Thursday, 27 February 2014
At teatime each day, Polly enjoys some fun on my living rug by practising some basic skills in return for a few biscuits before her main course. This week we've introduced a clockwise and anti-clockwise 'rollover' ... it may be a little 'unpolished', but as you can see on this little video, Polly is very enthusiastic about her new game!
Saturday, 22 February 2014
No time to stop because I'm up to my eyeballs in work today, but I couldn't resist sharing a few pics snapped this week, which for me, say everything there is to say about working hard to establish a reliable recall ...
Working to instill a solid recall has been a long, often frustrating process, but when I see the grin on Polly's face as she chases sticks, or runs for the sheer thrill of running and feel confident she will come back to me when I call, I can't fail to recognise the reward of so many months of practice and worry ... it has definitely been time and energy well spent!
Friday, 21 February 2014
With an important teddy bear exhibition looming large on my calendar, I've been pressed for time for the past couple of weeks, so reluctantly decided to cancel Polly's woodland swamp walking with Molly and Dudley in favour of less muddy local walks, until after my show. Keeping goldies clean at this time of year is very time consuming and swamp walking requires travelling time and bathing time which knocks a considerable hole in my working hours - not to mention how much it tires me out; so much so, all I can usually manage is to sit staring trance-like into space, sipping coffee afterwards!
Polly pops into my workroom from time to time when I'm working, to check on my progress - especially if one of my cats has come in to see me. Poor Daisy thought she'd slip in for a crafty snooze under the chair yesterday afternoon but didn't bank on Polly hot on her heels. Don't be fooled by this pally looking photo, Daisy is still far from happy having a big bouncy Polly in her world and Polly is still determined to chase 'that silly cat' whenever she can. If only Daisy would realise strolling casually, rather than racing everywhere in a panic, soon loses Polly's interest. Fortunately my other cat Puddle is a bit brighter than Daisy and has worked this out. Until dopey Daisy cottons on, I'll just have to persist with trying to train Polly out of chasing her; she does now 'sit' and 'down' to allow Daisy to pass safely when I tell her to, but if I'm not looking and Daisy decides to run, she gets chased ... never caught though, for Polly the fun is all in the chase!
As I mentioned in a recent post, we've been using the 10 metre training lead in public parks to smarten up Polly's recall under distracting circumstances. It has been going well, but a word to the wise - never underestimate the strength of a golden retriever running at full pelt on such a long lead! My husband is a pretty substantial chap, but was felled like tree last weekend when Polly forgot she was wearing the training lead. She raced ahead as fast as she could, pulling his 5' 10", fourteen stone frame over in the mud as if he were as light as a feather - he landed with such a whack, he saw stars! The next day, I took her to the playing fields to work with the same lead and after playing/training happily with me, she caught me unaware when she suddenly took off to see another dog, pulling me into a rather inelegant muddy slide. Mud, wet conditions, strong dogs and long training leads are to be handled with extreme caution ... fortunately, if you discount a couple of daft fifty something's bruised ego's and mud splattered clothes, no real harm was done this time but we'll both be more aware next time, because it could have been much worse.
It's so good to see some sunshine today! Our UK winter has been the wettest for a very long time and I'm sure every dog walker must be as tired as I am of battling mud and rain each day. Polly has a super new coat for muddy swamp romps, hopefully this 'mudbuster combat suit' will help minimise the need for complete baths in the weeks to come while the woods and parks dry out. It's made from a nice stretchy fabric and feels tough, so we'll probably put it through its paces with Molly and Dudley next time we meet for a swamp romp.
