Thursday, January 31, 2013

DoggyStyle: The Winter Home with Dogs

Living in Chicago we have developed many techniques to get us through the winter.
Lately, it's been denial. 
We like to pretend it's eternally summer in our front room; the flowers and bright colors seem to help. And we've also been doing some pup-related things around our home to keep the dreariness and slush from coming inside.

Boot Trays for Dog Boots:
Along with our wet boots we also have 8 mini-boots from the pooches. To find a way to avoid the melting snow puddles in our home, we set up a couple of boot drying trays. We learned to use black river rocks as a base; we picked up some packages from Dollar Tree. This lets the snow melt through to the bottom so our boots aren't standing in puddles of water. The water dries up on its own, and we periodically vacuum it out.

Covered Crates:
We noticed the "Dog Bedroom" area can get a little cold and drafty, so we make sure to cover Miss M's crate. We used to put a polar fleece over the top, but we love how our Molly Mutt Crate Cover does the double duty of looking nice and keeping her warm (we wrote more about it here). We still do put an extra polar fleece in the crate with her.

Lights on Mr. B's Tepee
We have learned to put up with the subzero temperatures, but I think the worst part of winter is that it's so dark. 
It's dark for our morning walk. It's dark for our evening walk.  It's just so dark all the time. 
So we've been really into lights. We've decided to make things a bit more sparkly by decorating the top of Mr. B's tepee in twinkle lights. Being a classy guy, Mr. B likes to think it's a bit more Eiffel Tower than dorm room. He even has more photos of his new decor, here.

What are some other things everyone does to keep your home snow and slush free and warm?


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Daily Walk: On Snow and Wind and Cold

It was just this past weekend that it snowed in Chicago for the first time all winter!
Since we live in a 2-bedroom, without a backyard, we don't have a choice and just like the postman we need to walk in rain and wind and snow.
Realizing there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes, we have realized how to prepare for the inclement weather.
We use flip-top gloves to open poo bags and crampons so we don't slide on the ice. We wrote more about it, here. 
 And the pooches brought out their elf shoes!
We have realized it's not the cold that bothers their feet, but it's walking on salt and ice. After trying a couple of different shoes we've found the PAWs disposable boots work best for our pups. Mr. B wears size purple, while Miss M has long toes and talons and she needs to wear the huge green size. Which someone pointed out look like elf shoes. We wrote more about their boots, here.
What are some extra things you do for yourself and your pups in inclement weather?

Finding Cold-Weather Gear for large pups
How Cold is too Cold?
The Unexpected Winter Dog Activity

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

City Dog: Using Dog Training in Everyday City Life

Sometimes our pooches think "What Happens in Obedience Class Stays in Obedience Class".
But really, we work to reinforce the skills in our every day lives so the pooches can understand there is a relevance beyond the classroom.
Since we've been doing this, we've noticed how something as simple as "sit" has so many practical applications in everyday life:

Looking Both Ways Before Crossing the Street
We trained our pooches to automatically stop at curbs (they taught themselves to look both ways!).
There are just way too many cars that run stop signs so we always practice stopping, just in case. I've also heard if your dog ever gets loose, if they are accustomed to stopping at curbs, they won't go running into the street. Has anyone experienced this?

Buying Food at Farmer's Markets 
Farmer's Markets can be insanely crazy with so many people, kids and other dogs. I was once walking through a market where a girl was holding a large dog and picking out flowers. The dog decided to bark and lunge at us, and the unsuspecting girl was pulled forward. She fell and rolled (twice!) just like a cartoon. Especially seeing that, I always put the pooches in a sit-stay when I'm at the market so I can concentrate on choosing tomatoes and paying with farmers without being worried about being pulled and flying forward. Like a cartoon.

"Sit" While I Clean up Your Dog Poo
We always put both of the dogs in sit stays when we're picking up their poo. Sometimes the clean-up requires a lot of concentration, and a turned back, giving a pup at the end of the leash a chance to eat something without me noticing or even try to jump after a feral cat, squirrel, or jogger. We even have other people try to approach us with their dogs when I'm picking up poo. So to avoid the dogs suddenly jerking me while I'm holding poo in a bag (I think that would be a bad cartoon!) we taught them to stay in sit-stays where they are not allowed to move.

Modeling For Photo Opps
Ok, maybe it's not necessary but we see so many amazing things in the city that we just have to pose our dogs in front of. We have done this so much, people who are watching ask us how we taught our pups to 'model on command'.

