Let’s see, where were we? Oh, right. Barney. Barney was wiggling, and licking, and basically making me forget ALL about The Boys’ puppyhoods. There is something magical about a baby labrador-the not-quite-having-mastered-their-tail, the clown feet, the ears-OH THE EARS, the tummy, the insatiable chewing-on ANYTHING. Cooper once, I kid you not, couldn’t find anything to chew on, so he chewed on air. Just sat there and made chewing motions with his little jaws. And since I am a heartless person, I sat there and giggled for at least five minutes before I found something legitimate for him to chew.
So Barney’s person kind of sheepishly told me, “We’re here for our obedience class. We’re…not the stars.” (Yes, Barney, yes you are, because you have a chubby tummy and soft ears and puppy teeth…) And I began to laugh. And I told her the story of The Boys’ obedience class.
When The Boys were approximately five months old, we Hit. The. Wall. There was no way to exhaust them, there was no way to entertain them All. The. Time. I would take Cooper to our local dog park for two hours immediately after work (in July. In Texas. Outside. Because I love The Boy THAT MUCH.) where he would sprint. Dead out sprint. For two hours. After the sprinting, we would head to the unofficial “water park” portion of the dog park which is really just an old abandoned boat ramp. People bring their Labs, there are always some old nasty tennis balls hanging around, shoes get muddy and Labs get wet.
An aside: The Boys aren’t “real” Labradors. They are, as mama calls them, “Poodles with Haircuts”. Neither one of them will get in the water voluntarily, though they do REALLY enjoy watching other dogs frolic in the water. And Cooper will bring you a tennis ball, and if you throw it, he turns back to look at you as if to say, “Why ON EARTH DID YOU DO THAT?” And then he stares at the tennis ball till you go get it. And hold on to it for him. Cody, however, did get the retriever gene. For the entire litter. ANYTHING becomes a potential projectile for the Yellow Dog. Kleenex (he gets SO FRUSTRATED when you throw kleenex and it doesn’t go very far…he missed that day in Physics…), leaves (ditto), actual tennis balls, and really, his favorite thing are those disposable plastic water bottles. They crackle and make noise and have a top that can be chewed off. The problem is that Cody did NOT get the “patience” gene. So when we, or guests, or visiting dignitaries are sitting out on the patio, if an “uninitiated” guest happens to be enjoying a bottle of water, sometimes we have to explain why it is that the Yellow Dog chomps at the bottom of the bottle while they are drinking from it. And sometimes, the “uninitiated” guest decides that it’s much easier just to gulp the water down and give the darn bottle to the Yellow Dog With The Foaming Mouth. This is why we serve so much wine. Cody hasn’t figured out what to do with a wine bottle yet.
Anyway, we would watch the other Labs retrieving and swimming (sigh…) and after Cooper made it apparent that he was not going to be joining his brethren, we’d head home. Where Cooper would sleep the sleep of angels for an hour. And I could get things done. Like showering, and running the dishwasher, and paying the bills. After an hour, The Sir was up and ready again. So, we would take a LONG walk around the neighborhood. Come home. And by then, we’d both crash.
After what seemed like decades of the nightly “Exhaust The Boy” routine, the three adults in the picture reached a conclusion. We could not continue as we had been. Apparently Cody’s energy supply was comparable to The Sir’s, and while there were two of them so they could switch off, my parents were as exhausted as I. Something. Must. Be. Done.
A friend of ours was a hunter. Apparently there are two kinds of hunting (I don’t know these things.)-hunting that requires the services of a dog, and hunting that is better done without something big and furry and slobbery bounding around you in all directions. This friend did the kind of hunting that actually benefits from a dog. Specifically, a Labrador dog. (God help those poor creatures that require a Labrador to catch them. I can’t imagine.) And he had sent his Labrador dogs to a guy out in North Texas (which was so far North that it was really Southern Oklahoma) who runs kind of a “sleep away” training camp for Labs. Apparently, he knows the breed is prone to stubbornness (this is what makes them EXCELLENT service dogs, since they won’t obey an unsafe command given by their handler) and so he takes the dogs for several weeks, and then brings the people back at the end for several sessions to show them how to command their Lab. SIGN US UP! We were totally in. The tires may or may not have squealed as we peeled out of the parking lot of the Lonely Acres School For Wayward Labradors after handing over The Boys (I made up the name. I don’t want the guy who trained our beasts to read about how we have utterly undone everything he worked so hard to do.).
