Friday 26 March 2010

“He’s just being friendly” …

… said the lady as her little terrier determinedly shoved his nose in my dog’s faces.

We had an ‘encounter’ with a little black terrier earlier this week. We were on our morning walk, minding our own business, all dogs walking beautifully on lead and to heel – just as I always aim for it to be, although in truth it’s not always the case! A lady was approaching us with a little black dog running around. On spying us the little dog decided it wanted a closer inspection of this ‘pack’ of fine looking collies, so set off at a fair pace towards us. Not a problem, the ‘pack’ are fine. Little terrier did not hold back with it’s inspection, it went straight in and shoved it’s nose right up to Womble Bum’s nose. She growled and snapped at him, just in time for the lady to see. In a tone of complete indignation she said “he’s just being friendly, there was no need to snap”. If there’s one thing that’s certain to annoy me, it’s this. “But he’s not being friendly” I explained “he’s completely lacking in manners and expressing the height of doggy rudeness and has quite rightly been told off”.

It reminded me of an excellent article written by Suzanne Clothier, entitled He just wants to say “Hi!”. She starts off the article with the scenario of herself sitting on a bench with her husband when a strange man sits down next to her, too close for comfort, she moves closer to her husband who’s pre-occupied. When the stranger starts groping her she yells and slaps him. She’s then immediately thrown to the floor by her husband who shouts “he’s only being friendly”. I believe that anybody who owns a dog, or anybody who is thinking of getting a dog, should read this article.

The lady with the little black terrier misguidedly walked away under the impression that I was rude, my dog was aggressive and should have been disciplined, and her little dog was a sweet little darling that had been misunderstood. On reading the article she would be prompted to think that maybe her little dog was rather rude, and the dog that snapped was perfectly entitled to tell it off as it came way too close into her personal space. A must to read article, it can be found at

The rain has arrived … and so too the mud, a bit of a shock after such a long spell of nice weather. There hasn’t been a lot of training going on this week, although the dogs really don’t care what the weather is, with the exception of the Arctic Fox, aka the Mud Magnet. If there’s wet and dirt to find then she’ll find it. She’s had a lovely time today splashing around in mud. I do hope the weather improves, I’m already fed up of dirty doggy towels.

Sunday 14 March 2010

Whispering weaves ...

This week I went with friends to see the Dog Whisperer, Cesar Millan, a very enjoyable evening it was too. Now Cesar receives a lot of flack, go to any doggy forum and you can see scads of people decrying what he does, saying he uses cruel and aversive training methods. But, he also has a huge following, demonstrated by the sheer volume of people turning out to his current UK tour. There’s a lot of common sense in what he says … live with a ‘pack’ of dogs and a lot of things are very familiar. Everyone has their own opinion of what he’s about, but if my friend wins the lottery she’s promised me a trip to his dog psychology centre, and I’ll be going!

I was slightly disappointed that Mr Millan didn’t address the problem of the little old lady with the sweetie bag. I’m sure there must be other dog owners out there who encounter her on their walks. The first time you meet her she gives your dog sweeties (usually without asking your permission), the next time you see her in the distance and your dogs eagerly anticipate the sweeties and drag you towards her at great speed. The little old sweetie lady is not a desperately pleasurable encounter when you have 5 dogs eagerly expecting their sweets. Discussing it amongst my friends it was suggested a rolled up newspaper should be used … it was felt that this would be sufficient deterrent to ward off the little old lady!

I decided this week that I would set myself the challenge of teaching the Arctic Fox to do agility weaves. She’s yet to decide whether she wants to work sheep, so whilst she makes up her mind I thought it would be good to give her something to do. Womble Bum used to compete in agility until an injury led to her very early retirement. However, she loves the weaves and often gets to do them as a reward when she has completed good heelwork. She learnt weaves with clicker training, just starting off with 2 poles, teaching the correct entry and then building up with a pole at a time. Not everyone’s ideal method, there are plenty who would teach all 12 weaves at the same time. But if a dog cannot complete 4 weaves, it certainly isn’t going to do 12! She has a real understanding and can be sent into the weaves, called through them and can enter from any direction, they’re always carried out correctly.

This time I thought we’d try Susan Garrett’s 2x2 weave training method. Susan is a highly accomplished Canadian agility competitor and has produced a number of books and DVDs. Good enough recommendation for giving her method a go but where to start? After looking around on the internet I found lots of YouTube demonstrations. The theory is that it just takes 12 days to complete 12 poles. Hmmm, I am sure that is achievable if you actually buy and watch the DVD … it strikes me, from our first session, that there is something the YouTube demonstrations are not showing. We'll keep trying ... but 12 days seems a long way away.

