Friday, December 18, 2015

Blame It on the Squirrels

Barley has always been a loose leash walker. She didn't automatically know how to heel, but she has never pulled the way my childhood dogs did when they'd strain at the end of their leashes, wheezing and trying to get wherever we were going as fast as possible.

Even in her most reactive moments, Barley doesn't actually pull to get at the other dogs. She stays beside me and just jumps and makes rabid Old Yeller noises while maintaining no tension on the leash.

So imagine my surprise when in late October, I'm taking a leisurely stroll with my dog and all of the sudden my arm feels like it's being torn from my body. I squealed out of shock, more than from injury, and all of the sudden Barley was sitting at my side. I looked around and realized there was a big, fat squirrel chirping at us from a nearby tree branch.

This was taken at a time we could stop and look at squirrels without fear I'd lose my arm.
Squirrels have always been an enemy around here. There are adorable black squirrels at the arboretum that aren't as used to humans and dogs as the ones in our neighborhood, so they've always been especially interesting with how quickly they scurry away. We have big red fox squirrels that are the size of small kittens in our yard. They enjoy running up to my French doors when Barley and Soth are surveying the backyard or flicking their tails in Soth's direction as he sits in the bay window.  Once, Barley caught one (while on her leash, too!) and the force with which she grabbed it off the tree killed it instantly--but she also dropped it the second I squealed.

When that happened, we started doing reaction to distraction practice with our "what's that?" game any time we saw them. Barley had no trouble walking by squirrels, bunnies, chipmunks, or any other critters we saw on our walks. Occasionally, if one was exceptionally close to us, I'd reinforce her good behavior with a treat and she'd continue to trot along with a nice, loose leash.

Squirrels like acorns--maybe if I sit here long enough, one will appear.
Until recently.

Beginning in October, she started lunging and pulling every time she saw a squirrel. She also started doing that on certain streets where we regularly saw squirrels, even if there weren't any out and about, to charge ahead to certain trees along the sidewalk.

Barley is confident she can capture any squirrel that crosses her path.
Lately, we've had big, fat, lazy squirrels along the sidewalks and trails and they don't seem the least bit concerned that Barley is around. I'm assuming our unseasonably warm days are responsible. Usually, the squirrels are tucked away somewhere warm and only venture out for quick visits to food stores--but they seem to be celebrating the warmer days and feasting as much as possible, even if that means sitting in the middle of the sidewalk when my enthusiastic dog is trotting along.

We've had to go back to square one to practice ignoring squirrels on our walks--and it hasn't been fun. As much as I love loose leash walking, I hate training it. When she gets too busy staring, I've refocused her attention and switched her from using her nose to using her eyes by tossing treats ahead of us on the sidewalk. When she refuses to acknowledge my existence when I say "what's that?" or "heel," I put on the breaks and stop and wait for her return to my side. Sometimes, we have quick direction changes, such as doing a circle around a telephone pole or a tree before continuing back in our original direction.

It's been a long, slow process and we've been working on it consistently for the last two months. Despite the fact that I'm sure my neighbors all think I'm crazy for stopping and circling and all of the other weird things Bar has me doing on walks, the training has paid off and she's back to ignoring the squirrels that we pass and we can focus on just enjoying nice, long walks together.

Friday, December 11, 2015

I would Walk 500 Miles

. . . and I would walk 600 more.

If you follow us on Instagram, you may have already seen our exciting news. Last night, Barley and I met our goal of walking 1100 miles this year. I thought it was going to take another day because we needed 3.6 miles yesterday to complete it and I had trouble getting myself out the door early enough to get that all in before dark--but we walked quickly and by the time we got back to our entrance to the apartment complex, I saw we only needed .4 miles to go. If we walked to the other entrance to the complex, it would give us exactly .4 miles, so I texted my sister and mom and told them we were walking in the dark and to alert the authorities if they didn't hear from us again (it's good to have a sister who always has your back when you "adventure") and off we went.

We've been MIA the last couple weeks. First, my sister and my nephew dog were visiting for Thanksgiving, so I decided to spend a few days enjoying time with them and then the next Friday I went to Cleveland to see an exhibit on Monet and his contemporaries, including my very favorite artist, Matisse, and dream of going back to Southern France. Now that the semester is winding down (I just have 5 sets of finals to grade starting next week), I'm hoping that we can get back to a regular schedule. But until then, here are some highlights of our last few weeks of walking.

Barley's cousin is a sweet--sometimes grumpy--older guy, but he loves adventuring, so we made sure to take him on a few different adventures over Thanksgiving weekend. First up was the State Park so he could see Lake Erie. Over the summer, he stuck his toes in the lake--I think he was happy it was too cold out for us to encourage that this time.

Then we hit the arboretum to take some holiday pictures of the dogs in their Christmas bandanas. My nephew pup is a more challenging model to work with than my little camera hog and my sister and I were bundled up in so many layers that I'm looking a little like the Pillsbury Doughboy, but despite the challenges we managed to get a few fun pictures.

Barley and I have also been walking around to enjoy the decorations the town has put up. This year, they got all new decorations for the downtown area. I'm a little bummed because they used to put a Santa hat on the clocktower each year and I loved that, but it's not there this year. There are still a lot of fun decorations up, though.

The best adventure we've had since my sister and Maddux left, though, has been Barley's birthday party. My baby girl turned 6 on Wednesday--I had to work, but I got home early enough that we could go up to the lake for a nice long walk before it got dark, something we haven't done during the week in a while. Barley was so excited to be out of the neighborhood and it was almost 50 degrees, so it wasn't too cold to add a nice beach stroll onto our normal trail walk. It was getting close to sunset and it was a cloudy day on top of that, so it made for some really cool pictures of the sky over the lake.

So far in December, we've walked 27.99 miles, which is a little less than our daily average for the rest of the year, but we're still calling it a victory. This weekend it's supposed to be in the 60s (what?!), so we're hoping for some more lovely walks and can't wait to see what our total mileage for the year ends up being now that we've met our goal!

We've missed you all and are happy to be back to the FitDog Friday!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Why I Love Our Crate

When I first got Barley, I knew a crate was going to be a necessity. I only had a few days to stay at home with her before I had to start the new school semester, so I hadn't had a chance to learn if she was a chewer or how she'd interact with Soth--and Soth's safety was my absolute main priority when I added a new pet to the household. A crate seemed like the most practical way to keep my cat and my apartment safe--I honestly hadn't even considered it as a tool for keeping Barley herself safe.

Recently, I've had a few friends from grad school post pictures of destruction their new dogs have wreaked on their homes, from a splintered coffee table and decimated lotion bottle to a shredding bed with stuff strewn throughout the house with other destruction done along the way. Both are reluctant to crate while they're out of the house because they feel guilty keeping their dogs "cooped up." Another person commented on one of the photos of destruction on which many people had suggested crating the dog with a comment saying the dog was still a puppy, don't crate, don't be mad, just let him be a puppy. After reading that reply, I was baffled that anyone would shame someone for thinking about crating a dog, but the anti-crate comments continued.

While I was certain that a crate was the right solution when I got Barley, I never thought that almost 5 years later, Barley would still be in a crate every time I left the house, but I wouldn't have it any other way. With all of the anti-crate language and crate hesitation I've seen this week, it seemed like a good time to reflect on why I love our crate.

1. It keeps Soth safe. Barley has never ever shown aggression towards her brother, but I often call her Barley the Enforcer because she does like to make sure he's following the rules (no scratching on furniture, no peeing outside the litter box, etc.). She also likes to try to play with him. She'll bow and chomp and bark and pounce around while he sprawls on the floor and looks at her like she's lost her mind. When I can see her getting frustrated that he won't engage, I redirect her to play with something else. If I'm not home to do that, she might get more assertive in her attempts to play and that's not safe for Soth. 
Soth thinks the crate is pretty great, too, especially when I put a bed on top of it to vacuum.

2. It keeps Barley safe. One of the first things I learned about Barley is that she is very good at finding ways to amuse herself if she's not being entertained. None of those ways are healthy for her. She's not a chewer. She's never tried to destroy furniture. Her very first toy is still in almost perfect condition. She doesn't like to rip or shred (unless we're talking about packages that contain her Aunt L's Christmas presents--she's done that the last two years in a row now). But she does like to scavenge for things to eat. If you've been with us a while, you've heard of the xylitol poisoning, the aleve incident, the turtle brownie caper, the great butter disaster, the nutella incident--the list goes on. And all of those things happened while I was home but had my backed turned to do something like dry my hair or use the bathroom--things that only take a couple minutes--or in the case of the butter incident while I was at the other end of the room with two other people in the room and NONE of us heard her hop up onto the counter to steal the butter. She's also stolen things that are actually diet appropriate for dogs--in small doses--and devoured them in no time at all. No matter how good a job I think I do of keeping edibles out of reach, she will find something if given the chance. Sometimes things will go unbothered for weeks--like a pack of jerky that was on the counter--and then one day she'll decide she's waited long enough to be offered a piece and take it for herself. The crate keeps Barley safe and it keeps me from spending all of my money on emergency visits to the vet.

Those two reasons are more than enough for me to be a 100% supporter of the crate, but there are other benefits as well.

3. It cuts down on Barley's anxiety. Barley has trouble relaxing. She's gotten much better in the time we've been together and a big part of that is giving her a routine. Every day when I go to work, we follow the same routine. I take her outside. We come back in and I brush my teeth. Then I put on my shoes. Usually, by that point, she's already run to her crate and is waiting on me to shut her in. Then I bring her two little cookies and tell her to be a good girl and I'll see her later that afternoon. Then I kiss Soth, grab my bags, and leave. Other times, when I don't need to brush my teeth or put on shoes again, our routine is shortened to going outside and getting the two cookies. On those occasions, as soon as the bag of cookies is opened, she runs to her crate. My friends are always impressed with how willing she is to go into her crate when we meet here before going to dinner. In all of our training, being predictable is really important. When we do start-line stays in agility, I make sure that I do the exact same behaviors every single time so that Barley knows exactly when she is released. Our crate routine is the same concept--she knows that she has to go in, but she also knows I will come back and let her out eventually. 

