The sun is reflecting off the large pet store’s windows on Sunday morning. In addition to pet supplies; the store sells bathing services, adoption services, and kenneling. There are training classes on Sunday, which is why Elsa and Jeffrey have come.
Elsa is a border collie with long flowing black and white fur. Jeffrey is a human toddler with blonde hair and freckled skin. Elsa is gently leading Jeffrey into the store. Since he pulls when they walk together, she uses a harness that fits around his torso. If she were using a collar, she would be strangling him: he does not want to go into the store.
Elsa patiently guides Jeffrey through the front door as other dogs walk out. Strangers give Elsa and Jeffrey impolite looks which she ignores. She is aware he is not well trained, and for that reason brings him to this class.
The two of them walk past store aisles to a round pen where the class will be held. Jeffrey looks down the aisles of toys and food with interest and is walking distractedly. Elsa has to stop him before he runs into the wall of the round pen where the training will be given. She opens the small door and coaxes him in. They find room on the floor to sit and wait for the class to begin.
“Good morning, everyone,” a German shepherd says. “Welcome to Toddler Training 101. My name is Sawyer, and I will be teaching this class for the next six weeks. Let’s take a few minutes to get to know each other. Please tell us your name, your toddler’s name, and what you would like to get out of this class.” There are a total of seven dogs in the class and each brought one toddler. Elsa is the fourth dog to respond.
“Hi. I’m Elsa and this is Jeffrey,” she says. “I guess I want Jeffrey to learn good manners, but I would also like him to bite me by the end of the class. Or at least fight with me in some way. He’s really shy.” Some of the other dogs agree that they would like that from their own toddlers as well.
After the remaining three dogs finish introducing themselves, Sawyer says, “Let’s take some time to loosen up. Play with your toddler for ten minutes. Let’s help them relieve the tension of being somewhere new and get really comfortable with this space.” The dogs glance around the pen at each other. They’re not sure how to respond to the instructor’s request. Some of them give their toddlers’ leashes slack so that they may roam near. Others try to get their toddlers to play with their neighbor’s.
Elsa takes a toy out of her bag. It is a stuffed banana with big wobbly eyes and floppy arms and puffy feet. She wiggles the toy in front of Jeffrey. He looks at her and then at the toy, but does not take it. She rubs the stuffed banana over his face hoping he will bite it, but he turns away. She then grabs his face, shakes it, and growls. He does not respond. When she tussles his hair, he moves away as far as his leash will allow.
Sawyer approaches Elsa and Jeffrey. “Elsa, right?” he asks. “Is he usually this easy-going?”
“Yeah, mostly,” she replies. “There’s maybe one or two toys he plays with. I keep trying to make him more aggressive, but he’s just too chill.”
“Is that banana one of the toys he likes?” Sawyer asks.
“No, he likes a ball that’s squishy and lights up when you hit it against the ground,” Elsa replies. “I think I brought it.” Elsa stuffs the banana back into her bag. She rummages through until she finds the ball. She rolls it to Jeffrey, his eyes light up, and he picks it up. He bumps it against the ground and it beings blinking wildly. A smile erupts on his face as he admires it and squeezes it in his small hands.
“What does he do when you take the ball away?” Sawyer asks.
“I don’t know,” Elsa replies. “I never tried that.”
“Go ahead. Take the ball away from him and let’s see what he does,” Sawyer says. Elsa reaches over and snatches the ball out of Jeffrey’s hands. His face turns red with rage. He walks up to Elsa, draws his arm back, and swings an open hand at her face. It connects with her snout and makes a hollow smacking sound.
“Oh, my Dog!” Elsa shouts. “I can’t believe he just did that! Thank you, Sawyer!”
Sawyer nods at Elsa with a smile. “You just have to think about what motivates them. Some toddlers like food, others like toys, and some just want attention. Take it away or give it to them depending on what you’re trying to get out of them.”
“How do I get him to attack other dogs?” Elsa asks. “I want him to get really territorial with my friends when they come over.”
“Whatever his favorite toy is, give it to him to play with before your friends arrive,” Sawyer says. “As soon as your guests come through the front door, take the toy away from him and give it to them. He’ll learn to hate them.”
“That makes sense,” Elsa says.
“Do you have a water bottle?” Sawyer asks. Elsa nods. “Ask your guests to spray him in the face a few times when they come over.”
After a few more minutes of play, Sawyer asks everyone to form a circle. He hands out a calendar that outlines each week’s lesson. He explains how the training course was developed. He shows them by example how to teach their toddler to come to them. He tells them to try to train their toddler to come to them before the next class and then dismisses them.
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