Best christmas presents for dog lovers gift guide / English cocker spaniel dog blog, advice, puppy tips, grooming / (C) Natalia Ashton

The ultimate Christmas gift ideas for dog lovers

Looking for a perfect Christmas gift to please the dog lover in your life? Then your search ends here. From whimsical to chic, I have picked the most beautiful, tactile and wonderful things that will make someone’s holiday season extra special.

Let’s start with the ultimate Christmas must-have. The most beautiful Dog Person jumper any dog mum will adore and wear with pride.

Best christmas presents for dog lovers gift guide / Boden estelle cashmere-blend Dog Person jumper / Perfect cocker spaniel / English cocker spaniel dog blog, advice, puppy tips, grooming / (C) Natalia AshtonIf you know somebody who loves Frenchies, this t-shirt will make them love you almost as much as they love their dogs! Oh, and it’s organic, so good for the body, mind and Planet.

Best christmas presents for dog lovers gift guide / French bulldog printed art organic-cotton t-shirt / Perfect cocker spaniel / English cocker spaniel dog blog, advice, puppy tips, grooming / (C) Natalia Ashton

Now, pyjamas! And not just pyjamas, but the dog printed pyjamas! Suddenly, that christmas morning feels even more cosy!

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I guess, socks aren’t particularly glamourous, but hear me out! First of all, they have dogs printed all over. Secondly, they are a daily necessity. And thirdly, if you or your special someone have a cocker, chances are he is a sock thief. To sum up – get these socks!

 

Best christmas presents for dog lovers gift guide / dog print socks / beneficial herbs for dogs health issues / home remedies for dogs / English cocker spaniel dog blog, advice, puppy tips, grooming / (C) Natalia Ashton

Any sock-equipped tootsies need some pretty bootsies. So if your dog lover is particularly found of country walks, these will be perfect for her!

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And don’t forget the gloves! Especially as charming as this pair!

 

Best christmas presents for dog lovers gift guide / hobbs dachshund gloves / beneficial herbs for dogs health issues / home remedies for dogs / English cocker spaniel dog blog, advice, puppy tips, grooming / (C) Natalia Ashton

Choose this charming Susan Caplan brooch to please an aficionado of all things vintage – and see her eyes sparkle brighter than the crystals.

Susan Caplan crystal vintage brooch / English cocker spaniel dog blog, advice, puppy tips, grooming / (C) Natalia Ashton

And something the pup’s dad! Especially if he is into crisp shirts and beautiful attire. Inject a bit of humour into impeccably tailored suiting by gifting him a pair of these Scotties Cufflinks.

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This minaudière crystal-embellished bag by the one and only Judith Leiber is a proof that “all best things come in small sizes”… The little chihuahua will not only replace any statement jewellery, but protect your precious Tom Ford lipstick and American Express during the party season. For the girl who has everything her heart desires… all but this little bag, of course.

Best christmas presents for dog lovers gift guide / minaudière crystal-embellished Mickey Chihuahua bag by Judith Leiber / Perfect cocker spaniel / English cocker spaniel dog blog, advice, puppy tips, grooming / (C) Natalia Ashton

If you are after a more sensible choice for a bag, the MCM bucket bag is the best to go for. The colour will suit most outfits and the practical shape means that it can be used daily from day to night.

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Charmwell the velvet pup will be responsible for your keys and smiles. So perfect.

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Pug is another pooch that will take care of your belongings, and the financial side of your life in particular, by storing every penny. Now any dog parent can save some cash and treat their beloved dog to something very special.

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I love stationery, especially if it comes in a shape of a dog. If your special someone is into stylish office supplies, he or she will adore these dachshund paper clips, trust me on this. Also perfect for a Secret Santa.

Best christmas presents for dog lovers  gift guide /  dog daschhound paperclips / Perfect cocker spaniel / English cocker spaniel dog blog, advice, puppy tips, grooming / (C) Natalia Ashton

Complete the gift with the most elegant handmade dachshund notes by Connor&Thom Browne.

