Tag Archives: dogs in the garden

More than Fetch

Recently, I made sort of a whim of a purchase. I was walking around Petco and saw the Outward Hound Zip and Zoom Outdoor Agility Kit, and immediately thought it was pretty cool. I mean, the agility course comes with three obstacles and in a handy carrying case.

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Really, how could I pass it up? I must admit though that I almost did pass up buying it due to the price. It was $50, which (to me at least) seems awfully expensive for something that comes in such a small bag and was not very heavy. Yet, I wanted it. I wanted it because it’s not something I’ve ever seen before. Of course, I have looked into dog agility courses previously, but besides books that cover building one’s own course or simply assume that the course pieces are easy accessible, I haven’t found an actual kit with pieces. Unfortunately, I am neither crafty nor handy enough with tools and such to build my own course obstacle pieces. DIY-er I am not. Still, I’ve wanted to try doing agility with Simon and Rosee for a while. Along with being a good form of physical exercise, agility training can also be mentally challenging for dogs, which is very good for dogs like Simon. I do know that actual training classes for agility are out there, but there’s really no class available close to us and these classes typically require your dog to listen to you well off leash. Regrettably, Simon does not listen so well off leash because he finds everything and everyone else he encounters more interesting, which is why he is only allowed off leash when we go to a dog park. Rosee is pretty similar, and, well, she is very lazy. If left to her own devices she’ll mostly choose to lay down and take a nap. She doesn’t like to exert herself if she doesn’t have to, and I can imagine she would decide to lay down instead of listen to me. Also, training classes can be expensive, and I wanted something that we could all do at home on our own time. As a result, I broke down my initial misgivings and decided to buy the Outward Hound Agility Kit to try.

The kit comes with three obstacles: a tunnel, weave poles, and a high jump.

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It seemed like a pretty good deal at first, and very good for a beginner like me who doesn’t know too much about agility. I know the basics from watching the annual dog agility competitions, but, really, that’s not a whole lot. Luckily, this kit comes with a handy-dandy instruction manual along with a tunnel, eight poles (six for weaving and two for the jump), and several curved pieces that create a circle in which your dog is supposed to jump through. There are also metal spokes included to hold the tunnel down, stakes to attach to the poles to stick them in the ground, and clips that attach the circle-hoop jump to the poles that hold it up.

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It’s all fairly easy to set up, and can easily be taken down and packed away when you’re down. I like the fact that it comes in a case because it makes storage easy and all the pieces can stay together so as to avoid losing any of them.

Now, I have to brutally honest here. While I may have initially liked the idea of this product, the actual product is kind of a letdown. The tunnel is awfully short, maybe three feet long.

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The poles are made of very thin plastic and tend to fall down when a gust of wind hits them, let alone a 75 lb. dog. In fact, after setting up the weave poles Rosee decided she wanted in on the action and stole one. The plastic was so thin that just by her carrying the pole around in her mouth left it dented. She didn’t bite down, but rather simply held the plastic piece in her mouth, and when she dropped it it had two pretty serious dents—pretty disappoint.

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Lastly, the circle-hoop is barely big enough for either Simon or Rosee to jump through, and some creative problem-solving was needed to create a jump that was actually usable. I actually had to take one of the weave poles and attached curved pieces to each of the ends to make a high jump that could accommodate Rosee and Simon.

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Plus one of the tails from the tunnel that is used along with a metal spoke to attach the tunnel to the ground ripped way too easily. Seriously, all that happened was Rosee went through the tunnel and when she came out she hit the end and the tail ripped.

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Tunnel tail with metal stake to hold it down.
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The metal grommet ripped right off of the tunnel tail.

Despite all of these issues with the agility course I do have to say that Simon and Rosee along with us humans have had an awful lot of fun with it so far.

