February 27, 2014

TbT: Lineage

I've said before that my love of dogs is genetic.  This is my mother in my kitchen with Freya, Lasya and Scout in 2009. She is about to dole out some liver treats, and you can see that they are all in a state of rapt attention. Dogs always listened closely to her. There are other, similar pictures of my grandfather, surrounded by dogs. Everyone in this photo is now gone. My Gotcha Days with Lasya and Freya would have been celebrated this week. I miss them all very much. They were such a beautiful trio, all together - silver, black and gold, with my mother the voice of love, kindness and wisdom. 

February 25, 2014

Short and Sweet

Ruby has been extra sweet and good lately.  She seems to know when I can use closeness and a cuddle, and when to remind me to play, smile and laugh.  As a testament to how crazy about her I am, I can just stare at her when she is sleeping, admiring the pink of her ears, her splotchy lips, her funny "wild hairs" - the ridiculously long sprig on her shoulder, the only clue to a Border Collie coat - her perfect little paws, the way her nose wiggles as she's sniffing along the path of her dreams.  I adore her more every day. 

February 21, 2014

Ruby Reviews: Sojo's Grain-Free Treats

The nice folks at Chewy.com sent us these Sojo's Grain-Free Sweet Potato and Lamb Treats for our February review.  I was anxious for Ruby to test these out because she has loved their Good Dog Peanut Butter and Jelly mini-biscuits, but didn't like the other grain-free flavor, Duck and Cherry.  This time I also wanted to make sure we tried the product over a week or more, since she is often enthusiastic about a new treat initially, and then later decides it is not up to her enduring standards, whatever those are! I'm happy to report that by the time these pictures were taken, Ruby had been enjoying the treats as her after-dinner reward for several days, and was just as excited to see the box again. 

Let's do this! 


The Sojo's company has been around since 1985, and was since purchased by the manager of a holistic veterinary practice.  They offer a range of treats and raw food mixes, which have a 3.5 star rating on Dog Food Advisor.

Practicing "leave it" with tasty temptations...

Now is it time for the tasting? 

I  generally like to see a short ingredient list, and the Duck and Sweet Potato Grain-Free treats have just five ingredients: garbanzo bean flour, lamb, sweet potatoes, canola oil and eggs.  Ruby approves!

These treats are $6.49 for a 10 oz. box  from Chewy.com.

DISCLAIMERI received a full-sized package of Sojo's Grain-Free treats from Chewy.com in exchange for my honest review. 

February 19, 2014

WW 2.19.14: Terrier Nature

This post is part of the Blog Paws Wordless Wednesday Blog Hop.
Click here to enter your link and view the other participants!

February 18, 2014

A Bad Day, A Good Day and A Dog Show

Is it really Ruby Tuesday again already?  I had a lovely three-day weekend for President's Day filled with many walks and games of tug, outings with friends and family, braving crowds at Colorado's first Trader Joe's, and attending the Colorado Kennel Club dog show.  I also did a lot of thinking about the many honest and wonderful posts about reactive dogs that I have read recently.  I think we can all see now that we are definitely not alone with our challenging dogs, and that it's a never-ending process of learning, management, and taking the bad days with the good.  I had a little of each this weekend...

On Friday my office closed early, so I had a rare weekday opportunity to walk Ruby in the remaining late-afternoon and evening light.  It was not the smartest idea to take her across the busy street at rush hour, but after running the crosswalk gauntlet there are some generally-quiet neighborhoods to walk in with wide, hilly, winding streets.  Luck was not on our side as two motorcycles passed us immediately waiting for the pedestrian light to change. That set the tone for the entire venture, and while I did my best to practice calming ovals, "watch me" and zig-zag walking, Ruby's attention was gone.  We saw a few other people walking, a cyclist, and a barking dog behind a fence.  I felt for the most part like I didn't exist at the other end of the leash.  Even though I know better, it's hard not to take it personally.  I feel safer carrying her across the street since it's so busy, and even though I clip her collar and harness together, I know that if she got away from me in one of her frenzies she'd be in very real danger of being run over.  I'm sure the motorists at the red light wonder why on earth I'm carting my twenty pound dog across the street, probably thinking she's spoiled and I'm an idiot.  Usually I don't care what they think, but after our harrowing walk I was relieved just to be on the other side of the noise-barrier wall, away from judgmental eyes and back in the safety of our townhome complex.  Not wanting to end our outing on that disappointing note, we went up to the second-story concrete balcony of the clubhouse and watched the birds and rabbits below as the sound of the nearby freeway rushed like a concrete river and the sun started to set in pastel tones.  Even at times like that I don't wish for a different dog...I wish for a quieter life.  I grew up in the country and though I love my city and all it has to offer, I do think of how happy Ruby would be somewhere she could run free without all the fears and frustrations that she has to deal with in our crowded suburban setting.  Although I felt much better back home, Ruby was still amped up and distracted, exacerbated by seeing a few dogs out the front window.  I knew she would not be able to focus on the tasks of our current Relaxation Protocol session, so I decided to repeat Day 1.  She got through it and I was really glad I chose to set her up for success.  You do what you can...sometimes stepping back or to the side is not defeat. 

