Thursday, 30 October 2014

Steps forward ..

We're loving our long Autumn walks ... the UK is ablaze with golden leaves right now and it really is a fabulous time for dog walks!

Polly's recall has improved in leaps and rather excitable bounds of late, which has meant she has been able to enjoy plenty of off lead time during our walks.

Like an anxious mum, I call her back the moment she dips out of sight and don't take my eyes off her for a moment - just like I used to with my children when they were first making their way in the world!  She's great at racing back to me now, is learning not to race too far ahead and has also started to check in from time to time without me actually calling her back, so I think it's safe to say she now has the hang of what's expected of her and the long months of recall training have paid off.  

Training is far from over though, as I think we still need to master a reliable emergency stop ... only then can I be confident I have done all I can to help Polly stay as safe as possible whilst off lead.  After speaking to our instructor today, I think we have the basic play elements in place to build an emergency stop but need to work out how to pull these together to teach Polly to develop fun time with mum on the playing field, into an impressive emergency stop ... 

I'm thinking this is probably going to be much easier said than done!


For the love of dogs

As far as Polly is concerned, Paul O'Grady's 'For the love of dogs' is required viewing in our house on Thursday evenings ...

She takes up her position by my slippers at 8.30pm each week, just in time to watch Paul and his Battersea dogs with me, from start to finish!

Friday, 17 October 2014

Let's do dog school!

As a confirmed 'non-joiner', if anyone had told me two years ago I would soon be training my own large dog at an obedience school,  I would have laughed aloud and told them 'don't be daft, not a hope!' ... which just goes to show how wrong you can be!

Agility: Polly 'over'!

When I adopted Polly as a roly poly seven week puppy, I really thought I would manage to train her on my own, but by six months reality struck and I knew I needed to be taught formally how to achieve the polite, happy dog I wanted.  I took the advice of my dog owning sisters and signed up for Kevin's obedience school: KS Dog Training  and happily, we haven't looked back since.

Agility: Polly 'steady'!

Those of you who have followed our school blog posts regularly over the past fourteen months (thank you!) have shared our weekly highs, lows, laughs and exasperation in all kinds of weather on the training field.  I confess, there have been times when I could happily have thrown in the towel and I am sure most owners training at school for the first time have probably felt the same way at one point or another during their dog's training.  Obedience training is hard work and unless you have a 'model student' (do they even really exist?!) it can be seemingly thankless in those early days!

Distance control: Polly 'sit'

For me, it was the little breakthroughs which gradually built my confidence and kept me coming back.  For example, one day Polly was noticeably paying attention during heel work practice, rather than doing her usual trick of dragging me to the nearest pile of rabbit poo ... a significant breakthrough!  Another time, after many months of practice, I finally decided to be brave and drop her lead during a heel walking session and she chose to stay by my side responding to instruction, rather than racing off to say hello to pals - definitely a momentous day for us both!

Distance control: Polly 'down'

Other worries I had about the responsibility of owning a large boisterous and extremely sociable dog, couldn't have been trained for anywhere other than within the safety of a school situation.  It took Polly a while to master the art of reading other dogs' body language and also to recall promptly from play, which of course meant I couldn't allow her off lead in public places without worrying myself silly about the potential consequences.  Kevin taught us how to create a solid recall, which in turn gave me the confidence to begin training Polly in public places, allowing her to exercise and play off lead where appropriate, in a controlled way.  We're still working on advancing her recall and I'd like to cement an emergency stop, but thanks to the training at school and daily practice on our walks, I now know I can allow Polly the freedom she needs, confident she will return to me.  

Distance control: Polly 'stand'

These days, at just eighteen months of age, Polly walks smartly to heel and copes well with all manner of traffic conditions on our 'pavement walks' and I don't mind admitting, I take a huge personal pride whenever someone compliments her on her lead behaviour - my polite girl has been hard earned!  She has come such a long way since the early days of pulling rudely on her lead and this is all thanks to me having been taught how to teach her effectively and kindly.  To start with, every day we followed up school heel walking lessons using a clicker and treats to reinforce good behaviour on our local walks.  Now that Polly is so good on the lead for me, I have phased out the clicker and most of the treats and instead make sure I give sufficient instruction and plenty of praise.  Training has become a way of life for us rather than just a weekly school session.  It has extended into every aspect of our life together, now that I have been taught to understand what Polly needs from me.

