In which Presto! screws up. But not half as badly as I do.
First, let's introduce the cast of this little one-act farce.
Willard Bailey Presto!'s person. Well, as you will see, one of his persons.
Alicia Bauman One of my competition obedience students. Owned by Tristan, a big, happy golden retriever who is thundering toward his Utility debut.
Angela Hauert Another student. Teammate of Cole, a nearly nine-year-old golden who is about to finish his Novice A Companion Dog title.
Lynn Glickauf Yet another student who's had 30 years in border collies, including two OTCHs. Lynn is a snowbird from Chicago. It was she who engineered the happy string of events that culminated last June 27th when she handed me eight-week-old Presto! in O'Hare Airport.
As Alicia put it, "Presto! chooses his friends.' What she didn't say is if Presto! "friends" you, prepare to take a beating. Presto! doesn't greet you, it's an explosion of euphoria, a love attack in which he takes no prisoners. And his greeting goes on until you somehow (SOMEHOW!) manage to end it. Alicia should know. She and Barbara are the top two loves of Presto!'s young life. I may be a distant third.
And then there's "the game." Lynn and I began playing the game after her lessons with her two border collies, Danny and Timmy (Presto!'s littermate).
We train on large, grassy fields in city parks. So I'd go out about 75 yards and call the dog. He'd come flying to me and jump for a treat. At which point Lynn would be calling, "Timmy come!" And so it went, back and forth for maybe 16 reps. Great exercise for the dogs and guaranteed to produce a well-behaved border collie for at least a few hours. Presto! quickly joined the game, and when Alicia was around we'd play a three-cornered version.
On a recent Sunday morning, a few of us were practicing in a Phoenix park that has lots of shade and is close to the parking lot. When Presto! was younger, Alicia would make herself scarce -- like behind a tree -- while someone else ran us through. But that kind of dodging the issue can go on only so long. On that recent Sunday, I said, "Come on, Alicia, run us through."
She registered doubt. "Are you sure," she asked, "that'll be a disaster."
"Come on," I replied, "I think he's ready." And he was. Presto! made no effort to run to Alicia, even during go-outs practice when she stood inside the ring with a can of squeeze cheese in her hand..
"Wow!" Alicia said, "I can't believe this, his girl friend standing here with a can of cheese in her hand."
I had made a list of an assortment of exercises to practice, and the last one was the Novice stand for exam. "No way he'll hold still for this," Alicia said. But he did. The exercise was perfect.
"Let's do one more," I said.
I had no sooner stood him when his attention shifted, riveted on the parking lot. Here came Angela, hands full of training equipment, headed for our setup area. Presto! took off like a shot. Angela put her stuff down; I'm not sure whether she was petting him or defending herself -- a little of both I think.
Meanwhile I'm still standing in the ring, calling frantically: "Presto! come! Presto! come!" He wheeled and came blazing back. Before I could catch him he turned and raced back to Angela. He must have made that loop half a dozen times before Alicia said, "He thinks it's the game"
When I arrived home that morning I told Barbara the story. At the point where I described Presto!'s first dash to Angela, Barbara interrupted. "Did you go get him and haul him back to where he belonged?"
I melted into a puddle of humiliation. "No," I said, and the word hardly made it out of my throat.
That's always been one of my shortcomings as a trainer. My dog pulls some major transgression during training and I turn into a spectator. Shock? Fascination? A debilitating case of the duhs? That's probably it.
I can quickly tell a student how to react, or as quickly say, "You missed a golden correction opportunity right there."
But me? All too frequently I go catatonic. Probably later that day -- or at 3 a.m. -- I realized what an opportunity I blew.
What was really accomplished that morning? Presto! had a self-reinforcing, wonderful time playing "the game." Which will lead to even more of a challenge for me the next time.
Maybe just the act of this public confession will help me snap out of my stupor next time a training "felony" occurs.
Next time: The Seamless Exercise