Saturday, April 30, 2005

"Late Night Training"

It was near midnight as I put Rowena's service vest on to head out about town to do some late night training. I figured that since Rowena is easily distracted that our late night "last-call-for -bathroom-breaks" walk would be a good time to practice some things in a place other than the lawn and inside, or at class. She would have enough going on so that she would have some distraction, but not like in her obedience class where the whole place is going berserk. I have my bag of treats hanging from my side as I walk down the sidewalk lit by streetlights reflecting from mudpuddles. After days of rain and flooding, that evening, the sky cleared and the sun set. Stars actually twinkled above and the semi-lit shadows of soft clouds were visible, lightly populating the sky.
Grabbing a treat and placing it in my left hand, I realise that my first job will be to work on Rowena's obsession with the treat. since beginning this last class, she know leaps up on me for the treat (or just leaps up depending on where it is being held). Before the class, she would sit down promptly when she saw a treat in my hand. At heel, she gives short lundges towards my hand to try to get the treat from between my tightly pinched fingers. I can feel the smooth outside of her front teeth against my fingers and eventually, after telling her to heel and yanking firmly on the leash, she gives up on the treat stealing endeavors and snaps into business. Eyes focussed, she trots forward.
I go along the fence that separate the lawn of 2 stores from the public sidewalk and tell Ro to stop. Sit. Then flashing the treat, I tell her to "back-up" as I begin to step backwards. She turns around instead, lundging for the tiny treat, throwing her tail right out behind me in my path, setting me up for a guilt trip if I happen to step on it. After a couple more tries at "Back-up" in different locations around town, she begins to do it on the first try. It usually takes 3 to 4 tries for her to get something new. It sometimes takes that long when she knows what she's doing because she is distracted by something, but I know she knows those things.
We practise some sit and stay exercises in different locations about town (on the sidewalks). She knows this, but hates it when I go out of view, and also loses focus at times. She does manage to do it successfully after about 2 to 4 tries. I hold a treat in one hand, the leash is tied around my signaling hand. I firmly say "STAY" and maybe repeat it a couple other times if I notice her eyes or body looking like she's gonna get up and move as I walk a wide circle around her. Always a "Good Girl". Then we work on some phobias. Garbage cans, US Postal Mail boxes, dumpsters, garbage bags, moving wire fences... I tap my foot on the side of the garbage cans and dumpsters in order to get her used to not just the sight, but the sound and to see that I will touch it, (so it must be safe). She grabs for the treat and as I tap my foot on the side of the object, I encourage her: "Good Girl!" Then I will let her retreat with her treat.
The night hightens my senses as it does hers. When I hear something I stop and try to locate the where and the what of it before moving on. Same for Ro, when she stops and looks around for something, I try to figure out what it is. Sometimes her phobias are just as much a mystery. When we are walking about without a problem and all of a sudden she puts on her breaks and plants all four feet to the ground, refusing to move forward as if she were a stubborn mule. I will look at her and look in the direction she is looking and turn back to her again... "What?" I will demand. "What is it? What are you afraid of now??" If I can figure it out, I kneal down next to it and coax her towards it. If she comes over to check it out, she gets a hug and a "good girl!" and we move on.
Sometimes I forget how noisy things can be late on a Friday night. I think of the dog that attacked Ro and about how before that, I never carried pepper spray. I am more worried about Rowena's wellbeing than my own! I am thinking maybe I should have chosen a breed of dog that was a little less like myself. Yes. I would like to have seen that German Shepherd attack a Pitbull Terrier service dog. I think even a five month old pitbull would have been more assertive... uh, or aggressive than Ro was. Then again, if a Pitbull had become as much of a momma's girl as Ro, the Pitbull would not be as tolerant of some things. Rowena would be more concerned with my reaction to pain than who was causing the pain. She comes up to my face when I am crying to make sure I am going to be okay. She checks me when I am sleeping to make sure I am breathing. Any wierd noise or whatever that comes out of my mouth, she will atleast look up to see if I am okay. Those eyes of hers, ever enquiring... ever concerned. No, she's perfect for me. I let her walk home on a lax leash. She trots ahead of me and I watch her. Her hips seem okay tonight. All I see is the beauty of a Border Collie, head lowered, gently padding along the sidewalk towards home. That's my girl! She makes me proud even if she doesn't do the exercises perfectly. I love her either way!

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