Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Wedding Etiquette

Polly's Cockerpoo pal Jessie from Hampshire, kindly invited Poll to be her 'plus one' in celebrating her mum and dad's lovely 'I do, in denim blue' wedding, so we drove to Portchester on Sunday morning for their garden reception party ... and not a moment too soon after sixteen long years together!

My sister Tina and my new official brother-in-law, Ian

We arrived a little earlier than the official time to give our dogs an opportunity to let off steam together at a local park before any wedding guests arrived. Polly was absolutely thrilled to catch up with her cheeky little friend Jessie again (the last time they saw each other was back in April).  Jessie, now a more mature young lady, was determined to maintain the upper paw with her excitable visitor and after a couple of firm 'woofs', soon had Polly at her beck and call.  After a quick trot round the park, we headed back to the lovely denim themed garden reception, to join in the family fun.

Watching the fun from a polite distance

To begin with, I kept Polly close on her lead.  I didn't want her ploughing through all the lovely games and decorations Tina, Ian and family had created for everyone.  I was desperate for Polly not disgrace herself as I would never have lived down such a black mark among my dog owning family!!!!

Enjoying garden games with the kids

Tina soon spied Polly on her lead in the corner though and marched over to free her ... so that was that, dogs on the loose, a garden full of family, games, food to explore and also, a shooting range on the driveway!  (Thankfully, Ian had a gate in place to prevent children and dogs from becoming accidental target practice!)

Jessie, Tina and our gorgeous great niece Ella

The afternoon went with a swing (not to mention a bang from the rifles being fired time and time again!) and both Polly and Jessie behaved beautifully despite the party chaos.  Once in a while a little playful excitement bubbled up between the two, but a promptly delivered word (actually three promptly delivered words - 'oi you two!') soon settled them back down.

Hoping politely for a few wedding cake crumbs!

I may have mentioned previously (or maybe not? I can't remember) Tina is a professional photographer and one who never quite manages to be off duty.  Even while she was meant to be enjoying her own wedding celebrations, she was setting up a photo booth in her fabulous garden studio for her guests to play in!

Polly enjoying her 'I do in denim blue' photo shoot with me 'n Tina

Jessie's turn for a photo with mum Tina and our great niece Ella

Needless to say, me 'n Poll aren't always the best at focusing on a camera lens, lol!

There were well over four hundred photographs taken using a remote control device in Tina's studio throughout the afternoon, some of which are definitely unsuitable for public release!!!  Even with the door shut, raucous laughter could be heard from the garden and let's just say, some of our younger guests took a dastardly delight in Tina's dressing up box!

Bride Tina (top left) and we four sisters, with mum

Sunday was a very special day, relaxed, great fun and a perfect reflection of Tina and her now-husband Ian. 

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Tina and Ian for trusting Polly to share their lovely 'Denim Blue' wedding celebration ...

Queueing for wedding cake!

... and in her defence, the muffin was in a goldie nose height, open top bin. Ahem!!!

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Wish you were here?

A week ago, Polly packed her rucksack and headed to beautiful Cornwall for some coastal hiking with us ...

After loading up the car, we set off from Kent to Falmouth - an eight hour journey (with stops) on fairly clear roads.  Fortunately Polly is an excellent traveller and loves being on the back seat in the car, so we had no worries about undertaking such a long drive with her. 

We stopped several times along the way for 'wee' breaks and to say hello to all the other excited holiday travelling dogs stretching their legs at service stations.  She met all manner of fellow canine travellers, from teeny tiny Chihuahuas, to a rather impressive St Bernard who weighed in at a daunting sixteen stones!

By the time we reached Exeter service station the sun was shining, so we decided to stop for lunch on the grass and Polly settled happily on a corner of our picnic blanket, waiting politely to share a few little treats with us.

We spent the week hiking along cliff paths and Polly excelled herself on the lead, taking steep uneven steps in her stride and being careful to 'steady' on the descent, to keep pace with whichever of us had hold of her lead, to spare us any dangerous slips.

