Wordless Wednesday 28: The East Side Gallery

Continuing with lazily sharing photos from our travels earlier this summer, I bring you some art.

The East Side Gallery is a memorial on a long (1.3km) section of the old Berlin Wall and is the world’s largest open air gallery. Originally painted in 1990 (the same year most of the wall was demolished after people became allowed to cross the boundary in November 1989), the paintings were heavily damaged by vandalism and restored/partially repainted by the original artists in 2009. The vandalism continues, but the gallery is still incredible to see.

But that’s a lot of words for Wednesday. Let’s get on with the photos.

I bring you the dogs of the East Side Gallery.

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For the cat people

For the cat people (not part of the official Gallery, but found on the back side of the wall with lots of boring graffiti)

Obviously outside the theme, but c'mon. Incredible. (And a small part of something much larger.)

Obviously outside the theme, but c’mon. Incredible. (And a small part of something much larger.)

Much, much larger

Much, much larger

A real dog playing fetch by the Berlin Wall Memorial on Bernauer Straße

A real dog playing fetch by the Berlin Wall Memorial on Bernauer Straße

If you’re ever debating going to Berlin, just stop. GO.

To see the rest of Wordless Wednesday, click here.

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Wordless Wednesday 27: Dogs in Venice

In our recent travels, one of the cities the Husband and I visited was Venice.

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For a touristy city with little to no green spaces, I was surprised at the number of dogs – all seemingly with owners.

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For a warm, humid place, was a little surprised to see a Bernese Mountain Dog

For a warm, humid place, was a little surprised to see a Bernese Mountain Dog

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Playing fetch

Playing fetch

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Westie going for a canal ride

Westie going for a canal ride

St Mark's Square

St Mark’s Square

Playing ball in the old Jewish Ghetto

Playing ball in the old Jewish Ghetto

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To see the rest of Wordless Wednesday, click here.

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Monday Mischief 25: When the folks are away…

As I mentioned last week, the Husband and I just got back from a nice long holiday abroad.

So, while were off to sites like this:

Brandenburg Gate

…what did Moses and Alma do while we were away?

Well, they both went to hang out with friends.

Moses went to hang out with Crosby and Dion and their family (who you’ve seen here before many times).

Moses and his temporary pack

Moses and his temporary pack

Evidently Moses got up to a bit of mischief – the stick chewer got his jowls on a wooden alphabet block and gnawed it beyond recognition. Not sure which letter, but we know who’s responsible for any potential spelling setbacks.

Who, us?

Who, us?

Trying to keep up with the faster pups

Trying to keep up with the faster pups

Alma had her time split between two places.

First she was off to hang out with Eddy.

Alma & Eddy

Alma & Eddy

It was at Eddy’s house that Alma managed to get her paws on dinner, snagging a ribeye off the counter!

"Sorry I stole your dinner"

“Sorry I stole your dinner”

Then she was off to stay with her buddy Juniper (who’s also made appearances here before), where, like Moses, she also made BFFs with a toddler, earning herself the name “Malma” and taking a dip in the kiddie pool.

Alma & Juniper

Alma & Juniper

Other than the odd bit of mischief, I’ve been assured they were both good houseguests. After so much excitement, I’m sure Moses and Alma are both finding the usual routine kind of boring.

But it’s definitely nice having such great places for Moses and Alma to stay when we go away – we missed them, but it was so nice to not have to stress about their wellbeing!

This post is part of the Mischief Monday blog hop – to see what everyone else has been up to, visit Snoopy’s Dog Blog here, My Brown Newfies here, or Alfie’s Blog here.

monday-mischief

A Dog Park in Pisa

Well, I suppose I should begin by explaining my long absence for the blogosphere (I am so behind on blog reading and am unlikely to catch up). But there’s a good excuse, I promise: the Husband and I went off to western Europe for 24 days.

And it was awesome! We had so much fun and went to so many cool places!

But I didn’t completely forget about the Soapbox while I was away and have some travels to share.

For example, did you know there’s a dog park right next to the Leaning Tower of Pisa?

Me neither!

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I don’t know if it’s an official dog park, but there were quite a few pups gathered there having a great time.

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Perhaps it’s the Capitoline Wolf sculpture that welcomes them?

It depicts the legend of Romulus and Remus (sons of Mars), who were rescued by a she-wolf after being cast into the Tiber River. They were then raised by a shepherd, grew to overthrow their great uncle (as prophesied, hence the banishment in the first place), and eventually established the city of Rome. (Later Romulus kills his brother, often taken to represent the city’s history of conflict.)

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This little dude was chewing on a stick solo nearby, in front of the Pisa Baptistry

This little dude was chewing on a stick solo nearby, in front of the Pisa Baptistry

So, now that I’m back, what’d I miss?!

This post is part of the Thursday Barks & Bytes Blog Hop, hosted by 2 Brown Dawgs and Heart Like a Dog. Go pay a visit to the hosts and check out other hop participants.

Barks&Bytes

Monday Mischief 24: Chow Time!

This weekend, Moses got some company: Homer and Kimbo!

(Alma is off at work with the Husband and wasn’t home to hang out with our visitors.)

Homer, Moses, and Kimbo... I think I need to find a bigger bench

Homer, Moses, and Kimbo… I think I need to find a bigger bench

Moses and Homer go way back to training class when they were pups, and both chows have stayed with us before.

Furry trio

Furry trio

Walking these three sure does draw some attention. I think my favourite comment of the weekend was the lady who thought Moses was the “momma dog” and Homer and Kimbo were “her pups”. Probably the first time Moses has ever been mistaken for a female dog!

So photogenic!

So photogenic!

Homer kept an eye out for mischief in the rain

Homer kept an eye out for mischief, but not much was going on in the rain

And they didn't always cooperate with my photo ops. It's easy to get them to sit. To look in the same direction, however...

And they didn’t always cooperate with my photo ops. It’s easy to get them all to sit. To look in the same direction, however…

Sometimes it's just easier to stick to one-on-one

Sometimes it’s just easier to stick to one-on-one

I think Moses was happy I had other faces to stick the camera in for a couple days, but he wasn’t completely off the hook.

Posing for photos as storm clouds roll in

Posing for photos as storm clouds roll in

This post is part of the Mischief Monday blog hop – to see what everyone else has been up to, visit Snoopy’s Dog Blog here, My Brown Newfies here, or Alfie’s Blog here.

monday-mischief

Walking My Reactive Dog: Part 2

In case you missed it, check out Part 1 here.

So, I’ve been discussing Alma’s on-leash reactivity when seeing other on-leash dogs.

In an effort to fully assess everything, I developed what I’m now calling Alma’s Reactivity Matrix (details in part 1).

Alma's Reactivity Matrix

The point of this is to help assess where we’re at, and where we need to go for all of those boxes to turn green. Or at least yellow – I’d be happy with yellow. And I think green is noble, but probably unrealistic for almost any dog, considering that top right box. But hey, if you’re truly there: kudos. I call Moses our ‘perfect’ dog, but if I did this for him, even his matrix wouldn’t be 100% green.

So, Alma’s reactive. What am I doing about it?

Well, where the situation falls in the matrix really determines my response.

Getting a ‘Hail Mary’ lunging reaction from her is never the goal. If she does that, it’s a clear sign that the situation is too much for her (not to mention it’s not fun to deal with and can often been stressful and embarrassing for me, too).

And the green boxes – while totally awesome – aren’t learning opportunities (for this issue, anyway).

So that leaves me in yellow and orange – preferably yellow, but depending on the environment, it can be a very fine line between the two.

Alma

Alma

Yellow is the perfect learning opportunity – she’s aware of the other dog, but hasn’t lost her mind. She’s still paying attention to me and what I’m doing. I can experiment with proximity and gauge her reaction. If she stays calm, I can reduce distance (which is really what she wants in these situations – she wants to get closer and greet the other dog) and reward calmness.

If she starts to get more excited, we can pause, distract, or create more distance – this both relieves any anxiety or stress she may have about the situation and communicates that her exuberance doesn’t get her what she wants (which is to greet).

And we’ve seen some success. When we first learned Alma was reactive after adopting her, our definitions of proximity were much different – ‘too close’ was way farther away. But, as with all training, over time and as you have success you need to constantly redefine your goals – or redesign your matrix, as it were.

So here are a few of the strategies I’ve employed with Alma.

Note: our standard walking position is always at heel with a loose leash – Alma always walks in stride beside me on a regular 2 metre/6 foot leash. None of this pulling/flexi-leash business. We’ve walked like this since we adopted her, and it’s routine now. She pulls when she’s attached to the cart – that’s it. So the underlying context of these strategies is that she’s close and always starting in a loose leash/heel position.

The Sit & Wait 

Only useful when we’re in the yellow and Alma’s “intensely focused”. Obviously asking her to sit if she’s bouncing or lunging and completely overwhelmed isn’t a good option. It just won’t work; she won’t even hear the word. But when she’s still in tune with me, asking her to sit can be a great distraction.

But this is only if the proximity will never get too close. But if the dog is across the street, we’re usually fine.

Often, if the dog is approaching, I’ll have her sit with her back towards the dog and facing me. Then I’m still able to keep an eye on the other dog and owner, and Alma has to strain a bit to watch them – it’s harder for her to really focus on them looking over her shoulder. Once they pass, we continue on our way.

Alma working on a sit-stay

Alma working on a sit-stay

Changing Pace

Also useful in the yellow sections. This mostly means speeding up to jog past the distracting dog. If we’re moving quickly, Alma has to pay attention to me and where I’m going. Sure, she gets a little excited with the faster movement, but it’s excitement about me and what I’m doing, it’s not reactivity based on the other dog’s presence.

Unfortunately, if Moses is there too this doesn’t work as well. It’s like jogging with a piano tied to your ass. He’s got one walk speed – lumbering – and he likes it that way.

Moses' take on exercise

Moses’ take on exercise

Hide-n-Seek

If we’ve gotten to the orange section – or I think we might get there – I’m not above waiting behind a parked car for the distraction to pass. I’ve also definitely used this to gain some reprieve after Alma goes for a ‘Hail Mary’ too. Sure, the other owner might think I’m nuts, but that’s their problem, not mine.

Changes of Direction

I’ll use this in both the yellow and orange boxes – if I notice Alma’s escalated to orange (bouncing), my first step is always to change direction, create distance and get some focus back on me.

Back and forth direction changes while another dog is gaining proximity is a great way, I’ve found, to keep Alma in the yellow while distance is closing in. She’ll still keep an eye on them, but we’re able to create a situation where she knows they’re there and getting closer, but is still paying attention to me and staying relatively calm.

Even a quick left or right is helpful to maintain focus and calm, while creating some distance between us and the other dog.

Dr. Sophia Yin has this really great resource on changing direction (and speed), which I would highly recommend checking out by visiting this link.

Caution: if you’re walking two dogs, pay attention to where your other dog – and their leash – is, before you just suddenly change direction and potentially walk into them. Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything….

Moses

Moses

Get the Hell Outta There

In the orange – and definitely in the red – my strategy is simple: leave.

Alma weighs about 100lbs. If she’s lunging for another dog, my best option is just to head the other way and create as much distance between her and the dog as necessary to get her to let go of her focus on the dog and pay attention to me again.

Especially because, in my experience, the other dog’s owner isn’t going to be much help. Upon seeing Alma get excited and bounce (orange), people have stopped and watched, or decided it’s a good time to try to talk to us. To that I say: WTF! Keep it moving, nothing to see here.

Schmidt demonstrates this technique

Schmidt demonstrates this technique

Complete Avoidance

Say we’re in the green, or not even in a situation covered in the matrix. I see another dog way on the horizon way before Alma’s even aware of them, and instead of continuing on in that direction, I’ll just head the other way.

Do we learn anything here? Nope. Reactions are prevented, sure, but this does nothing to help Alma work through it.

But you know what? Sometimes that’s okay.

Sometimes. It’s not a beneficial tactic to take all the time – or often – because you won’t improve, but everyone has days where they’re just not up for it. You’re tired, or sick, or just not of the capacity to deal with a reactive dog. That’s fine.

It’s hard work! It can be stressful and frustrating and embarrassing, and I admit there are nights when I’m just not interested. Rather than put myself – and Alma – in a situation that might not go well if I’m not up for it, I just won’t.

We all have those days from time to time

We all have those days from time to time

Granted, it’s mostly unavoidable; we live in the ‘burbs and see other on-leash dogs on almost all of our walks, so it’s always better to be prepared and optimistic than resigned (a certain amount of dog training, like anything, is a self-fulfilling prophecy).

But it’s still okay to take the odd night off. (Not from walking! Just from reactivity.)

And that’s about it.

There are lots of ways to work with a reactive dog; these are the ones I’ve found to work for Alma.

But, like I said, this is Alma-specific. This could be the completely wrong or unhelpful approach for a different dog. All reactive dogs – their triggers, their reactions, their owners, and their environments – are different.

So this isn’t advice. Or data. It’s an anecdote. Take from it what you will.

In the meantime, Alma and I will continue working to change the colours of those red and orange boxes.

What about you? Are you dealing with a reactive dog? What strategies do you find helpful?

