Latest studies to show that dogs may be able to count, use same area of the brain as humans, and have numerological skills / Perfect cocker spaniel dog blog about English cocker spaniels, puppy advice, tips, nutrition, grooming, research / (C) Natalia Ashton

Two treats are better than one and your dog is the one who is counting

“Make sure you give them two treats each,” I instructed my husband who was taking on the role of “the treat guy”… “Because they know, they always know…” I whispered.

I wasn’t making it up. There have been several studies peeking into our dog’s numerological abilities including the 2002 study suggesting that “dogs may have the rudimentary skill to count” and the 2009 research that compared dog’s intelligence to the one of a 2-year old human. And the latest findings published in December 2019 confirmed that dogs use the same number-responsive area of the brain as humans to “spontaneously process basic numerical quantities”.

The dogs used in the 2019 study were not trained, restrained or sedated to react to numbers or quantities yet they responded to the changing quantities of dots shown to them every time the numbers changed from constant.

According to the scientists “the results provide some of the strongest evidence yet that numerosity is a neural mechanism shared between dogs and humans that goes back as far as 80 million years”

And for us, dog parents, it means that our pups may, in fact, count their treats – and, as a result, achieve even better outcomes of reward-based training because they know there are still more yummy titbits to come.

 

Image credit: Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

How to train your dog positively, study research, tips / perfect cocker spaniel / english cocker spaniel training, grooming, advice, puppy / world kindness day blog post / (C) Natalia Ashton / dog paw in human hand photo

Having a dog without regrets

What do you write about after sharing a post dedicated to the dog you miss so very much? Honestly, I tried to sit down and string a few words together, but it simply did not work…

Then, a few days ago I came across a survey done by Sainsbury’s Pet Insurance. According to the findings over 50 per cent of Southern dog (and cat) parents did not research the breed of their puppy before getting one, and only 21 per cent spent more than a week (a week, seriously?!) to find “the right breed for their lifestyle”. Worse, every sixth pet parent had regrets of getting a dog of that specific breed.

Think how many dogs you would normally meet during a walk with your pooch? Now imagine that every sixth dog is actually a burden to the person who walks him at that very moment – and try not bleed inside your heart.

For me, my dogs are my life. And I admit, I am, by my own admission, really is all about my dogs. I live and breathe for the happiness of my boys and feel terrible if I believe they didn’t have a good enough day (by my standards). I am not perfect at all, but I do everything I can – and a little bit more. No matter what.

As somebody who spent years researching dog breeds, reading books and attending courses to learn about taking care of a puppy, I simply cannot fathom how it is even possible to decide that one is ready for a dog and knows enough about a dog after a week of “research”… And then proceed by getting a puppy – not a fluffy toy, but an actual living being who needs his human mum to help him live, learn and thrive!

I’ve seen those people. I did. And I helped a few, too. Not because I cared much for them, but because I cared too much for the little pup who ended up in a household that was totally unprepared for him or her.

Do you ever wonder why we still have the heartbreaking reality of puppy farms? This is a good example how and why these disgusting businesses flourish. Every day they offer pups to these “owners” (because I cannot even refer to these people as “parents”) who visit them to get a dog without knowing much simply because they felt like having a puppy here and now, or choose to buy a puppy in a pet shop while stoping for coffee!

These are the people who end up with a dog suffering from illnesses or psychological problems. These are the people who had every chance of giving that puppy a wonderful  life, but instead give him up as an unwanted regret.

I tried to stay “cool and content” and find reasons to justify these people’s actions. I went online looking for opinions on forums and social media looking for solid reasons of regret… The truth was painful to learn:

“I didn’t realise dogs are such a hard work…”

“I am so annoyed because I cannot travel now like I used to…”

“He is such an inconvenience…”

“He chewed my furniture and went to pee all over the house…”

“He pulls the lead so hard, I can’t walk him, so I decided to rheum…”

“Having a dog is so expensive!”

