Monday, October 10, 2011

Sibling Rivalry

Anyone who is a sibling has probably experienced this to some degree.  Your brother/sister is in competition with you to get all the good things that your parents and life has to offer.  This can lead to stressful encounters and in some cases I have read about in the news, lawsuits and worse yet, homicide.  Luckily for my sister and I it never devolved into anything more than a few physical scuffles, name calling and tears.  The physical scuffles were confined to our very early childhood (meaning that she being almost three years older than me and therefore much bigger did not hesitate to use her physical advantage in conflicts before she reached the 'age of reason' - also known as comprehending that 'parents will punish you if you slug your sister') and we weren't allowed to use course language, so the name calling was typically made up words that sounded bad (she once called me a 'sclurge' which did not infuriate me as much as the fact that she would not tell me what that word meant).  Eventually we learned to ignore one another in spectacularly spiteful ways (sticks and stones are nothing compared to the pain of a sister's cold shoulder).  Finally we grew up and no longer needed the sibling rivalry, but it served it purpose to harden us appropriately to the travails of the common workplace.

I had forgotten about sibling rivalry for the most part until recently in having to watch it develop in my own little fur children.  I don't think it will come as a surprise to anyone to learn that my dogs are jealous of one another.  It is not just a same species thing either.  My dogs and my cats are jealous of one another and seek to one up each other all the time.  One of my cats, the smallest of the bunch, will saunter into the house when we open the front door and proceed to nonchalantly wander over to the closest dog and rub up against them, all the while looking up at me and purring.  The dogs are quite taken aback, but also powerless to do what they really want to do which is nip that cat and make her run.  She knows they will be chastised if they are even slightly rough with her.  She also knows that if I was not present she would not be able to get away with this kind of behavior, so she really pours it on thick - headbutting and purring and pushing into them until they give ground to her.  She is willing to chase them all over the house like this, but I recognize it for what it is and keep her from bullying them too much.

The biggest sibling interaction problem I have is with the dogs.  It seemed to begin from the moment we brought little Trudy our Border Collie home.  Lewey, the Westie was convinced that we had actually brought in some sort of vermin and he was going to do us a favor and dispatch it post-haste.  It took several days of him biting the puppy barrier and being told NO! before he realized he was not going to be allowed to kill and eat the puppy.

Our cat Dorie, Trudy at 7 weeks and Lewey, who still thinks puppy should be on the menu.

He eventually realized how great it was to have a puppy to play with and for a little while things were quite nice in Lewey land.

He didn't mind so much when she grabbed him by the face because after all, she was very small.

He even let her sometimes pin him down and it was all great fun because after all, if he really wanted to...

He could show her who was boss.

King Lewey as a happy Alpha-male, top dog of the world

Then the sky fell, or more accurately, growth hormone began to surge through little Trudy and she did not remain the little thing she was.  She became She-Ra - Princess of Power practically overnight.  At first, King Lewey was merely annoyed.  He couldn't actually figure out what the problem was and how he had gone from being bigger than Trudy to being smaller than her.  The only way to resolve this was to challenge her.

You can almost hear the western gunfight background music...

The only problem was that Trudy was sneaky.

She refused to fight fair and become small again.  She even went as far as to flaunt her size...

and bite his neck...

... and even put her paws on him and stood over the top of him.

This all made Trudy very happy.

Princess Trudy contemplating how to annoy Lewey further

It also made Lewey something other than happy...

Well, at least he is in the shade...

We keep telling Lewey that eventually Trudy will grow up and stop being such a bully.  Believe me we do our best to keep the peace between the two of them, but sometimes Lewey decides to take matters into his own paws.

This is all very humorous until one of us humans gets caught in the crossfire.  I have been nipped by Lewey as he was trying to repay Trudy for bowling him over in the back yard and knocking him into the fig tree.  I had witnessed the encounter and had Lewey beneath my feet to defend him as Trudy was making whirling passes around the yard completely oblivious to my commands.  As she came near I reached out to push her away at exactly the same time Lewey leaped forward to exact his revenge.  He caught me with his little middle teeth so hard it left a quarter size bruise on my forearm - mind you he did this through my long sleeve shirt (he was very, very sorry afterward and looked completely embarrassed).

Just last night I was doing my best to dry the dynamic duo off after they had been out in a very welcome and unusual rain storm.  I had them blocked into the washroom and had dried them both fairly well but I wanted to check and make sure their feet were clean.  My intention was to finish with Lewey first and then let him go into the house while I worked on Trudy.  She decided as I bent down to finish little Lewey's legs that she was through waiting.  She proceeded to leap over both of us, but failed to calculate that I was in motion toward the floor.  Her shoulder caught me in the side of the jaw and I saw stars.  Luckily my jaw was merely bruised instead of broken (she was not sorry in the slightest for bumping into me and in fact wondered why I was yelling).

So yes we all have our work cut out for us.  Lewey has to somehow re-establish his kingship.  Trudy must learn to be a calm and considerate princess.  I must learn to stop getting in the way of dogs in motion.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Dog Diaries

You might think that a dog's life is rather uncomplicated, but that would be a mistake.  A dog's life is incredibly complicated due in large part to their tendency to 'live in the moment' or in other words 'forget about almost everything that happened yesterday'.  This means that each day is a glorious new day of discovery unencumbered by such things a 'learning from one's past mistakes'.

So the things you learned yesterday are new and ready for you to learn them again today.  Every day is an adventure with this framework and my dogs live their adventurous life to the fullest.  I on the other hand, watching their antics 'get' the whole 'memory' thing and am often driven to distraction with my little canine duo's exploits.

