on dog puzzles and the greatest dog trainer that ever was.

Mr. Gonzo Bunny-Ears has really taken to eating his kibble and snacks out of dog puzzles. We have been feeding our own Chick in this manner for years so to us it’s second nature, but often we get questions from bloggers about the types of puzzles we use, how we use them, when, etc.

Shortly after we adopted Chick as a young chap of two or three, he developed pretty severe separation all kinds of anxiety. He would pace nervously when we were getting ready to leave. Decorate the house with the garbage while we were gone. Refuse to eat for days during car trips. Never let us out of his sight when we were home. So, we went to a trainer. A first class, badass trainer.

Lee Mannix had a way with dogs. He was one of those people who can just communicate with them, and they with him. His craft was not teaching dogs “sit” or “shake” but rather teaching owners how to understand and interact with their dogs to prevent, treat, and manage problem behaviors. And his creativity seemed limitless. Some of the tips and tricks he came up with to help us deal with silly problems – like Chick pulling dish rags off their hooks – not only worked flawlessly, but boggled the mind. The human mind, that is. Lee left this world about a year ago, but his personality, his methods, and his lessons live on. For a longer account of the magic of Lee, read here.

But I digress. The first thing Lee asked of us was to stop feeding Chick food in a bowl. Ever. From that day forward, he was to eat only through training (kibble as reward), or in various mentally challenging games (kibble as problem solving goal). The idea was, that if meals are no longer predictable and punctual and effort-free, the dog will become more “willing to please” the owner, knowing that he’d better watch carefully lest the puzzle come soon. It also helped keep the dog busy for a while, so that we could hand him a snack, leave, and he would be so busy working on it that he wouldn’t remember to get worked up and anxious.  So we went from two meals a day, in a bowl, to five or six meals a day, in all different ways.

The simplest, and perhaps our favorite method to date for its sheer convenience and free-ness, is the Gatorade bottle. Take the plastic ring and the label off, wash and dry, shake a little kibble in, and hand it to the dog. A beginner dog may take 30 minutes to get the kibble out, trying to get at it with his tongue or his claws. A veteran only needs a few minutes. As a bonus, the dog eats more slowly than from a bowl, aiding in digestion and reducing gas.

Our second favorite is the grandfather of all dog puzzles, the kong. The easiest way to kong a dog is simply to scoop some kibble in, and seal the opening with something sticky – some peanut butter or cheese whiz works well. But this is too easy for our little geniuses.

To make a kong more difficult, we started to put a little peanut butter, yogurt, or cheese at the bottom of the kong, add the kibble, then seal the top. This way, dog has to extract the very end of the goodies with his tongue. For our geniuses? Still too easy. The next phase was mixing the kibble with yogurt or runny peanut butter in a bowl, and then stuffing the kong. The whole mixture is sticky and wet, so it takes a lot more tongue action to finish the work. This is challenging enough for Gonzo; it takes him about 20 minutes to finish one of these. For Chick, though, we have to take it to the next level: the freezer. Once frozen solid, it takes even an advanced chewer a while to get all the goodies out.  Our normal filler for these kongs is a combination of kibble, peanut butter, raw veggies, cheese, and leftovers – whatever we have that is dog-friendly and not likely to be otherwise eaten.

We usee many other food-dispensing devices and toys also, as Gonzo is modeling here. But the two originals, the ones shown to us by Lee, will always remain our favorites.

For more info about adopting Gonzo Bunny-Ears, contact us at DCpetographer [at] gmail [dot] com or through Partnership for Animal Welfare.

gonzo takes a stand . . . or a sit

Mr. Gonzo Bunny-Ears has excellent house manners, but in the first few days with us, he revealed to us his strong preference for sitting in chairs — it seems that in his old home, he may have had a little perch in a living room chair. Over his first week in our home he tested out the options here, and we had to have a talking to about dog beds being for dogs and chairs being for humans.

He eventually understood the new rules, but in the interim, we found him in various chairs around the house, looking very cute and very defiant.

Adoptability factor 2: Trainability

This is the second in our new weekly series on what makes sweet Lollie Wonderdog so very adoptable. Although there are endless adoptability factors we could list, we are limiting this to a weekly series so we don’t overwhelm you too much.

Adoptability factor archive: 1: Snugglability

Lollie is an extremely fast learner. If you have been following her blog for some time, you have seen the cute videos about how quickly she picked up “sit” and “down,” and read my bragging about teaching her “shake” in about three minutes.

Her trainability also manifests itself in more subtle ways: in how she quickly picks up cues, learns routines, and figures out the expected behavior. I believe some people refer to this as intelligence. She hadn’t been with us more than a few days when she learned that dogs are supposed to sit to have their harness and leash clipped on. It took but a few walks to figure out that doing a slolom course on the sidewalk was not the preferred walking method. One of fostermom’s cooking sessions was enough for Lola to know that the kitchen is a good place to hover when things start to smell yummy. As you may have witnessed a few weeks back, Lol advanced quickly from mistrust to Super Jedi Master of the kong puzzle challenge.

 Yesterday we introduced a new challenge to Lollie—the very difficult command we call “wait.”  She totally dominated it.




lollie shakes it!

Just a quick video to show off what a genius-wonderdog Lollie is. I taught her this in about three minutes last night, after our evening walk. It’s incredible, how fast she learns.

Also- notice how her butt and back legs subtly slide backward as she sits in concentration. Think we should get her some rubber booties for traction?


low quality video of a high quality dog

Excuse the very shoddy quality of our first Lollie video. Just wanted everyone to see how cute she is in action, while attempting to conquer a stalk of celery, learning how to eat dog food out of a gatorade bottle (which, by the way, she learned in about 15 minutes. amazing.) and practicing “sit,” “down,” and “go get it.”

We especially love her funny habit of tucking her right elbow/shoulder under her body when she does the “down” command.

learning to love

Lol and me: a self-portrait.

Who knew that some dogs have to learn to cuddle?

From day one, Lollie Wonderdog was full of love and energy. But she had no idea how to express herself or direct her excitement. Her main forms of expression were a trotting pace around the house or yard, back and forth, back and forth; and a constantly flapping tongue—licking the air, but always pointed in the general direction of your face. Come to think of it, I should post a video of this phenomenon.

A few weeks have passed now, and we have taught Lollie to redirect some of her energy into productive things, like going for walks, solving treat-filled puzzles (kongs, Gatorade bottles, etc), and learning new commands. (Have I mentioned what a fast learner she is? It’s amazing how quickly she picks up new things.) But until a few days ago, she still didn’t know how to express affection.

You can imagine that my heart dissolved into a little puddle of goo the other night when she quietly walked over and plopped her 55 pounds of pure muscle into my lap, and rested her sweet face against my chest. As my hands stroked her still-skinny side and her mystery-scarred face, she slowly closed her eyes, looking oh-so-content.

I swear, this dog could melt anyone’s heart.

queen kong

Lollie is an incredibly fast learner. Because her energy level is high and she has a hard time figuring out how to settle down, we decided to introduce puzzles to her routine to help her exhaust her mental energy. First up was the Kong (a tough, rubber, pear-shaped toy that is hollow in the middle so you can put treats, food, etc in it). The first day, she merely poked at it with her nose, licked it once or twice, and walked away. She just didn’t understand. The second day, I put some more delicious treats inside and rubbed some peanut butter on the outside to keep her interest. She rolled it around a little until a couple of treats fell out, but again, lost interest. Later that day I tried again, and she went to town on it. She played with it for 20 minutes and got every last bit of treats and carrot bits out. What a little genius-dog.

baby [gate] steps

You may recall that we are slowly getting the wonderdogs used to each other using a combination of leashes and baby gates. Until this weekend, we were using a 4′ baby gate that was essentially a complete physical barrier. Lolita’s enthusiastic tongue could sneak through to lick my fingers or Chick’s unsuspecting face, but nothing more.

This weekend we decided to move to a much more modest gate, so the wonderdogs could sniff and greet over or under the gate in addition to observing each other through.

Lollie interpreted the new gate as a fun game / challenge. She never did weasel her way through it thanks to her big muscular shoulders, but she sure did try:

Week One in Review

In honor of Lollie’s first full week at Casa Fosterfamily, I am posting some progress notes and discoveries made during our first seven days.

Day 1:

  • Lollie is discovered to be housebroken and also very quiet. Wet, sloppy kisses abound.
  • Lollie doesn’t seem to know what a toy is, and cowers when one is raised to throw.
  • No interest in kibble, but peanut butter is a friend.

Day 2:

  • Lollie does not know how to walk on leash. Straight lines are not on her agenda.
  • Kong toys are too complex to capture Lollie’s attention, and dinner is left untouched in the bowl. As is breakfast.
  • Camera is perceived as enemy to be wary of, much to foster mom’s disappointment.

Day 3:

  • Whereas Lollie does not know how to walk on leash, she is an excellent running partner. Strange, but true.  
  • Lollie calmly and gently greets two dogs while out in neighborhood.
  • Lollie is a perfect gentlelady in the presence of houseguests. No jumping, play-biting or barking, only sitting sweetly for attention (of which she receives plenty).
  • After some reservation, both breakfast and dinner are consumed in their entirety.

Day 4:

  • First attempts at true leash training. Lollie is initially stubborn, but eventually starts to understand that pulling gets you nowhere. Very fast learner.
  • Lollie discovers that stuffed animals are fun for squeaking and chewing.

Day 5:

  • Leash training continues, progress is made.
  • Lollie discovers her love for cauliflower and other things vegetable and fruit.
  • Lollie meets some neighborhood kids by chance, sits calmly and gently to be petted.

Day 6:

  • Lollie learns to trot happily into her crate for breakfast and dinner, utters no protest.
  • Work begins on sitting to put on leash or for permission to go outside. Seems calmer in the house.

Day 7:

  • Cars are so scary that it’s nearly debilitating. Lollie goes into pancake mode if one drives by close and fast. Once on a quiet trail, good side-by-side running resumes.
  • Good crazy-fit before bed, including upside down antics on the bed with four legs flailing in the air.
  • Lollie holds still for the camera long enough to show off her beautiful, soulful eyes:

%d bloggers like this: