Friday, 26 September 2014

Obedience: the pros and cons

Waking up with the a migraine didn't bode well for this week's training session, so I swigged a couple of painkillers before Poll and I set off, thanked my lucky stars the roadworks on Detling Hill had been cleared away and kept my fingers crossed for a clear run along the narrow winding country road out to the training field ... (which for once, worked!)

It was one of those sessions when I came away afterwards feeling a little flat, as if we'd slipped back a bit.  However, when I put everything into perspective overnight, I came to the conclusion that wasn't quite fair of me.

So, here we go with a quick summary of our training pros and cons!


1: Great recalls on group walk.  Swift responses. Yay!

2: Happy friendly play on group walk, nothing overtly boisterous. Big group and new dogs to deal with too!

3: Sound focus and good effort on heel work on first course. Delighted with Poll's off leading - coming along nicely.

4: Big scary agility seesaw mastered. Well done Polly! Also nice steady walkway and speedy fun A frame. Managed a couple of fluid sequences of equipment groups and a several neat little recalls between tasks. When we finally identified her left shoulder (I'm easily confused!) Poll also did pretty well weaving the big poles.

5: Sits 'n stays with recalls and downs were reasonable - especially given close proximity of other dogs.

6: Although Poll was fidgety on her down stays from time to time, she did stay in situe each time when corrected - no racing off.

7: Shortening distance because of close proximity of other dogs and pals either side, meant Poll achieved formal 'down stay' for the duration of exercise. Phew!


1: I completely cobbled the directions for second heel work course and managed to tangle poor Poll's feet in her lead.  Oops!

2: Control sporadic on agility - felt as though I was battling at times when Polly sniffed determinedly and pulled.

3: Lost control on agility when Polly shot through tyre and across the field to say hello to a pal ... then repeated her escape to say hello to another pal a few minutes later!

4: Polly fidgety on her downs at times, pre-empting my return to her side by sitting before asked.

Now that I have read our list of pros and cons, I see the reason I felt a bit negative yesterday was mostly due to struggling with control during agility and feeling less than enthusiastic when Poll took matters into her own paws.  My little monkey seems to have reverted on the agility work lately and with a thumping bonce, it felt more of a challenge than usual.  On balance, our pros far outweighed our cons, but the cons were mainly control issues which I'd love to iron out, so after all the hard work we've put in, I was a wee bit frustrated.

They say dogs look like their owners but I'm not so sure about that, nonetheless I am learning that Polly is very much like me in nature ... she always puts a load of effort into the stuff she really enjoys, but will do whatever she can to avoid the rest!  (I seem to remember reading something similar from my English teacher on an end of term report many, many, years ago - I guess some personality traits never change eh?!)

More importantly than a list of pros and cons, Polly always tries her best at home with me and takes her cues from me.  When I think back to when we started obedience training just over a year ago, those four cons listed above now seem like minor nit picks.  One thing's certain, PE was never my thing at school, so maybe Poll feels similarly about some aspects of the agility course?!

One thing I do know for sure: my gorgeous girl is definitely no 'robo-dog' and I am far from a 'robo-trainer'!  I wonder if we are ever likely to reach that giddy obedience height?  Somehow I doubt it! Lol!

Monday, 22 September 2014

Polly's 'Paws in the Park'

As I've mentioned in previous posts, Polly is usually very excited by other dogs and this can make her anxious if they approach head-on while she's on her lead.  So when I spotted the 'Paws in the park' show taking place on Detling showground over the weekend, I decided to take Polly along and expose her to as many dogs as possible in one afternoon, on the strict understanding that if she didn't cope well, we'd hop back in the car and find something less challenging to do with our Sunday afternoon.

Being completely new to such dog related outings, my daughter and I were absolutely amazed by the number of cars parked for this show - it seemed every dog and his owner across the county and beyond was in attendance!

The second we left our car, Polly went on  full sniff patrol, forgetting her manners in her excitement at the many overpowering doggy smells, as she pulled hither and thither.  Rather than walk her on just a collar, we grabbed her harness from the boot of the car, put it on and then took her for a quick walk across the car parking field in an attempt to expel some excitement before making our way to the show entrance.

I can honestly say this show was a complete eye opener - never have I seen so many dogs, of so many sizes and varieties, in the same place, at the same time before!  At the outset the show was even quite overwhelming for me and my daughter, so we were well aware of how stressful such a visit was likely to be for Polly.

