The fine line between training, play and enrichment - and why our dogs need all three.
A few nights ago Ruben phoned me from Italy to tell me how he had been relaxing in our garden, enjoying the silence of the mountains after a busy day helping the builders, when he heard our neighbour say two words he didn’t expect to hear in his little village in Tuscany where nobody speaks English.
He looked over the wall to see Nadia in her garden with her dog Leo. Nadia was hiding pieces of sausage around the garden for Leo to sniff out! She told Ruben she had seen his mum, Marcella, practicing with Clara and Ruby after I’d done a training session with her last time I was in Italy. Marcella had told Nadia how much calmer Clara was since they’d started making sniff sessions part of their daily routine.
Clara is highly reactive to dogs and people, several times landing herself and Marcella in a spot of trouble. Before learning these scent skills Clara used to stay on the balcony loudly making sure that anyone who went past knew she was there. Now she finds nosework much more rewarding and even when not actively engaging in scent games with Marcella she enjoys exploring the smells in the garden left behind by the overnight visitors - deer, badgers, wild boars and even wolves have started making nightly appearances to the village. After a sniffy session she will happily relax in the shade - something that she never used to do as she was always vigilant.
Nadia, living next door and therefore being, let’s say, aware of Clara’s sentinel duties decided that if it helped Clara, she would give it a go too.
I wonder how many more ‘Find its’ we’ll hear next time we visit!
Today I’m travelling to Leicester for the 6 Day Accredited Scent Instructor Course with The UK College of Scent Dogs. It’s the most highly regarded scentwork course in the UK and the Instructor Rob Hewings is the best in the industry - so I really can’t wait! We’ll even be searching a 747 aeroplane!
Your guide to: Raised Searches
Once your dog easily finds treats on the ground, raised searches can add interest to scent games - as well as having health benefits.
Raised searches at Dogwood
Try raised searches on our ramps, logs, steps, stones, tyres, tree stumps, or my current favourite - the pallet ramp propped against the log in Dogwood East.
I love this one because it slows dogs down and encourages them to use the thinking part of their brain instead of charging around at 100 mph. They have to think about where they’re putting their paws, as well as sniffing out the food.
Start by placing the food on the bottom rungs of the pallet (Dogwood East) or the lower steps or tree stumps (Dogwood West) and once they are confident, slowly increase the height.
Benefits of raised searches
Conditions and strengthens different muscle groups including abdominals and those in the hindlimbs
Putting paws up onto things and walking on novel textures increases dogs’ confidence
A great form of mental stimulation and engagement
Ask your dog to wait in a sit or down (if you haven’t trained your dog to do this yet, ask an assistant to gently restrain them by the harness)
1. Show your dog that you have the treat, clearly letting them see that you’ve placed it on an upside down plant pot or other raised item such as a tree stump. When you return to them show them that your hands are empty. Use the ‘Find it!’ cue to release your dog to go and find the food.
2. Start again but this time introduce a second overturned plant pot or tree stump and this time place the food on this one.
3. As above but with a new third object. Place the food on this one.
4. Now with the fourth search we are moving to visual and olfactory. As in the previous steps, show your dog the treat but do a ‘dummy drop’ where you drop the treat on the third object and then pretend to put it on the second one. Dogs will usually go to the last place they saw you so expect them to head straight for the second object! They will then use their nose to find the treat on the third one.
5. Slowly increase the size of the search area and the number of items you hide food on. Mix it up with a combination of Ground Searches and Raised.
! There should only ever be one treat to find in the search area during any one search.
! At this stage dogs should find the treat within 10 seconds. If they don’t, the search area is too complicated and you need to either make is smaller or remove items from it.
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Through nearly a decade at Dogs Trust it is so clear to me that reward-based training and enrichment build strong bonds that forge long and lasting relationships with our dogs and I talk about this with owners every day.
But what good is any of this if you can’t find your dog?
In my role as Campaigns Officer at Dogs Trust I travel across the North of England to offer training, behaviour, enrichment, health and legal advice to hundreds of dog owners every week. You would be amazed by how many tell me that their dogs have checked into those most notorious of establishments, the local authority stray kennels.
After a mad March and arduous April, May is for PLAY. So let’s Catch up!
