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Posts Tagged ‘Dogs’

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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Paddy the Lab/Collie Mix covered in mud

Our Pal Paddy modelling this season’s sensational ‘muddy dog’ look.

Mud. It’s the bane of every dog loving household for months of the year, but just like vet bills, poop and hair on every surface bar the dog, it’s an inevitable part of sharing your life with a canine friend. That said, there are ways of minimising its disruptive influence: here are my favourite top tips.

1) Don’t expect your dog to stay clean 

An obvious one perhaps, but if I had a pound for every time I saw an exasperated owner yell ‘NO!’ at their pooch as they galloped joyfully to the puddle or squelched belly deep into the black stuff I could give up work and write about dogs full-time.  Dogs are dogs and therefore blessedly devoid of the worries that occupy our minds like whether their boss will accept ‘I had to hose down the dog’ as a valid excuse for being late to work  or  whether you’ll ever be able to get the kitchen floor clean again.

If you don’t have time to deal with the mud, then avoid it.  Take them on a longer street walk if you’re pushed for time, play with them at home, do some training or walk them later in the day, but please don’t expect to take the kid to the sweet shop and expect them to abstain in the interests of your agenda; it’s just not fair.

2) Prepare yourself  

When we took Bramble, our Springer Spaniel puppy for his first check-up, the vet told my mother to buy good wellies and a set of waterproofs. It was sage advice. Having the right protection from the elements turns a miserable walk into at least a bearable one.  My wardrobe is now well stocked with all manner of weather and dog proof clothing. My only rule is that all outer layers must be washable because even if your dog isn’t a jumper, you can never guarantee that you won’t encounter an over-enthusiastic greeter at the park.

3) Prepare your dog 

Mini Schnauzer Little Bear in a red coat

Little Red Riding Bear modelling a coat that didn’t quite make the grade

Little Bear has soft fluffy Schnauzer fur that clings to mud and knots. Brushing it out is possible, but not much fun for him (or me) so in the winter his legs and tummy are regularly trimmed. It may not be the Schnauzer ‘look’ but I don’t care as long as he’s more comfortable.

Both Little Bear and Annie have coats. Bear because he hates the rain and has fur that gets quickly sodden (at which point he shivers and refuses to walk) and Annie because she has arthritis and has a coat that takes forever to dry. We use their Equafleece coats most often because you can sling them in the washing machine, pop them on a radiator and they’re dry again by the next walk.

I’m often bemused by people who won’t put coats on dogs.  Maybe it’s a macho thing or a backlash against dressing dogs up as if they’re dolls, but for me it’s both kind and practical. If it’s cold and wet enough for you to have a coat on, chances are your dog would benefit too.  You can even get waterproof onsies to cover their legs as modelled by the adorable Louis and Archie.

Bichon's Louis and Archie in their onesies

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

4) Mud proof your home 

Okay, if I could do this I’d patent it and make millions, but there are practical ways of minimising the impact on your home. As I wrote in my previous post, Dog seeks human, must love mud,  I’m the idiot who chose cream tiles and white walls so when I’m wiping down paint work and the steam mop is working overtime on the floors, I comfort myself in thinking that at least it’s easy to see and remove this way. Admittedly, it’s a small comfort.

Towels: A huge pile of dog towels is a must. A great way to reuse those that might have seen better days, in our house, they live in a basket in the garage ready for post walk rub downs.  Once there’s a machine load they get a quick wash on a cool cycle, dried on the bathroom towel radiator and are ready for their next round. It’s a pain, but it would be more of a pain without them.

Annie the Labrador sleeping in her bed

Annie snoozing in her bed (and yes, white is a stupid colour for dog bedding!)

Bedding: The thing about good dog beds is the fact that they’re usually soft and comfortable.  The way our two pull for home on a cold wet day leaves me in no doubt that they’re looking forward to snuggling up in their nice warm beds. Beds that will of course, be damp and covered in mud within minutes. So having washable beds and or bedding is a must.  Little Bear and Annie love their crates. Each has a thick waterproof base pad topped off with a washable single quilt.  They wash well and dry quickly which is absolutely essential.

Containment: This may be stating the obvious, but restricting access to the rooms you’d rather not get muddy is one of the simplest ways of containing the mess. If you recall the Christmas Pedigree advert you’ll already have a nightmare scenario in your mind of what might happen (it’s very funny if you’ve not seen it) , but remember, humans are usually the ones with the power to close doors!

5) Remember your sense of humour 

Possibly my most important tip of all. Having dogs is a privilege and one of the great joys in life so try not to let a little mud and mess detract from all the good stuff.  And next time your dog is ecstatically bounding through muddy puddles, try it out for yourself, you never know, you might just surprise yourself!

Do you have some top tips for dealing with muddy dogs? Do please share as a comment as I’m sure we’d all love some more ideas on how to manage the mud.  Thanks!

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Like most aspiring dog owners, before I actually had a dog I used to indulge in the odd reverie about our wonderful future life together.  I had visions of us playing catch in a sun drenched meadow on a warm August afternoon.  I imagined us kicking up a pile of crisp autumn leaves and leaving cute paw and foot prints in the winter snow before heading home to snuggle on the sofa.  

Having grown up with a Springer Spaniel, I wasn’t entirely naive, but I suppose part of me choose to block out one of the not so welcome seasonal realities: Mud.

So long nice clean car

So long nice clean car

Mud magnets

If you’ve not got a dog and you’re thinking about getting one, please, hear me now:  They will get muddy. You will get mud: in your house; in your car; on your clothes and more often than you’ll care to think about, on your face and in your hair.  

You will have an almost daily routine of wiping mud off the walls, radiators and any small children who may happen to walk past. Your pile of dog towels will quickly outweigh the human ones, your washing machine will work overtime and in the winter months, you’ll start grading your walks not on how enjoyable they are, but on how muddy its likely to be. 

Paddling Bear

Paddling Bear

 

 

Who chose the cream tiles?

Our battles with mud are exacerbated by some pretty unpractical home decorating choices.  In answer to the question ‘Which idiot chose cream floor tiles, white walls and a light beige sofa?’ I have to foolishly raise my hand.

In my (feeble) defence, I made those choices when we only had Little Bear and as much as he loves paddling in puddles and rolling in cow pats, he’s not a big fan of deep mud. But then of course, we got a Labrador. 

 

 

 

Annie the Labrador covered in mud

Annie the Labrapotomous

Labrapotomous

Annie is a mud magnet.  She’s the Labrapotomous of the dog world and loves nothing better than getting caked in the stuff from nose to tail.  In the Forest she’ll find the deepest, dirtiest, stinkiest puddle and fling herself into it with the wild abandon of a lemming on a cliff top. She emerges beaming as if she’s just won the lottery and annoying as it is, we don’t have the heart to stop her fun.  But even on a road walk, she has an amazing ability to attract mud and will invariably return home with dirty paws, legs and tummy. 

Adjustments

We’ve made some practical adjustments at home, including installing a new door to give us direct access to the garage from the house.  This means we can bring the dogs in through the garage, avoiding the daily splattering of mud up the walls of the hallway.  It also gives us more room to do the towelling off.

I’d be lying if I said that dealing with constantly filthy dogs is much fun. But here’s the rub: when we took on our dogs it was to give them the life they deserved. And we made that commitment for life. We knew there would be compromises along the way and a pristine home is just one of them. What we get in return though far outweighs the inconvenience and of course, we still have those sunny August afternoons to look forward to.

 

 

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Mini Schnauzer Little Bear takes a break out on a solo walk

Little Bear takes a break during our solo walk

If you have more than one dog, chances are you probably walk them together.  I actually still recall the “Walking two dogs is no more work than walking one” argument I used as part of my case for a double dog household.  Oh foolish fool, how wrong could I have been?!

The reality is, if you have reactive dogs like ours, combined walks can sometimes do more harm than good.

