Archive for the ‘Behaviour’ Category

Mini Schnauzer rests his head on the back of a sleeping red fox Labrador.

Yesterday, we took Bear for a blood test. Our sprightly senior, described as ‘fit as a flea’ by the vet at the end of June, seems to have aged before our eyes in the last few months.

He’s drinking a lot, sleeping a lot and, while he’s still playful when the mood catches him, he is, all of a sudden, no longer the Peter Pan dog people mistake for a puppy. I aged about a decade when I lost my mum, and I wonder what impact losing Annie has had on our Little Bear. He loved her from the moment he set eyes on her, even though she was lunging and barking at him like a thing possessed. He won her over in no time, and they were friends for eleven wonderful years, so I can well imagine how he must feel now without her.

I mentioned grief as a possible catalyst for the washing list of ailments we were presenting with, fully expecting the theory to be poo-pooed, but to his credit, the vet said that depression could certainly have played a part. My poor Little Bear.

The good news is that his bloods are no cause for alarm. He’s back for a liver scan next week, as one of his results was slightly elevated, but the vet was clear that he wasn’t expecting to find anything untoward. Once that’s done, we can work on his itchiness and investigate his mysterious leg wound that heals and then reappears.

As to healing his grieving heart? Sadly, I know from experience that that’s not possible. All we can do is try to make sure that his days are filled with as much fun, love and distraction as we can cram into them.

P.S Apologies to subscribers for the random way the gallery of the photographs in my last post appeared in emails. I’ve no idea what WordPress tweaks caused that but I’ll investigate.

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My canine alarm went off at 4.27 am which, believe it or not, is a lie-in as Annie usually wakes between 2 and 3 am.

It was my turn on the couch with her last night, but after a day of deep cleaning the house, I decided to try and grab a few hours in bed first.

I slept like a butcher’s dog, waiting for the woof. When it came, I hurried down the stairs only to be greeted by the unmistakable stench of dog wee.


Thanks to our lovely vet, we now at least have a diagnosis. Our darling girl has dementia.

The minute she said the word it all made sense. The pacing, the laps of the house, the nighttime disturbances and the random demand barking.

To the list this week, we’ve had to add what seems to be a new fear of the back door, a flat-out refusal to eat her dried food and a runaway bladder (hence the deep clean which included Annie herself).


The baby gate has been hauled back out of the garage and with a heavy heart, we’ve had to confine her to her dog room overnight for the sake of both the flooring and what’s left of our sanity. Not that she minds at all, she loves her room, but guilt is my default.

We have a new harness on order that’s soft enough for her to wear all day. It has a handle so that we can lead her out into the garden, because carrying a stubborn 28kg Lab to the toilet is really no fun for anyone, least of all her bless her.

As ever, canine social media has been a godsend, this time connecting me to a lovely lady in the US who’s also caring for a senior dog with dementia and has been so generous with her time and experiences. We know it will progress, but knowing what to expect at least puts us on the front foot. Our vets are fabulous, but being able to chat to someone about the day to day realities and practicalities is invaluable.

Still our girl

She’s sleeping peacefully now by my side as I sit, bleary-eyed and huddled under the duvet that has migrated to live permanently at the end of the couch, ready for whichever one of us is on Annie watch.

After being up for almost an hour, I gave up on the idea of dozing and made my first coffee of the morning. As I stood at the stove, she stopped her pacing and wagged at me as if she’d not seen me all night.

It was her usual morning wag, an enthusiastic, Dobby-eared greeting that has always kicked off our little morning ritual of cuddles. She’s still our Annie and for that I’m ridiculously grateful.

Annie loves her Dog Room bed (she has another three to choose from around the house)

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Christmas Puppy. Photograph by Helena Lopes 

Happy New Year. As I write this, Little Bear is snoozing next to me on the sofa under a blanket and Annie is lounged in her bed; newly revitalised with memory foam to help her joints. People say our dogs are spoilt. I disagree. They are loved, but they are also respected. 

What does it mean to respect our dogs? I’ve heard two stories in the last couple of days that have made me ponder this exact question.

