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One Paw at a Time

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As many of you will know, I can be an anxious fella. I wrote about this back in September when my Mum consulted a dog behaviourist looking for advice on how to manage and improve my anxiety. I’ve also written about this on Instagram and Twitter, and have been amazed and really touched by the comments. I’m not alone in anxiety, clearly. And the more that Mum and I have shared this, the more we’ve met other dogs and their humans who have been struggling with similar issues – very similar issues. We met a standard wirehaired dachshund one day outside my grocery store in Stockbridge, and he and I were mirroring each other in our signs of anxiety: both trembling, tailed tucked, eyes darting, not making eye contact with our Parents. And it isn’t a ‘size thing’. We’ve heard about and met bigger dogs with the same issues.

So having talked about it here, I thought it was time for a progress report. A good progress report. I have made Progress. Mum and I have been working on this for the last few months. We only had two sessions with the behaviourist, but Mum learnt a lot. And yes you did read that correctly: Mum learnt a lot. (Ed: I truly did.) First up, she changed my lead. I’ve always had an extending lead, the same as my Uncle Bracken, as the Parents reasoned that I so rarely get time off the lead that an extending lead at least gave me some freedom to explore and sniff when we were walking in quieter places in town.

The first thing the behaviourist Mark advised was to change to a short lead. Nothing fancy, just a short lead. This means that I’m always close to Mum and I’m in a safe zone where she can divert my attention quickly from anything that might be… worrying. Things improved from the very first walk on my short lead. Seriously. If you’re having problems walking and you’re using an extending lead, try it. (I still have the extending lead for when we go out of town to the woods or beach – where I’m generally off the lead anyway.)

Also, Mum learnt to pay more attention to me, and by that I mean my body language: what I was looking at, what my tail was doing, how I was walking. She learnt to pay more attention to everything going on around us: dogs, people, cars, noises, anything that I might be about to react to. She learnt never to get frustrated, even when she was feeling frustrated. Never to show it. To be calm, patient, consistent. To praise me readily. She learned never to push me to my limit, as once I reach that point I’m no longer paying attention to anything. I’ve shut down.

Also, crucially Mum says, she learnt to trust her intuition. Always. Which is why we’ve spent the last few months working on new experiences. Rather than trying to get me better socialized with other dogs, Mum decided to get me better acquainted with the city we live in and then, in time, to start introducing dogs to the mix. The Dog Nanny has a fantastically informative blog for all dog parents and has been writing recently about training her own wirehaired dachshund pupadoodle Pretzel. This post pretty much sums up what Mum has been doing with me (only minus the carrying bag).

We’ve been on weekly tram rides to meet my Dad from his work at the other side of the city. The tram is smooth and quiet, but this being Edinburgh, it’s always busy, so I’m getting used to being around strangers and new smells and sounds. We’ve walked back through the city, straight along George Street (one of the main shopping streets in Edinburgh) in December when the place was full of Christmas shoppers, walking in a Mum-and-Dad-Sandwich formation, with me flanked by the Parents so I’d feel safe while still taking in all the people and lights and noises. We’ve been to the train station to meet Dad, and the station itself, with all its strange sounds, it less stressful than the walk to get there through one of the busiest parts of the city.

And Mum and I have been to various cafés and pubs to meet her friends and my Aunties, and I’ve joined Mum for meetings with her work contacts. All new people and places. Experiences to push me towards my limit without ever reaching it. Experiences that have gradually stretched that limit. Some of my anxiety is to do with association: when we leave our flat and turn right, I reckon we’re heading to meet my Dad. When we turn left, I reckon we’re heading for a walk, and that’s when I dig in. To be honest, I’m shaking as Mum carries me down the stairs from our flat to the street. So Mum decided to find me a ‘safe place’ – a place that she could carry me to, and I’d walk from there. (Carrying being a considerably less stressful option for me than stopping on the street every few yards, shaking in fear.)

