Personally, I’m a huge nerd about school. I loved both high school and college and today I basically spend most of my free time shoving as much knowledge and information into my brain as possible. Learning is my favorite. Conversely, my girlfriend was never a fan of school. Though her intelligence is not at all in question, school just wasn’t for her. Whereas my academic memories involve extracurricular activities and dedicated note taking, Jamie will sometimes nonchalantly recount her school days with tidbits like, “I don’t remember anything about that class aside from the fact the teacher was nice. Oh, and one day I got in trouble for crawling around on the floor under the tables to go talk to my friends.” She was sixteen. Love that woman.
So it comes as no surprise that any dog of mine is going to school. But by the time we adopted Asha about a year and a half ago, it had been a long time since I had needed to enroll any dog in any training class. My greyhound Emma had died at 14 years of age two summers before that. When I first adopted Emma at age two, I had enrolled her in a PetSmart training class. And before you say, “A PetSmart training class?!” let me tell you: I know. I know. But this was 1998. A quick study of the fashion choices made by any character on Friends will remind you: a lot of people made bad decisions in the 90’s. I had barely heard of reward based training at that point. Hell, one of the most highly recommend dog training manuals I read said, “If your dog jumps on you, just knee that jerk in the chest like you’re Stone Cold Steve Austin.” And that book was written by monks. So we’ve come a long way!
Emma, no surprise, didn’t learn that much from her PetSmart class. But it was a good socialization exercise – she had been kinda racist toward non-greyhounds and this was a nice change for her to see the same dogs every week seeing as doggie day care centers and dog parks were in their infancy. She became a very dog tolerant girl. But as far as training goes, the only thing I distinctly remember from the class was the instructor pushing down on Emma’s uber muscular greyhound butt with enough force that I saw the vein in the woman’s temple bulge. While Emma looked at me like, “Is this lady bananas?” the trainer exclaimed, “Wow, this usually works to make dogs sit!” Yikes.
I’m very thankful that, in my efforts to find a good trainer, I called Fido Personal Dog Training and met Tammy Crenshaw and Sarah Cress. The first time we entered the training facility (for a consultation with the newly adopted Asha), I was immediately struck by the fact that it did not smell like pee. Like, at all. This was hugely reassuring to me. Fido is also a very cute and welcoming space. As Tammy met and interacted with Asha, she pointed out various body language cues Asha was giving off and interpreted these for me and Jamie. I’ve always thought I was fairly good at reading dogs, but was really surprised how many of these cues I was completely missing. I was very impressed and aware that I had a lot to learn!
To say Asha excelled using reward based methods at Fido would be to undersell it. Asha is hardly the same dog she was a year ago. It’s like all her best qualities just got so great (through reinforcement!) that they elbowed out most of the anxiety, fear and doubt that plagued her. And it’s safe to say that, like me, Asha loves school. She’s essentially the Lisa Simpson of pit bulls. Gomez, fittingly enough, is more like the Bart Simpson of pit bulls. Brazen, obnoxious and quick to tell you to go ahead and eat his dog shorts. But unlike Bart, he’s also smart, very sweet on his teachers and eager to show he’s got training skills. This means he’s doing really well in class, but he’s prone to get wound up and bark out of turn or to jump for attention. He’s like the jock that worries his good grades aren’t “cool,” so he acts like a punk in front of his friends to hide his braininess.
Fido’s classes are intimate by design and Gomez’s Basic 1 class consists of only three other dogs. This means each dog gets personal attention and instruction by Tammy and Sarah which is really helpful. Gomez is, surprisingly, not the biggest dog in the class. That distinction goes to Fisher. He’s a strikingly jet black lab/dane/horse mix and is similar in personality to Mr. Gomez. They’re the two boisterous boys in the class. The other two dogs, both girls, are Trixie and Isis. Trixie is a sweet, brindle lab/pit mix who reminds me of Asha personality-wise and Isis is a regal Husky. The girls rarely bark, seem more focused and appear to pick up on things quickly. If there was a “best behaved” award, it would obviously go to one of them. Gomez doesn’t have the mental stamina of his female classmates, which means he has to take more breaks to let the learnin’ sink in. But that’s totally fair. I can absolutely relate to and respect his training ADD. That’s how my brain works too. At home, we practice stuff from class in short bursts. I’m getting really good at anticipating when he’s about to go into his “I’m too amped up and my brains are scrambled!” place. That’s when I end our session on a positive note, give him a frozen Kong and remind myself that, even if his sit/stay duration isn’t amazing by most people’s standards, it’s amazing to me. And if he could talk, he’s say, “Don’t have a cow, mom. I’m getting there.”