Friday, January 25, 2013

Dog play Zen

Each time I've brought Star over to work her magic with her cousin Genghis, my sister and I sit watching in stupefaction over the things that the two of them apparently find enjoyable. 

For both of them, repeated biting of each others' necks appears to be a favorite pastime.  Genghis also loves taking Star's legs in his mouth, and they both love flipping over on their backs with their mouths open, gnashing their teeth in each others' general direction.

All this goes on in near-complete silence. There's the occasional growl, gurgle, or snap, but most of the time they're totally quiet. 

There's a feeling of total engagement, complete camaraderie, almost what you would call calmness. A kind of doggie Zen, where the two are completely on the same wavelength.

Until recently, I never saw this kind of play with Star and Fozzie. They've always gotten along pretty well together, but their play has had a different kind of intensity, with more running, more tugging, more loud vocal yodeling and arguing.

I thought that Fozzie was just like most normal dogs, in that he didn't really enjoy having his neck continually bitten and so couldn't get into a play session with Star. 

Then I let them into the guest bedroom together. With a cushy, Queen-sized bed all to themselves, and away from under Lamar's judgmental eye, they hit a new groove and had one of those Zenlike play sessions. 

No growlies, no snappies, just mutually enjoyable biting, chewing, wrestling, and a bit of humping. 

Not once did I feel they were on the verge of getting out of hand; they just went at it for a while then stopped when they were tired. 
I was happy to see that they had that capacity! Star and Genghis seem always to be in the mood for the same kind of play, but it was nice to see Star and Fozzie able to get into that groove too. 

It doesn't surprise me that Fozzie is not always up for the kind of rough play Star loves, as I think of Fozzie as a very complex dog. (I hope my sister isn't reading this. But if you are, yes, I know Genghis is a very complex dog. Maybe Star just brings out the big goof in him).

Do your dogs have different play styles? Have you noticed that some are incompatible because of these differences, and just need to find the right playmates?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

"Dangerous Dog"

If Star did not have a couple of things going in her favor (like a foster family that is besotted with her and shelter staff who have worked hard to help her have a good outcome) you can imagine that it might be tough for her to find a good home. 

She's a black dog, a pittie mix, and has a big scar.

She has an abundance of energy and not the best impulse control. 

She pulls on the leash like a madwoman and in the shelter, she could get growly and a frustrated way, not in an aggressive way, but still not what adopters like to see.  

But the more I spend time with dogs like this the more I wish every dog--even the "unadoptable" ones--could spend even a few days or a week in a foster home. 

And the more I wish that every person who is scared of pit bulls or believes the hype about them could just spend a few hours with one. 

Star has proven to be one of the most trustworthy dogs I've known in terms of her temperament toward dogs and people. She's never met a dog or a person she didn't want to greet, interact with, and kiss. 
Just look at this dangerous dog in action with Dr. Perle, who came to give Fozzie and Lamar their annual shots.

Or with my sister, who has Star over on weekends to play with Genghis.

Star loves to chew on a hoof when she's at my sister's house, and after she'd chewed on all of Genghis' chew hooves I got her a bunch of her own.

Now we all know its bad to bother a dog who's working on a high-value chew, and the thought of a child bothering a chewing dog is enough to send some parents into cardiac arrest.

But Ursula loves to be close to Star.

Because we've witnessed this scenario many times before, we pretty much knew how it would unfold.

That Star's joy in her chew would only be magnified by the proximity of a small human, 

and that in response to being touched she would simply roll over, wag, and continue chewing. 

Now does that look like a dangerous dog to you?

Of course kids should be supervised around any dog, and should learn how to interact with dogs in ways that don't unduly stress them out. I am all in favor though of pit bulls getting back their reputation as "nanny dogs," because it is well-deserved.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

(One of) my favorite hike(s)

This past weekend was a last blast of warm, sunny weather before we're back to insulated-jackets-for- the-pitbulls conditions here in Maryland, so we made the most of it with a couple of nice hikes.

On Saturday we went south in Maryland to the area we went almost exactly a year ago with that trail I loved along the river.

We discovered that there are actually a bunch of trails there, and this time we took the Chiles Homesite trail.

This was a  nice long trail through the woods to the water,

with some weird ruins and interpretive signage along the way.


No one was there, so we had the woods to ourselves and the pups could enjoy some off leash time.

I remember from last year how magical this place was.

How when you come down the trail and look over the water, you feel like you're on the edge of the ocean.

We couldn't walk far along the beach this time, because the water was higher than it was a year ago for some reason.

