October 30, 2015

Taking a Bow for Weruva Treats in the #TrickOrTreatDogs Giveaway Hop

The Trick or Treat Giveaway Hop is sponsored by Lionel Trains, the Art of AJ, pawTree, Dr. Harvey’s, Jones Natural Chews, Puppy Style Treats, Clear Conscience Pet, Whimzees, Loving Pets and Weruva. All content and opinions expressed are my 100% my own.

I love trick training, I love dog treats (or rather, I love giving them to my dogs) and I am so excited to be participating in the Trick or Treat Giveaway Hop brilliantly conceptualized and perfectly executed by Jessica at Beagles and Bargains and Jodi at Kol's Notes. Just look at all these amazing sponsors! 

THE TRICK: Ruby offers a play-bow all the time so it was one of the first things I put on cue (I use 'bravo' because 'bow' sounds too much like 'down'). Watch the video below to see the steps I used to teach it:

THE TREATS: Ruby and Boca are giving away an awesome prize package from Weruva - I didn't even know they made treats but The Ginger Sisters love their gourmet canned food, especially their Paw Lickin' Chicken. U.S. residents are welcome to enter to win a prize package including Paw Lickin' Chicken or Blue Water Whitefish Treats and Pumpkin Patch Up! Be sure to stop by all the other participating blogs before tomorrow - learning new tricks and entering each treat giveaway. You can go trick or treating from home in your pajamas! Every treat entry will also go toward a chance to win one of three grand prize packages, including a Peanuts Halloween Train from Lionel Trains, a custom Halloween pet portrait from The Art of AJ and a $300 treat package from all of the other sponsors!

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October 29, 2015

Step by Step: Ruby Develops and Conquers a Mysterious New Fear

Recently I wrote about working through Ruby's new hesitance to jump up on to the bed , (which is much-improved). Around the same time I posted that, Ruby developed another confounding fear: going up the stairs. She would go about two-thirds of the way up, then stop and whine or turn around and go back down. My dad and I were both baffled; Ruby has been running up and down the stairs for more than two years. She very rarely goes upstairs without us. I installed a stair gate at the bottom when my senior dog Lasya developed a neurological condition that made her unsteady. We keep the gate closed when we're downstairs, and the dogs don't have access to the stairs when we're not home. The only time Ruby really goes up and down by herself is in the morning after breakfast when she comes back up to bed. My best guess is that during one of those trips she slipped and hurt herself or possibly there was a loud noise that she associated with one particular stair. In any case, it only serves to emphasize the profound effect that one frightening event, even unbeknownst to us, can have on a sensitive, fearful dog. We thought that her memory of that event might fade and the problem would resolve as she went up a few times with no issues, but actually got worse in the days leading up to my trip. At first she would dash the last few steps (again, like something was chasing her) and then she stopped trying altogether. If she could follow right behind me she was better, but if I went up without her no amount of coaxing could get her to take those last five steps. For some reason when it was bedtime she was fine to follow Boca and I up to bed, making me think she also associated whatever happened with time of day. When she was in the stairwell she was very jumpy, as if expecting something to reach out and grab her. Since October is a spooky time of year and I have been watching a lot of horror movies, I started to wonder if she'd seen a ghost.

It was heartbreaking to see her so uncomfortable in her own home, and with something that had previously been not at all concerning to her. In the picture above you can see her wearing her worried ears. I was especially distressed about going on my trip, knowing my dad wouldn't take the time to coax her up the stairs and that he would probably spend a lot of time reading in his room. Rather than lament needlessly, I knew there was only one way to tackle the problem - desensitization and counter-conditioning - and I didn't have a lot of time. We needed intensive cheese therapy. As I was packing for Phoenix, each time I went up the stairs I got one of The Ginger Sisters' highest value treats - yellow processed cheese product - and doled it out step by step as Ruby came up the stairs. At first it was a bite of cheese on every single step. Then she would go three or four steps at a time. At the top of the stairs it was a straight up cheese party with a celebration of Ruby's bravery. By the time my bags were packed, she was running all the way up the stairs without me, and when I called him from Arizona the first time my dad reported that Ruby was running up and down the stairs like nothing ever happened. I was so relieved and upon my return I saw that she had no more fear of the stairs - mysteriously materialized and dispelled with proven methods. Thank you, science and Kraft Singles!

