Smithvale Dog Centre Visit

We finally booked a session at Smithvale Dog Centre for today and it was amazing! I’ve been here before to help with classes and behavioural sessions but this was the first time me and my partner had been here with Bonnie and it was so much fun! She really enjoyed having the enclosed area to run about freely and was super at the obstacles, even the ones she hadn’t tried before!

I was so proud of her as not only was she great at learning how to do the obstacles but I was also able to use a tennis ball and her tug as both a lure and reward for her. This is a huge deal for us as she came to us not knowing how to play tug and was wary of taking anything from our hands so for her to enjoy it so much is amazing. I always hoped for a tug obsessed dog and she’s slowly getting there – dragging her around with her firmly clamped down on the tug is the funnest thing ever especially considering how gingerly she used to be with her mouth!










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Taggart’s Famous Liver Cake Review

I’m really excited to share one of our favourite treats and a secret weapon for high distraction training! Taggart’s Famous Liver Cake is made locally in Ballymena Northern Ireland from an innovative dog owner who practises reward based training and wanted to create a natural, healthy and high quality treat. I love that it is made locally and by a dog owner with similar ideals as regular readers will know I love to train using positive reinforcement and I’m always coming up with new things to work on with Bonnie.

The liver cake comes in 2 varieties;

  • Treat sized bag – cut into small chunks ready for training
  • Pre-sliced 1kg loaf

Both varieties are meant to be stored in the freezer until ready to defrost for use. It’s hard to miss their lovely branded freezers in store! As we like to do a lot of training with Bonnie we always have a loaf stocked in our freezer. Their products are stocked in independent pet shops and stockists can be found here.



We defrost slices in the fridge and then they can be used for up to 5 days after defrosting so is really convenient. My absolute favourite part of the loaf is once it’s defrosted it is so easy to cut up into whatever size of treats you want to use whether you want larger or smaller pieces. It’s also really easy to break up by hand when you’re on the go so really is a versatile treat!


To sum up the Taggart’s Famous Liver Cake range;


  • Healthy treat with good, real ingredients with no cheap junk fillers, additives or preservatives
  • High value treat – Bonnie loves it even in high distraction training scenarios
  • Soft texture which is easy for dogs to eat – great for rapid rewarding and repetitive training such as clicker training as less time is spent chewing
  • Get a lot of treats per loaf
  • Easy to cut and break into whatever size training treat you want to use
  • Made locally
  • Reasonably priced


  • If you wanted to be picky you could say that it needs defrosted before use but I will just chuck a slice into the fridge the day before a big trip out

Overall I cannot fault the product, both me and Bonnie love it and would highly recommend!

Taggart’s liver cake? I love that stuff!

Check out their website here and their Facebook page here.

Do you have any favourite dog products made locally? We are very lucky that more and more local dog products and services are popping up regularly and I can’t wait to try more out!

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Exciting News!

As you know from our blog posts I am really interested in all aspects of dog training whether it’s useful things such as loose lead walking, fun tricks to build your bond, behaviour modification to increase confidence and many other useful applications. I find dog behaviour and training utterly fascinating and I’m always trying to better myself to give Bonnie the best life I can. As my first dog Bonnie wasn’t necessarily the easiest dog I could’ve asked for but in return she has taught me first hand how to be a better dog owner and trainer which I am so grateful for!

So onto the exciting news – I have enrolled for a 10 week course “Better Dog Training and Behaviour Through Better Understanding” which is an accredited course to the OCNNI Level 3 (equivalent to an A Level) run by two respected Northern Ireland trainers Robin Bates and Sandra Gilliland.  It will look at all training methods to research and analyse but we will be using only positive training techniques practically which is the training method I prefer to use.

The course not only covers theory lessons and discussions but also covers practical sessions including running a class and creating a behavioural rehabilitation program. I am seriously so excited! I don’t know if I will ever get the opportunity to work with dogs in the future ( I do hope I can though!) but if I ever get the chance this will help begin my journey and if not it just means I personally have a better understanding for Bonnie and any dogs or foster dogs we have in future!

We have received the recommended reading list below so I’m going to try to start swotting up before the course starts on Monday 3rd October!

Bonnie helping me swot up – reading In Defence of Dogs

Recommended Reading List

  • Life Skills for Puppies: Helen Zulch and Daniel Mills
  • Dogs that Bite and Fight; David Ryan – Ordered
  • Choosing The Right Dog For You: Gwen Bailey
  • The APBC Book of Companion Animal Behaviour 3rd Edition: Edited by David Appleby.
  • How to Behave So your Dog Behaves: Dr Sophia Yin, DVM,MS – Ordered
  • Dogs: Raymond Coppinger and Laura Coppinger
  • Excel-Erated Learning: Pamela J. Reid Ph.D.
  • Don’t Shoot the Dog. Karen Pryor – Ordered and arrived
  • Genetics and the Social Behaviour of the dog: Scott and Fuller.
  • In Defence of Dogs: John Bradshaw. – Already have and currently reading
  • Decoding Your dog Debra Horwitz DVM and John Cirribassi DVM
  • Other end of the leash: Patricia J. McConnell. – Already have and read
  • How Dogs Learn: Mary R. Burch and Jon S. Bailey

In addition I ordered BAT 2.0 by Grisha Stewart as I have been wanting to learn more about BAT for a while now.

My small but growing dog training library!

I am really excited but also a bit nervous – after 14 years in the school system, 4 years at University then working full time I never though I would “return to study” so this will be interesting! I’m hoping I can keep up with the assignments and perform well in addition to a normal work week, looking after Bonnie and the 3 degus and running this blog. I’m sure it will be an interesting 10 weeks anyway!

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Blog Revamp

I am so excited to present my new and improved blog design! I have updated the background image, header image, menu options and to the side I have added a search button and a little section on me and Bonnie. The new design is best appreciated on a PC but I’m liking how it looks on mobile too. I’m using the theme Toujours and really enjoying how the blog design now feels much more personalised and “us”.

I have also tried to highlight two pages that may have not been noticed previously.

The first is the Dog Friendly Northern Ireland Map which is an interactive map of dog friendly places in Northern Ireland. I put a lot of research and time into creating this map so hopefully dog owners in Northern Ireland can plan trips out with their dogs and support local businesses that are dog friendly.

The second page is Bonnie’s Cues which covers all of the cues that Bonnie currently knows or is learning. This is to help us remember our cues, what they are used for and to track our progress in each one. It was fun writing all the cues out and realising how much she has learned, as when she first arrived home she barely knew sit or even her name!

I started off this blog on a bit of a whim but I’ve discovered how passionate I am about writing about our adventures and training progress with Bonnie. I’m so excited to continue posting about our adventures together and we have some fun posts coming up including some training videos, trips out, a very special review, some exciting news and of course Bonnie’s second gotcha day on Halloween!

Bonnie is super excited for things to come on the blog (no it hasn’t anything to do with the fact she’s surrounded by food – not at all!)

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Ballybolley Forest Hike

Back at the beginning of this blog Bonnie and I went for the first time to Ballybolley forest with the Pack of Paws Belfast Dog Walking Club (post here). As it’s fairly close by we decided another visit was long overdue!

It was a lovely walk as the weather was perfect, it was really quiet and the views are gorgeous.

Bonnie’s favourite way to start a hike – some treats (they’re for the energy right?!)
Struggling to untangle the long line as always!
What next?

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.

Me and my best buddy ❤ can see a bit of the scenery here but we didn't do it justice!
Overturned tree roots

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

Looks pretty normal right?
Think again – crazy border collie coming right for you!
And in motion!

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!

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Trip to the Bark in the Park event

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!

Inside area with stalls – was okay here but the side room was cramped
Very busy cafe patio – think we will come back here when it’s quieter!
Most dreadful show ring set up I’ve ever seen, was tiny – only 5-6 dogs should’ve been in at a time when they had at least twice that, was placed in a corner between 2 paths and 2 stalls so spectators and dogs were crammed near each other with others walking past constantly – way too stressful for most!
Bit quieter at this area with the agility in the background – unfortunately “that trainer” was there so we didn’t get a chance to try out the A Frame with Bonnie 😦


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!

Bit too close quarters for us – we’ll stay back here 🙂

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.

Can even see Bonnie’s tired face here – she’s working hard!

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!

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NI against BSL rally & first outing all geared up!

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.

So so impressed with this little cutie!
She loves to stick her little snout in everywhere lol here she’s peeking through the bridge to look at the birds on the river

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 ❤


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Week in Review – Post for Bonnie and lots of training

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.

Walking into town we pass this wall and at every gap she has to be nosy and poke her head through lol

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.

Bonnie happily swimming at Loughshore park 2 weeks ago

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.

Can I get out yet? We’ve been here ages!

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 ❤


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Week in review – new adventures & training

This week has been a pretty good week for us!

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.

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!

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

Here’s hoping to more great weeks like this!

The best part of working from home is Bonnie cuddles!

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Bonnie shows off some tricks!

I was recently inspired by the awesome Freestyle Heelwork to Music routines at Crufts and decided to video some of the tricks that Bonnie knows and some currently in progress. The video is unedited and isn’t the best but wanted to show off Bonnie being a smart cookie 🙂

This isn’t all of her tricks so will probably record some more in future and maybe even do some in-progress training videos like free-shaping, training on walks etc. I also made a page (Current Trick Roster) to keep track of her current & in progress tricks/cues.

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