doggy iceblocks

Doggy Iceblocks

doggy iceblocks

One of my biggest tips for problematic dogs is to give them boredom busters. These are normally food based challenges that keep the dog occupied for a long period of time. This could be a good meaty bone, a kong toy, or a doggy ice block.

As many of my clients through Dog Consultancy have never heard of an ice block before, I thought I’d blog post instructions on making them. Not that they’re hard to do! Variations of this ‘recipe’ all work fine, but here is a starting point.

1. Select a container

Choose an appropriate sized container for your dogs. I have small dogs, so I generally use plastic tubs for dips that are about 150g or so. Larger dogs could get margarine containers, up to ice-cream sized containers. Make sure you choose a container that is flexible, as you want to be able to pop out the frozen treat in the end. If the plastic is to rigid you might have trouble doing this.

2. Smear something tasty inside

Once you have your container, smear something tasty around the edges of it. Suggestions could be:

  • vegemite
  • peanut butter
  • mince
  • canned cat or dog food

As long as it is safe for dogs to eat, and your dog likes to eat it, the options here are endless.

A small plastic container with canned puppy food pressed along the bottom to create a tasty layer.

A small plastic container with canned puppy food pressed along the bottom to create a tasty layer.

This is ‘kibble stock’. Dried dog food was placed in water, then microwaved for 30 seconds or so. The kibble has broken down into slush and made a stock.

3. Make up a stock

We are now going to fill the tub with flavoured water. Suggestions include:

  • commercial stocks
  • vegemite stock (vegemite melted into boiling water)
  • microwaved kibble (put a small amount of kibble into water, microwave until kibble becomes pulpy and water becomes stock-like)

Gently pour stock into your tub, making sure you don’t disturb your tasty layer. Leave enough room in the container to…

4. Add further treats

Add to your ice block anything that your dog might like. If you dog is new to ice blocks, leaving something tempting hanging out of the ice block as a ‘starter’ works well. Suggestions for further treats include:

  • pigs ear
  • chicken neck
  • dog biscuit
  • carrot
  • dry kibble
  • a toy like a ball

These two doggy iceblocks are ready to be frozen. They are made of kibble-stock with dog biscuits, smackos, and dried liver suspended in the liquid.

5. Freeze

Place carefully in your freezer, to avoid gross spillage, and then freeze at least overnight. Once they’re frozen, you can push them out and store them in a more space-conserving way, each necessary.

6. Dispense!

Now, whenever you go out, or your dog needs to be occupied by themselves, take out one of your pre-frozen doggy iceblocks and let them have it! Keep in mind these do make quite a mess, so they’re probably best as an outside meal, or fed in a crate where there’s minimal risk of spillage.

Two frozen ready-to-eat doggy iceblocks. The one in the foreground has a lambs ear sticking out. The one in the background is inverted, so you can see the frozen 'tasty layer' of canned food.

Two frozen ready-to-eat doggy iceblocks. The one in the foreground has a lambs ear sticking out. The one in the background is inverted, so you can see the frozen ‘tasty layer’ of canned food.

But my dog’s allergic to…

If your dog has any food intolerances, just use whatever from this list your dog can eat and leave out everything else. I have made doggy ice blocks for dogs before on special diets, and I have made it just out of microwaved kibble and stock made from that microwaved kibble.

But my dog needs to lose weight…

You control what you put in your dog’s ice block! Cut out parts of your dog’s dinner and place it in the ice block instead. Some food-orientated dogs are happy to have a stock-iceblock, with not much to it except slightly salty water. This is the low-calorie option.

They’re not the most attractive thing to photograph, but dogs love them! Please comment if you have any extra ideas of things to put in your dog’s iceblocks.


Novelty (or Practical Habituation)

I have been thinking a lot of late about novelty in dog training. More technically, I’ve been thinking about habituation (i.e. a type of non-associative learning) and how it works in the ‘real world’ for changing dog behaviour in simple ways.


Dogs can habituate to water.

Dogs can habituate to water.

When I was a kid, I grew up with a chow chow called Ted. Ted mostly lived in the backyard, but as a child, I one day decided that Ted was going to get a walk every day. And so I walked him every day for about a month (before moving onto the next project, as kids do). Ted started the month with enthusiastic jumping regarding the prospect of a walk. He also vocalised a little bit. By the end of the month, Ted had the lead put on with no fuss, no jumping, no noise, and soldiered on for the walk.

Sure, I could’ve implemented some kind of training regime. But, in reality, I didn’t. Ted started the month thinking walks were novel, and his behaviour stemmed from this novelty. At the end of the month, he was habituated to the walk. Previously, the outside world meant a lot to him and resulted in him getting aroused. By the end of the month, it meant close to nothing, and his arousal levels were far less.


Then there’s our foster dog Bandit. I picked him up from his surrendering family, one hour from my house, and drove him home. He drooled, paced, and stressed the whole way home. On ever subsequent car trip, Bandit’s behaviour got more mild. Recently, I drove him to a boarding facility about 20 minutes away, and he was laying, asleep, by the time we got there. No training went into this. Bandit just ‘got over it’ because he habituated to the car – it became less novel.


I find many outside dogs are often ‘over the top’ when they meet people, and I think this is a novelty thing, too. If dogs only see people on an occasional basis (i.e. when you go outside), of course they’re going to be excited to see you! If they were inside and saw you constantly, their responses are going to be more mild. Indeed, with most attention seeking behaviours (e.g. jumping up, head nuzzling, vocalising), these behaviours will decrease if the dog has sufficient attention to start with. If attention is given liberally, the resource becomes less important, and the dog’s behaviour changes.


I think the concept of novelty is often overlooked in dog training. Sometimes, dog behaviour will ‘get better’ simply because the novelty of something wears off.

Doing many varied things often can do more than maintaining socialisation – it can reduce novelty and so also decrease undesirable behaviour associated with that novelty.


The Power of Habit

When most dog training focusses on ‘rewarding the good’ and ‘punishing the bad’, the importance of habits (and habitual behaviour) is often overlooked.

Sure, a lot of dog behaviour is based on consequences. This is well understood.

But sometimes dogs do things because they ‘always have’. The regularity of performing this behaviour in itself drives further incidence of the behaviour.

It’s not necessarily that a dog learnt that it was appetitive to partake in a particular behaviour, but that it learnt that it could do that behaviour, and did that enough times that it became a habit.

HairlessHounds Photography

If you don’t want your dog to stand on the sofa, don’t let it become a habit! Photo courtesy of HairlessHounds Photography.

Sure, sometimes this habit behaviours start because of the consequences. For example, a lot of reactivity behaviour.  Initially, the dog was concerned about other dogs so barked at dogs when they got too close. This behaviour was reinforced, as the scary dog normally went away when that happened. However, while that may have been the dog’s thought process two years ago, after the dog has practiced barking at other dogs for a two year stretch, what was initially goal orientated behaviour became habitual behaviour – “I bark at other dogs because I saw them”.


Often, dogs perform behaviours because ‘they always have’, and there is nothing intrinsically appetitive about the behaviour or its consequences.


Take for example my girl Myrtle. At one stage, whenever I let her out the door, she would run barking to the fence – and she did this enough that it became a habit. Myrtle’s thought process wasn’t based on reinforcement or punishment. If you asked her why she ran to the fence, her answer would probably be about the antecedent (“I ran to the fence because the door opened.”).  It’s a very simple behaviour chain.

Habits can be fixed by concentrating on the antecedent.

While on one hand habits are hard to break, many are also easy to solve by simple management like solutions, which concentrate on the antecedent. In Myrtle’s case, if I put her into that yard through the gate instead of the door, she did not bark at all. After a week or two of putting her into the yard through the gate, she simply ceased to perform her run-and-bark-to-the-fence behaviour. The antecedent was removed for long enough that Myrtle got ‘out of practice’ when it came to this habit. She now can enter the yard through the door with no problems.


Basically, if your dog always barks when he sees the postman, or always jumps up when you come home from work, or always scratches the upholstery in the car, your best way to fix this is to just not let the antecedent happen. Remove the postman from view, don’t allow your dog access to you when you come home from work, put him in a crate so he doesn’t scratch the upholstery of a car.

