Happy New Year!

We haven’t written on our blog for a while as leading up to Christmas everything got so busy, so I thought I would write this post as an update on life with Jessie!

Next week will be a year since we started training Jessie with Viv from Walkies in Norfolk. I honestly can’t believe where the time has gone but so incredibly proud of all Jessie has achieved.

I’m really good at always talking about what’s not going well or what we need to work on still so I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on all the things Jessie has achieved over the last year…

Firstly our awards! 🏅 We started training towards our Level 2 Pet Dog Ambassador award and we passed that in July, then went onto pass the Level 3 in October.

Through these award schemes Jessie has learnt so many beneficial life skills including door manners, car manners, waiting to be fed, calm handling, emergency stop and leave.

Loose lead walking was one of our priorities as Jessie used to pull us down the road! She started learning to walk with a loose lead, initially by working on position and focus. This has developed lots since then including opportunities for sniffing, walking in different environments, working with distractions and lots more! She now understands how to walk with a loose lead and can reposition herself as well as giving lots of focus in tricky environments.

Jessie’s recall has always been one of her strengths and we’ve trained a vocal recall as well as using a whistle. We have worked hard on focus and check ins using tasty treats that Jessie finds rewarding so she is keen to stay close by.

Over the year she has also learnt a lot of tricks some of which are very cute! She can do paw, roll over, meerkat, chin, touch, spin, in the middle, down and the one she perfected when she was a tiny puppy – the sit! 😂

Right at the start of training Jessie would never retrieve a ball. She would chase after it quite happily but would then get distracted and run off the other way! 🙈 But over the year we have worked with different toys, (her favourite is her Kong Dummy) as well as improving focus in distracting environments and now she will retrieve happily!

Jessie is a cockapoo but displays predominantly spaniel behaviours which means impulse control was vital for her to learn early on. We started to train a calm settle right at the start which means Jessie is now able to regulate her own behaviour, particularly well in the house, and will choose to lay down and relax of her own accord.

One of the most important things Jessie has learnt is how to socialise with other dogs politely! She attends regular training days with Viv which means she spends time playing and training with other dogs. This, along with other carefully organised puppy play dates, have made her well accustomed to the social etiquette of the dog world.

So, what’s next?

Well, there’s no time to stop now so we continue to train into 2020! Both myself and Jessie adore our weekly training sessions and all the practise we do in between (which is so important for progress)!

We are working towards achieving our Level 4 Pet Dog Ambassador award as well as working on refining position and focus when loose lead walking, continuing to reinforce check ins off lead in different environments and developing calmness when people visit our house. Of course we’re having lots of fun a long the way and including all our daily enrichment tasks and games which Jessie has got much better at over the last year. Oh and there’s always time to relax and have a snuggle too. ☺️

The value of toys and chews

We try to enrich Jessie’s life in a variety of ways including taking her to new places to walk, giving her lots of opportunities to sniff and feeding her using different methods other than a bowl!

But we also use toys and chews to keep Jessie interested and engaged with us, as well as to encourage her to have down time, which is as important to dogs as it is humans!

In the house, we keep all her toys either in her crate or her toy box and when she wants to play she will choose a toy and bring it to us. But if she wants to chill she will select her bone or antler and chew that for a while.

Jessie selecting her own toy from her toy box!

By providing her with these options, Jessie can choose the toy that she finds engaging at that time, on that particular day and as a result she plays willingly with it.

KONG Stretchezz Legz Bear

Also by allowing Jessie to use her toys in this way we have learnt what toys she is most interested in and if we want to buy her something new we know the type of toy that she is most likely to find rewarding. For example, she is not that keen on balls as other dogs but loves fluffy toys and toys she can chew such as Tesco Wagtastic Threads Crackle Toy.

However, if we are busy in the house then she is able to play happily by herself with any toy she wishes, as we have encouraged her to do this since she was a puppy.

Of course, Jessie has favourite toys that she plays with a lot but she will also choose to select ones she hasn’t played with a long time. Recently she has been playing with some of her puppy toys which are still in her box, which is great as she finds them engaging because she hasn’t played with them for a while!

She can’t tell me what she would like to play with obviously, so giving her the freedom to select her own toys makes her think about what she wants to do and what kind of play she is in the mood for! It also encourages her to be inquisitive, use her amazing sense of smell to find the toy she wants and explore the range of toys she has available to her! Hence, much more enriching than me telling her what she is going to play with!

As well as encouraging Jessie to select her own toys or chews we have worked hard to train calmness in the house. Therefore, she is able to regulate her behaviour at home now and can settle herself if we are busy, which has huge benefits of course, to her and us!

