Last Tuesday on our time off we went on a little trip to the Valley park during the day. The last time we had visited here it was super busy as we went during the weekend so this visit was much more peaceful and relaxing.
We had a dander around the pond, checked out the little monuments around the park and just had a chilled out walk with no rushing.
When we got back to the car we still had plenty of treats in our treat bag, water for us and Bonnie and we had packed some sandwiches so we thought while we’re out why not stop along at Hazelbank park to have a walk and a picnic as we had nowhere to be or no errands to run!
We love Hazelbank park, it’s situated on the banks of Belfast lough and has lovely views. It’s quickly becoming one of our favourite spots and Bonnie is getting pretty used to it so can go off lead in certain spots which is great. We had a walk around the park, met another collie and it’s owner then settled back in beside the car park to have our little picnic. After we ate I did some trick training and just playing around with Bonnie which was a blast (You can see the video over on this post).
It was such a nice outing and we really enjoyed ourselves just living in the moment and not having to worry about rushing back home to get errands or work done. We ended up being out around 3 or so hours and I was so impressed with Bonnie – she really did behave brilliantly and she had a load of fun sniffing about, exploring, training and playing. We also made sure that she had some downtime while we ate and had plenty of water but she handled it like a champ!
It was a lovely walk as the weather was perfect, it was really quiet and the views are gorgeous.
I wore the Hurtta Hiker belt and used both the Hurtta training leash (reviewed here) and a cheap 10m long line. Bonnie wore her Palisades harness without the saddlebags as it would’ve been a bit too far as we are still building up endurance on shorter walks. I also made sure to pack water (for all of us) and her water bowl for breaks as we walked.
The forest had changed a lot since I last visited – it was very overgrown, there weren’t really any streams like last time and so many trees and their roots had been overturned from the wind but it’s still a beautiful forest and it was lovely to amble about and soak it all in. She got to have plenty of time “off leash” aka dragging the long line which let us capture what I think is one of Bonnie’s best photos of her recalling xD
Hehe what a little goofball! Needless to say we were all tired out from our fun adventure and maybe next time we won’t leave it for so long!
On Saturday we went to a rally against BSL (Breed specific law). Recently a dog has been falsely impounded as a pitbull which is a banned breed in Northern Ireland and being threatened to be PTS as a dangerous dog, the dog in question is a staffy lab cross if I recall and is a danger to no one, it’s absolutely heartbreaking and the family are trying their best to get Hank back. If you want to find out more check out this facebook page they set up – Save Hank.
The rally was held in Belfast City Centre and I set off with Bonnie in tow, with a lot of high value treats and the expectation that we would not be able to stay long because of Bonnie being overstimulated. But again Bonnie has completely exceeded our expectations, she honestly seems like a different dog these days! She was able to walk around a crowded area without pulling towards or trying to jump on people which is seriously impressive for Bonnie as she usually wants to greet everyone to be reassured. She only got excited at people who came over to specifically greet her.
She was able to settle and just watch as the world went past without whining or getting frustrated. And seriously guys get this, I sooo wish I was able to capture it on camera but I was so busy reinforcing Bonnie, she was fantastic with the pigeons. As with most city centres there were quite a few pigeons around doing their own thing and Bonnie hates pigeons, she has huge drive to chase birds in general. Now don’t get me wrong she still wanted to chase them and would if I let her, she was pretty fixated and did try to lunge maybe two or three times but that was when they got really close, maybe 2 metres away, and suddenly flew away which activated her chase instinct. But I could give her treats – she was able to turn her head away from pigeons that were maybe only 3-5 metres away and actually eat the treats. Also no whining or barking from her! Seriously who abducted Bonnie and took her place haha.
In other news, today I decided to gear up and do a first outing with the Hurtta hiking belt and the Ruffwear palisades harness.
We went our usual route up the glen near our house and had such a lovely walk, the weather was so beautiful which was great as it had been so horrid with rain lately. She was excellent walking pasting other people and 2 dogs we encountered, and had a ball exploring and sniffing everything as usual 🙂
First impressions of the hiking belt and harness are great, so far they both get a big thumbs up from me! I can’t wait to test them out more, any excuse for more adventures with my bestie ❤
We have disappeared a bit from the blogging world but we have been concentrating a lot on building our bond back up with Bonnie and just having fun with her! I wanted to share how well Bonnie is getting on and that it seems what we’re doing must be working whether it’s a single factor or combination of them.
