Our dog graduated from obedience school yesterday. I was not thinking of it as a graduation so much as an escape from the inconvenience of attending a one hour class right smack in the middle of my Saturday. Which is not to say that the class wasn’t helpful. Howie is, in general, a more well-behaved dog. Well, minus a few shredded catalogs here and there, and the occasional pair of destroyed shoes.
The one thing he’s become especially good at is the one thing we thought he would never do: learn the “off” command. It goes like this:
1. We thrust a treat at Howie’s nose, say “Take it” and he wags his tail, reaches forward and very politely takes the snack.
2. We thrust another of the same treat at him in exactly the same way, putting it in the same near vicinity of his no doubt saliva-filled mouth, and say “Off,” at which time, Howie blinks and looks away, as if the treat has somehow morphed into something very disturbing.
It’s impressive, really. Howie will eat* (and has eaten**) just about anything, so having him turn up his nose at a proffered treat is something I never expected him to do.
For the graduation “test,” this whole exercise was taken up a notch. The teacher took a very nice bone, and coated the top of it with Cheez Whiz. He then approached each dog in the class, offering the bone in front of him. We were to say “off!” and our dogs were supposed to ignore the candy from the stranger, as it were. The idea being that your dog might be offered or find something in the dog park that could be dangerous to him and you needed to have a command to prevent him from eating it.
One dog, who Billy and I had nicknamed “Bag of Hammers” (as in, Smart as a), leapt at the Cheez Whiz Bone, sending bits of Cheez and bone all over the floor. The second dog sat very politely and looked away when the bone appeared in front of his nose.
Howie blinked, looked away and then actually got up and shrunk away from the bone. Our teacher said it was a response worthy of a dog in the advanced class. We were proud. Howie wagged his tail.
I like to think that when that Cheez Whiz bone was offered to him, Howie’s inner monlogue went something like this:
Ugh! Cheez Whiz! Come on, bring out some brie, maybe a little chevre, gawd. This is California! How bout a nice glass of pinot? Have some class, people. Cheez Whiz? Really?
But I know better than that. Our dog would have eaten the Cheez Whiz faster than Bag of Hammers could have barked at nonexistent intruders or bitten the teacher.
Howie didn’t eat the Cheez Whiz bone because we asked him not to. He had learned.
*Things Howie tried to eat, but was not allowed to: rocks, a Subway wrapper, aluminum foil, a garden clog, bees, a rodent he caught at the park, plums from our neighbor’s tree, our neighbor’s cat, pieces of glass he found on the sidewalk, a crab washed up on the beach, a dead bird, various pieces of trash, a miniature chihuahua, etc., etc.
**Things Howie has eaten, with apparent gusto: squeaky toys, all manner of bones, sticks, grass, flowers, plums from our neighbor’s tree, two pairs of shoes, a pair of slippers, several catalogs, a New Yorker magazine, a pen, a notebook (minus the spiral), half of our checkbook, frozen peas, cooked peas, a good portion of a roll of paper towels, asparagus, mulch, the binding of a Lonely Planet Guide, etc. etc.