Tales of Teddy

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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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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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Friday Find: Dog Feeding Toy


When Mark from The Dog House came to give a training session to Teddy and I (see last week’s blog post, here) he left us with a present: a dog feeding toy.

Like lots of dog trainers, Mark was fairly adamant that dogs do better if they are not fed from a bowl. He might even have said, “Get rid of Teddy’s food bowl!” – the idea being that working for food not only lets your dog act like a dog (they naturally scavenge) but also keeps boredom at bay, stops them wolfing down their food and gives them a bit of exercise into the bargain.

We’ve been down this road with Teddy before. He had a dog puzzle with flaps for hiding food which was far too complicated for Ted: he barked at it, pawed it, nosed it, barked a bit more and, despite some dedicated encouragement on our part (the toy was not cheap, and surely Teddy was not thick), he eventually gave up and walked away.

Then we discovered a twisty spinning thing that Teddy loved. With a gentle nudge of the nose, it was meant to deliver a slow trickle of food. Trouble was that Teddy learned to spin it so frantically and so efficiently that food was soon flying in all directions. The fun was over in a 30 seconds max: too easy.

The Beaphar Activity Ball is an altogether different dog feeding toy. It comes in two sizes (Teddy has the larger one – the smaller one is popular with puppies and, interestingly, rabbits), and has been a steady seller for over 20 years. The concept is simple. It’s a big plastic ball with two holes through which you dribble dry kibble (the ball doesn’t come apart, so you wouldn’t want to put anything mucky or sticky in it). When rolled, the ball randomly dispenses the food.

There’s something about the design, possibly combined with the size of Teddy’s current dry food (Royal Canin Sensitivity Control, since you ask) that clearly works, because the food doesn’t just spill out, but keeps Teddy guessing, and going.

Watching him course around the kitchen – nose glued to ball, head down and body low, doing his Schnauzer-best to look like a pointer – he is an entirely different dog. Completely engaged and utterly focused on getting the job done.

The only down side? When the ball gets stuck in a corner Ted barks. A lot. Although last night he also managed to work out that purposely nosing the ball into the corner and continually pawing it sends kibble out of the little holes more predictably. See? He is a clever boy, after all.






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Friday Find: Training Dogs

training dogs

Yesterday, I spent an enlightening two hours talking about training dogs – Teddy in particular – with Mark Thompson from the The Dog House.

Why? We’re going to Greece in the summer and Teddy is not coming. This is going to be hard. On the few occasions that this Mini Schnauzer has not holidayed with us, he has gone to his home-from-home at my-in-laws. This year our timings are off, so we had to think again. After much mulling we decided on a sojourn at The Dog House for Teddy, hence the training session with Mark.

Before any dog is packed off for one of their, frankly exclusive, ‘activity holidays’, gambolling about on 300-acres of Welsh farmland, a home visit is required. Here, the dog is assessed for training issues – as is the owner.

While we did touch on the specifics of training dogs and Teddy, in particular (“He is a character,” said Mark, as Teddy displayed embarrassingly bad recall and disappeared off upstairs with Mark’s squeaky ball), it was the holistic approach that was so inspiring. By ascribing greater values to affection, food, games and permission – and ensuring that Teddy earns all of the above, and doesn’t just take them as a given – we can help improve Teddy’s overall training uptake.

For instance, making Teddy value playtime (games) with us, can improve his recall – it certainly makes sense that Teddy will come back quicker if he thinks there’s fun in store. If we teach Teddy to ask for permission before going right ahead and doing something he loves, it will help him control his impulses (on a practical level, this might stop him chasing a squirrel into the road). To underline our bond with him, rather than acquiesce to his demands for attention, Teddy should be given affection for good behaviour – another reward (very much like ignoring bad behaviour and recognising good behaviour – something also recommended with tantrum-prone toddlers). Then there is the motivation of food and the training treats offered. To improve their efficiency, they need to be ranked: there’s the ‘daily diet’ ie. a portion of his daily food that he’s used to, and happy with. Next up is a Shop Treat, store bought and a bit more interesting for your dog. Finally, the jackpot treat is human food (teeny-tiny pieces of chicken, sausage, cheese, – “Half the size of a pea” – if their diet allows) and this is the ultimate reward; the perfect incentive for any training that your dog finds challenging. We’ll be using some of these while we begin work on training Teddy with that recall.

So, by the time Teddy goes off for his holiday at The Dog House, he’ll be fully prepared. Hmm… Whether will be is another matter.




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Friday Find: Crufts 2017


It was appropriate, I thought, that the first thing I noticed as I entered the hallowed halls of Crufts 2017 was the smell of fried sausage – there’s nothing your average dog likes more.

However, while humans visiting the world’s largest dog show might be tempted to chow-down on junk food, I doubt that those prized specimens in the ring – all trim figures, lean muscles, clear eyes, clean teeth and glossy coats – are fed anything but the best that their owners can afford.

