Tuesday, 25 July 2017

A Shout-Out: To The Best Clients Ever

You all know how much I love my cavvies, Ava and Darcy. But it's time I told you why.

I had a difficult week last week. My anxiety triggered a depressive episode so I was missing in action for a few days. Then a client's dog dropped off for boarding turned out to be dangerous, so that had to be (carefully) managed.

Today, I pulled up outside Ava and Darcy's house. I heard barking and shook my head, thinking they had heard me. But it wasn't them, just a neighbour's dog. Sorry, Darcy.

Why do they always suspect me?

I went in, and their wagging and jumping began, but I wasn't jumped on. Ava waited quietly and Darcy wriggled and leaned on the fence, but he did very well for a 9-month old.

The pups toileted where they should and amused themselves while I cleaned, ate and took a breather. I was super impressed that they waited for an invitation before availing of my very-accessible lap when I sat in the lawn chair. That is an impressive feat for my sweet-as-pie lapdog friends!

All dogs are bred for a purpose. Ours is to sit in laps.

To further sweeten the deal, it was a good day for Ava's famous #FOMO (fear of missing out). A handful of kibble in her slow-feeder bowl kept her occupied while I took her brother out for a walk. And 'disaster Darcy' truly is a disaster no more as he walked along, politely greeted a lady who wanted to pat him and waited patiently when I 'parked' his lead under my shoe to chat to a neighbour.

It was the best tonic after a difficult week.

Yes, I'm proud of 'my' pups. But the real credit goes to the humans. Christina and Tim have done a marvellous job at raising these two dogs. They are happy, healthy, friendly and fun to be around. This is thanks to the time they've have put into them. Both working full-time with long hours, you wouldn't think they'd be able to put that work into their dogs.

But Ava and Darcy wouldn't be so good just from my training. Tim's driving the dogs to puppy school and the park, Chris getting up early to take the pups out, diligently bathing, brushing and grooming the dogs so they're used to it. Playing training games and buying endless toys. Their super-sensible attitude, trust in my dog training skills, and willingness to try my suggestions (even the weird ones!) are all what made Ava and Darcy who they are.

Don't listen to her, Darcy. We're naturally this cute.

I have the best job because of your two munchkins, guys. They do you great credit.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Selfie Sunday

Hi guys!

Today's Selfie Sunday is brought to you by Dodge the part-time Boston terrier, part-time Batman and full-time cutie.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

A Happy Update: In Which Melon and Darcy Work Together

So you guys know that 8-month-old Darcy has a problem with walking on the lead*. Meaning, all he wants to do is rush over to anything and everything, be it animal (human, canine or avian), plant, rock or... plain air, as far as I can tell!

Your point?

And all I, Melon, want to do, is walk down the street without the pup running onto the road, leaping after birds or scrambling into the bush... is that too much to ask?

Hey, what's over there?

I was really beginning to think it was. So much that I suggested his humans buy some equipment to reduce his pulling (like a head halter -- not that I've ever seen a cavalier in one!).

But I also didn't want to let this defeat me. Call myself a dog trainer, and can't even teach a ~5kg puppy to walk on a lead? (Size doesn't directly affect trainability, but it does affect ability to hold onto a pulling dog!) So for the past fortnight or so I've tried to take Darcy for at least a ten to fifteen minute walk every time I visited. Why such a short walk? Because my patience for stopping and starting wears off after about ten minutes!

Seriously. Why are we stopping again?

But it turns out that patience in the form of a little each day has made a difference -- I think. I don't want to speak too soon, but I feel Darcy is finally showing some improvement in the skill of what we trainers call 'loose lead walking'. As in, he can sometimes walk down the road like a 'normal' dog...

Here's a tiny snippet of our walk today.

In the middle you see a glimpse of what our 'walks' have looked like for the past 6 months, but you can see that he can also walk much, much better too!

Walking near people, dogs or his sister are still out of the question, but hey, I'm just thrilled to see progress!

I'm proud of myself as well as this kid and can't wait to see where else we can go -- figuratively and literally!

* lead = Australian for leash, guys. Or "the string", as Darcy called it.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

The Plot Thickens: In Which The Inevitable Turns Out Differently From Expected

As a dogsitter, it was inevitable that someone was going to ask me to watch their cat.

Last week, a friend got in touch. She would be away for a few days, she said, and could I do a couple of house visits for Oliver, the 5 year old ragdoll?

But... he's a cat, I protested.

Oliver the cat stands in the doorway. He has a grey face and ears, white fur and piercing blue eyes.
Hello human.

(Don't get me wrong, I like cats. They're pretty and they're clean. But do they want to go walkies? Do they need me to throw the ball endlessly? No? Then what do they need me for?)

Oliver's human assured me that cats are low-maintenance and that I would be up to the task.
I agreed, and listened to instructions about how to feed the cat and clean the litter box.

As it turned out, Oliver did have other uses for me.

Isn't he a total ham?

When I arrived he would come right up to me and rub against me, headbutt me and jump up practically into my lap when I sat on the couch.

He actually wanted to cuddle!

I was touched that this animal trusted me so implicitly -- it reminded me of Avapup. I guess animals are kind of amazing like that, whether canine, feline or otherwise.

Now -- a question for my readers who are cat people. Is sweet Oliver unusually friendly for a cat, or is the 'aloof' thing just a stereotype? Is your cat this physically affectionate?

And what is the universe trying to tell me by giving me a cat... that acts like a dog?

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Guest Post: The Trouble With Walking Humans

Hi guys. Darcy here!

It's nice to be back on the blog.

But the thing is -- I have this problem.

See, my sister said that training humans can be hard. But then, she said that I could do a good job if I was con...sistent? Basically, I have to be responsible and keep doing the same thing over and over until they work out what they're meant to do. That doesn't sound too hard.

But no one told me how hard it is to walk a human!

First, you have to have them on a string, because otherwise they don't follow you.

If it weren't for the string, who knows where the human would end up!

But then once you're outside, they don't seem to know what to do. You know how it is, right? There are people to get pats from, birdies to chase, all kinds of tasty things to grab and sooo many smells to sniff!

Must. Catch. Birdies.


But the human just can't keep up. Like, whenever I leap for a birdie, she always stops before I can catch it! (I guess humans tire easily.) Sometimes she even turns around to go in the other direction... even though I'm all ready to meet the people coming towards us! Sigh.

And that's not all. Whenever there's the good smells, the ones that need a whole minute to appreciate (you know the ones), she can't seem to wait, and tries to hurry me along! Can you believe it? I guess patience is hard for humans.

My sister did tell me humans can be kind of slow, but I dunno how she managed to train them because we pups never go walking together anymore. I dunno why. Maybe because the humans are too clumsy to keep the strings from tangling up when I jump on Ava? They seem to get all flustered every time I tackle her!

Don't get me wrong, humans are fun and I know I have a big responsibility to teach them right. But man, it's hard work!

Help a pup out -- do you have any tips on walking humans?

Darcy xx

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Conflict Arises: In Which Scruffy Finds Himself in Bootcamp and Melon Thinks the Universe Knows More Than It Tells

Why do things never turn out like we expect?

I had Scruffy and Charlie booked in to stay with me for a couple of weeks around Easter. They last had a very smooth stay in January, so we assumed it would be pretty routine.

Left, a cream mini labradoodle stands on the grass. Right, a tricolour wire fox terrier stands on the pavers of the backyard.
Charlie (L) and Scruffy (R)

This was not to be. Just before their owner went away, I was told that I would be left with only Scruffy, as a trainer had advised that the dogs sleep separately. I was puzzled, but confirmed the boarding.

I've mentioned the issues between these two dogs before, and my hopes for some professional intervention. Due to personal reasons, I had made the decision last year to give their owner some referrals rather than take the job myself.

Then, less than a week before Scruffy and Charlie were to be dropped off, the dogs were at a different groomer from usual. While there, Scruffy attacked Charlie and left him with puncture wounds. The vet who treated Charlie referred their owner to a professional dog trainer.

Here's the cool part. The professional trainer, through a stroke of luck, turned out to be one of my teachers from technical college. So while I was thrilled to have Scruffy and Charlie in such good hands, he seemed pleased to hear that I was the dog-sitter who would be watching Scruffy while their human is away.

So while Charlie is resting up at home with a family member, I've got this dude with me.

Scruffy is scruffy looking with fur standing in all directions, one ear up and one ear down. His tongue is out in a relaxed expression, lead dangling out of frame.
Scruffy doing a Sit-Stay at the shops

As instructed by my teacher, Scruffy and I are working on basic obedience, crate training and treating some mild separation anxiety. He whines when left alone, presumably because he's never been truly alone before -- he and Charlie were always kept together.

A post shared by Melon (@melondious) on

It's not 'my job' to train Scruffy, but I am taking this opportunity to learn from my mentor. I'd also like to help out this owner, as long as she is dedicated to putting in the work to keep Scruffy. (If he is not safe around Charlie after this training, I believe Scruffy will be re-homed.)

Fingers crossed for good results!

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Tiger and Cow: A Love Story

As a petsitter / dog trainer, I am in the unique position of having many dogs go through my home / care, rather than just one.

And we know that every dog is different, with their own likes and dislikes, and all sorts of fun personality quirks.

That’s why, in my household, this plant will forever be known as Gatsby’s Bush.

I just loved to look out my window and see her balancing like a sphinx on the round bush (top left).

And then -- there's Tiger’s Cow.

Allow me to present: Tiger and Cow: A Love Story.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Sadness and a Success Story: In Which You Win Some, You Lose Some

That's what I'm strongly feeling right now: In life... you win some, you lose some.

I've been keeping busy, which is satisfyingly productive. I'm improving my skills, I'm helping people, and just generally getting on with life.

But I still live with depression.

I suspect anyone with chronic illness who has been fortunate enough to experience recovery has discovered the same thing: 'recovery' presents its own challenges. You start having expectations (other people's and your own), you start having dreams (your own mostly - others probably never had to give theirs up), and it hurts when you realise your illness hasn't gone anywhere. You're allowed to dream, but you know that most of those are still just -- a dream.

* * * 

But this is a dog blog, so let's share a "win" from the dog side of things.


I was asked to visit Tiger, the 6 year old Pomeranian, twice a week for a month while his owners were away. He was being fed and visited by his neighbours, who are extended family, but they felt he needed more attention and weren't sure how to give it to him.

I was told he doesn't like strangers -- which was true. Although I was let in by a family member, Tiger continued to bark at me inside the house. I had arrived prepared and immediately started counterconditioning his view of me. I tossed treats away from me when he approached me, always letting him move away from me to get them. Soon he was coming toward me of his own accord. I never reached toward him, as it was obvious it would startle him.

It wasn't long before we got along much better. Tiger turned out to be a very alert, responsive little dog.

Tiger is lying on the grass in the sun, with his muzzle under a black-and-white cow toy.
Can you see me?

While toys were number one on his list, I used his love of food to teach him a few new tricks, too.

My dogsitting job is over as his family is home. I never walked him as part of the house visits as I was told he was both human and dog reactive, but the owners might contact me in future if they want to do a behavioural modification program.

Tiger proved to be very bright and extremely trainable, so I have high hopes for him if they choose to go down that path. In the meantime, this cute dude has a few new tricks to show his friends!

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Plot Developments: In Which There are More Dogs Than We Ever Expected

The first thing is that I have added two new regulars to my list of dogsitting clients.

an orange pomeranian sits on green grass beside a cow toy. A brown colourbond fence in the background.

Tiger is a cute little guy who needs a bit of extra company, so I'm visiting him a couple of mornings a week. He doesn't love strangers or other dogs, but he's a very smart little guy who is a pleasure to hang out with.

a large golden retriever lies on the floor of a house, smiling at the camera. A very ratty looking orange toy lies between his paws.

Apollo is my neighbour's dog, and is by far the biggest houseguest we've had so far! Other than giving people the impression we have a lion in the house, he's a pretty chill dude. I was pleasantly surprised to find he's a calm walker, so we'll definitely be doing more walks to get some of that extra weight off him.

Didn't you say there were a lot more dogs, you ask? Yes -- I'm not done! Aside from a very short sleepover with a puppy in a few weeks, my other news is more significant in my development as a dog trainer.

I've started helping teach at the local dog training club! I'm a trainee instructor, which means I'm rostered on with an experienced instructor to teach the beginners' classes.

I've found that some of the instructors just want me to provide some one-on-one assistance to students doing the exercises, and others want me to teach the class myself while they supervise. Aside from one memorable night where I was asked to teach a class I knew nothing about, I'm enjoying both roles.

Just like Tiger loves the visits from his cow friend.

Remember my 'class instruction' exam for the dog trainers' course? Well, I could not have asked for better preparation for this role.
New pet owners? Check.
Teaching a class of humans and dogs across an open field? Check.
Ten other classes on the field at the same time, totalling about 80 dogs? Okay, maybe not so much.
But I find as long as I can keep the focus of my class, everyone else will take care of theirs. Having smelly treats to keep the dogs' attention helps...

So in conclusion -- dogs everywhere! I'm even more physically tired than I am mentally at the end of each day (excluding the days I practise driving, then I'm both!). But I'm having fun.

They say to dive right in...

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Wednesday Walks

Little brown and white cavalier puppy Darcy sits on the porch in front of a purple door.
Hello Darcy.

Close up of Darcy on the porch. His mouth is half-open, relaxed.
Ready for a walk?

Adult cavalier Ava sitting is looking upwards. She is tethered to a cafe table.
What are you looking at, Ava?

Ava sits looking directly at the camera.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Mini-Holiday: In Which Ava and Darcy Are As Sweet As Ever

A holiday is always nice, isn't it? Ava and Darcy spent the weekend with me while their humans did human things.

They were dropped off in the morning, and as I was putting things away I turned around to find this...

Both dogs in one crate looking at me

How sweet are these two?

Big and little cavaliers in one crate, wide-eyed
Who, us?

Ava and Darcy sit behind baby gate
Whatcha doin'?

Seeing how close these two are seems extra sweet to me after my most recent boarders, two dogs who were from the same household but didn't like each other very much.

Darcy and Ava sit outside behind glass door
We pooped, can we come in now?
And yes, I let them in -- they were both very good dogs all weekend. Gotta love 'em.

Friday, 17 February 2017

An Exposition: In Which Melon Waxes Lyrical on Multi-Dog Management

Hello blogfriends.

Scruffy and Charlie, my most recent boarders, have gone home. I'm pretty sure they enjoyed their holiday and I refined my skills at multi-dog management.

Scruffy and Charlie: a rare snapshot with both boys

I owe a lot of this to another little guide: P. McConnell and K. London's Feeling Outnumbered: How to Manage and Enjoy Your Multi-Dog Household. I loved its advice on body blocking, and its general approach of 'teaching every dog good manners is the key to peaceful coexistence'. Makes perfect sense to me.

Most of all, though, I think this sudden foray into multi-dog management -- with Scruffy and Charlie at home, and Ava and Darcy at work -- has made me feel like the key here is management. Don't get me wrong -- dogs do need to be trained and you can almost always teach something new to improve situations. That's why I'm a dog trainer.

But I've also realised that management can be enough.

Ava: You call this management?

With multiple dogs, your time is split between them. Add to that normal life commitments -- for example, a homework assignment to finish, another dog job, and trying to fit in driving practice -- sometimes it's just about getting the dogs fed, walked, and getting in a little mental stimulation, whether that be with toys or training.

And I feel like part of understanding management is understanding that you won't be able to treat both dogs the same. Little Darcy, being only a few months old, spends half the day in his pen, while Ava can be trusted free in the house. Scruffy has to eat outside by himself while Charlie is inside with the humans, because Charlie needs to be coaxed to eat and Scruffy will steal his food.