October 28, 2015

The Most Interesting Dog In the World

 This dog. Endlessly melting my heart with that intensely intelligent gaze. 
My dad says she always gets her way. Can you blame me? 

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October 20, 2015

Ruby Reviews: The Bear & The Rat Yogurt Treats + Giveaway

The Ginger Sisters are happy to try out any kind of new treats, and because we do so much training I prefer the treats to be healthy and beneficial. I was delighted to sample the latest product from local Denver, Colorado company The Bear & The Rat (you may have seen them on Shark Tank!). 

Fro-Yo To Go are freeze dried yogurt treats loaded with helpful probiotics. They come in two flavors: Bacon and Sweet Potato & Carrot, with over 150 yogurt bites in a bag. The girls were very excited to try the Bacon flavor. 

The treats are made in the USA and are corn, soy, wheat, gluten and grain free. The treats smell really good, with a creamy tang that smells like a frozen yogurt shop. They are about the size of a dime and I think they must melt in the dogs' mouths, the way they licked their lips and were ready for more. 

I have only two minor complaints about the freeze-dried yogurt treats: they are very delicate and got pretty broken up in the bag. This isn't a big deal since I like smaller training treats, anyway. They also make your hands a little sticky. I told you - minor complaints. The Ginger Sisters loved them, I love the ingredients, and I am happy to support a local company. 

The Ginger Sisters Ruby did some tricks to earn some more frozen yogurt treats. She waved "bye bye" while Boca laughed because "down" is one of the only tricks she knows.

We are giving away two packages of Fro-Yo To Go to one lucky winner - must be a U.S. resident and respond to the notification email within 72 hours.

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Disclaimer: The Bear & The Rat provided the giveaway treats and a sample for review in exchange for my honest feedback. All opinions expressed are my own and I only publish reviews for products I feel comfortable using in the day to day life of my pets.

October 19, 2015

I Love Traveling But I Hate Leaving My Dogs

I never sleep alone...except when I travel without my dogs.

Two of my greatest loves - dogs and travel - don't complement each other very well, especially with a reactive dog like Ruby who is not easy to travel with. I've only been on one short business trip since adopting Boca, and while the travel bug is nibbling at me, the thought of nights away from my adored bedtime dog (and cat) pile gives me separation anxiety, not to mention the nervousness about leaving my babies in someone else's care.

Tomorrow I have to suck it up and go on vacation, and with an obsessive planner's lists, instructions, Plans A, B, B1 and B2, plus the fortunate benefit of a trusted family member staying with The Ginger Sisters full time, I'm determined to have a good time without them for a few days!

For the fourth time in ten years, I will be seeing Madonna in concert in with one of my dearest friends. The first time was in L.A., the second with my mom in Denver, and the last time also in Denver when we won front row tickets. We have elaborate costumes and days of fun planned, but I'm sure I'll be caught gazing at other peoples' dogs longingly when we're out and about. I know I'll have a blast but also that I'll miss Ruby's kisses and Boca's silliness, playing tug with Ruby and patting Boca's frog legs. 

Since my dad has been living with us for the past year, he is well versed in the animals' routines and they are accustomed to and fond of him. Boca is still wary about him putting her collar or harness on, but after some crowd-sourced discussions with dog friends I decided I didn't want to leave any gear on her in my absence since my dogs don't wear collars in the house. She will just have to miss out on walks for a few days. My dad already takes Ruby on daily walks so there will be little change in her routine.

The Ginger Sisters have a rather elaborate meal schedule, since they are on a rotation diet and I feed a variety of formats. My dad makes their Honest Kitchen breakfast most mornings, so he is familiar with that, and he has written instructions for their alternating dinners of kibble and frozen raw with their accompanying toppings and supplements.

I've listed all our regular veterinarians as well as emergency/after hours clinics, insurance information, Care Credit information, and a couple of friends as emergency contacts. I think everything is in order and my girls are in the best possible hands. All I have to do now is finish start packing, get in some extra snuggles tonight and reassure myself for the millionth time that everyone will be fine without me for four days!

Who cares for your pets when you go out of town?

October 17, 2015

Defeating Dog Dish Slime with YoMo Essentials

In my early dog guardian days it didn't occur to me to wash my pets' bowls regularly, but then I realized how gross that was. Now that I feed a partially dehydrated and frozen raw diet, it's an absolute must. 

I don't like to use harsh chemicals on dishes my dogs eat and drink out of, but there is always that yucky slimy residue left no matter how hot the water or how much I scrub and not all of my pets' bowls are dishwasher safe. 

For this reason I was happy to try out an all natural pet bowl cleaner by YoMo Essentials. No More Slymees is a spray-on cleaner made from great-smelling essential oils, safe enough to use on your own dishes. 

After their meals, I spray No More Slymees in The Ginger Sisters' bowls, enjoying the pleasant minty fragrance while it cuts through the nasty gunk. With a simple hot water rinse, the bowls are sparkling clean and slime free! 

YoMo Essentials also offers grooming spray, calming spray and insect repellant and I'm happy to support a small company that is dedicated to safe, all-natural products that tackle problems unique to pet parents. I'll be keeping a bottle of No More Slymees next to my sink from now on! 

Disclaimer: I received a sample from YoMo Essentials in exchange for my honest feedback. All opinions expressed are my own and I only publish reviews for products I feel comfortable using in the day to day life of my pets.

October 14, 2015

Games Ginger Sisters Play

Although we have between two and three of the girls' favorite chew toy - the Benebone wishbone - accessible at any given time, there is only one they are interested in: the one somebody else has! This game started when Boca brought the wishbone upstairs, and to my surprise, let Ruby take it from her. Ruby then proceeded to tiptoe stiffly around Boca in circles with it - an obvious tease. Here she has dropped the bone and is daring Boca to pounce, which she will at any moment...I just love the look on Boca's face!

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October 13, 2015

The Power of Association for a Sensitive Dog

Despite looking rather forlorn in the above picture, Ruby very much chose to curl up in here and has been doing so more and more frequently of late, after having no interest in her kennel for over a year. Boca has always liked to nap in hers in the evenings, and now I'm finding myself with no sofa snuggle buddies! I believe Ruby's new fondness for her kennel has much to do with just a few training sessions in the last month.

Since Ruby barks at animals on TV, I have started asking her to "go to your den" when I foresee an extended dog or pony show, and feeding her yummy treats quite steadily while she is there. Her kennel is situated between two sofas, so although it faces the TV her view is mostly obscured. This has led both to more peaceful evenings when The Amazing Race contestants are racing through a polo field during a match as well as developing the positive association for her kennel - a place to relax and receive a steady stream of snacks.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, Ruby has formed a mysterious negative association recently. I have laminate floors throughout my house, and in my bedroom this presented a problem for the dogs, since they had no purchase for their leap up on to the bed. This was solved by a lovely framed dog bed which I placed between the head of the bed and the wall. It's essentially a launch pad for the dogs and a deluxe king-sized bed for the cat, although Boca occasionally sleeps in it as well. Sometime in the last month, Ruby became hesitant to use the dog bed to reach the human bed.

