Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Polly's Christmas

Despite having her rug full of people, gifts and general clutter, Polly seems to have enjoyed her Christmas - goldies it seems, are at their happiest if they can wangle their way into wherever the action is happening!

We took Polly to my sister's house for a Christmas Eve party and started the celebrations with a dog walk and games at the local park ... Bugsy, Marley and Polly had a whale of a time chasing balls!  As there was quite a houseful for our traditional family get together in the evening, we settled the three dogs in a utility room when we returned.  They were relaxed after their earlier exercise and soon laid down to sleep together. Later in the evening the dogs were invited to join us in the living room but unfortunately Polly and Marley surprised us by having a brief altercation.  Both dogs visit regularly to play with their pal Bugsy  the German Shepherd, so I can only surmise they felt the need either to establish territorial rights for a moment, or perhaps the day's excitement simply bubbled over ... whatever caused the momentary flare, it was a timely reminder that Christmas parties and routine changes can be stressful, even for the best behaved of dogs.

On Christmas Day there were presents to be unwrapped, but that was no problem as Polly was delighted to help with unwrapping and of course, Santa had left a few special gifts for her under the tree!

Polly has loved having visitors over Christmas, not least of which is my daughter's new boyfriend.  Fay has serious competition for Neil's affections as Polly continues to make her best efforts to win him over - she really is proving to be an outrageous flirt!

And of course, because Christmas isn't Polly's fault, we made it clear to visitors they would need to arrive prepared with sensible walking boots, warm clothes and a spring in their step, because Polly would be having her walks each day, Christmas or not!

Polly was thrilled to have a pack of her favourite people to walk with and made the most of her festive freedom, racing around, leaping into muddy puddles, burrowing into long grass and generally turning herself into a swampy, stinky mudwump, with no respect for keeping a clean Christmas house, whatsoever!

And I must admit, seeing her having so much fun racing around out and about with my family, was a lovely Christmas gift for me!

My Grandson came to visit with his mummy and daddy on Boxing Day.  He is only three months old and Polly is fascinated by him ... she has already learned to sit by my side while I have a cuddle and that she shouldn't lick him.  On Boxing Day, Poll tried to sneak a crafty lick of his toes from time to time, but was very gentle and accepting of his place on my lap.  She even shared her rug with Toby graciously, settling herself quietly alongside him, while his mummy sat close by.

 Polly loves spending time with our other two grandchildren aged two and nine, so I have no doubt she and Toby will also become great friends in time.

With the exception of her momentary grump with older lab Marley on Christmas Eve, I am happy to say Polly has been a good girl throughout Christmas.

We included her in our celebrations as a member of our family and she coped well with the festive changes in her routine.  Over the holiday we made certain she had the guidance and attention she needed, space to take herself out of situations if she wanted to and most importantly of all, plenty of exercise to run off all the Christmas excitement!

Monday, 15 December 2014

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Meetin' 'n Greetin'

It's been a while since I wrote an update about how Polly's training is progressing, so while her foibles are still fresh in my mind after our morning walk, I'll ramble on about a couple of things which I am sure most goldie owners have probably experienced ...

We are fortunate enough to have a beautiful park where we live, which, once you've navigated beyond the car park and kiddies play area, is perfect for dog walking.  This morning Polly hopped into my car, lifted her paws obligingly to have her doggy seat belt fastened, then sat regally on the back seat as we drove through town, trying her hardest to catch the eye of following drivers; she's such a flirt.

Poll loves the park, but if I'm honest, I sometimes feel a bit anxious when I walk Polly in the park by myself.  I walk her on a harness with a long training lead to ensure she doesn't make a pest of herself with other dog walkers and then spend most of our walk, talking myself in and out of allowing her off lead freedom and while I dither, it seems every other dog in the park is happily bumbling around off lead, without their owners appearing in the least bit concerned!

It's probably daft to worry, as Polly recalls pretty reliably these days (even if she's not always quite as prompt as she should be!) she never wanders away too far, is dog friendly and more often than not, she's obedient. However, there have been rare occasions when her ladyship's tail has tucked between her legs, her jaw jutted forward and with immense determination, she has raced at near Ferrari speed, across a field to greet another dog without my permission.  It's never been a real problem, just a little embarrassing to have the dog I have religiously trained for well over a year, completely ignore me!  Embarrassment aside, I have read much about not allowing your dog to approach other dogs in case the other dog is 'reactive', not to mention the potential for disaster if your highly sociable, dog/people friendly dog, opts to flout months and months of training and chooses instead to put two paws up to the recently tightened UK dog legislation, by making an introduction to a potential new doggy pal, rather than remaining diligently by her owner's side.

