Tales of Teddy

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Teddy’s Tales: Teddy on Tour

teddy on tour

Our world has been turned upside down – in a good, and soon to be rather literal, way. Our visas have come through so now it’s official: we are off on an adventure to the other side of the world. We’re heading to New Zealand – which is a bit of hike for a woman like me, who still lives within 500 metres of her childhood home.

We are taking the children out of school and heading to Auckland – City of Sails – in search of something different, for a short while at least. Of course, Teddy’s coming, too.

It’s happened fairly quickly – hence the last minute visas. The Tales of Teddy store will continue (the wonder of a web-based business), but I’m going to sign off the blog for a month or so while we pack up our house (currently every surface in our home and every recess in my brain seems littered with lists), make our journey around the world (24-hour flights for us all) and settle into a new way of life.

We might share the same language and drive on the same side of the road, but I’m looking forward to all that’s different over there: the beaches of Auckland after the urban sprawl of London; the wild beauty of New Zealand (the tropical north, the Southern Ocean, all the heavenly bits in between) after the familiar green/grey comforts of Blighty. There’s even the accent: as a friend gleefully pointed out, Teddy will soon be answering to ‘Tiddy’!

It’s an exciting thing to do and not without its nail-biting moments. Our current pressing concerns are:

1. Taking enough food for a hungry teenager with severe food allergies on a 24-hour flight. (Is there a cool bag big enough?)
2. Teddy travelling in a crate for 24-hours and then staying in quarantine for 10 days. (We thought it was a relief that we could visit Teddy once he’s in quarantine. Now we are wondering if that will just confuse him. “I don’t think we’ll be able to stay away,” said my husband. Yup. I think he’s right.)
3. Getting everything done before we leave. Those lists I mentioned are endless. Yet still, yesterday I must have made at least 20 cups of tea in an effort to avoid getting on with it.

The shippers, the storage containers, the industrial cleaners, the renters – they’re all to come and there will undoubtedly be a crazy countdown until we leave. Then, when we get there, we’ll want to explore our neighbourhood, the country – find out about the local people, the food, the way of life, the outdoor pursuits (sailing, paddle boarding, hiking, skiing) not to mention the local dog scene…

There are still new products in the pipeline for the Tales of Teddy store, and who knows what we’ll find to add in New Zealand (there are an awful lot of Kiwi sheep, so I’m guessing something wooly might be a go-er)? While I might be easing up on the blog for a while, Teddy’s Instagram will still be going strong. Teddy on Tour: here’s hoping you’ll join him on a virtual voyage. Wish us luck!

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Teddy Loves… The Dog House

teddy at the Dog House

Teddy returned from his first activity camp holiday earlier this week and in his overnight bag, alongside various treats and his favourite toy, was a fairly weighty school report. You’ve got to love The Dog House. When your dog stays with them, they take his or her welfare so seriously that you really need not worry.

Of course, that’s not to say I didn’t. Unlike your child’s first camp, you can’t explain to your dog as he boards the bus that he will be returning to his favourite spot on the sofa, his treats, his walks and and his pretty darn lovely day-to-day life in a matter of days. You can’t explain to your dog that this romp – with plenty of other well-cared for pups; over meadows, marshes and woodland; with warm beds to sleep in and carers to coddle, train or play fetch with – is something of a treat.

Instead you must supply him with a ‘scent of home’ (in Ted’s case a T-shirt slept in by both my husband and I – yum!) and a cheery, upbeat farewell, so as not to provoke separation anxiety. I slightly wimped out on that last one. My husband took Teddy to meet the specially adapted Dog House dog bus ferrying him to the 300 acres of Welsh farm land that was to be his home for the next 10 nights.

My husband sent a photo of the handover (I might not have womanned-up to the task, but I still wanted to see how little Ted managed). He was impressed by the positive comments from other owners dropping off their four-legged friends, noting that, “They’d all done it before and came back for more.” He also liked the way the reassuring driver tucked a pig’s ear into Teddy’s crate. So, no problems.

I logged onto the FaceBook page and waited for a picture of Teddy to appear. Within two days a photo popped up: Teddy romping along a green path, grinning for the camera. Perhaps it’s not surprising that his first stay away from the family went so very well. Before he set off, we had to fill in pages about this Mini Schnauzer’s general behaviour, diet, health and habits. We had to meet with The Dog House’s Mark Thompson for a prelimineray once-over (for them, not us – you can read about that here).

When Teddy got back we received a detailed timetable of daily activities along with that aforementioned Behaviour Report that confirmed, importantly, his Favourite Toy: Tennis Ball, and his Order of Motivation: 1. Affection 2. Games 3. Food. We had a full page on Teddy’s recall, or lack thereof (must try harder), his reluctance to walk to heel (oh dear) and his potential for chasing small animals. “He demonstrated a fair interest in most small animals, although his handler was able to distract him.” While from an early age Ted has got used to the delights of an urban environment – the Underground, the sound of a jackhammer and the lurch of a London Bus -, I never thought of introducing him to a chicken or a pig. Despite all the cute videos on Facebook showing dog/cat, dog/rabbit friendships, it’s the last thing I would do…

On the plus side, Teddy is well-mannered (doesn’t try to barge though doors first), loves a game of fetch but is also content with his own company. He has no separation anxiety, but we’re not to get complacent. For each behaviour exhibited – good and bad – the report gives tips so this handy little booklet will undoubtedly become Teddy’s personalised training manual. I’m also pleased to report that while he sought out a fellow Mini Schnauzer to pal around with, Teddy also made friends with a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever and two ‘elderly but energetic’ Border Terriers. Clearly he integrates well. So proud.

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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. There are others who carefully read packaging, the better to make an informed choice about the fillers/preservatives/sugars/salts that go into their dog’s food.

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.