Join Our Mailing List
By Dianne Armitage
Honestly, this column could just as easily be titled Everything I Know I Learned in Puppy Class. As you may recall, my summer didn’t get off to the best of starts. I had a couple of months of feeling pretty overwhelmed and sorry for myself (an interesting approach, since nothing had actually happened to me, just to those I love). Anyway, whenever life gets tough I either go shopping or get a puppy (actually getting a puppy necessitates shopping, so it’s a win/win situation all ‘round). Since I didn’t need any more underwear or shoes, and my only remaining dog is not doing well, I opted for a puppy. You’d think after years of dealing with having too many dogs, I’d have learned something. You’d be wrong!
Actually, I wasn’t going to get a puppy. I was just going to look at puppies because I was depressed and needed something to cheer me up. My husband kept growling and posturing (he’s learned a thing or two from our pets as well) about how he didn’t want another dog once Cosmo is gone. He feels that we will suddenly be able to go on cruises, win the lottery, and perhaps even scale some heretofore insurmountable peak once we are no longer tethered to our canine companions. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that it’s kind of hard to cruise or climb while sitting in an overstuffed recliner, so I figured getting another dog would spare him this upsetting realization.
It was this thought process that led me to Malibu a couple of weeks ago to take a look at a litter of French Bulldog pups. I thought the change of scenery would do me good. I also thought going to Malibu was sure to cure my depression. Heck, if you are to believe any of the gossip magazines, everyone in Malibu is pretty much a movie star. They simply spend all of their time being seen. They are smiling at the beach, in restaurants, as they walk out of surf shops – even when they are depressed and make wild drives and cut off their hair – it’s all teeth and gums as far as the eye can see.
Since I’d already lost my hair to chemo once (and that was enough) – I didn’t need anything but the wild drive and the depression to pave my way. I was pretty much convinced that when I’m wearing my currently popular and ever so big sun glasses, people might just mistake me for a movie star too. I thought it was worth the 90-minute drive to find out.
The address I’d been given was in the foothills of Malibu. I mention this because I have no sense of direction and when I’m nervous, it becomes even worse. I was smart enough to use MapQuest®, but still felt very tenuous about finding the place. The woman who was selling the puppies warned me that cell phones don’t always work in the canyons, so with lots of twists and turns along the way, I was praying I wouldn’t end up as coyote food at some point. Obviously, that was one worry that didn’t materialize or I wouldn’t be here writing this story! I might add that since I found the place without mishap I took that to be a good omen.
I found the house. I saw the puppies. And then one of the puppies saw me. She not only saw me, but she gave me that look. For all of you dog lovers out there, I don’t have to tell you what that look means, because you’ve all seen it before! For those of you who prefer some other critter (or no critters for that matter), let’s just say that look pretty much insures you are going to be housebreaking someone soon (and you can hope it’s a puppy)!
When I arrived home with Lulu (hey, she’s French, remember?) my husband snarled (again, the dogs have taught him so much), “I thought I told you I didn’t want another dog!” Let me just say this. You will not score marital bliss points by responding, “But you didn’t get another dog – I did!” I knew the moment it came out of my mouth I should have chosen my words more wisely. I also realized that I am spoiled and self-centered and probably a lot of other awful things too – but I needed something little that loves me. I needed something happy and filled with hope. If that doesn’t conjure up puppy, nothing ever will.
Because I knew I was in the “dog” house, I quickly got in touch with our veterinarian and asked her for advice on puppy training classes. She gave me information about a local clicker class. The dog whisperer came to my home to meet me and Lulu (even puppy classes have their reputations to consider, you know). For the first hour, the trainer worked with me and my clicker. She threw the ball up in the air and told me to click when it reached its highest point. Then she threw the ball up in the air and told me to click when it reached its highest point and again when it first hit the ground. For some reason this felt a lot like walking and chewing gum – but amazingly, eventually even I was able to click at the right times.
She then had me call Lulu’s name and click when she looked at me. She had me wait until she sat down and then click and give her a treat (Lulu, not the trainer). Before too long, I had mastered the art of clicking on cue. It didn’t take me too long to realize that I was the one being trained – not my dog! The experts claim you can clicker-train just about any animal. I began to fantasize about clicking when people do stuff you like, so you could reinforce that behavior….
Imagine a world where you can click until your boss gives you that raise! Or perhaps you click until the waitress notices you need a refill. You click when someone gives you a hug. You click when the doctor gives you good news. Things would be so simple. Everyone would be well behaved and happy. Treats and praise would be commonplace. I might even be able to get someone who shall remain nameless out of his recliner every so often so we actually could take that cruise or scale that mountain (…wait, I’d rather win the lottery, if I have any say in the matter)!
At one point, I even daydreamed about the possibility of just clicking away breast cancer. If only it were that simple. I do promise you this, if and when I figure that out – I’ll be sure to let you know. Click!