In the Garden with Simon and Rosee

I thought since I had reviewed a pet product for the backyard this past week I would continue the theme of achieving backyard feng-shui with dogs. Plus, I wanted to write a happier post because sometimes it can be so easy to get caught up in the negative experiences of life, and it’s important to remember the simple pleasures. Also, Earth Day was this past week and what better way to celebrate than to talk about nature.

Now, I have to admit that gardening has never been a favored past time of mine. I’m not really an outdoorsy person. I don’t care for bugs, or getting dirt beneath my fingernails. However, after having dogs, particularly big dogs, learning to love the outdoors has been a must. I think I’ve adjusted pretty well as I now look for interesting and fun places to take Simon and Rosee. During the week we all go on daily walks, but over the weekends it can be nice to go somewhere different. Luckily, there are a few nearby trails that we can go to and walk or hike, and we live fairly close to the Sacramento River where we like to take Simon and Rosee when it’s warm so they can swim. Well, Simon likes to swim, and Rosee likes to splash along the edge. Being outside is one of the main places Rosee and Simon like to be. They love to bathe in the sun, stretch out in the grass, and take naps in the sand (when we spend a day at the beach, of course). As a result, I knew our backyard needed to be dog-friendly. At the same time, the backyard did need to at least look appealing for humans because it’s still our backyard after all. Fortunately, my mom loves gardening and took charge.

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As you can see we tried the whole gardening thing when Simon was a puppy.
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Simon eventually tore up all the plants and was left with only dirt and rocks. This was only a few months later too.

The first order of business when it came time to create a dog-friendly backyard was to put in grass. Originally, our backyard did have grass, but after years of redoing and rearranging things we were left with barely any grass. Then once we adopted Simon it was decided that it would be easiest to put all new sod down. Now, it might seem easy to put sod down, particularly given the size of our grass area. The truth is that this past fall we put down sod in our backyard for the third (and hopefully final) time. I do have to say though, that the reason the past attempts at trying to grow grass in our backyard had nothing to do with the dogs. The first time the sod never quite took to the ground, and the second time grubs developed. Fortunately, the grass seems to be doing well this time around, which is good since it is the main place Rosee likes to lay while we play fetch with Simon.

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The second concern to address was greenery. Finding the right plants and flowers to put in the backyard can be a bit tricky when there’s dogs involved. Mostly because Simon and Rosee have a tendency to sample the greenery, and therefore it became important to ensure that any plants we put in were dog-friendly. There is a list on the ASPCA website of safe and unsafe plants for animals. Personally, I find this site and the list sort of confusing and somewhat difficult to navigate, and mostly end up searching for a few more websites/posts/blogs that offer relevant answers. Yet, it is there. Hopefully, someone else will have better luck with it than I have had. Originally, simple plants like pansies, impatiens, alyssum, and rose moss were planted, and they seemed to do well. They were hearty enough to stand up to the dogs walking on them, and looked pretty. We also tried planting some basic shrubbery, but those never quite worked out so well. Rosee had a tendency to continually chew on these plants, and Simon liked to encourage this habit of hers by digging them up. It’s quite funny now that I think back on it, although at the time I was far from laughing. Nevertheless, through trial and error we found which plants worked (by that I mean which plants Simon and Rosee left alone) and which ones didn’t.

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Rosee loves to eat these blooms.

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The next concern, let’s call it the 2.5 concern because it developed as a result of the second concern, was how to protect the plants from Rosee and Simon. The dogs enjoyed digging up and eating the plants, and if they weren’t doing that they would run over them when they were playing. I know I did say that the plants we chose were pretty hearty and stood up to the dogs’ giant paws, but we still wanted a way to keep the dogs out of the plants the best we could. Initially, we put everything in pots so that the dogs couldn’t actually step on anything. However, this didn’t stop them from digging up the plants. Enter: the wall.

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The wall was an idea that we got from an outing to our local Orchard Supply Hardware one day last summer. It’s made out of cinder blocks, and steps down to an opening in the middle. We decided to build up the wall three blocks high so it didn’t completely block the view of the plants and it was low enough so someone could sit on it as well. The wall is a pretty awesome addition to our backyard because not only does it keep the dogs out of the plants, but it looks beautiful and it helps showcase our plants.

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While we do have some planters (made out of leftover cinder blocks) that run along the side of the walkway, the main area of plants is that corner, which is now made into a focal point with the help of the wall.  Most recently, we had to put in the front gate because Rosee liked to run through the middle for fun. I swear she grinned every time she did it.

