Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Dogs and children

In the light of the recent horrific tragedy involving little Lexi Branson and her adopted rescue dog I thought it was fitting to write this blog post about how dogs and children can both be kept safe in each others company.(I also say keeping the dog safe, because lets face it, one mistake, one nip is all it takes for a death sentence to be issued on the poor creature. It is not only in the child's interest to be kept safe, but the dog's also). 

As you may know, we have a toddler, George, and we also have a young Border Collie bitch, Mila, who is eight months old. We actually decided to buy a puppy, simply because I believe that you can never fully vouch for the behaviour of a rescue dog. You don't know their history, you don't know who has trained them and using what methods, or what experiences they have had. Rescue dogs may be just fine with older (better trained!) children, but with babies and toddlers I personally wouldn't recommend it. We chose to buy a puppy, simply so that she could grow up with him and get to think of all the noise and excitement of our house as 'the norm'. It is obvious the rescue dog that attacked Lexi was unsuitable for family life with young children, but also, I think it's naive to assume that just because a dog has been brought up with children, that you have no need to take precautions or be careful. 

Lets face it. Children are an awful lot to cope with. They're noisy - they cry and shout and scream and squeal. They have little to no empathy and the attention span of a gnat. Even their toys are noisy and irritating! They're unpredictable and rough, and have tempestuous emotions. Children can, unfortunately, be a big stress causer for any pets in the home. 

Obviously, the first rule in child/dog safety is to not allow your child to approach strange dogs without specific permission from the owners. And even then the child must be made to approach quietly and calmly. But actually, statistics show that children are much more likely to be bitten by their own family dog than they are by a strange dog that they don't know. 

I personally believe that family dogs are expected to put up with too much. Often they are expected to take all the noise and the ear pulling and the teasing, without any protest at all. This is simply not fair to the dog. 

Any report I've ever heard about children being attacked by dogs always seems to indicate that the dog attacked 'without warning'. I simply don't see how this could be the case. The warning may have been subtle, but it will have been there. A little growl, raised hackles, lip licking, yawning, freezing, the dog could try running away from the child, or the dog taking too much interest in the child,  these are all warning signs. 

How can we keep our children and dogs safe? 

1.) Always supervise. A simple rule, but an important one. If your child is playing with your dog, then you must be around to supervise. Don't leave them in the same room together and walk off. George and Mila LOVE to play with each other, running around the house causing chaos, but often need reminding to not pull at fur, or to not jump up, or to stop running you'll fall! / knock him over! If you are there you can stop any disasters before they happen. 

2.) Allow the dog to have a 'safe place', where they can go and the child cannot follow. This is easier when you have a baby, as they can't move much or walk. Amber used to jump up on the settee when she'd had enough of George, but now he can walk, Mila doesn't have this luxury. She does have a doggie door to the garden, and so she can always shoot through this if she needs to. But mostly we keep them apart unless one of us is there. If I feel Mila is getting a bit fed up, I put her in another room to have a break. 

3.) Don't let dogs and children eat around each other. There was another fatal dog attack involving a child some years ago, it was a Pitbull, but I don't feel that was the issue (I don't thing breed specific legislation solves anything). The story went that the Nana of the child gave both the dog and the child a bag of crisps. She then left the room, and came running back once she heard the child screaming. I can actually picture what may have happened. The dog eats his crisps first, then goes for the child's. The child will not of wanted to give up their food, maybe the dog received a smack on the nose, and unfortunately we all know the rest.  The same sort of scenario could occur with toys instead of food. 

4.) If you have an old dog, or a poorly dog, then take caution when children are around. Children can be rough, and although they don't mean it, they may cause pain and end up being bitten. They may also surprise older dogs whose hearing and eyesight may not be so sharp, and in such instances the dog may react on instinct and snap. Also take care when a dog is sleeping, for the same reason. 

5.) Be aware that the squeaky little noises babies make can sound similar to prey. In some dogs this may trigger a predatory reaction. Let the dog smell and be near the baby, but as said before, never leave them unattended. Another dog attack comes to mind here, a Jack Russel Terrier that attacked a newborn baby. Terriers are excellent ratters, they are geared up to take a great interest in anything small and squeaky. 

Also, with older children when they run around, it could also trigger this sort of predatory response. The dog may chase them and nip, acting on instinct. 

