Last week in dog class, Cleo and I, along with the five other dog-handler teams, worked on Okay-Sit. Sounds pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? It’s not. In this exercise, the “Okay!” gives the dog the go-ahead to break free and play. The “Sit!” calls her immediately back to business. It’s reinforcement of a dog’s self-control and a reminder that no matter what else is going on, when the handler gives a command, the dog needs to respond. It can save a dog’s life.
Cleo found the whole thing very confusing. The first time I gave her the “Okay!” she responded as she always does; she leapt up and tagged my thighs with her front paws, using the momentum to spin her around so that she could see what all of the other dogs were up to. She even sat instantly on command. The confusion set in when she saw that the other dogs weren’t quite as responsive as she. They kept playing. How come? So when we repeated the process, she figured she’d anticipate me: The “Okay!” led without pause to leap, tag, spin, sit. The third time, her moment of play took on a terrier-minded intensity. A manic look crept into her eyes, like Jack Nicholson peering through the bathroom door in The Shining, axe in hand. This time she didn’t sit until I popped her collar. The fourth time, a weary resignation began to set in. That’s when I decided to call it an evening. Class was almost over, anyway, and I figured it was time to go home and get some dinner.
One of the especially endearing things about Cleo is that as she ages, she is gaining a wonderful self-control while still being able to turn on the play when the time is right. When she and John chase each other around the house, she is no-holds-barred. It’s into the living room, bank around the coffee table, up onto the couch, a leap onto the chaise, a single bounce and over the back, assume flying deer position, land, into the kitchen, feet scrambling to gain purchase on the hardwood as she circles the island, but Daddy catches up and nabs her from behind, she drops the ball, Daddy scoops it up, Cleo runs into the living room to get a head start before he throws it again and the whole process repeats itself.
But when it’s work time, like now, Cleo is perfectly content to curl up where she can see at least one of us and doze or meditate or simply watch us. What this means is that at school, just as I dreamed over two years ago now, it is ever more possible that Cleo can be with me wherever I go.
Of course, she’s always had her run of our office. But now, I can confidently take her to meetings without fear that she’ll be so distracting we can’t get anything done. At last week’s faculty meeting, she insisted on curling up in my lap, much to my great pleasure. At one point, I had to excuse myself from the meeting to open up a couple of classrooms for students. I slipped Cleo off my lap and onto the chair, telling her to stay. I glanced back once to see her sitting fully upright, ears cocked forward, watching after me with a little crease between her brows. When I returned, some five minutes later, she was in the exact same position. I was nearly overcome with pride. The chair on which she sat was positioned at a slight angle to the table. Next to Cleo sat the Head of School, across from her the Latin teacher, and next to him the Academic Dean. They looked like they were just wrapping up a colloquy on the future of the school. The only thing that marred the air of earnestness was the goofy grin Cleo broke into when she saw me coming back.
In the classroom, when I’m teaching, she curls up on the floor by the desk where she happily (and noisily) gnaws on her antler. If students are up acting out scenes or engaging in other exercises, she watches with great interest and attention. At the end of class, she accepts their pats, kisses and, in the case of one exuberant eighth grader, full face immersions in her fuzzy hair. In the last week, she has begun to develop an appreciation for being up high where she can follow class discussions better. As we came into class on Friday, she trotted directly to the teacher’s swivel chair, jumped up, turned around a couple of times, just to get her bearings, and lay down, front paws dangling nonchalantly over the edge. As class started, I was a little concerned because, in my rush to get to class on time, I had forgotten her antler. I needn’t have worried. “Deny thy father and refuse thy name!” As one student after another responded to the Balcony Scene, Cleo tracked the conversation with interest.
“They’ve known each other for, like, fifteen minutes,” cried one student, “and she’s telling him to abandon his family for her!”
“Yeah,” retorted the class feminist, “but she’s ready to give up her name for him, too.”
“They don’t care about the stupid feud,” rejoined the surfer dude. “They just want to be together.”
“Yes,” said the shy, quiet girl, “but how? He’s suggesting she give up her virginity to him. They just met!”
“Oh,” exclaimed the realist, with a dismissive wave of her hand, “that’s a typical teenage boy!” Shouts of laughter, protest and agreement.
Cleo put her head on her paws and sighed.