Latest studies to show that dogs may be able to count, use same area of the brain as humans, and have numerological skills / Perfect cocker spaniel dog blog about English cocker spaniels, puppy advice, tips, nutrition, grooming, research / (C) Natalia Ashton

Two treats are better than one and your dog is the one who is counting

“Make sure you give them two treats each,” I instructed my husband who was taking on the role of “the treat guy”… “Because they know, they always know…” I whispered.

I wasn’t making it up. There have been several studies peeking into our dog’s numerological abilities including the 2002 study suggesting that “dogs may have the rudimentary skill to count” and the 2009 research that compared dog’s intelligence to the one of a 2-year old human. And the latest findings published in December 2019 confirmed that dogs use the same number-responsive area of the brain as humans to “spontaneously process basic numerical quantities”.

The dogs used in the 2019 study were not trained, restrained or sedated to react to numbers or quantities yet they responded to the changing quantities of dots shown to them every time the numbers changed from constant.

According to the scientists “the results provide some of the strongest evidence yet that numerosity is a neural mechanism shared between dogs and humans that goes back as far as 80 million years”

And for us, dog parents, it means that our pups may, in fact, count their treats – and, as a result, achieve even better outcomes of reward-based training because they know there are still more yummy titbits to come.

 

Image credit: Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

How to garden when you have a cocker spaniel puppy

Do you love gardening as much as you love cocker spaniels? So do many cockers… One of the most agricultural breeds out there. The only problem is that the dogs see the process in their own rather unique way. They love to prepare the soil, remove excess growth and replant things that look to enticing to them.

Oscar was the one who educated us on the subject of this special love. We puppy-proofed the garden before his arrival but obviously our efforts were based on a regular dog – not a cocker. As soon as Ozzy acclimatised and blossomed, he decided to apply his own gardening rules to the handkerchief space we created.

The pretty carnations and primroses were murdered on a cream sofa, the grass was pulled out seconds after my husband lovingly planted it and a few little trees had to be bandaged in a pathetic attempt to salvage them.

But I think the moment I’ll never forget was “the night of digging”.

One evening we started on a new flower bed, but had to stop as the rain approached. We run into the house only to see Oscar running in the opposite direction, sort of a slow motion moment from a horror movie that you can’t do much about. We froze as our little cocker jumped into the soil and started digging a massive hole in a manner of escapist finding his way to Australia… Moments later our golden spaniel was completely black.

The bath and blow dry took ages. I was relived to finally have my fluffy pup back before me and felt like having a cup of tea and relaxing. Unfortunately, Oscar had a plan of his own. As soon as he was near the garden door, the determined pup pushed it wide open and…jumped into the hole he made that was now filled with rain water and mud.

To keep the story short, he had another wash and blow dry – and we completely remodelled the garden the next morning feeling somewhat grateful that the space was rather small. The lesson was learnt.

As the spring is returning and we all end up spending more and more time outside, I wanted to put together a little guide about gardening with your cocker spaniel.

I have two reasons for it. Your sanity. And your dog’s safety. You need to be able to enjoy the outdoorsy life and the pup needs to be able to join you without potentially hurting himself by either eating a poisonous plant or swallowing a stick.

How do you ensure that your garden stays as beautiful as possible when you have a cocker spaniel?

How to stop dog digging garden / English cocker spaniel puppy training tips / breed and puppy guide dog book /

Start before your puppy is even here by dog-proofing the garden. Lift pots, raise flower beds, remove potentially dangerous plants whenever possible, create temporary barriers to stop the puppy from getting too close and personal with the rest of the flora.

Introduce temporary “fence” to protect the plants and flower beds. We used panels for a modular puppy play pen: assemble them into a shape you need using provided pins and secure the “wall” to a few wooden stakes.

Do not leave your puppy unattended.

Teach your cocker to “leave” and “spit”

Use the garden as a play spot. Make the little spaniel focus on your and the toys until he becomes completely indifferent to the plants.

Fred, chocolate and tan English cocker spaniel puppy, perfect cocker spaniel breed and puppy guide book, Natalia o dog blog

Give your dog plenty of toys and chews to focus on.

Make sure that he gets enough exercise and mental stimulation to keep him happy and prevent zoomies as he is most likely to dig the garden when he’s overaroused, under-exercised or anxious.

Provide shelter during hot weather because some dogs would dig a hole to create a cool down spot.

Keep rodents out because a cocker can sniff them and start digging as a results. Use ultrasound deterrents and patch the holes – avoid poisons as it is both inhumane and can be life-threatening for your dog.

Do not plant or prepare the ground in front of your puppy. He will do his best to investigate everything you’ve done as soon as possible!

how to stop dog cocker spaniel digging garden and destroying plants / perfect cocker spaniel breed and puppy guide, dog book

Personally I have no problems with my pups eating the grass, but I taught mine to go and search for the types they liked the most. For example, Fred and I go to “find a dandelion”. It creates a bit of fun for both of us and he somehow focuses on this game and the plant, and leaves the rest alone.

And whatever happens, please do not ever punish your dog by shouting at him (or worse). Do not use chemical solutions, water sprinkles or any “scarecrow”-like objects to frighten him either.

how to puppy proof garden / Cooper red sable cocker spaniel puppy / perfect cocker spaniel best book breed puppy guide about English cockers / Nata

Remember that in most cases this is just a stage of puppyhood and your little cocker is simply exploring his surroundings to learn the ropes of life. As he gets older, the spaniel will no longer perceive the garden as a place to explore but will appreciate it as a spot to relax and watch the world go by.

You may also be interested in a post about things that can be potentially dangerous for a dog in spring and summer. And for more tips about puppy-proofing, garden hazards, and raising and training a puppy, get a copy of Perfect cocker spaniel guide.

Photo credit: Fred and Cooper photographed by me, other images via Pixabay

what to do with cocker spaniel dog when the weather is bad and rainy / indoor puzzle games for dogs ideas / puppy tips / all about English cocker spaniel training and keeping calm / Perfect cocker spaniel book and blog / (C) Natalia Ashton

Making the most of the rainy days

We got soaked this morning. Again. The weather has not been kind to us lately. It warmly gifted a glorious Sunday as if trying to justify a week worth of showers, but threw us back into wet and gloomy reality of wet paws and endless blow-dries in the early hours of Monday.

We returned from our walk looking like three seals. Not that anyone cared. Pups were happy – and I was pleased that we got out and stuck to the routine. By the time the blow-dry was over, the soft sun bounced out from the frothy clouds and things suddenly felt optimistic.

The pups settled down for a nap and I decided to write a little post about dealing with bad weather in the most productive way and ensure that your cocker spaniel is happy and satisfied.

Start your day by stepping outside. Even if it seems totally insane, do your best to have a walk in the morning. Your cocker will be grateful for every minute spent checking the neighbourhood, sniffing the grass and splashing through the puddles. Be mentally prepared for a long blow dry that will follow and if necessary, set yourself some extra time to have it done without messing up the rest of plans for the day.

Break your day into chunks and add 2-3 15-minute training sessions. Let your dog learn something new or practise the tricks he already knows.

Play the “find food” game. Hide pieces of kibble around the room (on the floor, in corners, hidden under scattered toys or towels, or left on chairs and sofa) and let your dog hunt for them.

Use brain and puzzle toys. They are created to suit different levels of difficulty, so you can get a few and swap them around. Start with level 1 to get the pup an idea of what to do, get to level 2 when he feels comfortable (and perhaps slightly bored) with the level 1 and move onto level 3 if your dog becomes an expert! Then you can alternate between all three – some can be used as feeders, others – to tire the brain and boost your dog’s confidence.

Choose between treat dispensing toys like Bob-a-Lot,  Wobbler, Turn Around or Busy Buddy, puzzle toys including Tornado Treat Toy, Puzzle Wheel, Brick Board or Dog Casino, or simply DIY by hiding treats inside empty boxes, egg containers, rolled towel. inside scrunched up wrapping paper, or even a muffin baking tin when you cover each  piece of kibble with a tennis ball.

Play the “magic” trick by hiding a piece of kibble in one of your hands and letting your dog sniff it out. Alternatively, hide the treat under three identical cups and ask your cocker find it.

Name your toys together! Pick a toy to play with your pup and remember to always name it when you hold it or throw it or ask the spaniel to find it. Eventually your dog will associate each toy with a name, so you can progress by asking him to go and get “ducky” or “teddy” from the toy basket.

Organise a pup date. Invite your dog’s best fur friend and his or her parents around for a play date. You can enjoy a conversation and a cup of tea while the pups will entertain each other.

Have a cuddle. Even the most energetic dog would enjoy a quiet moment spent next to you on a sofa. Make a cosy “nest” of blankets and pillows, choose a movie or a book and let your baby sleep on your lap.

