In Praise of Small Dogs

This blog post was going to be about Willow’s Big Kennel Adventure, but I’m suffering from writers block on that one so you’ll have to have this one instead!

Regular readers of this blog might remember my friend’s dog Millie. As a huge favour to my friend we had Millie to stay overnight at New Year and, as an even bigger favour, she’s now back for the entire weekend. Don’t get me wrong, Millie is a beautiful dog:

Millie

… she has a lovely temperament, is a real softie and not particularly big for a GSD but, compared to Willow she is HUGE.

And it’s hard not to make comparisons. So, my list of the advantages of small dogs:

1. They physically take up less space. I know, it’s in the name – SMALL dogs. But when you’ve got a small house and a dog that’s in the way, it’s a lot easier to step around/over a small dog (and when they decide to get under your feet it’s also easier to step ON a small dog, but this is not an advantage.)

2. They are physically less intimidating (obviously not a plus if you’re looking for a scary dog). If Willow stands on her hind legs, she comes to about the top of my thighs. If Millie stands on her hind legs, her face is level with mine. Not only that, a primitive part of my brain kicks in at that point gibbering with fear that I’m about to be eaten. If you don’t believe me try it – stand up eyeball to eyeball with a dog that’s big enough and no matter the temperament of the dog, there is something about being that close to a mouth full of canine teeth that kick-starts the ‘I’m prey’ part of your psyche.

3.  Talking of eating, small dogs need a lot less food. I buy my food in 1.5kg bags one of which will last about 2-3 weeks. The largest size bag I can quickly find is 30kg which, by my calculation, would last Willow about a year. Buying in bulk is obviously cheaper but buying food for a small dog is cheaper still.

4.  Because they eat less small dogs excrete less. Today I found myself thinking ‘Do poo bags really only come in one standard size?’ Because one standard size is fine for clearing up after Willow, but really not up to the task of clearing up the mountain of excrement that Millie deposited shortly after arriving. And the odour is definitely in proportion to the quantity….

5. Small dogs make much better lap dogs. We don’t encourage Willow to be a lap dog, but when stretched out on the sofa if she decides to lie on top of me it’s not a problem. Many years ago Millie’s Mum owned a Rottweiler/GSD cross who took a real shine to Husband and frequently attempted to sit on his lap. Well, it was funny for the rest of us but not a pleasant experience for Husband.

6. Small dogs are easier to control. We took both dogs out for a walk at lunchtime, or rather Millie took me out for a walk and Husband and Willow trotted along behind trying to keep up. By the time we got to the field to let the dogs off the lead, my arms and legs were aching from trying to keep Millie in line. Big dogs are just that much stronger and have the weight to put behind it. Conversely, as a last resort you can pick a small dog up and carry them to where you need them to be.

Having said all that, it is by no means a criticism of Millie as a dog. She and Willow have a great relationship and it’s really sweet to see them together: Willow and Millie

So what have I missed? Any other advantages of having a small dog? Let me know in the comments.

Greyfriars Willow

In Edinburgh City Centre there is a life size statue to Greyfriars Bobby, a Skye Terrier. The story of Bobby is either a bittersweet tale of doggy devotion or, depending on how you look at it, a cautionary tale of the stubbornness of terriers.

I only mention this as I was strongly reminded of the story of Greyfriars Bobby this afternoon on a walk with Husband and Willow. We’d walked up to a local meadow popular with dog-owners about a mile away from our house and once there we’d walked a lap around the field before starting the walk home through a residential area. Shortly after we’d left the field Husband, realising he’d dropped our plastic container of poo bags somewhere on the field,  said, “Go on, I’ll catch you up,” and went back to look for it. Willow watched him jog out of site and then sat down and refused to move.

Stubborn Terrier
I tried to encourage her to start walking, “Come on, let’s go!” she ignored me. I tried tugging on her lead to get her moving; she dug her paws in. I tried tempting treats; she ignored them. Hang on, she ignored food? This was serious. No matter what, I could not get her to move so instead I stood on the pavement outside someone’s house for five minutes next to my stubborn dog who sat and stared intently at the corner that Husband had disappeared around. Occasionally she sniffed the air to see if she could smell him.

