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 …
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I need to post more often …

We have been quiet recently and that is always a sign that there are struggles. The reason for starting this blog was to allow an outlet and a safe way to express my thoughts and feelings so I need to use it more and not be afraid of backlash, others’ opinions or appearing stupid/like a bad dog owner. I know it helps me to write things down so I need to continue to do so.

So the big news at the moment? We have enlisted the help of a behaviourist. Not because we have a particularly troublesome dog currently but because we could end up with a troublesome dog and we are trying to be responsible and do everything to help him be as well rounded as possible.

I have kind of been avoiding talking to people about it as I am afraid of judgement and I am also struggling with some of the things we are trying to do with him and the changes it will mean in our lives. I will do a separate post on this in the coming days as I do need to put my feelings down about the situation.

There are lots of positives though, one of which is that Kubo and Soda seem to be becoming quite attached to each other. It started with Soda taking a liking to Kubo’s bed and just hanging out in there. When it came to actual bed time, Kubo would get in with him and Soda would still not move. He had to be forcibly removed!

Soda joins Kubo in his bed
‘Mum, what’s this doing here?’

This has now evolved into Kubo trying to snuggle up with Soda when he is on a mat or lying on the floor. I’m not sure the cat is 100% impressed but he puts up with it. It’s been kind of cute seeing Kubo take a chew and finding Soda just to lay near him and eat. He hasn’t become as enamoured with Cally yet but they put up with each other more and more and she has begum to start head-butting him. He also gives her a lick now and then but it’s hard to see her appreciating his big slobbery tongue!

Kubo is also still really enjoying Flyball and I am actually enjoying going too.  The only thing I am worried about is that so far I have always attended with Dave but if I go this week, I will need to take Kubo on my own. As an anxious person this scares me a little. Everyone seems to have struck up good friendships (granted most people have obviously known each other for ages!) and I do sometimes struggle to interact until I know people. But to get to know people I have to interact … what a catch 22! The other scary part for me is the driving in and out of the venue. For obvious reasons, I can’t take a dog in the 2-seater on such a long journey but I have witnessed Dave struggle to get the van in and out of the gates  – it only just fits! I am a confident driver but knowing me, I will panic, misjudge and end up scraping the van. It really is a tight fit and I do find it challenging to judge that vehicle anyway. I would then certainly be in the bad books and out of pocket. I could probably message and ask them to open the second gate but it has never been open before and I don’t want to cause problems and be that difficult person who can’t drive her own vehicle. Equally I don’t want Kubo to suffer and not go to training …

I am being a total worrier at the moment!!

He also really enjoys agility which we haven’t managed to get to for the last 2 weeks (bank holiday and misc commitment) but we will definitely be back next week.

Agility first jump
And we’re off!

I am starting to get the hang of it a bit more however I still struggle to automatically know my left and right with quick instruction while trying to direct Kubo to the correct jump. I also seem to forget the ability to count when I am in the middle of the ring looking for the number of where to go next! I’m sure it will come with practise, though.

This week we will be taking a long drive to go camping in Cornwall. Kubo came with us last year when he was very young but it will be his first time camping since so we are hoping for the best!

I am trying really hard to stop being such a worrier and I will post again very soon with our experience of seeing a behaviourist and everything that comes with it!

Arianna x

Shadow hunting and evil strawberries

We have been a bit quiet lately over here. As so often happens, life can get busy and stressful and things just pile on! I have been finding it difficult to have any down time and the stresses have built up a little.

Over the last month or so things with Kubo have been hard, also. Firstly, he got ill. I was so worried and as much as his relentless energy can be a huge pain in the backside, when he just wanted to lay around and sleep all day it was totally heartbreaking. For 4 days he would hardly eat anything: he would have one or two pieces of kibble and then go and lie down. We tried other foods and soaking his kibble but he always just took a small amount and then gave up, walking away dejectedly. He didn’t want to go out or go for walks and was stuck by my side, wanting to just lay down near me. I cried a fair amount as it was so sad to see and I can be a worrier. It turned out to be nothing in the end (thankfully) – we took him to the vet who said she couldn’t find anything much wrong. His temperature was normal, stools were fine and there was no vomiting. After another couple of days he thankfully starting eating again and his energy picked up. Before long he was totally normal and back to himself. I guess the vet was right, puppies do just pick up things, or eat something that doesn’t agree with them and have a few ‘off’ days but when it’s your pup it is so scary! I don’t think you realise how much you love your dog until there is a possibility that there is something wrong.

