Monday, April 30, 2012

SociaBulls: Mr. B the Calm Dog?!

 Mr. B is quite the sage with his 'TAO of Stuffy' philosophy, but he hasn't always been like that and even now he falters every so often maintaining his calm and collected demeanor. During those early days of country to city transition, we would never have imagined that he would be one of the wise dogs in a dog walking group.   
But here he is, just walking and hanging out with up to 24 of his closest dog friends, imparting his endless wisdom of focusing on a walk and going where he has to go.  
Sometimes if his mission does not get started on time, he will remind us that he has places to be and stuffies to see.
Steadily many of his dog club friends have followed suit and focus on the mission at hand. Mr. B and Miss M would like to thank everyone that has taken a chance and joined SociaBulls.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Mending it Whole

We often write about Mr. B's love for his stuffies and the training that helped him to be gentle with his stuffies. However, that is not the whole story. Though I have never sewed in my life, I had a crash course in sewing by repairing all of Mr. B's stuffies. His stuffies go through a lot of wear and tear, because he carries his best friends all around the house and on the porch and sometimes around the neighborhood.
Though he really is very gentle, there are times he will get riled up and start destuffing his stuffies. These are usually triggered by new visitors or after a great walk with his favorite person, our dog walker. 
Yesterday, I decided to mend several of his stuffies, so Mr. B had to lay patiently and wait until his best friends were whole again. 
Like an impatient boy, he would watch intently making sure that his friends are okay, 
but oftentimes the waiting becomes too much and he has to be reunited with his partially whole best friend. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

DoggyStyle: His and His Bowties

Though Mr. B and I have very different careers, oddly enough we wear similar clothes to our respective places of work. Our modern cravat of choice is the bow tie.
Mr. B likes to wear his Silly Buddy bow tie, ala Chippendale, in the buck. Unlike, Mr. B, my place of work is not that liberal, so I choose to stick to suits with my bow ties. 
Even Miss M loves donning her Silly Buddy bow tie, so she can have a father-princess moment wearing polka dotted bow ties. 
Mr. B's everyday wear happens to be his stylish matching bow tie and leash set from Sirius Republic

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Miss M and Her Girl

On our recent daily walk, I was the one playing paparazzi and taking pictures of A and the pooches. It was fun capturing Miss M as she graces the city of Chicago with her presence. Miss M is prepping herself for all of her adoring fans, going through talking points in her head during a quick jaunt around the neighborhood.
Though her schedule is quite busy, Miss M takes this short break to hang out with her girl,
but it was quickly interrupted by a hoard of her fans. 
Just like the Queen, Miss M loves waving to all of her adoring fans at different intersections around the city. 
But she does not wave for free, a treat better be close behind. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Pooches: Small Girl Walking Big Dogs

 At the beginning of each school year, when I'm introducing myself to my students, I always tell them I own 2 pitbulls.
Most of the time they think I'm joking.
And I've even had a couple confide in me, mid-year, that I look more likely to have a little poodle.
One that's pink and carried around in my purse (of course!).
I think a lot of people do find it hard to believe that small girls can walk bigger dogs, or people limit their options to only having smaller dogs because they think that's all that they can handle.
Despite the misconceptions I really do like big dogs,  and here are some things I've learned along the way:

Holding Leashes
With big dogs walking together they are bound to get really excited together; any sudden leap could be too much and cause me to drop the leash. I like the hold the leash loops in the crook of my elbow which frees up my hands to hold the leash in two places. So even if something happens where I lose my grip on both hands, I still have the leashes on my elbow.
Miss M's first dog walker also taught me to tie knots in the middle of the leash which gives more of a grip.
The leash hold is especially important when I'm stopped to pick up their poo where I will be a bit preoccupied. I make sure the pooches are in a sit stay and that I do have a good hold on their leashes. 

Training Walks
We always talk about how every time we take a walk it's treated as a training walk. We keep things consistent and routine so the dogs understand our expectations. They need to sit each time we approach a corner. They need to keep checking back with us, and we keep treats to mark good behavior and focus. Since they understand how they're supposed to behave on the walks, it makes walking them that much easier...even though they outweigh me by double. We also keep referring to this really great guest post by Willie & Nabi's person about the steps she's taken to learn to walk 2 dogs at the same time.

Non-Judgmental Training Tools
We all know how important long-term training is to build positive behaviors, but the truth is: long-term training takes a long time.
Living in the city we are forced to take our dogs on daily walks on day one: encountering scary noises, lots of people, and even more dogs (we counted 30 dogs on our block alone!). So I do find it frustrating when people judge other people's training tools without understanding their situation. We believe that each owner knows their situation and dog best and can make the best choice after researching options. Even flat collars can cause severe neck and disk damage if it's not appropriate for that specific dog.
We have found that these tools can evolve throughout your time with your dog. For our own dogs we've used a variety of halters, prongs and martingales. We've also tried this plastic prong as an alternative to the large metal prongs (and we always make sure to doubleclip everything knowing that equipment can fail).

