March 31, 2014

Foster Update: Bahamian Potcake Dog

I was going to save this announcement for Ruby Tuesday, but I thought it deserved its own post. I have committed to fostering a Potcake Dog! Potcakes are a recognized type of dog in the Bahamas and named for what they are fed: the scraps of peas and rice caked on the bottom of the soup pot. Ruby's rescue group, Colorado Animal Welfare League, is involved in Operation Potcake along with the Humane Society of the Grand Bahamas, helping to spay and neuter the island dogs whose populations are out of control. While there, they earmarked about 15 dogs that they hoped to bring back to Colorado and make available for adoption.  With every American Eskimo foster falling through (which is wonderful for the dogs since it meant they were going directly to forever homes!), and having an open spot in my home and heart for a foster dog, I could not resist agreeing to take one of the Potcakes.

"Lydia" will be coming to stay with Ruby and me in a few weeks' time. She is still in the Bahamas and will arrive by plane. She is around 25 pounds and possibly 2 years old. I can't wait to meet her, and I will admit to thinking about any number of fun, tropical names for her and feeling slightly in danger of "foster failing" already. The Potcakes are said to have lovely, friendly temperaments. I just love her sweet smile and her little milk mustache and chin!

Photo Courtesy of Colorado Animal Welfare League

March 29, 2014

Reading with Ruby: Hit By A Flying Wolf by Nicole Wilde

As a follower of Nicole Wilde's blog , I was excited to learn that she had a new book out, especially one that talked about her experience with her own challenging dogs. The book is divided into two segments. The first focuses on her current dogs, Sierra and Bodhi, who presented issues with separation anxiety, resource guarding, destructive behavior and resource guarding between the two of them. In the second part, Nicole describes her time working with the wolf-dogs of Villalobos Rescue Center which eventually resulted in her housing three of the wolf-dogs herself. I'm very interested in the differences between dogs, wolves and their various crosses after reading Ceiridwen Terrill's book, Part Wild. Nicole also emphasized the challenges that wolf-dogs face in the human world, and the complications of keeping them in the back yard. 

Hit by a Flying Wolf is written in a friendly, conversational tone, with humorous moments as well as the inevitable heartbreaking ones that come with any dog story. It also includes two groups of color photos of the dogs and wolf-dogs that have touched Nicole's life. I especially enjoyed the narrative about Sierra and Bodhi, who had moments of not getting along much like my girls Freya and Lasya. Nicole's honesty about her frustrations illustrates that difficult dogs are difficult dogs, even for professionals! In living with wolf-dogs in the California desert, Nicole also dealt with some unusual perils, such as wildfires and rattlesnakes. This was a fun book to read, written with obvious heart and a great deal of compassion for our canine and lupine brethren. 

Disclaimer: Nicole Wilde provided a copy of the book to me in exchange for my honest review. 

March 28, 2014

Five Ways to Ditch the Dog Dish

Ruby with her Nina Ottosson treat maze

Recently I listed to Episode 17 of The Great Dog Adventure podcast, which featured an interview with renowned dog trainer and behaviorist Dr. Ian Dunbar. It contained some wonderful information, and at the end, host Fern Camacho asked Dr. Dunbar what was the one single most valuable piece of advice he would tell every dog owner. Dr. Dunbar replied "take away the food bowl." Don't worry, he didn't mean not to feed your dog! What he meant was, use your dog's food to train, reward and build your relationship. It's a powerful tool that we take for granted, setting down a dish of kibble thoughtlessly when we could be using at currency for communication and bonding! While he suggested doing this for one week's time, I think it's a tool that can be incorporated regularly, and something I've included in Ruby's routine from the beginning. Breakfast is normally a little more hurried since I'm rushing out the door to work, and I feed canned or freeze-dried/dehydrated in the morning, but dinnertime kibble is usually doled out in a number of different ways:

Puzzle Toys

Puzzle toys are a great way for busy, inquisitive dogs to use their natural seeking and foraging instincts to work food out of a variety of doors, compartments and mazes. Kyjen and Nina Ottosson make some good ones.  You may need to help your dog out at first, by showing them where the food is and possibly using a clicker to reward their attempts. Some dogs are more "pawsy" or mouthy than others. Ruby tends to use her paws a lot, and our favorite is the Nina Ottosson Treat Maze. We also like the PetSafe Busy Buddy Mushroom.

Trick Training

Kibble can be used just like treats (if your dog considers it high-value enough) to teach new tricks or practice old ones. I think trick training is a fun activity that nearly every dog/human team can benefit from. For more about it, check out my guest post on the Kyjen dog blog! 

Mat Work

I've talked a lot here about the Relaxation Protocol, a training regimen that is especially beneficial to anxious, high energy dogs to help them learn impulse control and, well, relaxation! It's a perfect way to distribute dinner. Sometimes I take a more informal approach and just ask Ruby to "go to your mat" while I clean up the kitchen, periodically giving her a small handful of kibble on the mat.

Basic Obedience

One of the things Dr. Dunbar suggests is that you pocket the dog's kibble ration for the day and hand it out whenever the dog is showing appropriate behavior. You could reward the dog choosing to go lay on its bed while you're having a snack, or sitting nicely when a visitor arrives. The possibilities are endless!

Other Games

There are so many ways you can turn mealtime into engaging, interactive quality time with your dog. One of Ruby's favorite games is "Catch the Kibble" where I toss each piece on the floor and she scrambles after it, or tries to catch it directly.  We have contests in which I see how many pieces she can catch in a row. Sometimes I ask for sit or a down before I toss, and we also practice "leave it." You can turn recall practice into a game, play hide-and-seek, or introduce nose work.

However you choose to integrate training or games into your dog's meals, I encourage you to take advantage of your time together, and teach your dog to play with its food!


March 26, 2014

WW 3.26.14: Spring Fashion

border jack
Ruby in Anthropologie scarf

border collie, jack russell terrier
Practicing her angles and expressive eyes

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March 25, 2014

Welcoming Spring with a Full Weekend

Happy Ruby Tuesday! I am so lucky to have every other Friday off, but even those long weekends go by too quickly. Ruby and I enjoyed three days of playing, photo sessions, an unexpected visit to a dog park, and visits from family. We have been trying to go to a nearby baseball field on Friday mornings to meet up with Cosmo the Chug, but this time there was a school employee parked on the field with the gate open. We asked if we could close the gate in order to let the dogs run around and were told that no, another truck was on its way.  With some hesitation on my part, we decided to try the dog park just down the road. I have a dog park within walking distance of my house, but have stopped going as there are too many big dogs and too much chaos, and I feared that it was contributing to Ruby's reactivity. 

I decided on Friday that we could at least take a peek - it was still fairly early in the morning on a week day and I hoped there wouldn't be too many other people. We met one dog walking from the parking lot to the enclosure, and Ruby was her usual spinning, ferocious-sounding self. I'm sure the person wondered what I was doing with her at a dog park, but as soon as we got through the gate Ruby did wonderfully. There were about seven other dogs, a nice mixture of large and small, and Ruby immediately made some friends. She bounced around with a labradoodle, got chased by two Shih Tzus and pestered a young yellow lab. I was so proud of her! She raced around the perimeter at top speed many times - she is so fast that none of the other dogs had a chance at catching her. At one point the white Shih Tzu had a hold of the black Shih Tzu's tail as they were both in pursuit of Ruby - it was hilarious! She came along nicely when it was time to go, although we did encounter two more dogs on the way to the car. I have a lot of reservations about dog parks, and still prefer the baseball field which we normally have to ourselves, but I think it's good for Ruby to have some socialization in small groups and she proved that she can handle it. That particular park will be a nice backup plan on the off-hours if the baseball field is in use. 

Knowing Ruby would be good and tired out for the rest of the day, I took the opportunity to run some errands for the afternoon, including a stop at a wonderful local pet store in my old neighborhood. Ruby got another gross thing to chew on (beef tendon) and two new toys: a replacement Walk-e-Woo tug and a Cycle Dog dino. Lucky girl! She gave them both a try when I got home. 

That blur would be her tail. 
On Saturday my dad drove down, as did my aunt and her friend, so Ruby had a fun day of company, including her favorite labradoodle, Hachi! We had a snowy second day of spring, so it was mostly spent indoors. I paid a visit to my dear friend and her wonderful dog, Tsavo, a Rhodesian Ridgeback. Tsavo is an older girl and has been having some mobility troubles but has improved immensely on a new medication regimen. I was really happy to see that sweet girl who I've known for ten years. She has a new brother - a possible Husky/Aussie mix from a small shelter on the plains who lacks confidence and playfulness, so I gave him a very short introduction to clicker training, which I think could help him a lot. It was great to spend time with some big dogs. My dad took over dog sitting duties that night so I could stay over with my boyfriend - a welcome treat!

Since receiving our Wag Pac along with a selection of foods from The Honest Kitchen to try, it was time to make some room in the dog cabinet. I'm still hanging on to the last leashes and collars that Lasya and Freya wore, but for the most part I don't think I'll have need for the big dog stuff anytime soon.  I put together a bag of items to donate and organized the rest of Ruby's things. A friend gave me a ticket to an equestrian theater performance in Golden, so I again left Ruby with my dad and had a solo afternoon at a horse show. The Foothills Animal Shelter  just happened to be right next to the fairgrounds, so I was able to drop off my donation there. The pretty weather had returned, so Ruby got several walks on Sunday and even my elder-cat, Nina, spent some time in the sun on the patio.  The window film continues to be effective - although I do worry that she is listening harder now - and my house is so much more peaceful without barking eruptions at the window. We started Day 6 of the Relaxation Protocol, which introduces opening a door - Ruby maintained her stay through each instance of sliding the patio door! She had two breaks elsewhere in the tasks but I think we'll be able to complete it in two or three more attempts. Ruby crashed early that night, evidence that she had a fun-filled weekend.

March 23, 2014

Ruby Reviews: Wag Pac March Box

UPDATE: Please note that as of June, 2014, Wag Pac has discontinued its subscription box service. 

