Tales of Teddy

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Teddy’s Tales: Which dog food?

which dog food

Dog-owners are increasingly passionate about which dog food they feed their four-legged friends. People get pretty heated about it – it’s all over Facebook. For some it’s about ethics, so dog food has got to be organic and animal welfare-friendly. For the kibble-averse, it’s about raw food, carefully weighed out hunks of meat and bone, something akin to what we might imagine dogs would ‘naturally’ eat. There are plenty who enjoy the idea of different meals created especially for their furry friends – with breakfast and light snacks all catered for – and there are those that read the small print, all the better to make an informed choice about the fillers/preservatives/sugars/salts that go into their dog’s food (there’s an interesting article on American website Reviews.com about this).

What does Teddy eat? His small Schnauzer stomach is madly sensitive – anything too fatty or rich is a no go area, as our trips to the vet will testify. So while I love the idea of feeding him delicious bones or bowls of something specially prepared, I’m afraid it’s not on his agenda. Only dull, allergy-friendly kibble.

I feel the guilt (about Teddy’s variety-free option, and ironically, about the safe stodge I feed him) and I’m always on the lookout for alternatives, introducing them very slowly, to see if Teddy’s tolerance changes. My latest find: Pure Pet Food. I like the idea behind it almost as much as I like the straightforward video The Pure Pet Food Story put up on YouTube by Mat and Dan, the young founders. At their human-grade food facility in Yorkshire they gently dehydrate natural, human-grade ingredients to preserve them and then pack them into neat recipe boxes. You add warm water to the dry mix that is scooped out of the packet. Easy. They don’t use fillers, grain, wheat or gluten. They don’t use battery farmed or cage-reared animals for their meat and are able to track all sources to fully-regulated farms.

It’s a natural diet that takes the idea of raw food and makes it a whole lot more convenient (no defrosting, chopping or weighing required). It’s also good quality, although perhaps not so gnaw-able. I love the message, and I do love the lack of mess. How I wish it suited Teddy. Unfortunately, despite a very slow introduction, this dog’s super-sensitive tum says ‘not right now’. However since Teddy can now stomach a tiny sausage tidbit, whereas two years ago it would have sent him to the vet, I have hope. Give it some time, and we’ll try again.

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Teddy Loves… Bring Your Dog To Work Day

bring your dog to work day

Sad but true: there are plenty of moments in my working day when either my concentration is shot, my eyes are screen-sore or, more drastically, I feel as though I need to re-boot my brain. It’s at times like these that having a highly-huggable, ever-playful dog in the office makes an awful lot of sense. When I push back my chair, Teddy’s eyebrows twitch in a state of high alert: he’s ready for a feisty tug of war, a brief chat, a therapeutic cuddle, whatever – it’s win-win for both of us. He achieves his forever goal (more attention) and I switch off my work head, have a moment or two of soft fluffy interaction and feel all the better for it.

Today, Friday 23rd June, is the fourth annual UK #BringYourDogToWorkDay. It’s organised by ethical pet care product company HOWND, who are encouraging businesses to welcome their employee’s four-legged friends into the workplace and raise money for the excellent charities All Dogs Matter and Animals Asia at the same time. (There are some fun ways to donate online, including a Dog With a Job Hall of Fame – for more information, CLICK HERE)

While it makes sense to put some rules in place if this one-off event becomes your business’s norm (I wrote a blog about this a while back: Friday Find: Bring My Dog To Work), there’s plenty of evidence to suggest having well-behaved pets in the office is a good idea. The International Journal of Workplace Health Management found that dogs lessen the impact of stress for their owners and make the job more satisfying for everyone they come into contact with. Day to day stress level scores fell by 11% among workers who had brought their dogs to work, while they increased 70% for those who did not. Wow!

I get it: there are so many benefits. You won’t got to work and feel the guilt of leaving your four-legged friend home alone. Lunch time walkies are a good way to clear the head and a dog sitting in the office makes people – fellow workers and visitors – smile. I’ve never met someone who didn’t love the idea of Teddy sitting in on a meeting. You might have to think about the toys you bring with you (trying to extricate a squeaker from a dog mid-chew during a conference call is not ideal) but otherwise, what’s to lose?

