Tales of Teddy

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Teddy Loves: Dog Portraits

dog portraits

Could there be a better gift for a dog-lover than a portrait of their dog? I think not. But then again…

Buying a picture for someone else can be a tricky business – art is a personal thing. Add to that the fact that a dog portrait must capture all the beloved nuances (head tilt, lofty whiskers, skew-whiff tale etc) of that furry friend and things can get problematic.

I’ve discovered a way around it and her name is Caroline Towning. The artist is currently causing a bit of a stir with her dog portraits, beautifully painted in oils and captured between sweet vintage glass frames. Part of her popularity must be that she manages to brilliantly convey the personality of a dog yet her modus operandi is painless. No sittings were required when she painted Ted. I sent off a couple of decent photographs and a week later, a beautifully be-ribboned box appeared with an incredible portrait of Teddy inside. And it really was Teddy – not just any old whiskery Schnauzer. I look at the picture and I’d know that dog anywhere, the fix in his beady eye is spot-on (he’s just seen something he likes the look of – could be a squirrel, could be a round of Brie).

Really, that’s Caroline’s art. When you have a dog, you know your dog and for someone else to recognise your four-legged friend’s character and make-up is the ultimate charm. I have several portraits of Teddy – from loose sketches, to cartoons and pastels – the thing that binds them all is that each artist has ‘got’ Ted. So, if you’re needing inspiration for a dog lover this Christmas, get in touch with Caroline. Her pieces take around a week to complete and they can be personalized with names / tags / a particular collar. Each one costs £250, including free P&P in the UK.

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Teddy’s Tales: Teaching a Dog Manners

Compare Aucklanders with Londoners and of course there are differences. I’ve jotted down the contrasts and so far and they run the gamut from friendliness to fashion, driving skills to coffee obsessions.

As far as walking a dog is concerned the differences start with the first outing of the day: instead of people calling out, “Good morning!”, as they march their dogs up and down the volcanic hills it’s, “G’day!” – this is the antipodes after all. Then there’s the unabashed eye contact (not something you’ll find on public transport in London), but it’s the laid-back Kiwi friendliness that marks the most striking difference and it’s interesting because it seems to have filtered down from the dog owners to the dogs themselves.

I’ve had a fellow dog walker cross a field to have their dog meet Teddy, and plenty of people have crossed a street to do the same. Let’s be clear, at first I thought it was because the owners wanted to pass the time of day – but actually they just want their dogs to have a bit of interaction.

At first this unnerved me because Teddy is not always at his most sociable when on a lead. He doesn’t love other dogs bearing down on him, even if they seem to be jolly enough at the time. But the dogs that we have met so far have been altogether different. Unlike their London counterparts, they don’t yearn and strain to meet another dog, but merely show a bit of interest, exchange sniffs and trot on. In other words, they actually seem to have manners.

I need to find out more about this. Are these dogs all so well-socialised, so well-trained that they know not to jump on another dog? The off-leash opportunities in Auckland are fairly tightly controlled, so are these dogs so polite because they are not in the habit of the kind of high-octane horse-play that sometimes goes awry? (I do keep getting asked, “Does your dog free-roam?”). Or is it simply because they are relaxed and convivial like their owners? I’m leaning towards the latter.

The first time an older man led his alert little cockerpoo up to Ted, I smiled but warned him Teddy might not be terribly friendly. He looked at me like I was a bit odd and said, “Well let’s just see how they go.” And of course they were both perfectly fine. The dog and the man strolled off easily, having taught us both a lesson in Kiwi savoir faire.

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Teddy’s Tales: Shipping a Dog to New Zealand

Contemplate a move to the other side of the world and suddenly your priorities become crystal clear. Before committing to our Auckland adventure I became obsessive about two things: finding the right school for our children (we love their school in London so the bar was set high), and taking Teddy halfway around the world without causing some possibly hideous (i.e. dead dog) fallout.

I started doing an awful lot of online research to help alleviate the sleepless nights. After weeding out various massive schools (too impersonal), boarding schools (we want to be there as a family) and religious schools (we’re not), I lit upon a non-selective, co-ed, progressive school in Auckland. It seemed most similar to our one back home. We had a Skype interview with the headmaster. I wondered whether there was any sort of entrance requirement. The Principal shook his head firmly. He said admission rested on the children’s answers to just one question. I heard the drumroll in my head….He looked at each child and paused. “Do you want to learn?” he piped up, a huge smile on his face. Brilliant. (Most especially since each of our children answered in the affirmative. Phew.)

Then there was Teddy to think about. Of course, during my research I managed to scare myself stupid reading all the horror stories: dogs freezing to death while flying in the equivalent of unheated ‘cargo’; dogs suffering heat exhaustion while left on the tarmac during a plane change or not having access to water in-flight and expiring on arrival. Hideous, hideous, hideous. I trawled the web for good outcomes and warily read testimonials. Finally I came across two options that I liked the sound of. I went for PetAir UK because the woman I spoke with on the telephone was efficient in the questions she asked me, and straightforward and understanding in the answers she gave to my bordering-on-the-neurotic grilling.

Please know this: if you want to ship a dog that hasn’t travelled before to New Zealand, then the process requires a good 6 month lead time. Thank heavens Teddy had previously had his rabies jabs for France and we’ve kept him up to date, so when I first enquired in March about taking him to Auckland in August, it all seemed do-able, though we still had to get on with it.

There followed a good few hours of form filling, contract signing and paperwork scanning (“Pour yourself a glass of wine and spend an evening on it,” suggested one PetAir UK rep.) Then we received a detailed schedule of exactly when each vet appointment should be made (three in all, at specific intervals once we knew that the rabies jab was still effective), what jabs were necessary and to which lab the blood samples should be sent. We had super-efficient Zasman Vet do all the necessaries because they are great: gentle, kind and they always come up trumps on the treat front.

We opted for PetAir UK to build him his wooden shipping crate, giving him the maximum amount of space allowed. We also opted to fly him to New Zealand via Los Angeles as, going on the same route as us via Hong Kong, although cheaper would require a longer stopover time. The thing with shipping a pet to New Zealand is that they are sealed in the crate for the entire journey – 26 hours. No getting out for rest stops unless you go for a different route and a longer stopover, in which case when the dogs do come out of their crate, they don’t all want to get back in again. Hardly surprising and an added stress. We thought it would be better getting it over and done with as soon as possible even though, like all dog owners, we’d spent time teaching Teddy not to mess in his living area, and now he had to do just that. I thought this might completely freak him out. Then again, there were any amount of things about it all that I thought might upset him – the noise, the smells, any other unhappy animals there with him – the list was endless.

PetAir UK did a good job at putting fears to rest. They told me how they spray the crates with pheromones to calm the animals and they take off any items (collar, big toys etc) that might cause a problem in transit. Dogs travel in a temperature-regulated compartment on the airplane, devoted to pet transport (absolutely not in the hold with the luggage). The idea is to keep things as calm as possible so they turn off the lights after take off. The dogs are allowed access to water and they have some Vetbed in the crate to help wick away any moisture but they are also not fed six hours before flying to eliminate any accidents. The icing on the cake was probably the young man who came to collect Ted the afternoon before he flew. He was calm and kind and Teddy went to him immediately. That had to be a good sign.

And that was that. I watched Teddy’s van pull out into the London traffic and didn’t see him again until two days later at Qualified Pet Services quarantine station in New Zealand. Even though my children called it ‘dog prison’ because unsurprisingly (it’s quarantine!), Ted was housed in a concrete run with a bed and a water bowl and a slot in the door to look through, these people care and they really know their animals. They were keen to find out all about Ted before he came to them and quick to let us know that Ted had, ‘come out of his crate easily’ when he arrived, which was apparently a good sign. We visited Ted the day after we touched down. We had to pull on special white clinical robes. He was a bit punch drunk and tired, as were we. He was miserable when we left. We were, too. Then, when we went back a couple of days later, it was a completely different story: he was cheery and bouncy and, although he wanted to leave with us, he settled quickly after we went. Of course, when we came to collect him he was ecstatic and promptly peed on the floor (“That’ll teach you,” I could hear him say).

I suppose if you are going to ship a dog – or your children – half way around the world, you are probably going to do your research. We seem to have lucked out with the school and for Teddy, I feel like the research paid dividends, too. He’s healthy, he’s happy and he’s here, walking the school run, getting fussed over at the gates and generally taking Auckland in his stride.

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Teddy’s Tales: Teddy on Tour – Before we Begin…

teddy on tour

We are two weeks into our New Zealand adventure and Auckland has been extraordinarily kind to us. The people we’ve met have been open and friendly and the weather has been impressive – torrential rain one moment, bright warm sun the next. The locals may have had enough of the downpours but for us, arriving during their equivalent of our dreich February, it’s not at all bad. I’d take Auckland’s intense bright ‘winter’ light (albeit coming between bouts of rain) over our dragged-out grey winters any day.

