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!

As you may have gleaned by now, I’m a dog person. By this I mean that my life would be incomplete without dogs in it –  preferably my own, although access to friends’ dogs for a ‘puppy-fix’ worked in dog-free years. I pat dogs in parks (after asking permission), talk to dogs in passing (crazy dog-person impersonation my speciality), and our dogs currently fill up every nook and cranny of our lives.

Many years ago we had a pair of labrador retrievers and a very cute little mixed-breed hound.

rsadogs1At the time we were renting a cottage on a working farm, and these pups were lethal around the cows – or, more specifically, the cow pats. If they saw / smelled any and could make a break for it, they were in there, mouth first, then shoulders. Likewise, bird guano appeared to be a source of dietary delight, much to my horror. It was a trial – and one of the many reasons we were glad to move back to the city.

Fast forward 35 years to Perth – and a puppy who looks like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth…


… and it probably wouldn’t, since she’d have swallowed it in one gulp! She’s also decided that poop-eating in not restricted to country living. However, in the absence of cows and large birds, Cassie’s discovered the delights of dog-poop instead. Just to clarify, she’s not interested in her own faeces… In a bizarre turn of events, she’s taken to lurking nearby and pouncing on freshly laid Mollypoop!

Now I realise that puppies tend to show an interest in such things, but until this week the puppy had done little more than sniff. Yesterday – well, that was a first… and, if I have anything to do with it, a last! My shriek of aaaaargh! as she picked up a piece of freshly-produced-faeces and ran off with it was probably audible to the entire neighbourhood! It certainly had the desired result, allowing me to swoop down like a packet-wielding avenging angel!

Research tells me that this behaviour is thing called coprophagia,  and that it’s not uncommon in dogs. The trick is to find out why Cassie’s started doing it. Apparently it could be for any number of reasons, including learned behaviour, attention seeking / bored, wrong or insufficient food, yard not cleaned up, worms, or enzyme deficiency.

I think we can rule out the first one – unless she’s remembering her mum (in Tasmania) cleaning up behind the litter of puppies. The second is possible, I guess – but she’s kept pretty occupied (played with, given puzzles, taken for walks, has Molly to chase and be chased by), so I think not. Food – the diet she’s on is healthy and balanced, but I’ll up the quantity she gets to see if that makes a difference. I’m paranoid about yard cleanup and do it twice a day – so that’s out. Today was the day for the monthly de-worming routine, which ensures that box is also ticked. That leaves visiting the vet to discuss blood tests (and medication) for enzyme deficiency… but I’ll wait to see if my epic-aaargh combined with food increase and de-worming has any effect.

I’m also wondering whether Molly has blocked anal glands again and whether that might be playing a role in all this… FYI, anal glands are a pair of small sacs located between the dog’s external and internal sphincter muscles. They usually empty themselves during defecation, but in a small percentage of dogs they don’t. Instead they fill up, get blocked, and sometimes overflow in a smelly and yukky sort of way. Might this be a reason for the puppy suddenly being more interested in Molly-poop: insufficient scent-marking?


Despite having had dogs all my life, little did I know what I was letting us in for when I embarked on my cunning plan of acquiring a puppy to keep our half-grown dog company. I’ve had up to four dogs at a time in the past, but these two… wow. Just… wow. Oddly enough, this does remind me of how I felt at times when I had two small human children…

There is endless competition for food, attention, toys, space – admittedly mostly happily, although not always. The puppy’s also taken to bringing as many rocks as she can indoors every day – many of which are really far to big to fit in her mouth. She’s a determined little terror and it’s game-on as she and Molly compete for the latest rock. They chase each other around, through and over all obstacles – including people. Eventually the rocks get annexed and put out of reach to calm things down. The pile on the kitchen windowsill gets bigger every day.
windowledge rock collectionIn short, they’re a pair of unholy terrors at present, belting around the house and garden leaving a trail of chaos behind them. And that’s on the good days 😛

Gardening dogOf course, when the pups are asleep – or cuddled up beside us on the couch – or playing happily with each other without the chaos-factor – or bringing us their toys, my heart melts. Those are the moments when I remind myself about the bigger picture – the one in which they’re both a little older, Cassie’s a lot bigger, Molly’s a lot calmer. They’ll keep each other entertained and I’ll be able to abandon my various Nik-be-calm strategies. Bigger picture. Yup.

For now they’ve conked out  – the sounds of bread dough being slapped around on the kitchen bench is clearly very soothing. It’s also therapeutic 🙂Peace, however brief

Our little Nunzio (aka Cassie) has graduated from puppy pre-school. Yup, apparcassy graduation certently puppy pre-school is now a thing. It’s aimed at socialising puppies and teaching them the rudiments of obedience – thus advantaging them when they trot off to ‘big school.’

We cheated a bit, I guess, because we started teaching our puppy to sit, wait and walk on lead right from the beginning. Pre-school added an introduction to ‘drop’ and ‘stay’ – and she’s sort of starting to get the hang of those.

More importantly, by the final session she was interacting with the other puppies quite positively. At the start of the series I’ve an idea she thought they might bounce on her like MissMolly does – and since there were rather a lot of them, this probably had low appeal. So there was a certain amount of hiding under chairs and peeking out.

Next term it’s off to puppy obedience level 1. We’ve done it any number of times (with other dogs), so we already know what to do – but the routine of going to class each week and both puppy and trainer interacting with lots of other dogs and people is a valuable exercise in its own right.

So Himself will be having the joy of dog training at two separate clubs on two separate nights. Ah yes, the joys of dogs…

cassy puppy school