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Walking and Reading: 3|29|14

 

For the Humans: 

See that quote above. Phew. That’s a biggie. Do you have a hard time asking for help? I do. Watch this.  It’s short but it’ll blow your mind.

I am addicted to taking classes and this one is next on my list. 

And I think we should all be wearing this.

 

For the Dogs:

Lately, I’ve had a few people ask me for resources about medications for fearful and anxious dogs. Here’s a good place to start. 

Vintage photos of dogs on the high seas. Ahoy!

I may have shared this before, but I recently passed this along to some friends and thought, what the heck, let’s make sure everyone has a copy of “Relax on a Mat” from Whole Dog Training.

 

For the Laugh:

I just discovered  a new cartoon to keep me in the laughs. Meet The Rut.

 

And Offline: 

Along with some textbooks and a stack of magazines, I’m enjoying Hardwiring Happiness by Rick Hanson (author of Buddha’s Brain).  It’s brain science and I can still understand it. So bonus.

 

What about you? Books? Classes? What are you learning about these days?

 

 

Use It Or Lose It

Spring. It’s right around the corner. At least, that’s what the calendar tells me. We just got a bunch of snow yesterday. But before that, I saw a patch of grass. And we had a bunch of 40 degree + days here in Maine.

You know what happens when it gets even a little bit nicer out, right? All the dogs come out.  All. Of. Them.

I don’t know where these dogs come from. All winter long, I’m out walking the same dogs, along the same quiet streets. It’s just us, the mailmen, and a few manic speed walkers on their lunch breaks.  We see other dogs too, but it’s the same crew every day. Then spring hits and a tsunami of new dogs hits every neighborhood.

Where are all of these dogs for months and months? Do their people train them to poop in a bucket in the basement until its warm enough for them to go outside again?  Do they all have one of these?

I don’t how it works, but it’s the same every year.  The temperature goes up just a little bit and suddenly my afternoon walks go from being calm and routine to a game of Donkey Kong.

All of the dogs I walk are reactive to some degree. Many of them have some solid training under their belts and are able to stay relatively calm when we pass by dogs on the street (as long as we have some space). Our walks are pretty laid back all winter and we get to be on autopilot.

But when spring comes and the number of dogs they need to deal with is suddenly 1 billion times higher than what they’ve been dealing with all winter, they struggle a bit. They need a little time to acclimate to the deluge.

And I can see the same thing happening for all the basement bucket poopers too. They’re out and about for the first time in months and, while they might normally be very cool on leash, they’re a hot mess at the beginning of spring.

In my experience, the ability to stay calm on leash around other dogs is like a muscle:  If they don’t use it, they lose it. This goes double for reactive dogs.


useit


A lot of people I know are surprised by this. They think that if they take their reactive dogs to a class or two and their dogs improve, then they’re set for life. But in reality, it takes regular practice. You have to keep working at it.

We wouldn’t go to the gym every day for a month, never go back again, but still expect our bodies to stay in shape forever. I have tried this so, so many times and, I swear, it never works. We have to exercise consistently in order to maintain and build our muscles.

“What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while.”

Gretchen Rubin


That’s why so many reactive dog owners keep going to classes, join group walks, and do other structured activities around other dogs. It allows them to practice in a safe, structured environment around other dogs. It keeps other dogs from becoming a total novelty (aka a really big deal!) to their dogs. And that helps their dogs stay “fit” so that when they’re out taking a walk in a more hectic environment, their dogs are better equipped to handle the challenges that pop up.

If your reactive dog made huge strides for a while, but then you kept them inside most of the winter (that polar vortex was NO JOKE), then you might experience this sort of “muscle atrophy” when you start going for walks again this spring.

Your dogs haven’t flexed their “I totally know what to do when I see another dog and it is NOT to fling my turds at them” muscle for a while. Every dog they see is a novelty and they’re having trouble remembering the game plan. Don’t panic. Your dogs are  just out of shape.

No judgement. It happens to all of us.

Same goes for the dogs that have been walking all winter. If they’re anything like the dogs I walk, then they’ve been using those muscles, but at the same low level for months. When springtime hits, it’s like jumping up a few levels on the old stair climber. The dogs need some time to gently reacclimate their muscles to this increased challenge.

So if you and your dogs are a little rusty – for whatever reason – don’t freak out. Spring might be a good time to take a training class to ease back into hanging out with other people and dogs again. Or take a few walks with your friends and their dogs. Or if your dog would be up for it, try a structured group walk. Add some sort of regular practice into your routine.

And don’t forget to bring more treats on your walks for a while. There are at least a gazillion and half more dogs out there, plus joggers, that you’ll want to reward your dog for staying cool around. Be sure your pockets are well stocked. No one said we can’t have a snack while we’re working out. So go ahead: Use it, reward it, keep it.  

In the comments tell me: Has this happened with your dogs in the spring or after a dog walking sabbatical? How have you helped them?

One Pamphlet, Two Years, and an Oscar Speech

Way back in 2012, someone asked me to make a tri-fold pamphlet about DINOS. That’s right. Two years ago. Well, I did it!

I may never win a trophy for speed, but I’d like to think that one day I’ll win the Oscar for “Best Dog Walker in the Better Late Than Never” Category.

Just getting nominated would be an honor, but I’d really like to win so that I can give a thank you speech and say stuff like “Hashtag Suck it” to Julia Roberts and then get drunk at the Vanity Fair party with new best friend Daniel Day-Lewis.

Oh, right, so here’s the trifold. It’s pretty simple:

business in the front, party in the back.



This is all the yada yada on the inside. The point is to tell folks about DINOS…



…and give them general tips for safe, polite dog walking so that all of us (DINOS or not) can enjoy being out in public with our dogs:



You can download and print the trifold here. 

 

If you have a table at an upcoming event or work at a pet store, a vet’s office, a shelter, or just like to stand on the corner and hand stuff out, feel free to print (double sided-style) and distribute! If this one doesn’t float your boat, there are a bunch more handouts on the DINOS website here. 

Finally, I’d like to thank the Academy for recognizing my epic slowness in the field of printed educational materials. A special thanks to Rebecca Greenwood for asking me to do this and then sending me her own version to get my slowpoke self into gear. I’d also like to thank my laptop for not overheating and my printer for not running out of ink, just this one time. Most of all, I’d like to thank my mother. When I was a kid she’d always tell me that if I could dream it, I could make it into a handout. She taught me to never, ever give up, even when people used my “literature” to line their bird cages. I wouldn’t be here, annoying the public, if you didn’t believe in me mom. Alright, alright, alright. Hashtag suck it Julia!

 

 

The Dog Walker’s Guide To Choosing A Dog Walker

The Whole Dog Journal just published a handy article on stuff you should know about hiring a dog walker. Since anyone can call themselves a dog walker (just like anyone can call themselves a dog trainer), you gotta know how to pick a qualified person if you’re going to hire one. WDJ recommends asking smart questions, such as:

  • If your company has multiple employees, who will actually be the person walking my dog?
  • How many dogs do you walk at once? How do you choose which dogs walk with each other?
  • What kind of training do you have to walk multiple dogs at a time?
  • What happens when you can’t make it? What kind of experience do you have with dogs?
  • Where will you go on your walks? Will you be taking my dog to the dog park?

These are all good. Please ask these questions. Since I’m a pro street walker myself, I wanted to share some other tips to help you in your search.

How to find a dog walker: 

You can always start with a search on the interwebz. Companies with multiple employees should have a website. That being said, some of the best, most reliable and skilled dog walkers I know aren’t necessarily advertising their services. So always ask around.

Ask your vet tech, your groomer, your trainer, your local pet store owner, or your rescue and shelter workers for recommendations. Who do they hire for their own dogs? Who are their clients (with dogs that are similar to yours) using?

New Yorker Cartoon By Edward Frascino

New Yorker Cartoon By Edward Frascino

There are some very skilled dog walkers that are flying under the radar, working part-time as vet techs, groomers, and in animal shelters (or in my case, as part time writers), who might be an excellent fit for your dogs.

Go with someone that does this for a living (part or full time), rather than someone who is a student or retiree or a kid that loves dogs.  It’s a huge commitment to show up at someone’s home every single day for months and years. You want a pro – someone who is internally motivated to hold themselves accountable to the job they’ve committed to doing, no matter how cold it is outside.

