Monday, November 12, 2007

Couper Goes To Kindergarten - Week 4

The morning of Week 4 started out poorly. Nobody wanted to get up. Not even Couper. Sometimes when Couper does not want to get up, it is OK; he does like to cuddle in the mornings. Sometimes it is bad news. On Saturday, it was bad news. Within a half hour of finally getting out of bed, he threw up three times. Once outside. Once on the floor. Once on the carpet. The ralphing hat trick. If we weren’t afraid of him throwing up in the bed, we would have called in sick and gone back to sleep. The possibility of him throwing up in Petsmart was much less disgusting. So we went to Kindergarten as scheduled. As it turned out, he did not throw up again.

He was, however, not in a good mood. The walk in was the worst ever. We assumed we were supposed to be loose leash walking into the store again. We did not park as close to the store as last week. After getting out of the car and leashed up, we stopped about every two steps on our way to the crosswalk in front of the store. Remember last week at the crosswalk, where he was good and there was no car traffic? That was so last week. This week he was pulling and barking as a parade of cars went by in both directions. When finally a couple of cars stopped, letting us cross, we could not be bothered with loose leash nonsense. Couper pulled us right across, barking the whole way at the drivers who stopped. I think if we had practiced loose leash walking techniques and stopped, they would not have thought twice about running us over. By week 4 of this, shouldn't this be getting easier, not harder?

We had Ms. Puppysub again. Apparently Ms. Puppyteacher will be back next week. Ms. Puppysub was better this week about teaching the curriculum for the week, rather than dwelling on what we had not been taught. Maybe there was a sub plan. Also for the second week, it was just Couper and the German Sheppard. I guess the little dog has dropped out. We don’t mind, as Couper gets at least half the attention in class now. On the other hand you feel bad for the little dog. What kind of future can a Kindergarten drop-out have in this day and age?

This week we plowed ahead with more commands.

This one is a classic; the ultimate dog command. It is probably the key to the entire course. We don’t stand a chance.

At least twice now an instructor has said, “Don’t say stay unless you can release the dog. So don’t say stay when walking out the door to go to work, because the dog will eventually release itself and the command is lost.” This cracks me up every time. I imagine a dog sitting there for six hours, then saying, “screw it, this guy’s not coming back. I’m gonna rip up the couch”. I imagine Couper sitting there for six tenths of a second and thinking, “What does ‘stay’ mean? Hey, there’s a Mr. Hiney!!! I’m gonna go get it, put it somewhere unreachable, and then bark about it until my Big Buddy comes back.”

The classroom exercise involved having him sit with a yummy in hand (week 1 exercise that Couper has not mastered) and holding the yummy in front of him while saying “stay”. Couper is already good at sitting and staying for a yummy. Often he sits and stays when we don’t even know he deserves a yummy.

Couper’s Mommy: Couper is sitting on his yummy mat staring at me, did he go potty while you two were outside?
Big Buddy: Huh? I dunno. On internet. Uh, yeah, I'll have ranch dressing.
Couper’s Mommy: Fine. Here’s a yummy Little Bud.

When he gets the yummy, off he goes. If that was the point, we would be home free. It isn’t. And we are not yet at a full fledged "stay". At this point, we can only take a step back while he is waiting. If he ever gets good at it, we can increase distance and time. We will be sitting with a yummy in his face for a long while, I fear.

We are supposed to make “come” the better alternative to whatever he is doing. In this case, having a yummy is the alternative (What a surprise, right? Didn’t see that coming did you?). Also, we are to bring him in close to us and give him a big playful rub on the head and say, “yes!!!” Is this better than smelling poop? So far, not really. Let’s spell it out mathematically:

Big Buddy + Couper’s Mommy + yummy + head rub + “Yes!!!” < Smelling Poop

That is not a good equation if you are on the left side. If you are poop, you are feeling pretty good about yourself.

Since the German Sheppard already knew down, we got full attention for that command. Down is making the dog lie down by luring him to the ground with a yummy. This works great with a big dog like a German Sheppard that has to move his whole body towards the floor to follow the yummy. For our little wiener dog, following the yummy to the floor is a matter of dipping his head. Ms. Puppysub could not get 'down" to work with Couper. However, if we ever want him to bow his head in prayer, this could be the trick.

Each of the commands that we learn also have AKC approved hand signals. It isn’t bad enough to remember what to say, we have to remember how to gesture. I think more often than not, I wind up giving referee signals. He may not sit, but he might pace back 5 yards for illegal procedure.

Sit: Move hand from side, straight up 90 degrees. (Not pushing his hiney to the ground as I had been doing)
Stay: Arm out, hand pointed upward.
Come: Arm up in the air and hand in a moving into a fist. Couper may not come, but cabs keep stopping for me.
Down: Arm down with hand straight out.

Don’t quote these signals. I likely have them wrong. However, I have known since I was 4 that both hands on hips is “Offsides”.

The last thing we did was practice loose leash walking in the store. Our distractions this time? Customers, employees, and debris in the store. I got to wondering if being a dog training distraction is part of the Petsmart job description…

Interviewer: Your resume looks good. Can you stock shelves?
Interviewee: I sure can. I help my mom unload the groceries all the time and I make sure to stack the soup with the soup and the beans with the beans.
Interviewer: Excellent. How about pricing? Can you put stickers on things?
Interviewee: Can I ever. Man, one time in high school, I put Motley Crue stickers all over my geometry book. There were like so many, they wouldn’t even take it back.
Interviewer: Great. Now, our trainers have people who own behavior problem dogs walk their dogs around the store during peak hours. Can you stand there like a dweeb while you get barked at and potentially attacked?
Interviewee: Well, in 4th grade, I was an extra in a school production of “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas”. Stood right there on stage like a statue.
Interviewer: Outstanding. If you can clean up poop, you’ve got the job.
Interviewee: Well I have a little brother, and one time he, like, ate, like, 30 cans of beans and...

Amazingly, Couper was great during the around the store loose leash walking. He did not bark at employees. He did not bark at customers. He did not bark at dogs. Did not pull. Did not try to pick up toys or food. He has never been better. Ms. Puppysub was very impressed. We went back to the classroom, got our homework, and were dismissed from class. On the way out of the store, he barked at employees. He barked at customers. He barked at other dogs. He pulled the entire way. He went after store items. It was as if he knew he was no longer in class and could revert back to his usual self. The walk back to the car was almost as long as the walk back in.

We are now half way through our class. I think we are doing OK, but I was glad there was no midterm. I have a bad feeling there is going to be a final. At least we haven't been expelled. Or dropped out.

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