Pet Visits

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How to choose a dog walker

If you’re looking for a dog walker in Milton Keynes or Bedford you will be inundated with names of either businesses who offer this service or individuals who do a bit of walking on the side. You may even get some parents offering their child up for a fiver. There are almost too many options now which makes picking the right dog walker for you and your pooch tricky, if not a little stressful.

Pricing

To start with, you need to understand what it is you want out of the relationship and how much you want to pay. If you are pinching pennies and want the cheapest walker going then you need to understand how this will impact you and your dog; often the lowest price means lowest service. Not always but often. Dog walking is hard work, and a business who prices themselves appropriately in the market place will have taken the time to understand the logistics behind dog walking and will not just be bunging your dog in a van with twenty others because it’s easy money.

pricing

Reliability

Reliability is a huge factor too! We get so many clients coming to us because their previous walker let them down. It is often assumed in our line of work that walking is something that’s required 365 days of the year, but of course everyone needs a break. If you’re going for the cheapest rate then there is a good chance that your walker will be working on their own and therefore will be seemingly “letting you down” when taking a holiday. Do understand that a walker is just like you and I .. with the same need to rest and recoup after all that exercise and braving the elements. This may suit you ok, or you may need to use someone that has a cover system in place. Just something to think about before you choose your walker.

At Jog My Dog we have a team in place so when your usual walker takes a holiday, or is sick unexpectedly, one of the team will step in. This cover walker will have been shown the ropes already (usually when you sign up) so that they are ready and able to take up the reigns so to speak when it’s that time of year when you’re walker needs a break. The way we work is really unique I believe as we are able to offer you an individual walker who you and your dog can build up a relationship but provide cover so that you can have that all important dog walk every day of the year.

reliable dog walker

Transport

I’m always surprised how rarely (if ever) we are asked how the dogs will be transported to and from their walk. But people this is HUGE!! So so many dog walkers are cramming ten, twelve or sometimes twenty (yes you read that right) in a small van and then releasing them in a field together. Sure the dogs are usually fine, but what if it’s hot and a flat faced breed is struggling with the heat and proximity of other dogs and one time it’s not ok? What if some of the dogs have issues being this close to others and it starts to bring out the worst in them?

Then there is the opposite end of the spectrum, where dogs are travelling in cars loose and sat in foot wells, clambering over seats, moving around in the boot and generally distracting the driver. Your dog should be in a harness and then strapped in just like you or your child would be when driving in a car, it is against the law to have them loose and out of control. And what if the walker were to have an accident? It would be your dog flying through that windscreen faster than you can say bam!

Again this comes down to doing your research. Ask how the dogs will be transported and what systems are in place to ensure they are secure if travelling in a car not crate. At Jog My Dog we put dogs in their own individual crate unless they are from the same household (with owner agreement) or they are very well known to each other and small enough to still fit comfortably. If dogs are unhappy travelling in a crate – and some are – then we ask owners to leave out a harness so that we can strap them in with our doggy seat belts. Any dogs that are in the boots have a long leash attached to them which is in turn attached to the vehicle in some way, so that they do not bomb out of the car when the boot is opened.

tranport

How many dogs will they walk with?

Every dog walking business is different and the first thing to highlight is that this is a very individual situation which comes down to the experience of a walker, the dog breed, temperament and age, along with the location of the walk.

An experienced walker can quite easily and safely manage 5 dogs if walking in a secluded wood, and if the dogs are known to each other, well behaved with good recall and a calm demeanor then this type of walk would be a delight and totally appropriate. You can, however, have 3 extremely wild and naughty dogs with poor recall and in this case 3 would be the max this walker should take out, with 2 probably being more appropriate.

A professional dog walking business will assess the dogs carefully before accepting them, through a detailed phone conversation and a trial walk during the meet and greet. We do this at Jog My Dog, however, sometimes this won’t show the full picture and we only start to see the real dog during their group play. Dogs that do not listen, have poor recall or ‘harass’ other dogs on their walks are not suitable for group walk sessions with us as we already have groups in place and no more room for solo dog walking.

Most of our group walks are with 3 or 4 well behaved dogs. We take them to safe areas such as the woods (Aspley and Woburn Sands being our favourite), enclosed fields (Woburn Sands or Wolverton Mill), rural areas along the North Bucks Way to name but a few. But of course there is a chance we will bump into other people or dogs so it is a must that yours is well behaved with reliable recall and presents with no aggression in order for them to join these types of walks.

