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Annie and Little Bear with their friend Grace

Annie and Little Bear with their friend Grace

Oh my poor neglected blog. Seven whole months on its lonesome, twiddling its pixels in cyber space wondering if this was it, the thing every blog dreads – the last post.

Well, despite my tardiness, TLBDB, now in its fifth year, need not fear, I have no intentions of abandoning it. I have though come to accept that my posts may not be quite so frequent as they once were.

My less frequent updates are due to a couple of factors.  Finding a group of people locally who are all living and working with reactive dogs has been an enormous help, not just for the opportunity to socialise our dogs, but to find support from people who really, genuinely understand the challenges.

Working for myself also means that I now get paid to write. Admittedly, I don’t get paid to write about dogs, but you never say never!

Little Bear and Annie have come such a long way and continue to be a source of joy and hilarity.  They still have issues and we’ve come to realise that when working with fearful dogs, there’s rarely ever a destination, just a better quality of road.

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Seven years ago today my life was tipped upside down by a small, yappy bundle of cuteness. I thought I’d done my homework. I thought I knew dogs, but in hindsight I knew about as much as Jon Snow. I’m still only scratching the surface in terms of my understanding of these acutely intelligent, sensitive creatures so many of us share our lives with. 

As my blog has chronicled, Little Bear hasn’t been the easiest of dogs. He has challenged me emotionally and intellectually from day one and we’ve had our fair share of dark days when I’ve doubted us both. 

I used to often catch myself wondering what life might have been like had he been a different dog. If he’d been born with the laid-back genes of my beloved childhood Springer or had the take-anywhere personality of those dogs who happily lounge under the table at pavement cafes…. But he is not that dog. He will in fact never be that sort of dog, but that’s fine with me.  

I’ve been blessed not just with an amazing companion, but with an incredible teacher.  The irony is of course that in searching for ways to better understand and help him deal with his fears, I’ve had to face down quite a few of my own. So thank you my Little Bear. Thank you for being the funny, sensitive, sweet little soul you are. My life is so much the richer for you. xxx 

And now for some shamelessly cute photographs for no other reason other than the fact that you’re shamelessly cute! 

Two mini schnauzer puppies

Little Bear and his brother.

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Our first picture

Mini schnauzer puppy Little Bear

Mini Schnauzer Little Bear with his teddy

 

 

Mini Schnauzer Little Bear in the garden

Mini schnauzer Little Bear sleeping on the sofa

Mini Schnauzer Little Bear in the autumn leaves

Mini Schnauzer Little Bear looking out to see

Mini Schnauzer Little Bear in witches hat

Mini Schnauzer Little Bear in a hat

Mini Schnauzer Little Bear in the pool

Mini Schnauzer Little Bear laying down

Mini Schnauzer Little Bear sticking out his tongue

Mini Schnauzer Little Bear

Mini Schnauzer Little Bear in the  field

Mini Schnauzer Little Bear in a bandana

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Annie the labrador

Annie

At around this time four years ago today I  slipped into a nightmare.  It had all started so well. My planning had been pretty flawless. The only glitch was the harness that hadn’t arrived in time. Never mind I thought, plenty of time to pop out and pick one up in the morning.  Except the next morning would be spent bleary-eyed through lack of sleep and crying, frantically calling Vet’s Surgeries and Rescue Centres as we pounded pavements, tracks and fields searching for the foster dog who, just minutes after arriving had snapped her collar and bolted into the dusk.

Guilt

The guilt I felt was overwhelmed only by the desire to find her. My most important job was to keep her safe but just an hour after meeting me and just minutes after she found the courage to edge her way along the back seat of the car to rest her head tentatively in my lap, she was lost in a strange place, dodging traffic as the sun slipped out of the sky. I’ve never in my life seen a dog look so scared and hope I never do again. (Read the full story here)

Forgiveness 

Annie forgave me far more quickly than I forgave myself.  When we eventually found her two days later exhausted and completely shut down all we cared about was the fact that she was alive and safe. We resolved to give her whatever she needed to recover from her ordeal.  We took it in turns to sleep on the sofa and we abandoned our offices to work off the dining room table that had become her den so that she had company at all times. We respected her wishes and kept our distance, waiting for her to make the first move towards contact.  Two days in she was confident enough to sniff Stu’s feet as he slept on the sofa. Three days in she nuzzled my hand under the table as I worked and I knew we’d be okay.

Joy

Meeting her today, the dog who will now pull to greet strangers in the street if they look like the cuddling type, it’s hard to remember the dog who wouldn’t even make eye contact with us. The dog who would literally cower behind our legs if someone looked at her in the street, or heaven forbid, bend to stroke her. She can still be reactive in the wrong circumstances (she can’t stand German Shepherds or Huskies despite our best efforts), but she’s come so far. We have new challenges today with the recent diagnosis of severe arthritis in both her elbows to match that in her hips and a bladder problem no doubt caused by having too many litters to line the greedy pockets of her previous ‘owners’, but she remains an utter joy to share our life with.

