Cooper, sable english cocker spaniel / how dogs understand our words and conversations / how to talk to your dog / Perfect cocker spaniel blog & book (C) Natalia Ashton

Conversations with my dogs

It’s been a while since it happened for the first time, but I still remember that moment clearly. A passer-by turned his head, looked at me and said “Pardon?” “Oh, I am just talking to my dog”, I said. He glanced at Oscar… his eyes travelled from the smiling face of my furry boy down and then up back to me. The man was definitely a cat person. Otherwise he’d probably join our little chat or smile back at my boy. Instead the guy rolled his eyes and walked away.

And so did we… enjoying our morning stroll and conversation. Oscar was a very good listener. Coop and Fred turned out to be the same. My little ears and confidants.

I thought about it yesterday when me and Coop went out for a little walk together. Coop is a talker. He may not speak human, but he surely compensates that minor inability with his facial expressions and certain sounds. Talking to him never feels like a one-way conversation. It’s always, always a proper chat.

How much he understands? I don’t know. He reads my emotions like a trained psychologist and interprets any gestures with an expert precision. But the words?

All my boys have a certain vocabulary. They know a bunch of words and cues. And just like all dogs they pay the most attention to the first word they hear and any new words that I suddenly use. The rest of the speech is more like a blurry noise, really. Though it doesn’t stop us enjoying our dialogues. The more time we spend together observing each other and learning our little habits, the more fulfilled our conversations become.

It’s more than words. It’s our little bauble of a world where nobody else matters. Including cat people and those who aren’t prepared to listen to a dog who always had a story to share.

Photo: Coop photographed by me

 

Life in the country, Lincolnshire / poppy field / Perfect cocker spaniel (c) blog / English cocker spaniel puppy advice and tips book for first time puppy parents / photo by Natalia Ashton

Living in a moment

This is how I want to remember September. The mellow air, the endlessness and us, walking through the fields every day. As much as we can, as far as we can manage. Living in a moment and enjoying every second of life without making plans.

I snapped this photo with my phone for the memories as we came across a bunch of poppies. The pups waited patiently while I got down to get a perfectly imperfect shot.

And then we continued walking in a middle of the vast space, just the three of us…

This week we will…

My idea of a perfect day is sticking to a schedule, following a certain routine and making sure to address certain habits of mine… Some may say it sounds like an obsessive compulsive behaviour. But I think it’s a behaviour that I’ve naturally developed because we have our boys – and the boys do love a good old routine, especially Coop.

I am also a lover of list making. I don’t get paranoid about it, but I do enjoy making a list of weekly tasks because ticking them off gives a pleasant sensation of satisfaction.

So I thought I’d try to create a post in a manner of those list and see if we can complete it by Sunday. It will be good to keep me focused – and create the best and most enjoyable week for the boys. There’s always hope and positive thinking, right?

This week I would like to…

… continue with our long walks, so at least once a day we are out there in the fields for an hour or longer (we have two walks a day whatever the weather);

… get some new toys for the pups – some of our Foxies are looking a bit too “distressed” and need updating; besides, who would not love a bunch of new toys?!

… perfect a behaviour Coop and Fred do well, but Fred could do a bit better. I choose the loose lead walking regardless of the location (both are really good, but can start pulling a little when is really excited about new places or scents);

… learn a new trick: I’ve just started teaching him “Hide”, which mean they both sit behind me (useful if we meet a strange dog or I need to keep them safe from the passing car, especially if it can splash us with dirty water);

… play “find food” sniffing game every evening – it’s one of their favourite things of all times;

… do something that makes them feel brilliant – as funny as it sounds, the boys love to post for the camera, so I would like to take them out for an individual “photoshoot”, so we can have a bit of fun;

… complete our “monthly groom” – both need a bit of a trim and Fred – a handstrip. Luckily for me, they love it;

… order some window privacy film – at the moment the pups have the full view of the street and I feel that it makes Coop anxious at times, so he ends up barking.

