Enzo Calls My Bluff

When Enzo’s former puppy class teacher Dee Ganley, offered up a formal, 6-week Canine Good Citizen Class, I decided we’d enroll.  I had no delusions that he would pass– I wanted the exposure for my sweet, goofy boy who tends to get anxious and can become stressed when encountering new places and situations. He is my work in progress; I wanted to continue to build on his strengths while supporting his weaknesses in a safe venue.

Week 1:  It took me nearly 15 minutes to get him inside.  He was a hot mess- whining, pulling, and sniffing.  I flatly refused to allow him to haul me around the parking lot. Besides refusing to lower my standards for our loose leash walking progress, my Jeep was in full view, advertising “Leash & Hand Dog Training” on the back window…. talk about a motivator! As Dee walked by I said, “We may or may not make it in…”  She grinned and replied, “If he truly can’t handle it, I’ll refund the class fee.”  (The blessings of a wonderful friend and trainer.)   However, foot by polite foot, we made our way to the entrance. I had the good sense not to ask for a sit, but just opened the door and nabbed the station nearest the exit, just in case. As I situated our gear, I noticed the other dogs were either laying down or sitting politely beside their person.  Enzo stood trembling, head lowered, tail down, a picture of abject misery, whining in increasing decibels.  I knelt beside him on the floor, ignoring his blatant request to leave, and calmly began to massage the area behind his ears.  His whining lessened to the point where I could actually hear Dee speaking.  When he began taking treats from me, I knew he was calm enough for us to stay and do some training.  Granted, it was the last 10 minutes of class, but he was focused and we did manage several sit/stays.  Success!  I told Dee we’d be back.

Week 2:  I arrived half an hour early. As tempted as I was to back the Jeep in so no one could see my sign, I didn’t, figuring a little (okay, a lot) of humility would keep me grounded.  My plan was to provide Enzo with time for “the first sniff is on me”, then ask him to ‘work’–performing known, well-established behaviors.  First up: conquer the parking lot.  Aaannd once again Enzo lost his mind. This time, I wasn’t worried. I had expected it and made allowances; it was now part of our training plan. So when class started, we were not only inside, he was no longer whining–he was actually showing interest!  YAY! Then Dee instructed us to all go outside for some loose leash walking. *sigh* The struggle was real. Down went his nose.  Whiffling and sniffing audibly, he zig-zagged to the end of his lead, straining to move forward. Loose leash walking?? What was that? Dee watched us, nodded, then dead-panned, “Ever think about nose work for him?”

Spinone Italiano with little girl

Week 3: We were asked to bring family or friends. They would mill about, push a wheelchair, and create our practice crowd. My daughter and 4-year old granddaughter were visiting from Minnesota so I immediately commandeered them for class. T was absolutely delighted to be so needed; she instantly became Dee’s assistant. The two of them approached handler pairs, asking to greet the dog. The expectation was for the dog to remain sitting or standing politely while being stroked once permission from the handler was given to do so. When it was our turn, Enzo was simply delighted! He looked up at me as if to say, “It’s T! It’s T! I know her! I love her!” He sat quickly when asked, knowing full well that now T would pet him–just like at home! This was Enzo’s turning point. I don’t know why, but from that moment on, he was focused, relaxed, and successfully participated in the various mock components of the test. My heart smiled, my brain whispered, Dang, I wonder…

Week 4:  The parking lot remained our nemesis.  Even with the allotted ‘free sniff’ allowance he struggled.  My goal remained the same:  to provide him with parking lot exposure, then ask him to work.  My payments for his work were over-the-top:  roast chicken leg, grilled steak, and Cabot’s sharp white cheddar. Progress was virtually infinitesimal and I had to remind myself that minimal progress was still progress.  On the plus side, he was now comfortable inside the training facility.  He was able to work and easily redirected when he lost focus which was… often. But honestly? Quite understandable if you take into account that all his classmates were stunning females.  He was particularly captivated by Penny, an Australian Cattle Dog who was as bright as she was beautiful.

Week 5:  The first round of testing would begin.  I remembered how much progress we’d made since the first class–we had barely made it inside and then he’d cried to go home. I smiled, this had been good for us. Enzo nailed the first three tests: friendly stranger, sitting politely, and grooming. Next up? Obedience: sit, down, stay in place, and coming when called. BOOM! He was having fun. And that’s when it hit me: he didn’t know this was a test! As I frequently tell my clients, “your dog shouldn’t be able to tell the difference between training and playing”.

He walked the pre-plotted ‘out for a walk’ course with dignity and aplomb, glancing up at me frequently and wagging his tail while I grinned from ear-to-ear while encouraging him the whole way. So go figure, the boy showed me: Enzo earned his Canine Good Citizen Award. I learned Enzo’s better at games that I thought.