I spent the Sunday at the Rocky Mountain Cluster dog show.  I have gone every year since I found out about it (six or seven years running, I think) and while I have mixed feelings about purebred trends and show politics, I never tire of seeing so many beautiful, happy dogs in one place.  I try to never miss the Norwegian Elkhound judging, just so I can see all those gorgeous silver coats, cinnamon-bun tails and sparkling dark chocolate drop eyes, and toothy elkie smiles.  I got to love on one nice young female and missed my Freya immensely.  I bought a new tug toy for Ruby - a rectangle of faux fur and canvas with some squeakers stitched in on a purple nylon webbing strap.  I watched a flyball demonstration - something I'd never heard of until getting Ruby, when I learned that Border Jacks are deliberately crossed for the sport - and it was both incredible and unexpectedly touching.  The dogs were so excited for their turns - it was just a cacophony of barking as the team members flew over the hurdles, jumped on to the spring-loaded ball box, and raced the ball delightedly back to their handlers.  I actually found myself getting a bit choked up at the joy, energy and intensity of it all.  We also watched the agility trials in the big arena for quite a while.  The competition was dominated by shelties and heelers, but the most entertaining run was a Basenji who, after much encouragement, finally strolled through a few of the weave poles, than stopped when it heard the crowd clapping, seemingly pausing to bask in the attention, then sauntered through the rest of the course in no great hurry.  I was delighted to spot a Laekenois - such a cool-looking curly shepherd and something you don't see every day - but left before it had its turn. 

Once home, Ruby and I played a game of tug with her new toy.  She still seems to prefer what is left of her Walk-e-Woo tug, which is now just an orange nylon strap with a loop at each end, but she enjoyed the squeakers in her dog show souvenir.  It was absolutely gorgeous outside, and while tempting to brave the busy street or the open space, I wanted to ensure that we had a fun and relaxing time so we stayed close to home.  I took her to the lawn and basketball court of the adjacent complex, where they have some pleasant benches to sit on near their community garden.  Ruby dug a hole and snuffled in the dirt next to a tree, and it was so nice to see her being a dog.  Her body language was loose, she had a wide panting grin, and I could tell the sunshine was doing us both good.  Some kids had left two soccer balls out on the lawn, so I began kicking one around for Ruby to chase.  It was tricky to keep up with her on leash, but she absolutely loved the game - I may have to get her a soccer ball of her own! We did see some other dogs and people out in the unseasonably beautiful weather, but were able to keep our distance without issue. We wandered around, smiling all the while, she dug another hole, I took some pictures, then we returned home to relax on the sofa with the last of the afternoon light slanting in.  Ruby has an adorable habit of covering my face with kisses after we've done something fun, and I got a lot of love after our walk.  I felt so happy and content, having just seen all the most talented, decorated dogs in the region, and still thinking mine was the very best one, my heart's blue ribbon.  

February 14, 2014

Happy Valentine's Day To the Dogs We Love

All love is about connection. Dog love is no different.
“We humans may be brilliant and we may be special, but we are still connected to the rest of life. No one reminds us of this better than our dogs. Perhaps the human condition will always include attempts to remind ourselves that we are separate from the rest of the natural world. We are different from other animals; it's undeniably true. But while acknowledging that, we must acknowledge another truth, the truth that we are also the same. That is what dogs and their emotions give us-- a connection. A connection to life on earth, to all that binds and cradles us, lest we begin to feel too alone. Dogs are our bridge-- our connection with who we really are, and most tellingly, who we want to be. When we call them home to us, it's as if we are calling for home itself. And that'll do, dogs. That'll do.”

~ Patricia B. McConnell from For the Love of a Dog: Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend

February 13, 2014

Tiptoeing Through The Triggers

These are not actually my dog-walking shoes...

Today I want to talk about the cautious and sometimes nimble way that walks with Ruby need to be navigated - what I like to call "Defensive Dog Walking."  As Ruby is not my first reactive dog, and we have now been together for six months, I don't spend a lot of time any more feeling sorry for myself or dwelling on the past.  The most important thing for me is to keep Ruby safe and comfortable, and I've adapted our lifestyle as much as possible to make that happen.  People with relaxed, well-socialized, confident dogs (like the ones that sometimes run toward us off-leash with the shouted assurance that "it's okay, he's friendly!") may not understand the adjustments we have to make on a day-to-day basis, but I can guarantee that everyone with a reactive dog can.  For us, this is the new normal. 

My walks with Ruby recently have been fairly uneventful, since the majority of them are in the dark, cold winter evenings when we don't encounter many others.  Some of these walks consist of tromping through the snow together in my snow boots, letting her follow the rabbit trails that criss-cross the lawns.  As the warmth and light return, we will have to step up our game, lace up the running shoes, and tackle the triggers with lots of treats and counter-conditioning.  

Despite often being overwhelmed and overstimulated by the outside world, Ruby is always excited to go for a walk.  She bites the toes of my shoes and pulls the laces out of my hands.  She knows to wait behind me as we exit my patio gate - I do a quick scan of the parking lot to make sure it's all clear.  Lately we've been staying primarily within my town-home complex, which allows us to wander through the buildings without the traffic of major streets. There are several playgrounds where we sometimes stop to practice "over," "under" or "paws up" on the slides and jungle gyms. We have a nice neighborhood for walking to the west, but it requires a busy street crossing where there is invariably a noisy bus or motorcycle passing by or a jogger in the crosswalk.  There is also a beautiful open space park to the south, but it adjoins a bike path and a mountain bike course.  Bikes are one of Ruby's worse triggers, along with skateboards.  At least with skateboards we can hear the wheels clattering from a quarter-mile away and make an escape.  With the wheeled nemeses and with dogs, we are still at the stage where avoidance is the best policy.  We practice emergency U-turns and creative re-routing.  If we find ourselves in close quarters in a pinch, I've discovered that picking her up can help diffuse the situation, and I'm lucky she's small enough that I have this option.

As for people, we have started to make some great progress as long as they are moving at a normal walking pace (joggers are another story - Ruby is very sensitive to motion), using the trusty Treat Toob filled with peanut butter and a version of the Look At That game (I say "Who's That?").  I can usually gauge whether Ruby will be okay with someone approaching or whether we need to increase distance.  People wearing hats, bulky clothing or carrying something are usually cause for elevated concern.  There is also trigger stacking to consider. If Ruby has seen a dog at a distance, and maybe passed two pedestrians without issue, that third pedestrian may be pushing things.  There is no such thing as a leisurely walk - I must be scanning the horizon, thinking ahead, watching Ruby's body language and planning for management or escape.  They aren't always easy shoes to walk in, but the learning process keeps me on my toes, and most importantly, walking alongside my favorite red-and-white companion. 

February 11, 2014

Homecoming and My First Guest Post

I don't have very much Ruby news to share since I was out of town for a long weekend, spending some time in southern California. My dad stayed at my house with Ruby and reported that they had a good time and that "she sure does require a lot of attention..."

Ruby seemed happy to see me once I put my suitcase down. She is wary of people carrying things and especially does not like plastic bags.  We played fetch for a long time last night and she even did her cute little "boof" bark when she was ready to go up to bed.  I told her that I missed her and though I saw a lot of dogs on vacation (Balboa Park was particularly good for dog watching), none as cute as her.

Just before I left my first guest article on the benefits of trick training was published on the Kyjen Dog Blog. They are a local Colorado company and maker of one of Ruby's favorite toys.  I had a good time putting the post together on a topic I truly believe in.

Our weather is supposed to warm up the rest of the week, and Ruby and I can get back to our routine.  I was approved as a foster home for Eskie Rescuers United and will most likely be taking in my first dog soon!

February 6, 2014

TbT: The Face I Fell In Love With

Photo courtesy of Colorado Animal Welfare League

This isn't too far of a throwback, but I wanted to share the picture that started it all as I scrolled through Petfinder last summer. Something in her expression and unusual markings stood out above all the rest of the small, young female dogs searching for homes.  I couldn't stop thinking about that irresistible, inquisitive, intelligent, impish face, or those impossibly giant ears.  Ruby (formerly known as Foxy Roxy) turned out to be all of those things and more.

February 5, 2014

WW 2.05.14: Blue Shadows

 "and then she seems entirely like what she is:
a white dog,
less white suddenly, against the snow,"

From "White Dog" by Carl Phillips

This post is part of the Blog Paws Wordless Wednesday Blog Hop.
Click here to enter your link and view the other participants!

