Exam Time

therapyIt was pretty close to heaven. A whole room full of young people, all of them ready to get down on the floor and rub her belly. There was a certain amount of squealing – “so cu-u-u-te” – and a few moist eyes – “I miss my dog.” One young man approached in perfect play invitation posture – bum high, head and arms low. Trouble looked at Human for guidance – “is this guy crazy or what?” Then she rolled over and presented her belly. He obliged, though he clearly would have preferred to tussle.

An hour was enough. Apparently even heaven palls after a while. Trouble made one more round of the adoring circle, checking over her shoulder with Human between each person. Then she yawned. “She finds us boring!”

“No,” said Human. “She’s a little stressed. It’s a lot of strangers in one place, and there are other dogs here too. She’s ready for her own break.”

exhaustedWelcome to exam time, when almost any activity is more attractive than studying. Human remembers spending hours in the cafeteria, lunch long finished, carefully tearing strings of paper dolls out of folded napkins in an impromptu competition. There were no dog therapy rooms during exam period then. Today’s students talked about the sudden attraction of housework. They talked about their all-nighters finishing their last term papers. They talked about multiple choice exams and whether they were better or worse than essay-type ones.

Then they talked about Trouble’s fur, and how they missed their pets, and what kind of dog is this anyway?

Exam time, and spring – the reluctant Nova Scotian spring which is more like the retreat of chill than an inrush of warmth, more likely to show up in patches of mud than in patches of flowers. Heard in rushing water, seen in the creeping rise of snowmelt.

spring runSome of the kids are rushing toward the end of term, swept along in a torrent of caffeine and group panic. Others pile sandbags, in the form of colour-coded study schedules and special scribblers for review notes, to control the flood. Some huddle outside the exam hall, stoking their anxiety with last-minute questions; others stride purposefully past without a sideways glance, extra pens in hand, a spare battery for the calculator in their pockets.

Trouble has all the right strategies for exam time. Multiple choice exams are a bit like morning walks on garbage collection day: you sniff carefully around the possibilities, pass up the clearly undesirable bits, and assess the remaining options, quickly, knowing that it will soon be time to move on. An off-leash walk on garbage day would be even better: Trouble would move quickly from one bag to the next, getting the easy pickings, looping back later for things harder to sniff out. Dream on, Trouble. Garbage days are always leash days.

Essay exams are more like retrieving: there’s a human reader involved, not just a tally sheet, and humans, Trouble knows, are impressed by focus and drive. When the ball goes overhead, you go straight for it and bring it right back. You don’t dawdle off on a foraging expedition or meander around the field in search of sticks or a food wrapper. Answer the question right off, and you can practically hear the reader breathe a sigh of relief – here’s one who knows her stuff, one who knows what he’s doing.

Even when she brings back the wrong ball – it happens – Trouble gets praise because she’s shown she knows what to do, even if she hasn’t quite done what was expected. It’s called “showing your work” in math problems; it’s called making an argument in the humanities.

Focus and drive. Better than luck any day, whether in a field trial or an exam hall.

Trouble with ball

Photo credit: Eileen Donahoe

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