Friday, May 30, 2014

Lucky

Even though I life with Barley is not always easy, I know just how lucky I am to have this crazy girl in my life. I might not have "a normal dog like everybody else," but I'm constantly reminded of all the good things Barley does for me.

Most recently, I've been especially thankful that she's such an incredible walking buddy.

I've never really thought of myself as being particularly in shape. I hate running. I haven't done much strength training after my parents no longer had a YMCA membership for my sister and I to use over the summers. I love eating, especially bacon cheeseburgers, and my favorite part of eating out in Pittsburgh was that you don't have to make a decision between a side salad or fries because you can get fries IN your salad. I've always been of the opinion that as long as I don't have to go up a pants size I don't need to up the exercise or cut back on my favorite foods. Basically, I eat what I want, when I'm hungry and then I walk my dog regularly. That's it.

Recently, though, I was spending time with a group of people my age. That's rare. Most of my co-workers are at least a decade older than I am and our agility classmates are all my mom's age or older. The only time I'm really active with people my own age is when I'm with my sister--and she runs, so she skews my perspective on what people my age are like!

As my friends and I took a little hike, I realized that I might be in better shape than I thought.  We went on a short, 2-mile hike on relatively easy terrain (only a 56 ft. elevation change and more of the loop was downhill or flat than uphill) and walked at a 20:47 pace (my average pace with Barley this year--including our slow, trudging through snow walks and our leisurely admiring the scenery walks--is 17:65 or 3.4 miles an hour).
A slower pace is fine with me when you have pretty trails like this to enjoy!
Our short hike included many stops for my friends to catch their breath; I hadn't even broken a sweat. It made me realize that compared to some other people my age, I might actually be in better shape than I give myself credit for.

Barley is the perfect walking buddy. She's so attuned to my pace and is content to trot along at a quick pace or enjoy the smells along the trail on a more leisurely stroll. She enjoys a short loop around the neighborhood and she loves exploring the parks near us. Whatever kind of walk I can fit into my day, Barley's up for it.

Now that we're back at home, we are buckling down and trying to log plenty of miles to make up for all of our missed days this winter. Luckily, Mother Nature is on our side and we've been in the 60s and 70s all week--perfect walking temperatures! Barley doesn't get too hot as long as we have plenty of water and everything is green again, so the walks are beautiful!

We had a great 5-mile walk at the Arboretum after our make up agility class yesterday morning. It was like walking through the Emerald City--everything was so lush and green it seemed like it was glowing!

 There were also a lot of flowers blooming throughout the park, so everything smelled magical.




We ventured to the other side of the creek for the first time this year because it was finally warm enough that if I got my shoes wet while hopping across the rocks I wouldn't be upset having to walk around with wet shoes all day. While I'd missed the views in the maple collection, I had not missed the crazy stairs that you have to go down (and then back up) to get to the creek--and I had to take a little break halfway up (but hey, that's why they put benches in the various landings in the stair case, right?).
Barley got a good laugh at my need to stop half way up.
Even though my legs were burning by the time we got back up to the main trail, we had a great hike and followed it up with a 2-mile, post-dinner neighborhood stroll in the evening.

Slowly but surely, we're gaining on our resolution goal and I feel so very lucky to have such a great pup to keep my company when it's time to get off the couch.


Thursday, May 29, 2014

Family Feud

After submitting my final grades, I took off to the South for an unofficial college reunion with four girls I hadn't seen since we graduated 7 years ago. I spent Friday-Tuesday in a magical place that my friend's parents were generous enough to let us use--500 acres with lakes, hiking trails, ATVs, a pool and hot tub, and, best of all, a theater inside where we could watch Dancing With the Stars together in person after years of intense Facebook discussion of each episode!

I'm relatively certain I could have stayed here forever.
I seriously spent 7 hours right here one day. 
My parents were wonderful and babysat their grandpets while I was gone since they only live 2.5 hours from where I was. Then I came back to their house for a family reunion with all three of my aunts, one uncle, my grandparents, and my brother.

I was especially excited because my brother was bringing his new dog--and I was the only one in the family who hadn't met him yet!

This is my nephew, Hank. I love him.
I knew we had to be strategic about introducing the pups. Barley is excellent with my parents dog (they snuggle on the couch all the time and when Maz visits us, Barley stands with her paws on the window sill and cries when she gets in the car to go). Barley tolerates my other nephew pup (and he is also very tolerant of her crankiness). 

I thought I had a good plan. Barley has gotten to the point where she doesn't look at her classmates in agility at all. When we're out walking, she has excellent focus on me if there's another dog on the trail and I pull her off to the side and have her sit. She was also very good when she met my co-worker's dogs for a walk at the park the first time--as soon as we started walking, she quit paying attention to them and then she acted like they were best friends every other time we got together. She even almost likes the neighborhood basset hound that joins us every time we walk at my parents' house.

So, I thought that if my brother went inside without Hank, said hi to Barley, and then we all went for a walk together she'd act like Hank had always been part of the family.

Wrong.

What I hadn't anticipated was that Hank is bouncy. He's only been in the family since February, and my brother says they are planning to go to obedience classes, but right now he doesn't really know how to control his excitement at seeing another dog. So as soon as Barley was out of the house, Hank started bouncing and barking. I tried to get her to play some touch games and regain focus, and she wanted to be good--but you could see her brain was about to explode as her head turned from my hand to Hank back to my hand. We tried to walk, but every time we got close Hank tried to come say hi, which set Barley off again. 

Barley and I went for a walk alone while Hank went inside. I thought maybe when she saw he was allowed in the house, she'd change her mind about him. As soon as we walked in, Hank rushed up to Barley and she snapped at him. He backed up. I kept her on leash because I knew I could keep her focus on me if she was on leash. Hank tried again. Barley growled. My dad yelled. I said that she was allowed to tell other dogs she didn't want them in her face and that yelling was going to escalate the behavior. Then Dad said he wouldn't tolerate a vicious dog--he later apologized and said he knew I needed to work with Barley my own way and that he knew I wouldn't let her eat Hank, but that killed me. 

Later, we did some work on focus with both dogs. My brother sat holding Hank's collar and I had Barley on leash. We stopped far away from my brother and Hank. I had her sit and we did some touch games. Then I put her on a down and backed away from her a few steps closer to Hank. I called her front and we repeated until we were close enough that I could give her a treat and then reach over and give Hank a treat. We went through a lot of treats. It was also hard to explain to my brother and my mom that they should give Hank a treat every time he looked at one of them instead of at Barley. My brother keeps Hank on a pretty strict diet, so he was hesitant to dish out the treats.

Before the extended family arrived, we decided to try both dogs off leash. Things started out ok. I put Barley on a down and walked a few steps away and called her front. Then I put her on a down again. But Hank snuck up behind her and sniffed, which did not go over well. 

Barley pounced on him and snarled. Hank was scrambling to get away. As soon as I grabbed Barley, she let go of him. Hank lost some fur, but the only blood shed was from my own dog who some how cut one of her toes in the struggle. 

For the rest of the weekend, we took turns having one dog out on the porch/in the dog run and one dog inside. When it got too hot for the dogs to stay outside, Barley got shut in my bedroom where she slept in her crate most of the time even though the crate door wasn't shut.

Exile.
It was not how I'd imagined the weekend going. I was convinced that since Barley and Hank look like real-life cousins they would be best friends and we'd get all kinds of cute family photos together. No such luck. 

I felt awful that she pounced on my brother's dog. I hated having to choose between spending time with my family and keeping my exiled dog company. We were eventually able to walk the dogs together, but we never got to all be together just hanging out.

I did get to get a family picture with my grandparents and the pets, though. Soth had met them before when they visited me in New Mexico and Barley met Grandpa last summer, but this was her first time meeting Grandma. Despite the walker and the oxygen tanks, Barley was so so good. She stayed out of the way when Grandma was on the move and she didn't try to climb in her lap when she was sitting. She was just content to be scritched on the head for a few minutes.

Soth is the only one not smiling.

Barley's perked back up since we got home. Her BarkBox came in our held mail and she loved trying out some peanut butter in her new eco-friendly toy thing and she's been taking advantage of being able to go wherever she wants in the house. 



When we went to class on Tuesday night, our trainer pointed out how normal Barley was during class. Sigh. I know I always say I don't want easy, I want crazy, but why couldn't she have been a normal dog this weekend??
She's pulling her brother's new bed across the room. This is the kind of feuding I can handle.


Friday, May 16, 2014

FitDog Friday: Between the Storms

I've always loved thunder storms--and growing up in southeast Georgia, I used to get to enjoy them frequently in the summers. I also love the way the sky looks after a storm. 

Somehow, I picked a dog who is really scared of thunderstorms. I know many dogs are to some extent, but Barley is terrified of them. At the slightest hint of thunder, she goes into what I call her wolf mode (and what trainers would probably say is Barley going over her threshold). Her ears are plastered back, her normally peppy tail is down and straight, and she can't hear a word I'm saying; she pulls at the end of her leash (something she never does normally) and weaves from one said of the sidewalk/street to the other while trying to drag me home. She looks just like any horrifying wolf in cartoons and the only thing she can think about is finding a place to hide.

So, we normally don't walk when there's a chance of thunder because it's dangerous. When Barley's in wolf mode, I can't manage her reactivity because she is completely unresponsive. She's not even interested in treats. It's better for everyone if we just stay home.

But yesterday I had to return some books that were due to the school library. Since there are no classes in session this week, I knew campus would be pretty empty on a Monday evening. It had stormed earlier in the day, so I checked Weather.com and it said there was a 0% chance of rain between 5 and 7 p.m. Barley's never been to campus, so I loaded her up and took her for a quick stroll around campus to drop the books off in the book drop.

The skies were incredible and it wasn't raining yet, so we detoured to the State Park on the way home.  I heard a few rumbles, but Barley seemed ok. Her ears perked a bit, but her tail stayed coiled and up. I didn't want to push things, so we didn't take a very long walk, but we got to enjoy some gorgeous skies over Lake Erie.








My girl and I will be spending the weekend apart as I reunite with some college friends, but we're looking forward to enjoying a little Southern Charm on our travels.

Friday, May 9, 2014

FitDog Friday: A Little Down Time

This week has been a weird mix of down time and chaos. It's finals week, so on the one hand I've had to be on campus less than usual; on the other hand, I've had a ton of grading to work on at home.

Barley is a good excuse to take a break. After every few portfolios, we take a break and practice noseworks or take a walk. So, we've gotten in 24.74 miles in the last week and three of them have been out of the neighborhood.
So happy to get to visit her deer friends after agility class.

We love sunset walks by the river.
We also got a sunset walk by the lake this week!
Such a happy prancing puppy.
All smiles to be on a weekday adventure.
I also decided I needed to take a little time for myself. I'm going to meet up with some friends from college and I haven't seen them since we graduated 7 years ago. So, I got my hair cut. For the first time in about 2 years (unless you count getting my mom to trim it for me or one hair cut from my aunt, who actually is a hair stylist, last summer). 
Barley's checking out the new 'do.

Barley is exhausting--physically, emotionally, and financially--so sometimes I forget to take time for pampering myself. 

This is what happens if I take my eyes off my dog for two seconds.
It's taken a long time, but I've finally realized that one of the most important parts of taking care of Barley is taking time for myself. She's my best bud and I love spending 99% of my time with her. But I need that little bit of time for me. If I don't get that, I have a harder time staying calm and focused to keep her calm and focused. So, I'm totally looking forward to dropping Barley and Soth off with their grandparents and running away for my mini-college reunion so that I can come back feeling refreshed and ready to spend the rest of the summer adventuring with my dog.

There's one set of final portfolios left to grade before I am officially on summer vacation--and now that the windows are open and I can hear the birds chirping, I feel like summer might actually really be on its way! Bring on the two months of reading, hiking, and napping! I'm ready for a little down time--Barley and I are looking forward to a summer of being physically fit and mentally fit.

(On a completely unrelated note: last night, Bar and I were practicing noseworks last night with closed boxes. Barley wasn't focusing--I think she was freaked out because it was actually warm in the apartment yesterday--and Soth came over and started rubbing on the box the treat was under. He has a much clearer alert than Barley, so I'm thinking he might need to come to class instead!)




Thursday, May 8, 2014

My Dog is My Wingman (Just Not a Very Good One)

I don't date. I never really have. Of course, I find lots of men attractive. In preschool, I used to chase a little boy around the playground singing "Stop in the Name of Love." Once, when my mom took my best friend and I to the grocery store with her, we saw this little boy and my friend and I went into the empty checkout lane beside the one my mom had chosen, pulled down the microphone, and started singing "Stop in the Name of Love" over the grocery store speakers.

But, I tend to have unrealistic expectations for people. I don't have a typical type. Some athletes are nice to look at--and I know that lots of them are smart, but after I dated a lacrosse player who got a concussion when he tripped over a bench on the sidelines, I haven't had much interest in dating an athlete. Successful professional men are closer to my type, but I'm not really cut out for all the networking and socializing that comes along with that life. My ideal guy is someone who is exactly like Professor Bhaer from Little Women (a little older, smart, very patient and understanding of my independence) and also willing to drive a really big truck and live on a nice piece of land out in the country. If he's also into craft beer, baseball, and dogs, that's a big plus, too. Basically, I want a sophisticated, cowboy-English professor. Apparently, those are hard to come by. (This only encourages me to want to check out the Cowboy church I noticed on the way home from agility class a few weeks ago.)

Also, I really like love having alone time. The thought of having to check in with someone else before I go somewhere, buy something, plan something nauseates me. The thought of having to see someone else every single day when I get home from work is suffocating. I love being able to go where I want, when I want. I love waking up, deciding that I want to go on an adventure, and grabbing Barley's leash and hopping in the car without seeing what someone else wants to do. Once, when I was 16, I went over to help the boy that at that age I was naive enough to think I would one day end up married to with his trigonometry homework; when I walked into the house, I don't remember exactly what I saw--I think it was just him in casual non-school clothes sitting at the dining room table--but I remember thinking, "Oh God. This is what every day for the rest of my life will be like if I get married." I decided then and there that I'm in no hurry to commit to someone else.

I'd also need to buy a significantly bigger bed before committing to someone else.
Plus, I hate small talk. I hate getting to know other people. I'm not good at those sorts of conversations because I hate to feel like I have to work to connect with someone else (cue Billy Currington's "Like My Dog").

So, someone has to seem pretty special before I'm willing to work at a relationship and reign in my independence a little bit. That doesn't happen often.

But that doesn't mean Barley doesn't get me into awkward situations with guys regularly.

Sometimes, she keeps me from getting to know them. Once, an attractive biker at the lake slowed down and started chatting with me. Barley nipped at his tires. He quickly pedaled away. Recently, a guy who looked like he could at least be an educator--maybe a science teacher--who also was a little rugged and outdoorsy started chatting with me on the trail. Then it started to sprinkle. My diva dog doesn't do rain and started dragging me back down the trail towards the car.

