Wednesday, 30 December 2009

early morning walks in the summer heat

Because the hot weather has returned, many people are walking late at night or early in the morning. They're both fascinating times; at night you can stroll around the streets and listen to the sounds drifting out of the open windows of the houses, and in the morning you can enjoy the freshness of the day before everyone is about.

The other day we walked in Yarra Bend park and Penny enjoyed a swim in the river and then a roll in the grass.

The best part about the walk was that we were right above a freeway and the traffic was roaring past, on the way to work, and we were free to wander. In this picture Penny is standing by the fence that edges the freeway, which is sunk below the level of the park.

Today we returned to Darebin Parklands. Seeing the water was low (and there hasn't been any definite information about where to swim), we stopped at a spot that would normally be too rapid for her. I could even join her in the middle of the creek without getting my feet wet!

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

a dog game made from a Christmas present

I was just about to throw out this empty chocolate box when I realised it would make a great little dog activity.

It has all the features recommended for an interactive game (as on the Fun-For-Dogs site): the inner box slides out, treats can be placed in the inner pull-out box, and, best of all, it has a little ribbon attached so Penny can pull the drawer out with her teeth.

By the way...the chocolates were delicious.

Monday, 28 December 2009

a dog enjoys an amazing Christmas tree

Penny ignored our new Christmas tree until I took it outside today for a breath of air. It's a very special, delicately lovely tree and this photo doesn't do it justice.

It's a living Christmas tree and it's a kind of miracle, because it's a Wollemi Pine, one of the rarest and oldest species of tree in the world. This tree was thought to be long extinct, as it lived in the time of the dinosaurs and no-one had seen a living specimen until about ten years ago, when a bushwalker came across a stand of them. Less than one hundred trees exist in the wild.

When I examined it I thought it looked like a monkey puzzle tree; we had an enormous one of these in the garden of our childhood home. Sure enough, the information about the wollemi pine says it is a close relative of the monkey puzzle tree.

Here's the tree without decorations. I've heard they grow a metre a year in the open, but not so fast in the house. (They make a good indoor plant, apparently).

I'm thrilled to have found a native tree that can be an alternative to a Northern Hemisphere plant as a true representative of our Australian Christmas, which of course occurs near the summer solstice, not the winter one.

One thing I do notice is that the wollemi pine already has a second shoot growing up alongside the main one, as you can see in the photo above. If I prune it off the tree will have a better traditional shape. I was told by one man at the nursery that the tree can be pruned to shape as I wish, but another man said it was better not to cut the top off.

I guess I'll have to just wait and see how it grows.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

walking the dog on Christmas Eve

Penny and I have just come home from a brisk walk around the streets, passing houses with carols drifting from the windows, a church with families pouring out in happy clusters, supermarkets with shoppers racing for last-minute ingredients.

Perhaps if I hadn't had a dog I might have stayed at home, resting from the ordeal of roasting my first-ever turkey.

But I do have a dog, and she wanted to go out, so I did.

And that's what dogs do for us - they get us out in all weathers and on all occasions - as I just read in a post at Dog Blog, reporting on a NY Times story about a study that found if people have human walking buddies they don't walk as briskly or as consistently as people who walk with a dog.

christmas wishes and seasonal wishes to everyone

On behalf of Penny and myself, I'd like to wish everyone a happy holiday season, no matter what kind of celebrations you have at this midsummer/midwinter season.

Best wishes for peace and joy.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

canine freestyle teacher coming to Australia

Richard Curtis, canine freestyle instructor from the UK, is coming to Australia next year, and Penny and I have booked in for his seminar. I'm excited and nervous already, so I don't know how I'll be feeling by next April, when he'll be in Melbourne.

Hsin-Yi, if you are reading this, he'll be in Brisbane in April also!

Penny and I Haven't been working on our doggy dancing lately, so we'll have to start practising! We danced around the kitchen the other night and I was excited to realise Penny has remembered it all. Of course, our problem is the human part of the duo, who is basically clumsy and uncoordinated, but I hope we will still have lots of fun at the seminar.

World Dog Games in Sydney 2009

Yesterday I watched a video of the recent World Dog Games in Sydney. It was great to see the agility, the frisbee chasing and the dock dogs, and, of course, the flyball.

Here are some clips on YouTube of agility, flyball, dock dogs and frisbee catching. If you click on one of these links, you'll see many more video clips.

I loved the dogumentary about Spike's journey to fame at the Sydney World Dog Games. (I don't know how the journey ended!)

I loved the fact that every dog in every sport looked happy. The tails were wagging!

Monday, 21 December 2009

Penny has her meal from the Amazing Treat Machine

Penny has quickly conquered The Amazing Treat Machine and I think it's great value for the price. (I forget what it was, but if I remember right, it was well under $20.)

Here she is having her dinner from it. I've had to compromise on my ideal of all raw feeding, but I think I've chosen a suitable premium brand of dry food for the occasions when we'll use this toy. It turns out to be quite an energetic activity because she's so enthusiastic to get the food. Apologies in advance for the terribly boring sound of me saying, 'Get the ball. Pick it up. In the box.' It's only when I listen to myself I realise I do that silly thing humans do, of repeating ourselves to our dogs unnecessarily.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

new swimming hole for dogs in Darebin Parklands

The newly mulched surroundings of the old dog swimming hole in Darebin Parklands are looking good.

Although we are not sure where dogs can swim, we tried out what we think will be the new access point to Darebin Creek. It's quite nice, with stepped rocks so the humans can look out for snakes and the dogs can get down to the creek safely.

The water is not very deep, though. Even a small dog like Penny is wading rather than swimming, and I worry about the rocky bed of the creek causing her to sprain a joint (as happened once when she was playing in the Yarra River up at Warburton).

dog body language

Today in Darebin Parklands Penny walked with one of her humans (me!) and suddenly realised we were to meet her other human.

Here are some pictures of her body language as she scanned the grassy area.I was interested to see the tail position when she is on alert in a pleasantly excited way.

A browse of the Internet showed lots of sites discussing tail positions in dogs, and the one I found most useful was at the ASPCA. has an interesting article in general on dog body language, and Australian Canine Current Events has an extensive list of sites relating to canine body language.

However, I haven't found an exact match for this particular position.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

swimming in brown water and with the fairy penguin at Brighton

Because the heat has arrived, we're looking for places to swim. I took Penny to the Yarra yesterday and she had a great time, even though the water, as it often does, looked brown. The Yarra River is often called 'The Upside-down River', because the mud is on the top. In fact, it's because the high level of turbidity means it carries a load of silt. A man walking past us yesterday said the silt is clay, and I have noticed that after a swim in the Yarra Penny sheds a layer of fine clay dust around the house when she dries.

Today she swam in the sea near Brighton, at Green Point, in crystal clear water, calm as a pond.

And... something swam past, mostly under water, just emerging occasionally to breathe. Here's the only shot I managed to get, as it was moving so fast and coming up so rarely. I feel sure it was a fairy penguin, but passers-by I spoke to said it was unlikely.

I'm convinced it was a fairy penguin.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

learning about the amazing treat machine

After unpacking The Amazing Treat Machine, Penny and I, together with our video assistant, set about trying it out.

I find that video clips advertising products show the results achieved after some practice. Well, here's a 'warts and all' unabridged version of how a dog tries out this product for the first time.

We did have the advantage, however, that Penny already knew how to pick up a ball and put it in a box. (It's taught by putting the container under her mouth so that the ball drops into it and, if using a clicker as a marker for good behaviour, clicking and treating every time the ball falls into the container. Eventually the container can be left on the floor and the dog learns to bring the ball to it.)

Here's our first try. We had fun but no success!

Okay, so we needed to make some adjustments- for instance, jamming the bottle in more securely. But still no luck.

Never give up! Penny noticed before I did that the treats had begun to emerge from the hole at the bottom.

At this stage I decided to cheat a little - which turned out to be a bad idea.

Finally, success - sort of. I cheated again! But Penny has the idea and I'm sure we'll do better next time. I think it's a good product, and not too expensive - if you don't live at the end of the earth and have to pay more in postage than the product costs...

the amazing treat machine arrives in Australia

Today a parcel arrived on our doorstep while Penny and I were out on an early walk. The description on the customs declaration said, 'cardboard box'. Why would our friend in New York send us a cardboard box?

Hooray! It was the long-awaited Amazing Treat Machine. As usual, I hadn't been able to get it sent to Australia, so I ordered it sent to New York and our lovely friend there posted it on to us.

Penny checked out the instructions.

The first one was, 'Lay flat'. So Penny flattened it out.

But then things started to get a bit tricky for someone with paws, so she asked me for help.

Hmm... we needed a 16.9 oz water bottle. Well, there was no way we were going to buy water in a bottle when it comes out of the taps for free, clean and pure. And what size was that in metric measurements? We checked it out.

Penny waited at home while I dashed up the street to buy a drink in a 500ml plastic container, not such an easy task, given that 600 ml is the usual size here. But what luck! There were exactly the right bottles, containing green tea, which is my latest fad since I read that green tea protects against gum disease. (I read that in the newsletter of my brother's dentist at Dental Healthcare Associates.)

I cut up some treats, followed the instructions about cutting holes in the bottom of the bottle - highly tricky and a bit dangerous, but I got through the task with all my fingers intact - and there we were, ready to try it out.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Penny is back home

When we arrived at Cindy's place to pick up Penny after her holiday there, we heard a joyous barking. It was lovely to see her again, and wonderful that Cindy handed us a sheet of photos of Penny having fun over the last five days. What a great way to show us that Penny had a good time. The happy body language and the tail held high were such a reassuring sign. Of course, we'd already known things were going well, because Cindy had sent a picture to my mobile phone, and we were in phone contact a couple of times.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Penny's holiday trip

Penny is spending her first ever night away from home and it's strangely quiet here. She's staying with Cindy at Healesville for a few days because I'm off to a hotel that doesn't welcome dogs - weird place, eh?

Cindy has been our trainer for more than three years, at the K9 Kompany that unfortunately closed down this year. But it's an ill wind that blows no good, as the saying goes - though we lost the chance to train with Cindy (film work, agility, pre-flyball skills, tricks, obedience), at least there's the plus that she's started up her own pet services company.

Talk about separation anxiety! Me, I mean, not Penny. We've just received a text message that she's settled down well and the accompanying photo showed her wrestling with one of her doggy friends. (She knows and likes Cindy's dogs.) She's been for a long walk, and has even had a swim.

It's great to know she's settled in enough that she's not looking for me. (But I'm missing her!)

Friday, 4 December 2009

R I P Bonnie

I haven't felt like blogging last couple of days, because I'm grieving Penny's mate Bonnie. Every Tuesday for years Bonnie has spent the morning with us, and many's the time we walked together when Bonnie was younger. Penny would race around while Bonnie just quietly, slowly explored.

From the first, Penny always deferred to Bonnie, never objecting when Bonnie took Penny's favorite mat.

The time was coming when Bonnie would have been too old, too blind and too deaf to continue to enjoy a fulfilling quality of life, but we didn't expect she would go as a result of that nightmarish possibility that haunts all dog owners - a car accident in her own yard. Bonnie died immediately, so she's at peace. It's the humans who continue to suffer anguish, wishing things could have been different.

But sometimes things just happen and there's nothing we can do about it.

Bonnie lived for three days of the week with Scruffy, the dog who lost his best mate this year. Now he's lost Bonnie also, so he's going to get lots of loving to help him get over it.

It was sad to see Scruffy lying across Bonnie's body as we tried to prepare her for burial. We gave him some time to realise she was dead and eventually he let us lift her and take her to the grave we had dug, standing beside us as the dirt was softly laid over her.

It was only recently that I took this photo of Bonnie, Scruffy and Penny resting together on a very hot day.

Here's Bonnie as I'll remember her - resting comfortably in our kitchen.

And here are some of my previous posts about Bonnie:
she explores Darebin Parklands after welcome rain;
mooching around our garden at her own pace while Penny races around in ecstatic welcome;
quietly asserting her dominance over Penny, her greatest admirer.

