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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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Annie in her beloved bed

Annie in her beloved bed

When we took on Annie her first bed was a folded quilt under the dining table which was her bolt hole of choice after her ordeal.  She soon discovered the delights of the sofas and as we were only fostering her at that point it seemed fine to let it go.

When we adopted her, we bought her a bed.  It felt symbolic, a way to mark her joining the family officially and after months of being squashed between two dogs on the sofa of an evening, the idea of them sleeping in their own beds was appealing.

So we went to the pet shop and she picked out a bed. Or rather, we bought the only one she seemed vaguely interested in.  It was stupidly expensive, but I justified it on the basis that all the bits came apart for machine washing.  “She’ll have it for years” I confidently told Other Half as he scoffed at the price tag.   It fell apart in the first wash.

We got a refund and decided to get her a sturdy plastic bed that we could fill with soft (and washable) blankets instead. Then came her surgery so ‘bed’ became a crate for almost 12 weeks while she healed. When at last the crate was packed away, we put the new bed in its place.  She ignored it.  She’d sit in it occasionally, as did Little Bear and now and then, Camden Cat. She’d even lay down in it if we asked, but you always got the feeling that she was doing it under sufferance.

Impulse buy

A couple of weeks ago I saw a bed I just knew she’d love. I was only in the pet shop to buy cat treats. She didn’t need a bed I told myself, she had two sofas and two arm chairs to choose from for crying out loud. I left the shop and walked to the car. I opened it and locked it again before even taking the key out of the lock.  Minutes later me and the new bed were heading home.

LB was incredibly excited.  He dug out the inner pillow within seconds and then promptly chewed off the tag putting pay to any ideas of returning it, but  he quickly got bored and wandered off to find a tennis ball while Annie, unusually aloof gave the new bed the eye.

I love my bed

That was a few weeks ago now and she’s very rarely out of it. She loves her bed so much she’ll lie in it no matter where it is. She’s even choosing her bed over the sofa. I have some theories of course. Maybe she likes having somewhere that’s entirely hers. The sofas after all are shared and she can and does get turfed off them if there’s no room for anyone else to sit down.  Or maybe it’s just the fact that it’s comfortable. We’ll never know for sure, but she certainly does look like one very happy dog!

Annie snoozing in her new bed

Annie snoozing in her new bed

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Our school motto was ‘Manners maketh man’. Now I didn’t go to a posh private school, quite the opposite in fact, but we, my peers and I were brought up to understand that manners were important. They’re not just social norms, they’re a way of conveying respect for one another. Sadly, I often see far better behaved dogs than I do owners these days.

The other week we were walking the dogs on the large football pitch near the house. It’s a vast space with multiple exits so for reactive dogs like ours it’s great. You get plenty of warning of other dogs and can make a quick calm exit if needed.

We’d just arrived at the field this particular time when I noticed Annie had dropped her collar torch. It was getting dusk so OH back tracked to look for it. This left me in the field with both dogs on waist leads, which we prefer as it gives you two hands to sort out clickers, treats or poo bags. It started when Annie, much worse than she is now almost dislocated OH’s shoulder and now it’s sort of stuck.

Just as he went out of sight a woman came the field with two dogs and was soon joined by another lady with three dogs. Annie and Bear, until then doing okay with their sit stay and watch me got a little agitated so we moved to a safer distance.

They were walking directly towards us, all five dogs now her off lead. I moved down the field, zig-zagging to a spot I was sure was safe as it was off their trajectory. They changed direction and headed once again, straight towards us.

Lunge
By this point Little Bear and Annie had had enough. They lunged, they barked and clipped around my waist, were doing a great job of cutting me in half. The women looked up to see what the commotion was, shot me a ‘god, your dogs are awful look’ AND KEPT COMING!

Now any normal person seeing that would recognise a fear reaction in a dog. Even if they’d never experienced it, who in their right mind would walk their own dogs towards dogs who are lunging and barking?!

I was incredulous. How could these women not realise that their presence and that of their mob of dogs was seriously upsetting mine? They had an entire football pitch to walk on but seemed intent on hounding me out of it. Thankfully, their dogs had more sense than they did and gave us a wide berth, but the damage was done. By the time OH returned a few minutes later they were extremely agitated and despite trying to lighten the mood with some chase once we were free of our stalkers, Little Bear walked home with his tail down.

I thought of this yesterday. We were out in the woods and spotted a couple with four dogs coming towards us on a narrow path. We called our dogs, they called theirs. We had them sit and wait. So did they to the point that for about a minute nobody moved.

When the stalemate became apparent we walked ours on past them, only to find their dogs sitting patiently just off the track. We exchanged a round of thank yous and all went on our way. To my deep joy our two looked but continued on their way without a murmur. I couldn’t have been prouder or more grateful that there do seem to be some owners out there with manners as good as their dogs.

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Bogwoppit Bear

When I got Little Bear the breeder warned me ‘Don’t expect him to go out when it’s raining – Schnauzer’s hate getting wet.’  He, like me was born in Wales – a country made so lush and green by the plentiful amount of rain that falls sometimes from what appear to be clear blue skies.  Good job we’re living in the (far drier) South East of England then I thought to myself.

