A tale of ice and fire. And bogs. Part#1

If you live in Scotland and a bit of good weather comes your way you’d better make the most of it, because you never know how long it’ll last. With that in mind, we packed up the caravan and towed it up the Bunree campsite, just outside of Onich. This seemed like a good base for day trips to old favorite Glencoe, but also to new locations such as Ardnamurchan and Appin.

On arrival I opened up the rear of the car so that our furry crate-dwellers sample the air. I didn’t let them out yet though; I didn’t want them to get in the way while Susan and I wrestled with the awning. And “wrestled” is definitely the right word to use, because a fairly spirited wind was blowing and the hard-standing area was not doing a very good job of holding onto the awning pegs. Inevitably we started swearing at the awning, at the pegs, at the wind, and each other, and Biggles joined us by swearing at anyone and anything he could see moving on the campsite. When we’d finally won “The Battle of The Awning” I freed Beanie & Biggles from their car crates for a quick toilet walk. They were so desperate to escape you’d think they’d been locked away in there for days, not three hours, but somehow I held onto them long enough to attach their leads, and we went to make our first deposits in the Bunree poo bank and sniff and pee on everything that needed sniffing and peeing on. Which was quite a lot of things, as it turned out.

Once back at the caravan we saw the first hint of the kind of Beagle misbehavior that would run through the entire holiday. The moment Susan set up our George Foreman-type grill on the work top, Beanie was right up there with it. On previous holidays she’s been up there during unguarded moments to lick plates and drink from discarded cups – you know, typical Beagle stuff. Now however she was boldly going where no Beagle should even when our full attention was on her, and worst of all, she was at risk of burning herself or worse. We tried shouting at her (instinct more than thought drove that response) but of course it had no effect because Beanie is 100% shout-proof. We tried the “leave it!” plus pointy finger technique which worked, but only for as long as the finger was in position. I guess the smells coming from that grill were just too good, so in desperation we tried a more powerful control method: exclusion. I picked Beanie up off the worktop once more, dragged her over to the washroom area of the caravan and closed the door, sealing her in there for a good few minutes.  When I released her she seemed duly chastened for nearly a whole second, then leaped straight back up on the worktop. Little bugger! Three repetitions later and the washroom had acquired a new name: “the naughty room”, but Beanie genuinely seemed to have learned her lesson.  Content that we’d finally got an obedience technique that worked, I headed off on a solo photography trip up a Glencoe mountain called Garbh Bheinn, leaving Susan to give the pups a longer walk round the campsite then chill out with them in the caravan for a few hours.

My guide for the walk came from the excellent WalkHighlands site. It mentioned that the start of the walk would be quite boggy, giving it a “bog factor” rating of three out of five. Half an hour into the walk and barely able to keep the ground from sucking the shoes off my feet, I felt that an urgent re-assessment of the bog factor rating was required. Six out of five? Yep that sounded about right to me. I don’t mind wet feet on a run, but I hate it on a walk and right now my feet were soaking. Still, the guide promised drier conditions and great views higher up, so I just kept plugging away. The initially sunny conditions gave way to heavy grey cloud, then to rain, then to a hail storm, and then to sun, and back round again. My waterproof jacket was on and off more times than a blanket on a waggy Beagle girl’s bum.

Loch Leven From Garbh Bheinn [IMG_6519]


The view back towards Loch Leven and The Pap of Glencoe, caught in a transition between hail, rain and sun

Just as the weather kept changing its mind, the walk itself kept offering me what looked like a summit, only to reveal yet another one as I got higher. Eventually I reached a point just below the true summit (as confirmed by the gps app on my phone) that had great photographic potential, and I decided to camp out there and wait for sunset rather than pressing on to the top. I didn’t fancy the final scrambly bit over a ton of loose scree, and what’s more I’d seen plenty of good shots from part of the way up, but none from the summit itself. A couple of hail and horizontal rain phases came and went before I finally got these shots, maybe half an hour before sunset..

