‘Puppy Class’, by Miss Trunchbull

Last night’s outing to a local community centre was, to be frank, terrifying, not least because of the strong, broad, horsey woman who ran it, whose name I’m still not sure we even know.

We filed in behind a gorgeous but slightly frightened German Shepherd pup, who was told, along with the two Staffs before her, that “BARKING WILL NOT BE TOLERATED” and that she “CAN’T HAVE BARKING IN THE CLASS”. The scary lady proceeded to outline how any barking dog will be asked to leave, and the payment for the five weeks of classes is non-refundable. Jasper is not much of a barker, yet Andrew and I were still put completely on edge by this woman’s seemingly zero-tolerance attitude. When we approached to pay, however, we weren’t told this explicitly, she simply rushed us through, so we wondered if it applied to us.

Into the cavernous room – with a laminate floor, helpfully – and there came the first obstacle… Where to sit. These are the kinds of social minefields I actively avoid, mostly because I always make the wrong choice. So it was that we just headed straight ahead to the two vacant chairs on the end of the line and sat down next to a guy and his Border Terrier – which I quite like, even though they look as surly as a puppy as they will do as an adult, but Andrew thinks looks like “a smoker’s dog”. No, me either *shakes head*.

Looking along our line and across at the one opposite, there was quite the selection of dogs. I, perhaps snobbily, expected it to be full of Staffs and Labradoodles and all manner of horrific Frankenstein dogs but instead there was an interesting mix. Three German Shepherds, a Jack Russell, a Cockapoo, two Huskies, a white fluffy thing, a chocolate and grey mottled Spaniel and an odd-looking Beagle that arrived late.

The class consisted of absolutely no time on formalities or pleasantries, and very little personality. We were instructed, very firmly, to get up on the floor with your dog (and if you weren’t holding the dog, you were SITTING DOWN) and away it went. Before long the hall rang out with different pitches and variations of “Sit” as each person became a crouching, red-faced imbecile forcing their dogs’ behind to the floor. Jasper seemed, to me since I let Andrew take the floor, to be getting it on the whole, but did spend a good proportion of the time flopped on the floor over Andrew’s foot, so who can say?

From ‘Sit’ they went to ‘Heel’ – an exercise which required fifteen excitable dogs and fifteen exasperated owners to walk clockwise in a ring around the woman striding along, geeing up and throwing commands at the humans. And all this without barking or noise, remember. It was at this point her words became action and she pointed, without hesitation, at one of the German Shepherds that had just barked, and cried “Right, out!” I was cringing inside for the poor girl who became the first to be sent out of class into the enclosed garden space outside.

The ‘Heel’ circling persisted a while longer, changing direction and randomly stopping, at which time the puppy must sit, punctuated by calls of “Pull up the Jack Russell!” and “Tighten on the Cocker”. I think Jasper did alright at this, and seemed to have much less interest in the dogs behind and in front of him than I expected. Then came ‘Leave’, where each dog took it in turn to be led around the now-stationary circle of dogs – which were supposed to have been sat but mostly weren’t – and were strictly not allowed to look or sniff in the direction of the dog they were passing. Some were good at this, some were terrible, some didn’t even want to walk. Jasper did OK, and seemed more interested in sniffing the floor as he went.

More walking round followed; more stopping, more sitting, more changing direction, during which the hyper little Border Terrier – to his owner’s ignorance – had relieved his bowels in lumps and smears across ten feet of polished floor. This added to the two puddles other had already made, making three nicely mopped circles about the room that everybody tried to avoid as they walked round. It is a source of great pride to us both that Jasper was not responsible for any of them.

The whole thing wrapped up with a brief introduction to ‘Sit and Stay’, an exercise in absolute futility in the presence of fourteen other dogs. I don’t understand how it’s meant to work, if I’m honest, because at the merest hint of attention, or sight of a treat, Jasper – and it seems most other dogs – jump up. Or at the very least, stand up, meaning you spend too much of your time correcting him and making him sit over and over to ever once try and take a step away, as we were being told.

The primary amusement of the night was watching one of the ten-tonne Staffordshire Bull Terriers – which you would not mistake for a puppy were it not in a class exclusively for dogs under 6 months old – dragging a four-stone eight-year-old boy about the class and stoutly refusing any other instruction. Miss Trunchbull was visibly unimpressed by this and suggested, with a straight face, to the woman accompanying the Staffordshire Bull Terriers that she might like to bring her husband instead next time, so that he might assert more control over the wilful animal. I wasn’t so sure the woman necessarily had a husband.

What is curious is that, beforehand, I expected Andrew to be quite dismissive of the advice and lessons – it was he who was, initially, not at all bothered about puppy classes – which was largely why I let him take the floor. In the event, it was me that left thinking, “Well that was good, but… We’re kinda doing most of it anyway”. Which actually, is no bad thing, because now I feel… Validated, I suppose. Like, yeah, we’re doing it right, we have the right idea etc.

So we’re good. We have our tasks to be doing through the week, and we’ll visit Miss Trunchbull again next week – coincidentally, my birthday. Knowing my luck, that’ll be the day we’re sent out of class…

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