6.) Teach them both well! A dog that responds to commands and knows their place will do better with one that has no rules or discipline in their life. Mila is only young but she knows that when I say 'Oi!', she has done something displeasing and she will stop dead in her tracks. Similarly, I will praise her when she does something I like. This is how she will learn how to behave around George, she will eventually know what's good behaviour, and what's not. 
And the same goes for George. He will be reprimanded for any fur pulling or roughness, and praised when he pets her gently. When he's a little older I will make sure he knows exactly how to behave around dogs, calmly and sensibly, not to put his face close to theirs, and not to shout etc. It is a learning process for both of them, but neither is exempt!

Dogs and children are made for each other. I think they can enrich each others lives and bring a lot of joy and happiness to each other. A few simple precautions and remembering to never be complacent can protect them both from harm, and ensure that their relationship is one that's based on mutual respect and love. 


George and Mila meet for the first time! Here she is ragging on George's trousers, I'm pretty sure he probably gave her a whack just after this shot. Time for some serious training! 

                                                              Get off my slide puppy!!

What are you pair up to?!     

Here is Mila 'putting up' with George -  Her face says it all!  He is ramming his wheel barrow into her. Cue a telling off for George and a pat for Mila for being so tolerant. 

Double trouble! 

Mila looks at the balls but doesn't touch - Good girl! 

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

My dog has been attacked and now he's scared of other dogs...

A common story unfortunately. We usually hear about such stories when we show new owners around the kennels. A concerned expression will appear on their faces as we tell them about how we let the friendly dogs exercise together.

''Oh he's ever so scared of other dogs. He was attacked as a puppy by an alsatian/rottweiler/staffy/ (insert large and scary breed here!)''.

What do we do when boarding these nervous dogs?

Well, first of all, we may only work on the dog's confidence with the owner's consent. If the prospect of group play upsets the owner and makes them nervous, or if the dog has become aggressive as a result of the attack, then of course we will exercise alone.

However, a lot of the time owners express to us how much they would love their dog to enjoy playing with other dogs again, and allow us to introduce their dog to others during their stay and aim to build their confidence back up. After all, here we have access to lots of dogs which we know very well and that we know are friendly and safe, this is something you can never be sure of when meeting dogs whilst out walking.

It's a simple process, but can take a variable amount of time, and not every stage can be reached. We let the dog work through the stages at their own pace and only move on when we see their behaviour change to show that they are more comfortable.

The first stage is to build up a trusting relationship with the dog ourselves. This can be instantaneous with some dogs, and take a long time with others. We get their simply by spending time with the dog, talking to them as we feed them and clean the kennels, by giving them a treat or two or a pampering. We make friends.

The second stage is where we introduce the dog to either our own dog, or a kennel/daycare dog who we know very well and are certain is a calm and quiet character. The nervous dog will obviously find this a little stressful at first, they may run away from the other dog or show overly submissive behaviour, but with a little time and repetition, they learn that nothing bad has happened. They may come out of their shell a little, and take more interest in the other dog, perhaps even showing signs of playfullness.

Dogs may show submissive behaviour at first, but they soon learn to not be afraid

The dog may start to show signs of interest in the other dogs

They learn that it is nice to have company.

The third stage is where we gradually push the dog out of their comfort zone, little by little. We do this by adding more challenging characters to their playtimes (and when I say challenging, I mean more playful, or more barky, we never ever put aggressive dogs in group play - everyone is thoroughly temperament assessed before being allowed in group play). This third stage is where we find what the dog's real character is, now they have gained confidence and lost the fear they once had. You would be surprised how many of these nervous dogs end up being put in the boisterous play group after a week!

Some dogs even get too boisterous for the quiet group, and have to be move up into the crazy group! 

We have had many owners say how pleased they are to have a happy and confident dog back when they return from their holidays. Sometimes they and their dog have been carrying the fear of attack around for years, which is a real shame as it is such a joy to watch dogs play together. Also, it can play a part in preventing any future attacks, as the dog will learn how to properly interact with others, they will have a more confident posture and disposition, and this alone can play a big part in not becoming a victim again.

We are by no means dog trainers, but running the doggie daycare means that all the staff are excellent at reading dog body language and supervising the group play to ensure that the right dogs are grouped together, and that everyone has a good time. It is the best part of the job, especially when you can see their confidence and happiness change in front of your eyes.

This is what it's all about - the smiling faces! 

Friday, 23 August 2013

Life with a new pup...

As you all know, at Easter time we lost our beloved Amber, and not long after (wanting a distraction from the pain) we welcomed little Mila (pronounced Mee-la) into our lives.

I felt a little guilty at buying a puppy, as I've always felt re-homing is the best thing to do, especially if you are experienced with dogs as we are. However now that we have George, our little boy, I felt it was unfair to both the rescue dog (who would probably have enough issues to start with, without having to learn to cope with a noisy toddler) and to George, who above all needs to be kept safe. The last thing I wanted to do was adopt a dog only to end up letting it down, or putting George in danger.

We decided that this one time, a puppy was what we needed. So that it could grow up with George and the sound of tantrums and musical toys would just be background noise - the norm. She will probably be our one and only puppy in our lifetimes. We spotted an advert in the local free paper, so off we went to the farm, and there she was. Small and oh so fluffy, with one bright blue eye like a sparkling jewel. The decision took all of ten seconds!

Small and oh so fluffy, with one blue eye like a sparkling jewel. 

 I won't lie, it was hard at first, though it was no fault of Mila's. I found it very very hard adjusting to life without my old friend Amber. It's quite a shock to the system to go from having a well trained, sensible old dog who you know inside and out, to having a fluffy ball of trouble tearing round the house chewing shoes and pooing and weeing all over the show! I pined for my old girl, missed her so much that it hurt.

Always up to something!

However, of course, Mila grew on me. and after 6 months I can honestly say that she is just what we need at this point in our lives. She is the perfect mixture of laid back and intelligent, she has funny little ways that make us laugh (like sticking her tongue out all the time!) and she behaves perfectly with George.

I'm ashamed to say that I have spent very little time training her. With an active toddler and a busy business to run, it leaves little time to spare. However despite this, she still seems to be learning the right things, such is the joy of Collies. They soak up knowledge like sponges. 

She has taught herself to go through the doggie door, and since discovering it, goes outside to toilet now without fail. She comes to call, knows 'sit', 'down' and 'out'. If she does something I want her to stop, I just have to say 'Aa! - Aa!' and she immediately stops. She is very responsive to voice commands which is useful as I always seem to have my hands full! Although not perfect on the lead yet, she is not far off.

We are just starting to let her off her lead on our walks, she's very good at her recall - except when she sees another dog. This is because she goes in the daycare everyday to play with her friends, and now she thinks every dog wants to wrestle with her! So I'm trying to take her out to more popular dog walking routes so that she sees lots of dogs and learns to greet calmly, and I know eventually this will come, I see an improvement every time we go out.

When I allow her to play with George, she knows that she is not to jump up, not to take toys from him, and if George wants her toy she is to give it to him. I also train George at the same time! No fur pulling or climbing all over allowed. I want them to have a good relationship where they can have lots of fun together but also respect each other.

I think it's funny sometimes how dogs seem to find their owners. Mila seemed to be waiting for us, the last pup left in the litter because of her blue eye and small size (other people thought her eye may be defective in some way, and of course no one wants the runt). Just as Amber was waiting for us at the rescue kennels years ago. 

So here's to making lots of new memories, learning lots of new lessons, and welcoming another dog into the family. She's going to be a good one :) 

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Yeah yeah we all know...

... not to leave our dogs in the car during the summer time.

However even so, you still hear stories about it happening. It's even happened with police dogs. People just don't seem to be aware of how fast a car can heat up, even with all the windows cracked open, it only takes minutes for the temperature to start rising.

I found a good video on the internet where an American vet experiences how it feels for himself. 

At the kennels we change our routine during heatwaves. We start the day an hour earlier, feeding at 5am and starting exercise at 7.30am so that the dogs can run and play without getting overheated.

The kennels themselves are nice and cool, and their drinking water is changed and topped up with fresh numerous times a day.

The dogs in the daycare are encouraged to have some rest time in the hottest part of the day.

Sometimes we take them out onto the little paddock where there is a nice breeze and shade from the trees. We like to spray them all with the hose if they are looking a little hot and even have a paddling pool for them to play in.

Jess and the dogs enjoying the shade

Some dogs with white fur need sunblock putting on at regular intervals around the top of their noses and eyebrows to protect their delicate skin from burning.

Henry is one of the dogs who needs sunblock on when he plays outside 

There are also other things you can do to help keep your dog cool on these hot days,  a good groom and hair cut can help them keep cool, perhaps take them for a swim at the lake rather than his usual walk, or put some toys in an empty ice cream tub, fill with water and freeze, and then let him lick and chew at the ice in order to free the toys!

I'm loving having a proper summer this year, as I'm sure everyone is, and with a few sensible precautions our dogs can enjoy the summer along with us.

Stay safe people!

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

The importance of socialisation

Socialisation means allowing your dogs to get used to and learn to play and interact correctly with other dogs. This means developing the correct social skills when meeting new dogs, learning to play nicely (and adjusting the play to match the playmate) and also learning when another dog wants to be left alone. These social skills are important because, basically, dogs love to be around other dogs. It makes them happy, and I always think a dog who doesn't ever socialise is missing out a little. It can also be a life saver, if your dog knows and understands the signals that mean 'leave me alone' it will save them from aggressive confrontations. 

