Among the myriad of things we carry, there are 8 items that are always with us:
1. Poo bags: There's our daily supply and our back up supply and the back up of our back up supply. Dozens of the things, in fact. You can never have too many poo bags.
2. Roll Top Pvc Bag: These can be found cheaply on eBay and are otherwise known as "dry bags". They're commonly used by people engaging in water sports for keeping their valuables dry but they're perfect for storing used poo bags in. Once you've closed them properley, all offending odours are contained until you can find a bin to deposit them in.
3. Treats: When you carry treats and you give them out liberally, the dogs you walk tend to come back that bit quicker when you need them to because, as everybody knows, dogs are food-driven creatures. Carrying a plentiful supply is a no-brainer really.
4. Tick Remover: We've carried them for years and never had cause to use them and then summer 2023 saw them prove their worth on no less than 3 occasions. Warm weather would appear to be to blame for their increased prevalance.
5. Water: A bottle of water with a fold-down receptacle for the dogs to drink from is an essential throughout the year. In summer more than one is more often necessary. In cooler weather you don't often need it but it's always good to know it's there.
6. Spare Leads: When you're walking up to 8 dogs between 2 people, it's very easy to lose a lead. That's one reason why we always use our own leads on the dogs we walk but also the reason why we always have at least one spare in our bags. There have also been several occasions over the years when we've come across dogs that have obviously become separated from their owners/walkers and we've needed to tether them while calling the numbers on their tags.
7. Balls: Group dynamics on any given day will often dictate whether ball play is appropriate or not, as will the weather to a large extent but having at least one in your bag and knowing that if the circumstances are right you can pull it out and instantly inject some fun into the walk, is always better than wishing you'd packed one.
8. Pet First Aid Kit: You always assume (and hope) you won't have to use it but knowing it's there and you could if you had to is very reassuring.
Hot weather, on the rare occasions that we get it brings its own unique challenges. Some dogs deal with it better than others, with size and breed often the factors that determine exactly how well. For the conscientious dog walker, however, little can be left to chance and all strategies have to revolve around those members of the pack who struggle most with the heat. This means choosing locations with the maximum amount of shade, starting walks earlier in the day, and always carrying vessels of water for the dogs to drink from. It also often means avoiding rivers and their banks or making greater use of leads than usual because a hot dog can smell the water from a good stretch away and will often take off suddenly with the desire for a cooling dip. Fine if you've got an agile retriever that was bred for swimming not so good if you've got a bull terrier that wasn't.
Finally, no discussion of the pitfalls of dog walking would be complete without a mention of that most fragrant of substances: fox poo. Every dog loves it and every owner and walker hates it! The former seem capable of smelling it from at least a 100 yards away and are off and rolling merrily in it long before you've had chance to anticipate the move and clip them on lead. You're then faced with the dubious pleasure of having to somehow remove all traces of it from their bodies, collars and harnesses before you can get them back into your vehicle and deliver them home. Even with a pump-based porta-shower in the back of the van this is quite the challenge!
VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) are among the worst offenders and are found in a huge selection of common products intended for everyday use (Read more at: The Green Home website). Products containing these chemicals are not only damaging to human health, but also to the health of our much-loved pets. The immediate effect of contact on a dog or cat’s health might be eye, skin or gastric irritation, while long-term ingestion may contribute to or cause a variety of serious and potentially irreversible health conditions. Think about it, you mop your floor with one of those off the shelf “guaranteed to kill all germs” products, your dog or cat walks across it while it’s wet and then proceeds to lick his/her paws - it doesn’t take a genius to see how this situation could quickly develop into something unpleasant.
Avoiding products with VOCs is only half the battle, however - as we’ve discovered - because the vast majority of cleaning agents touted as ‘organic’, ‘natural’, ‘environmentally friendly’ or ‘non-allergenic’ (or, indeed, sometimes all of the above) still contain ingredients that could be considered unsafe for pets. Specifically, many cleaners in this category use citrus derivatives to provide fragrance/scent and there’s plenty of information out there warning of the dangers of citrus toxicity to cats and dogs.
They may also include essential oils such as tea tree for its antibacterial and antimicrobial properties and lavender for both antibacterial and fragrant properties. Cats and dogs are unable to metabolise these compounds and ingestion can cause liver damage and, ultimately, death if large quantities are involved.
So, what, you ask, can the conscientious pet owner use to keep his/her house clean and pong-free? It’s a good question and one that, to date, we’ve only been able to come up with a single answer to: white vinegar. Apologies if this isn’t a revelation to you and it’s something you’ve always known but for the best part of my life, vinegar has been something I’ve either put on my chips or added to a salad dressing. For everybody else, yes, I hear your doubts and I sense your hesitancy, but really, simple white vinegar is something of a marvel when it comes to home sanitising.
