A chip in time

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Image courtesy of the British Veterinary Association

From April 6, every dog in England will be required by law to be microchipped.

This change – brought in by the Microchipping of Dogs (England) Regulations 2015 – is aimed at improving animal welfare and reducing the burden on animal charities and local authorities who have to deal with lost and stray dogs at a cost to the nation of around £33 million every year, according to the government.

It will be compulsory for every dog over the age of eight weeks to be fitted with a readable chip containing its keeper’s details.

The tiny chip – which is inserted painlessly into the dog’s neck – allows vets and animal welfare charities with a scanner to reunite dogs with their owner much more quickly.

If your dog is not currently chipped, you can take advantage of free microchipping at a number of places, including the Dogs Trust at Shoreham. Check too with your vet as many of them are also participating in the free chipping scheme.

It is your responsibility as a dog owner to get your pet chipped and to keep your contact details up to date.

Failing to do either of those things could result in a £500 fine. So it’s a no brainer really.

Breeders will be responsible for having puppies microchipped, but when you buy a puppy – or any dog for that matter – you must ensure the chip’s contact details are updated as soon as practicable.

Many people are now rehoming dogs from continental Europe – be aware that the law will apply to them, too.

The dog licence was abolished in mainland Britain in 1987, although dog owners in Northern Ireland are still required to buy a licence for their dog. Since then, there has been no formal system of dog registration and animal charities hope compulsory microchipping will encourage more responsible dog ownership.

The RSPCA has more information on microchipping and its benefits.

On a related note, remember that your dog must wear a collar with an ID tag whenever it is walked in a public place. The tag must contain your name, address and postcode.

You could be paying a hefty fine if your dog doesn’t have any ID. The Control of Dogs Order 1992 makes provision for prosecution and a fine of up to £5000.

So it’s a lot cheaper to tag ’em!

*****UPDATE*****

As a Scot and a former journalist, I really should have known better to make it much clearer that different laws apply in different parts of the UK! However, while the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010 amended the law with regard to dangerous dogs, the provision of the 1992 Act that requires a dog to wear a lead and an ID tag when in a public place still applies in Scotland.

Apologies for any confusion.

How to say everything – and nothing in one text

Walking a dog for a living is a simple task really.

Collect said pooch from its place of residence. Transport safely and without incident to a place secure for canine carousing. Pick up poop. Transport safely and without incident back to place of residence.

But who knew that one might also require the skills of a diplomat to do so?

Like most dog walkers, I keep in regular text contact with my clients, often updating them throughout the day when necessary of pooch’s every … ahem … movement.

One such text exchange this week reminded me of those euphemisms that teachers employ in children’s report cards.

You know the kind of thing:

“Jocasta tries very hard” really means Jocasta is thick as mince but game.

“Archie is very popular with his classmates” equals Archie is a smart alec who likes being the centre of attention.

“Beth is always eager to please” is a big hint that Beth is a damn pest to the teacher.

“Max enjoys the more active tasks” translates to Max won’t sit still for one second.

Teachers are adept at being economical with the actuality when summing up their pupils and parents equally adept at deciphering the real message within.

So it is with our four-legged chums who often exhibit behaviour that might not meet with their owners’ expectations and most definitely not their preference – as a previous blog catalogued.

Hence I find myself channelling my inner teacher to deliver a daily report card on Fido’s outing.

“A really lively run” might mean the little sod went rabbit hunting for 30 minutes while you shouted yourself hoarse.

“Lots of exuberance on display” implies that he humped everything in sight.

“Showed great appetite and energy” does not reveal the sorry tale of how she hijacked a picnicking family and ate everything in sight while you vainly chased her like an eejit.

“Nonstop action all the way today” insinuates that he rolled in something so smelly folks in the next postcode are getting a whiff of it.

The line we tread is a fine one, filled with subtlety and tact. Occasionally, however, you just have to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

It’s easy to disguise when Toots has done a disappearing act but reappeared just before you’re desperate enough to be ready to call in a search party.

What the eye doesn’t see, the heart won’t grieve over, as the old proverb has it.

unnamedBut it’s not quite so easy to cover up when Lassie has lathered herself in the foulest of foul gak. When Alfie rolled in duck poo, it took one week and four baths to remove the odour.

Try euphemistically expressing that in a text!

The usual pawspects

Why is ketchup an essential tool in the dog walker’s locker? Why do we call to dogs in a daft, high-pitched sing-song voice? How many treats are enough?

