Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Going Wild for Wild Bones

This time of year, we sometimes struggle to get outdoors and tap into our "wild" sides (except for today when it's almost 70 degrees!). There are days when the closest we get to the wilderness is snuggling up on our cozy fox blanket in the library.

On days when we spend more time inside, the dogs often get a little antsy and I need something to help occupy them while I grade papers. After Barley's dental issues last year, I'm extra picky about what I let the girls chew on. We need something that helps keep their teeth clean without breaking them--and ideally, something that will keep them busy gnawing for a while. This month, Chewy.com gave us the chance to try Blue Wilderness Wild Bones and I was excited to see if they'd meet our requirements. 

We chose the large version of these bones, which are meant for dogs 50 pounds and over. Barleys' right at the 50-pound mark and sometimes if we go to the medium size of a chew, she doesn't chew them up as well and ends up barfing chunks of them up in the middle of the night. Rye, who's only 29 pounds, thought the best part of these was that she got something bigger than other dogs her size.

These bones are supposed to be designed to be like the bones wolves would gnaw on in the wild--but I'm not sure that they really resemble actual bones. I have trouble imagining what kind of animal would have a bone this size and shape. The large ones are about the length of my hand and pretty skinny. 

Both dogs were eager to try these dental chews out. The chews are chicken-free and grain-free, so they're good for dogs with allergies. 

But would they help me occupy the dogs long enough to read a couple chapters or grade a few papers? There was only one way to find out. Rye grabbed her bone and ran out into the hall to devour it. Barley wasted no time getting to work on hers, either. In fact, it only took her about a minute and a half to polish if off. Rye finished right about the same time, too.

The bones weren't any hardy than other common dental chews, so I didn't worry about Barley hurting her teeth on these. There were a few times when bigger chunks broke of, but Barley seemed to chew them up better than she usually does. As soon as she finished, she glanced over her shoulder to check out the bag with the remaining chews inside--so I think she gladly would have gobbled up another one.

These might not have helped my dogs tap into their "inner wolf" and they definitely didn't occupy the girls for long. But Barley and Rye both thought they were drool-worthy and couldn't wait for me to offer then a second chew later in the week.

Disclaimer: We were given one bag of Blue Wilderness Wild Bones dental chews in exchange for our honest review as part of the #ChewyInfluencer program from Chewy.com. 

Monday, February 5, 2018

2018 Training Goals

The beginning of the year is always so hectic with returning from holiday travels, getting the dogs back into their classes after a month off, and preparing to go back to my own classes after a month off. Even though January is the time of resolutions and goal setting, I often feel like the beginning of the year is too chaotic to really start committing to goals and actually stick with them. I'm loving the idea of waiting until February to really focus on our training goals for the year.

Over the last month, it's become apparent that we have quite a bit to work on this year. Most of my goals are for Rye and for me because we need the most work.

What do you mean we have things to work on?

Our biggest goal for training is to compete in an agility trial before the year is over. Rye really loves agility and she has come so far in the 8 months or so that we've been training. I had planned to compete last fall, but then Rye got a little wild. Over the summer, we'd been doing 2 classes a week plus working in the backyard almost every day, and she was really focused. Then I went back to work and we went down to one class a week and she lost a bit of that focus. Last week, we identified some clear goals to work on and once we're a little more solid with those skills, we'll find a trial to enter.

Rye's biggest strength is her contacts on the a-frame, teeter, and dog walk, so we try to incorporate a little bit of that into each session to make sure she's doing something that gives her a lot of confidence. She knows when she hits that dog walk or a-frame she's supposed to go all the way to the end, plant her front feet on the ground, keep her back feet on the equipment, and hold that pose until I release her--no matter what I'm doing. We don't have the room (or the money!) for our own a-frame or dog walk, but we do have a plank that's about as wide as the dog walk that we use to practice our contact behaviors. We work on different crosses at the end and different lengths of holding her stay, too, because those are always skills that can be reinforced. Rye also has really strong weaves and she loves them, so we try to work on different entrances and driving forward as she comes out of them. The basement isn't the ideal place for that since there's not a ton of room, but just having those moments where she's focused on reading me is important.

The thing we really need to work on, though, is tight turns over jumps. A big part of our issues are my fault. I've spent the last 6+ years training with a dog who jumps 20 inches. With Barley, I don't really have to think about how I'm moving. We are usually so connected that we just kind of move in sync. Rye, though, only jumps 16 inches, so all of my movements are way above her head and that usually means "hey, we're jumping big!" Combine that with Rye's independence and the fact that she finds agility highly rewarding and she makes up her own courses every time we need a tight turn. We've got a couple drills we can do in the basement with one jump to work on turns--I'm still struggling to get my hand lower so she can read the turns better before she takes off, but we'll get there. The best part is that all of these little drills are games that make the training extra fun for Rye.

My other big goal with Rye is to develop a solid leave it. This dog is a scavenger. She steals everything. If I accidentally shut the treat drawer with a tiny corner of treat bag sticking out of the drawer, she can open the drawer and then runs around the house shredding the bag (while Barley follows her eating the treats she doesn't realize she's dropping). She finds soggy hamburger and hot dog buns along the sidewalk every trash day and I have to stick my hand down her throat to fish them out.

Leave an empty plastic bottle on the coffee table and she steals it.

I know our struggles are as much me as they are her--we need more solo walks to work on this in the real world and we also need to practice in low distraction areas in the house with things that won't hurt her if she doesn't listen and gobbles them up. The challenges of having two dogs who have different training needs are really becoming apparent.

Barley's still her perfect self and we don't really have any new training goals for us. I just want to keep reinforcing all of her really good behaviors to make sure she doesn't decide that Rye has more fun that she does. I have noticed that her watch command isn't as strong as it used to be, so we've been working on that one (which is also something Rye needs more work on, too) when Barley and I have been taking solo walks lately. Barley used to get at least one solo walk a week after agility class, but then Rye joined the same class and there were fewer daylight hours in the week, so we're looking forward to longer spring days when it's easier to get both dogs out on their own.

Barley's had seven strong years of setting new training goals, so I'm excited for 2018 to be the year of Rye's goals and Barley's maintenance training. We're starting out with two good dogs already, so I'm excited to see where we end by December!

Our theme this month is training goals, but we welcome any positive training posts! Be sure to check out all of the other great blogs linking up with us, Tenacious Little Terrier, and Wag 'n Woof Pets for the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop to see what other training goals are being set this year. I'm sure that I'll have a whole new set of goals by the time I'm done reading!

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Friday, February 2, 2018

Appreciate the Moments February Photo Challenge

February is always one of my favorite months to take pictures of Barley. She humors me while I test her patience by piling up dozens of heart-shaped toys around her. She smiles her biggest smile. I take dozens of pictures that are almost identical. Then I can't decide which one I love best and I flood my Facebook page with pictures that only have teeny tiny differences between them.

For the Appreciate the Moments Monthly Photo Challenge, February's theme is love. Our usual February pictures would be perfect--but I haven't made it to the store to add to our collection yet and half of those toys we usually use are looking a little sad after Rye met them on her first Valentine's Day last year. 

What I like most about the Appreciate the Moments challenge is the idea of capturing the unplanned moments--those little, everyday moments that make life great.

There are the endless moments of love between Rye and Soth that always make me melt.

Like the time I put my book down for the night and Rye wasn't in bed with me and Barley and I found her down the hall curled up with Soth.

Then there are the moments when I find all three of my lovies hanging out together--and that fills my heart with so much love that it almost hurts.

I'm pretty sure they were plotting something when I walked in.

My choice for the February Appreciate the Moments challenge, though, is a photo that could just make me cry. It's been a full year since Rye was fully integrated into the family, but when I see moments like this one happening, I can still hardly believe they're real. 

It still seems impossible to me that Barley will let Rye snuggle up on her, especially to the point where Barley becomes a puppy chin rest. The fact that Soth was part of this cuddle puddle, too, makes me so happy. When I first got Barley, she wasn't allowed on the bed until Soth gave her permission to get up there. Then when I got Rye, she wasn't allowed on the bed until Barley said it was okay. Having all three pets be comfortable relaxing together is more than I ever dreamed of when I brought Rye home. Another thing I love about this is if you look closely under Barley's orca belly, you'll see that she's lounging on top of her Kong--the thing she loves most. This is the type of moment that I always take time to appreciate and that I will never stop appreciating when I look back on these photos.

Thanks to our hosts, The Everyday Dog Mom and Dog Mom Days, for hosting this monthly photo challenge! We'll be joining up again next month with a picture related to the theme lucky.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Cool Dog, School Dog College Edition

As you might have guessed from our recent silence, school is back in session. Papers are coming in. Lessons need to planned. My inbox is never empty. No matter how short our break is, I always seem to forget how exhausting teaching is and all I want to do for the first two weeks is nap.

The beginning of the semester had a little extra excitement this time because I got to kick off a new program on campus by bringing Barley with me! I work with our student government group and their main goal on campus is to build relationships between students, faculty, and administration. This semester, we started inviting faculty to give informal talks about their hobbies, interests, and research by the fireplace in our lounge area. As an advisor for student government, I got drafted to do the first chat and the dean gave me permission to bring Barley along to talk about life lessons we've learned from training and then to do a little noseworks demonstration. 

We walk on campus fairly regularly when the weather is nice, so Barley was familiar with the location, but when we got to the doors to go in the building, she could hardly believe that she was actually going inside. She's used to walking over to the library and putting books in the book drop, but that's as close to getting into a building as she's gotten.

We went to my office so she'd have a chance to relax a little bit before her big moment. A couple people were on my hall, so they stopped to chat and pet her. She also got very excited about exploring my tiny office--especially when she realized that every available surface was covered in pictures of her. (Don't tell Rye that there aren't pictures of her in my office yet--I've printed some, but I have to get some frames still!)

We did a little bit of focus work and a little recall work in my office before making our way down to the lounge to spread out her mat and put down some boxes for our demonstration. 

The students were so excited to see her--and Barley was equally excited to soak up all of the attention. Everyone wanted to pet her and she was more than willing to oblige. We spent about 25 minutes talking about the lessons we've learned that students might apply to their own lives: break tasks down into smaller pieces, reward yourself and celebrate small successes, don't compare yourself to anyone else, failure is ok. Then it was time to show how all of our training added up to success--and Barley decided it might be more fun to demonstrate that failure is ok!

We had three boxes set up with Birch scent in one of them and Barley was not interested in sniffing the boxes at all. She was a little warm from the fireplace being on, she was excited about the new location and all of the attention, and the cafeteria wasn't too far away and the scent of French Fries was wafting through the air. The boxes were the last thing she wanted to explore. We also had a little tin with Clove in it that I set on one of the tables near the students and she did cooperate with sniffing for that one and gave me a chance to talk about how scent travels since she sniffed a few different parts of the table before locking onto the tin. 

She had a chance to get a little more love from students before we went back to my office and got ready to head home. While I set a few emails, she flopped down by my desk and fell asleep. The rest of the day she was more than happy to nap. I think she appreciates just how tiring going to work. Now if she could just pass on the message that going to school is exhausting to Rye . . . 

Friday, January 19, 2018

Split Opinions on Outward Hound Fun Feeder

While we were at my parents' over the holidays, we didn't have a gate separating the girls during meal time. Barley thinks that all food should be hers and Rye is so respectful of Barley's space that she'll back away from her food and let Barley have it all. Rye is also the slowest eater in the world, so I had to stand guard during every meal to make sure Rye could finish her food without Barley swooping in. 

When our friends at Chewy.com reached out to see if we wanted to test out the Outward Hound Fun Feeder, a slow-feeding bowl, it seemed like the perfect solution to get Barley to slow down long enough to let Rye finish her food.

We chose a regular-sized feeder that came in a fun flower design, but Outward Hound also has other colors and designs, including a teal circular design and an orange spiral design. 

The first thing I noticed about the feeder was just how large the feeder is. The diameter is about 12 inches and the highest of the edges is about 1.5 inches. The bowl also has a nice rubber ring around the bottom to keep it from sliding, so it's easy to use on our kitchen floors. The packaging says it can hold 4 cups of food, but I didn't test it out to see if that much actually fits since the girls would go into a tizzy if I poured food into a bowl and then took it away. The first picture shows what it looks like with Rye's 3/4 of a cup in it and there's definitely room for plenty more!

The packaging also says it's dishwasher safe for the top rack on low heat, but this is way too big to fit in the top rack of my dishwasher, so I had to hand wash it before letting Barley test it out. It fit in the sink easily, but it was hard to dry it out with all of the look nooks and crannies.

Barley was very excited to dive into her first meal served in the Fun Feeder.

Unfortunately, I don't think she actually enjoyed the Fun Feeder. It seemed like it was difficult for her to get the food out. I don't know if that's related to her past dental issues--her one canine tooth isn't exactly smooth, so it might have scraped a little when she tried to squish her nose into some of the smaller crannies--some of them are only half an inch wide or so. Either way, I could tell she was uncomfortable using the feeder and after she finished her one meal out of the Fun Feeder, I didn't want to make her use it again. I think she would enjoy it more if it were a softer, rubbery kind of material instead of really hard plastic.

