Friday, 30 May 2014

Teenagers will be teenagers!

If I'm being completely honest, after Polly's disappearing act regarding the incident with boxer dog in the woods last weekend, I am now experiencing a few collywobbles when it comes to letting her off lead on our daily walks. I hear my inner paranoid dog owner making excuse after excuse to keep her firmly attached to me and have had to argue firmly with myself, to let her have a play.  Needless to say, each time I have bitten the bullet to fight my paranoia, Poll has been as good as gold and returned without a hitch.

Earlier this week me 'n the Pollster met with our friends Jane and Molly for a walk in Hucking Woods.  Regular readers may recall I have been concerned about Polly's overly dominant play with lovely Molly, as my teenage girl has been jumping on poor Molly's back, making her somewhat wary of Polly's exhuberant attentions.  I decided to take a firm stance with Poll, so with Jane's agreement we gave Molly an opportunity to run free first whilst initially keeping Polly on her lead, to try and rebuild Molly's confidence with Polly.  It also gave Poll time to calm down, as she's always very excited when we first arrive at the woods to meet Molly.

After a little while, we let Polly off lead to see how things went between the two dogs.  The moment Polly became too bumptious with Molly, I reclaimed her, telling her in a firm voice 'off', 'enough' and 'no more' (used to say that frequently to my kids too, shaking my disapproving pointy finger when they were young!) as I re-clipped her lead.  It took two or three attempts to get the 'play nicely or you'll be back on the lead' message through to Polly and for Molly to understand it was perfectly okay to stand her ground with Polly - eventually we made a breakthrough with a less dominant Polly and a more confident Molly and by about halfway through our walk both dogs were off lead and playing together more equally.  Hopefully this will be the start of a return to balanced play between our canine girl friends.

It seems to me, Polly's current teenage phase (she is now almost fifteen months old) seems to present fresh challenges in terms of independence and confidence in much the same way as my children did when they were growing up!

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Lesson Learned

I never tire of watching Polly delight in racing across an open stretch of land.  She isn't ever permitted to be off lead unless the area is as safe as I think the great outdoors can be for her and before I take off her lead, I always scan for other dogs, elderly people, children, vehicles, roads, gaps in fences - you name it, I scan for it!

Polly rarely stays off lead for the entire duration of a walk either, I always pop her back on the lead whenever I am uncertain of the surroundings; in fact, most of our daily walks involve time both on and off lead, so Polly is used to having her lead clipped back on/off and thankfully doesn't challenge these decisions.

As I've harped on about before, building a reliable recall has been so worth the months of effort and I am pleased we are now reaping the rewards of all the months of training.  However, last weekend I was taught a lesson about off leading I certainly won't forget in a hurry ...

We were thinking about heading home through the woods and back along the lane after our tea time walk.  Polly had been a good girl both on and off the lead so I decided to give her one more opportunity to play freely at our favourite spot by the dip at the top of the woods.  While we were there we met an older gentleman with a boxer dog who had a similar idea.  Polly was at my side, so I reached to clip on her lead, but the chap called out that his dog was friendly and to let them play and by then, both dogs were already saying their hellos, so I thought 'why not' and let Polly chase round with her new acquaintance while the gentleman chatted ... and chatted some more ... and some more ...

Both dogs were initially having a lovely time racing up and down in the dip until they wore themselves out.  I was conscious of time passing, but having been brought up to be polite to my elders, found it very difficult to end the conversation with the chatty man and depart homewards.  Polly attempted to check in with me several times, but each time she tried, the boxer dog also came over, even plonking his rather heavy bottom on my foot as if to claim ownership of me.  I tried to interrupt his owner a few times to say I needed to take Polly home for dinner, but the boxer began to bounce around again.  Then he tried to mount Polly, which was plenty enough to spook her.  She raced round the corner with her tail between her legs and in her distress, completely ignored my recall.  Consequently, I spent the next twenty minutes trying to suppress a rising sense of panic as I ran through the woods and surrounding area, calling and whistling like a demented mother hen, trying to find my poor girl while all kinds of terrible scenarios played out in my head.

In hindsight, I can see I failed to string together several subtle signals which should have told me Polly was becoming uncomfortable with the boxer's attentions and that she needed me to put on her lead and take her away from the situation.  Without fully realising at the time, I put my gut instincts on hold to avoid being rude to the chatty gent, even though I knew we needed to head home and that Polly was looking less keen on play with the boxer.  After trying to get my attention several times by coming to my side, but failing to draw me away the man, Polly became overwhelmed by the other dog's attentions, yelped, then spooked, fled without me.  

It could all have ended very badly, but thankfully, after walking Polly through every conceivable route home many, many times during the past year, she simply headed back through the woods, up the lane and along the road to home, where my husband opened our front door to find her sitting patiently on the doorstep, politely waiting to be let inside.

There is no doubt in my mind, I made the mistake of allowing my polite upbringing to override my instincts.  Consequently, when the boxer suddenly became a bit too excitable for Polly to handle and she had tried to make me aware several times she was feeling threatened, but to no avail, she headed back to the safety of our home.  I don't blame her one little bit, I am just so relieved she was safe and clever enough to take herself straight home.

