Big-dog-little-handler: finding a balance.

Duke seems to be doing really well lately, training is going much better than I ever thought it would. We are still hitting a few hiccups every now and then; Duke still gets over excited and he picks a new thing to be afraid of every few days. Today it’s the iron but I suppose that’s a good excuse to avoid doing the ironing for today. Last week it was cars with their headlights on at night time… that one wasn’t fun but we worked past that with lost of treats and desensitization (basically just walking up to lots of cars at night and feeding him treats). He’s still a bit of a nutter but I’m sure we wouldn’t have him any other way.

One really important thing has become clear trough training; Duke doesn’t do too well if he’s too relaxed, bored or if he is too excited. With Duke its all about the balance! Its great when he’s relaxed because he just wants to cuddle and chill out but he doesn’t learn so well. He needs to sit in between relaxed and excited in order to learn and follow instructions. If he is chilled he will just lay there and look at me; ignoring what I say. Too relaxed and he’s virtually napping! Too excited and he’s trying to jump at my head and a six stone dog jumping at your head is never a good thing. If he sits between calm and super excited, he achieves brilliant things. He surprises everyone. He’s really attentive, follows instructions and picks up new tricks really well. I have to watch that I hype him up just enough. The way you speak to him seems to have a massive impact on achieving the right levels. An exciting happy voice is needed for praise or to motivate him and a firm assertive voice to remind him to calm down. Bored; well a bored Dukey is a mad dog and will try and bully you into playing. We have a lot less of that these days though. I don’t know if that’s down to him growing up?

Off-leading; oh yes we have been off the lead again! And he is actually doing well. I love letting him off the lead because he seems so happy and free! He’s paying attention to us, he’s listening to us and responding; not just running off into the distance.

He’s a lot calmer and overall a lot more relaxed trotting around off the lead. It’s taken some time to work on his recall and getting his attention when there are lots of exciting smells and sounds but we seem to be there. The problem hasn’t just been Duke’s tendency to run around like a mad thing but my tendency to worry about him. We let him off at the beach and I was so nervous it sent him a bit loopy at times! He would suddenly become frantic; I think he was responding to my anxiousness so it’s more my bad than his.

In all honesty I’m less worried about Duke and more worried about people. Our Boy looks big and strong and to some people apparently scary. I worry that they will misinterpret his behaviour if I’m not close enough to show that he’s just a bouncy big baby. He goes to play with their dog and they act as though he might eat them. Other people’s opinion of my dog shouldn’t matter but it does especially when there dog seeks duke out first!

After a successful if not somewhat nerve wrecking trip to the beach we decided to let him off again this weekend. He was, I’m pleased to say, brilliant. He came back when called, trotted around happily and played beautifully. I’m very proud of my boy he showed his doubters wrong! We let him off again today in the woods where the silly hound fell in a, well what I can only describe as a, bog! At one point I though I was going to have to jump in to pull him out. Luckily the silly beast freed himself. I then had to try and entice him into a river to wash him down.

We still had to bath him when we got home because he was covered in sticky stinky mud. All this weekend he has been really good so there is definitely hope for the future (I’m still not confident enough to let him off if there are lots of people or dogs around). The training is really paying off. I just love seeing him hit his top speed and racing back to us.

We have still been going to the O-rally classes. We love rally! Dukes worked his way through all the signs that make up level one. We are just working on the lining up. We aren’t particularly polished. I’m not so worried about being perfect as we only do it as a way for Duke to learn to be more focused and because he really enjoys it. I’d recommend rally to anyone who wants to bring an element of fun to training their pooch!

Going off lead in training sessions is a challenge we haven’t yet mastered; we definitely aren’t there yet. But I drop his lead for most of the exercises now (that way I can quickly snap it up should he get distracted!) He’s perfected quite a few tasks in training class: Go to bed, gate control, the emergency stop and heeling. We haven’t quite perfected: Stay and walking past food on the floor (comically known as temptation ally). We had stay down but for some reason he seems to have forgotten it! He just starts walking towards me which I suppose is better than him wondering off to bother other dogs. How on earth do you master a stay when you dog is obsessed with following you around?

Karl, Duke and I are excited for Christmas, our next challenge? Teaching Duke not to eat the tree!!

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