To begin with, we were keen to see how Polly would cope with so many on-coming dogs.  One thing was certain, there would be absolutely no opportunity to avoid them and if she decided to perform her usual belly flop to the ground, followed by a lunge every time a dog approached, we would make extremely slow progress!

Incredibly though, Polly walked calmly with Fay, taking the chaos in her stride and she didn't belly flop, not even once!  She passed hundreds and hundreds of other visiting dogs politely, either ignoring them if they didn't want to say hello, or greeting those who did with a calm, friendly and very gentle, nose to nose welcome.

After her recent duck chasing episode into our local park's lake (!) I confess to being slightly wary of allowing Poll to sit among a long line of dogs watching a herding display involving a clever collie, several kiddies and two brace of duck ... there were so many challenges involved in that particular set up for her!  Nothing ventured nothing gained though, so we took our place, asked Poll to sit and even though her ears pricked with excitement and she was completely glued to the display, she remained in place, didn't bark or lunge and thankfully just watched the fun, with no attempt to access those rather perky ducks!

We stayed at the dog show for almost three hours, watching dogs perform all manner of tasks, from herding, to searching, jogging, swimming, racing, chasing and even dancing!  As our confidence in Polly's behaviour grew, we explored inside the buildings with her, as well as the outside display rings.  Polly even sat like a good girl in one of the halls as we watched close heel work to music - boy are those dogs precise!  In the end though, it was Fay rather than Polly who disturbed the classical music heel work dance display - her mobile phone rang loudly splat bang in the middle of a performance!  Oops!

It seems to me we often only hear the worst of dog behaviour reported by the media, but yesterday afternoon thousands of dogs of all types and sizes visited the 'Paws in the Park' show at Detling and during our visit we only experienced friendly, calm, well behaved dogs.  In fact, we didn't spot a single incidence of aggression or rudeness.  It really was a pleasure to share this event with our dog and on a training note, I think the opportunity to be part of the crowd was of huge benefit to Polly.

Shortly before we left the show, we decided to give Polly a bit of a break from the demands of being on-lead, by allowing her to run freely in one of the exercise pens.  She raced around the pen at full pelt with a couple of dogs briefly, then calmed and began to introduce herself to the other dogs including an adorable Guide Dogs for the Blind puppy-in-training.  I was praying she would play nicely and not jump on anyone in her excitement at being free and was so pleased when she didn't let me down!  Oh and she recalled from her new pals when it was time to leave ...  Whoooop!!!!

I really didn't know what to expect when I suggested taking Polly to such a large, well attended show, but I am very glad we took the plunge.  Our girl coped far better than expected and we were immensely proud of her!

Saturday, 20 September 2014

There'll be blue skies over the White Cliffs of Dover

I'm not good at heights and sheer drops, so yesterday's walk along the White Cliffs of Dover under beautiful blue skies, in melting hot September sunshine, was guaranteed to test my nerve!

There wasn't a hope in hell of me letting Polly off lead - in fact if I could have glued her to my side I would have done!  Luckily for her, my husband is far less of a wimp and so she ambled along on her lead at his side as I tried my hardest not to nag too much about walking close to the edge.

As the day panned out, Polly was probably more at risk from heat exhaustion than cliff edges.  It was a hot, humid day, without so much as a whisper of breeze, so we carried water and made sure Polly rested and drank with us.  By the time we headed back to the car, Poll was tired and very hot, so when she'd finished drinking, I paddled her paws in the water bowl to cool her ... she liked that!

Even on the lead, Polly easily succeeded in outwitting my husband ... I bellowed as I trailed behind, but it was too late, despite her bath earlier in the week, Polly's shoulder swiftly dipped and before Stuart could do a thing about it, pretty Polly had become a poo smeared ponger!  Phwoar!

We punctuated our walk with a charming fine bone china cuppa and fresh baked cup cakes at 'Mrs Knott's Tearoom' at the White Cliff's lighthouse (Bonio and a couple of crisps for Polly) ... I highly recommend taking a pitstop there, it really was a lovely treat!

With the exception of her stinky poo roll and a rather disconcerted bark at a lady on the cliff who was wearing huge pair of dark glasses and a long black headscarf, Polly behaved beautifully all day and absolutely loved having the opportunity to sniff somewhere new and exciting!

If you'd like to walk along the White Cliffs and enjoy a good ol' fashioned cup of tea in a proper china cup, check out the link below:

Thursday, 18 September 2014

In the mood!

Back to school today and with the exception of a couple of minor attempts not to hear my commands, I am delighted to report Miss Polly did very well!  It seems the break from training last week has been good for her focus ... or perhaps it's the training we have been doing on our daily walks?!  Either way, I am absolutely thrilled with how her understanding is developing.

As regular readers will know, teaching my very sociable girl to come back smartly to me from play with other dogs, is something I have been determined to conquer from the start and it has been a long haul.  To watch Polly playing happily with seven lively dogs on the field today and have her return enthusiastically on each recall, was a real buzz!  Now that I know she will return to me when I call, I am beginning to allow myself to become a little more confident about allowing her to meet other dogs off lead and lately have allowed her to make friends with a few of the local dogs we meet on our walks, including a rather dashing greyhound, a bouncy red setter and a magnificent Golden Retriever called Harry - Polly was especially impressed with Harry, all a-flutter in fact! At last she seems to be grasping the need to play with other dogs on their terms and the overly boisterous stuff of previous months tends to be reserved for other golden retrievers ... boy oh boy, do those gorgeous goldies love to frolic together!

Our heel walking and 'down stay' practice is also paying off now and I can't tell you how delighted I was to complete both heel walking courses today with Polly mostly off lead, ignoring all the other dogs on the circuit - I was so proud of her!

Needless to say, I have learned from Polly that when she's had enough, it's best to call it a day and today, that moment happened towards the end of our hard working, rather warm session.  By the time it came to pallet work, which Polly can do almost standing on her head at home, she decided she was tired of being told to 'sit, down and stand', so sat on the pallet, performed a couple of rather sulky stands and downs with great reluctance, then ignored me totally until I saw reason!  Can't say I blame her really, I was tired, hot and sticky by then and if anyone had told me to up, down, down, up like a bloomin' yo-yo, I'd probably have gone on strike too!  

Training definitely requires give and take on both sides and when it comes to my very characterful goldie girl it might mean that it sometimes takes a little longer to reach our goals, but there is no doubt in my mind, we always achieve far more together when we are both in a good mood! :-)

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Days like this

Waiting in for couriers is the bain of poor Polly's life when there's a big wide world out just there waiting to be explored, woods to be sniffed, doggy pals to be made ...

Yesterday was such a day, so we played games while we waited for the doorbell to ring.

Polly's favourite game is 'tug' and she would happily play for hours if I was a more committed partner, but as there is only so long my arms can hold out against her determination, I've taught her to drop the tug rope on command, so we can incorporate 'fetch' into our tug game and give my arms a brief rest!

While we were waiting for the courier yesterday, Polly started to become a bit fidgety, so I thought we'd have a change from tug and put her nose to work with a game of 'find it' instead.

She had heaps of fun hunting for her favourite doggy biscuits under a blanket, putting her nose into serious sniffer action and using both paws and teeth to move the blanket in a concentrated effort to locate her treats.

By the time the courier arrived to collect my parcel, Polly had found all her hidden treats, played tug and fetch, barked at the bin men, enjoyed a lazy morning snooze (and a sneaky dig in my garden!) and was eager to go out for a long walk and a lovely bounce round the local playing field with a rather handsome young lab ... (well to be fair, which self-respecting girl goldie wouldn't?!)

I must admit, finding my 'work/dog entertainment balance' isn't always easy ... I'm way too much of a sucker for those beautiful, playful, brown eyes!

Monday, 8 September 2014

Always expect the unexpected!

I seem to be forever weighing up the responsibility of keeping my large, bouncy goldie safely on her lead by my side, against the need to allow her to exercise and enjoy running and sniffing freely and of course, the need to practice our recall ... believe me, this is not an easy balance to achieve if you live on the outskirts of a busy County town, rather than in wide open rural space.

On Sunday afternoon, we struck lucky walking through our local woods as there wasn't a single dog or person to be seen or heard ... it was really peaceful, so  I unclipped her lead and let Polly indulge in a favourite game, chasing sticks into the big muddy dip and retrieving them for us.

She was absolutely delighted to be free, racing into the dip to fetch sticks a couple of times, then returning them to Dad like a good girl the moment she was called ...

So why the pic of me on a bicycle?

Well, it's a token pic really, something to show I have absolutely nothing against cyclists.  As you see, I own a bike and have even been known to ride it on occasion ...

So back to our walk: the next stick was thrown into the dip, Polly dutifully charged down to collect it and raced back up the side to return it ... at which precise moment a cyclist appeared as if from nowhere and despite my belated bellow, my naughty girl showed me a clean pair of heels as, stick still in mouth, she ran alongside the cyclist ... who didn't stop cycling.

