Friday, October 21, 2011

Best In Show

This has been quite a nerve wracking week.
First, Ruby had her third obedience class on Tuesday. The first two were not especially successful. Tom took her to the first class and it was an unmitigated disaster. Ruby needed an obedience class desperately--and it showed. She refused to walk on a leash and instead hopped on her hind legs like a kangaroo, she growled aggressively at the other dogs, she was stubborn, and rebellious, and basically every bad terrier stereotype you can think of. I took Ruby to class number 2, and it only went slightly better. She sort of paid attention to me, but she was no honor roll student.

And I left the second class in quite a snit because the trainer suggested I spray Bitter Apple into Ruby's mouth every time she barked at another dog-as if she was Cujo or something. She's lectured me too about how Ruby wasn't paying any attention to me, and was unruly, and out of control--which was not true. At home, Ruby had learned lots of tricks really quickly, did listen to me, and was as sweet a dog as you could ask for. I was seriously grumpy that my dog could be so misunderstood. My feelings were hurt on Ruby's behalf, and so the morning after class number 2, I went to the pet store and bought a training collar, a squeaky toy, better treats, and a squirt bottle. Then I went to Lowes for an apron, which I came home and modified. I made the front pocket bigger, and then sewed sections into the two lower pockets, turning them into four. Into its own pocket I put the squirt bottle, the squeaky toy, and the treats. The other pockets were for my car keys and storing the training collar when Ruby wasn't in class. Then all week, we practiced. I took her out to Petsmart, to meet other neighborhood dogs, to work on her heeling. Every time she tried to hop down the street, she got a firm tug on her collar. Every time she barked at another dog, I sprayed her in the face with water. I also got online and asked for help from other terrier owners. They suggested I teach her the "watch" command, so I spent the week sticking treats on my nose until Ruby stare into my eyes, hanging on my every word. In typical Brittany fashion, I decided there was no leaving things to chance...no loosy goosy waiting to see how things would go... no status quo for me. We were going to go back to class and show those people the True Ruby who could kick all their obedient doggie butts.

So class number 3 rolled around, and Ruby was a new dog. Definitely honor roll behavior. Yes, I had to spray her in the face a few times for getting barky at the other dogs, but she heeled, she sat, she would (occasionally) lie down (I know I said honor roll...Let me clarify--that would be the B Honor Roll LOL), she did a beautiful wait, a beautiful leave it, did a not-so-beautiful, but respectable stay... and then the ginormous Tibetan Mastiff got her attention....

Seriously, this dog is the size of a Yak, and he's not full grown yet. He's still growing. Like 90 more pounds growing. Ruby, at max, is going to weigh about 15 lbs. She is a walking, barking, tiny, crunchy Tibetan Mastiff appetizer.

So it was probably not her best idea to start her mouthy barking nonsense at him. I gave her a nice quick jerk on her training collar, and then watched it come sailing off her neck and fly through the air. Ruby charged. Thankfully 1) Tibetan Mastiff was also in a training collar and 2) he was pretty sure he could take Ruby, so he didn't even blink. All I knew was I needed to get Ruby under control before she did something suicidal, so I grabbed her little carroty tail and hauled her backward to our section of the training space. She quit barking and sat there calmly while me, and Hunter (the chocolate lab puppy)'s owner re-threaded her collar and got it back on her neck. After that, class went without a hitch.

It wasn't quite the flawless performance I was hoping for, but since it was a dramatic improvement over the last two classes, I don't feel like I have a lot to complain about. I try to control what I can, and have a sense of humor about the things that I can't, but sometimes I feel like I'm the one who's being critiqued.

...Which leads me to parent teaching conferences. Or more to the point, my first parent teacher conference about Sam.

When I was a teacher, I didn't understand how scary it was for parents to hear the latest progress report about their child. As a teacher, I was much more concerned about saying something that would upset the parents--but now that the roles are reversed, I totally get that the parents were anxious too.

I know Sam. I've lived with him for five years-longer if you count the time I spent getting to know him in utero. And since he is just like my grandfather temperament-wise, I dreaded hearing about all of mischievous, disruptive, crazy boy behavior, and just knew that he had to be driving his poor sainted teacher crazy.

It was quite the relief to hear that  for the most part he is being good in class. He doesn't listen well (to the point that his teacher suggested a hearing test), but he's where he should be academically and socially, and is adjusting to school really well.

But you could've knocked me and Tom over with a feather when we learned that "Sam is a fun kid. He really likes to have his fun." His teacher went on to say how much he enjoyed playing in the classroom and cutting up with his classmates. Somehow, I didn't expect that. I mean, it just isn't in his genes. Tom and I have many fine qualities between us, but fun-loving is not how people would typically describe either one of us. We were the kids in school who took things very, very seriously. Tom even came out of the parent teacher conference grumbling, "I'm not sure if I want to be the parent of a fun-loving kid. Sounds like he's going to get himself into lots of trouble with his "fun"."

As parents, we've spent a lot of time trying to instill a sense of responsibility and seriousness in our children. It's our default personality, and the personality we expected our children to inherit from us. Always the pleaser, John came into the world a serious boy. Sam, not so much. It drives us bonkers, because he is so different from the rest of us. But without Sam around, the sun wouldn't shine in this house. He's been a lesson in how to let down our hair and live joyfully (and passionately) in the moment.

I knew this about him, and yet I was surprised that it was the prevailing impression of him that his teacher took away--that he was a fun, fun-loving kid. It is not my prevailing impression of Sam, so I'm still trying to wrap my head around the reality of Sam as other people see him. Unlike the situation where Ruby's first impression wasn't a good one, now Sam was being seen in a more positive light than I see him. I don't interpret his behavior as "fun-loving" very often. To me, it's more "loud," "unruly," and "risky." But then I think of my grandfather and he was definitely a fun-loving guy. He got into his fair share of trouble, but you couldn't help but love him and want to be around him. And the same is true of Sam. I need to remember that.

Ruby, Sam, and I all have to learn to listen better. Sometimes the things you hear will change the way you see.

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