This post is part of the Thursday Barks & Bytes Blog Hop, hosted by 2 Brown Dawgs and Heart Like a Dog. Go pay a visit to the hosts and check out other hop participants.

Barks&Bytes

Walking My Reactive Dog: Part 1

I’ve mentioned before that Alma has some on-leash reactivity when we see other on-leash dogs, but I haven’t gone into any great detail about it. Well, now is as good a time as any.

(Soggy) Alma

(Soggy) Alma

But first things first; if my philosophy degree taught me anything, it’s this: define your terms!

Reactivity as I use it here is an umbrella term for any behaviour that results from stimuli, whether the reaction is a result of anxiety, aggression, fear, exuberance, stress, excitement… you name it. If your dog’s behaviour routinely suddenly changes in a manner that you need to/should address, they’re reactive.

Important: reactivity ≠ aggressive! Reactivity is a popular dog training buzzword these days, thanks in part to our favourite TV dog trainers, lending itself to be misused and misunderstood. Aggression is just one form of reactivity.

Alma’s reactivity is more of the stressed/exuberant form. She sees another dog on-leash and she’s excited to go greet and frustrated that she can’t, with both dogs being confined to leashes. The lack of control of the situation and her inability to do what she wants generates a reaction.

She can get excited to see off-leash dogs, too, but if she’s off-leash, there’s no problem. If she’s on-leash and the other dog is off-leash, still less of a reaction. Leashes – a necessity and important safety tool, certainly, but also a complicating factor in dog behaviour.

Alma’s reactivity is limited to dogs. We’re lucky that way. Cars, bikes, skateboards, birds, squirrels, hares, people, she’s all cool with or ignores.

There are four stages (I’ve decided) in which Alma’s reactivity manifests:

1. Mild Notice: Alma sees the other dog and watches them; her ears will perk up (as much as they do) and she’ll close her mouth, but she’ll continue to check in with you, too. Her body language is still loose and relaxed.

2. Intense Focus: She’s no longer regularly checking in with you; she’s focused on the other dog intently and starts anticipating what might be next; her body language is stiff and she’s panting heavily; she might start creeping out of the standard heel position we walk in.

3. Bouncing: Alma can no longer contain her excitement/anxiety; she’s still panting heavily and starts bouncing up and down beside you, which, when walking a 100lb Newfoundland is both odd and ridiculous. Strangely, she usually still maintains a loose leash and heel position.

Alma, Stage 3

Alma, Stage 3

4. The Hail Mary: Alma decides enough is enough and she’s going to try to take the situation into her own hands; she lunges in the direction of the target dog. You’ve pushed your luck with boundaries and thresholds if you let it get this far.

In addition to Alma’s reaction scale is a proximity scale. The proximity of the other on-leash dog to Alma impacts the intensity of her reaction.

My assessment of proximity comes from experience and working on this with Alma – the scale is very specific to her and can shift depending on the environment. It’s also shifted as we’ve worked on reducing her reactivity. But this is where I’m at today on my walks with her.

Too Close: The same sidewalk, a single-lane hiking trail, or basically within 5 metres/16 feet of the other dog (the length of two standard 6 foot leashes and their dogs, basically; greeting territory). The point on working with Alma on her reactivity is to diminish what is ‘too close’ so that it’s barely negligible. We’ve shrunk it, for sure, but we’ve still got work to do.

Close: Directly across the street (streets are about 40 feet/12 metres wide on average) or an equivalent distance in a green space or park.

Not Close: The dog is visible, but still off in the distance a bit. I’d say about a block/50m/165 feet away. Anything further away than this really isn’t an issue at all.

My last scale is the level of the distraction. This is based on what the other dog is doing, because in conjunction with proximity, the intensity of Alma’s reactivity is also heavily dependent upon what the other dog is doing.

Low: If the other dog is relaxed and mostly ignoring Alma, her reaction is substantially diminished. This means the other dog has loose body language, a loose leash, and isn’t giving her a lot of eye contact. There aren’t many of these dogs in our neighbourhood. Dogs walking away from us also lowers their level of distraction.

Medium: The dog is staring at Alma/giving a lot of eye contact, has stiff/erect body posture, and is moving in her direction. Consistent eye contact/staring from another dog is a key factor in whether or not Alma will react. Basically, the other dog is giving Alma intense focus, as I’ve described on her scale above.

High: The other dog is reacting: barking, pulling at the end of the leash, for example. Another dog overreacting to stimuli definitely encourages a reciprocal response from Alma. Dogs headed straight for us in close proximity are definitely a high distraction level.

