Saturday, April 30, 2016

My Friends Know My Dog Better Than I Do

The other day, my friend came over. Barley, of course, alerted me to her arrival as soon as her car pulled into the driveway, so I opened the door before she made it all the way up the front steps.

As she walked in the door, she said, "Oh! I want to hear what your doorbell sounds like!" (The novelty of my house hasn't worn off for any of us yet!) Barley danced around and then pounced on her to smother her with kisses and dog hair while I recounted a story that happened earlier in the week.

Barley and I had been snuggling on the couch and she was fast asleep. Someone came to the door and rang the doorbell. Barley popped up and flew over the back of the couch. Then she ran to the backdoor. Once I stopped laughing, I took the opportunity to open the front door while she was distracted. 

When I told my friend the story, she said, "Oh, Barley! The front door isn't behind the couch anymore." For a second, I was confused. Then I remembered that in the apartment, the back of the couch faced the front door, so Barley was running to the door behind the couch.

While Barley's chosen path of going over the back of the couch is still hilarious, it all makes sense why she ran to the back door instead of the much closer front door. In the short month we've lived here, I might have already forgotten the layout of our old living room, but Barley obviously hasn't. I'm glad that my friends know my dog better than I do sometimes. Mystery solved.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Celebrating Our Successes

Living with a brilliant, but reactive dog is full of challenges and I try to be real about those challenges: from Barley's classmates ending up in her mouth to nipping at me in agility and getting into poisonous snacks, I try not to sugar coat what life with Barley is like.

But I think it's equally important to celebrate our successes and this has been a very good week.

On Tuesday, a couple of my friends were having a kickball game with the student organization they advise, so Barley and I walked down to campus to watch. She got to be showered in pets from the students before and after the game and we dog to do some reaction to distraction practice as the kickball flew and bounced across the field and students squealed. Barley tends to get very excited about that type of action being a herding dog, so I was thrilled when she regularly turned from the action to check in with me and eventually decided to graze on the grass instead of watching the game.

Later in the week, we were in our yard on Barley's 20-foot long lead. A dog--who looks a lot like Barley's cousin Maddux--in a fenced yard two yards down came outside. Usually, the dog just sits and watches us, but it must have been feeling feisty because it pranced a bit, wagged its tail, and barked a few times. Normally, that's enough to send Barley lunging to the end of her lead, but this time when I called her name, she came trotting back over to me and curled around my legs for some petting. Then she went back to wandering the yard, occasionally looking at her neighbor and checking back in with me.

During class that night, one of her agility classmates emptied a bag of treats and while the human member of the pair was putting the treats in her pouch, the dog member stuck her head inside the empty bag. Barley thought that was the most exciting thing she's ever seen and she sat at alert with her front paws prancing and her entire back end wiggling, trying to decide if she could get over there to get in on the action. But as soon as I said, "What's that?" she was spinning around to look at me. Our classmates helped us out with more distraction work by rustling the bag periodically through class (and occasionally letting her dog stick her head back in the bag). Barley chose me every time.

That work in class really paid off because we had big distractions after class when we stopped at the park to visit our deer friends. To the side with the deer, you have to cross a bridge--it's a very sturdy bridge with lots of rails to prevent you from falling in and it's wide enough for traffic in both directions--Barley and I can comfortable share the bridge with a bike passing us--but it's not really big enough for Barley to be comfortable passing dogs.

We usually wait at the end until we have a clear shot if we happen to see a dog walking towards us so we don't meet in the middle. This week, there was a small dog going in the same direction as us, so we gave them a head start and then slowed our pace to make sure there was a safe distance between us. The little dog got slower and slower the further out it got on the bridge, so we slowed down a little more. 

But then a man with a young lab that we'd seen coming up the trail to the bridge got on the bridge. His pup was excited and a glance over my shoulder let me know it was straining at the end of its leash, but still pretty far behind us. A few times I heard the man say, "No. Cut that out," but Bar and I kept walking and I kept rewarding her for ignoring the panting and wheezing coming from behind us. As the little dog got slower, we got slower, but the man and the lab did not. I could hear the panting of the lab getting closer and closer--so I called Barley to my front so I could switch her to my right side easily and she'd have me on one side and the side of the bridge on the other. At the same time, Mr. Lab Guy decided that he and his exuberant pup should zoom past us and the little dog. The lab pup stretched it's neck out to try to sniff Barley in passing--an action that often results in Barley snapping at the other dog--and Barley turned her head towards the dog and then came right back in front of me so I could flip her over onto my right. She got lots of praise and lots of treats. (The little dog ahead of us was much more vocal about its feelings about being passed on the bridge.)

The deer were too far off the trail for good pictures this week, but we still waved and said hi to Barley's best friends as we passed and we got lots of good practice with other dogs as it seemed like the little dog was there no matter which trail we turned down.

Barley and I are off to celebrate trees this afternoon--hope everyone has a happy Arbor Day and is able to get out and enjoy some time under their favorite trees!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Rediscovering the Geneva State Park

We hadn't visited the Geneva State Park in a few weeks. Now that we live in a neighborhood where we can walk by the lake every day, it's harder to convince myself to get in the car and drive to the park--even though it's only about 5 minutes farther away than it was from our old home.

Earth Day seemed like a good excuse to visit the park and get a little closer to the lake, though. Barley was excited for the change of scenery. 

Barley was especially excited to get to use Mother Nature's agility course with driftwood on the beach.

We had such a good Earth Day walk that we ended up going every day this weekend. Each day was a completely different walk. Friday was a nice relaxed walk with lots of stops for pictures. Friday also included lots of direction changes because somebody was extra interested in the Canada Geese and after she insisted on lunging at each one we saw, I made the executive decision to change paths each time we saw one.

Saturday was a fast-paced walk because it had cooled off quickly and I wasn't interested in standing still for long since I had one less layer than I really needed. 

Sunday was my favorite day at the park. It was sunny and cool, but not too cold. I'd originally just planned to go for a short walk--I wanted donuts from the local donut shop that you conveniently have to pass to get to the park, so I was using a short walk as a good excuse to get a donut. 

But the day was so nice, we just kept walking. Barley started moving towards one of the paths that leads to the beach and while I usually don't let her decide where we're going on walks, I know that tourists will be invading soon and our days on the beach will be more limited until fall, so I gave in let her lead the way.

Barley doesn't swim, but she does like to charge at the waves and chomp them. It was a pretty calm day, so she didn't get as enthusiastic as usual, but it was still fun to watch.

We also mixed things up with a stroll down the trail through the woods. We hadn't been on those trails for months just to avoid crossing paths with hunters, so it was a nice change of pace.

Barley found a pretty along the trail.

I decided to push our luck and take a second wooded trail after the first one turned out to be so enjoyable--little did I know that the trail would be a mud pit. Even though the trail head was just a few feet away from the first one and started out running parallel to the first one, we were slipping, sliding, and pulling our feet out of the mud. Neither one of us enjoys mud, but we enjoyed the views of the different ponds along the trail.

We were so happy to be back in a favorite place. Even though we see Lake Erie daily in our neighborhood walks, the park offers so many different ways to enjoy the lake without constantly worrying about being on the lookout for other dogs. We still see other dogs, but people in the park are very good at following leash laws and the visibility at the park gives us plenty of time to prepare for passing them or choose to change directions. Taking a few weeks away from the park gave me a renewed appreciation for the lovely place we live in.

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Best Things In Life

Recently, I realized that all of the very best things in life start with B.

Last weekend, it was finally warm enough for us to take advantage of many of my favorite things all at once: beer, baseball, and Barley in the backyard!

Is there anything better than drinking a beer and watching a ball game with your BFF on the back porch?

Beer is even better when it has a sense of humor.

Barley is loving having a backyard as much as I am. Even though we don't have a fence yet, there are only dogs on one side of our yard and they have a big fence, so we can use our 50-foot long line to toss balls around in the yard. Barley isn't really a fetching dog. She prefers to chase a ball, then nudge it with her nose or throw it up in the air herself, so we have lots of strangely shaped balls that are more enjoyable for her. We have one with feet and one shaped like a frog that has nubby eyes and feet sticking off of it and they both bounce in unexpected ways instead of just rolling on a straight line.

I'm also falling more in love with my basement every day, especially my basement dog shower that we tried out for the first time last weekend, so that's another pretty excellent B word.

Wait, bath starts with B and that's not one of the best things.

While Soth doesn't start with B, his nickname is Bunny, so he still counts.

And so do actual the actual bunnies that frolic in our backyard every night.

Barking also starts with B. That's a great thing, right?
My birthday buddy also pointed out that both of our names--Ben and Beth--start with B as well and then my brother pointed out that his name--also Ben--starts with B, so I'm pretty sure that's all the proof we need that the very best things in life start with the letter B.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Keep the Old

Last week, Barley got to make some new friends when we met my co-workers for a mid-day walk. She loves to meet new people, but I this week I was excited to take her back to visit some old friends.

Long time readers know that Barley has one of those weird animal friendships with the deer in a park near agility class. She's been known to sit patiently on a trail with deer grazing less than 5 feet away (even though she can't be that close to most other dogs). Since our training center moved, the park where Barley's friends live isn't as convenient to get to. It's finally staying light enough that we were able to visit the park after agility this week.

I always love visiting this park after class because the sunset over the river is always stunning. Barley seemed excited to see the sunset, too.

When we first got to the park, there were a lot of people walking their dogs and the deer were staying deeper in the woods along the trail. We could see them and Barley's tail was wagging away, but the deer never linger along the trail long when there are many other dogs on the trails.

Do you see my friends back there? 

As we kept walking, I saw the deer chasing each other across a big field and then settling along the trail we had to take to get back to the car.  There were about 8 deer eating alongside the trail, and Barley was so happy to see a group of her friends nearby.  

The deer stopped their eating long enough to look up and smile for the camera, and then they were perfectly content to go back to feeding while we watched them for a few minutes.

We ended up doing about a mile more than I'd intended on going since I had plenty of work waiting on me at home, but it had been months since we'd been able to visit this park and seeing how happy Barley was to be back made it totally worth getting home late and having to stay up until after midnight to finish grading papers.

The clouds were covering the moon, but the eastern sky was a beautiful blue.
I was glad to see that Barley is a good little Girl Scout and kept her old friends despite making some new ones--after all, "one is silver and the other's gold."

Friday, April 15, 2016

Make New Friends

Our university has started a new healthy living initiative that encourages employees to get up and move throughout the work day. On Fridays, some of my coworkers get together and take a 20 minute walk around campus. I'm not usually on campus on Fridays since I use that day to grade for online classes from the couch, but now that I've moved closer to work and the weather (at least for today) is gorgeous, I checked with the group to see if they'd like a 4-legged companion for today's walk.

I was a little nervous about the outing because this hasn't been our best week ever between the poisoning, then Barley scratching my newly painted kitchen walls in an attempt to see the neighbor dogs out the window, followed by Barley chasing a squirrel while on her long lead which resulted in my fingernail being bent back and my hand being covered in blood and Barley going on a short solo adventure when the leash flew out of my hand.  It was hard to imagine a new adventure going smoothly.

Since we hadn't walked down to campus yet, I wasn't sure exactly how long it would take, so we left extra early and took a quick loop around the campus ourselves. Then we had about 10 minutes to wait for my coworkers, so we did some relaxation exercises in front of the building.

It was a beautiful, sunshiny day--not the best for selfie taking.