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The course is not very big, but for the size of my backyard that’s okay. It fits on our small patch of grass, and is long enough to be good exercise. However, it’s not too long and overly complicated so as to have either Simon or Rosee become bored and run away to do something else– which Simon totally does by the way. Overall, I would recommend this product, but only if you happened to find it on sale or maybe you have a coupon. Frankly, I don’t think that it’s worth $50, especially considering the quality of the course pieces and the fact that it’s not really made for large dogs. There should be a recommendation on the tag that says for small to medium sized dogs (just my opinion, of course). Nevertheless, it is easy to use, to store, and has been fun to use so far.

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She just loves it so much she can’t wait!

Fly Chasing 101 (as dictated by Simon)

I thought I would be a generous companion this week and dictate a blog post in lieu of my human. She offered to do it for me, but really what does a human know of the sport of fly chasing? I’ve only been perfecting my methods for the last three summers. (Your sarcasm is noted Simon—Theresa) Though, I did require some help from my aforementioned human to actually type this post because, alas, my paws are not dexterous enough for the laptop’s keyboard. Nevertheless, my human graciously agreed to type my story out for all of you to see. She also tried valiantly to capture my demonstrations of each step, but I fear my movements occurred somewhat too quickly for her camera to capture easily. She did do her best however. Not everyone can be as multi-talented as me.

Now on to the main event…

First spot the fly

In order to properly fly chase the first thing that must be done is to spot a suitable fly. It’s preferable to choose a fly that is not moving around too much. If a fly is moving around a lot, then it can be more difficult to catch. You will need the right mix of focus and control to find just the right fly to attempt to catch. But do not fret, for it can take a while to spot an appropriate target.

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Searching for just the right fly.

Next move in closely (yet carefully) until your nose almost touches the fly

Once you’ve got a target in your sights you then come upon a most sensitive step: getting close enough to pounce. It can be difficult to approach, especially if the target is shifty. Yet, if you’re not close enough to the fly, then it can be difficult to ultimately catch it. That’s why a careful and patient approach is required. My owners may not think I’m very patient, and while most of the time I’d have to agree with them, I make an exception for fly chasing. Luckily flies aren’t the most intelligent creatures around (and surely everyone knows dogs are the smartest), which makes them an easy target. Still, it’s best to approach with some finesse to ensure that your target remains cooperative or at the very least unaware.

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Try to be as quiet as possible while moving in on the fly.

Then stay perfectly still until just the right moment

It is of the utmost importance to wait for just the right moment to pounce on your unsuspecting target. After you’ve gotten close enough it’s imperative to wait for the right time to make your move. Patience is key here! My people may not think that I’m capable of patience, but given the right motivation I can be quite good at waiting for the exact instant to act. The truth is I just happen to be cleverer than my people and have them trained well to suit my needs. (I, meaning Theresa, would 1) like to object to this statement, and 2) state that “I knew it!”) It is quite important that your target not know what you are planning to do. Instead the fly should remain in blissful ignorance until you make your move. Otherwise, you chance them fleeing before you’re ready. The phrase “still as a statue” comes to mind at a time like this, and also “keep your eye on the ball” (or fly in this case).

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I cannot stress enough just how still you must remain!

Last pounce on the unsuspecting prey

Last, but certainly not least, pounce on the fly! Hopefully, if you have been able to get close enough, your pounce will result in immediate capture. However, if you’re still working on your technique it can take a few tries in order to be successful. Flies are tricky targets and due to their size and ability to move quickly it can be difficult to capture them. Ultimately, their evasive maneuvers only make their eventual capture by me that much sweeter.

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This is me mid-pounce.

Now go forth on your on fly chasing journey. It may take some time and practice to master my steps, but actually capturing the fly is only part of the fun anyway.