At the end of the “sleep away” portion of the training, we showed up, ready to greet our now-gentlemanly Labradors. The trainer, we’ll call him Bruno, said, “Well, I have good news and I have bad news.” And my heart stopped. (The Boys had gotten Parvo when they were very young, and had almost died, so I was still on edge. VACCINATE YOUR DOGS, PEOPLE.) (We always vaccinate our dogs, we think The Boys got it from grass tracked into the backyard by our lawn guy. Parvo is THAT contagious.) And Bruno continued, “Cody is doing great. He gets to go home with you today. Cooper, well, Cooper needs to stay on a few more weeks.” And, because despite the exhaustion, I was really missing My Boy, I got a little bit teary, and I said, “But why?” And Bruno replied, “Well, it’s easier if I show you. I’m going to bring Cody out first.”
So off to the barn he went, and soon he appeared with Cody. Cody was trotting along, at heel, off-lead, happy to be there, happy that the sun was shining, happy to be alive. In short, he was being Cody. Cody is NEVER sad. (Except when we don’t allow him to climb into the dishwasher to lick the dishes. Then it’s an almost unbearable mixture of utter confusion and sadness.) Bruno ran him thru the standard commands. Passed with flying colors. Bruno said, “Okay, I’m going to put Cody up now, and bring out Cooper. I had to separate Cooper from the rest of the group to try to get through his thick skull.”
So Bruno brings Cooper out. On-lead. With an electric collar on the size of Rhode Island. (This is NOT a forum for you to vent your feelings about electric collars or other methods of canine behavior modification. You have to do what works for you, we have to do what works for us, and I think any regular reader of this blog will have no trouble knowing that The Boys are loved to pieces and are in no way mistreated. I have felt the electric collar when it was going off, and it is firm, but not painful. I moderate comments.) Cooper is walking, slowly, about three paces behind Bruno, glowering at him. Clearly, no love lost between these two. (Cooper is NEVER shy about expressing his feelings. So, really, Cooper was being Cooper, too.) Bruno issues the first command. “Cooper, SIT.” My Boy splays himself out on the ground, flat. “But, maybe he doesn’t understand ‘sit’, yet.” (I’m his person, I have to take up for him. It’s my job.) To which Bruno replies, “Oh, he knows what ‘sit’ is. And here’s how I know. When you want the dog to sit and you can’t get him to sit any other way, you pick him up by the back of his collar, lifting up the front half of the dog. It’s total instinct, they will put their front paws on the ground, and you get a ‘sit’ that you can praise and reward.” So Bruno picks him up by the back of the collar. At which point, My Boy goes limp, pulls his front paws UP higher, and sort of flops over on one side. So apparently during his time in isolation, My Boy was reading up on the Civil Rights Movement and Passive Resistance. We repeated the exercise a few more times just to satisfy me that The Boy wasn’t just trying to show off. Bruno gave me a few minutes to love on My Boy and said he thought he would need a few more weeks.
And sure enough, after a few more weeks, My Boy got to come home. His training did have to continue, though. I had to work hard to prove to him that I was the Alpha in the pack, and that my stubbornness could last longer than his. And to this day, every once in awhile, Cooper will get it in his head that he can’t let me win “this one” (“this one” being whatever difference of opinion we happen to be having at the time…come in, go outside, don’t eat that garbage, whatever…) and a battle of wills ensues. We won’t discuss win/loss records.
And that, in 1600 words, is the story of The Boys’ training. It should be noted that they had us trained far faster.
And with that, I’ll leave you with a picture of The Sir pouting: