Wednesday 31 January 2024

Breed Specific Legislation, thoughts..

Anyone who has read my posts previously, will understand how much importance I have always placed on training my dogs, to give them the opportunity to run freely and socialise safely and responsibly, so that they are able to enjoy their very best dog life. 

With that in mind, here are my thoughts on the new Government Breed Specific Legislation for 'XL Bully types' that came into force today...

Cooper, Polly and Betty

We are saddened to say that today our Government's ban on 'XL Bully types' came into force. 

As an owner of large dogs, I have een interested to learn more about what has been imposed on the owners of these dogs and am horrified by the Government's inhumane and clumsy legislation which makes a sweeping ban on thousands of dogs who have never put a paw wrong in life. I fear it is inevitable that many rescue centre XL bullies (or bully 'types', whatever that may mean) will be euthanised, or dumped by frightened or uncaring owners as a result of this legal ban, based solely on the appearance of a dog.

Responsible owners of well behaved, obedience trained, XL bully 'type' dogs, are now legally obliged to muzzle their pets for life, neuter them and deny them any freedom to exercise properly, or socialise in public spaces, by keeping them on a short lead, stigmatising them and making them social lepers. Owners must also find almost £100 to register their loved dogs as 'dangerous' if they want to keep them safe from being snatched and destroyed by police, despite their dogs never have so much as growled at anyone. Tiny puppies must also be muzzled trained and kept under very secure conditions and these dogs will no longer be bred legally in the UK.

Legal exemption means owners may keep their loved family pets safe from euthanasia only if they have complied with the strictest of rules by today's date, however, their lives will forever be tightly restricted by doing so. No XL bully dogs may be rehomed or sold after today, meaning that if an owner dies for example, their dog must die too. Our Government has taken a decision that confuses and criminalises dog owners of this non-specific breed, based solely on their dog's appearance and a set of measurements, rather than on the dog's, or their owner's, behaviour. To me that feels very wrong. 

Great Britain has always been proud of its reputation as a dog loving country and I find this new legislation utterly shameful. It does not address irresponsible dog ownership, it does not address irresponsible breeders. It does not educate, it does not train. It is a reactive piece of legislation, heavily led by media scare-mongering. Out of control dogs can of course be dangerous and that must be addressed, but labelling every single dog of similar appearance as 'dangerous', simply because it measures similarly to a dog that has attacked, is as inadequate as labelling every human of a certain dress, or suit size a threat, simply because another human being of similar size has attacked someone.

This breed specific legislation brought heartache and unnecessary stress to a huge number of caring, responsible pet owners and I personally feel it is a very sad day for all responsible dog owners. 

Monday 27 November 2023

A new home for Cooper



A year ago, my husband and I drove to meet a lovely young man and his five and a half month old puppy, miles away, in a muddy field. The previous week, I had been thoroughly vetted both over the phone and online by the man's wife and had agreed that if all went well between our golden retriever Betty and their puppy Cooper, we would be able to offer their boisterous puppy a new home.

The young family, despite loving their boy dearly, recognised early on they were unable to fully meet the needs of such a lively young pup and felt he deserved a home better suited to his needs. They had adopted the puppy of their dreams with the best of intentions, in the hope that they would be able to train their new puppy as a therapy dog for their children... but sadly, the reality of puppy ownership when combined with parenthood, had proved much tougher than they realised.

We were smitten with Cooper at first sight and he was clearly excited to walk with us that first day, so we walked a circuit of the field together, letting the dogs find their way with one another. Halfway round, his owner invited my husband to take Cooper's lead and it was at that point I knew Cooper would definitely be coming home with us. We chatted and walked some more, then finalised details, put all his worldly belongings in the boot of our car and said a reluctant goodbye to his heartbroken owner, with both dogs safely fastened in the back seat of my car. Legal documents exchanged, we were now Cooper's legal owners... and as he walked away fighting back tears, it was clear to me his owner knew he had done the right thing by his young dog, despite it breaking his heart to let him go.

We headed home in the car, with our new lad and Betty sharing my lap on the back seat. The plan was to introduce Polly before dinnertime and begin what has since proved, a full on year of hard work, fun, laughter, obedience training and puppy chaos. Integrating Cooper has of course, been a challenge at times, but he was such a sweet boy from the start and always so eager to learn, I never doubted he would grow into a super dog. He settled in that first night without a whimper, happily bedding down with Polly and Betty before falling fast asleep in our bedroom.

Cooper has come such a long way during the past twelve months. He has worked hard with me to master walking on the lead and to recall when called, we also worked hard to help him learn to share toys and keep his feet firmly on the floor while I prepared food. There was and still is, much to teach... training simply becomes a way of life for dedicated owners, it never really ends. We are currently working on walking smartly to heel both on and off lead, cementing his recall in ever more distracting environments and learning to settle when asked so that we can eat our tea on trays if we chose to, without a nosey doggy nose in the mix! Cooper learns fast and is doing really well. As a bouncy lad he still occasionally jumps up when excited but is much improved and despite being a big boisterous boy, he is great with my grandchildren and they adore him. I mustn't take all the credit for his training though! Cooper's manners became far more polished he watched the girls and our clever lad has learned much from his new sisters. Polly and Betty love their cheeky little brother and after close supervision and continued training, our two cats accepted our new addition and now clearly feel safe around him. Cooper, now eighteen months of age, has become an important and very much loved member of our family.

If by some chance, Cooper's first owners ever read this post, I pray they see they chose his new owners well. We promised to do our best by Cooper when we adopted him and we promise to continue to do so forever. We are so grateful they trusted us with their beautiful puppy and hope they will be happy to hear about the progress he made with us over the past year. We understand how hard the decision was to rehome their puppy and would love them to know, they did the right thing in letting him join our family. Cooper is content, safe and above all, loved.

Yes, we love you Coops, mischief making, sock stealing and all!

Happy first gotcha day to you our sweet boy! ❤

Thursday 22 June 2023

Life's a beach


I set aside my teddy bear maker's stuffing stick yesterday and instead, headed to the coast with my husband and our dogs. It was a special treat for young Cooper in particular as he had never visited a beach before. After an hour in the car, he was super excited to play, so after a very pully walk from the carpark to the beach, we took the plunge, unclipped his lead and let Polly and Betty show their little brother the ropes!

They did a great job; Cooper was soon chasing happily with his big sisters, through gentle foamy waves along the shoreline, pulling out lengths of seaweed to sniff and generally having a whale of a time! By the time we left the beach our little mermaid Betty, had taught Cooper how to swim properly and they were both swimming side by side, with Betty shielding Cooper, clearly encouraging him back towards the safety of the shore whenever she felt he was drifting a little towards deeper waters.

It was such a joy watching all three dogs playing on the beach together and when it was time to head back, a quick peep on my whistle soon had three very soggy golden retrievers racing my way for a good shake (!) a piece of sausage and their leads back on. It was quite a warm day for a walk, about 25 degrees C, but regular dips in the sea along the trail ensured all dogs kept cool as we ambled along, enjoying a lovely sea breeze and the beautiful open scenery of Reculver Country Park.

Tuesday 6 June 2023

Happy 1st Birthday Cooper!


We adopted Cooper six months ago, when a young family made the extremely tough decision that they wouldn't be able to give him the best start to life. With two young children, both of whom had learning challenges, they had underestimated the time and attention a new puppy requires and soon realised the timing to introduce an 8 week old puppy to their family, was not as ideal as they had first hoped.

I was thoroughly interviewed over a period of a week to be Cooper's potential new mum, then my husband and I met the owner face-to-face for final consideration. We took Betty with us to smooth the doggy introductions and went for a walk with Cooper and his owner... and of course, the rest is history! After an emotional handover, Coops was bundled in our car and travelled home on the back seat, cuddling me and Betty.

It wasn't all plain sailing at first; Cooper was a handful for the first couple of months while he settled in ... he was a very strong, large five and a half month old puppy and pulled like a steam train on the lead, was greedy with toys, chewed everything, jumped all over the furniture and to be frank, was also a bit of a bully with Betty and Polly. It was a natural response to what had been a huge upheaval for him, for the second time in his very young life.

We took a few deep breaths, stayed calm and consistent, focussing on the areas of training we felt would help Cooper best. Gradually, our lad calmed and learned to understand us... and in just six months, has completely settled, now transformed into a beautiful, gentle, affectionate, fun lad, who adores his big sisters and they him. We are so happy we were chosen to be Cooper's forever family.

Happy 1st Birthday to you dear Doops (not a typo, my nickname for him).

We love you dearly and can't imagine life without you now!

Thursday 18 May 2023

Our Golden Family


With three golden retrievers who soak up mud like sponges, I don't mind admitting that I am delighted we have at last exited the wettest of Winters and entered Spring... Winter was such hard work.

Little Cooper (right) is no longer little, in fact he grew like a mushroom through the Winter months and is now easily as tall as Betty (left)... I don't think it will be long before he overtakes both my girls. Since adopting him last November, he has settled happily into life with his two older sisters, teaching them both how to play like puppies again, even ten year old Polly! He is a cheeky lad, full of fun and mischief, but very loving and typical of most goldens, very eager to please. He is learning his manners and verbal cues well... although some of his puppy eagerness occasionally causes him to forget reign in his puppy excitement... but all in all, our lad is maturing beautifully and we have completely fallen in love with him.

Adopting a new pup created a few challenges along the way...mastering the three-dog-lead-walk took a while to establish but all now walk very politely together for me, which makes life so much easier. Teaching Cooper to recall safely was very important for his safety off-lead so I worked hard on achieving a solid response from him. However, it didn't occur to me that my previously well trained Betty might decide to push a few recall boundaries of her own as a reaction to having a new brother... dog training never ceases to throw up fresh challenges, no matter how much time and effort is put into it over the years!

Although Cooper and I joined a 'real life' training class, I soon came to the conclusion that it wasn't suitable for Cooper because it over stimulated him to the point of him being completely unable to calm himself enough to focus, so after several sessions, we withdrew from the group in favour of continuuing his training independently, which has proved to be the best decision for Cooper. He is now settled, working hard and enjoying his walks again.

Coops has also become firm friends with Stan, our cat... it took a while for them to sort themselves out because cats and dogs speak very different languages, but with time and close supervision, they worked out their differences and can now even be found curled up together on my bed from time to time... (despite my 'no dogs on beds' rule!)

I am sure many folk think I must be mad to own three dogs and two cats and they may have a point (!) ... but we love them all dearly and are very grateful for all the fun and love they so unconditionally share with us.  

Monday 15 May 2023

Happy 8th Birthday Betty!


Betty, aged 8.

I remember introducing Betty on this blog as a brand new puppy back in 2015 and here we are, eight years on, wishing her a very Happy 8th Birthday... Time flies!

Betty has always been the sweetest natured of dogs, she is a gentle, loyal dog, whose biggest pleasure in life is to run like the wind. She is happiest in a huge field, bouncing through long grass like Tigger, so when her cruciate ligament first failed her back in 2020 and she became so lame she couldn't walk, I feared for her future. There was no option other than major surgery for Betty, so we placed our trust in her vet and as mentioned in earlier posts, agreed to TPLO surgery ... a surgery which involves sawing through the bone in her leg, then reconnecting it with some very clever metalwork. The recovery process is extremely painful and a careful programme of rehabilitation has to be implemented for months after surgery. Betty went through the entire process without complaint, patiently trusting us to help her regain use of her leg... it was a challenging process because she also developed an infection and had to be admitted back to doggy hospital for an extra few days as an emergency patient, but thankfully with great care from her vet and his team, she was soon back on the road to recovery. 

We were warned that the potential for second hind leg failure is high and sadly, found ourselves back at the specialist vet just three months after being successfully signed off from Betty's first surgery. All in all, Betty's full recovery from both surgeries, aged six, took about a year of careful rehabilitation, while we helped her to rebuild the strength and muscle wastage in both back legs. However, I am happy to say, that since then, there has been no looking back for our sweet girl and she is now back to running through fields of long grass, at full bounce!

I think it is fair to say that Betty's biggest challenge last year, was Cooper. She accepted him happily when we first adopted him, but soon found his youthful exhuberance, strength and puppy greed, completely overwhelming. Betty always loved to play with toys but Cooper decided that to establish his place in our family, he would claim all toys, bones and beds from poor Betty, bullying her like a naughty brother. Betty is such a gentle girl that she withdrew and unlike Polly, who is a far more determined, no-nonsense type of personality, Betty wouldn't stand her ground with him. There was no aggression in either dog fortunately, so I could see that with careful and consistent training we would be able to teach Cooper not to dominate Betty and happily, six months on, Betty and Cooper are now firm friends who love to bounce through the grass together. Cooper is learning to wait patiently for Betty to finish with bones and toys before taking them and Betty will now invite Cooper to play with her and share toys. It has been a challenge, but definitely one worth committing too. They love to run together and play together now ... I have even caught them sharing gentle kisses together on occasion!

Betty may be eight, but she still plays like a big daft puppy. Her surgeries gave her back her freedom to enjoy being a dog and also her future, as I am sure they helped save her life. 

Betty is a very special girl who truly deserves her Happy 8th Birthday.

We love you so much Bets, keep on running! xxx

Friday 24 March 2023

Settling in

Cooper (left) Betty and Polly

In just four months since his arrival, Cooper, now aged 10 months, has made a huge amount progress. Our three dogs now accept one another fully, take turns, respect food bowls, sleep and play nicely together. They also walk pretty well on leads as a group and Cooper has just about mastered a loose lead.. (unless he is very excited, in which case he pulls like a tram but those times are becoming fewer thankfully.) I use head harnesses on our group walks, which when used properly, are a tremendous help.  In fact, we can't be doing too badly because one of my neighbours stopped us a couple of weeks ago and asked to take the photo below as she said the dogs looked fabulous! 

Lead walks

We also started 'Real Life' dog training classes recently, so hopefully, they will help me continue to refine Cooper's lead manners and he will enjoy meeting a range of other dogs, in interesting environments.

Real Life training

When we first rehomed Coops, I don't mind admitting it was impossible to walk all three dogs together because Cooper's pulling on the lead was so extreme but after battling on (using head harness and starting with tiny group lead walks, then building up time and distance gradually), we are now able to enjoy daily local walks as a family. Walking three dogs together has been a steep learning curve for me too! Coop's recall is progressing well, although like most goldens, he is super sociable so off lead recall from dog distraction can be a challenge but the best thing is, he now enjoys off lead fun every day and knows to come back to me when I whistle. 

