Skip to content

On the right trail – scentwork for all dogs

October 3, 2012

Photo by Lucy King, Paws for Success 

Scentwork. Solely the domain of bloodhounds hunting escaped convicts on wooded mountain ranges, patient spaniels on drug-hunting duties in airports and canine saviours sniffing out bombs on the front line? Not anymore! Now scentwork can be for any dog and any owner, because if there is something that dogs do well it’s following a scent.

Don’t believe your dog can do it? Think of all the times you’ve been wondering what he’s sniffing out walking to find him bolting something down the next minute or how he is able to find a well-used ball in impossible looking brush. I remember finding Rory, my labradoodle, with his head in my handbag – something he had not done in the four years I had been owned by him. I was fuming, until he pulled out a dog chew that a friend had given me. How could he know it was there if not by scent?

Rory loves searching for things – just one look at his tail beating the ferns from side to side as he searches for a ball I’ve accidentally thrown in the wrong direction confirms it. It was this thought that drove me to sign up for a Talking Dogs Scentwork workshop, and it was there that I discovered the speed of Rory’s tail wagging is actually an ‘indicator’ that he is on a scent or has found something. Other common indicators include double-checking areas and air sniffing, but each dog has their own personal scentworking style.

There is no definitive information on how much better a dog’s sense of smell is than our own, but it’s safe to say that it’s much more sensitive. As Pam Mackinnon, founder of Talking Dogs and an ex-customs dog handler, says: “If you can smell it, they can smell it – times 1,000!” The six dogs in my class proved this beyond any doubt. We used pre-scented stuffed mice as the search object to teach our dogs to ‘find’ and after teaching the dogs what they were looking for – ie a mouse that smells like the chosen scent – we were off with blind searches in and out of cardboard boxes and on, under and behind other objects in the room. Rory was having a ball, this was the best thing since chicken was invented as far as he was concerned. By the third search, he needed almost no direction. Who knew a dog could be so motivated just for the reward of play?!

We all had the opportunity to watch the others work their dogs, too, and it was an eye opener. The most interesting part was learning how motivating your dog to take part in a game of ‘find it’ can help their focus, your bond with your dog and even help ‘problem’ behaviours, such as debilitating nervousness or dog-on-dog aggression. A couple of the dogs in the class were very reactive to other dogs at the beginning of the day – barking and lunging. When they started searching, nothing mattered except finding their mouse. Even though the other dogs were in the room, to the dog mid-search, it was as if they didn’t even exist.

I definitely would do it with Rory again – he loved it! I even took home a starter pack so we could carry on searching at home. You can see Rory’s very first search here. Unfortunately I was standing in the wrong place to guide him around – you’ll see what I mean.

For more information on courses near you, visit the Talking Dogs Scentwork page here. The workshop I attended was organised by Paws for Success.


Hazy canal dog days: ten things before you book

September 1, 2012


Ever wondered what it would be like to go on a canal holiday with your dog? Well, wonder no more. I've given it a go so you don't go in blind and I've even come up with ten top things to think about before you book.

1) Canal boats are small. I know it sounds obvious, but when you're told your boat is 32ft long it sounds bigger than it really is, particularly when you consider the boat is only a few feet wide. We took two dogs on our 32ft boat – the smallest in the company's fleet – and we spent most of the holiday tripping over them. If you own Leonbergers, then it's probably not the holiday choice for you.

2) Someone has to drive. If you want to actually travel any distance on your holiday, it will involve someone driving the boat for fairly long periods of time. On our boat, there was no seating at the driver's end so the two of us spent most of the holiday apart. Not a huge problem as long as you're not on a lover's getaway, but something to think about. Take a good book.

3) Not everyone is a natural driver. Don't expect that you will be able to share the driving equally. I was a more-than-hopeless captain of our pretty narrow boat. I managed to beach the boat no less than twice and both times in pretty spectacular fashion. One of those times I managed to get stuck on a bank on the opposite side to both the dogs and my friend, and had to punt myself off. No, I looked nothing like one of those effortless gondoliers in Venice. Think more harassed, more swearing and less singing. Did I mention it's virtually impossible to stop? You have to put the boat into reverse and then deal with the fact that in reverse you have absolutely no steering. I'm not very good at not being in control and the less said about that the better! My friend, Lucy, on the other hand was a natural so, lucky her, she got to do the lion's share of the driving… and apparently quite enjoyed it, so there you go.

4) Dogs can jump. More specifically, they can jump off the boat. I recommend life jackets for the less able bodied canine companions in your life (and perhaps for the less able bodied humans, too). In our experience, the dogs were not that interested in jumping into the water, but instead made leaps at the bank when they thought they could make it. Perhaps this was a reflection of my driving skills? The elderly dog on our crew jumped off once without so much of a sound and just watched as we chugged away.

Rory on the other hand led me on a right song and dance in front of a pub garden full of people at a lock. He jumped off with me to do the lock then refused to get on the moving boat, leaving him stranded on a grassy hillock with a canal on both sides. He was essentially water locked and whining his head off, while I stood on the back of the boat screaming, “WAIT… WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAIT… WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAIIIIT” along with matching hand signals. When I jumped off on the opposite side 200 yards down the canal, he was still waiting on his hill, bless him (that's not what I said at the time). I whistled and he somehow managed to negotiate his way across two locks by walking across the thin boards attached to the gates while people were using them. Unbelievable. Unfortunately that wasn't the end of the story (and the pub people are well and truly hooked on the action by this point). I put Rory on the boat. He runs the entire 32ft length of the boat and straight off the other end. Yep, I know. Then while putting him back on for the second time, I miss the boat myself and end up hanging in the canal with one leg, laughing my head off in a manic 'she's gone mad' sort of way while trying to push myself out backwards. Best pub viewing ever. If you have a choice, it's always a good idea to choose a pub with a view of a lock. Which brings us on to…

5) Locks. They're an integral part of the canal boating process, so if you have the option, give it a go. However, watch a few people do it first and be prepared, if you're the person doing the legwork, to bring your best muscles. Or, if you are a girl and have very little shame, your best, 'Oh no, what do I do now' face. We did seven locks in a day. By last one, I was taking any help offered. You might judge me, but when you give it go imagine doing a lock with only two people when one has to drive the boat. Then times that by seven. Apparently some people do them with just one. They're either superhuman or insane.

6) Canal pubs are a godsend. They are also very popular, so think about where you are going to try to moor way in advance, so you don't have to float by the cheery people drinking wine and beer in the warm and then trudge two miles back along a very muddy towpath past all the better prepared people's boats. They are also really helpfully marked on canal maps.

7) Put your stuff inside. This is for two reasons. First, people steal. It's a fact of life. Second, it will fall off the boat. We lost a mooring pin in a lock. Caused all sorts of chaos when we came to stop for the night.

8) Walking the dogs is easy-ish. You have all the towpath you could possibly want and it can also give you a chance to blow away some cobwebs by walking alongside the boat if you don't want to lose time. Wear boots or wellies though because towpaths ain't what they used to be. After all, horses don't walk them anymore. Also, watch the dogs. Rory thought it would be a good idea to check the boat from IN the canal.

9) A basic understanding of mechanic and boats is not essential, but it helps. Diesel engines like to warm up for fifteen minutes before they get going and propeller shafts like being greased every morning. There is also a 'weed hatch', which, despite the name, is not used to hide illegal substances. It's for putting your arm elbow deep in canal water to pull dead/discarded/mangled items off the prop so you don't overheat the engine. Your introduction will cover all this and there should be notes on the boat, but it's quite handy to know rather than flicking through a massive manual in a challenging situation.

10) Have fun. Mooring up in a quiet spot with tired dogs at your feet, drinking some wine, reading a little, makes all the stressy bits more worthwhile. And although canal boats are small, these days they are well equipt – gas ovens and hob, coal burner for the winter, covers for the outside areas, everything for all eventualities. Our canal boat even had a TV but limited coverage (apparently a common problem now that we've gone digital) but a working DVD player, so take some films with you if that's your thing. I'd do it again… just give me some time to build up my energy. Relaxing canal holiday? Ha!


Eye trouble – the chronicles

August 31, 2010

Rory's improved eye – no really

Edited to say: All the vets I have seen have been brilliant. It’s not their fault my dog is an odd ball and incredibly difficult to diagnose. Thanks for all their help this far… I’m sure I’ll need more of it. 🙂

Rory is suffering what I like to call ‘undiagnosable eye trouble’ or UET. This eye problem is causing me both mental and financial strain – about £600-worth so far, plus a trip to the doctors for me because he gave me conjunctivitis (a byproduct of whatever is wrong with him).

The timeline of stress (that’s its official name)

Friday PM All ok as I go to bed
Saturday AM – Eye so swollen I have to take him pretty much straight to the vet, he can barely open it and I’m not loving the idea of having to rush him to the vet on Sunday. Vet has a good poke around, says she can’t see anything in the eye, that he’ll probably be fine on a course of eye drops – very strong, stinging eye drops I might add – until Thursday. If he is fine by then the vet says he will probably be fine and doesn’t need to come back in. There is a passing suggestion of Rory having to be knocked out so the vets can have a proper look. It’s glossed over. I’m relieved it doesn’t seem necessary.
Saturday PM to Thursday PM Swelling gradually goes down. Eye is almost back to normal by the end of Thursday. I follow instructions and stop putting the eye drops in.
Saturday AM Eye is looking a bit more swollen again. I call the vets and make an appointment for Monday evening.
Sunday AM Rory’s eye is back to being so swollen he can’t open it and as it is getting progressively worse I have to take him to the vet. I time it so I go within the clinic times (ie tiny percent cheaper than total weekend out-of-hours). I see another vet, she’s lovely. She pokes around in his eye. Tells me she’s never seen anything like it. Recommends putting him back on the eye drops and coming back on Monday evening. I have to cancel the Monday appointment I’ve already made and make another with the practice partner. Me and Rory head home again.
Monday PM Me and Rory meet the very lovely practice partner. He tells me that he’s not sure what’s wrong with it either. Pokes around in it and still finds nothing.  He recommends putting the eye drops in for a full course of seven days and coming back the following Monday. He seems to know what he is talking about so I agree. I feel much calmer after meeting with him. He mentions the eye specialist based nearby in passing.
Monday PM to Wednesday AM I put the eye drops in, as directed, every day, several times a day. Rory hates it because it stings. (At this point none of the vets have told me the eye drops sting, so I’m left thinking the dog is completely overreacting.) His eye gets progressively worse, not better. By Wednesday it’s absolutely huge and closed. I have a work photoshoot so I make a vet appointment and organise for my grandparents to take him. It’s another different vet. She’s never seen anything like it. She gives him a steroid injection, and as per my note arranges an appointment with the specialist for the Friday. She recommends I keep putting in the eye drops.
Friday AM Rory’s eye looks completely normal as a result of the steroid injection on the Wednesday. It shouldn’t do. The effects normally wear off in 12 hours. The specialist does every test he can think of and they all test as within normal ranges. He steps back, looks at me and sighs. He says that as far as he can see the eye is normal but clearly it is not. Without seeing it blown up he can’t tell me what might be wrong – we do discuss the potential for an allergic reaction or a foreign body in the eye. He sends me away with instructions not to do anything and if it blows up again to bring him back in. I ask if there is a reason the eye drops didn’t work the second time around, he says no, if they work once they should work again. Not doing anything means no eye drops, no medication at all. As I leave he says ‘hopefully it will all be resolved and I won’t see you again’. I say ‘I guarantee we will be back’. He nods knowingly. He says to contact him whenever I need to. He is very helpful, makes lots of helpful suggestions and tells me straight what he’s thinking. I like him. He allows me to vent about how disappointed and frustrated I am with the situation. He agrees. Me and Rory head home.
Saturday AM Rory’s eye has already started to swell. I call the specialist and make an appointment for Tuesday evening. I speak to a veterinary nurse who agrees I should probably put the eye drops in over the weekend but to make sure I stopped Sunday night so it would be flared up for Tuesday.
Sunday AM The eye is significantly worse. I am nervous and uncomfortable about it. Rory is depressed and lethargic for the first time in the whole process. He is clearly in pain and is not interested in anything. About mid-morning I notice there is a small amount of bleeding in the conjunctiva. I keep an eye on this but it stays pretty much the same. He spends most of the day sleeping.
Sunday PM Rory is getting more and more uncomfortable. Suddenly he goes from being completely asleep to violently scratching at his eye. I look at it. The bleeding is significantly worse. He is now pacing and clearly upset. I call out-of-hours at my vet (for the third weekend in a row – what was I saying about Timing), discover that they are very expensive and remember that they could do nothing last weekend either. I call the specialist practice. Another vet at the practice is on call and advises I bring Rory in. My friend who is visiting at the time drives us there. This vet, another new one, the sixth now, also is floored by Rory’s swollen eye and looks genuinely shocked at his appearance. We discuss the drug options in order that the specialist can see Rory the next day without too much masking, but also makes Rory comfortable. More poking around in his eye. Some talk of potential nerve damage or allergies. I go home with Rory on ‘speed’ so he’s buzzing. Before I leave I make the appointment for the following afternoon. Once home Rory settles down to sleep. When he wakes up three hours later his eye is stuck together, when he opens it a whole load of bloody pus comes out. Gross.
Monday PMThe eye is looking better but not completely healed. The specialist is frustrated that the other vet did not call him in the night before and says that the medication means there is no chance of taking swabs or of him being able to see the reaction full-on. I’m not charged for the emergency call the night before because of this. We wouldn’t have been able to take swabs anyway because of my eye drop application over the weekend. Rory is apparently a mystery still. The specialist says he can now see that it is not an allergic reaction which leaves the most likely cause to be something that either had been or is stuck in the eye. He switches him off steroids and on to other drugs. Other drugs that amount to 10 tablets a day (4 different types) and 2 different eye drops, 3 times a day. We’re to stay on this for two or three weeks. I’m given drugs for two weeks and asked to keep in touch. Specialist calls me in just before I leave to take some photos, apparently Rory is going to be in lectures or something. He’s that *special*. Yes he’s certainly special… *Rolls eyes*
Tuesday AM – Tuesday AM I continue with the course of treatment. It seems to be working and Rory’s eye returns almost to normal, with one difference. There is a lump in the corner of his eye. I take photographs of this and email them to the vet. Monday evening I start reducing the medication down as discussed with the vet.
Tuesday PM Rory’s eye is already looking a little more swollen. The lump is no longer visible. I continue with the treatment.
Wednesday AM I realise I only have enough medication to last until Monday  when I am supposed to be seeing the specialist again – except Monday is a bank holiday. I am *not* having another weekend/bank holiday vet visit. I call the specialist’s practice. There is some confusion over how many drugs I do or do not have – mainly from my side. The specialist is to call me back.
Wednesday PM Specialist calls me back. Tells me my photography is another league (well… you know… *blushes*) and suggests I take all his photos from this point onwards. We discover I have been given less drugs than necessary. Specialist arranges for me to pick them up from my normal vet the next day.
Thursday PM – I drop by the vets to pick up the drugs. They aren’t all there and my vet is busy. I have to rush off. Later I have a long and complex conversation with my normal vet where he tells me Rory is on the top level of drugs he can safely have. I arrange to pick up the missing drugs. All the drugs now have different names and doses so it’s like learning a whole new system.
Friday AM – Tuesday PM (TODAY!) – His eye seems to be stable on the medication at the moment and I’ve finally got to grips with the dosages. We’re in a routine. Next appointment is next week and the drugs will run out two days before. Wish us luck.

By the looks of it, Rory might need to be knocked out to have a look at the lump (*sad face* scary stuff), but maybe not, so I’m not thinking about it. Dogs eh? Lucky we love them. And the vets have been fab, the vets receptionists now know me and Rory by name. Unfortunately it’s not just the eye thing we’ve needed them for. Fortunately we’re insured!

