I am watching a dog do a handstand on a stool, the diameter of which is so small I doubt that I could sit on it comfortably. But this is not the circus, or Singapore’s Got Talent. This is Lee, the collie, doing a demonstration for us during our weekly dog training class.
Surrounding me is a group of owners, leashed dogs at their sides, all of them thinking the same thing: “I will never get my dog to do that.” The trainer knows it too, as he instructs us to get back to our more mundane exercise: teaching our dogs to circle right. With slumped shoulders, we begin.
Our lesson takes place in a room littered with more trophies and medals than I can count on our collective hands and paws. They have been won by handstanding Lee who, throughout each lesson, sits on a chair fixing us with a steely gaze. If he could talk, you know he’d be muttering, “idiots, idiots, idiots”.
Today there are old friends and newcomers in the class. Most of the dogs are small toy breeds that have been carried into the room in their owners’ arms, the outside world too dirty for their delicate paws.
As it is impossible for me to carry my large, multi-breed dog into class without putting my back out, Conker has to rough it on the pavements. We make up for our scruffiness by positioning ourselves where we can shine. I grab a stool between the out-of-control trio of miniature poodles and the yellow-eyed dachshund, Mimi, who has an abject hatred for everything human or dog.
Mimi also has an abject hatred for training. Her owner tells me she has been coming to the class for two years, yet she still refuses to do anything apart from bite passing ankles. Ten minutes into training, she is lying on her back on her owner’s lap having a stomach rub. He is most apologetic, but, “She had a tiring day yesterday,” or “She’s just had her breakfast,” or “She’s not feeling well today.” Mimi is never going to graduate.
The oodles of poodles are banished to the corner to do basics. I see one of them squatting down to expel a poo, which the owner tries to surreptitiously sweep up. Nearby are two beefy bulldogs who are so ponderous that by the time they have done one circle we have all moved on to the next task. I keep my distance from the world’s largest Alsatian, who is attached to the world’s smallest owner. Last week, this same dog decided to take a short cut through my legs only to stop, snarling, with me perched on top of him. My desperate scream caught the trainer’s attention just before Conker decided to defend my honour. It’s not an exaggeration to say that my life had started to flash before my eyes.
One hour later, the lesson is over. No one has mastered the handstand. However, as we are leaving, the trainer tells me that Conker is “very bright”. I feel absurdly proud until I catch the collie’s eye. He fixes me with his stare, shakes his head and starts to raise his back leg.