August 16th, 2016
Two weeks ago, Bailey began her first dog obedience course. She seems a little old at almost 19 months to just be starting her formal training. But, dog trainers are not easily found in Labrador West, a remote community. Our area only has one trainer available. She was recovering from back surgery last year and only began offering classes this summer. Classes are held outside in the park area beside either Jean Lake or Tanya Lake. Bailey’s group was to meet at Jean Lake which is not far from our house. It is less busy than Tanya Lake. However, a thunderstorm threat moved the class to Tanya Lake – the local swimming beach. My husband and I arrived a little early with Bailey to get comfortable before the class. The threatening clouds went by without incident leaving the sun to shine down on us.
People were flocking to the beach for an early evening swim. I immediately noticed two groups playing Frisbee and football. Balls and swimmers clearly meant that Bailey was going to be distracted. The other participants arrived along with the instructor and the class started. Two of the dogs did not feel comfortable with Bailey near them. It seemed her size was intimidating and the drool running non-stop out of her mouth did not help. A three year old collie tolerated Bailey’s advances while the youngest class member, an eight month old puppy, wanted to meet everyone. Our reasoning behind Bailey attending was to have her respond to commands even when distractions such as other dogs and people were present. I am not sure that we succeeded. Three times, Bailey was able to gain enough momentum in the hopes of getting to the other dogs that I had to either give up the leash or end up being dragged through the grass. Thankfully, the two dog owners handled the situations calmly and I was able to retrieve Bailey. It was obvious why we were there.
We had bitten off the mother lode of all distractions. I could tell that the heat from the sun was making Bailey uncomfortable. After all, who wears a black fur coat to the beach? The lake was looking more inviting to Bailey with each passing minute. Add two very young children who were gleefully shouting as they ran into the shallows and I knew Bailey’s attention would not be on heeling and sitting. I was not sure if she wanted to rescue them or simply join in the fun. We compromised. I would take her to the lake for a paw soaking and water break. Then, the two of us would return to class. The instructor asked us to move in a circular fashion with our dogs heeling by our sides. Next, we were instructed to have our dog stop and sit on command. The dog was to be rewarded upon doing it. Bailey did as she was told for a while. The black flies started to make their presence felt at this point much to my girl’s displeasure. I was not doing much better. My oldest son had returned home from camp with a flu bug. He managed to infect me. I should have stayed home in hindsight. I could tell that Bailey was done after only 20 minutes. I had to agree with her as my fever was starting to rise at the same time as the heat from the sun beat down on us. We managed to last the entire one hour session before heading to the van. Away from the whirlwind of activity on the beach, Bailey and I appreciated the quiet and cool ride home.
The two of us returned the next week to a class at Jean Lake. The sun came out just as the class was starting after a day of rain and clouds. I could tell that Bailey was hoping to run around like she does at the dog park. No play and too much heat sapped Bailey of any enthusiasm. The treats and praise became less effective as the class progressed. It was becoming very apparent to me that taking a full hour class with no breaks was not working for Bailey. She kept looking up at me as if to say, “When will the torture end?” Bailey did spring to life when one of the other dog owners whipped out her bag of Cheezies to treat her dog. One whiff of cheese (who cared if it was fake cheese) and Bailey was determined to sit – just not next to me. She scrambled to the other owner with me being pulled behind like a rag doll. At which point, Bailey plunked herself down in a perfect sitting position and waited for the contraband treat. I learned that there are high value treats and then there are higher value treats. Tonight, we will return with a bowl and water jug for round three. I am sure that Bailey will scouting for her new fave treat – Cheezies.