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  • Julie Muller

Catch!! - Dog training is fun!

Well – Julie is keeping me very busy. Over the last ten days, I have been to Dog School three times - my Tuesday night classes as usual in a pristine community hall – and an extra class on a Sunday afternoon in a plastic sheep shed strewn with smelly sheep soiled straw.

Luckily, I really enjoy learning new things and both classes were just so much fun.

During our Tuesday class we learnt two new things -both of which we need to be able to do if we are to pass our bronze award. Firstly, we were taught how to behave when we have to go through doors or gates.

I must admit that Shep and I always fight to get out of any opening. There is always so much argie-bargie as we scramble to be first. However, this isn’t really a very good idea – especially if our humans are on the other end of the lead. After all, you can never be sure what is on the other side, and it is best that our humans find out first.

So, now I know to sit and wait for the door to be opened, I let Julie go through first and then I follow when I am called. I don’t always get it right and I find it so hard when Shep is with me. He likes so much to be ‘top dog’ but Julie is strict with him too.

We also learnt to stay – that is so difficult, and our humans need to be both patient and consistent with us. We only had to stay still for a short time – but we were set a challenge for next week – we had to be able to stay for 30 seconds. That doesn’t sound long, does it? But when you are as fidgety as me, that 30 seconds seems to go on for ever – and it is vital that Julie judge when she needs to stop the stay so that I don’t lose it.

Julie, Shep and I practised hard all week and when we went to the next class, I was able to ‘show-off’ everything that I had learnt.

But, before I went along to the next Tuesday evening class, Julie took me to a very different ‘sheep safe’ training class taught by Sue Harper, a lady who runs an established dog training course called ‘Educating Rover’.

This course is designed to help me to control my impulses so that I don’t chase after sheep or other animals.

There were four other dogs in the class – most of us were quite young and inexperienced. There was a beautiful black Labra Dane called Coco, a very lively little black Labrador called Wanda, a rather tousled bearded collie called Pixel and a more mature Black Labrador called Jarvis who I already knew from my walks on Peachfield Common.

Humans are so confusing because sometimes when they say ‘no’ to us, they really mean - ‘not now’ or even ‘later’. So, rather than saying ‘no’, we need to be given another task to do in order to distract us from what they don’t want us to do.

Most of us canines love catching things – whether it be balls or food- and I must admit, as I love my food, Julie can usually easily grab my attention by offering me a treat.

It was great fun catching treats and as the game continued, we caught and retrieved them at distances further and further away from our humans. Eventually, we found ourselves sitting down at a distance. Julie only had to use a hand signal and tell me to sit, and I did it. She was so pleased with me.

Our next task was to learn to’ leave’ some food that had been left in a bowl. Boy -- this was hard. Every fibre in my body wanted to just ‘wolf’ down the scrummy smelling tit bit in the bowl.

At first our humans used their bodies as blocks between us and the food so that we weren’t tempted but as we gained more understanding of the ‘game’ we found ourselves closer and closer to ‘temptation’. If only we could only resist it – we would get an even more scrumptious treat.

Most of my classmates seemed very good at all of these games and their humans were surprised and delighted at what they had achieved. Sue seemed very impressed with us.

I was so tired when I went home but once again, we had lots of homework to do.

When Tuesday arrived, we packed our schoolbag for our next class. This week, Cody, the Golden Labrador had come back but Pluto was missing.

It was very exciting because the first part of our class was outside. Ann, our teacher had put two lines of cones out and we had to show her just how good we were at ‘loose lead training as we weaved in and out of the cones. Most of us found it very easy.

However, it became harder when we had to walk close by each other. I just wanted to say hello and have a game, but I suppose not all dogs and their humans like this. At any rate, we need to give dogs and their humans space and then we will be allowed to ‘play’ if our humans say that it is okay. This will be particularly important when we meet other dogs walking towards us on very narrow paths – and there are some very narrow ones on the local Malvern Hills.

Next, we practised our recall outside . Ann held us on a long lead whilst our humans walked away from her and then called us back to them. The first to go was Ralph who did exactly as he was told – but in slow motion. Next it was Cody’s turn. It was exciting hearing his humans call his name, and I couldn’t help myself – I had to bark encouragement. Julie was so embarrassed. When it was my turn, I couldn’t wait to race back to her – it was such fun!!

When we went back inside, Ann, our teacher, talked to our humans and us about how we should behave. She is a very energetic teacher and I sat and listened intently about what she had to say. She seems to understand us canines very well and can copy our behaviour brilliantly.

She also gave us some ‘leave’ training. She put some particularly scrummy food in a bowl, and we were allowed to walk towards it but not to get it. When we had given up trying to reach it and looked up at our human we were praised and treated. Just like with Sue, the praise and treat were far better than the food left in the bowl. – These games are such fun, but I can feel my tummy getting rounder with every exercise. Just as well Shep isn’t doing them – he would get so fat!!

Our final task was to teach our humans how to ‘end’ our playtimes. None of us like to give our toys back when playtime is over and sometimes when our humans try to take our toys, it becomes a game of ‘tug of war’. So, in order to stop this, our humans need to hold the toy firmly until we gently release our hold on it. It needs lots of patience though!!

Finally, our humans were taught how to stop us from jumping up at other humans. I particularly like to jump up to greet people but not everyone is comfortable with this and indeed it isn’t very good manners even if these humans say that they don’t mind.

The secret is for humans to turn their back on us and only fuss us when we have all four paws on the ground. The difficulty is that other humans need to be instructed how to behave so that we dogs get a consistent message.

There was so much to learn during this lesson – I felt exhausted when we left.

Ann’s last instructions to us was to bring a grooming kit with us next week

Oh dear – I don’t like brushes!!

A red welsh sheep dog sits outside with lush green vegetation behind him
Bruno the red welsh sheep dog relaxes before Dog School

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