Archive for June, 2011

Back to bed Bear

Little Bear is four today. Hard to believe really, the time has flown by so fast. Yet it’s hard to imagine life before him now. I’m sure it was easier, but I doubt it was as joyful.

That’s the only word I could think of this morning when, impatient to see his reaction, I delayed making my essential first cuppa of the day to give him his birthday present.

The Hide the Squirrel game has been sitting on my office shelf for nearly 2 months. Personally I think I’ve shown great restraint in not giving it to him before now.

Well he certainly didn’t disappoint. He went nuts when he saw the box, jumping up onto the armchair to get a better look.  His little tail went into over-drive when he saw the toy and he wasted no time at all in the testing it out stakes.  He flung it in the air, he squeaked it, he pulled out each squirrel, he batted them with his paw and all the while he was in full-blown super wag!

Big hit: Little Bear's Hide the Squirrel present

Twelve rounds of ‘find the squirrel’ later and he was showing no signs of being bored with the game which was essentially him pulling the little critters out of their tree stump and then waiting patiently for me to stuff them back into it.

Perhaps sensing the need for fresh blood in the tree stump stuffing stakes (try saying that one quickly) he then picked the whole thing up and pelted upstairs to show Other Half.

As I watched him play, so obviously delighted by his new toy, I was struck by how purely joyful he looked.  Totally absorbed in the fun of living. In that, dogs have an awful lot to teach us.

Happy birthday Little Bear. x


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Little Bear and Annie on the sofa

Nap time: Little Bear and Annie

There’s an old saying that the key to happiness is not getting what you want, but wanting what you get. I’d be really happy getting a new Volvo V50 and size 8 hips please, but I’m not sure that’s what the quotes’ originator really meant.

In true zen-like fashion it’s about appreciating what we already have and let’s be honest, how many of us take time to do that? We focus on what we don’t have, what we still need (or want) and we buy into the idea that our lives would be perfect if only….[complete as necessary]

The good news is that we have something to blame other than ourselves. We can blame advertising for at least part of it for creating a culture driven by a collective sense of lack. After all, how would anyone sell anything if we all believed we already had everything we needed to be happy?

But we’re bright people, and advertising can’t take the rap for it all. I’m as guilty as the next person by the way.  Put me in a pet shop and I’ll be scouring the training section looking for equipment that might help me in my quest for ‘perfect, non-reactive dogs.’  I rarely buy anything, but the idea that I can buy a ‘fix’ for the problem is deeply ingrained. So despite knowing that the solution rests in time, love, persistence and consistency, I still look – just in case.

Little Bear and Annie, despite my best efforts, may never learn to be entirely happy around unfamiliar dogs. I may well spend the next decade taking a few steps forward and then a few more back, but I hope they understand that whatever happens, I’ll love them and appreciate them for who they are right now. After all, that’s the secret to happiness.


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Little Bear, Paddy and Bella

Little Bear, Paddy (top) and Bella

There was a time when going out with friends on a Friday night meant hours in the bathroom, a new outfit and a sure-fire guarantee that I’d miss Saturday morning altogether. But things (thankfully) move on and last nights outing was a walk in the woods with Other Half, my friend Judith and her adorable two dogs Bella and Paddy.

It was a big night for us as Annie joined us and as is human nature, we so wanted them to all get along. Little Bear is hopelessly in love with beautiful black Lab Bella and he and Pads are great playmates, but Annie’s worried about new dogs and air snaps if they get too close. It’s not her fault, she’s just reacting in the only way she knows how. Our job is to teach her a better way.


True to form Annie lunged and put on her anxious head as soon as she clapped eyes on the new dogs. Bella’s well-mannered approach earned her a lunge and an air snap but she sauntered away completely unfazed. Pads was completely focussed on his tennis ball so ignored Annie anyway.

As we walked, Annie started to calm down. It was hammering with rain so Little Bear was seriously unimpressed to be out at all, but as Bella was there he was putting on his tough guy face and pretending he didn’t care.  Wonder what she’d think if she knew he stood by the wardrobe waiting for the hairdryer to come out as soon as we got home?!

Bella continued her ingratiation campaign, choosing to walk past Annie at every opportunity and thus earning them both an enthusiastic chorus of ‘Good girls!!!’ for non-reaction or politeness. OH got them sitting within a few feet of each other to have treats (if ever there’s a bonding experience between Labs, this has to be it!) and by the end of the walk they were snacking on grass almost head to head, again to our enthusiastic praise.

It will take a few more walks to persuade Annie that these dogs can be trusted and I’ll remain eagle-eyed until her body-language tells me that she’s comfortable, but thanks to the calm, gentle persistence of the lovely Bells I think they may yet become firm friends. Sleepovers and friendship bracelets await!

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Little Bear with his head on a copy of Dogs, by Coppinger

Little Bear with his head on a copy of Dogs, by Coppinger

Amazon and I have a love hate relationship. I love that I can buy dog behaviour  books with a few clicks of a mouse, but I hate that:

a) I now need another bookcase and

b) I daren’t add up what I’ve spent over the past couple of years (LOL)

I’m not complaining though, I’m enthralled by the whole topic and feel like I’m still only scratching the surface in terms of the learning that’s out there.

Slim pickings on the high street 

Amazon’s virtual shelves are packed with some excellent titles, but by contrast, wander into Waterstones or WHSmith and the dog section is more than a little light on content. Chatting to my behaviourist friend today about her excellent blog on the dangers of dominance theory, we were lamenting the fact that the better dog books can only be found online – and then, only if you know what you’re looking for! Couple that with some TV trainers peddling dog abuse in the name of training and no wonder people (myself once included) are confused.

So, I thought I’d share my top ten favourite dog books and ask what you think?  I need no excuse to hit Amazon, so any recommendations to add to the shelves gratefully received.

  1. Dogs – Raymond & Lorna Coppinger
  2. The culture clash – Jean Donaldson
  3. For the love of dog – Patricia McConnell
  4. Inside of a dog – Alexandra Horowitz
  5. The other end of the leash – Patricia McConnell
  6. Bonding with your dog – Victoria Schade
  7. Empowerment training – James O’Heare
  8. Fight – Jean Donaldson
  9. How dogs learn – Burch & Bailey
  10. Canine neuropsychology – James O’Heare
Wow, that was harder than I thought. Sorry to the rest of you who are sulking at me from the shelves.
Absolute favourites can be summed up as ‘anything by Patricia McConnell’ (a scientist who writes like a poet will always get top marks from me) and anything by James O’Heare (thank you for reminding me that I’m not too old to need a dictionary beside me as I read.)
So, what do you think of my top ten? And most importantly, what am I missing? I can almost hear the Amazon till ringing…

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