So happy ‘gotcha day’ day our darling Annie May.  Yes, there will be biscuits.  And the even better news?  In two days time we’ll be celebrating ‘gotcha back day’.

xx

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Little Bear the Mini Schnauzer

Sensitive Soul

Annie’s puddle diving addiction has got her into a bit of bother. During a particularly enthusiastic session in the Forest on Sunday she leapt into what turned out to be more pond than puddle and  disappeared momentarily into the murk.

She seemed nothing more than a bit taken aback by the whole incident and continued her rampaging for the rest of the walk, but by dinnertime, it became clear that stinky pond water isn’t great for the digestion; even the digestion of a Labrador with a passion for snacking from the cat’s litter box…

Vet trip

I’ll spare you any more gory details, but needless to say we ended up at the vets where she had to have an injection to stop the vomiting and a course of antibiotics to fight off whatever bug she’s picked up.

She refused all food yesterday and moved only between her crate and the couch with the occasional detour to the garden for the necessaries.  As my gran used to say, she looked ‘proper poorly’ all day poor love.

Thankfully, she’s on the mend today and is a little brighter. She’s forced down two small bowl fulls of chicken and rice and we’ve even had a few wags out of her so I’m hoping the worst is over.

Sensitive Bear 

As you can imagine, yesterday was slightly full on and Little Bear’s walk ended up being pathetically short, squeezed in between vet trips, supermarket dashes for chicken, copious washing of dog bedding, floor cleaning, bowl sanitising and frequent coddling of the patient  – and that was without the small matter of trying to run a business!

Amazingly though, despite having to play second fiddle to Annie all day, LB was an angel all day. He didn’t nag for food, (even though he had every meal late yesterday) he didn’t nag me to play (which is a nightly occurrence) and even his alert barking was considerably pared down.  When Annie ventured from her crate to lay on the sofa, he didn’t pester her to play as usual, he simply waited for her to lie down and then snuggled up next to her and slept.

Empathy  

When you have a reactive dog it’s all too easy to see the problem: the lunging, the barking, the hair-trigger temperament that means even a hiccupping bubble bee at forty feet can set them off; but in focussing on the problems we often miss something very special: The empathy, the sensitivity and the kindness dogs are capable of exhibiting, not just to us, but to their own kind too.

Reactive dogs are often sensitive dogs and while we work on helping them with their fears, we need to also appreciate and recognise the wonderful upside to their sensitivity.

Thanks LB for reminding me of your sensitive soul.

 

 

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Mud Shots

After my last post, I’ve received some wonderful shots of EVEN muddier dogs than Little Bear and Annie!

Do you have a dirtier dog?

Thanks so much for sharing your pictures. If you’d like to add a mud mug shot to the rogues gallery you can email your picture to thelittlebeardogblog@googlemail.com

Bella the Labrador covered in mud

Queen of the Labrapotami, Bella.

Bella the Labrador wallowing in the mud

Bella at the mud wallow

Bonnie the Mini Schnauzer

Bonnie

Paddy the Collie Lab mix gets muddy

Paddy

Paddy the Lab/Collie Mix covered in mud

Paddy looking proud of his paint job

 

Bichon's Louis and Archie in their onesies

Mud? What mud? Bichon brothers Louis & Archie in their mud proof onesies.

 

Lilly

Lilly

 

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Little Bear hates having a bath. He’s not unusual as I suspect most dogs dislike our penchant for making them sit in warm water while shampooing away all those delightful doggie aromas: mud, stinky puddle water, poop (LB loves the fox variety but will settle for cow pats at a push) and his particular favourite, dead stuff. The day he rolled in a long dead rat is still chillingly fresh in my memory as is the sight of him swaggering home, proud as punch not realising that six baths would be necessary to rid him of the stench.

Bath time blues
Little Bear is now six so I’d sort of resigned myself to the fact that bath time would always be a necessary evil where he turned on the puppy dog eyes with the occasional shiver for good measure and I ended up feeling guilty.

Positive reinforcement
As a big fan of positive reinforcement I’ve tried using toys and treats over the years but he largely ignored the toys and took the treats with a reproachful ‘this isn’t working you know’ glare.
So imagine my surprise when yesterday, LB jumped into the bath on his own!

Bath time Bear
We’d been out for a long forest walk and he was really muddy. But as he’d only had a bath last week I decided to let the mud dry and brush it out. Bear though had other ideas.

While I was hanging up the towels in the bathroom he trotted in, rested his nose on the bath and wagged. Then came the cute over the shoulder look to see if I was looking and another wag. I quietly closed the door, usually a cue for him to dart out of the room, but he just stood there wagging at me.

Now LB loves chasing stones in the ford and over the summer he’s been playing in a paddling pool my mum found for him. He’s so obsessed with the stones I’ve got a handful in a jug in the bathroom in an attempt to make the dreaded bath time more bearable.

I picked up the jug and before I could do anything he had jumped into the bath! What’s more he was wagging fit to bust!

Needless to say he got his bath but not until we’d played stones for a long time – it seemed only fair after he’d asked so nicely!

Lessons learned
Yesterday reminded me of an incredibly valuable lesson: never underestimate the power of a positive reinforcer – they work, but they’re often not the things we think they are.

(Please excuse any formatting issues, I’ve had to write this on my iPhone as he’s fast asleep on my lap and looking way too cute to disturb!)

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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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