If it sounds like I’m always complaining about Dionne’s misbehavior, that’s not my intention. It’s simply easy to write about the more challenging experiences; they stand out. It’s less interesting to record the countless times that petting this puppy makes my oxytocin levels sore, or she blows us away with her cuteness.

But last night she actually had me dreaming about her graduation (a year and a half down the road, if she makes it.) Her behavior in puppy class made me think: “This dog IS going to make it.”

To our surprise, we found only one other puppy when we arrived. No others showed up. The other classmate was almost exactly Dionne’s age and also female — only she was the first CCI pup being raised by her caretaker, whereas Dionne is our fifth.

Most of the time, Steve and I are pretty focused on our myriad mistakes. But last night was one of those rare times when I was aware of how much we’ve learned about dog-handling over the past 8 years. The  contrast between Dionne and the other pup was stark. Walking around the room on leash, Dionne’s eyes were glued on me. She sat crisply. She surprised me by going into a Down position without being lured. She Stayed for much longer than I thought she would.

When I mentioned to our teacher, Bob Smith, that we could use some review in how to teach the Wait command (which we had not introduced to Dionne), he took her leash and demonstrated it. When you tell the dog to Wait just before reaching a doorway, it’s supposed to stop and let you to go through first, waiting until it gets permission to proceed. After just a few passes with Bob’s instruction, Dionne clearly got it.

“She’s really doing well,” he commented, more than once. “You guys have a great relationship with her. You’re handling her very well.”

He even exclaimed over her beauty. (“She could be in a dog show, she’s so pretty!”) The other pup was having a bad night. Her puppy-raiser had forgotten to bring her halter, so that was making it hard to control her. The puppy veered off and straggled around her handler’s legs. She lunged at Dionne and barked at her. She peed in the middle of the classroom.

It reminded me of a time, almost lost in the mists of memory, when Steve and I were that inexperienced. We’re still far, far from great. We still screw up a lot. But an experience like last night makes me feel there’s hope for both Dionne and for us.

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