February 4, 2014

A Comfortable Routine and Vacation Care for the Reactive Dog

A few months after I adopted Ruby,  I went to a concert on Halloween night. Denver is lucky to be the hometown of the wonderful gypsy-rock ensemble, Devotchka, probably best known for the Little Miss Sunshine soundtrack.  They put on a fantastic show as always, with the band members decked out like skeleton Cossacks.  Their final number was a Beatles cover...of "Ruby Tuesday!" I was delighted; feeling like it was a special little nod to my new girl.  I grinned and sang along, swaying in my scarecrow-rabbit hybrid costume, thinking to myself "of all the songs!" I decided to devote Tuesdays here to the State of the Ruby, general updates about what we've been up to and what we've got in the wings.  

Yesterday marked six months since Ruby and I drove home in a tremendous summer thunderstorm from her foster family's house.  We've settled in to a fairly comfortable routine, one I'll be outlining for my father later in the week when my boyfriend and I leave for a long weekend in southern California.  We are meeting my two best college friends and one of their husbands, staying right on the beach, and I'm looking forward to a fun and relaxing time.  It helps to know that Ruby will be in her own home with a family member she knows well.  My dad would never admit to being much of a dog person, but he was devastated by the loss of our family dog, Scout, last year, and he loves Ruby. The last time he visited he proclaimed that Ruby was the smartest dog he's ever known, "the complete package."  He's aware of her reactivity issues and I trust him to practice avoidance strategies while walking her.  I don't expect anyone else to pick up my training routine, which is one reason I decided to cease Ruby's walks with the dog walker - she just visits for a potty break and play session now.  I think every dog does better when it knows what to expect, and this is even more important for a reactive dog.  It took some time to iron out our schedule, since doggy daycare did not work out (and in fact I suspect it contributed to our problems) and walks are more challenging than I anticipated, but Ruby and I have both adjusted well.  Here's what our regular days look like:

Weekday Routine

I have every other Friday off, so I alternate between a four- and five- day work week.  We wake up around 6 a.m., and Ruby is a very reliable alarm clock.  She goes out for a potty break and eats breakfast. In the mornings she eats high-quality canned food, and gets a cookie for cleaning her plate.  The kitty eats breakfast, laced with her thyroid medication, and any leftovers are placed on the floor in the living room so she has access to it when I close the dog gate between it and the kitchen, where Ruby spends the day.  I sometimes leave Ruby's Through A Dog's Ear CD playing on repeat, and she has two comfy beds and a Kong Genius toy filled with treats.  The dog visitor comes twice a week, and I have given her a list of all of Ruby's commands that they can work on.  I go home at lunch on the other days, and take Ruby for short walk around my townhome complex.  

In the evenings Ruby and I go for another walk - they are shorter now because it's already dark by the time I get home.  Sometimes we go to the nearby light-rail station to watch the people go by and practice Calming Ovals* in the parking lot, or just a more leisurely sniffabout on rabbit trails.  It's so cold that I'm doing less formal on-leash training - it's just too hard to juggle treats, clicker, gloves, and a leash.  Ruby's getting to be a real pro at her auto-sits when I stop, but I don't expect her to plonk her bottom down on the freezing cold concrete or snowy ground, so we are keeping things pretty casual until it starts to warm up.

After our evening walk, Ruby has "interactive dinner." This can be anything from kibble in a Nina Ottosson Treat Maze, working on tricks, or doing a Relaxation Protocol session.  Dinner is followed by a game of fetch or tug, sometimes both! The rest of the night Ruby will play with toys, beg for my dinner, and maybe have a bully stick or sweet potato chew.  She knows when it is time to go to call it a night, and readily accepts her boost on to my bed (although she can jump plenty high, the bedroom floor is slippery and offers her no traction).  

Weekend Routine

Our weekend routine is not terribly different than the work days, except there are longer walks, more training, more playing, and sometimes I get to sleep in until 7:30!  Ruby likes to follow me around while I do chores (except for vacuuming, during which I put her on the patio), play fetch down the stairs, and steal socks if the opportunity arises.  She likes to recline on the back of the sofa and watch the rabbits and squirrels out the living room window.  She has gotten better about people walking by, and I try to have treats on hand to reward non-reactive people-watching. She will still get worked into a frenzy when dogs go by, and when this happens I will divert her into the kitchen and close the curtains.  I try to keep my outings relatively short, and some weekends we travel to my aunt's or friend's houses and have bigger adventures.  We both really enjoy the extra time together, and I'm always wistful when the weekend draws to a close.  

I know I'm going to miss Ruby tremendously while on vacation, but I'm confident that she's in safe hands and am really looking forward to some sun and sand - the forecast high for Denver tomorrow is only four degrees! I think extended tug-o-war sessions are going to have to make up for abbreviated walks these next few days...

