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Posts Tagged ‘Labrador’

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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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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Annie the labrador on the patio in the sun

Annie enjoying the sun

A few months ago Annie developed a strange phobia about an area of the kitchen.  One day she was fine, galumping around all over the place and the next she had pinned her ears to her head, tucked her tail and flatly refused to come to either one of us if we stood anywhere near the dishwasher.

Human logic being what it is (flawed) we initially thought the dishwasher had made a noise and scared her. With reports of sink holes opening up around the country I have to confess to a mild does of paranoia which had me checking the exterior walls for any signs of subsidence but as Little Bear and the Cat were unfazed by the area and our brickwork remained in tact we quickly came to our senses.

Annie’s phobia then spread to a larger area of the kitchen and then the hallway.  By that point we suspected that it was probably the tiles at the root of the problem and tested the theory by covering the floor with mats and towels. Sure enough, with something to walk on besides tiles, the phobia disappeared as if by magic.

Within a week however, the phobia had generalised to any tiled floor, including the one in the pet shop, normally one of her favourite places.  We think the fear was probably triggered by her slipping on the floor and hurting herself – a theory that has now played out as she’s since, weeks later gone on to develop a limp on her front leg.

So it’s off to the vet tomorrow for what I suspect will be another X-ray.  Our poor love, she’s been through so much already I can’t stand the thought of leaving her at the vets again even though I know it’s for her own benefit.  We’re crossing fingers and toes that its a minor injury that can be easily fixed.

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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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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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Annie the Labrador with two toys in her mouth

A bit blurred because she wouldn’t keep still long enough.

This will be Annie’s fourth Christmas with us. The drama that surrounded her arrival is still so vivid in my mind that it seems hard to believe it was more than three and a half years ago.

The shut down, terrified, flea ridden dog that wouldn’t come out from under the dining table for three days is thankfully, nowhere to be seen these days. To say that she’s blossomed is an understatement of grand proportions.

The real Annie was in evidence yesterday as my mother arrived for Christmas. The dogs excitement was so off the scale that I have thought about not giving them their Christmas treats this year but instead sticking a bow on ‘grandma’ as by all accounts she’s all the present they need.

To see Annie take her new soft toy then steal Little Bear’s too and refuse all of his attempts to take it back was such a joy.  That she was enjoying her new gift was obvious by the frantic wagging, but to us it was a sign of just how far this girl has come.  There was a time not so long ago when she’d only take a toy to please you, but obviously had no idea what to do with it.

As Dog Rescues all over the country brace themselves for the influx of the Christmas puppies that will, with depressing predictability, be dumped upon them in the weeks and months ahead, I hope anyone looking for a dog will first consider a rescue. A dog like our Annie who far from being broken, just needed a chance to be loved.

Annie the Labrador with her new toy.

And so to bed. Annie and her new toy.

 

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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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