Monday, March 31, 2014

SociaBulls: On Dedication

The other day, a colleague was telling me how much easier it would be to have a cat.
Or at least a pet that doesn't need to be walked, especially in last weekend's weather like this.
Which made me wonder about how our SociaBulls group had grown so big and is filled with so many people who are willing to walk in this type of weather.
And get up early on a weekend to do it.
And even do the research to seek out warm gear for their pups to make sure they're comfortable.
So many of our members have been spending this coldest-and-snowiest winter doing just this.
How would you explain it?

The reasons why individual dogs walk. (Check the links at the bottom to read all of the stories).
Who we are.
To learn more about our group, join our Chicago SociaBulls Facebook page for more photos and updates

Friday, March 28, 2014

Miss M, just another...human?!

We always like to joke that Miss M thinks she is Mr. B's owner, but lately it seems like Miss M has evolved into another human among us humans.
As we're getting ready in the morning, Miss M strolls right into the bathroom asking, "What's up fellow humans?"
Once inside she will judgmentally stare, critiquing how I brush my teeth and how A puts on her makeup, then snort in disgust
Since we never take her advice, it becomes like 'Groundhog Day' with the same scenario each morning.
Being "her dog", Mr. B cannot defend himself whenever he wants some alone time and must succumb to the demands of Miss M.
Sometimes A tries to rationalize with Miss M, telling her that her dog just wants to be by himself. As Miss M contemplates A's plea, you can see her weigh the pros and cons in her head as she comes to her usual decision of ignoring all of Mr. B's wishes because she is his owner.
During the Polar Vortex, I spent hours perfecting the the baked butterscotch cookie, peanut butter and chocolate chip cookie and the snicker doodle (dog) cookies just to keep our home somewhat warm.
Now Miss M listens to our conversations and she can tell if we are planning to bake cookies. She makes it well known that she would like a snicker doodle baked for her...and reluctantly one for her dog.
Though it was difficult enough to have two heads of the household, it has become nearly impossible having the one head of the household, Miss M.
I am starting to believe A, Mr. B and I are all her pooches to Miss M and we must all bend to her will.

Clever for real.
Check our Facebook page for more photos, comments, and storylines beyond the blog.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

DoggyStyle: On Dog Beds that Don't Look Like Dog Beds

While we're lucky our pups aren't anxious when we're gone, they do become a bit velcro when we're home. Following us from room-to-room, they always need to be part of the action.
I originally felt bad because we didn't have many carpeted areas and since 'Nobody puts Miss M on a Hardwood Floor' we needed to find even more dog-bed like options to allow the pups to be social and give them a padded place to lay in any room we might be in.
And with two pups, that could mean a lot of dog beds.
To keep our place from looking like an aisle of Petsmart, we figured out some creative options to have several dog-resting areas:

Disguising it:
We started using human decor for our pups to blend in.We bought some inexpensive 20inch floor pillows, and we found the pups were often more willing to curl up their 65lb bodies to lay on these than on a standard dog bed. They are also really inexpensive at Ikea, and we have them scattered around our main living area so the pups can remain social.
We also picked up some of the fluffy Ikea Rens Sheepskin rugs. I like that they blend in so well, and though it did take a 'toupee of shame' to make Mr. B realize that they weren't for chewing on. (We wrote more about it, here).

Making Plain Pretty:
Miss M originally had a plain, black dog bed we picked up from Target. And we got another once we got Mr. B. To make it look less like we have 2 dog beds in our bedroom,  and to blend into our own decor, we added some patterned throw pillows.
Now the pups have 'twin beds' ala Ozzie & Harriet.

Toning Down Pattern:
We really like Molly Mutt duvets which look like the fancy, expensive dog beds but they are way less. I originally didn't like how lumpy the duvet was when we stuffed it with random towels, so we picked up a $20 dog bed that we stuffed on the inside. Since they do have a lot of pattern, we picked up this large, velvet-ish floor pillow from Ikea to tone it down a bit.

Is it embarrassing that we have as many as 10 dog-bed areas in a 2-bedroom?
What is a standard amount of dog-resting areas in most dog homes?

Disguising our crates
More ways we disguise
We also share these.

Check our Facebook page for more photos, comments, and story lines beyond the blog.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

City Dog: On Finding Things to Do with Our Dogs

While our pups always have an extra-full social calendar, someone had a good question wondering how we figure out so many things to do with our pooches.
We have gotten a bit creative, and here are some things we do:

Staying Aware
Since the Internet has made our adventures so public, we always have the incentive to be on the lookout for different things to do with the pooches. Chicago is generally very dog-friendly and most outdoor places, and even many indoor places that don't serve food, will be dog-friendly.
Most of the time we will have visited a location or event beforehand to be able to judge how crowded or drunken the crowd might be before taking our pups. The worst thing they could ask us to do is leave. The only time I was ever asked to leave was at Joanne's Fabrics when I was holding former foster dog Jack Frost in my bag.

The major exceptions in the city are Millennium Park (they have park security guards that ride around on Segways and I was once disciplined for sitting on a wall in the park), Lincoln Square Folk and Roots Fest, Circus in the Parks, the sand area of human beaches, and music festivals. The only place I have ever heard of in the entire city that actually discriminates against specific breeds is the Randolph Street Market which advertises being dog-friendly, but has this confusing, discriminatory statement.

Some unusual things our pups have done: Shakespeare in the Park (Mr B was even 'part of the play'), Visited Navy PierMovies in the Park, Shopping at the Downtown Nordstrom's Mall, a Vaudeville Carnival, and Wine Shopping.

Being Creative
While the city does have many specific walks and festivals just for dogs, lately we have been avoiding them seeing that they can be so over-stimulating.
We try to find things that we enjoy doing ourselves and decide if it would be fun, safe, and comfortable for the pups to join us. We found we don't run into many other dogs, so it's a good way for dogs to get exposed to new things without the added excitement of other pups.

We have taken our pups to join us for Lakeside picnics, drive-in dining, art-filled walks, sitting in squares, local shopping, and neighborhood explorations.

Annual Activities:
Through the years we have figured out some of our favorite, annual, can't-miss activities. Many of these tend to be a bit more crowded, though we have figured out some strategies to keep these safe and comfortable for our pups.

These activities have become a bit more Deja-vu on our blog, but we really look forward to: Chicago Pride Parade, Halsted Halloween Parade, Watching the Chicago Marathon, St Patrick's Day, CHIditarod, Dog Trick-or-Treating, the Secret Air-and-Water show.

And we are always interested, how do you find dog-friendly activities to do with your pups, and what are some of your favorites?

Follow this link to see everything the pups do in the city
Dog-friendly Shopping
Dining Outdoors with Dogs who are Uncomfortable with Outdoor Patios
Check our Facebook page for more photos, comments, and story lines beyond the blog.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Pooches: On Second-Dog Syndrome

Miss M was my first dog I had by myself as an adult.
I wasn't always sure what I was doing. But felt sure I would do something wrong. And that I would 'break' her.
We became regulars at the vet. Every upset stomach, pawing at her ear, or scratched paw pad became a sign that she was breaking.
I felt like I could redeem myself from my inadequacies as an owner by getting her the best education. Miss M moved beyond the basic classes taking every single class I could find. With all of her classes, I would say she earned a Phd in dog-years, and the simultaneous tongue out with one-handed wave was a result of her research dissertation.
Mere years later, we got Mr. B.
And he joined us.
Mr. B rarely went to the vet.
He didn't even take his first training class until 3 years after we owned him.
He didn't get a long sought out collar to match his personality, but he merely got a collar to match Miss M.
Is Mr. B just the unfair recipient of "Second-Dog Syndrome"? And does anyone else find this happening in your home?

Miss M's very own pet.
Mr. B can never win.

Check our Facebook page for more photos, comments, and storylines beyond the blog.

