Took Rory to visit a friend in Wiltshire and he started a bromance with my friend’s little deaf dog, Rudy. Fun was had
by all mostly by them!
We took a six-mile walk near Calne, up to the Cherhill White Horse and back again. I recommend it. It is mostly away from roads with lots of room for enthusiastic dogs to run off excess energy and the views are lovely. Wrap up warm at this time of year as it’s quite windy but, compared to most of Wiltshire, not that muddy. The day we went there were sheep near the beginning of the walk. My friend, who lives in the area, almost had heart failure when she saw them – apparently they are not normally there but it’s something to bear in mind.
For the first time ever in my life, I visited Crufts this year. Apparently no-one at work can believe it was my first time, so I’ve clearly been pegged as the token ‘crazy dog person’. Although I had my doubts after the Pedigree Dogs Exposed programme, I really enjoyed it. Obviously the more extreme breeds are not going to change overnight, but most of the dogs I saw appeared to be happy and healthy.
As always, any new experience is a learning curve, so I thought I’d share my top five tips for first time Cruft-goers (Croers? No?)
1) Weekdays are better than weekends for shopping I did my rounds of the hundreds of dog stands in the five halls on Friday and I was glad I did. A) It got all my essential shopping out of the way (Rory needed a new harness for going running, but perhaps not the dog tea bags I picked up) and B) It was actually possible to browse. On Saturday, it was heaving with people. Even getting around when you knew where you wanted to go was a challenge.
Here is a shot I took in the Discover Dogs area to give you some idea:
2) So point one, actually leads into point two – two days are better than one. Crufts is big, really big. In two full days at the show, I saw almost nothing in any of the show rings. There is so much going on all the time, from obedience trials and agility, to heelwork to music and Guide Dog displays, and they are not all in one place. Even if you are lucky enough to have two days, I’d recommend planning what you absolutely can’t miss, what you’d quite like to see and what you are not bothered about. Then if it’s on the ‘must see’ list, start moving to the ring well ahead of time to allow for people congestion and finding a seat.
3) Think temperature control! The NEC has very high ceilings and I found I was either boiling or freezing. I’d recommend wearing layers and, while we’re talking about dress code, sensible shoes. Unless you are planning on sitting in the main arena all day you will do a lot of walking backwards and forwards.
4) Watch out for dog wee! And worse. There are a lot of dogs all in one place who, as I understand it, are only allowed to toilet in small sawdust areas around the edges of the halls for most of the day. Accidents do happen, I even had to dodge one male dog who was weeing out of the side of his crate as his owner was pushing it along. Just something to be aware of. Don’t just merrily walk through that ‘dropped drink’.
5) It’ll ruin most other dog shows for you. I like to compare it to the Toys R Us advert that promotes ‘everything under one roof’. If you like any aspect of living with a dog, if you enjoy watching canine sports, if you like doggy shopping or you just like looking at good examples of different dog breeds, there will be something for you. No other dog show can compare.
I’m going again next year. See you there? (I’ll be bringing my own food though, did I mention lunch of a sandwich, Diet Coke and crisps cost me over £8? No? Well, I have now.)
Here are some of my Instagram shots from my two days:
Let’s be honest, when you are looking at dog collars it tends to be a choice between practical or pretty. And at the time you justify your choice. ‘Well yes, it’s not the prettiest, but plain leather/rope/plastic is very hardwearing’ or ‘It won’t last five minutes on a normal walk, but he’ll only wear it in the house anyway’. (I’m hoping it’s not just me that talks to myself about collars.)
The good news is I’ve found a brand of collars that tick all the right boxes for practical and pretty. The bad news is they’re not cheap, so unless you’re very lucky you are not going to be stocking up with one for every day of the year. However, I’ve found them to be so hardwearing you won’t need one for every day. Honest.
I stumbled across Holly&Lil about four years ago. Based in Bermondsey Street, London, they sell bespoke handmade collars and leads. Most are made to order but some are available off-the-rack – you can find these in their store, in Harrods pet department and on the Holly&Lil stand at shows. Designs range from tweed, to cowskin, to leather union jacks, to charm collars and much more.
Rory has four Holly&Lil collars (pictured at the top of this post). I have bought one a year since I discovered the brand. They are lovely to look at and sit nicely on Rory’s neck. I have both tweed and cowskin finished products and they have survived everything from regular dunking in local lakes to fox poo rolls (although I’m not convinced they’d survive one of Rory’s worst rolls, but then nothing could. I once put a leather collar in a bucket of bleach for half an hour after a particularly bad roll – it still didn’t get rid of the smell).
