Jackson's 7 Year Gotchaversary
Blogs, Life with Jackson & Tinkerbell

Jax’s 7 Year Gotchaversary

Jax on his Gotcha dateSeven years ago today I met one of the great loves of my life. I had already fallen in love with him through email and photos and stories of how special he was, and meeting him in real life for the first time just sealed the deal. His first kisses solidified in my heart that he would spend the rest of his life with me, and my heart was full of love and hope as I signed the papers to make his place in my life official.

Of course you’ve already figured out that I am talking about Jackson, my beloved male Labrador Retriever. I mean, this is a blog about dogs not human stuff.

Jackson is the dog who showed me that you can have multiple heart dogs in your life, that you can have more than one soul dog. If you have read my book, Love, Laugh, Woof: A Guide to Being Your Dog’s Forever Owner, or my blog on a regular basis, you know that Jackson came home to us as an eight-week old puppy not too long after I lost both of my beloved dogs, Babe and Dutch. Little Jax licked away the tears that I had cried for them and filled up the hole in my heart with his own unique personality and quirks.

There is no doubt that Jackson and I have a special bond. He is different in every way from every other Labrador Retriever who I have ever had. He may meet all of the breed standards for looks and personality, but Jax is his very own unique dog, and I feel a very special connection to him that is hard to put into words. He has such a serious, intense look to him, and at the same time is silly and sweet and has an actual sense of humor like I’ve never seen in a dog. He thinks things through and works things out to the point where we joke that we should have named him Sheldon Cooper instead of Jackson.

I suppose not only is he a much different dog than Babe was, but I am a different version of myself. Babe was with me during my 20s and 30s, and Jax was born just a few days after I turned 40, and yet the mature, settled adult version of me needs him just as much as the young woman figuring out life needed Babe.

Jax has no idea that it his Gotchaversary, since he is a dog and doesn’t think like that. I did tell him the whole story earlier today, but I am pretty sure that he just cared that he was getting a nice long tummy rub.

The thing I have learned about a day like this is that even though I was just playing around when I started off writing as if today was a wedding anniversary instead of the day that we picked up Jax, your dog’s Gotcha date is very similar to a wedding date in a very special way. Not only is it the start of a lifelong vow and commitment, but when you choose the right spouse or the right puppy, your big day turns into a happy day in a lifetime of happy days. Jackson 7 years old

When you get married, it is the happiest day of your life up until that point. And of course it is usually a memorable day with fabulous attire, great food, a huge cake and all of your loved ones surrounding you. But despite all of those things, you keep adding extraordinarily happy days with that person, whether it is the birth of a child or another life event, or everyday pleasures like laughing at a private joke or a simple afternoon spent together just the two of you.

Whether you are picking your puppy up or adopting a grown dog, the Gotcha date is just the start of a life together. It may be the happiest day of your life with that dog at that point, but it is just the start. So no matter how special of a memory it is to remember the day we picked Jackson up from our breeder, and got those first puppy breath kisses all over my face, or made his name official, this time with him as a big, sturdy grown up dog are also the happiest days of my life with him. Whether I am watching him sniff his way along a favorite walking trail, do his signature “upside down puppy” maneuver to flip over for a belly rub, or learn new habits like “awkward snuggling” with his Daddy, life with Jackson just gets better and better.

 

 

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Love Laugh Woof Dog Stories: Jake and the Scuba Mask
All the Dogs I've Loved Before, Blogs, Forever Dogs: Stories of Awesome Dogs

Love Laugh Woof Dog Stories: Jake and the Scuba Mask

Love Laugh Woof Dog Stories: Jake and the Scuba Mask

By Lynn Stacy-Smith

Love Laugh Woof Dog Stories: Jake and the Scuba Mask Sussex County, New Jersey is hands down the hidden gem of New Jersey. Most people from outside the state do not believe me that it exists since the stereotype is that the state is a giant toxic waste dump. That stereotype could not be farther from the truth. Located in the Appalachian Mountains, my hometown of Andover was an outdoor lover’s paradise. It was also a fabulous place to be a kid or a Labrador Retriever.

When we needed to move to the Chicago area for Dad’s job, my parents did substantial research to try to find something even remotely as secluded and wooded as the home we were selling. Fortunately they found a house on a large wooded lot with a stream running through the backyard and promptly installed an in-ground swimming pool to make up for the fact that we no longer lived lakefront. It wasn’t quite as awesome as our lakefront paradise, but it was close. Snoop loved frolicking in the stream as did Cinder when she joined our family as an energetic little puppy.

A few years after we moved our beloved Snoop passed away, leaving Cinder an only dog. The next autumn, my father was bird hunting at a hunt club that had a litter of puppies that were old enough to run around the club and explore the world but not yet ready to go to their new homes. For three weeks in a row, one particular little yellow Labrador puppy followed my Dad around every chance that he got. On the fourth week, when the puppy was eight weeks old and ready to leave his litter, Dad could not resist the little pup and Jake headed home to meet the family he had selected for himself.

Jake was another of Dad’s heart dogs and was a natural bird dog. Cinder was more attached to my mother and did not have the same drive, trainability or temperament to be a hunting companion, so she was happy to stay home with Mom and me while Jake and Dad went on their adventures. Just like Snoop before him, Jake was an absolute sweet dog who loved to swim and play fetch with my brothers and me, chill out with us in our bedrooms or hang out in the family room when our friends came over, but the moment Dad came home, Jake was by his side. If Dad went outside, Jake went outside. When Dad went to bed, Jake went to bed. Dad was clearly, without a shadow of a doubt, Jake’s chosen person.

Love Laugh Woof Dog Stories: Jake and the Scuba Mask
Jake fetching the fake plastic duck

Jake loved the swimming pool and walked down the stairs of the pool several times a day all summer, swam a few laps back and forth, and then walked back up the stairs. Cinder usually only jumped off the side when we threw a ball or a dummy to her, but Jake got in and out using the stairs like a human, very nonchalant and relaxed, just a dog going for a quick swim. If we were in the pool he would swim up to us and let us hold him in our arms like a child until he decided he was done.

An avid scuba diver, Dad adopted the practice of using his scuba mask and snorkel so that he could swim around to vacuum the pool instead of standing on the pool deck. It was extremely smart because the visibility was so much better and he could make sure he had vacuumed up every last bit of dirt or leaves and also free dive down to get any dirt at the very bottom of the pool.

Jake, I am your father!

I have seen a lot of people wearing scuba masks and snorkels throughout my lifetime, and essentially everyone looks bizarre in them. Dad’s mask was a full face mask, black and Darth Vader-ish, and Jake was about as much of a fan of the mask as Luke Skywalker was of Darth Vader. The first time I saw Dad put on the mask and snorkel in the pool, I could hardly breathe I laughed so hard at Jake’s reaction.

As incredibly smart as he was, Jake could never figure out that Dad was still Dad when he put on the mask and snorkel. He would bark and growl with his hackles up until Dad put his face in the water, and then watch him the entire time he vacuumed the pool. Sometimes we would look out into the back yard and see Jake laying on the pool cement, front paws dangling over the side of the pool with his blocky yellow head cocked to the side as he stared down at my father. If Dad moved to another area, Jake followed, watching his every move until he surfaced and Jake started his barking and growling all over again. As soon as the pool was clean and the mask and snorkel put away, Jake was his happy self again.

Love Laugh Woof Dog Stories: Jake and the Scuba Mask
Jake & Cinder enjoying the pool

Each week, Jake had the same reaction. Freak out, watch Dad’s every move, then express huge relief in the form of a wiggling Labrador body and super fast wagging tail when Dad emerged from the pool. He never jumped in to save him or went in via the steps like when he wanted to take a swim,  never tried to attack the mask, he just watched intently from the edge. Sometimes Cinder watched along with him and sometimes he did his pool patrol on his own.

I wish Jake could have communicated what he was thinking, if he was afraid something was attacking our father like a sea monster or if he had no comprehension that it was still his all-time favorite human in the entire world under that big scary mask. I can’t imagine what Jake would have done if Dad had worn an air tank!

Flash forward twenty years later and my husband has sometimes adopted this same method of vacuuming our pool, although ours is just an above-ground and takes a fraction of the time. Jackson and Tinkerbell have seen my husband and the kids in a variety of different goggles and masks and haven’t cared one bit, although ours are just for casual swimming or snorkeling, not professional scuba masks. They just glance at us and go back to doing their thing as if odd behavior from their humans is nothing out of the ordinary. If only Jake were still with us to tell them otherwise.

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Beau the labrador escape artist
All the Dogs I've Loved Before, Blogs, Forever Dogs: Stories of Awesome Dogs

Beau the Labrador Escape Artist

Beau the Labrador Escape Artist

by Lynn Stacy-Smith

Beau the labrador escape artistEarlier this week a viral video went around that showed a Great Pyrenees easily letting himself out of the boarding area of a Virginia animal hospital and through multiple doors all the way to the outdoors. I feel pretty confident that I am not the only dog owner who watched the video and realized they were watching one of their biggest fears happening in front of their eyes.

This video also brought back a nearly forgotten memory of my Mom’s yellow Labrador Retriever named Beau. Beau was an incredibly good dog, very sweet and chilled out similar to my Jackson in personality but with a passion for hunting birds with Dad and playing fetch endlessly with tennis balls.

Beau was the son of our family dog Jake and was just a year or so old himself when puppy Dutch joined the family. Sort of the middle child in the dog family, Beau bonded with Dutch the moment Dutch trotted into the house. Beau was so good and so intuitive that we watched him divert Dutch’s attention anytime Dutch started to get into naughty puppy mode and become essentially a puppy sitter. If Dutch tried to chew on a contraband item, Beau would bring him a ball or a toy or start playing with him to make him stop.

Beau the Labrador Escape Artist
Beau and Dutch spooning

Similarly to what I wrote about yesterday in the blog Even the Best Dogs Are Not Always Perfect, Beau had one big behavioral issue: he was an expert escape artist. As a young and physically fit Labrador, Beau was able to jump over my parent’s fence from a standing position, which he did several times. Their yard at the time was a glorious heavily wooded four acres in the country, with chain link fence around 3 sides and a beautiful cedar plank fence along the front of the house. The chain link portion was higher than the cedar and as a result of Beau’s escapades, Dad added an extension to the entire length of wooden fence. It looked ok but of course made all of us joke that the next step would be rolled barbed wire like you see outside of prisons.

The dogs also enjoyed expansive dog runs in the basement that were about four times the size of the extra-large crates that Jax and Tink have now. I loved how well-trained they were and how when I would visit or dog sit that I could just give the “kennel up” command and they would all run down the basement steps and into their own runs, Jake on the left, Beau in the middle and Dutch on the right.

Beau the Labrador Escape Artist
Beau the Labrador Escape Artist

Beau also made a habit of jumping out of his dog run and either roaming the basement or joining Jake or Dutch in their kennels. As a result, Beau’s kennel had a roof added to it to ensure that he stayed in his own run while the humans were away.

Several years later my Mom was out-of-town and the dogs were being kenneled at their usual boarding kennel, a wonderful facility in the country that my parents had used for years and where I also occasionally boarded my black Labrador Babe. We loved the owners and staff and they adored our dogs, which helped alleviate the worry and guilt over boarding them.

One morning when my Mom was on a two week scuba diving trip in Fiji, I got an early morning phone call from the kennel. Looking back, I am not sure why I was not dog sitting but I was home with Babe at my own apartment and was the emergency contact for the kennel.

“You need to come and get Beau right now, he is no longer allowed at this kennel,” they said.

“Oh my gosh! What happened! Is he ok” I asked, worried.

“He is banned for life!” they said, “He broke out of his kennel the night before last so we let that slide and tried to secure his door better. Then he broke out again last night and ate all of the food that we had prepared the night before. ALL of it.”

“Oh no!!! How much did he eat?” I asked.

All of the food for every single dog in here, so about twenty bowls of food, plus all of their medicine that was measured out into their bowls! You need to get him NOW!” 

“Ok, I will be there in a half hour, I’ll just take all three at the same time, then.” I said, already starting to put on my shoes.

I drove to the boarding kennel, loaded all three dogs, their food and their bedding into my small-ish Honda, and headed over to my mother’s house to drop them off before going back to my own apartment, picking up Babe, her food and any clothes and toiletries I would need for the rest of the time Mom was gone, and then headed over to dog sit at her house for the remaining of her vacation. It was easier for Babe and me to stay at her house and impossible to imagine watching all four dogs in my tiny apartment with the unfenced yard. Thankfully I was off work that day because I would be on close watch to make sure Beau was ok after eating miscellaneous medications.

Beau the Labrador Escape Artist
Babe, Beau, Jake and Dutch

I knew Mom was landing at night when she returned in a week so there was no chance that she would be going straight to the kennel from the airport, so I did not try to get in touch with her all the way in Fiji.  It was long before texting and social media via smart phones would make it easier to reach someone in another country and there was no need to worry her when I had everything under control. Instead I left a message on her mobile phone voice mail that I assumed she would check when she landed.

“So, I picked up your dogs at the kennel and Babe and I are staying at your house. You can ask Beau why this is, but he’s banned for life from the kennel,” I said cryptically.

As I predicted, she listened to my voice mail and called me on my mobile phone to find out what had happened. I had had several days to dramatize the story of Beau’s escape artist ways and his gluttonous escapades that had gotten him banned for life from the boarding kennel. By the time I was finished we were both roaring with laughter, although he could have easily killed himself if he had ingested the wrong medicines, not to mention the fact that those other dogs were now short a dose of their medications while their owners were away.

Beau’s bad behavior was one of those situations that would turn into a family story that we would tell for years, only now in 2017 without my mom alive anymore to share those stories, I had nearly forgotten it until General’s escape from his boarding facility went viral this week refreshed my memory. I am relieved that the dog from the video was found safe and sound and sleeping in a neighbor’s yard and a little grateful for him, too, for reminding me of this incident in my life with dogs that was truly the epitome of the laugh in Love, Laugh, Woof.

Do you have a topic you would like to suggest for the Love, Laugh, Woof blog? Email me at lovelaughwoof@outlook.com with topics that are on your mind! 

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Blogs, Creating a Happy, Healthy Life, Planning for a New Dog

Watching the Westminster Kennel Club Show: Dog Show Basics

For some it’s the Super Bowl that is the Holy Grail of sports, for other’s the Stanley Cup Finals. Other people live for the NBA Playoffs, and some (especially here in the Chicagoland area last Fall) are all about the World Series. For me, though, the sporting event of the year is hands down the Westminster Kennel Club Show. 

I’ve been watching Westminster for over twenty years and every February I circle the dates on the calendar, pointing out that this is as serious to me as the Walking Dead finale is to my husband and that we shall not talk over the announcer or have other such interruptions. Westminster is serious business, particularly Night Two when the Sporting Group gaits and stacks for the judges. 

For those of you not familiar with the world of dog shows, they are known as Conformation because dogs are judged to determine how they conform to the breed standard as set forth by each “parent club” of the breed. The Westminster Kennel Club, the host of the show, is part of the American Kennel Club (AKC). Labradors who enter the show are judged against the breed standard of The Labrador Retriever Club, which is the AKC parent club of the breed. The breed standard dictates everything about how a Labrador Retriever should appear, from their height and weight to the shape of their eyes, the color of their coat, their temperament and many, many other criteria. There are other kennel clubs with different parent clubs and breed standards, like the United Kennel Club, or UKC.

Labrador Breed standard from Erlastyn Kennels website

Sometimes criticized as being nothing but beauty contests, dog shows actually are intended to evaluate breeding stock in order to continue to produce puppies who meet the breed standard. The breed standard exists for functional and health reasons even though many of the traits are things that we love so much about our dogs because of their appearance. For example, the shape of a dog’s head can help or hinder him when hunting because it will impact their eyesight. The right or wrong build for shoulders and legs can impact how they move in the water or on land.

If you are a Labrador Retriever owner like me, that big thick otter tail that knocks glasses and knick-knacks off of your coffee table is actually so big and thick to act as a rudder when the dog is swimming. The double coat that sheds so much is designed to insulate the dog in cold weather or cold water to maximize the use of calories so that their energy is spent on the task at hand rather than staying warm. The webbed feet that pick up mud and track them into the house each spring are designed to help make them more efficient swimmers for their original purpose of helping fisherman with nets and hunters retrieve birds.

Westminster is my favorite show that is televised because they provide so much information on the dogs. Although I will always miss the signature voice of the late Roger Karas, the announcers usually do a good job of pointing out things to viewers like the fact that dogs who are meant to run a lot have large deep chests, and dogs with big floppy jowls and ears like Basset Hounds and Bloodhounds use those to pick a scent that they are tracking.

On Monday and Tuesday during the day, individual breeds will be judged together with the winner of each breed being dubbed Best of Breed. You can watch the live streaming online on the Westminster Kennel Club website. The coverage on TV each evening is of the Best of Group category.

Jackson

Because each dog is judged against the breed standard and not each other, it is quite impressive that the judges are able to retain such vast knowledge of each breed standard in their group. Judges are incredibly experienced within the dog show world in order to be able to judge this category. Of course most viewers, myself included, root for their favorite breeds. I would love for the Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever and German Shorthaired Pointer to take spots one, two and three in that order, but so far that has not happened. That’s ok, though, because I have the best male and female example of the Labrador Retriever in my own home, at least as far as I’m concerned.

Tomorrow I will share information about the different types of dog breeders and how responsible loving breeders are too frequently lumped in with puppy mill operators. That topic is also an important part of my book, Love, Laugh, Woof: A Guide to Being Your Dog’s Forever Owner. Also check out this page from the Westminster Kennel Club called Find the Right Dog for You. Finally, if you haven’t yet, I invite you to read my blog from last year’s show, called Not Just Another Pretty Face: Researching that Show Dog on TV. 

For more detailed information on how dog shows are judged, click here: http://www.westminsterkennelclub.org/dog-show-101/

Blogs, Life with Jackson & Tinkerbell

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?”

 

Blogs, Life with Jackson & Tinkerbell

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.

 

 

Blogs, Life with Jackson & Tinkerbell

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.

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Did you say carrot? 

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.”

 

Blogs, Life with Jackson & Tinkerbell

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!

 

 

Blogs, Life with Jackson & Tinkerbell

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.

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Snoop, circa 1984

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.

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Tinkerbell and me

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.

 

 

Blogs, Safety & Emergency Prepping

17 Spring Safety Tips To Prevent Lost Dogs

Now that spring is here (well, depending on the day of the week here in Chicagoland) I have watched as our neighborhood has started to come out of winter hibernation.  With so many adults and kids out and about again, it is a good time to have a refresher course with your dogs and your human kids on methods of making sure the dogs do not get out of fenced yards, screen doors or front doors that open and close constantly.

In our neighborhood we are blessed that not only are we adults friends, but our kids are friends too, and they love to play outdoors all day and every day whenever the weather permits. I compare their movement throughout our connecting yards to a school of fish that suddenly darts to a new location without warning. Don’t get me wrong, this is fantastic and certainly beats having them in their rooms playing video games, but it also creates some stress on my part because of the amount of time the doors and gates to the yard open and close.

Here are my spring training suggestions to keep your dogs safe this season:

Screen doors:

  1. Latch your screen doors: We do this ever since the day we were at a graduation party and we watched one of the host’s dogs jump up on the screen door to see something outside and accidentally press down the screen door handle. Without skipping a beat the dog and it’s canine sibling were out the door and racing down the street with a roomful of humans racing outside to try to lure them back inside. Fortunately the dogs came back quickly and nothing bad happened. Our screen door has been latched ever since on nice days when we have the front door open.
  2. Check your screen doors for holes and weak spots: Give your screen doors a thorough examination to ensure that there are not places that a young dog (or one who loses all training and composure when someone is outside) could jump through.
  3. Consider replacing screen doors with special pet screen like Phifer Pet Screen or New York wire. Pet screen is considerably stronger and more resistant to nail scratches. We switched to this after my late German Shorthaired Pointer went through our screen door and it has survived two Labrador puppies since then.
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Sit/wait is a potentially life saving skill. photo credit: Miko & Luca via photopin (license)

Fence gates:

  1. Teach your kids the importance of making sure the fence gates are closed each and every time they go through them and how your dog’s safety depends upon them.
  2. Instill in your children the importance of shutting and checking the gates themselves rather than relying on their friends to do so, so that they let their friends in or out first before they go through.
  3. If you have multiple gates, lock all but one of them to reduce the chances of a gate being left open.
  4. Check each gate every time you let your dogs outside and accompany them outside.
  5. Teach the dogs to sit/wait if you take them through the gate.
  6. Lock gates or use a carabiner or other method of securing the gates to ensure that a dog does not accidentally open them by jumping up on them like Dutch once did.
  7. Keep your dog on leash with you or in their crates inside the house when having large groups or parties in your yard. 
A carabiner keeps the gate shut but not locked.

Front door:

  1. Train your dogs to sit/wait at the door whenever someone comes to the door or a visitor enters the house.
  2. Require your dogs to sit/wait any time you go in and out of the house with them.
  3. Use a leash when answering the door if you are uncertain about your dog’s willingness to sit/wait with an open door.
  4. Teach your children the dog’s rules of sitting and waiting before the door is opened.
  5. Instruct kids to step outside to talk to their friends or invite the friend inside (if you do not have a screen door) instead of holding the door open to talk to friends.
  6. Teach everyone in the family the art of body blocking the dog’s access to the door in case they break their sit/wait. Body blocking means using your body to restrict the dog’s movement.
  7. Depending on the design of your home and your dog’s obedience abilities, consider blocking off your foyer or front hallway with pet gates to prevent your dog from lingering by the front door.

 

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. 

 

 

National Sibling Day Growing Up Dog Lovers
Blogs, Life with Jackson & Tinkerbell

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.

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Snoop 1985

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.

 

Blogs, Fun & Games, Products & Places I Love For Dogs

Human’s Guide to Dog Toys

Over the last year I’ve set up a table at various pet events and local events and offered a selection of safely made pet toys from West Paw Design and Planet Dog. Without a physical store front these events are a nice way for me to get out and meet pet parents and share the word about creating a healthy, toxin-free lifestyle for their dogs.

West Paw and Planet Dog are my two favorite brands of toys for my dogs because they are made in the USA from non-toxic materials with a focus on the health and safety of our dogs, so I love to share the word of these brands with fellow dog owners. After all, dogs play with toys with their mouths, so anything that goes into your dog’s mouth (and sometimes into their belly) should be as safely made as possible.

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Destiny and her pile of toys
A common complaint that I have heard from other dog owners is that their dogs will destroy any toy given to them, with many dog owners no longer purchasing toys for that reason. Since dogs do not have nearly as much with which to entertain themselves as we do, that makes me sad. Of course I can relate to purchasing a $15 stuffed squeaky toy only for Jackson and Tinkerbell to rip it to pieces within ten minutes of presenting them with their new toy, but when it comes down to it, that’s part of the fun for them, part of the joy of the stuffed squeaky toy. They still play with it once the squeaker and stuffing has been thoroughly removed by them and confiscated and disposed of by me.

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Jax and his favorite shark

Jackson and Tinkebell love to play tug-o-war with the remaining shell of the squeaky toy. Normally the game begins with Tinkerbell literally shoving the toy into Jackson’s mouth until he takes the bait and joins in. Sometimes Jackson (our adorable but evil genius) will grab a toy and start a game of tug-o-war with me, sometimes because he wants to play with me and other times in order to lure Tinkerbell over to join into the game so he can steal the antler that he wants but she has. Both our late Maggie and our former foster dog Destiny loved to take the empty squeaky toys and toss them high up into the air and then fetch the toy and repeat the process over and over.

In order to help my fellow humans with the “my dog will destroy that” dilemma, I have made a helpful guide called The Human’s Guide to Dog Toys to help pet parents understand the best way to use each toy and make it last longer than previous toys. You can download the guide on the Dog Owner Resources page at https://lovelaughwoof.com/tools/ .  

You can also shop for my favorite eco friendly dog toys on Amazon.com at my affiliate store by clicking here.

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. 
Blogs, Life with Jackson & Tinkerbell

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.

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Jax and one of his brothers

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.

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Jax at 5 years young

 

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.

 

 

 

Blogs, Fun & Games, Life with Jackson & Tinkerbell

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.

 

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.

Blogs, Life with Jackson & Tinkerbell

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.

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Blogs, Life with Jackson & Tinkerbell

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
Blogs, Life with Jackson & Tinkerbell

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.

IMG_7010
My walking buddy at Southeastern Guide Dogs

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. 

estiny the Yellow Labrador
All the Dogs I've Loved Before, Blogs, Destiny, Forever Dogs: Stories of Awesome Dogs

Destiny the Yellow Labrador, One Month Later

We are just a few days away from marking the 5th week since our yellow Labrador foster dog Destiny came to stay with us. We are also officially counting down one week from today when she can have her post-heartworm treatment checkup to get the all clear to run and frolic like a normal dog.

Destiny came to us on January 31, 2015 on a flight from Puerto Rico as a blizzard was heading to the area. The snow literally started to fall as my husband parked at the cell phone lot of O’Hare airport to wait for my call. I watched the snow begin as I waited nervously at the airline parcel pickup area. Her first paw prints on land in the continental United States were on a snow covered airport sidewalk as we hustled to get to the designated “Canine Relief Area” accompanied by an urban soundtrack of the road noise of busses, people shouting and horns honking. I cannot imagine what it was like for her to step out of the airport and into such a cold and confusing scene.

A long, long way from Puerto Rico!
A long, long way from Puerto Rico!

During her first few days with us Destiny explored her new world and raced around the snow chasing snowballs and figuring out this peculiar land that was covered in ice. Her snow zoomies came to a screeching halt, however, when we learned that she was still heartworm positive and had not been treated like we thought. Because heartworms are literally growing in a dog’s heart and taking up space that should be free to pump blood, dogs who are heartworm positive should have limited activity even before treatment occurs.

Fortunately the veterinarian was able to schedule her treatment quickly and Destiny headed off for a two-night stay at the veterinary clinic. When I brought her home post-treatment I was grateful for the pain meds that were

Destiny's first experience with subzero temps
Destiny’s first experience with subzero temps

prescribed for her as they also made her drowsy and helped her sleep through the worm die off going on in her body. Once the pain meds were finished we worked on simple training and introduced her to Kongs and West Paw toys filled with frozen yumminess and a treat releasing puzzle game to work her mind and alleviate some boredom.

Surrounded by her favorite toys
Surrounded by her favorite toys

With a week to go we are expanding her time out of her crate a bit more, keeping her on leash in the house but spending hours sitting on the floor with her over the course of each day while we rub her ears and pet her tummy as she chews her favorite moose antler. I’ve started very short walks as long as she walks quietly and does not try to run and it warms my heart to see her checking out new places and smells.

Part of me feels immense guilt each time I look at her in her crate even though I know that heartworm treatment is a very serious matter because dogs are at risk for blood clots while the worms are dying. This beautiful dog has come way too far and been through too much have something go wrong and if that means she spends a month on strict kennel rest, then that is what we will do. My husband reminds me of the fact that she was originally found tied to a tree with her mouth bound by a plastic bag and left to die, so a warm, dry crate with her own special blanket in suburban Chicago isn’t that bad of a way to spend a month, particularly when the temperatures have been as much as 90 degrees colder than her native Puerto Rico.

Before and after, her coat is coming in nicely and we are working on getting more meat on those ribs.
Before and after, her coat is coming in nicely and we are working on getting more meat on those ribs.

Thanks to a steady diet of Canine Caviar Wild Ocean grain free dry holistic kibble her ribs are no longer protruding from her body and her once naked underside is nearly covered with fur. Her coat is becoming thick and beautiful and the various tones of yellow are deepening in color. She no longer smells even though she has not had a bath since her arrival, her breath is odorless and she has the legendary small and firm Canine Caviar poop.

Over the last month we have noticed scars all over her body. They cover her front legs and there are some on her head and her face as well as one on her lip. No amount of high quality food will be able to heal them or make the fur grow back, nor will it bring back the many teeth that are missing from her mouth, including all along the lower front part of her jaw between her canine teeth. Love and patience, however, are healing some of the scars, at least on the inside where it matters.

Chilling with the family
Chilling with the family

Destiny is still jumpy when being petted but she has relaxed significantly. Her submissive hand licking has diminished and she has picked up the habit of sitting between our feet and legs with her back to us so that we can pet and massage her back and shoulders. She is getting used to us petting her back legs and the lower part of her back by her tail, places that she let us know were entirely off limits when she arrived. She loves human attention and wants to be with us all the time but she is not ready to snuggle or be hugged, and that’s ok. Most dogs do not like to be held tightly or hugged too much so we respect the ways that she wants to interact with us but we also want to prepare her for people who do not realize that hugs are not a dog’s favorite thing so that if she comes across a human who hugs and squeezes her that she’s had some experiences that turned out ok.

Beautiful Destiny
Beautiful Destiny

Of course we have had the conversation that all foster families probably have: should we keep her as our own dog? My heart says yes but the practical dog owner in me says no. It would be easy to pay the fee to Chicagoland Lab Rescue and join the ranks of foster failures across the country who fell so much in love with their foster dogs that they could not say goodbye. But the logical side remembers the lifelong commitment I’ve made to Jackson and Tinkerbell to provide the best care that I can and that adding another dog to our family could jeopardize my financial ability to provide that life for them.

It is not going to be easy to say goodbye to this sweet girl who now follows me around the house, with whom I am starting to develop the dog mom bond. But the key to saving these homeless dogs is to push those emotions aside and summon our inner strength for them, opening up our homes and our hearts as if they were our own and then allowing them to go to their forever home with humans who are actively seeking the next canine love of their life, just like I have found the canine loves of mine with Jackson and Tinkerbell.

All the Dogs I've Loved Before, Blogs, Destiny, Forever Dogs: Stories of Awesome Dogs

A Rescued Dog Named Destiny

As I write this there is a sweet yellow dog dozing off in her crate a few feet from me. Unlike most dogs who nap the day away, she has been awake all day, playing with the toys she has found in the house, exploring different smells, watching our black Labradors Jax & Tink to see what they are up to, frolicking in the snow and best of all, getting tons of human affection. As I type she is trying desperately to hold her head up but the need for sleep is just too powerful and she has finally laid her pretty yellow head on her paws and relaxed.

I have never seen a dog so desperately trying to stay awake and I am not sure if she is afraid to let her guard down or if she simply does not want to miss anything. Either way it is a bittersweet thing to watch; sad because of what she has been through but happy because I know that she has nothing to fear while she is in our home. My job is to help teach her that she is safe.

Destiny came to us two days ago on a flight from Puerto Rico. In November she was discovered in the woods by a woman who was taking care of some stray puppies. As she took the puppies some food she came across a small female yellow Labrador who had been tied to a tree with a bag tied around her snout so that she could not eat, drink, chew off her leash to free herself or even pant to cool her body in the hot climate. She had clearly been left to die a slow and miserable death.

After being rescued she was named Destiny in the hopes that her destiny would change and that she would find a happier life and a safe place to live. After several months of fostering and boarding in Puerto Rico it was arranged that she would fly to Chicago to our local Lab rescue with whom I am a fairly new volunteer.

Destiny loves moose antlers
Destiny loves moose antlers

As soon as I saw Destiny’s story I offered to foster her. As a dog lover who is active on social media I see heart wrenching things done to dogs on a regular basis and I long to help them all. This is one of those stories where I could actually help. Looking at the photos of this small female Labrador tied to a tree I wanted to just pet her and tell her that it would be ok, that nobody would do this to her ever again.

And so my husband and I found ourselves at O’Hare airport on Saturday, He dropped me off and went to wait in the cell phone lot. We were playing beat the clock with a blizzard warning and a foot of snow in the immediate forecast.

I had to laugh as I carried a large tote with a leash, treats, collar, harness, poop bags and a bottle of water to the baggage claim; it was not my normal stuff to have in an airport. I found the place where I was to meet Destiny and waited, as nervous as I was while waiting for my now husband to pick me up on our first date. After all, I knew this dog from photos and had heard her story. She had just finished a long flight in the cargo hold of an airplane and was being greeted by a strange woman in a loud and completely unnatural environment for a dog.

After twenty minutes a man from the airline headed toward me with a large dog crate on a cart. As they got closer and closer I could hear Destiny’s strong Labrador tail banging against the side of the crate, going a mile a minute like my Tink’s does. I bent over to look in the crate and there she was, a skinny but wiggling yellow dog who licked my hand nervously through the kennel door. I hooked my leash to her collar and quickly got her into our harness & got her arranged so that she was attached at both the collar and harness. The last thing I wanted was for her to bolt into traffic at the airport with a blizzard looming.

After a potty break in the dog relief area I texted my husband and told him to come get us. I stood in the familiar third row of the arrivals area waiting for his car, again laughing slightly at the thought that I had never stood there and waited with a dog and a big crate. He pulled up, we got her into our own travel crate, put her airplane crate into the car next to her and we drove off into the Chicago night as the first snowflakes began to fall.

Destiny the yellow Labrador
Destiny the yellow Labrador

Two days later Destiny has started to flourish and relax. She seems to be house trained, she has found all of Jax and Tink’s toys and played with them, chewing on antlers and tossing their Planet Dog ball around with delight. Like queen Elsa she arrived just as our world became frozen and she has experienced snow for the first time, scared at first but now dashing through it like a normal dog who just has fun on her mind. She has had lots of love and affection from all of the humans in our family, from ear rubs to tummy scratches. Her belly is full of organic Canine Caviar dog food, we’ve practiced the sit command as well as “come” and discovered a love of Fruitables snacks. In general she has been able to live the life that every single dog deserves.

Soon she will start to meet families who might be the one for her forever home. We are just a transitional place for her, a place for her to stay until her own home and her true Destiny reveals itself to us. In the meantime I get to love up on her just like I wanted to when I heard her story, letting her know that the world has as many good people as it does evil and that this is just the start for her of a new way of life, one where she no longer has to fear falling asleep.

Blogs, Life with Jackson & Tinkerbell

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.