Life’s a beach (and then you have chicken)

For some time now I’ve been giving Beanie & Biggles a bit of off-lead time during our beach runs; it’s pretty much the only place they get offlead these days that doesn’t have some kind of fence around it!

Speeding Beagles #2 [IMG_7085]

It started last year when I switched to doing rapid-fire interval training for part of the run. Both of them got so into the rhythm of the intervals that one day I decided to unclip their leads briefly to see whether they’d stay with me. They didn’t. Well not exactly. They went off on a mad chase for 150m or so, then turned round and legged it straight back to me, for which they were duly rewarded. In the past they’d just have sprinted way off into the distance, leaving me nervously watching as their bums turned into specs on the horizon (then vanished altogether), so this was a huge improvement. I sent them off for two more high-speed chases, and when these also completed without any major excursions I clipped their leads back on and rewarded them one more time. Over the next few weeks we had more of these little adhoc bursts of freedom and gradually I came up with a set of rules that so far have been successful every time:

  • Choose a time for the the run when the tide is fairly low and and there’s a good wide beach
  • Don’t release them until they’ve got into the rhythm of the run and already burned off some of their excess energy. Coincidentally this also means that we’re further up the beach, safely away from picnics and most walkers, so there are fewer distractions
  • Always come armed with pieces of chicken. Give them a small taste of chicken prior to release, reward every return to base, and reward even more heavily once they’re back on lead.
  • Keep running while they’re off-lead and keep the off-lead period short. They’re getting a good long run anyway, so the off-lead section is just the icing on the cake.
  • Make sure there’s still a period of exciting running (intervals) following the off-lead bit.

The two of them became so used to the beach routine that eventually I felt confident enough to give them the taste of freedom during a plain old walk. Susan was not entirely keen, but I talked her into it, and one day last week we gave it a go..

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Seconds after release.. Are those cheeky bottoms about to disappear for an undetermined period?

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Nope – they’ve turned..

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Return to base in progress!

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And they’re back for their first pit-stop. Break out the chicken!

Susan used the “Go play” command to send them off for several more run-abouts, and each one went very smoothly, thanks mostly to Beanie. It was as though she had a timer running in her head that went off whenever she’d been away too long, causing her to pull a 180 and head back to base for a reward. Occasionally Biggles tried to tempt her into a Beagles-only adventure but she resisted.

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Biggles hangs back, trying to lure Beanie down the path to Naughtyville…

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..to no avail. When it’s time for chicken, it’s TIME FOR CHICKEN!

And of course when Beanie was back with us getting the tasty stuff, Biggles didn’t hold out for long!  The two of them were only off-leash for a few minutes but they had a great time together and never went much more than 100m from us. That’s the kind of behavior we’ve always wanted! Nevertheless I intend to reserve these sessions almost exclusively for runs for the time being. Why? Food alone has never been enough to stop Beanie & Biggles from going off on their own adventures; I’m convinced it was the excitement and anticipation of the intervals that helped to build the “short burst and return” behavior – the food just reinforced it.

On a completely different note, I was just contacted by the team behind the “Backyard Oil” show on the Discovery Channel in the US. They wanted to use some of my old photos of Beagle Racing for the upcoming show on Tuesday 28th. They chose a a few shots, including a sweet one of the Biggly Boy. Of course I gave them permission, but quite what Beagle racing in Scotland has to do with modern oil prospectors in Kentucky, I have no idea! The show isn’t on the UK incarnation of Discovery yet, but I should be able to view it over the internet in due course.

The Curse Of The Poo Gloves

Some days ago we took our cheeky monkeys to another little town on Ayrshire’s coast called Seamill. It’s a lovely place; so lovely in fact that I went back later the same day and got this beautiful shot of Arran still covered in a blanket of snow:

Fire to melt the snow [IMG_0848-0850]

Parts of Seamill beach are very rocky and Beanie & Biggles had a great time scrambling over all the lumps and bumps. They also at various times had things in their mouths that shouldn’t be there: shells, pieces of driftwood, burst tennis balls, and bits of seaweed. Beanie seemed particularly enamored with one piece of seaweed and Susan – who was wearing gloves – pried open Beanie’s jaws to investigate. Unsurprisingly the “seaweed” turned out to be a piece of sea-washed, sun-dried poo and said poo was now all over Susan’s gloves. We both made a mental note that those gloves would need a wash and continued with our walk.

The next day it was time for my weekly 10k on the beach with my two furry running buddies. I got changed into my (very) cold weather running gear and went through my pre-run checklist:

  • Harnesses? Yep.
  • Tape extending leads for more scampering fun? Yep.
  • Running belt pouch filled with poo bags, dog biscuits and a few lumps of chicken? Yep! (By way of confirmation Beanie tried to grab my belt and scarper off with it down the corridor)
  • MP3 player & earphones? Yep.
  • Beanie (my running cap that is, not the Beagle of the same name)? Yep.
  • Thin but surprisingly effective running gloves? Nope!!

