Watching dog behaviour, when you don’t have a dog

One of my fave dog walking spots

One of my fave dog walking spots

So our new house is a ten minute walk away from a beautiful country park, with lakes, woodland, open spaces…pure dog walking perfection! (Part of me is seriously considering taking on new clients, I just feel so at home there and I’d love for a couple of dogs to benefit from it too, but we still don’t know how long we’re staying here for). Usually when I’m in that kind of environment, I’m with a dog, so my focus is on him as well as the dogs around me. Now I’m without a dog, I find myself just watching them.

Now I don’t know whether it’s because I’ve taken a break from dogs that my ‘behaviour brain’ is taking over, but I’ve started to learn again. I ‘attended’ my second webinar by Sarah Whitehead recently, and have spotted a good illustrated body language book too. Sometimes I think not having a dog makes certain theories in dog behaviour clearer, as individuals can be so complex, your judgement becomes clouded when you keep referring to a particular dog in your mind. I’ve been thinking about how anthropomorphic we are with dogs too, and trying to understand why a dog would do such a thing rather than putting my own emotions upon them. In fact it has seemed a little easier, maybe because I don’t know them? Previously when I’d take on a new dog walking client for example, I’d be watching them, figuring out how they work. So why not try and read dogs in the park? How does he greet strangers? What do his vocalisations suggest? Is he nervous? What is his tail positioning? What commands do they have in place? Any signs of aggression? What are his play patterns? I’d really recommend it, especially switching off from your own dog, as there’s such a miscellany of behaviours you might see one that your dog doesn’t express very often, or even something that your dog does all the time, you just don’t notice it anymore. I’m sure you’d be surprised and inspired in some way.

Our new Country Park

Our new Country Park

Last week I watched a pair of inseparable Labradors in utter bliss in the water, and a couple of dainty little whippets hopped past too. Some things I’ve watched frustrate me, I’ve witnessed alot of people giving their dogs a ‘yank’ to correct them or allowing them to run to the end of their flexi lead and almost choke themselves *sigh*. But the majority has been nice, and our dog owning day will come…We have however, got a new family member, who I will introduce you all to soon! You can tell by the title of this post that he isn’t a dog, but he is asleep on my desk right now…

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Breakin’ the rules

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Today I am breakin’ the rules on my dog blog, to bring you a cat! But he’s so squishy and cute that I don’t think you’ll mind! Plus I’ll be talking about dog to cat introductions too. So this is Pilchard, the latest addition to my mum’s household.

He’s about four months old now, and has so much character! He loves to play, especially with the cat toys I make for my Etsy shop and he’s fascinated by the indoor rabbit he lives with. My mum keeps finding pieces of straw around the house that he’s stolen from the cage!

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This is Pilchard and Pebbles, my mum has another cat too. As for the dogs, they have always lived with cats, but introducing a new pet, especially a tiny fragile one, is always a big deal. They had short introductions, just a supervised 5 minutes or so, then the kitten would go back into the dining room to his bed and toys. My mum uses a baby gate to section off the dining room to give the kitten a bit of peace and quiet if he needs it.

Max seems to have a higher prey drive than Jess when it comes to small things. He gets excitable about wildlife on walks, and is generally harder to calm down. But Max was actually pretty chilled out. Both dogs wanted attention when we were holding the kitten, but once Max had seen him he was like ‘oh, another cat…’ Jess was much more intrigued and a bit more heavy handed. Not purposely, but when she sniffed Pilchard she would lift him off the ground on her nose!  The settling in period didn’t take long at all, and calm has been restored now, it’s as though Pilchard has been there all along.

Here’s a short but sweet video of Jess and Pilchard together. I just wanted to show a size comparison and how patient she can be, although just as intrigued herself!

Mind games, 3 in 1 puzzle toy by Dog it

Choosing a gift for someone who has everything is hard! Even if that someone is a dog! After doing some research at Christmas time, I ended up investing in the ‘Mind games 3 in 1 puzzle toy’, by ‘Dog it’ for Jess and Max. I set a budget of £20 and under, mainly because I’d spent enough already but also I noticed a lot of the puzzle toys out there were very similar in their function and logic, but just differed in their shape or material. For example, you could pay £24.99 for a toy with the same mechanics as a £4.99 one, but one was wooden and the other plastic. I paid £12.49 + free postage for my chosen toy and I suppose the main thing that appealed to me about it, was the fact it was 3 puzzles in 1 (in an attempt to get my moneys-worth!)

imageSo here it is, set up ready for the first and simplest puzzle. The dog has to lift/push the green caps to find their reward underneath.

imageThe green caps have a rim around them, which enables them to slot/click into place between the two white parts of the toy. This makes them slide around the board without lifting up, creating puzzle number two. It was actually my 12 year old brother that figured out how to slot them into place! I was (embarrassingly) baffled!

