Thursday, December 31, 2009

The hottest name in canine couture...Puppy Kit!

What are the best-dressed dogs wearing this season? Something from Puppy Kit The super-smart online canine boutique (which also boasts a shop in Buckhurst Hill, Essex) had the stand next to us at Discover Dogs last November and it took four people a whole day to stock their shelves. I don't think there was a moment during the two-day show when people weren't queuing to look at their range and as we were packing up I noticed that Vicky and Marianne both sported overflowing Puppy Kit carrier bags.

What makes Puppy Kit so special? As with any fashion shop it comes down to their eye. The buyers have a brilliant knack for seeking out the hottest pet fashion and accessories. International labels include Juicy Couture, Dogs of Glamour, Chien Vivant, Waifs & Strays, and Trendy4Paws plus they carry all sorts of witty accessories such as collars, coats and bowls featuring your favourite soccer team.

Puppy Kit brings style to the practical things that every dog needs from baskets to blankets and from toys to tags. They also offer all sorts of dog-related items including a range of jewellery. Anyway, as you will have gathered, we have all gone slightly Puppy Kit mad at Darling's!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Pet Food Politics. The Chihuahua in the Coal Mine.

After being up for half the night dealing with sick Chihuahuas I decided I would spend the afternoon snoozing on the couch. However, I made the terrible mistake of starting to read a book sent to me by my friend Matt (who runs a brilliant organic chocolate company called Organic Meltdown that plants a tree for every bar of chocolate sold) and it was so gripping I ended up not sleeping after all.

Pet Food Politics: The Chihuahua in the Coal Mine describes the 2007 USA recall of pet food involving 200 different brands containing (or suspected of containing) ingredients responsible for killing an estimated 4,000+ dogs and cats. It reveals how, in an effort to cut costs and boost profits, manufacturers started to buy ingredients of dubious provenance and quality from - amongst other places - China. The Chinese, it transpired, had been lacing these ingredients with (of all things) melamine.

The author, Professor Nestle, isn't really interested in dog welfare per se. To her the key point is that: 'Pet foods are just one part of an inextricably linked system of food production, distribution and consumption.' She views the recall (the largest consumer recall of all time) as a warning about the globalisation of the food industry viz. we can no longer be certain where ingredients really come from or whether they meet appropriate safety standards.

She is doubtful about whether manufacturers, government or consumers have learned from the experience and predicts that it is all likely to happen again hinting darkly that next time it may be humans who die. A chilling book, then, but fascinating for all that.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Warning about SentryPro XFC - our Alice and Edward both had dreadful reactions

Hudson Valley, NY. Up all night with Alice (above with Mrs. S) and Edward thanks to a product called SentryPro XFC which controls fleas and - more importantly - ticks. Ticks in this part of the world often transmit Lyme disease and after much debate Marianne and I have decided that prevention is necessary. Usually we use something called FrontLine but as the vet wasn't on duty when I went to collect it at our local PetSmart store the assistant recommended SentryPro instead.

Well. We followed the instructions and applied it to the back of both dogs just before bed. But at 2.30 we were awoken by a terribly noise and crying and rushed down to find Alice shaking and falling over and trying to lick her paws. There were little piles of vomit all over the floor. A quick look online and what do we find. Hundreds of references to similar cases. We follow the advice being given out by various sites and wash the dogs several times and then - as they still seem ill - made a visit to the vet (a 45 minute drive each way) who called the manufacturer's hotline. The company's representative said it wasn't an allergic reaction but an overdose and that there was nothing we could do.

Thankfully, by 6ish both dogs had stopped being sick and the worst symptoms had subsided so we all went to bed.

Now. Here are my complaints:

- Nowhere on the packaging does it say the treatment shouldn't be given to dogs weighing under 9lbs (Alice is about 5 or 6 lbs). We assumed that because she weighed less she needed a smaller dose. It was the dose given to me by the pet shop and the assistant had said it would be OK.

- Nowhere on the packaging does it say (that I could find) that you shouldn't leave dogs that have been treated with other dogs as they may lick it off. (We might have thought of this ourselves, of course, but we didn't).

- Nowhere on the packaging is there any warning that the product may cause an allergic reaction or that it could poison the dog.

Happily, it doesn't look as if our dogs have suffered any permanent effects. Still, we are pretty fed up with the manufacturers - Seargent's Pet Care Products - and would strongly advise other US based dog owners to give their products a wide berth. A very wide berth, indeed.

Monday, December 28, 2009

A really stupid rule...

