October 2014

Your dog is friendly. Well-behaved. He likes other dogs.

Who cares? I don’t. I’m terrified and a little traumatized and I’m thinking we need to find another place to work our distance sit-stays.

Because your friendly, well-behaved dog who likes other dogs just came charging around a blind corner with his leash dragging behind him, no owner in sight.

MJ saw him first. Her ears perked up before he’d even cleared the corner, and she released her sit-stay and sprinted the 15ft distance between us while I tried to gather the training leash and figure out what the hell was happening. By the time she cleared me and I turned to see what had caught her attention, your friendly well-behaved, human-less dog was 50-40-30-20 feet from us.

That’s when you rolled around the corner at a quick walking pace, phone in hand: “HE’S FRIENDLY”. You waved.

“WE’RE NOT,” I yelled. I panicked. MJ doesn’t greet other dogs well on-leash. Something about being restrained.

I’m trying to keep our leash taut with one hand while reaching to keep the dogs separated with the other. My feet are trying to establish boundaries, and I stuck out one leg and then another to keep distance between the eager visitor and our girl. I braced for a bite.

When you finally caught up, you explained that he must have heard our squeaky toy reward and that drew his attention from his dropped-leash sprinting in the field around the corner where you watched from the shade of a tree. You still haven’t picked up his leash.

“We’re leaving. Please hold your dog so we can we pass.”

MJ foamed. She half barked, half screamed because she wanted to say hi and I wouldn’t let her play. She looked… well… at that moment she looked like those horrible propaganda photos of pit bulls.

Our leash-walking protocols were completely out the window as we hustled home. I kept turning around to make sure we didn’t have a follower. I forced myself not to cry. MJ was cranked to eleven.

We’re lucky to live in a very dog-friendly neighborhood. Shepards and collies and bullies and yorkies shuffle by each other during more constitutions with civility and respect. The people and pooches are familiar. Leashes are required, and community spaces are specifically marked “No Pets Off Leash.”

This was a strange dog and a strange human. The rules were broken.

I’m glad you have a friendly, well-behaved dog. I want to believe this was an accident and you lost the leash. But I don’t think that happened, because there would have been more urgency in your recovery, especially when you lost sight of your dog. If not then, then maybe when you saw my terror.

We’re all safe. We’re lucky nothing escalated and no one was scratched or nipped. Because if things had gone badly, getting myself and my dog out of that situation would have been my priority.

And I don’t really want to spend time on what-ifs. Instead, I’d like you to hold on to your dog.

Zozo’s Zen Thoughts

This morning, I was having trouble getting out of the house.  I was moving slowly, uninspired to start the long workday ahead.  I skewered my eye with a mascara wand.  I tried to impale my shin on one of our kitchen stools.

I was lamenting my woes (read: whining), when soulful Zozo ambled over, licked my toe, and said:

“Mama, sometimes you’re the poop, and sometimes you’re the bag.”


…and then he walked away to eviscerate a dinosaur plushie.

Happy Friday all.

breaking news, from our foreign correspondent

September 2014

Doesn’t it feel like Summer came to a full stop?  The humidity broke, the crazy thunderstorms have retreated and denim jackets are on parade!

To bring you additional clues on the changing of seasons, I’m happy to present this guest post, written by Erika (my mom), and featuring Athena.  Why is Athena in residence as Chez Mums?  That’s another story for another day.  Basically it comes down to this: better food and she has cable.

But I digress

From your “foreign” (Maryland) correspondent

Signs you know summer is over:

1. You can’t get up in the morning cause it’s still too dark. Even at 6am (ugh).

2. The smells of outdoor grilling are replaced by wood burning.

3. Farmer’s markets are gone

4. New activity: Raking fallen leaves now substitutes for pulling weeds.

5. Halloween costumes line the shelves.

6. Christmas candy gets mixed in with Halloween candy. (What’s with that? And what happened to Thanksgiving treats?)

7. Air conditioner stays off and light blanket comes on.

8. Athena comes out from the shadows underneath the bed. Briefly, to reclaim her corner.


9. Then, to burrow and hibernate.


Happy Fall 2014!

mj was supposed to write a blog post…

but she opted to nap in a sunspot instead.


have a great weekend everyone!

Next Stage

September 2014


Allow me to explain what you’re seeing.  This is a picture of the cupboards beneath our kitchen sink.  Typically, you’d see household cleaners, a fire extinguisher, a box of trash bags… Not here.  Well, not any more.