A Seat at the Street Fest
We love hanging out on the curbs at street fests. Mr. B took 'sitting' to a new level and he taught himself to sit on the curb just like a human.

So what did we leave out? What are some other ways you reinforce "sit" and "sit-stays" in your everyday lives?

Using 'parlor tricks' on the streets
Getting ready for Spring Training!
Preparing for Farmer's Markets

Monday, January 28, 2013

SociaBulls: Just Right

While many of us have been walking with our Chicago SociaBulls group for awhile, the beginning can still be hard for everyone.
During the walk the pooches fall into a rhythm where they are just all comfortable walking as a pack, though waiting for the walk to start can be very exciting for even the most frequent pup.

I heard one of our seasoned walkers explaining to a new member how you need to time your arrival just right.
If you get there too early, your pup might get anxious waiting for the walk to start and seeing all of the other pups arriving.
 But if you get there too late, the pups won't have time to acclimate to the surroundings or the group, and they could feel too rushed to go straight from the car to walking and finding their spot in the pack.
We have also realized how disruptive it is for dogs to try to join the group after the walk has started walking.
So it has become a delicate balance of considering the location, potentially factoring in time for pay-for-parking meters, and how long you can entertain your pup with tricks and high-interest treats to avoid getting anxious and potentially hard-staring the other pups.
And we're always working on getting it Just Right.

PS. Don't the pups look warm in these photos? It's actually much colder in Chicago right now...these posts are from the prior weeks' walks.

City Walking Locations
Join or Chicago SociaBulls Facebook page for more photos and information.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Pooches: On Coyote and Roadrunner "Training Techniques"

Through all the training classes we've gone to with the pups, sometimes the most traditional methods just don't work.
See, our Mr. B....isn't quite that smart.
Maybe it's in comparison to Miss M who is a regular circus dog, but traditional training methods don't quite work with Mr. B. After all these years, he's still confused about the difference between sit and down. Sure he doesn't need to be a trick dog, but we still needed to teach him some basics. So we've been training him through the Art of Surprise.
It started when he would get anxious when we left the home. We would try to confuse him, opening and closing doors, playing a soundtrack of our voice, and sometimes popping out of closets. He stopped equating certain cues with us leaving. And maybe thought he was never alone because we could pop out of anywhere.
Then it evolved. He started to become comfortable and do things he would never do if we were home. Like go on the couch.  A few times I would lay in wait behind the kitchen counter, waiting for him to go near the couch, then pop up to surprise him. Though he takes a joke well.
Though, these techniques don't quite work with Miss M. When we were bachelorettes together, I had a little rug in my bedroom where Miss M would sleep at night. I started to suspect she would leave the bedroom in the middle of the night, sleep on the couch, and come back before I woke up. One night I decided to set a trap. I made a pillow body on my bed (ala: Ferris Bueller).
I put a comforter on the couch and hid underneath. I thought I could wait for Miss M to try sneaking onto the couch, and I would pop up and scare her. I waited, and I must have fallen asleep. That morning I thought I needed to apologize to Miss M, but when I went to my bedroom I found the comforter on my bed rumpled, and some stray brindle hairs....
Have you ever been outsmarted by your own dog?

Or is she?
He just keeps trying

Thursday, January 24, 2013

DoggyStyle: On White Couches and Dogs on Furniture

A lot of people have been telling us we're brave to have so much white furniture and 2 big dogs. Here are some things we've learned about the relationship between the pooches and the furniture in our home.

Our No Dogs on Furniture Decision
When I first adopted Miss M, I was sure she was going to try to bully me. Especially with a face like this:
So from the beginning she was never allowed on the couch or the bed. I knew I could always allow her to come on the couch later. I also knew once she had a taste of 'sitting on the couch' there was no going back. Especially since this happens a lot we were ok with our decision.

Enforcing No Dogs on the Furniture
Originally our pups respected not being on the furniture.
But then the floodgate was opened.
E enjoys sitting with Mr. B on the outdoor porch sofa. So Mr. B thought he could be on any sofa.
So we tried 2 ways to change it. First we put tin foil on the couches. I'm not sure whether it's the shininess, the sound, or the texture, but tin foil is supposed to be a dog deterrent.
The second thing we did was letting the pups think we had left. But really, I was hiding behind the kitchen counter. So when Mr. B decided he was going to go near the couch I popped up and scared him. And he hasn't gone back on.