Manhattan. A white Christmas. A black thought. Why are dogs only allowed off their leads in Central Park before 9am on a Saturday and Sunday morning? It is a really stupid - I'd go so far as to say cruel - rule. Obviously, it is sensible to make people with aggressive dogs restrain them in public places. Otherwise, dogs should be free to enjoy the park. Grrrrr.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Stop speed eating with this great bowl from Rich and Robin

It is natural for dogs to gulp (rather than to chew) their food as all the digestion takes place in their stomachs. Some dogs, however, get into the habit of eating so quickly that it makes them ill. Which is where this great bowl from online luxury pet shop Rick and Robin comes in. Fiendishly clever, eh? The little bits that stick up slow the dog down and force him or her to eat at a normal pace. There are other similar bowls on the market - and it is a case of different bowls suit different dogs - but this is the one we recommend you try first. Incidentally, Rich and Robin has a great a selection of other 'luxury pet essentials'.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Pet Health Council is a bad, bad joke...

The Pet Health Council is, according to its website: 'Here to promote, inform and advise on the health and welfare of pet animals in the interests of both pets and people.' It is supported - financially - by the following organisations:

British Veterinary Association
Pet Care Trust
Pet Food Manufacturers' Association
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain

All these organisations are committed to the idea that there is nothing wrong with manufactured dog and cat food. This isn't suprising when you see where their vested interests lie.

The British Veterinary Association receives substantial funding from the pet food and pharmaceutical sectors.

The Pet Care Trust is registered as an educational charity. They have some very odd aims including: 'Stop the Health and Safety Executive gold-plating the European Biocidal Products Directive through its insistence that manufacturers conduct prohibitively expensive tests on the active ingredients of biocidal products that have been on the market for many years.' Biocide is a chemical substance capable of killing living organisms. Basically, they are a representative body for pet shop owners and groomers.

The Pet Food Manufacturers' Association is exactly what you would expect. Their members are the processed food manufacturers that produce the food that some vets now believe is causing so many medical problems in dogs and cats. No shortage of funding there, let me tell you!

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain is not, of course, involved in dog and cat food. Their vested interest (you see their name cropping up elsewhere in the pet care sector) is in promoting the idea that drugs are the best cure for what ails all of us - human, canine or feline.

Anyway, back to the Pet Health Council. Nowhere on its website could I find any information about raw food or the possible dangers of vaccinating pets or the problems associated with over medication or the successes that have been achieved by so-called 'alternative' methods such as homeopathy. In short, they are a simply there to whitewash the vested interests that support them. The best advice they seem to be able to offer pet owners is to make sure that their dogs have plenty of water. Pah.

Why didn't anyone tell me...?

In a shop today a woman said (morosely, I felt): 'Just two days until Christmas'. I only wish someone had mentioned it to me sooner. It has come as a terrible shock and finds me deeply unprepared. I have done no Christmas shopping whatsoever unless you count three bars of Green & Black chocolate which I bought for Mrs. S and secretly ate. I must smuggle out the wrappers when no one is looking.

I have been reading Real Food for Dogs & Cats by Dr. Clare Middle. Excellent, short book about why dogs should be eating a raw diet. In the first chapter she places great emphasis on how dogs are pack animals and the importance of making their status within the pack clear to them. The following types of behaviour will give your dog the impression that they are higher in the pecking order than the humans in your family:

- Feeding them before you eat.
- Letting them onto the furniture.
- Letting them sleep in your bed.

- Giving them treats for no reason.

Does it matter? That depends. In general, if a dog believes it is high on the pecking order it is less likely to behave well or do as it is told. It can also lead to anxiety. As Dr. Middle points out:

" Dutiful dogs can become over burdened with a sense of responsibility greater than they are capable of managing, making them confused and stressed and sometimes leading to behaviour problems and even aggression."

I have a friend with a staggeringly beautiful lurcher who is charming but - um - headstrong. Indeed, it is almost impossible to get him to do anything he is told. I am sure this is because he sleeps on her bed. On the other hand, she doesn't mind and he seems perfectly happy. So obviously, it is a matter of personal taste.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Is your dog's guaranteed safety worth 1p a day?

Have you got a seatbelt or better still a crash-tested safety crate for your dog? Think I am being neurotic? You wouldn't travel in a car without buckling up and you certainly wouldn't let a child roam free. So why put your dog's life at risk? Especially as there are some great safety products on the market.

The Rolls Royce of canine safety equipment comes from a Kent-based company offering a tubular steel crate that has been crash tested and fits most estate cars, people carriers and four wheel drives. OK, it will cost you upwards of £335, but to me this seems a small price to pay for peace of mind. Let me put it this way, one of these crates will last forever but even if you only use it for - say - ten years it will cost you as little as 1p a day or less. If we took our dogs in the car more than a few times a year this is what I would get them.

