Archive for November, 2010

I really dislike mornings. In the words of that profound philosopher, Garfield the cat, “I’d like mornings just fine if they started later.” I can’t agree more my furry friend.

My method of coping with the harsh reality of early alarm calls is to ease myself in slowly. I make a veritable bucket of very strong coffee, park myself in the armchair in the kitchen and listen to the Today programme on Radio Four until I feel at least vaguely human.

This used to be a fairly solitary experience before Annie arrived.  The Cat would be happily tucking into her breakfast before disappearing to conduct her morning ablutions in some off-limits flowerbed and Little Bear would still be curled up in his bed upstairs.  He dislikes mornings just as much as I do but has the luxury of missing them entirely if he chooses to.

Annie however  just LOVES mornings. She greets my bleary-eyed decent by the light of my iPhone with super wags at the foot of the stairs and then skips along with me as I put the kettle and radio on and feed The Cat.  She very helpfully licks the fork clean en-route to the sink too which is very good of her.

When we first got her I put her enthusiasm down to the fact that she’s a Lab and mornings of course = breakfast.  But Annie has settled into a routine of her own that – shock, horror, doesn’t involve food.  She sits patiently as I make my coffee and then gives me just enough time to set my mug down and park myself in the chair, before popping onto my lap for her morning snuggle.

Now the armchair isn’t that big and although neither am I, there’s precious little room for the two of us in such a small space. Cue the pitty-patter of little paws on tiles as Bear wags his way into the kitchen. Their morning greeting, nose to nose with copious wagging, is a bucket full of cuteness that never fails to cheer me up. Not wanting to be left out and now brave enough to get up close and personal with the big ginger girl, LB now joins us by hopping on my lap, something he’s never done before now.

Annie & Bear in armchair

If she'd just budge over a bit we could snuggle...

So, here I am, buried under the weight of two dogs, trying to listen to the morning news and drink my coffee before Little Bear can take advantage of my early morning slowness and sneak a slurp from right under my nose.  Yesterday proved a particular challenge as The Cat decided to join us too and plonked herself on the arm within swiping distance of LB’s nose which caused us all to sweat and forced me to abandon my coffee so that I could put both hands on tickle rotation.

It was stone cold by the time she sauntered off through the cat flap. Turfing LB off my lap as I rose to make a fresh one, he promptly hopped back onto the chair and snuggled up next to Annie. I still don’t like mornings, but even I have to admit that they’re now a little more bearable than they were.

Little Bear & Annie sharing the chair

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Teachers’ pet

My other half writes a wonder blog called ‘Be inspired’ and he recently posed a question: ‘What if everyone in your life is here to teach you something?’

And by everyone he means EVERYONE, not just your grandma and your kids and the ‘nice’ people in your life, he means the idiot boy racer who cut you up on the motorway, your supercilious boss, the neighbour who throws the loudest parties at 3am…. It’s a philosophical question, but a powerful one because it asks us to question our reactions and our thoughts.

Our ponderings over the breakfast table on this question made me realise that two of my most influential teachers were currently sitting at my feet (probably hoping that the table would miraculously collapse and deliver them a jackpot)

Where would I be now had it not been for Little Bear? If he had been the take anywhere dog of my childhood, would I be blogging? Would I be spending my free time studying canine behaviour and assisting at puppy classes in my quest to inch towards a better understanding of dogs and our relationship with them? Would the idea of a second dog have even arisen? Probably not.

At it’s not just dogs that I understand a little better now either. It’s me. In trying to help Little Bear deal with the things he finds frightening or frustrating I’ve also had to learn to read myself too.

I’ve mentioned his ability as a ‘barometer Bear’ before, picking up and reflecting my emotional state straight back at me, but I’m lucky in that I can talk about my fears or irritations, Little Bear on the other hand has a severely limited repertoire of emotional outlets.

Once I recognised this, I realised that I had to work hard to control my energy, my body language and even my outlook in order to help him. It’s work that will probably never be ‘finished’ but we’re both learning and growing through the process and that’s what matters.

Little Bear and Annie got their jackpot in the form of a share of my scrambled egg and a toast crust each, their reward for bringing me to where I need to be and inspiring me every single day.

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Annie finds a home…

It’s been three months, give or take, since that fateful day when, before even getting foster dog Annie home, she broke her collar and bolted into the night. Three days of searching ensued before she was found, safe but completely exhausted and totally traumatised. She lived under the dining table for another three days coming out only to eat and drink (ever the Labrador). She growled and lunged at the doors and window if Little Bear or the cat ambled past and was so worried about leaving her new refuge, we ended up having to carry her outside to go to the loo for fear that her bladder would pop.

It took countless weeks before she felt brave enough not to hide behind my legs when visitors came. Weeks more of air-lock type conditions to keep her and the cat apart until we could be sure that her early growls weren’t anything serious.

Walks, to be polite have been ‘challenging’. LB is reactive – but Annie took it to a whole other level.  A dog a football pitch away would set her off into a frenzy of barking and lunging so determined that I couldn’t physically hold her without OH’s help.  So much for our chilled out foster dog!  I was kicking myself for thinking that a second dog would be part of the solution and trying hard to ignore the nagging voice which was whispering triumphantly “Well, you’ve done it now.”

They say that you don’t see a rescue dogs’ real personality for at least a few months and we can certainly testify to that one.

Thankfully, what started out as scary just gets sweeter and kinder by the day. Three months in and Annie no longer barks and lunges at other dogs when we’re out. She’s met more dogs than we can count and is beautifully mannered and fluent in ‘dog’. The Cat’s given her a couple of pastings for putting her nose where she shouldn’t and we’ve seen not an once of aggression in her. We’re still working on the heel and on her reactivity at night (three nights fending for herself probably hasn’t helped that), but she’s getting there.

So, Annie is now officially part of the family!

Little Bear & Annie

Little Bear & his big sister Annie

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Patience is…

I turned into my Grandma the other day. I caught myself saying one of those phrases that as a teenager you cringe at and swear that you’ll never ever utter for fear of sounding like an oldie.

It’s wasn’t, ‘aren’t policemen getting younger these days’ although that could be a contender. I bumped into my friend with her young son and said ‘Good grief! Haven’t you grown!’ I know. My inner teen was squirming. I just needed a bag of toffee covered in lint to complete the stereotype.

The point is, from the outside looking in things happen in huge leaps.  In the six months since I last saw my friends’ son he’s obviously grown. To her, it’s been so gradual as to be almost unnoticeable. To me, the change is dramatic.

When you’re working on a behaviour problem it often feels as if nothing’s happening. It’s hard, often frustrating work and requires huge amounts of patience – something that I for one am not known for!

I tire of hearing about how ‘modern life’ is reducing our attention spans and fuelling a culture of instant gratification, but that’s my boredom button being pressed, in fact, I completely agree! Maybe this is why the skills needed to help our dogs and indeed even our children are in shorter supply these days.

Living, feeling creatures, human and otherwise still need love, support, patience and most importantly time to practice the new skills we aim to teach them.

I was reminded of this last weekend when one of my dog walking friends commented on how LB didn’t bark as much at strange dogs in the park. I was quite taken aback, but on reflection, she was right. Just like my friend’s son, growing quietly right under her nose, LB too has been improving incrementally day by day – learning to control his emotions and trust me to keep him safe from things that worry him. We’ve worked on this every single day and aside from the odd ‘breakthrough’ day where we’ve taken a real leap, I’ve hardly noticed.

My grandma tried to teach me to knit. I was hopeless (did I mention I’m not a fan of repetition either?) and I soon gave it up as a lost cause. “You can’t learn anything worth doing overnight you know.” She’d say while picking up another row of dropped stitches for me. “Practice really does make perfect darling.”  And of course, she was absolutely, positively right. Thanks Nanna – I still can’t knit but I finally got the message. x


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Neglected blog :’-(

Poor Little Bear Dog Blog. If it was a real dog I’m sure the RSPCA would have been called by now on the grounds of neglect – and quite rightly so too!

The reasons for my tardiness on the blogging front are numerous – work, (obviously) and life in general are probably reasons enough on their own, but the best excuse (if I can look at it that way) is that I’ve started studying. As of the 1st October, I started my certificate in dog behaviour. Plus, in my efforts to up my observational and practical handling skills, I’ve also started assisting at puppy classes once a week too.

Little Bear and Annie obviously take up a huge chunk of time too so I’m justifying it by feeling that I’m at least getting my priorities right.

But how I miss blogging! I started as a way of keeping a diary on LB’s progress purely for my own benefit (there are only so many times you can regale your friends with dog training stories without dinner invites plummeting!) I’ve always found writing a powerful way to deal with things – for me it is truly cathartic. So as my time gets ever more stretched, I find myself hankering after a spare half an hour, not to soak in the bath or get my nails done, but to curl up with my Mac and blog about my favourite topic.

I have an essay to finish today, two dogs to walk and one who really needs a groom (LB is looking like Tatty Teddy from the greetings cards at the moment) so I’d better get on with it.  But somehow, I feel far more ready for my day than I did half an hour ago – see, much more fun than a soak in the bath!


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