Let’s be clear, I’m no lightweight – one of the things that people say whenever they meet me for the first time is that I’m a lot bigger than they expect a miniature dachshund to be. “Is he miniature?” they ask. So yes, Mum has spent weeks lugging me, the “towster”, to my safe place. The photos above and below are that place – not the garden (if only) (Ed: if only!) but the pavement around it, as there’s a fence and trees on one side and there are always cars parked on the other. For some reason I walk from this spot. Not always happily, but I walk. Here I am on Tuesday this week, but we’ll get to that….

safe place

Firstly though, last week, something changed. And for the better. Mum and I have a sign: if I need down when she’s carrying me, I nudge her with my front left paw. So we had just left the flat, and I gave Mum the nudge. “Really?” she said. It was a stormy day. The wind was hammering along the street and it was freezing cold. “Yep,” I said. “I need to pee.” Mum placed me down, I did my business, then looked at her. “I’m not sure I’m ready to walk,” I said. Mum thought about this. “Okay, let’s not walk, let’s run,” she said, and off we ran, all the way along the road, across a road, along another road, and on and on to the safe place, where we stopped. “See,” Mum said, attempting to breathe, “you don’t think about it when we run.” Which was true. And off we trotted, walking now. Zoom zoom…

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The next day – striking while the iron’s hot and all that – we tried it again. This time, I gave Mum the nudge, she placed me down, and we walked all the way down through town, past my safe place, and on to Stockbridge. This was a first for me in a long, long time.

So on Tuesday this week, we tried something different. On every trip out we’ve made since Mum and I started this process, there’s been an incentive. We’ve been meeting Dad or one of my Aunties, or we’ve been going to my grocery store for chicken (major incentive and reward wrapped up in one outing). On Tuesday, it was a calm blue-skied day. “Let’s go for a walk,” Mum announced. I was tucked up in bed, by the radiator, contented as a young fella can be on a freezing January afternoon. “Who are we meeting?” I asked. “No one, we’re just going for a walk round the streets, like we used to do, for no reason other than walking,” Mum said. “There’ll be things to sniff. It’ll be fun.”

I gave Mum the paw nudge pretty much as soon as we got outside. “Let’s do this thing,” I said, so we did. We walked. I sniffed. Mum stopped and took photos of random buildings and doors she liked the look of. (She’s weird that way.) She talks to me all the time now, constantly giving me encouragement. And she just talks – something about the tone of her voice feels reassuring. Given that where we live is basically a gigantic car park, with cars lining every street, most people who are walking or driving past us don’t see me. They just see Mum, walking along, talking to herself. We paused to take this photo. It was a good walk.

And today we did the same thing, only this time Mum threw in a trip to Just Dogs to get my chicken treats. Today was a bit more stressful as we met a few dogs and people who stopped to talk, but it was okay. I walked. I exchanged a few tentative sniffs with other dogs. These things were impossible last year. Think about that: pretty much the whole of last year, unable to go for a walk in town without completely freaking out at some point.

So, yes, progress. There’s still a way to go, but we’re getting there. This also means that you can expect to see more photos of me plonked in random places. When I was super-anxious, Mum wasn’t going to stop and take photos. Mum and I have a rule: no photography if I’m stressed. Now, however, I seem to have no problem about posing on strangers’ doorsteps. Progress.

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My December

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So, it’s a new year. Most people get fairly excited about New Year, but think about this experience from a dog’s perspective – we haven’t experienced as many new years as humans have so it’s a really big deal for us. Back in 2011, I was experiencing my first Hogmanay and New Year with my Parents, and I must admit it passed in a blur of chilly paws (I was only a pupster at the time) as I tried to come to terms with the whole concept of “business outdoors” in December.

By the time 2013 dawned, I’d got the hang of things – as had the Parents. (Apparently standing outside in gale force winds and driving rain while encouraging your tiny new pup to “Do your business little man” is also a challenging process for humans. Who knew?) I’d learned about fireworks during the festival that happens in Edinburgh every August, so the Hogmanay celebrations were less of a shock. And I’d learnt that New Year’s Eve means two things in our household: snuggling on the sofa with the Parents, and a DVD box set.

