Thursday Training Tip: Re-visit Your Basics From Time to Time

Mama Sally:

Lately, what I’ve noticed with Rugby James, is that he’s started slacking on some of his basics.  Yes.  I said it.  A dog trainer has a dog who is a slacker.  In basic work even.  Oh my.  I’m just keeping it real!  Rugby still responds well to his basic work, but he’s just gotten a little slower and a bit sloppier with his responses, and his real life applications aren’t as sharp as I would like them to be.

You don’t have to use a clicker, but I find Rugby’s focus and attention is better, and he learns things more quickly when I use one.

Well, here’s the truth:  All skills need to be polished, don’t they?  If we don’t practice any skill, over time, doesn’t it get a bit rusty?  I played the flute coming up as a kid, but I haven’t  picked it up to play in probably thirty years or more.  Am I going to have the same skill level?  Absolutely not!  I haven’t practiced.  I’m not even sure I still remember how to read music anymore, to be perfectly honest with you.

If we want to see our dogs performing consistently well, we need to keep things polished up from time to time and practice all learned skills so that our dogs will stay sharp and quickly responsive.  Thankfully, Rugby is not a robot!  He doesn’t respond as a robot.  He’s a thinking, feeling, expressive dog who can choose to comply with work or not.  And if I want him to comply, I need to practice, and I also need to make practice fun so that he will want to participate with me.

Once your dog hears, “Come”, at the moment your dog looks at you….he is making the decision to either come or ignore you!

We tend to think that once our dogs learn a skill, it’s a permanent addition to them….much like putting a collar around their necks.  When we fit a collar and buckle it, we never give it another thought.  We think of it being permanently attached to our dogs.

On the other hand, I think behaviors are a bit more fluid….they are alive, and change and grow right along with our dogs.  In order to maintain those good habits and skills, we need to keep our dogs thinking and working!  It’s always a good time to revisit basic skills, as well as work on new skills to keep our dogs from getting bored with their work.

This past week, I’ve started putting the polish on some basics with Rugby, and I’m finding that he and I are both enjoying that.  Rugby typically likes any and all sorts of work and I rarely wait until his behavior gets off in a ditch before I work to correct it.  I start after he’s gotten sloppy a time or two, because then it’s not much work to sharpen things up again.  In just a few days, he’s back on track and working at his best performance levels.

Training your dog to “Place” is a great way to have control with your dog inside your home…especially when they are rowdy dogs!

I’ve noticed that as Rugby is aging, he has less patience in work when it comes to learning new things, so he seems to be very happy to work on his known skills.  Rugby has never been a poster dog for impulse control.  In Rugby’s world, those two things are mutually exclusive terms!  My huge battle with him for nine years has been teaching him to slow down and think through a task!

Rugby is one emotional dog, and he has rarely been able to cognitively attack tasks initially.  He frustrates super easily, and he’s ridiculously food motivated, so when I’m trying to teach something new, he often just completely melts down with frustrated barking and barking and barking.  *sigh*  Once he melts down…sometimes several melt downs….then he can often start the cognitive process to think through what he needs to change and adjust to get what he wants.  His first response is always emotional.

I had hoped that going back to focus on the basics would boost his confidence and allow me to see a more patient side of Rugby come to the surface.  He doesn’t have to think very hard on the basics, so he’s able to perform them quickly and get a great, fast reward of some kind.  I do think that in revisiting his basics, he’s enjoyed being able to get quick rewards for known tasks.  Rugby is all about cutting right to the chase and getting that tidbit of food!

He’s known basic commands for nine years now, and he really is very rock solid on them.  I rarely “have” to offer treats to him, but I know that intermittent food rewards are the best way to win Rugby’s heart and keep him working hard.  It’s just important to remember that practice makes perfect, and all skills need to be practiced to keep our skill levels high….dogs included!  Let’s see what Rugby has to say about this subject!

