Monday, 31 March 2014

Going round in circles

I'm not sure who kindly waved a magic wand last Friday, but by some unheard of miracle, my husband managed to unshackle himself from his office long enough to take me and Polly out for an afternoon walk in the sunshine.

Never one to miss an opportunity, I did a quick Google hunt to find a pretty route, printed off directions and bundled us all into my car, before the office had a chance to steal him back!

I spotted several 'circular walks' on the National Trust website for Ightham Mote and as it's only a half hour drive from home, fancied trying the four mile route from the Manor House to Wilmott Hill because it promised beautiful countryside views ...

Give a boy a map and directions to follow, then watch his inner boy scout emerge - Stuart soon forgot the office (almost!) and was in his element guiding me 'n Polly through woodland and along country lanes.  He is now talking about buying a compass for future excursions!

It was so peaceful trundling along! Idyllic English countryside, picture perfect cottages, farmhouses, unspoiled woodland and gorgeous Spring sunshine ... who could ask anything more of a Friday afternoon?

Polly absolutely loved her walk, trotting long beside us with a big soppy grin on her face.  Every now and then, after a quick risk assessment for potential countryside problems such as tractors/farm animals and so on, I slipped off her harness to allow her the opportunity to explore ...

As you can see, Polly loves to explore!

There was a time when I would have talked myself out of letting Polly off lead in new surroundings for fear of losing her, but now I'm confident she doesn't want to lose me, any more than I want to lose her, so I trust her not to go too far and to come back to me when I call - even if it isn't always the split second I shout 'come' (apparently really interesting rabbit holes sometimes require a few seconds more exploration!)  I'm happy to say, thanks to Kevin's obedience training sessions, most times nowadays Polly dashes straight back to me with a crazy happy grin on her face and ears flapping wildly in the breeze.

This circular walk was a real treat, especially on a stolen weekday afternoon!  We hardly saw another soul as we tromped through the most idyllic Kentish countryside and woodland.

You do need to be reasonably fit to cope with the fairly steep inclines, but if you allow yourself plenty of time and just absorb the wonderful views as you climb steadily, you'll probably hardly notice the exertion.  For my own peace of mind, I kept Polly on her lead for the ascent because some of the pathways up the side of the hill were not only steep, they were also quite narrow.

We used the 'Endomondo' GPS ap on my Iphone to see how far we travelled.  It calculated just over three and a half miles in an hour and five minutes for this lovely walk - I also thought the ap might come in handy if we got lost along the way, but fortunately with Scouting Stuart at the helm and the National Trust directions to hand, that didn't happen!

Me and Stuart both gave this beautiful walk a big thumbs up as we completed the circle back to the car park . 

Our mud splattered, somewhat algae-faced Polly Dog (nose in rabbit holes!) gave Ightham Mote to Wilmott Hill a cheesy grin, waggy tail and paws up too!

Here's to going round in circles again soon!

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

House Training

Polly's pretty well mannered at home these days, consistent positive training has really paid dividends.  For example, if the doorbell rings, rather than try to beat me  in a race to the front door, Poll heads for the footstool in front of the lounge window to see who's at the door, while I go into the hall to answer the door.

Understandably, she still becomes quite excited when we have visitors, but most know to ignore her for a few moments until she calms.  I taught her not to jump up at people as a small puppy by saying a firm 'off', then turning my back every time she tried to jump, so fortunately it didn't take her long to get that message and these days she rarely tries to jump at anyone and is happy to greet our visitors by running around the lounge with an excited waggy tail for a few seconds!

One of our regular visitors is my Great niece Ella, who is only sixteen months old.  She was quite a challenge for Polly the first time I babysat for her mum ... small squeaky humans and their clutter take up a lot of Polly dog space and Polly had to learn she was no longer able to have the run of the lounge.  

