Friday, February 20, 2015

DoggyStyle: Review of Muttluks Fleece Lined Winter Dog Boots (And a GIVEAWAY CLOSED!) with Fit for a Pit

Living through last year's Chi-beria, and experiencing the deja vu this year, we have been learning a lot about how to keep our pups warm and comfortable during extreme conditions.
Besides asking about dog-gear to fit bigger dogs, our second most-asked question is about the types of boots we recommend.
We know how tricky dog boots can be, and in the past we always referred people to PAWZ disposable dog boots. We liked how they generally stayed on, could last for awhile, and if we did lose a boot they were easy to replace. The one thing we didn't like is that if you did get a tear in the boot, the water collects inside the boot and your pup is stuck with a a cold, water-logged foot.
We had actually tried Muttluks in the past (we still have them, circa 2006!) and I always felt like they were falling off. Though when we were talking with Heather from Fit for a Pit, she thought that maybe we were using the wrong size, and that is why we were having fit issues.
So, she sent us a couple of new pairs of Muttluks to try out, which was perfect seeing that Chicago just had nearly 20 inches in snowfall.
These boots are fancy!
Muttluks is a Canadian company, so they know snow. Their boots come as a long sock; the inside is plush-lined, and they actually have leather soles. One of our favorite parts is they now come in colors: red, purple, or pink, which just so happen to match the pups' Canada Pooch coats perfectly:
I had always just thought that our pups' feet were on the larger size. Though Heather at Fit for a Pit told us how to measure the pups' foot more accurately: make sure they are standing with their full weight flat on a blank sheet of paper and mark from the longest toe nail straight back from the back of the paw.
We were surprised to see Mr. B wears a size Small and Miss M's monster paws are only size Medium. We compared our updated Muttluks with our circa 2006 Muttluks and found that even though the older pair were also a size Medium, the new style is actually a bit smaller and more streamlined to adjust to the foot better.
To put them on, it's easier to fold the sock to the bottom, put on the boot part, and pull the sock up. Kind of like putting on a pair of tights. We also made sure to flex each paw before putting them on the ground so there is a defined crease when they are walking.
We've also heard the key to making them stay is pulling the velcro tight, even tighter than you would expect. It doesn't hurt their feet, but it will help their boots stay on.
And we were off:

What We Liked:
-These boots are high-quality and really well-made. I think they might even be nicer than some shoes I own.
-We like how the sock comes up higher for more coverage and to keep them drier in snowy weather.
-The hard sole creates a defined walking spot so the boots won't twist or move as they walk. It's also sturdier on some of the icy areas.
-And of course, we love how they match their coats!

What We Didn't Like:
-These boots are so nice that our entire walk I was fearful that the pups would lose a boot. During a normally leisurely walk, I spent a lot of time paranoid, checking and re-checking their feet.
-We didn't lose any boots on the sidewalks, but we did have some boots come off in the deep snow. Which to be fair, my boots were also being pulled down by the heavy snow.
Fit for a Pit has kindly offered to give away two pairs of Muttluk fleece-lined boots to two different pups.
There are two ways to enter, and each person can enter two times.
Let us know: What would your pup be able to do with a pair of Muttluk fleece-lined boots?

#1 is Mr. Socs who is having a tough time with the snow and ice and will use the pair of boots to get back into regular walks, and 
#2 Evie who wants some boots for the cold. Please message or email me so we can get you your boots! And thanks again for Heather from Fit for a Pit for generously donating the boots and offering all of her knowledge about how to find boots, coats, and dog gear for our often hard to fit pups!

1) Let us know by commenting on our blog post here.
2) You can also enter by posting a photo on our Facebook page of your pooch and letting us know what you would do with a new pair of boots.

We will use a random number generator to randomly choose one winner from total blog and Facebook comments.

-You have two chances to win: commenting on the blog and posting a photo on our Facebook page
-We will use a random number generator to randomly choose the winners
-You have until Monday, February 23 at Midnight (EST) to post your comment or photo.
-Winners will be announced on Facebook and at the bottom of this post. Winners are responsible for contacting us to claim your prize.
-Winners must live within the contiguous United States.

