Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Wordless Wednesday 76 - Snomageddon 2011

I'm sure Jan will never forget January 2011. We were hit by snow-storm after snow-storm accumulating upwards of 30 inches of snow in less than a month. And I had a broken arm. (Good timing, Leslie!)

At least Bella had fun.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Book review: "If I should die before my dog -"

Most of us have experienced the pain of losing a beloved pet. But I wonder how many have given much thought to how our pet would feel were they to suddenly lose us?

What would happen to them? Who would feed them? Who would take them for walks, understand their needs and know that they prefer the yellow duck to the green dragon to sleep with at night?

Authors Joe and Cathy Connolly have thought about all those questions and wrote "If I Should Die Before My Dog -" to get you thinking about it, too.

"If I Should Die Before My Dog -" is a workbook that helps guide pet parents through the process of preparing a new life for your dog in the event you are no longer able to take care of them. Told from the perspective of your dog, the book addresses the dog's health and heritage, likes and fears and tricks and treats.

And it does so in great detail.

Joe and Cathy don't just ask the requisite questions like "Who's my vet?" and "How much do I eat?" They ask if the dog likes to go to the vet or is afraid. They ask about the kind of food the dog eats and if they're allowed table scraps and what their favorite snack is. They ask what kinds of medications the dog takes and give plenty of room to elaborate on past or current medical concerns.

When I described the book to my husband, Jan, he joked that the book wouldn't be a best-seller because it's too difficult a subject for people to think about. Actually, I found in reading it to be quite the opposite. Aside from a short introduction, the book doesn't focus on loss. It focuses on love: the love you have for your dog.

You are given the chance to "tell their story" and I spent the time reading the book thinking of all of Bella's quirks and talents. How far she has come, how well she communicates and how the book gave me a place to write all that down.

Difficult thoughts

I have to admit, this book was very difficult for Jan and I to talk about because of who Bella is - a fearful, reactive dog with occasional owner-directed aggression issues. We can't even come up with a good answer to the very first question: "Where will I go now?" It's uncomfortable to think and talk about this but in doing so we have come up with some ideas and plan to put them into action. This book forced us to confront that reality and will hopefully help Bella were the unthinkable ever to happen.

I hope everyone who has a dog they love in their life will read this book and think about their answers. And if you don't know the answers? Maybe you need to go spend some quality time with your dog.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The "Agility" part of Agility for Reactive Dogs class

Last week I started telling the story of Bella's "Agility for Reactive Dogs" class focusing on some very basic considerations for handling reactive dogs in a classroom setting. Today, I'm going to talk about the first steps of the agility part of the class.

The class breaks down into two sections: reactivity training and agility training. But the agility training part, at least for us, breaks down into 2 further areas of concentration: the reactive part and the scared-y dog part.

The "reactive" part:

In the very earliest days of the class, we handled the reactivity part of our training in one of two ways. We'd click and treat positive interactions with the other dogs (and by interactions, I'm just talking about a glance or vague interest in the other dog.) And we'd divert and distract when the interaction was not so positive. If Bella "reacted" to another dog, we could retreat from the scene (divert) or throw a handful of treats on the floor in front of her (distract).

Initially, each dog worked on an obstacle at one end of the room while the other dogs wait calmly, or not, on their "mats". It's one thing to be calm and composed when in the same room with another dog but staying that way when they're running and jumping and making noise is a much more difficult task to achieve.

Baby gates covered with sheets provide a means of shielding the dogs from one another entirely if tensions erupt. But the classroom is very large and the dogs generally remain far enough apart to keep them under threshold for most of the time.

If the dog on the mat begins to get too aroused, click/treat or divert/distract. The dog learning the obstacle is generally too involved in what they're doing to pay a whole lot of attention to the other dogs. That's what makes agility such a fabulous tool for teaching/training reactive dogs.

The "scared-y dog" angle:

It can be argued that most reactive dogs are scared-y dogs. They are "reacting" to something that frightens/bothers/distresses them. But there's another kind of scared-y dog like Bella whose MO (modus operandi) is run first, ask questions later. She's pretty much afraid of everything new and teaching her not to be afraid is an art and science unto itself.

While some of the other dogs worked on mastering their reactivity by learning new obstacles, we worked on Bella's reactivity while trying to get her to just be comfortable near an obstacle.

One of the easier obstacles for most dogs is the jump. Dogs generally like to jump, they instinctively know how to and it's something they've probably encountered in their world outside of class.

Except for Bella. Luckily, we had anticipated she might have some issues about sticks and poles and other agility stuff so we had begun working on the "jump" obstacle months before we signed up for the class. In fact, we started by simply placing a stick on the floor and asking her to step over it. Yeah. For realz.

Learning as we go.

One of the first things we learned about agility was the difference between "luring" and "shaping".

When you lure a dog to do something, you're tempting them to perform a behavior they may or may not want to do with the reward of something they really desire. It works with lots of things, especially things that aren't terrifically scary.

Alternatively, shaping a dog to do a particular behavior involves rewarding them whenever they do something close to what you want them to do. Where a lure instigates a specific behavior, shaping reinforces a behavior offered by the dog. As such, there's less pressure and the dog's focus is more on the behavior you want them to learn than on the reward.

With shaping, the dog is trying to figure out what you want them to do, they are engaged and thinking and that makes it especially useful when trying to work with a dog on really scary things.

Luring a dog on a particularly intimidating obstacle could have the dog so focused on a reward that they don't realize where they are. And if they suddenly 'notice' that they're on something really scary, it could frighten them to the point of sabotaging the reward entirely. They could associate the reward with the big scary. They could also associate YOU with the big scary. Not cool.

Shaping a dog on a really scary obstacle allows them to focus on the obstacle and learn how to approach it. If they choose not to approach it, there is no punishment but if they do choose to do so there is a reward and therefore, a positive association is made with the obstacle.

Luring and shaping both have their place in agility training at least for us. But we stick to shaping for the scariest of obstacles.

The anatomy of a jump

The video below probably shows a lot of the wrong ways to do things. Much of it was shot before we started class and learned the correct way so you'll see luring and a pretty stressed out dog in some parts. My aim with Bella is always to make a 'game' of things and that's what I was trying to do with the jump. It worked and it's not the worst mistake I could have made but I've learned better ways to do things since.

Here's a quick recap of what it took to teach Bella to "jump".

The clips used in the video span the date range of 3/2011 to 8/2012. That's a year and a half. Working with fearful dogs isn't glamorous or exciting and it doesn't happen overnight. But I think you'll agree, the pay-off is spectacular. I've never been more proud of what we have all accomplished.

The music used in the video is "Trip the Light" byt Garry Schyman. I loved it, bought it and hope no one arrests me for it. If you like it, you can purchase it on Amazon or iTunes.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Follow up Friday 4 - Confession time

We are participating in Heart Like a Dog's "Follow-up Friday" Blog Hop. "The blog hop that lets you wrap up your week and leads you right into the weekend."

Thanks Jodi for letting us join you in this fabulous idea.

Just Beau
The over-riding question from this post seemed to be about blogging from my iPad. Huh. I didn't know that was such an unknown. 
I can't speak for any platform other than Blogger but yes, Blogger bloggers can download the free Blogger app from iTunes and blog directly from your iPad. (Yes, there's a version for Android, which makes sense since Android and Blogger are Google products.)

I can't tell you too much about it yet but you can take pictures or 'upload' from your photo stream. I'm just really tragic at formatting photos on my iPad. The other frustration I found was that you can't do a whole lot of formatting of your post in the app but maybe I just haven't figured that part out yet.
A nice feature is that you can begin creating a post even if you're not on a network (my iPad is not 3G) and save it for later. When you get back on the network, it syncs to your web version Blogger account so you could adjust your formatting there or you could just publish the post as is from the app. So far, I think it's "okay" and it sure worked for me in a pinch.
30/30 Challenge.
I really hate to fail. I'm mean really hate to fail. But alas, I must confess, January kicked my butt and we failed to meet the 30/30 Challenge set forth by You Did What With Your Weiner. We started out strong but I got hit with the flu in the second week which totally wrecked me for about a week.

I did try to stage a come-back getting on the treadmill for a much-needed run once I was on my feet again but I haven't been able to keep up the momentum and then the record cold temperatures arrived and our heating system died.

So it's time to admit defeat, thank YDWWYW for the challenge and hope everyone else fared better than we.

And then there's Bella. Probably what's sapped my energy more than anything else is Bella's injury. She is still on exercise restriction and she limps almost constantly now. She's even begun holding her left foot up so as not to bear any weight on it at all. This isn't getting better, it's getting worse. And it's heartbreaking to watch.

To update you on her situation, we have started seeing a veterinary rehabilitor. We're going to put her on Rimadyl (carprofen) for a month or two to see if its anti-inflammatory properties can help fix her up.

And then, while the Rimadyl is doing its thing, Bella will be getting some very limited, monitored exercise on the "underwater treadmill". Since the water in the tank provides buoyancy, it should reduce the pressure from weight on her leg. The hope is that she can begin to work out the pain and stiffness and strengthen the shoulder muscles in a controlled and supported manner.

Of course, because this is Bella we're talking about, first we have to get her to accept the tank and stop trying to climb out of it and into Daddy's arms. She did extremely well with her first try and we think (hope) she'll look forward to going to rehab in no time. (Given her most recent visits to the vet, she was quite a wreck walking into the clinic the first day. And she pretty much ran back to the car when it was over. We'll work on that.)

