Archive for October, 2010

Trips into the London office are thankfully few and far between these days, but I can’t escape them completely.  It means a 5.15am start, (never a pleasure) and as I do it so infrequently these days, a pretty rubbish nights sleep as I wait for the dreaded alarm to go off.

Five meetings later and team drinks after work and I was seriously ready to head home. My train journey is a full hour and I usually resign myself to working on my laptop or trying to read the evening paper really slowly to make it last the whole way. So, imagine my delight when a lady and her dog came to sit next to us.

City dogs

I always love to see dogs in the city.  Little rays of reality trotting amongst the silliness of posh suits and designer handbags.

I wasn’t the only one to be lifted by the new arrival either – the carriage seemed to come alive.

A chilled out Lab, he accepted every pat and compliment given to him.  Two teenage boys stopped being cool long enough to lean over and take their turn at pooch patting and an elderly gentleman changed seats, I think just so that he could walk past and tickle his head.

But this lad had quite a story to tell. He was on the demure side so his mum explained to us that she had in fact rescued/stolen him from Singapore a few years ago.

Shaved almost bald and seriously underweight, he’d been chained since a puppy in a back yard and kept as a guard dog enduring endless days in the baking hot sun without shade.  He’d spent his entire life on the end of that chain until she’d befriended him. Fearing for his life, she’d dog-knapped him, arranged a safe haven until his paperwork could be organised and then flown him back to her home in England.

A nation of animal lovers?

As the newspapers once again fill with the horror stories of animal cruelty and neglect, I think we need to remember that there is thankfully, another side of the coin.  There are people out there who move mountains with the love they show for their animals, we just hear about them less.

In the October edition of Dogs Today, Terry Doe recounts a story of a couple who re-mortgaged their house to pay the vet bills for their Lurcher Lennon who was hit by a van. This is pretty impressive in itself, but the truly amazing thing is that Lennon wasn’t even their dog at the time!  He was a stray when he was hit and the couple were merely witnesses to the horrific accident. Thankfully their love and investment has paid off and four years later Lennon is alive and well if missing an eye and held together by some very clever metal-work.


For the sensitive souls amongst us, the horrors inflicted on our furry friends can be almost too overwhelming to cope with.  I can’t bring myself to even watch the RSPCA television appeals let alone the You Tube nasties that out abusers. An ad for a charity rescuing bear’s kept for their bile had me in tears for days. They sap my energy and plant seeds of knotweed hopelessness that as a species we’re really just neanderthals in suits.

I don’t need to see cruelty in order to know that it exists and by focussing on it we give it power it really doesn’t deserve.

So I’m taking the same approach to training my world as I do with my dogs: I’m going to ignore the behaviour I don’t want and reward with my attention, the behaviour that I do.

This means giving no time to the negative and actively seeking out those soul nourishing, heart-thumpingly joyous stories of love and courage, selflessness and devotion that give me hope. Let’s celebrate all those wonderful people who, each in their own small way are proving that we are indeed a nation of true animal lovers!


Please leave a comment if you have a good news story to share – I’d LOVE to read it.

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Agility Bear

Little Bear amazed me today.  Truly, seriously amazed me.

He had his first agility lesson, a one to one with an excellent instructor recommended to me by a lovely lady I met on my practical dog handling course the other week.

I’ve often thought about agility but because LB gets so stressed in a class environment I’d sort of ruled it out. It simply hadn’t occurred to me that we could do a one to one session.

So, loaded up with treats galore and his favourite toys we headed off to the agility field this afternoon. When I booked it I’d told our instructor Dave that he was a bit of a nervous Nelly and that although he’d done the tunnel in obedience class I wasn’t sure about what else he’d do.

Imagine my surprise when an hour later he’d happily completed three of the most challenging bits of equipment on the field!

At the end of the session Dave said ‘It’s really unusual for a dog, especially such a little one to do the A Frame, See Saw and Walkway on his first go. He’s a natural.’  He also added ‘So where’s this nervous dog you told me about then?’

The best bit was that LB looked so happy. So animated and excited and proud of himself – and boy did he have every right to be!

Of course I then spent the afternoon figuring out how to cut the footage that Other Half shot of our adventure into a little video.

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Working with a ‘problem dog’ can be exhausting. You love them but there are days when it’s really hard to like their behaviour.

As humans I think we often get confused with where the person stops and the behaviour begins.  So in the office, your boss makes a decision that really annoys you and your reaction might be to think or even say ‘That man is an idiot!’

You may think the decision was idiotic, but is that enough to judge the whole person on? Even if it’s the latest in a long line of less than perfect choices, do you have enough to go on? Probably not.  I think this is because what we’re really commenting on the behaviour, not the whole person. As we know, people are a lot more complex than that! So if we make these leaps to judgement with our own species, it’s easy to see how we can make the same mistakes with our dogs who like us, are so much more than the behaviour they express.

Some time ago, a friend of mine, listening patiently to my anxious ramblings about Little Bear’s nervous aggression, calmly smiled and said ‘Don’t worry, it’s just behaviour.’  I must have looked at her like she was a lunatic because she said ‘Just think about it.’

I did. And now I get it. 🙂




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There are occasions when Little Bear looks thoroughly miserable.  I’m no canine body language expert, but even to the untrained eye ‘cheesed off’ is pretty easy to spot.  He shuffles about the place, woofing at the slightest noise and flopping into his various snoozing spots with an audible huff. If he could speak English, I think it would be to protest that he was bored.

To test this hypothesis, you only have to produce a teddy or a tennis ball to see him instantly transformed. Tail’s up, ears go gremlin like and he’s bouncing around like an excited puppy.

Like most people I want my dogs to be happy.  Annie seems quite chilled by nature and as long as she gets walked, fed and cuddled according to her timetable, she looks quite content.

But LB is another matter. So, I’ve been doing some reading and the one thing I think could be missing from LB’s life are more opportunities to use his brainbox a little more.

So, armed with the excellent, ‘Mind Games for Dogs’ by Sarah Whitehead, we spent the weekend putting both dogs through the canine equivalent of suduko.

The results? WOW!

Annie has enjoyed herself judging by all the tail wagging, but LB is practically transformed! He’s crashed out on the sofa now, but he’s been full of beans today and he’s been grinning like a loon. For anyone who thinks I’m bonkers describing a dog grinning, I probably am for numerous other reasons, but trust me on the grinning – it’s this soft mouthed, smiling eye, lolling tongue look of a super chilled out pooch.It’s a joy to see.

So what did we try?

Find it

Bear’s played this before but it was brand new for Annie.  I’m using it to get a recall and a strong watch me, so I call their names, ask for a sit and a watch me and then throw their biscuits in different directions for them to find. The rules are that they must come back, sit and make eye contact before the next piece gets thrown.

Annie, being a Lab would have played this all day but LB was showing signs of getting bored.  He’s not that food motivated so the reward for him is the game and, I think the praise he gets. To liven it up I had to change position a lot – so we ended up with me standing and him sitting on one sofa, then the other one, then the armchair ….it was part training game, part workout for me!

Hide it

Next we tried the hide it game. I put some biscuits under the quilt in his crate while he sat and watched then told him to find it. The thing I’ve noticed with LB is that he needs encouragement. Like a kid who lacks confidence and gives up too quickly, if at first it seems too challenging, he walks away. But praise him and encourage him and he’s a different dog.  In under 4 minutes he’d worked out that the only way to get the treats was to back out of the cage and drag the quilt out with him. The wag went all the way to his ears when I told him how clever he was!

What’s in the box?

Today we played with a couple of cardboard boxes.  I’d hide a toy inside while he sat & waited and then when told ‘ok’ he had to find it. The large box  frustrated him for a while until he learned how to tip it over but once mastered, he did it time and time again.  The enthusiasm was unmistakable and his tail never stopped wagging.