Good luck everyone!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Pooches: Spending Time When You Just Don't Have Time

Lately, we have been working on a really, really big project. That has been keeping us really, really busy. We are hoping to be able to reveal it at the end of the week!
Though we have been feeling a lot of guilt because we haven't been able to spend the same amount of time that we normally spend with the pups.
I know time can be a big issue for a lot of dog families. I know people have even decided not to adopt dogs because they don't feel they have enough time to spend with them.
We have always thought that it was more about the quality than the amount of time, and as we've been facing this ourselves, these are some thing we've been trying:

Making Our Walks Count 
Since we lived so long without a backyard, our pups are used to going on walks several times a day. Every day.
Which means sometimes just going on a walk isn't good enough.
So, we've been adding in something extra.
We found the best use of time is going on our SociaBulls walks. This combines our daily walk with allowing the pups to socialize with other dogs, which is so stimulating they end up sleeping for the end of the day.
We've also been switching up our daily walking routine to allow them to experience new things and challenge them mentally. We especially like high-engagement areas where they meet a lot of people.

Adding Extras:
We've been working to make the time we do have with the pups count.
So we do a lot of interactive activities so when we're not home, they are tired and they don't miss us as much.
At home we have the pups practice their "Down-Stays", "Waits", and if we're needing to do a lot of things back and forth we even have them do this.
If we can't get to an engaging area for our walk, it also helps to have them practice tricks on our walk keep them mentally engaged.
Of course, this one is our favorite.

Getting Help 
And sometimes it's just okay to get help.
One of our friends wrote this really great post about being a single dog-parent and the importance of creating a community.
We also love our dog walkers, and it has been so important for us to have other people interact with the pups when we're busy with work.

We are hoping things will get back to normal for us soon, but we would also love to hear:
What are some things you do when you can't spend as much time with your pup?

Also fun on walks.
Just like dates.
Or with two.

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

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Pooches: View of a Blizzard

We had a blizzard on Sunday.
Which is funny, because we really didn't know it was going to happen until the day before.
Even then, they just told us it was going to snow.
But, that ended up being over 19 inches of snow. And ranking as one of the top 5 biggest snowstorms in Chicago's history.
And for those of you who reading this from your 70+ degree weather locales, this is what that looks like:
Thank goodness for snow tunnels!
They called off school, and we spent the day working with our neighbors to shovel out the cars that were parked on our street, push the cars that kept getting stuck, and shovel out the alley where many of the cars live.
Actually, it was E that did all of that shoveling and pushing.
I spent the day watching the plow tracker (I saw them come a record 3 times on our side street!). And trying to acclimate the pups to the snow. We even had some snow drifts in our yard and in the gangway that were over 4 feet tall.
It was nice seeing the neighbors come together. There is even someone outside right now (at 9:30 at night!) with a snowblower working to snowplow the remaining snow on our street so the cars can park.
Dibs! I think it was fair to call dibs this time.
How has everyone else been doing with the snow?

The snow was definitely better than this.
The pups are prepared with these when it all starts melting.
The pups in this one ranked third worst in Chicago history. 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Pooches: On Bathing Our Pups at the Same Time

It seems like some of our most popular photos are when we become a bit invasive taking photos of the pups during their baths. (You may have seen this one, or remember this and this!)
For the past couple of years, we have gotten our routine down.
Including tossing both pups into the tub at the same time.
This is why we find it much easier:

Herd Mentality
We started out bathing both dogs separately.
And we always had so many bathtub-escapes.
One time we just decided to put them in together, and we found that they were less likely to try to escape.
Maybe it was Mr. B following Miss M's lead.
Maybe it was Miss M realizing all the good stuff was already happening here if Mr. B was with her.
Or maybe it was just too crowded in the tub to get good leverage to make the tub jump.
Since they were more likely to stay in the tub, we just kept putting them in together.

Assembly Line
With the two pups in the tub, we have an assembly-line system that seems to save so much time.
E gets in the tub with the pups and he washes their backsides.
I stay on the outside and I wash their faces and their fronts.
When they're done, we take them out and we each take an end to towel them dry. 
I clean their ears and E cleans the tub.
It really seems to work much more quickly, and there is a lot less separate bending down and getting back up.

The After-bath
The pups' favorite part of the bath is that at the end they know they get a handsome reward.
Something like a meaty bone. Or an apple. Or even coconut oil (they love it so much!).
It's easier if they are both released at the same time to get the handsome reward because if one of them gets to go earlier, they get excited. Which makes the other dog excited and more likely to make a tub jump.