Sunset from Garbh Bheinn [IMG_6663]


Although it’s not so pleasant to be out in, this dramatic, changeable weather and rugged scenery is what the highlands are all about..

The walk had certainly delivered on it’s promised views, but now my still soaking feet were turning to blocks of ice from being stationary in high wind for too long. I packed up and headed back down as quickly as I could, but by the time I reached the really boggy section I needed my head torch. That final trudge back through the bog seemed to take forever in the dark, and if it was possible, my feet actually got even wetter.

Back at the campsite I showered and put on dry footwear, then returned to the caravan hoping to hear a tale of peace and relaxation. Unfortunately I was greeted by a somewhat tired and stressed Susan, who revealed that a certain little Miss had made numerous visits both to the worktop and The Naughty Room. Hmm.. maybe the exclusion technique wasn’t proving so effective against The Beanster after all..


I don’t mean to be naughty, Dad. It just sort of happens..

Part 2: http://www.fourleggedpal.com/2015/04/24/a-tale-of-ice-and-fire-and-bogs-part2/
Part 3: http://www.fourleggedpal.com/2015/04/25/a-tale-of-ice-and-fire-and-bogs-part3/
Part 4: http://www.fourleggedpal.com/2015/04/26/a-tale-of-ice-and-fire-and-bogs-part4/
Part 5: http://www.fourleggedpal.com/2015/04/26/a-tale-of-ice-and-fire-and-bogs-part5/



There’s no more appropriate bowl for our boy than this. Except when he’s meant to be testing his self control, that is.

In the last post I outlined all our plans for getting some control over our Beagles in the great outdoors, but after a couple of weeks of practice those plans have had to be revised. As I mentioned last time, Biggles sails through all the self control exercises. The reason for this, I think, is that they don’t tap into the primal hunting  behaviors that can give us such a headache on hillwalk. You might argue that doesn’t matter and that the training will nevertheless give him greater self control over time, but I tend to doubt it. You see he’s just so chilled during the training that we spend all our time trying to gee him up and none trying to calm him down.


Time for self control training Dad? Yeah.. I’ll be right there after my nap.

One day I made what I thought was an irresistible food sock – brimming over with chicken and other tasty stuff. I let him stay beside me in the kitchen as I prepared it; he was wagging reasonably enthusiastically throughout so I had high hopes. However the moment we headed out into the garden, he realized this was an exercise and not a free-for-all and lost all interest in the sock. I made a little hole in it, tied it to the end of the lunge whip and took off round the garden like a nutter in the hope that he’d give chase. His reaction? He found a few traces of bird poo on the grass and started rolling in it. I responded by making a bigger hole in the sock (so that half of the contents fell out), and dangled it just above his nose. He just sat calmly ignoring it, with a blank look on his face and a big white guano stain on one ear flap. To complete this epic failure, when I gave up and let him back in the house he headed straight into the kitchen and “boinged” the oven gloves off of the worktop. Needless to say we’ve given up on the “classic” self control exercises, and instead I’m now concentrating on trying to keep him calm when he sees the postman approaching the house – one of the few things at home that really does get him excited.

Beanie on the other hand has no trouble getting thoroughly excited for the self-control exercises, in fact it would be more accurate to say she gets excited by the exercises. She does whatever is required of her to get the reward, but then for the rest of the day she’s wired, into everything and quite likely to give poor Biggles a good telling off if he puts a foot wrong. Ironically the worst exercise of all in this respect is the chill mat; she now gets over excited at the very sight of it and woofs demandingly when we take it away. So we’ve had to abandon the mat training for Beanie, at least in its original form. Instead we can maybe train her to see it as a surrogate basket – not a rewarding thing, but somewhere comfortable that you just have stay in/on until you’re told otherwise.

And yet in the midst of all these failures we had a remarkably quiet sunset trip up Ben A’an.


It’s fair to say the biggest trouble we had on that trip came from the cheap Tesco popup shelter we’d brought to help with the wind chill. Like all of these things it popped up easy enough, but getting it back into its collapsed state and into its carry bag was another story entirely. As we wrestled with the shelter Beanie & Biggles wrestled with each other – but other than that, our pups were just great. Even on the way down there was minimal pulling and only the tiniest baying outbreak just as we arrived back at the car.


