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

 

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

 

How to groom, brush, clip, hand-strip English cocker spaniel / step by step guide daily grooming tips / best brushes, slicker, coat kind for cocker spaniels / nail trimming / Perfect cocker spaniel dog and pet blog and guide to the breed (C) Natalia Ashton / Fred, chocolate and tan English cocker spaniel, hand-stripped, posing near lavender @ Perfect cocker spaniel, Natalia Ashton / book & blog

Never ever

“You need to choose another puppy, this one isn’t going to make it…” That hurt so much. “But he is still here, so I am going to stick with my Fred…” The boy turned out to be a survivor.

“They aren’t going to live together peacefully…” was another thought said out loud when talking about Fred and Coop during their first week together. The two now sleep next to each, walk together and discuss how to develop tricks to get more treats out of me…

“I’ve never thought he’d be handsome…” These words, even though I didn’t care at all about their meaning, still pinch the “love string” inside my heart. “Well, he’s my boy, he’d be handsome, always, at least, for me…” I replied, still feeling a little numb. He turned into the picture-perfect dog…

“Oh, is he a real cocker spaniel?…” was another question back when Fred, my little miracle pup, was barely a kilo at almost 8 weeks of age… “Of course, he is!” I responded with pride, brimming of joy of having this little guy in our lives. Now he looks so unmistakably cocker that one would have to be completely oblivious not to notice the ears and the walk and the beautiful head…

“Uhm, he looks so wild… Won’t be easy to train…” someone else kindly told me. “F$ck it,” – barked Fred back and grew to be the smartest little devil I’ve ever had.

I admit, our journey together has been emotional and bumpy, at times. But that’s life. We are getting through it with an occasional “F” word (who am I kidding, those are frequent!… Sorry if it hurts your eyes and ears…), a ton of cuddles and the most wonderful “sleepy times” when Fred pushes his entire little body into me making sure that he is hugged, and falls into the state of sweet serenity…

And I cry even thinking of all these moments because he is my baby. And this is why I will stick by him no matter what the rest of the world says, thinks or does. There have been so few people who loved him to the point of bursting and even fewer who believed that this little puppy is a good egg. We didn’t want to prove anyone wrong. Because I didn’t not care what they thought – I didn’t think of them at all! But I’ve always believed in my boy – and that’s what made all the difference.

So if you find yourself in a situation when somebody is judging your dog or have no faith in both of you – walk away and keep on living your life. Train your pup, love your pup and just be…

Believe in Dog. And eventually everything will fall into place in the most harmonious way…

 

Photo credit: by me, from personal archive