And this Hogmanay was no exception as we settled into position with a box set of 24, and I snoozed through the drone-attack explosions on TV and the fireworks that were happening outside. But not before my Mum I published a Steller story on My December. True, January 5 is a little late to be sharing this accompanying blog post but Mum and I decided to have a ‘screen break’ over the holidays – laptop screen, that is, as there’s no escape from the iPhone in our household.

And, as is the way at the start of a New Year, I sat down and made some resolutions. 7 resolutions to be precise. Random, I know, but here goes:

1/ Accept that it’s okay to walk out our front door and turn left. Walking out our front door and turning right means I’m either a/ going to our garden (which is tucked way round the back of where we live) or b/ going to meet Dad from work. Right is good. Turning left means Mum and I are just going for a walk, and that induces all sorts of anxiety. Mum and I are working through this. For the time being, Mum carries me to my ‘safe place’ and I walk from there. This approach makes me less anxious. However, I am “a hefty lump to have to lug around,” Mum says, as I chose a safe place that isn’t anywhere near our home. I arrive at the safe place fully charged, while Mum is whimpering with arm-ache.

So, at some point this year, I’m going to walk out our front door and turn left. And it’s going to be okay.

2/ Eat more kibble. You might imagine that eating kibble would be the easiest resolution to keep but I struggle with kibble some days. I want chicken treats. I want mackerel munchies. I want chive chews. I do not want kibble, even the organic, grain, dairy and soya free sustainably-farmed kibble that Mum buys for me. So yes, I need to eat more kibble and (deep breaths) demand less treats…

I feel hungry even writing this.

3/ Grouch a tiny bit less when people visit the stair we live on, and a considerable amount less when the postman arrives. (Ed: I sense this is an impossible resolution to keep…)

4/ Be less terrified of other dogs. (Ed: work in progress.)

5/ Learn never to drop a sneaky pee indoors. Anywhere. At any time. Ever. Even when it’s raining outside. (Ed: see my comment to 3/ above.)

6/ Find an extended family member who I can adopt, and who I can stay with sometimes. As it is, Mum and Dad have no one to leave me with, so while Dad makes occasional trips back to his Homeland, Mum can’t go anywhere. This, naturally, is fine by me. I want Mum all to myself, at all times. Always. But apparently this is an important resolution. “I really want to go to Berlin… Paris… Amsterdam… London… somewhere,” she says. This resolution promises to be a tricky one. (Ed: tell me about it.)

7/ Find a friendly pupster, or two, who I can meet and go walks with in Edinburgh. Apparently, I need to be a bit more social. (See 4/) So if you’re reading this and you happen to be a dachshund living in Edinburgh who’s looking for an anti-social, anxiety-filled friend… do get in touch.

And that’s it. My 7 Resolutions of 2015. I haven’t been successful on any of these so far but, really, it is only day 5… and what’s the rush? There are 360 more days on which to get this list nailed.

Happy New Year friends!

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When Uncle Phil Turned Up

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Phil Wilkinson

Phil Wilkinson

“It’s your Uncle Phil,” Mum said when the buzzer rang yesterday. I looked at her. I have an Uncle Phil who is a neighbour, and who I grouch at loudly every time I see him. (Don’t get me wrong, I like this guy, but Uncle Phil and Mum can stand outside the flat, in the street, chatting for half an hour while I shiver my paws off, so he gets grouched at.) “It’s a different Uncle Phil,” Mum explained as she swung the front door open, having swooped me up and tucked me under her arm. “This Uncle Phil is one of my oldest friends – we’ve worked together for years – and he’s just dropping by to say hello.”

And then, in walks a complete stranger, who I grouched at gruffly, only he didn’t seem at all phased. He reached out his hand, and he smelt of dog. Dog-s, to be precise, as it turned out that Phil (“Uncle” is a code word Mum uses to let me know when someone is a friend and is welcome in our home) has two, Jasper and Bud. “Hello little guy,” he said, and with that we wandered through to the kitchen and Mum put the kettle on, which is the official signal that everything is fine and I really don’t need to grouch any more. (Ed: not that this stops him.)

