Friday, 11 October 2019

Lead etiquette

I was reading an online forum post yesterday, written by an owner of a young Golden puppy, she was asking for advice on dog lead etiquette after her poor pup had been bitten by an off lead dog on their walk. It put me in mind of when Polly was younger and bitten whilst on the lead and how that has since affected her lead behaviour in certain situations, so I thought I'd share my thoughts and experiences here, in the help they might help anyone else with similar issues as I know firsthand how a flare up on lead can easily knock both the dog's and the owner's confidence. 


The following tips are based on my own experience with Polly and the work we have done and continue to do, to help us cope better with lead walks. There will of course be other views on how best to cope with lead situations. I think it is a case of getting to know your own dog's potential responses to other dogs as well as you possibly can, building a strong bond with your dog and having the confidence to protect your dog adequately.


The following are my preferred methods of dealing with on lead situations:

Meets on lead can be fraught with potential problems as not all owners have good control of their dogs, some dogs are walked off lead and have little or no recall and not all dogs react well on a lead, causing them to be unpredictable when in close proximity to your dog. Bear in mind, being on lead puts your dog at a distinct disadvantage in confrontational situations as his option to take flight has been removed. 

Here are a couple of simple pointers I use for lead walking: I keep the lead as loose as possible and resist the temptation to pull tight if there is a dog ahead, to avoid giving my dogs the message there may be a problem looming they need to deal with. Secondly, if I do need to pass an oncoming dog, I give as much space as possible by curving away from the oncoming dog and owner as this is read as a non-threatening approach by most dogs. If you can't achieve a good space to pass, teach your pup to turn with you and walk back towards a wider space to allow safe passing. 

My girls have been taught to sit and wait for the other dog to pass quietly as this shows the other dog they don't wish to interact, however, bear in mind, this is a big ask for some dogs as it may make them feel vulnerable. In an ideal situation, my preference is to keep moving forward if there is sufficient space to do so safely, using an encouraging voice, loose lead, treats if necessary and putting myself between the dogs where possible. I also always say a friendly but brisk hello ahead of passing, so that my dogs hear I am in control on their behalf, relaxed and have decided it is safe to move forward.

I taught Polly and Betty a verbal 'walk on' instruction so they know not to greet without my permission whilst working, ie lead walking. I found obedience classes really helpful for this.

I think most dog walkers are far too polite when an off lead, oncoming dog suddenly appears on a path ahead. In the past I know I tried to pass loose dogs while Polly was politely on her lead. I kept my fingers crossed and reluctantly trusted owners who called out 'he's fine, don't worry!' It was rarely the best course of action in hindsight and often made my girl anxious to be faced with a potentially unpredictable dogs in narrow spaces such lanes, for example. Consequently, she would occasionally decide to lunge and bark, to tell the dog it needed to back off , which wasn't much fun for either of us. As my awareness and handling confidence improved, I learned it hadn't been fair of me to leave the decision to Polly; after all, I was her handler, her owner and therefore, should also be her protector. My advice now (hard learned!) is never be afraid to call out to request that an owner put their dog back onto the lead. If that owner refuses, stop calmly in your tracks, encourage your dog into a turn (better still, teach it as a verbal cue), then quietly retrace your steps away from that owner and their dog ... it may add a few more minutes to your walk, but far more importantly, it may also protect your dog from suffering a confrontation with an off lead, out of control dog, which puts both you and your dog at serious risk of injury.

If an approaching dog is off lead while yours is on lead but approaching calmly and slowly, you could try stopping where you are and giving it a moment to decide to return to his owner .. don't make eye contact, just show you don't intend moving towards him. Usually this will result in off lead dog stopping his approach, not always, but if he isn't racing up to you initially, just heading your way, it may work.

Always give the owner enough time to lead up before you begin moving forward.

Next scenario: when an on lead dog is heading your way and your own dog is off lead, what do you do? In my view dogs shouldn't be walked off lead unless they have a solid recall and owner can turn them quickly when necessary but many owners believe it is okay to walk their dogs off lead with minimal or no recall training. I know, go figure! So, most sensible dog owners will tell you, it is polite to put your dog back on lead if another dog on lead is being walked towards you as you really can't tell whether a leaded dog is likely to react to your dog being off leash, or how your own dog will react, so why risk a confrontation? If you want your dog to enjoy off lead fun (and they should!) work hard to train a good recall - being able to call him back to you safely and quickly will be the best thing you ever teach.

It can be very helpful to teach pups to greet when you give permission. My girls are given a 'say hello' cue when I am happy for them to interact and they wait for that cue to be given before going in for the nose to nose greeting. This gives me time to ask an owner if they mind their dog saying hello and it also has also taught my dog that we don't have to say hello to every dog we meet on walk, we can take our time in getting to know regular, friendly dogs and their owners instead.

Important to keep in mind: Blind corners can be very tricky areas between dogs on walks, so always approach such a corner slowly, listening really carefully for oncoming activity, before exposing your own dog ... most dogs prefer to have space ahead/around them and no surprises! Corner confrontations can be unexpected and the sudden flare-up horrible to deal with, so do try to keep your dog by your side, rather than ahead of your, whenever you approaching a corner.

Ditch your mobile phone! It always amazes me how many people are completely unaware of what is happening ahead of them and their dog simply because they are engrossed in their phone screen or are wearing headphones to listen to music (please don't get me started on that one!!!) Responsible, safe dog walking either on or off lead, requires the owner's total awareness at all times.

To summarise, there is a fine line between teaching your pup how to behave socially, but also how to stay safe. They aren't always good at reading other dogs' body language to start with, so it is important that you the owner, learn as much as possible about dog body language to help you see/sense the potential for problems arising on a walk. There are some great books on this topic available - if you are interested, I have listed some of my favourites if you scroll down the right hand column of my blog.


My apologies for such a long post, but I really wish I had this information when I first started lead walking with Polly six and a half years ago, rather than having to learn the hard way.

I hope this post is helpful if you are concerned about keeping your pup safe and also, being a polite, responsible dog walker.

Wishing you and your dog, safe, fun, happy walks!

:-)

Thursday, 10 October 2019

Destination Norfolk!

I have been holidaying in Cornwall for more years than I can remember, but thanks to many local dog bans on beaches making it so much more difficult to enjoy walks with my girls these days, I reluctantly decided that this year would be the perfect time for us to enjoy a change of scenery...


I began my search for the perfect dog friendly holiday online. Google makes finding holiday properties easy, but it is a bit like being a kid in a sweetie shop, there is so much choice it is almost impossible to decide on just one! Fortunately 'Pack Holidays' in Norfolk popped up as the ideal choice for us and our arrangements quickly fell into place thanks to the excellent service provided by holiday provider Gail.  We booked Gail's 'Oak Cottage' in East Ruston and when we pulled up at the gate on the first day of our holiday, we couldn't have been happier.


Polly and Betty immediately claimed the fabulous wrap around and completely secure garden as their own. They had a wonderful time playing chase while we unloaded and explored the house ... and what a house it was! Not only was it clean, comfortable, spacious, a definite 'home-from-home', it truly was the most dog friendly property we have ever had the pleasure of staying in, with everything a dog owner could possibly need provided, including home baked doggy treats, poo bags and would you believe it, dog showers and an actual poo bin!!!


 Once unpacked, we played with the dogs and settled in the garden to watch the sunset with a glass of wine, at which point Polly decided it was time to go home ... she hopped back into the car and bluntly refused to leave the comfort of the back seat. She would not be budged! I think as far as she was concerned, we had been visiting, it had been fun, but now it was time for us all to go home and we needed reminding of that. She is so funny, not to mention clever at times!  Eventually, with a heap of cajoling and some treats, I succeeded in convincing Polly to leave the car.  From that point on, she settled down with us, set up camp at the foot of our bed each night and positioned herself with one eye fixed on the front door during waking hours ... there was no chance of any holiday intruders slipping past my girl unnoticed that's for sure!


We were delighted to discover miles of beautiful sandy dog friendly beaches so close to our holiday home and spent many fabulous hours wandering along the shoreline, enjoying a salty breeze while our girls chased excitedly through the waves and across the sand.


And yes, of course, we had a nice paddle together too!


Norfolk is famous for seals and on one of our beach days, the dogs suddenly began to pay closer attention to the waves as we strolled along, when suddenly, a curious seal popped his head out of the sea to stare back at them!  Unknown to us, he had been following my girls quite close to the surface as they ran along the beach.  It was an incredible moment! I happened to have my camera in my hand to capture what was a real holiday 'wow' moment!


I also had my trusty dog whistle around my neck (never leave home without it!) so quickly gave that a jolly good blast and thankfully managed to recall my awestruck girls back to me to have their leads on, just to be on the safe side. It's unusual circumstances like these when all those years of obedience training really pay off.


We had such a lovely time on the beaches in Norfolk.  It was a fantastic experience for Polly and Betty to be able to run so freely through the sea and along the beaches and wonderful to see them enjoying their runs so much as sisters.  They had an absolute blast!




