Friday, June 29, 2012

The One Where Mr. B Becomes a Canine Good Citizen

One of our all-time most popular posts was this one about Mr B who tries so hard. Unlike Miss M, who could run away to become a circus dog, Mr. B really isn't the brightest pooch.
When we first adopted Mr B he took a 101 class. It took him almost all the class sessions to learn to lay down. And we knew Mr. B was satisfied just being Mr. B.
I saw that Miss M's former training group was offering the CGC (Canine Good Citizen) class and test. The test evaluates whether a dog can be good mannered in a variety of situations. It's something nice to have because it gives them official status for being an overall good canine ambassador. The test covers:
Can they remain calm if a stranger comes to pet them?
Are they comfortable being brushed and handled by a stranger?
Can they meet another dog and handler face-to-face without reacting?
Can they walk comfortably on a loose leash and in a crowd?
Can they be left alone while their handler leaves the room without showing anxiety?
Do they have a reliable down stay and recall?
How do they handle unexpected noises and distractions?
Sure Mr. B does well in crowded and crazy situations (have you seen this video!),but I wasn't sure how he would do in an actual testing situation where you aren't allowed to use treats.
 We took a 3 week practice class with the final week being the test. Taking the class was helpful because beyond practicing the elements, it gets the dogs accustomed to the classroom which is full of all kinds of interesting dog smells. Luckily for us, Mr. B's calm nature led him to do well. Our most difficult task, ironically, was the loose-leash walking. Which was actually my fault. The evaluator gives you instructions to walk and turn around (left turn, about turn, halt) and I was actually the one who couldn't figure out the walking directions.
The other difficult part of the test was that we were testing with many other dogs in a small classroom, and all the other dogs were along the perimeter of the room. There were a couple of dogs who came just for the test, and one dog who came just that day was super-amped giving play bows, vocal cues, lunges, and hard stares to the other dogs in the room during the test, especially when they had to pass by him as they were testing. It was just a bit frustrating because we had seen how hard all of the dogs had worked during our class sessions, and it was clear this dog was an unanticipated distraction.
We are just very proud of our Mr. B, and excited that we all have letters behind our names now (Miss M became CGC a few years ago).

How has everyone else's experiences been with CGC? Is it something you've taken? Or are you thinking of taking it in the future?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

DoggyStyle: The Dog-Friendly Deck

Every Chicagoan knows the one thing that gets us through a winter like this, is knowing how amazing summers in Chicago can be. We are lucky enough to have our own little deck where all of us 'live' for the summer. It serves many purposes: part lounge, part dining room, part outdoor office, and part movie theater.
 Sure it may not be a traditional backyard, but our pooches do love being out there. Here are some things we did to make all of us happy:

Dog Resistant Rug
We know laying on the wooden floors can be hot and uncomfortable for our Elderbulls, so we looked into getting an outdoor rug. We've used a variety of the straw beach mats which are cheap (only $40 here)
and fairly dog resistant. We've had ours for a year and it's really easy to just wipe down.

Outdoor Pillow
 Our pooches love laying on floor pillows as beds, so we picked up a couple of summery pillows (super-cheap at Ikea!) and bring them outside. Perfect for Miss M who loves to go glamping.

Dog-Friendly Outdoor Sofa
We picked up this outdoor sofa , also from Ikea, which is the perfect place for us to lounge with mojito in hand, and perhaps take a quick nap. The best part is the cushions are really easy to clean, so E has been allowing the pooches up, especially for movie night.
Our pooches love being outside so much, sometimes it's hard to get them back in.
How else do you make accommodations for your pooches outside?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Pooches: If You Ever Doubted People Love Pitbulls and Pitbulls Love People....

