Ever since we quit our agility classes, detailed over in this post, we have been doing our own little agility training at home. I am a complete amateur at agility training and we haven’t been practising much so we haven’t made great progress but I thought it would be fun to update regularly, maybe monthly, to show how we are getting on and so I can track our progress too.
We have some jumps, weave poles in the form of bamboo sticks pushed into the ground and a tunnel chute. We practised doing “rounds” over the jump which is turning to the right after the jump, “through” the tunnel chute and luring around the weaves. Afterwards I watched a video using the 2×2 method of teaching the weave so I think I will try that in future as we didn’t have much success with luring. But anyway here are some videos of our (very basic) progress:
She has made great progress with the chute as she can now run through the full length of it confidently and she’s very eager to do the jumps which I’m so happy about – perfect start stays can come later! Finally for a laugh here are some animations of very much failed attempts, this is what most of our training sessions look like as I’m trying to figure out what I’m doing wrong!
I may not be great at this and look and sound a bit of an eejit (irish form of idiot for those who are wondering xD) as I haven’t a clue, but we are having fun together and it’s great mental and physical stimulation for Bonnie so what more can you ask for 🙂
This weekend we decided to go to a Bark in the Park event at Crawfordsburn county park and see how Bonnie would get on since she was so great at the Cancer Focus NI event at Stormont. When we arrived at the car park the place was totally packed! We drove slowly around looking for a parking spot and had to brake as a Yorkshire Terrier ran out in front of our car, some woman was unloading her car and let the dogs out with no leads on! The one we nearly ran over was zooming all over the place, the woman wasn’t even properly trying to get it back – it clearly had no recall and it flinched when she reached for it’s collar 😦 It was a bit of a nightmare and we should’ve took it as a sign of things to come!
When we arrived at the event area we immediately knew this wasn’t going to be a suitable event for Bonnie. At the event at Stormont the stalls were well spaced out and there was plenty of room to move away if Bonnie got uncomfortable but this event was soo packed. The stalls were very close, the paths were narrow, the dog show ring was absolutely dreadful and there was very little green space left clear except where we stood on the outskirts. They had opened up the centre to dogs with stalls inside which was way too close quarters for dogs to be walking through – some of the aisles between stands were about 2 people wide!
I left Bonnie with my partner to go and explore the event as there was no way I was putting her through all that stress as it was so busy and while there were a few dogs having the time of their lives (Goldens loving on all the fuss etc) many dogs were stressed out giving signals that were missed by their owners as they were so busy looking around them and not paying any attention to their dogs. Also gotta love the parents who weren’t looking after their child who ran up to Bonnie out of nowhere while she was sniffing and tried to pet her, I had to stand in front of Bonnie and tell the kid to stop. The kid just huffed and walked away, and she was still without her parents about an hour and a half later when we were leaving, unbelievable!
Although Bonnie wasn’t able to properly go into the event we used it as a training exercise and gave her loads of treats and praise for being near all the noise and commotion of the event. And she didn’t leave empty handed, although she really does not need any more treats at the minute, I bought her a loaf of frozen liver cake and some chicken hearts from the Natural Raw Feeding NI stall.
Overall it really wasn’t an event for us and I was a bit disappointed. I understand that Bonnie is quite a sensitive dog and not the ideal candidate for going to these types of busy events but I believe if it was better laid out it would’ve been more suitable and catered to more dogs especially nervous or shy dogs. I feel like too many people believe events and places like dog parks, fields and walks should only be for only overly friendly, in your face and bombproof dogs but I personally think we should be more catering to all dogs whether they are shy, dog reactive etc. As I went around the event I could see other dogs were stressed and maybe the owners weren’t aware, were busy or didn’t care as they wanted to stick around for the events but personally I couldn’t put Bonnie into that situation.
It took a lot out of Bonnie and that was with just keeping on the outskirts of the event, she slept pretty much the rest of the day! Although this event wasn’t quite for us it won’t stop us from going to future ones and keep trying as we seen with the Stormont event Bonnie can rock them as long as there is some personal space and not too packed!
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 ❤
Yesterday was like Christmas come early as all the packages arrived at the same time! As I was opening all the packages I kinda thought to myself ummm how much did I buy?! It was super exciting though as we haven’t done any large purchases for the pets in quite a while so it feels good to be able to spoil them every once in a while 🙂
I’m just going to show what I ordered and not give any in-depth opinions on the items right now as I haven’t been able to use all of them or test them out properly, so I want to wait a while to be able to give a fair review in future once I’ve thoroughly tested them out. I’ll also leave the links of where I bought them in case you’re interested in trying out any items (All non affiliate links).
First of all here are the items from Amazon!
We got a bunch of new toys and treats as well as getting some more kongs for our collection. From left to right we got;
At first look the treats seem to be high quality, good value for money and should last us some time. We have tried the duck fillets before and highly rate them but the other two treats will be a first for us. The Tug-a-Jug seems quite interesting so I will update with how Bonnie gets on with it. I don’t know how Bonnie will react to the flirt pole so again I’ll let you guys know in a future update.
I forgot to include in the above picture but we also got this Kong Traxx Dog Toy Medium/Large . She has already had a little play with this and seems to enjoy it so far, she seems quite intrigued by it when we roll it along the floor for her.
I ordered these two items as I wanted to start doing some body conditioning work with Bonnie – first of all as another fun way of bonding and building confidence through training and also to help increase her overall fitness, core strength and balance. I thought this would help reduce Bonnie’s chance of injury as we start our agility training together because I am a total amateur! We will slowly work these into our routine.
I couldn’t leave out the degus so I ordered them some new bedding, new food as we want to switch them from their current food (Pets At Home brand), 3 woven balls for their play pen and a cat treat ball as it’s a perfect size for the degus.
I’m probably most excited about these items, I seriously can’t wait to try these out on our walks and build our way up to a full hiking day out! I will be building up Bonnie’s tolerance to the harness and the bags slowly as it is so different to what she is used to and it will take a while to build up her ability to carry extra weight. We had a little try on session and she didn’t seem to mind it too much which is promising! I’m really excited to try out the hiking belt so I can keep my hands free while out on our walks and it will be perfect for if we start canicross, bikejoring etc together (I’d really love to do the Couch to 5k program with Bonnie – just need to get off my butt and do it!)
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!
I recently posted about the trainer visit and what we thought were the “good points” to take away from our visit. In this post I’m going to cover what I think were the “bad points” from the visit. Again if this is how you train your dogs that is totally fine but just personally I believed the following points are not for us.
Although the trainer is a positive reinforcement trainer who uses treats for training and does not use or condone aversive training equipment such as choke chains etc he believes in dominance in dogs and that we need to be a leader above the dog – he condemns Cesar Millan as he doesn’t believe it needs to be done through force or intimidation but through utmost consistency and “rank reduction” which is covered in the following points below which I think is a bit bizarre and I don’t particularly agree with.
Not allowed on furniture or beds – this is a personal choice for many but I don’t think it has any impact on dogs “thinking they are above us” or whatever. I just think dogs like home comforts and being near their family. I like Bonnie cuddling up with us when we’re watching TV and early morning cuddles in bed before work.
Not allowed to give affection when the dog tries to initiate it – you should wait until it’s moving away then call it and give affection on your own terms. He recommend holding the collar while petting the head (what looked like pretty forcefully) and keep giving affection until you deem finished even if the dog tries to pull away. We tried this once each and was super uncomfortable with it and stopped. We don’t want to stop her moving away if shes uncomfortable, after all that would just be disrespecting her signs of discomfort and ruin her trust in us to keep her feeling safe and comfortable. Also I don’t want Bonnie to give up and stop trying to initiate affection on her own terms, I want her to feel comfortable approaching us when she needs to be comforted.
Always eat before giving Bonnie her meals – prepare her meal and show that it’s ready and then sort ourselves out first. I don’t really think this is necessary, sometimes we do this anyway but on some days when we come back from work starving we prepare our dinner first, other times, usually in the morning, we give her meal first to keep her occupied while we get ourselves ready.
Don’t let her eat in peace and always change where you fed her. He suggests petting her and moving her bowl and food while eating to prevent bowl aggression but I actually think this is far more damaging and more likely to cause bowl guarding and food aggression. I think a dog should be left to eat in peace, after all she doesn’t come over and paw at us while we eat dinner or pull the plate away from us.
Don’t let her walk through doors first or go ahead of us when going up or down stairs. Again I don’t think this is a big deal, we always go out the front and back door to the house first but that is for safety to check if any cats are nearby as Bonnie loves to chase them!
Besides these “rank reduction” techniques and some advice on crating, engagement games and advising the agility classes to mentally wear her out, we didn’t get really any personalised or tailored advice like how to deal with meeting other dogs on walks, how to help with her noise sensitivities through desensitisation etc.
So overall although we took some good points away from the visit we were left a bit frustrated at spending that money and a bit bewildered too as the advice above didn’t really get on with my beliefs and also he didn’t give us any real tangible or practical advice for real life scenarios that cause us difficulties. Like even if “rank reduction” techniques worked would that cure her sound sensitivity to vacuums etc? Somehow I don’t think so!
Anyway we are forging our own path with our training and trying to feel out what is best for Bonnie and keeps her most comfortable as even some positive reinforcement advice and techniques is aversive for Bonnie such as walking the opposite direction when the lead goes tight on walks. So hopefully we’ll do a post soon about what we have been trying out and how we are getting on! We have been having a lot of fun recently and taking things a little less seriously and doing our best to remember that she is not just her issues and that besides those she is a fun, cuddly and goofy little dog that’s a blast to have!
Bonnie having a chilled out rolling session in the grass, this is a big deal for us as it was somewhere a bit new for her and she eventually calmed to feel comfortable enough to do this! 😀
On Friday we went to see the trainer and I’ve just been letting things sink in before writing this post. I’m just going to be honest and say it was nothing like I expected and overall I’m kinda disappointed in spending the money on it. One of the best things that have come out of it though is that the trainer invited us to their agility classes which I’m looking forward to starting, as the other places I have contacted to do agility training have been not very helpful, not great at getting back in contact or had classes during our work hours.
The trainer gave us lots of different things to do and to be honest we tried following it for a day or so and some parts I just couldn’t get on board with and don’t believe in so we have chosen only some of the advice to follow as I’ll summarise below in what I think was the “good” and “bad” of what was said (other people may disagree, this is just my personal opinion – and yes I know the trainer is supposed to “know best” as they have been doing this for years and are very successful in obedience, agility etc but to me some things just didn’t feel right and I don’t want to have that kind of relationship with my dog)
The trainer acknowledged that there was indeed a problem and didn’t sugarcoat it – she took over an hour to settle down in the training centre while we chatted – she paced and wandered and tried to initiate contact with us only a handful of times – and even when she finally lay down, the smallest sound outside would cause her to get up and start her wandering again.
The trainer was annoyed that Bonnie was spayed early (at roughly 8 months) at the rescue centre, which I agree with – I personally think dogs should be neutered/spayed only after sexual maturity. First of all their hormones are needed to physically develop properly and also to avoid increased risk of some cancers, joint disorders and other physical issues. Secondly if a dog is already nervous or in a fear period then neutering,which takes away their hormones which helps with confidence, can cause severe anxiety, fear, sound phobias and even fear aggression. For more about risks of early neutering see here for a good basis for researching.
The trainer was impressed that we do lots of trick training to keep Bonnie mentally stimulated and with her focus and engagement with me while we demonstrated some tricks. He said he would help me make her into a fab agility dog after seeing her performing her tricks. He advised us to continue to do this and that “Train time is play time, Play time is train time” which I totally agree with as it’s important that the dog is actually having fun while doing training – it shouldn’t be a chore for either of us.
When we mentioned the nutracalm that the vet prescribed he introduced us to a more natural herbal alternative – CSJ Calm Down – and gave us one to take with us and said that we could pay later when we attend agility as he wanted Bonnie to start on it and give it a chance to take effect before coming back to classes. So far I think we have seen more of a settled nature from her since starting that whereas we hadn’t noticed anything different with the nutracalm. He also recommended an alternative to normal flea and tick treatment – CSJ Billy No Mates – which we will also start to use as I don’t like using so many chemicals on Bonnie on a monthly basis especially as it sometimes upsets her stomach.
He thinks that we should use our crate more to give her a chance to rest and recuperate which I can definitely agree with as after walks she can be a bit overstimulated and so it can take her a while to settle down on her own whereas in the crate she will settle down to rest almost immediately. He also says to use it more in situations where we would be likely to “nag” Bonnie such as telling her to constantly leave it as that will damage our bond over time.
We mentioned her ball guarding and how she isn’t really happy to give up her ball and he showed us how to do more engagement games with the ball so that she realises all the fun happens around us so that will be interesting to see how that works out as she would never play “fetch” of her own accord and would avoid us with the ball, as he put it – she has learned that all the fun and games happen away from us on her own accord and that its more fun to play keep away from us.
As this post is going to be super long if I include the “bad” points I’m going to do another post with those points and what some of our plans are for moving forward.
For a while now I have been thinking of making a nail filing board for Bonnie as a fun, stress free way of keeping her nails short and healthy – she already knows and loves her “dig” trick so I thought it would be an easy transition to get her to use the scratch board.
As far as DIY projects go this is as simple as it gets, which gets a thumbs up from me! All that’s needed is a bit of wood or other material that will stand up to your dog pawing against it, fine grit sandpaper ( not coarse as it would be too rough on their nails and pads -we used a 120 grit) and double sided tape or other adhesive. Simply stick the sandpaper to the wood and voilà your very own dog scratch board!
Of course it’s even easier when you have a doggy helper! As soon as I started taking photos Bonnie came over to pose and looked at me as if to say “I know this game now, where’s my treat?”
When we introduced it to her she pawed at it straight away so we were able to reward her and she kept offering it. Bonnie is used to offering behaviours as we do a lot of shaping in our clicker training but if your dog isn’t used to that or you haven’t done clicker training before you can always try to get them to give their paw so it hits the board, “good dog” and treat or alternatively, lure them with a treat so hold it close to their mouth then slowly pull it up so their paws end up on the board .
Bonnie soon got into it and was scratching like a pro, it seemed like she really enjoyed it as she was properly extending her nails out so maybe it fills some need for digging? If your dog likes to dig or scratch the grass after they use the bathroom then hopefully they should find this easy to get into and enjoy.
From our first session I’m really impressed with the results, after about 2 minutes her nails were much shorter and it took much less effort than nail clipping and then filing the rough edges. The only downsides is that it’s not really possible (for me anyway, a better trainer might disagree!) to use this for their back paws and also as the nails file down so fast it could end up hitting the quick, so check carefully to see that the nails aren’t getting too short or that they are not damaging their pads.
Overall I think it’s a brilliant way of keeping dogs nails short and healthy as well as being much less stressful for dogs, especially if they already have a fear of nail clippers.
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!