Toy tip: frozen Kong Quests for lowering arousal levels

I often give the dogs a chewing or licking activity after an active walk that has raised their arousal levels, like a beach trip is guaranteed to do.

Nell took 20min to finish her Kong Quest Star Pods and Grace 80mins her Kong Quest Foragers Flower because it contains more food and Grace is younger. These were filled with Ziwipeak canned food, apple chunks, frozen raspberries and some dabs of yoghurt or peanut butter – the fruit fills up space without adding calories and especially the apple chunks are tricky to fish out.

 

Highly recommended if your dog finishes a regular Kong very quickly!

These, and other toys suitable for freezing food are reviewed in this post.

Grace meets agility

Our agility class had only a few participants around last night so the teacher invited Grace to join too (adapted to her age of course).

This is Grace’s first time experience of agility equipment and she was totally unfazed by it – even the bendy tunnel that some dogs fear because you can’t see the exit. She also immediately understood sitting down, waiting and jumping over objects – all things the rest of us have been practising for 3 weeks now!

It wasn’t a huge surprise to me she loved it – the way she moves naturally in the forest and her intense handler focus have already suggested to me that she will also eventually enjoy agility.

I am definitely seeing the benefits of a thoughtful, responsible and focused breeding programme because she has only been with us for two months so what we see now is her innate ability and genetic makeup. We also have a comparison point of a similar breed with our working cocker Nell, who has bags of enthusiasm, similarly intense handler focus and a keenness to work, but mostly lacks the calmness and composure that Grace has which is a huge advantage in training.

I’m just in awe of this little lady and the grace with which she handles things thrown in her way – she is definitely living up to her name!

Balance training in nature: sniff game on a tree trunk

I try to make use of the natural environment to get the dogs to practice things like body awareness and balance, and although Grace does her own practice on the edge of our sofa, it never hurts to do some deliberately.

Here I’ve sprinkled some treats on top of a wide, mossy trunk which means she needs to sniff and balance at the same time.

I also go back to sprinkle more after she has sniffed it to encourage her to keep checking locations she’s already sniffed – this helps when we do formal detection training as she is learning to be thorough and that it pays off to double check.

 

Veggie taster board

I came across this silicone muffin mold in the cupboard this morning and I thought I would finally try doing a taster board for the dogs.

A taster board is a basic form of mental enrichment where you put various foods on a plate/tray/muffin tin in front of your dog and observe what they do – sniff, eat, ignore etc. For the dog, it introduces different food stuffs and encourages them to explore while the human can observe if some foods are higher value than others (useful to know for training, for example).

I have a fairly good idea of what my dogs value and I regularly encourage them to eat fruit and veg by giving them stuff as I’m prepping food. I know it isn’t most people’s preference to have dogs hang around in the kitchen but it doesn’t usually bother me, and it makes everything I hand them there more valuable which has encouraged Nell to eat things like lettuce and cabbage, and it’s easier to get her to eat medication when she assumes things I throw her in the kitchen are most likely to be valuable.

In any case, I had some time today so I chopped up some veggies for them – I decided to stick to vegetables only because it’s an absolute no-brainer that if I include cheese or ham, they’ll go first and I learn nothing new. So, my board had carrot, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, courgette, apple and pepper (in the same order for both dogs). All except pepper are much loved by Nell – so much so that she runs into the kitchen when she hears me chopping!

I was interested in finding out if there was any order of preference, and whether Grace would be keen on them without watching Nell eat them too.

The results?

  1. Both dogs ate everything – Nell ate a bite of cucumber and carrot first, then sampled pretty much one of everything in true tapas style
  2. Grace worked a bit more methodically but that might be because she is smaller and therefore naturally ate the ones closest to her first
  3. Both dogs ate pepper last, which might be because it was in the furthest corner from them, or because they’re less familiar with it

All in all, I learned that my dogs really like veggies – both cleaned up the board at decent speed and I had to shoo Nell away for Grace’s turn because she wanted to eat another board… The most interesting thing was to notice they both chose a different veg for each mouthful – a bit like humans would vary the taste experience in their mouths over a meal.

