Thursday, March 6, 2008


As a new puppy raiser, I was always surprised when my "rock-solid" dog — who knew a command backwards and forwards — would fail to perform it in class in front of the trainer. "But he does this perfectly at home!" is the common lament. And so he may. But what a pup knows in a controlled home environment and what he knows in a noisy, scent-filled, action-packed venue are two completely different things. Our trainer constantly reminds us that until a dog can perform a command 100 times, without fault, in any kind of situation or location, he does not "know" the command and we are still in training mode.

The reality of that hit me yesterday when I took Sergi out geocaching with a friend and her dog. We started in San Clemente and followed PCH up the coast to Dana Point, stopping at several different parks and walking on a variety of bike/pedestrian paths, mostly along the ocean. Because it was a beautiful coastal day, everywhere we went there were people and kids and dogs.

I've always been very good about teaching the "Let's Go" command and my dogs usually shine at walking on a loose leash. In class and at home, this is one of Sergi's best skills. Yesterday, I was reminded that he doesn't know it and is still learning.

The woman who went with us lets her dog pull on her leash and walk in front of us. Sergi seemed to think that he should do that too and constantly tried to keep up with her. He strayed off the path frequently when he saw dogs walking the other way or repeatedly lagged behind with his nose on the ground sniffing every couple of feet. I had a pocketful of treats and lots of praise, but the distractions were more that he could handle.

As the "No" and "Don't" commands came more and more frequently, our walk became less and less enjoyable. I realized that all the previous trail hiking we had been doing had been relatively solitary and that we really had not been out with so many people and noises and animals over such a long period of time. By mid-afternoon, Sergi was exhausted and so was I.

In all fairness to Sergi, we cut off the hikes and I let him fall asleep in the back of the car. A fundamental rule when raising a pup is to know when to stop. Sergi was glad to get home and ran around his own yard like a cheetah, glad to be unleashed and free. He's so smart, I forget how young he is, but days like this remind me that for his sake I can't.

Luckily, I was able to get a couple of nice photos of him while we were out and about.

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