As an only child (!) Polly's entire mission in life (aside from eating, she is a goldie after all!) is to play with other dogs. Having a friendly girl is a delight, but also makes training hard work.  She knows her obedience stuff pretty well now, walking to heel off lead like an angel on the training course and trotting along obediently by my side in the big wide world when asked, but breaking her of the impulse to race over to other dogs is proving to be a job and a half, to say the least!  Heaven help me if she's on her lead when she spies another dog across a field because she will plonk her significant five+ stone onto the ground, refusing to budge an inch in an effort to get her own way.  Believe me, I've tried all the usual 'positive reinforcements' you can think of to get her moving again ... cheese, sausage, squeaky high pitched praise, toys, cajoling ... you name it!  I have also been firm, cross, determined - all to no avail.  When Poll establishes that the dog isn't likely to play with her, she quickly pops back up and walks politely again, but not until she is absolutely certain she has tried every trick in the Naughty Dog Handbook, to outwit me first.

The problem is Polly is a clever girl who quickly learned that plonking brought owners and their dogs over to say hello and of course, sometimes she got lucky by being allowed off lead to play with a new friend after initial introductions.  Now of course, she is absolutely certain ALL dogs NEED to be played with, whether or not she is on her lead.  Never one to give up the fight, I have started trying to use 'Polly's Plonk' to my advantage by turning it from a plonk into a 'down stay'.  I may not always be able to get her to walk immediately away from her plonk, but a 'down stay' does at least seem to stop her from springing up to play, giving me time to speak to owners to establish if they are happy to have my boisterous girl engage with their dog.  It also gives me a chance to ask owners to ignore us sometimes!

On the plus side, as I just said, Polly's Plonk also occurs off lead.  I have noticed she often plonks halfway on a dash to meet a new dog, I think probably to give herself time to weigh them up and consider whether or not to run the rest of the way to introduce herself.  As she won't recall from a plonk or very determined dash yet, I've started to bellow 'stay' rather than 'come' when she does this and she has surprised me several times by remaining plonked long enough for me to reach her with a lead ... on one occasion, even staying down long enough for me to walk past her to speak to an owner, then return to Polly's side to give her a 'go play' command - that really was progress!

I have read about the goldie 'plonk' on Golden Retriever forum's - much to the amusement/annoyance/frustration/confusion of goldie owners, it seems to be quite a common behaviour in this lovely breed and the general consensus is these gloriously friendly retrievers plonk to show approaching dogs they are no threat, they would just like to say hello and have a romp.  So, if you can't beat a behaviour, could the way forward be to work on putting it to better use?  Let's hope so, because this particular behaviour can be a plonking nuisance at times!!!

I think overall, I probably worry too much about meeting other people on our park walks and should perhaps be braver when it comes to allowing Polly to mingle. When we walk in quiet countryside Polly is happy off lead and doesn't give cause for concern, the same when we are at obedience school mixing with other dogs in class off lead walks - yet when we walk at our local dog walking parks, I tend to revert to an over protective doggy mum, treating my otherwise reliable girl like an unpredictable toddler.  All things considered, this is probably a bit unfair. 

Anyway, back to our morning walk today;  I am happy to tell you, Polly met a handsome seven year old setter called Bob at the park and was invited by his owner to romp.  They had a fabulous time racing around off lead together as we walked and chatted.  When it came to time for us to go our separate ways, Polly recalled like a good girl, leaving Bob to his own devices without so much as a backward glance.  A little further on, two extremely beautiful German shepherd pups bravely ventured over to say hello and as Polly was on her long lead by then, I spoke to their owners and we agreed it would be lovely for all three to play and they had a wonderful time fun running round in crazy circles together. 

Incidentally, the German Shepherd pups' recall was AMAZING!  At just six and seven months of age, those gorgeous boys whizzed back the moment they were called, bringing Polly with them - such clever dogs!  No three/four/five second delay for them while they made up their minds (yes Polly, I am talking about you!) those fabulous boys flew jet speed back to their Dad and I must admit, I experienced a little green twinge of recall envy!!!


Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Christmas can wait!

It may be squelchy and it may be crisp, but who cares!  You really can't beat a walk over Kentish fields in wintry sunshine.

With only a couple of weeks until Christmas, I should probably be making time for gift shopping, but this is so much more fun than battling through bag laden crowds!!!!

Polly says Christmas can wait ... and I agree!

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Looking the Biz

Polly, looking the biz in her hi-vis!

We do love a rain mac!  Now it's dark so early in the day, I think Polly needs to stand out, so this cheery orange number does the trick perfectly. The funky orange lead is reflective, ideal for crossing roads safely in the dark ... and for the very darkest walks, we can always accessorize with her flashing disco diva collar!

Unfortunately, after skating across the kitchen floor like Bambi when she tried them on for the first time, Poll was far less enthused with her new snow boots. She sat determinedly down, blankly refusing to walk another step.  It was so funny, I confess I laughed out loud!  Luckily my lovely girl graciously accepted a big cuddle by way of my apology once I'd regained my composure! I think she saw the funny side, but I guess she does have a point, it was a little undignified!  The boots won't go to waste, we'll pop them in her ever-expanding box of doggy paraphernalia and keep them handy, just in case she ever hurts a paw and needs to protect it - they'll be handy for that at least!

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Sister Act

After pondering for several months, I eventually asked a couple of detective type questions at dog training today and finally had my suspicions confirmed ... Elsie, a fabulously sleek, speedy golden retriever girl and special favourite with Polly, is in fact my Polly's sister!

Peas in a pod: Elsie and Polly 

Polly was so excited to meet Elsie the very first time and after chatting with mum Sue in a later class, I discovered Elsie had been born in the same town as Polly.  I wondered then if they might be related, but being a polite sort (!) didn't like to pry further.

Our two girls became instant friends and had heaps of fun playing together on the field at school; so much so, it would sometimes lead them to create a little mischief during obedience sessions because they would break 'stays' now and again, preferring instead to run off to play with one another!

When Kevin (our instructor) snapped the above picture back in the Summer, the similarity between Polly and Elsie really hit me ... our girls were like peas in a pod, there was absolutely no mistaking that family resemblance.

Today, I finally plucked up courage to ask Elsie's mum the name of her breeder ... and bingo!  Polly and Elsie ARE litter sisters and judging from how thrilled they were to meet one another and how delighted they have been to romp together at school ever since, I think our gorgeous girls probably knew they were sisters long before their owners did!!!

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Meet the folks!

I was made a proud Nana for the first time, three weeks ago.  I confess to having fallen head over heels in love with my new Grandson from the first moment I held him in my arms ... I knew in that instant, I would always do everything I could to help his mummy and daddy to keep him safe.

And naturally, that means helping Polly to learn how to cope safely with such a strange little creature in her home.

Polly was very excited when Toby came for his first visit, because she was so thrilled to have my son in the house - she always loves his visits.  Thankfully her mad zoomie dash around the room only lasted a few seconds while Anthony stood holding his son in the middle of the room waiting for her to quieten.  He then sat down with little Toby and when she settled a little, I let her go to Anthony to sniff the baby.  Anthony extended one hand to ensure she approached in a controlled way and she gave little Toby a good sniff, tried a couple of sneaky licks and once her brief introduction was made, I diverted her attention by calling her to me and asking if if she'd like a chew for being a good girl, which apparently was far more exciting than the arrival of a new human to our house!

We threw a welcome party for Toby this weekend.  I knew we'd have a house full of family comings and goings, so hoped Polly would cope.  She certainly showed a keen interest in the cake baking, not leaving my daughter's side while she worked!

I always include Polly when visitors come to our house, rather than shut her in another room - I think it's important to teach her how to behave with guests and she loves to be part of the group.  My family are used to large dogs, so know to ignore her when they first enter, which really helps to keep her excitement to a minimum.  Polly coped well at our party, despite the potential for problems.  She was fine with the noise of family chat and baby crying, coped with all the people in her space and was very gentle with the small children playing toys on her rug and eating food at low level (she did try a couple of crafty sniffs of my Great niece's cake, but didn't steal or lick)  She didn't run out the front door when it opened, or steal the kiddie's toys and once she'd said hello to everyone, quickly settled on the floor among the multitude of legs and feet.

