Sunday, 29 December 2013

Out trompin'

One of my favourite things this Christmas holiday, has been to pull on my wellies and take Polly out walking with my family.

On Christmas Day we went tromping over fields with my son and his girlfriend.

We sploshed through muddy puddles ...

And watched as Polly raced across the corn field as free as a bird (thank you so much cheesy recall!)

Then on Boxing Day, we bundled Polly into the car and drove out to White Horse Country Park with my daughter, to enjoy some fresh air and spectacular views.

Thankfully, after all the heavy rain and gale force winds inflicted on our area of late, the Christmas holiday graced us with gloriously crisp, bright weather, perfect for dog walking!

The day after Boxing Day, we took Polly to Allington Lock to see how it was coping after the recent storms ...

The tide was high and flowing dangerously fast.

Needless to say, we kept Polly on her lead as she loves water and we definitely didn't fancy getting wet!

We crossed over the bridge and as twilight descended, strolled along the river path towards Maidstone, enjoying the variety of boats moored along the towpath.

Polly toddled along happily and didn't seem to mind in the least that she was on her lead.

Usually we walk along this river in the summer months when Allington Castle is hidden behind a dense screen of trees, so it was a lovely surprise to discover the castle exposed on our wintery walk!

As daylight faded, I tucked my camera back in my pocket and we continued to walk through the town's Millenium Park, then back home via hidden pathways along the other side of the river.  Our short walk to the Lock had eventually extended to approximately four miles and Polly coped admirably.  She walked like a lady on her lead the entire route and didn't fuss once ... it doesn't seem possible only a few short months ago she was refusing to walk politely on the lead, shaming me with her antics!  I am happy to say our lovely Poll Dog at almost ten months of age, is a completely different girl these days and going out and about with her is now our absolute pleasure!

Polly's First Christmas

Rather than stand our Christmas tree in the bay window as usual, we relocated it to beside the fireplace this year, to allow Polly full access to 'her' lookout post (a.k.a our footstool!) in the hope she would be happy to ignore our heavily laden tree, if we didn't disturb her routine too much.

Polly tolerated our festive peculiarities including the tree in her lounge, showing little interest until she was left unattended for a few moments on Christmas Eve when she decided the time was ripe for some crafty unwrapping ... a cute dog mug from Stuart's sister; good choice Poll!

When Stuart's eight year old grandson came for his Christmas visit, Polly glued herself firmly to his side.  They watched Christmas telly together, ragged together and generally had a wonderful time puppy-ing around.

Needless to say, as a completely typical golden retriever, Polly is never more happy than when she is in the thick of things with her people, so we included her in our pre-Christmas family visits and invited our visitors to bring their wellies and join us on our walks.  Christmas Day was an especially happy day for Polly as my kids spent the day with us ... Polly plonked herself right in the middle of our Christmas family chaos, to 'help' with their unwrapping!

She was delighted to discover Santa had left a couple of gifts under the tree with her name on them ...

... and was especially excited to unwrap her giant orange octopus!

She helped Chef prepare us a fine turkey lunch ...

Then took us all out for a muddy tromp through the local woods and orchards to walk off our Christmas excess ...

... and run off some of her own Christmas steam!

And if it hadn't been for Polly, we might never have seen this wonderful sunset ... a fabulous ending to a very special family Christmas Day.

Saturday, 21 December 2013


Our final training session of the year (fifteenth so far) was quite a lively one with some dogs pushing control boundaries and their owners' power of recall, to the limit.  Thankfully, even with distractions, Polly returned to me reasonably smartly when called - she has definitely turned a corner with recall and this has given me much more confidence when we are out walking, which of course, means far more fun for Polly!

There are of course, still training issues to be conquered, very few of which are created by Polly these days.  Learning how to become a dog trainer this year has been a labour of love and not without its challenges, this week's example being an instruction processing blip on my part, whilst heel walking around a simple rectangular course.  I'm honestly not sure why I found myself walking in the opposite direction to all the other heel walkers, nor indeed why I cut halfway across the course, rather than following the poles around the perimeter (and no it wasn't because it was pointing uphill!)  All I can say in my defence is that I was concentrating so hard on what Polly and I needed to do, I missed some of the instructions and didn't see all the poles!  Taking in information whilst trotting with a dog and making sure you've imparted the correct instruction and praise to her, ain't always easy, that's for sure!  Thankfully, everyone in our group is very supportive and we've now reached a comfortable stage of being able to share a laugh!

With a single exception at the end of our agility session when Polly couldn't resist the urge to nip over quickly to say hello to her pal Dudley, she tried very hard to please throughout.  The final formal 'down stays' at the end of each session are still a challenge for her, but we stuck with it and eventually she managed to settle, despite cars passing, dogs running, owners shouting and aircraft flying overhead.  The most important criteria for me this week, was that Polly stayed where I asked and although she sat up a few times, she didn't attempt to leave her post or break loose.  Small steps, but there's no doubt in my mind, she is keen to learn and eager to please.

Committing to join a dog obedience class has been a big step for me this year as I've never been much of a 'joiner' and am not very brave at putting myself in unfamiliar situations.  However, as the owner of a large dog, I knew it was going to be an important step to take and was determined to help Polly become a polite dog, to give her the best chance in life.  To say training has been time consuming, hard work and frustrating at times, would be a fair assessment, but learning together has also been rewarding and in the main, fun too.  

Polly is an absolute joy now thanks to her training at school, which I have tried hard to back up at home. I was thrilled recently, to be told how polite she is by strangers we met on our walks ... the ultimate proof training really does work!   Me 'n Poll understand each far better than we did to start with and what we don't understand, we try hard to work out between us ... we work as a team these days.  She has become an important member of our family and on a very personal note, has brought sunshine and laughter back into my world after I lost my Dad unexpectedly, three years ago.


At the end of our 2013 training sessions, I would like to say I am entirely grateful to Kevin our instructor, for his patience, wisdom and sense of humour (!) and also to the members of our group for their generous support and friendship each week.  Polly and I are looking foward to returning to school in the New Year, to polish and develop our skills further.

 About four months ago, I asked for a polite friendly dog and now I couldn't be more proud to tell you, that is exactly what Polly has achieved.  
Good girl Poll xxx

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Love me do!

Cats can be tricky creatures to win round ...

Please love me!

And believe me, Polly has tried every trick in her doggy handbook to befriend my two ...

Chasing, bowing, pouncing, wagging, barking and sniffing, have all failed miserably. Daisy is still in deep hiding seven months after her world was invaded by our exhuberant puppy girl and after establishing who is boss with a few well placed swipes, Puddle (shown above) has at last declared a rather stand offish truce.

Polly is desperate for a playmate, but somehow I don't think either of our cats are ever likely to oblige her!

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Work in progress ..

Okay, so I admit we wimped out on the final 'down stay' of class last week; not much to be said about that, except Polly had a stubborn look in her eye that I have come to recognise says, 'not a hope Mum'!  (I know, I know ... who's the boss eh Paula?!)

Despite her stubborn Goldie streak, the rest of session 14 was very positive.  Polly was winded by a large dog racing towards her during the group 'off lead' play, but soon found her feet and then recalled beautifully whenever called.  She also stayed by me in the sit and down position without her lead which quite surprised me!  Maybe she felt a bit less sure of herself after being winded, I'm not sure, but either way, that collision seemed to have a calming effect on her for the rest of the session.  

We actually managed to complete an entire agility course for the first time too ... hey, I must be getting fitter!  I decided to abandon the long training lead for agility as I always make such a knot of it, so instead kept Polly on her 'Happy at Heel' harness and lead.  In fact, we even braved 'off lead' for most of the individual elements, only relying on the lead to walk neatly from group to group.  Polly is starting to enjoy this element of training and with a few treats to hand, will now happily jump through hoops and over low hurdles, run through tunnels and walk across the baby seesaw, returning directly to me when she has completed her activities ... a big step forward from the early days!  We still haven't quite got to grips with weaving poles, but for the first time, walked tentatively across the high A-frame under Kevin's guidance; Polly isn't what you'd call graceful, she's more thundering baby bulldozer than ballet in truth, but she only slipped once and thankfully Kevin caught her - she's quite a lump these days!

Walking to heel incorporating 'sits, downs and stands and recalls' shows huge improvement. Our new side fastening 'Happy at heel' harness (suggested by our woodland walking friends Sue and Jane - thanks ladies!) seems to have a magic touch!  Polly now walks politely most of the time, both in school and on our daily walks; I rarely need to correct her firmly; it seems her 'sled pulling' days are over, thank heavens!  Also, our off lead practice around the living room rug finally seems to be filtering through to school heel walking sessions.  I dropped Polly's lead briefly (deliberately!) a couple of times as we marched around the poles this week and she trotted along beside me with no threat of leaving my side to join the other dogs ... yep, training is definitely paying dividends!

Next goal: to learn how to teach Polly not to always race away to play with other dogs on our walks.  I am now confident she will return to me once she's introduced herself to new dogs, but it would be useful for her to learn that 'go play' is only for when mum says its okay and that not all off lead walks are about finding dogs to romp with.  I think we could do with working on a 'stay close' command or similar ... 

There's no doubt about it, no matter how much we improve, we'll always be a work in progress!

Monday, 16 December 2013

Confusing Christmas!

As Christmas scoops us all towards the usual festive frenzy, poor ol' Polly is wondering what on earth has happened to her world ...

Mum, why is there a tree in our lounge?


Never mind Polly, Christmas will soon be over and normality will resume in a week or so ... I promise!

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Follow my leader ..

After searching on Google to find out how to turn on my car's fog lights (!) me 'n Polly braved thick fog this morning, to drive out to Hucking Woods for our walk with our lovely new friends, Jane, Molly, Dudley and Sue.

Polly was so excited to catch up with her pals that holding onto her proved a bit of a challenge for me at first ... Dudley and Molly both walk beautifully on the lead, so I am hoping Polly will soon learn from their excellent example!  One thing was very clear today, my headstrong girl definitely wasn't in a 'heeling' frame of mind, she wanted to lose her lead and 'go play' with her playmates, as soon as possible!

I wish I'd taken a better camera with me to capture just how beautiful the landscape was as the sun peeped through the fog ... unfortunately my little point' n shoot struggled to cope well.  Seeing this area in all weathers and watching the season change as our dogs play together, is a real privilege and certainly puts life into perspective.

Since we started walking, it has been interesting to watch Polly, Molly and Dudley establishing order in their little group.  Polly was accepted as a playmate straightaway and Molly, Jane's magnificent husky cross, seemed to take a lead role from the start, even guiding Polly (the youngest of the group) back to us when she appeared to stray a little too far from the group.  Molly has been used to walking regularly with sweet-natured Dudley and for a couple of weeks, appeared to organise 'her' Dudley and newcomer Polly, until they reached an understanding of how they were to fit into the group.  

This week, all three dogs appear to have reached a comfortable, happy state of play and have been romping around together, sometimes as a group, but also from time to time allowing one another the opportunity to play in pairs.  They are also each happy to explore independently once they have all run off a bit of steam together ... it really is fascinating to watch this little pack evolve!

Not only is it a real pleasure to share our dogs and the gorgeous local scenery, on a personal note, I am also delighted to have met two such welcoming ladies.  I thoroughly enjoy our chats about life, the universe et al as we clomp through the mud ... Jane and Sue, thank you both so much!

Friday, 6 December 2013

A girl about town ..

As we live on the outskirts of a busy county town, regrettably Polly's life can't be solely about romps through woodland and countryside, so we also regularly practice what we call 'pavement walking'.  Obviously it's not half as much fun as chasin' squirrels, but needs must ...

Polly wasn't sure about wearing her smart new tartan jacket at first, but a recent rainy day lead walk along the noisy A20 with cars, lorries and buses whizzing up from behind her, soon had her convinced it wasn't such a bad idea.  She walked smartly to heel with me, paying close attention to my instructions at all times and seemed to take comfort from the jacket wrapped snugly around her body.  It was a very challenging and stressful walk for such a young dog, but she managed it brilliantly and I must admit, I was very proud of her!

Thursday, 5 December 2013

I want my cheese now ..

A frosty, windy start turned obedience training into a 'vest tucked into knickers' kinda day, brrrrr!  Fortunately glamour is not high on the dog training agenda, but layers and wellies definitely are, so double socks and a vest to keep the chills out, a pocket of tissues to mop my streaming nose and me 'n Polly were good to go ...

Putting agility training into practice!

Polly has been so good with her recalls on our walks lately and happily put them into practice at school in exchange for cheddar cheese treats - she even abandoned 'Sexy Rexy', a magnificent Belgian Shepherd, after flirting shamelessly with him during the group walk!

Off lead, exploring in the woods

Polly's agility work is gradually improving since the penny dropped and I made a conscious effort to slow her down and reclaim focus with some 'sits' and 'downs' between pieces of equipment.  As a result, we've been able to start linking two or three elements together recently, (ie., through the tyre, then over high jump/long jump) and I've been able to let go of her training lead now and again.  I can't wait to lose the training lead completely, a long soggy, muddy, tangly lead is a total pain in the you-know-where to work with.

'Up' Polly!

So that's the good stuff, now to the less good ... 

Forgetting to close the treat bag for our heel work wasn't one of my finest moments.  Rather than trotting along neatly at heel, Polly thought all her Christmasses had come at once and snuffled her way along the ground to reclaim all the tasty cheese and frankfurter delights I had spilled ... can't say as I blame her.  Also with a strong wind blowing across the training field, I struggled to hear Kevin's instructions to help me fall back into sync with everyone, so ended up in a messy muddle.  There was nothing for it but to laugh it off and put it down to experience. Ah well, better luck next time!

Anything to do with 'staying' seems to have fallen by the wayside this week.  Polly is now nine months old and seems to have her own ideas of how things should work.  She will usually oblige me by sitting and laying down when asked, but what was a reasonable 'stay', has been replaced with a 'sod this for a lark, I want my cheese now mum' ... ho hum!  At home she sits patiently waiting for my instruction to approach her food bowl and will wait until invited, no matter how long, so I know this can be done!

This training lark is hard work Mum, I need a long snooze!
With the exception of Polly's fab recalls, all in all, session 13 felt like a slightly 'off day' for me.  I was tired and I think after her long run in the woods with Molly and Dudley yesterday (we had such a lovely walk together again) Polly probably was too.  So, while it wasn't a bad session as such, let's just say a steaming hot cuppa for me when we arrived home and a Bonio followed by a long snooze for Polly, were most welcome!

Thursday, 28 November 2013

En route!

Obedience session twelve and according to our instructor Kevin, Polly is 'getting there'. I'm not sure where 'there' is exactly, but it's nice to hear we're en route!

After our recent recall successes, we took the plunge this time and ditched our long training lead on the group walk.  Despite the newly added distraction of a rather exhuberant intact male rottweiler peeing hither and thither (including on poor Polly's head!) Polly remembered to return to me when I called - not  exactly a military precision reaction by any stretch, but by the time I'd shouted 'come' three times, the penny dropped and my bouncy girl happily left her pals to race back to me for cheese and praise ... Cheddar cheese bribery is definitely the way forward.  We've also been trying out a few carefully chosen off lead recalls at our local playing fields lately and in the main, Polly has been pretty good at returning, so my overall confidence is definitely growing ... it's such a lovely buzz to have her race over to me because she wants to come back to 'mum'!

Polly has also been walking in the woods with her pals Molly and Dudley again this week, which is a real pleasure for us both.  It's great to see the formal obedience work in school weaving into our fun time out and about together ... and so much fun to watch the dogs playing.

I remember moaning a few weeks ago because I was felt as though I'd been pulling Polly from pillar to post around the training field ... I was pretty frustrated with school at that point but determined not to be defeated.  Well, I am happy to say even I can now clearly see progress in Polly's heel work and it does at last feel as if my control is taking shape. It definitely seems as though we now understand more of what is asked of us and at last, are becoming a team!  We even managed to heel walk a course with other dogs, with me holding the lead in just my left hand (rather than using both hands) while Polly responded to my commands to sit, down, turn etc.  Who knows, maybe we'll try tucking the lead into my belt for a little while next time and see if I can maintain her focus without lead reminders.