I've lost count of exactly how many obedience classes we've attended now, somewhere around twenty or so I think. All in all, we've been training with Kevin's outdoor group since last August, about six months ago. We've missed a few sessions due to illness and bad weather cancellations, but the progress we've made is clearly evident now. Whenever I see a nervous new member starting school with a young dog, it makes me smile to see how far we've come since our first sessions and how worthwhile the ongoing commitment to training both at school and at home has been. There are of course, still plenty of areas to work on; for instance, although I am delighted with Polly's recall at school now, I still lack a degree of confidence in public places, when I'm on my own with her. I am aware this may be more to do with my confidence, than with Polly's actual recall ability now, but the responsibility of owning a large dog is always paramount in my mind in terms maintaining control in public spaces. I am also massively conscious of wanting to keep Polly safe as I have heard so many heartbreaking stories of lost and stolen dogs. Balancing her need for fun and free running exercise with my responsibility as a dog owner/her mum, is a constant challenge.
This week's training session was a wet one and needless to say, I took a tumble on the agility course when my welly slipped in the mud as I turned a corner. Thankfully no damage was done, other than bashing my middle-aged muddy bum! Despite the persistent rain, we all had a laugh and our dogs worked hard, but unfortunately Polly was rattled by another young dog during the group off lead session. I'm not quite sure what happened, other than I noticed her looking worried as she ran as fast as she could to get away from him, which is unusual for her as usually she plays happily with everyone and invites the other dogs to play with her. She is used to bouncing around with big, lively dogs, but this time was noticeably running away, rather than playing a friendly game of chase. She couldn't outrun him though and when he caught up with her, she yelped loudly. This happened a couple of times and then Polly ran to me and wouldn't leave my side, which I've never known her to do before as she always loves this section of the training session. The only other time I have ever noticed Polly yelp was a while ago, when during a walk an intact male dog became amorously aggressive towards her, frightening her and requiring me to bellow at him to free her. I know the dog at school was neutered recently, but I wonder if maybe there could have been an element of testosterone fuelled chase still present? Hopefully it was an isolated incident and won't happen again.
That aside, there's no doubt in mind that as a result of training school, combined with working training into our daily life, Polly now takes her cues from me and tries her hardest to work with me. Working together has definitely helped us bond and given us the opportunity to fully enjoy our time together. Polly has benefited hugely from me learning how to give firm, gentle, positive guidance and it's rare now that she does anything to challenge either me or my family ... in fact, the worst it gets these days is if I try to call her in from the garden and she decides, for the sheer waggy tailed joy of it, to give me the runaround!
Tuesday, 18 February 2014
Back in 1985, my daughter was just two years old and I was in my early twenties, heavily pregnant with my son when I happened to lumber past a local pet shop and there in the window staring back at me, was the most heart achingly beautiful, floppy-eared collie-cross puppy. Two days later my (then) husband and I went back to the shop, paid £8 and carried him home in a cardboard box to live with us ... far from ideal circumstances for adopting a puppy I know, but in those days a youthful heart ruled my head so I simply couldn't leave him there.
Harvey and my son in 1985
Our first job was to de-flea poor 'Harvey', as he was riddled with the little devils. Once we'd given him a scrub and sent his unwelcome guests packing, he settled in happily at home with our tortoiseshell kitten Sally, who had been abandoned in a piggery at just four weeks. Sally quickly decided Harvey would make a lovely 'mum' and the two became firm friends ... Harvey would even allow Sally to climb onto his back for naps!
A few years later, my kids playing with Harvey
Soon after adopting Harvey, I presented my daughter with a brother and our family was complete ... until four more cats moved in with us, but that's another story!
Back then, I knew nothing about dog training, so muddled my way through toilet training Harvey and teaching him basic commands, juggling my time between animals, kids and husband. Harvey had such a gentle nature and loved being with my children, so in terms of introducing a very young dog to such a young family, I think I was very lucky.
In hindsight, I don't think Harvey had nearly as much consideration given to him in those days, as my Polly does today. He had to fit in with the rough and tumble of our family life which meant sometimes he was walked every day, other times he wasn't. We took him to the park with the kids most weekends, which they all loved, but I was never confident enough to let him off the lead, so as he grew older he became wise to this and would slip out the door to take himself for a run if an opportunity presented itself. I worried myself silly each time this happened and would run round the streets calling for him, but was never quick enough to catch him! After he'd had his fun, I would hear a bark outside my front door and there he would be, waiting for me to let him ... thankfully he never disappeared for more than an hour or so.
