Friday, December 30, 2011

Holiday Wrap Up

Did everyone have a nice Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanza/Festivus Holiday this year?  Ours was terrific.  The Hubster's mom was in town and if you noticed the lack of Holiday Cooking posts, it was because I was strictly forbidden to make a big dinner.  Instead we had the most delicious lobster dinner on Christmas Eve followed by Christmas dinner at a friend's.  Here's a bit of our holiday in pictures:

Yes, we put the lobsters on the floor to see what the dogs would do.  Yes, Hurley chomped down on one.  
Yes, the lobster was as delicious as it looks. 
Dogs Gift #1 was this ginormous bed.  Maggie approved!  Mom loves its waterproof liner to protect against her occasional accidents.

Then it was time for the toys!  Hurley & Maggie showed off their mad sharing skillz.
Even Sadie helped dismember the Moose.
Christmas Day was finished off by Christmas Kongs - stuffed with pumpkin puree, sweet potato puree and topped off with Freeze-Dried Duck Treats.

I hope your holiday was filled with as much warmth and love as ours.  Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Indoor Camping

From the moment I entered blogville, I have had one envy above all other envies.  Mr B (from Two Pitties fame) and his TeePee.  It is seriously the coolest crate/dog bed alternative I have ever seen and I soooo wanted one for our house.  Or two.  Or three.

But as I drooled more and more over his fantastic TeePee, I realized that we had our own version sitting in our shed, yet to be used.  As a wedding present, we were given a dog tent.  With just the two, they always slept in our tent with us so, while we had the best of intentions to put it to use, it never made the cut as we packed up the car for our camping trips.

Ideas were starting to formulate.  A tent in the house perhaps?  A place to corral the myriad of dog blankets that end up strewn all over the den floor?  Do we have the space for it?  Would it look stupid or cool?  Finally, I decided to bite the bullet and just put the dang thing up.  And I love it! 

It fits perfectly in a corner of our den.  And most importantly, Princess Sadie approves of indoor camping.  Now only to do something 'bout that horrible mess of electronics wiring...


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Award Season

Wow!  I received 4 awards this past week.  I'm so tickled to receive them and from some pretty great blogs.  I received the Liebster Award from Identify V + E & The (Mis)Adventures of Sage (both fellow Portland bloggers) as well as from Life with Desmond.  Thanks guys!

The Liebster award is one of my favorite awards.  The requirements for accepting and passing on are pretty easy peasy and it's geared towards shining a spotlight on the smaller blogs around.  Me likey.  I basically pass this on to 5 blogs who likely have 200 or less followers. 

And on top of the Liebster Award, Of Pitbulls and Patience also gave me the Kreativ Blogger award.  Holy moly, I'm swimming in awards around here!  The Kreativ Blogger award requires you to share 10 things about you (or in this case, about the pooches).  And then it gets passed on to 6 other bloggers.  But I'm kinda cheating on this one, folks, 'cause I'm passing on both the Liebster AND Kreative Blogger awards to the 5 blogs listed below.  2 birds, 1 stone and all. :)  But first, here are 10 things you've been dying to know about Maggie, Sadie & Hurley:

1.  I figured out that Sadie did not lick the fur off of Hurley's face because she loves to groom him; rather, she loves eye boogers and his are apparently super duper delicious.  All together now....GROSS!

2.  Sadie eats poop.  She is teaching Hurley the joys of eating poop.  He prefers cat poop himself.  Maggie has tried poop but she's not a connoisseur.  MORE GROSS!

3.  We got Sadie because we wanted a big sister for Maggie so she would not try to go home with all the other dogs at the dog park.

4.  The Hubster has found/picked out/adopted all 3 of our dogs.  I had final say on Sadie but he surprised me with both Maggie and Hurley as puppies.  I think he's addicted to surprising me with puppies.  Not a bad addiction at all, if I do say so myself. 

5.  Maggie once caught a fish, for realz.  This was one of the many awesome things she has done in the Hubster's presence only.  I think she thought it was a shiny rock. 

6.  Sadie is a mouser.  She goes crazy when she smells rodent anywhere on our property and, at our last house, was known to disappear in the basement and emerge hours later with her catch. 

7.  Maggie has had a vagino-plasty, or as I like to call it, hoo-ha surgery.  This greatly helped with her chronic UTI's but did not cure the incontinence, which we will deal with her entire life. 

8. All of my dogs jump up on the counter at the vet to get a treat.  This is the only counter Maggie & Sadie have ever jumped on and the only counter they are all allowed to jump up on. 

9.  Maggie hates the vacuum and has a love/hate relationship with the broom.  It scares her yet it always magically makes the lost tennis balls reappear.  Sadie doesn't care about either and I have to physically move her lazy butt out of the way when I'm cleaning.

10.    Both Maggie & Hurley can catch treats; Sadie can't even try. They just hit her in the face.  If she is able to pull herself together enough to react at all while something is flying at her face, it is to flinch away, not to catch it. 

And here are the 5 blogs that I am passing these great awards on to.  They are a delight to read!  If you do not follow them already, you should! 

Pauley James Former Foster Baby

Jodi Stone

Our Waldo Bungie

Oh Corbin

Peaceful Dog

Happy Award Season, everybody!

Fetching the Pug

So remember my small dog aggressive gal Maggie?  Her rehabilitation to accept small dogs has reached a new level even I could never have imagined nor made up.  (As an aside, I believe she deliberately does THE. MOST. AWESOME. THINGS. EVER. when the Hubster has her out and about and I am not there.  She obviously loves him best and robs me of the chance to personally experience the awesomeness that is Maggie.  But that's OK because whether I experience it firsthand or not, I still relish in relating the stories).

This morning, the Hubster took Maggie & Hurley to the dog park.  There he saw a canine family consisting of a humongous Mastiff and a Pug.  Hurley loves the Mastiff.  Maggie is indifferent to both, preferring to focus on her beloved ball.