Socialisation is best started as early as possible (after the puppy is fully vaccinated of course, and only with other vaccinated dogs). We have recently had quite a few puppies start attending daycare, including our own, and they really love it. It's a joy to see them playing and learning the important social skills. 

It goes without saying that if during the temperament assessment a dog shows any sign of aggression means the dog will have to be exercised with just human company and won't be able to socialise. This doesn't mean that we don't like your dog! or that they won't get as much attention, it is simply for safety's sake, as I'm sure you can understand. We are also extra cautious with bigger or powerful breeds ie staffies or rottweilers. This isn't because we believe the media hysteria which gives the breeds an undeserved bad name, but simply because they are stronger and even a minimal amount of aggression would be quite serious - where if a shih-tzu is a bit grumpy it's not such a big deal. 

The dogs we can help are ones that are simply nervous, or lacking in social skills but friendly, can certainly be worked on and improved. We also need the consent of the owner to allow their dog to be exercised in a small group environment. Most owners with friendly dogs are more than happy to do so, as it simply makes the dog's experience in kennels a much happier and more interesting one, and I'm sure it's the secret to why our kennels is so lovely and quiet - no manic barking here! Because everyone is well exercised and mentally stimulated. I've read that 20 mins doggie playing with worth an hours lead walk, so no wonder everyone is nice and tired after exercise time.     

The beauty of our  kennels and daycare is that it provides a perfect environment for learning socialisation skills. When meeting dogs down the park your can't always guarantee they are friendly or under control. All the dogs are temperament assessed before being allowed in group play and supervised by very experienced staff. We also have the opportunity to hand pick playmates who match your dog's character and socialisation level. For example, if your dog has very little experience with other dogs and is very nervous or submissive, we can pick older or less playful dogs for them to meet first. These dogs aren't likely to do more than sniff your dog and walk off. What they will do is provide unobtrusive company, and this can be good for helping nervous dogs overcome their fear as their is no pressure to play or even be too close to other dogs. If the nervous dog gains confidence in this playgroup and shows signs of wanting to play, we can pick other playmates which are a little more exciting. Often a dog can come to stay with us and starts out very nervous, but goes home with bags of confidence and enjoying the company of other dogs rather than being scared. 

Another example of how good socialisation can be good for dogs is when they are boisterous (ie essentially very friendly but with not very refined social skills... too 'in your face' for most dogs to cope with. These dogs may often be met with aggression even through they themselves are very friendly). What these dogs need to learn is to control their excitement, be more polite, and learn to recognise who wants to play and who doesn't. With more contact with other dogs these boisterous sorts will soon become less exited around other dogs, simply because it's not such a novelty. They will also learn what gets the best response from the other dogs, and often learn to tone down their behaviour - otherwise no one wants to make friends with them! This also goes for puppies too, who are often over exuberant with their greetings and play at first. 

We have quite an established group in the daycare now, and it is lovely to watch the dynamics and behaviour of the dogs. They all seem to know who wants to play and who's needs a rest, and they adjust their play to suit the playmate - ie the big dogs will wrestle lying on their backs, giving their smaller friend the advantage and making the game 'fair'. 
They all look forward to coming to daycare, dragging their owners in and often not wanting to go home! (and some of these dogs started off very nervous too!).

Doggie daycare is becoming more popular now with owners working long hours and simply not having the time to spend walking their dog. Daycare is a perfect solution as the dog has both human and canine company all day, lots of exercise and stimulation. It boosts their confidence and makes them calmer and more manageable at home. 

What's nice about our daycare here at Woodland View is that it is quite small, with only limited numbers attending. This means that the staff can manage the dogs easily, making the environment safer and also more suitable for small puppies or older, or nervous dogs who would be overwhelmed at a bigger daycare. 

For lots of pictures and videos of the playtimes, please visit our Facebook page:

Any other enquiries please give us a call or e-mail. 

