It’s Fall, Y’all!

Fall is here and with the change of season, for our family, comes football. My husband has umpired high school and college level games for years and loves it. With our move to the city with no yard for the dogs, it has become necessary to walk them more frequently and that job falls to me in the evenings when he is at a game. (See what I did there?!)

The change of season not only brings football, but the change in temperatures (from 85 all the way down to 79!), the little bit of crispness at dusk and dawn, pumpkin spice all the things, school in session, and of course Halloween on the horizon. The last dog walk of the evening is my favorite. There are very few people out, it’s quiet and calm and it gives us a chance to relax and settle in for the night. All the townhouses in our community have automated porch lights so it’s actually bright enough to see festive decorations trimming doorways along our route. Fall is here.

As I matched Hippo’s pace on our evening jaunt, my eyes scanned the sidewalks for possible hazards – the dog will eat all kinds of gross findings. I took a deep breath and as I rounded the corner under the large maple trees that line the walk, I saw something that looked out of place. It was a leaf, but oddly suspended mid-air. I stopped suddenly and Hippo looked up at me expectantly. I followed the line up from the leaf, and at eye level, about 5 inches from my face, is a spider the size of a quarter nestled in his ginormous web. (For the record, I’ve NEVER seen a web this huge before in real life. At least 6 feet high). His fat juicy body was the size of the coin, and his legs spread out from there, daring me to come just a little bit closer. I swallowed the bile threatening to exit and I abruptly stumbled back and turned the other way. Hippo glanced at me again, convinced I’m nuts because, let’s face it – I am certifiable when it comes to bugs. Scorpions, roaches and rattlesnakes were 3 things I was very happy to say “adios!” to as we drove out of south Texas. Spiders have never been my favorite, and after our stint in Hawaii and coming face to face with a cane spider, my hatred has far from waned.

When I say “stumbled back and turned the other way”, what that really means is this: you know when someone startles you and you freak out? Like when your kid stands at the top of the stairs, just out of sight waiting to nail you? You get to the stairs, they yell, “BOO!” or “Gotchya!” and you react by jumping straight up, hair standing out on end, and yell something super intelligible like, “HAWOGHGHHGHHHHH!” while your heart races and you marvel at the fact that you just almost died and why would your dear, sweet offspring want to give you a heart attack like that?! No?! Just me? I digress… But that’s basically how I reacted to a spider 5 inches from my nose. In the dark. In the fall. When it’s almost Halloween.

I consider myself a rational person. Intellectually, I comprehend the fact that arachnids have their place in the food chain and if we didn’t have them, other insects would flourish blah, blah, blah. I love trees. I don’t love that they are spider houses. If you are a spider, and I see you – I will murder you or hire someone to murder you. If you have more than 4 legs, I want no part of you. Do not come to my house. I don’t need roommates and I do not want to be your friend.

Picking up dog poo and taking deep breaths to calm down (not necessarily in that order), I collected myself and vowed to never ever under any circumstances ever go on that side of the road again. I also vowed that now my husband shall be the chief evening dog walker. I brought Hippo in and grabbed a drink of water to calm down. After leashing up the other two, we head back into battle. It’s the littles and me against all the creepy crawlies. I’ve just about talked myself back to a normal functioning adult when what do I see? A RED ROACH SCURRYING PAST MY FEET. I should mention that my feet are exposed – bare and in flip flops adding to the heebee-jeebee creepy feeling. As if that wasn’t enough, the universe decided that I must be tested further when it’s mate joined him from one patch of grass, across the sidewalk and under a bush, followed by what appeared to be a baby. Awe! How sweet. Mr. and Mrs. Roach and family crossed the sidewalk right in front of me. And on the same night that I almost died from a a spider on my face!

Just give me the dang straight jacket now. If it comes with a padded room, great. As long as the door seals tight and no bugs get in, I think I’ll be good. Happy Fall!

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Chaos, Gratitude and Harvey

It was predicted to be a Category 3 hurricane. We evacuated Corpus Christi as Harvey intensified over the gulf; reached Cat 4 status and then hit the Texas coast. The storm has slowed, but flood watches and warnings remain. For now we sit, watch and wait. Neighboring cities in the direct line of fire have been devastated. I’ve been all over the emotional map. We had a front row seat for Hurricane Ivan when we lived in Pensacola, and it feels eerily similar and simultaneously very, very different.

This go around, I’m doing it solo. Solitarily responsible for 5. Three canines and two humans. Not only navigating my fears, but calming the fears of the kids, managing hotel boredom and the needs of the furry babies.

I’m tired. Also surprisingly… grateful

No, I’m not glad a hurricane has taken aim at the gulf coast. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. What keeps popping up is little things that have given me pause, swelling with gratitude.

We’ve been so touched by friends and family reaching out, offering a place to stay, clean up help and prayers. Being checked on is love.

I’m thankful for LaQuinta and other hotels that are pet friendly. It’s been so fun to see so many pet parents out and about with their fur-kids and it’s all very normal. Walking through the lobby, the oohs and awes over Frenchies, Chihuahuas, Labs and all other assorted balls of fur. These people get it. I’ve been so impressed with accommodations, discounts given, and willingness to be so gracious and welcoming to us during such a stressful time.

I think it’s human nature to try to find some sense of meaning to tragedy, natural disasters, or other such events; or at least to find some kind of order in the chaos. As the dogs have been out on potty breaks, chatting with other evacuees has become common. We exchange where we are from, how many animals we have (1 person had 8 dogs!), and what information we’ve gleaned from those in our neighborhood who chose to ride out the storm. While we are all worried, there is comfort in these brief exchanges. Sometimes a “Me, too!” provides that needed order we desire.

I’ve been grateful for the dog’s excellent behavior. Staying in hotels, traveling out of town in their crates has been a good experience for them, as well as for me. It has been good practice for our move next year. They have even ridden in elevators. Buck didn’t like it much, but he didn’t wig out or anything!

One of our hotels had a 2 pet max limit. We have 3. They made an exception for us. “Where else would you go?” The front desk staff said shrugging. “We’re making an exception. Don’t worry about it.” I asked if they needed a pet deposit. I was told no.

The first night, every single noise startled the dogs. I didn’t sleep but about 4 hours the first night. We decided to move farther north from the San Antonio area after tornado warnings were issued.

We are staying outside of Dallas and not seeing much except cloudy skies and scattered showers. The dogs are sleeping peacefully. We were given a room on the end of the building, minimizing noise from neighbors. The dogs are doing fabulous!

We evacuated fairly early on, so there was minimal traffic. We had a handful of slow downs here and there, but it was not a big deal. People were letting others in, not driving like maniacs. Not panicking or being ridiculous.

Hannah lost 2 of her teeth. The kids are playing games. We went to Target and got some legos and cards to play with. So thankful for the “normal” in the not normal.

COFFEE. The hotel has really good coffee. I packed a small cooler and brought my creamer. Little things are big.

We thought we would be starting school this week. It’s been postponed. Neighbors are reaching out to each other via social media, checking in with one another. City officials are keeping us informed. We sit, we watch and we wait.

I may be doing this one solo, but we feel far from alone.

 

 

via Daily Prompt: Solitary

Friend

With a prompt like “friend“, writing about it could take many directions. Having previously contemplated adult friendships, this time I immediately thought of our dogs.

Doggie Friends

These 3 have changed our lives in so many ways. I am forever grateful for Hannah’s insistence that we needed a pet. Then both kids’ persistence that they needed a dog that would bond more with them, and finally rounding out the trio with a dog that “would be a perfect fit for our family”. Our canine expert, Haley couldn’t have been more right. I cannot imagine our life without these three. As insane as it sounds – they are our 4-legged children. (Yes, they are dogs – they are simply my kids from another mother.)

That face!

I mean, who can resist that face?!

When Jacob is ill, Hippo is right there comforting him. Whitney does the same with Hannah. Buck’s nightly routine is to snuggle in close for scratches and love. They all love Eric.

Dogs are tangible evidence of unconditional love. What a miracle they are because we surely don’t deserve their devotion. What a perfect example of grace.

Brain Bombs: Canine Edition

I see people with their dog babies at dog parks, on the beach, off leash, pulling skateboards (which is awesome by the way!) walking with dogs who don’t pull, bark or generally act like lunatics when they see other dogs.

Enter our 3 dog babies.

Shortly after we had adopted Hippo, someone came by (as I was very ungracefully detangling myself from three leashes) and said, “As if your life isn’t busy enough? You got a third one?!” Translation: You can’t figure out the first two, why would you attempt another? As much as I really don’t give a rip what people think, I want to be a responsible dog owner. I want what’s best for our animals. 

When I walk them all together, for the first 15 minutes it’s basically a 3 ring circus. They then settle into our walk and we are good to go. 

Hippo and I have been attending puppy obedience classes and I’ve been learning and applying the techniques on our other two. What I’ve learned through our instructor (who graciously stays past the class time to talk dogs and answer all of our questions) is that there are 2 main schools of thought when it comes to dog training: positive/reward based and negative/correction based. I came across this article that succinctly explains the basis for each method. 

Of course everyone who loves a dog has at least heard of Cesar Milan. Curious, I asked our trainer what she thought about his methods. She smiled slightly and then asked me how, as a personal trainer, I feel about Jillian Michaels. 

(Before I get a bunch of nasty messages from fans of both, hear me out.)

Cesar Milan has done wonderful things for the dog community, getting people out walking their dogs more often, adopting pets instead of buying from breeders, etc., but, what if there was a gentler way? What if we can get our dogs to do what we desired and still have them wagging their tail and happy and eager to please? 

(As for Jillian Michaels, I should probably save that post for another day. There are many fans who get up and move to her videos and gain something from her, and that’s great. In my experience, both as an exercise enthusiast and as a Personal Trainer, berating people into fitness doesn’t motivate anyone in the long run. And a highly-edited, sentimental chat with soft music playing doesn’t soften the negativity. People as a general rule do not respond well to yelling and being made to feel worthless.)

What our instructor went on to explain was that while Milan has done much for the canine community, there’s been a bit of damage as well. Milan’s methods are correction based. She challenged me to view an episode with the sound off and simply watch the dog’s body language. 

I was astounded. 

And then it clicked. Walking all 3 dogs, I’ve felt frustrated. I could give a correction, but I lacked the ability to teach, to ask the dog to do what I wanted. It’s like never speaking to your kids, except when you catch them doing something wrong. All of your interactions then become negative associations. As stated in the above article, and then watching the body language of the dogs on television with the sound muted, the dog then associates the person, the leash, training, etc with negativity. 

How can that not damage your relationship? With kids or with your dog?

Classical conditioning of emotions provides one reason why reward-based training procedures should work better and establish a stronger bond between the dog and his trainer, than punishment based systems. Every time you give the dog a treat, or some other reward, you set up the event sequence “sight of you-treat-pleasant feeling.” Even if your timing is off and you are not a very good and knowledgeable trainer, there is no harm being done in this case. Every instance of reward makes it more likely that the dog will feel better about you because you are actually conditioning the emotional response “sight of you-pleasant feeling.”

-Stanley Coren, emphasis added

I’ve since been walking the dogs individually, working with them one by one and using only reward based methods, and showing them what I want them to do. 
I cannot stress enough the difference; both for the dogs and myself. I’m more relaxed. The dogs aren’t feeding off of my tension. And the best part? They are doing what I’m asking them to do! They are being set up to succeed!

I haven’t been brave enough to let them play off leash. We have neighbors whose dogs come when called, take a couple of laps, tails wagging, tongues out happy as can be. “But, what if ours don’t come when I call them?” I thought. “What if they take off and I can’t catch them?” As a high-stray animal area, the last thing I want is for our dogs to run off and get lost or hurt. Not only would it break my heart – it would crush the kids’. “What if they start barking at another dog and bite them?” What if something happens?” It’s fear again, but of another kind.

But what if all this training I’ve been doing works? What if they get to run themselves breathless, happy and free?

What if?

I started with Buck. I went to the end of our dead end street and where we have a great trail. Taking a deep breath, I unclipped the leash and took the ball out of my pocket. I used my clicker and treats, but really didn’t need it. That dog LOVES fetch. For hours! He came when I called Every. Single. Time. Tongue dangling sideways around the ball, panting, tail wagging, running merrily and dare I say smiling! To say it was joy-filled would be a gross understatement. We then walked all the way home – off leash. He stayed right with me. This was huge! 

But would the other two behave as well? Whitney is the one that really flips out when she encounters other dogs on the leash. Dropping them off at doggie daycare last week (I know, it is ridiculous. But it’s SO amazing!) our son was having a hard time leaving Hippo there, so much so, that he started to cry. Generously, they offered to let us walk back and see all three playing with their dog friends. We got to peek without them knowing we were there and see just how they do with other dogs. 

Seeing them happy and chasing with other dogs was great for Jake as he had a visual that they really were having a blast. 

For me? Holy crap! **Ding ding ding!*** Brain bombs! 

First of all, I think 90% of our issues when encountering other dogs is my energy, my bracing for the worst. And then that’s exactly what happens. Later when a neighbor’s dog was off leash, I let Whitney off and they played and chased for about 10-15 minutes. Both dogs breathless and panting, I called her and she came right to me.

I’d never seen her interact with other dogs in a positive way – until we got our sneak peek. My expectations changed, my tension lowered, and she was set up for success. Her frustration was simply because she wanted to play, not rip the other dog’s head off! And play she did!  

                     Tuckered out after!

And today I did the same, fetch with Buck, off leash playtime with Whitney, and then Hippo’s turn. 

The way to the Hippo’s heart is through his stomach, so we went armed with yummy treats and a fetch toy. 

And he came when called. Every time!                      Uber happy and worn out!

We will continue our off-leash work, continue to keep them socialized and continue the human training (i.e. ME!)

Because it works. 

And it works with kindness. 

(And perhaps a clicker and some treats!)

 

You, Amplified.

Walking the dogs yesterday and today, we’ve been working through some issues. One of the littles tends to be a little on the “worrier/alarmist” side. If another dog is out and about, she’s whining and pulling trying to defend her turf. Or me. Or her two bros. In our backyard we have a boxer neighbor on one side, and a couple of of other dogs on next door. Next door dogs aren’t barkers. Ours are. The boxer behind us is. The boxer and our alarmist have very heated “discussions” through the fence. Much to the delight of our neighborhood, I’m certain.

Since we adopted our 3rd, I wanted to make sure we curb this behavior so then he won’t pick up those same habits. We are working with a trainer on this very thing and I’m very hopeful our neighborhood, and our backyard specifically, will be quieter in no time at all. (Fingers crossed!) I took each dog individually yesterday. It was awesome to have some one on one time with each, working on each of their issues, except for Buck – who basically just loves to go and be with me. Hippo is learning on the leash – but is doing amazing. I was able to run with him more as the “leg-bonking” has subsided. We worked on fast, slow, stop, sit, and of course side to side so he’ll follow my leg as I lead. It’s amazing to watch him “get it”. Once he does, he’s golden! (He also shakes paws!)

Today, I walked just Hippo while the two littles were playing at daycare. I love doggie daycare because not only does it drain excess energy, it keeps them socialized with other dogs and people. It has been such a good thing! And as you can see, I currently have 3 slugs for dogs!

 

“Ah, this bed fits just right!”

She puts her self in her happy place!
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“My own bed (that fits me) is not nearly as good as Hippo’s extra large one!”

While on our walk, I worked again with Hippo on the leash. We even encountered other walkers out and about. I tend to forget what Hippo looks like to someone who doesn’t know him. He looks like a pit. He is big. The first couple we encountered stayed where they were and I gave them a wide berth and continued on our way. Later down the path, they saw me working with him to sit, lay down, etc. and stopped to say hello and “Nice dog.”

After that, we walked passed a giant barking German Shepard. Hippo sat and looked up at me, not barking once. (YAY!) I think in my head, “Not my circus, not my monkeys.” I say this to calm myself. It doesn’t matter if other dogs are freaking out. Keep calm. If these canines have taught me anything, it’s that they will mirror my energy. If I’m angry, upset, nervous, hurried, etc., they will become so as well. It’s me, amplified. Since we have had encounters walking our worrier and she freaks out, I know I anticipate it, therefore ensuring she keeps doing it. I’m working on it, but it is a conscience effort every single walk. Hippo on the other hand, is so chill he doesn’t really care. He makes it easy to relax and not anticipate.

Soon after, a lady passed by walking as far away from us as she could while still staying on the path. I had Hippo sit and be respectful while she passed.

“Wow. He really listens to you,” she remarked.

“He’s still learning a bit, but we are getting there!” I replied.

“I’m very afraid of large dogs, so I really appreciate you training yours.”

“I used to be, too,” I said.

Used to be. It struck me suddenly as she went on her way, that I, too tended to be leery of larger breeds. Having a neighbor in Washington with the most lovable pit I’d ever met helped ease that fear. Learning about dogs, being around dogs of all types just on our street has helped tremendously. On these walks this weekend, I had to force myself to stay in the moment the way the dogs do, instead of projecting and anticipating the “what ifs…”

It’s been said that winning the lottery will amplify your personality. If you are a colossal jerk, loads of money will make you an even bigger one. If you are more of the benevolent philanthropist, a windfall will make you that much more giving. I would venture to say that dogs function the same way.

Here’s to working on the good stuff being amplified!

It Happened. Again.

We adopted another dog.

Again.

My poor husband!

 Along with our Chihuahua/Pug mix, and our Chihuahua/Terrier, we now have a Terrier/Lab lovebug! Yes, for cat people we are now dog gone crazy! (Couldn’t resist!) Life with this lug has been interesting!

He has about 30-35lb on Buck and Whitney.  He loves everyone and is eager to please! He is a snuggler. We’ve been on a few walks and he’s doing great on the leash. I have no doubt he will make a great running buddy!

This one had a bit of a rough start, starving and with all kinds of health problems:
IMG_0784IMG_0785As you can see in the photos, he was hairless and pink! But with lots of good groceries and a whole bunch of love, he is a different dog!

I’ve been following this dog’s journey since August/September when the rescue organization picked him up. I, however, only knew him as “Grover”. The gals that run Heartbeats Dog Rescue (same organization that we adopted Buck and Whitney through) also work at the doggie daycare/boarding place we use. They had told Eric and I both a month or two ago, “You have to meet Hippo!!! He’d be a great dog for your family!” Eric met Hippo once and came home and told me about it. I sort of shrugged it off, because I didn’t realize that Hippo and Grover were the same dog! Up until last week, I had only known him as Grover.

When they posted the most recent update, it hit me like a ton of bricks! HIPPO! This is the dog I’ve been watching, and that they’d been telling us about. Bracing myself, I told Eric my revelation and asked that he at least consider adopting this dog. (Again, my poor husband!)

We contacted Heartbeats, and that evening he was in our home getting to know our other two fur babies. The foster family shared with us that Hippo may have been their first “foster failure” –  they’d grown to care for him and  were considering keeping him! After giving them a couple of opportunities to make sure they didn’t in fact want to keep Hippo, we were assured that, yes, he would be ours.

I’ve always known animals are work. They have maintenance, vet bills, and of course poop. But the love and joy these 3 crazy canines bring to our family far outweighs any “work”.

And really, when it’s love – it simply isn’t work.

It’s just love.

Motivation’s Opposite

If yesterday was all about how we stay motivated to be consistent in our workouts, today is the exact opposite.

It’s been a week. I had appointments all lined up, new clients no-showed, others were late. Some showed up when they didn’t have appointments. It’s just one of those weeks where you have to laugh and roll with flow. Now it’s Friday and I’m not motivated. It’s humid out. I feel tired. I almost stepped in dog poop in the front yard (that wasn’t from my own dogs). Blah, blah, blah. Its ironic that when I don’t feel like doing something, I can find all the reasons excuses why skipping it would be “justified”. Some days are just like this. “Workout, I’m just not that into you.”

IMG_0309

But, I don’t give myself a choice in this. I know I will feel better after, so just stop taking selfies and go workout already! That’s what I did.

But…

Half way through the run I see very ominous looking clouds. “Sure feels like rain,” I told the dogs. (Yes, I do talk to them. Yes, out loud.) “I’m sure we’ll make it home before it really picks up.”

Drip, drip, drip.

Nope. Didn’t make it home before the rain. What started out as a light sprinkling in a matter of seconds became a big ol’ fat Texas downpour. My poor dogs. Buck was especially displeased with the sudden change of weather. We were also on the trail by my house, which means the soft dirt quickly became slippery mud. With every step I gained a half inch in height due to the accumulating muck on the soles of my shoes. At this point I just have to laugh because how else should a week like this finish?! Soaking wet, we trudge home both dogs shooting me irritated looks.

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Although you can’t tell, I’m soaked through and I’m dripping from my ball cap!

It’s just one of those days. After I showered, my phone buzzed with a client requesting to reschedule today’s appointment because her child is sick.

Again, I have to laugh. It’s gonna get better.

It always does.