On this chilly morning several days before Christmas, the Hubster tosses the ball to Maggie and low and behold, the Pug picks it up.  This is EXACTLY the situation that makes the Hubster and I hold our breath and prepare for the worst.  What will Maggie do?  Will she attack the Pug for stealing her precious ball?  Will she ignore it?  Will she attempt to play with it?  Will she distract it to get her ball back? 

Nope.  None of the above.  Maggie decided that no little Pug was going to interrupt her game of fetch so she. fetched. the. Pug.  Grabbed it by the sweater, picked it up in her mouth (with said ball still in the Pug's mouth) and deposited both Pug and ball at the Hubster's feet. 

I seriously cannot make this stuff up. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


Hurley's gone and done it big time and I'm majorly disappointed folks!

We went to the vet's office for quick weigh in yesterday and he is only 63 lbs.  I was thinking he must be 70.  I mean, in order to grow into my gentle giant of 100+ lbs, he had to be 70 by 9 months.  At this rate, we'll be lucky if he makes it to a measly 85 lbs.  You really blew it, dude.  The St Bernard in you should be ashamed! It's a good thing that your only fault is not growing big enough for your ginormous-dog-obsessed Mama. 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Christmas Comes Early

Christmas came early in our house and I got the best present ever:  Hurley has stopped barking at and reacting to dogs who come in the shop! Thanks, Santa!!  Once again, you knew exactly what I wanted.

It happened one fateful day otherwise known as last Tuesday.  Hurley is usually tethered behind the counter with me and normally when a dog comes in, I untether him so that I have more control over him and can work on his barking behavior.  But on this magical day, I decided to leave him tethered and position myself, water bottle in hand, between him and the entering dog.  I was in position, ready to douse him once the barking commenced.  But. It. Never. Did.

For some unfathomable reason, being tethered behind the counter virtually eliminated the barking.  It goes against every experience and instinct I have.  Tethering would only increase the reactivity of my other two in the same type of situation.  With Hurley, tethering has had the exact opposite effect.  He now calmly greets canine visitors and the barking that has happened has definitely been excitable "Let's play" style o' barking and not "Hey, you're on my turf now" type of barking.

I'm sure it's not just magic.  Our training class has helped Hurley learn how to be calm and non-vocal around other dogs.  It has helped him pay attention to us in the presence of distractions.  While I had my doubts about Leader of the Pack style training, the sparse use of treats and the focus in the class on using affection as a reinforcer in lieu of treats has helped me learn how to better phase out treats.  I've limited use of treats in the shop, which has helped to make it a less valuable resource for Hurley (I think).

Whether it has been fighting fleas or working on Hurley's rotten social skills at the store, I feel that the over-riding theme of this Fall with my dogs is this:  Never Give Up.  There were many times that I didn't think we'd make it over this hurdle.  Many times where I started to resign myself that he wasn't suitable to be a shop dog.  I got angry.  I was frustrated.  I even cried.  But I didn't give up and Hurley responded to our continued efforts sprinkled with a little magic.  I may never understand why being tethered creates calm and relaxed canine greetings in my puppy and I'm not too concerned with figuring it out.  I'm just glad that we made it here, a place where I don't even think twice about loading him up in the car and coming to work with me. 

Friday, December 9, 2011

How I Conquered Fleas

Before I get started sharing what seemed to actually work with ridding fleas naturally, can you please stop reading and find some wood to knock on?  K thanks.  I'm a little worried that just blogging about the fleas being gone will cause them to come back and worse than before.  That's usually how it works, right?

It's been a week since my last flea post and things are going well.  I didn't think they would be going so well, in all honesty.  The day after I posted about everything we were doing to get rid of them, I found no less than a dozen fleas on Hurley.  This after a flea shampoo bath, apple cider vinegar rinse and cleaning the house from top to bottom.  I admit - I was ready to throw in the towel and pick up some Advantage or Frontline.  I couldn't believe after all that effort that he could still have so many fleas.

So I diligently combed through every last hair on his body.  When I saw a flea, I drenched the area in the flea spray I've been using, which killed/immobilized the flea so I could then pick it off and flush it down the toilet.  It was the most thorough exam I had given him to date and removing all those fleas manually seemed to do the trick.  Since then, not a single flea on him.  The Hubster has found one on Maggie and Sadie had a few that same day I de-flea'd Hurley but none since. 

I tried a lot of things - like almost every natural remedy where I could find any anecdotal accounts of it working.  If someone had success with it, I was probably trying it.  You can view the complete list of what I tried here.

Not everything worked.  Here's what I found most useful:

Daily Inspections:  I used a regular people comb to go through the dog's hair every single day.  I sprayed any fleas I found with Ark Natural's Flea Flicker Spray.  A direct shot was enough to kill the fleas most of the time but I flushed them anyway for good measure.  I also looked for signs that they had been bitten or scratching and treated those areas with PalDog's Boo Boo Gel.  After that fateful dozen flea day, I found less and less evidence of new flea bites on the girls.  On Hurley, I never found any bites so I just imagine he doesn't react as strongly to the bites as the girls did.  I have to say - everyone should spend this kind of time inspecting their dogs.  Hurley now lets me move him around, comb him, mess with his paws, flip him over, etc with hardly a protest.  I also know where every mark is on their bodies, every scar, every splotch of dark skin and I'm sure that familiarity will help with identifying problems in the future. 

Apple Cider Vinegar:  I started with putting a tablespoon in the water bowl but found the dogs were drinking less so I switched to a spoonful in their food each time they are fed.  I believe this to be the #1 reason why I am not finding fleas on their coats.  I've seen evidence of a few bites but no actual fleas on them, which means that my attempts to make the dogs inhospitable flea hosts is working.  I am going to do a couple more ACV rinses over the next few weeks and continue with the spoonful in their food through the end of the month.

Frequent Vacuuming:  Since the dogs are no longer themselves places where the fleas want to hang out, vacuuming the carpet in our den daily was key to getting rid of fleas and their eggs.  Apparently there has been a scientific study that determined this is a highly effective way to actually kill fleas. It's not just about getting them out of your carpet - the vacuum itself will kill most fleas.

Those are the solutions I found most effective - which is not to say that the other things I tried didn't have any efficacy.  Rather, I think my all-hands-on-deck approach to solving our flea problem was a big part of the reason why it eventually worked.  I will continue to use the flea shampoo (when I find a flea), flea spray (as a preventative, will apply before trips to the dog park, hikes, camping trips and weekly during the worst part of flea season) and Diatamaceous Earth (to de-pest our house from all sorts of critters, fleas included).

I'm so thankful that we seem to be coming out of the worst of it and we'll soon be back to normal in our neck of the woods.  I can see that Sadie and Maggie are already more comfortable and I'm so thankful for that.  I hate seeing them itchy and miserable. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Getting Ready for the Holidays

Today was my official getting into the Holiday Spirit day.  I started the Christmas baking and up went the tree.  The dogs were instrumental in distracting me helping!  :)

First, I got everything out for baking.  I mean everything.  And I arranged it all nicely for a blog picture - and then proceeded to move it all out of the way so I could get started!

Sadie & Hurley supervised from the comfort of their beds while Maggie kept the kitchen floor spic & span!

And then we got sidetracked by a little photo shoot.


Isn't he just the cutest puppy in the whole wide world??  Of course, with all the picture-taking, I did not get all the baking done that I wanted but we had fun.  After starting cookie dough, I took a break and headed out with Hurley to pick out our Christmas tree.  Somehow, I came home with a gi-normous tree that barely fits in our living room.  I blame it on Hurley.  The big tree made him look like a little puppy and I couldn't resist.

Sadie was a big help while I was decorating!


Then I ran out of Christmas lights and we had to take a break to get back to baking. 

Hurley was so kind as to "help" me with the Peanut Butter cup cookies.  And by help, I mean he snatched a half dozen off the counter while I wasn't looking.  One panicked google search on chocolate poisoning in dogs later and sigh of relief when I found he hadn't gotten enough chocolate to be worried, he was banished from the kitchen entirely.

The Hubster arrived with more Christmas lights and saved the day.  I finished up the tree and these three were so kind as to pose nicely for me!  

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Fleas Schmeas

Who here hates fleas?  Memememememememe!  I swear the little buggers have far superior intelligences that enables them to know when you are taking flea-ridding measures and find new, better places to hide.  That or they lay something insane like 20,000 eggs in one month.  I actually read that somewhere but wikipedia is telling me it's only 500 over the course of one female flea's lifetime so I guess I have to correct myself.  I feel so much better about struggling to get rid of fleas when I read 20,000 though, don't you?

Our flea history up to this fall is exactly this - none.  We had Sadie & Maggie on Frontline or Advantage; it changed a couple times with vet recommendations.  Then I forgot to give it to them.  Then nothing happened.  No fleas, no problems.  We lived a happily flea-free existence for years.  Then came Hurley.  Combined with Hurley's apparent status as Most Hospitable Flea Host ever and a worse-than-usual flea season here in Portland, we are now in the midst of flea-mageddon.

Okay.  So slight exaggeration.  We do have fleas, but it's a mid-range infestation.  Not flea-mageddon.  And I am determined to conquer fleas naturally this time.   Yes, it would be more convenient to simply dab the back of their necks once a month but the convenient way is not always the best way.  I would prefer to use natural products I know won't harm my dogs in the long run than dose them with neurotoxins.  If it's not safe for children to handle, how can it be safe for my dogs?  That's my dilemma.

The reality of using safe, natural but not as conveniently effective products to fight fleas is that it takes much more effort, more time and when you think the fleas are gone, think again and continue with what you've been doing for several more weeks after you think they're gone.  Natural remedies can effectively rid your dog of fleas but they do not kill the eggs.  Eggs can take up to 20 days to hatch, which means getting rid of fleas naturally may take 4-6 weeks.  We are at week 3 here at our house and it's going meh.  I have not been as diligent as I should have and the next 3 weeks are all about stepping up my game.  Here's what I've been trying:

Diatamaceous Earth:  DE can be quite effective at killing fleas.  This powder is a sharp fossilized substance to small bugs and works by both drying out and piercing an insect's exo-skeleton.  In order for DE to be fully effective, it needs to remain in place for 72 hours at minimum.  I have found this solution not to be effective on the dog's coats themselves as it doesn't stay on their coats long enough.  I do believe this to be the most effective solution that I've tried in terms of treating carpeting and bedding.  There are a couple precautions one must take with DE:  be sure to purchase food-grade and not pool-grade DE and when applying, make sure not to create a cloud of DE dust as it can be harmful when breathed in.  I keep DE on my dog's bedding at all times, treat the carpet weekly and there is always a bit of DE in places like the laundry room and surrounding the dogs' kennels. 

Garlic:  Garlic can be a controversial food for dogs.  From the online research I've done, I've found the bottom line to be this:  garlic has the same substance as onions but in much smaller amounts that are not toxic to most dogs when given the correct dosage.  The correct dosage of garlic can be effective in fighting fleas and other parasites, is great for heart health and is an effective supplement in fighting cancer.  I gave the dogs 1/3 of a medium size garlic clove once a day for several days to kick off my war on the fleas.  I can't say for sure how effective it has been - I believe garlic to be more effective as a preventative than to actually rid your dog of fleas once they are there.  Please seek the advice of a veterinarian prior to starting any supplements.  I am sharing my experience with garlic but am not a licensed veterinarian qualified to give medical advice.  I would advise seeking the advice of a holistic veterinarian in regards to these types of supplements though as traditional veterinarians are generally less experienced on the safe use of garlic and other natural supplements.  The part of me who thinks I should have gone to law school made me write this italicized section.  :)

Frequent Vacuuming:  So simple.  So common sense.  And yet we did not do this weeks 1 - 3, which is probably why we are still seeing at least one flea per day on Hurley.  So we embark on daily vacuuming for the next week, then will treat carpeting with DE, let it sit for 3 days, then do every other day vacuuming for a week, treat with DE.  Rinse, repeat.  A critical aspect of this simple common sense solution is to ensure you replace your vacuum's bag or empty out the dirt canister in bagless vacuums.  Immediately remove from your house.  If fleas are in there and you only toss it in your garbage can, those fleas will get out and reinfest your carpet. 

