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.
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.”
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.
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…
I’ve never understood the phrase, ‘as fit as a butcher’s dog’. Surely a butcher’s dog would be more liable to be fat than fit? Teddy certainly would be if he got his way. Every time we pass Hampstead Butcher & Providore, Teddy sniffs the air like a cartoon dog and strains at the lead to get in – even if we are on the other side of the road. Although it is not against the law in the UK to allow dogs to enter premises where food is sold (it’s up to individual businesses to decide) most food shops are not keen. When I consider what might happen if Ted got into the butcher, that’s probably not a bad call.
In general, Hampstead is a dog-friendly place to live (see Teddy Loves… Going Wherever I Go). Clothes shops are never a problem, neither are newsagents or bookshops. While there are lots of cafes and restaurants with pavement seating where you can sit with your four-legged friend outside, we’ve recently upped our game with LLS Cafe Deli. Hooray! Not only does this cool little cafe welcome dogs inside, they make a mean cinnamon bun, too.
Most British dog-owners know that pubs are dog-friendly. Indeed, it was the dream of taking his best friend to the pub for a quiet beer that inspired Mark Rochell to choose a Mini Schnauzer. “It had to be the kind of dog I could take to the pub with me”, he says. Now Mark and Grenson, a distinguished black Mini Schnauzer, visit pubs (along with other dog-friendly places, too), and all in the name of research: check out his blog Man About a Dog.
I recently discovered Dog Friendly which boasts, “The largest database of dog-friendly places to stay and play in the UK”. With over over 100,00 members and 27,000 places reviewed it’s a valuable resource. They also chart things like dog-friendly beaches – very handy, as when we go away in the UK, beach-loving Teddy comes too.
On Tuesday I met a lion tamer. He was getting into his car outside our house when Teddy introduced us.
This Miniature Schnauzer doesn’t give his love freely, he’s choosy about who he will sniff and wag his tail for, so when he decides to make friends, I’m always a bit intrigued.
Teddy made his way over to the older gentleman as he was easing himself into his car. He held out the back of his hand, as people who are used to animals tend to do. Teddy sniffed it and looked expectant. He got an extravagant ear rub.
We got talking and this recently retired lion keeper proudly showed me a photograph, kept pristine behind plastic, of the big cat that he had hand-reared and clearly adored. He used to walk the lion about the zoo when the public weren’t there. He would go in its cage for demonstrations and sometimes the lion would take his arm in his mouth. “People would gasp in horror, but there’d only be the smallest dent from those 2-inch incisors,” he said, fondly. When the lion was ill as a cub, he had slept with it for months. They had a bond that had lasted for that lion’s life and he was going to write a book about it.
See why I love these dog-led interludes? Yesterday we met an elegant older lady whom Teddy had been doing his best to trip up. I was busy apologizing but she was beaming, full of admiration for this little dog and full of regret for the fact that she could no longer keep one of her own (she had a beloved Bouvier des Flandres) as her grandson is highly allergic to animals. In her jazzy-for-Hampstead fur coat, with her carefully coiffeured blonde hair, the trace of an accent and her charm, I was left wondering. With the exception of Diane Keaton – whom I knew instantly when she came over to pet Ted, because they were filming in our street – I’m not always great at recognizing some of the more fabulous people about Hampstead that Teddy puts me in the way of. Perhaps that’s the best bit: dogs are a great leveler, and when you are talking dog, you’re rarely at a loss for words.
One of the lovely things about working with craftspeople from the British Isles is that we can visit easily and take Teddy along, too. A trip to Pembrokeshire to see in the New Year, climbing cliffs and taking brisk strolls along scenic beaches, meant that we could call in at Melin Tregwynt.
The beautiful 100-year-old wool mill where our exclusive Better Dog Blankets are made, lies hidden deep in a wooded Welsh valley. We drove down twisting, country lanes to get there, along the kind of narrow, leafy passageways that make a Londoner like me pray not to end upside down in a ditch.
Although the looms were silent (weavers need holidays,too), the shop was open, as was the cafe and we could visit the white-washed workshops. Teddy discovered a new room dedicated to yarn colours, and spent some time concentrating on cones of rich purple and apple green wool (see above). They might not quite work with the Tales of Teddy strategy of matching dog blankets to a dog’s natural coat colour (why highlight dog hairs?) but I like his jaunty style. Now there’s an idea for spring…
What a way to end the year. An idea kick-started in 2013, with the arrival of Teddy the Mini Schnauzer, and a blog about this small, urban dog, has slowly evolved into a business. It’s been a steep old learning curve – and an exciting one. Getting to know the skilled craftspeople who work a kind of magic in their trade was a gift, as expected, but even what I imagined to be the more challenging angles – learning the rudiments of business from our whizz of an advisor, even sorting out the logistics of delivering parcels from A to B was made interesting – fun, even – and a whole lot easier with the support of an excellent network.
A lovely thing to discover is that enthusiasm is contagious and people are happy to share their knowledge. From the dog walkers who distribute tips, the cheery postman who picks up daily Tales of Teddy parcels to our brilliantly supportive Instagram community, the Press and (phew!) our new customers – there’s been a spirit of positivity. So, while Teddy is running high on chicken treats, we are giving huge thanks for 2016 and have high hopes – and some great plans – for 2017, working with more skilled craftspeople and bringing you more beautifully made dog goods. Stay tuned!
I’m guessing that anyone surprised by the results of a recent study proving that dogs have remarkable memories, does not live with a dog like Teddy.
We are often told that animals live in the moment (and that we should be more like them), but watching this Schnauzer navigate life – recognise people, places, cars; refuse to walk a street where he has had a bad experience or, alternatively, pull us towards a particular pub where he feels safe enough to settle – makes it seem more than likely that our four-legged friend has a Rolodex of memories constantly in use.
We humans often remember things that don’t hold any obvious significance at the time but, whether or not “episodic memory” occurs in non-human animals has apparently been hotly debated in the scientific world. Neuroscience News reports on recent research findings that came about by alternating a sequence of trained responses and unexpected commands with a set of 17 dogs. The results prove that, just like us, dogs pay attention using their memory to process their own actions and that of those around them.
So, now I know that when Teddy gives all outward appearance of sleeping, while leaving one sneaky eye open, he’s not just waiting to see if I drop a crumb that he can snaffle, he’s clearly taking note of the Bigger Picture. Of course he is. Oh, what a clever boy.