A Trainer’s Tales Chapter 2

Andrea always felt drained after Shy Dog class.  She admired the commitment these owners had to helping their dogs but it was still difficult to witness the dogs’ anxiety. The only relief came from the small signs of progress at the end of the six-week session.

At the other end of the spectrum Andrea also led the Reactive Rover class; those dogs demonstrated the opposite expression of fear. While shy dogs dealt with life by freezing, the reactive dogs tried to scare life away by putting on a big, loud show.

When class finally came to an end Andrea answered questions from students, unplugged the DAP diffusers, turned off the CD player and returned all the chairs to the storage closet. Just as she was finishing the front door opened and an unfamiliar woman entered the lobby. Andrea glanced around for Sherry but the owner was nowhere in sight.

“Can I help you?” she asked the stranger.

“Hi. I came to ask about ring rentals.”

“Oh, sure.”

Most training centers offered hourly rental of a training ring to individuals. Training a dog in the exercises for competition was only part of the challenge. Proofing the dog’s performance in different settings with different distractions was essential. People who were serious about competing looked for as many opportunities as possible to put a dog through his paces.

“We have drop in classes throughout the week with coaching, you can schedule a private lesson with one of our instructors or you can rent a ring for $25 an hour.” Andrea explained.

The stranger nodded impatiently. “I just want to rent a ring. Is there any time available today?”

“Let me check” said Andrea. “And I’ll get you a rental agreement. All the policies are spelled out on the form.”

Andrea went back to Sherry’s office. ”Someone out there wants to rent a ring today. Any openings?”

Sherry pulled a rental form out of her drawer with her left hand while flipping through her scheduling book with her right hand. “Looks like the main ring is open for the next hour or so. It just needs to clear out by two so there’s time to set up for the next class.”

Andrea jotted the time on a piece of paper, took the form and headed out to the lobby. The woman was idly examining the leashes on the sales rack. “My name is Andrea, by the way.”

The woman nodded curtly. “Sue.”

“Here’s the agreement” Andrea extended the form. “We have open time right now. Our next class is starting at two.”

Sue took the rental form and started scanning it. “Wait a minute” she said. “It says here that choke, prong and pinch collars are not permitted in the building.”

“That’s right” Andrea smiled. “Heaven is pain free.”

“Well, I don’t really pinch my dog with the collar.”

“Good. Then you don’t need to use it.”

“But that’s how I train.”

“You said that you don’t pinch, so then your dog doesn’t need to wear a pinch collar.”

“That’s all I have” Sue protested.

“I’ll lend you another collar” Andrea offered.

Sue frowned. “How can you tell me what kind of collar I can use? Chain collars are allowed in shows.”

“This is a private facility” Andrea pointed out “and the owner can set any policy she chooses.”

“People told me not to come here. Now I see why.”

“Really? What people?” Andrea was curious.

“People at my kennel club.”

Andrea shrugged “Well, if you want to use the ring, fill out the form.”

She watched while Sue filled out the form, pulled $25 in cash from her pocket, then stomped out to her car. After taking the form and cash back to Sherry, Andrea watched as the red-headed trainer returned juggling a gear bag and leading a nice-looking golden retriever wearing a prong collar.

“Here, I’ll get you a loaner collar” Andrea said quietly as Sue dropped the gear bag. She handed over a nylon web martingale collar which Sue slid distastefully over the dog’s head. The dog seemed slightly surprised by the collar change, responding with a huge body shake as the prong came off. Despite Sue’s claims, Andrea suspected the dog had, in fact, sustained a lifetime of collar jerks.

Andrea busied herself around the retail section while surreptitiously watching the pair in the ring.

Sue set up for the off-lead heeling exercise, positioning herself at an imaginary start line. The dog at her side suddenly collapsed into a fit of scratching. Typical avoidance behavior, Andrea thought to herself. “Knock it off” Sue growled at the dog then began moving forward at a brisk pace. The heeling exercise requires the team to walk an “L” pattern, moving from a normal pace to fast, back to normal, then a slow pace and normal again. Through it all the dog must maintain a position in line with the handler’s left hip.

Sue’s dog plodded along beside her in the correct position; but rather than looking eagerly up at Sue’s face the dog’s head was averted. Even from a distance Andrea could see a steady series of tongue flicks, a common canine stress signal. When Sue came to a stop the dog sat sloppily. The trainer’s left foot swung back and kicked the dog in the rump. Clearly well-practiced, the movement was slight but Andrea was pretty sure a judge would notice.

As the team worked their way through the Open level obedience exercises, their performance seemed to deteriorate. Andrea noticed that Sue never talked to the dog, or even called it by name. She was grimly silent except for commands issued in a sharp tone. The only time the dog came to life was for the Retrieve on the Flat and Retrieve over the Jump. On the “take it” cue the dog’s face brightened and the plumy tail waved as the dog took off after the wooden prize. But upon scooping up the dumbbell and turning toward its owner, the retriever’s body seemed to deflate and the dog returned to its handler slowly. At the broad jump the dog barely gave enough effort to clear, ticking the last board with its nails. Sue set the dog up again, allowing more take-off room. This time the dog just walked through the boards. Rather than shortening the length of the jump, which is what Andrea would have done, Sue repeatedly re-set the dog.

On each failed re-try Sue became increasingly frustrated.

Unable to watch any longer Andrea approached the ring. “Maybe I can help.”

“I don’t need your help” hissed Sue. “I’ve been doing this for 20 years and I have two obedience trial champions.” She whipped the nylon web collar from her dog’s head and snapped the prong back in place. “This dog is just lazy.”

Andrea shook her head as Sue stormed out of the building. She was fairly certain that the bad-tempered handler would not be coming back to Heaven.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: