Today I did my first walk with Willow who is a beautiful black and gold Hovawort. We’d met on a couple of occassions and got along well, indeed she was positively affectionate at the initial booking visit. I’d done a ‘test drive’ with her human waiting down the street only yesterday, just to be sure I could get this lovely, gentle soul out of the house.. she was after all a large guarding breed with a formidable bark! All preparations had gone well, so I arrived devoid of anxiety and looking forward to getting to know her loveliness.

A young Hovawart sunbathing

As before, Willow greeted me as an intruder, with furious barking and telling me she was big and this was her house and would I mind going away now, please! Once I was in and had opened the inner door into the house the barking gave way to a reluctant admission of recognition and acceptance – I could come in and she wouldn’t eat me, but no, she would rather not leave the security of her home right now, thanks!

I talked to her quietly, but any approach was met with avoidance, so I went and sat down in her living room in the only chair she had ever seen me occupy – I hoped she would remember the ease and acceptance of our first meeting. I got out some irresistable treats and threw one across the room to land at her feet. She ate it, and watched me for my next move. This was good human behaviour… but could she train me to repeat it? I threw another a few feet short of where she was standing and she moved towards me. After a third repetition she was close enough to touch and had her face towards me so I continued talking to her and asked for her “face” – her known request to accept her head collar. This she did and I thought that’s it – we’re off.

The Kennel Club breed book describes the Hovawart as a dog who is not submissive, but who “obeys willingly, without giving up his pride or becoming a slave to humans. He is a friend and comrade , not a servant.” It’s an accurate description of the behaviour I was seeing Willow display; she had a dignity about her and I was aware that I had best learn to reason with her now, because I would never be able to coerce her into doing anything (even if I wanted to). But the truth is she had me right there… I adore dogs that show independence of thought and don’t just follow without question. I loved and respected her right to have some kind of control over her living… It’s my job to prove to her that what I want to give her is an opportunity to have fun and make choices and enjoy good things – but right now she doesn’t know me or trust my goodness, and why should she?

We walked without event to the end of the street, but the moment I turned a corner away from her home she stopped and refused to move on. I tried stroking the lead (a T-Touch technique for moving a ‘rooted’ dog on without dragging them) with a little success. I tried running forward with an excitement nobody could resist and she ran alongside me… but we were moving uphill and I couldn’t keep it up forever. I tried using treats to coax her on and eventually we made it to the top of the path and to a walker’s T-junction. I had no idea of where either path would lead us, we were on her territory so I simply let her decide and she took me left, a short way along the path and then down through a broken section of fence, over some grassland (where she felt safe enough to wee), and back to her house. All this ground was covered at a brisk walking pace. She knew what she wanted, indeed!

We still had good walking time, and I wanted her to know that we could both make good choices, so I turned left past the front of her house back along the original route, and she came with me. We completed the same circuit (in half the time) with just a couple of stalls when she could easily be moved on with a treat, and the next time around I let her lead me back to her home. We went inside, removed muddy boots, wiped surprisingly clean paws on her towel and shared some quiet time together – she, enjoying a treat and a soft touch, with me writing up our little adventure for her human.

I was late leaving her today, but the time was immaterial. She revealed so much of herself, and I found her entirely capable and trustworthy. I hope that with time she will know that I am the same.

Dog walking in Newcastle – when the dog says “no!”