Friday, March 21, 2014

International Day of Happiness

Today is the first time I have ever heard of the United Nations International Day of Happiness and how appropriate that the face of the 2014 Day of Happiness is a pit bull named Macy. There is so much about happiness that I learned from our pooches (the list is modified from Action for Happiness).
Giving (Do Things for Others)
The pooches are always doing small things for each other and for us. Mr. B is willing to be the pillow that Miss M is seeking. Both pooches willingly don hats, sweaters, tutus, etc. that bring joy to us and other people. A and I do small random acts of kindness for strangers that will hopefully bring them some joy.
Relating (Connect with People)
Miss M, the lovable social butterfly, cannot contain her excitement when she meets her many current and future fans. Though Mr. B takes a bit longer to warm up to a stranger, the moment he smooches you on the lips you have made the most loyal friend for life. Though A and I are both quite shy (me more so than A), the pooches have taken us out of our comfort zone and pull us to meet new people on a daily basis. Through the pooches, we have made many new friends for life.
Exercising (Take Care of your Body)
The pooches are excited for any adventure that awaits them and they cannot wait to go on their daily walks, SociaBulls walks and their extended weekend walks. A loves walking, while I detest walking and prefer skateboarding or biking to my destination. However, with the pooches, a 3 mile walk seems to go by like a 2.75 mile walk, and with more appreciation for our beautiful city.
Appreciating (Notice the World Around)
Speaking of appreciating our beautiful city, on our walks, the pooches are always appreciating every aspect of our their great city including urine stained object, unpicked-up dog waste, feral cat waste, and half eaten french fry to name a few. Our daily walks also gives us an opportunity to appreciate street art, find new restaurants, meet new people and appreciate the diversity of our city and discover the beauty in every neighborhood of our great city.
Trying Out (Keep Learning New Things)
Despite being senior pooches, they cannot wait for their next adventure and they love trying out new treats, eating new foods, playing with new toys, and meeting new stuffys. Because of our pooches, we have done so many new things: we started a blog, started SociaBulls, discovered so many new Chicago neighborhoods, learned the basics of photography to name a few.
Direction (Have goals to look forward to, but be grateful)
Each day the pooches have a goal of eating their delicious breakfast and dinner, walking on their daily adventure, taking naps in the sun and sleeping in their comfy beds. Despite the fact that they have their goals they are grateful for their life at that moment. I spent much of my life believing that I will be happy when I accomplish a certain goal. With guidance from the pooches, I have realized that though it is nice to have goals, I should be grateful for the life I have right now.
Resilience (Find ways to bounce back)
Despite having their lives turned upside down with fosters, housesitters, and boarding, once things have settled, the pooches behave as if nothing has changed and they go back to being their happy selves. Though very difficult, I am trying to emulate the pooches and remain resilient whenever a setback occurs, though sometimes I am not as successful in bouncing back as they are.
Emotion (Take a positive approach)
Despite whatever happened a second before, the pooches are always excited for their next adventure. They never let whatever happened before, even seconds before, impact their mood on their current adventure. This is something I struggle with, but with lessons from the pooches and A, I am starting to approach all of our new adventures with a positive outlook.
Acceptance (Be comfortable with who you are)
Who better to exemplify this than Miss M. Miss M is very comfortable in her fur and she is not afraid to show it. On the other hand, Mr. B is more reserved, but he is quite comfortable carrying around his stuffys on any adventure. The pooches show that we should all be proud of who we are and even more so, accept and respect everyone for who they are.
Meaning (Be part of something bigger)
We never thought that we would be an advocate for a breed, but so much has changed because of our pooches.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

DoggyStyle: On Grime-Free Cleaning

While we were beyond excited to begin venturing outside sans hats and gloves, we haven't been so excited for the ensuing slush and Chicago grime coating the streets and our pups. With this year's constant freeze, and even more constant snowfall, the snowmelt has been like an archeological dig unearthing layers of half-eaten food and petrified dog poo that is slowly melting into the grime. Any type of grass there may have been has now eroded leaving little chance of grime-free walking. Even a simple trip out for the pups to use the restroom has become cumbersome.
As we attempt to be preventative, we've been trying out some new things this year to keep the outside Chicago Grime....outside.

The "Made of Sugar" Principle
We have found our slush suits we wrote about here have been perfect for combatting this type of grime. While they may look like mini-construction workers, it really does help to cover up every inch of their body. They do take a bit of extra time, but we've been using these for their morning walks where we rationalize it takes less time for us to put on their gear than to clean all of the mud off of them when they come back. We've been coupling the suits with their booties which covers every inch and makes clean-up easier. 

