Thursday, June 26, 2014

City Dog: The Dog Trick We Never Expected to Use Most Often

When Miss M first came to live with me, I always joke that she was 'raised by wolves'. She had no focus, always needed to be entertained, and she just couldn't sit still. It was really taking her to a basic training course that changed both of our lives and I realized how much Miss M loved to learn.
We have written a lot about how we use basic dog commands in our every day lives, but unexpectedly, it became one of Miss M's vanity tricks, the "wave" command, that has become her most frequented trick:

Keeping Focus:
With every walk we go on, probability is high that we will encounter oncoming excited pups, chicken bones, drunken people trying to grab the pups (and often all of the above!). With these being the expected, plus the even crazier unexpected, we know how important it is to maintain constant routine and communication treating all of our walks like a training walk. The pups do a great job with "check-in's" and throughout our walk we will ask the pups for sits and stays, and throw in the "wave" command for variation.

Being Approachable:
Even though we feel lucky to be a part of a community where there are so many fellow pit bull-type dogs, we know there are many people who are still wary. Having our pups focusing on us, and doing cute 'parlor tricks', does make them more approachable and we often have many people coming up to meet them. My favorite is when we do hear an offhand comment to have the pups sit right at our side, then wave. Usually the other people waiting at the corner with us will say something positive to outweigh any of the negatives.

The Humor in It:
With all of the photos we take of the pups, we love the option of 'wave' because it does give us some funny variations.
We also love when children walk by and wave at the dogs and we can have Miss M wave right back (though she's usually looking at me when she does it).

How we Taught the Wave Command:
We taught the wave command as a variation of 'shake'. We started by holding our hand out as if we were going to do the shake but then put our hand slightly out of reach so they had to try pawing at us to reach our hand. We marked the pawing in the air motion (we say "yes, wave!") and eventually we were able to change the hand signal instead of reaching out to meet their paw to just waving.
We think it's a little harder for Mr. B with his stubby T-Rex arms.

Are there other pups out there showing off their 'wave' commands? Or do you have other 'vanity tricks' that you are using on a more than regular basis?

Remember when we tried to teach it to Mr. B and this happened?
This one changed our lives
Circus Dog!
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Friday, June 20, 2014

Pooches: They Call Her "Smiley"

As part of our Freshmen Curriculum, each year I need to read the book 'Of Mice and Men' with my students. Even after teaching it for the past 5 years, multiple times a day, it remains depressing and I still can't read the part where they take Candy's old dog away (I tell the students they need to read that part silently to themselves).
Though this year while watching the movie I did pick up on something funny.
When Lennie and George first arrive at the ranch they are met by lunging, barking, clearly unwelcoming dog who is named "Smiley". 
And for some reason I found this hilarious. 
As I pointed this out to each group of students, and no one else laughed, I realized maybe I should just give Miss M the nickname "Smiley":
Because she is always showing us how excited she is to see us from the moment we wake up: 
Because she is always letting us know how much she enjoys being part of the family:
And she is always showing her appreciation for how well we care for her:
So I've been calling her "Smiley".
Which was funny to me.
Until the other day while we were on our walk and someone else called out to her, "Hey, Smiley".
Maybe because she was giving him this rare look:
Sometimes she really does smile.
But mostly this. 
Or this.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

City Dog: Do City Dogs Need Cars?

Back when I was making the big decision to own my own dog as an adult, and I was going through the possible expenses, I came to the shocking conclusion adopting a pup would actually cost me thousands of dollars.
Wouldn't I need to car to be able to get her supplies and take her places?
Sure I lived in the city for years without a car, but since dogs aren't allowed on the buses and trains unless they're in a carrier, and since I couldn't figure out how to stuff Miss M into a duffle bag, I couldn't think of other options.
Until I did.
Here are some things we did when we didn't own a car:

Making 50lb of Dog Food Accessible:
I was very lucky that the apartment where Miss M and I first lived had a pet store a mere half block away. While it was easy for me to get to the food, I struggled walking back to my apartment carrying her 50lb bag of food.
I quickly found out about city car-sharing where I was able to i-Go all around town picking up as many 50 lb bags of food as I could haul. The cars don't want uncrated pets because they don't want pet hair on the seat, though a couple of people I know would use the cars and just use a lot of blankets and lint rollers so they didn't leave any hair.
I also realized just like I order things online to make transport easier, I could just as easily order her huge bag of dog food online. We tried out Mr. Chewy which carries high quality food that is dropped off directly at our door.

Taking a Cab with Dogs:
While dogs aren't allowed on buses or trains, they can ride in cabs if a driver decides to pick you up.
We wrote this post explaining how to get a cab to stop for you if you are with your big dog.
Or I just call ahead letting them know we're traveling with the pups and they will send a dog-friendly cab to our home. We always make sure to tip extra well so the cabs will want to pick up more dog families in the future.

The Walkable City:
We are lucky that the city is very walkable and most of the places we need to go are within walking distance. There are a lot of vets in the city and we found one near our apartment. We were always near some type of pet store. We would also go to a training class that was about 2 miles away, which was actually good for her because back then she needed that time to work off her energy.

We are lucky enough to have a car now, which I actually needed to get to go to work, though we one day dream of owning one of these instead. 

Do you think owning a dog means you need a car? How often does your pup actually travel in the car, or what are some other sans-car things that work?

But since we do have a car

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Monday, June 16, 2014

SociaBulls: How to Start Your Own Dogwalking Group

It seems like it was just a short time ago when we would enviously stalk the HikeABull's Facebook page lamenting that we wished we had a similar dog-walking group here in Chicago. I never thought it would be a possibility until Lark wrote back and said that I should start my own. After several conversations, we had the confidence to set up our first walk, and we've been learning more in the nearly 3 years(!) we've had our group.

We've had several people contacting us lately with questions about starting their own groups, and since now seems like the perfect time to start we decided to update with the key things we've learned and the links to more of our resources in a single post.

Finding Members
Remember this sad post when Miss M and Mr B were the only members? On our first walk we had a mere 4 people, Most of our members came from word-of-mouth, and this post explains how we were able to network and use our cards to get more interested people.
We also know the needs are different in different cities, and we wrote this post about creating a group that works for the needs of your specific area.

Creating Structure
We created a structure to make a positive and safe place for dogs of all socialization levels to be able to walk together. We don't have dog-to-dog greetings for these reasons.
We make sure our new members understand the rules through an "application process" where they initial that they understand. We know many things cannot be prevented, but to prevent equipment failure we do these things. We also bring these things on our walks.
We use this bandana system to communicate who is part of the group, who needs extra space, and who can be aligned with as a "buffer dog".
So that no one person is overwhelmed with the responsibility of planning the walks each week, this is how we organize our weekly walks and divide responsibilities.  We even have set people watching the weather and preparing for cancelations which we wrote about, here.

Scouting Locations
Beyond the structure, we have realized our locations are one of the most important parts of the walk. It's important for us to find locations that are continuous, have 'a way out', have good parking, and they may even change with the seasons. We wrote more about it here. 
While there are often many people or dogs who are curious about the group, we schedule "Dogless Walkers" for each walk, which we wrote more about here.

Integrating New Members
After our group was featured in the Chicago Tribune(!), we had an unexpected wave of new members wanting to join the group. We began using this type of new member application process so we could learn more about the people and pooches. Each new member has an "orientation walk" where they come without their dog and they are paired with a current member to learn how the group works. They then help out as a dog less walker before coming on their first walk with their pup. We find this helps people learn more about all aspects of the group and integrate more easily.
We want to make it clear that we are not trainers, and it is not a training group, but a way to practice what we already know in a more controlled setting. We wrote more about it, here.

We also had some great guest posts from Seattle WalkABulls, the Twin Cities Pack Walk, the Positive Pittie Pack Walk in New Jersey,  and our mentor group HikaBulls.

We know many of you who are interested in starting groups, or have started groups, and we would love to hear any of your additional tips or where you might be in the process!

Follow this strand for all SociaBulls related posts
Learn more about our SociaBulls group here, and on our Facebook page here.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Pooches: The Not-So-Special Secret Powers of Mr. B

Being animals, we always think our pups' senses are much more attuned than our own.
Like how Mr. B has a second sense knowing the exact moment when we are coming home so he can pretend he never left his tepee all day. 
Or how he can watch E ride away on his bicycle and he will continue watching until E is a distant little spec just rounding the corner.
Or how he might just have this Sixth Sense. 
But these secret powers apparently all become void when it comes to cats.
We have written before about how Mr. B has a fear of the feral cat colony living on our block. Ever since one of the cats pulled out a claw and slashed him on the face Zorro-style he has always been keeping an extra eye out for these cats.
Though apparently, his secret-dog-powers are not working so well for him.
Like each time he sees a plastic bag blowing down the sidewalk he has to jump out of the way thinking the cat is coming after him.
Sometimes he mistakes planters on a stoop for the cat, and he scurries away using Scooby-doo legs.
The funny thing is, sometimes there really is a cat (or two!) just sitting behind the fence mere inches from Mr. B and he will just walk on by.
Are feral cats Mr. B's Kryptonite? Or maybe he just needs a new pair of specs?

This might explain it.
Or this.
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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Things to Do in Chicago with Dogs: Chicago Street Festivals

We are always looking for fun, inexpensive things we can all do together as a family, so we love that every weekend Chicago is closing their major streets to let the rest of us walk around, eat cheese curds, and grab a beer (or an empty water bowl).
The pups love these festivals give them the chance to get petted, though it can get very crowded and drunken. 
Earlier we wrote this guide about what to know to prepare your pup for a street festival. Here are some other things we discovered:
Prepare for Dirt and Dust:
It always seems very enticing to spend some time sitting on the curb eating or letting the pups meet people. What we often forget is that these are major streets in Chicago where thousands of cars drive each day. We try to bring a blanket for the pups to lay on, or we're just prepared for some very dirty, dusty pups.

