Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Graduate

The bad news of yesterday morning was thankfully followed by a more joyful evening. I'm proud to announce that our foster dog Fresco graduated from his basic obedience class last night. For the last 6 weeks, Fresco and I have been attending this course at Petco every Monday, and I must say we both learned so much during our training!

When I signed us up a few months ago, I wasn't actually very confident that a Petco class would teach either of us anything we didn't already know. Fresco could already sit, shake, stay and lay down on command. He knew what come meant too, although he was fairly selective about when he chose to do respond, depending on his level of distraction (clearly he is part hound). I wasn't sure he would learn anything new, but the trainer at the shelter insisted that he could not be adopted unless he received training from a professional, so I decided to give in to her demands. Since the only real problem we were having with Fresco was his excitability when he saw other dogs on our walks, my goal going into the training was to get him some experience being around other dogs while on a leash.

Clearly my expectations of the class weren't very high, but I'm the first to admit that I completely underestimated the quality of our training! The instructor, Colleen, was an amazingly knowledgeable, helpful and patient teacher. She had all sorts of tricks to help teach the dogs various commands, all using positive reinforcement with lots of treats. It was certainly different than what you'd see on the Dog Whisperer, but effective none the less!

On our first day of class, Fresco was excited to meet all of his classmates, but did so in a fairly calm manner. Colleen couldn't understand what I was talking about when I said he would flip out with excitement when he saw a strange dog since he'd initially met up with everyone so politely. Then a large black lab named Benji came into class a few minutes late, and Benji was clearly nervous about approaching all of the already gathered strange dogs. Fresco then demonstrated his excited mode perfectly for Colleen, jumping up and down and barking hysterically as Benji came into the training area. Colleen said she thought Fresco's behavior was more of a reaction--that he was reacting to the stress Benji was obviously feeling, which was why certain dogs made him crazy while calmer dogs didn't. Her diagnosis was basically that he was just overly sensitive to other dogs' emotions, but in all six weeks of class she never saw any aggressive behavior in him at all. In fact, he would completely submit to his friends Havoc and Benji in their playtime after class, which Colleen always found very admirable and impressive! It always made me laugh since the LHS trainer had given him all sorts of labels like dominant/aggressive and possessive/aggressive. He is nothing of the sort at home or in class, and now I have Colleen's expert opinion to back me up on it!

So last night at graduation I invited Chad to come watch Fresco in action and also take a few pictures of the event. Each dog had to do a series of six commands: sit/stay, down/stay, close (heel), come, leave it, and wait. Fresco did so awesome! I thought he was definitely the most obedient in the class and an objective observer (okay, maybe Chad isn't so objective) agreed! Many of the "parents" had to try multiple times to complete one of tests or had to give the command multiple times, but there was only one time I had to do a quick do-over. That was because I didn't give the wait command quite quickly enough, so it wasn't even Fresco's fault at all. Even Colleen said he was extremely focused last night!

Here's him performing his down/stay.

Here's the baby of the class, Nikita, getting treats after one of her tests. I love the looks on everyone else's faces...everyone looks so proud!

After we all completed the 6 commands we learned in class, we each had to do a "stupid pet trick" that we'd worked on during the six week period, to show Colleen that we could train our dog without her help as well. Three of the five dogs in the class shook hands, which was cute but kind of predictable, so I practiced something more unique and exciting with Fresco. I was a little nervous since we'd been practicing on carpet and Petco only has a slick tile floor, but he performed like a champ! Check him out!

I love the looks on the faces of the other parents behind me in this picture!! I think everyone was impressed!

I was so proud of our big baby Fresco last night, and I think Chad was too. He proved to everyone what a smart, well-behaved and adoptable dog he is!!

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