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Thursday, 12 July 2012

Finally Back to Routine! - Back Packs on and ready to Explore!

After the trauma of getting us all to Spain - 3 dogs and Cleo the cat - we were finally ready to relax and hit the streets together after about a week.  The story of how we got here and the 10 days of Hell we all went through will appear later, but for now we want to put that behind us and let you all know about our new life here in Spain and the discoveries we are making together.

After their trip the dogs slept for 12 hours, pretty much straight through apart from comfort breaks, meals and water.  They were in terrible condition - very thin and dehydrated (pics later) but after 4 days of mostly sleeping they decided to let us know they wanted to learn more about their local environment and started to play with each other again.  Even Ndzilo agreed to wear a back pack and was the proud carrier of the "poo bag roll" for which there is a special little dispenser in the Dog Whisperer Pack that she wears.  The dogs were a great hit at the PO... collecting mail and waiting in a down stay outside (with me for now as seeing loose dogs and cats is still new for them) and then at the market where everyone was fascinated by our four legged shopping baskets!

The local people oo'd and ah'd as we went past and many times we hear the words "perros" for dogs and "grande" for large and then much conversation as we passed by.  All the men were impressed by their muscles, size and strength but were a bit disappointed to find these are "girls" and not boys!  Some asked us if they were used for hunting and we explained as best we could with our simple Spanish about lions and Africa and Ridgebacks!  The butcher who has a stall in the market loves them and chats for some time with us each visit now - and on the last visit we made his friend was taking photos with his phone to show his canine visitors.  It's hard to stop the locals just reaching out and touching the dogs - they want to assess them and feel the muscles and be all "macho" around them.  Kaishi and Ndzilo tolerate it well but Akina gives everyone a dirty look who just rudely gropes at her bum muscles!   (Rightly so - us girls don't like the bottom pinching type!)

They have gradually got more used to the loose dogs although now and again a small loose dog will cause them to come up in energy.  They are getting to where they can lie down and relax and watch other dogs roaming or ignore dogs when we pass by, but it will take some time to get them totally used to it.  Often the loose dogs want to run up and make lots of noise, but they are so used to being street dogs that they are not usually a threat.  The more we practice the better we get.  They have never really been "town dogs" before even though we practiced regularly walking through town.  They are used to dogs behind fences barking and generally throwing themselves around and they hardly bat an eyelid at this, but loose dogs just running up to them is something quite new.  It's not a park situation where everyone is already chilled and playing, these dogs are letting ours know that the street is theirs, but if we do a down stay and ignore them, the defender of the street often doesn't know what to do about that and usually looks up at the sky and pretends he hadn't been making a fuss - like someone whistling and kicking an imaginary stone. 

Michael and the girls at our local Correos (Post Office) - Easy to identify as they are vibrant yellow! 

At this point I'd really like to thank Geoffrey Coetzee from "Dogs and All" near Malmesbury because without his patience and commitment we would not be having as easy a transition as we are.  For the weeks leading up to our departure, Geoffrey allowed me to visit the training facility at "Dogs and All" to work with the dogs - walking in, around and past the tracking dogs, security dogs and sniffer dogs who train there.  There is lots of noise and some of the kennels face each other along a corridor.  This was the most fantastic practice for getting the dogs to really not buy into energy - especially the energy of guard dogs leaping at fences and we even had the chance to practice with other dogs walking close by.  We practiced our "Down/Stay" in many situations and while dogs were working and they got rewarded and massaged when they became calm and relaxed and for staying that way.  It takes much more for them to go from a down/stay into higher energy - it's possible but the whole process is extended because they are already lying down.  Kaishi even lies down to have a tummy rub sometimes.  The plan is to go into town regularly so that it becomes part of their routine.  Also, we can go into the larger town of Xàtiva where there are many dogs off shopping with their owners or lying under cafe tables.  We plan to start one dog at a time and then build up to all three so that they get the chance to also build this into their repertoire.  

It's so nice to see owners with their dogs in the streets and many leave them just tied up outside a shop while they pop in for their purchases.  One was even left tied to an easel - not exactly anchored to the spot! 

 In addition to the fact we can walk into town - only about 5 mins by car but at a gentle stroll going through the fields and through the back lanes it's about 20 mins to the PO in the middle of town - we have some wonderful country walks only 10 mins from the house by foot.  They wind up through the hills and into the pine forest and there are other hiking trails that head up into the olive groves.  There is a beautiful and peaceful one where we often go with the dogs and we plan to take a picnic there this Sunday and just enjoy the sounds of the countryside.  There are almond trees and vines as well as the olives and on the way we pass alongside orange groves.  We really do have the best of both worlds, although sadly there is a "downside" with the country walks.  In winter (from around end December until end of May) we will have to avoid them and focus more on our cycle rides and get the dog's energy up around the lanes.  We will also explore the beaches (the ones where dogs are allowed) in winter as these will need to replace the forest walks - why?  Because of the "Processionary Caterpillar"... one hair from these on a dog's nose can kill it.  Even falling on a human one of these hairs can upset the respiratory system and send you to the hospital.  They are not nice beasties at all - do check them out on Google.  Their habitat is the pine forest of the mediterranean.  

