Why New Is Good
When we adopted Susie-Belle it was all new, for her and us. She had no concept of what life with us would be like. Or indeed life anywhere beyond the safety of the rescue where she’d spent 6 months receiving life saving treatment and care after years spent in a puppy farm.
Susie-Belle had everything to learn, including what being a cherished member of a family meant.
I believed the best way to help her enjoy the life that was on offer was by providing regular chances to experience its riches. I hoped that by having daily routines spiced with frequent variety and small adventures she’d have the best opportunity to become a happy dog; one whose bad memories would be replaced by many more good ones. Much of this I documented on the blog which eventually became the basis for my first book, Saving Susie-Belle
I wanted Susie-Belle to be outside if she wanted to be, inside if she preferred. I wanted her to know what fun dogs have when they’re running free so made sure our walks allowed for this. We took her on a social dog walk before I’d even adopted her on the eve of her eye surgery. We frequently met up with others to walk, knowing that dogs from puppy farm backgrounds rely on dogs more than they do humans to learn about life outside confinement. The social walks in new places were massively important in Susie-Belle’s life and later, Twinkle’s.
I wanted so much for Susie-Belle to forget where she’d come from. Her life was as rich as we could make it. I think that she did learn that to be truly loved means having choices and being respected for who you are. Susie-Belle had a life worth living, not just a life lived, this I know for certain.
Over 8 years later we’re on a similar journey with Angel, 4 years into Cerise’s and just about starting Albert Claude’s second. Our life is very different from that which Susie-Belle was a part of. Michel’s retired, we live full time in France, our environment is a lot quieter than south-east England. And we live a long way from a beach! I miss being able to jump in the car and in under an hour have the sea in sight. We don’t have a social doggy network to meet up with easily but our four dogs do have each other. It would be nice to have more canine friends but we make the most of what we have, including making good things happen.
I know that laying down good memories means new activities in new environments is vital. Dogs get bored. We don’t do the same walk every day although of course we have our favourites. I only have to see the intensity of reaction arriving somewhere we haven’t visited in a while to know that new is exciting. While the same old, same old may be comfortable and easy, it’s nowhere near as enriching for their minds as a new place. Susie-Belle loved this approach. I did somewhat throw us all into the deep end, but it worked. Even Twinkle, nervous of everything for a long time, went into a different state on a fresh walk. Cerise finds new things challenging, but when it involves a walk or being outside, she is the dog she wants to be. Her nose, eyes and ears engage and her anxiety drops away. New isn’t needed all the time, but it’s value for my dogs, and I am sure for others, is immense.
I want to offer them a richness of activities. This doesn’t have to be difficult. It means daily smell opportunities with the freedom to walk and run. It means doing new things and experiencing new places, as well as the familiar. To play if they want to, with me and each other. To roll if the fancy takes them; to paddle through puddles and mud if it pleases them, and it certainly does Albert. To have choices.
Now we’re full-time in France we can explore more of what this beautiful country has to offer. This year we intend getting out to the coast often, and for longer. The Atlantic coast is closest at over a couple of hours away. It lies undiscovered as yet by us, despite having our house here for over 20 years. This year’s going to be the year the vast sandy beaches of western France will have 4 noisy, excitable schnauzers visit. All going well.
Readers of my books will know that we took up camping when we adopted Susie-Belle. Our experiences were mainly cold, wet and stormy and yet, surprisingly fun!
But we’ve ditched the tent and have recently got ourselves a campervan. Something we’ve talked about doing for years.
Neither of us have any experience of campervan life. But, in the spirit of new things being good to try out, we thought, why not? Last week was our first proper excursion. Mid-winter makes for an interesting learning curve. Neither of us are particularly practical people. Neither of us are very good ‘fixers’ when things don’t want to work. Like the heating. But four dogs and two adults makes for a snug bundle on the move. It’s a new experience for all of us.
Angel, Albert and Renae took to it like a dream – we concluded that Angel is a born traveller. She surprised me how well she managed the ferry and car when I adopted her; she surprised me again last week at how at ease she was on the move. A nomad at heart. How awful confinement must have been for such a gypsy-spirit. Cerise on the other hand is being herself. She’s resistant to change. But, we’re getting there with her. We’re employing a variety of methods and approaches, with infinite supplies of love and patience. Essential ingredients. Along with Michel’s favourite bakes, handfed, naturally.
Last week we went south. We stayed in vineyards, we drove in gentle mountains – a challenge for me, a lifelong acrophobic. If a challenge for Cerise is a good idea, it’s only fair I do the same to myself.
Look out for more in the blog coming up next week.