Drag me to dinner

Lots of different numbers get thrown around when discussing the number of repetitions needed for a dog to learn a new behavior; some suggest an average of 30-60 reps, while others say it can take around 10,000 to achieve perfection. Based on recent experience I’d suggest that if Beagles are involved and the reward is tasty enough, then 1-2 repetitions will be quite sufficient.

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Over the Christmas period I made the terrible mistake of preparing Beanie & Biggles’s dinner while Susan was out walking them. They came through the front door to find their food waiting for them in their bowls, sitting on the floor in their usual serving positions. Confused and elated at the same time, they stuck their heads in the same bowl. Rapid human intervention was required to make sure that they both got a proper serving, mainly because Beanie can eat at twice the speed of Biggles, having long since dispensed with the slow and unnecessary chewing process.

On their next walk I could sense growing anticipation and excitement as we returned home, but it was all for naught; their bowls weren’t waiting for them when they tore through the front door. There was brief disappointment, after which everything returned to normal. Then, maybe a week later, the “instant dinner” scenario happened again, and a switch was well and truly flipped in Beanie & Biggles’ heads.  That last 100 yards to our house is now an excited tugfest, especially when Susan is holding the leads.

It may be the fact that the instant dinners happened inconsistently and unpredictably that locked in this new behavior (trainers refer to this as the Gambling Effect) but regardless, two reps is all it took to hardwire it.

Just as quickly as we taught our two furries to pull like mad on on the way home, I believe I’ve relieved Beanie of her longstanding roadside assistance habit. The Beanster has always been very particular about her feet; she doesn’t like twigs or grit getting between her toes, and when that happens she stops dead, holds up a paw and waits for me to fix things. Usually the irritant is so small I can’t see it, so I fall back on the “magic rub” treatment. Maybe that shifts the offending particle, or maybe it’s all just placebo, but normally that satisfies her majesty and we’re free to continue on our walk.

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About a week ago however we had a really, really bad case of “paw’s not right Dad”. In fairness it was very frosty and the gritter lorries had been out, spraying not just the roads but the pavements too; I can imagine that if you’ve already got ice between your toes the sudden introduction of salt could lead to an unpleasantly nippy sensation. Regardless, a paw was raised, and seeing no obvious tootsie contaminants I administered the magic rub. The paw did not go back down. I repeated the magic rub, really working my gloves into the gaps between her toes, but still the paw remained in the raised position.

“Whatever it is, it’ll get better if you walk on the grass for bit. Come on Beanie, let’s get moving!” I said encouragingly.

Ever the stoic Beagle she tried a step, but then lifted the paw again and began hopping to keep up with me and Biggles. I stopped and saw that her raised leg was trembling as though in pain.  This was a bad one, and desperate times call for desperate measures. I picked her up, rolled her onto her back, and in full view of motorists, other pedestrians, a Westie and an outrageously coiffured Poodle, I cupped the affected paw in my hand and blew warm air on it.

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This mended the sore tootsie instantly, but did irreparable damage to Beanie’s street cred. She wriggled to get back on the ground as quickly as possible then double-timed it until she’d put some distance between her and the site of this embarrassing incident. We’ve since had more frost and even a decent snowfall – all of which brought the gritters out of hiding – but we’ve had no more calls for roadside assistance. I fixed it for good, and it only took one try. What breed are these dogs that need endless repetitions? Not Beagles, that’s for sure.

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This is what happens when one Beagle obeys the “wait” command, and the other one takes off as soon as he sees the biccie leave my pocket. Life is just not fair.

A Snuggly, Snuffley Christmas

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When I woke on Christmas morning one of my first thoughts was “I wonder if the pups will enjoy their snuffle mats?” That wasn’t my absolute first thought of the day however; the first one was “I wish Biggles would hurry up and jump into bed so I don’t have to keep holding the duvet open for him”(he often gives me the paw to say he’s ready, then mucks about scratching and rolling on the carpet) and the second one was “I wish Beanie wasn’t trying to ram her front paws up my bum”, but the snuffle-mat question was definitely third in the queue.