“I only realised this breed wasn’t for me after I got a puppy…”

“I live in a cream house but this dog makes it dirty and leaves hair everywhere…”

“I can’t sleep at night because he keeps crying in the other room…”

“I feel stuck with him for years now…”

There were very, very few exceptions who had regrets because they were seriously ill, injured or suffered from severe allergy. Ironically, this group of people actually did their very best to try and keep the dog no matter what.

How can I possibly stay indifferent to this situation if it shows that the nation of dog lovers is clearly lacking the three fundamental pillars of dog parenthood: knowledge, commitment and responsibility? And worse, do very little to improve on any of these?

You may notice I did not mention love… I believe it’s important but love is nothing if it does not inspire you to become a better person, a better pup parent – and learn, learn everything you can before and during your life with one of the most wonderful beings we ever managed to tame… yet forgot the obvious “You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed…” from the Little Prince. But then how many of those people would even read Exupéry?

And since this wonderful author also said that “a goal without a plan is just a wish”, here are a few things everyone who dreams of having a cocker spaniel puppy should read as the essential minimum before they even launch their search for the dream dog… As the very first step to make sure that every dog is wanted… now – and forever, for the rest of his life and beyond.

Misleading facts about English cocker spaniels you need to know

How to find a perfect cocker spaniel puppy

How to find a cocker spaniel puppy online and avoid puppy farms

Why is it so important to ask a breeder about health tests before choosing a puppy?

5 good reasons to have a cocker spaniel puppy

Perfect cocker spaniel: the ultimate guide to the breed including puppy guide, tips on grooming, diet, health, training and more

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

 

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

 

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

 

Avocado toxic or not for dogs and why, avocado in dog diet safety concerns / First published on Perfect cocker spaniel blog / Image by sandid from Pixabay

Q&A | Avocado: yes or no?

I receive so many questions about avocado in dog’s diet, so I thought I’d share it here since yesterday was a #nationalavocadoday.

Lately avocado was said to be safe for dogs. However before you go head think of the following…

… avocado contains persin, a toxic substance found in the skin, right under the skin, in the stone and the bark of avocado;
… the LIGHT green flesh of the fruit is low in persin, however it is difficult to ensure that the light green won’t be mixed with the DARK green flesh found under the skin of the fruit, thus increasing the risk of poisoning;
… if a dog has avocado he’s likely to have upset stomach or vomiting;
… in addition the stone can not only be more toxic if crushed by a dog, but also get stuck in the throat or digestive tract, which can be fatal;
…high fat content of avocado can increase risk of pancreatitis.

Personally, I would not risk it. I also do not believe that something that was once deemed very toxic for pooched was suddenly given a green light. It feels more like a trend, not something supported by research.

Photo source: image by sandid from Pixabay

Dried cassia, toxicity of cassia plant food additive for dogs, cassia in dog food / Image by Fathima Shanas from Pixabay / first published on perfectcockerspaniel blog

Check your dog’s food for this ingredient

I couldn’t help noticing another ingredient that is added to more and more dog foods. It is called CASSIA and in simple terms, it’s a cheap alternative to cinnamon. In dog food cassia works as a gelling agent and preservative. It’s more likely to be a part of wet food but can be added to kibble also.

Nutritionally, dogs do not need cinnamon or cassia in their diet. While cinnamon can be beneficial for certain conditions when used in very small quantities and short period of time, cassia may cause or worsen liver disease, increase risk of allergies, skin inflammation and irritate digestive tract.

It can become toxic if used for a long period even if the amount it minute. It is approved in EU & a few other countries but as far as dog food research goes, the studies are still going and latest outcome specifies that only purified cassia can be used and in certain amounts (just over 1% of total food) . Considering that not enough research has been done and possibility of side-effects however minor, do check labels of your dog food just to be on a safe side. Cassia can be listed as cassia gum or E427 or E499.

Photo source: image by Fathima Shanas from Pixabay