Last week, we embarked on the change.  Zozo is officially a pup-of-a-certain-age, and our vet let us know the time had come to switch him from Adult Dog Food to a Mature  This will help us keep him strong and healthy as he approaches his golden years.

This also freaked me out a little bit, because I have expectations that Doodle will be around for at least another 6 years.  But I promise not to get too macabre today.

Both MJ and Zozo eat Iams ProActive Health Large Breed dog food.  Zo made the switch to Iams when we bought our house (remember this?) and MJ has never known anything else.  From puppies to adults, this has been our kibble of choice.  I like the Iams because it has lots of protein and not a lot of grain filler.  Sometimes we throw carrots or green beans on top of their bowls to be fancy.

We buy massive bags of food and fill a tupperware in the kitchen.  One tupperware would take up half of the undersink area.  Now there are two.  They are labeled.  MJ’s sticking with the Iams ProActive Health Large Breed, and Zo is transitioning to Iams ProActive Health Mature Large Breed.  They try to hide the word, but it’s there.  Our baby is getting old.

In the picture above, Zozo’s Mature food is on the left.  The two white bottles are his supplements: a fish oil, which he takes for his skin allergies, and a joint supplement.  MJ’s Adult food is on the right, and the white bottle is her cranberry pill supplement because she has some UTI issues.

Zo loves his new food.  MJ loves nabbing a stray kibble bit from his bowl.  And scooping and replacing two food bins is really helping reinforce our sit/stays.

Multiple tupperware can also make for a confusing, half-asleep breakfast time.  Hence the labels.  But that’s my issue.

Where we struggle

August 2014

As we very publicly announced last week, MJ and Zozo are embarking on Canine Good Citizenship (CGC) certification training.  We’re buckling down and recommitting to a training regimen, which is good for everyone.

It’s going to be tough.  We’ll be breaking  bad habits, changing the direction of our previous training programs and working hard to ace the 10-part test.  In my last post, I indicated it’s going to be a year-long training program.  Maybe it will be longer; it all depends on the dogs.  We don’t want to overwhelm them or push them too far too fast.  And really, there’s only so much American Cheese I can take under my fingernails.

As we’ve started to return to the basics this week, I’ve been keeping a mental list of where we need the most work and where I expect our individual stubbornness will throw up obstacles.  Here’s what I’ve go so far:

  • Prong Collars to Harnesses.  CGC candidates may not test on prong collars or gentle leaders.  As I wrote last week, removing the prongs was a debacle.  It’s like we’d never walked on leash before, and the whole world was meant for crossed leashes and blistered mommy hands.  We’ve made the change to Easy Walk harnesses, and we’re back on track.  It’s taking the dogs some time to get accustomed to the feel of the harness across their shoulders, and I’m still figuring out how to walk them without needing to flip the leash over their heads every 3 minutes.  We’ll figure it out.


  • Leave it.  Boy, the world is full of sniffs.  And it doesn’t matter if we walked by that one lamp post two minutes ago or yesterday… we have to stop and sniff and mark and sniff and sniff again.  Outside, with so many senses engaged and so much newness, it’s near impossible to call “leave it” and move along like sensible folks.sniffs

So instead, we’re starting from Step 1 with their meals.  I bring their food to their eating spots, and they have to sit and leave the bowl until I release them (“take it”).  If they lunge toward the food, I remove it.  Setting the puppy table for dinner can take a few minutes now.  Zo’s fairly good about this cue, except if he’s on to the scent of something interesting outside.

  • Sit and stay.  Years ago, our on-leash dogs would sit every time we came to a stop.  Street corners, car doors, random slow downs in the walking speed.  We’ve let them get a little lax.  That’s on us.  Not any more.  You’re waiting for dinner- sit. sit

You’re waiting for me to put on my shoes to take you out– sit!  You’re waiting for me to open the gate because you can’t push your way through– Sit!  We’re at a busy crosswalk with lots of traffic– SIT!  MJ seems to be having the most difficult time with this one.  I often get the “you’re slowing my roll” look of judgement from her.  Fine.  No cheese for you.

  • One at a time.  When MJ leaves the house by herself, she’s confident and excited at the adventures before her.  When Zozo leaves the house by himself, the world is his oyster and it’s business as usual.  When I take Zozo out the door and leave MJ behind, MJ freaks out.  She screams, she cries, she sits in the window anxiously awaiting his return.  It’s painful for us to hear her so upset, and I can’t imagine the anxiety she feels lessens as time passes.  So we’ll try to divide and conquer: half the time they’ll train together, half the time apart.  James will take one and I’ll take the other.  Maybe we can get MJ out of the house first before she notices that Zo is going in a different direction.  Separating the little girl from her big brother is the worst.
  • Squirrels.  I just can’t with this.
  • Walking in the rain.  Look, I’m not thrilled with this either, but the more they fight with me, the longer the walk takes.  And then we’re all unhappy.  So I guess we’ll throw a party and up-the-treat-ante to make it a special occasion.
  • Staying at a distance/being handled by strangers.  MJ will want to lick everyone and wiggle and smile and break hearts.  Zozo will be cool for a while, until we disappear from his view.  Then he’ll lose it.  This is where our friends will come in!  We’ll be enlisting folks to help handle and train as we get further into our program (and after the winter months).
  • Laziness.  Long days, stressful work, illness.  We humans need to keep the commitment going.  We can’t expect the dogs to take themselves for walks (that would be something).  We can’t slack on correcting or praising and rewarding behavior.  Really, it’s on us.

There’s more.  I’m sure there’s more.  And we’ll find out together.

Today we took a walk…

August 2014

…and we left our prong collars at home. And it was the Worst. Walk. Ever.

A little background:
During our training at Old Town School for Dogs, both dogs were put on prong collars. The collars were left loose. The prongs are rubber-tipped. Yes, prong collars are controversial. I’m not interested in an argument; please don’t engage.

Since we’ve completed the training, when we gear-up for a walking adventure, the prongs go on. They’re so loose they may as well be necklaces. We refer to the collars as their bling. They sing rap songs when they wear them. Ok, I do. It’s charming. Trust me.


The point is, the dogs walk like angels when they’re wearing them. They strut nicely beside each other, heel like champs and respond to our cues on the first call. The moment I take the collars off, it’s mayhem. Crossed leashes, pulling, lunging… The collars serve as a reminder of what they’re supposed to do, and the treats and praise that follow successes.

But last Sunday, I attended an Animal Welfare League of Arlington Breakfast with Bullies session. We learned about Good Canine Citizenship certification and the types of therapy dog opportunities in our area.

Our dogs are awesome. They’re great with people and children. They’re silly and loving and sweet. They make us happy. They’re more entertaining than television. And we can share them with people who could use a little laughter.

And so, over the next year, we’re redoubling our training efforts. We’re trading in our prong collars for harnesses. We’re going to push their limits and our own as we lock in our recall, our “Leave It”, and as we increase our tolerance for sudden noises and distractions. They’ll train separately and together. With both parents at the end of the leash.

Buy your stock in Kraft American Cheese and Oscar Mayer Hot Dogs. We’re training for gold.

Day Dreaming

August 2014

Sometimes, I catch myself gazing wistfully at the pups. I rewind the ticker-tape of my brain and pick up the most astounding threads of half-thinking. They usually go something like this…

Don’t you look so peaceful when you’re sleeping. Except when you kick my leg when you’re doing that grumbly, twitchy thing. What are you seeing? Are you dreaming? Are you reliving a memory?

IMG_0027.JPGI know you’ve been gazing at the corner of the room, watching something intently and mouthing off at it. I don’t see anything there. Are there ghosts I should be worried about?

photo 1

Why don’t you bark when we come home to you instead of barking at the outside when we’re in the house? Are you trying to protect us? You don’t have to. Except when I’m sleeping. You may bark to alert me then.

Taking turns licking the bottom of my right foot is making me uncomfortable. Switching to my left one isn’t any better.

Do you realize you’re flirting with your own reflection?

Is it weird to be jealous of your turnout? Because I am. No amount of stretching will help me; I know because I’ve tried.



Daddy doesn’t appreciate the gifts you leave in his shoes.  Especially when you freak out because you can’t find the toy you’ve left behind just moments after you left it… I’m not criticizing.  Out loud.



I don’t know when you became part cat and decided to drape yourself over the back of the couch.  I think it’s hysterical.  Don’t tell dad.



How about you all?  Any whimsical puzzles or observations cross your mind as you look at your furbabies?