Willow Goes to School

Have you ever done something on a whim, because you friend was going to? When Anne said she was considering signing up for obedience classes with Cali, I almost didn’t join her because I work shifts. For those who have a regular work week, and don’t have to work evenings and nights, count yourself lucky. If you do, then you are all too familiar with having to plan for something months ahead of time. Well, it was the best decision, ever.

I am so proud of my little Portuguese Water Dog. If you would have told me how far we would get, on that first night, I would have laughed. Out loud, and really hard. Willow’s focus that night was on pretty much anything but me. The room was full of barking dogs, jumping dogs, and dogs that really wanted to smell everything and everyone. Our instructor, Holli Murphy, promised that the next week things would be quieter. She was right.

Fast forward a bunch of months. I can now walk into class, put Willow in a down-stay with dogs working in the center of the room, and walk away. And she stays put, for the most part. You can actually see her switch modes when we are there. She becomes focused, and knows she has a job to do, though some of this transformation may be due to the immanent promise of treats. I honestly thought all dogs were food driven, but surprise to me, there are dogs that aren’t. Reicher, the GSD, really could care less about food, but show him a toy or a tug, and watch out. This tug thing looked like fun, so I got one, hoping to get Willow a little more motivated and worked up. I seriously thought I would have to rub bacon fat on it, but no, after a bit she did seem to catch on. One night in class, Holli and Trish, who is Reicher’s mom, were teasing me because I had my wrists inside the wrist straps. Looking down at my hands, I thought, “Isn’t that what they are for?” I guess with a 45lbs dog, that’s ok. Trish tempted me to try it with her boy. Yeah, sure, why not. So hands out of wrist straps, and a silent plea for him to go for the center of the tug, and not my hands, I call him. Wow!!!! Oh my God, the strength. It certainly got my heart pumping to see him coming at me, but I think the scariest part of the whole thing was my attempt to speak German to tell him to let go.

To have Willow look at me, listen, and do what I ask, is just an incredible feeling. My daughter asked if I was going to teach Willow how to use a toilet. I’m pretty sure I was being made fun of at that point, but I didn’t really care. It is a bit like a game, or a puzzle, that Willow is determined to figure out. When we start on a new lesson, I can see her trying to figure out what I am asking her to do. I’m sure at times her eyebrows are knit together with concentration, if only you could see them.

What have we learned so far? Heeling, both on and off lead, stays, recalls, some pattern work, pivoting, hand signals and nose work. She can now do a flip finish to the left, which I was able to teach her after watching some videos online. What this is, is when you dog is sitting/standing in front of you, and then pivots on their front feet, swings their rear to your left and finishes off in a heel position on your left side. I was really proud of us for learning this one, especially since you had to teach it in reverse order. I love it. Willow loves it. Some of our tools along the way have raised eyebrows. Like when my husband came home to find a ceramic casserole dish upside down on the kitchen floor. Well, I needed a pivot pot. Riding crops got re-purposed to help with getting square fronts. Last year’s Christmas gifts ( tea light holders made from 4×4’s and painted red) were used as pylons. You don’t really have to spend lots on teaching aids, dogs don’t really care. As long as you can ignore the strange looks from your family, your good.

I can’t say enough about our incredible instructor. My expectations for Willow have been met and even exceeded, and I have Holli to thank for that. Holli is incredibly humble about her abilities, and would likely say it is from all the hard work we have put in to class. Maybe so, but without her I wouldn’t have had a clue were to start. She breaks down the lessons into simple steps that are easy for newbies to understand, and before you know it, everything makes sense and you actually look like you knew it all along. She is the most awesomest dog person I know, and I am simply in awe of her knowledge. Check out her fb page, Rotten Dog Obedience, for info on classes. Sign up, you won’t be disappointed.

The pictures of Willow and I in class were taken by Holli, as there is no way to safely juggle a camera, treats, and a leash while avoiding tripping over dogs and pylons. Holli isn’t just good with dogs, she’s also a talented photographer, who specializes in photos of man’s best friend. For more on that, head over here.

I’m looking forward to 2016, because I know the learning and adventures will continue.

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