It's no defence I know, but to make myself feel better, I would like to point out here, that whenever we are walking and I spy a cyclist I ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS, move Polly to the side of the path, telling her to sit and wait until they pass - which she does beautifully and without question.  She never lunges, just waits patiently by my side.  I also always abide by the Highway Code by keeping her on a lead on cycle routes ... I try so very hard to be a responsible owner!

So, why, oh why, Miss Polly, did you race out of sight alongside the cycle yesterday afternoon, ignoring my 'come, come, COME HERE NOW POLLY' pleas, for what felt like an eternity (in reality, seconds) as I ran huffing and puffing behind you?!!!  Heaven only knows what that poor cyclist must have thought, but whatever it was, one thing is certain, they had no intention of stopping, so you disappeared down that winding path grinning from ear to ear, out of my sight within a second.

And on the subject of cyclists, I would like to say I completely understand it could be daunting, potentially dangerous, perhaps scary and definitely frustrating to have a large unknown dog running alongside on your Sunday afternoon bike ride through the woods and for that I sincerely apologise.  Yes, my dog should of course have been under control at all times, but for an instant we were surprised by you riding up behind me and Polly completely forgot her manners in her excitment.  In fairness you were cycling in an area well known locally as dog walking ground, rather than on a cycle route and we dog owners do have far fewer areas in which to exercise our dogs than you have available to you to cycle .. that doesn't give anyone a greater right of way, but I do think a little generosity of spirit on both parts is probably the best way forward.  I am certain you couldn't have failed to hear me calling repeatedly, not to mention whistling loudly and had you simply stopped pedalling for the briefest of moments, you would have allowed me the opportunity to recall Polly quickly and continued your lovely Sunday afternoon ride unhindered.

And to you Polly ...

Yesterday's bicycle incident was far from a perfect display of obedience and yes, I was disappointed by your instinctive urge to chase, but I do accept running alongside a moving bicycle was a probably far more exciting than chasing sticks and yes, you are absolutely right, I didn't see or hear the bike coming, so failed to give an instruction in time and in the split second you really needed me to tell you what to do, I let you down by giving you just enough time to make your own choice - and Polly, it has to be said, it was a really bad choice!  Searching for something positive to take from our experience, I can at least say I am eternally grateful you didn't bark, lunge or interfere with the cycle in any way, not to mention my relief that some element of the many long months of recall practice eventually penetrated your mischievous doggy brain as you flew along that path beside the cyclist (and thankfully, before you raced off to who knows where!) ...

Yes Polly, I truly thanked my lucky stars the moment you I spotted you running back towards me and my bag of cheesy treats - minus said cyclist!  Your recall may not have been immediate when surprised into chase, but at least it was in there somewhere - albeit eventually.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Eau de dog done good!

Going to write this obedience school post while today's delight is still fresh in my mind!

Group off lead walk went brilliantly with no overly boisterous play from my girl, just fun, fun, FUN with the other dogs, who were all having a fab time playing and racing around the field.  Recalls were good too, which was of course an added bonus ... but for me, today was all about a super group of friendly dogs playing happily together; so lovely to watch.

Heel work was good too! Polly turned on the charm, completing both courses with other dogs in fairly close proximity.  She worked mostly off lead and with fewer food treats than usual. Clever girl!

No problem either with sits, stays, downs, stays, formal recalls with 'downs' thrown in for good measure and we even completed a final down stay with distraction - yay Polly!!!

Agility however, was a different kettle of fish.  It started okay, but went downhill when Polly decided to make a break for it to have a romp with Elsie, another gorgeous goldie. From that point on Miss Polly went into sniff mode (incidentally, all the dogs were extremely interested in the scents on the course today, even more so than usual for some reason) and lost focus completely, so when we were invited to do a formal timed circuit, I bailed out.  This was partly due to Polly's lack of interest in agility today, but also partly because I really don't enjoy being in the spotlight ... (and yes, before you say it, I do know I'm a wuss!)

Agility aside, there was noticeable improvement in Polly's obedience and social skills today AND the drive up that narrow country lane was relatively free of traffic ... all in all, I can report a satisfying and productive school day for both owner and dog.

Poll's fast asleep at my feet as I write this post; like most youngsters, schooldays wear her out, probably exacerbated by the bath I subjected her to as soon as we arrived back home, to remove the 'Eau de rancid milk' cologne she rolled in during our walk on the playing fields this morning.
Phwoar, she might turn on the charm on the training field but boy oh boy, she can be a right ol' doggy stinker too!!!!
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