Crazy Englishman

Crazy Englishman.

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4 years 6 months and 11 days

Four and a half years ago I quit work. After fifteen years in IT I was tired and jaded and in need of a change. My head was in a bad place. A flippant comment a year earlier had landed me the job of full time stay-at-home dad, swapping a workstation for a baby changing station. So after 6 months maternity leave, my high flying wife went back to work. My plans included working part time building websites, running an allotment, doing up the house, walking every footpath within ten miles of my house and getting a dog. What I hadn’t planned for was the feeling of isolation, the shear hard work of looking after a baby and the difficulty of being a man in a woman’s world.

My plans fell apart. Those hours I had in the day when Daniel was asleep and Ben at school made any thoughts of building sites impossible. Taking my toddler to the allotment was a disaster. I walked most of the footpaths but soon discovered that just cause it’s a green dotted line on an OS map, if no one walks that way it’s likely to be nettle chocked and bramble infested. And then the credit crunch hit, our single salary froze and all bonuses were cancelled. So no dog. I never intended to get one straight away. I was going to wait a year til the following spring. A dog isn’t a passing fad to be discarded when life changes. I had to be sure that I was going to rush back to work.

It took me at least a year to settle into my new job. There were many ups and downs. Fortunately during that first year I looked after a dog for a month, the month of November. It was dark and cold and windy. Juggling the busy schedule of a very mobile 1 year-old toddler with dog walking was hard. I have the greatest respect for people who manage it, but it was too much for me. It made me realise that any plans for an additional family member had to be delayed for quite sometime. My doggy research was archived and I cancelled the google daily search for English Shepherd Pups UK – little did I know there was only one breeder in the UK!

This year, three years late, we got a dog. I searched once again for English Shepherd Pups UK and looked through the archived bookmarks, revisiting the Eden Village website where Jackie had posted that week that the fourth litter of pups were due at the end of February. Unlike a new born, she arrived weened, walking and sleeping without fuss. Within a couple of weeks she was house trained. She is often referred to as ‘My baby’, normally when she’s been naughty or padding around after me.

My plans have changed. I hope I’m more realistic. I’ve learnt to stay no. I’ve turned down gardening jobs. I’ve put my IT life behind me preferring to blog than build sites. I’ve ditched the PC and gone Mac so no more windows support. The allotment is need of TLC. I’ve given myself a year to see if it’s realistic to keep it and manage three gardens. I may breed from Pip, I may build an iPad app, I may start food blogging again and I may get back into photography. Just because I’ll have two boys at school, doesn’t mean I have vast amounts of free time!

Daniel trying to be an angel!

Today is the day before the end of the tunnel. Tomorrow Daniel starts school. 4 years 6 months and 11 days since I quit work.

Dog food

I’m a foodie, what ever that may mean. I like my food and I love to cook and I occasionally write about food. I also like to think I’m environmentally aware and use my own 20 / 80 rule and buy and eat 80% organic. This was a decision I came to 10 years ago. Since then my beliefs have been strengthen by the books of Michael Pollen, Radio 4’s ‘The food programme’ and love of all things ‘Hugh’ aka Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. I’ll try and write this post with out ranting about my food beliefs – it will be hard, so please read on. I could write a book on what I think about food ethics but I also respect your choice to buy and eat whatever food you choose.

Having a family dog is purely selfish. They’re mostly carnivore and meat makes up a large part of their diet. I’m not a vegetarian and love my meat, but it’s a luxury. I buy organic meat, it’s reassuringly expensive and tastes the way I think meat should taste. It’s probably too expensive to feed an animal whose daily meat requirements are far greater than mine, and I’m sure she couldn’t care whether or not it’s from a happy rare-bread cow or not! So what meat should I use? It would be hypercritical of me to buy organic meat for the family and not the dog.

We taste with our nose, just eat something whilst pinching your nose if you don’t believe me. Dogs have enormous noses and a big chunk of their brain is dedicated to processing the world through scent. Do they taste things? They clearly have different sense of taste to us, anyone for fresh horse poo? So is it right to feed them the same food every meal, every day for the rest of their lives? This was a question I didn’t think of until I started puppy classes. Half the class had turned up with bags of kibble as a reward. Our teacher explained that this wasn’t a reward. Pip enjoys liver bread and pilchard cake during training. It stinks but she loves it. He attention is 100% on getting the next crumb.

As a kid of the 70’s, I grew up in a world of tinned dog food. Half a tin of goopy stew was mixed with cereal. We used to joke about meals you could make – chum chops, pedigree pie, chappie au vin etc. The common playground rumour was it was horse meat. Who knows . . . And today, it’s all about kibble – dried brown stinking packets of nutritionally engineered food. Anything created by nutritionalists has me running the other way. Micheal Pollen says “Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognise as food” and “don’t buy anything with more than five ingredients”. He believes that food scientists have created frankenstein “foods” where profit is more important than well being. The UK’s 6 billion pound snack market didn’t exist 40 years ago. But kibble is so easy. You weigh it out and feed your dog. You can store sacks of it for months an don’t have to give it a second thought. If you use kongs or other kibble dispensers, it keeps your hound occupied trying to get some food.

So my dog food dilema. Pip came to use having had a diet of Iams (kibble), scrambled egg and milk. Iams wasn’t an option for me as it isn’t sold locally. My wife fed her cat or Iams and he was healthy enough, but what do I know about cats . . . So after a lot of discussion in the pet shop I picked out a bag of James Wellbeloved – the shop owner fed his dog on it, it was reassuringly expensive and came with a free storage tub that would fit in the cupboard! I knew at the time that this was a short term solution and not being a dog expert, I’d trust someone who was. By now I’d heard of something called the BARF diet that involved raw food / homemade dog food. BARF stands for Biologically Appropriate Raw Food or Bones And Raw Food. This sounds right for me – I get to choose, buy and make the food and she gets a glossy coat, bright eyes and lives to a 112 in human years. But it’s more work, it’s going to make her staying with people tricky and I don’t have a local friend who can guide me and answer my questions. Do I really want all the hassle of having another mouth to shop and cook for, one with very different dietary requirements? Sally, the dog trainer, feeds her dogs on a BARF diet. She’s promised to do a talk, but that was a month ago and I’ve already pestered her a couple of times. She says she can tell a BARF dog just by the smell – they don’t. She also endorsed James Wellbeloved as one of the better kibbles. My lovely pack of English Shepherd owners on Facebook have a few BARF followers and one has invited me to the facebook group. Maybe I should just take the plunge? Where and how do I start?

Pip is the only English Shepherd I know in the fur. And I’m a little worried about that. Her brother Culliun has recently switched to Salters – read all about on John’s blog. He’s noticed an improvement in behaviour and coat. Pip’s also a lot smaller than her brothers and sister but she always was the smallest . . . not the runt! She gets an egg a day, milk, raw mince and the odd dried pig ear as well as the kibble. Mince and kibble stuffed in a hollow bone keeps her occupied for a good half an hour and so does the kibble dispensing ball . . . perhaps that explains why she’s smaller than her siblings!

I’m still investigating BARF and haven’t made my mind up, so as the current kibble bag is nearly empty, I’ve ordered some Salters. Sometimes I wish I wasn’t a foodie and thought all the time about where my food comes from, life would be some much simpler.

The Pip Thief

A few years ago I was staying with my in-laws and their dog Shima. I was cooking macaroni cheese for the boys and having got the cheese out of the fridge I was rummaging around in the cupboard for the cheese grater. I then turned to get the cheese off the work surface and it had gone. Thinking I must have left it in the fridge, I rummaged around and failed to find it. My dearly beloved wife has a habit of tidying up as I go along and sometimes I’m assembling ingredients as fast as she’s putting them away, so I called her and asked if she’d seen the cheese. No luck there. Was I going mad, had I imagined the whole thing and there was no cheese? We then discovered a guilty looking hound on the door step, licking her lips. She had eaten a pound of cheese, cellophane and all. In the ten seconds I had my back turned, she’d lept onto the counter and left, silently and without being spotted. She’s a very agile and bright collie so I have to tip my hat with admiration.

Just having a look

Pip it appears has begun her apprenticeship. She can now see what’s on the work surfaces and everyday, she can reach a few more millimeters. She’s an opportunist and not only targets the kitchen, she’s on the look out for anything left in the bins. Leave the sink cupboard open an inch and she’s in removing recycling for a final lick and chew.

Fresh kill, straight from the recycling

Last Sunday I barbecued a  couple of chicken and smoked a couple of ham hocks. She was very interested in the whole process and sat patiently watching whilst I carved up the birds. Cooking for a crowd is stressful enough and the last few minutes the pressure mounts. I wasn’t really paying much attention and didn’t realise quite what she was thinking. Once we sat down, there was a large crash from the kitchen. Pip had removed a carcass from the chopping board and was tucking in.

Yesterday I caught her on the kitchen table lapping up Daniel’s glass of milk. And today I cut up the last of Grandma’s cake into two pieces, one for Daniel after his lunch and the other for Ben when he gets home from school. The phone rang and in the time it took to say no thanks and hang up to the home insurance guy, she was busily licking the last of the crumbs from the tinfoil I had wrapped Ben’s piece in.

Wasn’t me

I’ve had to make my kitchen Daniel proof. At less than two years old, he scaled the kitchen draws using the gas hob for hand holds, walked down the counter to help himself to the biscuits high in a top cupboard. When I walked into the kitchen, he was sitting on the edge, kicking his feet before offering me a biscuit! He showed as much guilt as Pip who just wags her tail when she’s caught. I’m the guilty one, I need to puppy proof my kitchen once again.

Camping in the rain

My earliest memory of camping in the rain is a very wet week / weekend in Wales. I can’t remember where we went or when we went. I do remember being rescued in the night when our tent collapsed under the weight of monsoon rain. We had un unusual tent for its time. It was a canvas dome tent with a round door in one side. What made it unusual was instead of modern flexible poles, it had no poles at all. Instead, the four corners had connecting tubes that were inflated with a pump. The tent would slowly rise from the grass. or in our case slowly sink back to the grass. My other memory of the holiday was lush long wet grass.

Waking to the sound of rain on canvas really is a lovely experience. I’m not kidding. Sure, you’re going to have to go out in it once you realise that beer you drunk last night needs off loading. But for that brief snug moment, you can lie in your sleeping bag and listen to the wonderful sound above your head.

Sitting in the rain

I often camp in Langdale, in the Lake District. The rain there sweeps down the valley from Crinkle Crags and Bowfell and you hear it like a great roaring wave through the trees. On a day like that, you leave your tent fully Goretexed up and read for the hills or pub.

Rain with children and camping in the summer isn’t really that hard. Shorts, sandals and a cagoule help. It’s a good opportunity to give the kids a free pass to play in the stream. A few years back, I spent a very wet day in Mousehole, Cornwall. The boys loved splashing in the puddles and chased a tennis ball down the gutters along the cobbled roads. We then spent four hours in a cafe, drinking hot tea and eating our way through the cake menu.

Playing in the rain

Anyone living in the UK will know we get a lot of weather and in recent years many extremes. A couple of weeks ago I wanted normal weather. We were experiencing a heat wave after a month of rain. Well, now the rain has returned and it arrived whilst camping. When I checked the forecast and spoke to my fellow field lovers, we flippantly said, “if it’s that bad, we’ll come home.” It was that bad, but unlike many other campers we stuck it out. Bizarrely the field we spent the week in had wi-fi but no mobile signal, so we had regular weather updates. We checked every night before bed and first thing to plan our days.

Walking in the rain

Pip’s reaction was indifference. She’s seen more rain in her short life than most of us had seen in the past three years – there’s a hose pipe ban here after all. She would frequently shake and plod on, searching out resting Damsel flies, which she would play, kill and eat. If the evening was dry enough we’d light a fire and she’d curl up near by and steam. I admit by the end of the week, the tent was smelling a bit doggy but it did mask the smell of two boys whose personal hygiene is poor in a warm dry centrally heated home. She’s not a water dog as far as I can tell. The small stream running through the site offered no attraction other than a convenient place to drink. On the odd occasion I crossed through the water, she would bark from the opposite bank and then dash across, followed by much dashing and shaking and general happiness. She did however cross a narrow bridge after me and being impatient, jumped sideways for the bank and what she thought was grass was a giant parsley hanging over deep water. She spent the rest of the day looking very bedraggled. The next day was dry and a very large and fluffy dog emerged from the tent!

Bridge crossing – she made it across this time without jumping in

We never had a day when it rained all day, so we planned accordingly with trips on stream trains, visits to castles and afternoons of games in tents. A hastily purchased garden gazebo made dining al fresco possible for all meals. The pile of logs stacked under the table became a favourite place for Pip to hang out and chew bark. On one very wet and miserable evening, I lit the fire in my tent. The pup was in heaven!

Pip enjoying the firebox inside the Tentipi

(My tent is based on the tents used by the Samoyedic people of Finland where a fire in a tent was essential.)

We saw many Jubilee celebrations cut short. Four day trips  reduced to one night. First time campers becoming only time campers. And the hardcore, parents dressed like kids in shorts, flip-flops and Goretex. We stuck it out for six of seven days. Wednesday’s forecast looked grim. Thursday was going to be very wet and so was Friday with strengthening winds. So we planned to pack up Thursday morning during the last of the dry weather and then spend the day locally with a final barbecue under the gazebo before heading home to a warm dry beds. By lunchtime, the rain turned from vertical to horizontal, the kids didn’t even want to play in the stream and the adults just wanted to get home. It was a memorable and entertaining end to the week and we all appreciated a bonus day at home. I drove home through lashing rain, flooded roads and wipers on full tilt. We rushed into the house and all headed for showers, clean dry towels and the comforts of home you don’t really appreciate until you spend a week in a wet field.

Daniel the optimist waiting for someone to light the fire

Camping, the first night

The first time I camped with Benjamin, it was a bit of a disaster. He was four and I imagined a weekend of playing in streams, walks in the woods and building a fire to cook sausages on. It felt like I had waited ages for him to be old enough for a boys weekend. My adult camping experiences involved long trips north, normally in the winter and sleeping three to a small tent. Four of us would frequently head up the M6 to The Lakes or Scotland, so all the kit I had fitted into one-quarter of a car boot. The two of us in a big family car meant I could take lots of additional luxuries, unfortunately I didn’t have any. We travelled too far, the roads were packed, I forgot one of the sleeping bags and the site was in a remote corner of the New Forest with very few facilities and no other children. Twenty four hours after setting off, I was back home, tired exhausted and spent more time in traffic than asleep.

Beech track

Now I have all the gear! I rarely travel more than an hour. The car is laden and the roof rack has bikes and a box full of luxuries including blankets, pillows, table and chairs. I haven’t gone soft, I just like to minimise discomfort and let the boys enjoy the freedom camping offers. My wife made it clear that she’d never camp in this country. She’s a girl who likes high-class hotels and fine dining. To her credit, she knows how much I enjoy it and more importantly the boys have a wonderful time. It helps that the group I camp with has grown out of her book group friends. The normal scenario involves me racing of at 3:30pm on a Friday with the boys, bagging a good spot on the site and then the rest of the folks turn up later that day or on Saturday morning. Sara has Friday night on her own and then heads down the following day with the morning papers for twenty-four hours in a field.

Hunting

This trip was a little different. I was going for a week and taking a pup. As you can see from my previous post, the car was a little more laden than normal. I didn’t take much more kit – you need the same gear for a week as you need for a weekend. I just decided to take everything including two additional tents. I was camping for a week and it would give me a chance to run an audit and assess what I needed, didn’t need or needed to replace. I have way too many pegs and failed on the previous ten trips to sort them out, so maybe this time I would.

Incoming

Only two of the four families had booked. The double bank holiday was full of other commitments. There was however a new family expected who I hadn’t met before, so it was even more important for me to arrive early. My tent is pretty distinctive, it’s a large orange Tipi and easy to spot. So after a crazy day of packing, we set off with beach gear, waterproofs and wellies expecting a bit of everything.

This is a blog about me and my dog and our adventures. This was a big adventure for her. She got to ride up front by my sons feet but after a stressful day of following me in and out of the house a hundred times, she curled up and slept the whole way. Wish the kids could have done the same. Daniel was ‘starving hungry’ and the journey was taking a ‘million hours’. It was a warm dry evening and now I was out numbered three to one. One of the reasons I have a Tipi is it takes one person 5 minutes to erect. Once we had a base set up it was time to explore. I’ve camped at the site many times and it has plenty of walks, swings, meadows, woods and streams for a good adventure. The field we’d played ball games in the previous year was deep meadow grass. This proved to be a great puppy play ground. Hide and seek was the game of choice and we all howled with laughter to see the pup bouncing through the long grass. I’d hold Pip whilst the boys charged off and then I’d release her to bound off. Anyone found was licked and there was much wagging and shrieking!

Found!

When we returned to our tent, I discovered a new characteristic of the English Shepherd. Where ever her master lays his head is home and it’s her home and everyone needs to know. Any adult male, dog or fast-moving child within thirty yards of the tent was howled at or barked at. The howl was a long nose pointing skyward howl. A new sound which had the desired effect of letting everyone who she was. At every opportunity I praised her and then introduced her to the stranger. Fortunately once we’d been through this acceptance process she rarely barked at them again. The only time I’ve seen similar behaviour is with the postman. They’ve been properly introduced now, but she’ll still have a little bark if we bump into him on the drive.

One of the many rope swings

After an exhausting day and the realisation we were the only family on Friday night, I was in bed half an hour after the boys. Pip was happy to sleep in her cage and settled down with out a fuss. She woke at 4:30 to howl back at the neighbours Cockerpoo and then again at 6:30 to barf up a big wad of grass. Not bad for the first night in a tent.

Ripley Canal Circuit

Ripley is a graceful Georgian village and one time coach stop for people traveling back and forth between Portsmouth and London. The modern A3 now bypasses so it’s probably a little quieter than it used to be. On the north-side of the main road is a beautiful cricket ground and commons and this is where my walk begins. I planned the circuit many years ago and it has become a favourite of ours. It includes a children’s playground with nearby picnic tables, a walk along a canal and the option of stopping at a pub for lunch. There’s some variety but no hills. I once took my gps and the total ascent over three miles was fifteen feet! So a good route for small boys, off road pushchairs and kids on bikes.

Distance: 5km, 3.1 miles
Ascent: Pancake flat
Time: 25 minutes to the pub, 35 minutes back . . . 1 hour of walking but plenty of excuses to stop

Google maps link to the route

Getamap link to the route

We park up on Dunsborough Park under the trees on a sunny day. It’s also the location of the excellent Ripley Farmers market. You could park in the village and walk to Ripley Green on anyone of the many paths and roads that access it.

The play-park is a good motivation for my boys on the last stretch of the circuit. The fence keeps the boys in and dogs out leaving grownups to sit a read the papers on the near by picnic tables! Next to the park is a football come basket ball pitch and a bike circuit. More often than not, Ben finds some boys to have a kick around with.

The walk takes you over mill streams, the river Wey and along the banks of the canal. It also includes some woodland paths and the large open space of Ripley Green.

When I graduated there was a recession on and jobs were scarce. Many of my friends carried on their studies, went travelling or became teachers. This was the early nineties and although I had access to a wordprocessor, there was no internet. There was however a directory in the college library and I set out to write to every firm in the country who I thought I had the right skills for employment. I sent out 273 letters, resulting in one interview and one job in Cobham, Surrey. I discovered the North Downs and area by mountain bike – I didn’t have a car or driving license. Every week, I’d play squash in Woking and cycle there by bike along the canal in this walk. I’d leave work, wind my way to Woking along bridal-ways and towpath, play an hour of squash and then down a couple of pints in the bar. This combination of sport, lack of food and alcohol lead for an interesting return, often in the dark. I’m amazed I never ended up in the canal. I do remember in the depths of winter, the route was deserted and I’d never see a soul. On a sunny weekend afternoon the path is well used by cyclists, walkers and dogs.

The Anchor at Pyrford can get busy. They do cater for large numbers, so although you may have to queue to order service is pretty good. There’s a playground round the back so those of you with small people can relax with a drink and half an eye on offspring enjoying themselves.

As you can see from the pictures, it was a hot summers day when we did this walk. Pip has only stuck her nose in the water, so I was curious to see how she reacted to a walk mostly by water. We saw plenty of Springers and Labs, in and out of the water, leaving their wet trails on the tow path. Pip just wanted to play and showed no interested in following them into the canal. I introduced her to the water where it was shallow and she just stood there giving me that idiot look only a dog can do . . . When we arrived at our picnic destination, I found it a little hard to relax. Boys like water and a busy lock with a fast flowing overflow channel kept me alert. They were happy to sit on the edge away from the lock and dangle their feet in the water. I had Pip securely on the lead wrapped around my wrist. She was tugging a little and then there was a splash. I don’t know what she did as my back was to her, but she was clambering back out of the canal. Her head and her back legs and tail were soaked and her body was dry! This was not a pretty sight. Her puppy body hair was all fluffed up as usual but either end was a scrawny mass of sodden fur. She looked like she’d been chewed up and spat out by some large beast! So on the return leg, I found a still shallow stretch of canal and dropped her in. She swam around for a bit and then leapt out. Inside this big fluffy pup is a small bony dog! She went loopy, haring  up and down the path, shaking, dashing, wagging, yapping. We all laughed at this puppy madness. I can’t see her taking after her cousins Rosie and Shima who both love water. But she’s only a pup and maybe over time will take to the water. I’m not fussed either way. She tolerated an extended grooming session in the evening, but I’ll cover that in a later post.

PS Pip’s brother is called Geo. He lives about as far away from Pip as you can get and still be on mainland Britain. Geo likes to Geocache and has recently set his first cache called Geo’s Cache. I rediscovered this path a few years back when I first started caching. There are many in this area and a few along the canal path. I started caching again last year and Daniel thought ‘Treasure Hunting’ was great fun. I look forward to doing more with boys and dog in the near future and hopefully one day find Geo’s cache.

Hot Dog

Wouldn’t it be nice if we had some normal weather? Every month, the news reports the hottest, coldest, wettest, driest month since some date a hundred years ago. So far this year we’ve had the warmest March, wettest April and until a few days ago, coldest May. Now its scorching hot! I’m an outdoor guy, so weather plays a big part in my life. And I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but normal weather would be nice.

Pip has black fluffy fur. It’s think and she hates being groomed. Any attempted to smarten up this scruffy pup, is met with yelps and running away. I do try to be gentle. I feel daily grooming is a good way to bond and it helps with the house work! Her fur absorbs the heat and insulates her. I can’t imagine what that must feel like. She now spends most of her day, lying flat-out on the cool floor or pressed up against the edge of the lawn in the shade of a bush.

On a positive note, its slowed her down. She’s quite happy to chill and the weather has calmed her down. The first three weeks she spent with me it rained everyday and at the time it felt like all day. We weren’t out walking so it wasn’t a great hardship. She and I spent many hours sheltering under an umbrella, sniffing round the garden and not doing what we were there for. Since she’s won her freedom, the mud has dried up, the tracks turned to dust and she now walks in the shade, plodding along panting. So I’m taking it easy on walks. She’s happy to drink out of the remaining puddles but not keen on paddling in the ponds on Bookham Common. The water bowl is always full although like every other dog I’ve known, she’d rather drink out of a muddy puddle, cattle trough, bird bath or discarded gardening bucket that’s collected some rain. Clearly our potable tap water doesn’t have the essential nutrients and minerals found in the wild!

I’m sure this weather wont last. We have a double bank holiday weekend, guaranteed to bring on a wet and windy weather front. I hope not. We’re off on our first camping trip with dog. I’m not going far – only an hour from home. In the past, the catch phrase of any camping trip has been “Where’s Daniel?”, my extremely independent youngest. I’m sure this trip, it’s going to be “Where’s Pip?”.

Hot Dog

My camping experiences over the years have been mixed. As a kid, we camped in North Scotland with golden sand, crystal clear water and dunes to shelter behind to get out of the wind. We camped in Northumberland, in the hills by dam-able streams or on the coast with rock pools, castles and miles of beaches. We camped in the lush valleys of Wales with days of rain! We then moved to Germany and spent the holidays driving vast distances to camp on the coast of Spain, France and Italy with the occasional stop in the Alps. When I left home, the first big purchase I made was a Wild Country Quasar, a tent in a class of its own. It was compact and light enough to back pack with. But spacious enough for two to live comfortably. More importantly it was warm and windproof. And I mean seriously windproof. It survived winter nights in the Cairngorms, buried under three feet of snow on Skye and numerous trips to the Lakes.

