On becoming a dog parent

How quickly a new pet, like a new baby, changes one’s daily routine! We’ve just had Lady Brown and Hunter for a week, and already they’ve become so much a focus and highlight of our days. Mornings begin with M giving them breakfast. (He’s also been busy concocting dog treats — from chicken liver mostly, see recipe below.) After the dogs have eaten their fill, we go off for an hour’s walk. That’s about as much as Lady Brown can manage without panting too much. Once back home and they’re settled, we then sit down to our breakfast.

This week has definitely taught us a great deal about canine communication. It’s actually the first time we’ve had two dogs, and a couple at that. And an excellent opportunity to observe how two dogs, intimate with each other, communicate. The first two days, Lady Brown refused to go up the steps to the veranda, even though Hunter was brave enough to do so on his first evening here. She sat within sight of us out in the garden, calmly looking on as we sat on the veranda with Hunter at our feet. We were hoping he would settle down for the night onto one of the beds newly bought for them, and by doing so, convince her as well. But as we retired for the night I saw her walking ahead of Hunter in the direction of her nest in the far corner of the garden where she’d spent the first two nights. How did she manage to communicate all that? In the end of course, nature proved the greater persuader. In the middle of the night, rain must have begun to fall, and we awoke to the two of them sleeping on the veranda, each curled up in their own bed. From then on, Lady Brown no longer had any qualms about being or sleeping on the veranda.

She naps in various places — on her bed, partly on the veranda sofas, or out in the garden. Her favourite spot is just in front of the crocuses, among the daisies and crocuses. How does she know to avoid lying on the crocuses? In contrast Hunter did not feel safe enough to nap out in the open, until over a week had passed. While Lady Brown almost immediately found herself spots to nap in the sun or shade, he would only sit, on the alert, close by. For a brief while he disappeared on his first day. But Lady Brown let out a high-pitched almost unvoiced whine, and immediately he came out from behind the low-growing palm near the hedge. That was such an excellent hideaway he’d found — there was no way for anyone to tell there could be anything behind there. And it occurred to me that that was how he’d managed to survive for perhaps a year, maybe more, since being abandoned (brilliant survival strategy). She walked towards him from the veranda to meet him by the crocuses and lay herself down on her favourite spot. And when he approached, he solicitously sniffed her face several times, and then lay down close to her. And they stayed there companionably for quite a while — she napping, he being the lookout.


Lady Brown and Hunter amidst crocuses and daisies

Later I saw them running leisurely side by side alongside the hedge. She had not even walked along the hedge when she’d been on her own. Were they looking for a hideout? Was he looking for somewhere to spend the night? Perhaps somewhere she could have her pups if, as we suspect, she may be expecting them? It is truly a wonder how messages get across from one to the other.

It occurred to us that Hunter may have been abandoned because of his extreme sensitivity to sudden loud noises, particularly gunfire. The hunting season is currently in full swing and will last until the first week of December. Fridays to Sundays, and holidays too, hunting is permitted in the mountains surrounding us. When we took the dogs out for a walk on Monday morning, we almost ran into the path of two hunters with their shotguns carried across their arms. In the low brush of the maquis around us — what quarry could there be other than small birds and rabbits? We decided it was wiser to cut short our walk and head back.

Hunter went into such a panic the first time he heard a gunshot — shivering and trembling, heart beating wildly. And this is repeated each time there is gunfire, which starts sporadically from daybreak until midmorning, then goes on again at late afternoon until nightfall. We alternately sit with him until he calms down. And then of course it all starts again with the next gunshot. At such times, Lady Brown, who is not bothered by the noise and can sleep through all the racket, will come and lick his face to reassure him as well.

The other day, a lady stopped by who obviously knew the dogs. For a moment I thought oh no, she’s come to take one or both dogs back. When we used to feed Lady Brown, I noted there was a pan of water on the veranda of the empty house where she used to hang out, and wondered whether she might belong to someone. But our neighbours had all told us Lady Brown didn’t have a home. The lady said she already had 4 rescue dogs, and she couldn’t take in another as she had other animals and chickens as well. The least she could do, she’d thought, was to feed Lady and make sure she had water. And when Lady wasn’t there for a whole week, she’d begun to worry until someone told her the dogs were seen in our yard. And so the lady came to see for herself and she thanked us profusely for giving the two dogs a good home. We’d made her day, were her exact words. She’d made our day as well 🙂

Chicken Liver Treats (adapted from the Ultimate Dog Treat Cookbook)

These have become M’s specialty (he’s made them twice now) and Lady Brown’s and Hunter’s favourites. We use them as rewards when training them not to pull when we walk them and to come when called. Chicken livers are sold together with hearts at Mercadona in small packs.

400 g fully cooked chicken livers (or a mix of livers and hearts), finely chopped

1 cup wholemeal flour or cornmeal

1 cup oatmeal

2 eggs

¼ cup vegetable oil

¼ cup bone stock or water


Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease and flour a cookie sheet.

Mix together all the ingredients to a stiff dough.

Pat the dough to a ¼ inch-thick layer on the cookie sheet.

Bake for 10 – 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Turn off the oven.

Remove cooking sheet from oven and cut into small squares or rectangles.

Loosen slices from the tray.

Return the sheet to the oven for the treats to cook further in the remaining heat.

Store treats in a closed container in the fridge.


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