The dogs didn't mind getting nice and wet though 

and we enjoyed being in such a peaceful place surrounded by radiant sky and water.

Star had a great time pulling on her leash and sniffing everything in sight. 

When we let her off the leash, as I predicted, she stayed right with us like the little family dog and herding dog she is.

She was not as eager to get in the water as the other two, 

but once she tried it out she seemed to like it. 

Who knows when or whether she got a chance to be in the water in her past life?

That's what's so much fun about rescue dogs, you just don't know what they've been through. You get to just watch them as they experience nature and hikes and water and woods for what may be the first time, and rejoice all the more in their wonder and excitement.

What if we could all be that spontaneous and appreciative of simple things?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

From Abandoned to Gainfully Employed: Star's new gig

Anyone who has ever been unemployed knows that having a job is key to self esteem. 

Even shelter dogs suffer from having no serious work to do, which is why staff in more progressive shelters are always finding ways to engage and employ their residents.

Star's been really lucky in that regard.

Not long after she joined us, a job opened up that immediately piqued her interest. 

She already knew she had an aptitude for playing with large, goofy dogs with similar (read: annoying) play styles.

Her early play sessions with Genghis were so vigorous in fact that they were probably what caused her hernia-like swelling and landed Genghis in the vet's office as well with a hematoma on his ear.

In which vet visit we learned that, in fact, Genghis could stand to lose a few pounds. 

Which led to the offer, and Star's immediate acceptance, of a job as Genghis' personal trainer.

Star takes her job very seriously. She's been going over several nights a week and wrestling, chewing, rolling around, and generally working out with her larger cousin. 

This is a great setup all around.  Genghis gets exercise, a huge help because for humans who do have jobs, it can be hard to find enough time to provide adequate exercise to the pooch. 

My sister and I get hours of entertainment, as we sit with a glass of wine, watch Genghis enclose Star's entire head in his mouth, Star chew heartily on Genghis' neck, and Genghis drag Star across the floor as they both hold on to a chew toy as if their lives depended on it. 

And Star gets the satisfaction of a job well done.
What do YOUR dogs do for a living?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The "Nothing" exercise for impulse control training

My sister recently expressed an interest in adopting a second dog, and told me to keep my eye out, next time I was at the shelter, for a dog in the 4-5 year age range. I found not a one.

Take a tour of your local shelter and you are likely to find the same thing--an overabundance of dogs between 8 months and 2 years. Having fostered a handful of these dogs in the past year, I can see exactly why: they don't stop moving. Tiny puppies are perpetual motion, perpetual pestering, perpetual get-into-things machines but they are impossibly cute so it's easy to forgive them. 

Once they start looking like adult dogs, but still haven't slowed down, a lot of adopters just don't know what to do with them anymore and so they end up at the shelter, with all the other dogs their age. 

Of course any training is going to be helpful for these dogs; learning to sit, down, leave it and the rest gives constructive activities and options for their brains to engage in, instead of destroying things and pestering people nonstop. 

Pam Wanveer, when I was taking Sandy for her TTouch sessions, showed me how to just hold the dog's collar, and resist all the struggling, sniffing, and fussing around, until the dog is calm. 

The article by Sue Sternberg in the "Train to adopt" series in the September/ October issue of the APDT Chronicle of the Dog describes a similar exercise as the Nothing exercise. 

You can practice this in the shelter, in a quiet room where there are few other distractions--perhaps the room where visitors can meet dogs. 

Sit in a chair, put some bedding or a blanket at your feet, and hold the dog's leash with very little slack and most of the leash folded into your hand. Stare into space, sit straight up and ignore the dog. 

The dog will fuss around for a while--trying to chew your shoes, jump up on you, kiss your face, sniff around, etc. Ignore it all and hold the leash, holding it tighter if you need to limit some of the activity. 

Wait for the dog to lie down on the bedding. As soon as he does, look at him, stroke him calmly, and tell him how good he is. 

When he bounces back up again, immediately disengage and look away. As soon as he lies down, repeat with more attention.  

The time he can remain lying down will increase, and the times between will decrease, as soon as he realizes that calm behavior brings the reward. 

What a simple, wonderful way to help shelter dogs and foster dogs learn to be calmer, more controlled, and more appealing to adopters!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Blog scrapers and what to do about them

One of the really neat things about this dog blogger community is that we get to learn from one another, about bloggers we would not have come across on our own. The other day, my friend Pam from Something Wagging this Way Comes emailed me about a blogger named Allen who is apparently also a 30-something woman, with a boyfriend named Florian, two dogs named Fozzie and Lamar, and who had recently traveled to Ithaca, NY!