A couple of days beforehand, I spent a little time clicker training with Polly to encourage her to stay off a large picnic blanket which I put on the floor with some cuddly toys (not Polly's).  When Ella arrived to play, complete with her own box of toys, Polly settled outside the blanket after a couple of reminders, allowing Ella to play safely on the blanket while she watched.  It was a big ask as Polly loves soft toys!  Once or twice she tried to steal a forbidden teddy, but when I told her 'leave it' and substituted her teddy for Ella's, she just 'humphed' in her best disgruntled manner, but did as asked. 

Fortunately for me, Ella lives with a large labrador called Marley and regularly stays with Bugsy the German Shepherd who lives with her Granny and Grandad, so I know she is very confident with large dogs and that made her visit much easier than it might otherwise have been.

Polly and Ella settled quickly settled together while I kept watch and with only a few reminders not to lick the baby, or take her toys, Polly proved herself to be capable of behaving gently, accepting the temporary shift in territory with remarkably good grace.

To help prevent inappropriate chewing indoors, I provided a big basket of indoor dog toys placed where Polly could easily help herself.  I am happy to say we haven't had any chewed furniture etc since Polly was very young. Whenever there's a spare moment in my day, I grab something from the basket and invite her for a quick 'playtime' together in the lounge, which she loves!  I've taught her to 'drop' so we can play tug and fetch easily and I'm hoping to teach her to put her toys back in the basket when we've finished playing, because our living room rug is usually hickledy pickledy with teddies, balls, chew toys and the like!

One of the other important things I wanted to achieve with Polly inside the house, was to teach her to ignore us if we were eating casually on lap trays in the lounge.  First, I insisted no one should feed her treats whilst they sat at the dining table (have to train the family first!) then I progressed to instructing her to lay down at my feet each time I balanced a tray on my lap, telling her she was a good girl and 'clever' when she did so.  Over time I noticed she was ignoring my family's trays as well as my own, so then I allowed her to settle on the rug if she chose to, rather than quite so close to me ... and now whenever she sees us carrying trays through to our armchairs, she settles politely on the rug to watch the soaps while we eat.

So indoor training is going pretty well, but after the wet miserable winter we've had, during which to be absolutely honest, I didn't want to be in the squelchy cold garden a second longer than I had to, there is still much training to be done ... turn my back for a moment and holes appear, plants are uprooted and shrubs are 'pruned'!  My mischievous girl is quite the landscape gardener when left to her own devices!

Monday, 17 March 2014

A-wanderin' at Whitstable

The warm afternoon sunshine yesterday was too much to resist, so we popped Polly into the car and headed towards Whitstable.  The less said about heavy traffic through the town and lack of parking the better, but once we'd abandoned my little car on a side road and found our way to the beach, our visit perked up considerably ...


Polly is an excellent passenger and loves the car.  She hops onto the back seat, happily offering her head to have her harness fastened, then either snoozes, or rests her nose on the back window shelf to watch the other cars whizzing along.  She's always delighted to have someone else to keep her company in the back and likes to travel with her paw on her travelling companion's leg - yesterday it was my daughter Fay's turn to enjoy that privilege.

Yay, we're at the beach!

It seemed most of the residents of Kent had a similar idea for spending their Sunday afternoon, so the wide promenade from Whitstable to Tankerton was buzzing with all manner of folk, dogs and two wheeled modes of transport.  Polly behaved impeccably as Fay walked with her, tail waving high and dappy tongue lolling from one side of her mouth in an excited grin ... it was clear to see she was having a lovely Sunday!

Pretty please?

After a brief pitstop for a '99' ice-cream (and yes, Polly was permitted the end of that cone!) I decided we would wander along the promenade as far as the eye could see, to find a quiet stretch of beach for Polly to play on.


