Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Training Days

Standing in a lineup at dog training class (human, diaper dog, me, Harley, human, etc.), I thought about what had brought us to this juncture. Ben was there as well, but since Harley seemed to respect my boyfriend more than me, I was participating in most of the training activities. Training took place in an empty corporate parking lot with a few grassy islands and trees for shade. Diaper dog and her owner were always nearby. Judging Harley’s intense stare and drooling, the training instructor assumed that Harley wanted to eat the Chihuahua in the diaper. I, however, knew the truth; Harley was more likely to eat the instructor and was just awestruck by diaper dog as we all were.

Leash in my hand, held a certain way (folded into two loops in one hand, a curve of slackness in the other), I worried if Harley could ever settle out of his wild animal phase. On the first afternoon Harley had spent with me, the newly-freed-from-certain-doom puppy had misunderstood my staring into his eyes in loving admiration as a challenge.  That was the one and only time he had growled at me because soon after his grr grr moment, he acknowledged me as his food-giver.  

Once he accepted Ben and me as part of his pack, Harley began lashing out at everyone else. Harley had escaped the backyard to attack garbage men who used trash bins as shields; growled at everyone we knew at least once; and when he went on walks, he was walking us. Harley had recovered from his kennel cough and had been neutered, which did nothing to change his personality (the latter not the former). Curing him of kennel cough returned his natural energy and unveiled more parts of his personality that we had failed to see at the shelter.  

                Most people would have tried to return such a creature as Harley because he was bold, stubborn, obviously had a bad start in life, and was 60 pounds and still growing. That choice was not an option for me. I had taken classes at the East Valley Animal Shelter in high school. I had seen the overcrowding at the shelter, new dogs every day. I witnessed one afternoon the euthanasia of a dog and cat, and saw the freezer where they kept the bodies. I had made friends with a big, auburn Malamute with one green eye and one blue. His name was Bear. He wasn’t up for adoption because his owner had been put in jail so Bear was in lock up to. One day he was gone.  I only made casual acquaintances at the shelter after that.               

In my eyes, and Ben’s as well, the solution for Harley was change, not a return trip to San Pedro. Harley needed to change, and I needed to change. His unpredictable nature and aggression did not mix well with someone who was shy and not used to asserting authority. Training was really for all of us, Harley how to understand commands, and for us (the humans) to learn how to communicate through commands and not let this yellow beast walk all over us. 
And so, our Saturday mornings, at least for a while, were spent in a quiet parking lot surrounded by people with normal dogs (diaper dog was of course not to blame for her diaper predicament) and us with Harley, pretending to be normal.

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