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!


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