Rugby James:

Well, lately the Mama has been working on fings what I already knows.  It seems silly to me, on account of I already knows how to do this stuff, but there’s snacks in it for me, and sum good play, and lotsa good pets, so I go along wif her!

Sumtimes we works inside the house, where there isn’t nuffing to distract me, and sumtimes we works outside in the back yard where there is varmints, and smells and sounds what can distract me.  Sumtimes we works in the back yard when our neighbor is out working on his car, on account of he does that wif friends, and they talks and laffs a big much what usually gets me into a big barking jag!  When all of the neighbors is away at work, the Mama and me works right in front of the house just a lil bit, on account of that is super scary to me!  The Mama calls it “stretching me out of my comfort zone” only I doesn’t know what that is.  Mostly I fink it means scary.

Because I gets very excited wif food rewards, the Mama mostly uses dog kibbles, and she usually trains about firty minutes after I has had a meal.  She always lets my breakfast or supper settle a bit in my tummy before she does any training.  And mostly, I’m not as hungry, so I’m a lil bit more patient wif her, and I works a lil bit better.  She saves the real exciting treats for times when we is working on very hard stuff….like don’t bark at the blender, or when the neighbor dogs is barking outside and I likesa give them my two cents!

I like to use treats that break easily so that Rugby is getting dime sized bites. Your dog only needs a taste…not a 12 course meal!

We works on basic command fings, like Sit/Stay, Down/Stay, Come When Called, Place, Get It, Leave It, Watch Me, and we does old tricks what I has done for a long time too.  When we works on a short leash, I hasta do the fing a few times before I getsa kibble or lotsa petting.  The Mama is a really good encourager, so she always uses those sweet words wif a soft sweet sound, she smiles, and she squints up her eyes a lil bit too.  I always gets encouraged a big much, and once in a while, the Mama gives me “jackpots” of kibbles, what is free or five of them, one at a time, really fast!  I does lubs me sum jackpots!!

Make sure you balance new things while you’re training the basics. Dogs love to learn new things all the time!!

We always works on new fings too, but I has really been lubbing sum extra work on stuff that I already know.  It makes me feel extra smart on account of I can do fings really fast and I doesn’t hasta fink very hard.  After we does a few of the basics, the Mama always frows in sumping new for me to mix it up a bit sos I doesn’t get all bored, and I likes that a lot.  And, she knows I’m smart, so she doesn’t make me do stuff a billion times in a row.  She has me do sumping I knows well free or four times and that’s it.  Then we getsa move onto sumping else.  She starts wif a lil handful of kibbles, and once that lil handful is gone, we don’t work anymore, so it usually goes really fast, and I likes that!  We just repeats it at different times during the day, and not all at once, so I like getting lil snacks froughout the whole day!

You might fink that your dogger won’t like doing stuff he already knows, but hopefully, you’ll try sum of these ideas, and see that he’s gonna be all in on the fun!  This kinda stuff is how you and your dogger will learn how to be a team, and we’re all about teamwork at my house!!

Building a great relationship with your dog is what training is all about!



Product Review: Caveman’s Crazy Good Dog Treats

As a small business owner, and small time dog blogger, naturally, I like and support small, quality businesses!  We live in a day and age of huge businesses, and while sometimes that’s good….I still think that there’s a whole lot to be said for a “Mom and Pop” type of business, because those owners have extra personal pride and heart in what they do!  Small business owners generally go the extra mile in choosing quality ingredients and often have stellar customer service, and that’s something that’s worth paying a little extra for….as well as the thought that you’re actually making a very real difference in the lives of those small business owners.

I’ve been a Facebook friend with one of the company’s owner for probably three years now.  Deb Maloney, her husband Bob, and her dog “Caveman” were one of the first friends who became regular visitors at Rugby’s Facebook page, and, over time, a very nice friendship has resulted. Some time ago, Bob and Deb sent Rugby a bag of Caveman’s Crazy Good Dog Treats to give to Rugby, and I offered to try them out and write an honest review for them.  Because we are Facebook friends, I took this opportunity to interview them, and here’s what I learned about what goes into making these homemade treats!!

