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.
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!