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Donkin's World: Fetch

...Pippa can become a little too demanding.

She has all the toys and accessories a girl could want: a pad of her own, fast cars, servants, pedicures and an adoring public wherever she goes. I always wondered what it would take to break the reserve of Surrey people. Just bring on the puppy and they turn to mush...

Richard Donkin tells of training his new Jack Russell pup. Or is he the one in training?

Anyone who has been following the progress of our Jack Russell pup, Pippa, might be tempted to think that Dougie, our old West Highland White terrier, has been forgotten in all the puppy love.

That’s probably a reasonable conclusion. He is a miserable old git, very much like his owner. He doesn’t do much apart from sleep, eat, pass wind and evacuate his bowels. Yes…. as I said.

I feel we’ve been letting him down a bit in recent weeks as the new dog can be a real pest for him. She’ll greet him and lick his muzzle which looks cute at first until she persists and you get the impression that what she’s really trying to do is assert some power over him. She can, and does, run rings round him.

So we’re re-establishing a bit of pack order, ensuring he gets fed before she does. In the same way, when she’s getting rewards in training, we make sure he gets some too even though he doesn’t do anything. Dougie was never a performing dog, always his own man, one reason I’ve always respected him.

Now, in old age, he needs a bit of protection. But it’s difficult to know when to intervene because he’s not completely averse to the attention he’s getting from the young bitch – he’s a chap after all. It’s just that, like the typical trophy wife, Pippa can become a little too demanding.

She has all the toys and accessories a girl could want: a pad of her own, fast cars, servants, pedicures and an adoring public wherever she goes. I always wondered what it would take to break the reserve of Surrey people. Just bring on the puppy and they turn to mush.

No-one pays much attention to Doug now, yet it wasn’t so long ago that he used to get the petting too from strangers. He was a fine dog in his prime and never let us down. He wasn’t affectionate with children but never minded whatever they did to him. There was never a growl or a snap, just a resigned tolerance and a lack of enthusiasm.

He was always particular about his toys, preferring to chase a plastic plant pot rather than a ball. At close quarters he liked to attack his raggy. The main subject of his affection, however, has always been his lead. The bitch doesn’t do much for him but he can still become amorous towards his lead. Yes, Dougie is a leather fetishist.He wouldn’t win any best-trained dog awards but his discipline is adequate. He understands a lot more than his overall lack of response suggests. Pippa’s training, meanwhile, is entering a new phase. She has learned to sit, stay, come and lie down in laboratory conditions if not yet out in the big wide distracting world.

This week I began working on the retrieve. I've always wanted a dog that could fetch the newspaper although tracking developments at News Corporation we could be in a race against time.

We're using a method described in the training manual we’re consulting called Good Dog, The Easy Way to Train Your Dog, by Sarah Whitehead. Why did I buy this book instead of any of the others in the shop? It was thin, had lots of pictures inside, an optimistic title and that vital “hook” in the subtitle: easy. How often we fall for that word. I’m attracted to Whitehead’s argument that dogs respond to rewards and affection far more than they do to a kick up the rear. I believe her, I really do, and yet I must confess that just occasionally I regress to the old fashioned remedy.

Anyway she employs what she calls the “two-toy retrieve” in teaching dogs to bring something back to you. The idea is to have two identical toys so I found a pair of old socks then stuffed them with Bubble Wrap wrapped around some balsa wood. My thinking was to simulate an animal with brittle bones encased in squidgy flesh. OK, not all that realistic, but never mind.

The next step is to hide one sock behind your back and throw the other for the retrieve. Pippa pounced on it as the book said she would. I then produced the other sock and started to flop it around. In the book, the dog brings back the first toy and you exchange that for the hidden one which you then throw out for the second retrieve.

But Pippa didn’t bring the first sock back so I only had the second one. I threw that and went to fetch the first one. Within five minutes Gill noticed that I’d got the hang of it. I was doing perfect retrieves every time.

They do say that dog obedience classes are aimed mainly at the owners. Now I know what they mean.

**

To purchase a copies of Richard's celebrated books please click on
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Blood-Sweat-Tears-Evolution-Work/dp/1587990768/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1214554429&sr=1-2
and
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Future-Work-Richard-Donkin/dp/0230576389/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1260983216&sr=1-1

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