Panting Through It: Ways to Beat the Heat this Summer

I knew summer was on its way, I guess I just didn’t quite realize that it was already here! Recently, the temperature has spiked into the 100s. For days. Of course, we make sure to turn the air conditioning on before it gets too warm and to keep the house cool, but in my house the air conditioning is not something we like to leave on for a long time. Generally, it’s used to cool the house down and then it’s turned off at night before we all go to bed. Unfortunately, despite the blazing heat, both Rosee and Simon expect their daily walk in the morning, and Simon still requires his afternoon play session. The problem still remains that it is too hot. Now, I don’t mind playing with Simon, but when it’s so warm outside it is not great to play for an hour. The cement is hot which can be dangerous for the dogs’ paws, Simon gets winded easily, and too much time in the sun can mean a longer time to cool down. Therefore, I am going to share a few tricks on how you and your dog can beat the heat this summer.

Trick #1: Hydrate. Hydrate. Hydrate.

Much like humans, dogs need to stay well hydrated, especially over the summer. Most dogs don’t have any problem drinking water. If they’re thirsty, they’ll drink water. Just like if they’re hungry, they’ll eat. However, during the summer there are a few important things to keep in mind when it comes to ensuring your dog is well-hydrated. Drinking water, while significant, can be harmful if too much is ingested, particularly at one time. So, in order to avoid this, the best thing to do is to give your dog water breaks over a period of time. For instance, if we take Rosee and Simon on a long hike or something of a similar nature we make sure to bring water for them and every so often we all take a short water break. This way the dogs stay hydrated throughout the whole walk. Also, while I know it can be tempting for your dog if they see a water puddle from a sprinkler or run-off, I don’t recommend letting them drink from these puddles. Rosee always likes to look for a puddle while we’re out on walks, but I can never be sure what’s actually in the water. Maybe there’s soap (if someone was washing their car) or run-off from lawns which could d have things in it such as fertilizer. So, just to be on the safe side, if you don’t know where the water came from and if there’s a chance that there could be something foreign in it, don’t let your dog drink it.

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Trick #2: Exercise early in the morning or later in the evening.

Even when the weather turns warmer, exercise is still a must for most dogs, especially dogs like Simon. Normally, I like to take Rosee and Simon for walks in the morning anyways, but during the summer we sometimes have to go even earlier than usual. Where we live it can get pretty hot (we’re talking in the 100s for multiple weeks). As a result, it gets too hot to go in the afternoon, and by the time it’s cooled down enough in the evening it’s too late (I don’t like walking when it’s dark out). Plus, I enjoy going in the mornings because for me it’s a natural energy boost. Either way, whether you go for a walk or play with your dog it’s important to avoid peak sun hours (I think it’s about 10:30am to 4pm). Along with avoiding the hottest part of the day, because it’s just not good for anyone to be outside when it gets that warm, it’s also important to watch out for your dog’s feet. While the pads of their paws are usually pretty sturdy, they can still be vulnerable to extreme weather conditions. The general rule (as far as I know) is that if the ground is too hot for you to walk on it barefoot, then your dog shouldn’t be walking on it for prolonged periods either. That’s why it’s best to exercise in the mornings before it gets too warm, or later in the evening after the sun has gone down.

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Trick#3: Find ways to engage your dog inside.

While daily walks can be rescheduled to more accommodating parts of the day, the same can’t be said for Simon and Rosee’s playtime. Every day around 5pm Rosee and Simon awake from their afternoon naps and decide that it’s time to play. The problem still remains that the sun hasn’t quite set and it’s still pretty warm outside. Yet, both dogs still expect to play.  Consequently, I’ve had to come up with ways to entertain them inside. Unfortunately, playing fetch inside the house is out because there’s not really enough room and Simon’s not great at paying attention to what he might run into. Although, if Simon and Rosee don’t get any playtime, they start to wrestle, and being part Boxers that can involve a lot of jumping up, which again, there’s really not enough room for. Ultimately, I’ve found the best ways to entertain the dogs while inside include giving them bones they can chew on, rope toys because they can both pull on an end (and they tend to tire out quickly) and it doesn’t take up a lot of space, and training practice. Besides the bones and rope toys, training practice is helpful in keeping Rosee and Simon entertained as it’s mentally stimulating and helps build good habits (since, you know, training your dog is really never ending).

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Trick #4: Rethink treats.

Most dogs love treats, mainly the edible kind. Simon will eat just about anything he’s given or stolen. He especially prefers tortillas, particularly the homemade kind (he’s weird like that), and while Rosee loves special treats as well she can be somewhat pickier about what she puts in her mouth. Nevertheless, treats during the summertime can take on a whole new meaning.  Ice is always a good treat during the summer, especially if you’re trying to keep your dog hydrated. Sometimes after their morning walks I’ll set out a bowl of ice for them to help them cool down more easily. Other times I just put ice in their water trough, although it’s mostly for my own amusement as Simon likes to bob for each piece of ice.  Also, during this time of year seasonal produce can make excellent treats. For instance, try a nice dog-friendly fruit salad. Rosee and Simon particularly love strawberries and bananas, and recently tried blueberries for the first time. Simon wasn’t too sure about the blueberry and actually spit it out a couple of times before deciding to eat it. You could even freeze bananas and strawberries to serve as a cold treat. Point is: get creative. Dog treats can be more than milkbones.

Trick #5: Take shelter.

Besides water, another summertime essential for a dog is some type of shelter. Particularly, if your dog is left outside when you’re not home it’s important to provide them with some type of shade or dog house. Personally, I prefer the igloo-type dog houses because they stay cool in the summer and warm in the winter. In addition, we have a covered patio so there is ample shade in our backyard. Still, when it gets to the days where the temperature reaches the 100s it’s best to stay inside. Originally, Rosee and Simon were outside dogs, meaning that when we weren’t home we left them outside in the backyard. However, due to circumstances (i.e. neighbors, and weather) we now leave the dogs inside when we aren’t home. Frankly, over the summer it’s just too hot outside to leave them there during the afternoons. I know leaving your dog inside isn’t for everyone. Some dogs aren’t used to holding “it” for long periods of time or maybe you’re afraid they’ll get into too much mischief. I would probably recommend then kenneling your dog while you’re gone. Otherwise, make sure that if your dog is left outside when it’s hot they have shade, shelter, and plenty of water.

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Trick #6: Throw a pool party.

Of course, when it gets too hot outside and the air conditioning just isn’t doing enough the best thing to do is have a pool party of course. Whether it’s a kiddie pool or an actual full-sized pool, taking your dog swimming or splashing through it can be fun, and a good form of exercise. Rosee and Simon absolutely love water, just not when they’re getting bathed. They love splashing around in the waves when we go to the beach, swimming in the river when we visit the local park next to the Sacramento River, and will not stay out of the pools at the local dog park we sometimes visit. Simon is a natural born swimmer. The first time we took him to the Sacramento River he went right into the water and took off. He couldn’t get very far since he was on a (very long) leash, but he swam around for about an hour before coming back in to the shore. Rosee, on the other hand, is a splasher. She’ll only go as far as she can touch the bottom, and loves chasing the waves at the beach. Overall, it’s just another way to have fun with your dogs, and it’s most fun when it’s warmer outside.

Rosee and Waves

Trick #7: Wet your dog down.

I know this may sound strange (or maybe not), but stick with me on this one. Due to the fact that dogs do not sweat they have to cool down in a different way, hence why they pant. Another way to cool them down though, is to get their paws and bellies wet. Now, I know what you’re thinking, and yes, dogs are similar to pigs in this way. However, instead of rolling around in mud (even though Simon would probably do this if he could), dogs typically will roll around on grass (since it’s usually cooler) or step through puddles of water. Or some dogs may be like Simon who just puts his front paws in his water trough, and if he’s really warm he will paw at the water in order to splash it on his stomach. Basically, getting your dog’s stomach and paws wet can help them cool down or at least keep them cool for a little while.

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So there are my tips for beating the heat this summer.

It may be hot outside, but there are still ways to have fun with your dog(s).

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.