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To say that the past year has been, ‘a bit of a challenge’ for us all is something of an understatement. If you’re anything like me, you have your good days when you’re just happy to be safe and well, and your ‘I can’t watch one more news report’ days; days when there’s light at the end of the tunnel, and days when it’s basically all tunnel.

Amongst the gloom however, there is still joy to be found. Little moments of magic that lift my spirits and fill my heart. Mine usually show up fur-covered, so I thought I’d share one with you.

Little Bear, as you know, will be fourteen this summer. But despite his advancing years, he still loves to play. Finding adult dogs willing to play with him is a challenge though and my heart has splintered on countless occasions watching his valiant attempts given the cold shoulder.

It was something of an unexpected delight then that a few months ago, our friend’s rescue Luna gave him the paws up. I don’t know who was more amazed – me or Bear!

They’ve been playing regularly ever since and seeing the contented look on his face – well, it’s nothing short of magical.

You can watch the video here: https://youtu.be/KZn84BwlvKk

Bear and his pal Luna

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Sign language for dogs

A quick post today on my phone as Annie is very unsettled and barks every time I sit at my desk, even though it’s just ten feet from where she’s chosen to lie.

Good Girl Annie

She wagged at me earlier, a soft eyed, open mouthed happy wag in response to me telling her what a good girl she was.

It dawned on me though that she was responding, not to the sound of my voice, she’s very deaf now, but to my habitual hand clapping. ‘Good Girl!’ has somehow always been accompanied by a little round of applause.

I’m so stupidly glad. By happy accident, a silly quirk has ensured that, despite her deafness, she still knows she’s a good girl. 💜

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Ten years ago today, we excitedly picked up our ‘foster dog’ Annie, an overweight, flea-ridden breeding bitch from a puppy farmer who had no more use of her. Thanks to a broken collar, we lost her before even getting her home.

We refer to 5 August as her ‘Gotcha Lostya’ day and 7 August as her ‘Gotcha-back’ day, but there isn’t a day that I don’t feel incredibly blessed to have her in our lives.

She’ll be fourteen in a couple of weeks and old age can be unkind. Her arthritis requires careful management and even pre-lockdown, our world had contracted around her needs. She doesn’t ask for much bless her, save for three timely meals, walks on demand and most important of all, our company.

In honour of our precious girl, here’s Annie being her wonderful, glorious, gorgeous self.

Red fox Labrador dog looking at camera
Annie
Annie the labrador
Annie
Annie the Labrador covered in mud
Annie the Labrapotomous
Annie the Labrador with her certificate and rosette
Annie with her award
Little Bear and Annie on the sofa
Nap time: Little Bear and Annie

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Bear has some strange fears. The other week I terrified him by blowing a dandelion clock next to him. Who knew? He shot me a horrified look, then stalked off as if I’d just done something hideous.

Has he gone yet?


Today though saw the arrival of his nemesis – the window-cleaner. Knowing that he hates the sight and sound of the brush at the window I popped him on his lead and took him into the garden with some treats. Problem solved – or so I thought.


Bear however, had other ideas. It seems everything about the window-cleaning process, including the poor man himself (who has changed many times over the years) is terrifying. He bolted and hid, quivering behind the shed.


He was beyond coaxing and when he started crying too, I picked him up. He clung to me, paws hooked into my shoulder, his head wedged under my chin, shaking like a leaf.


The window-cleaner gave us a funny look, then frowned and asked if Bear was afraid of him. I said, ‘yes, sorry about that. Please don’t take it personally, he’s just afraid of window-cleaners.’ But I rather think he did. Oh dear.

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Never stop playing

Black and white photo of Mini Schnauzer with soft toy in his mouth

Playtime Bear

I had to eat my breakfast at double speed this morning because Little Bear was desperate to play. So desperate that he was actually whining at me. It’s the same story most days. He’ll eat his breakfast, head out to the garden for his ablutions and then charge in, full of the joys, looking for a teddy or a tennis ball.
He loves being chased and when that gets too much, he plays football, flicking a tennis ball with his paw while ‘savaging’ a teddy. He loves being told he’s clever, so another game usually involves me hiding a toy under a blanket or the cushion on his bed which he then snuffles out, tail wagging in anticipation of the praise.
He doesn’t play for long these days, ten minutes tops, but to see him, you’d never think he was fast approaching thirteen. The reality of their respective ages is never far from my mind, a shadow over the sun of our lovely days together. That’s why I’ll not deny him a single minute of playtime. It lifts me too, just to see him so happy, so caught up in just enjoying the fun of the moment.

There’s a quote that I love that says, ‘We don’t stop playing because we get old, we get old because we stop playing.’ Never stop playing Little Bear. x

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Red fox Labrador dog looking at camera

Annie

I drafted this post five years ago and for some reason, never got around to publishing it. Annie will be 14 this year, but without one very special lady we might never have found our ‘little dog lost’. It’s time to say a proper thank you. 

