Grizz, as usual, captivated the trainer. So did Nathan. As for me, well, CAPTIVATE is not exactly the word I’d use…sigh.

We learned many things in Grizz’ first puppy class:

  1. Grizz is an incredibly smart puppy, aeons ahead of puppies twice his age, and any seemingly naughty bits are simply Grizz being a puppy
  2. Biting me is unacceptable. (Apparently, my deep-seated belief to this effect was not deep-seated enough, so the trainer reinforced it about 90’leven times during our 1-hour session.)
  3. Nathan, native speaker of Dog, Wolf, Bear, Raccoon, Mountain Lion, Owl, and probably Space Alien, could make a small fortune as an animal trainer (our trainer offered him a job)
  4. Our trainer did NOT offer me a job, since I may the world’s most dog-illiterate human


Dani the trainer thought Grizz was a beautiful genius of a German Shepherd.

Last Sunday morning we bundled Grizz into the back seat of Nathan’s Suburban, strapped him in (we have a little seat belt connector thingee that hooks up his harness to the car so he doesn’t go flying through the windshield) and headed down to the K9 training school.

We’d signed up for a one-hour puppy consult with Dani, who owns a German Shepherd and a whole pack of other dogs. She squealed and brought out her camera. “What a beautiful puppy and his EARS ARE ALREADY UP!!” she burbled, “Mind if I take a few pictures?”

Apparently not all German Shepherd pups get over the floppy-eared puppychunk state as fast as Grizz.

Dani snapped away happily while Grizz posed like a supermodel. “Now, what do you need help with?” she inquired, “Does Grizz attack other dogs?”


“Does he chew the furniture?”

Of course not.

“Does he attack if you get near his food?”

Why would he do that?

Dani looked at Grizz, sitting quietly beside Nathan, and obviously wondered why we would bring a perfect puppy to training. “So what ARE your issues?”

“Well, I’d like to stop bleeding,” I began, “I’m getting tired of being a human fangcushion every evening. And it would be nice if Grizz walked beside me instead of doing this Star Wars AT-AT Walker combat thing where he wraps the leash around my legs and topples me to the ground.”

Ever helpful, Grizz demonstrated my point by grabbing my knuckles and opening a small vein. I tried to keep the blood from dripping onto the floor.

“Did you just LET him BITE you?” asked Dani, aghast, “That is NOT OK!” She gave me The Look and reached for the Grizzlebeast. He playfully chomped her wrist.

“OFF!” she said with quiet authority, and grabbed the puppy’s lower jaw, rolling his lips onto his teeth. “See what I’m doing? If he tries to bite me now, he’ll bite himself first, yip, and immediately stop.”

Grizz bit himself first, yipped, and immediately stopped, licking Dani adoringly. “GOOOOOOOOOOD boy!!!” she crooned.

“Now, you try it,” she ordered, “This isn’t aggression-biting, he’s just trying to play, but it’s still not acceptable.”

I held out a hand and Grizz grabbed at it. I grabbed back, cradling his lower jaw in my hand while rolling his lips inward and commanding “OFF!”

Grizz tilted his head–his classic puzzled look–but kept chewing.

“No, no,” Dani said, “You’re holding him where he has no teeth.  All you’re doing is letting him teethe on your fingers. You have to get his lips directly on his teeth.”

‘Won’t that hurt him?” I said (cringing slightly).

Grizz on a 20-foot leash, learning to place, sit, and stay.

“That’s the idea,” she said sternly.

Nathan rolled his eyes, “Cynthia, you need to be pack LEADER,” he remonstrated patiently, “Don’t let Grizz be your boss.”

Really? Any more revelations, Mr. Dog Whisperer?

I turned and faced Grizz with determination. This time when he grabbed me, I grabbed back and rolled his lips right onto the pointy parts. “OFF!!” I shrieked (those voice lessons are coming in handy; what I lack in quiet authority I make up in sheer volume).

Grizz yipped and backed off, clearly wondering what the hell happened to his affable chewtoy. He lunged a few more times, until he realized that playing grab-the-grizzjaw would either hurt his mouth or his ears. My “OFFs!!!!!!!” pierced the air, so loud that even Dani stepped back.

