Having pets inside a conservancy isn’t for the faint-hearted, I’m not sure how so many people do it unless they are permanently on edge like I am or they are the bloody dog whisperer.
I’ll be honest dog walks aren’t relaxing, clearing your head, de-stressing from the day, enjoyable moments they used to be. They are in fact the opposite, they are the stressful moments of my day. Still, if that’s all the stress I have at the moment in these difficult covid times then I have no right to complain.
In the spirit of not complaining, just merely explaining… Yesterday we had an incident involving Rafa (and even Roo go caught up in the action) and some sheep which wasn’t very pleasant… let’s just say Rafa will not be off the lead again for a very long time.
As a result, today I went straight back on the training with full force and went on our morning walk equipped with Rafa on a long rope and harness, Roo on her retractable lead and a treat bag full of meat! Once Rafa knew I had meat with me he was (momentarily) all ears. We were practising ‘leave it, look at me’ which is supposed to be a way to distract them when they become alert to something which they can chase. The idea being they then forget about the chase and you can continue your walk in a calm state. It does of course require impeccable timing, catching them just as their ears prick forward but before they have locked eyes on the target. Something which I discovered is very difficult when you have two dogs. Should you manage to avert their attention and get them to look at you, you then have to award them with a treat quick enough so that they don’t lose interest and go back to the chase. While thumbing for a treat to award the one dogs attention you do have, you are also struggling to stay upright as the other dog is giving you rope burns (guess which dog this is) as you didn’t manage to get his attention and he is still trying to chase the poor unsuspecting dik-dik. Getting the dogs to ‘look at me’ throughout the rest of the walk most of the time involved me waving some meat in front of their face and crouching directly in front of them to block their line of vision so they had no choice but to look at me, then rewarding them generously for forced eye contact. Think trying to talk to your boyfriend while Football/Rugby/insert sport here, is on the TV and thanking them profusely for taking 2 minutes out of the match to take their cup of tea from your hand.
The other element of training on the agenda, which has been on the agenda for about 6 years (guess how old Rafa is) is recall. Again the meat treats came in handy here but they were not always tempting enough to convince Rafa to come back. This is where the rope comes in, if they choose to ignore you, you are supposed to start reeling them in until they decide to come to you ‘of their own accord’. All very well except the harness, with the attachment on Rafa’s back, isn’t the best tool for this. When trying to reel him in he is pulled by his back instead of leading his head, as you would if it was attached to his collar. Commence Rafa trotting in sideways dressage style like a not so posh pony. Otherwise, twisting, hopping and skipping trying to get get the tangled rope out from under his belly, around his legs and under his tail. I am frequently getting stuck one arm on either side of tree trunks, legs tangled up with ropes and leads and spinning around in an attempt to not restrict myself straight jacket style, arms crossed in front, dog pulling either side. I feel if someone was to record our training sessions they would be used as the ‘how not to do it’ examples.
Disclosure: I am (clearly) by no means a dog training expert, yes my dogs can sit, lie down and give me their paw for a treat (Roo can even play dead when shot) but all of my training knowledge comes from youtube videos and good old Caesar. I would not advise you to try to replicate my training methods. In fact, if anyone has any advice or tips for me I would welcome them with open arms!
This evening was an equally unrelaxing walk, a repeat of rope burns, tangles, forced eye contact and bribes but with the added extra of fading light and Duma appearing behind us merrily trotting along at the point furthest from the house.
Duma then casually strolled behind us at her own steady pace, frequently stopping mid-track to stare alertly into the thicket. In contrast to trying to break her stare as I had been trying to do with the dogs, I was freaking out and attempting to follow her stare to try and figure out what she was staring at. Duma of course being prey as opposed to the predator I was worried she had seen something that could eat her. I attempted to speed up the pace to get home before dark and to try and avoid the resident leopard in the area. However there was no rushing Duma, it was also impossible to pick her up and hold two dog leads attached to disobedient chasing dogs. We continued on as fast as Duma would allow and managed to get home without any casualties.
I cannot wait for the garden to be finished. In theory, we can then allow duma into the garden and she shouldn’t be able to get out of the new bigger garden. I’m sure she will figure out a way eventually but it’s a start. The poles for the fence are all up and the wire is starting to go in. Charl has uprooted all of the aloes that border the current fence (great for attracting sunbirds to the garden) and we will then pull down the current fence and plant them along the perimeter of the new fence which should be finished in the next couple of days.
I may also have attempted to put paw prints in the concrete by the gate but I was too late ☹️ I remember my brothers and I putting handprints in the concrete at my Nana’s house when we were young.
Training to be continued…