Barley was incredible. She greeted the large group of people 8 people calmly and let them pet her and hug her and tell her how sweet she was. Then she trotted along right beside with a perfectly loose leash as we walked and talked with the group. As the group started splitting off to go back to their various offices, Barley was a little concerned about her "flock" breaking up and kept watching after each person. One of the administrative assistants commented on how amazing it was to see her instincts kicking in as she kept looking at each person and trying to keep track of everyone even though she'd just met them.

The outing was heaven to Barley. She had a whole group of people to fawn over her and not another dog in sight. She was so comfortable and relaxed the entire walk. With the walk to and from campus plus the walk around campus, we ended up with a little over 4-miles for the adventure. Between that and the 65-degree weather, Barley was one tired camper by the time we got home. She sprawled on the couch and let me get some grading done without making me get up to chase her away from the cat food.

We went out and did a little yard work later in the afternoon, but I'm a little wary of pushing her too hard this week after the baker's chocolate incident, so we stuck to one long walk instead of adding on to our mileage with a second walk. Barley seemed content to spend the rest of day in the yard with me and watching birds with her brother.

Soth's tail was moving like a snake as he watched the robins.

Barley and I are looking forward to more walks with my coworkers in the coming weeks. It's fun to see Barley enjoying a walk so much and for a dog who prefers the company of people there's not a better environment for her than this!

Happy weekend everyone! Hope you're all getting to enjoy a little bit of spring this weekend, too!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

It's Not Easy

This has not been the best week in my relationship with Barley. I've mentioned that she's been having a hard time adjusting to our new house, but I thought she was starting to settle in more. She stopped crying when I put her in the crate to go to work. She'd started to initiate play again. I stopped worrying.

And I failed her.

I mentioned that all of my pantry items are temporarily in the basement while I finish the last little bit of my kitchen overhaul and that Barley was interested in those bags. I wasn't too concerned about it because every time she'd try to go down to the basement, I'd go retrieve her and with the exception of the taco seasoning when I was moving laundry to the dryer and was a couple extra steps behind her, if she'd stolen something, I was waiting at the end of the staircase to take it from her.

On Tuesday, Soth wanted to go play in the basement so I let him down there while I ate a late lunch and watched some of the Pirates game. Barley was a little restless, so I thought if we went upstairs and snuggled in bed she'd settle down. Soth was still in the basement, so I left the door open and Bar and I headed upstairs.

She snuggled up close and I propped up the iPad so we could still watch the game. The Pirates were behind by a lot and all of the sudden my eyes were closed.

When I woke up, Barley wasn't in bed with me. Often, she sleeps under the bed or in her bed in the closet, so I just assumed she was napping on her own. I changed clothes and started to get ready to go for a walk and called Barley a few times. I didn't hear her tail thumping under the bed or any jingle of her tags. 

I ran downstairs--still no Barley, but there was a a shredded box that used to contain baker's chocolate. Pretty soon, Barley came bouncing up the basement steps and I panicked.

Baker's chocolate is one of the very worst chocolates a dog could eat, so I knew that I had to induce vomiting immediately. Of course, my hydrogen peroxide wasn't in any of the bathroom bins that still need to be unloaded. My mom had thrown out some expired stuff from the bathroom cabinet, so I wondered if that was one of the purged items. I knew I didn't have time to keep looking, so I put Barley in her crate and ran to Dollar General to get more.

Nothing makes me feel guiltier than having to induce vomiting. I walked Barley around the yard, waiting for it to hit her. She started walking like she was a drunk and sat down. I could see on her face that she had no idea what was happening to her. In a few minutes, chocolate was covering my backyard, but Barley was back to walking normally.

We sat down on the back steps (several years ago, I learned that you never go back inside right away) and I hugged her and cried and apologized. She just wagged her tail. Then one of the neighbor dogs a few houses down appeared in its yard and Barley bounced down the stairs to look at it.

We've been down this road before--it's been years since we've had a situation as serious as this one, but I always keep a few cans of sensitive stomach food on hand so that Barley can have a few meals that are easier on her tummy. I picked up some Pepcid AC for her after work on Wednesday because I did know that was one of the expired items that got thrown out when we moved and our vet has recommended it other times she's eaten things that might irritate her stomach lining. 

She's back to her normal, bouncy mischievous self, but I'm still kicking myself for not watching her more closely. To make matters worse, I had considered throwing that baker's chocolate out when we moved, but when I saw it didn't expire until 2017, I decided to keep it even though I can't remember the last time I baked something that wasn't for dogs to eat.

After I made sure Barley was settled, I went down to the basement and moved all of the "pantry" bags off of the floor and onto shelves where they can stay until I get the last little bit of the kitchen finished.

From now on, if one of us is in the basement, we're all in the basement. Soth might not be happy that he has more limited access to his favorite place in the house, but until Barley feels completely at home in our house, it's all for one and one for all.

I'm very thankful that things turned out ok this time--and for our wonderful vet who has prepared me for situations like this, especially since they always happen after the clinic is closed. Please send some good vibes out into the universe for my Barley girl. I think this move has been even harder on her than I had anticipated and I'm hoping that she'll feel a little more comfortable every day, so having a few more people sending those good vibes her way can't hurt. 

Friday, April 8, 2016

Are You Training Her?

Barley is a dog that demands attention with her curly tail and her intense focus on me. We spent 5 years taking daily walks in our old neighborhood. If we went out of town, our neighbors would comment on how much they'd missed seeing us (despite the fact that our neighborly conversations never extended past "Hi! How are you? How about this weather?"). 

Walks in our new neighborhood have been no different. Neighbors stop and ask what kind of dog she is or shout "That's a good looking dog" as we walk by. But I was thrown off by one of the neighborhood kids recently. 

A group of kids were playing football in the middle of the street and as we walked by, one girl yelled, "Are you training her?"

Those who have been long-term readers know that one of the things I love about walking with Barley is the opportunity to talk to people about training. At first, I wasn't sure how to respond. We weren't actively training specific skills like we do in agility class or when we pick out a new behavior to learn. We'd taken enough walks in our new neighborhood that we were cutting back on the number of treats she was getting when she saw another dog. Were we training?

I'm not particularly good at talking to children, so I fumbled out "yes" and kept walking, but I didn't stop thinking about my response.

I realized that even when I'm not intentionally training Barley, we are training. When we're walking, I'm reinforcing the behavior the we did spend hours formally training (and sometimes we have to go back to that formal training).

"Yes, I do want to check out that view of the lake, but I know I need to keep my leash loose, so I'll wait for you."

Our walks are also good places to reinforce the behavior we do need in more formal training settings like sit-stays in new places to help with our start-line stays in agility.

We can use benches to practice sending to tables for agility class. 

Every time I have Barley pose for a picture and praise her for her good behavior, she remembers that feeling and is more likely to do it in more serious situations. Every time she looks at me instead of another dog and I tell her what a good puppy she is, she's more likely to look at me the next time we have an encounter with another dog.

We are always training. Even when I don't realize it. Our agility instructor always reminds our class, "They perform what they practice." Every walk we take, every interaction we have, is practice for helping Barley understand the appropriate ways to navigate her world and we'll never actually be done training.

We're joining up with Tenacious Little Terrier, Rubicon Days, and Cascadian Nomads for the Positive Reinforcement Pet Training Week that begins on the first Monday of each month and lasts all week.  Be sure to visit all of the other great blogs participating in the hop!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Bonnie and Clyde

It took a long time for Soth to tolerate his sister. I was never actually sure that he'd grow to like her. Of course, I wanted them to be one of those pairs of unlikely animal friends, but after the first few months of being a multi-pet home, I changed my expectations and decided that if they could peacefully co-habitate, that was good enough for me. If they were happing pretending the other one didn't exist, that would have to be ok.

