Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Just when I thought I had my house puppy proof, another accident!

I have sliding doors which I have covered copiously with stickers at human and bird eye-level to prevent accidents. But I never thought to put stickers at floor level.
When I heard a loud bang and yelp, I realised Jamie had run into the glass door.
Again the panic in case he was injured. But he did not appear concussed and seemed to behave quite normally shortly afterwards with no outward sign of injury (Oh the stresses of being a mother to a puppy!).

I used two wide strips of brown sticky wrapping tape across the bottom of the doors and hopefully this incident won't be repeated.

Sorry Jamie!

Visiting the Vet...

Jamie is getting quite good at riding quietly in the back of the car. No jumping up trying to climb into the driver's seat and no sign of car sickness. Except after his 10 weeks vaccination shot. The vet warned me this might happen.

In the vet's waiting room, he met more dogs (some unfriendly), a cat and small children whom he loves having grown up with them. One has to be careful though because he still has not learnt to bite "gently". My lacerated hands bear testimony to that.

He has now met a total of 30 people. During his socialisation period he has to meet a least 100 people!

The Eukanuba puppy guide has some interesting tips about what to ask your vet: Nutrition, Weight, Basic Care, Lifestyle, Vaccinations and deworming, Tick and flea control, Neutering and spaying, Socialisation, Microchipping. A helpful reminder.

At 14 weeks he will have his final round of shots. He needs a rabies vaccine repeated within 12 months (after that it's an annual vaccination). If your dog is going to kennels, he will need a shot for that as well. Told you puppies were expensive! Wish there was a more competitive medical aid system for animals.

Going to the vet can be as costly as going to your doctor!

A is for Attitude, B is for Bark, C is for Come!

Jamie first had to check out the surrounds on his first day at school. He eyed the other school kids a bit warily at first. Most of them were bigger than him - a Rottweiler, a Staffi, a Labrador, a Collie and a Jack Russell terrier. But soon he was joining in the fun, cheer leading from the side lines. Jamie was the only one barking his enjoyment out loud.

Our ThinkingPets trainer, Wendy Wilson always starts the class with "pass the puppy" where the pups learn to be handled by other people. We apply a technique from an innovative new method called Tellington TTouch. You gently stroke the full length of the puppy's body, his legs and paws, massage his ears and touch his muzzle, even his tail. At the first class most of the pups were a bit over excited so it took a while to calm them down (except for the lazy Labrador who just acted daddy-cool).

We use the clicker as well as treats and voice tone to convey meaning to our words. The golden rule is never shout at your dog. Your tone has to be friedly and welcoming or firm and calm. Corporal punishment is an absolute no-no.

First the pups had to learn to make eye contact with us, then to come when called at short then longer distances.

Since the attention span of the average pup (and owner) is not very long there are constant off-the-lead play breaks. But even these are carefully monitored by our puppy school teacher. A puppy must have an equal share of being in a dominant or submissive situation. For some reason most of the dogs liked playing with the Jack Russell (maybe because he thinks he is the biggest kid on the block).

But the most valuable thing we were asked to do as homework was to investigate what our dogs are bred to do. This would give a lot of answers to why our dogs behave the way they do. A beagle was bred to hunt hares, rabbits and foxes. Nowadays they are used in beagling (a hunt on foot using a fake lure) and as sniffer dogs in narcotics. They are recognised for their persistence even when a trail has gone cold.

Tell me about it! When my beagle has his nose to the ground, all his other senses shut down! So recalling your pet becomes a major mission. "You have to be more interesting than what your dog is sniffing" says my teacher.

Easier in theory than in practice!

Monday, March 23, 2009

First day at Puppy School...

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Tick-ing time bomb...

I have a phobia about ticks. I often go to the Eastern Cape and certain areas are infested with ticks. When I nearly lost one of my dogs to biliary, I became fanatical about covering them with Frontline, a very effective deterrent.

Imagine my horror when Jamie emerged after a wonderful time exploring the jungle of my garden with a small deadly red terrorist on his forehead, a ticking time bomb. I panicked because one infected bite could mean the end of my nine week old puppy!

I slathered him in Frontline (apparently it is nigh impossible to overdose dogs with this product). So every inch of him; top, bottom and between his toes was covered.