Rye, on the other hand, was interested in the Fun Feeder from the moment I opened the Chewy box, so she was more than happy to give it a chance.

According to the packaging, the Fun Feeder gets dogs to eat "up to 10x slower to help prevent bloat and regurgitation." Rye doesn't really need help slowing down, but it absolutely did make her dinner last even longer (which I didn't think was possible). It took her over 5 minutes to finish her 3/4 of a cup of food! (For comparison, Barley finished her dinner in about 45 seconds in her normal bowl while Rye was eating.)

Her nose did crinkle a bit as she tried to get into some of the tighter spots, but she didn't seem to mind that at all. 

This isn't my very favorite interactive feeder. We have several others that I think make the dogs think a little bit more, but as far as slowing dogs down, this definitely works! I also like that this one doesn't move around. A lot of our other feeders require the dogs to move around the house and roll things around--which they love, but it's not always convenient if I'm trying to cook dinner while they eat and someone's rolling their dinner between my feet and the stove or they get their dinner stuck under the couch and need rescuing. The Fun Feeder keeps the dogs busy without needing wide open spaces!

Since it's not the easiest bowl to wash with all of the skinny little spots and Barley didn't love it, this probably won't be my first choice when I want to give the girls a meal in an interactive feeder. We like variety, though, so it's nice to have this one in our arsenal to switch things up a bit and if Barley had been comfortable with this, it would have been exactly what I wanted for meal times at her grandparents' house!

Disclaimer: We were provided with one Outward Hound Fun Feeder from Chewy.com as part of the #ChewyInfluencer program in exchange for our honest review.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Mother Nature's Gift

After trapping us in the house for days, Mother Nature gave us nice enough weather that we could get out for a short walk in the nearby state park. That was lovely, but what was even more lovely was when we got a day that was almost 60 degrees on Thursday. 

We woke up at the snow in our yard was melted--which we were fine with since the girls had trampled it all down and it wasn't much fun anymore. The roads were completely clear. With the exception of a few spots where the plows had really piled up the snow, the sidewalks were clear. It was the perfect day for walking. We loaded up into the car and went off for our first Arboretum walk of 2018.

Some of the trails still had a bit of snow on the trails, but mostly they were slush. It wasn't even unpleasant to walk in because it was so warm out that having wet feet wasn't awful. All of the streams and ponds were full of water because so much snow had melted. 

The girls were so happy to be out of the house--especially Rye. I was just happy I didn't have to wear gloves!

Rye had a playdate scheduled for the afternoon, but it was so pretty outside that we weren't in any hurry to get home. 

We got in 4 miles, which was our longest walk of 2018!

By the end of our walk, a slight breeze was picking up, so we got a couple good ear pictures, too. 

It didn't take long for the below freezing temperatures and the snow to come back, but for one short morning, we got in the most perfect walk. We love snowy walks, too, but it's so much easier to walk without all of the layers and gloves and without having to wade through a couple feet of snow on the trails. We won't complain if Mother Nature gives us a few more days like this before spring comes for good.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Ostrich Dogs

After days of being trapped at home, we finally got out of the neighborhood early last week. Our neighborhood was still covered with ice and the plowed snow piled up on the curbs made it difficult to share the roads with traffic, so we headed out to the state park. 

At first, I wasn't sure we'd be able to get a walk in because there was snow blocking the entrance to our normal parking lot, but we drove farther into the park and were able to find another spot to start our adventure.

No boats in the marina right now.

Parts of the trail were covered in deep snow and I sank down over the tops of my boots. Parts of the trail were covered in just an inch or two of snow. Other parts had tracks made by other people and dogs who had gotten out before us. It was quite the work out for all three of us!

We had plans to go out on the beach to get more pictures of the lake, but when we got to the best entrance to the beach, I sunk in up to my knees (although the girls were able to stand on top of the snow with no issues!), so I decided it was best for us to turn around.

The girls didn't mind, though. On the trek back to the car, there were plenty of good smells in the tall grasses along the trail. Rye wasn't going to let a little snow keep her from enjoying those smells.

And what one dog does, the other dog has to do, too.

My cheeks were freezing and I was ready to get home to have some of the soup I'd made in the crockpot the day before, but the girls didn't think twice about plunging their faces deep into the snow.

Days like this make me wonder if there might be a little bit of ostrich in their DNA.