Category Archives: Ounce’s Adventures

Happy 12th Birthday Sunny!

Wishing my Sunny girl a happy birthday!

Sunny is my dog of a lifetime – she changed everything for me.  I have already talked about Life-changing dogs when it was Busy’s birthday in January.  Busy is a special girl who has enabled me to volunteer in schools, making a difference to lots of children’s (and adults’) lives.

Sunny
Fierce? Or just intense

Sunny is a different kind of dog.   My aunt described her recently as ‘fierce’ when looking at the calendar picture of her for this month.  She certainly has an intensity in her eyes when the ball is in her sight!  But she is not fierce.  She does have tremendous focus though and a willingness to learn.

A true Border Collie

Sunny has all the attributes you want in a Border Collie.  She is active and energetic, able to keep going for as long as it takes.  In fact she doesn’t know when to stop and would keep fetching a ball until she drops.  Sunny wants to do it – whatever ‘it’ is.  Play fetch, do agility, go out with the bikes, play with the other dogs…

She has the intelligence to figure it out and certainly knows how to work it.  People who don’t know her are immediately trained by her in the art of ball throwing.  She is full of character and won’t put up with any rubbish.

Sunny's birthdaySunny is not a cuddly dog; she will tolerate a cuddle on her terms.  She will come up onto the sofa occasionally, when it suits her and usually when she wants something.  I did not put her forward to be a therapy dog because she doesn’t particularly love children, unlike all the others.  She can snatch treats too.

A great mum

I decided to breed from Sunny before I met her – it was something I always fancied doing.  She had three litters – 22 puppies, over four years.  As a mum she was conscientious and diligent, but not especially loving.  They were perfectly cared for but not molly coddled.  All have grown into wonderful dogs.

Sunny's birthdayAn agility dog

It was also my intention to start agility before I got her and what a journey that has been!  As with most Border Collies, she is incredibly keen and very fast.  She really ‘gets it’ – tearing around so happily, although not always being prepared to pay attention to me!  I spent the first few years of my agility training desperately trying to keep up with her.  Bless her, she still absolutely loves it, when given the chance.

Another birthday, another year older

Although twelve is a ‘good age’ for a dog and she is certainly regarded as a ‘veteran’ in many ways, Sunny is far from old.  Having her family around her definitely keeps her young in spirit.  She shows no sign of slowing down on walks and is perfectly happy chasing after a ball, or running around with the others.

Sunny’s party trick – singing Happy Birthday, of course!

Ask for help?

You are very welcome to contact me to ask for my advice.  I can help you with a variety of issues and problems around getting a dog and suggestions for tackling training issues.  Go to the What Dog? page for more information on my new service.

Remember..

If you enjoy hearing about Ounce and her family and want more, why not FOLLOW ME?  Then you will receive an email when there is a new post.  Please CONTACT ME if you would like me to write about a specific topic?  And feel free to COMMENT if you want to tell me what you think?

NB: If you read my posts in an email, you may be missing out on the lovely pictures!  Please click through to my website to see the post in all its glory?

Happy 1st Birthday Rainbow Litter!

Happy birthday to my purple puppy and her siblings!

Ounce is one year old today!  Can’t believe it has been a year.  Just when you think you can’t love anything more than you love your children, husband and dogs, along comes something so special, that she steals your heart from the second she arrives.  Happy days 🙂

happy birthday
Lenny

Last weekend my dogs stayed with my friend Kim at The Woof Pack MK.  They had such a lovely time and were so well cared for.  Kim hadn’t had Ounce to stay before and she said “She’s not just beautiful on the outside, she is beautiful on the inside as well”.  What a lovely thing to say!  Thanks Kim.

Happy birthday
Roxi

The Rainbow Litter

Litter 7 – The Rainbow Litter was something very special.  Of course Busy is a special girl to start with, and Sox is a lovely boy, so it was always going to be great, but even so, they have exceeded my expectations.

