Thursday, February 27, 2014

Training Manual - The Begining

During our second week with Barry we realized how little we knew about giving direction and keeping Barry well behaved and happy. Also, let's face it. He's a young pit bull mix with quite a lot of energy and some people find him intimidating. We had already encountered countless people and dogs. The dogs never judged him by his good looks. People, however, did, and still do. We get one of two responses when people react to seeing him (some people don't react and just walk by - which is fine): The first is adoration and the goo goo ga ga types. They want to pet him and they just think he's the bees knees. The second is shear terror or some form of fear. I have seen people jump off the side walk and into the street away from us all while staring mouth agape. I have seen people scoot their bodies up against a building or bush in order to be as far away as possible. Once a man stopped in his tracks and said, "You got him?"Another time we were all in the car picking up sandwiches from a drive-through. The girl opened the drive-through window to take my money but then quickly slammed it closed before taking the cash and pointed to the back seat where Barry sat staring out the car window. Eventually she took my money and gave us our sandwiches. Then there are those that see us coming and just quickly cross the street to the other side before getting anywhere near us, which is a more polite way of going through the terror/fear reaction in my opinion.

I'm not nearly as interested in you as I am that treat!
We never allow Barry to get close to anyone anyway. Not unless they invite us over and want to pet him. We always assume most people need to get where they're going or aren't interested in having a dog near them. Like I've mentioned before, Barry's interests mostly include other animals and always treats and food. Other animals is where we have the biggest issues. He pulls toward the other animal (be it squirrel or dog) and does this high pitched whistle whine. We pull him back in line with us and continue on our route but he's not happy about it. On some rare occasions he just walks on by while Husband and I look at one in another in silent shock and then promptly give him a treat for being good.

So combined with the fact that he's rather strong and gets all wild when we see an animal (oh, also that he's a pit bull and we have a MICROSCOPE on us) we needed to really do some training. I want Barry to be so well behaved that people just can't help but change their minds. Also, I'd love to be able to walk him and enjoy it thoroughly. Not that I don't enjoy our walks but, well, I kind of don't right now. The frigid winter temps don't help either.

Wild best peering through the exotic house plant... Can it be tamed?
An obedience class was definitely in order. We didn't really know where to start. I googled dog obedience class  and checked out reviews, location, and pricing and settled on a good compromise of a the three. PetSmart was a 5 minute drive away, had some pretty good reviews and the price was right! It was a 6 week course.

Training was each Sunday evening. Our first training session was just Barry, Husband, me and the trainer. We were starting up a week after the first class started but were allowed to continue and we'd just make up the time. There were a few hitches right away - such as the fact that the lady I spoke to on the phone said class would start on Sunday but she meant Saturday. Technically we were signed up for Saturday classes but we were able to get it changed. Our trainer was great. She was amazing with Barry. The second week there was no class because the trainer was sick. The second class also included two other women and their small sweet dogs, Daisy & Madison. They were so great and didn't mind Barry getting all up in their little dog's business. He did too. A couple of times. I think it lost it's magic, though, once he's sniffed and they sniffed and they were all friends. He calmed down after those couple of times. I was just grateful their owners didn't judge Barry. They seemed to like him. The trainer seemed to like him too.

What's not to like? Look at me!
The first few sessions went well. Barry was most likely cared for and somewhat trained before he was found on the street and taken in to the shelter because he knew lots of basics. Our trainer mentioned that some of the tricks or commands might be too repetitive and boring for him because he already knows how to do them and that could be why he would sometimes zone out and stop paying attention to us during class. She told us to break it up - try a new command, use a different treat, walk him around the room and get some water, etc. Much of her advise was really helpful to us. We had no idea of some of the things she taught us and so we're glad we had the experience. We learned more than Barry did.

The last couple of classes were combined with a puppy training course. This sort of became chaos. There were probably 4 or 5 other new dogs suddenly in this smallish room all for training. The three original dogs and us, their owners, were stuck repeating old commands and working on things we'd learned. We did a couple of things to mix it up by having our dogs walk through the pet store and keep their attention when they walked by the puppies. So FUN! Barry hadn't been properly introduced to any of the puppies, and with good reason. He is 100X their size and full of energy. Because he hadn't been properly introduced he was just dying to sniff and lick each of them! Unfortunately (or fortunately?) we want to be polite to any of the dogs and their owners so we just couldn't allow Barry to introduce himself to all the new puppies - not with his typical rude behavior. The classes eventually got so boring and so repetitive (even for us) that we were just trying to get through it and trying to see that this was a good thing for Barry and good for us as well. Toward the end of the last few classes (when the puppies were brought in) Barry would start talking, well, that's what I call it, loudly over the trainer. He would be making this strange sounding yapping noise, similar to someone talking really loud in a strange language that might be drunk and/or deaf. Ya follow? Anyway, all attention was on Barry and I don't think he actually liked the attention. He would get antsy and upset and pee a little in the room. The funny thing was that there were all these small dogs, most of which were puppies, then there's the biggest dog in the room, Barry the pit bull, all excited and yappy in this small obedience training class. He was the big oaf making strange noises and tinkling in front of everyone. God, he is so lucky we love him dearly.

I am lucky. So glad you rescued me!
Anyhow, that is now over and while I'm very glad we did it I'm so glad it's over. It's so nice not to have to get out on a Sunday evening. Instead we can snuggle up on the couch with hot tea (or bourbon) and Barry and watch AMC's The Walking Dead - now that it's back on.

Next up on training: The Behaviorist House Call

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