These are some things that have worked for me. Any other tips for handling large or strong pooches?

Monday, April 23, 2012

SociaBulls: Waiting to be Noticed

As we've been detailing many of the things SociaBulls dogs have been working on with their families, we also wanted to point out that there are some dogs in our group who are currently looking for families. Little Estelle is a 'pocket pittie' who has been coming to the group for awhile. She is lucky to live with a very devoted foster mom who not only has her own pooches, but has also been fostering Estelle (and puppies!). Estelle came to her foster mom as a fearful, broken pup, and her mom has diligently been working with her to improve her skills as she works towards finding her perfect family. Read this story of how little Estelle is facing her fears and hoping to be noticed by her future forever family and see photos from our latest walk (a beautiful lakefront stroll!):
 When I picked up my foster, Estelle, from CACC on behalf of It's aPittie Rescue, I found a skinny, broken little pup cowered in the corner of the cage.  Her cage card did not have a name or any info that might indicate where she came from or what her life like was before coming into the shelter.  Her body language and sadness in her eyes said enough and was magnified when she literally army crawled out of the cage and continued to do so until I was able to bring her into the hallway and sit down by her, where she instantly crawled into my lap and rolled over on her back.  I wish I could say the rest was history, but...
After a beautiful text book intro between Boomer and Estelle (it was love and first sniff) I quickly learned Sweet Estelle loves people and kids and is eager to learn. I just as quickly learned Estelle suffers from separation anxiety and is extremely leash reactive and despite the quick bond with Boomer she still needs time meeting new four-legged friends (just a few issues that would need to be dealt with before adoption was an option).   Separation anxiety was quickly tackled and managed with crate training but the reactivity has presented itself to be more of a challenge. Fortunately after a course of cautious k-9 classes, fellow Sociabull (Sophie's person) told me about Chicago Sociabulls and I couldn't sign up quick enough.  In the four + months Estelle has been a sociabull, we've had our shares of ups and downs our experience has gone from moments of encouragement when Estelle finds her rhythm amongst a pack of unfamiliar dogs to complete meltdowns when the pulling/piggy noises seem far too intense for even the most patient person to withstand.  But we have kept chugging away with the support of the Sociabull leaders and thankfully without judgment from fellow walkers.  I'm so pleased to report a real change occurred about four walks ago when after some trial and error the wonderful coordinators with the Sociabulls determined Estelle calms down much quicker when at the head of the pack.  Furthermore when surrounded by buffer dogs (thanks Izzy and Torre) the snorts and grunts eventually diminish and if i didn't know better, it seems Estelle is actually enjoying herself, but shhh don't tell her.. .
So there it is,  I can't say enough about the Chicago Sociabulls and how it is helping my sweet girl. Private walks have improved tremendously as well and I think the group walks have contributed to that.  Moving forward, Sweet Estelle will continue to look for that perfect forever home while facing her fears with me. Fingers crossed she will find a home with a family that will continue on with the Sociabull experience.
 You really need to check out this video of how great Estelle is with training, and being walked by her favorite little boy. (Poor little Estelle even cries cartoon tears). And if you think you or someone you know might be interested in Estelle, you can read more about her here
 You can also read about more SociaBulls Members: Franklin (A Small Dog in a Big Dog Group), Gordon (Learning to Be Social and Have Dog Friends),  Nabi (A Shy Dog Making Sense of a "People World") Sprocket (Teaching a Dog When it's not Time to Play), Lola (Living in the City with a Dog who Fears Strangers),  Zoe (The Dog who "Loves Too Hard")Izzy (Being a good pitbull ambassador while working with an energetic dog) and Maize (Being social with an unsocial pup).
Plus, 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.   

Friday, April 20, 2012

Miss M Enjoying the Finer Things in Life

Though we have gotten rid of all of our TVs, A has kindly let me have a LCD projector and a TV tuner, so I wouldn't need to spend all my free time at the bar watching the game(s). We rarely use the projector, because it takes a bit of time and effort to set it up. but when we use our projector to watch our movies or a few choice TV shows, even outside, Miss M has to become all involved in the viewing. 
She will try to find the little space between A and me and nudge herself in and she will then sit and intently watch the movie or TV show.
On the other hand, Mr. B could care less about hanging out with the family and watching the movie or TV show.
So he will find a comfortable place to lay and wait until we are done watching the wall. 
See what we mean about Miss M in this video:

Thursday, April 19, 2012

DoggyStyle: Letting go of the Crate

Back in our bachelorette days, Miss M used to be that wild, unpredictable roommate: always wanting to party and 'borrow' my stuff. She had a habit of using my favorite shoes as chew toys, deconstructing our decorative fuzzy rug, and prowling around for my food (though is that something that happens with all roommates?). Enter the crate. Our new best friend for keeping Miss M safely contained and out of trouble.
We've always loved having crates as safe retreat for the pooches, and they're especially important for adding new dogs and foster dogs into the mix, allowing us to feed all of our dogs separately (no need for resource guarding!) and providing separate spaces as they get to know each other. We also know it's important to separate pooches while we're not home. Extra bonus: it's so much easier to have a friend watch a crated dog for those quick trips out of town.
Though the benefit of Elderbull-dom has allowed our pooches to mature. Much like the graduating college seniors, they are fine being left home alone with little chance of 'throwing those parties'. Her crate has still become a popular place where the pooches play pitbull clown car seeing how they can squeeze their massive 75 pound bodies into one single crate together. Even touching jowls.
Which has led us to this question. Does Miss M still need her crate? We know she can be ok without it, and even in the 'dog bedroom' area of our living space, it is pretty big and an eyesore.
Or is it something that we should always have around? The pooches do like to sit in it together, and maybe we could get something like this or this to put over it?
What does everyone else think; is there a time when your pooches will grow out of their crate? Or should we just work on making it more attractive?

PS. For all of you wondering, the full story of why Mr. B lives in a tepee here.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Pooches: A Matched Set

The funny thing is, many people on our daily walks stop and ask whether the pooches are twins. But really, they are far from being twins. I think they have most people tricked:
 Miss M is tall; Mr B is short.
Miss M is brindle; Mr B is gray.
We even think they're different types of pitbull-type dogs.
But much like a married couple, we've seen them start to morph into a single pooch.
Even when they're not touching:
I wonder whether we're automatically drawn to similar types of dogs? Or is it typical for dogs to start resembling eachother over time?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Pooches: How to Integrate a Second Dog

A lot of people have been asking how we picked a second dog and how Miss M and Mr B became such a compatible duo. We did put a lot of thought into how we would add a second dog to our family, so some of it was pre-planning, some of it was careful integration, and some of it was just luck. We know all dogs have different personalities and quirks, but here are some things that worked for us:

Letting Them Choose and a Proper Introduction
Somewhere along the way we realized while we made the decision to get a second dog, the choice of dog was really up to Miss M. There were a couple of dogs that I really wanted to adopt, but Miss M didn't approve. We all know how bossy Miss M can be, so it was important for us to find a submissive dog. We wanted an opposite gender dog for all the reasons we originally wrote about here. We also knew we needed a dog that was more compatible with our lifestyle, so we began searching for a mellow, older pooch. Mr. B was 5 years old when we adopted him!
To set the pooches up for success, we also knew it was very important to have a proper introduction.  We take them to a neutral introduction and have them walk by eachother (never head on) to gauge their interest and watch for body language. We do a couple of walk-bys to see how they react, with the end goal of having them walk together as a pack at the end. Kate, from Twenty-Six to Life, wrote this really good detailed post about dog introductions.
Miss M approved of Mr B enough to make him into her own personal pet. 
Fun Fact: On our search, Miss M's originally met and fell in love with an overweight beagle named Butters. She settled for Mr B as a close second.

House Rules for Success
Mr B wasn't always Miss M's furniture and it actually took time for the pooches to become comfortable with one another. (This is the funny video documenting the exact moment when they first became 2 dogs in a crate; unbelievably, Mr B made the first move!)
 We made sure to keep things quiet and low-excitement while Mr. B integrated into our household. To eliminate the possibility of resource guarding, we fed the dogs separately in their crates, kept the water bowl separate, eliminated treats and toys and kept affection low-key. We also kept plenty of dog beds around--so nothing was high value--and we kept the pooches crated separately when we weren't home.
We would also give Miss M 'alpha' status by feeding her first, letting her exit and enter first, and other high value rules. We didn't scold the dogs if they needed to correct (sharp bark if they didn't like the other dog's behavior) because it's something the dogs work out among themselves. 
It was also important for us to walk them together. Much like the idea behind SociaBulls, group walking is a positive social experience.

The Value of Fostering 
 If we had to do it over again, we would definitely foster a dog before making the adoption leap. Fostering lets you recognize how a dog might fit into your home without the long-term commitment, especially if you're transitioning from one to two dogs. Plus a great side-effect of fostering, is that you are directly saving a life.
We also wrote this post about how to successfully integrate a foster dog into a multi-dog household.

These are just some experiences we've had. What are some other things you've learned about adding another dog to your family?
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