Walkers often meet up as it gives us a chance to further assess the suitability of dog combinations so that last minute emergencies, holidays etc can be catered to. As the picture below shows, we look for good recall, a reliable ‘sit/stay’ and whether there is any reactivity around treats or toys. With two people present, and in fully enclosed fields, we are able to do these sort of checks which I believe is really key to stress free and safe walking.

dog walker woburn sands

The Joy of Keeping Hens: the signs of sickness

I’m feeling poorly … 

Keeping hens can either be a straight forward easy thing or fraught with illness and death. Is it luck of the draw, the environment they live in or where they were bought? I think a bit of each to be honest. Our original flock of hens were purchased in 2010 and we had one for only three years, she died from what most hens do: an internal infection which weakens the body to the point where they die from lack of nutrition (a sick hen will not eat or drink) and exhaustion.

The second one made it a good six years but sadly passed away in August this year after a very hot spell. She had been on and off for many years and we often thought we would lose her but managed to bring her back from the brink time and again with additional supplements to her diet and extra care.

We still have one from the original batch of hens and she is going strong. She’s an ‘unusual’ hen, a speckled long plumed sort who doesn’t lay many eggs. This is good in the hen world as it means their bodies are not constantly being overworked to produce the eggs that we take so much for granted. When her buddy died in August I got her a new companion from Hula Animal Rescue. Martha is only three years old and should have been free from issues for awhile yet.

However, for the last couple weeks she started laying dodgy eggs. Super soft shells which crack as you try to pick them up, or shells which are not formed at all and simply slip out of the hen in a messy yolk’y blob. If you see this in your hen it is a clear sign of something internally not right and it shouldn’t be ignored. When an egg doesn’t pass properly out of the hen what is left inside her body will get infected and, if continued to be left untreated, weaken the hen to the point of death.

Signs of a sick hen

  • Staying in the nest box or continually entering it and leaving without producing an egg
  • Hunched posture (seen in pictures below)
  • Lack of interest in food, including favourite treats
  • Reduced water intake
  • Standing in one corner of the coop or garden with little movement
  • Pale colored comb
  • Liquid poo
  • Yellow colored poop which looks a bit like wet scrabbled egg

Luckily we seem to have caught it in time with Martha!

Hens need careful monitoring and observation to ensure they stay in tip top shape. Yes they are an easy pet to own as they don’t require much in the way of faffing or attention; yet a few daily checks will see to it that your hens live long and healthy lives. I had observed that Martha wasn’t coming down out of her nest box in the morning, nor showing much interest in her food. Having seen this in countless hens before I didn’t waste any time in ringing the vets.

If you are based in Milton Keynes or the surrounding villages and keep hens then the vet I would recommend every time is Beech House Vets in Towcester (just off the A5 near the garden centre). Charles Castle is the principle of the practice and has been maintaining and breeding his own large flock of hens for more than twenty years. This vet, and the practice in general, have such a caring manner about them and nothing feels too small. Charles will ‘fix’ your hen if he is able to and provides a wealth of information along with explanations about what he is doing and why. I have trusted Beech House Vets for years with my hens, both in terms of trying to make them better to putting them to sleep when it did not work. I’ve never felt silly for crying (well balling my eyes out) over the passing of one of my chickens and it’s down to Charles I have to say. Lovely lovely man.

Back to Martha. Having noticed she didn’t eat much on Saturday or Sunday, when Monday morning came around I decided to ring the vets who were able to squeeze us in first thing. My worry was egg peritonitis which is a common condition seen in backyard hens of all ages, from the point of lay onwards. It is an infection established within the coelomic cavity of hens, caused by the presence of an ectopic yolk within the coelom (main body cavity).

Charles gloved up and popped his fingers inside Martha feeling around for any remnants of shell within her body. He felt confident that there was none but confirmed that those ‘dodgy’ eggs we noticed previously would have caused the infection we were seeing and if left untreated would have ended in her demise. Her comb was still a deep red which was a good sign and she hadn’t suffered too much weight loss as yet.

We were given a course of antibiotics and advised to try to get her to eat as much as possible over the next few days, along with bathing her backside in warm water (this stimulates any egg potentially trapped within the hen and helps it pass easily).

Important Tips for Maintaining Healthy Hens

  • Reduce snacks and ‘extra’s in the summer months when hens tend to eat less as it is
  • Feed high quality layer pellets and other rich sources of protein such as mealworms
  • Monitor their behaviour so you can catch any signs of illness early on
  • Clean out their coop and run regularly. A dirty environment invites disease
  • Provide fresh water. Every month you may want to splash some apple cider vinegar or hen supplement in with the water to help boost their internal system
  • Worm regularly. You can get wormer already mixed in with their layer pellets so it’s one less thing to remember. Worms weaken hens and they are a fragile creature as it is

The Joy of Keeping Hens: setting up home

So you’ve chosen your hens and now need to think about where you will keep them (if you haven’t read my previous blog on choosing your chooks you can catch up here).

Now I’ll be honest, I’ve had two lots of hens. Back in the day I believed that the hen coops sold in garden centres, pet shops and the like were robust enough to keep out predators (i.e. foxes!) and actually they did, for a couple weeks.

wooden hen house

We originally purchased this wooden variety, it looked “cutsie” and fit the space. Perfect. We ear marked a section of the garden for the hens and that was that. It didn’t end well. The fox had a very easy time sliding the wooden tray out which sits on the bottom of the coop and merrily munched his way through all three of our little hens. It was the most horrific thing to wake up to the next day, feathers everywhere and bits of our precious pets found in neighbouring gardens.

Our mistake is really the purpose of this blog. Hens may come cheap but their lives should not. If you decide you want to keep hens then you need to give due consideration to their wants and needs.

What a Hen Needs to Thrive

  • Feed: hens should be given good quality layer pellets as their main source of food. Don’t skimp and get the cheapest one out there, if it smells off to you or is dusty and fine then chances are it is a substandard product. Not only will your hens not enjoy eating it (yes they do know what good food is!) their eggs won’t be good quality. What goes in to your hen comes out in her egg. Remember that.
  • Supplements: if you keep hens you should endevour to mimic their natural environment as much as possible. Allow them access to, or provide within their coop, additional ‘extra’s such as insects, grass, seeds, berries, and herbs. Corn and wheat products should be kept to a minimum
  • Scatter food: hens naturally forage, that’s what they do for the majority of their day; however, it’s important to keep the ground free from faeces otherwise you will very quickly have worm infested chooks
  • Ample space and clean ground: if you don’t give your hens sufficient space to explore, grass to munch and dusty patches for mud bathing you will have unhappy and unhealthy hens. Hens who are left to wallow in a small muddy area are not happy, never mind thriving. They will no doubt begin to fight, feather peck and get sick

These pictures show some of my happy hens, they have wanted for nothing and thrive to this day. I cannot express how much joy hens can give you, how individual their characters are and how much they love their little comforts: mud bathing, scratching for worms, eating all the best vege you’ve attempted to grow along with the finally ripe berries. Mine like a lush breakfast of natural yogurt, a mid-day snack of worms and an evening meal of canned corn and perhaps a bit of leftover rice (both these in moderation!).

hens

Choosing Your Chicken Coop

If you are serious about keeping hens then you need to be serious about their welfare, and that means investing in a proper coop for them and hen proofing the area you plan to allow them to free roam.

“Free roam you say? I was planning on keeping 4 of them in a little igloo run, what’s wrong with that?” SO MUCH! Keeping hens in a tiny enclosure is not what animal welfare dreams are made of (and frankly I believe it to be downright cruel). Hens are foragers and thrive on being able to explore their environment, picking up tasty morsels as they go along. If you are unable to give them a safe place to sleep at night, and plenty of garden or land to explore, then you shouldn’t be keeping hens. Period.

So back to where we went wrong.

The fox got our first batch of hens and we were distraught with our poor choice of hen coop – we learned the hard way but it was the hens who had to pay the price. We thought about using our shed, but even that is not really secure as a fox can dig underneath the, often loose, wooden floor panels and get to them. Eventually we found Woodenart, a company who specialise in hen coops, hen runs, cat enclosures, dog houses and more. Their creations are bespoke and can be designed to suit your specification.

The Woodenart hen coops don’t come cheap. Truth be told we had to save up for a bit before we bought the coop and our next lot of hens. However, the investment was totally worth it. We went for the James Cooper Extra, retailing at £560, back in 2010 and it is still faultless to this day (after numerous position changes and house moves). Our hens have been 100% safe all these years and when we’ve had to leave them locked in for a day due to garden works we could rest easy knowing they had enough room to walk around comfortably.

