Wednesday, 24 July 2013

My Thoughts On Having a Dog

Just over a year ago we got a dog. He's the 4th dog in my family, but my first (with my husband). He's the same breed (cocker spaniel), same colour (blue roan) and same gender (male) as the previous three. I would have considered a female, but the blue roan and cocker spaniel bits weren't up for discussion. Once you've had one it's difficult to move on...

I first saw Henry at 7 weeks old. He was the last one left in a litter of 5, possibly as he was the smallest of the litter. We didn't have a choice on the gender after all, so another male it was! It was the first time I've ever been to see a littler of puppies knowing that there was only one to choose from, so if we hadn't liked him the search would've continued. Fortunately both my husband and I made the decision on the spot, just conferring once we'd left the breeder's house to check that we were both sure. We were sure; Henry was ours a couple of weeks later.

After a wonderful year with the little man I thought I'd share my views on what having a dog has meant to me and how it has changed my life.

It's love
There is something very simple and pure about the love that you have for your dog and that your dog has for you. Some (non-doggie) people think that dogs love you because you feed them, but it's so much more than that. The greeting I get when I've been out for a few hours is just wonderful - he is so pleased to see me (and me him!). Similarly watching him squirm with joy when hubby comes home is just delightful. The love is unconditional on both sides.

I've connected with my neighbourhood
I've lived in the same place for 16 years and for the first 15 of those I didn't have a dog. I also knew very few of my neighbours. Since that first day in July last year when I walked around the area with my tiny pup in my arms I have made so many new friends (mostly other dog owners) and spoken to neighbours I'd only vaguely been aware of in the past. If I take him on the tube someone will always want to talk to me and pet the dog! One of my doggie friends gave me the bed that her Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy had grown out of. Every afternoon a group of us stand around and chat while our dogs play together or potter about, munching on sticks or sniffing around where the picnics have been. People talk about London being unfriendly - well get a dog and then tell me that you still think that's true.

I've made new friends online
As well as making new friends who live nearby, I've also made new friends online. I joined a forum where people share pictures and stories about their cocker spaniels, as well as asking for advice about feeding, grooming, illness, and so on. It's an amazingly supportive community and some of the people do eventually become "real" friends. I've even met one of them in the flesh (she lives nearby)!

I always have company
I am never alone. My husband can go out or go away but I will never be alone. Henry will always be lying around somewhere, in the corner under my chair, on his throne of cushions on the sofa, on the marble fireplace (when it's hot), or sitting looking at me and then the treat shelf and then back to me. Or whining at me to play with him. Or warbling at me because he's hungry. I will never be lonely while he is around.

Having a puppy = sleep-deprivation
Henry was a fairly easy puppy, not destroying furniture and not being too frenetic (he had his moments). One thing we did have a struggle with, though, is sleep. We put him in a cage at night for the first few months and if he needed to go to the loo (or just wanted company) he'd whine and I'd go and attend to him. Living in a flat surrounded by flats above and below as well as on either side meant that I couldn't just let him whine or bark and get over it. I had to get up and see to him. Often he'd need to go out a couple of times during the night. At about 5 months he finally started sleeping through properly and then we got rid of the cage, so he could sleep on the sofa or in his little bed. Sometimes he still wakes up early. I spent a good portion of the first few months extremely sleep-deprived. Having a puppy can be hard work and tiring! At least puppies do sleep a lot, so it's possible to grab the odd twenty winks while they're kipping. It does get better, and on the anniversary of the day we picked him up we all slept in until 11am! He must've whined at some point but we had ear-plugs in (neighbours partying the night before) and slept through it. My first lie-in in a year!

He makes me laugh and smile
Henry has a few little habits that will never fail to make me laugh and smile. The one thing that always gets me is this: if we're playing he'll get a toy and run up to me and bash me with it. If I'm lying on the floor with it I'll be bashed in the head. If I'm standing or kneeling he'll try to climb on my lap and bash my body with it. It makes me laugh every time. And the thing that always makes me smile is when I pick his bowl up before each meal he licks his chops, licking either to the left or to the right, but usually the right. Every morning until he was one after a trip outside but before breakfast I'd lie down on the sofa and he used to jump up and snuggle against me; we'd have a little snooze together until he got hungry. It still happens sometimes, but I have to pick him up now. When he looked at me and then jumped up and made himself comfy, his nose nuzzling into my elbow, I'd feel so happy! We've taught him to "kiss" in return for a treat. He'll bash his nose against you until he gets something and does it with other dogs too (not the most affectionate of kisses!). Never a dull moment with a dog to entertain you.