So, if you are reading this because you have recently adopted a lovely new puppy and you really aren't sure whether it's worth joining a dog training class ... please stop pondering!  Find a well recommended local instructor and BOOK THOSE CLASSES!  If you stick at your sessions, work hard and practice what you learn daily with your dog, I believe that ultimately, you can achieve a happier, more polite and much safer dog.

I'd like to take this opportunity say a big thank you to my instructor Kevin, for his hard work and endless patience with me 'n Polly ... we couldn't have come this far on our own.

PS: Many thanks for taking these pics Kevin! I am delighted to be able to share a little of what Polly gets up to on her school days here on our blog!


Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Our Autumn Family Tromp

Each Autumn, I love to gather my lot and my sister's lot together, to go for a big ol' family tromp through the beautiful estate of Knole Park in Sevenoaks.  We all meet in the car park with dogs in tow and set off with the intention of deer spotting, but these days, with three big dogs to deal with, the deer are understandably less willing to approach - and who can blame them!

Follow my leader!

Polly was beside herself with excitement as soon as she spotted Bugsy in his cage on the back of my brother-in-law's truck and when Auntie Fo and Simon stepped out, she couldn't contain her excitement, pulling me across the grass to meet them as fast as she could ... there was no verbal command in the doggy obedience handbook firm enough to hold her back!

My husband and Polly

Marley, my niece's lab, arrived a few minutes later, sending Polly's excitement level soaring even higher, so by the time we started walking, Polly was full of beans!  The scent of deer soon brought her inner sniffer dog to the fore, at which point I decided to let my husband take the strain!

My sister and Bugsy

Dogs are required to stay on their leads at Knole Park because of the deer, so we couldn't let them run off their excitement, we just had to bear the brunt until they settled into their stride.  Once Polly relaxed a little, I popped her on her long training line and she had a thoroughly lovely time sniffing the ground frantically, while Bugsy the German Shepherd made sure everyone stayed close together and Marley the lab hauled my poor nephew-in-law relentlessly around most of the park!

Polly enjoying her walk

Not only did we have husbands, daughters and my sister's son-in-law with us, my two year old great-niece also donned little Peppa Pig wellies to join us.  She loves walking outdoors and when she tired, happily took in the view from her carrier on good old Grandad's back.

Ella and Grandad

We all enjoyed our Autumn tromp and the dogs had a super time.  Poor ol' Bugs was a bit over stretched towards the end of our walk because at nine years of age, he's not as young as he used to be and it was a pretty long walk.  Next time, we'll make sure we don't walk him quite as far and maybe take a few more rest breaks along the way.

Marley with my niece and her husband

As for Marley, I think he probably went home every bit as lively as he arrived ... I'm sure he has Duracell batteries in him somewhere!

Polly was in her element with her best doggy pals AND most of her favourite people out together in the same place on the same day - she couldn't have been happier!

And if you were wondering, yes we did spot some deer!  In fact they were so gentle, my daughter and little Ella even managed to feed them a few nuts while the dogs sat patiently.

By the time we completed a circuit of the park, we were all very ready for a hot drink at the kiosk, before wending our way home.

We've decided we need to return to Knole in the next few weeks so that my son and his fiance can join us before it gets too cold.  We had to go without them this time because they were busy welcoming my first grandson into the world ... I can't wait for him to come out walking too!

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Using the training lead

One of the most frustrating things I've had to master with Polly's training, is teaching her to come back to me when I call.  Recall training has been hard work and took loads of time and patience to cement.  We were taught how to train for this at obedience school and from that, I added methods that seem to work for Polly.  I hope the information below might help other owners of young lively dogs who despair of ever being able to let them safely off lead!

