Tuesday, 28 January 2014


Choosing a rescue centre can be difficult.  And, for more unsure people, like me, intimidating.  National rescue organisations produce nerve wracking guidelines for new owners specifying the amount of time that they should be at home as well as other duties that need to be carried out.  And, this is what put me off even trying to adopt from one of these.  I felt irresponsible before I'd even spoken to the organisation about the plans I had in place for caring for the animal while I was working.  The fact was stated there in black and white, I worked full time and therefore wasn't a suitable owner.

This was disheartening.  I'd always wanted a pet and working full time was the only way of financially affording to look after a pet properly.  I was stuck and didn't dare to approach an organisation for fear that I'd be shot down with the bullet of "unsuitability".  It was my aunt who called SARA for the first time asking if I could go for a chat.  They were local and she felt would have time to listen to my circumstances and help me to make the right decision.  She also assured me that, in 2012 (as it was then), most modern couples worked and that meant that we were responsible people with a steady income who could care for a pet.  It did seem to make sense.

One of our first walks with Caesar at SARA

I found SARA (Saltburn animal rescue association) less than a mile from my home, hiding on a farm up a small track that I'd driven past a hundred times and never so much as glanced at.  I was nervous when I got there and worried that I might be shot down.  The only confidence that I felt was that I had things in place for while I was at work should I be allowed to adopt; my dad had agreed to spend time at the house or take the dog to his own home and, if that didn't work out, I could hire a dog walker.  Did that still make me unsuitable?

SARA helped me to create a care plan for Caesar and, later, when he wasn't reacting well to it, adapt it.  They did a home check but, beforehand, explained to me it's purpose; to ensure that I wasn't hoarding millions of dogs/pets and that I lived in a home that was big enough for a dog.  They laughed when I recounted internet posts that I had read about the horrors of being asked millions of questions.  They even loaned me a crate to get started with helping Caesar feel comfortable while I was away.  The seemed assured that my heart was in the right place and that I would look after this dog to the best of my ability whether I be employed full time or not.

The support from SARA didn't end when we walked through the gates with Caesar though.  Weeks after, I was still in contact with the centre as they battled to help me settle him in; they introduced me to a dog trainer and offered me some one-to-one sessions, they counselled me on the phone for hours after Caesar had had a mishap.  And, they invited me to bring him back to the centre for them to check out.  I still visit SARA now and again and the first question they ask when I get there is "how are Caesar and Gemma?"  The form that I signed on their adoption told me that, if anything should happen to me, Caesar and Gemma will have a place in their care until the next caring owner comes along.  This is the kind of reassurance that a new owner needs - the stabalisers on a brand new bike, if you like.  And it's something that can only be offered by a caring adoption centre.

Most importantly, a trip to the centre proved that SARA knew their dogs.  They genuinely cared for Caesar, I could tell that as soon as they brought him for me to look at.  This care was extended to the rest of the dogs who they would casually and warmly chat about in the offices.  The and cats lived on a farm surrounded by greenery and a lovely forest path; if I was a homeless animal, I am hard pushed to imagine somewhere better to be temporarily homed.

But, perhaps the biggest reason for my loving this rescue is that they saved both Caesar and Gemma from the pound.  Volunteers kept Caesar from being taken when there was no kennel space and staff brought Gemma from the pound to be cared for at the farm.  They then had her checked over by vets and began to investigate her weight loss.  In order to make her more adoptable as an old, scrawny looking lady with a lot of missing teeth; they offered the little dog a pension plan to cover and age-related or pre-existing medical conditions.  Since, I've seen this happen on numerous occasions.  Gemma would have sat at the pound until she could no longer because she was scrawny, ill looking and old, SARA gave her more than a second chance.

And, goodness know what would have happened had Caesar ended up there; an entire male who couldn't help himself from bouncing off the walls.  Who's hands would he have ended up in?  That being said, Caesar ended up in my hands; and SARA have been there all of the way.

