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Annie the Labrador laying on duvet on the floor looking up at her mum

Finally….!

In the on-going conversation between humans and dogs, dogs are by far the better listeners.  If we were measuring it in terms of reading ages, I think they would be on Dostoyevsky and we’d still be on the Ladybird Classics.

I haven’t worked out what I do differently yet, but Bear will start sulking and sitting in the window to keep watch for my return, even before my overnight bag has made it out of the cupboard.

Annie, normally a frenzy of arthritic acrobatics when I so much as look in the direction of their harnesses, doesn’t even stir from her bed on the days when Bear and I are heading out for an extended walk in the woods. When he’s harnessed up and ready to go, she’ll calmly go and sit by the fridge waiting for what we call her ‘consolation carrot’.  How does she know? She reads me like a book.

Are you sitting comfortably? Er, actually no… 

Lately though her communication skills have really ratched up a gear. Other half and I have been trying for months to get her to join us in the living room of an evening. There was a time when evenings meant all four of us squished happily onto the sofa, but since her arthritis has started bothering her, Annie will no longer jump up and won’t settle even if we lift her on and off.

There’s no denying that she loves her crate with its three super-soft crate pads and the thick duvet that make up her bed, but her crate is in the dog room and we of course, want her with us.

We tried moving the spare crate into the living room but she wouldn’t settle so after a fortnight of it gathering dust, it went back to the garage. I bought her a new memory foam Orvis bed, which after a week of her flatly refusing to even put a paw on it, I reluctantly returned. I even bought her a second fabric day bed which is almost exactly the same as the one that she still uses, just not as squished and flattened – but this too was found wanting.  And yes, we’ve tried just shutting the door but that just gets us woofed at until we relent.

Breakthrough

I don’t know what made me think of it, but a few weeks ago her duvet was hanging over the living room door drying after a wash. I folded it double and put it on the floor in front of the sofa and her eyes lit up. She hurried over, turned around twice and plonked herself down. She glanced up at me and if she could speak, I swear she would have said, ‘Finally!’ She lay down and went to sleep and she’s been curled up on her duvet in the living room every evening since.

Her communication skills don’t stop there though. Last night, I forgot to put her duvet back in her crate at bedtime.  As I was about to head up the stairs she stalked out of the dog room, stood on the duvet in the living room, wagged at me and nosed the duvet. Good slave that I am, I returned it to her crate while she watched, only for her to barge me out of theway the second I was done and settle in for the night.  Who says that dogs can’t talk? Or that humans can’t (eventually) learn to listen?

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Like most aspiring dog owners, before I actually had a dog I used to indulge in the odd reverie about our wonderful future life together.  I had visions of us playing catch in a sun drenched meadow on a warm August afternoon.  I imagined us kicking up a pile of crisp autumn leaves and leaving cute paw and foot prints in the winter snow before heading home to snuggle on the sofa.  

Having grown up with a Springer Spaniel, I wasn’t entirely naive, but I suppose part of me choose to block out one of the not so welcome seasonal realities: Mud.

So long nice clean car

So long nice clean car

Mud magnets

If you’ve not got a dog and you’re thinking about getting one, please, hear me now:  They will get muddy. You will get mud: in your house; in your car; on your clothes and more often than you’ll care to think about, on your face and in your hair.  

You will have an almost daily routine of wiping mud off the walls, radiators and any small children who may happen to walk past. Your pile of dog towels will quickly outweigh the human ones, your washing machine will work overtime and in the winter months, you’ll start grading your walks not on how enjoyable they are, but on how muddy its likely to be. 

Paddling Bear

Paddling Bear

 

 

Who chose the cream tiles?

Our battles with mud are exacerbated by some pretty unpractical home decorating choices.  In answer to the question ‘Which idiot chose cream floor tiles, white walls and a light beige sofa?’ I have to foolishly raise my hand.

In my (feeble) defence, I made those choices when we only had Little Bear and as much as he loves paddling in puddles and rolling in cow pats, he’s not a big fan of deep mud. But then of course, we got a Labrador. 

