27 November 2012

Santa Paws is coming to town...

..aka 5 Christmas gift ideas for dogs (and their owners)

It's that time of year. The shops are full of Christmas decorations and Christmas carols can be heard everywhere. For many of us, our thoughts turn to presents and what to buy our nearest and dearest...including our four legged friends.
Image@ Two greyhounds wearing Christmas hats.

Call me mad (after all, I am known as the 'mad' greyhound lady in the village) but I like to give the hounds a present (or two) on Christmas day. I know they don't know what day of the year it is and why we give presents but why should they miss out?

Well, if you're wondering what to pamper your pooch with this Christmas, or are wondering what to buy a dog loving friend, wonder no more! I've got a super list of five ideas - all tested either by me or the hounds - that would make a great gift this Christmas.

1. Send a 'Secret Santa'...

Who doesn't love receiving a Secret Santa?  All the anticipation of wondering what the gift is and who bought it.  Well, there are a number of companies which provide monthly and one-off gift boxes packed full of toys, treats and presents for dogs and dog-lovers alike.  I've already blogged about Pooch Pack but for Christmas, thought I'd treat the hounds to a Fings for Fido Christmas box.

Contents of the fings for fido Christmas box
The fings for fido Christmas box
Fings for Fido is run exclusively by canines for canines. Red, Lola, Mitzi and Dexter are the canines responsible for running Fings for Fido and for choosing what goodies make it into the gift boxes.  I was lucky enough to order an advance Christmas box and get a sneak peek at what pooch pressies lay inside...

...and I wasn't disappointed! For £29.99 the box came packed with a good range of toys, treats, a Reg and Ruby edible Christmas card, a small spray of pet remedy (great for keeping canines calm), a Stag bar (well Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without a reindeer of some sort) and the latest copy of Dogs Today magazine.

Stevie greyhound plays with the santa tug toy
Stevie gets to grips with Santa
The toys included a 'Tug a Santa', 'Doggy lips' (I love these), a green rubber stick (for playing safe games of fetch) and an Ancol treat toy in the shape of a bone.  The hounds seem very taken with the box from the moment it arrived (they can sniff out a good treat when they smell one) and Stevie had the first game of tug with Santa.

I'd recommend the box for the sheer variety of gifts it provides.  As I have three dogs, there were more than enough toys for one each and even Jasper, with his four remaining teeth, was able to enjoy the treats and play with the lips and the rubber stick.

A Fings for Fido Christmas box costs £29.99 and if you order before 10 December 2012 delivery is guaranteed for Christmas.  You can order a Christmas box from: www.fingsforfido.com

2. Trim that tree with decorations that are good enough to eat...

Why should it be just us humans who can hang edible decorations on the Christmas tree?  Surely our canine companions deserve some edible (and well out of reach) delectable decorations too?

Reg & Ruby rawhide angel decorations hanging on tree
Reg & Ruby edible angel decorations
Well, this year I'm trying out Reg and Ruby's edible rawhide decorations.  I discovered Reg and Ruby a few years ago as their edible rawhide Christmas cards are available in my local Sainsbury's and I just couldn't resist buying each of the hounds a card.

Last year, the hounds were treated to a Reg and Ruby edible advent calendar, where each day you could cut off a small rawhide bone as the treat.  This year, I'm giving the decorations a go. They're very pretty angels and as of yet I'm undecided whether to hang them on the tree (well out of the hounds' reach) or display them on the mantelpiece.

Reg and Ruby products can be bought online from a number of retailers including - D for Dog.  Prices for the angel decorations start from £2.55, edible Christmas cards from £3 and the edible advent calendar for £7.99.

3.  Cookies for canines...

I love baking home-made treats for the hounds but in the run up to Christmas, when time is short, I just don't have the time.  I first came across Patchwork Pooch on Twitter and then met them at this year's Lincolnshire Show.

They are a local Lincolnshire company who hand make and bake gourmet dog treats.  There's even a gluten free range for dogs like Mina who can't tolerate wheat.  The bone shaped biscuits come in four flavours: original, cheese, chicken and beef and prices for a packet start from £2.55.

My local dog grooming salon - Fur Do's Salon - stocks Patchwork Pooch products, including the lovely Christmas jar above. I popped in to have Jasper's nails trimmed (his nails are more like hooves than nails) and came away laden with some packets of Patchwork Pooch biscuits and the Christmas jar. You can Patchwork Pooch biscuits and more from their website.

4.  We three books of dog training are...

I like a good read and certainly with my university studies, my bookshelves are now groaning under the weight of dog training and behaviour books. There are so many great dog books to choose from, it can be difficult to know where to start. Two new books have hit bookshelves this year: The Official Ahimsa Dog Training Manual by Grisha Stewart and What Your Dog Wants - 7 Key Skills of a Perfect Dog Owner by Karen Wild.

Grisha's book - The Official Ahimsa Dog Training Manual - is suitable for dog owners, trainers and breeders. It contains a great introduction to the science behind dog training and how dogs learn - in a very reader friendly way.

The book also introduces clicker training and explains how and why it works to such great effect with our dogs (and many other animals). There is a great section on dealing with problem behaviours including puppy biting and chewing, barking in class, separation anxiety and resource guarding.

The bulk of the book is dedicated to showing and explaining to the reader how to create good habits for their dogs, in a humane, force free way. Grisha often provides several different ways for teaching an exercise and plenty of advice to make sure both you and your dog succeed.

The book is available on Amazon.co.uk as a paper back and retails at £8.06. It's also available as an e-book (in Kindle, e-pub and pdf formats) for $9.95 from Dogwise.com

What your dog wants is written by Karen Wild.  It is an easy to follow guide to building a better relationship with your your dog and is split into seven key skills for dog owners: Comprehension, Communication, Understanding, Motivation, Stimulation, Awareness and Responsibility.

The book is packed full with great colour photos throughout, which really help illustrate the topics. The Communication section contains a break down of how dogs learn and see the world, along with step by step instructions (and photos) for basic training.

The Awareness section helps the reader understand the needs of dogs at their different life-stages and the final section on Responsibility is packed full with sound advice on keeping your dog safe (and on the right side of the law)!

The book serves as a great introduction to owning, caring for and training a dog and would make a great Christmas present for a new dog owner. It is available on Amazon in hardback for £7.99 and £4.49 for Kindle format.  Signed copies are also available to order from Karen's website: www.karenwild.co.uk

Merle's Door, by Ted Kerasote, isn't a dog training book as such and may not be a book you have heard of (despite being published in 2007).  However, it is worthy of any Christmas stocking.

The book chronicles how Ted  found Merle -who was living wild - whilst on a camping trip to the Utah desert.  Ted had been looking for a dog to keep him company when their paths crossed.

It is a story of their life together and the author's reflections upon dogs in modern society and an increasingly urbanised world. Marley and Me, it is not.  It's 361 pages long and I found it a riveting read, which is why it is still on my bookshelf.

Reading it opens the door to another lifestyle completely - both that of Ted and Merle.  It certainly provides food for thought.

The book is available on Amazon in both paper back (£8.45) and hard back (£14.32) formats.

5. Rudolph (the not so) red nosed reindeer...

It wouldn't be Christmas without a Christmas themed toy for the hounds to try.  Each year I look for a new toy to try... over the years we've had a fat Santa ball, Christmas pudding tug toys, snowmen toys, penguin toys and even a turkey toy!

Mina gets to grips with a crunchy reindeer
This year I've found a reindeer toy with a bit of a difference. The dog it reindeer crunch is a toy that you can put an empty plastic water bottle in, which gives it that added allure (especially for Mina).  It's also got a squeaker in the head - just in case the noise of crackling and crunching the water bottle isn't enough to excite your dog!

Mina loved it (she's had a sneak test-run before Christmas, so I could write about it on the blog). How long it will last, I'm not quite sure - after all Mina is a squeaker seeker and destroyer extraordinaire.  It seems pretty robust, so we'll be keeping fingers and paws crossed that it lasts into 2013.

The Reindeer Crunch retails from around £4.49 - £5.99 and is available online at Seapets.co.uk

So, what's on your Christmas wish list?

I hope you've found some inspiration for Christmas gifts and if you've some other ideas of what would make great Christmas presents for hounds and their humans, please do share them in a comment.

05 November 2012

A break in the clouds for the black dog

I can't believe over a month has gone by since I last blogged about depression.  It's probably no coincidence though, as this month coincided with a trip to the doctor's which resulted in me being signed off work for 4 weeks and given a prescription for anti-depressants.

