Scenting for the Future

The sense of smell (or olfaction) is recognised as a very primitive senses which has a strong emotional involvement in pleasure or aversion. As humans our other senses eventually become more dominant as our sight, sound and touch senses become more proficient. However we still retain the ability to recall memories from our previous exposure to different smells. I know myself having attended the Lockerbie disaster with my search dogs the smell of aviation fuel brings back the memories of that time. The smell of garlic in early June in woodlands has a similar recall due to a tragic find one of my search dogs made many years ago. Our dogs also have the ability to associate odours to events which can have a significant impact on their behaviour and responses.

Certain odours can have a very definite effect on behaviour in dogs. We all see in our dogs the effects of body secretions, such as the smell of urine that other dogs have left on trees and posts and the need for our dogs to mark these locations.  Male dogs also show a significant interest in the blood discharge of a passing female in season. When we go for our morning walk Drifter shows great interest in the night time activity of the wild life such as badgers, hedgehogs and other nocturnal mammals that have passed down the lane.


Puppies get significant levels of mental stimulation through their olfactory system as do adult dogs. Giving puppies the opportunity to problem solve by hiding toys and treats around the house and garden helps their mental development. Laying food trails at feeding time can also be a fun event in a puppies day with the food bowl hidden at the end of the food trail. It also helps to develop relationships and is play without high levels of excitement which can lead to unwanted behaviours.

Drifter from eight weeks has enjoyed scent games and this has led to him being able to discriminate between different humans scents at eight months of age. (see his video at Denwyn Drifter Border-Collie on Facebook). This training has been in preparation for his future as a SAR dog, but is an enjoyable exercise and extremely stimulating for any young dog.

There are even more subtle effects that smell has on behaviour. Studies have shown that the release by other dogs of pheromones, chemical communicators similar to hormones can have a considerable impact on dog behaviour. We cannot due to our poor sense of smell identify these communicators, but for our dogs these occur at a subconscious level triggering a reaction by our dogs towards other dogs caused by the chemical secretions the other dog releases. This would suggest a reason why sometimes our dogs react differently to different dogs.

Drifter is now nearly nine months old and as he has enjoyed exposure to other dogs and numerous humans since he was eight weeks old he is beginning to have a measured response towards different dogs and humans rather than a generalised response to the particular species. Until recently he would rush up to people and dogs in what was at times an inappropriate manner. If we were not quick enough in anticipating his reactions some adult dogs would growl to express their view that his approach was not appropriate canine etiquette, his response being to move away and find another interest. We have ensured that these encounters were only with dogs we knew and had good socialisation skills being forgiving of the behaviours of young puppies. Exposing him to unknown dogs would have been irresponsible and could easily have led to him developing an aggressive response to other dogs.


Drifter has built up a library of experiences that has allowed him to understand through the body language and the chemical secretions of other dogs how they will respond to him. With this more controlled and measured response we now find it much easier to call him away from other dogs helping significantly in his preparation for the stock and obedience test to train as a search and rescue dog.

Searching for the Future

Lying curled at my feet as I write this with that innate ability as he stares into my eyes to bare his soul is my friend and companion Drifter. Wherever I am so is he, if he is tired he lays on my foot to sleep as he has learnt I cannot go anywhere without it. If he is worried he comes back and sits by my side leaning against my leg with one ear up and one ear curled down. Life must be a little difficult for him, on the one hand having developed this close relationship and at the same time having that need to develop an independent aspect to life that his natural development dictates.


Drifter has come through the juvenile stage of development and it is evident from his behaviour that he is now entering the adolescence phase of growing up. His environmental awareness has continued to develop but at the same time he has stayed close by and his independent exploration has remained within familiar environments.


We have continued to introduce him to new experiences but have noticed in the last couple of weeks he has become wary of some encounters particularly some unfamiliar dogs but at the same time can be overconfident with others. We have noticed that he will vocalise towards dogs that stare at him and his body language would suggest he can be anxious towards these encounters. In these situations I guide him gently away to increase the distance and focus him onto me. Those dogs he has a positive reaction to with the owners permission I allow to meet. I check all the time for changes in body language that may suggest there could be tears before bedtime. If Drifter becomes over aroused and starts jumping at the other dog I move him away and when he becomes calmer let him interact again. He is already learning that jumping over the other dog or pawing them inappropriately means he is moved away.

He enjoys his training and his basic obedience is good. Over the last couple of weeks with him perhaps becoming less reliant on us he does become more easily distracted but this is probably more to do with adolescent independence than the quality of training, well we like to think so!! We do expect the next period to be the most difficult but with keeping his mind occupied with new learning experiences we should get through this period reasonably unscathed.


We have noticed in the last couple of weeks that he has become worried at twilight and after dark particularly to the flickering lights of a camp fire or shadows. I have started to play with him and reward at this time of day and things are much improved in familiar environments and we are now going to adopt the same approach in umfamiliar environments. Learning with Drifter often has me question some of my understanding of puppy development. The behaviours we observe suggest Drifter is entering the second fear/anxiety stage of his development and it is less about adolescence. Is his failure to respond to commands at times caused more by him being uncomfortable and worried about the environment that they occur in than the independence of adolescence??  These observations have taken place at eight months.




Learning Life Skills.

Drifter did not arrive with an inbuilt set of rules about how to behave in the world. Life must have been confusing at times as he has developed and his interest has grown in different aspects of the world that surrounds him. Finding positive ways for him to learn not only makes learning life skills fun but also builds our relationship with him.

The aim is to encourage good behaviour and prevent bad behaviours by not placing him in situations where the temptation to sin is too great. We have always been looking at introducing Drifter to situations where he naturally adopts the behaviours we find acceptable and rewarding him for this. What is more difficult is not placing him in situations where we can be setting him up to fail. This can be leaving stuff around we do not want him to touch or putting him in situations where he shows behaviours that we would not want to encourage him to show as an adult. We seem to spend our lives thinking ahead and anticipating what Drifter will do when faced with the day to day experiences of life.

Not exposing him to situations where he can sin is great in theory. We could achieve this if we could totally focus on him for every waking minute of the day, but in practice this is not possible, and sometimes we will fail to meet the ideal.

Besides all the positive reward based sounds he hears from us, and not lets not forget he only understands the sounds and builds an association to these. The sound and tone of good boy means we are happy with him and a stroke or treat is around the corner which encourages him to repeat the behaviour.

He also needs to understand that some of his intentions or behaviours are unacceptable or potentially down right dangerous. I suppose you could say we have failed in some way in that he has found himself in this situation, but this will happen in life as he learns about the world.


Drifter has learnt three tones that help him to understand that either his intention or behaviour is unacceptable. These are used when we either anticipate, observe, or want him to change his behaviour. These tones are delivered quietly, we do not need to shout he has exceptionally good hearing! Our tones are (“ah”) used when we anticipate his intention to do something that we want to discourage or is unacceptable, (“leave it”) he has something we do not want him to have or he intends picking something up that is unacceptable or potentially dangerous, (“that’ll do”) This is his off switch yes he has an off switch that we use after play or other exciting times.

These tones are followed by praise/reward when he looks towards us or he receives something that is acceptable to play with.

If we are on the beach we do not always want him to run off to other dogs or people. If he looks up at approaching people or dogs a quick “ah” focuses his attention on us and we can then either give him permission to go over or distract him to play with us.

He is learning very quickly what is acceptable and what is not but every event has a positive outcome and learning is always fun, even when we get it wrong!

Drifter’s favourite toy is a empty milk container which he pushes and chases around the grass. Looking out the window I can see it is play time!

A morning of Fun and Play

Drifter had a morning of fun and play with his friend Tosca. Is was lovely to watch the two puppies having fun but also learning the social skills they will need in life. Both puppies are of similar size so make ideal play mates.

We monitored the play carefully and made sure it was appropriate and we did not get into a situation of “leaving them to sort it out between them”. Appropriate play is self monitoring and balanced. Playing chase is a sharing experience with both dogs taking turns. They both played really well but we were looking to ensure neither of the puppies were looking for somewhere to hide to get away from the encounter or deferring to us to get away. If this had happened we would have stopped the game.

If play is not monitored you can end up with situations where you are encouraging one  dog to be a bully and the other a victim. This will have serious implications as both dogs mature on the way they interact and respond to other dogs.

After a while both dogs started to become tired so they were both encouraged to settle. This gave us the opportunity to  chat and have coffee in the sun.



Some thoughts on planning a puppy play time.

Dogs are socially obligate and play can form an important part of a dogs life. But play is an emotional encounter and with every puppy being different consideration needs to be given as to levels and benefits of play. What may be appropriate for a confident puppy may need much more thought as to the way play should be approached for a more nervous puppy.

With play being an emotional encounter between puppies the predominate emotion will be one of pleasurable play. It needs to be consider however that in play if an individuals expectation cannot be met then frustration can be triggered. If good communication between both puppies cannot be maintained then fear and anxiety can be created and this can have a profound effect on the emotional outcome of play and future encounters.

Play undoubtedly is a positive experience for puppies. It provides an appropriate outlet for physical energy and also for mental stimulation. However it is overly simplistic to suggest that putting to puppies together and letting them get on with it is of a benefit to any puppies well-being.




Keeping up with Drifter

In the last few weeks Drifter has continued to experience and enjoy a wide variety of situations and environments. We have been making the most of this critical time for socialisation before the fear of novel experiences begins to outweigh the interest in new activities. Play has become a strong emotional need in his life, finding new and mentally stimulating games to play with him has been both fun and satisfying.

We have noticed chewing and mouthing behaviours becoming more common in recent weeks, these natural behaviours facilitate teething and aids environmental exploration. We are making sure that appropriate chew toys are available so his needs can be directed onto these.


Over the last few weeks Sue has been doing some training with Drifter and she has taught him to sit, wait, lay down, “leave it” and he is starting to walk on a loose lead. Early stages but we are already getting a positive response to his daily training.

As Drifter matures he is now becoming better able to concentrate and learn. At this age he has a strong willingness to please and in the coming weeks we will make sure we use this to the full to aid his learning and training. Next week we will be starting puppy classes so he begins to learn with distractions and further develop his social skills. He continues to amaze us in his ability to learn and adapt to life.

Having Fun Socialising with Drifter

We have noticed some subtle changes in Drifters behaviour over the last week. From Week 6 to Week 8 he enjoyed individual attention and his mental development rate  increased along with the complexity of his environment. Being a confident puppy he coped well with a variety of noises, sounds, differing environments and novel events. He has remained very much the thinker, something that originally drew him to me. He evaluates situations then moves forward to investigate, but throughout this period kept a very close attachment to us.

He is a clever boy and has learnt to sit for his food and treats. He has also learnt a degree of impulse control, waiting in the sit position for a very short period of time before receiving his food and treats. He has learnt what “ah” means, which signals unacceptable behaviours such as mouthing and other such minor infringements that occur in a young puppies life.

Drifter chilling out in the Flat White  Cafe
Drifter socialising at the Flat White Cafe, Colwyn Bay

In the last week Drifter has started to explore further afield showing greater interest in new activities, although any uncertainty and and he comes back to us. Last night a pheasant took flight in the bottom field and he came running back to me. After a short time he went over to investigate where the noise had come from. I followed him over praising him as reassurance and rewarding his interest.

We have noticed Drifter now has a greater need for mental stimulation. If he thinks we are not meeting this need he goes off and designs his own activity. This is not always an  activity we find acceptable such as stealing logs, shoes, towels, or anything else he can stash behind the settee which he thinks we can’t get to. We distract him onto an activity that is acceptable while we plan new games. We are increasing  the complexity of the mentally stimulating tasks which he really enjoys and learns very quickly. He is beginning to learn to search for his toys and we have started to introduce the “find” word. Play has become much more important to him and we are having to find more innovating ways to meet this, he really loves to play with anyone that has the time.

As part of puppy life he is learning what is acceptable and what is not. At present we are working on reducing and inhibiting his play biting. We are doing this by diverting this natural behaviour onto his chew toys.

With his growing confidence he is sometimes ignoring signals from our other dogs when they have had enough. If he does not learn to respond to these low level signals as he gets older he could find other adult dogs will not be so forgiving. When this occurs he is excluded in his puppy pen for a short period (one or two minutes) then let out again, this seems to work and is something we will continue to work. We want to ensure he adopts the correct etiquette to signals from other dogs.

Penrhyn Road Socialisation
Drifter out and about in Colwyn Bay

We have continued his socialisation and today took him for coffee and cake to a local dog friendly cafe (the coffee and cake we had to explain to him was for us). As we sat down he saw another dog under the table opposite but as this was a new environment he snuggled down into my arms and just soaked in everything that was going on around him.

We then took him to the Colwyn Centre and he got lots of attention from people of all ages as we walked through the Centre. As he has only had is first vaccination we carried him around in our arms. The Guide Dogs for the Blind were having a collection day in the Colwyn Centre and there were a number of Guide Dogs in the Centre. This was a brilliant opportunity for us. We knew these dogs would be healthy, vaccinated, and of excellent temperament.  I kept him in my arms and introduced to the Guide Dogs and he was friendly but also very respectful to what were unfamiliar dogs to him.

Colwyn Centre Socialisation
Drifter meeting new people at the Colwyn Centre

New experiences are mentally tiring for a young puppy and when we got home he went into is puppy pen by the wood burner climbed into his bed and has now been asleep for quiet some time. “Puppy Peace”.

Drifter continues to surprise us at the speed he learns and how well he adapts to new situations and experiences. His interactions with everyone he met today made us proud to say he was our puppy.

We have now just got to keep up with the speed of development!!! But all good fun and enjoyable.



One Week On

We are through our first week with Drifter. Although he could not have his first vaccination until today we have already started his socialisation and introducing him to new situations, objects, and events. We have done this by carrying him around with us but staying away from areas that are frequented by dogs such as parks and the beaches. We have developed a structure to his daily activities so there is a degree of consistency to his life. This allows him to predict daily events and helps reduce any anxiety he may experience to new and novel events at home in the future.

Drifter and Henry
  Waiting for the rubber ring to be thrown.


He has found a preferred area to toilet in the garden so we carry him to this area and praise him when he goes, then we go into play mode. He is exploring outside using all his senses. He explores taste and textures by picking up moss, leafs, twigs, and grass. We supervise what he picks up and give him time to evaluate their taste and texture. After a moment or two he generally discards them and goes searching for more interesting items. He rarely attempts to swallow these items as it is all part of learning about his environment. On the odd occasions he appears to prepare to ingest an item we approach with a treat, hold it by his nose and he tends to drop it and take the treat. If he begins to associate us approaching with taking away the object it will only add value to the object. This creates the risk that he will run away ingesting it as he goes. Offering him a treat starts to build a more positive association with our approach which will aid future training in many contexts.

Puppy Drifter
Puppy Drifter Eight Weeks

Socialisation is the most important part of any puppies development. We have found Drifter is already responding to signals from other dogs and animals. He tends to ignore the cat but on the couple of occasions he has approached the cat in his collie stance the cat has signalled to him this is not a good idea and he has taken two paws back and wandered off in another direction. He follows our old collie around but Henry only has to give him the look when he has had enough and Drifter drifts off in another direction.

Puppy Drifter 2
Waiting to chase Henry chasing the rubber ring


I discussed with our vet today Drifters current vaccination status and the best way in the coming weeks to further his socialise. Our vet has a very good understanding of the importance of socialisation and has agreed there is minimal risk to increased levels of exposure to healthy vaccinated dogs with good social skills. In the coming weeks we will be visiting friends with dogs that can meet this criteria.

Puppy Drifter 1
Drifter our Puppy

Our first week with Drifter has more than met all our expectations. He has now settled at night and travels well in his crate in the car. He is a confident puppy that loves the attention of humans and enjoys learning.