We’re once again in the throes of a re-training regime for both our dogs. This is mostly because one of them recently developed a liking for adventuring when off lead at the park. No biggie in and of itself, except that she sometimes chooses not to come back. Apparently it’s much more fun to turn the whole exercise into a game. Much sigh.

Fortunately we know some great people at the local Dobermann Club. They all know MissMolly (she has something of a reputation as a super bouncy Dobe) and one of them kindly agreed to help out with some one-on-one. This new training regime started a few weeks ago and we’ve had some great results with MissM (aka the runawaydog) so far. It’s involved going back to basics with recalls, impulse inhibition and so forth.

Cassie’s been having some fun with training as well. But since most of it’s really aimed at the runawaydog, she needs to be kept occupied whilst the high intensity focused training sessions take place.

Enter the snuffle mat. This is essentially a rubber door mat that has had a whole lot of fleece fabric strips tied to it to create a densely packed, soft and fluffy adventure mat. The idea is that it acts like a puzzle for the dog, allowing it to sniff out and hunt around for little treats in a fun way. This provides mental stimulation, slows down their eating, encourages natural foraging instincts and works to decrease their stress levels.

It was a really simple rainy day craft project to undertake and very rewarding, although it used a good deal more fabric than I expected. It also involved a lot of knot tying! My reward was to see Cassie take to it with great gusto during training time this week. She hunted and foraged, snuffled and searched for her morning kibble in amongst the fleece-forrest, tail going like crazy. Very cute. And afterwards? A delightfully calm pup – which was a real bonus as she’s usually hyper if separated from her buddy for any reason.

Snuffle mat - Cassie

If you think you’d like to make one yourself, the instructions are on my craft page. Enjoy!

ps. For heaps of other good ideas to keep your dogs occupied, you might like to have a look at this canine enrichment site.

BabyMolly_2014Miss Molly entered our lives almost two years ago, capturing our hearts from the moment we met her at Valkyrian Dobermans. We’ve learned a whole lot about the breed since we brought her home, sitting on my lap – but the surprises keep on coming 🙂

Molly en route home_2014

Like every other Doberman we’ve met, MissM’s very affectionate and people-oriented. She took to sleeping on our bed early in the piece and likes to colonise the couch – usually squished up next to (or on) one of us. The phrase ‘velcro dog’ or even ‘parrot-dog‘ describes her perfectly: she has no concept of personal space, preferring to be close to (or on) one of us… an ever-present, 26kg shadow.


We were warned that Dobermans are athletic – and this appears to equate to ‘runs and jumps like a crazy thing and has boundless energy.’ Daily walks are a must for MissM, and these need to be augmented by a good run a couple of times a week. It makes a huge difference to both her happiness and our sanity!

MissM out for a runDobermans can have a propensity to suck on (or chew) blankets. MissM is one of these – and seems to particularly enjoy the blanket we have on our bed… Preventative measures are in place but, given that her grandmother still does it, we may be doomed on this one.

The biggest hurdle we’ve faced – the one we come up against on a daily basis – is that dobermans can be darned stubborn. And by this I mean really, really stubborn. MissM does obey commands – but, like many two year olds, it tends to be in her own good time, thank you very much.

MissM in a rare moment of calmOur young lady is very protective and has a giant bark that she’s very willing to use any time anyone comes through the gate. This can result in some nervous visitors… She also seems to think she’s smaller than than she really is and will persist in trying to fit into fruit boxes 🙂

Molly in a box

Dobermans respond well to training… eventually, but not to drama or negative/forceful discipline. It takes consistent, patient training and positive reinforcement. Luckily, Himself is all about patience – so the game is gradually going our way.

Molly at school_23aug16

All in all, whilst her first two years have been frenetic, she’s been a great addition to our lives. Cassie, our six month old Welsh Springer pup, is her best buddy. Happy birthday, MissM 🙂


It’s always deeply satisfying to make tasty things for my family (and pets), and this week is no exception.

With Cassie and Molly both at school this term, we’re going through a prodigious amount of puppy training treats. This week I’m trying out something new: Tuna Fudge. I found the recipe on the dog club’s website and thought it would provide some variation for the (not at all picky) dogs. It’s a much less messy and time consuming option than the liver treats I made a couple of weeks ago, so I may stick to these for a while. I did change the recipe slightly, using one cup of plain flour + (about) ¾ of a cup of polenta (corn meal) in place of the wholemeal flour.  The dogs approve 🙂

tuna fudge_31jul16

While the training treats were baking, I did the final preparation of some Rosemary Seasalt Dutch Oven Bread for our lunch. I mixed up the dough yesterday, using ½ a cup of my excess sourdough starter in place of the suggested amount of active dry yeast. This may be what resulted in the bread not rising a whole lot (and thus turning out pretty dense), but the crust was absolutely delicious!