Who knew?

Of course, that is just what you would have assumed upon looking at "his" blog that day, as it had been lifted from my blog without attribution along with a bunch of other posts from dog blogs we know and love.

Why anyone would do this, I don't know. I couldn't see that there was money to be made from it, or fame to be gained. Just a blog with a bunch of other people's posts, re-posted, without attribution.

So what to do about it? Suggestions include contacting the offending poster (impossible in this case, as there was no contact info or way to comment) and contacting the web host to let them know that a site they host is infringing on a copyright. The offending site merely said on the bottom "powered by," which as I learned just means the blog uses wordpress open-source software and takes no responsibility for it. 

So I used a site like to find out who did host the offending blog at From several different "who is hosting" sites I got two different answers, and I contacted both to let them know about the infringement.

And the account has now been suspended. Yay! I don't know how it got suspended, or why, or if it has anything to do with my efforts, but I have to admit its kinda satisfying.

What do YOU think of blog scrapers? Is it a form of flattery, or should it be discouraged?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Sugarloaf Mountain

Though I will confess that it wasn't all bad to be away from Star for a week or so while we traveled, seeing her again was all I thought about as we returned and I went off to daycare to get her as soon as I could. 

I worried that the poor little thing, having come such a long way with us, would backslide in the absence of focused attention and training, and I wanted to get her back on track as soon as possible. 

I am happy to report that although the first day or two back, she did seem to have lost a bit of her frustration tolerance and gone back to being a feisty little demon--there was more of that spunky jumping around, lunging, and mouthing when she didn't get what she wanted, and it took a bit longer for her to calm down--she appears to have gotten back into her calmer, rapidly adjusting groove after just a few days.

What better way to re-cement the bond than to go for a hike together. On Florian's suggestion we went to Sugarloaf Mountain, a gorgeous, steep hike on the way to Frederick, MD that we haven't done in a couple of years.

We love it because of the huge rocks that remind us of Colorado, the steps that have been carved into the rocks in especially steep parts, and the stunning views. I can remember a hike some years ago in the spring, when it was covered with mountain laurel in bloom.

This time, there was snow and ice, but still the same gorgeous rocks and views. 

I just love a sunny day in winter, especially in as beautiful a place as this. 

So mood-elevating to be outside in that much sun, and to take in stunning views and sit on the warming rocks. 

With the two of us, handing all the dogs was not too bad--although certain parts were certainly challenging.

Who knows how much snow, ice, or steep rocky terrain Star has ever encountered. Maybe it was all completely new to her.

That's part of what made it fun. With her new Halti harness--which attaches to her collar so she can't slip out of it the way she did with the Easy Walk harness, and fits much better than the Easy Walk did--her pulling was pretty manageable even on those steep and icy steps.
What a nimble and athletic little thing, with no fear and an adventurous spirit.

even on rocks with deep crevasses between them and at the edge of rocky precipices.

Fozzie and Lamar had a great time too. 

On a nice day like this there were some other people out on the trail, and I was afraid that people with a dog would emerge any minute from behind a rock and Fozzie would yank me right over a cliff. 

That didn't happen though, and the one time we did see a dog up ahead, we were slowly headed down a steep, icy part so I just stayed put with Fozzie and scratched his butt to help him relax. 

And he just watched and stood still! Not a peep out of him! Can you believe that? 

Fozzie really seems to be making progress lately in his leash reactivity and ability to handle other dogs. I can remember when there was no hope of him standing still, being quiet, or being able to eat a treat when he perceived another dog anywhere in the distance. In the past month or two, he's done all these things on several occasions. 

And Lamar just walked right along on his 13-year-old hips. 

Yay team! A gorgeous hike we will have to come back to in every season.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Winter in upstate NY and a very special meeting

After spending a day with my parents in New York City, Florian and I planned to go up to Ithaca to spend a couple of days hiking, camping in the van, checking out the groovy town, and visiting a couple of friends. 

Do we love the cold? Do we crave discomfort? No! Decidedly not, on both counts. I suppose you would say that we enjoy adventure though, and we like seeing new things, and we like going dog-friendly places, so that was enough for us to plan this bizarre venture.

We got there in the evening, early enough to check out the hippie stores in the tiny town in the valley below Cornell University. A nice pedestrian mall, very quiet as of course the students were on break.

Ithaca is famous for its waterfalls, so we wanted to at least check out what might be out there on our first night. We found Ithaca Falls easily enough, and though we couldn't see much in the dark we took the dogs for a nice walk along the stream and resolved to come back the next day. Then, after stopping at the natural grocery for some snacks, off to a suitable place to park for the night. 

The overlook to Taughannock Falls, in the State Park, seemed an agreeable enough place, but not to the officer who asked us to leave at 2:30 in the morning. Fair enough; the city park was a better place to stay anyway.

We woke up to falling snow, which probably kept the van warmer than it would have been. "Woke up" may be putting it generously, as the only sleep I think I got was one of those weird lucid dream/trance-like states for a while before the officer made us leave the overlook, where I envisioned someone wanted to kill us as we slept. Relaxing! 

The city park was a nice, open place for the dogs to run around a bit.

Our first trip for the day was back to Ithaca Falls, which were as stunning as they seemed in the dark. 

There is a little trail up to the falls, and some incredible houses perched at the top.

What a view to enjoy with your morning toast. I'm not sure how well I'd digest, but it is very beautiful. 

That was a very short trail, though nicely accessible right from the center of town. 

Many of the longer ones were closed for the winter, 

so to find a good walk to go on, I was glad we had a local contact.

You already know this is if you have been more up-to-date with your blogging than I have, but we got to meet the one, the only, Pamela, Honey and Mike from Something Wagging This Way Comes! 

Honey is just as you would think from her online persona: sweet, beautiful, loving, and good-hearted. 

Fozzie made a bit of a fuss upon meeting Honey, as expected, but settled down quickly as we started walking. 

Pam, hubby Mike, and Honey took us on a gorgeous walk up above one of the falls, then back down to their house next to Ithaca Falls. Pam and I, and Mike and Florian, talked a blue streak. What joy to meet a fellow blogger and finally get to talk about all the things we'd thus far only communicated through blog comments! 

Amazing the insights that come through that kind of conversation. It never really hit me so forcefully, but Fozzie could just do without other dogs. He tolerates the foster dogs, is usually OK when allowed to wag and sniff leashed dogs, and I had always thought that his leash reactivity was excitement and desire to meet. 

But Pam simply said to me, apropos of dogs in general, Some dogs just don't like other dogs, and it really hit home. All of this canine social time is not that easy for Fozzie, and he would clearly rather just be left to cuddle with the humans. He wags and sniffs when allowed to meet, but his body is still pretty stiff. He can enjoy a good run with a compatible foster dog, but doesn't seek out these sessions. 

So the pressure's off Fozzie. Yes we'll have to see other dogs on our walks, and I'll have to foster more little demons, and when we know the dog is a sweetie like Honey I may ask you to walk beside her for a while. But I'll try to be more understanding of the fact that others of your own species make you uncomfortable, and not require you to ever change that perspective.

So much easier to just hang out with sympathetic humans, isn't it Fozzie?

In addition to the life-changing insights, Pam gave us some of her very nearly life-changing vegan banana bread (made with tofu--I never would have thought of that), 

and Fozzie settled in for a good rest after all that exertion and social pressure. 

Honey seemed pretty relaxed about the whole thing.  

What a good girl, and so understanding of a strange dog's needs.

Refreshed and rejuvenated, we were ready to head out on another hike. 

We found the Six Mike Creek Gorge Trail after a short, harrowing drive in the soccer mom van along the icy, hilly, windy roads of Ithaca.

The trail is mercifully flat, and apparently covered with wildflowers in the spring and summer.  

Like seemingly every trail in Ithaca, it goes along a creek and ends at a waterfall.  It was still snowing, and the trees were coated in snow. 

It was very magical and silent

We knew it would be cold in Ithaca, but I don't think we were expecting more than a foot of snow. Such things are hard to imagine when you are hiking in sunny, 55-degree weather just 8 hours south. 

On our second morning, we opened the doors of the van to find that it was no longer snowing but there was a thick layer of ice on the outside of the van, and frost inside on all the windows. No wonder we'd been shivering in our "40-below" sleeping bags!

The dogs seemed toasty enough, though I was very glad that we'd brought the flannel-lined, waterproof, reflective dog jacket we found in the Petsmart dumpster for Fozzie. He seemed to love it too. Pitties aren't made for this sort of cold stuff!

This trip was well worth the incredible scenery, the delightful company and conversation with new friends, and the adventure. But I am willing to entertain the idea that motels can be a reasonable, convenient and fun part of our travel plans, especially the next time we decide to go to upstate NY in the winter!

Think we can convince Florian and the dogs?