Elly’s Food Toys and Games

One of the ways I keep Elly fit and strong is using food toys and puzzles. These games are wonderful for working on core and leg strength, balance and proprioception. They are low impact ways for exercise and they challenge her brain, it’s amazing how much a search game or one that really makes her think tires her out!  The video posted below shows a few of the games Elly plays.

I also use the games to work on the fear and the lack of confidence issues Elly came to me with, I’ve never had a more cautious and sensitive dog. When I first got her she would not walk under a chair even though she fit without crouching. She wouldn’t go into tight spaces or even put her nose under the edge of the couch, she was afraid of anything that moved around her and lots of things that didn’t move. When I first started her searching for treats I would make them easily accessible. Once she had the drive to find the treats instilled I started hiding treats where she would be challenged to overcome her fears, easy challenges at first and then I slowly increased the difficulty. She will now willingly go under chairs and put her head under the couch, she will even crawl under furniture!

Here are a few of the things I’ve learned over the years using food toys and puzzles also incorporating things I’ve learned in the many classes I’ve attended with Elly:

♥ When introducing a new game use high value treats and make it easy to use or solve to build confidence then up the difficulty level as your pup progresses. I do sometimes ‘downgrade’ the treats to save on calories.

♥ When using a food-dispensing toy I like to put in a few treats that come out easily, a few that take some work and time to get out and a few that are so big she can’t get them out by herself. She will play with the toy for quite a while until she gets out all the treats that will come out. Then she will bring me the toy and ‘ask’ for help and I will make a couple more of the big treats small enough to come out and off she goes again; we do this until the toy is empty. This strategy gets her engaged right away with the easy treats and then her tenacity keeps her working until all the treats are out.

♥ Keep track of how many calories you are feeding with treats and toys and subtract those calories from meals. My almost 14 year old Pug boy Obie, who is just a bit bigger than Elly, is now quite sedentary. BTW- Obie played several games when he was younger to build his confidence and to rehab his two knee surgeries. Now in his mature years he isn’t interested in working very hard for treats so he doesn’t play very often. Anyway- Obie gets almost twice as much food at his two daily meals as Elly because she gets so many calories though our play and training. I’m also careful about the quality of the treats I use since Elly gets lots of her calories from them- I generally don’t use doggie junk food.

Obie playing Twister back in the day.

♥ Rotate toys in and out of use to keep them challenging and fresh.

♥ Sometimes you have to retire toys altogether if your dog has figured out a way to cheat. Not shown in the video is a toy called Tug-a-Jug which was one of Obie’s favorites. Elly learned to just tip it up on end instead of tugging on the rope as the toy is designed which allowed all the treats to just pour out!

Obie and his Tug-a-Jug

♥ You can use some of these games to feed meals. Elly got her breakfast from the Mushroom toy shown in the video for the first year or so she was with me.

♥ If your dog isn’t getting the multi-task puzzles, when steps have to be taken in sequence, you might try breaking the tasks down and teach one at a time, then move them on to the sequence. For example on the old twister Elly first learned to slide the covers over the cubbies- she figured that out on her own. Then without using the cubbies I added one of the bone shaped pegs and put treats underneath the peg to entice her to lift out the peg. Then I started putting treats in the cubbies and just one of the pegs. Once she got the idea I put more and more pegs in until I was using them all. Some of these puzzles are fun for me because it challenges my training techniques- I have to figure out how to get Elly to understand what she needs to do.

Elly learns to pull out the pegs playing Twister.

♥ Stop playing with a puzzle or toy when either you or your dog gets frustrated. Elly is very sensitive and picks up any frustration I’m feeling and she will start to shut down. Which leads to:

♥ Always end a play or training session on a positive note. Do a simple treat hide or give lots of praise when a puzzle is done. For example: when I’m trying to teach Elly a new trick and she’s not getting it I will step back to a simple trick or behavior like ‘sit’ or ‘high five’ and be sure there are lots of treats and praise so we are both happy and at a positive point when we stop playing.

