Saturday, 17 August 2013

A Treatise on Toys...

Toys? Yeah, my dog has a couple of toys... what's so important about toys?

Well for a lot of dogs, toys are just that manky rubber tugger and tatty bit of knotted rope that are under the sofa and have been for donkeys years.

Some dogs aren't too fussed about toys and that's fine - on the whole, those dogs are adults who lead very fulfilling lives with plenty of mental stimulation coming from other sources, but modern dog toys are a bit of a revelation, so read on anyway!

Toys need to be about the dog - not about the human!

Obvious isn't it - and yet there are THOUSANDS of toys out there that are all about amusing a human and have very little to do with the dog. Those countless rubber tuggers for example - only the die hard tug enthusiast is going to bother with those and there's one very simple reason for this - they taste FOUL. Natural rubber has a VERY strong flavour and odour and a huge number of dogs actually don't like it!

Then there's all those plastic squeaky carrots and bones and newspapers - again whilst some dogs go wild for a squeaker, once that's been killed the toy is reduced to something for the dog to bring you to hint that he'd like to play - very boring if you happen to be busy.

Finally, there's often a clash between humans and their dogs about what their dog does with a toy or how their dog plays, and how THEY want to play or think their dog should play.

Humans want dogs to carry teddies around and curl up with them - dogs want to rip teddy limb from limb and remove his stuffing.
Humans want to throw the tennis ball a few times - dogs either want the ball thrown 10'0000 times, or to skin that ball like the fluorescent yellow bitch it is... that's right, kill that mofo dead!

Yeah, I don't give my dogs soft toys or squeakies because he wrecks them...

Yep, I bet he does and you know what, that IS play - he plays the way he wants and needs to. The fact that it makes a tiny little bit of you cry inside as he rips the head off the fluffy zebra is not relevant here.
There are thousands of dogs out there who don't get toys, who would love toys, because the way they want to play is not the way their owners think they should play. Sometimes it is because they are buying the wrong toys of course, sometimes its because they can't accept who their dog is!

So, what toys SHOULD I be getting my dog?

First thing to do is separate out the kinds of toy available. There are interactive toys, where you need to help - there are food dispensing toys - there are chewing toys/shredding toys.

I'll list a few examples with links to where you can get them (please note I am not endorsing any of these stores, its just they happen to stock them!):

Interactive toys - these toys require some input from you:

Nina Ottosson Tornado Dog Interactive Toy Game The Nina Ottoson 'Dog Tornado' - the dog has to spin the sections to find the food hidden inside. Like all the Nina Ottoson range, these toys can be made a little harder as your dog gets better at them. There is now a huge range of puzzle toys from Nina Ottoson and other makers - this ones available from VetUK

Puzzle Plush Hide a Bird I call these 'hide inside' toys - plush toys that comprise a cube or cage or some sort of container, with individual, often squeaky toys that you stuff inside and your dog has to pull out. Brilliant for dogs who love de-stuffing toys. There's a great range of these available these days, with the iCube being the original and still brilliant, and the Hide-a-bee and Intellibone and and more than I can list! Awesome toys!

Puzzle Plush Egg Baby Dog Toys This is a similar idea - pull out the eggs hidden inside the penguin.

Both these toys and a LOT more awesome positive training stuff including toys, are available from Training Lines

Along similar lines, Kong make a range of soft toy animals in two or three sizes which have a velcro closed compartment inside that holds a squeaker, or you can take the squeaker out and replace it with something else - great for dogs who like to rip open a toy and pull something out. Not the hardest wearing of toys (I've mended our Errol's Platy Duck a few times now!) but a lot of dogs are actually satisfied once they have ripped the toy open!

All these toys will require supervision from you and are not designed to be given to your dog unsupervised at all. You need to be there to ensure your dog isn't getting the food from a puzzle toy by flipping it upside down or chewing the lid off! You need to be there to stuff the eggs back in the penguin, etc etc.

Food Dispensing Toys

These toys all require you to stuff them and/or put them together but your dog can be left with these whilst you get on with something else.

