“My fashion philosophy is, if you’re not covered in dog hair, your life is empty”
There’s nothing like throwing yourself back into the real world without giving yourself a challenge, a different kind of adventure. One of the most rewarding and joyful at that. Training a dog. And not any dog, but a dog that will go on to help the community and potentially save lives. I decided to take up the challenge of training this bundle of fluff into becoming a police dog. Her name is Ina and she is a German Shepherd. The local police were recruiting volunteers to be puppy walkers. What this meant is that we were to bring these 7 week old puppies into our homes and raise them, socialise them, and train them until they were ready to be properly trained and given to her Police handler who would love, look after and train her for the rest of her life.
It’s important for these puppies to be socialised in real families so that they have a normal upbringing and know how to act with the general public. This means underneath their scary exterior act, they’re really loving, playful doggos who just want to be rewarded with their ball. And my God, Ina loves her balls. After all, being a police dog is just their job, and at the end of the day they go home with their handler, have a nice walk and sleep.
When we got Ina, she was a boisterous ball of fluff and looked like a teddy bear, she was loving and loved attention, but she was by no means a well behaved pup. She is incredibly intelligent and quickly became house trained and crate trained. She’s absolutely brilliant in her crate. She also quickly learnt how to sit and lay down. However, if you’ve read Marley and Me, that’s Ina. In her first few weeks, we defined her as having 3 stages:
Good girl mode
Here, she was co-operative, willing to learn and incredibly playful and loving.
Where she was, as you guessed it, was asleep.
This was before she was allowed to go for walks and her energy got the better of her. As a teething pup, she wanted to bite everything and had boundless energy. If you think of the Tasmanian devil cartoon, that was her. We found ways to stimulate her such as putting peanut butter in a kong and froze toys and treats in ice. This helped her channel her energy in a productive way which would help her in the future, and best of all, she got a treat out of it!
As a puppy walker, we were under strict instructions on how to look after her. She could be left alone 4 hours maximum and had a strict and healthy diet.
We were also required to attend monthly training sessions with her brothers and sisters and the dog training team. There they would check Ina’s progress and health and guide us if we had any issues. One of the main reasons for these sessions was to develop the core skills that the pups will need to be a police dog. These involved obedience, barking on queue and tracking.
The skill with tracking was to work up to it. We started with disturbing a line of grass with our feet and placing chunks of hot dog along the track while the dogs were out of sight. Eventually the tracks got longer and went round corners and the hot dogs got further apart until there were none. Ina is a natural. She could sniff out a track with ease. And this didn’t stay on the training ground. Hide her ball from her in the house, and you bet she’ll sniff it out! The girl knows how to use her nose!
Unfortunately, the main thing she struggles with is her excessive need to chase. Chase squirrels, cyclists, joggers, cars. If it moves and looks fun, she wants to go after it. What was cute for passers when she was tiny, became not so cute when she got bigger. No one wants a german shepherd chasing after them, especially when they don’t realise she only wants to say hello. This meant we had to keep her on the lead and take her to more rural places without joggers to let her run off the lead. It also involved strict training and deliberate road walks to stop her chasing cars. It’s so important to curb her chase drive because she won’t be able to be distracted when she’s on the job.
She’s getting there, but has a lot of work to do. In her free time, she’s practising her football skills and being our real life teddy bear. She loves cuddles, balls and eating my slippers.
She’s got the potential to make it as a police dog and I have all the faith in her, but if she doesn’t make it, she’ll make an excellent goalie.