Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Back to School

This year I became a One Tail at a Time Member, which means I get all sorts of great perks and discounts at local dog-related businesses (win!), including 30% off all training sessions from Canine Sports Dog Training.  Itching to get the boys back to work on their skills, I checked out their website and came across a  specific Reactive Dog Class "for dogs that have a hard time keeping a level head in the presence of new dogs, people, or objects."  Thinking this would be the perfect kind of class for our Alfred, I signed him up immediately and took the last spot available (only 4 students are allowed per class).

First class was on Monday evening and we hopped in the car with a bag full of chicken and high hopes...

...neither of which lasted very long.  In a total of about 15 minutes, Alfred managed to go through three whole chicken breasts, have no fewer than two leash melt downs, chomp on the trainers arm at least five times, bleed all over my jeans, throw up, try to eat it, and then try and attack the mop.  Oh, Alfred...we were asked to leave the class.  :(

However (!) trainer Emily spent the rest of the class time talking with us outside while Alfred tried his best to calm down.  The conclusion?  This particular group of dogs wasn't going to work out for Alfred in a class setting, but we're going to try one-on-one sessions to work on whatever we want!  We have some great resources to read through at Dog Star Daily, a few training exercises to get started on, and we're switching him over to a Halti for his walks.

After we finished our talk, I managed to walk back to the car, covered in slobber and blood and holding back tears. As soon as I shut the car door I had a total meltdown, sobbing uncontrollably and lamenting the fact that I ever got off track with our training in the first place.  How could I have gotten so lax with such a serious issue?  Alfred had become so sweet and snuggly at home, I didn't stop to think that his issues with excitability could be getting worse all the while. Scariest of all, I started to imagine situations that would lead us to no longer be able to keep Alfred at all.  I was a wreck.

Luckily, the very next day I had a chance to meet and talk with another SociaBulls member who has trained with CSDT specifically for leash reactivity and she was very reassuring. She even wrote a guest post on Two Pitties in the City on her experiences with her dog Maize, and after reading through it I started to feel that I wasn't alone.  The dog community here in Chicago is so amazing, and I love that I am able to be a part of it.  It means so much to have a support system in place when things get rough, and I couldn't be more grateful.  

And now...the work begins (again)!

Monday, March 26, 2012

The BSL Band-Aid

I'm lazy - I'll admit it.  I'm not sure if I've always been lazy (or if not, when I became lazy), but I know that much of my life has followed the rule of doing the least amount of work to get by and be comfortable.  Comfortable.  Always seemed like a decent it's slowly making it's way onto my list of unmentionables [including, but not limited to: boring, easy, stagnant, static, and fair].  This list has been developed just recently as I continue the journey on my way to adult-hood and realize that boring, comfortable me doesn't accomplish much other than lying on the couch with the dogs and depleting the apartment's supply of chocolate. 

 [lazy bum]

I suppose I shouldn't be too hard on myself.  I do manage to be productive and get things done from time to time.  And as I continue to grow up, I keep realizing just how important it is to put in the hard work to do things right the first time around. From little things like buying a nice pair of shoes that will last through years of wear and tear instead of getting the cheap pair year after year, to spending the time and money training Bruce Wayne and Alfred so they don't end up back in a shelter years down the road.  Luckily I have found a terrific network of friends to help keep me on track, since most main-stream avenues, from pop-culture to politics, seem to reward taking the easy way out.  Americans everywhere are dying for a quick-fix to all of life's problems and, until recently, I was not all that different.

Thanks to having a big, block-headed, Fredbaby in my life, I am always on the move learning new ways to make living with a special-needs dog a lot of fun.  It's because of Alfred that I've started this blog, joined the Chicago SociaBulls dog walking club, and become more involved in rescue.  If not for the Alfmonster I wouldn't know much about Breed Specific Legislation, and most likely wouldn't feel compelled to do much about it.  Because that would've been the easy thing to do.

What exactly is Breed Specific Legislation (BSL)?  In my opinion, it's not much different than racism in humans.  Basically, certain breeds of dog are discriminated against (and often destroyed) solely based on the way they look.  There are no temperament tests involved; no consideration of who owns the dog; no sound logic behind it really.  Yet legislators seem to think they've solved the problem of vicious dog attacks - easy as that.

Some of our favorite pooches wouldn't survive anti-"pit bull" BSL.
[Zoe from Two Kitties One Pittie, Fifty the Two-legged Pit Bull, Billy from In Black & White]

You might notice that the three dogs posted above look completely different, yet could all be classified as "pit-bull type" dogs.  Sure, they share similar attributes, but the reality is that almost any dog breed in the US (even those recognized by organizations such as the AKC) was, at one time in history, a mix of two or more different types of dog.  What do you get when you cross a Scottish Retriever and a Tweed Water Spaniel (now extinct)?  An Irish Setter, Bloodhound, St. John's Water Dog (evolved into the Labrador Retriever), and what eventually became the Golden Retriever - and all in the same litter!  Can you imagine a city, state, or country specifically restricting the ownership of "retriever-type" dogs?  I bet more than half the dogs in the US could be considered "retriever-type" dogs based on their looks alone.  Can you imagine the police coming into this home and destroying this family's dog because sometimes Golden Retrievers bite people???

Probably not.  So why should this be any different?

Because pit bulls are perceived as being more dangerous.  There are a lot of different statistics available to back up both sides of this argument, but when it comes down to it, BSL is like putting a band-aid on a deep puncture wound.  The root of the problem isn't the dog itself, but irresponsible pet ownership and inappropriate human-dog interactions.  While the number of dog bite fatalities is still very low (approximately 0.0002% of all dog bites in the US result in death), almost every dog involved in a fatal bite was not properly leashed or contained on the owner's property, nor were the dogs spayed or neutered. And  unfortunately, pit bulls often find themselves in the hands of irresponsible dog owners.  Hardly the fault of the dogs themselves. [Clearly we all know plenty of wonderfully responsible pit bull owners, which is why we love them so much!]

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention provides an excellent resource for preventing dog bites on their website and states: 

  "Many practical alternatives to breed-specific policies exist and 
hold promise for preventing dog bites."

Their main focus is on educating the public and raising awareness of general safety rules when it comes to interacting with dogs.  The third full week in May is National Dog Bite Prevention Week, sponsored by the American Veterinary Medical Association, the United States Postal Service, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.  We will be posting to help spread the word and educate our readers during that week, and hope you will too!  With more knowledgable pet owners in the US and around the world, perhaps the Prohibition of Pit Bulls will someday come to and end and all breeds can be treated equally when it comes to choosing the right pet for your family.  

It's not going to be easy, but the best things in life never are...

Friday, March 23, 2012

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Adoptable Alfred - Meet MK

I have been spying a slew of adorable adoptable dogs recently all over the blogosphere and couldn't help but join in the cuteness of it all.  Especially after spotting this face:

Meet MK!

If you've ever wanted an Alfred of your very own, MK may be the dog for you!  MK is currently being fostered through One Tail at a Time in Chicago and is a snuggle pot for sure.  She loves to play with her canine foster brother, and absolutely adores people.  She even has a beauty mark just like Alfie!  You can see her featured in this touching slide show and help her rescuers win $10,000 just by viewing.  That would make MK one extra happy lady!

If you are interested in making MK a part of your family, please email Vanessa at, or visit to view the many 
deserving dogs that they have available for adoption.

Monday, March 19, 2012

On the Road

While M and I are soaking up the sun rain hail?!? in Arizona for a few days, Alfred and Bruce Wayne are on mini vacations of their own.  Before we found Alfred, we had all sorts of grand ideas about what it would be like to vacation with our dog, driving across the country and exploring any place our combined 8 legs could go....with Alfred in the mix this is no longer a really feasible option (at least for now), and we've explored a number of different options for doggie care while we're away.  Here's a run-down of places we've tried and what's worked (or hasn't) for us.

1) Family
While a trip to the "grandparents'" house is always a viable option for everyone's favorite grand-dog, Bruce Wayne, neither of M or my families posses the advanced dog-handling skills needed to keep Alfred for any extended amount of time.  We're constantly working toward this being a dual-dog option in the future, but for now it remains a half-solution if necessary.
Pros: comfortable environment, reliable care, FREE  Cons: not dual-dog friendly, far distance to drop-off/pick-up, feelings of guilt if they do something naughty

2) Friends
Living in Chicago over the last few years, we've discovered a pretty terrific network of dog-loving friends who are always willing to help out when they can.  In the early Alfred days, he was lucky enough to stay a few times with Auntie B (either at her place or at ours) while Bruce Wayne went to stay with family.  And last year during our wedding & honeymoon we got a VERY generous offer to watch both dogs from their Auntie H from In Black & White (you can read more about their adventures here, here, and here).  Unfortunately, Alfred and Billy don't quite get along, so that was only a one time deal.  :\ Fortunately, Bruce and Billy are buds, so he is currently snuggled up there until we return home from our trip. :)
Pros: comfortable environment, reliable care, FREE, lots of adorable pup-dates via blogland, close distance to drop-off/pick-up  Cons: possible Alfred-induced injuries, therefore not always Alfred-friendly...

3) Dog-friendly Hotels
Why I ever thought this was a good idea, the world will never know.  We had so many weekend trips planned those first couple months after we first found Sir Alfred, and we were running out of favors from friends who were able to watch him while we were away, so we decided we would just bring him with on the next trip and keep him in our hotel room.  We know better now.  Not only did he freak out almost the entire 2 hour car ride, but he spent the entire night pacing back and forth through the tiny hotel room, jumping from bed to bed and immediately barking any time we tried to put him in his crate.  By the morning M and I were so sleep deprived, we were desperate to find a place in town that could take him for the remainder of the weekend....which brings us to our next category.

4) Kennels
Our first foray into paying for doggie care (other than staying at the vet after his neuter surgery) happened the very next morning in beautiful Bloomington-Normal, IL.  Our options were limited to places that would allow us to pick-up on a Sunday afternoon, so we ended up bring him here for the remainder of the weekend. Alfred had his own private kennel with both indoor and outdoor access, and the price was reasonable.  When we picked him up a couple days later he seemed to be in good spirits and slept most of the ride home to Chicago...and we were able to get some sleep of our own. :)
Pros: no need for a temperament test, takes reservations on short notice, inexpensive boarding option  Cons: minimum interaction with people, no soft spots for snuggling, far distance from our house

5) In-home Boarding
Poor Alfred was bounced around to a bunch of different places before we found our current solution where he is happily staying this week while we are away.  Kritter Kare is a dog care service in Elmhurst that provides boarding, daycare, and dog walks.  The great thing about Kritter Kare is that all of the services are run from the owner's home, and she is really terrific with all shapes and sizes of dogs (even difficult one's like our Alfie).  Alfred is always excited to see Rosie, and she even provides pick-up and drop-off services to the city FREE of charge.  And at $45/night it's about the best deal we've been able to find in the Chicagoland area; for Alf to have a reliable place to stay while we're gone it is totally worth it.  We've even taken advantage of her daycare service for both of the boys in the past and they always come home happy and tired - success!
Pros: comfortable in-home environment, reliable care, pick-up/drop-off service, reinforcement of training commands, friendly service  Cons: can get expensive for extended stays

Bruce's "monster head" slipped it's way into my purse and onto the plane - whoops!

In conclusion...
While we'd prefer for both the pups to be able to stay with family and friends, Kritter Kare has been an excellent option for those times when we don't feel like torturing our loved ones with too many wild beasty nights.  It is a great feeling to know that wherever they stay, they will be treated with the love and care that we would give them ourselves (if not more so), and they always have a smooth transition coming back home at the end of the trip.  Can't wait to see them in a couple of days!!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Friday Haiku

Time for vacation
where could they possibly go?
Find out on Monday!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Visiting Family

Bruce Wayne and Alfred took a trip out to the suburbs this weekend to visit with my mom, brother, and their doggy aunts, Mary and Shady.  Bruce has spent a lot of time staying at the grandparents' house, but Alfred is still trying to figure out what it means to visit new places.  It was a nice, sunny day, so the boys were able to spend a lot of time outside on the deck.

But eventually they wanted to come inside and join in the rest of the family fun.

I feel very fortunate to come from a family of dog lovers, and their home is always open to our fur-kids, but I still don't feel 100% comfortable with Alfred's ability to behave in new places. We weren't able to bring him by much recently since hanging out on the deck wasn't an option during the cold months, but I am happy to report that Alfie has made some impressive progress!  His first visit inside involved a lot of prancing around from room to room, checking out all of the exciting new places and smells, but nothing too naughty ensued.  We sent him back out to the deck after a few minutes of exploring, but he was ready to come back in and show us his stuff.

let me in!

We let him back in a second time and pulled out his blanket and bone so that he could redirect if things got too exciting.  It didn't take long before he was settled in and all four dogs were basking in the sun together!

All-in-all, I'd consider the trip to be a big success, and am looking forward to making more family visits this Spring.  I was really proud of Alfred for his good behavior, but I think Aunt Shady and Aunt Mary still have mixed feelings on the subject.

We'll see if we can sway them with more visits soon...have a good week, all!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Introducing....Friday Haiku!

M and I both consider ourselves to be creative types, so we weren't entirely surprised when we found ourselves inspired by Bruce and Alfred's everyday antics. What was surprising, was the form that inspiration has taken: haiku poems.  I like to think of ourselves as being mere translators and scribes, capturing and sharing the inner wisdoms that cannot be expressed sans opposable digits.  Here is our first attempt at an Alfred translation...

The wind is blowing
whistling and creaking noises
-Alfred the Dog

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Security Blanket

One of Alfred's more endearing qualities is also one of his best tools for dealing with the exciting moments in everyday life.  Ever since the day we found him, Alfred has found comfort in sucking and kneading on a  blanket, just like a certain animated, insecure, little boy.

Happiness is a warm blanket

Although we went through a handful of blankets at the start, we've finally found one that he seems to really love and can't bring himself to tear apart.  And since he spends the majority of most days with his big lips wrapped around the mound of cloth, it was pretty easy for him to learn the word 'blanket' and turn it into a command.  Now, any time he gets excited about something while in the house, he can redirect himself to his blankie and begin to calm down.  Here's an example of him coming out of the kitchen when I come home from running errands:

Which eventually turns into several minutes of this:

and is hopefully followed up with something like this:

I feel better
Despite the stinky dog-drool smell (and frequent trips to the washing machine) Alfred's blanket has become one of my favorite home accessories.  What other ways are you able to keep a calm pooch?  Does your dog have any self-soothing techniques that they've picked up along the way?  I'd love to hear stories!

Monday, March 5, 2012


Alfred and Bruce are so grateful for having found a loving home that they are always looking for ways to give back to those who help rescue dogs like them. Just recently, they talked me into purchasing some new collars from Sirius Republic, a California-based company who donate a portion of their proceeds  to animal rescue organizations around the country (and even include FREE embroidery for Adoptable Dogs).  Alfred isn't one for words, so he let Bruce do most of the could I say 'no' to this??

pleeeeeaaaaaaaase, Mom

Sirius Republic had just recently created a line of collars to benefit a "pit bull type dog" rescue in Austin, TX called Love-A-Bull, and I instantly fell in love with their Texas-inspired designs.  I was trying to hold out on buying new collars until Spring, but with all of the unseasonably-warm weather in Chicago this year I must have gotten confused and ordered them a couple of months early...whoops. :)

Alfred picked out the Hippie Hollow 

and Bruce selected the more sophisticated Enchanted Rock

They make quite the dynamic duo!

we look so good
You may have also noticed the adorable Austin duo modeling their Love-A-Bull collars on the Sirius site: you can read more about them here.  

Friday, March 2, 2012


We don't know much about Alfred's life before he was 'Alfred.'  All he showed up with was a collar, leash, and trunk full of issues: food allergies; extreme mouthiness; a hatred for towels; loud noise induced anxiety; and, of course, resource guarding (to name a few).  

Any closer and that camera's mine...

At first it could have been almost anything that would set him off (toys, bones, beds), but the most serious guarding occurred at meal time.  Never having experience with a resource guarding dog, I sought the advice of our trainer, Rendy, at Anything is PAWSible.  Bruce Wayne and I had worked with Rendy in the past and knew of her extensive experience with rescue dogs in Chicago, and she was happy to meet with Alfred for a temperament test in her studio, so off I went with Alfred in tow.  

He was excited to meet Rendy and spent a good amount of time exploring the large studio space, pacing back and forth from one corner to the next.  Once he had a chance to calm down, Rendy began to do a few tests to gauge his reactivity and assured me that he wasn't a lost cause, but that it would take a lot of hard work and commitment to get the improvement we were hoping for.  She prescribed Alfred to the Nothing In Life Is Free program, and recommended that I read the book Mine! A Practical Guide to Resource Guarding in Dogs by Jean Donaldson.  I was determined to 'fix' this dog and was ready to get to work right away.

After ordering the book on Amazon, I began working with Alfred on his other training.  All toys and blankets came up off of the floor and would only be shared after a series of 'sit,' 'paw,' 'down,' 'stay.'  We didn't go on walks until he sat and waited for me to open the door and invite him outside.  Dinner wasn't served unless he 'relax'ed for at least 10 second at first, then 20, 30, and so on.  He learned his commands quickly, but was this really going to keep him from snapping every time we came near his dish?  

Do I look 'relax'ed?

Progress was slow and difficult to track at the time, but a year and a half later it is easy to see that Alfred has come a long way.  We're able to pet him while he chews on his toys, and can take away shoes without issue when he steals them from the rack.  We can finally play fetch because he'll gladly trade one ball for another instead of bearing down on one until it's been turned to confetti.  We had unfortunately lost some momentum in his meal time training because of all of his food allergies and the long search for a meal that wouldn't result in moping the kitchen floor 3 times daily, but we can at least walk past him in the kitchen without him putting up much of a fuss.  Perhaps it's time we get back to some serious work...who knows, maybe someday the guarding can be a distant memory for all of us.  But for now, at least it's getting better all the time.   :)

P.S. - I'd highly recommend the book by Jean Donaldson if you're dealing with a resource guarder of your own.  It's filled with useful tips for all different kinds of guarding issues, but the greatest thing I took away from it was the lesson on "Conditioned Emotional Response (CER)."  Life changing!