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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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!)

 

I Don’t Give a CRAP About Your Dog

No, I don’t. I really don’t care about how Fluffy the doberman or Butch the Chihuahua are “just like your babies”.

Chihuahua chewing up a plant
Chihuahua chewing up a plant (Photo credit: DanCentury)
A female Doberman Pinscher.
A female Doberman Pinscher. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now, before you send me all kinds of hate mail, please don’t misunderstand. I grew up with and have owned pets of all kinds. Horses, cats, fish, ferrets, and yes even dogs. I am an animal lover.

What I don’t love though, is their crap. Especially when I’m running. If I wanted an obstacle course on my run, I would have set it up myself without the aid of piles left by your precious one. And don’t tell me you forgot to bring doggie bags, because there are these dispensers about every 20 feet where I run. (And before you say anything, yes, they did have bags in them! I checked!)

dog poop bag dispenser
dog poop bag dispenser (Photo credit: Leo Reynolds

It probably wouldn’t go over well if I potty trained my 2 year old on your lawn. All I ask is that you pick up after your “baby” the same way I do mine.