To teach Polly how to recall safely during walks, I made sure to always give her a good lead walk first to tire her, before taking her to our local playing fields or similar 'safe' area (woods don't work with training leads, too many trees and bushes to get tangled in!) to train.  We used a 10 metre training lead fixed to a harness, a bag of special treats like cooked chicken, sausage or cheese and her favourite rope toy.

To start with, I kept hold of the training lead, gradually letting Polly have more length to explore with, but calling her back to me regularly for treats and games - especially if I spotted potential distractions (trying hard to make myself more interesting than the distractions wasn't always easy though!)  I soon became quite adept at scanning an area to spot distractions before Polly did and if I did spy a potential problem, used the opportunity to try to engage her with her favourite game of tug or fetch using the rope toy and rewarding her with a happy voice and a tasty treat (or several!) if she stayed focused on me. Polly is always excited to play with other dogs so there were occasions when I inevitably failed to maintain her attention and on those occasions I tried everything I could to encourage her to perform a task I knew she could do well, preferably something that would root her to the spot, like a 'sit stay' or a 'down stay', until that distraction passed, rather than allow her to drag me across the field to whatever caught her eye. 

When she became used to the format of wearing a long lead to explore and return to me and only if the area was quiet, I tried discreetly dropping the lead and encouraging her to jog alongside me with lead trailing, or walk alongside me, interspersing the movement with 'sits' and 'downs' etc., and rewarding her with treats - all the time trying to keep her focus on me before she realised she was free, rather than allowing her time to dwell on the fact her lead had dropped. I also instigated games of chase ... her chasing me that is!

Once she would perform with the lead trailing reliably, I began to allow her to explore a little further afield, calling her back before she ventured far. If the worst came to the worst and she raced over to say hello to another dog, I followed hot on her heels, took hold of the end of the training lead and gently but firmly pulled, turning her towards me whilst calling her to 'come' to me, as I moved backwards. She eventually got the message that when I called, it was time to leave her fun and move towards me to be rewarded either with a treat, or a game with her rope toy ... or both!  

After much practice, I discovered I could at last drop the lead, give Polly a 'go play' instruction, then recall her after a short run, praising her massively each time she returned to me willingly with the lead trailing behind her.  Teaching her to play fetch at home also helped tremendously with this when we used it as part of recall training on the field ... she thought it was great fun to run after the ball and bring in back to me in return for a treat and as far as I was concerned, it was a fab way to keep her focus, give her exercise AND encourage her to return to me with her ball.  We've been training for over a year both at home and school and I am delighted to say Polly can now be let off lead in relatively quiet areas and I am confident she will come back to me, even if she does occasionally run halfway across the field!  By practising like this a little each day when our local fields weren't too busy with other dog walkers/children playing, gradually building up distance, time and distractions, using rope toy/ball games to help, the long lead has at last been virtually dispensed with and Polly is allowed more daily freedom to exercise and sniff.  Thankfully she now returns to me promptly most times when instructed and even when she's not quite as speedy as I would prefer, she does at least, always return!

Polly isn't perfect yet by any means, but her recall has improved considerably thanks to weekly obedience training at school and its implementation during our daily walks in a consistent, controlled, yet fun way, using the long lead, toys, treats and whatever else it might take for me to convince my intrepid explorer I'm well worth hanging out with!   In my experience the more effort I have put into engaging with Polly during our walks, the more effort she has put into listening to my commands.  We practice recall and keeping focus every single day and even though I am still conscious Polly might decide to race off to play with another dog, I am now confident that even if she does, she does actually want to come back to me when she's said her hello.

And interestingly, I have noticed recently when Polly does starts to run towards another dog, she usually pays more attention to my recall than she used to and has on a couple of occasions, even turned back before completing her mission to play!!!  This return is a very recent development and is still very fragile, but I am hoping it might mean our recall has the potential to take another step further forward.

