All Thumbs

We can get out the door, but Mama needs to help us back in.

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All of the treats

Halloween 2014

Last year, I finally succumbed to the voice in my head and dressed the dogs up for Halloween.  This was particularly ineffective since we usually hide in the basement with the lights off and pray no one knocks on the door.  Our’s isn’t a terribly well-trafficked street, and the neighborhood does an indoor candy dispatch in the auditorium of the local middle school.

But it made me deliriously happy, and that’s all that mattered.

This year, both pups got some showy threads. And many pumpkin-flavored treats were sacrificed for the photoshoot.

Happy Halloween, and stay safe friends!

i feel pretty... oh so pretty...

i feel pretty… oh so pretty…

excited AND scared

excited AND scared

Mam told us to smile. #derp

Mom told us to smile. #derp

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too many treats

too many treats

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.”

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

Happy Friday all.

Next Stage

September 2014

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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.

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  • 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.

Bygones.

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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

a little crazy?

July 2014

I generally dislike the word “crazy.”  I don’t like how disparaging and dismissive it comes off.  I know it’s become one of those words, like “sick” or “bad” or “dude,” that means fourteen different things depending on your tone, word placement and angle of your hat.

But the amount of “crazy” that’s shown up in my inbox recently is startling.  Let’s stop calling women “crazy” (here and here) (also, yes, let’s, but that’s not my point here).  Let’s stop telling people a food-lifestyle choice is “crazy” (be gluten free, or paleo, or raw, or vegan.  I don’t care).

But animal people: for the love of Pete, let’s please stop calling each other crazy.  You like cats?  Have 20 cats, but only if you can properly care for them and feed them.  You want to dress your pig in a bathing suit and film her playing a keyboard?  Please send me a link.  You rescue or adopt or go to a breeder for your dog?  Fine, I’m not going to judge your choices; really, I’m not. Do the best for the animals you have.

I think we need to start letting ourselves off the hook.  If we don’t, then we get suckered into taking quizzes rating our craziness, and the outcome is like this:

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I am an over-achiever.  This is Fact.  When my crazy result is “Slightly,” I covet the craziness of others and I go overboard.  And that’s not healthy for anyone.

So how about we just accept the love and affection and obsessiveness we have toward our furbabies at any extreme?

When I dip, you dip, we dip…

July 2014

Guys! Guys! For like…ohhhh… three years I’ve been asking James if I could get a wading pool for myself the dogs.  And for three years he’s been all, “it will kill the grass” and “but, mosquitos” about it.  But this 4th of July, to celebrate the successful completion of some grueling DIY home improvement stuff, he finally caved.  Mostly because I was driving and I didn’t ask for permission.  We went to Trader Joe’s for sustenance, we stopped at Petsmart for a replacement dog bed, and then to Toys’R’Us for a pool.

And he’s excited about it.  I know, because he put this picture on Facebook:

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The pool wass bent and squished and wedged (and shoved) into the backseat of The Car.  Surprisingly, it made it home in one piece.

At first, we had to coax the dogs into the pool with cheese.  They weren’t too sure about the big blue bowl on the patio.  Once they were in, they were reluctant to get out!

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Of course we have videos!

Some lessons we’ve learned:

1.  If you’re sitting with your feet in the pool, one or both dogs will scratch your shins until you remove your feet, thus allowing more romping and splashing space.

2. Tennis balls must taste better when they’ve been dunked in hose water.

3.  MJ can become possessive of the pool after being splashed in the face by her brother.  And while we corrected the behavior, I don’t blame her snippiness.

4.  Dogs cannon-balling into the pool will move said pool half way across the patio, which may or may not be part of the fun.

5.  That pool is really, really heavy to empty.

6.  Dry dogs will break out of the sunroom to run through the murky, drained pool water.

7.  Seriously, this is the best $18 we’ve ever spent.  They both love the cool-off option on hot days.  And mosquitos were not a concern.  Neither was dead grass. I win.

I know, I know

I haven’t written in two weeks. I feel bad about it. Especially when Friday night rolls around and the dogs look at me like this:

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Full of judgement. Woe. Despair that their interweb-sensation-ism is fading.
We’ll be back. I promise.