Thursday, August 18, 2016

A Working Dog

Soth has always wanted to be an outdoor cat. When we visit my parents, they have to keep their dog door closed because Soth figured out how to make it work about .2 seconds after watching their dog go through. 

Really what he wants to do is go out, eat grass, and then come back in and barf up the grass on my carpet, but sometimes he'll settle for watching the birds, especially when we visit my parents who have a ton of bird feeders.

At the apartment, I'd put his harness and leash on him and let him explore the patio a bit. Sometimes, he'd settle for being a lap cat if there were bunnies in the yard for him to watch or he'd settle for sitting next to me on my parents patio furniture.

At our house, though, Soth has decided he's not settling anymore. He wants to be outside--all the time. He paces in front of the back door and cries, screams, and howls until I scoop him up and relocate him or I let him out. This video gives a good example of what I deal with all day long. He's making me look forward to going back to work.


Even though we have the fence, I'll never let him out in the backyard alone. There are gaps under the fence that he could easily fit through (at least until my parents come and help me figure out how to block them off) and I don't know how the dino-dogs on the other side of the fence would react to seeing a cat through the fence. 

Luckily, I've got a trusty herding dog and she takes her job of cat herding very seriously. I've allowed Soth out a few times when Barley and I have been out with him. It took a little work to convince Barley that Soth was allowed in the yard, but she quickly quit trying to herd him back to the door.

Last summer, she was certain he wasn't allowed in Grandma's yard.

And shifted her focus to just keeping track of him wherever he happened to go. 

Soth does not think he needs a babysitter.

Soth was less than amused to have a shadow wherever he went in the yard (and really he had two because I was following him around, too). I decided we might all be a little more relaxed if I put on his harness and attached it to one of Barley's long lines, so I looped the long line through the patio furniture and clipped him to it.

Unfortunately, I was spending a lot of time getting up and untangling him, which always seemed to happen right before the most exciting plays during Pirates games. 

Then I looked up and somehow he'd squirmed out of his harness--how I don't know because I had trouble clipping it with his little belly and it was still hooked! He hadn't gone far--but he had crawled into the crawl space under the house that's full of spiderwebs, so crawling in after him was not my favorite thing.

Barley also felt compelled to keep a close eye on her brother even if he was tethered. 

Luckily for all of us, had a medium tent on sale last month, so we ordered one and everyone is much happier! 

Herding cats is a lot easier when the cat is contained.

Now Soth can eat grass to his heart's content and Barley and I can relax a little more.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Barley's First Brewery

After our Alabama hiking adventure, our day wasn't done yet! My family is a big fan of craft beer, hence the name Barley, and we weren't too far from Good People Brewing Company when we finished our hike. 

The brewery didn't open for another 30 minutes, so we stopped by Birmingham's Slice Pizza and Brew for some lunch on the patio. My nephew dog Maddux is a pro at going out in public because his rescue organization occasionally has events at wineries and breweries, but there aren't that many dog friendly places around here, so Barley has never been to a restaurant. It was warm out, but we did our best to arrange umbrellas and water bowls to keep the dogs cool. I think all of the dogs liked the attention our sweet waitress gave them, especially my nephew who got the spot closest to the door and had everyone who came in/out of the restaurant commenting on how cute he was.  

Once Barley got some water, she was perfectly content to lounge between me and my dad while we ate. Until I got a little enthusiastic about my shrimp and kale salad and knocked over the jalapeno vinaigrette cup and sent it cascading through the slots in the table--then Barley made it her mission to clean up my mess and emerged a little slimier than she had been before. 

After lunch, we headed to the brewery and it was my favorite part of the trip. I've always wanted to visit a brewery with Barley--and we just haven't made it to Great Lakes together (mostly because parking around there is questionable during prime patio weather because they have a fatty wagon that takes people from the brewery to the ballpark when the Indians are at home).

The best part about this particular brewery is that they don't serve food and the tasting room is separated from the brewing facilities, so dogs are allowed inside! The bartender fawned over all the dogs--Barley even convinced her to give her a second treat.

Barley was so worn out from the day's earlier adventures that she sprawled across the cool cement floor and took a nap while we all enjoyed a beer. 

All three dogs were excellent. Barley did give a quick bark (and sloshed some water out of her dish) to make it clear that she wasn't happy I went to the bathroom and left her with her grandma--which got a hearty laugh from the man at the table next to us--but once she learned her grandma had the treat pouch, she settled back down. 

Not only did I get to enjoy some really good beer (Good People's Urban Farmer Saison is a perfect post-hike beer!), but my reactive dog who doesn't often get to go out in public despite her love of people was made to feel welcome at Good People Brewing Co.

Barley was so sleepy by the time we got home that she went to bed early--and I wasn't far behind her.

After three years of Alabama visits, this was by far our favorite day in Alabama yet!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Discovering Red Mountain Park

Barley, Soth, and I packed our bags and headed south to help my dad celebrate his birthday recently. 

My brother is the lone Braves fan on our row.
While most of the festivities weren't dog friendly--like a sad Pirates-Braves game at Turner Field--my dad decided to take a day off for a pre-birthday hike. My favorite hikes are the ones in the middle of the week because normal people are at work, so I have fewer distractions to worry about with Barley.

We loaded Barley, my dog sister Maz, and my dog nephew Maddux into my parent's car and headed to Birmingham to check out Red Mountain Park. I'd first heard about this park when they stuck a park map in my shopping bag at the Merrell outlet a couple years ago. Mom, Maz, and I had almost checked it out last summer, but chose Moss Rock Preserve instead.

Maz is ready for adventure!
I was a little worried for several reasons: it was exactly one year from the Moss Rock adventure where Barley stepped on a copperhead (TWICE), Alabama in August is HOT and we didn't get an early start, we had three dogs of different hiking abilities going on the adventure.

But Barley had been walking in warm Alabama weather for a week already, so she was a little conditioned to that. My mom also made some minor adjustments to some instructions we found for making our own cooling collars and made each dog one. I decided I would avoid looking at the scenery and just scan for snakes.

Barley quickly made a new friend on our hike. I'm not entirely sure why this guy (is it an orangutang?) was in the park, but we never pass up a chance to pose with a sculpture.

We started out the hike walking solo and occasionally looping back to check in with the other dogs. Then my dad and sister dog Maz forged ahead with us while my mom, sister, and nephew (the oldest of the bunch) walked at their own pace. 

Once my dad and I made it to the old iron ore mine shaft, my mom called us to see if we would reconnect since my sister and Maddux decided to hang out in the dog park instead of continuing on the trails.

Barley was not as happy as she looks to leave the shade to pose for a picture.

After reconnecting with Mom, we went on a mission to find the goats they have in the park to eat kudzu and other things that need to be cleared out. We found their enclosure and saw one goat way in the distance, but I was disappointed we didn't get to see a bunch of them munching away.

They also had some tree houses throughout the park. By turning our hike into a loop instead of just an out and back, we could see one of them, so of course, I insisted we do that. Unfortunately, I'm too much of a chicken to try the swinging rope bridge over to the lookout platform--I thought that maybe I could do it if my parents held Barley, but I put one foot on the bridge and immediately turned back around. So I held the dogs and my parents went to check out the view.

We still got to see some nice views from other areas along the trail without having to test my fear of heights.

Despite all of my worries, we were able to survive a trail labeled "most difficult" on our way back to reunite with my sister and nephew dog.

We never even saw a snake (although some bikers did warn us that there was one scurrying across the trail ahead of us at once point). 

It was a dreadfully warm day, but we took our time, took plenty of water breaks in the shade, and ended up getting in 3.89 miles by the time we got back to the car. Barley and I loved getting a break from the neighborhood walks even if we were sweaty, panting messes by the time it was over.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Walking with Barley, Season 5 Episode 7

Recently, Barley and I were out walking in our neighborhood. It's never uncommon for someone to stop us to ask questions about Barley, so I wasn't surprised when a woman walking a Lhasa Apso put on the breaks and said hello.

What happened next, though, caught me off guard.

Woman: "I thought you were walking a skunk because of her coloring."

Me: "Her tail is a little skunk-like."

Barley: hearing the word tail starts wagging like a fool

Woman: "Yeah, with that black and white on her tail."

Me: "Luckily for me, she doesn't smell like one."

Woman: "Skunks are beautiful, though."