Happy birthdayI am very excited about Pixie and Hollie’s future in agility.  This fantastic photo was taken by my friend Kate, from Kate Everall Photography isn’t it great?

happy birthday
Robbie

I love staying in touch with my puppies and I’m pleased to say I have had great contact from all the homes of this litter.  I have seen all but Lenny, which has been great.

happy birthday
Chester

Hopefully I will continue to hear about their adventures, as well as those of my own purple pup.  Of course when I got her I had no idea that she would have blue eyes, making her pretty unique.  I also did not imagine that she would be quite the character that she has become.

A special dog

I tried to have her assessed as a therapy dog today, as that would have made a great celebration of her birthday.  Unfortunately (or fortunately) she is still such a puppy – happy and lively, cheeky and playful.  Not quite the calm girl that Busy and Roxi are.

Happy birthdayI don’t mind, she is adorable.  Ounce is already less ‘licky’ than she was and she understands that she is not supposed to jump up at ANYONE.  But when she sees someone she knows, she just can’t help it!  That will get better, I know.   (By the way, Luna did pass the assessment and will be joining Busy in September.)

We have joined an agility class!  Ounce loves doing agility.  We have been doing small bits with the brilliant Sam Lane, but have now joined a beginners class. This gives her experience of working around other dogs and waiting her turn!  Great fun.

Ask for help?

You are very welcome to contact me to ask for my advice.  I can help you with a variety of issues and problems around getting a dog and suggestions for tackling training issues.  Go to the What Dog? page for more information on my new service.

Remember..

If you enjoy hearing about Ounce and her family and want more, why not FOLLOW ME?  Then you will receive an email when there is a new post.  Please CONTACT ME if you would like me to write about a specific topic?  And feel free to COMMENT if you want to tell me what you think?

NB: If you read my posts in an email, you may be missing out on the lovely pictures!  Please click through to my website to see the post in all its glory?

Ounce at the seaside!

A seaside outing – the puppy and me!

NB: If you read my posts in an email, you may be missing out on the lovely pictures!  Please click through to my website to see the post in all its glory?

seasideYesterday I took Ounce on a day trip to the seaside, to visit my sister and her family.  We had a wonderful time, including going onto a beach for the first time ever!  As you may know, Brighton has mainly pebbly beaches, but that didn’t bother Ounce.  In fact she thought it was a great game to play fetch the pebble!

seasideFunny puppy.  She also loved playing with my niece, fetching stones for her to throw.  Ounce certainly did not like the sea though – much too noisy and scary!

seasideEating out

We went to a restaurant, where Ounce was made very welcome.  They made a great fuss of her and gave her some water.  I was really pleased with how well she settled down while we had our leisurely lunch.  I must admit that until fairly recently I didn’t really think you could take dogs into restaurants, only pubs.  Now I do it all the time! Thank you, Pizza Express for your hospitality.

seasideThen it was back to my sister’s house, where again Ounce made herself at home.

Finally we were back in the car, for the long haul home, round the motorways – joy.  She settled down, perfectly happy in the car.

seasideNew seaside experiences

Overall, I am delighted with how well she coped; new place, seaside, restaurant, seeing lots of noise and bustle, travelling in the car and spending another day on her own.

I recently talked about routine for dogs being the key to a happy, well-adjusted dog.  However, I was thinking about the survey results and the fact that people take their dogs to training every week.  Training is about providing new, stimulating experiences for your dog and I believe this is just as valuable for them as it is for us.

seasideAsk for help?

You are very welcome to contact me to ask for my advice.  I can help you with a variety of issues and problems around getting a dog and suggestions for tackling training issues.  Go to the What Dog? page for more information on my new service.

Remember..

If you enjoy hearing about Ounce and her family and want more, why not FOLLOW ME?  Then you will receive an email when there is a new post.  Please CONTACT ME if you would like me to write about a specific topic?  And feel free to COMMENT if you want to tell me what you think?