As it is we use a harness. I don't think these are anywhere near as good but they are still better than nothing and will stop the dog from going flying if you have to stop suddenly or become involved in an accident. We got ours in the USA, but SafeDog have what looks like an excellent option starting at £49.

Please, please think about how you transport your dog. I've been involved in two serious accidents (neither my fault) and I know how easy it is to think: 'Oh, it will never happen to me.'

Friday, December 18, 2009

Support Pets As Therapy

One of the most interesting people I met at Discover Dogs this year was Maureen Hennis, the Chief Executive Officer for Pets As Therapy. Since 1983 this fantastic charity has been taking dogs and cats to visit people in hospitals, hospices and residential and nursing homes as well as schools and other establishments. They also work with children who have special needs, stroke victims and many others. Wherever they go they bring comfort, companionship and therapy to those in need. Some 4,500 volunteers benefit 130,000 or more people every single week. What an achievement! Anyway, if you are looking for a canine charity to support this Christmas I don't feel you could do better. You'll find more information on their website

Of John Carter, CV 247 and curing cancer in dogs (and humans)

Years ago I remember reading something about a vet in Harrow who was having great success in treating cancer in pets (and humans!) but I never gave it much thought until one of our customers recently wrote and pointed out that part of the treatment was a raw, organic diet. So I did a little research and found that the vet concerned was called John Carter - sadly now deceased - and that his work had had quite a bit of publicity and is now (after many years of struggling) available in Hungary. As Hungary is in the EU I think this may mean the treatment is available here. Anyway, the website of the company which was set up to develop and research the treatment Ivy Medical Chemicals ( is fascinating. Here is what they say about CV 247:

"CV 247 is a combination product comprising of Sodium Salicylate, Copper Gluconate, Manganese Gluconate and Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C) taken as a solution. The product was conceived and initially developed by Mr John Carter, veterinary surgeon, who also advocated that in combination with the therapy a patient also followed an “organic Diet”.

Mr Carter established the treatment regime after many years of study and empirical research starting in around 1976. The work began after a number of friends and associates as well as many companion animals had succumbed to the effects of cancer. Mr Carter’s hypothesis was that the increasing rate of cancer affecting the human and animal world could have an association with modern food manufacturing methods and the environment. His theory and treatment was aimed at stimulating the individual’s immune system so as to resist the development or progression of cancer. The effect of this theory was repeatedly tested in his Veterinary practice on a compassionate treatment basis. Mr Carter’s interest and the success with the animals he treated led to word of mouth recommendations to tend to other animals suffering from cancer.

CV 247 was seen by pet owners to have a notable rate of success on their respective companion animals, and an anecdotal portfolio of satisfied dog owners was compiled. Credibility in the drug and treatment regime increased further when in 1993 Mr Carter was introduced to UCL Ventures, a division of University College London (UCLV). The anecdotal evidence collected persuaded UCLV that the claim should be investigated independently. UCLV agreed to carry out controlled trials and introduced Professor Peter Beverly who at that time was Head of the Tumour Immunology Unit of the Imperial Cancer Fund at University College London. Professor Beverly agreed to undertake a series of controlled experiments on the effect of the treatment on malignant cancers in mice. After gaining the necessary licence to undertake the experiment, the trials were carried out under a formal contract between John Carter and UCL.

Three controlled experiments were carried out. Professor Beverly concluded in his report that the treatment caused a statistically significantly reduction in the rate of tumour growth in the treated compared to the untreated groups and that there were no observable side effects attributed to the treatment."

You'll find tons more on the web about all of this. I don't feel qualified to say anything about the efficacy of the treatment but if I hear of any dog or person suffering from cancer I shall certainly pass the details on. Incidentally, I have a feeling that I read somewhere that you have to start treatment before chemotherapy.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Can dogs fly...?

We are looking into taking our American dogs (my wife is American and so three of our family dogs reside in the US) to our home in Ireland. The last time we considered doing this I did quite a bit of research and became so worried about their welfare that I gave it up. Now I have been introduced to Dana at Pet Movers ( and she has been so reassuring about the whole thing that we are on for it again. She says that the secret is a) use only airports and airlines that treat the dogs as live cargo and not as luggage and b) get prior approval for everything so that there is minimal delay. She warned me against giving the dogs sedatives (which one vet had been suggesting) as it can endanger their health at altitude and told me that not once - ever - has she come across a dog that didn't recover quickly from the experience. It looks as if our dogs will fly after all!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Why your dog doesn't need crunchy food...

