Everyone told us we were mad to get a puppy, but did we listen? No. We were young (well, in our early thirties), just married, no kids. My husband worked from home so had plenty of time for walking and training what was sure to turn out to be a perfectly behaved dog.
Fast forward a year - and how things had changed. My husband was working flat out in an office running his own business while I was at home on maternity leave, struggling to cope with a newborn and our problem first ‘child’ - a one-year-old cocker spaniel called Alfie, who was hell bent on destruction, and who showed no desire to grow out of the puppy phase.
He barked each time someone dared so much as look at our house, waking the baby from his nap. The arrival of the postman sent him wild in a frenzy of excitement and letter shredding. He was a nightmare on the lead, but we didn’t dare let him off, as he couldn’t be trusted to come back when called. Lure him back with a treat, the dog trainers told us. Well if Alfie was in the park chasing squirrels, you could be wearing a suit made of sausages and he wouldn’t give you a backward glance.
It wasn’t just us, either. Alfie was expelled from puppy school for being a ‘distraction to all the other dogs’. Two sitters refused to give him house room ever again. Even his groomer sighs wearily when we book him in.
Luckily, as time has gone on, he has mellowed a bit. And now that the kids are out of the baby phase, we’re all having fun trying to train him at the ripe old age of five (35, in dog years). But can you really teach an old dog new tricks? You can, according to the Dog’s Trust who believe older dogs are just as receptive to training (although they may not pick things up as quickly as puppies).
Here’s some of the things we’ve tried so far.
This was our number one priority so we could enjoy taking Alfie to the park without worrying that he might suddenly dart across the road and cause an accident. I was doubly worried, as I’d heard from my vet that if your dog wouldn’t come back when called, you might be prosecuted under the Dangerous Dogs Act.
The thing that worked for us best, above any kind of food-related incentive, was playing with him when he was off the lead – basically making it quality time for us and Alfie. Previously if we’d let Alfie off to play, we kind of left him to his own devices. He’d sniff around and run with other dogs while we spoke to other owners or talked on the phone.
These days, we always bring balls, Frisbees or even play silly games such as hide and seek with him - anything to keep his attention firmly on us (and not on squirrels).
Sadly, on a normal collar, Alfie is still a nightmare of choking and pulling. To save our arms and to avoid the pushchair being dragged into bushes he now walks with an anti pull head collar. An absolute godsend and not at all cruel or painful, this just slips over the top of his nose and fastens under his chin. He doesn’t mind wearing it and can still bark, sniff and even eat with it on. Walking him is now a joy. We’ve also found that we just have to use it at the start of the walk when he’s more energetic, switching back to his normal collar and lead once he’s calmed down.
To save our eardrums, it was imperative that we find a way to calm the frenzied barking down. Shouting at him made things worse (he probably thought we were joining in!), but ignoring him didn’t work either, so we were at a bit of a loss for things to try.
In the end, we practised a few times by getting my husband to come in and out of the front door. After about three times, Alfie got bored with barking. The moment he was quiet, I said ‘hush’ and then rewarded him with a treat. Now he still barks a little when someone comes in, but in general if I acknowledge the barking (as if to say ‘thanks for letting me know someone’s there’, then say ‘hush’ and give him a treat, he quietens right down.
Despite our experiences, I’d still advise that if you have a puppy you try out an organised behavioural training class before going it alone. Whichever method you choose, working together will definitely increase your bond. It worked for us, and having a calmer, more relaxed Alfie has made us enjoy him more and turned him into a well-loved family pet.
Remember to take out pet insurance, which could cover your pet cat or dog against loss, theft and accident and illness; vet fees can be extremely expensive especially if your animal is diagnosed with a chronic condition or needs surgery.’
This is a sponsored post by guest blogger Rachel Turner on behalf of Sainsbury’s Bank.