Behavior | Behavior Behavior en-us Fri, 30 Jan 2015 02:00:00 -0800 Fri, 30 Jan 2015 02:00:00 -0800 Orion <![CDATA[8 Ways Having a Dog Can Get -- and Keep -- You Fit]]> Ask anyone who owns a dog, and they will tell you that there is no need for a gym membership. Why pay money, get dressed up just in case your treadmill is in front of the cute guy or girl, and drive to another location when you live with the best trainer in the world?

Here are eight ways my dog and those I dog sit keep me fit. They can work for you, too!

1. Alarm clock

There is no sleeping in when you are a dog owner. Every morning at approximately 6:30, there is a cute pup standing next to my bed, with his head resting on the mattress, staring at me with big pumpkin-colored eyes, whining. I can tell him to go back to bed, pull the blankets over my head, and try to ignore him. Nothing will deter him, though, from doing his job of getting me out of bed and into some yoga pants. 

2. Daily walking coach

I suppose you don't have to walk your dog, but if you don't you will most likely be sorry. About the time you are ready to curl up on your sofa for some quiet TV viewing, your pup's crazy, which has been growing inside him all day, will come bursting out! There is nothing worse than trying to watch NCIS while a pup is running figure eights through your house, taking out everything in his path, only pausing when he is directly in front of the TV to stare at you and bark. The only cure for the crazies is to leash up, head out, and start burning calories.

3. Deep knee bends

I recently dog sat a pup whose dad told me that the chance of the sweet furry family member pooping while on a walk was 99 percent. He isn't alone. To a dog, walking means pooping. And who can blame them? They are out and about, free to stop when the urge strikes, over and over and over again. Each time it's your job, as the human with hands, to grab a plastic bag and position yourself next to the pile, kneel deeply, scoop, and swoosh back up, all while flipping your wrist in such a way that the poop is contained and the bag is neatly tied off. When done correctly, you should feel a burn in your upper thighs and glutes.

4. Arm strengthening

This doesn't apply to dogs who are leash trained, but to those who aren't quite there yet and are still getting the hang of walking politely. Take advantage of your dog's training period to tone those arms. The bigger the dog, the stronger the pull and the need to reign in. Remember, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and that just happens to be your arms doing their darnedest to not pull out of their sockets. Try to keep the work in your biceps for the best results. Leaning back and using your entire body as a counterbalance is cheating.

5. Additional calories burned

Small dogs are genius at adding additional weight to your walk, allowing you to burn more calories. Just walk until your dog is pooped and/or begging to be held. Scoop him up in your arms, turn around, and walk home. Little dogs are often the best trainers and will take every opportunity to help get you reach your fitness goal faster.

6. Balance work

To get the best balance workout, you will have to bring in some additional help in the form of doggie friends. Don't go too fast. Start small with three or so leashes. Preferably, one or more of these dogs should be trained in the sport of "wandering," where he zig-zags around the other dogs and you. During your walk, at random times, it will become necessary to untangle yourself from the leashes that will be trying to tie and trip you up. Stay calm and breathe through it. As you get more skilled and a faster response time, you can add more dogs.

7. Stamina

The more your coach and you go out together, the stronger you will become. It won't take long for a half-hour walk to not tire your partner out enough. You will have to extend your daily outings to an hour, then maybe twice a day. While this may seem overwhelming at first, just remember how great your Fitbit "steps taken" chart is going to look.

8. Mental agility

Your body isn't the only thing that needs a good workout, your mind needs attention as well. The more social your dog, the more training you will be giving your brain, strengthening your ability to focus. The older woman with a walker, the casual cyclist, the little girls playing hopscotch, the neighborhood dog bully, an outdoor cat -- all and more require you to pay attention, analyze, and react. If you really want to push your mental workout to the next level, go out for walks during high traffic times when, for example, young skateboarders are cruising the neighborhood. There is nothing that will heighten all your senses more than hearing the "chunk, chunk, chunk" of small skateboard wheels coming toward you.

After a few weeks of this ongoing fitness routine, your friends will be asking what you have done to look so good and who they can call to get similar results. Just point them to their nearest shelter. Their own personal live-in trainer is waiting for them.

Read more about dogs and personal fitness:

About the author: Wendy Newell is a former VP of Sales turned Grade A Dog Sitter. After years of stress, she decided to leave the world of "always be closing" to one of tail wags and licks. Wendy's new career keeps her busy hiking, being a dog chauffeur, picking up poo, sacrificing her bed, and other fur-filled activities. Wendy and her dog, Riggins, take their always-changing pack of pups on adventures throughout the Los Angeles area, where they live together in a cozy, happy home. You can learn more about Wendy, Riggins, and their adventures on Facebook and Instagram.

Fri, 30 Jan 2015 02:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/fitness-exercise-tips-working-out-with-dogs-personal-trainer
<![CDATA[Can the Scorpion Scooper Handle Saint Bernard Poop? Monkey's Person Finds Out!]]> First things first. There's simply no way to review a product that picks up dog poop without first discussing, well, my dog's poop. To be specific, my 140-pound Saint Bernard's poop. There's no cute way to say it; the truth is: Monkey's poop is a real situation.

No, it does not require me to carry around a shovel, as stranger after stranger loves to suggest, but picking it up does require my tiny hand to use a stacking technique (which I've perfected unless he starts pulling and then ... oh goodness), and I do use a bag that's slightly thicker than your average poop bag. AND OKAY, FINE. SOMETIMES I HAVE TO USE TWO BAGS. I don't really want to talk about those times, though. Some things in life are best dealt with in therapy, don't you agree?

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The other truth about Monkey's enormous poop is that I don't mind picking it up. Don't get me wrong, I don't look forward to the four million times it seems to happen every day. And I get really annoyed when he pulls his signature move of watching me only bring one poop bag and then spreading his poop out into three sessions. But for the most part, bending over, stacking his poop up so that it fits in the bag, and then tying the bag into a knot, is not the worst part of my day.

Could I do without the stares I get from passersby as I navigate his poop? Sure. Do I wish I didn't have to hear little girls scream, "EWWWWWWWWWWW!" as they stare at the poop drop from his butt onto the small patch of dirt he's found next to a San Francisco sidewalk tree? Absolutely. And does it bug the crap (pun intended, sorry) out of me when someone comes over to say hi right as he's about to go? Yes, yes it does. Seriously, people. Stop doing that.

Still, when I was offered the chance to try out the Scorpion Scooper (whose tagline, "Picking Up Is Just a Simple Squeeze Away," is rather unfortunate), I obviously had to say yes. Mostly because I was convinced that there was no way all of Monkey's poop would fit into a pooper scooper, but also because hey, why not? There may come a day when I can't bend over (she says, remembering the time she fractured her spine snowboarding), and also it promised "multiple pickups per bag," which seemed like an attractive option for when Monkey and I spend time in Tahoe and I (don't judge) let him go in the yard and I don't always pick it up immediately. Oh, like you've never done that ...

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Probably if Monkey and I didn't spend a lot of time in Tahoe, I would never have agreed to even give the Scorpion Scooper a chance. I mean, I have very little shame, but I just couldn't picture me walking around my San Francisco neighborhood with a pooper scooper. Monkey already attracts enough attention; we can do without any more. Still, it seemed like it could be good for people who live in the suburbs or have yards, so I felt like it was my doodie, I mean duty, to try it out. (I CANNOT HELP THE PUNS. I'm sorry.)

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Here's what the Scorpion Scooper promised:

  • Easy to carry and use
  • No bending over
  • No touching of the poop 
  • Multiple pickups per bag 
  • No smell 
  • Single-handed operation
  • Scooper stays clean

And here's how that went for me:

Easy to carry and use

I fancy myself an intelligent girl who can follow directions pretty well. Case in point: I have built more IKEA furniture by myself in this lifetime than I care to admit. But for some reason, I found the Scorpion Scooper kind of hard to figure out. Basically, you have to find the holes on the bag (it uses special bags) and then stick those onto the scooper. And then you pull the bag through and voila -- ish. I thought I did it properly, but my first (and fine, second) attempts to actually pick up poop did not go well. I mean, I even watched the YouTube video, and it STILL didn't help.

And while I don't really want to talk about or admit this, the "no touching of the poop" promise was broken. Which never happens when I just use a good old-fashioned bag and my handy-dandy stacking technique. Also, I feel the need to point out that the poop pictured below is old poop and has therefore shriveled a bit, and it was also one of Monkey's smaller poops. I didn't want to totally terrify the entire world out of ever owning a Saint Bernard. You're welcome.

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No bending over

I suppose I did not bend over. And frankly, to me, this is the biggest benefit of the Scorpion Scooper. I think elderly people or people with back problems would really benefit from this tool (if they're smarter than I am and can figure out how to use it).

No touching of the poop

I already said I didn't want to talk about this. Sheesh!

Multiple pickups per bag

Okay, so I have NO clue how this would work, but I tried several techniques, one of which included me trying to sort of flip the first pile of poop deeper into the bag and then carrying it held high in the air, and let's just say it's a really good thing I was testing this product while alone in the woods. So, no: It did NOT pick up multiple Monkey poops. Not even close.

No smell

This promise makes no sense to me. Poop smells. Especially when it weighs close to a pound and comes out of an adorable Saint Bernard puppy. Even if I am standing five feet and seven inches above it.

Single-handed operation

I used two hands to set the whole thing up. One hand to carry it around and try to pick up the poop. And then two hands to get the bag off, so ... kinda?

Scooper stays clean

Cleaner than my hands, that's for sure! (No, in all seriousness, it does stay clean because it uses a bag, which seems like a good thing.) There wasn't an easy way to tie the bag when I was finished, though, which seems like a problem. Do people just dump untied poop bags into their garbage? #yucky

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I don't like to, ahem, dump on products; frankly, I'd rather just not review them. However, in this particular case, I suspect the Scorpion Scooper just isn't something that Monkey and I really need in our lives, so the fact that I also found it a little difficult to use (I'm sure it gets way easier the more you do it) and that it didn't pick up multiple poops (again, likely because Monkey's poops are huge), means it just wasn't a good fit for us. However, that doesn't mean it wouldn't be good for other people. Let me break it down:

Dogster scorecard for the Scorpion Scooper

  • Quality: It's made of a stainless steel wire, an aluminum allow shaft, and fiber-reinforced nylon parts. And it's super light at just eight ounces. I feel like it would last a long time.
  • Style: It's a pooper scooper, so let's not get carried away here. It's about function, not style.
  • Function: I found it harder to use than I thought I would, but now seems like a great time to mention that it has a FLASHLIGHT attached to it so you can pick up poop at night. I think that was my favorite part. Also, I am sure it would get easier to use with time.
  • Creativity: 100 points for creativity.
  • Value: Based on which length you choose, the Scorpion Scooper ranges from $19.95 to $24.95 and comes with 16 rolls of poop bags. If you were going to really use the Scorpion Scooper, I think it's an excellent value.

Bottom line

The Scorpion Scooper isn't for me, but I have a dog who poops BIG and am able to bend over and easily pick it up using my (patent-pending) stacking technique and a poop bag. I think for most people, this is an unnecessary tool, BUT if you can't bend over easily to pick up your dog's poop or if you just really hate picking up poop, then it could be a great option for you. No crap.

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Read more dog product reviews by Daisy Barringer and Monkey:

About the author: Daisy Barringer grew up in San Francisco and didn't let the fact that she's a city girl keep her from getting her dream dog: a Saint Bernard. She and Monkey love to romp in the snow in Tahoe, visit dog-friendly bars, watch 49ers football, and drool. Yup, both of 'em. 

Thu, 29 Jan 2015 04:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/scorpion-poop-scooper-review-saint-bernard
<![CDATA[How Do Dogs Show Affection to Humans?]]> As a professional dog trainer, I am immersed in teaching dogs and their humans. It's rare to get a question I haven't been asked many times before -- but I did recently, and not from a client but from a cat-fanatic friend who has never had a dog.

She asked: How do dogs show affection to humans? Great question! Even those who have lived with dogs can sometimes misread canine language.

Before I share the top ways that dogs show affection, though, please keep in mind that something occurring to a dog IS aversive if the dog feels it is. In other words, it's not just children who need to ask if they may pet someone else's dog. Even if given permission to say hello, please not only be respectful of the dog's space, but also watch his body and face closely to make sure that your petting is pleasing. Not all dogs want to be touched by strangers!

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This puppy is unsure about being touched in this moment. His worried brow, wide eyes, ears forward, and closed mouth are small but powerful communication signals that he is not 100-percent comfortable.

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Are these dogs ready and wiling to be petted by a human? Find out below.

Here are four ways dogs show affection:

1. With their tails

A wagging tail speaks volumes (although what is communicates isn't as important to canine language as is a dog's face and overall body posture). I love seeing what I call the big, windy helicopter tail on a dog I am meeting. My Border Collie, Radar, gives a big, circling tail wag when he meets people. If you tried to move your head around in the same way as his tail moves, you'd get dizzy quickly.

