Monday, October 13, 2008

A Series of Unfortunate Events

I spent the day waiting for dog school. Buddy began Canine Good Citizen class tonight. We enrolled in the class because the "intervention-night" trainer recommended it and because it seemed to me that if we could get him to pass the CGC exam it would "certify" Buddy as not a bad dog, which is the reputation he's earned by biting the co-worker who entered my front door without me and by fighting with Petunia and by wearing something my neighbor thought was a muzzle.

And now by pitching a fight with three or four dogs in class.

Oh Lord.

I spent the day waiting for dog school. I read some more chapters of Control Unleashed and was inspired by what the trainer described as "Twilight Time": making time to connect with your dog before an obedience class or an agility contest. Arriving early, giving the dog a TTouch massage, being calm and quiet together. I see it as a way to equalize your energy especially before an activity that could involve lots of stress and interaction with other humans and dogs. Sounds like just the thing we need.

I spent the day waiting for dog school. It started at 6:30. At 5 it was too early to start Twilight Time so I did some schoolwork, sent some emails to my department and to my students. And then it was 6:00. It was raining. I hadn't cut up Buddy's special food I planned to use as his training treats. (The trainer made me withhold meals from him all day in preparation for the class.) I was going to be late for class.


So I played soft music in the car and tried to be calm and to visualize a good class. I did this CGC class at this same school a few years ago with Petunia and knew exactly what to expect.

We got there and must have been at least 10 minutes late. The small room was crammed with people and dogs. Big dogs. Lots of dogs. It was hot and the people were supposed to be walking their dogs briskly at heel around the room but dogs were sniffing each other and stopping and starting and Buddy was disoriented and distracted and whined at a dog or two and then got into a snarling match with a German Shepherd and soon after lunged at a big boxer and then at a small herding somethingorother and then it was all a blur. My heart was thumping against my chest and the instructor pulled Buddy into the middle of the room to use as a model for handling a "reactive dog" and a "dog-aggressive dog" and I just wanted to take my little boy dog out of the room and away from this intense unhappy place and be quiet and alone.

I remembered how the class was crowded when Petunia took it and I remembered not liking the class. And now I asked myself, "Why am I here? Why am I doing this to myself and to my dog?" I wanted to weep. I tried to do the click-to-calm stuff but everything happened so fast. Again and again. It wasn't just Buddy that was lunging and reacting. A few others were doing it also. But I couldn't keep it together.

The newbie trainer who was part of the intervention and who is also enrolled in my foundations agility class with Buddy took me aside to help me get control of myself and of Buddy. She said "click him for looking at you" and I did and she said "click him for looking at other dogs" but the room was tiny and any place he looked other than me could arguably be looking at dogs but I tried to click at all his room-ward head movements also and she said "click him for looking at other dogs and then for looking at you" and got into some logically cadenced explanation of what she meant but honestly I couldn't follow her. The room is small. He's either looking toward the dogs or looking away from the dogs and if he's looking away he's looking in my general direction so when do I not click in that situation? I tried to stay calm and click and the nice newbie stuck with me and whispered in my ear about how some of the other dogs had been bad in other classes and I don't know if any of that helped me or not. I just wanted to cry. I felt grateful to Newbie for staying with me and helping me calm down, or at least get rid of my whale eyes or whatever. But later she casually said to another student that Buddy "hates other dogs" which was a cruel thing to say and an oversimplification and made me angry.

So we survived the class.

Now what?

I'm having basically good experiences with Buddy on our increased walks and playdates with the pug and at agility. Why put us through this?

It's not for the certification anymore. Now the only reason I'll return next Monday is to see if Twilight Time makes things better and to stay on the perimeter of the class, outside of the regular class activities, and just to click-to-calm exercises with him for an hour during the class. It could be a really good way to do click-to-calm training.

But swear to God I will drop this class if it feels bad again next week. I realize I have to push things farther than I have been if I'm going to stand a chance of changing how the dogs react to one another and, i suppose to other dogs. But I never want to feel this utter wretched failure again. This awful, awful vulnerability and chaos surrounding my dog. And if we do ever go for a CGC it will not be with this instructor.

And P.S. I'm writing to the [local nonprofit that's sucking the life out of me] and officially resigning as a board member. I'm not going to transition slowly off the board like I'd planned. My dance card of soul-sucking activities is too full for both.

Oh, and P.P.S. My old hair stylist was there with her dog (we always used to talk dogs when she did my hair--which got too ash blond and she wouldn't listen to me about not wanting ash colors plus she was a gazillion dollars so I dropped her) and her dog was perfect (in fact, her dog was the one the instructor pulled into the center of the circle to demonstrate some sort of perfect walking thing) and she was perfect and her husband was perfect and she saw my hair that she hadn't done so now I've got stylist-switch trauma to boot.


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