Gromit – Shine on you Crazy Diamond

On Saturday 1st of March our beautiful dog Gromit was killed on a busy road in Wales having unexpectedly forged his way across a small river and a large marshy area in pursuit of some sheep he had spotted way over the other side of the valley.

We were staying at a camp-site that we had visited many times, a location we believed to be a safe place to let him run free, unfortunately this didn’t turn out to the case. Thankfully Gromit was killed instantly and will not have felt any pain or even been aware of what happened to him.

I cannot begin to describe the loss my wife, Barb and I felt on that day. Gromit was a ‘Tour de Force’ bursting with energy and endless vitality. Many times he left us feeling exasperated, as he always remained a very wilful dog, despite the hundreds of pounds we spent on training. We’d tried many times to teach him recall but with no success. In many ways it was the wilful aspect of his personality which made him the dog he was, the dog we loved so much, but unfortunately it also ultimately led to his untimely end at only 21 months of age.

Gromit

Our beautiful boy. Gone in a heartbeat.
It was the best day in a dog’s life,
Running with the lurcher, learning fly ball.
Such high hopes for his skills,
He was intelligent, smart and so very fast.

Camping at our old haunt, visited many times
Our kids, many friends…..all have been there.
So many happy memories, now tainted for ever.
A moment’s lack of attention, ears flattened to head,
And he was gone, running with the wind.

And it was over, no pain, just so still.
The well-meaning farmer, used to the death of animals
Awkwardly comforting, offering a puppy to ease the pain.
And the pain was as never endured before.
A loss so profound, life changing. Final.

And then the chance to give love to his brother.
Poor neglected boy, now here to fill our days
And ease the pain of the loss of our beautiful boy.
The human capacity for love and Borys’ need for love
All melded together for our new journey.

by
Barb Mclean

Gromit’s Attentiveness Training Program – Session Three

Monday evening – 22 April – Birkenhead Park

It seems my optimism following yesterday’s training was entirely misplaced.

BulldogWithin minutes of arriving and beginning training we were joined by a 12 month old Bulldog called Spence. Spence and Gromit immediately hit it off, and, as Sharon also told us it was very important that Gromit got as much interaction with other dogs as possible, I decided to let them play. Not that I appeared to have much choice at the time!

Because Gromit and Spence were playing quite boisterously I ended up having to let go of Gromit’s leash, which was ok for about 5 minutes, after which both Gromit and Spence spotted another, smaller, dog and decided to involve it in their game. Fortunately the owner of the small dog knew George, Spence’s owner, and, whilst clearly panicking slightly, was also relatively understanding whilst we attempted to extract her dog from ours and restrained our, much larger, dogs from swamping hers.

Having resolved that issue, I was trying to explain to George why I had to keep Gromit on a leash, particularly in wide open public spaces. I wasn’t entirely convinced that George fully appreciated my problems. His dog ran after other dogs, he said, and he wouldn’t always come straight back, he assured me, but he didn’t think it too much of a problem, just dogs having fun, he said. Gromit must have been listening in to this conversation because he then took the opportunity to fully demonstrate his capabilities and headed off across the park at around 40mph pursuing some joggers he’d spotted on the horizon! Within seconds he’d disappeared!

Whippet in full flight

I left the ‘now fully up to speed’ George and headed in pursuit of the ‘now at full speed’ Gromit!

After a few minutes desperate calling, Gromit reappeared on the horizon. He appeared to spot my frantically waving form and headed back towards me at top speed only to effortlessly pass by me at the last-minute as he headed back in  Spence’s direction. Fortunately I managed to get my foot on his trailing leash and brought him to an abrupt halt.

By now the entire parks attention was on me and I started to feel somewhat foolish as I marched up and down the park dragging a clearly reluctant dog behind me and after a few minutes of total in-attentiveness I knew this session had been blown out of the water!

From Gromit’s point of view this was an excellent session as he had lots of exercise and doggy interaction. From my point of view it was a total disaster!

Gromit’s Attentiveness Training – Session Two

Sunday afternoon – 21 April – Birkenhead Park

It rained throughout the session, which was almost certainly the reason why there weren’t that many other people or dogs around to act as distractions. Had a 20 minute training session during which Gromit started to show signs of improvement.

We then went for a walk around the upper lake. I finished training off with a quick 5 minute session before heading home. Gromit continued to show good levels of attentiveness.

Quite pleased with progress, however, I think he was definitely in a subdued mood owing to being wet.

Gromit’s Attentiveness Training – Session One

Technically the first training session took place on Saturday the 20th April, when we met up with Sharon and were instructed on how to do it.

During that session I walked off in one direction, trailing the lead behind me, while Gromit looked at a variety of dogs, in a variety of other directions, until the lead inevitably went taut and he was gently dragged in the same direction as me. At that point he would grudgingly trudge after me whilst still managing to remain focussed on everything else going on around him other than me. By the sheer law of inevitability he would eventually come alongside me and I would immediately change direction at which point the whole process would start again.

It sounds a fairly simple procedure but if you just keep turning right every time he comes up on your left side, it’s not long before you start to feel a little dizzy, however, if you try to head left when he comes up on the left you can tend to get a bit tangled up! It’s also possible, if the area your working in isn’t large enough, to walk yourself into a corner. Needless to say I did all those things several times during the session.

The general idea is to keep going for a maximum of 20 – 30 minutes. If you find you are starting to feel less tug on the lead after each turn, and your dog is starting to head in generally the same direction as you on each turn, then you can probably stop after 20 minutes, otherwise keep going for the extra 10 minutes.

At the end of the training it is also a good idea to take your dog for a more relaxed walk so he/she still associates the training sessions with having an enjoyable time.

To be honest I couldn’t tell if Gromit was being more attentive or not at the end of this session, however, Sharon and Barb thought he showed some signs of improvement.

Gromit Asleep

Gromit’s Attentiveness Training Program

Gromit SittingOne of the big issues we have with Gromit is an almost total inability to get him to come immediately back to us when he is let off the lead on walks. I say almost, because on some occasions, when there have been no distractions, such as other dogs, he does come back, however, lately this has become so rare it probably doesn’t count any more.

I should also just add that obviously we do get him back eventually, but this generally involves me having to walk some distance to extract him from a group of newly found playmates!

Prior Training

When we first knew we were getting Gromit we visited a couple of training establishments but weren’t very impressed with what we found. Most places seem to suggest that they deliver kind and caring, non aggressive, training methods, but this did not seem to be the case with those we visited, who demonstrated the use of ‘kneeing’ the dog down, squirting water in its face and the use of a choke chain.

I have no doubt these methods produce quick results, and I’m not going to add to the debate of what is right and wrong, that’s a hot topic many professional trainers can’t agree on. However, from our personal point of view, we wanted a dog that would follow us because it wanted to and not because we may inflict some punishment on it, so we we’re prepared for the long haul. (pardon the pun)

We were not, however, prepared to handle Gromit’s training entirely unsupported, so after a couple of months of sharing our lives’s with him we engaged a trainer called Sharon from the ‘Bark Busters‘ franchise.

We’ve met with Sharon on a few occasions during Gromit’s development and, between her and a couple of puppy training books, we’ve managed to get him to do the usual tricks such as sit, down, wait, and occasionally heel. We can easily remove any foodstuff from him with never a hint of aggression and we can leave food on the floor in front of him which he will not touch until told to do so. In fact he is a fairly well-behaved dog for a puppy… until we take him outside!

Attentiveness Training – The Theory

It had been several weeks since we last met with Sharon, as we’d had to reschedule a couple of appointments owing to holidays and other commitments, and during this time Gromit’s growing lack of recall had become a major issue which we urgently needed to get advice about.

We started by taking Gromit for a walk on a long lead through the park while Sharon chatted to Barb about our issues. After about 15 minutes walking, Sharon commented that during all that time Gromit had not looked at us once, indicating that he was operating almost entirely independent of us. Normally, when running in a pack, all the pack members will continuously look at the pack leader for direction and this enables the pack to operate as efficient unit. We were clearly not operating as an efficient unit.. far from it!

Sharon’s advice was that we would have to get Gromit to be ‘attentive’ to our directions before we could ever hope to embed an effective recall command and has recommended that we carry out an extensive program of attentiveness training which needs to be carried out everyday for 20 – 30 minutes for the next 3 weeks.

Attentiveness training, in our case, consists of finding a reasonable sized open area, preferably with other dogs in the vicinity as distractions, and, with Gromit on the end of a long lead, we begin walking off across the area, keeping an eye on Gromit’s position so we can spot when he comes alongside. As soon as he comes alongside we swiftly change the direction we are heading in, forcing him to eventually change direction too. We repeat this process for at least 20 minutes or until we get extremely dizzy! You are also not allowed to give verbal commands as this exercise is about getting your dog to watch you for visual clues rather than listen for commands.

The theory behind the training is based on the premise that because we have now become unpredictable in our movements Gromit will start to keep an eye on us to check what we are doing, i.e. ‘be attentive’. By continuing the training every day for 3 weeks we are hopefully going to reinforce the behaviour of him continually checking to ensure he is going in the same direction as us, ‘the pack’, and, therefore, also be ready to receive any command we may give him.

I will post a record of our progress over the next three weeks..

Gromit finally takes the plunge!

Barb and I took the van out for its second outing this weekend to a camp-site called Lady Hayes. Many people who live within driving distance of Frodsham will probably know the Lady Hayes Centre. It looks a bit like a small old WWII  army base, only now all the buildings house a variety of arts, crafts and antique shops. Bob Carolgees, famous for his puppet ‘Spit the Dog’ runs a specialist candle shop on the site.

I think the camp-site is a relatively new addition, although its been a few years since we last visited the centre so I’m not sure how new. Whilst the camp site was very well organised and very clean, after the sun goes down there isn’t a great deal to do other than visit the combined shop-cafe-club house.

I like to take Gromit for a reasonable walk before we settle down for the night, however, as the main road passing the site had no footpath or lighting, and was still quite busy with traffic, I found myself confined to circumnavigating the camp site grounds a couple of times which didn’t take long and was pretty boring!

Another downside to the weekend was the discovery of a leak on the connection to the sink tap, which is unfortunately situated behind the cooker and pretty inaccessible without actually removing the cooker. I’m going to have to give the guy we bought the van from a ring to see if he’s prepared to fix it for us, however, as it was private sale we can only hope he meant it when he said give me a call if anything goes wrong.. fingers crossed!

Highlight of the weekend though was when we visited Delamere Forest on our way home and let Gromit off the lead for a bit of a run around a small lake we found near one of the forest car parks. Gromit has been know to run through puddles on odd occasions but has generally shown a reluctance to go out in the rain or get seriously wet so it came as quite a surprise to us, and him I expect, when he finally decided to take a plunge!

When the dream becomes a reality

For several years now Barb and I have dreamt of spending our weekends out and about in our ideal camper van with our perfect family dog enjoying all the splendours of the beautiful British countryside and beyond. We can’t remember the exact beginning of that dream but we can absolutely pin point the day it came to fruition, Saturday 27th October 2012

Barb has not shared her life with a dog since childhood, and Pooch had met an untimely end when hit by a car. I’d shared my childhood with our family dog, called Lucky, and I’d briefly owned a dog in my early adult life, an Alsatian called Blitz, but circumstances led to me having to find a new home for her. And whilst together we had housed a fair menagerie of pets including, several rats, a very large Iguana and numerous cats, of which we still have three, we never felt we had the time to devote to caring for a dog whilst we we’re both working.

Gromit

Gromit

It was only after Barb started working part-time for a small charitable organisation in Wales, where she met a colleague whose dog was having puppies, that we decided to revisit the idea of dog ownership. To be honest the deal was sealed as soon as Barb visited the puppies, although it was only after a few visits that we finally settled on the puppy for us, who at the time was named Bruiser.

Bruiser eventually became Gromit, who grew into a larger dog than we were expecting, and considerably bigger than the size of dog we had dreamt of sharing a camper van with, in fact there are many aspects of sharing our lives with Gromit that have come as quite a surprise to us, but that’s a separate story

In relation to our dream, one of the main impacts Gromit’s arrival has had on our plans to build our own custom van, was that I was never going to find the time to build anything in the near future as most of our spare time was now taken up with taking Gromit for numerous walks, to burn off his endless supplies of energy, or stopping him from trying to chew anything he could get his teeth into including the furniture, the cats and frequently us!

We decided, therefore, that we would just see what we could get ready built for the same budget as we’d planned to spend on our custom build. Fortunately it didn’t take us long to find a very suitable alternative which, whilst there were several compromises on our dream specifications, certainly met our immediate needs and we only had to go slightly over budget to get it.

Our VW Camper van

Our new VW Campervan in Derbyshire

And so it was, that while driving along the M56 heading for Derbyshire on Saturday 27th October 2012, it dawned on us that our long-held dream had finally come to fruition.

Did the reality match the expectations of the dream?

Of course not, in our dreams we were probably wandering through golden meadows of beautiful wild flowers with a cute little dog running gaily by our side. In reality we slipped and slithered along a sodden muddy footpath struggling to get over obstacle course styles in the pouring rain whilst trying to stop Gromit devouring every bit of sheep poo he came across!

Do we regret it?

Not one bit. We love getting out in our van, whatever the weather, and we love having Gromit as our four-legged companion, although we are both very much looking forward to when gets beyond the puppy stage!

Barb and Gromit

Barb and Gromit living the dream!