Other times, she draws attention that I usually am not interested in. For example, this week, we were out walking after agility. It was a beautiful evening and there were a ton of people out with their dogs.  I usually just pull off to the side, turn my back to trail, and work "watch" with Barley and give her as many treats as she needs to stay sitting and calm. Between me being turned away from the people and the sight of our "I Need Space" leash, people usually say hi and keep moving, or comment on how well behaved Barley's being, or completely avoid us. I try to say hello or mention that they have a nice a dog, just so I don't seem like a total witch (that's the Southerner in me coming out). So, this week, a man--who actually I wasn't sure if he was a man until he spoke and androgyny is really not my type--was walking his pug. The pug was on a flexi and it didn't seem that the guy was interested in keeping the dog in close. I pulled off the trail very early and started working with Barley. The guy walked by, said hello, I said he had a cute dog. I kept focusing on Barley. Then I noticed the pug was stopped a few feet behind Barley. I looked up. I gave Barley another treat. Then the guy said, "So, are you just taking a break?" and it was clear from the way he said it and the way he looked at us that he thought we might take a break and chat with him--in the middle of the path when we were in a park where there are a ton of benches overlooking the river that we could have stopped at. I had to say, "No. She's just not good with other dogs," which caused him to look flustered, say "Oh. Oops," and walk away. Awkward.


Barley thinks anyone who wouldn't want to talk to us is crazy.
Then on the way back to the car, a cute park ranger was walking back towards his SUV. Barley has a thing for guys in uniform--I don't really, but she likes to try to visit every cop we ever see--and she started trotting with a little more pep in her step, her tail was extra curly and wagging, and she was staring him down. He looked at her, laughed, and stopped getting in his car. I said,"Hi, how are you?" He said, "Good, how are you?" and then after I replied, my hatred of small talk reared it's ugly head and I kept walking to the car. Maybe Barley needs to watch 101 Dalmatians, so she has some ideas on how to prevent me from walking away when she finds potential father figures for herself.

Today's awkward interaction involved walking past the bath house at the lake and seeing a young man peeing behind it. It was clear from his stance what he was doing, so I made sure we looked every where but at the bath house. Then he suddenly yelled at us, "Oh! I'm so sorry!" I can't blame him--for some reason, Ohio thinks that people who use their parks don't have to use the bathroom between Labor Day and Memorial Day--I thought my bladder was going to explode a few weeks ago because a bathroom--that I was so very excited to see--was locked and there were no leaves on the trees yet, so there was no hope of finding a private spot in the woods (which I have yet to have to do, but I was on the look out for a good woodsy spot). But again awkward.

Plus, who wants to look at awkward boys when it's such a pretty day at the lake.
So, Barley's trying really hard to add some male influence to her life, but not very successfully. 

Soth says he's not interested in making more room in bed, either.
Until she masters the art of being a wingman, I'm perfectly content with browsing the aisles at Barnes and Noble and Tractor Supply Company ;)

We're participating in the Barks and Bytes blog hop hosted by Heart Like a Dog and 2 Brown Dawgs.

Heart Like a Dog


Friday, May 2, 2014

April Resolution Recap

Since April just wrapped up, it seems like a good day for a recap of our progress towards our New Year's Resolution goal of 1,000 miles in the year 2014.

At the end of March, we were a little behind schedule. We walked 95+ miles during the month of April, which is 35+ more miles than we did last April. After adding in 2 miles we squeezed in between rain showers yesterday, we're at 26% of our goal for the year--so still a little behind schedule, but if we can have another month like April this month, things will definitely be looking up!

Here's the summary of our April walks.

I was worried that we would have a set-back after the run-in with the off-leash dog. We spent the weekend after it happened going on fun adventures outside of the neighborhood, including a 6.2 mile walk (our longest walk in the time I've had my Garmin watch) at the Arboretum together.

It was finally warm enough that I felt good about letting Barley get a little bit wet (and the stairs down to the boardwalk weren't icy any more, so I was brave enough to tackle them).

Running away from the water. I guess she forgot she hates to get her toes wet.

Barley also posed to be part of the Arboretum's #hugatreeforholden program


A few flowers were finally starting to make an appearance, so we made sure to get photographic evidence that spring came, if only for a few days.


Since our last post, we also did an Easter Egg hunt--our noseworks class had joked about it with our trainer since we didn't have class on Easter Sunday, but since my aunt had sent me a basket with four plastic eggs inside, I thought why not? Since we only had four eggs, I had to keep refilling and hiding--but it was a fun twist on our noseworks practice that made Bar use her nose and her brain.