♥ Don’t make the play session too long especially if your pup is learning a new toy or game. You always want to stop when it’s still fun and leave them wanting more. Instead of a long play session try playing for short intervals a couple times a day.

♥ If you have multiple dogs you might need to separate them during game play unless they can keep to their own toys. My first food dispensing toy experience was with Maggie when she was young. She figured it out pretty quickly and would play often. When Tani came along she was unable to figure out how her toy worked but she found that if she followed Maggie while she played with her toy food would magically appear. Tani would grab the food and a fight would ensue.

♥ Supervision is important especially if your dog destroys toys or might try to eat pieces of the puzzles.

Most importantly HAVE FUN!

A Ruff Couple of Months

In early January I found that Elly had a broken tooth, not just the tip of a canine like a couple years ago, this time she went for the biggest tooth in her mouth. The official diagnosis was a complicated slab fracture of the upper 4th pre-molar.   Complicated means the pulp is exposed…ouch!!! My first inclination was to have the tooth pulled and we scheduled the surgery for the following week and we also put her on Tramadol to help with pain, which of course she wasn’t showing at all. Once I got home and did some reading I had second thoughts. Doing a root canal would not only allow her to keep her tooth but it was much less invasive than pulling the tooth.

Even though I live in the CA Bay Area (near San Francisco) and I have access to almost any specialist you can think of, finding a doggie dentist is a challenge! There is one sort of near me but they were booked out until mid-February. The other option was a vet who came up to our area from Southern California every two weeks. I actually made appointments with both and told them I was going to take whichever could get the surgery done sooner. I had Elly scheduled for evaluation and surgery for February 12th with the nearest dentist. I also scheduled her with the traveling dentist for February 2nd, but my understanding was they would do the evaluation that day then schedule surgery for next time they were in our area, 2 weeks later.  It turned out they could do the surgery the same day so I went with them and Elly had her evaluation and surgery on February 2nd.

I was very happy with the doctor and her tech, they took extra time to get Elly as comfortable as possible. After telling them she didn’t deal well with crates they elected to keep her out of the kennels and kept her on a blanket next to their desk. They made sure she was never alone and the tech held her when she could.

As it turns out they couldn’t save the pre-molar since it was broken up through the roots. In addition she lost 5 of her incisors! Those have been a problem since I adopted her, she had two previous surgeries to try and save them. Pretty much all the dog breeds in her makeup are brachycephalic (smushed faced) and it’s not uncommon for those types of dogs to have tooth-crowding problems. Even though she has a bit of a muzzle, her teeth are still over-crowded in her little mouth. All of the incisors removed were damaged and loose to some extent.

The poor girl came home with 7 sutures and a modified ‘smile’.

She wasn’t allowed to play with her stuffies for 12 days and she couldn’t chew on anything hard for two weeks. We also had to cut back on her balance and core exercises and walks while she healed. We had to drop out of two Nose Work Trials since they were just a week after her surgery, unfortunate because they were in my town.

Then the day before we went for her 2 week check up I found a rash or scrap under one of her front legs and a sore on her elbow. I have no idea where those came from especially since her activity level has been limited. Since we were already there I asked the vet to look at it and she gave me some spray to clear it up. The next day she seemed a bit tired and started sneezing, Pug boy Obie had been sneezing for a few days the week before. She got more lethargic over the next few days with more sneezing. I finally took her into the vet again after the President’s Day holiday just to be sure it wasn’t anything too serious.  Was it related to her surgery? Did I taper off the pain meds too soon? But Obie was sneezing before, and she was just fine the week after surgery, to the point that I was having trouble entertaining her. We concluded that she might have some type of virus and we are just going to watch her. She had clean blood work before her surgery and her temp was normal.  She was a bit perkier today- she initiated play a couple times, which she hasn’t done in a while. She didn’t play very long but it was definitely an improvement. We did have to miss another Nose Work class; I elected to keep her out this week just in case she has something contagious. Hopefully over the next several days she will continue to improve and get her energy back.  Obie is back to normal now so hopefully in a couple days she will be as well.

Since she was on Tramadol for about 5 weeks (pre and post surgery) I took the opportunity to video some of the ways I get pills into the pups. I’ve been doing at least daily pills for one dog or another since 2001 when Tani was diagnosed with epilepsy. And I’ve tried to explain ‘cheesy plate’ several times in the forums when people are having trouble getting pills in their pups- it’s so much easier to show it!

Happy 4th Birthday!

Today Elly is 4 years old!   We don’t do major hoopla for birthdays around here, but we did manage to get in a few of her favorite activities and she even got a new toy.

In the morning we went for a walk to her favorite park. I allowed a little off leash time outside the dog park and she got extra time to check out each gopher hole inside the dog park since no one else was around.

When we got back from the park I decided to take her to a couple pet stores to pick out a new toy and maybe a treat.  It’s also a great place to work on her socialization skills with people and dogs.  She also got several treats from employees.  She is even brave enough now to go behind the counter and ask for treats!

We looked at several toys but she seemed quite intrigued by the funny noise one particular toy made.  I also got her a small beef trachea for her treat.

Hey Super Stu! Are you reading this?

After the pet stores a nap in the sun was in order.

She also spent time sleeping in the sun in the side yard while I was pruning the apple tree.  Every now and then she would come to the back yard and check on my progress… she was not at all helpful with pruning.

After my nap (pruning is hard!) and her dinner it was time for her birthday treat and toy. She ate the trachea so fast I didn’t get any pictures.  But I did get this video of her playing with her new hedgie.

Next up was her normal food toy- she usually gets one every night as part of her core and balance exercises.  But for her birthday she got some extra special treats. I always put a few treats in that won’t come out on their own so she has to bring me the bottle after she gets all the easier ones out. I had just broken up the last couple treats and given the bottle back to her when I shot this video.

It’s funny how she has learned to take the bottle to her bed when she gets tired.  She chases it around the room for awhile but usually ends up in her bed at the end.

Speaking of tired, after the trachea, hedgie and bottle it was time for another nap, she is after all 45% pug!

While I was typing up this post she snuggled down in her bed in my craft room…to wait until we go to bed!

Happy Birthday Elly!


In the world of Nose Work (the NACSW world):

The judges may ‘Pronounce’ handler/dog teams demonstrating exceptional technique and/or teamwork at each NW1, NW2, NW3, Elite, and Summit League trials. This is not part of the title, but rather an acknowledgement of exceptional teamwork on that particular trial day.


We earned our NW2 Title in October, guess what else we got?

NW2 Trial Ribbon and Pronounced Ribbon

The designation of Pronounced is hard to earn at a trial, each of the four element searches have to designated as Pronounced independently.  In addition, at this NW2 Trial only 8 of 38 dogs earned their Titles.

I’m so proud of how far Elly and I have come- Elly gaining confidence and amazing NW skills, me… just keeping up with her!

When we go to class or compete at Trials she is so confident and focused, she really loves playing ‘the game’.  Look at her body language in the photo below- she can’t wait to get going!

Heading to the start line


Here are two photos from the Exterior search we did.  There were two hides to find in this element.

First hide in Exteriors


Second hide in Exteriors


Here are two photos from the Vehicle search, there were 4 vehicles and only one hide.

Searching for source in Vehicles
It’s here!

I like the last picture because of her reflection in the car… my truck is rarely clean enough to see a reflection!


We didn’t get any pictures from the Interior searches or from the Containers search.


We did get video from Exteriors, Vehicles, Containers and one of the two Interior searches.  It’s rare to get Interior search videos- the spaces used are often not big enough for a person to shoot videos.  The one we got was done with a remote GoPro set up.

I buy the videos whenever they are available.  They are one of the best learning tools available.  It’s not always pretty watching the searches, but I learn so much about how Elly acts and reacts to the environment and to what I am doing.

There are good things in each video, and definitely things in each for us to work to improve our skills.

VEHICLES: 4 cars, 1 hide.  The hide was behind the tire she focuses on, considered inaccessible- she can’t get right to it.   I could have called ‘alert’ much sooner since she was close enough, but I LOVE watching her work and try to get right to the source.


INTERIORS: there were two rooms with one hide each, we only got video of one room.  As you can see when she finds the hide, we went past it a couple times.  This would be considered a ‘threshold’ hide- that is near the doorway.  We train so that she should find a threshold hide on the way into the room, so we need more work there.


EXTERIORS: two hides in an outdoor courtyard.  She found the first one right off- I would  consider that a threshold hide, so that was a good find for her.  She wandered a bit after she found the first one, but that is sometimes how she picks up the odors.  Near the end but before she finds the second hide you will see that she changes direction because I step into her path.  That’s bad on my part and something I have been working on.  As it turns out she went toward the hide, but in a past trial I redirected her like that and pushed her away from a hide.


CONTAINERS: 3 hides in 18 containers with 3 distractions.   At level 2 and up distractors can be used in containers- it can be food, toys or other things placed in the containers.  This is to demonstrate that your dog can disregard ‘distractions’ and find and alert on the correct odor.  The first white box closest to the door had a toy in it, Elly never looked at that box.  In the second orange box (from the door) there were corn chips.  She never really went to that box, but sniffed around that end of the search area.  The row of plastic boxes closest to the camera had a bagel- you can tell the box when Elly get to it.  She sniffs, but doesn’t alert me.  I knew she was interested in the smell, but I knew she was not on odor.  Ideally in a container search you would go up one row and down the next, checking each container.  Elly tends to be quite random, I’m not sure if she is chasing odor or just wandering around.  We get to the right conclusion but we could be much more efficient.  This is something we are working on quite a bit right now.


We are doing really well especially considering Elly was afraid of boxes less than 2 years ago and would not enter a room with strangers inside.  But there is so much more to learn!  As long as Elly still likes it and keeps making progress with her issues we will keep playing the game.

Ampuversary and Adoptaversary

Elly has been a Tripawd for more than three years, August 5th, and as of October 17 part of our little pack for 3 years.

Elly flies up and down the stairs and has since she first came here.  It was a concern when I was considering adopting her since Tri-Pug Maggie, also a small rear amp, had trouble going up stairs and I now live in a house with lots of stairs. Elly has learned to wait at the top or bottom of the stairs for me to cue her to follow me, it saves some wear and tear when I am coming right back. Sometimes when she isn’t sure what we are doing she stops in the middle and waits : )


Our first fall together was rough for a skittish dog…the leaves falling off trees and blowing down the road scared her.  We often had to stop and let those little evil doers pass.  Three years later we still  have to stop for leaves but now it’s because she thinks they might be turkey feathers!


I live with my father and Elly didn’t get off to a good start with him, in fact it seemed like she might not be able to stay.  She barked at him EVERY MORNING for three weeks!  She even nipped him once- I think because he tried to pick her up.  She finally got used to him being here, although was leery of him for quite awhile.  One of Dad’s jobs is to feed the dogs and she wouldn’t go downstairs (without me) for breakfast for a year.  Now they are best buds!

Elly and Obie with Dad, and TriPug Maggie in a sweatshirt cameo!


In addition to being skittish Elly was quick to bolt when scared, you couldn’t blame her after being hit by a car and re-homed several times.  I couldn’t imagine ever letting her off leash unless in a fully enclosed park.  Now (after tons of classes and hours of training) she has earned a little off leash time. I only let her off at certain parks and only when there are no other dogs around.


Elly isn’t the same dog that first hopped into my life, we have grown together in so many ways.  I had hoped to do therapy work with her when I got her but her fear issues makes that impossible (for now anyway).  I discovered Nose Work as an alternative and it has done wonders for her confidence.  She is braver and more comfortable in her world,  we have become quite a team.