As agile as a sack of spuds

agilityIf you know Toffee, it is unlikely that you would associate her with the word ‘agility’. She is about as agile as a sack of spuds. She will be dragged on a walk but, given the option, I am sure she would choose someone’s knee or a nice warm blanket. She’s not really a ‘let’s go for a run and see if we can catch some rabbits’ dog; she’s more of a ‘let’s sit down and have a nice cup of tea’ dog.

My daughter Emma, having set up all manner of obstacles in the garden using plant pots and bamboo canes, has shown a great deal of enthusiasm for agility, which is more that can be said for Toffee. However, her determination (Emma’s not Toffee’s) has met with some progress, so I decided to enrol them both on an agility course for beginners. (This was not to free me up for an hour to do the Saturday supermarket shop, just in case you were thinking along those lines … although, now you come to mention the idea …)

We arrived at the class with obligatory doggy nibble bribes, a variety of leads (not sure why), plenty of poo bags (in case of beginners’ nerves) and a clicky thing that I bought when Toffee was a puppy. (Your first dog is a bit like having a first baby – you buy all manner of stuff that you never actually use.) Emma was quite nervous; probably because she knows Toffee too well. Toffee was excited and jumping about like a nutter. This is because she got to ‘go in the car’ and ‘going in the car’ generally means going to the beach or to see other people, which are two of her favourite things.

On the course was a cute Schnauzer called Whoopi (cool name – wish I’d thought of that) along with the instructor, Kat. Having sniffed each others’ bottoms for a bit (that is Toffee and Whoopi – not Kat), it was time for the serious stuff: jumping over hurdles, followed by running through a tunnel and then a bit of weaving (we’re talking running round poles, not navajo rug making).

All I can say is that I was shocked. Perhaps it was Kat’s expert tuition. Perhaps Emma had threatened Toffee with having to sleep next to the washing machine again. Perhaps she was showing off in front of Whoopi. I suspect the treats had a lot to do with it. But whatever it was, Toffee was brilliant! She leapt, tunnelled and slalomed like a pro. Nobody could quite believe it. I have to say that Emma was great, too. I don’t think Toffee would have performed quite so well if I had been in charge.

So , agility has been a great success. Well, the first lesson at least. And now Toffee is doing what Toffee does best … sleeping. It doesn’t matter how good she might be at agility, her expertise will always be in the discipline of chilling out.

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Autumn sunshine with ‘Offee

toffee-at-fraisthorpeIt was twenty five degrees and sunny in Yorkshire yesterday, but just to remind us all that it is in fact autumn; today it is absolutely pouring down. I think this is a temporary glitch in our Indian Summer, but even if it isn’t, what a cracker of an autumn we have had so far .. well, at least in Yorkshire.

We are fortunate enough to live near enough to the coast to make a mad dash to the beach to enjoy the last warm, sunny days of the year. Our favourite place is Fraisethorpe Beach near Bridlington. It remains dog friendly throughout the summer and provides the perfect opportunity for a good long walk into the town for an ice cream along a stunning, and often largely empty, beach. If you are ever in the vicinity, it comes highly recommended.

Toffee loves the beach but hates the sea. When your nearest ocean is the North Sea, who can blame her. It’s pretty cold. Here is a photo of her enjoying a day out beside the seaside. It might look like she can’t spell her name, but I would like to reassure you that she can. The photographer (me) chopped off the ‘T’. Cockapoos just can’t get the staff these days

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Team Toffee 2

Toffee after a two mile power walk … bass drum not included.

A week into our training regime and things are progressing well. I have dropped the retractable lead so Toffee has to walk at my speed on a short lead. Bear Grylls would show no mercy, so I’m not showing any either. “No pain, no gain. You’ve got to fight for it. What are you – a pussy?” That’s what Bear would say, so that’s what I say to Toffee.

It must be working because we are now mastering two miles in 30 minutes – that is apart from the time that I met a friend on the corner. 

She is a runner and often runs with her dog on a stretch lead attached to a belt (!!) Toffee took the opportunity to have a lie down whilst she shared a few of her top ‘running with dog’ tips. She is doing the Jane Tomlinson 10k this year. Will you be taking the dog, I asked. “No, I’ll be taking a big bass drum.” This lady is doing the Jane Tomlinson 10k with a brass band!!! Seriously!

My ambition to run 5k suddenly seems a bit a small.

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Toffee in Training

  Last week I embarked on a new regime to get running. I have never really mastered the art of running … or jogging … or even trotting. It’s one of those things that I would really like to be able to do, but as soon as I get my trainers on my body says no and then my lungs agree with gusto. 

So, having been to my local sports centre to ask the advice of Ros, one of the gym instructors, I left with an outline of a training plan. I, of course, turned this into a spreadsheet. (I love a nice spreadsheet.) The plan involves some weight training to activate muscles that I could have sworn I don’t actually possess, and some cardio work. When I looked at the time I would have to commit to said plan my heart sank. Until, that is, I came up with the brainwave of combining Toffee’s fitness regime with mine!