Photo: Cooper & Fred photographed by me

 

Oscar, golden cocker spaniel puppy sleeping in bed / benefits of humans sleeping with dogs studies / published on Perfect cocker spaniel blog (c) Natalia Ashton

Many good reasons to sleep with your dog

The boys and I have a little tradition. Every night we switch off the boring tv, visit the garden and then jump into bed together. They pile up on top of me, Coop – spooning, Fred – creating an impression of a Russian “ushanka” hat. Coop likes to be stroked, Fred – kissed on the nose, so the positions are chosen strategically and perfected over time to achieve their goals.

They sleep. I get onto Netflix. I do wish I could be all so intellectual and say that I read a book savouring it page by page. Unfortunately, a book requires two hands to stay upright. And a bit more light than I’ve got. So I am afraid I have to ruin the ambience and my reputation and come clear about being into old series or the latest episode of the Bake Off.  My life belongs to the pups and so are my hands.

Honestly, I would not have it any other way. I love to bask in the warmth of oxytocin. I love their company, the weight, the sweet scent, the little scrumptious noises pups make in their dreams. It’s my reverie, my happy place.

Even if 100 people told me 100 times that sleeping with my dogs is a very, very, very bad idea indeed, I would not listen. I can’t sleep without them. Fortunately, the science seems to tell me exactly what I am pleased to hear, the good news.

Take the Mayo Clinic that have been studying the benefits of sleeping with dogs for years. According to them having a dog (over 6 months old – because puppies are a different story entirely) in your bedroom does not disturb your sleep. In fact, the company of your pooch will help you sleep better providing a sense of security and comfort, easing anxiety and even reducing the incidence of nightmares. In addition stroking dogs quietly without talking to them can reduce your blood pressure and levels of stress hormones (cortisol being the main one), which will lead to numerous benefits (think better mood, better digestion, better heart health – better life, really!)

To top it all up… Our puppies are like a hot water bottle on a chilly night. The most perfect hot water bottle that loves you, kisses you and looks into your eyes with so much affection.

If you worry about the hygiene, remember that men’s beards contain a lot more bacteria than your dog’s fur. True story. There is even a study conducted by the Switzerland’s Hirslanden Clinic that proves it.

So enjoy your naps, pups and peeps! It’s so good for you!

Oscar, golden cocker spaniel puppy napping in bed / benefits of sleeping with dogs studies / first published on Perfect cocker spaniel blog / puppy book about English cooker spaniel (C) Natalia Ashton

Photo source: Oscar, photographed by me

 

Fred, my chocolate and tan English cocker spaniel living country life. Post on what to do if your cocker spaniel is hyperactive. How to deal with zoomies. Is it true that cocker spaniels are hyperactive? Tips on keeping a cocker calm - diet, exercise, training, toys. (C) First published on Perfect cocker spaniel blog / photo and words by Natalia Ashton

Zoomies are so last year – or how to deal with a hyperactive cocker spaniel

May I jump straight to the core of the issue and say that cockers are not hyperactive at all? Yes, they are full of life. Yes, they are bouncy. Yes, their bottom wags so much it must be solar-powered by fairies. Yes, they talk like no other breed. But no, they are not hyperactive as many would suggest.

Because first and foremost cocker spaniels are working dogs. And as such they have a pool of energy reserve to be used as nature intended. If the pool remains unused, overfills or gets emptied until it’s dry, we get what’s commonly known as a hypo-dog or dog with zoomies.

Neither is good, to be honest because, if we use science, the hyperactivity is lead by stress hormones. They control your pup’s response to stimuli and his ability to relax. If he under- or over-dose on emotional or physical work, the body will produce too many hormones (think, cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine) and the poor cocker will either end up sprinting about, bouncing off the walls, barking uncontrollably or even biting other dogs in a manner of a bully. Worse, the hormones control other systems in the body like the heart, digestion, reproductive system or immune response.

So we need to keep the hormones – and our pups – happy and content at all times (even though it may seriously pump our own cortisol  – but that’s a different story).