She quickly discovered that if she brought the eggs to the patio and dropped them they'd open up and she could have her snack.


Some eggs were harder to find than others. The one on the chair was near a lot of other scents--a citronella candle, the bowl full of treats I was refilling the eggs with, and the empty eggs--so it took her ages to find that one, even though she was practically on top of it many, many times.


We also got to take advantage of just sitting outside and relaxing to get some fresh air and sunshine.

Soth got to enjoy some fresh air, too.

For some reason, probably the herding instinct and desire to protect her flock, Barley doesn't know how to relax outside. Unlike my parents' sweet girl, who likes to watch over her yard in a calm and relaxed way, Barley's always on alert. I can get her to chill out for a little bit if I give her some sort of chew treat, but as soon as it's gone, she's back pacing and watching for anything that might come into the yard.

When she looks like she doesn't have ears, she's anxious--who knows why she's leaning, though. I, on the other hand, was totally relaxed with the Pirates on the radio and a beer in my hand.
Are you sure you don't want to patrol the yard with me, Mom?
I hear that Jack Russell. Can I please go out and growl at him?
In unrelated news, yesterday, Soth and I celebrated five years together! I didn't think I would ever become a crazy cat lady, but I'm pretty sure I earned that title the moment I laid eyes on my little guy. (Thank goodness I have a dog to be crazy about, too, and balance things out!)

After all of our fresh air and sometimes sunshine last month, we're feeling especially fit (and happy!) on this FitDog Friday. Next week is final exam week, so as soon as I get all of my grades submitted, I'm officially free to adventure with my pup for the next several months! We're looking forward to revisiting some parks we haven't seen since the fall and finding some new ones and we can't wait to hear what adventures everyone else has planned now that warmer weather has officially arrived.


Thursday, May 1, 2014

A Love Letter to My Cat

Dear Soth,

Today, we have been together for five years, but I can't remember or imagine my life without you in it.


Five years ago, I drove an hour into Santa Fe because I was too picky to adopt any of the cats in my town. Before I'd even stepped into the cat room at PetSmart, I saw your little pink nose and you had my heart. I pretended I was going to look around at all the cats, but I knew you were mine.

Celebrating his roots with a catnip cactus and pepper!
It took hours to complete your adoption process while Max, the PetSmart manager, tried to get ahold of my landlord to make sure you were welcome at my apartment. Even though I was wearing a skirt, I sat on the floor with you the whole time and we played with a feather. For a few minutes, you even sat in my lap--the first and last time you would do that for months.

You have never been the easy pet I thought I was getting by adopting a cat. I'm not sure what your life before was like--I assume you came from the streets since you've always eaten like you never know when you'll get your next meal, and your ear is missing a few little chunks and our vet says it looks like someone must have just barely nipped your ear. For months, every time I pet you, you'd stop and bathe yourself like you were trying to wash away my love.

It didn't matter. I loved you anyway.

We hadn't been together long when I woke up at 5 a.m. to you vomiting and saw blood. I couldn't bear the thought of losing you, even though you still wouldn't let me snuggle with you. I put you on the foot of the bed and slept with my hand on your side to feel you breathing until the vet's office opened and I could call them. It was the first time you didn't seem to mind my touch.

The volunteer from the Santa Fe Animal Shelter and Humane Society who came in to complete our adoption told me that you'd be happy to sleep in my lap all day. You are not. But that's ok. I love the way you curl up next to me on the couch as close as you can possibly get without touching me. I love the way you grab my hand with your paws--without your claws--and pull my hand to the spot you actually want me to pet. I love the way you reenact The Matrix as you flip off the wall to pounce on hair ties.
I like to think he's saying, "Wow! That's a hot pepper!" Really I caught him mid-yawn--it's hard to celebrate before breakfast.
So, my lovey, the last 5 years have not been easy. But I wouldn't trade them. Or you. I may not ever be a cat person--but I am a my cat person and that is all your doing. I love you more than rainbows, my sweet Bunny cat.