Seeking is Fatiguing!

I write so much about enrichment, nose work and mental games on this blog, and yet I realized after a fantastic “Creative Behavior Outlets” seminar last weekend that I am not even close to taking full advantage of how great brain work can be for Johnnie!  I had been so focused on walking the energy out of her that I lost track of how useful food puzzles and mental stimulation can be in tiring her out as well. Thank goodness I had the Your Dog’s Friend seminar to remind me of the gold mine I was missing out on!

The seminar was led by Leslie Clifton, CPDT-KA of Look What I Can Do Dog Training, and she spent lots of time explaining how to exhaust your dog without running them around for hours. She demonstrated lots of different kinds of food puzzles, as well as went over different “Find it!” games and home-made food puzzles. The best thing I came home with after that workshop was the idea that “seeking is fatiguing.” Whenever your dog is searching for how or where to get his food (an important natural canine behavior, by the way), he is working his brain. You can often see the concentration in his scrunched up forehead – a sure sign that those thinking wheels are turning.  Twenty minutes of mental games is thought to be equivalent to sixty minutes of vigorous exercise!

I immediately went out and bought a Kong Wobbler for Johnnie that will make her work for her kibble. She no longer eats her meals out of a bowl, ever. She either eats them from a stuffed kong (kibble & pumpkin mixed together and frozen), from her Kong Wobbler, or through “Find It” games. You can also use old Gatorade bottles or other various food puzzles. I have known about these tricks for so long, and yet I hadn’t been regularly implementing them with Johnnie!  Doh!  Now it takes her about 15 – 20 minutes per meal to finish all her kibble, instead of the 2 -3 it was taking out of a bowl before, and I can really tell the difference in how it keeps her energy levels lower (check out the photo below – she was so sleepy she knew there was food left in her puzzle and she still tucked herself into bed. . . an enrichment miracle!).  I am still kicking myself for not consistently using these puzzles for the first few weeks I had her :-).

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Toy puzzles for dinner give us another opportunity to practice Johnnie’s “wait” cue as well.

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Later this week I will go into other ways we keep Johnnie’s puppy brain occupied so that she expresses her natural behaviors in an appropriate manner. Stay tuned!

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To adopt Johnnie Cash the food-puzzle-lover, email peacelovefoster@gmail.com.



Clicker Training: “Kong”

Otis – like many other dogs that had limited exposure to the world as a puppy – is rather clueless about a lot of concepts. We take so many behaviors our dogs do for granted as “natural activities” that they’re just born knowing – like playing, sniffing out treats, working for food, etc. In reality though, dogs often need help learning these skills. Additionally, even though these behaviors might not come naturally to some pups, they can be so beneficial (see: Chick’s love of play on Love & a Six-Foot Leash).

I’ve written before about Otis’ mental block when it comes to retrieving food out of a Kong. If it didn’t just naturally come out, he’d stare at it then promptly give up. He got better when it came time to slurp up yummy, frozen peanut butter – but he just couldn’t figure out how to make solid kibble (or other treats, for that matter) fall out of the Kong.

This is where FosterGrandma and I stepped in. After my last post about Otie’s difficulties with food puzzles, you all gave me a ton of great suggestions about how to help him figure it out. I have yet to try, well, (oops – confession time) most of them, but what my mom and I did do with him was some clicker training. When in doubt with an insecure, unsure dog – clicker train!

Our intent was to teach Otis to use his paw to move the Kong and make the kibble fall out. He’s already been exposed to the clicker, so he knows to expect a treat upon it’s use. We started by clicking and treating any time he moved his paw towards the Kong. Then we clicked and treated any time he touched the Kong. Slowly he got the hang of it, and we were able to pair the verbal “Kong” cue with him touching the toy.

It got to the point that whenever he was stuck, we just said, “Kong” and it would help him get the kibble out. Then he started using it all on his own!

He hasn’t caught on to using it all of the time yet, but he’s better than he was before we practiced this command. Plus, now whenever he is stuck we can just remind him that “Kong!” helps to get the kibble out. Chances he realizes the connection? Not sure. But, for now, it is support to his pretty wimpy valiant Kong-tackling efforts.

Next up is to try the recommendation of sticking his absolute favorite treat down at the bottom so that he doesn’t want to give up on fishing it out, and we’ll see how he does. That and then only feeding him from the Kong so he’ll have to figure out how to get his whole dinner out or go hungry – though I’m a little nervous he would let himself starve, the silly pup! But that’s a project for another day. In the mean time, I’ll just be proud of his most recent accomplishment.

For more information on adopting Honey Bunches of Otis, go to his Adopt Me page to learn more about him and how to get in touch.


Peanut Butter Success

Many of you gave me some great advice on last week’s blog post about getting Otis engaged in his eating activities. While I’m looking for mentally stimulating activities that really challenge him, I did start with just simple peanut butter in the Kong to see how hard Otis would work for it. The answer? Very hard. Thanks for all your tips – I’m looking forward to working more with Otis on his food drive, but for now it’s fun to watch him enjoy the simplicity of delicious peanut butter.

For more information on adopting Honey Bunches of Otis, go to his Adopt Me page to learn more about him and how to get in touch.


Winter break in review

Our winter break may be over, but Baxter and I still have plenty to share from it!

Baxter would like to show you some gifts he got over the holidays, before he shipped off to spend the week gallivanting around at Jasmine’s House. FosterGrandma saw how generous he was being with his Kibble for [FB] Comments drive, so she got him a nice big order or bully sticks for himself. Lucky DAWG, right?

He enjoyed a few, then promptly asked me to put a bunch in a bag and send them to Jasmine’s House. He is a sweetie.

A good friend of ours also felt inclined to spoil Baxter and get him a little present. Check out how he inspected the package and even opened it, with only a little bit of help from some opposable thumbs.

Baxter & I are so grateful for those who thought about him during the holidays — gift or no gift. He says he is loving his bully sticks and his kong, but he also loves knowing he has all these wonderful friends on the interwebs! He realizes he is lucky in many ways.

While Baxter was having the time of his life at Jasmine’s House, I was busy doing what I always do around Christmas: taking in the Maine scenery.

I’m still kicking myself for – get this – forgetting my camera! Yes, that’s right: I was completely limited to iPhone pictures the entire time. My Canon was waiting nicely for my on my bedroom floor when I came home from my trip, right where I left it. Talk about frustrating.

My Christmas was wonderful, mostly because I spent it with my loved ones. I have to highlight two fostering related gifts I got from my extremely thoughtful family. First, my sister designed this t-shirt for me.

Recognize those two!? Yep, that’s right – it’s Baxter and Zabora!!!

I nearly (okay, maybe I did) teared up when I opened it. I can’t get over how absolutely perfect and adorable it is! I feel like I am still squealing.

Another thing I got? My mom spent hours and hours and hours creating this for me:

The first six months of my blogging life, in hard copy. She copied & pasted everything – comments, pictures, and posts – reformatted it, printed it out, & stuck it all in a neat binder. Now I’ll be able to keep this part for as long as I want. I know I am going to really appreciate having this one day, even more than I do now. There is something to be said about having things in writing, not just on a computer screen. I am so thrilled about this. Thanks mama : -)

So that was a little overview of our holiday celebration. I am so happy & appreciative for everything and everyone around me! Especially Mr. Bax, who is finally back snoozing by my side. I feel like the world is right again. We are ready spend the New Year finding his perfect forever home!

Happy New Year, everyone! Bax & I are wishing you all a Happy & Safe 2012.

For more information on adopting Comeback Kid Baxter, click here or email peacelovefoster@gmail.com.