I’m no Cesar Milan, but after four years of dog walking (rustling really) and caring for other folks’ pooches, I reckon I can do a pretty good analysis of the typical characteristics and personality traits of our four-legged chums.

So, here – and entirely without any scientific foundation! – is a guide to …

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With a million thanks to the creative genius that is @cartujakds
  • The Moocher. With the ability to sniff out a treat (or a dropped sandwich) at 100 paces, the moocher is both easy to control – simply wave a treat in his or her direction – but also a veritable nightmare. Because when Fido gets a whiff of something good to snaffle, he’s gone, gone, gone! Think dead rabbits, rotting bin bags, empty kebab wrappers. You better be well armed with plenty of biscuits to keep that twitching nose close to you. Places never to walk a moocher: Parks, beaches, anywhere small children and people are. In short, far far away from grub.
  • The Roller. Here’s where the ketchup comes in. The roller loves nothing more than covering herself in poo. The smelliest, toughest-to-remove poop your nose ever had the misfortune to breathe in. Fox poo is the most common, but beware too of badger gunk and duck effluence when you’re near water. The roller is particularly keen to be enveloped in the faeces of other beasts as soon as she’s had a bath. Tomato ketchup is your friend here. Lather the catsup where the minging mess is, rinse thoroughly, then repeat until the odour is manageable. Places never to walk a roller: Everywhere. Sorry.
  • The Humper. So Rover has had his bits removed. Job done, you’re thinking. That embarrassing humping of adjacent human legs, beds and cuddly toys will surely stop. As if. With the humper, the spirit is more willing than ever, even if the flesh is weak. He’ll hump his best doggy pal during playtime. Small children on the floor are fair game. His bed will get it relentlessly when he’s happy – ie after meal times, when you’ve come home after work, when the sun is shining. And it’s not just the boys who like a little bump ‘n’ grind even after their physical ability to procreate has been removed. Girls will hump in an awesome display of power, like a frenetic little four-legged Beyoncé. Almost forgot. Licking too. If you’re offended by PDAs, the lavish way dogs like to greet their best canine chums may send you over the edge. Places never to walk a humper: Everywhere. Sorry again. I’m sensing a theme here…
  • The Nervous Nellie. A quiet, shy little dog who trots along at your heel must be a joy to walk, I hear you saying. If only. A nervous Nellie reacts to every little thing, whether it’s a jet flying overhead or a particularly vocal magpie. Other dogs, passers-by, cars, the swish of a bike wheel – all can reduce Nellie to a quivering wreck. Equally split between male and female dogs, the nervous Nellie likes to walk right under your feet. And if there’s no sign of Nellie, that’s because she’s run back to the van and is hiding under the wheel arch from her own shadow. Places never to walk a Nervous Nellie: Every… oh you know the drill by now.
  • The runner. I’ve saved the best – or the worst really – for last. The runner does exactly what it says on the tin. Once freed of the tyranny of the leash, the runner is off. And you’d better hope something more attractive than you and your increasingly desperate shouts will bring her back. The runner is a free spirit, man – don’t fence me in, she’s saying. The runner is the bane of every dog walker’s life, whether you’re doing it for a living or just have the dumb bad luck to have chosen a runner as  your family dog. Hours of recall training may give you the illusion that you’re in control, but the runner can never really be tamed. And she has the potential to turn every quick walk round the park into three hours of pain. You all remember Fenton, don’t you? Places never to walk a runner: You’re kidding, right?

And here’s something to chill the blood – sometimes a dog is a mix of all of the above…

A doggone shame

The following is not a blatant advertisement for my dog-walking services. Honest.

A study this week has revealed that thousands of dogs (and cats) in the UK are now being prescribed anti-depressants by vets because of anxiety disorders.

The chief problem is one of separation – dogs are by nature social animals and many of them are left home alone for hours while their owners are at work.

Howling, chewing (of furniture and even their own paws), loss of appetite and nuisance barking are just some of the manifestations of this anxiety.

The problems can start in puppyhood but also commonly develops in older animals.

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The only thing Alfie loves more than running around with his best mates is falling asleep with them

There’s no easy solution, though turning to anti-depressants does seem extreme – and I say this as someone who had a dog who suffered such trauma during firework season that he was prescribed diazepam annually.

