Top Dogs and Holistic Hounds

It was a relief to get up and find that my home-made flea trap had taken no hostages overnight. Not that I thought we had pests in the house, but I wanted to be doubly sure. After all, a female flea lays up to 50 eggs in a day. And adult fleas tuck themselves into a cocoon and lurk in your carpet or in between your floorboards for months – years if necessary – until the conditions are right for hatching. Yuk!

It all started when I sat down to read one of my Christmas presents: Top Dog by Kate Bendix. Bendix is a dog lover who got fed up with (and I quote the blurb) “the multinational gravy train that is the global pet market” and decided to find a more holistic way of looking after her dog. Top Dog is all about prevention rather than cure and looks at ways you can improve your dog’s diet and health. She attributes most canine health problems to a poor (over-processed) diet and other contributory factors such as lack or exercise or stimulation.
top dog

Like a convert to a new religion I devoured the book and was soon baking special biscuits with oat flour, bananas, peanut butter, mint, parsley and egg (they soon went mouldy as I forgot to put them in the fridge), stocking up on anti-bacterial colloidal silver to clean Bertie’s ears and scouring the internet for herbal flea prevention treatments. All good fun for those of us who would do ANYTHING for our pets. “Filtered water for Bertie?” asked my brother incredulously. “He’s a dog for God’s sake!” “Precisely”, I said, “he’s an organic, living being like us so why bombard him with chlorinated water when I have a filter tap on my sink?” I mean, hello…

And that’s one of the key points of the book. Dogs, like us, are sensitive to chemicals, pesticides, additives and food laden with sugar and salt (read the list of ingredients in some of your dog foods and you’ll be horrified). They can get yeast infections, allergies, depression, dental decay, arthritis, dermatitis and more.

Anyway, back to fleas – are you itching yet?! When I first got Bertie I used a liquid flea-killing preparation which you smear between the shoulder blades. It stinks, is poisonous, full of heavy duty chemicals and enough to give anyone an asthma attack. Bertie hated it and would writhe around on the floor trying to rub it off. Now I give him a pill as the lesser of two evils; it does the same thing from the inside out, but is still full of pesticides. Top Dog recommends a herbal flea treatment available in the UK called Billy No Mates , but I couldn’t find anything similar here and don’t fancy concocting my own remedy with neem oil (which she seems to recommend for just about every complaint) fenugreek, seaweed and other smelly substances.

Making the flea trap, however, was easy. You simply fill a shallow dish with water and liquid detergent, swish the water around and then leave the dish under a night light before you go to bed. Fleas will be drawn to the light and will hop in the water and drown. Thankfully, I only caught a small fly.

The chapter on what to feed your dog is excellent. She outlines the pros and cons of dry and wet foods, home-made and raw, or various combinations thereof. In our 20 months together Bertie has been through intestinal parasites, tummy upsets and a vicious virus which caused projectile ‘emissions’. After much experimentation, we’re now going well (meaning perfect poos) on a diet based on kibble which I supplement variously with soaked oats, raw carrot, some cooked veggies or a bit of kangaroo mince. When he starts devouring large chunks of grass in the park or gobbles up the pansies in my courtyard, I know I need to step up the green stuff in his diet. After reading the book, I also changed the brand of food he was on. Instead of the big name American product with an ingredient list that started with fillers like soy, corn, beet pulp and animal derivatives, he’s now on an all Australian product, which has a much more wholesome list of ingredients such as chicken, brown rice and oats. AND it happens to be cheaper.

Bertie also gets a raw chicken wing several times a week. He’s an exceptionally greedy dog and swallows his kibble without chewing. So the chicken wings give his jaws a work-out and help to remove plaque. I also give him dried kangaroo tendons (all natural) to chew on and tartar control biscuits containing bicarbonate of soda at bedtime. Anything to avoid cleaning his teeth with an old sock soaked in colloidal silver and/or doggie toothpaste.

It’s enough of a battle trying to groom him. That’s because he thinks he’s top dog. He doesn’t just think it, he knows it. “What was that about discipline?” he seems to ask, sitting regally on my bed, forelock flopped forward, eyes pleading and paw strategically placed over one of my slippers.


But that’s all about to change. We’ve just had the most brilliant training session – mostly focused on leadership, space access and boundaries. Dogs need to know the rules and where they stand. If you want a dog in tip top condition, he needs to know that you are Top Dog.

Giving My House an Airing

One of the reasons I renovated was to make my house more guest-friendly; that’s why I made a second bathroom out of a laundry cupboard and a ‘powder room,’ and created an ensuite bathroom to my room. Having two bathrooms avoids awkward nocturnal meetings in the corridor or having to queue up in your own house to brush your teeth. It’s nice to have left all that behind along with exams, backpacking and dormitories.

