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!

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