We had our second obedience class with Max and Ruby last week, and Jerry and I are learning as much as the doggies are. As we have been discussing our lessons, we have realized a large part of getting our dogs to obey lies in giving clear commands. They are really quick to respond when we use the commands and techniques our trainer Merit has instructed us to use.
When we pulled up to Top Dog Ranch last week, Max and Ruby jumped out of the car and ran eagerly to the door. “Oh good,” I thought. “They like it here.” Well the fun stopped right at the front door. I have to preface the explanation by describing the facility. It’s really big, nice, and new, and it is built something like a gym, with high ceilings, a large open space, and hard flat walls and floor surfaces. Perfect conditions for loud, reverberating noise. Our dogs are having private lessons so we didn’t notice the sound much on our first visit. But this time Merit was finishing a lesson with a large dog with a BIG bark that ricocheted off the walls and had the effect of stopping our dogs (especially Max) in their tracks. They put on the brakes and did an about face towards the car. So that fear set the stage for the rest of the session, but it was very instructive for us to observe. Max immediately wanted to jump in my lap, but following Merit’s instructions from our previous lesson I told him, “off!”
Sidebar here: In full disclosure if we had been on our own, I would have let Max stay in my lap and would have cuddled him to sooth him. I misunderstood something Merit told us in our first lesson, so I addressed it with her. I thought she was telling us we loved on our dogs too much. After all, I told her, they were “hired” to be lap dogs, and that is one thing they do really well. She clarified that we can love on them as much as we want, but while we are doing training (at home or at Top Dog) they need to be obedient and we need to be the leaders. So Max and Ruby have to keep four paws on the floor at Top Dog.
We worked on two things during our lesson: walking without pulling and sitting on command. We have always used retractable leashes because we thought it would be a good chance to let our dogs run. We have a very small yard so there is not a lot of opportunity for exercise except for treeing squirrels. Car rides do not count as exercise. Max is the worst at pulling and lunging on the leash, and when he does, he invariably gags and hacks. I am afraid he will someday hurt himself, and he has never made the connection, “When I lunge at the leash it chokes me.” Or sometimes they lag behind and we have to tug at them. So at Merit’s instruction we bought six foot mesh leads, and oh my gosh, do the four of us get tangled doing it that way! Hence, the need for lessons. The idea is for the dogs to walk with a loose leash at our sides. In order to facilitate this Merit had us buy anti-pull harnesses that squeeze their chests when they try to pull ahead of us. When that happens, we are to stop, creating an anchor. When they realize we are not going forward they will turn and look at us. At that point we praise them for looking at us (‘Good look!), and walk a few steps forward before giving a treat. We are introducing the command, “Easy,” and the goal is, as they improve, we will only need to say “easy” to remind them to stay by our sides. (Well, at least that is the theory.) If they lag behind, we stop and use the “Let’s go” command.
This lesson is packed with spiritual implications. How much easier life is when I walk with Jesus, at His side. Not lagging behind, being stubborn, or wanting to go off in my own direction. And not getting ahead of Him. That command, “easy,” really spoke to me. I was reminded of the verse in Matthew 11:30 where Jesus tells His yoke is easy and that His burden is light. I’m thinking a yoke must be a little like that no-pull harness. It won’t squeeze as long as I am staying by His side. The previous verse speaks to me as well:
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11:29
We are to accept His yoke and to learn from Him. He is not harnessing us to hurt us or to make life more difficult; quite the contrary. He wants to make our walk with Him easy. Not easy in the way the world would define easy. But when we stay close to His side, and keep our eyes on Him, even the hard places become easier, and we can find rest.
I noticed that when Merit would take Ruby by herself, Max became anxious and kept looking for her. That reinforced Merit’s conclusion that Ruby is the alpha dog. I used the commands we learned last week, “settle” and “look,” to get him to relax. And remember, the stage was already set for anxiety by the big barking dog. “Just look at me, Max. I’ve got this. You are safe.” Isn’t that what Jesus says to us? “I’ve got this. Just settle and keep your eyes on Me.”
After walking, we worked for a while on “sit.” Again, part of the lesson is getting them to keep their eyes on us. When they look at us and sit, they get a treat. Ruby caught on really quickly, but Max not so much. He kept standing. Merit explained that when a dog is anxious he wants to stand, to be ready for action. And she said when he is anxious and standing, it is difficult for him to hear our commands.
Wow. When I am anxious it is harder to hear from Jesus. Because my own anxious thoughts keep filling the airway. And even though I may be sitting, I am standing on the inside. I am plotting my next move to get me out of the situation that is causing the anxiety or discomfort. And my ideas are not the best at these times, because I am in fight or flight mode. But I have learned that if I settle, keep my eyes on Jesus, and wait for Him to speak, I then know what to do. He will lead me to the place I need to be. I love Psalm 23 in the New Living Translation. Look at verse 2:
He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams.
This is what He wants for me. He doesn’t want to hammer me with a bunch of commands and rules. He just wants me to walk easily beside Him and keep my eyes on Him. Life would be so much simpler if I would just learn to obey. I wonder what I will learn in our next class.