Ironically my sister and I had been admiring my luscious garden and saying what fun my pups would have exploring it. Now all of a sudden I felt surrounded by a deadly jungle in which tick terrorists skillfully hid themselves. I wanted to napalm the whole garden. Anything to protect my child... er, I mean my puppy!

I had never had a tick or flea problem before. Why now? Everyone pointed a finger at the hadedas and heavy rain as the culprits. So they are now the enemy too (poor things).

But what to do to eradicate the ticks from my garden? The problem said the nursery experts is that insect sprays today are much more environmentally friendly and repel insects instead of killing them. But I wanted to kill those damn ticks. It's called collateral damage. A necessary evil in order to save the life of one pup.
Well, you can use a spray said one vet, but the rain will just wash it off. Talk about a Catch-22 situation!

Any way the suspect areas, sword ferns (which are officially aliens) and the plumbago bushes have been severely dealt with and hopefully the problem has been reduced. As for the hadedas, I have learnt that there is not much that will deter them from coming back to roost in my trees.

Meanwhile Jamie gets inspected from top to bottom every day, including between his toes which is actually a very good thing. The puppy socialisation manual says pups need to get used to being handled all over, even their most private parts.

Apparently your vet will be very thankful when it comes to treating your dog.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Hi. My name is Jamie and I am a ChewAholic...

In no time at all Jamie took over the house and garden. Everything new had to be tasted and shredded: Furniture, cushions, clothes, carpets, files, books, plants, fingers and toes.

But I nearly had a heart attack when he began chewing all the cables and wiring behind my office desk. I had visions of sparks flying and one electrocuted puppy!

In my panic, I pulled the desk back in order to put all the wiring on top. But simultaneously smashed a glass framed picture and dropped my lunch onto the floor. I desperately had to get Jamie out of this danger zone while I sorted out the mess. I remember being on my knees weeping with fatigue and fright as I tried to restore order to my working environment. First he had taken over my bedroom, now he was causing mayhem in my office!

In order to save costs (puppies are very, very expensive excluding the hidden costs that also take their pound of flesh) I had decided to give him old shoes to chew on.

Big mistake! A puppy cannot distinguish between old and new shoes. So out with the shoes and in with the rawhide chews. I was recounting this story to my breeder who reacted with horror. "Oh no, rawhide chews can give your pup diarrhea!" she said.
She used to give her litters these chews. But they routinely developed loose bowels. The vet told her that because these chews were made from organic matter, it was possible for bacteria to grow on them. She experimented and found that the moment she took the chews away, the diarrhea stopped.

So then I bought these very expensive hollow rubber chews in which you can stuff treats. Jamie eats the treats alright but is not interested in chewing the chew. What can I say, every dog has its own preferences.

Now I use tennis balls and empty plastic bottles with stones in them for noise effect. But I bet somebody is going to tell me that plastic is bad for my dog.

And I am constantly dabbing tea tree oil on the things he shouldn't chew. They say you must never have constant tug of wars with your pup where he thinks that you are always taking away his nice things. This can make him defensive and bite later on. So you try to distract him with something else equally interesting and gently remove the object he is destroying. But try finding something interesting to give him when he has grabbed hold of of your dress and is tearing a jagged hole in it!

I am going to have to send him to ChewAholics Anonymous.

Who are you stranger?

The first few days Jamie looked at me with those endearing puppy eyes and wondered what the hell was happening. Where was his mom, siblings and his home? Who was this stranger and where was this new place?

Apparently most pups go through a fear period from 8 to 10 weeks. But if your puppy is afraid and insecure and you mollycoddle and pamper him, he perceives this as a signal that it's OK to be afraid and insecure. So what a balancing act between making him feel at home, comfortable and not over pampering him!

Bedtime was the period when he became most distraught because he missed the body warmth of the pack. Ideally pups should sleep in their chosen spot from Day 1. In my case that would be the kitchen. But an animal behaviourist suggested I start off with him sleeping next to my bed until the second puppy arrived. I was to give him a hot water bottle and a ticking clock. When he cried, I was to lightly touch him but not encourage him to play. This certainly helped Jamie settle down each night.

