Cornwall welcomes dogs

We’ve just returned from a lovely week in sunny Cornwall – our first ‘proper’ holiday with a dog and we couldn’t have picked a better place to go. I was absolutely blown away by how welcome dogs are: many shops have signs up saying, ‘Well behaved dogs on leads welcome’ and others without signs told us we could bring the dog in when they saw us hovering outside. Most pubs and cafes had outdoor seating but we were also allowed inside with Willow in some of them as well.

Willow in the long grassMany of the attractions are also fully or partly dog-friendly and I reserve my highest praise for the Lost Gardens of Heligan. This was a return visit for Husband and I, having first visited there in 1997 and always meaning to go back but never quite managing it. We bought a family ticket at the ticket office and received our tickets but what really impressed me was that the tickets came with a welcome dog treat for Willow. The gardens are beautiful, extensive and great fun to explore but also well equipped with dog bowls and dog bins. As far as Willow was concerned it was a four hour stroll interrupted by occasional socialising with other dogs.

Willow on the beachIn fact, we regularly managed to wear Willow out, which is no mean feat; in addition to the Lost Gardens she explored Bude, Padstow, Port Isaac, Boscastle, St Nectan’s Glen and Tintagel and had a morning and evening walk most days as well. We timed it really well: many of the Cornish beaches have restrictions on dogs which start on Easter Sunday. By being there before Easter Willow could have free fun of the beaches and we were lucky enough with the weather to be able to enjoy them properly.

We were in a rented property with no garden and I was a little bit worried about Willow possibly doing some damage. I have to say, however, she behaved beautifully the whole week and we compensated for the lack of garden by having a lovely walk on the doorstep. Most evenings we could walk Willow up by the river and skim stones for her to chase into the water, which she loved.

So we all had a lovely, fun week. Thank you, Cornwall, for being so welcoming.

I’m curious to know which other places or tourist attractions in the UK are very dog friendly – feel free to make suggestions in the comments.

A new toy and a good cause

Willow with her Sport Relief dog toys.We’ve been enjoying Sport Relief’s Top Dog daily on BBC2; it’s silly, doesn’t take itself seriously and the dogs and their owners look as if they’re having fun. As yet Willow doesn’t really watch TV although she has shown a little bit of interest in some of the episodes of Top Dog.

Given that it’s for a good cause I sent off for the special Sport Relief Dog Toy, well both of them in fact, and they arrived today. As usual with anything new Willow didn’t really know what to make of them so she settled for growling at them, then barking, then running away. She hasn’t come across squeaky toys before and that confused her further – every time I squeaked one of them she jumped in surprise.
WIllow growling at toy
Eventually she was brave enough to fully investigate, decide that they were harmless and started to play with them. A little bit of her terrier nature even came out as she played tug and then shook the toys to ‘kill’ them, however, she eventually reverted to her default setting – chewing to destruction. Time to replace the toys with a proper chew toy instead.
Willow chewing sport relief dog toy

Train Training

As a family we like to do a lot of our travelling by train; it’s less stressful, especially for me as I do almost all the driving, we can spend quality time together talking or playing card games and because we plan ahead and buy tickets in advance and have a family railcard it actually doesn’t work out that expensive. I was keen, therefore, that Willow coming into the family wouldn’t limit our ability to use the train and this weekend gave us the opportunity to test this out as we’d made plans to go down to Bath to see some folks.

Knowing that Willow is quite nervous I decided it wouldn’t be a good idea for the journey that mattered to be her first train journey so last week I took her on a ten minute train journey between two local stations and back home again. I could tell she didn’t much enjoy the experience but she managed it and was quite happy to get on and off the train. I think she felt more comfortable on the first train where the carriages had carpeted floors as she lay down and made herself comfortable. On the return journey we were in a bigger space with hard floors and as she wouldn’t settle I ended up with her sitting on my lap, one of the advantages of owning a small dog!

On Saturday morning we set off fairly early to get the 0827 from Reading to Bath. Having booked tickets in advance we had seats reserved which I hoped would be around a table. No such luck, on boarding the train we discovered we had two sets of airline seats, one in front of the other. I carried Willow onto the train, as the steps to an Intercity are really steep, and then kept her on my lap while the train was boarding. Once we were underway I put her down in the aisle between the seats, keeping her on her lead, and after sniffing around for a minute or two she lay down and settled which was promising.

The first stop was Swindon, at which point I put Willow back onto my lap to avoid being trodden on. A troop of about thirty girl guides got into our carriage and all trooped past where we were sitting to get to their seats. Not all of them saw Willow sitting on my lap but enough of them did that there was a steady chorus of ‘Aww’s as they made their way down the carriage, most of them sitting in the seats immediately behind us. As the train got underway again I put Willow down in the aisle again where she seemed quite happy to sit facing the girls, watching them all watching her and talking about how cute she was.

