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Human on other end of leash is the only thing holding Opie back

Opie Goes to Obedience School

Opie Goes to Obedience School

December 13, 2007|By TIM ROWLAND

We have time to think about our dogs, what, maybe three hours a day? Conversely, a dog has little else to do in the average work week than gnaw rawhide and think about us.

Those odds aren't good, but it's never been of particular concern before, since in the past all my dogs have had the equivalent of cotton candy between the ears.

I am thinking specifically of Lacie, who once was chasing a fox out at the college when it performed the highly elusive maneuver of going up a tree. Lacie, of course, did not notice and continued to chase air for the next three miles.

If any of these dogs needed to stand in for Lassie, little Timmy would have been mulch.

But an odd phenomenon has occurred. It appears that the bouvier des Flandres named Opie might actually be, dare I say, not stupid. Either that, or this is a really good obedience school because he is actually learning some beneficial behaviors.


This might or might not be good news because I want a dog that is smart, but not too smart, as in smarter than me. As mentioned, the BDF has a lot of time all day to sit around and think up ways in which his newfound knowledge can be put to use - for his benefit, not mine.

For example, he has been taught to "give," meaning that he will surrender whatever happens to be in his mouth at the time - toys, chews, small children - in exchange for praise or a treat.

He also knows that he has "indoor toys" that are not allowed to go out. So when it's time to go outside in the morning, he will dutifully grab an inside toy and stand at the door, knowing that he will be asked to "give." And when he does, he will be rewarded.

This has led Beth to speculate as to who is training whom. It's led me to accuse him of extortion.

After the last class, we went to a Christmas open house - explaining that we were late because we had just been to obedience training. Our friend Charlie looked at Beth and then nodded in my direction and asked her, "Is he learning anything?"

There was a dismal plausibility about this question because more and more I am finding myself behind Opie in the learning curve. Instead of owner being impatient with dog, dog gets impatient with owner - like I'm not getting it fast enough for him.

Along with one of his classmates, a border collie named Roxanne, Opie is possessed with what I call Alan Greenspan syndrome, seeing as both are blessed with a goodly portion of "irrational exuberance." They are happy, energetic dogs, eager to learn and keen on doing everything at once.

For example, during the lesson on "come," if Roxanne can streak toward her owner and midway leap up and grab something from the treat table and continue on without missing a stride - well, why wouldn't she?

The dogs are taught to run along what Shirley at Peaceable Paws calls "temptation alley," a minefield of canine temptations that they are - ideally - trained to ignore.

Opie can walk past the toy squid without interest. He can bypass the tennis ball, the tug toy and even a plate of dog food with nary a tug on his leash. But when he gets to the cow hoof, it's too much. It is like waving a martini in front of Dean Martin.

It's interesting to see each individual dog's weakness. Hannah the bulldog wanted the squid. Roxanne wanted the food. We are instructed to hold onto their leashes, keeping their noses a few inches away from the goodies, giving them a treat when they finally stop straining.

This usually works. Except in Roxanne's case, where - finding her progress impeded with her nose a few inches from the dog food said, "no problem," and simply reached out with her paw, instead of going to the food, pulled the food to her.

Next week is graduation and a competition to see whose dog has learned the most. The smart money is on Roxanne. But I think Opie would have a genuine shot were it not for me hanging around his neck like the millstone that I am.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or by e-mail at You can listen to his podcast, The Rowland Rant, on

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