Unquestionably, the smell is initially quite strong and off-putting but it fades rapidly as it dries and not only does it shift dirt, but it does a mighty impressive jobs of removing odours. You can imagine how smelly a dog walker’s van gets, especially in winter (no, strike that, you can’t possibly imagine how bad a dog walker’s van smells at the end of a week where it’s done nothing but rain) but exposed to the deodorising powers of white vinegar, it quickly smells of nothing (yes, believe it or not, no smell can actually be indicative of cleanliness; although, cleaning product manufacturers have done a pretty good job of convincing everybody that things can’t possibly be clean unless they reek of some hideous, laboratory-created perfume).
Apparently, it’s a good germ killer as well. Regular white vinegar designed for human consumption is a five per cent concentration of acetic acid and, according to sources, is capable of killing up to 80% of bacteria but stronger concentrations capable of tackling a higher percentage are available*. We buy ours from the Unicorn grocery in Chorlton, mainly because we like their ethics and we shop there for food anyway but some supermarkets stock it on their cleaning product aisles.
Now when we clean the inside of our van we do it with a clear conscience, knowing that not only will it be largely free of bacteria and contagions but also of VOCs, petroleum derivatives, and dangerous fragrances (both artificial and natural) making it an altogether safer environment for its regular canine occupants.
*NB: White vinegar may not be strong enough to kill bordetella bronchiseptica, the bacteria that can lead to development of Kennel Cough. In suspected or confirmed cases of either the bacteria or the subsequent virus, the heat of a steam cleaner may be necessary to destroy these pathogens and prevent them spreading to other dogs.
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Last year we spent £75 on stainless steel, custom-engraved tags - that's a total of 30 tags at £2.50 each. No small sum. By the end of the year, we had a scant half dozen tags left, the other 24 having been ripped off during some of the more enthusiastic bouts of play fighting or dislodged from the collars of on-lead dogs when lunging at squirrels. We never recovered any of them, unfortunately.
Even if at this point we'd opted for an alternative and more secure method of attaching the tags, we still had only 6 out of 30 left and were £60 out of pocket (ouch!), so the conclusion was that a complete rethink of the whole approach was definitely necessary. With a background as a graphic designer, I decided to employ my creative skills and set about having a go at making my own tags. How hard could it be? They didn't, after all, have to made of metal. Any material strong enough to weather both the weather and the tussles and friendly frays typically seen on a group walk would do the trick.
The guide recommended using Shrinky Dinks, which are a proprietary make of printable, shrink plastic. Older readers may remember colour-in Shrinky Dinks being given free with Shreddies during the 80s (Shreddies/Shrinky Dinks). At the time of sourcing, however, this brand of product wasn't available in the UK and although eBay had a few international sellers offering to ship to England, I opted for an unbranded product from China available from Amazon (Link to Shrink Plastic Sheets). I can't comment on the quality of Shrinky Dinks but I can say that my generic alternative didn't disappoint, with both the printing and the shrinking processes completing without issue.
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Although there are exceptions, the general rule is that the risk of hip dysplasia increases proportionately with the size of the dog. Since Saint Bernards are especially large, their predisposition to hip problems is great. Overweight dogs are more likely still to develop problems.
Predisposed to hip problems for all the same reasons as their Golden cousins.
In German Shepherds, this condition is more common in dogs that have reached middle age or older, i.e. from the age of 7 onwards.
Especially active examples of this breed are best encouraged to swim in safe locations as this form of exercise is low impact and unlikely to increase the already significant risk of hip problem development. Fortunately, this is a breed with a strong liking for water.
A medium-sized dog capable of reaching up to 30 kilograms, the Boxer can be afflicted with the symptoms of dysplasia at any age.
Selective breeding has resulted in a dog that's unfortunately predisposed to a variety of health problems, including dysplasia.
All parts of the avocado plant/tree can cause problems in cats and dogs, so don’t be tempted to even let them lick the plate of your avocado on toast breakfast.
Symptoms of plant poisoning vary depending on exactly what’s been ingested; however, these are the most common:
•Oral irritation •Excessive drooling •Vomiting •Difficulty swallowing •Difficulty breathing •Loss of appetite •Tiredness or weakness •Depressed behaviour •Diarrhoea •Dry mouth and/or eyes •Tremors •Fever •High heart rate •Constipation •Stiffness •Blood in stool or vomit •Increased thirst
Any pet exhibiting one or more of these symptoms should be taken to a veterinary surgeon without delay. The sooner medical attention is given to the pet, the better the chance he/she has of avoiding permanent damage.
