The first few days

The first few days

The first few days that your new dog is at home with you are the ones that set the tone for your whole relationship. Although you may want to grant your dog the freedom of the house following their time in a shelter, it’s definitely not the way forward. A dog won’t understand why first night cuddles on the sofa aren’t a permanent thing if you would prefer him to stay in his bed, and they certainly won’t understand why, when they cry the first night and you let them on your bed, that this isn’t the way it will be for the rest of their life with you.

If you are looking for advice on house-training or on fearful dogs, you will find further information on the site. Please bear in mind that many dogs, even dogs who have lived in a home all their life and spent less than an hour at the refuge, can have a bit of an issue with house-training and knowing where to go. Some dogs may have one or two accidents and others may be stubborn, especially if you have other dogs. Even if you are sure you are getting a dog who has been house-trained, a change of circumstance can mean a change of bladder habits and it is well worth a read as a dog’s cleanliness depends on you even before you come in through the door.

Even if you do not think you are getting a fearful dog, a change in circumstances can be very disorientating. Slipped collars and dogs who dash out of cars can cause owners no end of worry and there are many dogs who are never found again. Reading the article about fearful dogs can be a lifesaver, literally. A sliplead, harness and supervision at all times in the garden for the first few days can make all the difference.

Many dogs are subjected to new experiences and you may find that they have new fears.

Some of the things dogs may not have experience include:

  1. Being indoors. Many dogs in France live outside all year around. A house can represent a small, enclosed, unfamiliar space and although you think that your new dog will love being cosied up with you, a house can be terrifying if you have never been in one, or, indeed, if you have spent your life being kicked out of one. If you have other animals inside, this fear can be very intense indeed.
  2. The dark. Many refuge dogs are left alone when the dark comes, and they may come to associate it with abandonment or loneliness. Do not be surprised if your new dog shows no desire whatsoever to go out at night. This can even lead to puddles, so make sure it’s not a fear of the dark rather than stubborn resistance to house-training.
  3. Windows and patios. Houses in France may have French windows, but most rural houses do not. Seeing their reflection for the first time can be disorientating, and it can be hard for some dogs who have never had a head-first experience with double glazing. Barking at their own reflection, or even wagging, are very common, as are accidental collisions. Make sure you introduce your dog carefully to low glass and mirrors!
  4. Stairs. Many houses in France are single-storey, or owners have never permitted dogs upstairs. It may take your new dog a while to get used to going up and down stairs. Something to bear in mind is that going up is one thing, but coming down is another altogether and if you get your 50kg dog up the stairs, you may be faced with the task of carrying him down.
  5. Fireworks and thunder. These are standard fears for many dogs but seem to be worse for ex-shelter dogs. Don’t leave your dog out in storms or you may find that they’ve done a runner. If you can see from the weather that storms are predicted, try to make sure you are home with your pet and that you can gauge their reactions before you leave them home alone.
  6. Being on their own. Unless you have adopted a breed that is valued for its independence, you may find that your new rescue pet is terrified of being alone. This may be because they were abandoned before, or because they are left at the refuge, but it can also be because many French dogs are bred for sociability and being able to be part of a pack. Being isolated from the pack can be an overwhelming experience.
  7. Fear of the vet. Some dogs arrive in terrible conditions and are quickly seen by the vet for the first time in their life. Others meet the vet for the first time when they have an injection. Needless to say, the first vet experience for many refuge dogs is a painful one, even if the vet is very experienced and gentle. Most arrive and are in a high state of anxiety and fear. Seeing the vet can be the first real interaction they’ve had and it is not always pleasant. Please make sure you are aware of your dog’s behaviour round vets and don’t be afraid to take a muzzle and a friend if necessary. This isn’t a shelter-dog special phobia: many dogs have a fear of the vet. If it takes four of you to hold a muzzled dog down to clip its nails, don’t be too alarmed. Better to have too many hands than too few when your first vet visit is due. You can also ask the shelter staff who will have certainly accompanied your dog on their vet trips.
  8. Fear of men. Many people assume that because a dog is afraid of men that they have been beaten by a man. This is not strictly true. Dogs rely on seeing our faces and the taller you are, the harder it is to see what you’re feeling. They just might never have had much experience of tall people and so it causes them alarm. My own dogs don’t meet many men and they are much more shouty about men than they are about women. A gentle woman of my height can be an absolute stranger and yet she will be greeted much more gently than a man who is much taller. My dog Heston barks at tall men. He has never been abused by a tall man, or even had a mildly negative experience: it’s just lack of socialisation with them.
  9. Fear of children. Again, this is less than they have been abused by children and more that they have never met children. Children are freaky, unpredictable things to some dogs. They have moving parts that do different things than adults do – all those swinging limbs and uncoordinated feet! There are hands that pull, or pet weirdly, faces right at their level… it can be a dog’s worst nightmare.
  10. Fear of weird objects. Brooms, hoovers and washing machines are usual culprits: moving, noisy things that don’t make sense to dogs. This isn’t always the case and you may find your dog barking at a sieve, a snowman or a stone cross. Heston has barked at all of these things. He spent five minutes having an argument with a fertiliser sack once.

Gentle desensitisation is usually the key to overcoming most of these fears, but you will not be chastised for avoiding them completely if needs be. Sometimes, if it’s not necessary that your dog get used to stairs or snowmen, why bother? On the other hand, men and children are probably going to be things your dog comes into contact with and it will be worthwhile desensitising them to these things.


Fearful dogs

Adopting a fearful dog is perhaps the most rewarding aspect of rescue, but also the most challenging. From the very first moment you set eyes on them, you may be drawn to help them. However, much of what we want to do – comfort and protect the dog – can be overwhelming and frightening for the animal. Frightened animals are more likely to attack than any other emotional state if they feel they have no way out. Helping them cope with the first few days and keeping them safe are your only priorities. Sadly, far too many fearful dogs run away in the first moments of life in a new home, and a percentage of those dogs are found dead or are never found.


Debbie Jones is a dog trainer who works with fearful dogs and has written an excellent book that will help you understand the rehabilitation process. Best of all, Debbie will give you lots of hope that you can turn your nervous Nelly into a dog that can enjoy life without medication or without fear.

Whilst you won’t find any answers here, there are a couple of aspects to be mindful of when adopting a fearful dog. The first aspect is that any dog can be fearful given a change in circumstances. You think of your home and your love as a wonderful gift for a dog: you are rescuing it and it seems bizarre to think that for many dogs, this is a terrifying experience. The shelter has often been a constant, where routines stay the same and where they have little interaction. Believe it or not, interaction can be the most fearful thing. Hands are no comfort. The house is a corner that they can’t escape from. For this reason, a gentle hand, a kind heart and a warm home might not be what you think it should be.

The second thing to bear in mind is the new collar. Most people don’t like their dog’s collar to be too tight. Even if you do the ‘two finger test’ to ensure the collar is tight but not too tight, many dogs can get out of it. Many dogs are fine in a collar or with a lead on it if they pull forward, but if they back up, they can easily get out of it. The same is true of a harness. A slip lead may seem like a cruel choice, but a lead that maintains pressure is the best thing for a fearful dog at the beginning. Fearful dogs can take advantage of a slackening off, so two leads – a harness lead and a slip lead – will ensure that you don’t lose your dog. Catching a fearful dog is virtually impossible and many will take to the hills to find a place they consider space.

The third thing to consider is transport. Many fearful dogs are on super-alert in a car. It may be the way they were dumped, the way they were picked up. It’s a tiny, enclosed space where they cannot escape. Not surprisingly, some new owners open a car door and the dog is off before they can grab the lead. A secure harness is absolutely vital.

Bearing these last two aspect in mind can certainly help keep your dog from escaping. When it comes to fight or flight, flight is a huge risk for fearful dogs. Fight is the other. Be very conscious that you are more likely to get bitten by a dog who is cornered, so picking up a fearful dog, closing in on them or otherwise making it impossible for them to run away can end badly. Space and security once in the home are vital.

If the journey goes well and you manage to keep hold of your fearful dog until you get them home, many people assume the worst is over and find their dogs have absconded in the first twenty-four hours. Don’t ever assume your dog won’t climb or dig, or even just plough through a fence. The garden is their exit point and if you leave them unsupervised, you may find they find a way out. This is especially true if something happens whilst they are in the garden: unexpected sounds can set off a flight-or-fight response.

On average, it can take up to eight weeks for cortisol levels to drop back down to normal after a stressful event like moving home or getting in a car, so patience and watchfulness are vital.

Many dogs form quick bonds once they understand their new routines and new owners, but two things can bring old feeling to a head: being alone and being out on a walk. We think walks are great fun and that dogs enjoy them. We tell ourselves that we all need exercise and that we enjoy the change of scenery. This is not especially true of a fearful dog. Every noise is a potential threat and every movement brings fear. And although your fearful dog might not be bonding with you easily, it does not mean that they are happy to be left on their own. This can set off feelings of abject panic for those left confined in a house from which they cannot escape. Many dogs will injure themselves in their attempts to save themselves. Be prepared for a long journey to overcoming separation anxiety, especially if your dog is an only dog.

If your dog is incredibly fearful, please enlist the help of a behaviouralist or your vet. Medication and behaviour modification can make a huge difference. Most dogs will make good progress with calm, patient and gentle guidance. Indeed, one of our most scared hounds managed to get away from her owner recently, following a scare out on a walk. With two frantic days of searching, we feared the worst. Yet one day, Illia came walking back down the road to her home. It is massive progress when a fearful dog will do this, although we are lucky she wasn’t hit by a car or injured in any other way. Many fearful dogs just disappear and are never seen again. That’s the sad reality of not being quite vigilant enough and thinking love is enough to cure their ills. For Shanna, Nutella, Jordan, Indy and many other ex-refuge dogs, sometimes they get lucky and we find them again. Sometimes they don’t and we are left with the sinking feeling that they have been killed in one way or another.


Regulated Dog Breeds

For ex-pats who bring dogs into France, the laws concerning specific breeds can be a nightmare, especially where staffies are concerned. The Staffordshire Bull Terrier (SBT) or staffie is a breed loved by English people, yet can cause you legal issues in France unless you have all the breed paperwork. Even then, you may find yourself in a paperwork minefield. Outlined in this post are all the laws regarding regulated dog breeds in France, including information from Staffie Rescue Association.

In France, two “categories” of dogs exist. The first category is known as the “Attack Dog” category; the second is known as the “Guard Dog or Defence Dog” category. The laws are strict regarding these dogs. You have many obligations and there are certain requirements in order to own a dog of either category.

Category 1

This category is mainly concerned with dogs who are not registered on a genealogical record. In France, this is called the LOF or livre des origines françaises record, and it records the lines of all breeds. Category 1 dogs conform physically to the ‘standards’ of the following dogs:

  • Unregistered Staffordshire Terrier or American Staffordshire Terrier, often known as Amstaffs or Pitbulls (NB this does not include SBTs, but this comes with a strong proviso)
  • Boerbulls
  • Unregistered Tosa

Please note that whilst the French call a Boerbull a ‘mastiff’, this does not mean that all mastiffs are banned. Indeed, most mastiff breeds are not category dogs at all. The Boerbull or Boerboel is sometimes called the South African Mastiff. These are not restricted dogs in the UK and it is feasible that any mastiff that a qualified vet deems as being a boerbull may be subject to the consequences of the conditions. If you import a mastiff into France, please note that if you do not have pedigree paperwork for it, you may be facing a long legal battle to keep it. Even if you have UK paperwork for a mastiff, you may find that the French vets are unwilling to accept it and that you have to go through the processes connected to Category 1 dogs.

The same is true of SBTs. In the UK, the breed standard has become so polluted and focused on size and strength that a pedigree SBT may be categorised as a Category 1 dog in France. Your UK kennel club paperwork may not be worth anything if your SBT is particularly large. Indeed, all the Cat 1 dogs at the refuge are dogs that would happily pass breed standards in the UK.

Japanese Tosa are a restricted breed in the UK. Here, they are subject to heavy restrictions.

What are the conditions for keeping a Category One dog?

  1. You cannot buy, sell or give away a category one dog. If your SBT or mastiff has pups in France with a non-LOF dog, these are considered Category One dogs. You cannot import these dogs.
  2. You must have a permit to keep Category dogs. This involves two things. The first is a training course for the owners. From this, you will receive a certificate saying that you are capable of handling a dangerous dog. You must have this certificate before you can apply to keep a category dog. The course is seven hours long and must be delivered by a state-certified dog trainer. There is a theoretical and a practical test. Your dog does not have to be present as part of the training and the certificate is relevant for any category dogs – not just one. The second aspect of this permit is for dogs aged between 8 and 12 months and must be done periodically once they reach this age. They must undergo a behavioural evaluation by a qualified vet who has a licence to assess behaviour. The vet will send a copy to the mairie of the commune where you live. Dogs are judged on a scale of 1-4, with 1 being ‘no particular danger’ and 4 being ‘high risk of being dangerous to certain people or in certain situations’. This evaluation must be redone periodically depending on their position on the scale. You are responsible for the fees of the 7 hour training course and the vet’s behavioural assessment of your dog. Once you have these two elements, you can apply for a permit. Please note that having both of these elements does not mean your mairie will automatically grant you a permit. You must own a permit for each category dog in your possession. You must also supply a copy of their identification details (i.e. a passport or ICAD form), a copy of their rabies jabs (compulsory vaccination every year), a copy of the behavioural assessment, a copy of your own handlers’ certificate, and a copy of your home insurance indicating you are insured for a category dog. For dogs in category 1, you must also have the dog sterilised and provide proof of this. If you move to a new commune, you need a new permit. As long as the behavioural assessments, rabies vaccinations and insurance are all up to date and you do not move to a new commune, your permit will remain valid. If you do not have the permit, your dog can be taken from you and put in a public pound or euthanised. You will also be fined 750€ for each dog without a permit. 
  3. You cannot take your dog into public places, other than on public footpaths. That means you are heavily restricted as to where you can walk them. You cannot take them to cafés or on public transport, or any other public place – other than the footpath. You also cannot live in shared accommodation.
  4. All Category 1 dogs must be sterilised.
  5. All Category 1 dogs must be muzzled and on a lead in public. They may only be walked by an adult.
  6. You must have your dog chipped or identified by tattoo.

Category 2

This category concerns pedigree Tosa, Rottweilers and Amstaffs who have genealogical paperwork from LOF. Please note that the Rottweiler is not a restricted breed in the UK, but it is in France. You cannot import a rottweiler into France without following French regulations. Mixed breed dogs who resemble Rottweilers are also category two dogs.

To keep a category two dog, you must have the relevant paperwork and you must muzzle your dog in public. They must be walked at all times by an adult and cannot be let off lead in public places. The same rules apply as for Category 1 dogs, except sterilisation is not compulsory. Given that any accidental litters from a pedigree dog are automatically considered category 1, though, it is advisable to get your dog sterilised if you cannot absolutely guarantee this condition.

People aged under 18 are not allowed to own a dog of either category. Those with criminal records are not allowed to own category dogs. Even a suspended sentence means you cannot own a category dog.

Things to note:

  • Although Rotties are not category dogs in the UK, they are here.
  • Although your staffie may have UK kennel club paperwork, it may not be acceptable if your dog conforms physically to the size and shape of an Amstaff, which many UK pedigree staffies do.
  • SBTs without any paperwork are considered as category one dogs.
  • You need paperwork to prove your dog is included in the French LOF. This is called a Certificat de Naissance.
  • You also need an identity card for your dog. This comes from SCC (société centrale canine) or ICAD (identification de carnivores domestiques)
  • Do not buy an SBT in France if it does not have a Certificat de Naissance from LOF. It is illegal to do so.
  • The only things that stop your SBT being considered a Category One dog are its inclusion in the LOF database and its Certificat de Naissance.
  • If you want further information about SBTs, or you would like to adopt one, please contact the Staffie Rescue Association who can also provide you with a list of good breeders.
  • If your SBT has pups with a dog not included in LOF as a SBT the pups will automatically be considered category one dogs.
  • The Dogo Argentino is not a restricted breed in France, but it is in the UK, which has implications for those who wish to move back to the UK.

For dedicated and keen enthusiasts, keeping a category two dog is straightforward. Although you may not like the muzzle and lead restrictions, France has much more freedom than the UK, except for rottweilers. The rules regarding SBTs are clear and most staffie lovers would be surprised to see how small French-bred SBTs are in comparison with their UK relatives who have unfortunately suffered from unregulated overbreeding over successive decades in the UK.

Your puppy

Your puppy

Many people are surprised to learn that shelters have puppies. After all, how could such a cute little thing be abandoned so early in life?!


The truth is that many puppies at the refuge arrive mainly as the result of two things. One is the accidental breeding of a litter. The other is simple over-production. As the recession continues its stranglehold on French life, many people turn to a breeding female as a cash machine. If you don’t chip, vaccinate or have to sterilise your dogs, people think it costs nothing. This is untrue, of course, and all dogs sold or exchanged in France are legally required to be chipped. In 2016, laws will come into play to make it even more difficult to become a black market puppy breeder.

Simple common sense would suggest that the market is already flooded. Countless litters of puppies are abandoned at the refuge once they are weaned. That in itself says there’s no money in breeding, especially when many of the dogs are pedigree dogs of small sizes.

So, simply put, there are often puppies at refuges if you are really after a very young dog.

We get the older ones as well, when buyers realise that puppies take a bit of work. You have a short period of six to eight weeks in which to teach them crucial life skills which will make them impossible to live with if you do not.

The first thing we ask of all potential puppy owners is if they have the time and the patience to train a puppy. Even if you were to go to a daily puppy training class for these eight weeks, you would still need to ensure that you are available for sixteen or seventeen hours a day. A puppy is not for the faint of heart.

The second thing you need is bags of energy yourself. This is why we ask older adoptants to reconsider their choice if they want a puppy.

Puppies get in to everything!

There are many things you can do to ensure that your puppy becomes a happy, well-adjusted adult dog. Here are the top ten vital things to teach your puppy in the first six weeks. This is taken from the work of Dr Ian Dunbar, whose website Dog Star Daily needs to be your constant bible for the next couple of months. Bookmark this site as it is the definitive guide to raising a great dog. DO NOT get your puppy without having read his free guide, “Before You Get Your Puppy.”  As he says, “If you have your heart set on raising and training a puppy, do make sure you train yourself beforehand.”

I would add that a small number of our adopted puppies are returned weeks, months or even a year after they are adopted, having had no training and having already developed behaviours that will make it hard to find them a home. If you take a puppy, you take an animal at the point in its life where it WILL find a home easily. If you bring it back, you have stolen that animal’s chance of being easily adopted. That’s why puppy training is serious business. Socialisation is crucial, and you can read more about why it’s so important in this article from Dr Jen.

So the ten things your puppy needs you to teach him:

  1. Bite inhibition. The only reason, other than palliative reasons, that the refuge will ever put a dog to sleep is if it fails four bite tests. I used to think, with my own puppy, that bite inhibition was just part of good training. Now I think it is the fundamental part of good training. That means bite inhibition with humans and with other animals. It is your job to take a little land shark and turn it into a dog who doesn’t sink its teeth into everything. For dogs, their mouths are their hands. And we know toddlers grab and touch everything. Dogs will do the same. Here is Dunbar’s post about bite inhibition. You may also find this video from Zak George helpful.
  2. To be used to being touched all over. In your dog’s life, someone IS going to grab him, touch his rear, pull his tail. Most likely it’ll be a child who doesn’t know any better. That’s why it’s vital your dog is desensitised to being touched all over. Regularly touch their paws, massage them, look in their mouths, their ears. Get him used to being clipped if he is a dog who will need clipping, or brushed. Dogs need desensitising to brushes and I’m sure I don’t need to remind you how hard it can be to brush children’s hair. It’s worse for dogs because children do eventually grow out of the super-sensitive stage. Dogs will just keep reinforcing the negative experience and each time will be worse. Get them used to the shower, the vet and having nails touched.
  3. Not to jump up. A puppy wants to be up near you and near your face so he can see what’s going on. But a 5kg puppy doing it is very different than a 30kg dog doing it. Nobody likes dogs jumping up, and for many people this can be very intimidating. The easiest way to teach your dog to stop jumping is to teach them when you want them to jump. Many people with smaller dogs bypass this step, as they do with biting, because it’s rarely as dangerous as a big dog doing it, but it is still vital.
  4. Sit. It’s not just a party trick. Sit is a gateway training activity. From this point, you can teach other commands such as “down” and “paw”, but you can also teach “stay”. Teach your puppy that “Sit!” means “I’m waiting for our relationship to start up and I’m excited to go!”
  5. Not to pee in the house. Most dogs who live in a house have to learn this one. It’s a skill we are pretty good at teaching because it’s important to us. More importantly, it’s messy if we don’t. You can find further information about house-training here. Although it is aimed at older dogs, it is as true for puppies. Remember they have small bladders and no real understanding of the messages their bladders are giving them about being full. Accidents will happen, but you need to be constantly focused to ensure your puppy has as few as possible.
  6. That people and other dogs are not a threat. Early socialisation is vital and you need to start after the first set of vaccinations at eight weeks. Make sure that the dogs you are interacting with have their full set of vaccinations or do not come from an environment where there is a high risk of contamination. You should ensure your dog has met a wide range of people before twelve weeks of age, including “children, men and strangers”. You can read more about that in Dunbar’s follow-up document entitled “After you get your puppy.”  You also need to allow your dog to play with other dogs and learn when bites hurt, how dogs initiate and end play, how dogs socialise, what is acceptable in the dog world. A dog with great dog-on-dog bite inhibition will be much less likely to resort to teeth in a fight and will settle doggie disputes in painless ways.
  7. What to do when they are left alone. You absolutely must teach your puppy that being left alone is not a punishment nor any real cause for concern. You may not like to have periods when you leave your dog alone when you are together, but it is vital that your dog can occupy himself without resorting to destruction or anxious behaviours. Crate training is a crucial part of this process, but you may prefer to confine your dog to a room instead. Having the right things to chew and plenty to keep them occupied, like Kongs, and removing access to other interesting things to chew or destroy is absolutely vital here. You can teach your dog to settle and to be calm, and these are vital in ensuring you can leave your dog without anxiety.
  8. To walk on a lead. Puppies don’t take well to leads at first and will happily follow you all over the house, so you don’t think you’ll ever have to worry about them running off. In those first few weeks, you may even feel confident walking your dog without a lead, as puppies are like velcro. At the four month stage, the world will start to become more interesting and unless your dog has been trained to come back, and their recall is proofed, you may find it impossible to keep them from investigating the neighbourhood instead of walking to heel as they used to. Walking without pulling is easy to teach to a young puppy. It is not easy to teach to an adult dog.
  9. A perfect “Come!” – great recall is essential. Great recall is also very much dependent on situation, as dogs don’t generalise well. Just because they will come in the house or in the garden doesn’t mean that they will apply the same rules on a walk. Proofing those “Come!” commands is a vital factor to ensuring you can let your dog off the lead and still be in control.
  10. Teach him to get used to collar grabs. Whilst we may not want to ever grab our dog’s collar, it’s the situation in which 20% of bites happen. Teaching them that you touching their collar is a good thing with treats and positive reinforcement is absolutely fundamental if you want to be able to keep your dog safe.

There are many vital things to consider when adopting a puppy, which is why I said it was not for the faint of heart. All of these ten things – and more! – are vital within the first few months of a dog’s life. Following a great programme like Dr Ian Dunbar’s will help you get the best out of your dog in a force-free, positive way which will encourage your pup to make good choices rather than to obey because they are afraid. The things that our parents or grandparents might have done to train a dog, such as rubbing its nose in its urine or tapping it with a rolled-up newspaper are techniques which belong firmly in the past. The sad thing about punishments is that they are very effective at training a dog. Sadly, they do not help train a healthy or well-adjusted dog with whom you can build a trusting and confident partnership.

If you are in any doubt whatsoever, seek the advice of a qualified professional and be prepared to pay for this.

WLTM puppy wp featured


House training

One of the worries many people have about taking on a shelter dog is in house-training it. The good news is that many dogs, including those who have been in the refuge for years, never go to the toilet in the house. Older dogs have bigger bladders and stronger habits. Many dogs wait until they are out of the enclosures before they will go to the toilet, and even in the refuge, they are ‘clean’ because they have been trained to be. It can be very hard for some dogs to break those habits. As someone who has had many foster dogs through her home, I have a few tips for you and a great video.

Toilet training is about creating good habits, and you can start those before you even get home. The great news is that it is much easier with adult dogs who know when they want to eliminate.

Adult dogs often go where they have already been. Uncastrated or castrated male dogs are often keen to go over the top of previous sites to reinforce their scent. They’ll also go where female dogs have gone to ‘over-mark’. Female dogs, on the other hand, can be very lazy and use scent much less. It can be much more difficult to housetrain a female – and that can be for medical reasons related to sterilisation, or because they are less interested in marking territory.

The best thing you can do to encourage a dog to urinate then is to take it to a spot that other dogs have been and wait until they go. You don’t need to use praise with a dog who eliminates outside because they might think you are rewarding them for eliminating rather than for eliminating outside. As Dog Rescue Carcassonne say: “- Giving treats for toileting in the garden, again the dog is being rewarded for what he did not where he did it. Whilst this is not going to be as big a problem as the reprimand, the clever dog will learn to do lots of little wees and never fully empty their bladder. The insecure dog may wee indoors to appease you if you get cross about something else because they know that this is something that pleases you and gets rewarded.”

Make sure as you leave the refuge that the dog has eliminated, especially if you have a long journey.

When you arrive home, you may be keen to get them inside, but keep them on the lead and walk them around the garden until they do their business. Make sure you stay outside for another ten minutes or so because you don’t want to reinforce that doing their business marks the end of your time outside. You don’t want a dog who holds on just so he can enjoy the garden more! A lead will ensure you can keep them in the spot that YOU want them to go, and you can check that they’ve gone properly.

When introducing them to your home, keep them on a lead for the first thirty minutes or so and if they show the remotest leg cock or lady squat, distract them, move them away and take them outside. Walk them all around your home and only when you are happy there’s been no cocking or squatting, let them off the lead. Watch them for the first hour or so to make sure they are not wandering around happily doing their business. If they do, distract, move them away and take them outside again. If a dog never pees in the house, they are never likely to. Once they’ve gone, however, it can be impossible to stop because no matter how you try, that place will still smell of pee and they will want to go again in the same spot. If they do go, a very strong smelling cleaner and some fabric spray can mask it. Bleach is essentially ammonia and the smell resembles that of urine – so no bleach!

Remember that although dogs do not generally like to urinate where they sleep or eat, they may do it where other dogs sleep or eat – thus, they might do it on another dog’s bed or near another dog’s food bowl. Not only that, dogs don’t have a real concept of ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ as we do. In the house, there are ‘familiar places’ and ‘unfamiliar places’ and not all are pee-proof in a dog’s mind. Generally, the less you use a room, the more likely it might be to attract a dog’s attention as a spare toilet. Keep doors shut and supervise your dog’s movements – watch for the signs they might be about to go. Good management is crucial.

After this, treat your new rescue like a puppy. Take them outside the very first thing in the morning. Wait until they’ve done their business before going back inside, even if it means standing outside watching them in the pouring rain. Take them before and after eating. Take them if they’ve just stopped playing. Take them if they’ve just woken up. Take them before bedtime. Don’t be afraid to remove all water sources after 9pm for a couple of nights and take them out before bedtime. Empty bladders are less likely to stimulate the need to pee.

Dog poop generally comes just before or after each meal. If you feed twice a day, expect them to go twice a day and expect it to be within 30 minutes either side of regular mealtimes. It can take up to a month for their bodies to get used to a new food regime, so be patient and supervise them until you know they’ve gone.

Remember, it’s on you to supervise, not on the dog to tell you. Accidents happen because you’ve not been quite vigilant enough, so don’t be cross at the dog. Do not punish the dog or rub their nose in it. It’s up to us to teach them and accidents – though frustrating – are to be ignored.

The tough thing to work on can be when the dog is alone and unsupervised in your home, especially if you have to go out or work. A smaller, enclosed, secure space is better for this, especially if it is a place they regularly sleep or eat in. Many dog trainers recommend a crate for this very reason. As it can be very hard to stop a dog going indoors once it’s started, crate training can help with that.

This video from Zak George talks you through some of the best practices for toilet training, including crate training. Be aware – crates are not for all dogs. As he says, “crate training will never be acceptable for some dogs.”

Finally, if you are having real problems, especially if your dog seems to be trying to pee and not able to go, take them to the vet. Real struggles to keep it in may be related to a medical issue, not a behavioural issue.

Further reading:

Dr Marty Becker

Introducing a new dog

At the pound and the refuge, the staff are experts in introductions. We make up between seven and forty new pairs of dogs a week and there are several things we do that can help you as well. The choices we make are based very much on choices you can make before adopting.

There are decisions we make without knowing the history or personality of the dog. These decisions are based on gender, breed and size. Female-female introductions can be the hardest ones and can cause the worst fights. Male-male introductions can also be very difficult, especially if neither dog is castrated. The easiest introductions are between sterilised females and castrated males. There are no hormones and no agendas.

Size is also a factor. Similar-sized dogs are generally less aggressive as they feel less afraid of their new partner. Small dogs can feel intimidated by bigger dogs. Bigger dogs can be very afraid of smaller dogs, believe it or not.

Breed is a final factor. If a dog’s breed is one for independence, you may find you are working against hundreds of generations of careful selective breeding to end up with a dog who is independent, territorial and protective. For this reason, shepherds and rottweilers can be very hard to pair with others if they have not been socialised at an early age. Likewise, hounds who have been bred to work as a pack and live with other dogs may find it very distressing to be on their own. Recent studies have shown up to 70% of dogs feel anxious when left alone, and that is reduced to 35% when they have a friend. That’s a lot of dogs who need company and who need the presence of a canine companion.

These factors do not mean it’s impossible to integrate two dogs. I have two entire males who get on fine. One is a Malinois shepherd and the other is a collie x flat-coated retriever. It works because there are other factors to consider: personality and history.

Personality very much depends on what you know about your dog. How are they around others? You know better than any other about how your dog gets on with others. Have you socialised your dog? Are they used to meeting others and even living with others? Have you had other dogs in your home? If the answer is no to any of these questions, you may have a bit of work to do before taking on another dog. Please don’t assume that a puppy is the solution if you are looking to adopt a dog. If your dog is poorly-socialised, doesn’t meet other dogs regularly (at least once a day) and has never lived with another dog for more than 24 hours, you may want to ask yourself why you want to change the dynamic of your home. A puppy is as big a threat as a full-grown dog to some.

When you know your dogs, you know how they are around others. My American Cocker Tilly is fairly well-socialised but she yaps like a fiend at other dogs for about two minutes. If they do nothing, once she’s said her bit, she is happy to get on with her daily business. She needs to be the boss and she will happily tell another dog off if she feels threatened or if she feels it is getting in her space. She doesn’t like dogs who invade her space but she is fine if they have good manners and leave her alone.

For a long time, I thought Heston was not okay with other males. This is not true. He is very good with older dogs and very respectful of their space. He is also fabulous with puppies and bigger dogs. He hates other dogs to sniff him over much, but he loves to sniff them – kind of ironic. He is actually okay with males if I am in control of how they meet and if they do not bark at him. Once the two minute tension of a first meeting is over, he is fine. I trust him completely with little dogs as well. The older he gets, the wider his repertoire of dogs is.

Amigo would prefer to be an only dog. He is not a fan of other dogs. He never wants to smell them. When I got him, I thought he was fine with other dogs. I had no idea of his history and had never seen him react to other dogs. Now I know him, I know he is fine with other dogs who are under control. Off-lead, in-your-face dogs with no manners are his worst nightmare.

Ralf was fine with all other dogs. All. He was never aggressive or grumbly, although he was a bit of a humper. Tobby is great with other dogs, but he doesn’t have good boundaries. He likes to say hello and if they don’t say hello back, he gets a bit obsessive. If they say hello back, he’s fine and he’s moved on. He is not a fan of puppies or small dogs who run in between his legs. He is scared of terriers. I know this stuff now.

These are the kind of things you need to know about your own dogs before you adopt another.

Once you know your own dogs, you can make sensible decisions about what would be a good match for your dogs. And despite what your own heart wants, your dogs might disagree. It’s them you have to listen to.

So how do we make greetings go smoothly?

At the refuge, we take them into neutral territory. This is the alley behind the refuge. It’s “owned” by two hundred dogs, so it’s not got any emotional stakes. We walk in the same direction, about 100 metres apart, and we gradually close the gap. You can make a choice if you have reactive dogs about who goes at the front. Sometimes it’s better to have the reactive dog at the back so that they can see the dog as they move towards them. How long you take depends on the dog. There’s no rush. It can take minutes, hours or even days. That’s all fine.

Wait until you can get the dog’s attention on you and do not approach the other dog until you can.

Take your time moving in closely and keep moving in the same direction as the other dog, making the distance smaller and smaller. Maintain a positive mood with the other handler and chat to them as you get closer. Ignore the dogs as much as you can.

When you are happy that the initial fear, curiosity and aggression has disappeared and the dogs are more under your control (or back to their normal energy levels!) you can walk alongside the other person. Keep the dogs at a safe distance so that they cannot lunge to attack the other dog. Do not force your dogs to sniff each other or get in each other’s faces. Dogs take time to suss out the other one and you’ll see them looking at each other as they size each other up and begin to relax.

Walk alongside each other and gradually relax the leads so that they can approach each other. Be prepared to separate them and never, ever get in between two dogs who decide to turn on each other. If this happens, pull them away and quickly walk off, getting as much space as you can between the dogs.

Watch for signs of playfulness between the dogs, but don’t force it or expect it. Some dogs take seconds to decide to play; others may never, ever engage in playful behaviour. Both are fine.

Watch the dogs’ body language as well. A wagging tail is not a sign of playfulness or friendliness in all circumstances. This blog post from Tails from the Lab is great for explaining doggie body language in more detail.

You can see posture asserting going on here between Ralf and Heston, tails raised high, Ralf deliberately avoiding Heston’s gaze. They’re both panting a bit because it’s stressful. Heston’s eyes look worried and they really are sizing each other up.



Heston’s tail is down and he’s loose, but Ralf’s hackles are up a little and his tail is raised high. He’s making himself all big. He lookes Heston in the eye and Heston looks away. Ralf’s wagging tail is big and high. This is not friendly wagging. It’s posture wagging. I’m not worried though. It took them three or four minutes for them to set their own boundaries.

I’ve heard people before say “you’ve got to let the dogs sort it out”, but I don’t agree. Many dogs are very excited on greeting. I’ve no doubt Heston would have attacked Tobby had I let him. Ten minutes later and we’re feeding them side by side on the lead. Heston has bad doggie manners and if I’d not have managed that situation, it would have ended badly. There was no need for a fight, no need for posturing. That initial greeting went well and where I’d been prepared for an afternoon, it took less than an hour.

Once you know your own dog’s likes and dislikes, it makes it a lot easier. You should also ask the refuge for dogs that are generally good with the type of dogs you have. Even if the dog has not been at the refuge a very long time, it is likely that they will know whether dogs are generally good with others or not.

If you have a pack of dogs, introduce the new dog to the most troublesome first, and take as long as it needs. Get that dynamic out of the way. Then bring in the least troublesome ones. Within half an hour, the dogs will be more familiar with each other and more familiar with their boundaries. Make sure your dogs are well-exercised before you meet. On the day that I brought Tobby home, Heston had a 16-km walk in the morning and then an hour of fetch. I also have a massive bag of treats for each dog and reward them for all positive behaviours.

You can also watch this great video from Zak George who introduces two dogs. It’s very useful.

The more you are prepared, the better. When you make small, gentle steps and take a bit of time to ensure that the dogs have time to check each other out, you have a much better chance of success.

You will see in the video the ‘head over back’ kind of move that Sadie makes over Deuce – that’s one thing I try to watch out for – having seen lots of dogs pairing up, it’s not good doggie manners and it often ends badly. What he says about picking up toys and treats is vital as well. It may be many months before your dogs feel happy to share toys or beds, and these can be real flashpoints.

I’d also advise getting a new dog bed and introducing your new dog to their safe space. They should have something that is theirs alone.

Separate feeding spaces (different rooms) is also a good idea so that you can build up to eating in the same space. I always give my new dogs their bowl first and make sure they have plenty in it, because I trust my own dogs to be patient where I don’t trust the new dog. Quite honestly, someone sniffing around my plate would make me feel a bit snarly too.

Time your dog adoption so that you have plenty of time at home to spend with them and take it slowly. Don’t feel obliged to introduce toys and play into the relationship and keep an eye on how they behave around beds, confined spaces outdoor spaces,  and around you. Dogs seem to feel most under pressure when they have something worth guarding (a bed, a toy, some food or you) or when they are confined in too small a space (so hallways, door spaces or staircases)

Black Dogs

Black Dogs

There’s a lot of pseudo-research about black dogs and their time in the refuge, or about black animals and their chance of adoption. Some of this research has hard facts behind it. A black puppy is less likely to be adopted than his brown sibling, for instance. Many people say that black dogs are less seen in refuges, less likely to be adopted. Research shows that people spend much less time in front of the enclosures housing black dogs than they do for dogs of all other colours.

From a photographer’s point of view, black dogs are really hard to photograph. Cameras find it difficult to metre for black shades when they are in contrast with lighter shades. Many black dogs come out a dirty shade of grey which does nothing for their glorious, glossy coats.

Look at my Heston, for example.


He still looks a bit grey even though I’ve really edited this photo.

And since photos are the main way to attract people’s interest in specific dogs, if black dogs’ photos can’t do them justice, it means that fewer people are going to come and see them.

Photographer Fred Levy was one such person to take an interest in black dogs in shelters. He shot them against a black background. If he faced as many people telling him not to do it as I did, well, he’d never have got it off the ground. Luckily, I’d seen what marvellous photos he was taking. Since I didn’t have any better ideas, and since I am a notorious magpie of all that is wonderful, I decided I’d do the same thing. Just without a studio, a professional camera, an assistant or any lighting. The day I hung up a sheet of black satin at the refuge was the day that everyone thought I’d gone mad.

But I got this.


I just love the way the black background makes the black tones of a dog’s fur shine. It’s just stupendous. It took a bit of playing around on Picmonkey (in the days before I upped the stakes and invested in Photoshop) I still love this photo. This is Dexter, by the way. He’s a little bouncy. By a little, I mean in the way Tigger is a little bouncy. I think he has a lot of extract of malt for his breakfast.


This is my lovely Pongo, who recently found a home. That’s a good thing because I was sorely tempted, and five dogs – well, that’s a whole other level of dogginess.

This is one shoot where you might want to see behind the curtain and know what I’m up against.


This is my lovely Kayser. He’s my current favourite boy. He’s still waiting for a home, but because he is a category dog, meaning there’s a lot of paperwork and training involved in taking him because he is a crossbreed rottweiler, very few people will be even slightly interested in him. Category dogs are here for the long term very sadly.

He’s a great example of the ‘behind the scenes’


I’ve got about a metre and a half of black silk, by three metres long. I’ve taped it to the side of the pound office, but the tape’s not holding, so Marianna’s not just holding Kayser, she’s also holding the black silk up with her knee.

At that point as well, everyone’s come over to see what I’m doing, and trying to get a dog to focus on me when I’ve got an audience of twenty is almost impossible. Plus, there’s always people who think THEY can get Kayser to look at the camera by calling him, so he looks at them rather than at me. Some people aren’t blessed with brains.


Then you remember you’re working with dogs and sometimes they pull weird expressions.


Or they move too fast for your camera speed, because you’re trying to be a good photographer and keep that ISO low.


Or you get a kind of nice one, but he’s not looking quite at the camera and you’ve not got the whole head in focus, even if his eyes are.


But then you get one or two you think you can work with. Then it’s ‘Next’ because you have twenty-five black dogs to photograph and you’re not sure you can get through them all.

In the end though, they all look marvellous.

website header

Unlike the Advent calendar campaign, where most dogs found a home within a couple of months, only four dogs of these ten have found a home. Balou, Elios, Eloy, Amon, Hoogy and Kayser are still waiting, as are Tyron, Carlos, Aster, Elga and all of their friends.

It’s time we all start looking past the ‘black dog’ and seeing a soul who needs a home.














Advent Calendar

In October 2014, there were twenty-eight dogs over the age of ten at the refuge. Whilst winters can often be mild in France, it is not unknown to have weeks of snow, and I had no intention for these twenty-eight old dogs to be at the refuge over the Christmas period. No old dog should spend the winter at the refuge, sleeping in draughty corridors on damp concrete.Even comfy duvets and kennels don’t make much of a difference and it is not the same as being in a home.

For that reason, I thought of the Dogs’ Trust advert that said “A dog is for life, not just for Christmas.”

What if you could have a dog just for Christmas?

My first aim was to have foster homes for a two-week period over Christmas. Fewer dogs mean the staff have more time to focus on the ones who are there. And many people can’t have a dog for good, but might have wanted to foster a dog for a short period. I added a couple of other long-termers and hard-to-homers onto my list and set about photographing thirty-two dogs. There are twenty-four days in the Advent Calendar and I thought that a few of the thirty-two might reasonably have found a home, so it gave me a safety net. I am not a fan of tugging heart strings where dog adoption is concerned (which is why you won’t see many photos of the cages and the concrete – dogs are emotive enough without that!) as I think that it leads to emotional adoptions rather than rational adoptions. We all know which type don’t work out. For that reason, I don’t do it often.

But here were thirty-two old dogs who needed a break. Some had been at the refuge for years. Ufo had been there for seven, Dalton and Paulo six. Wolf, Tino, Usty and Edge had a five-year stay apiece. Alaska and Fairbanks had been there for four years. That’s some serious doggie time. These were dogs who needed me to remind the world they had a heart, so I was going to pull out the emotional stops. What would dogs wish for at Christmas? A family of course!

Back in October the refuge staff thought I was a little crackers to be setting up a Christmas tree, laying out presents. It took me a couple of weeks to process all the photos and then a couple of weeks to put the montages together. I was left with a fabulous set of thirty-two dogs. I prioritised the oldest and the long-stay boys and had the others as back-up.

It looked like this:


Behind each of those doors was a little dog in need of a home.

25 voltaire

I put out a picture in French, English and German (we have many of our dogs adopted in Germany)

alaska english

wolf german

And with each day of Advent, we revealed a “new” dog.

Some dogs didn’t make it to their calendar day, like Dalton and Voltaire, as they were adopted before their appearance. Toupie, Wolf, Artiste, Alaska, Fairbanks and several others found homes in Germany. Cachou went to Luxembourg. Ufo was adopted on my birthday, and Alaska and Fairbanks reserved, which was the best birthday present ever. Several dogs eventually went to English people, like Edge, Justin, Paulo and Doucette. And Tobby of course. He lives with me.

They didn’t all go before Christmas. Nine had been adopted by Christmas day, out of the thirty-two. Twenty-four had been adopted by the end of February.

25 voltaire adopted 2

Almost a year later, all but three found homes. Noah and Gentil are still waiting.

My lovely Drack sadly died of a stomach torsion. He was twelve years old. For a shepherd cross, that’s not a bad innings, and he hadn’t been well for a long time. I’m still upset. I promised I’d find him a home and he’s one name I will never be able to write adopted across.

That said, so many dogs who you might have thought had a less-than-zero chance of being adopted… WERE adopted. Wobbly Bob, a.k.a. Tobby is asleep at my side, which is a bit like cheating just to make the numbers up. Still, I’m happy about that.

In the meantime, Gentil and Noah still need a home.

You can read about Gentil here. He’s not a well boy and he would really appreciate a quiet home. At the moment, Marie the vet nurse wants to keep him at the refuge until all his tests are back. It shouldn’t stop you reserving him though.


It would be nice if there were no old dogs or old-timers at the refuge this winter. Sadly, kicking your old dog out before the holidays is par for the course, so a new Advent calendar will be running for 2015.

Operation Oldie


Adopting an oldie is a decision that many families make not quite knowing what they are letting themselves in for. None of us know how long our dog will stay with us and we make the decision with two very big questions in mind.

Can I face the inevitability of their death?

Can I manage the financial responsibility of an older dog?

Whilst these are very real considerations to bear in mind, it’s important to remember that it’s a sad fact that all animals will die and we have no way of knowing how far into the future that time will be. A one-year-old comes with no guarantee of living until they are eighteen. A ten-year-old has no guarantee of dying within the next year. We simply can never know how many days a dog has in it. Of course, adopting an oldie, it is more likely that you will have to face this situation sooner than you would if you adopted a younger dog, but there are several reasons why you should bear age in mind and then make a rational decision that puts age firmly back where it belongs: with every other decision you make about adoption. It is something you need to know, but not something you should base your decision on.

Sadly, many conversations involving adoption are focused on age. Too often, we see the age of the animal as a hindrance and do not take into consideration our own age. Around twenty percent of the dogs at the refuge have arrived there following the death of their owner.

Many dogs at the refuge spend longer than average waiting for a home if they are old. At the refuge, we even have discussions about whether or not we want to put the age of the dog on their public information records, as so many people are put off by knowing the dog is a golden oldie. “Too old!” is a statement the refuge staff are used to hearing.

Honestly, that’s a bit of a shame.

