Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Top 10 toy dogs in the US

Toy Dog Breeds: The Top Ten Toy Dogs in the US

The Toy Group includes most of the very small and miniature lap dogs and apartment-sized companion dog breeds. Toy dogs play a critical role in the lives of people that live alone and their presence can have beneficial effects on the health of the sick, the elderly and the housebound. Toys are popular companion dogs for people living in cities and adapt well to apartment life. Many Toys distrust strangers and make great watchdogs and don't need a lot of exercise beyond what they get running around and playing indoors. Toys make great traveling companions and are readily accepted just about everywhere. Toy dog breeds are always difficult to housebreak but usually adapt well to apartment life. If your Toy isn't completely house trained after 3 months then you should seek professional help. Toddlers and small children are too rough for toy dogs that may bite in self-defense. The top 10 most popular Toy breeds in the US according to the American Kennel Club 2005 registrations are discussed below and their registration rank is included in brackets. The inclusion of the Toy Poodle as #2 is incorrect as its rank is a composite total of all 3 Poodle varieties - Toy, Miniature and Standard. It probably belongs somewhere in the top ten but not in the #2 position.

Yorkshire Terrier

The Yorkie (#3) almost overtook the Golden Retriever as the second most popular dog in the US in 2005. This rugged toy dog is very popular because it has all the admirable attributes of larger dogs but in miniature. The typical Yorkie plays hard and has limitless energy. With persistence a Yorkie can be obedience trained. Some are bright and learn quickly, while others are more obstinate and opinionated. Yorkies get along well with other pets but they can be very possessive of their food and toys. The Yorkshire makes a better pet for older and calmer children. The Yorkshire will bark at strangers, often in a high pitched voice. Early socialization is required so that the dog doesn't become too shrill and to ensure barking is controlled.

Poodle (Toy)

All the wonderful things that you can say about a Standard Poodle don't all apply to the Toy or Miniature versions. Toy Poodles (#8) are less than 11 inches at shoulder height but the same American Kennel Club standards apply across all sizes. Toys are generally more sensitive than the Standard and are also more active, louder and less confident. Early socialization and training to curb excessive barking and leg lifting is required. Even though these dogs are very small, they still enjoy lots of playtime and long walks. Toy Poodles will do fine with older considerate children.

Shih Tzu

The exotic looking Shih Tzu (#9) is one of the sturdiest and most robust of the toy dog breeds. Shih Tzus are intelligent, playful, affectionate, friendly, self confident and outgoing. Shih Tzus make great apartment dogs and companion dogs for the elderly. These charming and personable dogs are devoted to their owners and their families. They make great traveling companions and rarely show any aggressive behavior toward strangers or strange animals. The breed gets along extremely well with older, considerate children.


The Chihuahua (#11) is the smallest of the toy dog breeds. Chihuahuas are intelligent, charming and loving dogs who are devoted to their owners. This breed needs close contact with its family and make great companions. Chihuahuas can have delusions of grandeur and self-confidence and will challenge much larger dogs. Chihuahuas are good with older children if raised with them. Chihuahuas are intelligent and can be trained fairly easily. Some Chihuahuas can be overly insecure and are prone to excessive barking and early socialization and training while a puppy is recommended.


The Pug (#12) is a sturdy small dog that is one of the most popular and largest of the toy dog breeds. This charming, adorable and playful small dog will make you laugh. The Pug is an even tempered, easygoing, pleasant and friendly companion. This sturdy, small dog breed gets along well with children and with other pets although toddlers and small children should be supervised carefully to ensure they don't injure the dog. The Pug doesn't need much training but enjoys the process and is fairly easy to train.


Pomeranians (#14) or "Poms" are one of the smallest toy dog breeds. The Pom is lively, spirited and animated. This breed is a keen-eyed extrovert who is very inquisitive and must check out all activities going on around him. The Pom is a proud and confident, even cocky, toy dog that requires early and thorough socialization with strangers to minimize its tendency to bark. This toy breed is intelligent, eager to learn and takes readily to positive and gentle training methods.


The Maltese is one of the most intelligent and most gentle of all the toy dog breeds. This lively and agile little toy dog loves to play games. This toy breed is cheerful, loving, playful, smart and has lots of personality. Maltese should have early socialization while they are puppies to give them more confidence and overcome their distrust of strangers and minimize their tendency to bark. Maltese enjoy obedience training and some will do well in competitive obedience and agility competitions. This toy breed does fine with older and considerate children.

