Willow in the Lakes

Well, strictly speaking she only went IN one lake – Derwent Water – for a little paddle, however I digress.

So somehow I have got to the ripe old age of *cough* without ever having been to the Lake District. When Daughter suggested it as an Easter holiday suggestion last year it took me a while to get into the idea, not helped by not being able to make up my mind which part of the Lakes we should base ourselves in. Eventually I found a cottage in Keswick and so that is where we found ourselves on the Saturday before Easter.

Having arrived at 4pm it wasn’t long before we decided to find some food and ended up at The Square Orange bar. Like many eateries in Keswick it’s very dog friendly, also like many eateries in Keswick it caters well for both vegetarians and vegans. We liked it so much we had to go back for another visit!

The weather forecast for the week, as is typical for the Lakes, was changeable however the first two days looked pretty good – clear if not warm. So on our first full day we decided to explore the lakeside around Keswick itself, which was the point at which Willow decided to paddle in the shallow edge of Derwent Water. She enjoyed the new environment, although the people pottering around in rowing boats confused her and she felt the need to shout at them.

Small terrier dog sitting on fallen treeThe following day was Husband’s birthday, the forecast was again good, so we caught a launch straight across the lake and did the popular walk up Catbells. Despite the fact that it was more of a scramble than a walk in places Willow channelled her Cairn terrier genes and, despite her legs being noticeably shorter than mine, she easily made the summit. I made the summit too, but with somewhat less elegance and more red-faced heavy breathing. We carried on along Catbells and made our way down to the lake again, following the lakeside path back to the landing area and caught the launch back to Keswick. Willow, as is her way, was happy enough on the launch as long as we were with her, however she did scramble off quite smartish once we got back to the jetty. Husband’s birthday supper came courtesy of The George – again dog friendly and highly recommended.

Tuesday’s treat was a trip to the Puzzling Place – unbelievably also dog friendly! I say unbelievably as it’s an exhibition of illusions, hands on puzzles and interactive elements – not the sort of place you would expect to allow dogs in; there was also a surprisingly good hologram exhibition. Willow was on her best behaviour the whole time and even took part in some of the interactive elements to great effect. It was a fantastic way to spend a couple of hours.

Wednesday afternoon found us climbing again, this time at Rannerdale Knots. This was a nice easy walk up above Crummock Water, although the wind was really strong – as shown by Willow’s coat. Small terrier dog on hill looking down at lakeWe came the steep way down which was a little harder, especially with the wind gusting around us. There was a lot of walking on loose slate on the paths (as with many of the paths in the Lake District) and when we got back home I noticed Willow was limping a bit on one of her front paws. It didn’t seem to bother her and by the time we’d been out to eat and returned home she was walking normally.

Thursday saw us exploring further down the lakeside from Keswick to the Centenary Stone and then taking the long route home through the Great Wood at the foot of Walla Crag and then cross country to Castlerigg Stone Circle. From the outskirts of Keswick the disused railway line provides a nice off-road route to get back into the town centre. Again, Willow took it all in her stride. Interestingly, although she has shown an interest in sheep when we’ve been on the Isle of Mull, here she has completely ignored them. Even when faced with this lot across the road in front of her, she was really calm and disinterested which was very reassuring.A flock of sheep spread across a public road Thursday evening saw us in The Bar Metro enjoying veggie/vegan burgers, again with Willow welcomed.

I have been really impressed with the number of places that are both veggie/vegan friendly and dog friendly here in Keswick. I should also give an honourable mention to Kat’s Kitchen a vegetarian and vegan speciality café about 50 yards from our cottage. It has been great to have such a wide range of places to choose from. No doubt there are plenty of other places that are either dog friendly or veggie/vegan friendly, perhaps even both, but it was impossible to try them all out in one week. I have also been incredibly impressed with Willow’s behaviour this week. She was a little unsettled in the new environment when we first arrived, but she has been a model dog all week. In restaurants she has settled down under whichever table we happened to be sat at and waited for us to finish. On walks she has been interested but not over-excited and she’s put me to shame with her energy for walking up and down hills! In the cottage she has happily used her crate overnight and not climbed on any of the furniture. I think all the walking may have helped though, at times she seemed quite worn out!Small terrier dog asleep on a rug


Firstly an apology that it’s been so long since I last posted, but despite that I’m going to carry on in the same theme as the last post!

Willow sitting on stone windowsill against a plain background and looking quizzical

I have to admit to being somewhat flummoxed by Willow’s behaviour demonstrated today and would be happy to hear any theories from experts or amateurs to explain it. Here’s what happened…

Everyone else was out of the house all day today leaving me working from home with just Willow and Cat for company. I had to run a quick errand in town mid-morning which took me about half an hour. When I got back home Willow was pleased to see me as usual but strangely seemed very intent on getting into the kitchen, which was NOT usual. I should explain that our kitchen door is usually kept closed and there is a cat flap (minus the actual flap) cut into it so that Cat can come and go. Although Willow can get through the hole she categorically refuses to do so and has to have the door opened for her. So before I even took my coat off, and somewhat bemused by Willow’s behaviour, I opened the door and we both went into the kitchen.

My first thought was that the floor was dirtier than when I’d left and closer inspection showed that the dirt was in fact dark feathers. At the same time Willow was hassling me to go out into the garden through the back door. Again, this door has a cat flap in it (with an actual flap in this one) and, being the quirky dog that she is, Willow usually waits to be let out of the door rather than use it but if she’s outside she will quite happily come IN through the cat flap without needing the door to be opened. There is an exception to this but that’s a whole other story…

So I opened the door and out we both went into the garden where Willow made a beeline for our garden bench which has a large cover draped over it. She dove headfirst under one end of the bench and then wriggled out backwards with something in her mouth which she dropped in front of me.

It was a dead blackcap.

We get a lot of birds in our garden, mostly sparrows, starlings and wood pigeons but this was the first blackcap I’d seen for a few years and it was decidedly dead.

So, what I think must have happened (judging by previous behaviour) is that Cat had caught the bird in the garden and, as is her wont, brought it into the kitchen. Willow had seen this, got through the cat flap in the internal door and grabbed the dead bird, taken it out through the external cat flap and stashed it under the bench until I got home.

The only question is… why?

What just happened?

Sitting at my desk just now I heard the cat flap bang, followed by a squeak.

‘Hmm,’ I thought, ‘neither of my animals make that noise.’ In fact, from past experience that noise is usually the result of Cat bringing home a still live rodent to play with so it seemed prudent to go into the kitchen and investigate. Sure enough Cat was sitting under the kitchen table, her go-to place where she takes her hunting trophies to play with. Usually there will be a small, still, furred or feathered body sitting in front of her which she will hit half-heartedly with a paw to see if it will move again (hint: it usually doesn’t).

Cat garden

However, this time there was nothing there. I had a quick look round to see if whatever it was had made a dash for freedom and was somewhere in the kitchen but couldn’t see anything. Then my subconscious nudged me that Willow had gone running in to the kitchen on hearing the squeak and I’d then heard the cat flap go again. Standing up, I looked out the window into the garden. Sure enough, there was Willow at the end of the garden sitting very still and watching something in front of her.

Willow garden

Taking my investigative skills out into the garden, I found a mouse trying very hard to burrow under a leaf on the lawn where Willow was sitting. I managed to pick it up without getting bitten for my pains and had a quick examination. There was no blood, all four limbs appeared to be intact and its eyes were open and it was breathing. It did, unsurprisingly, appear to be in deep shock. So I put it somewhere relatively safe and brought both animals inside and locked the cat flap.

I can only assume that Cat brought the mouse in and Willow promptly grabbed it and took it outside again. I admit to surprise that a) the mouse was still alive and in relatively good shape after being carried by BOTH my animals and b) that Willow didn’t tear it into bloody shreds as she’s half terrier and that’s what she’s bred for.

Here’s hoping it was that mouse’s lucky day!


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.


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!

Learning to Play

When I spoke to Willow’s foster mum before we collected her I asked what toys we should buy for her, only to be told, ‘She doesn’t really play.’ The first few days seemed to bear this out but then I realised that she became a different dog when she was let out into the garden – racing around like a mad thing, tail wagging furiously so I decided to try her with a tennis ball.