Take Ralf.

my big ralfie


Although Ralf was twelve when he arrived with me, he didn’t act it. He was in great health for a dog of his age and size, and he even won Dogs Today Magazine’s Golden Oldie of the Month award. Only twenty four hours before he died, I found myself wondering if he’d make it to eighteen. Whilst he had only seven months of retirement at my house, following his arrival at the refuge in June 2014, he reminded me of several things.

  • Old dogs don’t have to cost you a lot of money in vets’ bills. Ralf had accrued one vet bill of 68€ other than his final bills at the end of his life. He’d got in a scrap with a badger and I was worried he’d get an infection. 40€ of that fee was for an emergency appointment.
  • Old dogs aren’t all old codgers. That wasn’t the first badger he caught. He is also the only dog I’ve ever owned where I had to say, “you are not bringing that dead boar in the car!”
  • If YOU don’t adopt the old boys, the likelihood is that everyone else will walk past them as well.
  • Walking past the old dogs in the refuge for precisely that reason increases the likelihood that they will pass their last days and months there, dying of old age. That they were left homeless in their golden years is disgusting enough; to be judged over and over again because we’re too squeamish about death is just as sad.
  • The death of an old dog in your arms is much less painful than knowing they would have died behind bars at a refuge if you hadn’t taken that chance.
  • The sadness of a death after seven months of adopted life doesn’t mean that you wish those seven months weren’t a risk worth taking.
  • It’s still sad to think of Ralf, six months after he died. It still makes me laugh to see his goofy face and his big head. My life would be poorer for never having had him in it.

So think about age. Take into consideration as you would with a two-year-old dog. But unless you are prepared to say, “I can’t take this two-year-old dog because they might die,” please don’t say it of a ten-year-old either.

Think about cost too. Know that the cost of a dog’s old age will hit you whether you face it right now or you face it in ten years’ time. At some point, unless you plan on dumping your dog at the refuge, you will have to pay the price of having a geriatric animal in your care.

Then bear in mind that Fondation 30 Millions d’Amis provide a fund for many elderly dogs in refuges across France to promote their adoption. When you adopt a dog from one of their partner refuges, you can access up to 600€ for vets’ fees. You take your dog to the vet. The vet sends the bill to Fondation 30 Millions d’Amis. It’s that simple.

Other than the costs of vaccinations or euthanasia, the fund can be used for any treatment over 30€. Your vet may also keep a running tab for you so that smaller medications can be totted up and run together to send on one bill. You have no paperwork to fill out; you hand over your “proof of adoption” letter and the vet does the rest.

That can be very useful when you take on a dog like Tobby.


Tobby came with advanced arthritis. He had been at the refuge for fourteen months and his condition had been deteriorating progressively. A bout of giardia didn’t help either. He weighed 21kg when I adopted him – very skinny for a Malinois.

Unlike Ralf, who had no ongoing medical issues and nothing that was “treatable”, Tobby takes daily medication for his arthritis. At 30€ a bottle for 10 days’ treatment, it’s on the expensive side. Plus, he has a specialist diet. However, when I asked the vet for the best way to economise on his treatment, she ordered a bigger bottle that lasts for three months and costs 80€. That means it will be many, many months before I need to start paying for Tobby’s treatment out of my own wallet.

To be frank, the expense of a fourth dog would not be one I would be able to pay for had I not got the support of this fund. I’m sure there are many people who might like to take on another dog but do not have the means to pay vets’ bills. Fondation 30 Millions d’Amis make it an easy decision to make. Knowing that Tobby has had six months of life in a home with warm beds, exercise, cuddles and good food without costing me very much at all is definitely something to consider. I don’t know how many good days he has left in him: I monitor his health and quality of life constantly without knowing if next week, or next month, he may not want to go on any more, or may not be able to.

Will it be hard when it’s his time? Of course. It’s always hard when a dog or cat leaves our life. But seeing him lying on the couch across from me, staring at me with a profound intensity that’s either adoration, confusion or wind, it’s a whole lot nicer than knowing he’s in the refuge, still waiting for his forever home until he’s given up hope completely.

If you would like to know more about Operation Oldies, or you would like to adopt one of our beautiful oldies, please get in touch.

golden oldies

Calendar 2016

I’m in the process of putting together the calendar for 2016. Usually, the refuge likes to use people’s photos of their adopted animals, but the quality of photographs you get isn’t always brilliant. Though they may be lovely snapshots, they may not have been taken on a device that has enough megapixels of detail, so that by the time you blow it up to A4, it can look pixelated and grainy, though it might look wonderful on an iPhone.

The other point is that you sometimes get really wonderful photographs that completely outshine all the others, and the variation in quality makes those snapshots look worse in comparison because of the guy with his amazing camera. Ordinary only looks ordinary when someone has something magnificent at the side.

Plus, all those snapshots depend on people’s good will. You can say, “Hey, we’re putting out a new calendar… send us your pet photos!” only to end up with four or five photos instead of the twelve you need.

So, armed with my lovely new backgrounds, I’m shooting the pet photos this year.

I’ve already got a list of pets to photograph. As per usual, it’s a little thin on kitties. Cats are so hard to photograph. Dogs are so easy. Dogs, you say, “Sit! Here’s a biscuit! Smile for the camera!” Click. Biscuit. I usually hold a biscuit over the lens of the camera and you get the dog looking right at ‘you’ (well, the lens).

You can try that with a cat. Have you ever tried to make a cat sit? Smile? You can try and get their attention. If you like. If they want, they might give it to you. If not, good luck.

I’d already picked out the background I was going to use for three of the kittens I have in foster care at the moment. They’re grey tabbies, so I thought they’d look good against something light. The Hope Association had bought me six backgrounds, including a snowy scene, and I’d picked up some fluffy fabric that might have looked a little snowy.

off camera

This is what kittens do, when you’re alone in your laundry. They bugger off and do what they want.

Having an assistant is always a bonus.

So you start picking them up and putting them on the fluffy background, give them a ball to play with and try and get their attention. They just look vaguely unamused and rather annoyed.

off camera 3

And then you realise one of the kittens is slightly boss-eyed, so you try and make sure the boss-eyed one isn’t the one you’re photographing, but he’s the only one who’s interested in being photographed.

tongue out tuesday

And I feel a bit mean for picking his cuter sister who isn’t boss-eyed, but then people won’t think there’s something wrong with the camera.

But then they start falling asleep on the job…

off camera 2

This is NOT going to plan.

Finally, when you think all is lost, you get the one shot. There’s a cat asleep in the background, but you think you can edit it out in Photoshop. A bit of cropping, cloning out a sleeping cat, dodging and burning here and there and voilà – one kind-of calendar-worthy kitten ready to be Miss February.