One thing's for sure, I won't ever let politeness override my gut instincts again. An acute awareness of the dog's body language and changing circumstances when out and about, can prove to be every bit as important to their safety as a solid recall ... 

Lesson learned.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Default Settings

After my previous end of first year post, I must admit, I thought I was sailing along happily with Polly and wasn't prepared for a setback ... life is never that straightforward though, is it?!

Polly loves to play with other dogs and besides breakfast/dinner time, chewing on a bone and running, her favourite activity in the world is to bounce around with pals; trouble is, bouncing around recently evolved into bouncing ON and chasing one of her best buddies too persistently.  This understandably developed into a bit of an issue when the other dog became noticeably overwhelmed by Polly's overly boisterous attentions.  Both dogs have always played well together and are usually eager to spend time together, so we owners were somewhat taken aback by this tricky situation.

To be honest, after Poll's training took this unexpected downturn, I spent the week afterwards feeling quite anxious about returning to dog school.  To try and understand what had happened, I read what I could on dominant play and made sure I was taking a no nonsense stance at home to ensure Polly wasn't getting too big for her boots by seeing herself as our 'pack' leader (following the 'ignore her for five mins when you come home', 'eat before she does', 'invite her to play, don't allow her to demand play', etc etc, school of thought ... I found Jan Fennell's 'The Dog Listener' book interesting and very helpful in this respect).  

I absolutely hate the thought of Polly having a negative effect on another dog's confidence.  My gut feeling is that because they have become used to walking together off lead as part of a small pack most weeks, at 14 months of age, Polly is now more confident and may be vying for the leadership role which previously fell to her friend.  Thankfully there has been no aggression displayed, Polly is simply too boisterous and needs to learn to adjust her play down a notch or two and exit play promptly on command, or if the other dog isn't happy.  I think if the other dog had given her a good telling off, the problem may have quickly resolved itself, but that didn't happen, so now I need to make certain Polly learns what is and isn't acceptable play.

I will confess, this, together with a few minor recall issues at school last week, knocked a hole in my confidence.  It suddenly felt as though the many months of work we'd put in, counted for not very much, if Polly's inner teenage dog could rear up and cause her problems!  Silly of me really, when I think about how well behaved she is on a daily basis and how receptive she usually is.  For a few days I convinced myself it was time to leave dog school because it seemed Polly was taking backward steps and I was struggling to stay cheerful.  Before making a rash decision, I decided to meet up with Polly's pals' owners to have a chat and try to put things back into perspective.  As always, they were very supportive and generously shared their thoughts and experiences.

So by the time training day came round again, I decided to give it one more go in the hope Polly might have a better session than her previous one.  Thankfully, with one blaring recall exception during the sit 'n stay exercise, she did seem more settled this week, so I probably shouldn't have worried quite so much about the off lead group walk, as Poll played enthusiastically, didn't over do things and came back promptly when called.  Such a relief!

According to our instructor, I could benefit from toughening up and developing a more forceful telling off voice, to leave Poll in no doubt she needs to do as she's told, when she's told ... (particularly when she decides to disrupt an exercise in favour of a run across the field!)  This is fair comment and I do take it squarely on the chin, but years working in school nurturing young children, even more years bringing up my own two kids, not to mention the years of self-employment tucked away in my workroom quietly creating teddy bears, have given me a very long, very slow fuse and although I am far from a pushover, bellowing in an angry voice when things go to pot isn't my default setting!  That said, I think it's important I locate this missing setting somehow, because it might help keep Polly safe one day.

Anyway, here am I, mulling over the ups and downs of dog obedience training, when I should be typing an email to book next month's sessions.  Onward and upward ... I hope!

Monday, 12 May 2014

A year on ..

It's exactly a year since Polly came to us as a gloriously curious, cheeky, chunky puppy girl.  My oh my, how the time has flown!

Polly's first day at home with us: 7 weeks

When we brought her home for the first time, Polly made settled in straightaway ...

Making friends with Bugsy: 11 weeks

We introduced her to my sister's German Shepherd Bugsy as soon as she'd had her innoculations and she proved herself to be a very dog friendly girl.  In fact, if she has any fault at all (aside from her gardening skills) it's her love of other dogs - she loves to play and will do just about everything in her power to halt our walk if another dog approaches, just so she can say hello!

Walkies: 13 weeks

By the time Polly was three months old, she was eager to explore the great outdoors, happy to trot along off lead, but never far from us.

Monster munch: 14 weeks

And then wham, by fourteen weeks Miss Polly Dog began to relish a monstrously mischievous phase!  She hated the lead with a vengeance, attacking it whenever we attempted a walk, landscaped my poor garden, jumped and nipped at my daughter, dragged the living room rug by the corner ... you get the picture!

Cheeky girl: 5 months

By five months, it became quite clear it was time to send Polly to 'finishing school' to learn some manners!

Gawky teenager: 6 months

Polly grew at an alarming rate during her first six months and quickly turned from a cute puppy, into a rather challenging, very energetic, gawky teenager.