Prettiest Eyes – First place to the puppy!

Companion Show Class – Prettiest Eyes!

Ounce had a new adventure over the weekend, visiting the Parks Trust event, the Big Doggie Do!  It ran on Saturday and Sunday over the weekend and was a fun event for anyone who loves dogs.  It gave me a chance to show off my puppy’s eyes.

The Parks Trust is a great organisation which runs all the parks and redways across Milton Keynes.  They are financed through their land management and really do a great job in enhancing the city as a great place to live.

Canine ConcernI had intended to go with a stand to raise money and awareness for Pets as Therapy, but cancelled this, along with my membership of that charity.  The work they do is fantastic and the volunteers and their dogs are brilliant, but sadly the charity is run somewhat inefficiently for its size.  I have therefore moved to a smaller, friendlier and more efficient charity – Canine Concern

Unfortunately there are not currently enough volunteers with this charity to support a stand at an event like this – maybe next year?  Please do CONTACT ME if you are interested in the charity and would like to join?  If you go to Busy’s page you will find out about the work we do in schools.  

Companion Show

What is a Companion Show?  Basically it is an informal, casual event, which is not affiliated to the Kennel Club or another organisation.  It usually consists of classes such as:

  • Prettiest Bitch
  • Most Handsome Dog
  • Best Youngster (6 months – 2 years)
  • Best Trick
  • Waggiest Tail
  • Best Rescue
  • Best Crossbreed
  • Dog most like its owner
  • Dog the Judge would most like to take home

You can see from this that the classes are aimed at family pets, with most classes not suitable for show dogs.  I therefore decided it would be fun to enter Ounce in a few of the classes.

puppy eyesThe judge decided to ask for two volunteer judges to assist her with each class; children aged 5-10.  I thought this was a lovely idea, as again it is a way of ensuring that no-one takes it too seriously.

Our first classes

Sadly, I am pretty competitive, so was disappointed not to win either Prettiest bitch or best puppy.  Hmph.  However, when it came to ‘prettiest eyes’ I felt we had a good chance.  Yes, reader, we won it!  My beautiful, blue-eyed girl.

As it was a hot sunny day, there was a good turnout to the event.  I was amazed at how many different types and breeds of dog there were there. 

Once again supporting the view that “it’s a good job we’re not all the same or we’d all want to marry the same man (and it wouldn’t be you Charlie!)”  Or as my friend Kate says “Not everyone likes Border Collies you know!”  

I do know that and am glad of it.  We saw big dogs, little dogs, hairy dogs and not so hairy.  We saw puppies and old dogs.  I was pleased to see many pedigree dogs and not too many ‘designer breeds’.  I was disappointed to see the dogs with wrinkly skin and the brachycephalics (bulldogs and pugs for example) are obviously very popular, sadly.

eyesFun Activities

There were other activities for the dogs to do, too.  A big pool for them to jump into and fetch a tennis ball.  We didn’t do that, Ounce doesn’t know she can swim (my girls are not really water dogs).  There was a ‘fun agility’ area with some very frail bits of equipment.  We didn’t do that either, as we know what proper (safe) agility equipment looks like.

We did have a go at Temptation Alley and I’m proud to say that Ounce waited on her own at one end and then ran straight to me without even realising their was a trail of toys and treats on the ground!

eyes
Another great dog charity

Best behaviour

The highlight of the day for me (apart from winning the class of course!) was being out with the puppy and seeing how well behaved she is now.  Ounce is friendly towards both dogs and people, but respectful of dogs.  She chatted to a puppy or two but quickly backed off if someone was grumpy.  Ounce was really happy to chat to people, especially children, but didn’t jump or lick anyone (except Kate).  She settled down while we were helping on Kate’s stand and coped when I left her to go to the toilet.

I also loved seeing all the other dogs and meeting people with their dogs.  I was able to demonstrate my expert dog knowledge too.  It seems I can tell how old a puppy is just by looking at it (not a collie I should add).  And I now recognise many breeds and know lots about them.

