Darlene and I took Claire to a her first puppy play group yesterday at My Wonderful Dog in Portland. Elsa Larsen, the no-nonsense trainer, quickly decided to isolate our two-pound miniature Yorkie in a protective cage which was visited by (in photo above) a curious golden retriever named Logan. The room was a riot of chasing and tumbling and mouthing, all swirling around Claire, who spent most of her socialization time looking out of her black bag inside the cage. “This is good, this is good,” Elsa kept saying, “she is getting used to being around other dogs.” For the record, her first dog friends were, in addition to Logan: Zena, a schnoodle; Milo, a cockapoo; Jackie, a Jack Russell terrier; Alexi, a German shepherd, and Mattie, a miniature Australian shepherd.
We returned after lunch for a training class, in which Elsa displayed wizard-like skills with the puppies. Using delicious pieces of chicken as rewards, she taught Mattie how to go in and out of a crate on command. She would sit and look up at Elsa, trying all her repertoire to get the treat–sitting, lying down, and–oh, yeah, I get it!–walking into the crate. In church this morning listening to the Rev. Peter Gomes, Harvard’s preacher who each year gives a guest sermon at Ocean Park, I had the image of us humans sitting and looking up trying to figure out what we are called to do next, to get a spiritual treat, that sense of rightness that descends from time to time when the soul has learned a new trick.
In spiritual training as in dog training, the emphasis these days has thankfully turned away from fire and brimstone. Elsa is part of the positive reinforcement school of trainers, but not everyone has gotten the word about how punitive corrections can make a dog defensive. “I had one couple whose vet had told them, ‘If the puppy bites you, bite them back,'” she told us. “So the husband was biting the puppy. It would have been funny, except now the puppy is terrified of the husband.”