The first few weeks require some speed walking. Great – I can kill two birds with one stone; the two birds being me and Toffee. Week one requires Team Toffee to walk one mile in fifteen minutes. This sounded achievable. I quickly mapped out a mile-long walk from my front door (a mile is a lot further than I thought), downloaded the ‘Mapmywalk’ app to time myself and got cracking. 

At this stage it is worth knowing that the average walking pace is about one mile in 20 minutes, and that the average walking pace of two women chatting is one mile in about half an hour (in my case anyway). So, a 15 minute mile is actually quite fast. Add in a dog with half her genetics from a cocker spaniel (cockers are bred to sniff things out so walk with their nose to the ground and stop dead at the slightest niff of anything) and you are not off to a good start.

When I am walking around my local area I tend to use a standard lead. The retractable lead is used when we are away from roads. Since I had an inkling that Toffee would struggle with our new brisk perambulations, I took pity on her and allowed her a ‘bit of give’ by using the retractactable. Having limbered up with a few stretches, off we set at a fair lick. 

I am not kidding you when I say that the lead was at full stretch for the full mile … with Toffee firmly at the rear! I reckon it would have been easier to drag a bag of coal behind me. Despite the additional traction, I managed my fifteen minute mile, complete with a poo stop and a quick ‘sorry I can’t stop’ to my fellow dog walking chums who happened to be en route. I felt very chuffed with myself, although it is fair to say that Toffe did not really share in my jubilation. 
The problem is that we have to do three more weeks of this … and then we start running!

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Winter weather – won’t walk!

Sunny walk

“These are the only conditions in which I will walk: sunshine, daisies and daffodils. Do you understand what I am saying to you?”

If Toffee could speak, “winter weather, won’t walk” were the words she would have uttered yesterday without even raising her head off my daughter’s bean bag. (She has appropriated this as her ‘day’ bed.) It was cold and wet. The day before she never moved from said bean bag ALL day, and I am talking 8.30am till 4pm. She managed to rouse herself just in time for tea. It’s a hard life.

Toffee does not do rain. Toffee does not do wind (apart, of course, when she provides her own). Toffee does not do cloud. Toffee does not do damp. Toffee does not do cold (unless there is snow, which is exciting). This is a significant problem when you live in Yorkshire, since these are the prevailing weather conditions even during the summer months.

When I first got Toffee, I imagined that a shrill “walkies” from the back door would result in my dog scampering from wherever she was with her tail wagging and a look of adoration on her face. “You’re gonna take me on a walk! Really! I am sooo excited! Show me the lead! Show me the poo bags and let’s rock and roll!” I think this is what a lot of dogs do – come rain or hail. Not mine. Even on a nice day, “walkies” merely results in a slow plod from the bean bag to the kitchen, with a sullen “if you must” look on her face. On a wintry day, you can forget it. I have tried everything, including:

  • “Let’s go see Auntie Sue!” Toffee’s special person from down the road. (To be fair this is mostly a lie, except on Mondays. Eventually even Toffee sussed this one.)
  • “Let’s go find Amber!” Toffee’s very well-behaved walking buddy, also from down the road. (Again, mostly a lie except on Wednesdays. Soon sussed.)
  • “Come and get a treat!” This is to lure Toffee to the kitchen. This used to work pretty well – treat given with one hand; lead attached with the other. A slick move that worked for a few weeks.
  • “Toffee, walkies!”, “Toffee, walkies!” “Toffee, walkies!” “TOFFEE GET DOWN HERE NOW!” This tactic has worked precisely 0% of the time.
  • My last option has been to pick her up from the bean bag, carry her downstairs and put her lead on. Her response is to plant her backside firmly on the kitchen mat. Toffee is not large, but if she ain’t going – she ain’t going.

Fortunately, today was sunny so we got a walk in, but a dog who only walks on a sunny day is not going to get many walks in Yorkshire. Any advice, greatly received!

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Dogs at work

dogs at work

“Sleep deprivation? Tell me about it. I only got 18 hours today.”

I left my last office job about 18 months ago to return to the world of self-employment. I had a couple of major reasons for this decision, and I would be lying if I said that spending more time with Toffee was one of them. Spending more time with Toffee was certainly a benefit I had considered, but it was definitely not the main reason. Working from home suits me just now, but it can be pretty lonely at times. Gone is the tea room banter, the Monday morning catch up and the Friday afternoon ‘what are you up to this weekend?’ chats. Most of the time it is just me, my Mac and Toffee. To ensure that I don’t completely lose my social skills, I often walk the dog with friends first thing in the morning. Mondays – it is S and A for chats about house extensions, cars and husbands; Wednesdays – another S for discussions about sleep deprivation, self development and self employment; Thursdays – chatting with L about City of Culture, music and arts. Toffee is with us in body, but not in mind. I don’t think she is in the least bit interested in the new Ford Mustang, how to do crowd control during a presentation or cities of (sub)culture. The point is she is my companion when I am working and a reason to get off my backside to do some exercise with friends and have a real life conversation. She is pretty much interwoven into my working life.

