My Dog Is Smart

Okay so I don’t know if he is smart at all. Sometimes he picks up a new trick in seconds, but sometimes he falls over and hits his head on things. He is frightened of bubble bath and the Metro Goldwyn-Mayer lion, but he can tell the difference between me getting ready to leave for work and getting ready to leave for a walk with him (the former makes him sulk)

Jokes aside, I think he is smart. He needs mental stimulation pretty regularly or he paces about and is generally irritating. While a good run in the park with other dogs or with his Kong Wubba is great, it’s nothing if it isn’t combined with some sniffing and thinking! I thought I would share with you guys how I mentally tire my dog and make sure he is mentally stimulated as well as physically. It’s taken a while to get the balance right but with these games, I can get away with skipping a walk if it’s really horrid outside as long as we spend some time doing some good hard ‘thinking’.

The ideas listed are all cheap or free. While Nina Ottoson toys are great, they are pricey and sometimes that has to wait until next months paycheque.

1. Find It!

This game is simple and easy, and great for rainy days. I ask Trevor to sit and stay in the kitchen (with the cue of ‘go hide!’) and I put about 5 treats in various places around my living room, then release with the cue ‘find it!’. He will spend a good half hour doing repetitions of this and his little nose goes crazy! Sniffing is a great calming exercise too so this game could be good for anxious or stressy dogs.

I trained it quite easily. At first I dropped a treat and said ‘find it!’ and clicked when he found it. Start simple so they can see where you drop it. I repeated this until he understood the game, and then started putting it behind things or on things, and eventually made sure he was out of sight when I was hiding the treats.

2. Box time!

This one is great if you have a delivery from Amazon. They tend to stuff their boxes with balls of paper etc. All I do is hide little treats and yummies in the box and let my dog go to town trying to find them. He often ends up wandering around the house with a box on his head…

3. Let your dog train himself

ANY training makes your dog think. If you can’t think of something to train, have a look into Operant Conditioning and let him teach himself. For example I will put some toys in the living room and sit down in the middle of them armed with clicker and treats, and wait and see what he does! If he picks up a toy for example, I will click, say ‘good!’ and treat, then wait and see if he does it again. If he does, then keep it up then bring in a cue. It is letting your dog make up his own behaviours and capturing them. Fun if you run out of ideas.

4. Shell Game

Have a look at this video. Essentially the shell game is a version of that game where there’s an object (in this case a treat) under a cup in a line of cups, your dog has to guess which one its in! It takes a bit of work to get to the point where you can play it efficiently. I learnt this the hard way and my dog has learnt to punch the cups and send them all flying to find his treat… So take it slow! Take the time to teach your dog the game.

5. Red light, Green light

I found this game really useful for my bouncy lunatic. He can get carried away and hasn’t got much impulse control, so we use it fairly often to reinforce that if he slows down, then he can speed up! It’s all self rewarding and great fun. Learn how to do it by watching this video. The general idea is to make a dog excited, then calm, then excited, then calm. You’ll teach them great impulse control and how to turn on and off on command.

These are the ones I do with my dog, but I am by no means an expert! What do you guys do? How do you make sure your pooches are mentally tired and not eating your sofa out of boredom?

My Dog Visits Action Petz

So we finally took the plunge and visited Action Petz in Cardiff. I have to admit I don’t like the idea of the place. I have voiced my concerns about it to friends and people I walk with and discussed it at length but I really couldn’t judge until I went along and saw for myself.

So what is Action Petz? Their website says;

Action Petz indoor dog play park and training centre is the first of its kind in the UK! We aim to make your pooches dreams come true! Action Petz…. Where dogs can run free, play, jump, learn, socialise and have the time of their lives in a completely secure indoor park. We absolutely promise that you won’t get rained on in our park and as for mud! Well there isn’t any, a big bonus in our book! For those fine weather days, there is also an outdoor dog play area.

So I got the on the bus with dog (and alternative walk in case it was terrible) in hand and we went to find out.

First impressions were its in a rough area of Cardiff. It is next to Cardiff Indoor Flea Market at the industrial estate end of Tremorfa.