And here’s how…

Working dogs like to remain active physically. It does not however mean that you should take your cocker into the field and keep throwing the ball for him to fetch until your arm feels sore and he is out of breath and looks exhausted. It also does not necessarily mean that you must hike for miles every day.

As a flushing breed, cocker would be happy to run and chase that ball, but as any normal dog, he has a certain limit for the chase part: he chases -> the chase is over -> he settles down with his catch of the day. He does not chase and chase and chase… It simply builds up cortisol due to both frustration, inability to rest and relax and the need to constantly run. As a result the spaniel will react by becoming restless, zooming about, barking or biting.

If you like to play a game of fetch – throw the ball a few times for him to play, then play tag and pull (and he must win at the end, especially if he is still young!), allow him plenty of time to switch activity to sniffing the area (you can even throw and hide treats in the grass and trees for him to find as a part of the game!), walking calmly or settling down next to you watch the sunrise.

If you play in the garden, a chew toy to relax with will be fabulous.

The long walks are wonderful, but if once you start and do it every day, be prepared to continue them regularly (read – daily or so) because essentially you have just trained a little athlete. He will become frustrated if the walks are suddenly cut down to a stroll around the block (just like you would if you worked out daily and then had to skip or avoid gym against your will). Once you made a commitment, do your best to stick with the plan.

It’s essential to remember that the length of walks must be determined based on your puppy’s age and health. 5 minutes per month of age per walk, 2-3 times a day – not an hour-long walk at the age of 3 months. The latter will be really hard for his bones and joints.

Once your puppy is old enough, allow at least an hour a day for your walks. To let your dog to be a dog, start your day with a stroll and play (in nature it’s the time when they look for food), return home for breakfast and nap (again, it’s the “hunt -> catch -> eat -> relax” scenario). End your day with another walk, some training and, ideally, sniffing game and chew toy.

Next come the mental stimulation because physical activity alone is never enough. It may stimulate the body, but it leave the brain hungry for information, which you, as a parent, will need to provide. In fact, mental stimulation is probably more important to a dog than physical activity.

They live to learn, sniff, taste and absorb the world around them. 15 minutes of brain training can be just as tiring for a dog as an hour-long walk! Which is rather good to remember if you really cannot go out sometimes because one of you is poorly or the weather lets you down big time.

Allow your clever spaniel smell and examine things while walking. Use puzzle games at home. Scatter food in a garden or house for him to find. Use snuffle mats. Train daily (10-15 minute at a time for pleasure, not hours that may build frustration and stress).

Have a schedule for walks, meals, games, training and travel. Dogs do have tiny clock inside their brain and it never fails. If you skip or postpone any of their favourite activities, they’ll stress out.

Give your beautiful pooch plenty of time to relax and sleep. Do not disturb him. This is when the brain relaxes and recovers. If you skip this step, your dog is likely to react by zooming about by 9 o’clock at night.

Chewing and licking are two other activities that relax any pup. Use chew toys, healthy chews, lickimats and stuffed toys.

Use massage and ttouch technique. You can learn it and DIY. One of the simplest things is to massage your dog’s ears in long gentle strokes, from the central point (ear canal) outwards.

Play music. It may seem like a silly idea, but dogs react differently to different tunes. Mine fall asleep with Gabrielle, Sade and a few classics. You can even find the “dog friendly” music on YouTube and play it to them.

Watch his diet. High protein and carb-free diets can cause hyperactivity in dogs because they create an imbalance of nutrients and hormones that control brain response and ability to relax.

If it’s 8-9pm and your cocker, especially a puppy, starts biting, bringing you toys, pacing around, compulsively licking his paws or running like his eyes are going to pop through the back of his head, do not join in. This hyperactivity is a sign of tiredness. Leave him alone to settle down with a chew or cuddly toy (whatever he prefers) and he will soon fall asleep. Just like all babies do.

You can find more tips on raising a puppy and living with your gorgeous cocker spaniel in my book, Perfect cocker spaniel. It’s a long, but rather helpful, read. Even if I say so myself.

Photo source: Fred, my chocolate and tan boy, photographed by me