Dog’s Eye View: First night in family dog class
It’s been a long time since I’ve been a student in a group dog training class. For years, I have been on the instructor side. Since the loss of our bull terrier, Stuart, and the adoption of our 2-year-old terrier mix, Lawrence, I’ve been riding a whirlwind of lessons and learning with lots of interesting and mixed emotions.
I’ve shared my life with many different dogs through the years, but it’s been 10 years since I started out with a new dog. I always kept Stuart’s social skills up by reinforcing his good behavior, but as the years rolled by, it was more of the routine of our relationship and daily life that we shared, not learning new foundational skills. So, I took the leap and joined our Family Dog Class students with a student of my own, Lawrence.
The first night at class, I arrived with my tote packed with his sleeping mat, water bowl, food, stuffed toys and bones. I remembered to bring tons of especially scrumptious training treats. It was exciting for him and me. Our classroom was divided so that the dogs could not see each other, but Lawrence barked, anyway. Gosh, it’s so humbling to have your own dog create a fuss. As instructors, our role is to help people settle in and get comfortable, but being the one with a fussing dog helped me remember and identify more closely with how our students might feel.
Lawrence did settle in some, and we practiced his new skills in the training classroom. During the potty break portion of the class, he managed to go outside on leash and even started to pay attention to me a bit amid the excitement. I was so proud of him.
Back in the classroom, he settled down a little faster than when we arrived. I was noticing more quickly when he needed attention to stay comfortable on his little resting mat. This is a steep learning curve for our students. As pet dog owners, we are not so accustomed to paying such close attention to every nuance of our dogs’ behavior. In this exciting environment, things can go south in a few seconds or minutes. It’s mentally exhausting. By the end of the hour-and-a-half class, dogs and owners were ready to head home.
One thing that surprised me was my initial response to the fact that my whole life had changed. Lawrence is a very easy dog to live with. He picked up on the house training rules at our house, and he learned that the kitties are not to be chased. He’s sweet and fun. But my comfortable dog owner routine was turned upside down. Lawrence needs to practice his new skills every day, throughout the day. I wear my treat pouch all the time so I can quickly reinforce the behaviors that help Lawrence learn how we live together. I can’t just get up and wander out to the kitchen for coffee. I have to have a plan in place to get Lawrence going for the day.
So, I’m sharing with you, dear new dog trainers, a view from the inside of Family Dog Training Class with my new dog. We’re all in this together, and I love every minute of it.
Sandra Kruczek is a certified professional dog trainer with Total Teamwork Training, LLC, with more than 30 years of experience.
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