Friday, August 25, 2006

Training is key


Tony was my favorite dog. He was me, funny and goofy.
I knew more about Tony’s “parents” than I knew about my own. His father was a champion seeing eye dog that belonged to the owner of the Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation in Bloomfield CT. Tony’s mother belonged to a woman I worked with a Yale. Great lineage. This dog was going to be the best.
On his papers he was officially named Sir Galahad of the Sleepy Meadow Mountain Spring on the Left Side of the Hill or some ridiculous name like that. I just named him Tony.

He was a German Shepard that was rejected from the guide dog vocation. I was told that he was “too tall.” At the time it sounded right, and what did I know? I was also told before I shelled out beaucoup bucks that he had done “exceptionally well” on his IQ test. That sounded pretty good too, although I have no idea what the hell an IQ test is for a dog.

Tony grew rapidly. He had, as I liked to call them, “dancer’s legs” with a “model’s neck.” I was delusional. But Tony was my boy.

He had big ears like a donkey and would ride in the front seat of my jeep with me. Friends passing by the car thought we looked like a strange couple.

Tony was strong. One of the very first incidents we had together was when he saw a squirrel and pulled at the leash so hard, I pulled my back out and was in bed for 8 days.Okay, that could happen to anyone.

A good friend of mine came by one day during a snowstorm. She loved Tony.
She had this visual of taking him for a romp in the freshly fallen snow. I tried to warn her. The next time I looked out the window, Tony was dragging her through the snow on her stomach up the street like the dogs in the Iditarod sled race.
That was the last time she walked Tony.

One of his many talents, which I thought to be ingenious, was when I had company, Tony would sit on the floor, or the couch or wherever he wanted for that matter, and stare at someone’s shoes. He would focus in on their shoelaces. After a few minutes of gazing at their laces, he would walk over to the person and gently start pulling their shoelaces. He was untying their shoes! I was amazed. It must have had something to do with those “seeing eyes.” He was like a skilled surgeon with exacto knife teeth. I of course found this hilarious and marveled at this genius of a dog. Usually my company was too stunned to comment.

Tony was active. Actually, hyperactive was more like it. After a year or so, my form of discipline didn’t exactly work anymore (which was laughing at everything he did) and I knew I needed professional help, and so did Tony.

I hired a Personal Trainer for Tony. Ken the Dog Trainer was his name.
Now this wasn’t cheap. It was $1000. I signed a contract that said Ken would not leave my side until Tony was trained.

Ken died first.

All I needed to do was pass the evaluation test that Ken put before Tony and myself andwe could start the training. What if we weren’t accepted? We would be laughed at, ridiculed. But it was for the good of Tony.
Okay, I was ready. Needless to say we both scored low on the “Alpha Test” Tony, Ken determined was the alpha dog, I was not. The one good thing was that Ken said that Tony was so gentle that, "He wouldn't bite roast beef." And that was true. He was gentle. Ken accepted the challenge but warned us of the uphill battle.

The training went well for the first 10 months. Every kind of weather, every situation-Shopping malls, parks,playgrounds, and downtown New Haven were our testing grounds.

Tony had to be “socialized” and taught to be walked off leash. Great. My dreams come true. No more trips to the chiropractor, no more muscle spasms, just a well trained dog by my side, just like in the movies.

I also received helpful tips from Ken such as, “The dog is faster than you- he has 4 legs, you have 2.” Okay, I was up on the count. So far so good.
Also, “dogs do not think, they react.” Wow. I was becoming enlightened.
Maybe I would change careers and train dogs.
And my personal favorite, “Never ever have Tony and a monkey in the same room because they will kill each other”. Okay, that hadn’t been my plan, but point well taken. I couldn’t have spent my money any wiser...

Now for the actual training. These were the steps:
Plan A
Let Tony off the leash. If he runs away, just lie down. He will look back and think you are playing and run right back to you. Wanna guess how many times I hit the ground and just lie there without him returning? Many, many times. I looked like an idiot, in the park, on the sidewalk, on the street. You name it, I laid there.

Plan B
Throw a piece of chicken at Tony, and when he grabs it, toss your set of keys at him while saying, “TONY, COME” Okay, that kinda worked. I didn’t like pieces of chicken all around the house and Tony didn’t like the sound of the keys. But every time I picked up my keys he would race towards me. Mission accomplished.

So, with this issue fixed, I decided to go away for a week and my good friend Karen offered to watch Tony so I could save the cost of the kennel. Karen and her sons picked up Tony. I handed her the “Keys of Discipline”, gave them directions for disciplining Tony wished them well. I was free to go to California.

Upon my return, Karen was kind enough to pick me up at the airport.
Happy to see me, I inquired about Tony. Did the keys work? Was he a good boy? She looked at me and sweetly said, “Your dog is an idiot.” “Ken is an idiot and you are an idiot for hiring him for $1000”

It seems she took Tony to a public beach where dogs were allowed. She opened the door to the van, Tony bounded out as usual, romping like My Little Pony towards the unsuspecting patrons relaxing and playing on the beach.

As soon as Tony approached the beach where women and children were, Karen started jiggling the keys and screaming, “Tony, COME.”

Well, as Karen tells it, she could have been screaming Lasagna and it wouldn’t have made any difference. At this point mothers and fathers who weren’t aware that if anything, Tony would just lick someone to death, started picking up their small children and running and screaming. It took 2 hours to get Tony back. The beach had been cleared, the park had been cleared. Karen had lost the keys several times in her pursuit of Tony.,

The keys failed to work.
After this adventure the kennel became Tony’s best friend.

Tony died when he was 14, a good age for a dog. I mourned his death as I would no one else’s, or ever will.

My friends rallied round me and offered to chip in and buy another German Shepard. Although I knew I would never replace Tony, I did have a special dog in mind. In upstate New York, the Monks of New Skete raise guide dogs and also train and sell German Shepards. I could go and stay at the Monastery while the Monks trained me along with the dog. This was my choice, my dream, to have a perfectly trained German Shepard. The price tag was $7000 for this perfect dog. My friends almost would have considered it.

Their reluctance was the dog could be trained, but could I?

4 Comments:

Blogger Carrie Wilson Link said...

OK, I officially laughed outloud 4 times! Take an A!

1:55 PM  
Blogger serenity said...

Suzy, your storytelling just keeps getting better and better...as so much of you shines through in humor and your comfort with the "pen" becomes more evident. Thank you for bringing so much laughter to my evening. You served Tony well in your story.

Blessings, peace, hugs, and joy to you...

1:36 AM  
Blogger Jerri said...

Your stories leave me breathless. Proof once again that the pen is mightier than the sword.

None of us can cut the pain out of our lives, but we can write until it loses its sharpness.

Blessings to you. And please, keep writing.

3:47 PM  
Anonymous ender said...

like carrie, i think i must have laughed aloud at least four times. great story!!!

and what a wonderful picture!

i suppose my grand idea of having a dog pull me on my longboard is probably a really bad one, huh?

peace!
ender

1:16 PM  

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