Saturday, November 13, 2010

DIY Gifting- for Fido with Love

Most pet owners see their pets as members of the family. And at the holidays, and year round, you want to do something special for your furry family members, but many of the products available at pet stores and discount stores are not only expensive, but sometimes questionable as to how healthy some of these "treats" really are.

The solution? To make your own, of course. That way you can determine the quality of the ingredients, control fat and protein content, and so on. And it goes without saying that homemade treats are going to be not just healthier, but tastier too! From my own experience, your pets will also really enjoy treats made by you with love too!

Here I'll share my two favorite recipes for dog treats. You can make cat treats yourself, and there are recipes out there, but frankly cats are so picky that it's probably easier to just open a can of tuna for them than it is to try to pick out a recipe that they will enjoy. Ask my friend Becky...She spent hours one year making treats for her cats that they turned their noses up at. She sent them to work with her hubby to give to his friend's sister for her cat and another co-worker found the bag first. He declared them delicious. I rest my case. Dogs- not so finicky.

This first recipe really is my favorite. Yeah, sure, I try to feed my dogs mostly grain free foods- but these biscuits are a real winner. I've never had a dog yet that wouldn't run the Boston Marathon for one, they're easy to make, the ingredients are healthy and when I tasted one myself, they are frankly pretty darn tasty. (Yes, I tasted one myself- I wasn't going to feed something questionable to my dogs). In fact, for a very long time neither one of my dogs would eat a biscuit or treat that WASN'T one of these! Yup, biscuits so good that they turned the dogs into biscuit snobs. Good stuff.

The original recipe was called "Big Barbecue Biscuits". I made a few small changes, and here is my end product. First, you'll need to lay in your ingredients. Whole wheat flour, bulgur wheat (which is a coarse cracked wheat available at most grocery stores where they sell their hot cereal or with their "whole foods"), brewer's yeast (available at brewery supply stores and health food stores- it's wonderful for your dog's skin and coat), beef broth, vegetable oil, and chopped garlic (also good for skin and coat, and a natural flea repellent). That's for the biscuits. For the optional "glaze", you'll need an egg, ketchup, and Worchestershire sauce. Honestly, usually I don't bother with the glaze. The glaze doesn't add anything important in particular, it primarily just looks nice. And was the reason they were called "barbecue."

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, I use my stand mixer, combine 2 cups whole wheat flour, 1/2 cup bulgur, 2 Tablespoons brewer's yeast, 2 cloves minced garlic (I use the stuff in the jar). Add 3/4 cup beef broth (warm) and 1/4 cup vegetable oil. (Here, you could use half vegetable oil and half flax oil, hemp oil, emu oil or whatever other good for their coat oil you like- but don't substitute the whole amount. A lot of those heart/skin healthy oils break down when cooked and can make for a "not quite right" final product, and it's been my experience that too much cooked flax seed oil smells gross when cooked. But I digress.) Mix well. The dough will be quite stiff- add a bit of water if it's too dry, or a bit of flour if it's too wet.

Turn the dough out onto your counter. I lightly flour the counter first, and if you need to knead the dough a little to make it hold together it won't stick to the counter. The warm broth makes this dough very nice to work with. It just feels good in your hands. Generally if it's the right consistency, you should be able to just roll it out. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out to your desired thickness- I roll it out to between 1/8" and 1/4". You can go thick or thin depending on the size of your dog, just bear in mind that the thickness will change the cooking time a bit. My little chihuahua has bad teeth in a small mouth so he needs a thinner biscuit (another advantage to these biscuits is that they will actually clean your dog's teeth, rather than rot them worse like come commercial treats). For the Mastiff, I make much bigger biscuits!

Now for the fun part: cutting them out. These biscuits are all that is good about making cookies without the trouble of requiring exacting measurements (baking is chemistry, remember?) and worrying about having 40 dozen cookies to add to your waistline. I like to use bone shaped cookie cutters for my biscuits, as they just seem right to me. But really, the sky is the limit. If you're making these for gifting, by all means use cookie cutters that fit with the holiday at hand. In this batch I made some turkeys, large and small Christmas trees, candy canes, and stars. Also, for giggles, I made some BIG mean kitties, medium sized non-threatening kitties, and little tiny friendly a certain local pet bakery. :) Really, you can use anything. If by some chance you don't have any cookie cutters, you can use a biscuit cutter or even just a cleaned out soup or tomato paste can to cut circles. I even tried poking a hole with a chopstick in one of the Christmas trees so it could be hung by a ribbon on the tree as an ornament and it worked just fine.

After you've got your shapes all cut out you'll want to place them on a cookie sheet. If you don't plan to do the bbq glaze, just put them on your cookie sheet- no need to grease or anything. If you do plan to use the glaze, I'd recommend lining your baking sheet with some foil or parchment. The glaze, being egg based, bakes on pretty hard an can be a bit of a pain to scrape off your cookie sheet. As I mentioned, I don't usually bother with the glaze, but for gifting, it DOES look nice. For the glaze, mix one beaten egg, 1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce and 1 Tablespoon ketchup in a small bowl. You can brush the mixture onto the biscuits, or I just use a spoon to dab a little on and then use the back of the spoon to spread it around. Here is a picture of what the unbasted biscuits look like, along with some that are already basted:
Then bake the biscuits for about 35 minutes in the 350 degree oven. If the biscuits still feel a little soft, turn the heat off and leave the biscuits in the oven to dry out and cool for several hours. If they are already crisp you can pull them out and let them cool at room temperature. They are now ready to package for gifting or just give to your dog to enjoy!

Recipe #2- Doggie Bagels. This second recipe for crunchy little bagels is another "go-to" recipe for me because they're also super easy. They would be a great recipe for kids to make as the shape is fun to make. Unlike the above recipe where there was some "hardware" required, this recipe requires almost no equipment to make. Again, I let my stand mixer do the work, but all you really need is a bowl and a spoon.
You will need:

1 cup whole wheat or other whole grain flour
1 cup unbleached white flour
1 package dry yeast (1/4 oz)
1 tablespoon honey
2/3 cup chicken stock, warmed (so that the yeast will rise). I've found that the dough is frequently too stiff with this amount of stock and use 3/4 cup instead.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the whole wheat flour, yeast, and honey. Add the chicken stock and beat for about 3 minutes. Gradually add the remaining flour and mix. Knead for a few minutes until smooth, form into a ball, cover and let rest for about 5 minutes. (I let it rest on top of the stove where it is warm) Then divide the dough into about 25 pieces, roll each piece into a smooth ball, punch a hole into each ball with your finger and gently pull into a bagel shape. The hole should be about an 1/2 inch to 1 inch wide. Again, if you have a small dog, you could make the bagels half this size. You don't need to make them perfect- they will rise into shape as they bake. Place all of the bagels on a greased cookie sheet and allow to rise for 5 minutes. Bake for 20 minutes, flip over the bagels, turn off heat and replace them into the oven to dry out and cool.

I hope you will share these delightful treats with your dogs this holiday season and year round!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Travels with Charlie...

Ok, ok, so "Travels with Charlie" isn't exactly MY title...those paying attention will know that I "borrowed" it from one of America's literary greats (10 points if you can name who I'm referring to!), but the fact of the matter is that traveling with your pet can be one of life's truly great joys. As a wise friend once said "my dog taught me to drive with my head out the window." And so we could all stand to learn a few lessons in unbridled joy and how to be carefree from our pets.

But travel with your pets (don't even bother to try it with cats) can be your worst nightmare too if you're not prepared. Whether you're going for a walk in the park or a 2 week cross country vacation, if you go prepared, you'll go happy.

The basics are simple. You need the standard dog equipment- a leash, collar or harness, and proper ID. PERIOD. If you're going to be out for more than an hour or so or in the heat, make sure you take some water and a bowl with you. And it doesn't hurt to pack a few snacks either ;) If you're going for a real "hike" of more than a couple of miles, you need to be sure that you're covered should something unexpected arise- especially if your hike is in a remote area. Now I'm not suggesting you pack a blanket to use as an emergency stretcher if you're going out for a stroll, but it might not be a bad idea to take a bee sting kit and some styptic powder if you catch my drift.

I realized pretty quick from the volume of water that Sadie drinks when we're at home, and how far her tongue hangs out after we walk for a ways that I needed to take plenty of water for her on our longer walks (anything over a mile). To that end I devised the pack above (made from a "fanny pack" purchased at a large misc stuff retailer, with an extra strap attached as a "chest strap"- All for about $15, a lot less than those things sell for at pet stores!) to carry 1 liter of water (in 2 half liter bottles), a small bag of food, a collapsible water dish, some treats, and both Sadie's and Tyke's leashes, and there's room for my wallet, car keys and cell phone if I don't want to pack them around myself. Pretty handy!