Miniature Pinscher

The Miniature Pinscher or Min Pin is the most active and lively of all the toy dog breeds. Miniature Pinschers are full of energy, alert, loyal, intelligent and very courageous for their size. Min Pins think they are much larger than their toy size and can be aggressive towards other dogs. These toy dogs can be stubborn and need lots of early socialization and obedience training while puppies. The breed does fine with older considerate children and household pets. Outdoors, this toy breed should be on a leash or in a securely fenced yard as they can disappear quickly.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel (#31) is a graceful and happy toy spaniel that is larger than its close relative, the English Toy Spaniel. The Cavalier is a gentle, even-tempered, happy and playful small dog. Cavaliers make excellent family dogs who even like to play with small children (always under supervision of course). The Cavalier finds all humans delightful and loves to cuddle in their laps and snuggle in their beds. However, these comfort-loving Spaniels love to run in the yard and chase chipmunks, squirrels, and birds. Cavaliers are easy to train but require early socialization as puppies to overcome their natural timidity.


The Papillon (#35) is one of the oldest European toy dog breeds and the French word for butterfly was used to describe this lively toy breed with the erect butterfly ears. The Papillon is a friendly, affectionate and intelligent dog that is much more robust than it appears. The Pap is definitely not a lap dog and is high spirited, active and loves to play outside and go for walks. This breed is very smart and can be trained to be a good agility and obedience dog for competitions. If the Pap is socialized early and trained properly, and not pampered and spoiled, it becomes a confident and outgoing companion who gets along well with older children and pets

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Canine oral hygiene month

Research has shown that up to  80% of dogs show signs of oral disease by age three.

Most people are aware that their pet needs to be well looked after to try to prevent future healthcare problems. One part of the pet however is often overlooked – the teeth.

Many owners complain that their dog is suffering from bad breath and are keen for a cure. Far fewer are interested in the root causes of bad breath or how to address them, namely proper oral hygiene.

Without proper attention dogs can suffer from  damage to the teeth, gums and jaw. In particular toy dogs, with their crowded jaws, are prone to tooth loss.
So what are the signs of dental disease?

If you look at your dog's teeth (especially the molars at the back of the mouth) you may see plaque.

Plaque is a yellowish deposit on the surface of the teeth resulting from a build up of debris and bacteria. It is the same 'furry' substance which we can feel on our own teeth if we go too long without brushing.

If plaque is not removed then over time it builds up and hardens to a brown tartar. Tartar is far harder to remove than plaque and encases the teeth like a coat of cement. Rather than simply being able to be brushed off it needs to be chipped off.

Besides looking unsightly tartar build up contributes to stinky breath and gum disease.

Gum disease, gingivitis, is recognisable by red or inflamed gums rather than salmon pink healthy gums.When gingivitis progresses to periodontal disease, the bone around the roots of the teeth becomes infected, and begins to recede.  Not only does this increase the likelihood of tooth loss, but it also allows bacteria into the bloodstream which can affect internal organs.

As with so many things prevention is better than cure, it is therefore important to try and clean your dog's teeth on a weekly if not daily basis. Where there is significant tartar build up then it is likely your dog's teeth will have to be cleaned under anaesthetic at the vets.