Barley: looks at the little dog, looks at me, nudges my hand for a treat

Me: "Yes, they are pretty animals."

Woman: "Yes, especially when you have a whole group of them together. It's like a black and white carpet."

Me: "I bet! You have a good morning now."

Barley and I quickly hurried in the opposite direction. If we have 50-pound skunks roaming the neighborhood (and even worse, whole "carpets" of them!), we're never leaving home again. Sometimes, it really does feel like we're living in a sitcom, but I guess I shouldn't be surprised that my unique dog attracts the most unique people.

Friday, July 22, 2016

We're Still Here

It's been a while. This summer has been a little rough for the blog, but I wanted to let you all know we're still here.

There's just been a lot of sadness in the world lately and a lot of my friends have been hurting, so it's been hard to put my heart into silly stories about the pet siblings or lament our training woes. 

But we're still here.

We're still enjoying the backyard, taking long walks, taking longer naps, drinking good beer, watching baseball, and reading (if you have the Litsy app--find me: eedevore).

I went on a quick trip to Denver for a wedding. Barley went on a quick trip to her trainer's for boarding. Soth got to have the house to himself while a friend visited him and made sure his bowl didn't go empty for long.

My sister had to get kisses from the dachshund.

I survived a flight back to Cleveland the day before the #RNCinCLE started. I was only minimally cranky about all of the extra people milling around baggage claim and impeding my progress back to the parking garage and delaying my reunion with my darlings.

So, we're still here. But my heart's still just a little heavy. I've got several silly pet stories and some training celebrations to share, but for now, we're going to continue to take a little more time off and spend some time with my human family.

We're thinking of you. We miss you and can't wait to catch up on all of the posts you shared while I was traveling. We'll be back in August.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Mid-Year Update

I'm not sure where this year has gone, but somehow we've reached the halfway mark! It's been two months since our last resolution update, so I thought it was a good time for a quick update on where we're at going into the second half of the year.

In May, we upped our mileage a bit and got in 109.65 miles--we missed two days of walking while I was on vacation. We both walked separately those days, but only miles we do together count.

In June, we walked every day--twice on most days--and logged 118.14 miles.

Most of the walks in both months were in our neighborhood or my parents' neighborhood, but we got in a few walks at the state park, a few visits to our deer friends after agility class, and a couple visits to the arboretum. Despite the fact that we were in our neighborhood for most of the walks, neither of us are getting bored. We're feeling really lucky that we can easily get 3 miles in our neighborhood without repeating any streets and there are two very different halves to our neighborhood that make it easy to take different walks in the morning and the evening.

We reached the halfway point of the year with 568.66 miles so far, which is 51.7% of our goal--that means we're a little ahead of schedule! Technically, with the mileage we've already earned in July, we only need 2.88 miles/day to reach our 1,100-mile goal for the year. We'll still be striving for at least 3 miles a day, especially since we have a couple travel days together and I'm taking a long weekend to go to my cousin's wedding--and it never hurts to get ahead so that when winter arrives we don't have to feel obligated to be out in the cold for a full hour to get our mileage in.

We're looking forward to working in a few more adventures in the second half of the year as well as seeing how our new neighborhood transforms with each season.

We've already learned the neighborhood lines the streets with flags for Memorial Day and 4th of July.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Turf Wars

Last month, I wrote about our training plan for dealing with the dogs on the other side of the fence. I wish that I could write this month and tell you that we have overcome our struggles and are enjoying our yard. Unfortunately, we haven't made much progress yet.

One of the attempts we've made to make it harder to get her nose under the fence.

But we have been training. A lot.

I mentioned that there would probably be a lot of trial and error--and I wasn't wrong.

First, our training plan went out the window. There's no warning of when the dino-dogs will come out in their yard, so when we were outside relaxing, I usually couldn't get Barley leashed to go back to the basics of our reactive dog training--even if I brought a leash out with us--because she'd notice the dino-dogs before I did and lose her mind. That isn't the best starting point for training, so we'd go back inside and try again later.

Then Barley started running towards the fence as soon as I'd open the door--even when the dogs weren't out. I'd call her to me and reward her from coming away from the fence. Pretty soon, Barley started running at the fence all of the time and then turning to me to see if she'd get a treat. All of the sudden, I heard our agility trainer's words from when Barley was running to check out the windows in class: Don't reward her coming to you after visiting the windows because then she'll learn that she gets a treat for running to the window before coming back to you. You have to reward her for coming to you instead of going to the window. I realized I had to get Barley's attention before she had a chance to go to the fence. Timing really is everything.

We've made a little progress with that. When I let her outside, I call her to me as soon as she gets down the stairs and if she doesn't go to the fence instead, she gets her snack. If she does start to go to the fence, she just gets a quick nope, usually she puts on the breaks and I praise her, and then we try something else. If she runs the fence while I'm reading or doing yard work and I can't stop it with a quick nope, I'll call her to me and pet her and praise her, but she doesn't get a snack. She's starting to spend less time charging towards the fence and more time exploring the rest of the yard or playing with a toy--as long as the dino-dogs aren't out.

When the dino-dogs are out, though, her inner hellhound comes out. If I see them before I open the door, I'll put her on leash and we'll do a little work that way, but more often than not, they come out after we're already out in the yard. A few times, I've seen them before Barley has and we've immediately gone into the basics of our reactive dog training--just without the leash and long lead I'd planned to work with.

Some days, she does better than others. If I have a steady supply of treats, she'll stay in a down and do some of her relaxation work--but the treats have to come every few seconds, so we can't keep that up for long. Every time I've tried to increase the time between rewards, she springs up and races over to the fence and does her snarling routine and tries looking for ways to get through the fence.

We try to take breaks from the relaxation work to give her brain something different to think about, so sometimes we do off-leash heeling exercises around the yard with regular treats. She's doing surprisingly well with that as long as I don't wait too long between the treats. We can do serpentine patterns, diagonals, circles, sits, downs. We can walk towards the fence and she can be on the side of me that's closest to the fence. Then we head back to the patio and go back into relaxation work. I wasn't sure she'd be able to do this off-leash when the dino-dogs were present, but she's impressed me.

We've also done a lot of "it's your choice" work. Our very favorite version is the treats on the paws game and that's the one that takes the most self-control for Barley. We'd worked up to 14 treats on her paws in the past, but when the dino-dogs are out, we have to start from scratch. She can't stay in a down long enough to get that many--she'll give up and abandon the treats to charge the fence. Each time we start with one treat on each paw, just to warm up. We've worked back up to 4 or 5 on each paw regularly, but I can tell it's really hard for her to hold her focus that long, so we're taking our time.

And sometimes she refuses to give you both paws, so you can get 8 on one paw.

I know we've made some progress, but we're nowhere close to where I'd like to be. I'd like to be able to sit outside with a book and not have to stop between every sentence to see if the dino-dogs are out or to give Barley her snack for staying down. I'd like to be able to drink a beer and watch the Pirates games on the back porch and not miss half of an inning because we're doing heeling patterns around the yard. Even when the dino-dogs aren't out, I still can't full relax because I have to be on the lookout so I can attempt to get Barley's attention before they do if they do come out.

"Who says I don't know how to relax?"

Our reactive dog trainer reminded me that this type of freedom is something that is completely new for Barley--she's spent the last 5.5 years of her life on a leash (and who knows what her first year of life was like), so we really are starting over. It took months of training for her to be able to walk by other dogs on a leash without lunging and she still has her moments if the other dog is really wound up. It was a full year of training before we were at the point where we could take the Canine Good Citizen test and pass the portion involving another dog. So, it's unfair for me to expect her to be able to relax off-leash while the dino-dogs grumble and sprint along the other side of the fence after only a month of training. Of course, that doesn't make it any easier to accept that this summer probably won't involve much relaxing in the backyard and it's even harder to feel like all of the work we've done over the years has gone out the window (even though I know that's not true).

Barley will be in boarding with her reactive dog trainer soon, so I'm hoping we have a chance to chat with her about our fence issues and can further develop our game plan. In life before Barley, patience was never my forte--she's helped me get better, but this has been our biggest training challenge in a while and it's hard not to try to rush the process or to feel frustrated.

We're linking up with Rubicon Days, Cascadian Nomads, and Tenacious Little Terrier for for the Positive Pet Training blog hop that starts the first Monday of each month and runs all week.

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