A few years ago, their Mama dog, Sadie, started having serious seizures at the age of 7. They started making all of her food and treats to keep them as preservative free as possible in hopes that it would help with the seizures and extend her life.  They used the same grades of food that they ate themselves, and believe that it helped with the quality and length of time that Sadie lived.

Sadie: The inspiration behind Caveman’s Crazy Good Dog Treats!

Bob is the creator behind all of the treat recipes, and “Caveman,” Rugby’s BFF, is the official taste tester!  If he doesn’t give the treats two paws up, the public never sees them!!  (And just between you and I, don’t hold your breath waiting for any blueberry treats.  Apparently Caveman gave that idea the boot!!)  Once Caveman approves the treat, a small sampling is given to their daughter to use as gifts for her dog grooming clients.  If her clients like the treats, they go into pre-production!

Caveman….Sadie’s son and the “Official Taste Tester!”

This is where I was really amazed at the thorough process that is used before you and I ever see these treats!  Once the treats go into pre-production, a sample is sent to a lab in Oklahoma to be tested for crude fiber, moisture, k-calories, and crude fat. When the lab is finished, the results are sent off to the Texas Department of Agriculture.  The department who approves the treats is the AAFCO.  The AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials), is a regulatory commission that is run by the FDA. They are basically the pet side of the FDA equation, and they are the governing board who approves the product so that it can be added to Caveman’s inventory.

When the specific new treat is added to Caveman’s inventory, they are freshly baked and bagged….all from home!  In the recipes that have meat, it is the first ingredient, and it’s human grade….just like you or I would eat.  The treats are dehydrated in an effort to remove as much moisture as possible.  That extends their shelf life without having to add any preservatives or artificial ingredients.  To help them last as long as possible, it is recommended that you refrigerate the treats, right in their bag.  However, the shelf life is 3-5 months, just in case you wondered!

Rugby always likes anything that comes in the mail with his name on it!!  When I opened the box, he was naturally curious to know if there was anything it if for him!  The bag of treats was packed very well with plenty of packing so that the bag wasn’t crushed or crunched in any way, protecting the treats nicely inside.

When I first pulled the bag out of the packing box, I thought that it was the cutest treat bag, and loved the homespun simple look of brown paper bag with custom stickers identifying what was inside.  I loved the fact that it looked professionally homemade rather than mass produced in a factory, and I saw “Caveman’s” photo, the dog that I love, staring out at me from the top of the bag.  I also immediately saw a red stamp in the shape of Texas on the bag with “Go Texan” under it.  Those small touches made me smile.  When someone adds those types of little personal touches to the bag that holds the treats, I always hope that the treats themselves will show the same level of care!  It was clear that love had been baked into each little bite that peeked out at me through the little window in the bag.

Turning the bag over, I saw the information I wanted to know about what was inside!!  The ingredients are plain, simple, clean and healthy:  Peanut Butter, Flour, Oats, Low Sodium Beef Stock.  That’s it!  No additives, preservatives, or artificial coloring!  Just the type of treat that I like to choose for Rugby!

The front of the bag said that the training nibs were “peanut butter and bacon,” but I didn’t see any bacon or pork in the ingredients list.  Frankly, for me….that’s perfectly fine, because Rugby and I lovingly support a rescue pig in a wonderful West Virginia animal sanctuary ( see  Because of our pig Oliver, I choose not to eat any pork products, and honestly try not to offer those to Rugby as well because there are many other meat protein sources for him.

When I opened the bag, there really wasn’t any smell to the treats to distinguish any specific flavor.  I only knew that they were peanut butter and bacon because the label told me so.  For anyone with a sensitive nose, this might be something helpful!  As a dog trainer, however, I was looking at the treats through a dog training lens, because they were labeled as “training nibs.”

