December 15, 2009

Christmas Is Coming

The kids couldn't be more excited about Christmas.

Boomer knows Santa's on the way:

While Daisy's storing her energy for her first birthday, on Christmas Day:

I mean, what's gotten into these two?

August 10, 2009

Summer Scenes

Rich: The Woofgang's silence of late shouldn't be confused for a lack of things going on around here. Quite the opposite. There's too much going on; some of it's taking an emotional toll.

So, I'll share a few photos from the past few days. In capturing these summer sights and colors, I found a sort of quiet peace.

Till things settle down, enjoy!

July 17, 2009

Scenes from the Dog Park

We're celebrating wordless Wednesday on Friday this week. Have a great weekend, all!

(Click photos to enlarge)

July 10, 2009

No News Was Good News

Jane: Last week we promised you a report on The WoofGang's maiden voyage to Michigan for the 4th of July. In fact, we promised we'd update you last Monday. In case you thought the events were so traumatic that we couldn't even write about them until today, rest easy. All was calm on the Eastern front--surprisingly so. In fact, the brief trip left us with more stories of what didn't happen than what did. No inappropriate pooping or humping. No destruction (except for the netting on my brother's screened-in tent). No consumption of people food from off the counter. No peeing on carpets, no attacking their elder, Gus, no fireworks (celebratory or otherwise). It was all rather homey and mundane, a true gathering of loved ones who consumed too much food and fell asleep sitting in their lawn chairs.

The biggest excitement of the weekend was the repeated appearance of a groundhog pup that kept poking his head out from the wooden fence. He'd gather his courage to cross under the fence and check out the surrounding mulched area, only to dash back under to other side whenever the dogs appeared.

Boomer and Daisy never had a clue as to what was happening in their adopted backyard. They were too busy chewing on their rawhide bones or searching the backyard for tidbits from one of those dog toys you stuff with kibble.

My mighty-hunter brother (who numbers as his big game a few chipmunks) carefully set up a humane trap complete with goodies to lure the groundhog, but the goodies succeeded only in luring Daisy, who fortunately is now too big to fit in the trap. Otherwise, things might have gotten more interesting.

All in all, The WoofGang considered the past weekend a successful venture into the world of dog-friendly travel. So we'll be testing our luck once again in a few weeks when we make the long drive from Chicago to Florida with Boomer and Daisy in tow. We'll be staying with my husband's family (who doesn't like dogs). We've never even dared broach the subject of bringing our pets on a visit before. But the ice is broken; the die is cast. There's no turning back now. Besides, whatever canine misadventures lie ahead will make great fodder for a few new WoofGang blog posts!

July 2, 2009

Road Trip

Jane: It's coming . . . our first long-distance road trip with Boomer and Daisy. We've decided to load up the politically incorrect (but dog friendly) SUV, drive to Michigan, and celebrate the 4th at a BBQ hosted by my extended family. The entire WoofGang is drooling with excitement--but we're not so sure about the other family members we'll be visiting. You see, while my mom and dad adore Boomer and Daisy, they do their adoring on our turf, not theirs. And then there's the whole matter of puppy-proofing an unfamiliar (to two of the youngest members of the WoofGang) house, and the clash of generations. For my brother's family owns a dear, elderly Schnauzer, WoofGang cousin Gus (pictured upper left). How will the impetuous Daisy and the powerful Boomer take to a new yard, a senior dog, and barbecued food that most likely will be within easy reach of snarfing? I can almost envision it right now . . . and it ain't necessarily pretty.

We'll keep you posted and provide a blow-by-blow come Monday. In the meantime, safe travels and a happy July 4 to you all!

June 29, 2009

A Collie Named Max

Jane: My colleague and fellow blogger, accomplished writer and author Cindy Crosby, recently posted this story on the Walk With Me blog about what she learned as a foster "parent" to a collie named Max. It moved me so much, I wanted to share it with our WoofGang readers. I hope you'll be similarly moved and provoked to think about the nature of forgiveness. Enjoy!

Seventy Time Seven: A Collie Named Max
He was a tri-color, collie-shepherd mix whose whole world was a cardboard refrigerator box with a short kennel run, tucked behind a seedy motel. A Rottweiler shared the same space. As the bitter months of winter bore down on Illinois, the two huddled together for warmth. But a cardboard box isn’t much protection against the cold.

