I started reading ebooks on April 6, 2010.

I know this because Amazon archives all the orders you’ve ever placed with them. (In fact, the first thing I ever bought from Amazon, back in 1999, was a book called Emotionally Intelligent Parenting : How to Raise a Self-Disciplined, Responsible, Socially Skilled Child. The second thing, Smart Love : The Compassionate Alternative to Discipline That Will Make You a Better Parent and Your Child a Better Person. The third thing, Bringing Out the Best : A Resource Guide for Parents of Young Gifted Children. I’m trying not to find all those purchases ironic, but… well, yeah. It’s hard not to.)

Moving on, the reason I was looking up my Amazon orders was because I was trying to remember what dog training books I read when Zelda was a puppy. I know I had great intentions of training her, but our life got super complicated right around then. Rory broke his arm and had to have surgery, plus he was in the middle of the testing that revealed his learning disabilities, so there were lots of doctors’ offices, school meetings, and appointments. Then, as summer approached, my mom and sister both needed back surgery, so the three of us (Rory, Zelda, and me) flew to Florida so I could babysit my niece and nephew while helping out around the house and also remotely working full-time. It was a chaotic period. Puppy training kinda fell by the wayside.

Sometime that fall, when things settled down, and Zelda was almost a year old, I finally started reading the dog training books and realized I’d done it all wrong. You were supposed to use one word commands; I spoke to Z in complete sentences. You were supposed to be the leader of the pack, which meant going through doorways first, never playing tug, and treating walks like military marches. I didn’t, did, and wasn’t going to. (On the latter, largely because it made no sense to me: our walks were for Z’s benefit, and if she wanted to sniff every tree along the way, surely that was the point of the walk?)

I don’t remember much more from the books, but I do remember deciding it was a lost cause and I’d just continue muddling along the way I had been. Because Zelda was already a really, really good dog. She didn’t need a leash (although she wore one on walks, because she was always going to forget herself at the sight of a squirrel). She came when called, sat when told to, and had a little repertoire of cute tricks, including jumping into my arms & standing up on her back legs while turning in circles. She could differentiate between a few toys, bringing you the one you asked for; find Rory and then return to me in a game of hide-and-seek with him; and play ball for endless hours. She was friendly to other people, but not too friendly — no jumping on them, usually — and tolerant of other dogs. I used to say about her that she’d do anything I asked, if she could figure out what it was that I wanted.

Sophie isn’t there yet. And Bear is definitely not there yet. Don’t get me wrong — they’re both doing great! Sophie’s not quite five months old, Bear’s not quite four and they both mostly come when called, sit in response to two different hand signals (because Suzanne and I didn’t coordinate on the signal), take treats gently, lie down upon request as long as they’re not in a distracting place, and let us know when they need to go out.

They also both jump up on people, Sophie barks more than I want to listen to, and Bear has a tough time remembering not to use her teeth on my arm and hands. She doesn’t bark much, but she’s a very mouthy girl! Sophie also pulls like crazy on the leash and while I’m happy to give her the walk that she wants to have — it’s for her, after all — I’m not suddenly going to become a runner just because she wants to run. Even with really good shoes and a low-sugar/low-nightshades diet, my joints can’t handle high impact activities.

Ergo, dog training. I started by looking at local dog trainers, but the raging pandemic ruled out in-person training for me. We’ve had 84 new cases, 3 new deaths in Humboldt County this week, and I don’t even want to get started on how frustrating it is that Humboldt has had more cases since July than we had in the entire first damn year! Literally, we didn’t reach 3000 cases here until March of 2021 and we’ve had 3,323 since July 1. The numbers are just crazy. But moving on (again!) one of the local trainers who’d moved online cited her certification from a dog training academy, and so I decided to jump to the experts, also online. Their introductory class was expensive, but I took the plunge, paid the fee, and jumped in.

Sadly, I grew to regret that decision. The course is a mix of videos and slideshows, with quizzes at the end of every chapter, and while I don’t hate the training, the more of it I did, the more it felt… wrong. It’s clicker training, where you basically reward your dog copiously for behaving in ways that you like. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it feels incredibly artificial to me. It’s very structured. You’re supposed to establish your goals for your training session, work on breaking tasks into small pieces, click & reward, wash, rinse, repeat. For a different person (or maybe a different personality type), it might be great, but I found myself increasingly reluctant to do the exercises and not advancing in the class nearly as fast as I should.

Enter the world of books, of course. In the past week, I’ve discovered Love Is All You Need: The Revolutionary Bond-Based Approach to Educating Your Dog; Teaming With Your Therapy Dog (New Directions in the Human-Animal Bond), and the extraordinarily delightful The Invisible Link to Your Dog: A New Way of Achieving Harmony Between Dogs and Humans. I’m waiting on two of the above to be delivered in paperback, because I wanted to be able to share them with Suzanne, but all three are focused on building a relationship with your dog, not on getting your dog to obey you. Meanwhile, I’m following the advice from The Invisible Link which means mostly I’m focusing on loving my girl and building the bond between us, as well as thinking positively and not worrying.

Yesterday we took the dogs to the beach and for the first time, it was really crowded. Lots of people, lots of other dogs. Sophie was not a fun companion for the first twenty minutes or so. Pulling at her leash so hard that I was worried she was going to hurt herself, barking like mad at every dog she saw, hackles up… I was hating it. She probably was too, to be honest.

But as soon as we got far enough away from the parking lot that I was sure she’d really have to work at getting out in traffic, I took her off the leash and let her go. She still barked at other dogs, but after a little while, she’d mellowed out enough to mostly stop. She ran like crazy, played with Bear, chased after Riley, got incredibly sandy, and had fun. And when she got so far away from me that I could barely see her, I waited patiently where I was, believing that she would come back to me when she realized she didn’t know where I was. She did. By the time we left the beach, she was mostly walking on the leash like a very good girl — helped, of course, by the fact that she was tired. (That said, I’ve also bought a no-pull harness for her, and a We leash, both of which ought to help her figure it out, too.)

Back to the ebooks — I don’t regret the fact that my dog training books were not electronic, I guess. Fifteen years ago, the world of dog training was a different place, and the books I’m discovering today are very different from the ones I read back then. And it is fun to be immersing myself in a really different kind of learning.