All Posts Filed in ‘Dogs

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7 Things I Love About Having A Dog

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I’ve always been a cat person. I used to like the fact that they were independently minded, did their own thing, were cute, furry and tough when they wanted to be. When I lived at home we had a few cats over the years and I never once wanted a dog.

That changed over the course of a few holidays with friends and their dog. It soon became clear to me that there really is no comparison between dogs and cats – they’re furry but the similarities end there. Early last year we acquired a rescued Lhasa Apso after a long period of time thinking about getting a dog, doing the research, watching endless episodes of The Dog Whisperer and looking at Google image search results for ‘lhasa apso puppies‘ (if there’s anything cuter than a puppy I haven’t seen it). Nine months later and I wouldn’t swap Billy for the world.

Billy sunbathing

So here is my list, in no particular order, of the things I love about having a dog, and if you’re half tempted to get one, they’ll hopefully tip you over the edge.

1. Dog packs accept both dogs, humans and you

Dogs are, at their core, pack animals. Whereas we humans might live in a house, a caravan or boat, dogs live in a pack. It’s the essence of their being and while their distant relatives wolves only accept other wolves into their pack (and treat everything else as food), dog packs can contain both dogs and humans. Which is great as dogs are incredibly social animals that will treat you as family, want to be with you at all times, will protect you with their life and do whatever they can to keep the peace and keep you all happy (which may involve licking you).

Once Billy got used to the fact that he was in my pack and that he wasn’t the pack leader, he completely relaxed, put his trust in me to make the decisions about what we do, feed him, shelter him and generally take care of him. That trust he has in me swings both ways so I trust him – I almost never put him on a lead since if I call him he’ll come to me and behave himself with other dogs – he knows it’s my job to protect him from bad dogs so he lets me do it and shows me by cowering behind me or barking that he needs my support. Likewise if I see a dog I’m scared of I can cower behind Billy and he’ll take care of the big hairy beast!

2. Dogs live in the moment

We humans tend to live in the past, often a slave to previous experiences and letting that cloud the present. It can cause repeated arguments over and over again, the last time you walked along that path you sprained your ankle so you tread more carefully (which ironically makes you more likely to sprain it again) and so on. Whereas dogs live in the here and the now. Take my dog.

When he was rescued he’d spent 10 days out on the moors in the depth of Winter, lost a lot of weight and most likely been, cold, wet and miserable for that whole time. When my friends parents let him in the house did he jump for joy? Collapse in a heap and cry? Sit looking longingly out the window and ponder the last 10 days? No, he jumped into their lap and didn’t give it a second thought. Dogs that have had tough lives aren’t defined by that. It’s usually us humans who project that onto them by being edgy in situations we know they’ve suffered in and dogs tend to mirror our emotions.

Dogs don’t hold grudges. If you tell one-off for misbehaving they instantly let it go because that was in the past and this is now. They make the most of every moment they have in their lives and that’s something that, to a certain degree, we should all do. It’s certainly something I try to do and is the perfect excuse when I misbehave and am being told off – I can simply reply with “live in the moment, the past is gone!”. It doesn’t always work.

3. Cute dogs turn you into a babe magnet

I’ve never had much luck with women. I partly put it down to the fact that I’m too nice and women generally go for guys who treat them badly (I stand by that assessment and should probably write about it some time). I also put it down to my lack of boyish good looks and “on day release from a lunatic asylum” look when I have my hair cut short. Then there’s my irritating sense of humour. The list goes on.

Anyway, since getting cute little Billy things have changed. Suddenly I’ve gone from being the sort of person women cross the street to avoid to being completely approachable and any stunningly attractive woman I walk past will stop and speak to me, usually noting how sweet my dog is. If only I realised this when I was single… Anyway, I’m happily married now but if you’re single and struggle to meet women then I’d highly recommend a Lhasa Apso.

Billy and his girls

4. Going for a walk is fun, dogs know this already

I’ve always been a highly active person. I’d go mountain biking, hiking, footballing, running, snowboarding, oh the list goes on. But on a normal sunny day if I didn’t have some kind of action activity planned I’d just sit around and do nothing in particular. This changed when I got a dog.

Since walking a dog is an essential part of having a happy dog, you really have to walk your dog at least a couple of times a day. And that’s great! Now if it’s a sunny weekend afternoon or evening I’ll put the earphones in, listen to some podcasts and go walking along the local canal with Billy and just keep going. Sometimes for a good couple of hours.

Me and the dog on a walk

It’s not just going for a walk, it’s going for a walk with my little mate. We’re a team. He could run off if he wanted to but he never does, he wants to be with me and I want to be with him. It’s hard to describe what a fulfilling thing taking a dog for a walk is, but trust me, no matter how frustrating a day I’ve had, it melts into insignificance a few minutes into a walk with Billy. And that’s even if we don’t bump into any attractive women.

5. You can train a dog to annoy your friends (or “why bark when your dog can bark for you?”)

While Billy got used to us he spent the first two nights barking for several hours non-stop. I wanted to kill him but fortunately managed to avoid it. And that was it, he wouldn’t bark any more. This was troubling because I wanted to get him to bark on command as a way to annoy people (particularly my wife) and any instructions you read about training a dog to bark on command starts with:

“First get your dog barking, then repeat the command you wish to use over and over…”

And since I could never get him to bark under any circumstance I was stumped. Eventually I realised that on a long walk he’d have mad turns where he’d run around in large figure of eights barking away. And then he’d snap out of it. It took many of these episodes and me saying “speak” to him (then later at home looking at him and repeating “speak” while being met with a blank expression) before he finally realised what I meant. When he got it and barked it was truly an amazing moment! They don’t speak English but dogs are pretty damn clever when you consider that us humans are incapable of understanding any non-human animal on the entire planet. We’re a lot more stupid than we realise.

So as if to prove it, I can now annoy my friends by getting Billy to bark on command. Dogs rock!

6. Dogs teach you empathy

Dogs think differently to humans. When a child gets overly stressed (perhaps those monsters under the bed are sharpening their claws) the human reaction is to provide comfort, often with the act of cuddling. In humans that calms the child down and everything is right with the world again.

With a dog, cuddling is read very differently. So if you come home and your dog is stressed as a result of you being away, bouncing off the walls and urinating on your shoes and you do the human thing and cuddle it, the dog actually reads it as “ah, so my human master is happy with the way I’m behaving, I’ll continue to be this way EVERY time they come home, particularly the part where I pee on his shoes”. So by treating a dog like a human you’re causing unwanted behaviour. (And no, fortunately my dog’s never done this, although I’m sure he’s been tempted).

Instead you have to remember that a dog thinks differently to you and it makes you see the world through their eyes rather than your own. You empathise with them. If more humans displayed empathy towards each other I’m pretty sure it would be a better place. That’s what dogs do for the human race. Or me.

7. As Cesar Millan says: “When a dog is balanced, you are going to enjoy a true friend”

Dogs never judge you. They never get bored of you. They never fall out with you. They never decide that they don’t like you any more and don’t want to be your friend. When I got Billy I assumed I’d want to leave him at home when I do some things to have a break from him. But now that I have him I want to have him with me all the time. If my company allowed dogs at work I’d spend a lot more time in the office and a lot less time working from home! I’m much more relaxed and productive knowing that he’s laid around on the sofa in my home office. And if I have a tricky problem to solve, I take him for a walk and come back with renewed vigour.

All I have to do is feed him, shelter him, walk him and in return he gives me everything he is. If you ask me, you’ll never see a better deal than that!

Cuteness Dogified

And the cuteness comes for free. 🙂

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So Now I’ve Got A Dog!

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It all started with an email. No wait, it started a while before that. A friend has a Lhasa Apso called Cindy that my good lady and I have looked after a couple of times. Lhasa Apsos are small dogs and the way I describe them is that they’re bigger than the sort of handbag dogs Paris Hilton has, can be dragged up mountains (because they’re tough), but are not exactly what you’d call macho dogs. They are, however, cute.

So we’ve looked after this dog a couple of times and because she’s such an easy going pooch we started thinking that some time we should get one (as you may remember me writing about here). Then Cindy’s owner sent her dog off to the stud farm to get pregnant, and a little while later she gave birth to 3 gorgeous pups. These little beasties:

Lhasa Pups

We were very tempted to get one of them but in the end decided not to. My good lady was between jobs, I was office based and we just weren’t ready to go through puppy training yet so decided that the next time Cindy had puppies we’d get one. And then I got an email. You know, the one I mentioned earlier.

My good friend Ben emailed to tell me that his parents (who live in the middle of nowhere in the Yorkshire Dales) had came across a lost dog that had appeared at their door wet, skinny and in need of help. Oh, and he was a Lhasa Apso. They were going off on holiday so dropped him off with friends who have a couple of other dogs. They took this little lad in, fed him up and cleaned him up. It turned out he belonged to a local elderly lady who had quite a few dogs and couldn’t really take good care of them. Her children were trying to re-home some of her dogs and apparently a couple of them had run away, one of which was this little Lhasa. He was impeccably well behaved, very chilled out and adorable by all accounts. She signed over ownership “to whom it may concern” and it was time to find a home for this unfortunate little pooch. Which was where Ben’s email came in.

His parents had fallen in love with the little guy but travel a lot so weren’t sure they’d be the best people to take ownership of him but didn’t want him to end up at a rescue centre. Since Ben knew we liked Lhasa Apsos and had been tempted to get a dog he asked if maybe, possibly, we might be tempted to give him a home. My good lady had just found a job, I’d just changed roles meaning I’d be working from home a lot more and the planets seemed to be aligning so I say “yes”. Ben said there was no pressure to take him, however just a few days later we found ourselves driving into to the middle of nowhere in the Yorkshire Dales (it really was the middle of nowhere) to see this dog and I’d already bought the bare essentials: a dog bed, lead, collar, shampoo, brush and some bowls:

Essential Dog Equipment

I’d also ordered a dog tag with his name and my mobile number on it. So you can tell we were feeling pretty positive. Turns out our optimism was justified. Little “Billy” turned out to be the most chilled out, well behaved dog I’ve ever met. Gorgeous and most definitely coming home with us!

