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Woof-Woof Stuff:

Musings of a professional dog walker & pet sitter

Tel: 07736642742



Things We Always Carry on our Walks

You'd be surprised how many dog walkers we see that don't have any kind of a bag with them. No backpack, no bumbag, no satchel, no waistbelt, nothing. Where are they storing their poo bags (empty and used)? How are they carrying water for hot weather days? Balls? Throwing stick? Treats? Winter coats with lots of pockets might prove useful for some but in the summer when it's t-shirts and shorts weather, there's no hiding the fact that there are plenty out there who just aren't carrying any of the things that we've come to consider invaluable to the proper execution of our duties over the years we've been in business. 

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.



All in a Day's Walk

There are probably plenty of people who think that dog walking is an easy job but one thing we’ve always said is that if it IS easy, you’re clearly not doing it properly. Taking care of what is, essentially, a member of someone’s family, albeit a furry, non-human one, comes with huge responsibility and fulfilling that responsibility requires significant diligence, vigilance and consideration. A good dog walker keeps her/his eyes on her/his charges at all times in the same way that a childminder does because she/he knows that problematic situations can develop quite quickly and evasive action is often necessary.

What I’m talking about here are the myriad obstacles and potential perils that both dogs and walker encounter on footpaths during an average walk: cyclists, horses, motorised scooters, parents with pushchairs,  environment agency vehicles, broken glass, deep water, items that look/smell tasty but are unfit for canine consumption etc., etc. And that’s to say nothing of other dogs, many of which, contrary to their owners’ smiles and insistence, cannot be relied upon to be entirely friendly. Yes, I know, we make it sound like our favourite walking destinations are minefields, they’re most definitely not, but anywhere can be dangerous to dogs if they’re not properly supervised.

For us, this means that on the occasions where we have to split and walk separate packs, checking emails and text messages or taking calls during the course of a walk are all unnecessary distractions and something we prefer not to indulge in. If we lose a potential customer to another dog walker because we don’t answer an enquiry immediately, that’s something we can live with because we’re content in the knowledge that we’re doing our job properly. Existing customers, of course, love to see photos of their dogs on walks and we’re happy to take them, but this too can be quite a distraction, so there are walks when we end up taking less pictures than we’d like rather than jeopardise the safety of the dogs involved. 

Something we often hear on fine, sunny days is “Oh, you’re a dog walker, what a fantastic job”. It certainly can be when the sun’s in the sky and the ground’s dry underfoot but these are conditions that the British climate rarely affords, so for the other 8 months or more of the year, you can be trudging through mud and sopping wet grass with the rain either coming down or threatening to do so at any minute. Don’t get me wrong, we’d rather be outdoors than in, no matter how inclement the weather is, but when Old Blighty is giving it her worst, nobody could ever say dog walking is a glamorous job. Moreover, the smell of wet dog that accumulates in the van during the colder months is pungent to say the least and permeates everything. We have items of clothing for which no amount of washing will ever eliminate that unique odour. 

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.

Then, of course, there are the dogs themselves, who, putting it mildly, can be somewhat high spirited when first let out of the van and allowed to play with pals completely untethered. In this state of eagerness and enthusiasm they’re a total joy to watch but they do have a tendency to not look where they’re going and often end up careering in to you. Not a big deal if you’re talking about an 8kg Cockapoo but an entirely different story if it’s a 30kg Labrador. Skittles and bowling balls spring to mind in the latter case. Every gentleman dog walker also knows the pain of the paws of a large dog landing in his nether regions as he/she gets impatient for treats, toys etc. Oof!

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!

If there are negatives to the job, however, they’re vastly outweighed by the positives. Seeing the look of excitement on dogs’ faces when you arrive to pick them up and then later the sheer, unbridled joy that they experience while chasing one another, running for balls, dashing through long grass etc. is absolutely priceless and reward enough for any of the woes that are experienced during the course of the day. Dropping them off later and then subsequently receiving photos from customers showing them fast asleep contentedly in their beds (on the sofa, on owner’s bed etc.) is a great feeling and one that tells you, if you had any doubts at all, that you performed your duties well that day.

Job’s a good’un, as they say.