A dog with a wagging tail can bite someone or another dog, by the way, but it won't look like Radar's big wag. A dog's tail that is up over his back and stiff is not a come-let's-be friends tail. Walk away from a dog showing such stiffness, as it is often a warning flag. Look for the big, circling tail and wagging butt, especially if the dog is like my dog, Monster, who doesn't have a tail so much as a stub. He waggles his entire butt when he is happy and meeting a new person.

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This is not a happy, relaxed tail for my Border Collie, Radar. He is on high alert here, and it would not be a good time to pet him.

2. With their faces

What's happening with a dog's face when she is happy with a human? Dogs can smile or grin, like the one in the photo below. In general, you want to see an open, relaxed mouth and not a shut-tight grimace. Panting can be a sign of stress, so a happy dog might have her mouth open toward you, but shouldn't be excessively panting  -- unless it's a hot day or she has been exercising. Canine language must be taken in context.

The I-love-you dog eyes are not hard but soft, round, and probably looking you right in the eyes, which is completely different than a hard stare with little to no blinking coming from a dog -- that's a warning to back up. You also don't want to approach a dog showing "whale eyes," where the eyes are wide and you can see the whites around the pupils.

Watch out for "cheek puffing," as well, where his mouth is closed and he rapidly blows air out of his mouth, causing his cheeks to go in and out. That's often a sign of nervousness.

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My dog, Monster (who really isn't a monster at all), has a lovely smile that indicates he is happy to receive human attention.

3. With jumping

Not all humans, of course, like to be jumped on, but often dogs do so to get closer to your face and give you a big "Welcome home, friend!" lick. The human face is incredibly important to dogs. They are so attuned to us that they know us better than we know them. Most humans like to see an exuberant dog greeting them when they get home, but we trainers like to give the dogs different greeting ritual behaviors, like a lovely sit with a happy tail thumping on the ground.

Please be aware that sometimes dogs jump on humans for other reasons, such as those who suffer from separation anxiety and only get relief when their humans walk through the door. Frantic jumping tells you something a bit different than happy-camper jumping.

Also, some dogs can jump and boink you in the face hard with their muzzle. That is not a friendly greeting. It's hard to get a good look at a dog's eyes and mouth position as they are jumping toward your face, so while jumping up can be an indicator of happiness that you have returned to the home castle, it can mean others things, as well.

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My parent's mini Dachshund, Bitzy, shows her apprehension here with a closed mouth, worried brow, and ears slightly forward. The next photo shows an even more dramatic worried look.

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Here Bitsy looks back to her owner for support and guidance. Her whale eyes -- the whites showing around her pupils -- as well as her paw tentatively in the air and the ears back are telling me she isn't sure of my getting too close to her in this moment.

4. With leaning

I've worked with some large Labradors and Rottweilers (as well as other breeds) who love to lean on their human's leg while getting a scratch hello. The dog is often looking up and into the their humans' eyes during the lean in, looking all smiley with a mouth open and soft eyes. On the other paw, sometimes an insecure dog leans in for comfort and support. Nothing wrong with that.

Once, however, I met a "junkyard dog" who the owner proudly told me he had bred himself and that the dog was a combination of about five perceived tough-breed dogs. That dog never growled or put his hackles up when he met me. He gave me a hard stare on his way over to lean against my leg. It was not a loving lean. It made my blood run cold. He didn't bite me, but he warned me for sure. His body was stiff as a board, and his eyes told me that one wrong move and he'd dispatch me.

Take a look at what the face, body, and tail are doing as a dog leans in. You want to see an open mouth, rounded and relaxed eyes, and a relaxed body with a swooping big tail or butt wag.

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Radar is ready for human interaction here. You can tell by his relaxed, open mouth and soft eyes.

It's helpful to dogs everywhere for humans to slow their approach when meeting a new dog and to consider: Does this dog really want to greet me? Don't take it personally if the dog isn't interested. Petting such a dog is harmful to that dog, and who wants to be pushy to another species? Do take it personally, though, if you get any of the signs of affection noted above.

Read more by Annie Phenix:

About the author: Annie Phenix, CPDT-KA, is a force-free professional dog trainer enjoying her mountain-filled life in Colorado. She is a member of the Pet Professional Guild and the National Association of Canine Scent Work. She takes her highly trained dogs with them everywhere dogs are welcome because of their exceptionally good manners. Join Annie on her dog-training Facebook page.

Wed, 28 Jan 2015 02:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/dogs-affection-humans-dog-behavior-body-language
<![CDATA[5 Dog-Training Techniques That Could Also Work on Humans]]> January is National Train Your Dog Month, which led me to reflect upon some of the things I've learned in dog-training classes. I recently enrolled in a Reactive Rover class with my foster dog, Crystal, who has leash aggression. During the training, we've learned about several concepts that are useful in redirecting unwanted canine behavior. I couldn't help but relate them to my understanding of human behavior. In fact, the more I thought about the dog-training techniques I was learning, the more I wondered why we don't train humans the same way we train dogs. 

Here are five dog-training concepts I think could work well for humans, too.

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Our dog friends. (Photo by Zinnia Willingham)

1. Using treats freely

When discussing program outcomes and achievements at work with my boss, I always ask if we can have a pizza party as a reward. My pleas so far have remained ignored, but the idea fills me with delight.

I am fairly certain that my motivation in any area of life would improve if I were to be rewarded with pizza. For example, if I were to receive a slice of pizza immediately after paying my cell phone bill, I might be more inclined to do so in a timely manner. And I hope that if I ever date again, my suitor will use treats lavishly when trying to win my heart.

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Although pizza is my preferred treat, onion rings and curly fries will definitely do the trick. (Photo by Zinnia Willingham)

2. Being aware of trigger stacking

Why was this concept not taught to me years ago? This idea should probably be a part of any life-skills class. When trigger stacking was explained to me, I was 100-percent certain that this same kind of awareness of human behavior would be beneficial to us all.

In my case, I had to take certain life-skills classes when I was on welfare many years ago. You are taught common sense about paying bills, the value of work, etc. But one thing I wasn't taught was the concept of trigger stacking and how to manage accordingly. As humans, we hear about the importance of self-care, but rarely do we discuss becoming aware of what can trigger a stress response, which then leads to unwanted physical or emotional reactions.

As a single mom with a full-time job, I often feel trigger stacked. For all the children who are being raised in less than ideal circumstances, I imagine this is also a very common experience.

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My dog, Lilly, and me. My animals help me de-stress. (Photo by Zinnia Willingham)

Unfortunately, we live in a time in which school shootings have become common. I work for the largest urban school district in my state and have a child enrolled in the public school system. This means I have become desensitized to lockdowns, shelter-in-place events, and news releases announcing threats in, or near, our schools. Add busy commutes, trouble paying the bills, drama from a person's ex, and you can see how trigger stacking affects humans on a daily basis.

What if we had a language for and awareness of this as a society? Might be able to prevent more public violence if we paid more attention to the everyday stresses experienced by children and families and did more to reduce them, like we do for our dogs.

3. Taking plenty of walks

The importance of a daily walk cannot be underestimated. A common saying is, "A tired dog is a good dog." This can also be said for humans. A tired child is a good child. My son, Justin, is the most physically energetic person in our household. I know it is as good for him, and the rest of us, to get out for a walk with our dogs. Although I also know that what it takes to make one dog or person tired is different than what it might take another dog or person to get tired.

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Walking May Belle, Crystal, Lilly, and Daisy. (Photo by Zinnia Willingham)

In the spring, summer, and early fall, we are a lot better about taking our dogs out for longer walks and visits to both dog and human parks. In the cold, rainy season, my dog Lilly has eaten more pairs of shoes than I want to think about. And my son spends more time playing Nintendo games than is ideal.

4. Ignoring unwanted behavior

I should probably do more of this with my own children -- however, with one child who likes to take risks, such as climbing on furniture adjacent to third-floor windows, I am also aware that simply ignoring an undesired behavior is not always the best choice. I've also observed that if I don't say anything to the teenager about a litter box that has not been scooped, then it does not get done. So there needs to be some thought invested in which undesired behaviors are ignored and which aren't. In regards to my own behavior, I would be very favorable to the billing companies choosing to ignore the fact that a particular bill is a little late as opposed to charging me extra for it.

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Justin playing Nintendo DS while Lilly hangs out with him. This probably happens too much in winter. (Photo by Kezia Willingham)

5. Rewarding desired behavior

This principle connects back to the first one, but one cannot underestimate the power of the treat. I wouldn’t mind receiving a treat for every load of laundry that I wash, fold, and put away. Or for paying my bills on time. Or every time I ask my children to do something in the nice-mommy voice. Unfortunately, real life doesn't reward desired behavior in the moment. We have to learn to let the reward be a sense of integrity, I guess.

But treats would definitely work for me! And I know they work for my kids, too.

How about you? What training techniques have you tried on your dog that would work on the humans in your household? Let us know in the comments!

Read more by Kezia Willingham on Dogster:

Read more about dog training on Dogster:

About the author: Kezia Willingham is a Breadwinning Laundry Queen who works as a Health Coordinator for Head Start. She is a regular contributor to Catster and Dogster. Her writing has appeared in Literary Mama, The New York Times, The Seattle Times, and multiple anthologies. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her family, which includes a number of rescued cats and dogs. You can follow her on Twitter.

Fri, 16 Jan 2015 06:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/dog-training-techniques-methods-humans-treats-trigger-stacking-awareness
<![CDATA[Let's Talk: Does Your Dog Hog the Human Bed?]]> The nighttime routine is pretty well set in our household. We let our Miniature Schnauzers, Kramer and Dusty, outside with us to walk through the backyard, do their business, and then go back inside. They run up the stairs to the master bedroom, and we follow. Around 10 p.m., give or take a few minutes, this routine goes off without a hitch.

My wife, Kim, and I get ready for bed while Dusty chases Kramer around the bedroom, fending off any attempts by him to grab one of her many prized toys. This is their last burst of energy for the night, and it helps them wind down and sleep.

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There's plenty of room for the humans when we sleep on the bed.

All of us pile onto our king-sized bed. In years past, the pups would sleep in their own comfortable crates. This would leave the entire bed to Kim and me. However, since Dusty started experiencing seizures during the night, we decided to allow her to sleep in between us on the bed so we could keep a closer eye on her.

Kramer continued to sleep in his crate for about a week while Dusty slept with us. One night, he snuck up while we were preparing for bed. He went to the head of the bed, between our two pillows, and curled into the smallest ball possible for a Miniature Schnauzer. He wanted to sleep on the bed with his family and showed us that he would not take up much room. Ever since, Kramer curls up like an armadillo at the head of the bed, never leaving that spot until morning.

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Can I have just a little leg room please, the human asks.

As for our Dusty, curling up into a small ball is never in the plan. Instead, she will stretch out her two-foot-long frame to take advantage of as much bed as possible. Now, you would think she would choose the middle of the bed where there is ample room for a large dog, let alone a small pup like Dusty. Or, perhaps the foot of the bed where two dogs could easily rest comfortably for the night. No, Dusty won't have any of that. She has to be bumped against Kim or me in the center of the bed for the entire night.

When we first start to doze off, Dusty's insistence of being as close as possible is not a problem. It actually provides a little comfort knowing exactly where she is. Otherwise, we would be worried that she would accidentally fall off the bed, which is at least two feet off the ground. Also, we don't want to accidentally roll over on top of her while we sleep. By her being securely "fastened" to us, we know exactly where she is at all times.

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Mom doesn't mind us sleeping here.

The challenge comes with the amount of heat that an almost 10-pound dog surprisingly generates. Of course, during the winter months, it's nice to have the extra warmth against our bodies. Since she likes to steal the covers while we sleep, the added warmth she generates makes up for the difference. In the summer, however, it's a different story altogether. Even with the theft of blankets, her heat is less than desirable. 

The other issue is Dusty's unique ability to slide gracefully into the crevasse we create when turning over on our side. Still positioned right up against us, Dusty stays warm and comfortable. However, after a few tosses and turns by us, we find ourselves clinging to the edge of the bed with no blanket, a sliver of a pillow, and legs and feet partially hanging off the side. At this point, we have two choices. We wake up, pick up Dusty, now fussing at us, and move her back to the middle of the bed. Or, do a little fussing ourselves and just deal with it. You can guess that on most nights, the latter option wins.

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Between mom and dad's pillows is where I like it.

If there's one thing I have learned about initially getting into bed, it's to lie exactly where I should in order to gain the advantage over Dusty. I have found that if I don't, I end up almost off the bed by morning. If I do, there's less of a chance of not being pushed off the bed completely in the middle of the night.

Are your dogs bed hogs when sleeping with you? Share your stories and photos in the comments!

Read more Let's Talks:

About the author: Tim Link -- All American guy, loves to rock out to Queen while consuming pizza and Pinot Noir, prefers to associate with open-minded people who love all critters, considered to be the literal voice for all animals – author, writer, radio host, Reiki Master, Animal Communicator, and consultant at

Thu, 15 Jan 2015 04:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/sleeping-with-dogs-bed-hogs
<![CDATA[5 Reasons January Needs to Be Train Your Puppy Month]]> Each January, the Association of Professional Dog Trainers holds Train Your Dog Month. I applaud that effort. However, I think we desperately need January to be Train Your Puppy Month.