I’ll do some research into getting the quantity of starter right, but will definitely make it again. So much yum – particularly on a blustery winters day. There’s not a lot out there to beat freshly made (hot) bread with lashing of butter!

rosemary seasalt sourdough_31jul16

What I need now is a really great chicken and corn soup recipe to try out as an accompaniment… Any suggestions?

Having completed puppy school last month, we enrolled Cassie in the beginners obedience classes at the Southern River Dog Club for the next step. The class is quite large (about 30 dogs), so it’s demonstration/instruction-based for the most part and there’s not a lot of individual attention. But that’s okay, since the class is as much about exposing Cassie to lots of dogs and people as anything else – and our young lady is already up to speed with a few commands (sit, wait, leave, come) and walks happily (albeit a little too enthusiastically!) on lead. So class one was mostly about Himself and Cassie familiarising themselves with clicker training.

The only gotcha of the evening was that the trainers had requested that we bring along a training-specific toy. They suggested something along the lines of a simple tug-toy that was to be used at dog school – not at home. Since we hadn’t bought one – and pet stores were closed by the time we realised this – we had to come up with a last minute cunning plan.

Himself described what he was after: a woven or plaited fabric rope, soft enough to not hurt Cassie’s mouth but sturdy enough to withstand her piranha-teeth. So, with precious little time to spare, I hunted through my fabric scraps and found a narrow strip of fleece that looked like it might work. Step one was to cut it into strips… but then we were faced with the problem of how to turn those into some semblance of a tug-toy. This is about when I had a Eureka! moment…

I remembered a knotting craft that was all the rage when my own kids were at primary school:  Scoubidou (Scooby-do). It’s a cheap, colourful, useful and, above all, quick and easy way of creating a woven item. To minimise craft-talk confusion, I hunted down a simple instructional video and Himself got to weaving. Since the fabric scraps I’d scrounged up weren’t very long, the toy turned out a little shorter than we’d hoped – but it was well and truly ready in time for school. A recycling win – both the fabric and the weaving method 🙂

Yesterday I took it one step further. I scrounged through the bargain bin at our local fabric store and, for the princely sum of $8, acquired a couple of pieces of fleece fabric offcuts. Next was a quick interwebs search to see if anyone else had ever made such scoubidou-style fleece tug-toy.

I was astonished to find that not only have (many) others made similar toys, many of those crafty-folk have shared their techniques on blogs and in videos. I perused a couple and then, Scoubi-muscle-memory refreshed, I knocked up two slightly longer, snazzy-looking tug-toys whilst watching TV last night.

DIY tug toy

If you’d like to try one yourself, this is what I’d suggest:

  • Scrounge down some fleece offcuts – ideally these should be at least one metre long or your toy will end up more of a cat toy than a puppy toy.
  • I’d suggest you check the bargain bin at your local fabric store unless you’re feeling super precious about colours/designs.
  • Tip: the weaving will be a lot simpler if you have two different colours to weave with.
  • Cut four strips of fleece (two of each colour), about 5cm wide and as long as the fabric.
  • Tip: You don’t need to be too precise about the width – it’s not super important.
  • Line up one end of the strips and knot them together really firmly.
  • Now start your fleece-scoubidou tug-toy. It’s done in square (box) stitch, the building block of most scoubis.
  • Essentially, the trick is to isolate the individual strands (strips of fleece). Do this by pushing one to the back (1), one to the front (2), and one to each side (3,4) – and then keeping track of them.

DIY tug toy showing strands

  • Tip: make sure you pull the strands tight after every weave row – this keeps the tug-toy firm.

DIY tug toy showing weave

  • When you get to the length you’re happy with, tie the strands off in a tight knot and trim them.
  • Tip: leave a reasonable amount at the end to tie your knot – it takes more fabric than you’d think.

Of course, if you don’t want to make one you could just ask me to knock one up for you… especially if you already have some suitable fabric. Although, since I only used a very small amount of the fleece I bought, I’d be happy to use that up 🙂

Most of the dogs I’ve had have been prepared to eat just about anything – including socks, paper, and packaged pet food. But this doesn’t necessarily mean any of those things are actually good for them. Household items aside, many commercial pet foods – particularly wet foods (tins, etc.) all have a particularly unappealing smell. A nasty, I-wouldn’t-want-to-eat-that, sort of smell. I don’t think the pretty pictures on the tins/sachets make up for this in the slightest.

So it occurred some time ago to question the quality of of said food? Really – would you eat it? Like most people, I’ve tended not to read the ingredients list too closely. Even when I do, the information doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. What even is animal digest or high quality protein?

The pet food industry is big business, but it doesn’t appear to be particularly well legislated and the standards for compliance in terms of content appear sketchy. This 10-minute video provides an overview of impressive machinery, manufacturing process standards and some charming pet pictures. Where the Pet Food Industry Association of Australia video falls down is that it doesn’t provide any detail on what actually goes into the food that’s being so carefully processed.

pfiaa vimeo video

I hunted down the Australian Standard on the Manufacturing and Marketing of Pet Food (AS 812-2011). It’s available online so, if I really want to check what’s allowed to go into pet food, I could download that. The catch? Well, to gain access to more than the cover, preface, contents, and part of the scope statement of the of the (2011) legislation, I need to invest $200.