Before I met Miss M, I had never met a pitbull before. I believed the media hype because that's all I knew. And it was that simple meeting with Miss M, and the other pitbull at the adoption event, that made me realize how wrong I'd been.
So now we love getting our dogs 'out there', and sharing our stories and photos online, to show what pitbull-type dogs are really like.
We love seeing what happens when people meet our dogs.
And when our dogs meet people.
Sure it may be the funny hat, the garland, or the tutu that draws them over, but then they realize they are just like any other pooch.
But they are pooches who are very patient wearing costumes.
 Pooches who are unfazed by noises and crowds.
Pooches who are very excited to meet new people.
The best part is to see it all in live action. Here is the video Mr. B took of last weekend's Pride Parade from his point of view (my favorite part is seeing it all happen from behind the cowboy hat):
Here is the video on Vimeo with the Phoenix - If I Ever Feel Better song that A picked out:
Here is hopefully the YouTube friendly version (with some random song):
These are our experiences we like to share. For anyone else who has never met a pitbull, what other stories or anecdotes would you share? (Tell us in the comments!)
Last year's Dog Paparazzi
Our other favorite 'meeting' video
The new people they meet on a typical weekend.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Things to Do with Dogs in Chicago: Chicago's Annual Gay Pride Parade 2012

Each year, one of our highlights has been to take the pooches to Chicago's Annual Gay Pride Parade. It's amazing to really see the community band together in support of equality and gay rights. Among the thumping music, boas, beads and rainbow flags, it is inspiring to see all the religious groups, businesses, and politicians out supporting issues of equality and tolerance. And of course the pooches found it particularly befitting to show their support in Pride-appropriate costumes:
The parade also has a couple of local 'celebrities'. It is led by Mayor Emanuel (always in white pants?) and we always love seeing Bozo the clown and Hamburger Mary. Miss M was also starstruck to have met Obama..impersonator. (If you missed was on our Facebook, here!)
It can be a long parade (stretching several miles and over 3 hours long!) and Mr. B was prepared using his stuffed pig as a pillow. He was quite excited to see his doppelgangers: the dancing cowboys. Miss M was just excited to snack on doggie ice-cream.
We were also so excited to meet several people who knew the pooches from the blog; visitors braving the crazy crowds just to meet the pooches, and even visitors from St. Louis! Thanks everyone for saying hi!
Though these photos only show things from our perspective, tomorrow we will see things from the pooches' perspective as Mr. B shows from his video camera what it's like to be the adored object of the paparazzi.

In case you missed it:
Being the adored object of the paparazzi during Chicago's St. Patrick's day.
Mr. B's first venture out as a cowboy (which cowboy style do you prefer?)

