Friday, May 24, 2013

Tug of war for teaching impulse control and bite inhibition

Many of us, especially those who have worked with bully breeds, have heard the advice to never engage in tug of war with a dog, and if you do, never to let the dog win. Usually the argument is that the dog will learn that he's dominant to his people if he ever wins the object of the tug game, or at the very least that the game can get out of control easily and result in teeth making contact with human--something we certainly want to avoid. 

Recently I went to a free workshop with Your Dog's Friend, where I learned not only how to engage in tug of war safely, but also how to use it as a great training aid to exercise dogs, bond with them, and teach them to control their impulses. 



The basic outline is this:
  • Get your dog engaged in tugging with a sturdy toy
  • With the hand that's tugging with your dog, go limp. The hand remains on the toy but stops providing any resistance. With the other hand, reach out and hold your dog's collar.
  • With the hand and the toy limp, the dog will realize that the game is much less fun. Be patient and she will most likely drop the toy.
  • The second she does, say "Yes!" and take your hand off the collar, and start engaging in tug again. Encourage your dog and make it happy and fun. 
  • Repeat until you are both tired. When its time to stop for good, drop the toy, say All done!, and walk away.
This game is an example of the On-Off Switch game for impulse control. The idea is that many dogs can dial up to a frenzy in no time, but can't easily dial back down. If you can teach them to engage in intense play, then stop and relax, and get rewarded for relaxing by playing again, and so on, you will teach them a very valuable tool in getting along in a world where sustained dog intensity is generally frowned upon. 

You can find a very detailed, more complex outline of how to use tug of war as a training tool here

What's been YOUR experience with tug of war? Do your dogs like it, and can you get them to disengage when it's time to stop?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A little reunion

Last week, my friend Jodi from Heart Like a Dog asked if I'd like to meet her and a bunch of dog bloggers at the Blog Paws conference. How could I pass up an opportunity like that? It was so fun to meet Jodi and a bunch of the other ladies I know only from their blogs. Dinner and drinks with a bunch of people I've never met before, but who already felt like old friends....just what the naturopath ordered.

And, the visit took me very close to a certain adoptive home I've been wanting to visit. 

Yep, that one. 

Star hasn't changed much. When she saw me outside her building she of course proceeded to grab her leash in her mouth and yank it around like a madwoman. 

Fortuitously, I had brought a bag of stuffed toys and stuffed one of them in her mouth, which allowed us to get inside. Where she zoomed around and spent most of my visit on her back, 

or chewing on my arms, or zooming around some more. 

Her people report that she still has two settings, nutty or comatose, and that she is affectionate and loving with them. 

The best part is how devoted they are to her. They go on long walks, sleep with her at night, and kiss her a lot. They have told neighbors in their building about her origins, and are doing a great job of introducing her to lots of humans and making sure everyone has a chance to experience her kisses. They are undaunted by her issues, as the last dog they had was unpredictable around people. They are glad that Star loves every human she meets. 

Visits like this restore my faith in humanity. There really are angels among us!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Spring flower postie

Around this time last year, I remember doing a spring flower post to show off my little foster dog Collette among the azaleas and roses. 

Actually, it was a little earlier last year, as its been an unusually cool spring. Last year, there was a blast of color as everything came into bloom all at once. 
This year, things have been trickling into flower gradually. 

So this is a slightly more mellow post, as is fitting to accompany a much more mellow foster dog. 

There is quite the profusion of intense purples and blues.

I was sure I wouldn't have Lady for long, as she is a mellow older non-pittie in a town of hyperactive young pitties. I sure thought she would be adopted at the adoption event we went to last weekend, but it was a rainy day and very few people ended up coming to the event. 

All that rain is good for the flowers, but has also cooled things down and slowed the flowering. Which is kind of nice, as we get to enjoy them for longer.

I would not say that I have a very green thumb, as I seem to get distracted easily and I can't focus on the garden long enough to get it thoroughly weeded and looking organized. 

But I maintain it enough that it brings me joy to look at it. 

OK, you inspired me. Time to go weed for a bit!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Strollers vs. safety, convenience, public health and the environment

For the past few weeks, the street I live on has been undergoing major "improvements" to slow traffic and supposedly make the street more hospitable for pedestrians.  

There is a new traffic circle at the intersection of my street with a tiny, dead-end street that ends at the neighborhood mulch pile. 