Kong Classic Red Dog Toy Here's the original and brilliant Kong. It comes in a variety of sizes (don't bother with the tiny puppy size) and also in black for power-chewers. Now some dogs HAVE managed to wreck Kongs but they are few and far between, and this generally happens when a dog is given a Kong that has been stuffed in such a way as it is too difficult for that dogs skill level. You MUST teach a dog how to use a Kong, working your way up from 'food that almost falls right out' to 'hardcore frozen, gonna take hours' or you will frustrate your dog into wrecking it, or he will give up.

Busy Buddy Twist n Treat Dispensing Dog Toy    Linkables Treat Dispensing Puzzle Toys   Kong Genius Treat Dispensing Dog Toys Tug-a-Jug Treat Dispensing Dog Toy

From left to right, Busy Buddy Twist n Treat, Linkables, Kong Genius and Tug-a-Jug. All available from Training Lines as above.

These are all variations on the same theme - fill them with food, let your dog figure out how to get at the food.

There are a lot of other food dispensing toys available, this is just a VERY small selection and I would encourage anyone and everyone, to get hold of two or three or four of these toys and use them instead of a food bowl for at least one of their dogs daily meals. You effectively get 10 - 60 minutes mental stimulation all for the price of 5 minutes stuffing them!

You do need to think about what your dog likes best however - the Tug-a-Jug is a great toy but if your dog likes to fling things a long way, it could cost you a flat screen tv or a picture window. Better for non-flingers or inside a crate!  The Twist n Treat is good but not for dogs who have figured out they can chew it open - great for dogs who like to lick though, fill it with some meaty food and freeze!

The Linkables and the Genius are I think some of the most innovative toys around, satisfying a dogs urge to pull things apart, chew and lick, and you can buy as many sections as you like and link them together in different ways so the toy is much less likely to become over familiar and boring.

Chewing toys

Rubber Rumdinger Treat Finder Toys  Busy Buddy Rip n Tug LotusJW Crackle Heads Crunchy Ball

First two available from Training Lines, Crackle Head ball by JW, from VetUK

Chew toys need to give a dog a reason to chew - the above toys give you somewhere to put cheese spread or peanut butter, kibble in the rip-tug and the Crackle Head ball is an amazing invention, containing the plastic we use for pop-bottles that dogs LOVE to chew, but without the sharp edges or lid that make such things dangerous. JW get a massive thumbs up from me for really thinking about what dogs LIKE to do!

JW Crackle Heads Cuz Dog Toy This is the Cuz version - the Cuz, by JW is basically a tough rubber ball... with legs! The Bad Cuz also has horns - whilst this may  mean your dog chews off the legs and horns, before he does so you have a throw-toy that bounces unpredictably.

The original Cuz toys JW Pet Bad Cuz Dog Toy These bounce unpredictably due to their feet and horns - they squeak, but unlike standard squeaky toys these produce a much less ear-bleeding tone, more like a grunt or fart!

Petstages Orka Stick Dog Toy

Mixed textures are also a good thing - this is the Petstages Orka chew/tug bone - it combines a durable, NON-nasty tasting rubber with knotted cotton giving your dog two textures to go at, and giving you a toy you can throw, he can tug, and he can chew!

Petstages make a wide range of interesting toys - do check them out and look for them in shops or online stockists.

Theres more cool stuff out there, too much for me to list but go  on a google-hunt, try Zogoflex, Goughnuts for really tough chewers! For dogs with a lot of chase instinct, try Skineez and tie them to the end of a lunge whip or make your own flirt pole using a length of broomhandle and some para-cord.

I firmly believe that at the very least, all puppies should have a toy box filled with the likes of the toys above, and if your adult dog doesn't have an appropriate outlet for their chewing needs, they need mental stimulation or something to do when left home alone, then you really should invest.

I hope this post has given you some idea of the innovation thats gone into dog toys and what is actually out there - as I say, there is a massive range of stuff, I have barely scratched the surface, but I hope it inspires you to fill your dogs toybox with the good stuff and ditch the boring things!

(NB - None of the stores or manufacturers listed here paid me or gave me stuff to feature them - if they'd LIKE to, they'd be more than welcome!)


Please ensure when selecting a toy that you think about HOW your dog plays, and then supervise your dog with a new toy, to be certain they won't get a tooth or claw stuck and injure or frighten themselves!