Polly loved being out on the cliffs with us and made an excellent walking companion, in fact, we walked for miles and really enjoyed her company!

We also managed to find a couple of quiet 'dog friendly' beaches while we were away ...

The only problem with holidaying in Cornwall in July is that dogs are banned from many of the main beaches and as we had no internet connection, we couldn't simply Google 'dog friendly beaches'!  But where there's a will, there's usually a way, so we just walked and walked and walked, until we found one!

I absolutely love watching Polly playing in the sea. She is so excited jumping through shallow waves, tossing seaweed in the air and generally letting off lots of that crazy goldie bouncy puppy steam!

Oddly enough, although dogs aren't allowed on all beaches between May and September, many Cornish castles do welcome them, so we visited both St Mawes and Pendennis Castles, to introduce Polly to a little medieval history.

She took the castle visits in her stride, exploring up and down twisty stone steps, through tunnels and even up on ramparts with us!

Polly was impeccably well behaved throughout and I must admit, I was very proud of her.

The only slight issue we had at the start of our holiday was that Polly promoted herself to guard dog while we were in our temporary home, barking whenever she spotted anything outside the window.  We had intended for her to sleep in the kitchen while we were away, but the cottage had an open plan layout and not all windows had curtains to block out the outside.  We soon realised we wouldn't sleep unless she camped out in our room, so set up her bed in the corner and thankfully, she settled quickly each night, as soon as she saw me head to the bathroom to clean my teeth.

We had only one disturbed night before Poll worked out what was what.  After that, she snuggled down in her bed every night like a good girl and didn't wake.  In the morning she would tippy toe to the side of my bed, give me a single gentle lick on the back of my arm to wake me, then wait politely for me take her out to the garden ... happily now we are home again, she has settled back into her old routine of sleeping in the kitchen - although she isn't yet going to bed quite as willingly as she did on holiday!

We had a wonderful time in Cornwall with Polly, hiking from Swanpool to Nansidwell, across the Lizard Peninsula to Kennack Sands, along the coast path from Sennen Cove to Lands End and along the South West coast path at St Mawes.  We visited castles, beautiful English gardens, quaint villages and beaches - in fact the only place Polly didn't manage to visit was the local supermarket to stock up on supplies!

Holidaying with your dog is a very different experience from holidaying without, but if you are happy to work around a few minor limitations and plan your holiday with your dog in mind, it can be great fun!  We'll certainly be doing it again ... and again ... and again!

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Strangers don't stay strange for long

It's been pretty hot here today - the kind of day when our beautiful blue skies could give the Mediterranean a run for its money!  Before we set off for the dog school field this morning, I cooked a couple of moist chicken breasts and chopped some cucumber to try and help Polly stay hydrated during treat training.  Fortunately she loves veg, so as far as she was concerned, that cucumber was a welcome thirst quenching addition to her treat bag!

Polly 'stop'!

A year ago I was really nervous about joining an obedience class.  Having never been a 'joiner' and having spent my entire adult life avoiding group situations, the thought of an instructor, strangers with dogs and a completely new skill to learn, filled me with dread.  Thankfully, I soon learned strangers don't stay strange for long because most people are very understanding and supportive of newcomers ... and of course, dogs really don't care about human inhibitions as long as they are having fun!

By six months of age, even though I had tried hard to teach her the basics myself, I knew Polly was in need of more formal training if I was to help her become a polite, happy dog.  Ultimately, that was what convinced me to push myself way beyond my comfort zone and pluck up courage to send an email to instructor Kevin. We had a friendly, informative one-to-one meeting at my house which quickly identified how we could progress and by the end of our chat, I had agreed to watch one of his classes in action; a real eye opener when I visited and began to understand there was a whole heap of stuff to learn!  A couple of weeks later, Polly and I were introduced and the process of being taught how to become a dog trainer began ...