This month Ruby received a Wag Pac subscription box to review. She is always excited to see a package come through the door, as nine times out of ten it is for her!

For several reasons, this is my favorite subscription box yet, and I have tried quite a few. I currently have a six-month subscription to one, but think I'll be switching to Wag Pac when that one expires.  First of all, while many of the subscription companies donate to dogs in need, Wag Pac actually allows you to choose the rescue or shelter that your donation dollars will go to.  They have an extensive list to choose from, and I picked Colorado Animal Welfare League, the group responsible for pulling Ruby from a dismal southern shelter, fostering her here in Colorado, and making her available for me to adopt! They just got done with a spay/neuter operation for "potcake" dogs in the Bahamas and are definitely a worthy cause.

The item Ruby was most excited about (she actually stole away with it to the living room), we will be passing on (in slightly slobbered-on condition) as she is not allowed stuffies, but it was a very cute blue squeaky octopus from Kyjen.  The filling is made from recycled bottles and it would hold up to gentle chewers.  Here is Ruby making a grab for it:

Next was a Pet Blinker, something that will come in handy for walks at night, and a fun addition to the box.  I often wish more apparel and accessories were included and not just toys and treats, and this fit the bill!

The winning item, and the best single thing I've ever gotten in a subscription box, is the Alite Boa Lite Leash. This is a high-value item which makes up for more than half of the multi-month subscription price. I was thrilled that the green color matched Ruby's Up Country squirrel collar, and had to immediately leash her up and take it for a spin.  The leash is remarkably lightweight, has a built-in bag dispenser, a key pocket (although a full roll of poop bags leaves little room for anything else), a clip handle for tethering, and a utility loop perfect for attaching the Pet Blinker! The clip is on the heavy side, so it was too bulky for Ruby's front-clip harness and I'll reserve it for her back-clip equipment. 

Lastly, two full-sized packages of treats: Zuke's Mini Bakes and Fruitables Skinny Minis. Ruby is already a fan of the Fruitables and Zuke's, although we have never tried the Mini Bakes and will no longer be buying Zuke's products since they were purchased by Purina. My current subscription service features more small-batch, local companies and I do prefer that over the larger brands.  I hope that Wag Pac will be including a mixture of both in future boxes.  

As I said, between the awesome leash and the ability to choose your own donation recipient, Wag Pac will be at the top of my list when it comes time to pick a new box service.  I love getting surprises in the mail, and being able to share new toys and yummy treats with Ruby upon their arrival makes it all the more fun.  

Which is your favorite pet subscription box? 

DISCLAIMERI received the March box from Wag Pac in exchange for my honest review. 

March 20, 2014

Rescue Puppy

norwegian elkhound

This photo was taken in June of 2007 in Grand Junction, Colorado. I had just driven four hours with this sweet little elkhound puppy in order to meet her new forever family. She was left in the "night drop" at a shelter in the Denver area, and for the short time I knew her, I couldn't imagine why. She was perfectly behaved in the car, slept in my lap most of the way and didn't make a peep. Her only fault was her great need for a bath after sleeping on a concrete kennel floor. Her pungent odor prompted me to call her Stinkahontas for our journey,  though she was also known as Sasha. 

My mom drove to meet me and make a little getaway weekend of it, and it was so hot that we decided to take the puppy inside a shopping mall to wait in the comfort of air conditioning. She got so much attention, everyone wanting to know what breed she was, and every time someone came up to her she would sit and wag her tail. I desperately wanted to puppy-nap her, and even my mom who had not yet been won over by the breed admitted that she was smitten. I received updates and photos from her new people for some time afterward - she was adopted into a small family with another older female elkhound and fit in wonderfully.  

I loved being involved in one chapter of this darling's happy story, and not-so-secretly hope I can be so lucky as to find a similar Norwegian elkhound puppy to rescue someday! I highly recommend "driving for life" - volunteer transport - as a way to contribute to rescue efforts, getting dogs in need to foster and forever homes.  My own Ruby was brought all the way from Arkansas to Colorado by way of volunteers and I'm so thankful that there is such a network. 

March 19, 2014

WW 3.19.14: Supper Star

Ruby puzzles out her dinner with the Kyjen Star Spinner

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March 18, 2014

Window Film Success and A Terrier Sees A Mouse

Happy Ruby Tuesday! I'm back to report on the window film results and tell the tale of a terrier's encounter with a mouse.  It was both frustrating and amusing that the entire day of the window film project, Ruby was occupied not with the front window, but with the patio! I was lucky to have my handy dad's help (okay, he did it all) with this venture.  I'm a very visual and creative person but measuring and cutting straight edges are not among my best skills.  We began with a trip to Home Depot, and took turns peering through the window film samples until deciding on the simplest (and least expensive) option: Etched Glass.  It looks like ordinary frosted glass without a lot of texture.  Surprisingly, it seemed to distort the view more than any of the colorful or decorative designs. We also picked up a squeegee and a spray bottle.  The entire project cost about $75.00 for one large window.  

That same day, before my dad arrived, I heard Ruby barking and whining at the sliding glass door that leads to my patio.  I went downstairs to investigate, and found a mouse crouched outside on the doormat.  Ruby was dancing around, pawing at the glass and crying, wanting more than anything to be let outside to unleash her terrier mousing talents.  Finally the mouse ran off, so I let her out to sniff around, which she did very thoroughly, then spent the rest of the day laying by the door willing her rodent entertainment back.  I'm of course hoping that she scared it and all of its friends off for good! 

It took my dad about an hour to install the window film in two pieces.  Most of the time was spent securing the edges and dispersing any air bubbles with the squeegee.  We were both surprised at how effective it was.  My window is now just a rectangle of ambient light from outside, even the outlines of things are blurred beyond recognition.  Ruby was funny the first time she jumped onto the back of the sofa to look out - she kept moving her head in the way she does to move the curtains out of the way, even though the curtains were open, then looking at us with a puzzled expression.  She quickly jumped back down and returned to mouse duty.  It is a little strange to lose my view of the landscaping between the buildings, and Ruby will miss her rabbit-and-squirrel watching, but it will be well worth the loss of perpetual vigilance and the residual stress for both of us every time a dog goes by.  I highly recommend the window film as an affordable management solution for reactivity! 

Ruby really enjoys my dad's visits: an extra tug partner and someone to keep her company while I run weekend errands.  On Sunday I dropped off a large donation of dog and cat food to Ruby's rescue, Colorado Animal Welfare League and went to an Irish Step-dancing performance.  A new dog has come in to Eskie Rescue, a 7 year old female, so we might be meeting her soon - stay tuned!

March 17, 2014

Ruby Reviews: Newman's Own Snack Sticks

This month, sent us Newman's Own Snack Sticks in Chicken & Rice flavor to review.  I like the Newman's Own brand, and natural or organic products are always appreciated. When I opened the bag they looked and smelled vaguely like pretzels. They are made in the USA and contain certified organic ingredients.


The ingredients are as follows: Organic Chicken, Organic Oat Flour, Organic Barley Flour, Soy Grits, Cane Molasses, Dextrose, Organic Brown Rice, Glycerin, Salt, Cultured Whey, Natural Flavors, Oil of Garlic, Tocopherol (Vitamin E). *Certified Organic 

Since garlic is in the list of things dogs shouldn't have, I am always surprised to see it in an ingredient list, and it does turn up a lot. Does anyone have any insight about this? 

The snack sticks are easy to break into smaller pieces, or they can be given whole as a large occasional treat.  Ruby was happy to take hers into the living room to munch on...once I finally gave it to her, that is.  She was quite enthusiastic about them, and finished the whole bag before this review was written.

The 4 oz. packages of snack sticks are currently on sale for $3.99 from They do contain soy and quite a bit of added sugar in the form of molasses, so they're probably not something we'll be regularly purchasing, but Ruby did enjoy sampling them!

DISCLAIMERI received a full-sized package of Newman's Own Organics treats from in exchange for my honest review. 

March 13, 2014

The Reactivity Two-Step

Looking for trouble...
Inevitably in working with almost any animal, let alone a reactive dog, progress is not always going to linear.  It's more akin to a kind of dance...two steps forward, one step back, maybe even feeling at times like you are going in circles.  Because Ruby's reactivity runs the full spectrum, from in the house to in the car and is triggered by practically anything that moves (dogs, joggers, bikes, skateboards, motorcycles...) we have our work cut out for us.  Training constantly can get exhausting and discouraging, so we sometimes opt for management instead.  That can mean anything from avoiding streets with a lot of pedestrians while in the car or staying in our relatively quiet town-home complex for walks.  

Because we practice a lot of avoidance on walks, it can be hard to gauge progress, but yesterday we had what I consider a minor success.   I had Ruby out on our lunchtime walk, and there was a gentleman going door to door with a clipboard.  "People carrying things" are normally highly suspect to Ruby, and before I had a chance to retreat, he started walking briskly toward us.  I prepared myself for barking and spinning, but as he passed right by, Ruby wagged her tail and tried to jump on him. Granted, this is not desirable behavior either, but I'll take it over the woofing whirling dervish!  I maintain that much of Ruby's reactivity toward dogs and people is based in frustration. I think she so badly wants to meet everyone that she can't control herself.  Bikes, skateboards and motorcycles are another story...those she wants to chase as well as being afraid of the sounds. 

On the frustration front,  Ruby has made a routine out of ferocious barking at the front window when several neighbor dogs are taken out for their walks.  She seems to know their schedule and stands on the back of the sofa with her head poked out the curtains, waiting to fly off the handle.  There are no treats or redirection that will interrupt her at this point, my only option being to hold the curtains closed until the dogs have gone by.  It takes her anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes to calm down after these episodes and I feel myself getting anxious as well.  Since practice makes perfect, I need to come up with a solution for this behavior.  I am considering this window film to obscure her view.  Thankfully there is only one window that she can see out of - the others are upstairs or blocked by our patio fencing.  Has anyone else tried this? 