Someone alerted animal control, which came out and saw the two dogs braving the increasingly raw weather with so little shelter. The owner was warned that unless the dogs were given a better refuge, they’d be seized. The warnings were ignored. More . . .

June 25, 2009

Great Cotton Balls of Fire!

Jane: I'm embarrassed to write this post. But I have something to confess: Boomer no longer sleeps on our bed.

I know, I know, I chatted up the virtues of nocturnal canine companionship in a previous post, “Love Wrapped in Fur." After sleeping on it, I still believe there's nothing as comforting as the sweet warmth and rhythmic breathing of a dog on your bed, lying next to you when you're headachy or mopey or totally stressed by life.

But notice I didn't include the word insomnia in that list. And recently The WoofGang has been dealing with some serious sleep deprivation. We've been edgy. We've been grumpy. We've even been nodding off during the daytime. So a few weeks ago I decided to seek a “sleep solution” that involved relocating Boomer, since Daisy hasn't learned to jump up on the bed yet.

Boomer's just like a classic first-born child: He's eager to please and usually compliant. But he's also, uh, quirky. For instance, Boomer loathes getting his ears cleaned; at the slightest glimpse of a cotton ball or the faintest whiff of ear-cleaning solution, he slinks to the farthest corner of the uppermost room in our home, hoping that once he's out of sight, the ear-cleaning procedure is out of mind. His behavior is predictable and therefore can be used against him.

I decided to play this predictability to our advantage. So one evening, as Boomer eyed our bed longingly, I suddenly pulled out a bag of cotton balls I'd hidden behind my pillow and waved it in front of him, taunting, “Watch it, Mister! See what I have? I have cotton balls!”

Boomer must have been shocked (or was it awed?) by this blatant show of fluffy-white force. He stopped in his tracks, turned around, and fled the room. Great! I thought. My experiment is working! As added insurance, I laid the plastic bag across the foot of the bed to keep our 80-pound dog from pouncing on it during the night.

My approach worked like a charm. Ah, the bliss of an entire night of uninterrupted sleep!

But the next morning, where was Boomer? Not only hadn't he jumped onto our bed, but he hadn't even re-entered our bedroom! My conscience began to bother me. I worried, Have I messed with Boomer's mind too much? After about Night Two of Boomer going AWOL, we began sweetly entreating him to cross the threshold--only to watch him turn right around and head downstairs for the night.

Bribing Boomer with treats failed--a serious sign if there ever was one. I suppose Boomer was certain those cotton balls lurked somewhere within ear-cleaning distance and he didn't want to risk it. Finally, around Night Four of this strange stand-off, Rich leashed Boomer and gently yet insistently led him upstairs into our bedroom and closed the door. Boomer went nowhere near our bed. He slept safely out of our reach on the cool comfort of our master bathroom's tiles.

It took Boomer several more nights to get over this dust-up (or should I say "fluff-up"?). Eventually The Quirkster decided that cotton balls no longer menaced him from the bed, and that we really weren't plotting to clean his ears while he slept. He relaxed--enough to sleep on the floor next to Rich's side of the bed every night since.

Call us quirky, but now that we know Boomer's no longer traumatized, we're enjoying this new status quo. And we've decided we'd like to maintain it: Dogs off the bed, people on the bed, both species sleeping peacefully. What a novel idea! I just hope I never have to bring out the big guns--the cotton balls--ever again.

June 22, 2009

Bone Apetit: Starting the BARF Diet

Last in a four-part series on the BARF diet
Rich: I will never forget the first time I fed Boomer a raw chicken wing, bones and all. Boomer always approaches new things cautiously and there I was, taking on faith information from the Internet saying that it was perfectly safe for dogs to eat raw chicken bones. This went against everything I'd ever heard about feeding dogs chicken bones. (Caution: it is perfectly dangerous for dogs to eat cooked chicken bones.) I wondered what I would say to Jane if our precious five-month-old puppy choked before my eyes.

Boomer took the wing from my hand, moved to a safe distance where he wouldn't be disturbed, and began his work. He methodically mashed the still-intact wing to break up the bones, then swallowed it all in one satisfying gulp. He licked his lips and strutted like a conquering king. I've never felt so relieved in all my life. He would live to eat again!

The WoofGang experience with raw food feeding over the past two years has been nothing but positive--and never again as nerve-wracking as that first adventure. Having approached the subject from several angles, I'll offer the following thoughts on how you might go about adopting this diet for your doggie kid(s):

The two chief options for feeding raw involve a trade-off between time, money, knowledge, and the hassle of handling raw meat. Let's look at each:

Frozen Raw Ready-made Preparations

For the past two years, the WoofGang preferred this raw food choice. Through the dog-park grapevine, I met other raw food feeders, one of whom recommended me to a local lady who operated a discount, high-end dog-food supply business from her home. I quickly became a regular monthly buyer of Bravo raw food and fed it with great success to Boomer.

You may have a similarly enterprising neighbor who sells from her home. Or you might simply visit your local natural pet market and peruse the food freezers. You will see a bewildering assortment of brands, presentations, and price points tailored to every imaginable dog owner's need. In our local pet store this past Saturday, I saw prices ranging from $2.99 per pound for chicken-based raw food to $6.75 per pound for goat meat.

These frozen preparations come in a variety of forms to make them easy to handle. There are frozen hamburger-like patties, cubes, and sausage-like rolls. The WoofGang's tried all these forms, all with equal feeding success. In the end, with two hungry Labs, we found the sausage-like 10-pound rolls to be the most economical (buying in bulk, we paid about $2 per pound). We buy the cubes when boarding for the dog keeper's convenience.

Advantages of pre-made preparations:
* No special knowledge of your dog's nutritional needs is required to feed a complete diet.
* Less handling of raw meat.
* Convenient for maintaining a raw diet while boarding.
* Choose from chicken, turkey, beef, pork, lamb and goat preparations.
* Many organic choices are available.

* Pricey.
* Not sold in local supermarkets.

Do-it-yourself BARF Feeding

Now with two hungry mouths to feed, the WoofGang is migrating toward making our own food choices. To feed a complete diet requires a bit more knowledge, so I recommend you do your research. Dr. Billinghurst's Give Your Dog a Bone is a terrific, entertaining, and complete instruction manual. And, of course, preparing your dog's meals this way involves some food handling, but really no more than for preparing your family meals. Here are a few key points:

Your dog's diet should consist of about 60-70 percent raw meaty bones. These meaty bones should come from chicken, beef, lamb, rabbit, pork, goat, buffalo, and deer. Chicken (wings, necks, thighs,and backs) is an ideal food. Bones are extremely important and satisfying for your dog, so do not feed just muscle meat every day.

Other animal products to feed include organ meats (liver, kidney, heart, and brains), eggs (the WoofGang even eats the shells), cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt, kefir, milk, and butter. Fatty fish seafood is also great.

Vegetable and plant products to feed can be any leafy green vegetable, cauliflower, broccoli (don't over do it to avoid stomach distress at first), brussel sprouts, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, squash, carrots (baby carrots are a WoofGang favorite treat), fresh fruit, beans (don't experiment when having company over!) and whole grains.

Lastly, you should include a variety of oils such as cod liver, soybean, wheat germ, cottonseed, safflower, sunflower, or peanut oil.

Many of my raw-feeding friends also add a vitamin supplement, brewers yeast, or kelp powder to round out the diet.

I am an occasional juicer, so many times I will feed the dogs the pulp from the carrot-celery-ginger-kale-swiss chard-or-whatever cocktail I make for myself. I pour some of the juice back on top of it to moisten it and Boomer and Daisy gobble it down!

Feed your dog about 2-3 percent of its weight in food per day. Boomer is full-grown at about 80 pounds, so he eats about two pounds of food per day. Daisy, at around 50 pounds, eats around 1.5 pounds per day.

On the raw diet, your dog probably won't drink as much water as before. This is normal for a raw-fed dog. His raw diet supplies much of what Fido needs.

Please do your own research if you decide to feed a strict vegetarian diet to your dog. I know of no one feeding this diet and cannot comment on its efficacy from any of my research.

As with any diet change, you should make the transition to raw food over a week to ten days. Once you understand and get comfortable with it, you may find--as we did--that it's a great way to go. We'd love to hear your success stories with raw food feeding.

Now, hand me that package of raw chicken wings. It's mealtime.

June 18, 2009

The BARF Bennies

Part three in a series on the BARF diet
Let your food be medicine and your medicine be food. - Hippocrates

Rich: So, let's get right to it. What are the health benefits of feeding your dog the Biologically Appropriate Raw Food (BARF) way? First, I'll list the most commonly cited benefits, then share some observations from actual WoofGang experience.