He gets us out of the house
It was a long, wet winter and I probably wouldn't have left the house on some days, but because I had the dog I went out - got some exercise, some fresh air, some Vitamin D, some contact with the outside world. He keeps us active and sociable!

I'm tied down
Obviously having a dog has a downside: I'm completely tied down by having him. No more weekends away at the last minute on a whim (without a 4-hour round-trip out to drop him at my parents first). Any trip needs to be carefully planned to ensure that my mum can look after him. We've had one holiday with him, though, and have another planned this year - both to Cornwall. He loved playing around on the beaches, nibbling at seaweed, digging in the sand; looking forward to going back to explore a bit more.

Any day out needs to be planned around him too. Can I take him with me? How long can I leave him for? And so on. Fortunately I learned early on that most of the local caf├ęs and pubs are dog-friendly (as well as some restaurants), so at least I can take him out with me (I compiled a list of all the places too!). He's fine being left on his own now for a few hours, but he's always at the back of my mind. There are plenty of dog-walkers and minders around here to look after him if I want to pay, and some of my doggie friends have offered to look after him too, so there are plenty of options to leave him. As well as being a tie with respect to holidays, he also takes up a lot of my time on a day-to-day basis. I spend a large portion of my day either walking, playing with him or cuddling him: dogs are time-consuming too!

A dog can be expensive!
Not sure if we've just been unlucky or whether it's because we live in London, but having a dog is expensive. Henry knows the vets very well! Fortunately I took out pet insurance for him when he was a puppy (which is about twice the price in London than elsewhere) as he's had a couple of stomach upsets (including worms and campylobacter (requiring expensive tests on his poo!), as well as bouts of diarrhea), a corneal ulcer (probably from play-fighting with another dog) and he was recently diagnosed with a congenital cataract.

Otherwise he's fit, healthy and happy, so fingers crossed no more health issues in the pipeline. He won't let us brush his teeth, so some future costs are expected there. To save on grooming costs I decided to take that on myself and invested in a few grooming tools. With some cheese in a squeezy tube anything's possible. The other doggie owners regularly pay £30-50 to have their dogs' hair cut.

Good practice for dog photography
Having a dog with mostly dark hair and a little bit of white has been a good challenge for my photography skills - trying to expose him properly is very hard. He's been a great subject to practise on. If I didn't have a dog I'd feel a lot less easy about photographing other people's dogs too. Through photographing dogs I've learnt a lot more about their personalities and have grown to appreciate that other breeds are quite nice too ;)

Right, time for walkies with my little furry best friend. He's become very fond of playing ball (and swimming if he gets the chance) and it makes me so happy to see him having so much fun.


  1. Lovely post, Sophie.
    Pip xx

  2. Lovely post & so true of our cocker friends


  3. Oh that is lovely ! just echoes everything that I think as well. That picture of Henry's profile is stunning - you really are a great photographer.

    Tina xxx

  4. as the lucky owner of 3 english cocker spaniels (blue roans too) I thoroughly appreciate this account of yours, it rings very true to my experience and echoes the joy that my family and I receive from our delightful and crazy dawgs! Thank you for your thoughts here Sophie! JP up north, 64°north ;)

  5. Hi Sophie, as an owner of a blue roan pup, I was searching google images for a cocker cut I like (seen some v strange ones and don't want Ralph to look like a woolly dalmation!). Found your lovely pics of Henry, and was even more interested to read you groom him yourself. Any tips? Which tools did you buy? Has Henry been "done". Considering whether to have Ralph done, but have read it can change their coats. Thanks Jo x.

    1. Thanks Jo! I invested in a few tools - a Mars Coat King to strip out the fluff, Roseline thinning scissors 82193, a Spratts 76 comb and an old pair of hair-dressing scissors. I also have a cheap brush with wire on one side, brush on the other. Armed with a tube of Primula cheese held by hubby we somehow manage!
      There's a great cocker community - where all cocker-related questions are answered! Thats where I found out about the tools to use.
      Henry was neutered at 7 months and his coat is pretty good - I think whether it has any effect depends on the individual dog. Any pictures of Ralph anywhere?