This week, for the first time, I actually felt confident enough to encourage Polly to complete a little agility circuit of three or four activities, without me clutching her lead for dear life and she managed it!  She loves to run through the tunnels and can now jump over low hurdles, through the window and the hanging tyre.  She also walks steadily over the A-frame and small see-saw.  All in all, Polly completed her tasks pretty well, never once attempting to race over to her pals while they were working, which was a big step forward.  In fact the only distraction we suffered this session was rabbit poo - ah well, I guess you can't win 'em all!

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

All work and no play?

Did I mention I'm a teddy bear designer?  It's not especially relevant to 'Polly's Progress', but for anyone hoping to find time to bring up a happy, well adjusted new puppy and also run a small business from home, it's probably worth a brief mention. When we adopted Polly, I promised I would give her all the training and attention she needed, so while bringing a puppy into my life has been an absolute joy and I don't begrudge a single second, it is fair to say she has taken a toll on teddy bear production, not to mention my general business admin!  In fact, I just received a call from a show promoter to ask if I'd received an email, which I had, but completely forgot to respond to ... oops!

In my workroom: come on mum, it's play time!

It is well documented that to achieve a happy, balanced dog, you must share your life and offer time freely ... I have nothing to add to that, except to suggest that if you are planning to adopt and also hope to work from home in your role as new puppy mum/dad, you might benefit from planning well ahead to minimise work obligations ... puppies/young dogs need every bit as much attention as small children and will divert your work focus with a single pleading gaze, or wag of their tail!

I try to work while Polly is sleepy.  She usually has a nap downstairs in the afternoons, so that's when I catch up with the backlog in my workroom.  When Polly thinks I've worked for long enough, she climbs upstairs to find me, puts her nose in my lap and licks my legs ... that's her signal for 'enough now mum, it's time to come downstairs and play with me!'

Saturday, 23 November 2013


Oh how I prayed for a cancellation text this week ... it was cold, it was rainy, it was windy, none of which are my preferred weather conditions for dog training.  However, obedience instructors are a hardy breed, so my prayed for text never arrived and reluctantly, I put my mobile 'phone away, muffled up, de-misted my car and set off for the training field with a very eager Polly Dog on the back seat.

A woodland recall in full swing - whoopee!

By the time we reached Detling Hill, my windscreen wipers were flying back and forth on overtime and I confess to coming within a hair's breadth of driving round the roundabout and straight back down the other side of the road to home.  Instead, despite my overwhelming inclination to hibernate, one look into those big brown puppy dog eyes peering at me through my rear view mirror, had me turning towards the training field ...

Off lead fun - searching for squirrels

Fortunately the rain soon eased, leaving only wind and cold to contend with, so there were no excuses, I had to shape up and get on with it.  I was so glad I did, because during our off-lead group walk Polly was given permission to ditch her training lead as she was responding to my recall from the group of dogs every single time ... yippeee!!!!!  I was really proud of my girl; this is a massive step forward for us and has made all the training so far, worth every single frustration.

As a result, this morning, we allowed Polly to have some freedom in our local woods and she positively grinned, skipping her way through the leaves as she explored away from the path, searching for squirrels.  It was such a treat to see her so happy!  I recalled her several times to make sure the recall worked away from the training field and each time she raced happily back to me for a cheesy treat (mature cheddar!)  She was a little harder to call back when she found new dogs to play with, but after some playtime, allowed me to take hold of her collar - not the same thing as a positive recall unfortunately, but as she clearly had no intention of running away from me, came in my direction when I called (even though she didn't formally return to me) and didn't resist having her lead clipped on after play, all in all, I wasn't overly concerned.  Thank heavens for friendly dog owners!  Hopefully Polly's recall will strengthen further with more practice in new situations.  My ultimate goal is to have her come back to me immediately I call even if there are other dogs around, but I'm thinking that is probably still a way off for my oh-so sociable puppy girl.

Polly's obedience training isn't just about recall, although that's been my primary focus, we're also working on control with walking to heel, 'sit stays' and 'down stays'.  As I've mentioned before, it seems to take Polly a little while to realise what we do at home, needs to translate into what she is being asked to do at school, but I am now beginning to see signs of her understanding what is expected of her in school too.  This week Polly coped pretty well with what was asked of her generally throughout our session and when it was time to practice on the agility equipment, I noticed she was focusing on my commands more than usual and trying hard to do as I asked.  She even jumped a few hurdles, rather than bulldozing her way through them!  We practiced a little hurdling in the woods on our walk this morning too ... it was fun to call out 'over' and see Polly respond by eagerly leaping over a fallen tree stump ... she looked so pleased with herself!