Many thanks to MK Veterinary Group for our prize – Ounce absolutely loves her bee toy.   Please have a look at Kate’s beautiful pictures if you want something to go on your wall.

prettiest eyes
Of course she shut her eyes for the photo!

Ask for help?

You are very welcome to contact me to ask for my advice.  I can help you with a variety of issues and problems around getting a dog and suggestions for tackling training issues.  Go to the What Dog? page for more information on my new service.

Remember..

If you enjoy hearing about Ounce and her family and want more, why not FOLLOW ME?  Then you will receive an email when there is a new post.  Please CONTACT ME if you would like me to write about a specific topic?  And feel free to COMMENT if you want to tell me what you think?

Reunion: Puppy Party time!

Reunion: What do you call a collection of collies?

A family of course!  I was thrilled yesterday to see at least one puppy from each of my 7 litters at our Puppy Reunion party.   One of my puppy owners had asked if he could come and visit, so I tentatively asked if anyone else would like to come along.  Many of them said yes and we ended up with 10 of my puppies, (plus Sunny of course).  Oh and Blake and Maya came too, along with all the families.

puppy reunion
Running around – it’s a pack!

We started off by having a bit of a run around.  Then a dip in the lake.  Followed by a discussion with some swans – yes that was you Charlie!

puppy reunion
The most handsomest Charlie Brown
puppy reunion
Symi the water dog!

Symi is used to the water, as he goes out on mum and dad’s boat, as well as up in their plane – he’s a well travelled dog.

puppy reunion
Which way do we look?

Photo shoot

We started trying to get a group photo.  I think a collection of collies is actually called a ‘chaos’ – what do you think?  How many can you see in these pictures?  Not quite everyone made it…

puppy reunion
So many cameras!

Can you spot Blake?  He has the same dad as Luna, the amazing Wizard, who is also great-granddad to Ounce.  so family from another dad.  He’s Charlie’s big brother now, lucky boy.

puppy reunion
Bea and Charlie – aunt and nephew

These two were great buddies.  Bea is from the Beatrix Potter Litter and Charlie is from the A-Z Litterpuppy reunion

Roxi and Symi – niece and uncle

Black and whites

Roxi is Ounce’s sister.   At just 11 months, I can easily see that she is exactly like her mum, Busy.  Not just in looks – slight and petite, but also incredibly like her in temperament.  Roxi was quiet and unassuming, happy to stick to big sister Maya and her mum and dad.  But she loved having fuss from the children and you could see that just like her mum, she would be a brilliant therapy dog.

Symi is from the Poker Litter and to me he looks so much like his mum, Sunny.  He has lived a life of such adventure and is a lovely boy.

puppy reunion
Dexter – Busy’s brother

Love those eyes!

Dexter is Busy’s brother, from the Fairytale Litter – can you see that he has the same eyes as Busy?  His older brother Copper (Symi’s full brother) is the same.  Dexter seemed to me very much like his brother Jumble, whom I see on a regular basis.  Hopefully we can get them together in the future.

puppy reunion
Chester and Ellie – the blue boy

Last but not least, we have Chester, Ounce and Roxi’s brother from the Rainbow Litter  He is the only blue and white I have bred (so far) and he is looking super.  He and Roxi were hard to capture on film, as they are young and busy.  They both have some growing up to do, so it will be really interesting to see how they mature.

puppy reunion
The whole gang – spot the odd one out!

Yes I do realise it is a terrible photo – you can’t see Busy and Ounce is looking at her sister.  Have you ever tried to photograph 13 dogs?  But there we have it, from left to right, Symi, Bea, Chester (with Ellie), Dexter, Charlie, Busy, Aura, Luna, Ounce, Sunny, Roxi, Blake and Maya.

Next time…

How many collies can we gather together if we really try?  I have produced 42 pups so far, with all but two still alive.   I’m already excited to see what we can achieve at the next reunion.  And a big thank you to everyone who made it yesterday.  I am so very proud to have bred these fantastic dogs.

I just want to finish by saying that if you are planning a get together in Milton Keynes, I recommend the The Caldecotte as a venue.  There is plenty of parking, easy access to walks in all directions.  Plenty of seating outside, a play area for the children.  The food is not haute cuisine but the chips ordered yesterday looked pretty tasty.

Ask for help?

You are very welcome to contact me to ask for my advice.  I can help you with a variety of issues and problems around getting a dog and suggestions for tackling training issues.  Go to the What Dog? page for more information on my new service.

Please let me know if you have found this post helpful?

Remember..

Please CONTACT ME if you want to know more about me and my dogs?  And feel free to COMMENT if you want to tell me what you think.  If you want to know more, why not FOLLOW ME?  Then you will receive an email when there is a new post.

Holidays: taking the dogs away with you. Can it be done?

Holidays in the UK – dog friendly accommodation?

I do not like going away; holidays are too difficult and stressful.   I’ve never liked beaches or the seaside much, preferring mountains and countryside far more.  As a child, my family went to the same farm every year in Dorset, staying with an old school friend of my mum’s.  I loved it, as I enjoyed watching the cows being milked.  I also had the chance of riding a pony belonging to one of the girls from the farm.

dog holidays As a teenager and into my twenties I went camping and inter-railing, which I suppose is why I find the idea of all holidays so traumatic and challenging.  When my sons were younger we were forever driving the length and breadth of the country to visit family, which was lovely in its way.  We then had a period of around ten years where we were fortunate enough to have amazing holidays; Florida, Australia, adventure holidays in Europe and finally Canada and back to Florida (Harry Potter World!)  More recently we have finally succumbed to middle age, returning to the same hotel in Portugal to lie by the pool and read piles of books.

Staying in a hotel

Dogs have always come along to our holidays in this country.  I don’t like going away without them, although I confess it is quite nice not having to get up to let them out at the same time every single day!  Of course if we are staying with family, we expect to take them with us, although now I have five this is a challenge.  We usually persuade someone to have one or more so that we only take a ‘manageable amount’ with us.

dog holidaysLast year was the first time we attempted to find somewhere to stay with the dogs.  We wanted to sample the delights of the Lake District and my husband chose a hotel in Keswick.  This is the most dog-friendly town in Great Britain, apparently.  It was great, being able to have a couple of dogs with us and stay in a hotel.  The town was completely overrun with dogs and everyone was certainly dog friendly.  The only problem was that there was absolutely no garden with the hotel, so to take them to the toilet I had to get dressed, go down with them in the lift, out the back of the hotel, across the car park, up the hill, across the bridge…  We won’t be going back there.

Renting a cottage

Much more sensible as an idea, right?  Yes it was.  I was instructed to book something in the Peak District for a meet up with the (grown-up) kids and I chose George Mine Barn.  It was in a lovely setting, very peaceful, but with a footpath across fields to a great choice of pubs and restaurants, all dog friendly and with vegan options available!

dog holidaysIt was just outside the Peak District National Park itself, but it was a short drive to Matlock, Bakewell and Chatsworth House.  Of course we had chosen to go away for a boiling hot Bank Holiday weekend, but despite this it was possible to park the car, order food and have peaceful walks in the countryside.

dog holidays
Chatsworth fountain

What to take away

I swear I took as much stuff for the dogs as you take when you go away with a baby for the first time!   I have already written about packing for your dog.  I also covered what to remember for those left behind.

Other options for holidays with your dog

I’d love to tell you about staying in a caravan with your dog, as that is what all my friends do.  I’m not going to though, as I’ve only done it once…

What did I learn?

Despite getting lost and walking far too far in terrible midday heat, we had a good time away.  I think I learnt that it can be done.  Dogs are adaptable and in this country we are truly a nation of dog lovers, so it is easy to get around.

dog holidays
family time

The dogs themselves love to explore new places and most of all they love to be with you.  They coped really well with going to pubs and changes to their routine.  They were even fine wandering round the grounds of Chatsworth House, on lead, amongst thousands of people and other dogs.