Dog days of summer: I shut Scruffy in so Charlie could enjoy his iceblock

You won't even be able to treat your dogs equally all of the time. Some days only Darcy gets walked, because I can only take one dog with me to the cafe, and some days only Ava gets walked, because I'm out of time. And you know what? I'm realising that's okay.

Don't get me wrong, I wish Ava and Darcy could loose-lead walk nicely right now so that I could just walk them both together, and I really, really wish Scruffy and Charlie's owner could implement some more strategies so Charlie doesn't have to live timidly in the shadow of his brother. But I'm hoping that the more dogs I work with the more skilled I will become, so that I can achieve more in the same finite amount of time. Until then, though, I'm only human, they're only dogs, and we do the best we can.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Silly Saturday

Just a silly video of Charlie the mini labradoodle to brighten up your Saturday!

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Throwback Thursday: A Piece of Serenity

It's been one of those weeks.

So here's a piece of serenity from almost six months ago; before Ava's knee surgery, before the arrival of Darcypup -- just the two of us on a quiet afternoon.


P.S. Yes, this is the dog who hates water -- think we'll make a water baby of her yet??

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Puppy Play: In Which We See Just How Much Fun Ava and Darcy Have

During Ava's year with me, I've introduced her to a few dogs. They all interacted with her differently, but I wished I knew a stable, playful dog of similar size and strength for her to really play with.

Enter Darcy.

Yes, 9 week old Darcy.

Like the old saying... it's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the amount of spunk and willingness to sit on another dog's head that counts!

Friday, 27 January 2017

Almost Flashback Friday

Never enough time in a day, is there? So many things I want to share with you guys but never enough time/energy to get it all done. Well, still working on it, but --

I've been extra busy this week thanks to some visitors.

Remember these guys?



Charlie and Scruffy came to stay last year, and I have to say not much has changed. They are both mellow dogs, happy to be shut in or out, to have company or to be left alone. Okay, I admit I'd forgotten what that was like, what with high-maintenance puppies who also have a touch of #FOMO.

But then, they also have the same relationship dynamic -- Charlie is fearfully submissive with Scruffy, and Scruffy redirects arousal onto Charlie. So I keep the peace by giving them plenty of separate time and feeding/playing with them separately. It's a shame because they get less stimulation than dogs who can be together, because there's only one of me and only so much time in my day, but I'm still sure they're having a grrreat holiday while their owner does!

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Training Video: In Which Darcy Learns Important Skills, and Melon Manages Two Pups At Once

Yesterday Ava and Darcy's parents were amazed to see the puppies totally pooped (exhausted!) after I'd been in for only a short time. We joked that I must come in and hit the pups with a brick to make my job easy...

So, Chris and Tim, this is for you. Watch carefully to see if there are any bricks!

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Guest Post: New Pup on the Block

little white and brown puppy lies on ground looking up at camera

Hi! I'm Puppy. I mean, Darcy. Darcypup? Something like that. I'm not sure exactly. You can call me Darcy.

I'm a boy and I'm also a Ca- Cav- Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Yup. I'm 13 weeks old and I've been living here for 4 weeks now.

This is my big sister Ava.

birds-eye view of Ava looking at Darcy. Both pups are white with brown patches but Darcy is about half Ava's size.
Damn it kid, you gotta relax.  Just play it cool, okay?

She told me to come say hi to Blogville. She knows how to get all the treats and smuggle rocks into the house. She's the coolest.

Ava lies on the ground with a surprised expression while Darcy the puppy jumps on her head
I love my big sis!

It's pretty nice here so far. I have a sisfur to chase AND humans to cuddle. Did you know that human laps are really comfy?

Close-up of Darcy lying on the grass
So far, so good.

The humans have been telling me I've been picking things up real quick. It's true! I can pick up toys and sticks and run real fast.

Tiny Darcy runs across the lawn
Wait for me!

Ooh, all that running made me sleepy. Time for a nap in my crate. 
Bye humans! 
Darcy out! xo