Thankfully he reappeared fairly soon after and was surprised to see the two of us still there. As soon as he was on the pavement with us Willow stood up and started trotting home quite happily. Husband seemed to think the whole thing was rather sweet.

*sigh*

Incidentally, my first introduction to the story of Greyfriars Bobby was through watching the 1949 film Challenge to Lassie as a child. I remember being very moved by the film and then a few years later surprised to find out that the real Bobby, a Skye Terrier, bore no resemblance to the famous rough collie movie star! Still, Hollywood never lets the truth get in the way of a good story.

Bells and Whistles and Squirrels

It’s the time of year when there are plenty of squirrels around, especially as this autumn is so warm. The little furries are collecting as much food as possible to store up to last them through the winter, as a result they’re on the ground a lot more than at other times of the year.

Willow is half terrier. Terriers are bred to kill small furries, mainly rats and mice but squirrels will do just as well. Unfortunately a couple of weeks ago we think Willow did just that – she disappeared off into some dense vegetation and didn’t come back for a significant time, even when called. When she did eventually re-appear it was with bright red fresh blood all over her muzzle, blood which it became quickly apparent wasn’t hers. We don’t know for sure what she had killed, but we suspect given how much she loves to chase them that it was a squirrel.

Squirrel with nut

This experience, together with others where she has chased but not killed, has shown that when Willow gets on the scent of a squirrel and becomes very excited she also becomes deaf to our calls. However, despite it being her nature, I’d prefer that my dog didn’t become a major killer of wildlife. So, what to do?

The first step was to treat Willow the same way as we do to stop Cat from catching birds in the garden – bell her. I put together a clip with three cat bells on it and for the next little while whenever we let her off her lead we clipped the bells on to her harness as a squirrel early warning system. The jury is still out on how effective this was – the squirrels and everyone in the vicinity could certainly hear Willow coming and she didn’t catch any squirrels while she was using it but that could just be coincidence. To be fair although it bothered her a little bit (it was probably quite loud to her) it was a lot more acceptable to her than I suspect a muzzle would have been. That could be an option for some dogs but, given that she dislikes having a harness put on her, I suspect that a muzzle would never have been acceptable to Willow.

Whilst out with Willow wearing her Squirrel Early Warning System TM we happened to get into conversation with another dog owner, mainly because he wanted to know why our dog was wearing bells. He’d had various behavioural issues with his dog and had consulted a pet behaviourist; one thing that he said struck home with me, which was the fact that when you call your dog they can hear the tone of your voice and if it’s slightly panicked they are more likely to ignore it. Hence it’s better to train your dog to come to a whistle rather than a call.

Armed with this information I went out and bought a silent dog whistle. Only it isn’t because apparently if it’s silent you can’t gauge how effective it is. So it’s sold as a silent dog whistle but it makes a noise. Go figure. For the next day or two at odd times I fed really tasty treats to Willow at the same time as blowing the whistle. I then tested it by blowing it inside the house while Willow was in the garden. A streak of energy charged through the cat flap and sat in front of me looking expectantly up at me. So that seemed to have worked. I also tried it a few times with her off the lead with the same result – she immediately came running up, looking for food. Easiest bit of training I’ve ever done with her!

So for now, the bells are off and the whistle is in; if we need to go back to the bells we will. I’m hoping the squirrels of Berkshire can all go about their foraging a little easier now!

Pavlov’s Dog Likes Ice Cream

Over the summer holidays an ice-cream van has visited our little cul-de-sac once or twice each week. Most times that ‘The Happy Wanderer’ played out in the way that only ice cream vans can one or both children would charge downstairs yelling ‘Mum? Mum? Can we have an ice cream?’ Mostly the answer was yes (“and buy one for me while you’re there”).

