If a dog barked at Grace, she would literally jump out of her skin. For this reason and the general level of fear of the outside world, I really needed to take Grace to puppy socialization classes. Having made the decision not to vaccinate her, this was going to be tough, or so I thought. But surprisingly, having mentioned it on the off-chance to my Vet during our consultation a few days earlier, she told me that there was a lady running ‘Puppy School’ classes who would take unvaccinated pups as she didn’t vaccinate her own dogs.
I looked at the national website for the classes and was surprised to read on the homepage a reference to myself! The piece was about the lady that had won the Crufts Freestyle final in 2012 and there was a direct quote from the lady – Sue – “To win the Crufts Freestyle final was beyond my wildest dreams, as it has only ever been won by professional handlers – and I am certainly not that!”
I had to smile to myself. Chandi and I had won four Crufts Freestyle and HTM finals, so Sue was definitely including me among the ‘professional handlers’ that had previously won. I am always surprised by the way other people see me, as it is usually vastly different from the way I see myself. I’m not sure that I qualify as a ‘professional handler’ as I earn my living by teaching the Piano and the Violin, not from running dog training courses. Chandi was ‘just’ a rescue dog that I paid £10 for and figured out how to train on my own. Professional? Not really, but I took it as a huge compliment just the same.
I phoned the lady running the classes near to us. I say ‘near’, it was going to be a fifty mile round trip, but I needed to do everything I could to help Grace. There was a new six week course starting that Friday and I signed us up straight away.
Our first ‘Puppy School’ class was on Friday May 17. Despite my best efforts, Grace paid me little attention while we were there. In fact I would have rated her attention to me as about ten percent. We still had some way to go. By the end of the class she was so wound up, panting her head off and over tired, that I just picked her up and held her tightly to calm her down. None of the other puppies were in such a state.
Grace is super intelligent. Along with such intelligence goes extreme sensitivity. It is incredibly hard to handle – even for a ‘professional handler’ like myself 🙂 I can keenly understand why so many Border collies get dumped in rescue. They may look like the perfect dog when you see one that is well-trained and socialized, but achieving that level of training and producing a well-adjusted dog is not so straight forward.
At the second class the following week, Grace showed a small amount of improvement on the previous week. I had continued working with her and we had visited the noisy Sunday Market and Pets at Home a few more times. We were making more progress on our short walking trips and she was paying me much more attention and relaxed enough to eat the cheese rewards for reacting calmly and wanting to play tuggy. There were still times when she was overwhelmed with fear and picking her up was the only way to calm her down.
I had also been teaching her the meaning of the word ‘close’. For her, this means ‘put your right shoulder against my left leg and stay there, looking up at me and giving me your full attention’. This is the stationary version of competition style heelwork – and after a few attempts, Grace really got the hang of if and would run to make contact with my leg as soon as I asked her to come ‘close’. She was thirteen weeks old – just a baby – but so keen to learn, and so fast to learn!
At the puppy class that week as Grace was paying me slightly more attention, I accidentally asked her to come ‘close’. I hadn’t meant to, but just said it. As the words came out of my mouth I gave a wry smile. The smile was wiped from my face and replaced with a look of complete surprise and amazement, when I watched my super-cute pupster rush to get into the correct position.
I popped some cheese pieces into her mouth and praised her until I thought I was going to explode. The only place we had worked on ‘close’ was in our kitchen. We hadn’t even tried it in the distracting environment of the garden, and here she was doing it perfectly with all the noise and organized chaos of the puppy class! I felt very proud of little Gracie, and even more certain that we were indeed making progress.
To add to my general sense of pleasure, Gracie’s ears suddenly grew. We went to bed the next night, Saturday, and by Sunday morning, this was what greeted me. Over night, they had become gorgeous, huge and just what I was hoping for!