Karl Lagerfeld’s cat. Why it might (not) be a good idea to take your dog with you on your travels

Karl Lagerfeld’s cat does not drink at this doggy bar

(Lees hier de Nederlandstalige versie van deze post.) I recently got a nice tip  : if you’re travelling by car through Switserland, somewhere near Basel there’s a gas station with a genuine doggy bar. Isn’t that nice, that someone decided to give some attention to our four legged friends in such a place. But for Dog On a Sofa, it’s also a reason to give some thought to the question whether we should take our dogs with us when traveling. As we read this morning in the paper, some pets are lucky enough to be traveling by private jet (with two maids as it turns out). Well at least that seems to be the case for Karl Lagerfeld’s cat, anyway. Surely most “ordinary” pets like Lila (our golden retriever) travel in a more modest, down toearth kind of way. Literally that is, because when Lila travels with us, it’s usually by car, rarely by train and actually never by airplane. Which takes us to the first question in this post…

Dogs are very welcome at this gas station in Pratteln-Sud, Switerland (the first station you’ll encounter when leaving Basel via the A2)


Are dogs allowed on airplanes?

This blog is written from the point of view of the inexperienced dog owner, so let’s start by giving some basic info from those who would be travelling from a western country like Belgium. Brussels Airport teaches us that one basic rule applies almost everywhere. Smaller pets (up to 6 kilos) can travel with their owners inside the plane’s passenger cabin. Does your dog (or cat) weigh more than that? Start getting used to the idea he will be traveling in the cargo hold of the aircraft. In both cases, an approved bench or travel case will be obligatory. Consult your airline company’s web site and prepare to tackle quite a large set of rules and regulations…

Would we take Lila (our golden retriever aged 1.5 years) on a holiday involving plane travel?

No! Unless we’re actually emigrating, I wouldn’t think of it. Lila weighing 28 kilos, she’s bound to go in the cargo compartment. And I’m wondering just how comfortable it will be for her down there. Not as comfortable as for us humans in a heated and ventilated cabin with smiling members of staff all around us. That’s not only comfortable but also very comforting. The former your pet might have too, the latter certainly not. There may be heat so your dog won’t die, but that’s about it. And Lila being rather easily scared or worried, and not at all fond of strange places or loud noises, there’s no telling how she would react to being handled by a bunch of strangers, loaded roughly and lifting off with a hell of a racket…

In the back of the car, heading for Nice (France)

That’s not to say that Lila has never traveled with us. Just last summer, she went on a car trip to Nice (France). The boot of the car being filled with luggage, she went on the rear seats. All belted up like our daughters, and she even had room to lie down. But even though all seemed to be in order and there were many happy moments together, I’m the first to admit we also encountered our share of difficulties resulting in mixed feelings during and after the trip. After an overnight stop in the Champagne, an uninvited guest had boarded our vehicle. Lucky for us, our eldest daughter knew that black “beetle” was actually a tick that was looking for a cosy place in our dog’s fur. A few days later, it seemed Lila wasn’t too fond of downtown Nice with its cosy market squares (too crowded) or splendid Château (too far) under a clear blue sky (too hot). Well you know, we came to understand at that moment that a dog will always be a dog, unaware of the cultural delights any kind of historic city has to offer.

Lila in Nice. Way too hot... but luckily she found a bit of mud to cool her down!

Lila in Nice. Way too hot… but luckily she found a bit of mud to cool her down!

Adapt to the dog, ’cause the dog won’t adapt!

Dogs aren’t able to adapt like we humans are. They don’t know that it’s a holiday and you’re supposed to enjoy it, they simple are what they always are : themselves. Still, oddly enough, we keep having a hard time leaving Lila behind, so we’re still secretly contemplating the idea that whe should take her with us wherever we go. Quite recently, when Lila’s lady owner went to Switserland for a hut-to-hut hike, she realized that this could be just the kind of journey that is truly fit for a young golden retriever. Lila would be able to walk and run about in the wild without causing trouble, sprinting through meadows, wading through puddles and swimming in lakes… But if you can’t change your plans or won’t be limited by your dog, than you should definitely go for the sensible alternative : leave it at home, find a pet hostel or temporary home with friends or family, and enjoy the idea that missing you for a few weeks wil be less of a traumatic experience for your animal than being conveyed in some cargo hold!



