It sounds like such a cliche. Well, actually, it is a cliche. But here it is: Cancer changes you. Maybe it’s something about facing your own mortality (because, really, don’t we all feel invincible?) or maybe it’s just the perspective you gain from sorting important from trival. But something changes.
Now that I’m feeling like myself again, emerging from the fog of the last year, combined with a total reexamining and realigning of my priorities, I’m itching for change, for adventure. Perfect timing to move to a new part of the country, right?
I’m also taking a look around here, blowing the cobwebs off of some unused sections of this website, tweaking a few things here, deleting a few things there…
This site went live May 5, 2009! Four years of writing about all things dog. Can you believe it? My obsession with dogs hasn’t waned in that time… if anything, it’s grown!
So, putting those thoughts together led me to an overhaul to OhMyDog!
A few things:
First, I launched a whole new design! I’m still making a few behind-the-scenes tweaks, but I’m loving the direction. This is a precursor to someday getting a custom site, of course! What do you think?
Next, you have probably noticed that, on occasion, I post a Sponsored Post. These are posts that I charge for, and I’ve used that money to pay for the hosting and registration of this site. However, in trying to align more closely with my core values, I’ve decided to do two things to change the Sponsored Posts:
- raise my rates (!!) because
- those sponsored posts are going to pay for the sponsorship on an adoptable pit bull every month.
I haven’t picked specific dogs yet, or even specific shelters, so if you have suggestions please share! Most likely I’m going to start with the three different rescues where my boys all came from, but I’d love to hear other ideas. And, of course, I’ll be sharing the profile of the adoptable dog each month.
Also, what are you guys doing about the phase-out of Google Reader? I switched to Feedly, which transitioned super easily. However, if that’s not for you, I added in a few things that’ll make it easier to keep up with OMD! You can click on the RSS subscription button (upper right orange radio icon) or subscribe via email (the box right below the social icons on the right side). I wanted to make sure all that functionality was in place before Reader bites the dust… Incidentally, am I the only one who was horrified by that news?! I love Reader! Sigh…
And, finally, and this is the most important, I need to thank you. I can’t ever, ever, EVER express how much your comments, emails, FB messages, tweets, and good wishes have meant to me over this last year. Seriously. The community that we have is precious, thoughtful, vibrant, funny, and good. How lucky am I that I get to chat with you guys here, on social media, and – on those very lucky, very special occasions - in person?! You are fabulous, each and every one of you, and your dogs are so lucky to have you!
So, from the bottom of my heart: Thank you.
I clip on his backpack, load up my treat pouch, tuck the clicker in my pocket, and uncap the can of cheese. Cooper sits calmly by the back door, waiting for me to clip on his leash. It’s odd how calm he is before we start. As soon as we get outside, his head whips back and forth: Are there any intruders? He marches down the street, keeping step with my right ankle. Every time he looks at me, I squirt some cheese. We walk familiar paths. He does better if he knows the route. We pause in the park to train. Sits, downs, watch mes, and stays. He nails them all, of course, because no one else is around. We cut through a wooded path to a neighborhood shopping center. We emerge just as a construction worker walks out of the store on the corner. Cooper growls at the man until we’re past. We loop around the neighborhood one more time. By the time we’re in the home stretch, Cooper is panting. His tongue droops out of his mouth. He sprints up our porch, ready to reunite with his brothers. He’s happy and tired. At least for a little while.
A walk with Emmett is a thoughtful affair. He meanders along, pausing every few feet to bury his face in the grass to take long, deep sniffs. He doubles back: Did he miss something on that patch of dandelions? Or was it just too good to pass up a second smell? He looks up at me, his mouth open in a happy grin. His tail perks then wags furiously as we pass another pedestrian. Emmett treats his walks as friend-making adventures. And he draws people in with that smile, that wag. He stops, nose up in the air. He has to follow that enticing scent, so we change course. We saunter around the neighborhood, testing out new paths and rounding unfamiliar corners. By the time we get home, he’s sagging, dragging behind me with the leash trailing the ground. He’ll drink a bowlful of water, then he’ll find a comfy spot near a sunny window and curl up for a long, snorey snooze.