I didn’t get an answer until we’d returned from our morning beach run, and it was during the run that Biggles found out what it’s like to actually be a snuffle-mat himself. About 20 minutes in we encountered a stocky and wholly intact Beagle boy, and a round of bottom sniffing ensued. I think this other Beagle must have been a bit hard-of-smelling, because he wasn’t content to sniff from the usual distance; he stuck his snout right in there and then proceeded underneath towards the undercarriage area. So intense was the snuffling that Biggles’ rear legs got lifted clean off the ground, and yet despite all that effort the other boy came away without getting any treats. I’m happy to report that the snuffling which occurred later at home was much more productive!

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There was some initial confusion over which package belonged to which Beagle

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But once they had a mat each, the snuffling got properly under way

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Beanie hunted down the treats hidden in her mat very quickly

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But Biggles was no slouch either!

Some dogs need to be taught not to cheat by shaking the mat or overturning it to release the treats, but our two just stuck their noses in there and got to work in a thoroughly orthodox fashion. Perhaps snuffling comes more naturally for Beagles, but certainly the mats kept Beanie & Biggles thoroughly engrossed until the treats ran out. I shot a little video of them in action – it’s not exactly riveting viewing for spectators, but I think it’s very satisfying and rewarding for the participants. I’m aiming to make a habit of holding back some of the kibble from their regular meals and delivering it via the mats instead of their bowls.

Snuffle Mats In Use

(The whining in the second part is Biggles complaining that he’s not getting to empty Beanie’s mat as well as his own)

It goes without saying that we got them regular toys as presents too. Beanie has gone through several “skinneez” stuffing-free toys recently, so I got her an extra tough fox with puncture-proof squeakers, and Biggles received a floppy, squeaky Santa. Both these toys were completely ignored while the mats were out, but the next day Beanie discovered the new fox and the first of (hopefully) many robust tugging sessions followed.

Xmas Tug

Initially Biggles seemed throughly disinterested in his Santa. I demonstrated its squeakers in front of him and his eyes lit up, but he didn’t engage in any play with me, so I just left it on the sofa next to him and went about my business. Sometime later in the day while I was busy on the computer, I heard the sound of joyful squeaking coming from the end of the corridor by our bedroom. I went to investigate and sure enough there was Biggles with his Santa, but he froze as soon as he realized he was being watched. I backed away behind the corner, and the squeaks resumed, stopping again when I stuck my head back round for a peek. We repeated this game of hide-and-squeak a few times before I returned to my seat with a grin on my face; when Biggles wants to play with something in secret, it’s pretty good sign that he likes it!

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Christmas is now behind us and the New Year is very close. The woofers will be joining us with a toast to the new year courtesy of Bottom Sniffer ale and small bottle of Pawsecco. I’ve got my fingers crossed there won’t be too much firework activity; it’d be a shame if the Beanster had to start 2018 tightly wrapped in her Thundershirt.

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Snufflers at the ready!

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When Susan suggested getting snuffle-mats for the pups as Christmas presents, I have to admit that I just didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. To me they just looked like messes of fabric, and very expensive messes at that. Being a stingy Yorkshire git I talked her into going the DIY route, and yesterday evening our lounge became a snuffle-mat factory; I had my head down cutting cheap throws from The Range into strips, while Susan carefully tied those strips onto the plastic sink drainer mats I’d found in Morrisons for just £1 a pop.

SnuffleMat

We got through one feature length movie, two episodes of Star Trek and four rounds of coffee before they were done, and Biggles didn’t help by trying to make a bed on them at every opportunity. Once they were finished I closed my eyes and ran my hand through them, imagining a Beagle snout foraging for buried treats, and finally began to understand why these things are popular. I think these could just be the most fun pressies Beanie & Biggles have had to date. What’s more, having made our own mats we’ve still got some leftover strips for emergency repairs; I suspect we’ll be putting them to good use if Biggles decides that the best way to get to the treats is to nibble through all the tufty bits. Let’s just hope he doesn’t swallow too many of the tufts and force us into a visit to the emergency vet!

Finally, here’s a few shots from a trip to Semple Castle park a week ago. It’s a very pretty park – especially on a sunny but frosty day – and is only a half hour drive from our home, yet in the eight years we’ve been in Ayrshire this was our first visit!

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Cold Little Bridge [5D4_7636]

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Castle Semple Trail [5D4_7697]

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Collegiate Church, Castle Semple [5D4_7751]

Castle Semple Loch Gloaming [5D4_7814_5D4_7817]