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.