Vicky Ewan: Signed up to help pup become the happy, friendly dog she wants to be

Torbay Weekly

Before our gorgeous puppy entered our lives, I will be the first to admit I knew almost nothing about dogs.

I was woefully ignorant about breeds, clueless about exercise, and utterly unfamiliar with behaviours, typical or otherwise.

All I could claim was a vague awareness about their need to be walked twice a day, whatever the weather, and an inkling about extortionate vet fees, over which my dog-owning friends would periodically grumble as we shared a coffee while I cultivated an irritatingly smugness as a healthy cat-owner.

I was savvy enough, however, to heed the warning in their words and arrange pet insurance, something we had never done for the cats.

The present premiums for the puppy are relatively painless - I imagine that will dramatically change should any sinister developments unfold in the future.

Miss Pup has had a couple of visits to the surgery, but they have been routine: for her second jab, and for worm and flea treatments.

When I revealed her springer spaniel-Labrador heritage, the vet who treated her at the primary consultation raised an eyebrow and laughed a little; I detected a worrying mix of incredulity and sympathy - a reaction that has been concerningly echoed by People Who Know Dogs.

Clearly, we had made a bold choice; the common consensus seemed to be that we were gluttons for punishment as far as accommodating her activity requirements was concerned.

That first vet was unexpectedly cavalier about the notion of puppy socialisation classes but highly recommended our dog be enrolled in agility classes in a few months' time, to hone her skills and capitalise on her strength and stamina.

And, though she is yet a mere 16 weeks old, I am beginning to see - and feel - why... Sadly, our puppy is manifesting traits of a nervous disposition.

She has lately started to demonstrate her anxiety through growling at strangers - dogs and people alike - and, although we are trying not to be too alarmed or alarmist, it does pose problems for trips out and about.

Friends with dogs have generally agreed that puppy socialisation classes could be beneficial, despite the vet's dismissal, for this issue and for her overall confidence; accordingly, with hope in my heart and a fistful of dollars, I went online to investigate.

I easily found what seemed to be the ideal resource - a locally-situated class, focusing on canine confidence-building, commencing in a couple of weeks, with vacancies!

I emailed the course leader, and awaited her reply with baited breath.

The response sounded promising, describing classes that would offer our puppy the chance to interact with dogs of a similar age, and learn some useful tricks and behaviours.

I signed her up, and looked forward to the start date a couple of weeks hence.

By the afternoon on which the initial class was due take place, I was vibrating with a mixture of trepidation and optimism.

I coerced the youngest into accompanying me, for moral support for both puppy and myself; we gathered together all the items on the list of essential apparatus - toys, treats, water bowl, long line and bed - and set off for the venue at the appointed hour.

When we arrived and exited the vehicle, we were met with the sight of the pups who would be potential playmates, and what a jolly bunch they were.

I gazed in open envy as they boldly approached each other, tails held high and eyes bright, for a little pre-session frolicking.

Our dog, meanwhile, slunk in between my legs, quaking with fear, her natural intrigue no match for her overwhelming reticence.

Sensing the anxiety from the pup's body language, the class leader was calm and reassuring as she welcomed us all and permitted entry to the premises dog by dog.

Following instructions, my son and I laid claim to a space in the large room and unpacked our equipment. Once we were all settled, the class began.

By the end of the session, all present - human and canine alike - had been furnished with useful new skills, and I exited the premises with a small but solid sense of achievement.

Despite our puppy's reluctance to engage, she had survived the class - as had the other dogs, I am glad to report - and I was filled with renewed hope.

Maybe, just maybe, we can make this work and nurture in our dog the confidence to become the happy, friendly little pup I'm certain she wants to be.