After all, you just had a day of fun together – whatever the weather. Now it’s time to relax…

 

Photo source: Coop photographed by me

 

what to do to help dog during firework season without drugs and medication / tips and advice / Perfect cocker spaniel blog / book guide about English cocker spaniel puppy tips, grooming, hand stripping, health, best diet, nutrition / (C) Natalia Ashton

Q & A | How can I help my dog during fireworks?

None of my dogs but one ever cared about the fireworks. Oscar was the one who got unlucky. He was content for years – we could even walk in the evening without worrying that Ozzy would react to the noise or the sparkles. He was fine. Until one day when our not very bright neighbour decided to fire a petard in his garden less than a meter from me and my dog. He knew we were outside yet chose not to say anything before making me jump and Oscar… well… Oscar got permanently scared.

Since that horrible night any distant sound of a fire work would send him into a panic mode, so we all had to stay in a room, close the curtains and play a movie while lying on the floor to keep Ozzy, who would find his safe spot under the bed, company.

It happened every year and was absolutely heartbreaking.

So when I get to talk to other pup parents whose dogs are scared of the fire works I can understand their frustration, anger and helplessness. It kills you to see your dog in such a state.

It it was up to me, I’d ban the DIY shop-bought fireworks completely. Because I don’t believe that 5 minutes of cheap nasty fun is worth the fear experienced by 40 % of dogs in the UK.

For now we need to be prepared in advance and here are a few ideas that may work for your pooch.

First of all, stay calm. Dogs can sniff the change in our emotions including stress and anxiety – and alter their own stress hormones to mimic our state.

Don’t change the routine. Any specific preparations need to be done as smoothly and routinely as possible. The smart cocker can easily learn that drawing the curtains or glances at the window at certain time of the day can mean that terrifying noise and flashes are about to happen. Try to distract him with a play (or even better – training with treats, or a yummy dinner!) whilst somebody else does the prep.

Have a fab long walk in the morning and a couple of training sessions during the day to tire your cocker physically and emotionally.

Don’t walk after dark. The sudden noise and flashes can not only traumatise your spaniel, but make him run off into the darkness.

Keep your dog indoors. If you need to pop out to the garden, ensure that nobody is about to fire a petard nearby. It’s always worth asking the neighbours if they are planning to do so and letting them know that you have a dog who is scared of the fireworks.

Build a den. It does not have to be a crate. Cover a chair with a blanket, put another blanket and a toy inside. A chew toy or treats can also distract some less sensitive dogs and help them relieve anxiety through chewing and licking.

Create some “positive noise”. A good movie or better still, a compilation of tunes chosen for their ability to calm a dog, can work wonders. This year Classic FM will be playing Pet Sounds on 2 and 5 November.

Train your dog to ignore the fireworks – this has to be done in advance, ideally when the dog is still young and learning about the world. There are wonderful CDs that play “life noises” including the fireworks. Alternatively you can have them on your iPhone. Use whilst you are playing or cuddling with your pup. If it’s an older dog who is already uncomfortable (but not completely frightened!) with the sound of the fireworks, you can slowly recondition or desensitise him by playing the fireworks sound on your phone or CD whilst giving him plenty of treats and praise.

Stay with your pup during the firework nights even if he is hiding in his den or under your bed. Stroke him, talk to him, do whatever makes him feel safe.

Learn a few basic T-Touch techniques (gently massaging the ears outwards (in cockers), all the way down from the ear canal to the edge is a good one to try) designed specifically to relieve anxiety.

Try a thunder shirt. The idea comes from the T-Touch Wrap that creates constant pressure in certain areas of the body and helps dogs who are frightened or anxious. You can get the vest online or make a DIY version.

Turn to aromatherapy for help. There are some wonderful scented candles that may be very useful during the firework season. Try Dug & Bitch Flicker No. 3, Terrible Twins Lavender No. 1, DR Harris, Campagnie de Provence VO Lavender, Voluspa French Lavender, Terra Soy or The Great British Bee candles with lavender.

And remember… look out for any remnants of the fireworks on the ground when walking with your dogs. Those are very toxic if eaten – and dogs do find them enticing and palatable for some reason.

Wishing you a (relatively) peaceful time of the season!

