Tuesday, February 28, 2012


You may have noticed all the pretty badges that have appeared in the right pane of my blog; they represent the awards that you have kindly bestowed upon me and that I have accepted, in complete violation of the rules that say you have to actually DO something to accept them. 

Well I've been trying to write this blog post for weeks now, in which I acknowledge your nominations and do what I'm supposed to do in order to accept them. 

But I just can't do it. All of these awards have rules, and as much as I try I just can't seem to bring myself to follow them. 

But the purpose of all the awards is to build community, so I will attempt to do that in my own nonconformist way. 

For the lovely Liebster award, I'd like to thank Lori of What Remains Now and Matt of The Pitbull Palace. Lori is the rescuer of two retired greyhounds and an incredibly creative person. Matt advocates for pit bulls and does excellent work to dispel the myths associated with this misunderstood breed. Go check them out and see all the good they bring into the world.

Now I think someone else, some months ago, may have also nominated me for the Liebster award, but darned if I can remember who you are! Who was that masked woman/man, that generous purveyor of awards, that mysterious priestess (or priest?) of things manifesting a liebsterlike splendor? Whoever you are, I salute you.

For the Pawsome Blogger Award I owe my gratitude to Pup Fan, a blogger who is no stranger to Pawsomeness herself. Pup Fan's true identity has been admired and discussed by other bloggers in other places--notably, by the similarly Pawsome Pamela of Something Wagging This Way Comes--so I won't delve into the mystery of who this Pup Fan really is.  I'll just send her a wag and suggest you head on over to her blog when you're in the mood for a laugh, a ridiculous pop culture reference, or a conscientious post about a deserving adoptable animal in the Northern Virginia area. 

Hawk AKA Brown Dog found me worthy of the One Lovely Blog Award. Hawk is a beautiful Brown Dog who posts about her life in the Southeastern U.S. and does some fantastic advocacy for rescue dogs in need. Stop on by and see what she's up to!

The You are an Inspiration Award comes from Pamela at Something Wagging This Way Comes, who writes a very thoughtful and thought-provoking blog about her sweet retriever Honey, with many gems about life, good books and movies, and dog training. Check it out when you get a chance.

And just to show you how long I've been slacking on the award-recognition front, last August or so Jen of the Inu Baka blog, which is now the lovely Volunteers4Paws, nominated me for the Seven Links Challenge. I am hoping that all of my posts are in their own way beautiful, popular, controversial, helpful, successful, worthy of pride, and yet somehow underappreciated. Which is a fine set of characteristics for which to strive in all our endeavors, isn't it?

Now I know I'm supposed to pass each of these awards on to other lucky blog hosts, who will then fret, stew, or rejoice--depending on their personalities--over the challenge/ opportunity. Instead, I'm going to use this time to send you over to Barbara's blog and ask you to send her some love and support, as it sounds like she's struggling with all sorts of mortgage nasties as well as two torn ACLs that her sweet Minnie needs fixed soon.
You guys are all so great! This community's so great about coming together and helping each other through tough times.  

Monday, February 27, 2012

More TTouch for Sandy

On the day Sandy met her new Dad, she was scheduled to go to her second TTouch session as well. Since the meeting went so well, I thought it would be great for him to come along and watch. When he agreed to indulge us Takoma Park hippies with our wacky New Age ideas, I knew this guy was a keeper. 

This time Pam had us work in the bathroom so Sandy would have a smaller space to feel compelled to explore. Though there was a lot of sniffing about at first, she settled down a lot more quickly this time! Pam was also happy to find that her little prunie nose was less squished up and tense. 

She worked all over her face again, then moved down to her tail and butt. A firm hand on the sacrum to allow Sandy to feel that part of her body. 

Pam said there was a lot of heat coming from her sacrum. A sign of all the tension being released.

Pam said that in addition to the nose and face, unsettled dogs often hold tension in their tails as well. So she devoted some time to rotating the tail, and waving it up and down like a little sine wave. 

