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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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Red fox Labrador, laying down, 'smiling' at camera

Annie’s happiest when she’s close to her people

I didn’t have dogs when I first read Phillip Pullman’s Dark Materials. I loved the books for many reasons, not least the fact that in his world, every human has a ‘daemon’, a manifestation of their soul that takes animal form.

While daemons aren’t really animals, it’s impossible to read the books without relating it to the animals in your own life. In Pullman’s world, daemons speak, regardless of their species, and share the same level of intelligence as their humans. They are one and the same being, tethered by an invisible bond and parted only by death.

Other half has long referred to Little Bear as my ‘daemon dog’, a reference to the fact that his moods have always mirrored mine (or mine his) and because he is rarely far from my side.

Of late though, we’ve noticed that Annie has become more ‘daemon’ in her ways. While Little Bear is happy to lounge on his beloved couch while I work upstairs, entertaining himself with his own brand of neighbourhood woof, Annie wants to be wherever I am – all of the time.

Red fox Labrador laying on rug in kitchen

Annie’s kitchen spot

She follows me constantly. If I leave the room, she’s right behind me, hauling her aching bones out of her bed to hobble along, before lowering herself, joints like creaky doors, to lay within a couple of feet of wherever I am.

Telling her to stay is met with a derisory look and the equivalent of two Labrador fingers and so it is me who is being trained in the art of decisive tea-making. Popping back to the kitchen to add a splash more milk and cave in on the idea of that biscuit isn’t an option when you have an arthritic Labrador in tow.

Red fox Labrador peeking around door

Even bathroom breaks are now accompanied

As she has never ‘done’ stairs, (not that we’d allow her to now at her age even if she did) this presents a problem when it comes to working – and sleeping. I’ve taken to splitting my working day between ergonomically comfortable desk upstairs and neck pain inducing lumpy couch downstairs where she can snooze at my feet.

Nighttime is more of a challenge. Three requests for a garden break is typical on the average night. Usually at midnight, three am and then again sometime around five, although if you’re getting up at six, it’ll be ten minutes before your alarm.

She outdid herself on Wednesday though with a record six woofs. Other Half, who valliantly responds to most of her demands at night, was away, so it was a miracle I made it to my London meetings on Thursday as I felt slightly punch drunk from all my nighttime stumblings down the stairs.

As there have been a couple of accidents in the house in recent months, ignoring her requests is not an option, but she only actually needs to go out about half of the time. The others I think are a combination of her arthritis and the need to be with her people. No matter how tired we are, we can’t deny her that comfort in her twilight years.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of daemons lately, prompted by the new BBC adaptation of Northern Lights over Christmas. It occurred to me today that another part of the attraction is the fact that human and daemon are together for life. Oh that it were the same for us and our daemon dogs.

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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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