On the first night of my French Exchange (what a harrowing three weeks that was) the father of the family where I had been imprisoned became somewhat intoxicated and long after the rest of us were abed could be heard singing in the kitchen. At 2am he began to shout: 'Voltaire, au panier! Victor Hugo, au panier! De Saint Exupéry, au panier!' He must be seeing dead writers and philosophers the way other people see pink elephants, I thought to myself, as I attempted to sleep. Odd, though, that he should be trying to get them into a basket. I made a joke of it, in my broken (oh, OK, pathetic) French, at breakfast next morning to the considerable amusement of all present. Voltaire, Victor Hugo and De Saint Exupéry being the family's three Spaniels.

Why am I waffling on about this? Because the experience prepared me for dogs with unusual names. And so when a prospective customer called today to talk about her Dachshunds - Darwin and Hooker (no, no, not what you think, named for the famous 19th Century biologist) - I was not taken by surprise.

I convinced my caller that a raw diet would be better for her dogs but she was harder to persuade when it came to not adding mixer. 'They need it,' she kept saying, 'because they want something to chew on.' Well, we discussed it a good bit and in the end I dropped the subject because I could tell I was causing irritation (or maybe I should say more irritation than usual). The truth is, however, that dogs don't need mixer, kibble or biscuits in with their food because unlike we humans dogs don't chew much. Their teeth are designed to tear meat of the bone not to - um - masticate. That's why you see dogs gulping down their food. Their primary objective is to get it into their stomach as quickly as possible in order to start digesting it. There are lots of other reasons not to feed dogs mixer, kibble or biscuit, not least the fact that they shouldn't be eating more than a tiny amount of grain. Also, what they really want for their teeth and to exercise their jaws and upper body is bones. Foam rubber, incidentally, is not considered good for dogs. Just thought I would mention it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Dogs versus cats. The great debate.

Quick. Nip into your local newsagent and pick up a copy of the latest New Scientist because the cover story by Kate Douglas is all about the relative merits of dogs versus cats. She looks at 11 different factors - size of brain, shared history, ability to bond, popularity, understanding, problem solving, vocalisation, tractability, supersenses, eco-friendliness and utility. The piece is packed full of fascinating canine and feline facts but as this is a dog blog I'll focus on the former. Here's a selection of things I never knew before:

  • The oldest archaeological remains of dogs are 31,000 years old. The entire dog genome has now been sequenced, incidentally, and the results suggest domestication around 50,000 years ago. However, Peter Savolainen of the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden thinks it is only 16,000 years ago and that the first dogs to be domesticated were to be found around the the Yangtze river in China and were probably destined for the dinner table.
  • Give a 4 month old puppy the choice between canine and human companionship and they choose us!
  • Rico the border collie can understand 200 different words.
  • Dogs, unlike say chimps, can understand gestures and looks, too. They are predisposed to inspect our faces for information, reassurance and guidance.
  • Dogs learn in the same way as babies using a technique called pedagogy which entails implicit teaching. Other animals, such as dolphins, for instance, learn by emulation.
  • Dogs see in the dark five times better than humans.
  • A dog's sense of smell is up to 100 million times better than a human's.
  • A medium sized dog's ecological footprint - the area of land required to keep it fed - is 0.84 hectares. Even a chihuahua requires 0.28 hectares.
Really, a fascinating piece if you can get hold of a copy. While I am on the subject of canine versus feline difference it is interesting to see their different begging techniques - as demonstrated by the photo above.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Thank you Canine Health Concern

I've just sent a long email to Catherine O'Driscoll, founder of Canine Health Concern (CHC), to thank her for her campaigning and to let her know how useful I have found her website. Catherine (I hope she won't think it impertinent of me to call her by her first name) is best known for her books explaining why canine vaccines are so detrimental to canine health. However, she has also been a fervent advocate of raw feeding and through CHC commissioned some interesting research which is summarised on their website ( as follows:

We asked people who had changed their dogs away from pet food and onto raw meaty bones to take part in some research. Our results showed that Natural Food - including raw meaty bones - is Better for Dogs than Processed Pet Food

Eighty-nine dog owners took part in the survey. Seventy-four per cent had changed to the raw meaty bone diet, and 13% were already feeding a similar diet. We were astonished by the results: there was a massive drop of 85% in veterinary visits shown by people whose dogs had �gone natural�. The 85% reduction was achieved by those who had been feeding the natural diet for a period of six months or more. Our own records show that, initially, feeding costs of a natural diet increase whilst vet costs decline. After about a year, quantity and feeding costs decline, too, as the dogs� nutrition rises to optimum levels.