Flea Sprays & Shampoos:  I used Ark Natural's Flea Flicker Tick Kicker Spray at first.  This spray works from geranium, clove & peppermint oil.  I sprayed about every other day and found that there was a real reduction in the fleas I found on Hurley but this alone didn't seem to be enough to get rid of them completely.  I also am using EcoPure Naturals Flea & Tick Shampoo, which works from an assortment of oils similar to Flea Flicker.  I didn't use a specific flea shampoo when I first bathed the dogs but have used it once and will use it for all future baths until the fleas are sayonara, which brings me to my next item:

Frequent & Thorough Bathing:  The dogs will be getting weekly baths for the next 3 weeks at least using the flea shampoo.  All 3 at the same time so that fleas cannot jump from one to the other.  And this is the tough part - they must stay in the bathtub with the shampoo penetrating their coat for at least 5 minutes.  Sadie was awesome at this; Maggie gave me dirty looks; Hurley whined and cried the entirety of his bath.  And after the 5 minutes of shampoo penetration, I follow it up with an apple cider vinegar rinse.  That stays on their coats for another 5 minutes before rinsing off.  Hurley wouldn't even look at me for the rest of the evening after his bath.  But we made up this morning so all is right in the world again.  The ACV also made their coats super soft - I love pleasant side effects!

Apple Cider Vinegar:  From all the research I've done, ACV seems to be one of those cure-all products.  Fleas are but one of many ailments it is said to help.  In addition to the ACV rinse as part of their weekly baths, we sprayed the baseboards, carpet, mattress & upholstery with an ACV/water mixture.  They are also getting a tablespoon of ACV in their water bowl each time we fill it.  I will be spraying them with an ACV/water mixture in lieu of the flea spray I've previously been using to see if it is any more effective. 

Treating Flea bites, scratches & hot spots:  In order to make the girls more comfortable as we are fighting fleas, I am applying Pal Dog's Boo Boo Gel to their flea bites, where they've scratched themselves raw and any hot spots that develop.  Sadie is starting to chew at her paws and make hot spots, pobrecita!  Hurley on the other hand occasionally scratches himself but otherwise does not seem bothered by the fleas.  Yet I have not found more than one flea on Sadie in 2 weeks while I find fleas on him almost daily.  Go figure.  The Boo Boo gel contains Aloe, St Johns wort and Calendula oil, which I have found to be effective in soothing the skin and healing boo boos.  This helps make them more comfortable and less likely to scratch themselves raw.  I apply daily as needed when I examine them.

Wow.  I am definitely throwing the book at our flea problem.  I still have a few more natural remedies to try if this laundry list of solutions doesn't cut it:  tea tree oil, lemon/water spray, cedar oil...the list goes on.  This is my war on fleas and I am determined to win.  These tiny little buggers will not get the best of me!

Please note that I did not receive free products to review or any compensation.  The specific products mentioned are ones that I carry in my store and recommend to customers who are fighting fleas naturally.  

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Today's Fun Facts

Fun Fact #1:  Hurley is the cutest, smartest, just BEST dog in the whole wide world.

Fun Fact #2:  I love him with all of my heart.

Fun Fact #3:  I also think Maggie & Sadie are BEST-est dogs ever and equally adorable but they are not hanging out at the store with me today so please enjoy this Hurley blooper shot from our little photo shoot in the shop.


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Cooking with Sarah: Thanksgiving Recap

We had a great Thanksgiving at our house.  You may recall that I was planning a HUGE dinner that day and I got to admit, next year I won't be so ambitious with the dishes.  My problem might have been that I kept adding stuff (like Butternut Squash Risotto at the last minute).  Only I am crazy enough to add a labor intensive dish like risotto to an already full menu at the very last minute but seriously folks, it was butternut squash risotto and it was delicious.  While I absolutely LOVE cooking and Turkey Day is by and far MY DAY, I also didn't have much chance to chat with our guests as everything took a little longer, even though I started a half hour early (according to my schedule).  Fun fact:  when you wrap a turkey in bacon and stuff it with dressing, it takes a lot longer.  Like almost 2 hours longer.  But that's OK.  So dinner was late.  So what if the mashed potatoes were cold by the time everything was done.  It was still delicious.  Here are some highlights from our Turkey Day:

Bacon Turkey is the most beautiful thing in the world.
Our good friend Julie cooking vegetables.  Hurley supervising droppage!
Sadie supervising the Turkey carving
Sweet Potato Cheesecake was by far the highlight of the meal.  This one is a permanent T-day fixture now!
The dogs did really well with all of our guests.  Hurley did not take off with the turkey and satisfied himself with only one quick lick of the turkey plate.  Maggie did not climb on anyone's lap (that I noticed) and Sadie barely barked when our guests came to the door.  Success!  One of my favorite aspects of holidays is seeing my dogs continue to improve behavior-wise.  Having a house full of people & food is challenging for even the most well-behaved dogs and my 3 did a great job being cute, wiggly and friendly to all who would let them lick their fingers!

I hope everyone had a great holiday weekend!  Next stop, Christmas (or Hanukkah or Kwanza or Festivus).  The Mom-in-law is coming to visit from Cape Cod and word on the street is that she is bringing us lobster!! 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Return of the Crate

Deja vu.  Didn't we all read a post about this subject just a week or two ago?  Yup, just like Two Grad Students, we too have had to return one of ours to crate-ville.

Every fall, we encounter the same issue with Sadie.  Indoor poopies.  I know it's cold & rainy outside but seriouslys?  I feel like pooping inside for her is the equivalent of me demanding a heated toilet seat.  Hold on!  Must get out the Honey Do List...but I digress.  Usually, her Fall Indoor Poopies only last a few nights or maybe a week tops.  But it's now the end of November and this has been going on since October.  Maybe she leaves us a surprise in the bathroom during the day or maybe she sneaks down into the basement at night.  But it's been almost daily for at least 6 weeks.

So we made the decision to start crating Sadie when we're gone for extended periods of time and at night.  I don't feel one iota guilty about this - girl's been pooping in my house, yo!  And she happens to love her crate.  When we got Hurley and set up one of the crates for him, I would regularly find her napping in it.  I had to set up our second crate after we got him just so she would have her own place to nap.  The only difference now is that the door is closed.

Yes, she gets bathroom breaks right before I leave in the morning and right before we go to bed.  She even gets alone time in the yard so that she may do her business in peace (she's always been a bit shy about doing her business in front of others and I think Hurley follows her around outside too much for her pooping comfort).   But whether it's performance anxiety in front of her brother or princess-ness about the cold wet weather or jealousy over my soon-to-be-installed toilet seat warmer (kidding!), this pooping princess has been thwarted once and for all by my good friend crate.

Who me?  I am way too cute to poop.

Has the change in weather brought out any abnormal behaviors in your dogs?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sadie & Her Sweater

We got Sadie's new sweater from Our Waldo Bungie last week.  Sadie is just a little bit in love with it. 

This being her first sweater, she wasn't quite sure what was going on when I first put it on her.  She stood in place for a few minutes before she figured out she could move.  Once she moved, she didn't stop. 

For about a half hour, she trotted from wherever I was to the door and back again; she was convinced that sweater meant we were going somewhere fun.  So off I took her to the shop so she could sniff around and show off her new sweater. 

We took the sweater off when we got home and laid it neatly on a chair.  The next morning, the sweater was mysteriously missing.

Imagine my surprise when I located in under Sadie's head on her bed.  Yup, she loves her new sweater so much that she got up in the middle of the night, snatched it from the chair and curled up with it.  Thanks Waldo Bungie for making my precious Sadie so very happy!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Giving Thanks

I have so much to be thankful for this year.  But most of all, I am thankful for these three:

What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Cooking with Sarah: My Favorite Holiday

Thanksgiving is hands-down my favorite holiday.  This is because I love to cook.  I also love to host.  Third, I love to challenge myself in the kitchen.  I'm definitely not the type of person who cooks the same Turkey Day dinner year in and year out. 

Four years ago, we hosted 20+ people and had to cook 2 turkeys.  The Hubster had the brilliant idea of grilling one of the turkeys since we lacked two stoves and IT. WAS. AWESOME!!

And then there was Turkey Day two years ago.  A much smaller crowd this time and we had a theme:  everything in pie form.  Turkey Pot Pie, Shepherd's Pie, the normal sweet potato & green bean casseroles with pie crusts.  It was brilliant and it was intense on the gut.  There really is only so much buttery pie crust a human being can consume in one meal.  However, that was also the Thanksgiving we discovered that Sadie LOVES little kids, so long as they provide her with an endless supply of Cheerios.  One of my favorite Sadie memories is little Sully walking Sadie all around the living room. She was so patient and calm and I was so very proud of her. 

This year, one of our good friends is visiting us for the Holiday and I knew I had to make it special.  Enter Bacon Turkey.  Originally, our concept was that everything would include bacon.  That would've been even more awesome than the Pie T-day but, alas, we've got vegetarian friends and I'm not going there with fakin' bacon. 

Photo from recipe posted at

And because I am the ultimate planner, I do have a Turkey Day spreadsheet & binder.   The cover page of said binder is what is pictured above.  Yes, all of the recipes are printed and there is a cooking schedule.  I need my head examined.  For reals.

Here is our Thanksgiving menu in all of its glory:

Mushroom & Walnut Plate
Bacon-Wrapped Dates

Bacon-Roasted Turkey & Pan Gravy
Garlic Mashed Taters
Sausage, Apple & Cranberry Stuffing
Roasted Green Beans & Almond Brittle
Pumpkin Ale Mac N Cheese
Dinner Rolls
Corn Bread
Holiday Soup & Salad
Shredded Brussel Sprouts w/ Maple Hickory Nuts

Sweet Potato Cheesecake
Pecan Pie
Pumpkin Canollis

I hope your Thanksgiving is as delicious as ours will be!  And for the record, we are still apprehensive about Hurley and the Turkey.  It's a good thing I've been working on "Out" with him.  And "Off".  And "Leave It".  And "Go Lay Down".  Yup, we will be using all of those in healthy doses this week!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Dog Training and the Art of Compromise

Let me share some core truths about myself:

1.  I am always right.
2.  I think I am always right.
3.  I don't like admitting that I'm wrong.
4.  I like winning.  A lot.

All of these things sometimes complicate the compromise that is necessary when raising & training dogs together.  I'm sure I'm not the only one who has had one of these conversations:

Hubster:  You give the dogs too many treats.
Me:  You don't use treats to shape, lure & reinforce behaviors enough.

and then later:

Hubster:  Why won't Hurley sit for me but he sits for you?
Me:  I give him too many treats.  :P (yes, I do actually stick my tongue out at the poor Hubster)

As we tackle each new training issue that comes along with every one of our dogs, our training know how reaches its limits and we have to learn something new in order to overcome the problem at hand.  Oftentimes, this raises some conflicts between the two of us on the best route to take when training our dogs.  The Hubster and I aren't too far apart on our training philosophies.  Neither of us want to use harsh training methods and each of us prefers to use training methods that we, respectively, are more talented at.  I fall back on the "I can get my dogs to do anything with a treat in my hand" positive reinforcement style of training while the Hubster goes with his "I'm the boss and the dogs do what I want 'cause they respect me" Leader of the Pack style of training.  While each of us dabbles in the other's methods, we certainly have our strengths which drives our training preferences.  And neither of us are wholly right or wholly wrong. 

