Friday, 31 January 2014

And so the pips go on ..

Following on from my earlier 'Pip, pip, pipping' post a few days ago, Polly is now recalling to her whistle quite consistently inside the house but doesn't yet seem to understand why I bother blowing it when she's in the garden because after all, she'll come inside when she's good and ready (hmmn!) So, now I'm working on convincing her the whistle means 'COME HERE NOW POLLY, WHEREVER YOU ARE!!!'   I pip, pip, pip from inside, wait a few seconds to see if the penny drops, then quickly don garden clogs (a cheery pink, but according to my daughter, still socially unacceptable!) and when it doesn't, race outside to call 'Polly come, come, come', whilst waving my arms frantically.  It's not a dignified technique by any means and neighbours, if you happen to be reading, the crazy pink clog lady next door apologises for any disturbance ... 

Meanwhile, I have also been attempting to put Polly's retriever instinct to use as part of our on-going recall training.  She's enthusiastic about playing 'fetch' in the living room, so I began by throwing a toy, calling 'fetch', then giving her a treat and a fuss when she successfully brought her toy back to me.  Soon after that, I mixed it up a little by throwing the toy and calling 'come' before she reached it - this confused her a wee bit to start with, but she quickly cottoned on when she worked out she would still be awarded a treat for leaving the toy where it fell.  It wasn't long before it dawned on her the game was to listen carefully and differentiate between mum's instructions 'fetch' and 'come', then react appropriately.  Now Polly is 'fetching' and 'coming' when asked, I have added 'pip, pip, pipping' on the whistle to my verbal 'come' command and when I do that, she is turning before reaching her toy, racing back to me for a treat instead.  Hopefully, all this game playing and pip pipping will eventually help strengthen Polly's recall ... she certainly reacts quickly to the whistle when we are playing games, so fingers crossed!

Besides crazy games in the living room each evening, we also play 'fetch and come' at our local playing field, to encourage Polly to pay more attention and engage with me, rather than always chase away as soon as she's allowed off lead.  I can't yet say she would happily ignore other dogs in favour of our game, but having fun together like this when the field is quiet, does at least seem to be helping her to listen more attentively ... so far, so good!

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Emergency STOP!

The mud at Hucking Woods is swampy beyond good sense at the moment, yet still we ladies plough manfully on in our wellies each week, while our three young dogs race excitedly through the trees together.

This week, as well as tromping, we practiced recalls, sits, downs and stays.  While Dudley and Molly continued their 'stays', I also took the opportunity to squeeze in some off lead heel walking with Polly ... it is so helpful to have lovely supportive friends to practice with.

By then, I was feeling rather proud of Polly; she'd returned to me promptly each time I'd called, sat and 'downed' in a lovely controlled manner when asked and 'stayed' while her friends settled into their 'stays'.  As we let the dogs loose again and set off along the swampy track, I turned my attention back to my feet and staying upright in the mud ... 

And unknown to me, that was the precise moment a large horse appeared out of sight, around the corner.  Jane and Sue were ahead of me and although they couldn't see the horse at first, they did spot their dogs' suddenly change in behaviour and quickly shouted recall commands.  Like the beautifully trained dogs they are, both Molly and Dudley returned immediately.

Unfortunately my brief delay in reaching Sue and Jane, gave Polly just enough time to move further along the track towards the horse ... which as you can imagine, was quite a shock as I turned the corner.  I called 'Polly come' and breathed a momentary sigh of relief when she turned and began to return but then something changed her mind and she headed back along the track.  I bellowed again, but by that time she was stood transfixed by the four-legged giant before her.  Trying to swallow a rising sense of panic, I opted to march quickly towards her and call her back from a closer distance; she looked my way, but then began to bark at the horse - I don't know if she thought she was protecting me, or was just over excited, but either way, it was an anxious moment.  I had a whistle in my pocket, but was concerned that by using it I might spook the horse causing her to throw her rider, so I dismissed using it.  Thankfully, the horse remained completely calm throughout and her rider told me not to worry as they were both used to dogs.  Relieved, I thanked her and moved to the verge to call Polly across to me from the side; Polly responded by circling the horse to reach me and I watched helplessly as the horse very gently drew up one back leg when it sensed my silly girl pass behind.  It was a scary moment which probably only lasted a split second, but felt like a lifetime!  At that point, Polly ran over to me, I made a desperate lunge to make sure she didn't break free and the horse gently put down its hind leg.  Phew.

This incident has highlighted to me exactly how important a strong recall is when allowing a dog off lead.  It is the first time we have ever encountered a horse in the woods and even though Polly's recall has previously been consistent, it obviously isn't yet strong enough to keep her from harm's way or from possibly causing harm, when we need it most in unpredictable circumstances.  All things considered, she is very young and still learning about the world around her ... the balance between testing her recall by giving her experiences off lead and keeping her safe, is a fine one and not always easy to judge as the great outdoors can be unpredictable.

The first thing I did when we came home, was to find out whether it would have been appropriate to use my whistle to recall in such circumstances.  The advice I received was yes, if Polly has been trained to recall strongly to a whistle, use the whistle - a horse is less likely to be spooked by a recall whistle blown from a distance, than it is by a dog behaving unpredictably nearby.  Sound advice, so I intend to build on Polly's whistle recall response to give her the best possible chance at a really solid recall, so that she can continue to enjoy her off lead fun, but hopefully without shredding my nerves, or anyone else's, in future!!!

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Pip, pip, pipping!

My sweet little puppy of a few months ago, has now become a curvaceous young lady with growing confidence to explore the world around her and with that confidence, I have noticed an ever-so-slight slip in her recall over the past couple of weeks.  So, I think now is probably a good time to work out how to sharpen Poll's return response again, before my furry teenager has the opportunity to rebel too far!

My sister mentioned the mystical training power of liver cake, but also warned it smells appalling, so  I have steered clear of introducing it until now.  Needs must though and as the way to Polly's focus is most definitely through her belly, I decided to find a recipe online and give this doggie delicacy a try.

After blitzing up a packet of chicken livers (warning: disgusting 'exorcist' type yuk if you don't cover bowl with a tea towel before you blitz!) I added a splash of milk, a couple of eggs and enough flour to bind everything together into a thick gunky paste.  Then I baked on a lowish heat for about an hour.  I don't know which recipe my sister used, but mine didn't pong badly at all, in fact, I thought it smelt pretty good while it cooked.

Polly stayed close during the entire process - it seems making liver cake is very, very interesting!

When it was cooked, I turned the liver cake out of the dish, waited for it to cool, then cut into treat pieces.  It was a good sized cake, great value for money, so I stored half in the freezer and put a bag in the fridge ready for use (and of course, one or two little taster treats found their way into my eager assistant's mouth!)

My next mission is to work how to help Polly understand that whatever the circumstances, I mean business when I call her.  I would like Polly to continue to respond to my verbal 'come' call, so will of course keep working on that, but also want to develop her recall further to achieve a more immediate response when I really need it.  

Recently I've been reading 'Total Recall' by Pippa Mattinson and have decided to try following her advice on how to condition dogs to respond to a whistle.  Me 'n Poll had a little try with a whistle previously, but it was pretty 'ad hoc' and I'm sure I need to follow a prescribed method, to achieve a reliable result.

With that in mind, I've gone back to basics this week, giving Polly her extra special liver cake treats during the day, then as she eats, blowing a few quick 'pips' on my whistle, as the book states.  After a couple of days of this, I introduced the whistle to her dinner bowl, inviting her to come to different spots in the house to eat, then 'pip, pip, pipping' on the dog whistle.  I've noticed Poll now looks for me to blow the whistle before she is given treats at home, so already is making a connection with the whistle, in the same way she did with her clicker when we started clicker training as a young puppy. 

Ultimately, I am hoping this whistle training lark might help overcome Polly's selective deafness when she spots other dogs on the horizon, or disappears into the woods after squirrels and puts me 'on hold', or decides it's time to completely ignore my shout because rolling in fox poo is far more fun ... 

Okay, okay, I know that last one is probably a bit too hopeful, but you get the gist!  

Will let you know how we progress ...

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Practising what is preached ..

The woods were a complete quagmire this morning, but not to be defeated, me, Jane and Sue, slurped our way determinedly along swampy paths dragging our wellies with each step as best we could, while our dogs raced nimbly through trees, over fields and across scrub land, pausing only for a playful wrestle with one another before charging full steam into the fog.

It is so much fun to watch our little gang enjoying their freedom together and good exercise for us too - no gym required with such squelchy mud challenging our progress.  I had brief cause for concern (which probably felt longer than it actually was) when Polly disappeared into the fog and failed to return instantly when called ... naughty girl!  Like the good dogs they are, Molly and Dudley came back straightaway, but peer as I might, there was no sign of  my Poll through the thick fog.  With rising panic, I gave a good hard blast on my whistle and lo and behold, the little monkey appeared through the gloom ... stinking to high heaven!  Yep, you guessed it, bloomin' fox poo again!

At training last week, Kevin suggested it might be beneficial to incorporate a little homework into our woodland walks, so we thought we'd give it a go with a 'down stay' attempt, once we'd reached slightly less swampy ground.  Asking three young friends to 'down stay' in close proximity on a fun walk was a challenge, but between us, we did actually manage it.  The obedience training is really starting to show itself!!!!

I also decided to try walking Polly to heel with no lead back to our car (once Molly and Dudley had gone ahead), asking her to 'sit' and 'stay' while I strode ahead, then calling her back to my heel.  I am delighted to say she did exactly as asked (in return for a couple of slices of the pork sausage we had left over from last night's supper) and made absolutely no attempt to race after her pals, which is a really big step forward for us.  

I wonder what the odds are for her repeating this level of obedience for me at training later in the week?!

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Simple pleasures

A Sunday afternoon gamble across open fields, woodland to explore, an ancient megalith to visit, a stick to carry and oozy stinky fox poo to roll in, makes for a very happy goldie girl!

And watching this spectacular sunset over the fields at Kits Coty late this afternoon, made for one very happy goldie mum! 

Simple pleasures are most absolutely the best.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Above and beyond ..

Session 18 ...

Eighteen weeks in and I confess I still have to give myself a firm talking to make sure I haul myself out from under the duvet and tackle the drive to dog school.  Not only are my dog training skills very much a work in progress, so is my driving.  Coping with oncoming vehicles on twisty country lanes is a challenge beyond anything I anticipated when I booked Polly's lessons ... and some of those oncoming vehicles are far from gentlemanly!  Mind you, they usually relent when they see my nervous wiggly reverse in action, ha!

Hurry up Mum, it's a school day!

Polly is always eager to go to school and because of that, keeps me on the straight and narrow with my commitment to the dog training cause.  No matter how lacking in enthusiasm I may be first thing in the morning, by the time the session is over I am always glad we took part.  Training in a group situation has been a significant undertaking for me because this is the first time I have ever been involved in taking on anything quite so far from my comfort zone ... I guess it goes to prove you can teach both young and old dogs new tricks eh?!

Today's session was productive in terms of heel work (give or take the odd rabbit poo distraction) down staying, sit staying, coming to heel when called, recall and so on.  There was a brief moment of chaos entirely created by Polly at the start of the agility session, when she decided it must be time to run from the seesaw across the course to say hello to her pal Molly, who then decided if Polly was up for giving her owner the runaround, she would join in the mischief.  Nearby, like the good boy he is, dear old Dudley the black labrador sat completely still the moment Sue asked him to, waiting patiently for us to reclaim our naughty girls.

Once we'd restored order, Polly returned to the matter in hand and tackled three or four pieces of equipment at a time, in a fairly controlled style.  As I was unsure of completing the entire course in a single circuit because of the problem with my hip, Kevin kindly offered to put Polly (Molly too - as Jane also could have done with an 'excused P.E 'note!) through her paces by running the course with her.  Not only was this a treat for me to watch, it was also interesting to see how the job is done properly.  Polly was clearly excited to work for Kevin and by watching rather than doing, I could see how sharpening up control pays dividends in terms of focus and outcome.  I also clearly saw Polly is beginning to know her stuff and is eager to show it off!

Many thanks Kevin for patiently helping us this far and also for going well beyond the call of duty today to ensure our dogs had the opportunity to participate fully and have fun doing so ... now that's what I call a good instructor!

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Oh what a beautiful morning!

My kitchen was stomach churningly revolting when I opened the door to say hello to Polly this morning.  Note to self: no more of those nasty bones in heat sealed wrap from the pet shop in future! Urgh!

After a thorough clean-up, I decided it would be safer for Poll's tummy if we cancelled our planned woodland romp with Molly and Dudley (which had the potential for my stinky miss to have her nose into all kinds of unmentionable 'treats' whilst running loose with her pals) in favour of a more sedate 'on lead' stroll through the park instead.

It was an absolutely beautiful morning and very peaceful, but there were plenty of other dogs out and about, so I took the opportunity to do some clicker training with Polly and was very pleased to see her concentrate more on our clicking/treating and less on approaching dogs. 

Polly has a tendency to sometimes sink to her belly when dogs approach in what I am sure she considers 'stressful surroundings' and she may pop back up and lunge at them if they approach too suddenly - this can make our walk very intermittent and is frustrating, so I've been deliberately taking her to places where she has to pass other dogs on paths, then encouraging her forward each time with a firm 'let's go'.  If she sinks down to her tummy, I've been starting again by asking her to move forward with me and the second she shows interest in doing so, clicking and treating and I am happy to say, even though we met dogs of all shapes, sizes and energy levels today, we had absolutely no belly flops and even better still, with a little carefully timed encouragement, Polly stayed by my side each time and kept walking! Yay!!!

I have loved walking round the lake in Mote Park both on my own and with my family during the past forty years, but walking in such a popular park with a young dog puts a very different perspective on things.  There are many dogs roaming freely, some behaving well, some less so and each one is a huge temptation to my friendly pup, not to mention the lure of the lake!  Of course, I would love to be able to allow Polly her freedom off lead here too, but even though her recall is good, I still don't yet feel sufficiently confident she would cope well with the many distractions such freedom would involve at this particular place.  Hopefully we will ultimately achieve the level of recall and control I was talking about in my previous post and will then be able to enjoy our lovely local park more fully together ... definitely a goal to aim for!

Monday, 13 January 2014

A bit of a dichotomy

Session 17 ...

We have, what my dear dad would have termed, 'a bit of a dichotomy' ...

On the one hand, Polly now makes me so proud with her delightful recalls during obedience sessions at school; she can 'go play' off lead with six or seven other exuberant dogs on the training field and will return to me pretty smartly each time I call her.  She loves this game!  She will also recall beautifully if we go woodland walking with Molly and Dudley, or out walking on our own.

However, (and this is quite a significant however) Poll's understanding seems to be that if we let her off lead at a park or playing field, she can have a lovely run in big circles, then if she spies another dog arriving on the field, 'go play' with him.  Most times this isn't a problem, she'll bounce across the field to introduce herself, socialise, then return to me when called.  The problem is, she has recently started to occasionally turn a deaf ear to 'Polly COME' if she is en route to a target I have failed to spot early enough.  This can be tricky if for example, she spies a protective owner walking a nervy pint-sized dog on a lead, as they may not understand my sappy dappy girl will only say hello to their little darling, that she never jumps up at people and her snack preference is Bonio's rather than small canines - the Pollster is rather a daunting prospect if she's heading their way in full, glorious, goldie flight!  

I am keenly aware of the potential for disaster if Polly were to inadvertently knock over a child, or race up to a less than friendly dog out for a walk on lead with his owner, so there's no doubt in my mind, we need to fix this.  No matter how friendly and gentle I know she is, it simply isn't appropriate for Polly to ignore my command so she can race over to unfamiliar dogs and their owners -I think we now need to work on developing an understanding that 'come' means 'RIGHT NOW, THIS INSTANT, DO NOT PASS GO, DO NOT SAY HELLO, GET YOUR BUM BACK TO MUM PRONTO' so I can be confident Polly will turn and return safely to me the moment she is called, whatever the circumstances. Tall order eh?!

I'm not sure how to go about achieving this level of recall, but needs must, so I will be Googling for tips, asking my dog owning friends and family for suggestions and of course, mentioning it to our training instructor Kevin in the hope he has a handy magic wand!  I'll let you know how we progress and if you have any advice to share, please feel free to leave a comment, it will be most gratefully received ...


In 'other news', training session 17 went pretty well all told.  Polly's heel work is coming along beautifully and she'll now nip 'round to heel' neatly, without me having to faff around with too much choreography.  She's usually pretty focused while we toddle round the course with the other dogs, putting in sits, downs, stays, recalls etc.  We're even starting to see a 'stand' emerging and we've started work to keep my big bottomed girl from swinging out her derriere to the side when she sits, proving that even sassy, shapely lasses can sit tidily!

Formal 'down staying' is still a bit of a battle, so I've decided to go right back to basics with that task and build it up gradually again with the clicker.  We're practising at home each day, so I'm sure we'll get there in the end.

Agility is improving too - Polly's that is, more than mine (mind you, even I'm feeling fitter!)  She enjoys agility tasks (except weave poles which seem very close together when you are a curvy big girl) and now happily runs through tunnels, jumps hurdles, long jumps, walks steadily across frames, balances on the baby seesaw and leaps through windows/tyres. It's fun to share this with her now we are both more confident, but at the moment, I feel as though I may be holding her back a wee bit, because having such a large lively dog has tweaked a weak hip joint which threatens to pop out of its socket if I twist slightly on slippery ground ... frustrating, but if I remember I'm not twenty one any more (!) and make sure I work extra hard to maintain Polly's control, we should be fine.  By the way, Polly's woodland walking pal Molly the lab/husky and her owner Peter, mastered a spectacular full circuit of the agility course this week ... such a pleasure to watch what can be achieved!

Polly has plenty ahead yet to learn to develop her reliability even further, but we both thoroughly enjoy time spent training and she is undoubtedly making sound progress, which makes all the hard work (and believe me, there has been plenty of it!) completely worthwhile.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Mud Busting

I'm thinking this could go one of two ways ... either Polly will be the envy of every local dog walker and their dog, or we will never be able to show our faces in public again!

I'm so torn!  This amazing mud busting onesie is probably gonna murder my girl's street cred, but it is soooooo practical for a cream, hairy fluffball who loves to romp in swamps!!!!

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

10 things I didn't know

I researched thoroughly (or so I thought!) before deciding to adopt a Golden Retriever eight months ago, however Polly has since kindly enlightened me about a few things the standard breed books forgot to mention .... 

1. First and foremost, Goldies will eventually do most things in return for a nibble of Cheddar cheese. 

2. Goldies prefer to act as tour guide on walks, they are total 'jobsworths' in this respect, so if they think you need to turn right not left for example, they will a)lead you firmly the 'right' way, or b)plonk themselves heavily on their bottoms or tummies, refusing to budge, until you see the error of your ways.

3. Goldies are social butterflies, always on the lookout for party invitations from other dogs.  For them, socialising is the entire purpose of walking, so you will need to allow plenty of time for your daily constitutionals.  In return for this consideration, Goldies will happily introduce you to every other dog walker and his dog, in your neighbourhood.

4. Goldies feet smell like Cheddar cheese and if you don't know this fact, may cause marital disharmony when you criticise your partner for leaving his/her stinky shoes in the hallway.  In fact, Goldies are whiffy in general and above all, love to roll in 'eau de fox poo'.  No amount of baths will convince them of the need for maintaining personal hygiene.

5. Goldies DO chase cats and thoroughly enjoy so doing.  That said, they don't eat them and will graciously accept a severe whack on the nose from said cat in return for a jolly good chase.

6. Goldies usually understand a whole heap more than they choose to have you believe.  Words such as 'down and stay' for example, may be completely ignored at doggie training school, but at home, will miraculously be put into action if trainer also offers the magic word 'Bonio'.

7. Goldies are very keen gardeners.  They don't understand the purpose of 'lawn' or 'rose bed' but do understand the need to dig and prune ... diligently and regularly.

8. Goldies prefer to greet visitors with a soft toy in their mouth. They may chew other toys to pieces, but said softies will always remain safe, even after they have completely and utterly loved the stuffing out of them.

9. What you may perceive as 'stubborn', your Goldie will perceive as 'good sense' and no amount of shouting or tugging will convince him/her otherwise. That said, Goldies are usually very willing to be convinced by a well timed nibble of Cheddar cheese, a tickle behind the ears and a smiley voice.

10.  Goldies will sit on your lap when you need to work, lick your ears when you're not paying attention, sleep on your couch when they think you're not looking and completely steal your heart without warning!

Monday, 6 January 2014

Mud, mud, glorious mud ..

Mud, mud, glorious mud, there's nothing quite like it ... and it sure was at its glorious best as we squelched our way around the golf course at Cobtree Manor Country Park yesterday afternoon!

My fluffy cream and golden retriever very quickly turned swamp brown, much to her furry delight!

There's no doubt that having a long haired, pale coloured dog is very hard work at this time of year, but rather than fuss about it, we just get on with enjoying ourselves and let Polly do her Polly Dog stuff, which often includes sploshing through swampy puddles and if the opportunity presents itself, jumping in up to her shoulders to hunt for sticks.

Hang on a tick Dad, there might be a good stick in here ...

Yay! This is a great stick!

Unfortunately for me, my lovely pink wellies chose yesterday to spring a leak!

We tried letting Polly off lead for a while, but she decided to run on the golf course rather than stay close to us on the perimeter path (can't blame her, she's absolutely right, it DOES look like a big green field!) Fortunately it was very quiet on the green, so no harm was done and to her credit, she came back promptly when I called her.

Polly didn't mind walking on her lead and was quite content to tromp through the mud at Dad's side while I played with my camera.

By the time we'd squelched around the entire perimeter of the golf course, we were all fresh air tired and extremely muddy.  Polly knows the routine by now though ... a quick kip on the back seat of my car on the way home, a wipe of her feet, then straight upstairs and hop into the bath for a thorough hose down, before a well-earned Bonio!

Saturday, 4 January 2014

2014, back to school!

Session 16 ...

Polly and I struck lucky with the weather for our first training session of 2014 ... after the miserable heavy rain and howling gales we've had of late, it was actually a beautiful sunny day!  That didn't help one jot with the drive because the sun was so low in the sky it was hard to see where we were going, but despite one or two hairy moments with determined on-coming traffic on those narrow country lanes, we arrived in one piece, slightly anxious, but ready to start work ...

Waiting for a wet 'n wild pavement walk in 'lumpy rain' yesterday!

And thankfully, Polly hadn't forgotten her stuff over the Christmas break!  Recall is no longer an issue for us, she plays hard, then races back to me for her cheese eagerly when called.  She also raced around the agility circuits (albeit a little clumsily when it came to the hurdles!) and thoroughly enjoyed showing me what she could do in return for a treat ... and now we're treating at the completion of a small circuit of about three or four pieces of equipment, rather than for every item, so progress is definitely being made.  She's also staying focused throughout, which makes my life so much easier!

Heel work is coming along nicely too.  At home Polly now heel walks to command off lead, with sits, downs and recalls (and we're working on 'stands') but walking round a circuit with other dogs in close proximity is a much bigger challenge, so as yet, we haven't ditched our lead (with a brief exception when she's asked to come round to heel -simply because she can do this well now and it works better for us both without the lead as I don't tangle us up!  Also, I am now confident to drop her lead and ask Polly to 'sit and stay' as I walk forward, then call her to heel.)  Polly worked really well for her heel circuit this time, particularly as she also had to contend with seated dogs watching her.

In fact, the only real issue this week, (aside from Polly's total lack of focus when two horses clip clopped up the lane) was Poll's refusal to 'down stay/out of sight' at the end of the session.  We're miles from 'out of sighting' yet, as we still struggle to maintain a 'down' in this task - Polly is a bit of a rebel, particularly when the ground is cold and wet!  After eventually achieving a brief 'down stay' I bailed out and Kevin kindly allowed Polly to redeem herself by using her as a heel walking distraction, while the other more compliant dogs remained in position.  Polly was put through her paces and the other dogs stayed in place ... a happy ending for all concerned!
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