Monday, July 21, 2014

SociaBulls: On Warm Weather Walking

Since we made it through this, you'd think we would be prepared for anything, though this summer has brought on new challenges with the summer heat kicking in and making walking hard for many of our pups. Our city dogs are used to walking through all types of weather and challenges, here are some things the group has been doing to keep things comfortable for everyone:

Gearing Up
We've become experts at gearing up for cold weather, and many of the pups have also found gear to help keep cool. We've tried Ruffwear's Swamp Cooler Jacket that we wrote about here which has kept our pups a bit cooler. We've heard it really helps the dark-colored dogs who normally get so hot in the sun. We also know a lot of members have been wetting the pups' bandanas to keep them a bit cooler.

Water Breaks
Our water breaks are a formality during the colder months (and during the really cold walks we skip them altogether), though they are a necessity for this warmer weather. We let the pups linger a bit longer, and in the warmer weather we might even take two water breaks.

Early and Slow
Just like when I was in marathon training and we need to plan around the heat of the day, for SociaBulls we plan our walks earlier before the heat has really reached its peak. Extra bonus: less people and dogs are out so there aren't as many encounters.
We will also choose shortened routes and make sure we aren't walking on as much hot pavement which could hurt the pups' feet.

What are some other things you do to plan for walking in warmer weather?

This is what also happens at water breaks
Join our Chicago SociaBulls Facebook page for more photos and information about group walks. And check out the Hikabull page where we first learned about the benefits of group walking.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Pooches: On Dogs and Minimalism

As we were getting rid of things when we were getting ready to sell our condo, we had to make some difficult decisions about what to do with the pups' things and be really selective about which things would stay and which would be sent to storage.
We knew we had to pack up much of Mr B's collection of stuffies, but we weren't sure how he was going to feel about it:
We let Mr. B decide which stuffy he wanted to keep in the house. Characteristically he choose the giant pink heart. While we thought he would miss his other toys, Mr. B seemed fine just carrying his one toy. He was always searching it out and carrying it around with him.
So when we moved into our home we thought Mr. B would be excited to be reunited with all of his toys. But we realized, he doesn't really need all of his toys. He just grabs whichever one is closest, and loses interest so now we have toys scattered allover our house. 
Which made us realize that maybe we should be more minimalist.

Maybe we just keep buying Mr. B toys to make ourselves happy while Mr. B is happy enough with just his one toy?
How many toys do you think a pup really needs?

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Things to do with Your Dog in Chicago: Dog-Friendly Summer Activities

While we spent this entire time scheming about what we'd do once warmer weather struck, we have been so distracted from our move that we've barely had time to do anything. Looking at the calendar, I realized that summer is slowly slipping away and there are so many things we still want to do.
Here are some of our favorite must-do things we still want to do with the pups this summer:

Impromptu Picnics
During the summer I always carry some type of light blanket or sarong during our daily walks so we can have the chance to grab any food that looks good, find a space in the park and have a pop-up picnic. Somehow the food always tastes that much better when eaten outside.

Go on a Boat
We always tell anyone visiting Chicago the only thing they really have to do is go on one of the architectural boat tours. These tours travel down the Chicago river (and part of the lake) letting you see the amazing architecture of Chicago from a completely different view. They even have the Mercury Canine Cruise which lets you experience this with your pups. It's one of our favorite annual summer traditions. Here we wrote about the first year we went.

Alfresco Theatre
We think everything is better enjoyed outside, and Chicago has set up a full line-up of outdoor movies in the park all along the local neighborhood parks. Everyone just pulls up a blanket and brings snacks, so it's something you can enjoy with your pups too.
The Chicago Shakespeare Theatre is also having traveling performances of Shakespeare in the Park at many of the local parks. There will be a showing at the park that is mere blocks from our home.
Last year, Mr. B even got to be an unsuspecting part of the play.

Go to Farmer's Market (and make dog treats from the things we buy!)
The pups love coming with us to the Farmer's Market and even carrying a backpack to help out and carry the groceries. I've been trying to cook more often, and I think it would only be fair to try buying some things at the market to make some treats for the pups.
Does anyone have any good dog treat recipes from things I could get at the market?

So, what is on everyone else's must-do summer list?

Our favorite impromptu picnic. Or maybe this one.
Maybe some of this.
Remember this bad memory?

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Pooches: How to Sell Your Home When You Have Dogs

One of our biggest concerns when we were starting the process of selling our home was that it would be even harder to do as dog owners. Besides keeping our home spotless, and looking as if no one lived there, we also needed to make it look like no dogs lived there and find places for the pups to go during all of the sometimes impromptu showings.
We are definitely not experts, but these are some things that worked for us and some things we would do differently if we had to sell again (which we are never planning on doing because we love our new home!).

Preparing Ahead
We knew our home would be easier to sell if we did everything right up front and it spent less time on the market. Plus, it would make all of our lives less stressful if it just sold quickly. In the Chicago housing market there are a lot of 2 bedroom/2 bathroom condos just like ours, and we're competing with all of the new construction condos being built. At only 10 years old, we learned many of the features of our home were already considered dated.
At first we were hesitant to spend the extra money to hire professional painters, but then we realized we just needed to get it right the first time because the longer our home sat on the market it would become harder to sell. Plus, if it didn't sell quickly we would still end up paying extra money by continuing to rent storage, sending the dogs to boarding/day care if we had showings during the day, and potentially having 2 mortgages. Not to mention the emotional stress of always needing to have our home showroom ready, living with half of our belongings in a storage locker and not really being able to cook in our kitchen, and disrupting things for the pups.
While it was hard to swallow at first, we ended up having our entire place professionally painted including painting all of the woodwork white (we didn't understand this either, but I guess it's what all of the new condos have now) and adding some wider trim in the main room.
We also took the pups to get fulminated so they wouldn't shed as much, hired a really good house cleaner, and invested in some fancy diffusers to eliminate any potential odors.
While I think a lot of it was based on luck and an intense local housing market, we got the offer we wanted a mere 4 days after listing our home. Even that short amount of time was stressful and completely disruptive, so we were glad we did choose to spend the extra money up front to make things easier for all of us.

Where to Go When They Can't Be at Home
One of the hardest parts of putting our home on the market with dogs was finding places for the pups to go when we had showings. On the first two days we had about 6-7 showings all spaced out at different times. It was nice that we already had a relationship with a doggy daycare where we could send the pups during the day so people could come see our home. We also ended up sending the dogs there for boarding when we were having our home painted.
When we needed the dogs out of our way when we were coming in and out of our house moving things to our storage locker, we sent them to Petsmart to get baths (and furminated!). It's nice because they take the dogs for about 3 hours so we were able to get things done. Plus, they came back clean.
During our Open Houses on the weekend we needed to find longer activities to keep the pups out of the home. We were lucky it was warm and we had nice weather so we were able to do things outside.
We also know there are several indoor places that are dog-friendly that we wrote about, here.

Keeping Dogs Comfortable by Creating Routines
Looking back, this is one thing I wish we had done better. We are lucky that Miss M and Mr. B are both really resilient and adaptable, but I know this must have been a really stressful process for them. We had to take away a lot of their beds and toys (even Mr B's tepee!) to make our home look more marketable. In retrospect, I wish we had done this more slowly. I have one photo (I just can't seem to find it right now) where both of our pups are huddled together trying to sleep on the painter's drop cloth because we had to move their beds.
We also know it must have been stressful because each time we returned home after a showing, they could probably smell all the strangers who had passed through our home.
We tried our best to keep things normal because we know keeping routines is the most important thing for dogs.

These are just some things that we experienced, but we would love to hear if anyone else has more tips on how to sell a home with dogs. 

We've been here almost a week, and so ghosts!

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

Monday, July 14, 2014

Pooches: The One Where Miss M and Mr B Move (But Still Live in the City)

 This past month we've taken a bit of an unexpected hiatus as we've been caught in a whirlwind of paperwork, misplaced cameras and unplugged internet as we've managed to sell our condo and buy a new place.
Just last week it all ended as we were able to pack up our pups and move into our very own single-family home (without shared floors or walls!) in the city.
While we only moved a mere mile north and west, neighborhoods vary a lot in the city. We're excited to be part of our new community where many of our neighbors have lived for decades. There are a lot of pitbull-type dogs, and our next door neighbors even have a Mr. B look-alike.
The pups are still getting used to the changes like having 2 sets of stairs
And a new window to people-watch:
Miss M has adjusted quite well and has already found her favorite places to sleep in the house.
While poor Mr. B is still a bit confused, and he has decided to live in the bathroom.
It has made us confused too.
We are beyond excited to be in our new home, but we are still unpacking, getting settled, and helping the pups adjust by creating routines.