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I walked in and was greeted by a friendly lady. She immediately said hello to my dog and me and made us feel welcome. I explained in detail Trevors issues around other dogs and explained to her that I wasn’t entirely sure it was the right place for him, but I was willing to try. She was actually very understanding and rather than letting us get on with it, she showed us around and told us more about herself, the centre and its regular visitors.

When you first go there you walk out to the open air bit at the back to encourage your dog to do a wee and a poo outside (of course Trevor waited until he was inside to do both of course…). The park does admittedly have a smell of dog wee about it which I found a little concerning. I don’t believe there is any specialist drainage to allow proper cleaning.

The park was empty bar one Shih Tsu that was more interested in plodding about on its own than Trevor (which suited him fine) so the helpful lady brought one of her daycare dogs in to meet Trevor. A lovely collie called Lacey who was matched to him perfectly. She was fast and enjoyed being chased and when she was tired would simply lie down, and Trevor would get the idea of ‘game over’ fast and wander off to do his own thing. He ran around with a trailing lead at first so I could grab him if needs be.

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The outdoor area

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Inside the park

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The equipment there is great, with lots to do. The outside area proved useful for Trevor to ‘cool off’ and he loved the agility kit. There are bottles of dog friendly disinfectant around the edges of the park to clean up if your dog does do a mess. One of my main concerns was the communal water bowls too, however I figure I should just take my own water for Trevor next time.

Pros

Fun
Staff are helpful
Coffee was good
Quiet on weekday mornings
Good equipment (agility etc)
Safe and secure
Dry

Cons

Didn’t seem that clean
I could see it be chaotic when busy
Sensory overload for the dogs
Rough area of Cardiff
Expensive (compared to a walk in the park)

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I have some issues with the hygiene within the place, and they say your dog has to be vaccinated yearly and mine will only be done every 3 years, which means after March I cannot go for two years. Hopefully this will change though as I would like to go back. Additionally while the staff were helpful and seemed knowledgeable, I don’t think they are qualified to care for that many dogs safely.

We stayed for two hours in total, Trevor socialised with about 8 dogs in total and I admit it, I enjoyed myself and so did my dog, and isn’t that what it’s all about? As long as other dog owners in the park are responsible for their dogs and don’t treat it like a free-for-all and leave their dog to cause havoc while they have a coffee, then it’s a different adventure if you’re bored of the local field.

My Dog Is A Professional Dog

Yes that’s right ladies and gents, my dog is a professional dog. He is a great dog. He is fully trained in the art of sniffing other dogs butts (and eyeballs, but don’t knock a guy for his fetish), qualified in finding the grossest thing to eat in a field, trained in galloping like a tit and falling over with NO grace.

My issue is people who say they are dog professionals.

Those who know me closely have no doubt heard my gripes about dog trainers, dog walkers, dog boarders and general dog ‘professionals’ who claim to have it all in spades and have nothing to back it up. I have spent many an hour having a good old rant about these people.

Here is the crux of it, would you take your dog to a vet that wasn’t qualified? Would you take your dog to a vet that said ‘I have years of experience!’ but had no police checks, insurance or relevant qualifications? No. Would you go and visit a therapist who claimed to be a ‘whisperer’ who could fix your problems fast, but had nothing to back that up but having read a few Freud books? Moreso nowadays we are seeing every man and his dog (literally) setting up a dog related business and trading as professionals. Did you know that the world of dog training in the UK is entirely UNGOVERNED? Anyone can set up as a trainer and claim to be a professional. That is frightening.

I have just this week handed in my notice at work because I want to work with dogs, so to start with I am going to become a dog walker for Pontcanna Dog Walking. I intend to train as a behaviourist while I walk dogs and gain as many qualifications as possible. I am currently studying a certificate in Animal Behaviour and Welfare, volunteer at Cardiff Dogs Home on weekends, have my own dog, am DBS (CRB/Police) checked, insured and fully vetted by the manager of PDW who is indeed a qualified professional and am doing my Dog First Aid course in a few weeks. I took steps to get all these accolades under my belt because I know if I wanted to hire a dog walker, these are the least I’d expect. You’re not just handing over the lead for someone to walk your dog around an field, you’re handing a complete stranger the keys to your home, access to your belongings and more importantly, complete responsibility for the creature that you probably love as much as I love mine.