The problem was that our bio-rhythms were not in sync. I was often up at night taking him out to do his business and rubbing his ears when he whimpered. (My bedroom carpet was covered with plastic and layers of paper and it smelt like a public loo!). He would wake up and want to play at about 5.00am and I wanted to sleep much later. I felt like a mom with a newborn that squealed, peed and pooped except it didn't wear a nappy!

After weeks of no sleep and brain fogged days, I decided the time had come for separate rooms. Jamie was going to sleep in the kitchen and I would have my sweet smelling, peaceful bedroom back. Jamie got the hot water bottle, clock, a stuffed beagle look-alike (which he decided was female) and the radio playing calming classical music. I got golden silence. End result: Harmony in the family again.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

About Breeders...

Personally I respect a breeder who is as fussy about owners. It usually means they care about the future of their puppies. You can very quickly pick up which breeders are just in it for the money. Word has it that puppies with problems (physical and psychological) come from some of the large kennels and certain pet shops. They are churned out by breeders like sausages in a factory and owners have no idea about their background.

If the first 4 months of your puppy's life are critical for imprinting and breeders have them for 2 months, how they care for pups is vital. Both my breeders were small scale and adored their dogs. The puppies grew up in a domestic environment with children, other dogs and visitors. My breeders interviewed every potential owner about their lifestyle and attitude to dogs. They then tried to match the puppy's temperament with the owner's requirements.

One breeder confided she had sleepless nights about owners. Had she made the right choice? But she called me regularly to monitor how things were going and gave lots of valuable after care advice.

I've seen too many unhappy, bored aggressive dogs living year after year behind closed walls, hardly ever seeing their owners. What's the point in having a pet then?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Hey there Jamie!

Dead nervous the week before the arrival of Jamie. Sleepless nights wondering about what I had let myself in for. I had read everything I could find about house training a puppy. I realised that a lot more sleepless nights lay ahead as well as extra vigilant days. But then I saw him and Ag! What can I say. He's worth it!

Preparation, preparation...

Who would believe it would take so much preparation for the arrival of puppies?
Nursery, specialised toys, the right diet, vaccination dates, name registration, long discussions with breeders about the right match between me and my pups.

Discerning breeders make very sure that their dogs go to just the right kind of home because its like Marriage - a life time commitment. At least I knew what I was in for with beagles. But trust me, it's not just about cute puppy looks. You don't want to go home with the wrong breed or temperament which will drive you up the wall. You see there is no such option as Divorce.

A dog's behaviour and attitude is imprinted within the first 4 to 5 months of its life (just as a child is influenced forever by what happens up to 5 years). So I knew the most important thing of all was Puppy Socialisation classes - a kind of guide through this critical period. I thought I knew it all but dog behaviour has become an advanced science. I needed to learn how to live in domestic harmony with my dogs "forever after until death do us part". Call it pre-marriage counselling.

I reckon it's the the most important thing I and my dogs will ever do together.

The Universe speaks in strange ways...

When you've lost an old friend, there's this tendency not to make a big deal about it - it was after all only a dog. But believe me, you do grieve. I didn't realise how much until I resisted going on a much needed holiday. I felt it would not be the same without my old friend. But the call of the healing power of the sea prevailed.
I was not considering having new dogs for at least a year or two (or so I told myself).

And then the universe spoke.
Walking down the road in my seaside village, I came across a beagle puppy and its owner. Beagles are a rare breed, not often seen in South Africa. What were the chances that I would fall in love again so quickly.

A quick conversation, a phone call or two and suddenly I had two baby beagles on the way. It had to be two because all dogs need friends of their own kind. Born three weeks apart, the first to arrive would be a little boy called Jamie.

Goodbye old friend...

We had been friends for fifteen years. But when he stopped eating,I knew that it was time. Beagles never do that. The decision to take him to the vet knowing he would not be coming back was very, very hard. Don't ever underestimate how painful it is.
Just like we don't like dentist's and doctor's rooms, he feared that shiny spotless silver table.
So I asked my kind vet if his last moments could be on soft green grass in the shade of a gentle tree under a wide open blue sky. His spirit would travel freely and softly away.
These words helped me that day.

If it should be that I grow frail and weak
And pain should keep me from my sleep
Then you must do what can be done
For this last battle can't be won.
You will be sad I understand
Don't let grief then stay your hand
For this day more than all the rest
Your love and friendship must stand the test

I'll never forget you, my unconditionally loving friend.