Feet Dips
We had been using anti-bacterial cloths to wipe the pups' feet before they came in, but these are no match for the amount of mud they are collecting on their feet when they've gone out sans booties. We started using one wet and one dry towel, but even that was a challenge. We've graduated to using a bucket to dip and wash their feet and clean dry.
Between Bath Wipes
We used to think Miss M was super-dirty since her white legs show every speck of mud. Then we just realized the rest of her (and Mr. B!) is just as dirty, but we just can't see it. We found a waterless spray shampoo that we can spray on a cloth and spot clean the pups between baths.
Fun Mop
After spending over a year searching for a mop that was easy and relatively "fun" to use, we were happy to discover this one! I hated the mops that required a lot of arm strength, and I liked how this one was plush enough to easily glide across the floor with little effort. We've been using a squirting spot cleaner (we were using Method wood floor cleaner) to spot clean the smaller area.
How has everyone else been working through the grime?

The health benefits of wiping feet
"Fun" cleaning products
Easy dog baths
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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

City Dog: On Staying Safe During Crowded City Events

One of the things we love most about living in the city is that there is always so much going on, and we are lucky we have a pair of very social pups who also love going out where all the people are. The pups spend much of their summer filling their social calendar and flitting between festivals, cultural events, and our all-time favorite parade. 
It seems each year the St. Patrick's Day festivities have been growing even bigger. The people we meet are usually amazed to see our dogs acting so calm, and one of the comments we hear from a lot of people is that their dogs would never be able to handle this type of event. We agree that it isn't a situation where all dogs would feel safe and comfortable; there are huge crowds, unpredictable drunk people, and all types of loud noises. 
Taking our pups out to crowded events wasn't something we did suddenly, but it was actually something we built up to that does take extra planning. These are some things we always think about before taking our pups out to crowded events:

Keeping Their World Big:
One of the benefits of living in the city without a backyard is we need to take our dogs on multiple daily walks where they are exposed to a lot of things. Every day when we are out walking our pups are exposed to the unexpected: we walk under the thundering El tracks, we pass different types of places, and are always going somewhere new.
Since the unexpected has become their routine, most situations really don't phase them anymore.

Knowing Your Dog:
We've learned some of the things that make our pups uncomfortable and we know it's important to avoid these things, especially when there are a lot of people around. While Miss M is typically outgoing, she is really scared of cigarettes. We always make sure to advocate for her when people who are smoking try to pet her and we remove her from the situation. We also know Miss M will go straight to kissing people in the face and we work to warn people accordingly. Mr B's big trigger is hearing a dog barking in a parked car; he becomes like Bolt springing up and barking back. Luckily for us, there are seldom dogs behind glass at parades.

Having an Escape Route
A lot of these places can grow crowded very quickly, and things could get dangerous and uncomfortable if our pups were stuck underfoot in a crowd. We work to stay on the fringe and always have a way to walk away from the crowds so the pups won't feel overwhelmed. Some areas of the streets were becoming too crowded, so we found an underground parking garage where we were able to walk through to the other side and avoid the crowd. We also found the parade route itself was too crowded, so we stayed on the edge where the pups were able to meet people downtown for the festivities. 

Check our Facebook page for more photos, comments, and storylines beyond the blog.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

SociaBulls: "It's Like Throwing a Bag Over the Head of a Shooting Star and Holding on for the Ride"

While our SociaBulls walking group is definitely not a magic wand, there is nothing we love more than seeing committed members who have been working hard with their pups have their "aha!" moments.
One pup you may have noticed in our photos is handsome Chai: a fuzzy ball of energy working on leash reactivity and maintaing focus around other dogs. While I had always admired how dedicated Chai's person was, making sure to have "Chai time" while balancing being a new mom, I never realized how much they had really gone through together. 
Here Chai's person eloquently describes how it can feel truly defeating to feel less than confident walking your own dog, and how disheartening it can be to receive judgmental and nervous looks from others, to the realization that you are actually strolling next to another dog, and just learning to love the dog you have and not wishing for another version.
Here is their story:

I Did Not Know We Wanted a Dog
I did not know we wanted a dog. Aaron and I were engaged one year and currently six months away from our wedding date. This was stupendous enough. I was planning creatively and calmly for the Maine wedding I'd always wanted. New Year's Eve came and went with our traditional activity of listing the pros and cons of the past year and letting that list help us to form intentions for the coming year. Neither of us mentioned an intention of extending our family. Being together a few years we had fallen into a sweet pattern of me begging off to bed around 9:30 while he, the night owl, stayed awake until the wee hours, playing video games or doing his design & consulting work. I did not know that in the late hours of the day he was trolling the internet for our dog.