My son now 28, meeting Polly pup
Harvey lived out his days with us, driving me crazy with his constant barking when anyone moved outside the kitchen window or the garden fence, jumping up at visitors and counter surfing like a expert - traits it never occurred to my young silly self, might be trained out. In 2000, old age finally caught up with our 'how much is that doggie in the window' Harvey dog, so we said our final goodbyes. Harvey may have had his faults thanks to our ignorance, but he was a loyal, gentle, clever dog and my kids loved him.
Fifteen years after saying goodbye to Harvey, we adopted Polly!
Shown here: me with my daughter Fay, taking Polly for a walk last Summer
Co-incidentally it is only now, as I look back at these old photographs, I see what my collie-cross Harvey may have been crossed with - is it possible that is some retriever I see there?!
All Golden Retriever ... Polly
Monday, 10 February 2014
Training with an outdoor obedience group is great for my big bouncy goldie, but only when the weather permits; unfortunately our past two sessions have been cancelled because the field wasn't safe in all the heavy rain. Hopefully we'll be back later in the week as the forecast now looks a little more promising ... fingers crossed.
Meanwhile, me 'n the Pollster certainly haven't been twiddling our paws! We've been out to local parks and playing fields whenever possible to practice our moves, so we don't get rusty.
Having fun in the park using the training lead
Rather than walking Polly to heel on her lead in our busy local park at the weekend (I've been nervous about letting her off here as it is heavily populated with dog walkers and families) I decided we'd take her up there to work with a 10 metre training lead for a change. So I gave Stuart one end to hold, clipped Polly to the other and off we went ... I found it much easier with Stuart's help as I am usually a complete klutz with the training lead when left to my own devices.
As we walked I kept my eyes open for distractions and as soon as Polly looked liked becoming fixated, called her to 'come' in my happy 'good girl Polly' voice, then rewarded her well for doing so. If she didn't come first time, Stuart gave a gentle tug on the lead to remind her of her manners, then she raced back to us for her liver cake treats. We were delighted when she needed only a couple of reminders throughout our entire walk!
Get the liver cake ready mum, I'm a-coming!
After about an hour and a half of walking and calling, we headed towards the car park, then noticed Polly stop in her tracks to watch a cute pair of Westies playing a little way off ... usually she would not be able to resist the urge to run to them, so I waited for a second to see if she'd race over and was over the moon when instead she turned and ran to me, even though I hadn't actually called her, nor had there had been any tugging on her training lead!
By the way, it wasn't all about recall training on our Mote Park walk, Polly found some lovely big puddles to play in too!
Spurred on by our training lead success at the weekend, I decided to tackle it on my own earlier today. Me 'n Polly popped along to our local playing field for a lunchtime run around and used the long lead to reinforce her recall, this time by playing 'fetch' with her squeaky ball. Usually if I throw a ball when we're out, she'll only retrieve it once or twice before losing interest, but today squeaky ball had her running back and forwards smartly for about ten solid minutes.
I've been trying to introduce Polly to the concept of dropping into a 'down' no matter what she is doing at the time, ie., running away from me, towards me, playing, walking etc etc ... she has cottoned on to this new 'game' really well at home, so I tried it out at the playing field a couple of times when she ran to fetch her ball and yes, she performed on cue!!!! We also practised sit stays, down stays and stands and with the training lead attached, I felt far more confident training by myself in a public place.
Practising her 'stand' ... clever girl Poll!
After about half an hour it started to rain, so I decided it was time to stop work and put Polly back on her 'happy at heel' harness for the walk home. Polly decided that was okay with her, just so long as she could carry the big stick she'd found all the way home!
