Friday, September 16, 2005

Gracie goes to school

Well, it's all settled. Gracie is a permanent resident of Chez 10Signs, and Taxi the cat (whom Gracie chases) is going to live at the s.o.'s dad's house. Taxi, funny kitty that she is, is much loved there. It's hard to let her go, but I think she will get more attention in that household anyway.

Gracie is still living outside 90 percent of the time. We plan to bring her inside more and more as time goes on, but she needs to be better trained so she doesn't drive us up the wall. So I enrolled her in an obedience class here, which is the same place Silver studied.

(You may ask, "What about Cairo? Doesn't he get to go to school too?" And the answer is no, sadly, because he is so prone to carsickness that it would be a major undertaking involving two people--one to drive and one to hold the bucket. But at any rate, he's such a perfect, sweet boy that he doesn't really need any formal training. I practice "sit," "down," and "come" with him often, and he's fairly good at them.)

The first obedience class was last night. As is usual with these things, we were asked to come without the dogs for the first session. One girl didn't get the memo, so I had the privilege of sitting next to a shrilly barking Boston terrier that mauled my hands whenever he could get within biting range. Cute, though.

There was a woman named Dixie in the class. Note that I said a woman, not a dog. (How long does a person have to live in the South before that name stops being a surprise?)

The class is taught by a portly older gentleman with 30 years of experience in dog training and competition judging. He's hilarious, which helps, but it was also evident even in this first session that he's a fantastic trainer. At one point, he wanted to show us that all creatures--dogs, people, whatever--give away clues to what they're about to do. You can use this fact to catch a dog before they do something bad, while they're still just thinking about doing something bad. So he had a girl sit in a chair and he asked her repeatedly to stand up and sit down again. He pointed out that she always shifted her weight just before she stood. And the next time he asked her to stand up and she started to shift her weight, he shouted "NO!" at her. She was startled to say the least, and remained seated without even thinking about it. Awesome.

Near the end of the class, he took the gnarly little Boston terrier and within five minutes taught it not to pull on the lead. It was borderline miraculous. The guy just exudes authority to dogs, with zero meanness.

There's an assistant helping out with the class, a tall pretty girl who acts as the straight man for the trainer's jokes. She has a very sweet dog who's a cross between a great dane and a basset hound--imagine, if you will, what he looks like.

So anyway, we have homework. I'm spending 10 minutes twice a day working on-leash with Gracie, and hopefully by next week she won't make a fool of me. She's actually developed a really cool habit: If she doesn't know what I want from her, she sits. The tough part is, she's like a ping-pong ball when I try to walk her, and she has a tendency to cross in front of my feet and prevent any attempts at left turns. Also, sometimes she gets so confused that she becomes super-submissive and just writhes on the floor with her feet in the air.

This is good for me. Gracie is a complete happy-go-lucky fruit loop, pretty much the opposite of Silver's staid watchfulness, personality-wise. If I can train both kinds of dogs, that's really saying something.