If you follow us on social media you’ll know we’ve had a busy couple of months. Did I achieve my own goal of 6 plays a day with my dogs during this time?
I hit around 3, even less during maintenance week when the dogs couldn’t come in the field with us due to the weed spray and none at all when I was away on the course.
One game I can always fit in when I’m short on time is Catch. It’s genius in its simplicity and can be played any time, anywhere.
Focus, focus, focus!
I often play this at the beginning of an Enrichment Break to get dogs super focussed on me. They usually can’t catch very well at first!
Playing catch at the start of a session builds motivation for rewards, setting you up well for the rest of your training
Great for bonding with your dog as you work together as a team, you throwing and your dog catching
Improves coordination and precision (for you and your dog!)
Fun! You can’t help but get excited when your dog catches the food or toy and your dog will share your enthusiasm!
Stand a couple of feet from your dog, show them you have food or a toy in your hand and gently toss it towards them. Hopefully they’ll make a move towards it. If they don’t catch it, that’s fine! Allow them to eat the food off the ground or pick up their toy and have a play
Repeat again and again. You can feed entire meals this way
Gradually increase the distance from your dog.
Be patient - not all dogs can catch (no, really!) You should see Lao when I gently toss a piece of kibble towards him from a foot away, he pulls a face like he’s being assaulted - I might as well be throwing rocks! Fifi on the other hand is brilliant and I can stand at the other side of the room from her.
Your own aim is as important as your dog’s catch - try to be as precise as possible
If you’d like to know why March was mad and April arduous, read on.
Ruben and I have been backwards and forwards to Italy over the past month in the process of selling our house. We were given a date, it got pushed back, then another date, then problems with the building work (who concretes up a celling to hide the beams? and how do you get the concrete to stay in place? I thought I understood how gravity works? – there were so many questions but not enough time to answer any of them).
Meanwhile, our Dogwood clients will know that during the first week of April we were closed for a week for scheduled maintenance. Well, said scheduled maintenance had been scheduled for six months. ‘Nobody book anything for the first two weeks of April,’ I said, ‘we’re going to be busy.’ Everyone agreed.
Then back in November Black Friday happened. So I broke my own rule, booked a 6 day course and arranged to go to London the day our maintenance week was due to finish.
I squeezed in a marketing course too. In for a penny, in for a pound.
The final date came through for the sale of the house in Italy and of course it was for the first week of April. Ruben had to go without me as there was too much maintenance planned at Dogwood for us both to miss it and we were now our strongest man down - though you should see my muscles after shifting all that stone!
Were we stressed in the build up to him leaving? Indeed we were. Shattered too? You bet. Did Ruben miss his flight to Italy? Why, yes he did. Did I have to drive him to Stanstead airport because there were no flights anywhere closer and did I do the full return journey in eight hours as I had to be at Dogs Trust in the afternoon? If I don’t laugh about this I’ll cry.
Maintenance week started. Everything had to run like a tight ship: dogs out, weed killer in, fencer, landscaper, soil, gravel, pool. Our lovely and highly recommended landscaper, David Nasseau, helpfully mentioned once the digger had gone back, ‘You should have said you needed all that moving, we could have used the digger’. ‘Sssh,’ I whispered, nervously eyeing my red-faced and plainly exhausted family who were into their thirty-sixth hour of shovelling, ‘we won’t tell them it has been invented yet.’
Between all of this I drove to Sunderland for IMPACT (the marketing event for pet professionals), back to Dogwood on Sunday to roll my sleeves up and shovel another few tonnes of soil – giving myself a corker of a black eye in the process – then drove to London with my friend Gemma and her new adoption Freddie, a huge silky black bull breed for the 6 day Advanced Training and Behaviour course I’d booked on Black Friday.
6 days of tracking, advanced scentwork, Norwegian Bringsel (playing the part of the dog!), advanced clicker training, reactivity and breed specific traits, separation anxiety, resource guarding, Hoopers and Flyball... then to top it all off, a behaviour clinic with Steve Mann. Phew!
The 6 days were intense – long days in cold fields (you’d think I’d be used to that!) – but I loved every single minute of it and I learned so much that I can’t wait to put to good use at Dogwood.
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