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!


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/she knows their 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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