Then Pam lifted each paw and rotated it. She noted that in a balanced dog, the remaining three paws would adjust when the fourth one was lifted. But Sandy lost her balance!  


A few of you have asked if there are good books out there on TTouch so you can explore it yourselves. There are several, which you can find on the website of the founder of TTouch, Linda Tellngton-Jones. My favorite is called Unlock Your Dog's Potential: How to Achieve a Calm and Happy Canine, by Sarah Fisher. It is full of great pictures and clear explanations on how to use this fantastic therapeutic technique. I found so much in this book that is directly applicable to my little canine projects. Consider this, apropos of both Sandy and Fozzie:
...many animals improve in their behavior and in their ability to operate in a calm and focused mode once tension in the mouth is reduced....Dogs with tension around the muzzle may also bark, drink, pant and mouth excessively, and may show a particular obsession with food, toys, and other articles. They may be quick to arouse and prone to hyperactive behavior. They can be slow to mature mentally and emotionally. They may be boisterous, pushy and over the top and may alternate between being totally full on and fast asleep. If forced beyond their comfort zone...they may mouth hard and/or grab the handler's clothing or the lead. 
There are so many things in this book that had me in wonderment that the things I experience with my dogs are relatively common problems, and problems with solutions--or at least practices that may help. 

So great to learn new ways to help a little ungrounded bundle of dogness like Sandy, as she is not the first... unbalanced...dog I have had, and will unlikely be the last! 

As Sandy's new Dad has said he may be trying out some fostering once Sandy settles in, I'm sure he'll be putting the info to good use too. 

That's what we like to hear!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Sandy's TTouch Session

Before Sandy met her fantastic new Dad, who is patient and happy with her in all her puppy rambunctiousness, I thought it would be a good idea to bring her for a TTouch session or two to see if I could temper her wildness a bit and make her a tad more palatable to any adopter. 

Just like for Fozzie's first session, Pam sat on the floor with Sandy and just held her harness, waiting for her to settle down. 

It took a long time! Sandy is such a busy little bee. All her whining, sniffing, stretching, and straining showed just how stressful it was for her just to be asked to be still!

While she struggled and sniffed and whined, Pam just patiently held her and did some TTouch on her. She especially worked her nose and face, and noted how tight they were. 

She showed me how her little nose was wrinkled up, with the skin around the tip of her nose bunched up like a prune. Pam focused her TTouch right around those wrinkles and tight spots, doing circles all over her nose and head. 

Pam even put her finger in Sandy's mouth and stretched out her lip, to show Sandy how it felt to have those lip muscles in a position other than tight.

After a bit of this, even Sandy was able to see that it could be rewarding to just Be Here Now. So wonderful to watch her learn a new way of being!

Hopefully her dad will let us know soon whether those new lessons stuck, or whether she is still bouncing off the walls. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Sandy update

Sandy seems to be getting along fine in her new home! I got this update from her new Dad her first night home
Leash shopping in Baltimore (Photo Chris Engl)
With every passing moment, I get a greater glimpse of how special [Sandy] truly is....We took a long walk around the neighborhood and Sandy met more than a handful of friends, neighbors, acquaintances, and even a few dogs. We have taken exactly one walk on "The Avenue" and she is already a show stopper. Three groups of people stopped in their tracks to interact with her. She was great with every encounter. I have already realized how much she loves to bait humans into tug of war with her leash. LOL. She also marked her territory after peeing on our walk about 10 times. Sandy is such an inquisitive little girl. Everything new attracts her attention and it is amazing to witness.
It did not take long for me to realize you were an awesome mom to her. I really think that will help to make the transition much easier. Well, kinda. You give me hope that I too can foster without completely losing it when the time comes. I realize it takes a lot of strength and courage to do it. 
Sandy was very active all evening, until recently. Now we are settling in for sleep and she is very quiet. I worry about separation anxiety, but I will do everything I can to make her feel better/loved. I took off of work tomorrow so she doesn't have to spend a single minute alone. 
Photo: Chris Engl
I included that little bit about how awesome I am not to toot my own horn, but to show you the kind of guy Sandy's new Dad is! Sounds pretty amazing, huh?

Sandy, you hit the jackpot!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Sandy's New Home

Well just as suddenly as she came into our lives, Sandy has moved on.

Those of you who visited us last week may have noticed one particularly auspicious comment on the post about Sandy's bath. Chris was considering another Jasmine's House dog, but it turned out that his foster decided to keep him--at just about the same time that another prospective adopter for Sandy fell through!

I had a pretty good feeling about things when Chris was undaunted by Lamar's shrill barks and Fozzie and Sandy's aerial displays of excitement. Even better when he seemed delighted about the lovely muddy pawprint pattern Sandy painted all over his clothes when we went in the backyard. 

And when I went up to Baltimore the following day for the home visit, the good omens were almost uncanny. On our walk through his neighborhood, which includes miles of trails through a wooded park, I was telling him about the great pit bull walks I've heard about in Baltimore organized by B-More Dog. We turned the corner and literally at that moment a very happy woman came up asking us if she could pet Sandy. It turned out that woman was a B-More Dog board member, and lives right in Chris' neighborhood. 

Chris already walks miles every day and is looking forward to having a little pit bull to parade around and to join in with Pit Bulls on Parade. Sandy is going to have a future full of long walks, cuddling, and socializing with dogs and people in positive ways. It's no wonder that when it was time to leave, Sandy was reluctant to go home with her foster mom!

When Chris came to pick up Sandy yesterday, the way she greeted him was confirmation that, despite my own feelings of my heart ripping right out of my chest, this is a wonderful match and a wonderful new beginning for Sandy. 

Sandy is really a special little dog, with her loving hugs and her snorty grunts and her attentiveness and her affection. 

But I remember being just about devastated every time I adopted out a foster dog back when it was happening more frequently. Every dog is special, and I take consolation in the fact that if I were to go to the shelter today and take home another one, I'd form a bond with that one just like I did with Sandy. 

I am so excited that Sandy gets to go to a home where she can realize her potential in so many ways. 

I will miss her sweet snorty nose and tiny red sleek pittie body, but when I start to miss her I'll think of how great it is for her to be in a place where she's not picking up bad habits from my reactive boys, and where her person really has the time to devote to her that she deserves. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Trash repurposed

Although my particular dog situation might be best served by living out in the country somewhere miles away from anyone else, I do have the good fortune of living in a suburb that is more mellow and diverse than some and that is characterized by spacious yards, large trees, and tolerant neighbors. 

One of my favorite neighbors is the daycare down the street, where all the kiddies go out on a walk with their caretakers a few times a day and walk past our house. They smile and wave at the big doggies looking out at them from behind my fence, and aren't scared at all. 

They also throw away cool stuff on occasion. My buddy Francine, who has some dog walking and training clients on my street, scored a nifty little plastic kiddie castle one day. She tossed it into her Ford and brought it home to use with dogs on confidence building and agility, but her partner Karen thought it was a trashy looking piece of plastic crap and wanted it gone.

Good thing my backyard was handy.  

Kiddie play stuff can make great dog equipment. Sturdy enough to withstand a bevy of toddlers and built for safety, this sort of trashy plastic stuff is just perfect for the kind of dogs who love to run, jump, and climb. 

I've always wanted to set up some agility and other dog play equipment in my yard, but didn't want to put expensive high-quality stuff out there knowing the treatment it would undergo. 

The dogs love their kiddie castle and it gives me another way to tire them out. They love to climb up on it, jump over it, and go through the tire that Francine ingeniously attached. 

I can hold up a stick and get Sandy to jump endlessly over the little plastic step. A little refinement and I'm sure I can chain all sorts of fun behaviors. 