In fact, the only problem Polly did have, was when my daughter hung balloons and decorations in the dining room before the party. Polly was a bit spooked by the dangly things and barked anxiously at them.  She was okay with them during the party, but the morning after when I took the balloons down, poor Polly ran away with her tail between her legs in a bit of a panic, so I tried a quick clicker training session to encourage her to stay with me while I touched the balloons ... she tried hard and did quite well at staying by my side for a few seconds each time, but I think balloons are still a worry to her.

We will of course always make sure Polly is well supervised with children, but I am confident she has learned she must be gentle with little people ... she is proving herself to be a very good girl around them!


Thursday, 30 October 2014

Steps forward ..

We're loving our long Autumn walks ... the UK is ablaze with golden leaves right now and it really is a fabulous time for dog walks!

Polly's recall has improved in leaps and rather excitable bounds of late, which has meant she has been able to enjoy plenty of off lead time during our walks.

Like an anxious mum, I call her back the moment she dips out of sight and don't take my eyes off her for a moment - just like I used to with my children when they were first making their way in the world!  She's great at racing back to me now, is learning not to race too far ahead and has also started to check in from time to time without me actually calling her back, so I think it's safe to say she now has the hang of what's expected of her and the long months of recall training have paid off.  

Training is far from over though, as I think we still need to master a reliable emergency stop ... only then can I be confident I have done all I can to help Polly stay as safe as possible whilst off lead.  After speaking to our instructor today, I think we have the basic play elements in place to build an emergency stop but need to work out how to pull these together to teach Polly to develop fun time with mum on the playing field, into an impressive emergency stop ... 

I'm thinking this is probably going to be much easier said than done!


For the love of dogs

As far as Polly is concerned, Paul O'Grady's 'For the love of dogs' is required viewing in our house on Thursday evenings ...

She takes up her position by my slippers at 8.30pm each week, just in time to watch Paul and his Battersea dogs with me, from start to finish!

Friday, 17 October 2014

Let's do dog school!

As a confirmed 'non-joiner', if anyone had told me two years ago I would soon be training my own large dog at an obedience school,  I would have laughed aloud and told them 'don't be daft, not a hope!' ... which just goes to show how wrong you can be!

Agility: Polly 'over'!

When I adopted Polly as a roly poly seven week puppy, I really thought I would manage to train her on my own, but by six months reality struck and I knew I needed to be taught formally how to achieve the polite, happy dog I wanted.  I took the advice of my dog owning sisters and signed up for Kevin's obedience school: KS Dog Training  and happily, we haven't looked back since.

Agility: Polly 'steady'!

Those of you who have followed our school blog posts regularly over the past fourteen months (thank you!) have shared our weekly highs, lows, laughs and exasperation in all kinds of weather on the training field.  I confess, there have been times when I could happily have thrown in the towel and I am sure most owners training at school for the first time have probably felt the same way at one point or another during their dog's training.  Obedience training is hard work and unless you have a 'model student' (do they even really exist?!) it can be seemingly thankless in those early days!

Distance control: Polly 'sit'

For me, it was the little breakthroughs which gradually built my confidence and kept me coming back.  For example, one day Polly was noticeably paying attention during heel work practice, rather than doing her usual trick of dragging me to the nearest pile of rabbit poo ... a significant breakthrough!  Another time, after many months of practice, I finally decided to be brave and drop her lead during a heel walking session and she chose to stay by my side responding to instruction, rather than racing off to say hello to pals - definitely a momentous day for us both!

Distance control: Polly 'down'

Other worries I had about the responsibility of owning a large boisterous and extremely sociable dog, couldn't have been trained for anywhere other than within the safety of a school situation.  It took Polly a while to master the art of reading other dogs' body language and also to recall promptly from play, which of course meant I couldn't allow her off lead in public places without worrying myself silly about the potential consequences.  Kevin taught us how to create a solid recall, which in turn gave me the confidence to begin training Polly in public places, allowing her to exercise and play off lead where appropriate, in a controlled way.  We're still working on advancing her recall and I'd like to cement an emergency stop, but thanks to the training at school and daily practice on our walks, I now know I can allow Polly the freedom she needs, confident she will return to me.  