The mesh is fox proof and that, along with the base of the coop and run, is the most important element. You can of course make your own coop similar to this design but if you do ensure that you buy chicken mesh and that the gaps are small as shown in the picture below. These coops are designed this way for a reason and they keep foxes out up and down the country because of it.

hen coop james

The James Cooper Chicken House with large walk in Chicken Run by Woodenart is suitable for keepers who are unable to let their Chickens free range due to predators or garden restrictions, an easy clean fox proof Chicken Coop

  • Fabulous woodenart quality and innovation
  • A very easy to clean Chicken House with the floor and nest boxes set at the perfect working height
  • The House is a very spacious 3 feet wide x 3 feet 6 inches deep, is well ventilated and suitable for 6 – 8 Chickens. The House stands 5 feet 6 inches tall at the highest point , has 2 removable perches for cleaning and there is a large door at the front for easy access and cleaning. The additional Chicken Run underneath the House is meshed as standard
  • The sliding pop hole door is a very neat system that slides on internal runners and is operated outside of the Chicken House by a pull cord
  • The roofed Chicken Run is 5 feet 8 inches long and is 6 feet deep. The Run roofing stops the run becoming a mud bath in the Winter and is of Onduline and matches the Hen House roofing.
  • The Run extends underneath and at the back of the Hen house to give an effective Run length of 8 feet 8 inches , the Run stands 5 feet 6 inches at the front giving easy access into the run. 2 mid height perches are fitted to the Run
  • The Chicken House, Chicken Run and Nest Boxes all have Onduline roofing which is the preferred roofing for Poultry as it does not harbour parasitic red mite unlike felt plus it wears much better than felt roofing, it also allows vital air circulation through the Housing
  • The Nest Boxes are each  a huge 15 inches wide x 14 inches deep with access outside of the House for egg collection via a drop down door and are set at a height that makes for easy egg collecting and inspection
  • The Chicken House and Chicken Run assembled together gives a footprint of 8 feet 8 inches long x 6 feet deep, the Nest Box overhangs by another 14 inches. The whole assembly is mounted onto tanalised bearers
  • All framework is smooth square planed Redwood and is screwed together for strength and durability
  • The House Run and Nest Boxes are treated with minimum of 2 applications of a high quality preservative in a beautiful rich Golden Brown colour as standard
  • The mesh used on the Chicken Run is 19 gauge galvanised weld mesh for strength, durability and fox protection

The Joy of Keeping Hens: Why Hens as Pets Makes Sense

This blog post is the first of a little series on keeping hens as family pets. I have had hens for over 8 years and in the process have become a bit of a hen expert. I hope that you not only enjoy reading the posts but that they make you think twice before buying another pack of caged eggs.

Are you thinking about keeping hens in your back yard?

Perhaps you’ve seen some on a smallholding and fancy having a few of your own little egg laying machines in your garden. If this sounds like you then you’re not alone. Keeping hens is becoming more and more popular with the ever growing trend to understand where our food comes from and carve out our own little slice of “the good life”.

keeping hens

Aside from free eggs, there are lots of other great reasons to keep hens:

  • Chickens used for egg production are among the most abused of all farm animals. Keep your own and make a stand against this cruel industry
  • Enjoy protein rich eggs. You will see a huge difference in the quality of your freshly laid eggs. The yolk will be a rich orange and the shells nice and hard. Most importantly, you will know exactly what has gone into them and the quality of life your hens have had. I truly believe that the stress levels commercial hens experience contributes to the poor egg condition you so often see in shop-bought packs
  • Teach your kids about the cycle of life. The most common time to buy a hen is when they are at ‘point of lay’ (so a couple months old); but it is also possible to buy eggs which are fertile and hatch them yourself. You do need to have a set up ready for this and be prepared for some losses, but if you are successful it can be a wonderful way to teach your children about the cycle of life: birth right through to death
  • Learn about the uniqueness and individuality of hens. Once you have had some you’ll be hooked and will start to see their individual characters, likes and dislikes. I have kept hens for over 8 years and have seen my hens under stress and behave in a ‘depressed’ manner. Yes these are human terms and we need to be careful when applying them to animal behaviour; but the point I’m trying to make is that when you keep hens they become more than just food to you. They are lovely birds with hugely inquisitive minds and love nothing more than keeping active in the search for tasty morsels and the best sun spots for a mud bath.

hens as pets

 

10 Quick Steps To Leash Train Your Cat

Keep your indoor kitty safe by leash training him

Did you know that more and more people around the world are leash training their cats. Yep that’s right, it’s not only dogs who enjoy taking a stroll with their owner! I can hear the disbelief already, “why on earth would you walk a cat on a leash when they free roam?” Well, I do it because I don’t want my cat poisoned or run over by a car, but there are loads of other good reasons for leash training your cat, a few of which are below:

  • Boredom – if you have an indoor only cat and you find your furniture is being scratched up then chances are you have a bored kitty on your hands!
  • If you are trying to train your outdoor cat to be an indoor cat for safety reasons (once a cat has been outdoors restricting their access, and keeping them happy and healthy mentally, is a bit tricky. This is where a cat harness is great!)
  • You are going on a holiday and would like to take your cat with you
  • For safety and control at the vets
  • You have an indoor cat who is simply fascinated by being outside, and you want to spoil him!
  • For exercise and fun – for the both of you

My cat Pancake used to free roam in the woods behind our house but after beginning to venture towards the main road, and getting lost for two days, I made the decision to cat proof our garden and he now enjoys a 30min stroll each morning with his harness and lead instead of roaming free. I’m happy, he’s happy and most importantly safe!

