I have always said I get on better with dogs than people. Dogs love you unconditionally and can give so much back in return. They don’t shaft you for a percentage either and are susceptible to your moods, seeming to know when YOU want a cuddle or comfort from another living being.
In the 90s, I attended a Dog Psychology course at college which I found fascinating. I also found I had a dog dominance problem which was all my fault! The woman running the course was a retired professional dog trainer who, like me, did not believe in choke chains. She was amazing and showed a video of her training a golder retriever in Japan purely with hand signals. As she pointed out, language wasn’t the issue, it’s getting the dog to understand what you want it to do using repetition and reward. Within an hour, the dog sat, stood up, stayed, lay down and came to heel all at her visual command. Whether it understood English or not was beside the point (our previous dog could sit in 5 languages thanks to our foreign students and the correct signal).
Her attitude to dogs that don’t come back when called was because you, the owner, weren’t interesting enough.
‘Your dog has to want to be with you,’ she said, and I’ve never forgotten it. “After all, your dog wants to please you, especially if it gets reward and praise from you each time”.
One of the girls brought her bearded collie into the final class. Apparently it was unsure of people, so it was suggested that being in a controlled environment with a professional trainer was a positive approach. Imagine my surprise when half way through the lesson, the dog came and put her head on my knee, and stayed there.
We lost our border collie suddenly in 2005 and I lasted 6 days before asking my husband if we could get another dog. The house was so empty without him, so he readily agreed.
Born of farm stock, Mum was a welsh collie and Dad a liver and white springer spaniel. She had 6 sisters and 3 brothers, all of them black and white. On the floor in the courtyard, you could not see me for paws, tails and fur. I was in my element. They were tugging on my hair, nibbling my fingers, pawing my knees, but one curled up on my lap under my coat and went to sleep. We took her off and put her back with the others only for her to do it again, so she obviously wanted me.
We brought her home and I slept in a sleeping bag on the floor with her the first night. We took her to the vet for a check up the following day, and he was confident she could have her first jabs. We hadn’t named her yet so she just went on their records temporarily as Puppy. Coming out of the surgery and snuggled inside my husband’s coat, every 5 paces someone came up to fuss her. I said she was a people magnet, and so ‘Maggie’ was christened.
We were lucky she wasn’t a destructive chewer and house training was taking her outside every half an hour whether she wanted to go or not, with lots of praise when she did. We had very few accidents indoors, and invested in a cage to keep her safe at night or if we had to go out. She never soiled it or her bedding. During the day, the cage door was left open so that she had access to her bed if she wanted. It was never used as punishment, and if ever she was unnerved, she would go into her cage and feel safe. We had a battle of wills ONCE, when I’d taken her outside but she hadn’t performed. When she came back in, she looked my husband in the eye and squatted her bot. I tapped her on the bum and she was so surprised, she stopped in mid flow as I carried her back out to finish her business. That was the last time she was dirty indoors and she was just 4 months old.
Hubby did all of the off lead work. His training tool was a little plastic box containing cheerios breakfast cereal. Every time she did as she was told, she got rewarded. Gradually, this would be fuss or treat, afterall, we didn’t want a chubby dog, but she was always praised, so sometimes that was enough. We could go out for walks and know that if we called her, her reaction was instant. Of course there will always be that odd instance when a rabbit or deer trail holds more appeal, but as a rule, she’ll respond the way we want her to immediately. My sister has always taken her dogs to doggie classes and swears by them. I just swore, as our previous dog was labelled a thug because he got bored waiting his turn and lost interest. I’m not saying they are a bad thing, but if there are too many in the class, young pups will only want to play and are thus a disruptive influence. A dog has to be socialised though, so we took Maggie somewhere we knew was popular with dog owners. We could not have planned it better as her introductions graduated in size, the first being 2 yorkies called Penny and Tuppence, then jack russells, springers, collies, labradors, a dalmation and german shepherd. What really surprised her was Bella, a rather larger than normal doberman, but there was no problem. Maggie took it all her stride, which was just as well as going back to the car, we met up with 3 black Newfoundlands. Maggie thought they were great fun and actually started weaving in and out of their legs. They were extremely tolerant! Over the coming weeks, we met practically every breed, including a family of mastiffs, and she played with them all.
Meanwhile, my sister’s dog was doing very well at classes and they were concentrating on recall. When out on a walk with her one Sunday morning, both dogs went charging after a squirrel. You can imagine how proud I was when I called ‘Maggie, Here’ and she was at my feet in seconds. Sis was frantically yelling ‘Come, Come,’ to her dog who was being selectively deaf because he was enjoying himself. A similar thing happened years later when a friend’s labrador went chasing a rabbit into the farmer’s field. He too had been to puppy classes and I gather that the professional trainers use the word ‘Come’ if they want to call their dog back. My friend was getting quite exasperated shouting ‘Sam, Come!’ at increasing volumes but getting absolutely nowhere. One ‘Maggie, Here’, and she was soon at my feet happily taking in her surroundings and waiting patiently for the walk to continue. Sam eventually joined us half an hour later at the other end of the field, but no rabbit.
I’m a soft touch, and dogs know it. I always have biscuits in my pocket, and if there is an equivalent of a doggie grapevine or tomtoms, word has got around. We took Maggie out to the woods for our walk one Saturday morning, but were a little later than usual. As I got out of the car, I was surrounded by 8 labradors. No owners were in sight, but what was even more of a surprise was that they all sat in a tidy semi circle without argument and waited! I am usually very careful when meeting new doggie friends and giving treats out, because you never know if they have allergies or are on special diets etc, so I always ask the owner if it’s OK. I recognised 5 that belonged to one man, 2 others that lived near us, but the golden lab was new to me. I could hardly give to them and not her, so I was relieved to see a rather puffed owner coming out of the bushes who was equally relieved to see her dog sitting patiently with the rest. I asked if it was OK to give her a biscuit, and the woman was quite agreeable. I am probably known as The Biscuit Lady now and greeted by dogs of various breeds every day, no matter where we are. Maggie is pretty good but occasionally we have ‘The Elvis’, a low rumble in the throat and the curled lip. To show our displeasure, we use a ‘naughty step’, which basically is anywhere we’re not. We send her to one side and make her stay as we continue to make a fuss of the other dogs. After a few minutes having made the point, we invite her to join us again and everything is fine as she knows we still love her.
She’s also spoilt rotten, but she’s worth it. Yeah, apart from my hubby, give me a dog any day.