Anyone have any tips to share on helping pups adjust when you move?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

City Dog: The Dog Trick We Never Expected to Use Most Often

When Miss M first came to live with me, I always joke that she was 'raised by wolves'. She had no focus, always needed to be entertained, and she just couldn't sit still. It was really taking her to a basic training course that changed both of our lives and I realized how much Miss M loved to learn.
We have written a lot about how we use basic dog commands in our every day lives, but unexpectedly, it became one of Miss M's vanity tricks, the "wave" command, that has become her most frequented trick:

Keeping Focus:
With every walk we go on, probability is high that we will encounter oncoming excited pups, chicken bones, drunken people trying to grab the pups (and often all of the above!). With these being the expected, plus the even crazier unexpected, we know how important it is to maintain constant routine and communication treating all of our walks like a training walk. The pups do a great job with "check-in's" and throughout our walk we will ask the pups for sits and stays, and throw in the "wave" command for variation.

Being Approachable:
Even though we feel lucky to be a part of a community where there are so many fellow pit bull-type dogs, we know there are many people who are still wary. Having our pups focusing on us, and doing cute 'parlor tricks', does make them more approachable and we often have many people coming up to meet them. My favorite is when we do hear an offhand comment to have the pups sit right at our side, then wave. Usually the other people waiting at the corner with us will say something positive to outweigh any of the negatives.

The Humor in It:
With all of the photos we take of the pups, we love the option of 'wave' because it does give us some funny variations.
We also love when children walk by and wave at the dogs and we can have Miss M wave right back (though she's usually looking at me when she does it).

How we Taught the Wave Command:
We taught the wave command as a variation of 'shake'. We started by holding our hand out as if we were going to do the shake but then put our hand slightly out of reach so they had to try pawing at us to reach our hand. We marked the pawing in the air motion (we say "yes, wave!") and eventually we were able to change the hand signal instead of reaching out to meet their paw to just waving.
We think it's a little harder for Mr. B with his stubby T-Rex arms.

Are there other pups out there showing off their 'wave' commands? Or do you have other 'vanity tricks' that you are using on a more than regular basis?

Remember when we tried to teach it to Mr. B and this happened?
This one changed our lives
Circus Dog!
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Friday, June 20, 2014

Pooches: They Call Her "Smiley"

As part of our Freshmen Curriculum, each year I need to read the book 'Of Mice and Men' with my students. Even after teaching it for the past 5 years, multiple times a day, it remains depressing and I still can't read the part where they take Candy's old dog away (I tell the students they need to read that part silently to themselves).
Though this year while watching the movie I did pick up on something funny.
When Lennie and George first arrive at the ranch they are met by lunging, barking, clearly unwelcoming dog who is named "Smiley". 
And for some reason I found this hilarious. 
As I pointed this out to each group of students, and no one else laughed, I realized maybe I should just give Miss M the nickname "Smiley":
Because she is always showing us how excited she is to see us from the moment we wake up: 
Because she is always letting us know how much she enjoys being part of the family:
And she is always showing her appreciation for how well we care for her:
So I've been calling her "Smiley".
Which was funny to me.
Until the other day while we were on our walk and someone else called out to her, "Hey, Smiley".
Maybe because she was giving him this rare look:
Sometimes she really does smile.
But mostly this. 
Or this.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

City Dog: Do City Dogs Need Cars?

Back when I was making the big decision to own my own dog as an adult, and I was going through the possible expenses, I came to the shocking conclusion adopting a pup would actually cost me thousands of dollars.
Wouldn't I need to car to be able to get her supplies and take her places?
Sure I lived in the city for years without a car, but since dogs aren't allowed on the buses and trains unless they're in a carrier, and since I couldn't figure out how to stuff Miss M into a duffle bag, I couldn't think of other options.
Until I did.
Here are some things we did when we didn't own a car:

Making 50lb of Dog Food Accessible:
I was very lucky that the apartment where Miss M and I first lived had a pet store a mere half block away. While it was easy for me to get to the food, I struggled walking back to my apartment carrying her 50lb bag of food.
I quickly found out about city car-sharing where I was able to i-Go all around town picking up as many 50 lb bags of food as I could haul. The cars don't want uncrated pets because they don't want pet hair on the seat, though a couple of people I know would use the cars and just use a lot of blankets and lint rollers so they didn't leave any hair.
I also realized just like I order things online to make transport easier, I could just as easily order her huge bag of dog food online. We tried out Mr. Chewy which carries high quality food that is dropped off directly at our door.

Taking a Cab with Dogs:
While dogs aren't allowed on buses or trains, they can ride in cabs if a driver decides to pick you up.
We wrote this post explaining how to get a cab to stop for you if you are with your big dog.
Or I just call ahead letting them know we're traveling with the pups and they will send a dog-friendly cab to our home. We always make sure to tip extra well so the cabs will want to pick up more dog families in the future.