I have no idea what happened - perhaps the cat told her off or she hurt herself in the process, but the important thing to note is that one bad experience changed a habit that was established for over a year. For a sensitive dog like Ruby (I call her my delicate flower), a seemingly insignificant event can have serious repercussions. I've noticed that the time of day seems to make a difference - she is less worried about jumping up in the mornings than in the evenings. Currently I'm working on recreating the positive associations by coaxing her to the launch pad using a series of "touch" cues and treats. It does seem to be helping but sometimes I go ahead and lift her up, since I feel this will build her tolerance for being picked up and she even readies herself now when I say "want a boost?" giving her the power of choice.

Ruby was my inspiration for learning more about positive training methods, dog body language and behavior. She continues to teach me the importance of patience and flexibility when working with a sensitive dog, and proving just how damaging negative associations can be, even if they are unintentional. This solidifies my commitment to reward-based training as I can't imagine deliberately causing pain or fear in a dog whose security is so easily shaken. Between Boca's Fourth of July bed boycott, due to associating the scary booms of fireworks with being in the bedroom and Ruby's new quirk, I have never worked so hard to get my dogs to sleep in bed with me!

October 8, 2015

When Fostering Doesn't Work Out

Keemo went to a new foster home last weekend, after making the difficult determination that he was not a good fit - even temporarily - when prioritizing the resident animals. I'm a huge advocate for fostering, adoption and rescue, but first and foremost an advocate for my own pets. So many shelters around the world are overwhelmed and so many rescues could not operate without a network of phenomenal foster homes. I frequently implore people to foster through social media by posting dogs in need. I have now fostered four dogs over the last ten years. It's not a lot - it's nothing like those admirable career fosters that have a constant stream of rescue dogs through their home. That was actually my intention before "foster failing" with Boca. I know how rewarding it is to see a foster dog through to their perfect home, and I'm disappointed that I won't be doing so for Keemo.

As the days went by with Keemo, Boca exhibited some pretty severe resource guarding - something she doesn't do with Ruby. She will grumble once in a while when she has settled down with a toy, but at both dog and human mealtimes she was charging vehemently at our visitor on the other side of the dog gate. This in itself was manageable, but as I saw Ruby becoming more and more shut-down, nervous about Boca's blustering, refusing to eat even in another room, hiding under the dining room table, and cowering when Keemo was near, I knew that I couldn't risk her hard-won confidence being shaken any more in her own home. It was no fault of Keemo's - he just needed a playmate his own size and a lot more space to play in. Keeping all of the dogs separated long-term was not tenable, either. My 19 year old cat was also expressing her displeasure with the situation - another surprise since she's lived boldly with dogs for most of her life. It was impossible to ignore the signs of stress in every member of the household.

Fostering is a hard job, and each personality involved complicates it that much more. Sometimes I think the ideal foster home has no pets of their own, but that's unlikely since we foster because we love animals. Neither of my dogs reacted as I expected to our house guest, and I saw previously unrealized sides of them and learned more about myself, for better or for worse. These past few years have been a time of self-reflection for me as I navigated some of the most difficult changes of my life. I think part of being an adult is knowing what you want and don't want, what you can and can't handle. I'm an anxious person. Lao Tzu said "If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future." I am a well-versed worrier - it runs in the family. I am perpetually nervous about what could happen or what might happen. This isn't the greatest state of mind for managing new dog introductions and disruption in routine, and for that reason if I do foster again, it would be short term/relief fostering and smaller/older dogs.

I spent one whole afternoon with Keemo, taking him to my vet's office to refill my cat's medications, a big box pet store to get him some chew things, a crate mat and a harness, and Kriser's for some raw goat's milk. He was absolutely charming everywhere we went - obviously overwhelmed at the wonderland of sights of smells, bins of dehydrated delicacies within muzzle's reach. He approached strangers soliciting affection and wagging his tail, and I told the story of his journey and extolled the virtues of the potcake. In just a few days' time I was able to teach him "sit" and "down" with clicker training, and he was especially lovely to walk by himself. My dad was instrumental in being able to keep him as long as we did - there's no way I could have done it on my own with a full time job. I think it even brought my dad and I closer together and I know he was sad to see Keemo go as well. It didn't take long to become attached to his big silly face, and I felt heartsick as I drove him across town and handed him off to someone else. 