You Just Might See Animals Cuter than Miss M
We see a lot of dogs at the festivals, and there always seems to be a Great Dane or two that draws a crowd. We've also seen the guy who walks around with the parrot on his shoulder.
Though this is the first time we've ever seen a pig. And not only a pig, but a pig being pushed in a stroller. I think even Miss M was impressed.
Dog Ice-Cream
It also seems that many of the street festivals we've gone to have dog ice-cream. At Do-Division one of the pet stores makes their own ice-cream. We also know Fido-to-Go, the dog food truck, stops at many of the events. And of course, the pups always know when it's around.
Anyone else taking your pups out to the festivals?

To Help Us Prepare
We think Mr. B is looking forward to this again

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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Pooches: The Health Benefits of Daily Walks

We know a lot of people feel sorry for city dogs because we don't have backyards, but as our pups have been growing older we've been seeing how beneficial our daily walking routine really is.
We've realized what once seemed like a forced walk, now has been helping our pups through their aging process.

Low-Impact Exercise
People are always surprised to hear our pups are a (spry!) 10 and 11 years old, but we think a lot of it has to do with our Daily Walks. On work days our pups walk about 2 miles while our Family Walks go for 4+ miles. Even though they are older, our pups are used to these distances since we have been walking this much for years. Though in warmer weather we've been taking more breaks.
I'm guessing if we had a backyard our pups might run around for a few minutes, but with our daily walks our pups are forced to walk the whole time. We also know running in the yard would also be harder on their joints while our walking keeps their legs and joints loose. I also imagine Miss M would become a bit more portly if it was left up to her.
Our neighbor had his 2 pit bulls live to be 16 and 17 years old. Even when they were older he would always be outside walking them, even if they were going shorter distances, and he believes it's one of the things that did allow them to live so long.

Mental Stimulation
We've realized how important it is to keep our pups' world big and expose them to new things. The things we encounter on our walks are always changing, and this type of mental stimulation helps 'exercise' their brains to keep their minds sharp. It also keeps them from becoming bored which we know makes for an overall happier dog.

Catching Symptoms Early
Since these walks do allow us to spend much more time with our pups, we become more attuned to them and we are able to catch symptoms and ailments that much earlier. We are also aware of what is going on with their poo at all times.

We have found this helps with our pups and our lifestyles.
What are some other ways you work to exercise your pups, especially as you notice them getting older?

We originally didn't realize the health benefits of this one
Budgeting our time for all-weather walks
Check our Facebook page for more photos, comments, and story lines beyond the blog.

Monday, June 9, 2014

SociaBulls: On Pushing Your Comfort Level

Miss M and Mr B's doppelgangers: Maria and former foster Radar/Boris
I always joke that if I hadn't started the SociaBulls group, I probably wouldn't be in it.
I think I would have been too shy to join.
Which is why I'm always amazed at how many people do go beyond their comfort zones to join the group.
I know sometimes people are apprehensive about how their pups might act on their first walk.
I remember one new member who was in awe about how all of the dogs were walking so nicely together. She was so scared to bring her pup because she thought her pup would "break the walk".
Which of course didn't happen.
I also know most people join without knowing anyone beforehand.
And with the exception of 3 people, all of the people who joined our group were new to us as well.
But the one thing that we all have in common, we actually love hearing stories about one another's pups (which isn't always true of colleagues and non-dog owning friends).

Why some pups join.
By the Numbers.
Join our Chicago SociaBulls  Facebook page for more photos and information about group walks.

Monday, June 2, 2014

City Dog: On Growing up in the City

The other day we were walking our pups when we had some City Kids come up behind us. The mom told her kids that they need to remember to do a good job waiting at the corner and looking both ways just like those two dogs were doing.
While I thought it was funny that our pups were acting as role models for the kids, I realized there are so many habits that both kids and pups both need to learn to successfully navigate a city.

Watching for Streets and Alleys
With so many cars and "creative" drivers, we taught our pups that whenever we approach a curb they need to sit and wait. The idea is that if they were to ever take off on their own they would automatically pause and not just run into the street. I've seen so many kids do the same, run or rush by on scooters and make a sudden stop just before the street.
We also make sure to pause before alleys because many cars just shoot out of alleys without looking and they especially can't see pups (and kids) who might be low to the ground.

Not Eating off the Ground
It has always been a family joke to talk about my sister who used to sneak away at the swimming pool and eat candy from the floor when she was a little kid.
While gross, we've noticed the city has so many more tempting buffet-like opportunities every time we leave our home with many more dangerous things. For our pups, there also seem to be a disproportionate amount of chicken bones every time we head out, especially in a lot of the city parks.
We're always working on our "Leave It's", though for stubborn Miss M it's more about me spying the temptation before she can get to it.

Being Patient
In a city filled with so many people, it's inevitable we will always be waiting for something. We have taught our pups that down-stays mean they need to stay until released and they take it very seriously. It is probably our most-used city-command. We wrote more about it, here.

Any other "must-do rules" for growing up in a city?

Starting from scratch
What to know when moving your dog to the city
Walking like a city dog
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