Living where we do, we are always extremely “close to nature”. This is virtually always wonderful although on occasions such as when leaves are falling, it is wet or snowy outside, the grass has been cut, or there has been a gale, “nature” invades the house as well, depositing its evidence in abundance: sometimes there seems to be little to distinguish between the “forest’s ferny floor” and the kitchen floor!! (thank heavens for flagstones!) Having two thick-coated dogs aids the ingress of all manner of vegetation, it’s amazing how many leaves and twigs can adhere to their coats every time the come in from the “garden” (I use the term loosely!!)

That’s the flora dealt with, now the fauna! The only animals that the dogs come into close contact with are the hedgehogs. We get these in the summer (I know it’s because they hibernate in the winter before anyone points that out!!) and they cause quite a stir in dogdom! There is plenty of evidence of rabbits, and I can see them from my bedroom window in the early mornings, but they disappear very quickly when they hear the door open and are gone before the dogs round the corner of the house!
A creature far more elusive and espied only twice in the garden although I’m sure is still around is the weasel. I spotted one “standing up” (see photo) about a foot from my French doors, boldly surveying the scene: keeping absolutely still so as not to frighten it off was extremely difficult,
 but I managed it for several minutes!! Another creature of some rarity is the slow worm. Probably due to the abnormally wet weather I have not seen a single one in the garden this year, (although I did see a run-over one in the lane) but it’s not exactly the weather for sunning yourself in a hot, sheltered spot! They live in the hedge and slither out, just on to the adjacent short grass, in order to soak up the sun! (in a good year.
The fox:  although I haven’t actually set eyes on a fox in the garden there has been evidence and I have smelt one many times . . . a smell not easily confused with any other!!
Lastly – the squirrel. Living in the forest, it is not surprising that the grey squirrel is a common visitor and, when given the opportunity, will raid the bird feeding station.
Although personally I have not seen one, I know of sightings of the native Red Squirrel in Brechfa Forest!! I would dearly love to see one here as I have only ever seen them in the Lake District so far.
I have not started on the birds or insects, maybe another day!!

One rustic forest resident I forgot to mention!!
Not so long ago the concept of buoyancy aids for dogs was unheard of but nowadays there is a bewilderingly wide range of styles, colours, prices and effectiveness available ... WHY?

There are a very few dogs which, in my opinion should ever be put in a buoyancy aid ... and these ARE buoyancy aids we’re talking about here, NOT LIFEJACKETS; I have never come across a lifejacket for a dog yet (please do tell me if you have!)

A couple of definitions first

LIFEJACKET – “a sleeveless jacket of buoyant or inflatable construction, for supporting the wearer in deep water and preventing drowning” “A life preserver in the form of a sleeveless jacket or vest”

BUOYANCY AID – “a sleeveless jacket lined with buoyant material, worn for water sports” “personal flotation device”

i.e. a life jacket, because of its design and construction will save your life if you become unconscious in the water (providing you don’t die of hypothermia of course!!) by maintaining you in a position such that your face is out of the water by means of a large inflated stand-up collar. A buoyancy aid is merely that, an  AID to buoyancy ... it will not save you life if you become unconscious.

When might a dog owner be advised to put his or her  dog in a buoyancy aid?

1.  If the dog lives or is travelling on a boat : Many people live or holiday on boats of all types these days and IF there is a danger that the dog may fall, or jump, overboard, especially from a fast-moving boat, then  a buoyancy aid with a “grab handle” can be useful for getting the dog back on board and give it support, maybe in a rough sea, while the boat comes about which might take a little time and if a  longer time, will mean the dog gets tired less quickly due to its added buoyancy.

2.  If the dog has a medical problem  e.g. recovering from accident or surgery,  limb paralysis etc

3.  As a TEMPORARY measure to improve potentially dangerous swimming style (see previous post about dog collars for fuller explanation)

The first two above are self-explanatory. The third is maybe more contentious.

Over many years I have been involved with training working Newfoundlands in water-rescue skills. Very occasionally I have come across a dog with the poor swimming style referred to in my earlier post  (see  post on dog collars), This can be as a result of inexperience – a young dog not used to controlling its increasing mass in water (Newfs  can put on about a stone in weight per month in their peak growing phase) or, more likely a laid-back “lazy” dog who hardly uses its back legs and depends on the power from the shoulders.  As a dog that is a draught dog on land as well as a “puller” in water, the shoulder power is dominant. (rather like some of the Australian Olympic swimmers of the 60s? 70s?) Provided the shoulder power is greater than the leg lift, a strong, angled swimming position can be adopted, but if there is insufficient power in the shoulders (as for example in a younger  dog) the position would pass the critical point and the dog approaches the vertical with possibly disastrous consequences.  A buoyancy aid, by enforcing a near-horizontal position in the water will raise the back end and encourage great use of rear legs. Once this has become a habit the B.A. should be dispensed with!!

The wearing of a B.A. when not “essential” will prevent the building of strength and stamina and in a working gundog for example would be far more dangerous even than wearing a collar!! Waterfowlers’ dogs sometimes wear close-fitting neoprene vests, but these are mainly for warmth although anyone who has tried to swim “properly” in a steamer wetsuit will know that is really difficult as they affect balance and give quite a degree of added buoyancy as well.

If you really must (for one of the above good reasons!) put your dog in a buoyancy aid . . . .

Some of the models available are ill-fitting and nothing more that some foam wrapped in nylon with a couple of straps to hold them in vaguely the right position albeit sliding around somewhat ... and even those ones are not cheap! For boat owners it is possible, in the U.S., to buy a self-inflating model, akin to the ones that humans wear, that inflates as soon as it hits the water, but I can’t in all honesty see the point of those for a dog, not least because every time it inflates, a new “gas” cartridge has to be bought and fitted. If you have a dog that likes jumping overboard that could be a costly nightmare! In addition, even in an emergency, this type goes off with quite a “bang” (I’ve seen them in action on humans) and would be an additional scare for the dog if it had fallen in accidentally and was already somewhat stressed!!
A self-inflating buoyance aid (not inflated!!)
So why the “fashion” for so many dogs to wear a buoyancy aid? (remember, it is NOT a life jacket) . . . .  I have no idea! 

If anyone can enlighten me, please do so!!

Lastly, I have no idea how retailers and manufactures of these items are allowed to advertise them as lifejackets . . . if they were doing so for the human equivalent, they’d soon be under the scrutiny of the Advertising Standards Authority (in the UK) !!

Himalayan Balsam
Some idea of the cover, but it's difficult to get the scale and Imposible to photograph a dog!
Last weekend it was actually hot!! ... Training down by the river, although still hot and very humid, was at least, in part, shady. The Himalayan Balsam which, but a couple of weeks ago,  was barely knee-high, has shot up to gigantic proportions . . . seven or eight feet in places! The fertile river silt, the excessive watering and the recent heat have lead to an amazing growth spurt! This thick cover combined with equally giant nettles, willow scrub, banks of jetsam (well, not strictly jetsam, because it did not come from a ship, but stuff that has been washed up!) and the odd bramble provided a paradise for a hunting Barbet!! The nose was down and the thrashing the cover was given was the most thorough I’ve ever seen from Nénu! She was hunting flat out for at least half-an-hour!

The session ended with finding a real trophy . . . a washed-up “dead” (deflated) football, which provided a fun retrieving article to swim for and allowing a cooling off in the river!!

The sun disappeared two days ago ... will it ever return??