People often ask me if they should hire a solo dog walking artiste, such as myself, or a larger dog walking service. I wish I could say that one is a more reliable bet than the other. In my experience, there is an equal risk with both that your dog might spend 30 minutes every afternoon wearing a sombrero and busking for change in the park.

So, start with yourself: what kind of relationship do you want and what kind of service does your schedule require? To generalize in a big, big way:

Solo dog walkers are like shopping at a small, locally owned store: highly personal relationships, flexible service, but with individual quirks and varying availability.

Dog walking companies are more like shopping at a large store: increased convenience, more accountability, but with more rules and less personalized service.

Overall, they’re both fine. You just have to pick which works best for you.  And remember: there is little to no oversight in dog walking. The bosses rarely see their employees in action. So ultimately, the person who is walking your dog – whether or not they are self-employed or working for a service – is alone with your dogs almost all of the time.

I’m not trying to scare you. I just want you to understand that this is a weird job. Other than the folks at the dog park or that old Italian lady that’s always peeking out her window trying to catch us letting dogs pee on her curb so she can chase us away with a broom, no one is watching us walk your dogs. So you have to do your homework during the hiring process.

Let’s say you’ve found a few people/companies that look pretty good. Here are some tips for meeting with a potential dog walker:

1. There should be a free consultation at your home, with no obligation to hire the dog walker. This is the meet and greet. With larger companies, sometimes only the boss comes to meet you. Ask that whomever will actually be walking your dog – the primary walker – comes with them too.

2. Watch them interact with your dogs during this initial meeting. Unless your dog is fearful, they should pretty much love the dog walker right away. Dog walkers stink of other dogs and have meat dust leaking out of every pore.  Dogs should react accordingly. And the dog walker? You should see pure joy on their faces. Meeting new dogs is FUN for us.

2a. If your dog is fearful with new people, watch how the dog walker handles this. Are they forcing themselves on your dog, insisting that they interact? Or are they hanging back, sitting on the floor, and calmly talking to you while your dog launches a covert exploration of their coat?

If your dog is uber-shy or has other serious quirks, it’s ok to ask for a second meeting. You’ll probably have to pay for it this time, but it will be helpful to have the dog walker meet your dog with you there again. Then, if you see that a little progress has been made and/or you trust that the dog walker is a good one, go for it. Sometimes shy dogs are less shy when you’re not home. Which leads to…

2b. Remember that dogs are different when you’re not around. I have a friend with three big, loud-ass dogs that go bananas when someone comes to the door. She assumed that when I came to walk them that they would make an insane racket – enough to scare off a dozen intruders. Turns out, all three of her dogs were mute when I walked in the door. So much for her security system.

This kind of thing happens a lot. Your dogs may be bolder or shyer in your presence. Friendly dogs might charge the door, growling and barking, when they are alone in the house and a stranger walks in. Shy dogs might be emboldened to go for a walk with the meat-dusted stranger, now that mom isn’t looking. At some point, if you like the dog walker, you just have to let them show up alone and see what happens.

3. Ask them to go on a walk with you and your dogs. If your dog is cool with it, ask to do this step during the initial meeting. Unless your dog is a robot (or super easy going) then you’ll want to see the dog walker handling them. Have the dog walker put on their harness/collar/leash and go for a short walk together.

If your dog is reactive, you don’t want to skip this part. Anyone can talk a good game, but that doesn’t mean they can stay cool when your reactive dog starts a break dancing competition with the neighbor’s dog. Go for a group walk and see them interact with your dog.

New Yorker Cartoon by Lee Lorenz

New Yorker Cartoon by Lee Lorenz

4. If your dog has medical or behavioral issues, talk about them honestly. You want to know if the dog walker has the skills to work with your dog and they need to be able to make an informed decision. A good dog walker knows their limits. It’s ok for them to tell you they aren’t skilled enough to work with your aggressive dog. In fact, it’s the responsible thing to do. So don’t hide anything from them.