The first time I threw the ball Willow just watched. I didn’t realise that Cat was nearby, however, also watching, so I tried again. This time when I threw the ball, Cat ran after it and Willow, following her terrier instincts, promptly chased Cat who retreated up to a safe height to watch from the shed roof. That was all it took, the next time I threw the ball Willow chased it and retrieved it and gave it a good chew. I’m not sure it does her canine credibility any good to have to be taught how to chase balls by a cat…

Terrier on leavesAfter a couple of days we were playing with the ball and I noticed Cat was sitting on the shed roof watching. The next time I threw the ball and Willow retrieved it, Cat ran up the garden after Willow. When Willow realised what was happening she dropped the ball and turned round to Cat who promptly ran up the nearest tree. Unfortunately for Cat the nearest tree happened to be a very small tree and she only got about three feet above the ground. There was a brief pause while Cat held on to the tree looking down at Willow who was sat patiently on the ground next to her. Needing to get out of her current undignified position, Cat promptly let go of the tree and jumped down. Straight on top of Willow. Using Willow as a springboard Cat shot across the garden and up onto the fence on the other side, followed closely behind by Willow. She then sat on the fence for the next little while watching Willow and I resume our game of fetch.

Willow is very good about having the ball taken away from her to throw again. Several times now we have taken her out to a local playing field so that she has lots of space to run around in and chase the ball. The field is popular with local dog owners and often there are other dogs there. After her initial distrust of other dogs, Willow has now decided that she loves to a) run and b) play and will try and encourage any other dog nearby to play chase with her. If there’s a tennis ball involved as well then that’s even better. Luckily all the dogs that we have met so far have been friendly and only too happy to oblige her requests for play. For a small dog she has quite a turn of speed on her and can keep up with the bigger dogs. It’s great to see her out running around and enjoying herself so much.

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

Sleeping dogWillow has come a long way in the last couple of weeks but more on that in another post. In the meantime we all learned a salutary lesson in the run-up to Christmas.

There is no doubt that Willow is a very sweet-natured dog. A lot of terriers like to play tug of war games with their toys, you can’t do this with Willow because as soon as you grab something she’s got she just lets go; if she’s chewing on anything, she lets you take it away from her without a murmur. She has a very gentle nature, however, we discovered that she does have a growl and a snarl in her.

The first surprise we had was when Daughter had a friend round to play. Willow had met the friend before and was quite happy and friendly around her, as she is around any people who come to the house. Having been playing upstairs the girls came downstairs where Willow was sitting by my feet. Immediately Willow started growling and snarling at the girls, it seemed totally out of the blue until I realised that both girls had liberally doused themselves in body spray. Unfortunately dogs can’t help acting on Impulse, it would seem.  It didn’t matter what the girls did, Willow obviously didn’t like the smell and kept growling any time the girls were near. Luckily the friend had to go home soon after this and Daughter went upstairs and had a wash and everything was fine after that.

Then a couple of days before Christmas we were all sat watching a film on TV one evening. Willow had stretched out on the floor by the sofa and was fast asleep, in fact she was very deeply asleep. Son was sitting near her and got up to get something from the kitchen which woke Willow up but in doing so she went from deeply asleep to a little ball of growling snarling and snapping dog. It took us all by surprise and Son was taken aback that it was all directed at him. She calmed down relatively quickly and was rather subdued afterwards but we were all very aware of what could have happened if Son had been a much younger child. It was a very salutary lesson indeed.

Having done some research on the web, I can only conclude that it was a fear reaction caused by Willow going from sound asleep to suddenly awake and disoriented. She has not repeated the episode since then and as a family we have been very careful to wake her by calling her name if she is asleep and we need to wake her. She does not appear to have slept quite that deeply since but it is something that we are all very aware of. Thankfully it has not damaged the relationship between Son and Willow as he is aware of what caused it and it has been a useful lesson for him too. However, for the first time in my life I fully understand the old adage to let sleeping dogs lie.

Many thanks to Phill for the lovely photo.