In relation to training, it’s important to say that we keep certain toys and chews separate that are only used for training or in specific situations. For example, her Tug-E-Nuff toys are used only at certain times as she finds them particularly rewarding. We also reserve the Yakers chews for when she is finding it difficult to be calm as these help her to do this.

There are toys we only use outside in the garden and there are toys we use for retrieval practise when out and about. However, we try to limit this as well to only throwing a few times so she doesn’t get bored. It’s about keeping it interesting all the time!

Every dog is different, of course, but for Jessie, this works. For other dogs it might be better to rotate their toys and chews so they don’t get fed up of the same ones. It’s always best to do what works for your dog, but one thing to remember is the value of toys and chews for dogs. They can be powerful tools in training all sorts of behaviours and shouldn’t be underestimated. The main thing is keep it interesting and keep your dog engaged!

Ditch the Bowl!

When we first got Jessie we would get up put her allowance of kibble in a bowl and she would wolf it down in seconds! Then we would repeat this in the evening.

However when we started training her we realised the importance of food and how valuable it is to Jessie! We could use it to train her but that meant stopping giving it to her for free!

For a long time now we haven’t fed Jessie using a bowl. This means she has to use her natural abilities to sniff and forage to find her food, providing her with a brain workout as well as lots of fun! She always has to work for her food and because that is rewarding for her, she is happy to do it.

She’s happy to train and as she’s often rewarded from my hand during training which has also contributed to the strong bond that is ever developing between us. This is so important, particularly off lead, as Jessie knows that I have all the good stuff (the food!) so she wants to be with me.

We use lots of ways to feed her which vary day to day, some of which we’ve made ourselves and others we have bought.

So here are some of the things we use!

Stuffed with peanut butter in this photo, but can be stuffed with a whole range of things!
Dog Training College have a great list of things to use as well as the Kong website too.
An egg box
Kibble scattered in an egg box! That simple!
Snuffle Mat
I made this myself using a 99p kitchen drainer mat from Morrisons and a fleece blanket from QD which I cut up into strips. Thread the strips through the holes and tie in double knots. Fill the whole mat and you have a DIY snuffle mat that you can fill with kibble or any treat! You can buy these ready made too.
Snuffle Basket
I made this myself too! I bought a 99p basket from Pound Stretcher and another fleece blanket for QD. I cut the blanket into strips again and threaded them from hole to hole, tying them in knots. When finished scatter kibble or treats into the basket for your dog to sniff out!
Aldi Dog Puzzle Toy
Scatter kibble or any treat in the holes. Jessie has to move the tubes to find her food!
Aldi and Lidl have lots of good dog toys including puzzle toys in their special aisles from time to time.
Unravel the Blanket
I love this activity! I scatter kibble in the blanket then roll it, continuing this process until the blanket is completely rolled. You dog has to unravel the blanket to find their food, sometimes you’ll need to start your dog off so they know what to do!
Puzzle Ball
Jessie took a while to learn how to use this but she’s got the hang of it now! She even worked out that if she puts her ball in her bed, she can roll it around the edges to get the food out more efficiently! 🤣 You fill the ball with dry food then the dog has to push it around to get the food to fall out – easy!
We tend to put peanut butter on Jessie’s Lickimat but you can put anything spreadable on it and then your dog licks it off! Simple!
Ice Cube Tray
Fill the gaps with kibble or other treats for your dog to get out.
Outward Hound Slow Feeder Bowl
Scatter your dog’s kibble in the bowl, it slows them down as they have to work out how to get their food out of the bowl. Also challenges their mind!
Northmate Green Slow Feeder
This slow feeder is supposed to replicate foraging in grass. Scatter the food on and let your dog sniff it out!
The simplest and cheapest way of feeding your dog without a bowl! Scatter the food in long grass and let them sniff it out! Also a good excuse not to cut the grass 🙈

I’m always looking for new ways of feeding Jessie her daily allowance of kibble without using a bowl, so this list is never ending really!

As well as all these things, we use her kibble for training too alongside lots of other food stuffs for different types of training. So I’m always careful to make sure she’s not being over fed and balance high value treats such as cheese, sausage and peanut butter with her kibble.

It’s always hard to change the way you feed your dog but the best way is to just be brave! Ditch the bowl and explore different ways to feed your dog, you’ll soon wonder why you ever used a bowl in the first place!

Stop and smell the roses (and lots of other things!)

Over the past week I’ve had difficulties walking Jessie. She’s been pulling, getting very agitated and been more distracted.

This was causing me to worry that I was doing something wrong, as however much I thought about it I couldn’t put my finger on a specific trigger that could have caused this behaviour.

I spoke to our dog trainer, Viv at Walkies and we organised an extra training session at the end of the week as I wasn’t sure what my next move should be to help Jessie. It wasn’t nice to see her so distressed.