Tipping point

Just like us, all dogs have a tipping point. Now for your laid back, confident pooch the circumstances needed to reach that tipping point might never ever arise but for the nervous, under-confident dog the line between calm, rational thought and an emotional, amygdala driven outburst is always that much finer.

In the fourteen years we had our beloved Springer Spaniel, I only once saw him aggress and that was when a Rottweiler  jumped into our garden and cornered him in the yard. Even our sweet old gent found his tipping point that day and acted to defend himself much to our utter amazement.

For reactive dogs like Bear and Annie, their equivalent of a Rottweiler over the garden wall can be as seemingly benign as a dog on a lead 300 yards away. Through an unfortunate mix of temperament, experience (and lack of it), they see threats where there are none.  But when they bark and lunge, it’s out of the same fear my old Springer felt all those years ago, it’s just that their tipping points aren’t as obvious to us.

A life lived in fear

They say a life lived in fear is a life half lived and this can certainly be the reality for many dogs. On Little Bear’s scary list were: bikes, skateboards, other dogs,  horses, velcro (?!) and thunderstorms to name but a few.  A walk invariably encountered at least one of the things and so for a long time, practically every trip out of the door would mean he’d end up in a frenzy of fearful barking and lunging.

Positive reinforcement 

Over the years we’ve worked to raise his tipping point to a more comfortable level.  Armed with clicker and treats (and a swift and unapologetic about turn if we spot something that I know he won’t cope with) we’ve slowly built up his tolerance to the point that he can now see a dog across the street and remain calm enough to sit and get a treat for his non-reaction.

Bikes and skateboards no longer get a second look thanks to the same positive reinforcement and he can walk past a field of horses without batting an eyelash. That said, he has learned to flutter them a little in the hopes of a reward when he thinks he’s been especially good.

The key to the training has simply been to encourage him to feel differently about the things he was once afraid of.  Get rid of the fear and the over-reaction just isn’t necessary anymore.  Which brings me on to the need for solo walks.

Going solo

Part of the ethos of positive reinforcement is that dogs are alway set up to succeed. Considering his naturally anxious disposition, Little Bear has achieved a lot over the last few years which is why asking him to be cool, calm and collected while his best friend Annie is freaking out by his side is really a bridge too far.

So, as much as I love walking my dogs together, until he and Annie are at a similar level in terms of tipping points we’ll continue to walk them separately as often as we can. The good news is that judging by Annie’s progress, she’ll not be far behind him.

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Little Bear finds a shady spot

Little Bear finds a shady spot

When it’s hot its hard to keep dogs properly exercised without the risk that they’ll over-heat. Little Bear especially finds the warm weather quite tough and although he knows his limits, it still leaves us with a problem: One very bright, very active little dog who has no outlet for all his get up and go.  As we know ourselves, being happily tired after a good workout is very different to the lethargy that sets in when it’s just too hot to move.

Putting the fun back 

So this morning , before the day had chance to hot up, we booked the local agility course with a friend of ours. LB has done agility before. We had a couple of one-to-one lessons and then joined a group class. Given his anxiety levels, the group class was incredibly challenging, but he coped admirably and seemed to forget about the other dogs once he was doing the course.

Teaching resilience

He’s loved agility from the off and proved that although he wasn’t built for speed or endurance, he’s a brave little chap.  To my utter amazement he tackled a full height A frame on his first ever session (see the video here).

Taking a break at the end of the session

Taking a break at the end of the session

I was reminded of this today as he lost his footing on the walkway but pressed on regardless. Then again when he misjudged a jump and took a tumble. He picked himself up and with a bit of lighthearted encouragement took the same jump again and again as if to prove it hadn’t beaten him.

 Building confidence

Nervous dogs usually lack confidence and depending on their temperament, use either aggression or retreat (fight or flight) as their only means of coping with the things that scare them.  Watching LB face his fears today and overcome them so swiftly was a timely reminder of how I need to be constantly finding ways to build his confidence and boost his resilience. The other bonus is that before the sun had had a chance to take too much of a hold, Annie and Bear were back home, happily tired, mentally stimulated and quickly snoozing.

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