12 September 2016

Bringing Up Banksy :: Part 8 of 9

Due to my obsessive and time consuming addiction to agility, pretty much the only friends I have left are dog trainers. Very excellent ones. Everybody else started to fade away when I traded in my vintage biker boots and platform shoes for head to toe goretex and missed all the parties from getting up at crazy early dark o'clock for dog shows. More exodus happened after one too many lengthy monologues regarding the complicated politics of operating a multiple dog household at dinner time. The amount of time needed to train a border collie puppy? Full vanishing of everybody else. Excellent dog training friends understand the importance of pockets in each and every layer of fleece. They know what dogs are saying all the time and know exactly how to train them the right way. They have the skills I try to channel, because their skills always come out right. Their dogs stay no matter what, lie down calmly, and their recalls never fail. Not only do they sail around hard courses at top speeds with roller derby queen precision, but their dogs can do really cute tricks and have impeccable manners in public. And wait in line with happy faces to get their toenails trimmed.

Some of my excellent dog training pals had border collie puppies, too. So we had a little support group. Not like a support group where you sit around in fold-up chairs passing around the kleenex, because actually, my friends didn't even know we were in a little support group. It was the secret kind and I was the only member. They were all doing perfectly fine with their puppies, totally no big deal to figure out how to keep an animal designed to chase herds of sheep fifty miles a day happy and content in a suburban living room. Lucky for me they were tolerant types who enjoyed texting about dog training topics early in the morning and late at night. Mostly their advice was the same thing as my husband's. She'll grow up. You'll figure it out.

So, if this was a Lifetime channel champion story, here's where I'd tell you every right move I made that overnight transformed us into a miraculous team and how we went on to win the Biggest Fanciest World Champion Agility Trial just a few months later. That would be the coolest champion story ever. I'd have the souvenir podium photo where I looked super hot in my size two skort with Carrie Brownstein and Johnny Depp handing me my crown and sash. Just for good measure I would have won the lottery, too, on a single ticket bought at the liquor store across the street, painted a victory mural outside MOCA in Downtown L.A. after my parade, and been enrolled in a Pie of the Week club for life.

Righty-o, not exactly. We're definitely operating on the It's the Journey premise at my house. Don't stop believing, and stay off that midnight train going anywhere. Due to you need to get up really early for a minimum three mile jaunt through the woods in every single morning. More along the lines of I have now read every dog training book ever written and month by month in puppy time has been a slow progression of 3 steps forward, 2 steps back. Being a border collie, Banksy had to have the most steps, so there have been plenty to spare when two thirds of them were in the wrong direction.

Baby step one was when my regular agility coach, who just so happens to be a legendary world champion agility expert, started a special puppy class. Possibly my twenty thousand requests of PleaseNancyPleaseNancyPleaseNancy had something to do with this. The main theme of class was eat, play, come, stay, anywhere and anytime. So far all of those were highly impossible. I think on the first day of class, Nancy took one look at us and decided that day's lesson was How to Teach Sit Correctly.

I've never been extremely detail oriented. Sloppy is a much more useful adjective for most things in my life. Never lacking in exuberance, but my attention span is more ferret stampede than color coded tupperwares to put the thoughts in. A nice way to put it is using air quotes when you say “creative.” Something I've noticed in my dog training friends is that they don't ignore picky little details. Their brains stay on track. There is structure. Clearly these were things that champions needed to have. And border collie puppies who could could learn how to do something exactly the wrong way in about one second from muddled training.

Every week, over the mountain we'd go to puppy class. I'd stand in the dark, on the other side of the hedge from everybody else, doing tricks with Banksy while the other puppies ran around on the lawn. My goal was to someday be able to actually join the class with a calm enough dog. It was a little bit like having nobody to sit with in the cafeteria at lunch time, over there behind the hedge. My other dogs have always been hyper, and love to run and play, but not to the point where they were constantly overstimulated by motion. Banksy's world was overstimulated to say the least. Anything moving, even if it was WAY OVER THERE, revved her up to the point of no return. Maybe for gathering wayward sheep from across a moor this would be a fantastic thing. But in normal life, somewhat of a challenge.

We also took online classes from my Slovenian dog training hero, and on Sundays, me and my friends would get together (note-not a support group) to practice our serps and threadles and wrappy turns with tiny little baby jumps. I loved online classes. Silvia put little smiley faces in all her emails and had messy hair like me. She'd trained all kinds of challenging dogs by running around in the forest with them and teaching them tricks, which was pretty much my whole mission in life. Yeah, my puppy had the completely embarrassing manners when I practiced with friends, but watching how they trained their puppies gave me something to aspire towards. Someday.

Agility was especially over revving for Banksy. Agility currently is, especially over revving. The good news about this is, um, yeah. She loves agility. When we'd practice just wrapping around a little cone was her BEST THING EVER! Yes she wanted to do it again. And again! And AGAIN! Except for her, instead of teaching motivation to love the game, it was all about teaching her to have an off switch, a little button that would program her brain to calm down enough to wait patiently for her next turn. Banksy wanted ALL THE TURNS 4 LIFE! Her switch was more like the giant lever in Dr. Frankenstein's castle. As soon as you pulled it, all the lightning in Transylvania fired up the castle with enough juice to power up a green headed monster in totally non-ironic Doc Martens. And it wouldn't turn off.

This was a whole different kind of training for me. All my little dogs were wild and hyper, but their off switches worked just fine. Ruby had always needed an anti squirrel chasing switch. Otterpop needed a switch that didn't blow a circuit when she got nervous. Gustavo's off and on switches kind of flickered. Banksy's switch was stuck ON all the time. Boy, was she burning bright. But her electric bill was off the charts.

So we did things that involved being boring and laying around on a towel. Did you know there was a protocol for relaxation? If you told me to just lay around and relax, rewarding that with an occasional snack tossed my way, I'd be all over that like a squirrel on a taco. I'm thinking, laying in a hammock in Costa Rica, with on-call sandwich and Mai Tai service. But I'm not a border collie. For Banksy, nothing could be more excruciating. But this is what we did. A lot.

Everything we learned in class, we practiced on our own, all over the place. At the park, at work, our friend's agility field, on lawns of nearby office complexes. No flat grassy surface with convenient parking was safe. My car was a mobile storage unit of crates, jumps, boards, poles, tunnels and the stash of slightly damp tennis balls that seemed to be breeding in there. Not exactly a classy ride. I was the scary Freedom Lady at the dog park, with Banksy practicing a lie down while I jumped up and down, throwing the ball around and not letting her go get it until I yelled FREE! Who's puppy didn't get to come and play with your puppy until I yelled FREE! Release words, not widely used at the dog park. It made me the pariah of the the chatty set that hung out by the picnic tables, but onwards. I was a freedom warrior.

I spent Sundays spent circling round and round a dusty roundpen with a bunch of lady sheep, trying to convince Banksy to not attack our new wooly friends who eyeballed us warily, wishing the both of us would leave them alone forever. It was a happy day when I gave away all the Costco rugs covering my smooth floors because her speck staring stopped, although then we had to work on her not attacking the broom. And while loads of people pay experts to teach them how to get their dogs off the furniture, I tried to convince the anti-snuggler to get in touch with her inner cuddly love bug. One step forward, recently I was sitting on the couch, just minding my own business and up she climbed. I could barely move I was so excited. I reached over and gave her a little scritch and she made that smooshy happy face. Baby steps.

to be continued...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This series is really fabulous - I really enjoy your writing and the story - you and Banksy becoming a wonderful team!