We’ve been getting used to the time difference, the wonder of WhatsApp, and calling friends and family at breakfast time or bedtime, and catching them when they are half a day behind and doing the reverse. We’ve been getting used to the sounds of the birds (particularly the one that sounds like a lorry backing-up) and the smell of fresh air and eucalyptus trees.

This past week has been full of ‘begin again’ chores like opening new bank accounts, sorting out new phone lines, switching driving licences and working out how to efficiently heat our rental house (the Auckland rain showers make for a pervading sense of damp). It’s all coming together.

We’ve had some exciting things to do, like check out our new area (Parnell). We’ve identified our favourite restaurants and coffee shops so far, and explored the strip that is the heart of this village. We’ve made our way around the local supermarkets (there’s nothing like peering into other people’s shopping trolleys to give you a handle on things) and this weekend we’ll do as the locals do and head to the market to pick up next week’s fruit and veg and maybe take a ride up the coast to check out the beaches. I’d say we’ve settled into our home – just about worked out the intricacies of the coffee machine – and we’ve also bought a car so that we can go further afield. There’s been some nail-biting stuff to be done, too. I left my heart in my mouth when I dropped off the children for their first day at their new school. Four days in and I’m relieved to report that all is well. Friends have been made and both boys have noted that the interesting difference here is that everyone plays with everyone – no cliques. Long may that last.

And then, of course, there’s Ted. Hearing his four paws skitter about the floor boards and having his inquisitive nose poke about the place makes everything feel like home. He survived the 24-hour crate journey. He put up with all the foreign noises and smells of two crazy-long plane journeys. He survived 10 days of quarantine and was very kindly looked after (in what my children christened ‘dog prison’). He’s a stoic little character who has already found a cat to bark at and a sofa to call his own. I’ll write more about the whole dog-shipping process next week. In the meantime, I think Ted and I shall stretch our legs while the sunshine holds.

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Teddy’s Tales (Teddy on Tour – Part 1): Quarantine

dog in quarantine

Teddy is currently residing at a kindly quarantine station in New Zealand. He has been there since last Friday, when we all travelled the 11,386 mile journey from London. Ted went via LA (a shorter journey) and we went via Hong Kong (a cheaper journey). Yes, Teddy, we have our priorities straight – anything for our fluffy friend.

The quarantine station gave us an update as soon as he (and we) arrived: “Teddy came out of his crate easily. Such a chilled out boy,” they wrote. In the accompanying photo he looked well, if a bit wary – twenty six hours in a crate would unsettle the best of us.

We visited Teddy the day after we arrived. Once we had slipped on our white protective coats and dunked our shoes in trays of antiseptic, we were allowed into his run. Cue much excitement – from him and from us. He greeted us all in turn with lots of licks (very un-Ted – his unfettered happiness over-ruled his normal sense of restraint) and we mostly sat on his bed while he went from lap to lap and cuddled in (see above). What a sensory overload for one little dog – boarding kennels for one night, crazy long plane flight, unusual crate and now quarantine – but he’s doing great so far. He’s a stalwart chap but then, among all the mad newness that he has experienced in the last week, there’s also clearly been heaps of kindness. The young man who came from Pet Air UK (the pet shippers) to collect Ted happily gave him a cuddle. The carers at the quarantine station have talked us through our, ‘Should we visit Teddy or will it just unsettle him more?’ queries, and advised us accordingly depending on how he was doing that day. The photo updates, including one of Ted playing fetch (“It’s more like a game of squash when you play with him, he knocks it back to you”, they said. Exactly!), have been brilliantly reassuring. So far the whole experience has been as positive as we could have hoped for.

Can’t wait to pick him up next week. Meantime, we’ll be Ted-proofing our New Zealand garden. To see what it looks like, click here. It’s going to be a bit of a job…

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Teddy’s Tales: Teddy on Tour

teddy on tour

Our world has been turned upside down – in a good, and soon to be rather literal, way. Our visas have come through so now it’s official: we are off on an adventure to the other side of the world. We’re heading to New Zealand – which is a bit of hike for a woman like me, who still lives within 500 metres of her childhood home.

We are taking the children out of school and heading to Auckland – City of Sails – in search of something different, for a short while at least. Of course, Teddy’s coming, too.

It’s happened fairly quickly – hence the last minute visas. The Tales of Teddy store will continue (the wonder of a web-based business), but I’m going to sign off the blog for a month or so while we pack up our house (currently every surface in our home and every recess in my brain seems littered with lists), make our journey around the world (24-hour flights for us all) and settle into a new way of life.

We might share the same language and drive on the same side of the road, but I’m looking forward to all that’s different over there: the beaches of Auckland after the urban sprawl of London; the wild beauty of New Zealand (the tropical north, the Southern Ocean, all the heavenly bits in between) after the familiar green/grey comforts of Blighty. There’s even the accent: as a friend gleefully pointed out, Teddy will soon be answering to ‘Tiddy’!

It’s an exciting thing to do and not without its nail-biting moments. Our current pressing concerns are:

1. Taking enough food for a hungry teenager with severe food allergies on a 24-hour flight. (Is there a cool bag big enough?)
2. Teddy travelling in a crate for 24-hours and then staying in quarantine for 10 days. (We thought it was a relief that we could visit Teddy once he’s in quarantine. Now we are wondering if that will just confuse him. “I don’t think we’ll be able to stay away,” said my husband. Yup. I think he’s right.)
3. Getting everything done before we leave. Those lists I mentioned are endless. Yet still, yesterday I must have made at least 20 cups of tea in an effort to avoid getting on with it.

The shippers, the storage containers, the industrial cleaners, the renters – they’re all to come and there will undoubtedly be a crazy countdown until we leave. Then, when we get there, we’ll want to explore our neighbourhood, the country – find out about the local people, the food, the way of life, the outdoor pursuits (sailing, paddle boarding, hiking, skiing) not to mention the local dog scene…

There are still new products in the pipeline for the Tales of Teddy store, and who knows what we’ll find to add in New Zealand (there are an awful lot of Kiwi sheep, so I’m guessing something wooly might be a go-er)? While I might be easing up on the blog for a while, Teddy’s Instagram will still be going strong. Teddy on Tour: here’s hoping you’ll join him on a virtual voyage. Wish us luck!

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Teddy Loves… The Dog House

teddy at the Dog House

Teddy returned from his first activity camp holiday earlier this week and in his overnight bag, alongside various treats and his favourite toy, was a fairly weighty school report. You’ve got to love The Dog House. When your dog stays with them, they take his or her welfare so seriously that you really need not worry.

Of course, that’s not to say I didn’t. Unlike your child’s first camp, you can’t explain to your dog as he boards the bus that he will be returning to his favourite spot on the sofa, his treats, his walks and and his pretty darn lovely day-to-day life in a matter of days. You can’t explain to your dog that this romp – with plenty of other well-cared for pups; over meadows, marshes and woodland; with warm beds to sleep in and carers to coddle, train or play fetch with – is something of a treat.

Instead you must supply him with a ‘scent of home’ (in Ted’s case a T-shirt slept in by both my husband and I – yum!) and a cheery, upbeat farewell, so as not to provoke separation anxiety. I slightly wimped out on that last one. My husband took Teddy to meet the specially adapted Dog House dog bus ferrying him to the 300 acres of Welsh farm land that was to be his home for the next 10 nights.

My husband sent a photo of the handover (I might not have womanned-up to the task, but I still wanted to see how little Ted managed). He was impressed by the positive comments from other owners dropping off their four-legged friends, noting that, “They’d all done it before and came back for more.” He also liked the way the reassuring driver tucked a pig’s ear into Teddy’s crate. So, no problems.

I logged onto the FaceBook page and waited for a picture of Teddy to appear. Within two days a photo popped up: Teddy romping along a green path, grinning for the camera. Perhaps it’s not surprising that his first stay away from the family went so very well. Before he set off, we had to fill in pages about this Mini Schnauzer’s general behaviour, diet, health and habits. We had to meet with The Dog House’s Mark Thompson for a prelimineray once-over (for them, not us – you can read about that here).

When Teddy got back we received a detailed timetable of daily activities along with that aforementioned Behaviour Report that confirmed, importantly, his Favourite Toy: Tennis Ball, and his Order of Motivation: 1. Affection 2. Games 3. Food. We had a full page on Teddy’s recall, or lack thereof (must try harder), his reluctance to walk to heel (oh dear) and his potential for chasing small animals. “He demonstrated a fair interest in most small animals, although his handler was able to distract him.” While from an early age Ted has got used to the delights of an urban environment – the Underground, the sound of a jackhammer and the lurch of a London Bus -, I never thought of introducing him to a chicken or a pig. Despite all the cute videos on Facebook showing dog/cat, dog/rabbit friendships, it’s the last thing I would do…

On the plus side, Teddy is well-mannered (doesn’t try to barge though doors first), loves a game of fetch but is also content with his own company. He has no separation anxiety, but we’re not to get complacent. For each behaviour exhibited – good and bad – the report gives tips so this handy little booklet will undoubtedly become Teddy’s personalised training manual. I’m also pleased to report that while he sought out a fellow Mini Schnauzer to pal around with, Teddy also made friends with a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever and two ‘elderly but energetic’ Border Terriers. Clearly he integrates well. So proud.

