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Posts Tagged ‘Dogs’

We’ve said goodbye to two of our most-treasured canine friends this year. They were the dogs who would rock up with friends and make themselves comfortable on the sofa while we ate dinner, had a movie night or shared a bottle of wine. They were first in the door for canine birthday parties and were great friends to Annie and Little Bear. While both were in their twilight years, it didn’t make their passings any easier or their absence any less keenly felt.

I’ve read much over the years about the passing of dogs, always with one eye defiantly closed to the reality that awaits us too. Annie is thirteen now and Little Bear, a not so little twelve.

One story shared on social media recently was of one much-loved dogs’ last day, enjoying all of the things on his ‘bucket list’ – a car ride to the beach, an ice cream cone and digging in the sand before the vet arrived to send him quietly over rainbow bridge. Yes, I was a snotty mess by the end of the story and really should know better.

Having the courage to see our fur babies out of suffering is the ultimate act of love – the timing, a deeply personal contract between dog and guardian. When I read the story, I wondered what a last day might look like for our two but then I stopped myself, because the sad truth is that too often we don’t get to choose. So I want Annie & Little Bear to live their best lives every day, just like their chums Daisy & Grace.

I’m making a list of everything they love. From puddle jumping to training games and everything in between so that, even when life gets hectic, we can remember what truly matters. Every day we have with them is a gift and I want each and every one of them to feel like their bucket list day.

In memory of Grace & Daisy Dog xxx 

Black labrador wearing a floral skirt and a red ribbon around her neck

Grace in her party gear

Grey & white Collie cross laying in a small dog bed looking at the camera

Daisy squished into Little Bear’s bed

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Mini Schnauzer curled up on the writer's chest

Little Bear decided I needed a hug

When you have a reactive dog, let alone two, holidaying with your hounds isn’t the relaxing experience it might be. We have tried, but as my post, The Hay Scale details, sometimes with disastrous/hilarious results.

We’ve also tried holidaying without them, stealing ourselves to leave them at home with our wonderful house-sitter friend who they absolutely adore, but as they get older, it gets harder and harder to leave them.  The best scenery in the world can’t make up for the ‘what if?’ thoughts.

Taking the plunge 

Realising that never taking a break wasn’t a recipe for good health, in late 2017, high on the (misplaced) optimism and security of a new job and the opportunity to spend more time with my wonderful Mum, we took the plunge and bought a little house high in the Afan Forest, back home in Wales.

Having our own dog-friendly rental made complete sense.  We’d get more time in Wales with friends and family, the dogs would get to stay somewhere safe and familiar and I’d always have a base I could take the dogs to if my mum was ill.  In the meantime, we’d let it out so that other people could enjoy it.

We called it Ty Hiraeth. Ty is Welsh for house and Hiraeth means ‘a Welsh person’s longing for home’ although I prefer the more romantic interpretation of ‘a longing to be where your spirit lives.’  It felt apt as this was literally the house that ‘called me home to Wales.’

Home from home

The dogs love it there.  Little Bear turns billy-goat and just wants to climb every mountain, even when that means we have to follow on hands and knees (we keep telling him he’s 11 but he doesn’t listen), and Annie has made a new sport out of jumping in the waterfall pools whenever our back is turned.  There are so many walks that it’s easy to avoid other dogs if we want to, but they’ve also made new canine friends too. And of course, Bear being Bear, he quickly sussed out which of our lovely neighbours are always good for a biscuit!

There are times in life when it’s good to know what’s around the corner – and times when if you did, you’d probably never leave the house again. 2018 was certainly the latter.

Here come the lemons

We had barely started the renovation when my mum began to rapidly lose her sight and was told that she’d need mayor surgery.  Then I was made redundant. We stepped up the pace on the house while I also set about re-staring my consulting business, but like peeling an onion, we found more and more that needed to be done in the house before we could open the doors to paying guests.

A few months later my darling aunt passed away plunging us all into a black hole.  A few weeks later my mum had her first surgery, followed a few months later by the second.  Her sight was completely restored and we all breathed a huge sigh of relief.  But then just seven months after my aunt passed, my mum was gone too – following her beloved sister.  And the losses would just keep mounting up from there.

Constant companions

I’m sure in years to come I may look back on 2018 with a wisdom and maturity that are just beyond me at the moment.  What I do know is that by my side throughout it all I’ve had, not just my wonderful husband, (see hon, you do come first sometimes) but my incredible dogs.

They have sat in uncharacteristic patience with me in my numbed silences; licked tears gently and thoughtfully from my face; curled up one each side, when even moving was beyond me and forgiven me who knows how many times for delayed dinners or walks. When it felt like no one understood or cared, I looked into their eyes and knew that they saw it all – felt it all, and in that connection, they held me here.

Ty Hiraeth 

Against the odds, our little holiday let, ‘Ty Hiraeth‘ welcomed its first guest last summer. More followed and their lovely comments have been little rays of sunlight amongst the gloom. I love seeing pictures of our canine guests exploring the forest or romping on the beach, tongues lolling, happy holiday faces beaming.

‘Ty Hiraeth’ has already given us so much – it allowed me to be there for my family when they needed me and most importantly of all, it gave me time with my precious mum. Then, afterwards, it provided a place of healing and retreat for us all.

We have no idea what 2019 will bring, hope can be cruel, so I’m leaving it in the box for now, but one thing I do know – when life brings you lemons, at least we have dogs.

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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

 

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Little Bear with his pals 2019 

 

 

 

 

 

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Annie the Labrador laying on duvet on the floor looking up at her mum

Finally….!

In the on-going conversation between humans and dogs, dogs are by far the better listeners.  If we were measuring it in terms of reading ages, I think they would be on Dostoyevsky and we’d still be on the Ladybird Classics.

I haven’t worked out what I do differently yet, but Bear will start sulking and sitting in the window to keep watch for my return, even before my overnight bag has made it out of the cupboard.

Annie, normally a frenzy of arthritic acrobatics when I so much as look in the direction of their harnesses, doesn’t even stir from her bed on the days when Bear and I are heading out for an extended walk in the woods. When he’s harnessed up and ready to go, she’ll calmly go and sit by the fridge waiting for what we call her ‘consolation carrot’.  How does she know? She reads me like a book.

Are you sitting comfortably? Er, actually no… 

Lately though her communication skills have really ratched up a gear. Other half and I have been trying for months to get her to join us in the living room of an evening. There was a time when evenings meant all four of us squished happily onto the sofa, but since her arthritis has started bothering her, Annie will no longer jump up and won’t settle even if we lift her on and off.

There’s no denying that she loves her crate with its three super-soft crate pads and the thick duvet that make up her bed, but her crate is in the dog room and we of course, want her with us.

We tried moving the spare crate into the living room but she wouldn’t settle so after a fortnight of it gathering dust, it went back to the garage. I bought her a new memory foam Orvis bed, which after a week of her flatly refusing to even put a paw on it, I reluctantly returned. I even bought her a second fabric day bed which is almost exactly the same as the one that she still uses, just not as squished and flattened – but this too was found wanting.  And yes, we’ve tried just shutting the door but that just gets us woofed at until we relent.

Breakthrough

I don’t know what made me think of it, but a few weeks ago her duvet was hanging over the living room door drying after a wash. I folded it double and put it on the floor in front of the sofa and her eyes lit up. She hurried over, turned around twice and plonked herself down. She glanced up at me and if she could speak, I swear she would have said, ‘Finally!’ She lay down and went to sleep and she’s been curled up on her duvet in the living room every evening since.

Her communication skills don’t stop there though. Last night, I forgot to put her duvet back in her crate at bedtime.  As I was about to head up the stairs she stalked out of the dog room, stood on the duvet in the living room, wagged at me and nosed the duvet. Good slave that I am, I returned it to her crate while she watched, only for her to barge me out of theway the second I was done and settle in for the night.  Who says that dogs can’t talk? Or that humans can’t (eventually) learn to listen?

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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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Mini schnauzer Little Bear having a cuddle

Bear deals much better with firework night if he has someone to snuggle with.

“Remember, remember the fifth of November, gunpowder, treason and plot.” For some unknown reason we’re still celebrating Guy Fawkes’ failed attempt to blow the Houses of Parliament to smithereens 400 years after the fact.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for tradition if it brings a smile to people’s faces, but when you have a dog that’s terrified of loud noises, firework night is traumatic. Picture your dog hunched in a corner, shaking like a leaf and panting so hard you’re afraid he might pass out.

It’s a pitiful sight especially when you’re unable to control the source of their fear. What’s worse is the fact that as the sale of fireworks is unregulated, fireworks ‘night’ now seems to last up to two weeks meaning another assault can come at any time.

Advice 

Lots of dogs are of course frightened of fireworks and social media has been awash with people asking for advice on how to cope with their terrified pets.  On the whole the advice offered is sound: Turn up the TV; try a Thunder-shirt, herbal calmers, hormone collars and diffusers like Adaptil and for those instances where nothing works, a consultation with your vet for a prescribed tranquilliser.

However, there are still those who insist that ignoring your dog is the only way to deal with the situation.  I understand where this thinking may have come from – in positive reinforcement training we often ignore bad behaviour like jumping up for fear of reinforcing it with our attention.  However, YOU CAN’T REINFORCE FEAR! Once your dog is afraid he’s incapable of learning anything so you won’t make it worse by giving him attention.

For pity’s sake, just cuddle your bloody dog! 

So please, if your dog is frightened and wants to be near you – CUDDLE HIM! Distract him, play with him – hell, wrap him in a blanket and feed him roast chicken off a fork if it’ll make him feel better but please, PLEASE do not ignore him.

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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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