Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Dogswell Vitality Chicken Breast Jerky Dog Treats

This month, our free trial from Chewy.com 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. 

Stand? 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 Chewy.com 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 mattressunderground.com. 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'!

Monday, January 5, 2015

To North Carolina for a Winter Road Trip

Some say summer is the time for a road trip, with the windows rolled down and the weather right for camping by a mountain stream that allows for a refreshing dip in the morning. I say the winter road trip is highly underrated, especially when you have dogs and want to keep them relatively comfortable in the car.

This year, for our winter vacation Florian and I decided to take a tour through North Carolina. 

We started with the coast, and made our way down the Outer Banks. The Outer Banks are a truly amazing place, with vast clean beaches that are dog-friendly at all times of the year. 

In the winter, they are even better because there's no one on them except for a few brave surfers. 

I have fond memories of Outer Banks vacations with my parents and sister, but never got to experience them with Florian. 

It was really nice to be there and remember the comfort and joy of being with my mom, and feel some of the same with my own wacky little family. 

Florian and I went to the places my family used to go, the beaches at Corolla and Duck, but we also explored further south than I've ever been. Cape Hatteras National Seashore is just a strip of land with the road running down it, but the beaches and vegetation are protected. There is hardly anyone there, and it feels like a magical beach wilderness.  

The great thing about North Carolina is that it encompasses these amazing beaches, but also has a ton of mountains and artistic towns to explore. 

After a long drive eastward, we arrived in Asheville whose groovy shopping opportunities could easily have occupied me for a couple of days. But I restrained myself, and after a mere evening immersed in incredible tie dyes we drove the next day to Hot Springs, NC. 

A little town built around natural hot springs and adjacent to the Appalachian Trail. 

We took the trail next to the French Broad River 

and climbed up the steep first section overlooking the river and town 

and then back down again through a fragrant forest of Rhododendron and pine. 

We couldn't leave Hot Springs without sampling the hot springs, 

which featured the ruins of some old baths as well as private hot tubs that we soaked in for an hour. 

And that was only the first half of our trip! Pretty soon I'll get to blogging about the rest of it.