I love my dog, so long as it doesn’t act….like a dog 

The first was about an old man we used to see in the neighbourhood walking his Jack Russell. As our two are reactive, we only knew them to wave to, but our friend got to know them well. She asked me a few months ago if I’d seen them. I hadn’t and yesterday I found out why.

Through another friend, I discovered that the little dog, let’s call him ‘Bob’, was put down after snapping at the man’s grandchild who woke him up while he was sleeping in his basket.

To someone like me, who sees animals as I do people, (a soul is a soul no matter what the container), this is akin to murdering a human.

To be killed for exhibiting your natural behaviour when startled is an abomination. That’s like putting me down for swearing in the car when someone cuts me up on the motorway.

Failed by humans

The real crime here wasn’t ‘Bob’s’, it was the failure of his human to protect both child and dog from their own instincts. Few humans read a dogs body language well, so it’s insane to expect that of kids – or to expect them to stay away from dogs just because they’ve been told to. As adults, we need to manage the situation to keep them both safe.

Better safe than sorry 

Little Bear spent the best part of three days in the dog room last weekend while our granddaughters visited. He barks incessantly at kids and while I’m confident he’d never bite, I wouldn’t dream of putting my precious granddaughters or him on the Roulette wheel.

He had plenty of walks, free time to roam the house while we were out, plus he got his beloved sofa and humans back when the girls went to bed, but heart-breaking as it was hearing him howl, it was the safest thing to do.  

Respect dogs for who and what they are

To expect a dog not to act like a dog, well, that’s like asking a child not to act like a child. Dogs often do things we wish they wouldn’t, like hunt squirrels, roll in fox poo or lunge at other dogs, but they are dogs, doing what dogs do and when we take them into our homes and our lives, we need to understand and respect that.

Our job is to train them, control the environment to minimise unwanted behaviours and ultimately, keep them safe. And keeping them safe does not mean killing them when we get it wrong!

New Year (Doggie) Declutter? 

The second story was from the lovely rescue organisation, Friends of the Animals Wales, who, just three days into the new year, are full to capacity with surrendered dogs. They’re literally having to turn dogs away for want of space and foster families.

My mind reels even thinking about it. Are these older dogs shoved out to make room for Christmas puppies or are they just part of the new year clear out? How long I wonder before the Christmas puppies follow them to the rescue? Or did these older dogs growl or snap amid the stress of Christmas celebrations or exhibit some other doggie behaviour that wasn’t acceptable? My heart is breaking just thinking about how those little souls must feel to be turfed out and abandoned.

The bottom line is that, if you can’t respect a dog for who and what he/she is, then please, just don’t get one.

If you’re based in the UK and could offer a foster place to a dog in need, please apply via Friends of the Animals Wales. 




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Little Bear on sofa with his teddy

Little Bear’s first blog picture in 2010

Wow! The Little Bear Dog Blog is (drumroll please) NINE years young!  How can that possibly be?  But yep, sure enough, my very first ‘Hello World’ post is dated 21 February 2010 which means Little Bear was just two and a half when I started. Happy belated birthday little blog!

While I’ve not been the most consistent blogger over the years, I love that so much of our journey has been recorded.  Living and loving reactive dogs is a massive challenge and human nature means that we’re great at remembering the bad stuff, but not so great at remembering the good things.

In the early days I was definitely on the quest for the ‘cure’ – the training method, diet, supplement, harness, magic talisman (I added that for effect, but I got really close to being tempted!), that would transform my highly strung super-sensitive nutcase into the chilled dog I had so wanted.

It took me a long time and a lot of learning to be okay with the fact that he would never be a ‘take-anywhere dog’, not because I’d ‘failed’ in some way in not finding the holy grail of dog behaviour modification or scrimped on his training hours or socialisation, but because that’s just not how he’s wired.

I certainly made plenty of mistakes along the way, but looking back, I think we’ve done okay.  Suzanne, a very dear friend of mine who, thanks to her own journey with her own super-reactive dog is now a brilliant trainer, joined us in the woods for a walk the other week with her chilled Cockapoo Barney.

