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Obedience school, Opie not clicking

November 15, 2007|By TIM ROWLAND

Opie goes to obedience school
A personal journey
Part I

We're in the training hall, 7-month-old, 70-pound Opie is in full freakout mode, lunging at his tether, I'm lunging at Opie, we both get tangled and end up on the floor, I'm told to start shoving treats in his face and I do and he throws them back up on my pants, he howls and groans and I'm looking around desperately for help and it finally arrives when the teachers decide that the only way to keep his heart attacks down to one a minute is to place visual barriers around his training station.

So - I thought the first day went well.

The bouvier de Flandres is getting to be a big boy, and at times I fear he outgrew his brain at about 5 months. So he definitely needed some schooling. Actually, this was our second class, but the first one went noticeably better because we were not required to bring our dogs.

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The school, Peaceable Paws, encourages a technique called "click and treat." The only equipment required is a small clicker and about seven pounds of food.

Shirley, our instructor, said we would be amazed at how soon the animals would pick up on this - the dog learns that when he hears the click, something good happens and modifies his behavior accordingly.

Beth and I liked the idea because it trains based on rewards instead of punishment. And I couldn't believe how well it worked. At home, the BDF learned to sit the first day that I worked with him and he learned "down" on the second.

I'm not terribly competitive, but I am terribly proud of Opie and I worked with him quite a bit through the week to ensure he would be the star of the class.

And if by "star," you mean "Bill O'Reilly-like meltdown," he didn't disappoint. He panicked. Then I panicked. Then we both panicked in one big panic volcano. He paid no attention to my voice. He paid no attention to my treats. He didn't want cheese, he didn't want a meatball, he didn't want grilled chicken breast. All he wanted was his mommy, who by that time was at the other end of the room with Hannah the bulldog, who is basically obedient, but was enrolled because we figured she could use a refresher course.

So there was everyone else in the hall, dogs neatly at their feet, sitting and downing and calm and happy - and then there was me and the Ope, off in a corner, behind three-foot barricades, lacking only the pointy dunce caps. At that very moment, I wanted nothing more than to be out of there, and Opie was seconding the motion.

It was Shirley who came to the rescue, talking sweetly to Opie and working him into a calmer frame of mind.

I was grateful, but I couldn't understand why Opie would listen to her and not me. On the drive home, Beth "put out a feeler" that perhaps I was part of the problem. I was dubious.

"He feeds off of you, and he can tell ..."

"Of course he feeds off me, I stuffed enough cheese in his face to keep Wisconsin in business for the next ..."

"... No, he's very attuned to you, and if you're scared, he'll pick up on that and he'll be ...

"... No he won't, he's a dog, for heaven's ..."

"... Because he trusts you and he can sense when you ..."

"... He's a dog, Beth, a dog. Not Kreskin. A dog ..."

"... Panic and that makes him worry that ..."

"... No, he wasn't worried. Grandmothers worry. He went full Jamie Lee Curtis in 'Halloween II'..."

"... There might really be something to be afraid of."

I stopped talking, a move that usually plays out to be among the smartest things I ever do. Beth assures me that as he gets used to other dogs, he'll be happier, more attentive and better behaved.

As for me - well, it's a process.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or via e-mail at timr@herald-mail.com. You can listen to his podcast, The Rowland Rant, on www.antpod.com.

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