Dover – Calais: our first ferry trip

I’m sure I have been on a ferry before as a child but never as an adult and certainly not with the added responsibility of bringing a dog.

Now that the van is converted into a camper, it seemed only right that we take it on its maiden voyage to the continent and so we booked a ten day France/Belgium road trip with Kubo along for the ride!

He seemed wholly unfazed at being woken up at 2:30am after having only been asleep for a couple of hours. He wagged his way to the passenger seat and promptly fell asleep for the duration of the drive despite me trying to keep him awake so he’d sleep on the ferry.

We sailed with DFDS Seaways and despite our nerves, found the experience easy and pleasant.

Upon check in we were told that we would be able to arrange to visit our dog mid-journey with a chaperone which was such a pleasant surprise. Everything I had read said you couldn’t return to your vehicle. The lady also gave us a dog biscuit – top marks from Kubo!

We were in a specific queue for vehicles with animals on board and I frantically scoured the internet whilst waiting to establish how to turn our vehicle alarm off. We hadn’t even considered doing this but thankfully I read the animal safety leaflet I was given at check-in. Once parked up, we left the windows and skylight ajar to circulate the air whilst Kubo settled down for the journey in his crate with a tasty beef tail and bowl of water.

We originally decided that we wouldn’t go to see him during the crossing so as not to disturb him but when we were waving goodbye to the white cliffs of Dover to the sound of car alarms we decided that maybe we should. The noise downstairs must have been so scary for him with all these alarms blaring and droning engine noises. As it happened, by the time we had finished drinking tea we were rapidly approaching Calais so he coped for another 10 minutes alone.

He was super happy to see us but honestly looked like he had done a fair bit of sleeping. What a relief!

One thing I have learnt is to stop at more services on the way to Dover! We only managed to stop in a layby before the port where he refused to go to the toilet and there is no exercise area or easy place to let the dog out that we could find. Poor Kubo had to wait until we found a layby services to relieve his bladder in France.

Overall the ferry experience was a pleasant one. The staff were all very nice and I felt that animals were considered.


Canine enrichment and how much is too much protein?

Apparently protein is not always a good thing. All the information out there about what to feed your dog is so contradictory but we have a new diet to try thanks to advice from Kubo’s behaviourist. Also, in an attempt to keep our pup mentally stimulated, his meal times have been becoming more and more enriched …

Canine Enrichment

We have been working on ‘enrichment’ and different ways of feeding Kubo his standard meals which he is loving! The idea is to keep him more mentally stimulated, rather than just dumping the food in a bowl for him.

It really started when he was much younger as he gulped food down like he had never been fed and was very gassy because of it (swallowing lots of air with the food). Rather than buying an expensive ‘slow-feeder’ bowl, we bought a smaller metal bowl which went upside down in his bowl. This slowed him down in a similar way to these bowls as he had to eat round an obstacle.

We then toyed for ages with the idea of getting an interactive toy for him where you fill compartments with food and the dog needs to push, pull or lift various things to release their reward. The problem with this however is that Kubo would pick it up so quick that very quickly it would not be a challenge at all and it would not take him long to release  the food. These gadgets also tend to start from about £15 for a decent one and for something he would only get any real challenge from two or three times, it seemed like a waste of money.

Instead we purchased a rubber puzzle ball. Food goes in one end and there are obstacles inside the food must travel through before coming out of a hole at the other end. It was a big success! Kubo will nudge it round with his nose dislodging the kibble and getting one or two bits at a time as they come out. Yes, he has figured out what he needs to do very quickly but the action itself cannot be quick and he has to work every time to get the food.

entertaineze treat snack puzzle ball
the first puzzle ball

It all evolved from there. We recently purchased another similar ball one by iQuties from a pet shop when we were in Cornwall. This one requires you to remove a plastic insert which goes some way through the ball to fill the inside with snacks. This insert has slots in it that allow the food to be released. Kubo finds this one much more of a challenge as it needs to be moved in a different way.

iquties snack attack puzzle ball
snack attack puzzle ball

Some dinner times he gets food in one, or both of these but another thing we have started doing is ‘find it’. Food is hidden round the house in corners, under things, behind things etc and he must sniff it out. It can be made as easy or as hard as we need and often will have some food in a puzzle ball.

I recently discovered that a lot of his rubber toys have a large-ish hole in them that I can pop some pieces of kibble in. This is really handy and now often in his ‘find it’challenge I  will include some pieces sneakily hidden in random toys, too.

The difference between putting food in his bowl and him having to work for it is incredible. Ignoring the obvious time factor, he actually enjoys working and solving puzzles. A good ‘find it’ will take him 20 minutes or more and the whole time he is as happy as … well, a working collie! He gets excited when the puzzle balls come out, rolling them with his nose or batting with his paws, occasionally picking them up and dropping them so they bounce around the room.

Last night we tried a new ‘find it’. His kibble was hidden entirely in toys: stuffed into ripped soft toys, tucked into others where possible, inside puzzle balls and Kongs that were all put away in his toy box. He absolutely adored taking every toy out and having a different challenge to get the food from each one. His tail was in the air the whole time and it took him at least 40 minutes to get every last piece (and of course double check each one!)

We have purchased and are waiting for the delivery of a Kong Gyro as another food dispensing option to keep things new and interesting. I have also seen people making their own things such as the bottle on a string, or hiding food in a ball pit … so many different things for us to try!

canine enrichment bottle feeder
something for us to try

We also do the good old classic of filling Kongs with various things from kibble with peanut butter to frozen with watermelon as a treat.

Too much protein? Time for more carbs

When Kubo was younger, Dave did some research and decided that he should be on a relatively high protein diet. We wanted to keep him on dry kibble however rather than a raw diet or any of the other many options for feeding so he used to have Orijen (a whopping 36% protein at least) and later switched to Guru (approx 26% protein).