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Teddy Loves: Dog Training Tricks

dog training tricks

On Wednesday mornings for the past six weeks Teddy and I have toddled off to Hampstead Heath to join The Incredibly Clever Canine Circus. The idea is to have some fun and pick up some clever dog training tricks along the way. In our six one-hour sessions we have been taught place-training, going around a cone, rolling over, leg-weaving (Ted’s quite the agility dog), unrolling a mat (with his nose – ta-dah), spinning, bowing and sitting-pretty.

That’s a fairly comprehensive starter kit of tricks (there are various levels of these courses, we started with the Fabulous Foundation Class – see the website for details). Of course, though everyone was taught the same manoeuvres, not all the dogs could do them straight away. Teddy mastered the bow fairly quickly. Clovis the Welsh Terrier was adept at rolling over. Cassie the chatty Mini Schnauzer had no problem doing the sit-pretty (where a dog sits and puts their front paws up, begging). When I asked Teddy to do this, he was reluctant. I could almost hear him say, “Why? Why would you want me to look sweet and soppy when looking gruff and reserved is my thing?”

We’ll keep working on it though, because these tricks travel very well. Place training involved getting our dogs to jump-up on a platform (calling out the cue ‘on the box‘ in best sing-song voice and using a treat as lure), then having them stay on the platform and perform there, all with the added distraction of other dogs, their treats and owners fairly nearby. Turns out that’s a pretty useful skill to have, even when you’re out for a drink at your local pub. The other evening I thought I’d try asking Teddy to jump up ‘on the bench‘ next to me (he’s not keen on benches – the slats make him unsure where to put his feet). Ted scooted up without a second thought. Amazing what practise and a decent treat can do.

Joining the Circus reminded me that it’s not just the dogs who have problems with training. Treat timing is everything – you must reward the behaviour you want, immediately. It sounds simple but I’m still not great at it. Co-ordination can also be tricky: weaving a dog on a lead in and out of your legs while executing what looks like a step from the Ministry of Silly Walks is not simple. The good news is that it’s fun – especially if you head somewhere like this to learn.

Apparently, with practise, just about anything is possible. We’ve seen the results and anyway, Deborah Colella (aka The Dog Nanny) says so. She’s the mastermind behind this dog circus and she is Teddy’s – and my – new favourite guru. While Ted follows her movements closely – his eyes fixed upon her hands, hoping for a super sausage tidbit – I’m happy to focus on her training bon mots. One in particular I’ve taken home with me and it’s a phrase she’s making her own: #traineverywhere. Simple and effective. We’ll keep trying.

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Friday Find: Reading to dogs

reading to dogs

Dogs make remarkably good listeners. He might not be able to talk back, but Teddy often offers a response that seems remarkably appropriate: a glance of acknowlegement, a look of studied sympathy, even sometimes, a well-timed, slightly withering sigh.

So I shouldn’t be surprised that this doggy skill of sympathetic, silent listening, is being appreciated by more than just crazy dog ladies like myself.

The Independent recently published an article about the therapeutic presence a dog can bring to a child who is struggling to read.

America started the ball rolling with a Reading Education Assistance Dogs (READ) scheme. In Britain we have the Bark & Read Foundation funded by the Kennel Club Charitable Trust that works alongside a variety of charities to bring trained support dogs into schools. In the classroom, these marvellous dogs provide a reassuring, uncritical audience, making reading fun and giving confidence to those who lack it. What a wonderful, and thoroughly sensible idea.

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Teddy Tales: Teddy’s motion picture premiere

I think Teddy’s doing it on purpose. He chases balls with focused, fluffy vigour and that’s fairly entertaining in itself, but he clearly thinks his audience needs more. He often manages to work in a theatrical skid, a dramatic pounce or disappears after his quarry only to emerge triumphant a few moments later: the final flourish to his performance. So to honour this artiste, I thought I’d try and capture him – along with his knack for accessorising – by way of a dog vlog.

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Teddy’s Tales: Dognapping – update

It turns out that the dog which narrowly escaped being dognapped at the end of my street last week (see Teddy’s Tales: Dognapping Foiled) was not on a lead. He was trotting along ahead of his owner when a man jumped from a van and scooped him up. Luckily the four-year-old Cockerpoo caused a stir, barking and growling (he’s frightened of men), and managed to escape the clutches of the thief with a bit of help from his owner, who gave the assailant a hearty kick (go, girl).