Cesar Millan at the O2 and in action

Millan is the Dog Whisperer. He believes that to control a dog you have to think like a dog, act like a dog — and prove to the dog that you are its pack leader. If that means rolling it on to its back, jabbing it in its face, and attaining the near-universal condemnation of dog behaviour experts, then so be it. Tens of thousands of devoted dog owners — and a handful of specially selected troublesome dogs — appreciate his approach, and have tickets to his UK tour to prove it.
A consortium of 26 animal welfare organisations, meanwhile — including the RSPCA, the Australian Veterinary Association, the Kennel Club and the British Veterinary Association — has written an open letter ahead of the show, warning that Millan’s methods will lead to “pain and fear”, and are “not only unacceptable from a welfare perspective, but not necessary for the modification of dog behaviour”. Some, privately, say that they will be attending to see if he breaks animal welfare laws.
Millan is used to this criticism and his producers have a standard response letter. “The canine experts, pet shelters and rescue groups around the world that agree enthusiastically with Cesar Millan’s techniques far outnumber Mr Millan’s detractors,” it says.
In any case, Millan is a man with a higher mission. “The goal that God and I have together,” he says, “is the whole world transformed through a dog.”
Divine or not, all that’s important, say his many clients, is that his methods work. Millan has trained Jada Pinkett Smith — Will Smith’s wife — to be pack leader to her rottweilers. The action stars Vin Diesel and Nicholas Cage have been shown how to be alpha males in their own homes. Oprah Winfrey, who previously called dogs “little people with fur”, was chastised for not showing any canine leadership to her dog Sophie. They are all grateful, and highly remunerative, clients. And 2010 is the year that Cesar Millan expands his doggy empire into Britain: starting with a national tour and leading to a British version of his hit TV show,The Dog Whisperer.
All of which is very impressive for a man who began his career 20 years ago as an illegal immigrant from Mexico, without any English or any money. Millan’s legend — a canine American Dream — is by now familiar to most of the 11 million Americans who watch his TV show. Penniless in California, he found himself in a world of dog beauty clinics and dog birthday parties. Originating from a Mexican village, where he was known to his family as El Perrero (dog boy) this was confusing.
He started walking dogs, handling difficult animals and inevitably, this being LA, gained some extremely powerful clients. It was then that he started to formalise his theory of dog behaviour, which, at its core, is simple: dogs are pack animals, human beings should be the dominant pack member.
“If what you do is say, ‘I’m sorry, baby, Mommy has to go, blah, blah, blah’, the dog only understands that you are in a soft state and he is dominating you,” Millan explains. This is not good for you, or a healthy dog. “If a dog is OK with just love, I would not be in business,” he says. Dogs need discipline, they need to know you are in charge. “Don’t let a dog walk in front of you. You’re the leader.” His fans love this approach, but to conventional animal behavourists it is snake oil.
“Basically, with a smile, he’s going to war with these dogs,” says Nicholas Dodman, a veterinary behaviourist.
If it is a war, then it’s a war fought with the rhetoric of a self-help guide. “Anything that is realistic, if I create it in my mind, it can become reality,” Millan says of his ambitions. He says he likes dogs because “they accept you as who you are . . . but they won’t be around unstable energy.”
On the covers of his books — Be the Pack Leader, Cesar’s Way, A Member of the Family — his grin is so fixed and dazzling, his forehead so tight and tanned, that every picture looks as if it could be the same headshot, Photoshopped into different, soft-focus doggy Utopias.
Alas, however, his is not quite the doggy Utopia it once was. Daddy, the pitbull star of so many of his shows, died last week. The obituary on Millan’s website described him as “one of the most influential pitbull ambassadors the world has ever known”. And for those who might consider the world of pitbull ambassadors to be too rarefied, it adds: “His name is now added to that honourable roster of dogs gone by whose influence is still felt today . . . Rin-Tin-Tin,Lassie.” It is not an idle boast. Beneath are 50 pages of condolences, each containing 50 comments. Some of those commentators will doubtless be watching on Wednesday night, eager to learn from the world’s greatest dog guru.
But Millan must know that the crowd will also contain representatives from Britain’s most-respected animal welfare bodies — watching, with equal keenness, to see if the dog-boy-made- good is breaking the law.
Cesar Millan’s UK Tour, March 3-21: 08444 99 99 55;
Problem dogs? Try my mother’s poodles
We all know that a selfish parent creates a needy child, an angry parent a chaotic one. And, so it turns out, the same psychology is true of dogs and dog owners. Happy calm people tend to own happy calm animals. My mother, by contrast, owns two anxious poodles — Milo and Oscar — who hate each other: they never obey commands and have no respect for authority. My mother’s last hope was Cesar Millan. He is a short, stocky man with intense eyes and when he walks into the room he is much like a dog himself: sizing up Milo and Oscar, taking in their every move, analysing their relationship with my mother, my mother’s relationship with me. Oscar is snarling at Milo and my mother holds him to reassure him. Millan is having none of it.
“This is the wrong time to give the dog affection,” he says. “You are going to nurture his anxiety. You are going to reinforce it. Dogs don’t know that you are trying to protect them. They only sense the energy, your state of mind. He knows that you are nervous and that’s making him more nervous.”
Millan grew up on a farm in Mexico. There he learnt how to communicate with dogs. He discovered that he could always elicit a calm, submissive and co-operative response from dogs by being confident and being the pack leader. Now 40, he left Mexico as an illegal emigrant for California. He has a ranch in the hills outside Los Angeles and a dog psychology centre. He lives with his wife, Illusion, and sons Cesar Andre, 13, and Calvin, 8. And 30 dogs ranging in size from chihuahuas to American bulldogs.
He warns us against humanising the dog: “Dogs don’t live intellectually. Humans live in four worlds: intellectual, instinctual, emotional and spiritual. Dogs live only in instinctual.”
He encourages us to be what he calls the “leader of our own pack” , to find our inner dog and walk it. What he seems to be saying is that there are no problem dogs, just problem people. But in front of me are two problem poodles and a mother struggling with her inner canine. Oscar is afraid of going down the stairs, so he simply whines at the top and has to be carried down.
Millan thinks it’s possible that a human being can transfer fears and phobias to the dog. “A dog will mirror how you feel: phobias, depression, anxiety. Dogs are afraid of what the humans are afraid of, it’s not so much the stairs as the human projecting.”
Millan takes Oscar on his lead down the stairs and then he does it again without his lead. In minutes Oscar is cured because Millan doesn’t have fear of stairs and Millan is a leader of the pack. He tells us that powerful people who control everything at work are often reluctant to be domineering at home. “CEOs have worked hard all day. When they come home they want to be loved. But as they take off the hat of leaders and put on the hat of love, it means the dog will do what it wants.”
All very well, but some dogs are difficult. “Their self-esteem is on the floor. It can take months to build it. It is easier to rehabilitate an aggressive dog than a fearful dog. An aggressive dog has good self-esteem and I can redirect aggression by rollerblading with them or putting them on a treadmill. Moving forward makes you happy. Depression keeps you in one place. Depression doesn’t exist in the animal world, only in the human.”
Having sized up the situation, he recommends that we buy a doggy treadmill for Oscar and Milo so that they can run off their energy. My mother is nodding appreciatively, but I’m sceptical. Millan asks my mother to take the dogs for a walk, but the second the leads are out, the dogs start growling and snapping. “Let me do that,” Millan says. He drops the leads on the floor. Oscar and Milo register shock: nobody is going for a walk. The dogs quieten down. Millan slips the leads on effortlessly.
Then my mother has a go. Oscar immediately panics. She attempts to pet him, but Millan tells her not to “reinforce his anxiousness”. “The ritual of putting on a lead shouldn’t be this hard. By dropping the leads we are breaking the pattern. You must constantly correct them when they misbehave.” He concedes that separation anxiety is a difficult problem between dogs and their owners. “It’s in their DNA: you must stay with the family. They are pack animals. You have to teach them that it’s OK not to be together all the time. Exercise plays a big role here because it is easier for a dog to stay on his own and sleep when he is tired.”
Millan departs with two golden rules: don’t nurture a dog in an unbalanced state of mind. And get a treadmill. A month later, what have the dogs learnt? They don’t yet have a treadmill, but my mother has mastered the Cesar art of putting on their leads and has learnt to control her anxiety in their presence. It turns out Millan is a mother whisperer too.
Chrissy Iley