She was such a good girl on her lead, punctuating our walk with polite nose to nose hello's with other dogs now and again, but also passing them by without a fuss, if they didn't want to be sociable.  Once upon a time, a walk like this would have been a real struggle because so many new sights, dogs and people would have overwhelmed Polly, making her difficult to handle.  Not yesterday though, our friendly miss was in her element trotting along cheerfully beside whichever one of us had hold of her lead.

Waiting with Fay

In fact the only times Polly reacted anxiously, were when she met a remote control car whizzing towards her and big black parked motorbike for the first time ... she barked at both and who can blame her, they both probably looked very strange to her.

Seeing the sea!

Every now and again as we strolled along the promenade, Polly would lean towards the sea, trying to guide us down onto the beach to investigate further, so we detoured to let her have a little paddle in the sea, whilst keeping her on her lead.  She was very excited by the sea and desperate to play in it, but with small children and dogs playing between the breakers, I decided it would be safer to walk further along the coastline to find a quieter spot, before letting her off lead to splosh to her heart's content.  I don't yet have quite enough confidence in my powers of recall in such a challenging new situation - in my mind, a beach, lots of other dogs running loose, kiddies playing, ice-creams and a huge ocean are a 'not-to-be-taken-lightly' challenge!

Beach babe

We walked for about an hour before finding what seemed a good spot to allow Polly her first off lead beach experience - a wide expanse of quiet pebble beach with the tide ebbing away. Seeing dogs running loose all along the way, I did question if perhaps I am a little too paranoid about losing Polly, but on the other hand, I see so many heartbreaking reports of lost dogs on Twitter, Facebook and similar ( I feel calculating the risk carefully, rather than throwing caution to the wind in the name of fun, is the safest option.

Staying close to Dad - off lead on the beach

And I am happy to report, Polly had an absolute blast when I eventually plucked up courage to relieve her of lead and harness and let her 'go play' on the beach!  Needless to say, I was a nervous wreck anxiously watching her bounce over the pebbles, straight down to the sea, but needn't have worried as she raced around excitedly, dashing in and out of the shallow waves, but made no attempt to swim and always stayed close to Dad.  Best of all, when she was called back from her independent beach fun, like a good girl she remembered her manners and did as asked - which was such a relief!

Golden girl!

Letting Polly off lead in exciting new environments is for me, quite a scary challenge, but she has so much fun and exercise when she is allowed to run free, I want her to be able to enjoy this freedom so tend to try and create times when I feel the situation off lead is manageable.  This way she doesn't always expect to be off lead and also seems to understand she can have fun when she is invited to, rather than demanding it by behaving badly.  At the moment, we seem to be achieving a sound balance between good behaviour both on and off lead, with Polly accepting guidance from me in both circumstances ... so far, so good.

One last play on the beach on the way to our car

By the time we'd played some more, then tramped all the way back to Whitstable town, we were fresh air sleepy and Polly was a very soggy doggy.  Despite that, a glance in the rear view mirror as we drove home saw Fay and Polly snoring contentedly together on the back seat!

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Sunshine trompin'

With Spring almost upon us, I sense the days of endless mud may at last be fading! Hallelujah!  Since adopting Polly, I have learned the hard way that golden retrievers are impossible to keep clean and no matter how much you train them to avoid muddy puddles, they are never happier than when they are up to their elbows in the slimiest, sloppiest, squelchiest of mud puddles.

I had to chuckle the other day when, as we were walked home from a lunchtime ramble, a little Westie eagerly approached my mud monster, but was yanked back rather unceremoniously by his lady owner and instructed in no uncertain terms, 'don't play with that one, its filthy!'  I can only assume poor little Westie spent all his wet winter days taken round boring ol' pavements on his lead, rather than letting off steam through the mucky woods.

Don't get me wrong, after a tough wet winter spent hosing Polly back to cream after most walks, I'm all in favour of mud free dogs, but despite that, there is something so immensely satisfying about watching my beautiful golden girl rampaging delightedly through mud swamped woodland with complete disregard for her appearance, that I simply can't refuse her muddy fun!

