Monday, May 25, 2009

Lessons 1 & 2

When Stella was about four months old, we enrolled in Kat Martin's Puppy Manners and Positive Play class. It's hard to say who learned the most during those few weeks, me or Stella. As I recall there were some things I learned that were not so terribly positive but well worth knowing. They had more to do with the humans than with dogs though. For example, there were eight people and six dogs in the class. We were asked to introduce ourselves and our pups to the group. Not realizing how it might effect Stella's experience in the class, I proudly told the group that my dog's name was Stella, that I'd gotten her from a friend at the Tennessee State Fair and that she was a pit bull. There was this long dead quiet moment then during which three of the remaining seven people turned the color of milk. I thought one girl was actually going to pick her dog up off the ground but her husband stopped her and I knew then that I had made a wrong turn. These people were young and well-educated yet like me, inexperienced as dog owners. I didn't blame them for their response. They didn't know. Six weeks earlier I had been them.

(Note: Recently I found myself at a charity luncheon where Jane Pauley, quoting someone else, said: "Once your awareness is raised - it can't be lowered." Maybe it was the iced tea talking but I thought it was one of the most profoundly simple truths I had heard in a long time.)

It didn't help that Stella outweighed their puppies by something like sixteen pounds. They were each roughly the size of a Dorito and while Stella wasn't aggressive, she could be pushy when it came to playing. It didn't take long for her to realize she had an advantage. There was a boxer puppy, close to her size who, because he was a sweet, tolerant dog, ended up being her only friend for the duration of the class. The others were herded into a little circular fenced area. During times when we were allowed to let our dogs off the leash, Stella's favorite thing to do was to run circles around the fence and get them all barking at the same time, like maniacs. She was like that girl in school who always got you in trouble and then wondered why you didn't think it was funny.

Despite her antics and the general neuroses of new pet owners (mine included), the class was fun and well worth it. I'd recommend it, even to veteran dog owners.

Check out Dogs and Kat.

Also, Jane Pauley's book is Skywriting: A Life Out of the Blue

This photo was taken around the time of Stella's graduation.

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