Pet-Friendly Cleaning Products

For a long time now we’ve eschewed the use of products with harsh chemicals in our home, instead favouring more natural, unscented toiletries, laundry detergents, cleaning agents etc. The former are often comprised of ingredients that at best can cause or aggravate allergies and, at worst, are known carcinogens, and in some countries have even been deemed entirely too dangerous for use in the home.

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.

If you're interested in either our dog walking or pet sitting services, take a look at the following pages:


Homemade Dog Tags

Like a lot of dog walkers, the safety of our charges is always at the forefront of our minds, so even though it's a legal requirement for a dog to have its own tag with name, address and owner contact details on, we always like every dog in our care to wear one of our own tags with our company name and number on. It's an extra bit of reassurance for our clients that in the unlikely event that their dog decides to hot-foot it away during the course of a walk, that we're easily contactable when some kind individual further up the river bank manages to collar them.

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.

The main problem we found was that we needed a means of attaching the tag that was quick and easy but also durable. Well, these particular tags we'd ordered came with split rings, which are pretty hardy affairs, but are small and fiddly and extremely difficult to get on to the D-ring of a collar on a dog that's leaping all over the place at the prospect of an imminent excursion. We decided instead to use a simple lobster clip: a study-looking metal affair with a moveable clasp that provides both ease of application and removal. Where durability was concerned, however, they failed miserably and pretty soon those tags started disappearing. A change of strategy was necessary, so we decided to use the lobster clips on the quieter, more sedate canines and the split rings on the more rambunctious characters. I'd like to say the survival rate of tags on the latter was improved by this strategy, but, alas, it wasn't and still they were managing to work themselves loose during the daily rough and tumble of doggy encounters.

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.

A quick Google of "Homemade pet tags" and within moments that diva of DIY crafts, Martha Stewart, came to the rescue. A short but concise entry on her own website provided all the information I needed to make this project possible. Unfortunately, the powers that be in control of the site have, for licensing reasons perhaps, decided that we in the UK aren't permitted access to this site, so a VPN or an anonymous browser such as Tor is the best way to avoid the restriction and view the relevant tutorial.  Link to Martha Stewart's Homemade Pet Tags

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.

We found the template offered by Martha Stewart a little on the large side, so any tags created with it we've kept for the larger pack members. For the smaller dogs, we reduced the size of each of the printed designs by 25%. Once shrunk in the oven, I gave each one a coat of clear nail varnish to protect the printed side and then it was simply a matter of attaching new clips. We opted for something different and altogether much sturdier than before (Silver Swivel Trigger Clips) and thus far, they've proven reliable. Impressively, both tags and clips have survived multiple skirmishes and, although some dirt accumulates with regular use, the text remains largely readable, with no signs of fading or running.

I've not spent the time working out the exact cost per unit of this venture - with gas oven usage, it'd probably be difficult to be accurate - but safe to say that it's massively cheaper than the custom-made tags and the best thing is, that if we do lose any, we don't quite have the same sickening feeling of money down the drain. Job well done.

If you're interested in either our dog walking or pet sitting services, take a look at the following pages:



Ways to Exercise Your Dog Indoors

If there are days when the weather's so bad that neither you nor your dog fancy braving the outdoors, you might be left feeling a little guilty that your best friend isn't going to get his/her daily dose of exercise. At times like this, you definitely need to get creative and look at ways to make use of the space in your house or apartment. Even if your accommodation leans towards the small side, with a little imagination, you can put something together that involves plenty of movement for your dog - and stimulation, of course, because that's what the park also provides and what your dog absolutely needs.

1. Use the Stairs
Start by standing at the bottom of the stairs and throwing things up and then switch it round so you're at the top throwing things down. Balls aren't necessarily the best thing in a small space but a favourite soft toy is good. Be sure that your dog is fit enough to take on this kind of exercise (consult with your vet, if necessary) and make safety a priority, e.g. don't throw downwards if there's a front door or other obstacle (hall table etc.) right at the bottom of the stairs and don't use stairs at all if they're varnished and slippy.