On the right track : trailing

Klik hier voor de Nederlandstalige versie van deze post

It’s no secret that some dogs may get a bit bored during traditional obedience training. Well, Lila does. Not that we don’t believe in the way our obedience dog school works, on the contrary. But yes, there is the inevitable bit of waiting in between exercises… And for Lila, 17 months old and always enthusiastic as young goldens are, there are more exciting things in life than to sit, lie down, sit up and lie down again. So maybe it was time to give her a chance to try something else.

Van spoorzoeken kan je vuil en modderig worden. Lila loves it!

Trailing can involve muddy tracks. Lila loves it!


And so we went trailing – that is the activity where a dog follows the scent of another dog. You would be amazed at how much fun Lila finds it… That might be to do with her race. Maybe a flat nosed bull dog would not have quite so much fun. But Lila is just over the moon, because she’s allowed to use her innate instincts and sharp hunter dog senses to the maximum.

Dog in charge

While trailing, the dog takes charge and its handler follows. Tugging away at the leash is, for once, not forbidden but encouraged! A trailing leash is extra long, by the way, up to 10 metres. So it allows plenty of freedom, which is a big plus if you’re young like Lila. She loves to be out and about and trailing is just that – being outside for hours on end. And it’s intense work, requiring a concentrated team effort between handler and dog, which all dogs will love. And then, once the target is reached, there are rewards in many shapes and forms, cuddles, hugs, praising words and treats. Anyway, for the trailer dog, the biggest reward is probably just using its powerful nose and experiencing a wonderful sense of achievement when it leads him to the target.

Varappe is altijd wel iets op het spoor

Varappe is onto something…

Izzie is de ervaren speurhond van trainer Caroline

Izzie is an experienced trailer dog, as her harness says

How does it work?

Where Lila and I go trailing, with a trainer called Caroline Hillewig, we work in small groups, just 4 people and their dogs. After some warming up exercises, the trailing dog will be offered a sample of the scent of a target, in our case another dog of the group. The target goes off to hide, the command is given and there we go! Lila gets going, nose practically on the ground. The clearer the scent is, the faster she moves, almost dragging me along. Sometimes she pauses, to clear her nose, to avoid getting oversaturated. If she looses the trail, she’ll need to turn round and pick it up where she lost it. All kinds of factors might make the trail more difficult to follow, from wind to other scents crossing the trail causing distractions. In fact it’s hard work, and a few hours are more than enough. Lila usually spends the rest of the day resting afterwards, and she sleeps like only a tired dog can sleep during the following night.

Would you like to give it a try?

Well, you might test your dog’s trailing talents with a friend who also owns a dog. But keep it simple, and make sure your dog will use its nose, not its eyes or ears. And if you think he or she might like it… my advice is to find a good trailing trainer like we did and really learn how to develop your dogs sniffing skills the right way!


Duck vs Dog – Hunting genes stronger than you’d like

Klik hier voor de Nederlandstalige versie van deze post

Lila and I pay very regular visits to a nearby park. Yes, it’s true, madam has rather a luxury version of a dog’s life. But it’s been very busy there all winter long. Not just in the park, but also in the water surrounding the park, actually. It seems that a bunch of water birds, ducks, coots, grebes and the like, have agreed to meet there and spend the dark winter days together. They walk or rather waddle along, make duck noises, look for duck treasures between the bushes on the shores, and swim around patiently awaiting some old lady with a bag of old bread crusts…

Feathered criminals ganging up

Feathered criminals ganging up

What a nice moving sight, you say? Well, if you’re an old lady, maybe. But not if you’re trying desperately to learn your dog some nice manners, like I am. The feathered gang of ill mannered water criminals cause a hunting dog like Lila to go mad, disturbing the intense dog-and-master bond that we’ve worked so hard to develop during our many visits to dog school. Whenever Lila spots a duck, she runs off like a madman, following the bird to the shore, where she goes down to the water and finally takes a stand in the water, up to her belly in it, staring at the ‘prey’ without however making any kind of move to actually catch it. The ducks soon understand and won’t hesitate to come in close to provoke her. None of my commands will work at that stage – come, sit, let’s go, all seem pointless shouts disrupting the peace in the park.

