Monday, March 4, 2013

Boots Goes To School

“Here, Poppy!” called out a female voice, more in hope than anticipation. 

Instantly three little dogs dashed across the room, wagging their tails in excitement. 

“Good girl,” said three owners simultaneously. 

Poppy is clearly the in-vogue name for dogs – there appeared to be several of them in Central Bark, our local dog training school (or maybe “Puppy” sounds like “Poppy” in a Geordie accent?). I guess the teachers in Izzy’s school have the same problem with the multiple Olivers and Charlies. 

“Boots!” I called out, confident in the knowledge that only one dog would react. My puppy, who was pretending to eat a small spaniel, immediately turned and looked at me and I felt a flush of pride. That’s my boy. 

“Here Boots!” I called, and he replied by bounding off in the opposite direction.

 Jo has booked us in for a course of recall lessons. To be honest, anything that could improve my own powers of recall would be most welcome, my memory is so unreliable these days, but this was all about Boots learning to hear his name through a field of Poppies. I have to admit that at first it was pretty tough going. 

This was my first experience of dog obedience classes: there were ten of us, nervous new owners obediently processing in circles round the green hair-covered carpet, our dogs doing their best to persuade us to walk the other way. Eventually the dogs got the walking-on-the-lead thing right and for a brief moment I had visions of Crufts as we proudly paraded our mutts round the room. Then came a new instruction. 

“Please take off Boots’s lead, and get him to sit and stay for a few seconds”. 

Sensing everyone’s eyes on us, I nervously unbuckled the lead and said in my most authoritative voice, “Boots – Sit!” 

He paused and looked at me in disbelief. Two seconds later and I was yelling “Boots, come back at once!” as the wretched dog bounced across the room to play with a shaggy German shepherd called Shadow. 

Sheepishly I retrieved him and reconnected him with his lead. Boots yawned. I reckon he thought it was all a bit beneath him. Bred for centuries to round up sheep and cattle, our English shepherd is now being taught to pad round in a circle, listening to me repeating “Heel, Boots – good boy” incessantly. He really didn’t see the point. 

I guess he’d much rather be out doing a proper job like putting dumb animals into pens. But, clutching my dog treats, I persevered, did as I was told and so, eventually, did Boots. By the end of the class, he was sitting and staying like a pro. Crufts, here we come. 

Izzy, meanwhile, has taken to hiding whenever we call her. She thinks it’s a great game, especially when she’s late for school. The more urgently we need her, the harder the recall. I think they call it “pushing the boundaries”. Izzy is four. 

She and Boots are best friends – I reckon they are teaching each other how to push my boundaries together. They say that teaching children and dogs is nothing to do with the pupils: it’s all about training the owners. 

It’s about confidence and giving off the right signals – being consistent in your language and strong in your resolve. Whatever you say, follow through: that’s what the dog trainer said. I’m not terribly good at it, but at least I’m trying. Next week I think I’ll take Izzy to Central Bark instead of Boots. 

One person who could certainly do with a lesson in obedience training is David Cameron. As the Tory backbench pack runs wildly off the leash, ignoring all pleas to come to heel, you wonder why he doesn’t just give up and herd sheep for a living. Life would be an awful lot simpler for him. 

Though the sheep would probably ignore him as well. Maybe I should lend him Boots.

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