Government suggests 'dog tax' and compulsory microchipping

From The Times:
Dog owners face a new pet “tax” in a government initiative to tackle the menace of dangerous dogs.
Compulsory microchipping of every dog — which would cost owners an average £30 — is included in a consultation report published today.
It also suggests that the six million dog owners in Britain should be covered by third-party insurance to cover injuries to victims of dog attacks.
In an attempt to give greater protection from “weapon” or status dogs, owners of unruly dogs would be subject to new antisocial behaviour orders, already dubbed “Dogbos”. These dog control orders would make it unlawful for a dog to be out of control in any place, public or private.
According to the report from Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, and Hilary Benn, the Environment Secretary, police or council wardens would have powers to issue these orders, similar to fixed-penalty notices. They may require a dog to be fenced in, neutered, muzzled or kept on a lead, and for an owner to attend a dog handling course. Any breaches could lead to prosecution, a fine, or even prison if animal cruelty were involved. The worst owners would be banned for life from keeping a dog and unruly animals would be destroyed.
Ministers have decided that recent incidents, including the death in November of four-year-old John Paul Massey, from Liverpool, who was savaged by the family’s pitbull terrier, and a 12-fold increase in dog-fighting reported by the RSPCA, has necessitated a review of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.
There is also alarm at figures showing that an average of 100 people a week need hospital treatment for dog attacks. The number in 1997-98 was 3,079, compared with 5,221 last year.
Reform is supported by the Conservatives Liberal Democratics and new powers are expected within a year.
At present the law bans ownership, sale, trade and advertising of the pitbull terrier, Japanese tosa, Dogo Argentino and the Fila Brasiliero, but does not apply to dogs in private homes and gardens. The aim is to tackle any dog behaving in a dangerous or threatening way in a public or private place.
The extension to private homes and premises has delighted the Communication Workers’ Union, which has been campaigning for years to highlight the number of postmen bitten by dogs, some 92 a week at present.
Most pet insurance includes third party cover. Petplan, Britain’s biggest pet insurer with 40 per cent of the market, said typical monthly prices were £25.23 for a Japanese akito, £24.75 for a Staffordshire bull terrier, £24.75 for a labrador, £22.85 for a chihuahua and £16.73 for a Jack Russell. This includes basic annual cover of £4,000 for vet’s bills and up to £1 million in third party liability and legal fees.
The cause has particular resonance for Mr Johnson, a former postman, who was bitten twice on his rounds and saved from a third attack by a pregnant woman who rushed to his rescue.
Discussions about new powers included animal welfare groups, police and local government. There is concern that owners who already microchip and insure their pets may be hit by red tape or higher bills while irresponsible owners would ignore the law.
The RSPCA, Kennel Club and Dogs’ Trust favour repeal of the ban on certain breeds and for legislation to concentrate on “the deed not the breed”.
But some local authorities and the Association of Chief Police Officers believe that the proscribed list of dogs should be extended to include all bull breed types, including Staffordshire bull terriers and the Japanese akita.
Mr Johnson said: “People have a fundamental right to feel safe. The vast majority of dog owners are responsible, but some people keep dogs for the sole purpose of intimidating others. It is this sort of behaviour that we are determined to stop.”