So to conclude, at the end of our eleventh obedience training session Polly is most noticeably making sound progress, which I guess means I must also be getting better at making myself understood.  There's a long way to go yet though; we still need to build on her 'stays', work towards a formal 'stand', tidy up on-lead heel work, strengthen her recall in new situations when unfamiliar dogs are around and take our off-lead heel work to the next level by transferring what she can already achieve with me on our living room rug, out onto the school training field.  

I suppose I'd better toughen up (and buy some thermals!) it's likely to be a long cold winter out on that field ... brrrrr!!!!!

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Woodland Walking Gang

The countryside was ablaze as we drove out through Hollingbourne to meet Polly's new pals at Hucking Woods and if it hadn't been for golden leaves everywhere, it would have been hard to know we were in the middle of November.  There wasn't a cloud in the sky and it was the perfect day for a tromp through the woods.

The dogs were delighted to meet up again and eager to set off exploring, so we abandoned all hope of walking them neatly on their leads and let them 'go play' as quickly as possible!

It is such a joy to watch three bouncy young dogs chasing excitedly through the undergrowth together and after joining them for the first time last week, I am happy to say Polly seems to have been readily accepted by Dudley and Molly, as part of their woodland gang.

And while the dogs raced around, it was lovely for me to get to know Jane and Sue a little better too ... sharing an interest in dogs is a great icebreaker for making new friends.

I should point out, this is no mooch for our pooches!  In fact it's a solid hour of rough terrain hiking and often boggy underfoot.  We even threw in some proper recall training and the dogs responded positively on cue each time ... mature cheddar treats work wonders with Polly and I can't tell you how much of a thrill it is to have her running free with her friends, then returning to me when called!

Jane and Sue took me to find 'the old man' this week and I wondered who they were talking about until I spotted this carving sat at the top of a field enjoying his view ... and who wouldn't? What a fab way to pass a beautiful day!

By the time we headed back to the car park, our dogs were tired of running around, so toddled happily along the pathways with us.  Not so long ago I would never have believed I would one day be able to walk Polly without her lead and have her walk peacefully alongside me, simply because she wanted to ... she's come such a long way and it's clear Molly and Dudley have taught her more quickly than I ever could.

 An Autumn morning dog walk in Hucking Woods is a spectacular way to start a day ... the rich golds, reds and bronze bold against the glorious landscape certainly make up for so much squelchy mud underfoot.

And speaking of mud, there's nothing for it but to plonk poor ol' Polly straight in the bathtub when we get home.  There's no doubt cream dogs are very hard work to keep clean this time of year.  Thankfully a good splosh of honey and oatmeal shampoo soon turns my girl from murky mudwump brown back to clean cream again!

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Good Golly Miss Polly!

Today is a momentous day, a day to be celebrated!

On this, our tenth obedience training class, Polly, aged eight months, at last gave me positive formal recalls each time I called her back from the group in our 'off lead' dog walking session ... I am so proud of her!!!

Hucking Woods - this pic was taken a few years ago in the Spring.  
It was pouring hard and very, very muddy, when we went there this week!

I must thank Polly's fellow dog training students Dudley and Molly and their humans Sue and Jane, for inviting us on their walk in Hucking Woods earlier this week. Polly absolutely loved having new friends to squelch through the mud with and her new school pals really helped cement her recall, as well as giving me confidence to let her 'go play' off lead, so thank you all!  

Today's training session went pretty well, all things considered.  Polly's recall was the main focus for me and I was delighted to see how pleased her instructor was for us when that recall kicked in!  Our other obedience tasks such as 'down staying' and 'sit staying' and agility are progressing, but there's still plenty to sharpen up. 

Overall,  I can happily say I feel as though Polly has come a long way since I first began recording her progress and I now feel we are moving forward in our understanding of one another ... which, as far as I am concerned, is what it's is all about.

Nice work Polly Dog!
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