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

It's amazing what you see when you learn how to look...

This is a nice, positive, if a little wandering and possibly a bit deep n' meaningful... you cannot say you were not warned!

I am a bit scared of things that fly at my head...

There, I've 'fessed up. Things that fly around (I mean insects, not, half-bricks!) and hit me in the head cause me to go 'arrrgh' and 'eeeeeeeeeearrrrrrrrrrgh' and 'FUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKGETOFFME' and other such things.

My reaction ranges from 'crap I don't like this' to 'full scale meltdown' depending on what the thing is.

If it just flys near me, I am wary. If it flies near me AND it goes BZZZZZZZ I am on the verge of panic.

If it flies AT me and is silent, I flap around and move - if it flies AT me and goes BZZ  I am close to filling my pants, I run and scream.

If it goes BZZZ and it LANDS on me I become completely irrational, I'll run around, scream, strip off clothing, smash myself in the head trying to make sure its not in my hair. I can't listen to stuff that's said to me either.

So, moving this story along - whilst clearly, bees and wasps and their various brethren are no friends of mine.

Moths on the other hand are cause for a little concern, which grows with their size and desire to fly at my head.

Where I live, we have a lot of moths. Probably because there is a lot of wild scrubby woodland and fields behind my house, and I live in the West Midlands where its marginally warmer than the Frozen North that is my native land (ok ok, Manchester).

The other relevant points here are - our terraced house requires we have windows open or it is too hot in summer. Even if its not actually that hot. Windows closed results in a vile, stale, airless abode.
Also, our upstairs toilet is a tiny room, with an open window - and we tend to leave the light on as its the least annoying light to leave on so you can see where you are going for your middle-of-the-night-wee (or otherwise you trip over an Ellie dog on the landing).

The net result of course is that our tiny tiny loo with its pale walls and electric-moon, is a veritable Mecca for Moths!

It was just NOT sustainable to carry on being so worried about things that fly at my face, when this affected my ability to go for a wee, so Something Had To Be Done...

I started to learn about Moths.

Moths are quite interesting - theres a huge variety of colours, shapes, sizes, flying habits... males tend to have ridiculous feathery antenna, there are some with incredibly furry faces, and their common names tell of times gone by, when to keep slightly odd young men busy, moth collecting was thought  a good, upstanding activity. I feel that moth collecting was then, to butterfly collecting, what goth music is to chart pop... still a bit weird!

The names really inspired me - I wanted to meet the Dingy Footman, The Setaceous Hebrew Character and The Snout and all their friends. Looking through pictures of the species found in the UK, I thought 'wow... I have never seen almost ANY of these before....'

And I know why  now - and it isn't that I was blind, and it isn't that these are particularly rare creatures.

It's simply because I wasn't looking.

In the last fortnight I have found:

Dingy Footman
Common Footman
Buff Footman
Clothes Moth (common/various)
Scalloped Oak
Early Thorn (many!)
Lesser Rustic
Carcina quercana (has no common name)
Common Plume
Light Emerald
Willow Beauty
Poplar Hawk Moth
Riband Wave

I haven't set foot outside my house to see these, these are just the moths that were drawn into my home by the lights we leave on!

This brings me to two thoughts.

Firstly - when we look, when we know what we are looking for and where, and how, we will find it - we WILL see things that were always there... we just never noticed them before.

Secondly - when we pair something we aren't keen on, with a reward, we become much happier about that thing.

So thats how this relates to dog behaviour modification, because really here, I was counter conditioning myself to moths.

Using a functional reward - my love of learning about wildlife, my human desire to collect and collate and list the things I find - I have changed my emotional response to moths from 'urgh yuck' to 'ooh, interesting!'.

We can and should do the same with our dogs.

I am constantly amazed when people watch various tv shows and youtube clips, and they don't seem to see the things I see. I talk to clients and they have never noticed for example, the difference in a dogs mouth when he is panting because he is a little warm, and when his mouth is open because his lips are drawn back, tension creating wrinkles at the corners, ears back and tight, caused by stress or fear.

They don't see because they are not in the habit of looking - because they don't know why they should look, nor how or where, contextually, these things are important.

Once people DO know how to look though, it can be quite a revelation!