So many indoor only cats are FAT and LAZY. They are lazy because they are overweight, not just because “they are cats”. I guarantee that if they start to move and burn some of the chub they will be more active and healthier in the process.

cat walking on harness

If you are interested in leash training your cat then you simply need to follow these 10 steps:

  1. Take your cats measurements. You need to measure their neck and chest. This is where you need to pay attention and get a accurate measurement, too large and the jacket won’t fit and they may escape
  2. Choose a harness. I recommend Mynwood Cat Jackets. Many harnesses on the market (esp the cheap ones sold in pet shops) are not escape proof. Cats are pretty resourceful and learn to ‘back out’ of an poorly made harness
  3. Choose a leash. I personally would start with a short and light leash. You need control in the early days and you also want to be able to let the leash hang behind the cat while you get him used to walking around indoors with his harness on. Once you are comfortable with the set up you can change to a flexi lead (both available from Mynwood), but remember with a flexi lead that you keep an eye on your environment at all times, you wouldn’t want your cat to be so far ahead of you that you’re unable to get to him before a dog does
  4. Accustom cat to harness without leash attached. Once you have your chosen harness you will need to get your cat used to wearing it. The rule of thumb is ‘little and often’. Put the harness on, and give your cat a treat. Take the harness off. To start with your cat will absolutely HATE the harness, he may lay on the floor and pretend he can’t move, he may walk weirdly like he has a weight on his shoulder. Don’t be fooled, your cat is just fine! Saying that, you don’t want to scare your cat as the whole association between harness and leash should be positive. Don’t do something which would make your cat associate it with anything else
  5. Attach the leash. Once your cat is walking around the house normally with the harness on you can attach the leash. Again, take it slow. Your cat may revert back to the odd behaviour and flop around the floor. Build up the time your cat wears the leash gradually
  6. Leave harness and leash on cat indoors before practicing walking around behind cat (indoors). Once your cat is walking around normally with the harness and leash attached, you can begin holding the leash and ‘walking your cat’. I would recommend doing this indoors until you are both comfortable and confident
  7. Take your cat outdoors but in the safety of your garden. Before venturing outside the secure boundaries of your house and garden I would practice your leash walking further by doing little trips each day in the garden. Your kitty may bolt if he hears a loud noise and the best place to acclimatize him to ‘scary sounds’ is within your own secure space
  8. Keep near the house and make sure the first trip is a quiet time of day with no loud noises. It’s important that you keep your cat safe when taking him out on walks. Your cat is no match for a large boisterous dog and his little paws could easily be damaged by a passing cyclist. My suggestion would be to keep your walks for the most quiet time of the day, for me that’s really early in the morning. My cat prefers this anyways as that’s when the birds and field mice are out and about!
  9. Practice, go outside frequently. Leash training your cat takes practice, practice, practice. Don’t assume they will be up for it the first, second or third time.
  10. Never drag your cat by the harness, if they don’t want to go out they shouldn’t be forced. This final point is really the most important. Do not drag your cat outside by the leash. If they are not up for a walk one day then leave it. Walking your cat on a harness and leash should be fun for both of you, but it does require patience on your part and an understanding of cat behaviour (i.e they are not dogs, they saunter about really slowly and do lots of sitting and stalking!)

cat on harness milton keynes

 

Choosing and Fitting Your Cat Harness

As I mentioned above, we use a Mynwood Cat Jackets, they are my absolute favourite brand – and I’ve tried lots! They are made really well, come in a huge range of styles and colours, and are sized as per your exact measurements so no slipped harnesses while out and about.

Putting your cat harness on shouldn’t be difficult but check out the below video if you need a helping hand.

If you have a cat you would like walked on a harness and leash but lack the confidence to do it yourself get in touch. We have been leash walking indoor cats for years and while visiting we can help boost your own confidence in the process by letting you have a go yourself (it really is great fun once you get started!).

For further details and prices see our Pet Visits page. 

Credits: Mynwood Cat Jackets