My Baby, My Child, My Shadow

Recently i was doing my weekly groceries, and i was first amused but then concerned by the new packaging on a popular supermarket dog food. They now advertise in large print sentiments like “My Baby” and “My Shadow”. While i’m sure the marketing division means no harm, i’m worried by the underlying attitude that is being fed by such advertising.

my child my baby

I’ll start by being upfront in admitting that i utterly 100% adore my own dog. I often call him my “baby” and i refer to myself as “Mummy”. I hug him and kiss him all the time, and he loves the social attention. But i also exercise him, provide him with as much enrichment as i am able to, and i train him to succeed in our home. He might be my “baby”, but he is also a dog and he is treated in such a way that allows him to be the best dog he can be.

So why am i so worried about these dog food labels?

Too many dogs that i visit are suffering from very real behavioural problems that stem from them being treated like a human baby. They receive all the cuddling and love in the world, but no training or mental stimulation that is appropriate and necessary for a dog to have. They eat human food, and they follow their owners everywhere (even to the bathroom). It is in our nature as humans to love this sort of attachment to another living creature, but then we wonder why our dogs are behaving in ways we don’t like. They could be fearful of anyone new to the home, fearful of other dogs, terrified of being left home alone, and otherwise incapable of coping in our world.

My fear is that labeling popular brands of dog food in such a way is both supporting owners who treat their pets in such a manner, but also encouraging it. Wouldn’t it be great if the influential companies in the pet industry were instead promoting responsible dog ownership, nutritious feeding options, dog-friendly training options, etc. We need to help people learn how to raise their dog to be the best dog they can be, not a substitute child who will never quite cope. Prevention goes miles to avoiding common behavioural problems, and we want to help people to learn to train smart so they can love their pet – not just as their “baby”, but because they are an awesome dog!

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Wilbur Reviews the West Paw Tizzi

Wilbur went to the pet shop and bought himself a new toy with his pocket money today, and we just tried it out so thought we would share our thoughts. The toy is by the USA brand West Paw, and this particularly one is called the “Tizzi”. It is actually designed as a throwing/fetch toy, and is marketed as being durable as a chew toy too. It has a hollow cavity in the base of the toy, which a fellow trainer i know has used with great success for stuffing food into. This toy was pricey, but that is pretty typical of USA made toys. It is also eco-friendly, dishwasher safe, and protected by a chew-damage guarantee which means you get one free replacement if your dog wrecks it.

west coast tizzi

What can you put in the Tizzi?

Depending on the size you purchase, the cavity in this toy is not terribly large. This toy is ideal for stuffing with wet food, peanut butter, or cream cheese and freezing. That’s what we’ll be using it for! For today’s test run we stuffed it with some light cream cheese with a baked dog biscuit stuffed in there too.

How does the dog get the treats out?

The Tizzi has got, for want of a better word, legs which you can cross or uncross. Crossed legs make accessing the treats much harder, and that is how Wilbur was given this toy. To get to the treats, the dog can either lick around the crossed legs, or maneuver the toy in such a way as to uncross the legs and make the task much easier. Wilbur managed to achieve this by throwing the toy a few times so that it bounced around. Then he was able to chew and lick the treats out. It lasted about 15 minutes, but will last much longer if the treats are frozen.

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Appearance

I can’t be the only one who can’t look at this toy without laughing uncontrollably. It only gets worse when your dog starts passionately licking at the treats. I’m not sure what the design team was thinking, but it sure is funny.

Overall

Humour was a large part of the reason for buying this toy, but i am pretty impressed by the time it took Wilbur to fiddle around with it getting the cream cheese out. It will happily work its way into our rotation of food toys.

What do we mean by “Obedience”

When we ask a dog owner what they hope to achieve with their dog, it is extremely common to get the response “I just want him to be obedient!” Of course what they mean is they want their dog to respond correctly to a range of verbal cues, which is a fantastic training goal for any owner to have.

Note that this post is about “obedience” as a concept for a pet dog that behaves how the owner wants, not “obedience” the dog sport!

What a lot of people don’t realise, or at least don’t think about, is that to achieve “obedience” they have to train all the individual behaviours they are hoping their dog will be able to respond to. It isn’t fair to expect a dog to sit on cue in the vet clinic or at the park if the only place they’ve ever practiced in the past is around the home with few distractions. Likewise it’s not fair to ask a dog to “settle down” or “RELAX!” when they’ve never been taught what that cue means – they don’t speak English.

dog trainer

Each new behaviour has to be taught in successive approximations (baby steps) so that the dog learns what we are asking for, and using positive reinforcement so they understand that by working with us they will gain access to things they value (treats, games, affection). Once our dog can perform a new behaviour at home, we have to then take the behaviour on road and possibly break it back down in a range of new and increasingly distracting environments. If we don’t take the time to train our dogs out and about, we can never realistically expect them to respond “obediently” when we ask for a behaviour – anywhere, anytime.

Think about the behaviours that are actually important to you, your dog, and your family. Does your perfect dog sit at door ways, come when called, and go to his bed on cue? Perhaps he walks on a loose-lead, shakes paws, and plays fetch? For each person the criteria for “obedience” is different, so it is important to set yourself and your dog training goals that you can work towards as a team.

