Monday, 30 June 2014


For the most part, Daisy and Cybi are having a lovely time living together. They play a lot (and it feels like always when I am trying to do a conference call) and really do seem to get on well. The one thing that is really pronounced is that Daisy hates it when Cybi is getting cuddles, and she marches up, grabs him by the ear and yanks him away. They then tend to play together. I haven't figured out if she wants to prevent him getting attention from me, or if she wants to prevent me getting attention from him. She's a little horror for it, though! And the noise that accompanies sounds like someone is being murdered.

Go home trophy, you're drunk!

Last Thursday was the end of the next block of training at our local club, and consequently the end of course test. I had one or two doubts as to how this one was going to go, as Daisy and I have had to go back to basics on our retrieve training.

Somewhere along the line, I have managed to teach Daisy that the process of retrieving her toy involves bringing it back to about two feet away from me and then spitting it in my general direction. Meanwhile, using the clicker to get her holding the dumbell has been going well, except that we have only just started on the "going to get it" element of the retrieve. So while I have been sorting out the toy-spitting, it's still a work in progress, and the full retrieve with dumbell is somewhat haphazard because we haven't especially worked on it yet. Not least because she tends to bounce up to it, knock it flying and then let it roll back into her mouth and chew on it as she's bringing it back, which will lose us a point or two (or five) in competition.

Daisy's heelwork was not too bad in her test round, though she bounced again at the start. She doesn't really bounce in training, so I wonder if I'm that little bit more animated during the test and that sets her off. She also had to sneeze a couple of times on her way round but, bless her, did it without breaking stride. Went for a snap decision on using the dumbell for the retrieve, which was the right call - apart from looking at me with slight suspicion when I sent her to fetch it and then giving it a decent chew on the way back she did a nice retrieve - and a lovely straight present in front which I think was a surprise to both of us.

Anyway, we did win again, so that's two for two and the pressure's on for the next class! And the judge was extremely complimentary, which was nice (publicly - I got some rather more robust feedback afterwards :))
No trophies you could kill people with, this time, but instead one that I think may have been dropped at some point. So I shall attempt a DIY repair at some point - looks like it should be fairly straightforward. And I'm disproportionately delighted by the fact that it seems to be another repurposed cup that was originally sponsored by my local chippie.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Do cooling coats work?

It's that time of year when those folk that do performance dog sports (especially agility and flyball) have to start keeping an eye on the outside temperature and their dogs' comfort level in the heat. Many people suggest the use of cooling coats to keep their dogs cool, and there are a variety of coats available.

I've taken a look at a few of the available offerings here  in the UK with some thoughts on how helpful or otherwise they are likely to be. I should probably say up front that I'm not a physicist past GCSE so all my comments on evaporation etc are subject to that caveat - don't take what I have to say as gospel - and if anyone out there has a counter viewpoint I'd love to hear it.

While writing this article, I reviewed the following coats:

Prestige Dog Cooling coats
Ruffwear Swamp Cooler
Hurtta Motivation Cooling Coat
Easidri High Performance Cooling Coat

I also looked at the Chillax Mat, which acts on the less-furred areas of dog, and therefore will provide more cooling capacity due to its proximity to major blood vessels when the dog is lying down.

On cooling coats in general, I have to admit to a certain degree of skepticism. If we consider the advice given regarding treating dogs with heat exhaustion (such as advice given by Cani-X) it is generally "don't cover the dog, even with wet towels". This is due to the "sauna effect" whereby convection is inhibited, and instead the air around the animal, between its coat and the covering, heats up. It's hard to see why advice for prevention would be fundamentally different from advice for a dog that's suffering.

Even leaving aside the sauna effect, a dog's coat is supposed to act as an insulator. Some are more effective at this than others (those with double coats having a better chance at temperature regulation, at least to begin with,  than those very smooth coated breeds) . It's easy to forget that those "well-insulated" dogs are insulated against the heat, as well as the cold. The air trapped in the double coat can act to keep the heat in (when it's cold) or the heat out (when it's warm). By adding another layer on top of the coat, heat then has to work from the dog's skin, through the air trapped in the hair, through the air trapped between the hair and the cooling coat, through the coat to the outside.  Good if it's cold and we want the heat to stay in as long as possible, not so good if it's warm and heat needs to be moved away from the skin as rapidly as possible.

Another reason that I'm not convinced about the efficacy of cooling coats is that the major routes for cooling a dog are via evaporation of saliva from the tongue and mouth, via the merocrine glands in the paws and through convection/evaporation under the body, where major blood vessels run close to a surface that has less fur on it (groin, throat and armpits). There is a lesser effect from dissipation of heat from the skin (via the air in the coat) to the environment. So it makes sense to maximise heat dissipation from the major routes, while not worrying too much about the minor route. And just about every cooling coat focuses on covering the back - where the dog's fur is thickest.