BARF Bennies

Reduced body odor
No bad breath
Clean, white teeth - no tartar
Clean ears
Shiny, glossy coat
Lower incidence of obesity
Healthier digestion
Improved immune support
Reduced shedding
Reduction or elimination of hot spots
Resistance to flea infestations
Fewer allergies, especially skin allergies
Reduced teeth and gum problems
Slower growth - allows joints to fully develop before bearing adult weight
Happy dogs, happy owners (I just made this one up)

The WoofGang Experience

We can't testify to all the listed benefits but we can speak to these:

Better digestion. Boomer is the WoofGang's first dog to partake of raw food. When we picked him up as a ten week old, he'd survived parvovirus (a dangerous puppy killer that attacks the digestive system) in the litter, but was undersized for his age with a sensitive digestive system. It was touch and go on commercial kibble for a few months. Once on a raw diet, his stomach settled; today he's full sized, healthy and strong.

Cleaner ears. Saturday is grooming day at the WoofGang house: nail clipping, furminating (aka brushing with a Furminator), and ear cleaning. Prior to the raw food diet, Boomer's ears yielded gobs of ear junk requiring two or three cotton swabs per ear to extract. On raw food, however, ear cleaning is now optional. It is rare to get any ear junk whatsoever. This alone indicates to me improved response to his diet.

Clean white teeth. They say that good health begins in the mouth. The way Boomer and Daisy rip, tear and chew their food helps keep their teeth and gums healthy. How great to see their beautiful smiles.

Shiny, glossy coat. Boomer, our black Lab, absolutely gleams in sunlight. We add a fish oil capsule to his daily diet (more on that in the next post) to keep it shining. Daisy's yellow fur doesn't have the same shine, but at six months of age, it retains the luxurious sensual feel of her early puppy coat.

No bad body odors. 'Nuff said.

No flea problems. Most of the credit goes to the monthly flea and tick topical applications we use.

No illnesses. Knock on wood, to date neither Daisy nor Boomer has needed to visit the vet for any illnesses. We'll continue to monitor this as they have a combined age of only three years.

Happy dogs, happy owners. This diet delights the dogs and us. In fact, watching Boomer and Daisy enjoy their meals and knowing they're eating fresh, real food may be the greatest reward.

In my next post, I'll discuss the basics on what and how to feed your dog(s) a raw diet.

June 15, 2009

The BARF Diet's Natural Origins

Part two in a series on the BARF diet

Rich: The first time I saw Buddy, our previous black Lab, eat a live bunny whole was the last time I mistakenly believed that dogs are little more than furry, four-legged humans who bark. Buddy demonstrated wild-dog instincts that years of breeding and domesticating hadn't yet destroyed. He instinctively toyed with the bunny, eventually tiring it, then swallowed it--fur and all--in one satisfying gulp.

That experience was behind me when I first learned of the raw food diet for dogs. Without it, who knows? The idea of a raw food diet for my domestic companions might have taken a lot longer for me to accept.

The wild ancestor of the modern-day dog, the wolf, is a magnificent creation. In addition to being an exceptional predator, he's a dietary opportunist and scavenger, often consuming the leftover bones and scraps of dead animals of any sort. Fresh kill provides an excellent source of protein and nutrients, while rotten kill serves as a vital bacterial source.

The wolf is an omnivore. While it's common knowledge a wolf devours its prey's muscle meat and bones, it's less known that a wolf consumes vegetables, too. The prey's partially digested stomach and intestinal contents provide the primary source of vegetable matter and is often the first eaten and most highly prized.

The domestic dog, selectively bred by man from its wolf origin, maintains this dietary heritage. So should its diet. A manufactured (i.e., kibble) diet attempts to emulate the nutritional content and variety of the wolf diet. However, that the processed food, supported as it is by changing scientific nutritional research, actually adequately supports a dog's nutritional needs is a matter of some debate.

Into the debate steps the BARF or raw food diet. Think of BARF as the domesticated version of a wild dog's diet. Its sufficiency as a dog diet is demonstrated every day by the wolf and lately by a small but growing number of domesticated animals.

In our next post I'll touch on the health benefits for your dog of this natural-emulating diet.

Previous post: An Introduction to the BARF Diet

June 11, 2009

An Introduction to the BARF Diet

First in a four-part series

Rich: Mealtime around The WoofGang household is always exciting. There is dancing, prancing, twirling, and drooling preceding every feeding. And then there are the dogs!