Since starting my blog posts and opening up further about how depression has affected me, I've been incredibly touched by the number of people who have chosen to get in contact. Some messages have been through the blog itself, others have been direct messages on Twitter or private messages on Facebook and some have just been good old fashioned 'chats.'
Jasper, the greyhound, a real life black dog
My real black dog - Jasper

One of the things that has really struck me from all these messages is just how many people 'suffer in silence' and that, unfortunately, there is still a great degree of stigma surrounding depression and mental illness.  I've had people telling me that I'm 'brave' for blogging about my experiences as they fear that if they blogged about their experiences or opened up to employers that it would damage their careers.  This saddens me.  Depression or mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, however I am well aware that stigma does still surround it and none more so than in the workplace.

The brain is a complicated and, arguably, the most important organ in the body.  Without a brain we cannot function.  Unlike other organs though, when things go wrong with your brain people just don't know what to say or do. If I'd had a kidney infection, heart problem or broken a bone in my body I'm pretty sure I would have received cards and flowers...but mental illness seems to put people off these gestures. (There were two notable exceptions to this for me and those people know who they are and how much their gestures meant to me).

When I've been talking about depression to people and trying to help them understand how it impacts on me, I've gone back to likening the brain to a computer. Our brains are often referred to as the computers for our bodies and as most people use computers I use the following analogy to try and explain how depression affects me:
"When I think of the brain, I like to think of it as the operating system for my body - a bit like Windows on your PC.  If you get a bug on Windows (or whatever operating system your computer uses), it's likely that it will impact on all the other software. Excel might not add up numbers correctly, Word may be a bit slow, PowerPoint may just keep simply shutting down. You wouldn't just think 'oh, it will right itself, or snap out of it' - the chances are you'd install an anti virus programme to sort the bug out. 
"To me, depression and mental illness is that 'bug' in the operating system.  It wont' go away by itself.  Medication is what works for me - it rights the chemical imbalances and my operating system (gradually) returns to full functioning capacity."
Sun shines through the clouds
A break in the clouds of depression
Depression is often alluded to as a dark cloud that permanently blots out the sun, or a fog that envelops everything.  Certainly for me it is a combination of both.

However, thanks to the medication and time off work, there is now a chink in the clouds of my depression and the sun has shone through for me.

I can't pretend that I felt immediately better or that the medication kicked in super quickly - I didn't and it didn't.  In fact, for the first three weeks I felt pretty horrendous. My depression seemed to worsen along with increased bouts of anxiety and interrupted sleep - all side effects of fluoxetine (better known as Prozac).  My concentration levels were zero and only seemed to return, albeit slightly, around the three weeks' mark.

After returning to see my doctor, I was signed off for another week to allow the medication a chance to kick in.  I am so glad that I had this extra week, as suddenly the meds did seem to be working.  The black clouds and fog began to lift and I started to feel more like my 'old self.'

As the medication has now started to work, it has made me realise just how long my depression had been growing.  I can see clearly that I was probably suffering from mild depression for a good 12-18 months before it became more severe and prompted me to seek help.

I am now back at work and have been very open with colleagues about the reason for my absence.  Generally, the response has been one of understanding and kindness and even more people opening up to me that they too have had personal experience of depression.

I realise it's still early days and that medication may not be the answer for everyone however, it is the answer for me.  I'll probably be on the medication for a good 6-9 months. I've learned from (bitter) past experience that coming off anti-depressants too early can have disastrous consequences.

I'd like to finish this post with a reference to the great charity that is SANE.  I came across SANE through social media and have found their posts, website and service so helpful.  They tweeted for people to share their messages of hope for better mental health, so I decided to share my message of hope and was humbled to see that SANE had used it.

"Do not be ashamed of depression or seeking help. Acknowledging it is the first step to recovery."

SANE tweets and messages of hope for better mental health
SANE message of hope

When you are in the depths of despair and depression taking that first step is scary - I've been there - but once you take it, the future isn't so scary anymore.

Mental health organisations that can help:

SANE, Mental Health Charity - http://www.sane.org.uk/
MIND - http://www.mind.org.uk/
The Blurt Foundation - http://blurtitout.org/
The Black Dog Tribe - http://www.blackdogtribe.com/

04 November 2012

Product Review: The Pooch Pack

Who doesn't like receiving packages and gifts through the post? Not many people I suspect. Personally, I love receiving packages through the post and the anticipation of what goodies may be lurking inside. Now, even our dogs can experience this and, if you choose so, on a monthly basis too!

Introducing the 'Pooch Pack*'

Just like a magazine subscription, there's not much that you can't get delivered to your door on a monthly basis. Pooch Pack is a gift subscription service for dogs (the name is a bit of a giveaway really)! You can choose to have a one-off  delivery or subscribe for 3 or 6 months and then sit back and wait for a box of doggy delights to arrive.