All of this said, I definitely do think cooling coats have their uses. If the dog has a finer coat, such that the insulating effect is lost and the heat from the skin can easily be drawn along the temperature gradient from skin to cool coat, that will cool the dog down more rapidly. In addition, if the coat is used as a mechanism to bring down the air temperature around the dog, then removed so there is no sauna effect that might also be effective. Finally, if the coat in question is an "active" cooling type (though I didn't find any of these in the UK - only the USA) and have reflective properties so that either the sauna effect is disrupted and the heat is continually drawn off the dog's body, without the air around the dog heating up, or some of the sun's rays are reflected back, away from the dog I can see that this mechanism of action *might* overcome the downside to being covered in an extra layet.

It does seem a pity that no one has yet been able to conduct an appraisal under test conditions, using a variety of breeds and taking the test dogs' core temperatures while wearing coats that work in different ways to provide any kind of conclusions on the efficacy of these items.
This video from Easidri shows clearly that the surface temperature of a dog wearing a coat is lower than one not wearing a coat, but that doesn't really help us know whether the dog's core temperature has dropped significantly.

Without evidence to the contrary, I would advise people considering using a cooling coat to instead make sure their dogs have access to water to lie in (such as in a paddling pool, or even by using a plastic mat and puddling water onto it), as this appears to be more effective for the dog than covering it with a wet coat.

Updated to add: A physics-minded friend has observed that if the cooling coat is thick enough (ie the water reservoir is large enough) then convection can continue to take place within the water and the water reservoir will act as a heat exchanger - water warmed by the heat coming off the dog will move away from the dog and towards the surface of the coat, where evaporation will take place. That cooled water can then circulate back to the dog and "pick up" more heat. So rather than getting the hot layer "stuck" between the skin and the coat, the temperature gradient will always be maintained from hot dog to cold (or at least, less hot) coat, which should transfer heat away from the dog more rapidly than just environmental effects.
So then the question becomes "how much of a water reservoir is needed for this to happen, and is there sufficient capacity in the majority of cooling coats". Given their average thickness and absobency I'm not totally convinced, but open to having my opinion changed if there's enough data out there to do so.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Don't want your free copy of the Sun?

Put it to good use:

For the non UK readers who may stumble upon my dog-related ramblings, the Sun newspaper offered a free World Cup commemorative issue to large swathes of the population. Most people weren't that fussed, but some got terribly exercised by a dispute involving Liverpool area postmen and their desire not to deliver the paper based on the historical reporting of the Sun around the Hillsborough Tragedy (more information here if interested). Seem straightforward enough - don't want it, don't read it maybe? Or, as happened in our house - it was instantly repurposed into toys, without my ever having to undergo the bother of reading about a sport I don't like in a paper that I avoid.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Being a good citizen, lesson #1

Daisy had her first "Puppy Foundation" Good citizen Dog test class on Monday. It doesn't have a test as such, unlike the higher classes, but there are certain elements that are assessed on an ongoing basis, and some that are effectively a "spot check".

Fortunately when accosted I was both carrying poo bags and Daisy's tag showed the correct information required by law (which, in case anyone is wondering, is the name and address of the owner. You don't actually have to have phone numbers on there, though it's plainly a good idea. The Kennel Club visual on the subject can be found here.)

The class itself covered walking on a loose lead, doing sit/stand/down on command and coming when called, though in a fairly informal way (the trainer holds the lead, you walk away and then call the dog to you). Daisy already has all of these things nailed through the competitive foundation classes we have been doing, though I did come up against a slight issue while doing the heelwork. I am differentiating between this class (Good Citizen Dog) and her Thursday class (Competition foundation) in terms of what I'm trying to get out of it - Monday night is having a well behaved dog who will come when she is called, walk by my side in a civilsed fashion and not behave like a nutter around the house, whereas Thursday is doggy dressage night. But as soon as there was heelwork involved, I defaulted to asking her for close and attentive heelwork, thereby completely defeating the purpose of separating out "the kind of walking to heel that's acceptable on a walk" from "competition" style working - which involves the dog working with its head up and around the handler's leg, and is therefore completely impractical for day to day activity. (See this year's Crufts highlights here for the dogs that won the Championships.) So next week, I need to remember that she is not at the class to improve her dressage, but to learn to pay just enough attention that she will continue to walk next to me if I change direction.