And don’t try to sugarcoat your dog’s issues so they’ll want to work for you. It’s not fair and it’s not safe. If you hire them, they will have to walk into your home – alone – and it can be dangerous if you fail to mention that your 110 pound dog will be loose in the house and has been known to pin strangers to the wall (I still love you Mo!).  This is the time to be honest. Come up with a management plan for future visits, so that the dog walker can enter your home safely with minimal stress for them and your dogs.  For instance, if your dog is fearful, you can plan to leave their harness on, so that the dog walker doesn’t have to touch them too much on the first visit. Or if your dog is a nutter with strangers, you can plan to crate or gate them away from the door. This is a good time to start talking about this stuff.

Also, the more you share, the more you can get a feel for their experience and skill level. Let’s say you tell them your dog is reactive. A dog walker that’s any good will have many follow up questions for you, so that the can better understand what your dog’s triggers are, what walking routes are safest, and what your training plans are, etc. If they say, “Oh, I know how to walk reactive dogs,” but they don’t care to hear about your individual reactive dog’s needs or have any questions, move on.

5. Find out how you’ll know that they were there. I leave a note after every walk. My clients have affectionately dubbed these “The Poop Diaries” and I’m proud to say that after more than ten years of leaving these notes each day for multiple clients, I’ve written the dog walker’s equivalent of War and Peace. But, I’m willing to concede that writing a note takes a minute or two away from your dogs and the average dog walker isn’t as excited as I am about finding a thousand different ways to say, “Your dog made a sizable deposit at the turd bank today.”

Many dog walkers will do cool stuff like get little post-it-sized checklists that are pre-printed, so they can leave you a quick report:

Poop – check

Pee – check

Butt Scritches – check

If they don’t leave notes, ask them how you’ll know they’ve been there each day. This company does all kinds of stuff to prove they’re doing their jobs. Don’t be obnoxious about it, but it’s totally fine to ask for some sort of proof your dog walker showed up.

6. They should have their professional goods on hand to show you. Dog walkers should have liability insurance, references, a detailed service contract, and clear, written policies and rates. No matter who they work for or if they’re self-employed, all dog walkers should have this stuff. Before you hire them, you’ll want to know: what’s their cancellation policy? What are your daily and weekly rates and what forms of payment do you accept? What window of time will you be coming each day? Who pays the vet bills if my dog gets hurt at the dog park? Who will pay my dry cleaning bills if I catch you wearing my evening gowns? This stuff should be in writing.

Then at some point, you’ll have to just cross your heart, lock up grandma’s diamonds, and give them the keys to your house. It’s scary to trust a stranger with your dog and your home. I’m always amazed at how many people have given me the keys to their houses within 30 minutes of meeting me over the years. Quite frankly, it’s an honor to be trusted that way. Good dog walkers understand this and do everything they can to make you feel comfortable and confident in them.

In the end, go with your gut  and choose the person your dogs and you really dig.

In the comments, tell me about your dog walkers. Are they good, bad, weirdos, life-savers? I wanna know. 

p.s. You think you wanna be a dog walker, huh punk? It’s hard and there is epic poop involved. Read all about here. 

Walking and Reading: 2|21|14

I wish someone would hire me to pet sit a Highland Cow (otherwise known as a "hairy coo").

I wish someone would hire me to pet sit a Highland Cow (otherwise known as a “hairy coo!”).


For the Humans:

Old folks and young whippersnappers swap clothes. Sweetness ensues. Photos here.

How to say “no” to everything from smarty pants Alexandra Franzen.

Someone please make this for breakfast and send me some. Thanks.


For the Dogs: 

Does your dog hang out at dog parks? Please read this. 

Renting with dogs can be tough, particularly if you have large dogs or certain breeds. Good advice here. 

We should all get this t-shirt and this pillow (or just send them to me with that breakfast you’re packing up).


For the Laugh: 

I can’t stop watching this video.  It’s not new, but man, it’s the funniest.


And Offline:

I’m reading Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn. How about you? Any good books keeping you busy this chilly winter?

Searching For Answers: Lightning Round

Last year I decided to start giving search terms (one of my fave parts of blogging) a little love. You can see those posts here and here. 

Short version: you search for stuff on Google and results pop up. If you click on a blog that came up in the search results, then the writer of the blog will see the search terms you used to find their blog in the “search term results” of their blog’s back end.

