Monday, 31 October 2016

Mischief Monday: In Which Melon Is Tricked By A Dog, Again

The great thing about having an instructor who works many jobs and has working dogs in and out of his property all the time is that sometimes, they come to class.

"Your job," he said as we arrived for our second practical lesson, "is to spoil this puppy. Pat her, feed her treats -- nothing you do with this dog is wrong, today."

puppy with brown head, golden eyes and large paws sits on a lap

'This puppy' was a beautiful little English springer spaniel, 11 weeks old. She had a brown head, white speckled body, and seemed to be all legs. When I first arrived, she was obviously timid, so I let her be. I knew we'd all be swarming into the grounds soon, and that seemed quite enough for her to get used to.

By the end of the day, however, she'd been fed, cuddled and rubbed, as instructed, as well as worn collars a dozen times (both correctly and incorrectly -- we were learning to fit collars!), and was clearly feeling much happier about people.

puppy with white body and brown head lies on floor, reached for by female hands

Now, I didn't set out to teach her anything, honest. (Those who know my teacherly tendencies, stop laughing. I mean it.) But at some point in the day I was handed a tennis ball, and Ava's taught me what puppies like. I'm starting to think, though, that spaniels just can't resist moving things.

When I rolled the ball around and around in front of her, and then gently towards her, she followed it with her eyes, and then suddenly pounced in the direction it rolled. She was adorably clumsy, but soon learned to pick it up in her mouth and return it to me. Whenever she did, I gave her a treat, showered her with praise, and threw the ball for her again.

puppy with brown head, curly ears and white speckled body lies in the shade next to a tennis ball

My instructor had spotted me playing with the puppy throughout the day. As class wrapped up, he said, "Okay, class dismissed... oh, before we go, let's see what Melon's taught my dog."

The class watched as he gently tossed the tennis ball to the 11 week old puppy, who was lying on the floor in the middle of our class. She clumsily followed it, picked it up in her mouth... and ran out the door with it.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

An Update: On What's Going On With Our Girl Ava

So I've borrowed Ava's cute face a few times lately, but I haven't given her any real airtime lately. So I think it's time to do so now.

Hi guys.

Yup, she's in a cone, on lead, having the good life.

Very funny.

Unfortunately her humans noticed that she was having a couple issues with her hind left leg, so off to the vets we went, and it's luxating patella, which is a knee dislocating condition common in small breeds. She wasn't really in a bad way, but the vets advised we operate sooner rather than later as she would develop arthritis if left untreated, so the humans bit the bullet and she's had patella surgery at 10 months old.

I think we were all worried it wasn't the right decision, but she had her 1-week post-op checkup yesterday and the vet is pleased with her recovery progress and tells us the knee is no longer luxating (dislocating). Home with her today, I would say she's honestly still her own spunky self.

So she'll be fine. We humans will just have to persevere at keeping our small, energetic girl quiet for a couple months!

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

A Comic Scene: In Which Melon Is Rudely Awakened To The Nature Of Hounds And Taken Down A Peg or Three

Last weekend was my first practical for the dog training course. Our theory classes take place in the classroom, but practicals take place at a large private boarding kennel, where we can use some of the boarding dogs in class.

We began with all the usual things -- safety checks, a tour of the grounds, and some chat about our assignments. Then we started our first lesson with the actual dogs. In future some students will bring their own dogs, but today everyone was free to pick a kennel dog.

The kennel owner explained to us that those who have quiet, well-trained dogs can usually convince a neighbour or friend to watch them when they are away. So the ones who are put in a boarding kennel are... less easy. Makes sense, I thought. I was keen to see what we could do, but also a bit nervous walking into the kennel area to a cacophony of barking.

I looked down the line, evaluating my options. 2 German shepherds -- oh no, they have the 'not for use' sign. A little fluffer -- well, I'd rather something different from my usual, but then, it's less intimidating than the bigger ones -- oh, my classmate's already approaching that one, never mind. A beagle and a lab were pawing hopefully at the kennel doors near the end of the line. I've worked with labs before, the beagle's pretty cute and they love food, right? - let's go with that.

beagle: a small well-built white dog with tan head and black saddle
Who woulda thunk it?
(photo: Daniel Flathagen on Flickr)

If any beagle people are reading this, I'm guessing you're laughing already. For those who are still picturing Snoopy sitting on his doghouse stoically writing novels, I'll continue the story.

Collaring and leashing up the excitable beagle was managable, and passed my instructor's assessment. We were to walk the dogs out to the field and wait with them out of reach of each other. Fair enough.

But the minute I left the kennel, my new friend almost yanked my arm out of its socket to get over to another dog, a staffy. Uh-oh. I desperately yelled for my classmate to retreat as I was dragged over.

I finally made it to the field after a firm talk from my instructor reminding me that as a grown adult I can keep the beagle under control and advising me on the safest way to hold a leash. (That said, he also told me what to do if I was pulled over...) I grasped the leash as firmly as I could, my hands already smarting from multiple rope burns, and tried to stay upright as my beagle dragged me onto the field.

I was the last to arrive, and everyone was standing around waiting for instructions, patting their dogs, one or two even giving their new friends belly rubs.

Meanwhile, I looked like this:

cartoon dog on leash drags human up into air

After I completely missed all the instructions and my classmates stoically tried to ignore the ruckus, I finally managed to plant my feet to stop him from dragging us over to the other dogs. Of course, my new friend had to express his disatisfaction with this situation. Loudly. If you're ever worried you're not yet the centre of attention, try restraining a baying hound.

Our first lesson topic was, surprise surprise, loose-leash walking. Before today I thought I had a pretty good idea of how to teach LLW, but I couldn't even stay in one spot without being dragged around by this beagle, much less teach him not to.

We ended up taking breaks for de-briefing a couple of times -- "Same dogs after lunch, folks" -- so by the end of the day I had gone in and collected this beagle 3 times, each time feeling more tired than the last but determined to salvage what I had of my pride by at least not giving up.

By the end of the day I had learnt three things: two different approaches to training loose leash walking, and not to take on a hound without a lot more practice.

exhausted Ava puppy lying on a rock

Monday, 17 October 2016

A Notice: In Which There Is Some Exciting News, and A Request Made

Hey, friends.

A small part of the reason it's been quiet here lately is my practising Daniel Sieberg's Digital Diet, but the main reason is that I've just been trying to stay afloat!

Okay, things aren't that bad. Some weeks are pretty good! (But I won't be considering myself 'in recovery' from depression until most weeks are 'pretty good'.)

white and brown puppy sits on newspaper spread open
Reading paper newspapers is allowed during the digital diet.
But they do have other drawbacks.

A major takeaway from The Digital Diet is that it's okay to live your life without reporting on all of it, or comparing it to others. (I'm looking at you, Instagram.) So I'm not going to apologise for my absence.

But something major is happening -- I'm starting an 8-week intensive course on dog training through technical college! And not just any course, but a course run by two of Australia's leading dog trainers, Steve and Vicki Austin. It's only the beginning of my education in dog training, but I think it's a good start if ever I saw one.  I enrolled months ago, but thought I'd keep mum about it until it really happened.

Now, I don't exactly have a stellar track record of graduating classes (depression is a jerk).
So, yes, I'm terrified it might not work out (anxiety, that's your cue!).

But while I'm in, I'll keep you updated. I hope in turn you'll be here to follow along and keep me entertained with tales of your animal adventures. And knowing you're following will hopefully be one part of the raft keeping me afloat!