In between...we enjoy each other! We continue to work on the relaxation protocol, have playdates with chug and labradoodle and corgi friends, play tug and fetch and learn new tricks.  The positive flip-side of Ruby's reactivity is her energy and intensity which can be channeled into fun games and amazing moments of communication.  With a reactive dog, there are always going to be ups and downs, triumphs and failures. The important thing is to keep looking ahead, celebrate the little victories and try not to dwell on the setbacks.

March 12, 2014

WW 3.12.14: It's Been A Long Week So Far

An older picture of a sleepy Rubes. I love her eyelid freckle and her nose splotch.

March 11, 2014

Spring Preview: A Playdate and Horsing Around

Happy Ruby Tuesday! I'm delighted that we have sprung forward into longer days and lighter evenings - Ruby and I are already taking advantage of more walking time and sunshine.  I've been taking her tug outside with us on some of my lunch breaks and playing with her on the clubhouse balcony where she can drag her leash and play some fetch.  I also got her a Nerf ball that we kick around on the common lawn.  It's encouraging that she can focus on play in the great outdoors, and I'm hoping we can use the tug especially as a training tool.  

Last Friday Ruby had a playdate at the baseball field with her Chug chum, Cosmo.  We are so lucky to have this just a short drive away, as it allows the dogs a safe place to run and play. There was one other dog there this time, another Jack Russell mix! She and Ruby had a rather stiff, hackle-y greeting but their tails were soon wagging and they mostly ignored one another. Ruby concentrated on playing chase with Cosmo and fetching her flying disc. The weather was just starting to change, and the damp field resulted in muddy white stockings for Ruby.  They ran around for about thirty minutes before the rain got heavier, and we left just as it really started to come down, later turning to snow.  Ruby had a bath back home - like most dogs, she doesn't love it but is fairly cooperative.  She does seem to enjoy the drying-off part, rolling around in the towel and acting silly, followed by a crazed case of the zoomies.  

On Sunday I needed to take some feed down to my horses and decided to let Ruby ride along. I forgot to put her Thundershirt on but she did fairly well on the trip, especially considering it was an unseasonably warm day and there were many motorcycles and cyclists out. When we see one of her triggers I say "peanut butter!" and offer her Treat Toob. She settled down once on the freeway and also did not get car-sick - hooray! Ruby has only met my horses on one previous occasion, before I moved them last fall. I walked her out to their pasture on her leash, and when they approached us, she panicked, barked madly at them and tried to escape, poor girl.  It wasn't what I was expecting - in fact I had named her after a fearless, salty horse-wrangler - but given her anxiousness and reactivity I shouldn't have been surprised.  

It was so beautiful out on Sunday, and I wanted to spend some time brushing my shedding horses, so I decided to take Ruby over to their pen to see how she would do.  She was cautiously curious, retreating if they made sudden movements but also wanting to sniff them, and she didn't bark at all! After initial introductions, I was able to loop her leash around the fence and ask her to stay on one side while I groomed flurries of black and white hair out of Coro and Notchee.  She eventually laid down to bask in the sun.  I was so impressed! I think the true turning point was Ruby's first taste of horse manure - a canine delicacy, and one that convinced her that horses are not so bad after all. There are also chickens, ducks, goats and barn cats where the horses live, so it was a really exciting day for Ruby. She curled up in the back seat for most of the ride home and was sleepy and snuggly the rest of the day. I considered our afternoon with the horses a wild success!

We've progressed to Day 5 of the Relaxation Protocol, and with only one bobble on the first time through yesterday I think it will be an easier one. Because of the layout of my house, I don't have a lot of options where I can do all of the various tasks, so I have to get creative with some of the numbers of steps. During one of the tasks Ruby flopped down dramatically into her "relax" position - laying flat on her side - as if to say "All right, already, I'm relaxed!" It was so funny. I like to reward her after the RP sessions with something more active and fun, so last night I turned two of my kitchen chairs over on their sides to make a little jump course for her. I am also working on leg weaves, and getting her into position on my right side in a sit (the cue we use for this is "get set.") 

I hope spring brings crocuses, mud-puddles and birdsong to your neck of the woods, and mine!

March 10, 2014

Liebster Award Acceptance and Nominations

The lovely Jenny of Vulpe's Adventures in Manchester so sweetly nominated Rubicon Days for a Liebster Award! Jenny is dedicated to her foxy little Romanian rescue dog and like many of us, working through the challenges of fear and reactivity.  I love reading about dog life in another country, and Vulpe is as cute as they come.