To be successful in training a dog, I think it’s a great idea to have several different types of dog treats with each one having a different “value.”  Dog food kibbles might have a value of 1, and fresh meat would have a value of 10, for example.  However, there are eight other values between the two, and it’s helpful to have treats with values falling from 2-9.  Various training situations will be successful when an owner chooses the right treat value for that specific training moment.  Only your dog can tell you what the value of this specific treat might be.  I can only tell you Rugby’s perspective on them!

When I poured a few treats into my hand, I have to say that I honestly loved the fact that all of them were different sizes.  They ranged in size from about a quarter to a dime, and I really did love that!  It just confirmed to me that these treats had been lovingly and carefully handmade especially for my Rugby James.  It made me smile!

The treats were very easily broken into smaller pieces, but they did crumble a bit like a soda cracker would.  I’m sure Rugby could smell them, because he was very interested in these marvelous items in my hand!  As I handed him one, he scarfed it right down, licked his chops and looked for more!  When I hold a piece of food out for him, Rugby rarely investigates things that smell good…he definitely eats first and asks questions later!

For me, in my standard training sessions with Rugby, I found that I couldn’t really break the treats small enough to work for what I normally like to do.  Generally, when I am doing a training session, I like to use training treats that are sized about like a piece of dog kibble.  I just couldn’t work with these in that capacity, because they crumbled when I tried to break the larger pieces to fit what I needed.

Instead, I found myself using these treats when I needed a quick reward in the kitchen.  Times when they came in very handy were when I needed to switch on the garbage disposer and didn’t want Rugby to react to the noise. Or…when Rugby saw a squirrel outside the kitchen window and I needed to redirect his focus and attention to work instead of barking and bouncing at the window!  It was great that I could keep two or three out in a small dish on the kitchen counter for that purpose.  Because they didn’t have a strong smell and because they weren’t soft treats, they were just perfect to use in those types of training situations for Rugby.

They stayed fresh for several weeks, but as recommended, I kept them in the refrigerator.  The package was a homespun brown paper bag, but it had a cellophane lining top to bottom inside.  The opening of the bag had a built in wire closure, so I could simply roll down the top of the bag, bend the wires closed, and seal the bag.  I like easy to close bags, and many of the “self sealing” bags, simply aren’t!  This bag was easy to use, and the smaller size meant that it didn’t hog a huge space in the refrigerator!

These Peanut Butter and Bacon Training Nibs are only one type of treat that is offered at “Caveman’s” Etsy store.  Other offerings include Chicken and Vegetable, Beef and Vegetable, Chicken Jerky and Beef Jerky.  A brand new treat is undergoing the pre-production process now, and is expected to join the line soon.  Only the training nibs are available in bite sized pieces.  The other treats are available in standard dog biscuit form, which are too large to be used as a training reward, but would make a great healthy special treat to reward a vet visit, nail trim, groomer visit, etc.  The prices of the treats range from $5.25 (5 oz bag) for the training nibs, to $15.99 (8 oz bag) for the jerky treats. They offer a choice in shipping preferences, so you can adjust your cost depending upon your shipping method.

The treats are available locally at Cypress Ace Hardware store in Cypress for my Texas readers, and also through Heather’s Mobile Pet Salon, but most folks will find them online at their Etsy store, “Caveman’s Creations.”  Here’s a link for you:

You’re also going to want to check out their Facebook page, because currently, there’s a great coupon being offered through this week.  If you buy $25 in treats, you’ll get a $5 discount!!  That’s a great incentive to give these treats a try!  Here’s the link:

Disclaimer:  Rugby James received one bag of Caveman’s Crazy Good Peanut Butter and Bacon Training Nibs free of charge.  I offered to provide an honest review and was not compensated by Caveman’s Creations in any way.  All opinions expressed are my own.   I only share products that I like and think will interest my readers.







A Different Sort of Mother’s Love

Mother’s Day has generally always been a tough holiday for me.  All around me I see and hear the sounds of mothers and children having fun-filled celebrations.  The children fuss all over their moms, and the mothers dote on their children.  *Sigh*  Only on a Hallmark Card, or at the very least….someone else’s house, not mine.

