what to do to help dog during firework season without drugs and medication / tips and advice / Perfect cocker spaniel blog / book guide about English cocker spaniel puppy tips, grooming, hand stripping, health, best diet, nutrition / (C) Natalia Ashton

Q & A | How can I help my dog during fireworks?

None of my dogs but one ever cared about the fireworks. Oscar was the one who got unlucky. He was content for years – we could even walk in the evening without worrying that Ozzy would react to the noise or the sparkles. He was fine. Until one day when our not very bright neighbour decided to fire a petard in his garden less than a meter from me and my dog. He knew we were outside yet chose not to say anything before making me jump and Oscar… well… Oscar got permanently scared.

Since that horrible night any distant sound of a fire work would send him into a panic mode, so we all had to stay in a room, close the curtains and play a movie while lying on the floor to keep Ozzy, who would find his safe spot under the bed, company.

It happened every year and was absolutely heartbreaking.

So when I get to talk to other pup parents whose dogs are scared of the fire works I can understand their frustration, anger and helplessness. It kills you to see your dog in such a state.

It it was up to me, I’d ban the DIY shop-bought fireworks completely. Because I don’t believe that 5 minutes of cheap nasty fun is worth the fear experienced by 40 % of dogs in the UK.

For now we need to be prepared in advance and here are a few ideas that may work for your pooch.

First of all, stay calm. Dogs can sniff the change in our emotions including stress and anxiety – and alter their own stress hormones to mimic our state.

Don’t change the routine. Any specific preparations need to be done as smoothly and routinely as possible. The smart cocker can easily learn that drawing the curtains or glances at the window at certain time of the day can mean that terrifying noise and flashes are about to happen. Try to distract him with a play (or even better – training with treats, or a yummy dinner!) whilst somebody else does the prep.

Have a fab long walk in the morning and a couple of training sessions during the day to tire your cocker physically and emotionally.

Don’t walk after dark. The sudden noise and flashes can not only traumatise your spaniel, but make him run off into the darkness.

Keep your dog indoors. If you need to pop out to the garden, ensure that nobody is about to fire a petard nearby. It’s always worth asking the neighbours if they are planning to do so and letting them know that you have a dog who is scared of the fireworks.

Build a den. It does not have to be a crate. Cover a chair with a blanket, put another blanket and a toy inside. A chew toy or treats can also distract some less sensitive dogs and help them relieve anxiety through chewing and licking.

Create some “positive noise”. A good movie or better still, a compilation of tunes chosen for their ability to calm a dog, can work wonders. This year Classic FM will be playing Pet Sounds on 2 and 5 November.

Train your dog to ignore the fireworks – this has to be done in advance, ideally when the dog is still young and learning about the world. There are wonderful CDs that play “life noises” including the fireworks. Alternatively you can have them on your iPhone. Use whilst you are playing or cuddling with your pup. If it’s an older dog who is already uncomfortable (but not completely frightened!) with the sound of the fireworks, you can slowly recondition or desensitise him by playing the fireworks sound on your phone or CD whilst giving him plenty of treats and praise.

Stay with your pup during the firework nights even if he is hiding in his den or under your bed. Stroke him, talk to him, do whatever makes him feel safe.

Learn a few basic T-Touch techniques (gently massaging the ears outwards (in cockers), all the way down from the ear canal to the edge is a good one to try) designed specifically to relieve anxiety.

Try a thunder shirt. The idea comes from the T-Touch Wrap that creates constant pressure in certain areas of the body and helps dogs who are frightened or anxious. You can get the vest online or make a DIY version.

Turn to aromatherapy for help. There are some wonderful scented candles that may be very useful during the firework season. Try Dug & Bitch Flicker No. 3, Terrible Twins Lavender No. 1, DR Harris, Campagnie de Provence VO Lavender, Voluspa French Lavender, Terra Soy or The Great British Bee candles with lavender.

And remember… look out for any remnants of the fireworks on the ground when walking with your dogs. Those are very toxic if eaten – and dogs do find them enticing and palatable for some reason.

Wishing you a (relatively) peaceful time of the season!