We also visited Felbrigg Manor and the local pub and tea shops with the girls while we were away and as usual, they were exceptionally well behaved wherever we took them ... my girls really do love a holiday!


For me a holiday these days is all about making my dogs happy because when they are happy, I am happy. I don't miss foreign holidays, hot climates, or flying, I am far happier when the car is packed full of dog paraphernalia, wellies and waterproofs and my husband and I can share fresh air, peaceful beaches and gentle waves with our girls, as a family.


Pack Holidays gave us the best dog friendly holiday we have had yet. Norfolk was beautiful, peaceful and very welcoming and we are looking forward to returning soon ... with our girls, of course.


Thank you Gail, for creating the perfect dog friendly holiday for us and making us all feel so welcome. Polly and Betty were sleepy for a week when we came home ... definitely the sign of a successful holiday!

:-)

Thursday, 8 August 2019

Castle Canines

We always enjoy a visit to beautiful Hever Castle in Edenbridge and one of my favourite times to visit is when 'Castle Canines' dog show is being hosted in the grounds. There is something completely joyous about seeing the Southern Golden Retriever Display Team strut their formation stuff to music. They always seem such happy dogs!


Naturally, we take Polly and Betty with us as they love to be involved in trips out and always enjoy a visit.


They are such good girls whenever we take them out and they love all the attention they receive from visitors, especially children. Hever Castle is a lovely 'dog friendly' place to visit, and although dogs aren't allowed inside the castle itself, well behaved dogs are very welcome to enjoy the beautiful gardens with their owners, so long as they are kept on leads.


And those gardens are breathtaking!


I especially love the Italian Gardens and the formal Rose Garden...


In fact, near to closing time, while the garden was quiet, I couldn't resist taking a few photographs of my girls posing rather regally among those gorgeous roses!


We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Hever Castle this year and after eating way too much ice-cream, mooching around fabulous gardens, seeing the many other dogs visiting and watching the Southern Golden Retrievers display team, we headed towards the lake to spend one last hour strolling right round the water along meadow flower paved pathways. It was such a pretty, peaceful walk!


Polly and Betty enjoyed their visit to Hever Castle and even though they were on leads, so didn't have a run that afternoon, they didn't seem to mind in the least. In fact, they were both very sleepy when we arrived home on Sunday evening. Visits are exciting, but tiring too!


Hever Castle is a super place to visit and we will definitely visit with our girls again!

:-)

Monday, 10 June 2019

Soggy doggy days

Saturday's walk with my dogs must rate as the soggiest for quite some time ... in fact I was soaked right through to my undies after tromping along in torrential rain with them for an hour an a half. Madness!


Thankfully Sunday's walk in Jeskyns Community Woodland (a fab country park for dogs in Gravesend, Kent) was a little drier and a whole lot more fun ...


Polly and Betty had a lovely time racing around through pretty meadows and along woody pathways in the sunshine, then finished their walk with a splash in the duck pond as rain clouds loomed on the horizon. Neither was quite brave enough to venture in for a proper swim as that meant stepping from a ledge and dropping into deeper water. Big they may be, but brave they most definitely are not!


And as if I haven't been quite wet enough already, this week has brought with it storm warnings and yet more torrential rain. As I write, rain is crashing onto the glass roof of my conservatory and my poor roses are struggling to stay upright in the garden. Not a good day for walking dogs that's for sure, but we'll don raincoats and hunt out my wellies anyway ... urgh. I don't mind admitting, soggy doggy days are not my favourites.


I don't think rainy days are Polly and Betty's favourite walk days either ... both my girls went to the back door this morning, took one look at the heavy rain then promptly refused to put a single paw outside. They are currently fast asleep on the living room rug, presumably with their bladders in sleep mode until the rain eases!

:-)

Thursday, 6 June 2019

D Day 75, a dog's eye view

A new experience for Betty ... watching the D Day 75 year
Commemorative flypast over our local playing field yesterday afternoon.


I wasn't sure if the noise of 35 WWII planes flying low overhead would startle her ... but no, Betty enjoyed her time playing with me on the field and simply took the D Day flypast in her doggy stride!

:-)

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Happy 4th Birthday Betty!

Wishing my little Betty a very Happy 4th Birthday today!


I think Betty is possibly the most joyful pup on the planet. She has such an amazing zest for life and is always eager to play and cuddle. She is gentle, loyal, loving and a lovely sister to our older Golden Retriever Polly. She hears the rustle of a ginger biscuit wrapper from one end of the house to the other, brings me my slippers at dinner time and gives the softest of ear kisses when I least expect, but most need them.

Puppy Betty, 8 weeks old.

In her four fun filled years, Betty has never been grumpy and has always been the sweetest of pups with other dogs. She has very worked hard at her obedience classes and is always a good girl.


In fact, I couldn't be more proud of my little Bets! She is my self-appointed personal assistant, organising my day with a gentle nudge, or soft lick on the back of my hand whenever she thinks I ought to be doing something else. She knows my daily routines inside out and back-to-front and is always nearby, waiting for our next task. She loves her walks, runs like the wind, then flies back to me at the peep of my whistle ... (or two peeps if we are in squirrel territory!)


Miss Millechilli Princess, 

I am so very proud of you.

Happy Birthday to my sweet Betty Boo!

xxx

Monday, 15 April 2019

Heartache and Happiness

A little post to wish my sister and her husband the very best of fun times with their new addition, a very handsome German Shepherd teenager...

The smile is back on my bro-in-law's face!

Digby was collected from rescue a few days ago and I had the pleasure of meeting him in my son's garden this weekend. He was eager to meet the family (we were celebrating my son's birthday) and despite the confusion of moving from his original home, into rescue, then to foster care and back again to the noise and chaos of another rescue centre, before being adopted by my sister and Simon last Friday, he coped admirably and was a perfect gent with the party guests. After a good pace and sniff around the grass, Digby eventually settled close to his new Dad, his water bowl and his lead.

Hello Digby!

Fiona and Simon are committed GSD owners and Digby is their fourth rescue. Bugsy, their first, was my Polly's best teacher and a truly fabulous boy. He was steady, wise, gentle and a lovely family dog. Then along came Autumn, a beautiful, but anxious older girl, found in a caravan when her first owner passed away. She has come such a long way under my sister's devoted tutelage and is now the most loving, well behaved girl.  Sadly, Autumn's companion, Red, a huge handsome fella of just four years, recently passed away unexpectedly after suffering from bloat, not once, but twice. Red had been stray for quite some time before being put into rescue. He was given the very best of life during the thirteen months he shared with Fiona and Simon and wanted for absolutely nothing. Red's loss at such a young age, was completely overwhelming, but the happiness he brought back to my sister's family after the sad loss of Bugsy, will be forever treasured.

Fiona and Autumn

I was delighted for my sister and her husband when they told me they had decided to move forward from grief and wanted to offer another GSD rescue a home ... they felt their living room rug was just too empty! From the look in my sister's eye when she told me, I had a feeling we wouldn't have long to wait ... and there I was, a few days later, in the garden, saying hello to their lovely new boy, Digby!

Polly 'n her pal Bugs

Digby will have a wonderful life now. He will be properly trained and will live in beautiful countryside, with a fabulous garden to play in.  He will have a big sister GSD to keep him in line and a family full of fun and energy to play with, but above all, he will have all the love he is long overdue. 

There is no doubt Bugsy and Red have left a wonderful legacy for young Digby to enjoy!

Welcome home lad.

:-)

NB: Bloat is a life threatening condition and requires urgent treatment. If you suspect your dog has bloat, don't wait, take him to the emergency vet immediately.

For further info:




Wednesday, 10 April 2019

When should you start and finish dog training classes?

Six years ago, when I first adopted Polly and she had reached about six months of age, I decided she was becoming a bit of a handful, so would benefit from puppy training classes. I had a vague notion of signing up for a course that would last a few weeks and hopefully teach her the basics of polite behaviour.


Joining a class went against every grain of my rather introverted being and it took me weeks to summon up the courage to make that all-important first call to a trainer. Eventually I did manage to pick up the 'phone, meet the trainer and book a class, but my next hurdle was to turn up for that first class. Even now, I still remember the knot in my stomach that morning (and for several months of mornings afterwards!) If you have read my earlier posts, you will know just how daunting the prospect of working my dog, in a group of seemingly far more knowledgeable owners, actually was for me. Six years later though, I am so glad I scraped up just enough courage to begin my dog training journey.


And what a journey it has been ... far more of a rollercoaster than a smooth ride, that's for sure!  There have been highs and occasionally crushing lows, but for every low, there has always been an ultimate reward in the form of better understanding between me and my dogs. I think I have probably laughed more in those six years of obedience training classes, than I have since I was a child and sometimes I have cried ... yes, genuine tears of frustration. It sounds silly I know, they are just dogs right?! Well, as a matter of fact no, they are not 'just dogs', my girls are my most loyal friends and as they trust me, more than anyone else in the whole wide world, to do my utmost to keep them safe and teach them how to behave appropriately in our harsh world of human expectation, I have always taken that responsibility to heart.  When one of my girls has reacted badly in a class for example, I naturally assumed I must have failed somewhere in her training and when things didn't go well, the hardest thing was to dust myself down, pick myself up and not give up, whenever my natural instinct was to hide under a rock and never return to a class ... ever again! 


For the first few months, learning to train Polly effectively was both physically and mentally exhausting. She was a determined girl, large, very strong and with the inherent Golden stubborn streak running through her veins. I felt hugely inadequate against my class peers, who, it seemed to me, had effortlessly obedient dogs. As I watched them trotting neatly alongside their handlers while Polly hauled me like an inconvenient sack of potatoes, from one end of a heel walking course to the other, I felt clumsy, exasperated and horribly out of my depth. 


I am not sure what kept me going back in those days ... sheer bloody-mindedness probably! I was determined not to be beaten, so between classes, I practised what I had learned every day and read all I could find, to better educate myself regarding the mysteries of the canine mind and how to make training a more fun, productive process. Slowly but surely, Polly and I began to work out how to co-operate with one another ... and we gradually began to actually enjoy training together. It was a slow process and growing my confidence as a dog handler took time and huge effort, but by some miracle, it did grow, as did my dog's confidence in me.


By the time Polly was two, I had become sufficiently confident in my training skills to adopt a second Golden Retriever and found I was actually looking forward to training a puppy again. Little Betty joined us at seven weeks of age and I am certain, had a much easier time learning how to become a polite girl, because by then, quite simply, I had become a much better teacher.


Hindsight is a wonderful thing and when I look back at my original plan to join a dog training class for a few weeks, to achieve a polite puppy, I have a wry smile to myself and find myself shaking my head. Silly woman, how little you knew then! 


My sweet Betty is now almost four years old and thankfully, a joy to train. She and six year old Polly are often complemented on their behaviour when we are out and about together (always such a proud moment!) so, I suppose, that if I had wanted to, we could probably have retired gracefully from obedience training classes some time ago ... but ... and for me, this is a big 'but' ... my girls still LOVE their classes! They thoroughly enjoy performing the skills they have learned and since we have moved on to taking part in training classes in real life situations around the local area, their confidence and focus within the wider world, has improved even further. Even though both my dogs are now well trained, I still believe classes enrich both their lives and mine and as far as I am concerned, that is plenty good enough reason for us to continue to take part each week. 

All things considered, I would say that during my years of dog training, the most important lesson I have learned since first adopting Polly, is that training is not a ten week puppy course, it is a way of life!

xxXxx

The gist of this rather long blog post is that, if you are struggling to make the call to book a training class for your dog, bear in mind, most of us have suffered exactly the same insecurities at one time, or another. Please don't allow your own worries to prevent you from being the best owner you can be for your dog. Find a good, positive obedience training class, then make that call ... 

Finally, a few tips to make those dog training classes a little less daunting! 

1. Go prepared. You will be told what equipment (if any) you need to take with you, but most importantly, don't forget the training treat bag! The 'bumbag' type is most useful as you'll need a bag you can dip into easily. (Don't put your treats in clingfilm/plastic bags etc in your pocket, you won't be able to access them fast enough for positive reinforcement rewards.)

2. A clicker is a handy training tool - it may be a good idea to look into clicker training and check to see if your instructor supports it. It's not essential, but it can help with training.

2. It's a good idea to take a bottle of water and a bowl for your dog to drink from after the class.

3. Remember to take poo bags and something to take them home in (I use a 'Dicky Bag').

4. Leave your dignity at home. I can't tell you how many times I have slipped on a field and ended up on my bum! Be able to laugh at yourself, it will help I promise!

5. Listen carefully to the Instructor. He knows his stuff.

6. Try not to get engaged in conversation while the class is in progress ... it's too easy to miss an instruction and make yourself look silly!

7. Remember, no matter how amazing the other owners look, they all have their own worries and they all started out in exactly the same place as you.

8. Try to relax (I know, easier said than done, but you will get there!)

9. Don't expect to know everything on the first day, you will mostly likely feel like a fish out of water, but that's expected and it really does get easier with time.

10. Praise your dog enthusiastically when he gets it right and don't be shy about giving praise - make sure you let your dog know when he's doing great. Don't forget, it's a new environment for him, so he too will be anxious to begin with. The more opportunity you have to praise, the easier training will be and the faster your dog (and you!) will learn.

11. Enjoy! 

:-)

NB: I am indebted to Kevin (KS Dog Training) and Sam (Dog Behavioural Services), the two excellent obedience training instructors, who have patiently guided me through my insecurities and taught me the way forward to confidence, focus and ultimately, polite, happy dogs!

Thank you both so much, 
From me, Polly and Betty.


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