It has been a year of ups and downs that's for sure, but we've both learned so much from Kevin and the group members (and their dogs!)  Naturally, we occasionally have 'off' days and that long winding lane to the field still makes me anxious whenever I approach it in my little car, but all in all, the benefits to Polly's understanding and also to my confidence, make the occasional more taxing challenge, worth tackling.

My current challenge is to cement Polly's understanding of what I need from her when she becomes over excited so that her exuberant goldie play doesn't overwhelm other less bumptious dogs.  She is improving all the time, but these goldies take their play very seriously and boy, do they love to romp with other dogs!!!  Hopefully she'll calm a little as she matures, but in the meantime, I was pleased today when my lively girl played without jumping on the other dogs and recalled promptly from play each time.  In the main, I think I have lovely Dudley, Sue's beautiful black lab, to thank for this week's play improvement; he was so generous with Polly on our walk in the woods earlier this week, allowing her to bounce into him a couple of time times before correcting her when she overstepped the mark - his reaction seemed to help her begin to understand what was acceptable play and what wasn't and she quickly adjusted her behaviour.  Steady dogs it seems, make great teachers.

When I look back to being yanked around the field a year ago and compare those exhausting, stressful days to Polly's polite, controlled, enthusiastic agility circuit today, I see solid improvement in both her understanding and her response to me ... which hopefully means she sees a big improvement in me too!  Also, when I look back at the sense of anxiety and inadequacy I experienced at the start of our obedience training last August and compare that to enjoying the relaxed, friendly banter among our group and sharing fun activities with Polly today, I think it's fair to say, me 'n my girl have come a long way together thanks to the help of a knowledgeable instructor (thanks for your patience Kevin!) and a friendly group of people sharing a common goal.  I don't think I'll ever be a 'joiner' at heart, but I have learned that when it really matters, it pays to set aside inhibitions and join with like-minded people.  You'll learn your subject and if you're lucky, may even make new friends in the process!


Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Belly flops

As we approached along our local lane today, a rather handsome goldie dropped to his belly and waited for us. Polly walked calmly towards him to introduce herself nose to nose.  There was a brief moment when excitement bubbled up and she gave a hopeful little play jump, but when he didn't respond, she simply sat, waited for him to rise, then walk on calmly with me, while I chatted with his owner.

And the reason I mention this?  Well, usually Polly is the oncoming belly flopping dog!  When she is on the lead and dogs approach on a narrow lane, she often targets them, lowers her head, freezes, then drops to her belly.  When the oncoming dog reaches us, she may then choose to leap up unexpectedly, presumably to invite play/introduce herself/let them know she's bigger than they think (draw your own conclusion, I'm really not sure which!)  Whatever her reason, I'll admit, this is not my preferred way to greet strangers.

After ploughing through several dog behaviour books, I have drawn the conclusion it is quite possible Poll becomes anxious on her lead when dogs approach head-on along narrow pathways; apparently head on approaches are not polite in doggy etiquette!  So, to try and help her, I have recently been encouraging her to respond to a 'watch' command when I spot an unfamiliar dog ahead to claim her focus, following it through with either a swift u-turn, or a 180 degree turn into a sit, so her back faces the approaching dog and her interest in him  can be diverted by me until he passes.  It's easier said than done though, as timing is critical - if I don't engage her attention a split second before she enters her 'stalk' mode, I'm done for because she will tune me out, plonk herself down in the middle of the path and absolutely refuse to budge ... and we're talking one very determined, heavy girl nowadays!

It's early days, but I have noticed an improvement this week, Polly seems to be thinking about the situation and looking for guidance from me, rather than just reacting to whatever is ahead, so with patience and plenty more encouragement, hopefully we'll eventually manage to iron out the unwelcome belly flop between us.

In the meantime, if you happen to be walking along a narrow lane and notice rather erratic behaviour from a peculiar lady walking a cream goldie ahead of you ... please don't call the men in white coats!
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