Fitting training time in with my own dogs can be a bit challenging some days. But I'm pleased to say that today has been lovely and not only did Vodka and I get so share a solo walk by ourselves, but we also fitted in some foundation agility training with Martin too :)
But I haven't always felt so pleased about spending time with Vodka. When she arrived from Italy as a 16 week old puppy she had a lot of problems that needed ironing out. Being with her was about work rather than playtime.
Her fear aggression with other dogs was something I had noted in Italy when I met her, but had hoped that perhaps I was being over-analytical. Sometimes I do worry too much and the amount of knowledge in my head can go against me some days!
But unfortunately I hadn't been wrong and alongside her anxieties around other dogs, was a disinterest in people which was highly unusual for a young puppy. Mostly you have to keep them calm and avoid being knocked over in their excitement to greet you! Not Vodka :(
That meant that she wasn't particularly interested in training games with me, and something like a simple grab of the collar meant that she would completely switch off from engaging with me. This was really tough from my point of view as I was finding it hard to bond with this puppy who was seemingly independent and happy in her own little world.
Fortunately as I was struggling with these issues I had some good people around to me to turn to. Jan Windsor who is a behaviourist that runs Understanding Dogs was an absolute rock for me in those early weeks. I knew I wanted to help my puppy I just couldn't see how to do so without her being interested in interacting with me or enjoying training time.
Jan could see that I had the answers to help my puppy, but that I was too close to the problems to figure out the solutions. She regularly encouraged me in phone conversations to step back and asked me what advice I might give to someone else in my situation.
The breakthrough came when we both agreed that Vodka's reaction to having her collar held was unusual and perhaps there was a pain element that wasn't completely obvious. This came after I'd had a good cry after my puppy had cowered away from me when I went to go and get her in the garden - it just didn't make sense for her to be frightened of me like that, and it made me feel awful :(
Despite there not being a big pain reaction on examination by the wonderful team at the SMART Clinic in Cardiff, we agreed a treatment plan. They treated Vodka using acupuncture and water treadmill therapy - after just a week I noticed a BIG improvement in her behaviour. She would voluntarily go up to people for them to make a fuss of her, and by the end of 3 weeks of treatment I had to hold her back from knocking people over!
However despite the leaps and bounds forward, I remained fixated on all the struggles and stresses that this young dog had created for me. And this clouded my judgement about the amazing personality that was developing in front of my eyes.
As a result I decided to re-home her to a couple who would offer her a quieter, less busy way of life than I could offer her. Despite my eyes streaming with tears as I described my girl to them and all that we had overcome together, I still left her with them thinking it was for the best.
I should point out that making the decision to re-home her wasn't taken lightly. Keeping a dog that I hadn't then bonded with alongside the other responsibilities and priorities in my life was just proving too difficult and the rest of my family needed me. And for some dog and owner combinations it is absolutely the right thing for both parties.
But after just a few days the tears hadn't let up and it became crystal clear that I needed to go and get my puppy back. Taking her away from the wonderful people who had offered her a home was hard and I am still sorry that I hadn't been clearer about my decision before getting them involved.
And honestly I was very worried when I went to collect her - not just because of their reaction towards me, but actually because of hers. I didn't know if she would WANT to come back with me!
I needn't have worried. When I arrived the dog that met me was the one that I had helped her grow into rather than the distorted image I had in my head of her from the past. And one thing was clear to me then as it is now - as far as she's concerned, I'm her mum :)