The main visible health benefits reported by owners of the 126 dogs who were changed to the natural diet include . . more energy and activity, improved teeth and gums, glossier coats, and skin, and weight and behavioural improvements. Other benefits included lower susceptibility to fleas, improved appetite, an absence of stomach and digestive upsets, sweeter breath, cleaner ears, no more scratching, and veterinary medication no longer required.

Although dogs who had been on the diet for only a few weeks showed improvements, those on the natural diet for six months or longer were dramatically healthier than those whose diet had only recently changed. And - importantly - guardians were reporting multiple benefits for their dogs.

Canine Health Concern has been incredibly effective in its campaigning and in 1998 was the subject of a World in Action documentary. It only costs £16 to join (I've just joined myself) and it is money well spent.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Meat. You get what you pay for.

I have often felt that Radio Four should introduce a ‘Rant for the Day’ in which people with strong feelings on a topic – such as my good self – get an opportunity to let off steam about something that really, really upsets them. Like the cheap meat offered for sale by pet shops and other online suppliers.
Let me tell you why (he said his voice beginning to rise).

The amount that we spend on food has been falling as a percentage of income since the beginning of the Second World War. In 1939 the average person spent about a third of their money on food, whereas now the figure is likely to be one tenth. At the same time the cost of food has been falling in real terms thanks to intensive farming, imported food from developing countries and much lower standards.

Paying less for food is not necessarily a good thing.

Intensive farming causes serious environmental damage because it reduces biodiversity, requires harmful chemicals and creates pollution. It is cruel on the animals and birds as anyone with an open mind will see if they care to visit any of these so-called ‘farms’. It leads to huge health risks – think BSE, foot and mouth and all the extra drugs that humans now consume because they are already in the food we eat. Plus the food itself has barely any taste to it. When it comes to imported food there is one additional disadvantage: the wasted energy and resources used on transport. It is insanity to fly beans from Kenya to Britain. Sheer insanity.

Anyway, anyway, if the food we eat ourselves – especially the meat – is of poor quality (and by and large it is) and has been obtained at the expense of the environment and animal suffering, what about the food we give to our dogs? I am not talking here just about the meat that goes into processed dog food which is often what they call ‘Four D’ – the ‘D’ being meat that comes from dead, dying, diseased or down (disabled at slaughter) animals. No, I am also talking about the meat that you can buy for your dog that may cost as little as 30p a kilo or less.


The fact is, meat that costs this little can only be unfit for human consumption. It can only come from animals that have suffered.

Speaking as a former farmer I know that to raise a free range animal or bird, to feed it properly, to get it veterinary care if needed (although the worst problem I ever had with my herd of pigs was sunburn… a good farmer rarely needs to call out the vet) and to slaughter it in such a way as to minimise the stress and trauma (which takes time, thought and money) is expensive.

The only way to ensure that you are buying meat of superior quality is to know where it comes from and how the farmer approaches his business. Personally, I never buy meat from supermarkets because even if it is organic and free range you don’t really know where it comes from. Instead, I buy from a butcher I trust or direct from the farmer. It costs more, but it is worth it.

OK. Rant over.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Major R.F. Wall and Sir Frederick Hobday endorse Darling's raw food diet

On 1st December 2005 at 4.23pm (or was it 4.24, I forget now) Mrs Self and I met by the Information Booth in Grand Central and last year on the same day, and at the same time, and in the same place we got married there. (If you are very bored and really have nothing better to do you will find the story and photos in the NY Times). This year, wanting to celebrate the happy day, but feeling that a change of venue was called for, we decided to nip up to Hay on Wye for a couple of days walking.

It seems like 30 years or more since Richard Booth, a second hand bookseller, put the place on the map by declaring himself King of Hay. That's because it was 30 years or more. The media flocked to the sleepy little market town and so did other booksellers and now it is pretty much the most popular second hand book destination in the country.

HRH's main bookshop (there is a second one in the castle) hasn't changed much over the years (although it is now owned by an American who is smartening it up) and there is still a large section on DOGS. That's right DOGS. You probably thought I was never going to mention DOGS but I was leading up to it that's all.

So, when it rained and rained and rained on Sunday we pottered over to the Booth emporium and spent a happy couple of hours browsing. Mrs. S in the horse section, me in the dog section. Of all the books I ended up buying my favourite is:
Keeping a Dog by Major R.F. Wall with a foreword by Sir Frederick Hobday (you couldn't make this up) published in 1933 and dedicated 'To Jumbo from Uncle John'.