 

 

 

Annie the Labrador covered in mud

Annie the Labrapotomous

Labrapotomous

Annie is a mud magnet.  She’s the Labrapotomous of the dog world and loves nothing better than getting caked in the stuff from nose to tail.  In the Forest she’ll find the deepest, dirtiest, stinkiest puddle and fling herself into it with the wild abandon of a lemming on a cliff top. She emerges beaming as if she’s just won the lottery and annoying as it is, we don’t have the heart to stop her fun.  But even on a road walk, she has an amazing ability to attract mud and will invariably return home with dirty paws, legs and tummy. 

Adjustments

We’ve made some practical adjustments at home, including installing a new door to give us direct access to the garage from the house.  This means we can bring the dogs in through the garage, avoiding the daily splattering of mud up the walls of the hallway.  It also gives us more room to do the towelling off.

I’d be lying if I said that dealing with constantly filthy dogs is much fun. But here’s the rub: when we took on our dogs it was to give them the life they deserved. And we made that commitment for life. We knew there would be compromises along the way and a pristine home is just one of them. What we get in return though far outweighs the inconvenience and of course, we still have those sunny August afternoons to look forward to.

 

 

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Little Bear hates having a bath. He’s not unusual as I suspect most dogs dislike our penchant for making them sit in warm water while shampooing away all those delightful doggie aromas: mud, stinky puddle water, poop (LB loves the fox variety but will settle for cow pats at a push) and his particular favourite, dead stuff. The day he rolled in a long dead rat is still chillingly fresh in my memory as is the sight of him swaggering home, proud as punch not realising that six baths would be necessary to rid him of the stench.

Bath time blues
Little Bear is now six so I’d sort of resigned myself to the fact that bath time would always be a necessary evil where he turned on the puppy dog eyes with the occasional shiver for good measure and I ended up feeling guilty.

Positive reinforcement
As a big fan of positive reinforcement I’ve tried using toys and treats over the years but he largely ignored the toys and took the treats with a reproachful ‘this isn’t working you know’ glare.
So imagine my surprise when yesterday, LB jumped into the bath on his own!

Bath time Bear
We’d been out for a long forest walk and he was really muddy. But as he’d only had a bath last week I decided to let the mud dry and brush it out. Bear though had other ideas.

While I was hanging up the towels in the bathroom he trotted in, rested his nose on the bath and wagged. Then came the cute over the shoulder look to see if I was looking and another wag. I quietly closed the door, usually a cue for him to dart out of the room, but he just stood there wagging at me.

Now LB loves chasing stones in the ford and over the summer he’s been playing in a paddling pool my mum found for him. He’s so obsessed with the stones I’ve got a handful in a jug in the bathroom in an attempt to make the dreaded bath time more bearable.

I picked up the jug and before I could do anything he had jumped into the bath! What’s more he was wagging fit to bust!

Needless to say he got his bath but not until we’d played stones for a long time – it seemed only fair after he’d asked so nicely!

Lessons learned
Yesterday reminded me of an incredibly valuable lesson: never underestimate the power of a positive reinforcer – they work, but they’re often not the things we think they are.

(Please excuse any formatting issues, I’ve had to write this on my iPhone as he’s fast asleep on my lap and looking way too cute to disturb!)

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This is Little Bear hiding under my desk thanks to a raging summer storm. He’s a shaking, panting ball of stress & the worst thing is there’s not much I can do to help him.

He’s had some KalmAid and I’ve done some T-Touch but now all we can do is ride it out until the storm passes.

Old School
When he was a puppy the old trainer told me to ignore “such silly behaviour” (her words not mine) to avoid reinforcing it. This may work for jumping up, but the idea that ignoring an animal in obvious distress would somehow help them deal with their fear is not just unkind it’s misguided.

LB is in no state to think or learn as he quivers and shakes under my desk at the loud claps of thunder that to a dogs sensitive ears must be unbearable. So the only learning he’ll be doing today is that there’s a safe and comforting lap when he needs one, legs to hide behind and soft words to do what little they can to reassure him.