As some of you may know Mum is a journalist, and it turned out that Phil is a photographer based in the Scottish Borders. Mum and Phil used to head off on shoots most weeks, at times to far flung parts of Scotland, and sometimes Jasper would accompany them – this was back in the days before I came along, and also before Bud arrived. Naturally enough, I was quite interested in this stranger who smelt so good. “Let me up on the kitchen table,” I said to Mum. “I want a closer sniff.”

And then this happened. Phil had just been taking photos for The Scotsman at Lyon & Turnbull’s auction house so he had turned up with his camera kit. Before I knew it, I was on the kitchen table being photographed. My first professional photo shoot.

Phil Wilkinson

Phil Wilkinson

Now, you know me, I’m not great around new experiences, and while I’m used to Mum’s iPhone, I’ve never encountered a flashgun before. But Phil just chatted away to me. He made it easy. He talks Dog, which helps. And when I’d had enough of the flashgun, I tucked my tail between my legs (canine code for: time out please) and that was that. Until next time, Mum says, as if Phil could get a few photos out of me when I was completely unprepared for the experience, think how good a photo shoot could be with a bit of preparation. Here’s a photo Phil took of Bud.

Phil Wilkinson

Phil Wilkinson

Beautiful, right? Bud is one handsome guy. On which, I’d like to point out that Mum had brushed me, albeit briefly, prior to this photo shoot. She whisked the brush down my back and around my head and whiskers, and I still managed to look completely scruffy. Result, I say, yet Phil had barely left before Mum was emailing my groomer and trying to get me booked in for a “light strip and tidy” before Christmas. Hmm…. I wear my scruff with pride.

If you live in central Scotland, the Scottish Borders, or the north of England, and are interested in having your own canine family member photographed by Phil, you can find all the contact details you need here.

Phil Wilkinson

Phil Wilkinson

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My November

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November was a funny old month. Dark afternoons by 4pm. No more evening walks in the park. Grey mornings and cold late night walks round the block. Winter, basically. And, I must admit, I’m not a huge fan of winter. But this has also meant that we’ve packed more into our weekends. Trips to the beach, which you start to take for granted in summer, feel like adventures. And it was my Uncle Bracken’s birthday on the 28th (the Big 5) so we had a weekend sleepover. On Saturday we went to Elie in Fife and had a too-brief and chilly beach walk before darkness fell, and then on Sunday we packed ourselves back into the car and drove down the coast to our favourite beach at Yellowcraig, and ran along the sand as the sun set.

And, I guess, the good thing about winter nights is the snuggling. As my Uncle always says: “Squirt, find the positive in every situation.” Cold paws: bad. Snuggling: very good indeed.

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Has it really been 3 years?

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pup 1

It’s hard to believe this, but it was 3 years ago today, on November 19 in 2011, when I came into my Parents’ lives. The photo above was taken when we had literally just arrived home – to my new home in Edinburgh, with my new Parents. I look pretty unsure of what’s happening here, as you might expect. Inside, I remember, I was freaking out just a little bit. Up until this day, I’d been living with my pack miles away in Kirkintilloch, and I’d been hanging with Little Bud, who was my best mate. He was a week younger than me, and we spent our nights snuggling together in our den, and our days rampaging like crazy young pupsters. We were inseparable.

And this, this right here might not have happened. When Mum and Dad first came to visit the breeder, Elizabeth, in Kirkintilloch (I’m still not sure what a ‘breeder’ is exactly), they knew there were two puppies, but Elizabeth mentioned that she had been thinking of keeping me. I was 19 weeks old at the time and a strapping young fellow. Elizabeth thought Mum and Dad might like Little Bud. And they did, especially Dad. Little Bud was full of cheek, so, naturally, this characteristic appealed to my Dad.

Mum, however, wasn’t so sure. “I get enough of that from you,” she told Dad. I had caught her eye. “He seems… calmer,” she says. How first appearances can be deceptive. “I reckon he might be… quieter…” (Ed: first appearances really are deceptive.) Mum and Dad were in a quandary. They spent an hour or two talking to Elizabeth (I can’t remember as I was too busy rampaging to pay attention) and then they left.