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Teddy’s Tales: Which dog food?

which dog food

Dog-owners are increasingly passionate about which dog food they feed their four-legged friends. People get pretty heated about it – it’s all over Facebook. For some it’s about ethics, so dog food has got to be organic and animal welfare-friendly. For the kibble-averse, it’s about raw food, carefully weighed out hunks of meat and bone, something akin to what we might imagine dogs would ‘naturally’ eat. There are plenty who enjoy the idea of different meals created especially for their furry friends – with breakfast and light snacks all catered for. There are others who carefully read packaging, the better to make an informed choice about the fillers/preservatives/sugars/salts that go into their dog’s food.

What does Teddy eat? His small Schnauzer stomach is madly sensitive – anything too fatty or rich is a no go area, as our trips to the vet will testify. So while I love the idea of feeding him delicious bones or bowls of something specially prepared, I’m afraid it’s not on his agenda. Only dull, allergy-friendly kibble.

I feel the guilt (about Teddy’s variety-free option, and ironically, about the safe stodge I feed him) and I’m always on the lookout for alternatives, introducing them very slowly, to see if Teddy’s tolerance changes. My latest find: Pure Pet Food. I like the idea behind it almost as much as I like the straightforward video The Pure Pet Food Story put up on YouTube by Mat and Dan, the young founders. At their human-grade food facility in Yorkshire they gently dehydrate natural, human-grade ingredients to preserve them and then pack them into neat recipe boxes. You add warm water to the dry mix that is scooped out of the packet. Easy. They don’t use fillers, grain, wheat or gluten. They don’t use battery farmed or cage-reared animals for their meat and are able to track all sources to fully-regulated farms.

It’s a natural diet that takes the idea of raw food and makes it a whole lot more convenient (no defrosting, chopping or weighing required). It’s also good quality, although perhaps not so gnaw-able. I love the message, and I do love the lack of mess. How I wish it suited Teddy. Unfortunately, despite a very slow introduction, this dog’s super-sensitive tum says ‘not right now’. However since Teddy can now stomach a tiny sausage tidbit, whereas two years ago it would have sent him to the vet, I have hope. Give it some time, and we’ll try again.

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Teddy Loves… Bring Your Dog To Work Day

bring your dog to work day

Sad but true: there are plenty of moments in my working day when either my concentration is shot, my eyes are screen-sore or, more drastically, I feel as though I need to re-boot my brain. It’s at times like these that having a highly-huggable, ever-playful dog in the office makes an awful lot of sense. When I push back my chair, Teddy’s eyebrows twitch in a state of high alert: he’s ready for a feisty tug of war, a brief chat, a therapeutic cuddle, whatever – it’s win-win for both of us. He achieves his forever goal (more attention) and I switch off my work head, have a moment or two of soft fluffy interaction and feel all the better for it.

Today, Friday 23rd June, is the fourth annual UK #BringYourDogToWorkDay. It’s organised by ethical pet care product company HOWND, who are encouraging businesses to welcome their employee’s four-legged friends into the workplace and raise money for the excellent charities All Dogs Matter and Animals Asia at the same time. (There are some fun ways to donate online, including a Dog With a Job Hall of Fame – for more information, CLICK HERE)

While it makes sense to put some rules in place if this one-off event becomes your business’s norm (I wrote a blog about this a while back: Friday Find: Bring My Dog To Work), there’s plenty of evidence to suggest having well-behaved pets in the office is a good idea. The International Journal of Workplace Health Management found that dogs lessen the impact of stress for their owners and make the job more satisfying for everyone they come into contact with. Day to day stress level scores fell by 11% among workers who had brought their dogs to work, while they increased 70% for those who did not. Wow!

I get it: there are so many benefits. You won’t got to work and feel the guilt of leaving your four-legged friend home alone. Lunch time walkies are a good way to clear the head and a dog sitting in the office makes people – fellow workers and visitors – smile. I’ve never met someone who didn’t love the idea of Teddy sitting in on a meeting. You might have to think about the toys you bring with you (trying to extricate a squeaker from a dog mid-chew during a conference call is not ideal) but otherwise, what’s to lose?

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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.