Penny will miss Bonnie too, but given Bonnie's age we would have had to cope with this issue soon anyway. It's the humans who suffer, having experienced the trauma of her sudden death. Penny wasn't there so she doesn't know anything except that Bonnie won't visit any more.

Unfortunately, Scruffy saw the accident, so he's the one we have to care for.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

the Nina Ottosson intelligent toys are selling in Australia

Today I received an email from to say they are now stocking the Nina Ottosson toys!

They said they will be receiving a small shipment of the Nina Ottosson toys this week. This is a pre-launch stock arrival so stock is extremely limited. They will be looking to launch the range early next year.

Woo hoo! These toys are wonderful.They said any enquiries can be sent to

They've got the plastic range, and seem to offer the Dog Twister, Dog Casino, Dog Finder, Dog Tornado, Dog Spinny, Dog Brick, Dog Smart.

If you go to the Nina Ottosson site, you can check out these toys.

In plastic, Penny has the Tornado and the Brick, and they're both good.

These are not "home alone" toys, though. They need the human to be there all the time when the dog is using them.

Monday, 30 November 2009

at dusk, a walk in Darebin Parklands

On a lovely cool evening, after the recent beautiful rain, we headed down to Darebin Parklands to see how things are going, now that the terrible hot weather has eased.

It was lovely!

We took a route we rarely use, along the Hidden Valley, because we wanted to see how the plantings are enjoying the rain. (We rarely go there because it's an on-lead area, and it's more pleasant to walk without having to be attached to our dog.)

The plants looked great, and we were surprised to come across a new seat, one dedicated to Laurie Course, one of the original group who saw the possibilities for the development of what was at that time degraded and useless land.

It was nice to sit in the quiet of this lovely park and remember a man who worked to achieve a refuge for native animals and a place for humans to relax.

Then we headed across the bridge to the off-lead side, for our usual ball-throwing and general racing around. (The humans don't do too much racing!) Recently the bridge has been under water, but it was all okay tonight.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

a short story about a mischievous dog

After reading Raven's blog post about her childhood dog, an intelligent and determined GSD called Freia, I realise what a saint Penny is.

Raven was the winner of a Thanksgiving short story contest in which the prize was a donation to a charity of the winner's choice. She wrote about the day Freia scoffed the Thanksgiving Day pies...

I loved the story, but I think the dog was lucky to survive the family's wrath!

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

loyal dog saves the life of man lost in the mountains

Andy Purdon, hunting wild horses (brumbies) in the mountains, and dressed only in T-shirt and jeans, was accidentally knocked unconscious by his own horse, and spent three nights in cold, wet conditions after he regained consciousness. If it hadn't been for Scooter, a working dog who stayed with him, he might have died from the cold.

Reading the story in Stock and Land, I was interested to learn that Purdon spent some of the time cuddled with the dog in a wombat burrow. They sure are useful hiding places. In the terrible fires last February a woman and her children survived by hiding in a wombat hole.

And here's a short clip (warning - a bit sad, but the dogs are alive and recovering) of two dogs who survived those fires by hiding in wombat holes.

Back to the story of Scooter and Andy Purdon... apparently Purdon killed a snake and offered to share it with Scooter, but neither of them could eat it. I've heard that snake can taste okay, but I wouldn't want to be desperate enough to eat it!

I'll be waiting to hear whether Purdon's horse is found safely, together with the second dog that disappeared with the horse - Wags, Scooter's son.

Monday, 23 November 2009

the blue dog of anxiety

Penny's such a cheerful dog that it seems strange that we use the term 'the black dog' for depression. I hadn't heard of 'the blue dog' - anxiety - until I visited the Flowerdale - Survivor Spirit blog tonight.

I like to visit this site as often as possible to read about the courage of the people of this devastated town, trying to get on with their lives after the terror of the February bushfires.

I've posted about the horrible, unseasonable heat we had last week - even we, living in suburbia, feel afraid of what this summer will bring. But it's nothing to what the people of the burned-out towns must feel. Here's a poem by Peter Auty about the anxiety attack he suffered recently, when the terrible heat brought back memories of the fires.

kangaroos can be dangerous to dogs

A man was injured by a kangaroo recently when he tried to stop it drowning his dog.

It's sad to read about a clash between the two species that we love. An acquaintance once told me a terrible story about her dog and a kangaroo fighting and falling down the bank into a river - both drowned. Ever since then I've been nervous of the idea of Penny meeting a kangaroo. You'd think it's unlikely, but we humans are pushing further and further into the remaining territory the kangaroos have around Melbourne.

There is said to be a mob of kangaroos north of here that has been surrounded by suburban development, so that their range is more and more limited. I have wondered whether the kangaroos that occasionally make their way south to Darebin Parklands might be members of this group.

It's a sad situation.

When I read more details about this incident, I realised the kangaroo had been sleeping before being disturbed by the man and the dog and being chased into the dam by the dog. I've heard that kangaroos will head for water so they can turn on pursuing dogs and drown them.

Another report describes the kangaroo as a 'rogue', but I agree with the discussion after the article, that it's not fair to blame the 'roo, because it was the one being chased.

I hope Penny and I never come across a kangaroo when we're out walking.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

it never rains but it pours

The horrible unseasonable heat wave has broken, and the rain has come! Lovely rain!

We went down to Darebin Parklands today to see how it is reacting to the overnight rain, and the creek was raging.

In fact, when we tried to walk along the path on the Darebin side, it was under water. I can't remember the actual path being submerged, not even in the welcome rain in December last year.

Hmm... I wonder where the snake has gone, the one who lives under this decking? I hope it relocated safely to higher ground. And I hope we don't meet it unexpectedly!

We turned back and headed for higher ground, and then went to see whether we could return to the Banyule side via the Sidney Clifton bridge. No, not a chance! It was well and truly submerged.

We went closer.

And Penny dashed ahead to have a close look. such a close look that she gave us conniptions!

Saturday, 21 November 2009

continuing to learn about the Dog Fighter toy

In my last post I showed Penny trying out the Nina Ottosson Dog Fighter toy for the first time.

Here's the continuation of the story. A few minutes later we introduced her to the concept of moving two wooden pegs, in different directions. Already she had abandoned the technique of chewing the pegs, in favour of pushing them along.

Last of all for that day, I put some of her evening meal into the whole set of pegs and sat back to see what she would do.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Nina Ottosson toys free shipped from Clean Run

Penny was excited when a big parcel arrived yesterday from the US. We had taken advantage of the free shipping offer by Clean Run.

Well, she wasn't all that excited at first. But I was. I opened it immediately.

I'd been wanting to try out the wooden Nino Ottosson toys, because I thought Penny would be able to get a better grip on them than she manages with the plastic ones.

So far we've only tried the simple first level of the Dog Fighter. As suggested, I put it on a stool rather than on the floor. And, yes, she finds the wooden pegs quite easy to manage. In fact, I was surprised at how quickly she succeeded in moving the first peg along the slot in order to lift it out and get a treat. (I haven't edited this clip at all, so it is clear what the timeframe was for succeeding with the new toy.)

Here's the second try, a couple of minutes later. (Because she tried chewing it, the peg did get a few tooth marks in it, but she soon realised that technique wasn't working.) It was a very hot day, so as soon as her nose told her there were no more treats to find, she settled down again on her mat in front on the fan.

Monday, 16 November 2009

should we compost dog poo?

Browsing Slavenka's blog today, I followed a link to a discussion of the use of human urine in gardens. I was fascinated, because I'm trying to follow the principles of sustainable gardening in my care of our land. (We haven't started using our own wee on the garden yet!)

The discussion mentioned that human urine helps dog poo to break down. Hmm... that got me thinking about the pros and cons of burying dog poo.

I bought a product at a garden centre a few months ago, a powder that supposedly helps dog poo break down into a harmless compost. I forget what the product was called, but I'm fairly sure it's the same as we use in our Bokashi composting system. So I've been digging a hole and shovelling Penny's 'doing' into it - never near any place we grow food.

But I recently read a book called 'Soil Food - 3,764 ways to feed your garden'. It's by Jackie French, and although she provides this huge number of ways to enrich your soil, she draws the line at dog poo, because dogs have lived with us for so long that we share similar diseases.

