Mollie and I Learn ‘Brain Games’

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Mollie the Maltese and I have enrolled in a Brain Games class at PetSmart, both of us intending to improve our reasoning power and learn new tricks. Readers may recall we took Gatsby, our rescue cavapoo, all the way through classes to become a registered therapy dog. With that completed, we enrolled Mollie in the intermediate class, primarily to improve her social behavior.

Mollie is an adorable and intelligent dog who truly believes that she is a Great Pyrenees put on this planet to alert us to any possible danger. She stands alert and barks ferociously, a 90-pound bark in a now 11-pound body. That comparison worked better when she was just 9 pounds, for the alliteration. But she put on a few pounds though she is far from chubby.

Her bark will startle the crud out of you if you’re deep into reading or otherwise occupied. It could be the FedEx truck barreling up the driveway. Or a squirrel climbing a tree. Or an invisible (to us) critter out there. Sometimes it is Pancho the Donkey. She continues to view him as an interloper grazing away in his pasture, nearly three years after arriving. Still, she barks.

The most embarrassing moments are when she is in the car, pull up alongside someone at a stop light, and she starts barking and growling ferociously at some little old lady likely on the way to the beauty shop. That is why we decided to take her to legendary dog trainer Jamie Fenton Stearn for much-needed social training.

Mollie barked at someone as soon as we got out of the truck, and someone else inside the store, despite our entreaties to hush. She barked at Jamie when we entered the training room. Jamie grabbed her canned air and popped her in the face. Mollie stopped barking. She had definitely met her match in Jamie. By the end of that course, she walked all over the store heeling nicely, politely ignoring the other shoppers. Progress had been made.

Largely on a whim, I enrolled her in Jamie’s “Brain Games” class, which meets for an hour every Sunday afternoon. We were given a “Brain Games” logoed bag of tricks: two small Frisbees, a couple of Solo cups, tennis ball, plastic bucket, and some other goodies. I brought a fresh bag of treats to reward Mollie. That dog will work for treats.

Mollie already knows how to sit and give me five. Also, “the other five” when I tell her to switch paws. So, learning these new tricks have proven fairly easy for her. I held out the blue Frisbee and said “Tap” and she did, all the while obediently staying on her custom mat that a nice lady in a previous class made for each participant. Basically, it’s a miniature yoga mat for dogs.

Next, we went on an Easter egg hunt, since that event was on the horizon. Jamie hid a couple dozen plastic eggs throughout one side of the store. The eggs each had a couple small dog treats inside. The five dogs in the class all went out on leashes and “found” the eggs. Mollie caught on quickly, nosing enough eggs to fill the small bucket and getting rewarded with the treat inside of a few of them.

Now we are on to more complicated tricks. Last week, she had to distinguish between the tennis ball in one hand and a Frisbee in the other. I don’t know who was happier when she got it right and was rewarded with yet another treat – me or her. My Beautiful Mystery Companion comes as well as time permits. She is amazed at the change in Mollie’s behavior, though we always knew she was an intelligent dog who actually seems to understand what we are saying. At least that is our story.

We have been practicing on the back patio, where there are fewer distractions. In class, she is constantly turning around to see what the big Labradoodle seated next to her is doing, or the chill Dalmatian across the room, who moves solely in slow motion.

Mollie has learned her manners in public and can entertain visitors to our home with the tricks she has learned in Brain Games. I look forward to our weekly meetings with Jamie, and now Mollie does as well.

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