Monday, June 25, 2012

SociaBulls: Finding a Safe Place and Building Confidence

I'm always intrigued by the different reasons people join SociaBulls, and the varying things each of the dogs gets from the group. One smiling face you've probably seen in many of our photos (her devoted dad has taken her nearly every week since she has joined!), is little Sophie. I'm so accustomed to sweet Sophie hamming it up for the camera, I've always forgotten she has fear issues; fear so bad the trainer told her owner 'he was a good guy for keeping her, as most people wouldn't'. 
Sophie is a 3 ½ year old chocolate lab mix (her dad was said to be a vizsla and she seems to have pitbull too)  adopted as a pup from a small town in Missouri.
 As a young pup, she wasn't bothered by the noise and excitement of the city. She loved meeting new people and dogs, and even joined her owner at work. Though as she neared one year, things began to change. Here is her story (and photos from our latest walk!):
At about a year old she started randomly growling at people.  It was sporadic and random at first, and there didn’t seem to be a specific trigger.  It was escalated with men and got much worse in any kind of confined area.  It soon escalated to her actually lunging and snapping at anyone she didn’t know who approached her.  I had no idea what to do so at the advice of a lot of people I had met at the park, I called a reputable trainer who has a lot of experience with dogs with behavioral problems.  He came to my place to meet her, and things didn’t go as I had hoped.  She first lunged at him and then ran around growling and snarling.  He said, “This isn’t good.  You’re a good guy for keeping her – most people wouldn’t.”  That kind of stunned me because the thought of not keeping her hadn’t even entered my mind.  I told him the most confusing and frustrating thing to me was trying to understand how she had gone from being so sweet and friendly to being completely scared of strangers.  He explained that dogs who have traumatic experiences as puppies sometimes suppress those memories only to have them return as they get a little older when they manifest themselves in the form of fear aggression.  We came up with a plan to keep her confined using a gate when anyone new comes into my apartment, and he explained ways to have strangers approach her in a way that she won’t perceive as aggressive (no leaning in towards her, avoid making direct eye contact, etc…)
 I realized that it was now really important to keep her out of situations that could trigger any aggression.  This meant no more dog park, no more dog at work, and definitely no dog at places with crowds of people (street festivals, parades, etc…).  This was really sad because I lost all of the human socialization that can come with being a dog owner, and was relegated to lots of long walks with just the two of us.  Most of the interaction I had with people we met on the street consisted of me saying, “she’s not friendly” which is really heartbreaking.
When I first saw the Sociabulls walks on Two Pitties in the City I was intrigued. I thought this might actually be something we could do.  Sophie doesn’t have any problems with leash reactivity and since the dogs and people keep a safe distance before, during and after the walk, I probably wouldn’t have to worry about her feeling frightened by anyone.  Still I had some trepidations because I would be mortified if my dog was the source of some kind of negative incident on walk.  After volunteering to be a guest walker for Levi and then Ms. M, I was confident enough to give it a try.
Not only did we not have any problems, but she actually did really great.  She was excited to see all the other dogs, and it was nice to walk in a new location instead of just around our neighborhood.  The dogless walkers in the group do a great job of warning the pack of impending obstacles (joggers, cyclists, off leash dogs) so everyone can walk confidently.  It’s really amazing to see dogs with so many different issues walk confidently together once the pack starts moving and it has been really wonderful  meeting  so many conscientious owners who are working to make their dog’s lives a little better.    Like fellow Sociabull Lola who has issues similar to Sophie, I also try to have her meet and take treats from friends we’ve met on the walks.  I definitely have seen Sophie become more confident and less fearful of people we meet while we’re walking, and while I still warn strangers that she is afraid of people, I’ve now been able to allow certain people we meet to pet her once she’s taken a few seconds to sniff them out and determine that they’re not threatening.  
 While I’d love to have a friendly dog that can be an ambassador for bully breeds, I’ve accepted that my role is to do my best to put Sophie good situations and keep her out of  positions where she might behave in a way that promotes negative stereotypes.  I feel really lucky to have the weekly Sociabulls walks that allow us to do this while we explore new areas of the city and meet a bunch of fantastic new people and dogs.  We’re also lucky to have great friends that she loves (who we met in the early days before the  aggression) who help me take care of her and we found an amazing day care facility where they’re happy to take care of her and even work patiently with her when they have new employees so she can make new human friends.   
If anyone reading this has a dog with fear issues, I’d love to hear about things you do to manage them.

Please Note: As the weather has warmed up, bikers, runners, dogs, and kids have come out in full force in many of the areas that we walk. While we had previously been introducing new members a few at a time to each walk, we've decided that in order to continue to keep our group safe and make our walks a positive experience for everyone, we are putting new members "on hold" for the summer. You can still submit an application, and it will go on our wait list in the order it is received. Once things quiet down a bit more in the fall, we will resume introducing new members a few at a time to each walk, and will be contacting people on the wait list in a first-come, first-served manner.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Pooches: Discovering Chicago Smells Like Chocolate

Little known fact: downtown Chicago smells like chocolate.
Sure, this isn't the first thing that comes to mind from the city of el trains, blizzasters, and deep dish pizza.
Though anyone who lives here can tell you about magical scent of chocolate, blanketing the downtown area.
Which can also be very mysterious to a pooch who has never, and will never, taste chocolate. Just see what out for the flapping jowls and crazy eyelids.
Note: Miss M was in a dog seatbelt that we wrote about here. but now we're also looking into doggles. Does anyone have any doggle experiences or can you recommend a fit?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

DoggyStyle: On Dog Flair

 I barely realized this weekend will be our highlight of the summer where the community bands together to support ideas of equality and gay rights. With all the beads, boas, and colorful costumes, even our pooches seem out of place without some type of flair.
While our pooches have become old pros at wearing costumes, we've learned there are levels of 'dog flair' for all comfort levels. With all the people, noise, excitement and heat we do want to make sure the pooches are relaxed, here are some things we've learned:

Special Occasion Collars and Bandanas
These are tolerable for most any dog, and they still look festive! Former foster sweet Bessie Belle was known for her collar with matching flower, and we've written before about our bowtie collars.
We also love how our SociaBulls friend Stickers (who also happens to be a greeting card muse!) has really made an art out of wearing bandanas. She wears them daily, and has quite the collection, and shows how simple it is to add a bit of 'flair'.

 We have found another quick and easy way to make a costume, without having your pooch wear a whole costume, is to use headbands. The pooches wear them behind their collar, and we secure it with a not too tight elastic or rubber band. We've picked up some flower headbands for Miss M in the little girls' department, and we've also used this technique for her halo on Halloween and huge bow for St. Patrick's Day.

Hats and Costumes
Since our pooches have had a lot of practice, they are actually able to wear hats and semi-costumes. We find little boys' hats are perfect for Mr. B, and we punch holes in the sides and secure them with elastic to stay on while he walks around town (here he is at last St Pats and in a fedora that matches E's). We buy Miss M little girl Halloween costumes that don't involve putting things over her arms and legs. She has this tutu (we've been stopped on the street by little girls saying they have the same outfit) and this little girls' fairy outfit during Halloween.

These are just some things that have worked for us. What are some other ways you've made your pooch festive during the holidays?
PS. In case you missed them:
Teaching Your Dog to Wear Costumes
How to Prepare to Take Your Pooch to a Parade

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Guys Night Out

Sometimes, us guys, need our time away from the ladies, so we would grab our favorite stuffy, lucky for me, mine happens to be Mr. B, hop on our skateboard and travel until our hearts content. We skated down to our local bar to celebrate our friend, firefighter P's birthday. 
Since the bar doesn't serve food, they happily welcomed Mr. B into their bar. 
Mr. B was the beau of the ball, he happily welcomed and carded new bar patrons and captured the hearts and numbers of many animal lovers. 
Good thing everyone behaved, because Mr. B did not want to kick anyone out of the bar. After all that loving, he was ready to head home. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Pooches: Home Alone

Just the other day someone asked how we knew when our pooches were able to be left home alone without a crate. They were wondering if it was an age thing, or just signs that they should watch for.
I do remember it was a big deal when I started leaving Miss M home alone without putting her in her crate. I started out by leaving her out in short bursts. When I went to the laundromat (the Jolly Rogers which was literally across the street!) I would leave Miss M free in my apartment. I would see her little face watching out the window and I could literally watch her until I walked into the laundromat. Then I would toss my laundry in really quickly, run back across the street and realize..everything was still fine. Eventually I just started leaving her for longer amounts of time, and it was still ok.
Though Mr. B's home alone experience was quite different. He suffered severe isolation distress and he would use his head as a battering ram to get out of his crate. Coming home to Mr B with cuts allover his face and a crate so bashed out it looked cartoon-like, made us just drop the crate thing altogether and see how he would do on his own. Luckily, he was fine though things like this do happen every so often.
We still have a ritual we do with the pooches each time we leave the home. They 'go to bed' and wait for us while we give them a frozen kong, then we slip out the door. Even if we're going for just a short amount of time, we give them a 'fake kong' which isn't as good, but gives them something to do as we make our escape.
What has everyone else's experience been? How did you know when your pooch was ready to be left home alone? Or are crates always a good thing to keep them out of trouble?

PS. Our previous discussion on whether it's ok to let go of the crate completely.

Monday, June 18, 2012

SociaBulls: The Side Effect of Group Walks

 While it has been great seeing how much the group has been helping so many different dogs of different socialization levels, it also has an unexpected side-effect, and one of my ulterior motives for starting the group....
I love how our walks force us out to get out and explore all the nooks and crannies of our city. There are so many places I've been curious about and I normally wouldn't explore on my own,and I can now do it comfortably with the company of 20+ dogs and people.
We've had a steady rotation exploring several sections within our 18 mile lakefront trail, turn-of-the-century urban parks, downtown touristy jaunts, sculpture gardens, nature trails within city limits, and neighborhood tours.
We see amazing architecture, statues, sculptures, lakefront and skyline views, lagoons, fountains, weeping willows and nature all within the city:
How does walking with your dog increase your city exploration?
Join our Chicago SociaBulls  Facebook page for more photos and information about group walks. And check this link from the DINOs (Dogs in Need of Space) group to read more about the benefits of dog-walking groups and to see if there is a group in your area.  