So I went to our training session and firstly we discussed what the build up to this behaviour was and quickly I realised that we had had a very busy, exciting weekend previous to this. Jessie had been incredibly well behaved during the weekend but what I hadn’t taken into account is how much effort and energy this would have taken from her. Hence, she might have just been tired at the start of the week and it snowballed from there!

As time goes on it becomes clearer to me that Jessie is a dog that needs ‘days off’. She is full of energy and enthusiasm, but she also needs the odd day to rest and recuperate, especially if we’ve been really busy!

Anyway back to training! So we practised loose lead walking at the training field and Jessie did really well, but I’d never considered before how hard she works for me. Viv explained that it takes a lot of concentration for her to be as focused as she is, when she’s walking nicely on a lead and that I need to make sure I give her breaks. Basically dogs need to be given opportunities to sniff whilst on walks!

There is so much research out there about the importance of sniffing for dogs, one really useful video is ‘How do dogs see with their noses?’ by Alexandra Horowitz for Ted Ed (https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=p7fXa2Occ_U)

So when we went out for a walk around where we live, I used my clicker to start with to make it easier and gave Jessie lots of opportunities to sniff! But Jessie often quickly sniffs and comes back ready to walk again, so I needed to encourage her to sniff for longer to become accustomed to the environment we were in.

I found a particularly good area under a tree with lots of dirt and plenty of good smells for Jessie! We spent a good while, taking a couple of steps then stopping for Jessie to sniff, backwards and forwards past the same spot. Initially she spent a long time sniffing but then eventually she didn’t want to. She was happy to walk, with a loose lead and now I could verbally reinforce her focus instead of using the clicker, not forgetting to continue to use treats, of course!

I realised that when we got out of the car, Jessie had probably been aware of all of those smells straight away, so by allowing her lots of opportunities to sniff she was able to fulfil this desire and therefore she was less distracted when we were walking.

Allowing a dog to sniff is so important because they interpret the world using their nose, it’s what they are designed to do! So when we’re walking our dogs we need to consider the areas they’re likely to want to sniff and make sure we give them the opportunity to do so.

Dog training in a force free way has many ups and downs. Sometimes you feel like it’s all going wrong and unravelling, but usually it takes a small change to make a big difference in moving forward. The most important thing to remember is that if you are training in this way you are doing the absolute best for your dog and that’s all that matters! Oh and sometimes you’ve got to just stop and smell the roses 🌹

Positively avoiding negative behaviour

If you’ve read the All About Us section on our blog you will know that Jessie came to live with us in August 2018.

Neither myself or my husband had had a dog before, so this was a new world we were venturing into.

I wasn’t really aware of the different methods of dog training and the huge debate around these methods at the time. However, being a teacher I was already aware of the impact of positive reinforcement with children, so knew this was definitely the route I wanted to follow when training Jessie.

As with children, dogs want to do the right thing and they want to please you. I don’t believe that humans need to assert authority over them and research is now supporting this too. It’s easy, if you respect them, they will respect you…

Jessie is a cockapoo but predominately more of a spaniel, meaning she has a lot of energy and finds it hard to regulate this herself.

This meant that we needed to train her to manage this, by literally teaching her to relax. We used a calm mat to train a reliable settle, and we continue to frequently take it out and about with us, to proof this behaviour in different environments with different distractions.

However, we started this in our kitchen, at home, where she knows she’s safe and comfortable. But now she will settle herself, next to the table when we eat dinner without needing to be asked, because she’s learnt this behaviour in a positive way.

We also try hard to read her body lanague and think about what she’s trying to communicate to us.

So, for example, she often runs off with socks! I think she does like to chew on them, but sometimes she is doing to get our attention for one reason or another. But this behaviour can escalate, so we simply take the socks away and replace the socks with a chew or a toy. We don’t tell her off and we don’t punish her for taking the socks.

On the subject of chews! One of her favourite chews and by far the best I’ve found and the longest lasting are Yakers. They are made from yaks milk and have loads of nutritional benefits too!

I have read that chewing releases endorphins in dogs that helps combat stress so can only be good for helping a dog to relax!

One of the key parts of training a dog using positive reinforcement, is the reinforcement! I know that sounds silly, but you do need to use food and positive praise to reinforce the desired behaviours. You have to think would you go to work if you didn’t get paid? Well, dogs need reinforcement to know they’re doing the right thing, they will learn that these are the behaviours that get the rewards, lets do that more! In addition, the more you can ignore the undesirable behaviours the better.

For example, when Jessie barks, we don’t shout at her to stop but we try to ignore it or distract her so it doesn’t turn into a ‘who can shout louder’ competition!

It’s about staying calm, in control (but not being controlling) compassionate and consistent!

