The Dog Whisperer Cometh

Even if Gianna didn't growl at the vet and act like a spaz on a leash, I would still get dog training lessons for her. They are good practice for owner and dog to develop structured communications. So, I bought Amanda Growly Classes for her birthday.

You can see my predicament with delivering the message. It doesn't read well.

Although I am a master of communication (by degree), I stumbled, "Happy Birthday, I got you dog training lessons! ... for the dog, not you, but with you... They're Growly Classes to help with her over-excitement... for adults, because she's no spring chicken and neither are... you know how she doesn't listen to you...  I mean, Happy Birthday!"

I got through the shaky delivery without finding myself in the dog house, thankfully.

The lesson package I purchased included a one-time home visit by renown trainer, author and overall badass dog whisperer, Deborah. I scheduled the home appointment with her the Saturday after Amanda's birthday.

Deborah provided us with some homework by email, including reading a couple of articles about her dog training philosophy. I read them with great intensity as if I was preparing for a college final -- only I hadn't taken the class yet.

She also instructed us to check our gear and, of course, we didn't have the right gear by her standards -- wrong leash material, wrong harness. So, we bought a new leash. The harness would have to wait. I'm already in deep with the dog gear. I didn't know I had to save for college for my dog, and there's no student loan program to fall back on.

We were a little nervous about the meet-and-greet training at our house. Deborah has seen a lot of dogs and dog owners, and we wanted to be in the 95th percentile by her standards.

This required a lot of work on our end, sort of like cleaning for your visiting parent. We vacuumed, swept, straightened, put away and brushed the dog (of course), all so that Deborah could judge us competent, capable dog owners.

I turned on the TV and scattered the newspaper shortly before Deborah arrived so that it looked like we hadn't prepared at all.

"Oh, sorry for the mess here," I would say, leading her into our spotless home. Then Gianna would prance over and sit in front of me, raising a paw and balancing a treat on her nose that she had gotten herself and carried over to me to reward her with.

Knock, knock. Back to reality.

For a whisperer, Deborah was quite loud. She came in with a booming voice and made herself comfortable as she jumped into interviewing us about Gianna and our story so far. It's an odd thing being interviewed in your own home, but I think we fared OK. She didn't call the pound on us or refer us to a therapist, so that was a good start.

Amanda answered the initial line of questions and Deborah could sense (that's what whisperers do, they sense) that Amanda had some anxiety. Her first command wasn't to Gianna, but Amanda: "I hope you don't take this offensively, but you need to take a breath and relax. The dog can sense you are nervous and channel it. If you're calm, you'll have more success with calming Gianna."

It made sense and instilled a confidence that Deborah wouldn't just help the dog, she would help us. Perhaps I did buy the dog training lessons for Amanda after all.

During the rest of the session, Deborah also earned my trust by swearing every so often. It made her more human and not some prissy, dog-obsessed "Best In Show" character.

After some initial success with Gianna, she said, "Look, Gianna isn't doing all of this because she wants to please you. She wants a damn treat."

I liked the straight talk. Deborah also talked about her dog's bad habits and annoyances. Her stories helped ground our expectations for our dog. Gianna may be a cousin of Lassie, but she's not going to tell us Little Timmy fell down the well unless there's a treat involved.

We learned some attention games to help Gianna focus on us when distractions are present, and by the end of the hour we felt really good about our choice of trainer and the weeks ahead in Growly Class. Before Deborah left, we reviewed our gear for Deborah's approval. Amanda bothered to get all three leashes and not just the one new leather leash we had bought.

They all failed.

"Six feet is too long for that dog and the leash is too thick for her weight. It's overkill," Deborah said.

Amanda and I looked at each other and said without speaking, "Jeez! Why didn't you get the 4-foot leash?!"

We'd lost traction in our progress but recovered from our blame game to wish Deborah farewell.

Looking back, the best part of the home visit was that Gianna rocked it. She was totally attentive and didn't growl or show aggression or over-anxiety despite the fact that Deborah was all over her case. In fact, Deborah complimented her for intelligence and train-ability. Gianna's only fault was about halfway through the session when she stopped working, even with a treat in front of her, and rolled on her side to take break.

"She doesn't have a strong work ethic," Deborah said. "She's a little lazy."

I'll take a lazy dog over a growly dog any day. Maybe Lazy Classes are cheaper.