I wanna be teacher’s pet
I wanna be huddled and cuddled
as close to you as I can get
— Title track from the 1958 film starring Doris Day and Clark Gable, written by Joe Lubin
As we entered the classroom at SF Puppy Prep on the first day of kindergarten, Skylar Grey was excited to see other puppies but terrified to leave my side. I was trying to juggle her leash with one hand and hold a dog bed under my arm with the other. At orientation, trainer Aishe Berger had asked us to bring a bed for our puppies to rest on between lessons as well as something for them to chew. Corgi Cole’s mom looked concerned. “I can’t bring Cole’s bed,” she said, “because he ate it.” Fortunately, Skylar’s bed was intact, so I spread it on the floor next to my chair and offered her a bully stick, which she was too nervous to eat.
We worked on basic commands, and then the puppies were given free play time, something that is essential for socialization. Despite the fact Sky outweighed some of her classmates by 10 pounds, she loved playing with the little ones; she was gentle, even submissive, and she won over the other puppy parents quickly.
On week two, Aishe had us do an exercise where we worked on a command until she said, “Switch!” at which point we handed the leash to our neighbor in a game of “pass the puppy.” This was good for human socialization, Aishe said, and all the puppies took to the switcheroo with ease, motivated by “puppy crack” — licks from a jar of chicken baby food. All of the puppies, that is, except Sky, who was having none of it. She flailed and bucked like a wild mustang until she wriggled free of her collar and ran back to me, pressing her body tightly against my legs. “She’s just shy,” Aishe said. “She’ll come around.”
With every Saturday that passed, Skylar and I grew a little closer, and she grew a little more confident. Our final exercise was a recall test in three heats: Another person held your puppy’s leash while you stood across the room. When Aishe gave the signal, the person let go of the leash, and you did whatever you had to do to get your puppy to come. The winner of each heat faced off against the last winner until there was one puppy left. The other parents opened their jars of puppy crack and made kissy noises to get their puppies’ attention. “Do you want a jar of baby food?” Aishe asked. “Nope,” I said, watching Skylar across the room in silence. Aishe gave the signal and the other parents began squealing words of encouragement and wildly waving the crack jars. Some of the puppies got sidetracked, going to the wrong parents in search of better crack, but not Sky — she made a beeline for me and won the heat. “Good girl,” I said as she sat down on my foot. In the final winner-takes-all heat it was Skylar Grey versus Cairn terrier extraordinaire Zoe. Once again Zoe’s parents made kissy noises and prepared their jar of crack, and once again I stood stoic and crackless. This battle was a little unfair anyway, considering Skylar’s legs were four times the length of Zoe’s. As Aishe gave the signal, Sky bolted across the room and plopped down on my foot before Zoe even knew what happened. “And the winner is Skylar!” Aishe said, handing me the prize — a smiling sun plush toy covered in yellow and orange fleece. “Who knew your fear of abandonment would play to my favor?” I asked, sitting on the floor beside my little recall champ. Skylar immediately crawled into my lap, sniffing the smiling sun momentarily before standing on her hind legs, wrapping her front paws around my neck, and joyously licking my face. Aishe smiled proudly as any teacher would at a star pupil. “That’s the real prize, right Sky?”