Free running

At home Coops is a big character and loves his cuddles. He understands much of what I say and learns fast. He responds very well to positive redirection and as he still likes to steal stuff (lingerie, slippers, knitting!) and to chance his luck sometimes with counter surfing etc, plenty of redirection is still necessary! After a shaky start, Cooper and Stan (cat) have recently become friends and seem to enjoy hanging out together. Cooper is learning to restrain his exhuberance with Stan and Stan is very grateful for that! Naturally, I still keep them under close supervision.

Making friends with Stan

Introducing a lively young golden has been far from easy... but four months of hard work, patience and determination have paid off. Our lad Coops is a fab fun dog and has settled in with us beautifully. We feel as though he has always been part of our family and despite the chaos, we love him to bits!

Tuesday 7 March 2023

Happy 10th Birthday Polly!


Polly, aged 10

It hardly seems possible that I have been writing this blog for ten years now! 

I first put virtual pen to keyboard, when we brought Polly home from the breeder, at seven weeks of age, a chunky bundle of palest golden fur, a puppy girl eager to explore her new world... our home. I wanted to record her progress and order my thoughts relating to what was to become our training journey and to share that journey with other new owners. It had been many years since I last adopted a puppy, so it was important to me to learn how to give Polly the opportunity to become her best doggy self and for me to become a good dog handler. In truth, I knew very little about dog training when Polly first came to us, but I was determined to learn.  I joined a training class when she was about six months old, read a stack of books... and so began our lifelong partnership.

I have often written about my 'bossy big bird' and so she is, a big Golden, with a beautiful dense coat. She is a proud showgirl, a head turner, a sturdy girl, who always makes me feel protected on walks. Now that she is ten years old, Polly is content to plod gently through the fields with me, less compelled than she once was, to run at Ferrari speed, like her namesake Dad, Xanthos Ferrari. Polly is settled, solid, comfortable and confident. She is a fabulous girl and at ten, still young at heart, playing daily with young Cooper and enjoying her crazy zoomies, like a puppy herself. She loves having the inside of her ears gently stroked and cheese... she really loves cheese!

Over the years, Polly has often led me a merry dance on walks but has also taught me so much. She has been the best dog training teacher I could ever have hoped for, never failing to show me clearly what works for her and what doesn't. She is a clever, loyal, determined girl, the matriach of my doggy family. Those Polly accepts and respects, will be her best friends for life, she knows who she is and expects others to understand that too. I love her sense of self, her sturdy countenance and her heart of pure gold, I loved her puppy daftness and if possible, I love her golden maturity even more. Yes, she barks, yes, she occasionally dislikes other dogs, but Polly is quite simply, my pride and my joy. She really is the best friend a girl could ever have.

Ten is an age to celebrate, a decade shared together, each and every single day. A decade of learning about one another and a decade of enjoying time with one another. Ten is also a benchmark age, a transition between taking each day for granted and a growing awareness that old age may not be as far away as once it was... 

Polly and I plan to continue playing, eating cheese, enjoying our walks and sharing our friendship well into the future and if our walks gradually become a little shorter as the years pass, well that's okay. Life is for living and living in the here and now, whatever the pace.

Happy 10th Birthday to my Big Bossy Bird, 

I love you so very much Polls. xxx 

Tuesday 17 January 2023

A little Cooper update... he is seven months old, has been with us for 7 weeks now and is growing like a mushroom!

He's a lovely clever boy, gentle and learns fast. He has recently started dog school, which is going well. He and Polly (aged almost 10) play all day long (when they aren't napping together) so Betty has become a little bit of a spare wheel (poor Bets!) but she is coming round to her baby brother slowly ... they were caught exchanging gentle kisses yesterday, so I know they will be fine in the long run.

Bets has definitely had her doggy nose put out of joint and as she has such a gentle, nature, she won't challenge Cooper for time with Polly, or her toys, so I have had to do lots of work to teach Cooper to share ... he is understanding more and getting much better and loves to run with Betty (Polly prefers to plod) so they are bonding, but it is a gradual process. Lead walking three dogs has been hard work but after seven weeks of graft, we now have it looking pretty tidy and thanks to a waist belt and a longer lead for Polly to walk on the outside, we can at last walk from A to B in a straight line!

In the seven weeks he has lived with us Cooper has made new friends, been on lots of walks, mastered a good solid recall and visited his new vet. He has learned not to frighten our cats and is learning to take turns with Polly and Betty for treats and play... and he is slowly learning not to jump up. He has learned to wait at the door until he is invited outside and is starting to walk without pulling on the lead - that will take a while to cement.. he waits beautifully at kerbs until invited to cross roads and has mastered how to walk up and down steps with me safely. We are working on eliminating counter surfing and that is coming along nicely now after a challenging start! He no longer jumps on me in bed.. and instead now politely puts himself back to bed after his early morning walk with my husband. (Horaay!)

There is plenty still to teach but Cooper has worked hard and made a really great start to life with us!

PS: Don't let anyone convince you having three goldens is no more difficult than two ... so not true! 

