It’s been awhile since I wrote about Dakota, which is straight up weird because I’m pretty sure he consumes 90% of my brain power ever since the day we brought him home, but anyhow…
Dakota is now just over 8 months old and something like 75lbs, he’s freakin’ huge! But he’s just a giant cuddly puppy, and that was none more apparent then last night at his first ever group puppy training class.
The place we chose was not only recommended by many in our community but also a convenient 15 minute walk from home – a huge plus when you realize after weeks of searching that most puppy trainers seem to be out in Ajax or on weird days or hours that don’t at all agree with mine or Matt’s schedule. We didn’t really know what to expect but we went into it optimistically and willing to do some work.
We thought we were in pretty good shape with Dakota’s at-home training. He sits, stays, comes when called, plays fetch (willingly dropping the ball and all!), can give both paws depending on what hand you offer him, and he doesn’t really give me any trouble when we’re out on walks as far as heeling, matching my speed and not chasing those damn squirrels oh-my-god-Dakota leave it alone and stop eating that-WHAT ARE YOU DOING!
He has his quirks, but a pretty smart little dude if I may say so. So like I said, we went into this thing pretty confident.
But Dakota loves dogs. I really mean that. He LOVES dogs. Puppies. Seniors. Small dogs. Big dogs. Medium-sized dogs. Dogs that bark at him. Dogs that snub him. Dogs that love him. Dogs that don’t even look at him. Dogs with goofy looking sweaters and even goofier looking boots-he loves every single dog he comes across. I was reasonably sure Dakota’s biggest problem at training would be distractions from the other pups in the class, and I’d have to say I was bang on the money with that one, but it still didn’t prepare me for all the other things that went (in mine, and Matt’s opinion) right off the rails.
We arrived to find ourselves waiting outside the store with the other puppies, which, to our surprise (and later, dismay,) a pretty 7 month old Bernese female. Dakota was in his glory – and so was she! Bernese Mountain Dogs are weird when they see other Berners, in that they get EXTRA excited and really, really want to play, more than usual. Thankfully, we were ten minutes early, so we let them get acquainted, which meant a lot of me holding & pulling Dakota back. My arms were sore and we hadn’t even begun the class.
When we entered we had no idea what we were supposed to do, who the trainer was, or if we were to “sign in” to some degree. We fumbled about with our coats and tried to get ourselves settled while desperately trying to hold Dakota back from playing with his 4 new furry friends. Finally, perhaps sensing our struggle, a woman told us to hurry up, find a spot and have him sit down. Dakota was so excited he spit up a little bit. Stay classy, buddy.
Due to space constrictions and the small class size, we wound up right beside Dakota’s new best Berner friend. Great.
Finally the training begun. We were starting with something simple – Sit. Easy enough, right? Not for Dakota, not today – and shockingly, NOT because of the distraction of the dogs. What we quickly realized is that the trainer standing before us assumed that we had taught Dakota all the basic commands using the same hand gestures and techniques as she uses. Spoiler alert: we taught him COMPLETELY DIFFERENT WAYS TO DO EVERY SINGLE COMMAND.
So by now the alarm is going off in my head: Abort mission. There will not end well. Escape while you can. Go, go, go!
But damnit I paid for these classes and god help me if we’re not going to stick this thing out.
So now I’m on high alert. Not only do I have to focus on my pup, I have to watch the trainers every move because I have to learn all these hand gestures, too. And I gotta tell ya, when you’re not used to vertically moving your left hand in front of your pup to make him sit, and then horizontally waving it to make him stay, and then going from ceiling to floor with your right hand to make him lay down, and waving your right hand towards you to make him come – and standing on his leash when you want people to approach him, and oh good god the list just goes on. Every single command gesture was new to both me, and poor Dakota, who I swear was trying his darn best to impress that younger Berner!
Eventually we moved on from these “simple” commands to a “simple” walk in a circle. I felt better about this one; hell, I walk Dakota every day, and he’s a gem! And perhaps the lesson would have been marginally better if the floor we were walking in a circle on wasn’t seemingly a freshly waxed bowling lane – seriously woman WHAT IS ON THIS FLOOR?! I had zero traction. Zero. Mind you, I was wearing Steve Madden boots that are definitely more fashionable than functional but STILL, come ON. I could’ve skated on that thing.
“He’s too strong for you guys,” the trainer says.
“We are usually fine but I keep slipping on your floor,” I half mumble in the .2 seconds of interaction we actually have with the trainer as Dakota pulls me on by. (I’ll add, I am wholly aware that Dakota is a mammoth and at some point he will be way stronger than me. I mean hell he was bred to pull wagons and rescue people out of avalanches, I’m not so naive to realize what I’ve gotten myself into here, that’s why we joined the class.)
“He has to sit to your left.”
“Trying, but he always sits in front.”
“Wave the treat in front of him, he obviously can’t see behind you”
“Pretty sure he knows it’s there since he keeps trying to sneak it out of my hand but okay”
“He’s already sitting”
“Do the hand motion!”
“I don’t remember what it is”
These are all snippets of my very brief interactions with the trainer, who in all honestly made me feel like I was doing a terrible job through the hour all in a delightful condescending tone. It was really embarrassing and aggravating and I, unfortunately, was quickly losing enthusiasm. I stopped at one point just to ask Matt what time it was, to which he solemnly replied, “we’re only halfway.”
He’s a smart dog, I swear he is. But trying to essentially retrain your pup all the commands you’ve spent the last 5 months working on in such a setting is a remarkable challenge. I don’t know why they wouldn’t have had some sort of disclaimer or information about the TYPE of commands and gestures we would have to know prior to being there – and now, they already have our money, so what are we to do?
By the end of it all, all I wanted was to sit on my couch with my big dopey puppy and have a beer with my very patient and supportive fiance who stood by me during this terrible ordeal and handed me treat after treat as we tried our hardest to figure all of these “new” commands.
On the way out, our trainer told us to “Practice – a lot. It’s going to get harder”.
We have 4 weeks to go.