So now I'm back to putting the poo in plastic bags, to be buried in landfill. As this article at the BBC points out, that means the goodness in the dog faeces will be unavailable for as long as the plastic takes to decompose.

The site has lots of ideas for dealing with this issue. And it confirms something I've always suspected - walking uses certain muscles that stimulate the dog to defecate!

Australian army dog found after 14 months lost in Afghanistan

Our local media claim that the Australian army sat on the story of the finding of a lost sniffer dog, waiting to release it on the day the Prime Minister visited the troops in Afghanistan.

Sabi went missing during a battle and was supposedly recently recognised by a US soldier as a highly trained bomb-disposal canine, rather than just being a desert mutt.(Makes you wonder what the soldier saw the dog doing!)

Whatever the details, I think it's a great story. This version does seem to go over the top in its enthusiasm, though.

When I read all the reports, I didn't clearly understand whether Sabi will be continuing to work with her human, Trooper Donaldson, who is in London meeting the Queen. (And doesn't that seem to be a nice co-incidence, too.)

But who cares about the politics of it? I love that the dog has come home. And I especially love the fact that Sabi was partly identified by her ability to play a familiar game with the soldiers.

a dog video that makes you feel good

Sometimes dogs just make us feel good.

And the video clip just posted by Johann shows one of those times.

In it we see Gracie doing an extreme version of the 'pull the socks off the human' trick.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

rules for dogs living with humans

Teal'c put a comment on my last post about breaking rules, and I realised I had probably given the impression that anything goes in our house. (I'm really enjoying reading Teal'c's blog, by the way.)

I have to set the record straight. We just didn't know there are rules about not playing inside the house.

Unfortunately for Penny, we know lots of other rules - walking nicely on lead (just haven't managed to teach that one very well); leaving food found on the street (hmmm... not doing so well on that one); sitting before crossing a street (five years and still have to demand this at each street corner); not barking at possums in the trees at night (well, can't expect Penny to neglect her important job of keeping creatures out of our pack's territory).

Wait a minute, there must be some rules we've succeeded with.

Okay, let's think... wait for the command to eat from the food bowl; stay with your humans if off-lead; stay in the one spot if told to 'wait'; give up the tug-toy if the human says 'mine'; obey all commands at agility events; follow flyball rules; 'come' if called.

Okay, now I'm feeling a bit better about this 'rules' thing, lol. Penny's a determined dog, one who likes to please us, but not one who makes conformity the central motivation of her life.

She's great fun to live with.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

hot weather games for dogs

The disturbingly hot weather continues, and we've had to start our summer activities in the house, even though it's supposed to be spring. (Let's hope we get back to normal weather soon.)

One of our favorites is 'hide the food'. Penny sits and I put a piece of food near her nose so she knows what she's looking for. Then she 'waits' while I hide the food at the other end of the house, making sure to choose places that offer her a challenge - for instance, up high, so she has to stretch to find it, or behind half-open doors so she has to nudge them open.

Another game is what I call 'chasey', where I chase her around the house to get the tennis ball from her, then throw it (gently, lol) for her to fetch. She gets it and runs away from me. The fun part is that if I don't chase her, if in fact I run away from her, she pursues me and then I'll do a sudden about turn and leap on her to grab it.

There's one important rule. The green mat is 'barley'. What that means to us is that if Penny sits on her mat, there's a truce and we can't demand the ball from her or try to grab it.

I think there are a couple of advantages to the 'barley' rule. Firstly, it gives Penny a choice about how long to continue the game. But, more importantly, she can usually be tricked into leaping on to the barley-mat and we can have a rest.

We've always used 'barley' in our family to signify a truce from a boisterous game, and I got to wondering where the word comes from. I've found that it's not used in many countries and is a childhood term.

The references I browsed say it's not used by adults, but I think adults who live with dogs are in touch with their 'inner child', lol. After all, I'd never have thought I'd be racing around the house playing games when I reached this age!

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

dogs keeping cool on a hot day

Scruffy visited yesterday. He had been clipped and looked great, in my opinion, though his human thinks he looks better with a long coat. (I've posted about his visits previously here and here.)

