We have discovered Charlee Bears! Suddenly, my non-food-motivated beauty is rushing to do whatever I ask of her so that I’ll pop a treat into her mouth. She crunches it up with lip-smacking zest and an avaricious gleam in her eye, then gazes at me in rapt fascination, waiting for the next command. As Betsy, Cleo’s favorite student and frequent trick-trainer, says, “I used to never be sure if she knew what I wanted and just didn’t feel like doing it, or if she really didn’t understand what I was asking her for. Now I know!” Since the Charlee Bear find, Cleo has perfected the high five, a trick we’ve been working on for, oh, two years and the back leg hop, something which she’s now taken to doing spontaneously when she’s excited.
We’re probably coming late to the party here, but until last month, I’d never heard of Charlee Bears. It’s all thanks to our art teacher, just returned from sabbatical, who came over to say hi to us during the first faculty meeting. As she was patting Cleo and making a fuss over her, she exclaimed, “Oh! I have a couple of Charlee Bears in my pocket. Is it okay for Cleo to have them?” Knowing that Cleo never, ever eats dry treats, I said doubtfully, “You can see if she’ll eat them if you....” Before I’d finished the sentence, Cleo was making a gigantic deal out of chewing up the offering. Swallowing, she turned in slow motion to stare at her benefactress as if she were the second coming. I could almost hear the soundtrack swelling as Cleo discovered the meaning of life.
“What are those things called, again?” I asked.
“All natural healthy dog treats!” “Savory taste of real liver!” “All USA ingredients!” “Only 3 calories per treat!” And, to top it all off, they’re “Pocket Perfect.” In fact, they look so much like oyster crackers that I’ve been tempted to try one on more than a few occasions. That actually smell pretty good. It’s the beef liver that stops me, though it certainly doesn’t stop Cleo. I figure if I keep working on Betsy, she’ll eventually break down and give one a taste. I almost had her last Monday, but she chickened out.
By now, Cleo knows she’s going to get them when we’re training. As we walk into class on Monday nights, she gets even more excited than she used to and there’s an added spring in her step. One of the benefits of being able to carry several in my pocket is that I can surprise her with them, too. I love the look of disbelief that crosses her face when I casually reach into my pocket and pull one out. I imagine that it reinforces her impression of my magical abilities and beneficence. For me, it just gives me pleasure to surprise and delight her.
I’ve mentioned before that as often as we can, and certainly every weekend, we take Cleo for a trail walk along the site of an old, long-ago-dismantled railway line. It’s a beautiful place to go, open and green, full of intoxicating smells for the canine nose and blissfully leash-free, allowing for lagging behind and running to catch up, zig-zagging, crow chasing and all kinds of other exhilarating experiences. In the last couple of weeks, we found a path leading off the trail that takes us all the way down to the ocean.
This morning, Cleo got her ritual pooping out of the way as soon as we arrived at the trail. As John bagged the evidence and ran off to dispose of it, Cleo and I did some refresher work on come, finish and stand. It’s always helpful to train in a variety of settings because dogs are very location-specific, as our trainer, Pluis, was reminding the class last week. The Saturday before, she had been working at a lake with a retriever and his owner. The goal was for the dog to swim out to a float, grab it, bring it directly back to the handler, then wait for the handler to step back and give a command before shaking the water out of his fur. They worked and worked until the dog had it down, then walked forty yards around the lake to try it in a new location. Same lake, same handler, same trainer, same float, same commands. The dog had absolutely no idea what they were asking him to do.
So I like to practice with Cleo wherever we might be. And, of course, I happened to have some Charlee Bears in my pocket this morning, much to Cleo’s ecstatic delight. Although it was a concern for her to see Daddy jogging off without us, when she heard me say “Come!” and saw me reach into my pocket, she happily galloped over and sat at my feet. Chomp, chomp, chomp! Hand signal to heel. Chomp, chomp! Stand. Mmm, mmm! Daddy came back and we set off. Now and then, I called Cleo back, rewarding her with a treat. We walked to the ocean and stood in a small gazebo overlooking the rocks and the spectacular, roaring winter waves as they folded over themselves in violent curls, frothing as they skirted along the polished stones at the edge of the continent. Cleo jumped up onto a bench and rested her front paws on the banister, ears blowing in the fresh breeze. She gazed out to sea, following the flight of a passing cormorant.
When the time came, she was happy to head back up the path. As we turned onto the main trail, she was all alertness and quivering attention. John and I could see nothing ahead, but she was fixated. “Okay!” I told her, giving the release command and allowing her to run ahead. She bounded off, but then slowed, making sure we were nearby. Once again, she stared ahead, shifting the angle of her body now and then to gain a new perspective. In true terrier fashion, she was obsessed with whatever was ahead, though all we saw was an empty trail. As we neared the road that bisects the trail, I called Cleo back to me and told her to heel, which she did perfectly, though with all her attention directed ahead of us. She stayed with me as we crossed the road, she sat at my feet the instant I stopped. This was perfection that deserved a reward. I reached into my pocket for the favored treats and held one in front of her mouth. Without a glance at my hand, she snatched the treat away from me and spat it on the ground. John and I laughed and I gave Cleo the Okay. She leapt ahead, trotting jauntily ahead of us, tail extended at a free and confident angle.
Charlee Bears may be manna from heaven, but they ain’t nothin’ compared to the joy of the open trail.