The possibilities are endless!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Sandy Goes to Class

All of this focus on healing and learning with Fozzie has made me newly committed to helping Sandy achieve her potential as well. So this past weekend we decided to bring Sandy to my buddy Francine's class right down the street. 

Francine is so welcoming and awesome; we always joke with each other about how we'll never be resource guarders with each other like some of the other dog trainers we know. 

When I first got Sandy, I used to bring her to adoption events and marvel at how great she was with other dogs, kids, and people. As she's gotten older and had a couple of little scrappies with Fozzie though, I've wondered if she was growing into a bit more testiness and if it was something I had to watch out for.

The good thing about a little puppy like her though is that that personality is still so malleable. 

In Francine's class, she was eager to greet the other dogs but the greetings were friendly. A little energetic, but she was easy to redirect with cheesy snacks. 

When I asked her for sits and downs, she was attentive and focused. 

She paid attention to me even with dogs all around her and kids romping madly behind her. 

You would think that a positive dog trainer like myself would remember the power of a little focused training to bring out the best in a dog and start to shift any tendencies in a positive direction. 

For some reason the things I tell my own students every week are things I so easily forget with my own dogs. That's why we trainers have to hang out together and help each other out. Thanks Francine!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Dog laundering operation

You may think that a professional groomer, and I do emphasize professional, would take pains to keep her own dogs in top-notch, lemon-fresh, sparking clean condition. 

Well, you would be wrong. 

My dogs spend so much time scrapping around in the wilderness area that is our backyard that keeping them clean is a lost cause. 

It generally doesn't even occur to me that there is a way to have them smell other than like muddy fritos. 

And when it does, the idea of a bath hits me like an epiphany. I realize that a dog bath, with all its connotations of sudsy hedonism, is not just something the "other half" gets to enjoy while I, the grunt laborer, toils away to bring them this indulgence.

Oh, no! I have the skills, the products, and yes even the will to stick my own scrappy pit mix rescues in the tub and launder them like they were labradoodles. 

So the other night, in preparation for our TTouch session with Pam, which I contemplated with horror when I imagined Pam's hands after an hour of doing circles on Sandy's scrappy self, we did just that with our little rescue frito. 

Into the tub with Sandy, and a bit of Organically Correct Enriched Protein Shampoo for Dogs later we had ourselves a sudsy little squirt getting nice and squeaky clean. 

 Sandy was pretty good in the tub; she didn't seem to mind getting lathered up. 

She did want to get out of there a bit before she was done, but more in the way of a curious puppy wanting to move on than in the way of a tragic figure who has been forever scarred by the traumatic experience of being bathed, like many of my clients. 

After a while she even started realizing how much fun a bath can be, and playing in the water like a goofy little puppy. 

Hey, this sudsy almond-smelling wet stuff is really almost exactly the same as the muddy, dank-smelling wet stuff in the backyard!

The reward for our labors is a sweet-smelling, cuddly little pup who is, if possible, even more kissable than before.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Turning over a New Leaf

Now that I've made peace with the idea that Fozzie may be sticking around, I've experienced this burst of joyful energy about getting him the training and attention he needs. What was a burden before, when I contemplated the necessity of doing it for someone else's benefit, is now a fun project as I think of how great it will be for us.

As many of you helped me realize in your wonderful responses to my recent posts on Fozzie's reactivity, Fozzie desperately needs regular walks with other dogs and understanding humans. I know that groups like B-more dogs that put on walks for pit bull-type dogs to go out together, socialize, and be ambassadors for their breed. There are also organized walks for pit bulls who would not necessarily be the best breed ambassadors because they happen to have some leash...issues, but who benefit from community dog walks. I tried to track down similar amazing organized pit bull walks in the DC area, and came up with nothing. Fortunately, we do have Francine. 

Francine is my good buddy and fellow dog trainer. When I told Francine about my need for organized socialization opportunities for Fozzie, she welcomed me to her classes that take place just down the street from me.

On a gorgeous Saturday afternoon Fozzie and I suited up in our dual-attachment leash, head halter, and step-in harness and went to join Francine, her partner Karen, her frequent companion Jubal--a border collie whose parents are always traveling--the gorgeous Shepherd puppy Rocky, and his humans. 

There was some initial lunging and loud barking, at which I quickly directed Fozzie's face away from his two classmates. After that, he didn't exactly become Mr. Mello Yello but he did look at me when I called him and eat his treats in full awareness of other dogs not 15 feet away from him. He did a nice Paws up on a scrap of flooring Francine brought, and he walked around some traffic cones, and he generally was able to focus on me and what I asked of him. Huge progress! 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Equipment Changes

9My work with Pam on TTouch for Fozzie has tipped me off on some equipment that can really make a difference for working with dogs like him.

For the groundwork part of our session the other day, Pam got out a nifty little leash with attachment hardware on both ends, and attached one end to his harness and the other to his head halter. You can make one yourself by getting a carabiner from the hardware store for a few bucks and putting it on the handle end of your regular nylon leash. 

The single leash attached in two places makes handling Fozzie so much easier.

Pam also recommended not using the Easy-Walk harness we have always used. She showed me how the Easy Walk restricts movement with the band that goes right across the shoulder where it moves, and indeed, Fozzie has always shied away from me when I hold it up to put it on him. We have started using a step-in harness that Fozzie inherited from his cousin Genghis. 

I try to make putting on the harness fun by luring him forward to step in it himself. For a dog who is so gregarious and tough-looking, Fozzie is surprisingly hesitant and shy about certain things. He cowers and runs behind the rocking chair or the rose bush when I hold up his harness. I am certain that it has to do with my own impatience...or maybe the Easy Walk was really uncomfortable for him. In any case, we are really enjoying the game of putting the step-in harness on the ground, enticing Fozzie to step those gorgeous little white-tipped wonders forward, and then celebrating with a cheer and a cheesy snack when they go right where they're supposed to and I can snap that harness in place. 

So precious. It makes me feel like I'm dressing my kid up for school.

I also like the step-in because it provides a nice handle on top, so you can lift your dog like a six-pack.

It is certainly not ideal having to manage walks so tightly with all this equipment, but I do believe that with enough practice with the right equipment, which prevents practicing the behaviors we don't want, the good behaviors will become second nature. Fozzie and I are boldly going forward toward that day. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


As you know if you follow many of the wonderful dog blogs that enliven this community, our friends at PittieFullove lost their beloved Knox this week. 

I never met Knox but just to look at his pictures and hear the stories about him is to feel what a special, happy, velvety man he was. If you haven't already, stop on over and read the beautiful tributes Jess has been posting about this sweet boy, and send her a virtual hug and Knox a blessing, or a prayer, or a wink and a belly scratch as he traverses the bardo of becoming between this life and the next, or the peaceful time of merging with all that is, or whatever it is that dogs experience
and we will all experience, one day, when we leave this realm.

As I've read some of the sad posts that have come through Blogville over the past months, and contemplated how to say something that could possibly be helpful to someone who has lost a beloved dog, I've realized that there's really nothing you can say. 

I've had the same feeling when close friends or relatives were suffering from some affliction of mind or body. Often they won't tell me how bad they are feeling, but I know. And there's nothing I can do. At these times, well-meaning advice is misplaced and any words of comfort can feel hollow. 

The only thing I have found truly helpful is a Buddhist practice for healing I learned years ago. 

Visualize the person or animal who is suffering, and visualize that person's physical pain, emotional distress, or other limitation as a black smoke surrounding him or her. 

As you inhale, imagine that you are breathing in the black smoke so that the suffering person or animal has less of it to bear.
Medicine Buddha
As you breathe it in and it fills your chest cavity, it transforms into white light that nourishes you and cleans your cells, clearing any confusion or unhealthiness. 

As you exhale, exhale the white light back out into the universe and especially to the person or animal who is suffering, so that her or his pain is alleviated.

I find that this practice makes me feel less helpless when people and animals I know and love are suffering, and when I feel less helpless, I can offer better support. 

And although I don't know for sure, I think it's very possible that sending out intentions for peace and healing ultimately does have tangible results in the world. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

Product Reviews and the Revolution

I was having a bit of a bummer of a day last week--occasioned by Sandy being not so nice to a dog in the park we'd been walking to--so when I came home from work I was in sore need of a little pick-me-up. Imagine my joy to find a big box on my porch from Mr. Chewy's, a mere two days after I had ordered it.

Full disclosure: Mr. Chewy's asked me to write a product review in exchange for a very nice coupon for free stuff--which, combined with Mr. Chewy's free shipping on all orders over $49, made for an offer this house of hungry canine consumers couldn't refuse. 

Now this blog is generally not the place for product reviews. But before you go calling this kinda-vegan, activist-groovy, anti-corporate, Buddhist-New Agey blogger a SELLOUT to the throwaway culture of rampant consumerism that  threatens to swallow all of us and our families and our dogs and the things we truly value like sunny walks in the park and delicious meals among friends whole, let me tell you this: Mr Chewy's donates $10 from every order from a friend you refer to a charity of your choice! 

Take THAT, corporate America!                                                                             

As others have noted, Mr. Chewy's has an incredible selection of dog and cat food, treats, and flea and tick products at prices that are affordable to the scruffiest of activists. 

We decided to get maximum bang for our buck by ordering three cases of delicious medium-grade canned food and some tasty treats for all of our leash walk training and bedtime desensitization exercises. 

The Sweet Potato and Fish formula treats are ones we had not yet tried, and have a delightful texture and crunch that is unique among baked dog snacks.  

There really are a lot of reasons to try Mr. Chewy's. In addition to the convincing ones at right:
  • Items are packaged with brown paper, not nonrecyclable, ozone-destroying styrofoam pebbles
  • The time you would have spent driving your biodiesel vehicle or riding your bike trailer to the pet store can be spent planting a community garden or doing a teach-in at your local university
  • Large box used for shipping can be dismantled and made into cardboard signs to bring to your next protest

Now how can you pass that up?

Friday, February 3, 2012

Sandy and Sam go wild

The other day we went by our friend Eric's house to see if Sandy would hit it off with his dog Sam as well as Fozzie did

Eric has an amazing house with a yard backing on woods with a bamboo forest and vast garden space. He is outside with Sam all the time but loves it when we come over because he knows that whatever he does with Sam, he can't play with him the way another dog can. 

Sam looks like a Ridgeback, pit, lab or some sort of Brown Dog mix, but Eric swears he's part greyhound just from how fast he can run. I never thought I'd see a dog who could so easily outrun Sandy but it sure was fun to watch. 

They were so perfectly matched in every way--both ready to run when the other was, ready to wrestle, seemed to really like each other. 

Sandy deferred nicely to Sam when he was eating a snack, and they both gave very appropriate signals and respected each other's boundaries. This surprised me and made me happy, as Sandy does not seem to be very respectful of Fozzie's boundaries. Maybe she knows she can take advantage of him, as he'll usually tolerate her brattiness like an indulgent uncle? 

Or maybe it's just that she loves making a frog, and will take any excuse to do it? I know lots of pit bulls love to make frogs--and of course, our friends at Pit Bull Frogs have a delightful calendar, with pictures of Fozzie, Sandy, and tons of other amazing pit bull frogs to prove it--but I think Sandy has got to be one of the froggiest dogs out there. 

Do your pitties seem to absolutely love to make themselves into frogs? Are there other dogs besides pitties (and Akitas--my sister's dog Genghis seems to love it too) that do a froggie pose so readily?