In yesterday’s post I only mentioned the positive improvements in Grace’s focus and attention during her second puppy class. I didn’t mention that the trainer had wanted to see all the puppies do a recall. I had been working on getting Grace to come back to me every time I called her, but her lack of focus was proving troublesome.
Most of the other puppies (the majority of which are a great deal older than Grace and have been with their human companions for longer than we’ve been together) did quite good recalls. Then it was my turn…
Grace paid me no attention whatsoever and charged off to examine a piece of fluff on the floor, did a wide circuit of the hall and eventually came to me after I started running backwards making exciting noises. I wasn’t expecting anything different to this, but still felt somewhat downhearted. I resolved to do better.
The only thing I really wanted from Grace was to be able to walk her off lead and have her come back to me every time I needed her. I just want a great companion to share adventures with. It truly doesn’t matter about any tricks, or heelwork or anything whatsoever – we’re simply having a go at those things, so Grace gets to use her brain.
Besides, I feel that I’ve ‘been there and done that’ as far as competitions are concerned (and got the Tee Shirt – well the one from the Britain’s Got Talent Live Tour 2010!). The records Chandi set in 2009 winning all three Crufts Finals, still hasn’t been equaled, despite that being the last year we competed. Neither has any dog before, or since, won both Heelwork and Freestyle…
So with great determination I decided the only way to get improvement in Grace’s atrocious recall was to get her obsessed with her tuggy toy. We practiced all week, multiple times a day. Every time I called ‘Gracie, here!’ she began charging towards me for the ensuing game of tug. Even in the garden when she was busy digging a hole in my lawn, or shredding the flowers, I only had to yell ‘Here!’ and this tiny tornado of ears and legs would arrive at my feet at something seemingly resembling the speed of light.
We arrived at our third puppy training class that Friday evening, but despite the amount of work I had put in working on Grace’s recall, I really wasn’t expecting to see any improvement.
The first half of the session is ‘puppy socialization’ where the pups get to play together in a highly supervised manner. Grace is very gentle and doesn’t like other dogs ‘in her face’, or being rough with her. In fact she preferred to hoover the floor for food and run under the chairs lining the sides of the hall, than have much to do with the other puppies.
If the other puppies are all having a mad game of chase, then Grace will get excited and tag on the end to have some fun, but she never initiates anything and removes herself from any situation that is too rough or full-on.
I unclipped Grace’s lead when told I could, and after asking her to sit and ‘watch’ (pay me full attention), I said ‘okay’ which released her to do whatever she wanted. She trotted off, nose down, vacuuming the floor and was heading for the scrum of puppies that were having fun near the far end of the hall. One puppy turned to see who was behind him and Grace suddenly appeared to want to play. They cavorted around, very gently for a few minutes and then Grace got bored and went back to floor-sniffing.
At that point I decided to attempt to call her to me. ‘Grace, here!’ I yelled. The hall suddenly went quiet as all eyes turned to see who was sounding so idiotic – even the puppies stopped playing. I suddenly felt really foolish, but in that split second realized that Grace had turned and was galloping as fast as she could straight in my direction, while everyone else stood still. She skidded to a halt and I produced the tuggy and proceeded to have a fun but gentle game with her, praising her and telling her just how clever she was. I no longer felt foolish, but so delighted that with all the distractions and other dogs around, Grace had chosen to arrive at my feet as soon as I called.
Throughout the rest of the session, we practiced our recall at various moments, and each time Grace responded in the blink of an eye. Even though on occasion she was charging in the wrong direction – disoriented and confused by all the people in the hall, she was desperately trying to find me!
At the end of the socialization session, the trainer commented very favourably on Grace’s reactions. She also mentioned that she hadn’t seen a pup or an older dog, so obsessed with a toy…
It is moments of success that make all the hours, days and weeks of hard work seem worthwhile. Small steps forward were good, but we still had so much work to do trying to get Grace more comfortable in strange environments and situations.
The following day, Saturday May 25, was the annual Shropshire County Show, a large even with many different things going on, from show-jumping competitions, a dogs show, a fun fair, plus many trade stands, crowds of people, other dogs and many different animals to see – from donkeys to Alpacas. Definitely an opportunity not to be missed as far as Grace and I were concerned.
Saturday dawned fine and sunny. It was extremely rare for such good weather to coincide with the annual show. I got up and opened the door to Grace’s crate. She got up, stretched and started to sneeze. She didn’t just sneeze once, but about fifteen times. This continued while I carried her downstairs and out into the garden. She also had a slight discharge from her eyes – a really green coloured discharge.
She seemed happy though and not poorly, once the sneezing stopped. She was keen to play and to eat her breakfast. I decided to take her to the show despite the sneezing which by now had subsided. I was going to carry her round, so she didn’t have to do much, and I was only planning on being about an hour.
If she was poorly, she wasn’t going to have any contact with other dogs as the whole show was in the open air. She had grown rapidly and was rather heavy to carry. She did love to be carried though and wouldn’t struggle as she snuggled, supported in my arms.
The first event we watched was a dog display team. I had taken a large sheet in my rucksack so if we found anything good to watch I could safely put her on the ground. We found a good spot and settled down to watch all the dogs.
The commentator started talking about how they had auditioned for Britain’s Got Talent a few years ago, and I smiled to myself, remembering Chandi and all our precious times shared. Grace was very interested in the other dogs, but responded to me when I asked her to ‘watch’ me and was relaxed enough most of the time to play with her tuggy while she sat on the sheet with me.
After the display was over, I scooped Grace up, and after packing the sheet away into my rucksack, we wandered over to see the Alpacas. Both Grace and the Alpacas were very interested in one another, but Grace wasn’t frightened as they walked towards the side of their pen where we were standing.
We saw some horses up close and then the land-train came by and Grace started to freak out as she couldn’t see what the sound was. I turned round so we could see and excitedly told her the name of what we were seeing. I never pander to her when she freaks out, trying to comfort her, as that would just serve to reinforce her fear. Instead I tend to sound rather excited and pop little bits of cheese in her mouth as she watches and takes her cue from me. By the fourth time the land-train came by, it was rather old hat and boring.
The fun fair was a different story. There was music blaring and huge rides making scary noises and fast movements. Tightly hugging Grace to me, we walked round with me naming everything that caught her eye. I was very pleased with how she was responding.
We went to sit on the grass by the main arena to watch some horses in action and Grace watched for a little bit then started rolling on her back on the sheet and wanted to play. A family came to sit down next to us and the two children started munching on packets of crisps.
Every time they crunched into a crisp, Grace would be startled and lose focus on me. Yes, that’s the extent of it – I am battling against every single thing for her attention. Its is exhausting, hard work trying to be the most fun and exciting person in all the world. It proved difficult to compete with crunchy crisps, but I persevered and Grace was soon back playing tuggy whilst lying in my lap as we sat on the ground.
We did another circuit of the show ground looking at everything from tractors to sheep, and then walked back through the fun fair. Grace seemed more relaxed this time around which was encouraging. I was feeling rather tired by now, and despite only intending to stay a short time and checking my watch frequently, when we finally made it back to the car, we had been just short of four whole hours.
No wonder I was feeling so tired, carrying Grace around. She had also started to lose interest. I looked at my watch and realized that the battery was running out and the hands hadn’t been keeping pace with real time. It had been a very successful outing though, and the last one it would be possible for me to carry her. I found myself wishing that she would stay small forever. It was so nice having her in my arms with her beautiful face in close, kissable proximity.