work in Norman Fell. Stay tuned for meaningless references to the two Lionels.) No, the official word for no is "uh uh". Couper's Mommy's first thought was, "Crap, this is going to be tough say instead of 'no'". My first thought was, "Crap, how am I going to spell this in my blog". We later consulted with Couper's Gramma Buddy who gave us the spelling "uh uh". Amazingly, it is in the dictionary.

The class lasted an hour as advertised. By the end, the people were exhausted and the dogs were yummied out. We got homework for the week. We have to work with Couper on the three lessons of the day for 20 minutes a day. The house rule is no TV for Couper until he has done his homework.

So in the end, nobody was hurt and nobody was expelled. I guess we are all going back next Saturday. Hopefully my left foot will dry out by then.

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