Tales of Teddy

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Teddy Loves: Dog Training Tricks

dog training tricks

On Wednesday mornings for the past six weeks Teddy and I have toddled off to Hampstead Heath to join The Incredibly Clever Canine Circus. The idea is to have some fun and pick up some clever dog training tricks along the way. In our six one-hour sessions we have been taught place-training, going around a cone, rolling over, leg-weaving (Ted’s quite the agility dog), unrolling a mat (with his nose – ta-dah), spinning, bowing and sitting-pretty.

That’s a fairly comprehensive starter kit of tricks (there are various levels of these courses, we started with the Fabulous Foundation Class – see the website for details). Of course, though everyone was taught the same manoeuvres, not all the dogs could do them straight away. Teddy mastered the bow fairly quickly. Clovis the Welsh Terrier was adept at rolling over. Cassie the chatty Mini Schnauzer had no problem doing the sit-pretty (where a dog sits and puts their front paws up, begging). When I asked Teddy to do this, he was reluctant. I could almost hear him say, “Why? Why would you want me to look sweet and soppy when looking gruff and reserved is my thing?”

We’ll keep working on it though, because these tricks travel very well. Place training involved getting our dogs to jump-up on a platform (calling out the cue ‘on the box‘ in best sing-song voice and using a treat as lure), then having them stay on the platform and perform there, all with the added distraction of other dogs, their treats and owners fairly nearby. Turns out that’s a pretty useful skill to have, even when you’re out for a drink at your local pub. The other evening I thought I’d try asking Teddy to jump up ‘on the bench‘ next to me (he’s not keen on benches – the slats make him unsure where to put his feet). Ted scooted up without a second thought. Amazing what practise and a decent treat can do.

Joining the Circus reminded me that it’s not just the dogs who have problems with training. Treat timing is everything – you must reward the behaviour you want, immediately. It sounds simple but I’m still not great at it. Co-ordination can also be tricky: weaving a dog on a lead in and out of your legs while executing what looks like a step from the Ministry of Silly Walks is not simple. The good news is that it’s fun – especially if you head somewhere like this to learn.

Apparently, with practise, just about anything is possible. We’ve seen the results and anyway, Deborah Colella (aka The Dog Nanny) says so. She’s the mastermind behind this dog circus and she is Teddy’s – and my – new favourite guru. While Ted follows her movements closely – his eyes fixed upon her hands, hoping for a super sausage tidbit – I’m happy to focus on her training bon mots. One in particular I’ve taken home with me and it’s a phrase she’s making her own: #traineverywhere. Simple and effective. We’ll keep trying.

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Friday Find: Reading to dogs

reading to dogs

Dogs make remarkably good listeners. He might not be able to talk back, but Teddy often offers a response that seems remarkably appropriate: a glance of acknowlegement, a look of studied sympathy, even sometimes, a well-timed, slightly withering sigh.

So I shouldn’t be surprised that this doggy skill of sympathetic, silent listening, is being appreciated by more than just crazy dog ladies like myself.

The Independent recently published an article about the therapeutic presence a dog can bring to a child who is struggling to read.

America started the ball rolling with a Reading Education Assistance Dogs (READ) scheme. In Britain we have the Bark & Read Foundation funded by the Kennel Club Charitable Trust that works alongside a variety of charities to bring trained support dogs into schools. In the classroom, these marvellous dogs provide a reassuring, uncritical audience, making reading fun and giving confidence to those who lack it. What a wonderful, and thoroughly sensible idea.

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Teddy Tales: Teddy’s motion picture premiere

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.

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Teddy’s Tales: Dognapping – update

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.”

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Teddy’s Tales: Dognapping, foiled

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.

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Training Teddy: When your dog eats poo

dog eats poo

If you don’t own a dog, you might want to look away now. Coprophagia is the smart name for eating poo. Some dogs have a taste for it. Revolting but true.

