Read Jo Jacobius’s puppy diaries. She spills the beans on the trials and tribulations of living with new labradoodle puppy, Bertie – and how the DHH (dog hating husband) David is gradually won round.
WEEK 45: It’s My Party – Bertie is love bombed
My work of late has involved me in working with the talented clinical psychologist, Oliver James, to raise awareness of his new book Love Bombing. A brilliant book, it is based on the concept that even the most difficult children can have their emotional thermostats re-set by bombing them with love. Instead of ‘naughty steps’ experience has shown that showering them with affection and putting the child in control is the secret of an improved relationship.
And so, as Bertie the Labradoodle and I prepared for his first birthday party, I couldn’t help but wonder if Love Bombing would help Bertie’s behaviour. As we made bone-shaped biscuits and meat balls on the eve of the party, I decided to test ‘love bombing’ on him.
I first allowed Bertie to help choose the flavouring for the meat-balls. He shied away from nutmeg and cumin; was indifferent to oregano and thyme; and then I opened the cinnamon. Success. He licked it enthusiastically. So, cinnamon and beef canapés were duly popped in the oven. Then we turned to bone-shaped biscuits – tuna or anchovy; Cheddar or Wensleydale. A batch of healthy Tuna and Cheddar biscuits (see recipe) was duly produced. The love bombing seemed to be working as, rather than his usual poor kitchen etiquette, Bertie not only sat quietly watching the oven but even barked when he felt the biscuits were done. He was right. I tasted one and was rather pleased with my invention.
The next day, the love bombing continued. George the Spoodle was impeccably behaved simply looking a little bemused as Bertie settled down with him at the table together with his other guests, Rufus and Heidi, the adorable Norfolk Terriers.
Bertie’s table manners left much to be desired. Dispensing with the need for the party plates, he and his chums ate from the serving platters. As I was in benevolent mood, I put this down to the dogs being sustainably aware and not wishing to waste paper plates. Glamorous cup-cakes and the most beautiful birthday cake ever were generously given to Bertie by the lovely PetsPyjamas team.
Cakes and savouries duly consumed, Bertie set to opening his presents – a ball on a string, a blue insect soft toy, a helicopter blade Frisbee, Mr Fox and a pheasant plus his favourite comestibles in the whole world, some Thrive dog treats. The dogs were contented and the humans enjoyed some delicate sandwiches, brownies and a glass or two of Champagne.
Love bombing the dog seemed to work. So, as my very contented and waggy dog walked on Hampstead Heath the next day, we love bombed others, proving popular with other dogs as we dished out some left-over Tuna and Cheese biscuits and had fun sharing playtime with the new toys.
I can’t help feeling a touch of nostalgia as I write this last puppy diary entry. It seems so much longer than a year ago that I was preparing for my adorable puppy’s arrival. It’s been an eventful and joyous first year and I only hope that Bertie is enjoying life as much as his every-wagging tail seems to imply. I still dream that, one day, the Dog Hating Husband will succumb to Bertie’s love bombing of him.
Recipe for Tuna and Cheddar Bone Biscuits
Makes about 40 small biscuits
The dogs seemed to like these. I made up the recipe as I went along but very roughly speaking here’s what it involved…
Set oven to 180 degrees and line two baking sheets with lightly oiled baking parchment.
6oz plain wholemeal flour
2oz porridge oats
Tablespoon olive oil
A good handful of fresh parsley, chopped (stalks too)
Two cans of tuna fish, drained
I free range egg (large)
A generous grating of strong cheese.
Mix together as if making pastry adding some water if the mixture is too dry. Roll out to a depth of about 1 centimetre. Use a bone shaped cutter, prick the biscuits gently with a fork, place carefully on the baking sheets and bake until your dog barks (around 25 minutes I think but ask the dog). Move somewhere safe to cool – not the dog, the biscuits. Freeze any surplus biscuits – or simply take with you on dog walks and bask in the popularity.
WEEK 44: Puppy love improves productivity
It is Bertie’s last week of puppyhood – assuming that the ‘puppy’ phase ends when my still-bouncy Labradoodle reaches the ripe old age of 1 later this week.
I have pictures of a very young Bertie as my ‘wallpaper’ on various IT devices so was interested to read the reports of a piece of scientific research claiming that having a picture of a puppy on your desk can improve productivity by 10%. Workers who have an image of an adult animal on their desks saw their work improve by 5%, whilst those who looked at food showed no improvement. The view of the scientists from Hiroshima University who conducted the study say that looking at a cuddly animal transfer into a more positive approach to work.
It’s not just pictures that work at work. Research has also shown that having a dog around can make your office a much happier and productive place too. A team led Randolph Barker, Professor of Management in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business, found that dogs have many positive benefits in the workplace, most notably reducing stress and making work ‘more satisfying’.
Dogs might improve productivity in the workplace but they don’t necessarily improve harmony in the home. A restful family dinner was disturbed last night by a rattling noise which sounded just like someone pushing the glass butter dish over a granite worktop. Guess what. It WAS the sound of someone pushing a butter dish over the worktop. Bertie sat on the kitchen floor as we ran in to the room, looking as if butter wouldn’t melt… Unfortunately, for him the tooth-marks all over the surface of a new pat of best butter provided all the evidence the Dog Hating Husband needed that this dog remains the naughtiest, most ill-trained and greediest dog known to man.
Next day, suffering no ill effect from the surfeit of best butter, Bertie enjoyed a misty morning walk in the woods and fields.
“Dogs are the leaders of the planet. If you see two life-forms, one’s making a poop and the other one’s carrying it for him, who would you assume is in charge?” – quote from Jerry Seinfeld cited by The Week.
WEEK 43: The Magic of Dog Owning
The Dog Hating Husband (DHH) has finally softened. But before you say ‘Aah…told you so’ I should explain that his total intolerance of young Bertie the Labradoodle has waned very little; instead, the DHH has finally spotted a benefit.
It came about like this. In the past 10 months, I have met some amazing and lovely people through dog walking. One dog walker, an elegant lady who lives in a neighbouring street, was on nodding terms with me for a long time but the sedate walks that this rather elderly pug Charlie was capable of meant that he was rather grumpy whenever he spotted Bertie and so conversation with his human was always a little limited.
After an immensely unpleasant week, for one reason and another, I rather felt I deserved something nice to occur. I had just sauntered back from the hospital where my mother had been whisked by ambulance the day before when the doorbell rang. The owner of Charlie the pug asked if we’d like to accompany her to the Opera that very evening – in fact, in 10 minutes’ time. Treats don’t get much better than that – or more unexpected. It is not every day that a virtual stranger makes such a wonderful offer.
A splendid production of The Magic Flute and the bonus of making a friend of a charming but casual acquaintance meant that even the DHH commented that there were clearly ‘some benefits’ to dog-walking.
Wonderful music, much joy and a glass of champagne put a spring in my step as, at midnight, Bertie and I stepped out to do an all-night charity shift whilst the DHH slept soundly, no doubt glad that at last he understood the magic of dog owning.
WEEK 42: Bertie weighs up the health options
Just how far will the nanny state go in nudging us towards new personal health choices? I was in the pet shop yesterday buying Bertie’s weekly rations when the conversation set me wondering. Since he’s been castrated, Bertie the Labradoodle has been a little less lithe and slender than before. In fact it would be true to say he looks – as the saying goes – a little ‘prosperous’ about the mid-riff. So I asked the splendid PetVet assistant if we should opt for a different diet. She asked the vet to assess the situation and, being the brilliant team they are, Bertie was escorted into a private room (no embarrassing public revelations for him) and a weight gain was duly noted. Different food was not needed, just a judicious weighing and downward adjustment of what the vet deemed to be rather generous allowances made by the pet food firms. In other words, Bertie is officially on, if not a slimming diet, then what you might call ‘a controlled eating plan’.
It set me thinking. Would this be the way human food purchases would – or should – go in future.? Traffic light labels, five-a-day advice and so on seem to fall on deaf ears. If the Government adopted the vet’s approach, picture the
difference. It would be decreed that primary care surgeries should be located within supermarkets with a GP sitting there, in-store, with your weight and general health records accessible for ease of checking. You arrive at the store checkout, basket brimming with chocolate bars, biscuits and all manner of goodies. But before passing the threshold of the checkout, you have to stand on the weighing scales and be assessed for weight gain since your last shopping spree. I can imagine some white coated advisor stepping forward to the unwary customer. “Madam, we are sorry to say you have gained 5 lbs. since your last shopping spree. We must insist that you replace the chocolate hob nobs with a bag of oranges. And step away from that multi-pack of crisps. We now need to check if you have selected sufficient fresh produce for the entire family before your next scheduled trip which, given the shopping patterns we track, we know will be in 6 days’ time.” Oh the shame. What seems invaluable dietary guidance for my dog, would seem somewhat intrusive if inflicted on us humans. But perhaps this Weigh-In and Check-Out idea could make us all healthier? I must have some chocolate cake while I ponder that one and also consider whether to make Bertie some delicious biscuits from the Pets Pyjamas recipe of the week… http://blog.petspyjamas.com/scamps-minced-beef-biscuits/
WEEK 41: Bertie’s Breakout
Bertie the Labradoodle was taking the air in the back garden. I was catching up with my long-absent son, the lovely Daniel, who has just returned from a summer in India (as opposed to an Indian summer) so that we hardly noticed the unusual lack of canine commotion.
Until, that is, a call came from the ever-glum neighbour at the bottom of the garden. “Your dog’s broken into our garden,” he harrumphed. “Come round and get him.” “Er, could you just post him back through the fence please?”. “No!”
In a breakout worthy of Colditz prisoners of war, the evidence showed that our ever-curious Labradoodle had been tunnelling rather seriously. He had then apparently drawn up a change of strategy, noting that the cut and cover approach was unnecessary as the ancient fence was already weak and a surface mission was entirely possible.
So, like any sensible prisoner, he jumped through the gap. His mission was clear: he sought the company of Polly the Spaniel whom he’s always hankered after. Sadly – despite me inviting her for play sessions – Mr and Mrs Grumpy-At-The-Bottom-of the –Garden have always declined such simple pleasures for our dogs so the canine neighbours could until now do no more than bark at one another.
After the rejection of the idea of simply reversing the escape route, like any commandant, I sent a hostage envoy on my behalf. Daniel gamely walked round the block to the next street to negotiate the prisoner’s return. I telephoned the neighbour and was answered by Mrs Grumpy, with Mr G was shouting in the background. To my surprise, she readily agreed that the fence was indeed their responsibility but, for reasons known only by her and Mr G, it was in their view my task to ‘do something’. The crux of her argument was that “The fence has been there for 40 years”. “Ah well, of course”, I said, “thin wooden fences do last forever”.
It was a trying occasion in a week whose theme seemed to involve break-outs. My youngest son, Jonathan, has also made a break for the wide world moving out and leaving no forwarding address (although he did turn up for dinner to see his brother just 24 hours after fleeing the family nest). I rather get the impression that Bertie would like to move into a flat-share with a host of other lively dogs such as the adorable and friendly Amy (pictured), a 12 week old Labradoodle Bertie met shortly after his escapade as she was enjoying her first stroll.
WEEK 40: Bertie finds himself a ‘shade’ off-colour
Bertie has been neutered. Three months later than recommended, lively yet lovely Bertram has finally lost his manhood. Oh how he howled. The other dog to be castrated that day, an adorable Beagle, had apparently reacted normally, by being docile and sad in the post-operative recovery phase.
But not Bertie, who apparently leapt to his feet immediately on waking and enjoyed a hearty snack and a drink. There appeared to be no ill effects when I collected him, my heart feeling leaden with guilt.
On arrival home however, it was a different matter. He cried, and howled, and cried some more… not from pain but for his former self, I think. He refused to be left alone for an instant. It was a long evening but eventually exhaustion overcame the now incomplete Labradoodle and we both retired to our respective bedrooms.
I have never seen Bertie so docile in waking hours as he was the next morning. It was pitiful – although the DHH found it joyously quiet. At just under 15 kgs Bertie had needed a lower dose of drugs than a heavier dog, so saving lots of money. But of course, the bad news was that the post-operative check just 3 days later showed that he’d been examining his wound too closely and needed a helmet to prevent further damage as well as medication to soothe the area, so costs zoomed up. It is not a cheap business, this ruination of a dog’s self-esteem.
So now poor Bertie is sporting a lamp-shade and resembles a black and white table lamp. And then I realised the potential of the situation. By coincidence, the Dog Hating Husband, a luminaire designer, has created a table lamp called the ‘Bertie’ (although nothing to do with Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster after whom our trusty Labradoodle is named… it’s a long story involving Birmingham and Canada).
The inanimate ‘Bertie’ was designed many moons ago and well before our Labradoodle was even thought of. But I like to think that the animate Bertie and the DHH’s electrical Bertie might bond my husband, just a little, to the dog. Pictured: Left, Bertie the lamp and, right, Bertie the lamp!
WEEK 39: Dave the Dog – an example to us all
It was the first morning of a short break in sunny Southwold and it was the Dog Hating Husband’s (DHH’s) birthday so, over the breakfast eggs, we mused about what delights the day held.
Having delivered Bertie the Labradoodle to his holiday destination in Epping Forest the day before, the DHH was particularly relaxed in the dog-free zone that was the hotel’s dining room. After a fraught week of medical emergencies and sheer hard work, calm had descended. So it was with surprise – indeed, shock wouldn’t be too strong a claim – that I received the heady suggestion that what this alleged dog-hater wanted to do on his birthday morning was to attend the Walberswick Dog Show.
This is the warm up act to the annual Walberswick Fete, just a short ferry ride over the river from Southwold, and the event this year was to be opened by film director Richard Curtis. I was astonished that, having rid himself of the pooch, the DHH wanted to surround himself with Labradors, Labradoodles, Cockerpoos, Wire haired terriers, Westies and more.
The winner of two of the four Dog Show events was Dave the Dog (pictured). And of course it was Dave who, already sporting two red rosettes, was also called forward by the brilliant MC, Peter Purves, to be awarded the coveted gold rosette, as Best in Show.
Now Dave was an exemplar of dog-dom. Or, rather, his young mistress was an example to all dog owners. When she said ‘sit’ and ‘wait’ with a look so stern the most earnest of Victorian governesses would have quailed, not only Dave but the entire human audience also ‘sat’ and ‘waited’. So stern was she that we held our collective breath when she uttered a command. This formidable girl had trained the very happy and obedient Dave to do her every bidding it seemed.
Naturally, murmurs from the DHH turned to less than subtle questioning as to why our absent canine chum, Bertie, was not similarly keen to please his humans.
I have returned from the holiday brimming with new resolve to train and persuade Bertram to emulate Dave. As the first step along this steep path, we have finally bowed to pressure and booked our bouncy youngster for The Operation.
When booking Bertie into the splendid PetVet, the ever practical Yvonne said that most dogs take a day or two to return to normal after neutering. “However,” she cautioned, “Not Bertie. I suspect he will be up and ready for anything within hours of bringing him home”.
Poor Bertie… today is his last day of manhood.
WEEK 38: Signs of the Times
I have always been a fan of mad signage and anti-dog signage seems to generate some of the best, occasionally amusing signs like this bilingual one (below) found on http://www.crookedbrains.net
So often, canine signage is downright officious, aggressive or just delightfully self-contradictory like the duo of signs (pictured above) which I spotted near a friend’s house in the country recently proclaiming both that the dogs are ‘always loose’ whilst on the other hand ‘dogs should be on lead’ [sic].
Here one assumes, resides someone whose very soul is full of internal conflict: the fact of the ‘loose’ dogs perhaps being not so much a threat as a statement of fact. Could this be because of unsuccessful attempts, as recommended in sign number two, that all dogs should be confined on a single ‘lead’. What a contrast with the good natured, polite and encouraging ‘good dog’ and ‘thank you’ messages contained in the previous sign. Fortunately, Bertie the Labradoodle is unable to read and merely cocked a weary leg against the wall under the phrase ‘should be on lead’.
Perhaps the owners are the British country cousins of those who commissioned the following confusing guidance.
Sometimes, however, one finds that rare combination of aggression and humour which gets straight to the heart of the matter.
And finally, not least because Bertie the Labradoodle so enjoyed their Royal Corgi-ships on the Olympics Opening Ceremeony footage, I snapped this splendid wall art spotted in a Bloomsbury street today. God save the people – and their four-legged friends.
WEEK 37: A Dogs’ Dinner
Manners maketh man, my grandmother used to tell me. Manners however do not feature in the modus operandi of a nine month old Labradoodle I discover.
We had arrived for our book club meeting which was really a dogs’ dinner involving three Shih-Tzus – Boris, Lola and Stella – and two Norfolk Terriers – Rufus and Heidi – plus my companion, Bertie the Labradoodle. We humans anticipated a pleasant and relaxing warm summer’s evening after the 30 degree heat of a London day.
Puppy etiquette on such visits is essential and so, along with ‘paws on the floor’, the suggestion ‘only pee on trees’ has become a favourite mantra in order to persuade Bertie to avoid cocking a leg at every lamppost, shop-front and bench. But I had arrived with no fears about indiscretions indoors as Bertie is perfectly house-trained. In fact, this is the only matter where I have no fear of embarrassment.
I know… you are probably ahead of me here. Boasting never pays off.
Now coffee tables do not resemble trees even when roughly hewn and rather contemporary. For a start, coffee tables are (a) indoors with a ceiling overhead (b) do not have greenery growing out of them and (c) have corners. But these subtle clues matter little to Bertram who, half way through dinner at Fiona’s gorgeous home, cocked his leg against said table in full view of the assembled guests. (He likes tables – at home he frequently clambers on top of the garden table to enjoy the view.)
Despite his seniority, Bertie had already joined in with the very young puppies in peeing on the carpet. He’d followed up this lack of manners by cunningly snatching a cheese straw from my hand just as I lifted the tasty home-made delicacy to my lips.
I recalled how manners were forgotten at a recent lunch party too. Bertie was lucky enough to be invited to join me for the mid-day nose-bag in the country home of my great friend Gill and to spend the day with her adorable daughters Ella and Martha. On arrival, and presented with some delicious dog-food Bertie sniffed haughtily and, turning his back on the familiar offering, scoffed the entire bowl of cat food instead. The host cat, Boots, was clearly not impressed and much feline hissing ensued.
Back at the book club dinner, talk turned to our next choice of book. “Count me out,” I opined. “I will be reading nothing but dog behaviour tomes for the next month”.
WEEK 36: Olympic Fever Takes Hold
I know that when Sue the Splendid Trainer warned all those months ago that the training would be forgotten by the pup and that the Teenage Phase would lead to despair amongst the assembled puppy owners in the class, I took note but did not anticipate the full horror of her warning. This Cassandra of the canine world was not just right; she was spectacularly accurate in her prophesy.
Bertie, the nine month old Labradoodle, who only last week could be persuaded to do anything if I so much as whispered ‘let’s have a game’ whilst reaching for the ball-launcher, now finds himself wearying of such pass-times - at least when the ball-launcher involves only him and me. A few days before the Olympics, Bertie decides to run the 100 metres, and more, to disappear completely for a time. I walked a good distance in the direction he’d taken, only to be told by a lovely fellow dog-walker that she has seen my escapee in quite another location, ‘with Lola’. And so he was.
Having succeeded in this particular race he later decided to join a sporty pair – a lycra clad runner with her dog, the aptly named, Dash. And that’s just what they did. All three of them. In the wrong direction. Ms. Lycra tried valiantly to persuade Bertie to race in the opposite direction to the finish but he was having none of it. Infuriating as we both – that is Ms Lycra and I – had work to get to. And even when I gained on Bertie, the usual manners and rules were forgotten. ‘Sit’ I commanded. He ran. ‘Come’ I insisted. He ran again.
Then today, perhaps knowing that the opening of the Olympics loomed just hours later, our keen Olympian decided the 100 metre sprint was not ambitious enough. Bertie went for the full marathon, finally to be spotted doing the high jump as he attempted to steal the prize from someone else’s ball-launcher.
Calling, whistling, shaking treats and waving our ball toy did no good. Olympic fever had taken hold and competing with other dogs for their ball was the only prize apparently worth Gold. But wait.. Bertie then spotted an even greater prize: geese and ducks on the banks of the pond. Fortunately for all concerned our feathered friends were, like VIPs at a sports event, protected from riff raff by firm railings.
WEEK 35: Great Inventions
As Bertie the Labradoodle performed one of his twirling, leaps about 3 feet from the ground, a frequent feat especially when faced with one of those ball-throwing devices, the words of Annette the Brilliant Breeder ring in my mind. ‘Never let the puppy jump until he’s a year old’ she warned. But jump he does; and nothing and no-one can stop him.
Seeing the antics in Bettie’s attempts to seize the ball from the ball-launching device, a passing dog-walker stopped to remark that this toy was “the best invention ever”… “Better” he claimed “than Cat’s Eyes or any other invention”. Now I think that is taking the admiration for this undoubtedly fine canine device a little too far. Surely greater honour must go to Christopher Sholes et al, Marie Tucek and Walter Hunt, (inventors, respectively, of the typewriter, the brassiere and the safety pin) to name but a few of those who have made modern life more harmonious and, frankly, up-lifted?
However, the inventor of the ball-thrower - whoever he or she may be – certainly does get my vote. This simple piece of plastic moulding combined with the words, “Bertie… let’s have a game!” often persuades my adolescent pup to cease all sorts of nefarious deeds when nothing else will persuade him.
Some dog inventions however perhaps go too far. As the BBC recently reported, in Japan many young couples favour dogs instead of children and boutiques feed the dog-owning fever. One outfit, sported by a Dachshund, involved two hot-dog bun devices strapped to its sides so that the poor dog resembles a tasty American snack. The serious point behind the story is that in Japan attention is lavished on the 22 million pets in that country which now outnumber children as young Japanese people are putting their careers ahead of their desire to raise a family creating a demographic time-bomb as the population declines, analysts say.
But a more sober approach to pet-owner still generally prevails here in the UK. I’ve searched Pets Pyjamas and gratifyingly no hot-dog buns appear to be for sale amongst the array of tasteful and delightful doggy accessories. But is it only a matter of time before fancy dress fever swings into the UK to consume the interests, and attract the money, of the dog-owning classes.
WEEK 34: Barking in the rain
I have come to love rain. Whilst everyone else seems grumpy about the incessant dampness that characterises this summer, I have learnt to be joyous about it.
Take yesterday for example. There we were, taking our post-work stroll around the woods, virtually alone. It was raining cats and dogs; the ground squelched underfoot and paw; and the Rug of Doom (aka Bertie the Labradoodle) were practically alone. Only one other dog and his human plus two cheerful park staff wielding chain saws were mad enough to also be taking the wet air.
It is not that Bertie and I have developed an antisocial attitude that makes me welcome conditions that deter other humans from venturing out. On the contrary. It is just that, when it is sunny, there are picnics to which Bertie feels he needs no formal invitation. He feels obliged to dive into them with great speed, raiding the tastiest treats and upsetting drinks. Picnickers seem generally not to appreciate the uninvited guest at their feasts.
The sunshine also brings out women with small babies who emerge in large numbers like an army going to battle. Bertie acts like a desperate politician at election time, feeling he must kiss every infant. The mothers appear to indicate this is unnecessary.
And, as my gorgeous son Jonathan discovered whilst enjoying that rare sunshine on St Swithin’s Day, Bertie’s attitude was just not cricket. Or, rather, it was. Without warning he rushed to join in with a cricket match, placing all four legs before wicket, stealing a cricket ball and ruining a game. Jonathan claims his embarrassment caused his cheeks to turn as red as the coveted cricket ball which Bertie seemed so reluctant to return, having captured this prize.
Sunshine also means that those who otherwise on rain sodden days stick strictly to the pavements and buses, decide they must instead wear pale clothing and traipse through the woods en route to work. Of course, muddy puddles remain on the sunniest of day and the Rug of D thinks nothing of dipping his toes in the mud and then rushing up to people in lovely clothes. ’They must,’ he seems to think, ‘be camouflaged. It is my duty to cover them in this nice brown mud.’
All of this only confirms the Dog Hating Husband (DHH) in his view that Bertie is out of control and a thug.
None of this thuggish behaviour occurs in the rain however. So, let it pour, I say. The Rain Rule in cricket stops play; wet weather for puppy owners means play can commence.
WEEK 33: XXX – The adults-only edition
Bertie is 8 months old. But age is no deterrent. It pains me to say it but my sweet little pup has turned into a canine rampant, a sex maniac extraordinaire.
The situation certainly became worse during and since a weekend with my eldest son (Daniel) and his friends. Civilised and charming though they are, I can’t help feeling that spending a weekend partying with lively people in their twenties has given Bertie ideas beyond his age.
My little dog has changed from something akin to a Beatrix Potter character and become more like something you might read about in Loaded or Nuts (and I’m only guessing, as I say that, having never read either). I almost expect to smell him donning Lynx and pressing his best t-shirt before announcing he’s going out for the evening.
Daniel was the first to complain as Bertie showed amorous feelings towards all party guests, causing great embarrassment.
How did this happen so fast? At least with my sons there was a build-up of some fourteen years before an interest in the opposite sex crept in; even then things were civilised as far as I could observe.
But Bertie seems to have no inhibitions; no shame; and no discrimination. A crossed leg here, a tree branch there, the backs of unsuspecting humans sitting innocently on a sofa, the leg of our guests immediately on arrival, and of course dogs and bitches no matter their size or breed: nothing is too inappropriate, according to our Casanova of the canine world. One dog walker in the local park suggested an oestrogen jab. “It worked for my dog,” she said. “My daughter then bought him a pink collar and lead so he’s very gender confused,” she added.
“He’s a disgusting animal!” says the DHH. And then to underline the point “He’s an animal – a hooligan. He reminds me of some drunken tearaway.” As one of my adorable and long-suffering friends (below) tries to extricate her leg from Bertie’s vice-like grip, for once I am inclined to agree with the Dog-Hating Husband.
WEEK 33: Hair of the dog… it was cocktail time for Bertie
It was time to ditch the dog-walkers and pocketful of canine treats and don instead the silk hat and heels: we were off to another wedding. My lovely cousin Tim and his fiancée Sandra were holding the nuptials on the Gower Coast, in South Wales where they live. So, remembering the last wedding fiasco when the puppy sitter failed to materialise, I took the precaution of asking my adorable aunt to arrange B&B for Bertie the Labradoodle.
She duly booked him in to a local woman, known in the village as Jean The Dogs. This form of job-description based nomenclature is common in Wales – as a result of which the DHH, being a lighting designer, is known as ‘Dy the Light’. But I stray from the point. I duly spoke to Ms. The Dogs to be told that no toys were needed, as my pup would not be bored; no bedding was strictly necessary as he’d be bunking up with her (“I hope you have a large bed and are a heavy sleeper?”, I muttered); and no treats were required as dogs obeyed her without such fripperies. Here spoke a true professional and committed dog lover.
Squeezing dog and three people plus hatbox and other luggage into the car was going to be a challenge so, when my eldest son made a last-minute offer of dog sitting, I readily accepted. He was staying in London for his birthday and to bid farewell to friends before setting off for a summer of work in India.
I profusely apologised to Ms. The Dogs for cancelling but she was charming about it. The DHH was delighted to be dog-free and we scooped up my mother and set off in a westerly direction. Next morning, keenly anticipating the wedding, the ‘phone rang. It was one of our neighbours. “Why,” he mused, “had the dog been barking for an hour and a half?” As my delightful son Daniel is not prone to rising early at the weekend, I was thrown by this very sensible question – especially as 9am had barely struck.
But of course, there was a ready explanation. When the DHH eventually got hold of Daniel, and after the usual pleasantries about the birthday, he explained. ”I was out buying 21 pineapples. I thought it more humane to put Bertie in the garden whilst I went to New Covent Garden Market”.
“Er, 21 pineapples? Is this some new diet fad?” we asked. Fresh piña coladas to be served in hollow pineapples that evening was of course the ready explanation.
When we arrived home the following day we were advised: “The dog was a bit sick in your bedroom!” He had apparently eaten something rather yellow and, well, pineapple coloured!
Our puppy had obviously made a full recovery but has since been moping, clearly missing the partying and fun provided by the young master who is now residing in Mumbai and will be, for some months to come. Bertie is not pining alone.
WEEK 32: The Dog Show at the Highgate Fair
The Dog Show at the Highgate Fair in the Square was a fun and lively occasion: the sun shone, there were Pearly Kings & Queens, Morris dancers, the presenters of Barking at the Moon and 7000 people – plus a good many canine chums too. So it was with good cheer that Bertie the Labradoodle put his best paw forward in the show ring to meet judges from PetVet and local MP Lynne Featherstone (pictured crouching behind the compere to meet Bertie).
But competition was tough in the ‘Most Appealing Eyes’ section of the event. Our hearts fluttered with anticipation as the name ‘Bertie’ was called out but, alas, it was another dog by that name. And so it was that my puppy’s namesake, this other Bertie who had unusual and truly beautiful blue eyes, was declared the rightful winner.
Described by the DHH afterwards as undoubtedly the worst behaved dog in show, Bertie the Younger nonetheless was bouncing with health and happiness as the lovely sponsors gave all entrants a goody bag that contained a generous supply of ribs, treats, Lily’s dog food and even a toy. And to cap it all, though not placed, somehow we were handed a purple rosette as a memento of Bertie’s exciting day.
WEEK 31: Aye, aye – The show must go on
Oh no! It could spell disaster. One of the worst trials to befall any would-be beauty queen is the development of a spot on your face in the run up to The Show.
And so it was for Bertie the Labradoodle. There it was, large as life, a zit which might have been a bite or sting, adjacent to his right eye. It was red and sore looking. And it appeared unwilling to disappear a mere two weeks before Bertie was due to enter the local dog show (which is why he was only prepared to reveal the left peeper for his Pets Pyjamas close-up).
Of course, the ethics of beauty pageants are questionable and my only sketchy knowledge of such occasions is based on watching the film, Miss Congeniality. However, when my friend Jacquie suggested (well actually she is more the insisting than the suggesting type) that Bertie should enter the Highgate Fair in the Square Dog Show http://www.fairinthesquare.co.uk/ there was no choice in the matter.
So I duly went to sign up at PetVet www.petvet.co.uk/contact.html where the ever-efficient and elegant Yvonne is in charge of entry forms. ”Which category?” she asked. Yvonne and I debated the matter. At the ripe old age of 8 months, Bertie has few tricks up his sleeve so the ‘best tricks’ category was out of the question. Best ‘Medium’ dog was tricky. He is medium in size now but Bertie is, strictly speaking, a ‘Large’ breed. At the rate he is growing, would he still be ‘medium’, speculated Yvonne? Which left the only other category for which this puppy was qualified: ‘Dog with the most appealing eyes’.
The entry was made weeks ago when Bertie’s face was unblemished but now, a facial blemish near the very spot the judges would be examining most closely was a cause of anxiety both for Bertram and for me. Zit or no zit: the show must go on.
Happily, as any beauty queen knows, fresh air is just what the doctor ordered and, after a sojourn in boarding kennels whilst the DHH and I were holidaying in Venice, Bertie returned from Essex, bright eyed, bushy tailed and, well, spot-less – ready for The Big Day at the pageant next week.
WEEK 30: Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
The age old conundrum of which came first, the chicken or the egg, has at last be resolved. It was the chicken. Or, rather, the chicken and sweet-corn sandwich. The egg, deliciously adorning a roll came second, chronologically speaking.
It was a good week for Bertie the Labradoodle, such were the joys to be found by a new career of breaking and entering. Stealthy as a fox and hungry as a hunter, Bertie first gained unofficial entry into the guest room where an uneaten airport sandwich lay concealed in a bag and was clearly begging to be sampled – cellophane packaging and all. Chicken and plastic proved a winning combination and luckily satisfied the intrepid burglar so that he stopped short of nibbling on the next item which lay in wait within the hand-baggage – our house guest’s passport.
Poor Chris had, within minutes of arrival on the premises from the USA, been subjected to what he dubbed the Tea Olympics: a sort of flying canine launch onto the unsuspecting lap over which a hot cup of British brew was being held aloft. Miraculously the English Breakfast Tea remained in the cup and the Anglo-American house-guest in his seat. Bertie, delighted at the reaction, for it certainly garnered our guest’s full attention, remained firmly attached to our guest for as much time as possible during the week that followed.
Like an addiction, the chicken sandwich theft inevitably led to greater crimes. Cold turkeying, one presumes, from lack of chicken, our intrepid canine chum broke into the dining room at a birthday tea party and, finding himself alone, made inroads into a tasty platter of dainty egg- mayonnaise rolls. As good children should, he painstakingly started on the savoury offerings. Luckily, what would have been the targets of his next theft – the cakes and scones – were saved when I spotted his unnervingly quiet absence. The party went on, with Bertie firmly shut in the garden.
A few days later, he decided to join another dog for a swim in Highgate’s Dog Pond, no doubt seeking to work off some of the recent surplus carbohydrate, before snacking in a nearby outdoor café on a piece of broken glass, as no sandwiches seemed to be available. As he swam in the warm waters I like to think that my greedy Labradoodle had his mind on higher matters – such as dreaming of a day when chickens can cross the road without being questioned about their motives.
WEEK 29: Ritual bathing
It seems a very long time ago since Boxing Day when my beloved youngest son Jonathan flew off to Thailand, then to India and Laos, bidding farewell to Bertie the Labradoodle who was then only a tiny bundle of fluff, a mere 10 weeks old. So when the weary traveller bounced through the arrivals gate at Heathrow at dawn one morning last week, it was with great joy that I hugged him and drove him back to north London.
Bertie was overjoyed: clearly Jonathan’s new facial hair did nothing to detract from the recognition and affection shown by Bertie towards the young master. Jonathan seemed equally pleased to renew the acquaintance of his four-legged friend, who he found unrecognisably large.
Jonathan came back with stories galore – including tales about people taking ritual baths in the Ganges and the water celebrations of the Songkran Festival in Thailand.
Perhaps inspired by these watery events, Bertie himself went in for some ritual bathing in the deepest, muddiest stream he could find on Hampstead Heath, running up stream, jumping out to shake his fur, then repeating the exercise several times over by way of celebration at the return of the lovely Jonathan.
WEEK 28:Jilted at the altar
Wedding bells were due to ring and I was looking forward to a few nights off from puppy duty. In anticipation, two months ago, I had booked Bertie the Labradoodle into the dog crèche. All was confirmed and, although I really only needed one night off ‘duty’, I’d agreed to book Bertie in for a mini-break (for three whole nights) to suit the crèche which was decamping from City to countryside from Friday to Monday.
I don’t quite know how Bertie was feeling at the prospect, but I was pleased that both he and I would no doubt be having a lovely time in our separate quarters.
I was marginally concerned when the crèche folk didn’t call me back mid-week, then concern gradually rose to mild panic as it became apparent that Bertie had been clean forgotten
I was due to head to the altar to witness one of the most glamorous weddings in the history of marriage, but had to accept that Bertie had simply been jilted. So, returning from a Friday meeting (and just before business closing hours) I called the hotel where I would be staying the next day.
There are efficient people left in the world. To my great joy, I spoke to the wonderful, calm and efficient Amie Esprey at the Donnington Valley Hotel who not only identified some nearby boarding kennels but booked Bertie into one some 5 miles away. She then reminded me to take Bertie’s inoculation papers and generally smoothed what could have been a difficult situation. It was frankly above the call of duty and hugely appreciated by me. All hotels should have an Amie.
I took Bertie to the lovely boarding kennels and enjoyed the most beautiful of weddings. The next morning I collected Bertie from his lodgings and set off to spend an afternoon in nearby Oxford. After lunch, Bertie happily played in the sunshine, gate-crashing picnics along the way, as my son Daniel and his gorgeous partner Jessie, walked him in The Parks. Meantime, my friend Lizzy and I took in the delights of the Ashmolean Museum.
Jilted but not forsaken, this weekend of unaccustomed sunshine was in itself a cause for the welkins to ring.
WEEK 27: Not waving but drowning
Highgate Ponds are beautiful on a spring day and so we thought we’d stroll along to the dogs’ lake. The rough sea the previous weekend had not been to Bertie’s taste but as the adolescent Labradoodle was particularly frisky that day, the DHH and I thought that a little swimming in a calm lake would provide much needed release for surplus energy.
However, the anticipation was too much. As we walked around the perimeter of the first pond where only ducks and toy boats are welcome, Bertie moved excitedly towards the edge. There was a slope from the path which gave every impression of providing a nice gently sloping beach. It was in fact a sheer drop, as Bertie swiftly discovered.
He went under; bobbed up slightly; then disappeared beneath the waters again. I flung down my bag and fell to my knees, ready to jump (or wade) in if need be. But suddenly two little eyes appeared and then frantic doggy-paddling paws. Bertie could swim! After some minutes of attempting to negotiate the steep bank – and failing – I pulled him out by his collar. Onlookers had gathered and one had the impression that if necessary at least two of them would have helped with the rescue. Not so, the DHH.
I looked back. Safely many feet away from the scene of the accident, and distant from the frantic and wet fur-shaking, was the master of the house, smiling wryly. “As a matter of interest, what would you have done if he hadn’t reappeared?” the DHH asked.
Later, Bertie was introduced to the dogs’ pond. He tried his new swimming skills but only once. For love had struck. He became entranced by a chocolate Labrador called Ella – and was so besotted that once Ella and her human walked away, he followed them, refusing to leave her side until dragged away, tail not waving and definitely frowning.
After the events of the day, thoughts turn to William French, commemorated with monument in a north London cemetery known as “The Highgate Dog.” Aged 50, Mr. French lost his life on July 13th 1896 while saving a dog from drowning in Highgate Ponds. Few things in life are certain, except death and taxes of course, but I can almost certainly predict that no such memorial will ever be erected for the DHH.
WEEK 26: Bertie encounters the briny
Bertie the Labradoodle has at last had his first taste of the seaside. Despite lashing rain for much of the weekend, soggy sand and rough seas, he adored playing on the Gower Coast beach. Finding the sea rather disconcerting after dipping all paws in the briny once, Bertie retreated to enjoy instead running and jumping at top speed into the deepest rock pool he could find. He sniffed and ran, and ran and sniffed, as if his curiosity at all the new fishy, salty pongs would never be satiated. The smooth sands between the rocky crags of Brandy Cove were soon decorated with puppy paw prints.
Almost as good as the beach itself was the walk the following morning. In gale force winds and beating rain (for I am a most conscientious dog owner) we braved the path towards my favourite beach only to find the way impassable. After hours of Welsh rain, the road was flooded.
For Bertie, however, it was all a perfectly wonderful experience as he tried to drink and chase the brook that now flowed where only the day before a muddy footpath had lain. As he drank from the fast flowing waters, skipping amongst the primroses, wild garlic, bluebells, campions and violets of the Welsh hedgerows, I thought that no-one else would witness my dog’s joy on such a foul morning. But then, a man rounded the bend, looking as drenched as I was feeling… accompanied of course by his four legged friend, a Springer Spaniel. No-one else was about.
As we returned to my aunt and uncle’s lovely warm house for breakfast, the only sound above the wind and rain was that of a horse neighing loudly in a nearby stable block. Even the sheep were silent.
WEEK 25: Bertie’s First 100 Days
Bertie the Labradoodle has been ‘in office’ for 100 days now. By this I mean that, although he joined us in early December, it took some time between arrival and his debut into the outside world when he really could be said to have ‘arrived’, socially speaking.