It was my first time at Crufts and I was blown away. First, there are the endless stands of intriguing dog goods, things you don’t see at your local pet store, like the Simpsons monolithic stainless steel troughs with fiercely efficient-looking hoses meant for serious dog grooming. I couldn’t help thinking they’d make Teddy’s weekly bath so much easier –they had an industrial appeal, a bit like a chef’s state-of-the-art kitchen.

A fully kitted-out van, with carefully compartmentalized interior, was set out presumably to lure the more committed show-dog owners who clock-up hundreds of miles, collecting rosettes with their prize pooches. Why not do it in luxury?

Canine massage was brilliantly demonstrated on one very chilled-out Vizsla. Smartly packaged herbal dog remedies looked medicinally reassuring. There was a stand devoted to dog ramps and another specializing in dog training techniques.

With what turned out to be a record attendance of 162,000 over 4 days during Crufts 2017, and such a captive audience of dog-lovers, it was always going to be well-stocked with dog accessories: from collars to de-fuzzing brushes and plenty of pet clothes (overwhelmed, the only thing I bought for Teddy was another excellent Equafleece jumper). There were chi-chi crystal dog ornaments and a company that makes cushions and soft toys from your dog’s hair – sounds fairly macabre, but you collect your (living) dog’s hair and they spin it and craft it into surprisingly chic, fluffy little keepsakes. I was particularly taken by one stand, stuffed full of stuffed toys in every breed of dog you can imagine, including an imperious Standard Schnauzer (above) that could almost make you double-take.

There were stands that took a sideways look at the dog show consumer: orthotic insoles caught a lot of passing trade, as did a stand selling mops. Countless dog food manufacturers showed their wares, the more eco-friendly and wholesome the better: the Lily’s Kitchen stand was buzzing.

In among all the offerings and the crowds, dogs bustled about. It was busy. The Kennel Club organisers are keen to educate. Each breed is represented at Crufts on its own stand, so that you can visit, pet and find out more. Apart from the show dogs, there are also Medical Detection Dogs, Guide Dogs, Therapy Dogs, dog rescue and dog charity stands – each with their accompanying four-legged friends. All need to get from A-B, often with a swift pee (at the amazingly well-kept pee-stop alleys created down the sides of some of the halls) in between.

I visited Crufts on Gundog day. There were lots of rope leads in evidence and lots of tweed and tweed-y looking people.  There were some truly magnificent Labradors, with huge heads and massive paws, that bore little resemblance to their sweet, barrel-bodied relatives I often see, waddling about London.

Glossy Spaniels wandered around with their ears kept pristine, carefully wrapped up in snoods, like precious Hollywood stars of the Silver Screen. There were English Setters, the aristocrats of the dog world, with their high domed foreheads, looking benignly down their long noses. Owners hovered, bristling with brushes and sprays, hoping for that elusive red rosette. A perfectly groomed American Cocker Spaniel, with her skirts pouffed up and out like a ball gown, was awarded one and left the ring, sparkling like a Disney Princess.

I met Peter Bily from Slovakia, chairman of his country’s Slovak Rough-Haired Pointer Club. “They are hunting dogs but polite,” he rather charmingly explained. He is passionate about the breed (his young family lives with 25 of them) and very keen to improve the overall health and strength of the dogs abroad. He wants to spread the word.

I had a master class in splitting hairs. Really. It’s how you groom a Spanish Water Dog. An owner showed me how, while she waited for her dog Kenya’s turn in the ring. Each curl of hair is divided at the root and pulled apart to make the coat appropriately fluffy. It takes hours. Dedication.

If you love dogs, even just a little bit, then next year visit Crufts. It’s an education.

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Friday Find: Most Popular Dog Breeds

popular dog breeds

Wander about Hampstead on a Sunday afternoon and you’ll see that the latest information on the the most popular dog breeds in the UK, is spot on. Our nation is having a love affair with French Bulldogs. Among the understandably popular mutts of the Heinz 57 variety, I counted three Frenchies en route from grocer to supermarket – including one adorable grey puppy, clowning around in a red pullover.

The Kennel Club says that there has been a 47 percent increase in ownership of French Bulldogs in the last year. If these sweet little wheeze-bags carry on being so very popular, within the next two years, they will overtake the Labrador Retriever as the UK’s most popular dog.

Why the sudden yen for French Bulldogs? That wrinkled face, topped off with those distinctive bat ears, has these days become the motif for an urban-cool style of comedy-cute. You see Frenchie faces peeking out from greetings cards, cushions, on everything from cashmere sweaters to mobile ‘phone cases. That the Beckham family, Lady Gaga and Leonardo Decaprio are proud French Bulldog fanciers fulfils the celebrity endorsement angle – and as you might expect, this small, sturdy breed, is well-represented on social media.  Slowly but surely, this jolie laide dog that looks the very epitome of ‘characterful’, has become fashionable.

