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!

“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.


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.”


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.


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.

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.

Dog Love

This may come off as a rambling of my love affair with my dog. Or it may be my endorphin high talking. Or perhaps a combination of both.

I have always loved animals, but somehow this is just different.

When Eric and I were first married, he deployed and I had a dumb-attack and adopted two Chesapeake/Lab puppies. Overwhelmed with the cuteness overload, I bit off more than either of us could chew and ended up adopting them out to more suitable families. (Who knew that those cute little puppies would be so MASSIVE!?) It was hard, and I was sad, but I knew it was for their own good. We were both working full time, traveling, and weren’t in a place to be able to give them the consistency they needed. I see this so clearly now as hindsight is indeed 20/20.

We adopted Buck, and partly due to our previous foray into dog parenting, I was completely blindsided by how hard our whole family, and myself in particular, have fallen for this little goofy guy. I continued to follow Heartbeats Dog Rescue on Facebook (the organization we adopted Buck through) and noticed they had this little puppy that was up for adoption. I showed the picture to Eric and he just shook his head and asked, “Really?!

Seriously?! How do you resist this face?! They tell us she’s a “Chug” (Chihuahua/Pug mix)!

We took the kids and Buck to meet this little girl, Whitney. It would really all depend on him and how he got along with her. The last thing I wanted to do was bring in another dog and have fights and problems between the two. We walked in and they sniffed each other, wagging tails as if they’d known each other forever, then she proceeded to crawl right up on Jake’s lap, snuggle in and lick his face. The grin on that boy’s face nearly made me cry. She then wiggled right up onto Hannah and she was smitten. How do these furry little loveballs do it? They create such a fun, deep joy and a sense of contentment that just feels so right there are scarcely words to describe it. They live in the moment, eager, and happy to just be.


We adopted her, and even Eric had to admit he was taken with her. She is such a love, a bit more mellow than Buck, but still a puppy so she brings out the playfulness in him.

The goal was to be able to walk and run with them both, but was a little nervous about it Whitney seemed a little confused by the leash, didn’t know any commands, and I wondered if I’d once again bit off more than I could chew. Hannah and I worked with her, teaching her how to sit. She is eager to learn, eager to please and picked it up right away. Her little expectant face gazing up at mine, her whole body wagged as praise was lavished on her.

I’ve watched enough Dog Whisperer and Cesar 911 to learn a bit, and with the dog training classes I’ve been taking I  feel confident, (or calm assertive) and more of a pack leader. Every time I watch an episode of Cesar helping a family with their animals, I cry. Like ugly cry. There’s just something about they way a dog loves. I’ve also thought it amazing when he teaches dog owners to lead their packs, walking many dogs at once. The people always talk about how empowering the experience is. Again, cue the waterfalls from my eyes.

Their leashes on, I took a deep breath and mentally let go of the sense of failure I had from our other dogs. I could be a pack leader. I could be a good dog mom. Buck has been proof of that. Out the door we went. They did great. We had some kinks to work out at first with who was going to be where, but after a couple of minutes, everyone fell into place. Buck on the outside, Whitney in the middle and then me leading the way. We practiced our commands, we ran, we sat, we said good morning to our neighbors. To say it was 3 of the most fun miles would be an understatement. It was empowering, exhilarating, and good luck wiping the perma-grin off of my face!

I love these dogs.

They have filled a void I didn’t know existed. They may be rescue dogs, but ultimately they do so much more for us than we ever do for them.10849809_10203325058911654_4791267833301431794_n

What I Didn’t See Coming

I knew having a pet would be great. We’ve had animals before, but the kids have not. I knew they would love whatever animal we adopted. What I didn’t see coming is the way I would feel watching them learn, love, and grow with this animal.

Seriously. It’s been 2 days. I can’t believe I’m even writing this. That’s what’s so bizarre about this whole thing. I have fallen hard for this guy. I’ve also fallen for the way he’s unearthed a compassion in our children. Those are the things I didn’t see coming.

The pride in our daughter’s face as she smiles up at me as she’s feeding Buck.

Her sense of responsibility in checking to see if he has enough water or a comfy blanket upon which to lay. Even her willingness to scoop poop! She genuinely enjoys taking care of him. “There’s no fire ants that will hurt Buck, right Mom?”

Our son’s laughter and the way he calls, “Here Buck! C’mere boy!” I have to stop what I’m doing just to savor those moments.

When dropping Jacob off at school, he asks if I will bring Buck in the car to pick him up. He wants to see him first thing. I think Buck feels the same way based on how he looked longingly out the window as Jake went into the building. 

This dog has entered our lives and in 2 days feels like he’s always been a member of our family.

I really did not see this coming.

I am so grateful.

But, We’re Cat People…

There are two neighborhood dogs that are allowed to roam free, or perhaps they are Houdini pups, and they find their way to our house to pull the heartstrings of my very loving daughter. She has been begging for a pet, a dog, for a very long time. She is longing for something to mother and love. Every time these guys wander around, out comes Mother Hannah with her water buckets to give them a drink as she plops down to offer her lap to anybody who may want to snuggle.

Eric had animals growing up, as did I, but we both gravitate toward the feline variety. After a rather sudden decision to check out a local animal shelter, we told the kids we had a surprise for them and to get in the car. They both kept asking if we were going to a toy store, or to buy candy. (As if!)  “Even better,” we laughed.

Driving up to The Cattery (the local no-kill, cage free cat-only shelter) we walked in to a room of about 25 cats. Some were feisty, didn’t want to be held, lazy, sleeping all over and in every nook and cranny you can imagine. The kids were excited, but we couldn’t pinpoint one animal we could all agree on. (Go figure.) Eric was drawn to one orange tabby, but it wanted nothing to do with the kids. I wanted to take home every blind 3-legged case, and Hannah just wanted one to love. Since we couldn’t make a decision, we were advised that there were some more of the Cattery kittens available for adoption at the local PetSmart.

Little did we know, we were walking into a pet adoption festival and there were animals EVERYWHERE that were waiting to be adopted into their forever homes. We walked toward the kitten room, and on the way walked by a series of dog pens. As I looked down the row, this tan and white little dog caught my eye. He was looking right at me. I thought he was cute and walked over, and he never stopped looking at me. Asking to take him out and hold him, the volunteer unlocked the cage, scooped him up and handed “Buck” to me. He licked my face, much to my husband’s disgust, took a deep breath and I felt him totally relax in my arms. I was done. Game over. Puddle of fur-baby goo.

I turned around to see my husband eyeing me through the glass of the cat room and as he saw me cradling this pup, he rolled his eyes and put his arms up in an X. “NO,” he mouthed vehemently. I gently put Buck back in the pen and joined my family to peruse the kitties. “We really are cat people,” I thought consoling myself. The three of them decided on a kitten named Lincoln. He was cute, playful and as I looked at him, thought, “Meh. It’s a cat.” This is not like me at all. Like I said – I’ve always loved cats. But this one, while adorable, did zilch for me. We walked out to start the paperwork for the cat. The attendant told us she was sorry, but that cat had already been adopted.

Do you ever have one of those days where as you lay your head on the pillow at night, the events that transpired are so random and out of the ordinary you marvel at just how it all came to pass?  Some call it the Butterfly Effect. That was our day. I have never felt this drawn to an animal. I bonded big time with my kitten from junior high, and loved the pets we had growing up, but I just felt a strange connection with this guy. To be super whoo-hooey, it felt like I really wasn’t making the decision at all, that it just was supposed to be and I was just there. Not sure if that makes sense, but there it is.

Eric laughed as I whipped my head around wide-eyed when we realized that the kitten would not be joining our family. “Seriously?!” he asked. The kids were getting amped up and feeding on the jokes thrown our way by the volunteer workers that were pleading my case to Eric. (My poor husband!) Eric decided to take a walk around the store to think. The kids and I joined him after petting Buck a little more. I leveled with him and shared that for whatever reason, I felt drawn to this dog. I know we aren’t dog people. I know this isn’t what we planned. (We had cat litter in the trunk!) He agreed that it would probably be a better fit for our boisterous family to have a dog versus a cat.

Walking back over, we signed the paperwork, picked up some necessities and walked out with a dog on a leash.

Kids and dogs… ’nuff said.
Our newest family member being photobombed.

If someone would have told me we were going to adopt a dog this weekend I would have laughed. No way. I don’t like poop scooping, I don’t want to deal with animal hair, and as much as the kids plead and beg and promise they will take care of the pet, I know it will fall on me. And, we are cat people. We don’t do dogs.

One look at this guy and none of that mattered.

It was time. We are ready, the kids are ready, and Buck is a perfect fit for our family.

We are a dog family.

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