So when Hurley started displaying resource guarding issues, both of us struggled with what we knew and didn't know.  We struggled with each other's philosophies and, in all honesty, did not see eye to eye regarding the correct path forward.

Enter compromise.

The first thing we did to get on the same page was sit down and map out the commands, rewards and punishments we utilize.  Yes we have a spreadsheet now.  What behaviors still needed treats to help shape and reinforce and which ones should Hurley do without a treat each and every time?  How many times will we ask for the behavior?  What will we do if he doesn't obey?  In what specific situations do we always require a certain behavior from him?  What verbal commands and what hand signals do we use? 

Though lengthy, that was the easy part.  We were already on the same page 99% of the time but the exercise helped us identify areas where we might be sending conflicting messages to the dogs.

The harder part was coming to a compromise on who we sought professional help from to help us with what we didn't know - how to proceed with Hurley's resource guarding behavior.  The Hubster quickly found a Leader of the Pack style trainer while I offered up a positive reinforcement class.  In the end, I agreed to go with the trainer that he had found for several reasons:

- Positive reinforcement and Leader of the Pack training are not mutually exclusive.  One of the reasons why I haven't felt comfortable with his style of training is that I suck at it.  I need guidance on what rules to institute in the home to give Mr. I'm-All-That Hurley more structure and reinforces who's in charge.  I need to learn how to correct my dogs without showing frustration or anger.  I also have found that, with 3 dogs, pack dynamics and understanding them is much more critical than ever before.  And while we have taken a positive reinforcement based class with Maggie, we have not taken a Leader of the Pack based training class.  In short, we've had professional guidance in one method and not the other.

- I spent about 1/2 hour on the phone with the trainer we selected to ensure that I felt comfortable that he was not too harsh in his methods, that he would respect where I drew the line and that he would help the Hubster and I continue to find ways to compromise and complement each other.

- The Hubster agreed that we will continue not to use the methods I am opposed to: choke chains, prong collars, harsh corrections, alpha rolls, etc.  In return, I offered up the Martingale collar as a training tool and agreed to use it throughout the duration of the training class (though I still prefer the front clip harness).  I promised to not let Hurley up on the bed for the duration of the class.  

I guess if I could sum up our compromise, it would be this:  We will correct Hurley's behavior when he misbehaves and we will reward him when he does behave.  We will shape new behaviors utilizing rewards in the beginning but phase them out more quickly. 

The last couple weeks have been hard on us as we struggle to figure this all out.  But today, we go hand-in-hand-in-leash to our training class together.  We know the core of our compromise and path forward and while details will still be ironed out, we are in a good place.  And Hurley is in the best place he can be - our family.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Blogaversary: Year in Review

Wow!  My blog is 1 year old today.  First, let me say...Phew!  I had very vague reasons for starting a blog (somewhere between everyone else is doing it and wanting to document my fosters) but this year has seen me grow as a writer & dog owner, start a business and raise a puppy. 

Here are some of my favorite memories from the past year:

Choco Wonder Foster:  We had a glorious 3 weeks with Choco, my very first (and to date only) Pitbull foster.  If only I had known that the Hubster was planning to surprise me with a puppy for my shop opening, I would have lobbied hard for this little guy.  He stole my heart in 3 short weeks and watching him go home with his forever family was sooooooo hard

Hurley joining our family was unexpected.  I was so surprised, in fact, that I was in a state of shock for several days.  Though I worried about the amount of work a puppy requires, about not being able to foster until he was full grown (hint, hint, Hubster) and felt guilty that he was not a rescue, Hurley has enriched our lives so very much.  I thought I had a pretty smart dog (Maggie) but Hurley's brains puts all others to shame.  It's tough keeping up with him and not letting him manipulate me into being his Pez Dispenser O' Treats.    And while puppyhood is naturally challenging, he is on his way to becoming a great dog who will continue to enrich our lives as we grow together.  I am so thankful that I will get to spend my days with such a fantastic dog.  Thanks Hubster for the greatest gift you could have given me!

 Monday Fun Days were my favorite addition to the blog.  And while we're taking a winter break from our hikes and explorations of Oregon, we'll be back next Spring for sure!  Having these days to spend some quality one on one time with the girls was my favorite part of the summer.

Opening NoPo Paws is my greatest achievement to date (other than raising my dogs and landing my fantastic Hubster of course).  I am so so proud of the shop and enjoy every second of it.  While this blog is not about my store or owning a small business, it's such a big part of who I am.  This blog would not be here if it weren't for me taking this ginormous step in my life.  Both blog and boutique have fulfilled me in ways that I hoped and in ways that I never expected.  Perhaps the most memorable aspect of this past year is that I feel that I have become true to myself and have found my path in life.  One that includes running a little pet store and writing all about the dogs I am blessed to share my life with.

Here's to another momentous year!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Resource Guarding: The Store Is Where It's At

Over the past few weeks, we've been testing Hurley out to see where and when he reacts to other dogs and what relation that has to potential resource guarding.  There was lots of good and some not so good.

The good is that Hurley was great at non-pet stores.  He patiently walked back and forth down the Home Depot aisles as I gathered everything I needed.  We saw two other dogs while we were there, one in the distance and one walking right past us.  Though he noticed both, he had no reaction to either. 

But our trip to Petco didn't go so hot.  In the presence of the familiar-smelling bags & bags of dog food, he pulled & sniffed and then barked at the one dog we did see as we left the store.  So... food-rich environments being one of his triggers - Confirmed! 

"I'm about to chase you!" aka making friends at the dog park

We've had many successful outings to the dog park and other than an occasional bark at Stella the Great Dane, he does well.  For the first time the other day, he did not come when I called him.  Now, in general this is not a good thing.  But in this particular instance, it showed me that he is starting to see the company of other dogs as higher value than returning to me.  While this is a positive step in terms of canine socialization, we also need to start cracking down on our recall!  I shouldn't have to ask him to come twice, right?  (Ha - we've never had fail-proof recalls with any of our dogs so take that with a humongous grain of salt.  There was that one time Maggie & Sadie decided chasing a Whippet out of the dog park and down the busy street was the funnest game ever.  Good times.) 