When you're traveling farther from home- away for the weekend for example, you just need to make sure that your pooch has all of the comforts of home- pack plenty of food (although my dogs aren't usually terribly big eaters away from home), some bedding and preferably your pup's crate, leashes and I always throw in the proverbial pooper scooper. I generally pack a couple of towels and I pack their food and treats into a couple of buckets with lids that double as food and water dishes once we reach our destination. And if you've got a young dog don't forget toys! I learned the hard way on a recent camping trip that Sadie's enjoyment of any activity is GREATLY lessened if she doesn't have a squeaky toy (I packed her a chewy and a rope toy, but shame on me for forgetting the Squeak!) I have the added convenience of being able to pack all of the dog gear into Tyke's small crate (which has a handle), but you could just as easily pack a tote bag. If you've got a dog with naughty tendencies, make sure you take PLENTY to keep their brain engaged if you're staying anywhere that your pup might make a mess or tear something up.

Those are the main points. Obviously, if you're going back country camping, you'll need to make sure that you've got a well stocked first aid kit- both for you and your dog, and if there are any other special situations you'll want to make sure you are prepared.

Now get out there and enjoy!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Responsible Pet Ownership- Part III- A Few More Training Tips

The Puppy Redirect
One useful trick to ensure good behavior, especially with young dogs and puppies, is to redirect an undesirable action into something good. This eliminates having to punish the “bad” behavior at all, and makes everyone feel good. Two examples of this from my own recent puppy training are: redirecting mouthing and redirecting trash shredding. When teething, and during occasional naughty periods, Sadie gets mouthy- meaning she wants to hold onto my arm, shirt, whatever with her mouth when we play. I HATE it. And I don’t want to encourage any behavior that even resembles biting. To redirect her, I grab the first toy I see and stick it in her mouth. This gives her something to chew on, encourages her to chew on HER things, and stops the undesirable behavior- without a harsh word. She also LOVES to pick up trash- in the house or not. She will gather any shred or scrap of paper or plastic from receipts to wrappers to lids and carry it around. If you leave her along with the object long enough, she gleefully makes confetti. However, early on in noticing this behavior, I realized that I could make a game out of it for her, and get a helper for trash pickup in the process. I’d go outside with her and a pocketful of treats and a toy and every time she picked up a piece of trash, I’d ask her to bring it to me and “trade” the trash for some petting, a treat or her toy, along with a healthy dose of praise. She quickly caught on and now will still come straight to me when she finds a piece of trash- very proud that she is bringing me such a wonderful thing. No more messes, I don’t have to worry that she’ll find something dangerous in the trash and eat it, and I have less trash to pick up. I LOVE it.

Keep it Simple, Stupid
You can work on teaching more than one behavior or ‘trick” during the same time period, but keep in mind that trying to teach too much at once will only confuse your dog and frustrate you when no progress is made. Try to focus on teaching one thing at a time, and build on previous lessons as you go forward. An example of this is teaching your dog to “sit” and making sure they are really good with that command, then using “sit” to help teach your dog to “lay down”. When in a sit, they are already halfway there!

Keep it Short!
Getting frustrated and losing your cool or your temper will only make your training take a step backward. Keep sessions short and fun for both you and your dog, and not only will you both enjoy them much more, but your dog will be motivated to learn faster

There is almost no limit to the number of ways that training can make your life easier. You can teach your dog to help you with a huge variety of tasks, even things you wouldn’t think of having a dog do. They can help you take the dirty laundry to the washroom, tidy up, get you a bottle of water from the fridge, a tissue when you sneeze, just about anything. Service dogs are frequently trained to do a multitude of similar tasks, so why shouldn’t your dog know the same things? Even if you don’t want to go so far as “service” types of “tricks” (although who wouldn’t? How great would it be to have your dog grab you a juice box from the fridge when you’re sick?), you can still teach your dogs some handy things that will make your lift a little more pleasant. One example of this is that it is actually quite easy to teach your dog to follow the direction of your pointed finger. I use this to send dogs upstairs or downstairs, or more frequently- out of a given room. Out of the kitchen when I’m cooking (I can’t stand underfoot pets) and out of the living room when I’m eating (I don’t like begging either). Do those consistently for a couple of weeks and your dogs will automatically leave the dining area when they hear plates rattle. I’m not terribly picky about where they go when they leave the room- as long as they’re far enough away to not be a bother, and they don’t’ make eye contact, I’m fine with them laying in the hall. Once again, sending your dog out of the kitchen when you’re cooking could be a boon to both your safety and that of the dog- no risk of tripping and falling, spilling boiling water, etc. I solved the problem of having a dozen separate commands for places I want my dogs to go by just teaching them to look or go in the direction that I point. If I want them to look I just point, if I want them to go that direction, I repeat the motion several times and tell them “out of the kitchen”, etc. This way, even if we’re at someone else’s house, I can still use the command. It also works when a toy gets lost (point in the direction they should look for it), if you want to send them anywhere for any reason, really.

Crate Training
Crate training is yet another way to make your life easier. Giving a puppy a crate is giving him security. Dogs like to “den” naturally, and their crate functions as their den. It is a quiet spot where they can go to get away from another pet, a new person that makes them uncomfortable, really anything. The crate is his “safe place.” Conveniently, the crate also serves as his bed, a way to keep him out of trouble, time out, and a sick ward. Putting your pet in their crate when you are away from home will keep them out of mischief as well as keep them safe. Dogs are not inclined to soil their bed, so they will try very hard to not have an “accident’ while in their crate. Also while in there, they can’t get into the trash can, the dirty laundry or the cat litter box- or anywhere else they might like to go. They are very limited as to what they can chew up as well. Same goes for nighttime while you are asleep. Certainly as your dog gets older, you will probably be able to leave them out of the crate while you are gone, or perhaps you want your pet to sleep with you. Once they learn the house rules, and you can trust them to be alone and not get into trouble, then you may not need to keep them crated with any frequency at all. However, when traveling, it is safer for your pet to be crated. If you should have to stop suddenly, or take other evasive action, your pet might be injured if thrown off the seat or around the cabin of the car. Better to keep them in a crate, or if they are a larger dog, buckled into a safety harness. If you are in an accident or some other situation arises where someone other than you might have to handle your dog, it will be safer for the dog and the handler for the dog to be crated. When dogs are injured or scared sometimes they don’t recognize a friend when they see one and may bite. That can be bad news for your precious pooch if you’re being whisked away to the ER and puppy has to go somewhere else with a stranger. Far better to have them crated, so they feel some modicum of security even in a scary situation, and then they can’t get in any trouble for biting out of fear. Also, any random person is a lot more likely to rescue a pet if they are contained and not “dangerous”, not to mention that your pet may run from rescuing if frightened. (It should go without saying that your dog should have proper identification at all times. My dogs wear a collar at all times with their vaccination tag, microchip tag, and information tag. In case the collar should somehow come off, they are also microchipped so that they have the best chance to come back to me if we are separated. If you rely on tags, make sure that you replace them when they wear. Tags don’t do your pet any good if no one can read them to find you.)

Training your dog to go into their crate is pretty simple really. If your new addition is a pup, just place them into the crate at the times you want them there- when you leave the house and at night for example, and tell them "crate" or "crate time." Or whatever you want to call it...some other words for crate are "kennel" or "bed". At our house there is a separate "bed" that is a cushion in the living room that is for pet use, so we just call it a crate. As your pup grows, toss a biscuit in the crate as you give the command, just to reinforce the action. Soon enough, your pup will go into his crate pretty much automatically when you get ready for bed or pick up your keys. After your dog is going into the crate on command regularly, you can reduce the frequency of the biscuits. We usually give a biscuit reward at bedtime and when we leave for work in the morning, but certainly you wouldn't have to do that if you don't want to. We make sure that we adjust our dogs' daily food to take extras like those treats into account and to make sure that they're getting proper nutrition. If your dog is older when they come to live with you, or if you wish to crate train an older dog who has never been crated, just work up to it slow. Leave the crate door open and put the crate where you will want it to be stored for day to day use. Or in a higher traffic area if your crates will be stashed out of the way. Let your dog investigate, and try to coax them into the crate with offers of treats for ducking their head into the crate and once they go all the way in. Once they will go in and out willingly, close the door for a few minutes and give lots of praise. Gradually increase the amount of time you leave the dog in the crate with the door shut. Soon enough you'll be able to leave your pet for as long as you need. We leave the doors to the crates open when we're around so the dogs can go in the crate to get out of the way (and if they are under foot we can send them to their crate), to get away from visitors if they're not feeling social, or just to grab a quiet nap. It's especially useful if you need your dog out of your way for a bit if you're moving furniture, or cooking or if a friend comes to call that isn't so keen on pets. Asking your dog to stay in their crate at those times isn't a punishment by any means, it's just keeping them out of harm's way, and your way, for a little while. Usually dogs will go into their crate when asked without much fuss as long as you reinforce it periodically. Even if you don't crate regularly, it's a good idea to do it once in a while just to remind your dog what you're wanting and that they get a treat out of the deal. I have really never run into someone refusing to crate- sometimes Tyke will drag his feet a bit and he always relents in the end, even if grudgingly, once a little tidbit enters the equation. If you get a refusal, a couple of sessions of retraining should do the trick. In general, your dog will see the crate as their "bed", and will go into it willingly when asked. You can use the crate as a "time out" for punishment but NEVER pull your dog from the crate when they do not want to leave- unless it is a serious emergency. Your dog sees the crate as their "safe place" and that may include being safe from you, or from the prying, pestering hands of a little one. Your dog needs a sanctuary and I encourage everyone to respect their space. If they have shot into the crate to avoid something you are set on, get the dog to come out on their own. They'll come- tempt them out with a treat. If it's bathtime, avoid trouble by shutting the crate door BEFORE you announce the bath! LOL But it is important to not violate their "safe spot" or it won't seem safe to them anymore and it will be useless as a training aid. Make sure that everyone knows to not "invade" puppy's space in the crate as well.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Responsible Pet Ownership- Part II- Everybody Loves to Learn!

Training is also something you should consider before you bring ‘baby’ home. Decide how training will be handled- it will take up a lot of your time. If you will be the primary “trainer” make sure that you work with everyone else in the house so your pup will obey their commands, and they use the right commands. If you’re only going to do basic household manners and take your puppy to someone else for obedience training, make sure that you spend adequate time working with that trainer to be sure YOU are trained as well.
Also, if not before you bring home your new friend then at least very soon after, decide what behaviors you will and will not tolerate- what is cute or no big deal now might be a huge problem down the road. Its far easier to correct a small problem when your pet is first introduced to your home, than to wait until it becomes an issue in 6 months or a year after the behavior is already “ok” in your pet’s mind.

Consistency Counts!
As with everyone and everything, being consistent is important for training your new friend. First and foremost, consistency makes training faster and easier. If you are consistent in telling your puppy that you don’t want him pottying in the house or chewing on your cords, or telling the cat you don’t want it on the counter, then they will get the message a LOT faster than if you only send the message half of the time. Also, if you are not consistent in what you ask of your pet, it might lead to confusion about what it is you actually want, or how “wrong” a certain activity is. And confusion will just delay the learning/training process. Also, train your dog to behave with everyone as you would want it to behave with particular people- kids, grandma, the queen of England. If there is a certain behavior that is not ok for your dog to do around certain people, it is not ok for them to do it around anyone. If you are worried that your dog could knock a child or an elderly person to the ground and hurt them if it jumps up, then your dog should not jump up on anyone. Period. It would be lax of me to not mention here that maintaining consistency will take a fair amount of discipline on your part. It’s pretty easy to “forget” to reinforce a given lesson when you’re tired, had a long day, etc. Just make sure that you are maintaining your focus, and the payoff will be huge in the long run.

Which brings me to my next training point- the importance of play. Play has a very important role in training, believe it or not. In all mammals, play is an important part of babies’ development- it helps them to learn coordination and the skills that they will need as an adult. It can be used as a reward for a job well done, it serves as a break and a mental reset between lessons. It also helps TREMENDOUSLY to burn off some extra puppy energy, making for a calmer, quieter, less inclined to get into mischief puppy. Which makes YOU a happier owner- I promise. So take some extra time on your potty breaks to throw a ball, play tug-o-war, toss a Frisbee, whatever it is that your pup likes. Make time to play with your pet every day, not only will it help them to burn off some extra energy, but it will also reinforce the bond between you.

To this end, going for regular walks also helps. Not only will your pup learn leash manners and become more socialized as they encounter new situations, but they will likely have to take a nap when you get home.

What you choose to train your dog to do is up to you. Some people don’t “need” anything other than “don’t potty in the house.” Others want some basic obedience commands like “come” or “stay” and a few more rules, like stay off the furniture and don’t chew my stuff. Other people want their dog to be able to do 100 tricks. Where you fall is up to you, but I should point out that basic obedience commands will help your pet remain safe. If your puppy goes to chase an errant ball across the street and you see a car coming, the command “stay” could save his life.

Keeping your dog’s mind engaged in learning new things will help to keep them from getting bored and make them feel useful. Don’t forget that if you get excited when your dog learns something new, they will be happy that they have pleased you and work that much harder to learn the next new thing. Teaching your dog new things will make them feel like they have a job to do and will reinforce to them that they are important to you. Like people, dogs take joy in learning new things and there is no reason that training should just be for puppies! Dogs of any age can continue to learn and grow mentally throughout their whole lives.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Perils of Puppyhood, or Responsible Pet Ownership 101 (Part I)

After the trauma of having to put down my beloved companion of 15 years, my shepherd mix dog Hallie, in April, it took a while before the hubs and I were ready to open our hearts and homes to another dog. We both knew it was just a matter of time, but we were in no rush. That is, until we found out we were pregnant, and realized that baby+puppy would be a disaster, as would toddler+puppy, and really, kid-under-5+puppy. So we started looking for a pup. Oddly, when you're looking for a dog, sometimes they can be hard to find. We really weren't even picky either- just wanted a large-ish mixed breed puppy or youngish dog. The only criteria we had were: no dog breeds outlawed by city ordinance, a preference for against a couple of breeds, and nothing over $100. We were ok with a pup or a dog young enough that it could still socialize well with Tyke, the chihuahua, and Fergus and Hemingway, the cats. I'd have been devastated if the newcomer had torn apart another family member. Somehow, providence intervened and we found our first choice of breeds, an English Mastiff. Two Mastiff lovers had decided to see what it was like to have a litter of pups, wound up having TEN pups, and they were having some difficulty in finding homes for the last 3 puppies- they were selling them for the same money as the local shelter asked for adoptions. Don't get me wrong, shelter dogs are fantastic, but all of the dogs we looked at were either too old or had bad habits that would have been a problem at our house- like cat chasing. I've wanted a Mastiff since college, D has wanted one for ages too. And so Sadie joined our family.

And now to the point of this little article (no, dear reader, it wasn't solely to gush about our new family member)- it's time for me to get on my soapbox and proclaim that there are pet owners out there that are less than responsible. There are, in point of fact, pet owners out there that are FAR from responsible. And this is a tragedy for the animals. I'm sure that many would agree with me that animal abuse should be a felony. But how many of us stop to consider the disservice done to pets by overspoiling, undertraining and generally not doing right by our animals. I'm not saying that every pet owner abuses or neglects their pets- far from it. But what about overspoiling them? Too many treats is NOT a healthy way of showing your pet how much you love them. Obesity from overfeeding of people food and snacks and lack of exercise is a pet killer just like it's the number 1 killer in humans. And while lots of people LOVE animals, not everyone wants your cat or dog crawling all over them. So here is my little schpiel about the responsibilities that we OWE to our pets. They give so much and ask for so little in return- but there are certain necessities that we must be able to provide.

Responsible Pet Ownership
Pets are a wonderful enhancement to our lives- they give us unconditional love and companionship, they don’t judge, they help lower blood pressure and mitigate stress and generally enrich our daily existence. But it’s very important that we remember that while pets give to us freely, we do not get these things without having to give in return. We owe it to our pets to do right by them- and that starts before you even get a new pet.

To begin with, look closely at the pet you are considering, your life, lifestyle, finances, and commitments. It should go without saying that you shouldn’t get a new pet unless you can afford to feed them, buy supplies and veterinary care as well as take care of emergencies. If you know that a trip to the vet would mean you can’t eat for a month, the responsible decision is to wait to bring home a pet until your situation improves. But you should also consider whether you can “afford” to spend time training your pet and spending time with them. Even after they grow out of the “baby” stage where they need to be taken outside every hour or two, puppies need a big commitment of time and effort from their “people” to train them and bond with them. Both training and bonding are important- and work to support each other. You will bond with your puppy or dog during training sessions, and your training sessions will go much more smoothly if you work toward establishing a good relationship with your pet outside of “school” time.

It’s also important to keep your schedule in mind- most adult dogs (except some miniature breeds) can hold their bladder and bowels for 8 or 10 hours while you’re at work so long as you take them out immediately before you leave and upon your return home. It may take them some time to acclimate to this schedule though, so be patient. But if your dog can’t hold it that long or you know you will be away from home longer, it’s important to make arrangements so your dog doesn’t suffer or have an “accident”. The last thing you want to come home to is a mess to clean up, and it’s hardly your dog’s fault if you leave them penned up for 12 hours. If you know you’re routinely away from home for that long, a dog may not be the best pet for you unless you work at a job that allows your dog to accompany you. Even if you don’t work long hours, it’s a good idea to have a neighbor or friend who can be available to let your dog or dogs out if you have to be away for a longer period than usual. Routinely setting the stage for “potty messes” in the house not only makes for a miserable dog, but can give your dog the impression that the house is an appropriate place to do their “business”- which most people are not okay with. If you are going to depend on a child who comes home from school earlier than you come home from work to let the dog out, make sure that the child can handle the responsibility- again so that your pet doesn’t suffer unnecessarily. And also so your child doesn’t wind up resenting your pet

If you have other pets already, take some extra time to consider their needs as well. Existing pets can have some trouble adjusting to a newcomer or they may not even notice a difference. Regardless, make sure you make some extra time to spend with your existing pets to reassure them that they are still special to you. If you are bringing home a puppy and have an older dog, make sure that the older dog has a place to go to get away from the “puppy nonsense”- it can be very aggravating to be constantly pestered by sharp teeth and a loud voice. The transition to a peaceful home will go much smoother if your “older” pets have a place to go to get away for a little quiet time.

Stay tuned for the next installment of "Responsible Pet Ownership", as well as some more humorous pictures and anecdotes from my own experiences raising a mastiff! :)

And We're Back!

After a several month hiatus, the blog is back, ladies and gentlemen. I had a lot going on. There was the annual Memorial Day camp trip. I got a job- a great one at that. I finally got pregnant, and unfortunately had an early miscarriage. I'm trying to sell a house. The Victory Garden is a veritable jungle. But all of the activity aside, it's time to resume blogging, personal discovery and growth, and learning. I'm sure I've probably got two dozen pictures and topics that should be added, and I promise, I'll get to them. But for now, let's all rejoice that I'm back on track, and there is much to be learned and shared! :D

Lady Clementine

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Victory Garden- Making a Molehill out of a Mountain (or "I have my mulch to keep me warm)

I could have called this post "Musings on Human Nature" or any number of other things, but I like it the way it is. I learned some valuable things while out working in the miserable weather yesterday.

The original plan for the Victory Garden involved a LOT of dirt and probably even more time spent weeding and so forth. Thanks to my friend Steve the organic farmer's suggestion, I just had DH build me the beds (I helped, but really can't take any credit) and then I filled them in with about an inch and a half of composted dirt. I planted, watered, and so far my plants are all coming up and very happy. Steve also said that the way to combat weeds and keep in moisture (don't want to raise that water bill if I can help it!) is to mulch the crap out of the beds once the seedlings are up. I'm about at that point.

DH finally got the trailer rebuilt, but unfortunately needs it this weekend, and I have to have the beds mulched before next weekend. So, looking at the forecast and my schedule, I decided that yesterday was to be my day to go get mulch. So, since DH was out of town, it fell to me to hook up the newly revamped trailer, drag the tarp out of the back yard, strap it down, load up my implements of destruction (shovels) and head to the composter. I'm lucky- the city I live in recycles yard waste and provides 1 load per day of screened compost (dirt) or as much as you can haul of chip mulch. Sure, it's not near as pretty as the stuff you buy, but who cares? I'm not particular about mulch aesthetics. It's free, and it'll quash my weed problem. Hopefully the garden will survive a day or 2 without water if we go out of town, and it doesn't hurt to cut down on the evaporation rate anyway- summer is brutal here!

So I put the hitch on my trusty Land Cruiser, Clementine, backed her up to the trailer and set to work with penetrating oil trying to free up the latch on the tongue of the trailer...I knew it was a bear and DH warned me that he had forgotten to oil it. Add oil, off to back yard to drag the very heavy tarp up front. Tossed in the back of the trailer and then to confront my nemesis- the ratchet strap. They are brilliant in design, but they hate me. I finally got DH to explain to me how to "start" them when we were moving a freezer...and I was pretty sure I could pull it off. And I did! Hooray for me! That was a major accomplishment. I'm proud. Back to the trailer....of course I was able to get the socket over the ball on the hitch no problem. But the collar that holds it in place? Yeah. Sure. I cuss, I beg, I plead, I swear...I even went so far as to call a friend for a reality check- the collar IS supposed to drop down, right? Yeah, I thought so. ("Do you even know how to drive a trailer?" he asked. Thanks for the vote of confidence bud! I'm pretty sure he thought nothing good could come of this endeavor) I beg, I cuss, I plead and swear. Finally, I resorted to name calling, and hissed a real zinger at it. It dropped right into place. VICTORY! I did a dance and actually cheered. It was starting to drizzle.

It was the sort of weather in which most people try to avoid going outside at all, let alone spending a long time outside working, but no matter. I hurried myself off to the composter figuring I'd get wet, but not real worried about it. I maneuvered the trailer into position (Hooray for me again! 3 victories!) and grabbed my shovel and gloves. DH has this funny investment in me having nice soft hands. I confronted the mountain of mulch. Steam rose off of it and wafted gently in the chill morning air. Composting is a HOT process as the bacteria break down the plant matter. I'd guess that the internal temperature of the heap was close to 108 degrees or more. I kicked myself for not bringing a thermometer. And started shoveling. I realized VERY quickly that a shovel is NOT the right tool for the job of moving mulch. After about 10 minutes I called a friend and inquired as to whether or not he had a pitchfork. It was a long shot and fell short. I told him that if I didn't find one and shoveled all that mulch, my official status as a human being would be upgraded from "bad ass" to "hardcore". Most people don't have pitchforks it seems. None to be had anywhere. I contemplated going out and buying one, but that would have lengthened the errand considerably. So I put my back into it and tried to move as much as I could.

Eventually I discovered that if I pulled some of the top mulch off of the "cliffs" the loosened up stuff was much easier to shovel. And your aim counts- the last thing you want to do is kill yourself shoveling and miss the trailer. And if you're obtaining your mulch from a place similar to where I was getting mine, there will be odd things in there. I nearly put out the back window of my beloved Clementine with a chunk of clinker (rocky stuff made from incinerated tires that is used to make cement) that was in the mix.

Of course, as I worked, it started to rain harder and harder. It never poured, but it was really raining. I was the only person interested in mulch on a rainy day it seemed. I saw lots of people dropping off tree limbs, yard waste and even whole felled trees. I stopped to help a couple of them unload unwieldy items, but no one offered to help me. No one even offered to call me a paramedic- odd, I thought, since I was beet red. I always get that way when I"m working. I shoveled, I sweated, I was soaked and muddy. And I was starting to grumble about human nature. I'd been out there working for almost 2 hours, surely the guy at the gate would have noticed I'd been out there for so long? Hmm, surely not. But I was there, I was already wet and muddy, and by God I was going to get as mulch as I could so I wouldn't have to go back! And I pushed myself harder than I should have, I knew I was doing it at the time. But I was goal oriented- I wanted to get this done so I could get home! Eventually, I slowed down and when I went to get a shovelful and didn't have enough wrist strength to convince the shovel to anymore than land softly on top of the mulch, I knew I was done. It was time to throw in the shovel...

So I headed home, almost high from the exhilaration of overcoming so many stumbling blocks, for being one bad-ass chick, from all the hard work. I was feeling pretty darned good. It didn't last long. I knew my trailer backing skills were lacking. I've never had much practice, the last time I backed a trailer was 15 years ago, and DH says that this trailer is pretty tricky. I got it in the driveway, but couldn't get it straight- decided that angled was fine since it was still in our half of the driveway. I grabbed a block of wood to block the wheel and then went to move Clem to the street. And the trailer was headed right for me! (thank god it was "parked" on an angle!) I tried to maneuver Clem so that I could catch the trailer without getting seriously rammed. I did succeed in catching the trailer with my rear bumper (the goal- the bumpers are pretty serious boxes of plate steel) and even more fortunately, I caught it by the truck box mounted to the front instead of the tongue. I hopped out of the car and wondered how on earth I was going to get the stupid thing back in the driveway and get it to stay there when out of nowhere my neighbor (or possibly guardian angel against psychotic break from reality) appeared and just sort of picked up the trailer and put it in place. (no small task- the trailer weighs about 800 lbs empty) We held it there with a scrap from a metal shelf that would grab and hold better than my wood block had. Hooray! Tragedy averted.

And I wasn't so doubting about the kindness of humankind anymore- apparently when I was shoveling I just wasn't needy enough to deserve a random act of kindness, but I believe it was important that I stopped to help others- you just never know when you'll be the one needing help...and then saviors and knights on white horses DO have a handy way of appearing when you really need them to.