By Lauren Edwards
We are the proud owners of a nine-year-old golden Labrador, Chester. Despite being in his middle age, he still has a delinquent nature when out on a walk; running off and ignoring my shouty demands to come back, intent on slobbering over innocent strangers and shoving his nose at the backside of any dog he can catch up with. When I finally wrestle him back on the lead and have made my apologies to the mostly tolerant victims of Chester’s stalking, I am unable to make any plausible excuses as I did once try to have him trained and it was a disaster.
Our beloved Chester joined our family unit as a gangly 8-month-old. He is a rescue and we are his third home. From his very first walk, he would be reduced into a jumping, slobbering, over-excitable mental state at the sight of another human being. I mainly dealt with this by only walking him in ‘off the beaten track’ farmer’s fields to avoid people, which in fact made it worse as this meant that Chester became inexperienced at meeting other dogs and people.
Chester has always been a lovely, good natured dog, relentlessly patient with our children but I realised early on that he needed dog training if we were ever to go to a public park again. I mean how hard could it be? Labrador’s are trained to be guide dogs for the blind, bomb dogs for the police and even search and rescue dogs. If they can be working dogs, surely a bit of simple controlled behaviour will be a breeze to teach Chester. Or so I thought.
I volunteered to ‘take the lead’ at the first dog training session with hubby there as a spectator and my moral support. We entered the room to find at least seven other dog owners with their array of breeds, including an overweight Rottweiler and a terrified looking Chihuahua. Chester, on cue, went into lunatic mode as soon as he saw his nirvana; a room full of dogs and people. I wrestled with him whilst trying to introduce ourselves to a not very impressed instructor who had an ex-army ‘no dog gets the better of me’ look about him. I rolled out my well used mantra of, “well he’s a rescue so we have a lot of work to do with his behaviour”. I was instructed to take my place at the back of the room, a foot apart from the nervous Chihuahua, who didn’t seem too pleased as Chester tried his best to drag me closer.
A female instructor led us through some ‘simple warm up exercises’ which involved walking to the centre of the room, leading your dog round in a circle, then back to the wall. Chester dragged me to the centre of the room, then to the other side of the room to try to meet a Collie, then I dragged him back while he spent most of the exercise just on his hind legs. Ex-army instructor came to my rescue and was none too pleased as Chester repeatedly jumped up at him. He was incensed that Chester was allowed to do this, informing me to “never let your dog jump up”. I agreed explaining that “we never ever allow him jump up” as if it was a new thing he was doing, trying to ignore the flashback of Chester and hubby dancing that morning paw to hand as he was encouraged to jumped up for more!
The next exercise involved female instructor handing out carpet tiles to teach your dog ‘how to go to bed’. Chester, who is not known for his barking ability, in fact in the two months we had owned him at that point, he had only barked four times in total at next door’s dog, which had been high-pitched playful barks. However, when the female instructor literally threw the carpet tile at me to avoid Chester’s manic greeting style, Chester started barking. And not the high-pitched barking I was used to, but a loud throaty bark complete with a lunging forward movement. Ex-army instructor headed my way again, both us with the look of ‘it’s going to be a long hour’. Meanwhile, hubby was sat giggling with another husband who was watching his wife wrestle with the Collie from across the room.
The female instructor used her golden Labrador (typical) to effortlessly show us the ‘bed’ exercise without the use of a lead. I tried the ‘bed’ technique, which the female instructor suggested I did facing the wall to avoid other dogs. I shouted ‘bed’ and then mainly ‘leave’ as Chester attacked the carpet tile. Ex-army man took the lead in a ‘I’ll show you how it’s done’ way and with the promise of a treat managed to get him into a ‘down’ position and ‘bed’ with very little effort.
With each passing failed exercise, Chester was getting more excited, which in turn was affecting his bowels and he was emitting the most toxic wind ever created by a dog. So, as ex-army man pretty much headed my way at each failed exercise, he mainly spoke on out breaths to avoid the stench, hopefully thinking it was Chester and not me!
Finally, it was time for the last exercise of the night, with my shoulders aching, I was starting to feel like I wanted to cry as the sweat dripped down my nose. The final exercise was ‘fetch’ where we were told to throw a dog toy for the dog to fetch on a long lead and bring back without being distracted. As I wrestled once more with Chester, I threw his ball and shouted ‘fetch’ as he lunged for the Chihuahua, perhaps showing the only time he nearly completed an exercise – even if it was fetching a dog rather than a ball!
At the end of the class I filled out the forms to say I would be returning next week as a glutton for punishment. Ex-army man walked Chester up and down the room with ease shouting ‘heel’ with Chester obeying his every command. I narrowed my eyes at my dog and plastered a begrudgingly grateful smile on my face for ex-army man’s efforts. The next class had started to arrive, who were all show dogs, a Doberman and his owner stood next to us and both of them eyed us smugly. The Doberman stood in a professional stance, actually looking at Chester with a sympathetic stare as he tried to lunge at him. We left with our tails between our legs having bought Chester a new ‘choke’ collar and with a lot of homework to do.
I am ashamed to admit that we only managed another class after this one before I literally threw in the towel. Chester discovered tennis balls shortly after this and, when focused, you can normally distract him from running off. He also discovered the art of hide and seek. Not that we taught him this, but for some reason when you throw a ball for him, he will hide behind a tree/bin/bench before chasing to retrieve the ball. He may not be the most obedient of dogs but he’s certainly one in a million.