Hurley will never be known for his speed.  Look at how hard he is trying to catch up with his new buddy!

Hurley's also been doing well encountering other dogs on walks.  He doesn't bark or react and though he gets a little excited sometimes about the prospect of meeting the other dog, I am working on calm behavior and teaching him to ignore the other dog in favor of earning a piece of kibble. 

And then there's been a few training classes.  Hurley & I went to a clicker training session last weekend and while his behavior wasn't perfect, he did pretty darn awesome.  There was only one other dog there with a similar energy as his and they reacted to each other once.  The second time?  He turned away to come back to me and the trainer for a treat.  Progress! 

Last night was his first training class at his 5 week Basic Manners-type course.  He was extremely vocal due to a variety of factors:

1) The class is held in a pet store/doggie daycare (his food-rich environment trigger)
2) Most of the dogs there had similiar energy/reactivity levels and behavior challenges.  They all were setting each other off, at least at the beginning of class.  I didn't think Hurley would let the German Shepherd win the most persistent vocalization award but he did finally settle down.  
3) Most of the class was intro dog trainer lecture type stuff.  This is REALLY BORING for Hurley.

I feel we've made a tremendous amount of progress recently by consciously testing him in both familiar and new environments to identify what resources he feels the need to guard.  And we found what I thought we would find - while his issues aren't solely related to my shop, they are limited to closely similar environments plus a healthy dose of "you react at me, I'll react back" type of behavior.  As we've explored our training options & discussed his behavior, underlying causes and triggers, what is growing more obvious is that this is a somewhat common adolescent male puppy behavior.  Right now, he is all teenager and he's just a normal dog.  He doesn't have a severe behavior issue that we do not have the know how to deal with.  And with all of our dogs, guarding my shop is another behavior that I'll have under my belt in the "been there, done that" category.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Resource Guarding: Identifying the Cause

One of the most difficult aspects of "diagnosing" Hurley's budding resource guarding is identifying the cause.  As I noted in my last post on this issue, we believe the core issue stems from being the runt of his litter and having to fight for resources as a tiny baby puppy.  The thought of the below little ball of fur being squished out of the way and away from his mom's milk just makes me love him all the more - for the spirit that experience installed in him.  Even when that spirit causes training issues.  I can just imagine that smart little brain o' his having to figure out how to get what he needed when he had larger puppies around getting in his way.  And given his talent as a linebacker, I imagine infant Hurley head butting and plowing his way in.  He's one smart cookie - the fastest route is usually the most direct one!

And while identifying the potential root cause for the behavior is all well and good, it's not enough to set us on a practical path towards resolving this issue and improving his behavior.  To do that, I've needed to identify current causes - what in his life right now does he feel the need to guard?

There is the obvious resource that dogs guard - food.  We've seen from Hurley's behavior with high value treats, trying to steal treats that are given to his sisters, hard taking of treats, and general possessiveness of the store (a food rich environment), that part of the issue is related to food.  That's the easy diagnosis.

But the other half of the issue?  Me.  I believe that I am a resource that Hurley is possessive of.  Hurley and I have been attached at the hip these past 6 months.  While his sisters only get the pleasure of my presence mornings, evenings and Mondays off, Hurley has been with me 5 days a week, all day long.  When looking at the entire picture of resource guarding, it's not enough to just talk about the food.  Attention and toys can be part of the issue as well and in our case, I am certain that my attention is part of the equation.

The good news is that he's not possessive at home.  He is learning to share with Maggie & Sadie (The accurate description is that they have always been great at sharing with him - he takes and they let him.  We are putting a stop to him taking and encouraging sharing behavior).  Maggie will even let him share her bone - she gnaws on one end while he nibbles on the other.  If his issues were truly insurmountable, I doubt that we would see this type of easy-going behavior around some shared resources at home.  I mean, really?  Who can say their dogs share a bone?  But while he's accustomed to sharing his resources at home, he is not accustomed to sharing them at the store.

My store is the environment where Hurley has me, food & toys all to himself.  He has never had to share the store with Maggie & Sadie.  I'm pretty confident that this is the basis for the behavior we're seeing.  If he doesn't have to share Mom's shop and all the attention & treats he receives there with his sisters, he sure doesn't want to share it with other dogs who aren't part of his pack.  And when they enter, his bark is to let them know whose turf they're on.  A part of our solution will certainly be bringing everyone into the store when it's closed to practice sharing resources in this particular environment.

So now that we've narrowed down the causes to food, food-rich environments, my shop, my attention and most specifically, my attention and food in my shop, the next step is to identify the full scope of triggers.  Isn't that the same as cause, you might ask?  Possibly.  But what I mean by triggers is identifying the specific circumstances that trigger the behavior, not the general environment.

I'm in the process of testing Hurley - is my store the only environment where this behavior happens?  How close does the other dog have to be?  Does on leash or off leash affect the response?  How is his behavior in a different area of the store not close to the counter?  Essentially I'm mapping out his threshold.  I'll be talking about our experiences in identifying triggers/thresholds in my next post on Hurley's resource guarding.  Stay tuned!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Morning Walks with Sadie

Somehow over the years, Sadie has become our most well-behaved walker. This from the dog whose previous owners admitted to us that she had never been on a leash until the day we took her home at 1 1/2 years old!  Through the use of a front clip harness and loads of patience, she is now fairly top notch. 

I cherish my morning walks with Sadie.  I know my day will start well.  And when I'm frustrated with an experience with Maggie's reactivity or Hurley's ongoing puppy training, I know I can put her in her harness, fill up my mug with coffee and spend the next 30 minutes just enjoying life. 