It takes an hour for the train to get from Reading to Bath and it seemed to go really well for Willow. We had a pleasant day in Bath – in the morning we took a short walk through town to pick up a little bit of shopping and then in the afternoon we went for a walk out along the canal towpath. Although I’m biased in thinking that Willow is a very pretty dog, she does seem to elicit a response from strangers. In a short space of time in the city we were approached by two people, the first was a lady who just wanted to stroke her and the second was a man who had previously owned a cairn terrier/chihuahua cross and thought she looked very similar.

Willow asleep on lapWe did a fair amount of walking during the day but, just to make sure, at the end of the day we walked the mile and a half back to the train station to catch the 2046 train home. This gave Willow the chance to toilet before we got on the train and she was happy to oblige. Getting on the train was a repeat of the outward journey with Willow in the aisle but the first stop at Chippenham came ten minutes into the journey. Again I put Willow on my lap so she wasn’t in the way but very quickly she seemed to go to sleep on my lap which wasn’t entirely surprising as even on a normal day she usually starts going to sleep around 8pm. This time she spent virtually the whole journey asleep on my lap which was very sweet but didn’t make for the most comfortable of journeys for me.

Shortly before we were due to arrive in Reading I put Willow back down into the aisle. I didn’t realise that the chap sitting at the table next to us had been watching because as I did so he said, “I have to ask – is that a fox?” I explained that no, she wasn’t and we had a brief conversation. He mentioned that he thought the way she’d been sitting on my lap had been very cat-like which is what confused him and then finished by saying how pretty he thought she was. That’s fine by me – you can compliment my dog as much as you like!

When we finally got off the train Willow was raring to go – as soon as we got onto the platform her tail went up in the air, her head and ears came up alert and she was tugging on the lead to get going. She set a very brisk pace to get home and was obviously very pleased to be back; she went easily into her crate to continue the sleep she’d started on the train, obviously worn out by a very successful daytrip.

Teaching a young dog new tricks.

Willow sitting.Having completed her Beginner-Improver course with Pets in Practice, Willow now understands various commands. As well as the basics of sit, lie down, come and stay, the most useful thing we have taught her is ‘Spin’ i.e. turn around in a circle on the spot. The reason this is useful is that when she comes in from the garden or a walk and is muddy we ask her to spin a few times on the doormat and it helps get her feet clean. Willow also responds pretty well to ‘leave’ and ‘wait’. The command the children love the most and show off to their friends is her ‘High Five’ which, although cute, I have yet to find a use for!

Although Willow has picked up what she’s supposed to do for most of the tricks quite easily, the one she cannot grasp is ‘Back’ – getting her to walk backwards. We’re still working on that one. The other one I’m also working on with her is how to shut an open door.

Once Willow is a year old I’m considering taking her to agility classes but in the meantime I want to keep her brain working. So I’m going to throw a question out there – what are the most useful tricks you’ve taught your dog, apart from the ones mentioned above, and why were they so useful?

Best. Day. Ever.

(Well best hour ever, at least)

We’ve just come back from spending a few days on the lovely Isle of Mull where Husband’s parents live. Mull has lots of things going for it as a destination: amazing wildlife, beautiful scenery, mountains and, most importantly, some incredible beaches. One beach we go to is very popular in the summer with visitors, but we prefer to go there in winter when we get the wide open space to ourselves. And, boy, is it ever a wide open space:

Sandy beachSpot Willow in this photo!

The downside of the beach is the long length of winding, bouncing single track road to get there (actually that’s most of the roads on Mull, not just this one). Luckily Willow seems to be overcoming the car-sickness she suffered from when we first got her.

We parked up and took Willow on her lead across the swathe of machair down to the beach. As soon as we let her off her lead she ran – big looping circles around us. She ran, and ran, and ran, stopping long enough to roll in the sand and then off again. There was a real joyfulness to her running.

Willow on beachI took her down to the sea to see what she would make of it. The sea was quite calm with very small waves breaking in it. Willow had a little paddle, tried drinking it and I swear she made a face when she discovered it was salt water. After another run around I took her back to the sea and this time she plunged straight in and started paddling, which I really didn’t expect as she’s always shown a tendency to avoid getting her feet wet. When I called her out I think she realised how cold the water had been because she was doing the normal dog-shake manoeuvre but was combining it with a sort of shivery dance. This obviously called for some more running to warm up again.

Willow spent a good hour, running on the beach, investigating a few other dogs who had bought their owners out for a walk, but always coming back when called, which was great reinforcement of that particular command.

I have to say, when we got back from the beach, there was a definite contentedness to her.