Friday, April 18, 2008

With Highest Praise.

In the last two weeks I have been described as looking: 1) Tired, 2) Exhausted, 3) Cranky, 4) Weary, 5) Tired again and – worryingly – 6) Better than I had been looking. And these comments are from women who appear to like me and are saying this to my face. The mind reels as to what is being said behind my back. There is no response to someone telling you that you appear to have walked across the San Fernando Valley pulling a cart laden with your worldly goods. No response, that is, unless you’re me. If you are me, you can say glumly, “Could be worse. At least right now I don’t smell like salmon.”

This began, as so many smelly things in life do, in good intentions. Our dog, as I have noted, is relentlessly congenial, with a genuine affection for all living beings and a overwhelming need to be useful. There is a Four Seasons Hotel somewhere that would love to hire him as a concierge, but until he learns how to really work a phone we’ll have to go with his back-up career: therapy dog.

He would be delighted to be taken to a hospital on a regular basis and allowed to visit sick people. There is only one thing standing between him and him lying on a hospital bed making doe-eyes at the post-operative: the Canine Good Citizenship test. For those of you who have never considered such things, the CGC is a test designed by the American Kennel Club to encourage dog-owners to work towards creating dogs that remain relaxed, alert and social in every environment. Upon passing the test, I could contact one of the groups which arrange for dogs to visit hospitals.

Two months ago, I found a website which listed the requirements he (and I) would have to learn:

Test 1: Accepting a friendly stranger

Well, no problems there, I thought. A dog which tries to worm his way under my legs to visit the table of firefighters next to me on the restaurant patio probably isn’t too anxious about unknown people. I could tell you about some friends from my single years who would have had the same impulse toward a table packed with firefighters, but I won’t.

Test 2: Sitting politely for petting.

Again, cake. We’ll just bring that natural enthusiasm and yearning to do everyone’s hair down a notch and we’ll be golden.

Test 3: Appearance and grooming.

He’s being judged on whether he’s attractive? Is this a part of the test specific to Los Angeles? Upon further reading, I discover it only means the dog should be somewhere near normal weight, clean and alert. Oddly enough, these have become my standards for myself as well.

Test 4: Out for a walk (Loose lead). This test demonstrates that the handler is in control of the dog. The dog may be on either side of the handler. The dog's position should leave no doubt that the dog is attentive to the handler and is responding to the handler's movements and changes of direction.

Oh, there it is. I knew this was going too easily. Marvelous dog. Simply wonderful beast. Couldn’t ask for a better companion. But leash manners? Not in any traditional definition. In fact, his behavior on a leash is more like someone who, upon having tossed the grenade, is racing frantically to get behind something solid before it goes off. A dog whose pulling can re-inflame my old rotator-cuff injury cannot be said to be under my control.

Test 5: Walking through a crowd.

Unless any of them are wearing suits made of ham, fine.

Test 6: Sit and down on command and staying in place.

Easy, unless the ham-suit guy walks by and makes a display of himself.

Test 7: Coming when called.

Please. I’m his BFF. Try to make him not come to me when I call him. I could even call him bad words and as long as I said it while waggling my hands, he’d come flying. I've never said it’s a healthy relationship.

Test 8: Reaction to another dog.

That should be easy. You want a reaction? Oh, sister, my dog will give you all the reactions you...

...This test demonstrates that the dog can behave politely around other dogs. Two handlers and their dogs approach each other from a distance of about 20 feet, stop, shake hands and exchange pleasantries, and continue on for about 10 feet. The dogs should show no more than casual interest in each other. Neither dog should go to the other dog or its handler.

Oh. That kind of reaction; the “lack-of-a-reaction” reaction. Well isn’t that a barking and whining dog of a different color. So far, my most pressing question had been whether it was more embarrassing when he would trash-talk the Doberman who was twice his size and could use him as a loofah or when he’d get all butch with a Maltese, causing the smaller dog to urinate in fear. It was possible we had some work to do in this area.

Test 9: Reaction to distraction.
This test demonstrates that the dog is confident at all times when faced with common distracting situations. The evaluator will select and present two distractions. Examples of distractions include dropping a chair, rolling a crate dolly past the dog, having a jogger run in front of the dog, or dropping a crutch or cane. The dog may express natural interest and curiosity and/or may appear slightly startled but should not panic, try to run away, show aggressiveness, or bark.

