Big-dog-little-handler: what a difference a year makes, off leash walks, dog relationships and not expecting perfection .

I feel like I am forever talking about our training journey. One minuet I’m insisting Duke’s come on leaps and bounds, the next I’m surprised that Duke has taken a step back. I’m annoyed at a slip in our progress or questioning how well we have done. I say I’m proud of Duke’s progress but my heart still skips a little bit when he disappears out of my sight on a walk (panic quickly sets it).

The truth is when dealing with a living, breathing animal with its own mind and will it’s impossible to predict progress, it’s impossible to guarantee in a years time they will be at a particular level or will have achieved a set amount. And when they have achieved the goals we lay out for them now and again, just now and again, they decide that today, or just that second, it’s not for them and they decide to do the opposite.

As Duke has aged he has developed his own personality and that has greatly effected our training and the progress he makes. Duke’s suddenly become an almost grown up dog, he looks after his friends, chooses who to play with and who to stay away from. He loves to break up doggie disputes and police play; but still likes a good game of chase with a well chosen dog. He’s stubborn but tries very hard to please – he is ultimately sweet and soft. playing gently with little dogs and a bit more excitedly with large energetic dogs. He’s learnt to adapt his play to who he is with meaning he gets told off a lot less.

Best pals

Recall has been the hardest thing for Duke to learn. Well, that isn’t strictly true, he learnt a recall command pretty quickly. He just chose to ignore it or follow it when he felt like it. We were on and off the lead. We made progress then had disastrous walks, we had success and frustration. In fact it’s taken almost two years in the making ! Almost two years and I still worry now and again. It’s been a whole year since we attended our first group dog walk and Duke decided to bark in all the dogs faces, wouldn’t leave dogs alone who didn’t want to be his friend and drove me crazy, it’s been almost a year since he chased a cyclist… yeah that was the worst. A year on and we really enjoy our group walks, they are really successful. And they are in fact the highlight of my week.

Re-call lessons we have had to learnt;

⁃ learning a firm “leave it” and “away”.

This is so important when it comes to rabbits, people who don’t like dogs, other dogs, unfriendly dogs and puddles (it doesn’t always work for puddles). It’s worked wonders with keeping him away from dogs on the leash.

⁃ The pros of carrying a ball (In fact two and a back up)

With Duke he needs the ball, he just likes to run around with it. We learnt to not always make him give it to us as sometimes he wouldn’t come back for want to keep hold of his ball. For this reason when I put him on the leash I let him keep hold of the ball for a little bit! He loves having it thrown for him, but, that isn’t what he always wants! If he has decided not to come back I just hold his ball in the air and he zooms over.

⁃ The benefit of walking with friends

Its comforting to have people around you to help, but also to tell you when you are worrying too much. Other dogs really helped Duke, he doesn’t have to go and sniff strangers or rush up to anyone when he is with his mates.

⁃ Staying calm

If I panic so does Duke. He feeds of the emotion and either goes into guarding mode or plays up! Staying calm helps you to keep your head straight and remember the important commands; which are easy to forget when you panic. Keeping calm also keeps Duke calm to!

⁃ Mixing up the walks (but know your walk)

Certain walks aren’t stimulating enough for Duke or he knows where all the good muddy puddles are and bolts off to them before I have even thought about it. Knowing my route or more importantly where any cattle, farms, roads or popular cycling areas are helps me to stay calm. I can pop him on the lead before these triggers arise.

⁃ The need to be on the look out!

Looking out for anything that might interfere with your recall is something any younger dog owner should think about! Omg that’s the Most important one by far. I call him back before he see the bike, cow, puppy etc. I spend a good portion of my walk looking for runners and bikes.

⁃ Happy voice

Dogs want to make you happy, they don’t want you to be cross at them . In fact a harsh voice scares Duke. But a happy excited voice really makes him want to check out what mum has in her pockets (happy voices normally means treats and cuddles!)

⁃ The power of owning a Dog whistle

It’s great for distance, but also a nice sharp sound to get their attention.

⁃ The need to take each walk one at a time.

Not every walk will be the same and sometimes things go well …. and sometimes they don’t. Especially to start with. Emphasising the good and moving on from the not so good has been important. We try to learn from it but move on.

⁃ To ignore others

People can easily see their dog as innocent and yours as the “bad dog” growing a thick skin has been hard: people make comments about Duke based on his size all the time “he looks like he could eat my dog” etc I try to ignore it.

I was due to post this, this morning but had a lot to do, including a walk. Coincidently on this dog walk my confidence with Duke off the lead took a massive knock: We went to Studland today for a group walk ably the beach. It’s my most favourite place to go. While off the lead Duke was playing with a large, beautiful, golden retriever. They were having a world of a time; no aggression no upset from either dogs. They were running up and down having a great time. The man with the golden retriever suddenly called him back and the dog didn’t come. So attempting to help I called Duke. The two dogs were playing and ignoring us: so the man turned to me and shouted at me “are you going to get your dog under control” a bit shocked I reached out for duke but didn’t catch him. The guy was carry a large stick that he had obviously been playing with the dog with. The now very angry man shouted “I’m going to hit your dog in a minute” followed by “you’re a sh** owner” the dog’s were still playing so he raised his stick at screamed at my dog! Who stopped dead in his tracks. Shocked and upset I crouched down to shield my dog . To which the man kept his stick held above us while his dog ran off yet again completely out of control . The woman with him screamed at one of the ladies who came to help me and who had come to my defence outraged and the guys violent behaviour. Even a member of public who’s dog had previously been playing with Duke a few minutes earlier came over to see what on earth was going on with all the shoutings and stick waving. I was in tears and physically shaking as I couldn’t understand where the sudden aggression aimed at me and my dog had come from.

As you can imagine duke stayed on the lead for most of the rest of his walk, my confidence completely shattered (And still pretty shaky) I was so worried about this man and his outburst. I genuinely feel worried about letting Duke off the lead again) I strongly believe if you wish for your dog to have no interaction with others keep them on the lead…. and tell people! I’m genuinely quite shocked about today’s events especially as the dogs were only playing. Seriously hoping all are hard work hasn’t been destroyed.

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