We first came across Jess and her Wonder Dogs Toby and Amos through our friends at Wunderdog Magazine. We instantly wanted to find out more about their adventures together and the great charity work they have been doing.
Tell us about Toby and how he came into your life
We collected Toby a couple of months before my birthday and he is hands down the best present I have ever received – he is the best little guy in the world who never fails to brighten up my days.
Toby gets to go on some amazing adventures including a lot of hiking - Was there any training involved in this?
Toby has been an adventure pup for as long as I can remember! I have always loved walking and climbing and getting Toby gave me the confidence and purpose to travel further to keep him on his toes and exploring new places and environments! We love going to new places to explore, if there is a climb or a scramble involved we love it even more, I’m sure he is part mountain goat.
We hit a stumbling block with the big adventures when Toby was 3, as he slipped a disc and was off his legs for a little while, we then had to build his strength up from basics again and he was limited to very short walks for a fair period. After his back injury, when he was back to full fitness we started climbing again and he climbed Snowdon with me for the first time, that certainly got us both back into the adventure spirit!
His biggest challenge which took some training and getting used to (for both of us!) was last year – following on from my eldest brother passing away I had wanted to do something to raise money for two charities that meant a lot to us as family, of course I wanted to pair this with my love of adventures and walking.
I decided that we would walk the Yorkshire Three Peaks – this is a 24.5 mile walk that has to be completed in less that 12 hours. Such a big undertaking meant we upped the training and slowly increased to regular 18 mile walks to ensure that we were all fit enough to complete the challenge. Toby was 8 when we did the challenge he walked and climbed with us for 11 hours, he absolutely loved it! He especially loved the giant Pork Pie he got after we completed it!
Toby is 9 now and still loves nothing more than a hike in the hills or mountains he has been our mascot for this year’s charity challenge which has been climbing a mountain a month for the past 10 months, each mountain getting more difficult as the months go on.
Toby carries a little backpack when you are on your adventures, could you explain what he carries in this and the reason behind it?
Toby carries First Aid Kits in his backpack, it is his little hiking job and he carries one for humans and one for dogs. Sometimes we swap the first aid kits for toys – it all depends on where our adventures are taking us!
Part of the reason he has the back pack is following on from him completing the Yorkshire Three Peaks – Toby was checked over before the challenge by his vets to ensure that he was fit and healthy enough to walk for such a distance – the vets were amazed at his condition and how fit and healthy he was.
That got me thinking and I didn’t want him to lose the level of fitness he had gained through a year of hard training, unfortunately walking 18 miles every Saturday isn’t something we can commit to in the long term – for the challenge it was needed but once the challenge was completed we were happy to go back to more moderate adventures.
The idea of the back pack is to make him work harder – albeit only a little harder, I researched backpacks for dogs and looked into the guidance surrounding weight and style.
Toby needed a front loaded back pack – although he is fit and healthy I am always conscious of anything further injuring his back, so Toby will never carry a lot of weight in his pack, his first aid kits weigh about 500g (for both) guidance says dogs can carry 15-25% of their body weight.
The pack that he wears also has a handle so I can help him down any very steep sections as due to his old injury we have to be careful with big drops. The added bonus to his back pack is that he looks utterly adorable and for charity walks it is a great conversation starter!
Tell us about Amos and how came into yours and Toby’s life
Amos was born at the Dogs Home where I work one day a week. His mum came in to the home as a pregnant stray, she was only a pup herself and was aged at about 8 months old (far too young to be having babies) she had a litter of 8 pups and sadly only three of them survived, one boy and two girls.
Amos and one of his sisters were born blind, they were taken to see an eye specialist whilst they were at the home and unfortunately for Amos both of his retinas were detached and his eyes were not fully formed – this meant that his eyes caused him pain and discomfort, the specialist advised that they best thing for him in the long run would be to have his eyes removed.
Amos crashed into my life when I was working on the pup section, Amos was just a little ginger splodge – he was a fairly chilled out puppy and was really good with the other pups he met over on the pup unit. At the time Amos was at the home there was a tummy bug so each section was on lock down, which meant that none of the pups could be walked as they didn’t want to risk them getting poorly. I was worried about the life that Amos would have, he’d missed a lot of socialization whilst at the Home as they were restricted by the lock down and I knew this would mean he would be hard work, lets face it life is scary if you are blind, its even more scary if you have had next to no experience of the outside world for four months. I worried he would have an overly sheltered life and if he would get to go adventuring and exploring when he was older.
My partner is a sucker for puppies so he was easy to convince, the difficulty was going to be convincing Toby to share his house and family with an unruly pup!