Any takers for a play fight on a mountain? It would seem so..

Encouraged by this apparent progress (which was more than likely a fluke) we invested in some camping gear. We’ve already got a caravan which is great for a holiday of several days or so, but it’s overkill for a brief overnight visit just to take in a sunset/sunrise in the highlands. So, after years of flat out refusing ever to contemplate camping, we now have a tent. It’s apparently quite a good one as far these things go..



It’s quite roomy inside, and has a built in chin rest for boy Beagles.

Biggles has already taken a liking to the sleeping bags. I dunno where the rest of us are going to sleep, but he’s going to be nice and comfy, that’s for sure.


Of course it’s one thing to do a practice camping session in the garden; the real deal – in a campsite or even worse “wild camping” – is likely to be a completely different experience. The cynic in me believes that Beanie and Biggles kept their woofers in check on Ben A’an just so we’d trust them in a tent. Maybe in a few weeks time we’ll be chasing two escaped baying Beagles round a mountain top in complete darkness!

A Woolly Problem

Our recent trip to Skye – though very enjoyable – was somewhat marred by Beanie & Biggles’ reaction to sheep. Admittedly Skye is a bit of an extreme case in that it is absolutely teaming with the blummin’ things, but nevertheless it joins a long line of adventures that have featured unwelcome and prolonged baying/pulling frenzies.

From time to time we’ve tried to tackle this problem using the typical dog training suggestions:

  • stopping dead when the baying starts and refusing to move until calm has been restored
  • abruptly changing direction at the first sign of a freakout
  • trying to distract Beanie & Biggles by getting them to perform tricks etc. when sense they’re about to lose control
  • trying to engage them in games

Thus far all these approaches have either failed outright or proved hopelessly impractical. For example the stopping dead approach serves only to build frustration and stress in our dogs (especially Biggles) and they’re quite able to keep up a baying frenzy for several hours at a time. Changing direction isn’t always practical and anyway quite often we’ve completely run out of alternative directions (even the way we’ve just come, which was walked calmly, can suddenly become a trigger for more baying). As for games and food, well you can actually put food in Beanie & Biggles’ mouths when they’re in a highly excited state, and it’ll just fall out onto the floor. Yep, they get so worked up that even food won’t cut through!

The worst thing about the baying frenzies is that they often seem to come completely without warning and sometimes we have no idea what’s causing them. Sheep are often a trigger, but not always. For example, on the final day of our Skye trip I took the two Bs along a sheep-infested trail on which they’d freaked out the previous day, videoing them all the way in the hope of spotting some early warning signs. As Sod’s Law dictates, both Beanie & Biggles remained steadfastly chilled throughout. We got within 10 meters of unfenced sheep and lambs, and short of exchanging business cards and swapping anecdotes over a light lunch consisting of small triangular ham salad sandwiches, the meeting couldn’t have been more civilized. That inconsistency is typical of Beagles, or at least typical of our Beagles. Always expect the unexpected and they’ll still manage to surprise you.

After some discussion we contacted behaviorist Heather Smith in the hope of getting some practical tips for dealing with this problem. Here’s a brief summary of our new plan of action:


While desensitizing Beanie & Biggles to sheep, deer and so on probably won’t cure the problem completely, it must surely help. There aren’t many sheep near us (even though we live in a fairly rural area), and what sheep there are rarely provoke much of a reaction from our dogs. We figured that made them less useful as a desensitization tool but since talking to Heather we’ve realized that non-provocative sheep maybe exactly what we need; the more Beanie & Biggles can experience sheep in a calm state, the better.