Spending time with the family is invaluable and should be done as often as possible.  It is not until you are a parent yourself and your children are grown and gone that you realise just how precious those moments are.  Please try to set aside time with your parents, even when it seems like a boring hassle?  They will treasure it more than you know.

dog holidays
Forget-me-not

Ask for help?

You are very welcome to contact me to ask for my advice.  I can help you with a variety of issues and problems around getting a dog and suggestions for tackling training issues.  Go to the What Dog? page for more information on my new service.

Please let me know if you have found this post helpful?

Remember..

Please CONTACT ME if you want to know more about me and my dogs?  And feel free to COMMENT if you want to tell me what you think.  If you want to know more, why not FOLLOW ME?  Then you will receive an email when there is a new post.

My Bluebell girls!

Tiptoe through the bluebells..

Just a quick update on Ounce, as I haven’t talked about her much for the last few weeks (and an excuse to show off the bluebells).  She is maturing into such a lovely dog; I am really thrilled with her.  She is a gentle girl, with a placid nature, although being a puppy she is still very playful!  One of the (many) things I love about her is her curiosity; she follows me round, interested in whatever I am up to and keen to offer a helping hand if possible ;-D

bluebells dogs
Lovely Luna in a purple haze

Ounce is generally pretty obedient these days.  She knows what the ‘rules’ are when we are out and will always come when called.  She knows not to rush up to people or dogs when we are out, although she does like to say hello to anyone who is interested.  It is fascinating to see that she will talk to people and dogs who engage with her, but generally she remains aloof, just like the rest of my gang.

bluebells dogs

My little imp

Be polite, please?

Like the others, Ounce does not like another dog rushing into her space.  And like the rest of her family, she will quite politely say go away; showing her teeth, giving a slight growl and ultimately snapping her teeth.  I don’t see this as a problem – it never develops into anything further and is rarely needed.

bluebells dogs
Princess Aurora

I walk all five of my dogs together, off lead, under control.  When a jogger or a cyclist come past, we move out of their way and wait.  I use the command ‘mind’ to do this.  Often the dogs will move before I have realised that anyone is coming.  For more information about Ounce and how I have trained her, have a look at the rest of Ounce’s Adventures?

bluebells dogs
The girls

Photo time!

Anyway, this post is really just an excuse to show you the photos I have taken of the girls in the bluebells.  There is something irresistible about these little flowers; they form such a perfect ‘haze’ behind the subject.  It really is magical.  Of course my photography is far less professional than my writing, but I enjoy the challenge of trying!  Thanks to Kate Everall Photography I am slowly improving, but if you want a professional, please contact Kate?

bluebells girls
The majestic Sunshine

Vote please?

I’d love you to tell me which of the pics you think should be ‘Miss May’ on the 2019 calendar.  Last year Aura got the vote, but she was the only one I had in the daffodils, so Luna and Busy won.  Who gets it this time round?

bluebells dogs
My lilac puppy

Remember..

If you enjoy hearing about Ounce and her family and want more, why not FOLLOW ME?  Then you will receive an email when there is a new post.  Please CONTACT ME if you would like me to write about a specific topic?  And feel free to COMMENT if you want to tell me what you think?

 

Dogs and Bikes – Ounce’s first bike ride!

Going by bike: a different way to exercise your dogs?

What do you do when you want to save your poor aching feet, but want your dogs to have a bit of a run on a Sunday morning?  You go for a bike ride of course!  We only do this periodically and always VERY carefully and slowly, but it is nice to cycle round the lake with the dogs from time to time.

bike ride dogWe start by taking the dogs into the park that surrounds the lake, then off we go!  Running five dogs with two bicycles is quite a challenge and you do need to keep your wits about you, but it can work.