One of my favorite things about our walks is how much Sadie is enjoying life right back at me.  After we stop at each curb, I say "Good Girl" to release her and she bounces to the end of her leash, then looks back with the happiest smile on her face.  She wiggles her butt in greeting when we encounter people and is no longer startled by garbage trucks, hand trucks or delivery people otherwise unloading at the nearby businesses.  And while I'm pretty sure she spends the entire walk on the hunt for cats & squirrels, her on-leash behavior when she finds them is slowly but surely improving.  Her joie de vivre is contagious and it always lifts my own spirits. 

What do you enjoy about walks with your dog(s)?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Next Steps

We are starting to formulate a plan for helping Hurley get over his resource-guarding issues at the store.  I know Sunday's post had a few moments of me wallowing in my emotions but we are not giving up!  One of the greatest gifts this blog has given me is the forum to spew so that I can get it all out and move on in a productive manner.  Sometimes a girl just needs to unload!

We're taking a variety of approaches to Hurley's most recent issue.  And I'm fully employing the Hubster's help because I know this is one issue I can't tackle alone.  One thing I have to be more aware of is how my worries over this issue may cause the behaviors at times - if I expect him to behave inappropriately, he very likely will.  This is my greatest challenge as a doggie parent (and has always been so).  Fortunately, the Hubster is a lot more level-headed about these types of training challenges and will help both me and Hurley get over this current hurdle.

We believe that this behavior stems from his early in life experiences with his litter mates.  When the Hubster picked Hurley out, he was the smallest of the remaining puppies in the litter.  The night he came home, his ears were covered in scabs and his belly scarred.  Our vet told us this was indicative of him being the runt of the litter and having to fight his littermates for food.  We have made huge strides in his behavior around food.  But we've still got a ways to go and this is just another way in which the underlying issue is raising its ugly lil head. 

Our first reaction to Hurley's recent resource guarding-based aggressive behaviors was to say "no more treats" and "no more store" but after calming down a bit, I've come to realize that those are exactly the worst things to do.  One of the biggest mistakes we made when Maggie started displaying aggression towards small dogs was to never go back to the dog park.  What we didn't realize is that one bad experience with that one small dog was etched into her memory and colored her view of all small dogs.  We didn't create a positive memory with a small dog to replace the bad one.  You cannot solve an issue by avoiding it and so we move forward with Hurley prepared to challenge him, re-focus him and pile on as much doggie socialization as we can. 

Step 1: Enroll Hurley in a basic training class.  While he will likely be the star student since he has so many of the behaviors that are covered in a basic training class down, our goal is not so much to add commands to his repertoire as to accustom him to receiving rewards in the presence of other dogs, solidify his basic commands in the presence of distractions, and to continue canine socialization in a controlled environment.

Step 2: Beef up rules & regulations at home.  We do have a feeding routine that includes Hurley being fed last and sitting nicely for his food.  I am stepping this up by not allowing Hurley to lick clean his sisters' bowls when they are done - which I hope will re-inforce that not all food is his.  The Hubster and I are in the process of mapping out other household behaviors that will strengthen our place as leaders.  Simple things like making him sit & wait at doors, sit to be petted, spend extra time just chilling in his crate, controlling when playtime occurs, etc.  Many of these rules will be created without the use of treats, using our affection & toys, as his reward. 

Step 3: Temporary time-out from the store.  The reality is that I must have a welcoming environment for my customers and their dogs to have a successful business.  And that welcoming my customer and dealing with Hurley's issues at the same time is usually difficult for me.  So that's where the Hubster comes in.  Hurley will, for the time being, only come to the store when my husband can be with him so that he can work with Hurley while I help my customer.  So Hurley stays home during the week and makes several visits over the weekends.  I will also try to set up structured visits from the dogs of some of my best and most understanding friends & customers to help work on Hurley's awful greetings in the store.

Step 4:  Remove of all high value treats and bullies, rawhides, etc at the store.  At home, we will practice enjoying such treats in the presence of Maggie & Sadie.  The goal is to be able to give all 3 of them one of these items and have them all go to their separate beds, kennels, etc to enjoy them in peace. I don't expect for them to be able to enjoy these treats while all piled on to the same bed (that's asking for a dog fight!) but my goal is to get Hurley to respect Maggie & Sadie and not attempt to steal their treats from them. We are going to go very slow on this one so that we don't create any resource guarding issues at home. 

Step 5: Increase visits to the dog park where he gets the opportunity to socialize with all sorts of dogs.  We're also considering enrolling him in doggie daycare for a weekly visit after we finish the training class (our budget dictates only doing one of these things at a time).  We will also create situations in which we can practice on-leash greetings outside of the store environment.  I'm going to be looking around to see if we can find a group walk here in Portland - I hear they do wonders for reactivity issues.

Step 6: Create new training challenges.  Quite frankly, we've been working so hard on his impulse control issues that I've stalled on teaching him new commands & tricks.   Therefore, the same few tricks he shows off for customers who come in the store, and gets treats for, are no longer challenging to him.  I need to make him work harder for the rewards he is given.

I'm sure this is just the beginning of the full picture of how we address the budding resource guarding.  Both the Hubster and I are spending a lot of time researching this issue but I am finding that most of the advice out there relates to resource guarding issues with people.  That is not Hurley's issue.  I can give his bowl, take it away, give it back, pet him, move the bowl around while he's eating - all of this may make him antsy but he never acts out towards me.  We are lucky that this behavior issue is so specific in one way but challenged to find solutions at the same time.  This is going to involve some trial and error and creativity on our part.  And if the steps we are taking aren't enough, I'll bring in a trainer to the store to help me formulate a plan in that specific environment. 

Now I've got to get crackin' - lots to do!  Including a new training schedule and spreadsheet.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Howl-o-ween!

We had fun with hats this Howl-o-ween!  Sadie was a doll and stayed very still. 

Hurley tried to wiggle his way out of everything.

Maggie thought she could cuddle the hat off.

We had fun.

Then we got silly.

Happy Howl-o-ween!