I knew Aaron had owned dogs. He is a hunter, Wisconsin born and raised, and dogs were great companions to their hunt and to their family. I had never owned a dog. Over coffee on a January morning, Aaron tells me, "I found our dog online".
"What dog?', I asked.
He goes on to explain that he's always wanted this one dog from Mad Max Thunderdome. It's an Australian Cattle Dog. I take another sip of coffee. My pragmatic mind starts whirling. Dogs cost money; we have little. Food. Vet. Tags. Supplies. Well...our house has been seeming kind of quiet and still for a while now. We had settled in with each other, maybe it would be a fun idea. Of course we would adopt a dog. We would never purchase one; we've been past PAWS and Anti-Cruelty downtown. There are always dogs to love. Are we ready to love the dog?

He shows me the link. Our dog is in Milwaukee at a foster home. The Petfinder website has a video of him. I don't even know what I'm looking at or looking for. What I see is a concrete playground for dogs where this tall, perky-eared reddish guy is running after other dogs, stopping on a dime, head lifted and scanning; clown-smiling mouth, he takes off again. It looks like he's playing well with the other dogs. Or at least chasing them around, begging "where's the fun at?". I watch it again and again. A dog? I could just ask and receive this dog? I began researching this type of dog, the red merle Cattle Dog we want to be our family. "You know this WIki entry says the Cattle Dog is bred to run 40km a day. You know we're not runners, right?". Further research: this is a great family dog; not a dog for small apartments; this is a very smart dog. They come in red or blue. There's a shepherd too, but that one has light eyes and long hair. I've never had a dog. I don't even know what kind of dog I would like. Is there a matchmaking quiz for that out there, I ask the internet.  Aaron believes this is his dream dog that will join him at the park for frisbee and fetch. He will be the doggie master. I will be….learning.
We do an application online. We each do a phone interview with the foster mom. Cheryl thinks it sounds like a good fit. She is willing to drive him down from Milwaukee to our home. We make an afternoon date in this cold January to meet our guy.

This Guy is Ours
I'm looking out the window at Damen Ave below. Anxiously awaiting this guy I have studied up on. I had been watching his video daily thinking, this guy is ours. I see an older Dodge caravan pull up across the street, unfamiliar to the neighborhood. I get excited. I am on tip toes to see what I can from our second story apartment. He's excited and pulling on the leash as she walks to our door. Buzzed in. I open our door to see this little bullet tear past me into the space. He returns to her, leash then removed. He tears around again. He is circling our couch with such agility. We introduce ourselves and foster mom asks to use our restroom. I sit on our low chair in the living room and the dog promptly hops front paws up on my lap. His boundless energy makes me start to shake; he is joyful, spritely and also a force of energy I have never encountered before. And these ears, they're huge! He circles the couch again, noses the door, and promptly takes a dump right on our door mat. He has christened the joint and we're sure he's staying with us. We show her the large deck we have and outdoor access. Foster Mom approves of the size of our place. She tells us about his history.

We are fortunate folks in that our dog does not have any terrible stories of abuse or neglect. There were some unfortunate missteps, meaning he came from two homes prior to meeting us. People not knowing what they could handle. And that's hard on the guy. But we are sure we got a good one. He belonged to a high school girl who taught him to run alongside a bike and be very active in the suburbs of Milwaukee. When she went to college, her parents took care of the dog, but he spent most of his time in the basement during the day. The parents told the girl they had to give the dog up. He went to the foster mom and at one point, the girl came and pleaded for him, but she had no way of taking care of the guy. He was in foster for six months when another family wanted to adopt him. They took him home to live with the couple and their two toddler girls. He did well with the kids but not so much with the aggressive neighbor dog that would fence fight with our dog. Can't have fence fighting with little kids around so he was shipped back to the foster home. He remained for one year before we sought him out.

Foster Mom told us "Chase Anthony" is a kind dog. He is dog-reactive but he had been living in foster with 12 other dogs. He just needed introductions to new dogs and he would acclimate. I had no idea what she was speaking of. His adoption pages said he knew many commands, loved to be on the couch and around family and had always been fed all natural food. We signed for him, paid the fee and gave a donation. Foster Mom wiped away a few tears as she departed; "He's a good one" she said.

A quiet fell on the room; my husband and I hugged each other. I looked to the dog, "what do we do now?". I tried taking his picture but he was really too fast and blurred every photo. He spun and darted around our place for another ten minutes then promptly passed out on our couch. Aaron agreed to walk him later that night to do his business. In the morning, I was still too nervous to try the walk so my husband, the doggie man, took our dog out for a walk. Do we call him Chase? That seems an odd name for a dog. Also, it sounds like a star basketball player from a local high school. We learn it is possible to rename a dog, best if you use the same sound. We land on "Chai". It's the era of Slumdog Millionaire. We are all now familiar with the term Chaiwalla - we can have our own! He does have a kind of masala chai speckle to him.

It's Like Throwing a Bag Over the Head of a Shooting Star and Holding on for the Ride.
I naively set out on the initial walk with my new fifty pound child. It's January; there's snow cover. He pulls me into snow banks. He charges from the end of his leash, pawing, prancing in the snow and taking me down to the ground with his spirited force. It's like throwing a bag over the head of a shooting star and holding on for the ride. I try to laugh it off. I'm shaking with fear that I will lose my dog. He leaps in the air barking at the sight of squirrels or a dog passing our frame, even a block away. Returning home we turn to the internet to study our problem. Living in Lakeview it's like Duck Hunt out there - we see dogs at every turn. Two households in our neighborhood walk their dogs off leash. We can't avoid dogs, though we do peacefully scamper off to the Costco parking lot nearby when we want to have quiet 'normal' dog walk.

He is a stellar dog indoors and my 'fear' of dogs, misunderstanding really, is sliding away. He listens to all commands. We don't have any puppy training to do about chewing or potty or awakening in the night. But I become a dog-adjacent agoraphobe. I dread going outside. He will pull; my shoulder muscles will pull back. I will fall on my knees. It's very cold out there. I will slip on the ice. I may lose this dog. I work through anger - he doesn't need anger. Resistance. Reluctance.

Walks are Unavoidable. Landing on my Knees Seems to be Too.
It's truly defeating to feel less than confident walking your own dog. It's disheartening to receive the judgmental or nervous looks from others when we are walking, ahem, I am walking and Chai is doing another Air Bud imitation, plenty of air between his paws and the sidewalk. Even now, four years into loving Chai, I offer silent compassion to all the dog walkers with eager dogs that I see and assume they are doing their best. When I am struggling in the presence of others I want to shout "I KNOW WHAT I AM DOING".

I learn about our local celebrity dog trainers and what they might be able to do for us. I'm calling stores, trainers, groups in the greater Chicago area. My husband is downloading videos of the Dogfather, Ceaser, anyone who has a clue how to address this. I nervously think, this is our rough draft for parenting: I will call and speak with human experts and Aaron will google everything. Aha, I see.

I'm starting to stress daily about the walks. I think about the issues all day at work. Internalizing it all as if I have a child that isn't doing well at school and there isn't a clue how to help. Walks are unavoidable. Landing on my knees seems to be too. I try taking him to our dog park, three blocks away, at 11pm. I am dressed in full snow suit and desperately wanting to get this dingo the exercise he needs. It's romantic out there under the moonlight listening to the quiet of my neighborhood. In the dead of winter. With snow falling. Freezing. With my new rescue dog. Sure didn't understand that adopting a rescue dog would be such an eye opening experience.

“You Will Never Tire Him Out”
I am a yoga & meditation teacher. One of my clients had previously mentioned that her daughter is a trainer of trainers for Petsmart in the Midwest. We had failed to be compatible with our original Chicago celebrity trainer so I approached my client's daughter. She graciously comes to us from Northbrook and tries, on a sunny day in March, yes two months later, to help us understand Chai-dog. She typically brings her two dogs for introductions and interactions. It's clear upon her arrival that we (meaning me) are far from that.

She teaches us (me) how to walk with the leash. Do turns, heels, wait. Chai knows how to do these things. I do not. We spend two hours together. Aaron breezily walks along with the dog watching his every move. I have yet to understand the power of where my step lands, how to grip the leash and put muscle into my voice. She asks if I can be a bit more natural, try to relax. During our marital disagreements, I always tell Aaron "Don't tell me to relax, I'm the yoga teacher!". I ended the session in tears. I'm tired. We made enormous strides and Chai is fortunate to have Devon training us. My brain feels overworked in a way I have never accessed it before.

We settle into an excellent relationship of exchanging yoga sessions for dog training sessions. Devon/trainer, Chai/dog and I/newbie get really close. Our dog sessions have yoga stretches and yoga sessions have dogs present. The lines are beginning to blur at the dojo location we have. I am learning how to exercise Chai mentally and physically with games, jumps, waiting. I can do long introductions (takes 20-30mins) in order to make a doggie friend. I have become creative about what to do mid winter to stump-the-chump so to speak, to use some of his herding-high-energy. As Devon says, you will never tire him out.

Training Myself

Chai has taught me so much, and also mirrors my behavior whether I want that reflection or not. In the beginning, I got to return to this old yoga lesson I had learned as a beginner - being sensitive to your energy moving. With him, I was faking it - using a 'dog' voice in the beginning. I noticed I was flirting and being coy to get him to do something. Devon told me to assert my voice. The dog understands things that are very straightforward. I needed to assert myself more. If you move a muscle, this twitching dog with move with you. Every movement has purpose and meaning. Time is my friend and I needed to mature into my role. Part of how we grew together was seeing the similarities (pardon me while I get all akin to my dog). We are both early risers. Love naps and cuddling on the couch. Chai and I both can go-go-go-stop; nothing graceful about it - just hit the wall and boom asleep. Should something awaken the senses - a loud sound, the door opening - we both bolt upright. He follows me all around the house. He makes me realize when I'm not willing to sit still, moving crap around the apartment, pacing to and from, and reminds me that if I made a pile of magazines and newspapers and sat on the couch - we might both feel better. He is an intelligent dog that will conveniently "untrain" himself when wanting attention. We both need reassurance. And lots of cheese - yes we both need nibbles on cheese when the day hits a slump.

Training Tools
On a logistical note, we traipsed through all different tactics and tools for his behavior. The citronella collar helped with the barking, but we learned he responded better and quietly with high value treats alone. The collar by itself gave neither of us a good sense of direction. The Gentle Leader chaffed his face and seemed to bring out more aggressive behavior that we were already experiencing. For Chai, it seemed we needed to find a tool that was affirming, but not too restrictive, so the alpha kid could still have a sense of being in charge. The Sense-ible harness has been our best support. It gives me enough control, with his great size, in any situation. He doesn't mind too much to be strapped into it. Recently the company repaired it for free when one of the buckles broke. I can't say enough good things about it.

Fur Baby + Human Baby
Chai is a sharp tack. We had been a family of (2 + dog) for two years when he started following me around the house, nose behind my knee. Like..desperately. He was onto me - before I even took the pregnancy test he knew. Two years ago our son was born. The fur baby and the human baby have acclimated beautifully together. As our trainer suggested, we spent the first six months training Chai to be with baby. And the next 3.5 years will be dedicated to training our son, Aleister, to respect Chai. We've learned to defend Chai's corner in the room. If he grumbles, he's asking for space and the baby needs to back off. They play together, in a most supervised way. Aleister knows that Chai eats "nibbles" and should not eat crayons. After the birth, and when Aaron began a new & demanding job as the baby turned 2 weeks old, Chai gained weight. Less walking, and then as Aleister aged, portly Chai was my Swiffer, cleaning everything off the floor under the high chair. Doggie man gained18 pounds since I had baby. I knew I would come back to devoted time with him; he was gleeful to try all these new foods.

Finding SociaBulls
Still I thought something was missing. We now had manageable walks. I had been trained on how to pace in proximity to the dog park as a training exercise. While standing in line at Barking Lot with an enormous bag of food, I lamented to our friend there that I wished my dog could play with other dogs. The woman behind me in line spoke up, about a dog walking group in Logan Square that walks in a line, you know for dogs with issues (paraphrasing). I was intrigued. I went home to Google. And you know how Goggle works? You try, try, any combo of words, dates, locations, ideas and blam nothing. Where is this group hiding on the internet???? And sometimes it helps to give it a breather. A month later, google'ing again, I spiral onto the blog of the Pitties. I've found it! Application filled out, submitted. What this will invite into my life, I am uncertain. It's April and my husband is still toiling away at Obama Campaign headquarters. Come Election Day in November I get my husband back in normal mode and may be able to reclaim my hobbies and life. Until then, I am the woman wearing my one year old son on my back while I walk a wily dog through the abandoned Lathrop Homes complex near our house, praying no other doggie momma had the same idea, should we encounter them. I am not the mom with the dog peacefully walking loose leashed beside the stroller with the sleeping baby. I have a toppling stroller, a dog at the end of his leash and a curious child looking to see what all the fuss is about beside his push chair.

