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.


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.

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.

Dora does the laundry

Before her rescue, Dora lived outside in a yard with several other dogs. She wasn’t pampered or spoiled, and she most certainly was not responsible for any house chores.

Being two years old and all, she must have figured that she has been slacking and she’d better make up for lost time. So on day two of her grand adventure in our foster home, she got right to work doing the laundry.

Mama, what are we going to do about all of these messy garments?

While bashful Sir Chick always hides during laundry time because of the loud noises the machine makes, Dora the Explorer boldly stood by for the whole endeavor, even venturing to sniff out the goods, determining which was the smelliest.

This shirtsleeve is the smelliest. It hints of lawyering, and perhaps a touch of miso soup.

Inspecting the laundry-in-waiting wasn’t enough for this brave girl, though. She insisted on checking out the washing machine contents before we took the dirty clothes for a spin.

Mama, the load in here is all gym clothes. I guess my dress shirt skirt can wait until the next go round.

Wait! I thought I saw a piece of kibble in that pants pocket . . .

It turned out that Dora was a very good laundry assistant. After helping fish the treats out of various pants pockets and identifying which shirt had the most interesting scent on its sleeve, she bravely played patty cakes with the washing machine during the spin cycle, play-bowed to the dryer as it fluffed, and did her very best to hold still while I did my very best to use her back as a folding table. She’s got a ways to go, but at least the girl tries!

Holding still isn't so easy, lady. Don't you know this bod was made to boogie?

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

Meet Dora the Explorer!

Pop quiz: Which of these two ladies is Dora the Explorer, a silly cartoon character loved by children all around the world? Tough question — it could be either, right?

While these two cute girls share a name, only one of them is our new foster dog. We are thrilled to introduce our newest resident, Dora the Explorer!

We hadn’t been home from our Thanksgiving trip for 15 minutes before Dora trotted in, butt wiggling and tail waggling like there’s no tomorrow. Her little feet barely had time to tap dance across the room in excited fashion, and we were already consumed in giggles at her cuteness. After all, just look at that mug!

Miss Dora has the cutest expression we’ve met in a while, but she’s not just a pretty face — she has a BIG personality to match. In the recent past we’ve gravitated toward the shy, introverted dogs for foster — we’ve found them to be easier to integrate into our home. But Dora needed a soft place to land, and it just so happens that she loves to party. She’s the kind of party guest who brings a bottle of the good stuff, gets your grandma dancing with a lampshade on, and then politely cleans up after everybody’s gone home. Dora’s taking all of us for a joyride, and if she can help it, we’re all going to have a smashing good time!

"If this is a party, then where's the cupcakes?"

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