Today is National Dog Day, and if you know anything about me at all, you will know that I don't need any excuse at all to celebrate doggy life.
Having been an avid dog lover all of my days, I have been and still am absolutely enamoured with pretty much every dog that crosses my path.
Losing my old doggy, Sparky, after nearly 19 years together was and still remains one of the most heartbreaking things that has ever happened to me.
There'll never be another boy like my boy.
We did however end up recently rescuing a collie dog, called Kim.
She's a beauty.
She's also one of the most loving dogs I have ever had the fortune to meet and I really still cannot believe that we got so lucky as to have not only met such an even-tempered or well-behaved dog, but that she gets to to live with us and we with her.
I guess when the time came for us to get a new dog, I felt a bit like a kid in a sweetshop.
There was a world of possibilities out there - the chance to have a puppy, make a life-long buddy and to mold a life.
I never imagined that we would end up with a dog in the way that we did.
I'll be the first person to tell you the ins and outs of getting a dog, ESPECIALLY if you have children.
Here are my no-mess rules to getting a dog:
1. VET any potential breeder/seller of pups. Do not buy a pup where you cannot see the parent - there are far too many people breeding dogs for profit and shipping them in from horrible puppy farms where they do not care about the welfare of the breeding bitches, nor the pups. DON'T do it. Be aware and use your savvy.
2. ALLOW YOURSELF TO BE EXAMINED THOROUGHLY, because any breeder worth anything at all will want to know where those puppies are going to end up and also, that you are going to bring them back to them (i.e, the safest place) if things don't work out. They want to make sure you have time, you have space and you have the energy in order to give a dog a good life.
3. ASSESS yourself. Do you work a lot? Do you have young children? Can you commit to at least 3 walks a day PLUS playtimes? Are you prepared to accept some mess? The possibility of your things getting chewed? The expense? Have you thought about where it will sleep? What they eat? Getting them spayed? Have you thought about what you will do with them if you want to go away for the weekend or a big day out? Are you okay with yellow stains on your grass from dog pee? Picking up endless poop? Can you take a dog with you through the next possibly 15-20 years? Will you be able to deal with an ageing animal? Will you be able to provide all-of-life care, no matter what?
4.KNOW your breed. Research, research, research. Know that even an individual dog will challenge it's own breed stereotype. Know that you must see your dog as an individual. Know that dogs use body language and learn what it all means; it's all your dog has to communicate with you. Know how to enact positive reinforcement in training and that you never really train your dog, but rather, your dog trains you on how to interact with him/her. Know what kind of food is best - this is a basic thing which will affect a dog's health and behaviour in the same way it affects you or I. Know what makes your particular dog tick and know that if you know this stuff, your dog will be your best bud.
Did I follow my own rules? Kind of.
Kind of not.
I was stupid.
I had never owned and had never had any experience of a border collie before.
My baby was 4 weeks old, I was recovering from a C-section and I had two kids who, lets face it, are unpredictable (they run and scream and cry and shout and are basically noisy, crazy children)
While I am on maternity leave now and my husband is on a long time off work, this will not last.
We were however pushed into something which kind of ended up happening beyond our control...and no, you should never actually go and see a dog unless you are prepared to go home with a dog, because basically if there is a modicum of love in your heart, said dog will be going home with you.
Kim is a failed sheepdog.
There is something you should know about working dogs: they are not kept in the same way as pet dogs. A lot of them are literally just a way for a farmer to earn money and if that dog is not earning his or her keep, he or she becomes just something that should be disposed of.
Kim is the most loving dog I have ever met. She is loyal. She is so gentle.
She approaches everyone with hesitation and loves nothing better than just to be cuddled and petted.
When we got this poor loving dog, she was a shell of herself. She cowered when you went to pet her - she was very hand-shy.
She approached everyone crawling along on her belly because she was so scared of being hit.
When we fed her, she wouldn't eat until we left the room, and if we came back in she would duck away.
She had muscle wasteage in her back legs, she was underweight, covered in fleas and had a kink in her tail from being kept in a cage.
She refused to sleep anywhere but on the floor, and when she slept, after flinching every time came in the room, she slept curled up as tight as possible, as if she was still in the box we saw her crated in when we went to see her.
When we went to that farm to view a dog that day, it was a road trip. We had no intention of coming home with another family member.
But there was no way we could have morally left her where she was.
We couldn't have left her to goodness knows what.
It was with a huge raft of concern and worries and warnings to my other half about what to do and what to expect that we took this dog with us.
She was never to be left alone with any of the children.
The children were not to eat beside her.
The children had to be watched at all times, the baby was NEVER to be left at her level.
She must be kept downstairs and not in the kids rooms.
She can't be out in the garden on her own.
She must be watched in case she nips - border collies have a herding instinct, she might try to herd the kids.
If under any circumstances she nips, shows aggression, has any badness towards anyone, we seek help, we get her another home with someone who understands.
As it was, we definitely needn't have worried.
We have a dog who took 6 weeks to discover we had stairs in our house. First she wobbled up them, terrified. Now she gallops up two at a time, accompanying me when I go up to get the baby or express milk.
It took her 4 weeks to accept that we were not going to do her any harm. Now she rises up o meet a hand instead of cowering down.
Two weeks ago she discovered the comfort of the carpet in our bedroom and now she watches vigil while we sleep, getting up occasionally to wag her tail sleepily while I feed the baby in the night. She now stretches out, and she has legs so long, sometimes we trip on them. When we do, she never ever grumbles. She didn't flinch when we took her for her vaccinations at the vets either; she didn't care bout the pain.
She graciously accepts treats, carefully mouthing them before nibbling them delicately, grateful for every single crumb, disbelievingly enjoying them. She stays well away from the children's food, waiting until we point out the crumbs that she doesn't even begin to think she can have.
She just learned how to play, first learning that when we throw toys it is not to hit her, but to have fun with her. Now she is slowly discovering the joys of 'fetch'. Find out how we taught her how to play HERE. She still balks at 'tug of war', but will gently play it with the puppy next door with a daffodil leaf through the fence or the guide rope on the gazebo when she thinks no-one is looking.
It took her two weeks to be brave enough to bark. At first we didn't know she could - until one night we heard her bark because she was scared of something in the middle of the night. When we went down to get her, she was glad to see us, relieved that we were still there. A hug and then back to bed was all she needed.
Now she comes for a sneaky hug in the mornings, after the baby is fed, she waits patiently until it's her turn. She has free reign in the garden, lying in the grass or watching us do some weeding.
She's had a couple of leaps over the fence, but all we have to do is say the word, and she stays by our sides.
Everyone who meets her tells us this too - she is a real people dog. And a doggy dog - she has yet to have a run in with any other dog. She is ridiculously submissive and even-tempered.
What a lady.
She is completely an individual within her breed - she still very much carries the characteristics in a lot of ways, but she is not a stereotype.
Maybe not the way we did it - as I said we were incredibly lucky - but yes, if you are considering getting a dog, please consider a rescue.
Imagine saving a life. Making it happy. Giving it a chance.
Go on. Give a dog a home.
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