Sit. Stay. High-Five. 

New tricks for unruly dogs

The goal: I say, "What do we do when the Broncos score a touchdown?" and my 50-pound Shar-Pei German Shepherd mix barks, spins and gives me a high-five. Then, I say, "Would you rather be a Vandals fan or be dead?" That's Marcy's cue to roll over and play dead.

Marcy and I are enrolled in Tricks 101, a class put on by dog training company Sit Means Sit. We meet Wednesday nights for six weeks in the back room of a feed store, among bags of dog food and blocks of salt lick.

Marcy has 10 classmates, including a standard poodle named Urey, a Vizsla named Roxy, a border collie named Jazz, two Boston Terriers named Oliver and Rudy, and a whippet named Devo (get it?).

Trainer Jim Closson picked up the leash at Boise's Sit Means Sit four years ago and estimates he has trained almost 3,000 dogs since then. Closson is a round guy with a Van Dyke beard and a military background, and he has no problem throwing someone out of class for not paying attention.

Becoming a Sit Means Sit franchise owner takes more than money. Closson underwent an FBI-grade background check and trained 12 hours a day for 21 consecutive days. Out of the four people in his class, one woman didn't make it a whole week and another guy made it 17 days before instructors gave him his money back and thanked him for trying. Only Closson and one other guy graduated.

Back in our weekly class, Closson pointed at a sleepy yellow lab and a relaxed poodle.

"When you have two dogs like that, anyone can become a trainer," he said. "But then you get a dog like that," he said, referring to my unruly dog.

We started easy, running through the tricks we'd already learned: left and right spins, a handshake, a high-five, a wave.

Marcy swatted the air with enthusiasm, drooling over a tiny, moist treat. We troubleshooted the "begging" trick, where the dog sits on her hind legs and holds her paws politely in front of her. Marcy's rendition of this trick: lunging on me and grabbing my wrists with her sharp claws while attempting to pry the treat from my fingers with her sharp teeth.

The room filled with the voices of proud parents.

"Gooooood boooooooy. Gooooooooood. Ah, ah, no, stay down. Yes! Gooooooood."

We moved on to the next trick: learning to speak.

Closson explained that we need to get our canine counterparts excited and bark at them until they mimic us, then reward.

"And what is the point of teaching them to bark?" said one woman with a skeptical laugh.

"This one never barks," said another woman, referring to her peaceful lab. "Not even when the doorbell rings. Nothing."

"Perfect," Closson said. "If it isn't broke, don't fix it."

Besides the occasional woof, Closson said it's amazing how many words dogs know. He had a St. Bernard who went through this very tricks class and went on to become a service dog. She could execute 82 commands. I'd guess Marcy knows a quarter of that, but the ones she does know make us both happy. She waves at me when I leave the house now, and she gives me a high-five at the end of our hikes. We've already signed up for Tricks Class 201.

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