Keeping the Sofa Clean
Despite all of this, Miss M is quite sneaky. She has a whole sofa trilogy.
And even if the pups aren't sitting on the sofa, they might just be using it as a pillow.
To keep the furniture clear of mud and 'Chicago Grime' we have this whole wiping feet routine.
We keep the grime and shedding down with this.
We've also had our sofas professionally cleaned. It wasn't as expensive as I thought, and speaking with the cleaner, he told me more than I ever wanted to know about the effects of dog saliva and squirrel feces. We wrote more about it here.

So what does everyone else do. 
Are you a dogs on furniture household? Invite only? Or mean like me?

Outdoor Sofa
And carpets.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Pooches: City Dogs Downtown

While we live less than 2 miles from the center of downtown Chicago, we don't make it there often with the pooches. 
Following the quote "Being dressed up is a beautiful form of politeness", we made sure to show our respect to the city by dressing it up a notch.
For Miss M this meant stepping out with her pink puffy coat and even bigger fur hat.
Walking in front of the Burberry store, many people even asked if the pups were wearing real Burberry scarfs from the store.
Many of the downtown highrises have dog weight restrictions, so you don't usually see bigger dogs walking around downtown.
It's even rarer to see pit bull-type dogs downtown. 
Our pooches had the chance to make like tourists:
While they were able to meet many tourists.
It became quite the spectacle seeing large dogs in fur hats strutting around downtown.
Especially for people who had never met pit bull-type dogs before, and an honorary 'Shittie' (Shitzu + Pittie). 
What surprising places have you taken your pup?


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Pooches: How Cold is Too Cold for Dogs?

Here in Chicago we've gotten by with an extremely mild winter; we've even had less snow than Dallas! So this week's subzero temperatures have hit us all hard.
I think a lot of Chicagoans have learned to do it right because we are out there along with our pups on our daily walks. And we've gotten a lot of tips from our SociaBulls group.
Here are some things we've learned about keeping our pups extra warm:

We have been noticing how all the urban Chicago teenagers 'layer up' with cold weather, so we've done the same thing with our pooches. We've been layering their hoodies under their coats. We even have some urban puffy coats we just received from RC Pet Products. The pooches are wearing the Skyline Puffy Vest. We like how the hoodies cover the under-area the coats don't reach.

Covering Up:
We like covering up the pooches' bare neck area with snoods. I don't know how much of a difference it does make, but it seems like the metal tags and parts of their collar can get very cold against their necks. Plus, the snoods do cheer us up on these dreary winter days.
Our pooches have colored fleece snoods (also shown here) from Sirius Republic.
And we have knit snoods--that make them look like animals--from Snug-A-Bull.

Dog Footwear:
We get a lot of questions about what we use to keep our pups' feet warm. In our experiences we haven't had to put on boots because their feet get cold on the pavement, but we do use boots when they are walking on snow-covered sidewalks. Snow will begin collecting on their feet, sometimes becoming ice-like between their toes. They also find the salt scattered on the sidewalks to be painful. We have tried using doggie boots, but it was too difficult for our pooches to keep on, so we just went with the PAWs disposable reusable boots.  We also like these boots for the muddy spring thaw walks when unmentionables start melting out from the snow. We wrote more about our quest for the perfect dog boot, here. 

We also heard a good question about knowing when your dog has had enough of the cold and when you know whether it's time to bring them back in.
For us, our pups will cut the walks short on their own and start pulling in the direction of home.
How does your pooch tell you when they're too cold?

Miss M and Mr. B do the dog-boot dance
What to do inside when it's too cold outside
What we hope was only once in a lifetime.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Pooches: Miss M as Elf on a Shelf

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

The true story.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

DoggyStyle: Minimizing Toy Clutter

One of our ongoing struggles with the pups is living in a smaller space and managing our stuff, the dog stuff, and trying to make sure our home doesn't look too much like an aisle of Petsmart.
Even after spending time cleaning, the pups will keep taking their toys out and leave them laying around so things don't look so clean anymore.
After trying to fight it, I realized that maybe I could find some "pretty" toys that I actually wouldn't mind being left laying around.
Miss M is not very particular about the toys she plays with. She only likes toys to toss in the air and shove in Mr. B's face, so I knew she would cooperate. I picked up some thicker, nicer looking fabric from Ikea and I made her some toy bones.
I'm still learning to sew, but for now they seem good enough for Miss M.
She likes carrying them around and showing them off to Mr. B:
I like that once the toys are abandoned, they actually look nice and blend in with our other pillows and decor.
Can you even see it?
Of course our favorite is still when Miss M decides to clean up after herself and put her own toys away.
Does anyone else have any cute dog toys you would recommend?
Or other ideas to keep things neat?