'How we became obsessed with dogs' - The Times Magazine 6/3/10 article

Why owning a dog is good for you

They boost happiness hormones and compensate for family breakdown – no wonder dog ownership is soaring

As I write, my dog, Monty, a two-year-old labradoodle – yes, yes, a “designer dog”, get over it – is snoozing at my feet. This is a cliché, I know, and I wish I could open differently with: “As I write my dog, Monty, is practising the violin in the next room.” Or: “As I write, my dog, Monty, is checking outAntichrist on DVD, as he believes you have to make up your own mind about these things.” But, no, he’s snoozing at my feet, a coil of thick black fur, meaty warmth and the occasional, snuffling grunt. He is a funny little fellow. He is fond of fruit, particularly melon. He is fond of stealing gloves and shredding them. If I say “walk” or “biscuit” he will perform what I call his “extreme dance of happiness”, which, if you’d like to give it a go at home, must involve spinning in excited circles while trying to bite your own balls off. It could be fun. He is part of our family and is sometimes the centre of our family. We like to play the game, “What would Monty not say, even if he could speak?” and top of our list at present is, “I feel so cheap and worthless after casual sex,” and, “No, after you, I insist.” He is my first dog (as an adult) and the best dog, and I took a career break to raise him, more or less. I don’t feel I keep a dog, more that we share a life. What is this relationship I have with my dog? What is anybody’s relationship with their dog? To put it another way: just what is the status of humans and dogs these days?
Whatever else, dogs are doing something right. Heck, they’re so good even the Chinese are thinking about not eating them any more and, in the UK, the dog population has shot up from 6.4 million to 10.5 million in the past 20 years. There are still working dogs – dogs that flush, herd, retrieve, guard and merrily throttle rats – but almost all the increase has been in “companion dogs”; dogs that do not flush, herd, retrieve, guard or merrily throttle rats, but will join you on the sofa to watch Location, Location, Location and sleep on the bed, if not in it. (Another thing Monty would never say: “Can’t you ever leave me to sleep alone in the kitchen? When am I going to get some ‘me’ time around here?”) Dogs are now quasi-humans, pretty much. Dogs don’t even appear to have dog names any more. Once, they were called Spot, Patch, Lady, Lucky or Scruffy, but now they have human names. Lola is popular, I’ve noted, as are Max, Oscar, George and Millie. And Monty. I recently encountered a rottweiler called Beverley. “Good name,” I said to the owner. “Thanks,” she said. “We were going to call her Amanda, but changed our minds at the last minute.” And dogs have been commodified. You can buy anything for your dog: spa-breaks, acupuncture, perfumes, dog yoga (doga) sessions and all manner of couture, including wedding dresses, tutus and yarmulkes (available from and “the ideal attire for Hanukkah”). I once saw a pug in Manhattan wearing red wellies and a sort of umbrella hat, which did seem diminishing for all concerned, but then it did also look like rain. And while dog training as an organised activity can be traced back to the 1700s, it’s exploded in recent years, with books, manuals, DVDs, sensationally awful television shows and, of course, gurus, notably Cesar Millan.
Millan is the Mexican who smuggled himself over the border into the USA and is now a global phenomenon. As the self-mythologised “Dog Whisperer”, his television show runs in this country on some kind of eternal loop on Sky, and he’s also the celebrity dog “fixer”. For example, he “fixed” Oprah Winfrey’s dogs, which, being Oprah’s dogs, makes me think he empowered them in some way or at least helped them feel good about themselves on a fat day. He is based in LA, where he runs his “dog psychology centre”, but is currently touring the UK and is due to play Wembley tomorrow. The message he preaches is that dogs, like wolves, are pack animals and you must always show them who’s boss, who’s the alpha male around here, although I don’t know. Monty and I do fine even though I have no leadership skills whatsoever. When I was a reporter on a local newspaper and was put in charge of the office for the day, everyone went home. So why would Monty look up to me, when no one else has? And even if he did, would this be what our relationship was about?
Dr James Serpell would say not, that the Millan method doesn’t add up to much beyond an excess of “macho posturing” and the sort of old-style, dominating, behavioural techniques that actually frighten dogs. He is director of the Centre for the Interaction of Animals and Society at the University of Pennsylvania and he says that, whatever else, today’s dogs certainly perform an important human function. “We’ve seen an explosion in pet populations in all industrialised countries in the past two decades,” he says. “And I keep coming back to the notion that dogs are providing people with a form of non-human support where traditional support has broken down. People are turning to dogs to compensate for that loss.” And he adds: “If you look at all the demographic statistics people are getting divorced more, having fewer children and have fewer friends as well as less social contact. A graph showing this decline is almost a mirror image of the one showing the rise in pet ownership.” Is this healthy? “Some people would say dogs do the job better than other humans when it comes to relationships. People have few conflicts with their pets, whereas human relations can have a nasty side. You can get dogs with horrendous behaviour problems, but the relationship is very complementary on the whole.”
