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!