Sniffing out employment opportunities for my dog

Sometimes I joke that Bertie dog should get a job and help pay the mortgage. And I’m only half joking. As a feast and famine freelance writer, some form of canine contribution wouldn’t go amiss. He has lots of potential, you see; it’s simply a matter of how I direct it. It all started with Christine who sold him to me. She fed Bertie and his nine totally adorable chocolate brown roly-poly snuggly, squeaky, nipping and biting siblings on Advance puppy formula. Now Christine, bless her, is big on ideas (lots of them, all at once and in no particular order) but rarely follows through. I, on the other hand, am a list-ticker and like to get things DONE. So I emailed the advertising people at Advance with my proposal. I suggested they might like to photograph the chocolate brown babies and use them in their marketing collateral. I could already see something along the lines of ‘Premium Pet Food for Premium Pups’ and an ad with my boy and his siblings romping across TV screens. Suffice it to say that nothing happened; I didn’t even get a reply.

Then last week as I was working on something, I heard a rustling kind of noise. I ignored it for a bit but then it came closer. Bertie had gone into the bathroom, got hold of the loo paper and pulled it around the door, through the laundry and into the dining room. Aha, I thought. Here is another modelling opportunity. We all know that toilet advertising and cute puppies go together. Some of my all time favourites are the Andrex ads in the UK featuring plump baby Labradors. The trouble is that I couldn’t get a shot of Bertie in action, only one of him sitting admiring his handiwork with a guilty look on his face.



Today I treated myself to a delicious lunchtime bowl of potato, kale and celeriac soup at McGain’s, the gorgeous nursery and cafe in Anglesea. I drank my soup slowly and leafed through a few copies of Country Style at the same time. One of them fell open at an article about truffle farming in Tasmania.

Deliciousness at McGain's

Deliciousness at McGain’s

A few years ago I had truffle-infused custard at a friend’s dinner party and, foodies will be in up in arms, but I’m not really sure what all the fuss is about. But what I do know is that you can’t harvest truffles without dogs to sniff them out. Reading the article, it sounded like truffle hunting for dogs is pretty much a scratch and sniff affair. Bertie has the keenest nose ever – he can sniff out food from a hundred paces or more – so what am I waiting for?!

A Google search has just come up with an organisation called Aussie Truffle Dogs – ‘Our business “nose” your truffle needs’ – and there’s a dog like Bertie on the front page of their website. What’s more, there are training classes in Geelong and the Macedon Ranges. Oh, but wait, reading on it says that Aussie Truffle Dogs was formed to ‘provide purebred registered working dogs to fill the harvesting needs of the truffle industry.’ Looking at Bertie, I’m sure his breeding is impeccable but I don’t have any papers to prove it. And I would have had to start his training when he was a pup. Regular readers might remember that he turned one just before Easter meaning that in human years he is about 15.

However, there is something else he excels at: paper shredding. I’m not sure why I bothered to buy a paper shredder when Bertie does the job with such gusto. Today, he demolished a paper bag in seconds. The only trouble is that he doesn’t clear up after himself. He leaves that to me. Typical teenager!


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?

Waxing Lyrical about Mindfulness

I’m a big fan of mindfulness and so was interested to read a review of Sane New World by Ruby Wax. Wax took a master’s in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy at Oxford and looks at what happens when neuroscience meets mindfulness. And how we can re-wire our brains and be masters of our minds with more flexible ways of thinking. And she would know.  Wax is a depressive and in between filming a show about people with mental illness (ironic in itself), was recovering in London’s clinic The Priory.

I agree with Wax that human beings are not equipped to deal with the mad, multi-tasking (studies show it can actually shrink parts of the brain), instantly responding demands of 21st century living with its skewed update on Descartes:” I’m busy therefore I am.” That says it all. I reckon we’re suffering an epidemic of busyness.  And it’s doubly disastrous for those of us who are busy types by nature with to-do lists running in our veins.  I’m the kind of person that can feel fraught EVEN on holiday, what with all the things to see, visit, do, eat and photograph – I call it guidebookitis.

Most days, one part of me rushes around striving to get everything done so I can relax afterwards (needless to say I never get there as there’s always something pending in life’s inbox…), while the other part of me LONGS to slow down, focus on one thing at a time and live more mindfully.

Having a new puppy has sent me into my manic, scattered pattern (think burnt rice, half-drunk cups of tea, half-written emails, scrappy lists, lost keys, glasses, phone etc.,) not that it’s dear Bertie’s fault. He’s very good at living in the moment especially when it’s dinner time or when I’m stroking his tummy.

Two weeks ago, feeling a bit frazzled by the constant poo, pee and chewed shoe patrol, I booked myself in for a therapeutic massage. Time to unravel, breathe and stop worrying.  Well in theory anyway. But as I lay on the massage table and felt the knots begin to ease up, my mind was still motoring. So much so that as I walked to my car afterwards, I was already mentally trawling the supermarket shelves and back home feeding Bertie his lunch.  In rushing to get ahead, I got stuck in my head, my body got left behind and I fell with a bang on the pavement injuring my knee and right arm.  Rushing around and living head first never works.  Time to get back to some mindfulness practice, re-set my focus to calm mode and remember to BREATHE!