So what will happen when I want to go back to working away from home? I know this time will come at some point because I am a big believer in change (I have the boredom threshold of a 3 year-old). Will I be able to leave my trusty canine companion at home while I head to the office? I’ve done it before…

I know I’ll find it pretty difficult, which is what first attracted me to the Boss’s crazy idea of buying a tea shop. One of the places we like to go as a family is a tea shop where you can also paint pottery. (My daughter has a wonderful collection of painted pottery mermaids, dragons, cup cakes and pigs.) The main attraction is the resident ‘sausage dogs’, Tia and Priscilla, and the fact that you can take your own dog, too. The owner loves dogs. I know this because she always says hello to Toffee as if she is the one about to order a latte and sit down to paint a mermaid. Her dogs potter about, sit by the window to get some sun and, occasionally, let besotted visitors stroke them. So when the owner told us she was selling the business, after I got over the disappointment, I thought ‘hey, this would be a good job because I could bring the Toffster with me’. Immediately, I imagined walking to work with Toffee in the spring sunshine, making a few pots of tea, painting the odd mermaid whilst it was quiet, and chatting to customers – yes, I would really be part of the local community. Never again would I catch myself asking myself a question out loud. And the best bit would be that Toffee would be with me all the time, mmmmm …

The idea had also caught the imagination of the Boss (he does in fact have an imagination) and he started to think out loud: “I could be front of house and you could do the baking,” he exclaimed. Suddenly, my colourful dream seemed to go a little black and white. And then I looked at Toffee, who, having been attached to a chair by her lead, was strangling herself trying to get to the smallest morsel of cake you have ever seen on the floor and just out of reach. The dream suddenly turned into a bit of a nightmare … the Boss doing all the chatting, me producing very substandard bakes and washing up, and Toffee terrorising mermaid painters for affection and titbits. Perhaps working from home isn’t that bad, afterall.


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Make it last as long as possible

One of the reasons Cockapoos are so popular is the fact that they don’t moult. This is great if you have allergic relatives (in my case the Father-in-Law) and if you are married to someone who is obsessed with pet hair. The Boss is pretty short-sighted but he can spot a single hair on any type of carpet or upholstery a mile off. How does he do that? In fact, I generally spend the five minutes before he is due home from work cat hair hunting. This is because, whilst he is at work, I allow her into parts of our home from which she is officially banned by the Boss – that is most of it. The cat’s ASBO means that she is restricted to the kitchen floor. I think this is a little unfair; the cat thinks it is preposterous. We have a deal – when the Boss comes home, she goes out. (It’s a good job the Boss doesn’t read this blog.)

Back to Cockapoos. They don’t moult, which is why we got one. The only problem is that Cockapoo hair just keeps on growing. It’s a fine line between a cute, teddy bear-style coat and manky looking dreadlocks that you really can’t get a comb through. If, like me, you are not hot on grooming, your much loved Cockapoo can quickly resemble a matted mop with incredibly long eyelashes (they keep growing, too). Talking of eyelashes, I have been told that some people like to leave their Cockapoo eyelashes long and strictly forbid groomers to snip them. Personally, I think this is a bit unfair. Toffee walks into things she can see, she hasn’t got a hope if she can’t see. Also, she reminds me of when Princess Diana did that interview from underneath her eyelashes – do you know the one? (That reference is for the over-forties only.)

When I take Toffee to be groomed I generally go for the ‘make it last as long as possible’ approach. It’s a bit like when you buy kids school uniform that is three sizes too big. My daughter is still wearing the skirt I got her in Year 4. She is now in Year 8. It was skimming her ankles in Year 4 – now it is rather short and I am not sure that she can breath all that easily – but boy, was that a smart buy! When Toffee gets groomed; she gets groomed. I am not the kind of owner that says, “can you just take a little off so that she still looks like a teddy bear”. No siree. I always tell Demi, Toffee’s lovely groomer, “don’t mess about, take it all off”. The result is that she is clipped to within an inch of her life and returns home looking a like a scrawny goat. She really does become a shadow of her former self – I often have to tighten her collar to stop it falling off. Having said that, she is also a new dog. It is almost as if she has been freed from a great, heavy burden of furriness. She bounds about like a new born lamb on Haribo, takes great pleasure in annoying the cat and launches herself like an exocet missile when the Boss gets home from work. I often wonder if she, too, is thinking ‘make it last as long as possible’, but the thought soon evaporates when the Boss locates a single, incriminating cat hair on the sofa …

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