Of course when people start buying a breed because it’s hip, rather than because it’s the right dog to suit their kind of life, there will be problems. Unscrupulous breeders creating dogs with exaggerated features (for instance, flatter faces) cause serious health issues and huge vet bills. It’s heartbreaking to note that, as a result of this surge in popularity, there are now three French Bulldog welfare centres in the UK, instead of just one.

The Kennel Club encourages potential dog owners of pedigree dogs to use the Kennel Club Assured Breeder Scheme – their list of approved, responsible breeders. They are also encouraging all potential French Bulldog owners to consider alternative breeds, including Beagles, Border Terriers, Welsh Terriers and, ahem, Miniature Schnauzers. (Teddy is pleased to represent the breed, see above, that ranks 9th most popular in the UK.)

We are in the midst of Dog Show season right now, so dog-watching in the name of research is about to get a whole lot easier. The Westminster Dog Show was held in New York earlier this week and Vogue cut a short film of some of the madly pampered pooches taking part – The Stylish Dogs of Westminster.  In March in the UK, Crufts is held, which not only champions pedigree breeds but, these days, happily celebrates mutts, too.

In case you were wondering where your favourites rate in the UK’s most popular dog breeds, here’s the run down of the current top 10:

1 (most popular) Labrador Retriever

2.Cocker Spaniel

3. French Bulldog

4. Pug

5. English Springer Spaniel

6. Bulldog

7. German Shepherd Dog

8. Golden Retriever

9. Miniature Schnauzer

10. Border Terrier

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Friday Find: A New Red Leather Collar and Lead

leather collar

Recently a fair few people have asked if we might start making a new red leather collar and lead. As far as statements in leather goods for dogs go, red is a fairly bold choice. While Disney helped popularise red collars for white dogs, having done some extensive research on the streets of London, it appears that not only Dalmatians gravitate towards a colour pop – and with good reason.

Rufty-tufty Terriers of all types, but most especially those with white, tan and black markings, are often put in jaunty red: it amps up the character-factor. Tan-coloured dogs of all tones, shapes and sizes – from pale Labs to reddish brown Irish Terriers and wriggly Dachshunds – sport red to great effect, too. If the shade is right, red sings out against a caramel coat.

But like lipstick colours, there are reds and there are reds. We’ve chosen a brilliant fire-engine red for our new Better Dog Collar and Better Dog Lead. Tricked out in superior quality bridle leather it provides an intense flash of colour that catches the eye.

Teddy had never worn red before we photographed him, above, and now I can’t think why not. Of course red goes with his grey coat, and it looks city smart – like graphic red street markings on a grey tarmac road. Ours is a true London red: the shade of the tunics worn by the Queen’s Guards as well as the colour of the capital’s letter boxes, buses and telephone booths.

As befits Tales of Teddy, where we like to pay a nod to tradition, our new red leather colour way with its distinctive black edging is a classic combination used in the old sport of carriage driving. So, it’s a bit of British heritage wrapped up in a burst of colour that will brighten up even the greyest of (London) days – what’s not to like in our new leather collar and lead?


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Friday Find: Quote from a Dog-Lover

dogs blog

“The more one gets to know of men, the more one values dogs,” wrote Alphonse Toussenel in 1847. How very perceptive. Can’t help but think everyone could do with a simple, faithful Teddy when the skies are so grey and the news on the radio is enough to make you want to tune out and turn off. All this Miniature Schnauzer wants is soothing sofa-snuggles, plenty of balls to fetch and the odd trip to the fridge for a carrot-y snack. The weekend’s almost here: I’m forgoing newspapers. I’ll throw a ball or two (hundred) instead.

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Friday Find: Christmas Dog Gifts

dog gifts

“Do people really buy their dogs a Christmas present?” asked a man recently. He had an incredulous little laugh in his voice. Smiling tranquilly I assured him that yes, many dog owners are just that side of crazy, and yes, judging by our sudden spike in sales and the requests for sweet, wordy Christmas messages to be added to the packages leaving Tales of Teddy HQ, people really do want to treat their dog gifts at Christmas.

He swiftly changed the subject but I gave it some thought. Actually, the gifts that we send out are not only bought by dog-owners. A Christmas present for a four-legged friend seems to be the thing when you’ve run out of ideas for their owner.

Yesterday, we packed up a set of our Better Dog Bowls, ordered by a man living in France. He wanted to send his elderly, dog-loving aunt in Scotland, “Something different”. Another Better Dog Bowl went out to a cat-lover with the direction: “Please add to the note, ‘Good for cats, too.’ ”

We sent A Better Dog Blanket to Ireland, timed to arrive before the guest who had ordered it for her host. Clearly she thought something warm and woolen might come in handy, if not for the dogs (I’m imagining huge docile Wolfhounds, curled up in front of roaring peaty fires), then for her lap during the stay.

I could go on. There are plenty of people gifting to dogs who are not their own this Christmas – perhaps a gift for the household pet has taken over from that perennial failsafe for when all else fails, the scented candle? In case you are inspired, our last posting date for Christmas delivery, is Tuesday 20th.