I’ve written about dogs walking lead-free on city streets before (Teddy’s Tales: The Fashion for Going Leash-Free). It’s clearly worth re-visiting: I had thought that the main problem associated with it would be having your dog squashed under a car when it caught wind of a squirrel/cat/whatever and instinct kicked in. I hadn’t added dognapping into the bargain.

“Well, yes, dogs are obviously nick-able,” says London-based dog trainer Deborah Colella (aka The Dog Nanny). “And because so many shops are dog un-friendly, tying them up outside is becoming the norm.” That provides another set of problems. “It can be incredibly stressful for a dog if they are not used to not being able to see their owner, especially in a busy urban environment. If you put your dog in a situation where they can’t move away, then they have no options about what they can do when another not very friendly off-lead dog, small child, crowd of people, scary motorbike comes along. That’s assuming that whatever you have tied them to is going to be effective, that the lead won’t come undone and that your dog won’t race off if they get freaked out… ”

According to Deborah, “It’s important to understand that from a training point of view, you are your dogs security – it’s asking a heck of a lot from your dog. You don’t tie up a two year old child and say “wait there and be calm”. Why would you expect your dog to be ok with it?”

Although I feel somewhat tuned in to the dog scene, there are things I do close my ears to: I’m afraid I don’t always want to hear about the nasty stuff. But sometimes you have to get real. “I do hear a lot about dog-thieving,” says Deborah. “Dogs tied up outside shops get stolen, there have been cases of dog-walking vans full of dogs being taken and yes, they are used for hideous breeding practices, or they are sold on to dog fighting rings. These are not run by kids. They are professional organised money-making schemes and they need bait. It’s hideous and they don’t care. You don’t want to scare dog-owners to death,  but people don’t have any idea. If your dog is part of your family, you have to compromise to keep it safe. It might not always be convenient, but it’s not the 1950s.”

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Teddy’s Tales: Dognapping, foiled

I’ve read sad appeals on Facebook when a dognapping has occurred – usually in quiet country villages where an unusual van has been lurking and suddenly dogs disappear. But dognapping in central London? Who’d risk the attention on a busy urban high street? Well, someone did on Hampstead High Street, just an hour ago.

I was coming home from Teddy’s lunchtime walk when one of our local builders told me to watch out. “Be careful when you walk your dog,” he said. When I asked why, he said that 20 minutes ago, he’d heard screaming and run up the street to where he saw a man trying to wrestle a dog from a woman. When our heroic handyman charged up, the dognapper hustled back into his white panel van, and sped off with his two mates.

Fortunately number plates were noted and passed to the police. Local newspapers have been alerted. What can you do? Keep alert. Don’t walk along chatting on a mobile telephone. (Practise your right hook.) I’ll try and remember to hold Ted’s lead in my left hand from now on and walk him on the inside of the pavement.

And then, of course, it’s worth bearing in mind that the worst case scenario did not actually occur. The dog was not taken. Kind people intervened. Order was restored. I’m feeling very thankful for this busy, caring community.

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Training Teddy: When your dog eats poo

dog eats poo

If you don’t own a dog, you might want to look away now. Coprophagia is the smart name for eating poo. Some dogs have a taste for it. Revolting but true.

I remember reading about this condition pre-Teddy and feeling faintly horrified. In Bruce Fogle’s DOG The Definitive Guide for Dog Owners, he writes the no-nonsense facts: “Dogs eat poop. It’s wired into their brain circuitry. In some the instinct is firmer than others.” I’m going to gloss over his use of the word ‘firm’.

Puppies sometimes eat faeces while investigating their environment. What do you do when your dog eats poo? To stop it becoming a habit, there are non-harmful sprays that you can buy to trick your pup into hating eating poo: squirt it on the stuff, leave it for your dog to find and then your dog will (hopefully) avoid the nasty-tasting stuff in the future.  Of course, training your dog to ‘leave’ and ‘come’ would help, too.

Although Teddy has an occasional fondness for rabbit poo he has never really gone for anything bigger. But this week he did. Cue much gagging on my part and a brisk walk home, followed by two thorough scrub-downs with a special anti-fox poo shampoo kept for just such unlikely, stinking occasions. For the sake of thoroughness, his teeth were brushed too, and then he was back to his former glory, above.