Reliable recall building: 9 months

I think it took about four solid months at obedience school before we began to cement a reasonably solid recall.  By the time she was about 9 months old, we were finally able to enjoy carefully selected 'off lead' time in our local woods.

Polite Polly: 11 months

By eleven months of age, Polly had become not just our family pet, but also a genuine member of our family.  She worked really hard on her training and was eager to please us, soon mastering how to be a polite girl on the lead and also in our home.  Thankfully her monster mischief days didn't last too long.

Confident recall: 14 months

We've come a long way in the past year, all thanks to training. Polly has now worked out that she really doesn't want to lose us, any more than we want to lose her, so when we call these days she races back ... sometimes a little more promptly than others, but now I never worry about her running off and losing me, which is a big step forward in my confidence as a dog walker.  

Besides the usual 'sit/stand/down/heel/stay/leave it/drop', Polly now also understands several less obvious commands, such as 'show me' (ie show me the cupboard where the chews live!) 'away', 'on the mat', 'head in' to have her harness on, 'hup' to get into the car and 'on the stool' if the postman is at the door.  (Mind you, she still occasionally pretends not to understand 'off' when she wants to bark at someone outside the house from her stool!)  She can also roll over both ways, beg on her hind legs, turn round and do her party piece, 'go to sleep' - this one always makes me giggle as it's meant to be a game of 'sleeping lions' but it always takes her a little while to stop wagging her tail and lay absolutely still!   We can trust her to lay down politely on the rug if we eat from trays on our lap and know she will be gentle if young children visit ... she loves  children!

Cheeky girl Polly: 14 months old.

So here we are, a year on and Polly is still cheeky and energetic, but no longer a mischievous monster.  She has matured into the happy, polite dog I hoped for and give or take the odd spot of unwelcome gardening, is exactly the companion I needed to bring me out of the doldrums after losing my dad unexpectedly almost four years ago.

Polly, a year on.

The past year has been busy, challenging and to be honest, quite physically demanding, but all that has paid off ... Polly is now a beautiful, affectionate, lively, polite girl and I am extremely proud of all that she has achieved.

Friday, 2 May 2014

It was all going so well ..

It was all going so well at obedience training yesterday.  After pushing my recall powers almost to their limit a couple of times at the start of our group walk when an excitable Polly and pal Molly opted to race across the field to play together, they both eventually remembered their manners and returned, proving to me Polly will recall from a good distance ... maybe not instantly, but recall under distracting circumstances nonetheless. Once she'd let off a little steam, Polly's subsequent recalls were prompt (and I was pleased to see she didn't jump on any of the puppies this week while she was playing with them!)  We then whipped round the agility course fairly neatly, enjoying an entire section of high jumps, long jumps, hoop and A-frame, off lead.  Heel work was good too, with Polly happy to show her stuff both lead tucked into my belt (ie hands free) and even off-lead, for a complete circuit of the poles.  We also completed a pretty smart formal 'sit stay, down and recall', during which all class dogs perform together in a rather challenging row.  

So, by about ten minutes before the end of class, I admit to feeling pretty content that we were a significant way forward from the chaotic point at which we started school last August ...

Last night: picking up a few agility tips from Battersea Cat 'n Dog's home's agility star fabulous 'Frank' on Paul O'Grady's 'For the love of dogs' 

In fact I'd go as far as saying we were close to finishing the lesson on a rather smug high, but as the old saying goes, 'pride cometh before a fall'!  The final challenge of the lesson was a 'down stay/out of sight'.  The eventual aim of this task being that the dogs are able to remain in their 'down' position, while owners slip out of sight for a whole ten minutes ...

Keeping Polly 'down' has always been quite a challenge - she has only recently started to perform this task successfully for several minutes without a training lead and with me standing about 35 feet away, but not yet 'out of sight'.  Yesterday I was convinced she was doing pretty well during the first part of this exercise.  Polly maintained her 'down' as I walked away backwards and I was delighted she stayed in position and noticeably focused, while I stood in front of my car.  When I returned to her side to practice leaving again, extending the 'down' time, I reminded her to 'stay', then repeated the walk back to my car.  Polly stayed in position for a few more seconds, just long enough to lull me into a false sense of security and think she was going to behave as asked, but then I spotted her glance sideways towards obediently 'downing' Molly next door!  I shouted out 'POLLY STAYYY!!!' but it was too late, my naughty girl launched herself onto poor Molly's back for a game of wrestle!  There was nothing for it but to grab my miscreant, give her a quick telling off, mumble a red-faced apology to Molly, then march my mischievous Miss back to her position, prison warder stylie, before she took the opportunity to create any further havoc on the field.

(Problem solving: maybe next week we'll take a step back and try using a long training lead for our 'down stay' exercise if we happen to be positioned next to Polly's best buddies!)  

I don't doubt that Polly's behaviour and my training skills have developed positively during the past nine months while we've been going to dog school, but there's always room for improvement; we're definitely still a work in progress.  I guess setbacks all go to prove you shouldn't allow yourself to become too complacent, no matter how pleased you are with your dog's progress ... especially if you own a cheeky, playful, determined young dog, like Miss Polly!!!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...