Thursday, 9 May 2013

A big Thank You to everyone...

for all your support and sympathy following Amber's death.
Although we are at peace with it, I feel like I will forever walk around with a little bit of sadness  - a piece missing. We have hundreds of happy memories which we talk about and I think of her daily.
We have laid her ashes to rest in a pot with my favourite tree, with a little grave marker that reads...
There will never be another you.
We miss you Baba
I think her story touched a lot of people because it expressed how just much these dogs mean to us. They really are family and when they are gone they are never forgotten and never replaced.  
and we have been mad enough to do it all again.
Meet Mila (pronounced Mee-la) ...
She is a feisty Border Collie puppy with one blue eye and one brown eye. Very intelligent and cheeky - I have the feeling she is going to rule the roost! She causes chaos constantly and anything not nailed down is a toy!
I'm sure she will provide me with many a blog topic as she grows up too.
We have just started to socialise her in the Doggie Daycare and hope in future she will play as big a part in the kennels as Amber did. I often wish Amber could meet her and teach her some doggie manners!

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Amber's story

This is a very personal story, nothing Kennels related I'm afraid. I make no apologies though. My main reason for wanting to write it is so that I have something to remember. I don't want the memories to fade.

I hope that any one interested in the Kennels might be able to get some idea of the type of people we are through reading it. Our passion and our love for our own dog means that we understand the feelings you have for yours.

In November 2006, myself and Lee decided that finally, we could afford to get a dog. We were so excited, we'd waited for so long! We agreed that we would like a medium (coffee table) sized dog, a Collie or Collie cross. This was the breed of my childhood dog and of course, they always tend to be your favourite.

So, we booked 2 weeks off work, and off to the Dog's home we went. It wasn't a nice place, noisy and damp and horribly cold. All the dogs had obvious signs of kennel cough with streaming eyes and noses, and their manic barking was deafening. The first dog we asked to meet was a beautiful Staffordshire Bull Terrier bitch. However, we got her out of the kennel and she proceeded to run up Lee's body and sit on his shoulders! She then jumped off and ragged on the lead with ferocity. Thinking of our poor Poppy cat at home, we said sorry to her and put her back as we knew she wasn't for us.
We carried on walking up and down the kennels, past all shapes, sizes and ages, all barking like their life depended on it. We walked up and down a few times before we noticed her. Sitting quietly by the bars, a little Collie cross, about a year old, with bright ginger fur, googly eyes, bat ears and a foxy brush of a tail. We asked to take her for a walk around the grounds and as we strolled along me and Lee looked at each other and smiled, she was the one. Her name we decided, was Amber.

The staff at the Dog's home were, to be honest, uncaring and negligent. They did not rush to give us a house check at all. We made the 30 minute journey every day to visit her and give her a walk and a pigs ear, and after a week, when still no progress had been made with the rehoming, we complained and they just told us to take her home.

Amber when he first got her, lying on top of Freddie, my Mum's dog

Of course being a rescue dog (no history but 'stray') she came with a little baggage. Kennel cough that lasted 4 months until she was better. She was terrified of the car, didn't have a clue about house training, and liked nothing more than to rummage through the bins for food (which she'd then hide around the house - digging a pretend hole and covering it over with pretend dirt - yes very cute but she'd do this until her nose bled!). If you let her off the lead she'd sprint for the hills, oh yeah and she chewed a few massive holes in the carpet of our rented house too!

But over the first year all these things disappeared, not with any special training or anything, just by getting on with it. That's the special thing about Collies, their capacity for learning is so very natural. Not only did all her quirks and problems disappear, but she learned commands with an ease that I've not seen before. I often wonder what we could have taught her if we'd just taken more time.
She learned all the basic commands sit/stay/down etc within minutes. We also taught her some novelty tricks, spinning round, standing up on her hind legs etc. She even learned how to play a guessing game using cups and a ping pong ball, we'd hide the ball under a cup, switch them round, and she'd tap the one the ball was under with her paw for a treat.

She also learned an awful lot of words and cues on her own. She knew what 'walk' meant - of course most dogs do, but she also know all the words connected with that special word. Eventually you run out of 'secret' words for walk - she was just too clever. She also knew words like 'bath' (not a favourite), squirrel (look out the window... burst through the dog door.... fly down the garden like a bat out of hell... look up tree and bark), and 'where's that mole?!' (sprint to nearest molehill and dig frantically). Along with knowing things like, when Lee takes his glasses off, it's time for bed (and for some strange reason she found this exciting).  In fact, if I were to list all the things she learned it would take me a considerable time. She was one of the cleverest dogs I've known.

'Bath' - not her favourite word!
Lee and I fell in love with her of course. She was almost like a child to us. We'd play silly games with her, like hide and seek - she'd look for Lee all on edge, barking as if to say ''come out!''. He'd jump out on her and chase her away - she loved that.  Sometimes we'd cover her over with a blanket so she couldn't see - she'd walk around tail wagging bumping into things. She had a great sense of humour and was always happy to make us laugh. We also made up a 'voice' for her. I don't know if anyone else does this with their pets. Maybe we're just a bit weird! but her 'voice' was her sort of persona, which was always a bit of a smart arse. We would annotate things that she did to make us laugh ......  you probably had to be there!. 