I remember reading about this condition pre-Teddy and feeling faintly horrified. In Bruce Fogle’s DOG The Definitive Guide for Dog Owners, he writes the no-nonsense facts: “Dogs eat poop. It’s wired into their brain circuitry. In some the instinct is firmer than others.” I’m going to gloss over his use of the word ‘firm’.

Puppies sometimes eat faeces while investigating their environment. What do you do when your dog eats poo? To stop it becoming a habit, there are non-harmful sprays that you can buy to trick your pup into hating eating poo: squirt it on the stuff, leave it for your dog to find and then your dog will (hopefully) avoid the nasty-tasting stuff in the future.  Of course, training your dog to ‘leave’ and ‘come’ would help, too.

Although Teddy has an occasional fondness for rabbit poo he has never really gone for anything bigger. But this week he did. Cue much gagging on my part and a brisk walk home, followed by two thorough scrub-downs with a special anti-fox poo shampoo kept for just such unlikely, stinking occasions. For the sake of thoroughness, his teeth were brushed too, and then he was back to his former glory, above.

This unscheduled double wash and brush-up put paid to our morning’s plans and Ted definitely wondered what all the fuss was about. I did, too. Why had this usually choosy Miniature Schnauzer suddenly scarfed down these unmentionables?

Apparently some dogs eat stool in an effort to correct an imbalance in the digestive process. “If a dog is not digesting food properly, and they have less pancreatic enzymes, they might eat faeces because it will have the protein that they are after and which is palatable,” says Rodney Zasman of Zasman Vet. “Another reason a dog might eat faeces is a condition called pica, which is a brain tumour. More often than not, if a dog is a habitual eater, it’s worth getting them checked out.”

Then there’s the problem that eating poop can cause health problems of its own if it’s contaminated with viruses, parasites or the kind of crazy toxic substances that Teddy’s cousin found on our local Heath (see my previous post: When Your Dog Gets High).

As he hasn’t shown an interest since, I’m putting Teddy’s momentary dietary deviation down to the fact that, according to Rodney: “The poorer quality the food, the tastier the faeces. Same goes for cat faeces. Fox poo is tasty to dogs because it’s high in protein”.  Still though, I’ll be keeping a close eye on Teddy’s meanderings and I’ll definitely be steering him away from the undergrowth in future.



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Friday Find: Dog Portraits


Robert James Clarke is known for jetting around the world and painting rather lovely dog portraits of some rather spoilt pooches. I’ve written about his work and his role call of celebrity clients before Click Here. (To see his fabulous drawing of Teddy, take a look at Friday Find: Dog Art). Clarke and his art fittingly feature in a new, 6-part documentary with the working title Rich Dogs that’s currently being filmed for ITV, but his latest collection of dog portraits paints a different story.

“I got in touch with Wild at Heart Foundation, All Dogs Matter, Senior Sighthounds and I Heart Whippets,” say Rob. “They sent me photographs of dogs that were available to adopt.” Bingo! They were the inspiration for “RESCUE ME”, his latest show, running from 25th April to 30 April at Julian Hartnoll Gallery in Mayfair.

“The commissions I normally do are of specific breeds. What I liked about doing the rescues is they are all so different, with shades of many breeds. Interesting mixes, characterful chaps. Diesel, Dexter, Rocky… Some of the dogs just sprang to my attention.”  See Dexter, a Wild at Heart Foundation dog, all silky ears and doleful eyes, above.  “Since then, most of the dogs I’ve painted have found new homes which is wonderful.”

Prices start at £1200 for a 12″ x 12″ portrait and 10% of sales go to each individual charity. If Dexter appeals (and how could he not?), he also appears in a new run of Clarke’s cards at Equine Canine Art.



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Teddy’s Tales: Off to Join the Dog Circus


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…




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Friday Find: Dog Feeding Toy


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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






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Friday Find: Training Dogs

training dogs

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

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

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

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

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

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