Watching LB meet lots of new dogs (pre-vetted by me obviously), play in puddles, carry sticks and clown around with her lad, she gave us the highest compliment ever, “Wow, he’s just like a ‘normal dog’, she said.  Now THAT I’m going to remember. Well done Little Bear! x



Little Bear with his pals 2019 






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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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Having a ‘problem dog’ can be a lonely old business on times.  At our local stomping ground I’ve often been the one red-faced and apologetic as Little Bear grumbles at young or submissive dogs or barks manically at anyone and everything.  

Avoidance and removal are the tactics recommended by the behaviourist so we’ve spent a lot of time running away from dogs or situations that might worry him.  We’ve spent a lot of time on our own in the smaller top field too while the other dogs play together in the larger one and it’s hard to coax him away from the fence when you know all he wants to do is join in.

But you can’t live your life simply avoiding the things that worry you. So when last year, we met a friendly dog walker with a group of equally nice friendly, well-balanced dogs we started meeting up with her a couple of times a week to up the ante on LB’s social skills. 

We bumped into her in the park today and within seconds of arriving LB had six dogs sniffing his rear end.  A couple were new to him, but he stood there, alert but relaxed while they made and remade his acquaintance.  Sniffing complete, they all bounded off to have a play. 

I couldn’t help but beam because six months ago he would have been a different dog. 

One day sticks out in my mind in particular as it nearly brought me to tears.  We’d been meeting these same dogs for months, but hadn’t seen them for a few weeks because of holidays etc. We arrived at the field and spotted them playing in the far corner.  As I began walking towards them Little Bear started whining and scrabbling on my leg – a ‘pick me up’ request he’d not done since he was a pup.  He looked desperate and it took all my will power not to scoop him up and run to the car. But what would that teach him?  That these friendly dogs he’d come to know and play with were to be feared? 

I walked the rest of the way with an anxious little Schnauzer whining and pawing at the back of my legs, alternating only to try to pull at my trouser legs.  I felt to cruel I could have cried. 

The walk across the field seemed to last forever but in reality it couldn’t have been more than 30 seconds before we were met like long-lost friends by the other dogs.  LB froze for the greeting, bringing the meaning of the word ‘petrified’ very much to life.  They ignored this and went about their sniffing, tails wagging, tongues lolling.  Inspection over, LB had a good shake and without even a backward glance in my direction bounded after them.

I wanted to record this as it’s so easy to forget how far you’ve come.  Today’s episode was such a welcome reminder of something I may well have forgotten about, but to overlook it would be to discount the progress he’s made. 

We’ve had an amazing week full of little triumphs in fact:  Coming back to me even after he’d spotted his least favourite dog in the world a mere ten feet away.  Playing happily with an 11 month old mini schnauzer puppy without any grumbling what-so-ever.  Choosing to stay by my side and not to run over to see a Collie in the park this morning even though he was off the lead.  I could go on!

So my lesson to self is really about making sure I keep recording the good times as well as the bad.  LB will probably always be a nervous dog but the fact that he’s making progress despite his anxieties makes me even more proud of him.  🙂

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…you wonder what on Earth possessed you to get a dog…

A couple of my friends have ‘perfect’ dogs.  In fact, I question whether they’re actually dogs at all – maybe they’re shape-shifting aliens here to covertly monitor human behaviour.  I say this because these dogs are chilled out, easy-going, love everybody, get on with all dogs, adore puppies, rarely bark, travel well….you get the picture.

Now I love LB as if he was a small child – actually, given that small children can be annoyingly whingey on times I’d go as far as to say that I probably love him a wee bit more. But having a dog with issues is a roller coaster.  Some days you’re bursting with pride and then on others….you look at the cat and think ‘why didn’t I stop when I was ahead?’

I’ve lost count of the sleepless nights and the hours I’ve spent worrying about him and replaying scenes from his puppy-hood – Should I have done this? Why didn’t I do that?  And in my darkest moments I’ve balled my eyes out wondering miserably if he’d be better off with somebody else.

Now to ND (non-doggie) people all this angst probably sounds a bit pathetic. I’m a reasonably well-educated professional and here I am losing sleep over the choice of training classes for my Mini Schnauzer in the same way parents battle to get their kids into the right school.  As a work acquaintance guffawed at me the other day ‘It’s only a dog!’ 

But he’s not just a dog.  He’s my dog and I made him a promise the day I picked him up that I’d love him and look after him for the rest of his life.  A promise is a promise no matter who you make it to and I intend to keep it, no matter what.