Points to remember:

  • Dogs do not run as fast as you can cycle, even a fit dog designed to run fast, like a collie.  You must match your speed to them and pay attention to how tired they are getting
  • Dogs tend to weave around, so you will need to keep an eye on where they are at all times.  I have been ‘taken out’ by Busy cutting across my front wheel as she tore round the corner on one occasion.
  • Be prepared to pick up poo.  I managed to go over the handlebars on another ride, when jamming on the brakes because Aura was doing a poo.
  • Wear a helmet!
  • Make sure you take a bowl and some water if you think there may not be water on the walk.
  • Look out around other people’s dogs.  Dogs are not really that bike savvy, so you must be prepared to stop or change direction.
  • In warmer weather, dogs can wear out their pads on hot paths.  We had this happen to Sunny one summer a few years ago.  She absolutely loves running with the bikes and tears along, so we have to be extra careful with her.

dog bike rideIt’s a nice way to see a bit more of the countryside, without having to take too long.   You will need to  have a good level of general obedience before you go.

Basic commands you need

  • Wait – absolutely essential.  Stopping near roads, or if runners or cyclists are coming the other way
  • Recall – your dogs must come to you, even if you are on a bike
  • Here – I use this, rather than ‘heel’ to mean “be near me” while we manoeuvre round or across something.
  • Mind – I use this to mean “get off the path so that someone can go past”

Of course I teach all these commands before we venture out with the bikes!

Anyway, the puppy had a lovely time and behaved herself really well.  She didn’t seem to notice the bikes at all, although that meant that she didn’t seem aware that it might be harder for us to get out of her way 😉

If your dog has a ‘thing’ about bikes, as some dogs, (especially collies) do), you might find that taking them out with you riding a bike helps them to realise that they are not for chasing!  Failing that, you will need to train them to focus on you while a bike goes past.   This is the kind of thing I talk about in my Dog doc blog.

dogs and bikesFinally of course, if you are going for a longer ride, you will need to stop for a drink along the way at eg The Caldecotte Arms 😉

Remember..

If you enjoy hearing about Ounce and her family and want more, why not FOLLOW ME?  Then you will receive an email when there is a new post.  Please CONTACT ME if you would like me to write about a specific topic?  And feel free to COMMENT if you want to tell me what you think?

Can Busy read?

Are dogs able to read?

Busy the amazing reading dog.  If you follow this site you will know that Busy and I volunteer for Pets As Therapy as part of the Read2dogs scheme.  We visit a school twice a week, working with around 25 children, helping them read, as well as improving their confidence, focus and conversation skills.  We are about to start visiting a second school, which I know they are excited about 🙂

I love helping children to read and to have Busy there makes a huge difference.  She is so calm and gentle, taking her work very seriously.  Even children who are not confident with dogs find her reassuring and patient; they love being able to make a fuss of her and she definitely improves their behaviour.

I read about another Pets As Therapy dog being taught to ‘read’ so decided to give it a go with Busy.  This post has a video clip of my first attempt.  I took my bits of paper into school and amazed everyone with her ‘reading abilities’.    We have practised this many times over the past few weeks, with varying results.  The school have now made me some smart, laminated cards with which to perform.

Best trick ever?

Here is a clip showing our best effort now:

So can she read?  It’s hard to say watching this, isn’t it?  I decided to do a test – could she perform as well with Chris?  Here is the result:

I think the answer is clear; Chris cannot perform as well as me!  Poor dog, getting rewarded at the wrong time and being expected to read upside down!

I think this shows two features of Border Collie behaviour that are very common: patterning and anticipation.  But what are these and what does this have to do with reading?

Patterning

Patterning behaviour is when a dog (or person, or any animal) learns that a particular sequence of behaviour generates a reward.  This leads to them following the exact same pattern of behaviour, in order to achieve the reward.  That’s great, except when the animal is accidentally rewarded for the wrong behaviour, which then reinforces that pattern, not the correct one.  The animal then persists with the wrong pattern, believing that it will lead to the reward.