“Who were those peeps?” I asked Little Bud. I had done a little poop beside Mum’s chair, just to make her feel welcome. (Ed: I should have paid more attention to this.) “I’ve no idea,” Little Bud replied. “They smelt okay though.”

And that was that. Until two weekends later – yes, two weekends – these strangers came back, smiling, looking a bit anxious, but also really happy, and off I went. When I was thinking about writing this, I asked Mum why they didn’t take me home that first day, and why they waited. “We were thinking,” she explained. “And I mean really thinking. I knew that you were The One, but I’d always said that we wouldn’t start a family (Ed: this being a canine family) until we had a garden. It didn’t seem fair to have a dog living where we do, in a top floor flat. I thought house training would be a nightmare. (Ed: it was.) I thought you’d miss having a garden to run around in. But then, the longer we thought about it, the more we realised that we couldn’t keep putting our lives on hold until things were ‘right’. Sometimes, you have to just jump in.”

pup 2

And jump in they did. We all did. At first, I really missed Little Bud. I missed the pack. (Again, I’ve asked Mum about this and she said that, had we had a garden, Little Bud and I would have been coming home together.) I spent the first night in my new home crying at the top of my tiny but powerful lungs. Mum eventually placed my bed beside her, so that every time I cried even a little, she could reach down and touch me. None of us got much sleep for those first few nights.

And “house-training”…. well, that was interesting. It was November, and it was a particularly cold winter that year. Once it was dark, Mum had to carry me outside wrapped in a fleecy blanket as it was too cold for me to walk, and I wouldn’t do ‘business’ on any hard surfaces, like pavements, so I was transported to the nearest patch of grass. The world was overwhelming to a little dude. But day by day, I started to realise that there were some really great sniffs out there. We went to our local park, which was huge. That first Sunday, day 2, I went to meet my Grannie and Uncle Bracken for the first time. Meeting my Uncle Bracken was the moment when I realised that this new life was going to be okay.

And, of course, day by day, I grew to know your Parents, and they grew to know me.

pup 4

Here I am with Dad. We were having a deep conversation in this photo (I Instagrammed about it a while back). In those early months, Dad was home a lot as he wasn’t working at the time, so we got close. I challenged his perceptions of what having a “little dog” would be like, because small in stature does not mean small in attitude.

Now, three years on, my Parents can’t believe how much their lives have changed. They used to love going to the movies, going for weekend walks in the city, going away for a weekend, but now they don’t do things unless I’m involved (okay, I allow them the occasional movie), which means woodland and beach walks and dog-friendly cafés (or having a carry-out in the car when we can’t find anywhere that’s dog-friendly). That’s what family’s about, after all. Their lives now revolve around, well, me.

And if you ask Mum whether she used to feel maternal, she’ll tell you no. Never. Until now. (Ed: this is true.) She can’t remember exactly when it happened – “Though it wasn’t when you were a puppy peeing all over the rugs, that’s for sure,” she says – but at some point I got under her skin, and that’s where I’ve stayed.

pup 3

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My October

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I’ll admit, October has been a quiet month here on TWATH. It’s been a busy month over here on my Instagram, but my Editor has been annoyingly busy doing “work” rather than sitting down and editing for me. (Ed: those baked chicken treats rolled in herbs don’t come cheap you know…) But it’s also been a good month. If you spotted my previous post, you’ll know that Uncle Bracken has had a few sleepovers. We went south to Northumberland to explore on Holy Island and had the shortest beach walk at Bamburgh before the heavens opened (and, as you know, us dachshunds don’t do rain). We drove up to Perthshire, to this amazing garden at Drummond Castle, where I met my first peacock (when I say ‘met’, we basically eyed each other up and the peacock ruffled his tail feathers a bit). And we’ve had woodland walks and beach walks.

This week has been a shock to the system though. Suddenly, it’s dark in the afternoons, and too dark to go out exploring after Dad comes home from work. It’s winter. I sense that ‘My November’ is going to involve a few less far-flung adventures and a lot more snuggling on the sofa…