In October, after we've worked our way up the wait list, we are invited to walk with the Sociabulls. My nervous system recalls this feeling from twelve years of soccer practice, me a shy defenseman, red faced with quiet social skills, desperately wishing practice would end. But I knew my Chai. And we have been together now for almost 4 years. We both had our training wheels on and were prepared. I had prepped a bag of "trail mix" as I've come to call it, a motley combo of his favorite surprises. On my trainer's suggestion, he arrived wearing his calming cap - blinders for a dog - or as we call him when he's outfitted with this underoos-looking face mask "Captain Underpants". I had requested the lead spot. Chai has always done better ahead of the action, rather than following it. We did half of the walk with the cap on. When we were steady in front, I removed the cap and continued to feed him his trail mix. At the end of our pack walk, there's a announcement circle. We don't stay for that because Chai, though tuckered out as the pups tend to be post pack walk, would still be stimulated with that close juxtaposition with the other dogs. We walk straight to the car for our mellow drive home.

What Chai Has Learned From SociaBulls Walks
Chai has matured on the walks. The Pack is supportive in the sense that he now understands the orderliness of the activity. There are no surprises, except for those dogs or squirrels that we encounter on the route. He looks forward to the challenge, and the treats. It's a smart look he gains when I remove the calming cap as soon as we've taken off down the path at the lead spot in the pack. He's graduated to "good look" - term I've chosen for when he looks back to the dog behind him but doesn't react too overtly. We've gotten excellent remarks on his behavior but I don't take this for granted. We have slowly and steadily become more comfortable with the group. Only once when the dogs got jumbled and I was out of treats did we jog away from the group at the end (and if I'm out of treats it's been THAT kind of a walk, my litmus test). We both need to recognize when we've hit our limit.

The Dude
Yup we have a dog in the pack that emulates the main character of Big Lebowski. This dog appears to have no triggers whatsoever. His human is born and bred San Diego and they both emit this cool Cali breeze way-of-being. And we are fortunate to have them tailing us on most walks. The Dude is second in line on our pack walk and his owner gets an earful as I prattle on about this and that. When I first began the walks, I was nervous, studious and careful. Now that I’ve relaxed into it, I prattle on to the poor fellow behind me, Dude’s human, Devin. Lo-and-Behold, on late Fall walk, as I quizzed Devin all about his San Diego ways and Chicago transplantation, I found these two walking beside Chai and I. Realizing my dog was walking next to another felt like when your crush sits next to you on the bus in middle school. Laura – remain calm. Oh my god it’s happening! Laura – remain calm. We did. We were calm. We carried on. We may have even strolled. I was strolling with my dog, beside another and I was breathing. Thanks to the Dude.

Chai has become an excellent teacher for us. I am fortunate to not have any preconceived notions about dog behavior, never having owned one, and it's easy to not judge. For my husband, it is about learning to love the dog that Chai is, not wishing for another version. There are no frisbee runs, but there are greetings at the door of boundless energy; there's the bait and switch goofiness that they do for a good tussle; and our dog has always been quietest when Aaron is walking, so I'd give him the Master title for sure. It's sure a lot less stressful when you relax into the idea that your fur baby is a dynamic dude, as we all are, and I don't wish for anything else. Does he have issues? Enh, I don't like to call them issues. Since we have become so acclimated to each other I just take it as it is. I'm pretty "dynamic" and I have my quirks too, so I don't judge him. I feel pretty blessed actually to have him in our pack.

Thanks to Chai and his person for sharing their story!

Plus, join our Chicago SociaBulls  Facebook page for more photos and information about group walks. And check out the Hikabulls page where we first learned about the benefits of group walking.
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