To Grandmother’s house we go . . .

Chick has traveled thousands and thousands of miles with his face squished between the driver and passenger seats of our various cars. He loves laying there, softly snoring, gently rousing when he senses a highway exit or hears his favorite song.

This weekend we took a weekend trip to Galveston to spend some time with the boys’ grandparents and say goodbye to a very special friend (more on that later in the week). Chick got to introduce his new brother to all the wonders of Galveston living, and gallantly shared his favorite backseat driving spot. Luckily, Chick’s philosophy on cuddling-squishiness is “The more the merrier!”

Chix-a-Lot Friday: meet my new garden!

Remember when a few weeks ago mama introduced you to our artichokes?

Well the Doodlebug and I put our big brainiac heads together and we got to thinking: why not introduce you to the rest of our garden too?

You’re with me, right? Ok, here we go!

This here is a photo of my rock-solid six-pack abs. These here are my tomatoes. Dad planted them a few weeks ago when they were quite miniature, like even littler than my head (he says that he and mama are too lazy to start them from seeds, whatever that means). But they just keep growing and growing and gosh, this week they became taller than me! You probably can’t tell but they have some tomatoes already growing on them — some of the plants have little bitty ones that grow all together like ducks in a row, and other plants have bigger ones that grow all by their lonesome (like I did until we started fostering). My favorite thing about tomatoes is that pretty often mama makes them into some kind of dipping stuff and uses chips to eat it. And you know what happens if you use a chip instead of a spoon to eat stuff? You drop chips on the floor, and your Chicken gets a tasty little snack!

Ok. Next up, here are my peppers. We have peppers of all kinds! Some of these little guys are bell peppers, others are poblanos, and others are jalapenos and some other kind of !ay carumba! hot peppers. You can see me keeping my stink-eye on those hot suckers so they don’t try to burn me in this photo. But those bell peppers? They make for some yummy snacks during the summertime. Sometimes mama will be doing some chop chop chopping in the kitchen and if I’m being a very excellent Chick and staying on my spot instead of tangling myself in her feet, she will toss some pepper bits my way. And they make me very happy!

Next, I’d like to introduce you to my greens and my basils! I had to check on them during this photo shoot to make sure there were no kitty-pillars eating them. Dad does NOT like kitty-pillars, even though they are fuzzy and a little bit cute. Anyhow, these are the greens. Sometimes mama puts some of the lettuces in my kongs along with some potatoes and ducks, and although my Doodlebug picks out the lettuces, licks them clean, and makes them into a neat pile on the floor, I am a better boy than him and I eat them up. They have lots of vitamins!

I am growing the basil more for mama and dad than for myself, because I honestly don’t care for it too much. But every time I will them to bring some basil inside, it makes them want to cook pasta! And you know why I love them cooking pasta? Because sometimes they let me chomp on a dry piece, and sometimes they let me slurp up a wet piece like Lady and the Tramp. Yummy!

Moving right along, I’d like you to meet my miniature cantalopes and my green beans (and behind them, my cilantroes, my chives, my thymes, and my oreganoes). Sometimes I get to snack on cantalopes and I love it so much that I dream about them at night. Mama and dad picked out mini cantalopes to put in our garden — I’m not sure why, but I bet it’s because I will be able to fit them in my mouth whole, without having to bother mama with cutting them up. And I’ve also heard from my dog trainer friends that cantalope can be good for chilling out a dog that worries, isn’t that cool?

Right behind the melon vines are my new green beans. We planted those from tiny little seeds just about a week and a half ago, and look how big they’ve become! I wonder if mama is putting some kind of growth horomones in the dirt, or what. Or maybe they just know that they are one of only five foods that my Doodlebug can eat, so they’re in a rush to come up? Anyhow, here they are!

Ok, let’s see . . . next we have my onions. I can’t say too much about onions, because I heard they are bad for dogs. Plus, they smell gross and make mama very, very sad when she does her chop, chop, chop to them. But she insisted that I grow them for her anyway, so here they are, almost ready to pick!

And last but not least, my cucumbers! They are those big, pretty-leafed ones right behind me in this here photo. I started those from seeds too, and they came up in a flash. I hope they start giving me cucumbers soon! I love cucumbers to eat plain when I’m hungry, or to slice and lay over my eyes when they’re tired and puffy (my eyes, not the cucumbers). And most of all, I like cucumbers when mama puts them in the big noisy kitchen machine that goes vroom-vroom and makes them into Guss-patch-yo. She doesn’t ever let me have a whole bowl or glass of it, but she does let me lick the pitcher. Nothing says summertime like a Guss-patch-yo pitcher to clean!

Well, that’s most of my garden. The other things I have are some rosemaries, some okras, mints, and some carrots. But they’re all pretty camera-shy, so I didn’t want to make them pose. I hope you enjoyed my garden tour, see you next week!

Hide and seek

I have this big scar on my face. Nobody but me knows where it came from, and I’m never gonna tell. I think it’s rather distinguished and lends me some complexity (I am a simple dog), but sometimes I get self conscious about it.

So I hide it.

Sometimes I hide it in my dog toys while playing:

And sometimes I hide it in my dog toys while resting:

Or other times if I’m resting, I go ahead and just hide it in my blanket:

If I have no toy or blanket handy, sometimes the grass is a decent substitute:

Or an even better substitute, a pretty lady’s lap:

Making time

Really, is there anything sweeter than playing with a silly dog on some freshly mowed grass?

Not really. So that’s why we’re officially making time.

We love this little blog of ours, but lately it’s taking up a lot of our real-life-fun time. Time that should be spent outside working our dogs and playing with our dogs — and doing other little things like “laundry” and “cooking” and “reading a book” — is spent sitting in front of a computer, writing and editing and inventing and networking.

It occurred to us the other day that the Chickerdoodles have a big and glorious presence on the interwebs — they are virtual dog celebrities — but their real life lives are less glamorous by comparison. Not fair, right?

So we’re gonna cut back to a few days per week. Chick has already stated that he’s not giving up Chix-A-Lot Fridays –hell no– and knowing us we’ll be posting at least another one or two times per week (since we can’t keep our mouths shut and our fingers still for long). But the every weekday era is on pause for a while, so we can do more of this:

Who’s with us?

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Saturday morning surprise

There are those days you wake up and spring out of bed with ease — today’s going to be a day full of wonder.

We didn’t have anything in store, really, for Saturday. But when we woke up and saw two white-tipped tails beating on the dog bed in unison, eyes intently fixed on us, we should have known the boys had other plans.

We got up, fixed some coffee, had a big stretch — the boys in classic downward dog position and the humans in more of a sun salutation — and threw open the back doors to the yard to greet the morning sunshine.

And that’s when we saw it! The stick!

It was a lovely gift from our Live Oak to our boys. And the boys took one look and knew immediately what to do. As though they had dreamt of it and woken up with tails wagging, ready for the takedown.

Once they had defeated it, they proudly wore it around the yard, like a cape draped over a king’s shoulders.

 

Chix-A-Lot Friday: Me + Dude = one Canine Good Citizen

Well well well, my little brother is all grown up. He graduated from his class that was supposed to teach him to be basically obedient last Tuesday!

For his last class, he got to do a mock Canine Good Citizen test (is that anything like a mock turtleneck? Because if so, I sure am glad I didn’t have to go). The difference between the real test and the mock turtleneck test is that mama got to use treats to help him, and some of the elements were easified for him. It was just supposed to give him an idea of what he’s already very excellent at and what he still needs me to tutor him on so that he can be a CGC (with no mock turtleneck)!

Here’s how he did:

1. Accepting a friendly stranger / 2. Sitting politely for petting. Doodlebug loves friendly strangers and because of his most excellent calmness, he is great at staying dude-like during pettings from nice people. I am also good at this one.

3. Allowing basic grooming procedures. Duder is great at this too. I hate to admit it, but this is one element where I should be wearing a mock turtleneck but Dude can go naked: he doesn’t mind any kind of touching, but I can become what my mom calls “Witchy” sometimes if a stranger starts touching my back paws. What are you doing back there anyway, buddy? Maybe I will have Doodlebug teach me more about this one before I take the test.

4. Walking on a loose lead / 5. walking through a crowd. Doodlebug is getting pretty good at this, and I am most excellent. I can pull like the best of ‘em, but if mama just reminds me that we are doing The Rules, I walk like a total gentleman.

6. Sit/down on command and stay. I hate love to toot my own horn, but: I am an ace at the “stay” concept. Doodlebug? Not so much. Mama taught him a pretty decent sit and down, but the second she takes even one step away, his butt is back up and he’s going with her. They are working on this now, and he’s getting a little better. I love to lay on my chair and watch while they practice, and heckle when Doodlebug messes up. Silly dude.

7. Coming when called. This is another one that I totally dominate, but Duder is still working on. He is very much like his namesake The Dude in how slowly he takes life — never rushing. So when they practiced their “come” command in class, Duder moved very slowly and did a lot of “shopping” along the way to mama. Since then, they have been practicing “come when called” with his dinner — big raw duck meatballs — and amazingly, he’s gotten much faster!

8. Reacting appropriately to another dog. Again, I win, and Doodlebug loses! I mean– Duder needs to work on this one, it’s his biggest challenge. He gets way too excited and sometimes inappropriate when he gets within about 5 feet of another dog. I keep trying to show him how to stone cold ignore the other guys, but he thinks they’re much too interesting. Keep working, Doodlebug!

9. Reacting calmly to distractions. We both ace this one — we don’t care if a maniac is running around making noise while spinning a kayaking paddle, we’re gonna just channel our inner Dudes and be cool.

10. Calmly enduring supervised separation from the owner. Easy as pie for both of us!

So Duder’s assignments for the next few weeks are to work on his stays, finding more motivation to come when called, and learning to chill the heck out around other dogs. Once he’s gotten better at those — especially the last one — he’s going to go to CGC class, where he’ll learn how to not have to wear a mock turtleneck anymore!

And me? I just need to get better at being groomed by weirdos. Mama has a plan, and in a few weeks I’m going to take the test with no class at all!

Since you're such a good groomee, I will lick your chinny-chin-chin!

No thanks, corn syrup!

You know that yummy filling your dog loves licking out of that bone? It’s made primarily of corn syrup and sugar. And that rawhide that makes him jump for joy when you pull it out of its bin? Soaked in caustic chemicals and bleach.

We’ve always been careful with what goes into our dogs’ bodies in the form of food and treats, but now that we have an allergy dog, we’ve been even more hawkish. Chick isn’t especially sensitive, but like many dogs, he seems to suffer if he is fed wheat and corn — two ingredients we have now long avoided. Still, we try not to feed him the dog equivalent of “junk food.” We know how junk food makes us feel if we eat it with any regularity — why should it be any different for dogs?

Our boys both eat high-quality foods. Chick rotates through a selection of filler-free kibbles, and we’re now transitioning him to a grain-free diet since he is growing older (grains are known to cause inflammation in dogs, especially arthritic dogs). Doodlebug is fed a home-prepared raw diet for the time being, while we sort out his allergy issues — more on that in another post.

The other day at the pet store, we were shopping for toys and treats, and we stumbled upon the store’s collection of hollow sterile beef bones. We picked up one of the peanut butter filled ones, just for fun, and were horrified at the ingredient list:

Filling: Meat by-product, corn syrup, chicken meal, water, sugar, beef, peanut butter (peanuts, dextrose, corn syrup, hydrogenated vegetable oil, salt) poultry fat (preserved with mixed tocopherols), glycerin, salt, agar, carmel color, natural flavor, potassium sorbate (a preservative), citric acid, monocalcium phosphate, titanium dioxide, choline chloride, added color (yellow #6), ferrous sulfate, DL-Alpha tocopherol acetate (source of vitamin E), Zinc oxide, sodium selenite, manganous oxide, riboflavin, iron proteinate, copper proteinate, cobalt proteinate , niacin, vitamin B12 supplement, vitamin A supplement, calcium pantothenate, D-Biotin supplement, pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B6), calcium iodate, thiamine mononitrate, folic acid, vitamin D3 supplement.

Corn syrup as the second ingredient? Gross! Not to mention, what is “meat by-product” anyway? And don’t think I didn’t notice that the fifth ingredient is sugar, and the peanut butter has both corn syrup and trans fats in it. That’s nasty.

photo from Amazon.com

But dogs love to chew and lick, and we wouldn’t deprive our boys of the pleasure of gnawing on something challenging to extract some yummy snacks. In our house, we have a supply of kongs and hollow sterile bones — just like the one pictured above, only without the nasty goop inside. In a pinch, we have bought the filled bones and scooped out the filling before using it. We clean them with a bottle brush or in the dishwasher, and then stuff them with more wholesome treats — peanut butter, canned food, or in Dude’s case, ground raw duck and mashed sweet potatoes. Once the kong or bone is stuffed, we toss it in the dog section of our freezer. After a couple of hours, it’s ready!

Our boys love eating their meals and treats this way, especially as the weather heats up and a nice cool popsicle can help cool them off. When the weather hits the 80s, we can be found in the kitchen every few days filling all of our six kongs and four bones to create a stockpile in the freezer for whenever the boys need an activity or a treat.

Kitchen helpers

Artichoke season is upon us, and the lovely little plant that we mistook for a giant weed when we moved into our house in the fall turned out to be a glorious Globe Artichoke.

What do the boys think of this? Not much. They aren’t allowed into the garden area, which has a separate fence around it. Much to the boys’ chagrin, it is a barrier to dogs but not to squirrels, who lately think it’s their personal playground.

The other day we picked a few handfuls of our lovely harvest, and brought them inside to sort, trim, cook, and enjoy.

The boys are especially helpful when it’s time to prep dinner. Using their impressive and growing teamwork skills, they scoot the soft kitchen mat away from the sink (where it’s supposed to go) and into a much more central kitchen location, where — if I’m too busy to pay attention — they can be in the center of the action and cleverly control all of my movements. They plop themselves down and enjoy the show.

As it turns out, artichokes are not so delicious to dogs when raw. But you never know when a sweet potato or garbanzo bean might show up — a real doggie treat!

What our dogs are saying when we’re not paying attention

How many of us have, in speaking about a dog, used the phrase “with no warning” or “out of nowhere” to describe an action or behavior? Most of us, probably. And those of us who haven’t used those words ourselves have certainly heard them over and over.

But here’s the thing. Most dogs actually communicate quite clearly, we’re just often not listening. Take dog-to-dog greetings, for example. Many dogs — like Chick — are shy and nervous around dogs they don’t know, and they tell us over and over. They just use their own language. If we don’t listen and they lose their trust in us to protect them from unwanted interactions, we sometimes run into problems.

Although it took us years to figure it out, Chick has some brilliantly clear signals to show us that he’s not ready to interact closely with another dog:  turning his face or body away from the other dog (completely pretending it’s not there), sniffing the ground suddenly and with great interest, licking his lips, and his very dramatic and Chick-like blinking. Dogs vary in the clarity of their communication, but Chick’s signs are like neon blinking lights — he’s amazing to learn from. In each of the photos below, Chick is telling the other dog that he’s not interested in coming any closer at this time. It’s very polite, and to the other dog, very clear. The photos with the Dude were taken in the first couple of weeks they were getting to know each other, so their relationship was not yet solid and comfortable. If you study carefully, you can tell that Doodlebug was interested in being friends from the start (his body language is facing Chick and he is calm and relaxed), but he politely gave Chick the space he requested. In many cases — and this is nicely skilled dog communication — Dude even mimicked Chick’s signs to show him “I see that you are unsure so I’m going to show you that I am not a threat.” The last photo of our two boys shows this nicely. Way to go, Doodlebug.

With Dora the Explorer (the pretty blue dog), Curious Georgia (the lanky black one) and Gonzo Bunny-Ears, the feeling was less mutual — the other dog was intensely interested in being pals. In those cases, it was our responsibility to make sure that Chick had the space he needed, because after all — we need him to trust us to keep him safe so that he doesn’t feel the need to take matters into his own hands.

When we see Chick starting to show his “I’m nervous” signs, we quickly and matter-of-factly help him gain more space and distance — this applies to meeting dogs, meeting people, and trying new things. The better we get at respecting his preferences, the more safe he feels and the more calm he can remain in uncertain situations. Just over the course of fostering, we noticed a big difference. Chick is visibly less stressed in being around new dogs than he once was, because we have proven to him time and again that new dogs are not a threat to him.

For those interested in learning more about dog body language and how to build trust through reading dog communication, there’s a great book available on the subject. It’s called On Talking Terms with Dogs by Turid Rugaas — we’re reading it now, and we think it’s fascinating!

Who else is going through the wonderful discovery process of learning and interpreting their dog’s body language?

Doodlebug the allergy dog

It turns out that our Doodlebug is an allergy dog. They surface from time to time — the allergy dogs. Not the ones that are allergic to a few things — maybe Oak pollen and chicken and wheat and cashews. The ones that are allergic to everything on God’s green earth. There is some kind of mysterious misalignment in their bodies that creates allergic reactions to everything around them, and they go through life itchy, irritable, unsettled, and often in pain.

Doodlebug is one of these dogs. We brought him home as a foster in early January, and he was (almost) dying of heartworm. He wasn’t showing any allergy symptoms — but then again, he was so sick that he was just in survival mode. A few weeks later — a few weeks into his heartworm treatment — the itchies hit. That they corresponded with the start of Cedar season in Austin made us assume they were just your average seasonal allergies, and we managed as well as we could with t-shirts and over-the-counter antihistamines. When these didn’t seem to be doing the trick, we went in to the vet’s office for a steroid injection. It helped. For three weeks. And then the itchies came back, worse than ever before. Dude was listless, pouty, and distractable. We dressed him in his Poison t-shirt to keep him from ripping his chest to shreds from all the scratching, and bowed our heads, feeling guilty for not being able to help him find relief.

We have always gone to traditional vets for Chick, with great success. But lately we’ve been meeting more and more people who use a combination of Western medicine and alternative / holistic treatments for their animals – including chiropracty, healing massage, and acupuncture. When we started talking to our dog-people friends about the Dude’s allergies, we got a couple of references to a progressive, holistic treatment called Advanced Allergy Therapeutics (AAT), and we thought: why not give it a go?

We took the Doodlebug for a consult — which was lovely — and ended up with an alarmingly long list of his allergies — most of the seasonal irritants, lots of environmental things like dust and feathers, and nearly all foods. Yikes!

So we did what we had to do, and moved quickly — we switched his food, started a regimen of wiping down his fur and paws after going outside, and made a treatment plan. AAT allows the treatment of up to two allergens per day, and the treatments are permanent — the substances treated never have to be treated again. But, the treatments are not cheap. We resolved to work through the major seasonal ones first, and then see where we stood. Working through two per week, we’ve made it through eight of the seasonals (trees, grass, weeds, flowers, and various types of pollens) so far. Our goal is to get through the major environmental and seasonal allergens and enough foods to get him onto a balanced and sustainable diet — and the road ahead is long.

After the first few treatments, we weren’t seeing any changes. After each treatment, we’d have the same itchy, miserable Bug that we had started out with. But we stuck with it. And just over the past week, we’ve seen some relief — the itching is still happening, but more rarely and more gently than before. The purple Poison t-shirt has come off, and we don’t have to put an e-collar on him anymore to keep him from scratching his ears until they bleed. He seems to sleep less fitfully, and pays attention better when we’re training. He’s more engaged and happier.

And what a relief.

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