Today is the last day to make a donation to SARA.  I wanted to celebrate all of the wonderful people who took part in the advent calendar project and who have donated so far.  If you can find it in your heart to give a few pounds to SARA in the name of 'Saving Caesar' please donate here:

And, for more information about this wonderful centre, click here.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Lazy train

It's a fact that Caesar is trainable.  Highly trainable in my opinion.  Perhaps it is the silver lining in a cloud of destruction and naughtiness.  It is, at the very least, a redeeming quality.  I might even go as far as to say, it is this quality that convinced me not to take him back to the rescue centre after a weeks trial during which my house was partly destroyed, my sleep was hugely disturbed and my hair was very much torn out.  His trainability persuaded me that maybe there was something I could do.

And, although some of his problems have still not been solved, I'm now comfortable with giving him commands and, in return for treats, ninety-nine percent of the time, he will follow them.  Without too much hastle, he's mastered:
Leave it

And a few others...

The problem is, though, that no matter how many tricks I teach Caesar in the house, he's still a nightmare when we go for a walk!  As soon as we leave the building, everything he knows disappears into a huge cloud of ridiculous behaviour.  His good manners and knowing to walk 'after me' in narrow spaces/on steps desert him, his 'leave it' command goes out of the window and, in general, he turns into a demon dog.

 This was the reason that, two years ago, I decided to put a lot of effort into training him to walk nicely on a lead.  There's nothing worse than seeing a large spotty mongrel coming towards you making a plethora of odd-ball noises and choking itself at the same time.  And, when we first got Caesar I was mortified to see that people actually looked quite worried about passing us in the street and, at times, ended up crossing the road altogether.  And, in hind-sight, quite rightly so; before getting Caesar, I may have done exactly the same.

The thing is, though, that I know that Caesar means nothing by his noises.  What he's saying is "Oh my goodness; this is so absolutely exciting and nerve racking!  Let me get to it and see what it is!" More often than not, the noise and excitement inducing object is another animal, usually a dog.  However, people are less aware of other dogs because of the nuisance Caesar is making of himself and often assume that his insanity is somehow aimed towards them.  However, in all my time of owning Caesar, I have never once seen him become unnerved the presence of people.  On walks, there are no people to Caesar, only other animals.

Anyway, I digress.  Let's skip back to the on lead behaviour training that I was attempting two years ago.  Unlike in-house training, lead training showed very little progress and, while Caesar had moved from sitting to lying to spinning and waving at home, he still couldn't grasp the simple equation that 'loose lead = treat' outside.  It was infuriating!  And, I'm ashamed to say, it wasn't long enough before I stuck a headcollar on Caesar in the hope that this would solve the problem.

Don't get me wrong, the Dogmatic headcollar that Caesar wears on each and every walk was heaven sent!  And, it's hugely important for us because Caesar can sometimes lunge towards other dogs.  And, having 20kg of muscle pulling against a lead can almost be joint dislocating at times.  Having control of him at these mad-dog moments is vital and the headcollar has ensured that this will always be the case.  

Despite reducing the strength behind him, Caesar continues to pull, even against his headcollar.  For the most part, it has been a matter of managing the amount in a battle of woman vs. dog.  And I have learnt to do this by:
a) swapping sides with the lead so that he doesn't get used to pulling on one side.
b) giving an occasional tug to remind him that he's at the end of his line.
c) Telling him off!

It's not that I don't realise the value of positive reinforcement, I do.  I would love to praise Caesar for not pulling but it simply didn't happen so I had to resort to C pretty quickly if I wanted to get anywhere at all on a walk.

I'm ashamed to say, though, that, although our walks were much more entertaining as a result of my ignorning Caesar's insistent pulling, I was being lazy.  We all know that time and effort pay off and, starting up on the heel work after two years has been tough going!  I'm pleased to report, though, that he responded pretty well; especially when I brought out some extra stinky treats (best put my coat in the wash later).  It was a matter of stopping quite often and a lot of silly-voice praise "you GOOOD boy" in the middle of the street.  But, I'm pleased to report that I saw, somewhere in the distance, a speck of hope!  Perhaps one day, I will have a dog who walks with me rather than drags me around.  Perhaps....

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Paws at four...