Breakfast, especially, brings an overwhelming outpouring of enthusiasm. Daisy literally pirouettes on her hind feet as I carry her dish from the kitchen to the feeding area. Boomer is more stoic, but his eyes never veer from the hands preparing his meal. No food can long survive these two discriminating omnivores.

They're happy to be fed, no doubt about it. What Lab isn't ready to eat at any time of day? But, even more, they're thrilled with the special cuisine.

Three months ago when we brought Daisy home as a new puppy to join The WoofGang, she was a roly-poly 8-week-old eating, sleeping, peeing, and pooping artisan. At 21 pounds, she'd already received her M.A. in consumption, digestion, and elimination. She'd been weaned, of course, and was eating puppy food. Per the breeders' instructions, we kept her on a particular brand of puppy chow for the next couple of months till she'd finished her second 30-pound bag.

Then we switched to her current diet of a BARF feeding in the morning and kibble in the afternoon. She follows the trail blazed by a healthy, strong, handsome Boomer, a seasoned veteran of BARF.

If you're not familiar with the BARF diet, please don't speculate on what it might entail. Its name is a tad misleading. The BARF acronym, popularized by Australian veterinarian Dr. Ian Billinghurst, refers to the Biologically Appropriate Raw Food diet. Also known as the Bones and Raw Food diet, it was introduced to America through Billinghurst's writings that include book titles such as Give Your Dog a Bone. We bought our copy here.

Over the next few posts, I'll go into detail on why we decided to feed Boomer and now Daisy this diet, its benefits, and tips on how to get started. If our experience is any guide, your dog will noticeably love the food, and you'll enjoy feeding this diet more than any other you've ever tried.

Before you ask, this discussion of the BARF diet is based on my research and authentic WoofGang experience. It is not intended to replace the recommendations of your veterinarian.

June 9, 2009

WoofGang Welcomes

Meet a new WoofGang friend, Nikki. She loves to go camping with her owners!

June 8, 2009

Bye, Bye Stitches!

Jane: Just a quick update. Daisy is now stitches free and out chasing Boomer with the pent-up ferocity of a she devil unleashed. You go, girl!

June 4, 2009

Licking the E-Collar

Jane: Last week we took my girl to be spayed. We agonized over this decision because we'd seriously entertained the thought of breeding Daisy. But in the end, we felt it was healthier for Daisy and better for our WoofGang lifestyle of daily off-leash dog-park visits to get the sorry deed done.

During surgery, the vet's office called to tell us Daisy also needed some repair work on her "outie" belly button (which turned out to be an umbilical hernia, something not uncommon but in need of correction). So she ended up with not one but two incision sites.

Daisy sailed through surgery. However, she did NOT take to her post-surgery "e-collar," as expressed by major thrashing and bashing and pawing. So to keep our Daisy looking chic while protecting her incisions, Rich took a well-worn Kuya Fusion Rum: React to the Beat T-shirt, cut off its sleeves, pulled it gently over Daisy's head, then tied it with a sassy knot, covering her little shaved belly's zipperlike row of stitches.

Did discerning Daisy opt for style over function? Paws down, Daisy preferred her funky fashion statement over the cheap plastic and unflattering fit of the commonplace e-collar (The WoofGang thinks we're onto something in haute canine couture; could a launch of protective postsurgical garb for doggie fashionistas be far behind?).

In the meantime, we're happy to report that Daisy's doing great. The stitches come out next Monday, so soon we'll be back to the wild and woolly world of canine-centric adventures. But we suspect it may be hard to get Diva Daisy to give up couture. We might have to bribe her with meaty bones to relinquish her trendy tee. After all, she's been spending a lot of time admiring herself in front of a mirror, reacting to the beat.

June 3, 2009

Disobedience Classes

The WoofGang's most recent unscientific poll, Has Your Dog Attended Obedience Classes? exposed the DIY bent of our blog visitors' responses. Forty-six percent would rather train their own dog or let Victoria Stillwell's TV program do the trick. Twenty-six percent claimed to have doggie valedictorians who graduated Magna "Come" Laude (the WoofGang can not relate). And the rest of you? We're just not saying.

A hardy Woof-woof and two tails up to all who took the time to answer our poll!

