This morning, the instructors introduced themselves to us – 3 licensed instructors, one still in training, and the supervisor Pete O’Riley. Pete was here when I trained with my first dog, Lita, in 1982, so he has seen a lot of changes in the way our wonderful dogs are trained. In the 1980s, for instance, the fervent rule was that one never ever gave food as a reward for good behavior, fearing it might lead to bad habits of picking up undesirable food. Today, food rewards are an integral part of training, backed by the logic that food, delivered directly from the hand of the handler, encourages a dog to continue performing the skill that has elicited that yummy gift.
We have an apprentice instructor under blindfold in our midst, and one of the instructors is pretty much assigned to her fulltime.
We practiced the commands of “sit” and “down” and “heel” – gently correcting the pretend dog when it “sniffed” or wandered away. The highlight of the morning for me was the opportunity to heel two real dogs up and down the hall. Their warmth and wiggliness and eagerness to please (not to mention that they obeyed me perfectly, thus giving me a momentary sense that I might be a dog whisperer) was delicious.
The afternoon highlight was a walk around downtown San Rafael – not with a dog, but with an instructor, in my case Pete O’Riley, holding the harness and directing me to execute commands for turning left and right, crossing a street, etc.
My disappointment over not getting a golden or golden cross is still lurking, but I’m determined to ignore it and fall in love with my new partner.
Tomorrow is what everyone calls Dog Day – when each of us will at least meet our new furry companions.