Winter stretches on in Tidy Lawn, U.S.A. The temperature on this early March morning is -15 C, and may rise to -5 C by noon. The first day of spring, just fourteen days away, sends no harbingers this year.
Dog walks this winter require snow pants, boots, a down vest topped by a down jacket, muffler, hat, and thick gloves. Phoebe and Esme wait patiently while I prepare for the elements. The cold doesn't seem to bother them, but the salt spread on the roads burns their feet and the snow packs into their paws. Esme's arthritis flares up in the cold, and some days she would rather wait on the front steps than come along on our walk.
Like my boys, however, Phoebe has no complaints about snow. The deeper the better. I've dug out my cross-country skis from the basement and Phoebe and I hit the local golf course. I follow the tracks of other skiers on a two-mile loop, as Feebes leaps through the deep snow alongside me. It's a good workout for both of us. When she tires, Phoebe hops into the track behind me and trots along with less effort.
We can't cross-country ski every day, and the geese have left Tidy Lawn for grassier fields farther south. The lack of exercise imposed by this extreme winter has made us both a little stir crazy.
As an adolescent, Feebes not only needs more exercise, she also requires more structure. We've had fun training tricks and socializing her to a busy household of children. Some proper schooling, however, is in order. I sign us up for a Saturday morning obedience class with Israel Meir, owner of Sit & Stay Behavior and Training. Israel expects his clients to understand the science behind the how-to of clicker training. Having learned to clicker train through intuition and osmosis, it's time to find out what I don't know.
At the group obedience class—an assembly of golden retrievers, labradors, an Airedale, and a poodle (Phoebe's best pal Lily)—I remember what it means to be a Border collie. We're accustomed to Phoebe's zoom-y approach to life, but her energy and alertness against the background of the other dogs amazes even me. At the first class, she's electrified—and barks and barks. By the next class, she settles down and we can get to work.
Israel teaches me to teach Phoebe. He shapes my handling technique: "Treat her in heeling position, not out front." He checks my timing. And as this is a Level II class, he runs us through the basics to see what we've covered on our own. Phoebe heels beautifully. She retrieves a dumbbell like a pro. Her understanding, however, of the difference between "sit" and "lie down" is a little muddy. And, oops, we forgot all about "stay."
While Phoebe can learn a trick in three or four clicks, learning to do nothing is an awful challenge. Boredom is punishment. She can't bear it, and I can hardly bear to ask it of her. Israel is teaching me that my expectations for Phoebe are as important as well-timed clicks. I know staying still is hard for her. That doesn't mean she can't or doesn't need to learn to do it. She is capable of anything. It's only a matter of what I expect from her.
Learning About Dogs - ©2002 Learning About Dogs/reprinted here with permission.
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