There are many gems to be gleaned from this excellent and entertaining tome but I will confine myself to just one quote from the chapter on feeding: 'The majority of dogs readily digest and thrive on raw meat.' A useful reminder that before the pet food industry started brainwashing everyone it was generally accepted that dogs should be fed a raw food diet.

Friday, November 27, 2009

We should pay our vets more...

We – by which I mean we pet owners – don’t pay our vets enough money.

No, honestly.

Most vets are dependent on commercial organisations to help supplement their income. They get sponsorship, fees, research grants and training from pharmaceutical companies and other organisations such as dog food manufacturers.

They also make commission from selling everything from medicines to, of course, food. Indeed, many small animal practices earn as much as a third of their revenue from dog and cat food sales alone.

If we pet owners were willing to pay more in fees then maybe vets could free themselves of their dependence on businesses that so obviously have a vested interest in providing support.

I would go so far as to say that an unwillingness to pay vets what they are worth has led to the fact that the whole veterinary profession is geared towards curing problems instead of preventing them.

This is because there is money in cures but not in prevention.

The wonderful Mrs. Self and I have just been to Vienna where we were given a tour behind the scenes at the Spanish Riding School. After looking at the stables, which house several dozen horses at a time, Mrs. S asked: ‘How often do the vets come to visit?’ The woman showing us around thought hard: ‘I mean maybe every two months, maybe not so often.’

The point is the School knows how to care for their horses so that they don’t get ill and don’t become injured. Interestingly, the School doesn’t use commercial feeds, but grows much of the horses’ food themselves on their own farms.

It is expensive being a vet. First you have to study for at least seven years and then, if you want to set up in practice, you have to invest a great deal of capital. Unlike, say, solicitors they haven’t trained their customers to pay substantial fees (my solicitors, by no means a fancy firm, don’t think twice about charging me £250 an hour and sometimes more).

As I say, if we were willing to pay more then maybe vets would be less susceptible to offers of help from unscrupulous commercial interests.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Why dogs bite people II

An interesting discussion this evening with a dog behaviourist who was explaining to me that domesticated dogs are being kept in a state of permanent puppyhood. In the wild they would lead a very different life. Instead of being taken from their mothers they would, at the appropriate moment, be pushed away. They would be taught how to fend for themselves and, in particular, how to capture prey. In due course they would have to fight for/find their place in the pack. Also, they would receive very little petting and love. I half knew all this but it was good to be reminded. Meanwhile, I must thank everyone who has been sending me 'why dogs bite people' photos. I have spent a happy ten minutes wondering what sort of conversation took place in the home where these poor dachshunds were photographed. 'Dearest, I have had a brilliant idea.' 'Really?' 'Yes, let's buy five banana suits and dress up Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Titch.' 'Genius, but I don't think Titch will go for it.' 'No, perhaps you are right. I'll only get four.' 'They are going to be so happy.' Evidence that domesticated humans, like domesticated dogs, are also being kept in an equivalent state.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Instant recall. How to get your dog to come.

On the right we see Laura, my daughter, then aged about nine or ten throwing her arms back and calling: 'Daaaaaaaarling!' On the left, out of sight, Darling is racing up the hill as fast as she can keen to obey her mistresses' (have I got the apostrophe in the correct place?) voice. All my dogs have pretty much instant recall and the way I have always trained them is this. I don't feed them for a day. The next day I divide their food into ten little plastic bags and take them into the garden (well, field, to be strictly accurate) and after they have romped off I call them - just once. If they come (and with a bit of prompting, sit neatly in front of me) they receive one tenth of their daily food. If they don't they are down to nine tenths. Repeat, as it were. The first day most dogs end up with about half their daily allowance of food. The second day they tend to stick to one like glue making it hard to put the system into practice. I've never come across a dog (apart from my ex-partner's standard Schnauzer, who has no interest in food) that didn't respond to this method. If only I could train the children as easily. I often have to call: 'Laurrrrrrraaaaaaa!' a dozen times to get her attention...