Photo source: image by Sherilyn Hawley from Pixabay

Cooper and Fred featured in Country Life October 23 issue / Britain's naughtiest dogs / Perfect cocker spaniel blog and book

My guys made it to Country Life mag

Long time ago, somewhere in the midst of summer, I shared a little story about Cooper and Fred on the Country Life’s Instagram. Shared and forgot for it was in the midst of summer and how can one remember a little message when surrounded by fragrant flowers, mesmerising butterflies, endless fields and the sun that fills the entire horizon.

Imagine my surprise when I opened the mag yesterday and saw our names in it! They published the story on-line, too. Coop didn’t win it, no. He was chosen as the Highly commended, which I think would please him immensely regardless.

I loved the article. It was such a beautiful humorous read accompanied by the most charming illustrations by John Holder.

And the boys look amazing on-line… The Country Life team featured two of my most favourite photos that I’ve taken this year.

Cooper & Fred, Perfect cocker spaniel cockers on Country Life magazine website / britain's naughtiest dogs 2019 by Victoria Marsden / Natalia Ashton / english cocker spaniel humour, advice, tips, history, puppy first year, grooming and more, book and blog
So many things to be grateful for. Feeling like a proud happy mummy right now.

Photo source: cover of the Country Life October 23 2019 issue via Country Life

Pack of Dogs playing card by John Littleboy for Antiphony / Perfect cocker spaniel blog / best products for dog lovers / English cocker spaniel love, advice, grooming, puppy tips, training, diet / (C) Natalia Ashton

We Love | Pack of Dogs

I spotted these on Twitter earlier today… After months of imagining and looking for a deck of cards that would be all about dogs yet look modern, not something that was painted for kids and metaphorically dipped in every kind of sweet substance to give you visual diabetes…

Oh, the Pack of Dogs, the most artful, whimsical deck, that appeared before my eyes was the dream come true!

Each card is a gorgeous little sketch created by an American artist John Littleboy. The sketches feature different breeds either as nature intended or all dressed up as historic characters from different eras and destinations.

I ordered mine from Etsy a few minutes ago. Not that I am good at pocker – or any card game except the Russian “Fool” (oh yes, I was good at this one as a kid!)… But I love any form of dog art and will probably end up framing some of the suits because they are way too good to be hidden in a drawer.

pack-of-dogs-playing-card-john-littleboy-dog-art-perfect-cocker-spaniel-2

Photo source: playing card via Artiphany

Best natural vegetable bees coconut soy wax scented candles that are dog-friendly / Perfect cocker spaniel blog / book about English cocker spaniels / puppy guide English cocker spaniel advice, tips, training, grooming, how to handstrip cocker spaniel / (C) Natalia Ashton

Scented candles and dogs | All you need to know

Autumn means a lot of things… Crisp walks, hot chocolate, cosy nights in, huge socks and chunky jumpers, and, oh yes, I haven’t forgotten… scented candles.

The beautiful hand-poured vessels aren’t just about the glow. The choice of designs turns them into l’objet d’art, an object of visual pleasure, and the scent transforms the entire experience into a seasonal memory. Without a doubt, candles are that touch of luxury most of us can afford without getting a second mortgage. I don’t know about you but for me bringing them home on a dark October evening feels like a special ritual. I set the box on a table, release a polished heavy glass from a beautiful packaging and whispering wrapping paper, inhale the aroma and get to dream a little. And then there is always the magical enticing light that has a life of its own, waltzing in the darkness for hours on end.

For years I had a scented candle at home. I bought them if I loved the fragrance, the look – or both. As the time went by, I completed my nutrition studies and watched the science behind paraffin and artificial substances emerge, my choice of candles shifted towards more natural options. Somehow I didn’t fancy clogging our lungs with cancer-causing particles.

And then… then I got my dogs. Which made me re-think the entire concept of a scented candle in my house. To be fair, it was a fluid and conscious transition because I made it a big deal to provide our boys with the most natural, often organic, non-toxic and dog-friendly options when it came to the house they live, products I use for grooming or the toys we have thrown all over the place. Candles were the easier part of the big swap.

This year I decided to look into the choice of candles in detail. Admittedly, I have already been very careful limiting my choice to very few and environmentally-friendly brands. Now I simply wanted to know exactly what a scented candle can do for our dog’s health – and share this information with you.