The first time I learnt about this was during my psychology degree, learning about rats performing simple tasks to receive food, such as pressing a bar.  Apparently one rat accidentally learnt that picking up its tail in its mouth and shuffling across the cage before pressing the bar was what was needed to earn the reward, rather than simply pressing the bar.  (It was a long time ago, I’m sure they don’t do these experiments now.)

Another example can be seen in every agility lesson.  A dog is given a sequence of obstacles and then given a reward (ball being thrown).  After doing it three times, a Border Collie will then continue to perform that sequence, even though its handler is frantically shouting and pointing at the tunnel!

So we see in the videos above that Busy is performing the actions, because she knows that ‘one of these gets the reward’.  So not reading then?

Anticipation

Another thing that Border Collies in particular are extremely good at is anticipating what comes next.  They are bright dogs, able to plan and problem solve.  They very often outthink us, expecting that we will do something, sometimes before we know it ourselves!

That is also what Busy is doing in these videos – I know you’re going to ask me to do this, so I’ll go ahead and do it anyway.  She is trying to please – is it this?  Or this?  Love her.  So not reading then?

 

dog readPattern recognition

And yet… Reading is simply a question of pattern recognition.  We look at a letter enough times to know what sound it makes.  We try to build up these sounds into words, so that we can learn new words.  Then we learn what a word as a whole looks like, so that we know what is says.  We practise, we repeat, until we can read thousands of words and understand their meaning automatically.

Being able to read is a mystic art that challenges many children.  Particularly in English, building a word through sounds is nigh on impossible; ‘through’ and ‘nigh’ being two perfect examples.  And actually, it really is the shape of the word that is important.

If I wtire tihs snetncee wtih the wrods jmulbed up, yuo cna sitll raed it, cna’t you?

(That was very hard to type, with flipping autocorrect on!)

Conclusion

I believe that Busy understands that the cards represent commands for actions she has to perform.  I think she really can tell the difference between the three cards.  She has the intelligence and visual acuity to do this.  However, if I ask her to tell me “which one says ‘sit'” she won’t be able to, because she doesn’t understand the function of reading and doesn’t appreciate that words convey meaning.  Can she read?  Yes she can, but only in the context of performing this trick.  I could probably, with patience, expand the trick to include other words, or we could just play ball.  We’ll see.

Remember..

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Exciting recall!

How to be exciting for your puppy – and checking names

Last week I talked about being exciting for your puppy – here is my demonstration!  Ounce doesn’t think much of my first attempt to call her, so she decides not to bother.  When I change my tone though, she rushes over.  In fact I am so exciting that Sunny and Luna decide I must want to give them sweeties as well 🙂

Name Checking

I also practice ‘name checking’ my dogs, to make sure they know their names.

You can see that the puppy is not so good at staying put when she thinks I am not looking at her!  But she isn’t too bad, considering.

I love doing this exercise with the girls.  Can they wait?  Do they know their names?  Can they come, neatly?  Can they then wait again?  I do this exercise with them periodically, making it harder or easier, depending on how well they are doing it and when was the last time I practised.  Variations include:

  • increasing the distance
  • spreading them out from each other
  • calling them in different orders (I started with Ounce as she is the worst!)
  • facing away from them

Finally, I tried to get a video of them going into a ‘down’ from a distance.  This was a poor example, because they are tired – it’s the end of the walk.  Luna in particular was distracted by a cyclist mending a puncture.  You can see that they do go down, but it’s not as quick and efficient as I would like.

Treats

Don’t forget, you must always, always have plenty of treats for your dogs.  Then they will do what you want!

 

Remember..

If you enjoy hearing about Ounce and want more, why not FOLLOW ME?  Then you will receive an email when there is a new post.  Please CONTACT ME if you would like me to write about a specific topic?  And feel free to COMMENT if you want to tell me what you think?