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The fourth and final concern to address was to find pieces of furniture that was comfortable and useful to humans, but usable by the dogs as well. There is a swing for the humans, and two dog houses for the dogs. IMG_1600

A gazebo was added for some much needed shade, and two giant utility boxes were put in for storage, although they now serve double duty as the dogs like to sleep on top of them in the afternoon.IMG_1639

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We used to only have one box, but Simon would cry every time Rosee was on it and so we had to get a second one. At least now we have more backyard storage.

So there it is: a journey through our backyard. It’s taken a few years of experimenting and experiences to get things right and an awful lot of replanting the plants that Rosee and Simon decided to dig up, but ultimately I love our backyard and so do the dogs.

Living In a Whole Other Dog Park

When my family adopted Pit Bull mixes I guess I was a little naïve. I expected to feed, train, and care for two great dogs. I expected to be happy, frustrated, hurt, cuddled, kissed, splashed, stepped on, and so many other wonderful things. I expected to love and be loved so unconditionally that little else could ever compare. I was and still am right, of course. Owning a dog is an extra-ordinary experience that is full of ups and downs, leaving little to the imagination. Seriously, having to sort through dog doo-doo and not hyperventilating does wonders to your self-confidence. However, as great as having dogs has been, I have to admit having Pit Bulls has been an eye-opening experience; one that my naivety (lessened over the years by mean girls and meaner teachers) could not have adequately prepared me for.

You see, owning a dog is one thing, but owning a Pit Bull lives in a whole other dog park. You get stares and scared faces and even nasty comments. Veterinarians refuse to do exams and regular people cower as you walk by, on the other side of the street.

That face will undoubtedly haunt my dreams!
That face will undoubtedly haunt my dreams!

One incident, many months ago, was one of the nastiest I have ever encountered. While out at a local park one morning Theresa and I had stepped into a small grove of trees because Simon wanted to poop there. As Theresa made Rosee sit and wait, and I had Simon and his leash wrapped around my legs while I attempted to pick up his waste we were suddenly bombarded by a woman. Without warning this woman walked through the small grove we were in, loudly exclaiming that she just loved to walk in the shade! Um. . . except that the little shade was currently occupied by two people and two dogs that took up said space, leaving no room for her. To make matters worse this woman just pushed herself in between Theresa and myself, waving her elbows around. To say she scared not only the dogs, but us humans is to put it lightly. Rosee immediately jumped up in hopes of jumping back to put space between herself and this woman, but in such a small space to begin with there was nothing Theresa (who was holding her) could do other than to lean into the bushes with Rosee. Simon, thankfully, had wrapped his entire leash around my legs and so was forced to stand right next to me, as I with a bag full of poop in my hands scrambled to step back and out of this woman’s way. The entire episode lasted maybe twenty seconds, but is something that I will always remember with the utmost clarity, and unfortunately it did not end there.

Theresa was pretty traumatized by this woman’s actions and having to quickly shield Rosee from getting upset, so we switched dogs (I was now walking Rosee with Theresa leading Simon) and headed towards our car. However, I needed a minute to go through the many stages of anger, so we decided to sit on the grass next to our car. Next thing you know this woman starts walking towards us yelling at us that we needed to put a muzzle on our dog, spewing nothing but hatred and misconceptions at us. Rosee for her part sat on the grass with me and simply barked at the crazy woman yelling at us. Theresa, over her trauma, took Simon and walked after the woman telling her that she should be more considerate and not just ambush strangers’ dogs. This woman quickly proceeded to walk away. Needless to say, we have not been back to this particular park, not because our dogs did anything wrong, but because neither of us knows how to just let go of the bad taste this experience left in our mouths.

The water has successfully been liquefied.
The water has successfully been liquefied.

But parks are not the only places full of intolerance and misguided fear. A veterinarian we took Rosee to last year took one look at her, became frightened and refused to perform her physical exam, even after I put a muzzle on her. I called their bluff when they tried to make me pay for the exam, they protested that without it they couldn’t prescribe her any heartworm medication. I reminded them that it was the veterinarian that refused to touch Rosee, not Rosee’s own refusal to be touched. I got the heartworm medication.

Certainly, I make no excuses for my dogs’ behavior. I have explanations. I can tell you why Rosee gets nervous around people and dogs, and that we are diligently working on it and she is getting better. I can explain that Simon loves people, but hasn’t learned all his manners yet (he still jumps) and again, we work on it as much as possible. I can tell people that my sister Theresa and I always make sure to have complete control of our dogs when we take them out into the world, and our evidence is the fact that they have never hurt anyone or anything. They are good dogs, just like the million other good dogs (Pit Bulls or not) that exist in the world. They are not perfect. They are not terrible. They are good. Simon and Rosee don’t deserve for misguided people to heap upon their shoulders stereotypes and singular stories about dog attacks and dog fights. Simon and Rosee and all the other good Pit Bulls in the world don’t deserve to be labeled for offenses they did not commit.