I’m now getting my house ship-shape for the Airbnb photo shoot, a free service offered by the hugely successful online accommodation business, which connects travellers with people in over 190 countries who have a spare room or entire property to rent out. Airbnb launched in 2008 and by 2012 had reached five million bookings. In 2014 Airbnb was valued at $10 billion, making it worth more than the worldwide portfolio of Hyatt Hotels. Impressive stuff! According to the webinar I tuned into, it’s all about building ‘virality’ (not to be confused with virility) into the DNA of your product. But that’s another story.

My Airbnb symbol - spot the beach huts!

My Airbnb symbol – spot the beach huts!

What I love about Airbnb is that you can escape the stuffy sameness of hotel accommodation and find a place that has character, is homely and enables you to meet and share stories with local residents. In December 2012 I stayed in a spacious and stylish flat in a trendy district of Copenhagen. Although I didn’t see her much (she had just met a new man), I got on really well with my host, a freelance photographer. She was great fun, helped me with my onward travel arrangements, offered me home-made marinated herring (you can’t go to Denmark and NOT try herring) on my last night and let me cuddle her pet rabbit. Although I fancy myself as something of an animal whisperer, (not counting the belligerent donkey in Greece who deliberately nudged a boulder in my direction), the rabbit took fright and shot into its burrow-like enclosure. Never mind.

That’s why I’ve decided to ask the Airbnb photographers to include a picture of Bertie in one of the shots, so prospective visitors know that this house has a resident hound, one who loves to be part of the action. I was initially worried that Bertie’s excitable nature was going to make it difficult with guests coming and going. But, thanks to a recent one on one training session, the boy is beginning to understand that jumping up is not cool but that sitting down definitely is, and earns him a few edible treats. He does still bark in tandem with the neighbours’ dogs (they don’t seem to understand that dogs, especially those designed to herd sheep need regular exercise, ARGH!) but if I catch him and shake the jar of coins before he flies out the laundry door flap and barks up a storm, he stays by my side ever hopeful that a biscuit will magically drop out of my pocket. I never go anywhere nowadays without dog poo bags and treats…

He does still bark furiously at the possums and gets so worked up that he tries to climb the fence, so I only let him out a couple of times before bed. I’m hoping that my guests will be so enchanted by Australia’s nocturnal native animals that they will overlook the occasionally canine cacophony. I can always offer earplugs as part of the package.

Barking at possums - who me?!

Barking at possums – who me?!

A Canine Cocktail Party

You could argue that I need to get out more but I’m really going to miss puppy pre-school at my local vet’s. As good as therapy, it’s hugely reassuring being able to share the highs and lows of puppy pranks, playtime and puddle-making with other parents and to seek tips from veterinary specialists. But more than that, it’s been highly amusing observing how the pups interact socially. In an upstairs room at the practice, the pre-school sessions resemble a canine cocktail party complete with canapés – no spring rolls, salmon blinis or arancini balls here, just plenty of chicken, tasty biscuits and dried kangaroo strips. OK, so the dogs sniff each other out rather than talk about what they do for a living but they do have characteristics in common with us humans.

Canapes, anyone?

Canapes, anyone?

There’s Goodie-Two Shoes Toffee,for example, a petite, caramel-coloured Cavoodle who, at just ten weeks, had mastered an impressive number of commands – sit, stay, drop etc – and was flirting with the boys. In the human world, I reckon she would be a ladder-climbing PR strategist, work out a lot, wear expensive fashion labels and have her teeth whitened. Feisty, determined and able to ‘work the room,’ she might turn out to be a Devil wears Prada Primadonna. Then there’s Bella, a bouncy, full-of-beans Groodle. Blessed with curly black hair and a big heart, she’d be a fabulous hostess; plump, big-boobed, a bon viveur, great cook and the life and soul of any party. She’d probably ‘over-egg’ the pudding and drink one too many glasses of red wine here and there, but everyone would love her.

Rambo (to my English ear, I first thought his name was Rainbow), is a cute black-coated miniature schnauzer and a bit wary of other dogs. He protects himself by barking to keep them away. In real life he might be an IT type dressed in black jeans and a black polo top with a computer bag slung across his body. A bit afraid of intimacy he hides behind his beard and keeps himself to himself. Actually, it’s his beard that’s the problem and is keeping the opposite sex at bay. It’s unkempt and straggly and he gets food and drink caught in it, making it a total passion-killer. A lovable loner, you have to persevere if you want to get to know him.

Like any working dog worth his salt, Bertie, my spaniel, has a highly developed sense of smell and cases the joint for every scrap. He’s a born hunter and opportunist and his human equivalent would always be on the lookout for new opportunities and markets. A charming entrepreneur with a twinkle in his eye, Bertie is the sort that can get away with anything. But, whoops, perhaps not! What’s that on the floor? Amid all my anthropomorphising, Bertie’s canine alter ego drops a brown deposit on the floor. As if to remind me that he’s a dog, fair and square. All right, Bertie. Point taken. But the question still remains. What WILL I do on a Tuesday night now you’ve graduated from puppy pre-school?

