By Suzanne Sparrow Watson
Over the past three months we have been doing LOTS of homework around our house. Studying, practicing, shouting. Lots of shouting. Let’s just say the atmosphere has been a little tense. As much as we rehearsed, success was infrequent and attention spans were non-existent. But finally, last Saturday, our big day arrived – Dash the Wonder Dog was tested for his Canine Good Citizen designation. I swear I haven’t been as nervous about a test since I took the SAT. Actually, I wasn’t that nervous about the SAT since I had pulled an all-nighter the night before and could barely fill in the circles on the test paper (which probably goes a long way toward explaining why I didn’t get into a better college). But this day was Dash’s big day and nervous energy prevailed. We made sure he had a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast. “They” say it is the most important meal of the day and I wasn’t about to question whether that also pertains to our canine friends. We made sure he had “done his business” beforehand as I was quite certain that pooping unexpectedly in public was not part of the test. At the appointed hour, we walked into the classroom at Pet Smart where Dash immediately lost control and jumped up on the instructor. It was going to be a long day.
The first part of the test was done in the classroom where the conditions were somewhat controllable. Dash sensed my uncertainty and shot me a look conveying “Chill, Mom, I got this”. I wasn’t so sure. None of our practice sessions indicated anything close to success. But there was no delaying the test. The first few requirements were child’s play – “sit”, “down”, “stay”. Basically the canine equivalent of kindergarten. But then it got more serious – he had to sit and stay while I walked 15 feet away and then come to me on command. My palms were moist, my mouth was dry and Dash was distracted by a rather comely Poodle walking past the window. I took a deep breath and called him to me. Just as Dash passed the mid-point the devious instructor placed an open bag of peanut butter treats between him and me. Jeez – that’s like asking me to pass by a piece of Costco’s chocolate cake without at least sticking my finger in the frosting. Luckily, as it turns out, Dash the Wonder Dog has a lot more self-discipline than I do. He ran right over to me, hardly giving a faretheewell to the treats. I’ve never been prouder in my life. After two more “inside” tasks, we ventured out into the aisles of the Pet Smart store. On a Saturday Adoption Day. I’ve seen less chaos at an Under Six soccer game.
We began by testing whether Dash could pass another dog and owner as they walked by on our left side. Fortunately, just as we were passing the other dog and his master, Dash became mesmerized by some goop of unknown origin on the right side of the floor. I was momentarily concerned about the make-up of this “goop” since Dash was proceeding to ingest it, but decided to just “take the win” when the instructor said he had passed the test. Apparently, he can wreak havoc as long as it isn’t toward the other dog or owner. Good to know. The next task was to walk 20 feet through a crowd in a “heel” position and then return to the starting point without breaking stride. The instructor gathered five strangers to act as the crowd. Frankly, I think some of them looked a little too strange. I peered at them assiduously, certain that some of them were planted by the instructor with beef liver treats in their pockets. But again – much to my amazement – Dash walked through the group as if he had better places to go and other people to see. I was beginning to think someone had drugged him. This was not the dog that I had been training at home. Our last task entailed Dash going up to a stranger with me and sitting quietly while I conversed. He behaved like a champ. I think all the time I spend talking with my friends on the phone has provided him with a tin ear where I’m concerned. I can almost see him thinking “blah, blah, blah – does she ever shut up?” No matter…after ten tests were completed Dash had officially become a good citizen. We all cheered, donned funny hats, and ate peanut butter treats.
But now here we are, back in the real world. Every day I work with him a bit, trying to ensure that he doesn’t forget any of the valuable lessons he has learned. Unfortunately, I’m not sure retention is his strong suit. As soon as I take him outside and ask him to heel he assumes the attitude of a teenager and pulls me in the opposite direction. I ask him to sit when we reach the corner and he is suddenly rendered deaf. I am thinking that I would like to have him certified as a therapy dog since he is so gentle and loving by nature. But at this point, I think his forte is the “sleep” command. He has that down pat, especially when he’s on our bed. Now all I need to do is find someone who needs a sleeping therapy dog. Who snores. Oh well, we’re proud of him anyway and the framed certificate looks great on the wall next to the college diplomas.