How we taught Miss M to put her toys away
Personalizing Mr. B's toy bin
More Dog Organization!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Pooches: Admitting When Things Aren't Working

We know how fostering does directly save lives, but we also know that not all pups are going to work for all homes. 
Even for us.
And it makes us feel like we're letting everyone down.
During break, we were so enamored with little Jack Frost and his heartbreaking story we thought we could take him on while we were not at work. We have a soft-spot for older pups, and we thought this little Elder-Shi was the perfect fit. He blends right in.
But we didn't follow our own rule. And while the dogs all get along amazingly, and we love having the little guy, we're realizing we may not be the best foster fit. 
Here's our story about admitting when things aren't working, and what we need to remember to continue having positive foster experiences.

Know what you and your pups can handle
Jack Frost is 'Too Sexy' for his Santa Outfit
We know fostering should be a positive experience for all the pets and people involved. We recognize the types of dogs that do and don't work well with our own pooches. We do know Mr. B gets nervous if dogs try to play with him, so we don't foster younger playful dogs or puppies. We also try to choose males who are more likely to get along with Miss M and her bossiness. 
When we introduced Jack Frost to our pups we realized they all got along. He respected Mr. B's space, eventually chose to lay with Miss M, and he enjoyed hanging out with the pack.
The biggest thing we always check before fostering is making sure we can crate train the pup. Mr. B is allowed to roam free when we're not home, and we don't like leaving pups who are still getting to know each other alone all day. In our excitement over having a smaller dog, we made the terrible stereotype that all small dogs could just be put in a crate or in a room. We soon realized how much our little Jack Frost was just like Mr. B. All he wanted to do was hang out in the house without being contained. And exactly like Mr. B, crates, closed doors, even baby gates made him nervous.

Realize What Can be Worked On...and What isn't Working
We know foster dogs are adjusting to new experiences, and how important it is to help them through the transition. We did work on crate training and trying to see if there was a way we could partition both of the dogs while we were gone. Seeing how neglected he was, I'm guessing Jack Frost spent much of his life contained and even behind a baby gate he was completely miserable. Mr. B also gets anxious if he senses a dog in distress behind a closed door. We knew each dog was completely fine just hanging out in the house, and they had never had a single negative interaction, but I also didn't want to take that 1% chance that unattended Mr. B could race down the hall and smoosh little Frost, or even accidentally sit on him. They are still in the getting-to-know-you phase also.
While we were working on all of this E, who is allergic to cats, realized he was allergic to Jack Frost. As Jack's hair was growing back, E just kept getting more allergic. And we wouldn't be able to have him in the bedroom where all the dogs slept because E was becoming so sick. While we struggled with trying to make it work, we realized the discomfort of E, Mr. B, and Jack Frost might not be worth it.

Work with a Rescue Group you Trust
We know there are some situations where once you commit to fostering, you need to make it work even if it is uncomfortable for the pups and people involved. We unfortunately know someone who was berated when they felt a foster they tested--and didn't even begin fostering--was not a good fit with their dogs. We understand it's disappointing, but it's also not a good idea to force situations.
So many of our positive foster experiences can be attributed to Miss M's rescue group, New Leash on Life Chicago. They recognize the importance of matchmaking--making sure it's a good fit for both the people and the pups--rather than just trying to adopt out dogs. They don't over-extend themselves and they really just want to make sure the fosters are a good fit and they are very honest with their fosters and adopters. They even become familiar with the foster homes and actively seek out dogs knowing what would be a good fit for that home.
While we were sad we couldn't make it work, the rescue group has been working for another placement.

Right now he is staying with a friend, where he can just hang out all day at home. Since she travels a lot, we were hoping to find a more permanent foster home...or even better adoptive home!
We have had some weekend visitation, though we are beyond disappointed that we couldn't see him through to his adoption.
Jack Frost is our 6th foster dog, and I guess we are still learning about what can work in our little home. (Ironically, it was our 90 lb foster pup who was our best fit).
We felt like we were letting little Jack Frost and everyone down.

How much our pups love Jack Frost
Working on Crate Training with a Foster Pup
How we choose Foster Dogs 
Adding a second dog to your home
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