It's been a while since I wrote an update about how Polly's training is progressing, so while her foibles are still fresh in my mind after our morning walk, I'll ramble on about a couple of things which I am sure most goldie owners have probably experienced ...
We are fortunate enough to have a beautiful park where we live, which, once you've navigated beyond the car park and kiddies play area, is perfect for dog walking. This morning Polly hopped into my car, lifted her paws obligingly to have her doggy seat belt fastened, then sat regally on the back seat as we drove through town, trying her hardest to catch the eye of following drivers; she's such a flirt.
Poll loves the park, but if I'm honest, I sometimes feel a bit anxious when I walk Polly in the park by myself. I walk her on a harness with a long training lead to ensure she doesn't make a pest of herself with other dog walkers and then spend most of our walk, talking myself in and out of allowing her off lead freedom and while I dither, it seems every other dog in the park is happily bumbling around off lead, without their owners appearing in the least bit concerned!
It's probably daft to worry, as Polly recalls pretty reliably these days (even if she's not always quite as prompt as she should be!) she never wanders away too far, is dog friendly and more often than not, she's obedient. However, there have been rare occasions when her ladyship's tail has tucked between her legs, her jaw jutted forward and with immense determination, she has raced at near Ferrari speed, across a field to greet another dog without my permission. It's never been a real problem, just a little embarrassing to have the dog I have religiously trained for well over a year, completely ignore me! Embarrassment aside, I have read much about not allowing your dog to approach other dogs in case the other dog is 'reactive', not to mention the potential for disaster if your highly sociable, dog/people friendly dog, opts to flout months and months of training and chooses instead to put two paws up to the recently tightened UK dog legislation, by making an introduction to a potential new doggy pal, rather than remaining diligently by her owner's side.
As an only child (!) Polly's entire mission in life (aside from eating, she is a goldie after all!) is to play with other dogs. Having a friendly girl is a delight, but also makes training hard work. She knows her obedience stuff pretty well now, walking to heel off lead like an angel on the training course and trotting along obediently by my side in the big wide world when asked, but breaking her of the impulse to race over to other dogs is proving to be a job and a half, to say the least! Heaven help me if she's on her lead when she spies another dog across a field because she will plonk her significant five+ stone onto the ground, refusing to budge an inch in an effort to get her own way. Believe me, I've tried all the usual 'positive reinforcements' you can think of to get her moving again ... cheese, sausage, squeaky high pitched praise, toys, cajoling ... you name it! I have also been firm, cross, determined - all to no avail. When Poll establishes that the dog isn't likely to play with her, she quickly pops back up and walks politely again, but not until she is absolutely certain she has tried every trick in the Naughty Dog Handbook, to outwit me first.
The problem is Polly is a clever girl who quickly learned that plonking brought owners and their dogs over to say hello and of course, sometimes she got lucky by being allowed off lead to play with a new friend after initial introductions. Now of course, she is absolutely certain ALL dogs NEED to be played with, whether or not she is on her lead. Never one to give up the fight, I have started trying to use 'Polly's Plonk' to my advantage by turning it from a plonk into a 'down stay'. I may not always be able to get her to walk immediately away from her plonk, but a 'down stay' does at least seem to stop her from springing up to play, giving me time to speak to owners to establish if they are happy to have my boisterous girl engage with their dog. It also gives me a chance to ask owners to ignore us sometimes!
On the plus side, as I just said, Polly's Plonk also occurs off lead. I have noticed she often plonks halfway on a dash to meet a new dog, I think probably to give herself time to weigh them up and consider whether or not to run the rest of the way to introduce herself. As she won't recall from a plonk or very determined dash yet, I've started to bellow 'stay' rather than 'come' when she does this and she has surprised me several times by remaining plonked long enough for me to reach her with a lead ... on one occasion, even staying down long enough for me to walk past her to speak to an owner, then return to Polly's side to give her a 'go play' command - that really was progress!
I have read about the goldie 'plonk' on Golden Retriever forum's - much to the amusement/annoyance/frustration/confusion of goldie owners, it seems to be quite a common behaviour in this lovely breed and the general consensus is these gloriously friendly retrievers plonk to show approaching dogs they are no threat, they would just like to say hello and have a romp. So, if you can't beat a behaviour, could the way forward be to work on putting it to better use? Let's hope so, because this particular behaviour can be a plonking nuisance at times!!!
I think overall, I probably worry too much about meeting other people on our park walks and should perhaps be braver when it comes to allowing Polly to mingle. When we walk in quiet countryside Polly is happy off lead and doesn't give cause for concern, the same when we are at obedience school mixing with other dogs in class off lead walks - yet when we walk at our local dog walking parks, I tend to revert to an over protective doggy mum, treating my otherwise reliable girl like an unpredictable toddler. All things considered, this is probably a bit unfair.
Anyway, back to our morning walk today; I am happy to tell you, Polly met a handsome seven year old setter called Bob at the park and was invited by his owner to romp. They had a fabulous time racing around off lead together as we walked and chatted. When it came to time for us to go our separate ways, Polly recalled like a good girl, leaving Bob to his own devices without so much as a backward glance. A little further on, two extremely beautiful German shepherd pups bravely ventured over to say hello and as Polly was on her long lead by then, I spoke to their owners and we agreed it would be lovely for all three to play and they had a wonderful time fun running round in crazy circles together.
Incidentally, the German Shepherd pups' recall was AMAZING! At just six and seven months of age, those gorgeous boys whizzed back the moment they were called, bringing Polly with them - such clever dogs! No three/four/five second delay for them while they made up their minds (yes Polly, I am talking about you!) those fabulous boys flew jet speed back to their Dad and I must admit, I experienced a little green twinge of recall envy!!!