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.