As luck would have it, if you live in our house, you have some sense of what your dog does when a chair is dropped, or a child does a handspring across the couch and lands right in front of the dog’s nose, or a cat darts across the house for the express purpose of slapping said dog. To be a dog and live in our house is to quickly lose your fear of the new and the loud, but gain a fear of mammals with retractable claws.

Test 10: Supervised separation.

The dog was going to be held by a stranger while I left the room for three minutes. He could move around a bit, but was not allowed to moan or whine or start plucking out his eyebrows or in any way indicate he lacked faith in my ability to come back. A dog that is happiest inhaling the air I exhale had to watch me leave a room and find his inner Zen master.

I read further. To get the Canine Good Citizen certificate, he had to pass all ten tests. In any other world, even in this age of grade inflation, 90% would have been a perfectly acceptable score. In this class, it meant failure. The training would be rigorous, and both the dog and I are lazy. On the other hand, even if he did fail, he'd still be a better-mannered dog than he had been before. And I'm all about my offspring, biped and quadriped, being a fine example of the breed.

I signed up for class.

(Next; we go to class. And the salmon I mentioned before finally arrives.)


Blogger Epiphenita said...

I know human beings who couldn't pass this test. Btw, if men in ham suits distract, most likely so will a handler wearing eau d'salmon. Best of luck.

5:56 AM  
Anonymous Jeff said...

Quinn are you following me? Terry and I got two 3 1/2 month old Alaskan Malamutes 3 weeks ago that are in their third week of puppy training. (Kitty hates them with a burning passion) They are marvelous dogs, eager to please but so much work. Anyway the trainer was mentioning the Canine Good Certificate today (not in reference to my pups btw) but before today I hadn't heard the term and now I read your blog! Best of luck to you in the class!

1:52 PM  
Blogger Chatty said...

Wow. Good luck! I'm currently dog-sitting an adorable shihtzu to whom the commands "come" and "stay" are mere suggestions. And "Sit"? HA. Only if she wants to rest a bit from chasing my 14 year old cat. She only comes if I have something she wants, or if strolling over to me is more interesting than what is currently engaging her, and she only stays - for a split second - to be polite to her hostess. I tried to walk her on a retractable leash. Very bad idea. I have the skinned knees to prove it. On the plus side, she could give Spiderman some tips when it comes to tying someone up with a simple leash in lieu of spidey-threads...taken all together, your dog sounds a lot easier to work with! "Easier" is, of course, a relative term.

5:05 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

There's a literacy program here in Chicago where kids read out loud to dogs, and I think my pup would be perfect... eventually. We're in obedience classes right now to address the same issues you're facing.

I think there should be bonus points for extra-good behavior... We met a 4-year-old in the park the other day who used one hand to pet Agnes while waving a hot dog around in the other. My sweet girl did nothing but sit politely, drool copiously, and engage the hot dog in a staring contest.

6:43 PM  
Blogger K said...

Wow, that's an awful lot to ask of a golden retreiver. I wish you luck. Perhaps failure is a strong word, maybe he is cut out for a different line of work if he can't pass the darn stringent guidelines they set forth. Perhaps he's meant to do some sort of circus act with men in ham suits? (OMG, that line had me LOLing)

6:47 PM  
Blogger CDP said...

Canine good citizenship, who knew? I wonder what dogs might think of this...would dogs who passed be branded as quislings? ("Ham suit"...tee hee)

8:09 AM  
Blogger SusannahS said...

How funny--I guess in the spring, people's thoughts turn to dogs? My 3 month old puppy, Chloe, and I start puppy-training classes on Wednesday. The minimum age for the CGC test is 1 yr (and we only have one qualified examiner in Arkansas), so we have at least 9 months to perfect her skills. I'm also watching the Dog Whisperer religiously.
And don't stress it--over the past 20 years, my stepmother has successfully volunteered in hospitals with her/our 3 golden retrievers and she is now waiting for Daddy's black lab to test. And if Bentley, whom even the trainer admitted is dumber than a box of rocks, bless her doggie heart, has been deemed ready for testing, than any doggie can do it.

8:45 AM  
Blogger Amie said...

I'm not naming names, but I know a few dogs (some of whom are enjoying the air I am exhaling right now) that can't pass this test unless I've walked them five miles first. Sometimes a little help to contain the enthusiasm is a good thing.

Love to hear about the class - don't take the test unless you're sure, because he can take it anytime, but he can only fail twice.

Let me know if you need help with anything!

4:14 PM  

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