Why? Here's why:

1. Puppies are STILL given as Christmas presents

I abhor the practice for many reasons, but the top one is the huge onslaught of unwanted, untrained, and/or suddenly inconvenient puppies dumped at shelters across the country. It's legion. Shelters know the puppy dump is coming every year, and the good ones prepare as best they can.

You might think: So what? The puppy is still a little thing and oh-so-cute, so surely someone will adopt him? Maybe. Maybe not. But changing homes, first from the mother dog and siblings to a new home and then to a shelter and then -- if the pup is lucky -- to yet still another home sets the puppy up for difficulty fitting into the human world.

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Without proper socialization and early training, many Christmas puppies sadly end up in a shelter come January.

2. The first 20 weeks are crucial for training

While your new little rug rat is looking adorable on the outside, crucial parts of him are developing on his inside, and that period must be handled with extreme care and consideration. In the horse world, it’s called putting a good foundation on a young colt. The very same thing must happen with a young puppy, because his brain is changing in accordance with the sensory experiences of his new world.

During the critical time -- the first 18 to 20 weeks of life -- structural connections in his brain are exquisitely susceptible to alterations based on what the puppy sees, hears, smells, feels, etc. A puppy is so incredibly vulnerable; he MUST be positively shown what the world is about at this time, as the window of opportunity closes at 20 weeks. If not socialized properly, that time is gone, and the owner spends the rest of the dog’s life trying to play catch up. Interested in the science behind this fact? Read more about the neuroscience of puppy development and about what to expect during the first three months in general.

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Puppies are cute on the outside, but what's happening in their young and still-forming brains matters most in setting a puppy up for a happy life with humans.

3. Parent health and well-being also are important

Genes are important, and if you have an aggressive parent dog, the gun comes preloaded for the puppies of that dog; that gene might be expressed or it might not. Why take the chance? The mother dog should not only have quality genes with a stable temperament and good health to pass along, she also needs to be in a healthy, calm environment when she has the puppies and for the several weeks after birth, as she is the one socializing them to their very first experiences.

If you are buying a dog, insist on meeting and spending time with both parents. No excuse is good enough not be permitted to see how the mother dog interacts with humans, dogs, and novel sounds and sights. Never buy puppy mill dogs or dogs from high-volume breeders, where there is no way a breeder can assist the mother dog in crucial early socialization. Puppy mills are specifically setting up young dogs for failure with their large-scale breeding operations, which treat the mother dog like a caged chicken. That early socialization must happen before you come into the young pup's life, and then it is up to you to keep the learning happening, especially in the first 20 weeks of life.

4. You must set the puppy up for secure interactions with humans and other animals

This means that you introduce new sights, sounds, textures, and experiences to your little angel in a positive way. If you allow something scary to happen during this critical time -- and what is scary is what the puppy determines to be scary, not the owner -- you can create a memory for the dog of that fright that very well may stick with the dog for all of her life. Get thee to a puppy class with a qualified positive reinforcement trainer. Do not allow anyone to choke, hit, throw things, or startle your vulnerable pup. You can download a puppy socialization checklist for free from the Pet Professional Guild; also, check out our puppy socialization info on Dogster.

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It is critical that positive and early socialization happens for your puppy!

5. Do not wait until your puppy has received every single vaccination to begin socialization

Shall I repeat that? It is CRUCIAL to begin introducing your puppy to new stimuli the very week he enters your home. Your home should be a clean place where you can immediately start showing the young canine new sights and sounds. I pair new things with terrific food, for example. A pan drops loudly on the kitchen floor, and that sound releases a chicken fiesta around the puppy. It is important that if something is potentially scary to the dog, that you create the stimuli first and then add the food after. If you provide the chicken first, and then something a little bit novel or perhaps concerning, you can create a dog who is afraid of chicken or food in general. You want novel stimuli to be a predictor of excellent food falling out of the sky.

Read this important statement from the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, which calls for puppy socialization classes to begin at seven to eight weeks of age. Of course, limit where your puppy goes until all of those vaccinations are complete, steering clear of public places such as dog parks, but do not avoid a well-planned, indoor puppy class.

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Start training your puppy the same week you bring him home.

Your dog's fate is literally in your human hands. You have the option of creating an environment rich with positive learning opportunities before the puppy reaches that critical 20-week mark or you can neglect the puppy and perhaps doom your dog to a life of fear and reactivity. It's up to you.

Read more by Annie Phenix

About the author: Annie Phenix, CPDT-KA, is a force-free professional dog trainer enjoying her mountain-filled life in Colorado. She is a member of the Pet Professional Guild and the National Association of Canine Scent Work. She takes her highly trained dogs with them everywhere dogs are welcome because of their exceptionally good manners. Join Annie on her dog-training Facebook page.

Thu, 15 Jan 2015 02:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/puppy-training-professional-dog-trainers-train-your-dog-month
<![CDATA[6 Things I've Gained Through Animal Rescue]]> I recently wrote about the sacrifices I've made through my involvement in animal rescue, but here I'm going to share the things I've gained, which, of course, trump the sacrifices, or else I wouldn't do it.

It wasn't until my mid-30s that I got involved in animal rescue, after a dream I had about a cat, which prompted my first adoption, a kitty named Miko, from Seattle Humane Society. We later adopted a couple of companion kitties for him. Then my teenaged daughter, Zinnia, and I started to volunteer at Regional Animal Services of King County, where we became a foster family. And that led to the adoption of two dogs. And a couple of cats. We are currently fostering a white Pit Bull mix, Crystal. She has leash aggression and can be a bit of a handful when she sees other dogs out in public, which I also recently wrote about.  

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Our foster dog, Crystal. (All photos by Kezia Willingham)

Today, I have a house full of animals and no longer volunteer at the shelter, but my passion for animal rescue has not subsided. Writing for Catster and Dogster is perhaps one of the greatest highlights of becoming involved in rescue -- and something I would never have imagined doing a few years ago.

Now on to what I've gained through animal rescue:

1. My animals provide companionship  

This is the first thing that comes to mind. Inevitably, there is a kitty sitting next to me as I type on my laptop. In fact, I am never truly alone because I have many furry friends to keep me constant company. 

There is something special about the time I spend with my felines -- the quiet camaraderie that is not found anywhere else. I love cats and dogs equally in different ways. I cherish my early morning time with my cats, but one of my favorite things about having dogs is walking them. My dogs love to follow me around wherever I go, and I believe they love their walks as much as I do. My kids and I definitely feel more safe walking, and living, with a dog pack.

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Daisy on her first day at our house.

While my cats will come visit me when the circumstances are just right, my dogs always want to be right next to me. And I can't help but enjoy their eager company. I am thankful for the companionship I feel with both my cats and dogs. 

2. They inspire me 

My animals inspire me to work hard to care for them. I didn't have animals as a kid or young adult, so I've had a steep learning curve over the last few years. I've had to learn everything, from how to feed and groom them to how to crate train. I like learning, and my animals provide me with the opportunity to continuously learn and grow as a person. And trust me, there is NEVER a dull moment when you live with a pack of rescued animals!

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Having so many rescue animals, including May Belle, really inspires me to work hard to give them a great life.

3. My dogs and cats bring me and my kids joy

Perhaps this is one of the quintessential aspects of having companion animals in your life -- such a sense of joy! The pleasure gained from simply gazing at them, sitting with them, and observing their crazy antics! Even better is witnessing my children interact with them lovingly. One of the things that makes me happiest is the connection my children have with our animals. I feel blessed that they get to grow up with animals and learn to feel comfortable with them from an early age (in the case of my son). I was very scared of dogs for most of my life, so I am pleased that my children do not share this fear. Nothing melts my heart more than seeing my kids cuddled up together, surrounded by our animals.

4. They show me what loyalty means 

Friends come and go from your life. Partners may leave. Family members get busy, or maybe they marry people who don't like you so you don't see them as often. But if you bring an animal into your home and provide a loving environment, you will experience no greater sense of loyalty. This is true for both cats and dogs, in my opinion. Felines demonstrate their loyalty more quietly than canines, but both will stay by your side in a way that no human ever will. I was estranged from my father for most of my life. Then he died before we ever got a chance to reconcile. He never met his grandchildren or saw me graduate from college. I'll tell you, there is nothing quite like the pain of never having closure with someone as significant in your life as a parent.  

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My son, Justin, and my daughter, Zinnia, with our dogs Daisy, Lilly, and May Belle.

5. My animals bring me true inner peace

Some people do yoga, meditate, or go to the spa to feel centered. I find my sense of inner peace when I allow myself to relax and enjoy a moment with my cats and dogs. One of my most favorite, peaceful activities is to settle down in bed with my pets around me. Usually when I come home, my dogs get really excited and run around crazily trying to get my attention. But after they get that out of their system, they settle down all around me and my kids. The cats choose to surround me early in the morning when the dogs are still asleep. But every now and then I'll have a couple of cats and all the dogs, and it feels perfect!

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Daisy on the couch.

6. They give me a sense of giving back

When you bring a formerly abused, abandoned, or lost animal into your home, they are initially unsure of their place. But slowly, day after day, they start to learn that they are warm and safe. They learn they will be fed every day. They learn that there are people who enjoy their presence in their lives. 

All of my animals are rescues, but my dog Daisy is the only one who showed obvious signs of past abuse. At first, Daisy winced whenever we tried to reach for her. She did not know how to go to the bathroom like most dogs -- it would just fall out of her. Daisy carried herself as though she was constantly fearful. 

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May Belle loves to curl up with the humans who love her.

A year later, Daisy is the biggest cuddle bug in the entire household. She loves nothing better than to curl up next to you while you watch TV, take a nap, or whatever. She now knows how to go potty outside and also inside on pads. And I love to see her defend herself when May Belle is trying to bully her. There is something to be said for witnessing a living creature gain the confidence she lacked.

Animal rescue requires a lot of work. But it also pays huge dividends. Becoming involved in animal rescue has been one of the most meaningful experiences of my life, and for that I am grateful. 

What about you?  What would you add to this list? Tell us what you gained through animal rescue in the comments!

Read more by Kezia Willingham:

About the author: Kezia Willingham is a Breadwinning Laundry Queen who works as a Health Coordinator for Head Start. She is a regular contributor to Catster and Dogster. Her writing has appeared in Literary Mama, The New York Times, The Seattle Times, and multiple anthologies. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her family, which includes a number of rescued cats and dogs. You can follow her on Twitter.

Wed, 14 Jan 2015 04:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/animal-rescue-adoption-fostering-benefits
<![CDATA[I Talk to Dogs All the Time -- Don't You? ]]> As a dog sitter, I have a pack of dogs around me every day. These furry creatures are my companions, and I talk to them like I would co-workers. This can get a bit confusing for humans around us who think I'm either talking to them or myself!

I take the pups out on a daily adventure. Usually this means hitting the trials around Los Angeles. The best place to take the dogs, in my opinion, is Runyon Canyon. The trails that make up the area are part of the Santa Monica mountain range, and they take you from a residential part of Hollywood, just off Hollywood Boulevard, to the famous Mulholland Drive. The best thing about Runyon is that it's a dog exercise area, with a large portion of the trails being legally off-leash. I've heard it described as "Doggie Disneyland."

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Asscher and Jax enjoying "Doggie Disneyland." (All photos by Wendy Newell)

Here are a few specific cases at Runyon Canyon in which I had to reply to funny looks and questioning faces with, "I'm just talking to the dogs."

1. Hitting the trail

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Bear, Dragon, Riggins, Jax, Clover, and Damsel lead the way!

One day, I was at the trailhead off Mulholland with a pack of pups. As I disentangled myself from their leashes, I summoned my inner Mae West and announced, "Come on, boys! Let's go!" A group of men behind me took notice, looked at each other, and shrugged their shoulders. One called out, "Okay. Here we come!"

2. Sit, stay, good boy

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Huxley and Hanna can't wait to get out of the car and onto the trail!

Recently, I had enough dogs in my car to reenact the clown car circus gag. My goal was to get myself together before performing the task of carefully and safely getting the pups out of the vehicle. I opened a door to grab my hiking pack, and one of the sneaky pups tried to wiggle his way around me. "Back it up," I demanded. "You back it up right now. I said BACK IT UP."

After closing my door, I noticed a gentleman next to me stretching before a run. It was obvious he couldn't understand why he needed to "back it up," and since he hadn't seen the dogs, he had no idea that there was someone else I could possible be talking to. "I have dogs," I explained. "I'm talking to the dogs in the car." That earned me a tiny wave so the crazy woman would leave him alone.

3. Rescue dogs

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On a break, Asscher eyes my delicious, sweaty face!

Some of the trails we hike force some humans to take a break or even give up fighting gravity and just scoot along on their bums. The problem with this is my legally off-leash dogs want to help, so they will run up to the person in distress and, if needed, give them a kiss or two. Sweaty, salty human is delicious!

