Time to mature

I was not prepared to ‘bin’ my beautiful boy no matter how lacking he may be in working potential. I would just enjoy him as a pet dog and give him time to mature. The world was not yet ready for him. I would leave him to mature and then restart his training.

As it happened we had a persistent bout of kennel cough. With five dogs to pass the virus round, it plagued our household for three months. Some of the dogs just having the occasionally cough, whilst my Golden Wonder suffered badly with coughing and bouts of diarrhoea. He just could not seem to shake the bug. Every time I thought he was over it he would start coughing again, then the tummy problems followed on. And so it continued.

Any form of training was out of the window. Even his socialisation had to be stopped and we cancelled everything to stay at home in isolation with a pack of sick dogs. During this time ‘He Who Knows Best’ was due to collect the puppy he had waited years for. Sods law. What do you do, bring a tiny puppy into an environment that could potentially kill him, or leave him at the breeder’s and miss out on important developmental stages, or not have the long awaited puppy?  We spoke to the vet and the breeder and it was agreed that we should take a vial of kennel cough vaccine to the breeder’s, choose the puppy and vaccinate it and then bring it home ten days later after the vaccination had time to work. It seemed risky but the breeder was prepared to allow this course of action. And so it was.

At the age of six and a half months the Golden Wonder towered above the newcomer. My beautiful baby was no longer the puppy. He was a giant: An enormous, fast moving, mature dog in comparison to the fragile six week old Malinios puppy. But they loved each other in an instant. The Golden Wonder thought we had bought the Mali puppy as his own personal toy, like a present given to a sick child confined to the house for many weeks. And the tiny bald, ugly new puppy launched himself at his new big brother. Adonis and the hairless Midget. An unlikely family but the bond was instant as their bodies entwined in a game that moulded the pair into liquid motion. These two spoke the same language, played the same games and knew the same rules.

The Golden Wonder had a tiny playmate. He had so missed not being able to play with other puppies. Yes we have older dogs but they would not entertain playing with a Golden puppy. Now it seemed he was going to make up for lost time. It was very apparent that the new puppy was at risk. Not only from the kennel cough but from injury inflicted by playing with a much bigger puppy. A big puppy who wanted to chase his new playmate: who encouraged him to chase around the garden, up and down the steps and around the lawn. The Canine Code of Play was not sufficient to protect the Midget from the enthusiastic games of his new big brother so we had to deploy one man imposed rule: Play was only allowed on the big dog bed. Every time the Golden Wonder tried to entice his little friend around the house or into the garden the game was stopped. He quickly learnt that he had to stay on the bed if he wanted to play with the Midget.

Weeks passed. The two puppies played by both sets of rules, keeping to the soft bed and learning how to interact, learning what hurts and learning when the other does not want to play. Both puppies continued to grow. The Midget never caught the kennel cough and the Golden Wonder finally shook it off.

One day I realised he was not sick any more. He had matured a lot having spent the winter rough and tumbling in the kitchen with his little friend. Was he ready to train now?

I prepare to start anew with my more mature puppy. I carefully plan my new strategy.

Having, it appeared, fully recovered from his bouts of diarrhoea and now having an even more voracious appetite than before I would teach him to track for his food.

Part one of my plan is to restrict his food. No more food for free, he will have to track for it! So what does he do?

– he eats inordinate amounts of grass, and horror amongst horror, he eats something much, much worse – little packages left on the lawn by the other dogs! Oh how gross no not my precious wonderful. That is just soo disgusting. I can’t live with that. Maybe working him does not really matter that much. He is a super boy and as long as I give him loads of food for free in his bowl he will not eat that disgusting stuff.

Ok plan B. No need to restrict his food just take him and his breakfast outside first thing in the morning for tracking training. (Oh and pick up any dog pooh as soon as it appears.)

Early morning is best for tracking because you can see your footprints in the dew. No wonder trials people are fit we get up at the crack of dawn and walk miles, not once but twice, once to lay the track and then again to run it. We are mad!

A piece of food is carefully placed in every footstep. He Who Knows Best lent me his food planting pipe (a piece of plastic pipe about three feet long and an inch and a half diameter used to position the food in the footprint without bending). Wow clever stuff. Not only could I place the food without walking like Quasimodo, I could look where I was going and avoid the wiggly tracks I seemed to lay when walking bent double.

Tied to the fence the Golden Wonder watched his breakfast distributed into the grass and when released into his harness quickly learnt to follow the deposits along the track. I carefully watched his progress as he learnt to sniff from one deposit to the next. I followed right behind him to recover any he went over so he could not turn back and get food. I did not want this to turn into a search. He had to keep tracking forward to the next footprint. We did this morning and evening for a month. The only food he got was found on the track in this way. Over the month he progressed from food in every footstep with tracks of up to about thirty paces, to longer tracks with food in some footprints, but not all. I progressed to put food in variable numbers of footprints. Not always every other one, or every third (I prefer odd numbers otherwise the food is always in the same footprint (i.e. the left foot every time). Gradually increasing the number of steps with no food and leaving a larger reward at the end of the track.

He got into this process and I even introduced a turn. He could do a two legged track to earn his vistuals. But it had to be said that even though he was greedy his work was very lack lustre. He Who Knows Best said the words ‘paint and drying’ could fit into a sentence to describe his tracking!

I was devastated, this was my achievement for a dedicated month of training. But it was true. We would never get around a competition track at this rate. We would be timed out!

Well the work was done. Time to put his tracking away until he matures a little more. I console myself, he can do it – sort of, -  and anyway he is sooo pretty.

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