Big Leo goes back to school

Leo towers over big sister Mia

Leo turns two years old tomorrow. I still call him “The Puppy.” He weighs about 100 pounds.

When we pick him up from daycare, they call for “Big Leo” to be brought up front.  This amuses us much more than hearing him referred to as “Leo N.” Probably because we remember him as the roly poly baby we nicknamed Puerto Screechin because he cried his head off from his little laundry room prison. And we’d scream “Leo! Shut your piehole!” across the house.

A baby gate keeps Leo contained to the laundry room. Temporarily.

Before his body grew to its full proportion, Leo’s bark deepened to what we call his Big Boy Voice. I’d say his bark was worse than his bite, because he’s the sweetest, most gentlest boy ever, without a single aggressive tendency, except he once was a ferocious teether and nipper, so Rob and I sacrificed many a pair of pants to Leo’s attention-seeking moves. At any given time during Leo’s first year, Rob and I sported huge purple bruises on our calves from Leo’s antics. Rob’s mom once mortified me by showed off an enormous bruise on her arm to one of Leo’s teachers!

Mind you, none of these were actual bites. Just battle wounds from raising a German shepherd puppy.

I have teeth like daggers.

When I grow up, I'm going to be taller than Grandma.

Leo is a counter surfer extraordinaire. He’s tall enough to lick the dishes in the kitchen sink. He cruises the house like a land shark up to no good. Whereas Isis used to chirp at the back door, I’ve accidentally taught Leo to pull stuff off a table when he wants out. It goes like this: I’m watching TV, Leo grabs a bottle of lotion, or prescription pill bottle, or Rob’s watch, or Rob’s iPod (I TOLD Rob that table is not a good place to leave things) and runs with it to the back door. I pause the TiVo, get up, pick up the contraband that he has dropped in the kitchen and let him out the back door. Last night he quietly wandered into the kitchen and I thought, “I wonder if he needs to go out.” Then he came back in the TV room and knocked a bunch of papers off the table. Yep, clearly he wanted to go out.

And let us not forget his fantastic skills of destruction. My parking brake. Both seats in my car. The Internet cable in the kitchen. Every corner of every piece of furniture in the house. We’re still afraid to leave him alone in the house without crating him, although we’ve experimented with short stints.

Unsure about our adopting a new big sister, Leo destroys my car seat.

Based on the past two years, I’m very curious what the Terrible Twos have in store.

On Saturday, we started a new class at Tails-a-Wagging and here’s a twist: I am not remotely concerned with how “well” Leo does in school. In writing a memoir about Isis’ life, I have been examining the first two years of her life, and all the conflicting and cockamamie training advice we were given. Isis developed serious behavioral problems, which I believe were a combination of her biological makeup, lack of proper socialization and some wrongheaded training techniques. The last two years of her life, I was consumed with modifying Isis’ behavior. Training sessions were stressful, often discouraging, and sometimes extremely rewarding. But I never could let my guard down for a second, so worried was I that something would Go Wrong. That Isis would Do Badly.

Leo has been properly socialized from the beginning, thanks to Puppy Preschool. During his early training, I fretted over whether he would develop some of the problems that Isis had. He seems to be wired differently, though. I marveled in Doggie Socials when other dogs would resource guard the water dish, while Leo simply stepped back and said, “Hey man, go ahead, have some water, I’m cool.”

Leo’s been going to daycare at Tails at least once a week for a year now. He’s not a model student. He gets bad report cards sometimes for failing to pay attention to his teachers, or pestering the other doggies. Which is one of the reasons we enrolled him in the Fun and Focus class. Also, maybe it will help us curb his attention seeking and counter surfing.

When we arrived Saturday, I thought Leo would be one cool cucumber, since the class is in the same building where he goes to daycare. But no, he started barking as soon as he heard the other dogs. He pulled and barked, so eager to meet his new classmates. Our teacher set up little barriers to give the dogs privacy while they calmed down. Trust me when I say I know the difference between a dog who barks at another with Intent, and a dog who is simply rowdy. Leo is neither reactive nor aggressive. He’s a German shepherd.

Big Leo

A year ago, I might have tugged on Leo’s leash and been humiliated. Why isn’t my dog sitting quietly like he’s supposed to? But the other dogs were excited and noisy too. I clicked and treated Leo when he looked at me, or when he looked at another dog calmly, and within a few minutes, he settled down at our feet, ready to learn. Quite frankly, I think he was the best student in the class. Certainly the most handsome, and no one will dispute that he was the BIGGEST. But I don’t care (about being the best student. Being the handsomest is extremely important.). I already know Leo is a Great Dog. Maybe not the brightest bulb in the box, but so sweet and earnest and loyal. We’ll all get something out of this class, merely by showing up. Just think of what we can achieve if we practice our new skills at home!

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