Now I have a car and kids. My lovely wife doesn’t camp. She’s endured a couple of expeditions to static tents in France but after the wettest and coldest July on record a few years back, that was the end of that. I camp with friends who all have kids of a similar age. We’re a relaxed bunch and try to fit in a few weekends each year. I head off on Friday and set up camp and she arrives on Saturday morning with papers and thermals for one night only! I admire her greatly for stepping so far out of her comfort zone.

Camping in Langdale

I now camp with all the kit. The car is full to the roof and the roof box and roof rack loaded to capacity. I take duvets, table and chairs, candles and table-cloth, barbecue and blankets. We only camp where campfires are required. My tent is canvas and with a single pole, I can erect it alone in five minutes – a necessary requirement when you’re the only adult and you’ve brought children. Some might think I’m a bit of a glamper. I don’t care. I’ve been there and done that and will do it again. I’m just as happy in a Sussex field drinking a glass of red as I am on a winter wild camp in the remoter corners of Scotland.

So I pray for normal weather . . . and dream of a field on the edge of a woods with a stream, lots of kids, dogs and our puppy. Sounds like a fun combination. We should sleep well!

A cool spot

Socialising

It was made pretty clear before I got a dog that socialising was one of the most important things to do and start early. This was at odds with avoiding other dogs and walking were dogs have been before they’ve had their jabs. The reasons are clear and sensible. You want a dog that’s relaxed with people and dogs do matter the situation. I have two boys and having a dog that can’t deal with children would be a disaster.

Dog meeting place by the large pond on Bookham Common

As a kid, I’d laugh at the silly people with their yappy dogs on short leads. Our dog would trot along and completely ignore the spitting teeth baring lead straining hounds and their uptight owners. It was clear to me that the problem was self for-filling. The more constrained the dog, the less relaxed it was and the worse the problem became. Living in Germany in the 80’s, this was the norm. Dogs were very rarely allowed to be dogs. I see the same behaviour today. Having a new pup is a good excuse to chat to the owner and let their dog say hello. I’m alarmed at the number who talk of their dogs being attacked by a pair of German Shepherds. It’s a story I’ve heard almost daily. In the ten years I’ve lived in this area, I’ve never once come across a pair of GSD’s. On the whole, the timid or damaged or constrained dogs enjoy Pip’s company. The other reason I hear for not letting dogs off is that they wont come when called. I guess I’m lucky. Pip learnt to ‘Come’ on day one and does so with great enthusiasm and speed. She’ll generally ignore Daniel’s attempts! The only time I struggle is when I don’t have her attention. Normally a sharp ‘Pip’ does the job. When we pass other walkers, she may tag along with their dog for a while. She always comes when called.

Watering hole

I carried Pip for three weeks and invited many people round to visit. She must have met hundreds of children on the school run and nursery run. Initially, she growled at men until they introduced themselves and over the weeks she relaxed. When she was eventually allowed to walk, she went back to growling, but only for a day or two. There’s now only one person she growls at but he insists on calling her boy, so she’s excused. She’s now met hundreds of dogs. This early socialisation is paying off. She no longer growls at black labs and on the whole all she wants to do is play. She can be a little reserved, but that appears to be common among English Shepherds. She will always watch a group of dogs before saying hello. All encounters are rewarded with praise. On the whole small dogs are ignored, big dogs played with. She’s especially fond of Spaniels and will play fight and box until tired. She’s meet a 9 stone bull mastiff, a very large great dane and today a japanese Akita. Each was taken on as equals and expected to play. Joggers get the odd bark but only when she’s startled. We’ve seen horses from a distance, but yet to meet one on the track. At the moment, I get her to sit by the edge of the track when a cyclist goes by, rewarding her for sitting nicely. I’ll do the same if we come across horses.

Watching

At this weeks puppy class, she was happy to meet last weeks dogs and the new ones joining us today. I’m very happy with her socialising and don’t foresee any problems.