2. Tug
A good game of tug with a rubber ring, tug rope, tug toy etc. provides both exercise and stimulation for your dog. Let him/her 'win' by letting go every now and then and initiating a game of chase around the house if that's something your dog enjoys.

3. Obstacle courses
It's easier to set something like this up than you might imagine. Make use of blankets, cushions and pillows to form tunnels, place a broom handle over 2 low chairs to create a bar for jumping over. Take cardboard boxes and cut dog-sized holes in them. The stairs can also be incorporated into your doggy obstacle course. Alternatively, you could buy some purpose-made obstacles like the following:

4. Get a treadmill
Strange as this idea might sound, many dogs can be taught to use a treadmill. Safety should be prioritised with speed settings kept extremely slow in the early stages of learning. There are a number of good videos on YouTube detailing approaches to this form of indoor exercise. See below for one of our favourites.

5. Interactive Food Puzzles
Familiar to many dog owners, Kongs are the most common example of interactive food puzzles. Filled with your dog's favourite treats, they can provide him/her with essential mental stimulation to help alleviate boredom that may result from long periods indoors. For some good examples of other products offering similar mental engagement, have a look at:

6. Hide Treats Around the House
Set about hiding some strong smelling doggy treats in a variety of locations around your home and you'll help him/her satisfy a number of natural instincts. Think about places that are within reasonably easy reach but will encourage some investigation before discovery. There will be exercise involved in the dog's moving from room to room and you'll be ticking lots of boxes as they use their nose to sniff out each treat's location.

Try to make any indoor activity involve a combination of both mental and physical exercise, that way you'll know that some of your dog's primary needs for stimulation are being met. Dog forums are good places for exchanging ideas on this topic. Remember also that just because you're not a fan of bad weather, doesn't necessarily mean that your dog isn't. Breeds that are naturally drawn to water such as Springer Spaniels, Retrievers etc, will rarely be phased by even the hardest of downpours. You might consider employing the services of a professional dog walker if that's your situation.

If you'd like to know a little bit more about Dog Walks 'R' Us, please visit the following pages:




10 dog breeds prone to Dysplasia

What is Dysplasia?
Canine Hip Dysplasia or CHD is a genetic condition which effects certain breeds and causes malformation of the ball and socket in the hip joints. The result of this malformation is the separation of the two bones that meet at the affected joint. Put simply, an improper fit between the ball and socket occurs and results in a joint that lacks smooth movement, experiences undesirable friction and can eventually lead to degenerative joint disease (DJD).

Since advancement of the disease is partially the result of genetic factors, medical research has been able to identify certain breeds that carry the CHD gene and are, therefore, at greater risk of developing it. These breeds are as follows:  

Saint Bernard
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.

Golden Retriever
Both large and active, Golden Retrievers are at high risk of developing the condition and this risk increases with age, unfortunately.

Labrador Retriever
Predisposed to hip problems for all the same reasons as their Golden cousins.

German Shepherds
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.

Characterised by the presence of an abnormal gait, e.g. a limp or a lean to one side, hip dysplasia in Rottweilers is not uncommon, unfortunately. Early diagnosis and treatment is best for good long-term prognosis.

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.

Alaskan Malamute
A breed rapidly increasing in popularity, the Alaskan Malamute is once again a dog whose combination of size and activity levels put it at risk of dysplasia. 
An obvious exception to the large dogs rule, Pugs are at risk of developing hip problems from an early age.
A medium-sized dog capable of reaching up to 30 kilograms, the Boxer can be afflicted with the symptoms of dysplasia at any age.

French Bulldog
Selective breeding has resulted in a dog that's unfortunately predisposed to a variety of health problems, including dysplasia.

Tips to avoiding development of hip dysplasia
Although the breeds listed above (and a number of others) are born with a genetic tendency towards this painful condition, there are practical steps that owners can take to reduce the likelihood of it developing.
•Puppies exposed to stairs and/or slippery floors in the home are more likely to develop hip problems. Whilst still young, keep your dog downstairs and off tiled or varnished floors where possible or put rubber matting down over those surfaces.

•Obesity increases the likelihood of dysplasia, so feeding a dog a healthy diet in a volume appropriate to age and size will keep your dog at the correct weight.

