Archive for September, 2011

Little Bear and his friend Bonnie

Little Bear and his friend Bonnie

How much of your time does your dog take up?  Personally, I can’t even begin to add it up and to be honest, nor do I want to. It feels like one of those ridiculous business surveys that seem to endlessly whine in the media that if the British workforce just stopped having toilet breaks/sharpening pencils/laughing with colleagues [delete as appropriate] then our GDP would rise by 20%. I don’t want to reduce my relationships into something I can plot on a spreadsheet thanks.

That said, time spent with our dogs is still a crucial issue and is inexorably linked to their behaviour and I think our own levels of happiness.


As pressures in the day job mount and the hours I spend working canter swiftly past the ‘half-the-day gone yet and what about sleeping?’ mark, it’s tough to fit it all in. Life is busy, no news there for any of us, but part of having dogs in our lives is that commitment to mould our time, no matter how scarce, around their needs.

As we still walk them separately, yesterday I did four walks, one each in the morning, one each in the evening. Other half did the same on Thursday while I was in the office. Then of course there’s the feeding, playing and general cuddling that are part of their daily routine.

Had I said ‘too bad, I’m busy’ yesterday and retired upstairs to my home office, I doubt I would have got anything done; primarily because of the guilt, but also because a tired, contented dog with a predictable routine is usually a lot less trouble!

Even though Little Bear hides at the sight of his harness he loves his walks. If he can find someone to play with all the better. Annie is the best time-keeper I know and will actually woof at you when it’s time to go out. Once home, they then crash on the sofas for hours on end, only stirring their stumps to give the postman a good barking at from the window or in Annie’s case, to remind me that it’s their lunchtime. I’m glad she does too otherwise I’m very likely to forget my own!


But the benefits run deeper than a quieter life. Forcing myself out the door four times a day and putting myself in training mode (what’s their body language telling me? How are the likely to react to that cat, child on the scooter, dog across the street?) is a great balancer.  It gives me another focus and allows me to get away from myself for a while.  Top of the benefits list though is that it’s a lot of fun. We get to clown around as we play ball or chase and even the distraction game of finding food on the floor can be entertaining if you approach it with the right attitude.

We have fun on our walks because I want it to be something we do together.  I’m not just lead holder and pooper-scooper, I want to be the coolest, most fun person in their lives because if I am, then the behaviour problems improve.  So, that’s my learning for today.  I may be perpetually busy, but I’m never going to be too busy to have fun with my dogs.



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Annie’s big day

Annie the Labrador with her certificate and rosette

Annie with her award

Annie’s had a big week. After a year of lead walking, we finally plucked up the courage to let her off last weekend. We chose a huge, open and slightly boring field and, way past her dinner time, plied her with treats for the five-minute test.

The next day, out walking with friends in the woods we bit the bullet again and guess what? The little dog lost that 12 months ago bolted, terrified into the night has amazing recall.  In fact, she can turn on a sixpence before we can even get to the second syllable in her name!  She’s still a little anxious still but the delight on her face as she splashes Labrapotamus-like through big muddy puddles or romps off sniffing with her new doggie mates is unmistakable. I welled up and Other Half pretended not to have a lump in his throat.

What a difference a year makes 

To think that this was the dog who hid under our dining table for three days and then went ballistic at the sight of a dog a football pitch away!  Filthy, flea-ridden and nearly eight kgs heavier I didn’t dare dream we’d have the sweetie pie we have today.

She’s had one heck of an eventful year.  Three days lost and living rough, then a new home, new people, new rules, major surgery 12 weeks crate rest and then a crash course in how to be a well-behaved dog. She’s got a long way to go as the Hay-on-Wye story suggests, but if you’d met her today at the park, romping off lead and meeting new dogs without incident you’d never guess her chequered past.


It was a fitting tribute to her character and the work that OH has done with her that together they collected a special award from Labrador Rescue yesterday at their annual Dog Party.  Amazing too that to do this she had to spend hours surrounded by strange dogs, something that would have sent her into a tail-spin not too long ago.

Much has been written about the rewards of taking on a rescue dog. I can only agree – there’s nothing sweeter, nothing more rewarding than seeing a dog turn away from fear and embrace life with the joyful abandon that only our canine friends seem to possess.



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The Hay Scale

Hay-On-Wye town sign


In my last post I mused over ‘what good looks like’.  My thinking being that if you don’t know what you’re aiming for, how do you know when you get it?  Sensible enough, but what about the steps in the middle I wondered. How do you keep track of your progress along the way?  If ‘good’ is not barking and lunging at another dog across the street, what’s a woof but no lunge? Is one short-lived woof but easy distractability headed in the right direction? What we needed I thought, is a sliding scale! Yes, that’s it, we need a Richter style scale for canine reactivity.

Yes dear reader, be careful what you wish for because thanks to our utterly disastrous holiday with the dogs, we now have one, we like to call it the Hay-on-Wye scale of humiliation.


It’s not as if we’d not put in some solid preparation for our holiday. Little Bear and I had some excellent training trips to town under our belt where we scored a perfect ten on the no-woof scale. Other Half had been doing training of his own by taking Annie to the local pub regularly, something LB has been doing since he was tiny. In fact he was accidentally baptised in Guniness on one trip and had a lovely time licking his beard clean, but I digress.

Could we have done more? You can always do more, but we thought we’d got them off to a good start at least. Our first trip outside of rampaging through the forest was to the lovely little market town of Crickhowell and both dogs were brilliant. My ‘pastry face’ (a term coined by OH to describe my incredibly smug expression the first time I made pastry) came out after we passed within six feet of a Corgi without either of them batting an eyelid. Chest puffed out and grinning like an idiot, I started wondering how soon I could enrol them in some fun obedience classes.

Well I might as well have had the whole cream pie including the flaming pastry on my face two days later when we went to Hay-on-Wye.

The Hay scale is born

I’ve longed to go to Hay since I was a little girl. My grandmother was born there and despite growing up only an hour away, I’ve never been. It was a bright sunny day and after the forty minute trip down winding lanes from our holiday cottage in Brecon, I couldn’t wait to get out and start exploring. Armed to the teeth with treats, sqeakers and clickers as usual we set off excitedly.

Hay is a charming little place. It’s narrow streets are crammed full of book shops as you’d expect, but with gorgeous boutiques, gift shops and galleries too that had me mentally mapping out our route for maximum coverage. Our first stop was an antique shop and the owners dog, a nervous rescue himself, jumped out from behind a table and barked his head off at our two, who of course, responded in kind. On the plus side, the barking was short-lived and once sushed we carried on our way. Minor blip, I thought to myself – oh how naive!

Dog town

Hay is full of dogs. Calm, confident and more importantly, QUIET dogs loiter on every corner. Genteely waiting under cafe tables, purusing the open-air honesty book shop in the grounds of the caste with their owners, trotting to heel obediently or just sitting patiently outside shops. Our usual strategy of distract and retreat fell flat as every retreat brought yet another corner and yet another dog. Annie was the first to kick off and did he best rabid Labrador impression. Little Bear soon joined in and within seconds it seemed the whole town was staring at us. We moved on, only to bump straight into a Great Dane (what are the odds?!) and off they went again.

Retreat! Retreat! 

After ten minutes of scuttling down side-streets and hot-footing it any direction that didn’t look like it had a dog in it, we had to admit defeat before someone called the police. I could just see the headlines ‘Tourists barred from Hay after delinquent dogs breech noise act.’

We beat a hasty retreat back to the car and drove until we found a pub. I passed up my usual shandy for a double brandy and it was as I drained the glass that I decided that the only good to come out of the foray was a new benchmark, Hay is without doubt what good DOESN’T look like!

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