What’s more one of our local parks has a kind of mini zoo with deer, rabbits, goats, pigs, birds etc so in theory the two Bs can get used to quite a variety of animals.On previous visits to this park we either gave the animal pens a wide berth, or attempted to distract Beanie & Biggles with training and food as we passed by. Now all that has changed. We actually want our little rascals to be fully aware of the animals; to be close by, watching them doing their thing yet not reacting. Our first couple of “training visits” have gone down reasonably well, although Beanie seems to be afraid of the rabbits (!!) and we had a slightly noisy encounter with an empty bottle that a litterbug had tossed into a hole in the ground. The bottle contained a blackcurrant drink, which  according to Beanie is one of the more dangerous flavors. I guess we could run into a wild Ribena bottle on our next hill walk, so it’s best to be prepared.


Err.. Biggles, the deer are actually behind you


Only Beanie seems to understand the tremendous danger posed by the killer rabbit. Surely this would be a good time to break out the Holy Hand Grenade Of Antioch?


Even the small ones are scary..


And it turns out that Llamas roll just like Beagles. Who knew?

Self-Control Exercises

Recently I’ve been working on Beanie & Biggles’ self control a little during fetch games in the garden. I do a few rounds of regular fetch, then a few where our pups have to sit and wait while I throw the ball, only going after it when I give them the release command. I’ve gradually built the game up and now – on a good day – they can hold in a sit while I run away from them and throw the ball. This is hardest for Beanie as she’s always been the most enthusiastic ball-chaser, but she’s doing well.


Beanie pouncing on the ball – but only after she’s been given the OK to do so.


I think this exercise is easier for Biggles because he’s less excited by retrieval games, but still, it all helps

Since Heather’s visit we now have  couple more self-control exercises to work on. One involves the lunge-whip with a toy tied to the business end. We start with each dog in a sit with the toy some distance away, and begin moving the whip to animate the toy. If the dog can hold the sit despite their desire to go after it then they’re rewarded by a chance to chase and tug at the toy. After each successful round the game gets harder – maybe the toy gets a little closer to the dog, or is moved in a more enticing way, or maybe the dog has to hold a down rather than a sit. One problem with this one is that Biggles generally doesn’t get excited about any toy he’s allowed to have (the illegal ones are way more exciting: Susan’s glasses, socks and underpants, toilet rolls etc) however to counter this Heather suggested using a sock stuffed with food. I really think this could work, but we’ll need a pretty sturdy sock..


Another self-control game is played in the crate, with rewards given for staying inside despite an ever increasing temptation to exit.

Loose lead & canicross training

If we can get Beanie & Biggles more used to paying attention to us and following commands while kitted out for canicross and hill walks, then they’ll be more manageable generally and hopefully less likely to go off the rails when something stimulates them. For the canicross we’re working on simple commands like left, right, stop, go etc. using the clicker. For the loose lead we’re going to devise some kind of physical cue that occurs when the lead is slack and reward Beanie and Biggles each time it’s present, thus making a slack lead more and more appealing to them.

Chill Mat

The idea here is to strongly associate a simple, portable object like a mat with calm behavior. Ultimately, just putting the dog on the mat should induce a calm state. The training starts with rewarding the dog for simply being on the mat, and progressively moves towards the dog lying on the mat on his/her side with legs relaxed and eyes closed. Each progression asks for something small, like staying on the mat just a little longer, maybe sitting on the mat, then holding a “down” on the mat etc. It can take a long time to reach the final stage, but if we can stay the distance we should have an effective tool for calming our dogs in a variety of situations. We’ll likely find this particularly tough with Beanie as she’s never been one for lying on her side unless genuinely asleep, but by using the clicker hopefully we’ll get there.


When a baying frenzy breaks out, Biggles is generally the noisiest and most out of control of our two Beagles (Beagle boys usually are), yet most of the above exercises seem to be easiest for him.I don’t know whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.


Me? Noisy and out of control?


Surely you’ve got me confused with some other naughty boy.

Still, my gut feeling is that if we can stick at these exercises for long enough we may indeed be able to keep Beanie & Biggles below the level of stimulation that leads to a baying outburst, or at least shorten the duration of the outburst considerably. This would make our walks much more enjoyable and generally let us do more (like visiting dog-friendly cafes without deafening the other diners).