This summer will be ten years since we adopted Annie – and ten years since that fateful first day when, before even getting her home, she broke her collar and bolted, terrified into on-coming traffic

We might never have found her had it not been for a 92-year-old lady called Margaret. I remember her exact words when she called me, “Young lady,” she said with the annunciation of a school headmistress, “your missing dog is in my garden.” She gave me her address and as I started to blabber my sleep-deprived thanks, she added, “Don’t shilly-shally about talking or she’ll be gone again! Hurry up!” Then she hung up.

Fifteen minutes later a small posse of people stood in Margaret’s neat cottage garden marvelling at how a massively overweight Labrador could be squeezing herself through tiny gaps in a chain-link fence that looked to be hardly big enough for a rabbit. But obviously channelling her inner hamster, and then running at speeds that would shame Derby-winners, Annie evaded us for hours, crossing back and forth between the line of back gardens and into the horse yard and fields beyond them.

We blocked off every hole in the fence we could find. We hacked our way through the thick bramble bushes that divided the gardens from the fields, checking for hidden escape routes. At one point, to the bemusement of the resident horses, I even lay in the field, squeaking like a puppy on the advice of the dog warden who claimed to have had some success with the technique, although, with hindsight, I have my doubts.

After about three exhausting hours, Annie finally gave up, collapsing in a heap in one of the gardens. My lovely friend Louisa had cleared her fridge of her husband’s expensive imported salamis and cheeses, hoping that the smells would tempt our runaway charge to her feet, but by then Annie had completely shut down. In the end, Louisa’s husband Sven, bearing no grudges to see the contents of his fridge adorning a strangers’ patio, picked her up and carried her to our car. 

As the relief swept over us all, it was Margaret who brought tears to my eyes. As we all hugged each other, this tall, elegant lady with perfectly set hair, dabbed a handkerchief to her eyes and said, “It’s just like the day the war ended.” 

I returned to Margaret’s the next day with flowers and a thank you card. Her small bungalow, whitewashed with pale green windows and doors that wouldn’t look out of place on a Farrow & Ball mood board, was like a time capsule from the forties. 

Margaret invited me in and I tried not to gawk and coo at the lifetime of neatly arranged treasures. We had tea in delicate china cups in her front room and I sat in a wingback chair with homemade lace coverings on the armrests. She chatted easily, telling me first about growing up in London and then how as a young woman she had seen the building in which her fiancé was staying, hit by a German bomb. It exploded in front of her and while she survived, he did not.

Margaret never married but went on to travel the world, first for the war effort and then alone. She showed me photographs of herself in places I’ve only ever dreamed of. As I listened to her story I had to pinch myself now and then so that I wouldn’t cry, not that she presented her life as a tragedy, far from it, but underneath it all, I sensed that that lost love was forever present. 

I left her our phone number with the offer of help should she need anything or fancy some company and promised to call again. When I did call around a couple of weeks later, she was a bit confused, and I wasn’t sure she even remembered me. Blessed with wonderful neighbours who checked on her daily and shopped for her, we decided that to persist would only be for our own ends and so we resorted to cards at Christmas, signed with enduring love from Annie of course.

That was five years ago. Driving past her bungalow this week I noticed a for sale sign outside. Margaret would be 97 now. I slowed the car, intending to pull in and speak to one of the neighbours, but then changed my mind. As my eyes filled, I decided that Margaret is being pampered in a wonderful residential home, enthralling everyone with stories from her travels, the day the war ended and of course, the day she found a runaway Labrador in her garden. 

 

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As it’s day four-thousand and twentyone of lockdown, I thought I’d have some fun. Here are my top ‘facts’ about life with a Mini Schnauzer. Well, life with ours anyway….

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They bark – but only a lot 

I know there are exceptions to the rule, but most minis I know love the sound of their own voice. They’re vocal little dogs and will woof at the drop of a hat. Little Bear sometimes barks just for fun (or to annoy my husband). We’ve neither of us finished a complete sentence in his presence for the last twelve years.

 

Mini Schnauzer being carried

They like to be carried 

All puppies do the ‘stop and stick’ to the pavement routine when they’re tiny and are a bit worried about the world.

Schnauzers, however, don’t seem to have forgotten that often, once the treats had run out, their exasperated people resorted to carrying them.

Little Bear is an old master at this trick now and will even limp dramatically to get a lift. Like a fool I usually give in and hey presto, the minute I close the front door, he’s racing about the house like a spring lamb.

 

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They hate coats

I often think Schnauzers are the polar opposite of the House Elves in Harry Potter. Give an elf an item of clothing and you free them from servitude – give a Schnauzer a coat and he’ll look at you like he’s a newly condemned man.

A few years ago I decided that Bear’s statue routine could be ‘fixed’ by just   waiting him out.

I popped his new coat on him and waited. After an hour of him standing rooted to the same spot in the kitchen, I caved in. It was a battle of wills. I lost.

 

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They have sensitive fur 

While dog coats can render them instantly and completely immobile, so can other ‘unexpected items’ about their person.

Leaves on the legs, a twig on the toe and most infamously, a minuscule bit of poop stuck to the botty fluff. That one cost us £50, a mad dash to the vet with our ‘paralysed’ puppy and lost dinner reservations. We also had to change vets.

