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!


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