They are backed with leather which Rory has found comfortable – quite a big deal because he gets rubs under his collars (he’s ridiculous). I like that there is a separate ring on the back of the collar for your lead – it really does save time and stops having to twist the collar. Rory is quite enthusiastic when off lead and I like to be able to fit a whole hand between his collar and his neck – the cowhide collars do slip around so the main ring finds its way to the front occasionally, but once I put the main ring back on top they tend to stay. The tweed collars don’t seem to slip at all.
When out walking I can grab Rory by the ring on the top to hold him while we pass a runner or similar and then let him go. This separate ring means that your dog’s tags are attached to the front buckle keeper, out of the way. Just be careful while trying to get them on – the thick, good-quality, metal keeper means opening your dog tag coil wide enough to get them on is fiddly and has resulted in me breaking several nails.
Collars for a Labradoodle-sized neck start at about £100 depending on the design. However, keep a look out for the sale collars because you can get some real bargains. I’d also advise signing up for the Holly&Lil mailing list to receive special ‘newsletter subscriber only’ deals and early notification of sales on the website.
Here are some pictures of Rory wearing his Holly&Lil collars from my Instagram feed.
The inspiration behind this post are the stunningly beautiful pictures of Kobi over at girl a la mode, so make sure you take a look at those, too. Rory loves the snow and since it is the season for snow (apparently, damn you Mother Nature), I thought I’d snap and share the obligatory ‘dog in the snow’ pictures with you. (Don’t tut, if you have a dog then you’ve taken them, too). I hope you like them! Now let’s see yours please!
Image from Beverly & Pack’s Flickr. While reading The Big Issue recently, I came across an appeal for readers to knit dog jumpers for those dogs living on the streets with their homeless owners. The ‘Keep Canines Cosy’ campaign is part of the Dogs Trust Hope Project. The appeal received over 1,000 knitted jumpers, which are going to be included in special canine Christmas hampers. I feel all warm and fuzzy just thinking about it.
Unfortunately my knitting ability is hugely lacking (it took me about seven months to knit a shorter-than-average scarf), so I think I might start knitting now in time for the appeal next year. Embarrassingly, I do actually own a dog jumper knitting book. I know, judge me all you want – in my defence, it seemed like a good idea at the time. I now own several different sized knitting needles, two boxes of wool, the book and a whole stack of guilt from not doing anything with it. I will keep you updated as to whether I make any process with this. (Don’t get too hopeful.)
The Hope Project does a lot more than giving out doggy jumpers. They also run a veterinary scheme which offers free and subsidised veterinary treatment to those who are homeless or considered to be in ‘housing crisis’ and support dog friendly homeless shelters. And I wasn’t even aware this project existed, so I thought I’d tell you about it, just in case you didn’t either!
Thermatex is a well-known name in equine circles. Thermatex horse rugs are a saviour on many yards. They are made of a breathable, wicking material which actually works. They’re warm. They look smart. They wash well. They are available in a whole range of colour combinations and offer customisation options. They are a flexible option as they can be used on their own, as coolers, as layers under other rugs and as travel rugs. Everyone wants a Thermatex.
So, when I got myself a dog who loves to get himself wet and muddy, I was delighted to discover Thermatex make dog coats from the same magical material. It has been everything I was promised and more.
If you’re looking for a coat that easily dries your dog off without the risk of him overheating afterwards, then this is the dog coat for you. The wicking material leaves your dog dry and warm, but is also breathable. Perfect for not only the winter, but also autumn and spring days. I’ve washed it more times than I can remember and it has never shrunk, and the bright blue colour has not faded. I have never tried to tumble dry it because it is bone dry in a couple of hours.
Rory is happy to wear it for hours, which is a new thing for him as he usually tries to chew coats off. On the left, he is wearing it in our holiday cottage after a long Scottish walk. It might have something to do with fact these rugs are made of one piece of material and have no central seam, specifically designed to avoid rubbing and make them as comfortable as possible. It does up with a simple velcro fastening that leaves plenty of room for deeper chests – necessary for Rory, he is half poodle after all.
I’ve used it after baths in the house, under other dog coats for layering in the car and my friend has walked him in it. It is possibly the most practical dog item I own… and I own a lot of dog stuff. Rory’s coat is an off-the-rack option that I bought at a horsey event, but if you are willing to wait you can choose the material colour and the binding colour, and it will be made to order at no extra cost. You can add double-binding, cross-surcingles or embroidery, too, but they are extra.