•Too much exercise when dogs with dysplasia tendencies are young (under a year old) may be detrimental to health but, equally, too little will have the opposite effect. Adequate exercise builds strength in muscles, joints and bones and helps maintain flexibility also.

•There is some evidence that hormones can play a part in the condition's development in males and that neutering before adulthood is linked to this condition.



Human Foods That Are Harmful To Pets

Cats and dogs are masters at the pulling of human heart strings, sitting before us as we eat with those pitiful looks on their faces that can lead even the hardest of us to relent and offer them titbits from our plates. Whilst dogs are classed as omnivores, that doesn’t mean they can literally eat anything, and it most definitely does not imply that all food fit for human consumption can be tolerated by the canine digestive system. Indeed there are many foods that are actually classed as toxic for dogs, chocolate being perhaps the best known of them. Cats, meanwhile, being obligate carnivores, are subject to even greater restrictions because their digestive system lacks the enzymes required to break down anything other than animal protein. Like dogs, there are also foods that can be considered toxic to cats, even if consumed in small quantities. Read on for a list of the most common human foods that are poisonous to cats and/or dogs.

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.

Foods containing caffeine
As previously mentioned, chocolate is the best known offender in this category. The presence of both caffeine and theobromine make it highly toxic to dogs and cats with small volumes causing gastric upset, heart irregularities and muscle tremors, while larger quantities can bring seizures and death within 24 hours. Any products containing coffee should be kept away from both cats and dogs for the exact same reasons.

Garlic and Onions
While possessing a number of health benefits to humans, both of these foods are toxic to cats and dogs. Chemicals in the skins and flesh can cause serious damage to red blood cells, inhibiting them from carrying oxygen to the brain and internal organs. Fatalities can result if large enough quantities are consumed.

Grapes and raisins
These seemingly benign, natural foods are toxic to cats and dogs. Vomiting and diarrhoea are early symptoms of ingestion with the potential for rapid-onset kidney failure and death if consumed in any quantity.

Macadamia Nuts
A Macadamia nut might not be an obvious treat to feed to a pet but they may be hidden in things like cereal bars, which dogs owners might be tempted to share with their canine buddies. They’re toxic to cats and dogs and can cause vomiting, joint pain, muscle tremors and weakness, with symptoms usually developing within 12 hours of consumption

The relative prevalence or lack of of this sweetening agent make its chances of ingestion by cats and dogs slimmer than that of other foods on this list. However, its use in homemade cakes and baked goods could see dogs consuming it where owners offer them titbits of their seemingly innocent creations. Xylitol toxicity can be fatal if medical assistance is not sought soon enough. Any product containing artificial sweeteners should be kept well away from cats and dogs.

Other foods poisonous to pets
•Alcoholic beverages •Apple seeds •Apricot pits •Cherry pits •Hops (used in home beer brewing) •Mouldy foods •Mushroom plants •Mustard seeds •Peach pits •Potato leaves and stems (green parts) •Rhubarb leaves •Salt •Tea (contains caffeine) •Tomato leaves and stems (green parts) •Walnuts •Yeast dough



Common Garden Plants That Are Toxic To Pets

Though the summer is slowly winding down, it’ll be some time before the onset of temperatures that bring the demise of many species of garden and woodland flora, so keeping an eye on your pets and ensuring they don’t ingest anything poisonous is still something that every caring owner can aspire to. It’s surprising just how many very common plants and flowers can be highly toxic, if not potentially fatal to cats and dogs and having knowledge of and being able to identify those that are can be useful when either planning a garden or considering bringing a new pet into an already established one.

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.

Yew trees
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.

This list is by no means complete and there are numerous other toxic plants found throughout the UK. For a comprehensive list, please visit the Dogs Trust website: Poisonous substances fact sheet



Doggy Dramas & Canine Compositions

Dogs have long enjoyed a special place in popular culture where they’ve been cast as everything from movie stars (Turner & Hooch, Marley and Me, Lassie etc.) to comic book and cartoon characters (Huckleberry Hound, Dogtanian, Snoopy, Fred Basset etc.) But long before any of these media existed, authors paid tribute to and acknowledged the importance of our four-legged friends in works of literature that commonly make lists of must-read books even today. And the fact that contemporary novelists are still producing works that feature dogs as primary characters, is testament to that special relationship that has always existed between human and canine beings. This post, therefore, is a brief look at some of the most famous works, old and new, in which dogs take centre stage.