I also know at first hand about how deep separation anxiety can go – the reason Alfie came to live with us is that his separation anxiety started when he was just 14 or so weeks old and he destroyed his living space so effectively that his poor owner was driven to distraction.

Four years on, he still cannot bear to be left alone, though thankfully he no longer rips apart everything within reach. However, his heartfelt howling is something to hear as he tries to reunite his pack!

In one way, it helps that he spends his day with me. In another, it’s a pain in the proverbial because when I do need to be away from him, it’s a bloody palaver (thank you, lovely Sue next-door and aunties Liz and Cath for your Alfie-sitting duties!).

Most dog owners have to spend time away from their pet, that’s life. When I was a kid, the neighbourhood dogs left the house with their owners in the morning, going off to wander with their furry pals while the family went to school/work.

Muttley would return in the evening, hungry and tired from a day of adventures – usually impregnating unsuspecting bitches (neutering didn’t seem to be big in that era!).

Thankfully those days are long gone – anyone who ever had to run the gauntlet of a ragtag pack of dogs in a 70s housing scheme will join me in rejoicing in that fact.

But the truth remains that a happy dog is a well-exercised dog.

As little as half an hour of quality off-the-lead play and running daily can transform an anxious dog’s life.

I meet cranky dogs and owners at the end of their tether all the time – and I also see the difference in temperament and behaviour that a regular jaunt out does for both.

Not every dog likes to walk in a group or can be trusted around other dogs, but most absolutely love it, and their unbridled joy when the van doors are flung open and they are set free is one of the things I love most about this gig.

So to anyone concerned about leaving a dog home alone, I have one piece of advice – make sure your dog gets a decent walk every single day.

And if that means calling someone like me … well, it’s a dirty job but someone has to do it.

Eddie, the sheer unbridled joy of being a beagle every single time

The heat is on

Once upon a time I promised regular chats about dogs. After all, that is my day job. But I’ve been more than a tad remiss in discussing our four-legged friends, preferring instead to rant and rave about politics etc.

What every ginger needs
What every ginger needs

Anyway, the current heatwave is prompting some writing action from me. Walking with the Lead On pack has been a real chore over the last week. Bad enough that I am a ginger, freckled Scot – I can at least slap on the factor duffelcoat to protect my delicate Caledonian skin from the sun.

But the poor mutts are the ones genuinely suffering in the heat. I try to walk where there’s access to water and also to shade so we all get some protection for at least part of the walk.

It’s not always that easy, however, and so it’s safety first while the mercury continues to nudge the late 20s.

Walks are shorter and starting earlier to try and beat the heat. The air conditioning in the van is on full bung to keep everyone cool as we tootle around picking up and dropping off the pooches. And there’s lots and lots of drinking water on hand.

The water is absolutely essential. Dogs can get heatstroke in the same way we humans can and it’s a lot more dangerous for them as their body can dangerously overheat in a matter of minutes and be potentially fatal.

Sadly, animal charities such as the RSPCA have to broadcast the same message every single year: dogs die in hot cars. They have some excellent advice on how to keep your pet safe when the weather is this hot and how to travel safely with a dog in a car.

At home we got a paddling pool for Alfie from the local £ shop and filled it with water. So far he’s using it only as a giant water bowl but at least when he’s out in the garden, we know there’s plenty of water to keep him hydrated.

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Our brave, wounded soldier

The bold Alfie has also managed to highlight another big summer issue when walking dogs – stray grass seeds that get into ears and between paws and can cause more than just irritation to the pup.

Alfie had his regular trip to the groomer’s last week to remove the piles of hair that make him look like an explosion in a fur factory after a few weeks. Emily the groomer noticed one of his paws was a bit swollen and so it was off to the vet where they diagnosed an embedded grass seed. It was straight to the operating theatre and a nasty-looking seed about a centimetre long was removed from his back paw.

Aside from behaving like a stoned slacker for about 24 hours after the op, Alfie has completely recovered, even biting off his bandage early – surprise, surprise.

The scariest thing about all of this was that the vet detected a mild heart murmur during the initial examination. We’re assured it’s likely to be nothing and there’s a follow-up appointment this week to examine things more closely. It was a real shock to us but friends with dogs tell us it’s very common and unlikely to be a problem at all. Fingers crossed.

The moral of this tale is be careful when you’re exercising your dogs in hot weather, make sure they always have access to water and always check their paws and ears after a stroll through grass, no matter how short.

Meanwhile, enjoy the sun!