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!

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