Think three times more mud, more chaos, more expense, more space on pavements required, less space in car... and definitely at least three times more owner energy needed! 

Three goldens are a significant commitment.

Thursday 1 December 2022

Oops, we did it again!


Meet Cooper, our latest family member. 

Yes, we did it again!

Sometimes, after serious and prolonged consideration, there is a moment in time when all the stars align and the puzzle pieces slot most perfectly into place... and for us, that time occurred last weekend.

We had been thinking about whether we could offer a home to one more golden puppy before time and energy required would become too demanding. With our sixtieth birthdays on the horizon and it being nine years since we adopted Polly and seven years since Betty came home, we were aware our puppy clock was ticking. The tick became louder and louder as the months of 2022 tocked by and we watched so many sad faces online, many of them unwanted post lockdown pups, unsold litters and strays... all carrying the saddest of tales deep inside them. It was heartbreaking to see and weighed heavily on my mind.

The plight of Britain's rescues is overwhelming this year. So many puppies were adopted during the pandemic lockdowns and have since been discarded when owners realised they hadn't planned far enough into the future for their puppies. Rescues have always tried to rehome strays of course, but after the pandemic, the world has been in turmoil for humans which of course, has had an immense impact on domestic dogs. We were close to visiting a canine rescue centre recently when I spotted a private advertisement and everything fell into place for us...

We knew what taking on a rescue would have entailed as we have been heavily involved with my daughter's Ukrainian rescue and her rehabilitation over the past year. It has been an intensive process to provide Olive with a sense of trust, security and well-being and thankfully, she is now living her best life in the countryside with my daughter. Polly and Betty have been superstars with Olive from the start and we didn't doubt they would be so again, but Polly's advancing years also needed fair consideration in our own process, so after much thought, we ruled out adopting a rescue dog as we felt it wouldn't have been right for us all as a family at this point in our life.

Five month old Cooper wasn't a rescue, in fact he was very much loved and wanted by his owners but sadly, they had a young family with very specific needs and the puppy adoption they carefully planned for, simply wasn't living up to the dream they had hoped for. After recognising their new pup's needs, as well as the needs of their children, they made the toughest of decisions, to find Cooper the very best of homes and provide him with the life he needed rather than compromise his future. To cut a long story short, my husband and I were selected to talk further with them and after a very thorough exchange of information, which took several days to complete, we were invited to meet Cooper... then by tea time that day, we were home again and introducing Polly and Betty to their new brother!

It has been a whirlwind of a week. The girls have been as amazing as I knew they would and Cooper settled in with them straightaway, thrilled to have two new playmates. There have been a few challenges of course ... to start with, it has been seven years since Betty was a puppy and I had almost forgotten how exhausting new parenthood is, which of course, is why I didn't want to put off a new addition for too much longer. Cooper is a lovely gentle boy most of the time but like all pups coming into adolescence, he has a couple of wild times each day, usually after eating. As he has been an only dog during since leaving his littermates, he hasn't yet learned to properly regulate his play behaviours and can be quite a handful for Polly and Betty on occasion as he is a big strong pup ... almost as big as Betty already! However, they are coping pretty well overall. 

Polly plays enthusiastically with Cooper despite her age and has put him in his place a couple of times but my Betty is more sensitive and at the moment, takes cover by my side whenever Cooper is at his most puppy wild. She is definitely a little more wary and capitulates to him over toys, bones, time with me etc. I am sure her confidence will return with a little encouragement, so am giving her extra praise, fuss and time with me. After just a few days and implementing a couple of firm 'time outs', Cooper does show signs of regulating his own excitement levels, so I am confident he will soon learn to play more politely, as he is a clever boy. He is also excited by toys and bones, preferring to gather them to himself and stealing them from Betty.. there is no aggression in it, just playfulness but of course, it is frustrating for Betty as she too enjoys play with toys and isn't the kind of dog to challenge, so I have been using a clicker to teach turn taking with all three dogs and that looks promising already.

The other main challenge to overcome with this gorgeous new pup will be lead walking three dogs together. Never trust anyone who tells you it is as easy to walk three as it is to walk two ... oh no it isn't! I gave it a go earlier in the week and despite Polly and Betty being well trained to walk to heel, it was very hard work with a pup who hasn't yet been. So, back to basics! I will be booking training classes so Coops and I can focus on this together. I will also walk him separately at times, or with just one of the girls for the time being. A little mix and match with walks should work well and will also give Polly and Betty an opportunity to continue with their pre exisiting routine together on some days, which I think will be important for them. I think they are entitled to a puppy break now and again. Fortunately Cooper seems to enjoy an evening walk, so on some days, we can all walk together in the dark, when I have a spare of hands to take some of the weight off my hands.

On the plus side, we are fortunate that Cooper has already been housetrained and will ask to go outside to toilet. He also came with a pre-programmed sit, which is rather lovely to see and sleeps through the night. After some long line training at our local park this week, he is already beginning to grasp a whistle recall too and is learning to 'drop' toys on request, eat at his own bowl while the girls eat at theirs and not pester the cats... all good building blocks for his future training.