My mom and I were never close at all.  We never really shared deep talks or “girly experiences.”  She wasn’t the sort of person I could call up and say, “Let’s go out for lunch.”  It seemed like we had a shallow life together, and I never really felt like we were anything alike.  For most of my life, I tried to distance myself from her.  Visits were something I just “got through,” and I was always glad when I could say, “Gee….look at the time,” and make a graceful exit.

Growing up in the 1960’s and 1970’s, I was one of the few kids that I knew who had a mother who worked outside of her home.  My grandmother lived with us, so there was no reason for my mother to stay home and care for us kids.  Grandmother could do that.  So my mom worked.  She taught school.  She taught physical education for many years, and then she switched to a classroom once her district deleted physical education from their elementary school staff.  While I was in elementary school, however, my mom was the PE teacher….MY PE teacher. UGH!

As a kid….it was a special level of hell having your mom as the PE teacher….just saying…..

I got teased a lot because my mom was a teacher, and of course, because my mom was a teacher, the other teachers always threatened to rat me out to my mom if I ever misbehaved. I was held to a higher standard in all of my classes because my mom was a teacher, and it was well established that I would be going to college.  In those days, many….if not most of my female classmates married soon after high school, and settled into being wives and mothers.  My mom wasn’t going to have any part of that life for me!  She had my life all planned out in her own mind, and if only I would just cooperate and do everything she wanted me to do!  Even after all of these years, the thought of that makes me throw up a little in my mouth.

When grown ups asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I usually answered a teacher or a nurse, because those were typical, traditonally accepted female roles in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  My mother would always say to me, “You can be a doctor or a lawyer too….don’t you ever forget that.”  While it’s a wonderful thing to help a child dream bigger, my mom seemed unable to let me have freedom to choose my own life.  She made it clear that she was pleased when I followed her “accepted” path for my life, and boy did I hear it when she didn’t like what I was doing.  Hence the distance between us.  In my young adult life, I think I tried to deliberately live a life that was my own…much like any other adolescent.

I didn’t have that mom who made Kool-aid and cookies, and cheerfully brought a pitcher out on a tray wearing pearls and high heels when she wanted to give me a snack.  We didn’t have Kool-aid, because Kool-aid was loaded with sugar and it would rot out my teeth. We had milk, and graham crackers, because those choices were nutritious, and we had to go get our own.  Mom didn’t prepare them for us.  I only got Kool-aid when I went to someone else’s house!  If it wasn’t something either nutritious or educational, you wouldn’t find it at my house!

Our field trips were places like the airport watching planes land and take off, and dreaming about where they were going and what the passengers would do at the other end of their flight.  Some of my most favorite outings were going to the park and feeding the ducks day old bread.  I really loved to feed the ducks.  All  summer long, the University of Illinois would run nature films, which were probably fifty cents to watch, so we got to invite the neighbor kids and off we went to see nature films.

And generally, every summer, we hand raised at least one baby bird.  We had cats, and they often caught babies who were just fledging their nests and really struggling to fly.  I loved raising baby birds.  My mom did very well with Robins, but seed eaters often didn’t make it, because we just weren’t sure what to feed them, and they were also so much smaller and more fragile than Robins. When birds of any kind were injured, we often tried to help them heal when we rescued them.

Rugby rescued this little Tufted Titmouse baby that I raised and released in 2013.

Everyone in our small town knew that our family was “the animal family.”  We took in the rejected, injured, sick pets and animals, and nursed them back to health.  Sometimes we found other suitable homes for them, but sometimes we kept them too, if there was no other safe choice for the animal.  We were the only family I knew that had rescued an injured pigeon who lived in a dog crate in our family room.  We named him “Freebee” because someone had given him to us, and he couldn’t be released to the wild because his injured wing made it impossible for him to ever fly again.  At one time, we had two dogs, five cats, a rabbit, a pigeon, a raccoon, a hamster and a gerbil.  Granted, our house was huge, and most of those pets lived in and out of the house, but I was always tripping over some animal as a kid growing up, and I honestly really loved that.

Gus came to us when he was probably 8-12 weeks when his mom had died in a farming accident. He was one who stayed as he couldn’t be released to the wild once he trusted humans. Now it’s illegal to keep a wild animal, but it wasn’t in those days. (This photo is a random raccoon….not Gus)

One of the things I enjoyed doing almost every day when I was really little, was going into town with my mom to pick up my dad from work.  He often got a last minute phone call or a meeting that ran late, so we generally found ourselves waiting for him for a few minutes.  And while we waited, my mom would make up wonderful stories about Lassie.  She always came up with an amazing story of a last minute rescue of a kitten, or that Lassie had saved a family of raccoons from drowning, or found veterinary help for a fox with a broken leg.  Mom’s stories were always imaginative, and always had happy endings, just like the real Lassie television show that I saw every week.

Every kid wanted a big Collie dog just like Lassie when I was little!

I did grow up and go to college, majoring in pre-law, and attaining a Bachelor of Science degree.  But I couldn’t hack the thought of three more years of college, so I never went to law school, much to my mother’s disappointment. She had always wanted to have at least one of us become an attorney, and since I was the youngest, it was up to me! Instead, I became an insurance underwriter, and I showed Pembroke Welsh Corgis on the weekends.

My homebred Felicity winning Best Puppy in Sweepstakes at the North Texas Specialty

As I’ve aged, I have become much more forgiving of my mom, and while I still don’t like many of my experiences with her, at least now I feel like I can understand who she was and why she did many of the things that were so hard for me.  People can’t give what they don’t have, and I finally understand that.  In my own way, I wanted to put my mom in a box that she didn’t want to be in, much as she had done for me.  The boxes wore different labels, but they were boxes all the same, and walls of any kind tend to keep people separated.

I do not think that my mom intended to create a box for me, but it often felt as if she held out various life boxes with this tag on them!

One thing in life led to another, and I’m now a full time professional dog trainer.  My mom died before I settled into this career, but I know that she would have been thrilled to pieces to see me owning my own business and keeping dogs out of shelters, and helping families have wonderful dog experiences like we had with our dog Lady when I was growing up.

She never knew Rugby James, or heard any stories about him.  She would have loved his charming looks, of course…and the fact that he’s very “Collie-ish” in behavior and appearance.  She would have been so impressed with how smart he is and how many tricks he knows, and how quickly he can work puzzles.  She would have enjoyed the fact that he’s a snuggler and would have sat with him and loved stroking his soft speckled fur.

But I think what she would have loved the most, is that he was a little dog without a chance of making it in the world, and I gave him that chance.  I rescued him, and my mom was big on rescuing animals who had nowhere else to go. My mom had a tender heart for anyone, human or animal, who was a little down on their luck and needed a boost to survive in the world.

Rugby’s first night with me. He was honestly scared, but he tried so hard to be happy and excited about another new place.

For so many years, I didn’t want to be anything like my mom, and I tried so hard to throw off anything that made me think of her.  She wasn’t that “warm fuzzy” mom that we all think of when we think of Mother’s Day.  Emotionally, she always seemed a little detached and distant to me. But she introduced me to a world that included a deep love and compassion for all animals….dogs in particular.

So many times growing up, I remember thinking that my mom was never the mom that I would have chosen for myself.  We just don’t get to choose our moms in life.  And when Rugby first came to live with me, I remember thinking so clearly that he just was not the dog that I would have chosen for myself, had I known who he really was.

However, when I think of the big picture of my life, I can see ways that God used my tough, distant, demanding mom to help me make it in a harsh world that doesn’t offer many breaks to us along the way.  For the path that I would have to walk in my life, I needed a mom who taught me to be tougher than my circumstances, and to be an “I can take it girl” when I got hurt or wanted to give up.

In the same sort of way, God has used my broken, wacky little dog to help me heal the hurt, emotional places in my heart that were shattered by others along the way through life.  When I was looking for Rugby, all I had wanted was a little rescue dog.  I wanted to give a sweet little dog a terrific life and a big world full of fun experiences. Instead, I got a broken, emotional dog who really doesn’t want a big world full of adventures.  He wants a small, predictable world to help him feel safe from that big world outside our front door.  Life with him has been a tightrope of helping shape his wacky behavior, and giving him the freedom to be who he is and who he wants to be as well as accepting that he is giving me all that he has to give, and letting that be enough for me.  He’s no disappointment at all, and I love him to the moon and back.

So I guess at the end of the day, God doesn’t always give us what we want, but He does give us what we need, and that’s what I’m celebrating today.  I had the mom that I needed, and my success and who I am is largely due to the millions of small things that she said and did for me throughout my lifetime.  She showed me how to break the molds that others wanted for my career path, and how to be tougher than I ever thought I could be.  She gave me experiences that she never got when she was a girl growing up.  She always wanted the best for me, and she always wanted more for me.  She taught me to push myself forward, and never to settle for complacency.  But more than anything else, what I think I love most, is that I’m so glad that I have her heart of love for animals and especially for dogs….

My wonderful parents





Friday Fun: DIY Holee Roller Dog Puzzle

Spring days and weeks are often loaded with rainy days!  If you have a puppy or higher energy dog, those are days to dread!!  A rainy day, plus a puppy or high energy dog equals misery for an owner and often a day filled with naughtiness!  When our dogs are under-exercised, and when we don’t provide enough mental stimulation for them, it can add up to trouble in living with them!!  Here’s an easy and fun idea for you to help give your dog something to do when you’ve got the rainy day blues!

Many of the dogs that I train have a popular dog toy called a “Holee Roller,” made by JW Pet.  I have to admit that when I first saw these toys years ago, I refused to get one for Rugby!  I saw that the rubber wasn’t all that thick, and the toy was easily flexible, and I made the assumption that Rugby would chew through it in a nanosecond!  But….after seeing so many of them, in so many homes, with dogs who were big chewers, I never saw only a part of a Holee Roller!  They were always intact, and dogs seemed to really like playing with them.

This is a toy that’s probably eight years old…and it’s just about like brand new…except for the dog spit and dirt!

So I broke down, and I found one that was in an appropriate size for Rugby, and I brought it home.  For those of you not familiar with this toy, it looks like a rubber geometrical object used to teach shapes to kids!  It has a sort of waffle pattern, and it’s hollow, and it is a wonderful fetching toy. It’s lightweight, so it goes a good little distance, and it rolls really well.  It’s big enough to be easily seen in the yard or house once it’s thrown.  In Rugby’s younger days, he loved to play fetch for hours at a time, and he did enjoy fetching his Holee Roller toy!  But….it doesn’t make noise, and Rugby is honestly all about toys that make noise!  So….it often sits in the toybox at my house….waiting for a dog to play with it!

At a lesson recently, I saw that a client had taken this same dog toy, but she had stuffed two dental chews inside the webbing in an effort to keep her Boxer puppy entertained!  Her puppy was just fascinated with trying to figure out how to get those chews out from this toy, or how to chew the chews while still inside the toy!  I could see her using all sorts of problem solving skills!  I put my thinking cap on, because I really think that this is a great idea that can be fun for all kinds of dogs!

My regular readers will remember that Rugby has “Bubba teeth” in front!  He had a growth on his gum in front that meant that he lost four of his tiny teeth on the bottom in the front when the growth was surgically removed.  He lost two tiny teeth on top when he aggressively went after one of his beloved piggie toys on the basement floor….and the basement floor won.  He knocked a third tooth loose, and it has reattached itself, but it’s crooked!  So…he has “Bubba teeth” and it’s really goofy and cute all at the same time!  However, not having those tiny teeth limits what he can grab and pull, because there are spaces there and no teeth!  I wasn’t sure that he could grab a dental chew to pull it out of the Holee Roller.  No game is fun if it’s only frustrating to a dog.

So….I put on my thinking cap, and came up with another version that will work for Rugby….and any other dog as well!!  The supplies are simple, and things that you likely already have in your home!  It was fast to put together, and kept Rugby very engaged, so that scores extra points in my world!  There’s no “right” or “wrong” way to make it, so let your own imagination soar and you can create something similar that will also be lots of fun for your own dogs!

Rugby knew that I was making something new for him, and he was very interested and curious about what I was doing!

If you want to make one like mine, here you go!  I started with my Holee Roller, and cut 5 strips of polka dotted fleece fabric into long strips that were  approximately 18″ long by 2″ wide.  I chose fleece because it’s soft and thick, could be easily washed, didn’t fray, and guess what? I already had some on hand, so I didn’t have to go buy anything else!  Really any sort of fabric will work, a bandana or scarf, for example, but you want your fabric choice to fill the puzzle so that the treats don’t easily fall out.

Once I had the strips cut, I rolled up treats in them.  You can use any kind of treat that you like, or even dog food kibble.  You can make your food or treats any size that you like.  I used Wellness Soft Wellbites treats.  They were treats that I had on hand, and I love that they are scored so that they can easily break into much smaller bites.

Once the treats were broken, I rolled about five tiny tidbits per each strip of fabric.  I’m guessing that I used less than one whole treat per strip, so in total, I know that I didn’t use more than four to five whole treats.  You can add additional or fewer treats as you like.  If you want to keep calories down, you can grab a handful of your dog’s kibble from his bowl before you feed him, and use that as the snack for the puzzle.  That won’t add any additional calories to your dog’s diet for the day if you’re watching weight at your house.

Once I had the strips rolled up with treats inside, I stuffed the rolled fabric inside the toy.  I found that with the fleece fabric, and the size of the Holee Roller that I used, three strips really fit fine, and five strips made it very snug inside.  The tighter the fabric, the harder it’s going to be for your dog to pull it out of the toy.  If you want to start with a smaller number of fabric rolls, it can be easier for your dog to learn the puzzle, and then you can add extra strips once your dog has the puzzle figured out.

Once Rugby saw me getting the bag of treats, he was suddenly very interested in what I was doing!  He really loves games and puzzles, and we play them frequently in my house, so he’s always keeping one eye open for some fun!  When I gave the puzzle to Rugby, he was very pleased, and his nose started working overtime!  He wasn’t sure what to do with it.  There were a few corners of the fabric peeking out through the holes, and with Rugby’s “Bubba teeth” I wasn’t sure if he could grab those to pull them out.

Once he had sniffed the puzzle over really well, he started problem solving.  He poked his nose at the puzzle to see what would happen.  When that didn’t produce any treats, he started to roll the puzzle and checked the floor for treats.  By this time, he was a good minute into the puzzle, and I knew that he would frustrate if I didn’t help him along.  So I pulled out a bit of the fabric to make it easier for him by having something that he could really grab.  Once I did that, Rugby quickly figured out how to pull the fabric, and once he found success doing that, he seemed to understand that this was how the puzzle worked.

The first time I worked the puzzle with him, he was engaged for four to seven minutes, and by then, the puzzle was empty.  When I loaded it back up for him, he lost interest after another five minutes or so, and by then, I just don’t think he was all that hungry, since I had played with him just after his breakfast.  He had pulled four of the strips out, but walked away from the last one, and typically, he doesn’t do that! This would be a better game for mid afternoon or before bed, when he is more hungry, and bored.

Just remember, this is a game that is intended to be played with supervision!!  DO NOT LEAVE YOUR DOG UNATTENDED!!  Dogs and puppies are naturally curious, and remember that the fabric will smell like treats!  Depending upon what treats you use, oils and crumbs may attach to the fabric, and I can easily see any dog potentially chewing on the fabric once it is out of the puzzle!  Be sure that you are watching your dog, and coaching him when he works!  Interactive puzzle play is a wonderful way to bond and play with your dogs!  Have fun!!