This award allows us to learn a little more about each other with fun questions, and introduce us to some new blogs. The rules are as follows:

  1. Link back to your nominator in your own blog
  2. Answer the 10 questions nominated to you.
  3. Nominate up to 10 other bloggers (with less than 200 followers) let them know & set them 10 questions too.
 My Answers to Jenny's Questions:
  1. What was the first film that really scared you?  I'm going to say Something Wicked This Way Comes, although I was as equally intrigued as scared. I love Ray Bradbury, autumnal atmospheres and creepy carnival settings.
  2. What was your first live concert? I'm cheating a little here, because I grew up in a small town and saw a few laughable local concerts, but my first real show was the KBPI Birthday Bash at Red Rocks in 1996: Bush, No Doubt and Goo Goo Dolls
  3. If you could only pick one sauce to eat for the rest of your life, what would it be? It has to be Ranch.  I could eat veggies with Ranch every single day.
  4. Where were you born, and do you live there now? If not, why not? I was born in Boulder, Colorado, but spent most of my childhood in Cortez, Colorado. I now live in Denver.  I could not wait to leave the small town life behind, but more and more it seems to have its own appeal
  5. What’s the best gift you’ve ever received and why? My horse, El Corazon! Coro is almost 25 years old and I have had him since he was 3 and I was 15.  Since I paid a part of his purchase with my own money, I guess he was not technically a gift, but I will be forever grateful to my mother for allowing me to get him - it truly changed the course of my life. 
  6. Do you do your dream job? If not, what would it be? I don't think anyone dreams of working in the insurance industry.  My dream job would involve writing, organization and creativity.  I think pet blogging fits the bill, but I also like the idea of personal shopper, travel writer, or the person who names paint or makeup colors!
  7. Where would you like to retire to? Southern Spain. If I have to stay in this country, Carlsbad by the Sea in southern California. 
  8. What’s the last book you read? Scything Grace, a book of poetry by Sean Thomas Dougherty. 
  9. Who’s your number 1 celebrity crush? I tend to attach to someone in whatever show I'm currently watching, so presently it is Hugh Dancy from Hannibal.
  10. What’s your biggest guilty pleasure? I love to get up early on the weekend, make a big breakfast and watch a movie or binge-watch a TV series.  

My Nominees: (Many that I'd choose have already been nominated so my list is shorter)

  1. Growing Barefoot Bookworms
  2. His Muddy Pawprints
  3. Our Four Legged Family
  4. Fetch For Me Human
  5. Southwest Dogs

My Questions for Nominees:  

  1. What is your happiest childhood memory?
  2. Where is somewhere you have traveled that you would like to go back to?
  3. If your life had a theme song, what would it be?
  4. What is the most daring thing you have ever done?
  5. What is your favorite restaurant where you live? 
  6. Who is your personal hero?
  7. If you could have another pet, what would it be?
  8. What do you feel is your best quality?
  9. What book are you reading now?
  10. What is in your perfect salad?

March 6, 2014

TbT: Trio

Clockwise from upper left: Freya, Bjorn and Lasya in 2005

In keeping with my fostering theme this week, I wanted to share a photo of my three-dog days.  Bjorngenstern the Destroyer (Bjorn) was my first foster dog through Norwegian Elkhound Rescue. I took a leap with him because Freya was dog-reactive, but they were fast friends and obviously cut from the same cloth.  Elkhounds have a long history of moose-hunting, and their job was to venture out ahead of the hunters and hold the moose at bay.  Freya and Bjorn had an adorably similar play style filled with bouncing and body-slamming.  Lasya got along with everyone but was mostly happy to let the two greys wrestle.  Bjorn lived with me for several months, and although the casualties included curtains, throw pillows, a comforter, a telephone and a t.v. remote, I loved having three dogs in the house.  True to breed, he was extremely affectionate and also a howler who gave the best hugs.  I sometimes walked all three around the neighborhood and they made an impressive trio, attracting comments and compliments wherever we went.  Bjorn happened to be adopted by a woman who lived in Durango, near where I grew up, so I was able to deliver him to her over the holidays that year when I visited my parents with a big red velvet bow around his neck.  As far as I know they lived happily ever after. My first foster experience was a good one, and I'm grateful to have shared that time with sweet, funny B-Boy. 

March 5, 2014

What Ruby Eats: A Kibblecopia

What do you feed your dog? Once upon a time, most family pets ate Pedigree from the grocery store - I still remember the yellow bags with the blue ribbon.  This question seems to be a hot topic these days and one that can quickly turn into a heated debate.  Raw vs. Kibble, Homemade vs. Store-bought, Big Brands vs. Small Batch... the battles are as numerous as the options. I've been meaning to talk for some time about what Ruby eats, and it's a subject that loosely fits into this week's fostering theme since any foster of mine will be eating the same thing. As you will see, this is a little bit of everything!

It wasn't terribly long ago that my dogs ate Purina Beneful, according to some sources one of the very worst.  I was on a just-out-of-college budget and we all had to make do with less than high-quality cuisine.  As my canine knowledge grew and my means increased, I started switching to what I viewed as better brands such as Merrick and Blue Buffalo.  My Chow mix, Lasya, developed a lot of health issues as she aged and she was placed on a "prescription diet," by our old veterinarian, something I now have a more skeptical view of.  These dog foods, while designed for management of particular illnesses, are often made with a lot of undesirable and filler ingredients, such as corn, that many of us steer clear of in feeding our dogs.  For instance, the Hill's K/D dry that Lasya was eating for a while contains as its only meat ingredients (none of which come first) pork fat and chicken liver flavor.  I discussed switching her to something I felt better about with my local pet food store, Kriser's, and they helped me find a kibble with a similar nutritional profile and better ingredients.