Saturday, November 21, 2009

One of the first campaigners for raw food

Hurrah for Ros Walters, the leading British canine nutritionist. She may be in her 80s but she is still taking on private patients, advising vets and campaigning for raw dog food. Although Ros is not known to the general public, she was one of the first experts to challenge the processed dog food industry. Vicky and I went to see her on Friday in order to discuss some new biscuit recipes she is working on for us. Ros thoroughly disapproves of our cheese and peanut butter biscuits on the basis that neither of these ingredients are to be found in the wild. Instead, she has suggested we offer biscuits containing health-giving herbs. Which is what we are going to do from next year. As you can see she has two beautiful corgis.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Playing dead

The wonderful thing about making your hobby (in my case dogs) your business is that it gives you an excuse to spend time doing something that you would otherwise feel guilty about. When Marianne, my wife, caught me searching for the best ‘play dead’ videos on YouTube I was instantly able to reassure her that it was for work. You may judge the result of my efforts for yourself.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Yes, we follow BARF principles. No, we don’t make a fuss about it

For the last two days we have been at Discover Dogs meeting dog owners who are interested in the BARF diet, offering tips and advice and giving away samples of our dried liver treats. I am not quite sure how many people attended in the end, but 26,000 were expected and I feel I may have shaken hands with most of them.

BARF stands for Biologically Appropriate Raw Food and the BARF diet of fresh, raw meat, bone and vegetable is starting to gain popularity. Darling’s Real Dog Food is based 100% on BARF principles. The key difference is that Darling’s saves dog owners a great deal of time because:
  • There’s no need for you to do any nutritional research.
  • There’s no need for you to source all the different ingredients.
  • There’s no need for you to make the food up every day.
This latter point shouldn’t be underestimated. It can be a yucky business preparing and serving raw dog food. With Darling’s, on the other hand, the food itself comes in neat little packages.

Generally speaking you will notice that we don’t make a big thing about BARF on our website and literature. Why not? Firstly, it is a political and ethical movement and we don’t think it is right to try and cash in on its goodwill. Secondly, we are a little prudish about the acronym with all its associations.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Why we sound so friendly on the telephone

Thanks to modern technology all our managers work from home. Your calls come in to our main number and are automatically routed to whoever is free. If they are all engaged then the call is transferred to our answering machine. The message you leave is transcribed and then forwarded to whoever is best qualified to deal with your query. We don’t have a call centre, we don’t have scripts and we don’t record any calls ‘for training or service quality purposes’. We feel that this approach allows us to offer a genuinely personal and friendly service.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Jackie’s Dog Grooming Services

Why are all the best known hairdressers male? I can think of half a dozen world-famous stylists and not one of them is female. Happily, there is no such discrimination in the dog-grooming world. And if ever a dog-groomer was going to reach international star status my guess is it might be Our Jackie (‘Our’ Jackie because she is one of our own managers). If you are in Wiltshire (or close to it) then I have no hesitation in recommending her. Her number is 0750 202 8679.

Friday, November 13, 2009

More about canine digestion

“Dogs do not produce the necessary amounts of enzymes in their saliva (amylase, for example) to start the break-down of carbohydrates and starches; amylase in saliva is something omnivorous and herbivorous animals possess, but not carnivorous animals. This lack of the necessary enzymes, places the burden entirely on the pancreas, forcing it to try to produce large amounts of amylase and cellulase to deal with the starch, cellulose, and carbohydrates in grains and plant matter. (The carnivore's pancreas was not designed to secrete cellulase to split the cellulose into glucose molecules), nor have dogs "evolved" to become efficient at digesting and assimilating and utilizing gains or plant material as a source of high quality protein. Herbivores do those sorts of things. Read Canine and Feline Nutrition Case, Carey and Hirakawa Published by Mosby, 1995.”

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Beagle escape

The Canine Reader’s Digest Concise Version of The Great Escape – only 90 seconds long but with all the thrills of the original. (unfortunately it couldn't be embedded).

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

We need more studies like this

“In December 1995, the British Journal of Small Animal Practice published a paper contending that processed pet food suppresses the immune system and leads to liver, kidney, heart and other diseases. Dr. Kollath, of the Karolinska Hospital in Stockholm, headed a study done on animals. When young animals were fed cooked and processed foods they initially appeared to be healthy. However, as the animals reached adulthood, they began to age more quickly than normal and also developed chronic degenerative disease symptoms. A control group of animals raised on raw foods aged less quickly and were free of degenerative disease.”

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Free liver treats if you visit us at Discover Dogs

Only four days until Discover Dogs at Earl’s Court. Vicky and I decided some time ago that we would give away a small packet of our 100% dried liver treats to anyone who visited our stand (206 if you are coming to the show). Why do dogs love liver more than almost anything else? Instinctively they know that it provides them with the richest and best source of nutrition. When dogs kill prey in the wild it is what they devour first. Normally, we bake our liver treats, but for the show we are experimenting with an air-dried version. Judging by our own dogs’ reaction it makes no difference how we handle the preparation.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Three interesting facts about canine digestion

Fact 1. A human intestine goes on for yards and yards (up to 28 feet) whereas a dog’s intestine is never more than two and half times its length. What is the significance of this? Dogs simply can’t digest all sorts of things that humans can, including grain. I mention grain specifically because there’s a lot of it in processed dog food.

