Not all ball throwing is bad

Some people are really against balls for dogs and I can totally see why. Some dogs, including mine, get obsessed, a little possessive, and running after a ball can also cause injuries – something we’ve also experienced.

So why do I not ban them entirely? Because they are incredibly useful for me to keep my busy doggies minds and bodies exercised. To keep them happy, I would need to walk them preferably 1.5h if not 2h because I can see from their activity monitors and behaviour at home a simple hour’s walk along a path is not enough for these hunting breeds (especially the young one has a LOT of energy).

Some days I can do that, other days it rains a lot and I’m busy with work so I need a compromise that ticks all the boxes. I’d love to be one of those people who train their dogs every day, but I just don’t have enough spoons – this makes them just as happy, if not happier – a win win! 😁

These are the two hardest searches today, most are much easier and quicker for them. I try to trick them so they can’t see exactly where the ball lands because then they have to track it down with their noses… An orange ball is invisible to dogs in general, even more so with the ground like this so it’s difficult.

They’re moving at their own pace, so no sharp turns and young one can run much more than the older one which is perfect! 😊

New winter coats and listening to your dog

Our new Equafleece coats have arrived!

With the winter on our doorstep these two waterbeasts are always soggy when they get in the car so for the drive home, I like to make sure they stay warm.

Their current jumpers require wrangling font legs into holes and for a while now Nell has been pretty reluctant to let me do it, to the point of growling. I figured that because it was fine previously, it’s possible that is now uncomfortable her as she has gotten older, so I got them coats I can just slip on and still allow me to tuck in wet ears in the collar.

They’re very snug and tailored – Grace’s is more loose because I actually measured her, and used old measurements for Nell even though I probably should have measured her again too.

In any case they are awesome – great quality, look good and most importantly keep wet doggos warm 😊

Toy review: BusterMat

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20min later… All done!

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Ready for a session of #bustermat 😁

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Mummy this is really hard, can you help?

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Mummy made me a buster mat game 😁

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Mummy made me a buster mat game 😁

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Dealing with sibling jealousy by training emotional regulation

The biggest challenge we faced when getting a puppy was to ensure the dogs build a positive relationship. This was especially important because they are both females, and I was informed by our behaviourist that fights between two girls can be much worse than one with opposite sexes so you can imagine we were pretty keen to avoid any kind of potential Kill Bill scenario in the future.

Our behaviourist suggested exercises to teach the dogs to disengage when the other one was playing with a toy but unfortunately we needed two people to practice and therefore… never really got around to it for multiple reasons (/excuses).

Instead, I ended up improvising based on what I know from human psychology and specifically how emotions work.

To me it seemed like the problem was Nell’s internal emotional reaction to Grace (playing with a toy she perceived hers, i.e. all of them) so what I did was get Grace to play and while she was playing, Nell and I watched. Practically speaking, I sat close to Nell while stroking her back and speaking to her in a calm tone about what a good girl she was just watching Grace play. At the beginning I could feel the tension in Nell’s body when she was reacting to what she was seeing, but with the gentle stroking and calm words she eventually relaxed a little.

The theory behind this approach is that emotions are basically our interpretation of our bodily reactions and sensations (our interception). The same bodily sensations are interpreted differently depending on the context – i.e. butterflies in the stomach are excitement if you’re about to step into a rollercoaster or anxiety if it’s a job interview. The basic principle is that there is a connection between our body and our mind, and by changing one of them you can influence the other. This is how breathing exercises in mindfulness practice works: by slowing down your breathing, other bodily functions calm down and eventually your mind calm down too. (There is plenty of research on this so I won’t go in more detail – I’m sure you get the idea!)

Nell’s main problem is the ability to regulate her emotions, whether it’s excitement, frustration or jealousy/envy and her emotions go from 0 to 100 in seconds so it seemed like this could help her.

We have used this approach for 6 months now and, although I have no control group, something seems to have worked because most of the time now Nell can watch Grace play without getting involved and just walk away, and I would like to think that she has learned to control her emotions a little bit more in these situations. It still pops up though: today we played a dog sudoku game and while watching Grace play (it had already been Nell’s turn), I asked Nell to lie down nearby and every time I saw her lip slightly quiver in anger, I sternly told her it wasn’t ok. Because we have practiced taking turns a lot, this small but strict reminder seems to do the trick and she stayed in her place while Grace played.

As Grace is moving into puberty, we also have to practice taking returns with her because now that she is bigger, she has also started to react to Nell. Unfortunately, this is probably a backlash from Nell’s original resource guarding behaviour but we’ll deal with it the best we can now.

Although she is calmer, Grace also has strong and lightning fast emotional reactions to events so we will need to practice calmness and self control daily. It took me 2 years to teach Nell to have some restraint with food but it was worth it because teaching self control spills over to other domains than the original one, so I’m prepared for the work that is to come.

Food this close to each other was not possible 6 months ago

Toy test: snufflestack

It’s taken me a while to post this but better later than never! Another snuffle toy we bought at the Animal Event was this “snufflestack” (my name for it, because it didn’t have one). Basically, it’s a pile of double layered fleece squares with a hole in the middle, stacked up in a fleece rope.

There are lots of ways to use this depending on your dog’s experience and drive – the recommendation is to allow your dog to familiarise themselves with it first by laying it flat on the floor and placing some treats in between.

However, I know my intense hunting drive dogs will just dive straight in to get the food so they don’t need that stage – in the video below you can see Nell starts straight from the tight stack.

This is the second time she is playing with it, and because the first time she pretty much pulled all the squares out of the rope, I decided to tie it quite tightly this time. I should note that Nell has a lot of experience with snuffle toys and is a very nose driven dog which means she quickly figures out toys like these – sometimes too quickly for my liking!

I also tried this with Grace and it was definitely more difficult for her, and thanks to her slightly gentler sniffing style I suspect this toy will have a longer life if she plays with it instead of Nell…

All in all, this is a nice little addition to our toy box!

Toy tip: Starmark Tetraflex as a mealtime toy

Today breakfast was served from Starmark Treat Dispensing Tetraflex – one of my absolute favourite mealtime puzzles.

It’s soft plastic so no noise on hard floors; the size and shape allow dogs to pick it up and most importantly, unlike many other treat balls, it has a little funnel inside the opening which reduces the likelihood of treats falling out which means the game lasts longer than with a simple treat ball.

It’s also relatively durable but I’d supervise heavy chewers as they will be able to shred it.

I’ve had this ball for years and it’s simply one of the best toys we have. Because the design of the ball means it is statistically difficult for the treats to fall out, this toy remains difficult however many times the dog plays with it – you could feed every meal from it.

The added bonus is that by playing with this ball, dogs also improve their proprioception (body awareness) because they learn to handle the ball with their paws and nose.