Our first family photo--11 months after Barley joined the family. Soth took it under duress.
I'm pretty sure Soth has tried to poison his sister. Since Barley has never once taken anything off the top of my dresser--including packages of dog treats that I use to lure her to her side of the bed every night, I'm almost certain that Soth is the one that knocked the bottle of Aleve off the dresser leading Barley to give them a little sample in her second self-poisoning attempt. Knowing Soth, this was his attempt to off his sister.

Somewhere in our 5+ years together, they started to become not necessarily friends, but siblings. Once, someone told me "If she wasn't my sister, I'm not sure we'd be friends" and I'm pretty sure Barley and Soth could relate to this statement. If the universe hadn't made them siblings, they probably wouldn't choose to hang out with each other, but since they are stuck under the same roof, they may as well make the best of it.

Now these two are the biggest co-conspirators there are.

On Tuesday, I was taking a much needed nap before I got back to lesson planning. Shortly after I fell asleep, I heard a crash from downstairs. Barley was with me, so I knew it was just the world's hangriest cat trying to tell me his bowl was empty. Since nothing breakable has been unpacked yet, I decided to just ignore it and I fell fast asleep. 

When I woke up, my hair was a tangled mess and I decided to attempt to brush it out before I took Barley for a walk. (The downside of moving closer to works mean that I'm now in an area where I'm  more likely to run into students and co-workers, so I figured I shouldn't walk with a rat's nest on the side of my head.)

Sometime between falling fast asleep and finishing brushing out my hair, Barley ventured downstairs. When I got downstairs, I found a very empty treat container in the living room.

This was about 2/3 full before nap time.

I'm not sure exactly when it happened--I have a hard time believing Barley could inhale almost a pound of jerky in the short amount of time I brushed my hair, but I also have a hard time believing that she'd make it all the way downstairs (she sounds like a herd of elephants going down the stairs) without waking me up. I know it wasn't Soth because I've offered him bites of these treats before and he turns his nose up at them. 

I decided Barley wasn't going to get dinner (except for a few kibbles in her bowl so she wouldn't be begging for food all night long). Shortly after making that decision, I caught the pet siblings conspiring in the hallway beside Barley's bowl. 

I am pretty sure Barley was trying to convince Soth to help her get something else to eat.

Things work both ways with these pets. Tonight, Barley decided to steal a snack out of one of the bags of pantry items I have in my basement while I finish painting a couple more shelves to go in my cabinets. I came out of the laundry room and couldn't find Barley in the basement where she'd been moments before. 

I went up to the living room and found her on her bed--with a packet of taco seasoning. She didn't seem that excited by it and put up no fuss when I took it away.

But my little New Mexican kitty was thrilled. He started rolling around the bed and purring like crazy. (This is the same cat that licked my plants clean after I read that sprinkling plants with chili powder would keep cats from eating them.)

They might not be friends, but Barley and Soth are definitely partners in crime.

Heart Like a Dog

Be sure to visit all of the great blogs participating in Barks and Bytes today hosted by Heart Like a Dog and 2 Brown Dawgs!

Saturday, April 2, 2016

I Love You More Than Rainbows

When I adopted Soth, his paperwork put his birthday somewhere in early April. To make sure that I never forgot his birthday, I chose April 2 (my half birthday) as the day we would celebrate.

Yesterday, Soth went to the vet for his annual check up. I knew today was his birthday, but as I looked at the paperwork, I realized that today he was turning eight! How did that happen? On one hand, it feels like he's always been with me, but on the other hand, it seems like just yesterday I was driving to Santa Fe to pick him out.

He is the very best snuggler and an even better reading buddy.

He's my favorite fella to soak up the sun with.

And as he's matured, he's even been thoughtful enough to offer to help with chores.

I have never been been a cat person, but I am 100% a this cat person. I love you more than rainbows, my sweet, sweet Soth, and hope you have many, many more happy birthdays.