Even though I know I made the right decision, I still feel awful about letting Keemo and the rescue down. I thought about how confused he must have felt being shuffled from one house to another, and hope he is successful in his new foster home and matched with that special someone soon. I know he will be an awesome dog with nothing but love to give. I am a fiercely loyal person who honors her commitments so this felt like a different kind of foster failure. I was looking forward to attending adoption events and becoming more involved with this rescue group. I dream of having a ranch someday with a conscientiously designed foster dog suite, and of having the time to devote to such a passion. In the meantime I will continue volunteering where I can, but more likely in a capacity other than fostering. I have a renewed appreciation for the tireless work of rescue, and for my own perfectly imperfect incredible dogs.

October 7, 2015

Foot Warmer

Overnight, we've felt the seasons change. Our evening dog walks require a jacket and the gilded light is slanting through the leaves as they turn autumnal shades of coin and clamor to the ground. One of the things I dislike about winter is that once I get chilled, it sometimes feels like I will stay frozen forever. Ruby has many self-imposed terrier responsibilities in this life and I'm grateful that she considers foot-warming one of them as we march headlong into the colder months together. 

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October 5, 2015

Walking Together, Walking Apart and Finding Your Dog's Motivation

Although the photo above shows me walking both dogs as I so often do (my dad was the cameraman here, and if he joins us he walks Boca) but my goal for Walk Your Dog Week (October 1st-7th) was to do more one-on-one walking with The Ginger Sisters. I think they appreciate the focused attention, and they are two very different dogs with very different needs and motivations. 

This weekend I spent some time with Ruby and Boca individually. Ruby's solo walk was more of a solo play session using her long line and flying disc, but there is nothing she finds more rewarding than chasing, fetching and tugging, so I used that to our advantage to burn off some energy and also strengthen our bond through play. I've actually never tried using her long line with her flying disc before - we used to take it to the dog park or ball field but I decided to give it a whirl and it went spectacularly! Her line is only 15 feet and I now that I know how well this works, we have a 30 foot on the way. Being the paranoid helicopter dog parent that I am, I was sure to attach her little safety line (a toy dog coupler) from the base of the snap on the long line to her harness ring. 

I threw her disc gently so it wouldn't sail too far and then prepared myself to run as well so she didn't hit the end of the line. Ruby had a blast and even caught the disc mid-air a few times which is a big deal for my cautious, careful girl (she reminds me so much of myself in gym class, dodging the volleyball). After she caught it she would run gleefully in circles and even toss the disc up for herself to catch again. It filled my heart with joy to see her having so much fun. After she was sufficiently tired, we continued on a short walk around the neighborhood. You'll notice there is only one loose leash in the picture...I like to think less that Ruby pulls and more that I don't walk fast enough for her. The long line gave her room to explore and sniff while also coming back to me. Since Ruby will never be an off-leash dog, I need to utilize this tool more often to give her increased freedom. 

Boca is my easygoing, ambling girl. Individual walks with her are a pleasure; unless she is trying to snag a chicken bone off the ground she is always strolling at my side, mouth open in a smile, tail wagging. For her solo walk, I took along a pocketful of treats. Food is still the number one motivator for my former street dog. One of the things we struggled with in our beginning obedience class was a sit in different positions. Boca's tendency was to pivot and sit facing me rather than at my side. I was surprised to find that in our day-to-day informal walks and work on sit in the house, Boca has naturally picked up sitting at my side! She was eager to earn some tasty treats as we meandered around the neighborhood practicing that as well as some short-distance recalls. Since walking with a reactive dog (Ruby) requires constant vigilance and what I like to call "Defensive Dog Walking" skills, it's a wonderful break for me to be able to simply wander at will and not dart around the corner if we happen to see someone else coming. 