In addition to the dreaded caterpillars we need to protect the dogs against Leichmoniasis.  For our South African friends, this is like AHS for dogs and is spread just like malaria - by a biting mosquito that carries the virus.  The danger time is through the summer and dogs must wear a protective collar which is quite effective.  They now also have a vaccination - initially three, and then one annually thereafter.  This is said to be around 93% effective and if the dog gets sick then it is treatable and not so ill as if it got the disease without vaccination or when wearing the collar only.  Dogs ideally need to be inside from sunset to sunrise during the season - around May to September.  Of course, walk time is coolest coming up to those times but the vet said with both the collar and vaccination dogs are pretty well protected.  Just try not to let the dog be out all night.  Some say the worst hours are 2am to 4am... as with all these things, opinions seem to vary!  

After a hot walk the dogs love the pool - just as at Paardeberg House, except now Ndzilo takes herself off swimming around the pool!  She loves it and I think as the steps are shallower it is more inviting to all the dogs.  

An interesting discovery about sheep (and goats)!

Meet "Hammou" (pictured below).  The first mornings after our arrival I often awoke to a jingling of bells, the kind of thing I had "imagined" in Spain but did not think I would hear so close to the village.  Sometimes I thought I had imagined it as they had moved on, but the first morning the dogs were with us, there they were, loud and clear and ringing very close to the house.  I leapt out of bed to find them - and next to the house on a large piece of open land was a herd of sheep with a few goats.  This herd was being moved by two dogs - one German Shepherd with a muzzle (I later found to stop him nipping at the sheep if they did not move quick enough) and one "something" with magnificent blue eyes - actually looking like a collie x GSD.  This guy was moving the dogs with great skill and when he saw me move the girls down to lie by the fence and watch quietly, he instructed the dogs to move the sheep back toward him.  He waved and I waved back and I hoped I would get the chance to meet him properly one morning.

A week later and we had our chance to meet.  On our way to the olive grove, there they were, grazing by the side of the lane.  The dogs rushed towards ours and the girls listened but barked and lunged a bit initially.  As it turned out the dogs were not running to us in an aggressive manner to attack but rather to get ready to defend their sheep.  When they saw the dogs were not running or moving into the flock they left us alone and sat away.  The girls were great about the sheep and we briefly said "hello" to the shepherd before heading off.  I wished we had stayed longer but the heat comes up fast... however, on our return, there they were again, this time by the local pool dammed off for fishing and maybe a bit of swimming.  This time we had the chance to chat and the dogs were a little more relaxed.  Akina did not want to engage with the sheep but she was happier for them to sniff her. Kaishi wanted to lick them and Ndzilo took it all in her stride.  The two dogs were by not getting more familiar with the girls and sat on a bank to watch.  The fascinating thing was that the sheep were so curious about the dogs.  They have got so used to dogs as their protectors, they are 100% happy around them - even to the point where they wanted to follow the girls!

Hammou introduced himself and we had quite a lengthy (although slow) conversation in Spanish.  He loved the dogs and really petted the girls.  He did not mind when Akina was a bit worried and barked at the sheep, he let her find her way in her own time.  By the the time we met him again - this time herding through the town and crossing a zebra crossing (!) the dogs totally ignored us and the girls were more than familiar with the sheep and much more relaxed with Hammou's two dogs.  The GSD was amazing - heading off on the next part of their route to "check out if all was OK ahead" - he just knows his job and where the sheep should go, how to get them there and what to check out on the way.  It's fabulous to watch them work and to see that they really engage in their "job" and take a pride in it.  These truly are working dogs.  

The hours are long - often I hear the bells at 06.30 and Hammou and the dogs will have been up and about and on the move long before then.  In the evening we still hear or see him below the house at 21.00 heading back to wherever the sheep spend the night.  They are a wonderful part of the village and part of a tradition that is disappearing - especially in a busier area.  But because the area is busier, the sheep crossing between town and country, they are totally chilled even where there are cars and lorries.  They are as happy and relaxed in the town as among the orchards and it is obvious how different all the animals are when they have humans with them all day and every day as opposed to being a herd out on a hill left to their own devices.  These sheep are totally human and dog friendly - totally at ease with everything around them and come close to investigate and say hello.  It's a fascinating way of life that I have not met up close and personal before and it is one of the delights of our early days here in Spain.

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