One day, we were at Runyon, and a young child was scooting on his bottom down a steep area we were going up. "Do not give him kisses," I managed to yell in between gasping for breath. The child's mom told me that her son would never kiss a dog he didn't know. I had to explain that I was talking to the dogs, but her child was very smart for not puckering up to just any ol' mutt!

4. Move along

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Bear plops down in the middle of the trail while her fellow pack members circle.

Dogs have a way of standing right in the middle of the trail. Sometimes, I'll pull aside to let other hikers pass only to have them come to a stop a few feet away, where one or more of my pups are blocking the path. The dogs are doing what they should be, which is waiting for me. Unfortunately by doing this they are making it difficult for anyone else to pass.

"You don't own this hill," I tell them. Despite the fact that they are behaving well, I sometimes get aggravated, and with a tone that can only be described as annoyed, I'll say, "You are in the way. Move!" More than once, I've had fellow hikers stop and step aside with an, "Oh, I'm sorry." I feel horrible and have to explain that I'd never talk to them that way and that I was talking to the pack of pups. What kind of horrible person would storm up and down a trail yelling at others to get out of the way?

5. No touching

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Shadow makes a beeline for an unsuspecting hiker.

One of my regular dog guests, Shadow, is a beautiful Doberman-Whippet mix. She has long legs and a needle-like snout that she sometimes likes to use to goose hikers. It's her way of saying, "Hi! Nice to smell you." When she gets excited, she will jump up and give you a "kiss." Sometimes her kisses include her teeth, and the overall effect can be shocking to an unexpected fellow hiker. We are working on that behavior, but in the meantime, I try to anticipate when she is going to get up in someone's grill and stop her before she has a chance to pounce.

One day, we were going up the trail, and I saw Shadow lock eyes on a pregnant woman and her male companion. I knew what was going to happen, and as Shadow ran toward the innocent duo, I screamed, "DON'T YOU DARE TOUCH HER!" All three, the couple and Shadow, took a step back from each other and starred at me. I apologized over and over, explaining that I wasn't talking to the couple and that I was just trying to keep Shadow from jumping up. I don't think they believed me.

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Taking over the trail.

To help stop all the confusion, I try to add phrases like, "Hey, dog" and "Listen here, pup" to my discussions when I'm near other humans. That way, when I tell the dogs to "shake a tail feather" or "hold your horses," I don't get as many weird looks. I try but often forget to be specific. After all, the dogs are like my co-workers. Who else am I going to talk to?

Read more about Wendy's life as a dog sitter:

About the author: Wendy Newell is a former VP of Sales turned Grade A Dog Sitter. After years of stress, she decided to leave the world of "always be closing" to one of tail wags and licks. Wendy's new career keeps her busy hiking, being a dog chauffeur, picking up poo, sacrificing her bed, and other fur-filled activities. Wendy and her dog, Riggins, take their always-changing pack of pups on adventures throughout the Los Angeles area, where they live together in a cozy, happy home. You can learn more about Wendy, Riggins, and their adventures on Facebook and Instagram.

Wed, 07 Jan 2015 02:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/talking-to-dogs-conversations-with-dogs
<![CDATA[10 Lessons I've Learned From Dog Sitting]]> I've been a dog sitter for almost two years now. During this time, I've learned some very valuable lessons about dogs, their behavior, and their interactions. I thought I would share a few of those insights so you can get a glimpse into the brain of a pup and the life of a dog sitter.

1. Whatever room you are in is THE BEST ROOM EVER, and everyone must be in there  

I have a small house with tiny rooms, but that doesn't stop the parade of dogs who follow me everywhere I go. When I'm working in my office on the computer, they all come in and plop down in their respective corners, with the "winners" finding space under my desk and in my lap.

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Nijo wonders if there is room for one more on the sofa. (All photos by Wendy Newell)

2. When you aren't around, your dog likes to sleep

I recently left four large pups in my backyard so they could run around and play together. When I went to check on them 15 minutes later, they were all fast asleep. When my dog decided he was done with the napping and wanted to come inside, the barking started -- and barking, like yawns, are contagious. I brought the pack in the house, where they followed me into a room and immediately started the World Dog Wrestling event of the year. They just wanted a human audience.

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Asscher wonders when she can go back in and wrestle!

3. Sometimes it's just easier to eat in your car -- parked in the garage -- in peace and quiet

Do you realize how unnerving it is to have five sets of eyes and five teeth-filled smiles watching your every movement while you eat? My meals are peppered with statements like "sit," "don't drool on me," and "no beg." It's quiet in my car. There is great music, wonderful mood lighting, and no drool.

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"You sure you don't want to give that food to us instead of eating it?"

4. Dogs like to sleep on a pillow, especially yours

For some reason, the human bed makes a dog think he is human and, therefore, a pillow is mandatory! My dog is the king of this move. He naps on my bed, and I'll find him sprawled out with his head smack dab in the center of my pillow. When I ask him what is up, he just looks at me as if to say, "Lady, can't you see I'm sleeping? Now scram."

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Where I found these two whipper snappers after getting up to brush my teeth.

5. It doesn't matter how long you hike or walk -- sometimes a dog will hold it just so he can pee in your living room

You have no idea how many times I've yelled, "We just went on a two-and-a-half-hour hike. HOW did you hold it until you got in here? WHY did you hold it until you got in here?" The little guys, in particular, love to pull this one on me. I can only assume they are mocking me and think it's hilarious.

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"I might pee out here AND back at your place. What do you think about that?"

6. A water sprayer won't work on a dog who likes to drink water from a hose. The "deterrent" just becomes his personal water fountain

Recently, I wasn't feeling well, and my folks popped by to check on me. My dad got sick of one of the dogs I was watching torturing another by humping her, so he brought me a water bottle to stop that filthy behavior! The problem was, the risque pup liked water and would just position himself so that the spray hit him in the mouth. Once refreshed, he went back to humping.

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Jax and Asscher think water tastes better when it is sprayed directly at their faces.

7. The littlest one is always in charge

I watch a Schnauzer named Dragon. It doesn't matter who is here, Dragon is always in charge and owner of the sofa, bed, and any other coveted spot. This past weekend, I had a Pit Bull come stay with us while Dragon was here. When I introduced the pair, Dragon scared the poor Pit so bad she ran around until she found cover under her mom's legs. Napoleon complex at its finest.

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Dragon reigns over his subjects (aka the big dogs).

8. Horse poop is delicious

I don't think it's delicious, although to be fair I've never tried it. Riggins, Asscher, and Shadow, three pups that are often with me on hikes, feel it is the most delicious thing ever. The fresher, the more delectable. I have very strong biceps from pulling pups away from piles of horse poop.

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This is dirt, but I know he wishes it were delicious horse poop.

9. Exercise does indeed calm the wildest of dogs. Unfortunately, you have to exercise with them, and it tires you out more

I take the dogs in my care on an adventure every day, which usually means a two-hour hike. When we get home, the little furry darlings arrange themselves around me and start snoring while I hit the computer to work. About the time I'm able to rest, they are up and ready to play again. Play, sleep, eat, repeat. They have the life!

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Shadow believes it's more important for her to be comfy than for me to get in a nap.

10. If you have a dog that likes to grab your scarf, don't wrap it around your head multiple times and secure it with multiple knots

Asscher, my lovable daycare Golden Retriever baby, gets VERY excited when she sees me, or when she poops, or when she sees she is going for a walk -- really, anything makes her super-duper happy. When she gets excited, she HAS to have something in her mouth, and she looks to me for that something.

If I'm leaning down, it's usually my hat or sunglasses, but if I have a scarf on, her eyes light up. One day, I was wearing a beautiful scarf that quickly became a noose. I performed moves that were worthy of Cirque du Soleil to untangle myself while Asscher's tail wagged back and forth with my scarf securely in her teeth.

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I was wearing that tank top five minutes earlier.

It's a good thing dogs are so darn cute and lovable because they sure can be a handful!

What have your dog and his friends taught you about how they see our world? Let us know in the comments below.

Read more stories by Wendy Newell:

About the author: Wendy Newell is a former VP of Sales turned Grade A Dog Sitter. After years of stress, she decided to leave the world of "always be closing" to one of tail wags and licks. Wendy's new career keeps her busy hiking, being a dog chauffeur, picking up poo, sacrificing her bed, and other fur-filled activities. Wendy and her dog, Riggins, take their always-changing pack of pups on adventures throughout the Los Angeles area, where they live together in a cozy, happy home. You can learn more about Wendy, Riggins, and their adventures on Facebook and Instagram.

Mon, 05 Jan 2015 08:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/10-lessons-dog-sitting-sitter-tips-dog-behavior
<![CDATA[5 New Year's Resolutions for You and Your Dog]]> Dogs are not merely pets anymore. They are deeply loved family members, so don't forget about your four-legged relative when making New Year's resolutions for 2015. Here are some ideas for resolutions that just might float your dog's boat -- or make him pee happily on the nearest fire hydrant!

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Get out and about with your best friend -- it's good for you both.

1. Resolve to honor your dog's incredible ability to smell

Set aside any embarrassment about looking silly and play hide-and-seek with your dog inside when the weather outside is frightful. When the day is pretty, plant some yummo treats around your yard or neighborhood and take Fido on a "Find It!"

Your walk will involve you pointing to a general area where you've hidden something good to eat (not boring, dry biscuits), telling the dog to "Find it!" and then letting him go to town finding and then chowing down on the treat.

Read more about how fun nose work is for your dog in our Dogster article "Train Your Dog in Nose Work, a New Canine Sport."

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Embrace your dog's incredible sense of smell -- and his incredible desire to use his nose -- on walks.

2. Resolve to take a class with your dog 

Any class will do. There are so many to choose from these days, everything from yoga with your dog, nose work, treibball, rally, agility, and more! Dogs love to learn, so resolve to be his leader in teaching him fun, exciting things to do.

If you have a particular problem with your pooch -- say, getting him to walk nicely on a leash -- spend time on YouTube watching videos from certified, force-free trainers, such as the free training videos posted there by Kikopup or Zak George's Dog Training Revolution. Get up off the couch and see how much you and your dog can learn together this year.

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Take a class with your dog -- you will both feel empowered and accomplished.

3. Resolve not to overdo vaccines

Many veterinarians are moving away from vaccinating dogs every single year. Many vaccines last for years or even for the lifetime of your pet. Ask for titers (blood tests that are able to detect antibodies that the dog has produced in response to a vaccination) before you permit any new vaccines, so long as you follow your local laws about dog vaccinations. Resolve to take your dog in once a year for a checkup, because it's a great way to ensure your dog stays healthy -- all while resolving to be the best advocate for your dog that you can be by educating yourself on what vaccines are really necessary in your area.

Dogster resident veterinarian Dr. Eric Barchas has written about vaccines -- read his take in "On Dog Vaccinations: 9 Things to Consider."

4. Resolve to exercise your dog's mind as well as his body

Humans leave the house and meet with friends, go to work, go shopping, go out to eat, etc. Dogs don't generally get to do many of those things with us, so they are at home all day. Before you leave, PLAY with your dog! You can throw a tennis ball or a Frisbee, play tug, practice some fun obedience skills, or anything you can think of that kicks your dog's mind into gear. Give him safe things to exercise his mind while you are away, such a Kong toy frozen overnight with good stuff inside like cream cheese. Check out this Dogster review of a new Kong toy called the Marathon Food Puzzle.

Also consider hiring a qualified dog walker to walk your dog a few times a week (read more in "Do You Trust Your Dog Walker?"). Really check out any doggie daycares ("Is Your Dog a Candidate for Doggie Daycare?") to make sure that is something your dog enjoys before taking dropping him off. Vow to walk your dog every evening and let him sniff now and again during the walk. Yanking on your dog because he is busy sniffing is akin to being mad at a human for looking around at his environment.

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The mountains (or the city park!) are calling! Answer them with a good hike for Fido.

5. Read a book or watch a DVD about dogs

This is the best time in history share your life with a dog, because scientists, certified trainers, and behaviorists are finally studying what makes dogs ticks and how best to help them learn to live with us complicated human beings. Increase your knowledge of dogs, and you will radically improve the relationship with your four-legged family member.

Some of my favorite books are The Other End of the Leash by Dr. Patricia McconnellDog Sense by John BradshawThe Power of Positive Dog Training by Pat MillerGood Habits for Great Dogs by Paul Owens, and Citizen Canine by David Grimm.

Great DVDs include Do As I Do by Claudia FugazzaFrom Leashes to Neurons to Psychopharmacology by Dr. Karen Overall, and Plenty in Life Is Free by Kathy Sdao.

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Well-trained dogs get to go to more places than dogs who misbehave.

Let's all vow to make 2015 the most interesting and fun year for dogs yet. Your dog needs more than just the four walls of your home to keep his mind and body healthy. As your best friend is having fun, your joy will increase as well. Life is too short to be boring and un-fun! (Cover photo by Tica Clarke Photography)

Read more by Annie Phenix:

About the author: Annie Phenix, CPDT-KA, is a force-free professional dog trainer enjoying her mountain-filled life in Colorado. She is a member of the Pet Professional Guild and the National Association of Canine Scent Work. She takes her highly trained dogs with them everywhere dogs are welcome because of their exceptionally good manners. Join Annie on her dog training Facebook page.

Fri, 02 Jan 2015 02:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/new-years-resolutions-dogs-dog-training-behavior
<![CDATA[5 Tips for Hosting a Friend's Dog During the Holiday Season]]> Our dog passed away a few months ago, and we'd missed having a dog around the house -- we just have several cats now. So when a friend asked us to dog-sit her very nice German Shepherd female over the Thanksgiving weekend, we were glad to assist. We agreed to keep Ruby at our house, and we knew ahead of time that she loves cats. I consider myself much more experienced with cats than with dogs, but we were willing to try out this situation.

We learned a lot from the process and would do it again. Whether you're taking another dog into your house over the holidays, or your dog is visiting another house, here are a few tips to make the dog-sitting experience go as smoothly as possible for everyone involved:

1. Plan a short trial visit

Ruby came over with her mom a few days before the departure date and visited our house for about 30 minutes. After letting Ruby run around outside for a few moments, we brought her into the house on her leash. There were plenty of places, rooms, and floors for the cats to escape to if they didn't want to see Ruby.

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My cat Chester gives Ruby the eye. Eventually, the cats grew more comfortable with the dog, but the dog was never able to befriend my cats. Ruby the dog is very close to two cats in her own home.

We wanted to be able to observe every possible dynamic between the dog and our cats. As it turned out, the dog was completely respectful and actually scared of the cats, and the cats seemed to know it. But you will want to make sure to you introduce animals ahead of time, so there are no surprises.

2. Have a backup for food

Sometimes things can go awry when a dog is separated from her human. In Ruby's case, her mom sent a bunch of dry food that should have lasted the entire three days of the dog-sitting experience. But Ruby, even though she appeared to be having a great time at our house, would not touch the dry food. This was something we hadn't planned for, so we ended up getting her some canned food, which she loved. It's not a biggie, but be prepared with an alternative food.

In another instance, I was dog-sitting the pup of a relative in the dog's home. The dog was eating fine, but he began eating grass often and throwing up clear saliva. I was able to text the relative, who told me that this dog often gets a nervous stomach when the human is away. My relative told me where a dog probiotic for this purpose was located and how to give it to the dog. Anticipate that a dog might be a little confused if his daily circumstances change, and that it might affect his appetite.

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Ruby on her blanket. Her mom sent her blanket, bed, toys, and food with her.

3. Be prepared to separate animals if necessary 

Can you be certain that the visiting dog will get along, at all times, with the other animals in the house? If so, great. If you have doubts, have a Plan B. In the case of Ruby, we were comfortable, over time, with letting her have the run of the house when we were there. When we slept, we put her in one of the small bedrooms with her toys, bed, food, and water, of course, and shut the door for the night. Then, we didn't have to worry about anything going awry while we slept.

We did have a dog crate from our previous dog, but Ruby was not crate-trained. I didn't know how hard it would be to get her into a crate, and I didn't want to freak her out, so I went with the more comfortable option.

4. Be ready for the unexpected

Surprises can come out of nowhere. Here's a simple example. When we took Ruby, we were sure we wanted her on leash in our unfenced yard, with us present, because we live on a busy road. I did not want her running into the road and into danger, and I was happy to walk her several times a day so that she would get exercise -- in fact, I really looked forward to this because I missed walking our dog.

Ruby's mom was pretty sure that Ruby would be fine off-leash in the yard because she is very well trained. But we have a bird feeder, and a squirrel suddenly showed up. Ruby lunged, but was on leash, fortunately. The incident caused her human to rethink whether the dog should run around in the yard. Some yards have things dogs will chase; some don't. Ruby was a very good dog and probably would not have gone out of the yard, but I didn't want to take a chance with a dog that I didn't completely know. And I can never know her as well as her mom knows her.

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Ruby slept well after long walks.

5. Have crucial information and make sure all possibilities are discussed

Obviously, the dog sitter needs information about veterinarians, hours, emergency vets, and any health or medication information. It could also be helpful if the dog sitter knows about unanticipated scenarios. For example: "My dog hates being scratched on the back" or "Tall men make my dog cower and growl."

We ended up having a great time hosting Ruby, even though we don't consider ourselves experienced dog people. The visit was made easier by the fact that Ruby was such a good dog, and she could be completely trusted with the other animals.

Have you taken in a friend's dog or had your dog go to a friend's place when you had to go out of town? How did it go for you? Let us know in the comments!

More by Catherine Holm:

About Catherine Holm: Told that she is funny but doesn't know it, accused of being an unintentional con artist by her husband, quiet with frequent unannounced bursts into dancing liveliness, Cat Holm loves writing about, working for, and living with cats. She is the author of The Great Purr, the cat-themed memoir Driving with Cats: Ours for a Short Time, the creator of Ann Catanzaro cat fantasy story gift books, and the author of two short story collections. She loves to dance, be outside whenever possible, read, play with cats, make music, do and teach yoga, and write. Cat lives in the woods, which she loves as much as really dark chocolate, and gets regular inspiration shots along with her double espresso shots from the city. ]]>
Tue, 23 Dec 2014 06:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/dog-sitting-tips-checklist-for-dog-sitter
<![CDATA[Take a Peek Inside Over-the-Top Dog Parties]]> Dogs can now be real party animals, literally, thanks to the booming pet event industry, in which people fete their Fidos with everything from elaborate birthday bashes to weddings, holiday soirees, and other special-occasion canine celebrations.

Some people spare no expense when it comes to putting on the dog for their pooches. In fact, it's become increasingly common for human event planners to offer dog party services as a sideline, while entire businesses devoted exclusively to catering to canines have sprung up.

I spoke with some leading pet-event planners, who provided some examples of truly awe-inspiring "paw-ties" (as they are known in the biz) as well as background about this wacky trend.

Why people put on the dog for their pooches

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Dogs can get into the "howl-iday" spirit with their very own Christmas and Hanukkah parties. (Photo courtesy of Kimberly Schlegel Whitman)

Kimberly Schlegel Whitman of Dallas, Texas, is a lifestyles and event expert, editor-at-large for Southern Living magazine, pet-event planner for PetSmart, and author of the how-to guide Dog Parties: Entertaining Your Party Animals. She came up with the idea for the book, which was an extension of a chapter in her The Pleasure of Your Company: Entertaining in High Style, after hosting a fete for her Chihuahua, Lola, that was a howling success.

She is of the opinion that people not only have very deep bonds with their pets, but that pet lovers tend to form strong connections with each other. So dog parties are great ways for pets and their people to come together and enjoy themselves.

"I held a garden party for my dog and my friends with dogs," she said. "I was single and didn't have children at the time. I had a real bond with friends who loved their dogs as much as I did."

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"Howl-oween" parties for dogs are now hugely popular. (Photo courtesy of Kimberly Schlegel Whitman)

People-inspired dog parties

What's interesting is that pet parties often mimic human soirees. "What I love about these dog parties is that you see the same trends in human parties, like the ugly Christmas sweater parties," Kimberly said. 

Not surprisingly, savvy pet retailers and service providers are getting on board with this by offering products and services for party animals, including gourmet dog treats and birthday cakes, pooch party attire, photos booths that pet parents can rent, and everything else dogs need for a successful Bowser bash.

"From large companies to small mom-and-pop shops, people now carry items that we can use to celebrate our dogs," Kimberly said. In fact, she has been working as a dog party consultant on a per-project basis for PetSmart for the past few years, in which she creates both tastefully elegant and humorously tacky dog soirees, such as ugly Christmas sweater fetes. For pooch party tips, check out her blog.

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Diva doggies can enjoy spa parties, where they and their furry pals are treated to such pampering services as "paw-dicures." (Photo courtesy of Kimberly Schlegel Whitman)

Another notable and totally indulgent trend is the "spaw party," a variation of the human version of the spa party. Pet groomers will come to a doggie's party to provide the furry attendees with such posh pampering services as "paw-dicures," facials, and massages. Other options are doggie pool parties; Halloween (arguably the most popular) celebrations, during which dogs get to dress up in costumes; their very own holiday parties; "bark mitzvahs" for Jewish dogs; and other fun themes.

A doggone extravagant pooch party, for a worthy cause

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The posh "puptials" for Baby Hope and Chilly Pasternak made the Guinness Book of World Records. (Photo courtesy of Animal Fair)

The most outrageously over-the-top dog party I ever heard of was a pooch wedding orchestrated by New York-based pet entrepreneur and animal welfare advocate Wendy Diamond, which took place at the Jumeirah Essex House Hotel in Central Park in July 2012, during which her Coton de Tulear, Baby Hope, tied the knot with Poodle Chilly Pasternak.

Wendy, a pet event pioneer who founded the pet lifestyles and media company Animal Fair and staged the first dog-fashion shows, came up with the idea to hold this black-tie bow-wow blowout as a charitable event to raise money for the New York Humane Society and to draw awareness to canine cancer, which claimed the life of her previous dog, Lucky. The wildly extravagant "puptials" included a $6,000 custom-made dress for the furry bride, live orchestra, and gourmet goodies for the human and doggie guests. Thanks to the whopping $250,000 price tag, the fete earned the top spot for most expensive dog party in the Guinness Book of World Records. Dogster was on hand at the event as well.

"Everything was donated," Wendy said. "We raised enough money for a new wing at the Humane Society."

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My cousin's Yorkie, Roxie, was the flower dog at his wedding. (Photo by Alissa Wolf)

Another popular trend is for people to include their dogs in their own weddings. My cousin and his wife enlisted their Yorkie, Roxie, to serve as the "flower dog" at their lavish 2006 nuptials held in Nyack, New York, for which they ordered her a custom-made crimson satin and tulle doggie gown. Meanwhile, an upscale pet store I frequent carries dog tuxedos and gowns for such occasions. And a number of wedding planners now accommodate people who want their pooches to be a part of their big day.

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Gourmet doggie treats are a pooch party menu must. (Photo courtesy of Kimberly Schlegel Whitman)

Kimberly believes that the dog party trend has really caught on because many people now regard their pets as cherished family members.

"I think that there is such an indescribable connection we have with our pets," she said. "They are there with us through such trying and happy times in our lives. We want to include them in whatever celebrations we are having."

Have you been to an over-the-top dog party? Tell us about it in the comments!

Read more about dog parties and weddings:

About the author: Alissa Wolf is an award-winning journalist who specializes in writing about pets and the industry that serves them. Her very first pet was an irrepressible miniature poodle named Peppy, who looked great in a tuxedo. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and her blog, Critter Corner.

Fri, 19 Dec 2014 02:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/over-the-top-fancy-dog-parties-weddings-wendy-diamond
<![CDATA[Christmas Home Safety Tips for Dog Owners]]> The Christmas season is a busy time for the entire family. You have places to be, carols to sing, and a host of related activities. You're probably running around, wrapping and hiding gifts, taking the kids to pageants, and attending your local ballet company's annual presentation of The Nutcracker.

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(Chihuahua puppy by Shutterstock.)

In the flurry of yuletide excitement, it is easy to overlook your dog's needs. We love Christmas decorations, holiday feasts with family, fun in the snow, getting dressed up, and the rituals of gift giving. Each of these traditions carries its own special risks where are dogs are concerned, though, and we're here to remind you of some of the most common ones.

Deck the halls, but deck them wisely

The immortal poem, "A Visit from St. Nicholas" (commonly called "Twas the Night Before Christmas"), contains wisdom relevant to dog owners during the holidays. Note that "the stockings were hung by the chimney with care." Take your dog's size and tendencies into account as you festoon the home. Is your dog a chewer or perhaps a jumper? Anything you hang, from garlands and wreaths to strings of lights, should be placed well beyond the reach of curious and agile dogs.

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(Guilty dog by Shutterstock.)

Live Christmas plants also accent many homes. Poinsettias should be positioned well out of a dog's reach, while mistletoe and holly should be fastened securely to walls and doors. While these plants do present some risk of toxicity when ingested by dogs and puppies, unless you live in a greenhouse full of them, chances are that the worst your dog will experience is a little digestive upset.

Are you getting a fresh-cut Christmas tree? A frisky dog can overturn a tree not secured firmly to a stand or base. A tree falling in the home not only can do damage to the room it's in, but can cause injury to a startled dog. If you keep the tree in water, a heavy cover or skirt around the base will prevent your dog from lapping at it. If you utilize tree preservative chemicals, this is even more important.

Food preparation and kitchen safety

Whether you're preparing Christmas meals, a savory dish for the office holiday party, or baking cookies for Santa, there are a number of things to keep in mind where your dog is concerned. If your kitchen has a door, keep it shut to dogs and puppies. You'll not only minimize the risk of them nibbling at uncooked foods and knocking over completed dishes, but also prevent them from running afoul of knives and other dangerous kitchenware.

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(Maltipoo puppy by Shutterstock.)

During big event meals, restrict your dog's access to the dining room or wherever food is consumed. Traditional Christmas feasts tend to contain excess fats, sugars, and spices that have little nutritional value to dogs, and which can lead to digestive upset if they are overindulged. Resist the temptation, great though it may be, as your dog pleads to share food from your plate.

Try to find a safe room and some toys that your dog enjoys to keep him occupied when you have guests over. When the egg nog, wine, and harder alcoholic beverages start flowing freely at your Christmas gathering, you won't have to worry about where your friends and family set their glasses down. Berry and plant toxicities in decorations have nothing on the easy potential for alcohol poisoning in dogs.

The fire is so delightful ... and dangerous

Do you live in a region where extreme winter weather -- snow storms, hail, or freezing rain -- is common? If you utilize a wood-burning fireplace during the Christmas season, make sure there is a sturdy protective screen in place. It will keep dogs from disturbing loose logs, minimizing the risk for fires and singed fur. Try to avoid fragrant incense and candles, which can adversely affect a dog's sensitive nose. If you must light candles of any kind, see to it that they are secure and inaccessible to dogs.

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(Dog in winter forest by Shutterstock.)

When selecting winter coats for a small dog's outdoor walks, it's worth investing in one that is waterproof, or in a non-toxic spray that prevents it from retaining water. A wet coat provides neither warmth nor protection for a dog in extreme cold. Is your dog's Christmas clothing more for fun than utility, like a cute Christmas costume? Make sure any holiday clothing does not restrict her movement or obstruct her hearing or vision. 

Puppies are not presents

It only takes a glance at the most common hazards facing dogs during the Christmas season to realize that a puppy should not be a present, and certainly not a surprise. The dead of winter is probably not the optimal time to get a new pet, especially a dog, which will need daily exercise, training, and attention. If you or your children cannot commit to regular outside walks or the grueling process of toilet training a puppy indoors, you may want to rethink the decision.

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(Chihuahua puppy in cup by Shutterstock.)

Like bunnies and baby chicks at Easter, the novelty of a puppy as a present wears off quickly as he grows and his needs become clearer to first-time dog owners. A puppy is not a gift to hide from children, as the young dog's need for attention and affection cannot be put on hold until Christmas morning.

Going out of town? Expecting visitors?

Finally, whether you are expecting visitors during the Christmas holidays or are visiting family yourself, plan ahead for your dog as well. This may mean scheduling an extended stay at a boarding facility, seeking out pet-friendly hotels, or checking with hosts about their pets or allergies.

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(Little dog in a Santa Claus hat by Shutterstock.)

The Christmas season is a hectic time for every member of your family. You may get a break from work or school obligations, but not from your duties as a dog owner. Be mindful that decorations, rich foods, cold weather, and increased traffic in the home can present as much anxiety and temptation for your puppy pals and canine companions as they do for you!

Read more about dogs and holidays at Dogster:

Fri, 12 Dec 2014 02:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/christmas-puppies-dogs-holiday-safety-tips-tree-snow-poinsettias
<![CDATA[5 Tips for Managing Your Anxiety at a Multi-Dog Thanksgiving]]> In my family, the holiday season means lots of food, lots of grocery-store runs, and lots of dogs underfoot.

For the last several years, we have celebrated the holidays at my sister's place. She has two little dogs, a yappy (but adorable) old Bichon and a cranky (but adorable) old Shih Tzu. Since my parents live about six hours north of the city we three kids are in, they bring along their two senior dogs. A couple of years ago, my brother got himself a pair of Miniature Schnauzer puppies, which increased the holiday guest list to six dogs, eight adults, and one human child.

My husband and I were the only ones who weren't bringing a dog to holiday get-togethers, but that changed in October when our rescue Lab-mix GhostBuster attended his first (Canadian) Thanksgiving dinner.

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It was impossible to get a still photo of this group.

There were already four smaller dogs (including one who is blind and another who is deaf) crowding into my sister's kitchen when GhostBuster arrived, but somehow our Dogsgiving wasn't really that chaotic.

I'm pretty sure I was more stressed out than all of the dogs combined. Here are five tips -- based on our recent experience -- for keeping calm with an extended family of dogs under the table.

1. Don't panic (like I did)

I hadn't planned for GhostBuster to join us for Thanksgiving dinner. I didn't know if my brother would be bringing his two dogs, and I figured that if he was, seven dogs would just be too many to have at my sister's house (thankfully, my brother's pups did not attend this year).

It was my husband who insisted on bringing GhostBuster (after I called him once there and asked if he would ever be making an appearance). I was nervous as I waited for them to walk the five blocks between our place and my sister's, and when I looked out the living room window and saw the pair coming up the driveway, I felt my muscles tighten with anxiety. I wasn't afraid that GhostBuster would behave badly, I was just afraid that I would feel like we were imposing -- and I let my anxiety get the best of me.

2. Decide: All dogs in or all dogs out

I was reluctant to add to the chaos already happening in the house, and as a result I wasn't being fair to my dog or my husband. When my guys first arrived, I put poor GhostBuster in the backyard until we could figure out how to integrate our ungainly Lab mix into the crowded kitchen without him moving about like a bull in a china shop.

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Only a monster wouldn't let this dude into the kitchen.

GhostBuster is never left outside on his own at home, so he was quickly doing his World's Saddest Dog act. I knew I wasn't being fair, and my husband encouraged me to either bring GhostBuster inside or let the other dogs out. We proceeded with an indoor meet-and-greet before a group pee break.

3. Introduce to new dogs with caution

GhostBuster knows my sister's dogs pretty well. They've gone for lots of walks together and hung out in the backyard a bunch of times. My parents' dogs, on the other hand, didn't know GhostBuster at all -- and since Pagan the Jack Russell Terrier has been known to start scraps with my siblings' dogs, a slow and steady introduction was needed.

When we first brought GhostBuster into the kitchen, I stood right beside him while the other dogs all circled around my feet. To Carlos and Sophie, he was old news, but Pagan and her BFF Rags were leery of this new giant before them.

My mom kept a close eye on her little Pagan as the five dogs sniffed around each other. My GhostBuster was not a hit with Pagan, who growled at him -- twice. My mom and I calmly separated the two, but didn't move them very far from each other. It was obvious that Pagan was intimidated by GhostBuster, so we just kept him at a distance by until she got used to him.

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Eventually everyone could tolerate each other enough to move the party outside.

By the time the humans were moving on to pumpkin pie, Pagan had begrudgingly accepted GhostBuster as a fellow member of this temporary Thanksgiving pack.

4. Don't be a helicopter pet parent

When the turkey came out of the oven, the dogs were all very excited to do a little taste testing, and they congregated in the kitchen to get their collective beg on. My mom was giving each of the dogs a little bit of turkey, but when she got to GhostBuster, I butted in.

"It's better if you hold it flat in your hand instead of dropping it," I told her.

I knew I was being ridiculous, but GhostBuster's (one and only) biting episode was still fresh in my mind, so I also tried to school my dad on the best way to deliver treats.

"Stop hovering!" my husband scolded me. "They've given treats to dogs before! He's fine."

My husband was right. My parents have probably delivered hundreds of thousands of treats and table scraps into the mouths of many dogs in their lifetimes, and GhostBuster was being a perfect gentleman, sitting and waiting for these nice people to feed him.

Once I backed off a bit and stopped trying to control every interaction, GhostBuster was able to relax and enjoy the holiday a little more.

5. Know when to call it a night

Just like holidays are stressful and overwhelming for some people (obviously, myself included), they can be overwhelming for dogs.

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GhostBuster thinks little alone time can be a very nice thing at the end of a hectic Thanksgiving.

My husband and I were very, very proud of GhostBuster for how well he did in a house full of people and old, cranky dogs, but we didn't push it. We left Thanksgiving dinner rather early and took him on a nice, relaxing evening walk to calm down from the hectic holiday.

How do you handle holidays that are jam-packed with extended-family dogs? Let us know in the comments!

Read more about spending Thanksgiving with dogs:

About the Author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but Specter the kitten and GhostBuster the dog make her fur family complete. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook, and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google+.

Fri, 21 Nov 2014 02:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/managing-anxiety-dog-friendly-thanksgiving-ghostbuster
<![CDATA[I Went on a Charity Walk With My Pug -- and He Drove Me Nuts!]]> Volunteering to raise money for an animal shelter by walking four miles -- that's great, right? Getting out, enjoying the fresh air, bringing along your adorable Pug -- that sounds lovely, am I right? The weather is beautiful, the sun is shining, this is going to be so much fun, AM I RIGHT?

What could possibly go wrong with my amazing plan?

Well, let me tell you.

The starting point

Yay! We are starting! I've been looking forward to this for so long. I've got my walking shoes on, I ate a protein- and carbohydrate-balanced diet, and I've got my adorable little Pug at my side. Yay! So much fun!

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Illustration by Anneli Rufus

Quarter of a mile in

Oh, look. A vendor booth. Yay! They are handing out water bottles to the walkers. I like water bottles! Pens? Sure, I'll take a few. Why not? I like pens. Frisbee? Of course I want a Frisbee. I'm walking this walk and would very much like a free Frisbee. Yay! Free stuff!

Half-mile in

I am so smart. This was the best idea ever. I'm walking the walk, the Pug is getting some much-needed exercise, I've got a bag filled with awesome free stuff, and we are raising money! Best. Idea. Ever. I'm so smart, yay!

Three-quarters of a mile in

Pug stops to pee. Okay, no worries, we will just catch up to our group. 

Seriously, come on. They are trees. Just pick one. 

Seriously, I'm not kidding. Just pick one already. 

No, not pick five, pick one. Our entire group has left us.

Two miles in

I'm not sure where my group is, but who cares because I see another vendor table in the distance and it looks like they are handing out flashlights! Come on, little Puggie, let's run -- momma loves flashlights!

Two miles and one-tenth in

Okay, Pug, I know that it took me a minute to pick out the flashlight of my color choice, but it's time to get up now and start walking.

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Illustration by Anneli Rufus

Seriously, get up.

Like seriously, seriously, get up.

Two miles and one-tenth of a tenth of a mile in

Listen, Pug. I can't actually drag you on this leash because not only might it choke you, but people are staring at us, so like you seriously need to get up. Like now. Like right now.

Want a cookie?

Oh good, you're up.

Two and four-tenths of a mile in

Why are you lying down again? We ran like 20 steps, if even that much. You can't possibly be tired already. 

Why are you making snorting noises that sound like you are dying?

Like seriously, why are you breathing like that?

No, really, I did see a cookie over there, I promise. No, not by the tree, on the sidewalk, like a mile away. Right by that big sign that says "Finish." Let's go there. Now.

Oh, you're peeing again; on 11 different trees. Okay, well, can you even see our group anymore? Because I can't. You're the one with the 360-degree eyeballs -- can you see them?

Two and a half miles in

Seriously, where is everyone? Are we even going the right way anymore? I don't see anyone, and I don't see any street markers.

Why are you lying down again? This is no time for a nap, we are LOST, Puggie! We are lost, and everyone is getting to the vendor tables before ME! I want a free T-shirt, and they are going to be all gone! 


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Illustration by Anneli Rufus

Two miles and three-quarters in

Are you happy? Does this make you happy? I don’t care if you are 11 inches tall -- you are HEAVY. I will give in and carry you, but only until we find our group.

Two and three-quarters and three-tenths of a mile in

Whose idea was it to get this stupid water bottle anyways? It's heavy. You're heavy. Your fur is getting in my mouth, and my back hurts. 

Three miles in

I’m putting you down, and as soon as we get home you are going on a diet. This is ridiculous. Did you know you weighed so much? My back hurts, I have your hair in my eyes, and I'm pretty sure you fell asleep for a few minutes in my arms, which are now numb, thank you very much.

Three miles and one-hundredth of a tenth of a mile in

You are peeing again? You are going to the vet tomorrow. This cannot be normal. 

Are you even actually peeing or are you just pretending to pee on all those trees?

Can we puh-leez just get walking!?

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Pug defacating by Shutterstock

Three miles and one-quarter in

Why are you lying down? Seriously, this is not even cool. I am not even kidding. You and I are about to have relationship issues, buddy. Let's just remember who buys the treats in this family, mmmkay?

Still three miles and one-quarter in, but 10 minutes later

Pleeeease, please, please just get up! Please? I’ll buy you a bully stick or a rawhide or a new squeaky teddy just PUH LEEZE get up!?

Three and a half miles in and now accompanied by a bad attitude

I can't believe you. Seriously, I can't believe this. I give you a good home, a place on the couch, a yard. I put booties on your feet when it snows, and I never leave you out of the family Christmas card, and THIS is how you repay me!? Sure there was that one time with the whole neutering thing, but still!

This is a charity walk for YOUR SPECIES, and I'm CARRYING your lazy butt! 


