After six weeks of intermediate puppy school, Lizzie graduated last night.  Last week, Jim the trainer, and I were talking about Lizzie’s advancement after graduation.  He suggested since she is headstrong and still a bit on the wild side, and since she never went to beginner classes, that I enroll her in another intermediate class before she moves up to the advance class.  I took this to be good advice since I see how well all the dogs respond to him and I’ve come to trust, and respect him over the past six weeks.

Last night before class I asked Jim if I could have a few minutes of his time at some point before the night ended.  He must have sensed the urgency in my voice as he pulled me in to talk before class.  I told him Lizzie did not display good obedience last weekend and I wanted to know the appropriate way to correct this behavior.  I did mention that there were a few times she actually came back when called, even though she clearly had to stop and think about it.  Then, there were other times where she just took off without even thinking about it.  I mentioned I kept her tied up most of the weekend and tried to work with her when she wasn’t tied.  Basically he said Lizzie isn’t convinced that I’m in charge (no kidding).  Until she learns to “respect” me, she will continue to do whatever she wants.  He also explained where she came from the wild, her instincts will pull her back there.  She wants the best of both worlds, to be roaming free and to have a warm home with food when she’s done roaming.  He explained using treats as a way to make her come back does not teach her obedience.  Using treats as a reward for obedience drives the message home.  He said it is unreasonable to expect anyone who hasn’t brought in a dog from the wild to understand the patterns or behaviors of a wild dog.  He then referred to the incident which left Lizzie banned from a neighbor’s yard at the lake.  She is high energy and spirited.  Where she roamed free from yards to woods for so long, it will take even longer for her to realize that is unacceptable behavior now.  And, of course it will be unacceptable to the very people who put food out for her and tried to capture her while she was roaming, now that she has a home.  It is on me, the master, to train her to obey.  She is strategically smart, street worthy, head strong and independent; a challenge to say the least.  She is a fighter, a survivor and a loner with a playful puppy heart.  Although she loves dogs and people, she will choose freedom and play over food and shelter until she is starving and cold.  When around me, her master, she is protective and vocal.  Her breed is high-strung and anxious and trying to domesticate her hasn’t been easy.  Jim agrees she has tremendous potential and with all the history behind her, she will train to be a stellar dog.  It just takes time.  He likes his students to come in as puppies.  Somewhere around 4 to 6 months old is the best time to train a dog, according to Jim.  It takes a while to get them settled down, but they learn better, faster and in the long run are easier to train than an older dog set in their ways.  Lizzie was over a year when we started training.

Graduation night was a compilation of review and tests.  Reviews went well and then Jim had our dogs sit next to us.  We were to walk behind them and make them stay in the sitting position in front of us.  All the while we are telling them “good sit, stay”.  Jim excuses himself for a minute and comes back into the arena with the biggest German Shepherd I have ever seen.  This massive gentle giant was extraordinarily calm, but very intimidating.  This is Jim’s 10-year-old pride and joy who is brought out for every graduation class.  No one was scared, we all knew this dog had to be perfectly trained if he was Jim’s.  Jim is going to walk this beast in front of all the dogs, one by one.  Using only words, we are to command our dogs to stay in the sitting position while the German Shepherd approaches.  Right.  Jim and Shepherd approach the first dog, who did very well until the Shepherd was right in front of him.  The dog stood up, and failed.  Second dog did better, stayed sitting until the Shepherd moved on and then the dog jumped up to sniff the Shepherd’s butt.  Fail.  Third dog is next (we are after that), the little Fawn (this thing looks just like a tiny baby deer) was a bit frightened of the Shepherd and starting barking and jumping.  That was all Lizzie needed to see and hear as she bolts out of her spot and goes right up to the Shepherd nervously wagging her tail, ears back, inviting the Shepherd in.  Fail and fail.  The last two dogs much of the same, fail and fail.  All the dogs failed the German Shepherd test.  Crap!  Shepherd goes away, all dogs take their place and the master’s are now beside the dogs (not behind them).  Enter four kids riding a bike, skateboard, scooter and one bouncing a ball.  We are to command our dogs to stay in the sitting position next to us while the kids ride in, run around and create distractions and commotion.  Every single dog passed with flying colors.  Not one of them moved, not even Lizzie.

The Grand Finale – each kid ditched their toys and came back with stuffed squirrels on retractable lines.  The kids were to throw the squirrels in front of the dogs and retract them back repeatedly.  We were to command the dogs to stay.  The room was still and every master was nervous, especially me.  I kept thinking this was a lot of temptation for Lizzie so I kept talking to her under my breath.  Her eyes never left the squirrel in front of her.  Back and forth, she was doing great.  I could feel her apprehension; I knew she wanted to pounce… but she didn’t.  In fact, none of the dogs did.  They all passed!  Just when we thought we were in the clear, Jim had the kids retract the squirrels back and squeeze them continuously.  The squirrels all squeaked!  It was too much for the dogs to bear, the noise, the temptation, the anxiety, they all went wild and went after the squirrels!  Fail, fail, fail, fail, fail, and fail.  Ugh.  After the disappointment of the squeaky squirrel test, Jim explained the difference between being obedient and just doing something for a treat.  Point taken.  It was a tremendous lesson to the master’s.  In a real life situation, if your dog goes after a squirrel (or something), they are likely to cause commotion through a yard, get hit by a car or get lost or in harm’s way through the woods, all the while getting more and more aggressive while chasing.  Got it.  Wow.  Then he told us, only advanced or military dogs have ever passed that test, but it ‘s a good way to get the message across to the master’s. Well done,  and point taken.

A small ceremony with treats and certificates, all the dogs passed the course and are graced on to the advanced class in July.  Jim pulled me aside and said he would like Lizzie to join the advanced class, even though he had previously recommended she take the intermediate class over.  He said he’d been thinking about it, watching the videos over again and decided that Lizzie should advance with the dogs she’s bonded with in this class.  As well as commands, dogs learn from each other.  She’s learned all the commands, it’s her spirit that needs curbing.  He also suggested, along with advanced class, I bring her in for a couple of private lessons with his highly acclaimed Shepherd and I move her from a choke collar to a prong collar.  I never liked the idea of the prong collars, but I know they work.  I’ve noticed every dog Jim brings into class for a cameo appearance is not only perfectly trained, they are also wearing prong collars.  I hesitate, but agree.  He sees great potential in Lizzie.  With proper training he believes Lizzie could be a dog rescuer or tracking dog.  With that, I agree, and Lizzie advances forward.  I’d be happy if she just stayed in the yard and stopped barking in the house.