Life with Jackson & Tinkerbell

Jackson and the Tissue and the Angel Dogs in Our Life
Jackson, the Tissue and the Angel Dogs in Our Life

Jackson,  the Tissue and the Angel Dogs in Our Life

by Lynn Stacy-Smith Jackson and the Tissue and the Angel Dogs in Our LifeFriday was a hard day for my dog loving friends. For one friend it was the one year anniversary of the passing of her beloved Golden Retriever who passed away at just ten years old after a battle with hemangiosarcoma, a type of cancer. While I talked on the phone with her on Friday afternoon, one of my best friends was saying goodbye to her fourteen year old Labrador Retriever. That friend had spent at least a year agonizing over how her dog was feeling, if she was living a good quality of life or in pain, and when she would know that the time was right to make the hardest decision that any dog owner has to make. Unfortunately I have been in both situations, I lost my Dutchdog to hemangiosarcoma and was in a similar decision-making process to my friend's senior Labrador with my late Babe, so I could empathize with both of my friends. I had never met my friend's Golden Retriever, but I felt like I knew him because of her posts, photos and videos of him on Facebook. I have laughed at his antics, cried when she shared with us that he was sick, prayed for him when he was going through treatment, cried again when he passed, and watched her share her memories of him in the year since she said goodbye. With my other friend's Labrador, I remember when she and her husband got her as a puppy, before they were married, before they owned a home, before they added human kids and another Lab to their family. We had all lived in Indiana, and around the same time they moved to Michigan and I moved to Illinois, so although I did not get to see her often, once again, I had fallen in love with her sweet dog through photos and social media posts and my friend's stories of their life together. I have laughed and cried as I've followed her dog's life, and I cried a great deal on Friday. Yesterday, two days after her dog's passing, I was sitting on my living room floor messaging back and forth with my friend and talking about how she, her husband, her kids and their other dog were all doing. I gave some suggestions on how to help the surviving dog through this time and I also mentioned that some of my friends referred to their late dogs as an angel and referred to them with that in their name, like Angel Dutch or Angel Babe, and how that might help her kids still remember their dog and understand that while she was no longer on earth, that their memories could live on. We talked about the story of the Rainbow Bridge and how we both hoped it was real, and that over the course of our lifetime we might both have a small pack waiting for us. I mentioned how I picture all of my dogs, Babe, Dutch, and Maggie, all reunited as angels, pain free, and playing together. Maybe my Mom and our other late dogs Snoop, Cinder, Jake, and Beau are there, too, everyone reunited and happy, their bodies healthy again.   Of course this conversation put me in tears again, and as I sat on the floor and typed in my phone and cried, I realized I had a tissue in the pocket of my hoodie, and I used it to wipe away my tears. Jackson and Tinkerbell had noticed that I was upset, and Tinkerbell had come and laid next to me, her beautiful head resting on my lap, her brown eyes looking up as if to say, "Momma, don't be upset!" Jackson came over to me and licked my face and nuzzled me, and just as I was in the middle of telling him that he was the sweetest boy in the world, he reached over and grabbed the tissue with his mouth, ripping it in half and stepping out of my reach. Before I could wrestle it from his mouth, he chewed and ate it. "Jackson! You little sneak! I thought you were coming to comfort me, and instead you wanted my tissue," I exclaimed, laughing at the whole situation as I looked at the half of the tissue still in my hand. He stood nearby, his ears perked up, head tilted, and his thick otter tail wagging playfully, as if he was laughing at the joke with me. That simple moment was one of the hundreds of thousands of reasons why we love dogs so much, why they make the most magnificent friends and companions, and why it is so devastating when we have to say goodbye to them. You see, I actually think that it was all a plan to make me feel better. Experts might say I am wrong, that dogs do not think like that, but I have seen the mind of Jackson at work. As my breeder said about him when we were trying to decide which puppy to take, "I think this puppy is going to grow into a very special dog," and I can tell you that Jackson is one heck of a smart dog to the point where we call him the Sheldon Cooper of dogs. I have seen him outsmart Tinkerbell hundreds of times with his wit and problem solving skills. I have watched him work hard to get some alone time for a tummy rub by luring her away with her favorite toy or moose antler, waiting for her to become involved in playing with it, and then laying back down next to me for a tummy rub without his kid sister interrupting him. I have watched him try to get her to come back inside the house so he can poop without his sister following less than six inches behind him. And I have watched him come when I called him, stop halfway to the house, turn around to go potty, and then resume obeying the recall command. So it is not out of the realm of possibility that he stole that tissue to make me laugh and stop the weird human crying thing that they know means we are sad. God sent angels down to earth in the form of dogs with notes saying, "Don't judge... just love." The dogs ate the notes... but they keep trying to deliver the message.When I sat down to write this blog, I thought of a saying that I've seen from time to time across social media. It says, "God sent angels down to earth in the form of dogs with notes saying, "Don't judge... just love." The dogs ate the notes... but they keep trying to deliver the message." I love that quote, not just because of Jackson's love of eating paper, but because it completely captures the essence of dogs and why we love them. Dogs love with their whole hearts. They don't hold back their love, they just love us without judgement, in the purest and most gentle and honest way. But they are silly and playful, too, and they just seem to know what we need, like a gentle, loving nuzzle followed by stealing and eating the very tissue that I was using to wipe my eyes. Jackson's antics did exactly what I believe he intended: I stopped crying and started laughing in that exact moment. I think about the losses of Babe and then Dutch. Losing both of them broke my heart; in my book I talk about the devastation I felt and how each time I did not want to face the world for several days because of the agonizing pain. And then, by opening my heart and home again, I welcomed first Jackson and then Tinkerbell into my heart. The "new" dogs never replace the dogs who have passed on to be angels; instead they simply join the ranks of the "heart" dogs who have come before them because the heart can hold as much love as you can feel. It is the reason they are so easy to love, such natural companions for humans, and also the reason that it is so devastating every time we have to say goodbye to them. In the last several years I've been learning a lot about energy, the universe, and how even though our loved ones may not be in their physical bodies anymore, that their energy still remains with us. Although I do not want to get in a religious discussion or offend anyone who believes differently, I like this idea. It is soothing and positive. I like the idea that my Mom's energy is with me as I go through my day, giving me her strength and support even if she cannot be with me physically. I like the idea that the energy of my late dogs is also with me, so that not only do I get to live side by side with Jackson and Tinkerbell on this earth, but with Angel Babe, Angel Dutch, Angel Maggie, Angel Snoop, Angel Cinder, Angel Jake, and Angel Beau. They may not be here in the form that I want, so that I can touch and hug them, play fetch with them or get doggie kisses from them, but they are with me all the same.

In loving memory of Angel Chesney and Angel Shooter

     
Jax, Tink and Canine Standard Time
Jax, Tink and Canine Standard Time

Jax, Tink and Canine Standard Time

by Lynn Stacy-Smith Jax, Tink and Canine Standard TimeAlthough Daylight Savings Time ended over three weeks ago, for Jackson and Tinkerbell the time change just happened two weeks ago when my husband and I returned home from two weeks out-of-town. It has not been an easy transition. To say that Jax and Tink are creatures of habit is a massive understatement. If all watches and clocks were to malfunction from some sort of electrical pulse, we would know when it was 6 a.m., noon, and 6 p.m. each and every day. Jax and Tink would be certain of that. Our dog sitter who stays with them when we travel takes amazing care of our dogs, but as a college student she has a much different schedule than I do. She is not always able to get meals and potty breaks in at the exact time that the dogs expect them, so their time with her is on a much more random schedule. It is this way every time she watches them, though, and they do not seem to keep her to their schedule the way they do me. In fact since I get an alert to my phone any time someone disarms our security system, I could see that they were not getting her up before 6 a.m. either before or after Daylight Savings Time ended. As soon as we returned home, both dogs immediately went back on their Daylight Savings Time schedule. No more "we're living like a college student's dogs, eating dinner sometime in the evening and being super chilled out about it!" Nope, it was as if they thought, "Momma is home, back to our strict routine!" Of course since dogs cannot understand our human time keeping and how we could jump forward or fall back in time, to them, this meant that their biological clocks said that 5 a.m. was the time for them to wake me up for their morning potty break and breakfast. And since they start to get excited about this favorite part of their day at least a half an hour to an hour early, this meant that I felt the first cold nose in my face anytime between 4 and 4:30 a.m. "No, go lay down, it's not time yet!" I told Jax on our first morning home. He was sitting upright next to the bed like he always does when it's time to wake me, his face right in front of mine without actually touching me. As he groaned a doggie groan of displeasure, I repeated, "Go lay down, Jax, it's not time yet!" We do this a lot, so I picked up my bottle of Lavender oil, opened the lid and wafted it around the air above me, something both dogs have learned means "It's not time yet, go back to sleep!" Jax didn't budge. He did another groan/whimper and I stuck my head out and kissed his nose. "I'm going to kiss your nose again if you don't go lay back down," I told him. He turned his head to the side to avoid me but didn't move. At this point Tinkerbell took matters into her own paws. Much less subtle than her big brother, she leapt onto the bed, stood with all four legs straddling me, and began licking my face and pawing at the covers to pull them off of me. When she became so animated (aka crazy) that she began to nibble my chin, I admitted defeat and got up. We repeated this for the next week, making slight progress toward the 6 a.m. goal. We finally reached that over Thanksgiving weekend, and we are now working on the evening schedule, too. Now, it's important to know that I know my dogs and the messages they are giving me, and I can tell when they truly need to go outside versus simply wanting me to get up to start our day. They hold their tails differently or run over to the door instead of sitting by the bed and nudging me or licking me. On days when they truly have a pending potty problem, we are up no matter the time on the human clock. [caption id="attachment_3764" align="alignleft" width="225"] Please feed me my supper![/caption] We have a similar struggle in the evening, too. Currently it is 4:18 p.m., so prior to the end of Daylight Savings Time, we would have been a mere 45 minutes away from Puppy Supper. Except now Daylight Savings Time has ended and they are both staring at me from across the room. I could go ahead and feed them now, but to get them to wait until 6 a.m. to wake me up, Puppy Supper cannot be early or the rumbling of empty stomachs gets them moving far earlier in the morning than this human momma is ready. Part of me has considered going onto what I call Canine Standard Time, aka The Dog Schedule. I've thought through all of the things I could get done by getting up at 4 a.m. in a house full of non-morning people. I would have the house entirely to myself. Coffee could be consumed, blogs could be written, social media posts created, all before the girls headed off to school for the day. [caption id="attachment_3765" align="alignleft" width="203"] The intense stare of the Tinkerbell.[/caption] Except then I remember that my brain works best in the evening, that midnight blogs are far more frequent than morning blogs in my self-employed world, and I could easily get a role as an extra in The Walking Dead as I shuffle toward the yard to take the dogs outside each day in my under caffeinated state. I am not the type to be productive at 4 in the morning unless perhaps it is because I am still awake from the night before. As a lifelong dog owner, I have mastered the art of the "second sleep" a very, very long time ago. While I thought this was something only dog owners and parents of young children embraced, it turns out that sleeping in two different time periods was actually the practice of many of our ancestors from around the world many centuries ago. According to an article in Slumberwise, humans went to go to bed for twelve hours, with an initial period of sleep that lasted three to four hours, followed by a few hours of being awake, and then another period of sleep until morning. In an interesting article on Science Alert, the writers make the point that humans might do better resuming this practice. So what did people do during these hours of awake time? According to both articles, they read, prayed, thought about their dreams or sometimes worked on creating new humans (you know what I mean). This sounds rather familiar, as I often check my social media or my email or watch a bit of TV in the time between Jax and Tink get me up before dawn and when I go back to sleep for a few hours after their bowels and bladders are emptied and their stomachs are full. Perhaps Jax and Tink are onto something and I should try to truly embrace having sleep broken up into two parts. Perhaps they have some sort of special wisdom and knowledge of better health and a more refreshed body as a result of getting me up only three or four hours after I go to sleep, keeping me awake for an hour, and then letting me go back to sleep for that second time frame. I mean, I do comment on a regular basis that I wished I had their energy, and dogs are known for splitting up their own sleep times. Or perhaps they are hungry Labradors who like to eat and cannot fathom why I am suddenly making them wait when just a few weeks ago I did what they wanted when they wanted. Either way, we will get through the time change adjustment as we get through all things, with patience and training; just in time for the clocks to leap forward again in the spring.   [caption id="attachment_3658" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Are you on the Love, Laugh, Woof mailing list? Sign up here![/caption]   392x72 General Kurgo
Disney Vacations and Epic Labrador Greetings
Disney Vacations and Epic Labrador Greetings

Disney Vacations and Epic Labrador Greetings

by Lynn Stacy-Smith Disney Vacations and Epic Labrador GreetingsWalt Disney World in Florida is known as The Most Magical Place on Earth, while Disneyland in California is famously referred to as The Happiest Place on Earth. For those of you who love dogs and Disney like I do, we all know that the happiest and most magical place on earth for us is anywhere our dogs are with us, with the Disney parks and the fun waiting inside of them taking second place to time spent with our real life furry best friends. Twice a year, or as much as we can afford to, my husband and I put Jackson and Tinkerbell in the capable hands of our most trusted and responsible dog sitter and head to Orlando, Florida to indulge our love of all things Disney. At home we are complete home bodies, preferring to save our entertainment budget for trips to see the famous mouse and his friends. In fact if I had to list my favorite restaurants, they would all be in the parks and hotels of Disney World. When we do Disney, we do it with great intensity, which is why you haven't seen a blog since we headed to Florida. Alarms are set so that we can be ready and waiting when the parks open, ready to race-walk to our favorite attractions. Some days we will stay at the parks from open until close, which sometimes means 8 am until 2 am. We are experts at avoiding lines, and when we get the chance to do so, we are like kids, getting off of one attraction and getting right back on to ride it again and again, or crossing the park to get to an attraction with a short wait time. According to my husband's Garmin, we walked 100 miles over eight days during this most recent vacation. Of course, like they say in the fairy tale inspired show Once Upon a Time, "magic always comes with a price" and for me that price is that I miss my dogs like crazy whenever I am away from them! Having a few trusted pet sitters in my life makes it easier to leave them in capable hands, but that does not take away the "dog withdrawal" feelings that inevitably strike. To make up for not having my dogs with me, I try to enjoy the novelty of a short break from daily 6 a.m. wake up calls and laugh with my husband about how odd it feels to have the entire bed to ourselves and be able to stretch our legs out straight. Usually on the first night I have a moment of panic when I think about how long we've been away from our hotel because 90 percent of the time, being away from home for more than eight or so hours means our beautiful dogs are waiting on us to go outside and go potty. Being the afore mentioned home bodies, though, I cannot remember the last time we were both away from the house for more than eight hours. Of course I text my dog sitter at least once a day. "How's everything going?" I ask, trying to appear casual. Since I am hopeless at covering up my emotions,  I am sure she knows that what my text really means is, "How are my sweet babies who are literally my heart and soul and who I have trusted you to care for according to my super strict rules and standards in my absence...no pressure!" Although Disney recently announced a pilot program in which dogs are allowed at select resorts, we stay in Disney Vacation Club properties, which are not part of the dog program. Dogs in the parks are of course limited to service dogs or police dogs in the parking lots, and even if pets were allowed, I would never take Jax and Tink there. Between blazing hot pavement and large crowds, theme parks are not exactly dog friendly. As a result, there are not a lot of dogs anywhere on property to help ease the dog withdrawal pains, and not any who you can touch or pet. In fact, someone could probably operate a service where vacationers who miss their dogs could drop in and play with dogs for an hour to get a much-needed dose of puppy love, maybe with rescued dogs with the funds going to charity. This year I was elated to come across a gorgeous Golden Retriever service dog that was owned by a Disney cast member (employee) who was working in one of the shops in one of the parks. I saw him as we rounded the corner out of the attraction and into the gift shop and at first glance I thought it was another guest's dog, until I saw that he had his very own Disney name tag. My heart melted as I watched him get up and help his human carry stuffed toys over to a rack to help stock the shelves. Of course service dogs cannot interact with people other than their owners, but it felt good to simply be in the presence of a dog. Usually by the end of a trip I am so desperate to see a dog that I am praying that the police dogs will want to sniff me at the airport. I think my husband has visions of me throwing myself at the feet of an officer, begging to pet the dog, because he often issues a preemptive warning, "You can't pet the police or TSA dogs!" to which my reply is, "I'm aware of that, although I wouldn't mind if they thought I looked shady and they just let him sniff me, I've got nothing to hide!" Some people claim that dogs cannot tell the passing of time and whether or not their owner is gone for one day or two weeks. I am not a scientist, I have not done official research on this, but I can tell you that our greetings after a long vacation are epic compared to a run to the post office or even an overnight trip. [caption id="attachment_3749" align="alignleft" width="271"]Disney Vacations and Epic Labrador Greetings Reunited with my loves![/caption] This year we arrived home late in the evening and seemed to catch the dogs completely off guard. Our dog sitter was there waiting for us, watching TV in the living room while the dogs snoozed on the sofa like they do each night. Of course usually these evening activities happen with us already home. I opened the door and Tinkerbell trotted around the corner into the hallway, not in a big hurry.  She quickly realized it was me and she raced forward and jumped nearly into my arms, showering me with kisses. Jackson ran into the hallway behind her, his massive otter tail wagging furiously, his entire body wiggling with joy. We went into the living room and I sat on the floor and let them climb all over me.  My entire face was covered in slobber, my clothes covered in fur, and I was back in my own personal, ultimate happy place, full of magic and Labrador love.  
Jax and Tink Prove How Quickly Your Dog Can Get into Trouble 
Jax and Tink Prove How Quickly Your Dog Can Get into Trouble 

Jax and Tink Prove How Quickly Your Dog Can Get into Trouble

by Lynn Stacy-Smith Jax and Tink Prove How Quickly Your Dog Can Get into Trouble If you've followed my blog or read my book, you know that I have a very firm rule about never allowing Jackson and Tinkerbell to go outside without a human present at all times. This rule is in place for a variety of reasons, including making certain that the gates are shut and latched, that nobody (like a utility worker or neighborhood child) comes into the yard while we are out there, and to make sure that the dogs stay out of the type of mischief that a curious dog can easily create. [caption id="attachment_3519" align="alignright" width="300"]Jax and Tink Prove How Quickly Your Dog Can Get into Trouble  Chilling in the yard[/caption] As the dogs have grown from puppies to adults, the fear of them getting into something that they shouldn't be eating or touching has diminished somewhat, but they are still dogs, and dogs explore the world with their noses and mouths. Most days, though, I stand outside with them while the most exciting thing that they do is sniff their world and search for treasures of rabbit poop or the certain type of grass on which they love to graze like adorable, small black cows. At four and six years old they get into fewer and fewer situations that would require my intervention, but the "humans outside with dogs at all times" rule will stand for the their entire lives, no exceptions. Last week I had grand plans of filming a product demo for the KeepSafe Breakaway Safety Collar as promised in the blog in which I reviewed this amazing collar. The first part of the video went great, I sat on my deck steps and recorded an introduction to the product, and both dogs came over to give me kisses and "say hello" to the audience, without being told to do so. They were well-behaved as I showed the features of the collar using Jackson as my model, how you hook it to the metal loops if you want to take your dog for a walk and how that acts as an "override" for the breakaway function, since you don't want a collar that breaks apart if your dog pulls on a walk, you only want that breakaway functionality when your dog is wearing it off leash. After I watched the video, there were some changes in lighting I wanted to make and a few edits to my comments, so I set about the task of doing a few more versions, as well as recording demonstrations without the dogs so that I could show the collar around the slats of our fence and deck. Jax and Tink were happy to come and duplicate the "giving kisses" part of the intro and be my model to show how to hook the leash to the collar and override the breakaway function, but when it was time for me to record without them, I swear they knew that they did not have my attention like normal and set about being intentionally naughty. I had expected them to do their normal thing and sniff around the yard, calm and mellow like normal adult dogs. Instead they chose to "exceed" my expectations by getting into every single thing that they could in our yard. Many experts will say that dogs don't think this way, but it was like they were working together and doing "bad" things on purpose. Over the summer our decorative bird house had gone crashing onto our deck during a storm, breaking it apart. It seemed as though it could be put back together, though, and since it was a gift that my husband had brought back to me from a motorcycle trip the first year we knew each other, I did not want to just throw it out. I had carefully placed all of the pieces on top of a deck box on our deck for him to try to fix when he got a chance, and the dogs had not noticed it or touched it since it happened in June. Also over the summer, my husband had purchased a hammock for himself and set it up it on the deck. Because it is so windy in our back yard, instead of leaving it set up, he took one side down so that both ends of the hammock hung from the same side of the metal stand and the hammock stayed folded in half until we wanted to use it. This has also been in the same spot on the deck since June and except for Jax trying to pee on it once, both dogs have also left this item alone. [caption id="attachment_3718" align="alignleft" width="297"]Jax and Tink Prove How Quickly Your Dog Can Get into Trouble  Jax proving that a human should always be watching[/caption] As I filmed a few versions of the demonstration of the collar's breakaway feature, I saw Tinkerbell race across the yard out of my peripheral vision. I know my dogs very well, and I could tell immediately that she had her "I've got something and I'm not going to give it to you" posture as she ran across the yard, her athletic body tucked down low and fast so that she could take corners with ease and play "keep away from Momma" with her contraband item. "WHOA!" I called out to her, "Stop!!" She stopped and went down into a play stance, a huge piece of cardboard hanging from her mouth. "Drop it!" I told her and approached her slowly. She took off at top speed and raced around me, stopping behind me and dropping into her play stance again. "Tinkerbell, I'm not playing," I said in my deepest, most stern dog training voice, "DROP IT." That did the trick and she let me take the cardboard, her tail wagging furiously as if saying, "But Momma, that was FUN!" I walked up onto the deck to put the cardboard on our table, gave Jax (who was just standing on the deck waiting to go inside) a scratch under the chin and told him that he was a good dog, and went back over to our fence to try to get another video recorded. Less than a minute passed and I glanced over to make sure that Tinkerbell had not grabbed anything else, and I saw Jackson tangled completely in the ropes that attach the hammock to the stand. "Jackson, what are you doing, crazy dog?" I called, and ran over to free him. "Buddy, what the heck are you doing?" I asked him. He had his head tangled up in the ropes, one was double wrapped around his leg, and as I walked up he tried to free himself and became even more entangled. "Whoa!" I told him, feeling thankful twice in literally a few minutes that we had taught that command to both dogs. As I freed him, I turned around to see Tinkerbell snatch a long black strip of wood from the bird house, leap off the deck, and run top speed across the yard as far as she could. "Tinkerbell, STOP!" I called again, "What the hell is wrong with you dogs??" I asked to the air, both frustrated and laughing at the same time. This time she gave up her treasure without any fuss, standing there while I came over and took it from her. "Ok, I think we're going to stop making this video for the day," I told her as she trotted along happily next to me. As I reached the deck I saw Jackson trying to make his way behind our gas grill to get to the fat trap that was full of rainwater and disgusting grease from a summer of grilling. "Jackson, OFF!" I told him just in time and body blocked him before he could take a lick of watery grease. I had blocked the access to this doggie delicacy with deck chairs because he had tried this on many other occasions. We headed inside the house and I sat on the floor with them and played like we normally do every day at 4 pm and I laughed to myself about their behavior. "What on earth were you guys doing, Momma has to work to buy you food and cookies!" I told them as they brought me bones to hold and engaged me in our favorite game of 3-way-tug-o-war. My video attempt was most definitely the epitome of the "laugh" of Love, Laugh, Woof. Sure they were going out of their way to be "bad" but I could not help but laugh at their timing and how it really seemed intentional to get my attention back to them. Since I was losing daylight, instead of filming my own video, I found an excellent video featuring the creator of the collar and shared that instead. I thought about how Jax and Tink had done an excellent job of proving my point that you should always go outside with your dogs and pay attention to what they are doing no matter how old they are, because they can find themselves in a dangerous position within a matter of seconds. Jax's escapades with the ropes of the hammock could have become a deadly choking hazard within minutes, and Tink could have easily swallowed shards of wood or perhaps nails or staples had she snatched up a piece with those in it if I had not been there to make her give it up. I will also be checking to see how dog proofed our yard is and not assume that because I am outside with them all the time or that they are grown adult dogs that certain items will not become hazardous on any given day. While this was intended to be a somewhat humorous story of how they were naughty on purpose to get my attention and that I will be recruiting a helper for videos going forward, it is dual purpose as it points out the very serious matter that it only takes a few seconds for your dog to end up in danger in your own yard or inside your home with everyday objects, with or without a collar on. The KeepSafe Breakaway Collar definitely helps alleviate some of the risks involving choking by a collar, but I also strongly recommend always supervising your dog in the yard whether on their own or when playing with the other dog(s) in your home.  

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Networking With Your Dog: Tinkerbell's First Restaurant Trip
Networking With Your Dog: Tinkerbell’s First Restaurant Trip

Networking With Your Dog: Tinkerbell's First Restaurant Trip

by Lynn Stacy-Smith Networking With Your Dog: Tinkerbell's First Restaurant TripEvery June lucky dogs throughout the country are able to go to work with their humans to celebrate Take Your Dog to Work Day. With a self-employed dog blogger as their dog mom, for Jackson and Tinkerbell, every day is Take Your Dog to Work Day. This year, however, a friend of mine from my all-time favorite networking group, Women Entrepreneur's Secrets of Success (WESOS) decided to make up her own Take Your Dog to Network Day and arranged a meeting for any of her self-employed dog owner contacts to meet for a networking lunch with our furry best friends. When the actual Take Your Dog to Network Day came around we had inclement weather, so the meet up was rescheduled for Friday, July 14. Since July is normally extremely warm here in the Chicagoland area, I chose to take Tinkerbell with me since she does a bit better in warmer temperatures. [caption id="attachment_3573" align="alignleft" width="225"] Tinkerbell enjoying her walk along the Dupage River[/caption] A friend asked how I can take just one of them with me at a time, and the answer is that although I feel horrible taking one dog on a fun adventure and leaving the other home, I make sure I alternate who goes with me to make it fair in my own mind. They don't remember, but I do, and so Jackson will get the next big adventure out into public or that consists of more than just a walk around the neighborhood. Although they walk well on a leash together and we take the majority of our walks together, it is still easier for me to enjoy our time out on a big adventure with one dog at a time. Otherwise instead of enjoying that time with that particular dog and seeing his or her personality shine through, I am worried that one is snarfing up something from the ground like a piece of random food or animal waste while the other is sniffing something in another direction. The day of the networking lunch we also received a spur of the moment invitation to be interviewed for a friend's new webcast in the morning, so Tinkerbell and I headed out around 9:30 am. Part of my friend's webcast includes her giving her guest a professional blowout in her home based hair salon, so this was Tinkerbell's first experience in a hair salon. She was so excited to be in this new situation that she kept forgetting that she is not allowed to jump on people, so she jumped a bit on my friend before calming down to sniff every inch of the salon and then chilled by my feet while I had my hair dried. [caption id="attachment_3574" align="alignright" width="225"] Tinkerbell in front of the Naperville Carillon[/caption] We did the interview outside and Tinkerbell was elated to sniff around the yard and explore a heavily wooded yard which is the complete opposite of our house on what used to be a cornfield. I was elated that although both Jackson and Tinkerbell sometimes have selective hearing in our own yard, that in this strange yard as soon as I said her name or gave her the "come" command that she immediately turned to look at me or ran straight to me. [caption id="attachment_3567" align="alignleft" width="225"]Tinkerbell at the Riverwalk Cafe Tinkerbell at the Riverwalk Cafe[/caption] After we left our friend's salon we headed to the Naperville, Illinois Riverwalk, which is a beautiful walking trail and park along the West Branch of the Dupage River. In fact my husband and I had part of our first date there as well as our engagement photos a few years later, so it is definitely a happy place for me. Tinkerbell loved it too and happily trotted along sniffing the smells and wagging her tail at other people as we headed to meet our fellow dog-owning business owners for lunch at the Riverwalk Cafe. My WESOS sister Mary and her Collie Quincy were already there at an outdoor table so Tinkerbell and I joined them. Quincy was adopted by her family as a senior dog just last fall and it is believed that she lived as an outdoor dog her whole life. She was originally rescued by a horse rescue before she found her way to her forever family who loves her and dotes on her like every senior dog should be loved. [caption id="attachment_3569" align="alignright" width="213"] The beautiful Quincy saying hello across the table[/caption] A bit later we were joined by another WESOS sister, Cathy, and her one year old Golden Retriever Tucker. It was interesting to me that the dogs did not interact much other than to sniff each other in an introductory fashion. Of course there were a lot of other patrons and people walking around and all three dogs really focused [caption id="attachment_3571" align="alignleft" width="191"] Tucker gets a drink of water[/caption] on us, their humans. Tinkerbell is so social that I had worried that she might spend the entire lunch trying to get to all of the other humans or engage the other dogs in games of bitey face and zoomies, but she was pretty content to hang out with me. Of course that might have been because I bought Tink her very own side salad, without dressings or croutons of course. And I know, I know what you're thinking, that I write all the time about the fact that dogs are not small furry people, but I did it on a whim to make the experience even more fun for her. I fed most of it to her well away from the table. [caption id="attachment_3568" align="alignleft" width="174"] Tink's salad[/caption] While I am an expert on creating a happy, healthy life for dogs, I won't say that I'm never a pushover for my own dogs. They are well-behaved and trained, but they may or may not have had a piece of cucumber or some sort of treat slipped to them from the table at various times throughout their lives. I am looking forward to our next Networking With Your Dog meeting so that Jackson can have his first restaurant experience and so that I can share the love of dogs with other female business owners and see how he reacts to dining al fresco with me. Although they are a bonded pair, Jax and Tinkerbell have such different personalities that it is fun to spend one-on-one time with each of them. [caption id="attachment_3576" align="alignright" width="177"] Sleepy Tinkerbell on the drive home[/caption] I find being out in public around other people and other dogs is a great bonding experience for our own human/dog bond because it confirms the fact that I am their human, their caretaker, and their trusted leader, and that they can and should check in with me for further instructions when they are in a strange place or situation. Well, for further instructions and perhaps a nibble of cucumber and some lettuce.   Happy Tails | PupJoy
Our Search for a Labrador Friendly Camping Trailer
Our Search for a Labrador Friendly Camping Trailer

Our Search for a Labrador Friendly Camping Trailer

by Lynn Stacy-Smith Our Search for a Labrador Friendly Camping TrailerMy husband and I have been searching for a camper all spring and summer. We have looked at everything from a luxury fifth wheel (too heavy and too expensive for now) to a teeny tiny 8 foot pop-up camper and everything in between. Well, everything under 4,200 pounds, at least. Throughout our search one thing has remained constant: there must be room for the dogs, a way to kennel them should we need to, and air conditioning to keep them cool. Camping is a fairly new thing for me. In the past I have gone on a handful of weekend camping trips back in my twenties and thirties with groups of friends, a cheap tent, some hot dogs and chips, and more of the cooler space dedicated to beer than to food. I have never done family style camping or taken any of my dogs except for one night when Babe and I stayed in a tent at a festival style party in a friend's yard. Even in my younger days I always had the policy of no drinking allowed when responsible for dogs, period. Growing up in rural New Jersey my family was extremely outdoorsy. We lived lakefront and had a canoe and rowboat at our disposal, went on tons of hikes, went downhill skiing all winter. We fished, rode horses, went ice skating, ice fishing, river rafting down the Delaware, took bicycle trips. My brothers and I played in the stream and the lake and the woods every waking moment that we were not at school until our parents made us come inside around 9 pm each night. But we never once went camping because all of those activities were either right in our yard or just a day trip away, or we went to our beloved Ridin Hy Ranch in upstate New York and stayed in cabins. Of course our black Labrador Retriever Snoop accompanied us on as many of these adventures as she could. Fast forward to adulthood and although I still love the outdoors and would like to resume most of these things that I did as a kid with my own family, with Jackson and Tinkerbell by our side, I won't pretend that my idea of camping is more glamping. I love to be outdoors by day and in a nice clean modern room to shower and sleep. If that room happened to have four or five stars, even better! Enter the need for a camper or RV! With each version that we have viewed we have had the same criteria: room for us and at least two of the three teens, and sufficient room for two seventy pound Labradors. Floor plans with long, narrow areas are out because there is nowhere for a dog bed and for them to snuggle up comfortably. Slide outs to expand the living area or hybrid travel trailers in which the beds are located in tent like areas that extend past the camper walls give more floor space. Even square pop-up units seem to give more floor space for the dogs than a long, narrow travel trailer without slide outs. I feel like we are on the HGTV show Tiny House Hunters as we contemplate each option and how it fits our life and family. "We can fold the dinette table down to a platform and toss dog beds up there at night, I bet Tinkerbell would sleep up there and Jax will probably prefer a bed on the floor" are among the things that we say. Or, "We could keep their travel crates in the back of the pickup when they aren't in them and put them on top of the folded down dinette if we want to go somewhere that they are not allowed, like to the pool or a restaurant, as long as the air conditioning is functional and we have some way to monitor the temperature!" Our Search for a Labrador Friendly Camping TrailerI have learned that 57% of RV owners bring their pets along with them on camping trips, according to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association. In fact we were recently shopping for campers at a Camping World location and I was happy to see that their selection of food and treats for dogs consisted of healthier, organic and grain free options and brands instead of the mainstream lower quality items that many stores that do not specialize in pets sell. In fact their dog aisles were stocked nicely with plenty of options for dog beds, bowls, steps and ramps, toys, tie outs*, moveable fences, and a huge selection of Dog is Good clothing and housewares. In fact once we start to camp I will definitely be purchasing the cute hoodie sweatshirt with a black Labrador holding a hot dog roasting stick in her mouth! Since these stores are located near popular camping areas around the country, their selection of products gave me the idea that they are a go-to resource for pet owners who live a RV lifestyle. It was nice to know that as a customer we could look for one of their stores if we needed anything for our own dogs. Although we began the summer about to purchase a brand new travel trailer with a toilet, a shower and a sofa, a veritable home on wheels, we decided to start small and inexpensively to make sure that we are indeed a family who even likes to camp. With this in mind, we have finally decided on the right option for us and are purchasing a vintage 1965 pop-up camper that we will gut and rehab from top to bottom. It may not have the amenities that I want, and right now it smells the way I imagine 1965 smelled, but we will make it so that it is cute and clean and dog friendly and has a place to go to the bathroom at 3 in the morning if needed. Of course it had to meet the criteria of having a nice space for Jackson and Tinkerbell to comfortably sleep at night as well as in the event of inclement weather if we are all stuck inside. My husband is designing a table that can act as a platform for them with dog beds that will match the rest of the decor, although I have an idea that the same sleeping arrangement will happen as does at home with Tinkerbell on the bed and Jackson on the floor next to me. Regardless of where they choose to sleep in the camper, they will be right there with us on adventures, which is exactly where a dog should be.
*It is important to note that while I am not in favor of tie outs for dogs at home, I understand their purpose at a campsite to give the dog a bit more freedom as long as the owner is right there with the dog at all times. 
Jackson and the tall, wet grass
Jackson vs. The Tall, Wet Grass

Jackson vs. The Tall, Wet Grass

by Lynn Stacy-Smith Jackson and the tall, wet grassNeither of my black Labrador Retrievers like to walk on our grass when it gets past a certain length.  Jackson objects to this type of surface more than Tinkerbell. While she will run through it, Jackson stubbornly refuses to step foot on it, which is creating quite an issue right now since the entire stairway from our deck is bordered with some very long grass. We use more water at the edge of our deck than we do in the rest of the yard, between emptying and cleaning out the dog pool, watering the flowers on the deck, and washing off where Jackson insists on peeing on the last step of the wooden deck. As a result, the grass all along the bottom step grows much faster and longer than the rest of the yard. My husband usually mows at least once a week, but it was rather dry and hot here during the early portion of the month, so the rest of the yard has not needed to be mowed for at least a week and a half, while the area all along the steps to the deck is long, dark green, lush, and growing like crazy. It is the best grass in the yard, unless you are a Labrador who does not like to walk through it. For the last several days, the temperatures have been excessively humid and we have had a lot of rain, so not only is that grass long, but it is now wet. Jackson's reaction to this grass reminds me of the "hot lava" game that children play, where the floor is lava and you have to jump from furniture to furniture to avoid being burned. [gallery size="full" ids="3523,3524,3525"] Before I tell the rest of this story, let me backtrack a bit. Last year I attended a fantastic event down in Florida at the Southeastern Guide Dog School in which you get to learn about (and play with) puppies who may grow up to be guide dogs or other service dogs. One of the most interesting things that I learned during this activity was that dogs who make it all the way to being actual guide dogs for the blind have to have a special quality that allows them to think through a situation and consciously disobey their human even when given a command that they would normally obey. The best example of this is a situation in which a human gives the forward command to cross the street and the dog knows that a car is coming and intentionally disobeys to keep the human safe. Not all dogs have this ability, which is why some of the puppies will go to do other jobs and some will be adopted out to families without special needs to be a pet instead of a working dog. As soon as the presenter told us this, I immediately thought of Jackson and thought that if he had been in such a program as a puppy, that he might have had what it takes to go all the way to actual guide dog. Of course I am glad he was not in the program because I am quite happy having him as my family member and best friend. I have Jackson go through this type of thought process on many occasions, with the best example being times that I have called him to come inside the house and he has not yet pooped. There have been many times when he started to run to me when I said, "Jax, come," and then stopped midway to me. Each time he looked at me, looked back into the yard, looked back at me, and then ran the opposite direction to quickly find a spot, do his business, and then race to the door to come inside. I have stood there and watched this and thought, "he is actually thinking through this predicament, he's being called to come inside but he knows he has to poop and should do it now instead of asking to come outside again." I have watched him problem solve on other occasions and can say 100% that he is paws-down the most intelligent dog I have ever had, whether he is outsmarting Tinkerbell to get a toy away from her, or waiting for her to go inside before doing his potty business because she follows him so closely no matter what he is doing and he just wants to poop in peace sometimes without his sister sniffing his rear as he goes. And now, with the tall grass predicament, I am watching him work out this issue with the same intellect. I assume that it is his sense of smell that alerts him to the fact that it is humid or raining outside. AFter all, that is their strongest sense, with a special part of their brain dedicated to analyzing scents in a way that humans could never dream of doing. He does not even need to go outside to know that the conditions are not to his liking; I can see his nose moving around, nostrils quivering, his snout tilted up before I even open the door. Sometimes he waits until the door opens, takes one whiff of humid air, and backs up as if saying, "Nope, not gonna happen!" To some extent, this is driving me crazy. He is of course fully house trained and neither a puppy nor a senior, so I can trust him to wait until close to the last-minute to let me know he has to go outside, assuming I am home. However the times that I have had to go somewhere are a challenge. I have tried every technique, from stern commanding human with a deep voice saying, "Jackson, come here now" to happy silly human with a treat in hand "good boy, come, come on Jax, good boy!" He knows the term, "off the deck" as well as "hurry up, go potty" but is simply not having anything to do with my requests. In addition to not wanting him to have an accident in his kennel when I am not home, I also do not want him to get a UTI from holding in his urine or be uncomfortable. I just want him to pee and find relief and get over this grass aversion. I am sure my friends who are professional trainers will want to scold me, as well as any old school "your dog must obey you at every command" dog owners, but so far the best method of getting him off the deck and onto the grass when I need him to pee at that moment is to give Tinkerbell a treat in the middle of the yard and then hold up his own treat before giving him the "come" command. I know, I know, I write all the time about training your dog, how the "come" command can save lives, how it's the most important one for them to know along with "stay", but when I have to go to a meeting, am starting to run late, and just want my dog to pee, I am not above simple bribery. Seeing Tinkerbell get a treat has been enough of an incentive for him to run through the awful, long, lush, wet grass to get his own treat, and once he's beyond the "hot lava" portion of the yard he's happy to roam around the shorter less offensive blades of grass. Once he is past that area, the grass is short enough that he will sniff around and relieve both his bladder and his bowels. Yesterday I tried putting an old blanket down over the grass to make a path into the longer grass. He was not falling for it even though Tinkerbell happily trotted on and off the deck with the blanket and I gave him a demo to show him what I wanted. He did, however, realize that he could leap off the side of the deck, which is fortunately just a foot or so off the ground, to a spot with much shorter grass. Once again, I applaud his problem solving skills and intelligence. It is better than another option that he tried, which was peeing on my husband's brand new hammock on the deck. That did not go over well; I knew the moment my husband asked, "Do you know what your dog did?" that it was not something good. Since he will not just get over it on his own, and I want him to be able to walk through surfaces that he does not like in the event of an emergency, I will double down on my training, using positive methods and a bit of creativity and work on getting him over this aversion in a way that is not too traumatic and maybe even a bit fun. If nothing else, fall will come and the grass will go dormant and we won't have to worry about it until next spring.        
Love, Laugh, Woof Celebrates All American Pet Photo Day
Love, Laugh, Woof Celebrates All American Pet Photo Day

Love, Laugh, Woof Celebrates All American Pet Photo Day

by Lynn Stacy-Smith Today is All American Pet Photo Day and here at Love, Laugh, Woof I am all for a celebration of photos of Jackson, Tinkerbell. After all, they are the biggest "why" behind what I do! Here are some photos of our summer so far: [gallery size="full" columns="2" ids="3509,3508,3500,3511,3512,3513,3514,3515,3516,3517,3518,3519"]        
Jackson, Tinkerbell & Their Obsession with Rice
Jackson, Tinkerbell & Their Obsession with Rice

Jackson, Tinkerbell & Their Obsession with Rice

by Lynn Stacy-Smith

Jackson, Tinkerbell & Their Obsession with Rice Jackson and Tinkerbell love to see who is the door. Is it a human friend who will come in and love up on them? Is it the nice UPS or FedEx people coming to bring them their Canine Caviar or treats? Is it a service person here to fix something who will say, "Oh, that's ok, I love dogs, you can leave them out of their crates" so that they can sniff them all over and get ear rubs and then watch their every move while they work on the furnace or security system or whatever they're here to fix? Or is it their ultimate favorite person...the person who delivers the food from our local Chinese restaurant? We used to tell the person taking our order to not even worry about the white rice, that we didn't eat it so why waste it. Then one time we forgot to tell them, and so we had a small container of plain white rice untouched after dinner. Of course white rice is the go-to food item for dogs with an upset stomach, so it is on the carefully crafted list of human foods that my dogs are allowed to have. Although neither of them were sick, I decided to give it to them just as a special treat, and they gobbled it up happily. [caption id="attachment_3384" align="alignright" width="300"]Jackson, Tinkerbell and Chinese Food Delivery Sticky white rice, a Jax and Tink favorite[/caption] The next time we ordered we let them bring the white rice so that we could give it to the dogs. As we ate, Jackson and Tinkerbell snoozed close by, completely unaware that the delivery contained something just for them. When I got up, took care of our dishes and leftovers and picked up their bowls to divvy up the rice, they raced into the kitchen like children checking out the tree on Christmas morning. As we went about our life we started to realize that the dogs were becoming very animated whenever we ordered Chinese food. They got so few things from our human dinners that they are not particularly bad beggars, so we laughed and pondered, "how on earth do they know that there is rice for them??" Pizza delivery did nothing for them, Jimmy Johns delivery did nothing for them, the Mexican restaurant delivery did nothing for them, just when we ordered Chinese food. And by the way, yes, sometimes we get busy or the kids go on vacation with their mother and we eat like college students for a bit, don't judge. [caption id="attachment_3386" align="alignright" width="235"]Jackson, Tinkerbell and Chinese Food Delivery Waiting for it to cool a bit more is so hard![/caption] I started to realize that it was their magnificent sense of smell that let them know that their rice was here. Over the years they have started to get pushy and have upped their begging game when we open the little boxes and cartons. Of course we have to let the incredibly hot white rice to cool, so I usually open it and set it aside all the way at the back of the counter to cool until we are done so that they don't burn their mouths or throats as they wolf it down. One day we pulled the items out of the bag and found that the restaurant had forgotten the white rice. "Uh oh," my husband said, "No white rice!" The dogs stood and stared up at us expectantly. "Should we call and tell them they forgot out dogs' rice?" I laughed, although I was only half-joking. In the end, we did not call and I figured the dogs would forget about it since the white rice was not there so there was no rice to smell. We were wrong. Both dogs laid on the sofa across the room with their heads on their paws and their eyes closed. If either of we humans moved an inch, their eyes opened. If we got up to fill our glasses or grab another crab rangoon, they raised their heads, ears perked up in the classic "I'm interested" way of the Labrador Retriever. As we cleaned up our dishes and put things away, both of them followed us into the kitchen. "Nothing for puppies this time," I said, clapping my hands together and showing them my empty palms like a blackjack dealer. They continued to stare at me as though they didn't believe me. "Nothing for puppies, let's go," I said and left the kitchen, thinking they would follow me out. They continued to stand and stare up at the counter longingly. Eventually both dogs gave a huge sigh and lowered their heads and walked out of the kitchen. They stopped in front of the sofa where we were watching TV and sat and stared at us for a while, two sets of deep brown Labrador Retriever eyes going back and forth between us as if they were watching a tennis match, hoping that one of us would produce their rice, only we were just sitting there doing nothing. Finally Jackson gave another huge sigh, walked into the other room, walked into his empty kennel and flopped down on his kennel mat. Tinkerbell looked at us and did the same. My husband and I looked at each other in disbelief but also somewhat amused. "They're pissed at us!" I said, marveling at their intelligence and overly dramatic reaction to not getting rice.  "How on earth did they know that there should have been rice but wasn't, I assumed they could smell the rice and that's how they knew?" After doing much research on how a dog's nose works for other blogs, like Why Your Dog is So Crazy and How to Put It to Use, I have come to the conclusion that they must know the scents of our other frequently ordered items and associate them with the rice being given to them, so when sesame chicken and crab rangoon show up in our home, their memories of those scents remind them that this means they are going to get something too. Watching my dogs use their noses is one of my favorite things about having dogs, and I often watch in amazement and tell them, "We need to put those noses to work," and so I am actively looking for a beginner nosework class in our area. Neither of them showed any interest in bird hunting or hunt tests, a sport in which both of their mothers excel, so I hope that one or both of them enjoy learning to find specific items so we can put those beautiful black noses and brilliant minds to work sniffing out more than just our sticky white rice from Chinese food delivery. On the night the restaurant forgot the white rice,  I did get out the box of Minute Rice that we keep on hand for emergency dog diarrhea situations and made them each a small serving of rice, which made them both extremely happy. I am not ashamed to admit that although I have strict rules on their nutrition and care, I'm a bit of a pushover. After all, isn't the whole point of having dogs to make them as happy as they make us? I most definitely think that it is.
A Lifelong Dog Person and Her First Cat
A Lifelong Dog Person and Her First Cat

A Lifelong Dog Person and Her First Cat

by Lynn Stacy-Smith

A Lifelong Dog Person and Her First CatIf you haven't figured it out yet, I am a diehard, lifelong dog person. In fact I love all animals, but some more than others. Dolphins, whales, manatees, wolves, giraffes are among my other beloved animals but of course those are a bit harder to bring into your family home.

When it comes to cats, they were always an animal that I liked from a distance but was afraid of if not downright terrified. I remember a night in my twenties when my best friend and I were going out on a social outing with a group of other women and we stopped by to pick up another friend who had just gotten a kitten. As it raced and jumped around the room I stood up against the wall, legitimately straight up terrified.

“It’s a kitten!my friends said, laughing at me, “You spend your life around these huge dogs but you’re afraid of a itty bitty kitten?”

My mom had a cat when I was born and it was insane. My only memories of it were that it would hide under my bed and scratch my feet without any warning when I walked by. I was only about four or five when it passed away, right around the same time I fell in love with Snoop, our first Labrador. My Dad also has some cat phobias and I grew up with the story of how a neighbor’s cat jumped onto his head from the roof of their garage when he was a young boy. I had never been afraid of a single dog, but cats were terrifying. 

Flash forward to 2013. I was on lunch at my former job, browsing Facebook. Our Basset Hound Maggie had passed away from Lymphoma earlier that week and Tinkerbell had not been born yet. In fact I had been skipping lunch with my work friends all week because I was so upset about losing Maggie that I didn’t want to be around anyone and either bring down the entire mood around me or try to laugh and act normal when my heart was broken from her passing. 

As I browsed I came across a post shared by the pet sitting company that I used. It was a post from a cat rescue organization and a photo of a small black and white cat. The caption read, “Molly doesn’t understand why she is at the shelter again instead of being in a warm and loving home. She is a special cat, she is more like a dog than a cat,  she likes tummy rubs and comes running when people come to the door!”

Emotionally raw from losing Maggie, I read this caption and started to cry. I shared the post and tagged my husband and wrote, “IF we were to ever get a cat, this it the type of cat we would need!”

My husband actually grew up with cats more than he did with dogs. Both of our daughters also loved cats when we visited friends and family who had them, like their grandmother and their aunt. Our son was neutral on the topic and I was honestly grateful that we had two very prey driven dogs in Dutch and Maggie that kept us from getting a cat. When Maggie passed away the conversations started, “If we are going to get a cat we ought to do it before the new puppy comes so that she can grow up used to the cat and not try to chase it.”

Within minutes of sharing the post with my husband he called my work phone. “I just applied for the cat!” he said.

An hour later the phone rang again, “I talked to the woman at the cat adoption place and we are approved. We almost weren’t because Jax isn’t neutered yet but when I explained that it’s because he’s in dog shows, he's really chilled out and relaxed, and he has zero prey drive, they approved us! She’s coming home tomorrow!”

“Uh, what?”

“Molly the cat, we are approved, I’m picking her up tomorrow!” he said happily, "I'm going to go out and pick up a litter box and all of the stuff we need!" 

The next day, Molly the cat came home to us. Being crazy Disney fans, and because we have a human daughter named Molly, we changed her name to Nala from The Lion King. 

“If you take everything I know about dogs and take the inverse of that, that is how little I know about cats!” I told my husband, who had vowed to take care of all cat related matters.

[caption id="attachment_3298" align="alignleft" width="225"] Enjoying her new scratching post instead of the chairs![/caption]

Almost four years later, I have developed a love for Nala, or as I jokingly call her, “The Cat.” We have had quite a learning curve as I got over my fear of her clawing me or biting me. She has all of her claws and we do not believe in declawing, especially with two large Labrador Retreivers as her animal siblings.

Jackson is super chilled out around her and they often sniff each other sweetly. He barked at her for the first few days but gave up pretty quickly.

 Tinkerbell wants to be the kitty’s best friend and for the first four years they played a modified cat/dog game through the slats of our stairs. During those first four years Nala lived primarily upstairs in our bedrooms because she was afraid Tinkerbell would chase her, a fear that was quite justified because that was Tinkerbell's favorite game from the first moment she arrived home as an eight week old puppy. Tink never tried to harm the cat, but the cat did not appreciate being chased by an exuberant young dog.

In the last few months, though, Nala has decided to take matters into her own paws, and has begun to hang out with us in the downstairs of our home. After much training and using the "off" command, giving Tink lots of praise and treats any time she calmly just sniffed or looked at the cat, we finally are able to have all of our animals in the same room in harmony. 

Sometimes when I’m outside with the dogs I see Nala in an upstairs window watching us with great interest. I laugh at what she must be thinking when the dogs gnaw on their antlers or play tug-o-war with a squeaky toy or do their doggie zoomies and games of bitey face. I imagine her writing in a kitty journal, things like “My captors feed animal bones to the two large black beasts that shadow the human mother of the house. I fear I am next!”

I’ve come to realize that feeding a cat is much like feeding the T-Rex in Jurassic Park, where you put the food out and never see them eating, and that we sometimes go days without actually seeing her when she’s decided to camp out in one of the (usually messy) teen bedrooms. She's been locked in our closet overnight twice because she manages to hide away in remote corners, and I am still not accustomed to having an animal but not knowing where it is or what it is doing every moment of every day. 

My husband and friends tease me because I have tried to apply dog training logic to the cat when she does things like sleeping on my folded clothes in the closet, sharpening her claws on our living room furniture or sleeping on top of my laptop, all pet peeves of mine. I tell her a stern "no" and move her to her cat bed or other location and then softly tell her, "Good kitty, good girl" and pet her.

They laugh and tell me, "The cat is going to do what she's going to do, you can try to move her from those places all you want, she's going to keep going back." I won't give up trying but I have also found workarounds like buying cat trees and scratching toys, putting my sweaters in plastic bins, and hiding my laptop from her when I am not working. We call this "Lynn vs. The Cat" and although I like to think that I am winning, with the number of things coming from Amazon to keep the cat from making a bed on top of my nicely folded leggings and jeans, I have a feeling she is actually winning the war.

Nala has taken our oldest daughter as her number one human but I seem to be in second place. I often ask her, "Why do you like me so much, you know I'm a lifelong dog person, right" as she purrs and nuzzles me.We do snuggle and she is warm and loving despite the whole clawing/kneading of the human skin that puzzles me. Although I don’t know if I would call myself a “cat person” I definitely enjoy having her in our life. She is sweet and warm and loving and it makes me happy that she has a forever home with us that is safe and certain and that she no longer has to wonder why she is in a cage and not with a family.

Tinkerbell's Fourth Birthday
Tinkerbell’s Fourth Birthday

Tinkerbell's Fourth Birthday

by Lynn Stacy-Smith Tinkerbell's Fourth BirthdayOur Tinkerbell turned four yesterday. Of course she doesn't know that four years ago she was experiencing the world from her whelping pen for the first time. She has no idea that we were anxiously waiting for the email from the breeder saying that there were "puppies on the ground" or that I cried happy tears as I looked at the photos of the newborn pups and wondered which one would become ours. And of course she has no idea what I am saying when I say, "Happy Birthday" except that the tone is joyful and good things like new treats and toys appear when those words are spoken. Since our favorite pet product store is right next to where crowds were gathered for the local wine festival yesterday, I decided to wait until today to take Tinkerbell on her birthday outing. Today we also had her annual veterinary appointment for her heart worm test so I decided to do her birthday trip right after that. That would also mean I only got one sad look from Jackson as we left the house without him. Of course I needed gas in my car, and if you've been reading this blog long enough you'll remember that Tinkerbell is not a fan of me getting out of the car without her. This time I thought I had her outsmarted; I was ready. She was secured in her harness and doggie seat belt in the front passenger seat to keep her from trying to follow me out of the vehicle, which worked until she stepped on the seat belt release button, but at least I had gotten out without the same dramatic struggle as the last time or a fear of her running loose through a crowded gas station. After I had paid at the pump, put the pump into the gas tank, and selected the type of gas, I looked up to see her staring at me accusingly from the back seat, her face pressed up against the glass and her distinctive brown eyes practically glaring at me as if to say, "you left me in here again!" If only Illinois would embrace the full service gas station like my home state of New Jersey, filling up with a velcro dog in the car would be much easier. Once I got back into the car she wrapped her front paws around my arm and laid her head on me as if to say, "No, Momma, do not do that again!" It had never occurred to me that we needed to train this during puppyhood, since I don't leave the dogs alone in the car. The gas station was the one situation that had completely slipped my mind. [caption id="attachment_3286" align="alignright" width="238"]Tinkerbell's Fourth Birthday Puppy Tinkerbell, photo by Colleen Nedrow, Payton's Photography[/caption] We arrived at Go Dog Go, our favorite local pet product store. It is now part of the growing Chicago based Bentley's chains of stores, but in my mind it is still Go Dog Go, with the same awesome staff and the same small business atmosphere. Tink recognized where she was and could barely contain her excitement as I gathered my purse, keys and got a secure grip on her leash before exiting my SUV. For all of her massive amounts of energy at home, she is hands down the best dog I have had in a store. She politely sniffed all of the baskets of pigs ears and bully sticks on the lower shelves, systematically moving down the row but never trying to snatch something on her own. Those baskets always remind me of the rows of candy at the grocery store at child height; of course the goal is for the parents to not be able to say no. We moved along and she sniffed all of the toys, first the Planet Dog Orbee Tuff options, then the West Paw Designs choices. Since we have most of those and I know her love of stuffed squeaky toys, I directed her to the Fluff n'Tuff section. Her tail wagged furiously as she checked out the options. I showed her the giraffe because of my love of April the Giraffe, but she snubbed it in favor of a giant stuffed bear that she grabbed off the shelf herself. I looked at the price sticker and put it back, "Let's look for a less expensive toy for you to rip to shreds," I told her and she wagged her tail happily as she grabbed an alligator off the slat board display. "Do you want another alligator?" I asked her, and she wagged her big thick otter tail even faster. "Ok, let's take the alligator home!" [caption id="attachment_3290" align="alignleft" width="313"] Birthday cookies! Just do not tell them I picked up the wrong pink one![/caption] Before checking out I grabbed three birthday cookies and a pink and white dog birthday cake. One of the cookies was for her to eat in the car without Jax trying to snatch up her crumbs, and the other two were to let Jackson join the celebration, just like we had done for his birthday in March. Although a 2008 study showed that dogs do have a sense of fairness and understand if one dog is getting treated better than they are, in this situation Jax probably would have never have known if Tink was dining on cookies while out on her adventure, but let's face it, I just love to spoil them. After all, isn't that the whole point of having a dog, to make them happy and do fun things with them? [caption id="attachment_3291" align="alignright" width="380"] Playing with the new alligator toy[/caption] At the end of the day, this whole birthday celebration is 100% a human thing. I would spoil them every day if my budget would allow. We would have doggie cake daily if I had not made a "no fat Labs" promise to my breeder to keep my dogs at a healthy weight. Later tonight I am going to cut the cake in half and maybe even sing a bit of "Happy Birthday" as we celebrate the day that this sweet girl was born. And while I write about how dogs are not furry humans, that we need to honor the fact that they are dogs, I'm pretty sure picking out a new toys and wolfing down some cake are concessions that my dogs are willing to make.  
Dogs are Simply the Best Stress Busters
Dogs are Simply the Best Stress Busters

Dogs are Simply the Best Stress Busters

by Lynn Stacy-Smith Dogs are Simply the Best Stress BustersI've been super stressed out lately. I cannot tell you why because I honestly cannot pinpoint exactly why I feel this way, whether it's the never ending political commentary on the news and on social media (and no giraffe cam to which we can escape) or the fact that the end of the school year is always crazy as a parent or whether I am simply overwhelmed with all of the various goals that I have set for myself. I can tell you that it is severely affecting my ability to blog and work on new books and projects and I am trying desperately to shift my energy back to being positive. Last night I was talking about this with my husband and he said, "Well, maybe you should write a blog about not being able to write a blog!" I told him that I guessed that wouldn't be the worst idea, only it would be more appropriate if my audience was fellow bloggers and not other dog owners. Then I realized that not every post has to be educational or fabulous. If you are following me it is because first and foremost you are a dog lover. And at the end of the day, it is our love for our dogs that makes us seek out knowledge and information about how to care for our dogs in the best way possible. And who better to understand how much comfort our dogs are in times of stress than other dog lovers? So today I am simply celebrating the fabulous creature that is the dog! Every now and then I am asked, "Lynn, what is your favorite thing about dogs?" That question is extremely hard to answer without simply saying, "Everything!" As I write about in my book, Love, Laugh, Woof, dogs have been integral to my life since I was five years old. I just had a birthday in March, which means that for the last forty one years of my life, dogs have been as important to me as air, water, food. I don't know if I have a "favorite" thing about dogs or if dogs are just simply a part of my soul, my energy. The love of dogs is now as much a part of me as much as my hair color, my height. In fact I like to tell the story of an allergy test that I had a few years ago in which the sample of  "dog allergen" was first scratched and later injected into my skin in a second test. It seems that I've lived so closely with dogs that they are literally part of me. Not only did those test spots not swell or itch, they did not even turn red like all of the other allergens that they tested. [caption id="attachment_3280" align="alignleft" width="300"]Dogs are Simply the Best Stress Busters Hanging out with Jackson[/caption] So when stressful times come, the dogs are my biggest source of comfort. In fact I cannot fathom the amount of money the dogs I've loved throughout my life have saved me by being my furry therapists. They are truly the answer to all of life's emotional woes. Sad? Snuggle with the dogs. Frustrated? Take the dogs on a walk to clear your head. Bored? Play with the dogs. Stressed? Pet the dogs. Confused? Talk to the dogs. Tearful? Let the dogs lick away the tears. A 2016 study confirmed what we dog lovers have understood for a long time: dogs can understand our emotions. When you add in the notion that dogs want to please us, along with the extremely important fact that they cannot speak English (part of their appeal), it is easy to see why our dogs become our most trusted confidants. Then there is the science behind what is going on in our own bodies. In 2008/2009 researchers concluded that more of the hormone oxytocin is released when we pet our dogs. According to Psychology Today, "Oxytocin is the hormone that underlies trust. It is also an antidote to depressive feelings." While I am a writer, not a doctor, when I put all of this information together it just proves the point that dogs are simply the best stress busters that we have in our lives! Not that we needed scientific proof versus decades of personal experience. All our dogs need to do is just be their normal canine selves and they help us lead better, happier lives, whether it's laying their head on you when they detect that you are sad or trotting along silently next to you on a walk in a mind meld that melts away all of the stress of your day.        
Even the Best Dogs Are Not Always Perfect Dogs
Even the Best Dogs Are Not Always Perfect

Even the Best Dogs Are Not Always Perfect

by Lynn Stacy-Smith Even the Best Dogs Are Not Always Perfect DogsAs much as I write about the importance of training, as much as I work with my own dogs in a "continuing education" sort of way, and pride myself on well-behaved they are, every now and then one of them just isn't having any part of following the rules they've been taught. Yesterday was one of those days. Jackson was a hard sell on loose-leash walking as a young dog and was not easy to train, but eventually I was able to teach him that if he's pulling, we aren't walking. We've since earned his Canine Good Citizen and he and I now have a nice mind-meld when we are walking that is one of my favorite things about having dogs as companions. All of this stopped yesterday when he discovered his love of goose poop. This is the dog who I often tell, "Jax, be a dog, do dog things, live a little!" because he does so few gross dog things. He has zero prey drive, doesn't have a taste for gross things, avoids mud and puddles and only rarely scents himself on yucky things. Trust me, I don't mind that he is not the type of dog to ever bring me dead animals or smell bad, but sometimes I wonder if he's missing out on some part of life as a dog. Apparently he took my words to heart this spring, because out of nowhere my neat, tidy, non-disgusting dog is obsessed with eating goose poop. Not just mildly interested or sneakily trying to get to some. He is straight up obsessed. In the park by our house where we take our walks there is no end to this disgusting dog delicacy. Last night Jackson lost his mind over the piles of goose poop everywhere and yanked and pulled with all his might, putting all 70 muscular pounds of force into his efforts. Not one to give up easily, I decided to proceed with the walk and work on correcting his behavior. It did not go well and our walk was horrible. I finally gave up and turned around on the trail, cutting our walk short, but we still had to go back the way we had come and it turned into frustrating comedy of errors: Jackson lunging and trying to pull me, (even with a short leash in a heeling position) followed by me holding firm and stopping my forward progress until he sat next to me. We would walk nicely for a few steps, he smelled more goose poop, lunged again, I corrected him again. "JACKSON, NO! OFF!" I exclaimed loudly to him. Not one to yell at my dogs, I raised my voice intentionally, hoping that maybe because I don't yell, that the unexpected sound would get through to his goose poop obsessed brain, as he was not paying the slightest bit of attention to me every time he smelled or saw another pile. I came across another dog owner and her dog (who trotted along quite nicely next to her) as she watched me holding back 70 pounds of lunging, desperate dog with one arm as he dove toward the poop with all four paws dug into the ground for leverage. Of course it was at that same time that Tink, who had trotted along happily next to me while I dealt with her brother, decided to see what Jax was so interested in and wrapped her leash around a nearby tree. "You've got your hands full with those two," she said. "Yeah, not normally! He's obsessed with eating this damn goose poop, normally we walk along quite nicely" I answered, completely embarrassed that my dog appeared to be so bad on the leash that she would say something. Finally we got out of the part of the park where the geese had been and Jax immediately turned back into my well-mannered boy. I am sure he could sense the negative energy coming from me as we headed for home, but he turned and looked up at me with his beautiful head and a huge doggie smile on his face as if saying, "You love me, Momma, you can't stay mad at me!" "You are quite pleased with yourself, aren't you?" I asked him, some of my annoyance fading as I looked at this face I loved so much. Of course I was upset and frustrated, embarrassed to be a dog blogger and writer with my beloved boy acting like a crazy beast, but more than anything I was scared for his health because of all of the germs and diseases that can be spread through goose poop. Since he was worn out from all of the goose poop lunging and pulling from the first part of our walk and because there didn't seem to be any of it where we were walking, I gave him a bit more leash and he trotted along next to Tinkerbell, both of them about a foot in front of me with plenty of slack in their leashes. "See, look at her, she walks both of her big dogs at the same time and they are so good!" I heard a neighbor say to someone as we walked by her yard. "Oh, you missed the first part of our walk," I thought to myself, "Jax is just worn out now!" As we arrived home and I removed the harnesses and leashes from the dogs, my husband greeted me in the kitchen as I went to fill the paw washing buckets. "How was your walk?" he asked. "Horrific! Do not accept any kisses from YOUR dog, he has a mouth full of goose poop " I said. "Uh, oh, Jax, it's not good when she calls you my dog," he said to Jax. [caption id="attachment_207" align="alignright" width="225"]Good Dogs Don't Have to Be Perfect Dogs But momma, I'm so cute![/caption] With paws washed, faces wiped down and their post-walk game of zoomies complete, both dogs crashed on the tile kitchen floor with their tongues happily lolling out of their mouths, and my stress from the walk started to fade. I picked up their food bowls and mixed a probiotic powder with water to give their immune systems a little boost and try to proactively thwart any upset stomach that Jax might get from his goose poop buffet. Today is a brand new day and I've decided that while the geese are around I simply cannot walk both dogs through the park at the same time. I will walk them together elsewhere or I will walk them one at a time through the park. At the end of the day, Jax is a dog, doing gross dog things. Of course it is my job to protect him from some of those dog instincts and figure out how to handle the situation better next time, but I shouldn't be embarrassed because he went into some weird dog brain zone and stopped listening and following my rules. No matter how much training you do, no matter how experienced of a dog owner you are, sometimes they just are going to do things in line with their instincts instead of their training. Jackson is most definitely amazing dog, in fact he is one of the best behaved dogs I have ever known. He is insanely smart with a beautiful disposition that I love unconditionally. If I wanted a perfect dog I could have bought a stuffed animal; good dogs can be the best dogs in the world without being perfect dogs.                
Funny Puppy Stories, the Laugh in Love Laugh Woof
Funny Puppy Stories: The “Laugh” in Love, Laugh, Woof

Funny Puppy Stories: The "Laugh" in Love, Laugh, Woof

by Lynn Stacy-Smith Funny Puppy Stories, the Laugh in Love Laugh WoofThe Laugh in Love, Laugh, Woof is all about including laughter and fun in your life with your dog. Whether it is laughing at the funny things dogs do, understanding that dogs enjoy the sound of our laughter and realize it is a fun and happy sound, or wryly laughing at something naughty or frustrating that your dog has done, laughing is important in life and with dogs. Sometimes laughter falls into the category best described by my favorite songwriter Bruce Springsteen, like the lyric from Rosalita that says, "someday we'll look back on this and it will all seem funny."  Stories like the one I wrote about earlier this week in The Big Black Dog and the Cherry Tree  fall into this category. That day was terrifying and stressful when it happened, but now I can tell it with a type of self-deprecating humor about how I tore the cherry tree right out of the ground and whisked Jax off to the vet only to later learn that it wasn't the harmful type of cherry tree, as well with some laughter about what a naughty puppy Jackson often was when he was little. As we continue our theme of puppies for the next week, here are two of my favorite puppy stories from each of my dogs. 
Jax Mistakes Inside for Outside
Jackson came home to us on May 5, 2011, and like most summers in the Midwest the temperatures stayed consistently in the 80s and 90s from Memorial Day until after Labor Day. Because we have zero shade trees and it feels like we are living on the sun, our air conditioning runs pretty much non-stop. The front of our house gets so hot for most of the day that you literally cannot touch the metal door knob without burning yourself and I'm afraid to hang a decorative wreath for fear of it combusting! As a result, virtually all of Jackson's first four months with us were spent with the windows closed and the lined drapes in the front of the house closed to help keep the house cool. [caption id="attachment_3193" align="alignleft" width="300"]Funny Puppy Stories, the Laugh in Love, Laugh, Woof Sorry, Mom, I thought I was outside![/caption] As we headed into fall that first year of his life, Jackson was 100% house trained. In fact he had not had an accident for about two months, a major accomplishment that we are actually going to talk about in my next blog. As a fully house trained dog I no longer followed him around watching to see if he would squat, and he had not yet started to lift his leg. We were keeping him intact until his first birthday for health considerations and thankfully he did not have any obnoxious boy dog behavior yet. On the first day that the temperatures dropped we turned off the air conditioning and opened all of the windows. In the front room of our house we have large picture windows that are quite low to the floor. That afternoon I was sitting in the front room reading a magazine and Jax started to explore the world through the picture windows, his black nose pushed up against the screen while he sniffed the outside air. I watched and smiled as he moved along the length of the window, pausing periodically to sniff some more. "Whatcha smelling, sweet boy, do you like having the windows open?" I asked him and he wagged his tail in response, nose still smushed up against the screen. My warm fuzzy feeling came to a screeching halt when he got to the bushes at the far side of the window. They were planted outside but tall enough that they actually touched the screen and he sniffed with great interest before squatting and peeing a little right where he stood sniffing. "NO!" I exclaimed loudly and told him, "Outside, outside!" I grabbed his leash and snapped it onto his collar and took him out the front door, praising him heartily as he finished urinating near the same bush only outside the house. Once inside he watched with great interest as I sopped up the pee with paper towels and then squirted it heavily with a mixture of white vinegar and water. I pointed to the violated area and calmly said, "no" while his eyes searched my face as if he understood. I didn't say another word, not wanting to do anything to accidentally reinforce this behavior.
Note: It is important to reinforce that you have to correct your dog while they're doing the behavior but since he was looking at the pee I took the chance that he'd understand. Remember to never punish your dog by rubbing their nose in a potty accident. 
Later on I shared the story with my husband. "So you know how Jackson hasn't gone potty inside in a few months? He was sniffing out the front screens and when he got to the bush he peed on the floor! I swear he got confused and thought he was outside!" That was the last accident we ever had and five and a half years later he's never even had an accident when sick. We still joke about it anytime the weather is right for open windows. "Ok, Jaxy boy, you are inside the house, ok?" we laugh as he wags his big otter tail and nuzzles us lovingly. Part of me thinks he understands and is laughing along with us.
Tinkerbell vs. The Dishwasher 
[caption id="attachment_3192" align="alignright" width="225"]Funny Puppy Stories, the Laugh in Love Laugh Woof Tink at obedience school with plenty of homework to work on the "off" command![/caption] It is quite normal for a dog to be interested in the dirty dishes in the dishwasher. I mean, come on, it's at their level and all of the dishes have remnants of actual food or at least the scents of human delicacies that are usually off-limits to dogs. They cannot resist trying to take a little lick as you turn to grab the next dish to put on the racks. Tinkerbell was particularly persistent in her obsession with licking the dirty dishes. She was around five months old and we had been working on the "off" command, blocking her from licking the plates and silverware and telling her off. In typical puppy rearing fashion this process was done over, and over, and over, and over. Her desire to get a taste of our dinner kept winning over her desire to please us by following our instructions. After all, dogs want to please their humans, unless it involves a young Labrador and their mutated gene that gives them their love of food. One night I was cleaning up after dinner and Tinkerbell was in her normal spot, watching me and waiting for her chance to get a lick of a semi-dirty plate. The door was open and the bottom rack pulled out all the way.  I turned to the sink to rinse out a pan and swiveled back to the dishwasher just in time to see the bottom rack go flying off of the door, bouncing and clattering across the kitchen floor with plates and silverware flying out of it and Tinkerbell racing at top speed in front of it as if she was being chased. [caption id="attachment_3191" align="alignleft" width="225"]Funny Puppy Stories, the Laugh in Love Laugh Woof Helpful appliance or terrifying contraption?[/caption] I ran after Tinkerbell and the dishwasher rack and caught up to her in our family room. She was panicked as I caught her and quickly removed her collar from her neck. One of the tags on her collar had somehow gotten caught in the narrow side portions of the wire rack and attached her to the rack, startling her. When she tried to pull away she had jerked the wire rack off its channel, which scared her even more, and she took off with the entire dishwasher rack "chasing" her. It all happened so fast that it was like a scene out of a cartoon, her paws slipping on the tile floor as she tried to run faster than she could with dishes flying out all around her. You could have substituted Pluto for Tinkerbell and animated it for a surefire Disney hit! These days at three and a half years old, Tinkerbell still loves to stand by the dishwasher and watch me. She embraces the "off" concept, though, but every now and then she darts in to try to get a lick. I tell her a stern "off" and she backs up and looks at me like they are trained to do with that command, waiting for further direction. Sometimes I ask her, "Don't you remember what happened the day the dishes chased you, sweet girl?" as she wags her tail sweetly, "Now, out of the room!" With a big doggie sigh she heeds the "out" command and goes to join Jackson in the living room, away from the potential attack of the dishwasher.

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The Big Black Dog and the Cherry Tree (1)
The Big Black Dog and the Cherry Tree

The Big Black Dog and the Cherry Tree

by Lynn Stacy-Smith
This post was originally published June 2012 on www.jacksonandtinkerbell.com
The Big Black Dog and the Cherry Tree (1)I woke this morning with great expectations of a few relaxing hours with the dogs. I had a doctor appointment for myself at 10:45 so I was using half a sick day from work. As a result I was going to have a few extra hours to let the dogs stay out of their kennels and play. They have had a few long days of more than normal crate time as my husband has been out-of-town and as the only dog parent home they were living on my schedule. The dog walker at noon helped, but I was happy they would get some more play time. As always I went outside with the dogs. Jackson is fifteen months old and still explores the world by putting everything into his mouth instead of just smelling it with his nose. Because of this I tend to stay close to him to make sure he is not consuming something that could hurt him. Over the last few days Jackson has been obsessed with our fairly new Bing Cherry tree. A month or so ago we planted an apple, pear and a cherry tree in our back yard. He was doing a great job of staying off of the trees, not killing them with his urine, and not chewing them. I knew exactly what was going on in his mind each time he looked at those trees: Best. Stick. EVER! This morning Jackson was intent on removing all of the leaves off of several branches and eating them. Not just chewing and spitting out, but actually eating and swallowing. He did this in record time. I body blocked him, I used the "off" command that I know he knows very well. I circled the tree, trying to keep my own body between the pup and the tree. I failed miserably. The more I blocked him, the more of a game it became. I raised my voice. NO! I even broke out the dreaded b-a-d-d-o-g. He darted in and out around me to get to the tree to eat more leaves with speed that should not have been possible with that stocky body. Finally I grabbed his collar and led him to the back door in what was probably a violation of all of our positive reinforcement training that we had done in the last year. It was old school training. It did not hurt him, was not cruel, and gave him the reminder that he must listen to me. Once inside he drank the entire bowl of water and flopped on top of the central air vent. In the meantime I decided on a whim to check my pet poison app on my phone. I was not too concerned as many of the dog treats I bought contained cherries so I knew the fruit was safe for canine consumption. My heart skipped a beat as I read that cherry tree leaves contain cyanide and were deadly when consumed in toxic amounts. But what was a toxic amount?? How many leaves had he had? He had been gobbling them up them like it was his mission in life! Our veterinarian is on my speed dial so I called the their office. None of the doctors would be in for an hour. I started to panic and I phoned the pet poison control line, paid $40.00 to open a case and spoke to one of their vets about the issue. She eased my mind that Jackson had not consumed many leaves in terms of being toxic and that the issue was usually with horses and cattle that grazed and ate a lot of leaves in fields where cherry trees grew in groves. My mind was somewhat eased but there was no way I wanted that tree in my yard anymore. I knew my dog and knew he would immediately go right back to it the next time we went outside, so I walked out into the yard and yanked the tree out of the ground. It came out easily and I put it in our front yard to deal with it later. The pet sitter was coming today and I wanted to make sure Jackson did not get to any more leaves. I sat with him and watched him, trying to see if he was acting funny or breathing weird. As I sat with him, I kept imagining leaves full of cyanide sitting in my puppy's stomach while I was thirty miles away all afternoon. I called the vet's office again and arranged for Jackson to stay in their medical day care area under observation. There was no way I was leaving my baby in his crate, helpless, while I left and went to my doctor and to work. No way. If they could not have taken him, I would have cancelled the doctor and skipped work today without even a second thought. Now, fourteen hours later, we have learned for sure that the number of leaves he ingested would not have been a toxic amount. The pet poison hotline also told my vet that the dried leaves contain a higher concentration and these were straight off of the tree and still green. The most important information, though, came from my husband, who ironically was attending a hazardous materials training class and spoke to one of his instructors who told him that the Bing Cherry tree is a different type of tree than the Black Cherry tree and the leaves are not toxic at all. I will always go with the "better safe than sorry" mindset. An $80 fee for a checkup and daycare stay at the vet's office is nothing compared to peace of mind of having a safe and healthy puppy. Racing to the vet in pajamas, unbrushed teeth, and wild bed head is nothing compared to the peace of mind of having a safe and healthy puppy. Arriving late at my own appointment and forgetting to eat is nothing compared to peace of mind of having a safe and healthy puppy. These are the moments you sign up for when you take on a dog. It is part of the commitment to them that you keep them safe. Now at the end of the day, as I watch him sleep peacefully, I flash forward to ten years from now, when his muzzle will turn white and he will sleep more than he plays. I imagine stroking his beautiful face, telling him the story of how he scared momma half to death one summer morning when he started to chow down on Bing Cherry tree leaves, and how it was a false alarm. I imagine him picking up his big blocky head, giving me a lick on the face, as if to say "Momma, I have no idea what you are saying, but I'm glad I am here with you".
Seek Our Your Dog For a Happiness Reboot
When Life Gets a Glitch, Seek Our Your Dog For a Happiness Reboot

When Life Gets a Glitch, Seek Our Your Dog For a Happiness Reboot

by Lynn Stacy-Smith Seek Our Your Dog For a Happiness Reboot Being a blogger and a writer for a living is a profession that can be impacted by emotions in a way that is unlike any other career I've had. I guess it is because you put your heart and soul into your work instead of just going through the motions of mindless tasks. Yesterday was just one of those "bad" days. Trust me, I've had truly hideous, heartbreaking days over the course of life; yesterday was more of a frustrating or annoying day. I find life precious and don't like to get sidetracked by that type of day at all, let alone when I'm trying to write as much as I wanted to write. I had the entire day blocked out for blogging and working on a new mini e-book that I will be offering to my readers, I had the house to myself as my husband was working and the teens were elsewhere. Instead of my regularly scheduled day, I ended up with so many other distractions, plus a bit of very hurt feelings and parenting stress thrown in that I could not shake, along with other things pulling me away from those tasks that the only thing I managed to accomplish was vacuuming up two Dyson canisters of Labrador hair. That was at 9 pm. The sense of accomplishment from doing something productive (especially taking care of the Lab hair tumbleweeds that were forming) was enough that I sat down with my laptop and started to write today's blog. I had written a few sentences earlier in the day and the topic just seemed stale, nothing was coming out of my brain, and I was just going through the motions. By 11 pm I had a few lame paragraphs and I decided to call it a night. Normally I love to write late at night when my husband is working, it's often my best thinking and creative time as I am not an early morning person. I shut my laptop and sighed in frustration. I heard the heavy thump, thump of a Labrador tail and looked down from my favorite writing chair and saw Tinkerbell  laying on her side next to my chair, peering up at me with her tail slowly thumping on the ground. "Hi baby girl," I said, and put my laptop on the side table before sliding onto the floor next to her. Tink rolled onto her stomach with her paws stretched out in front and gave a huge full body dog stretch before reaching out to lick my face. I laid on my stomach in front of her and stretched too, and a day's worth of frustration started to melt away. I kissed her nose and she licked my face and we alternated this several times before she rolled onto her side and pulled my hand toward her stomach with her paw. We laid like that for awhile, dog and dog momma sharing a moment on the floor while I scratched her tummy. Shortly after, Jackson came over and laid down next to me and put his face near ours, and I laid on the floor like that, my two dogs and I face to face, for the next forty five minutes before taking them outside and then up to bed. Mentally and emotionally, that time on the floor with them was like setting the reset button, like a control-alt-delete to make the glitches of the day magically go away and for my system to start the rebooting process to its normal positive, happy, creative and productive self. The dogs and I went to bed, I put on my favorite guilty pleasure TV show that the DVR had recorded, Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. I adore Erika Girardi and love, love, love the work that Lisa Vanderpump is doing to help dogs and end the atrocities in Yulin and the episode happened to focus on a trip that Lisa Vanderpump took to Hong Kong to continue her work to stop the Yulin slaughter. As I watched, Jax snored on the dog bed next to me and Tink slept next to me in the human bed, growling softly in her sleep. I have never once heard her growl in real life and I stroked her face, wondering what type of dream was making my sweet girl growl. When the show was over I turned off the TV, turned on the sleep meditation app on my phone and snuggled my sweet girl dog as I fell asleep. I woke in the morning to their customary canine wakeup service feeling refreshed, yesterday's nonsense no longer plaguing me. It's funny or ironic, or something along those lines, that my entire passion is writing about dogs, sharing the reasons why they are amazing, educating dog owners on how to create a happy, healthy, holistic life for their forever dogs, teaching people that dogs are sentient, loving creatures who should be treated with nothing but love, and yet I forgot on that very stressful day that by doing nothing and simply laying close to them and feeling their healing presence, that I could get back to my normal mindset. All they had to do was to be dogs and my spirits were boosted and I my negative mindset was turned back to positive, simply from some Tinkerbell kisses and laying face to face with both of my dogs on the freshly vacuumed carpet.
The Holding of the Antlers- Alpha Female or Dog Nanny-
The Holding of the Antlers: Alpha Female or Dog Nanny?

The Holding of the Antlers: Alpha Female or Dog Nanny?

by Lynn Stacy-Smith The Holding of the Antlers- Alpha Female or Dog Nanny-As I was getting ready to write my blog yesterday Jackson came up to me with an antler in his mouth and laid the end of it on my lap. He rested it there and with the other end in his mouth, looked up at me with his big brown eyes. "Do you want momma to hold that for you?" I asked him. He answered by pushing the antler closer to me. "I think that's a yes," I said to him. I moved from the chair to sit on the floor and I took the antler in my hand while Jax happily gnawed on the end of it. Pretty soon Tinkerbell came over with a different antler hanging out of her mouth and dropped it on the floor in front of me. I picked that one and held it out to her and she began to chew on the end. "Well, today's blog has been delayed by the holding of the antlers," I laughed and said to my husband who was sitting nearby. "That sounds like a blog all on its own!" he exclaimed. "Hey, I like that!" I answered, and so we have today's post: The Holding of the Antlers: Alpha Female or Dog Nanny?    [caption id="attachment_3088" align="alignright" width="225"] Holding the moose antler for Tink to enjoy[/caption] It was never my intention to get my dogs in the habit of chewing their bones with a human holding them for them. This is not anything I've done for my other dogs. All of them chewed their bones and antlers like normal dogs: by placing them between their paws to hold them. Thinking back to Jackson's puppyhood, it seems that we started this when we were teaching him which items were his to chew and which were off-limits. It was during this process that his keen intelligence was a blessing and a curse; a blessing because he was a fast learner but a curse when there was something that he just really wanted to chew like the leg of our desk chair or the spines of our coffee table books. Those items were so amazing for a little puppy that he did not care that we had told him no, he was going to chew them anyway. He really, really wanted to chew the leg of that chair in particular and no matter how many times we told him no, no matter how many times we removed his mouth from the chair and gave him an appropriate chew toy, he went back to it over and over and over and over, those razor-sharp puppy teeth making new dents and marks every time. In fact a few times I turned my back for a minute and found him gnawing wildly on the chair legs, huge chunks of wood missing after such a short amount of time! As a result, I spent most of Jax's puppyhood thrusting dog toys and bones into his mouth. When he redirected his attention onto them, I continued to hold them while he chewed. I remember so many days, exhausted from puppy rearing, that I sat on the floor in a sleep deprived daze while my beautiful destructo dog chewed on a toy that I held for him.  As time went on, he finally learned which things were off-limits and also conceded defeat and accepted that we would not in fact allow him to destroy our chair or books, and we stopped following him from room to room. Instead, he started to bring his bones and toys for us to hold while he chewed. [caption id="attachment_3090" align="alignleft" width="343"] Jax out-smarting Tink to get her antler[/caption] When Tinkerbell joined us, she was about 100 times easier to train about what to chew and what not to chew than her big brother, but she figured out that we held onto the antlers for Jax and she started to bring them to us to hold while she chewed. Gradually we have evolved into synchronized bone chewing, with me holding an antler in each hand and each dog happily gnawing away side by side. Of course I will never deny them this service. For one thing, I love being an integral part of their pack, that they come to me to do things like this for them. Every mom wants to be needed, whether it's by her kids or her dogs. I even researched to see if this was something a wolf mom might do, perhaps when the pack was feeding on a freshly hunted animal, but could find no such thing. Tink does like to lick my face near my mouth like a wolf pup does, but I do draw the line at vomiting to share my most recent meal with her. As Meatloaf would say, "I would do anything for love, but I won't do that." It may sound crazy to people, that I do this for the dogs, but it's just another unique part of our lives and something special for these two dogs of ours. It's yet another reason that this interspecies friendship is so amazing, that we've been able to establish these little traditions and quirks without speaking a word to each other.    
Dogs and Daylight Savings Time
Dogs and Daylight Savings Time

Dogs and Daylight Savings Time

by Lynn Stacy-Smith Dogs and Daylight Savings TimeDaylight Savings Time has a way of bringing out some intense reactions from people. It seems that jumping an hour forward is not everyone's favorite thing. Of course, tracking time by hours and days is entirely a man made concept and we don't ever lose or gain time, but that one hour seems to mess with some humans for a long time. For me personally, I love the start of daylight savings time! Maybe it remains from when I worked a 9-5 corporate job and the months when we left the office into total darkness were horribly depressing, or maybe it's because I'm really not an early morning person, but I am definitely happier when our daylight lasts later into the night rather than starting earlier in the day. My favorite thing about Daylight Savings Time, though, is that it puts the dogs back onto our desired schedule. Jackson and Tinkerbell follow a strict schedule and are more punctual than any dogs I've ever known. I call this Dog Time. It was not my plan to instill in them such a strict schedule since they are dogs and can live life without the burdens of tracking minutes and hours like humans. But, they picked it up on their own from our daily habits and have stuck to it every day since they were each young puppies. Jackson was only a few months old when we realized that every night at 10:08 pm he would come and sit in front of us and stare and whine for his last potty break outside. Not 10:00, not 10:15, 10:08. Every. Single. Night. "How on earth does he know what time it is?" we would marvel to each other. When Tinkerbell joined the family she quickly learned Jackson's existing schedule and became an even bigger task master, reminding me precisely when it was time to eat, time to go outside, time to go to bed. Tink's method is more intense than Jax's signature "sit, stare and whine" technique; she prefers "jump, trample and lick" when she wants to tell me it is time to do something. Since Jackson came home to us in May 2011 and Tinkerbell in July 2013, both of them came home during Daylight Savings Time, and as a result their schedules were established on that timing, based on our human lifestyle. When we go off of Daylight Savings Time in the fall, the dog schedule and the human schedule no longer match. If you're wondering why one hour makes such a difference, it is because I adjust within a week. The dogs never do. Trust me, I've tried to get them to adjust. They won't. During Daylight Savings Time the dogs get me up at 6:30, literally like clockwork. This has always been the time I needed to be up since Jax was born, first when I was in the corporate world and now to make sure that the teenagers are up and out the door and nobody slept through an alarm. I myself don't need an alarm anymore because I have my canine alarm clock. When Daylight Savings Time is over, the dogs stay on their schedule and 6:30 becomes 5:30. You would think the dogs would adjust an hour eventually but they don't. No matter what time they go out at night, no matter what I do to tell them to go lay down, no matter if I ignore them or make them wait an hour to try to get them to adjust, they will not. Their morning wake up call goes like this: Jax sits as close to the bed as he can, completely upright, while he whines and nudges me with his nose, over and over. Tink is less subtle. She either lays entirely on top of me or leaps on me, trampling my internal organs. Sometimes they heed my "go lay down" commands and settle for the hour while I scoot to the inside of the bed and try to ignore them. Other days they will have none of it. If I lay facing the outside of the bed, Jax grows more persistent and will flip my arm into the air and increase the frequency and power behind his nose nudges and the volume of his whines. If I lay facing the inside of the bed, Tink follows me and wiggles wildly, licking my face and pawing insistently at my arm to rub her tummy. It seems that Dog Time is like the state of Arizona, it never changes time and for those of us who do, we are perpetually out of synch with the ones who do not change. Don't get me wrong, I never want to be without this doggie wake up service, I just want it to be an hour later, like it is on Daylight Savings Time. [caption id="attachment_3083" align="alignleft" width="300"]Dogs and Daylight Savings Time According to our schedule it is time for something![/caption] It's not just morning that stays on Dog Time when Daylight Savings Time ends, it is everything: lunch moves from noon to 11 am, puppy playtime from 4pm to 3pm, supper from 6:30 to 5:30. When I try to force the transition back to my time, and wait until the time on our human clock, they sit and stare at me, side by side, for the full time, periodic moans and groans of impatience coming from them both. They've learned the phrase "It's not time yet" and will lay down with a grunt and an audible sigh, but still staring at me intently as if trying to will me to do what they want. In trying to figure out how the dogs know what time it is, I did some research and learned that scientists just are not 100% certain how a dog knows that 10:08 pm is time for their last potty break of the night and bedtime. Some attribute their sense of time to their circadian rhythm, an internal sense that tells them when to sleep or when to be active. Some experts think that they use their noses and incredible sense of smell, especially for things like knowing when their owner will be home from work. According to that theory, the owner's scent dissipates throughout the day and dogs know that when the scent is at a certain strength, their owner comes home. No matter what the reason, Dog Time has become the primary reason that I am doing a happy dance when Daylight Savings Time begins each spring and friends of mine are complaining that it is too dark in the morning or that their sleep schedules are messed up. I do love the light at the end of the day rather than in the morning, and it is also an indicator that spring and summer are coming and that soon we will have more daylight hours than we do during winter, but more than anything, I love that my dogs and I are once again in-synch about when it's time to start each day together. Sign up for the Love, Laugh, Woof Mailing list Check out these articles if you are interested in knowing how dogs tell time:  https://www.wired.com/2014/07/whats-up-with-that-dogs-tell-time/ http://www.animalplanet.com/pets/can-dogs-understand-time/ http://animals.howstuffworks.com/pets/dogs-perceive-time.htm http://www.akc.org/content/news/articles/dogs-tell-time-with-their-noses-expert-says/          
What if cats and dogs had opposable thumbs day
What if Cats and Dogs Had Opposable Thumbs Day

What if Cats and Dogs Had Opposable Thumbs Day

by Lynn Stacy-Smith What if cats and dogs had opposable thumbs dayYes, Virginia, there really is a "What if Cats and Dogs Had Opposable Thumbs Day." I cannot find the source of this day, in fact sometimes I wonder if someone "invented" these bizarre days just to see if people would celebrate them! Here at Love, Laugh, Woof, the answer is: heck yes we will! Literally just five minutes ago my husband made a reference to if the dogs had thumbs. It went like this: Teenager 2: "Guys, go lay down, I don't have any more cheese to give you!" Husband: "Yes, but you have thumbs, they know you can go and get more cheese from the fridge!" In the world of the Labrador Retriever, it was a long-standing tradition for Labs to have their dew claws removed at a very young age to avoid them snagging on brush in the field and tearing off in a painful way. None of my parents' Labs ever had dew claws for this reason. This is the same with many other sporting breeds and dogs who actively run through brush and weeds. [caption id="attachment_3014" align="alignright" width="300"] Tink uses her dewclaws to balance herself during turns[/caption] Recently, though, health experts and breeders are changing their view on removing dew claws, and many Labrador breeders and other breeders are keeping these claws on their dogs. This is because the dew claw is actually functional, according to M. Christine Zink DVM, PhD, DACVSMR who shares some interesting and educational information at http://www.caninesports.com/uploads/1/5/3/1/15319800/dewclawexplanation.pdf. In the two years between Jackson and Tinkerbell being born, our breeder stopped removing them, so Tinkerbell has hers, while Jackson does not. When we picked her up we noticed the dewclaws and our breeder explained the health benefits of leaving them on and we felt blessed to have someone so knowledgable about this issue and so concerned about the health of her puppies. "They also use them to hold things," she told us, "You'll notice when she's holding a bone or a toy." Sure enough, puppy Tinkerbell used her dewclaws to hold things right away. She used them to hold her antler and chew toys all the time, like a little thumb. "Oh no, we have the first dog with thumbs, we've lost our advantage!!" we joked to each other. Lucky for us, and despite our jokes that our dog has thumbs, dewclaws are not actually thumbs, even if she does have an extra ability to use them to hold onto things that she is chewing and use her paws to pull our hands to her favorite scratchy spot on her belly, something she does all the time. As a result, we still have a lot of silly conversations about all the things the dogs would do if they did have thumbs, so today is the perfect day to share them with you! 1. Snacks for everyone! Thumbs would make it so easy to get to snacks. They could open the zipper top packages of Fruitables, the boxes of Wet Noses treats, the jar of peanut butter. 2. Endless food! Like most Labs, Jax and Tink would eat nonstop if we let them, which is why their bags of food are in a locking container. Recently scientists determined that Labradors actually have a mutant gene that makes them hungry all the time and thumbs would mean that we were buying a lot more food each month and we would have 200 pound Labradors! 3. Inside, outside, inside, outside, inside, outside...Thumbs would make it possible to open the door, bringing their dreams of going inside and outside repeatedly all day to fruition. 4. Get those darn squeakers out of toys! The mortal enemy of any dog is the squeaker in their plush toys! No more working with their teeth to get those squeakers out, if dogs had thumbs they could easily tear the toy open or use scissors to get the job done quickly and efficiently. 5. Open the fridge! Fridge door, open! Cheese drawer, easy peasy! Meat drawer, oh yeah! 6. Open the fence gates: My late Dutch did this once with his nose, but thumbs would make it easy to come and go as they pleased, whether it was to go on a stroll around the neighborhood or to catch that pesky rabbit who keeps slipping underneath the fence. 7. Answer the front door: No more barking for us to answer the door or wondering who is outside the house, if dogs had thumbs they could easily answer the door themselves. 8. Play fetch with their paws: No more slimy tennis balls or frisbees, dogs with thumbs could play fetch with their paws and even throw the ball back to us. A whole new world of games would open up! 9. Explore the world with their hands: If you've had a young puppy, you know that they put everything, and I mean EVERYTHING in their mouths to figure out what it is. It doesn't matter if it's good for them or bad for them, it all goes in their mouth because it's the only way to pick it up. Thumbs would mean a dog could sit and contemplate an item and be able to hold and see it at the same time. 10. They could use technology: We all know dogs with their own social media accounts, having thumbs means that they could really truly update their status, take selfies with their friends, finally find out which Disney princess or personality color they are, and turn on Animal Planet and FidoTV while their humans are out of the house. Just don't let them add your credit card or you'll wonder how that PetFlow order arrived at your house without your knowledge! 11. They would thumb wrestle: If you have multiple dogs, you know those days when they play the lazy games of bitey face, laying on the ground and sparring with just their jaws for fun? Thumbs would introduce thumb wrestling to their lazy day fun! Of course even if dogs had opposable thumbs, they will wouldn't speak English, know how to navigate busy streets, know which foods were bad for them, or any of the other important things that we humans know to keep our dogs safe in a human world. As much fun it is to joke about the things they could do with thumbs, it's for their own good that they don't have actual thumbs, like mother nature's way of protecting them. Today, though, it's all in good fun, and I hope that Jackson and Tinkerbell's dreams are full of finally opening that jar of peanut butter all on their own and maybe playing three way game of catch with me!      
A Night In the Life of a Dog Owner and an Upset Dog Stomach
A Night In the Life of a Dog Owner and an Upset Dog Stomach

A Night In the Life of a Dog Owner and an Upset Dog Stomach

by Lynn Stacy-Smith A Night In the Life of a Dog Owner and an Upset Dog StomachI was supposed to write an interesting and informative blog for you today on social media and the do's and don'ts of sharing about dogs in need of a home.  Jackson's digestive tract had other ideas for me, though. I knew I shouldn't have had that latte so late in the afternoon yesterday. Three shots of espresso in the afternoon meant I was wide awake for hours after the rest of the house went to bed, and the last time I remember seeing on the clock was 2 a.m. At 3 a.m. I felt Jackson's signature wake up method, as he nudged me with his beautiful black nose. "No, Jaxy, it's not time yet," I mumbled. Another nudge and a moan. I scooted further toward the middle of the bed and away from the edge, hoping he would take the hint. This time he shoved his snout under my arm and flipped my forearm into the air. "No, buddy, go lay down. Dog bed. Go lay down." Another nudge and a moan followed by a whine. I sat up, bleary eyed. I know my boy and the difference between a serious request to go outside and his sneaky efforts to get his breakfast moved up to the wee hours of the morning instead of the standard 6:30 a.m. The whine told me everything. In a last ditch effort to call his bluff, I picked up my bottle of doTerra Petitgrain, opened it, rubbed a tiny drop on my hands and then let him smell it. Normally this results in him curling up again in his bed for the rest of the night. I'm not sure if it's the calming qualities of the actual oil or if he associates the smell of that oil with me putting it on myself before bed with it being time for him to also sleep, but 99% of the time a sniff of Petitgrain does the trick. Last night was the 1% time that it did not work. Meanwhile, Tinkerbell had noticed that Jax and I were awake and she was getting excited at the thought of going outside and possibly eating breakfast hours early. I looked over at my sleeping husband, wishing I could send him on night-time potty duty, but not wanting to disturb him when he had to leave for work in a few hours. Jax got my attention with a series of sad sounding cries, and I realized he really did need to go outside. Once outside he confirmed that his needs were real and that his stomach was upset. I stood in the light rain while he selected numerous spots and then I herded both dogs back into the house. We went back inside and I gave him a probiotic. Rather than go back upstairs I decided to go back to sleep on the sofa so we would be closer to the door. Instead of going to lay down, Jax sat next to me to be petted and I listened to his stomach rumbling and gurgling. We go through this about once a year with one or the other dogs, and so I got back up and gave them each a tiny portion of food. With everyone's needs met, both dogs went to sleep again. I made sure my alarm was set to drive my daughter to school at 6:30 and tried to get more sleep. At 5 a.m. I felt the nudge again, and opened my eyes to see Jackson's beautiful blocky head right in front of mine. Another nudge and a moan. "Oh, sweetie, you need to go out again?" We were back inside at 5:30 and I watched an infomercial about a magic copper pan for a while before falling to sleep for a few minutes before getting up to drive my daughter to school and to start the day. Needless to say, I am not at the top of my creative, mental game today. I'm hoping his digestive upset will run its course without meds, and I gave him some Honest Kitchen Perfect Form to help solidify matters before making an appointment at the vet. Of course I always worry about my dogs whenever they don't feel good, like any loving mom, and I hope that his digestive system settles down for the night and that we can get some uninterrupted sleep. Although this is not the blog I had planned on writing, that topic will wait. I think it's more important to share these real life moments as a dog owner, a night in the life of a dog owner, particularly with new or potential dog owners who see only the cute puppy photos and not the sleepless nights and upset dog tummies. I am a firm believer in knowing what you are getting into before getting a dog. The reality is that I would stand outside all night with him if I needed to, he's my soul dog, my Jackson, my big boy, and I love him as if I gave birth to him myself, but you still can't help but groan when you get the "I have to go outside and its an emergency" nudge in the middle of the night.
The Dogs of the Future
  Apparently I talk in my sleep. A lot. Or at least I used to in what I now refer to as a "past life" or at least a past relationship. I don't talk about that relationship often because I prefer to live in the present, to think about the future and I'm happily married to someone else now, but the story went like this: I was sound asleep in the middle of the night and in the middle of my REM sleep I asked the person with whom I lived, "Do the dogs of the future include any of our dogs?" "Uh, what???" was the confused response. "Do the dogs of the future include any of our dogs?" I asked again, this time louder and annoyed, yet still sound asleep. "I don't know...we only have one dog." was his response. This was at least 15-20 years ago but I still remember being told about it the next day and laughing my head off. I recall scratching Babe, my black Labrador Retriever and asking her in my dog mom voice, "Are you a dog of the future? Are you? You're a beautiful dog of the future, yes you are, yes you are!" [caption id="attachment_2630" align="alignleft" width="344"] Babe[/caption] That story took place when Babe was a young dog and that relationship was just about to start to fall apart, like a long, massive, unrelenting hurricane but with no peaceful eye in the center. Although I gloss over it in my book when I talk about Babe, those years were pretty bad, and in 2005 it all culminated in my worst year ever, kicking off the year by becoming single in my mid-30s after a decade with the same person and then losing my incredible Mom to cancer to end the year. Of course the breakup was the proverbial blessing in disguise, but getting to that point wasn't so much fun. Babe was my best friend and constant companion through all of it, through arguments and stress, through the dark days at the end of that relationship, feeling like my heart had been ripped from my body along with every ounce of trust and self-esteem that I had left, all the way to the increasingly light, brilliant, happy days as I figured out who I was, what I wanted, and what my life should be about. It was just the two of us during the rebuilding and rebranding of me, although in reality it had been just the two of us even with a third person partially present. Babe was with me if I cried or laughed. She was with me to snuggle in front of Sex and the City reruns or out hiking through the forest preserves. She was with me when I took trips to Indiana to help go through my Mom's things, and she was waiting at home to greet me as I went on a steady stream of very funny bad dates with every weirdo in the suburbs. It was Babe and me against the world. She was my silky black guardian angel. There were no thoughts of the dogs of the future because I had my dog of the present right by my side. Dutch came to live with us after Mom passed. He was like a little brother to me and taking him into my home meant keeping part of her with me. We became a little pack of three and he joined our hikes and our snuggles. [caption id="attachment_2631" align="alignright" width="280"] Dutch[/caption] A year and a half later I met my husband and a few months after that the dogs and I moved into his home that he shared with his three little kids and their rescued Basset Hound Maggie, a Brady Bunch of sorts especially since I quickly took over taking care of Maggie along with my two dogs. My husband was responsible for the human children, I was responsible for the canine children, and we settled into building a life together and then later on, planning our wedding. Several months after we were married, Babe's joints started to really decline. She was thirteen and a half years old and I started to find her splayed out on the floor, unable to get up, a terrified look in her face. I tried everything I could to keep her pain-free and able to get around, and then the day came when I realized she was suffering and could barely walk. She was trying her hardest so that she could stay by me, but she was in pain and agony trying just to stand up. The next day I laid down next to her like I had so many hundreds of times in the 11 years since I had adopted her, and I watched as my vet administered the medicine that made her heart stop beating. I had forced myself not to cry or show any sort of distress until she was gone, because I wanted to be strong for her. After she was gone I ran out to the waiting room where my husband waited for me, loud agonizing howls coming from my body, wails that I could not control even if I wanted to. I could not fathom a world without her in it. She had been my dog for eleven years and everything felt surreal, as if there was no way that she wasn't going to greet me every again or lay her gray and black face on my leg. It was early afternoon but I went to bed anyway, pulling the curtains and crying myself to sleep in the dark. Less than a year and a half later, Dutch was diagnosed with cancer in his spleen and passed away on February 1, 2011. During the last few weeks of Dutch's life he shivered constantly and we would cover him up with a red throw blanket. The day Dutch died I walked into the house, barely able to see through the tears, grabbed his blanket off of the dog bed, pulled the curtains once again in our own bedroom, and went to bed wrapped in that blanket. A blizzard was coming in and I stayed there like that for the entire day and night, only getting up the next day because my husband had to work and Maggie would need to eat and go outside. After losing Dutch I felt like I would never smile again, never laugh again. I felt stripped of all life, no matter how much I loved my husband, the kids and Maggie. I poured over rescue sites, sending my husband links to dogs who needed me and then breaking down in racking sobs because they were not Dutch. The grief of losing Babe that I had tried to avoid was fresh and raw all over again and I cried into either Maggie's fur or my husband's shoulder constantly with the pain of losing not one but both of my dogs. Of course time passed and I did smile again and I laughed again with the humans in my home and our silly hound Maggie. Jackson came home in May 2011 as a stout little rambunctious pup three months after Dutch had passed and licked away the tears I had shed for my late dogs, and then Tinkerbell came in with leaps and bounds and typical Tinkerbell antics two years later. Every now and then that sleep talking incident makes its way into my mind, "Do the dogs of the future include any of our dogs?" [caption id="attachment_2633" align="alignleft" width="290"] Jax & Tink[/caption] Although it was just some random talking in my sleep, I think about that question and whether I knew that there would be dogs of the future to fill the paw prints of the dogs of the past, dogs to join the ranks of "soul dog" as Jackson and Tinkerbell both have done. My bond is slightly different with each of them yet I cannot choose a favorite; they are different but equal. Jax is a little like Babe and Tink a bit like Dutch, but are still totally unique and special on their own. That's the great thing about dogs: the dogs of the present and future never replace the dogs of the past; the heart simply expands to hold all of them together.
Jackson Can't Play in the Snow Today
Jackson Can’t Play in the Snow Today

Jackson Can't Play in the Snow Today

by Lynn Stacy-Smith Jackson Can't Play in the Snow TodayWhen you know your dog well, you know when he or she just is not acting right. So when Jackson started to skip our nightly bedtime routine in which both dogs jump onto the human bed for their bedtime cookie before settling into their favorite spots (Tink on my feet, Jax on my husband's), I knew something was wrong with my boy. Instead of getting better over time, Jax began to turn down jumping on shorter pieces of furniture. Our dogs are free to hop up onto any furniture or chair, and I would watch Jax walk over to his favorite sofa, stare at it for a while, look over at me, lay his head on the seat of the sofa for a few seconds, and then sigh and walk away. At five years old it seemed way too young for arthritis, and he was eating, drinking and eliminating waste with his same enthusiasm. However, after realizing that not only had he not had any interest in playing with Tinkerbell for a few weeks, but that he also had not tried to get my attention by mischievously stealing my possessions, or at least reaching for them as if he was going to steal them, I made a vet appointment. After a thorough physical exam my vet determined that his hip was bothering him. Of course that one word can instill terror into the minds of many large dog owners. Hip. Because we know the other word that comes right after it, and it's not a word any dog owner wants to hear. Having been her client for almost ten years, she suggested we do x-rays to ease my mind and to figure out what exactly was going on and to rule out hip dysplasia. Of course we had selected our breeder specifically because of her dedication to producing Labradors who are sound in body, mind and temperament, but that did not mean that a problem could not occur in the hips of a dog from even the most dedicated and knowledgable breeders. Since Jax is not a fan of laying on his back for anyone, even me, he was mildly sedated and x-rayed. Later that day when he was ready for me to get him, my vet brought me into the exam room. "His hips are perfect," she exclaimed, relieving me of my worries. She showed me his x-rays and showed his two perfect little ball joints on his hips fitting just like they should in their sockets, and explained what they would look like if there was dysplasia. Then she pointed out the culprit and the reason my Jax did not want to jump or play: a torn muscle in his hip that he must have torn playing with Tinkerbell since their play sessions can be rowdy and including leaping the two steps from our deck to the ground in a single bound and racing around the yard at top speed with twists and turns. Many times Tinkerbell, who has the discretion and nuance of a wrecking ball, will body slam him as he sniffs the yard or nibbles on some grass, as a way of getting a game of zoomies going. On my way home I called my husband at work to tell him the diagnosis. "Remember when our breeder warned us not to let Jax 'break' little Tinkerbell when she was a pup? Well, this is the second time she's broken him!" referring to another time when she rammed into him and he limped for several days. "Luckily he will be ok but he needs two to six weeks of rest."   [caption id="attachment_2331" align="alignleft" width="281"]First snowfall of the winter First snowfall of the winter[/caption] A week later, after a few days of muscle relaxers and a daily dose of Meticam, we had our first snow. Seven inches fell, leaving our back yard a Labrador Retriever wonderland. Both Jax and Tink adore the snow and both like to leap off the deck and race top speed through the fresh white powder until their tongues are lolling out of their mouth and they flop down in a drift, panting happily. [caption id="attachment_2330" align="alignright" width="268"]We have not seen this stuff for months! We have not seen this stuff for months![/caption]       As soon as I opened the drapes over the sliding glass door and saw the snow, I groaned. But then to my delight, Jax trotted carefully down the deck stairs and went about the business of emptying his bladder and sniffing the freshly fallen snow, while Tinkerbell raced around the yard at top speed on her own. Just when I started to feel relief that maybe I could get Jax inside without him running around, Tinkerbell stopped in front of him and stared deep into his eyes. "Jax, OFF!" I called, recognizing the start of a play session as he stared back at her, his head leveling out with his shoulders and one foot inching forward as if he was starting to go on point. "Tinkerbell, come here!" I called as she inched closer to him, also as if on point. I knew what this was leading up to. "Dogs, NO!" I exclaimed, since they have learned over time that collectively they are called dogs. As I headed out into the snow to stop the zoomies before they started, off they went, two black flashes flying around the  yard in a game of chase, tails held high, mouths agape in sheer joy as they ran through the snow. "Ok, he's just running, it's ok," I thought, just as he turned a sharp corner, collided with Tinkerbell and he yelped in pain. "Jax, come here now!" I told him in my deepest dog owner voice since using his recall was the best way to get him to stop playing, and he trotted to me with his handsome Jax expression of "What, Momma? I wasn't doing anything wrong!" on his face. [caption id="attachment_2332" align="alignleft" width="282"]The snow just is not the same without big brother. The snow just is not the same without big brother.[/caption] I hated putting an end to their fun in the same way you hate telling your human kids "no" to something for their own good. They'll only have so many "first snows" when their bodies are young and muscular. Normally I cannot wait for the first snow because of how much fun they have. But, I am the human who keeps them safe and healthy, so I did indeed put a stop to their fun and sent one of our teenage daughters out to play with Tinkerbell in the snow while I went inside to keep Jax company. In fact I was reminded of the summer that same daughter broke her finger a day before we opened our pool for the season, leaving her trying to enjoy the pool with a plastic bag over her cast for the next four weeks. I recalled the summer when our older girl broke her arm on Independence Day, effectively ruining all outdoor fun the rest of that summer for her. In the same way we had to tell her "no" all summer. No you cannot ride your bike, no you cannot swim in your friend's pool, no you cannot play on the monkey bars. I'm hoping we will not get much snow until [caption id="attachment_2329" align="alignright" width="290"]Jax and his expression that seems to see right into my mind. Jax and his expression that seems to see right into my mind.[/caption] Jax's torn muscle is healed, but it is winter in Chicago and so I laugh at myself as I am writing the words. Dogs don't understand the same way that humans do when they can't go and play and do the things they love. I wish they understood if I said, "No, guys, Jax is hurt and cannot play rough right now," but they are dogs, not furry children, and so I will have several weeks more of the same sad look on Jax's face, as if he's searching my face for some answer as to why he cannot play in the snow today.
The
The “Why” Behind Love, Laugh, Woof

The "Why" Behind Love, Laugh, Woof

by Lynn Stacy-Smith The "Why" Behind Love, Laugh, WoofIn the world of the self-employed, entrepreneurs focus on the "why" that is driving them to pursue dreams that seem crazy to others. The "why" is that thing that makes them give up perfectly good, stable jobs. It is that thing that makes them work twice the hours that they would in a 9-5 job. It is that thing that drives them to work for literally no money for a very long time. The "why" is what they push back up to the front of their mind the hundred times a day they ask themselves the question, "Am I insane to try to do this?" For the longest time I looked at my "why" for creating Love, Laugh, Woof as revolving around my human and dog family in my own home. After all, self employment offers flexibility so that I can be there for teenage taxi services (aka rides to and from extracurricular activities) and I can work at home with my dogs with me instead of at a corporate office. If I could succeed at writing about dogs and teaching people how to raise their dogs I wouldn't need a dog sitter of my own to perform potty breaks and afternoon play time. Then there was my husband; I could spend long hours working when my husband was working and spend time with him when he was off. 1609792_10154770914397178_3340714313924513731_nNow, do not get me wrong. I live and breathe for my husband, dogs and human kids. They are a huge "why"for me. But they were also all quite satisfied and well cared for when I worked a corporate job. They still got all of my free time, plus I had a whole lot more discretionary income to spend on them. So I missed a lot of band concerts and sporting events and was still grumpy and aggravated by office politics and suburban traffic upon my arrival home, that was normal for working parents. In the last few weeks, though, I had a massive awakening, a  mind-blowing revelation  and huge "A-HA!!!!!" moment that the "why" for Love, Laugh, Woof is ALL ABOUT the millions of dogs who are not Jackson and Tinkerbell, who are not in loving forever homes with organic food, plenty of affection and a doting human mother. I am doing this not because I couldn't walk down the same well-worn hallway in the cube farm or spend another day teaching another college bookstore manager how many textbooks to order, I am doing this to save dog's lives!!  My "why" is the approximately 760,000 dogs who are relinquished to shelters because their owners do not have time for them! My "why" is the approximately 760,000 dogs who are relinquished to shelters because of behavioral issues! My "why" is the approximately 2,204,000 dogs who are relinquished to shelters because their owner cannot find a dog friendly place to live! These numbers are from the ASPCA Pet Statistics web page and are approximate, but they still show that owner surrenders contribute hugely to the heart wrenching shelter problem. If these dogs got out of the shelter and into a happy new home, it would be one thing. But 31% of dogs who go into animal shelters  (from all sources, not just owner surrenders) are killed every year. Many owner surrenders never leave the shelter again. These numbers are despite incredible efforts and the nonstop work of dog lovers who work on spay/neuter programs, stopping puppy mill operations and pet shop sales, and on increasing the adoption of shelter animals. These numbers also do not include strays who are also in dire need of forever homes and are on their own because they were simply allowed to run loose, intentionally cast off into the world or lost without proper identification.

The "why" behind Love, Laugh, Woof is to influence in particular the dog owners who relinquish their dogs because they do not have all of the information that they need to be a forever owner.

The "why" behind Love, Laugh, Woof is to influence in particular the dog owners who relinquish their dogs because they do not have all of the information that they need to be a forever owner. Maybe they were not educated enough about dogs before buying a dog, whether it was about how to approach dog ownership with housing in mind, what to expect in terms of time commitment, how to work with a temporary time constraint, who to seek in the event of behavioral issues. Maybe they have been through a major life change and do not know how to work through a new situation and keep their dog in their home. My mission is to help decrease the number of owner surrenders who could be prevented by teaching their owners how to be forever owners. As an avid social media user I see endless posts about dogs who need new homes because they shed too much, they had too much energy, a new baby was born, the owner did not have time for the dog, and all sorts of other reasons that can be fixed or prevented. It is daily and it tortures me to see them. My "why" is to help people in these situations, to perhaps show them another alternative, a way to keep their dog with them. I am blessed that along with a "why" I also have a "how". My "how" is through using my background as a corporate trainer and my writing ability, combined with my lifetime of raising dogs. I am thankful every single day of my life that I have some of the tools that I need to help solve the problem that keeps me up at night, that tortures me when I log onto social media, wanting only to see what my friends had for dinner, what their kids were for Halloween or bought on their latest shopping trip. My "how" also includes you, my followers, friends and family. I need you to help me spread the word, to share the message, the excitement of Love, Laugh, Woof. I ask you to share your commitment to being your dog's owner forever owner, what that means, and how you are doing that. I need you with me on this mission so we can truly get the word out that dog ownership is forever, that there are educational resources for dog owners, and that they can learn to be forever owners like you are. Maybe we cannot impact hundreds of thousands of dogs lives, and maybe we can. At least once a day I think, "you are insane, what are you doing, go back to the cube farm" and the other 23 hours and 59 minutes and 55 seconds of the day I remember that I am JerseyStrong, that I was raised to work nonstop on a goal, that this is what I have a heart for, and that I was raised along side these beautiful furry creatures that I love so much and I can finally give back to their species, and then I get back to work. If we help even one dog owner be more compassionate, be more understanding, more willing to see what it is like to live life as a dog in a human world, then we are on our way to fulfilling the "why" behind Love, Laugh, Woof. If we help one dog owner see that maybe they don't have to surrender their dog to the shelter, that they can solve different issues or work through situations that might be putting their dog's future in peril, we are on our way to fulling the "why" behind Love, Laugh, Woof. If we prevent one dog owner from dropping their dog off at a shelter or listing them on Craigslist, we are on our way to fulfilling the "why" behind Love, Laugh, Woof. If we help one dog, that one dog will be better off and we are one step closer to filling the "why" behind Love, Laugh, Woof. One step closer to filling OUR COLLECTIVE WHY.

Join the new Love, Laugh, Woof Forever Owners group on Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/lovelaughwoofowners

This group serves the dual purpose of being a place for forever owners to socialize and enjoy the company of other dog owners as well as promoting the importance of responsible dog ownership for all the days of a dog's life.

         
Human Exercise & Labrador Kisses
The other day I forced myself to go back to the gym and resume my weight machine routine that has been completely forgotten for far too long. Anyone who has done this knows what this means: I am still completely sore and miserable two days later. Last night I decided to try out my husband's foam roller to try to get over the pain a bit faster. If you are not familiar with the foam roller, it is just as it sounds: a large round piece of foam that you roll your muscles on to get rid of the soreness. Because the muscles really plaguing me are basically every muscle I have on my arms and shoulders, front and back, I decided that the best way to roll them was to lay on my stomach and put the roller under my arms and move back and forth on top of the foam like a turtle trying to make it over a log. Sorry, I am not showing photos of this...I'm open to sharing my life but maybe not that open, as I am not particularly graceful! Of course all dog owners can predict what happened the moment the dogs noticed that I was on the ground: Jackson and Tinkerbell came running to investigate, which I like to translate into English as "Mommy's doing something fun!!!!" Jackson, who is much more dignified and reserved, sauntered over with a wagging tail and sniffed me from head to toe before laying down a foot away and watching me from the corner of his eye. Tinkerbell, however, is our crazy girl, and she flung herself to the ground in front of me, licking my entire face while her tail wagged furiously and she wiggled in joy. "Tinkerbell, stop!" I exclaimed while laughing hysterically, unable to quickly escape the full facial cleansing because of my position and the pain in my muscles. My exclamations and laughter only made her more excited to be on the floor with me. My husband, instead of saving me from massive amounts of Labrador drool, added to the situation, "Mommy's on the floor, you better get her!" he said as she stood up in a play stance and started to nibble my ear. "Tink, NO!" I exclaimed and she straddled my back and grabbed the hair tie out of my hair and pulled it off, her tail wagging so hard that I am surprised it remained attached to her body. With the hair tie in her mouth, she stomped her paw into my spine as she pushed off of me to run into the other room with her bounty. "Come here, you crazy beast" I called as I struggled to get up to follow her into the other room. She was halfway under the coffee table, her mouth clamped down and a suspicious look in her face. "Drop it!" I commanded as she avoided eye contact. "Tinkerbell, drop it!" I told her again, my tone of voice deeper. I held back laughter as she opened her mouth and spit out the hair tie. "Good girl, good girl," I told her as I petted her head and reached down to grab the slobbery elastic from the floor. As I went back into the family room she trotted along happily next to me, looking up as if to say, "Ok, Mom, what are we doing next for fun?"  
A New Training Opportunity is Revealed: Tinkerbell & the Gas Station
  Yesterday the dogs and I headed out on a mini-adventure for a nail trim and a romp around my friend's farm. With my gas tank almost empty, I decided I should stop for a quick partial fill up so that the dogs and I would not have to push the SUV midway through our destination...or so that I would not have to wait for AAA to bring me more gas with two dogs in my car on a steamy summer morning. I pulled into a gas station, turned off the car and told the dogs to stay. Both of them were strapped into their car seatbelt harnesses but it is important to still give them the command and go through the normal routine in case there is ever a situation when they are not in their harnesses. The air conditioning had been blasting away and the car was nice and cold, giving me a short bit of time to put in just a partial tank before things started to heat up. I did not want to wait for the tank to fill and risk the temperature soaring inside the car. I am obsessive about making sure they are never, ever left in a hot car.  As I got out of the car, both dogs watched me with great interest. Tinkerbell was in her normal front seat and Jackson in the back. With conformation shows and many advanced obedience classes in his past, Jackson has been in the car without me for a few minutes here and there when we have gone to shows or events where I had to carry a crate and other supplies into a building before I could bring him in with me. He always patiently sits and waits and watches for me the entire time and then greets me enthusiastically when I return which is what he did yesterday as I set about the process of paying at the pump and then adding gas to the car. Tinkerbell, however, went into a full panic. As soon as I shut the door behind me and stepped to the gas pump I heard her shriek-barking her displeasure, pulling and straining to get close to me. She did this the entire time I was outside of the car, howling and shrieking at the top of her lungs, so loud that I am sure the patrons at every pump wondered what was happening inside my SUV.  I quickly put a few gallons of gas into my tank and then got back into the car. As soon as I was back in the vehicle she licked my entire face, cried, and wiggled her entire body, utterly relieved that I was back. I tried not to react to make sure I did not accidentally reward her or give her the impression that she had acted correctly, thereby further creating a problem. As much as I wanted to console her, I knew that to do so would only increase her reaction the next time and confirm to her that her response of utter fear and desperation was right. As we drove the rest of the way to our destination I thought about her strong reaction and then realized that I had never left her in the car alone before. Not even once. Because I am so protective about leaving them in a hot car or at risk of being lost or stolen, this was a brand new experience for her. She had no idea that I was just stepping a few feet away, that I was not actually going anywhere that I could not see her. In her simplistic world, I was not inside the car and that was far from ok. Period. I have made a note for myself that after the summer weather breaks and it is safe to leave them in the car without the air conditioner running, Tinkerbell and I will practice this same situation first in our driveway and eventually other places, so that she stays in the front seat and I step outside the car and eventually out of her sight. Until I saw her reaction to the situation, it simply never occured to me that it was something for which we needed to prepare. I could simply make sure that I always have gas in the car before we go somewhere and avoid a repeat of this in the future, but that would be doing a disservice to her. We could move to my home state of New Jersey where they pump gas for you, but I think my husband and kids would call that a bit extreme. Instead we will incorporate this into our training and canine "continual education" as I like to refer to the need to practice commands and how to respond to situations throughout your dog's entire life. As I talk about in my book, Love, Laugh, Woof: A Guide to Being Your Dog's Forever Human, training your dog means giving them the confidence to live in a human run world. It's the Love and the Woof in Love, Laugh, Woof. By training her to relax and wait for me calmly should I need to step out of our vehicle, I am giving her mental peace and confidence in case we face that situation again.    
Reliable Recall To The Rescue Again
When Jackson came home to us in May 2011 I decided to approach his training as if I was a brand new dog owner. Although I had grown up with dogs since I was five years old and watched my Dad train our dogs not just in obedience and household manners but also as bird hunters, the dogs I had owned as an adult had been rescued as older dogs. Jackson was the first puppy of my own to train from scratch, although because we did our due dilligence when choosing a breeder, he came to us knowing how to sit and wait and with a head start on house-training. As soon as he had received enough of his vaccinations to be around other dogs we enrolled in puppy pre-school at our veterinarian's office. Just like human pre-school, puppies in this course spent a few minutes working on a new command each class but spent the rest of the session playing with each other. This was a great thing because all of these puppies were certainly missing their litter mates who had been their very first playmates, plus the owners of each of those puppies could look forward to one quiet evening a week after their pups were exhausted from playing with dogs their own age. Jackson in particular benefitted from this course because he had accidentally broken his leg at two weeks old. He and his brothers were nursing and he was positioned with his back leg under his mother's elbow. She leaned up on her elbow and his leg caught underneath. As a result he could not roughhouse with his three brothers, so although he had been nicely socialized around other dogs and puppies, he had not engaged in much rough and tumble play. After six weeks of puppy pre-school we enrolled at a local dog obedience school for an eight week beginner obedience class. As the weeks progressed we covered sit, down, come, look at me when I say your name, stay/wait, settle and off/leave-it.  Around the middle of the course we reached something I had not heard of before: reliable recall. There are two schools of thought on the concept of training reliable recall. One is that your dog should come to his or her regular recall word all the time without fail, no matter when you say or, what the dog is doing, and where you are. Other trainers ackowledge that the casual dog owner is likely to overuse the come command and make their dog somewhat immune to the word. As a failsafe they teach a reliable recall word that the dog never fails to respond to that is separate from the regular recall phrase. Although I had been raised with the understanding that your dog's life depended on his or her willingness to come to its owner each and every time the come command was used, Jackson and I trained on this along with the rest of the class. We started off calling them with their normal command and added in their reliable recall word so that I called him by saying, "Come, Jax, danger!" We rewarded them when they got to us with the best dog party in the world: handfuls of treats, toys, praise, petting, as if it were a human's New Year's Eve celebration and birthday wrapped into one. 284499_10150385342932178_4104937_nI chose the word "danger" for our reliable recall word out of the suggestions that the trainers gave us because I wanted it to be extremely different from his regular recall. After a few weeks Jax was rocking this command; for all of his "hey, how YOU doin'" antics as we entered the classroom each training class (and he tried to pull me across the room to play with the three Golden Retreivers in the class) he was the best student in the class at this command. Even when receiving affection and liver treats from the trainers, as soon as I said, "danger, Jax, danger" he ran to me like a Thoroughbred on Derby day. Over the last five years we have practiced this periodically, much to his delight. What dog would not come running when given an entire handful of treats and their favorite toy along with tons of "good boy, good boy, good, boy" with even more treats being placed directly into his willing mouth. I have only used it a handful of times before in practical use: once when the tornado sirens sounded for an actual storm and he and I were outside in the yard and once when I thought I heard coyotes too close for comfort outside our fence and he was meandering around giving the yard the last sniff of the night, ignorning my "come" command in favor of the scent of rabbit droppings. Last Sunday evening my human family and I were outside with the dogs. I was playing ball with Tinkerbell, my husband was tending to our swimming pool and Jax and our teenage girls were on the opposite side of the yard. Our oldest daughter had just run up and back down the slide on the playset  just as Jax wandered over to sniff the grass under the slide. She must have upset a hive of wasps that had built their nest under the slide because suddenly I heard the girls yelling, "No, Jax, stop it, no!" I looked over to see around seven or eight wasps buzzing around Jax as he tried to bite at the insects to stop the attack. I quickly grabbed the garden hose that was coiled nearby, turned the nozzle to spray, and called, "danger, Jax, danger!"  In a split second Jax ran towards me and I sprayed him with water in case the wasps had stuck around and were still buzzing around him. Fortunately they did not follow. We made sure the girls got out of the area of the hive and I took Jax and Tink inside to assess the situation. I grabbed the bottle of Benedryl out of the dog medicine box just in case we would need it and checked him out. Fortunately Jax did not actually bite the wasps and if he was stung, he did not have a reaction of any sort. I gave him a third of a dose just in case and stayed up with him very late to make sure, since I had been through this before with my parents' dog Cinder who did in fact bite a wasp and whose head swelled up larger than a Rottweiler for one very terrifying night. This week we will do some more continuing education on the "danger" command since I do not want Jax's most recent memory to be of responding to his reliable recall word and being blasted by the hose. Instead a Kong with frozen peanut butter and some blueberry Fruitables will be waiting ensure that he responds the same way the next time we need it.
Dogs: The Original SEO Experts
If you have worked in marketing or done any blogging or ecommerce on your own, you are familiar with the concept of SEO, or Search Engine Optimization. If you're not familiar, it's all based on keywords and phrases to get your content to the top of the Google or other search engine results. As I sat in the living room drinking my coffee this morning my dogs were fast asleep as they do each morning during human coffee hour. Like many dogs, mine keep a strict schedule, which is a whole other blog topic, and from the time they wake me up at 5 or 6 until about 10:30 they sleep like furry black angels. This morning, however, I was having a conversation with our youngest human child about the Finding Dory ice cube tray that was a free gift in the box of cereal that she had just opened. "So you freeze your milk in that and then have a frozen milk Dory floating around in your cereal? I don't know if I would want frozen milk in my bowl!" I said. As soon as the word "bowl" left my lips,  Tinkerbell jerked her head up from a sound sleep and stared at me intently, head cocked and ears up in intense listening mode. "What did I say, Tinkerbell?" I laughed. A second later Jackson, who had crashed in his kennel around the corner, came running into the room, also on full alert with his head cocked and his intense eyes boring a hole into me. "Bowl?" I asked them. Tinkerbell jumped up and ran to me and Jax trotted closer, laying his head in my lap and looking up at me longingly. "You guys learned what bowl means?" I asked them. They both inched closer, Jax thumping his head on my leg and Tinkerbell giving a little groan to tell me that they did indeed know what bowl meant and that they wanted me to get their bowls and put something in them. I have had no lack of intelligent dogs throughout the last forty years as a dog owner, but I can say that Jackson and Tinkerbell have hands down the largest vocabularies of any dogs I have lived with. Some of the words that they know are ones we taught them, and others they figured out all on their own, like bowl. I am a little mystified by how they learned that particular word because it's not one that I use often to them. Perhaps they picked it up because I run their bowls through the dishwasher at least once a week. They know the sound of their bowls being picked up off the tile floor and come running when I pick them up and place them in the dishwasher, staring at me curiously as I place their dishes among the human dishes. "Yes, I'm washing your bowl" I  explain to them as they stand and watch me shut the door on their bowls into the bowels of the dishwasher. [caption id="attachment_1476" align="alignright" width="395"]1609792_10154770914397178_3340714313924513731_n Did you say carrot? [/caption] Of course we have taught them the normal obedience words like Come, Sit, Stay, Down, Heel, Good, No, Off, and then some fun tricks like Speak, Shake and Touch. We've taught them a reliable recall word and worked on all of our names in the house. "Where's Mommy" my husband will ask and they run or look to me. "Where's Daddy" has the same response only they go to him. They know the names of their three human siblings and that the cat is Kitty. They've learned Carrots, Pumpkin, Peanut Butter (also known as Puppy Butter or Dog Butter), Cookie, Cheese and Sweet Potato which are their favorite words in the world, apparently with Bowl added to the list without my knowledge. I figured out that they learned Food at some point, too, after a human discussion about dinner one night, as in "I don't care what we eat, I just need food!" which brought two Labradors running into the room, again from a sound sleep. They know the names of all three of their daily feedings: Breakfast, Puppy Lunch and Supper. Why we feed three times a day is also a topic for an entirely other blog. They also have earned Eat at some point along the way. They know the names of their different toys like Antler, Ball, and Toy. Of course there is Inside, Outside and Bed, which means to go upstairs to our room regardless of the time of day. Zoomies, Play and Go Potty are all familiar and very handy to have at our disposal as well as Off the Deck, which we use frequently to tell Jackson that we don't care if the grass is wet and his big webbed feet might get wet, he has to go off the deck and do his business. Just like a Search Engine, I love how tuned into these words they truly are. Throughout the day it seems as if the dogs are just doing their dog thing and not paying attention to us but during the course of human conversation a word will come out and we will see two silky black heads perk up and turn toward us with great interest. Of course the words that catch the most attention are food related, so things like "Do you want to go out for breakfast" or "Hey, add peanut butter to the grocery list" are  amusing because of their response and because they prove that neither of the dogs have the hearing issues that one would assume that they have when it is five in the morning and my neighbors windows are open and I'm trying to get them to stop grazing on grass and go inside the house and they are ignoring the "come" and "inside" commands. Of course the next time I may just bust our their new favorite "bowl."  
Separation Anxiety & Our Disney Addiction
If you have not guessed from the fact that we have a Labrador Retriever named Tinkerbell, my husband and I are Disney fanatics. In fact over the last seven or so years we have become full on Disney people and take every chance that we can get to go to Orlando. We are the type of people who show up before rope drop and stay until the Kiss Goodnight, easily putting 20,000 steps on our Fitbits. We are the people who salivate for Dole Whip and Mickey pretzels when we are not there, who buy annual passes even though we live in the Chicago area because we know how to get enough trips to make it worthwhile, who whip out the Mickey waffle maker on holiday mornings and whip up all of our favorite Food & Wine recipes all year long. We are the adults who watch Disney movies even when the kids are not home and have Disney ring tones. In addition to our Tinkerbell we have a rescued cat named Nala.  Jackson was born before the Disney addiction really kicked in or else he would probably be named Captain Jack instead of Jax. Of course, no matter how much I love Disney World and spending time with my human family, going away from my dogs for any amount of time, let alone a week or longer, is difficult for me. We have a definite separation anxiety issue in this house, and it is hands down in me rather than the dogs. The dogs don't care one bit when we go away, perhaps because for several years we have been lucky enough to have a friend who will live in our house while we are away, sleeping here and spending her free time here when she is not at work. We pay her about the same as we would the kennel but the dogs get to stay at home and have minimal crate time, about the same as when I worked my corporate job. They love her and get very excited when she stops by when she isn't staying with us and she sends me photos of them snuggling with her when we are away. Because of our dog sitter and the fact that they get to stay at home, neither dog gets upset when the suitcases come out or when they see us putting things into them. Their greeting when we return from a trip is about the same as if we are gone for a full day; they are ecstatic for about five minutes and then go about their business as usual. They eat fine, stick to their potty schedule, and generally don't seem to miss us. I, on the other hand, need the human equivalent of a thunder shirt. I prepare better than if I was on Wife Swap before we leave, with every bit of information that our sitter could ever need relating to the house and the dogs. When it is time to leave, I abandon the "do not hug and overly smother the dogs" rule of dog/human etiquette and cannot get enough hugs and puppy kisses before we leave. "Momma loves you very much" I tell them, "We will be back very soon. Be good dogs, I love you. Did I tell you I love you? Be good! Mommy loves you! I love you dogs," is about how my pre-trip goodbyes go while my husband is waiting outside patiently. I swear Jax is thinking, "Just give me my cookie and go on your vacation." I know that he heard the words "Kennel up" and stopped understanding me after that, although I do work on teaching them the word "love" by saying it often when petting them gently or laying quietly with them. 1901538_10152705862402178_1843691402_nDuring our week at Disney there is very little canine contact since all of the dogs at the park are either security dogs or assistance dogs, unless you count Pluto or Dug. I am not embarrassed to report that even in my mid-forties I have stood in line to meet Dug, my all time favorite Disney dog. After seven days without my own dogs I have to use every bit of willpower to not ask to pet the dogs working the security line at the airport on our way home, so a human in a big dog costume will have to suffice and fill my need to pet a dog. Then there is the Tinker Bell merchandise that draws me in. You cannot resist a collection of Tinker Bell t-shirts and coffee mugs when you have your very own Tinkerbell waiting at home, can you? Of course no matter how much I miss our dogs while we are on vacation I still have fun once I check in a few times the first day or so with our dog sitter. I have gotten much better and no longer check in daily or look at my ADT app to make sure all is well at the house. Eventually I relax and I always marvel at least once a trip at how odd it is to be away for more than 6 or so hours without worrying about getting home for the dogs. On days when we aren't opening the parks I sleep much later than the standard 6 a.m. wake up call that Jackson and Tinkerbell give me each day when we are home and I enjoy every bit of it. Of course dogs can stay at the Fort Wilderness campgrounds but we have yet to fulfill my husband's dreams of buying a camper and I would be obsessed with worrying that the air conditioner was working and keeping them cool and safe if we were at the parks and they were in a camper. I dream of a Dogs of Disney resort, themed out with all of our favorite dogs from Disney movies with a doggie daycare option for park goers and a list of fun human/dog activities like making Mickey shaped dog biscuits and taking swims in a Mickey shaped doggie pool. Until we can sell the Disney corporation on that idea, though, my two loves of Disney and dogs will remain separate and I will tear myself away from my sweet babies a few weeks out of each year to do human things. Besides, I need all of those Tinker Bell coffee mugs for the 6 a.m. doggie wake up calls throughout the rest of the year!    
Who the Heck is Lynn Stacy-Smith?
I have been blessed with continually growing numbers of new friends and followers and I could not be happier that we found each other and that you are along for the ride! I thought it might be time to share more about myself and explain to you what Love, Laugh, Woof is all about. [caption id="attachment_1163" align="alignleft" width="372"]68613_10152585414317178_640323639_n Snoop, circa 1984[/caption] I have been a dog lover my entire life. I grew up with Labrador Retrievers and have had at least one in my home since I was just a little girl, so long that I do not remember life without one. The first one was our family dog named Snoop who was the ultimate Labrador: family dog all week and duck hunting dog with my father on weekends. Snoop went everywhere with us and we enjoyed an active outdoor lifestyle in the country in rural northern New Jersey. And yes, there is rural New Jersey! Flash forward a few decades to around 2010. I had built a nice little career at the home office of a large retail company in the Chicago suburbs. The best way to describe my job was part writer, part corporate trainer, and part analyst. Essentially I helped mentor and train store managers to run a profitable store in our industry. It was a job I loved for a long time, with a great team, an awesome corporation, and the perfect environment to thrive. It was a rare company in our current business climate because it was one where people stayed willingly and happily with the company for ten, twenty years. As time went on, though, the entire company and culture changed dramatically and quickly. Layoffs began, people became uber competitive, drama started and things started to go downhill. At the same time I started to think about mortality, the quick passing of each year and realizing I was in my forties, chasing my own dreams, doing something I loved instead of driving to the same office day in and day out without anywhere else to move up with a promotion unless I wanted to focus entirely on numbers and spreadsheets. It took months to get up the courage but one day I finally gave my notice. Six weeks later I was finished, on my own, no paycheck coming, with a supportive if not slightly nervous husband and a future with endless possibility. I was thrilled to land a part time job working remotely as the Content Writer for alkaline, organic pet food company Canine Caviar. Each week I wrote blogs and newsletters for them and threw myself into learning about the pet food business and canine nutrition. I was thrilled to continually interview and ask questions of the company's founder and Research Scientist and learn from him. I could still listen to him for days on end and keep learning! He is, in my opinion, a genius and incredible asset to the pet food industry. In fact Canine Caviar remains the only food I feed my own dogs. After two years I stepped down from that position, with a great amount of sadness but immense gratitude for the experience, in order to put 100% of my time into following my own dream of helping dog owners create the best life possible for their dogs. It had been an incredible learning experience but it was time to accomplish the goal I set when I left my corporate job. Throughout the job change and pondering of what to do with my newfound professional freedom, we had some rough years with our own dogs. In 2009 I lost my soul dog Babe to kidney failure and old age. In 2011 my beloved German Shorthaired Pointer Dutch passed away from cancer that started in his spleen and spread throughout his entire body. In 2013 our rescued Basset Hound Maggie passed away from Lymphoma. After the heartbreak of losing Babe and Dutch to kidney disease and cancer, we added eight week old Jackson to our family in 2011. I fell in love with him at first sight and vowed to provide him the healthiest life possible, free of toxins and carcinogens, from the food that he eats to the toys that he plays with, all the way to the bedding on which he sleeps. Tinkerbell joined our family in 2013 after we lost Maggie and I vowed to provide the same lifestyle to her. [caption id="attachment_100" align="alignright" width="303"]10305180_10153382234062178_2105022046891565620_n Tinkerbell and me[/caption] Love, Laugh, Woof was born from this promise. My mission is to take all of my experiences, both from the corporate world and my extensive experience, research, and knowledge as a dog owner, to help you provide the same healthy lifestyle for your dogs that I give to mine so that your dog can thrive and feel fantastic just like Jackson and Tinkerbell do. Your dog's health is more than just about his body. Creating a healthy lifestyle also involves working your dog's mind and continually strengthening the emotional bond that you share across what I consider to be a true miracle of friendship and love between two different species. I am wrapping up work on my next workshop: The Compassionate Pet Owner that will touch upon much of this concept, so watch for that to be available soon. Thank you, thank you, thank you for following me. In my next blog I will explain more about the Love, Laugh, Woof Philosophy and what that entails (no pun intended.) Until then, Love, Laugh, Woof and give your dog a chin scratch for me.    
Sometimes Dogs Just Know
Last week I had a tooth removed for the first time in my life other than my wisdom teeth in my teens. Without going into the ugly details, it was not good. Not good at all. In fact the experience was two full hours of not being good. By the time I arrived home I was no longer numb and could not stand to wait at the pharmacy for the pain meds that the dentist prescribed. My husband volunteered to pick them up for me on his way home from getting our oldest girl from play practice. Unfortunately play practice got out much later than planned and by the time he and my medication arrived home I had been there for over an hour, the pain getting worse by the minute.  When he finally arrived home I was close to tears from the pain and the entire situation. Jackson and Tinkerbell had been hovering close by since I got home, not used to seeing me like that and not sure how to react. I was grateful for just their soothing presence and their calm demeanor, since they are normally crazy with excitement when I return from being away for several hours. I sunk down into the sofa in pain, curling up in misery with tears streaming down my face.  Tinkerbell jumped up and lay across me, licking my tears as they fell, her whole body wiggling gently from her wagging tail. "Baby girl, are you trying to make Mommy feel better?" I asked, tears still streaming down my face, "You're such a sweet girl." In the last few days since the extraction I have still been in extremely bad pain and have had a rough time focusing on writing. I am grateful for working for myself and the flexibility I have to take a few days off without having to call a boss and feeling guilty about letting people down. What I am most grateful for, though, is how well behaved my dogs are and how I can go into low energy recuperating mode for a few days without them bouncing off the walls or becoming destructive.  As priceless of an experience as puppy rearing is, it is nice to have grown dogs who are calm and know the rules of the house and who can go a few days without leash walks.I realize that I should not feel guilty during times when a health issue causes a bit of human down time because they "only" have a fenced yard in which to frolic, toys to fetch, each other for zoomies and short daily training sessions to work their minds. They don't seem to mind that we haven't been for a long walk since Tuesday, that they haven't sniffed their social media feed, which is what I like to call the invisible but alluring trail of "data" left behind by other dogs. In fact not only do they not mind, they seem to just know that I don't feel good from some sort of extra intuitive dog sense. In fact this week reminds me of a day when Jackson was just around three months old and at the height of "insane puppy" mode. I was at work when the stomach flu hit around 11 am. By the time I was able to leave the office and head for home it was noon, the time when Jackson's puppy sitter came for his midday potty break on days when both my husband and I had to work. I was going to cancel her as I got in my car but then realized that with the way that I felt and the amount of energy in his twelve week old Labrador body, I could use someone playing with him for an hour even if I would be home right as she was leaving. When I finally got home the dog sitter was gone and Jackson was waiting in his crate for me. We went outside for a quick potty break and then I brought him inside and lay on the sofa in misery. I figured I could throw his ball to him from there and play tug-o-war from my horizontal position for awhile. To my surprise, though, he jumped up onto the sofa (something he had recently grown big enough to do) and curled up in a ball against me so that I was spooning him. At some point I fell asleep and I woke up in a panic, afraid of what a three month old Labrador might have done without supervision; then I realized that he was still sound asleep next to me. In fact the entire rest of the day he played peacefully with his toys like an adult dog instead of our high energy puppy. The next day when I was feeling better and my husband was home to watch him, Jackson was back to his normal little puppy self, racing all over, figuring out which household items were contraband and which were ok, including trying to convince us that he should have ownership of the leg of the desk chair that he so desperately wanted to chew. Fortunately I was back to my normal self, too, ready to take on puppy rearing. Hopefully the next few days I will be back to my normal self again, too, with a mouth that doesn't hurt and two dogs who are happily exploring the world outside of our fence side by side with their momma.    
National Sibling Day Growing Up Dog Lovers
National Sibling Day: Growing Up Dog Lovers

National Sibling Day: Growing Up Dog Lovers

by Lynn Stacy-Smith National Sibling Day Growing Up Dog LoversToday I was chatting about Labrador Retrievers with a fellow lab lover on Twitter and he pointed out that I was extremely lucky to have grown up with dogs, that he did not get his first Lab until he was an adult. I replied that I was indeed extremely fortunate to not only grow up with Labrador Retrievers (and two German Shorthaired Pointers) throughout my entire life, but also in the country in Sussex County in northern New Jersey. As I thought about my childhood and my outdoor adventures with our dogs and my brothers, I realized it was National Sibling Day, which seemed fitting for the conversation I was having on Twitter. If you are not familiar with Sussex County, New Jersey, it is the most fantastic place in all of the Garden State, consisting of small towns and spectacular mountains, forests and lakes. There are state forest preserves and plenty of outdoor activities to do, and we did them all: hiking, canoeing, swimming, skiing, fishing, ice skating, ice fishing, and bike riding. Dad was also an avid bird hunter, which is why we had our beloved black Labrador named Snoop.  In fact our primary modes of transportation as teenagers at Lake Lenape were our bikes or either the canoe or rowboat that we kept on our dock. [caption id="attachment_1067" align="alignleft" width="317"]68613_10152585414317178_640323639_n Snoop 1985[/caption] Without going completely into detail about life growing up in Andover, New Jersey or all of the great dogs who were by my side, particularly since I do that in my forthcoming book, I often laugh that looking through the LL Bean catalog reminds me of my childhood, with all of the sporting goods and magnificent dogs pictured. We did it all, except for snow shoeing, and I am anxious to try that out as an adult.   My brothers are actually my half brothers (we share a Dad but have different Moms) and did not live with us full-time until they were teens. Because of this I lived the life of an only child during the week for many years, so Snoop was my best friend and constant companion when the boys were not with us. Of course when they were home with us we all went on adventures together, the three of us kids and Snoop. She hung out with us unless Dad was available, at which point she became his velcro dog and dropped us like a a bitter pill poorly hidden in a piece of cheese as soon as he came home. Most weekends involved family outings to places like the Sparta Glen or Stokes State Forest, and on those outings Snoop always came with us. She was often with us when we went skiing on weekends, hanging out with Dad on days he didn't want to ski. She was with us on fishing trips, trips to my great aunt and uncle's farm, in the rowboat when my brothers and I went out exploring. She came with us on vacations to Lake Champlain in Vermont and Ridin' Hy Ranch in New York. It's not surprising that as adults the three of us "kids" are all avid dog lovers. I spent an hour and a half on the phone with one of my brothers on Easter, talking about dogs the entire time, comparing the antics of his eight month Lab puppy to my nearly three Tinkerbell, deciding that they were two peas in a pod, and that if we lived closer to each other that they would be constant playmates. Unfortunately our older brother passed away far too young two years ago from a sudden heart attack. I had not spoken to him in far too long when he passed, for completely ridiculous reasons. In fact we could have learned from dogs, who settle their differences quickly and then move on instead of wasting time not having each other in their lives just out of sheer stubbornness. I wish we had been like Jackson and Tinkerbell when they want the same antler, growling out our frustrations and then figuring it out quickly and without drama. Oddly enough, when I went to his home the day of his memorial service I was comforted as soon as I walked in as I was greeted by the four dogs who he loved so much (including one Labrador) and by the fact that his home was exactly like mine, the same living room furniture and the same exact dog kennels placed discreetly in the family room with a few blankets and some mail stacked on top. For some strange reason that perhaps only people who grew up with dogs can understand, I felt our sibling connection again instantly, even though he was gone, even though we would never settle our differences in person, just from remembering that we had grown up so similarly, together, and that our upbringing with dogs had shaped us as adults and made us more united than we had really consciously known. I think about our kids and how much they love dogs. With two dogs here and four at their mother's house, these kids are definitely growing up with plenty of dogs to love, dogs who are like siblings to them just like our dogs were to me, and I hope that they will pass the love onto their own children. So Happy Siblings Day, to my human siblings and to my canine siblings, whether they are at the Rainbow Bridge or here on earth with me. When you grow up with dogs as family you understand why we honor both types of siblings on a day like today, because they both hold a special and forever place in your heart.  
Jackson’s 5th Birthday
In March 2011 I was employed at the home office of a large retail company and we had a class of thirty or so store managers in town for a weekly training class. We taught these classes each month and during class introductions we gave our name, title, department, years with the company and a fun fact about ourselves. When it was my turn I gave all of the essential information and told the class, "My fun fact is that I am waiting any minute for my puppy to be born!" The day I taught class for several hours with a break for lunch in the middle. "Any news on the puppy?" they asked after the lunch break. "No, nothing yet," I told them, "I'm obsessively checking my email, though!" The next day I ran into the class in the cafeteria. "Lynn, has your puppy be born yet?" a few of them asked. "No, nothing yet! It's gotta be soon, though, she's due any day!" IMG_3390The following day I was to teach another short session and once again they asked. Still no puppies born. I left the classroom after my topic was finished and went back to my desk to find an email in my inbox that read, "Just a quick note to let you know that we have puppies!" Knowing that the class was on a break, I walked back into the room as they milled around and refreshed their sodas and snacks and told them, grinning ear to ear, "My puppy has been born!" The dog lovers started clapping and cheering and I ducked out and back to my desk before the other trainers could get upset with me. That was exactly five years ago. One one hand it seems like it was just yesterday that we picked him up because time goes by way too quickly; on the other hand it seems like we have had him forever because he is such an invaluable part of our family. [caption id="attachment_727" align="alignright" width="343"]IMG_3385 Jax and one of his brothers[/caption] When we picked up our little puppy eight weeks after his birth and I held him in my arms for the first time it was love at first sight, a maternal love that flowed through me as strong as if I had birthed him myself. I knew I was given a magical gift from the universe in that moment and I did not take that gift lightly. The moment he became mine, I knew that I was committing to making sure this dog was happy, healthy, and safe from that moment forward and for as long as we can possibly have him on this earth with us. I say it time and time again that every dog owner owes their dog their lifelong love and a high quality of care when they bring it home all the way until the dog passes away in its senior years. Dog owners are entirely responsible for loving and caring for their dogs with the same love that their mothers provided those first eight weeks of the puppy's life. If a dog owner is not willing to do so they should not get a dog, plain and simple. Five years later and our Jackson is a big lovable dog who is full of personality and fills our hearts and lives with endless happiness and joy. He has outgrown his puppy craziness and is pretty chilled out until it is time to play, and then he's energetic and playful. With his serious expression and intense deep brown eyes I find myself wondering what he is thinking at least ten times a day; there is no other dog who I wish could speak English than him because I am longing to know what is going on in his mind. [caption id="attachment_730" align="alignright" width="347"]IMG_2976 Jax at 5 years young[/caption]   What I did not know back then was that not only was my new puppy born into the world, but it was the start of a new career because Jackson has  100% been my inspiration and my muse for Love, Laugh, Woof. It is because of Jackson that I became obsessed with providing a holistic lifestyle for my dogs in which I focus on their health in mind, body and environment. Jackson also helped me realize the Love, Laugh, Woof philosophy of dog rearing that is the basis of my upcoming book, my dog owner coaching business and my entire philosophy on life. To celebrate Jackson's birthday he and I took a nice hour long walk together, just the two of us. As much as I love walking Jax and Tink together, there is a lot for me to pay attention to when I have both of them together and I wanted to have the one-on-one dog/owner mental connection that is my favorite part of walking my dogs. The mind meld between dog and owner is different depending on whether I am walking Jackson or Tinkerbell one-on-one and much different when I walk both of them together. As close and bonded to each other that they are, their personalities are vastly different and Jackson's walking style is to sniff every inch of the ground and inspect it closely before marking each and every tree and significant odor. Tinkerbell likes to walk with her head up in the air looking around at the world, rarely stopping for a potty break and only sniffing what I assume are the really good smells. When I walk both dogs together Tink and I spend a lot of time waiting patiently for Jackson and I do sometimes give him the "off" command and move him on from a particular spot a little more quickly than I would if it was just the two of us. For Jackson's birthday walk I let him sniff each and every spot for as long as he wanted. We took about twice as long to cover the same route that we cover with Tink with us, but I truly love watching his beautiful black nose sniffing, and his mind analyzing each and every scent. I love seeing how he gets his nose so close to things without actually touching them and I think about the articles I've read about the anatomy of a dog's nose and what a miracle it is to have so many sniffing sensors in it and the things that they can smell that we cannot."Why do you pee on some things and not others? How do you know how to conserve your urine for such a long walk? What are you thinking about while you sniff?" I will ask him while we are on a walk but he just gives me his Handsome Jax doggie smile and keeps his secret to himself.      
Ice, Ice, Zoomies Part 2: The Perfect DIY Block of Ice
Last week I wrote about the joyful play session that Jackson and Tinkerbell enjoyed after we gave them a huge block of ice from on top of our swimming pool cover. Although a chunk of swimming pool ice was great for a one time thing, it definitely does not meet my standards of safe, filtered water and toxic free toys, so I found a way to make a better chunk of ice that is still tons of fun for Jackson and Tinkerbell. I purchased a More Cuisine Essentials silicone loaf pan from Amazon and it arrived a few days after my last post. I chose this particular one because of its eco friendly qualities and the fact that it is dishwasher and freezer safe. After running it through a cycle in the dishwasher, I filled the loaf pan with filtered water and put it in the freezer for a few days. "Why is there a huge block of ice in the freezer?" each one of my family members asked. "You'll see," I replied. Yesterday was a beautiful day in the 50s but I felt physically terrible, as if I was starting to come down with a cold. I had planned a nice long walk with the dogs but just could not bring myself to do it, so I decided it was time to break out the giant piece of ice for them since it had been a week since the last one and I knew they would be thrilled to play with something new. This simple creation was the source of great joy and fun for them. Jackson got so excited that he tried to take the silicon loaf pan before I could remove the ice from it. As soon as we freed the ice from the mold the fun began and the dogs had a great play session as they raced around the yard each stealing the block of ice back and forth and generally playing Labrador games. I don't want to overdo it with this fun toy and wear out the novelty of it, but I the mold is back in the freezer, ready to go when they least expect it. And unlike the ice that they find in the yard or that comes off of our pool cover, this one meets their criteria for fun as well as my criteria for safe and non-toxic dog toys. [gallery ids="636,639,640,641,642,638,637,633,632,634,635" type="rectangular"]   This blog post contains affiliate links. If you click on these links and make a purchase I may receive a small commission from the merchant. This does not impact the retail price that you pay for these items. Affiliate links help bloggers promote their favorite products and receive a small commission from those recommendations.
Ice, ice, zoomies!
I've heard parents of human children laughing, and maybe complaining a little, as they watch their children dismiss the fabulous and hard to find toy that they received and play for hours with a simple cardboard box. Over the weekend Jackson and Tinkerbell similarly abandoned their selection of US made fancy balls and toys in favor of a giant block of ice. In typical fashion, here in the Chicagoland area we experienced extreme cold one weekend followed by 60 degrees and sunshine this past weekend. Of course we are used to that, so everyone who has been hibernating was out and about doing yard work, enjoying the walking paths, riding bikes and generally taking advantage of warmth of our long lost friend the sun. My husband took the opportunity to siphon some of the very heavy water from on top of our swimming pool cover. As I watched him breaking apart the thick layer of ice on top in order to access more water, I asked him to fish out one of the huge blocks of ice for the dogs to see if they would have fun with it. As he used the skimmer net to get the best chunk for them I called them over from their daily perimeter check of the yard, "Jax and Tink, come see what Daddy has for you!" Because I have been using the phrase, "come see what I have" when I have something new and exciting for them, both dogs stopped what they were doing and raced over to us. My husband lowered the block of ice onto the grass with the skimmer and both dogs looked at him, their tails wagging furiously. "Ok, take it," he said. Tink ice 6Without a moment of hesitation, Tinkerbell lunged for the block of ice, trying to fit the entire thing in her mouth to zoom around the yard with it proudly protruding from her jaws. She tried multiple times, each time dropping it and losing part of it in the process as pieces broke off. As a result, she ended up with a manageable chunk and Jackson swooped in and snatched up one of the smaller pieces that he pushed around the grass gleefully while Tinkerbell raced through the yard, head held high with her precious block of ice sticking out of her mouth. She did four laps around the yard at top speed in her signature "bucking bronco" style of running while her brother happily gnawed on his piece until his was a slobbery melted mess. Tink ice 1 Once the excitement and the newness of the block of ice released its hold on them, Tinkerbell grabbed her trusty football, a chewed up deflated kids' football that appeared one day in our yard, and instigated a rambunctious game of zoomies with Jackson. I have come to learn that zoomies follow any mental or  physical exercise, even long walks at the end of which they appear to be exhausted and ready for a nap; as soon as we arrive home and the harnesses and leashes are removed the zoomies begin as a way of burning off the extra energy and mental stimulation of the event. Tink ice 5 Since ingesting water from on top of the pool cover does not exactly meet my strict dog mom criteria for safety that I normally demand, I am brainstorming the safest and toxin free way to duplicate this experience for them in my own freezer and have purchased the More Cuisine Essentials silicone loaf pan from Amazon as it seems to meet my eco friendly criteria and is freezer safe. I am looking forward to its arrival so I can try it out and even toss in some Fruitables snacks to make it extra appealing. I will keep you posted on how this works, but for now, Love, Laugh, Woof and give your dogs a chin scratch for me. This blog post contains affiliate links. If you click on these links and make a purchase I may receive a small commission from the merchant. This does not impact the retail price that you pay for these items. Affiliate links help bloggers promote their favorite products and receive a small commission from those recommendations.  
Work Can Wait, Puppy Play Cannot
Yesterday I had the entire day set aside for working on my book. I have eight chapters outlined and 6 of them written. Two more chapters to go until I have my first draft of Love, Laugh, Woof ready for editing and eventual self-publishing. As much fun as it is to write my first book, to see it go from an idea to reality, finding the time to sit down and actually write is not always the easiest thing to do. I had settled into my favorite chair with a fresh cup of coffee and my favorite essential oil blend of lemongrass and peppermint on the back of my neck to help me focus even more. The house was empty except for the dogs, our cat and me. With my laptop at 100% as well as my mental energy, I opened up Chapter 7 and positioned my fingers on the keyboard. A few words into my chapter I heard the first groan. A second groan followed and then a third. I knew the sound very well but I tried to ignore it. It was time to write. I heard another groan, this time closer, and then felt the nudge on my leg. I typed a few words and then felt another nudge. Finally I looked down to see Jackson's big beautiful Labrador head a half an inch from my leg. He groaned his distinctive Jax groan that we like to call his "moo" like a cow and moved his head so it rested on my head, staring up at me with his soulful brown eyes. "Hi sweet boy," I said to him and scratched him under his chin, one of his favorite places for a scratch. He leaned into it and made grunting noises of joy. "Ok, go lay down," I told him, hoping to buy myself an hour or so. Instead of going to lay down he put his head back on my leg and groaned again. [caption width="230" id="attachment_419" align="alignleft"]Come on, let's go! Come on, let's go![/caption]Tinkerbell woke up from her afternoon nap and came to join him, staring at me from behind Jackson with her piercing brown stare. Tinkerbell's eyes are a slightly different brown than Jackson's. While his are deep and soulful hers are bright and almost mischievous, showing her boundless energy even when she is still. After a few more valiant attempts to get them to continue their afternoon nap or amuse themselves with a toy or antler I finally could not resist them anymore. For a brief moment I was slightly annoyed as the biggest challenge in being a self-employed business owner and writer as well as a parent and wife was getting people to respect your work time. I had finally just started working around the other humans and had my heart set on spending the entire day being productive and now my beloved dogs were getting off of their normal schedule and routine. Then I remembered the words of my Mom, sharing stories about my grandmother who had passed away when I was just two years old. Mom used to tell me that Nana was the type of woman who would be in the middle of cleaning the house on a summer day and stop in the middle and say, "it's too beautiful to be doing this, let's go to the beach" and stop right then and there and take my Mom for a beach day and then finish her work when they got back. And so I shut my laptop and started to put on my shoes to take my dogs into the backyard to play. "You know, if you want Momma home with you, you have to let me work at some point," I told them as they watched me tying the laces, "But you know I'm a pushover, don't you!" Tinkerbell wiggled in and licked my face before running to the door to go outside and play. Jackson trotted along beside her. [caption width="300" id="attachment_420" align="alignright"]Play time! Play time![/caption]Once outside they both leaped off the deck in a half-hearted attempt to chase a bunny, slowing down as they gained ground like always. I smiled as I watched them and grabbed the nearest ball to start a game of fetch with Tinkerbell. Eventually fetch turned into zoomies and they wore themselves out within the hour. After our play session we headed inside for some kale cookies and another nap for them and some more work on my book for me. My dogs are only four and two, but not a day goes by that I don't feel the rapid passing of time. Before I know it they will be fourteen and twelve, god willing, and I will be happy that I gave in so often to their requests to play, to spend time together and to enjoy the life that we have together. As always I marvel at the beauty of a friendship, a love, a family connection that spans our different species, and feel blessed that they want me to join in their games.    
Is Your Dog On The Naughty Dog List?
One of my favorite holiday toys for dogs is the Planet Dog Orbee Tuff Coal ball, an adorable take on the proverbial lump of coal in the stockings of naughty children. When I saw it I had to order some for my customers to gift to their dogs; after all, how many people can say their dogs were perfectly behaved all year? Even the best dogs can be a little naughty, like Tinkerbell who tried to steal a cucumber slice from the counter this afternoon. The toy lump of coal even has the cutest tagline: I'll be better next year, I promise. IMG_1295 When I started to think about this dog toy a bit more, though, I started to wonder how many people really truly understand why their dog is acting "naughty" and if they have spent the time setting their dogs up for success. Does the "naughty" dog have an understanding of the rules of the house? Do they know which of their toys are theirs versus household items? Have they had it explained to them that the chair leg is a "no" and the venison antler is a "yes" for chewing? How many naughty dogs are naughty because they have no clue about how to behave, and end up on the bad list year after year? Or worse, find themselves left alone in a shelter because their owners were frustrated and unsure of what to do. Imagine a world in which you lived with a group of animals from another species. You have a language barrier and zero understanding of their culture. At every turn as you explore your world you are in trouble for anything you touch or investigate, scolded for doing something wrong without ever being told what is right. You would no doubt find a lump of coal in your stocking, too, because you had no way of being successful or having an inkling about what was right and what was wrong behavior. Naughty dogs are often naughty because they live in the same world I described above. They have no idea that they should not chew on your boots or the chair of the coffee table. They don't understand that their squeaky toy is different from their human sister's beloved stuffed bear.  Naughty dogs are a result of not enough of the Woof in Love, Laugh, Woof, with Woof meaning that you put yourself in your dog's position and understand that they don't intuitively know how to live in this human world and that they need to learn through repetition about what is acceptable and what is naughty. Having raised two puppies in a row I can proudly say that our only tangible losses were the leg of one desk chair (Jackson) and a circle of carpet fibers in our living room carpet (Tinkerbell). This was not by luck; this was from constant attention and training in "chew this, not that." Coal_main-2-2From the moment each puppy walked into the house we let them explore their surroundings, encouraging them to sniff and check things out. Whenever sniffing transitioned to putting something in their mouth we either praised them for making the right choice or gave a firm "no" in a deep voice, removed the item from their mouth and immediately gave them a happy and fun loving, "yes, good dog" as we handed them an appropriate item like a dog toy or antler and then played with them a little with that toy to make sure they knew the item was completely theirs for fun. The "no" was always firm and in a deep voice, the "yes, good dog" was always very happy-go-lucky and fun. We sounded like crazy people, but it worked. We learned the "yes" concept from taking dog training classes at our locally owned obedience school and it was one of the best things we ever learned as puppy owners. Sometimes it took 10 times to get them to stop chewing on a particularly alluring item, which is how we lost the leg of a desk chair. It was a huge commitment, a lot of work and sometimes exhausting and quite frustrating. But we kept on with the job because we knew it came with the role of dog owner. Our reward now is that I can leave the dogs alone in a room to do laundry or take a shower and I don't have to worry that they are eating a contraband item that will harm them or that I really like. Of course, some dogs know all the rules, have been through plenty of training, have gone through the "chew this, not that" training and just want to have some fun, like my normally beautifully behaved boy Jackson who loves to look at me with a glimmer in his eye and his tail cocked in what I call the "naughty position" as he snatches things off of our end table just to get my attention. He will stand with his paw on the arm of the sofa, his mouth perched over something like the remote control or the little thing of drink coasters, ready to snatch something as he looks at me as if he's saying, "you gonna come get me??" Today he snatched an ornament off the Christmas tree just to bring me into his play session with Tinkerbell. The other 23 hours and 55 minutes a day he will leave the tree alone, but he just wanted to be naughty on purpose to get my attention. Coal_main-1-4Whether your dog qualifies for the naughty dog lump of coal or not this year, you should definitely get the Planet Dog toy. It is a great toy, utterly adorable and is a fun way to laugh at your pup's "naughty" behavior, plus it is made in the US without toxic chemicals, and it smells like mint! But it also serves as an important reminder that we owners are responsible for making sure our dogs know the rules of the house and the things that they can and cannot do, to get them fully onto the "nice" list for the next year, so that not only is your dog "better next year" but that we as owners are also better at teaching them how to be nice.        
The Bad Walk
Most days, life with Jackson and Tinkerbell exceeds all of my dog owner dreams and every second of life with them is a complete and total joy.  Maybe it's because I've had Labradors my entire life and I live for their silly antics, their high energy playfulness and all of the life-enhancing and energetic qualities that they bring to our family. Or maybe it's because I've lived through the puppy-to-senior lifecycle of several generations of Labradors, so I know that these years in which they are both still fresh out of puppyhood will be fleeting, and so I embrace every second of their young lives more than I have previous Labradors where time did not seem to go by so quickly. Every now and then, though, there are days like yesterday. Specifically: yesterday's walk. I should have known better than to walk both of them at the same time immediately following a few hours of crate time while I ran errands.  We refer to the crates as "Labrador Battery Chargers" because we put a tired dog into the crate and out comes a fully energized hyper one. Add in the fact that I had just completed a dog-sitting gig in which I had two other Labradors loving up on me and leaving their scent on my clothes and the traces of their puppy kisses on my face, and I had some crazy dogs on my hand. In retrospect, I should have taken them outside and let them run off some energy before harnessing them up and taking them out into the world. Unfortunately I did not. Instead, I harnessed them up, grabbed my dog walking bag, and headed out into the world. With Fall weather here I have been enjoying long walks with the dogs again. Fall is perfect Labrador weather; in the heat of summer they prefer to play inside and sleep on top of the central air vents while I float around in the pool with my latest chick-lit book. Come Fall, though, and they are ready to go. The last few weeks I've taken them on a few walks together but have focused primarily on taking them on individual walks so that we could practice loose-leash walking and so that I could get double the exercise and feel the dog/human mind meld that I love so much. When they are on their own each dog has a very different walking style. Tinkerbell sniffs as she trots along making few actual stops, and I have yet to see her empty her bladder or bowels on a walk. Jackson gets into each scent, planting his large paws firmly in place and not budging until he has fully sniffed the scent before marking it as his own. In fact, Jackson "owns" every single tree and light post in our neighborhood and has what seems to be an endless supply of urine. I marvel at his ability to ration it for use along our entire walk. Perhaps it was the strong wind that whipped through our area all day yesterday, stirring up all of the scents, or maybe it was the excitement of going out together, or their pent-up energy from being in their crates, or most likely a combination of all of those, but yesterday's walk was a disaster. Sure, I came home with the same two dogs with whom I left the house and everyone was in one piece, but we were as far from loose-leash walking and a dog/human mind meld as we could get as they pulled and tugged and raced to each smell as if on a mission. If we had been a sled team we could have won the Iditarod if I had let them go the speed that they desired. [caption id="attachment_302" align="alignright" width="225"]Let's GO!!! Let's GO!!![/caption] For 3.5 miles I worked on achieving loose-leash nirvana, stopping each and every time they pulled. This meant stopping every few feet and waiting until they backed up a few steps to create slack in their leashes. I put them into the heel position only for them to surge forward as if on a mission to rip my arms out of the sockets. We did this over, and over, and over again. I shortened their leashes only to continually trip over them since I have taught them both to walk on my left, the one lesson that they remembered during yesterday's walk. At one point I thought about calling a friend to come and get us since my husband was at work, but eventually, step by step, we found ourselves at home. As I put in the code for the garage door they stood next to me with their angelic faces looking up at me, tails wagging joyfully. My heart melted. "You guys...that was the worst dog walk I've ever had, but I love you too much to be annoyed at you for very long," I told them. They stood with their doggie smiles, their tongues lolling out of the side of their mouths. We went inside and finished our post-walk activities, including our apple cider vinegar paw wash and fully body wipe down, which I do every time we walk to rinse off harmful substances from the road and grass. Once in our back yard they finished the post-walk experience with their usual game of zoomies. [caption id="attachment_303" align="alignleft" width="225"]Sleepy Jackson Sleepy Jackson[/caption] Last night both dogs slept soundly, sprawled out on the floor and sofas and snoring adorably and I gradually let the stress of our bad walk go away. I would try again the next day and the day after that.  I thought about how I had done this before when I inherited my Mom's dog Dutch and had to acclimate him to walking on leash with my own Labrador Babe. Over the course of a few months we went from nightmare on a leash to double dog/human mind meld. I also remembered my first walk after Babe had passed away, when I came across someone else walking their black lab and cut my own walk short, going home in tears and crawling into bed because I missed her so much, missed our walks so much. As soon as I finish this blog we are going to head out again. Dog training is all about repetition, so we will continue to work on loose leash walking as a threesome. Eventually we will get there. And in the meantime,  a "bad" walk with two wonderful Labradors is always better than a walk without them.
Celebrating National Black Dog Day
[caption id="attachment_294" align="alignleft" width="300"]Here we are at our most terrifying! BOL! Here we are at our most terrifying! BOL![/caption] Hello there, Love, Laugh, Woof followers! This is Jackson coming to you today from Mom's computer. Tinkerbell and I have taken it over today to share with you our reasons that we black dogs are the best! If you're wondering how a couple of Labrador Retrievers can take over a blog, here's how we do it: on National Black Dog Day we develop secret powers! Shhh! Don't tell anyone else our secret. Since it's almost time for our afternoon play session with Mom, let's get straight to all of the reasons that black dogs are awesome:
  1. We shine like silk! Yep, that's right, feed us good food and give us a brushing every now and then and our coats shine like no other color fur, especially here in Labrador world. We are more silky and soft to the touch than our yellow and chocolate relatives and our ears are like velvet when you rub them. [caption id="attachment_292" align="alignright" width="300"]Tinkerbell is so silky and shiny! Tinkerbell is so silky and shiny![/caption]
  2. If you're like most humans, your wardrobe has lots of black, so you can play with us and then go out in public and nobody will know that you're secretly covered in our fur! You can BOL (that's short for bark out loud) at all of the extra hair you're carrying around that nobody else can see...it's like taking a little part of us with you everywhere you go!
  3. Black dogs are smarter than other dogs. We can't quantify this with any specific research, but Mom says it, so it must be true. She is a little biased, though!
  4. You can see us in the snow. Momma always mentions this each winter, that if the days are going to be so short and dark that at least she can see us when we go outside to frolic in the snow. We love our snow zoomies so sometimes we are a black blur racing through the snowflakes!
  5. Our fur is easy to find! You won't have to wonder if you've gotten up all of the dog fur before people come over, you can see it on the carpet and tile so you know your house is clean. You're welcome.
  6. It's fun to buy collars for us. Bright collars pop against our coats. Plus we go with anything! Black dogs are the new black! I'm pretty sure I heard them say that on one of Mom's fashion shows on the TV.
  7. Our fellow black dogs need you! For some reason some people look right past the other black dogs who are out there and so they don't get super awesome homes like they deserve. I think that's so silly...who wouldn't want a black dog??
  8. Black dogs are the same on the inside as any other dog! Do Tinkerbell and I look scary? Well, Tinkerbell might (BOL) but I know I don't! All joking aside, black dogs are just as sweet and loving as other colors of dogs even though our fur is darker! Is Mom more scary than our human sister because she has dark hair? See, isn't that nonsense? [caption id="attachment_296" align="alignright" width="225"]Black dogs are silly, like when the curtains attacked me! Black dogs are silly, like when the curtains attacked me![/caption]
Well, that's all I have time for today. I see Tinkerbell eyeing the antler and even though I haven't wanted to chew it all day I don't want her to have it. So share the word, bark for awareness, and go and adopt a black dog today if you've got an opening in your home for another dog. Tell them you got it straight from Jackson and Tinkerbell: black dogs are just as sweet, loving, friendly and all-in-all awesome as dogs with any other color fur.
Back to School & Continuing Education
Our human kids went back to school today after another summer that went by way too quickly. As my friends and I all posted our back to school photos across our different social media accounts I came across one from a few years ago when Tinkerbell was starting her first day of Puppy Kindergarten class, conveniently the same day the human kids started their school year. [caption id="attachment_274" align="alignleft" width="225"]Tinkerbell's first day of puppy kindergarten. Tinkerbell's first day of puppy kindergarten.[/caption] Like any good mom I snapped her photo as we headed out the door with the puppy equivalent of school supplies tucked away in my tote. Training treats, blanket, water bottle, water bowl, poop bags and her favorite toy were all packed up and ready to go to her first day of school. She was sporting her adorable red harness for the first time, so bright against her shiny black fur. The harness was a hand-me-down from big brother Jackson but she did not know or care; she was just excited and ready to head out the door on whatever adventure I wanted to take her on. Like many little sisters she had a big boisterous older brother who was already well-known at their school. Jackson and I had taken many classes at their private obedience school; in fact, some of them we took just because I had so much fun taking him to class more than for the additional training. In fact we started a special training program where he could earn a Bachelor degree, a Master's degree and aPhD. It was supposed to be a great foundation for passing the Canine Good Citizen test, and let's face it: I really wanted to call him Dr. Jackson. [caption id="attachment_275" align="alignright" width="225"]Let's go to school, Mom! Let's go to school, Mom![/caption] Training Jackson was a fun experience. He is a brilliant dog and extremely food motivated although also a complete social butterfly, wanting to say hello to every dog in the room. We used to laugh because there were always female Golden Retrievers in our classes and he would make a beeline for them. I would joke that he was doing the Joey Tribiani, "How YOU doin'?" from Friends as he sniffed and greeted them with great enthusiasm, and that they would simper and giggle as their big studly Labrador boyfriend sauntered off with his bear-like strut. As much as he wanted to visit and play with the other dogs, though, as soon as we started the class and began working on different commands, he mastered them within moments. I think that the instructors were always stunned to watch my big overly friendly goofball of a Labrador go from Class Clown to Straight A Student in a matter of moments. [caption id="attachment_276" align="alignleft" width="225"]Tinkerbell watching the other dogs in class. Tinkerbell watching the other dogs in class.[/caption] Because Jackson and I had gone through so many training classes together we had a mind-meld and I knew what to expect from him. As Tinkerbell and I started our first training class together I naively thought she would be the same way in the classroom. After all, they were cousins by blood and had the same upbringing both at the breeder's (where they learned sit/wait for their food) and had the same human family and environment. I was wrong. Tinkerbell trotted along happily on her little puppy leash as we walked into our first day of Puppy Kindergarten. She was interested in the other dogs but was perfectly happy to lay next to me and chew on her antler while we waited for the class to begin. After the bicep workout that it took to get Jackson to his spot in the classroom each week I was hopeful that this nice and easy start would make her a joy to train. With my pockets overflowing with tiny Fruitables and bits of Canine Caviar dog food we started working on sit. I thought, "Sit should be easy-peasy, she learned this already with her breeder." Although we had continued working on sit and stay at mealtime, when it came to training class Tinkerbell wanted nothing to do with me, with the treats, or with learning or performing a single thing. As I waved a Fruitable in front of her face she looked at the other dogs, she looked at the floor, she looked at the ceiling. I made clicking noises and said her name as she chased her tail, chewed on her antler and completely and totally ignored me. "Well, she definitely isn't as food motivated as her brother," I laughed as the trainer came over to help. In fact Jackson was so food motivated that I used to come home from class with my fingers sore from him nipping them each class while we worked on taking the treat gently from my fingers. The instructor even brought the "high value" liver treats to help. Jackson would have solved an equation and played the piano for one of the liver treats. Tinkerbell flopped down and licked her belly. [caption id="attachment_273" align="alignright" width="225"]Graduation day! Graduation day![/caption] Eventually we were able to get Tinkerbell's attention and somehow we progressed through the six-week course. As the weeks wore on I loved seeing how different she was from Jackson, so much easier to handle in terms of navigating the waiting area and walking past the other dogs to get to our seat, but so much harder to actually train and keep her interest. When it came to the last class I knew we would be playing the school's graduation game in which the winner would save money off their next class and win a special key chain. I loved playing the game with Jackson because I knew he would go from the big crazy dog who bounded into each class to a rock star obedience dog. We had won a few times and that key chain was a prized possession to me. In fact we had been playing the graduation game for the last year in our yard just because it was fun to do together. The game consisted of performing four sets of commands in a diamond shape. From the starting point we would run to the next spot and do sit/down/sit, run to the next corner and execute stand/down/stand, go to the next corner and do another sit/down/sit and then run to the starting point for a long sit/stay. Jackson and I had a mind-meld; Tinkerbell had a brain freeze. When it came to Tinkerbell's turn she trotted along after me without a care in the world and then promptly forgot everything she had ever learned. Instead of breezing through the commands and stations she meandered along, looked at the other dogs, chewed her tail, licked the pieces of treats off the floor that other owners had dropped and generally showed no interest in the entire game. Competitive by nature, I had started off with high hopes although those hopes had vanished by the time we hit the stand/down/stand. Fortunately we have been able to teach Tinkerbell her commands. Some things she learned from watching Jackson do them. These have been fun things like shake hands and speak. We often practice training side by side and I love to observe her watching him to see what he is going to do. We train them often to work their minds, especially on these very hot days when they are not as interested in running around outside and the pavement is too hot for long walks. In fact I am grateful every day that I took so many training classes that we can fall back on that for something fun and rewarding to do. Right now we are working on longer and longer blind stays, in which I put them in a stay position and go to where they cannot see me before calling them to me. Sometimes we do this outdoors and other times we do it inside the house in a hide and seek sort of way. Jackson and I still do the graduation game although I have not timed us lately. I believe our best time was 15 seconds. We haven't taken any classes for at least a year and I find myself really missing this activity with both dogs. I am starting to look for some fun courses for the fall and am considering Rally for Jackson and perhaps some or agility classes for Tinkerbell. Jackson and I did a few conformation shows just for fun before I neutered him and I loved going to them and performing with him and having that mother/dog bond. More importantly, though, I know that these dogs are incredibly intelligent and having activities to practice and do on a regular basis helps them be happier and healthier than just hanging around our yard. After all, that's one of the reasons we wanted Labradors that had the canine trifecta: healthy body, sweet temperament and keen intelligence. You don't get a Labrador so you can sit on the sofa; you get a Labrador so you can do fun things, play games, explore the world and generally live life together.
Where Did the Summer Go?
Every year seems to go faster and faster so I suppose it should not surprise me that it is already August 13 when it feels like it should still be June or perhaps early July. Our human kids go back to school next week even though it seems like summer vacation just began. [caption id="attachment_263" align="alignright" width="225"]IMG_8692-2 Jackson waits patiently for me to close my laptop for the day.[/caption] This summer I've been working hard on putting together my new coaching sessions for dog owners who want to learn how to provide a healthy lifestyle for their dogs with the goal of helping their dogs feel fantastic instead of just ok. The sessions will be available in person through one-on-one coaching, live workshops for small groups and through online webinars. I am super excited to be able to offer this service to pet owners who have the same goals that I do: to get the most time with their dog as possible and for their dog to be as happy and healthy as they make us feel. Working from home as my own boss is a dream come true. Working from home during summer vacation with teenagers in the house is a major feat. The summer is such a magical time and we love the more relaxed vibe without the elaborate schedule of practices, sporting events, rehearsals and concerts that go on all school year with three kids  with different skills and interests. I wouldn't trade our summer days, but concentrating on writing and stopping the meter on the teen taxi to get some concrete work and writing time is often an impressive accomplishment all on its own. With school starting back up next week I will return to more frequent blogging about caring for dogs, current topics in the world of dogs, and of course the antics of Jackson and Tinkerbell.
Our Vow To Our Dogs
I take you to be my dog from this day forward, to have and to hold you, to honor and respect you, to love and treasure you, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I promise this from my heart for all the days of your life. # 
Playing with Jackson Love Laugh Woof blog
Playing with Jackson
Playing with Jackson Love Laugh Woof blog

Playing with Jackson

by Lynn Stacy-Smith When Jackson was a young puppy he worked very hard to win over our senior Basset Hound Maggie. It took several days but within the first week Jackson had Maggie playing like we had never seen her play, getting her to participate in standard dog games like bitey-face, zoomies and tug-o-war. We were surprised but happy that he was bringing out this fun loving youthful side in a dog who we had nearly lost due to spinal issues several years before. Over time Jackson and Maggie became best friends, but her energy level was never remotely close to being a match for his. Fortunately he found an always willing playmate in me, his human momma. If you have ever raised a puppy, especially one with a sharp mind and seemingly endless energy like a Labrador Retriever, you will understand the phrase, "A tired puppy is a good puppy." Between Maggie and the humans in our family we worked hard to entertain young Jackson, show him the rules of the house, and to play with him until he found a comfy spot to nap. Since I had claimed him as "my" dog and I was the one home with him the most I was happy to become his choice of human playmate. We played countless games of fetch and tug-o-war. We went to obedience school together and then practiced at home, especially things like "off" and hide and seek, which worked his brain much more than sit and down. I introduced him to every new experience I could find: kids on bikes, my husband's very loud Harley Davidson, kids on scooters, kids running, adults on bikes, other dogs, the UPS man, all as a fun game. And when he slept I caught up on things around the house, tiptoeing off to fold laundry or unload and reload the dishwasher. Since I still had my corporate job, the nights when I got home before my husband were the worst because he had been crated all day with an hour break with the puppy sitter. We started to call the crate the "puppy battery charger" because we put in a tired puppy and out came a crazy one, ready to go forth and conquer. I had invoked the No Roughhousing For One Hour After Eating rule early to prevent bloating so for one hour after feeding him his supper I had a crazy puppy bursting at the seams with energy but unable to run and frolic. Frozen Kongs saved the day on those evenings and I became a master at filling them with layers and layers of yummy things to last him and hour to let his food digest and his brain work on emptying the Kong. Maggie and Jackson loved to play tug-o-war the most together, but she would often tire long before Jackson was ready. Because of our play sessions together he knew that I, too, liked a good game of tug-o-war, so every time Maggie gave up the game to nestle into one of the dog beds, Jackson would bring the toy to me to play. We would resume the game for as long as he wanted. When Maggie passed away Jackson was devastated and confused. He was two years old when she passed and his lack of energy and obvious despair was heart breaking to us. We had already arranged to bring Tinkerbell home but her mother was two weeks away from her due date, so we would not get to meet her for another ten weeks. During that ten week time Jackson and I played even more and we indulged him in the life of an only-dog, going for car rides on simple errands, multiple walks a day, taking training classes just for fun and finally trying our hand at conformation shows. Of course we played even more tug-o-war and games of hide/seek than ever before to make up for the loss of Maggie. When we went to get Tinkerbell we took Jackson with us and they rode side by side in the back of the minivan in their own individual travel crates. When we arrived home we let them out together, the words of our friend/breeder fresh in our minds, "Don't let Jackson trample or hurt her." After the initial sniffing and getting to know each other was finished they started their very first game of zoomies. Little eight week old Tinkerbell had no fear and we laughed to each other, "Uh, it might be that we have to worry about Tinkerbell hurting Jackson!"  Jackson was incredible in the way that he played with her rough enough to have fun but still seeming to know that she was a delicate puppy. Their friendship grew stronger by the day and by the time she was fully grown there was no doubt in our mind that they were a bonded pair, best friends, brother and sister. Tinkerbell filled the spot in all of our hearts that Maggie's passing had left gaping open and wounded, and it was not long before it was she and Jackson who were playing tug-o-war, zoomies, and epic games of chase and bitey face. Even with Tinkerbell as a constant and willing playmate, Jackson has a habit that warms my heart more than anything a dog has ever done. Sometimes he will grab one of their stuffed toys and instead of bringing it to play with Tinkerbell, he brings it to me and drops it in my hand. "You wanna play tug?" I ask and he responds by grabbing the toy and starting the game, all the while my heart expanding as I think, "He could play with Tinkerbell, but he chose me." When he does this I can't help but wonder if he remembers all of our games when he was a puppy and during those months when he was an only-dog. Does he remember all of the things we did together? Does enjoy his one-on-one time with me like the kids do when they get to spend time with us without the other kids? Can he recognize that he has one relationship with his humans and another with Tinkerbell? It is a level of thinking that some would say dogs cannot do, but I see it every day in my own household. Dogs live in the moment, especially when it comes to training and teaching them, but I firmly believe that Jackson remembers those days from before, even if just a little.  
The Napkin Thief
This is a cute little story about Jackson and his napkin obsession from last year, shared in my other blog Jackson and Tinkerbell. Enjoy!
Dog Walking and Puppy Hugging for a Good Cause
Dog Walking and Puppy Hugging for a Good Cause

Dog Walking and Puppy Hugging for a Good Cause

by Lynn Stacy-Smith Dog Walking and Puppy Hugging for a Good CauseFor many of us dog lovers, taking a humans-only vacation can be bittersweet. If you are like me you have probably experienced the same mixed emotions before and during a trip. There is of course the excitement of taking time from work and daily life, the anticipation of the fun that awaits at your destination, the wanderlust that drives you to explore other parts of the nation and the world. But there is also the worry about leaving your beloved dogs in the hands of someone other than you, no matter how reliable they are. There are also those moments during the actual vacation when I miss my black Labradors so very much that I start to jump at the chance to pet any other dog that I see. Since we typically vacation at Walt Disney World I am limited to service dogs who are working and off limits for socializing or fuzzy characters like Dug and Pluto. This year we finally made it to visit the Southeastern Guide Dogs facility in Palmetto, Florida. This incredible not-for-profit organization trains guide dogs and pairs them with visually impaired people to give them greater self sufficiency. They breed, raise and train Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers and a mix of both breeds referred to as a "goldador." According to their website, www.guidedogs.org they have matched 2,800 guide dog teams since their inception and currently have 400 guide dog/human partnerships active right now. Southeastern Guide Dogs offers three great activities for visitors: Walk a Dog, Hug a Puppy and their campus tour. I tried to schedule our family for all three but because they are so popular I was unable to do so but I was able to snag us a reservation for the Walk a Dog activity. We arrived at the Southeastern Guide Dog center a few minutes before our scheduled walking time and signed in with the volunteers. A nice man gave us an overview of the rules for dog walking, including the commands that we were allowed to give to our dog, the designated dog walking area, how to use the Easy Walk harnesses that they use at this point in their training and other information. We have actually used the Easy Walk harness for several years for both Jackson and Tinkerbell so my husband and I were already familiar with the use. The volunteers explained that the dogs who we would walk were going through their guide dog training and that the Walk a Dog activity helped the dogs continue the socialization that they learned during puppyhood. Our volunteering would help continue to teach them that there are a variety of people in different shapes, sizes, and appearances in the world. We could use "sit" and "no" and were welcome to stop and sit with them to pet them during our walk. Any other commands would interfere with their specific guide dog training commands. The volunteers explained that our own dogs are trained to follow their human while guide dogs are trained to lead the human. As a result the commands are dramatically different. [caption id="attachment_132" align="alignleft" width="300"]IMG_7010 My walking buddy at Southeastern Guide Dogs[/caption] I volunteered for the first dog who they brought out to be walked, a beautiful and friendly female Labrador who was such a light yellow that she was nearly white. We set off on our walk through the beautiful Florida spring morning and she sniffed her way along the brick path that was lined with plants and trees, her thick otter-like tail wagging joyfully. She was happy to be out of her kennel and out for a walk and I was so happy to be around a dog again that I had to force myself not to overwhelm her with affection. After all, it had been an entire week since I saw my own Labradors. I could see my family members walking their assigned dogs on other parts of the path, and sometimes we would pass each other, always human to human to give the dogs as much distance between each other as possible. I found an unoccupied bench along the path and sat down to pet her. As soon as I sat down she jumped and put her front paws on the bench next to me, her tongue lolling out of her mouth in a typical Labrador smile and her tail wagging furiously. We sat for awhile and I scratched under her chin, petted her chest and shoulders, scratched the spot on her back right above her tail and rubbed her ears before setting off on our walk again. My legs and shorts were covered with yellow fur and all was right in the world. My walking buddy and I returned to the volunteer area a few minutes before the designated end time so that we could spend some more time playing and sharing affection. A volunteer offered a bucket of brushes and I gave her a quick brushing. My family members began to arrive with their dogs and one by one we said goodbye to our walking partners and shared stories of our dogs with each other, what they were like, what their names were and how much fun we had had. On our way out we stopped in the gift shop and purchased shirts, a backpack and other items since the proceeds of the shop also go to benefit the organization and the charity. I  have a note on my calendar to schedule our next trip to Southeastern Guide Dogs two months in advance so that we can participate in the puppy hugging and campus tour as well as another dog walk. If I lived near there I would probably be there every day; in fact I pointed out a new subdivision being built across the street as we were leaving. Perhaps I will suggest it again on a day after my husband has shoveled snow from our driveway after a large snow storm but for now we will just visit each time we travel to Florida. If you are near the Palmetto, Florida area I highly suggest you stop by and participate in these great volunteer activities that let you donate your time to a good cause and get in your dog fix while on vacation.

Check out the Southeastern Guide Dogs website to schedule your visit, shop online, donate or to simply read more: http://www.guidedogs.org/.   

Update: Since this post was written, Southeastern Guide Dogs has changed the activities that they offer. See their website for information and click on Activities. 

Spring Warm Up
Today is not technically the first day of Spring but coming out of the second coldest February in recorded history here in the Chicago suburbs it felt amazing to walk outside with Jackson and Tinkerbell and to feel the warm sun beating down on us. With most of our February mornings barely seeing temperatures above ten degrees, their outdoor play sessions have been reduced to just quick potty breaks or the occasional one lap around the yard in a sad attempt to run their beloved snow zoomies. This morning I found myself having one of those simple but perfect moments with the dogs, completely unplanned, in my own backyard but absolutely perfect. I threw on my snow boots and jacket over my pajama pants and sweater and followed the dogs outside. Yesterday was Jackson's fourth birthday and we had purchased a new ball for him, although Tinkerbell had taken it over immediately as her own. The new ball was a big purple Jolly ball with a thick braided rope through the middle with knots on each end. I anticipated hours of fun throwing it to them and watching them play tug-o-war with it together. [caption id="attachment_77" align="alignleft" width="279"]Tinkerbell enjoying the new Jolly ball Tinkerbell enjoying the new Jolly ball[/caption] It was warm and sunny and our deck was finally dry and free of snow and ice and I sat down on the steps of the deck for the first time since last Fall to watch them play with the ball. I could spend hours doing this. I think I appreciate my young dogs with their strong muscles and their endless energy so much because I so recently lived through three senior dogs and saw how hard it becomes for them to do simple things like sit down or climb stairs. To watch 1.5 year old Tinkerbell and 4 year old Jackson play, knowing how close their bond is to each other and how much fun they are having together, makes me happy. After their play session ended the sun was becoming so warm that I removed my coat and sat down in one of our deck chairs while they sniffed the grass that had been covered with snow for so long. They wandered the perimeter of the fence, smelling things that had been covered up under snow drifts that were taller than they are. I ran inside and grabbed their brush and brushed them, something they both love. Even though they have beautiful coats without any grooming thanks to their Canine Caviar holistic pet food they were starting their warm weather shedding. I watched as tumbleweeds of black hair drifted across the deck and into the last of the slush that had yet to melt. [caption id="attachment_76" align="alignright" width="298"]Jackson surveying his world Jackson surveying his world[/caption] After I was finished brushing them, Tinkerbell ran back into the yard to continue playing with the new toy and I sat back down on the steps to enjoy the warm sun on my own face. Jax walked up behind me and reached his big blocky head over my shoulder to nuzzle my face and sniff my ear and I reached my arm back and draped it over his shoulders. We sat like that for a few moments in the sun as he sniffed the air for the latest "news" and I reveled in the perfect simplicity of a sunny morning with my dogs. [caption id="attachment_78" align="aligncenter" width="259"]Tinkerbell enjoying a post play session nap Tinkerbell enjoying a post play session nap[/caption]
A Mother's Love Celebrating Mothers and their Puppies
A Mother’s Love: Celebrating Mothers and their Puppies
A Mother's Love Celebrating Mothers and their PuppiesI have spent the majority of today glued to my laptop watching a black Labrador give birth to her puppies via a breeder webcam. It is not my breeder but I happened to see somebody else on Facebook who commented on a post with it and I thought I would just glance at it from time to time to try to catch a glimpse of a puppy entering the world.   Four hours and five beautiful wiggling puppies later I am still watching. [caption id="attachment_25" align="alignright" width="365"]Tinkerbell's mother and litter mates, 3 weeks old Tinkerbell's mother and litter mates, 3 weeks old[/caption] In a world where our news programs depict so much anger, violence and hatred towards each other, towards children, towards animals, this is the most beautiful four hours of anything that I have watched in a long time. When I first logged onto the site the mother dog was restless and panting, moving around in her whelping pen, clearly as uncomfortable as any pregnant female about to deliver a baby. She had the classically beautiful Labrador face that looked like she was panting and smiling but also thinking "I am so ready to get these babies out of me." As the hours progressed she produced five gorgeous puppies, two yellow males and three black females. As each one was born she licked tenderly licked at their sacs, but as a well cared for dog giving birth in a home whelping pen she had a human to assist her immediately. She watched as the human helped remove the sac and took the puppy away to tend to it. As each puppy was brought back to her whelping pen she licked it tenderly, cleaning it as only a mother dog can, as it nursed its first drops of mother's milk. One after another a puppy joined its sibling to nurse and join the rest of the family. Now the mother on the puppy cam is relaxing comfortably with her five babies nursing hungrily. Every now and then she leans up to give one of them a lick, and her human appears to move one to a better nursing position. She has curved her body into a crescent shape as if to keep the puppies close and to shield them with her body. Her front and back paws form a barrier that they cannot yet cross so they are safely ensconced within her reach. [caption id="attachment_27" align="alignleft" width="425"]IMG_0167_1 (2) Tinkerbell and littermates at four weeks old playing with their mother.[/caption] This is this same maternal love between mother dogs and their puppies that hit me hard when we picked up our Tinkerbell as an eight week old puppy. After months of counting down the days until we could pick her up from our breeder we were finally at her farm to pick out our puppy. We were choosing between two different females and I had fallen in love with the puppies and their mother from all of the photos that our breeder shared with us. I smiled every time I saw our future puppy and her litter mates with their mom and I waffled between feeling bad that I was going to remove her from her siblings and mother and excitement that she was going to join our family. We arrived at the perfect time, our breeder was about to let the mother dog and the puppies outside to play. Watching the puppies and their mother frolic on that summer evening was a magnificent experience. It was obvious that she was having as much fun as they were as they scampered around her, some of them climbing on her or chasing her and some of them exploring their world. She was able to play with some of them while still keeping a watchful eye on the others, and she would break away from the ones with whom she was playing to round-up the ones who were checking out their surroundings. [caption id="attachment_28" align="alignright" width="357"]Tinkerbell and her littermates with their mother, 8 weeks old Tinkerbell and her litter mates with their mother, 8 weeks old[/caption] At one point Tinkerbell's mother laid down to take a break and all seven of her chubby black puppies piled on top of her. She licked them and wagged her tail and my heart swelled with love as I watched their  play session. I made a promise in my head and in my heart that I would watch over her puppy who was about to become our puppy, with the same amount of care, a mother's love. Her puppy was a gift to us to be respected, trained, loved and cared for from the moment we signed the paperwork until the moment she crossed to the rainbow bridge, a moment that I hoped would not happen for at least fourteen or fifteen years. [caption id="attachment_29" align="alignleft" width="375"]Tinkerbell's mother with two of her pups Tinkerbell's mother with two of her pups[/caption] My wish for all dogs is that their humans love them with the same love that their canine mothers did. That this love spans our different species is one of the most beautiful parts of having a dog; it is one of the reasons many of us continually own dogs throughout our entire lives. Like I said in my first blog and I will say again many times, our dogs did not choose us as their owner. We choose our dogs and by making that choice we assume total responsibility for their care and to provide not just food, shelter and medical care but also the love that any living creature needs and deserves, just like any mother would provide.
Labrador Winter Wonderland
This blog was originally published in December 2012 at http://jacksonandtinkerbell.com/2012/06/03/labrador-winter-wonderland/
As much as Jackson disliked the Chicago summer and temperatures over ninety he adores the Chicago winter. Winter took a long time coming to us but in the last ten days we have had two significant snow storms with enough snow for Jax to frolic like, well, like a puppy. Jax’s favorite snow day activity is playing with the kids’ sleds. We have several plastic sleds in the backyard and the wind the day before the first snow scattered them throughout the yard. Jax dug them up like buried treasure and has found complete and utter joy in racing through the yard with a sled hanging from his mouth. Sometimes he trips over them, sometimes he tries to chew them, and sometimes he digs them back out of the snow after I bury them to prolong the fun. His other favorite game is playing chase with Maggie. Running through the snow wears the dogs out as if they were running through sand, and as anyone with a lab puppy knows, a tired puppy is a good puppy. They race around the yard, lap after lap after lap, zigging and zagging, changing who chases who, play nipping at each other, and having the time of their lives. This year I bought snow pants and cute new winter hats for the first time in years and I have had a fantastic time with Jax and Maggie out in the snow. I think I have spent more time in the snow this winter than in at least a decade, back to when Babe was a young dog and we would hike through the snowy trails of our favorite park. Tonight I played with them as it was getting dark. I was bundled up in good snow gear with only a small part of my face exposed. It was fifteen degrees and snowing hard and it felt absolutely blissful to frolic in the snow with the dogs. It took me back to my childhood and teenage years in New Jersey where skiing was our passion in life and I used to relish the times we went skiing at night and it snowed. Falling snow is so quiet and peaceful when you are in the right clothes and the right mindset. For years I have hated the snow, mostly because of commuting through it, and then because of the issues with senior dogs navigating the icy terrain and the frozen deck, falling down, slipping and sliding. But just like he has done with so many other things, Jackson is completely responsible for making me actually look forward to today’s storm to prolong the fun that we are having in our little winter wonderland.
As much as Jackson disliked the Chicago summer and temperatures over ninety he adores the Chicago winter. Winter took a long time coming to us but in the last ten days we have had two significant snow storms with enough snow for Jax to frolic like, well, like a puppy. Jax’s favorite snow day activity is playing with the kids’ sleds. We have several plastic sleds in the backyard and the wind the day before the first snow scattered them throughout the yard. Jax dug them up like buried treasure and has found complete and utter joy in racing through the yard with a sled hanging from his mouth. Sometimes he trips over them, sometimes he tries to chew them, and sometimes he digs them back out of the snow after I bury them to prolong the fun. His other favorite game is playing chase with Maggie. Running through the snow wears the dogs out as if they were running through sand, and as anyone with a lab puppy knows, a tired puppy is a good puppy. They race around the yard, lap after lap after lap, zigging and zagging, changing who chases who, play nipping at each other, and having the time of their lives. This year I bought snow pants and cute new winter hats for the first time in years and I have had a fantastic time with Jax and Maggie out in the snow. I think I have spent more time in the snow this winter than in at least a decade, back to when Babe was a young dog and we would hike through the snowy trails of our favorite park. Tonight I played with them as it was getting dark. I was bundled up in good snow gear with only a small part of my face exposed. It was fifteen degrees and snowing hard and it felt absolutely blissful to frolic in the snow with the dogs. It took me back to my childhood and teenage years in New Jersey where skiing was our passion in life and I used to relish the times we went skiing at night and it snowed. Falling snow is so quiet and peaceful when you are in the right clothes and the right mindset. For years I have hated the snow, mostly because of commuting through it, and then because of the issues with senior dogs navigating the icy terrain and the frozen deck, falling down, slipping and sliding. But just like he has done with so many other things, Jackson is completely responsible for making me actually look forward to today’s storm to prolong the fun that we are having in our little winter wonderland.
As much as Jackson disliked the Chicago summer and temperatures over ninety he adores the Chicago winter. Winter took a long time coming to us but in the last ten days we have had two significant snow storms with enough snow for Jax to frolic like, well, like a puppy. Jax’s favorite snow day activity is playing with the kids’ sleds. We have several plastic sleds in the backyard and the wind the day before the first snow scattered them throughout the yard. Jax dug them up like buried treasure and has found complete and utter joy in racing through the yard with a sled hanging from his mouth. Sometimes he trips over them, sometimes he tries to chew them, and sometimes he digs them back out of the snow after I bury them to prolong the fun. His other favorite game is playing chase with Maggie. Running through the snow wears the dogs out as if they were running through sand, and as anyone with a lab puppy knows, a tired puppy is a good puppy. They race around the yard, lap after lap after lap, zigging and zagging, changing who chases who, play nipping at each other, and having the time of their lives. This year I bought snow pants and cute new winter hats for the first time in years and I have had a fantastic time with Jax and Maggie out in the snow. I think I have spent more time in the snow this winter than in at least a decade, back to when Babe was a young dog and we would hike through the snowy trails of our favorite park. Tonight I played with them as it was getting dark. I was bundled up in good snow gear with only a small part of my face exposed. It was fifteen degrees and snowing hard and it felt absolutely blissful to frolic in the snow with the dogs. It took me back to my childhood and teenage years in New Jersey where skiing was our passion in life and I used to relish the times we went skiing at night and it snowed. Falling snow is so quiet and peaceful when you are in the right clothes and the right mindset. For years I have hated the snow, mostly because of commuting through it, and then because of the issues with senior dogs navigating the icy terrain and the frozen deck, falling down, slipping and sliding. But just like he has done with so many other things, Jackson is completely responsible for making me actually look forward to today’s storm to prolong the fun that we are having in our little winter wonderland.
Moon Roof
This blog was originally published on Jackson and Tinkerbell at www.jacksonandtinkerbell.com. In the last two months of puppy motherhood I have learned that puppies are not conducive to keeping a blog going, at least not when the dog momma also has a full time job and wants clean clothes, food, and other life necessities. A young puppy is much like having a toddler, where you spend most of the pup’s awake time following them from room to room making sure they are not putting the wrong thing in their mouth, escaping from the house or yard, or generally getting into something that should not involve them. Although we have the luxury of a crate, since our little bundle of puppy love spends all of our working hours and sleeping hours in his crate we try our hardest to make sure that he is out of the crate as much as possible. Our little pepper sprout that we call Jackson just turned four months old. We have watched him go from a chubby 8 week old bundle of fur to a tall and lanky young dog who is currently in an awkward stage. Right now his head is a bit small and his legs too long, but male doggie hormones will kick in soon and bulk up his head and body to match his awkwardly long legs, making his outside appearance as perfect as his inner beauty. He has also mercifully reached the age where he will lay down quietly or chew his bone on his own, giving me some time to get back into the habit of writing this blog. I was thinking today about one of the first days with our sweet boy. It was a Friday afternoon, warm and sunny outside, not too hot, somewhere between late spring and early summer. I had worked a half day in order to accomodate his puppy bladder, so I was home in the middle of the workday. Our subdivision was quiet as most of the residents were in school or still at work watching the clock wind down to the weekend. I had changed out of my work clothes and into shorts and a tank top. In our little part of suburbia we look out of our back yard into a honeycomb of fences, all the same weathered untreated wood, all the same forty eight inches, with the only difference being whether or not the home owner chose the straight across option or the scalloped option. From our back yard we can see ten other yards due to the way the road curves and our location in the middle of the block. As someone who grew up in the country rather than the suburbs it is still hard for me to get used to the feeling of being on display when I am in our yard. The upside is that we have met all of our neighbors and have become friends from our frequent conversations over the fence. On this afternoon both the puppy and I were enjoying the warm but comfortable temparatures and the summer sun. After taking care of his business he flopped down on the ground and rolled over onto his back, four paws in the air, and I knelt down to provide the requested tummy rub and engage in some puppy play. One of my favorite parts about being a dog momma is getting puppy kisses and snuggling my face into their thick silky fur. I bent over further, my back to the neighbor’s house that had been empty for over six months. My butt was high in the air, but nobody was home, although I forgot that someone had recently purchased that house and that they were working on some minor renovations. “Whose Momma’s boy?” I asked Jax. “Who’s a good puppy? Who’s a good puppy? Are YOU a good puppy?” I gushed in my dog momma voice. With each question I snuggled my face into his furry neck, rubbed his tummy, and waggled by butt high in the air. Still in the doggie play stance, I continued, “Who’s the best boy in the whole entire world?? You are! You are! Who’s my baby? Who’s my sweet furry baby? “ The puppy talk and snuggle session went on for awhile, Jax loving the playtime, and me soaking up the puppy love that I had needed so badly since losing my sweet Dutch a few months earlier. After awhile I realized my knees were getting grass imprints in them, and the puppy started to tire of the game, starting to play bite too hard and generally getting restless. I stood up and tugged down my shorts that had ridden up slightly during our play session. I turned around and headed back to the house but something caught my eye in my peripheral vision. Glancing up and to the left I was surprised to see two construction workers on the house behind us. They quickly turned away and went back to working on patching the sun roof for the new owners. Thoughts were racing through my mind, how long had they been there? Had they been there the whole time? Had they seen the entire display of me on my elbows and knees in the puppy play stance, ass up in the air, butt waggling with every gushy comment that I spoke loudly in my puppy voice? I quickly called the puppy, went into the house, shut the drapes, and elapsed into a fit of giggles. I texted my husband, telling him, “Ass up in the back yard playing with Jax, didn’t notice the workers on the roof of the neighbor’s house!!!” I had a feeling they had been there the whole time, working on the sunroof but seeing a rising moon down below.
Jackson’s Gotcha-versary
This blog was originally published on Jackson and Tinkerbell at www.jacksonandtinkerbell.com.  One year ago, on May 5, 2011, my husband and I woke in a hotel in Iowa on an important day. It was adoption day and all of my happiness was riding on the meeting. I nervously showered, dressed, and did my hair and makeup, counting down the minutes until we met our future family member. After a stop at Walmart for some last minute items for the car ride home and a bad fast food breakfast we headed to meet someone that would change our lives forever. I will never forget when we turned onto the dirt road and saw the house just a moment away. This was it and I was both ready to be a momma again and terrified at the responsbility we were about to assume. We pulled up and knocked on the door. We were greeted by our breeder, who I had gotten to know via email over the last ten weeks. And then we were greeted by a pack of labradors, yellow and black, with perfect dog manners, heads stretched out and slightly down, sniffing our legs, tails wagging furiously and their muscular bodies wiggling so hard it was surprising they did not fall over. Happiness spread through me the way it always does when greeted by a labrador. I had spent a lifetime with labradors but the last year and a half I had lived labless as my black labrador Babe had passed 18 months prior and my German Shorthaired Pointer had just lost a terrible batter with cancer just three months before. With both of them gone I barely wanted to get out of bed or face the day. I was lost. And now as we waited to pick up our puppy, I knew I was going to find my way again. This is the story of our Jackson, the puppy with the broken leg who we gave the nickname Aquadog because that was the color of his identifying yarn in his band of brothers. One of four pups in the litter his loving momma had accidentally laid on his little two-week leg the wrong way and broke it. Our breeder, a woman who gives beautiful new meaning to the words "responsible breeder" nursed him through his broken leg and then entrusted him to us. I am thankful every single day that she entrusted us with this special dog. His leg is fully healed, he is a robust and normal 75 pound muscular black labrador. He races through our yard with the sound of a Kentucky Derby winner, thundering paws and steady breathing, as if to say "what broken leg?". The last year has been a frenzy of training, laughter, training, love, correcting behavior, tummy rubs, walks, frisbee, training,training and more training. We wouldn't have it any other way. This blog is to share with the world our aquadog, our puppylove, Jax, Jackson, the sweet puppy with the broken leg who has filled our life with kisses, labrador hair tumbleweeds, laughter, some scratches and bruises, and all the love that a labrador provides. We are so blessed to be the family to provide him the love and care that this beautiful boy deserves.
Labrador Retriever Spin Cycle
This post was originally published on www.jacksonandtinkerbell.com in 2011.  There are some aspects of owning a young Labrador Retriever that I had forgotten about, particularly after spending the senior years with my beloved Babe and Dutch. One thing that I had forgotten about was the process of drying a soaking wet lab. If I had any doubts about Jax’s breed he would have just erased them following our morning walk when he exhibited this classic labrador behavior. I love walking in the rain as long as I do not have to look nice. If I have worked hard on hair, makeup, or clothing I will reach for my umbrella with the first drop of water, but if I do not have to impress anyone by presenting a polished exterior and as long as there is not lightning, I grab the Bean raincoat and head outside with Jax. This morning was perfect labrador weather in Illinois, a rainy October morning with the temperature hovering close to fifty. Jax doesn’t mind a little rain, and his breed was built for this weather. This is the weather that we have waited for through a hot summer that consisted of the blazing sun and ninety degree temperatures, a weather condition that I called “labrador puppy kryptonite”. Although we are in a suburban subdivision we did not see another person on this morning’s walk which was possibly because the skies opened up about fifteen minutes into our forty minute stroll. Because we are in what I like to call “the last suburb” before the landscape becomes rural we could hear the gunshots of hunters in the background. Hopefully next year Jax and my husband will be out there with them, but for now Jax is making his way through basic obedience and enjoying his walks with his momma. Jax was the perfect picture of obedience when we arrived home. Still in his fancy new anti-pull harness he sat and stayed on my command while I fetched the towel. I am trying to teach him the word “towel” so that he stands calmly and lets his humans dry him before releasing him into the house. The other dogs have known this command and our Basset Hound Maggie will even roll on her back with paws up when we say “show us your paws” during the drying process. The first few seconds of the “towel” experience went beautifully. Then his Labrador instinct kicked in. Since up until now he had patiently let me dry him with the towel  I had forgotten that labs prefer their human’s pant leg over even the fluffiest towel, so Jax dried his head and neck on the inside thigh of my yoga pants. After that portion of his body was dry he pulled away from my grasp with lightning quick reflexes and began what I have dubbed the ” labrador spin cycle”. 250503_10150332695537178_314398_nThe “labrador spin cycle” phase is not elaborate and can vary from dog to dog. Although some humans may try to stop the process, it is an extremely effective way to dry a lab. It starts with a tail to head shake from the wet lab and is quickly followed by a wild-eyed lunge to the left and to the right in the play stance. What happens next is entirely freestyle and depends on the lab but essentially involves a high-speed run through the house. The number of laps may vary until the double coat is dry and some labs like to rub against the sofa to utilize the absorbent fabric that covers most household furniture. The end of the cycle occurs when the lab stops running and stands in front of you panting. In older labradors the towel becomes the best method since wet paws and sore joints will make it difficult to perform the spin cycle. For now I will enjoy and embrace the spin cycle routine in my very young Jax, especially since it results in a nice dry lab to hug and kiss when it is finished.
Old Love, New Love, Puppylove
This blog was originally published on Jackson and Tinkerbell at www.jacksonandtinkerbell.com. My “puppy love” as I have recently started to call him has quickly become a little gentleman on the leash and we are close to being in the coveted mind-meld that exists between very fortunate humans and their puppy loves. As we walked in harmony tonight I told Jax that he was the “best dog in the entire world”, a phrase so natural to me I did not realize what I was saying until after I said it. Only after the words came out of my mouth did I realize that it was the same phrase I had reserved for my sweet Babe and Dutch. It was a phrase that I had vowed to never utter after they passed. I promised myself I would find a different special phrase when Jax came home. As we walked I talked heavenward to them, the same way many people speak to their human family members that have passed away. I told them that they were all the best dogs in the world, and that even though they would forever be in my heart, Jax was now here on earth with me to be my puppy love now that they had passed into heaven. The walk with Jax came at a time when I have been thinking a lot about new love versus old love, new friends and old friends, family who have known you forever and those who are just becoming close to my heart. When you’ve left your old world, not once but twice, you have to open your heart to the new friends, the new loves. When you have a small immediate family and they pass away, you open your heart to family that you’ve known for awhile but are now finally getting to know well. I have often had the thought that if my Mom could come back to earth for even a few days, would she know who I was talking about when I talked about my Jax, our other dog Maggie, my step-kids, my husband, the co-workers who keep me sane each day, the friends I have made since I moved to Illinois. All of the names that come up in my day to day existence are new. I am surrounded by new love and it is just as special to me as the old love that has been by my side all of these years, my best friends, my Dad, my own step-parents. What I’ve learned is that love is love, old or new. Sometimes you need the comfort of your old friends, the ones who know you almost better than you know yourself, and sometimes you need the excitement of a new puppy to fill the void left behind by the old dogs who are waiting at the rainbow bridge. Sometimes you have someone like my husband, where four and a half years ago he was a new love, and just two years ago we vowed to love each other until the end of our lives, so we will transition together from new love to old love, and hopefully really really old love. And when you really think about it old love was once new love, old friends were once new friends, and old pups were new pups.
Our Little Pepper Sprout
This blog was originally published on Jackson and Tinkerbell The last few years have been very rough for the dogs of our family and on me. Three years ago our Basset Hound went through what can best be called a doggie spinal fusion operation at the Purdue University Veterinary clinic, complete with six months of in-home physical therapy administered by my husband and me. This was followed by the loss of my doggie best friend and canine soul mate Babe in November 2009 and most recently the loss of my sweet boy and special friend Dutch in February 2011. Losing Babe and Dutch so close to each other was particularly difficult for me. Babe was somewhat of a rescue dog, having had two other homes before bounding into my household, but over the twelve years that we shared I often thought that it was really she who rescued me. She was my faithful companion, four-legged best friend, attentive confidante, hiking partner, and all around “best dog in the entire universe”, which I told her often. I sang special songs to her with the word “Babe” in the lyrics, and she greeted me every morning the same way, by shoving her big blocky head next to mine and giving me sloppy doggie kisses. She met me at the front door every day from November 1997 through November 2009, with the same wagging tail and happy doggie smile that only a labrador retriever can deliver. I loved to lay on the floor in front of her, our foreheads touching, my hand stroking her silky black face and ears, in total harmony. Babe and I shared a love that transcended species, where I forgot that she would not live as long as I needed her to, and her death came almost as a shock to me. I had not let myself envision a world without her. When Babe died I threw myself into loving Dutch, my sweet, wacky boy who was originally my Mom’s dog. He became my walking buddy, slept next to me on the bed when my husband was working, became my velcro dog. I sang the song Brickhouse to him but replaced Brickhouse with Dutchdog. I laid my head on his muscular doggie shoulder, and stroked his speckled, silky coat. I played with his large goofy ears that were big enough to cover his eyes. He made his place on the sofa next to me whenever I spent time in the living room, on the corner piece of our sectional, and laid his head on my arm each evening. Dutch was my dog for five years after Mom’s death, and losing him was as much of a shock to me as losing Babe. Dutch was such a constant presence in my life, whether he was my doggie “brother” or my own companion, and the last two months have been very difficult. I retreated inside of myself for weeks. I felt lost, and useless, and not sure why I should even get out of bed each day. I curled up in bed, under the blanket that I had used to warm and comfort my skinny sick boy, placed his picture on my nightstand, and sobbed, night after night. Two months later I am in a better place. Although I miss my sweet Dutchboy and love him as much as I did on the snowy day that he passed into heaven, I have stopped expecting him to greet me at the door with his toy Hedgie in his mouth, have stopped crying every time something reminds me of him, and have stopped browsing the German Shorthaired Pointer rescue page in a desperate attempt to “replace” him. Some of this progress has come from the passing of time, some has come from long hours spent crying, talking, and grieving, and some of my progress has come from a small black pup that I have not met but already love. I can count the number of years on one hand that I have not had a Labrador Retriever in my life, so the decision to bring a new labrador puppy into our family was not so much of a decision as it was an assumption, a given, our destiny. Being a lifelong lover of the breed, and knowing exactly what role the puppy would take in our family (beloved pet, hunting dog, and possibly rural search and rescue dog), we began to research breeders to find someone with our same values, love, and committment to these amazing dogs. Thanks to the internet and the recommendation of friends of friends, we located the perfect breeder, a hobby breeder who focuses on the health of the dogs and only breeds two litters a year. We filled out the appropriate forms, and waited for the email to tell us that they would be thrilled to place one of their puppies with our family. It seemed to take years for the email to arrive, but in reality we received a response the morning after we sent our application. The breeder’s response was that she would love to place one of her beloved puppies in our home. A litter was due in three weeks, and she thought that there would be seven pups, all with the shiny, silky black coats that we preferred. The puppy due date countdown was on! Over the next three weeks I researched the development of puppies in the womb, read about their growth, and tried to visualize what was happening to our pup each week of his development. I looked at the breeder’s website daily, looked at photos of the parents, read about their hunting trial successes, their championship titles, their lineage. I even Googled our pup’s ancestors, going back as far as his great-great grandparents. Of course, in the dog world, those dogs are probably only ten years old, but it felt good to see our boy’s family tree, since he was still nestled inside his momma’s womb. I desperately wished for a book of “what to expect when your labrador bitch is expecting” as I was devouring information like a pregnant woman, even though our baby was coming via “surrogate”. Just as picking a breed did not require any thought, neither did choosing a name. Earlier that year, as we sat side by side watching the TV show Sons of Anarchy like we did every Tuesday, an epiphany came to me: we would name our next dog Jackson, and call him Jax. Having grown up with a father who hunts, I was raised to believe that the best name for a dog had just one syllable. We had Dutch, Jake, Beau, and it made training easy because their names were quick and sharp and easy to enunciate.  When I called for Dutch to come inside, a quick, sharp “Dutch” elicited an immediate response, versus the sing-song “Maggie” that our lovable but stubborn Basset ignores on a daily basis. Jax was the perfect name for a male dog, and it had meaning to us because of our Tuesday night ritual of watching the Sons on tv. Our son would be Jax, although we hoped the “anarchy” part would not be part of our puppy’s “vocabulary”. Between the Westminster Kennel Club Show and my research of our Jax’s ancestors, I realized we would also need a great AKC name. We tossed out ideas based on the TV show, and some of “our” songs, things that related to the name Jax and ideas that had no connection to the name. It was my birthday party and a karaoke machine that led me to Jax’s full AKC name: We’re Going to Jackson. I cannot recall why, when, or how, but my husband and I have taken the song “Jackson” by Johnny and June Carter Cash and have developed somewhat of a karaoke tradition of singing the song together. It has nothing to do with our marriage, since it involves the man taking a hound-dog style trip to Jackson to “mess around”. It talks about the fire going out, but our fire is still going strong, spreading and getting hotter, not remotely close to going out. It is a confrontational song about a failing relationship, and we are best friends, head over heels in love, and very happy in our four-year relationship and our year and a half old marriage. But the song is just plain fun, and permits goofing around, and is easy to sing, especially since I have three notes in my range according to my husband. So on my birthday, we sang the song, drunkenly dedicated it to our “unborn puppy Jackson”, and an AKC name was born. As I did with Babe and Dutch, I am looking forward to singing this song to our pup, laying on the floor next to him, making up doggie lyrics to go with the regular words, and calling him our little “pepper sprout” after some of the lyrics of the song. After all, he is a different dog, so he needs his own song. He will never replace Babe or Dutch, but he is certainly going to have the same amount of love that they received. I have a feeling I am going to call him my “sweet boy” and tell him that he is the “best dog in the universe”, and when I do so, I will think of my furry babies that came before him. I will think of them often when I wrap my arms around him and snuggle my face into his silky black fur. We will find new trails to hike, new ways to snuggle, and he will think of new ways to get into trouble that never crossed their minds. Right now he is four weeks old and should be coming home to us in a month if all goes as planned. I think about how we will take him from his Mom and his band of brothers, and how it is our duty to love him with our whole hearts and to take care of him for the rest of his life. The countdown is really on now. In a few weeks we are going to Jackson, and that’s a fact.