I again turned to Kriser's when I adopted Ruby, knowing that I wanted her to be on a high quality canned and kibble diet.  I feed canned food for breakfast and kibble at night, often doled out for Relaxation Protocol sessions or trick training or procured from one of her treat-dispensing puzzle toys. We started with Nature's Variety Instinct, a grain-free kibble which receives a 5-star rating on Dog Food Advisor, and Weruva canned entrees, another 5-star earner.  Ruby seemed to like all of these but occasionally would lose interest at mealtime.  I picked up a can of Fromm Four Star Nutritionals Shredded Beef for her (rated 4-star on Dog Food Advisor and included on the Whole Dog Journal's Approved Dry Food List of 2013) and she readily cleaned her plate at breakfast time day after day.  This is now our first canned choice.

After some communication with Fromm Family Foods, they sent over a generous box of kibble samples for us in their wide variety of flavors as well as a full-sized bag of their Duck and Sweet Potato Recipe.  Ruby found all the flavors to her liking except the Salmon a la Veg, and seemed particularly fond of the Whitefish & Potato and Pork & Applesauce (neither of which are grain-free).  Overall I am really pleased with the Fromm brand - they offer quality ingredients and a large selection of flavors that should satisfy the pickiest of eaters as well as address most food allergies. 

I am very fortunate that Ruby does not appear to have any food allergies or sensitivities, and for this reason as well as her enthusiasm for dinner-time diversity, I've decided to maintain her on a rotation diet using several of the afore-mentioned brands that I like and trust.  I'll be rotating her kibble on a bag-to-bag basis between Nature's Variety and Fromm, and cans between Weruva, Fromm and Merrick.  This will also allow us to continue food reviews if the product is something that meets my standards. I certainly don't want to eat the same thing constantly, why should Ruby?

When we travel, I've found Stella & Chewy's Freeze Dried Patties to be a really convenient food on-the-go.  They come in resealable pouches which are a cinch to pack. Ruby especially likes the Duck Duck Goose flavor so it's a special treat as well as being easy to re-hydrate.

Eating our veggies
I will often share tidbits of my dinner with Ruby, she just has to be reminded "don't be rude" and will usually settle down next to me and wait for her morsels of carrot, broccoli, or the occasional salt-and-vinegar potato chip (initially given in hopes of having a moment like this, but instead, she loved it!).  I supplement her diet with coconut oil and she gets a ridiculous assortment of treats from the many subscription boxes that I order. 

I am happy that I have the luxury of putting so much thought and effort into what Ruby eats, and that the research trends and demands of the dog-loving public are making honesty, quality and safety top priorities.  Our dogs would gladly eat many horrifying things that aren't on even the worst brands' ingredient list, and they are lucky they have us looking out for their tummies and long-term health!  Whatever you feed your dog, I have no doubt that like me, you do it with love and purpose, and that every bowl is met with a wagging tail.

DISCLAIMERI received an assortment of dry dog foods from Fromm Family Foods in exchange for my honest review.

March 4, 2014

A Houseguest in Preparation for Fostering

Happy Ruby Tuesday! 

Ruby had a house-guest last week: her friend Cosmo, a five-year-old Pug-Chihuahua (apparently these are known as "Chugs").  These two have not historically gotten along for extended periods of time, because Cosmo is somewhat of a resource guarder and his premature grumpy-old-man personality doesn't mesh well with Ruby's relentless hyperactive playfulness. I can't entirely blame him - I've yet to meet a dog who can match Ruby's energy level.  I wanted to give it a try though, because I thought Cosmo would be less possessive in a new territory, my house is well set up for multiple dogs now with dog gates and cat sanctuaries, and with my intent to foster I wanted to give life with two dogs a little trial run.  

I'm happy to report that it went splendidly!   I picked up all toys and chews, and for the first day I only let them together for short periods of time.  I fed them separately and made sure that they didn't get into valuable or tight spaces together.  Cosmo learned some patience and Ruby learned some self-control.  I tried not to intervene unless Cosmo was being particularly grouchy or Ruby was being particularly obnoxious. By the end of the week Cosmo had resigned himself to Ruby's near-constant pestering (she especially liked to grab his curly tail), they were having chase and wrestling sessions, eating in the same room and sharing the bed along with me and my little kitty, Nina.  They gnawed on bully sticks in proximity to one another, I had them doing tricks side-by-side and I was able to leave them alone together in the kitchen area while I was at work the last few afternoons.  Ruby was over-the-moon to have another dog around. Her front-window-vigilance was even decreased - oddly enough she was happy to leave that job to Cosmo - and she was uncharacteristically tired out earlier in the evenings (which admittedly was a nice break for me!) 

