12 Jun 2009

The Dog Trainer

When we picked up our puppy from the breeder she said brightly, "He's very lively, he'll need to be trained..."
Looking back, we were like expectant new parents when asked if they're ready for the baby to arrive. When they say 'yes' you can't help smirking, knowing that they can never, ever, be ready for what is about to hit them.
We thought we were ready for the dog - after all we had two babies and got through that, how hard can it be, right?
By four weeks in, the puppy had house trained himself (hurrah!) but, like many pups, snaps and jumps at anything that moves, and if it doesn't move, forget about it!
He's chewed through my computer graphics tablet cable, he's chewed through the garden clematis, he's chewed through some newly laid turf and one of my late mother's drinks coasters. There are numerous holes in the children's trousers and pyjamas and my kitchen broom will never recover from the mauling it's been given.
So, it was time for the dog trainer! I called a few, looking for spaces and eventually found one, not too far away. He was, he told me, not a trainer but a handler. He was, he said, like Cesar Milan. In fact, he said "I am a dog." Okay, I thought, if you say so.
His advice until the lesson was, "Don't play with the dog. Ignore the dog. From today, your dog has no name." Yes he does, I thought, It's Leo. Ignoring the dog was easy enough for me, but for the boys it was almost impossible.
Off we went on the Saturday, not a little scared ourselves but rather looking forward to the dog being told what's what.
My eldest, Luca, joined the small group of puppy owners, all adults, in the middle of the floor. The dog handler, who looked a bit like Phil Mitchell, barked, "Heel" and the owners and dogs alike started to march around the room. He was so commanding, I almost joined in without a dog.
They followed repetitive commands to 'stay', 'come' and the trickiest of all, the 'down' command. One dog disobeyed so the trainer virtually lay on top of him until the dog lay down. It stayed down as well, but who wouldn't?
We've had five sessions now and Leo is much better behaved though still has a long way to go. Luca has won the most improved owner award for one week and despite being the youngest there, the handler says he has complete control over the puppy. "Your dog is not your pet, he's your hobby." he told Luca.
But what has amazed me is that far from the training just being for the dog, it has brought out Luca's confidence. The handler has a real soft spot for him, he gets lots of 'superbs' and 'spot ons' and Luca glows with pride.
One of the more bizarre aspect of the training hour is that every so often the handler shouts "Luca, what's 7 times 7?" or another similar sum. I have no idea why he does this, but it makes everyone giggle. Luca always gets the answer right as well.
Last week, he asked Luca what his hobby was. We thought he'd say football. "The dog," Luca replied, without missing a beat. Spot on, my son, spot on!