A dog’s love is certainly unambiguous. As Freud once remarked: “Dogs love their friends and bite their enemies, quite unlike people, who are incapable of pure love and always have to mix love and hate in their object relations.” Or as the philosopher Mark Rowlands, who lived with a wolf for more than a decade, writes in his appropriately named book, The Philosopher and the Wolf: “Scheming and deception lie at the core of the form of social intelligence possessed by apes and monkeys? The ape is merciless to its peers in the way a wolf or dog could never be.” I wonder, are dog-lovers less able to cope with the complexity of human relationships? Are we all, at heart, cold misanthropes?
Dr Serpell says you would think so, but a review of the evidence indicates the contrary. “There is a suggestion that pet owners have a greater desire for company and friendship, and because of this use their pets to augment what they already derive from human companionship.” How, I ask, are we meant to square the circle of loving dogs as we do, and all the rescue centres spilling with abused and abandoned dogs? “Animals in shelters,“ he replies, “usually have behaviour problems. They bark incessantly or chew up the house, which interferes with our attachment. Our love is conditional.”
Although we might not be so good for dogs – don’t get me started on the pure-breed horror stories, and those poor bulldogs who look like sat-upon toads – dogs are good for us. People with dogs live longer, have lower blood pressure, suffer fewer minor ailments and recover from illnesses faster. Dogs buffer against depression, grief and loneliness. Dogs facilitate social interaction, as my own husband will testify: “When I’m out walking Monty, lots of women talk to me, which they wouldn’t do if I didn’t have a dog.” (Do you get their numbers? “Yes. I’ve got stacks.” That’s amazing, considering you’re not that attractive. “I know!’) Children raised with dogs are more empathetic and have a better understanding of mutuality. Disturbed children undergoing therapy can be better reached when a dog is present. (Freud’s favourite chow-chow, Jo-Fi, attended all his therapy sessions.) And dog owners are fitter. On average, a person with a gym membership will exercise for two hours a week, whereas a person with a dog will exercise for eight hours. All my life I’ve prided myself on never taking any exercise, but I walk Monty on Hampstead Heath for at least a couple of hours every day and I’m never bored. His enthusiasm rubs off on me. Let’s bark at this squirrel! Let’s crash though these bushes! Let’s see if this nice golden retriever lady wants sexy time! Plus, dogs make us feel happy – chemically.
According to researchers at the University of Japan, dog owners experience a surge in the hormone oxytocin after periods of playing with their dogs or simply being gazed at by them. Oxytocin has been nicknamed the “cuddle chemical” for the role it plays in the mother-child bond. It produces positive, warm feelings and because it’s a serious stress reducer – it dampens down the area of the brain associated with anxiety – may also help explain the myriad health benefits associated with dog ownership. But if our brain chemistry responds to dogs as if they were human – or honorary humans, at least – what does this mean? That we are predisposed to bond with them, as we might with a child? Is Monty my child-substitute, even though I have a child already? (Now 17, my son clamoured for a dog, and talked the talk, but has he since walked the walk? No.) Dogs push all the right nurturing buttons, and have even been bred to appear more and more childlike, with rounded heads, big eyes and softened features. We cannot resist this baby look, which is why we also can’t resist dolphins, ET or Japanese cartoon characters.
But if dogs are going to be proper child substitutes, they are going to have to get this short-lived thing sorted. As the New York poet Mark Doty notes in his wonderful doggy memoir, Dog Years, “One of the unspoken truths of American life is how deeply people grieve over animals who live and die with them, how real the emptiness is, how profound the silence is these creatures leave in their wake. Our culture expects us not only to bear these losses alone, but to be ashamed of how deeply we feel them.” When one of my childhood dogs, Trixie, died, I could not speak for a week.
I grew up with dogs in London, in the Sixties. We mostly had labradors: safe, reliable, the Vauxhall Corsa of dogs. We loved them dearly, but they weren’t too much of a thing. No evening out was cut short because, “It’s not fair to leave the dog on his own for so long.” We fed them cheap smelly dog food from cheap smelly tins or they ate scraps. They were never allowed on furniture or upstairs, so my mother now says, although I certainly remember Trixie on my bed at night. I would always try and synchronise my breathing with hers, although I couldn’t tell you why. As an adult, I always felt I had a dog-holed shape in my life, a feeling Lady Annabel Goldsmith captured perfectly when she recently wrote: “Why do we love our dogs so much? It’s not, in my case, because they are a child substitute — I have five children and ten grandchildren, whom I adore. I can only describe it in the following way. I find an emptiness when the dogs are absent, compared with the cosiness of coming back after an evening out to be greeted by a rapturous pack, a positive whirlpool of paws and tongues and yelps of delight.”
I decided to get a dog once I started working exclusively from home, and would not have entertained the idea otherwise. People who leave their dogs for eight hours at a stretch are, to my mind, committing a criminal act for which a custodial sentence would not be inappropriate. I chose a labradoodle – mother a labrador, father a poodle, although neither stuck around and I think they’ve had more children since – because a labradoodle fitted the bill. Right temperament; right size; right sort of coat. I do feel guilty about not getting a rescue dog but, because it was my first dog, didn’t want to end up out of my depth; plus I am thinking of getting a second, rescue dog? Look, I don’t have to justify myself to you!
My husband did not want to get a dog. “We live on the brink of chaos as it is,” he said, “and a dog would push us over the edge.” The dog has pushed us over the edge, but he now loves the dog, goes camping with the dog, and walks the dog off lead around London, which makes my heart stop just thinking about it. I ask him why he thinks Monty seduced him. Go on, I say. Give us a quote. “I don’t know,” he says. “Can’t you make something up?” Perhaps it’s as Doty says: that it’s impossible to put this love into words, just as it’s impossible to put any love into words: “You can describe your beloved until the tongue ties and still, in truth, fail to get at the particular quality that has captured you.” Or perhaps it’s because our relationship with dogs cannot be mediated by language. As Virginia Woolf said about Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s dog, Flush: “Not a single one of his myriad sensations ever submitted itself to the deformity of words.” Or it could just be that my husband is a lazy a*** who is too busy collecting women’s phone numbers. Still, I think he would say the following about dogs: they are bloody good at soliciting our care.
Although it’s always been thought that dogs evolved from wolves around 15,000 years ago, new evidence suggests it may be as long as 135,000 years ago, in which case dogs evolved along with us. It’s astonishing, when you think about it. But to be descended from a wolf is not to be a wolf, and dogs are now not wolves. Wolves howl whereas dogs bark, possibly to communicate with us. Any owner can tell their dog’s anxiety bark (high-pitched, whiny) from its guarding bark (low, deep, full-throttled). A wolf has a “mechanical” intelligence and will try to figure out problems by itself, whereas a dog will try to enlist human help, as Monty does when he scratches the back door to go out, or thumps his bowl with a paw in the hope it’s dinner time, which it rarely is. (As he would say: “Well, it was worth a try.”) But it’s the dog’s attentiveness to humans that really separates dogs from wolves, and particularly a dog’s attentiveness to our faces. A wolf won’t look a human in the face, but dogs not only look right at us, they look at us in a uniquely human way.
When humans look at another human face their eyes wander left, falling on the right hand side of the person’s face. This “left gaze bias” only occurs with human faces and does not apply at any other time. The reason for this? Probably, it’s because our faces are not symmetrical and the right side of our faces are better at expressing our emotional state. This was thought to be a peculiarly human trait until researchers at Lincoln University discovered that dogs also exhibit this “left gaze bias” – which means what exactly? That they are gauging our emotions? Here is Daniel Mills, professor of veterinary behavioural medicine at Lincoln: “The question we asked is, can dogs do what humans do, and the answer is ‘Yes’ and I’m not surprised. If you speak to the average dog owner they’ll say: of course dogs do that.”
So the things dog-owners have felt intuitively all along, that dog’s have a sixth sense and know how you’re feeling, might be true? “The thing we consistently find about dogs is that they are incredibly perceptive. While they may not have some of the human capabilities, they can behave as if they have because they are so perceptive about what is going on.” This makes sense biologically. If the dog is dependent on us, it needs to know where our behaviour is going. Are we in a bad mood? Should it keep out of our way? Further, research in Hungary is showing that if a dog is trained to understand the pointing gesture and two bowls are put out – one containing food and one not – the dog will over-ride what his nose is telling him and go to the empty bowl if the human is pointing at it. “The dog always wants to be where the human is,” says Professor Mills, “and is just so incredibly tuned into our body language.”
The study of domestic dogs is a new discipline – previously, domestic dogs were considered too “artificial” to be worth the bother – and there are, he says, exciting discoveries to come. Work is being done in social cognition, language cognition and the role of dogs in child development. “If you look at family psychology, which has been going on for 50 years, the role of the pet has hardly been considered. In some cities, mainly associated with poverty, a child is more likely to grow up with a dog than it is a father. That’s really quite a shocking statistic, and psychology hasn’t even thought about it.” So it’s not all about being the dog’s boss then? “That,” he says, “is rubbish. And such a primate way to think. There is no evidence dogs can use social status to motivate behaviour. It’s a really good example of anthropomorphism. Humans may think in terms of being motivated by a hierarchy, but there is no evidence a dog’s brain is capable of that.” How would he, then, describe the relationship between man and dog today? “It’s like a family friendship,” he says.
Domestic dogs are phenomenal. They look to us, are in tune with us and want to know us even when we are not worth knowing. You may say that the average dog’s life isn’t “natural”, but who is to say what nature intended? At some point in their history, wolves attached themselves to humans and became dogs. And as Rowlands notes: “To the extent that nature has intentions at all, this was part of her intentions no more and no less than wolves remaining wolves.” I ask Professor Mills if he feels sorry for the average urban pooch and he says no, not at all. Dogs are endlessly adaptable, and as long as you don’t forget the dog in the dog, and offer exercise, stimulation and company, a dog can have a good life anywhere.
I don’t think I understand Monty that much better after this journey, but I do understand our relationship better, and why he means so much to me. There is a proper thing going on here, and it’s a thing that goes back thousands of years and gets my brain chemistry all fired up. I don’t know what Monty would have to say about any of this, obviously, but do know some further things he wouldn’t say, if you’re still interested. One is: “You look wiped out. Shall we skip our walk this afternoon?” And another might be: “Drink from the toilet? Why would I want to do that? It’s so, so déclassé?”