 

 

Mini Schnauzer curled up on the writer's chest

 

They’re incredibly loving 

Mini Schnauzers have huge characters. They’re certainly not a breed for anyone who wants a quiet life.

Little Bear is and always has been, a total drama king, but he is also the most sensitive, loving little soul imaginable. I suppose, in the end, that’s all we really need to know.

 

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Close up shot of Mini Schnauzer Little Bear

I don’t know about you, but the last few weeks have been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster.

I’ve been furious, terrified, pragmatic, determined and a complete blubbering mess eating Lotus spread off a spoon and crying onto my keyboard.

There’s no linearity to it, just a tempest of emotion roiling up, having its moment then disappearing again.

The dogs hate it when I cry. Annie pushes her head into my knees and demands cuddles while Little Bear just jumps on me and barks furiously. If I’m sitting down, he barks and whines in my face and licks my nose and cheeks until I get a grip, which of course I do far more quickly than if I’d been permitted to wallow.

While I’d love to think that Bear was trying to make me feel better, it’s more likely that as his primary care-giver, my distress was just making him anxious about his own safety. Either way, I hate upsetting him and so his technique, such that it is, works every time.

Vulnerability 

I’ve written before about how my dogs have kept me sane, but so much of their power is actually in their vulnerability. Our dogs are so totally and utterly dependent on us that, even when the world feels like it’s ending, we have to be there for them physically and emotionally.

In return, they remind us that there is a world beyond ourselves. They ground us in the here and now and most importantly, show us that there is still joy in the world. It’s impossible not to smile watching Little Bear playing football by himself of an evening, or getting ‘toy-giddy’ when I tip a whole basket of teddies on to the floor for him. He met a sweet little terrier on our walk yesterday and, even though they had less than a minute to play together, he ran back to us beaming.

These are scary times, but they’d be an awful lot worse without our dogs at our sides.

However and wherever you are in the world, we’re sending you and your fur babies love, strength and healing thoughts. And of course, Bear sends woofs. xxx 

 

A few of my favourite photos – just because they make me feel better.

 

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Mini Schnauzer dog Bear sitting on the pavement next to a chalk drawing of a rainbow and the word 'Smile'

Little Bear posing next to the chalk art rainbows that kids have been drawing around the neighbourhood

While walking Bear yesterday at our local park, it dawned on me that we’ve been social distancing for years.

When you have a reactive dog, you quickly learn about distances. Keeping your dog(s) sub-threshold usually means keeping enough space between them and whatever scares them (with our two, it’s other dogs) to ensure they feel safe.

After close to a decade of training, we’ve shrunk the distance down from the width of a football pitch to around four metres. With that much space, a little encouragement and the promise of a biscuit, they’ll usually walk past without kicking off.  Much closer and they’re likely, even aged twelve and thirteen, to have a mini-meltdown of barking and lunging.

I need space 

While things have improved over the years, in part thanks to the excellent, ‘Yellow Dog’campaign of wearables and education, there are still those who don’t seem to get why you might need a little extra space. Bear has an ‘I need space’ lead wrap and for a long time, I even wore a fluorescent bib on walks emblazoned on both sides with ‘Reactive dog in training, please give us space,’ but even that wasn’t fool-proof.

Some people just don’t seem to accept the fact that not all dogs are as placid and calm as theirs. Others I’m sure are driven by the mistaken belief that their superior dog-handling skills could solve the problem in two minutes flat if only you’d hand over the lead.

I’m used to the odd looks we get as we detour through shrubbery, turn tail and retrace our steps on narrow paths and generally deploy the raft of avoidance techniques we’ve had more than a decade to perfect. Not everyone is kind and I’ve also had more than my fair share of abuse over the years from clueless dog owners who’ve allowed their off-lead dogs to corner my on-lead ones.

So I was tickled yesterday when, doing what we always do, people waved, gave us the thumbs up and said thanks for giving them space. Perspective is a curious thing, isn’t it?

Stay safe and well everyone. xx

 

 

 

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Mini Schnauzer stands with front feet on a table, wearing a party hat and looking at a bone shaped cake

Birthday boy

Ten years ago today The Little Bear Dog Blog was born. It was a cold, wet February afternoon when I set up the WordPress account and in all honesty, I thought I’d probably only post a few times. It was just an experiment and never in a million years did I expect people to actually read my ramblings. But here we are, ten years, 152 posts and thousands of readers later.

Thank you

To everyone who’s read, liked, commented on or shared posts over the years – thank you so much.  Your time is precious and I’m so grateful for the time you took to be a part of our story.

I can’t of course leave out the beautiful little soul who inspired the blog. Had Little Bear been the ‘take anywhere’ dog I’d been expecting, I very much doubt that I would have taken to blogging as a way of processing the realities of life with a reactive dog.

They say that our greatest challenges are our greatest teachers. Little Bear and Annie have certainly been great teachers! But above all, they’ve taught me the power of unconditional, unwavering love. How blessed I’ve been.

I have no idea how many more blog posts we’ll have – time waits for no man, woman or dog, so we’ll take each day as it comes and be grateful for every single one we get to share with them.

“There is nothing truer in this world than the love of a good dog.” Mira Grant 

 

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