I’ve shared with you some of Lomax’s little quirks, and a few of our outings and adventures, but now that I’ve had him for a full month (well, okay, just over a month, and I’ve been meaning to post this but the past week has been busy), I thought you might be interested in an overall report on his behavior.
We’re constantly practicing obedience: on my breaks at work, while we’re waiting somewhere, on walks in my neighborhood, all the time. And when it’s just the two of us, he’s stellar. Excellent heel position on a loose lead, very attentive, not ground-sniffy, terrific recall when we’re playing or when I put distractions in his way. Even in our obedience class, full of other dogs big & small, young & old, male & female, intact & “fixed,” he does incredibly well when the two of us are called out to solo, as it were. It’s obvious he enjoys working.
But the second there are other dogs in motion anywhere near him, all that goes out the window. It takes several stiff leash-pop corrections to get him to pay attention, then he’s good until one gets too close. When the whole obedience class is walking at once, he’ll all of a sudden stop a perfect “heel” in mid-stride and jump into a play stance as though he’s about to pounce on the dog walking in front of us. We were out walking tonight, and he was magnificently on the ball until he heard someone walking a tiny yappy-dog about a block behind us. Mid-stride, he wheeled around and wanted to go in the other direction. I had to correct him twice, keep him moving, talk to him the whole way and make him turn a corner and do some obedience in order to get him re-focused. It’s like someone flips a switch in his brain.
I took him up to the monthly puppy class at GDA last weekend, and felt like he was a completely different dog than the one who’d been with me at home that morning. Of course, the school is full of the sights, sounds and smells of literally hundreds of other dogs, so the distraction factor is higher than usual. We did a little recall test with him, just a trainer with some toys, and me and Lomax — he did okay, but wasn’t his usual attentive self. I wondered if I was doing something wrong, but the trainer reassured me that Lomax is actually doing well for only having been with me for this short amount of time (after having spent ten months bonding with another puppy raiser).
The last couple of weeks have been tougher than the first few, and I’m wondering if something clicked and he’s realizing that he’s not just a guest here but actually a resident — and testing me (whether I passed or failed in his estimation, I am now wise to his plan). I’m also wondering if, since he was used to living with another dog or two, he is more distracted by dogs now because he misses having regular playtime. Mostly, I am wondering how much of this is me not being tough enough on him, and how much is simply his age and intact status.
From the beginning, there were things I was expecting him to do well and things I was expecting him to be challenged by, because I had asked his last puppy raiser about a thousand questions. But for whatever arbitrary adolescent dog reason, he has surprised me in a few areas.
For example, I heard he had a “water bottle fetish” of sorts, so I purposely set him up and tempted him left and right: I left several bottles on low bookshelves, I stood near him with a water bottle in my hand and my arm down by my side, at his face level, et cetera. I practically dared him to go for it. I even swirled the water around and pretended I wasn’t paying attention. But he has not once, to this day, even cast a sideways glance at my dear friend Arrowhead 24oz Sports Top Bottle.
Things that have quickly improved:
• Perpendicular sit: for the first few weeks, he’d “swing out” to the left (perpendicular and looking at me) when I told him to sit, and I constantly had to put him in the correct position next to me. Now he’s great.
• Heeling on the stairs: upstairs is nearly perfect, downstairs is generally very good unless he REALLY has to pee, early in the morning. (And can you blame him?)
• The sneaky soldier-crawl: we’re working on keeping him where I put him in a stay by giving him a blanket as a boundary. When he streeeeetches or rolls (“I’m staying, technically. I didn’t move my butt off the ground. What’s six inches to the left between friends?!? Look how cute I am!”) and moves over the edge of the blanket, he gets a correction. Getting better all the time!
Obviously, this is all a learning experience for me too; I know I’m not doing everything perfectly, and everyone has bad days. But I think Lomax and I are well on our way and building more trust all the time (even our teeth brushing is improving!), and the support and encouragement of the other puppy raisers in my group has been invaluable.
I know that real love means looking out for the best interest of the other party, which means you sometimes have to be firm (as they say at the school, “persistent, consistent and insistent”). I love him as much when I’m correcting him or putting medicine on his face as I do when I’m cradling him and rubbing his tummy. Judging from the way he wags his tail when I bring him out of a dead sleep just by whispering his name and telling him he’s a good boy, I think he loves me too.