I doubt I’ll use any of these as treats outside because of obvious mess reasons, but it was fun and I’ll probably play this another time with another board of super high value treats like cheese!

Toy test: MyIntelligentPets Dog Sudoku

I bought the MyIntelligentPets Dog Sudoku a couple of weeks ago at the Animal Event but hadn’t had time to test it yet. Last night the little monkeys were particularly energetic despite a long walk with friends so I thought it was time.

My Dog Sudoku is a part of the Travel Box which also includes another game (yet to be tested!). It consists of plastic tiles the dog needs to move in a certain order to reveal the treats hidden underneath. While I’ve seen videos of dogs playing this game carefully and in a considered manner, I can’t say the same about my two – they both launched into it with all the enthusiasm of a food obsessed spaniel, and pawed their way to the solution as quickly as possible. Luckily the game is pretty sturdy!

I played the game with Nell first and then thought I would try it with Grace to see how a puppy would handle it. Result? She did just as well as her older sister, and seemed to love it just as much. While they both got through the game quickly even this first time, I’m hoping that future repetitions will help them learn a more considered approach and that I can see them actually figuring out how the game works.

All in all, so far this is turning out to be well worth the investment!

A weekend of fun at the Animal Event

This post is a little bit late now but better now than not at all!

A couple of weeks ago we bundled the dogs into our car and headed south to Tilburg for the 13th edition of Animal Event. We discovered it last year but too late to sign up for any workshops so this year we were ready well in advance. With a young puppy, we decided it was best to spread the activities over two days and stay two nights so that it wasn’t too taxing for her, even though she is a real champ. We absolutely loved our two days there so I wanted to write about the event.

Shopping opportunities were plentiful!

The event is packed with opportunities to learn and have fun with your dogs (and other animals) through workshops, masterclasses, games and demonstrations.

Last year we managed to try dock diving and escape rooms, both of which were a lot of fun. These activities don’t require registration so you can decide on the day if you want to do them.┬á

This year we signed up for a dog massage workshop, introduction to hunting training and canicross taster sessions as well as having a go in escape rooms again. We also had an opportunity to try detection/nose work with Grace.

Escape rooms challenged both humans and dogs!

Both hunting training and kynomassage workshops were short, but enough to spark an interest in getting more involved in both, while canicross… let’s just say we discovered running in a straight line is not exactly Nell’s forte as a hunting spaniel specialised in flushing!

Waiting for our massage workshop to start

The highlight of our weekend was definitely being able to try out detection with Grace in the masterclass given by Wesley Visscher from ScentImprint. She enjoyed it so much we enrolled her on a beginner’s course after the event – without this kind of taster session we would have waited much longer!

Trying out detection

There were more informal sniffing games too – like these ball pits (below) by the major sponsor Farm Foods.

All in all, it was a great event with lots of resting relaxation opportunities too – a beach for the dogs to run on, hammocks to chill out in and even a beach bar for humans and their soggy dogs. We are definitely going back next year!

Tired, wet, sandy – and hopefully also happy!

 

Reset with sleep and slow games

Today is a low-key home day with lots of sleep to “reset” the dogs after a busy weekend. Our weekends are often filled with beach visits, trips to the garden centre and generally lots of activity for the dogs – in short, a ton of stressors because even a highly exciting trip to the beach winds up the adrenaline system for these two crazies.

Usually I let them potter a lot in the garden but today they are both obsessed with eating the (organic) plant fertiliser we put down yesterday, so I’m keeping them in more than usual which means toys and games.

They’ve already done a treasure hunt indoors (treats hidden everywhere), and in the morning we played with the Trixie game (below) which took both dogs all of 30sec to solve.

This is one reason why I rarely buy these more complex games – too often they are one-trick ponies that don’t entertain for very long, and also they require my attention. I love playing with my dogs, but sometimes I need to focus on other things and then independent games are just what I need.

So, today I have a selection of toys they can work on by themselves – different shapes mean different puzzles, and more thinking!

This pile meant 20min of entertainment with one filling – in the time it’s taken me to write this, they are already done so I need to go and collect the toys for a refill…