Incidentally, when we visit local parks on busy days, or go to places I am new to, I still use a training lead to allow Polly freedom to explore and walk at her pace, rather than mine.  We much prefer it to a retractable lead (Polly hates the noise of the retractable and I don't like the heavy mechanism).  There are always situations when being off lead just isn't appropriate, so the long training lead is handy to keep in our ever expanding collection of doggy paraphernalia!

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Harnessing success

One of those training days when everything just worked! No traffic along windy narrow country road, no rain and best of all no need to wonder what it's all been for, because today my clever girl worked hard and showed me exactly what all our hard work has been for ...

Yes, she slipped her mooring to say a brief hello to new pal Jenson during agility practice, but aside from that momentary doggy misdemeanour, Miss Polly was on good form today, working hard for me throughout the full hour and a half and having a super time on the group walk with her pals.  For the first time, Poll even completed a full 'down stay/out of sight' with me popping behind a car to hide (thanks to Kevin for giving me the nudge to take that final plunge and hide) and her off lead, close heel work, made me very proud of her indeed ... *insert proud mum grin here*!

Maybe some of today's success was down to Poll's smart new 'Perfect Fit' harness?  She took to this new, super robust, fleece lined harness, straight away (and believe me, if she doesn't like a harness she quickly lets me know by slinking away to a corner and sulking when I try to put it on her!) I decided we'd test drive this one at school today and am happy to say she seemed very comfy in it as she bombed around the field with her pals on our group walk ... and it really does fit perfectly!  The harness withstood a circuit of the agility course and didn't inhibit her one iota as she practised hurdling, weaving and racing over her favourite A frame.  A front fastening 'D' ring suits us well for heel walking with a double ended lead and as this harness doesn't shift around on her back with use, I will definitely be putting the strong back 'D' ring to good use by attaching a long training lead to it for future countryside walks.  

I have occasionally walked Polly on collar and lead and although she does walk reasonably politely that way, she seems so much happier wearing a harness and I feel it is a kinder way to walk with her.  I am delighted to have at last found one that fits Polly so well and is really robust ... with such a big strong girl, robust is most definitely good!

It has been a very good day for us today.  
Well done my Polly, and thank you - you have been such a good girl!


Wednesday, 1 October 2014

An expert trainer

 When a husband undertakes DIY tasks about the home, particularly plumbing, I have found the safest course of action is to head outside!

So during Saturday's shower installation, Polly and I ducked out and drove through the beautiful Kent countryside to spend the afternoon at my sister's house in Wormshill.

Polly absolutely LOVES visiting Auntie Fo and is always very excited to catch up with her favourite boyfriend, Bugsy the German Shepherd.

Bugsy is always a perfect gent with Polly.  He is a calm, gentle fellow, a terrific teacher.  In fact, when Polly steps out of line Bugsy just barks her right back onto it!  She defers to his senority and there is no question when you watch them play, Bugsy is boss.  That said, there is also no doubt that Polly has brought out his inner puppy!  It is lovely to watch them together and to see nine year old Bugsy cast aside his adult reserve and invite his cheeky young girlfriend to play, by bowing, nudging and pawing with her.

I snapped these photos as we sipped coffee after a long off lead romp through local woods and across fields ... as you can see, our dogs were so pleased to see one another, they were still full of beans when we arrived back home!

They did eventually run out of steam and settle inside with us for a kip.  Bugsy is a good bit older than Polly, so she woke first and gave him an occasional sniff to see if he would wake and play again.

While he continued his snooze, Polly took full advantage, sneaking a good ol' back scratch from Bugsy's mum ... Auntie Fo gives the best back scratches!

By the time Bugsy did wake, my two nieces had joined us, together with my sister's two year old Granddaughter.  Little Ella is very confident with large dogs and both Polly and Bugsy behave impeccably with her.

Aside from mastering recall, my biggest training hurdle during the past year, has probably been Polly's boisterous play with other dogs, yet with the right trainer, Polly understands the rules and is well mannered, playful, receptive... 

Trainers, I have learned, don't always come in human form.

Thank you for all your help Bugs.  
You are a very special and generous dog trainer. 
A true expert in fact!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...