I keep meaning to do another post with these nuggets of human gold, but man – life is hectic y’all. So let’s just do a lightning round. Ready, Set, Search!

Search terms you’d think have nothing to do with my blog, but you’d be wrong:



“Dog poops in house after tuba song”

“Men ride river rapid while balancing on log of bamboo

Steve Martin butt cheeks”

Governor peeing on plane”

Bitches be acting like they have rabies”
 

This has nothing to do with dogs. I just want people to start getting my blog when they search "Bill Murray and Hunter S. Thompson."

This is here because: 1. I want to see if people start getting my blog when they search “Bill Murray and Hunter S. Thompson.” 2. I want to be on that boat.

Fast answers to your burning searches:



“What kind of fences do dogs like?”: Bacon Flavored. 


“I’d like to put a lock on my wood gate”: Mazel Tov!


“My dog ran off today for 4 hours should I leash him from now on?”: Ayuh.


“Which dog breed has a skinny tongue?”: The Gene Simmons Fox Hound. You weirdo.


“What does it mean when two dogs show up out of nowhere?”: Ghosts! The Apocalypse! Aliens!

 

Top Dog: Thelwell’s Complete Canine Compendium

Things might be a little quiet on the DINOS Facebook page/Notes From A Dog Walker blog front for a bit. I’m not going anywhere, but I’m redirecting some of my energy to a couple of other projects this winter. Specifically:

1. I’m currently taking a graduate level course to help me decide if I want to go back to school and get my master’s degree. Homework is happening.

2. I’m working on a DINOS eBook! So far it’s shaping up to be the best of my blog, with a bunch of new essays and helpful tips thrown in for funsies. I’m writing it for the newbies who are living with DINOS for the first time. It can be overwhelming and they need a one-stop booklet to help boost their morale.

2a. The stuff I’d normally publish here about DINOS is getting saved for the book.

3. And I have to go to work. Those pesky jobs and their silly paychecks.

I find that the best way to deal with an impossibly long to-do list is to run away to the movies on a Sunday afternoon after doing a little thrift store shopping. Am I right?

Yes I am and here’s the proof. I scored this yesterday:

Top Dog by Norman Thelwell

Cover of Top Dog by Norman Thelwell



Published in 1964, this gem of a book is a compilation of the British cartoonist Norman Thelwell’s Sunday Express illustrations.

In the book he covers everything a dog owner needs to know about caring for a dog.  Such as “Choosing Your Dog”:

Top Dog by Norman Thelwell


How to care for their health:

Top Dog by Norman Thelwell


How to train dogs: “Some dogs bark and bark and bark…until the sound becomes unbearable…the only way to stop a dog from barking….”

Top Dog by Norman Thelwell

…is to learn the violin.”  That is, by far, the most sensible dog training advice I’ve ever gotten.

Top Dog by Norman Thelwell


There is an entire section devoted to how to handle your dog outdoors (clearly Thelwell was an early member of Team DINOS).

Top Dog by Norman Thelwell


“Meeting other dogs can be tricky. Restrain your own animal…and keep calm…above all…avoid a fight.”

top dog 3

The book also covers responsible dog owner laws:

Top Dog by Norman Thelwell


And my favorite illustration spans two pages.  “And he must be kept on a lead in public parks.”

Top Dog by Norman Thelwell


It’s a wonderful book, filled with cheeky text and illustrations and more than a few surprisingly helpful and progressive tips for real life dog care. If you ever come across a copy, scoop it up.

And now, it’s back to work for me – see you guys soon!

Walking and Reading: 1|18|14

New Year's greetings Newsboy throwing confetti

It’s still New Year’s right? We get until February before it’s Ye Old News, I think.


For the Humans:

Being busy isn’t a badge of honor.  It’s not enough to just be busy. How are we really using our time?

The award for best cartoon tribute in the “Man + His Cat” category goes to this dude. 


For the Dogs:

Tips for living with a blind dog (super cute Beagle alert)

Please read this one. It’s going to help you and your dogs. Pinky swear.

Are you following The Dogist yet? I love these photos of dogs on the streets of New York (and elsewhere).


For the Laugh:

Imagine waking up to this.


And Offline:

I’m taking a night class right now so these days my offline reading is heavy on books related to Adult Education. We’re discussing Julia Cameron’s The Right to Write. Ever read it? She’s the woman behind The Artist’s Way.

DIY Wobble Board For Your Dog

Birdie is doing well these days (knock on all the wood) and she’s been fully mobile for a while, so our new goal is to rebuild muscle in her leg. In order to do that, she has to learn that’s it’s ok to use it again, since she’s been avoiding putting weight on it for so long. (Need to catch up? You can read about Birdie’s ACL tear and rehab here and here)

One way to do that is to use a Wobble Board. At physical therapy, our therapist had Birdie stand on one as we gently moved the board around. This forced Birdie to shift her weight to the atrophied leg and activated those weaker muscles as she balanced herself.

I don’t have any photos of Birdie on the board because my hands are always full – I’m holding her in place so she’s secure, but you can see a Wobble Board in action here.

We wanted to keep this up at home, but money is tight, so I couldn’t buy a new Wobble Board. Birdie’s therapist suggested I make my own.

I found a piece of kitchen counter top from the 1950’s (check out that mid-century metallic flecking) sitting around the house and it practically screamed “I wanna rock your dog’s world!”. Who am I to deny an old kitchen counter a new life as physical therapy equipment for my dog?

And so it was born: The Kitchen Counter Weeble Wobble. Also known as the DIY project for people who don’t want to measure much or cut anything.

This is how you can make something similar at your house:

1. Find a piece of counter top, a table top, or get some plywood. It should be big enough that your dog can stand on it with all four legs.

wobble board

2. Next you’ll need a softball, an approx. 4 inch screw, and a couple of washers. Find the center of the ball and with a drill, screw that, uh, screw through the ball and into the center of the board. We stuck a washer between the board and the ball for good measure.

board back

3. Now you’ll need something to act as tread for your dogs. I used rubbery shelf liners. You can also use adhesive stair treads/strips or any variety of gripping, non-skid tape. To get my drawer liners to stick, I used Gorilla Glue (with rubber gloves because I prefer my fingertips with the skin on them).

board supplies

4. After I laid down the tread, I smushed it down real good. If you’re wondering, that’s exactly how Bob Villa describes this step in “This Old Wobble Board.”  And then I let it dry overnight.

board front

5. Done! Wobble it Baby.

board pinterest

Note: this is a pretty steeply angled board. I hold Birdie while she’s on it so she doesn’t hurt herself launching off of it. You can learn how to make a real deal, cut your own pieces of wood, lower wobble board here so you can do more rehab exercises like these.

Don’t want to make one? You can buy a Wobble Board. Check out this one from Fit Paws.

Not sure if you need one of these bad boys in your life? Here’s a few ways your dogs might benefit from the Wobble Board:

1. They improve balance, mobility, and joint strength.

2. If your dog wants to impress all the other dogs at Pilates, they’ll need one of these to work their core.

3. They can help boost your dog’s confidence. Shy dogs can benefit from from tackling weird stuff like this. Start slow and reward generously. Next thing you know, your shy dog will be boldly asking the head cheerleader to Prom.

4. They can help get your dog ready for the Teeter Totter in agility. This is a good intro to all moving thingamajigs.

5. They increase body awareness which can be helpful for just about any dog. Working with the board helps them to become more aware of all four of their limbs. Or two limbs.

 

In other Birdie-Busts-a-Move news, her physical therapist got a brand new, state of the art space ship  hydrotherapy treadmill which we got to try out for the first time last month.

birdie treadmill 2

Birdie, who is as excited about swimming as I am about doing my taxes, did much better on the treadmill than in the pool. I think she liked that she could keep her head above water. She walked at a good pace for 10 minutes. The point? To rebuild that skinny leg!

birdie treadmill

Wobble On!



365 More Chances

2013 xmas card 2

“Know how to live the time that is given to you.”- Dario Fo

 

A New Year. Another turn on the Pale Blue Dot. I’m feeling grateful for 12 fresh months of chances: to learn new things, make more mistakes, and spend time with my friends and family. Wishing you and your loved ones health and happiness in the New Year. Happy 2014 Everyone!




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