For this week’s blog we’re spotlighting one of our Ambassadors, Beignet the English Cocker Spaniel (@beignet_begs) and his mom Niamh (an Irish name; it's pronounced Neeve). Beignet and Niamh live in San Francisco - soon to be moving to sunny San Diego - and we talked about choosing a dog and a breeder, raising a puppy in the city, how Niamh’s design life and aesthetic meshes with dog ownership, and more. Enjoy!
Hi Niamh! Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us for the blog! First off, can you tell us a bit about Beignet - how he came into your life, what kind of dog he is, and a bit about his personality?
I got Beignet from an English Cocker Spaniel breeder in November 2020. It wasn’t my plan to get a dog until sometime in 2022, as I was planning on traveling a lot until then; however, the pandemic happened and I reprioritized my life. Being a dog mom is the only thing I’ve consistently had as a life goal and it just felt like the right time. While having a pandemic puppy hasn’t always been easy, Beignet has brought so much joy, love, and laughter to my life.
Beignet is the happiest, silliest puppy with a touch of sass. I wish I could portray on social media what a character he is. His tail constantly wags and he wants to say hi to everyone, dog and human. He’s eager to please and smart, picking up tricks quickly and finding ways to get into everything (especially before 8 am). One of his pet peeves is when people fart. He will give you the stink eye and leave the room (and leave you laughing at his ridiculousness).
Can you talk about the process of deciding to go the breeder route and choosing a breeder?
I chose to go with a breeder because I have pretty bad allergies to dogs and knew cocker spaniels were a breed I haven’t had bad reactions to, as I grew up with one. The breeder process is long, especially for a breed that isn’t super common, and it took about a year overall (usually it’s longer for an English Cocker Spaniel). It can also be heartbreaking to not get a puppy within your expected timeline. I began researching breeders about a year before I actually got Beignet, and ended up reaching out to about half a dozen. Most of the breeders I reached out to required me to answer a lot of questions. For me, that was a good sign that they were taking dog placement seriously. They mostly personality matched their puppies (versus first-come-first-serve) so I felt they were in it for passion, not just money. The breeder Beignet came from is a hobby breeder and doesn’t have a waitlist; she was so kind and willing to answer all my questions. I think the most important question to ask is for both parents’ health checks and what the breeder expects if you can no longer keep your dog. The first is a given, and the latter is another indicator that the breeder isn't in it for profit only. A reputable breeder will always take a dog back that the owners can’t keep and put them in the best possible home.
Is this your first dog or have you had other dogs in the past? What drew you to Beignet specifically?
Beignet is my first non-family dog, but I grew up with a female English Cocker Spaniel. Because of the breeder process, he was matched to me so I didn’t specifically pick him. But I said my preference was for a sweet, cuddly puppy who would be willing to both go on adventures and relax with me and had a good temperament for possible therapy work (we’ll see if therapy work is a good fit a little down the line). I also wanted a male specifically because I wanted a bit of a derp. In terms of looks, I wanted a black dog because I wear mostly black clothing and didn’t want fur to show much (though Beignet isn’t a big shedder).
What made you decide to go with an English Cocker Spaniel? I've known some wonderful Cocker Spaniels, but they are less popular or "trendy" than some other breeds. Did you do a lot of research, and what did you think about when deciding on a breed?
I decided to go with a show-type English Cocker Spaniel partially because I grew up with one, but I did lots of research to make sure it would actually fit my lifestyle. They are small enough for apartment living (25-35 lbs), but substantial enough in size and endurance to be comfortable hiking. It is a hunting breed, so they’re intelligent. This means they’re pretty easy to train (some of Beignet’s best tricks he taught himself and I just reinforced), but have lots of energy and need mental and physical exercise so they don’t get into trouble. If Beignet isn’t walked or played with enough in the morning he starts stealing things off the tables. Cockers are full of personality, with constantly wagging tails and lots of sass. The energy and sass might be too much for some, but it was perfect for me. I was mostly concerned about Cockers’ natural tendency to not like other dogs, but Beignet shocked me by being so naturally social. In terms of health concerns, Cockers are predisposed to ear infections (and eventual deafness), pancreatitis, and some eye issues. This more affects how I take care of Beignet than my original decision to get a Cocker. I clean his ears at least weekly, keep him away from a lot of foods that can cause pancreatitis, and look out for eye issues. Show-type English Cockers also require a lot in terms of grooming (daily brushing and weekly mat checks), but I prefer the look of the show-type (versus working-type) so I am willing to do it.
Once you brought Beignet home, what was the process like of adjusting to life with a puppy, especially during Covid? What was challenging and what was enjoyable about it?
I brought Beignet home when he was 9 weeks old, at the beginning of November 2020. The first few weeks were tough, mostly because of lack of sleep and having to potty train. But it was amazing to have cuddly puppy breaks and experience the joy and pride when he learned new tricks. Because of Covid, I was working from home and couldn’t do much socially, so I had plenty of time for a new puppy. I was pretty concerned how I would socialize him, but my neighbor got a puppy a couple of weeks before us and we had a friend’s dog for a couple of weeks over Christmas so he got plenty of time with other dogs.
You live in San Francisco. Has raising a dog in an urban environment posed any special challenges? Any tips for others who live in a city and want to raise a well-adjusted puppy?
I think the biggest challenge came from the part of SF we live in. There are a few parks nearby that have parvovirus outbreaks all the time so Beignet’s feet couldn’t touch the ground outside my house until he was 2 weeks past his final vaccines (so he was 18 weeks). I worried that he wouldn’t be socialized to noises and textures enough, but he luckily has been fine with everything. I could see city noises, sounds and smells being overwhelming for a lot of dogs, so I would say expose them as early as possible, and work with a trainer if you're not sure of the best way to go about it. And if you’re adopting or moving with an older dog, then take it slowly with lots of positive reinforcement and without going over your dog’s threshold. Also find a green space (or beach) nearby that you can just let them be a dog, either free with good recall or on a long line.
One thing I did was bring Beignet with me when I went outdoor dining as soon as possible, because I knew it would be part of the life I wanted with him and would expose him to a lot of things. While he was a natural at settling under a table, he now needs plenty of exercise before and won’t settle where there’s loud music, so we’ve had to adjust a little. Not all dogs are comfortable in such social situations, but Beignet seems to love the adventure and attention from strangers. We’ll have to see if new challenges arise living in a city now that the world is opening up, but I’m hopeful that the work we’ve put in will allow Beignet to adapt pretty quickly.
You are a graphic designer by trade, and Beignet is now an ambassador for several dog brands. You have even collaborated with dog brands to design prints or products. Can you talk to us about how having a dog has intersected with your interests in design? Or how being a part of the dog community online has helped to spark your creativity?
Firstly, running a dog Instagram is such a fun, creative process. I get inspired by other accounts, create fun content and photos, and try to come up with funny captions. Before the pandemic, my job was a combination of software engineering and graphic design, but the graphic design part dropped off with changes in the company and I felt stuck in a creative rut. After getting Beignet, I was looking for local small dog businesses and found Starlight Bandanas Co. I loved what Sara was doing, so I submitted an application to be an ambassador for the company, and Beignet was chosen. When Sara put out a call for designers to collaborate with, I decided to just go for it and she chose to work with me for a Bay Area-themed giveaway. Since then, I’ve worked with her again and with Patterned Paw Prints (another brand Beignet is an ambassador for) a couple of times. For me, designing patterns (especially for dogs) is so fun and I get to collaborate with some amazing business owners and get Beignet’s followers involved every once in a while. I’ve noticed a lot of the small dog businesses were started by dog parents as an offshoot of the love for their dogs; I think there’s something about that special bond that brings out creativity.
Do you have any ideas or aspirations for new collaborations, projects, etc related to dogs and design?
I don’t have anything specific planned as most of my creative energy is going into decorating my apartment once I move, but I’d love to continue to work with small dog businesses. I’m also trying to get back into my art practice - you can check out some of my previous work @ashwood.art.design - and make pieces on a more regular basis.
Tell us about your favorite products from High Tail Hikes, or what you like about BioThane. Any tips for people on the fence about BioThane, or not sure what products to try first?
Beignet is the type of dog who gets dirty and wet no matter what he’s doing, so having waterproof, easy-to-clean gear is a must for us. I like how customizable High Tail Hikes products are, especially the new two-tone leashes. I love all the High Tail Hikes gear we have, but the Sport Collar is my favorite/most impactful for us. It’s easy to get on and off, which is much needed when you go to the beach as much as we do. Trying to undo a buckle with a puppy who is hyper, soaked, and sandy is such a struggle. For those new to or on the fence about BioThane , think about your piece of gear that gets most dirty/beat up, and imagine just getting to wipe it down to get it clean! Get that item in BioThane- and see what a difference it makes.
Beach Beignet wearing his waterproof High Tail Hikes Leash
You're moving to San Diego soon. What are some of the considerations you're thinking about regarding moving with a dog?
Beignet played a pretty big role in deciding between San Diego and moving back to NYC. I realized his puppy energy and how much he loves my family made San Diego the better choice. Plus it’s one of the most dog-friendly cities in the country. In terms of apartments/houses, I’ve put places with some outdoor space highest on the list, and am looking at places that allow Beignet a little more room inside. I also am trying to avoid carpet because hard surface floors are just easier to clean. Beignet is also playing a big part in my moving plan. I’m hoping to go and build the furniture before moving Beignet in, since he’s very nosy and could become a hazard. While I could put him in a crate, I think if I have the chance to do some things before moving him down it will be better for both of us. A lot of my design and furniture choices have been affected by Beignet. I’ve gone with washable rugs and a performance-grade sofa, plus I’ll have to make sure he can’t knock over anything breakable!
Thank you so much Niamh! I can't wait to see what adventures await you and Beignet in San Diego.
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