Sunday 7 March 2010

"That'll do"

… “that’ll do indeed” I thought as the New Boy and I came to the end of our first training session.

It’s been a glorious week so New Boy and I went for our first training session with Alan, whose task it is to teach me to become a sheepdog handler and so train New Boy. We met up with another friend and her youngster, Flyn, not quite a year old and showing lots of promise. Fox, the expert gathered 13 sheep into our training field and held them in place whilst Flyn did his work. After an initial ‘wild’ period he settled down and was working his sides really nicely and developing a good outrun. I’m not quite sure who was the most exhausted at the end of this session … the dog, the handler or the trainer!
Then it was our turn. Fox again gathered the sheep up into a nice tight group before he retired back to his mum for cuddles – sshhh, not meant to say that about a rufty tufty farm boy and superb trials dog! “Come bye” … New Boy moved out to our left, then “away” … he changed direction beautifully. I was told to soften my voice – this was a bit of a surprise because during some of my obedience training I’ve been told to make my voice louder! Anyone watching Alan work the sheep at close quarters would think he wasn’t giving commands, move in a bit closer and you will hear very quiet commands. Dogs have exceptional hearing, and soft, quite commands are nice for them to listen to and training is all about pleasant experiences.

New Boy has been working in tight to his flocks, so we need to teach him to work out from the sheep and also to drive. We started teaching the drive by coaxing him up to the sheep as I moved backwards, then putting him into a “lie down”, then moving the sheep forward again with a “walk up”. He got the hang of this very quickly. We then started to develop the driving of the sheep without me being in front of them. Everything is broken down into very small, manageable chunks. Both Alan and I were incredibly pleased with him at the end of our training.

Handsome Lad and Womble Bum have also been in training as they had an obedience competition. If you want to succeed you have to train … I haven’t been doing anywhere enough training with them so wasn’t hopeful of a win. Handsome Lad did very well, although badly hindered by his handler whose brain went to mush on entering the ring … very much a case of ‘great dog, shame about the handler’. Womble Bum frequently surprises me. She has done all the winning so far, but there are occasions when she just has a great time in the ring at my expense. This competition was one such occasion!

It’s been a glorious day today. Der spring is sprung, der grass is riz, I wonder where dem boidies is comes to mind. It was clear where the birds were as they were making lots of noise as they busied themselves in the warm sunshine. The snowdrops and crocus were looking lovely … a good place for photographs.

Tuesday 2 March 2010

"You've got your hands full"

… the lady said as she spun round to do a double take at my dogs on their early morning walk. I’ve been trying to put off the inevitable comments from neighbours and fellow dog walkers since arriving home with New Boy. It was going to happen sooner or later ... at 7am on Saturday morning we went out for our slightly earlier than normal walk. Not a soul about until we reached the beck. Here a lady passed us as the pack stopped to piddle. She continued a couple of steps and spun around quickly looking at me aghast! I wasn’t quite sure what she was going to say but the familiar … “you’ve got your hands full” came out. I agreed that yes I had but “there’s room for one more yet”.

This is something I, and I’m sure other multi-dog owners, am used to hearing. Other frequent comments include “are they all yours?” and “are you a dog walker?”. I’ve never felt the urge to make similar comments to the people I see approaching me with three or four children at their side. I wonder what it is about dogs that solicit such comments.

It amuses me when we get the “you’ve got your hands full” from the single dog owner; you know the one, the one that’s being dragged along by their dog who is five yards ahead. It’s usually quite clear which of us actually has got their hands full … and with mine all walking nicely beside me, it’s not me! We also get some lovely comments, “what well behaved dogs”, “what beautiful dogs” … and of course they are!

We’ve been minding a friend’s farm for a couple of days. This morning we woke to a deep blue sky, sunshine and heavy frost. I took Womble Bum and Handsome Lad out with me to feed the ponies and sheep. Womble Bum doesn’t work sheep but she’s a very useful deterrent to have around when feeding them, as they will try to mug me at the earliest opportunity if they think they’ll get their hay a bit quicker. Handsome Lad has more sense than to follow me into the field as there are two in this flock that don’t think of themselves as sheep, and neither it would appear do the rest of the flock. Dolly the Herdwick and Dotty the Jacob. Dotty is particularly useful with her fine set of horns … dog or human? She really doesn’t mind who she goes for.

Having finished the early morning jobs it was time for a walk on the allotment. I have been very lucky with the New Boy, he is fitting in so well. It could have been very different. He’s got an excellent recall, walks very nicely on lead and gets on so well with the other dogs. At the farm he’s running around with his sister, dad, granny, aunties and great grandparents. It’s a nice sight to see, so many generations of family members all enjoying each others company.