Nail care tips

Nail care is one of the areas all too often overlooked by dog owners. While some dogs will never need their nails trimmed they are the exception to the rule, most will need their nails trimmed every month or so.

Overgrown nails can cause significant problems, they can curl into the dog's paw pads causing infected sores as well as permanently distorting the shape of the dog's foot leading to problems walking. Additionally, the longer the nail is the longer the quick is, so if you don't cut your dog's nails for a long time you will need to reduce their length gradually.

So how should you trim your dog's nails without causing pain and discomfort?

The key is to avoid cutting the sensitive quick which contains the nail's blood supply and nerve. In dogs with white nails the quick is visible as a pink line, by trimming the excess nail just below the quick you should be able to avoid any discomfort. For dogs with black nails where you can't see the quick the best approach is to take small slivers of nail off at a time until you see a black dot appear in the middle of the nail. By doing this you minimise the likelihood of cutting the quick and hurting your dog. 

Sometimes, despite your best intentions, you will cause the nail to bleed. In this case the best remedy is to apply some styptic powder (available from pet shops) and pressure to stop the bleeding. While there may seem to be a lot of blood you needn't worry too much - your dog is not going to bleed to death because of a cut quick. (Do keep an eye on the nail however to make sure that it heals without getting infected, this is rare but can happen.)

A good indication that it is time to trim your dog’s nails is when you hear them tapping on hard surfaces. However, the more often you trim your dog's nails, the easier the process will become. 

It is important that this time you spend with your dog is not a struggle. Be patient. 
A dog's nail clipping can be a stressful event for him, especially if someone has
cut the quick before. Dogs tend to remember that painful incident. So, if your 
dog is not used to having his nails trimmed or is frightened, simply begin slowly 
and hold his toes firmly for 15-30 seconds during practice sessions. You can then 
progress from holding his toes to actually trimming them.
With time and patience, you and your dog will become accustomed to the clipping 

Below is a helpful illustration showing the structure of the nail and the correct 
way to cut it: