As you know, our first puppy kindergarten class was last night. Scout did pretty well all in all. It’s kind of hard to put the dogs on a grading scale (“You’re at the top of the class, you’re a B student, etc.), because our “puppy” kindergarten kind of turned out to be more like a dog kindergarten. We had dogs of all ages in our class: a golden retriever who seemed perfectly behaved but apparently has issues walking (adult), a pitt bull mix who has trouble with dominance (adult), a lab-terrier mix with all kinds of crazy issues (adult), and then the puppies: a 14-week-old bull terrier mix who actually peed while he was sitting (seriously!), a boxer (who looked no more than 8-10 weeks old, waaayy too young in my opinion to be in a vet’s office, where sick dogs go, but anyway…), and Scout.
Because we’ve been teaching Scout since she was 7 weeks old, she knew most of what we covered in the first class: Sit, Stay, and Down were all pretty simple for her. What kind of tripped us up was the slightly different hand movements that this trainer wanted us to do, and the fact that he wanted us to use treats, which we’ve weaned Scout off of for the most part. Scout sometimes got distracted by the other dogs, and really wanted to meet everyone and play, so we had to practice being patient and keeping her attention on us.
But the real challenge of the night was when we had to teach the dog to do things in succession: Sit then Stay in the Sit position; Down then Stay in the Down position. This last one was tricky for Scout, who kept wanting to rise back to her feet when we’d give the Stay command. The trainer showed us how to lay a hand gently on her back so that she would understand that we wanted her to stay down, and it didn’t take long for Scout to do it on her own.
The real complicated one for Scout was the Stand command. We haven’t taught Scout this command (and admittedly, I’ve never heard of it), but it’s useful for when you need the dog to stand and stay in the stand position. (Um, maybe for grooming purposes? When would you need the dog to stay standing?) We used one hand to give the command, and then gently lifted Scout by putting a hand under her tummy until she was standing, then gave her a treat and lots of praise. By this point in the night, we’d been working for a long time, and Scout was obviously mentally tired and losing interest in learning, so I’m not sure how much of this stuck, but we’ve got a homework sheet of things to practice before next week (there’s the kindergarten part!), so she’ll have a chance to practice later tonight.
All in all, it was a really good experience. We spoke with the trainer about what we were really there for: help with our walks and jumping on people. These are Scout’s two main trouble areas right now. Scout used to walk so well, but in the last month she’s begun to pull pretty hard, and she is already much stronger than me. She can yank me all over the place, so we need to help teach her that this isn’t how to walk on the leash. Scout has great manners in the house for the most part, but on the leash she thinks she’s in charge. The trainer promised that we’d get to that in the third week, and that we could fix it. That’s the lesson I’m really looking forward to. My poor back is quite sore from trying to keep her under control when we’re outside.
The jumping up on people is a fairly common trouble area from what I’ve learned, and it’s just because Scout is so friendly and excitable. The trainer showed the class how to roll up a towel and secure it with rubber bands (a hand towel for puppies), and keep it with you. When the dog jumps up (or does anything that you don’t want them to do), throw the towel at them and at the precise moment that the towel hits them, make a loud, negative noise. “NO!” works, or “EHH!” or whatever you want, so long as it’s negative. Don’t throw it so hard you hurt the dog, but get their attention with it. Aim for the shoulder area, not the rear end. It’s best if you can do it when the dog isn’t paying attention to you, like if they’re jumping up on your guest or something.
He demonstrated the towel technique on the lab mix, which was in near hysterics next to us. The dog just simply didn’t want to be near anyone else, and it was barking up a storm because of it, completely stressed out. (I was silently thanking myself that my only issues at this point are leash walking and jumping up. Aggression/insecurity is a whole new can of worms.) Amazingly, this dog really responded when the trainer threw the towel at it. It whimpered and hid behind the chair, and then calmed completely down. The dog was calmer and no longer freaking out. Towel discipline: sold!
So for a first class, I would say it was a success. Scout was so mentally exhausted that she went right to bed when we got home. We did learn that we shouldn’t feed her before we go to class–Scout consumed almost another meal’s worth of calories in kibble during class time. By the end of it, she actually didn’t want any more. There’s a first time for everything!
We will miss next week’s class because of Scout’s surgery, but we’ll make it up once Scout has healed. In the meantime, we can practice up a storm and really master that pesky Stand command. You know, for whenever it is that you’re supposed to need your dog to stand. ;)