Monday, February 23, 2015

Harper's Ferry Winter Hike

This weekend we had a big snow on Saturday, so big that we couldn't really go anywhere in the car. So it was an afternoon to suit up in the jackets and go for a walk in the neighborhood. Fozzie feels about sledders and skiers about the same way he feels about skateboarders, so I decided to put his head halter on to manage him a bit better. 

Which meant that he got the implacable urge to rub his head against something to scratch the head halter itch, which meant that he became a snowplow. 

The good thing was, he couldn't get too demonstrative even when Florian himself took off on the sled, 

which I think upset him even more than watching a stranger move in such an unusual way.

Sunday dawned clear and warmer, a perfect day to go enjoy the snow on some trail a bit farther from home. We ended up at Harper's Ferry, one of my favorite places. 

A very scenic, historic town with beautiful architecture, nestled in the crook at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers. 

A bunch of trails converge on Harper's Ferry, 

including the Appalachian Trail, the Maryland Heights Trail--where we went years ago with Fozzie, Lamar, and Sandy--and the C&O Canal Towpath, which you can follow all the way down to Georgetown, DC or up all the way to Pittsburgh.

We crossed a bridge to C & O Canal Trail, for a nice flat hike that would be easier in the snow. 

It was so bright and sunny, and such a relief after the ghastly weather we've been having to enjoy the relative warmth.

The dogs were in high spirits, especially Fozzie who loves the snow and who despite his short pittie fur does not seem very sensitive to the cold. 

There was still a fair amount of snow on the ground and even though it was flat and we weren't out that long, the pups got nice and tired.

I am so grateful to live in a place where dramatic natural beauty is so accessible! And to have canine and human family members who enjoy being out in it as much as I do. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Smart Chips Peanut Butter Chews

Did you know that February is Dental Health Awareness Month? 

I sure didn't, until let me know and offered some dental treats to celebrate. 

We chose Smart Chips Peanut Butter Chews by Smart Bones. 

Since we've been working a lot with freeze-dried treats, which are super high-value and go down quickly, I wondered what it would be like to use a treat that takes longer to chew to work on something challenging like nail clipping. 

Apparently these treats smelled really good, and the dogs were eager to try them. I broke up one chew into smaller pieces and gave those out just in exchange for the dogs looking at the nail clippers. They took these chews off to their respective spots, and it took them a while to get through them. 

That's the good thing about these chews. Like rawhides, they take a while to chew, but unlike rawhides they are 99.2% digestible and made from ingredients like chicken and vegetables. 

So if you like to give your dogs a long-lasting chew, but worry about intestinal blockages, worry no more. 

We got to where the dogs could enjoy the chew with the clippers touching their paws.

I was hoping that with a longer-lasting chew, the dogs would be able to just relax and enjoy the chew while I trimmed their nails, and be so engrossed in that peanut-buttery goodness that they wouldn't even notice that the Grooming Tool of Death was doing unspeakable things to their little footies. 

But I'm afraid it will take some more work. Dahlia made it pretty clear that she's not ready to get close to those things for long. 

So we'll just take our time, and slowly build associations between those ghastly clippers and really, really high-value treats.

And we know where we can always get those! 

Thanks for all your help with making grooming less scary.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Dogs on Ice

I have to say, around this time of the winter I start longing for spring flowers, warm breezes, and swimming holes. But the frigid temperatures are no excuse to stay inside, and this season has its joy and beauty if only you seek it out. 

One of those joys is bringing the dogs for a hike along an icy stream, like the Difficult Run trail near Great Falls, 

throwing a stick onto the ice-covered waterway to get both dogs out there,

and watching the fun as they stop short, thinking that stick is right THERE, within their grasp,

and then proceed to slide all over the place,

paws going every which way.

Is it wrong that I find that so enjoyable?

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Northwest Naturals Freeze-Dried Dog Treats--An Amazing Tool for Trick Training and Grooming Desensitization!

Recently, Natural Pet Warehouse contacted me and asked if I'd do a product review on some Northwest Naturals Freeze-Dried dog treats

Although Dahlia's evening wackies have abated somewhat, she still has her moments and I love having some high-value treats around to motivate and inspire them to channel that energy into something productive. 

And besides, who can say no to freeze-dried treats?

Brandon with Natural Pet Warehouse generously sent us both the salmon and the chicken liver freeze dried treats. Made from just a single ingredient, these treats are the simplest thing possible.  And dogs just go nuts for them. 

Just whip them out and suddenly everyone is at attention

and offering behaviors all over the place. 

Jumping up on exercise balls, lunging into a simul-down, 

rolling over with abandon, and 
joyfully, simultaneously offering a shake, since when there's a freeze-dried treat to be had there's no time to wait for the other dog to finish with the paw behavior first--gotta get that treat now

I know my dogs have pretty good lives, but sometimes I worry a bit about Fozzie. He's such an anxious dog, and despite all the fun we have together I wonder sometimes if he's overall that happy. 

Times like this, after a session involving freeze dried treats and fun tricks, I'm pretty sure he's happy. 

High-value freeze-dried treats also come in handy when you have a client dog who's not too sure about grooming. 

Kona is a sweet dog who's come a long way since his people first rescued him, when they couldn't even touch him with a brush without him snapping at them.

He still snarls and snarks a bit when he's approached with a tool, but we spent our first few minutes together just showing him the brush, then giving a freeze-dried treat.  

After an interval of this, Kona was much more relaxed

and I was able to brush him pretty much all over.

We were sitting on the porch and just enjoying a rare warm and sunny day, and went slowly and took breaks along the way

This is really my favorite kind of grooming job. Working with a dog who's worried about it, and really taking time to desensitize and change his mind about the whole thing by making it positive--with some really extraordinary treats!

I think Kona's really starting to change his mind about grooming. His parents have done a great job with desensitizing him to touch, handling, and brushing, and I love being a part of his process too!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Dogswell Vitality Chicken Breast Jerky Dog Treats

This month, our free trial from was Dogswell Vitality Chicken Breast jerky dog treats.

Dogswell Vitality Chicken Breast Jerky Dog TreatsI'll just say it right at the top: dogs go nuts for these things. Jerky snacks just seem to be the best thing my dogs have ever sniffed or savored. 

As you know, we like to put our new dog treats to the test by seeing if the pups will work for them. A winter evening where I don't really feel like going for a long walk, and Dahlia is bouncing off the walls and and sinking her teeth into every corner of Fozzie, is the perfect opportunity to do some trick training. 

Now most dogs who have been trained using positive methods are more than happy to go into trick mode, as they know there's something in it for them. The question is to what extent the dogs completely lose their composure and offer enthusiastic novel behaviors when they know a particular treat is in store. 

These treats made my dogs just completely flip out. First up were the paw behaviors, in which both Fozzie and Dahlia were pawing all over the place in an effort to prove themselves worthy of a jerky treat. 

OK guys, let's learn a brand new trick: roll over. 

In moments they were throwing themselves on the ground and twisting over with paws in the air. 


No problem, if it'll help you reach those little wafers of ecstasy. 

Now let's try getting on that medicine ball. 

Got it!

Proof that high-value treats accelerate learning, and make canines into creative and innovative thinkers. 

The other great use for high-value treats is to work on counterconditioning with a dog who is afraid of something. A perfect opportunity came when my once-monthly hound clients came by to have a wash and a nail trim. 

Poor Candy had some ACL surgery not too long ago, so maybe she was a bit strung out from being crated for a few weeks. In any case, she was unusually nervous and wasn't having any of it when I got close to her paws. Only way to even start to make her feel better about the clippers was to wave one of those jerky treats over my lap, and touch the clippers to those paws. 

At which point she jumped off my lap in short order...but climbed right back up when another jerky treat came out.

Poor nervous dog. Glad she at least got some good treats out of that experience. 

Thanks for another fantastic snack experience. 

What's YOUR favorite application for a high-value treat?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Toward a Back Pain Solution: Core workouts with Dahlia

My sleep breakthrough has persisted a few weeks now, and I am sleeping unassisted by anything except a pretty boring book and my snoring little pit bull by my head. 

On a related note, though my insomnia much predates my lower back pain, the latter has been a persistent problem since I moved to this area 7 years ago and made a series of really bad mattress decisions. Fortunately, this back pain improves with activity and does not affect dog walking or hiking--but I have long wished I knew someone who could tell me what was wrong with my back and what mattress would fix it. The mattress salesmen who hover over you and make suggestive remarks while you're trying to decide, then tell you that miraculously the very mattress you're testing has been reduced to 50% off TODAY ONLY BLOWOUT SALE ACT NOW, somehow I don't think have my best interests at heart. 

Well I finally stumbled upon the website What an exhaustive, unbiased resource for exasperated mattress shoppers! Empowered to make an informed mattress decision, with no sleazy salesmen  leering over my shoulder, I finally decided on a firm latex mattress from Flexus Mattress Company, which was far below retail price. When I sleep with pillows under my chest and knees--and with Dahlia by my head--I am finding that I not only do so with no pharmaceuticals but with a minimum of back pain.

Though a good mattress is key, I am well aware that it is not the only factor in reducing back pain. 

As Dahlia knows, having a strong core is also a huge factor. 

An exercise ball is a great way to work the abdominal and lower back muscles because it increases your back's range of motion, and the bouncy surface reduces the chance of injury.  You can find some great core strengthening exercises here and here .

And I find that having a fitness buddy can really add focus and motivation to my workouts. Not to mention an additional level of challenge!
A 20-minute core workout, coupled with some puppy bonding time and followed by an ice pack to accelerate lower back healing, could I think become a new evening routine!

I think Dahlia's on board. 

How do YOU enhance your workouts?

Sunday, January 18, 2015

My little sleep angel

Those of you who have been hanging with us for a while know that I struggle with sleep, and that I am always on the lookout for new ways to crack the code of my insomnia

I recently had a few days coming up where I knew I didn't have much going on that required mental acuity, so I decided to make another go at kicking the prescription pharmaceutical habit. 

With the result that I had two sleepless nights, but once that was out of my system I started sleeping like a...well, like a normal sleeper. With no Ambien, no Benadryl, no herbs.

Just dogs. I do think that small, snorty, compact female dogs have a uniquely soporific effect on me. If they are in bed with me, snoring, so much the better. 

It is incredibly liberating to be sleeping without assistance! Lately, I've been writing--the old fashioned way, with pen and paper--before bed instead of taking pills. 

Getting those little nagging thoughts, or larger philosophical questions, or haunting memories, out on paper, somehow calms the system.  

It's something I used to do a lot of, then got out of the habit.

How do YOU calm the mind and spirit? Does a little bundle of fur do it for you, or do you need something stronger? 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

More North Carolina hikes

The great thing about the eastern, mountainous part of North Carolina is that there are several cool towns and recreation destinations in close proximity. 

After our relaxing soak in the hot springs at Hot Springs, we spent the night at an awesome dog-friendly Super 8 motel near Black Mountain.

And then set off for the Pisgah National Forest and its mountains and waterfalls. 

On a misty, foggy, clammy morning 

we set off on the trail to Crabtree Falls. 

It was a strenuous 3.5 mile loop through the mysterious forest. No one on the trail so we let the dogs run free so they could navigate the slippery stairs and steep ridges by themselves. 

The waterfall itself was stunning!

And then the hike back up, which was pretty tiring but of course the dogs had plenty of energy for the whole thing. 
The falls are right near Little Switzerland, NC which of course we had to check out. 

But there wasn't much to see--it was more of a tourist outpost than a real Swiss settlement. 

All the stores were closed for the winter. 

I thought the Swiss were so hardy?

We had much better luck in the town of Black Mountain that afternoon, which was a very nice little town with artistic little shops to check out. 

We had decided on the North Carolina trip because I have two friends who now live in Asheville, but one was out of town and the other, whom we were going to meet on New Year's Eve, changed her plans and was also away. So we decided to leave a day early and take a more leisurely drive back. 

The drive included some really incredible scenic overlooks that made me feel like I was back in the Steens Mountains, Oregon 

as well as another hike on the Appalachian Trail off the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia

Great to break up the drive and let the pups zoom around a bit. 

After the 65 degree weather we had on the beach at the beginning of our trip, the cold was bracing but seasonal

and at least it was still sunny, making for incredible views through the trees and across the hills. 

We arrived in Winchester, VA in time to find another amazing dog-friendly Motel 6 with a king-sized bed, and to meet my friend Jona who is from Zimbabwe and plays mbira, and was playing a little demo/concert for New Years Eve.

I was hoping we'd get to play together a bit, but didn't anticipate he'd ask me to perform with him! 

We played a few sets, and I relaxed once I realized that the dogs stayed nice and warm in the car as long as we came out every 45 minutes or so to run the engine. And just as the fireworks went off, Florian and I stole a kiss and then ran to the car to make out with the dogs.

Truly one of the best holiday vacations ever, topped off by one of the best New Year's Eves.

And just before we got home, I got an email that...Keller was adopted! By a shelter volunteer who fell in love with her and couldn't resist. I saw that comin'!