The following are among the most common plants that are toxic to either cats, dogs or both.
Though certainly beautiful to look at, the bulbs, flowers and leaves of Hyacinths are all highly toxic if ingested in any significant quantity. Dogs in particular may be inclined to eat the flower heads because of the pleasant smell they give off. Vets report that Labrador retrievers are the breed of dog most commonly treated for Hyacinth poisoning.
Easy to grow and pretty to look at, Amaryllis plants are gardeners’ favourites. Instances of poisoning are relatively low but all pet owners should be aware of their toxicity. Indoor varieties sell in large quantities at Christmas and pet owners should either avoid them altogether or make sure that they’re positioned somewhere both high up and where falling leaves can’t be eaten.
Lily of the Valley and Foxglove
Both toxic if eaten in large quantities but common and widespread enough to be of concern. Fortunately, they offer little edible appeal to either cats or dogs.
Often found in tended public gardens, Yew trees are easily identified by their needle-like leaves and bright red berries. Dogs are most susceptible to Yew poisoning as the toxic alkaloids that are present in their branches are easily ingested when smaller sticks are used for play.
The bright red berries of this evergreen can be attractive to cats and if eaten can produce some nasty symptoms. Leaves and stems are also toxic. Prompt treatment by a vet usually brings positive outcomes.
Introduced from overseas, Hydrangeas have become common sights in many British gardens. Their brightly coloured flower heads may draw the attention of dogs but their bulbs containing cyanide they’re highly toxic to all pets and humans, too.
Though usually only of concern if ingested in large quantities, Chrysanthemums are popular and common enough in the UK to warrant concern from pet owners. Their fragrance is unappealing to both cats and dogs, so, fortunately, instances of consumption are relatively rare. Better to err on the side of caution, though, if your pet has displayed any tendencies for eating unusual things.
Yes, common as this decorative plant is, it’s highly toxic to both dogs and cats. The former are most likely to fall victim to its toxicity as fallen leaves can easily be blown around the garden and eaten accidentally. Large quantities can be fatal.
Often found in mixed flower bouquets from florists and supermarkets, Lilies frequently make their way into the homes of pet owners, who, unwittingly, expose their pets to great risk by displaying them in locations where their petals can be eaten or their highly toxic pollen ingested during grooming.
Sirius: A Novel about the Little Dog Who Almost Changed History - Jonathan Crown
One Good Dog - Susan Wilson
Cujo - Stephen King
|Image courtesy of Vee Bee @ freeimages.com
I, for one, would much rather an individual was honest enough to stand up and just say “I can’t give him/her a happy home/life any more” rather than trudging on and allowing the dog to suffer. Unquestionably, the initial separation from the owner and time spent in a shelter are hugely traumatic experiences for any dog but at least in this situation there’s hope; whereas denial of a reduced ability to provide adequate care only condemns the poor dog to a continued life of misery.
This should be the message that shelters send out. They should be saying “We know taking care of a dog is a huge responsibility that requires both time and money, so if you’re at a place where one, the other, or both are in short supply and it’s to the detriment of your dog’s wellbeing, please think about giving him/her a chance in another home”. They won’t of course, and understandably so, because it would fall on them to take temporary ownership and, unfortunately, their finances and resources are limited. Much as they’d like to see all dogs currently living in unsuitable conditions given new homes, they’re not going to start encouraging an influx of new canine residents when their facilities are probably close to maximum capacity, if not already there.
Whilst no owner takes on a dog with the thought that one day they might have to give them up, my feeling is that there should be some serious examination of personal circumstances before committing to give a dog a home, in the same way perhaps that couples would assess their own ability to provide for children before deciding to embark on parenthood. Shelters generally employ quite strict screening processes, often insisting on paying home visits to new, would-be owners before permitting them to take any animal from their care. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of many breeders, for whom a customer is a fast track to profit - it’s simply not in their financial interest to ask too many questions.
There are definitely more scrupulous breeders out there who will want to assess prospective owners before agreeing to a sale and I urge anyone looking to buy a dog to do some thorough investigation of their own before choosing from whom to buy. Ideally, no one would buy dogs from breeders while the shelters are brimming with abandoned ones but people often come with a clear idea of a certain breed or pedigree they prefer and mistakenly think that a shelter isn’t likely to have a dog that fits their specifications. The truth is that shelters are home to a multitude of breeds of all ages, shapes and sizes and often one visit is enough to see plans to buy a dog abandoned, and an abandoned dog given a new forever home.
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