When the garage door goes up, Lucas bursts out. His tail is in the middle, swishing back and forth. A little whine gurgles in the back of his throat. His walk is the highlight of his day. Every single day. We turn left and head down the alley. He zig-zags left then right. His happy trot is more like a prance, and his ears perk out to the side as if to say, “What a lovely day for a jaunt!” We head down the main thoroughfare toward the park. It’s a wide open expanse where I can see in all directions, except for one blind spot that takes 20 seconds to cross. Because as much as Lucas loves walks, he hates seeing other dogs. And yet, he trots with a loose leash by my side. Even when a bunny darts across our path. Even when we come – unexpectedly – on a herd of deer grazing in the park’s flowerbed. He stops, sniffs, pees. He keeps his head up, ears perked, tail in the middle; all the while I’m watching for oncoming dogs so I can change course or shove the can of Easy Cheese in his mouth. We return home exhausted but in a good way. Lucas watches me put away his leash and the can of cheese, and his face says he can’t wait until tomorrow when we can walk together again.
I know. It doesn’t make sense. But I am really mad at Cooper.
I’m mad at him for being scared. Well, not for being scared per se but for the way he reacted while scared. I’m fully aware that me being mad is illogical. I know. I’m working on it.
It started out badly: We pulled up to the training facility. The owner’s dogs were out in her yard barking, but Cooper couldn’t see them through the fence. The neighbor’s dog was out barking, and Cooper could see him charging their fence. He jumped out of the car quivering, his tail tucked, his ears back. We walked into the facility. From the entrance you can’t see all the way into the room, and the trainer called a hello… and Cooper lost it. I mean, meltdown city. Piloerected (aka hackles up), tail tucked, defensive barking and snarling. The works.
So the trainer suggested we move outside to the agility area. That made perfect sense. We would move from an enclosed weird-smelling dark space to the open air outside. But going through the door proved to be a challenge when he opened it for us and Cooper had to skitter past him to get outside. Coop whirled around and let loose another torrent of barks, snaps, and snarls.
Not a good start to our first of four private agility sessions.
We started agility a while ago in a group class at another facility, and – for the most part – it went well. By the end of those sessions, the trainer (a woman, which I think is relevant here) noted how much more confident he was. In a room with several other dogs and their people (aka strangers), he was able to complete a short course off leash.
So I thought a private session at an outdoor facility would be just the thing to continue our progress! Right?
Here’s the thing: He did GREAT on the obstacles. In our previous class, we never tackled the weave poles. By the end of this class, he had a good sense of what to do. He got the dog walk, the tire jump, the pause box. He leapt over jumps, and he sailed through mini-courses.
But in between every single obstacle (every. single. obstacle.), he went off on the trainer who, bless his heart, kept a big smile on his face and stood on the opposite side of the field the entire time. In between weaving, Coop would whip his head around, bark ferociously, then weave around the next pole. On the one hand, it was quite the multitasking. On the other hand…
I don’t know, guys. Prior to the whole year-off cancer situation, Cooper and I had done a lot of training – classes, both private and group, in addition to stuff around the neighborhood – to work on his fears. We made progress. I knew the last year set him back. I just had no idea how far.
Turns out: Faaaaaarrrrrrr.
I think some of the contributing factors were the new location, the greeting from the barking dogs, the trainer startling him with the hello, the fact that the trainer was male, and this was our first real foray into training (outside of neighborhood walks) since he surgically attached himself to my ankle and named himself my sole protector during cancer treatment.
And I’m so mad. Not really at Cooper, I guess, but at the situation. I feel sad that he’s just so scared all the time and that the progress we made has been wiped away and that we’re further behind than where we started from.
Anyway, how about you? Ever have an illogical (though perhaps perfectly justified) emotional response to your dog’s behavior? Has your dog ever lost it in a training scenario? Tempted to sit down and weep but you couldn’t because you were leading him through weave poles? (Maybe that last one is just me…)
I’m dreaming of a giant antler
With every antler knob I chew
May your chew toys be gnawy and tough
And may all your antlers be giant
Over a year ago, Kurgo so generously sent us backpacks for the boys to test out on a hike. I wrote about our experience hiking with the Kurgo backpacks then. Lately, though, the Kurgo pack has been getting a lot of use on our neighborhood walks.
Cooper is an ok walker. He prefers to be a little bit ahead of me, which I’m fine with as long as he isn’t pulling. But the real issue is that he’s jumpy. He’s a “nervous Nellie” in general, and when we’re out and about, his head is swiveling from side to side, scanning his surroundings. He periodically tenses up and freezes. It makes for a very disjointed walk.
But, really, it’s not his fault. I haven’t worked on his walking over the past year, so now that we’re back on track, I’m focused on improving his confidence and his skills.
The first step? Getting him to work hard on our walks!
I put a 2-pound handweight in each of the saddlebags. That 4-pound total is 10% of his body weight. Honestly, it’s like a total transformation: As soon as I clip the bag on his back, his mindset changes. He becomes way more focused and way less jumpy. His walking becomes more fluid.
We also work on his attention. We stop at every street corner for a “sit” and a “watch me” before we cross. I take my trusty can of Easy Cheese, and he gets a steady stream whenever he looks at me, especially when there are dogs/people/bikes going by.
We’re definitely making progress.
The only problem? He won’t poop with the backpack on. Maybe it shifts uncomfortably when he gets in position? Maybe he’s too focused on his “job” to think about his “business”? But, I guess if that’s the only problem we’ve encountered so far, we’re in pretty good shape!
Have you tried a backpack on your walks? What tools or equipment help to improve your walks?
… or, er, I mean the dogs align… and you get that perfect picture!
Have a great weekend!
Years of the same behavior being reinforced over and over and over again. Lucas thinks, If I bark and lunge and snarl at this oncoming dog, he’ll leave me alone! And it works, time and time again, and now his mind equates his particular crazed response to successfully getting a potentially dangerous dog (in his mind) to go away.
Turns out, I have my owned conditioned response that I need to change.
Lucas loves doggy daycare. LOVES. In fact, they describe him as “pumped” to be there. However, the lobby is a charged zone for him. I wait in the car until we’re the only clients there, then I take him in.
This morning, just as we walked in, the receptionist’s dog burst out from behind the counter.
Here’s where hindsight helps: I should have, in the moment, noticed that Lucas’ tail was in a neutral position. His fur wasn’t up. His body wasn’t tense. In fact, in that split second, he really didn’t react at all.
I, on the other hand, resorted to my conditioned response. I yanked him to my side and stepped in front of him.
And then he reacted, lunging and snarling.
Driving home, I thought through the scenario a dozen times. I’m fairly sure that if I hadn’t done anything, if I had let it play out, Lucas would have been fine. I can’t know for certain, of course, but he wasn’t showing his usual signs.
So it looks like both of us have a conditioned response that needs to change.
But in class he’s doing phenomenally well. He’s responsive. He keeps his attention on
Easy Cheese me. He cries for the entire hour, earning him the nickname “whiny face” from the trainer… but other than that, I couldn’t ask for a better experience so far.
That being said,a part of me is a little concerned that Lucas is smart enough to know that we’re “training.” That in this room, a controlled environment, he’s going to get a facefull of cheese for paying attention to me, so why not? Will it carry over into the real world? I’m not willing to test it yet. On our walk yesterday, we spotted no less than 6 other dogs, and each time I changed course, not ready to test our progress yet.
So I guess as class progresses and he keeps learning and doing well, will his positive progress be enough of a positive reinforcer to me to change my conditioning?
Have you experienced anything like this? Does your dog’s behavior change your behavior and, thus, the outcome of a particular situation? Any magic formula for getting the confidence to change?
Happy Earth Day, everyone!
On Earth Day 1990, my school handed out tiny saplings, no more than a few inches high, in paper Dixie cups. My dad let me plant it in the far corner of our backyard. I’m sure he expected it to die, but here we are 23 years later and that sapling is the evergreen you see framing the left side of this pic:
Little things matter. Over time, the littlest things can become big things, like this tree. So in honor of Earth Day, here are a few simple things you can do to green your pet-care routine:
- After a grooming session, collect all that fur. Instead of stuffing it in the trash, place the fur in a basket outside. Birds will flock to gather up that prime nest-building material.
- Imagine, thousands of years from now, anthropologists of the future will dig through our landfills to find evidence of our culture. What will they discover? Millions of (non-degraded) tied-tight plastic bags. Of course! they think. Our ancestors saved their most prized possessions in these bags to last for eternity! What’s inside? What can it be? They carefully unwrap the bags to discover… perfectly preserved dog poop. Switch to biodegradable poop bags so that the bag and the poop can degrade.
- If your local pet supply store has a “treat bar,” purchase a range of treats in bulk instead of lots of packages of several kinds of treats. You’ll be cutting down on the enormous amount of packaging you receive (especially if you bring your own bag).
- When it comes to eco-friendly pet care, an often-overlooked area is home maintenance. You have to clean your house, right? I am constantly cleaning noseprints off of windows, sweeping dog fur off of every flat surface, and wiping up huge quantities of dust/dander/mud. Instead of purchasing chemical-laden cleaning products that aren’t good for your pet or the planet, use non-toxic cleaners like baking soda and vinegar. (Click for Green Cleaning Recipes). Bonus: Baking soda makes a great dry shampoo for your pup, too! Just massage it into his fur, then brush out thoroughly.
Those are a few of my ideas to green my pet-care routine. Any other thoughts or suggestions? What little steps do you (or your dog!) take to be a little more eco-friendly?
Editor’s Note: This is a paid, sponsored post. All views expressed are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect those of OMD!
Having been told that my dog Flash was overweight, I was tasked to take him home and get him fit. Much easier said than done considering he was the world’s least obedient dog as well as the laziest. The only thing that got him up and moving was the sound of his dog bowl being filled. My vet recommended using a diet dog food for him to ensure that his calorie intake was not too high, but she did stress that the best way for him to lose and maintain weight loss was to up his activity levels.
Flash has never lived up to his name. When I got (a three-year-old rescue dog) he was already overweight and was not a fan of being taken for walks or running around. I drag him out twice a day for exercise, but it is a case of me forcing him off the sofa and out of the door and heaving him around the field. He is no fitter but my arm muscles are superb.
I decided to invest in a dog training course to see if an instructor could offer some pearls of wisdom as to how to get Flash out and enjoying himself running about. She took on the challenge and proceeded to try and entice Flash into sitting and walking with a variety of toys and shouts. The attempts fell on deaf ears so we decided to resort to bribing him with food. I was hesitant about this due to his diet, but the instructor suggested taking his bribery food (or treats as they were known) out of his daily kibble allowance so not increasing his calorie intake and still being able to use food to entice him into shifting himself.
As Flash loves his food, even the diet food has been a massive success. I was optimistic that it would work and true to form Flash followed the instructor and her kibble everywhere we went. We did some shuttle runs leaving a treat at each turn. We did a biscuit crumbs trick, which we looped across a long course; the trick was to set it up whilst he was not looking then allow him to hunt for the treats. This trick can’t really be done out on a walk but, I have found it a great way to get him to play in the garden. He will now even run and fetch a ball if it means getting a treat at the end of it. I have also invested in a Kong ball which you hide his food so he has to push the ball about to release the food, no more sitting and munching for this boy!
When you love a reactive dog, you expend an enormous amount of effort “managing” situations. It becomes second nature. I don’t even think twice about sitting in the car in the parking lot of doggy daycare waiting for everyone else to drop off ahead of us, then dashing out the moment the lot clears so I can get Lucas in without encountering a dog in the lobby. (Of course, once inside – and off leash – he’s happy and playful. Which is so frustrating.)
When it starts to rain, my first thought isn’t, “Ugh. Walking dogs in the rain.” My first thought is, “Great! I can walk Lucas without encountering anyone else!”
And the zig-zagging, circuitous routes we take so that we don’t cross paths with anyone else? Totally normal! Right?
But the reality is, we have come so far with Lucas since the early days when he would hit the floor when we turned on the television or rustled a plastic bag or – horror! – a bike whizzed past us.
He navigates life pretty well these days with two big exceptions: His leash reactivity and his massive barking-fit-meltdowns-throw-himself-into-the-window when a dog dares to walk past our house. And, really, the two are the same thing.
Until recently, until he tried to bite someone, my goal was simply management. Walk at weird times of day or in bad weather. Stick to the loop around the park so I could see in all directions around us and change course as needed. Keep the blinds closed in the front of the house. Restrict his access to the front room when I’m not home. And so on.
But, as he demonstrated, that’s not enough.
We need to actively work on this reactivity for his safety.
So! I signed us up for a Reactive Dog training course. I’ll fill you in on our progress as we work through the course, but here’s what’s happened so far:
Week 1 was people only, no dogs allowed. We talked about reactivity and how important it is to understand that most reactivity is rooted in fear – something we’ve known about Lucas since day one.
We also talked about the behaviors that are critical to master with a reactive dog – specifically, a good “heel” and a super solid “watch me.” The idea is that when you encounter your dog’s trigger (in his case, other dogs), you get your dog right next to you and looking up at your face. That prevents your dog from focusing on the trigger and – ideally – keeps him from reacting.
Sounds simple, right?
Both of these behaviors are fairly good with Lucas, but after week one I realized they’re nowhere near good enough. I’ve been practicing with him in the backyard a little bit every day. In a couple weeks I hope to move that training to the park. I don’t want to risk pushing him too far too fast, but I do feel we’re making progress.
Since this post is getting a little long, I’ll stop here for now. More on our progress to come. Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s starting to rain. I better get Lucas walking!