The other thing that has happened with him which has now started taking up a lot of time is a fixation on chasing (or looking for) lights and shadows. We are aware of how this can turn into a bad OCD, especially for collies, and so are putting in a lot of work to distract and redirect him but it is really hard. It zaps your energy. Our kitchen lights cast lots of shadows so the evenings I am on my own consist of desperately trying to cook by the under counter kitchen lights whilst simultaneously doing my best to distract him from shadow hunting. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried cooking in semi-darkness but it is not fun. He stopped laying calmly at my feet when the attention was not on him and instead busied himself with this behaviour. After a long day at work it is exhausting as you cannot sit down for 5 minutes. He is getting lots of walks and runs (as much as he should have considering he is not yet a year old) and we are still training him and teaching him new things every week. It just takes time but we will crack this. I can completely see why this develops into a serious problem for dogs if left to continue.

This weekend we are taking him to a local Fly ball team’s training to see how he gets on. We are hoping that it is something he enjoys and takes to as it would be good to get him focused on something. I am nervous as I don’t doubt he’ll run to get a ball but the likelihood of him then running around to show every other dog the ball and ignoring me is quite high! A new environment and new dogs? I feel I have no chance! I will report back how his first session goes – you never know!

The only other vaguely interesting dog-related news is that I have found a food Kubo does not like! Considering he is the most food focused beast I’ve met who will try to eat anything (including t-shirts and  his own fur he finds on the floor) this was a bit of a surprise to me. The offending food? Strawberries. He will take a piece if offered, spit it out, and look all hurt about it! ‘Why didn’t you give me something tasty?’ he look says, dreaming instead of beef, kibble, cucumber or literally anything else.

strawberries

Well, that summarises our last month or so. I look forward to sharing Kubo’s first Flyball experience and as always, if there is any advice on the shadow obsession I will gladly take it on board!

Arianna x

 

 

Car/Bird/Squirrel Chasing (or ‘herding’)

Border Collie in the park at sunrise

I was told that Border Collies have a very strong ‘herding instinct’ by numerous people before we got our pup. What I later discovered was that everyone actually meant a ‘chasing instinct’! I really wish someone had actually explained that to me as I would have been more prepared and done more reading before a problem started to develop.

His chasing instinct seems very strong to me, but the reality is that I have never have a dog before, so it is probably just the same as any other young dog or Border Collie. He is now 9 months old and when he locks onto something I cannot do anything at all to distract him. I have tried very hard but it is something that we still struggle with daily and is a great cause of frustration to me for several reasons:

  1. I lose control of my dog – this is both embarrassing and frustrating
  2. It has begun to cause damage to our property
  3. I’m afraid of him getting injured/lost

When we first got Kubo we followed advice and walked around the streets with him (in our arms) before he could walk on the floor to get him used to the sights, souBorder Collie fixated starnds and smells. By the time he was able to walk on his own he seemed OK however at some point he began to notice cars and from then on would go bonkers trying to chase them. We followed the advice of a trainer and found a path offset from the road, walked him up and done focussed on us and gradually brought him closer until he could walk alongside the cars and pay attention to us (with the help of some chicken or sausage!). This works on the residential 30mph roads and we continue to do this daily but near quicker roads we do still lose his attention. I must admit I find this kind of training on bigger roads very hard to do as it is stressful, to be honest. We need to go slightly further afield so need more time, it also is not a nice fun walk or training session and it is very draining so it is way too easy to just avoid walking him next to busier roads, or take him out at unsociable hours when the roads are quiet, even though I know we need to keep the practise up.

He also never seemed to have any real interest in chasing other animals outside of the house and when we started letting him off the lead he was good as gold. We wouldn’t let him off anywhere near a road as I just don’t trust him with cars and we will only let him off when we are both present due to how nervous we are. About the 4th time we ever let him off lead I was on my own and out of the blue for some reason he noticed a bird. He had never paid them any real attention before. He took off after it and no amount of me calling him, running the other way or trying to lure him with toys and treats helped. He was fixated on this bird who by this point was flying (circling) with Kubo trotting underneath. The bird tried to land a few times but with the dog chasing, it kept flying back up and Kubo kept at his chase. Eventually, after what seemed like hours but was only minutes of course, the bird found a tree, leaving Kubo jumping up the trunk underneath it. I was in tears of worry as I knew wherever that bird went, my dog would have followed – what if it had gone towards the woods? Or the other way to the road? I was so relieved to be able to approach and get his lead back on and naturally when I eventually got his attention away from the bird I was super excited with him and gave him treats and toys but clearly he enjoyed the bird chase as he then spent every walk looking up at the sky, hunting for more birds. We have never been able to shake this bird (and also now squirrel) habit. Sometimes he will give up the chase and come back when we call but other times he will not. We tend to try and walk him round our local reservoir as there are no roads he can access and he can’t really go anywhere but we find this a huge restriction as there are many other places we would love to go. We have taken him to woods and parks and he does always eventually come back after a chase but the time he spends away, fixated, is nerve-racking and I am concerned he will lose his way, or worse, find himself in the path of a car, and I’ll be one of those people putting up missing dog posters. It breaks my heart to think of losing him.