The (free) preview pages online tell me the following, but essentially it’s committee-speak and leaves me no better informed than the video did.

This Standard was prepared by the Standards Australia Committee FT-033, Pet Food. The objective of this Standard is to provide requirements for the manufacture and marketing of pet food intended for consumption by domesticated cats and dogs. The focus of this Standard is on the safety of multi-ingredient, manufactured food for feeding to pets and on ensuring products are accurately labelled and do not mislead purchasers…This Standard specifies requirements for the production and supply of manufactured food for domesticated dogs and cats. The Standard covers production of pet food from sourcing and receipt of ingredients to storage, processing (including heat treatment), packing, labelling and storage of products in order to assure its safety for pets. It also includes instructions for the uniform application of information provided on labels.

So it’s not surprising that most people I speak to have no more idea than I do of what goes into the commercial food they give their pets. We see the TV ads, with puppies and kittens rushing to their delicious-looking dinners, and forget that these self-same pets would probably eat socks, cardboard, poop and pretty much anything in-between.  But commercial dog food, whether it’s dry kibble, tins of wet food, or training treats, is quick and easy. Not cheap – but easy. Not necessarily healthy – but easy.

It turns out, however, that commercial dog/cat food is largely made from leftovers. Not the yummy sort of leftovers you find in the fridge after pizza night. No. These leftovers are the scraps that can be scavenged from animal carcasses after all the saleable meat has been harvested, the bits not considered suitable for human consumption. This includes a bunch of things I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to eat (and I’m not a vegetarian): offal (liver, heart, kidney, lungs, brains, stomach), fat, intestines, blood, beaks, and so on. Not exactly gourmet fare, right? But it’s all lumped under the generic label of high quality protein or meat meal (of one sort or another) on the ingredients list.

This is amongst the reasons that we’ve chosen to make the bulk of our dog food, processing it every six weeks or so. We augment this with commercial kibble, but choose the best brand we can afford – after a rigorous check of the ingredients list. Why? Because my dogs are effectively our kid-replacements and this matters to us. I don’t want to feed them anything I consider distasteful or wouldn’t, at a push, be prepared to eat myself.

Training treats are my current bugbear. Most dog schools advocate soft treats, preferably meat-based. So many people use generic dog sausage (TM) for this. However, I find that even the products that claim to be ‘leading health food for pets’ are a little dodgy. The ingredients may well include 70% fresh meats… vegetables and grains, but it’s a bit like generic polony (luncheon meat): it can be keep in the fridge for weeks, just getting a bit dried out and shrivelled after a while. It also smells a bit odd and the dogs get mild diarrhoea the day after their training session. Given all of this, surely it’s not something I should feed to them?

So now that we’ll have two dogs at school every week, we’re going back to making our own training treats. This is a recipe for Sunshine Liver Brownies, given to us by a trainer at the dog club a number of years ago. It’s easy enough to make, keeps well, smells okay and I know exactly what’s in it. Oh – and the dogs love it and has no negative side-effects 🙂

  • 450g chicken or beef liver (I’ve used both; beef is often cheaper and easier to get hold of; 1kg of beef liver cost me $1.50 at the meat markets last weekend)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup corn meal (aka polenta)
  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 1 tsp garlic (I use bottled garlic, but no doubt fresh is better)
  • Parsley – fresh or dried (this is optional; I think it’s just decorative & tend to leave it out)

Puree all of the above in food processor if you have one OR just mince the liver and then add it to the other ingredients and mix well. Note: the mixture will be quite thick. Line a baking tray with foil – and oil it lightly. Pour the mix onto the foil and press out as evenly as possible so that it’s about 1cm thick all over. Bake at 180C for 15-20 minutes (Check at 15 – it’s usually enough). Brownies are done when the pink (liver colour) has gone. Don’t over bake or the brownies’ll crumble. Once it’s cool, slice the bake into pieces small enough to use as training treats (about 1cm cubes). They keep in the fridge for about a week – but you can freeze the rest and take some out each week for training. Can be frozen for up to 6 months. I’m pretty sure your dogs will love you for this.

As for the dogs’ daily (wet) food intake, we combine 2 – 3 ox hearts (minced), 1 liver (ditto), 8 – 10kg mince (depending on the number of hearts used), 1.5kg sardines in oil.  That gets frozen in 500g lots and taken out as required. Our 2-year old gets 300g of this mix each day, the puppy gets 200g. They also both get an appropriate ration of (soaked) kibble with each meal, along with whatever appropriate veggies/fruit I have to hand. Now that is gourmet doggy-fare – and yes, I would eat it if I had to!