|When I still lived in Chicago a few years ago, I went to a yoga class in February. The instructor started class by offering gratitude for being on our mats. Then, she gave thanks for the gray day we had, saying that rather than grumble about the wet, cold, dark day to look at the dreary clouds as a cashmere blanket wrapping us up.|
I wasn’t buying it, it was only 5 pm, but it felt like midnight. That time of year always makes me want to make a pot of soup that I can eat all week. Then spend the rest of the time hiding under the covers until the sun shines, even a tiny bit, throughout the day. However, I chose to build my life in a place where it feels wet and dark a random portion of the year, no matter what time of day it is. So, rather than grumble about it, I got myself a happy light.
As I walked Gavin this Sunday, it made me think about how dogs are our happy lights. They beckon us to rest, with come-snuggle eyes, when our bodies are tired, yet our neverending to-do list tempts us. They kiss away tears when we’re sad. They get us moving, outside for a walk, when we need external motivation to enjoy nature and the sheer joy of being healthy enough to put one foot in front of the other. They make us laugh, getting us out of our overactive minds, by eagerly waiting for us to throw the ball then clumsily pouncing on it before deciding whether or not to bring it back.
The weather is cooling here in Ohio, which means Gavin needs an extra layer for every ten degrees the temperature drops. Even sweatered up, my fellow cold-weather wimp’s love for people doesn’t waver.
He still wiggled and squirmed for my neighbor when she was taking her laundry downstairs. She stopped and oohed and awed over him while she told me that every time she saw him, his happiness made her day. Then, while we strolled through the neighborhood, a woman stopped her car, and baby talked to Gavin about how cute he was in his sweater. He obliged by smiling and doing his “I-don’t-know-you-but-I-love-you” dance.
I can’t take credit for my dog’s sweetness nor his charm. But, I consider myself lucky so many moments throughout the day that I experience his light and happiness. And, it makes my day when he brightens someones else’s.
When problems arise, my natural tendency is to will and grit my way through a resolution but, I’ve been trying to approach life with more ease and grace this year, stumbling along the way, of course. It’s taken a bit of time to get into a groove, in our new kitchen, so our production has been lower than what we’d built in the shared rent-by-the-hour space. We’re selling out of everything within a week of making it.
In theory, this is a wonderful problem to have. However, I deeply care about my customers’ experiences and have been trying to figure out how to keep all five flavors in stock in the short term while building a long-term plan for when we offer subscriptions and variety packs. Among the many solutions that my Capricorn brain has concocted was getting up at 5 am on Thursdays and Fridays to make small batches on my own. By myself, it takes about six hours to make 100 pouches, so, in theory, great idea.
But, I don’t want to be the “time to make the donuts guy,” I want to continue loving what I do. Plus, my processes are incredibly intricate, and I need to be 100% to measure my pH throughout blending and be fully present while I triple-check temperature throughout the cooking stages.
So, I ask, please bear with me. I’m getting closer every day to having the photos/website/branding finished so that I can be 100% focused on improving efficiency with grace, ease, and love. I’m trying to find the right vendors to deliver at least some of the ingredients, so I’m spending less time running to every grocery store in the Columbus area because, well, life’s too short to spend it in our cars and waiting in line. And, along the way, I’m also trying to be a better dog mom, daughter, sister, friend, girlfriend, boss, and whatever role I play in peoples’ lives.
Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for trusting me and buying every pouch I’m making. I don’t take your trust lightly, and when I make a small batch of salmon and ricotta today by myself, I’ll blend, cook, and fill every pouch with love.
|When there’s too much change, even the good kind, Gavin gets a stressy belly and becomes a full-on grass munching moo-cow. I can usually prevent it by proactively playing his favorite games, running through fun training exercises, or pulling something from his arsenal of anxiety-reducing stuff (all approved or recommended by our trusted veterinarians.) |
But, despite my best efforts Saturday morning, Gavin couldn’t stop incessantly eating weeds and grass on our walk. I worried about pesticides and the potential harmfulness of the sod itself so, I went to do the only thing that really relaxes him, sit on the ground next to him.
We were in a spot where people often leave poop behind, so I was trying to quickly assess the ground to prevent adding absolute ickiness to the situation when a car pulled up, and a man asked me something about where the river was. I said, “my dog is struggling right now, I’m sorry, but I can’t help.” The man yelled/said something that didn’t sound nice, which didn’t make me feel any better.
We sat in the parkway until Gavin bounced up on his own and resumed our walk (going home would seem like a great option, but that’s a change and stresses him out.) I watched Gavin the whole walk and worried about him, wondering what I missed that caused our voracious grass-eating setback while praising him for every sniff, wiggle, and relaxed body language.
The next day, I could feel the tension building in my belly as I prepared for our walk. I come from a long line of people who demonstrate love by worrying. But, the retired dog trainer in me knew that any strain and stress I carried with us would affect Gavin so, I sat down on his dog bed and invited him over.
I gave him a stuffie to kill, which he loves. As Gavin ripped and murmured and spit out pieces and parts of his Rose’ All Day toy, I relaxed because I was enjoying my dog enjoying himself. Our walk wasn’t perfect, but it was much better. Gavin carried his favorite toys and happily ate from his Bark Pouch when he walked away from brush and greenery.
As we headed home, a lovely man stopped and asked me if the path continued for a long distance, in the direction he was walking. I told him that it did, but it was confusing to find, there were many underpasses, and it was much less populated, so I wouldn’t recommend walking it alone. The man thanked me and walked back towards downtown. And, I was happy about being able to help that time because I was able to let go.
|It’s amazing how the dog(s) in our life helps us find and become the people we’re meant to be. When Finn was still here, our walks were long and fast. My lug loved to move. And, while he liked people, he was more interested in the walk, so he breezed past human pedestrians with a happy glance. I needed the silence, I was training dogs at the time, and our walks were time to replenish my introverted energy. |
Gavin, on the other hand, loves him some people. Anytime, anywhere. And, I enjoy the random encounters we have after a nice stranger indulges his need to wiggle, smack them with his tail, and love on them because now my job requires a lot of alone and focus time.
Wednesday morning, Gavin and I had just finished his ten-minute decompression time/water break/snuggle session at the park when I noticed a man walking towards us with a woman in a wheelchair. The woman and Gavin both were so excited to meet each other that I could barely contain Gavin as I walked towards the sidewalk where they stopped. The man’s eyes sparkled, and he had one of those smiles that seemed so natural, he may not have even been aware he was beaming.
I learned that her name is Robin, and she has aphasia (a condition affecting her ability to communicate). When Gavin approached her, she grinned, leaned over, and petted him like they were old friends. Gavin continued his usual wiggle-shimmy-I-love-you dance while she rubbed his side then looked towards me. She pointed at my leggings, which had photos of dogs on them, including Gavin. I explained that they were part of a fundraiser for Faithful Forgotten Best Friends, an organization run by a lifelong family friend that helps homeless and low-income people by providing food and medical care for their pets. Robin’s smile grew bigger. The man’s eyes sparkled more. And Gavin continued to show them what a lovebug he is.
We said our goodbyes, and Gavin and I walked a bit further, and I stopped again to give him more water. As I sat on the grass, under the shade of a tree with Gavin, I turned around, not knowing why. And, I saw Robin waving emphatically from the window as the smiling, sparkling man drove them out of the park.
If it weren’t for my amiable dog, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet those two beautiful people. May your next encounter be just as joyous.
Gavin was a big factor in where we’re currently living. We’d lived for five years without a backyard, and I knew he’d love having a safe space to lounge outside during warm months. And, our walk path is perfect for him, we pass only a few houses (fewer dogs to bark at him from windows), we see tons of people who want to pet him (his fave), and our path is popular with bicyclists, so, it’s rare that we encounter off-leash dogs (his fear).
It’s not uncommon for those of us who love our dogs to do what doesn’t come easy for us. When I trained dogs, I was always in awe of my clients’ sacrifices to help make life easier for their dogs. Some moved to quieter neighborhoods, so they encountered fewer triggers when walking. Some isolated themselves to manage stranger danger better. Some arose at ridiculously early hours to avoid crowds.
Shoot, even positive leash training is tough. I still remember trying to learn how to simultaneously talk to Finn, pay attention to what he was communicating, be uber aware of our surroundings, all while walking and treating. It was exhausting, and I’m sure he was confused while I figured out what I was doing.
So, this holiday weekend, while I chill with Gavin in his man cave, I’ll raise a glass to you. I commend you extroverts who turned down plans to stay home with your dog during fireworks. I celebrate you night owls who get up far earlier than your body prefers to beat the heat. And, I praise you if you’re learning to leash train for the first time or with a dog who’s new to you. It’s laborious multi-tasking, but it gets easier, I promise.
Up until last summer, Gavin and both worked hard to keep him relaxed and happy on walks. He’s unbelievably sensitive and doesn’t handle ANY change well AT ALL—no matter how intricately I planned and managed his walk times. A helicopter flying overhead, a lawnmower starting, or a dog getting too close despite my asking (sometimes pleading) the human for more space would cause him to need decompression time.
But, lately, it’s been dreamy. I still reward Gavin, give him space from random dogs, and sit with him in predictable spots because it helps him and reminds him that he can always trust me. But, our walks are less work, they’re easier, for both of us. And, the weather has been absolutely perfect for a Midwest summer, not too hot or humid.
Yet, I caught myself yesterday feeling stressed after our walk because the majority of the time, I was crunching numbers in my head for a couple of places I’m considering moving our kitchen. The move will help us be more efficient, productive, and in the long run, will be more cost-effective. But, in the short term will be expensive and a ton of work.
And, I thought, why would I rob myself of time I’ve worked hard to enjoy? Why would I miss these magical moments with my dog to think about something I really couldn’t finish until I sat in front of my computer again? Why is it so darn hard for us humans to allow ourselves to just be in the moment?
So, today, on our walk, every time I thought of my to-do list or planning my day, I took a deep breath, and I let it go. Then I listened, really listened, to the birds chirping, the leaves rustling in the breeze. Even the distant highway noises had a meditative quality to them.
When Gavin stopped to sniff (as he frequently does), I didn’t check my phone. I wondered, with curiosity, what he smelled. Then I felt a smile naturally grace my face as he trotted a little faster to catch up with a walker that we often pass. I was happier after our walk, and because I felt refreshed, I was much more productive. I don’t want to miss my time with my dog, precious time looking at his face, sharing his delight, and feeling the connection that we’ve built together over the years.
So, I hope my setback in finding more peace helps revive yours. May you be in the moment the next time you play with your dog. May you laugh when your dog does something silly, mischievous, or looks at you with the cutest derpy face. And, may you feel the love you share, whether it’s new and budding or whether it’s a bond that you’ve treasured for years.
|My sister and mom made this photo set of my beloved Finn and my sweetheart Gavin. I see it every morning when I wake. It’s my reminder of why I do what I do. I love walks, specifically with my dog.|
My lug, my Finn, created that love. His endless energy, adventurous spirit, and into-everything-naughtiness inspired me to walk him, A LOT. It was bonding time, great exercise, and I noticed my mind was clearer and calmer after our strolls. One night, we were attacked by two dogs who pulled their person across the street to fight Finn. It was noisy, scary, and heartbreaking. Fortunately, we were both physically unscathed, but our walks changed. Finn was scared (for a good reason) and began barking and lunging at every dog we saw, even from blocks away.
I wanted to help him, to ease his stress, so I began calling trainers. One trainer told me that he could completely fix Finn’s reactivity with a shock collar. I knew absolutely nothing about training, but I knew I didn’t want to shock my dog so, I continued searching. After finding the trainer who helped me rebuild Finn’s confidence, my love also grew for my mischievous, brilliant dog. That’s when I fell into dog training.
After Finn peacefully passed, it took me a few months to feel ready to love another dog. When I rescued Gavin, my only two requirements were that he liked walks and was older than two years. Well, Gavin’s insatiable love for humans fooled me during our meet-and-greet into thinking that he loved walks. He loved meeting me and was happy to accompany me because I was new and novel. However, I learned quickly that Gavin was easily frustrated on walks, wasn’t food motivated at all, and was only six months old.
I tried every smelly dog treat I could find. I spent countless hours cutting up various cheeses, hot dogs, meatballs, deli meat, and more. My hands were always greasy. I ruined clothes. And, still, Gavin refused to eat treats when we were outside.
That’s when I began concocting Bark Pouch blends. I wanted Gavin to feel confident on walks, despite his sound sensitivity. And, for his safety, I wanted him to learn to walk on a loose leash happily and as easily as possible.
My walks with Gavin look very different from Finn’s walks, but looking down at his beautiful chocolate brown eyes while he smiles up at me, trotting along, brings me so much joy and peace.
And, my wish for you is that your walks with your dogs—no matter what stage your training—delight you in some way.
If you’ve ever been surprised by your dog’s sudden aggression, the following tips will help you diffuse the situation. Once you’re safe, contact a qualified dog training and behavioral professional to help you determine the cause of your dog’s aggressive reaction. A canine behavior specialist will give you techniques so your dog learns better ways to cope with triggers that currently cause aggressive displays and will provide you with management tools to prevent aggressive behavior in the future.
Be calm. If your dog growls over a bone, snarls at another dog, or lunges at a child—your first instinct is likely to scream, “NO!!!!”. Aggressive behavior is unacceptable and dangerous. However, loud scolding can cause your dog to become more defensive which may result in an attack. If your dog is already on a leash, quietly guide him away from the plumber, child, dog (whatever is causing his aggressive display), so he relaxes. By calmly adding distance to the situation, you’ll give your dog an opportunity to recover from the emotional turmoil causing his aggression.
If your dog is off-leash, safety tactics can be a bit trickier. If you’re approaching your dog, stop moving immediately. By walking close to an already agitated dog, you’re communicating that you’re not backing down, and contrary to popular information—attempting to “dominate” a dog who’s aggressing may make the situation worse because you appear menacing, aggressive.
Aggression + aggression = more aggression
You can reduce tension, and potentially stay safer by removing social pressure: pause, slightly turn your head, lower your gaze, and relax your body while remaining still. During precarious moments, your goal is staying out of danger. Communicating to your dog that you’re not a threat is a much better way to prevent a full-blown attack than adding more aggression to an unstable situation. Never turn your back, run, scream, or make sudden movements—all of which can further incite your dog, and place you in a more vulnerable position to become injured.
Once you’ve gained composure, find something of interest to your dog (or if another person with you, she’s in a better position to distract your dog if he’s growling or snarling at you) and as slowly as possible, move the item far away to entice your dog then confine him immediately. Though tossing a treat (underhand is best) into another room may seem like you’re rewarding your dog’s aggression, you’re preventing an attack. You’ll need to make a plan once everyone is safe to avoid further reinforcing your dog’s unwanted behavior.
Practice prevention. It’s important to make a note of what caused the aggression. Did your dog growl over a new a toy? Did a stranger approach your dog too quickly? Was your dog standing in front of you, attempting to protect you from your partner? A good trainer can help you identify what caused your dog’s aggression but until you can schedule an appointment, you must practice management to prevent putting yourself and your dog in a scary situation again. Leashes and gates are great ways to keep everyone unscathed (child, stranger, or another dog) until the trainer arrives.
If you’re unsure if your dog has the potential to become aggressive, thank you for being proactive—here are some tips to introduce a new person to your dog safely.
Understand body language. In my line of work, I meet a myriad of aggressive dogs, some with very serious bite histories. Nonetheless, I remain safe because I watch dogs closely to assure I know what they’re communicating so I’m actively preventing them from becoming so uncomfortable that they want to bite me. Keep in mind, dogs are MUCH faster than we humans are, so it’s best to keep your dog’s nervousness or agitation way below attack-mode because he doesn’t need coffee to gear up, especially in heated moments.
Indications that a dog is close to becoming defensive are hard stare, mouth tightening, pulsating tail (not wagging), and tense body posturing. If your dog positions himself between you and another person, runs away with a toy and hovers over it, or walks away from a child and hides, stop doing what you’re doing, immediately.
Your dog is communicating that he’s uncomfortable. If you pet him, take away his toy, or allow your child to corner your dog when he’s attempting to avoid a conflict or defensiveness, you’re asking for trouble. While I agree dogs should not be permitted to growl at your kids or snarl when you touch his belongings, tense moments aren’t teachable moments. Reduce tension by softening your body language, and when your dog is in another room, pick up the toy and place it in a closet or keep the person at a safe distance until you hire a trainer.
Tense moments aren’t teachable moments.
Never punish aggressive behavior. If you scream, yell, or stick your face in your dog’s face while he’s growling, snarling or snapping, you could get attacked. If you’re still getting to know your dog (it often takes up to a year to really know a dog), and his bite history is unknown, you very well may end up in the emergency room. Adding force and anger to an agitated, uncomfortable, and volatile situation can cause serious injury to you.
If you punish your dog harshly, some dogs stop communicating discomfort to avoid further punishment. Teaching your dog NOT to growl before he bites will jeopardize the safety of everyone you love.
Prevention and understanding are the best ways to keep an aggressive dog calm. However, in the face of a surprise, avoid staring and remain calm. Once you’re safe, call a trainer to get the help you need.
The Kong product line is popular for its durability and versatility. It is often my first choice to redirect innate chewing behaviors because it is virtually indestructible by most dogs. However, like any dog toy, there are exceptionally strong chewers who can annihilate even the Extreme Black Kong (considered the strongest). If your dog has destroyed every toy you have purchased (including the Extreme Kong) you can try the Kong Rubber Ball, Premier Galileo Bone or Boomer Ball toys. Keep close watch on your dog the first few times you allow chewing from any new toy, even small dogs. Some of the strongest mouths I have seen were in little bodies.
