Driving through the parking lot before class, I offer up a little prayer for Mauser and me. Obedience school is stressful for both of us. My job on Wednesday nights is to learn to speak canine languages and work toward becoming Top Dog. Mauser’s job is to respond to my commands. Already his pup tail is wagging. And already he is beginning to verbalize the anxious feelings he has about being in a room together with eight or ten other shaggy learners. He needs to get this out of his system now, because verbalizations, along with eye-balling and snarling are not allowed in the training area.
As is typical of the breed, my mini-schnauzer is a quick learner. He’s feisty, high energy and adorable. With all that going for him, you’d think he’d be a shoe-in for the honor roll at training school, but he’s not. Last week was our worst session yet. In the class we’ve learned a technique called “Watch Me”. As I speak the words “Watch Me,” (always with a cheerful tone), my puppy is supposed to respond by taking his eyes off all else and focusing only on me. Oh, how I love the attention! As soon as eye contact is made, a treat is always forthcoming. The bait makes training easier, but I have to be careful how much I use. The first time I used boiled chicken, he ate a lot. He later regurgitated it all on the car ride home.
Mauser and I are in week three of an eight-week course, so we practice every night. And every time I work with him, whether at the training school with the other pups or at home in our living room, I’m reminded of how long a process this training is going to be. Each session challenges my commitment to the process. Will I continue on, learning and relearning valuable techniques? Or will I forget to practice, become consumed with other things, and face embarrassment when Mauser and I show the other students and their handlers how much we’ve neglected to accomplish from one session to the next? Accountability is brutal in this group, and if you mess up, everybody knows it.
While perfection is not the point of obedience training, progress certainly is. In the training world canines get one chance to voluntarily respond to commands. Working with trainers, I’ve come to understand that repeating a command only serves to confuse pup minds. As a result, when I say “Sit” and Mauser ignores the command, this long-legged owner is expected to do something about it. You can imagine how many times I’ve had to bend down and maneuver my little fur ball to the sit position in an hour’s time. Oh, my aching back!
As a Christian, I often find the things I’m going through in my life remind me of my faith. “Watch Me” is one of the first commands Jesus gave me when I asked Him to be my Master. Early on, I learned how crucial it was to keep my eyes on Him and avoid the many distractions of life. Through repetition, I’ve learned to Sit, Wait, and Heel, which is really just “dog-speak” for keeping in pace with the Master. To some, comparing my faith journey to dog training might seem offensive. But to all those dog lovers out there who just happen to be Christians, it makes sense. After all, it was Jesus who said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me…” John 10:27.
My main objective for beginning obedience training was to teach Mauser that it’s always a good thing to come whenever I call. Jesus wants me to learn the same. When this class is over, the relationship I have with my pup will go on. As we work together to accomplish new goals, I believe the bond between us will grow. If I’m right, my puppy will trust me more than any human being. Just as I, in turn, trust my Master. With only minutes left before the class begins, I walk my puppy through the door and into this special world we now share. As I do, I’ll close my prayer time with a word of praise. “Thank you, Lord, for helping us to get this right.” I’m excited about the future benefits that will come from teaching Mauser how to obey with a willing and happy heart. That’s a lesson we could all stand to learn.