For weeks, the specter of Obedience 1 had been hanging over us. Yes, Angus had breezed through the six weeks of puppy kindergarten, but in the month between the end of that class and the start of this new one, he had developed some barking problems. Fear, wariness, a need to protect — I wasn’t sure of the reason, but I worried that he would appear intimidating to the other dogs in the class or, if nothing else, would cause a commotion.
My husband is mostly Norwegian. I am mostly shy. We are not fans of commotion. (I have still barely lived down the day, six years ago, when our Lab Rosie shamed us in obedience class by throwing one of her wolverine-like temper tantrums. “Control your dog,” the teacher said sternly, while Rosie thrashed and bucked and nearly bit my ear off.)
So a few days before Angus was to begin Obedience 1, I e-mailed the instructor and asked her how best to handle his barking. He’s not aggressive, I told her, but he does sometimes bark when he sees strange dogs. Should he meet the other dogs out on the sidewalk in advance?
Absolutely not, she said. She said we would have to spend the first few minutes of class behind a screen. Once Angus got used to being in a room full of dogs, we could emerge from the screen. This sounded demoralizing and embarrassing. I envisioned a 6-foot-tall Japanese screen with Angus and me lurking behind it, mysterious and shadowy figures.
As it turned out, though, everyone had screens. Angus settled down right away and only had to be behind his for a couple of minutes. Other dogs, I will tell you smugly, spent the entire hour behind their screens, one of them popping up every now and then to see what he was missing.
The screens are made of wire, covered with blue and orange tarps, and are about 4 feet high; Doug and I could see over ours just fine to follow the teacher’s instructions, but a dog behind a screen was able to concentrate on the lesson instead of the other dogs.
During that first class, we concentrated on five things: name recognition; sit; lie down; stand; and watch me.
Angus was a champ. He followed all of the commands brilliantly. He looked at the other dogs with interest but without aggression or fear. He also ate almost an entire bag of treats over the course of the hour, so I think he had a good time.
I am thrilled with him. He only has two classes left and is sailing through Obedience, a star. At my command, he comes, he sits, he lies down, he stays and he drops it, whatever it is.
He is 6 months old and weighs 36 pounds. He has quirky ears that mostly point to the left (both of them), giving him a lopsided, quizzical look, and a swirly white and black belly, like marble rye. He follows me everywhere, and he cuddles like mad. He’s turning into a fabulous dog.
Laurie Hertzel is a dog lover, not a dog expert. She is chronicling the first months of her puppy’s development for the Star Tribune.
Coming May 19: A disturbing development. Read previous installments at startribune.com/puppy.