If a behaviour breaks down, or your dog doesn’t respond to your cue the way you were hoping, instead of getting upset at your dog’s “disobedience” try looking at what could be distracting your dog, whether you’ve trained the behaviour you asked for well enough, and whether you are providing suitable motivation for the level of distraction you are working with. A scratch behind the ears might cut it at home, but cheese might get the job done at the park. Look at it as a training problem, a puzzle to solve, rather than as a naughty dog problem. Some causes of disobedience that we’ve run into have included a dog needing to go toilet, not wanting to sit or drop on wet grass or hot concrete, or being distracted by a person or dog in the distance. Be considerate of your dogs needs and limits.

“Obedience” is achievable, but it’s easier to work towards if you define it in terms of individual behaviours you want to teach. Set goals and priorities, and enjoy the process of working towards a co-operative dog. Train smart, not tough!

Wilbur Reviews the Buster Cube

Welcome to the “Wilbur Reviews”! Wilbur is our 7 month old, 11kg, crossbreed puppy, and the purpose of these reviews is to show people the different food toys that are available to keep our four-legged friends busy. Not only that, but we’ll let you know what we think of them, what types of food they work well for, and in some cases the things we don’t like about them.

For our first Wilbur Review we thought we’d show you the Buster Cube, because that’s what Wilbur is eating his breakfast from as I type. The Buster Cube is a very solid, hollow plastic cube with a round opening on one side. It comes in 2 sizes, and 4 different colours. Wilbur has the mini size, in the pink colour (randomly selected by the eBay seller). The mini size cost about $15 delivered, there are LOTS of online sellers to choose from.

buster cube

What can you put in a Buster Cube?

The Buster Cube is good for dry food and treats only, you cannot use it for wet food. It has a fairly large capacity, which means that i could fit Wilbur’s whole 1/2 to 3/4 cup of breakfast into the one toy if i wanted. To fill the toy you drop the food in the hole and shake the food down. There is a plastic cylinder through the centre of the toy, which makes the food harder to get out – it also makes it harder to get the food in! I mostly put dry biscuits in Wilbur’s Buster Cube, and i’ll sometimes add in a few dry treats too as little surprises.

How does the dog get the treats out?

Wilbur’s standard approach to most dry-food toys is to push them with his paws and nose. This causes the Buster Cube to roll around, and as it tumbles on its different sides the food falls through the cylinder piece by piece. Wilbur has the most success with this toy on a hard flood, such as indoors or on the patio, and when he plays with the Buster Cube on these surfaces the treats come out in all directions as the toy spins around. Wilbur also picks the toy up in his mouth and throws it, which is another successful way to get treats to fall out. In our home this is a HIGH ACTIVITY toy, and there is a lot of running, pouncing, swatting, and throwing involved. The only downside of this is that the hard plastic is very loud on the tiles! Compared to some of our other toys (to be revealed in future posts) this toy takes a long time for Wilbur to empty, up to 20 minutes if it doesn’t get stuck beside the fridge or under our blue-tongue lizards tank.

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How do you clean it?

Cleaning is a bit of a downside. The cube doesn’t come apart, which means the only way to clean it is to rinse it and leave it to dry. But it isn’t too much of a problem as nothing wet or sticky goes in the cube anyway.

Overall

This one is definitely a winner with Wilbur, and it isn’t too much hassle to fill it when you consider how much food you can put in there and how long it lasts. I love how active it keeps Wilbur, and it is hilarious to watch him in action. I would highly recommend this toy to other dog owners, especially for dogs that have experience with other toys that need to be pushed and rolled to get biscuits out – this one is just a little harder which is great!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 2nd Pet…

Animal lovers are generally not happy with just one pet. The story tends to start with a first pet (be it a dog or a cat or a bird) that is just so awesome that the owner would love to have another like it. Maybe the second pet is for the owners benefit, perhaps it is intended as a companion for the first, or perhaps it is to be a pet for another member of the family. Indeed it can be really great fun to have more than one pet in the family, but here are some things to keep in mind.

The second pet will be just as much work as the first, if not more. It will not be LESS work, and it will probably be more than twice the work to have twice the pets. Why would this be?

two dogs

To bond with the new pet in the same way as the first, you have to put aside the time to interact, play, and train the new addition just like you did the first. This is extremely important for many reasons. Two pets come to rely massively on one another for companionship, you need to ensure you are a significant person in both pets lives, that they can relax and be happy on their own, and that both pets have the trained skills you need them to know in order to enjoy sharing your home with them.

The importance of training both pets to be relaxed and happy on their own cannot be understated! More often than you might think one pet may need to go to the vet alone, travel separately, escape the yard, etc and it can be a nightmare if the other pet is unable to relax without their friend present. Training, socialising, and play are all great things to do one-on-one too, ensuring that each pet is confident about their world without needing their buddy beside them.

Something else to keep in mind is that if you are having trouble with your first pet, then a friend is not the answer. What would you do if you ended up with two problem pets? We recommend seeking help with your first pet to help them become a happy member of the family and then consider whether you still want a new addition. If you haven’t got time to train the first pet, then double trouble is going to be even harder to schedule into your day!

Two (or more) pets can be awesome, and they can be amazing company for one another when life drags us away from home. In some cases even another pet of a different species can make a big difference to a quiet house when the humans are away. Think about the pros and the cons, and make an informed decision with your next addition.