After Cosmo went home, Ruby and I enjoyed a fairly lazy weekend together.  Colorado got another blast of wintry weather and it was perfect for leisurely brunches with friends followed by quality time with Ruby on the sofa during a Six Feet Under marathon.  Ruby was content to cuddle, glad to have access to all her toys again and comfortably readjusted to her only-dog status.  The whole experience made me even more excited to welcome a foster dog into our home, and we are likely going to be meeting Sampson soon! As an older gentleman, there is the possibility that he could become a long-term foster, and that is just fine with me.  I really enjoyed having two dogs around again, and I think Ruby benefits immensely from interaction with her own kind.  I'm very much looking forward to meeting this fluffy guy! (As an interesting coincidence, my mother's maiden name was Sampson).

In light of this upcoming new adventure, this week my blog's theme will be dedicated to fostering.  What about you? Have you ever fostered a dog? Would you consider it? I'd love to hear your stories!

March 3, 2014

Monday Musings: Why Positive Reinforcement Training Was the Right Choice For Me

Where's my cookie?

I grew up riding horses.  My first horse was a red Welsh-Arabian mare called Tinker, and had previously been my grandmother's mount.  She was sturdy, steady and safe - the perfect partner for a young girl to learn and grow with.  At some point Tinker developed what is known as "barn-sourness," when a horse is reluctant to leave or in a hurry to return to its herd-mates, employing any number of evasive behavior tactics to achieve this goal.  Tinker's evasion of choice was to pull the reins out of my hands on the way home, by lowering her nose to the ground and shaking her head, all the while increasing her speed.  One day she ran away with me up the driveway to the pasture gate in such a manner, and in an adolescent tantrum, I leapt yelling off her back and slugged her in the neck.  Her chestnut head shot up in shock and her deep brown eyes widened in surprise.  I was immediately horrified by what I had done and threw my arms around her neck sobbing my apology into her mane.  I promised to never do such an unfair thing again, to let my emotions get the best of me or to physically punish an animal.

My continued interest in horses led to an education and early career spent riding and training them.  It's true that you can't avoid the physical with horses - we're sitting on their backs, they outweigh us tenfold and even the gentlest training methods use a leather conduit to a noseband or a metal bit in their mouths - but I was always drawn to the "ride with your mind" and "less is more" philosophies, the trainers who employed soft hands and low voices.  I was easily offended by horse professionals who jerked on horses' mouths or smacked them with lead ropes, and I endeavored to avoid those methods.

By now you're asking "Isn't this a dog blog?" and I'll transition from the equine to the canine, although it's surprisingly not so different.  The horse is a prey animal and the dog is a predator, but both experience the same range of emotions, and with reactive dogs we are so often dealing with fear and insecurity.  Until I got Ruby I was not so interested in dog training.  I was happy for my dogs to be my constant companions, and so long as they were not destroying the furniture or nuisance barking, I wasn't concerned with tricks or obedience.  I'm going to make another confession now...despite my early experience with my horse Tinker and my vow to be a kinder, gentler animal handler, for a while I used a prong collar for my dog, Lasya.  She was a bad puller, and it was suggested to me by someone - I can't even remember who, now.  As Lasya got older, she became easier to manage and I eventually switched her to a regular slip-lead.  She had a very thick coat and that big Chow Chow lion's ruff, but I'm still sorry I used that medieval collar on her, because I know better now.  

When I adopted Ruby I knew that I wanted to work with her using purely positive, force-free training methods, and hired a trainer with a philosophy in line with my own.  I had heard of clicker training and even had a clicker lying around that a friend had given me, but for some reason I always thought of it as cheating.   My first experience with it was in Ruby's group obedience class (which we promptly flunked out of due to her emerging reactivity), and I quickly realized it was not a gimmick.  It is simply a more efficient bridge between the cue and the behavior, a quicker, more consistent way to say "good dog!"  Ruby picked up on it immediately and I nearly always use the clicker to introduce new tricks.  I take treats on walks and a squeeze bottle of peanut-butter in the car.  If a problem behavior develops, I ask myself what I'd rather see her doing, and take the steps to reach that goal.  I offer alternatives and encourage her more desirable choice.  Positive reinforcement is more akin to essays than true and false, and the results are not as fast or as flashy as certain celebrity trainer methods or the increasingly out-dated pack/dominance theory.  Positive reinforcement feels more fair and honest to me, it's a conversation instead of a diatribe. It's funny to me that the same trainers who keep choke chains and e-collars (a sneaky name for a shock collar) in their toolbox consider clickers and cookies "crutches." Wouldn't you rather your dog work for the currency of treats and praise instead of out of fear of discomfort or pain?

As I've gotten older I'm able to more closely articulate the kind of relationships I want with my animals.  I am not interested in being the boss, in receiving a rehearsed answer to every question I ask.  I want a partnership in which my horse or dog thinks for itself, offers questions of his or her own.  It's in the moments where we're listening that the real magic happens.   Existing with and training dogs is a learning process, and it is our responsibility to evolve with the knowledge available to us, to better ourselves and our relationships.

Further Reading:

Why Dogs Are More Like Humans Than Wolves from Smithsonian

De-Bunking The "Alpha Dog" Theory from Whole Dog Journal

Dominance Myths from the Association of Professional Dog Trainers

The Power of Positive Dog Training by Pat Miller

Reaching the Animal Mind by Karen Pryor