Amstaff, Frankie, Pit bull, training

Frankie Goes to School

Frankie’s going to school!


After searching high and low, I finally settled on a dog-training school that seemed to offer the most options, a solid reputation, and a reasonable price.

Before we could sign up for classes, we first had to attend a free orientation. This seemed like a great idea because of 1) Free! And 2) a chance to see how Frankie would react to the other students and 3) an opportunity to meet the trainers before shelling out any bucks.

Everything was looking stellar until I attempted to sign up for orientation and discovered that the next available slot for orientation was a month away. To make matters worse, orientation is on Tuesday evenings– the same night I teach creative writing for our local school district (and the next session starts in two weeks). The training classes themselves (should we decide to take them) were held on different days so there wouldn’t be further conflict, but first, we had to figure out how we could attend the required orientation.

I emailed the school and explained my dilemma and the next day I received an email that we could come to the very next orientation only five days away!

On the day of orientation (much like when I prepared my oldest child for preschool), I fed Frankie a good breakfast, made sure he wasn’t smelly, and carefully packed his school bag. I filled his bag with treats and a towel and toys and, just in case, I packed his head collar.

We’ve been using the head collar on Frankie for hikes away from the house. When the leash was connected to his regular collar, he tended to pull and strain and eventually barf. The head collar worked like magic and made for much more pleasant walks. I tucked it in the bag just in case.

head collar

In my investigation into local trainers, I found that there are a plethora of opinions (strong opinions) about head collars or front harnesses or e-collars or any of the modern tricks available to control your dog. When I was packing up Frankie’s bag, I couldn’t remember exactly what My K9 Buddy’s position was on head collars. I was prepared to try whatever tools they recommended, but I decided to bring my life jacket, just in case.

I left the house an hour early for what google maps said was a 35-minute drive. I’d planned to stop at a park close to our destination to take Frankie for a quick walk so he’d be calm and focused for class.

This would have been a great plan—if I’d gone to the correct address.

Turns out that and are two entirely different places. I wandered up and down a rural road for a few minutes before pulling over to look up the address again and discovering my error. I was 37 minutes away and class started in 15 minutes.

I briefly considered bailing but decided to turn the car around and high-tail it to the correct address. I couldn’t expect the powers-that-be to make an exception again to allow me to jump the orientation line twice. Best to get there as quickly as possible and throw ourselves on their mercy.

I’m pretty sure the roads between Hanover, PA, and Westminster, MD have not been improved upon since we switched from horse and buggy to cars. The GPS took me down some crazy rural pathways – paved and unpaved. It was a very good thing that Frankie seems to have outgrown his carsickness habit.

We flew into the parking lot, exactly 16 minutes late and raced into the building. Our entrance was not at all subtle as the door opened upon the class in progress. The instructor paused in her presentation to ask, “Orientation?”

I nodded and she pointed to a spot next to the door. I hate being late for anything, so I appreciated her graciousness, but I’m sure she thought, “Oh great, first she needs a special exception to be here and then she arrives when the class is half over.” I’m confident Frankie can win her over for me, though, so we take a seat.

There were about eight other dogs separated by empty crates, many with solid dividers to hide the dog beside them from view. Each of the other dogs was accompanied by two parents, and some had brought entire families. I told Nick about that later and he said, “So you were the single dog mom.” Much like I was the single parent at so many back to school nights in the past thanks to his travel schedule.

Frankie was very excited to be there. So excited, in fact, that he strained at his collar, leaning with all his might in an effort to reach the other dogs, I tried to focus on the lesson, but Frankie’s whining and panting made that nearly impossible. He just could not understand why I was preventing him from greeting his classmates.

Another trainer came over and slipped a cardboard barrier against the crate that separated Frankie from the next dog, effectively blocking his view. But my pup is no dummy. He knew the other dogs were still there and continued his campaign, now making choking sounds and coughing. I knew what was coming next, but didn’t get my towel out soon enough and Frankie barfed at my feet.

Not wanting to disrupt class any more than we already had, I pulled out his head collar and put it on him. Then I used my towel to scoop up the barf, seeing no trashcan in the vicinity, I balled it up and put it back in my bag. I remember doing the same thing with dirty diapers and spit-up back in the day.

One of the other trainers noticed Frankie’s pulling and when the instructor was waylaid with a question, she walked over and handed me a paper. She was surprised to see that Frankie was now wearing a head collar.

“You’ve already desensitized him?” she asked.

I had no idea what she was talking about, but I just nodded and took the paper. When she stepped away, I glanced at what was on the paper. It explained the steps for desensitizing your dog to a head collar. Turns out we did it all wrong when we simply slapped it on Frankie a month ago with no introduction. It also turns out that My K9 Buddy recommends the use of head collars for dogs that pull!

A few moments later, Frankie began pacing and whining. I knew what this meant.

It was bad enough that we’d arrived late, Frankie had barfed, and we’d disrupted class, I didn’t want to add pooping in class to our list of crimes, so I stood and led him outside. The instructor glanced my way, paused in her presentation and said, “Looks like someone has to go.”

She was right, only when we got outside there were a dozen dogs lining up for the next class and Frankie’s need to poop was superseded by his need to meet ALL THESE DOGS.

I dragged him away up to a grassy knoll and then realized I’d forgotten to bring a poop bag. I was willing to bet that every person standing in that parking lot had a poop bag in his or her pocket. Did I dare ask? There was no need because, after several tours of the hillside, Frankie offered nothing but his great desire to get back where the other dogs were.

I hurried him back into the building and took my seat. The class was breaking up. The nice young trainer who had brought me the sheet on desensitizing head collars came over and began to tell me what we’d missed (pretty much everything). She demonstrated the different homework assignments and then said, “The other thing she went over is how to get something out of your dog’s mouth he shouldn’t have—it’s really easy, you just offer him something else.”

“Oh, I know that trick, I’ve done a lot of puppies,” I said.

She gave me a confused look, and I realized that if you’re not in the foster world ‘doing a lot of puppies’ might sound like ‘doing a lot of heroin.” I quickly explained that I foster for a rescue and a big smile lit up her face. I told her which rescue I was with and explained that Frankie was my 95th foster dog.

“I can see why you would fail on this one,” she said as she knelt down to properly greet Frankie.

Before I left, I signed us up for six weeks of classes. There are four sessions each week and you can attend up to two of them. I told the trainer I planned to be a twice-a-week student. I’m sure she was thrilled to hear that.

At home, later that night, I took out the homework assignment and tried out the exercises. Frankie’s favorite was called, ‘Doggie Zen.”

For Doggie Zen, you hold two fistfuls of treats or kibble. You spread your arms apart at waist height. Naturally, your dog is going to look at your hands full of treats, but you want him to look you in the eyes instead. You wait until the dog glances your direction and immediately use your ‘bridge word’ (mine was “Good!”) and give him a treat.

The trainer had said, “Even if you just get an accidental drive-by, reward that so he can figure it out.”

Frankie’s eye rolled past me on his way from one hand to the other and I quickly yelped, “Good!” and shoved a treat at him.

Two sessions later, as soon as I assumed the position for Doggie Zen, Frankie would sit directly in front of me and stare into my eyes, knowing that this led to a steady feeding of treats.


Smart pup. The other homework exercises were even easier for Frankie.

I may be biased, but I predict we’ll graduate from Level one before our six weeks are up.

First Day of School Pictures (we weren’t late!):

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COMING AUGUST 2018 from Pegasus Books:

Another Good Dog cover

Preorder available NOW on Amazon!

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