This unscheduled double wash and brush-up put paid to our morning’s plans and Ted definitely wondered what all the fuss was about. I did, too. Why had this usually choosy Miniature Schnauzer suddenly scarfed down these unmentionables?

Apparently some dogs eat stool in an effort to correct an imbalance in the digestive process. “If a dog is not digesting food properly, and they have less pancreatic enzymes, they might eat faeces because it will have the protein that they are after and which is palatable,” says Rodney Zasman of Zasman Vet. “Another reason a dog might eat faeces is a condition called pica, which is a brain tumour. More often than not, if a dog is a habitual eater, it’s worth getting them checked out.”

Then there’s the problem that eating poop can cause health problems of its own if it’s contaminated with viruses, parasites or the kind of crazy toxic substances that Teddy’s cousin found on our local Heath (see my previous post: When Your Dog Gets High).

As he hasn’t shown an interest since, I’m putting Teddy’s momentary dietary deviation down to the fact that, according to Rodney: “The poorer quality the food, the tastier the faeces. Same goes for cat faeces. Fox poo is tasty to dogs because it’s high in protein”.  Still though, I’ll be keeping a close eye on Teddy’s meanderings and I’ll definitely be steering him away from the undergrowth in future.



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Friday Find: Dog Portraits


Robert James Clarke is known for jetting around the world and painting rather lovely dog portraits of some rather spoilt pooches. I’ve written about his work and his role call of celebrity clients before Click Here. (To see his fabulous drawing of Teddy, take a look at Friday Find: Dog Art). Clarke and his art fittingly feature in a new, 6-part documentary with the working title Rich Dogs that’s currently being filmed for ITV, but his latest collection of dog portraits paints a different story.

“I got in touch with Wild at Heart Foundation, All Dogs Matter, Senior Sighthounds and I Heart Whippets,” say Rob. “They sent me photographs of dogs that were available to adopt.” Bingo! They were the inspiration for “RESCUE ME”, his latest show, running from 25th April to 30 April at Julian Hartnoll Gallery in Mayfair.

“The commissions I normally do are of specific breeds. What I liked about doing the rescues is they are all so different, with shades of many breeds. Interesting mixes, characterful chaps. Diesel, Dexter, Rocky… Some of the dogs just sprang to my attention.”  See Dexter, a Wild at Heart Foundation dog, all silky ears and doleful eyes, above.  “Since then, most of the dogs I’ve painted have found new homes which is wonderful.”

Prices start at £1200 for a 12″ x 12″ portrait and 10% of sales go to each individual charity. If Dexter appeals (and how could he not?), he also appears in a new run of Clarke’s cards at Equine Canine Art.



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Teddy’s Tales: Off to Join the Dog Circus


Teddy is off to join the dog circus, The Incredibly Clever Canine Circus to be exact. It’s a whole new way to train your dog, and it’s the brainchild of dog trainer – and former children’s nanny –  Deborah Colella, aka The Dog Nanny.

“I’ll admit it: dog training can be quite boring,” says Deborah. “I wanted to bring in an element of fun and creativity, because when you’re having fun, you’re more relaxed, and everyone – both owner and dog – gets more out of it. As anyone who has worked with children will tell you, learning though play is the most effective way to do it.”

And of course, learning new tricks and turns at the dog circus adds up to more than just playtime with your dog: “It strengthens the bond between dog and handler and enhances dog co-operation,” says Deborah.

Each class is purposely small and manageable. “We have groups of 6-8 dogs and we work outside, so there’s room to spread out, which makes it a lot less stressful than training in a room.” There is also a course for Young Handlers, aged 10’ish and up.

Inspired by the all-inclusive circus theme, these courses are designed to work for anybody. Neither you nor your dog have to have a wealth of experience or be perfectly trained to do well: “Divas, devils and drama-queens, they’re all welcome,” says Deborah.

“We tailor what each dog does to their individual talents. So each has a platform – their safe space – where they work on tricks like ‘sitting pretty’ or ‘waving’, or routines involving hoops and cones. No one will be told-off and everyone will be good at something.”

The hour-long, six-week courses kick-off on May 3rd (discount for bookings made before 18th April) and will be held at various outside spaces around London. Deeply groovy, The Incredibly Clever Canine Circus will also be headlining at The Good Life Experience, too. Teddy’s got his ruff on and he’s raring to go…