As the days grow shorter and colder, I know it will be harder to maintain my commitment to walking my dogs separately, but I'd like to make a point of doing so on at least one weekend day. Ruby would like to hone her skills as a disc-catching terrier and Boca clearly enjoys her snack-sprinkled saunters.

This post is part of the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop, hosted by Cascadian Nomads,Tenacious Little Terrier and Rubicon Days. The hop happens on the first Monday of every month, and is open for a full week - please join us in spreading the word about the rewards of positive training! 

October 3, 2015

Ruby Reviews: Dressed to the K9s Custom Leash + Giveaway

Little did I know that when I admired my blogger friend Lia's leash in a Facebook picture that she had made it herself and was starting her own business, Dressed to the K9s. I was beyond thrilled when she offered to make one for Boca and one for a lucky reader! Not only does Lia craft gorgeous custom macrame leashes, but she also hand beads stunning collars that are seriously works of art. I've been a fan of her blog Identity V + E for a while now, in awe of her dedication to her beautiful Elli and her challenging new Malinois, Riko, and am so happy to support the grand opening of her business.

Dressed to the K9s' leashes are unique in that they are woven by hand and fully customizable. You can choose up to four colors of cord and add a bag-carrier loop. I got to see some pictures of the progress on Boca's leash on the Dressed to the K9s Facebook page, and was so tickled by the name she gave it: Bahamian Rhapsody! I was still unprepared for how beautiful it would be in person, and I literally squealed and jumped around like a little kid when I opened the package. The colors were so bright and reminded me of a seaside carnival. 

The 6 foot leash is as functional as it is beautiful - I can see it lasting forever, the hardware and handle are sturdy, and one of my favorite things about the leash is how comfortable it is to hold at any point. Although Boca already has an enviable collection of collars, I couldn't help ordering a Dia de los Muertos collar for her to match her folkloric new leash!

One lucky blog reader will win a Dressed to the K9s leash of their own, in the lovely Sandalwood color scheme. Even though I chose the tropically technicolor leash for Boca, I'm just a little jealous of whoever wins the other one, too. Entrants must be U.S. residents and reply to the winner notification email within 72 hours to claim their prize:

Disclaimer: Dressed to the K9s provided the giveaway leash and one for review in exchange for my honest feedback. All opinions expressed are my own and I only publish reviews for products I feel comfortable using in the day to day life of my pets.

October 1, 2015

Dogs Are My Fashion Statement

Boots by Frye, Elkhound by Denver Dumb Friends League

I found this picture a while back and thought it would be a fun Throwback Thursday share. Once upon a time I wanted to be a fashion blogger. I was obsessed with fancy shoes, clothes from Anthropologie and putting together unique ensembles. My Norwegian elkhound, Freya, was happy to be my model sidekick, but Lasya, whose posterior makes up the lower right corner of this photo, was always making a fast exit out of frame. I shopped online and created Pinterest boards and Polyvore collages and followed all the prominent fashion bloggers long before I discovered the world of pet blogs. Adopting Ruby changed my world from "life with dogs" to "life about dogs." 

I'm not ashamed to wear a shirt with my dog on it.

These days I have far less interest in fashion, although I still love a beautiful, well-made pair of shoes. You'll most often find me in shorts and a dog t-shirt, jeans and a dog t-shirt, or lounge pants and a dog t-shirt. (other favorite t-shirt themes are Game of Thrones geekdom, bands I love, literary allusions and anything with birds or horses on it). My priorities for shoes and clothing have shifted from "is it in style?" "is it a reflection of who I am?" to "is it comfortable to walk, play and lounge around with dogs?" I still have a closet full of high heels and beautiful dresses that I seldom have occasion to wear. I still like to get dolled up once in a while when I meet my friends for brunch or go to a concert, but the thing that is most a reflection of who I am is a dog (or two, or three) at my side.