June 1, 2009

Finding Keepers

Rich: Photographers call them captures or images, photographs that convey the essence of an experience or personality or moment in time in a way that requires no explanation, that speak to the viewer in a silent universal language. In my own humble way, I'm looking for captures or images that are "keepers"--ones that capture an experience or a moment or a memory in way that speaks to me. It doesn't have to be an Ansel Adams to anyone else but me.

With Jane away the last several days, I'm taking a liberty. Instead of exercising my acerbic wit by writing another stirring blog entry tonight, I'll let these keepers--these slices of life taken over the past couple of weeks--say all that needs to be said.

Boomer in shade.

Daisy and Boomer, synchronized waders.

A tepee at the dog park?

Daisy savors the wet look.

The search for more keepers goes on.

May 27, 2009

The Name Game

Jane: The process of naming a new dog can be as emotionally agonizing as choosing just the right name for a baby.

But unlike naming your child, a dog often comes with a ready-made name, particularly if he's a rescue dog. For example, when we adopted our first dog, Bo, he'd already been given his moniker by his original owner (although officially his records spelled it "Beau"). We liked how Bo's name lent itself to all sorts of fun nicknames: "Bo Schemblecker," "Mr. Bojangles," and "B.O." (and, to be honest, plenty of others that had nothing to do with the letter "B").

When we picked out Buddy at age seven months, we learned his registered name was "Benchmark's This Bud's for You." Our "call name" for him, however, quickly became "Bud to the Bone" (think rock song "Bad to the Bone" with a doggie twist), then simply "Buddy." And boy, did Buddy live up to his name. We couldn't have chosen a better one for him.

When we brought Boomer home at ten weeks, we knew we already had a "B" theme going. We'd been sticklers for this tradition, but now we toyed with trying something totally unexpected--like naming our puppy "Mojo." Sounded good for a black Lab that could put out the vibe, yes? So I floated this option past my extended family during a telephone conversation. And that was The Big Mistake.

First my mother thought we were naming our puppy "Dojo."

"What kind of name for a dog is that?" she retorted rather abruptly. One we had never thought of, in all honesty.

When I clarified the misunderstanding, there was this pregnant pause. Then she replied, "Well, you call him whatever you want. I think we'll just stick with 'Dog.'"

The Kiss of Death smacked "Mojo" on the lips. Hence the much more socially acceptable "B" name of "Boomer."

We struggled with maintaining a "B" theme once again as we prepared to bring home our yellow Lab girl. What about Barbie? As in the doll? No way! How about Bambi? Nope, sounds too much like a lap dancer. You like Bonnie? Love it--but it's already taken. Whaddya think of Buffy? Too much like that Vampire Slayer or one of those freckly twins on the old TV sitcom Family Affair, the one with Mr. French.

So it went, name after name. Rich and I obsessively practiced (in private, not public) the sound of different dog names by calling them out to an imaginary dog, sizing up how they rolled off the tongue. Or sounded with Boomer's name.

Meanwhile, I jokingly told my mom we were thinking of naming our girl pup "Doja" (she didn't get the joke).

Then one day, inexplicably, the naming fog cleared and we just knew: This new dog's name would be "Daisy." As in Daisy Mae, Daisy Dickens, Daisy I'm Half Crazy, Driving Miss Daisy. The potential permutations of this sunny, happy name were too ripe to pass up.

And so Daisy it is. And with it, we've realized, we're started a "D" thing for girl dogs.

May 22, 2009

Secrets of Dog Training They Don't Want You to Know

Rich: You've seen them all on TV. Cesar, Victoria, and the Monks--rescuing hapless dog owners from the ravages of their savages. Give them 30 minutes, an intractably naughty dog, and, voila!, greater wonders cannot be found on this animal planet. Beastly beasts go bust and domestic tranquility is quickly restored.

But wait: Push the pause button on el Tivo. These are not reality shows. Everyday reality is often far worse than that. Not only is the scourge of doggie disobedience apparently international, but now the ABC News website features a British report concluding that "physical control methods usually shown on TV or touted by celebrity pet trainers like 'The Dog Whisperer' Cesar Millan are 'ridiculous.'" The WoofGang has news for ABC: The alternatives aren't so hot either.

Maybe you don't wear a frock, have whitened teeth, or drive a sporty convertible as these globe-trotting superstar dog trainers do. But believe it or not, living at peace with your handsome hound is within your reach. If you're lucky, it won't require monastic prayer or other pleadings. Just a few easy dog training principles--hidden from you on purpose by these TV dog-training gurus--will set you on the right path.