So let’s discuss…

First of all, the aroma. We think we are good at smelling scents, yet in comparison to dogs, our olfactory is absolutely pathetic. We have about 5 or 6 million receptors. Dogs, on the other hand, possess between 200 and 300 million! They are able to detect a 1/2 tsp of sugar in an Olympic-sized swimming pool or scent-iffically dissect any prepared meal into separate ingredients! And cockers, in particular, are one of the most gifted breeds when it comes to sniffing out anything and everything. Take my Fred, for example. The guy can tell if a person he loves walked through the village earlier, can happily lead us to the house of his favourite vet (he doesn’t actually know she lives there, nor ever saw her coming home or leaving the house  – he simply knows…), spot a pheasant miles away or run to a certain field because there was a bunny out there somewhere…

Now imagine how terrible it must be for our dogs to live in a house that, for them, stinks of perfumes and essential oils! They tolerate it, of course, but I cannot imagine any canine actually enjoying such fragrances…

Next, the oils themselves. Some of them can be, indeed, beneficial for our pups. But all essential oils contain limonen and linalool known to be allergic for some dogs – and toxic – for all of them. Of course, it is the matter of quantity and one would need to inhale or consume quite a bit of both to have a toxic reaction. However, if you notice that your dog’s behaviour, habits or appearance change when you start using scented candles, think twice about continuing…. or look for alternatives.

It is also vital, absolutely vital, to make sure that the candle is made with bees or organic vegetable wax, not paraffin. Technically, the paraffin wax isn’t considered to be toxic for dogs, but if consumed it can cause digestive problems and even lead to coma. But it’s a mineral oil, which to me, is as unnatural for our bodies as one can possibly imagine. Besides, it’s all about the end-product of burning petroleum waste-based wax.

According to the 2009 study, the burning candle pollutes the indoor air with “undesired chemicals, such as alkans, alkenes, toluene” and formaldehyde that have been linked to “cancer, common allergies and even asthma in humans”. These substances are not only poisonous to dogs, but, just like in humans, can lead to disease, inflammaiton, and affect the nervous system. The same study also concluded that “natural waxes did not produce such a harmful effect”.

If the label on your favourite candle does not specify “lead-free” then chances are, the wick was made with a metal lead core. The burning of the lead will release the toxic lead particles into the air above recommended safety levels, potentially leading to acute poisoning or slowly causing imbalance of essential minerals in the blood – and as a result, a change in behaviour and chronic illnesses.

Now imagine a cocktail of lead and the by-products of paraffin burning, and we get quite a concoction to deal with!

None of this does not mean that you must avoid the candles from now on. You can still enjoy them by following a few basic rules.

Skip anything containing paraffin, artificial fragrances or wicks that aren’t specified as “lead-free” on a label. Ironically, these aren’t only among the inexpensive ones – some high-end brands still happily pour paraffin into their expensive candles, so always check the label.

Choose the options made with vegetable waxes (coconut, apricot, soy or rapeseed) or bees wax, cotton wick and natural oils (be careful with citrus oils, they are more likely to be allergic for dogs). These scented candles will reward you with a real moment of pleasure and peace of mind. Simple!

Below are a few of my favourite. Just in case you need somewhere to start…

Best dog-friendly natural vegetable soy bees wax scented candles for all budgets / perfect cocker spaniel / dog blog and book / English cocker spaniel breed, history, training, puppy advice, tips (C)

Dogs Rhubarb & Ginger scented candle is made from vegetable wax poured into a re-usable glass container adorned with art work by Margaret Mace (1).

Art candle by Bella Freud is inspired by the artist’s studio. It will fill your home with the scents of cedar wood, lilac and musk and add a touch of whimsical creativity to the decor (2).

I love Voluspa so much, I’ll share two of my favourite candles. This one is from Maison Noir range. The description of scent that says “sparkling wine, vanilla and oak” is very plain compared to the sensation you get when the candle is lit. The scent is delicate yet completely envelops your entire home in a manner of an invisible soft blanket (3).

The Panjore Lychee candle will be enhancing your home with the fruity scents of lychee, pear and vanilla for 60 hours. And then you can re-use the tin to keep a few precious trinkets (4).