There are new sidewalks and sidewalk extensions that create a one-way street at some points. This is all in addition to the three 5 mph speed bumps that were already there, which are so sharp that they would make the stuff in my bike basket fly out if I went over them at a reasonable rate of speed. 

My street is not a major street, and traffic on it is sparse enough that I have always just walked in the street, dogs and all, on our daily walks. 

But I guess this was not a viable option for people pushing strollers. The city ripped out  the sidewalk plot that I had planted with lilies last summer, to widen the sidewalk from 4 feet to 5. I am not sure which strollers are greater than 4 feet wide, but then, I am not an expert in such things. 

Although they do slow down traffic, I am of the opinion that traffic circles are dangerous, confusing, and increase emissions. Sharp speed bumps destroy your car's suspension and also increase emissions. It would have been nice to have some notice that my little "devil's strip" was going to be ripped out to accommodate the strollers, rather than hearing it from the nice road worker dude who happened to catch me in time to warn me so I could transplant my lilies. 

I recognize that this is not a clear-cut issue. That streets made for pedestrians, with slower, more sparse vehicle traffic, with neighbors who walk with their families and interact with each other, are things that I support and things that are compatible with the world I would like to see. So why does this "road improvement" project irk me so much?

I think it's because of what it says about the power of the Mommy Lobby. What if all the dog walkers lobbied for the city to install treat dispensing stations every few blocks, so those of us with reactive dogs are never caught empty handed? Can we have a dog park, off-leash for those who want it and with designated areas for on-leash walking for the rest of us, where we never have to fend off endless pleas of "can I pet your dog?" when we are trying to mind our own business and just manage our dogs as we try to get past careening skateboarders, soccer players, scooter drivers and their parents? 

I guess what I'm really trying to say is, why are we dog people continually marginalized when we are the ones who save lives and try to make the planet better for other species, and we are not the ones who bring into the world a source o9,441 metric tons of CO2 emissions who will destroy wildlife habitat foul clean water supplies and ultimately lay waste to the planet?

Where's MY $200,000 neighborhood improvement project?

Fozzie, where's YOUR tax deduction?

Monday, May 13, 2013

A wild and wacky weekend of wonder

This weekend was the realization of several months of anticipation, which finally came to fruition in the Greenbelt Green Man Festival and the Faerie Festival. 

Greenbelt is a town of groovy, community-oriented, artistic vegetarian types not far from Takoma Park. The Green Man Festival celebrates the acres of protected forest that surround Greenbelt, as well as the ecologically aware, communitarian spirit of the town's human inhabitants. 

A lot of my favorite people live in Greenbelt, and it is always a blast to bring Florian there and see him really express himself with all of our artist buddies. 
One of the best parts was bringing Genghis, who is in his element at festivals. For some reason everyone who sees him wants to stop and snuggle, and/or photograph or videotape him. 

Some paparazzi literally followed Genghis around with video cameras, and everyone we knew made sure to get a hug. Genghis spent most of his time there sprawled out on his back, drinking in the adoration.  

My friend Katy was just one of Genghis' admirers

For Mother's Day, we went to the Faerie Festival, an annual event in Maryland. 

We've been once before, but this year was even better because my sister and niece came, and we also found a unicorn who consented to go with us. 

A bunch of faerie folk have a big plot of land where they have vendors, music,
activities for the kids, 

one really bad food stall, 

and lots of space to run and prance.

There was one other unicorn besides ours, and it was lovely to see them together.

 My sister had a great time too. 

A definite high point was this guy, a magician of sorts who entertained us with his sleight of hand before jumping back on his giant ball and rolling down the hill. 

You don't find talent like that every day. 

After a certain point, our unicorn changed into a sultan and it was time to go home. 
When you can't have your dogs with you, I've found you pretty much have to have a unicorn/sultan figure just to get you through the day. 

How do YOU like your festivals? Dog-free, or with canines and unicorns happily coexisting? 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Getting Lost on the Northwest Branch Trail

Though Lady is not what you'd call a high-energy pup, she really does love to go for walks. I was taking her on her own separate, shorter walks at first, but I started to realize that she had the energy and the drive to go with the boys, and it would probably be good for her.

We went on our first substantial hike together on the Northwest Branch Trail. We didn't have that much time for a hike, so we decided to take this trail that is very close by and accessible right off Colesville Road.

With the back seat folded down and the Fit in mini mini van mode, Lady, who does not get along famously with Lamar, had to sit in front.

Which was fine with her, and fine with Florian. 
Lady loved being on the trail. 

Although she huffs and puffs and moves very stiffly when she is in the house, or coming inside from her lair in the dust under my porch, once she is walking she trots right along. 

It can't be easy for her to move, but like all dogs she seems to relish being out and experiencing new things.

Feels really good to just cool down in a nice stream. 

But then, what dog doesn't enjoy that? 
There were a fair number of people on the trail, but not so many that you couldn't enjoy the intense green nature and near-solitude.  

And a few instances of nature's raw power, a relic of I'm not sure which recent storm. 

There haven't been any substantial storms lately, so I couldn't imagine what could have made large, healthy trees like that go over. A friend suggested over dinner the other night, that the soil around here in some places is so saturated that it doesn't take much. Which makes perfect sense.

In other places, there was unexpected color. 

The trail was gorgeous, and the weather was clearing up, the temperature perfect. Fozzie got to engage in his favorite activity 

and all the dogs were loving the trail. 

Would be hard to imagine a better way to spend a morning.

Except if you're Florian. Florian had a show he had choreographed that he had to get to, which was why we planned to go for just a short hike.

This was the first time we'd done this trail, and somehow when we crossed Northwest Branch, and followed it downstream on the other side, thinking we were heading back in the direction we'd come, we were actually following another tributary. With the result that our short trail ended up taking about 3 1/2 hours, most of it spent not knowing where we were and Florian devising various ways to throttle, or at the very least abandon, his girlfriend and swearing that he would never again come near this trail.

Eventually though, we found our way back to the trail we wanted to be on and though Lady was doing some serious huffing, puffing, and snorting, we arrived back to the car with plenty of time to spare. 

And Florian can't wait to go back to that trail. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Another Uplifting Post about Death to Brighten Your Day

I think I have started to emerge from the dog-themed funk I was in for a few weeks, as Star's adopters are clearly committed to her. 

Lady's relaxed, happy, low-stress style, the ease of walking her, and the abundance of kisses she bestows in exchange for a bit of attention have certainly helped. 

She does this thing though, where at night the place she really wants to be is in the back yard. Probably fed up with Lamar snapping and snarling at her as long as she's in the bedroom, and not wanting to spend the night alone in the living room--or maybe just in search of a cooler, fresh place to snooze in peace--when I leave the dog door unbarricaded she slips right out there. 

And when I followed her with a flashlight, what I found was kind of magical, kind of beautiful, and a little bit haunting. Of all the places she could find to rest in the great big backyard, she chose the slightly hollowed-out nook under the azalea bush where Tashi died, almost exactly two years ago. The bush is in bloom just like it was then, and I found Lady resting under there just like Tashi did her last two days on this planet.

It is haunting because I miss Tashi, and I wish I had taken that day off from work so that I could be there with her when she passed on. 

Lady reminds me of Tashi in a lot of ways. Even though she is reportedly only 6-7 years old, she moves like Tashi did when she was near death. When she gets up from lying down, or comes up stairs, she moves with a hobbling, bouncing gait probably due to her obesity and long nails--although on walks, she trots along like a happy, healthy girl. 

Then there's her chow-shepherd-brown dog looks, and her spotted tongue. 

Lady's similarities to Tashi are a huge comfort, and I've been enjoying each chow-flavored kiss and taking time to remember what a special girl my crazy dingo-chow was. 

I've brought Lady to visit Tashi's grave, where a beautiful peach tree has been in blossom. 


I've been talking to Fozzie and Lamar about Tashi, making sure that they remember her too. 

Remembering the dead serves an important purpose for the living. I would like to make death rituals a more important part of living, rather than denying death and trying to forget it. 

On a related note, I read an article recently about Green Burial, which told about a man who knew he was dying so he resolved to make his death meaningful; he produced a documentary to raise awareness of the alternatives to the toxic way we bury people now. Maybe I can get someone to just put me under a peach tree when I kick off. 

And if I haven't thoroughly bummed you out, don't forget to VOTE for the picture of Fozzie impersonating an elephant in the NOVA Dog cover dog contest!

What better way to affirm life?