Monday, January 23, 2012

Dog People

When we humans go to school, our teachers set standards and we have to meet them. We have to memorize spelling words, learn algebraic equations, and understand comma splices. When Brewster goes to school all he has to do is eat.

That's not as simple as it sounds. He is not what dog trainers call "food motivated" in the first place. If there's the least bit of stress or distraction, the treats have to be really special to even get his attention. (Think meat like chicken or hot dog. If it would make a vegetarian cringe, it will make a good Brewster treat.) And he has never, ever accepted a treat from a stranger. He had to meet Susan, his groomer, three times before he was willing to take a treat out of her hand. But tonight, a half-hour into class, he ate out of the trainer's hand, and I was so proud I almost cried. Really.

Now of course he didn't just bop up to the trainer, tail in the air, and say, "Hey, dude, how 'bout hooking a puppy up with some of that chicken-flavored nom nom?" Brewster's success was entirely due to the trainers' patience, something the average person usually isn't willing to show with a dog like Brewster. Living with Brew has taught me how to recognize real dog people and how to be a real dog person myself. A real dog person isn't someone who says, "I'm great with dogs!" or "All dogs love me!" A real dog person knows that, just as not all people like all other people, not all dogs will like all people. (And dog people don't hold that against the dog.) A real dog person knows that dogs are not psychic and cannot just "sense" good intentions. And a real dog person knows that dogs cannot speak English and that Dr. Dolittle is a work of fiction.

Tonight, Brewster and I got to hang out with real dog people. Three of the four trainers who teach our class moved in and out of our "pod," talking quietly with me and never making eye contact with Brewster. None of them moved in to try to pet him or call him to them. No one insisted that Brewster interact. Instead they sat down a few feet away, and every once in a while a bit of treat got tossed in Brew's direction. Slowly Brew got closer and closer to the trainer, and in one case Brewster ate treats off the trainer's leg and then out of his hand. How I wish I'd had my camera because no parent watching a human child learning to walk could feel more pride than I did watching my little bitty dog eat a bit of treat.

We also learned a couple of new tricks to work on this week: In "Touch," the object is for the dog to touch his nose to your hand. It's a method of drawing the dog's attention away from something disruptive and back to you. We also learned "Spin," which, as far as I can tell, is just to give the human a good laugh. I may have to borrow a video camera for that one.

I don't know about Brewster, but I can't wait for next week when we get to hang out with the real dog people again.

Yes, this is the same picture from last week. The cute-factor far outweighs the repetitiveness.


  1. I love real dog people! It makes all the difference in the world.

    My German Shepherd, Sadie, is reactive and I tell people to just ignore her and she'll make her own decision on whether to approach them or not. The people who think they are dog people try to call her by name and start baby talk and she looks at them like "who are you to call me by my name?" They make her more anxious and she backs off.

    I wish people would listen. I know my dog.

  2. It's really hard to ignore sweet dogs! Our instinct is to dive right in and show them how much we love them. It hard for people to understand that with dogs like Brewster and your Sadie, the best way to love them is to ignore them!