Another relatively new development of his in trying to ‘catch’ other cars whilst we are driving. We finally managed to get him happy in the car on the backseat on his own however he spends the entire time snapping at cars that pass on the other side of the road. The bigger and faster the better! I have had to stop opening the rear window for him as he has begun trying to launch himself at the cars he wants to catch but this just means he scratches his teeth up against the glass window instead which is now causing damage to the glass. I have again tried to distract him with treats and attention but he just locks in on them and we lose his attention completely. He just becomes so task orientated. His seatbelt cannot be tightened enough that he can’t reach the window.

Dog funny face border collie car

I find Kubo to be a very stubborn dog. When the cats are upstairs he is relentless at jumping up and making lots of noise. My banisters are full of scratches and flaked paintwork. If you can get him to change his attention focus he will only do it momentarily before running back to the stairs. We cannot seem to switch his focus at all, only distract him for very short periods.

The advice we have been giving is to keep practising recall training around birds, which we do. If the cats are making noise upstairs I try to sit with him and reward him for being calm and quiet. Is it a case to carry on with this and eventually it’ll just get better? What else can I do? It is so frustrating, especially when I need to cook or do something other than be tied to him and he is just going crazy. I try to shut him in the room with me but this doesn’t help, he just has a go at the door instead.

As always I welcome any questions on anything we have done or tried and any advice is greatly received. I don’t want my dog to be in danger and I’d rather not have any more damaged caused to our house or car!

Just a short drive

Kubo gets into the car on his own and looks out of the window.

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‘Hi!’

This may seem normal but it has only just become a thing for us. He used to be awful in the car; every journey he would drool uncontrollably and really be very unhappy.

In hindsight we made a big mistake when we brought Kubo home and it has taken us about 4 months of severe patience to undo.

When we picked Kubo up we put him in the boot because we thought that in the future we did not want the dog with his muddy paws tramping over the seats. As advised, we drove a couple of miles and then pulled over for him to potentially be sick. He had already been sick – how he had so much in his little belly I’ll never know! He had clearly eaten a roast dinner and swallowed the runner beans whole!

We cleaned him up with the help of some ladies from the community centre where we had pulled over and continued home. He was sick several more times.

We continued taking Kubo in the car to get him used to it and he continued to be sick. He did stop the vomiting after a few days but would drool uncontrollably with anxiety and was clearly distressed.

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Baby Kubo coming home

Then it dawned on us: the car took him away from his family and the car made him feel nauseous so it was no wonder he didn’t want to go in it!

The training began. We tried to not take him out in the car and we fed him as many meals as was practical in the boot or on the back seat with the doors open. We worked up to closing the doors. The idea was to make the car a positive place.

This went on for a couple of months and then we were able to move on to to coaxing him into the vehicle as we’d read if he makes the decision to get in (rather than being picked up) it would be better.

I remember one of the first times sitting in the back passenger seat calling him into the car with a high-value treat for over 20 minutes. I was exhausted from being so patient and upbeat but he had done it and we kept working on it.

There were moments in car parks where I felt embarrassed as I sat there trying to get Kubo to come into the car without losing my cool and just picking him up. We (quite by accident) discovered that Kubo responded to weird noises and if we made an unusual sound he began getting in, presumably to see us and check we were OK! Using we discovered that we could get him in the front foot-well of his own accord within a few minutes. Though making strange noises in public car parks was even more embarrassing!

Then one day he was in the foot-well, I was in the passenger seat and he just climbed onto my lap. From that day he now chooses to sit on the front passenger seat (we have a seat belt for him) and he discovered that he enjoys looking out of the window. He is not a small dog and will always insist on sitting on the seat, even if it means sitting on someone’s lap!

We are slowly now trying to transition him to sit on the rear seats on his own.  No doubt this will take another 6 weeks or so but by keeping calm and continuing to reassure him (with the help of tasty treats!) we know we will get there.

driving dog
I’m sure he prefers the drivers’ seat!