Tuesday 31 December 2013

Scots not welcome...?

So I went exploring Human Grandad's nursing home, and inspected the decor.

Book lovers might feel at at ease here...

But one would be concerned about any Scottish residents with high blood pressure*.

After checking up on HGD's new place, I went back to see how Human Granny was getting on. She looked a bit lonely, sat by herself at the dinner table, so I kept her company for a while.

And yes, this is the lace tablecloth of the famous 'Hamish and the scones' incident...

*Explanatory note from Gail: The enlarged black and white photo on the wall of Dad's nursing home will be familiar to UK based readers. It is the England football team celebrating their football World Cup victory in 1966, an iconic image for any English football fan alive in the 1960s. It is less popular in Scotland....

Sunday 29 December 2013

Why Human Granny is nicer than the Queen

Today's title caught your attention didn't it?

I am hoping that Gail is right about disloyal subjects no longer being locked in the Tower of London.

But really. Did you read in the papers about the latest spat in our royal household? How poor Lupo, Prince William and Princess Kate's cocker spaniel puppy, was banned by the Queen from joining the traditional family Christmas gathering at Sandringham.

What cruelty!

I do hope the mother-in-law / daughter-in-law relationship will survive.

It made me realise how lucky I am here in Nottingham, being welcomed with open arms by Human Granny for an extended stay every Christmas. She even puts up with my huge poodle cousins Percy and Coco dropping in from time to time.

Now I understand Her Majesty was concerned that her precious (and reputedly bad-tempered) corgis might take umbrage at an energetic interloper. There was apparently an earlier incident between them and Princess Beatrice's Norfolk terrier.

Really, it does not inspire confidence when one's Head of State cannot keep the peace in her own palace. She needs to take control, and tell those spoilt and stuck up corgis to behave.

These days when I am faced with bossy or otherwise irritating newcomers, I turn the other cheek and walk away.

You would have thought that dogs belonging to one who is also the Supreme Governor of the Church of England would have been taught to do the same, wouldn't you?

Thursday 26 December 2013

"You eat a ton of muck....."

(Subtitle: Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud...)

Good morning friends, I hope you are having a simply splendid Holiday!

Now a dose festive jollity is all very well, but I suspect that some of my friends will be tiring by now of the Yo Ho Ho business and be yearning to read a blog post with a tad more intellectual and scientific rigour.

Fear not. You have come to the right place.

So I was all for tackling the mysterious matter of the Virgin Birth, but Gail insists that this topic is above even my pay grade, and has steered me instead in the direction of the 'Hygiene Hypothesis'.

Whether this relates in any way to the fact that we have now been six days staying with Human Granny in Nottingham and Gail claims still to be waiting for her first meal made from food within its use by date, I leave you to decide...

For those of you unfamiliar with the theory, the 'Hygiene Hypothesis' states that allergies and ailments like asthma have become much more prevalent in recent years because human babies are not exposed to enough dirt and bacteria and this weakens the development of their immune responses.

So one would predict that, being born in a manger, asleep on the hay, surrounded by all those lowing cattle etc., the baby Jesus would have started life with a tip top immune system. Likewise, Gail having been brought up in a household where a complaint about some dirt on a windfall apple served for dessert was met with the gnomic quote from her Yorkshire grandfather "You eat a ton of muck before you die", can boast a cast iron digestion.

Now you may have heard that we in the UK are enjoying a 'brown Christmas'. I can't think why Gail and HGY disapprove all this mud and don't seem to want me "trailing it all over the carpet..."  Did you know that in a teaspoon of soil there are approximately a billion bacteria? So healthy! But the humans would insist I was all cleaned before I was allowed to visit Human Grandad in his nursing home yesterday. (He was finally discharged from hospital a week ago). HGD was only briefly awake, but he did give me a lovely smile and a pat on the head before he fell back to sleep again.

You know, he spend his childhood outdoors playing on Ashdown Forest with his big brother Jack, building dens, fishing in muddy streams, bringing home grass snakes as pets etc. etc. Perhaps that's why he has lived so long.

So in honour of HGD, I decided to go right back out there and find some more dirt...

Sunday 22 December 2013

Ferryhill Christmas windows

At this time of year, many of the grey granite houses in our Aberdeen neighbourhood have a sparkly Christmas tree in the front window.

But only one window also has a Bertie.

Happy Christmas!

Wednesday 18 December 2013

Winning tips for Oz

My darling godmother Tootsie has a fur-cousin Oz who is thinking of taking up Agility, and, on the strength of my two recent and long awaited rosettes, Tootsie has asked if I can give Oz some top tips for success in this thrilling sport.

Oh I just love this type of question don't you? Basically: "Please explain why you so are so brilliant?" Much favoured, one notes, by career-minded Tory backbenchers at Prime Minister's Question Time.

I digress.

