We tried another training class when Cricket was a year and a half old. She’d been getting bad reports from the groomers for biting and general recalcitrance, and Mom had heard about this teacher from a friend of a friend and we decided to make the effort to try again.
The new teacher ran her school out of a small store front. The floor was rubbery and easy to clean, and the room was big enough to take six dogs per class with two owners each, with a row of chairs for the non participating owners.
The teacher had a long haired German shepherd who came in for the first class to demonstrate what the training could accomplish. He stayed quietly in his crate until he was called. She showed us how they played tug of war with a flexible flying saucer, but as soon as she said drop it, he did, and sat down like a gentleman. Then she showed us some of his tricks, like being shot and playing dead and coming back to life. But most of all she showed us that he listened to her. He was well behaved and happy. She never yelled at him or, God forbid, hit him, or sprayed him with a water bottle.
She talked about how to teach a behavior by capturing it as it happened and naming it and rewarding it. So instead of forcing him into a sit or lie down, she’d wear her treat bag and click when he did what she wanted and name the behavior until he recognized the name.
She wore the treat bag attached to her belt loop. It looked like a mini-fanny pack, but she wore it in front so she could reach the treats easily. She showed us how to press the clicker and immediately feed the treats to the dog to reward the correct behavior.
I already felt like a failure before the class started, because most of the other students were continuing on directly from puppy class in the fall. Cricket was older than the other dogs, but she didn’t mind. She’s not much of a shame puppy.
There was a Golden Retriever, who liked to roll over into submissive position every few minutes, and a German shepherd who wore a kerchief at his neck. There was a black lab, second to the Golden in submissiveness, but more playful. And then there was the Mastiff, this enormous bull of a dog, with a chain collar around his neck, because he was stronger than both of his parents. His bark was deep and loud, especially in the small room. And then there was Cricket, the oldest and smallest dog in the class.
The teacher sent us home with a list of things to buy, including a new harness for Cricket, which would be our third attempt to switch over to a harness from a collar and leash. Cricket has a Houdini-like talent for escaping the little vests in the middle of the street.
Cricket actually enjoyed training, at home. She loved the treats. We finally discovered one brand of chicken treats that worked every time, even when everything else was hit or miss, so we bought in bulk. But once we got to class, it was as if the treats had gone rancid, even though I’d cleaned the treat bag and filled it with fresh treats right before class. Cricket would sit there and pant at me and not hear any of my instructions, and even if she took a treat in her mouth, she’d spit it onto the floor.
Oh, and she climbed out of her new harness within the first few minutes of class.
The teacher called Cricket relentless. It wasn’t a compliment. She also said that I wasn’t holding my ground enough. I wasn’t matching her relentlessness the way I should be.
Cricket learned how to sit and stay and, sometimes, to lie down on command. She learned that she loves chicken treats. I learned that teaching new skills to a reluctant student is torture, and that I’m not good at being consistent. I learned that I hate the sound of the clicker and that I’m not built to be a dog trainer.
My one real success, though, was mat training. I placed the mat on the floor and gave Cricket her treat when she stood on it, even with one paw. Then she got treats for sitting on the mat. Then, she got treats for staying on the mat. Cricket loved this game. She loved the endless treats she could get just for sitting there and staring at me. She could stay on the mat for almost two minutes at a time, as long as I gave her a days worth of treats to make it worth her while, and as long as nothing more exciting came along, like the mailman.