During her first couple of years I worked as a veterinary nurse, working shifts meant she never spent too long alone, however I eventually decided that veterinary nursing wasn't for me (although I would never go back and not do it - I learned an awful lot during those 2 years) and I became self-employed as a dog walker. This meant that from then on, we spent most of our days together.

What a life for a dog that is! To be a dog walker's dog. She'd jump in the back of my van and off we'd go. I wasn't the sort of walker who took loads of dogs at a time (I think its a little irresponsible) but Amber was always there as a companion for my doggie customers, and more importantly, she would always come back to me, which meant so did they.
She loved them to chase her, she was so fast and nimble. She would toy with Ted the cocker spaniel (who we took walking most days). He'd run as fast as his legs would take him, ears madly flapping up and down with the sheer effort, but he would never catch her. Sometimes she'd let him catch up and at the last second, dart in another direction (Ted had some near misses almost crashing into trees - I'm sure she did this on purpose!). When it was her turn to do the chasing, she'd catch Ted with ease and nip at his bottom.
One particular time Ted was chasing her, Amber suddenly decided she needed to have a wee, she squatted, and Ted (not slowing down any) collided into her at 100mph. Her body was like a ramp. He flew over her head and through the air, ears still flapping, crashing into the mud. We were creased double with laughter at such a funny sight.

So fast and nimble!

We'd walk for miles each day, in all weathers. In the summer when it was too hot, we'd stroll down to the lake and I'd sit on one of the big flat rocks, and throw a ball for them to fetch. She loved to swim, and would dive in getting a 10ft head start on the other dogs. Once she was swimming back with a stick and poked Ted up the bum, making him leap out of the water and yelp - poor Ted! But so funny!

Leaping in to the cool water on a hot day

In 2010, Lee and I finally (after 10 years) got married, and Amber even came with us on our little honeymoon. There was no question about whether we were taking her or not - of course we were!
This was also the year that we got asked, by Teds owner's in fact, to run Woodland View Kennels. A new venture for us which meant that Lee and I would be working together every day.

Looking for pheasants outside our honeymoon cottage

Amber also played a big part in the running of the kennels. We like to let the friendly boarders play together, and Amber was an important part of our 'temperament assessments'. She had a great ability to interact in the correct way with other dogs. She would be quiet and gentle with nervous or old dogs, tolerant of puppies, and stern with over boisterous sorts (she was very good at teaching manners). Quite a dominant character, all the other dogs seemed to know that she was the boss, but she was always friendly and fair.

In 2011 I became pregnant with our first baby. It was a terrible pregnancy fraught with complications and worry. Amber was there all the way through. She wasn't sure why I was so stressed out, but she'd put her little head in between my legs (she liked to do this for some reason - always used to make non-doggie people so uncomfortable!) and I'd smooth her silky ears flat. We'd go walking together (or rather, she'd run and I'd waddle) and in her own way, she helped make a difficult time more bearable.

Two months before our baby was due, we found a lump under Amber's teats. I immediately worried that it could be a mammary tumour, a common cancer in bitches (and we had her spayed late). So we went to the vets as soon as we could and a biopsy was done.
I heard the phone go as I was wallowing in the bath, and Lee came up and told me the bad news. Amber had cancer, worse still, she had lymphoma. Lymphoma is a very aggressive cancer, and not something that can just be removed as the lymphatic system goes all around the body. The vet said without treatment (chemotherapy) that Amber would die within 2 months. Well, I sat in the bath and I cried and cried and cried. She was only 7 years old. It was a death sentence.

But it wasn't over for Amber yet. The vet, Richard, said that chemotherapy could possible give her another year or so, and apparently, the chemotherapy was different than the sort us humans have when we suffer from cancer. It would be wrong to give a dog the same aggressive chemotherapy as humans, they can't consent to being put through such discomfort and pain. Therefore chemotherapy for dogs is a much gentler version, not aiming to cure the cancer but simply to extend the dog's life as long as possible whilst keeping the 'quality' of life as high as possible. We were insured so, we decided to try it an see how it went.

The stress of the diagnosis was the straw that broke the camel's back for me. I was admitted to hospital with high blood pressure (which turned out to be pre-eclampsia) and I gave birth to baby George was born 5 weeks early. Amber had her first dose of chemotherapy whilst we were in hospital.