Distance control: Polly 'stand'

These days, at just eighteen months of age, Polly walks smartly to heel and copes well with all manner of traffic conditions on our 'pavement walks' and I don't mind admitting, I take a huge personal pride whenever someone compliments her on her lead behaviour - my polite girl has been hard earned!  She has come such a long way since the early days of pulling rudely on her lead and this is all thanks to me having been taught how to teach her effectively and kindly.  To start with, every day we followed up school heel walking lessons using a clicker and treats to reinforce good behaviour on our local walks.  Now that Polly is so good on the lead for me, I have phased out the clicker and most of the treats and instead make sure I give sufficient instruction and plenty of praise.  Training has become a way of life for us rather than just a weekly school session.  It has extended into every aspect of our life together, now that I have been taught to understand what Polly needs from me.

So, if you are reading this because you have recently adopted a lovely new puppy and you really aren't sure whether it's worth joining a dog training class ... please stop pondering!  Find a well recommended local instructor and BOOK THOSE CLASSES!  If you stick at your sessions, work hard and practice what you learn daily with your dog, I believe that ultimately, you can achieve a happier, more polite and much safer dog.

I'd like to take this opportunity say a big thank you to my instructor Kevin, for his hard work and endless patience with me 'n Polly ... we couldn't have come this far on our own.

PS: Many thanks for taking these pics Kevin! I am delighted to be able to share a little of what Polly gets up to on her school days here on our blog!


Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Our Autumn Family Tromp

Each Autumn, I love to gather my lot and my sister's lot together, to go for a big ol' family tromp through the beautiful estate of Knole Park in Sevenoaks.  We all meet in the car park with dogs in tow and set off with the intention of deer spotting, but these days, with three big dogs to deal with, the deer are understandably less willing to approach - and who can blame them!

Follow my leader!

Polly was beside herself with excitement as soon as she spotted Bugsy in his cage on the back of my brother-in-law's truck and when Auntie Fo and Simon stepped out, she couldn't contain her excitement, pulling me across the grass to meet them as fast as she could ... there was no verbal command in the doggy obedience handbook firm enough to hold her back!

My husband and Polly

Marley, my niece's lab, arrived a few minutes later, sending Polly's excitement level soaring even higher, so by the time we started walking, Polly was full of beans!  The scent of deer soon brought her inner sniffer dog to the fore, at which point I decided to let my husband take the strain!

My sister and Bugsy

Dogs are required to stay on their leads at Knole Park because of the deer, so we couldn't let them run off their excitement, we just had to bear the brunt until they settled into their stride.  Once Polly relaxed a little, I popped her on her long training line and she had a thoroughly lovely time sniffing the ground frantically, while Bugsy the German Shepherd made sure everyone stayed close together and Marley the lab hauled my poor nephew-in-law relentlessly around most of the park!

Polly enjoying her walk

Not only did we have husbands, daughters and my sister's son-in-law with us, my two year old great-niece also donned little Peppa Pig wellies to join us.  She loves walking outdoors and when she tired, happily took in the view from her carrier on good old Grandad's back.

Ella and Grandad

We all enjoyed our Autumn tromp and the dogs had a super time.  Poor ol' Bugs was a bit over stretched towards the end of our walk because at nine years of age, he's not as young as he used to be and it was a pretty long walk.  Next time, we'll make sure we don't walk him quite as far and maybe take a few more rest breaks along the way.

Marley with my niece and her husband

As for Marley, I think he probably went home every bit as lively as he arrived ... I'm sure he has Duracell batteries in him somewhere!

Polly was in her element with her best doggy pals AND most of her favourite people out together in the same place on the same day - she couldn't have been happier!

And if you were wondering, yes we did spot some deer!  In fact they were so gentle, my daughter and little Ella even managed to feed them a few nuts while the dogs sat patiently.

By the time we completed a circuit of the park, we were all very ready for a hot drink at the kiosk, before wending our way home.

We've decided we need to return to Knole in the next few weeks so that my son and his fiance can join us before it gets too cold.  We had to go without them this time because they were busy welcoming my first grandson into the world ... I can't wait for him to come out walking too!

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Using the training lead

One of the most frustrating things I've had to master with Polly's training, is teaching her to come back to me when I call.  Recall training has been hard work and took loads of time and patience to cement.  We were taught how to train for this at obedience school and from that, I added methods that seem to work for Polly.  I hope the information below might help other owners of young lively dogs who despair of ever being able to let them safely off lead!

