Friday, January 16, 2009

Man's Best Fiend

"It was a dark and stormy night."

Wait - scratch that - that's the opening for an upcoming post.

"It was the best of times, it the worst of times."

For us, this moment was a great one to remember: Sending our first child together off to school for the very first time.

Of course things were a little "different" than one might have expected. The couple sending off was not man and woman, but man and man. And the kid? An adorable chocolate Lab puppy named "Boomer."

Wide-eyed and a little on the crazy side, Boomer was like most Lab puppies - a little A.D.D. mixed-in with a lot of energy and wrapped with cuteness, which meant he was forgiven for most of the damage he bestowed on our home (sorry, I still say your baby tooth didn't "get caught" on the sofa, like Joe insists... it's OK - the duct tape covering the 2" tear is an accepted member of this household).

We decided that as prudent parents, we'd enlist Boomer into canine bootcamp. We did some searching. Joe had heard good things about "Man's Best Friend," so we bundled up the little booger and headed to Carrollton for a site visit.

The Grass Is Greener

We were introduced to a salesguy who pimped the greatness of Man's Best Friend (MBF). We were shuffled to training rooms where we were counseled on the flawless recipe of MBF perfection. Hanging on the walls were letters from other people, like us, who wanted the best for their babies. So we were in!

We had two training options: 1) Leave Boomer there for training by their staff or 2) Schedule 1-on-1 sessions with us present. We didn't feel right about someone else bonding with our little guy, so we opted for the 1-on-1 sessions. There were 10 in the package we puchased, which worked out to $500 (or $50 each for one hour sessions).

Things appeared to be headed in the right direction. We were learning how to throw-down commands like "Sit!" "Stay!" "Down!". Our first 3 lessons were with a guy named "Jimmy" and he was pretty funny. His East Texas twang was fun to listen to and we were excited when Boomer did something correct and Jimmy would bust out "Good Boooooooy-yaaahh!"

One day we learned Jimmy was no longer with MBF and we were given another trainer. Then soon another. There were five trainers in all and we soon learned why MBF was the epi-center of dysfuntion junction.

Nobody Knew What Boomer Was Learning, But Joe and Me!

Maybe my expectations were too high, but I thought that when we had scheduled time the traininers would show up on time. One day they even forgot an appointment all-together, which didn't bring out the best in me. But when we realized the notes they were taking in Boomer's file were probably sketches or games with self for tic-tac-toe, I drew the line.

It seems at the beginning of every lesson we (the humans) were being drilled what what Boomer had learned previously. This was because nobody was reading the file and nobody knew what Boomer knew, but us.

Final Canine Exam

The day came for Boomer's final exam and we were a little nervous. Not because of Boomer, but because of what curve ball Man's Best Fiend (as they now were dubbed) might throw Boomer's way.

  • Would Jimmy show back up?
  • Would another trainer [ insert new name here ] show-up with a lot of questions?
  • Or would a trainer fail to show-up at all?
During the test, things were promising. Until they asked us to execute a command we had never heard of. "A reverse sit?," I said? "Yes, a reverse sit."

...b-bbbbut we don't know of that?

At first I thought myself totally disconnected from the rest of the family. Had I not been paying attention in class? How could I have forgotten this drill? I felt like the runt of the pack until Joe confirmed it: "Nobody showed us that!"

"That's right," I said!

Turns out Man's Best Fiend in all their glorious note-taking had forgotten to show us the reverse sit. And while we believed Boomer was the best-looking and smartest kid in town, no canine knows the "reverse sit" without being shown first.

So there we were. The awkward moment when everyone is looking at everyone. Boomer's "choo-choo train" panting was the only thing cutting the cold, flat nothingness filling the air.

Clearly the right thing to do was give us Boomer's blue ribbon, pat us on the back for all the driving to Carrollton from downtown Dallas for months and usher us out the door and check the box.

But what we heard next ensued rage - "I can't pass Boomer because he doesn't know the reverse sit."

"That's it? Those are the options?" Molten lava, here I come!

"Get 'em!, Boomer! GET HIM!"

After I laid into "Buddy" the mean trainer for a couple of minutes he finally understood why we were upset. Oh yeah, we paid $500 for training and now we were being told our unfit dog failed. I don't think so, Buddy.

We were given the option of coming back for another 2-3 sessions "at no cost to us" and Joe and I looked at each other and with the precision of a figure skater who nailed the triple axle with eyes closed and arms tied, we both said "Nuh-uhh!"

"It's not like Boomer needs this piece of paper to drive a car," I said. "And we're not being subjected to any more clueless trainers or racking-up miles on the car. This is the end of the canine line."

The Pearls Of Wisdom From This Dysfunction Are Clear

Make sure you fully understand the exact training your dog will receive. Get it in writing along with a definition of "success." For us, all we got was a receipt they took our money.

Know who - and the caliber of - your instructor(s). It's not that the fiends rotated out instructors on us that was bad (in fact that could have been good). But it was the fact that our training turned into a game of "drop the hot potato"... at our expense.

Referrals rule. The letters on the wall at MBF were great merits of honor. But I realized that for every 5 good letters, there were probably some wayward souls, like us, who had been ushered into the wrong alley.

The next alley that MBF ushers our family into - they better watch out. I have two Labs now. And Harley McFartley hasn't been trained "by professionals" at all. And he and Boomer can lick someone to death.