It has just become easier for us to toss them both in at the same time.
Does anyone else wash multiple pups at the same time?

Training your dog to enjoy the bathtub
Where it began.
This happened

Monday, February 2, 2015

SociaBulls: Reinforcing the Human-Dog Connection

While we all having different reasons for walking with our SociaBulls group, we love hearing the individual stories from each of our members. 
You may recognize this handsome face as Vegas: one of Miss M's many boyfriends (remember their date, here?)
When Vegas and his person moved to Chicago, they joined the group to make friends. Though after a few unsettling incidents at the dog park, and the deflating feeling of 'breaking your dog', Vegas and his person were able to use the structure and non-judgmental environment of SociaBulls to rebuild their confidence and reinforce their human-dog connection. You can read their story below:

I always knew I wanted a dog, but I waited patiently until my life was stable.  I'm a logical research-minded food scientist, and I approached finding my companion that way.  For almost eight months, I poured over literature/web articles/vet advice about choosing the right breed for your lifestyle, using a breeder/shelter dog/rescue (I actually didn't know what a rescue was when I started), adopting a puppy/adult/senior, etc.  I finally decided on a Doberman and started searching shelters, stumbled onto a Doberman rescue, and picked out my buddy.  I remember walking into this huge barn lined with crates on both sides, each with a dog.  As the door was opened, the dogs all started barking like crazy, except the first crate-- the dog in that crate stood up and moved to the front with his nose pressed against the bars, calmly trying to sniff me. That was Vegas, and I took him home that day. 
Soon after, I moved to Chicago.  I found Chicago Sociabulls while searching for like-minded dog people.  I joined to make friends because my dog didn't really have behavioral problems. It helped that I could identify with the "bully breed" reaction after seeing countless people cross the street rather than walk near Vegas.  I liked the idea that we could be a part of a group that provided a judgement-free, no pressure environment that helps change the perception of an often maligned breed.  Since Vegas and I were going to walk anyway, I thought that we may as well explore parks in the Chicago area and maybe make a few friends along the way.
Our first year in Chicago, Vegas was bitten by other dogs four times, two of which required surgery. All of the bites occurred inside dog parks, with only one or two dogs present. I started skipping the dog parks.  The more I avoided dog parks, the less time Vegas spent around other dogs.  The less time around dogs, the more reactive he became when we encountered one. He started growling if a dog spent too much time sniffing him, and would occasionally bark if an approaching dog made hard eye contact.  I was afraid he would become more and more reactive, and he's 80lbs of muscle (for perspective, you should know I'm 5'4" on a good day).  Because of the research I did, I was aware that his reaction was probably because I was tense, but I struggled to relax nonetheless. 
During this time, Sociabulls was critical in getting us through the rough patch.  I knew I could go and not have to worry about explaining to someone why I would prefer they not let their dog meet mine, which helped me relax. There is some inherent feeling of embarrassment in admitting that your dog has "issues". For me, it was worse because I had a well-adjusted dog to begin with-- I felt like I broke the dog. 
 I could count on Sociabulls members to listen to my concerns and stories without judgement, and with a sense of humor that can only come from a place of camaraderie and empathy. While avoiding dog parks and other dogs, Sociabulls became the only dog-dog interaction Vegas had, and since these walks were consistently a positive experience, I built up my confidence again, and Vegas regained his calm, cool demeanor. I learned to read my dog's posture and body language so I can control his environment to avoid negative experiences, and as a result we learned to trust each other more.  He knows I will remove him from situations he doesn't like, and I know that he will give me time to do so before resorting to growling or barking.  Now we sport that blue Sociabulls bandana with pride and Vegas can do things like go on doggie dates and host other dogs on overnight stays without issue.  
Every day brings new experiences, and each new experience shapes us and our pups.  Sociabulls is our "home base", a place where we can reinforce the human-dog connection that is so crucial to how we cope with these experiences... after all, we are always work in progress.
Thanks for sharing your story!