A few mornings ago I stepped out of my less than modern varnished wood door to find the ground icy.  Ice is like a bad dream; in time, you forget its affect on you fairly quickly but it's presence can send more than just a shiver down your spine.  Not only do I dislike ice because it brings a frosty chill into the air but, as someone who has never been particularly coordinated, I dislike the very idea of slipping.  However, I'm not going to lie, the main reason that I hate ice is because I have to defrost my car and that makes my fingers numb!

One of our first walks with Caesar in the ice.  I thought he didn't like us because he didn't seem to want to come!

Caesar isn't a great fan of ice either.  In fact, if I attempt to walk him on the icy ground, he will, if you'll pardon the pun, freeze up.  Any adverse weather conditions and you've lost any enthusiasm that Caesar previously had about leaving the house.  This lightning-fast change in attitude is amazing to watch.  One minute he's bouncing about wanting to go for a walk and the next minute he's as still as a statue as he refuses to budge from the spot where he has rooted himself.  This can be particularly annoying if, at the time that the adverse conditions set in, you are walking in the direction of home already!

But today's blog isn't about walks.  Or cars.  It's about bed time.

Since Christmas, Caesar has somehow managed to move into our bedroom.  There are a few reasons for this:

1.  If he's not in there, he cries outside of the door all night and doesn't let us sleep.
2.  If he's not in there, he opens the door and comes in anyway.
3.  It has been particularly cold recently, and there's no denying that our room is the warmest.
4.  If he's not in there, he poos on the floor!

I've always dealt with the first two accordingly.  If Caesar cried, I'd try my best to ignore him, even once resorting to ear plugs.  If he opened the door, I'd calmly take him back outside and shut the door again.  However, when the third started to occur I began to lose my patience a little.  Before getting dogs, my house had been my pride and joy and, in particular, my spare bedroom which is decorated in a 'shabby chic' style with cherry blossoms and varnished wooden floorboards.  You can imagine my glee when, at 7:00 in the morning, I had to make time to clean toilet visits up from around my solid wood 'Romance' bed.  I could have cried!

What is most frustrating about this is that, when Caesar sleeps in our room, he shows no desire what so ever to go to the toilet.  So, I can only conclude that he somehow seeking revenge on me by doing his business in my beautiful spare bedroom!

'You don't need your legs when you're sleeping so what's the problem?!'

Anyway, eventually, going against all of the advice that any dog trainer would ever give, I caved and decided it was easier for him to sleep in our bedroom.  However, there was a condition; he must stay in his own bed.  This was a great idea in theory; if he jumped up, then he would be told to go back to bed.  He's usually fairly responsive to commands and should do that.  He could then be praised, we'd go back to sleep, my spare room would escape unscathed and everyone would be happy.

Caesar looking really happy about sleeping in a dog bed!

Except, with dogs, and particularly Caesar-type dogs, things just don't happen like that.  On the first few nights, Caesar was up and down like a yo-yo.  'That's to be expected,' I told myself.  'He'll learn.'  After a week or so, I felt that things were on the up, I was awake only three or four times during the night to tell him to go back to sleep but this had been dramatically reduced since the first few days when it felt like the delinquent dog was waking us up every fifteen minute.  It's hard to be sympathetic to his whimpering in bed when you're exhausted so I didn't feel the need to allow him onto the mattress.  I was sure that, after a while, he would give up.

Last week, though, I had a very stressful week.  Each night, I came home from work feeling exhausted and my own bed times were getting earlier.  I'd find myself sleeping for almost twelve hours and still feeling exhausted in the morning.  One, particularly long day, I headed up for bed with Caesar by my side.  I didn't feel my head hit the pillow and when I woke up in the morning, there was a heavy feeling on my legs...it was Caesar.

Since then, he has refused to get down off the bed.  Maybe it's not that bad, I thought.  Perhaps my life would just be easier if I let him stay there and stopped trying to fight him away.  I was pretty convinced of that until I walk up at 4 this morning with him standing on my head!