Lila up to her belly in… trouble. Not much hunting going on, just thinking about it

Lila up to her belly in… trouble. Not much hunting going on, just thinking about it

So I’m not sure what to do at this stage. Maybe I should get a shotgun. Or buy a dog that listens to me in stead of to its hunting genes…

Phoebe krijgt koekje

Phoebe (remember Friends?) on the Dutch shores…

Click here for the Dutch version / Nederlandstalige versie of this post

The beaches of Dutch seashore resort Cadzand offer plenty of running space for dogs of all kinds. No obstacles between dunes and weves, the occasional grumpy fisherman (“don’t touch my bate!”) set aside. Dog On A Sofa recently met Yvonne and Ludo there. They were accompanied by what looked to be an elegant cross between a golden and a hound of some kind. As it turned out, Phoebe (yes, as in Friends) turned out to be a rare blonde haired variation of a flatcoated retriever. They’re usually black, hence the initial confusion. But what a surprisingly interesting encounter it turned out to be…

flatcoated retriever Phoebe

Phoebe in Cadzand. De “ranke golden” blijkt een flatcoated retriever!

Adopting a dog can turn out to be a great idea – even if you ask the dog!

Phoebe is a wonderful dog.Kind but no too submissive, slender, a fast runner, and simply beautiful. And intelligent! Did you know that she stops for red pedestrian traffic lights? A rare sight for the bystanders who watched such a scene the other day in the center of nearby Knokke. With owner Ludo already across the street, Phoebe knew to wait for the light to become green before she crossed. Still, it turns out not everyone appreciates so much talent. Or should we say that some people are just not cut out to be the owner of of a dog, be it talented or less talented? Because in fact Phoebe only came to live with Ludo and Yvonne since she was 1 year old already. Before, with her previous owners, even her daily walks were restricted to the bare minimum. All she did was lie around. A match not made in heaven, so much is clear. Happily for Phoebe, that all changed when se came to live with her new owners. Now she is often out around 6 AM, for a daily 2 hour walk on the abandoned beaches of Knokke and nearby Cadzand. We found her to be just a very happy dog – less on the sofa, spending time outside. Which is exactly what she needs. If you ever needed proof for the fact that dog adoption is a great idea… More people should consider it!

Rabbits or a biscuit?

Meanwhile Phoebe didn’t seem traumatized at all. With our dog Lila she did exactly what happy young retrievers are supposed to on a beach : running, playing, fooling around. She didn’t like to swim, surprisingly, but she made up for it by running in the dunes. While Lila hunted our daughter Florence hiding away there, Phoebe looked for rabbits. Apparently she often finds one and nicely retrieves it  for the pleasure of Ludo and Yvonne – totally unharmed! Retrievers have a soft mouth, right? Anyway, this time it didn’t work out. But a clever dog will always have a backup plan: let’s beg for a biscuit!

Phoebe bedelt als de beste

“Can I get a biscuit? Oh please?”
Phoebe vindt koekje

“It’s right there, I can smell it!”

Phoebe krijgt koekje

“Yes! I’ve got it!”

Hond loopt mee naast fiets. Mag dat?

Het mag, het mag niet, het wordt gedoogd,…. Na voldoende tegenstrijdige meningen en adviezen dacht ik : tijd om even grondig na te kijken of Lila naast de fiets mag meelopen in België. In België en Vlaanderen zijn wel meer dingen verboden die niet meteen groot publiek gevaar opleveren. Zegt de term “GAS-boete” u iets? Dankzij www.senate.be en http://www.juridischforum.be aangevuld met http://www.hondenvrienden.be volstaat een kwartiertje surfen om ongeveer te weten waar je staat als hondeneigenaar-met-fietsambities.

En ja, ‘t was te denken : het mag niet! Waarom niet kan u dus zelf makkelijk opzoeken, maar ik vat het even samen, dan hebt u straks meer tijd voor een wandeling met uw trouwe viervoeter. Voorzover ik tussen de regels lees gaat het er vooral om dat je als fietser-met-hond teveel ruimte op de openbare weg inneemt en dus mogelijk voorbijrijdende automobilisten in gevaar brengt! Je rijdt met je fiets immers al vaak genoeg in de weg van koning auto, zo schijnt de wetgever te denken, en dan komt daar ook nog eens een viervoetig obstakel bij, hoeveel gevaarlijker kan het worden?

Alle gekheid op een stokje : het verkeer moet voor iedereen veilig zijn, dat is een basisgedachte die Lila en ik onderschrijven. Dus lijkt het mij evident dat je hond degelijk bevestigd moet zijn als je ermee wilt fietsen. Dan denk ik aan de typische toestellen met veer die te koop zijn her en der. De hond zelf aan de leiband proberen te houden is af te raden – ja, ik geef toe, ik heb het even geprobeerd. Maar verder wordt het volgens mij hoog tijd om dit stukje verkeersreglementering aan te passen. In Nederland mag het intussen wel en geeft de regulering bovendien blijk van gezond verstand. Bij ons dateert het artikel dat hierover gaat intussen al van 1975. Sindsdien rijpten de geesten en inzichten, zagen velen in dat de fiets zeker op de korte afstand toch wat vaker de voorkeur zou moeten genieten als we onze omgeving aangenaam en leefbaar willen houden, en kwamen dus veilige methodes voor bevestiging op de markt. Dat het ook voor de hond goed kan zijn wordt door velen onderschreven, hoewel je blijkbaar moet wachten tot je viervoeter 18 maanden is om het helemaal veilig te maken voor de ontwikkeling van de gewrichten. En sommige rassen zijn geen goede meelopers door hun fysieke bouw, ook dat is iets om rekening mee te houden. Maar verder denk ik dat fietsen voor hond én baasje een heel leuk tijdverdrijf kan zijn, dat helpt overtollige energie te kanaliseren en dus voor rustiger, evenwichtiger honden zorgt. Ook dat is weer in het belang van allen. Vandaar mijn oproep : haal dat verbod uit de reglementering en laat het gezond verstand zegevieren!

Niet aanbevolen : hond rijdt zelf en baasje loopt mee ;-)

Niet aanbevolen : hond rijdt zelf en baasje loopt mee 😉

Fred is Sirius about dog school

We met Fred the other day. At one and a half years old, he is quite a well behaved gentleman of a cocker spaniel. Well, OK, he kind of kept trying to get Lila pregnant, but I could see he didn’t really know how to get the job done, he was just scratching the surface so there was never any real danger 😉

But the well behaved part was definitely true. And that was all thanks to… a good education! If you’ve read some of my posts before, you know Lila and I believe firmly in the benefits of education. If you own a dog and especially if its your first (just like me with Lila), please let it go to school. At least to get a basic understanding of how a dog should behave in public. Or, more importantly, what you should do as an owner to get your dog to behave. Because dog schools are especially useful… for the OWNERS of the dogs!

Anyway, I could clearly see that Fred had indeed be going to school. His lady-owner was enthusiastic about dog school Sirius in Beervelde. They use a positive reinforcement based teaching system, using treats (food). And it works very well for Fred. So if you’re living in the neigborhood (say the northern parts of Ghent) it might be worth checking out! Start by taking a look at www.hondenschoolsirius.be

Fred is so well behaved

Fred is so well behaved


Impressive good deed… giving shelter to an abandoned dog!

I admit, I didn’t know or even suspect that it might be a better idea to go for an abandoned dog, rather than purchase a new one. Being new to the whole dog-thing (well I was about a year ago) I didn’t trust myself to go to a dog asylum

Zippo is up for adoption at the Ghent dog asylum

Zippo is one of many nice dogs up for adoption at Ghent’s dog asylum http://www.dierenasielgent.be


and adopt one there, let alone get a dog that I just found on the street somewhere. Yet in the last couple of weeks, while our usual hang-out was closed (the city is creating a park there) I went to another place (the Keizerpark in Ghent) and made some new dog-walking friends. Two of them had a very nice, well-behaved dog which it turned out was rescued after being found abandoned. Well I respect and admire that someone is brave enough to go for an animal like that, deseased and-or malnurrished. Maybe we should all consider adopting rather than stimulating illegal breeding. When in doubt, look at this site http://www.stoppuppytraders.org/ or find similar information in your country. Something to consider at least!