So, as with Presidents, the occasion this week prompted me to ponder on his achievements as he reaches the milestone of the first 100 days (which I suppose should be counted as 700, in dog days).
- The first and most striking achievement is, obviously, growth. The DHH has returned from a week in Germany, where he has resided in the entirely dog-free zone of a trade fair, immediately commenting Bertie’s sheer scale and rate of growth. ‘He’s a monster-dog!’ For once, the dog hating husband and I tend to agree.
- Bertie’s ability to cajole so that I am persuaded to leave my desk to give him a second walk each day is not only a huge achievement on his part but an immense joy for me. It’s good for the soul, I think, to be torn away from the tyranny of the computer and ‘phone to enjoy fresh air and the simple pleasures of playing ball in the park and getting covered in mud.
- His universal friendliness is (almost always) a joy as I’ve met so many lovely people as well as their dogs. And he’s certainly become one of my best friends. Dogs were probably the first animals to be befriended by humans and have been man’s companions for 30,000 years, according to researcher Dr Greg Hodgins from Arizona University, who says that dogs were domesticated long before what might be considered more obviously useful (i.e. edible or milk abundant) animals not just to help on the hunt but, as now, for companionship.
- Bertie has learnt to sit, lie down and come when recalled – except when he doesn’t want to!
- And he has learnt to shake paws, if I ask very nicely.
- He has gathered that ‘off the sofa’ is only necessary when the DHH asks and that for the rest of us it is merely a suggestion.
- Bertie has gauged the best sources of tasty snacks. In particular he knows that the local RSCPA charity shop and PetVet always offer him some delicious morsels for doing nothing except visiting. Other easy wins come from people on park benches who often have a tasty sandwich or even a chicken leg which, whilst harder to obtain, can sometimes reap dividends.
- He’s developed a taste in music – this Labradoodle, we discover, loves Lizst in particular but objects to blues.
“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.” –Groucho Marx
WEEK 24: Ghost Story – a fishy tale
The gorgeous Daniel, my eldest son, is home from university and wanted a change from constant study so turned his hand to hard labour. He excavated the dank depths of the garden pond which he duly cleansed and tidied. In celebratory mood as his day of hard labour was such a success, he netted himself a small shoal of assorted fish to adorn the newly clear waters.
One – the most expensive of his piscine purchases – was the presciently named ‘Ghost Koi’.
Next day, the ‘phone rang. My great friend and neighbour, Sheila, asked firstly if we could ‘spare’ some frogspawn for a friend’s pond; then tentatively she asked if I had planned sprats for supper. “Sprats are not a staple of our dinner table,” I explained. “Well, I’m wondering where Cat found a rather pretty silver fish and wondered if she’d grabbed it from someone’s kitchen,” she said. I was able to provide a ready explanation.
I then broke the news about the Ghost Koi to its owner, enlightening him about the fact that his favoured fish was, indeed, now residing in ghostly realms.
Brimming with guilt, the lovely Sheila wittily purchased for Daniel a chocolate rabbit named Bertie Bunny as a peace offering. She also re-named Cat, The Assassin.
Shortly after the Ghost Koi had begun its journey to the other life and I’d been next door with Sheila chatting about this and that, I returned to find Bertie the Labradoodle sitting at the foot of the stairs looking smug… and with a golden tail hanging from his mouth. “Drop it!” I suggested. He did.
Then he had the impertinence to look around as if casting around for the culprit. I quickly snapped the criminal, Assassin Number Two, and mailed the fishy evidence to Sheila and to Daniel, offering a message of condolence to the latter. Now bent on watery destruction, Bertie completed his mission: the canine Assassin # 2 did his bit by eating each and every frond of my treasured water irises and Daniel’s newly-planted ornamental grasses.
WEEK 23: Bumper Easter
Bertie the Labradoodle has had a bumper Easter. He has been showered with gorgeous gifts from the Pets Pyjamas website – a most stylish Dogs & Horses (D&H) collar and matching lead is sure to enhance his reputation when stepping out to take the air.
Whilst at home his stylish and patriotic Mutts & Hounds Linen Union Jack Flag Bone toy complete with squeaker has quickly become a favourite toy – it’s robust and good-looking, which as we puppy owners know, is a rare combination.
Graciously receiving lovely gifts has been only part of the excitement though. Bertie has graduated from primary school. His recent sixth and final lesson at the Alpha Puppy School was not a resounding success as lead work is improving but definitely not up to an acceptable level. Another Labradoodle puppy smugly walks beautifully on her lead showing up Bertie’s flaws (well, actually, my flaws as a puppy parent). There are some things that even a stylish lead doesn’t make up for.
Two play sessions with adult Labradors in the weeks before Easter were however very successful and he seems to have learnt more from his peers than I can ever teach him. Bertie was taken off by his new best friends Martha and Hannah for walkies and to play with Ernie the Golden Labrador who quite simply wore him out. Then he was looked after by Harry the Labrador for an afternoon at Harry’s home, which he shares with his human, Joanna. I fretted about Bertie having free run of my friend’s beautiful house whilst Joanna and I headed to the theatre. But I needn’t have worried, as Harry had clearly given Bertie firm instructions. The fringed rugs were out of bounds; the furniture legs were not for chewing; and strict decorum must be maintained at all times. An enormous and inviting basket of dog toys was raided and the contents duly distributed around the house but otherwise all was well.
I had thought that a spell outside would be good; but for the dogs’ safety, it was not to be. Someone in Kingston-upon-Thames has been fatally poisoning dogs and cats with contaminated meat and there are four victims to date. The police are treating the matter as murder and no pet is safe until the killer is found. (And before you ask, the DHH has alibis and, anyway, hates any form of violence.)
WEEK 22: Shaken and stirred
In the weeks since December, when Bertie the Labradoodle and I first made our faltering steps to becoming close companions, we have met countless lovely strangers on the streets of London, in parks, shops and other places. Bertie even attracted some smiles when we took him – in a bag as he was too young to walk – into St Paul’s Cathedral on Christmas morning all those weeks ago. So I have become accustomed to my friendly little puppy attracting warmth and admiration, not derision (except of course from the DHH).
So it was sad the other day when walking down the main road towards the park to suddenly hear a crying child behind me, apparently due to fear of dogs – specifically my dog. Now I love to help children get over canine fears and I even wrote a leaflet about this some time ago for a well-known charity. It is my belief that children often suffer attacks because they aren’t taught how to approach dogs and so I am always keen to educate them.
My concern for the child quickly turned to fear for myself however; for I was confronted with a large and angry woman telling me to “get your dog under control. He’s scaring my kid and I want to get past” and waving her fist in my face.
I suggested that we might allay the child’s fears if my perfectly-behaved pup, who was on a lead and well under ‘control’, should be gently introduced to the boy.
Mrs. Angry was having none of it. She instead swore, then declared in full voice and with raised fist that she planned to “smash my face in”. Reader, you understand that I am editing out the stronger, Anglo Saxon portions of her little speech. In case I had failed to comprehend and for good measure she elucidated: “I’m gonna beat you up”.
As we’ve learnt in dog school, the space dogs allow themselves to size up the opposition is considerably greater than the space we humans like to feel comfortable with strangers. Mrs Angry and, more immediately, Mrs A’s large clenched fist, were definitely too close for my comfort.
I questioned the wisdom of shouting and swearing in front of her brood of three children (the youngest seemed to now be crying more about the brouhaha his mother was causing than the original reason) whilst the other two looked on silently.
I also mentioned, as I cautiously took out my ‘phone, that I planned to summon the Police and, if necessary, have her charged with threatening common assault. This did the trick. I had the impression from her swift exit at this point that she and the Constabulary were perhaps already acquainted but that, on this occasion, she had suddenly remembered a prior engagement and didn’t have the time to chat with them again.
I was shaken and, frankly, stirred; stirred because it really bothers me that people like this are permitted to raise children, much less threaten to attack strangers going about their lawful business.
If this is how Mrs. Angry behaves in public, one can only speculate about how she treats her brood behind closed doors. My concern for my own safety was uppermost in my mind at the time but as the hours and days wore on I can’t help worrying about those children.
Bertie merely gazed up at me questioningly as Mrs. A and her charges scuttled down the dusty road. Then my sweet-natured pup and I enjoyed a lovely walk together in the sunshine, the smell of fear abating to be replaced with the scents of spring leaves and flowers now assailing our nostrils.
WEEK 21: A close shave for Bertie
My lovely mother had agreed to puppy-sit whilst I dashed up the M1 for a business meeting. On arrival back at her apartment block I met a worried looking pair. The charming Jill, mater’s chum, and her daughter, Lynne, reported that they had been chatting to my mother and Bertie the Labradoodle in the corridor when suddenly they noticed that Bertie was enjoying a light snack he’d found under the radiator tucked where no adult human would spot it. I arrived at my mother’s door; she looked worried.
Now this was no ordinary snack. The Idiot Handy-Man who looks after the block of flats had decided to place fairy cake cases liberally around the place filled with rodent poison. The stupidity was worsened by the fact that he’d not made residents aware of this despite the fact that rodent poison sparkles attractively and many have small grandchildren as well as dogs visiting.
Bertie showed no immediate symptoms but a brief conversation with the Splendid Vet, Amanda McGrath, confirmed the urgency of the situation. Calm but leaving nothing to chance, Amanda insisted Bertie came to the surgery immediately. At this point I am uncertain how much information to include but for any reader who may be of a delicate disposition I will simply say that the Splendid Vet, the charming Nurse, Jo, and I watched as Bertie was purged of everything he’d consumed in the past day or so. It was not a pleasant sight and poor Bertie was exhausted at the end of what took the best part of two hours.
Much of this time saw me, still be-suited from my meeting and so sporting a plastic apron, seated on the surgery floor on the ‘phone four times to the Idiot Handy-man’s assistant as his boss was driving. His refusal to pull over to speak with me was infuriating but he refused to pull over to tell me exactly what the poison was – hence the repeated calls. We urgently needed the information before speaking to the Toxicology Unit. After being given the wrong name of the chemical eventually twice, eventually the Idiot called his wife to ask her to check the packaging – a call which made an hour earlier might have saved much anxiety. He called the vet assuring her that the poison ‘wouldn’t harm animals’ (despite being designed to kill).
“I suggest that at the least he should pay for all of this” suggested the ever-sympathetic Amanda as she gamely darted between the sick-room and other scheduled patients.
Poor Bertie’s last indignities were to be shaven on neck and foreleg so that blood could be tested. As if this close shave wasn’t enough, my puppy then had some unpleasant treatment involving his nether regions. There was talk of overnight monitoring in hospital but fortunately this was avoided. My weak and sad looking puppy was at last out of danger and slowly we walked home where he lay down, uncharacteristically docile. Even the DHH had been alarmed and sympathetic.
“Perhaps you should muzzle him so he can’t eat everything he sees,” suggested my wise and dog-proficient friend, Vanessa, over supper later that evening. A close shave indeed. Thank goodness for the brilliance of the splendid PetVet team. Sad to say we didn’t receive a single call or word of concern from the Idiot Handy-Man who caused this crisis.
WEEK 20: The Food Issue
I think that Bertie, my fast-growing, fast-moving, ever-chewing Labradoodle pup may be a
PICA sufferer – PICA being a compulsive craving to eat non-food items. Such a diagnosis would explain a good deal.
Bertie, in common with other Labrador types, seems to consume virtually anything. To describe him as ‘greedy’ would be to describe the Queen as ‘quite well-off’. Here is the list of items Bertie has eaten, or tried to consume, in the past couple of weeks alone:
- Cow pats
- Holly leaves
- String bags from supermarket fruits
- Jumpers – preferably cashmere
- The DHH
- Small children
- A used condom in the park during the puppy class this week
- Frogspawn although tadpoles seem less appealing to him.
He is not fussy though. He also enjoys the odd actual food item. On the list of surprise top favourites so far are: bananas, blueberries, butternut squash and even something actually intended for canines – Park Life Liver treats (which a lovely woman in the local park gave me) www.thrivetreats.com
For the sake of completeness, here is the list – the entire list – of items Bertie does NOT recognise as food and actually spits out:
Er, that’s it. Celery alone comprises the entire list of things we have so far discovered that he refuses to consume which, when you consider celery is rejected whereas cow pats are welcomed, appears to confirm the PICA diagnosis.
The need to keep Bertie away from chocolate, which of course is toxic for dogs, is something I’m very aware of but my lovely neighbour Sue tells me of a near disaster involving grapes and her dog Ernie. So, belatedly I do a little research on the topic, to discover that as well as grapes and raisins, onions, garlic, caffeine, some artificial sweeteners, macadamia nuts, alcohol and fruit stones are all no-nos. Celery however is not on the list.
WEEK 19: In the dog house
The DHH (Dog-Hating Husband) is feeling somewhat bruised by the fact that the puppy-pen has been broken down. What he felt was a fine piece of Colditz-like construction which he and my sons, Daniel and Jonathan, had created in the back garden turned out to be a trifling challenge for Bertie the Labradoodle. This most cunning canine has succeeded in chewing the uprights and then beating down a section of the fence with his paws, to a height over which he can readily step.
The feelings of aggravation were worsened when the DHH learnt that an architect we know has constructed the finest quality Bauhaus-style run for the family’s pet guinea pigs. Compared with this architectural wonder of the pet world, the chicken wired structure that now droops so forlornly is a monument to our inadequate puppy parenting.
The DHH feels the blow sorely. “How much taller will he get?” “Oh, not much growing left to do now,” I state with a cheerful, fixed smile. “Only another 8 months or so of growth,” I mutter under my breath.
So, with Spring’s early and welcome arrival, I spend a sunny Saturday afternoon tirelessly working in the garden to complete the demolition work Bertie has begun. The jubilation Bertie expresses must be similar to that of those first people to break through the Berlin Wall.
Kettled, but not for long, Bertie informs his canine lunch guests, Harry the Labrador and Molly the Springer Spaniel, that his garden is now an open and welcoming expanse, just lying ready to welcome them.
WEEK 18: Pistols at noon
Bertie the Labradoodle was bottom of the class this week. Puppy School just isn’t the same since Annette the Brilliant Breeder told me in her no nonsense way that I was walking Bertie too far for his age. “You wouldn’t walk a five year old child 2 miles there and back would you?” she exclaimed. “Well yes actually, I used to make the boys walk for miles,” I stammered, feeling a slight wave of guilt, which soon passed.
The result is that Bertie is now chauffeured in style to school. No more the call of the open road – specifically, the disused railway line that is the so-called Parkland Walk, trailing through the north London suburbs. Instead of the weekly ritual pilgrimage along what is now part of the so-called Capital Ring, we take the less rural route along the Seven Sisters Road.
This means that instead of arriving muddy, contented and exhausted, Bertie arrives at class clean, ecstatic and with boundless energy. Last Sunday, a coiled spring didn’t begin to describe his level of excitement.
They say it takes a village to bring up a child. It might not require an entire village to deal with my puppy, but at the Alpha Puppy School it took three of us. The Splendid Trainer, the Assistant Trainer and I grappled with Bertie’s antics. In the end, the professionals resorted to chains and a gun – or to be exact, a chain lead and a plant spray with the nozzle turned to full strength. The chain lead did stop the incessant chewing and the surprise of the odd jet of cold water created enough surprise to discourage the coiled spring-like bouncing.
“He needs a ball and chain and a Taser Gun,” said the Dog-Hating-Husband (DHH) when I returned home afterwards, the miscreant compliant for at least a short time after an hour of hard maneuvers.
WEEK 17: The Rug of Doom
It’s been an eventful few weeks for Bertie the Labradoodle. The List-of-Things-Puppy-Must-Encounter -as set out Gwen Bailey’s The Perfect Puppy book – is rapidly being checked off, together with some items even the formidable Ms. Bailey didn’t think to include.
Bertie has attended business meetings, paddled in a fast-flowing river; met two horses, whom he found deeply disturbing; encountered six (live) chickens, which he found very enticing; digested literature (more of that later); enjoyed encounters with large and sensible Labradors; and had his first taste of being on duty with me at the charity where I volunteer.
At the charity call-centre, Bertie was shown the ropes by the gorgeous Otto, whose human pet is the renowned photographer, Richard Ansett. Now Richard’s photography is edgy and never cute, so any rumours that he was in any way responsible for these delicious dog shots will be strongly denied by all who were present.
Otto, the most perfectly-trained and majestic Labrador-type you could possibly meet, informed Bertie that, as top dog, he would be occupying the sofa whilst the young upstart took to the floor during their vigil.
A few days later, I was feeling content that Bertie had learnt a huge amount of good sense from Otto and I had learnt much from Richard. This seemingly calm puppy persuaded me that he could happily amuse himself alone. And amuse himself alone, he did.
You might think that Bertie, named after PG Wodehouse’s engaging Bertram Wooster, would respect Wodehousian books. But it was not to be. At least, when selecting literature to digest, was there any significance, I asked myself, that he chose as a pre-supper snack, not a Jeeves and Wooster novel, but one of the Blandings series – my beloved original orange Penguin version of ‘Blandings Castle’ ?
This anti-literary phase has continued: two days later, virtually the entire Sunday newspaper was stolen from the kitchen table and consumed. Bertie has become a WMD where the printed word is concerned. He has already been dubbed by one family member, Lizzie, as ‘The Rug of Doom’. The only section of the paper which remained untouched by tooth or claw was the sports supplement which holds as little interest for me as it clearly does for the Rug of D. Lizzie advised long ago that Bertie should be introduced to newspapers, not of course as entertainment but rolled tightly and used as a deterrent.
Fortunately the DHH was on the other side of the world, enjoying the relative peace of a business trip, and so did not have to witness this wholesale and anarchic destruction of the printed word.
WEEK 16: No Sex in the City – if you’re a dog, life’s a bitch.
Bertie the Labradoodle has come of age, rather faster than I, innocent that I am in the ways of puppy pre-teenage-hood, would have expected. He just occasionally cocks his leg against the garden fence. And he has discovered sex.
The objects of his desire are usually my legs, or the legs of any passing human female; occasionally the sleeve of a jacket left handing on the back of a chair gains special attention; and yesterday a real, live Labrador bitch was the object of his ardour.
Talk of neutering is rife amongst virtually everyone I encounter. ‘When’, not ‘if’, is the assumptive question generally in use. The vet checks her calendar and his age, asking ‘when’ we should book him in for the life changing deed. Well-meaning friends and strangers ask ‘how long before, you know, he has the snip?’
Some years ago, I commissioned an opinion poll about neutering on behalf of a canine charity with which I was working. Back then there was a clear divide in opinion based on gender: whereas as most people (women included) thought spaying bitches was fine, male respondents were far less positive about neutering male dogs. They expressed an empathy with their own sex. We headlined the survey results ‘if you’re a bitch, it’s a dog’s life’.
Now I don’t know if that gender divide still exists but one thing is becoming clear. There is a divide, but it’s between country dwellers and city folk.
I meet a lovely dog breeder in the local woods. A City dweller now, she explains that her heart and soul are in the country. “We never neuter dogs in rural areas,” she says, pointing to her gorgeous black Labradors. The mother and son duo who Bertie is sniffing at are both intact and she claims she never has any problems.
The truth is that I like the idea of little Bertie siring off-spring one day. I rather hope that someone might wish to see my puppy betrothed to their bitch. But I suspect that, City dweller as I am, peer pressure will get the better of me. ”Let him do it once, then take his ‘nads away,” says my otherwise kindly and lady-like client. This balanced opinion can only be explained by the fact that she has a foot in both camps: a senior business woman, work brings her to London and Brussels a good deal, but she lives in the wilds of the country surrounded by fields and with a menagerie of assorted animals.
It seems that, for City dogs, life’s a bitch. If the majority have their way, there’s to be no sex in the City for young Bertie.
It was late on Saturday night. We’d been forced to abandon the car and walk the last few streets through heavy snow. Bertie was tucked up safe and warm at home, oblivious of the winter wonderland that had formed during the couple of hours we’d been away listening to wonderful music.
I flung open the back door and I expected Bertie, spotting snow for the first time, to bound out. No bouncing ensued. Instead he cocked his ears: the silence unnerved him. He put two paws tentatively outside, keeping the rear-legs firmly on the warm side of the threshold. He reached down; and he tasted snow. He ate it and licked it and eventually, when I had ventured outside to give him courage, he joined me in the twinkling, white back garden.
Taking the plunge, he nose-dived into the drifts, he ran around in excited circles and he dug, hiding a toy, revealing it, and then digging again until I insisted that it really was not the best time for play. Heavy snow continued to fall.
The next morning, the DHH, Bertie and I joined the masses at the local park. The place was abuzz with laughter, noise, sledges, toddlers resembling miniature Michelin Men, dogs and puppies. Bertie, who for the past few days has been allowed off the lead, tore through the crowd. His mission: to see what happens when you race at top speed towards very small children, who were also tasting their first snow. Result. This was fun. The miniature Michelin Men fall over. A parent stands them up. Again and again they fall making an enticing noise, like noisy skittles. And I was too far behind and walking too tentatively, fearful of breaking a wrist once again, to reprimand him.
We’d recently seen the film Carnage which explores the horrors that ensue between couples and within relationships when parents try to resolve their children’s misdemeanours. I feared a real-life re-enactment.
But this was middle class north London. The opposite occurred. There was I, in the red corner, apologising for the bad manners of my excited puppy; in the blue corner were the toddler owners, insisting it would do the child good to ‘get used to dogs’. I didn’t agree, fearing these infants would be scarred for life because of their Labradoodle encounter.
Bertie was eventually restrained and even the DHH got involved. “It’s like ‘Carnage’,” he said echoing what I’d already been thinking. “First civilised, reassuring conversations and then next thing you know, you’ll be having rows with these parents,” he warned, warming to his subject as he warmed himself with coffee at the outdoor café. Meanwhile, Bertie happily foraged for chips and cake crumbs dropped by his new favourite category of humans, careless toddlers.
WEEK 14: Choosing ‘The One’? Tough love and tough lessons in love
Bertie has graduated to Primary School. Puppies and many older dogs gather in the chill wind of a London park. As we chat before lessons begin I’m delighted to be greeted by some familiar faces from Puppy Kindergarten along with some anxious owners whose adult dogs have serious need of training.
“He’s really behaving so badly. He just doesn’t obey the training programme,” bemoans one of the human pupils. The target of her dismay wasn’t the dog. It was her boyfriend whose lack of support for training had helped lead her adolescent dog into confusion and lack of discipline.
“He wouldn’t come to classes,” she said sadly. “Wouldn’t even give me a lift here today. And I know when I get home he just won’t listen to what we need to do!”
But there was more. “I’m really wondering now,” she added, brow furrowed, “If this is the man I really want to have children with. It’s made me rethink my life with him. He’s not who I thought he was.”
Ouch. Tough stuff for a Sunday morning.
Another couple nod vigorously. “We understand how that feels,” said the female half of the duo as her partner smiles wanly in agreement. “We had to have a long hard talk about staying on the same programme with this dog,” she added. “It could have affected our relationship.” For them, the experience of bringing up baby seems to be a bonding experience but it interests me that by the sound of it, tough love could easily have slipped in another direction to become a tough lesson in love.
So we get to the nub of the issue. We all choose to own dogs for different reasons but it seems that some couples are treating dog ownership as a testing ground for whether they truly have found The One – The One they want to live with, put trust in, love forever and with whom to have babies. These dogs have a big responsibility.
As we near Valentine’s Day it is a salutary thought. But perhaps it’s as well to test the relationship on a dog rather than the even more stressful business of bringing up a child. I relate the story to the DHH. “You’re very, VERY lucky,” he says, “that we didn’t have a puppy first.” I smile as sweetly as four hours in the chill of a winter park will allow. “No, you’re the fortunate one,” I retort. The DHH idly strokes Bertie who has settled onto his lap oblivious of the fact that his puppy love is unrequited.
The issue of choosing ‘The One’ reminds me of the old joke: To test who really is your best friend, your partner or your dog, ask yourself: ‘If you locked both in the boot of the car for an hour, when you open that door, who shouts, glares and sulks and who is truly happy to see you?’ Fellow dog owners: I think we know the answer. Perhaps now is a timely moment to turn to the PetsPyjamas shop for some gorgeous, heart-adorned gifts.
WEEK 13: Bertie takes the lead
I can’t help thinking how as a society we are failing by not giving some people similar training. Take the behaviour at the cinema just the other day for instance. Coriolanus was gripping and thought-provoking for most of the audience – but sadly not for incessant texter in front of me or the young woman to my right who felt her boyfriend (and I) would be more entertained by her running commentary than by the film-script. Human socialisation is definitely in need of attention in some cases.
Luckily some members of the younger (human) generation are being brilliantly socialised like the truly charming young girls at Puppy Kindergarten. The pets of gorgeous Mac, a chocolate Labradoodle (pictured left) – asked each and every time if they could play with Bertie before touching him – all under the supervision of eagle-eyed Sue (right). These children were quite simply a class act and put to shame the appalling manners of certain adult cinema goers.
WEEK 12: It’s a dog’s life for Rufus
It was an exciting day as Bertie had his final vaccination and was micro-chipped (with the aid of a chop bone supplied by the Splendid Vet, Amanda). So celebrating with close friends the impending freedom of potential walks a mere 5 days later was a delightful prospect.
Bertie the bouncy Labradoodle welcomed with open paws his first canine dinner companion – Rufus, the lovely Norfolk Terrier. Unfortunately the excitement was not shared by the ever-friendly, intelligent and thoughtful Rufus. The lack of interest and general docility annoyed his canine host who appears not to be blessed with the charms of the perfect host. Bertie barked; he pounced; he chased; he clambered. He was annoying. The lessons from his recent first class at Puppy School, where Nellie The Tutor had taught ‘polite’ socialisation, had been forgotten.
Rufus tried to ignore the unwanted attention but it was impossible. As a last resort, he sat at the feet of the Dog Hating Husband (the DHH), picking him out at the only human clearly attuned to his own predicament.
Rufus looked up at the DHH. The DHH looked down at Rufus. Silently, using only eye contact, they bonded: partners in the face of adversity. As is so often true in troubled times, former enemies come together to make strange bed-fellows when faced with a common enemy. The DHH was to Rufus as Nick Clegg is to David Cameron – a necessary but uneasy coalition partner.
Buoyed up by having such a staunch ally, Rufus allowed the tension to show, just a little. But Bertie felt the honour of Labradoodles was at stake and kept going at full pace until nearing midnight when he could be spotted, slumped in the middle of the kitchen floor, exhausted and content with a good evening’s work.
WEEK 11: School and String Theory
Bertie starts school this week. We are signed up for puppy classes and ’socialisation parties’ at the Splendid Vet’s. As we anticipate the first weekly evening class, I have no idea what to expect, except mayhem. I think Bertie is unlikely to make strong headway in the academic stream however as he seems more interested in vocational career paths.
Already he shows talent for electrical work as studying wiring is a keen interest. He has brilliantly discovered just how many pretty wires are concealed within the outer casing of the ‘phone line which is also the door-phone cable. This ensures that we cannot have‘human socialization’ as visitors will now rarely gain access because we lack a door-bell. In fact anything that is long, thin and dangly holds a fascination for him that is as strong as Prof. Brian Cox’s fascination with the wonders of the universe. String, birch twigs, scarf fringes, long hair, knitting yarn, ribbons, shoe-laces… but especially string. And, of course, wire cables.
Having shown his talent as a potential spark, Bertie has moved onto light plumbing, finding solace and interest in chewing the radiator caps and pipe-work too.
This talent which promises so well for future NVQ success doesn’t stop indoors. His interest in construction – or rather, de-construction – leads him to some cunning demolition work as, using teeth and claws, he plucks out the grouting between the York paving in the garden. Delicately picking out the concrete and consuming it is apparently so much more interesting than the ‘potty’ training which is the aim of me standing, night-dress wafting in the gale force winds, at 7am on a dark, cold wintry morning.
While I offer constructive advice, Bertie avidly pursues his future career in construction and demolition, with a little String Theory for good measure.
WEEK 10: Party Puppy
Puppies are the must-have party guest it seems. Already, Bertie was one of the star turns at a brunch, a lunch, a drinks party and various other pre-Christmas events. It’s often men who seem to be completely smitten. At the lovely Roz’s Christmas lunch, whilst Bertie was not short of attention from many of the guests, it was a man who came over to me and begged to hold the dog: “I feel the need to breast-feed,” he said. The Puppy Expert has written to all of us novice puppy owners reminding us to make the crate available as a place of refuge during this busy season. But for Bertie no such refuge is needed, although of course it is there if he feels the need to be alone. He loves company as much as he loves food. If, as puppy prances around my legs in the dark and dank gloom of these unseasonably warm December mornings, I fleetingly convince myself that he loves me above all others, I am swiftly disabused. He loves everyone equally. When the DHH retrieved puppy’s favourite ball from an impossible nook, he received a noisy, wet, licky kiss which I could hear from the other side of the room.
When 10 year old Ella and 8 year old Martha visit, tousling both over him and his favourite soft toy, he is happy and contented with the attention even when trying to snooze. A constant stream of visitors is what he craves. My concern is that when life resumes its quieter pace in January, our puppy will feel bereft. He has known only this busy social whirl. Just as I am thinking that we might be forced to arrange social events just for him, my pal Debbie – self-appointed ‘Furry Godmother’ – arranges a lunch date in the New Year so that he can become acquainted with Molly Valentine, the adorable cocker spaniel. This rather thick skinned puppy who believes he can love the whole world and it will return that affection has his first lesson about felines. My friend and neighbour Sheila knocks on the door and, as usual, her cat sits on the porch window ledge looking needy – but only for a moment. Bertie is in my arms; noses touch (the animals, that is, not Sheila and me). Bertie wags his tail; the cat arches his spine and bristles all over, then leaps in spectacular fashion to escape a dog that is about a third of its body size. This is the very cat whose chief sport was chasing my previous dog (a rather Beta Bolognese Bitch) around the garden. But there again, one of the resident magpies used to do so too.
WEEK 9: A dog is for Christmas
A present with no future… that’s what strikes me as kind friends give chewable presents to young Bertie as his first Christmas nears. Bones and balls; shoes and chews; a Christmas pudding on a rope… all at nibbled at enthusiastically – but of course none so enthusiastically as my favourite cashmere or best evening shoes. My arm seems to be another favourite snack and play-thing and I have the puncture mark to show for it.
According to Winifred Robinson on Radio 4’s excellent You and Yours programme, Britons spend £4 billion a year on pets. Two weeks ago I’d have been sceptical but now I find this completely credible. My guess is that much of that is spent by non-pet owners on gifts for lucky dogs like Bertie. The more toys and chews the merrier. However, when the flurry of gifts dies down, I notice that, like toddlers, Bertie get bored with the same toys. Removing the toys after play-time and rotating the use of the toy collection seems to work.
Then each play session and training period is greeted as if every day is Christmas and the now-forgotten toys are embraced as if brand new.
It’s a bit like my Book Club: we so often forget the plot details a few months on that I’m sure we could recycle the same 6 books and find new interest each time.
WEEK 8: Sweet Dreams are Made of This
Ah yes, sleep; I remember that.
I have a dream – a waking dream that is – that one day I will sleep throughout the night once more, without being persuaded by the highest pitch yelping imaginable to join young Bertie in the wintry, moonlit garden at 3.30am. He prances about entranced by shadows, leaves, twigs… everything but the task which should be concentrating his mind.
Night One: we sleep on the sofa together.
Night Two: We sleep in the spare room. Bertie is on my head like an exotic, warm hat when I awake at 4am.
Night Three: puppy remains in his cage until 7am. It feels like a lie-in. We are both so refreshed that the first training session of the day goes extremely well and Bertie sits and even stays, on command, a couple of times. Or perhaps that is just coincidence.
WEEK 7: Puparazzi
Puppy is already in demand.
Only one day on, he receives an invitation to an evening party next week, drinks at the weekend, a Brunch party and a Sunday lunch. I do believe that if he didn’t require me for transport, the puppy’s diary would be fuller than mine. But, most excitingly, he has just put his best paw forward to face the Pets Pyjamas’ Paparazzi. He couldn’t wait to scramble aboard the yellow NYC Taxi, the sleek black Furcedes, and to try out his glamorous new poodle-adorned feeding bowls which will make even puppy food seem like a gastronomic treat.
Photograph after photograph and then, like any diva, he was no longer ready for more close ups and simply fell asleep.
WEEK 6: Welcome to the Gated Community
Puppy has arrived. And at just seven weeks and two days of age he is tiny, beautiful, fragrant, soft and altogether adorable. The house and husband stood in wait as, six hours after our pilgrimage from north London into the countryside and back, we welcomed our very small, bat-black Labradoodle to his new home.
Our rather open plan house has now been heavily reinforced with baby safety gates at the garden door, the kitchen door and staircase plus a ‘crate’ (the Puppy Expert insists it is not a cage). Puppy-gate is our new modus operandi with each section of the house sectioned off prison-style. We are a one home gated community.
Like any new baby’s arrival, the first thing that strikes us all is how small the new arrival seems and yet how very bulky is all the necessary equipment to keep him happy and safe.
We joined all the other puppy parents collecting their charges from the same litter for a three hour postnatal lecture by the splendid Puppy Expert. At the close of the session, my notebook brimmed with 35 pieces of advice.
I was accompanied on the adventure by my lovely mother and son Jonathan. My dog-hating husband (the DHH) was at home and basking in denial. The lecture was long but a brilliant idea as it enabled the small audience of worried puppy parents to ask all sorts of tricky questions. If only such classes were mandatory for parents of new human babies there would be fewer ASBOs I’m sure. The charming breeder, Annette, is a hugely responsible and caring woman with a marvelous laugh who has given these pups a happy start in life. On arrival the DHH struggled past the prison gates to greet us and meet the new arrival. Later that evening this puppy has melted even this cynic’s heart.
“As dogs go, he is rather an engaging little thing!” he mutters.
But puppy has not to be concerned. There are plenty of loving arms reaching out. My adult sons Daniel and Jonathan have amassed an array of gorgeous guest for Puppy’ First Dinner Party. Nine of us chink glasses and welcome the new arrival. We are joined by Jessie, Theo, Antonia and Bernadine and the conversation turns to puppy names. After huge debate, puppy is named Bertie – after that fine Wodehousian character, Bertram Wooster.
WEEK 5: The Puppy Proofing Phase
Lunch to talk business with Phillipa wouldn’t have been complete without at least some doggy talk. Her long haired, long-legged Jack Russell bitch is beautiful and looks, in the photograph, the perfect companion. “Tips?” I ask. “Get someone else to train it,” she replies. “It’s the only way.”
The thing about the ‘only way’ argument is that of course one can’t set up the control experiment. So do I try training and only take the puppy to a professional when it goes off the rails. Will I need to employ the services of the doggy equivalent of super-nanny? Or will my angelic looking pup be willing and able to learn with me? This feels like the equivalent of deciding whether to put an infant’s name on the waiting list for a top school. Instead, I content myself with nest-making and ignoring the potential for damage.
Then our lovely cleaner, Nora, arrives. The new puppy in another house she looks after has chewed the lead on the vacuum cleaner, attacked Nora’s trousers and generally caused mayhem. Only last week she had adoringly shown me a picture of the puppy. From ‘cute’ to ‘brute’ in a week. How quickly one can fall from grace; a week’s a long time in puppy-dom.
WEEK 4: The Perfect Puppy Phase
Like any proud mother-to-be I have been reading the books. Mostly I’ve been tucked under the bedclothes late at night absorbing The Perfect Puppy by Gwen Bailey as recommended by The Puppy Expert.
Now if you are the parent of a human and gave birth any time in the last decade you will know Gina Ford’s The Contented Little Baby. Gina is a little like Marmite – you love her methods which some (my friend Gill, step forward) believe are like the tablets delivered from the mountain; and others of us think are institutional – style tyranny (step forward and join me, Gill’s daughter, Martha).
The puppy schedule is relentless. From 8a.m. until 11p.m. there will be no respite according to Ms Bailey. When, I wonder, will I have a little time to myself – to read and shop on the PetsPyjamas website for example? Yet despite my misgivings about Gina Ford, somehow Ms Bailey’s timetable is enticing.
And when I get to the back of the book I find, in addition to the hourly timed ‘must do’ events, a list of people puppy must meet each week. When am I to fit in puppy meeting someone in a helmet, with a beard, on a skateboard, on a bicycle, in a uniform, a hat, glasses and a host of others…?
Got it: I will kit out the DHH (that’s the Dog-Hating Husband if you only dipped in at this stage) to wear or use all these required ‘socialization programme’ items at once. Should save time. Something tells me that the Perfect Puppy is the one who hasn’t yet moved in. Two weeks to go and counting.
WEEK 3: The Hamley’s Phase
Can you hear them?” said Annette the breeder as I picked up the ‘phone. The sound was an exact rendition of Sue, the glove puppet, of Sooty & Sweep fame. Then came the photograph, as she spoke to me. I proudly emailed it to lots of dog-loving friends and The Dog Hating Husband. Even he admitted it was ‘rather sweet’. Emails came back thick and fast including one from Rhoda: “I thought you were getting a live puppy not a toy”. I do see what she means.
Perfect. I can hardly wait.
WEEK 2: The Fear of Flying Phase
It’s five weeks since I went flying across the room and broke my wrist. It’s mended – just. But fear of flying is the current theme as Jill – The Puppy Expert – says I must not allow the puppy to fly down stairs for at least six months. Or up for that matter. Potential hip problems might ensue if I fail to heed this advice.
I live in a three storey house on a hill with a heavily stepped garden. Quotes are in from the gardeners – sorry, landscapers – working down the road. I need a pretty but temporary fence around the main deck of my garden to contain puppy and stop him learning to fly and swim (the pond is but a slip of the paw away). The quote is £800. Now call me mean but I’m only going to need this fence for six months and £800 would buy a lot of dog toys.
WEEK 1: The Mitten Phase
He looks like a mitten” said my friend Rhoda when I, proud puppy-parent-to-be, showed her the photograph of my potential companion, a two week old Labradoodle. A mitten did rather describe the size of this very tiny creature, plucked from his basket of six other adorable squeaking puppies that were squirming and wriggling contentedly beside their mother, Dottie. It was love at first sight – for me, not for him. The mitten had yet to open his eyes. It is five weeks Before Puppy (BP) as the countdown began.
Annette, the Brilliant Breeder, was dishing out tea and advice in her homely kitchen. I’d arrived by train full of anticipation at Bedford station full of concern that my broken wrist, up to the elbow in a fetching black plaster, would heal well before I was required to handle my puppy. No such problems existed that day. As they are only two weeks of age, the cautious and professional Annette wouldn’t let me even touch the puppies for fear of ‘cross-contamination’.
This litter was precious. Their mother, Dottie, experienced severe labour problems and had had to undergo an emergency Caesarean and a swift hysterectomy. So my little pup and his siblings were to be the last litter the elegant Dottie would produce. It hadn’t been a planned pregnancy. Her overly enthusiastic suitor had rather, ahem, forced the issue, I learnt.
Described by the breeder as The Rapist, and by me as The Eager Lover, I met him looking rather shame-faced just outside the kitchen. Brown, handsome and short of stature, his romantic Irish parentage had perhaps created the ardour that clearly appealed to Dottie
I was delivered back to the railway station, my notebook brimming with notes about equipment needed; food; cleaning fluidsto use (not normal anti-bacterials); cleaning fluids to use on the dog equipment (Virkon)… and instructions to speak to puppy expert, Jill.