Photo source: image by Sherilyn Hawley from Pixabay

Fred, my chocolate and tan English cocker spaniel living country life. Post on what to do if your cocker spaniel is hyperactive. How to deal with zoomies. Is it true that cocker spaniels are hyperactive? Tips on keeping a cocker calm - diet, exercise, training, toys. (C) First published on Perfect cocker spaniel blog / photo and words by Natalia Ashton

Zoomies are so last year – or how to deal with a hyperactive cocker spaniel

May I jump straight to the core of the issue and say that cockers are not hyperactive at all? Yes, they are full of life. Yes, they are bouncy. Yes, their bottom wags so much it must be solar-powered by fairies. Yes, they talk like no other breed. But no, they are not hyperactive as many would suggest.

Because first and foremost cocker spaniels are working dogs. And as such they have a pool of energy reserve to be used as nature intended. If the pool remains unused, overfills or gets emptied until it’s dry, we get what’s commonly known as a hypo-dog or dog with zoomies.

Neither is good, to be honest because, if we use science, the hyperactivity is lead by stress hormones. They control your pup’s response to stimuli and his ability to relax. If he under- or over-dose on emotional or physical work, the body will produce too many hormones (think, cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine) and the poor cocker will either end up sprinting about, bouncing off the walls, barking uncontrollably or even biting other dogs in a manner of a bully. Worse, the hormones control other systems in the body like the heart, digestion, reproductive system or immune response.

So we need to keep the hormones – and our pups – happy and content at all times (even though it may seriously pump our own cortisol  – but that’s a different story).

And here’s how…

Working dogs like to remain active physically. It does not however mean that you should take your cocker into the field and keep throwing the ball for him to fetch until your arm feels sore and he is out of breath and looks exhausted. It also does not necessarily mean that you must hike for miles every day.

As a flushing breed, cocker would be happy to run and chase that ball, but as any normal dog, he has a certain limit for the chase part: he chases -> the chase is over -> he settles down with his catch of the day. He does not chase and chase and chase… It simply builds up cortisol due to both frustration, inability to rest and relax and the need to constantly run. As a result the spaniel will react by becoming restless, zooming about, barking or biting.

If you like to play a game of fetch – throw the ball a few times for him to play, then play tag and pull (and he must win at the end, especially if he is still young!), allow him plenty of time to switch activity to sniffing the area (you can even throw and hide treats in the grass and trees for him to find as a part of the game!), walking calmly or settling down next to you watch the sunrise.

If you play in the garden, a chew toy to relax with will be fabulous.

The long walks are wonderful, but if once you start and do it every day, be prepared to continue them regularly (read – daily or so) because essentially you have just trained a little athlete. He will become frustrated if the walks are suddenly cut down to a stroll around the block (just like you would if you worked out daily and then had to skip or avoid gym against your will). Once you made a commitment, do your best to stick with the plan.

It’s essential to remember that the length of walks must be determined based on your puppy’s age and health. 5 minutes per month of age per walk, 2-3 times a day – not an hour-long walk at the age of 3 months. The latter will be really hard for his bones and joints.

Once your puppy is old enough, allow at least an hour a day for your walks. To let your dog to be a dog, start your day with a stroll and play (in nature it’s the time when they look for food), return home for breakfast and nap (again, it’s the “hunt -> catch -> eat -> relax” scenario). End your day with another walk, some training and, ideally, sniffing game and chew toy.

Next come the mental stimulation because physical activity alone is never enough. It may stimulate the body, but it leave the brain hungry for information, which you, as a parent, will need to provide. In fact, mental stimulation is probably more important to a dog than physical activity.

They live to learn, sniff, taste and absorb the world around them. 15 minutes of brain training can be just as tiring for a dog as an hour-long walk! Which is rather good to remember if you really cannot go out sometimes because one of you is poorly or the weather lets you down big time.

Allow your clever spaniel smell and examine things while walking. Use puzzle games at home. Scatter food in a garden or house for him to find. Use snuffle mats. Train daily (10-15 minute at a time for pleasure, not hours that may build frustration and stress).

Have a schedule for walks, meals, games, training and travel. Dogs do have tiny clock inside their brain and it never fails. If you skip or postpone any of their favourite activities, they’ll stress out.

Give your beautiful pooch plenty of time to relax and sleep. Do not disturb him. This is when the brain relaxes and recovers. If you skip this step, your dog is likely to react by zooming about by 9 o’clock at night.

Chewing and licking are two other activities that relax any pup. Use chew toys, healthy chews, lickimats and stuffed toys.

Use massage and ttouch technique. You can learn it and DIY. One of the simplest things is to massage your dog’s ears in long gentle strokes, from the central point (ear canal) outwards.

Play music. It may seem like a silly idea, but dogs react differently to different tunes. Mine fall asleep with Gabrielle, Sade and a few classics. You can even find the “dog friendly” music on YouTube and play it to them.

Watch his diet. High protein and carb-free diets can cause hyperactivity in dogs because they create an imbalance of nutrients and hormones that control brain response and ability to relax.

If it’s 8-9pm and your cocker, especially a puppy, starts biting, bringing you toys, pacing around, compulsively licking his paws or running like his eyes are going to pop through the back of his head, do not join in. This hyperactivity is a sign of tiredness. Leave him alone to settle down with a chew or cuddly toy (whatever he prefers) and he will soon fall asleep. Just like all babies do.

You can find more tips on raising a puppy and living with your gorgeous cocker spaniel in my book, Perfect cocker spaniel. It’s a long, but rather helpful, read. Even if I say so myself.

Photo source: Fred, my chocolate and tan boy, photographed by me

Cooper, photographed by me / simple trick to how to stop puppy from picking street rubbish on walks / first puppy advice for cocker spaniel puppy parents / published on Perfect cocker spaniel blog (C)

Simple trick to stop your puppy from picking street rubbish on walks

Teaching a pup to “Leave” takes time… So what can you do now to stop him from picking up everything in sight during your walks?

I’ve come up with this trick after noticing that most cockers love to carry something. So when my pups were young, too excited about life (and everything on the street they could sniff and possibly eat…) and still learning proper “Leave” I used a distraction.

I’d pick up an old sock, shoe storage bag (you know, the one that comes inside the box), glove or small fabric flat toy – anything light and easy to hold would do!

We’d play right before the walk using the said thing, then I’d put it in my pocket to give to the pup during our walk.

They always looked so happy, adorable and proud carrying their trophy! And it kept them busy from focusing on rubbish! After a few walks the rubbish would become a familiar part of the street, so the pups would no longer pay attention to it. By then we’d also had enough practice with “Leave”, so the pups were prepared for the big life (and the sock or toy would be left at home)

Of course, it doesn’t suit every single puppy. But it’s such a simple thing to try, it’s worth a mention.

If you have any tricks or tips of your own, do share them below.

bionda chasten campaign by Dima Hohlov c/o Bionda Castana & Natalia Barbieri / why puppies chew shoes and how to stop them from chewing furniture, shoes and other things when teething / first published on Perfect cocker spaniel blog (C)

Q&A | How to stop a puppy from chewing shoes?

“Louboutins or Manolos, they all taste the same…” is a kind of note that should be given to all new puppy parents, especially their shoe-loving mums. Brands aside, the note will serve as a friendly reminder that puppies, whether you like it or not, like to bite things.

Unlike us, humans, dogs don’t see things first… They SMELL them. Then they TASTE them. This simple exercise is their favourite way to learn about life and things its made of. The sights comes useful, of course, but mostly as a navigation device to get the pup from the scent to the source. Presto.

And once they arrive, puppies sink their teeth into whatever they want to learn about. Naturally the damage can be big and turn your possessions into shreds in no time.

To avoid this from happening, here are some simple rules that every puppy parent needs to follow, not even for the sake of saving a pair of shoes, but mostly, for the safety of your pup who can, unfortunately, swallow things he should not.

Puppy-proof the house before you get the pup;
Prevent or stop any bad habit from happening from the start otherwise you will end up with a dog who will be destroying things for the rest of his life because it’s fun;
Put away shoes and things that may look tempting;
Give him plenty of toys (see my earlier post about best chews for puppies);
Stimulate him mentally through puzzle toys and training – and physically, though age-appropriate exercises (walks, training etc.)
During teething, use bitter apple spray on furniture – the taste will discourage him from chewing;
Do not leave the pup alone for hours – first of all, it’s not a good idea full-stop, secondly, he is likely to get bored and end up chewing something; thirdly, cockers can develop separation anxiety and, as a result, destructive behaviour, if you aren’t careful;
If your puppy shows signs of pica (the need to eat odd things like, say, plaster or soil) consult a vet and examine his current diet.

See? Easy enough. Almost tempting to say “Christian Louboutin would approve”, but I guess that would be advertising.

Photo source: Bionda Castana Spring/Summer 2016 campaign (photography: Dima Hohlov) c/o Natalia Barbieri