So, yes of course Oz my friend, I would be delighted to give you the benefit of my hard won experience.

I have four important pieces of advice.

(I seem to recall that Oz lives in Italy, so to circumvent any language barrier I have also, in my own inimitable style, provided some self-explanatory - I hope - sketches to communicate my main points.)

Tip no. 1: Always make sure you have an experienced handler. One who knows her left from her right even under pressure, who can retain in her head the order of more than two obstacles at a time, and who can be guaranteed not to stumble over any of them herself…

Tip no. 2: Tolerant trainers are a must. The sort who understand that if the training field is adjacent to a field where horses are grazing, then every once in a while the urge to dash across to the fence to say hi to Dobbin cannot be resisted, even if it means crossing the path of the senior grade 'swotty collie' types as they prepare for high level competition.

Tip no. 3: Choose a club with pretty girl pups! Sometimes it can be a bit boring waiting for the other dogs to have their go round the set obstacle course, especially when they are even more erratic performers than oneself, and what better way to while away the time than to flirt with a fluffy wee bichon frisé (for example).


Oz, I wish you all the best in your Agility endeavours. I mean, how could you possibly go wrong now…?

Monday 16 December 2013

A moment of quiet contemplation

Peace and goodwill to all our friends.
Gail and Bertie xxx.

Friday 13 December 2013

I Will Growl

On behalf of Human Grandad

Gail is too gentle, but I am a terrier.
I can growl.

I can growl at Herr Alzheimer
Though I know he's not to blame
For HGD contracting
The disease that bears his name.

I can growl at the unfairness
Yes, I know Gail, "life's not fair".
You can lead a good and worthwhile life
And near the end, despair.

I can growl at those who cannot see beyond
A sick, demented man.
I can growl at those who will suggest,
Such suffering is Planned.

In growling, I can try to speak
For one who cannot now express
His thoughts. Beloved HGD
I'll make it known you were and are the best.

Gail is too gentle but I am a terrier.
I can growl.

I will growl.
Are we going to visit HGD again soon?

Tuesday 10 December 2013

It seems rosettes are like Aberdeen buses...

…You wait for ever then two turn up at once.

Well I was all set to expound on the theme of how the dogs were so much more stylish than the humans at the 'Devana Fun Agility Show' last Saturday, but Gail said: "No no no Bertie, first you absolutely must tell them about your two clear rounds and the TWO rosettes you won".

Well really I don't see what the big deal is.

Apparently these things, with dangly ribbons I am not allowed to chew, are my prizes for coming 5th in the first agility class of the day and 3rd in a later one.

Perhaps I should also mention that there were at least forty dogs in each class (grades 1-3) and that I came ahead of lots of those big swotty collies who normally like to hog the limelight at such events.

Well on to more interesting things. Can you believe that one of those poor collies has a pig for an handler?

Another pup ran around the course guided by Friesian cow, but Gail's photo of her came out all blurry, so I can only show you this particular farm animal part covered by an anorak, in conversation with her similarly clad friend Miss Piggy...

When I tell you that one of the judges was The Incredible Hulk…

…I'm sure you will, like me, be relieved to see that at least the pups maintained their sense of dignity and were tastefully and smartly attired.

PS from Gail: I would like to thank all our lovely trainers and fellow trainees  at Deeside Dog Agility Club. Without their support, encouragement and advice on handling Bertie in the competition ring, I would long ago have thrown in the towel...

Friday 6 December 2013

The head tilt: all is revealed

I am going to begin with a quote from Nobel prize winning physicist Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937):

"If your experiment needs statistics, you ought to have done a better experiment".

Well I am pleased to report that the data you provided on the topic of head tilting (as detailed in the comments to my post Getting things straight…or not) are sufficiently clear cut that statistical analysis is redundant. Lord Rutherford would have been proud of me.

But what a rich set of observations you provided. Thank you to each and every one of the 35 pups who contributed to a substantial and fascinating dataset.

Overwhelmingly, you told me that you tilt your heads when confronted with a situation that in some way puzzled you, thus supporting, I believe, the theory that the behaviour is linked to an attempt to increase understanding through gaining a different perspective.

Several pups reported a particular association between head tilting and hearing a 'funny noise', but any suggestion that this is something to do with moving ear flaps away from earholes is comprehensively rebutted by your evidence, which demonstrates the cocked heads are at least as popular amongst breed with upright ears. Scotties, in particular, seem to be enthusiastic adopters of the head aslant pose.

Apparently my predecessor Hamish the Westie would come and sit by Gail, head cutely cocked to one side, whenever she was getting ready to go to work. Gail imagined he did this because he knew she found the look irresistible and he hoped she would decide to stay at home, but it seems that this is not commonly observed behaviour, at least amongst the cohort of blogging dogs sampled in this experiment.

So why am I not a head tilter?

I imagine it is because, with my sky high IQ and deep scientific knowledge, I am rarely confronted with a situation that I do not immediately comprehend. Although I admit I am not sure why this statement is making Gail laugh so much, and, after experimenting by moving my head through a range of angles, I am still none the wiser.

(By the way, I reject the suggestion made by my a couple of my friends, that I am in fact tilting my head in some of photos on my blog. What you see there is me looking sideways, a different matter entirely).

Finally, please spare a thought for my old friend Stella, whose mom Jo claims to have 'bigger things to think about' than observing Stella's head position. Gosh I'm sure we are all looking forward to reading about these 'bigger things' on Jo and Stella's blog one of these days...

I shall end this post as I began, with another (more famous) quote from Lord Rutherford:

"All science is either physics or stamp collecting".

The December pup on Gail's calendar

Thursday 5 December 2013

Getting things straight…or not

Are you a head tilter?

I most certainly am not.

Between you and me, a certain person wasted quite a lot of time last night trying to get a photo of me cocking my head to one side to illustrate this blog post, but she signally failed because it's something I just don't do.

So why bring the topic up at all, I hear you ask.

Well, Gail and I were snuggled up together the other evening, listening to our favourite radio science programme, 'The Infinite Monkey Cage' (co-presented by her 'friend' Professor Brian Cox) and, in the course of a fascinating discussion about perception and neuroscience, we heard a wee snippet about head tilting in mammals.

Apparently, one theory for why we do this (or not) is because: "it will change your perception a little bit and will give you a bit more information. It will give you some understanding that was not previously available."

Cue a consultation with Professors Google and Wikipedia, which quickly revealed two additional competing theories relevant to dogs:

(1) Heads are tilted to improve hearing by lifting ear flaps away from earholes (leading to the prediction that the behaviour would be less common in dogs with pricked ears)


(2) It is learned behaviour, an adaptive response to the fact that human find the cocked head gesture "too cute" and reward the dogs with attention and treats.

So, my canine friends, I am wondering if, and under what circumstances, you move your head out of alignment with the rest of your body? Is it when you have a reasonable expectation of a treat, when you are finding it difficult to hear, or when you are trying to figure out something you don't quite understand? Or for some other reason? And by the way, are your ears upright or dangling?

As ever, with my Bertie Boffin hat on, I shall do my best to analyse any data you provide, using advanced multivariate analysis and general linearised statistical models as appropriate, and I shall report my findings in due course.

Tuesday 3 December 2013

Gail's musings in St James's Park, London

Thank heavens I have a free hour before my meeting…a morning walk is so important for one's sanity…I do wish Bertie were here too….oh look what a cute Lhasa Apso…I wonder if Bertie misses me as much as I miss him…my what a lot of grey squirrels thrive in Central London….and ducks, geese, swans, gulls and, of course, pigeons…now I see a husky, poor creature, I don't think this is the right place for him…the London air smells sour this morning... not even the Queen over there in Buckingham Palace can escape it… now, we have a sparky wee terrier….and a rather sad looking golden lab…what a lot of leaves on the ground just now...I do hope Dad had a comfy night in hospital...and now this is exactly the place where I once nearly cycled into the then Foreign Secretary (Douglas Hurd) en route to work…can't spot any politicians I recognise this morning…but it's Bertie's happy, eager little face I really want to see…

Image from internet

Sunday 1 December 2013

Email from Cousin Cocoa Standard Poodle

No soon as I'd clicked 'publish' on my last post, than I received this email, care of Gail:

Dear Cousin Bertie, 

Re: your recent visit

I hate to rain on your parade and all that, but I am wondering why no-one asked me to contribute to the 360º appraisal you published so brazenly on your blog on Wednesday. 

Most assuredly, I would NOT have awarded you full marks based on your behaviour when you came to stay with me and my brother Percy for a couple of nights a short while ago. 

I expect you were thinking that, because I am a relative newcomer to the set up, I would not venture to voice an opinion. How wrong you were.

Let me say I for one am quite happy you are now over three hundred miles away and not, I hope, planning a return visit any time soon. 

Imagine, readers, there's me, recently rescued from an endless round of pregnancies in a Norfolk puppy farm, just settling into my new Peak District home, getting a feel for the place, learning how to deal with my huge sibling Percy Poodle and generally working hard to adjust to a different routine, when along comes this wee whippersnapper of a wire haired fox terrier, bouncing around and growling at me all the time in an incomprehensible Scottish accent.

Oh yes and then there was the small matter of the night-time pooping on the kitchen floor, wasn't there Bertie?

Ten out of ten? I think not.

I am going to recommend that Gail holds the marshmallows and duck jerky a while longer. 

Yours faithfully, 

Really. Who knew my new cousin was such a little tell tale?

PS from Gail: Human resources professionals worldwide, take note. These last two posts of Bertie's provide an excellent example of how even the most supposedly objective methods of performance review are subject to bias and manipulation...