Thursday, 22 October 2015

Urban Training

Adding a puppy into our family has thrown up one or two behaviour issues with Polly, just to keep me on my toes!  Polly has been super with Betty from the get-go and they are the very best of playmates, but when I started walking the two girls together on their leads, Polly took it upon herself to let on-coming dogs know she was in charge and they had better back up.  She told them this by barking and lunging at them as they tried to pass us.  This is of course, unacceptable, embarrassing and a right pain in the you-know-where, so I decided to tackle things head on, by trying to change how Polly perceived the threat of on-coming dogs. I used tasty treats and a clicker to reinforce calm behaviour when dogs appeared ahead and have been gradually able to reduce the distance between any oncoming dogs and us, as Polly desensitizes.  If an exit was available nearby, I also used a 'turn' command to distract Polly so we could change direction, away from the oncoming dogs; after all, there's no point creating opportunities for potential conflict if it's not absolutely necessary.  Polly has begun to understand that I will make the decision about how we deal with dogs on our walks, not her. We have reached a stage now where, most of the time she will now look to me for treats and direction if she spies a dog ahead, so long as I time my instructions well.  This is still a work in progress, but recently we have managed to avoid conflict (thankfully!) and have even passed several dogs on our walks without incident.  So far so good!

Alongside my own efforts to train Polly out of being over protective, I decided it might also benefit us to join with a small group of owners who train in 'real life' situations.  This involves meeting at a different venue each time.  We met with them last week for the first time and were put through our obedience paces by ex-guide dog instructor Sam, in the middle of what is an extremely busy town.  I wasn't sure what to expect from Polly after her recent behavioural 'blips', but am relieved to say, she was amazing!  I really couldn't have been more proud of her as she walked up and down steep, narrow steps into dark, echoey subways closely by my side and under very steady control, then walked patiently behind the other dogs along bustling pavements without batting an eyelid at sirens, traffic noises, pelican crossing beeps, people, prams ... you name it, she encountered it! What amazed me most of all though, was when we were asked to weave in tight proximity through the line of other dogs - Polly focused completely on me and didn't attempt to engage with any of them, even though they were nose to nose with my usually dog crazy girl!  She really was a credit to her previous obedience training with Kevin.

We will  meet up with the 'Real Life' group again next week, to walk along a busy main road and then into a popular park for some 'free running'.  After Poll's epic recall fail yesterday, I really don't know what to expect from her at the park, so all I can do is practice as usual on our daily walks this week and then ... it's over to you Polly Dog!

Fingers/paws crossed!

Obedience, Betty Stylie

I hope you enjoy this pic of little Betty Boo taken by our instructor Kevin during a recent class ... (thanks Kevin!)

Betty has taken to obedience school like the proverbial duck to water and especially loves the agility course. We are of course limiting jumps and avoiding the big A-frame to protect her growing joints, but she still has plenty of fun balancing on the baby see-saw/walkways and jumping through hoops/over low hurdles.  She is mastering weave poles too, but her favourite pieces of equipment are the tunnels; she learned the word 'tunnel' quickly and is always eager to show me how clever she is at racing through them!  Today she completed each circuit of agility equipment under control off lead and walked between each group of equipment on the field neatly to heel, down & sit staying when asked and recalling between tasks promptly when instructed.

Our nightly pavement lead walks have started to pay dividends in the heel walking session too.  Each evening I have been teaching Betty how not to pull like a steam train on her harness, to wait at each kerb before we cross a road, sit when asked and turn when I give her the instruction.  Incidentally, she has also learned to 'go wee' on command which is pretty darned handy, let me tell you!

I really couldn't ask any more of my five month old pup at the moment; she is a joy to train, great fun and a proper little sweetheart!


Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Recall, that old chestnut.

Despite a stinking chest cold and heavy rain, I drove my girls to a local green space today, thinking it would at least be quiet enough to allow them to run and play in the long grass.  When we arrived, there wasn't a soul to be seen, so I took the opportunity to unclip their leads and let them run and stuff their doggy noses into rabbit holes, never once taking my eyes off them.  I did of course, interrupt their fun as any responsible dog trainer should, with frequent whistle/verbal recalls and obedience commands ... which I might add, they responded promptly to.

After a while, we changed direction, just in time to spot a large lab's ears, pricked perkily in our direction through the long grass. Polly also spotted it and before I could reach for her collar, shot off at rocket speed through the grass.  Betty skipped behind, with me bringing up the rear and cursing myself as I followed in hot pursuit.  First mistake I made?  I hadn't been on my guard - the girls were recalling well and because of the awful weather, I assumed we were still alone. Second mistake I made?  I relied on my verbal command 'come', rather than remembering to blow merry hell out of my whistle straightaway.  Third mistake I made?  Miss perky eared lab was playful and eager to run with Polly, which my girl instantly deduced. I made the mistake of assuming Miss Perky Eared, off-lead lab, might at least have a sympathetic owner as I hurried towards them ... er, no. Schoolgirl error!  Miss Perky Eared lab raced merrily along the path with my two in hot pursuit, then raced back towards her owner. Great I thought, thinking my girls would at least recall from play as trained and run to me once the initial introduction had been made.  However, rather than actually return to her owner, the lab charged past him at alarmingly close quarters, with Polly in her footsteps. I bellowed at Polly, so she stopped running and returned to me (thankfully Betty had already skipped towards me and skirted round the other owner as she prefers not to get too involved with the big 'uns).  Miss Perky Eared Lab also stopped running as soon as I bellowed and returned to her owner ... at which point I was fairly and squarely told off by the exceedingly disgruntled fellow and instructed in no uncertain terms to 'get my dogs under control!'

So, two years of hard work and a zillion positive off lead experiences, wiped out in a matter of seconds.  Interestingly, in hindsight, the lab's owner never once called his own dog back to him, despite the fact she was also having a whale of a time and wasn't exactly what you might call 'in control' either.  However, I took my dressing down on the chin because my girls should not have run over to his dog in the fist place without permission (in an ideal world).  Regrettably I have yet to discover the training technique which guarantees the obedience of two playful young Goldies when invited to play by another sociable, off lead dog, but the bottom line is, my girls approached his dog initially and although his dog was friendly, the owner was far from it.

For those who read my blog regularly, you will know how much store I set by a sound recall and how hard I have worked for the past two years to achieve it with Polly, whilst also working to socialise and exercise her appropriately.  You will also know I have put my heart and soul into our training and that I would never willingly allow a situation to arise where my dog might offend anyone.  I hope you also understand that I am always kind and as helpful as possible towards other owners of overly sociable dogs, who struggle to find a perfect quiet place to work on their obedience and safety training and who might sometimes interfere with our walk.  In my defence, I would like it known I work really hard to balance training, exercise needs and other owners' entitlement to enjoy walks and I constantly review my dogs' training needs as well as my own.  Each day I take my girls to carefully selected spaces, where we train on every single walk, without fail. I do my utmost to ensure they are polite and responsive at all times.  However, I think it only fair to say that although they are clever and well behaved almost all of the time, they are dogs, not robots and as such are full of fun and instinctive canine curiosity ...

I wish I could have explained all that to the other owner, but given the circumstances, it seemed more appropriate to let him believe I'm a sloppy, irresponsible dog owner, clip my girls' leads on, mutter an embarrassed apology and slink quietly away ... with my tail between my legs.

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