As I was flying horizontally through the air, gamely clutching the leash, I thought to myself, “this dog seriously needs to be trained.”
My flight began when Toby, our Great Pyrenees mix, saw another dog on the road at the end of our driveway.
As I achieved liftoff zooming past my wife, Laurie, I saw a shocked look on her face.
But when I “landed” on the road, bounced and came to a stop with the leash still in my hand, well, gales of laughter followed.
As an ex-pilot, it was one of my best short-field landings.
Toby finally looked back at me as I feebly whispered, “whiskey,” which is our “pay attention to me” word.
There is also a Zen parable here about impermanence. The day is planned, you’re on your way, and then kazooie! A wild dog launches you in a new and perilous direction. Such is life.
The gist of this column is this: How to train a dog when you can’t physically control him? As laid back as Great Pyrenees are, the word “great” implies that they are stronger than you are.
We’ve had big dogs, Bernese Mountain dogs, and German shepherds, who all have their quirks. But Toby’s deal is sheer strength.
After the “Toby Takes dad flying” incident as it is now called, and a family council meeting (the main topic was, “Why didn’t’ we get video?”), we decided to get help.
I set up a meeting with Joey Padilla, the owner, and partner with his wife, Hannah, of Santa Fe Tails. Tails, as we call it, is a dog academy and day care that has been in business since 2008.
Because it is what we do, our family generated a list of things that we wanted Toby to do. You know, “sit,” “stay,” “come” and “high five.” I added, “Please God, stop!”
Joey Padilla basically and kindly threw the list away, sat me down and me walked through the basics. Or, as I think of it, how to keep our neighbors, grandchild and our small dog, Maisie, alive and well when an 80-pound puppy has the “zoomies.”
Ironically, the first thing Padilla recommended was that we use a “no pull” harness. This is a harness where the leash attaches to the front of the harness instead of the back. With this harness, you can turn the dog around. It makes it much harder to launch the person holding the other end of the leash into the air. I wrote this tip down and underlined it twice.
Next, we talked about treats. Because we are a foodie family, this is a crucial topic. We actually argue about what are the best treats to use for Toby.
Padilla was clear: Kibbles are BAD treats. They are like a $5 dinner. He recommended the $100 dinner, the stuff you buy at the grocery store’s deli section. Those treats will get a dog’s attention.
To help explain this to my family, I used the example of french fries. If you want to change behavior in humans, you don’t use any off-the-shelve fries; you go to McDonald’s. This was a breakthrough understanding with Laurie and our daughters.
Next, because of their size and not their intentions, the socialization of dogs like Toby must be supervised. This is especially true with big young dogs, who, like teenagers, are just not in control of their bodies.
Toby, for example, is capable of reaching speeds approaching Mach 1 and then learning that he can’t stop, he slams into a wall, a table or a human being. Padilla and others recommend keeping an indoor leash on big dogs when they are learning how to get along in new situations, for example, with smaller dogs or children.
The last training point is that big dogs tend to lose interest after about 5 to 10 minutes of training — as do I. They are not like border collies, who apparently enjoy working for hours. So short, focused practices are the way to go.
Clearly, big dogs are not for everyone. Which is fine, because there are hundreds of small and medium size dogs who are desperate for homes.
But finally, and importantly, if you are thinking of a big dog, remember they also are lap dogs. And, if you like to watch pandemic TV, you will quickly learn that it is super hard to watch TV with an 80-pound Great Pyrenees sitting nonchalantly on your lap. Be forewarned!
Hersch Wilson’s book, Firefighter Zen, can be purchased at CollectedWorks Bookstore and online.