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Driving home from work the other evening, I saw what looked to me to be ‘the four ages of dog.’  Glacially-slow temporary traffic lights meant that for once I had the time to watch the parade.

It was a beautiful summer evening, one of the few we’ve had this year in the UK, and it was prime ‘after work but just before dinner’ dog walking time. With two reactive dogs, we learned a long time ago to avoid those peak times but it’s always lovely to see the neighbourhood dogs out enjoying their evening stroll.

The four ages of ‘dog’ 

Alternatively bounding around in circles, chewing its lead and then sitting down and refusing to budge, was a golden Labrador puppy.   Behind them, I saw a young husky towing the beefy-looking chap on the other end of the lead in his wake.

Then there was my neighbour with her cool as a cucumber Pointer who was loping at her side and stopping every now and again to sniff and lift his leg. But then suddenly there was a lump in my throat, because the next dog I saw was a very elderly chocolate Labrador. Unlike the other dogs, he trailed about 10 ft behind his people, who were so deep in conversation that they seemed almost to have forgotten why they were out.

His tongue lolled out of his grey muzzle, his gait bore the tell-tale signs of arthritis and he looked like every step was a decision. When he stopped, sometimes to sniff but other times just it seemed to rest, his people turned and called him on. He’d break into an awkward jog to join them but within seconds they had outpaced him again and he was left watching their backs and then hurrying once again to catch up.

We spend so long teaching our puppies and young dogs to walk to heel – to walk with us.  I think the very least we can do in their dotage is to remain by their sides – just as they did for us.

Red Fox Labrador Annie sitting in a field 'smiling'

Our Annie – 11 years young but still loving her walks

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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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Lennox, guilty of nothing but looking like a banned breed was taken from his family, kept in awful conditions for 2 years & killed by Belfast  Council in questionable circumstances.

Lennox, guilty of nothing but looking like a banned breed was taken from his family, kept in awful conditions for 2 years & killed by Belfast Council in questionable circumstances.

When I was about eight I was nearly bitten by an English Springer Spaniel. Thinking him to be just like my best friend at home, I reached down to tickle him but he growled and lunged at me. I got the shock of my life, but I also learned a couple of very valuable lessons 1) always ask before approaching a dog you don’t know and 2) don’t think breed is an indicator of temperament.

Last week, 14-year-old Jade Lomas-Anderson was killed by four dogs at a friend’s house in Wigan, UK. Horrifying and heart-breaking, it’s hard imagine losing a child so young, yet alone in such circumstances.

Media speculation

Predictably, the news reports, still waiting for confirmation of the facts, started speculating on whether any of the dogs responsible were from a banned breed.  When it emerged that they weren’t, the flames of speculation were duly fanned by the suggestion that Bull Mastiffs and Staffordshire Bull Terriers should be added to the list.

Genius idea. Dog bites have actually risen by 41% since the Dangerous Dog Act was introduced according to HES so on what planet does this sort of thinking make any sense?  I was enraged, not just because I’m a dog lover, but by the laziness of the reporting.  A beautiful young girl had been killed in appalling circumstances and they had rolled out the usual lazy, hackneyed tripe about banned breeds.  It’s akin to obsessing about the make of car involved in a hit and run and not tackling the real issue of who was behind the wheel.

Breed myopia 

The elephant in the room here is that by focussing so myopically on breed we’re totally missing the point. Would our children be safer if we told them it was okay to talk to strangers just so long as they weren’t French, or Greek or any other arbitrary classification? Of course not.

As I found out all those years ago, any dog is capable of biting, just like any human is capable of harming another.   To keep people safe we need to educate them on how to treat dogs ethically and how to meet their needs – for exercise, training, socialisation and security to name but a few, but while any moron can knock out a litter of puppies in their garden shed to earn a few quid and while utter garbage like Caesar Milan is allowed to pass for national dog training, is there any wonder that we have damaged and fearful dogs out there and owners without the first clue of how to properly care for, train and manage them?

State sponsored lunacy

That the media and government compound this lunacy by suggesting that eradicating some breeds of dog will magically solve the issue is just beyond comprehension.  We do need tougher laws, but they should be around the strict control of the breeding of all dogs.  Licence all breeders and stamp out the quick buck mentality fuelled by the likes of Craigslist and PreLoved that provide an easy market for flogging puppies like second-hand sofas.

When we declared a war on drugs we went for the source and we educated people so why not take the same approach with dogs?  Our rescue centres are bursting at the seams and according to Dogs Trust, nearly 8,000 are killed every year by local authorities and other ‘rescues’ due to a lack of homes which is a disgusting waste of life and should be a point of national shame.

When dogs can’t be bought online, in pubs and out of the boots of cars, there’ll be more opportunity for licensed breeders and rescue organisations to vet would-be owners and to educate and support them to raise their dogs in a responsible manner.

Breed specific legislation has done nothing to keep people safe and adding to it will be a pointless waste of time and public money.  It will also bring untold heartache for thousands of committed and responsible dog owners all over the country and allow the backstreet breeders to continue to peddle their misery. Enough is enough.

 

You can find out more about the story of Lennox and the lunacy of Breed Specific Legislation here

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Annie gets cozy

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British summer time begins tomorrow but it feels more like Christmas than Easter in the UK at the moment.

Oblivious to the weather, Annie had a delightful time in the forest this morning, adding to her usual repertoire of puddles & ponds, a stinky black bog.

Mud we can cope with (we have so much practice!) but bogs stink to high heaven so there was nothing for it but to bath her.

The picture above is of Annie after she took herself off to bed no doubt feeling a little chilly. Unlike Little Bear, she doesn’t like the hairdryer, so bed & blankets & er, hot water bottle it had to be!

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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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Seriously cute Schnauzer

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Shameless excuse for a post I know, but I love this shot of Little Bear so much that I just had to share it.

That’s one unimpressed Schnauzer!

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