We have now been advised by his behaviourist that the percentage of protein in his diet is potentially a bit too high.

Protein is obviously very important for healthy growth and repair as well as an energy source. The best protein in dog foods should come from meat or fish as dogs have evolved to easily digest and use the nutrients. Or at least that would be best. Meat is a bit expensive as things go and so lots of brands on the market substitute with a cheaper protein such as soya meal, potato or vegetable protein which are apparently harder for dogs to digest.

There is so much information out there and it all seems to contradict! ‘High protein diets cause kidney/liver problems and will make your dog fat’; ‘low protein diets will leave your dog’s skin flaky and your dog will have no energy’; ‘high carb diets will result in excessive energy’. I really do think it’s a bit of a minefield. We both scrutinise references on articles and check research (which always seem to be done or sponsored by the manufacturer – I wonder where the bias would be?!) but knowing what to feed is still complicated. I guess it should always be individual to the dog and its lifestyle.

Now we are told that diets with a protein content over 25% are being linked to behavioural problems and excessive energy. Interesting, since we moved to a high protein diet to try and target excessive unwanted energy. Though when you think about it, working dogs will often have more meat/protein so does it give just as much excessive unwanted energy?

We have now begun upping Kubo’s carbohydrate intake and there is some interesting studies behind this is to do with altering the transfer of amino acids. It focuses around  tryptophan and its conversion into serotonin which can be aided by B6 and having a starchy diet. High protein levels can lower brain tryptophan levels therefore resulting is less serotonin being produced.  Reactivity and activity levels can be increased when there is less serotonin present whereas with more serotonin, reactivity can decrease and learning and decision-making can be improved. I am happy to share the information I have received on this but I would always suggest doing your own research and checking references! I am not saying that this is fact or the absolute way to do things; this is advice that we have received from one qualified professional and we are trying.

Kubo’s dinner is now being supplemented with various carbs and there are lots of options: potatoes, rice, carrots, oats and pasta. We’ve been told to feed the additional carbohydrates about 3 hours after his normal meal.

I imagine that it will be difficult to say what difference the diet itself has made as we have stepped up the training and changed the way we handle things. Not a very stable experiment! But I am happy to try the new diet: it is not particularly taxing for us and Kubo has enjoyed getting an additional rice-stuffed Kong for the last three evenings!


border collie banana pancakes
though he’d prefer dad’s banana pancakes …

What is the point of having rules?

Rule: an accepted principle or instruction that states the way things are or should be done, and tells you what you are allowed or are not allowed to do (Cambridge Dictionary)

A pretty simple concept. Yet one people seem to struggle to grasp.

This weekend we camped at a beautiful campsite in Penzance which had some pretty simple rules to follow:

treen farm campsite rules

All sounds pretty straightforward. One of the rules was further solidified on another blackboard:

campsite rules dogs

So I really don’t think that there could be any misunderstanding at all that dogs must be on leads – “no exceptions“.

We opted for a pitch on the campsite in a corner at the far end of the field as we know we have a sometimes-nervous dog. It has been almost a year since he last went camping. With some of his behaviours recently we were unsure how he would find it. We have an 8 metre plastic coated wire lead (so he can’t chew through it!) which allows Kubo to get around the whole van and have some freedom without being able to go too far or be a nuisance to anyone. He could not stray any further than our pitch. We also had a wind break up for some privacy.

We were alerted to our new neighbours opposite by Kubo barking and letting out a series of low growls. They had a dog. Who was off the lead. The dog was trotting around near them whilst they were setting up camp. I was a little frustrated however the dog was causing no real issue so we calmed Kubo and went back to our business.

Cue more growling. The dog was approaching our area. I got up to calm our dog and the owner called their dog back. Fine.

One of the campsite owners came cycling over and had a word. Good, I thought, that will be the end of it. Maybe they hadn’t seen the huge blackboard with the rules. It is possible.

Not half an hour later Kubo was back to barking his head off and this dog was nearby again. I’d had enough by this stage but I must admit, I remained very calm. I went over to woman and nicely let her know that my dog was nervous and would she mind please keeping her dog on the lead. “That’s the campsite’s rules anyway,” she said, “the kids have the lead though.” OK, so she did know and would keep her dog on the lead as soon as the boys came back. Good.

However this didn’t happen. The dog was on the lead for a little bit but generally was off. Wandering around, sniffing around other people’s camps and generally upsetting Kubo who would growl and bark as this dog came near.

I don’t know why he was so fussed with this dog since actually he is generally fine with other dogs. Maybe it was because he was tied up and this one wasn’t? Maybe because he felt our little area was his territory and this was an intruder? What ever the reason, I had told them that he was nervous which could have meant any manner of things, and they did not keep their dog away.

Yes, their dog may have been fine, I appreciate that. I’m sure it wasn’t aggressive. But it was not well enough behaved to stay exactly with them and how do you know what trouble your dog may get in to if it is not with you? Maybe it is not a vicious dog, but what if mine was? What if it scared a child? What if it stole from my BBQ?

Our dog is in training and we chose to stay somewhere where dogs should be on leads at all times “no exceptions” as this should have been a safe space for him to continue our training and not allow issues to worsen.

The rules are not just there to annoy you. They are for everyone’s safety and comfort. It is not fair on other people (or dogs) to be left frightened or nervous because one person cannot follow rules.

I spent several days with this; worrying about our Kubo’s comfort, hoping it did not escalate – I don’t know what he is actually capable of! and generally being irritated by this group’s total lack of consideration for the rules or people around them.

It will forever out stand me how ignorant and selfish people can be.