In news of the completely unsurprising, I’m a perfectionist and an overachiever and all of those other horrible things that make oldest children trend both toward the successful and the annoying. And I have this dog. And if you’ve been following along at home, you might have noticed my belief that my dog was born with above-average intelligence, just like his mama. Kindly disregard with me the following points:
- I am not the dog’s actual mother.
- The dog, in fact, shares none of my genetic makeup.
- In fact, the dog is not even of the same species as I am.
- If nurture beat nature, then no smart, involved parents would ever have dumb kids. But it happens.
- And really, science should tell us that there’s no reason whatsoever that my dog should be smart just because I wish it were so.
So yes, these shall be the points we have agreed to ignore. I, for my part, was staunchly ignoring these points in early October, when I waltzed into Petsmart’s Beginner Dog Training with my blindingly intelligent brown dog, the perfect outer reflection of my perfect inner self, the one who would ace the shit out of that obedience class simply because I wanted it more than any of the other eight dog parents in the ring.
About ten minutes into the class, I had dropped my inner confidence that Bean was the most likely to succeed in favor of a desperate wish for Bean to at least not be the worst dog in class. Please, don’t let Bean be the worst dog in class.
And thank the sweet Jehovah above, Bean was not the worst dog in class that night.
He was the second-worst.
The honor of worst dog went to Chopper, a little rat terrier or something with an extremely laid-back, friendly dad who had no damn clue what to do with his incessantly barking, aggressive maniac of a dog. As Bean stole other dogs’ toys and drank other dogs’ water, I didn’t even care because at least he wasn’t as bad as Chopper.
So imagine my deep dismay when Chopper dropped out of dog school a few weeks later, leaving my sweet idiot Bean to claim the worst dog honor all by himself.
I knew loose leash walking would be a challenge for Bean. I knew that if I stopped every time he pulled the leash, we would probably finish our three laps behind the other dogs. What I did not know was that we would only make it through 1.5 laps of Bean dragging me sweaty and teary-eyed and exhausted, stopping only to hike his leg on a stack of cat litter and then to eat something random off the floor. We got back to the ring, where all the smart, obedient dogs and their owners were waiting, and Bean pranced in looking like an Olympic gold medalist. I, dragging behind him, looked like a Cathy cartoon.
I freaking hate Cathy cartoons.
So let’s call the next few weeks a trying time, to say the least, in my relationship with Bean. The next week, we walked into Petsmart for training and he promptly hiked his leg and peed all over a display of Beggin’ Treats. Somewhere in that time frame, I took him to the dog park alone. He obsessively chased and humped a little dog named Claire while I tried in vain to keep up with him so I could correct him every time he clumsily mounted her shoulder or the side of a picnic bench. Finally, Claire’s owner said something snippy to me and I dragged my idiot dog out of the park in tears, him whining all the while because if I could just give him one more chance he was SURE Claire would like him back this time. As he dragged me around the sidewalks of an outdoor shopping center one afternoon, some little kids claimed in giggles that he was “just like Marley” and I fought the urge to punch them right in their adorable little mouths.
And not a single Tuesday went by where I didn’t consider skipping dog school.
Bean loved every minute of dog school. He loved dragging me around the store and he loved when he and current dog crush Jack would whine adoringly at each other from across the training ring and he loved stealing toys off the shelves and rolling on his back right in the doorway of the store while I meekly asked the cashier if her scanner would stretch far enough to scan the stolen toy in his mouth. As person after person stopped to compliment his shiny coat and his sunny personality, I began to evaluate their clothes and what they were buying to see if I could send him home with them. I wouldn’t be the first person to abandon my dog in Petsmart, right? It’s full of dog lovers. Surely someone would take his dumb ass home.
The other dogs learned “leave it” and Bean barked at ceiling tiles. The other dogs trotted obediently beside their owners while Bean dragged me around and tormented the aquarium fish and small pets. The other dogs came running when called, while Bean stopped off to raid a display of stuffed reindeer. The other dogs “stayed” for minutes at a time, where Bean had no use for anything that required his attention for more than three seconds. In fact, when he realized that sitting to stay meant no treats for a while, he also decided that “sit” was an obsolete command. I dressed for embarrassment and failure, and counted the weeks until I would never have to set foot in that store again.
And then, on week 7 of 8, we had a new teacher – our third, at that point. We filled her in on what the second trainer had been teaching us and she asked us to go out into the store and practice having our dogs sit for greetings. About five minutes later, she realized Bean had no intention of sitting ever again and the poor patient shopper-volunteer was probably wondering if he’d ever get to go home that evening. Trainer #3 took me and my failure of a dog aside and worked with us for twenty solid minutes, made suggestions about a better training harness, and stayed with us after class to fit him for the new harness and walk around the store in it.
It was the first time in seven weeks that I really felt like we were being assisted and not just left alone to suffer. So I screwed up my courage and asked her what to do about my dog.
She talked about how smart and willing to learn he was, and said that she could let us graduate from the class next week, but felt it would do a disservice to both of us if she did. She said we could take the class again for free, that she would be our trainer, and that she would work with us consistently until he had the skills he needed. She might have been telling me Bean was smart just to make me feel better, but it worked, and I went home feeling more hopeful than I had in weeks.
I had decided to let my dog fail obedience school and I couldn’t have been happier about it.
Of course, I still had to come in for the graduation test in the eighth week. As we sat there reviewing concepts and preparing for the test, I looked up for maybe the first time in weeks and realized that of the nine dogs who began the class, only four of us remained. The other five had dropped out week by week while I was busy keeping my head down and plotting my dog’s demise. And of those four, only two passed the test.
Stop right there. This isn’t a movie. Bean failed the shit out of that test.
But it’s okay. We’re going to go back and try again in January, and Trainer #3 gave me some stuff to work on in the meantime, and I think maybe this time we’ll do a little better.