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Pet Blogger Challenge 2015

Today is the 5th annual Pet Blogger Challenge, hosted by GoPetFriendly.com. I’ve participated in the past and always appreciate the opportunity to stop and think through what’s going on around here! Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day, especially with a million other things going on outside the blog, that I really love this chance to reflect. I re-read last year’s as a starting point, which was interesting to see what has changed… and what hasn’t. So, without further rambling, here we go!

Pet Blogger Challenge Jan. 10

1. How long have you been blogging? And, for anyone stopping by for the first time, please give us a quick description of what your blog is about.

I started in May 2009 – my, how time flies! I blog about dog-related topics – like training, health, animal welfare, pit bull advocacy, dog food, DIYs, etc. – all from the perspective of things that my dogs and I are experiencing together. Everything comes from the context of Emmett, Lucas, and Cooper.

2. Tell us one thing that you accomplished on your blog during 2014 that made you proud.

Chronicling Emmett’s road trip and bucket list! I’m proud that I was able to do all that for him – and plan on doing even more in 2015 – and it was a blast to take everyone on that journey.

3. What lessons have you learned this year – from other blogs, or through your own experience – that could help us all with our own blogs?

It’s nearly impossible to “do it all.” I started reading a handful of non-pet blogs this past year, and I realized that many of them pick a couple social media platforms to focus on and only dabble, if at all, in the rest. It’s tough, I think, for pet bloggers because we want to be everywhere and do everything. Our community is huge and so supportive, so you want to connect everywhere. It’s just not possible. Writing great content needs to be the cornerstone, but then figure out what platforms serve you best and focus on those!

4. What have you found to be the most successful way to bring traffic to your blog, other than by writing great content?

Without a doubt, participating in social media. It’s tough to find the time to keep up with all the platforms (see answer #3), but it’s worthwhile for sure.

5. What was your most popular blog post this year? Did it surprise you that it was your most popular?

Of everything I wrote in 2014, the most trafficked posts were the ones I wrote during “Bark Week.” Apparently lots of people struggle with barking issues! I actually plan to revisit those topics sometime this year because we’ve had to tweak our training methods since Cooper’s belly isn’t tolerating most treats right now. Also, the update posts about Emmett and his oncology appointments have been really popular, too, which touches my heart in a way that you guys could not imagine. I’m incredibly, immeasurably grateful for that.

Interestingly, though, my two most visited posts of the year were ones from 2012 and 2013: Idiopathic Head Tremors and the IHT guest post. I get emails about those two posts weekly. It finally dawned on me (yeah, I’m a little slow) that I should start addressing all the questions I keep getting in some new posts. Look for a few updated IHT posts in 2015!

6. What was your favorite blog post to write this year?

My letter to Molly on the day she went to her forever home. Dang, it was hard to write. I had to pause every few sentences to wipe tears from my eyes – heck, rereading it now made me tear up again! – but it was also so joyful. We fostered her for eight months, so she felt like part of our family. Heading to her forever home was the best possible outcome for her, of course, but man. It was hard. I think this was my favorite because it felt like a good way to close the Molly Chapter.

7. Has your policy on product reviews and/or giveaways changed this year?

It didn’t change in 2014, but I am making some sweeping changes in 2015. In fact, I’m in the process of drafting those revisions to update my PR page this month. I really enjoy doing reviews paired with giveaways because the pet product market is so VAST that it’s hard to know what’s worth your hard-earned dollars! However, I faced a number of really frustrating challenges this past year that I need to address going forward.

If you do reviews, what do you find works best, and what doesn’t work at all?

I’m still trying to figure all this out. What doesn’t work, at least not for me, is a straight product review without a paired giveaway. The engagement is just too low to make it worthwhile. I’m trying to find a way to make the giveaways more fun – maybe photo contests or something – than just simply filling out a widget. I’ve also had a lot of luck doing “private” reviews and giveaways through my newsletter; only subscribers get in on those opportunities, and it’s worked well for brands because it’s a more “exclusive” list. But, as I mentioned in part one of this question, I had a ton of big challenges with reviews/giveaways in 2014, especially with the holiday gift guide, so I’m striving to fix those going forward.

8. What’s your best piece of advice for other bloggers?

Be you!! Seriously strive to be authentic with every post, tweet, and status update. Readers can tell when you’re faking it or being insincere. Being authentic attracts and, more importantly, retains readers! I’m really excited that I get to talk about this topic at BlogPaws this year because I believe in it so wholeheartedly. Craft your posts so that your readers feel like they’re talking to YOU! This is such a personal platform. Expressing your authentic self is vital for success!

9. What goals do you have for your blog in 2015?

  1. A new design: This was a goal for last year, but with all of Emmett’s cancer stuff, it just wasn’t in the budget. I’ve set aside some money for it this year and will be working with a WordPress designer to create a site that reflects my vision!
  2. A regular posting schedule: Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. All year. That’s the goal!
  3. Send tons of “value-added” content in my monthly newsletter; make it a joy for readers to open!
  4. This is more of a personal goal, but it’s related: Develop a thicker skin.
  5. Improve the photography: I don’t have a camera, so I either need to learn how to use my cell phone better or, gulp, invest in a camera.

10. If you could ask the pet blogging community for help with one challenge you’re having with your blog, what would it be?

This is hard to articulate – which is EXACTLY why I need help – ha! So, I get so many emails every week asking all sorts of questions about training specific behaviors I’ve written about, or millions of questions about Cooper’s diet (especially now that we’re homecooking for him), questions about how to introduce a new dog to existing dogs, questions about head tremors and allergies and how to start a blog and so on. Recently I realized (again, a little slow here) that I’m spending more than an hour each week answering question emails that come from the blog. Which I’ll continue to do, of course, but I’m really seriously debating creating some online/e-course offerings about some of the most requested topics. I guess my question is… would anyone even enroll in those? Would it be better to just do a series of FAQ-style posts and direct emailers there? Or could a series of courses provide enough value? I’d LOVE any input!!!

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Whew! Thanks to our friends at GoPetFriendly.com for hosting this event again this year! I plan on spending chunks of time over the weekend reading through all the other responses – I always learn SO MUCH from reading everyone else’s insights. Can’t wait!

Pet Bloggers Gift Exchange: 25castleson25clouds

Every year, the phenomenal Pamela of Something Wagging hosts the Pet Blogger’s Gift Exchange, which is a kindness trade among folks who share the same passion. Incredible, right? I’ve loved participating in years past and have made so many new friends through this annual event.

This year is no different, though I am woefully behind on my post.

So, without making this any later, please meet Lauranne!

I’m thrilled that I finally got the chance to encounter her and her blog through the exchange. As soon as I clicked over, I was enchanted.  Lauranne’s blog is in the personal diary style I so love. She writes from the heart, and you get a real feel for her lovely, caring personality. After reading a handful of posts, I found myself absolutely amazed: She is SO brave, navigating a significant breakup, sharing custody of her sweet pup with her ex, and venturing into the online dating world.

I need to veer off topic for a second here. Twice, TWO TIMES, online dating fellas have texted her pics of their privates. What is wrong with people?! In what reality do they think that’s even slightly ok?! Personally, I think Lauranne should reply with a note to the effect of “sorry, too small for a second date” and something like this:

Whoopsie

Anyway. See what I mean? Brave! And so honest. This post brought tears to my eyes.

Onto her dog! BD is the pup she shares custody with her ex, which I can’t even begin to imagine how difficult that must be. But, of course, BD speaks to my heart. He struggles with fear aggression, which was exacerbated by an unprovoked attack. I so relate to Lauranne’s analysis of BD’s behavior and how to best approach him. I tend to over-think every aspect of Lukey’s and Cooper’s behavior. I love how she considers it from every angle. Two to check out: Causing Extra Stress and He’s not friendly. I empathize so much with her feelings in both of those posts and think she and I need to discuss over a glass of wine!

Definitely go check out her blog, but I warn you: Once you start reading, her voice will capture you! You’ll find yourself poking through her archives to catch up on the story – and I guarantee you’ll be thoroughly impressed with Lauranne!

(Quick note to Lauranne: Please, please, pretty please update us on the rabbit situation! I’m dying!)

The Pets of Global Pet Expo

Oh, man, you guys. I am beat!

As most of you know, I work from home, so in a typical week, I talk on the phone a handful of times and chat with John in the evenings… nothing like the marathon four-day talk-a-thon that is Global Pet Expo. My throat is only now recovering! Also, I had to wear “work” clothes versus my usual work outfit (yoga pants + t-shirt). How bizarre to go four whole days without getting covered in pet hair!

I’m putting together a recap of some of the products and trends I spotted, but I first wanted to share the pets of Global Pet Expo.

Animal Planet had a mini-Puppy Bowl with adoptable tiny pups! I could’ve spent the entire time watching the little tykes wrestle and nap. The great news is that many of them found homes, one even purportedly went home with the Today Show’s Jill Rappaport.

Puppy Bowl

Then, I met a mastiff, and he weighed 175 pounds! His person told me that he’d reached his full height, but “still had some filling out to do.” Woah.

Mastiff

One of the things that was great about the Expo was that many booths hosted adoptable pets from area shelters. There were puppies, kittens, and ferrets finding forever homes all week long. How great is that?

Oh, and I even met a fur-free pet, an albino snake. Here I am bravely holding its tail…

Maggie handles a snake

But my favorite of all was this handsome Dane with a gorgeous face:

Handsome man

You know I’m a sucker for older men! I later saw him having his picture taken with supermodel Kathy Ireland who was there promoting her new line of pet products. You know you’re good looking if a swimsuit model asks to be photographed with you!

I’ll have more to share with you in the coming days, once I’ve had a chance to sort through and process everything I saw. Plus, this week I’ll have another giveaway, updates on Cooper’s Reactive Rover class, and a video of Newt’s Big Adventure!

Hope your week is off to a great start!

Everybody’s looking forward to the weekend!

Partying, partying… yeah! Fun, fun, fun fun. (I’m sorry. I seriously get this song stuck in my head every Friday. Gah. If it’s stuck in your head now, I apologize, but at least I’m not alone.)

I feel like such an old lady saying this, but… sigh… I hurt my back.

It happened around Tuesday, and I totally ignored it at first because it wasn’t that bad. Then, on Wednesday I took Coop and Molly for a walk, and a loose dog ran right past us. They went bonkers and yanked out whatever shred was holding me together.

John wants me to go to the chiropractor. My better plan is to alternate hot and cold packs, snuggle the dogs, and hope everything gets better on its own.

lap puppy

Meantime, I’m sending out tons of emails about this little lap dog, hoping to find her a family soon! Plus, I’ve been reading through the stacks of dog magazines that have piled up. To be honest, I’m sort of bummed at two of the more popular mags, both of which had winter issues riddled with typos. Do you read dog magazines? Any faves?

And, finally, here’s your top secret “heads up” to start looking for the perfect photo of your dog that illustrates a certain upcoming holiday… A Facebook photo contest will be coming up on a certain day next week. And that’s all I’m going to say about it. Oh, except for that there are awesome prizes.

Have a good weekend!

A case of the zoomies

Anyone who has ever loved a reactive dog knows that it isn’t a cut-and-dry thing. You have to experiment with your dog, learn his triggers, then work with what you can figure out.

With Lucas, for example, we realized that the first rule of dog-dog introductions – introduce new dogs on neutral ground so that no one feels territorial – does. not. apply. At all. Most places other than home feel unsafe to him, but when he meets dogs where he’s comfortable, he does much better. We also know that the leash makes him lose his mind, so off leash interactions are better if they can be safely managed.

Lucas and Molly have gotten to know each other in very controlled circumstances over the last few weeks. It was tense at first – she had NO idea how to behave appropriately with another dog, and he doesn’t react well to any rudeness. She spent a bunch of time with Emmett and Cooper, and she started to learn better behavior. 

Which brings us to last night.

Every night, we’ve been bringing them all upstairs to the big room above the garage. One side of this large room is my desk and workspace, the other side is where our TV is, and the middle has a table. Last night, we went up with Molly on leash but we’ve been letting her and the boys roam a smidge. We turned on Modern Family and settled in when all of a sudden, Lucas started play bowing Molly! Out of nowhere he decided it was GO TIME!

John pulled out his phone and got a bit of video. It’s hard to film in this room because it’s dark – the walls are orange, the floors are orange, the ceiling is brown – but you’ll get a sense of what’s going on. A few things I noticed: Molly is super unsure at first. Her fur is raised and she’s doing a high flicky wag instead of a low loose wag. She also takes some pretty rude stances, as does Lucas. As time went on, they got better, but… I would LOVE to know what you see.

Lucas and Molly from Maggie Marton on Vimeo.

(Note: We were totally prepared with cups of water for emergency dousing, Molly’s leash on in case we needed to quickly extract her, and cans of cheese placed around the room. Plus, I tried to keep the other two dogs out of it because, as you know, that tends to escalate things too quickly, especially for dogs like these two.)

What do you see? What do you think? Any similar cues or signs that you’ve noticed in your dogs? Anything that would worry you here? 

 

How are your 2014 dog training goals coming along?

So… it’s February.

How did that happen? Seriously, didn’t we just Rescue Remedy/Thundershirt our dogs to ring in the new year?

Hmph.

Anyway, my main goal – and what I wanted to accomplish for the Train Your Dog Month Challenge – was to go through the Relaxation Protocol with both Cooper and Lucas.

Coop and Lukey

Who? Us?

I’m here to update you on our progress.

In one word: fail.

While the failing was partly due to travel and chaos, it was largely due to time management issues on my part.  And, since I’m the type of person to obsess over failures until I can implement a new strategy, I have devised a new calendar for myself, part of which is giving my lunch break over to Relaxation Protocol. (This is a vast improvement because I typically eat at my desk instead of taking an actual break.) So, fingers crossed that this plan works.

How are you doing on the dog training goals you set for yourself, whether as part of your New Year’s resolutions or the train your dog challenge? 

I probably should buy an x-pen

Last week, an hour after we got back from our Indy trip, John had to drive to Mobile for an oil spill conference (riveting, right?) for the entirety of last week.

Molly was back with us, so already it was a busier week. And then Cooper had his indiscretion. So, add that to work and life stuff, my hands were a smidge full.

While Molly is in our care, I’m working on crate training her to a work schedule because it’s unlikely that her future family will have a schedule like mine, and I think being able to “market” her as crate-trained is a huge plus. The tricky bit comes after 5 pm because Molly isn’t great with cats, and Lucas isn’t (well, wasn’t but we’ll get there!) great with Molly. When John was home, it was no big deal… we’d leash up Molly and Lucas, we’d each take one, and just keep the energy level low while giving out tons of treats and going about our evening routine.

When John left, I faced the dilemma of what to do: rotate dogs (which I did one night), stick poor Molly in the crate after dinner (which I did the night Cooper was sick sick sick), or fashion an x-pen out of random pieces of furniture so I could work with everyone at once…

IMG_20140129_172125

So, that’s what I did! Then I alternated who was on the inside with me while I puttered away on my laptop and watched a movie. We did this for a couple nights, and it worked perfectly. Well… depending on who you ask, I guess it worked perfectly…

IMG_20140129_182528

Molly is doing really well. She’s a fast learner, and she’s gotten used to house stuff really quickly. I want to keep working with her on some basic commands, but she’s already a pro at her crate and bathroom routines. Plus, her eye has gotten SO much better and is well on its way to being fully healed.

1391041265932

 

And, in a roundabout way, it’s given me a wonderful opportunity to keep working with Lucas on keeping his head in stressful situations. I’m SO proud of him, and last night during the epic disaster Super Bowl we had all four dogs off leash together with no problems! Woot!

IMG_20140201_124303

While things are going well, I do hope someone wants to bring this little lady home very soon because she deserves her forever family! (Know anyone who wants the happiest puppy alive? Here’s her PDF flyer: Molly!)

Oh, and yes, I’m scouting Goodwill/craigslist/ReStore/etc. for an x-pen! :)

How was your weekend? 

What should I feed my dog?

When you write about dogs, you get tons of questions about everything from grooming to training to the best jackets/collars/treats/Halloween costumes. But the number one question I get over and over again is this: What should I feed my dog?

FEED ME ALL THE THINGS

I used to hate this question.

This is one of the many areas of pet care that is highly contentious, and some people are extremely passionate about their preferred method of feeding. Plus, I’ve always felt like this is one area where pet lovers judge each other, often unfairly or harshly. As someone who gets very uncomfortable with confrontation, I would strive to avoid this discussion altogether.

Well, not anymore!

I now have a new answer that I stand behind!

Someone: “What should I feed my dog?”

Me: “Calculate your monthly budget, and figure out exactly how much you can and are willing to spend on dog food each month. Then, buy the best food you can for that budget.”

Ta-da!

Yep, it’s unspecific. But here’s the deal that I’ve come to embrace in many facets of pet care (and believe me, there’s more on this to come in later posts): Whether someone chooses to feed their pet raw, homecooked, organic kibble, or grocery store brand chow… the important thing is, they’re feeding their dog with love. No, it may not be what you would choose for your family. And that’s okay.

We need to step away from the “OMG, you buy brand X for your dog? I would NEVER! Here’s why it’s bad” or – even worse – “If they can’t provide the healthiest food then they shouldn’t have a dog.” Those sentiments are rampant across the internet, and at best, they make people feel bad about doing the best they can do. But at worst, those judgments and admonitions could deter someone from adopting a pet from a shelter. (“Well, I can’t afford $74.99 for a bag of dog food, so I guess I shouldn’t get a dog.”)

For the record, I feed my dogs kibble and, because of Cooper’s allergies, it is a horribly expensive bag of dog food, which is why we don’t go to the movies and our monthly date night is at Jimmy Johns. But that’s my decision for us and our budget. The food you choose to feed your dog needs to work with your family’s budget.

I don’t know what’s going on this week… Apparently, polar vortexes make me ranty. Anyway, I’d love to know your thoughts. As a super savvy bunch of pet people, I’m sure you get this question and have this debate frequently. What do you think?

It takes a village

But one single person can create a ripple effect of change…

One morning in early 2005, a woman stopped to pick up an emaciated stray. She took him to the country shelter where a volunteer cleaned him, fed him, and closed him in a kennel. Volunteers walked him and fed him every day until, many months later, another volunteer picked him up, named him Emmett, and ferried him to a no-kill shelter where a cadre of volunteers took care of him every day for the better part of a year. Then, in June 2006, a volunteer brought him out of his kennel to walk with me and John. Another volunteer drove to our home later that week for a house check, then another delivered him safely into our arms a week later. 

On Thanksgiving Day in 2006, as Em was celebrating his first holiday with us, a family in North Carolina found a skinny, mange-ridden, limping puppy foraging in their trash can. They kept him through the weekend, then delivered him to their local shelter. It took volunteers at the shelter to intake this pup, get him cleaned up, and – knowing they were overrun and with his health conditions he didn’t stand a chance – they arranged for transport to Washington, DC. It took volunteers to drive him north, then to intake him at his new shelter and take care of his daily needs as well as his myriad health issues. Another volunteer introduced him to us, three volunteers introduced him to Emmett, and another processed our application.

Every one of those people indirectly contributed to the creation of this community because, without them, without us adopting Emmett and Lucas, this journey of pit bull advocacy, dog training and working with fearful dogs, and connecting online wouldn’t have happened. Emmett wouldn’t have touched the lives of hundreds of children working as a therapy dog. Cooper definitely wouldn’t have become our foster then our new puppy, and we definitely wouldn’t be fostering Molly right now.

Molly

Miss Molly

It’s amazing how one person’s actions – whether it’s picking up a stray, walking sheltered dogs, driving transport, or sharing an adoptable pet on Facebook – that one person’s single action affects the lives of so many others for years to come… just by helping one animal.

So, tell me, have you witnessed this ripple effect in your community? Or through your own actions? 

Every day I’m hustlin’

If by hustlin’ you mean cleaning up bodily fluids…

(I’m sorry. I know that doesn’t make sense. It’s the best I can do with the day I’ve had. Thoughtful post meant for today has been moved to Thursday.)

So, sometimes UPS boxes arrive, and from the return label I assess it’s something either for the blog or my writing clients, but I don’t have time in that moment to deal with it, so I stack it on the corner of my desk. As of last night, there were three such boxes on the corner of my desk.

Before bed last night, I took Molly for a walk (she’s back with us… more on that later in the week, too) and came back, putzed around with her for a few, practiced her sits and downs, then put her in her crate. I walked upstairs and found…

Cooper had gotten into one of the boxes. He pulled out the contents. Bottles of canine supplements and joint care. He had shredded and devoured the entire contents of one entire complete health bottle. The closest after-hours vet is over an hour away, so I split-second made the (I know, not always favorable) decision to induce vomiting. But we were out of hydrogen peroxide, so I jumped in the car to go to the drug store and called John – who is, of course, out of town – who found this on the company’s website:

Q: If the pet eats too many/whole bottle will they be ok? Is there a danger of overdose?

A: Your pet will be fine. Our products are natural (containing no synthetic ingredients) and water soluble, so there is no threat of over supplementing. This prevents overdose, since your dog or cat will digest the proper amount of each ingredient that is needed for their body weight (the equivalent of 1-2 wafers) and the rest will simply pass through their system. If they did eat to much, they may experience some diarrhea (especially if they have ingested the majority of a bottle), and it is advisable to provide them with some extra water and put them outside for the day. Please note that they will not experience negative side effects either short or long term from eating the entire bottle of wafers.

So I drove home, took some deep breaths, had a big glass of wine, and we called it a night. Until 4:30 am.

Long story short, between then and this moment, he has peed, pooped, and vomited all over the house and yard (but, sadly, most in the house due to the ice storm situation). I’ve gone through an entire bottle of cleaning solution. He has eaten one piece of whole wheat bread slathered in pumpkin and is now sound asleep.

I still haven’t recovered a normal heart rate yet, and every time he twitches I jump up to determine if I can rush him outside… or if I need to go get the bucket again. Since he’s out of town and missing all the action, for his part John has promised to rent a carpet cleaner this weekend and do the rugs.

Sigh.

How’s your day going?? Please say better than mine!