Now, working in the corporate world, I do like my charts and graphs. Because who doesn’t love a good matrix, amiright?

So I’ve decided to take all of the rankings I just did when thinking about Alma’s reactivity and put them into a visual.

Behold! Alma’s Reactivity Matrix:

Alma's Reactivity Matrix

There you have it. Pretty rad, right?

Sure, this isn’t useful to anyone but me (I think even the Husband’s Alma Matrix would look a bit different), but I actually found working through this very interesting when characterizing Alma’s reactivity, her triggers, and prompting objective consideration about the whole thing. It really puts on paper where we’re at and where we want to be, and forces some specific reflection.

If you’re an analytical thinker with a reactive dog, I recommend giving this exercise a try.

I was going to continue on to discuss my responses to Alma’s reactivity and what I do to mitigate situations, but I think I’ve gone on long enough for today.

Stay tuned for Part 2!

No, Our Dogs Can’t Meet

It was as if they were waiting for the press release.

The same evening the local news ran stories about urban coyotes actively denning in Calgary (and thus being a risk for dog owners) was the same evening an urban coyote in our own neighbourhood began following me, Moses, and Alma on our evening walk.

A long time reader may recall this has happened before to a much greater degree, and my chosen solution ever since has been to carry an air horn when walking the dogs in the dark. The air horn is a great deterrent and scares them off so you can leave and give them some space. I wouldn’t recommend it for those who walk fearful dogs, but neither Moses nor Alma fall into that category, making it a great solution for us.

Of course, just because I have an air horn doesn’t mean I’m going to walk through coyote territory every night. As long as they’re denning (and thus threatened by big dogs such as Moses and Alma – hence the interest in our presence), we’ll cut that area out of the itinerary for evening walks, for about the next month or two.

Given that my weeknight dog walks often end up being post-sunset (I’m busy, a procrastinator, or both), this means we are left sticking to the densely residential streets of our neighbourhood.

And if my suburb is anything like yours, you know that means it’s littered with barky little dogs on the end of flexi-leashes. And some barky medium-sized ones, too. Yes, even at 10:00pm.

Barky dogs on flexi-leashes - an accurate portrayal

Barky dogs on flexi-leashes – an accurate portrayal

Having walked the dogs regularly for so long, I’ve come to recognize most other neighbourhood dog walkers and from which general areas they will emerge. One condo complex in particular can produce a little barky dog on a flexi-leash in whatever colour you desire: white, grey, black, brown… there’s (at least) one of each.

Now, I do not permit on-leash greetings with my dogs very often, if ever. I always want Moses and Alma to have positive interactions with other dogs. If I can’t guarantee that, I’m inclined to err on the side of caution and not have any greeting. Especially when it comes to agitated dogs who seem put off by Moses’ and Alma’s sizes alone.

In the case of dogs on flexi-leashes, that often means remaining across the street. Even if Moses has no response to these dogs barking and straining on their retractable contraptions (aside from the odd glance over at the commotion, he just keeps on truckin’, not even an ear perk most times).

This strategy recently bewildered one neighbourhood small dog/flexi-leash owner in particular. She’s a regular – we usually see her and her barky little dog a few times a week.

Each time, Moses and I walk past, her dog barks and pulls. Each time, she pauses to watch us walk by. And, each time, she coos at her dog: “shhhh… it’s okay… be nice… you just want to be friends, don’t you? It’s okay….”

We just keep walking.

One night in particular, we reached a junction to find her and her flexi-leash loitering there. Depending on which direction she and her dog would choose to go next would determine what Moses and I would do to avoid them.

So, while her dog barked and pulled towards us, I just asked Moses to sit so we could wait and see what direction she was heading.

She must’ve thought I was nuts.

Her dog continued to bark and pull, and her typical high-pitched attempt to sooth her dog (“shhhh… quiet… it’s okay… he’s a friendly dog”), did exactly what it always does; i.e., nothing.

We continued to wait patiently.

Then she picked up her dog – who continued to bark – and started towards us.

“Can they say hi?” she hollered towards me.

“No, thank you,” I quickly replied. Then I crossed the street with Moses, leaving her behind us holding her still-barking dog.

All of that greeting she’d requested seemed like a bad idea. Barking dog. Being carried. Oblivious owner. Flexi-leash.

Nope, not going to happen.

If her dog freaked out even more, or something went sour, do you know whose fault it is? It’s the giant black dog’s fault. It’s always the big dog’s fault. Or, more accurately, it’s always the big dog’s owner’s fault. So, no, thanks.

I like to set up for success, not failure.

We saw her again a couple of nights after this happened.

We were across the street heading in opposite directions, and I stuck to our usual plan of keep walking/no greetings.

As usual, her dog barked at us.

And, as usual, she began talking to it.

“Shhh…. Be quiet…. It’s okay… that lady doesn’t WANT you to be friends with her big dog… yes… even though you’re really nice… it’s okay… she doesn’t like us.”

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Now, I’m not one for confrontation, so I just passive-aggressively made eye contact with her instead of shouting “IF YOUR DOG WAS BETTER BEHAVED MAYBE THEY COULD BE FRIENDS” like I was tempted to.

But that’s okay.

We just kept walking and I started writing a post much like this one in my head.

She’d soon get some perspective, however.

Last week I was walking Moses and Alma and we passed this very same lady and her barky dog.

And you know when you’re just having one of those ‘off’ nights? You’re cranky or tired and walking the dogs mostly because it’s your responsibility and obligation even though you’re not really in the mood?

And then to top it off the dog is excited by EVERYTHING?

Yeah, we were having one of those nights. I don’t know if it was the wind or the recent snow melt, but Alma was jazzed by everything. OMG – a bunny! OMG – I must sniff this! OMG – we’re walking and it’s the best!

Alma

Alma

Her enthusiasm is adorable…  if you’re prepared for it.

You see, one of the things we continue to work on with Alma is her reaction when she’s on leash and sees other on-leash dogs. There have been marked improvements since we got her, and the overall trend is good, but we still have occasional off nights.

On those off nights, she gets incredibly excited. She pants heavily, she bolts towards the other dog, and she bounces up and down like she’s on a trampoline. She’s very exuberant and – I think – frustrated that there’s another dog just RIGHT THERE, but the stupid leash won’t let her do what she wants.

If you’re on your game, anticipate it, and handle it well, this reaction can be mitigated. If you’re, say, tired and cranky and not on the ball, the reaction can get the best of you.

The latter was the case this time.

Alma was excitable and I was slow to see the dog and do anything about it before she could. I could’ve stopped. I could’ve turned around. I could’ve asked the dogs to sit. But I didn’t do any of that and we walked right into it.

As soon as the dog saw us, it barked and pulled per the normal course. And as soon as Alma saw this, she went for it.

And I mean WENT for it.

She used all 100+ pounds of her to sprint towards the lady and her dog – Moses and I bewildered and in tow behind her.

By the time I recovered my balance, we were a few steps off the sidewalk and onto the road. The little barky dog still barked. The owner stared at this commotion in surprise. (Though, it’s not like my dog was exhibiting any worse behaviour than her dog, it’s just that my dog is bigger.)

I got my wits about me, got everyone back on the sidewalk, and ducked our little pack behind a parked car to take a moment. I heard the lady tell her dog “shhh… quiet… let’s keep going.”

Good call.

Now when we see her on our walks, she continues on her way. Her dog still barks at us, but she no longer pauses and talks to her dog about being nice or the potential to be friends.

Because maybe you don’t want to be friends with everyone.

And some times, people have a good reason for not being friends with you.

Barks&BytesThis post is part of the Thursday Barks & Bytes Blog Hop, hosted by 2 Brown Dawgs and Heart Like a Dog. Go pay a visit to the hosts and check out other hop participants.

Monday Mischief 23: The Porcupine Strikes Back

It may be tempting to cry ‘mischief’ on behalf of mother nature, since the past two weekends we’ve had significant snowfalls, but the truth is, April is the second-snowiest month for Calgary, after March.

Alma enjoying the snow

Alma enjoying the snow

But in true Calgary form, it’s gone as quickly as it arrives, and we’ve also had some nice weather for spending time outside.

Moses and Joshua (my parents' dog, who were visiting)

Moses and Joshua (my parents’ dog, who were visiting for Easter)

Moses

Moses

Photo shoot crashers!

Photo shoot crashers!

Now, regular readers might remember that Moses had his first ever porcupine encounter in January at this very same off-leash park (click here for the story). No real meeting occurred thanks to my frantic interception quick and graceful thinking, but it was close.

What I did not think of since was now Moses knows the scent for porcupine.

So, as we’re heading back to the car, that wasn’t my first thought when Moses scampered down an embankment. I figured maybe he’d spotted a squirrel or chipmunk – which he’ll go after, despite having no hope in hell at catching one. We’d already walked past that exact spot once without incident, and it was the middle of the afternoon, so I wasn’t initially concerned.