We're experiencing strangely hot weather for Spring (12 degrees above average!) so the dogs took it easy.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

a pet detective

After moderating a reply about raw feeding of dogs, by Bonnie Hale, I had to track it back through my blog posts to find which post she had commented on. It was my post on suitable raw meats for dogs, on December 8 2007. (And I'm proud of myself for having figured out how to extend my list of 'recent comments' to seven instead of the previous five, so I could find her comment.)

It was well worth the hunt for Bonnie Hale's comment, because when I went across to her blog I discovered she is a pet detective! She specialises in locating lost pets.

She doesn't post often, but when she does it's very interesting.

trying out a 'fun-for-dogs' toy

Here we are, trying our own version of one of the toys from 'fun-with-dogs', the German site devoted to enhancing human-canine interaction. (If you click on the British flag you will get the main page in English.)

And I'm just gob-smacked by the wonderful games on the page devoted to a competition to find the most creative toy. You don't need to read German, because the photos speak for themselves.

I think I love the last one on the page best of all. An old hand-puppet has become a friend that only opens his mouth to reveal a wonderful treat when the dog offers an interesting behaviour. The reward is for creativity, for thinking up - and offering - a new behaviour.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

tug lessons and brushing a dog's coat

Every walk seems to result in Penny's coat being full of burrs lately, so she's enjoying lots of brushing. (Yes, she does actually enjoy it.)

When we notice her coat covered in little round things this morning, we sighed in frustration. But we were relieved to realise what seemed like burrs...

...were, in fact, tiny flowers from the eucalypts.

And while we were in the park, we practised with the new tug toy, clicking to reward giving it up calmly after a short game.

active learning for dogs

Today I received an email from Spass-mit-Hund. The email, and the accompanying flyer, were in German, which is always a little problematic, given that it's more than twenty years since I studied German - okay, I'll admit it is a LOT more than twenty years!

(But the link I've added above is in English, if you click on the picture of the British flag.)

Here's a link to the first page of the flyer, with two pictures of games that look to be fun and cheap. I'm going to try to make the one with the upside-down stool and the plastic pipe. I also think the other game looks like fun, the one where you get a muffin-baking-tray and hide treats under a variety of objects, such as tennis balls and balls of crinkled-up newspaper. (Just click the flyer up to 400% size to get a good look at the pictures.)

teaching a dog to play tug

Penny loves playing with tug toys, but not as much as she loves chasing balls. When we run in a flyball event, she comes back to me, but she's not motivated by the game of tug. Other dogs race fast to their owners with the ball so they can have a rewarding game of tug. Let's just say Penny doesn't over-exert herself once she's got the ball from the box...

So when I noticed an advertisement for tug toys pop up when I clicked on my free map (the one that tells me which countries the readers of this blog come from), I decided to buy some, and to try to get her more 'psyched up' about playing tug-of-war with me. The company is called Dman Tugs and they're based in Australia.

The new toys came in the post today. Penny loved the one with rabbit fur woven into it. In fact, she loved it so much she started chewing on it, which she's never done with her toys before. The tug came with instructions to make sure the dog only plays with you, never unsupervised, and to keep sessions short, so I put the toy away after a couple of minutes. The other point that was new to me, but which makes a lot of sense, is to only play tug so the dog shakes her head from side to side. Never up and down, as that motion can hurt the dog's neck. (I was impressed that the tugs came with the same warning attached.)

There was also a link from Dman Tugs to a Karen Prior lesson on how to calm your dog by playing tug. How much is there to know about playing tug, I wondered. Well, there's plenty to know.

First of all, the principle behind the tug lesson is back-chaining, in which you teach the last movement first. In this case, the lesson is to give the tug toy back and calm down.

So we tried it today. As instructed, I played whilst sitting on a chair, to keep the excitement level low.

With the clicker and a treat in one hand, and the tug in the other, I rewarded Penny for giving up the tug when I said, "Mine!"

It's going well so far.

Monday, 2 November 2009

regurgitation and vomiting in dogs

Honey the Great Dane has been vomiting also, and Hsin-Yi, her human, has written all about it, including some interesting links.