On Saturday I decided to take Bonnie up into the glen with her long line trailing behind her to give her a chance to explore and be herself as we had been doing a lot of on lead walks recently. Although we haven’t practised being off lead in a while she was fantastic! She had a blast trotting ahead, exploring and sniffing, and came back every time I called her. She was enthusiastically running to me as she knew she was getting treats and then getting to go explore again which is her highest value reward.
In the video below you can see how she is just in her element exploring and loving life, we definitely need to do this more often!
Then on Sunday we decided to try her out at the Waggy Woodland Walk in Stormont park which was a doggy event to raise money for Cancer Research NI as it’s a cause very close to my heart. We loaded up our treat bag to make sure we had enough treats to reinforce her good behaviour and came fully prepared to leave at any time if we thought Bonnie wasn’t coping well. We have also been to the park before and so we knew that there is plenty of space which we could use to increase distance if she couldn’t cope well being close to all the action.
First of all we registered and went on the 2k walk around the park then we came back to the main area where the stalls and events were happening. She totally rocked it as even though she was super excited to get attention from people (the stewards were coming around to pet her and give her treats) she started showing excellent impulse control by instead of jumping up (we told the people not to reward her while jumping which like 9/10 people followed I was so impressed!) she would sit or lie down and wiggle her whole body in excitement instead XD
She also met a few doggies that she had polite sniffs with and disengaged appropriately without much intervention on my part. I just made sure that she wanted to initiate the contact and that the other dog and owner was happy with it too. I made sure to stay relaxed and praise her for her polite interactions, I was so proud as she even sniffed a great dane which was a first for her and she wasn’t worried about his size at all!
After watching demonstrations of agility and flyball we were able to go into the ring and have a go at agility and rally obedience which was super fun! We had never done rally obedience before and the trainer walked us through it and she was really lovely, it’s a shame that her classes are so far away from us!
We purchased some treats from Pawfect Doggie Treats, we got a dried duck neck, 2 black pudding sausages, 2 venison sausages and a bag of “spaghetti” which is dried pig intestines! We also got some freebies from the events – a slip lead, a sample bag of Burns puppy food, a water bottle for each of us and some big bone biscuits for Bonnie.
We decided to leave after trying out the agility and rally obedience because we could see that she was getting tired so we didn't want to keep her out to the end of the event and potentially ruin the positive experiences she had. I was just in total awe of how she performed, she was fantastic and we went hoping for the best and believing in her but fully prepared to leave at any time even if it was just 5 minutes in but she thrived for about 3 hours in total! Don't get me wrong it was a lot of management and effort on our part as I was nearly constantly reinforcing her either with pets, praise, treats or walking away a bit from the action to give her a break and a sniff about but she was happy and wasn't showing any real signs of stress like lip licking or panting etc, she just seemed like a well rounded dog – even the dog trainer was wondering why she had a training bandanna on for 😀
Next post will be covering our first agility class so this week was very exciting for us!
This week was such a fun week for us, we had our first holiday from work since the beginning of the year and had a long weekend off. We travelled down to Dublin zoo and although we drove through really terrible weather it turned out to be warm and clear when we arrived thankfully! We really enjoyed it, some of the enclosures were really well designed, none of the animals seemed to be suffering from boredom, pacing etc and their conservation work was pretty impressive.
They had a big variety of animals, a lot of which I had never seen before. Our favourites were probably the penguins, the sea lions, the hippo in it’s swimming pool and the painted dogs.
Now onto the dog part of this blog! Since Bonnie’s training has been going so well recently we decided to take a short trip to Loughshore again and try to do some focus work to keep her from being overstimulated (she finds large open spaces especially with water nearby a bit difficult to deal with as she becomes hyper-vigilant).
Overall she done pretty well, it was wet out so there wasn’t many people or dogs to distract her, but a bird did catch her eye which we used in our favour and treated her when she disengaged from it. She has trouble relaxing outside so in addition to loose lead walking and focus work we also practised stopping on our walk. We stood about just chatting and took a seat on a bench for a few minutes while feeding her for being calm.
On another day we took a trip to Carrickfergus Castle nearby and did some more of the same training. She did really well as although she started somewhat distracted and nervous, we had a bit of a play about at the green – running about, practising recall and a good roll in the grass later she seemed much more settled and confident.
I’m so happy that our training is coming along well now, I’m starting to feel a bit more confident in my abilities and hoping I can keep on improving in future!
On a bit of a lighter note, may I present to you the newly knighted Sir/Lady? Bonnie xD
We had so much fun posing with the sword and Bonnie is becoming so confident with long objects being held in our hands (she used to cower previously the poor thing 😦 )
She loves to do jumps with them 🙂 Hopefully some day I’ll be a good enough trainer to do proper agility with her as she seems to love our “mock” agility that we do!
Again this week wasn’t too eventful for Bonnie as we have just been concentrating on training around our day to day walks rather than going to new places which makes it a bit boring for the blog but a lot better for our training. The weather has been really warm and sunny this week so we’ve been avoiding mid day for our walks so it’s not too hot for Bonnie.
We have seen a massive improvement on focus around people and other dogs which was always something we struggled with as she’s a bit of a frustrated greeter usually. We are also making brilliant progress on loose lead walking too, we were using a flexi lead before as she seemed to have lost confidence on our normal lead probably due to some bad experiences she had on it. But recently we have had great success with her Hurrta lead now (reviewed here) and she can walk past other dogs confidently while on it and her pulling (which was never too bad but annoying when there was a really interesting smell or people ahead) has eased off considerably since we started consistently turning around and walking the other way for a few paces once she pulls. We still use her flexi when in wooded areas to give more freedom – still need to get a new long line!
Bonnie started a new behaviour this week – she started offering her paw to get her nails clipped. It was really nice to see that she was so comfortable with it. Unfortunately it took a turn for the worse as she must have flexed her nails when I was clipping them as it hit the quick, she gave a massive yelp and there was blood everywhere. We rushed to get the cornflour to stop the bleeding, I felt so bad but she didn’t hold it against me at all and wasn’t scared of me or the nail clippers which was a big relief as sometimes bad experiences imprint on her.
We’ve been working on improving her confidence with strange objects as she is usually scared of people holding things like sticks or anything like that. As we are part of a reenactment group we recently got (blunted) swords and so we have been using them to desensitise and counter condition with lots of tasty treats. As you can see in the photos she just got bored and was like who cares, where’s my treat xD
Since we hadn’t really taken many photos this week I decided to take a bunch while on our walk on Saturday.
This is our favourite place to walk of all time, I really must do a separate post some time showing all the different scenery as there’s load of different paths to take, it’s usually pretty quiet and it’s just so beautiful – especially now that it’s dried up and Bonnie doesn’t come out covered in mud anymore!
This week was one of those long weeks that just dragged so I’m just glad we made it to the end in one piece!
During the week Bonnie received a parcel in the post, we had entered her into another competition over at the Support Adoption For Pets Facebook page. She didn’t win one of the main prizes which was a puzzle toy but everyone who entered won a runner up toy which was very kind of them.
The toy is hilarious looking, its like a Christmas rooster but with leopard print undies/shorts for some reason haha but Bonnie seems to like it anyway!
This week we have done a ton of training with Bonnie. First of all on the fun side of things we have continued training the “kiss” trick along with adding a hug. It’s for a bit of fun but I’m hoping it will also be useful for increasing tolerance of people being up in her face as many people hug and squeeze and kiss a dog’s heads without realising the dog is uncomfortable.
We also worked on desensitising her to the dogs next door as she has become increasingly reactive and it’s time we started working seriously on it before it gets out of hand.
As you can see in the video at the start she just wants to bolt out the door and if she was off lead she would run to the fence beside where the dogs are kept (2 big lovely German Shepherds kept in a 6×4 ft pen 24/7 😦 ) and start whining and bouncing around then run madly about the garden. I’m hoping to make enough process so that we can return to doing some fun agility in the garden.
Also during the week I walked back into town to the street where Bonnie freaked out over the pigeons for some training. There was no pigeons about but she was clearly trying to look for them so I walked her to just below her threshold, let her look down the street a bit and then clicked and treated while moving backwards so we could repeat the process. I think we will work on this a few times a week now to really try and improve her threshold.
Yesterday (Saturday) we took her to Loughshore park nearby as we went 2 weeks ago and we had a brilliant time but this visit was a total disaster. There were loads of off lead dogs, children, the dreaded birds and other distractions and she was just totally overstimulated. I tried my best to regain her attention but eventually lost my temper. I was so disappointed that I lost my temper because it did nothing to improve the situation, in fact it just made it worse so we went back to the car and left.
I never meant to purposively “flood” Bonnie but I will do my best not to in future and more importantly I will never lose my temper with her again as it’s my fault if she “misbehaves” because it means I set her up for failure whether it was accidental or not. In fact today we went back to the park again and only made it about 30ft from the car as we spent over an hour systematically desensitising and preventing her from becoming over excited. We even broke it down to turning off the engine, taking off seatbelts, opening car doors etc so that she would never become overexcited and would relax before each big step in her eyes no matter how trivial it was for us.
Whenever we finally made it out of the car she was offering loads of eye contact, brilliant behaviour and much improved body language so making that extra effort to de-escalate her excitement in the car and exiting it really made such a huge difference. We are going to continue to do this and slowly increase the distance that we can travel from the car.
I need to remember that we want to change her behaviour and most importantly her emotional response so we can have a wonderful next 10, 15, hopefully more, years together and that’s not going to change overnight or without some elbow grease or learning pains during the way. She is worth that work and effort without a doubt though ❤
Last Sunday we went on an adventure to Three Mile Water Park nearby with Bonnie as we have never been before. It was quite busy as it was good weather so we kept running into other people and their dogs but nothing untoward happened thankfully. We had Bonnie on the long line, as I was determined to figure out how to use it properly rather than relying on the flexi lead all the time. It went well enough, I need to hone my technique but it was a great way of giving her more freedom without worrying about her blowing off her recall or getting into trouble.
Plenty to sniff
We found a little waterfall
Having a little paddle
Recall amongst the daffodils
We definitely will be back as it was a lovely walk and Bonnie really enjoyed herself, the river is especially handy for getting any muck off her!
Most days we use Bonnie’s dinner for training whether it’s used during a walk, trick training, impulse control or for desensitisation and handling. So this week we have made some more progress on her sit pretty trick, she can now hold the position without the lure or treats being right beside her
She has also become really relaxed at getting her nails clipped and filed. She used to only tolerate it with the use of peanut butter but since we started using the “bucket game” she has learned that she’s in control of what happens so is more confident. As you can see in the video when she pulls away I stop and I only continue when she is on her side again indicating she is ready for more, she knows that I won’t continue to stress her and will only go at her pace.
Also for a giggle I began to teach her to “kiss” xD She doesn’t actually lick us when she does it, it’s just a nose target to our mouth but I thought it was cute.
On Saturday (yesterday) we went to The Ark Open Farm for a visit and it was good fun to see all the animals. I particularly enjoyed seeing the duck pond and totally fell in love with the mandarin ducks so think those are at the top of the list for when we get our house!
The baby goats were so funny
The reindeer’s antler were still covered in fur, lovely to see
Me and my wee lamb
Mandarin ducks ❤
After we came back from the farm I took Bonnie on a walk into town and because she was behaving so well and the weather was so nice I decided to stop off at the pub and have a little drink outside with her. I couldn’t believe how well she behaved, she was settled and nothing phased her – people, kids running past, skateboarders, cyclists, other dogs – that is until her enemies, the pigeons, turned up. Then it all went a bit downhill as she started fixating and whining. I was so embarrassed, not for her behaving “badly” but in case people thought I was some alcoholic making my dog so bored waiting outside a bar haha
I recently found this group Pack of Paws Belfast Dog Walking Club on Facebook and was really interested in the idea as it was a way for dogs and their owners to meet up for walks, talk about all things dogs and find new places to go for walks and trips out.
We went to the walk in Ballybolley forest near Ballynure and met up with 2 other dogs and their owners (Pixie a german shepherd and Bear a bernese mountain dog). Bonnie was really excited to meet the others and was soon off the lead happily exploring.
Bonnie had a load of fun playing chasies with Pixie and jumping in and out of the streams alongside the paths. I really liked that it was a nice big area to let the dogs off lead and it was fairly quiet – only coming across a few other people and dogs.
All our training with Bonnie seems to have paid off as whenever she was quite far ahead and went off the path out of sight I panicked a bit and called her to me. It was so amazing to see her running full sprint towards me, was very proud of her and all our training together.
Needless to say with all the running in streams and mud a bath was badly needed after!
Overall we both really enjoyed ourselves and have plans to go back!
I nearly lost my way getting there so I’ve included the map below:
Where’s your favourite place for a trip out with your doggy?