The cup game

Annie got in on the act after watching from the sofa for the first five minutes but was a bit more reserved. For a dog just learning how to play she did brilliantly though.  She has a great technique in the cup game. The game is essentially find the lady, but to keep it simple we started with just one cup with a treat hidden underneath it.

This is definitely her forte. She doesn’t waste time shuffling it around with her nose – oh no. She picks it straight up and goes to her bed with it, wagging fit to bust. Trouble is, she leaves the treat! Bless her.

The power of play

I’ve been amazed and thrilled to see how the dogs responded to the games.  I’ve not seen LB look so thoroughly happy in a long time.  The wag he does in response to ‘clever Bear!’ goes all the way up to his ears and he just looks so proud of himself.  It’s also helping Annie to come out of her shell a little and she just loves the attention.

The other upside of course is that OH and I have been in stitches watching them. At this rate, we’ll also be racking our brains for new ideas to keep them entertained!

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Doh! Stupid Mamma

Okay, so that post in which I ranted about the ‘it’s always the owners fault’ mentality?  Well, hands-up, sometimes it is.

At the park yesterday we met Little Bear’s Bichonpoo friend. They get on really well and it’s lovely to watch them play. Except that yesterday LB had a ball in his mouth when he saw his friend.  We stood chatting and the dogs said a nice hello.  Then stupidly, I thought ‘Oh, better not let LB get possessive of his ball, I’ll just take it off him so that he can play’.


Here he was not at all worried that his pal wanted his ball until of course I try and take it away and put the idea into his head. Now his friend showing up means his toy gets taken away. The second I did it I could have kicked myself because of course, what happened? Yep, LB all grumpy and guarding his beloved tennis ball and all thoughts of playtime gone.

Have I beaten myself up about it? Course I have. I hate getting it wrong for his sake more than mine, but I’m learning to be stoical and see my mistakes as the lessons.  Of course I like the triumphs far better, but that’s life. <sigh>

LB doesn’t have a mum who gets it right every time, but he certainly has one who will never, ever stop trying.

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Cuddle monster

Quick post today just to counter the withdrawal symptoms.  Having just started my canine behaviour course I’ve got my nose stuck in a book at any given moment of the day which is leaving little time for indulging in my other favourite past-time – writing about dogs!

Today’s post is about Annie, our foster Lab.

Like most people we have a morning routine. This consists of my alarm going off at about 6.30. I snooze until around 7 or until my ‘three strikes and you’re up’ from Annie kicks in.  You see, from the first alarm, I get three snoozes before my canine alarm kicks in from downstairs. As I may have mentioned, having been brought up in a bungalow, stairs are a scary, alien concept to her at the moment so the whines are delivered, from the foot of the stairs – front paws as high as she’ll dare on the second step.

Once up (always a process of negotiation which involves trying to get an over-excited Cat off my chest) it’s quick pat for Little Bear (still snoozing in his bed next to our bed) and then downstairs for an enthusiastic ‘look how fast I can wag this thing’ welcome from Annie.  Cat gets fed, Annie gets a wee break and I get my caffeine fix while listening to the Today Programme on Radio Four (under 30s stop sniggering, it comes to us all in time).

Coffee in hand I usually give myself ten minutes sitting in the armchair in the kitchen just to adjust to the uncomfortable reality of being awake when I’d much rather be asleep.  Like most mornings, I’m rarely on my own for long as once in from her morning ablutions, Annie is normally to be found squished into the very small space that is my lap.

As we were having our morning cuddle today, her gazing into my face and closing her eyes dreamily as I stroked her cheeks, I was reminded of the terrified, shut down dog we had found slumped against a garden gate just eight weeks ago.  And the adoption note which said ‘Annie isn’t used to one to one attention.’   Here’s to an adorable little soul who’s certainly making up for lost time!

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