In early July, Max had a very social day: first a visit to Dr. Zinger to get heartworm pills; and then to the SPCA to meet Carson Wilson, who was head of the Burnaby shelter at the time. Carson liked Max. He reassured me that I had a good dog, but acknowledged that Max wasn’t going to be easy to control. We had a long chat about dogs and dog parks while Max, having decided that he liked Carson too, napped peacefully at our feet. Before we left, Carson gave me the date of the next free training session which was set for the upcoming weekend. He also informed me that it was due to be filmed by the local cable network. Max was about to experience school and become a TV star all in one fell swoop!
Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, come Saturday, cablevision was on strike, so Max didn’t get to be a star after all. However, the trainer proved to be a gem. His name was Gary Gibson, and he and his wife, Kathy, worked together. They had formed Canine Corrections, which was a training program that operated out of the women’s prison at the Fraser Foreshore. Kathy worked with the inmates and taught them how to train problem dogs and rehabilitate them back into the community. Kathy and Gary had also worked with the Pets and Friends program, and acted as consultants for SPCA shelters all over the Lower Mainland. They now run a company called Custom Canine, and anyone who has a problem dog to train would be well advised to contact them.
I may have been impressed by the visiting trainer, but Max wasn’t. He took one look at Gary, who was a big man, and promptly cocked a leg, narrowly missing Hugh in the process. Gary eyed Max back sternly and told us that the act had been deliberate. Our darling boy was displaying defiance and dominance. Max proceeded to look the other way and pretend Gary didn’t exist. Gary was amazing though. He ignored the ‘attitude’ and proceeded to demonstrate some training techniques. Max wasn’t overly impressed, but cooperated reasonably well in spite of wanting to play class clown and visit all the other dogs. Gary also continued to work with the other dogs, and gave several of their owners leads about obedience-school programs. However, when I asked Gary if he could recommend a program for us, he told us that Max would get kicked out of obedience school the first day. How humiliating, especially with all those good dogs and good-dog owners standing around grinning. Still, Max was not a write-off. Gary and Kathy had their own training program for problem dogs. It entailed two visits to the dog’s home where they taught the owners how to work with the pet on their own territory. After that, we’d be on our own for a few months, and then they would come back for a follow-up session to see how we were doing. The price was extremely reasonable and we were thrilled to accept. Gary gave us some practical tips to get us started; then we arranged our first lesson for Monday and took Max home.
I decided to start training with Max that evening. The key, according to Gary, was to show Max who was boss, and the first step was The Long Down. This entailed the owner getting comfortable with a book and a coffee since the procedure involved sitting still for half an hour. Max was to be leashed and made to lie down. Then I was to put my foot on the leash, right near his collar, so that he could not get up until I gave him the release word, which was okay. Gary warned me that Max would rebel and I’d never be able to hold him, so I was to wrap the leash around the sofa leg, which would fool Max into thinking I was the immovable object that was holding him in place. This, I understood, was to make Max believed he belonged to a powerful Supermom. As Gary had predicted, Max tried to challenge me, but he wasn’t as difficult as I had anticipated. He wriggled for a while, and then settled down peacefully for a nap. Good, I thought. This is going to be a breeze.
Come Monday morning, Max was naughty again and ran off during his walk. By the time we retrieved him, Hugh was furious, so Max and I ended up abjectly walking home alone. So much for learning from The Long Down. Worse was to come. When Gary came for the first session in the afternoon, Max looked horrified to see the bossy man from the shelter entering his home and promptly nipped him. The scowl on his wolf mask showed he had no intention whatsoever of co-operating this time around. However, Gary persevered. In an amazingly short time, he taught Max his first trick— how to play dead. Gary would say the words, ‘Bang, You’re Dead’, and move a pointing finger towards Max’s face; and Max would promptly flop down, roll over and show his tummy. Once Gary had demonstrated this a couple of times, it was our turn to try. To our delight, we discovered that the pointing finger worked. It was just like that scene in Croc Dundee! What was even better, Max seemed to find it great fun to do the trick. Progress at last.
Next, we went outside, and Gary taught us how to walk Max on the leash. Hugh and I had endured an ongoing struggle, trying to make Max heel, but as Gary explained, force was not necessary. Gary took Max’s leash and started down the sidewalk. As soon as Max got ahead of him, he turned, giving a slight jerk on the leash, and went back the other way. After three or four changes of direction, Max got the message and began to walk beside him. Gary handed me the leash and told me to try, so off we went, striding along the pavement and reversing every time Max forged ahead. It was amazing. In no time at all, there was the dog that had pulled me behind him like a sleigh, trotting sedately to heel and looking happy about it too.
The next lesson was using the home to teach Max the pack order. I was interested to hear that Gary would not work with people who did not allow their dogs inside the house. His entire system depended on constant interaction between man and pet. Gary looked around our house and said, “I bet Max races to beat you out through the doors or up the stairs.” We nodded and admitted that was so. Gary nodded. Then he explained that we should always start for the door we didn’t intend to use, and then turn and go through the other one, so that Max ended up being behind us. Gary showed us how to go up the stairs so that Max couldn’t get ahead of us. By the time he had finished, we realized that even the smallest domestic duty could be used as a training exercise. Gary’s final piece of advice, which I was pleased to hear, was to let Max sleep in our bedroom, for the reasons I explained in an earlier episode. Hugh conceded, even though he wasn’t thrilled with the idea. Still, Max, unlike Beanie, was a good sleeper and didn’t snore, so he wasn’t likely to disturb us in the night. We saw Gary off, feeling much better about the situation. However, we were given a stern warning that this was not going to be a piece of cake, and that Max would go through several stages of rebellion. Gary also told us that Max would have to be neutered before he reached the age of two or we would have the mutt-from-hell on our hands, and Gary wouldn’t be working with him. One nip was enough.
We spent the rest of the afternoon reversing back and forth around the house while Max tried to second guess our every move. The evening was fun, because my actress friend, Virginia Reh, was visiting from Toronto, and she came over for dinner. Gini, who is very charming and vivacious, won Max over in no time. After dinner, Katie organized Max to perform a mini-gymkhana on the lawn while we sat on the deck with our drinks, viewing the pageant like Medieval royalty at the jousts. Katie did very well as ringmaster, and Max managed some nice jumps in spite of his short legs. He was happy to let off steam after his arduous first day at school.
The next day, Max reversed and heeled like a show dog all the way to the woods. Once on the trails, we tried some more of Gary’s tricks. The object, we’d been told, was to keep Max off balance by being unpredictable. That way, he’d have to pay attention and would be more reluctant to take off in case he lost us. Dutifully, we changed our route to keep Max on his toes, and periodically, we hid behind trees to make him look for us. This worked nicely for a while. However, it wasn’t long before Max figured out the new tactics and got bored. Then it was back into dog-on-the-lookout-for-action mode. However, we were making progress, and at least we had some guidelines to follow.
Poor old Max’s op day came soon. We walked him, and then, feeling horribly guilty, took him to the vet. I hated leaving him there, but knew it had to be done. We went back and picked him up at six, minus his cute little black balls. The poor fellow was very groggy, and he threw up as soon as we got him home. He clearly felt wretched and lay in the garden all evening. I managed to get him upstairs at bedtime and tucked him up on the top deck where he settled down for the night. He was still a sad little guy the following morning, but he perked up by the afternoon. By the weekend, he was much better. He watched happily while Hugh opened his birthday presents and wolfed down his food with his former enthusiasm. After breakfast, we took him to the Foreshore for a leash walk. He wanted to run but we couldn’t let him because of his stitches. However, he trotted beside us, sniffing the smells and wagging his tail at the other dogs. Our cheeky, cheery fellow was back again. A few more days before the stitches came out, and then it would be time for Max to go on his very first trip. After all, he’d started school, so like any other student, he was entitled to a holiday.
Next: Max goes on holiday.