Now I sort of thought she meant that he wouldn’t want to go for a walk in the rain; I had no idea that it might extend to setting a paw outside the door too.  A few weeks later, as the autumn weather started to take hold, I found myself in my PJs on the lawn in the pouring rain holding an umberlla over a defiant Schnauzer puppy who point blank refused to wee until I turned that wet stuff off.  It was apparently all my fault and he was entirely less than impressed.

I almost phoned the vet for fear that his little bladder would burst one particularly wet morning and even toyed with the idea of putting up some sort of canopy for the fussy little toad. 

As the breeder had predicted, getting him to go for a walk in the rain was a futile exercise.  If I opened the front door and he saw that it was raining he’d flatly refuse to put one paw in front of the other.  If it started raining while we were out he’d barge my leg asking to be carried and if I refused, he’d break into a sprint for home.

Not all puddles are born equal

But something strange happened when he was about a year old.  Walking in the woods one day, he found a puddle.

This wasn’t just any puddle.  Not the sort of common old garden puddle you find lurking around the sides of suburban pavements waiting for a toddler in wellies.  No, this was a puddle of distinction. Defined not just by it’s watery contents, but by the thick, black almost gelatinous mud that clung to it’s banks.  It stank too.  Of rotting wood and hummus and who-knows what else. 

Off exploring ahead of us LB stopped dead at the sight of this uber puddle in the distance. Other half made for the lead, but I stopped him, ‘Don’t worry, Schnauzers hate the water.’ I said confidently.

If it had been a film I suppose it would have cut to the slo-mo shot.  My smile slipping into what must have been a mix of horror and disbelief and LB running full pelt into the belly of the beast – then squelching and splashing his way into canine nirvana. 

By the time we’d caught up he was up to his armpits.  His beard and snout were black too, having rapidly discovered that if there’s one thing better than a squeaky tennis ball it’s a squeaky tennis ball that’s been marinated in the smelliest mud you can put your paw on. 

 He looked so utterly happy we didn’t have the heart to spoil his fun.  I called him Bogwoppit Bear after a book I read as a child about a creature who lived in a bog and just like the mud, it stuck.  Two years on and he’s still a complete mud magnet.  No tennis ball is acceptable until it’s had a thorough dunking in a muddy puddle and a walk isn’t complete without at least one foray into the black stuff.

He still hates the rain mind you, but he will at least venture out in it now.  Maybe like gardeners the world over he’s thinking ‘Well at least it good for the puddles.’

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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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Little Bear wants a friend.  Okay, I admit it, I want another dog and I’d like Little Bear to have a friend, but I’m sure if he could speak in a language we could understand he’d say the same thing. 

Now being an only child, there’s a distinct possibility that I’m projecting.  But I know my dog.  In the same way that I know the difference between a ‘It’s about time you got up’ and ‘I seriously need a wee’ barks, I know that he misses the company of other dogs. 

To see him slumped on the coach after returning from the dog sitters or after waving goodbye to a friends’ dog after a visit, really pulls on my heartstrings.  There’s a marked change in his body language and he just looks down in the dumps.  

Last week after a particularly fun afternoon playing in the garden with Collie pals Molly and Mickey he spent most of the evening on my lap, wasn’t interested in playing and wasn’t too fussed on his dinner.

When he has company he’s like a different dog.  It’s like a light comes on. He’s transformed into a wagging, bouncing, gambolling clown intent on having as much fun as he possibly can.  His face softens, his tongue lolls and he just feels happier. 

Now some dogs are more playful than others.  His Westie pals for instance are great fun but after a few minutes are off sniffing much to his frustration.  Molly is great for a chase session and will happily round him up and have a bit of rough and tumble.  Archie, his young CockerPoo pal is a bit timid on times and needs more supervised playtime for fear that LB will wear him out or simply get on his nerves – bless him he once jumped on our coffee table to get a time out from LB’s insatiable appetite for the ‘chase me!’ game.  But of all his pals it’s probably Poppy who takes the endurance prize for playtime. 

Poppy is our friends Chocolate Lab.  She was the first dog he met as a pup and she half terrified him at the time, bowling him over enthusiastically and sending him scurrying behind my legs.  That didn’t put him off for long though and they’re now firm friends.

Unfortunately we live around seventy miles away but the dogs fall into the same pattern every time they meet.  After an enthusiastic and speedy re-acquainting they moraude around the house playing chase and then roll around on the living room floor.

There’s sometimes the occasional squeak from LB; usually the result of a mis-placed Poppy paw on his tail, but in the seconds it’ takes me to put my coffee down on the kitchen table and walk five steps to investigate they’re back to playing; LB on his hind legs coaxing Poppy to chase him by licking her face or ears. 

There’s normally a quick time out for a drink (and a soaking of the kitchen floor in the process), but then they take up their positions again until tongues are lolling and we have two very contented looking dogs.

So, it’s with this in mind that we’re looking into the possibility of getting LB a friend.   I doubt we’ll find another Poppy as she’s pretty special but I’m crossing fingers and toes that if we take our time we might be able to find a new member of the family that can put a smile on all our faces.  Let the search begin!

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