Moving to Raw

6K8A8104So how did it go….?

At first Zachary was not impressed. He gave his bowl a few sniffs then picked up a toy. But he is always like that with any new food/treats. Anything new has to be offered three times before he will even try a taste. I am sure he thinks I am out to poison him. After several failed attempts over a 24 hour period to get him to taste the raw duck mince, I served up a teaspoonful on a slice of honey-glazed ham, which, after a few minutes of thought, he decided he would try. (He rather likes ham).

Once he had eaten that, I tried the food again with no success, but three hours later he agreed to eat and decided he quite liked it.

On day 2 of raw feeding, I put Zachary’s breakfast in his bowl and scattered some kibble over the top, then put the bowl in the garden and did a few minutes of training before telling him he could have it. (It’s another of his oddities that he is more inclined to eat if he has to earn his food rather than me just giving it to him.)

He ran excitedly to his bowl then looked very disappointedly back at me. (To be fair, he often gives me that disappointed look when he finds kibble too. I think he keeps hoping that one day I will feed him a big stack of bacon!)

He sniffed the food then turned up his nose and went to sniff some flowers. Eventually he wandered back to see why I was so interested in his breakfast.

To cut a long story short, I ended up hand feeding him kibble piece by piece, starting with a smear of raw on the first, and ending up with a teaspoonful on each. When we were about three quarters of the way through, he decided to take over and ate the remainder on his own. He even licked the bowl afterwards. That is almost unheard of for Zachary. He generally believes it is my job to clean his dishes!

Day 3, I put some raw beef – a change from the duck – in Zachary’s breakfast bowl with a handful of kibble on top. He was definitely more interested when I put it down, but after a few sniffs decided it was not the same as the duck he had had on the previous days, so therefore, inedible.

Frustrated, I popped his breakfast back in the fridge. Normally Zachary takes no notice if I remove his food, but this time he looked surprised.

Fifteen minutes later I put the bowl down again and Zachary showed interest, but still would not eat so I tried to hand feed him a small pinch of the mince. As I held the food under his nose, Zachary gave a half-hearted sniff then turned his head away.  I put the food back in the bowl, at which point Zachary was willing to lick my fingers. The bowl went back into the fridge yet again.

Akela raw beef is 75% beef with bone, 5% beef liver, and 5% beef kidney. The remaining 15% is butternut squash, spinach, carrot, cranberry, blackberry, raspberry, blueberry, spirulina, sea kelp, linseed oil, coconut, prebiotic FOS, and Joint Care (Glucosamine, MSM, Chondroitin).

Ten minutes went by and out came his breakfast for one more try. He sniffed it for a minute or two then picked up his first morsel. A few minutes later he had polished off more than half. Success!

The next day we hit a snag. We were attending a dog show which meant a 4.30am start. I offered Zachary an early breakfast but he wasn’t interested and I couldn’t blame him. The day was a surprisingly cold one so I decided to take his breakfast with us to have later in the day. It stayed in his crate with him all day and he refused to touch it, although he happily took the treats. When we arrived home that evening, I put the food down again, and he turned his nose up. I decided to put down a clean bowl of kibble with the intention of throwing out the raw, but as soon as I put the kibble down, he tucked into the raw and polished it off.

Since then, there have been some days when he is keen to eat (especially if I make balls of his breakfast and feed them as training treats), and some days when he is not interested whatever I do, which, in fairness, is how he has always been with any food he has been on. I had hoped raw food would make him a little more keen to eat. This is not because I want to fatten him up, rather it is because a strong food drive can be useful in training.

I will persevere with the raw because I think it is a healthier option, but I will continue to give some top quality kibble so that feeding is easier when we are travelling and without easy access to a fridge or freezer.

Raw Thoughts

Many thanks to Mark Hewlett of Mark Hewlett Photography for this photo of Zachary working.

SAR training has taken a back seat in recent weeks after I broke my arm while playing in the garden with Zachary. My lack of mobility (I am not allowed to drive) along with the extreme heat the UK is experiencing, we have not been training and won’t for some weeks to come. This may set back my hopes for qualifying in December, but that would not be such a bad thing because Zachary is still very young and immature.

However, general training and obedience work continue more or less as usual, albeit mostly at home.

Being at home more has given me more time to ponder and research canine nutrition. Zachary has mostly been fed on Akela 80:20 Suffolk Duck Grain-Free Working Dog Food – a food I have been very happy with. I like that it is 80% duck and grain free, and that it results in relatively small and dry faeces compared with the Royal Canin and AVA that I have fed in the past.

Zachary was certainly thriving on the Akela and had an excellent coat, sweet breath, and plenty of energy, but I have for many years flirted with the idea of feeding raw. I have often given supplementary raw food, and the only thing that stopped me from feeding fully raw was the worry that I wouldn’t get the right nutritional balance. So many raw feeders seemed to advocate adding all kinds of vitamin supplements, that it seemed to be easier and safer to stay with foods that veterinarians deemed “complete”.

I know veterinarians, like medical doctors, get very little training on nutrition, but I reasoned that those interested in nutrition at least had access to the relevant studies, and a good quality kibble endorsed by veterinarians seemed to be a better bet than me trying to mix my own “complete” raw diet. (I did once switch to a raw diet with good results for my elderly GSD – but the raw diet came from my vet who made a bespoke mix herself and I have since moved to the UK. Travelling 12000 miles for dog food is a little excessive even by my standards)

Nowadays, however, the market is inundated with pet food companies marketing “complete” raw diets. Apart from possibly a shortage of freezer space, I have no real reason to not make the switch. After looking at various options from different companies, many of which were recommended by friends, I decided to try Akela Frozen Raw Complete Working Dog Food 85:15.

I had been impressed with Akela dry, so it made sense to stay with a brand I feel comfortable with, and I like that all their food includes Joint Aid – a glucosamine and chondroitin supplement that many of my friends buy separately to add to their dogs’ diets.  Their raw food comes in a variety of options: beef, lamb, chicken, turkey and duck,  so I ordered a selection.

I will record how we got on with the switch in future posts.


Adolescence strikes!

After passing his Stage 4, Zachary continued to make good progress and we worked on gradually building up his fitness levels. We also worked on his alerts and they were getting much stronger. Feeling confident that he could manage the distance, I put him forward for his day mock assessment – a requirement before he can do the national assessment. It was a big mistake!

Zachary, the football hooligan, on his first birthday.

Zachary set off on his mock with his usual enthusiasm and found all four of the “mispers” hidden in the forest along a 2km route, but instead of alerting when he found them, he stopped to sniff and pee at every tuft of grass. Hormones were raging and his mind was not on the job. He still wanted to find people, but wasn’t the least interested in telling me or taking me in to the mispers.

Since then we have gone back to basics and mostly he gets it right, but he is not consistent enough at present for me to think about assessments. SAR dogs have to be reliable.

Adolescence has taken its toll on Zachary’s general obedience too, so we have been working on building his attention span. I’ve started taking obedience lessons with Lorraine Bennett, and she has helped enormously. She describes Zachary as going from a smart little boy with with the top button of his shirt done up saying, “Yes Mummy”, to a teenage yob with his trousers hanging around his bottom saying, “Whatever”.

Our SAR training is ongoing, but now I am focusing on setting boundaries and teaching Zachary that good behaviour brings the best opportunities for fun.

Zachary learning to watch me while he trots alongside me off lead.

It all seems “three steps forward and two back” but we are making progress and I know that adolescence won’t last forever. Hopefully with persistence and consistency we will both come through it a little wiser.



Making Progress

Zachary at 9 monthsWe passed our Stage 3 in December as hoped, and have now passed our Stage 4 with Zachary just under 9 months old.

Stage 4 involved searching 25 metres either side of a 1km route through a forest in order to find two “missing people”.

Zachary worked his socks off for the full distance of the search. He gave a lovely indication for his first find, but his indication for his second find was rather wishy-washy, partly, I think because he was getting tired. The assessor passed us but made it clear that such an indication would not suffice for the final assessment. I am now left with a dilemma: whether to work at strengthening his jump-up or trying to train a bark alert before we go for our mocks.

I will also need to build up Zachary’s fitness. He can easily cover well over 2 kms when on a walk. When playing with his best friend, Rommel, he covers ten times the distance of the walk as he leaps through the forest and doesn’t seem to tire. But a two km search is far more demanding. Zachary was fading at the end of just one km, and it would have been even more difficult had the weather been warm.

So our challenge is to extend  Zachary’s fitness and focus to find up to four people over a two km route, and possibly change his alert. It means taking things slowly and making sure there is lots of variety in our training to keep his motivation and enjoyment up.

On the theme of taking things slowly,  we  stopped attending obedience classes in the New Year. Not because I have given up on obedience, but because the distractions of the class are really too much for Zachary to handle. I found myself having to spend too much time correcting him rather than helping him to make the right decisions.

Now we work on obedience in quieter circumstances so that I can gradually increase the level of distraction as he progresses. Already I am seeing an improvement. We will return to our class when I think Zachary is ready, but I am not in any hurry for this to happen. On walks I often sing to Zachary, “Slow down, you move too fast” (from Feeling Groovy), and it’s a lesson I must also take to heart. Both with SAR and obedience, I should not expect too much too soon; I need to slow down and enjoy the journey with my little man.


Catching up

23847125_1765101890229281_6582851480430755367_oA lot has passed since my last post. I introduced a whistle for long-distance recalls, and trained it using high value treats. (Yummy cat food).

Zachary has now passed both his Stage 1 and Stage 2 SAR assessments. Stage 1 just involved him making a find. I had a fever on the day and was dosed up with meds. Fortunately Zachary was not affected in the least and made a nice clean find in good time.

Stage 2 was more difficult because Zachary had to make a clear and readable alert. After much “umming and ahhing” I finally settled on a jump-up alert, although my obedience trainers were not so keen on the idea. (They spend a lot of time and energy teaching dogs that jumping up is bad manners.)  However, jumping up is something that comes naturally to Zachary.  I spent the first three months of his life with me trying to teach him not to jump up with little effect, so it did not take much training to get him to use a jump-up for his alert.  He likes that he is now allowed to jump on me although we still need to work on consistency.

Between the two assessments, Zachary also successfully completed a night search in a forest he had not been to before. His search track covered about 1 mile in distance and during that search he found all four sets of unknown “missing” people. (The “mispers” were young RAF cadets and so hidden out in the forest in pairs.)

I am hoping that we will get to pass our stage 3 assessment in December. I know that Zachary has the ability; it is up to me not to let my assessment stress transmit to him. In the meantime, we also need to work on obedience. His heel work with distractions is getting much better, but we need to work on his “stays”. We attempted the Bronze Canine Good Citizen Award today. He passed everything bar the one minute stay. It was my fault; I  had worked on distance but not on duration, so that will be our training focus over the coming weeks.

We have much to do, much to build on, and much to learn, but we have taken those first steps and we are well-and-truly on the journey.




Recalling the recall

Zachary looking like he could never do anything wrong.

We had a fabulous training session on Tuesday. Zachary did his first two-body search which means he had to find two missing people, each about 25 metres off a path that went about 400 metres. It was a lot of searching for one so young, but he was focused and enthusiastic throughout and found both “mispers” in good time.

After the training session we went with others from the dog team for a walk in a nearby park to checkout another potential training area. We let the dogs loose to play. Zachary was so excited to be playing with his best friend Rommel, two weeks his senior, that all thoughts of mum flew out the window. Calling made no impact. Even running off in another direction only caught his interest momentarily. He ran half way towards me then turned around and went after Rommel again.

It was fortunate that Rommel is a well-behaved pup who would not stray far from his ‘dad’ and we were in a safe area, but I realised that I am going to have to do a lot more training of recall with distractions. Those lovely little recalls in the garden and in the hall at obediences classes do not translate easily into the exciting world of running free with one’s friends.

What are you doing?

“Zachary, what are you doing?” is common refrain in our house. As a four month old puppy, Zachary needs to be watched every waking moment, else he is into mischief. Even when under a watchful eye, he is no stranger to misbehaviour: trying to dig up the carpet, leaping on the furniture, chewing the skirting boards, etc, etc.

Zachary operates a strange set of double standards. It is perfectly okay, in his ethic, for him to tire of my company and run off to dig up the fence behind the shed, or to run upstairs to attack the laundry basket.  Finding things to do out of my sight is a great source of pleasure to him, and he is not the slightest bit bothered that I am not there to watch the fun. On the other hand, if I move out of his sight, even for a nano-second, I am clearly breaking his rules and he is quick to let me know that my behaviour is unacceptable. I am not even allowed to be on the other side of a glass door.

I would accept that it was separation anxiety if he he showed consistency, but he is more than happy to be separated from me when it is his own choice. Rather it is I who suffers from separation anxiety in that I am very anxious whenever he is out of sight because I just don’t know what mischief he is up to.

Zachary digging his way to China.

4 months old

Zachary celebrated his four-month birthday at S&R training in Poppy’s Wood. His search jacket – made as small as it will go – is still rather too big but at least it no longer falls off him as it did when he first tried it on.

Zachary posed in his jacket after we returned home from a successful morning at SAR training.

Zachary already understands the concept of searching to find people. He has a tendency to hare off down the track to begin with, and I have a few moments of heart in my mouth while I wait for him to reappear. I have started to encourage him to check back with me, for his safety and my piece of mind.

After his initial rush this morning, he started to search more methodically, taking more directions from me. He probably only pushes in about 10 metres from the path, but I am happy with that at this stage.

He seemed a little reluctant to push into long grass without any clear track, but when he picked up the scent of his “mispers”, his head went up, he clearly sniffed the air, and pushed through the grass without any need for encouragement. What a good boy!

Naughty Tabitha

When we brought home our “perfect puppy,” Zachary, we also adopted his bed-time companion, Tabitha. Tabitha is a plush ginger kitten and full of mischief. She is always doing things she shouldn’t and trying to lay the blame on Zachary, but he loves her, so we try to manage her antics.

Tabitha 1st
Zachary baby-sitting Tabitha.

Whereas Zachary like to be helpful in the garden, Tabitha just causes destruction. While Zachary very thoughtfully digs out a fish pond, Tabitha digs up the lawn. Zachary is always having to retrieve household items that Tabitha has taken into the garden.

Tabitha caught in the act of mischief while Zachary helps with some pruning.

Dirty paw prints through the house, bits of chewed up tissues, and even the occasional “accident” are all caused by our naughty kitten. Zachary tries his best to keep her out of trouble, but there is only so much a little puppy can do.


Tabitha 2
Zachary bringing Tabitha inside after she has been naughty.

Raising Zachary

I brought Zachary home when he was just 7 weeks and 6 days old. He looked and felt rather like a child’s novelty pyjama case. He was white and grey, very floppy, very soft and very fluffy. His black nose was like a large button, and his bright blue eyes could have easily been glass.Zachary 8 weeks

His breeder described him as a very clever and gentle Border Collie puppy. I don’t dispute the “very clever”, and he could be exceedingly gentle when it suited him, but I soon discovered that he was part kangaroo, and the other part, sabre-toothed tiger.

“Don’t let puppies jump” comes all the advice, in case it damages their joints. But how do you stop a kangaroo-tiger cross from bounding and leaping?  But it was the sabre-like teeth that were the most troublesome.

When it comes to puppies, I am no “newbie”, but I have mostly had German Shepherd pups in the past. Don’t get me wrong: German Shepherds can be chewers, and I have lost more than the occasional piece of clothing from an unsupervised laundry basket, but in my experience, Shepherds have always had the grace to wait until an item of clothing is off your body before shredding it.

Zachary’s speciality was shredding clothing while I was wearing it, and often shredding the flesh beneath. He is the first pup ever to have broken my skin. In those first two weeks he left me bruised and bloodied, with my clothes hanging off me like those of the Incredible Hulk.

There was no aggression, I hasten to add. His attacks were all driven by love. He would launch himself at me with unbounded joy, then sink his sabre-teeth into any skin or clothing he could grab and swing his body weight below. Gravity would do the rest. zachary bite

We are now seven weeks on and the tiger has mostly been tamed. He tries hard to remember his manners, bless him, although the kangaroo is still in evidence. But biting is now limited to chewing on my arm while I tickle his tummy. Our bite inhibition training is paying off.