The Walkable City:
We are lucky that the city is very walkable and most of the places we need to go are within walking distance. There are a lot of vets in the city and we found one near our apartment. We were always near some type of pet store. We would also go to a training class that was about 2 miles away, which was actually good for her because back then she needed that time to work off her energy.

We are lucky enough to have a car now, which I actually needed to get to go to work, though we one day dream of owning one of these instead. 

Do you think owning a dog means you need a car? How often does your pup actually travel in the car, or what are some other sans-car things that work?

But since we do have a car

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Monday, June 16, 2014

SociaBulls: How to Start Your Own Dogwalking Group

It seems like it was just a short time ago when we would enviously stalk the HikeABull's Facebook page lamenting that we wished we had a similar dog-walking group here in Chicago. I never thought it would be a possibility until Lark wrote back and said that I should start my own. After several conversations, we had the confidence to set up our first walk, and we've been learning more in the nearly 3 years(!) we've had our group.

We've had several people contacting us lately with questions about starting their own groups, and since now seems like the perfect time to start we decided to update with the key things we've learned and the links to more of our resources in a single post.

Finding Members
Remember this sad post when Miss M and Mr B were the only members? On our first walk we had a mere 4 people, Most of our members came from word-of-mouth, and this post explains how we were able to network and use our cards to get more interested people.
We also know the needs are different in different cities, and we wrote this post about creating a group that works for the needs of your specific area.

Creating Structure
We created a structure to make a positive and safe place for dogs of all socialization levels to be able to walk together. We don't have dog-to-dog greetings for these reasons.
We make sure our new members understand the rules through an "application process" where they initial that they understand. We know many things cannot be prevented, but to prevent equipment failure we do these things. We also bring these things on our walks.
We use this bandana system to communicate who is part of the group, who needs extra space, and who can be aligned with as a "buffer dog".
So that no one person is overwhelmed with the responsibility of planning the walks each week, this is how we organize our weekly walks and divide responsibilities.  We even have set people watching the weather and preparing for cancelations which we wrote about, here.

Scouting Locations
Beyond the structure, we have realized our locations are one of the most important parts of the walk. It's important for us to find locations that are continuous, have 'a way out', have good parking, and they may even change with the seasons. We wrote more about it here. 
While there are often many people or dogs who are curious about the group, we schedule "Dogless Walkers" for each walk, which we wrote more about here.

Integrating New Members
After our group was featured in the Chicago Tribune(!), we had an unexpected wave of new members wanting to join the group. We began using this type of new member application process so we could learn more about the people and pooches. Each new member has an "orientation walk" where they come without their dog and they are paired with a current member to learn how the group works. They then help out as a dog less walker before coming on their first walk with their pup. We find this helps people learn more about all aspects of the group and integrate more easily.
We want to make it clear that we are not trainers, and it is not a training group, but a way to practice what we already know in a more controlled setting. We wrote more about it, here.

We also had some great guest posts from Seattle WalkABulls, the Twin Cities Pack Walk, the Positive Pittie Pack Walk in New Jersey,  and our mentor group HikaBulls.

We know many of you who are interested in starting groups, or have started groups, and we would love to hear any of your additional tips or where you might be in the process!

Follow this strand for all SociaBulls related posts
Learn more about our SociaBulls group here, and on our Facebook page here.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Pooches: The Not-So-Special Secret Powers of Mr. B

Being animals, we always think our pups' senses are much more attuned than our own.
Like how Mr. B has a second sense knowing the exact moment when we are coming home so he can pretend he never left his tepee all day. 
Or how he can watch E ride away on his bicycle and he will continue watching until E is a distant little spec just rounding the corner.
Or how he might just have this Sixth Sense. 
But these secret powers apparently all become void when it comes to cats.
We have written before about how Mr. B has a fear of the feral cat colony living on our block. Ever since one of the cats pulled out a claw and slashed him on the face Zorro-style he has always been keeping an extra eye out for these cats.
Though apparently, his secret-dog-powers are not working so well for him.
Like each time he sees a plastic bag blowing down the sidewalk he has to jump out of the way thinking the cat is coming after him.
Sometimes he mistakes planters on a stoop for the cat, and he scurries away using Scooby-doo legs.
The funny thing is, sometimes there really is a cat (or two!) just sitting behind the fence mere inches from Mr. B and he will just walk on by.
Are feral cats Mr. B's Kryptonite? Or maybe he just needs a new pair of specs?

This might explain it.
Or this.
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