Every time a dog performs a behaviour, he gets in practice and it could become a habit. You need to minimise opportunities for dogs to practice any type of behaviour you do not want to occur.


Instill Good Habits

Want your dog to rest quietly in their bed of an evening? Tether them near or crate them on ‘their spot’ for them to settle there. When you remove the physical restraints, the dog will have learnt to sleep in that spot simply because they haven’t had opportunities to sleep in other places.

Don’t want your dog to barge through the front door when you open it? Scatter treats as you open the door – your dog will never practice barging through the door. They’ve learnt to be slow and stay inside (where the treats rain from the sky), and so never get in the habit of barging through the door in the first place.

There are many more examples. Let your dog practice doing all the things you want. Set them up for success in practicing good habits. When you stuff up, the dog learns alternative and possibly less desirable behaviours – and it’s easy for these to become a bad habit.


Habits and toilet training

Through rescue, I have had a lot of dogs come in that are used to living as ‘outside dogs’, and have never been toilet trained. Almost all these dogs have been easily toilet trained with no or minimal accidents inside. Why is that? I would argue that they are in the habit of toileting outside – they may not even know it’s possible to empty their bladder or bowels inside because they’ve never had the opportunity. A good habit has been formed.

The first two weeks that you bring a new dog into your home is the best time to instil good habits, especially surrounding toilet training.  Many good habits can be formed by simply not allowing your dog or puppy to engage in bad toileting practices.

Ian Dunbar’s long term confinement area works on this principle. It prevents puppies from getting into the habit of toileting on carpet, tiles or floorboards by minimising opportunities for them to ‘get it wrong’.

However, there’s another upside to this – not only did you prevent the pup from learning the ‘bad habit’ of toileting on inside surfaces, they also learnt the ‘good habit’ of toileting on turf. It’s a win/win situation.


The moral of the story? Don’t let bad behaviours become habits!  Everytime a problem behaviour is practiced, it becomes part of the dogs’ behavioural repertoire.  Use management to break patterns of behaviour so they don’t become a bad habit.

Equally as important is to make sure your dog gets into good habits! Maximise the opportunities for your dog to practice behaviours you want.


Further reading:

When Management Succeeds

Ouch! Lead work


Teach Your Dog How To Love Your Baby

This article is designed to help you establish a strong and lasting relationship between the baby and the dog – a relationship that will last a lifetime. These steps are relevant to after you have already brought the baby home and the dog was introduced to the baby.

The trick is to make an association in the mind of the dog between the baby and good things that can happen. You are normally tempted to pet the dog a lot when the baby is asleep while pushing the pet away when the baby is awake. That is understandable but the opposite is actually a lot better.


Sleeping border terrier puppy.


Offering Treats At The Right Time

You want to teach the dog that when he/she is around the baby, good things happen: petting, playing, treats and so on. Feed the dog when you feed the baby and when you walk the dog, if possible, take the baby with you. When you apply this strategy, the dog basically starts to love it when the baby is active and awake.

The problem is that such multi-tasking is quite difficult. It is a lot easier when there are two adults that live in the same home. If that is not the case, you can still do a lot by simply holding the baby and talking to the dog, stroking him, offering treats and tossing balls.


Sometimes Ignoring The Dog Is Better

When the baby is not around, use some reversed psychology. Try to ignore the dog when that is the case and eventually the pet will start to eagerly appreciate the time when the baby is active.


You Need Some Quiet Time

Having a baby is time consuming and there are moments in which you want to make sure that you can tend to the child’s needs without being bothered by the dog. Have designer dog beds in the same room where you will feed your baby. Whenever it is time to give the baby a bottle, offer a treat to your dog and more rewards should be given when the dog just stays on the bed. Once every few minutes, throw a small treat so that the association between baby feeding time and treats on the bed is established.


Dealing With Baby Sounds

In most cases the dog will ignore the loud baby signs but there are circumstances in which the pet needs some help in order to get to that level. If you see that the dog is distressed when loud baby noises are heard, try to associate them with something that the dog loves. Once again, the treats work! When the baby cries or squeals, throw a treat! The dog will thus realize that the loud baby noises are not a signal that something is wrong.


Babies Grow Up

Even if the dog ends up loving the baby because of the perception that good things happen when the child is around, as the baby grows, things do change. He/she will start grabbing, poking and sometimes bother the dog. In order to establish a very good relationship between the two, you need to also continue paying attention to what happens as the baby becomes a toddler.


This is a sponsored guest post.


The Range of Imitation in Dogs

ResearchBlogging.orgThis is a brief review of the extensive work by German researcher Friederike Range, looking at imitation or modelling behaviour in dogs. Previously, I posted anecdotal evidence on modelling in dogs (which many people shared their experiences on). This post is more sciencey!

Border terrier and young woman running in large paddock with bushes behind them.

Dogs can imitate the behaviour of both dogs and people. Imitation success depends on a range of factors, including:

  • The task at hand, including its complexity, has a role in imitation.
  • If a human is modelling the behaviour, if they are talking, this can either help or hinder the dog’s modelling, depending on the task. Eye contact can also help (or hinder) a dog in a task. It can help, as it may illustrate to the dogs bits that it should pay particular attention to. However, it make hinder as it may distract the dog from the task at hand.
  • Training plays a role. Dogs that are ‘better trained’ are better at making deduction on behaviour from witnessing a model.
  • The dog’s individual personality.

Interestingly, dogs don’t ‘blindly model’ behaviour of other dogs. They will try to be more efficient, they will learn from the other model’s mistakes, and make adjustments based on particular circumstances. For example, if a dog witnesses the model dog carrying a ball and pushing a lever with its foot, the dog will imitate by pushing the lever with its mouth. The dog seems to realise the model dog used its foot because its mouth was occupied. However, if the model dog pushed the lever with its foot without anything in his mouth, the dog will imitate the foot-push. (Almost, the dog imitates superstitious behaviours.)

Fascinatingly, several dogs have been trained to imitate behaviour.  A dog called Joy was trained with the cue ‘Do it!’.  The experimenter would do one of eight behaviours, say ‘do it’, and Joy would then do the behaviour just demonstrated. After several weeks, they then asked Joy to ‘do’ a behaviour that the experimenter had never demonstrated behaviour. Joy did it. Joy understood the concept of ‘do what I do’. You can see more videos of dogs ‘doing it’.

The conclusions are: Yes, of course dogs model the behaviour of people and dogs. Indeed, they can be trained to do so. There is still a lot of research going on about all the facets of imitation, and it’s all truly fascinating. Definitely a space to watch.



Links of Interest

Do dogs imitate? by Patricia McConnell.

Dogs show human-like learning ability.

If you’re aggressive, your dog probably will be to.

Dogs automatically imitate people.



Huber, L, Range, F, Viranyi, Z & Voelkl, B 2008, ‘The evolution of imitation: Old wine in new bottles?’ (PDF).

Range, F., Heucke, S., Gruber, C., Konz, A., Huber, L., & Virányi, Z. (2009). The effect of ostensive cues on dogs’ performance in a manipulative social learning task Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 120 (3-4), 170-178 DOI: 10.1016/j.applanim.2009.05.012

Range, F., & Viranyi, Z. (2009). Different aspects of social learning in dogs Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 4 (6) DOI: 10.1016/j.jveb.2009.05.007

Range, F., Viranyi, Z., & Huber, L. (2007). Selective Imitation in Domestic Dogs Current Biology, 17 (10), 868-872 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2007.04.026

Szucsich, A, Range, F, Miklosi, A, Huber, L 2008, ‘Imitative ability of dogs‘.

Tiefenthaler, M, Range, F, & Huber, L 2008, ‘Personality in dogs and its influence on social learning behaviour‘.

Virányi, Z., & Range, F. (2009). How does ostensive communication influence social learning in dogs? Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 4 (2) DOI: 10.1016/j.jveb.2008.10.023

Viranyi, Z, Range, F, & Huber L 2008, ‘The influence of ostensive demonstration on selective imitation in dogs‘.