When I heard him breaking through thick brush, it hit me – what else have we seen in the park? A porcupine!

This time Moses had a head start. And a lower clearance to make it through the brush quicker.

By the time I caught up, the porcupine had wedged itself in the centre of a dense bush, back to Moses, and head down, hoping we’ll just leave him alone.

Porcupine defence strategy

Porcupine defence strategy

Since I wasn’t as quick as I was last time, Moses had a few seconds to do whatever he was going to do to the porcupine without interruption.

And it was just as I had expected.

He sniffed it.

That’s it.

I got there and Moses looked at me, looked at the porcupine, wagged his tail, and looked back at me.

He was so thrilled he made a new friend. (The porcupine felt otherwise.)

So thrilled, he didn’t even notice he got these:

Still oblivious.

Still oblivious.

So I leashed him back up and we took our walk of shame back up the hill to the path.

Then I inspected the damage. Four quills. That’s it. LUCKY.

They weren’t in deep – barely hanging on – so I dealt with them then and there and pulled them out. Moses didn’t even wince.

Back in the parking lot, I did a full face and mouth inspection looking for more and found none.

Hardy a trace of mischief left

Hardy a trace of mischief left

Since weekends are when I try to walk the dogs separately, Alma wasn’t there. And I’m glad. I really have no idea how she’d react to a porcupine – or to receiving a couple of quills – but I do know she’s not as easy going as Moses. I’m not keen to find out what she’d do.

A dog-porcupine interaction is rarely fatal for dogs, but frequently results in harm to the porcupine. I'd hate for one of my dogs to be the cause of that. Look at this baby porcupine - look how adorable!

Look at this adorable baby porcupine. A dog-porcupine interaction is rarely fatal for dogs, but frequently results in harm to the porcupine. I’d hate for one of my dogs to be the cause of that. Make sure if you have a dog/porcupine incident you make sure the porcupine is okay, too! There’s more than likely a local wildlife rehabilitation centre to call if not.

This post is part of the Mischief Monday blog hop – to see what everyone else has been up to, visit Snoopy’s Dog Blog here, My Brown Newfies here, or Alfie’s Blog here.

monday-mischief

When NOT to Get a Dog

I am always happy to help people look at the cute dog and puppy photos in adoption listings when they want to add a new or another canine to the family. The thought that another dog will be able to leave the rescue system and find a happy new home is always a positive one.

This adorable pup, Mara, is currently adoptable through ARF - Alberta Rescue Foundation

This adorable pup, Mara, is currently adoptable through ARF – Alberta Rescue Foundation

So when a coworker recently asked for assistance on this very issue, my gut reaction was enthusiasm. Sure! There are lots of great rescues in the Calgary area to look at!

But that positivity immediately waned.

Upon further consideration of the specific circumstances surrounding this adoption enthusiasm, it immediately occurred to me that helping look at dog profiles possibly wasn’t sending the right message in this case.

Now, people are going to do what they’re going to do. And maybe definitely it’s none of my business. But when I get asked for advice, I want to give good, appropriate advice. And my former stint as a dog trainer means I still get asked for advice frequently enough. So, despite my better judgment, I often give it (in my experience, few people actually act upon it, and then complain to me further later, so really this is just an exercise in self-disappointment).

So this has me thinking: adopting a dog is great, BUT it’s not always the right thing to do.

This is Emily. She is currently adoptable through AARCS. I find her canine version of RBF hilarious.

This is Emily. She is currently adoptable through AARCS. I find her canine version of RBF hilarious.

Here’s when you shouldn’t get another dog:

1. When you don’t have positive things to say about your current dog. If you frequently complain about your current dog’s habits – or lack of habits – you should probably work with the dog you have before you add another to the mix. Don’t like how your current dog doesn’t play fetch with the kids or go on walks? Those are all “problems” you fostered as an owner and can be worked on with the current dog – it doesn’t warrant replacing them.

2. When you’re getting the second dog to keep the first one company. Think the new dog will keep the old one entertained? Maybe. But the new dog will also pick up on the habits of the old dog – the ones you like, AND the ones you don’t like. The result? Two dogs to complain about. Example? Alma learned to lift her leg to pee – and marking behaviours – from Moses when we adopted her. No, not a huge deal. But still. Weird. Get your first dog where you’d like behaviour-wise before adding another canine to the mix.

3. When you’re promising extravagant changes. Don’t get out much? Don’t walk the current dog but you’ll definitely walk the new one every day? Sure, that’s possible. But, like failed January resolutions, it’s also (more) likely you’ll continue the well-ingrained habit of no dog walking at all. Get the routine changed first before you make the big commitment to another living being.

4. When not everyone is on the same page. Some want a puppy. Some want to adopt an adult. Some want a big dog. Some want a medium-sized dog. Some want a dog that’s super active. Some want one that will be calm in the house. Some don’t know what they want. You really need to figure out what works best for your family before impulsively adopting a dog that won’t fit. The whole family needs to be on the same page about everything both before the adoption and after – going to puppy classes, reinforcing training rules, reinforcing house rules, etc.

5. When the dog is for someone in particular. First, living things don’t make great gifts. Second, you think he’s going to be your child’s dog, but you’re wrong. He might be the family dog, but he’s also going to be adults’ responsibility. A young child can’t be in charge of long daily walks when the dog is bigger or stronger than them and when they’re not allowed past the end of the street unsupervised. You – the parents – will primarily be the ones walking, training, feeding, grooming, cleaning up after… all of that. Your kid might make bold promises, but, even if well-intentioned, they will likely be short lived. Trust me, I know. This is how I conned my parents into a second cat when I was 14. Maybe they should’ve taken me up on my threat to “never speak to them AGAIN!” (Aren’t teenage girls just the worst.)

6. When there’s change afoot. Stressed? Busy schedules? Changing jobs? Moving? Kids changing school schedules and extracurricular activities? Introducing a new dog to chaos isn’t exactly fair to them or you. Wait till life settles down and if you still want to adopt, do it then.

7. When your current dog isn’t well socialized. Like point 1, you need to make sure your current dog has good manners before expecting her to share her house, her toys, her space, her family with another dog. A second dog is going to be a big adjustment for your first one, and you can’t ignore how they respond to the transition.

8. When you don’t have time. A second dog isn’t 50% more work; it’s at least 100% more work. Definitely more if you’re getting a puppy. Now you have two mouths to feed. Two vet bills to pay. Two poops to scoop. Sure, you can walk them both together… most of the time. But now you have two dogs, they each deserve one-on-one time on a regular basis, even if that just means individual walks on weekends. And if you get dogs with different exercise and training needs – definitely more work.

9. When you haven’t fully thought it out. Sure, you saw a cute pup at a local adoptathon and the kids fell in love. As hard as they may try with their screening processes, rescues can’t weed out all impulse adopters. Even if the process goes for a week or more, the decision itself to adopt can still be impulsive. You need to more than sleep on it. You need to be realistic about what a second dog entails. And you need to pay more than lip service to the responsibilities.

10. When you (and your family) have some things to learn about dogs, interacting with dogs, and dog behaviour. Don’t tell me how “adorable” it was when your toddler walked up and hugged a strange dog in a pet store and expect me not to dust off the soapbox and launch into a lecture about kids and dogs and strange dogs and greeting dogs… I’m getting worked up just thinking about it.

Somtimes I feel like I could share this graphic by Dr. Sophia Yin every day and it wouldn’t be enough.

11. When you’re getting said dog from a pet store or an online marketplace like Kijiji or Craigslist. If you need an explanation here, I have nothing more to say to you.

So, in the case of my coworker, I’ve changed my tune, specifically highlighting several of the points I made above. Will she take the advice? We’ll see. It’s hard to pull people back to logical thinking when they’ve got adorable puppies in their crosshairs.

A quote I think of frequently when I resolve to be bluntly honest.

A quote I think of frequently when I resolve to be bluntly honest.

Will at Marking Your Territory made a good, relevant point on this very subject earlier this week, when he wrote “Don’t wait for the ‘right time’ to get a pet“. The point isn’t to get a dog in spite of all the problematic circumstances I’ve listed above; it’s to change your circumstances. Or, in Will’s words: “Don’t wait for the right time, make it the right time!”

This is great advice. For example, is your current dog somehow an obstacle to you wisely adding a second dog to your house? That’s completely within your power to change as you work towards training and socializing your first dog in preparation for the next one.

These things are almost always in our own hands – and it’s only fair to you, your current dog, and any potential new dog that you make the smartest decision, not the impulsive emotional one (sometimes those can be the same thing).

This post is part of the Thursday Barks & Bytes Blog Hop, hosted by 2 Brown Dawgs and Heart Like a Dog. Go pay a visit to the hosts and check out other hop participants.

Barks&Bytes

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