It's the monster of W. . . oh wait, it's just Simon.
It’s the monster of W. . . oh wait, it’s just Simon.

I was naïve in thinking that my dogs were just dogs. They are Pit Bulls. Rosee’s face gives her away quite easily, and most people look at Simon and call him a Staffordshire Terrier, which is just a more eloquent name for Pit Bull. They get treated like Pit Bulls, sometimes for the better, most times for the worse. You know something’s wrong with the world when your dog (Pit Bull) gets attacked by another dog, yet that dog’s owners are afraid of you and yours.

In fact just two mornings ago the four of us were out on our daily walk. We stopped at a crosswalk, looked both ways, crossed the street, and were promptly greeted with a mean, snarling, barking little black dog that had just escaped from its backyard’s broken fence. This dog went for the face, biting and lunging. I pulled Rosee (who had frozen in shock) back, grabbed her collar, and pulled her through the opening between two parked cars to the other side of the street. Theresa, who had Simon, pulled him back, but with the attacking dog still pushing forward into Simon’s face space she too had to drag him across the street. Finally, did the owner come out and grab his dog. Fortunately, no one got hurt. Simon and Rosee did not get bit and a car didn’t hit us on our haste to get away. Unfortunately, we didn’t even get a sorry. No admission that his dog did something wrong. Nope. Nada. Zilch. Goose egg. Nothing. All we were left with was upheaval, fear, and anger.

Now, as you may know (whether from personal experience or other stories from me) these experiences and their following feelings are nothing new. I didn’t scream at the world. I didn’t cry at the injustice. I didn’t stomp my foot. I gathered my wits, my dogs, my sister, and moved on. But I have to tell you, I’m tired. I’m tired of dealing with other people’s stereotypical beliefs, of not being told “sorry” after attacks, of simply not having my dogs treated like dogs. Let’s face it, I’m tired of writing stories headlined “Guess who attacked us this month?”! The world can be a wonderful place, full of happy people and nice dogs. I’d rather write stories about that, but I have Pit Bulls. I bring my Pit Bulls out into the world. I walk them, I take them to parks, and I bring them around people. Doing such activities brings the stereotypes, misconceptions, scared stares, and nasty words.

Take that pesky bugs!
Take that pesky bugs!

Bright side? When the dog attacked us that morning Rosee and Simon did nothing. They just stood there. They let Theresa and I pull them away. They continued with their walk. In that one moment of time they were perfect. That moment, whether anyone else saw it or not, is enough to let me know that every mean word, every bad rap about Pit Bulls simply isn’t true.

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Review: NaturVet Odor Eliminator Plus

This week I’m going to discuss a topic that may not be the most pleasant. It certainly isn’t the most pleasant smelling, but luckily smell-o-vision hasn’t been invented yet. Nonetheless, if you too have animals in your home then you’re probably already familiar with having to deal with cleaning up their droppings. (I’m not sure the right word to use here, but you know what I mean right?) All dogs “go”, and all owners have to clean up after them. Yet, even if you are diligent about cleaning up after them, like we are, there is always a lingering smell, and with it comes flies. Various avenues have been traveled down in hopes of getting rid of this lingering odor and the accompanying flies. At first, water was used to wash the area where Simon and Rosee “go”, which helped, but by the time it was dry the odor was back. Next, water and vinegar was used, unfortunately that did not keep the odor away for very long either. Most recently, we decided to out-mask the offending scent by planting flowers and aromatic herbs, particularly rosemary. Obviously, this didn’t quite work out as well as we’d hoped either. That’s why today I am reviewing NaturVet Yard Odor Eliminator Plus. Frankly, it was a last ditch effort to rid the backyard of the offending smell, and the accompanying flies that liked to congregate.

Before I get started on my review though, I want to provide a brief visual tour of the backyard so there is a better frame of reference.

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Here is the back door that leads to the outside.
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Next comes the walkway that leads to the patio.
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This is the main patio area.
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This is the main grass area where the dogs like to lay down.
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Lastly, this is the side yard where the dogs “go” and also serves as an area to play fetch with Simon when it’s clean.

Now, this may seem strange, but Simon and Rosee have been trained to “go” in a specific part of the yard. Actually, trained might not be the right word as it implies that we humans actively taught them to do something, which is not quite the case here. We did encourage Simon and Rosee to do their business in the side yard when we put in sod in our backyard. However, Rosee and Simon mostly decided themselves that the best place to “go” in the backyard was the side yard because it was the place they spent the least amount of time. Also, the main patio is where their dog houses are, the places they like to lie down, and where we typically play with them. It seems that they made the choice that they’d rather not “go” where they eat type thing.

In the beginning I was somewhat skeptical to try some type of cleaner or deodorizer to get rid of the smell in the backyard. I know something stronger than a basic home remedy like vinegar was needed, but I was hesitant to use something stronger because Simon and Rosee’s skin can be extremely sensitive to things in the environment. Still, I was willing to give the NaturVet spray a chance. As the title says, this is an odor eliminator, but really it’s pretty much like a soap or disinfectant that you can spray in your backyard. It’s fairly easy to use since it has a hose attachment at the top. So all you have to do is twist it on to a hose, turn the water on, and spray over the area that needs to be washed. I, then, like to go the extra step and wash again with water.

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This bottle looks a little different than the second one we bought, but it’s basically the same thing. The new kind just has citronella in it as well.

It was decided to try the odor eliminator in the evenings as Simon and Rosee don’t spend much time outside once it’s dark. By that time they enjoy being inside laying on the couch or chewing on bones. Therefore, it seemed the best time to try this new spray wash because it needed to dry before the dogs went on it. The nozzle attachment worked fairly well and once the side yard was sprayed and washed it dried pretty quickly. And the best part…(drum roll)… was that it worked wonders on the lingering smell. The smell was gone and so were the flies! Furthermore, I liked this product because it kept the smell and flies away for quite some time. I think it was about three weeks later that I noticed the smell coming back and decided to wash down the side yard again. The only downside was that the bottle only lasted about 3 or 4 washes before it was empty, which isn’t necessarily terrible since this equates to about 3-4 months and I do know that our side yard is fairly long. Still, I kind of hoped the bottle would have lasted a little bit longer.

Overall, I would recommend this product if you’re looking for a better way to clean and deodorize your backyard. It’s easy to use, works well, and keeps your backyard smelling nice for at least a little while.

Good Fences Make Best Friends

Rosee has a best friend. No, it’s not Simon. He’s more her partner in crime, her devoted little follower, her antagonist at times even. Rosee’s best friend, on the other hand, is our neighbor’s dog, a Pit Bull that shall henceforth be known as Sunny. Now, Sunny is sort of an enigma of a dog. She’s been around for about the past eight years, adopted when she was just a puppy. She’s also had the run of the backyard for that same number of years, being the only dog in the neighborhood of backyards that includes four landlocked together. However, it was just over three years ago that Simon launched an invasion on the backyards when he became a part of my family. Simon’s entrance was soon followed by other neighboring dogs, a Pit Bull and an older Great Dane . It was around this same time that Rosee became a permanent fixture in my backyard as well, firmly taking control of guarding her fence (for better or worse). All of a sudden, Sunny was bombarded on all sides with dogs, dogs, and more dogs. No longer was she alone to wallow in her backyard, but she was surrounded with new best friends.

Or not.

It became clear when Simon was a puppy that poor Sunny did not get much socialization with other dogs. When she found Simon outside Sunny would immediately rush the fence and start huffing and running. While never outwardly mean, her behavior was slightly aggressive, though to be fair Simon thought it was all in good fun and would run back and forth along the fence practically smiling as he did it. Overall, Sunny’s reaction to Simon was never that worrisome because Simon didn’t know any better and Sunny’s owners always made sure to call her back to them when she became too much. However, it became clear as more dogs joined the “Backyard Crew” that Sunny’s reaction to other dogs had the potential to be quite dangerous. IMG_1595It turns out that most dogs do not react to slightly aggressive dogs like Simon does. In fact other dogs, including Rosee, and the two other neighbor dogs, get rather upset when another dog acts the way Sunny does, thereby reciprocating with similar gestures. It all starts with some huffing and running to catch glimpses of each other through the fence. Then a staring contest to see who will break first. An ear-piercing war cry is launched (seriously I never knew Pit Bulls could be so high-pitched until getting one of my own and getting to know the neighbors’) and finally comes the jumping at the fence and barking. The fence shakes and the whole episode sounds vicious. The first time it happened I actually thought that Rosee and Sunny had gotten a hold of each other, but fortunately the decade-old fence held up. IMG_1304Simply put, Sunny was not a fan of the new dogs encroaching on her territory. Also clear, as much as Sunny liked to tussle with all four neighbor dogs, Rosee was her favorite. In the beginning Sunny and Rosee would fight at the fence up to three times a day. It was summer and both dogs would go inside and outside as they pleased, which meant more often than not they ended up outside in their respective backyards at the same time, spelling loud, loud trouble for the rest of us. Rosee and Sunny were perfectly matched. The same size, same height, same build, both females, and both terribly territorial. It was this sameness though, this commonality that ended up sparking the fights at the fence between Rosee and Sunny because, come to find out, they were (and still are in some ways) both anxious and nervous dogs that had no real socialization with other dogs during that crucial time growing up. That’s it. They weren’t inherently aggressive dogs. They weren’t stereotypical Pit Bulls. They were just un-socialized.

Such a simple concept really, socialization. The process of learning how to behave with others by participating in social situations. The shaping of behavior to fit social norms. Socialization. Easy, not so much.

Dogs usually get practice at socializing as puppies, interacting with their mothers and siblings. After that, socialization can come in many forms, including meeting other dogs, people, animals, being trained, and just basically being introduced to the world in interactive ways. Now, Simon’s socialization was easier to help because we adopted him as a puppy. Unfortunately, before we adopted Rosee she basically spent the first nine months of her life in a kennel and the few times she was around other dogs she ended up getting bit. It wasn’t until my family brought Rosee home that we saw exactly what the lack of socialization early on in life meant for a dog. Rosee hated dogs walking past the front door and window. She couldn’t stand anyone making any sort of eye contact with her. She would bark incessantly if she heard the neighbors’ voices when she was out in the backyard. Any time she saw a dog while out on a walk she would just go nuts by barking, whining, and jumping up. It wasn’t until consulting a trainer that my family realized she wasn’t doing these behaviors because she’s aggressive. She’s doing it because she’s scared, anxious, and nervous. Talk about mind blown. Even more out of this world was recognizing these nervous and anxious behaviors in Sunny. IMG_1380So, how did recognizing Rosee and Sunny’s actual problems come to be useful to diffusing the numerous fence fights? Well, by knowing the reasons behind Rosee’s actions Theresa and I were able to tailor training so that Rosee began associating good thoughts with the fence. For the past year and a half Rosee has been subjected to an obscene amount of treats for any good behavior she displayed while at the fence. When she didn’t bark just because she heard the neighbors’ voices she got a treat. When Sunny was in the backyard, but Rosee didn’t notice she got a treat. When Rosee wandered to the fence, but then turned away she got a treat. Basically, anytime Rosee did not concern herself with what the neighbors (the human and the canine variety) were doing she got treats. Lo and behold, it actually worked!

The tussles at the fence have gone down dramatically, and not just in number, but also in intensity. Now, Sunny and Rosee spend more time staring at each other rather than jumping at the fence. Instead of seconds lasting between the staring and the war cry, there are minutes stretching between the two. When I do hear Rosee at the fence with Sunny I can just walk outside and call her away, and she responds! The fact is Rosee has learned, and still is learning, that she doesn’t need to guard the backyard fence, that the neighbors’ dogs don’t need to be barked at (same goes with their humans), and that she can actually be friends with Sunny. IMG_1499This everlasting experience of dealing with non-socialized dogs, both directly and indirectly, made me realize that barking dogs do not always equal aggressive. Jumping dogs do not always equal aggressive. Howling dogs do not always equal aggressive. Yes, if teeth are being bared, jaws snapped, legs running up and attacking, those are pretty clear signs of aggression. However, barking at the fence, jumping up and down, and war cries may have deeper meanings. Both Rosee and Sunny were simply dogs that did not get enough socialization as youngsters, and it had big implications for their behavior towards each other. And this isn’t just a call for ensuring people socialize their dogs, but also a spotlight on why it’s important to listen to dogs when they talk. Sometimes they are just saying hello, other times to stay away, and once in a while they are letting other people and animals know that they just don’t know how to interact with them. In Sunny and Rosee’s case they had to learn to be okay around each other, which also meant learning to be okay with others as well. It may have been a long, frustrating year and a half, but I have to say I am definitely looking forward to summer this year. Want to know why?

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Replaced fence boards. Still without a scratch.

I came home this past Friday afternoon only to have my mother tell me that earlier when she was out in the backyard with Simon and Rosee, the two found each other at the fence, stared, sniffed, and moved on. Rosee walked away to go lay in the sun on the grass and Sunny did the same in her own backyard as well. Now, that is a delightful best friend moment.