Caesar and I would like to thank all of our lovely readers and those of you that have donated to his excellent rescue centre, SARA.  We know there are lots of little centres that work hard to ensure dogs are cared for and loved in the most difficult weeks/months/years of their lives.  This is the final week of donations from the advent calendar project.  So, if you would like to make a small donation to a really worthy cause, then please follow the link below.

Saving Caesar Charity Choice for SARA

And, to find out more about the lovely SARA, visit their website:

Friday, 17 January 2014

But you're not supposed to be here...

Today I was working from home.  So, after being woken up at the usual time, in the usual way (being bounced all over by a large red mongrel), I decided to set myself up on the sofa with my laptop and books.  Ninety percent of the time, I'm at work and Caesar, however long it took, is used to this now.  During the day he entertains himself by making a nest in our bed.  But, thankfully, it's now rare to find that he's done much more.

Caesar chilling in his daytime spot.

Now, usually, as I walk through the door at 5:30, Caesar is there to greet me.  He dances around my legs, attempts to knock me off my feet and has a very good sniff at my clothes.  Then, he proceeds to follow me for the rest of the evening.  He follows me everywhere; when I get changed, when I shower, even when I go to the toilet.  He is like my little red shadow.

He doesn't even sleep on the bed...he sleeps ON me!

So, you'd expect then that he'd be elated when I spend the day at home.  Granted that I couldn't pay him much attention as I was busy typing, scrawling, researching and head-scratching.  However, as someone who brings a lot of work home, this isn't unusual at the best of times.

You can imagine my shock when at nine o'clock, I sat myself on the sofa, surrounded by work and, at five past nine, Caesar stood up, walked out and disappeared to his daytime spot on the bed.  At eleven, I began to worry and called him.  He ignored me.  So, I went upstairs to find him laid on the bed.  He ignored me.  I almost began to wonder if I was a ghost in my own house; unnoticeable.

Leave me alone...you're not supposed to be here!

Caesar didn't materialise all day.  Until the evening when I am allowed to once again be present in the house.  What peculiar behaviour?  Particularly since he doesn't do this on weekends.  So...can dogs tell what day of the week it is now?  I am majorly puzzled!

The closing date for donations to the Saving Caesar SARA project is the 29th January.  If you would like to show your appreciation for fabulous small rescue's like SARA, then please give a small donation by clicking on this text and following the instructions.  All donations go to the wonderful place that gave Caesar the home and rehabilitation that he needed and helped us to find him and see his potential too.  Here's to many more years of happy dogs and owners! 

Thursday, 9 January 2014

What makes a dog enthusiast?

Today someone asked me a question that I wasn't expecting.  "So, is your boyfriend a dog enthusiast too?"  I paused.  Mainly because the question hit me out of the blue and partly because I wasn't exactly sure.  'Am I a dog enthusiast?' I found myself thinking.

Name: Sian
Charge:  'Dog enthusiast'
Plea:  Not sure!

Why I might be
So I gave myself a quick get out; "he mostly feeds them and cleans up the garden, I walk them and do the training.'  It wasn't exactly an answer but it seemed to surfice and gave me a perfect way of sneaking off to ponder the accusation that I could in-fact be a 'dog enthusiast'.

When I went to the rescue centre to get Caesar, I was far from knowing much about dogs.  In fact, I knew very little.  I still consider myself to know very little about dogs but I suppose that having Caesar and having to find ways to cope with his seemingly endless list of bad-habits and social faux-pas has forced me to know possibly more than I would have, had I come back with Lassie.  It's not untrue that I have at least a shelf's worth of books about dog training, behaviour and psychology.  I even received the same book about dogs twice for Christmas.  In fact, this year, more of my Christmas presents than ever before were dog related.  And, I can't deny that I didn't mind.  And, perhaps a little embarrassingly, I spent more on the dogs than on some members of the family.
It is only 'dog enthusiasts' who own this many pairs of dog walking wellies?

I've found a group of people whom, up until recently I wasn't aware of.  Other dog owners; mostly friendly and helpful people.  Through owning Caesar, I have met some really good friends and many people whom I have more in common with than most of my other friends.  But, of course, when you have something in common with someone, what do you talk about?  Well, usually, the thing that you have in common. And if that thing is dogs?  Can you see how I might have slipped into this label unconsciously?

Suddenly, I realised that I have a blog about my dog and also, that I'm more than half-way through writing a book about him.  I pinned the picture of Caesar's training certificate to my Facebook wall.  Actually, it gets worse; I framed and hung his training certificate on my real wall!  This is beyond cyberspace.

Why I'm probably not
When we got Caesar, I never expected to go through the difficulties that we have.  Only last night was I almost in tears thinking about just how far we've had to come to get to this stage and Caesar is still so far from perfect.  If truth be told, I didn't have much choice than to fill my head with training tips and psychological theories.  Nor did I have choice to attend training sessions and get counselling from other dog owners.  Without any one of these factors, I'd have gone mad.

He might look like butter wouldn't melt but as a first time owner, he's taken me on an emotional rollercoaster!

Perhaps I didn't intend to become so involved as I have in owning and training a dog, but I can't deny that the whole process has been rewarding despite the odd huge downfall.  And, I think writing about it, however late in the day I decided to do it, has helped me through it a little more.

Perhaps I'm not a dog enthusiast after all.  Just a Caesar enthusiast!

It's still not too late to make a donation to SARA.  Donation page shuts on 29/1/14.  Every little helps.  We're getting very close to our £100 target! 

A huge huge wet nosed kiss from Caesar to everyone who has donated already.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

The Dexter Dilemma...

So, for those of you who read It Takes Two to Tango, you will know the difficulty that we have been going through trying to get Caesar to be friendly with another dog.  It took us a long time to make initial bonds between Caesar and Tango but, now, it is clear that Caesar trusts his friend.

Caesar and his friend, Tango

When beginning to attempt to form a new bond, it's easy to forget the heart ache, frustration and exhaustion that you felt the last time you attempted to do the same.  So, when Caesar began barking and lunging at Dexter when we first met him, I was foolishly hopeful that this may only last for a short time.

Sian and Dexter preparing themselves for another eventful walk with Caesar

Three walks later and the rope burn on my hands was unbearable.  We didn't seem to be getting anywhere fast.  And, just when Caesar appeared to be doing alright with Dexter, he would, suddenly and unpredictably, jump on him.  Whether he was playing or not was an uncertainty that I wasn't willing to investigate.

Playful or naughty?  Sometimes it's hard to tell...

It's easy to get disheartened when you've just spent a good few hours on a cold evening being dragged around by your dog while it shows you up in front of dozens of people.  It's easy to want to give up.  I've been there a few times.  The only problem is, at the back of your mind, there's always a little voice that says 'could he be more than this?'  And it's this little voice that pushes us on.

We knew that Caesar could make friends.  The question is; how long would that take?

Today was walk number five with Sian and Dexter.  It was a cold morning and much padding had to be worn to combat the cold January air.  Given that it wasn't prime walking weather, perhaps I was a little more firm with Caesar than usual; I wasn't going to stand around in the cold waiting for him to decide to behave himself.  I decided, he would just have to be well behaved.

All wrapped up for our January walk!

For the first few minutes I marched with him.  He wasn't terribly behaved but did take a little calming down.  I was ready to do battle with him this time but was amazed when, after a few minutes, he settled into the walk nicely.  Some time after we began to walk, Sian and Dexter drew level with us.  Instinctively, I tightened my grip on the lead, cursing myself as I did for sending any signal to Caesar, but he was oblivious.  He gave Dexter a quick sideways glance and then continued to walk forwards.  A couple of times, Caesar tried to jump playfully on Dexter but, when told to stop, he did so immediately.  By the end of the two hour walk, I felt amazed...if a little cold!
Two good, slightly misunderstood, dogs sitting side by side...

Today we managed a two hour walk with Dexter and Sian.  And, Caesar even had some time on his long lead.

There's still time to donate to SARA.  The Saving Caesar charity fundraising page shuts shortly.  To donate, please click here.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

2014 - the year of the Stafford?