Rally-O (80)

June 8, 2010

Claire (@HaslemerePetCo) and Patch show the workshop how it's done

Me and Rory tried some Rally the other day. We are already taking agility lessons, but more of that to come… Rally is different.

Rally-o is a mix of agility and obedience. You move around a course following the instructions on cones until you finally pass through the finish. If you do an action wrong, then you get penalty points. I think you also get penalty points if you run over the ideal course time. Lowest score in the quickest time wins. You get the idea.

Now for some reason that is beyond me, there are two different ways of doing Rally, Talking Dogs and APDT. I don’t know why this surprises me… there are also two ways to do agility (Kennel Club and UKA). The two types of Rally signs are similar, sort of mean the same thing, and have a different amount of sits. (Bear with me, I only did a one day Rally workshop). The benefit of the Wagtails Canine College workshop that I attended, is that they introduce you to both types from the beginning. Personally, although this was a bit confusing at the start of the day, I think that it is better to learn the differences and the different signs from the very beginning so they become almost instinctive.

Anyway, enough about the confusing technicalities. How did we do? Well after the initial shock for Rory that he was not allowed to charge everywhere (like I said we are agility nuts at the moment) he got everything, pretty much first time. My dog is a genius: this was to be expected. Now, I, on the other hand, struggled. The signs were all new and so confused me. I gave Rory commands late, which resulted in him reacting too late. I was taking photos, which slowed us even more! In summary, Rory was brilliant, I was rubbish. Having said that, by the end of the day, with lots of instructor support, we were definitely getting there!

At the moment I crave the excitement (and the physical energy burning for Rory) that agility brings us. I can’t afford to do both at the same time so Rally will be taking a back burner for me, for the immediate future anyway. I would recommend it for those with dogs that like to think, and I can see major benefits for older dogs whose limbs won’t be up to the strains of agility. And if you want to compete, and do well, but your dog is not built for speed then Rally is more for you. How many of us are going to beat a Collie in a flat-out race?

As I write this, I can see @HaslemerePetCo and @HaslemerePets‘s Patch in my mind. (See picture above.) He loves Rally. His tail wags the whole way round. He is brilliant at it. And he is proof that everyone should give it a go. No-one could resist the chance to make their dog that happy!

Check out a video of @HaslemerePetCo and Patch doing a Rally round below:

Rory is awesome (75)

May 25, 2010

Yeah, ok, i’ll admit it, most people think their dog is the most awesome. It works the same way as everyone thinking that their friends are the best friends, that their way is the best way and that they are never wrong. I digress…

Rory is awesome, and here is why:

1) He never judges. Even when I am a mess, and wound up, and annoyed or crying. He doesn’t care. He just waits until I’m ok again and then checks to see if I want to play. Which brings me to point 2.

2) He never buys into my bullsh*t. If i’m having a hysterical breakdown, he will completely ignore me. No solid, supporting dog here. Oh no, he isn’t having any of it. He wants me to get over it and play with him.

3) He comes everywhere with me and never complains. This is just because he is awesome.

4) He makes me feel special because he stresses when I leave him, even if I leave him with someone he knows. Proper whining, crying. But only when he can still see me, randomly.

5) He has great hair. Enough said.

5) He makes me get out and do things. He is that kind of dog. You have to do things or he is bored.

6) He is a genius. After three lessons of agility we moved up – the course should be fifteen weeks. He remembers things I don’t. He can remember where he left a ball three months before. He is too clever, but that is a good thing.

7) He bounces everywhere. Kind of like tigger. It’s cute and it makes me laugh.

And he likes odd numbers, which is why i’m ending on seven. How do I know? Well I just do.

World Agility Championships 2010 (74)

May 18, 2010

 I struck it lucky last week, or more specifically two people struck out. My friend was let down by both the people who were meant to be attending the World Agility Championships with her. Such a shame. I was sad for oh, about two seconds, before I realised that the email everyone in the agility club I had received was offering us tickets. Sorry, ME(!) tickets. As long as I got back to her quickly. Oh there are definitely some benefits of getting your email to your phone!