The Kong Company has many toy varieties to choose from, including: squeaky tennis balls, durable plush toys and many more. If your goal is to play fetch, tug and hide ‘n’ seek games. you can choose from any of Kong’s toy categories. However, for chewing purposes, I would recommend one of the Rubber Toys. The Classic and Extreme Kongs are popular choices because the stuffing options are limitless); they can entertain some dogs for hours and their solid design is very durable for strong chewers. The Goodie Bone is another excellent toy to teach good mouthing skills. If you fill one end of the toy with treats while holding the other end, you can prevent nipping while working on good handling exercises.
The Dental Stick and Stuff-A-Ball are also great toys to keep your baseboards, pant legs and shoes chomp free.
Some dogs play with their Kongs by rolling them around, tossing them in the air or simply licking out the good stuff. When introducing your dog to a Kong Rubber Toy for the first time, rinse it off very well. You can entice your dog by filling it with peanut butter, cheese or cream cheese so he or she understands its purpose is to engage their mouth. You and your dog can enjoy years of entertainment with the same Kong, clean it out regularly with
warm soapy water and always give the Kong in response to good behavior.
The above picture is compliments of Sarah Eng, we can’t wait to feature more of her beautiful photos!
After 11 years of living together and being completely unmoved by loud noises of any sort; my dear Finn started showing signs of anxiousness during storms. The first incident really took me by surprise and was very mild. He danced around a bit and followed me from room to room (which is not common). Once I realized what was going on; we moved to the room with the least amount of windows, turned on the ceiling fan and closed the blinds. I massaged him and gave him a Kong. He settled and remained relaxed even once his Kong was empty. Being a trainer, I immediately started working on a desensitization program where I played thunder and lightning sounds at a VERY low volume and practiced his “go to your bed” command pairing it with hot dog bits.
Unfortunately, the second storm came a few days later and we had barely increased the volume of storms on my phone to level three during our training sessions. His response to this storm was more upsetting; he paced and panted the entire time and only settled when there was food in his Kong. Feeling horrible for my big guy’s stress, I revised my training plan and added TTouch and the Tellington Touch body wrap to our daily training sessions. He absolutely sank in relaxation every time I worked Linda Tellington’s methods on him.
Barely a week into our training program, a third storm bombarded Chicago. Finn frantically paced and panted to the point I worried his old heart would not survive the night. I held him in a bear hug to try to calm him and I convulsed with him without doing much good. Sadly, the wrap I had used all week was a bit too short so the effects were non-existent. A snug t-shirt seemed to offer only an iota of relief. Worried for his health and just grief stricken for my poor old guy, I wondered what caused his anxiety to develop so quickly with such vigor. The puddles of his panic drool were smaller and he shook less if I stayed with him on his dog bed. I knew sifting through graduate school files and seminar information was out of the question as I wanted to stay close to him to minimize the worry that was coursing through his body. So, I did what I normally would not do. I turned to the internet.
Rather than searching for just any article on the topic, I looked up information from renowned Veterinary Behaviorist Dr. Nicholas Dodman and my other trusty resource Whole Dog Journal. After reading this article and desperate (a place I never like to be); I decided to give Finn a small dose of one of the herbs because I had it on hand and could not find any literature citing negative side effects.
After about an hour, I felt his panting to be a bit less pronounced and intervals of full blown panic started to shorten. With guidance from my veterinarian, I have since tried a few different herb combinations. We continue to pair storm sounds with treats during set-up sessions so he develops better associations. It was interesting for me to be caught off guard by my dog’s behavior. Here are a few lessons I would like to pass on:
1. Have more than one option for emergencies. I now have three herbs handy; a plan for when to give each one and how long I can wait until I can safely give the next herb.
2. This is the dog geek in me. Finn’s panic continued the entire night, even when the visual and audible sounds of the storm were not prevalent. I know and speak to dogs’ senses being much more heightened than ours but it truly made me re-think things a bit. I recalled (or remembered upon re-reading in the wee hours of the morning) that it is hypothesized perhaps static causes the horrible responses some dogs have to storms. I am also keeping dryer sheets close by in the event of a storm.
3. Focus on the solution, you may not figure out the cause. We moved into our new neighborhood last Fourth of July weekend and were surprised on our first walk with a huge firework celebration that lasted almost two weeks. Amazing how different life can be just a few miles from your old home. However, there have been many storms since then and Finn has been fine. I keep reminding myself when I wonder “why” that my energy is best focused on helping him.
4. Staying calm helps! I wanted to break down and cry a million times that night. Out of sadness for Finn; worry with hour that passed about what the stress would do to him and too exhausted to think straight. But, I feel he finally calmed for a bit because I was able to breathe deep and keep myself calm as I hugged him tightly. Since then, we have purchased the Thunder Shirt and love the results.