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why America needs standardized testing for dogs

16 February 2011

MW and Luna enrolled in dog school.

First Night: Behavioral Modification via Treats

It was the penultimate evening of a progressive six-week course. All the other dogs had survived the tough stuff for 4 weeks. They’d learned to sit. Their owners had learned to reward the sitting and lying down with snack food.

Puppy kindergarten isn’t exactly Marine Corps boot camp, waterboarding or the medieval thumb screw. It’s behavioral modification through eating.

dog treats for training

dog treats instead of thumb screws

(Ed. note: You know, if you tried this with America’s kids, you’d arguably get slightly better behaved kids, but they’d be huge. Childhood obesity would significantly balloon from current rates of about 20-30% to probably something like 80%.)

Despite being by far the largest puppy, Luna’s first group and its headstrong Lhasa Apso (I’m honestly not making this up) unnerved her. She was scared. She changed groups and fortunately found common ground with a young beagle.

The evening’s only embarrassing moment came when Luna pooped on the floor. She was so excited to be with other dogs her age that MW forgot to insist on her going potty during recess. No worry, what’s a bowel movement among friends?

Second Night: Graduation

After the last class, Luna returned home a graduate. She’d attended just 1/3rd of the classes, yet came home with a graduation certificate that read something like “has successfully completed all of the requirements for admission to….”

I was a little stunned.

This is what you call being fast tracked. It’s also the pet world’s refutation of No Child Left Behind.

Starting a “No Dog Left Behind” Movement

I assumed the objective of dog school was preparing a puppy to pass a standardized sit-and-stay test. Sit-and-stay is about the purest form of standardized testing there is. George W. Bush would surely agree.

I asked MW if Luna had actually been tested. No, she had not.

When I was 11, Abby, our then-St. Bernard-labrador mix, was a little Lunaesque in her wildness. We enrolled her in dog school. Before grad night, we ran her to the point of exhaustion so she wouldn’t have any energy left for misbehaving. It worked. Before probably 150 people, she was as well behaved as any entrant in the Westminster Kennel Club’s big show. She earned a blue ribbon. I don’t think she ever reached that same level of self-control ever again.

In contrast, Luna didn’t have to do anything. I don’t want her (or OD) thinking that her life’s (all evidence to the contrary, so far, of course) going to be a free ride. Unfortunately, I also think I’m going to lose this battle.

MW’s already signed her up for the next course. It starts this week. Six weeks from now, Luna’s coming home with a second certificate regardless of what she does.

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