It’s not just about the qualifications of the person you entrust with your pride and joy either, it’s about their attitudes, methods and inspirations. With celebrity dog trainers such as Cesar Milan promoting the ideology that you must be the ‘Calm Assertive Pack Leader’ of your dog, more and more people are jumping on the bandwagon of adopting these ‘training methods’ and declaring themselves a ‘whisperer’. Now this is a personal choice of course however I do not want wishy-washy terms like ‘whisperer’ to be anywhere near my dog. I don’t want anyone to be my dog’s master, pack leader or boss. I want someone who will teach my dog trust. My dog sits when I ask him to because I have taught him he will consistently get rewarded if he does. He comes when he is called because he trusts I am going to be kind to him when he reaches me. He trusts me to take food, treats and toys from him because he knows I will substitute it for something lovelier. I never hit my dog, never shout at him, never chastise or punish, and I don’t want someone who watched The Dog Whisperer walking or training my dog and shitting all over that hard work.

Whether your working with a dogs body (vets, walkers, daycare etc) or its mind (behaviourists, trainers etc) you should be as qualified as you can possibly be. Claiming to be an expert is misleading and has the potential to be disastrous. No longer is the hallmark of a professional a good website, a fancy logo and a good chat, you have to make the effort as a dog owner to really find out if that person you are letting into your dogs life is a good match for them and you.

Below is a handy checklist that I have put together so you can make sure you’re choosing the right professional for you and your dog, regardless of what service they are providing:

Do they share the same training/handling ideologies as you?
If they don’t share these ideologies, then walk away.

Are they DBS (CRB/police) checked?
Disclosure Scotland provides a full history check for just £25 and it usually turns up in a few days, so they should have one of these at the very least.

Are they insured?
While they are out walking, if they take their eyes off your dog and it is hurt, who foots the vets bill? You don’t want to be paying out £3000 to fix a broken leg because your walker was too busy texting their mates.

Are they qualified, or making steps to become qualified/accredited?
This is particularly important with trainers, behaviourists and vets (of course!) A walker as a minimum should be able to demonstrate confident dog handling skills and have some sort of first aid qualification in case of an accidentl

Do they have references?
You do NOT want your dog to be the guinea pig in someones ‘lets set a business up’ whim. Get references, and check they are real and not written by mates.

Do they seem right?
Often gut feeling says a lot. Remember how much you’re trusting this person with

Do they make wild claims to be a ‘whisperer’ or ‘pack leader’?
Marketing is clever, and terms like this are PURELY marketing gimmicks. Don’t fall for it. Ask for more references and research your own training methods, then find a trainer/behaviourist/walker that matches those.

I guess I wrote this because I am a bit alarmed by the people I see setting up and thinking they can fling a dog around a field for ten minutes and make a few quid, or those that will jab a dog in the ribs and go ‘tttsssk!’ and it will suddenly obey their command. More and more dogs are ending up in rescue because of poorly managed ‘professionals’. Watch who you choose! That said, kudos to those who work hard at what they do and are striving for professionalism and success. Those are the people you should give your money and your pride and joy to, not those with a fancy logo and a whimsical idea.

My Dog Is So Photogenic (pics post)

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Giant Smiles on the Taff Trail 🙂

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Hanging with his buddy Megs. Long lead on because of his inability to swim!

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Exhausted after adventures

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With his best friend Benji, a resident of Cardiff Dogs Home who has since been adopted. Very nearly took him home myself!IMG_3347

Even happily walking together

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Side eye…

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Walking with big brother Buster

My Dog Taught Me To Trust Him

Firstly, I have been so rubbish at blogging lately, so I apologise for that! Everything has been somewhat manic.

This particular post is an apology to my dog.

Trevor, I am sorry. I let you down a lot in the first few months I had you.

In the last few weeks we have made HUGE leaps forward with his reactivity towards other dogs. Initially he would pull on the lead, straining to get to the other dog and once he got there, he would snap at it. I hadn’t got a clue why this was happening! I asked on Facebook groups, I asked trainers, I read books, I talked to anyone who would listen but there was no rhyme or reason to dogs he would snap at and dogs he wouldn’t snap at. Off lead he was fine. Excitable, but fine! He didn’t bark at other dogs, didn’t growl, didn’t snarl, didn’t run away, just pulled like mad to get at them and seemingly snap them on the nose.

