Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Obedience training.

I had a wonderful Airedale once. For 16 years. He was a great dog, registered Kennel Club purebred papers and everything. Big and strong and smart. Rashi, we called him. Didn't matter, he only came when he wanted anyway.
I decided to take him through obedience training. He was no longer a pup and didn't seem to be too interested in what I had to say. Like a friend you are talking to who's attention is elsewhere and then makes a comment totally unrelated to what you just said. We all know someone like that. But I thought I needed my dog to pay attention.

They trained in a gymnasium. Most of the other dogs were those little furry piglets that women love so much. Some of them are yappy and they just can't shut up. The dogs, not the women ... well, er ... never mind. But you know the type of mini dog, too stupid to realize giving the finger to the biker bar is not a good thing.
Airedales hate yappy. I had a strong thong of good leather as the lead and needed it when the yappy rat-furs started in barking. We learned all the walk-around stuff. Although I think the parents were learning how to 'heel' more than the dogs. Rashi learned all the Sit and Stay commands but didn't think they applied to him. You are supposed to push your hand at the dog when you want him to to stay, but if you're going to do that to an Airedale, you'd better have something in it to feed him.

There was a point on the final evening for the test, when we all went to the other side of the gym, and were supposed to disconnect the leads to our dogs, leave them lined up alone back there in a nice neat row, walk back to the opposite wall, and your dog was supposed to sit and wait for our command to 'come'. Yeah right.

Well, all the women picked their dogs up in their arms and refused to leave them vulnerable on the floor if Rashi was going to be unconstrained looking at them like a line of frankfurters. One left a puddle of fear. Even the German Doberman Pinscher lingered near its owner's protective legs, but they had a bit of history between them when Herr Doberman thought he was in charge of East Berlin and learned quickly that he wasn't. 
Not that my dog was threatening at all, and he tried to make the low growl appear like he was just clearing his throat. But everyone in the gym could read what was in his mind as soon as he figured out what was going to happen! Like a bully kindergartner who was planning to wreck all the other kids Leggo projects! He was just too frigging happy about the challenge!  Sure, he would slip on the polished wood floor, but so would they. Airedales can get excited by their own inner thoughts, I've watched him dream.

So I had to take my dog through the test alone. And though most of the other dogs were the size of overfed guinea pigs, there were no volunteers willing to show that my Airedale would behave himself. They looked just too much like elongated hamburgers! And Airedales were bred to kill rats and varmints in Scotland. How are they supposed to differentiate hairless tails from furry ones? No matter if they're rats, possums or armadillos, they're not looking at that end!

So. I bring him to the other side of the gym. Rashi walking nicely while I whisper to him, "Don't embarrass me okay?" I tell him the sit command, undo the leash and slowly back away. He watches me with amusement, giving a wink at the black Chow Chow up on the stage. I get to the other end, everyone's heartbeat is elevated at the prospect of havoc amid the tiny canines! 
Rashi lies down. Boredom all over his huge furry face. Airedales are always bored unless there is the prospect of mischief close by. They're not like Jack Russells who are thrilled to have a tail to chase, or a Bull Terrier whose job it is to entertain you, and they're good with that, and I love them but Airedales know what they're thinking and don't always share it.

I call out to sit. I get the ignore posture. I need the dog to get up and then sit obediently, to show he understands the training. He just stares at me, like yada yada what-else-ya-got? And the Black Chow Chow, who has already graduated from this training program, seems to have a glint in his eye and my Rashi stares right at him! There's a private joke between them and they both know what it is. I wasn't sure if he was playing a game of deception for the other owners to relax and return their dogs from the safety of their white-knuckle clutches to the bare floor or maybe Rashi just didn't give a shit.

I got his attention again. This entailed me walking towards him, giving a command in a voice that I hoped the other owners wouldn't recognize as pleading but that my dog would, then slinking away again. About seven times! Even the furballs in the arms of their mistresses were silent, too afraid that they might be the one who wakes the wild Airedale from his apparent lethargy. 
I tried to get him up so I could give the come command and retrieve my dog. The one in the manual where he would trot obediently to me, take a position exactly at my left leg and wait for my direction. Just to show it was okay. 
But Rashi looked me right in my eyes, only obeying a stay command that I didn't issue, and told me something: that he knew what the deal was, but he just didn't care. Like a kid in grade 7 algebra who says when will I ever need this? X equals why? There was a collective sigh of relief when I put the lead back on Rashi and gave him a pat for doing whatever it was he did. Just like teachers do in school today when they pass your child in math even though he only got 4 out of a hundred. He did his best.
So all the other dogs got a little rolled up white paper certificate tied with purple ribbon that matched their ear-rings which said they had passed Obedience Training 101. Even the Dalmatian who are known as stupid. Big deal. 
Rashi got a proper hamburger on the way home. For not killing anything.


The reason I thought my dog needed obedience training was that he would be chasing racoons or rats or even bears. Once a black bear came to our back chain-link fence and Rashi just walked up to his side, bristling with the prospect of a fight, saying to me that he thought he could take him. Airedales are that confident. He'd disappear for three days at a time and come home with guilt all over his face from having had so much fun. I'd feed him and he would sleep through the next day. While I waited for the neighbor's complaints. Especially from the lady with the screen door he went through once after her yappy little fur-burger!

So he never passed the obedience test. 
But he had common sense. If little toddlers were around, he'd lie down and close his mouth so as not to scare them. If they became too obstreperous he would just go down to the basement. We had a split level home and he'd sleep on the landing, no way you could get into the main house without going past the dog. I slept very well at night without locked doors. Not that Airedales aren't friendly, but they give strangers only that one lick because they ration them. 

We always treated him as a member of the family. I remember once we teased him so much with the toenail clippers that he just went away and we all felt so bad afterwards for having embarrassed him. If we were all reading by the fireplace on the rug, he was right there with us. At Christmas, we'd have turkey and Rashi would get the cooked neck meat and giblets. Yes with gravy and everything. He would walk around his dinner for minutes, wagging his tail and smiling at us all in thanks for such a wonderful meal. 
He got caught by the Pound once, when he was 14. Wandered away from our yard and some neighbor finked on him. I went to pick him up. He was in a cage, I said, "What,  are you doing in jail?" In his prime no dog-catcher would have caught him. The look in his eye told me to leave out any reprimand and just take him home for something tasty. He was my dog.
I believe kindness and respect for your friend goes way farther than chains and commands.

So he liked us too and stayed for 16 years. I think he's doing fine up there. My daughter had an Airedale too, Burke, he was run over by a car and died very young. But I imagine he's with Rashi now and Burke sees some beautiful poodles in the valley, he says to Rashi, "Hey, Rashi, let's run down there and make love to a poodle!" and Rashi replies, "No Burke, let's WALK down there, introduce ourselves, and make love to them ALL."

Rashi knew things.
Rashi ignoring me




2 comments:

  1. Awesomeness :)

    Love,
    Bogart

    ReplyDelete
  2. Anonymous10:50 am

    lovely remembrance

    ReplyDelete

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