This week the ‘Stare of the Dog’ takes another look back at Dudley’s puppyhood and in particular, explores the fond memories I have of basic training. I say basic, in the sense that my understanding of dog training is limited, whilst his ability to demonstrate it is equally sparse.
Most aspects of the scant control my wife and I have over the hound, it is fair to say, has derived from luck. Anything else besides can be attributed to the excellent guidance of Pippa Mattinson’s ‘The Happy Puppy Handbook.’ Where I take exception with Ms Mattinson and her book however is in its misleading title, for it seems we clearly took the importance of Dud’s ‘happiness’ far too seriously, to the extent he now commands a ‘majority stake’ in our sofa most evenings and grumbles like an old boiler if you dare drag him off.
That small gripe aside, we decided to put this vital volume to use within seconds of the wee fella’s arrival. In doing so, we opted to prioritise ‘recall’ in the first instance. For those unfamiliar with the concept, it is simple enough really and runs on the premise that, when off the lead and charging about, you want Fido to come back at your first recall. After all, unlike Bernie Madoff or Phillip Greene’s clients, when I invest £700 into something, I’d like to see a return on my investment.
So training began at the height of August, assuring us long days of joyous dry weather. Whistles were purchased and positions taken up in our modest back garden and side driveway. For Dudley, the business was simple enough I presumed, as all he had to do was run the ten or so metres between my wife and I, and in doing so, collect praise by way of food. For our part, the only thing us humans needed to remember – courtesy of ‘The Happy Puppy Handbook’ – was to only whistle after he’d already set off towards us. Fast-forward a few days and bingo. One dog, two humans, a whistle and a confident belief that Dudley’s ‘recall boot camp’ would yield great returns when we let him off the lead, and miraculously, it did. From no more than 13 weeks old, he was making his first tentative, unbridled steps, and every time returning immediately to us in those wonderful, lolloping puppy strides we had come to love so much.
At four months old, we proudly introduced him to good friends of ours, good friends with an 18 month-old Labrador of their own. After young Dud had finally got over the enormous size difference between himself and Ben, they played well and it was soon time to stride out purposefully into the countryside for a lead-less walk – the best kind. As our friends struggled to recall their tennis ball obsessed canine, young Dud darted back and forth, always returning at the sound of the recall whistle. “There’s nothing to it,” I thought to myself. “This recall malarky’s easy enough.” At this point, it was gently suggested to me that I might like to wait a few months before feeling too smug. “Sure thing,” I thought.
Reality bit hard as it turned out, and it took less than the prophesised six months before Dud burst the recall bubble. By seven months old, he’d already shown his true colours. Obsessed with other dogs as he is, he would cast one casual glance at you after another before taking off in pursuit of his four legged comrades. Not only did the whistle become obsolete pretty quickly, but it also became a symbol of anti-social behaviour in our area, as I had taken to walking him early at the weekend in the nearby park. Despite his failure to return, the shrill blasts of my whistle could be heard like an ‘Orange Order parade or a Missouri marching band , much to the chagrin of local residents. Worse still, he managed on a couple of occasions to ignore my recall pleas completely, instead opting to charge across a road – thankfully a quiet one – to molest a couple of crisp packet wielding children.
But whilst it’s easy to highlight Dudley’s recall inadequacies for comic value, the truth is very different. Now he has matured, he’s actually extremely reliable at coming back, and seldom if ever strays far from my side on a walk, so much so that whenever possible, I like to hide somewhere to test him. Within seconds, he’ll be thundering past, desperately searching for me, not stopping till he succeeds. Good job he does too, for his timely arrival at my side has prevented more than one rambler from reaching for their phone and reporting a potential pervert loitering in the undergrowth.
So whilst there have been plenty of training failures in our household, Dudley would like to point out, not unreasonably, that in this particular field, he has total recall. (click on the picture below)