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. 

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…

Toy test: grid snuffle mat

Today we tried one of the two unusual types of snuffle mats we bought at the Animla Event a couple of weeks ago. Result? It suits Grace very well because her sniffing style is (still) quite gentle but for Nell, who is more experienced it is a little bit too easy so it doesn’t keep her busy very long it took me longer to insert the treats! Her snuffle mat style is also more intense and a bit rough, so I’m worried the fleece strips will stretch too much… So this will be reserved for Grace, and I’d recommend it for newbies or gentle sniffers only 🙂

Thinking about choice

I’m a fan of giving dogs choice and have previously not quite understood nor agreed with people who say their dogs can’t handle choices.

Reading this article, I understand a little better – or to be more accurate, I have a better grasp of the concept and vocabulary of choice, and where it is appropriate.

I can now see I don’t always give my dog a choice, but I haven’t really been able to articulate it as it was more of a gut feel where I do or don’t. In any case, this is a really thought provoking article and I’ll think more clearly about choice in the future.

The freedom to choose: A blessing or a curse?

“Why did you get a second busy dog?”

A couple of days ago we bumped into a dog physiotherapist who used to treat Nell and she me why we decided to get a second busy dog. The question took me slightly by surprise and I didn’t have a good answer for her on the spot, but her question stuck with me so I thought I’d write about it.

First of all, I need to address the loaded nature of her question. It’s possible that her tone of voice was not entirely intentional, but the fact that she thought to ask that question, in that way reveals something of her own preferences for dogs which is interesting in itself. And fair enough – intense, active working dogs are like marmite and you either love them or hate them.

I’ll start with all the reasons why someone might not want another one of the same after already having “a Nell” but in a nutshell, a working dog is a lot of work – for the owner.

Exercise requirements: she is very active and in order to be happy, she needs a lot of exercise – to the point of being an amateur athlete. This also means there is an increased responsibility for the owner to support the dog’s wellbeing with the right nutrition and some kind of understanding of how to keep the dog fit in a holistic way. For Nell, that means high quality food (now raw diet), and her walks are often pentathlons that include multiple activities (fetching balls, retrieving/searching for dummies, sniffing, swimming and jumping on logs etc.). She runs up and down hills to exercise different muscle groups, jumps over and walks on tree trunks to maintain her core balance and swims regularly to boost the exercise without strain on joints.

All this is demanding for an owner – a simple walk around the park will not do, and she needs a solid, active hour daily to stay happy and for her humans to stay sane.

toy stack

This pile, filled with some treats in each and hidden around a flat, keeps Nell busy for 30min in which time she finds them all AND solves them.

Intense mind: not only does she need lots of exercise, she also requires a lot of mental stimulation. A mind that moves fast gets bored easily, and a bored dog means only one thing: trouble.

I often read the instructions for various dog brain work exercises they suggest you teach the dog in stages how to use the toy so that they don’t get frustrated. No need – I can give most toys to her and she’ll figure it out instantly. Activity toys that say “hours of fun” often last only minutes with Nell because she throws herself into the game so intensely. Again, a lot of work for the owner – sometimes life with Nell has felt like it’s a part time job to keep her busy.

So yeah, why on earth would we want another one of the same if it’s that hard?

funny face.PNG

Cheeky monkey

Because once you get used to and learn to love the crazy and the busy, that is your new baseline for a dog, and dogs that are less intense just seem to be missing something. Of course, they are not missing anything – it is the busy doggies who have dog-ness in excess supply – but going back to a “normal” dog seems… boring.

And of course, the flipside of the coin is that working cockers are incredibly affectionate, loving and playful dogs with a touch of cheekiness that will make you swear and then laugh – daily! Morning cuddles are a regular feature of our family life, accompanied by a shower of enthusiastic doggy kisses.

ready for adventure

Ready for action!

Although separation anxiety can be an issue with these velcro dogs, the upside of a handler-focused dog is that I rarely need to worry about them wandering off (they usually stick close to humans) and the attachment to humans makes them eager to please and train.

High energy levels mean Nell is always ready for adventures, a trait that is common for her breed. On our road trips, she can do an hour at a beach, and only needs a short recharge in the car before she is ready to go again. The intense energy also means she is ready to work at the drop of a hat and doesn’t need much effort from me to get her excited or motivated in a detection class – she is already raring to go, I just need to guide her. The fast and curious mind results in some ingenious and creative doggy problem solving in every day life – from hunting down chocolate in the long-forgotten handbag I stashed in a corner to opening the garden gate leading to our jetty, Nell’s inventiveness keeps us on our toes and lets us marvel at the complexities of the canine mind. And I wouldn’t have it any other way!

One crucial consideration was Nell and her needs because she was here first. Non-sporting/working breeds have a different level of energy and a mismatch would create problems for all of us – when one dog needs much more than another, someone always has to compromise. We also wanted to have a dog that would enjoy similar activities to her because even among gun dogs there is huge variability in what a good, rich and fulfilling life means to them. Gordon setters, for example, enjoy long distance running (not very compatible with a dog who prefers exploring bushes), and gun dogs that specialise in prey like rabbits won’t be as crazy about swimming as Nell. So it had to be another half-otter that runs in bushes with nose trailing the ground.

I guess the most fundamental reason is that I feel like I understand these dogs because my own ADHD mind also feels strongly, works fast, and gets both bored and excited easily. I understand their intense hyperfocus on whatever they are interested in, and their tireless curiosity and pursuit of mental stimulation. I love their sense of adventure because I like to be spontaneous – try new things and see new places. They are, in some ways, a canine version of me.

And that is why we got another busy dog.

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I'm bored now mummy 😐

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