To teach Polly how to recall safely during walks, I made sure to always give her a good lead walk first to tire her, before taking her to our local playing fields or similar 'safe' area (woods don't work with training leads, too many trees and bushes to get tangled in!) to train.  We used a 10 metre training lead fixed to a harness, a bag of special treats like cooked chicken, sausage or cheese and her favourite rope toy.

To start with, I kept hold of the training lead, gradually letting Polly have more length to explore with, but calling her back to me regularly for treats and games - especially if I spotted potential distractions (trying hard to make myself more interesting than the distractions wasn't always easy though!)  I soon became quite adept at scanning an area to spot distractions before Polly did and if I did spy a potential problem, used the opportunity to try to engage her with her favourite game of tug or fetch using the rope toy and rewarding her with a happy voice and a tasty treat (or several!) if she stayed focused on me. Polly is always excited to play with other dogs so there were occasions when I inevitably failed to maintain her attention and on those occasions I tried everything I could to encourage her to perform a task I knew she could do well, preferably something that would root her to the spot, like a 'sit stay' or a 'down stay', until that distraction passed, rather than allow her to drag me across the field to whatever caught her eye. 

When she became used to the format of wearing a long lead to explore and return to me and only if the area was quiet, I tried discreetly dropping the lead and encouraging her to jog alongside me with lead trailing, or walk alongside me, interspersing the movement with 'sits' and 'downs' etc., and rewarding her with treats - all the time trying to keep her focus on me before she realised she was free, rather than allowing her time to dwell on the fact her lead had dropped. I also instigated games of chase ... her chasing me that is!

Once she would perform with the lead trailing reliably, I began to allow her to explore a little further afield, calling her back before she ventured far. If the worst came to the worst and she raced over to say hello to another dog, I followed hot on her heels, took hold of the end of the training lead and gently but firmly pulled, turning her towards me whilst calling her to 'come' to me, as I moved backwards. She eventually got the message that when I called, it was time to leave her fun and move towards me to be rewarded either with a treat, or a game with her rope toy ... or both!  

After much practice, I discovered I could at last drop the lead, give Polly a 'go play' instruction, then recall her after a short run, praising her massively each time she returned to me willingly with the lead trailing behind her.  Teaching her to play fetch at home also helped tremendously with this when we used it as part of recall training on the field ... she thought it was great fun to run after the ball and bring in back to me in return for a treat and as far as I was concerned, it was a fab way to keep her focus, give her exercise AND encourage her to return to me with her ball.  We've been training for over a year both at home and school and I am delighted to say Polly can now be let off lead in relatively quiet areas and I am confident she will come back to me, even if she does occasionally run halfway across the field!  By practising like this a little each day when our local fields weren't too busy with other dog walkers/children playing, gradually building up distance, time and distractions, using rope toy/ball games to help, the long lead has at last been virtually dispensed with and Polly is allowed more daily freedom to exercise and sniff.  Thankfully she now returns to me promptly most times when instructed and even when she's not quite as speedy as I would prefer, she does at least, always return!

Polly isn't perfect yet by any means, but her recall has improved considerably thanks to weekly obedience training at school and its implementation during our daily walks in a consistent, controlled, yet fun way, using the long lead, toys, treats and whatever else it might take for me to convince my intrepid explorer I'm well worth hanging out with!   In my experience the more effort I have put into engaging with Polly during our walks, the more effort she has put into listening to my commands.  We practice recall and keeping focus every single day and even though I am still conscious Polly might decide to race off to play with another dog, I am now confident that even if she does, she does actually want to come back to me when she's said her hello.

And interestingly, I have noticed recently when Polly does starts to run towards another dog, she usually pays more attention to my recall than she used to and has on a couple of occasions, even turned back before completing her mission to play!!!  This return is a very recent development and is still very fragile, but I am hoping it might mean our recall has the potential to take another step further forward.

Incidentally, when we visit local parks on busy days, or go to places I am new to, I still use a training lead to allow Polly freedom to explore and walk at her pace, rather than mine.  We much prefer it to a retractable lead (Polly hates the noise of the retractable and I don't like the heavy mechanism).  There are always situations when being off lead just isn't appropriate, so the long training lead is handy to keep in our ever expanding collection of doggy paraphernalia!
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