Monday, January 26, 2015

SociaBulls: Chai's Fond Farewell

For the past year and a half, handsome Chai and his dedicated person were one of our most loyal Sociabulls pairs. Even with a young child and busy schedule, Chai's person made sure to set aside time for Chai, and nearly every week he would be at the front leading the pack. 
You may remember their amazing story describing some initial obstacles, and just learning to love the dog you have (you can read their eloquently written piece here).
Since then, Chai's family made the exciting move to Western Wisconsin; a completely different way of life from our city sidewalks where dogs aren't popping up around every corner.
Here Chai's person share their story, on becoming a country dog and what they learned from SociaBulls:

Chai-dog and I have been enjoying the lead spot on the Chicago Sociabulls walks for one and a half years thus far. This past July, we bid a fond farewell to the Sociabulls as we moved our family to a new home and new way of living in Western Wisconsin.

As I've aged into my thirties, I've experienced a great change. A new way of changing. I've begun making choices out of desire for a new experience rather than a desperate, dramatic reaction to a situation gone horribly wrong. Can you feel me? We found the Sociabulls in this manner. If you read our history together, then you know Chai and I had been together five years when we started with the pack walk. Our bond was strong, we both had excellent training and the pack seemed like a great addition to an already streaming way of being together.

So how do you say goodbye to a collective that you so easily have been accepted to? In seeking closure, I feel fortunate to be able to reflect on the impression that the group has made on us.

Citizens
We are members of the Chicago Sociabulls. As a member of the Girl Scouts, and a member of my childhood Catholic School, I obeyed a creed for uniformity. Members were behaving in a similar manner and living by the same rules. Sociabulls for me is more akin to citizenship; we are a community of people and dogs driven toward a shared goal of good health, support and joy for our pack. People are working on different issues. Our contributions both on and off the pack walk are strikingly different. There is a taking and receiving happening that is tough to outline.

Solitude
Well, the Sociabulls did not start out that Social for us. With Chai's reactivity, we would stand afar from the group for roll call. He had on his calming cap and would trudge to the path as our name was called for the lead spot. On my first walk, I was accompanied by a dogless walker and we swapped stories about our 'kids'. On future walks, I would meditatively walk alone with Chai, practicing deep breathing, exchanging calming energy with my dog as we wound through the South Side parks. I could end a walk not having talked to anyone. Still I felt we were part of a solemn, courageous collective. We had contributed and participated even if I spoke nary a word to another human.

Your "Stuff"
Everyone is working on their stuff. Truth in life and truth on the pack walk. And especially from the vantage point of the lead spot, with few opportunities to even turn and look at the gaggle of dogs and humans behind me, I blindly have an allowance for everything that my fellow walkers are working on, the way they are working on it and that all together, though our differences may exist, all together we are working toward a common good - building a healthy, supportive bond with our canine.

Acceptance
We do not seek a certain level of achievement with any dog or their human. We do not expect that they "move up" in the group or attain certain goals. Each member participates in their own way with their own intentions. I sensed a lack of judgement from our group coordinators and my fellow walkers that could be a golden rule for any community. This quiet group had a lack of politics and lack of needs beyond what unfolded at each gathering. Chicago Sociabulls is infused with good and makes you feel grateful to be a part of it, happy to contribute to it and you get to go home nature-walk-blissed-out with a renewed love for your sleepy dog.

Moving On
A new acquaintance asked, "How has your family acclimated to your new town?".
Dryly, I replied, "Well, you know, we're still acting like ourselves."
Laughter ensues.

We are living in a beautifully subtle environment. It's a city but a wooded one. Our home is four doors down from a 1.5 mile nature trail. We do not have another home in our backyard. It is a deep marshy pocket of land that hundreds of years ago was a riverbed. Daily we are visited by six deer. Yesterday the buck arrived to chase the doe.

And Chai barks at it all.
He's run off twice: once to chase a rabbit, a second time chasing a deer. With our long continuous shared (read: unfenced) backyard expanse in the valley here, he could have bolted for a mile. Thankfully he didn't go beyond our neighbor's yard. He did (eventually) respond to my bleats and offer of treats. I immediately called 24hourpetwatch.com and confirmed our new address. This put me on alert that although we are all a bit more at ease in this new natural environment, we won't be relaxing our boundaries and training any time soon.

Our home inside and out is quieter than our Chicago one. There are far less triggers for us on our dog walks. I've even begun walking a much further distance because Chai is so peaceful that I'm happy to round another bend, cross another river bridge. But we are still ourselves. Our neighborhood abounds with playmates for my toddler son. And Chai tries to herd them all. He barks, on guard, for any of the many many lawn mowers manicuring our neighbors' lawns.
We've lucked out finding an agility home. I'm an amateur at it though I know enough tricks to get Chai exercised and smiling his Cattle dog clownish smile. In typical Wisconsin fashion, the cost is antiquated so it's been very feasible for Chai and I to do twice weekly sessions at their indoor or outdoor space. It is supremely satisfying to finally have my cattle dog within a fenced area and running free. He'll never be the leashless walk-alongside-you pal dog that hugs your knee and feigns at the faintest stimulation. He won't wander river side with me and hold that magical space where as the human, you can relax and know he'll always be there.

I do have a loyal pal that continues to tolerate the increasing toddler attention he's getting around here. He grimaces yet holds still as his furry body becomes the race track for another car or train. He gives his belly to my pawing son and simply grunts when he's had enough - a fantastic lesson for my attached, lovingly intrusive son. We are delighted to have a rec room in the basement, unfurnished (first time home owners, still expanding). My son and Chai-dog will take turns fetching their respective balls and returning them to me. I've drawn the line at my kid's request to get reward kibble as well.
We were always told that Chai would do well as a city or country dog. We were not denying him a certain harmonious existence by living in Chicago. Yet as our intentions had been set, we moved here to soften our edges, to live life with less definitive lines and with less competition, an open space for exploration and growth. I watched as my fur baby and my three year old son nervously slid into their life here. Are we truly exhaling into all of this space? Just as a dog will nestle up to the bedside table or the corner of a couch, they each clung to me for reassurance that this was our new loving container. Having a bigger home is not necessary for the health of your family and dog's shared existence. That said, this home is just our size and energetically that comes across to every being here.

Lasting Effect of the Sociabulls
We did not join the Sociabulls seeking to cure Chai of any misbehaviors. Our relationship was strong and I was looking to enhance our bond. I can see that the pack walks positively affected his way of being. He has more dutiful reactions to me, a swifter swing between work and play. He's been super playful in our clean, country snow drifts. I like to walk him hippie-dippy, as I call it: letting the leash out long for plenty of sniffs of scat and other artifacts around here. And when I draw him in to "walk with the momma" as I say, he snaps right into a side-by-side glide. This is a confidence I built up on the pack walks: to autoritate lovingly, to provoke calm security  that we both feel when in a steadfast parallel walk. His sensitivity to environmental triggers will always be there, but time and time again with the Sociabulls he knew I was ready with treats, positive affirmations and a necessary redirect. Though the attention grabbers are less near our new home, he looks to me more than he did prior to our communal walks.

Chai is now nine years old. As of January 22nd, we've been together six years. We are his third home, his forever home. As relationships age, you notice there aren't specific events that strengthen your bond. Rather, it's a steady and enriched way of being together. By seeking new challenges and stimulating our daily existence, our days are better, calmer, loving. I'm grateful to be able to walk with him.

Thanks for sharing, and we all miss you!!!

Also:
To learn more about Chicago SociaBulls, read about us here
And join our Facebook page here.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

City Dog: On Attempting to Maintain Dog Training in the Winter

Since there can be so many unexpected things we encounter on our city walks (Three-legged rats! Gyros in snowbanks! Drunk people trying to put sombreros on our pups!) we like to treat all of our walks like training walks so our pups are ready for the unexpected.
Over the years the pups have become accustomed to the routine. Practicing waves. Knowing to sit at every corner. And always checking in with us for directions.
Though as we've been spending our winter climbing snowbanks and navigating icy sidewalks, training has become an after-thought.
At the same time, we always regret the lapse once we remember how hard spring walking can be.
Here are some ways we're trying to keep up our training:

Focus on the Main Focus
During the warmer weather, when we can actually walk on the sidewalks, we have quite the repertoire of tricks.
They wave.
They wait.
They lay down at the raise of a hand.
Miss M even walks around me in a circle.
We do these to keep the pups' communication and focus. Which is nearly impossible to do when navigating snowdrifts.
So we just work on check-in's. This is our most important training to keep the pups' attention on us, which we can even do among the snowdrifts. We wrote more about it, here. 

Making our Treats Accessible
With the distractions of the snowbanks and narrowing sidewalks, we often need treats to keep the pups' checking in. And there has always been a conflict between keeping hands warm and dispensing treats.
I like using treats that can be broken into smaller bits for treating. Ours are long jerky-type sticks where I can just hold one stick and break it into smaller pieces for treating.
I also like walking with flip-top gloves which can make it easier to hold things.

Gearing Up
The biggest thing is making our pups comfortable in the colder weather so they do have the chance to focus. If it's too cold, Mr. B will try to sprint away (that is until he reaches the end of the leash).
We've learned the art of layering, which we talk more about in this post.
We use dog boots when sidewalks are icy and covered with salt, but we also make sure to practice wearing walking with the boots inside so they will be comfortable once they get outside. We wrote more about it, here. 

Anyone else have tips on keeping up your training when the weather gets rough?

Also:
How to exercise your pups when you can't go outside.
And with shorter walks.
Forgetting winter.
Check our Facebook page for more photos, comments, and storylines beyond the blog.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Pooches: How Much Are Dogs Influenced by Their Dog Siblings?

The other day, as our pups were racing around the house awaiting dinner (at 10 am!), E wondered if Mr. B might have been a completely different pup if he didn't live with a dog like Miss M.
See, Mr. B is typically laid back, but it was only after picking up on Miss M's cues, and crazy eyes, that he learned how to be over-excited.
Over-excited about breakfast.
And dinner.
And when people come to our door.
Mr. B shows his excitement by racing around with his stuffies!
But at the same time, I think Mr. B could have turned out differently if Miss M had some other undesirable behaviors.
Mr. B used to bark at all the action outside our window, and any noise from our building's hallway, but it was only because Miss M didn't react to these noises that he stopped.
He also used to give warning barks for approaching dogs when we were on walks, but Miss M's indifference quelled that too.
I wonder if it could have gone the other way where Miss M picked up on these cues and we had both of the pups becoming over-excited about noises and action.

So do our pups have the personalities they have only because of one-another? Would each of our dogs have turned out completely differently if they each lived with a different pup?
What has everyone else been noticing with their dogs?

Also:
Remember when our pups taught foster dog Wilma to do this the first week she got here?
Check our Facebook page for more photos, comments, and story lines beyond the blog.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Pooches: Where Miss M's Gets Her Beauty Sleep

While she may not always seem the voice of reason, Miss M is the only member of our household who follows a strict bedtime regime. 
Every night, when we're all sitting downstairs, once it hits 9:00 (because somehow, she can tell time) Miss M will steadily creep upstairs and put herself to bed.
 I'm always surprised to see her up there so early.
Completely passed out.
Though as Miss M knows, it's important to get her beauty sleep.
Because it's not easy being so beautiful.

Also:
They don't know they're being watched
That time I thought my dog was ugly.
You will 'get it', here. 
Check our Facebook page for more photos, comments, and story lines beyond the blog.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Pooches: On Dog Sweaters in the Neighborhood

After years of walking our pups through Blizzasters, Chi-beria, and general Chicago weather, we've tried out a lot of dog gear.
While it's our dog coats that get us through the really rough weather, we do love that small window of time when the pups get to gear-up in their dog sweaters.
Our sweaters are heavy-duty, much warmer than our hoodies. Which gives us a mere few weeks to wear them in the colder weather just before the snow hits--we know these probably would just become uncomfortable and weighted down among the snow drifts.
We did learn that dogs in sweaters score huge points with the neighbors. As the pups were clad in their sweaters on our latest family walk, nearly everyone we passed cracked a smile, with a couple pulling out camera phones for paparazzi shots. 
Our pups each own two sweaters (matching of course!).
One of our first purchases for our pups was the matching pink and black skull sweaters from Chilly Dog; a lot of our local pet stores seem to carry this brand. These sweaters have a tight-weave and come up higher at the collar like a mock-turtleneck. While they fit our pups well in the chest, they are actually very long and we ended up needing to fold over the back and pin it in place with safety pins. We've seen a couple of different styles on some of our Chicago SociaBulls friends; they've even come out with a fair-isle pattern!
We've since ordered custom-made sweaters from our friends over at Tiennot Knits. We like that these are sewn to our pups exact dimensions (not too long!) and we asked for a tighter fit to keep the front side well-covered. We also liked being able to choose the colors. Miss M specifically asked for pink.

Sweaters happen to be the one piece of dog gear our pups will wear inside. Especially at family parties which make them look a bit more gussied up and harder to get angry with them if they are over-excited.

These are the sweaters that have worked for us.
Anyone else out there have sweaters your pups love wearing? And any sizing tips?

Also:
For hard to fit.
Just starting out. 
Using human gear!
Check our Facebook page for more photos, comments, and story lines beyond the blog.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Pooches: Where We Discover the Secret Lives of Our Dogs

We've always wondered what the pups were up to when they were home alone and left to their own devices.
So much so, that we even figured out how to do this.
Over break I was out with the flu, which really meant I got to stay home undetected to the pups. (They kept forgetting I was sleeping in the bed.)
And I discovered they had a bit of a secret life that the cameras couldn't capture:

Yes, Miss M Really Does Talk to Herself
Whenever we're home, Miss M likes to follow us around and "talk" to us (we shared her vocal talents in the video in this post).
I always wondered if this was something she always did, or if it was completely for our benefit.
Does the Miss M make a sound if there is no one there to hear it?
And as I discovered as I was home sick hiding in the bed, yes, Miss M is the type of pup that walks around mumbling to herself.

The Pups Have Their Own Routine Without Us
The pups know they're on a different routine when we're not home.
Mr. B had a set time where he went to lay by the front window anticipating the Dogwalker's arrival.
Miss M apparently has a special talent of telling time where she would get extra mumbly summoning the Dogwalker to come feed her dinner.

They Have Their Own Friends We Don't Even Know About
When we're on break and we're able to walk the pups during the day, we meet a whole slew of people who know the pups. 
People we have never met before but they have met the pups when they're with their Dogwalker.
I guess at our old place our pups had a great relationship with the school crossing guard, which we never realized because we were always at school at the same time.

Is anyone else discovering secrets from their pups' lives when you're not watching?

Also:
The first time.
Dogwalkers!
Check our Facebook page for more photos, comments, and story lines beyond the blog.

Monday, January 5, 2015

SociaBulls: The Dog Club for Dogs

While I usually think of SociaBulls as an activity I'm doing every week, so often I forget that I'm just the accessory and it's really the dogs' club.
As our little pack has grown and walked together so much, they dogs themselves have instituted their own set of rules beyond what we have in place:

Adjustment:
So many members have told us that their dogs seem know when they're going to SociaBulls, and they adjust themselves accordingly.
Dogs who are normally excited at the glimpse of another dog aren't jumping towards other dogs. Dogs who might be vocal don't bark as much. 
Dogs who might be slow or hesitant to walk, keep up with the pack. 
Through the structure we've set up, and the rhythm of the walking, the dogs develop the expectation of the group as a comfortable place where they are able to socialize in a natural way.

The Pack Mentality
The dogs have developed an understanding that they are a group.
Besides the initial walk or two when a dog is still learning about SociaBulls, dogs typically don't bark at each other within the group.
But, if they see another dog walk by the group, vocal dogs might react to that single dog outside the group.

The Buddy System
While we have a no-greeting policy, the pups definitely have an awareness and recognition of other dogs in the group. 
We create a pack order to help our dogs of all levels feel comfortable, and often they begin walking near the same dog on a weekly basis. 
And even if all they see is the backside of a dog the whole walk, they do develop a comfort and recognition of other dogs in the group.
It's funny, because sometimes we see some of our SociaBulls friends when we are just out on our daily walks and we can tell that our pups know who they are.

Also:

Learn more about the idea behind SociaBulls here, and join our Chicago SociaBulls Facebook page for more photos and information about our group!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Pooches: Miss M as Elf on a Shelf

I had all these ideas for other posts I would write, but I'm down with that flu that's been going around school. This is one of our favorite holiday-themed posts:
Maybe we're behind the times, but it was only last year that we learned about the phenomenon that is "Elf on a Shelf".
The elf is a little figurine that parents hide around the house. Its location changes every day, so you never know where it is. So not only is it spying on the kids...but each night it goes and tattles to Santa if the kids have been naughty.
When I first heard this it sounded kind of frightening, until I realized how poor Mr. B has been living with his very own Elf on a Shelf:
Just like the elf, Miss M can pop up anywhere:
She will uncomfortably watch you:
And she has no problem tattling:
Does anyone else unknowingly have an "Pup on a Shelf" in your house?

Stay tuned to our Facebook page for more updates during our holiday.
Did you know Miss M and Mr B are sharing their thoughts on Twitter?

Also:
The true story.
Snitch!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Things to Do in Chicago with Dogs: Favorite Holiday Walks in the City

With everything we have going on, lately we couldn't be more excited for our upcoming break.
As busy as we've been, it will be good to spend some quality time with the pups, and we've created a tradition of going on a couple of walks, that are worth it, even in the colder weather.

Taking Advantage of a Deserted Downtown:
The city completely empties out on Christmas and Christmas Eve, so we like to take this chance to take the pups downtown to look at the sites. Chicago has a traditional Christkindl market that is always way too busy, even when we're not with the pups.
So we like to walk around outside and see the tree and let people meet the pups (they become quite the photo opp!). Downtown we tend to run into a lot of tourists who have never met pitiful-type dogs before, and they are often shocked that they are just like any other dog (though it is often followed by comments that their own dogs at home would never be as patient or calm in a crowd).

Visiting Marshall Fields (Macy's) State Street Windows:
We love outdoor activities that we all can enjoy, and it's fun to see the decorated windows. Before Christmas State Street is really crowded, so we make this part of our Christmas Eve walk where everything is empty and the pups can even go up to see.

Amped up Neighborhoods:
As long as it's dark and cold, it might as well look pretty. We've been at Wicker Park when they had the fountain decorating event, and it's always nice to see the the neighborhood stores and homes all lit up and decorated.

Anyone else have favorite holiday walking traditions?

Also:
How to be a tourist with dogs during a Chicago winter in 1 day.
Or in 36 hours. 
No such thing as bad weather.


Check our Facebook page for more photos, comments, and story lines beyond the blog.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Pooches: The Dogs They Were Meant to Be

Sometimes we get frustrated with our pups.
When they think that every "walk" should really be a "run":
When they are always following us around, stalker-like:
When they are so excited to wake up an hour earlier, when we want to sleep in an hour later:
By not acting like the dogs we expect them to be:
But then we remember there might come
A time when our daily walks are no longer a grand adventure, and they are just a walk.
A time when being our best friend is too much work, and all they want is their personal space and alone time.
When they are no longer excited about life to wake up an hour earlier to live an hour more
And eventually life might not be worth waking up to at all
A time when we finally realize that the way they always were was just perfect.
Also:
Check our Facebook page for more photos, comments, and story lines beyond the blog.
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