Bois Copaiba is one of the candles by Esteban Paris. It gets double-points from me because it’s not only natural, looks like a precious jewel and smells like the most luxurious perfume, but it’s refillable, too (5)!

The Nomad Society Smoke & Wood candle is the one I adore so much. It literally smells like the burning campfire and is the most enticing and season-appropriate scent for me. Have been buying them for several seasons now. Absolutely beautiful (6).

The Tuscan Suede by Azzi Glasser is an intimate fragrance story created with the scents of jasmine and violet. Perfect for the most wonderful magical night-in (7).

If you have everything you heart desires (or want to give me a present that will send me dancing all night long), it’s all about Fornasetti’s Regalo Gold, the one and only treasure to have and to hold (8).

If you have a favourite scented candle, please let me know. My search for them will never end.

Photo source: one of my favourites Christmas, both photo and collage are by me

 

Perfect cocker spaniel, first notes about dogs, old dog books and magazines, Russian news paper cut out with a cocker spaniel article / Perfect cocker spaniel book, advice and tips for puppy parents (C) Natalia Ashton

The very beginning of it all

I am not even sure if I ever shared this story before, so forgive me if you’ve already had to endure through our conversation…

And those who’s only discovered this blog or the book and are still innocently interested in my past, here is a little chunk of it. The one that inspired my love of dogs and brought me here.

I was 11, or even balancing between 10 and 11, when my need to hug every dog turned into a real love for them. I wanted one of my own, plastered every wall in my room with photos of beautiful canines, lost count of glue sticks used to make albums and collages.

And then there were books.

The books were my everything. I borrowed them from my friends and was slowly building a dog library of my own. It wasn’t a simple task considering that any good dog book was “deficit” and each book shop would have a couple of copies at most. I still remember running around town asking sales people in every shop if they were expecting new arrivals. If the answer was positive, I’d walk to that shop every morning before the opening to ensure that the precious book would be mine as soon as it hit the shelves.

I succeeded a few times. My parents also contributed to my collection with some precious finds that I still treasure. I even brought a couple with me when moving countries. And almost every afternoon after school I’d stay at my friends for a few hours, too. It was our ritual – get home, have lunch, do home work and then listen to the radio whilst reading. She’d focus on classics and I would enjoy two special dog books she had, but was not allowed to land to anyone.

When I turned 12 my parents finally agreed to get a dog. We chose the breed together, but the rest was up to me. So come September I ventured out to find a course at the Kennel Club brunch (to be honest, the name was different, but it’s easier just to refer to it as the Kennel Club) and signed up for the lessons.

It was intense, but I loved every second of it from the moment we entered the room saturated with not-so-romantically-fragrant scents of dogs and dog gear to the evenings I walked back home with one of my tutors and her beautiful collie.

The course was fantastic! It was such a perfect way to learn puppy care, nutrition, anatomy, physiology, psychology, training, showing and even breeding. To be fair at that point I felt ready to do it all – and sincerely knew I could!

Back then we lived a simple life that had no internet, no google, no commercial dog foods, fancy toys or pretty dog wear. Even a proper brush was a rarity. If it wasn’t for my cousin who brought me one from Germany I would have no slicker brush at all! I remember him asking me if I’d like something special from Germany… and instead of asking for toys or clothes, I said “please bring me a dog bowl and a brush…” He did. All in pretty packaging. He even gifted me a dog collar – too big for my puppy, but it didn’t matter! I proudly displayed it for years next to my poodle’s medals and a few other treasures.

Each collar and lead were found by chance, either through friends or coming across one in a pet shop.

The food had to be prepared every single day  – I had the recipes, the quantities and lists of additional supplements. Since everything was “deficit” my friend and I stalked the local pharmacy for months before our dogs arrived to make sure that we could buy sufficient quantities of calcium supplement. At some point we were asked why on Earth we are buying packets and packets of those tablets. “For our dogs!” we said honestly and with great pride (we were 12, remember?) The truth backfired and we had to find another pharmacy, quite a journey away from our homes. But it didn’t matter.

The dog bed, toys and everything else was DIY’ed, and it felt so exciting!

I even dreamed of becoming a vet… In fact, I wanted to do something else, something that would now be called “a dog coach”. But this profession was non-existent, so a vet was the only person who could work with dogs – and I wanted to be one.

Unfortunately, the dream had to be filed indefinitely because it was as unrealistic as me being an astronaut or a pilot. You get the idea, basically.

In the passing of time filled with two schools (I studied music) and dog courses, a phone call came out of the blue. There was a puppy in Moscow and the breeder thought he’d be perfect for us. My parents gave me the money, a lot of money in cash – and I took the bursting envelope to the club trying to look as casual as I possibly could!

And then the puppy arrived. I remember carrying him hidden under my fur coat, his smell, the weight of his bottom in a palm of my hand and how tiny his silver paws were when I first saw him.

He changed my life forever… Even though I went down a “normal” route of studying economics and English in University and working all the jobs I loved, the passion for dogs has never left me. I am glad things unfolded the way they did – everything but Oscar’s departure, happened as a course of life that comes with no regrets whatsoever.

But it was Oscar who made me realise it was the time for the U-turn and getting back to that 11 year old me… He showed that the life without a cocker spaniel is just an existence. After he was gone I suddenly remembered a chat with Kinder who said something along the lines of “knowing your true path and passion starts in the childhood…” Those words and the tears of losing my baby suddenly connected and I felt a spark, that much needed punch inside my heart that defibrilated me back to life.

The books came out, the manuals and course materials were added, I studied, read and learnt as much as I could to build upon the base I’ve started all those years ago and continued topping up through the years of living with dogs. I don’t think the process of learning will ever stop because you’ve got to move with your experiences and science, but it is a joy to use this knowledge because it does not only make me feel complete, it makes my boys – and many other cocker spaniels out there – happy, too.

And that’s the best feeling in the whole world – to see your dogs smile…

 

Photo source: my old course notes, books and newspaper cutouts from the late 1980s-early 1990s, photographed by me

 

Natalia, Cooper & Fred, two english cocker spaniels / lessons our dogs could teach us / all about English cocker spaniels / puppy tips (c) Perfect cocker spaniel / photo by Elizabeth Clark Pinkfeet photography

Cocker spaniel habits we should adopt

I am grateful to my dogs for many things in life. I feel like they taught me a lot, helped me find my true self and even inspired my book. My spaniels are my life and I adore watching the boys every day, sharing their discoveries, little joys and moments of happy madness. Dogs have their ways of being here, creating their own world and travelling through it next to their beloved companions – us. And I think we can pick up a few habits from our beautiful cocker spaniels because it can transform our life – and the future as the time goes by, too…

Wake up with a smile. Because good vibes start with a simple stretch of a few facial muscles.

Kiss often! Kissing boosts dopamine and endorphins (for happiness), oxytocin (for emotional attachment), reduces levels of cortisol (the stress hormones), cholesterol and blood pressure, and strengthens the immune system.

Be outdoorsy! Get out early, breathe in fresh air, dip your paws feet into the morning dew and run away from hustle and bustle of reality, mobile devices and city noise. “Walking is the man’s best medicine” – sharing it with the man’s best friend is as perfect as it can get.

Eat at set times and never skip meals. It’s good for your body and your mind. Your cocker eats “on the dot”? Join his schedule and you are likely to trim your waste line, reduce blood pressure and improve blood sugar levels.

Appreciate the power of quality sleep. You may be tempted to stay up till midnight and maintain your energy levels with so much caffeine it can easily replace your blood, but deep inside you know it’s not brilliant. Look at your cocker – he gets up early, goes to bed on time and never says ‘no’ to daily naps. This is what makes them more productive, ready to embrace every day, process information much better, and look beautiful.

Don’t judge people – love them unconditionally regardless of their status or appearance.

Don’t be afraid to love with passion – “there is always some madness in love, but there is always some reason in madness…”

Life is all about simple things. Happiness is not about having an expensive collar with a gold tag, a huge pile of toys or a palace to live in. Don’t overcomplicate – instead enjoy living the life you’ve got and make the most of it.

Photo source: me and the boys photographed by wonderful Elizabeth Clark / Pink feet photography