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Where's Bear?

Where’s Bear?

With the warm weather persisting, walking the dogs has become an exercise in trying to dodge the heat. We were lucky today because the morning stayed cool right up until lunchtime but even so, Little Bear still needed to take some time out to have a rest.

His favourite medium of choice is clover, which of course prompts a swift chorus of ‘Roll me over in the clover’ from yours truly, but failing that, he’s quite partial to some long grass.  He disappeared so completely into it this morning that it took a while to find him. If he keeps this up I’ll have to start a Schnauzer version of Where’s Wally.

The clover shot is for pure cuteness.

Clover Bear

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Little Bear the dog in front of the Christmas tree

Little Bear and the Christmas tree

With the Christmas holidays around the corner, I’m counting down the days to a week off.

In my head, I’m imagining something straight out of a John Lewis ad.  All Country Living magazine festive with everyone laughing around an elegantly dressed table laden with fantastic food, fine china and posh crackers.

I’m enough of a realist to accept that it will be more like something out of Fawlty Towers, but I’m a relentless optimist too. Somehow, my deep desire for the fantasy Christmas has blocked out the fact that it will most likely be a few stressful days of last minute shopping, wrapping, cooking, cleaning, bed making and entertaining various house guests sandwiched between two 300 mile round trips to pick up and drop off family members.

Stress 

Sad though it is to admit, Christmas is stressful and if we’re stressed, you can bet our dogs will be too. Especially fearful dogs like Annie who take comfort in the certainty wrought through routine and anxious dogs like Little Bear who can quickly get hyper.

Having lots of visitors can be exciting, but it can also be over-stimulating for some dogs and ours are no exception.  In our eagerness to make sure everyone has a full glass and a plate of something tasty, we can too easily overlook the subtle signs of stress from our dogs.

Retreat

We’re taking radical action this year. We’re sacrificing the comfort of guests for the comfort of our dogs. We’re donating one of our sofas to a charity so that the dogs can have their beloved crates back.

Having a safe space to retreat to is really important for dogs all year round, but especially at Christmas. I’ll also be stocking up on Adaptil refills for the diffuser and there will be some stuffed Kongs and deer antlers on the treat menu to give them something to focus on while we’re playing hosts.  It’s no magic bullet, but knowing that the dogs are happy will at least be one less thing for me to stress about.

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Love is…?

I just made Little Bear a mug of tea. I didn’t intend to, but having offered him the dregs of my cold cuppa, I then went onto autopilot and tipped it down the sink without realising. I turned around to see him sitting patiently by his bowl waiting for his treat.

If a dog can look incredulous, he did. He starred at me and then at the upturned mug, then back at me. That beard hides a multitude of sins and I think today it consealed a muttered curse along the lines of ‘Muppet!’ although it might have been worse as he’s no doubt has a fine vocabulary of swear words after listening to Other Half shout at his computer for years.

And so to asuage my guilt, I made up a small, weak mug of tea with the spent t-bag from my fresh cup. He had to drink it out of the mug of course, just to add to the treat value of it for him and the cuteness factor for me.

So, am I indulgent? Delusional? Eccentric? Or do I just love my dog?

It got me thinking, what are we actually saying when we say that? ‘I love my dog.’

I’ve heard people say it about their handbag dogs dolled up in diamanté collars with painted nails who never put paw to pavement. I’ve heard it from people walking dogs so fat they can barely move let alone run or play and from others who despite having no time for their dog refuse to find it a better home because they ‘love him.’

The point is, love isn’t always enough. It’s a fiercely good start but only if that love propels you on to better understand your dog. Love as they say, is blind and in my humble opinion it can be deaf, dumb and downright bloody stupid too.

To be really loving to our dogs, or each other for that matter, we first need to take the time to understand them better. To figure out what they really need as opposed to what we think they need or worse, what makes us feel good through the giving. But even love and understanding are impotent without action. We need to apply that knowledge if it’s to make a genuine difference.

Ponder over, I’m off to google the effects of tea on canines.

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