4. It gives Barley a safe place. Barley can also have anxiety in new places. When my parents' moved to their new house, Barley was back to her early behaviors of following me every single time I moved (seriously, in the first few months I had her, I'd embrace dehydration because every time I got up to pee, I'd have to start all over again with getting her settled and by the time that happened, it would be time for another bathroom break). She didn't know where her spot was. Even though the furniture was the same and their dog's bed was still in the living room, the space was different and Barley couldn't figure out where she belonged. Then we brought her crate (yes, her grandma bought her her very own crate for visits to grandma's house) in from the garage and Barley immediately went in and took a nap. She doesn't often go in her crate to relax at home--and who would when you have two human beds, a loveseat, and two dog beds that aren't in a crate to choose from instead?--but she always knows that her crate is her place when she does need a break.

5. It gives us a time out spot. Some times, I need a break. For example, there are times when a certain dog with run to all three litter boxes, grab a mouthful of litter, and spit it into the middle of the carpet. When I turn to clean up one pile, she'll run back to another box for round 2. Other times, she wants to chase her brother when he's trying to get away from the vacuum. Or, maybe she just won't stop trying to take things out of the trashcan while I'm desperately trying to finish grading papers so I can go to bed and that can't happen when I'm getting up to get her away from the trash every .2 seconds. Bar's crate is never a punishment, but some times I just need her to be still, so I'll say, "Hey, do you want to go into your crate?" and she'll run right into her crate with no treats involved, I'll lave the door open, and she'll lie down while I do what I need to do and stay there until I say "Ok." This keeps me sane.

Of course, there are days I feel guilty about how much time Barley spends in her crate. Most days, she's not in there long--now that I teach a class or two online each semester, I only have to go to campus for a few hours four days a week. The rest of the time, I'm usually home with Barley or out adventuring with Barley. But there are days like one a few weeks ago when I had to go to campus for my usual 5 hours, but I also had to do a peer review for a colleague and her class was much later in the day. I managed to come home for a quick walk and lunch between my classes and the start of hers, but it was a long day of being in the crate for Barley and I felt bad.

In the end, though, the guilt I'd feel if she hurt herself or her brother while I was gone far outweighs any guilt I might feel about limiting her freedom. If it weren't for her crate, I'm pretty sure that I wouldn't have managed to maintain any level of sanity in the almost 5 years Barley's been in my life. I know crates aren't right for every dog, but they are absolutely right for my dog.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Elf on the Shelf

Most of my Facebook friends have kids, so over the last few days my newsfeed has been overrun with adorable pictures of the adventures their elves have been having--or with friends sharing the article about how their kids won't have Elf on the Shelf because they are too lazy or most recently with the friends whose elves have "broken legs" and can't move without the magic healing that comes from several days of good behavior. I'd probably fall into the too lazy category if I had kids, but I do think the idea is cute: the elf watches the kids' behavior through the day, reports back to Santa, and then comes back and hides in a new place for the kids to find him/her the next day.

Lately, I've been wishing there was a pet version of Elf on the Shelf because Barley and Soth seem to have forgotten that Santa Paws is watching.

Soth has been waking up at the crack of dawn every. single. day. My Up band, which tracks sleep in addition to steps, has been yelling at me because I've been waking up at least 3 times per night every night for the last week--all because some little cat has been jumping onto various surfaces and trying to clear them of books, glasses, jewelry, bottles of lotion, or whatever other items he doesn't think should be there so he can tell me he needs to be fed RIGHT NOW. Heaven forbid his bowl be empty for more than 30 seconds.

"I have no idea what you could be referring to and I'm appalled that you'd even suggest such a thing."

I promise he does not stay like this all night.
Yesterday morning, I scooped him up the third time he woke me up, put him on his special blanket at the food of the bed, and sternly said, "If you wake me up again, you will be out on the streets." (Have I mentioned I'm not a morning person?) He listened and stayed in bed until I woke up two hours later. An elf would probably have been a friendlier reminder to be on his best behavior than my stern--but empty--threat.

Barley has been equally naughty lately. One of my favorite things is clean sheets. There is nothing I love more than snuggling into clean sheets on the first night they are on the bed. This weekend, I put clean sheets on the bed and was very much looking forward to enjoying them at the end of the day. When I wandered into the bedroom that afternoon, I noticed that my nicely made bed had been unmade--while nobody was caught in the act, I am fairly certain it was my little burrowing dog.

And that same little burrowing dog, has also decided that she can't wait until Christmas to see what her Aunt Lindsey is getting. I'd hidden the box that Aunt L's present was in under my bed so she wouldn't find it while she was here for Thanksgiving and Barley didn't mess with it once during the two weeks it was there. Then yesterday, I moved it into the spare room with all of the other gifts I'll need to take to my parents' house in a couple weeks so that it doesn't get forgotten. As I was grading papers, I heard a shredding noise. When I went into the spare room, I found Barley very busy trying to tear the corner off of the box. 

Clearly the darlings don't know that Santa Paws is watching their every move and deciding if they deserve any new toys for Christmas. I wonder if an elf would help them to remember.