Take for example this scenario:

You want to go outside and your human has every intention of letting you outside as indicated by their body language, their actual language ("Let's go outside") and the fact that they are making a bee line for the back door.  You indicate your comprehension of this impending outside-ness by 1) running back and forth between the back door and the human in ever increasingly small sprints because they are getting closer and closer to the door, 2) jumping up on your human in such a way you actually push them back from the door they are trying to reach, 3) positioning yourself in the way of the backdoor and spinning, spinning, spinning so that your feet slap against the top of the washer and then against the back door and potentially the human who is trying to reach the back door, 4) ignoring every command to sit, quiet, back as you increase your frenzied attempts to go out through the closed door, and 5) cramming your body so tightly against the back door that it is almost impossible for your human to actually open the door.

One might think that in your roughly 13 months of being let out that door without any resistance would register on your brain as an event that was 'going to happen' so you need not act like a frenzied gopher doped up on caffeine.  But apparently, this is one of 'those' times you are 'in the moment' and unable to actually make long term memories.

It isn't just the Border Collie who has the short/long term memory deficiencies.  The Westie has had a full 8 years of counseling that consistently reminds him to not 'chase the cat'.  He gets reminded of this prior to each and every time he goes out the back door.  I say "Lewey, No CAT!" in my most booming and top dog voice.  He looks at me like "Yeah, right, I know, I know,  'No cat' - I get it".  Then, each and every time he goes out he seeks to 'chase the cat'.  I often am following him out and grabbing him as he is desperately chasing the cat his mind fully absorbed in a primal game of Westie the Vermin Chaser.  I then shout at him, "NO.... NO... NO CAT!"  If I don't actually have my hands on him he will seek with every atom of his being to chase the cat in spite of this.  When I do lay hands on him it's like he is jerked awake from some incredible fantasy and he looks at me like "Whoa! What are you doing here?"

So I am thinking that an actual Dog Diary would be filled with many repetitious entries along the lines of "Today, I went OUTSIDE!!!"  and "I ate FOOD!" and "Mom said I wasn't supposed to chase the cat... since when??"  No actually that last one would never make it in because that would indicate that he actually comprehends that I don't want him to chase the cat.  He cannot comprehend a world in which a cat would not be chased.  Of course he is going to chase the cat.  That is what you do with cats, even the ones that you like.  So, no, the dog diary would never have that entry.

Another thing the actual Dog Diary would not have is any reference to any reprimand whatsoever.  They would never talk about 'getting in trouble' because that kind of occurrence evaporates from their brain the moment it is over.  There is a reason that reward systems of training work so well.  That is the only thing they can actually remember.  There would be multiple, multiple entries along the lines of '...and I got a treat!' or '... and then Mom told me I was gooooood!!!'

Of course what they think they are being rewarded for is not always what I think I am rewarding them for.  Positive reinforcement encourages the behavior that was happening right before the reward was given.  This can be very useful if you take a long view and realize that you are steadily approaching perfection.  This is especially true if you have a 'smart' dog, for example - a Border Collie.  They thrive on positive reinforcement and that reinforcement can come in many forms.

Sometimes all it takes for me to reinforce my Border Collie's behavior is a look.  You might be thinking 'Wow that must make her easy to train' and in a certain way you are right, it is just that what you might be 'training' isn't always what you want.  For example, this 'look' reward is what she gets when she interrupts me when I am using the laptop on the bed.  I will be in the middle of say, writing a blog entry, and she will position herself just to the right of my gaze.  A single paw is extended to 'tap' me on my arm and as soon as I look into her eyes she gives me this smile, which automatically causes me to smile back and then I have a puddle of Border Collie squeezing between me and the laptop.  She is so ecstatically happy that I looked at her she is oblivious to any other command.  My only defense is to keep my eyes down when she gives me the 'tap' and then I can command her to do something else.

So definitely in her diary there would be multiple entries of 'Mom LOOKED at me!!!'

Ah well that is all for now... she has tapped and now I am typing over a squirming dog.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Trudy the Artist

I have that incredible feeling that can only be obtained when your child does something really smart, artistic and creative.  Let's put aside the fact that I am talking about my Border Collie when I say child and let me just bask in the moment.  My little Trudy is an artist. As you can see from the top picture, Trudy has made part of the cedar fence a wooden canvas.  She draws on it each and every day.  At first I was just noticing her tendency of rebounding off this fence every higher and higher in her attempts to reach the squirrels.  My husband said he looked out our kitchen window one day and thought he saw a bird in flight, but it turned out just to be Trudy having launched herself about six feet off the ground with her efforts.

She typically rebounds off this fence in order to take a look over the six foot chain length fence that connect to it at this corner.  The first time I saw her doing this I just about came unglued because she did it so effortlessly and it was very evident that if she wanted to she could easily go sailing over the six foot fence.  At that point in her life I had been delaying her spaying, figuring that waiting until she was about a year old would give her a better amount of time to grow more fully.  When I saw her 'bird in flight' abilities I scheduled her spaying for the next week.  All she needed to go sailing over the fence was a reason and I was not about to let Mother Nature give her any hormonal input.  So with her natural urges curtailed I guess she turned as many do to artistic endeavors.  I think she is rather talented, I will let you decide for yourself.

This is a portion of her wooden canvas and has not been retouched in any way.  You can see how she has applied many layers to create texture and has also used the natural structure of the fence in this work.  Look closely and you will see the bear.

The Bear

I took the liberty of outlining her creation in red for the ease of your viewing, even though this diminishes her work slightly.  If you now look back up at the non-outlined image you will see it clearly.  What is more you may also see that this is a composite sketch.  Look to the right of the bear and you will see the mule deer.

Bear and Mule Deer
Once again I outlined the images so you can see more clearly where to look.  I find the works even more impressive due to the fact that as far as I know, Trudy has never seen a bear or a deer.  Maybe a deer because after all she was found abandoned at a hunting lease, so maybe she saw a deer there.  But even so, that was back when she was a wee baby of less than seven weeks.  Impressive memory if she is drawing from that experience.  

Now this next part of the canvas is from the upper right side and displays yet another animal theme.

 It took me a while to see it and I believe it is still a work in progress based on some lack of definition in the mane to the lower right but as you can see in the outline it is clearly a lion.

The Lion

Trudy also has another canvas on the back fence.  Sadly I have had to cover up this work of art because as she draws here she likes to use her back feet and hang her front legs over the top of the six foot fence, effectively doing a chin up.  Since her body was rising higher and higher with each effort I felt it was just a matter of time before she accidentally vaulted over.  Therefore, I put a lawn cart in the way, forcing her to draw on another part of the fence that has a large amount of vines at the top as a barrier to 'escape'.  So this work is unfinished and yet I feel you will find it has merit.

Now taken as a whole, you can see a lot of energy and emotion, but not much specific drawing, however if you look at it section by section you will see the brilliance of her work.

This is the lower section of the canvas and at first my husband and I debated as to what this creature was.  He said Graboid from the movies Tremors, and while it definitely looks like that in the front part to the left of the drawing, I think she meant this creature to have legs.  I think you will agree there is a close resemblance to a Triceratops.

The Triceratops

The jumble of legs I interpret as her way of revealing movement.  What a smart girl.  She obviously has never seen a Triceratops, but she did recently chew up a section of our encyclopedia.  I am pretty sure she devoured the T section.  And there I was thinking she was just being destructive when she was just doing research.

This section is taken from the upper right part of the canvas.  She obviously is mostly interested in doing wildlife scenes.

I hardly need to outline this one at all because it is so clearly her depiction of a bird.  I think though she is doing a cross between a mockingbird and a horned owl.

The Bird

 So as you can no doubt see I have a very talented girl on my hands.  If you see anymore images that I have missed please let me know.  Right now she seem content with this single media, but who knows when she might branch into other artistic avenues.  

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Border Land Sleeping

Trudy, my sweet and loving Border Collie is almost a year old.  We will never know her exact date of birth but we have decided based on the reports from her first visit to a veterinarian that her birth date was middle to late June 2010, so we picked June 20th as her birthday.  Now we are not the kind of dog people who will have a birthday party for our dog, but we have celebrated her birthday in another way.  Trudy now gets to sleep on our bed.

Trudy had been confined to her kennel at night when she was just a wee puppy - mostly because as a puppy she was likely to 'wee' anytime and anywhere.  When she was several months old we transitioned her to just being confined to the room her kennel was in without locking her in the kennel itself.  She loved this arrangement because we had a 'go to bed' ritual.  First she got to go outside to potty.  This part had to happen even if she had just come inside because - well, because it wouldn't be a ritual if you just did things randomly now would it? This ritual had to begin between 9:30 PM and 10:30 Pm.  If it did not then there would be a concerned Border Collie nudging your arm, then putting her mouth on your arm and then basically slapping her paw down on your arm because now they are UPSET.   An upset Border Collie will need to have your hand on them at all times and will not let you even look at a TV or computer screen because you know, they are UPSET.  So we avoid the whole upset Border Collie as often as possible.

So the ritual begins by letting the Border Collie outside.  As per the specific rules of order she must run to the back of the yard first then circle back to the porch.  You then must ask her "Did you go potty?"  Upon hearing this she will then lift her head up like "Oh yeah, I forgot," and then she will run to the 'potty place' but when she is almost there she will 'hear something' and have to run to the back of the yard again.  She will spend a moment at the back of the yard and then run up onto the porch to the back door.  You must ask her again, "Did you go potty?"  "Oh year, I forgot," and the cycle repeats again.  Sometimes you have to do this part about three or four times but then finally she will actually 'go potty'.  You must say "Good Girl" at exactly the right time in the 'potty' process.  If you say it right away then all is well, but if you wait too long to say it she will give you a 'look' and then run to the back of the yard again when she is done.

Finally the next part of the ritual begins and she comes back into the house.  You must then say "Are your ready to go to bed?"   She needs you to say this while she is at the refrigerator and will wait there until you say it.  As soon as you say the magic words she will rush into her room straight into her kennel and stamp on the floor loudly.  There must not be a delay at this point so you have to grab the bag of chicken jerky and go into the room and turn on the overhead light.  She will be watching from her kennel.  You have to close the gate in front of the door to her room first.  Then you must select two pieces of jerky from the bag and tear them into pieces.  You must scatter the pieces into the bottom of the kennel, throwing them first to one side and then to the other side so the Border Collie can scramble madly around her kennel hunting for the scattered pieces.

You must exit the room turning off the light before she is done finding the last scrap.  On your way out you need to say "Goodnight Trudy."  There will be a little Westie at the door to her room and you have to step over the fence at the door at the same time you hand him a piece of chicken jerky because although a Westie does not need to have bedtime rituals, he does does need to have jerky and will bark enough to upset a Border Collie if he does not get his snack right away.

If one thing in the ritual goes even the slightest bit wrong then the good night magic is all screwed up and a Border Collie will whine and sigh and make all manner of upset noises.  The noises last for a varying amount of time depending on how bad you screwed up the bedtime ritual.  Taking the Border Collie directly in from being outside where she has been until 10 PM is a very serious infraction and will result in about an hour and a half of desperate Border Collie distress.  Thinking that the Border Collie must not need to 'potty' after only two runs to the back of the yard will earn you 30 minutes of whining.  Insisting that the Border Collie go potty after the 5th run to the back of the yard when she obviously is telling you she does not need to go potty and is tired of you being so thick and not 'getting it' will earn you about an hour of upsetness.  Putting up the fence after you have fed her the jerky because you really just don't want to step over the damn tripping thing will get you about 10 minutes of sulking.

Now even with all of this 'training' we had been receiving from her on how to do the 'go to bed' ritual just right there came a time when no matter what, the upset came.  This was a new upset accompanied by a new sort of miserable sighing moan that was indicating how very, very, very unfair it was for a Border Collie to be confined away from the rest of the family in her own bedroom with her own water bowl and special sleeping chair and lots of fun toys.  This new upset was a deep distressing melancholy that would come on about an hour after she had been put to bed.  It would last and last, just loud enough and pitched just at the right level to exert maximum guilt probes into the dog center of your brain.  It translated very clearly into "Sure, go ahead and have your TV watching and family togetherness without me.  I will just pine away all alone and lonely with my heart just breaking and breaking.  Right here.  All alone...  and SAD."

There is only so much of this that we can take, but being seasoned dog parents we had been through this with every other puppy we had ever brought into our life.  This was 'transition' time.  The puppy baby cradle time was over and the juvenile adult dog time had come.  With our Schnauzer Chewey who had spent his night times confined to a child's portable crib we knew he was ready to come out after the third time he chewed his way through the sides of the enclosure.  We had his coming out ceremony by putting him in the crib and cheering him on into breaking his way out of the crib one last time.  We then closed up the crib while he watched and smacked it a few times for good measure and then threw it out of the house.  He smiled the entire time.

Lewey's baby crib started as another portable crib, but he made short work of that well before we were ready for him to have run of the house.  We transitioned him first into a metal crate that we put by the bed.  When he reached the 'don't need to lock me in' stage we had him watch while we took the door off the crate.

Trudy's 'big girl no longer has to stay in her room' event was a little different. For her the majority of her 'go to bed' ritual had to remain intact.  When she came into the house and I grabbed the jerky, she went to the door of her room, but we had it closed.  I called her and Lewey into the bedroom and told her to get on the bed.  I blocked the door to the bedroom with the child gate so she couldn't leave and then fed the two of them her two jerky strips.  She 'got it' right away and gave me a bunch of kisses before settling down. 

She is a great sleeper and does not bother me at night.  She gets on and off the bed very quietly and has even avoided bothering Lewey who is little prince 'don't touch me or I will make a sound like a very compact polar bear growling'.  She does however have anticipatory alarm waking.  About 10 minutes before my alarm goes off she comes over and very gently will give me a kiss on the cheek.  I studiously ignore her and she will settle down right next to me.  As soon as the alarm goes off she is all "MOM!!!  Hi!  We are AWAKE now!" and wants to do the 'awake in the morning' ritual right away.


I used to be a much more disorganized person.  Who knew the strategic application of a Border Collie would regulate my life.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Homemade Dog Food Recipe

I love my dogs and do things for them I would not even do for myself.  One of those things is that I prepare their food each day.  I never thought of myself as becoming this type of dog owner, but I have a Westie which means I have in my life a breed of dog that is prone to skin problems.  Food allergies can contribute in a big way to some dogs skin issues.  This was the case with Lewey.  We went through a number of prepared foods but he was still not responding to his treatments which meant he had to stay on antibiotics for a month or more at a time.  We finally decided to make sure we knew exactly everything he ate so we could control for potential allergens.  It worked and although he still has seasonal allergies he is virtually free of his skin problems.

The number one thing that people think of when I tell them I make my dogs food is that I must spend a lot of time doing it.  Nope.  I spend about 15 minutes per day to make my two dogs a days worth of food.  The next thing they think is that I must have to cook a complicated recipe. No again.  Most of the time I am just opening up cans.  The third thing they think is that this must be expensive.  Yes.  Yes it can be, depending on the ingredients you use, but it is actually less expensive than the treatments for my Westie's skin problems.  Using the egg version of the recipe and using home cooked vegetables or better yet, garden grown vegetables I can feed my two dogs for as little as $2 - 3 per day.  The more expensive proteins and canned vegetables can raise the price to $7 - 10 per day.

One thing I found when I began to research how to make my dogs food was that there is very little information on the internet on how to make a properly balanced dog food.  You would think these creatures called dogs were some rare and newly discovered animal instead of our companions for the last 20 thousand years. 

Dog food as we know it today in the extruded dry kibble form has only existed for the last 50 years.  Before that there was an early form of dog biscuit made in the late 1800s and canned horse meat became available after World War I.  The tins for this canned meat became unavailable during World War II an as a result the pet food movement shifted to dry foods made primarily from the surplus grain by-products.  Profit and convenience has been what drives the pet food market from its start to current times.  No matter what most pet food manufacturers say about their concern for your pets health - their greatest and possibly only concern is for their profit margins.  This is why they use such substandard starting ingredients for their food.  I don't trust anything that says 'for pet food only - not intended for human consumption'.

If you decide you don't want to participate in the pet food industries product they tell you things like "You can't make a balanced pet food."  Yes, you can and it is rather easy to do so.  However, finding that information out was a project that took me several months of research.  I did not just trust what I found on the internet.   I checked with my veterinarian.  She did not know herself what constituted a balanced diet for a dog, but she did give me some excerpts from her veterinarian school textbooks.  I worked through the formulas and came up with my basic recipe.

It has worked wonders for my dogs.  They do not have nutritional deficiencies.  They are healthy and of a proper weight.  My Border Collie has been eating homemade food since we got her and she is the pinnacle of health.  People are always commenting on her soft and lustrous coat.  My vet recently commented on our Westie's health when we took him in for a checkup.  She was stunned that at his age we were able to keep his skin problem free without the use of steroids and other drugs.

Am I a veterinarian?  No.  Do I have a degree in pet food making?  No.  All I am is a concerned and determined dog owner. I know there are other dog food recipes out there.  I am just sharing with you what I have found to be very beneficial t o my dogs.   Below is the basic recipe for what my dogs eat each day.  If you have any concerns about its nutritional fitness for your dog then ask your veterinarian about it.


Grain Free - Basic Dog Food Recipe
(enough to feed 70 pounds of dog)

Protein 60 - 90 grams
Choices - use one of the following:

  1. 15 oz can of salmon or mackerel plus a tin of water packed sardines
  2. 12 oz can of water packed chicken or turkey plus a tin of water packed sardines or a 5 oz can of salmon
  3. 10 hard boiled eggs plus a tin of water packed sardines or a 5 oz can of salmon
  4.  Two cups of full fat cottage cheese plus 5 hard boiled eggs and a tin of water packed sardines or a 5 oz can of salmon
Vegetables - 6 - 8 cups of cooked vegetables
Choices - use 6 cans (use salt free variety) of the following or 6 - 8 cups of the following:
(a mixture of several is best)
  1. Carrots
  2. Peas
  3. Green beans
  4. White potatoes
  5. Sweet potatoes
  6. Yellow squash or zuchinni
  7. Turnips
  8. Turnip or Mustard Greens
  9. Broccoli 
Additional Additives - Use all of the following - never forget to add these!
  1. 1/4 to 1/2 cup plain full fat yogurt
  2. 1 adult (human) multivitamin (iron free with no more than 100% RDA for any vitamin.  I use Whole Foods 365 brand Adult Multi 1 day iron free formula) - crush it up first
  3. 1 teaspoon bone meal powder ( I use KAL brand bone meal powder)
  4. 1 teaspoon Vitamin C powder (I use Country Life Vitamin C crystals)
Mash everything together or put it in a food processor and blend.  Your dog does not have the right kind of teeth to properly chew the vegetables so you have to mush them up.  Divide the food into daily portions.  Store any unused food in the refrigerator or freezer. 

Tada!  Now you have enough food for 70 pounds of active dog.  If you know your dogs weight (or its desired weight) then divide that food into daily portions and feed your dog 2 to 3 meals of this per day.  So, for example, if you have a 10 pound dog this will give you seven days of food.  If you are used to feeding kibble it is going to look like a lot of food.  Feed your dog the correct amount - don't skimp.  Just because it looks like a lot does not mean it has a lot of calories.  Vegetables are very low calorie and they provide a lot of fiber.

Trudy's additional protein preference.

Some people say to me when I tell them what my dogs eat, "Your dog eats that?"  Yes they do with a very happy look to their faces as they snarf it all down.  We feed our two dogs three meals per day of this recipe.  They are happy, happy, happy.

Lewey's additional protein preference.

Will your dog like it? - there is only one way to be sure - try it and find out.  If your dog has been eating only kibble for a long time then introduce the food slowly over the course of several days to a week, gradually substituting this food for the kibble.

Calorie Burning Level : Medium

There is something you should know about feeding your dog this way.  The high fiber nature of this food produces... well it produces an amount of puppy poop you might not be used to seeing.  This is actually very healthy for your dog.  This is also in contrast to what I have read on some kibble packages that brag about how this lowers the amount of poop a dog creates.  Less poop?  In other words, hard, dry stools?   That is not healthy.  Would you eat a food if it was touted as giving you a smaller and more compact stool?  Sure, if you like an uncomfortable time on the toilet.  What do doctors recommend we humans have? - lots of fiber so we can have healthy and happy colons.  Your dog needs a happy colon too.  And - the added benefit of all that happy fiber filled puppy colon is that they will have less problems with their anal glands.  When they produce a larger sized stool it helps to express the anal gland as they poop.  I know - how totally gross for me to be telling you this, but its true.  Believe me - you are only as happy as your dog's anal gland is healthy.  Not having to express my dogs' anal glands by hand is one of the many, many benefits I get from feeding my dogs this way.

Calorie Burning Level : High

So now you know why my dogs look so happy.  Three meals of homemade food per day and happy, happy anal glands.

Calorie Burning Level : Tornado Dog

(P.S. Sometimes if we are too tired or busy or just want to be lazy we will give our dogs dry dog food.  We call it Pizza night.  They enjoy it like anyone loves junk food.  But we use only the highest quality dry food.  If you are looking for a quality dry dog food that is grain free we have liked Taste of the Wild brand.  We also use  EVO brand canned venison and duck for protein in the above meals.  I found a good deal at an online store here: )

Monday, May 9, 2011

Dog Toys

I have become somewhat of an expert on dog toys.  This has been a direct byproduct of becoming the mother of a Border Collie puppy.  It turns out Trudy is conducting a research project into what constitutes a rugged toy.  I am her research assistant and product procurement director.

She started off like a normal puppy, which is to say she loved to play with toys, especially the plush kinds with little squeakers inside.  We had bunches of these because this is the kind our Westie prefers. Trudy was perfectly content to squeak the little toys and chase after them as well as wrestle her older brother for them.

Toys Trudy has destroyed.

The kinds of toys she did not favor when she was a wee baby were the chew toys.  This was tragic because she had needle sharp teeth and liked to use them on my arms.  All the dog books say 'Don't let your puppy develop the habit of playing with you with their teeth' but they never exactly explain how to accomplish this.  I would say "No Bite!" as she would sink her little daggers into me and she would pause for just a second before taking another hold.  I would put a toy into her mouth to replace my arm and she would spit the toy out as quickly as possible so she could once again latch onto my arm.  I would leave the room when she nashed into me an although she wouldn't like that I left it never changed how she dealt with me.  Fixed in that little brain of hers was the absolute conviction that her teeth were meant to be on my arm.  With tremendous persistence I got her to nibble on me less and also with less intensity but she continued to consider me her pacifier.

Trudy's favorite toy.

When she was about six month old her play with toys changed and she no longer could tolerate that a toy had any stuffing inside it.  Her main task when she got hold of a toy was to find some way to create a hole through which she could completely eviscerate the interior .  To the dismay of our Westie she quickly went through all the old toys.  For a while I would restuff the toys with old socks but she soon became so adept at removing the inside of toys, the socks would only remain for about three seconds.  As a cost saving measure I began to make sock toys for her.  These could be socks stuffed inside other socks or socks stuffed with an empty water bottle.  I even put a penny into a empty vitamin bottle and stuffed that into some socks.  These worked great for a time.

Then at about seven months Trudy began to use a 'skin the prey' method on these previously sturdy sock toys.  She would stand on one end of the toy and by a dent of extreme effort pull a strip of fabric from the sock revealing the layer beneath.  She would do this with the next layer and the next until she got to the water bottle or the vitamin bottle and then she  would destroy these as well.

I began a relentless pursuit that I continue to this day.  This is the search for a chew toy that will stand up to her for more than three days.  So far she has gone through rope toys in a single day, rubber toys touted as 'for extreme chewers' in about three days.  I scour pet stores in search of the ultimate toy and I am amazed at the vast array of choices.  I am also appalled at the vast amounts of money they want for these toys.   High price does not in any way guarantee the toy will last more than an hour with her.  I might as well just roll up a wad of bills and toss it to her because in the long run it would be cheaper and last just about the same amount of time.

Of course that would teach her that money was something to destroy.  We have already paid the price for making toys out of old socks.  Now every sock in the house is in danger of becoming one of her toys.  She is quite creative and will make chew toys out of found objects in the yard.  She finds limbs quite delightful and will demolish them.  She also likes to chew on rocks, especially petrified wood.  When she is chewing on something a look of extreme relaxation comes over her.  Chewing seems to be Border Collie Zen.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Front Door Cats

We used to be reasonable people when it came to cats.  Yes, we always had a couple and sometimes more than a couple but never enough to be called crazy cat people.  Crazy cat people designation is reserved for anyone who has over three cats.   We in fact had settled down to a very reasonable two cat and two dog life and although we sometimes hankered for another dog, we never looked at one another and said "What we really need is another cat."

Not that we didn't always have applicants.  Some of the strays that came to check us out were very endearing and we were sympathetic to their plights.  Our sympathy in the past was where we arrived at the two cats we currently owned.  They both arrived as strays.  We loved them and cared for them but my husband expressed a desire to no longer have cats when the life expectancy, which could be up to twenty years, on our current two ran its course.  He was not in any hurry but he felt he had reached his threshold of catness.  He was over cats and would like to in good time just become a dog person.  "Cat's lead such tragic lives," he often mused as he would watch the plight of another stray.  There were always strays in our neighborhood.

This was what made it a little unusual when he drew my attention to a cat that had been lurking around.  "Have you seen him?" he asked me and I said no.  "I think he is an albino.  I am going to call him Bino," he said. "Oookaay," I said wondering what was happening in my husband's brain.  This was going to be interesting.


For several weeks all I saw of the mysterious Bino was a disappearing tail as I would pull into the driveway.  My husband denied feeding Bino.  "Of course not.  I don't want another cat," he said.  In spite of this Bino came around every day.  I eventually saw Bino and although he was not completely white he was a very pale cream color with a white chest.  Bino's eyes were very large and had the look of siamese heritage.  My kitty radar was letting me know something else.  I have always been able to know the sex of a cat just from seeing it.  It isn't something I consciously think about, I just know.  There must be some physical characteristics I am picking up but the kitty radar is foolproof.  Kitty radar said Bino was no boy.

This was confirmed the next week when my husband said a mother cat had appeared with two kittens.  Two starving kittens.  He had put out food for them immediately because, well because that is what you have to do even if you are 'over' cats.  I said, "Do you think it is Bino?"  He said "No.  Bino is a boy."  The next day I saw for myself.  It was Bino and she did indeed have two starving kittens in tow.  The kittens were tiny and nearly skeletal, especially the smallest one.  We immediately set up a feeding station with food and water just outside one of our windows.  We watched as Bino and her children ate but we had to be extra quiet.  They would startle at the slightest sound.  Those kittens were as wild as they come.  I was very worried our help would not be in time for the smallest kitten.  It was half the size of its sibling and very bony.  We made sure food and water were available constantly and also put out wet food to try and save the tiny one.

Beener and Beenie
It worked and they began to thrive.   It became apparent to me that at one time in her life, Bino had a home, but she was almost completely feral now.  Although she would tolerate our presence after a while, she would not let us touch her.  Her kittens, a male, a bright orange tabby we named Beener and a female, a solid sand colored we named Beenie, eventually let us touch them if they were eating.  Gradually they were getting used to us, but then we noticed that Bino was looking, well...  it was very apparent she was pregnant again.  Great.  We were at at loss as to what to do about it.  The kittens were still at a stage where they stayed with her constantly even though they did not nurse.  If we trapped her to take her in to be spayed we might lose her kittens.   Then we got distracted due to an impending natural disaster.

That disaster was hurricane Ike.  It started out as a tropical storm on September 1st and by September 4th was a category 4 hurricane.  Ike hit Cuba hard on September 7th and was into the Gulf of Mexico by September 9th.  The projected pathway showed it heading right towards us and the predictions were for huge storm surge that could potentially wipe our home out.  They called for mandatory evacuations of our neighborhood by the 12th.  We grabbed a few essentials and headed towards my father's home to ride out the storm.  Of our most precious things we had with us our dogs and our two cats, but Bino and the tiny Beenie were no where to be found.  On the last trip to the house my husband said he found the male, Beener, who was the friendliest of the trio.  He nearly had him in hand when a huge gust of wind blasted the house and Beener ran off.  We were heartbroken that we could not take them with us and expected the worst with the predictions.

Hurricane Ike
The hurricane had tremendously powerful winds which tore up quite a bit of the city, so much so that we lost power at my father's house.  In the morning the city was in shambles and most streets were unpassable.  We did not get back to our home for two days and when we finally made it there having backtracked multiple times around downed trees, utility poles and debris we came upon something we had not expected.  Our house was fine.  Aside from a tree that had crushed a back fence there was minimal damage.  There was also no evidence of any water.  The storm surge had not occurred.

When we got out of our car little Beener came running up to us crying and eager to greet us.  His tiny sister also appeared and we quickly gave them food and water.  Mama Bino appeared later.  A very slim Bino. She had given birth to her kittens during the storm.   That week due to lack of power we stayed at my father's and came by the house every couple of days.  Things came back to normal two weeks after the storm when our power was finally restored and we resumed our life.

Beener becomes Ike
My husband was now permanently bonded with Beener since that fateful day of the failed rescue.  He renamed him Ike in honor of the storm.  I decided since apparently we were now the proud owners of this new crew of cats to rename little Beenie to Sandy because of her solid sandy colored hair.  Bino remained Bino.  She also remained elusive.  Her new batch of kittens seemed to be located under our neighbors house.  We felt in time she would bring them out to the feeding station we had set up and we were certain we would be able to quickly domesticate her newest litter and find homes for them.

Beenie becomes Sandy
Weeks went by and Bino kept her kittens to herself.  Finally one day my husband said he saw one little kitten.  He said it almost seemed to glow in the light.  Day after day there was an elusive sighting of just one kitten.  So we thought she had a litter of one.  Then came the day we saw two kittens.  Okay, we said she had a litter of two, just like her first litter.  They were very skittish and we could not get close to them.  A couple of weeks went by and then magically there were suddenly three kittens.  Just how many did she actually have?

How many kittens?
Three kittens.
It turns out there were only three.  One was a bright orange tabby just like Ike.  One was solid white with gray ears like a siamese.  One was just like her mother, white chested and pale cream tabby body.  So now we had our two backdoor cats and six front door cats. Eight cats - definitely crazy cat people territory.

We started trying to find homes for our abundance of cats.  The thing is, nobody wants cats.  Oh, they might like kittens, but they don't want barely domesticated kittens.  If you say to someone, "How about a nice cat.  She is almost tame and she will probably use a litter box and she hardly every freaks out when she comes inside," they do not seem overly interested.  The thing is there is a glut of cats on the adoption market.  Many of those cats have fine qualities that would make them perfect indoor companions.  For slightly feral, past the cute kitten stage and in the awkward juvenile stage there are far fewer willing adopters.  We were able to re-home exactly one of the kittens.

Cat math equation.
So you would think this would mean that we now had only five front door cats.  No.  Cat math does not work that way.  Once you are feeding several cats, other cats join the group.  Suddenly we had an adult manx cat join our crew and he was such a goofy and inept cat we let him stick around.  We had many other candidates as well, especially tom cats who began to pester our females.

The goofy manx.
I took quick action on this and one by one took Bino's kittens in to be fixed.  Bino however remained very elusive and eventually disappeared never to return.  Then the manx who was never very hearty took a bad turn and we had him euthanized by the vet to end his suffering.  So we went back up to six front door cats and then down to four which is thankfully where we remain today.

Some people may criticize us because we do not give these cats an indoor home, but in fact they do have an indoor home.  We took our front porch, which used to be just a two columned open area and enclosed the walls.  We created special cat flaps and also made special kitty furniture for them.  They have heated sleeping nooks, shelves to sit on and a raised floor.  This summer we will install a fan and who knows, if my husband has anything to say about it they will probably get their own air conditioner as well.  See, crazy cat person symptoms.

Currently due to one of our back door cats reaching the end of a very long life we are at five cats total - two cats above the crazy cat person quota.  Break a mirror and you only get seven years of bad luck.  Adopt four kittens and you get twenty years of crazy cat person luck.  Great.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Border Land

I never set out to become the mom of a Border Collie.  It just happened sort of like an unplanned pregnancy.  Granted we were looking to adopt a dog following the death of our beloved Schnauzer but Border Collie was not even on the list of dogs we were considering.

We have had several dogs since we have been together, the first being a Mini Schnauzer who basically taught us everything we ever needed to know about being the parents of a fur child.  Dewey set the bar for any other dog we will ever have and I would tell you more about him here, but he deserves an entire post of his own.  Suffice it to say his life embiggened our own and his passing nearly crippled us.  But he was not our only Schnauzer.  During his life for reasons I will eventually reveal we acquired a second Mini Schnauzer, Chewey, who was also a peerless entity and also eventually we brought into our family a Westie, our dear little Lewey, who happily still graces our lives with his bold presence (if you are seeing a pattern to the names you are not imagining it - our next male dog will be named Stewey).

It was after the death of Chewey, an event we had seen on the horizon like the approach of a train, steaming our way unstoppable and unwelcomed.  We had always talked about having a third dog and had discussed the type of dog we wanted.  We said a big dog, something rugged and protective.  The kind of dog we wanted changed after his death when we realized that Lewey was not taking to being an only child very easily.  We decided after a few weeks to begin the search for another dog.

Here is the list of the dogs we were considering:  Schnauzer mixes, Corgi mixes, Poodle mixes, small fun, intelligent and active dogs.  I scanned the Petfinder listings daily.  We wanted to get a younger dog because we felt that would help Lewey accept them faster. Ideally this dog would be between 4 months to a year old.   I fell in love again and again with Schnorgis, Schnoodles and Porgis, but there was always something that made the choices less than ideal for our situation.  Usually it was because they were already adopted.  Sometimes the listings were out of date and the 'puppy' that was listed was now a full grown dog.  Sometimes the candidate was listed as being bad around cats or other dogs.  Sometimes they were over a hundred miles away.  We were taking our time and began to visit the pet adoption events at local pet stores.

My brain began to be consumed with the search.  I actually began to get a thrill when looking at the Petfinder listings and felt withdrawal symptoms when I couldn't check them for greater than 3 hours.  Little did I know but I was setting the stage for what came next.  I was in the zone, the trap was set and I was about to trigger it.

It was after we had spent another fruitless time searching a local pet adoption event.  We were this close to adopting a pit bull mix puppy.  I know, not at all on the list but apparently this puppy put its little feelers right into my husband's canine center (a dog shaped area just below the limbic area of the brain) and pulled really hard.  We would have gone home with that little guy except someone else had put in adoption papers on him already.  We left dejectedly.  I should have known by that event that the decision making part of the getting a puppy had ended and the universe was now in charge.

It was the same evening that I received an email from a friend regarding a puppy needing a home.  Two pictures and a sentence.  That was all it took to lock my brain in.  I emailed right back and as fortune had it we were the first of many others to request her.  We found out more about her and talked to her foster parents.  They had found her abandoned at a hunting lease in 100 plus degree weather.  She was desperately trying to survive in a dried up mud puddle.  She was 7 weeks old and according to the vet they took her to was a Border Collie maybe mixed with sheepdog.  He said she would end up being about 50 pounds.  Currently she was about 6 pounds and recovering from dehydration and about a million bug bites.  We set a time to go get her for the  next weekend.

I was all excited but also all "Dear God, what have I done".  I spent the rest of the week looking up everything I could find on Border Collies.  The news was less than comforting.  Apparently we had just adopted a furry human-dog who would need a tremendous amount of appropriate parenting or else end up as a neurotic destructive whirlwind. Also, Border Collies take about 2 years to fully mature. Great.

We picked her up on Sunday.  I think that if someone were to have listened very closely they could have heard my heartstrings being plucked.  Or probably if you want to get all scientific about it they would have heard a gushing noise from the gallons of oxytocin my brain released.  I was a mommy and she was my baby, that was what the biological imperative was screaming in my hindbrain.  Granted she was a baby riddled with mange, but my baby all the same.

We took her home, took her to the vet and treated both her and Lewey for mange (mange mites are very transmittable, but also very easily treated these days).  We found that she was obsessed with always having water available and drank about six cups a day.  We let her have all she wanted considering the ordeal she had endured.  She also needed her own fan because getting hot seemed to panic her.  She was no where near housebroken and what with all the water produced copious amounts of urine every hour.  She would only rest for about four hours at night before howling to get out.  She had needle sharp fangs and liked to sink them into my hands at will.  She learned how to sit, lie down and stay the first three days we had her.  I was absolutely head over heels in love.

But love was not the only thing offered to her.  Lewey made it very clear that "I do not like the puppy."  He also, in what I am sure was just an example of sibling rivalry, expressed a desire to kill and eat her.  She was oblivious to his clear expression of his feelings and would do her best to get close to him.  We kept an indoor kennel fence between them.  Lewey bit that fence several times the first two days.  Then on the third day as I was monitoring them in the back yard she worked her magic on him and he began to play with her.  After that he stopped trying to kill and eat her and only occasionally told us that he did not like the puppy.  After about a week she finally told us her name was Trudy.

Here are some things I have learned about Border Collies in the months since we adopted Trudy:

1. You must do routine things exactly the same way each time.  There can be no break to the pattern or there will be puppy hell to pay.
2. Your arms are just another chew toy.
3. It is possible to take apart any toy in less than an hour.  Just today the inflatable child's ball I got for her went from "Wee this is fun to chase around the yard" to deflated in less than 60 seconds.
4. She understands sentences, not just words and she speaks a very physical language that involves pokes, prods, nudges and body slams.
5. If you let her she will gently but exuberantly mouth your neck, which my husband said brought visions of being savaged by a wolf from some deep recess in his brain the first time it happened to him.
6. Everything can be herded including other dogs, people, cats, birds and lizards.  Also some bugs.
7.  Water is the best thing in the world.  It is important to stand in your water dish and dig to the bottom.  If the water is deep enough you can stick your head in and blow bubbles through your nose.  If anyone is having a bath then the resident Border Collie is allowed in the tub with them.

I am not sure if number 7 is a Border Collie thing or just a leftover from her abandonment but I have never met a dog more focused on water.  I can only water the garden if she is allowed to bite the stream.  Her first useful talent was pulling the hose around the garden for me.  So far this remains her only useful talent.

She is a delight and she is exhausting.  Every time she does something right I feel full of pride.  Every time she does something wrong I feel like a failure because I know she could get it right if only I knew better how to instruct her.  I always said if I ever had a child I would home school it.  Well, I have a child.  She wears fur.  Class is in session.