Each box contains 5-6 products that have all been specially selected to appeal to the most discerning of dogs (you can specify the size of dog when ordering, to make sure products are suitable).  So, when I was offered the chance to try out a Pooch Pack, I jumped at the opportunity.

It didn't take long for it to arrive, or for me to open the box to discover its contents...

Pooch Pack contents
The Pooch Pack

Included in the box were:

I was impressed by the simple, yet effective, packaging (plain and very sturdy cardboard box, with a Pooch Pack sticker and orange shredded paper - just enough to protect the contents) and I loved the contents card with its QR codes (these really appeal to the marketer in me and make it super easier to get to the suppliers websites).  However, the real proof in the pudding isn't what I think of the box and its contents, it's what my three greyhounds made of it.

Discovering the doggy delights

It didn't take much encouragement for the hounds to get stuck in (quite literally) to the Pooch Pack and its contents.

The hounds investigate the Pooch Pack
Jasper, Mina & Stevie investigate the goodies
Something in the Pooch Pack is making Mina lick her lips
Something's making Mina lick her lips

The Dublin Dog Roxxter

Mina tries out the Dublin Dog Roxxter
Mina gets to grips with the Dublin Dog Roxxter
One of the things that hit me when I first opened the box was the strong smell of vanilla.  I couldn't fathom where it was coming from until I had a look at the Dublin Dog Roxxter.  I have to say I did find the smell a little off putting and wondered why the dog toy is scented with vanilla - is it for human or hound benefit?  Anyway, it didn't seem to deter the hounds. I've not seen a treat dispenser like the Dublin Dog Roxxter before, so did wonder how effective and attractive it would be to my greyhound gang.

Well, so far, it's proven to be a hit. Both Mina and Stevie have taken it in turns to dislodge treats from it. The only thing is, the treats need to be relatively small to come out - larger treats get stuck and aren't as easy to dislodge as they are from other well known brands of treat dispensers.

Doggie Patisserie

Bone shaped Doggie Patisserie training treats
Doggie Patisserie Treats
The Doggie Patisserie treats have also proven to be a hit - both with the hounds and me! They're made from just five human-grade ingredients:  wholemeal flour, oats, honey, peanut butter, semi skimmed milk and baking powder.  They look and smell delicious and as the content card said "Human grade ingredients only so if you're felling peckish, you can nab one too!" I did! I can confirm they are rather moreish and the hounds may have to 'fight' me for them!

Soopa Pets

Soopa Pets Papaya and Sweet Potato Dog Treats
Soopa Papaya & Sweet Potato Treats
I'm always on the look out for treats that my snaggletoothed hound, Jasper, can eat.  He only has his four canine teeth left so traditional chews aren't really suitable.  There were two bags of chews included in the box - papaya and sweet potato.

The treats are 100% natural, as well as being wheat and grain free (another big tick for me and for Mina).  Jasper seems to be able to eat them quite well, although he definitely prefers the papaya over the sweet potato.

The other goodies

So far, I haven't had a chance to try out the other goodies. I already have several poop sack dispensers, that attach to leads, so I'm not sure whether the Doggee is for me.  The Pooch and Mutt Bionic Biotic looks good and the package provided with last Mina for one month.  The Scruffy Chops shampoo smells lovely but a shampoo for the hounds isn't needed at the moment, so I'll have to wait to try it out.

Subscribing to Pooch Pack

If you'd like to find out more about the Pooch Pack and getting one of your own delivered, simply visit their website at www.PoochPack.co.uk  Prices start at £19.95 for one month's supply, £18.95 per month if you subscribe for 3 months and £16.95 per month if you subscribe for 6 months.  Delivery is free.

Overall impressions of Pooch Pack 

I have to say the Pooch Pack did impress me.  It has introduced me to some products that I would never have known about and/or considered trying such as the Dublin Dog Roxxter and the Soopa Pet treats. Personally, I would have liked to see another dog toy rather than the Doggee (sorry Doggee) but all in all the contents didn't disappoint.

I think a Pooch Pack would make a great Christmas or birthday gift (you can purchase a one-off box, if you don't want to subscribe) for a dog loving friend, or if you're feeling generous it can be a gift that keeps giving for as many months as you choose.  I have a sneaking suspicion that it may well be on the hounds' Christmas and birthday wish lists...

*Disclosure: I was provided with a free promotional Pooch Pack to review .  I have not been paid for my views and all views expressed are my own.
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