Adopting Cooper is a significant transition for us all at this stage, but it is also a complete joy to share our lives with this lively, funny, clever, golden puppy. I will be dusting off my old puppy training skills in the hope I can help Cooper become a credit to his big sisters over the months and years ahead...should be great fun!

Welcome home Cooper!

Monday 21 November 2022

Remembrance Day 2022

We like to take a walk into town to pay our respects on Remembrance Sunday each year and of course, Polly and Betty come with us. After their many town training sessions over the years, they are well qualified to cope with dense crowds, a military parade and brass bands. They sit politely through the public Service of Remembrance, maintaining the minute's silence at the War Memorial at 11am, before we head off for a nice walk along the river and if we are lucky, a hot sausage butty from the burger bar in the local DIY store's car park where they are permitted their own freshly cooked sausage as a special treat.

It is a big ask for any dog to cope confidently in such a noisy, crowded events but Polly and Betty always make us proud. One of our trainers, lovely Sam Grice of  Dog Behavioural Services, used to train her groups of dog owners on walks through the town. Sam was once a trainer for Guide Dogs for the Blind and so her training was based on being able to walk dogs in all situations, in all places. It has proved invaluable to us over the years and means we are able to take our dogs almost anywhere, safe in the knowledge they understand what is required of them and will cope in challenging public situations with confidence and polite manners.

Needless to say, after the long lead walk into town, a Remembrance Day parade, a religious service AND a long walk backup the road towards home, the girls are usually ready to shake off their leads and their best behaviour! As a thank you to them, we always head back via the park, let them run free and watch with a wry smile as they roll in leaves and muddy puddles to their heart's content!

If you ever have the opportunity to train your dogs in town situations, I would highly recommend getting involved. The skills the dogs master are wide ranging and transfer into so many other situations. Polly and Betty have trained in shopping centre lifts, learned to walk past escalators and automatic doors without fear, dealt with crowded pavements, people reaching out to them and behaving unexpectedly, buggies, wheelchairs, cleaning trolleys, traffic, sirens, buses, trains, zebra crossings, shop doorways, high level bridges, steep stairways ... you name it, they have trained for it and learned to maintain their focus on and take their cues from me. They have even trained to enter the pet shop politely and learned to walk through the store ignoring guinea pigs, tasty treats, interesting toys, smells and other customers... and of course, they have also become well versed in settling politely under a street cafĂ© table while we enjoy a coffee and a slice of cake! 

Sam's town training really has been worth it's weight in retriever gold and if ever we adopt another golden puppy (yes, we are seriously considering it!) I hope we will be able to sign up with Sam for training again.

Wednesday 9 November 2022

Remember, Remember



There are those who love 'em and those who don't. Either way, there is no mistaking the cacophony of noise associated with fireworks on Guy Fawkes Night! 

These days, as a dog owner, I am torn. Polly absolutely hates 'em and will spend an entire evening fighting fireworks with barking at a decibel designed to match the warzone she percieves beyond her front door. She is ably supported by 'Back-up Betty', who, dutifully barks each time Polly draws breath, providing an unending, ear piercing, doggy resistance to the invisible foe beyond. 

I know of dogs who have become so disabled by fireworks through fear, they are unable to function. A few years ago, I met one such beautiful Golden Retriever boy ... sadly on his last ever walk prior to being taken to the vet to be euthanized.  I had my hands full with grandchildren and dogs, but spoke spoken to his owner to say a quick hello, only to be told his boy had become so fearful of unexpected noises as a result of exposure to firework bangs, that he was unmanageable and had, in a moment of terror, bitten a family member. As that owner saw things, he had no choice but to put his beautiful boy to sleep before Guy Fawkes Night. It broke my heart to see the pain in the owner's eyes and the trust his dog had in him and I wish upon wish, I had the strength to take his lead and lead him away to a peaceful safety .... he still plays on my mind to this day, I will never forget him.

To be anti-fireworks though, is to be a party pooper in the eyes of the undog world and to be honest, I am not anti fireworks, in fact I love them and was brought up celebrating Guy Fawkes annually with my family as a girl. This year I enjoyed my grandchildren's school display, which took place a few miles from my house. I dosed Polly and Betty with a natural stress calming remedy (Dorwest Valerian & Skullcap) for several days prior to Guy Fawkes Night and tucked them up safely at home with 'Classic FM for Pets' on the radio, before heading out.

My wish is that the Government would make a legal requirement so that fireworks could only be used by professional firework experts, at community displays on a limited number of days each year. It makes so much more sense than allowing all and sundry to purchase dangerous fireworks whenever they fancy, to explode in their gardens... or in the case of unruly youths, along the lane behind my house (!) 
A change to the law in the UK would surely help millions of pet owners prepare for what is a terrifying event for most animals and would also provide a great way to raise money for local community groups, schools and the like. The revenue from the little display I attended last week with my family, will be used to support my grandchildren's primary school, which in the current economic climate, will be of great benefit to all the pupils.

To me it is simple, sometimes we need to remember that our favourite traditions may need a little updating... for the greater good.

Friday 21 October 2022

Pumpkin pickin' with Olive



We didn't really celebrate Halloween when I was child, nor when my kids were kids; generally we spent the evening with curtains drawn, trying to avoid having our door and windows egged and floured by local 'yoovs' (!) ... however, times have changed and my grandchildren love to dress up as cheeky witches and wizards, carve pumpkins with Mummy and Daddy and enjoy gentle Halloween mischief with the wider family, so I was delighted when they invited me, my husband and my daughter, to a local farm to pick pumpkins last weekend... it was heaps of fun watching the children wandering around, choosing pumpkins on the basis of size, shape, colour and 'nobbly bits'!

Not only was Little Fant Farm very child friendly, it was dog friendly too, so we took our gang of family dogs, Polly, Betty, Nobby and Olive, for a little fresh air socialisation. My daughter's rescue Olive must have wondered what on earth was happening, but she took things pretty much in her stride as we collected pumpkins and met all the farm animals...

Beautiful Olive was a stray, rescued from the Ukraine almost a year ago, fostered for a brief while in the UK, then adopted by my daughter who spotted her plight on Facebook and opened her heart and home to her.

When my daughter first collected Olive, she was very shutdown, clearly terrified of every aspect of her new life. There is no doubt she had been mistreated in her past life and it was heartbreaking to see just how desperately scared she was. Her fears were wide ranging... men sent poor Olly into a tailspin as she tried desperately to avoid contact with them, traffic, doorways, light fittings, household noises ... you name it, she was terrified of it. She didn't even understand that she was allowed to eat from a bowl, her own bowl. Happily, she took comfort from the other dogs and was soon best buddies with my daughter's Chihuahua Nobby... an odd couple perhaps, but a lovely friendship. It has taken my daughter and I months of gentle, calm reassurrance to show Olive that she is safe now and for her to show us that she trusts us. She has since become a complete delight, a big, daft puppy girl, full of fun, very gentle, affectionate and eager to learn.

The photograph above is one that makes me smile from ear to ear. Last weekend, Fay was able to bring Olive to the farm with our other dogs and she walked calmly as part of our family, coping with people collecting pumpkins in wheelbarrows, other dogs on leads, children having fun and men in dark clothing. Occasionally Olive asked for a moment just to watch and absorb the scene while she processed things ... which is what was happening in the photograph above. Now and again she needed a little space created between her and a wheelbarrow pushing man, but she coped well and there were none of those panicky tailspins! Olive walked politely on her lead, among and around strangers in a new environment... a huge accomplishment for our lovely Olive and I could not have been more thrilled for her and my daughter!

Tuesday 4 October 2022


 At the tail end of 2021, my daughter told me she had adopted a rescue dog, a beautiful white ball of fur from Ukraine...

Olive, October 2022

Olive as she became known, had lived a troubled short life, a life of fear spent clinging to the edge of survival as she roamed stray along roadsides. It was clear to us that at some point in her young life she had been beaten; she was terrified of men, dark clothing and anyone carrying what might have been interpreted as a stick. When I first met Olive at my daughter's house, she was so shut down I didn't initially approach her, instead sitting as far away as possible to give her the space she needed. The only person she would tentatively allow to approach was my daughter. I had never seen such a fearful dog before, in my world dogs enjoyed the company of humans and were excited to engage with them ... this shaggy white bundle in the corner was clearly terrified and simply did not trust humans to be kind to her.

New girl Olive, watching us warily from the safety of my daughter's chair.

That was almost a year ago, prior to the terrible war now happening in Ukraine. Slowly but surely and with quiet kindness and lots of patience, Olive began to understand that the new world she found herself in, was a safe place. It took a long time and lots of calm, gentle, almost imperceivable encouragement by my daughter and I, to discover the inner Olive and gain her trust. My daughter had an innate understanding that Olive may never become the relaxed happy type of puppy she had always known in my two but was prepared to accept Olive, on whatever terms Olive needed. Olive had found her perfect owner.

Walks with friends, Summer 2022

Olive has taught us so much about how to see the world through her eyes. I don't think she ever lived inside a house before she came to the UK, so everything was frightening to her. We noticed she would keep looking at ceiling lights and it dawned on us, perhaps she didn't trust that it wouldn't fall on her ... and every time we opened a door to allow her through, she edged away backwards as if fearful that it might trap her somehow, so we learned to walk through doors ahead of her, showing her it was okay and we trusted that the door wouldn't hurt us. She learned by watching us. When her bowl of food was put on the floor, hungry as she must have been, she stayed clear, waiting until every other animal in the house had eaten from it first. It took a long time for her to understand that she too was allowed to eat from her own bowl. 

Training days

Getting Olive to accept a collar, lead and harness was the key to her freedom. It also took time and patience as it was important not to impose these on her until she was able to accept them without fear. I remember one day, my daughter invited me and my dogs to join her Olive and their little Chihuahua Nobby at a local 'freedom field', a secure open space for dogs. My daughter was eager to show Olive that life could be fun, so we met at the field, padlocked the gate behind us and let all four dogs meet off lead together for the first time. Olive loved the other dogs and they raced off across the grass together full of excitement. Olive absolutely flew over the ground and took off like a rocket launched into space, making my two look like middle aged plodders! It was a wonderful sight to see them all having so much fun together and to watch the real Olive come to life!

Walking with friends, October 2022

Almost before we knew it, our hour at the field was up and it was time to lead up the dogs and pop them back into our cars ... but Olive had other ideas! Naively, we assumed she would return to the cars with our other dogs and we would be able to re-clip her lead to her harness without too much trouble, but oh no, she wasn't having any of it. She wanted to run, run and run some more and she didn't give a hoot that we were fast exceeding our paid hour's slot! To cut a long story short, the very kind dog owner who booked the next slot, allowed us to stay in the field with her and her dogs, while we tried hopelessly to catch Olive. We tried every trick in the book, but she knew them all and more ... of course she did, she had been a stray on the run and could outwit any human playing by the simple rules of polite positive reinforcement! We stuck with it though and eventually, after forty five very long and humiliating minutes, Olive finally allowed my daughter to grab her new harness and scoop her into her arms. Another important lesson learned! The very next time, we used a long line and began formal recall training ... in earnest!

Hanging out with Polly and Betty

We began walking the dogs together every weekend and Olive gradually settled in to her new home with my daughter, Nobby and their three cats; she also began to relax when she came to my house. It was important that she had somewhere other than my daughter's house that she could stay when necessary as she couldn't be kennelled ... that would traumatize her. We worked hard to build her confidence both in her own environment with my daughter but also with me and my husband at our home. Gaining trust with my husband came much later, that was such a painfully slow process. To begin with, Olive would bark every time he entered the room, then she would cower away in the furthest corner ... but slowly, she came to understand that my dogs loved their 'dad' and were happy around him, so after many months, one day Olive timidly accepted a food treat from him and that was momentous! Since those early days, Olive has relaxed considerably in many ways and now barks from excitment rather than fear when Stuart comes home, she greets him with our own dogs and will even sit comfortably under his chair at the table and accept a gentle stroke on the chest. Months after her arrival and Olive will now recall to my husband if she's running freely on a walk (yes, that recall training really paid off!) I think she will always be a little hesitant with men and who can blame her, but at least Olive has now come to realise that not all men are bad men.


Olive has become an absolute joy since those first days. We feared she may never come out of her protective shell, but thankfully she has and we love her. She is now one of the family, a gentle, affectionate, bouncy daft puppy-dog, full of fun, a dog who, thanks to my daughter's kindness, adores her owner. She relishes walks with Nobby and my girls and is now living the happy life she should always have been entitled to... a million miles removed from the cruel life she was born into. Olive still has her worries of course, some of which are health related, a leftover those early days in Ukraine ... but she is loved and will always be well cared for. 

Olive and friends, with my daughter at a family party, April 2022

Olive could not have found a better home than the one she now has with my daughter.


There are many rescues offering dogs from overseas. They operate under strict regulations imposed by the UK Government bodies APHA and Defra and are obliged to ensure all dogs have relevant legal documentation and health testing prior to entry into the UK. 

Please check very carefully if you are considering adopting from overseas. 

There are health tests which are currently not a legal requirement of these rescues but in my belief, should be undertaken prior to importing dogs into the UK anyway. 

Olive was tested privately by my daughter for such a disease (brucella canis) and thankfully found to be negative by the Government body APHA, however the rescue she came from did not undertake this test or inform my daughter about its importance prior to adoption. We were unaware of the disease and learned the hard way. The rescue took Olive's adoption fee and did not inform my daughter any further. This lack of pre-importation testing for Brucella Canis has cost my daughter hundreds of pounds and been a considerable worry whilst waiting for results... had it been positive the outcome would have been unthinkable. Thankfully, for Olive, all ended well as her test was proven negative by the Government body APHA. However, I have read of other new owners of rescue dogs from Eastern block countries who have been far less fortunate. 

It infuriates me beyond belief to learn that overseas rescues are not taking full responsibility for bringing dogs into the UK beyond the precise legal requirements of the Government and that the Government has not made this test a legal requirement of importation. This has the potential to bring heartbreak and expense to unsuspecting owners of rescue dogs, after they have adopted a needy animal from the kindness of their hearts. 

To avoid heartbreak, please research this information as fully as possible prior to adoption, ask direct questions, don't be fobbed off, check that documentation is legal. Most importantly of all, if you want to adopt a needy dog from abroad, know what the legalities are and go above and beyond to research what is important in terms of health testing ... then ensure you adopt from a responsible rescue. I really can't stress this enough.

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