Old Yeller - Frank Gipson
Now considered a classic, Old Yeller has been an American favourite since its publication in 1956. Despite its US popularity, it’s relatively unknown on this side of the Atlantic but can easily be found on Amazon and other book vending sites.

Old Yeller, the star of the book is described as a Black Mouth Cur. I have to admit, I wasn’t familiar with the breed but a little research revealed it originates from southern region of the United States where it was created for hunting and herding purposes. The story is a heart-warming one that focuses on the relationship between Old Yeller and Travis, the young boy who, reluctantly at first, takes the stray dog in and eventually develops the kind of bond that only boy and dog could share.

It’s another one that pulls firmly on the heart strings and many readers have advised keeping a box of tissues close by for the conclusion.

The Call of the Wild - Jack London
The Call of the Wild was first published in 1903 and at only 172 pages is a fairly short book by some standards but is one in which the story is by no means diminished by its length. The plot follows the misfortunes of Buck, a St Bernard/Scotch Shepherd cross, kidnapped from a comfortable life as a household pet and forced into a brutally harsh one as a Yukon sled dog.

This book is not for the faint-hearted, often featuring explicit descriptions of the violent conditions Buck is exposed to. However, if you can stomach it, it makes for compelling reading and will take you on something of an emotional rollercoaster before reaching a conclusion that will have you on the edge of your reading seat rooting for Buck every step of the way.

The book has been adapted for film in numerous Hollywood productions, the first being in 1923.

Sirius: A Novel about the Little Dog Who Almost Changed History - Jonathan Crown
A fairly recent release having been first published in 2017, Sirius is an enchanting tale about a fox terrier that escapes WWII Nazi Germany with his Jewish owners and ends up United States where he eventually becomes a Hollywood movie star. Yes, I know, it does sound pretty far fetched but approach the book with an open mind and be prepared to suspend disbelief a little and you’ll find this a really enjoyable book.

Just like the previous two books, there are some highly emotional moments and you’ll reach the end feeling like your heart strings have been well and truly pulled but you won’t regret a minute of it.

One Good Dog - Susan Wilson
Some may accuse this book of being sappy and predictable and while there may be a little truth to both claims, it’s still a lovely story and one that you’d have to have a heart of stone not to find enjoyable.

The plot follows Adam, a man driven by career ambition (at the expense of his family) who, through a rapid converging of circumstances, suddenly finds his whole life turned upside down. The canine star of the story is Chance, a mistreated pit bull terrier cross whose path one day crosses with Adam’s and creates circumstances in which both are given a second chance at life.

The book was first published in 2015 and received numerous glowing reviews from the US media and comparisons with the earlier published Marley and Me by John Grogan.

Cujo - Stephen King
This last review bucks the trend in that its doggy lead character (pun intended) is an all out bad’un rather than the hero of the story. It’s probably not the best book to read if you are an owner or are a lover of St. Bernards. However, Stephen King’s 9th standalone novel was well received by the book buying public and maintained a best seller position in the US for many weeks following its initial release in 1981.

The story, unsurprisingly, revolves around Cujo, a domestic St. Bernard that develops seemingly murderous tendencies after contracting rabies from a bat bite. The book is fairly standard Stephen King fayre: full of vivid depictions of guts and gore but written with an accessible, easy reading style that draws you in from the very first page. It’s not considered to be one of his best, due to an ending that many readers have called “disappointing” but it’s a decent read all the same and would appeal to anyone interested in seeing what happens when “Man’s best friend” turns bad.

Gimme Shelter

Image courtesy of Vee Bee @
Shelters, sanctuaries and rescue centres are chockful of dogs desperate for good homes. Some will be animals seized by the RSCPA from abusive owners, but many are just the unfortunate result of owners finding themselves in a position where they can no longer offer the level of care and companionship that’s necessary for the physical and mental wellbeing of their much-loved pets.

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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