It may have been months since I last wrote about Grace, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t been busy – both training and having fun!
Gracie continues to be amazing. When I think back to the sadness I felt this time last year trying in vain (or so it seemed at the time) to help her overcome her extreme fear of the world around her, it seems so unreal. All the extreme effort I put in showing Grace the same things over and over, naming, explaining, examining and touching has now paid off! Instead of an outing being an exhausting nightmare for both of us, it is now such fun!
We are very fortunate where we live as there are three shops in Shrewsbury that welcome dogs: Percy Thrower’s Garden Centre, Salop Caravans and of course, Pets At Home. Similarly, Church Stretton where we are frequent visitors, is one of the most dog friendly places in the U.K. Even the branch of our bank, which has the customary ‘No Dogs allowed, except Guide Dogs’ sticker in the window, has a different policy, implemented by the manager. Dogs are very welcome in the branch and Grace has accompanied me many times learning about automatic doors, how to queue and wait politely for our turn, and how to watch but not approach, other customers entering the bank.
Grace is at the stage now, where we can practice some tricks as we wait our turn…. in fact she has gained so much confidence, even in strange surroundings, that we can run through a few of her ‘moves’ anywhere and she will focus fully on me. She is just 17 months old.
We still continue to extend her vocabulary, which by now is quite vast. She likes me to pick her up – if I ask her if she wants to be picked up, she runs over to me, turns her left side into me and jumps up to place her front feet on my left arm. I then scoop up her tail end with my right arm and there she is, snuggled in my arms with her back legs dangling down, relaxed and floppy.
I can ask her to ‘show me….’ and she will look at whatever I have asked her to show me.
She is very interested in wildlife and knows the names of many animals: sheep, pony, cow, dog, alpaca,chicken, rabbit, mouse, squirrel (her current favourite), bird, crow, seagull. She also knows insects by name: bee, fly(which she hates), caterpillar, spider, snail…. and she is learning all the time.
When we hear a helicopter in the sky she is faster than me at spotting where it is…. and we can play the ‘race you to touch a …..’ game, which involves me suddenly and quite randomly yelling ‘race you to touch a tree’ (or post, gate, rock, leaf etc). Grace stops whatever she is doing to find the closest thing I’ve asked for. Invariably she beats me to it, despite giving myself an advantage at times so I don’t feel so inadequate!
The rules of the game are that you have to touch the object with your foot and wait until further instructions. Grace is very sweet to watch as slaps her cat-like, dainty paw down on a rock and fixes her gaze keenly on me, her mouth open in a wide grin, tongue lolling to the side. ‘Race you to touch another rock’…. invariably we swap over so she’s now touching the one I’ve just left.
It’s a fun game and Grace is a willing participant. I enjoy it too, despite the fact I usually lose.
Grace’s strong working instinct is fully under control due, in no small part to the amount of work we did last summer on teaching her self-control. She is trustworthy, off-lead, around the sheep we meet on our daily walks, but she does like to ‘pretend’ she’s a sheepdog…..As she has earned my trust I know I can let her ‘do her thing’ and know that as soon as she realizes she is getting too close to the sheep, she will come flying back to me of her own accord, and grab her tuggy rope. It is quite spectacular to see her trying to work the sheep from a distance – the instinct is well and truly in her: she knows she’s supposed to be involved with sheep. Amazing!
The day she was thirteen months old, we competed at her very first Heelwork to Music competition. I had no idea whether she would completely freak out with the huge numbers of dogs, people, and loud music, but we went along anyway. Waiting in the roped off warm-up area, she was as distracted as distracted could be, but as soon as it was our turn to enter the ring, she was right there by my side and went through all her moves, pretty much as we had rehearsed. We were placed second in the class, and then as it was a two day show and we had entered both days, we performed again, a different routine which I had learned over night and we had practiced just twice early in the morning of the second day – this time, Grace went one better. She won her first red rosette and a trophy. I almost burst with pride.
It was a great weekend – not only had Grace done so well, but four of my piano students were competing in a competition of their own. I was sad not to be there to support them all as I usually am, but they managed just fine without me. Fleur won the 11 and under class; Georgia won the next class with Meg a close second; Amber won the next class up and then together Georgia and Amber won the Ensemble class with their piano duet. To ice the cake nicely, Georgia was awarded the ‘Outstanding Child Instrumentalist’ trophy and £250 bursary. This was the third year one of my students had been given this special award – Meg had won it the previous two years.
Quite a productive and exciting weekend with several texts and phone calls between all of us to check on progress.
Currently, Grace and I are working on our own version of Chandi’s ‘show jumping’ routine. I confess that I have found it incredibly difficult to work more on a routine that was ‘complete’. We are just getting to the stage where we are ready to put the whole routine together – it still has the same story behind it, but different music and some different moves. I hope, if we get to perform it anywhere, it will be as well received as Chandi’s routine was, and indeed with the wonders of Youtube, still is.
As far as adventures as concerned, we continue to cram in as many as possible. We have made multiple trips to Lake Vyrnwy and the beach, and the Long Mynd and a host of other places. I try to make Grace’s life as exciting, stimulating and filled with love as possible. I am so thrilled that we can actually enjoy outings without fear encroaching on the day and spoiling it. It’s a wonderful life….