Of course, Hsin-Yi worried that Honey might be suffering bloat, that condition that terrifies us humans, but thankfully, Honey seems well now.

I'm still thinking about the meaning of dog vomiting, because this morning - Monday - Penny vomited up the grass that she ate Friday evening. It seems a long time to have been inside her.

Here are the links that Hsin-Yi included. I've had a look at them and I think they are helpful.



At Natural Dog Health Remedies I read
If your dog often vomits in the morning or before eating and the expelled substance is a clear yellow or brownish fluid, it may mean that she has an upset stomach caused by excessive stomach acids. Feeding your dog more frequent meals in smaller portions may solve the problem.
I thought an article at had very comprehensive information. has an extremely comprehensive article, also. I was interested to read
When an animal vomits the gastric contents and perhaps some contents of the first part of the small intestine are brought up and ejected forcefully through the mouth.

I hadn't realised that vomiting could bring up material from so far down the digestive tract.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

vomiting up seawater after a swim

Penny's always introducing us to new experiences.

On Friday I took her back to the beach, because it was so much fun the day before, and because from the first of November we're not allowed on the beach during the main part of the day. It was cool day and we had the beach to ourselves, and probably I let her overdo it with the swimming.

This time I took a thin throw-toy, so she could swim with her mouth shut and possibly not swallow so much salt water.

But I think she did swallow too much, because she introduced me to the fine art of doggy frothy mouth.

At the time it seemed quite funny, but it wasn't so funny when she spent the entire evening running in and out of the house to eat grass.

I had a look on the internet that evening, but I'm glad I didn't come across this sad story of a dog that died after a visit to the beach.

WebVet has a good overview of the care we need to take when our dogs swim anywhere.

Penny seems fine after her adventure, but next time I won't let her swim so long, and I'll try harder to make her drink fresh water while we're there. (She wouldn't drink the water I offered her, until we left the beach.)

Here's a picture of the only thing that Penny was worried about - a super scary rock in the water that needed a lot of barking at!

Friday, 30 October 2009

dogs swimming at the beach

Yesterday Penny had her first swim at the beach, with her friend Jabari the GSD. I think Penny had great fun, but it did involve a lot of sea water going down her throat, to judge by the stuff she vomited up occasionally.

The photos aren't very clear, but I only had my phone with me, not a camera - and it was sunny, so I couldn't see the screen of the phone. (Oh, excuses, excuses!)

We thought we'd better get to the beach before the first of November, when dogs aren't allowed on the sand in the main part of the day.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

birds in Darebin Parklands

Yesterday's visit to the Parklands began and ended with birds.

First, as we walked along the creek, in the off-lead area, Penny had to stay on lead because there was a duck with ducklings. (Click on the photo to enlarge it and see the gorgeous little creatures.)

Penny didn't even realise they were there but the mother duck was concerned, so she gathered up her large brood and headed for the opposite bank.

And soon the babies were completely hidden.

After our exercise we made our way up the path and came across a baby crow (actually a species of raven, I think, but I call them crows) sitting quietly in the main entrance. Dogs are supposed to be on lead at that point, but I wasn't confident that everyone would obey the rule, so I called in at the house next door and asked the owner if I could put the baby over the fence into his yard.

He said it had in fact been in his front and back yards during the day, so we presumed it could fly at least a little.

The baby was quite unconcerned about being carried around by a human (wrapped in my jacket).

In the end I decided to put it back in the park, because I'm fairly sure there's a crows' nest in one of the tall trees there. It shook out its wings as I placed it in the tree and observed me calmly as I hurried back to collect Penny from the fence where she was waiting on lead.

I hope I did the right thing. I've checked with a bird-loving friend and she says it's a myth that human handling of a baby bird makes the parents reject it. And I remember one year when a whole nest full of baby crows took turns to tumble onto the ground from their nest in my school, and were subsequently cared for on the ground by the adult birds, over a period of weeks, whilst hundreds of young children played around them.

So I think the parents will come back and care for this fledgling.

Another reason I decided to move it was that two Indian Mynahs were walking around it and I thought maybe they were going to attack it.