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This sweet tin isn’t just a darling stocking filler, but a perfectly prepared dog walking kit that includes a simple lead, folding water bowl, poop bags and a treat pouch.

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If you are after something tactile and timelessly beautiful that will add a certain something to the interior, Bobby, the walnut dog, is the one. I love him. And have been for years. Also, I think he is a spaniel.

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Candles make any house feel like home, so I simply had to include the iconic Bella Freud Dog candle – my list would not be complete without it. It’s not only extremely sweet to look at, but I am sure the flickering light and delicate scent will definitely bring a moment of sanity for any dog mum who has a crowd to cook and look after during the holidays.

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If your dog lover is into crafts, she will adore the idea of crocheting a gorgeous beagle toy! You can also get kits for a labrador puppy and a cocker spaniel.

Best christmas presents for dog lovers  gift guide / TOFT knitting crocheting kit for beagle, cocker spaniel and labrador / beneficial herbs for dogs health issues / home remedies for dogs / English cocker spaniel dog blog, advice, puppy tips, grooming / (C) Natalia Ashton

The nature lover who is particularly found of their garden will be pleased with the Growbar The Dog Bar kit, a seed collection of herbs beneficial for dogs. Now the love can literally grow stronger and stronger as the time goes by. Looks very pretty, too.

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Any house-proud dog lover with a keen sense of style will be pleased to receive Teckel dog that holds toothpicks, salt and pepper! Sweet and brilliant.

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And just one more thing for the house…. To keep it warm and toasty during winter. Trust this handsome hound to do the job! And he will definitely deliver! Such a dapper dog! Comes as a door stop, too.

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For the lovers of the printed word who is particularly fond of the English cockers, I’d suggest Flush, the immortal classic by Virginia Woolf…

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Perfect cocker spaniel, the ultimate guide to the breed and finding and raising an English cocker spaniel puppy by yours truly…

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…and Dogs in Vogue: A Century of Canine Chic by Judith Watt

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No list would be complete without a Christmas tree bauble. Because everyone should have a special decoration to make each year. Here I give you a wool felt Fox Terrier holding a mistletoe. This will bring all the hugs and kisses (and not only puppy ones!) you could wish for.

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Photo source: me & the boys photographed by Elizabeth Clarke of Pink Feet Photography

 

Perfect light grey minimal container for dog treats and dog food / Perfect cocker spaniel dog blog, puppy advice, tips, English cocker spaniel grooming, handstripping, diet, best foods, training, health / (C) Natalia Ashton

We Love | Pet Treat Holder

How long does it take to find a perfect tin for keeping dog biscuits? In my case, and as dramatic as it sounds, over a year.

I knew what I wanted colour-wise, shape-wise, style-wise, lots and lots of “wise”, basically. The problem is that such a tin has never been made.

Until now.

I have been browsing Cox & Cox today looking for a few Christmas-related bits and bobs and suddenly saw it.

The perfect Pet Treat Holder.

Minimal, subtle grey, compact and beautiful. To top it all up, it has the most perfect leather handle!

Seriously, it’s a miracle and I’ve got one on order now. So very much in love…

Oh, and in case you are after dog food storage, there is a large equally-stylish container for keeping your pooch kibble fresh and crunchy.

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Photo source: both photos are from Cox & Cox website

 

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Be kind

A few days ago I shared a link to a study on my Facebook page. It discussed the connection between our choice of training and its short- and long-term effects on dog’s mental health. The results clearly showed that aversive-based methods (positive punishment and negative reinforcement – in other words, commonly used practices such as yelling, using training gadgets or any other form of punishment that make the dog do something to avoid pain or discomfort) not only lead to immediate stress and anxiety symptoms (lip licking, panting, yawning), but caused higher levels of cortisol and made the pups more “pessimistic” leaving them in “perpetual stress” in the long run.