It's not lie that Caesar is that 'type of dog'.  The type that everyone and his next door neighbour seems to have an opinion about.  Just today, I was sitting dogless in the vets when a woman who was sitting with her border collie leaned over to her husband, pointed at a Staffordshire Bull Terrier and said "don't let her near that, it's one of those vicious ones..."  I looked at the black Stafford.  It was a little unhappy at being in the vets and panted and squealed but showed no sign that it was going to maul her collie.  I'd be lying if I said I didn't know why Staffords have such a bad rep

"Did you know that we were the wrong 'type' of dog Gemma??"

An owner of 'that type of dog'
A few weeks ago I got a bit of a shock.  I received a direct hit via a newspaper website.  I was called "an owner of one of 'those types' of dog".  I'm not going to lie, I took it hard.  And this is why...

A few months ago a tragic incident occurred near to where I live.  To cut a long story short:
A dog-aggressive Staffordshire Bull Terrier ran away from the person who was looking after him and killed an old ladies dog. Also, injuring the old lady.

There's not a lot to say about the story other than how horrifically sad it was for the poor woman who lost her dog.  The SBT in question was put down.  This too, although justified, was sad for the owner who had left his dog with someone whom he thought to be responsible when the incident happened.  I don't think though, anyone could argue that the victims of this were the poor old lady and her dog.

However, what I did see as unfair was the chosen picture of a Staffordshire Bull Terrier.  One which looked a lot like Caesar.  It was not a picture of the actual dog but a stock image of the breed.  The dog looked to be barking viciously towards the camera and the tag-line given to the image was "a Staffordshire Bull Terrier Dog" as if this was a bog standard example of the breed.

I commented on the article giving my sympathies to the owner whose dog was killed but adding that I felt it unfair to use the given image as an example of this breed.  Also noting that the same thing happened only weeks earlier where two Labradors killed a puppy but this was not reported in the paper.  The response I got from another reader was that on articles like this it was common to see someone who owned 'one of these types of dog' trying to defend the breed.
Life is hard when you're that 'type' of dog...

So are all Staffy's vicious?
Before I go on I would like to say this; I went to the rescue centre in search of my ideal pet.  I had never owned a dog before and suggested that I would like something along the lines of a Jack Russell or West Highland Terrier.  I came back with Caesar.  I had no pre-existing knowledge of the breed and have not needed any particular expertise to own him.  He is a Staffordshire Bull Terrier cross.  

Would I trust every Staffordshire Bull Terrier?  Definitely not! My advice to anyone, for whatever it's worth, is never trust a dog straight away whatever it's breed.  Never trust them off the lead and never with children, even if Staffordshire Bull Terriers do carry the nickname 'Nanny Dog'.  

In the same way that I would not say "never trust an Italian" or "always trust the Irish", I would never label a breed of dog to be 'trustworthy,' or 'not trustworthy' and anyone who does would be foolish.

I can vouch for the fact that some Staffies just want a cuddle...

Educate Yourself
According to Argos Pet Insurance, Staffordshire Bull Terriers remain the seventh most popular breed in the UK (see below) ahead of Yorkshire Terriers and West Highland Terriers.  If it were the case that all or even most Staffordshire Bull Terriers were vicious, then I highly doubt that they would account for this much of the doggy population.  In addition, rescue centres and agencies would not put themselves at risk by pushing the breed.
Here are just a few examples of rescue associations who are encouraging people to give SBTs some real consideration:
Battersea Dogs Home have a huge campaign for Staffies - http://www.battersea.org.uk/dogs/staffies_theyre_softer_than_you_think/

What Now?
People need to be educated about these dogs.  There shouldn't be cases, like the one that happened today, of people warning of "vicious" breeds.  Each dog is an individual and should be treated as such.  All SBTs are not vicious nor are they all placid, each one is an individual, as are the owners who choose to adopt them.

Just for fun here's a poster with some common truth's/misconceptions.  To download a link and print the poster, click here.

There's still time to donate to SARA (Saltburn Animal Rescue Association) for the Christmas Advent Calendar Project.  Make your donation now by clicking here.