Plus, join our Chicago SociaBulls  Facebook page for more photos and information about group walks. And check out the Hikabulls page where we first learned about the benefits of group walking.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Pooches: Living with Thing 1 and Thing 2

We know the Internet doesn't always tell the true story. And especially not for our pups.
Sure people see them enjoying art walks, sitting in the park enjoying Shakespeare, and shopping at Nordstroms. 
But sometimes, it can be more like living with Thing 1 and Thing 2.
What you might not see is Mr. B running laps, stuffy in mouth.
Miss M peering around walls and popping out of corners:
Mr. B still running his laps, stuffy still in mouth:
Meanwhile, Miss M is popping up in another corner:
Until they both decide to run laps together.

What we always remember when we're frustrated
How we made Thing 1 and Thing 2 Hoodies

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

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Daily Walk: The Seedy Underside of Dog Walking in City Snow

When we talk about the daily walks we take with our pups in the winter, the things people usually want to hear about are how we keep the pups warm and some of the ways we dress ourselves.
And we could talk about that forever!
But then there are some not so nice things that happen after the snowfall:

On Errant Rats
You might have picked up on my "errant rat" reference in our earlier post, but this has become one of my biggest issues this winter.
Sure, we know we have rats in the city.
I mainly think of them as having their own separate lives in the alley where I sometimes hear the echoes of their singing and have only seen them in mere glimpses and shadows.
But, it's only after the fresh snowfall that I realize how much we really do live together.
And I see how big their footprints really are.
Which means they are really big.
It's a bit unsettling to find these huge footprints with a long line following (yes, that would be the tail dragging behind) walking in the places where I have walk and have spent time.

On What Might be Hidden in the Snow
One of my other favorite references is the first winter I had Miss M and she plunged into a snowdrift and emerged with an entire gyro!
While the new-fallen snow does look so beautiful, we always forget that before the snow there was a lot of trash on the ground (yes, city living). And those chip packages, soda cans, and uncollected dog poo are still there. We just can't see them.
There was even an article about kids who came home covered in dog poo after they went sledding at a West Loop park frequented by off-leash dogs.
We also remember to be really careful when opening the trash cans to throw out the dog poo. The other week we found a used syringe on top of the trash can in the alley.
Should we be happy they at least tried to throw it away?

The Upside of Yellow Pee in the Snow
I know a lot of people lament that the fresh snow looks so beautiful until it's covered with yellow dog pee.
Which is true.
Though it has added a fun element to our walks.
It's almost like we can see what was formerly 'invisible ink' and now I understand why our pups are so interested in smelling and peeing in certain places.
And if I see the yellow pee, I can anticipate that they will want to go there.

Anyone else have interesting tidbits about your winter snowy walks?

These taboo habits of city dogs 
The unspoken world of city dog poo
Secrets of walking in the fall
Check our Facebook page for more photos, comments, and story lines beyond the blog.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

DoggyStyle: On City Dog Views

While we have been learning to adapt to the cold weather here in Chicago, I have found one of the hardest parts of winter is the constant darkness.
When I wake up and by the time I come home it's pitch black. 
I almost feel like I'm a vampire.
E and I both use sunrise alarm clocks (yes, we need to have 2 in our bedroom!), and I'm very visibly crossing out the days on our calendar until I can wake up and come home with some natural light.
I think it's a big thing in Chicago that we all crave the sunlight so much, that we like to leave our blinds open. 
We crave it.
Our plants crave it.
And our pups crave it. 
Or at least they crave watching all the people, other dogs, and errant rats crossing outside our window.
Though we were just talking to our friends who were saying they need to live in a constant state of darkness because if they attempt to open their blinds their pup will bark and throw himself against the window towards every person and dog that walks by. (Which is a lot in the city!). 
So they spend the winter like cave dwellers.
For us, when we leave the blinds open we run the risk of our pups being able to spot their dogwalker before she even makes it into our house. 
Because if they see her too soon, this gives them the chance to let their excitement build to the extent that they are completely wild and crazy dogs when she finally opens the door. 
It was reported one time that Mr. B actually did a somersault in the air.
And I believe it.
So we figured out how to foil their efforts:
Discovering top-down bottom-up blinds has changed everything. 
Since they roll up from the bottom, we can chose to block the pups' view while still keeping the natural light. We were able to just order ours online from a company like
I also like how we can keep them open to get that last strain of sunset , and people walking down the street won't be able to see straight into our home. 
Though Mr. B isn't too fond of being surprised when his dogwalker finally comes.

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

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.

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.

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.

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 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!!!

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