This mortar board is all very well but where's my next treat?

This mortar board is all very well but where’s my next treat?

Reaching fever pitch about sales pitches

I recently signed up to a free online dog training course. More fool me. There was nothing free about it. It started harmlessly enough with a couple of emails with some treat-size tips on how to stop a dog jumping up, but as the days progressed the tips and tutoring, supposedly dangled as carrots under my nose, were lost among paragraphs of waffle, sales pitch hype and endless calls to action: Exclusive offer! Sign up as a member today and receive a 60% discount! But hurry, offer limited! And, if I signed on the dotted line, I would receive three books normally valued at $100, a 30-day money back guarantee and MUCH MORE! Plus, they claimed to have some sort of copyright on the secrets to dog training; I wouldn’t find them anywhere else, not on this planet, in Outer Mongolia or in Outer Space. But I did need to sign up first. Well, forgive the pun, but I didn’t jump at it.

Affiliate marketing schemes use the same technique and lure you into reading screen after screen of repetitious copy full of impossible promises, testimonials and videos.  I once watched a clip of two dudes in expensive shades sitting by a swimming pool explaining how they had gone from rags to riches.  For ten minutes they kept telling us that they would soon tell us how they did it. There was even a stopwatch on the screen counting down to their Big Bang revelation which, of course, never came. Because you had to sign up first.  It’s like waiting for the next episode of a television drama – you know the ones that end with a tantalising scene such as a dead body or a lovers’ tiff – so you have to tune in the following week.

I’m an even grumpier old woman when it comes to telemarketing calls.  I don’t mind if they’re honest but it’s the “I’m not trying to sell you anything” that gets me. YES they are.  When one of the charities I support called me a few weeks ago, I patiently explained I was not in a position to increase my monthly contribution (I work in the sector and know they were calling to ‘upgrade’ me). They insisted it was nothing to do with money, thanked me profusely for my ongoing support and then told me about a new programme desperately in need of funds. If I could just increase my contribution by $5 a month…

However, I was nice – very nice – to the young Indian guy who came round with the (free) government-issued Smart Power Boards – the ones that turn your TV off automatically rather than leave it on stand-by. It’s a tough job knocking on doors and making sales so I was pleasant, chatty and even offered him a cup of tea. I asked him to plug my DVD into the normal socket so it would not switch off while in record mode.  Later that week, when I sat down to watch an episode of Downton Abbey (and I LOVE DOWNTON ABBEY) the screen was blank as the guy had plugged the DVD into the wrong socket. Arghhhhhhh!!  Once again, I was left hanging in suspense.


Chop, Chop, Busy, Busy, Work, Work, Bang, Bang…

Whenever I get into a spin with too many things to juggle, a catch phrase from a 1970s UK ad for Penguin biscuits (dead ringers for Aussie Tim Tams) springs to mind: “Chop, chop, busy, busy, work, work, bang, bang.” The ad featured penguins dashing around in offices and factories until they ran out of steam – the bang, bang bit – and sat down to boost their energy with an eponymous biscuit. An ad using live penguins and the same refrain was also used by British Telecom in the ‘80s.

Life in our fast-paced, globally connected world has a lot of busy, busy, work, work in it. And with social media zinging across the airwaves 24/7, it can be hard to switch off or to draw a clear boundary between work and home life. So it makes me smile that some high-flying business bods are paying vast amounts of money to stay in retreat centres around the world where they can unplug from all forms of technology and treat themselves to a Digital Detox.

What happened to self-control, simply not checking in and chilling out instead? Sometimes I do manage to switch off from the various forms of social media for a weekend, but I have to admit it’s not easy. Thanks to my lovely niece, Anna, I now have a Google Nexus – an excellent piece of equipment – but it does make a pinging sound when emails come in or other platforms and Apps update. So even if I’m exhausted and need to sit and do nothing, I respond in true Pavlovian style and jump to attention when I hear the ping.

Yeah So

Now talking of Pavlov brings me back to dogs! Regular readers will know that I have a 13-week-old puppy, Bertie. Well, let me share a house training story with you. Since going to puppy pre-school at the vet’s earlier this week, I’ve learnt some new tips. Forget lining the floor with newspaper; that just encourages him to see the place as his personal potty. And I’ve stopped mopping the floor with scented or ammonia-based detergents that smell yummy to Berts and encourage him to re-mark the spot. But the biggest change is that I’m now taking him out in the small hours to avoid a flooded floor in the morning. As it happens I tend to wake in the night anyway, so nocturnal trips to the garden are not as disruptive as they sound.

However, last night at 3 a.m. as Bertie mucked about – is this playtime Mum? – in the flower bed, I found myself saying – “Come on Bertie! Chop, chop, busy, busy…”