But we’re all entitled to our bad days. 

Take last Monday. LB completely over-reacted to a Jack Russel we know who had the bad manners to sniff his bum when his back was turned.  My usual distraction techniques went out the window as he growled, snarled and barked fit to bust at the ‘so not bothered’ JR.

After weeks of great progress, here he was being demon dog.

As we abandoned the park for some brisk heal work to calm us both down my mind ran the usual gambit of emotions – embarrassment, anger, frustration, self-pity (oh how attractive) and I mentally beat myself up for being stupid enough to get a dog in the first place.

But having a dog with issues has taught me a lot – one of the main lessons being that I’m allowed to be human.  So it’s okay to feel all of that stuff now and again I can only ever be human just like LB can only ever be a dog. 

So I indulged myself in the negatives for a good ten minutes and even allowed myself to wallow in the ‘why me?’ pool just to get my money’s worth, but then I forced myself  Pollyanna style to try to think of something positive I could take out of it.  Amazingly, I found one!  My new-found ability to stay calm. 

Amidst all the barking, snarling and writhing around on the end of the lead, I realised that I had managed to stay perfectly calm, while keeping the lead loose and completely ignoring the behaviour.  I’d even managed a brief exchange with the Jack Russel’s good-natured owner as they’d passed – and forced a smile!

So we had a ‘bad’ day.  It’s not the end of the world.  The important thing is that we move on from it, we go forward, we learn and improve and as Winston Churchill is famously mis-quoted in saying, we “Never, ever, ever give up.”   After all, I have a promise to keep.

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In my last post I mentioned Emma Parsons’ book ‘Click to Calm’.  In it she advocates the use of a head collar such as a Gentle Leader or Halti. Now as Little Bear is on the sensitive side, I’ve learned not to change too many things at any one time for fear of unsettling him. But, as he hates his harness with a passion and chokes himself if walked on a collar, I decided it was worth investigating.

After a root around on the internet I called our trusty dog walker Louisa (aka Auntie Lou) to ask for some pro advice and she raved about them. Suitably convinced, I decided to give it a go. 

Now I’m as keen on new things as the next person, but with a day job in marketing I’m also far more cynical than is maybe healthy when it comes to product claims.  ‘Unique patented designed prefered by many leading trainers, vets and behaviourists around the world.’ Hmm….. ‘Results occur in minutes – not weeks.’  Ha – sure they do – are they made by fairies too?

Back at home, I decide that we’ll start with some positive reinforcement.  We get off to a shaky start as LB shoots off at the sound of me opening the packet – then decides that tiny bits of cheddar in return for touching first the packet and then the collar are worth the trade. 

Resigning myself to not being able to return the head collar if it didn’t work due to odour issues, I pop it in his treat bag and give it a shake just to make it extra smelly. This seems to have the desired effect because once I’ve finished fiddling with the adjusters and put it down to read the instruction book again, LB decides to lay with his head on the collar and give it the occasional lick. Good start – and something unheard of with his rather smart but hated harness.

I pop it on and off him a few times that afternoon.  Each time is accompanied by extra nice treats and for the last and longest trial he gets to keep it on for the 3 minutes flat it takes him to polish off a chew. 

After umming and ahhing over whether to work on this for a few days longer before venturing out in it, I decide to give it a go.  If he hates it once we’re out, I can pop him on his collar and build up slowly over the week.

Once out of the front door he decides that he can’t walk a step.  This is his usual reaction to his harness or any type of dog coat.  He becomes super-glued to the floor and refuses to budge until the offending item is removed – or in the case of the harness, he gets a better offer.  

Silent protest over (he decides that playing with his tennis ball is more fun) off we trot on our evening walk.

So this is where I eat my cynics hat.  We walk around the block, through the wood and around the dog field without the lead becoming taught once.  

He pawed at the collar twice within the first 5 minutes of the walk but then left it completely alone. We play ball, practice his recall and then trot home without incident or any tension what-so-ever on the lead. In fact, he seems incredibly calm and totally unphased by it.

Back home he sits as usual to have his lead unclipped and as I slide the head collar off his nose, he gives it what I hope is a lick of approval.

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