“Much better,” she said, rubbing her busted eardrums, “Now, Grizz already understands most of what we expect to start teaching at five or six months. How old is he again?”

“About three months.”

“Wow,” she said, impressed, “NATHAN has done a really great job with Grizz, so they’re ready for more advanced commands. Cynthia, why don’t you focus on ‘sit’ and ‘off?'” By the end of our visit, she had Grizz heeling beside her as she walked, well on his way to learning “place” (where you point to the floor or a little mini-trampoline and the dog sits precisely on that spot), “stay,” and “break,” (where you give the poor puppy his freedom).

REAL puppy training won’t begin until Grizz is officially 5 months old. At that time, apparently, we have the option of taking weekly classes with Grizz, or letting the trainers have him for two weeks.

In the latter scenario, we send a wild dog to the trainers, and they return a perfectly behaved dog who will do everything from fetching the newspaper to doing the dishes. That option comes with a guarantee of free refresher courses if Grizz EVER steps out of line.

“We don’t need all that,” grumbled Nathan, “Grizz will do just fine with us.”

“I tend to agree,” said Dani, “You’ve done so much with Grizz already that I think you’d do just fine with weekly lessons. But CYNTHIA…” she trailed off, giving me a doubtful look, then shrugging. “If you’re really busy with work and all, it might be a better option for YOU. We’d just spend a few hours training you to take charge.”

Part of me, the ticked-off part, wants to grab Grizz, take him home and train the heck out of him just to prove Dani wrong. The sensible part, though, is figuring out where to find all the money it takes to let someone else turn your dog into a perfectly behaved canine robot… (remember where I said “cats are easier?” yeah)

We have a few weeks to decide on training options; Grizz won’t reach five months until March 26. In the meantime, we’re working with Grizz to reinforce what he’s already learned: Shake, sit, go to your kennel, timeout, OFF, treat, go get it, and now place, stay, and heel. He performs all of them like a dog possessed…as long as Nathan is giving the commands. He’s a bit less inclined to listen when I give them, unless I’m holding a treat.

Figures. Dani thought part of the biting problem was just a young, bored puppy getting tired and cranky in the evenings, needing his bed, so now we’re letting Grizz wind down quietly at night. We’re also stepping up grizzplay during the day, working hard to keep him mentally stimulated with puzzles and training sessions. The more he trains, the more Grizz wants to settle for mere cuddles at the end of the day.

Yesterday we took him to the mountains to search for abandoned railroad spikes with high knife-making potential.

It was Grizz’ first time in the wood; the sights and sounds initially intimidated him so that he clung to Nathan like a giant-sized limpet. Thirty minutes later, though, he’d discovered that saplings were edible (or at least chewable), and that a springy bed of moss was basically a dog trampoline. He romped and barked with abandon until two adult German shepherds bounded up to play.

They’d arrived with their owner, a local woman coming up to say hi, but they scared poor Grizz half to death. He hid behind Nathan’s legs (well, he TRIED to hide; Grizz is already too big for easy concealment), barking furiously. The dogs approached Nathan to say hello, and all hell broke loose.

Grizz charged them, barking and growling to defend his master. Wisely, the dogs backed off, waiting to try again until the humans reassured the puppy. Eventually, all three dogs made buddies and headed for muddy puddles, getting thoroughly wet and grimy. By the time I reached them–banana slugs are faster than me on a hiking trail, what with all the trippable hazards and unstable rocks giving The Leg fits, so I was watching most of this from afar–Grizz happily ran up to let me experience his muddy paws.

My jacket and shoes may never recover.

Grizzle was quiet and very well-behaved for the rest of the day, even jumping in the shower with Nathan for a much-needed bath when we got home. He emerged from the shower with a soft, shiny coat and a tired nuzzle. Clearly, he needs to spend more time outside, with his own kind.

We’re working on that. Dani suggested weekly “puppy classes” at PetSmart. “They’re not really for training your puppy, they’re more for socializing and letting him play with other puppies,” she explained.

And probably also teaching me to speak Dog. Class starts a week from Monday. Stay tuned.