I must confess to being partial to a 99, well, most sorts of ice cream actually but if it’s an ice cream van then it has to be a 99. Willow, we have learned, is also partial to soft serve ice cream, either a small dollop on a spoon or squeezed into the bottom little bit of the cone. She eats it very politely though, unlike some dogs. So throughout the holidays we would regularly get an ice-cream from the van and Willow would often get some too.

Today the ice cream man came calling again. Sensibly he waits until after 4pm when most of the children will be home from school. However, Son wasn’t home yet and Daughter has decided she’s on a bit of a health drive at the moment. So as the Happy Wanderer chimed out down the road only one member of the household reacted – Willow. She came charging through the house and up to the front door barking excitedly.

I could put this down to coincidence, however the fact is that it also happened at the weekend. I was out in the garden with Willow and we heard the van’s music. In actual fact he didn’t drive down our road on that occasion but as soon as Willow heard the chimes she rushed back into the house barking.

Looks like Ivan Pavlov was on to something…

A Nocturnal Visitor

Willow isn’t allowed upstairs as a rule. Mostly she’s pretty good about it but occasionally she does push her luck; when she does push her luck she does so extremely quietly – she sneaks upstairs very effectively so you can’t hear her.

Last night I was woken up at about midnight by the sound of Willow coming into our room which is pretty unusual. I assumed she was asking to go out so I got up, put a dressing gown on and went downstairs to let her out into the back garden. As we walked through to the kitchen I noticed Cat on the kitchen table. Except Cat is mostly black, not mostly white. And Cat isn’t that big. Or that fluffy.

We try and keep Cat in at night so we set the cat flap to in only – she can get in if she’s out but can’t get out again. Half of the cat flap was sitting on a kitchen chair; it certainly hadn’t been there when we went to bed. And a strange cat was on our kitchen table, panicking and trying to work out how to get out through a window, none of which were open.

He was gorgeous.

I say ‘he’ – he didn’t have the wide face of an un-neutered tom cat but he did have enormous paws so I’m guessing he was a tom. He had a lovely white coat with light grey markings and when I walked up to the table to make a fuss of him it turned out that he was also incredibly affectionate. Cat’s food is kept on the table to stop Willow eating it and he’d finished off what was in the bowl. Being a softie I topped it up with some more food – he was a bit damp and the weather had been foul all evening and into the night. He didn’t seem hungry though, more interested in getting some affection which I was happy to give, as was Husband once I got him out of bed to see what was going on. We opened the back door wide so he could leave, but he wasn’t in a hurry to go.

I would have kept him. Did I mention how gorgeous and affectionate he was?

Willow wasn’t too happy about all the fuss he was getting but every time she came close to him he growled loudly at her. She growled back but in a tone of voice that clearly said, ‘I don’t really understand what’s going on and why you’re here. I woke my folks up so they’d get rid of you, not make a fuss of you.’ Cat wisely decided to stay upstairs, letting everyone else deal with the intruder.

After about fifteen minutes or so, intruder cat realised it wasn’t raining anymore and decided to leave through the still open back door. I promptly locked the cat flap completely; I wouldn’t have minded if he came back but would have preferred it in daylight hours.

Husband and I went back to bed. Cat and Willow took a while to settle down but eventually the whole household was deeply asleep again.
Sleeping Willow.

Freedom!

Willow had her last check-up at the vet for her re-built knee on Monday. The vet signed her off, gave her the all-clear and said we could keep building up her walks by 10-15 minutes each week and – finally- she was allowed off the lead again when out on walks.

So the last couple of days when we’ve taken her out for a walk, we’ve done just that. The first time we made her sit and unclipped her lead she looked at us as if to say, ‘Are you sure you know what you’re doing?’ but after very little encouragement she was off like a shot, tail wagging, tongue out, big grin all over her face. Yes I know I’m anthropomorphising but, I’m sorry, dogs ‘grin’ when they’re happy. What’s more she has been so good with it, running in short bursts but never straying far from us and always coming back when called.

Freedom and long walks, with some of the summer left to enjoy them in. Perfect!

Happy dog

Big grin!