I couldn’t find my gloves in the usual places so I asked Susan if she’d seen them, and it turned out they’d just been washed but weren’t yet dry. This was not good news as it was cold and the inevitable wind-chill on the beach would quickly render my hands incapable of controlling the extending leads. Fortunately I discovered a pair of gloves in the boot of the car as I loaded the Beaglets into their crates, so finally we were good to go.

Once at the beach I got out of the car, uttered a couple of expletives to no-one in particular about how cold it was and headed down to the strip of firm sand right down by the water, deftly navigating the pups past the shell fragments dropped by seagulls, the McDonalds wrappers dropped by humies, and the huge piles of poo dropped by horses. I turned on my MP3 player and as AC/DC’s “For those about to rock” started up the three of us began our run. As tradition demands ten steps later we stopped our run, and I dug around in my running pouch for a poo bag while the other two members of our party emptied their bowels. I deftly navigated the woofers back through the gauntlet of poo, wrappers and shells to make our deposit in the nearest poo bank aka bin. Then we turned around, passed through all the hazards for the third time (third time lucky for Biggles because he snagged a gobful of horse muck) and got under way again. This was it: 5k out, 5k back and nothing to detract from the fun.

Nothing that is, apart from my gloves. Yep, the gloves I was wearing were the ones smothered in poo from the previous night. I only found this out when I used them to flick drops of sweat from the end of my nose and experienced an unpleasant but all too familiar odor.  I made a mental note to only use certain cleaner parts of the gloves for future sweat clearance operations, but when I’m running with the pups I get so engrossed in doggy management that everything else is forgotten. You know that phrase “Here’s mud in your eye“? Well in my case it wasn’t mud. Anyway when we got back home that pair of gloves finally went for a good wash and I went for a good shower!

Sometimes on our weekly runs we do the outward half on the sand, and return via the dunes above the beach. This is great fun for me and the Beagles because the track is narrow, winding and goes up and down like a kid on a pogo stick (or Biggles trying to grab the bread from the kitchen worktop). On our most recent outing I took along my head camera, and the result is below. You’ll notice that at one point Beanie & Biggles get offlead for a short but crazy sprint workout of their own. I’ve found that as long as I do this after we’ve got a couple of on-lead speed drills under our belt, they’re reasonably well behaved (though it also helps if the beach is clear of distractions and I’ve got a sizeable lump of chicken in my belt pouch!)

Now that was a workout [IMG_0889]

Now that was a workout!

Back up to speed!

I think it’s fair to say that Beanie is firing on all cylinders once again. We”ve been gradually re-introducing her activities and she’s been lapping it up!

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Beanie’s back!

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And Biggles has his chase partner once again!

To celebrate we’ve given the Beaglets a couple of exciting cani-cross runs. The first one was a modest little jog around the castle at Loch Doon. Beanie wasn’t shy about taking the lead, and the normally peaceful location soon got a bit noisy!

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Of course we had to stop off inside the castle to check things out…

Loch Doon Castle [IMG_9797_8_9_fused]

There’s barely a single stone inside that castle that hasn’t been sniffed and peed on, that’s for sure!

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A final sunset sniff-about finished our Loch Doon adventure!

Loch Doon (IMG_9832-34_Manual)

The second cani-cross run was at a less exotic location: Eglinton Park. A new parkrun is about to start up there and Susan took the pups for a reccie round the course.

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For some time now Beanie & Biggles have been doing the bulk of their human-linked running on the beach, usually on extending lines, so we weren’t sure how well they’d do in full cani-cross gear running round the sometimes narrow trails in the park. We needn’t have worried though – for the most part they ran as team, and Susan was able to get in a good few bursts of speed.

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That’s not say there weren’t a few poo & pee stops, and at one point the course was disrupted by a bit of building work so there was a bit of sniffy off-roading..

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All the trees and park benches offered plentiful opportunities for the classic Beagle one-two, where Beanie & Biggles go different ways round an obstacle, setting up their attached humie (typically the groin portion of said humie) on course for a painful collision. However against all expectations our pups turned up their moist black noses at these opportunities, giving Susan an enjoyable and largely trouble-free run round the course.

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There was the tiniest bit of a steering problem near the end, just as Susan was being taken down a short hill at an uncomfortably fast pace. It may have had something to do with me mentioning the treats in my pocket. Oops!

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Treats you say? Sorry Mum, but we’re going this way!