The hardest part of positively training your dog is that it takes hard work, patience, time and dedication. There are really tough days and days when you want to stop. BUT when you start seeing it all coming together, there is nothing better and I can promise you it is 100% worth it!

(Our training journey so far and all the amazing progress Jessie has made would never have happened without our wonderful dog trainer Viv at Walkies in Norfolk.)

Leave it…tomorrow is a new day!

It’s not been an easy day with Jessie today and I thought I would share as I think it’s good to share bad days as everyone has them!

I decided to start the day with some loose lead walking practise, which didn’t exactly go to plan…

To start with, we saw one of the cats that lives on our street (Jessie doesn’t cope well with seeing cats), so we did a quick “let’s go” and walked away. Once it had moved we carried on with our walk but unfortunately saw it again and Jessie stared at it for slightly too long…cue first reaction!

We walked away and she was doing well, considering over the last few days she has been very distracted on walks.

However, a second cat appeared, this time with a bell attached to its collar…cue second reaction, but this time it was an uncontrollable barking, pulling on the lead reaction.

I tried to quickly move her away but she saw our neighbour getting into her car…well that was the last straw and it resulted in me having to pick her up and carry her home, with her physically shaking in my arms.

I resorted to playing in the garden for a bit and did some enrichment games to calm down.

Later on I thought I’d take her for a run off the lead at one of our favourite places, Millennium Wood in North Elmham.

However, I didn’t manage to do a lot of training as she was very distracted and was reluctant to recall. So I attached her training line to her harness, to help with this, as she associates the line with training too.

Unfortunately it ended up getting much hotter and Jessie was then struggling with the heat, so we got back to the car and went home.

When we got home Jessie wouldn’t lay on her cooling mat without chewing it and found a tissue in the bathroom bin to destroy! But after a few minutes she settled and fell asleep…phew!

The rest of the evening consisted of getting Jessie off the sofa, her jumping on us and flinging toys in our faces! Until she finally gave in and fell asleep 💤

Safe to say it’s been a difficult day but I know that it has for Jessie too and for one reason or another she has been struggling.

But tomorrow is another day and I will learn from today, mostly that when it starts badly it’s likely to continue all day and instead of pushing it I need to make it easier for her.

Force free, positive reinforcement dog training is difficult because you have to understand your dog and read the signs they are giving you including their body language. You also constantly second guess yourself, to whether you are doing the right thing for your dog.

However, it’s so much more rewarding because you build a relationship with your dog based on mutual respect and love which far outweighs a simple bad day.

Plus every time I see Jessie’s face beaming up at me, everything just seems so much better 💕

Too hot to walk!

I wasn’t really sure what to write about for our first post but I thought considering I’m currently sitting on the sofa with a fan blasting me with cool air and a very hot Jessie laying splayed out on the floor, why not go with the hot weather!

Dogs and hot weather don’t mix, particularly dogs as fluffy as Jessie! Plus there’s all the risks of taking them out in 33 degrees (which, I would like to add is ridiculously hot for humans let alone dogs!)

So yesterday and today Jessie and I went out early for some loose lead walking practise (more to follow on our training journey 😊) and after we hibernated in the house!

To keep Jessie entertained I have provided her with lots of different enrichment games, throughout the day. Most of which I use her kibble for, so she gets her daily food allowance through fun, engaging games instead of in a bowl. So I thought I would share some with you (just to add, most of these ideas I’ve seen on social media and online, so not claiming them as my own, just sharing how Jessie got on with them!)

Jessie fishing for kibbles in her paddling pool and getting a cool drink at the same time!

If you fill your pool with a hose, make sure you let the water run for a couple of minutes first as the water inside the hose can heat up if in the direct sunlight and can be too hot for doggies!
Hide kibble/treats in a rolled up blanket and let your dog unravel and find them! Jessie needed a bit of help initially to understand what to do. When your dog gets the hang of it you can roll it up tighter!
Jessie loves this one! Sniffing out the kibbles in the lawn (that desperately needs to be cut, but is an excellent resource for a dog who loves to sniff!)

That’s just a few of the ideas we tried whilst it was hot, there’s many more to write about, but that’s for another day.

Anyway off to enjoy the rest of the bank holiday!

Kirsty and Jessie x

About Us

Hi! I’m Kirsty and I live in Norfolk with my husband Dan, and the inspiration for this blog, our black and white cockapoo Jessie!

Jessie was born in May 2018 and she came to live with us later that year in August. Since that day we have had many good experiences and some ‘interesting’ ones, so I thought I would write a blog to share our life with Jessie!

This blog will include dog friendly places to visit as well as enrichment ideas, recipes, training progress and of course a funny story or two!

I hope you will enjoy reading my blog, if it’s to gain ideas of places to go with your own dog or things to do together or just to Paws and Ponder…

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