Billy Chilling Out

The first couple of nights were tough as we wanted him to sleep in the kitchen and he barked for both nights. Eventually he’s settled down though and has been an absolute joy ever since. He’s 2 years and 9 months old and the nice thing about not getting a puppy is he was already house trained. He’d not been taught the usual dog commands like “sit”, “stay”, “roll over” or even responding to his own name (the latter which he now is – he’s a fast learner) but he does what we want him to do and Cesar Millan (the Dog Whisperer) wouldn’t even be interested – Billy’s already a calm submissive, well behaved dog that most certainly doesn’t need Cesar’s help!

Anyway, as well as giving us endless fun and companionship he’s also extremely photogenic so I expect he’ll be making an appearance in most things I post here from now on!

A Portrait Of Billy

Say hello to Billy! 🙂

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It’s Not About The Dog

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I’ve always been a cat person. Maybe I liked to think of a cat as the animal equivalent of me. Sleek, lean, athletic, an independent thinker, a ruthless killing machine – no wait, that’s not right. OK, the real reason is that I like the fact that cats look after themselves, they’re low maintenance with maximum reward. So you can sit in your mountain-top fortress scheming and planning while stroking your cat on your lap, getting all that relaxation and concentration you need to outwit the good guys. And when you’re done you can throw the cat away, get one of your minions to feed it and then it’ll walk itself – low maintenance!

But over the past couple of years I’ve started to change my mind about cats and dogs. The more I’ve interacted with friends dogs the more I’ve started to see the benefits in having one. They’re lots of fun, give unconditional love, they encourage you to get out and exercise, they’re like a member of the family and best of all, unlike a wife you get to tell them what to do and they do it! 😉

Emma's Lhasa ApsoAnyway, the more dogs I saw the more I started to like them and when another friend brought their very cute and well behaved Lhasa Apso to the house (pictured right) I really started to think that maybe we should get a dog. Around this time we started watching The Dog Whisperer. For those of you who’ve never seen it, the premise is that people with problem dogs (aggressive, out of control, etc) call in dog expert Cesar Millan who comes along and very quickly sorts everything out. But the most interesting thing to me is that in all cases it’s not the dog that’s the problem, it’s always the owner.

Every few years in the UK there’s a horror story about a pit bull attacking a child, causing hideous damage and the press (and Government) bang home the point that certain breed of dogs are dangerous and should be exterminated. Indeed if you own a pit bull in the UK it’ll be destroyed under the Dangerous Dogs Act. But you know what? It’s all complete bullshit. The only reason dogs like pit bulls become aggressive is because the owners, unwittingly or otherwise, let them behave that way. The problem is that humans instinctively humanise dogs, treating them like they’re children and expect them to respond in the same way that children do.

What The Dog Whisperer demonstrates episode after episode is that dogs are instinctively followers, and when they are they’re calm and submissive and easy to live with. But if they feel that there’s not a pack leader (to a dog you and it are members of a pack) then they’ll step up to the role which means they’ll be more aggressive since defending and disciplining the pack is the job of the pack leader. If they see another dog they’ll impose their authority and try to dominate that dog too. However if you’re the pack leader the dog will hold back and look to you because it’s your job to decide if another dog is OK or not. But the real problem is that a dog only sees the world through a dog’s eyes and if you don’t assert yourself as pack leader in a dog-understandable way then you won’t be the pack leader in its eyes.

People will often shout at dogs to try and get them to do what they want. But really to communicate to a dog you don’t need to say a word, it’s all about your posture and body language. If you watch how dogs interact with each other you’ll notice they do it silently. A touch in the right place at the right time with the right intensity communicates in a far more meaningful way to a dog than a thousand words can. Dogs also mirror your emotions – so if you’re tense and nervous then the dog will be tense and nervous. If a nervous dog meets a couple of relaxed dogs you’ll notice that in most cases the relaxed dogs will pick up on the other dog’s nervousness and then you’ve got 3 fidgety dogs!

If you’re hesitant or not assertive when you instruct your dog to stop eating your shoes then your dog will take that hesitancy as a sign of weakness, look down on you as a lower pack member and carry on chewing. But if you prod it to switch its attention and “own” the shoes by standing over them in a confident way, the dog will get the message and back away. At least, that’s the overly simplified summary. Cesar has a complete understanding of dog psychology and can read situations before they occur and correct a dog before it gets into an excited state.

I guess that’s the thing us mere mortals can’t do so easily but it’s fun to see it done properly. And it shows me that with a bit of work and understanding of a dog’s point of view you can have a happy, calm, submissive dog and a happy life. And with the right owner a pit bull can be a far nicer, safer dog around children than an overly-pampered, humanised chihuahua. It’s not about the dog, it’s always about the owner.