Fact 2. Human digestion really starts in the mouth. Our teeth are designed for chewing and our saliva begins to break the food down long before it reaches our stomach. Canine digestion is different. All the serious action takes place in the stomach. Canine teeth are made for ripping and tearing, not for chewing. It is why dogs gulp much of their food.

Fact 3. In the wild a dog will digest its food in 4 or 5 hours. Processed food, on the other hand, can take 8 to 15 hours to break down, clear the stomach and pass through the small intestine.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A complete waste of two minutes

How many times did this poor dog have to listen to John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John in order to perfect his moves? And was it worth it? If you have two minutes to waste then you can decide for yourself.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Why dogs bite people

An email is doing the rounds with the subject: Why dogs bite people. I didn't mean to open it. I didn't mean to look. I didn't mean to smile. I didn't mean to post any of the photos on my blog. But these ghost dogs are too good not to pass on.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Early experiment with Darling's raw dog food

Here is a picture of nineteenth century scientific test designed to show how much dogs love Darling's Real Dog Food.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Free range is the only way to go

My wife’s reading matter is confined to a single subject which can be guessed at when I list a selection of the titles on her bedside table: Chosen by a Horse: How a Broken Horse Fixed a Broken Heart, Talking with Horses and Celebrity Jumping Exercises. When she comes to a passage that interests her she has the endearing habit of reading it aloud to me. I have the no less endearing habit of not listening. Recently, however, she has kept me enthralled with the story of a long-dead and once-celebrated horse that possessed an extraordinary level of intelligence. Beautiful Jim Key (1889–1912) was bred by a former American slave and self-trained veterinarian called William Key, who taught the horse to read, spell, recognise money and do basic arithmetic. When Beautiful Jim Key began to perform these feats in public, he was greeted with scepticism. However, after extensive investigations it became apparent that he not only possessed these skills but also was able to think intuitively and make jokes. Listening to the story of his life, I reflected, not for the first time, on just how blinkered humans are when it comes to the intellectual and emotional capabilities of animals. In my opinion animals experience pretty much the same emotional range as humans. This is true for pets, farm animals and wild animals. It is also true for birds and, for all I know, fish and reptiles, too. My hope is that one day there will be a major backlash against those involved in intensive food production and it will be outlawed. In the meantime, it is important that if we are going to eat meat or feed meat to our pets we make sure that it comes from animals that have enjoyed a reasonable quality of life. It may cost a little bit more but it is worth it. PS This is a picture of one of our own free range pigs sleeping in the sun. PPS For more about Beautiful Jim Key visit

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Raw dog food reduces vet fees

Janet Tobiassen Crosby (what a fantastic name) is a US-based vet who publishes a great deal about canine healthcare and answers questions on the subject for She recently asked her readers: 'Have you noticed a change in your pet's health since starting the bones and raw food method of feeding? In what way?' This is what she said about the response:

"A resounding YES on this one from our viewers. The most common health benefits noted were clean and healthy teeth, fresh breath, and shiny coat. Other benefits noted by some viewers included reduced trouble with anal sac impaction, better weight control, reduction or elimination of allergies (skin and intestinal), and a general increase in vigor/acting much younger than age would indicate."

Further evidence that one of the key benefits of a raw food diet for dogs is that they don't have to visit the vet as often. This, in turn, means lower vet fees. Here's the link:

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Nectar of the Dogs

As far as I can tell there isn't a dog in the world who doesn't love dried liver treats. They are inexpensive and easy to make, too, if you have the time (if you don't, we sell them for £1.99 a bag including p&p). All you do is take the liver, cut it into little cubes and bake them in the oven at a lowish heat until they are - um - dried. Liver shrinks quite a lot, incidentally, so cut roughly 1" cubes. We've been testing different ovens. Vicky has a posh Aga thingy and they come out really, really well in that. She read somewhere that wild dogs prize a prey's liver over everything else - presumably because of the nutrient content. Anyway, dried liver is - without doubt - nectar of the dogs. Oh, hang on, nectar is a drink. Well, you get the idea. I use dried liver treats for training but NOT when I am teaching dogs to come. This is because once they know you have some in your pocket they tend to stick to you like glue.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The aprons have landed...

Hurrah. Our new aprons have landed. Now nothing can stop our cunning World Domination Through Raw Dog Food plan.