(Artist) Obedience Class 101
My family and I adopted a Rottador (Rottweiler / Labrador Retriever mix) puppy just about six weeks ago. He has been fantastic; Ottoman J (that’s his name) is such a sweet tempered dog. He is great with our kids and cat. He listens very well. He sits. He “drops it”. Ottoman J is an awesome dog… except for one little quirk… he would NOT take a walk.
Now I’m not new to big dog breeds, I grew up with German Shepherds, I was expecting to take my pup to obedience class… but what I was not ready for was that this gigantic, intimidating looking dog, would be terrified of EVERYTHING. EVERYTHING. For weeks I attempted to bring this dog on walks… daily. We’d make it about halfway down the alley and then a stick, or a breeze, or a car would spook him and he’d either shut down entirely (sit and not budge) or he’d pull his weird little half sized tail between his legs and take off back towards the house. I’d plead… I’d pull… I’d “talk puppy”… and none of it mattered. I could not get this dog to take a walk. I was in need of professional help.
This past week was our first canine obedience class. I had signed Ottoman J up for a six week intro class back in December and had been looking forward to it. We needed it; but as I drove us to class I began to get a bit nervous. How many people would be there? Would it be inside? Was it going to be loud? Would my dog behave? Despite the coolness of the evening… I started to sweat. We got to class, I was not early like I had wanted to be, by the time I found parking and wrangled my Ottoman to the door, we were two minutes late. And then we were inside and my anxiety, made up of all the “what ifs” I had asked myself on the ride over, began to bubble up. I was handed a clipboard to fill out all my information. I was given a spot to sit… front and center. Meanwhile my dog began to shut down. He was just as overwhelmed as I was. We were in a small room with at least 15 strangers and eight new dogs plus several trainers walking around the room. There was tons of barking (most of which was coming from my dog) and a good deal of growling (again, my dog). I tried to fill out the paperwork while balancing our bag of dog treats and my keys and phone while holding my lunging, growling puppy. Everyone in the class was staring at us. People were commenting on my dog, how big he was, how beautiful he looked, how he was behaving. I could feel my skin turning from olive to red… I could feel myself sweating as everyone stared at us. “We don’t belong here,“ I thought, “they’re going to ask us to leave… maybe I should just leave…” And then, realizing I had written my last name in the first name box, I began to fervently scribble out my information on the little clipboard precariously balanced on my lap, just as my dog lunged for another puppy and sent everything flying across the room. Mortified. I was tapped on the shoulder by the director… they wanted me to move to a different location. “Here it comes,” I thought, “we’re being asked to leave.” But I wasn’t asked to leave… I was taken to a different spot, off to the side, in hopes my pup would settle down. Two more minutes of Ottoman J barking and growling and me doing my best to keep him at bay though, ultimately proved to be more than the shelter director could take before he tapped me… “leave your stuff here and let’s go outside… you and me and your dog.”
Fuck….. singled out in front of everyone. I was red. I was pouring sweat. I could feel everyone staring.
When we were outside, it started: You know this dog is part Rottweiler and going to be protective, right? I did know, and getting a bit defensive, I told him I knew and that’s why I had signed him up for obedience class. The director looked annoyed. I was getting upset… I had already decided (albeit completely irrationally), that the director hated me and my dog and that before he kicked us out he was going to berate me for adopting such a large dog that he and (everyone else I had decided) thought that I was wholly unfit to be caring for… I half expected him to ask me if I wanted to sign my puppy back over to them… but he didn’t. Instead he looked at me, and my nutty pup and said, “Come on, give me his leash… let’s walk.”
I wasn’t being ejected from canine obedience 101 (thank god) but I was going to get some additional training. So we walked, the shelter director holding the lead and me bounding after he and my dog… doing my best to keep up. I was asked about Ottoman’s walk / exercise schedule to which I replied he didn’t have one… I could not get him to walk past my alley… that he’d shut down and the walk would be over. The shelter director shook his head and the walk stopped immediately: “Your dog is incredibly powerful… he is quite literally a weapon and you need to be the one that calls the shots… not him. He is way too big to have the say in anything. You need control over your dog to keep others, AND YOUR DOG, safe.” He wasn’t wrong. So we went over correct walking procedure for Ottoman J, how to keep him walking, how to take charge of the situation, how to make sure i was leading and not holding on for the ride… By the time we would loop back to the shelter to rejoin the class, my dog that had spend the last six weeks refusing to walk was now trotting along side the two of us like he was some big shot competing at the Westminster Dog Show….
“You know you got a really, really good dog… He’s growling so much, not because he’s mean… he’s not… he’s an absolute sweetheart…. He’s growling because he’s afraid of everything… it’s your job to make him confident,” the leash was handed back to me as the shelter door swung open and we made our way back inside. Something clicked right then and there. I mean yeah, the big heavy door clicked open of course, but something in my brain began to compute… “my dog isn’t the problem… it’s me”, which on one hand is a shitty realization but on the other hand, freeing. I don’t know the first thing about dog training… but I can work on getting my shit together.
Just two days before I would attend my first Canine Obedience class with Ottoman J, I was attending my artist coaching session… something I attend each week. Only difference was that I had mustered up the courage to be coached… something extremely difficult for me (being on a zoom call where I have to see myself on camera; unnerving, speaking in front of a bunch of people… about issues I was having… ugh) . My coach wanted to know what I needed help with so I began speaking and within a few minutes, the tears that I promised myself would not come, were streaming white hot down my face as I tried to choke out something about me not knowing if I was on the right path… I had let well meaning people (with zero art background) tell me that my work was nice but it was so spot on to specific people that I was just going to have to deal with no one ever wanting my art… When I finally managed to compose myself (and unnecessarily apologize for emoting) my coach and I broke down my issue. What we came to find out was that my dismal sales were not a reflection of my art (my art is fan-fucking-tastic)…. I was instead told
to find evidence of why it was ridiculous for me to think that figurative art doesn’t sell (hello Norman Rockwell), which I did immediately…and what we found was that the problem wasn’t my art at all. The problem is that I am new to sales / marketing and am figuring out that side of my business. I am not yet an expert in that area and that’s ok because I am working on wearing that sales lady hat - huge relief. Before my coaching session ended I was reassured my art was a non issue, “Vanessa,” said my coach, “You just need to work on your confidence and the rest will come.”
Two days later I was being dragged around by a scrappy pup growling at strangers in a shelter’s reception area. Two days later I was told that confidence, or lack thereof, was why my dog was such a hot mess… two days later something clicked… my dog’s not messed up… my art doesn’t suck… my art is sellable… I’m not on the wrong path… I need confidence and then… then we’ll soar. At the end of class, we were asked to grab our dogs and head outside for some leash work. The instruction was to walk your dog on a leash in a big circle… the exercise was to familiarize your dog with following your lead outside when there were tons of distractions like other dogs… cars… people. Oddly enough I didn’t get nervous. ”We’ve got this,” I thought. Outside we lined up with our dogs and when we were given the command to walk, I held my self up high… all five feet one inches of me stood straight up, at attention, head forward, shoulders back, chest thrust open and we walked… perfectly. No distracted behavior, no sniffing, no pulling, no barking, no growling… then from a staff member, “Ok everyone, I want you to check out Ottoman’s mom… that is a good, confidant walk… do you see how she has control of the situation and her dog? This is how everyone should be walking… (and then to me) beautiful… confident… walk.”
I’m happy to report that Ottoman J has since been jogging 1.5 miles a day and I’m really looking forward to this week’s obedience class… it’s amazing what a little confidence can do for a dog…
and I can’t wait to see where it will bring this artist.