Dog coat prices start at £13.95 and for bigger dogs it’s not a cheap option, but the value for money is off the scale. A note of caution, Thermatex coats are measured differently from other dog coats, so if in doubt give them a call. They will probably want the measurement from the centre of your dog’s chest to where you want the rug to end. If dog coats aren’t really your thing, they also offer dog bags made of the same material – just zip your dog in and keep your boot mud free while drying him at the same time. I kid you not.
Standing on a very damp road in the pouring rain and gale-force winds, screaming at the dog, who was merrily bounding after a sheep who came from nowhere, was not how I envisioned my relaxing Scottish Highlands holiday to be. Luckily for all concerned, the sheep fell over. Rory, who has absolutely no killer instinct, stopped dead and looked back at me as if to say, “Why did it stop running? This is completely your fault.” And not giving the terrified and luckily unharmed sheep so much as a backwards glance trotted nonchalantly back up the hill towards me. Needless to say from that point onwards he stayed on lead.
In my defence (if there is any), this was day six. Day one and two he had stayed on lead and ignored the fluffy white things with spindly legs completely, even when they were right next to the path. Day three through to six, he had been off lead when there were no sheep in sight, on lead when I caught a glimpse of their fluffy little backsides. The flaw in this plan is that in bad weather – which appears with virtually no warning – visibility in the Highlands drops to nought. On day six, I made the mistake of thinking I could see further than two feet in front of me. Shame on me.
Lessons for you to learn from my mis-endeavour. One, there are a lot of sheep in the Highlands and some of them choose to hide cunningly near the road in bad weather. Two, weather in the Highlands changes quickly, so ‘be prepared’ like a Scout. Three, dogs who appear to have no interest in sheep might decide they are much more interesting later.
This incident aside (and ignoring The Curious Incident of The Dog barking at the kitchen roll in the Night-Time), the Scottish Highlands have won me over as dream doggy holiday destination. We stayed in Achiltibuie, a small village on the northwestern coast of Scotland, which has lots of dog walking options straight from the door or within a short driving distance, albeit with lots of sheep.
One of our favourites was the climb up Stac Polly, a circular mountain walk which takes in far-reaching views from all sides. It’s not for those scared of heights though, as some parts of the path drop away rather spectacularly on one side. This also makes it not an advisable walk in high winds. Probably not advisable for dogs with no self preservation, too. Reaching the peak itself is described as a ‘scramble’ and best left to those with a bit more experience and balance but the main circular path, although a workout for those not used to walking up hills (ie me), is accessible for regular walkers. You might have to take a few breaks though! Most information says it will take you between two and four hours, so don’t be trying it at dusk.
Another favourite was Achnahaird Beach, considered to be one of the best in Scotland and only about a five-minute drive from Achiltibuie. This sweeping expanse of sand was always quiet when we visited at the end of October. Although it’s only a short walk down to the sand from the car park, armed with a ball thrower it was perfect for successfully tiring Rory out for the rest of the day. The scale of it is impossible to show in a picture, so here is a selection.
The beach continues past the rocks behind Rory…
Rory loves beaches. They are his favourite thing. And there was another beach within walking distance from our self-catering cottage – Achininver. Again a sandy beach, it is accessed by a twisty path down the rocks. It’s not anywhere near as big as Achnahaird, but leads on to a rather lovely coastal walk.
If you are in the Highlands, then take the 15-mile single track road to Achiltibuie. The view from the road is lovely – don’t look if you’re driving, drops ahoy! – and the view from the village to the Summer Isles is so stunning that even Rory couldn’t stop taking it in (or maybe he was looking for that sheep).
Incidentally, the prize for the best views from a road goes to the back road to Lochinver, but that is quite a scary drive if you’re not used to high narrow roads!
The Summer Isles Hotel is open April until October and boasts Michelin-starred chef Chris Firth-Bernard if you do decide to visit. Our favourite eatery was the Am Fuaran Bar, a pub based in Altandu, just 5 miles from Achiltibuie. Run by a brother and sister team, this atmospheric pub is full of dark wood and historic knick knacks, and the food is fab but not cheap. On our first visit, we were bought wine by a friendly local. On the second, we had to wait 15 minutes for the haddock to come from the fisherman – now that’s fresh! – but we didn’t mind. When you’re on holiday, what’s the rush? They also run a campsite just across the road, if that’s your thing. They are open all year round, but the pub is closed during the day outside the tourist season – call ahead to check. Although both these eateries do have a limited amount of outside seating, neither allow dogs inside. This was fine for us as it was cold, so Rory stayed in the car, but it is something to bear in mind if it is hot, as our holiday cottage had the standard ‘Do not leave the dog unaccompanied in the house’ clause.
I loved the Highlands and so did Rory, so we’ll be going back. Maybe I’ll see you there?