We arrived in Old Town more or less on time, and I parallel parked the VW. I’d already learned not to let Goliath out on my side of the car, so I got out and walked around to the sidewalk side to get him. As always, I held tightly to Goliath’s collar while I attached his leash. The moment he heard the “click” of the clasp on his collar, he pushed past me. He was ready to go. And so naturally, he went.
As usual, he dragged me along. He’d stop suddenly whenever anything smelled particularly good (Dog pee! That smells great!) Then pull me to the other side of the sidewalk (Look, a French fry!) and back to the original side (Hey, a different dog’s pee – smells great too!)
After about 5 minutes, I managed to haul Goliath the way I wanted — to a storefront on the corner. We’d arrived for his first obedience training class at The Olde Towne School For Dogs.
The Olde Towne School for Dogs was (and is) the best obedience school in the DC area. Several of the dogs I knew from Lincoln Park went there, as did Phoebe, my friend Jean’s Chow-chow. They offer private lesson with a trainer, and everybody I knew raved about the place.
I’d called earlier the previous week to see if they could help me with Goliath. Because after 4 months of trying to manage him, I finally admitted I needed help with my crazy dog. I had never trained a dog, and I was failing miserably at my attempts to get Goliath to obey me. To the extent any of our dogs growing up were trained, Dad did it. I played with them, taught them tricks, but really, I didn’t have a clue even where to start training. And I knew that I should have started training much earlier than I did with Goliath.
I simply couldn’t have a dog that dragged me around the way Goliath did.
Because, of course there was the other issue that I pretended wasn’t there. Sooner or later, somebody was gonna cut me open.
You see, in spite of my reluctance, Dr. C kept mentioning surgery for my colitis. It was progressing and not in a good way. I was getting sicker. My flare ups were getting more frequent and more severe. And while I was dead set against it, I had to face reality. There was a very real chance that sooner or later somebody would operate on me. And I was pretty sure that my recovery would not be enhanced by being jerked down the road by an over-eager crazy dog who didn’t know how to heel. Or listen. Or obey. In fact, I was pretty sure that being dragged down the street on my belly wouldn’t be part of any doctor’s post-surgical instructions.
And so I called Olde Towne School for Dogs and spoke with Carlos, the owner. I explained my situation, and he agreed to take Goliath on as a student. Equally important, he agreed to let me pay individually for each lesson. Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford the $200 their training classes cost back then, not all at once, anyway. Equally unfortunately, my crappy health didn’t let me not train my dog. Carlos was a lifesaver, even before we met.
Goliath and I arrived at the white storefront of Olde Towne School for Dogs that hot summer day, and I opened the door to the combination school and dog boutique. Goliath, delighted that he could go inside, dragged me inside full speed.
He yanked me to the left — (Look! Treat Bins!) To the right — (Look! Toys for Me!) To the big bags of rawhide and other chew toys — (Oh Yeaaahhhhh! Mommy this place is GREAT!). In his excitement, Goliath yanked me to just about every single display in the store. Then, blushing, I yanked him up to the counter and the cash register, where a tall, dark and handsome man frowned at us.
“This must be Goliath,” Carlos said.
“How did you guess?” I responded with a smile. Carlos didn’t smile back.
Carlos took Goliath’s leash, held him tightly, and led us to the back of the store and into a training room.
“Sit,” he said. I sat. Goliath did too.
Carlos silently examined Goliath, scratched his ears, rolled him over, rubbed his belly. Got to know him a little bit.
“The first thing this dog needs to learn is that you are not wrapped around his paw,” Carlos said.
I chuckled. “But I am.”
Carlos stared at me for several seconds before turning back to Goliath.
“The first thing that you need to learn is that you are in charge.”
“OK.” I didn’t try to make any more jokes. Carlos didn’t seem to appreciate my sense of humor.
“And never, ever again let me see this dog drag you into my store. Never.”
“OK,” I said sheepishly.
Then we got to work.
Carlos pulled a choke chain collar and a six foot leather leash out of a wicker basket in the corner. He took off Goliath’s leather collar.
“This won’t work,” he said, handing me Goliath’s old collar. “Fabric collars look great, but they don’t help in training or restraining a dog. And Goliath needs both.” Carlos kindly didn’t mention that Goliath needed both training and restraining desperately.
Carlos didn’t like my leash, either, a drug store special with 10 inches of cheap leather at the top and chain going down to the clasp. I knew then that it was going to be an expensive training course –10 minutes in and I already needed a new collar and a new leash — that’d cost me at least 25 bucks. And there was no way I’d get through all those dog toys and chew bones without getting my baby something.
Carlos demonstrated how to put on the choke chain in a “P” formation, so that when not being used to correct Goliath, gravity would let it fall into a loosened position. Putting the collar on backwards could be uncomfortable and even possibly dangerous for the dog.
Then Carlos stood to Goliath’s right, and our lesson really started.
While explaining to me that each command should be clear and one syllable, Carlos gently tugged Goliath up from where he was lying into a sit position, saying “Sit.”
“Goliath knows that one!” I said proudly.
Carlos just looked at me.
“Up!” he said, getting Goliath to stand.
Goliath, however, didn’t realize that he was only supposed to stand up, and lunged for the door.
“No!” said Carlos as he immediately corrected Goliath with the choke collar and leash. Carlos had been expecting it.
Goliath was shocked. (What do you mean I can’t do what I want!) Goliath sat attentively, looking up at Carlos with respect he’d never shown me.
“That’s what you have to do every time he lunges like that. He may not do that.” Carlos said to me looking at me in the eye. He then showed me how to keep to Goliath’s right, how to hold the leash properly, in two hands with the right thumb through the loop, and how to position him right next to me, walking at my pace, not Goliath’s. I looked at Carlos with respect, too.
We went outside and started walking the streets of Old Town, Alexandria, Goliath falling into step with Carlos when Carlos held the leash, and less so with me, when I took my turns. That first lesson, we taught Goliath to stop and sit at street corners instead of charging ahead into the street — an important lesson for a city dog.
As Goliath began to learn, Carlos began to relax, although it was took several lessons before Carlos let me know it. Years later when I saw him, he remembered Goliath’s first venture into the store with a chuckle. “That dog was something else,” he said, “yes, I remember him dragging you into the store.”
Goliath mastered Heel in minutes when Carlos held the leash. Right from the start, Goliath idolized Carlos and did exactly what Carlos told him to do. Every time.
It took me much longer to get the hang of the commands. In fact, I’m not really sure I ever did. Especially the one that said I was in charge.
* * *
This is another chapter in the memoir I’m writing about my psychotic, alcoholic German Shepherd. Other posts about Goliath can be found on FiftyFourAndAHalf :