Three and three-quarters of a mile in, still carrying the Pug, who I’m pretty sure is now sleeping

Another vendor table! Who the hell wants all this junk? No, I do not want a stress ball! DO I LOOK LIKE I NEED A FREE STRESS BALL!? In fact, HERE! I’m going to give you a free Frisbee and a free flashlight because who on earth wants to lug all this crap around with them anyways!

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Illustration by Anneli Rufus

Four miles and at the finish line

Well, there you go, Mr. Pug. I hope you are happy. We made it the entire way. We raised $30.

Oh, look, you’re awake. 

Well, aren't you in a good mood? Tail wagging, tongue hanging out?

Why are you looking at me like that?

Oh, hell no, I'm not taking you for a walk, we are going STRAIGHT to the car, buddy. So glad we had all this bonding time together. Now, if you will excuse me, I'm going to go make an emergency chiropractor appointment that will cost me $150. 

Next year I'm just mailing my donation in.

Read more by Eden Strong:

About the author: Eden Strong is a quirky young woman with a love for most animals with fur. She readily admits to living her life completely devoid of most social graces, and so far she's still alive. More of her crazy antics can be read on her blog, It Is Not My Shame to Bear

Thu, 20 Nov 2014 06:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/charity-walk-pug-dog-humor
<![CDATA[Do You Crate Your Dog for the Right Reasons? ]]> When my husband and I first became dog owners this summer, there was no question as to whether or not we would crate train GhostBuster. We wanted him to be comfortable in a crate in case it was ever necessary for medical reasons. GhostBuster has grown to love his crate -- he sometimes chooses to sleep in there, and he likes to put toys inside for safekeeping. It's his own little dog fort.

When we decided to adopt another dog, I was upfront about my training methods with the rescues to which we applied. It came as a shock when one group rejected us sternly, emailing me that "We do not put our dogs ever in crates and would not want that for them."

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GhostBuster getting sleepy in his crate. He just goes in there sometimes.

I had previously emailed the rescue a synopsis of GhostBuster's life and routine, explaining that he has two cat buddies and goes for four walks every day. I described how we were crating him on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays for two three-and-a-half-hour periods (with either my husband or me always coming home at lunch to take GhostBuster for a walk and to play with him and our cats).

The rejection email I received cut deeply. I know we're not the perfect pet guardians so many rescues seem to be looking for (we work outside the home, for one thing), but I honestly did think the life we could offer a rescue dog was a pretty darn great one. The organization that rejected us didn't agree -- it thought we were cruel to our dog, and I began to question if we should be crate training at all.

According to Dogster's resident training expert, Annie Phenix, CPDT-KA, proper crate training can be a good thing, especially for house training puppies. She said appropriate training teaches the dog that a crate is a great place to be, and during this training the dog is never left there for more than a few hours at a time.

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I would never leave him in here for more than four hours at a stretch.

"I think crate training can be cruel when ill-informed (or perhaps lazy) dog owners shove a dog in the crate and leave the dog there all day while they are at work. It happens more often than we may care to know about," she said when I reached out to her.

After my rescue rejection, I took a long, hard look at why my husband and I were crating GhostBuster Monday through Wednesday. Was it because it was truly best for him? Or because it was best for us? It was actually a little bit of both.

There was a long period of time when GhostBuster wasn't crated during the day at all. He would either hang out in the sunroom or the basement, depending on the weather. This period of cratelessness began one day when my husband came home to find GhostBuster had experienced a vicious episode of diarrhea and vomiting while in his crate, and he had tried with all his might to move the plastic bottom out of the kennel so that he didn't have to make a mess inside his crate. GhostBuster managed to save the bottom of the crate by sliding it out just enough to poop instead on on the carpet (beige shag, of course).

The whole episode was incredibly gross, but I wasn't ever mad at GhostBuster. He must've been in a ton of intestinal distress when he slid the crate bottom out, and I'm convinced he only pooped and puked on that carpet because he had no choice. The tummy troubles continued even after we sprung him from his smelly crate. After covering our backyard in foamy puke, he exhibited some very alarming back-end symptoms, so we put him in the car and went for an emergency vet visit. He got some medicine and was all better by the next morning.

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My sick puppy at the vet's office.

Anyway, after that whole episode, we decided not to crate GhostBuster for a while. Being unable to escape his own smelly mess was pretty traumatic for him, and we didn't want to force him back into the crate until he could see it as a safe space again. For several weeks, we didn't crate him at all, and he did great -- until he had another bout of tummy trouble.

This time, he didn't poop inside the house, but he did do some pretty serious damage while trying to get outside. My husband and I were out grocery shopping when our doggy was at home tearing the trim off the back door and biting at the doorknob in a desperate attempt to get out of the house before his behind exploded. When we got home he ran past us before we even noticed the damage, squatted, and unleashed some unholy liquid poop.

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GhostBuster was trying to bite his way outside.

After GhostBuster chewed on the doorknob, we locked him up not only to prevent him from hurting himself but also to stop him from hurting the house. Dog trainer Phenix says that crates are far too often used as a prison to keep dogs from potentially destroying the house.

The rejection email from the rescue really made me examine my motivations for crating GhostButser -- was I putting him in prison for the sake of my doorknobs? I asked Phenix what she thought we should do.

"I don't think that one chewing episode in an adult dog should result in a dog being crated," said Phenix, who suggested that we put a good, safe chew toy in GhostBuster's crate and leave the door open, letting him decide if he'd like to chew it in the crate or move it somewhere else.

According to Phenix, if an owner is providing adequate physical and mental stimulation, a dog should earn the right to not have to stay in a crate all day long.

I am happy to say that GhostBuster has definitely earned that right and is no longer spending time in his crate on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays.

I think there is a difference between crate training and simply caging, and the rejection from the rescue helped me realize that my boy can be trusted because he's already trained.

Do you crate train your dogs? What has your experience been with crating? Let us know in the comments.

Read more about training on Dogster:

About the Author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but Specter the kitten and GhostBuster the dog make her fur family complete. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook, and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google+.

Tue, 18 Nov 2014 06:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/crating-dogs-reasons-dog-rescue-rejections-crate-training-puppies
<![CDATA[10 Tips for Bringing a Runaway Dog Home Safely]]> I'm a dog sitter. Last fall, I came home from an evening out with two of my friends. I opened the back door, and a dog I had been taking care of without incident, Miles, took one look at the strangers behind me and bolted. It was an almost 24-hour ordeal of non-stop searching before the pup was found and scooped up into my arms.

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Asscher and runaway Miles pose on a hiking trail. By Wendy Newell.

If you have a dog, there's a good chance the pup will get loose at some point. When this happens, you want to be ready to act quickly. Here are 10 tips based on my experience chasing runaway dogs. 

1. Stay calm

When you realize your dog has bolted, panic sets in. Your pulse races, your mind starts going a zillion miles an hour, and you want to puke. Take a moment to compose yourself. Actions you take while in panic mode may make the situation worse. The No. 1 rule is: Stay calm.

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Damsel demonstrates that small dogs can run fast, too! By Wendy Newell.

2. Don't run

If your dog is still in sight, don't run toward him. Running toward a dog will scare and cause him to bolt in the other direction, or it will look like play and cause him to run in the other direction. Either way, the dog is going the wrong way: away from you. In a foot race between you and your dog, the dog will win.

3. Open up   

Open your yard gates and any house doors leading inside. Many times, a dog will come home on her own after she has gotten tired of exploring.  

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Luna's red martingale collar brings out her spots! By Wendy Newell.

4. Pull out your dog's stuff  

Grab his bed, favorite toys, and anything else he likes and knows. Stick the items outside where he will see and smell them.

5. Grab treats  

Arm yourself with high-value treats. I'm talking about the chicken you just cooked for dinner or even a cheeseburger. Load up your pockets and put a pile near the dog bed you've put outside. 

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Monkey models her walking harness. By Wendy Newell.

6. Hang signs 

If your dog is out of sight and you aren't sure where she might be headed, get "Lost Dog" signs up as soon as possible. The signs should have a large color photo of your dog along with her name and your phone number. Add a line that asks anyone who sees the dog to not approach but to call you. You don't want a stranger chasing your dog and scaring her even more. It also never hurts to add a reward if you can swing it. 

Don't stop at signs alone. Post the same photo and information to your Facebook and Twitter accounts, making sure to adjust privacy settings if necessary so everyone can see and share the information. Also, certain local groups and communities have set up Facebook pages for lost animals. Find the ones near you, post to their page, and message them directly so the page curator can post the info so it shows up on the page feed.

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Facebook is your friend when looking for a runaway dog.

Craigslist is another source that rescuers often check. There are websites that offer an Amber Alert-type service for lost pets, too, such as and For a fee, they will call people in the area where your dog was last seen.

During your search, keep your cell phone handy. If the number listed on your dog's tags and in the lost-dog bulletins is your home phone, have someone stay within earshot.

7. Grab friends and check shelters

The more folks out there helping you hunt, the better chance you have of spotting your runaway dog. Know ahead of time what shelters service your area and have their numbers handy. 

8. Have your pup come to you

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Chippy and me. By Wendy Newell.

Once you have eyes on your dog, get her to come to you. For some, this is as easy as calling. It's never been that easy for me. Just yesterday, I had a pup slip out of a collar in the parking lot near a trailhead. He started to run into the street whenever I got close. So I turned toward the trail and ran up it, clapping and calling the dog in a high, happy voice, "Let's go, Chippy. Come on, Chippy."

When Chippy finally got close, I sat on the ground so I wouldn't be as intimidating. He was still showing signs of fear, so I laid down right there in the middle of the trail. That made him feel safe enough to come close and check out what my deal was. If you face this scenario, try sitting still, head and eyes down, with those high-value treats in your hand.  

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BFF's Dragon and Clover take a break from hiking in their harnesses and sitter tags. Photo by Wendy Newell.

9. Use a slip leash

A nylon leash makes a great slip leash. Put the end with the clasp through the handle and then hold onto the end with the clasp. The loop created can now be easily slipped over a dog's head, or you can lure your dog through the loop with a treat. If the pup comes to you, it is easier and safer to capture him with this device than to grab him. Grabbing a scared dog will most likely result in you getting a bruised and swollen hand from a bite.

10. Be patient and stay positive

It has taken me anywhere from a few minutes to almost 24 hours to get a pup back safely. It's hard to not think of dark and unhappy conclusions while you are trying to get a dog back, but try not to. It will just make you panic. You remember what the No. 1 rule is, right? Stay calm!

I hope you find this information helpful -- and never have to use it!

Read related stories on Dogster:

About the author: Wendy Newell is a former VP of Sales turned Grade A Dog Sitter. After years of stress, she decided to leave the world of "always be closing" to one of tail wags and licks. Wendy's new career keeps her busy hiking, being a dog chauffeur, picking up poo, sacrificing her bed, and other furry filled activities. Wendy and her dog, Riggins, take their always-changing pack of pups on adventures throughout the Los Angeles area, where they live together in a cozy, happy home. You can learn more about Wendy, Riggins, and their adventures on Facebook and Instagram.

Mon, 10 Nov 2014 02:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/runaway-dog-finding-lost-dogs-dog-behavior
<![CDATA[What Sacrifices Have You Made to Adopt a Dog?]]> I've done a lot of things in my life to get pets. I spent years wearing down my husband and searching for pet-friendly apartments. I've begged, pleaded, and even slightly bent the rules of a rental agreement. I got a mortgage and bought a house with my pets (current and future) in mind.

Over the last 15 months, my husband and I have gone from having no pets to having three furry family members. The two adorable cats came first, and then in July we adopted GhostBuster the Lab mix.

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This picture of GhostBuster and I was taken just after I signed the adoption papers.

Now, I feel like we're ready for a second dog, and my husband is testing just how far I will go to make it happen.

"I'll make you a deal," he said. "You can get another dog if you start eating meat again."

My husband thought his offer was so outrageous that I would never take him up on it, but he underestimated how far I will go to bring home another dog.

Two days after we shook on the deal, I added some chicken wings to our pizza delivery order and chomped down on four pieces of bird. A few days after that, I ordered prime rib at dinner. 

"As rare as you do it," I told the waitress.

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This is as rare as they do it.

My husband felt confident in making the meat deal because he knows how strongly I felt about not eating animals. After all, he was partially responsible for the vow of vegetarianism I took almost two years ago, long before we had animals of our own. We were standing in the kitchen of our tiny basement apartment in Saskatoon (where the upstairs landlords had pets but forbade us to have any), and my husband was holding his phone up in front of me, showing me a video about the dog meat trade.

When the short clip was over, tears were running down my face and splashing onto the cold linoleum. "I don't think I can eat meat again after seeing that," I told him.

I just couldn't wrap my mind around how I could condemn the dog meat trade but continue to eat other intelligent animals.

My husband said he didn't mind if I swapped our meat for legumes as it would shrink our grocery bill a bit, just as long as I didn't complain if he ordered a steak when we went out to eat. He suffered through my veggie-based cooking for many months, and during that time we adopted our Ghost Cat, then Specter the Kitten, and finally, GhostBuster.

