GREETINGS FROM SOUTH AFRICA!
When Toby was only ten months old, I withdrew him from dog training. In retrospect, it may seem silly, but at the time I was exhausted. We’d just wound up a hectic training schedule for his performance in the stage production of ‘ANNIE’.
Although Toby was young, he’d already completed his puppy classes, his elementary beginners’ class and received his certificate for ‘Canine Good Citizenship – bronze. (I suppose this is quite extra-ordinary for a dog so young) He’d also appeared in the show ring and been on a few school visits. But “ANNIE” was the pinnacle of all our hard work – 5 days, 7 performances. Phew! We were both exhausted!
After some thought, I decided to give us both a break: I withdrew him from the strict, formalised dog-training regime and promised to give him time to “just be a dog”. We adopted a daily routine of leisurely walks, interspersed with a few sessions of reinforcing all his tricks and obedience commands. He was young and energetic but also needed some freedom – space to explore and to rest.
This break allowed me to concentrate on my writing too, as well as the publicity surrounding the publication of my book, MAXDOG. Everything fitted into place and Toby spent his days at my feet – enjoying the occasional treat thrown his way.
He’s been an amazing dog in his three years of life. As a mature dog, he’s large, energetic and has become quite a handful in recent months.
The addition of our dear little Lexi into our household has obviously also added another dynamic. In my usual ‘go-for-it’ kind of way, I’ve applied myself diligently to Lexi’s basic training and socialisation. She’s fitted beautifully into our family (both canine and human), but again it’s been hard work. She’s making steady progress and her training will continue in the months ahead.
Toby’s behaviour however, since Lexi’s inclusion, has become increasingly energetic. He has “celebrated” her arrival with renewed energy. The two of them play endlessly, for hours. But I’ve also noticed small changes in Toby’s behaviour – increasing distraction, refused recalls and an odd hint of depression. After some serious thought, I decided to take him back to formalized dog-training. Our first class was on Thursday last week.
I must admit, I was rather apprehensive as we rode to the training centre with Toby in the back of the vehicle. He is a big dog and, at times, difficult to control. Although he knows his commands and performs them beautifully at home, he pulls on the lead when out-and-about and sees his ultimate reward as the opportunity to play freely with other dogs. He is so exuberant that he has, indeed, caused me great embarrassment when he knocked someone over in the park on one occasion. In simply terms, he’s become over-friendly which is often construed (understandably) as basic bad manners. I had to do something to stop the trend.
But Toby surprised me at his first training session. Instead of the lurching forward with the uncontrollable behaviour I was expecting, he was just so contented to be back in the McKaynine training environment. It was a breeze and I have a happy dog again! All I want is to give him personal time with me - away from my other canine companions. Touch wood, it’s working. He loves it!
So now I have two dogs at formalised training; Toby on a Thursday evening and Lexi on a Saturday morning. In addition, I have the challenge of caring for an elderly dog too. Tammy is definitely in her Twilight years - sleeping a lot in the day...
Add this to all the walks and individualised training at home, there's not much time left for me. I feel constantly tired – enslaved by three dogs with radically different needs – and I sometimes feel quite overwhelmed. In my heart, however, I know that this investment is important for the long-term relationship with my animals.
Next week, we’ll be taking a break – to a game farm – and I will use the opportunity to recuperate and escape from my self-imposed doggie-prison. The pooches will be left behind in the capable hands of our dog-sitter. We are really looking forward to it.
So, tell me - do you sometimes feel overwhelmed by your own dog regime?