2017

Happy 2017!

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Amigo

I usually try not to make a list of New Years resolutions (for obvious reasons), but this year I broke my own rule. I actually made my entire family sit down – even my 3 year old – to discuss #1 on my resolution list:

Be a better family to our dogs.

While such a statement might seem vague, it is ambiguous on purpose. Each one of us might take that to to mean something different…and that’s ok. One thing is certain, though, we need to start treating Buffy & Amigo as full fledged family members NOT second class citizens.

As many of you blog readers know, Theodore arrived on the scene in March and my whole world changed. What few precious seconds of free time I enjoyed was quickly replaced by exhaustion, laundry (seriously – how did one tiny human seem to DOUBLE our dirty clothes production?), and a sense that I was forever running 5 minutes behind.

As a dog lover and self proclaimed dog expert, I had decided I would not be a mom who would forget about her dogs once children became part of my life – and  I have made it a point to do this. I make sure to give each one of them individual attention every day. I cuddle with them in bed at night. Someone is home most of the day – so they are constantly enjoying fresh air and are rarely left alone. BUT THIS IS NOT ENOUGH. They need more!

Back to this resolution – being “better”. Dogs need exercise…not just fresh air. They need mental stimulation…not just attention. It’s not enough to spring for the all natural, gluten free, organic dog treats!  They don’t need another toy!  They need me making an effort to help them be what they were born to be – dogs.

Well, they don’t need just me. They need US. One of my pet peeves in life is when people say a dog is “mine” when they are part of a family unit. That is the equivalent of me decided to rent out our guest bedroom and tell my husband “I” got a roommate.  With dogs and cats – you are all in it together; everyone has to put in some sort of effort.

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Buffy

So 2017 will be the year of the dogs over here at the Fuentes house. Right now that means more exercise (walks), more playtime (with a human actively taking part), and more tricks (to keep my lab’s brain working). Work, preschool, lack of sleep, lack of motivation, weather…these are not excuses!!!  Just as I would not leave my 3 year old to decided just how his days should be spent…I will take a more active part on how my 4 legged children spend their days.

My other big resolution is to BLOG MORE. It’s what I love…and somehow it gets pushed to the side just like those other things I love: peace & quiet. 

Comment below and let me know what your New Years resolutions are…especially if they are dog related!

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I’m Back (Baby Teddy’s Introduction)

I am so excited to be sitting down and writing this post.

Writing about dogs is so wonderfully therapeutic for me.  I’ve always felt that…out in society…strangers quickly become friends when a pet is mentioned.  When the fact that I’m a professional pet sitter comes up – I know no stranger.  Everyone has something to share with me: beloved childhood companions, current insane behaviors, dramatic stories of rescue.  I love every word. And I love sharing that with my blog readers.  But then…

On March 7th, Theodore Ashford was born…

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…and blogging (along with many other things) went straight out the window.

But now, after 4 months…I finally have a moment (a miraculous, rare moment when both boys are napping) to return to this blog that I have grown to love.  I love connecting with all you readers.  I love how technology can bring us together.  I love that we can share our ideas and opinions…our personal experiences.

And sometimes I love having a place where I can come to post the stupid dog videos that for some unknown reason entertain me so much.  Damn you internet!

I can’t wait to share more about Teddy.  And how the two original babies – Buffy & Amigo – are dealing with the new addition.  (Spoiler: they are rock stars)  And the blind dog who is staying with us right now who I’m totally in love with.  And how I really do think that parenting a pup help you parent a tiny human.  

Lots to come.  Soon I hope.  Thanks for stopping by!

All the pictures in this post were taken while shooting Baby Teddy’s birth announcements.  Shows the different personalities of my two pups!!

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Buffy during the “shoot”

 

How My Toddler is Like My Dog – Thinking Outside the Box (House)

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It still amazes me when I’m reading a parenting book…and the advice given is almost word for word the exact same advice as the last dog behavior book I read.  I’m actually not even sure why I still get a kick out of it – it happens so often.  Apparently – when it comes to psychology – toddlers and dogs aren’t so far apart.

(No, I’m not suggesting you crate train your kiddo.)

I just finished The Happiest Toddler on the Block.  The Happiest Baby on the Block is pretty much required reading for every new mom.  Seriously.  (And for good reason, too.  Dr. Karp’s advice is spot on – hence why I picked up the sequel to help me understand how to keep Sebastian happy.)

Dr. Karp advises parents to make sure that their toddlers go outside every day.IMG_3621  “Every” day – he is sure to remind his readers – is “EVERY” day.  Toddlers won’t die (or even catch cold) from going out for short amounts of time even if it is raining, cold, windy, snowing, hot, etc.  The psychological benefits are worth the bundling or being slightly uncomfortable.  We as a species have not primarily resided inside single-family, four-walled, covered structures for all that long.  If you look back at the history of humanity – the majority of it took place outside…or in a cave…it is in our nature to be more comfortable (happier???) outside.  (Think of that blissful moment when you office workers step out for lunch and feel the sun on your face.)  Dr. Karp explains your toddler might be unhappy simply because you are forcing him into an unnatural physical situation.

DOGS ARE THE SAME!

IMG_3546Maybe even more so!  Dogs were built to be outside.  They spent most of their evolutionary lives on the move.  They don’t like to go for walks….they NEED to go for walks.  They NEED to be outside.

Often pup parents try to over think it when their dogs start acting out (chewing, biting…any destructive behavior, really).  Nine times out of ten – they are just bored and/or frustrated.  You are forcing them into an unnatural physical situation.  Your dog wasn’t meant to be kept in a box!

Obviously, you cannot walk your dog for 8 hours a day to fulfill his nomadic tendencies.  Nor am I suggesting you take your sweet, spoiled pooch and suddenly decided she will primarily be an “outdoor dog.”  What I am advising (and I’m no doctor or vet…so no one has given me an authority to give advice) is that you go outside with your pup AND your kid EVERY day.  Even if it’s raining and you all have to towel everyone off when you come back inside.  Even if it’s only while you thumb through the junk mail.  Even if it’s only for 10 minutes!

If for no other reason that this: a tired dog/toddler is a happy dog/toddler!

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Seeing Red – What to do If Your Dog’s in a Fight

Last week I was walking 3 brothers that I walk every day.  As we rounded a corner, 2 large off leash dogs approached (not in a polite manner, I might add) and one started acting aggressively.  It only took about 5 seconds for a serious fight to break out between one of the off leash dogs and one of the dogs I was walking.  With 5 dogs in the mix (3 on leashes held by me!) – things could have escalated to insanity pretty quickly.

It doesn’t really matter the back story…your dog is in a fight with another dog.  What do you do?

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Step 1 – Don’t panic (or fake it ’til you make it)

“Panicking” doesn’t necessarily mean running around in circles, screaming like a lunatic, waving your hands above your head.  “Panicking” in this context is any behavior out of the ordinary that your dog will take notice of.  For us gals…this often means raising our voices an octave and getting that squeaky, desperate quality.  It could also mean shifting our weight back and forth or trying to run.  It could really be anything that your dog is going to pick up on and interpret as danger! this other dog means us harm.  

You must stay calm.  Your dog is already “in the red” and is not thinking normally.  If your thoughts start to go all wonky – no one is thinking properly.  And when no one is thinking properly – that’s when the situation will spiral out of control.

(“Fake it ’til you make it” is hard…but not as hard as “Don’t panic”.  It is just a reminder that while on the inside your heart might be racing and you seriously feel like you are about to loose your lunch – the most important this is that you project that calm energy that Cesar Millan is always talking about.  The dogs won’t know the difference!)

Step 2 – Trust no one (no dog)

I know. I know.  This is a really horrible thing to say.  Let me explain – in this situation, your dog is 99% wild animal and 1% sweet creature that you know and love.  Your dog’s brain has undergone a change and your dog is literally not your dog.  (Haven’t we all seen sibling dogs that get along perfectly well snap at each other when worked up?)

DO NOT put any part of your body in-between fighting dogs (unless you are prepared to have that body part sustain a dog bite.)  DO NOT think that your dog will recognize that it is your hand/leg/torso and refrain from biting you.  In this aggravated state – your dog cannot determine friend from foe.  While you still think of your dog as a friend…at this point EVERYONE is the enemy to your dog.  By not trusting your dog in this situation – you will avoid blood and heartache.  (Feelings tend to get hurt when your own dog bites you.)

Step 3 – Give direction (to humans )

The whole reason I am writing this post is because of this step.  Reread the situation I described at the beginning of this post, or here is a recap: a dog fight has erupted between my dog (on leash) and neighbor dog (off leash).  Now, I have broken up many a dog fight – even sustaining a few bites in my day protecting dogs (yeah, I’m kinda a bad ass) – so I will admit I’m a little more trained in the corect way to act in this situation than the average dog lover.  As I was doing everything I could to slow this quickly spiraling-out-of-control situation, I took a half a second to glance up at the owner of the other dogs.  He was standing about 10 feet off.  Watching.  Doing nothing.

Now, when I retold this story to friends and family they all had different reactions.  “Maybe he was scared and didn’t want to put himself in harms way by getting closer to a dog fight?”  “Maybe he was stunned?”  “Maybe he didn’t realize how serious the situation was?”  In the moment, though, all I was thinking is WHY ISN’T THIS GUY HELPING ME?  (Him – large man, standing at a safe distance.  Me – little lady in the middle of 5 dogs (4 big, 1 little…2 free, 3 tethered…3 I know like my own, 2 I don’t know at all.)

In my calmest – but firmest – voice, I instructed the man on what to do.  I am not kidding.  As I’m physically trying to keep our dogs from ripping each other apart, I have to stop to state the obvious to this man (who thankfully did exactly what he was told.) “YOU NEED TO COME GET YOUR DOG!”  “You need to physically come over here and help me separate these two.”  “Now please back up.”  Seriously.

leashHonestly, I think this man (like many who find themselves in this situation) didn’t believe that his dog would ever get in a real fight.  Your dog could be of the “sweet as pie, wouldn’t hurt a fly, gentle around kids, doesn’t mind cats” variety…but certain situations can bring about reactions from your dog that you might never understand.  (Isn’t that the same with humans??)

When you find yourself with a dog who has crossed over to the “red zone” the most important thing to do is diffuse the situation as quickly as possible.  If you can remain calm, remember these are animals, and take control by giving others direction – you will be able to walk away as if it was a regular day at the park.  (Surprisingly dogs can do just that….while it might take a few minutes for your heart to stop pounding!)

Countdown to Halloween – DIY Bow Tie (…yes there is still time to make this!)

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Amigo the Dandy

 

OH MY GOSH!  Look what I made Amigo!

The extended family is coming over to our house for Halloween this year.  I’ll be cleaning/cooking/costuming my own kiddo, so I wasn’t sure I wanted to tackle dog costumes as well!  Still, I think the dogs should look festive for the holiday.

Buffy has a skeleton dog shirt that she will be debuting this year (a Target SUPER markdown from last Halloween)…but Amigo didn’t have anything to wear to the party.  Hence the brand new, handmade bow tie!

As someone who cannot use a needle and thread to save her life, I can honestly say this was a super easy project.  Instead of taking step by step pictures as I went for the blog (honestly – this would have been quite embarrassing) I am going to tell you to read instructions on BarkPost here or check out this video on YouTube.  While I didn’t follow either one to the letter (I didn’t use an iron or a hot glue gun), these gave me a good idea of what I needed to do.  While I initially measured (or cut?  or read the tape measure?  Have I mentioned how bad I am at sewing???) wrong…once I recut the pieces, it was smooth sailing.

I think this is an absolutely adorable way to get Amigo in on the Halloween fun.  He has been wearing it around…and doesn’t seem to mind it at all.  I can’t wait to see what our party guests say about our dapper little man!

Who Am I?

I have a key to your house.  I know your alarm code.  I know about that squeaky floor board in your hallway and where you like to kick off your shoes when you come home.  I am in your house all the time…but you might only see me once or twice a year. Who am I?

IMG_3920I am your dog’s best friend.

It is an interesting relationship I have with my clients.  The human ones, that is.  I can walk their dogs every day for months on end, and maybe only talk to them on the phone every six months.  Mostly, we communicate via notes.  (SO sixth grade girl, right?  I’m not going to lie, though, it is kinda fun!)  I take on a odd role – I’m not family, but I’m not a visitor either.  No need to tidy up for me, but you might want to put on pants if you know I’m coming.

What I often think about, though, is who does your dog think I am?  I show up when their family is gone (either out at work or away on vacation.)  I don’t have to worry about putting away groceries or taking a shower or picking up toys – I am 100% there for them.  I am not a visitor that will pat them on the head and then shoo them away so I can have a human conversation.  I only have eyes for your pooch.  I am there to walk or play…to scratch behind the ears…to “hang out”, canine style.  I give them treats and love on them.  I might even have a special nickname for them…I might even know their favorite potty spot which even their dad doesn’t know about.  I might even notice if something is bothering them before you – because I am only their for them.

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So what do you think they think?  I like to think dogs don’t know what “dog walkers” are.  In my mind, they just think I’m their buddy.  Like their human brother who has classmates over for play – I believe they think of me as a friend.  THEIR friend.  Not your friend, not a family friend, not little Timmy’s playmate – THEIR friend.  (This is often reinforced by pup’s behavior on the rare days their parents are home when I stop by.  Parents are surprised by how their pets gravitate to me…or at least get ridiculously excited and forget their mom and dad are home.  Come on!  Who would you rather hang out with? Someone who gets worked up when you come in with muddy paws…or someone who takes you out to get those paws wet!)

So from now on I believe my official job title will be “Pet’s Best Friend”  rather than “Pet Sitter” or “Dog Walker”.  Anyone can walk…but only a select few can be a PBF.

Your Dog Loves You (It’s a Scientific Fact)

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Did you hear?  It is a scientific fact that your dog loves you!

How can that be proven?  Before we get into that, let me refresh your memory on what oxytocin is.  Oxytocin is known as the love hormone….it is basically what makes you happy, relieves your stress, and causes you to care about other people.  It is also associated with nurturing and caring for your own children.  When you are being social, your oxytocin levels increase somewhere between 10%-50% depending on whether you are interacting with a stranger or your own son.

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Good to know the feeling is mutual!

I’m sure you (you dog lover, you!) will not be surprised to learn that when you are petting your believed pup (or kitty cat!) your oxytocin levels increase.  I don’t think you need an official laboratory study to know that you think of your pets as children…but the fact your body biologically reacts with that same oxytocin rush whether you and loving on your human child or your canine one scientifically proves it!   This is easily tested by taking a blood sample, playing with a dog, taking another blood sample…and then comparing the different levels of oxytocin in the two separate samples.  (Technology today!)

With me so far?  Ok – here is where it gets really cool.  Paul Zak wanted to see if the same thing happened in “cross-species animals”.  So he found this dog who had a goat for a friend. (Seriously, I would love to read an article just on that!)  Anyway….he did the same tests that he had done on humans – take blood samples, let the two friends play, and then take more blood.

The pooch had a 48% increase in oxytocin – scientifically proving that the goat and dog were indeed friends.  The goat had a 210% increase!  This scientifically proves that the goat was, in fact, in love with the dog!  I love it!

While this may not sound like a big deal – it TOTALLY is.  I personally am sick and tired of people telling me that dogs do not feel emotions like we do.  I don’t care what scientific jargon you spew at me – I will never believe this!  Maybe Buffy doesn’t feel “guilt” like I feel “guilt”….but I do not believe that she is incapable of complex feelings.  If scientists have used the presents of oxytocin in humans to explain things like love (it helps couples feel intimacy and encourages attachment), motherhood (it helps moms bond with new babies), and generosity (it helps us feel compassion and the need to help other people)…they cannot deny that the presences of this same molecule in our canine counterparts proves dogs (any domesticated animal, really)  have a deeper feelings when they look at us humans. 

So the next time you tell someone your dog loves you, and they give you some snarky comeback like “He loves that you feed him every night” or “Those treats that you give her…that’s what she REALLY loves”…you can condescendingly roll your eyes as you chuckle and explain that they must not have read the most recently scientific studies pertaining to oxytocin levels in cross-species interactions.

“My dog loves me.  It’s a scientific fact.”

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I don’t need a scientific study of molecules to tell me Amigo loves his dad!

 

Read Paul Zak’s article in The Atlantic here.  Read about another study involving dogs and oxytocin here.

 

My Advice for Traveling with your Dog

 

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For those of us who consider dogs full fledged members of the family, it seems only logical they would accompany us on vacation.  It’s an adventure!  A change of scene! A slower pace!  All the things we crazy humans love about “getting away” can potentially be frightening for our pets…but with a little pre-planning and a lot of patience, an enjoyable time can be had by all.

Pre-planning needs to be so much more than packing a favorite toy and buying extra yummy treats.  Crates can be vacation-savers, and I encourage almost all of my clients to use them when they travel.  Even free roaming dogs will appreciate a quiet, familiar area they can escape to if the human fun gets to be too much. The key to utilizing a crate is making sure your pooch is comfortable in it long before the vacation.  An unfamiliar hotel room is not the place to introduce a foreign pen!  The process should start months before. (Here is where that pre-planning comes in!)  In fact, there should be NOTHING new introduced while you are away from home.  This means no new crates, new treats, or even something as simple as a new collar or leash.  For pups: familiarity breeds calm…and isn’t calm what your vacation is all about?

Patience is another key to getting to that calm, happy place faster. (And when I say patience – I mean YOUR patience!)  There are hundreds books written about dog behavior and what goes on in the canine brain.  All you need to know while you’re on holiday: you don’t know what your dog is really thinking.  Take a breath…and try to put yourself in their shoes.  Stay calm and allow your dog an extra moment to get comfortable.  This might mean waiting for your dog jump out of the car before you resort to pulling him out for a quick potty break…or might mean letting your dog bark at unfamiliar things without immediately becoming frustrated and yelling for him to stop.  Just give him a moment to adjust.

But maybe the most important tip I have for those dog-lovin’ world travelers is this: NEVER force your dog to do something they don’t want too. This can apply to forcing a dog onto a boat because you know “they will love it if they just tried it!”….but more likely will pertain to interaction with well-intentioned people. The general public assumes it is OK to enter your dog’s personal space and talk crazy baby talk to them. While some dogs genuinely love this and will eat up the extra attention, many dog will not appreciate a stranger in their face after a 6 hour car ride. (Honestly, I wouldn’t either!) Whether it be the chirpy front desk clerk at your hotel or your sweet Aunt Mabel – dogs should never be forced to be on the receiving end of unwanted affection. Have a response at the ready – “Oh my gosh! Buffy was just in the car for HOURS. Better give her some space!” or “I bet Buffy would like to walk around this place. We are going to go explore. See you later!” Not forcing your dog into potentially sticky situations will guarantee a drama free trip (at least when it comes to your pooch!)

With a little thinking ahead and a lot of deep breaths a vacation with your dog can can strengthen your bond, help your dog learn to adapt to new situations, and…who am I kidding?! Dog-filled vacations are better because everything is better with a dog.