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Puzzle number three involves a sliding green disc, that the dog has push around to find their treat.

So how did we find it? Well this was Jess and Max’s first puzzle toy, so when I presented it to them both they had quite unimpressed expressions! With a little encouragement Jess was the most keen, which is always the case. She is highly food motivated, never gives up on a Kong and picks things up really quickly. Once she had the scent of the hidden roast chicken she whizzed through all three of the puzzles, although I’d say she found puzzle three the hardest to figure out at first. Here is Jess using puzzle three, I like how she uses her teeth to try and lift the disc!

Max on the other hand can be a fussy eater and he quickly loses interest in tasks such as training or emptying a Kong. He will just walk away, and this was the case with this toy. However, I have noticed he likes to eat alone and that he’s a slow eater. So maybe if he wasn’t so close to us with the puzzle toy (away from me and my camera) he would interact with it a little more, and wouldn’t feel under pressure to rush it. I also wonder if he finds things like this more difficult having a flat face/snout. Jess can nudge the disc with her nose whereas Max has to stick his full face in there! There may have been a little social learning too, as Max watched Jess complete the puzzle before having a go himself. Here he is using puzzle three:

Overall, I think the way both dogs interacted with the toy reflected their own personalities. It was pretty much what I would expect from them both. As for the toy itself, the plastic is sturdy, and it has suction pads on the bottom to prevent sliding (which I didn’t notice straight away). The fact that it’s three puzzles in one makes the price reasonable, in comparison to others. It does it’s job in providing a puzzle and something novel for the dog, and it’s cute to watch them pawing and figuring it out! But if you’re looking for a puzzle that takes a while to crack this one may not be the one, I think it’s a great starter puzzle though before moving onto something more advanced. I’m open to suggestions to modify/add to the toy if anyone has any ideas!

Celebrating dog milestones #1

rochdale mayors fete

Technically this post has two reasons to celebrate. The first being… I am on holiday! My first big holiday since starting my small biz, two years ago. But I suppose the second being the most important, and the focus of this post…

The first half of my holiday has taken me about 100 miles west, back home for a visit. Then the second half will be spent in Cyprus, not sure how many miles away that is! So on Sunday my mum and I visited the ‘Mayors Charity Country Fete’, which was about a twenty minute walk from her house. It was decided that a walk rather than a car ride would be best, so the dogs wouldn’t be so hyped up to arrive at such an event.

The fete held a dog & pony show, but whether we entered depended on Jess’ reaction/behaviour as we walked around. So far so good, so we headed to the registration booth. I suppose this was our first ‘test’ as it was a pretty small, enclosed area with lots of new people and dogs passing through. Jess did well.

We decided to enter Jess in ‘Golden oldie’ (which made me a little sad, but that’s a whole other post!) and ‘Prettiest girl’, with Max in ‘Waggiest tail’. Alas, we did not win, not a sausage, as my mum says! But without wanting to sound too ‘cliché’, it really was the ‘taking part that counts’ for Jess. As some of you may know she is nervous of new people/situations and her dog greeting is sometimes a little full on. We are fairly good at reading her signs of anxiety now, her avoidance and displacement behaviours, and have our usual explanation to new people. But she was near perfect on Sunday. My mum has been making an extra effort walking lately, and says she has learnt a lot more about Jess’ behaviour. Her dog ‘hellos’ were polite(ish), and the crowds didn’t seem to faze her. Our only ‘incidents’ were Jess backing away from the judge and her whining when I left her to enter Max’s class. One of the problems I’ve found entering dog shows is that the dogs start to get a little restless with all the waiting round, which Max did. I also admit I thought we had ‘Waggiest tail’ in the bag, I don’t know what went wrong! But I’m not bitter…

But on a serious note, I just felt so happy for Jess. Happy that she could enjoy the day without feeling too worried, and experience everything the same way everyone else did. We didn’t feel that we had to leave early, or separate ourselves from people or dogs. We’ve come a long way from having to cross the road to pass a stranger. A happy dog equals a happy human!

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