All of that said, the heelwork exercise we did involved going in and out of cones, and she did it beautifully, including a left-about turn around the cone at the end. Left turns in obedience can be a bit of a challenge for the dog, as they involve moving its back end independently of its front, so to have Daisy do the turn around the cone so neatly was a pleasant surprise. So she was teacher's pet this week, but next week, which involves not going to play with the other dogs and instead sitting nicely while the "decoy" is walked close I am anticipating will be more of a challenge. But that's why we're there.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Kong filling - getting it wrong

I have just discovered the wrong way that if you stuff a Kong with chewsticks and cheese, and then microwave the Kong to melt the cheese the chew sticks decompose and turn black, and your entire kitchen smells like something died in there. Not recommended at all...

Saturday, 14 June 2014


I committed a slight purchasing faux pas when buying grooming gear for Daisy. She is relatively short coated, with feathery legs, tail and ears, and so I bought her a tool designed for shorter coated dogs - the Mikki Grooming Glove. After a slightly iffy first introduction, where she tried to eat it, she quickly discovered that being groomed was nice! However, the glove is no match for even her relatively short collie coat, and quickly clogs up with hair, which is then a terrific pain to get out of the glove. It does do a great job of pulling loose surface hair out, but doesn't really get into anything below the very top layer.

So after a recommendation from a local trainer, I've bought grooming tool #2: the fabulously-named "Zoom Groom". Initial reports are very positive - on Daisy at least - but I think there might be brush purchase #3 fairly imminently to deal with Cybi's longer and coarser coat. More brush research coming up!

Friday, 13 June 2014


Daisy and Cybi do play rough, but not usually this rough. There was a head on collision at high speed while out walking this evening and Daisy came off second best, even though she was the one doing the running into, while she's quite a slender little thing and Cybi is a bit more solid. So the walk was curtailed and we hopped home. She's perked up a little since, and is at least walking on it, but I'll keep a decent eye on her over the weekend.

Boredom Busting with a Kong

My dogs are typical collies, in that if they aren't running about like idiots or using their brains they are bored and causing chaos, so a big part of living with them so far has been finding ways that mean I can get on with my job (I work from home) with minimal distractions. Keeping them well exercised is a big part of this, but so is giving them things to do.

When I brought Daisy home, I needed to give her something to do while I wasn't occupying her myself. We tried a number of solutions, but one of the early ones which has proven to be an ongoing winner was the Kong. We started off with the Puppy Kong, which is a little softer for baby teeth and weaker jaws, and once she had destroyed that then onto the big dog version. She's still going strong on this one - and I've had it for about 6 months now. It's definitely showing the tooth marks, but it's bearing up remarkably well, particularly considering I often use cheese as a kind of "glue" to make it harder to get the stuffing out. So chuck in some biscuits, seal each end with a piece of cheese and microwave for 30sec or so.

I have to admit, my Kong filling is pretty unimaginative compared to some. You can get Kong branded filling (see this stuff, or these biscuits ), which while convenient seem a bit expensive - though I have tried out the liver ones and they do block up the hole in the Kong nicely, and seem something the dogs will work to get out, so perhaps worth it if you're pushed for time.

Alternatively, there are many fabulous recipes out there. Have a look at Kong's own pinterest board on the subject, or a similar board by someone else. I have also taken to using this very comprehensive list of good stuff to put in a Kong when I want to give them a treat.

Baby Daisy working on her puppy Kong
Slightly older Daisy nomming an adult Kong

Ps while looking for something else entirely on Amazon, I also came across a different manufacturer of Kong stuffer. Arden Grange apparently also make Kong paste (e.g. Arden Grange Liver Paste). I'm going to give this a go, as not only do Arden Grange have a very good reputation for producing high-quality food, but they also sponsor Mary Ray - one of the stalwarts of the dog obedience world.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

An inadvertent private agility lesson

I go to an early evening class, which means I have to slope off from work slightly early to get there on time. Not a huge deal, as I work from home and so make up the hours in the morning or later the evening. Daisy and I went training yesterday, and I took Cybi along too, just to see how he'd get on with the idea of agility.  Anyway, everyone else in the class got held up by work, couldn't make it or had an injured dog, so I got to have a 1-1 session, which was both good and bad. Good because we really did get to focus and work hard. Bad in that by 20 minutes in, I was knackered, Daisy was knackered and we'd made about the same amount of progress as we usually do in an hour which then left the problem of what to do with the remaining 40 minutes so she didn't switch off or get bored, and I didn't tire her out or overstress her physically or mentally. She's still only 10 months old, after all.
I was pleased with her - she did really well (once she'd remembered that tunnels have both an entrance and an exit - little brainfart there), and we were working on decreasing her reliance on looking at me for cues, and some directional stuff.
Sometimes, just sometimes, it feels like the flow is coming and we're beginning to work as a team. Then I'll use the wrong hand, or stand in the wrong place, or she'll see a jump she'd rather do than the one that's on the list to do next and it all goes a bit to pot, but for those odd occasions...there's no feeling like it.

Having got round 10 or so jumps in sequence a couple of times with Daisy rocketing along, barking her head off and generally having a lovely time, I gave Cybi a go. Not without a certain amount of apprehension, as he's only been with me for just over a week (even though it already feels much a good way) and I had no idea what he'd do. Answer: tie himself in knots trying to overthink what I might want him to do and try to do that. Bless. Once he'd figured out that all I wanted from him was to trot next to me going over two jumps (and by going over, I mean stepping over a pole on the ground between two wings) and to pay attention to me to identify which jump we were going to go over next, he made that look easy. He also nearly caused heart failure when he went for a bit of an explore round the training field and found the sheep on the far side of a gate with a dog-sized gap underneath. Fortunately, he came back when called...
Meanwhile, while I was doing a few jumps and some focus exercises with Cybi, Daisy was yelling her head off from the gate where I had attached her. She can be quite possessive of me, and gets cross when I give Cybi attention. I'm hoping to channel that into her work, but so far with only limited success - at the moment she appears to sulk when I've been doing something with Cybi and then it's her turn again, and she seems to switch off. I don't know if I'm reading that right - hopefully I'm not and it's just that the weather has been hot and she's been working hard for a limited time, then just doesn't have the mental stamina for round two, as I'm not sure how to fix a sulking puppy so she's happy again!

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

The Puppy Foundation Course

Daisy is a super friendly little dog, but her unfortunate start as a rescue has left a couple of odd quirks. Chief among these is a tendency to get over excited around other dogs, and assume that they all want to play. It's quite sweet at the moment, but I do hope she grows out of it; other dogs give her the benefit of the doubt right now, but once she's a little older I'm not sure quite how that's going to work out - I can see them getting grumpy with her. So I thought I'd enrol her in the Kennel Club's Good Citizen Dog scheme to see if it helped,  as the idea behind the scheme is to end up with a happy, healthy, well-socialised member of the family. The focus is somewhat different to the requirements for competitive obedience, so hopefully by taking the two things together I can have a well-behaved dog around the house and on walks, who is also able to do the canine equivalent of dressage.

As I've possibly mentioned before, I'm incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by high standard training clubs, so I actually have a very good training club locally which focuses on the Good Citizen Scheme (Ashlawn DTC). I invited myself down to their sessions one evening and had a quick chat with the head instructor, who is not only a trainer of very many years experience, but also a member of the Academy of Dog Training and Behaviour. I was super impressed with their set up and Erica's passion for what she was doing, so signed Daisy up for the beginner's course - the Puppy Foundation Class. I then made it to the introductory class, at which we got chapter and verse on the best collars and leads, toys, grooming material...basically everything you need to keep your pup in good condition and happy. Managed to miss the first proper training session due to a short notice hospital trip, but will be there next week, complete with my little hooligan, to see how we get on.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014


I got another dog! I drove down to South Wales to meet Scamp, who is a gorgeous great big goofball. But his fosterer also had another little one in foster at the same time, and it was actually that second one that I fell for. He's a little bit more careful than Scamp and more focused already (despite only being a month apart in age) and I liked his demeanour - he assessed me and Daisy for a while from a distance before coming to say hello, but was then super friendly and playful.
So Cybi joined me and Daisy last Friday. It's taken a few days to get used to having twice the hair and mess and chaos around the house, but he is, so far, settling in well. He's not allowed off the lead yet so we're having to do lots of long walks to make sure he gets plenty of running about - but he and Daisy have bursts of being super boisterous together which is doing a good job of tiring them both out. Tiring them out and also wrecking the place - hence the crashing and thudding of the title.

Cybi about gave me heart failure this morning though. I opened my front door to put something in the outside bin, and he shouldered past me and was off down the lane at speed. So I went after him - in my pyjamas, bare footed, sprinting down the street calling my new dog, who was completely ignoring me, and is a car-chaser. Fortunately he turned off the street that goes to the main road in favour of a small cul de sac so I was able to grab him when he slowed down. Meanwhile, the other one bounced along next to me, thinking this was all a great game!

Cybi is apparently named after a Celtic Saint, though his behaviour thus far does not reflect this (St Cybi)