If you allow me to take a step back from the study, I would like to quickly show you why the damage hidden under a simple word “stress” is far more dangerous than many would imagine. As the cortisol levels rise, the body has to dip into its own resources reserved for other systems (think nutrients, hormones, neurones etc.) – and swiftly relocate them to manage the stress levels and ensure that the adrenal glands that secret the hormone remain as functional as possible. This causes a chain reaction when the deprived systems and hormones including brain, heart, pancreas, nervous, reproductive, digestive and immune systems begin to suffer. In addition, the adrenals that don’t get a much needed break become exhausted and eventually turn a perfectly “normal” dog into a fearful pet that suffers from anxiety, reactivity and aggression simply because his body cannot cope with the external stressors effectively any longer.

On the other hand, the study demonstrated that the group of dogs trained through positive reward-based training remained happy, bouncy and, even though this wasn’t measured, full of endorphins. Even better, the dogs felt emotionally connected to their human companions.

The analysis was the first of its kind (though I do like the one from 2014, too) and I was very grateful to see these outcomes as a proof that kindness can go a long, long way when it comes to dogs.

Even though this seems very obvious, this simple rule of treating your dog with love and kindness no matter what is easy to forget at times. Life can get in the way. Things can become stressful causing us to react out of frustration. Not because we don’t love dogs, but simply because we are imperfect impulse-driven species.

And even though we cannot completely change the imperfections in us – we can alter our attitude towards our beautiful practically perfect dogs. So next time you feel like “losing it” and yelling at your pooch, stop for a second and look at him… Look into his eyes… see how they are still full of affection… Think of how much your dog wants to please you… And remind yourself that he is, after all, an animal and your communication is more like a chat between you and a 5-year old foreign baby who has absolutely no idea what you are talking about (which can be rather scary for a kid!)

Then breathe, hug your dog and see him gazing back at you. This feeling alone can cure any pain and stress you’re dealing with. And if you do feel like screaming – there is always a little cloak room to lock yourself in for a moment. It’s a perfect place for flushing our all the verbal negativity once and for all.

And don’t forget to give your pup a treat when you come out… Because kindness comes in all sorts of forms – chicken and biscuits included.

 

Photo source: image by Mylene2401 from Pixabay

 

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Making the most of the rainy days

We got soaked this morning. Again. The weather has not been kind to us lately. It warmly gifted a glorious Sunday as if trying to justify a week worth of showers, but threw us back into wet and gloomy reality of wet paws and endless blow-dries in the early hours of Monday.

We returned from our walk looking like three seals. Not that anyone cared. Pups were happy – and I was pleased that we got out and stuck to the routine. By the time the blow-dry was over, the soft sun bounced out from the frothy clouds and things suddenly felt optimistic.

The pups settled down for a nap and I decided to write a little post about dealing with bad weather in the most productive way and ensure that your cocker spaniel is happy and satisfied.

Start your day by stepping outside. Even if it seems totally insane, do your best to have a walk in the morning. Your cocker will be grateful for every minute spent checking the neighbourhood, sniffing the grass and splashing through the puddles. Be mentally prepared for a long blow dry that will follow and if necessary, set yourself some extra time to have it done without messing up the rest of plans for the day.

Break your day into chunks and add 2-3 15-minute training sessions. Let your dog learn something new or practise the tricks he already knows.

Play the “find food” game. Hide pieces of kibble around the room (on the floor, in corners, hidden under scattered toys or towels, or left on chairs and sofa) and let your dog hunt for them.

Use brain and puzzle toys. They are created to suit different levels of difficulty, so you can get a few and swap them around. Start with level 1 to get the pup an idea of what to do, get to level 2 when he feels comfortable (and perhaps slightly bored) with the level 1 and move onto level 3 if your dog becomes an expert! Then you can alternate between all three – some can be used as feeders, others – to tire the brain and boost your dog’s confidence.

Choose between treat dispensing toys like Bob-a-Lot,  Wobbler, Turn Around or Busy Buddy, puzzle toys including Tornado Treat Toy, Puzzle Wheel, Brick Board or Dog Casino, or simply DIY by hiding treats inside empty boxes, egg containers, rolled towel. inside scrunched up wrapping paper, or even a muffin baking tin when you cover each  piece of kibble with a tennis ball.

Play the “magic” trick by hiding a piece of kibble in one of your hands and letting your dog sniff it out. Alternatively, hide the treat under three identical cups and ask your cocker find it.

