Thursday, 28 November 2013

En route!

Obedience session twelve and according to our instructor Kevin, Polly is 'getting there'. I'm not sure where 'there' is exactly, but it's nice to hear we're en route!


After our recent recall successes, we took the plunge this time and ditched our long training lead on the group walk.  Despite the newly added distraction of a rather exhuberant intact male rottweiler peeing hither and thither (including on poor Polly's head!) Polly remembered to return to me when I called - not  exactly a military precision reaction by any stretch, but by the time I'd shouted 'come' three times, the penny dropped and my bouncy girl happily left her pals to race back to me for cheese and praise ... Cheddar cheese bribery is definitely the way forward.  We've also been trying out a few carefully chosen off lead recalls at our local playing fields lately and in the main, Polly has been pretty good at returning, so my overall confidence is definitely growing ... it's such a lovely buzz to have her race over to me because she wants to come back to 'mum'!

Polly has also been walking in the woods with her pals Molly and Dudley again this week, which is a real pleasure for us both.  It's great to see the formal obedience work in school weaving into our fun time out and about together ... and so much fun to watch the dogs playing.

I remember moaning a few weeks ago because I was felt as though I'd been pulling Polly from pillar to post around the training field ... I was pretty frustrated with school at that point but determined not to be defeated.  Well, I am happy to say even I can now clearly see progress in Polly's heel work and it does at last feel as if my control is taking shape. It definitely seems as though we now understand more of what is asked of us and at last, are becoming a team!  We even managed to heel walk a course with other dogs, with me holding the lead in just my left hand (rather than using both hands) while Polly responded to my commands to sit, down, turn etc.  Who knows, maybe we'll try tucking the lead into my belt for a little while next time and see if I can maintain her focus without lead reminders.

This week, for the first time, I actually felt confident enough to encourage Polly to complete a little agility circuit of three or four activities, without me clutching her lead for dear life and she managed it!  She loves to run through the tunnels and can now jump over low hurdles, through the window and the hanging tyre.  She also walks steadily over the A-frame and small see-saw.  All in all, Polly completed her tasks pretty well, never once attempting to race over to her pals while they were working, which was a big step forward.  In fact the only distraction we suffered this session was rabbit poo - ah well, I guess you can't win 'em all!

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

All work and no play?

Did I mention I'm a teddy bear designer?  It's not especially relevant to 'Polly's Progress', but for anyone hoping to find time to bring up a happy, well adjusted new puppy and also run a small business from home, it's probably worth a brief mention. When we adopted Polly, I promised I would give her all the training and attention she needed, so while bringing a puppy into my life has been an absolute joy and I don't begrudge a single second, it is fair to say she has taken a toll on teddy bear production, not to mention my general business admin!  In fact, I just received a call from a show promoter to ask if I'd received an email, which I had, but completely forgot to respond to ... oops!

In my workroom: come on mum, it's play time!

It is well documented that to achieve a happy, balanced dog, you must share your life and offer time freely ... I have nothing to add to that, except to suggest that if you are planning to adopt and also hope to work from home in your role as new puppy mum/dad, you might benefit from planning well ahead to minimise work obligations ... puppies/young dogs need every bit as much attention as small children and will divert your work focus with a single pleading gaze, or wag of their tail!

I try to work while Polly is sleepy.  She usually has a nap downstairs in the afternoons, so that's when I catch up with the backlog in my workroom.  When Polly thinks I've worked for long enough, she climbs upstairs to find me, puts her nose in my lap and licks my legs ... that's her signal for 'enough now mum, it's time to come downstairs and play with me!'

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Freedom!

Oh how I prayed for a cancellation text this week ... it was cold, it was rainy, it was windy, none of which are my preferred weather conditions for dog training.  However, obedience instructors are a hardy breed, so my prayed for text never arrived and reluctantly, I put my mobile 'phone away, muffled up, de-misted my car and set off for the training field with a very eager Polly Dog on the back seat.

A woodland recall in full swing - whoopee!

By the time we reached Detling Hill, my windscreen wipers were flying back and forth on overtime and I confess to coming within a hair's breadth of driving round the roundabout and straight back down the other side of the road to home.  Instead, despite my overwhelming inclination to hibernate, one look into those big brown puppy dog eyes peering at me through my rear view mirror, had me turning towards the training field ...

Off lead fun - searching for squirrels

Fortunately the rain soon eased, leaving only wind and cold to contend with, so there were no excuses, I had to shape up and get on with it.  I was so glad I did, because during our off-lead group walk Polly was given permission to ditch her training lead as she was responding to my recall from the group of dogs every single time ... yippeee!!!!!  I was really proud of my girl; this is a massive step forward for us and has made all the training so far, worth every single frustration.

As a result, this morning, we allowed Polly to have some freedom in our local woods and she positively grinned, skipping her way through the leaves as she explored away from the path, searching for squirrels.  It was such a treat to see her so happy!  I recalled her several times to make sure the recall worked away from the training field and each time she raced happily back to me for a cheesy treat (mature cheddar!)  She was a little harder to call back when she found new dogs to play with, but after some playtime, allowed me to take hold of her collar - not the same thing as a positive recall unfortunately, but as she clearly had no intention of running away from me, came in my direction when I called (even though she didn't formally return to me) and didn't resist having her lead clipped on after play, all in all, I wasn't overly concerned.  Thank heavens for friendly dog owners!  Hopefully Polly's recall will strengthen further with more practice in new situations.  My ultimate goal is to have her come back to me immediately I call even if there are other dogs around, but I'm thinking that is probably still a way off for my oh-so sociable puppy girl.

Polly's obedience training isn't just about recall, although that's been my primary focus, we're also working on control with walking to heel, 'sit stays' and 'down stays'.  As I've mentioned before, it seems to take Polly a little while to realise what we do at home, needs to translate into what she is being asked to do at school, but I am now beginning to see signs of her understanding what is expected of her in school too.  This week Polly coped pretty well with what was asked of her generally throughout our session and when it was time to practice on the agility equipment, I noticed she was focusing on my commands more than usual and trying hard to do as I asked.  She even jumped a few hurdles, rather than bulldozing her way through them!  We practiced a little hurdling in the woods on our walk this morning too ... it was fun to call out 'over' and see Polly respond by eagerly leaping over a fallen tree stump ... she looked so pleased with herself!

So to conclude, at the end of our eleventh obedience training session Polly is most noticeably making sound progress, which I guess means I must also be getting better at making myself understood.  There's a long way to go yet though; we still need to build on her 'stays', work towards a formal 'stand', tidy up on-lead heel work, strengthen her recall in new situations when unfamiliar dogs are around and take our off-lead heel work to the next level by transferring what she can already achieve with me on our living room rug, out onto the school training field.  

I suppose I'd better toughen up (and buy some thermals!) it's likely to be a long cold winter out on that field ... brrrrr!!!!!

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Woodland Walking Gang

The countryside was ablaze as we drove out through Hollingbourne to meet Polly's new pals at Hucking Woods and if it hadn't been for golden leaves everywhere, it would have been hard to know we were in the middle of November.  There wasn't a cloud in the sky and it was the perfect day for a tromp through the woods.


The dogs were delighted to meet up again and eager to set off exploring, so we abandoned all hope of walking them neatly on their leads and let them 'go play' as quickly as possible!


It is such a joy to watch three bouncy young dogs chasing excitedly through the undergrowth together and after joining them for the first time last week, I am happy to say Polly seems to have been readily accepted by Dudley and Molly, as part of their woodland gang.


And while the dogs raced around, it was lovely for me to get to know Jane and Sue a little better too ... sharing an interest in dogs is a great icebreaker for making new friends.


I should point out, this is no mooch for our pooches!  In fact it's a solid hour of rough terrain hiking and often boggy underfoot.  We even threw in some proper recall training and the dogs responded positively on cue each time ... mature cheddar treats work wonders with Polly and I can't tell you how much of a thrill it is to have her running free with her friends, then returning to me when called!


Jane and Sue took me to find 'the old man' this week and I wondered who they were talking about until I spotted this carving sat at the top of a field enjoying his view ... and who wouldn't? What a fab way to pass a beautiful day!


By the time we headed back to the car park, our dogs were tired of running around, so toddled happily along the pathways with us.  Not so long ago I would never have believed I would one day be able to walk Polly without her lead and have her walk peacefully alongside me, simply because she wanted to ... she's come such a long way and it's clear Molly and Dudley have taught her more quickly than I ever could.


 An Autumn morning dog walk in Hucking Woods is a spectacular way to start a day ... the rich golds, reds and bronze bold against the glorious landscape certainly make up for so much squelchy mud underfoot.


And speaking of mud, there's nothing for it but to plonk poor ol' Polly straight in the bathtub when we get home.  There's no doubt cream dogs are very hard work to keep clean this time of year.  Thankfully a good splosh of honey and oatmeal shampoo soon turns my girl from murky mudwump brown back to clean cream again!

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Good Golly Miss Polly!

Today is a momentous day, a day to be celebrated!



On this, our tenth obedience training class, Polly, aged eight months, at last gave me positive formal recalls each time I called her back from the group in our 'off lead' dog walking session ... I am so proud of her!!!


Hucking Woods - this pic was taken a few years ago in the Spring.  
It was pouring hard and very, very muddy, when we went there this week!

I must thank Polly's fellow dog training students Dudley and Molly and their humans Sue and Jane, for inviting us on their walk in Hucking Woods earlier this week. Polly absolutely loved having new friends to squelch through the mud with and her new school pals really helped cement her recall, as well as giving me confidence to let her 'go play' off lead, so thank you all!  

Today's training session went pretty well, all things considered.  Polly's recall was the main focus for me and I was delighted to see how pleased her instructor was for us when that recall kicked in!  Our other obedience tasks such as 'down staying' and 'sit staying' and agility are progressing, but there's still plenty to sharpen up. 

Overall,  I can happily say I feel as though Polly has come a long way since I first began recording her progress and I now feel we are moving forward in our understanding of one another ... which, as far as I am concerned, is what it's is all about.

Nice work Polly Dog!

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Tenant's rights?!

Polly, how many times must I tell you, my leather footstool is not to be used as a 'barking at the postman' lookout post!


And while we are on the subject, neither is it to be used for catnapping when you think I'm not looking!!!


We need to have words Miss Polly!

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Manners maketh mud much easier!

Even though heavy rain isn't usually Poll's preferred walking weather, we both enjoyed our tromp through the local woods this morning.  By the time we arrived home we were both soaked and very muddy.  After deciding I didn't want a dog that barged rudely into my house, I've taught Polly to wait on the doorstep while I climb out of my wellies and coat, so she sat patiently until I invited her in to lay on her towel, so I could wipe her feet ...

Waiting politely on the doorstep

Simple obedience commands have helped Polly to understand what is expected of her in our house and her politeness helps me hugely.  No longer do we have a soggy doggy tangle of muddy legs and feet to battle with after walks and these days my carpets also stay reasonably clean, which is a big bonus!

Stinky Mudwump girl!

Mind you, today was bath day, so once I'd wiped away the worst of the mud, Polly was plonked in the bath for a proper scrub.  Fortunately she doesn't mind having a bath and thankfully sits calmly while I lather and rinse.  Today she not only had two honey and oatmeal shampoos to freshen her up, I also gave her coat a little extra help with my Moroccan Oil conditioner ... rather an expensive doggy treatment perhaps, but well worth sharing it as Polly's coat is now gorgeously soft and fragrant!


Without a doubt Polly will return to her preferred 'stinky mudwump' state in a day or so, but in the meantime, I'm making the most of her 'groomed and gorgeous' look by snapping a couple of quick pics for posterity ... I hope you enjoy them.


If only my girl always looked and smelled this good!  Ah well, I'd better make the most of it, come on Poll, it's time for a big ol' cuddle!

Friday, 8 November 2013

Polly Come - YES!!!

Heavy rain stopped play last week, so it has been two whole weeks since Polly was last at her training class. As soon as she saw me fill her water bottle and chop up frankfurter sausages she knew exactly where we were going and followed me closely around the house to make sure I hurried up.  I took her for a twenty minute walk before we set off to try and work off a little excess energy, but she was still bursting to meet her training buddies as we arrived at the field for our ninth obedience session.

Holding paws

One of the main reasons I opted to attended Kevin's obedience classes was because he holds them outdoors and offers a group 'off lead' walk during each session.  At the moment we use a long training lead to make sure my easily distracted girl understands that 'come' means exactly that ... if she doesn't respond, I run to grab the end of the long lead, give it a tug and as soon as Polly notices, call her into a full recall using a tasty treat as a reward.  The aim is eventually to do away with the training lead, as she should learn to return when called and will then be able to go completely 'off lead' to have fun with the other dogs and I will be able to relax, safe in the knowledge my friendly pup will return to me when called.

I decided to be brave recently and put into practice some of what we've learned at training class, so we've been practising 'off lead' skills at a small nature reserve. I'm not yet sufficiently confident to allow Polly off lead if I spy any other dogs in the area, but quite often it's only the two of us there, so I load my pockets with cheese and let her run free.  It is such a joy to watch her running as fast as she can and boy is she fast these days!  She tends to run in large circles and now when I call, actually returns to me! I can't tell you how satisfying this is.  We do three or four recalls and travel about half way round the reserve, then before she becomes too confident/distracted, I call her back for a final recall and clip her lead back on ... which so far she has willingly accepted in return for one last taste of Cheddar cheese - a girl after my own heart!

I have reached a stage with Polly where I would love to be able to let her enjoy more freedom, but am not yet confident enough to completely trust she will return to me if distractions are too great, so some days I deliberately seek out walks where we are less likely to meet other dogs.  This allows Polly the opportunity to run freely, but of course, doesn't help to reduce her excitement with other dogs, so we're in a bit of a 'Catch 22' situation at the moment.  That's why I think our training class is so important, as it offers Polly the opportunity to learn how to play with other dogs, while I get to practice her recall in a realistic yet safe environment, with understanding owners.

As I have mentioned before, up until now Polly has usually been the last to return when recalled during the off lead class session, preferring to 'tune me out' and continue playing with the other dogs instead, so I was absolutely delighted when she actually made her way back to me on command this week!  She was a little confused when a fellow student's Dad called 'Molly come' to his dog, then I saw her look around for me, so I quickly called again and yes, she ran straight to me, whoopeeeee!!!!!

I know I am probably in danger of becoming a recall bore, so my apologies for that, but I have found this the most challenging aspect of  learning how to keep Polly safe in future, so am anxious for us to master it.  Small steps forward mean a great deal.

Polly's other obedience skills are also progressing quite well; naturally she's far from perfect at an exhuberant eight months old, but she has learned so much in the past six months and continues to improve a little more each week (as hopefully do I!)  This week she was happy to show off her 'round to heel' move (we practice in the kitchen every day) and is even showing signs of a rather haphazard 'stand' position too.  Yay!  Polly's 'down stay' went awry at the end of this week's session after starting well though; unfortunately I hadn't noticed she was 'down staying' in an area populated with rabbits, so after a few minutes those cute bunny smells proved way too much of a distraction and Polly's focus was lost, so we bailed out early.  I'll have to be more careful where we practice next week.

After some of my less positive training posts, it is so good to be able to end this report feeling as though we're moving forward together at last!  It's an on-going process and in all honesty, physically quite taxing to work with such a substantial size of dog, but so rewarding when I notice she chooses to be close to me and wants to understand me.  We're becoming quite a team these days!

And on a lovely note to finish today's post, I was very touched when the owners of a couple of Polly's training pals were kind enough to invite us to join them with their dogs, on a woodland walk next week.  We will be visiting Hucking Woods to enjoy some fresh air, exercise and fun together and I'm really looking forward to it!

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

A field for all seasons

One of our favourite local walks is 'round the field', which, although we live on the outskirts of a town, is only a couple of minutes walk from our house.  Ancient bluebell woods line one side of the field and pear orchards the other, so there's always plenty to see as the seasons change.


This was our field on Monday, such a beautiful November morning!


We practiced walking to heel part way round the field.  Polly loves walking here, but definitely prefers the freedom her retractable lead offers and who can blame her?!  Nonetheless, she walked beautifully on her red lead, until we spotted another dog on the other side of the field, at which point she did her usual plonk down on her belly trick, refusing to budge.  I instructed, cajoled and lured with treats, but with no luck ... as far as my stubborn miss was concerned, she was staying firmly plonked in the mud until the dog in the distance caught us up to say hello.  There was nothing else for it, either wait ages for the other dog to catch us up, or give a firm 'no' and lift Polly to her feet by her harness, which she of course resented and resisted.  I wish I knew how to teach Polly not to plonk whenever she spots another dog on the lead as I am frustrated by this behaviour, particularly when she is so responsive in most other circumstances.  If you have any suggestions to help us, I'd be grateful to hear them, thank you!


Part of the fun walking round the field is that it never looks the same.  In October it had been recently ploughed, so was very muddy and lots of fun to squelch round in my wellies!


As our pup matured through the summer months, she enjoyed a romp round her glorious rape filled, field of sunshine.  


The tall rape provided clearly defined pathways around the edge of the field, so we felt confident to let her 'off lead' to practise recall and also to jog with Stuart. (Several months later and as those of you who read regularly will know, we're still working hard to build Polly's recall response ... her jogging is pretty good now though!  I thought we had the recall cracked when Polly was little, but as she grew both in size and confidence, she began to find other dogs overwhelmingly exciting, so coming back to us when called slipped well down her list of priorities, grrrr!)

I'm guessing it won't be much longer before Polly experiences her first winter snow on this field ... I'm looking forward to seeing what she makes of that!

Sadly, as seems to be the way of modern times, building plans threaten the ancient bluebell woods to one side of our lovely field and will no doubt dramatically change this beautiful landscape for local residents ... it's a crying shame.  

For more information please visit the 'Save our Bluebell Wood' action group:

Saturday, 2 November 2013

And on the subject of cats ..

We also own two cats. Puddle, our a dainty, sleek green-eyed girl, has a sensitive disposition and spooks easily, whilst Daisy, our black and white girl, is clumsy and perhaps a little less 'tuned in' (to put it politely!)   

Puddle

Needless to say, neither cat welcomed the arrival of a bouncy puppy girl.  Puddle spent the first week hidden on top of a kitchen wall cupboard and Daisy disappeared upstairs to the safety of a bedroom.

Daisy

I've owned cats for thirty years, so know there is no point forcing matters; cats do things in their own time and accepting a new puppy into their world has been very stressful for my two.

As my cats sleep in the kitchen, the first decision I made was to buy a tall dog gate for the kitchen doorway, so the cats had somewhere familiar they could feel safe in the evenings, yet still have access to our living area if they wanted to share time with us, but all animals could see one another through the door gate to give them the opportunity to become accustomed to one another.  As my cats are adult and quite set in their ways, I also made a decision to keep them separate from Polly at night, as that seemed only fair.

Despite reading how wonderful Goldies are with other animals and adopting Polly as a 'cat safe' breed, I'm afraid the plain fact is, Polly has been unable to resist the urge to chase poor Puddle and Daisy - it's far too much fun for her!  I have invested plenty of time and energy into dissuading her and she knows she shouldn't, but if my back is turned, my naughty girl finds those fast moving kitties impossible to resist, even if it does earn her a cat swipe on her lovely soft nose!


Polly is desperate for Puddle and Daisy to play with her!  She really can't understand why they don't want to bounce around puppy style and when they wave their tails wildly, she thinks they are inviting her to play, but of course, waving tails signals danger in the cat world!  The cats always outwit the dog and are gradually starting to realise running away only encourages her to chase; regrettably, they are still far from becoming friends with their new housemate.  It's plain to see, dogs and cats simply don't speak the same language.

So, six months after adopting Polly, I'd say we are a little further forward, but not much.  Our cats now tolerate her presence in the house and garden, although insist on keeping her at paw's length and Polly has worked out that laying down quietly doesn't threaten these sensitive creatures quite as much as bounding up to them with her tale happily waving.  As you can see from the photograph above, Puddle will now share living space with Polly, but only if she is able to perch high above her; Puddle is far from relaxed, typically pretending the dog isn't nearby, by looking the other way.  Polly wants Puddle to stay in the room, so defers to her by laying close by on the floor, but looking away.  Whether they will ever be friends has yet to be seen, but I do believe they are slowly beginning to understand and respect one another a little better.

As for Daisy, she's still in hiding under the conservatory couch. Puddle is 'Queen Cat', so if and when she makes friends with Polly, Daisy will most likely follow suit.  

To summarise: This continues to be a very slow process!

You can ring my bell!

So how does a dog learn to ask her humans for permission to go outside?  I 'Googled' this problem (Google = the font of all knowledge!) and discovered dog owners who had bridged the communication gap by training their dogs to ring a bell every time they wanted/needed to visit the garden.  Bingo!  To me this seemed a very sensible solution to the problem of scratch marks on my door frame and dog prints on my glass window, so I chose a large cow bell to hang from the back door handle and set to work teaching Polly to 'touch' the bell.  It only took a few minutes before Polly understood I wanted her to 'touch' the bell (in fact, I didn't even need a clicker for this as she already knows the word 'touch' because when she was a little pup, my sister Fiona taught her to 'touch' her empty hand, before she would open her other hand containing a dog treat ... neat eh!)  As soon as Polly was reliably touching the bell with her nose on command, I opened the door each time it rang.  It wasn't long before she made the connection, 'touch' the bell with my nose and make it ring to make mum open the door' ... 


I invited Polly into the garden each time she rang and before long, she was ringing her bell vigorously every time she fancied some fresh air.  'Great' I thought, 'problem solved'!  

However, what I didn't take into account, was that in Polly's clever head, 'touch the bell' didn't only mean 'go out into the garden', it soon also meant 'make mum get up from whatever she is doing' - so now, not only does she ring the bell when she needs to go outside, she also rings it if I'm working at the computer and she wants me to play, or if I'm having breakfast and she wants me to get up from my chair ... I think I need to fine tune Miss Polly's bell training!

And in case you are wondering, I am also working on teaching Polly how to ask to come back inside politely - hammering on the door and barking is not acceptable, so she's part way through learning how to lie down and wait until I see her at the door.  Naturally, she's not fond of this method as barking and hammering are far more fun after all, but she has been asking to come in by politely 'downing' for the past couple of days and so far, this calming system is working pretty well for us ... not to mention saving my poor head!
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