Friday, 21 February 2014

Training, tromping and teddy bears!

With an important teddy bear exhibition looming large on my calendar, I've been pressed for time for the past couple of weeks, so reluctantly decided to cancel Polly's woodland swamp walking with Molly and Dudley in favour of less muddy local walks, until after my show. Keeping goldies clean at this time of year is very time consuming and swamp walking requires travelling time and bathing time which knocks a considerable hole in my working hours - not to mention how much it tires me out; so much so, all I can usually manage is to sit staring trance-like into space, sipping coffee afterwards!

Polly pops into my workroom from time to time when I'm working, to check on my progress - especially if one of my cats has come in to see me.  Poor Daisy thought she'd slip in for a crafty snooze under the chair yesterday afternoon but didn't bank on Polly hot on her heels.  Don't be fooled by this pally looking photo, Daisy is still far from happy having a big bouncy Polly in her world and Polly is still determined to chase 'that silly cat' whenever she can.  If only Daisy would realise strolling casually, rather than racing everywhere in a panic, soon loses Polly's interest.  Fortunately my other cat Puddle is a bit brighter than Daisy and has worked this out.  Until dopey Daisy cottons on, I'll just have to persist with trying to train Polly out of chasing her; she does now 'sit' and 'down' to allow Daisy to pass safely when I tell her to, but if I'm not looking and Daisy decides to run, she gets chased ... never caught though, for Polly the fun is all in the chase!

As I mentioned in a recent post, we've been using the 10 metre training lead in public parks to smarten up Polly's recall under distracting circumstances.  It has been going well, but a word to the wise - never underestimate the strength of a golden retriever running at full pelt on such a long lead!  My husband is a pretty substantial chap, but was felled like tree last weekend when Polly forgot she was wearing the training lead.  She raced ahead as fast as she could, pulling his 5' 10", fourteen stone frame over in the mud as if he were as light as a feather - he landed with such a whack, he saw stars!  The next day, I took her to the playing fields to work with the same lead and after playing/training happily with me, she caught me unaware when she suddenly took off to see another dog, pulling me into a rather inelegant muddy slide.  Mud, wet conditions, strong dogs and long training leads are to be handled with extreme caution ... fortunately, if you discount a couple of daft fifty something's bruised ego's and mud splattered clothes, no real harm was done this time but we'll both be more aware next time, because it could have been much worse.

It's so good to see some sunshine today!  Our UK winter has been the wettest for a very long time and I'm sure every dog walker must be as tired as I am of battling mud and rain each day.  Polly has a super new coat for muddy swamp romps, hopefully this 'mudbuster combat suit' will help minimise the need for complete baths in the weeks to come while the woods and parks dry out.  It's made from a nice stretchy fabric and feels tough, so we'll probably put it through its paces with Molly and Dudley next time we meet for a swamp romp.

I've lost count of exactly how many obedience classes we've attended now, somewhere around twenty or so I think.  All in all, we've been training with Kevin's outdoor group since last August, about six months ago.  We've missed a few sessions due to illness and bad weather cancellations, but the progress we've made is clearly evident now.  Whenever I see a nervous new member starting school with a young dog, it makes me smile to see how far we've come since our first sessions and how worthwhile the ongoing commitment to training both at school and at home has been.  There are of course, still plenty of areas to work on; for instance, although I am delighted with Polly's recall at school now, I still lack a degree of confidence in public places, when I'm on my own with her.  I am aware this may be more to do with my confidence, than with Polly's actual recall ability now, but the responsibility of owning a large dog is always paramount in my mind in terms maintaining control in public spaces.  I am also massively conscious of wanting to keep Polly safe as I have heard so many heartbreaking stories of lost and stolen dogs.  Balancing her need for fun and free running exercise with my responsibility as a dog owner/her mum, is a constant challenge.

This week's training session was a wet one and needless to say, I took a tumble on the agility course when my welly slipped in the mud as I turned a corner. Thankfully no damage was done, other than bashing my middle-aged muddy bum!  Despite the persistent rain, we all had a laugh and our dogs worked hard, but unfortunately Polly was rattled by another young dog during the group off lead session.  I'm not quite sure what happened, other than I noticed her looking worried as she ran as fast as she could to get away from him, which is unusual for her as usually she plays happily with everyone and invites the other dogs to play with her.  She is used to bouncing around with big, lively dogs, but this time was noticeably running away, rather than playing a friendly game of chase.  She couldn't outrun him though and when he caught up with her, she yelped loudly.  This happened a couple of times and then Polly ran to me and wouldn't leave my side, which I've never known her to do before as she always loves this section of the training session.  The only other time I have ever noticed Polly yelp was a while ago, when during a walk an intact male dog became amorously aggressive towards her, frightening her and requiring me to bellow at him to free her.  I know the dog at school was neutered recently, but I wonder if maybe there could have been an element of testosterone fuelled chase still present?  Hopefully it was an isolated incident and won't happen again. 

That aside, there's no doubt in mind that as a result of training school, combined with working training into our daily life, Polly now takes her cues from me and tries her hardest to work with me.  Working together has definitely helped us bond and given us the opportunity to fully enjoy our time together.  Polly has benefited hugely from me learning how to give firm, gentle, positive guidance and it's rare now that she does anything to challenge either me or my family ... in fact, the worst it gets these days is if I try to call her in from the garden and she decides, for the sheer waggy tailed joy of it, to give me the runaround!

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