Please Note: As the weather has warmed up, bikers, runners, dogs, and kids have come out in full force in many of the areas that we walk. While we had previously been introducing new members a few at a time to each walk, we've decided that in order to continue to keep our group safe and make our walks a positive experience for everyone, we are putting new members "on hold" for the summer. You can still submit an application, and it will go on our wait list in the order it is received. Once things quiet down a bit more in the fall, we will resume introducing new members a few at a time to each walk, and will be contacting people on the wait list in a first-come, first-served manner.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Pooches: Miss M the Model

We've shown before how Miss M is like a 'circus dog' who knows a lot of tricks, but one thing she has learned to do naturally: pose for photos. The above photo was taken last week at the Farmer's Market; what it doesn't show is the people gathering around, watching in awe, exclaiming "She really is posing for you!".
Just like any America's Next Top model contestants, Miss M knows how to 'look fierce' and vary up her look:
She takes every opportunity to make sure the camera is focused on her capturing her best angle:
 But like any Supermodel diva, she can also be quite demanding:
On the other hand, whenever we pull out the camera Mr. B automatically looks away.
Has anyone tried conditioning your pooch to automatically look towards the camera? Or do you just have naturally posing pooches?

P.S. Remember this post with Miss M's Zoolander 'Blue Steele' look?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

DoggyStyle: Photographing Your Pooch

 The other day when I was at the Farmer's Market, a crowd gathered around Miss M as I took her photo telling me "I can't believe she's actually posing". Maybe it's because our pooches give us such great material to work with, or because we do have so much fun walking around taking photos, but we have developed quite the collection of cameras. Here are some of the things we're using:

Nikon DSLR
 Most of our blog photos are taken with our Nikon DSLR 7000 using a 50mm lens. We've learned that it's really up to having good lenses, as most DSLR bodies will suffice, but we like having more control over the photos we're taking for a clear image and the blurred background effect. I still have a lot to learn about photography and learning about the settings on my camera, and I'm excited to take this on as a new summer project.

 Diana F+
This is a cute 'toy camera' that still uses film and takes serendipitous photos that look circa 1970's. Part of the intrigue is in the wait to get the film developed, and it's cute enough that it also looks like an accessory; we keep ours in our City Dog Essentials bag so we can always take cool photos when we're out and about.
You can read about it and see more of our photos here.

Lomography Fisheye Number 2
 Another film toy camera, this one has a fisheye lens to distort the view and turn the ordinary into the extraordinary. Using it for the day is like living in one of those fun photo montages, with the final excitement developing your film and seeing how it turns out. You can read more about it and see more of our photos here.

GoPro HD Hero 960
 Photo Courtesy of Mr. B and his GoPro
Since we have our own cameras, Mr. B thought he should get in on the action too. The GoPro camera is typically used to get a different view of high impact sports, though we learned it works just perfect to take video from our pooches' point of view (wouldn't you smile big too if everyone reacted to you like that?) and you can set it to take photos every couple of seconds. Mr B has become quite the videographer on our SociaBulls walks, you can read more about Mr. B's camera here.

i-Phone 8mm Camera App
 We used to love our Flip camera, but now that they've been phased out we've been loving the new i-Phone apps. The 8mm camera app offers a variety of settings (my favorite is 1970's!) to make even the most commonplace video extraordinary. You can see what we mean with this movie here with SuperLevi's big debut.

I know I'm always a step behind the bandwagon, but I'm just starting to learn more about Instagram. Instagram is like the digital version of our Diana F+, only with instant results and more options. I'm still learning about how it works, and we've just starting posting some of our instagrams the on our Facebook here.

We love all the variety and fun photosharing techniques that have become so easy with social media. Just curious what everyone else has been using; is the big trend in learning real photographic techniques? The simplicity of smartphone apps? Or old school film cameras?
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