We'll also work on getting pictures/video.
This is my dog on rehab.
Wordless Wednesday - Passengers
A few updates about some of my more recent passengers that I learned via the receiving shelter who took Russell, Juniper, Garland and Poinsetta: Pet Tails Rescue. They have a Facebook page where you can see the little cutie pies all cleaned up and with their brand new moms and dads. Russell, Juniper and Garland have all been adopted and I think only momma Poinsetta is still waiting for her very own forever home.

Russell even has his own Facebook page. I wish all my little travelers did.
Agility for Reactive Dogs
I guess I didn't realize just how lucky we really are to have such an innovative training center near us as this story sparked a lot of interest. There were a bunch of questions asked in the comments and I promise, I'll do my very best to cover them all. Thanks very much for the support.
And thanks again to Jodi from Heart Like a Dog and this week, Gizmo and Beth from Terrier Torrent, for co-hosting the blog hop!

Wishing you all a lovely, warm weekend.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Wordless Wednesday 75 - Those were the days...

Since Bella is lame and can't go out to play in the snow, I was reminiscing today of the days she could. And she was once happy to do so with another dog, her former-BFF, Maggie.

As always, you can click to embiggen. :)

I just ADORE this picture.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Agility for Reactive Dogs...

...and their spectacularly coordinated humans. (Uh, that would not be us, by the way.)

It's been a while since we've talked about the goings-on in Bella's life. But we are back and ready to talk about one of the most exciting and helpful activities we've undertaken in all our time with Bella.

October 12, 2011.

A day that changed Bella's life. The day we attended her first "Agility for Reactive Dogs" class at the "Dogs' Learning Center" located right here in our own hometown.

Having a forward-thinking, innovative training center not more than a few miles away from our house has been an incredible boon in our life with Bella.

Having access to a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner (KPA CTP) and Faculty Instructor with years of experience in agility as well as reactive dogs has been an absolute god-send.

Having two left-feet has been... Well, okay, yeah, that, not so much.

A note that came from our soon-to-be trainer, Carolyn, about our first class should have sent red flags a-fluttering and Robot arms a-flailing ("Danger Will Robinson!"):

Class will be run as a reactive class. Bring a mat for relaxed downs. We will gate/sheet as needed, use distance, etc.

Dogs should be on a head collar or front clip harness and another piece of equipment such as a martingale collar. With 2 leads or a lead clipped to both.

Bring lots! of small treats, clickers, mats, water/bowl.

Feels a little like this.
So just in case you didn't catch that, that's one dog, two leashes, a clicker and treats.

And we're going to take all of that and try to teach our reactive, scared-y dog to manage all the obstacles around an agility course while other reactive dogs try to behave themselves nearby?

Alright-y then.

In the year+ that we have been doing this, I am proud to say Bella has only sent me into face-plant territory once. We have, however, knocked over jump poles, gotten tangled in the weaves and tripped over each other with fair frequency.

And by "we", I mean me. The dog is fine, it's her owner who can't walk in a straight line.

(As for the other half of the human equation, let's just say that while Jan is considerably more coordinated than I, that's hardly setting a high bar.)

Reactive dog class basics.

Let's talk about some of the very most fundamental basics of reactive dog classes. I'm going to assume most of my readers have never attended a reactive dogs class or an agility class so please don't be offended if you already know all about this stuff.

A prerequisite for the "Agility for Reactive Dogs" class is that everyone must have attended a beginner class for reactive dog handling. We had and while we found out later that much of what we thought we learned in that beginner class was not quite right, it left us familiar at least with the terminology, the setting and how to enter and exit the building.

And the very first thing you learn in a beginner reactive dogs class is that reactive dogs class begins before you're even in the class. Because it's not like you can just go strolling into the building like you have a normal dog or something.

Negotiating the parking lot.

Nervously watching another dog on the dog walk.
Bella still has issues when she sees dogs while she's in the car, so we always park as far from the entrance to the building as possible. This is in an attempt to keep her "under threshold" as she watches people and pets come and go.

But basically there is no point at which Bella is not in full-blown panic mode about other dogs while she is in the car so we try to get her out of it as soon as possible when we arrive. If she's out of the car, her reactivity is less and she has something else distracting to do (sniff, pee, sniff, pee, sniff, pee and sniff some more...)

But the deal is - from the moment we arrive in the parking lot until we're driving home after class, every time Bella sees a dog and doesn't react like a snarling lunatic, she gets a treat.

Getting in the building.

Yup, there's a process for that. We wait outside while the class before us ends and the owners get their reactive dogs back in their cars and then we are called in. One dog at a time.

Again, class is already in session even when you're just entering the building. See a dog? Click, treat. Walking nicely? Click, treat. Go ballistic? Divert and distract. (We'll explain that in subsequent posts.)

Getting settled.

With reactive dogs, we use mats/towels to give the dog a place to associate as their home base, their "safe space". So while we're getting settled and stuff unpacked, Bella is asked to 'go to her mat' and is rewarded for sitting quietly. Lots of clicks and treats. If she can relax to the point of resting on one hip, she gets lots and lots of treats.

The atmosphere in the room is one of calm. Everyone speaks just loudly enough to be heard. And we all try very hard to get in and the dogs settled as quickly as possible without appearing rushed or getting the dogs too excited.

What's in it for me?

Not all dogs in a reactive dogs class have the same level of fear or a fear of the same things. Bella's pervasive fear of everything "unknown" meant we had to first get her to associate going to class as a good thing before we could ever address her fear of other dogs or the agility obstacles.

In the earliest days of class, we just stuffed Bella full of treats throughout the entire class. As long as she wasn't wigging out, she got treats. But to turn fear into enthusiasm, those had to be some mighty tasty treats.

In fact, the treats have to be something that the dog values more than she fears 'the big scary'.

We've tried everything from hot dogs to chicken to cheese and just about every training treat on the market. We've finally settled on Red Barn Naturals food roll that we chop into pea-sized pieces. They're soft and moist, which we find means they don't get stuck in Bella's throat quite as much as dry treats, and they're slightly less slimy than some of the other food logs we have tried.

(We do have another trick up our sleeve of an even more highly valued treat but we didn't need/learn about that until later in the course... Stick with me, we'll get there.)

With so much good food and all the attention she could ever desire, Bella was sold on class after the very first night. That she got to learn and jump was just a bonus. In fact, as time went on we had to work to calm her down, she was so excited to be going to class. Good grief. "If it's not one thing, it's another..."

So that's the (very) basics of the reactive dog part of our class. I'll talk more about the agility part of class next time.

I really struggled to write this post because I can come at the subject of this class from so many different angles - the reactive dog, the fearful dog, clicker training, agility training or even the role medication has played. If there's any aspect of it you'd like to hear more about, don't hesitate to let me know in the comments.

Understanding that I'm not a trainer and addressing fearful, reactive or aggressive dogs is way above my pay grade, I will share with you what we've learned and offer lots of Bella stories along the way. This class has probably been the most influential activity we have pursued for Bella's mental health and the rewards have been absolutely inspiring. I hope you'll find our journey interesting as well.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Not at all Wordless Wednesday 74 - Passengers

Time to play catch-up with some of our recent hitch-hikers. Everybody say "Awww...."

Just woke this little one up.

13 years old and blind, how did Russell ever find himself in a high-kill shelter?
It's okay, buddy, you're safe now.
We just learned that Russell has been adopted and even has his very own Facebook page: Fans of Russell

Okay, just say "Squeeeeee". :)

Please don't ask how I took this picture of Oscar.
Oscar traveled all the way from South Carolina to Newfoundland, Canada!

This is Poinsettia.
Everyone just kept calling her "Mumma". She was tired.

And these are Poinsettia's two little hooligans.
Whoever takes the blond one is going to have their hands full. ;)

Yup, we move these critters, too.
Another tired Momma.

The beautiful Julia.
Some low-life "cropped" her ears with scissors. Grr. Arg.

I hope he never grows into those whiskers. :)

Two words: Puppy breath.
There were 7 of them in there. Gah.

This beautiful boy just wanted a kind hand.
You will find it now, lovely.

I fell in love with every one. Got a favorite? Let me know in the comments.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Saving the Satos - BtC4A

Today we're participating in "Blog the Change for Animals", a quarterly event where bloggers are asked to write about an animal welfare issue near and dear to their heart.

Rather than focus on a specific rescue group, I want to talk to you about the Satos of Puerto Rico.

It is estimated that 100,000 stray dogs, called Satos, roam the tiny island of Puerto Rico. These dogs face unrelenting hardship: starvation, disease, neglect and abuse. They die on the beaches, along roadways and in shelters every day. They are poisoned by business owners and tortured by bored and apathetic youth.

Bella is a Sato.

In writing Bella's story, I worry that I am doing a disservice to these wonderful dogs and their terrible plight. It's very important to me that people understand, while Bella is a Sato, not all Satos are Bella.

When Jan and I were first considering adopting Bella, we met another young dog, let's call him Henry. Henry was also a scared-y dog and when we met him at his foster family's home that first time, neither Jan nor I were able to touch him. Henry was an adorable dog but, while Jan and I knew we wanted a special needs dog, we opted for Bella instead of Henry.

A couple of years later, we met Henry again at our trainer's studio where his owners (now failed fosters) were also getting help. In fact, our trainer said we were lucky to have Bella because Henry was "a mess".

Ha! Has she met Bella? Oh wait, actually, yeah, that's right: she had.

My point is that Henry was not a Sato. He was just another fearful dog who needed special people to take care of him.

Bella's not crazy because she's a Sato. Bella's crazy because she's Bella. Just like Henry's not crazy because he was a Boxer-mix from the south. He was just Henry - a damaged dog.

Satos are good dogs

Satos in general are known to make wonderful household companions. They are often described as tough and resilient but so very sweet and loving. They are always described as incredibly smart and quick to learn.

"Living with a Sato often means an element of surprise, but they are almost always loving, affectionate dogs who are good with all family members." --

I want to write today about the many lovely Satos I've met and of their owners who love them to pieces. I want to talk about their amazing ability to love even though they've lived with and seen the worst in us. I want to just post pictures of rescued Satos and their adoring families.

Why should you care about Satos?

I know there's controversy in some parts of the animal welfare community about saving dogs from areas that are not your own.

Some of the things that have been said to my face about Bella would make your hair turn grey. Some of the things I've read online about saving the Satos has reduced me to tears. And some of the lies being told about them and the efforts to rescue them have made me so angry I can barely speak.

But I don't understand how anyone can dismiss the value of a life based simply on where that life happened to begin.

Some facts about Puerto Rico:


Of course, saving the dogs of Puerto Rico requires more than just moving them from there to here.

It requires humane education that begins with school children who will grow up to change their world. It requires access to low-cost spay/neuter programs as well as sterilization of the dogs on the streets. It requires continued improvement in the laws as well as strict enforcement of them. And it requires many hands and many hearts working together to improve the lives of these wonderful little dogs.

Jan and I have pledged to help Satos in many small and various ways. We hope the people who learn about them through us will be inspired to do something, however small, to help as well.

Share their story. Buy a t-shirt. Write the Puerto Rican government or better yet, the board of tourism and urge them to enforce their animal protection laws.

But most of all, if you ever get the chance to adopt a Sato, please don't hesitate to do so.

All we really want is a warm bed and someone to snuggle with...

Rescuing Bella did little to help the Satos of Puerto Rico. But telling her story shouldn't hurt them either.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Black & White Sunday: Just Beau

Sorry for the rather bizarre border on this picture, I'm blogging from my iPad for the first time because the computer doesn't fit in bed with me.

Happy Sunday!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Follow up Friday 3

I am very excited and honored to be co-hosting Heart Like a Dog's "Follow-up Friday" blog hop this week. It's cool enough that Jodi allows us to steal, uh, share her idea in the first place but then she asks us to join her in co-hosting it as well. Thanks Jodi!

Brain Games...
The video of Bella playing her Nina Ottosson puzzle got quite a few comments and, as I expected, some questions about her injury. I wasn't being deliberately cryptic, we just don't have a whole lot of information to share about it yet.

Jana Rade of Dawg Business did ask what we have tried so far to have the injury diagnosed. So far we've had 3 doctor examinations, x-rays, 4 weeks on Rimadyl and 1 ultra-sound. Bella is still limping and we still don't have a solid diagnosis of what's wrong. Or a plan on how to fix it.

The orthopedic surgeon at Tufts Small Animal Hospital called it "biceps tendonitis, supraspinatous tendonitis". And if it is what he thinks, he wasn't especially hopeful about being able to fix it.

We have a call in to a local rehabilitator to see if we can do anything to ease the ache without medication. (The Rimadyl worked but Bella's barely 5 years old and we don't want to have her on even more meds if we don't have to. Plus, Rimadyl has it's share of concerns.)

So that's where we're at right now. I'll provide updates as we get them.

The Punks over from 2 Punk Dogs were impressed with Bella's food motivation and thought they might be too scared to play with such a puzzle. That reminded me we had talked about super-high-value treats when we met at Woofstock this past Fall, and I was supposed to get them the name of the food we use.

See, Bella is food motivated but when it comes to fear and getting her attention off of scary things, the food has to be on the Filet Mignon side of the spectrum. One of the things we found to be very useful is "Vital Essentiatls Freeze-Dried Nibblets". We use them for a lot of the training we do. They're expensive so I like to cut them up into quarters so they last a LOT longer. I'll write a post about the various treats we use someday soon.

If it's any consolation, Punks, Bella was afraid of her clicker when we first started using it so we know how hard it can be to overcome those fears. Good treats, patience and a slow approach can go a long way to helping with that.

And finally, Jodi, our blog-hop host herself from Heart Like a Dog, asked if we fill every compartment in the toy. Sometimes we do, sometimes we don't. For this go-round, we're not using the toy for nose-work so much as something for her to do. I mix up how many I fill just to keep it interesting for her.

But, since I'm pretty sure the idea of the game is to get the dog to find the compartment that has the food in it, we play that way on other occasions.

The 30/30 Challenge
You may recall we're also participating in You Did What With Your Weiner's 30/30 Challenge this January. It's a Challenge to get you and your dog a little bit of exercise even in these cold winters months. In fact, 30 minutes of it for 30 days. Hence the 30/30 Challenge.

Things were going so well for days 5 - 7 of the Challenge. I got on the treadmill over the weekend and even started running again. Day 7 (Monday) brought milder temperatures outside and I got out to do the two-mile walk around my office park. Day 8 brought shin-splints but hey, that was not going to stop me! I still got out to do the office park walk.

And then Day 9 brought, well, day 9 brought the beginnings of a cold or the flu or whatever it is that's brought down every person in my department at work one body at a time. Days 9 and 10 were a bust for the Challenge and Day 11 is looking even worse. :(

Bella on the other hand is doing very well for her part of the Challenge. She's still getting her walks, although we're not risking increasing them until we can meet with the physical therapist. We're still playing her games (she has more than one of those Nina Ottosson puzzles so I try to change them up) and even "Daddy" is helping her play the games.

Hopefully, next week will see me back on my feet and we'll be back in the game.

So that's it for today's Follow-up Friday. Thanks again to Jodi for the opportunity to participate as well as co-host. Hope you all have a great weekend!

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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Pet Blogger Challenge 2013

Pet Blogger Challenge Jan. 10And so begins another year...

I can tell because it's time again for Go Pet Friendly's Third Annual Pet Blogger Challenge.

Have I really been blogging long enough to get to answer the "Repeat Offenders" questions? To be honest, I never thought I'd stick with it this long.

If you haven't heard about The Challenge before, it's a chance for pet-bloggers to reflect on the "State of the Blog" over the last year, assess how well (or not) things are going and set some goals for the coming year.

It's also permission to publicly navel-gaze a bit while connecting with, and learning from, others who face the same challenges, fears and hopes. If you've never participated before, there's still time and I encourage you to give it a look.

Questions for Repeat Offenders

  1. How long have you been blogging and provide a link to your post from last year’s Pet Blogger Challenge so we can refresh our memories.

  2. My first post was published August 7, 2011 and here's a link to last year's Challenge post.

  3. What do you consider the most important goals you set out in last year’s post.

    I didn't really set out any specific goals last year but I was 1) considering accepting review offers and 2) wanted to get back to telling Bella's story more.
  4. Have you made progress toward those goals, or have your goals changed over the past year?

    How did I do? Well, I did a couple of reviews this year but I don't think it's ever going to be my forte. I'm a story-teller, not an authority figure. I think other people do a better job at fact-finding/information-sharing than I do. I'll probably still continue to do reviews for products that strike my fancy (I have a book review coming up) but don't think I'll be getting rich off the blog any time soon.

    I do think I got back to telling Bella's story better last year. It hasn't been an easy one to tell but people seem to respond to it. I've got to get back to that now that holiday madness has passed. We're getting to the point where she really begins to succeed in over-coming her fears and issues and I'm looking forward to telling that part of her story.
  5. How often do you post?

    I try to post at least 3 times/week but that's kind of misleading since two of those posts are just picture posts. I'm trying to improve my photography skills (as well as Bella's modeling skills) so hopefully those picture posts are still interesting but admittedly, they're not as much effort to put up.
  6. My only real goal is this:

  7. Has your opinion of blogging on a schedule or as the spirit moves you changed? If you publish on a schedule, why? How strict are you about your publishing deadlines? What do you do for inspiration when it feels like you’ve covered every topic?

    If you don’t publish on a schedule, why? How do you think your decision affects your audience? How do you know when a topic is “post-worthy?”

    I post on a schedule, or try to anyway. I do it for myself mostly, in part because I respond well to deadlines and in part to keep focused. Since I'm telling a story, mostly chronologically, I worry if I go too long between updates, readers will have forgotten where we were.

    As long as I have Bella, I will never 'cover every topic'. I haven't even gotten us all caught up on her story yet and she's making new ones every day. I'm not running out of things to blog about any time soon.

    And as for knowing what is "post-worthy", it's all just a guess for me anyway - I never expected so many people to be interested in Bella's story to begin with so as long as they are, I'll keep telling it.
  8. How much time do you spend writing your blog per week? How much time visiting other blogs? Share your tips for staying on top of it all.

    I'd love to hear other people's tip about "staying on top of it all" because I'm failing miserably. I spend too much time writing my own posts (it's an OCD thing), probably 8 - 10+ hours/week, and not enough visiting other blogs.

    I try to carve out a few hours a week to do nothing but go visiting but I still don't feel I can keep up with everything that's going on with everyone or let people know how much I appreciate them and their stories.
  9. How do you measure the success of a post and of your blog in general (comments, shares, traffic)? Do you look strictly at the numbers, or do you have a way of assessing the quality of those interactions?

    I'm not honestly sure. I like to look at the numbers and recently my page views have gone through the roof which is fun but my comments aren't reflecting that. Comments mean a lot more to me than page views and, to me at least, are more indicative of the success of a post.