My gorgeous girls, Fay and Polly

Saturday's glorious Spring sunshine was a real treat - my daughter and I could almost see the mud drying out as we strolled through Capstone Country Park with Polly.

Capstone is a beautiful park.  On arrival, it seemed rather busy with young families enjoying the children's playground and lake area, but once we found a pathway leading us into the countryside, it soon became very peaceful and absolutely perfect dog walking territory.  

It was lovely to catch up with my daughter to share fresh air time together.  We rambled and nattered for a good couple of hours, then headed back to sit in the sunshine by the lake with an ice-cream and a drink for Polly and caught our breath as we watched the world go by ...

Polly met lots of young children by the lake, all eager to give her a stroke and say hello.  I was proud to be able to let them approach, safe in the knowledge she would be gentle with them ... she even sat patiently and allowed a baby to stroke her ears.  She is such a good girl with kiddies and loves meeting them.

We will definitely visit Capstone with Polly again ... the wide open spaces, woodland and safe boundaries are perfect for her and the views are picture perfect too!

Roll on Spring for lots more lovely dog tromps in the sunshine!!!!

Friday, 7 March 2014

Happy Birthday Polly!

It's Polly's first birthday today and I had planned a nice little blog post with her cute puppy pics ... unfortunately though, my external hard drive stopped working yesterday, so now my entire photographic life, including my precious photographs, is frustratingly out of reach.  Ho hum.  

Ah well, onward and upward, as they say ... I'll just have to buy a new hard drive, remember to back it up in future and get out and about with my camera again as soon as possible!

I snapped this pic of Polly on my Iphone while we were out trompin' round Mote Park a few days ago ... isn't modern technology is a wonderful thing when it works!

So, I was thinking about Poll's first year, where we started and where we are now ...

On this day a year ago, I was waiting like an anxious new mum, to hear of the safe arrival of Polly's mum Thea's litter.  Thea is a beautiful cream retriever with the most gentle face and a year ago today, produced twelve fabulously squirmy pups - six chunky little boys and six pretty little girls.

After an extensive telephone interview with Thea's owner, I was invited to visit shortly after her puppies were born.  My daughter Fay and I were highly excited as we drove to meet Thea and her new family for the first time.  When we arrived, we were welcomed into the living room where the four week old puppies were happily snuggled in their pen with Thea, who was proving herself to be a first class, very gentle mum.

We visited a couple more times and eventually Polly chose us when she waddled over to Fay and rolled onto her back for a tummy tickle ... something she still does today!  At seven weeks, it was time to collect Polly and bring her home to start her new life with us.  Thea's owner had given Polly and her litter mates the best possible start and shed a tear as we waved goodbye, setting off with our precious charge snuggled on the back seat of my car with Fay.  It was a lovely sunny day in May, so we spent that afternoon playing with Polly in the garden and she soon made herself right at home, playing chase the ball and of course, rolling over on the grass for her tummy tickles!

Since then, I don't know how I ever managed without Polly.  Puppyhood was fun, challenging, tiring, messy and chaotic, but gradually we established a routine and Poll soon learned how to behave politely in the house.  She of course, went through the usual range of puppy misdemeanors from puddles on the living room rug, to nipping when excited, biting off my rose blooms, chasing our cats and behaving like a twirling dervish on the lead ... but with patience, a sense of humour and a little determination, we all survived those crazy puppy days.

And as those of you who read regularly will know, me 'n Polly have been attending obedience school for the past six months, which has been a huge help in helping me to help Polly become the polite dog I always wanted.  It has also given us both an opportunity to make lovely new friends, which has been an added bonus!

Polly has learned so much during her first year and has taught me heaps too.  Most importantly in terms of training, she now walks politely on her lead, waits patiently to cross roads safely with me and best of all, comes when called.  She is still a little hesitant when passing certain other dogs on leads, so whenever she seems unsure, I just let her sit politely if she wants to, until the dog has either passed or introduced himself.  Thankfully lunging and jumping at approaching dogs are now a distant memory.  We often stop to chat to other owners and Polly usually sits politely while their dogs walk towards us to say hello, then does her own 'doggy sniff' welcome thing.

Today, on Polly's first birthday I can honestly say, she is a super polite girl and an important member of our family, has learned much about the rules of our human world already and always tries to do her best for me. 

Mind you, something my clever girl hasn't yet worked out is that a thirty kilo Polly dog really doesn't fit on my lap when I'm on my swivel chair ... not that it stops her trying to have a great big licky lap cuddle each morning!!!

Happy Birthday to youuuuu my lovely Polly girl!!!!

Monday, 3 March 2014

Bugsy and Polly go trompin'

My sister Fiona and her husband-to-be Simon, live in the heart of the beautiful Kent countryside with their handsome German Shepherd Bugsy.  Polly loves Bugs, so when we were invited to join them for a hike to the pub on Sunday morning, we were more than delighted to accept.

Ella in her 'Grandadmobile'!

Ella, Fiona's gorgeous granddaughter and my great niece, came too.  She donned bright pink wellies for our tromp and was ceremoniously heaved into her special 'Grandadmobile' ... good job Grandad Simon is fit and besotted with her!

Setting off on our hike

We clambered over stiles and gates as though we were still teenagers and our dogs bounced delightedly across fields and through woodland, exploring and playing to their hearts' content.

Polly 'n Bugsy playing dog

As an older chap of eight years, Bugsy is a great teacher for Polly.  He plays happily with her, but when she becomes a little too exhuberant, gives her a gentle telling off to remind her of her manners.  She thinks he is wonderful and is always happy to learn from her special buddy.

Happy Poll!

It was so lovely to be out in the countryside following a local rambling route uphill and down dale ...(down dales especially welcome after uphills!) Little Ella had a super time looking at the countryside from Grandad's shoulders, chattering away to him the entire time.  She absolutely loved watching Polly and Bugsy playing together and both dogs were very respectful and gentle with her at all times.

Introducing Ella to the horses

Watching the horses

Neither of our youngest walking party members have had much experience of meeting horses yet, so Grandad took Ella to meet some friendly rescued horses behind a wire fence and I put Polly on her lead to let her sit in the long grass and just watch them for a while.  I am still a wee bit anxious about Polly and horses after her recent off lead 'incident' at Hucking Woods (see earlier post) so was pleased that when under control on her lead, she didn't bark at them, or become overly excited by them.

Fo, Simon, Ella and Bugsy, arriving at the pub

We eventually reached the 'Ringlestone Inn', (a wonderful old alehouse from 1615, seeped in history) and slipped blue baggies over our muddy wellies, before settling inside by the roaring log fire with our dogs ...


This was the first time I have ever taken Polly into a pub and I am happy to say I was very impressed with how polite she was and how welcome the dogs were made.

Me 'n Fo with Ella, cosy in the pub

Polly settled on the floor by the door, content to munch on a chew kindly provided by the publican, staying in place when other young dogs and children came through the door and allowing them pass without any fuss whatsoever.  Bugsy, being an old hand at visiting pubs, knew the ropes so made himself right at home.  Such good dogs!

Polly enjoying the pub fire

We hiked back through woods and across fields with the dogs mostly off lead.  They both returned promptly to us whenever we called and accepted their leads politely when we needed them to ... it was clear they were enjoying their time out in the open together and that they loved hiking with us.  Every so often, Bugsy would discreetly circle to make sure everyone was in place before we changed direction. He's such a clever chap!

All in all, we walked about six miles and today, Polly is snoring at my feet and my legs ache, so I can only imagine how Simon's shoulders must feel!!!

Thanks for inviting us along guys, we loved our Sunday tromp and are looking forward to tromping with you all again soon xxx
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