It has taken me 10 months of ownership but it hit me this week that I am the problem. Specifically my leash handling. I finally realised the consistent similarity between all negative dog interactions has been leash tension, so I have done an experiment which has challenged the trust I have for my dog. I only do it if I know the other dog and trust it and its owner, or if a situation is unavoidable (a loose dog running at us etc) but I drop the leash. I remove all tension from the situation, drop the leash, allow 3-5 seconds of sniffing hello, a cheery ‘Come on then!’ and Trevor turns away from the other dog to collect his reward for politely greeting. For a week now we haven’t had a single negative response from Trevor, and a few dogs have grumbled at him for being rude and he has listened. Finally we are getting somewhere and the socialisation he so desperately needs is now a positive experience, not a stressful one.

We have some work to do to ‘unteach’ this tension, but we are getting there. He will happily say hello to most dogs and even sits in the back of the car off leash with one of his friends now. Before if a dog approached I tried counter-conditioning, I tried BAT training, I tried flat out running away, but all of those things involved leash tension. So I taught him to walk on a loose lead, and if he walks on a loose lead, his reward is getting to greet the dog. I believe this is called the Premack principle. As a result, other dogs are now a positive experience!

We are still working on off leash excitement as he was evidently never taught what appropriate play is, but thats another hurdle. For now I am happy that my dog has taught me to trust him, but it took me 10 months to get there!

So I am sorry, Trevor for not trusting you more, and teaching you to be tense around other dogs

My Dog Is 10% Fairy

I have come to the conclusion that my dog is 90% tank and 10% fairy. He is an oaf and a delicate flower all encapsulated in one bandy legged idiot in (not much) fur.

Reasons my dog is a tank;

He punches holes in fences with his fat head. Seriously. He chased after a cat that was in the garden the other day and when said cat jumped over the fence, he ran straight through it into next doors garden, leaving a comical ‘Scooby Doo’ esque dog shaped hole in his wake.

He repeatedly headbutts things. He has a great habit of walking along and not looking where he is going and looking at more interesting things like trees and cars, turning around to look forward again and headbutting walls, posts, cars and trees. He is never phased by this, and usually merely blinks and carries on with his business.

He can’t have ‘normal’ dog toys as he will annihalate them within seconds. This just proves to be expensive after a while! A boomer ball and a bulls horn are his only toys now. Ever since he scattered the remains of a rubber chicken all over my house and garden I decided no more rubbish flimsy normal dog toys.

He has a nemesis and it is the BIGGEST dog in the local field. A huge brown dog that he hates with a passion to the point where I actively avoid that field because of this dog. It happened because said big brown dog barked repeatedly in Trevors face and he has had it in for him ever since. I do sometimes ask myself why he has to pick a fight with the biggest dog around….

At agility he shocked the professional agility coach with his pigheadedness. She advised we take everything very slowly (especially tunnels and see-saws) as they can frighten a lot of dogs unless introduced carefully. Not Trevor. Trevor chose to batter his way through the pretty coloured jumps and knock poles flying everywhere, run across the top of the tunnel, falling off and landing on his head, run back through the tunnel and skid out upside down before launching himself over the A frame at lightspeed eventually jumping on the see-saw with the kind of glee I expect a lunatic to feel upon asylum escape.

Reasons my dog is a fairy;

He hates having his toes touched. He snorts like a piggy and tries to chew my hands if I fiddle with his toes too much.

On the weekend I accidentally trod on one of his feet outside a Londis and (remember this dog headbutts walls and fences unphased) he squealed like an injured banshee, announcing to everyone within a twenty mile radius that I had savagely beaten him to within an inch of his life.

He got beaten up by a bichon frise. That bichon was called Candy, she was tiny and white and fluffy, she stood up on her hind legs and bopped him on the nose with both paws, and Trevor, being the fierce Staffordshire Bull Terrier he is, squeaked, tucked his tail and ran away.

He HATES being blown on. To the point of ridiculousness. Here his is hiding behind a pillow and looking at me as though to say ‘Why hoooooman? Why you do that?’

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So what about your dogs? Are they more tank, or more fairy?

My Dog Isn’t A Rescue Dog

He isn’t a rescue dog, and there is no such thing as a rescue dog.

Every single dog you see in a dog pound, in foster, behind bars and looking sad isn’t a rescue dog. This term puzzles me completely.

Most dogs in dog pounds are there through no fault of their own. Whether old lady down the road can’t look after her dog any more, or a crap owner deemed their dog too much hard work and dumped it somewhere, they aren’t ‘rescue dogs’ and they don’t walk around with a great big badge on their chests, proudly proclaiming they are different. That’s where my issue with the term ‘rescue’ lies. A rescue dog is still a dog, first and foremost. Every single dog in that dog pound down the road once lived in a home. Very rarely will you have a dog that has never been in a house before. Every single dog is still a pet, and still a loved pet, just waiting for new humans. It’s kind of like an interlude in their lives where they stay in kennels and wait, and this makes them no less ‘dog’. Is a child in an orphanage any less human because of where they are? No. So a dog is no less dog, and attributing a label like ‘rescue’ to it doesn’t actually mean anything. The only way I can explain this any clearer is to ask whether a homeless person once they have recovered from a bad part of their lives, should still be labeled as such?

Trevor came from a home, and when people find out they invariably ask me ‘oh, was he abused?’. This question bugs me endlessly, mostly because what does that even mean? He spins, he is an anxious dog, If I raise my hand he flinches and he squeals and runs backwards if he hears a car revving. This must mean he was beaten, right? I must have saved him from evil humans and their raised hands? Not necessarily. Every dog has an individual personality. In my dog training class there is a Spaniel who hates strangers and if someone approaches him he will duck and hide and shake, however he has been raised from a puppy in the same home, never beaten and never abused. He is just a bit shy and that is okay.

So take a look at these photos of Angel, Beau and Pepper. All of them are real ‘rescues’ at Cardiff Dogs Home currently. Which one was abused do you think? (Click on their pictures to go to their forum threads where you can see more pics and read all about them #shamelessplug)

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Ok so Angel undoubtably came to us in the worst state, but does it matter if she was abused or not? Should she be treated with anything else other than love, kindness and care? Same goes for beautiful giant Beau, and even teeny tiny Pepper. They are all dogs, have all lived in a home and have all found themselves homeless, and that doesn’t make them any less important, or even more important than any other dog. Angel is a gorgeous crossbreed (and thankfully considerably fatter now!), Beau is a huge Akita and Pepper is a tiny and friendly King Charles Spaniel. Dogs homes aren’t full of scruffy crossbreeds and vicious bullbreeds…! Two of these dogs that have found themselves homeless are purebred Kennel Club pedigrees!

I am not making light of those that have had horrific pasts. Thankfully those are few and far between, and the fantastic staff and volunteers at Friends of the Dogs, Wales make sure that they get the best care they need. When a dog arrives in a dogs home it is purely because he needs somewhere new to live. They get a fresh start the second they set foot in those kennels, and yes some are waiting longer than others, and some may find it harder to settle than others, but they are loved pets, waiting for the right person for them.
This leads me onto my final point. People that proudly declare their dog is a ‘rescue’ and that they ‘saved’ it. I am guilty of this certainly (just look at my blog name!) but I do not deem my dog to be better than others as he is a ‘rescue’. Nor do I think he is different to any other dog because of that accolade. Yes, he has some issues, but just like that shy spaniel in my dog classes, we work through them. I am not an altruistic human of immeasurable value because I chose the sad staffy at the dogs home. I didn’t ‘save’ him. I rehomed him for selfish reasons actually, I wanted a dog! My first and foremost reasoning for getting a dog was not to ‘save his life’ and nor should I, or anyone else, walk around being pious and arrogant about their supposed philanthropic nature.

That said, I would always advocate the saying if ‘Adopt don’t shop’. I know my journey so far with Trevor has been rather fraught at times, but Trevor has been a little harder work than most! I keep seeing photos lately of dogs that got taken to their new forever homes on sofas flat out asleep within hours of arriving, and I am envious of you!

Enjoy your dogs, whether bought, ‘rescued’ or bred at home. No matter where they came from they are wonderful, and you should love them with every bit of you.

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Seeing as that was all a bit serious, have a video of my lunatic boy getting the zoomies on Penarth beach today 🙂

Incoming thunderstorm + beach = mad dog with the zoomies!

A post shared by Life Of A Dog Trainer In Wales (@kahladogtrainer) on

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