Dora’s wish: a home for the holidays!

There are two things I say to adoptable Dora the Explorer every day when I come into her room and she gets up woozily from her snuggly little nest in her crate and does a nice downward dog to salute the morning. The first is “Good morning, cutest girl in the world!” and the second is “Baby, you can stay as long as you want.” And as I open the latch and give her the “OK” that releases her from her patient, perfect sit into a happy, bouncy, wiggly storm in my arms, I believe that both are true. Dora the Explorer’s gentle sweetness, her silly, easygoing happiness, her soft, thick fur, and her precious little underbite really make her a keeper.

But not a keeper for us. As soon as we find Dora her perfect forever-home, we can’t wait to welcome another homeless, needy pit bull into our lives and our hearts, just as we have done eight times before. That’s the promise we made ourselves when we opened our home to our very first foster dog.

This morning when Dora greeted me with her wiggling bottom and her sniffing face, I thought I heard her whisper a question: “Mama, can I have my own home for the holidays?

I don’t know, sweet girl. The holidays are awfully soon, but with the help of our blog friends, we sure can try.

For more info on adopting Dora the Explorer, click here or contact us at info [at] loveandaleash [dot] com.

Send us your Texans!

Adoptable Dora the Explorer is a native Texan — an Austinite. Our Sir Chick is an Austinite as well. Foster dad is from Texas too, but from Galveston. And yet — according to our stats, most of our readers are (like me) from icy, faraway lands.  The largest number of our readers come from Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and of course Washington, DC, where we lived before coming back to Texas. We have but a modest sprinkling of blog-friends in Texas, but if we’re to continue successfully celebrating, networking, and adopting out our incredible, beautiful, wonderful foster dogs, we’re going to need more Texans among us.

That’s where you come in! Everybody has a friend in Austin, right? And your friend in Austin loves dogs, or has friends who love dogs. And your friend in Austin probably even has friends who are thinking about adopting a new best friend. See how quickly this scenario might add up to a new forever-home for Miss Dora the Explorer?

Think about who you might know in Texas. Family, friends, co-workers, even frienemies! Start with your Austin people, then think about your San Antonio people. Even your Houston and Dallas people and your Corpus Christi people — they all have friends and family in Austin. Send them our blog or our facebook page, and tell them why you think they should read our blog and share it with their own friends and family. It’s as simple as that!

Local connections help us adopt out dogs, but they help us do so much more. Over the past year and change, we’ve helped wonderful people connect with each other in DC and along the East Coast. Together, we can make magic happen in Austin too . . . and maybe even send Dora the Explorer home for the holidays!

For more info on adopting Dora the Explorer, click here or contact us at info [at] loveandaleash [dot] com.


Chix-a-Lot Friday: I used to love to bake (or, how we worked through my anxieties)

Mama busted me out of the slammer when I was just a young chap — so young that I don’t even remember what my life was like before that. She had never had a dog before and didn’t know much about dog behavior or care. So she did what any enthusiastic, 24-year-old new dog owner with a flexible schedule would do — she brought me with her everywhere. It was heavenly. Back then we worked at Casa Marianella, an emergency shelter for newly-arrived immigrants. When she went on shift, I went on shift. We would do the laundry, cook dinner, intake new residents, help out with immigration forms and vet doctor’s visits. Once or twice a week mama would stay the night, and I would stay with her. When we weren’t working, we were having fun. We went on lots of walks together, visited friends’ houses, and even went to outdoor restaurants and bars. I almost never had to be alone, and it was wonderful.

Eventually mama and dad finished grad school and got jobs, and I started to spend a whole lot more time alone. That’s when I decided to teach myself how to bake.  Only I don’t know how to operate an oven (mama says “thank goodness!”), so I would just grab the dish towels off their hanging places and put them on the ground, pull the aluminium foil off the shelf and unroll it, and then I’d take the bag of flour off the baker’s rack (sometimes the sugar too) and I’d open it up and start baking. And by baking, I mean running wildly around the house with the flour bag, letting it fly all over the place. Sometimes I would stop and make a little drool puddle, dip my paws into it, and then knead the flour that I had sprinkled around, trying to make dumplings.

I loved trying, but I never became a very good baker.

It was about that time that mama called dog trainer Lee Mannix. It turned out that all that fun we’d had — being together 24/7 for our first couple of years — wasn’t really all that good for me. Lee said I never learned to be alone. I never learned how to just settle down. He said it was a confidence issue. He told mama that in my little brain, her leaving was the end of the world because all of the fun went away, and her returning was a great big party. I guess she was right. When she left, I would worry and fret and find activities to keep myself busy, but it was really hard for me to just chill out and sleep. When she would get back, I would get super-duper excited and so would she, and we’d have ourselves a little party. Every time she came and went, the cycle reinforced itself. I would get more worried when she left and more excited when she got back.

According to Lee, there were a few mistakes that mama made in our first few glory years:

  • Not crate training me. It seems that dogs like me do well with crate training because a crate can feel like a safe little den that both keeps a dog out of trouble and reduces anxiety. Most dogs can stop using their crate over time, but a crate is a great transitional tool for many dogs who just don’t know what to do with themselves when their people are gone and get that overwhelming urge to bake.
  • Not teaching me to be alone from the start. By taking me everywhere, mama wasn’t setting me up for success for the day that she had to go and get the kind of job where I couldn’t come with her. She should have practiced leaving me alone from the very first day she brought me home, for varying lengths of time.
  • Making a big deal about comings and goings. Mama and dad would fuss over me before they would leave, which is how I learned that them leaving was a Really Big Deal. They’d also get super excited when they came home, so that became an RBD too.
  • Letting me rule the roost. I still think Lee was wrong on this one, but apparently letting me sleep wherever I want, eat whenever I feel like it, and climb all over everybody all the time was only contributing to my anxiety, rather than helping it. And we all thought that they were just being nice to me.

Before we sought help, my worrying just got worse and worse. Mama says her “favorite” baking project I ever did while she wasn’t home was when I decided to try baking with the dirt from the tomato plant pots. Mama and dad planted a container garden one spring, and when it got too cold outside they would bring the containers inside. Well wouldn’t you know, the dirt in those pots, mixed with compost and some fish emulsion, was JUST what my baking recipes had been needing. So I helped myself to some of that dirt, don’t mind if I do. Here is a picture that dad took when he got home, because mama was away on a busy-ness trip and he wanted to make sure she saw how embarrassed I was. Thanks a lot, dad.

So we started training. We went to a lesson once every two weeks, and practiced every day for half an hour in the morning and half an hour in the evening. We did lots of drills where I just had to sit and be good and mama would feed me hot dogs. At least, it seemed that way. Mama says we were doing exercises to slowly get me used to her leaving and coming back, but it was so easy that it didn’t even feel like exercise. It just felt like she was feeding me hot dogs. Lee said that was how we knew we were going slow enough, whatever that means.

Over time, I got better. Here are a few of the general things that we did (in addition to desensitization) to help me be a cool cat dog.

  • I started staying in a dog-proofed room while my people were away. I don’t chew on furniture or pillows or anything, so for me that just meant a room with no trash cans, baking supplies, smelly socks, or anything else that I could occupy myself with.
  • I started eating all of my food out of kongs, gatorade bottles, and other food-dispensing devices. This meant no more bowls, ever. Instead of having two meals at regular mealtimes, I would get little snacks throughout the day. Lee said that this would help me exercise my brain so that it would be too tired for baking experiments while mama and dad were away.
  • I started always getting an activity to do when they left. Usually, mama would fix a big batch of frozen kongs stuffed with dry food, wet food, peanut butter, yogurt, bananas, and chopped up veggies at the beginning of the week. Those were my favorite snacks, and I would get one every morning when the people would leave. I didn’t think this would happen, but it turned going-to-work time into an “oh goodie!” time instead of an “oh no!” time.
  • They stopped loving me when they came home. When they got home, I would get super wound up and bounce around, jump, sniff, wiggle, and act as cute as I could, but they just plain stopped loving me. Once I calmed down and went back to my dog bed, they would come over and love me like they always had. I didn’t like this whole idea one bit, but I guess it did teach me that their coming home was No Big Deal.
  • Exercise, exercise, exercise. We went on at least two 30 minute walks per day, and at least one or two shorter ones. Going out in the yard and very short walks was not enough to keep me tired and relaxed, so we started going on adventures. At least once a week, we had to go to a new place. We learned that new places were more exciting and more exhausting, and helped me be more flexible. I have always had a good downward dog, so I think they must mean emotionally flexible, not physically flexible.

Now don’t get me wrong — I am still a very sensitive boy and I get nervous quite easily. Whenever something out of the ordinary is happening, I get a furrowed brow and a very concerned look on my face. Mama seems to think it’s cute, and always complements me on how expressive I am. But mama and dad have learned how to manage my anxiety, and I have learned how to cope pretty well. Now when it’s time for them to go to work, I eagerly wait for my yummy treat and trot happily into my room to eat it before having a nice long nap. If you ever come over to the house I will still squeal with excitement and jump and bounce like a tightly wound spring, but I will settle down much faster.

And I let mama and dad do all the baking. The fosters and I just help.

Dora on the mend

Once upon a time, adoptable Miss Dora the Explorer lived outside in a yard with several other dogs. She and her siblings had little shelter and no access to vet care. The yard that was their home was not very secure, so Dora would take herself for walks around the neighborhood from time to time.  Not surprisingly, she ended up a teenage mom.

Luckily Dora’s people did care for her as well as they felt able, and when they heard about a free pit bull spay/neuter day in their neighborhood in East Austin, they decided to walk her over.

It turned out Dora had heartworm. Heartworm is a type of parasite that travels from host to host via mosquito bite.  The heartworms live in arteries and lung tissue, and can eventually enter the heart. Mild and early cases of heartworm are often asymptomatic, while more severe cases can present as fainting, fast exhaustion during exercise, loss of appetite, weight loss, or a bloody cough. If heartworm is not treated, it can lead to much suffering and heart failure.

After some conversations with Love-a-Bull, Dora’s person agreed to surrender her. He could not provide her the care she needed, and understood that she would be better off in another home. It’s hard to overstate how much we admire this gentleman’s courage for giving her the opportunity to have the life she deserves instead of giving in to the very human urge to keep what is dear to him — his sweet little dog.

For the past couple of months, Dora has successfully undergone heartworm treatment. The treatment is long, complicated, somewhat risky, and very expensive. The most common potion used to treat heartworm includes a form of arsenic as a key ingredient — the roundworms are basically poisoned slowly with low doses of a deadly toxin. During the months-long treatment period, it is imperative to keep the dog calm because the meds are very taxing for the dog’s system. After the course of treatment is through, the dog has to stay cool and mellow for another few weeks or months, and then — if all goes well — we all do a little victory dance and go for a nice vigorous run.

Our sweet Miss Dora passed her treatment with flying colors and came out healthy as a horse. Judging by this girl’s bouncy attitude, you wouldn’t guess that her system was overrun by nasty little roundworms just a couple of months ago. Dora is still in the nice-and-easy stage of post-treatment, but she can’t wait to put on her dancing shoes and celebrate her new-found perfect health!

For more info on adopting Dora the Explorer, click here or contact us at info [at] loveandaleash [dot] com.

Brown paper packages tied up with strings

As though adoptable Miss Dora the Explora isn’t spoiled enough — sunning herself in our back yard, eating all of her food out of fun games and puzzles, snuggling with us on a chair made for one — she got a package in the mail yesterday. And it was full of surprises!

When we moved to Austin and changed our phone numbers to local ones, the first order of business was ordering new dog tags, lickety-split. Our friend at Sirius Republic makes beautiful oversized ones, hand stamped with a name and phone number. Since all of our dogs have oversized personalities, we thought they would benefit from jumbo tags to match. Chick got one with his name, my number, and a star (since he is a star, and to match the stars on his Paco Collar). We ordered a generic foster one as well, so that the tag can stay with us even as fosters move to their new homes and we pick up new ones. We have had a few foster tags with different words (“foster” and “wonderdog” were two recent ones), and this time we labeled our foster tag with “reward” after a friend pointed out that pit bulls are often thrown out of cars or abandoned in parking lots, and many kind citizens just assume they are unwanted, even if they have tags.

Honestly, I knew something was amiss when I got home to a package from Sirius that was far too large to hold just two tags. I ripped it open before even setting down my keys, and was so delighted to find a gorgeous blue and green-hearted martingdale collar (the same Seahorse print that Sirius cover model Chilly the Elderbull wears), and a fanciful hand-made matching flower!

Dora loves her new outfit and can’t wait to win hearts all across Texas with it. She is also quite flattered to be wearing the matching flower accessory that isn’t even available for sale yet. So exclusive! She hopes to make you proud, Sirius Republic!

For more info on adopting Dora the Explorer, click here or contact us at info [at] loveandaleash [dot] com.

Fostering made easy(er) – the Tiedown

There are a few tools in our fostering toolbox that we can barely imagine living without. Kongs and other food-dispensing puzzles are one; baby gates are another; and the holy tiedown is the third. If you took these tools away, we would first cry for a very, very long time, and then we would drive ourselves crazy and possibly even quit fostering. Well, we probably wouldn’t quit, but we would drag our feet a bit and probably drink a lot more.

The tiedown is an especially valuable tool to us since we live with one fussy dog who doesn’t necessarily appreciate energetic young dogs bouncing and pouncing all over him, but we insist on fostering anyway. Our tiedowns keep Chick happy, fosters out of trouble, and us from having to supervise closely every minute of the day.

A tiedown is essentially a short length of leash, cord, wire, or rope that is attached to something heavy or permanent on one end (such as a sofa or a piece of furniture), and to a dog’s collar on the other end. The device limits the dog’s zone of activity to a few feet, and really cuts down on the number of bad choices the dog can make. While on tiedown, our foster dog can’t try to play-wrestle with our Chick, can’t pee on the rug, can’t drool all over our new sofa, and can’t tackle visitors when they come over to visit. If introduced and trained properly, the tiedown can be a happy place to solve a puzzle, have a snack, or take a nap.

Dora the Explorer took to her tiedown instantly, but in order to reinforce a positive association, we were careful to feed her all of her kongs and other food puzzles in her crate or on a mat by the tiedown for the first few days. Now when Dora sees the tiedown wire come out of its drawer, she waggles her little butt so hard that her tail almost whips her in the face — she knows it’s kong time. Detailed information about the various uses of tiedowns is available from the East Bay SPCA here.

When introducing a new foster into our household, it is critical for us to ensure that the getting-to-know-you phase between our own Chick and the new dog goes as smoothly as possible. We take this phase very slow — in the past it has taken us anywhere from two days to a month to fully integrate our foster with our Chick. We have a regular routine that involves parallel walks, side-by-side obedience, baby gates, and finally the tiedown. Some organizations and advocates warn against using tiedowns in dog-dog interactions, and with good reason — if used incorrectly or not supervised properly, a tiedown can lead to teasing, abuse, frustration, and fighting. If you’re considering using one to smooth your own dog-dog integration, first make certain that the dog on the tiedown will not be pestered or bullied. This is critical.

Our home includes a near-guarantee that Chick will never approach a dog he doesn’t already know well to bully, play, snuggle, or otherwise engage. He does not like strong come-ons from other dogs, and is very nervous in new canine company. Chick’s strong preference for being left alone by other dogs means that a tiedown works beautifully for us — it allows Chick to slowly warm up to another dog’s presence without the risk of the other dog coming on too strong — an event that sometimes flips on Chick’s reactivity switch.

We begin with plenty of parallel walks, limited sniffing, and supervised interaction through a tall baby gate. We know it’s time to move to the next phase when both dogs consistently display happy, calm body language, a willingness to lay on either side of the gate calmly, and maybe some occasional face-licking through the gate. Next, we move our foster dog to a tiedown and allow Chick free-range status. Chick generally spends the first few short sessions across the room on his own dog bed, avoiding any interaction at all. Still, we offer much positive reinforcement for calm behavior by both dogs. If the foster is able to settle down and be calm in Chick’s presence, we start bringing Chick closer to work on puzzles, eat snacks (only ok if neither dog is a resource guarder), or do obedience. Chick is usually able to roam the house freely shortly after, walking a wide circle around the overenthusiastic foster without so much as blinking.

Eventually, Chick becomes comfortable enough to settle in within a few feet of the foster, and the foster dog is calm enough to accept Chick’s presence without needing to sing a song or breakdance. Because of Chick’s distaste for rowdiness, he does an exceptional job of teaching fosters what behaviors make him stay close and what behaviors make him run away. An illustration of this process with a previous foster, Stevie Wonder, is here.

Once we feel confident about the budding relationship we take the foster off tiedown but leave on a leash as a dragline that we can grab or step on if needed. Eventually, the dogs learn to be together. The whole process can take a while, but if done correctly should be drama-free. BAD RAP did a great post about tiedowns as part of a series on dog fostering. We loved this post, which is available here.

In our new house we decided to install a “real” tiedown instead of relying on leashes and doorknobs, which can certainly fail or be damaged. The process took about 30 minutes and cost about $10. Here’s how we did it.

First, we went to the hardware store and purchased a heavy-duty eye hook, a 3′ length of plastic-coated wire, two leash-type clasps, and a ferrule and stop set.

Next, we drilled a hole in the wood door frame between our living and dining room, and installed the eye hook.

Third, we attached both leash clasps to either end of the length of wire using the ferrule and stop sets.

Finally, we attached one end of the tiedown to our new eye hook, the other end of the tiedown to our new Dora the Explorer, and we put down a dog bed and a nice stuffed kong. Voila!

A few stray thoughts:

-Be sure to purchase hardware that’s rated at a high enough weight to contain your dogs. We bought hardware and wire that can handle a load of at least 150 lbs, even though our dogs rarely weigh more than 55 lbs. Better safe than sorry.

-Take plenty of time to get your dog accustomed to the tiedown before introducing another dog into the scene. Some dogs will get it right away, others will be unhappy. Approach training a tiedown just as you would approach any other form of training: reward good behavior, ignore bad behavior, and do it in short increments.

-Never leave a dog on tiedown when you’re not home. You don’t need to have your eye on the dog every minute, but you should be nearby and checking in frequently.

-Have fun, be careful, and let us know how it goes!


Rainy days are for supermodeling

Miraculously, it’s been raining on and off for a week in Central Texas. In a year of catastrophic drought, the rain feels like a cooling, soothing, healing miracle.

But not to the dogs. Our dogs love long neighborhood walks, laying out on the grass, frisking around after a ball or a stick, going to dinner at the outdoor food courts down the road to meet new friends and vacuum up errant french fries under the picnic tables, and trotting outside after a satisfying nap to do their business before bounding back in for dinner.

That is, they love these things when it’s sunny and dry.

When it’s rainy? These crybabies barely even poke their heads out the door before uttering a long, sad sigh and trying to escape back into their warm little nests, desperately pretending that they do not, in fact, need to pee.

Instead, adoptable primadonna Dora the Explorer loves to spend rainy days sitting in our chair, practicing her modeling poses. She’s pretty sure her left side is her best side.

For more info on adopting Dora the Explorer, click here or contact us at info [at] loveandaleash [dot] com.

Chix-a-lot Friday: how I spent my Thanksgiving weekend

You all probably know how much I loved my grandparents’ house in Merry-land, and how I’d go visit there all the time when mama and dad were traveling. I was sad to leave them and my best friend Tex, but you know what? I have another grandparents’ house here in my motherland, and we went there for Thanksgiving.

What did we do there in Galveston, you might be asking yourself?

Well, I did lots and lots of supervising the Turkeyman:

The turkeyman is my favorite because everybuddy else in the house is vegetarian, which is just plain silly.

I also got to do some mega-flirting with my great-grandma, who is one of my very favoritest old people. She’s so nice and always gives me little snacks from her plate. Sometimes she accidentally lets me take a sip of her Peanut Grigio wine, too!

Naturally, I did plenty of maxing and relaxing at the dinner table:

And on the sofas:

And out in the sunshine with my Turkeyman:

And last but not least, I spent some good quality time with my Disneydog. Disney is even older than my greatgrandma — she’s 17 — and I’m not sure how many more times we’ll get to hang out together on this side of the rainbow. She’s gotten a little skinnier and can’t see or hear very much anymore, and she is allowed to pee wherever she wants now. But she is still the boss of the house and she sure does keep me in line, and I respect her for that. I hope I’m just like Disneydog when I’m 17!

Hope everybody else had just as nice a Thanksgiving weekend!

Why they’re so good

People often ask us: how are your fosters all so well behaved? How do you teach them to be so good?

It’s simple, really. They are good because we don’t give them opportunities to get in trouble. From the minute they walk in the door, our foster dogs are kept on a short leash — quite literally at first, and then figuratively later on. Naturally these clever little rascals still find ways to misbehave here and there, but for the most part if they never have the chance to make any poor choices, then they’re left with only good choices to make.

Yesterday’s pesto extravaganza is a good illustration. I was busy in the kitchen, which might have given Dora plenty of opportunities to run around the house finding mischief.

Looks like you've got this pesto under control. Maybe I'll go find some trouble to get into.

But instead of letting her do that, I blocked off the kitchen door so that she had no choice but to hang out with me in the kitchen/laundry rooms, where I could keep an eye on her.

A hamper and bookcase stand in for a baby gate in a pinch.

I picked up all items of interest like shoes, a trash can, and a low bowl of tomatoes (which Dora likes to play catch with), and gave her a dog toy smeared with peanut butter to keep her occupied with authorized activities.

This peanut butter ball is so fun it makes me wanna play bow!

I like to keep a little jar of treats handy and toss one in the dog’s direction when it’s practicing desired behaviors (sitting quietly and watching, laying down on its bed, playing quietly with a toy), and ignore the dog when it’s being naughty (jumping up, barking). To prevent the self-reinforcing behavior of jumping on the counter, it’s good to keep tasty snacks out of reach. Dogs who are big counter-surfers may benefit from a tiedown to help them learn to settle and keep them out of your dinner.

I am a good girl who never jumps up on the counter, and I would like to help you build your pesto, please.

By rewarding positive behaviors and avoiding or ignoring negative ones, we have generally had good luck “extinguishing” the bad habits and promoting the good ones. Dora took to our little game very quickly, and learned that laying on her blanket means that treats would fall into her paws now and then.

Ok mama, it looks like you don't need my help building the pesto. I'll just be here on my mat relaxing like a good girl.

So far, Miss Dora has been easy. She loves to snatch an occasional cherry tomato, cork, glove, or balled up piece of paper and go prancing triumphantly around the house with it, but she readily gives it back when asked, and hasn’t shown very many other bad habits. Thanks for easing us back into fostering so gently, Miss Dora!

For more info on adopting Dora the Explorer, click here or contact us at info [at] loveandaleash [dot] com.

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