They had a couple of meets at the Dogs Home and then Amos came home with us for an initial 2 week foster period to see how they got on in the house.
That was in February and we have never looked back since!
We officially adopted him in August, he is a complete monster at times but we wouldn’t change him for the world.
How has Toby helped in training Amos?
Toby has been great in helping Amos adapt to life in the great wide world!
Toby has given Amos confidence and re-assurance when he has struggled to cope with things, when we first got Amos he had never been on a lead, or for a walk so there were many situations that he was just not comfortable or confident in.
Walking him is where Toby really helped – Amos would walk a few steps and then just sit down, he wouldn’t move and we weren’t intending to force him, he needed to learn that he could trust us to help him not to make him feel pressured or more scared than he already felt. Toby would just sit next to / touching him, as though to say don’t worry, you take your time little one.
Gradually Amos got better and more confident and would happily walk alongside Toby, there were days where he just couldn’t cope with something, be it a different smell, texture etc. many of our walks with Amos would take an hour to do a 15 minute walk, the longest he sat contemplating for was over half an hour, he just needed to think things through and then when he was ready he got up ready to carry on with his walk.
That is obviously a stark difference from where he is at now – he comes climbing with me and Toby and is a confident walker, he can be reactive to noises when we are out and about but I don’t really blame him for that.
Toby is also chief guide when we go somewhere new – he shows Amos where things are and guides him to the Water Bowl as this is something Amos had struggled with when we initially brought him home – as he had been in a kennel for 4 months where the water bowl was always in the same place bringing him into a home environment he struggled to locate the water bowl for a little while so Toby stepped up to help him.
What advice would you give any one whose dog may be going blind dog or was thinking of rescuing a partially sighted dog?
If you have a dog who was born blind, has gone blind or is partially sighted it is so rewarding to see them adapt and manage. They don’t let it stop them so neither should we, if you want to take them on an adventure take them, just make allowances and adapt plans as needed.
It must be scary for a dog who has always been able to see to no longer be able to see, so being patient and calm will no doubt help them to relax and learn how to adapt.
For a dog who has never been able to see everything is new and scary until you show them otherwise.
We’ve found with Amos simple things help, for example:
- Announcing yourself, before you pet him say “Hi Buddy” so he knows to expect you
- Use the names of objects to help, so before we put Amos’ Harness on we say “Harness”, he has learnt that this means that something will be put over his head, or “watch the door” before we open a door so he steps back out of the way.
- Narrate everything! Our walks our me and my partner chattering away to both of the boys, I let Amos know if there are curbs he needs to step up or down, if there are people approaching or objects in his way. If there is nothing about that he needs to worry about I’m talking to the both to tell them what good boys they are and how handsome they are!
- Don’t move furniture too often! Once your dog has mapped the space it can be really confusing when something is there that they aren’t expecting
Amos amazes us constantly with the stuff he can do and works out, we train him as we would train any dog – the only difference being we rely more heavily on verbal cues as opposed to hand signals/body language. We often have to think more outside of the box as to how we may teach him a behavior as most of the training I have done with Toby has been from Signals, we rely less on Verbal commands.
Much like with training any dog you need to be kind, patient and understanding to get the best out of them.
Could you tell us a little more about your 10 mountains in 10 month challenge?
Our #10mountains10months challenge has been this year’s charity challenge for myself, Toby and my friend Sophie.
Last year as mentioned previously I decided to do the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge in memory of my Brother Phil – this was to raise money for PAPYRUS – Prevention of young Suicide.
Sophie also did a charity walk in aid of CALM – Campaign against Living Miserably in memory of her close friend Rob.
We had decided that we wanted to make an effort to do something to support these charities that are trying to break the stigma surrounding Mental Health and Suicide each year, but didn’t want all the focus to be on raising money especially after people had been so generous for both of our 2017 challenges.
We planned this challenge in order to raise much needed awareness for both of these charities and what they are trying to achieve.
We decided to walk a mountain a month for 10 months in order to do this – each month the mountain got taller and we finished by climbing Snowdon in early October.
Each climb we have made an effort to chat to people along the way to tell them about the challenge and why we are doing it – Toby as chief mascot has donned special charity badges on his back pack, which have promoted what we are doing and encouraged more people to stop and talk to us about the challenge.
We are currently in the planning stages of next years challenge so keep your eyes peeled for next year’s hashtag!
Both I and my friend Sophie have lost someone close to us through suicide and we are trying to do our bit in dispelling the stigma surrounding suicide.
You can read more about Jess, Toby and Amos's adventures through her blog