Name your toys together! Pick a toy to play with your pup and remember to always name it when you hold it or throw it or ask the spaniel to find it. Eventually your dog will associate each toy with a name, so you can progress by asking him to go and get “ducky” or “teddy” from the toy basket.

Organise a pup date. Invite your dog’s best fur friend and his or her parents around for a play date. You can enjoy a conversation and a cup of tea while the pups will entertain each other.

Have a cuddle. Even the most energetic dog would enjoy a quiet moment spent next to you on a sofa. Make a cosy “nest” of blankets and pillows, choose a movie or a book and let your baby sleep on your lap.

After all, you just had a day of fun together – whatever the weather. Now it’s time to relax…

 

Photo source: Coop photographed by me

 

Fred, my chocolate and tan english cocker spaniel pup / Perfect cocker spaniel blog & book / English cocker spaniel grooming, training, advice, health, puppy tips / Natalia Ashton (C)

The world according to Fred

Fred fascinates me… Watching him is like getting through a mind-boggling puzzle where every little step in the right direction feels like a huge victory. Fred isn’t the easiest pup, he is… complicated. And I love it about my boy. He teaches me “stuff” about myself and I learn to see the world “according to Fred” in return.

Oh, the world… I think, in Fred’s mind the world is a very, very smelly place indeed. And that’s what makes it so captivating for him. The boy’s sense of smell is nothing I’ve ever seen in any of my dogs before. It’s like his brain is wired to follow the scent in the most sophisticated manner.

Fred sees through his olfactory. At home the pup loves to sit in the middle of the garden, nose into the sky – soaking up the scents and watching, observing, learning…

Every time we are off for a walk he runs out of the house and knows that a bird is hiding in a nearby hedge, somebody he likes recently walked down the street, the dog he isn’t keen on – has been for a walk already, some cat will soon appear from around the corner, the bunnies are hopping through the field and a family of daft pheasants has just been out for their wonky promenade.

We often let him lead otherwise he gets a little bored with the rest of the “pack”. We are too ordinary, even Coop… Once done, Fred glances back at me waiting for a praise and a little treat, which he’s been aware of (obviously!) since it got hidden in my pocket.

And then we smile at each other and continue our journey through the world that, according to Fred, is filled with a rainbow of smells.

 

Photo source: taken by me

 

 

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Is there such a thing as a healthy vegan diet for dogs?

One of the very first books about dogs I’ve read was published in England. So it was rather modern and free-thinking in comparison to many other tomes I had. Besides the usual guides on breeds and grooming, this book (unfortunately I can no longer remember its title) had a chapter about vegetarianism for dog in case some people decide to feed their dog according to their ethics. The advice was very sensible, as far as I remember, and pretty do-able for any true vegetarian. The book clearly showed that a dog can definitely live on a meat-free diet and remain well as long as his food contained dairy, eggs and fish (think ovo-vegetarian, lacto-ovo vegetarian or pescatarian diet). Some resent studies also suggest that, just like in people, complete balanced vegetarian diets are associated with several health benefits in dogs (vitality, reduced risk of arthritis, cancer and diabetes, to name a few).

Admittedly, years later I’ve become a vegetarian myself. It was soon after we got Oscar and somehow I realised that I am no longer interested in eating any form of meat. So I went down the lacto-ovo route as the most nutritionally-sensible (and face it – tasty!) choice. The rest of my family, Oscar included, continued enjoying poultry and occasional lamb though. Everyone was happy. Should Oscar ever gone off meat and wanted to eat a diet of eggs and fish I would, of course, let him. But he was the cocker spaniel and his diet was true to what any cocker spaniel should have eaten.

However, about three years ago I could not help but notice a new “breed” of canine food appearing on the market. Yes, the vegan one. Which naturally lead to the obvious question….

Can our dogs really be vegan?

In theory, yes. But only if we base it on the fact that the balanced diet is nothing more but a combination of nutrients including all essential amino acids, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals – and not ingredients as such. And  theoretically these nutrient blocks can come from any source otherwise many dog food companies would not use wheat gluten or soy protein in their formulas. It’s a bit like building a wall and filling the gaps with all kinds of bricks and stones as long as they fit in.

In reality, putting your dog on a vegan diet can come with quite a few issues…

Lets begin with the obvious. Cockers were bred and raised on meat-based diets. Not soy or beans. It has nothing to do with dogs being carnivores. They are not. Dogs really are omnivores and thus can eat a varied diet of, well, everything and anything including meat, plants and grains. But it didn’t make them choose veganism, no. The good old Obo and his relatives ate meat. So our lovely cockers would want some in their diet, too. Simple.

Another factor worth thinking about is the way most dog diet trends transition from the human ones. We had the Atkins and Keto – and now these are pushed into the dogs. People went carb-free – and so their dogs had to do the same. When dog owners decided to go raw, the whole bunch of companies produced another range of foods. Why? Because trends sell like hotcakes! The problem with every trend, though, is that any person can stop following it at any point (and trust me, as a nutritionist, I have never seeing anyone who would be able to live on vegan, Atkins, carb-free or raw diet for their entire life without consequences or simply giving it up at some point) yet most dogs will have no choice but to eat the same food for days, weeks, months and years, which is likely to increase the risk of many health problems.

Also bear in mind that vegan food for dogs must be balanced with an impeccable precision otherwise they are likely to lack certain amino acids, vitamins and minerals. This can theoretically be achieved through additional supplements, but under- or over supplementing a dog’s diet or using incorrect or low quality supplements can put a strain on the dog’s health – or worse, lead to toxicity.

If you decide to cook the meals at home to avoid genetically-modified ingredients (think soy, corn, maize etc) or the “toxic chemicals” that may lurk in the dog food, you are very likely to fail. For a while you dog may enjoy the meals – most dogs would happily eat a bowl of porridge or rice with carrots and a bunch of greens. But the problem will begin as soon as their natural “amino acid pool” will “dry out” and the body will start missing out on the “building blocks” that are essentials for creating new cells and maintain the immune system.

Even most complete vegan dog foods are likely to be based on a combination of pulses (beans, lentils, peas etc.) or vegan proteins (soy, corn or wheat gluten), which have been linked to many cases of canine dilated cardiomyopathy, a life-threatening disease associated with deficit of specific amino acids such an taurine and l-carnitine that can only be obtained through animal proteins. Additionally, the dog can also become deficient in vitamins B12 and D, which will have a negative effect on several body systems.

In other words, if you choose to try putting your dog on a vegan diet to see what happens – don’t be surprised if your expectations are not the ones you’ve pictured in your head.

My advice? Don’t risk it when it comes to your dog.

Choosing a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle because it can make a positive change to the environment, planet, animals or your own well-being is one thing. Feeding a dog with a vegan diet is something completely different and, lets be honest, against nature.

Dogs don’t have as long as we do, so let them live these years with pride and joy of being an animal.

Make the changes by changing your own habits. Eat less meat, skip it completely or be a vegetarian who has a couple of completely vegan days a week. Don’t waste food. Choose household product and cosmetics made without animal-based ingredients. Go organic. Buy dog food that contains moderate quantities of protein (an adult dog requires 18-28% of protein in dry food, that’s all!), not meat-only or high-protein mixes. Do something. Anything!

If everyone chips in, the little steps will compensate for the fact that dogs do need to eat their meat- (or more precise, animal protein) containing diets. Because we can choose how to live our lives including accepting responsibility for making conscious and health-appropriate choices for our pooches. They may like an occasional carrot but can’t jump in a car and go grocery shopping should their parent decide to replace a tasty chicken dinner with a less-than-palatable kibble made of chickpeas and soy.

As we celebrate the World Vegan Day I will leave you here to marinate the medley of thoughts… Should you decide to learn more about appropriate nutrition for your cocker spaniel, benefits and pitfalls of certain diets or how to choose the best food, you will find the answers in my book, Perfect cocker spaniel.

 

Photo source: photo by Sergiy Kabachenko via 123rf.com