* This is a technique that I learned from a private training session after we dropped out of group obedience class.  I wasn't able to track down a very good explanation online, but essentially you walk in fast ovals with the dog at your side (on the outside).  I'm finding that it helps with heeling and shifting focus. 

February 3, 2014

Monday Musings: The Craigslist Pet Conundrum

I missed the boat on the Craigslist Blog Hop led by Keep the Tail Wagging last December, but Kimberly and I have chatted on that subject in two separate conversations, which led me to start poking around and contemplating seriously my stand on the matter.  As with most complicated issues, I still don't really know for sure what I would like to happen, but definitely something different than what I am seeing.  

I've developed a maddening new hobby of perusing the Community-Pets section, and then if I really want to get upset, I do a search for "Puppies" in the For Sale section.  Selling animals outright is against Craigslist rules, but it is left to users to enforce, and it doesn't stop anyone.  Puppy sellers know that those shopping in the online back alley will likely see their ads before they get taken down.  Some don't even attempt to disguise their prices as "rehoming fees."  In a recent search I found puppies for sale for anywhere from $80 to $1500. 

Here in Denver we have some of the strictest Breed Specific Legislation in the country, and our surrounding-area shelters are filled with pit bulls and pit bull-types.  Sadly, people in this region continue to breed, sell and give away pit bulls.  Many of these dogs will not have a chance.  The most disturbing ad I've seen recently was a blurry picture of a pit bull litter, advertised in the general 'For Sale' section, "will trade for jewlrey [sic] or handbags." I've seen a male and female pit bull, unaltered and possibly having already created yet another litter, being given away as "must be gone by tonight." I see misspellings and flat out slaughterings of breed names and breeds that don't or shouldn't exist, such as American Bulldog/Pomeranian puppies and "Dioxin (Dachshund) Littermates." I've seen older dogs being cast aside because "we're moving," "we're having a baby" or, most infuriating, "I've switched to breeding something different." 

Initially I flagged many of these ads as fast as my fingers would carry me, and posted them on my Facebook page for others to flag.  Lately I've started questioning if that is in fact the right thing to do.  What becomes of these puppies if the ad is taken down? Are shadier, crueller, more desperate measures taken? Are they put in a box in a parking lot to attract more uneducated owners and whim purchases? For each pet that doesn't get taken by a dog fighter, pet flipper or research supplier is another getting dumped in the woods? Are we simply sweeping the problem under the rug where we don't have to see it?  There are multiple online petitions circulating with various proposals: take animals off of Craigslist entirely, disallow "Free to Good Home" ads, make posting available to shelters and rescue groups only.  I haven't personally signed any of these petitions because there isn't a single one that addresses all of my concerns;  with every exclusion I see a new problem. 
I believe that a great deal could be done with the ad-posting interface, simply giving set options for re-homing fees and including warnings about the dangers of giving animals away.  I believe Craigslist should take more responsibility for enforcing the "No Pet Sales" rule, and banning users who perpetuate it.  As dog lovers, we have our knowledge as a tool for reaching out to those who seem genuinely uninformed or in need.  Providing contact information for local breed rescues or urging caution can go a long way toward keeping dogs safe.  

I recently contacted a poster who was looking for a home for her 8 year old Border Collie that had belonged to her recently-deceased mother.  She sounded genuinely in need, struggling with depression and feeling as if she could no longer care for the dog.  I directed her to the local Border Collie rescue and urged her to be careful in screening potential homes.  She replied to me, thanked me for my concern and said she had found a foster situation for the dog until she was able to get back on her feet.  I hope the story has a happy ending for all involved, but I continue to fear for the fates of so many animals on Craigslist.  Below is an ad that I posted in the "Pets" section of my local Craigslist site, and which I will continue to renew in hopes that it reaches even a handful of people that might not know any better.    

Responsibly Rehoming Pets (denver area)

If you absolutely must re-home your pet (which is far desirable to dumping them at an overcrowded shelter to an uncertain fate), please consider contacting a local breed rescue for purebreds or known mixes. Please carefully screen any potential adopters including asking for veterinary or other pet professional references and possibly a home visit. If you are re-homing due to behavioral issues, please consider contacting a trainer before giving up. 

Further Reading:

Boingy Dog, Slim Doggy and Keep the Tail Wagging have all written excellent posts on this topic.

Up On The Woof has a fantastic article which includes links to some form letters to send out to posters offering pets for free.

Here is one petition that asks Craigslist to only allow registered shelters and rescue groups to post animals for adoption.