    But it's the content of a comment that tells me whether or not I've made the point I wanted to, if what I've said resonated with someone or if I totally blew what I was trying to say. The fact that anyone stops by to read what I have to say still kind of blows my mind so taking an extra moment to say hi as well is pretty much all I need to write another day.
  10. If you could ask the pet blogging community for help with one issue you’re having with your blog, what would it be?

    See # 6. "Share your tips for staying on top of it all." I don't know how people do it. My blog isn't a business. It's never going to be so maybe I'm measuring it by standards that don't apply.

    But I don't know how others manage to post every day, comment on a hundred other blogs, participate in every campaign and event, utilize all the various social media outlets, run contests, blog hops and give-aways and still have time for the dog in their life that they're blogging about. It's a pretty impressive feat.
  11. What goals do you have for your blog in 2013?

    I think my goals going forward are going to be the same as I've always had: just tell Bella's story. Try to make it connect with people. Make it funny. Make it sting sometimes. Hope it helps.

As I said last year, it's been fun playing in this sandbox. Thanks for letting me and for joining me. The community here in Blogville is truly awe-inspiring and I am honored to be a part of it.

Enjoy the rest of the blogs participating in today's event by clicking on the links below.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Brain games and my "Le Penseu"

In last Friday's post, I mentioned that Bella and I were joining You Did What With Your Weiner's 30/30 Challenge.

With caveats.

You see, Bella has been sporting an injury for a few months now that, try as we might, we can't get diagnosed and on a road to recovery. So at the moment, the dog who needs exercise to manage her energy and behavior is on a restricted exercise regime. As of this writing we're up to a whopping "15 minute walks".

However, in an effort to maintain household harmony and keep the holy terror otherwise entertained, we have added 15-minute brain games to her activity roster. So she's getting a few 15-minute walks per day and at least one 15-minute "brain game" session. We're hoping this both meets the 30/30 Challenge requirements and keeps her from going 'postal' on Jan again in the near future.

And she's so good at these games.

She cheats, of course, any way she can figure out how. She knows the objective is to "get the treat" and doesn't much care for how the inventor of the game saw that happening.

We haven't had a cute Bella video here in a while so viola, ask you and you shall receive.

What do you mean you didn't ask? Really? I could have sworn I heard someone out there say "We really want to see a video of Bella and her 'brain games'!" No? Oh well, it's all I've got for tonight** so you're kind of stuck with it.

If you can't see the video here, click this link to watch it on Vimeo.

Some of the things I was working on here was her "wait" (Bella has trouble with impulse control) and a 'raised' playing field. (Bella just recently started having trouble reaching the floor due to her injury so I raised the game up instead of having her reach down for it. She has an elevated food station for dinner which is where I got the idea to raise the game.)

Of course, ultimately she out-smarts me and, as soon as I lift my hand from holding the game in place, she knocks it off the riser essentially winning 'the game'.

She's a smart one.

** I've been trying to create/publish this post since Monday evening but my computer is giving me nothing but grief. If this keeps up, I may be getting that Macbook sooner than expected.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Follow up Friday 2

We are participating in Heart Like a Dog's "Follow-up Friday" Blog Hop. "The blog hop that lets you wrap up your week and leads you right into the weekend."

Thanks again to Jodi for this fabulous idea.

The 30/30 Challenge

This first entry doesn't count as a real follow up because we haven't posted about it. But since we'll be 'following up' weekly on our progress and we have to start somewhere, this seemed an appropriate place.

We are terrified proud to announce we have committed to joining You Did What With Your Weiner's 30/30 Challenge to walk for thirty minutes/day for thirty days. With a slight modification.

The Challenge is supposed to be for both dog and owner but my dog is in the middle of a strict rehab/assessment protocol and only up to 15 minute walks at this point. (Long story - stay tuned.) Her 'mother', on the other hand, had a few too many Christmas cookies and really needed some motivation to get her act together and back on the treadmill.

Well, I haven't gotten on the treadmill but I have gotten outside in the cold, cold, cold and walked my 30 minutes/day. It has not always been in one shot but I plan to change that now that I'm back in the routine of work and a regular schedule.

For Bella's part, we have added brain games to her daily routine and we have done so every day since the Challenge began. She's getting her walks around the yard and is back in her "Agility for Reactive Dogs" class so she's on track and looking good.

Happy New Year from the Crazy Dog

Our buddy, Roo, dropped by from Roo's Doins and asked if Bella was wearing a puppy snuggie in that picture. Pretty close, Roo, pretty close. We call it her bathrobe but it's really a towel. More specifically, it's the FURmitator's FUR Dry which you can read a review of here: Dog Tipper FUR Dry Review.

Bonus: Bella doesn't care much (read: is mortified by) her Thundershirt, but this FUR Dry bathrobe seems to have the same calming effects on her that the T-shirt does for other dogs while drying her and keeping her warm at the same time. Go figure.

Onward and upward

Another of our friends, Sage, of The (mis)Adventures of Sage fame asked what Bella was looking at in the picture. I'm afraid to say, nothing. Well, nothing that her mom's eyes could see anyway. Bella was quite taken by a scent on the air however her mom couldn't smell that either. ;)

And Roo noticed that Bella was wearing her EzyDog Chest Plate Harness in the picture. Good eyes, Roo.

To answer your mom's question "Does it help with pulling?" Somewhat. It definitely makes me feel I have better control over Bella when she does pull and I don't worry about her hurting herself because the chest plate takes the brunt of the force and spreads it across her chest, rather than focusing on her shoulders/throat like some harnesses do.

As to your question, "Is it comfortable?", I'll have to ask Bella to answer that one.

"Roof woof, roof, aroo, mumble."

I think that's: "Yes".

It looks comfortable and the chest plate is nicely padded and soft.

It took a little while for Bella to figure out she needs to put her foot through one of the holes and I resisted using the harness for a long time just for that reason. I'm glad I finally took the plunge though as Bella seems to like it and I feel a lot safer with it on her.

We'd also like to let Snoopy from Snoopy's Dogblog know that he is welcome to hoard all the snow for the rest of 2013. We've had enough already and it hasn't even started. ;)

So I think that completes this week's follow up. If you do have questions on any of our posts, don't hesitate to ask and I'll try my best to answer them on Fridays.

Thanks for dropping by and we hope you enjoy your weekend!

PeeS - Jodi, if you happen to see this, you asked previously if we'd be interested in co-hosting the hop someday. While I have no idea what's involved in that effort, the answer is still definitely "Yes!" Let us know here or drop us an email. We really enjoy this idea and thank you for inviting us all to share in it.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Thankful Thursday - Awards catch-up #2

I really need to thank Dachshund Nola for being one of our biggest supporters over the year we've had the blog.  Back in June, she gave us this Sunshine Award and we're finally getting around to thanking her personally for it. Our gratitude should not be measured by our lassitude.

(Honestly, I am trying to catch up and if you've been kind enough to give us an award, please know it is appreciated and we'll be sharing that information here soon.)

So you know the drill - there are some rules to accepting the Sunshine Award but they're pretty simple: Answer 7 questions and pass the award on to 10 people and let them know they've received it.
  1. Favorite Number? 23
  2. Favorite non-acholalic beverage? Unsweetened iced-tea with lemon.
  3. Facebook or Twitter? Hmm, both? I find them to be very different - one connects me with friends and family, the other introduces me to new friends with whom I share similar interests.
  4. Your Passion? Eek. Well now, that's a big question, isn't it? I can get it down to maybe three things: nature, animals, music. For what it's worth...
  5. Favorite Pattern? If I had to pick one, I guess it would be paisley. Paisley's a pattern, right? (No Martha Stewart, here. ;)
  6. Favorite Day of the Week? Sunday
  7. Favorite Flower? Hmm. So, I'm a gardener and there is no end to the flowers that have caught my fancy over the years. There is one, however, that endures in captivating me for its simplicity: the Shasta daisy. There is just something so pure and eternal in its grace.
I wanted to give the Sunshine Award to blogs that make me smile and bring a little light into my day. I apologize if you have already received this award. Without further ado, allow me to pass this award along to:
Roo's Doins - Roo is one of the coolest dogs in the 'ville and his mom is super crafty, great with Photoshop and apparently never sleeps. Whenever I want to check out a dog that just makes me smile, I go visiting. Seriously silly and all sweetness.

Hey, It's Jet Here - Everybody knows Jet because it seems that Jet knows everybody. Jet and his mom manage to make it out to everybody's blog to say hi and keep in touch while also posting Every. Single. Day. Sometimes they're funny, sometimes informative, sometimes just supportive, encouraging or thankful. Always worth a visit.

The (mis)Adventures of Sage - I have a confession to make: I have a crush on Sage. Don't tell Bella. Although Bella might actually like Sage. Sage is a crazy little mischief-maker who loves nothing more than she loves mud. Seriously. The blog 'chronicles' her adventures, has LOTS of pictures and stories and Sage. You really should follow the pretty dog.

How Sam Sees It - I think everyone probably already knows Sam and Monty of "How Sam Sees It". The blog has been active since 2009! They are a recent discovery for me though and a lovely find at that. Sam and Monty are Golden Retrievers sharing their adventures with us. Another blog full of good stories, great pictures and pretty dogs. What's not to love?

Dexter the Wonder Dog - Living in the shadow of "Mango, Relentlessly Huge", Dexter the Labradork may have not have been noticed for his very own large personality. But now, with his very own blog, it is on full display. This blog will make you laugh. And adore Dexter.

(Click here to see my disclaimer about why I'm only nominating 5 blogs.)

Thank you very much, Dachshund Nola. As always, you honor us with your consideration.