Monday, 16 February 2015

About turn..

What better way to spend a Sunday afternoon in February?!

Sunshine, our beautiful Kent countryside, fresh, crisp air. Perfect.

Polly loved her visit to White Horse Country Park yesterday.

The area undulates, so walking was steep in places but downhill was fun ... I think Polly surprised even herself on the descent during one very enthusiastic recall, when she failed to engage her brakes early enough!

I love quiet walks in areas like this, when Polly can go off lead to explore without me having to worry about other dogs and their owners.  Poll's always at her most responsive and relaxed on these days.

How I'd love to live somewhere where our walks could always be so relaxed! 

We live in an area heavily populated with dog walkers, so quiet time is precious.  Despite working hard to train a 'U-turn' and 'watch' command with clicker, treats and general encouragement, if she's on her lead, Polly still isn't always comfortable with other dogs appearing head-on along the narrow lane we usually walk along to reach our local woods and fields.  At the moment, if another dog is walking along the lane, our U-turn requires a reasonable distance to put into effective use - we need to see the dog ahead to give us time to act quickly if I think it may be necessary to change direction.  Unfortunately a couple of unrestrained dogs rounded a blind corner recently, sparking Poll's insecurity (or maybe protective instinct?) and resulting in unwelcome barking/lunging, which is a new behaviour for Polly ... (note to self: even though she didn't react adversely on our walk with Autumn last week - see previous post - could this be a copycat behaviour?) Needless to say, this incident has made me a bit wary of meeting dogs unexpectedly along the lane at present, so I'm going to alter our weekday route for a few days, to give us both a chance to regain our inner 'on lead' calm again!

It seems that no sooner do you achieve success in one aspect of dog training (for us, I'm pleased to say off lead recall on our walks is now providing an opportunity for some lovely fun time together), something else then pops up to test your understanding of one another!

Monday, 9 February 2015

Walking on the wild side

Lots more walking this weekend!  

First, on Saturday, another controlled walk with my sister's rescue German Shepherd, the beautiful Autumn, to give her the opportunity to discover a little of the big wide world and hopefully make further calm acquaintance with Polly.  Much to Polly's delight, Bugsy also came along with Fo's fiance, Simon.

As Autumn is fearful of other dogs, reacting by lunging and barking if they come too close or behave unpredictably, we walked all three dogs on leads, taking care to give Autumn as much space as she needed.  We picked a quiet spot to meet in our local park, well away from the main visitors' areas and somewhere we could spread out.  Autumn borrowed one of Polly's front fastening 'Perfect Fit' harnesses to try to help calm her ... and to give Fiona better handling control, as she is a very strong dog.  The harness definitely seemed to have a beneficial effect on Autumn's stress level and it was lovely to see her dropping her nose to follow interesting sniffs from time to time as we walked.

We steered well clear of dogs off lead, to try to help Autumn remain as calm as possible, because at the moment simply being in an environment where there are a few other dogs at a distance in the area, is plenty enough of a learning curve for her.  Poor Autumn's stress levels soar if she feels other dogs are too close for comfort.  Despite her high anxiety at times, the change in Autumn's behaviour this week was marked and it was noticeable she was trying hard to respond to Fiona's instruction, even whilst stressed.  She is learning commands and 'sits and downs' beautifully, so Fiona interspersed the walk with several mini obedience sessions to help her focus and stay calm and all three dogs did as instructed whilst in close proximity - Simon's tasty liver cake worked its magic!

At nine years of age, Bugsy is an old hand at teaching young dogs their manners and is a fabulously clever boy.  He trotted along, keeping a steady pace and staying calm throughout - I am convinced that after all the changes in her life, Bugs knows Autumn now needs a steady calm big brother; she seems to draw comfort from his presence.

As for Polly, I made sure we arrived early so she had a good run off lead on the football field chasing seagulls to her heart's content, before it was time to meet Bugsy and Autumn.  I then called her back in plenty of time to put on her lead and avoid having her race over to greet them in her usual excitable goldie way.  Simon brought Bugsy to say hello to Polly first and Fiona followed a little later with Autumn at a distance.  We were able to reduce the distance between Polly and Autumn quite early in our walk this week, so it felt like progress had been made! 

I opted to let Polly have a little more freedom by using a 5 metre retractable lead, to give her the opportunity to read Autumn's signals and react accordingly, with a little guidance from me, if necessary.  I was delighted with Polly's behaviour; she's usually so bouncy but this time, understood the need to stay calm, very quickly.  I even noticed her curving away from Autumn without me having to tell her, as though she was self-monitoring.  Autumn tried a sniff of welcome once or twice but then became anxious, snapping and lunging at Polly when the proximity suddenly overwhelmed her; but when that happened, Polly ignored her, turned away, came close to me and sat when asked - she didn't respond at all.  A positive by-product of walking with Autumn is that she seems to be helping to fine tune Polly's awareness of other dogs' needs ... so at the moment, both our girls are hopefully learning from one another in a mutually beneficial way.

I am conscious that walking Polly with Autumn is challenging for her, so on Sunday, made sure we had a lovely couple of hours walking in the woods, with plenty of off lead time to give Polly the chance to let off steam squelching in muddy puddles, chasing through trees, racing after sticks, finding treasure and poking her nosy doggy nose into den holes!  I landed up with a very tired, very muddy dog, but Polly had an absolute blast!


Monday, 2 February 2015

A megalith and a new friend

Two contrasting walks this weekend, the first an interesting one with my sister and her beautiful new rescue, German Shepherd Autumn ...

Autumn is settling into her new home with Fiona well, but finding meeting new dogs a bit scary at the moment, so to try and help her overcome her anxiety, we met at a quiet open spot in our local parkland to work on walking our girls at a distance on leads, with the intention of gradually reducing the space between them if Autumn became able to tolerate closer proximity.

We let the dogs tell us what distance they felt able to cope with and it did take a while before Autumn started to let her guard down, but with plenty of encouragement and several training breaks along our way round the perimeter of the park, gradually the distance between Polly and Autumn began to reduce quite naturally.

And eventually, after about four miles of careful trekking through the mud at an ever decreasing distance, both dogs were at last able to give one another a brief and calm doggy sniff of welcome!  Once that had been taken care of, it didn't take too much longer before we noticed Autumn allowing Polly to walk respectfully alongside her.  We were delighted when eventually Fo was able to give both dogs a mutual 'sit/stay/down' mini training session and I even managed to snap a couple of discreet pics to celebrate the moment, while Autumn wasn't looking.  Hopefully with a few more walks like this, Autumn will begin to relax and not worry quite so much about meeting other dogs on her walks.  It was hard work, but a good exercise for both dogs and we are hopeful our girls might be able to cement their budding friendship more fully one day ... fingers crossed!

Saturday's restrained training walk with Autumn was a big ask for Polly and I was very proud of how well my sociable girl coped, especially as she couldn't launch herself towards Auntie Fo to say hello as normal ... and she really, really loves Auntie Fo!  

So on Sunday, I decided to take Poll up to the top of Bluebell Hill to walk through the woods and across fields to the ancient megalith 'Kits Coty House', to let off her doggy steam ...

She ran across the fields, sniffed here there and everywhere, found sticks to carry and generally had a lovely busy time ... I loved seeing her having so much fun!

Well done Polly, you've done yourself proud this weekend.  
Good girl!
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