Oh and if you are wondering how long it takes to teach an unruly goldie puppy to walk nicely to heel on a lead, I'd urge you to keep practicing because it certainly doesn't happen overnight, but it will be so well worth your effort in the long run. At eleven months of age, Polly is now as good as gold on her lead ... she walks comfortably at my pace, rarely pulls (usually only if I haven't noticed she desperately needs a wee!) waits at kerbs, sits when asked, passes people, children, bicycles, pushchairs etc with no problem and lately, has started to pass most other dogs we meet, politely and calmly too. When she was little, she used to twirl, hang, bite her lead, pull, jump up at people, slump to her belly and refuse to budge, lunge and generally make an utter pest of herself, but thankfully, after nine months of daily walks in all weathers, together with consistent obedience training, we now have a lovely polite girl and I am proud to say, walking with Polly is my absolute pleasure.
Tuesday, 4 February 2014
Jessie visited us for the first time ... she's a cheeky little Cockerpoo, about a year old, as cute as a button and as daft as a brush! Jessie owns my sister Tina and they live in Hampshire, so we don't get to see them often. When Tina rang to say she was heading our way yesterday, we were delighted to be able to arrange a visit to the park for a catch up.
Tina trying to arrange Polly and Jessie for a photo
We headed towards the football pitches first to let our girls off lead, so they could race around in excited doggy circles together. Polly is much larger and heavier than Jessie, which meant every so often there would be a hair raising moment as our girls became entangled, rolling together in crazy cartoon style ... thankfully Jessie came out unscathed each time, happy to continue play with her big bouncy puppy pal. For a tiddler, that Jess is one tough cookie!
Mmmn, Auntie Tina's home baked fish 'n spud treats ...
Mote Park is popular with dog walkers and because of that, a big challenge for Polly in terms of recall, particularly with the many small dogs out walking and of course, the lovely lake which just invites mischief for any water lovin' goldie! So after a good run with Jessie, a game of ball with Auntie Tina and a spot of 'down stay' practice, I popped Miss Polly on a heavy duty retractable lead to continue our walk ...
Snap! We almost got there but Jessie, you're looking the wrong way!
Jessie has also been training hard at school with her mum back in Hampshire and now has a solid recall in place, so she was allowed to run free, saying hello to passing dogs and their humans before returning smartly to Tina whenever she called.
I wanna ride on the swan mum!
As an owner of a large dog, I couldn't help but notice how less intimidating it is for walkers to see a cute Jessie sized dog approaching, than it would be to have a big bouncy Pollster running towards them. A cheeky little 'un can usually run round in circles, jump and say hello to passersby, then quickly run back to their owner when called, without raising so much as an eyebrow, but if a large dog approaches in similar fashion, the outcome can be quite different; for example, on previous walks I have seen non-dog owners freeze as Polly ran towards them, which is fair enough when they don't know her gentle nature. So, as an owner of a reasonably large dog, I've come to the conclusion it's important to continue working to develop recall from a good basic level to a 'pretty darn sharp' level, or ideally, until the understanding 'wait for an invitation before making your doggy introductions', is in place. I wonder, is that too ambitious for my girl?! (Oh and yes, I admit the incident with the horse (previous post) is still making me think long and hard about how much freedom my gorgeous girl is truly ready for ... #anxiousmum!)
Paddling at the park with Auntie Tina and Jessie
After the heavy rainfall we've had in Kent lately, the lake was completely flooded, so naturally we couldn't resist letting our girls have a paddle while we sloshed in our wellies ... who said puddle jumping was only for kids, ha!
Hey Jessie, let's give mum the runaround!
By the time we returned to the car park, both dogs were soggy and sleepy. Tina popped Jessie into her posh zip-up towel baggie to warm her up and when they pulled away from the car park, little Jess was fast asleep and snoring in her fleecy car seat. Aw bless!
Snug as a bug!
It was a lovely walk, sharing our girls at the park.
Have a safe trip home Jessie and Tina, we'll see again you soon.
With lots of love, Polly and Paula xxx