With three pets to fill my home and my heart, I thought I was done. Getting a second dog didn't even occur to me during my first few months with GhostBuster, as we were were busy training him. GhostBuster amazes me every day. As his manners have improved, I've started to wonder if we don't have room in our household for another adoptee.

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GhostBuster loves chilling with other doggies.

GhostBuster absolutely loves playing with other dogs, especially youngsters like himself (he's only two). He will frolic with doggy playmates until he's all tuckered out, and then he'll rally and play some more. I would be lying if I said that his love of other dogs wasn't a factor in my wanting to adopt again.

Before the meat deal was on the table, my husband tried to convince me that GhostBuster already had an in-house animal playmate in our kitty, Ghost Cat.

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GhostBuster and Ghost Cat are pals.

While it’s true that Ghost Cat and GhostBuster do love each other and play together often, it's not the same kind of all-out puppy play that GhostBuster engages in with other dogs. He really enjoys the company of other pups (especially smaller ones), and when I look around at all of the bonded pairs in my extended family, I do wonder if he is missing out.

My parents have two old girls, Rags and Pagan, who've been together for 13 years, and my sister's Bichon/Shih Tzu pair have been married for a decade. My brother has a couple of Miniature Schnauzer litter mates who are never without each other. All of these dynamic duos are happier together than apart.

Despite the fact that my parents have two dogs and a cat, they don’t think that my husband and I should add another dog to our household. My mom and dad were at our house the night I picked those chicken wings clean, and they were sure to play devil's advocate.

"But you already have two cats!" my mom said.

"It's a lot easier to find someone to watch one dog than two dogs," my dad said. "It gets expensive."

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Two of my three fur babies.

Twice the vet bills and more than twice the work -- that's what my family members tell me when I talk about bringing another dog home, but I still think that we could, and should, do it.

Once upon a time, my darling GhostBuster was sitting in a shelter kennel waiting for a forever home, but as I type this he is curled up on our couch with my husband and Ghost Cat. If I have room in my life and my heart for one more dog, how can I deny that?

I called my husband's bluff on the meat deal because I feel more ethically obliged to adopt another dog than I do to avoid meat. I also know that although my husband says I have to eat meat for the lifetime of the second dog, he really can't enforce that part of the deal. I could stop eating meat again as soon as my second dog is in my arms (and I just might).

How far have you gone to get a pet? Let us know in the comments.

Read more about getting a second dog on Dogster:

About the author:  Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but Specter the kitten and GhostBuster the dog make her fur family complete. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook, and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feeds because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google +.

Thu, 06 Nov 2014 04:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/dog-adoption-vegetarianism-give-up
<![CDATA[6 Tips for Sharing a Trail With Hikers and Their Dogs]]> As a dog sitter, I hike the Southern California trails often. Usually this happens without incident, but once in a while my pack and I meet a fellow hiker whose actions make the pups unhappy. More often than not, they don't have canine companions, but sometimes they do. 

We all want everyone and every dog to make it off the trail without scratches, bruises, and bites. I do my part by walking alone any pup not good with people or too rambunctious. This gives me the strength and focus to make sure nothing goes wrong. On legal off-leash trails, only my dogs good at recall and social with all humans and other dogs are allowed off-leash. Unfortunately, not all dog owners take such a common-sense approach.

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Wendy and her favorite hiking partner, Riggins. Photo by Wendy Newell.

With that in mind, here are six tips for sharing the trail with dogs, whether you are hiking alone or with your pups, too:

1. Just keep walking

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The pack: Shadow, Dragon, Damsel, Riggins, and Asscher. Photo by Wendy Newell.

How should you walk by a dog on a trail? Walk by. No running; if you are running, slow to a walk. No screaming. Just walk.

I was on an off-leash dog trail once and a male runner came up behind while my pack was stopped for a water break. Upon seeing the dogs, the runner screeched to a halt right in front of us. Of course, one of my dogs saw this as odd behavior and started barking aggressively and taking a "back off buddy" stance. When I went to grab him, he ran just out of my grasp, desperate to get the threat moving along.

The response from the runner was to take off his shirt, yell, and throw it at the dog. I'm not sure what he expected this to achieve. I told him it would be best if he just continued on with his hike. He grabbed his T-shirt and did just that. The previously unhappy dog went back to lapping up water, happy now that the threat was gone.

2. Don't surprise the dogs

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Damsel takes a hike time-out. Photo by Wendy Newell.

If you are coming up behind a dog, yell out "on your right" far enough in advance that the owner can respond. If I have a dog who I know doesn't like to be passed from behind, the heads-up gives me time to anticipate and control the dog's reaction. This is common courtesy when passing anyone on a trail. Dogs have sharp teeth, though, so it's wise not to startle them in particular.

3. Don't be afraid

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Beaux, Huxley, Asscher, Riggins, and Shadow take a break in the shade on a pack hike. Photo by Wendy Newell.

Easier said than done. When we physicalize fear -- screaming, jumping back, grabbing a person next to us -- a dog can easily misinterpret our actions for play. If you can't walk by a dog without freaking out, warn the owner before you get close.

Say, "I'm afraid of dogs. Can you hold him close while I pass?" Granted, some dog owners will respond with, "He's nice. Wouldn't hurt a fly." Just reiterate, "I'm really scared, so if you can hold him close I'd appreciate it."

4. Walk the other way

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Lulu shows what barking looks like! Photo by Wendy Newell.

If you come across a dog who seems unfriendly and the owner is nowhere to be found, your best bet is to turn around and walk away. This is a pain since the opposite direction is not the way you want to go, but it's better than having a possibly aggressive dog come at you. By walking away, you give yourself distance and give the owner an opportunity to catch up to the dog or to navigate the pup around you at a more convenient location.

Recently I was walking my pack and met a gentleman and his dog coming up a trail we were going down. He told me his dog wasn't friendly. I should have taken my pack back up the hill until I could find a place where we could pull out of the way to safely let the other hiker pass.

Unfortunately, I'm really bad at taking my own advice. I knew my dogs wouldn't react. They didn't, but it was a very difficult situation as the hiker crouched on the ground in the middle of the trail and put his dog in a bear hug. Of course the dog was not happy. Put me in a bear hug on the ground, and I'm going to be angry, too! We all survived, but it was a confrontation that didn't need to happen. Do as I say, not as I do.

5. Don't approach

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Sadie and Bella goof off on a hike. Photo by Wendy Newell.

Many dogs are protective of their owner and pack. Coming up to a dog or an owner can cause a dog to see you as a threat. Recently I was on a hike, and a runner came up from behind a curve. The pups were already startled, but the runner was so put off and afraid of the barking dogs that he ran right into one. Of course, this didn't go well, and the pup jumped up on the man as he quickly retreated. I feel like, "Don't run directly into the dog" is a no-brainer, but it happened!

6. Don't bark

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Asscher and her mom, Eliza, look at the view while Lulu poses. Photo by Wendy Newell.

Sometimes when a person is afraid of dogs but trying to hide it, he'll stare at the dogs and bark. Bad idea. First of all, staring a dog in the eyes can be seen as aggressive. Add a bark, and you are just asking for trouble. You don't know how to speak dog. For all you know, your bark translates into "Your momma's ugly." A dog doesn't like when you insult his mom.

Without question, it is the dog owner's responsibility to control the dog. Even so, the more everyone can do to peacefully and safely share a trail, the more pleasant the adventure will be for everyone.

Do you have any tips for sharing a hiking trail with dogs? Let us know in the comments and share this with your hiking friends without dogs. The more knowledge we all have, the safer we all are!

Read related stories on Dogster:

About the author: Wendy Newell is a former VP of Sales turned Grade A Dog Sitter. After years of stress, she decided to leave the world of "always be closing" to one of tail wags and licks. Wendy's new career keeps her busy hiking, being a dog chauffeur, picking up poo, sacrificing her bed, and other fur-filled activities. Wendy and her dog, Riggins, take their always-changing pack of pups on adventures throughout the Los Angeles area, where they live together in a cozy, happy home. You can learn more about Wendy, Riggins, and their adventures on Facebook and Instagram.

Thu, 06 Nov 2014 02:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/hiking-dogs-off-leash-animal-behavior-training
<![CDATA[11 Reasons I Love Being a Dog Sitter]]> At the end of 2012, I made the tough decision to leave a very lucrative job as vice president of sales. I was burned out. I had been in sales my entire working life, and the stress and constant travel had just gotten to be too much. In March of 2013, I decided to do some dog sitting to help pay the bills. Now as 2014 comes to an end, I'm still at it and loving (almost) every minute of it.

How much do I love dog sitting? Let me count the ways.

1. New adventures

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Wendy on a Griffith Park Trail heading to Amir's Garden with Lola Bear and Lulu. All photos by Wendy Newell.

I've been able to go to a number of places I'd never been before. I'm ashamed to say that this Los Angeles native had never been to many of the iconic and wonderful locations this city has to offer! Some of my now-favorite hiking spots with the dogs were new to me, including Elysian Park, home to Dodgers Stadium and brilliant views of the city; Hahamonga Watershed, which leads you up and over Devil Gates Dam and into the upper Rose Bowl trails; and the zillions of Griffith Park trails, including the Old Zoo, Amir’s Garden, Dantes View, and the Bronson Caves, which served as the Batcave entrance for '60s TV show Batman. The list goes on!

2. Exercise

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Shadow, Dragon, Damsel, Riggins, and Asscher enjoy a break from the Griffith Park hike up to 5-Points.

I've known for a while that exercise is the most effective stress reliever for me. With the dogs, I get in an extra workout whether I want to or not. Due to my dog-sitting profile, not to mention my company name, the Active Pack, I tend to get very active dogs. That means everyone hits the trails. The big, the small, the young, the old, the pooped, the energetic -- everyone gets out and about.

3. Companionship

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Wendy and her first official dog client, Bud.

I never ever ever ever pee alone ... ever.

4. Increased patience

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Sadie decides she would much rather walk herself.

Never my strong suit, but when walking four or more dogs at a time, patience is a must. Don't even get me started on the "accidents" in the house.

5. Warmth

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Shirley finds a comfy spot in the human bed.

I have an extra layer of warmth in the form of dogs whenever I'm sitting or sleeping. I'm always very cozy!

6. Knowledge

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Beaux, Damsel, Luna, Bella, and Sadie. So many dogs. So much dog hair.

I had no idea yoga pants had such amazing dog-hair-attraction qualities. It's really fascinating. I think my floor is clean, then I sit on it to put on my shoes, and I get up with enough dog hair on me to knit a sweater.

7. Outdoorsy-ism

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Asscher is happy about being used as a bum screen.

You know all that hiking? Sometimes you have to pee during a hike, and you are on a hill with no one but the dogs around. I've gotten really good at sneaking behind a bush if it is required. A nice big Golden Retriever helps you balance and screens your naked behind. I'm not going to admit I've peed in Batman’s cave ... I'm just going to suggest it is a possibility.

8. Lessons for my pup

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Riggins keeps a watchful eye over his buddies: Romeo, Jack Jack, and Creature.

Riggins is an only child and would often show signs of "only child syndrome." He is still my baby (and he knows it), but he has gotten much better and is now very happy to be a member of a pack. He is actually my go-to babysitter when I have to leave the house and throw a "Riggins is in charge" over my shoulder as I walk out the door.

In fact, just today on our hike we were heading up the hill, and Riggins was falling behind. After calling him a few times, I gave up and just stopped to wait for him (before you start the hate mail, we were at Runyon Canyon, which is a legal leash-free dog park). When he finally came bounding up, he had another hiker and a cute white puppy in tow.

"Your dog was making sure the big dogs down there weren't hurting my puppy," the hiker said. "That's why he didn't come when you were calling him."

That's my sweet boy! Protector of the pack.

9. A tan

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Riggins knows when the big sun hat comes out, it's time to go to the dog park!

From hiking. Sure, I have horrific tan lines in the shape of a tank top and multiple lines on my legs from shorts, crops, and socks, but I've never been this tan in my adult life.

10. Cleanliness

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Sadie knows a bath is in her future.

I have to vacuum every other day or so. I have now used all of the attachments on my vacuum. It's very exciting. How many people can say that?

11. Unconditional love

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My love, Lousy.

It's amazing to me how quickly a dog will attach himself to me. Riggins has always been my companion, there for me through thick and thin. Now that feeling is just multiplied by two, or three, or four ...

As I continue to hunt for a job that will pay me enough money to survive and allow me to breathe freely, I'm thankful for the ability to do this gig, learn so much, and be this happy!

Read related stories on Dogster:

About the author: Wendy Newell is a former VP of Sales turned Grade A Dog Sitter. After years of stress, she decided to leave the world of "always be closing" to one of tail wags and licks. Wendy's new career keeps her busy hiking, being a dog chauffeur, picking up poo, sacrificing her bed, and other fur-filled activities. Wendy and her dog, Riggins, take their always-changing pack of pups on adventures throughout the Los Angeles area, where they live together in a cozy, happy home. You can learn more about Wendy, Riggins, and their adventures on Facebook and Instagram.

Tue, 04 Nov 2014 04:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/dog-sitter-pet-sitter-career