The chemotherapy went much better than we imagined. Yes there were a few days when she was a little ill, the odd day of nausea or perhaps a urine infection that we'd have to nip in the bud. But once the right dose of drugs had been chosen, the months ticked along and we almost forgot that she even had cancer. We'd drop her off at the vets for a day every 3 weeks. She'd have her drugs and settle down in her kennel, have some dinner there, and then I'd pick her up and off we'd go for another 3 weeks. She was such a well behaved dog, going to the vets was no stress at all for her. I'd hand over the lead and off she'd trot for her drugs and dinner. Richard said she was a pleasure to treat.

You think a year is a long time, but the days, weeks and months tick by quickly. Especially when you have a demanding little boy to take care of.

Amber didn't think much of George when we first brought him home. George suffered from silent reflux (essentially - acid reflux) and because of this he screamed... a lot! She'd hide under her chair and peep out, probably wondering why on earth we had brought this little banshee home to disrupt our lives.
Eventually, George grew out of his reflux, the crying lessened and then weaning began - and so did a beautiful friendship. Amber suddenly discovered that 'the Brat' (that's what her 'voice' called him) dropped an awful lot of food.

The start of a beautiful friendship

The love between Amber and George grew. She would come and sit in his playroom with me and try to pinch his toys while I wasn't looking. She'd let him climb all over her (I always permitted her an escape route from his rough little hands, but she never seemed to want to get away) and she'd keep trying to lick his nose if it was runny (I know - gross!). She'd sit and watch George play and join in with a gentle tug of war or bringing the ball back when he threw it. This was such a bitter sweet thing to watch, as I knew George would never remember Amber, but I hoped that Amber felt her life had been enriched by him.

Our two kids
 George's canine walking frame
''Come here Brat and let me lick your nose clean''
Time went by too quickly. We never forgot that our time was limited with her, and loved her like each week was her last (well we never knew!). Eventually, as expected, the cancer returned. We found a new lump on her neck. This meant that the drugs needed to be changed as she had become resistant.
So we tried some different drugs. The first drugs had no ill effects but also, no effect on the cancer. We tried another drug, which made her feel quite ill and nauseous. We tried again, with worse effects. She was so poorly with the last chemotherapy treatment, that we decided, with heavy hearts, to call it a day. We stopped all treatment and let the cancer run it's course.

We decided that we were going to end it all at the first sign of discomfort. We wanted to have control of how and when she went, no emergency put to sleep because she'd gone down hill quickly, with her feeling terrible or in awful pain. I wanted her to die peacefully before that happened. To us the length of time she had wasn't important, only that she felt happy.

We walked together every day without fail, and we never missed an opportunity to fuss her and give her attention. The lumps grew every day, which was worrying, but I got into a routine of walking her each morning, and if she looked bright and happy and energetic, then I would say 'today she's ok' and not worry about her. Until the next day of course.

A selection of pictures taken during her final days...

We had 3 more wonderful and happy weeks. On the last weekend when I noticed the way she was moving looked a little strange, tucked up. She also started to sleep a lot, the sort of deep sleep that you usually only see in a truly exhausted dog. On the Sunday I looked at her and noticed how she was sitting, with her hanging down. We also noticed her shaking a little. She was still eating, happy to go on walks and interested in life but, we knew this was the beginning of the end. We wanted her life to end on a happy note so we agreed tomorrow, Monday 25th March 2013, 15 months after her diagnosis, was the day we were going to put her to sleep.

That morning Lee booked her appointment, 11.15am. We took her for a lovely walk through the woods. I made sure I took everything in. She ran around, sniffing smells and picking up sticks, eating the snow and jumping over puddles, looking back every now and again to check we were still coming. Once the walk ended she hopped into the boot of the car, and we drove to the vets. I could barely hold myself together but was determined not to break down and upset her.

We were shown into the vet's room, and Richard took Amber out of the room to put her cannula in (something she was well used to after all this time). I thought to myself  'this is taking a long time' and then she came trotting happily through the door back to us. Richard said it had taken a while because she had been running around the back,  having a fuss from all the staff who had grown fond of her. We asked her to lie down on the mat, and always obedient she did just that. I nodded to Richard to go ahead, and stoked her silky ears the way she liked as she quickly and quietly passed away.

Its a strange thing, stroking a dog whilst it dies. I've done lots of anaesthesia's and it's not the same. When a dog is put under anaesthetic, they go limp in your arms but you can feel still the life in them. Their bodies still feel warm and supple. With euthanasia, you can, without doubt, feel the life disappear from their body. They almost turn to stone under your hand. The sparkle in their eyes just disappears all of a sudden. Like turning off a light.

Just like that she was gone.

We don't feel guilty though. In fact I think Amber's death went as well as anyone could ask for, she was surrounded by love and happiness and it was timed perfectly. We did what we wanted, and that was to keep her life wonderful right to the end. No pain and no suffering. That was our final gift to her.

The days after are hard. After all for seven years she's always been... there.
In her basket by the door, looking out of the window (for that goddamn squirrel), in the rear view mirror of the car (chin on the back seat, wondering where we're off to), in with the kennel dogs during exercise (usually hogging all the balls), at my feet in the kitchen watching the floor for crumbs. You miss the little things.

No I'm not driving - but felt like I needed to take a picture. I knew I'd miss this. and I do
Share? No way!

Of course we will do it all again. After all I can't have my little boy growing up without a dog. My Mum had some wise words for me. She said to me not to wait too long. She said you'll wait and wait for the pain to go and it just won't. You will always miss them. And when you do get another dog, eventually, (hopefully after a long time), they will die too, and then you will miss that dog just as much. I think Lee and I have got another 3 dogs in us yet. This means we'll have to go through all this pain 3 more times. It's no wonder some people say ''never again!''.

We're not one of those people though. She was worth it.

We miss you Baba

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Vaccinations - What you need to know before boarding

Now, this may seem rather a boring topic, but if you are at all unclear about vaccinations and wish to kennel your dog any time soon then I'd urge you to read on.

It doesn't happen often but there has been times where we have to turn dogs away because their vaccinations are not up to date. We're not being awkward we promise - It's a legal requirement and the most important part of our licence conditions, not to mention a requirement of our insurance. We simply cannot take un-vaccinated dogs.

The poor owner will have their holiday all planned and arranged, and all of a sudden they will have to beg a friend or relative to take care of the dog, and they can't just go to another kennels either. In the UK all boarding kennels can only board vaccinated dogs - any kennels who takes in an unvaccinated dog is breaking their Kennel Licence conditions, not to mention putting the health of the dog and their other boarders at risk.

As part of our Boarding Kennel Licence conditions it is a requirement that all dogs staying here are vaccinated against Canine Distemper, Infectious Canine Hepatitis, Leptospirosis and Canine Parvovirus and other relevant diseases. These are covered by the normal vaccination injections your vet usually recommends.

Most dogs are vaccinated as puppies. The primary vaccination consists of 2 injections given 2 weeks apart. The dog is then covered for a year (starting from the 2nd vaccination) and will simply need a booster injection once a year to keep up the protection.

It is important that, when kenneling your dog, these vaccinations do not overrun whilst the dog is in kennels. For example, if your dog was last vaccinated on the 1st May 2014, and you have a stay booked from 30th April to 2nd May 2015, this means the dog must be taken for the booster vaccinations before they come in for boarding. In reality, your vet would not consider the dog to have truly 'missed' their vaccinations for up to a couple of weeks after the date, but with regards to boarding kennels, our records must show all dogs to be vaccinated, so even a day overrun is not acceptable.

If your dog has missed a booster vaccination (ie they were due in May and you didn't remember until July) they will need to start from the beginning again with the primary vaccination and they won't be able to stay in kennels until they have had the 2nd vaccination of the set. This means it will be a couple of weeks before they can board, so don't leave it until last minute before checking!

At Woodland View Kennels we also require all dogs to be vaccinated for Kennel Cough (I personally dislike the name 'kennel cough'. The truth is, your dog can catch kennel cough from anywhere, training classes, doggie daycare, or the local park). Now, be careful, because some owners presume kennel cough is covered in the normal vaccines mentioned above - it isn't! It is something you have to ask your vet to do in addition to their yearly booster vaccines.

The kennel cough vaccine is given via a little squirt up the nostril. It covers them for a year and so we always recommend doing both the normal vaccines and the kennel cough together at the same time. Not only do you only have to remember one date when you do this, but often vets give a discount for both done together.

When your dog has been vaccinated, your vet should give you a small record booklet. In which he/she will record the type of vaccine given, and the date it was given. When your dog comes to kennels we will ask to see this card as proof that your dog is up to date with their vaccines, and we will photocopy it for our records. Make sure your vet remembers to update the card with every vaccination given.

If you ever lose your vaccine card, don't panic! Your vet will have all your dog's medical history saved on their computer system and will be able to check on there that they are up to date, and can give you a new card and sign it confirming the date they were vaccinated last.

I hope that this has covered the basics of what can be a confusing subject. Please ring us or your own vet if you have any other questions about vaccinations.