I’m a bit of an agiity newbee, so I was really excited about going and seeing the best in the world competiting. The WAC is held every other year, in a different country each time, which is another reason to not say no… it was only a few hours from us this year, next year it could be in NZ or Oz.

Talking of NZ and Oz, they had to borrow dogs to compete with, talk about making your job five times harder! But you know what, one of the New Zealand handlers won her section with a borrowed dog so it just goes to show it can be done.

Russia pretty much swept the board. They had clear hand signals and direction, they were fast and driven.

I learnt a whole lot, and now I want to compete. Me and Rory have only had two agility lessons so far but i’m super keen. You would not believe how much a learnt about tactics and how to run a dog. And even about the different styles of training.

I am so ready. Bring on the tests, and maybe in a couple of years we’ll be competing at the World Championships. You never do know, do you?

Timing (69)

May 3, 2010

No, this blog post is not about training. Although timing is of course a key part of that. And no, it is not about being late, although I am quite often late by a few minutes. Don’t take offence if I ever do it to you.

It is instead about Rory’s timing. When I was about to go away on holiday, the morning I was flying out, he got ill. Very, very ill in fact, all over my house. It came from both ends, all over my carpet in my front room and all over the kitchen. The house stank, I hadn’t packed and was due to be leaving him in just a few hours. It is the only time since he was a puppy that he has ever had an accident in the house, and only the second time he has been sick. Horrible, horrible timing. I could smell it from upstairs in the shower. It is worth noting that I had already been downstairs and let him out in the garden, let him do what he needed and let him back in. *sigh* But like most dog owners would be in this situation, I wasn’t mad. You can’t be when they are ill can you? When I got downstairs wrapped in my towel he had squeezed himself into the tiniest space by the sofa, with his head on his paws, looking so sad, and refused to move. He stayed there while I did a botched job of clearing up. I had to take a trip out before I came home from holiday to pick up some de-odoriser. It turns out this was really just a warm-up.

On Saturday, we were on our way back from a fairly new walk that took us about an hour and a half, when Rory stopped dead. His face disappeared into the grass. I failed to notice until I was a fair distance ahead. When I turned around I was sure he was eating something he shouldn’t be. I started yelling “LEAVE IT” across the field. He ignored me, the cricketers on the other side of the fence looked in my direction. “Will you LEAVE IT!’ I started striding in his direction… Rory started hobbling in mine. I was about twenty feet away and I could see the blood trail he was leaving in his wake. This. Was. Not. Good. Luckily we were only about a two minute walk from home, as there is no way in hell I could carry him any distance. I’ve had enough problems carrying him to and in to the car since.

We got home fairly quickly, albeit via a cricketer who wanted to tell me Rory was “a nice looking dog”. Blood everywhere. I put my canine first aid into action. I attended an Animal Aiders course only a couple of weeks ago. Could not see the wound, as Rory would not keep still, so washed out the whole pad with saline and then bandaged it. Left it for two hours, while Rory sulked in his bed. When I took it off the bleeding had stopped, but he was still non-weight bearing. Time to go the vet.

Except he’d chosen the bank holiday to hurt himself. So the vet was only open between 5-6 and, of course, additional charges applied. Carried Rory to, and then from, the car. Waiting room, blood all over clinic floor once new bandage I’d put on for travelling was taken off. (Vet was impressed i’d got it on at all.) After some difficulty it was accessed he has a puncture wound, which you could not tell if it still had anything in it. If he has not improved by tomorrow then he might need surgery. (He is looking improved thank goodness.) Antibiotic injection, painkiller injection, antibiotic tablets to take home, painkillers to take home, elizabethan plastic collar I haven’t used, vet done bandage. Thanks very much, that will be £150 please.

So, apart from the Bank Holiday fees, was there anything else bad about Rory’s timing you might be asking? Well yes. Yesterday (Sunday) me and Rory were supposed to be striding around the cross-country course at Badminton Horse Trials. Anything else? Well yes, we were meant to be attending our first Rally workshop today. That must be it? Well unfortunately no. Thursday is our first agility class.

Bloody dog.

%d bloggers like this: