Monday, April 25, 2005

"Double Trouble in Class: First Edition"

Tonight was Rowena's and my fourth obedience class over at a local kennel. The first three had brought up many questions and concerns for me, but I thought I was ready today to take whatever the instructor threw at me, I mean, after all, I wasn't hormonal this time! In previous weeks, I have noticed Rowena leaving class and being less cooperative... for example when I walk her, when Chris takes her out to go to the bathroom, when I am in the agency with her, and more so with other dogs as well. She has become more vocal also, and I know these things are things she has picked up from her class. The instructor there says that that is not how dogs learn. They learn from repitition. (Gail had told me a story the week before about how a Border Collie used to learn everything before class by watching everyone before her.) The class is full of under- socialized, hyper beginner dogs who are allowed to bark and jump and pull and snap at other dogs in class. These are things that we worked for six weeks to get Rowena to stop doing when we took classes with Gail at Cotton Hill.
Rowena cannot concentrate because all the other dogs are so excited that she seems to get distracted. The instructor will tell me one minute I don't have to use treats, and then later reprimending me because I am not using them enough. Then again when Rowena jumps up during a heeling exercise because I am using the treats the same way the instructor had with Rowena the week before... and Ro was leaping up for the treats at that time. She says I throw too many commands at her, but I am only doing so because, first of all Ro knows them. Secondly, she may be doing a behaviour that she is not supposed to be doing and I do not want her to do it in class either, third, Ro is so distracted that I have to repeat a command several times before Ro may actually hear it. The instructor says that if Ro really knew the commands, then she would do them regardless of what was going on around her. Not so. She can do these commands at home, in the field and in an office building (most of the time), but not here? I don't think so. I cannot even get eye contact from Ro half the time. She says that I discipline her too much, even when she doesn't do anything. I yank on the leash quick and short to get her attention if she is off in another world because of all the energy in the room. If she doesn't heel, I yank again and say "heel!" and may even repeat that throughout the exercise as she has gotten out of the habit of heeling and of llistening to my commands since we have been in the class. I know Rowena like the back of my hand... spend 24 hours a day with her in all kinds of circumstances. We walk with her off leash in the field and the forest and I take notice when she comes to me, as well as when she chooses to ignore me. I know what makes her most distracted, but I know what she is capable of. I have seen her do all of these things the instructor has instructed us to do. Everyday, several times a day in different locations in the surrounding towns I have Ro sit and wait for me to open a door. I know she can do it. She used to heel okay... at least slow down and hold back if I called her name. Now she doesn't. She charges ahead and pulls so hard at times she is on her hind legs! That has never been acceptable with her and she knew that. If she does not perform something in class that I see her do over and over again outside in the real world without much hassle, I will not reward her for it. She knows how to sit and stay and lets me walk around her, throw her toys by her and everything. However, in class I am accused of giving the stay command too often to her throughout the exercise. Why would I do such an insane thing? Ro is not focusing well enough. For me to say stay when I notice her attention slipping is reinforcing what I want her to do by helping her remember what we are doing right here and now. It works. Saying "stay" only once or twice does NOT work. If I yank at her leash when she begins to get hyper like the other dogs, I am not mistreating her or over disciplining her, I am reinforcing the behaviour that we practice at home, outside and in the office... basically reminding her that this out-of-control behaviour is not allowed here either, even though all the other dogs are doing it. Let's see, the instructor first told us it didn't matter if we used rewards. Since then, I have been reprimended for not giving out rewards, then not giving them out on a regular basis, and then for having them out at all even when the week before she showed me how I should use it while doing the same activity. I am not saying this right, not doing this right, not to mention I am too hard on Rowena and should lighten up a bit on her. I wouldn't have to ride so much on Ro's cute black and white butt if the other dogs were actually ever disciplined, if Ro was not so distracted by all the activity in the room, the echoes, barking... and I have been scolded for not paying attention because I am too busy correcting Rowena to hear the instructions, I too get distracted by all the echoing barks, voices, and when the instructor doesn't have a dog that she is demonstrating with, I can't keep track of it all. I am not going to let Rowena yank and pull and eat God knows what off the floor while I try to listen to the instructor give what I hear as vague instructions. Basically, I leave there feeling like everything I say or do is constantly being critiqued to the ground, and I can't do anything right. If I correct something, then that becomes the wrong thing too. The fact that my dog is not listening to me, is too distracted and is now bringing home bad habits from this class is not considered as the problem. I am being too hard on my sensitive Border Collie. To have someone tell me that my dog doesn't know how to do something when she does it everyday, or that they know my dog better than I do at any point is not acceptable. Rowena knows these things. She makes me look bad in class and the instructor makes me feel worse. Now the instructor thinks I am some sort of psycho and I'm not. I am just a person with PTSD who had reached maximum overload. I take Rowena out side as the next class filters in. A woman with an Australian Shepherd asks me if I am all right, so I begin to spew. The woman thinks that she really didn't care that much about what was wrong with me and the instructor came over to make sure I didn't say too much. I do not disagree with this woman's way of training the dogs, I disagree with how she thinks she knows my dog (and me) better than I do. Maybe all of the other people there are at work all day while their dogs are at home or in puppy daycare, but mine goes everywhere with me. I also think Gail might be right in saying this particular instructor does not know how to work with Border Collies. Again I feel totally judged and misunderstood. Do I want to go back to finish with the 2 classes we paid for?

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