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Sunday, March 23, 2014

Dog Hair, Dog Hair - Everywhere!

Is your house like my house?  I find dog hair everywhere!  And often in the most unlikely places!
Well, I have finally found a use for all that sheltie hair - my next craft used sheltie hair to create a little mini-me of Treasure!  I am learning the craft of needle felting wool.  I made a couple dog ornaments out of wool, and then tried my luck at making a white sheltie ornament out of Treasure's hair.  I think it turned out really nice - what do you think?
You will need wool roving, or a ziploc bag full of your dog's undercoat hair (the fluffy stuff that comes out when you comb or brush her), a needle felting needle (has little barbs on it), a foam block, and a dog breed silhouette cookie cutter (or other shape). 
Put your cookie cutter on top of the foam block.  The foam will protect your surface and will keep the needle from breaking if it hits the hard surface underneath too many times!  Fill the cookie cutter full of the dog hair, packing it in as much as you can.  Begin to poke the hair with the needle and continue until you notice the hair starting to stick together better and stay in the cutter.
The one above has been needled a little bit but is still fluffy.  Continue to needle the fur - it takes a while - until it becomes more compact.  Keep it inside the cutter until it is firm enough and thick enough to hold its shape on its own.  Keeping the hair inside the cutter, turn it over and needle from the other side as well.  You can see the difference in the top picture where the hair is still fluffy and separate and the bottom that has been well-needled and is firm and compact inside the cutter.
When you are satisfied that your ornament is completely compact all around, pop it out of the cutter.  Needle any parts that need a bit of tidying up to shape it as you wish - but watch your fingers!!  That barbed needle does hurt!  Below you can see the Treasure ornament just popped out of the cutter, and the two Lab ornaments I made from wool. 
For the Labs, or other short-haired dogs, you can trim the long hairs that stick out with small scissors to help them look more stream-lined.  I didn't try the Labs with dog fur because I didn't have the right colors of dogs to donate hair!  If anyone tries this with Lab undercoat, please let me know.  I'd love to see how they turn out! 
For Treasure's, I needed to add long hair.  As much as a smooth-coated sheltie would be nice at times, a sheltie with short hair looks a bit silly.  So I carefully needled more dog fur onto the outside of the dog shape, but just didn't needle it all the way in, so it stayed fluffy and long.  The parts that needed shorter hair, I kept short.  The long hair I just added a bit at a time and needled it into the shape I wanted. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

How to develop a solid recall (Blog Request)

When I first sat down to write this post, I thought I would write about the technique of how to teach your dog to come when called on a consistent basis.  But then I started to think about all the little pieces that have to come together in order for my dog to WANT to come to me each and every time I call.  There are so many more parts to a solid recall than just teaching the recall.  And those pieces have to be a part of my everyday life with my dog in order for that recall to happen when I need it most.
I thought first about relationship.  Do I need to have a relationship with a dog to get it to come when called in a single moment?  Not necessarily.  The dogs I work with at the shelter often come to me the first time I meet them and call them to me.  So what makes them feel compelled to come to me even when there are other things happening in their environment that draw their attention?  I will talk about excitement and motivation first, as I think they are important in getting a dog to come to you.
To get a dog to come to me, I first give that dog my complete attention.  If I’m distracted with other things when I call, the dog will most likely glance at me and see that I’m not “in the game” and go back to whatever he was doing.  I have to commit to the dog in order to get the dog to commit to me. 
I must show excitement.  Dogs love excitement!!  It’s easier to show excitement when you are by yourself.  Many people find it hard to show excitement when there are other people around for fear of being judged.  I wonder if that’s why I hear so many people say that their dog has a great recall, except … at the dog park, at the beach, etc.  Is it that they are able to show excitement to their dog when they are alone, but not when they are with others?  Dogs know the difference, you know!
If there are distractions around, I must be more interesting to the dog than the distractions.  Sometimes this takes some work on my part, but if I am exciting, I can usually get the dog’s attention long enough to get him to come running to me.  Dogs love motion and silly noises and people rolling on the ground.  Are you willing to do all of these things to get a great recall? 
That brings me to motivation.  Yes, the things I mentioned may get the dog to come to you in that moment, but what about a reliable recall each and every time you call, even if you’re not feeling up to rolling around on the ground?  The way to get that kind of recall is to create a relationship with your dog where he WANTS to be with you – really and truly, every moment of the day.  Every time you interact with your dog it should mean that you will both be doing wonderful things together!  Your attention should be on your dog in that moment. Give him your all if you expect him to give you all he has in return. 
Does motivation mean great treats?  Does it mean a favorite Frisbee or ball?  It could mean these things, but it could mean a whole lot more.  Everything your dog loves should in some way be connected to you.  These things should be things you and your dog do together!  Build your recall practice into each of these exciting things.  A ride in the car, a hike, a snuggle on the couch, a belly rub, a game of catch, a special treat, etc.  Use all the things that your dog really LOVES!!  Rewards are great and will keep your dog’s motivation high.  But sometimes there won’t be an outside reward.  Sometimes it will be just you and your dog. 
Play with your dog with just you (no toys).  How happy can you and your dog be together just the two of you?  That is the feeling you want to create and utilize in your day to day life and with your recalls.  When you call your dog, it becomes all about one dog and one person in that one moment.  It is that moment when he looks at you and you look at him, and you connect to each other.  Think of the movie scene when the dog and person see each other after an absence, their eyes meet and they have only eyes for each other as they run (usually in slow motion with emotional music playing) to greet each other. 
It is about the connection and the partnership between you and your dog that means that he will leave whatever he is doing at that moment to come see what you want.  Because he knows that when you call him, something amazing is going to happen that you and he will share together.  How does he know that?  Because each and every time you call your dog, you make it an absolutely amazing time for you and him to connect and have fun together – whatever means FUN to your dog!
THAT is how to create a solid reliable recall. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Dog Blankets and Beds

March is Create a Craft Month!  Yay!  If you're like me and enjoy making crafts, you don't need a special month for permission to make fun things!  But if you're normally not a crafter, I will attempt to persuade you with my easy and fun crafts this month!
Today, I'm going to tell you how I make cute dog blankets and beds for my dogs - no sewing skills required!  Begin with two colors or patterns of fleece.  How big you make the blanket depends on how big your dog is when she lays down and stretches out!  If you are making a bed instead of a blanket, remember that it will be puffier, so you may need to cut the fleece a bit bigger.  First cut just the general shape - round or rectangle - and the size you want to make the bed.  You will be cutting strips on the edges about an inch or two long, so figure this into your sizing.  I like to buy a printed fabric and then a plain fabric for the back that coordinates nicely with the color of the patterning on the front.
After you cut both pieces of fleece to the right size and shape, you will need to cut strips along all the edges.  I usually cut my strips an inch and a half long, and about 3/4 inch wide.  They don't have to be exact, but I like to cut them through both pieces of fleece, so the strips line up nicely with each other.  See the pictures to help guide you.  I have laid both pieces of fleece together and cut through both pieces to create the strips - one patterned strip on the top, with one matching plain strip on the bottom.  I did not show a very good picture of this, but at each corner, I cut out a little square, so the strips will line up.  When you try to cut straight strips on the corner, you will end up not having enough room.  Usually cutting out the little square of extra fabric will be enough to allow strips to be cut all the way around. 


 Now you can begin tying the strips together.  Using one plain and one patterned strip - that are directly on top and below each other - tie a square knot.  Tie all the strips until there are knots holding the two layers of blanket together.  If you are creating blankets, continue tying all the way around. 
If you are creating a bed, you will need to leave an opening not tied so you can put the stuffing inside.  You can stuff the inside with any bedding material, but Treasure prefers that fluffy poly filling from the craft store.  In fact, Treasure does not like dog beds normally - these fleecy fluffy beds are the only ones she likes! 
Stuff the bed as full as you'd like with stuffing and then finish up by tying the rest of the strips closed into knots.  Voila!  A fun and warm dog blanket or bed for your dog!  Treasure gives her tail wag of approval!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Grooming Tips for Blind/Deaf Dogs (Blog Request)

I had a wonderful request to write a post about grooming tips for b/d dogs and what has worked for me. It was good for me to stop and think about a grooming session with Treasure step by step. She’s been with me long enough now that our grooming sessions are comfortable and routine and I don’t think either one of us really has to think too much about them. What I do to make her sessions low-stress and happy has become an automatic habit for me, so I had to take some time to think about each aspect and things that I do (or did) differently with her in the beginning.

Even though I use both of my hands when grooming, I have to be mindful that Treasure needs my touch for feedback throughout the process. She cannot see what is coming next – the grooming tool I’m holding or where my hand is going to touch her next. She cannot hear my voice softly praising or giving her cues to wait. I have developed ways of grooming which flow and allow me to keep one hand in contact with Treasure almost constantly. This way she knows where I am in relation to her and she knows where she will be touched again with the grooming tool. She also knows that we’re not finished yet. There are times when I need both of my hands and if I stop that contact, she thinks we may be done and starts to get up. As soon as I touch her again, she settles back down, knowing we are not done. But I try to keep those interruptions to a minimum by maintaining a light contact with her throughout.

In the beginning, I went slowly. There is no rule that says you must groom the entire dog in one session! Just a few minutes (or even a few seconds in some cases) over time can teach your dog to be accepting of grooming. Try to end while things are going well and your dog is accepting. It is so easy to want to keep going when things are going well, but then it becomes too late once your dog has had enough and is no longer happy about things. Once things start to go south, it is even harder to convince your dog the next time to cooperate with you. Your dog learns that grooming time is a struggle. Stop while things are going well. Sometimes you might have a thought of, “wow, this is going really well.” If you have that thought, it is time to end the session on that good note. Later, you can build up the amount of time you are expecting your dog to accept the grooming. For now, nice short and sweet sessions, interspersed with lots of calm and soft stroking and scratching in favorite areas, will go a long way toward your future success.

If you approach grooming time thinking in your mind that it will be a struggle, your dog will pick up on that and will most likely react in that manner also. Instead, create a picture in your mind of what your ideal grooming session would look like. How would your dog behave? What order would you do the grooming tasks in? Would your dog be on a grooming table or on the floor with you? Would your dog be enjoying the session? Would you be enjoying the session? Try to keep that image in your mind while you get ready and get your dog for the session. Keeping a happy picture in your mind will help you to be more relaxed. When you are relaxed, your breathing deepens and gets easier and your muscles relax. These are all cues to your dog that you are relaxed and happy about the whole thing. Dogs follow our lead in most situations. If you are tense your muscles will be tight and your breathing will be shallow, and your dog will also be tense.

Where and how will your dog be most comfortable? Treasure and I are most comfortable with her lying with me on the floor during grooming, with her lying on her side. I can groom her with her standing up, but we are both more relaxed with her lying on the floor near me. Set up the situation for success by making sure both you and your dog will be comfortable. When a body is not comfortable, it will be tense, and that tension will affect our enjoyment and tolerance for whatever is happening around us at the time.

I always let Treasure smell each grooming tool before I use it. I touch her lightly with it and let her turn to smell it. Sometimes this is just a split second sniff. She may not even be interested, but I give her the chance to “see” it anyway. Each tool is used in a different way and feels differently on her body. With repetition, she has learned what each tool smells like and what to expect me to do with it next. This helps her to remain relaxed because there are fewer surprises for her during the grooming session. I don’t put any additional scents on the grooming tools. She can tell the difference in them just as they are. My dogs that can see will glance over when I change grooming tools to see what I’m grabbing next. They have learned the same way, by repetition, what each tool is used for. I also use verbal cues with them about what each tool is – toenails, brush, comb, teeth, eye drops, etc.

Oh, and Treasure won’t let me forget this next tip! I have special treats that are ONLY for grooming time and they are kept in our grooming box. It is the only time my dogs get these particular treats, so they have become extremely special! When they are finished with the session, they are allowed to have these very special treats! During the teaching phase, I may use these special treats more often throughout the session, but at this point, all of my dogs get their treat at the end, to end their session happily!

While there will always be parts of grooming that our dogs don’t like as much as others, these tips are things that I do to help keep grooming time as happy and low-stress for my dogs as possible. I hope I’ve given you some new ideas to try with your own dog.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Poison Prevention Awareness Month!

March is poison prevention awareness month.  Here is a handy site to search for many different substances and it also has the animal poison control center helpline phone number.

Please visit the site to become familiar with how to navigate it and put the emergency phone number in your phone, on your fridge, and with your pet’s health records.  Having the number handy will save precious moments if there is ever an emergency.
The “For Owners” section along the top of the website has some great information about creating a first aid kit, knowing the signs of poisoning in dogs and cats, and how to poison proof your home and yard.  There is lots of great information on this site – even if you think you know it or will never need it, it is good to refresh your mind and take a look around your home to see what you can put away out of your pet’s reach.

Here’s to the safety of our pets!  May we never need that emergency number, but may we always have it close at hand just in case!