So, in the interest of bettering the relationship between dog and man, the WoofGang offers their free secrets to dog training that they don't want you to know:

1. They say golf is a good walk spoiled. Experienced dog owners know they don't need to pull a golf cart to spoil a walk when their dog's pulling spoils it with far less exertion.

Unless you and your dog are training for the Human Iditarod, this pulling needs to stop. No one should tolerate being pulled by a leashed dog. Close observation shows that your dog pulls you when he's intensely interested in an invisible something a mere six inches farther than the leash allows. Buy a leash that's six inches longer and the problem's solved. (Handy consumer tip: Save your receipt.)

2. There is a saying that the first dog in the family trains the second. So, getting a second dog is the ticket to speedtraining. Sounds simple and fun, too! Who doesn't love a puppy? But does it really work?

The WoofGang is particularly well-qualified to comment on this particular method. Prior to Daisy, the WoofGang had one dog at a time--Bo, then Buddy, then Boomer. None of them would be called "well-trained" in a conventional sense--unless you make wide allowances for not coming when called, occasional jumping on guests (as in every guest being an occasion for said jumping), and the destruction of personal property. Their other annoying behaviors usually fell within socially acceptable norms.

Needless to say, we were delighted to think that with Boomer's help, it would be s snap to bring Daisy up to the WoofGang's standards of "Excellence" in Dog Obedience. We could not have been more correct.

3. Finally, we've determined that sitting, staying, and fetching aren't all they're cracked up to be. Can someone explain to the WoofGang what purpose it serves to have your dog sit, anyway? If your dog tires of sitting after a few seconds (i.e, the usual time elapsed between the human voicing the verbal command and the dog realizing that no edible reward is forthcoming) and lies down, are you really so concerned about his preferred posture? Staying is fine, but can you explain why the command has to exclude all fidgeting? Fetching is okay, we suppose, if that's how you amuse yourself, but don't you have anything better to do? Are you really sure you're just not dealing with your own authority issues here?

So, you see, successful dog training doesn't need to be reserved for a few residents of a distant continent visited by a celebrity trainer from TV land. The WoofGang's take on all this dog-training stuff is very simple: If you can't do it, eschew it. And if you desire a trouble-free life accompanied at all times by adorable, obedient, loving creatures, have kids. Well-behaved dogs are only seen on TV.

May 21, 2009

My Girl

Jane: Until we brought Daisy home, we'd always owned male dogs. Somehow, it just made sense. In a household of one male and three female humans (our two daughters and me), Rich was clearly outnumbered. So whenever he needed to escape a brewing estrogen storm, he'd take Bo, or Buddy, on long walks around the neighborhood. Two guys on a mission--to escape the high drama of life with three women.

When we lost our black Lab Buddy at age 12 to cancer, it took us two years to be able to hang our hopes and our hearts on another dog. Enter Boomer, our black Lab male pup, who came home at 10 weeks of age 26 months ago.

I loved Bo, I adored Buddy, and I've spoiled Boomer. But despite my involvement and investment in "my boys," for some mysterious reason every one of them has been "Rich's dog." Oh, not that they didn't respond to my affectionate overtures. In fact Buddy would often plant himself in a sit, turn back, and watch and wait for me to join in on a walk. I felt like a queen!

But at night it has always the same: Each boy ended up on the floor by Rich's side of the bed. Our first dog, Bo, would go thump, thump, thump every morning by Rich's side as his mighty tail excitedly greeted the day. Then Buddy, who would stand on hind legs to gave Rich a daily tongue bath in bed (an effort, I suspect, to move along our waking-up process). And now Boomer, who usually ends up lying on Rich in the morning, or hovering around him in the bathroom (male bonding indeed!) to make sure he doesn't miss any moves toward the food bowl or dog park.

Enter Daisy, our first girl, now 5 months old. Last night we freed Daisy from her kennel for the night, and she slept on the floor by my side of the bed. Imagine my surprise! What's more, every morning after she's fed, if I'm still in bed, she trots upstairs, pads across the hardwood floor to the bed, and jumps on hind legs to greet me with wags and snuffles and her sweet little "smile."

At first I thought her behavior was a fluke. Surely she'll end up on Rich's side, I thought. They all eventually do.

Yet days have turned into weeks, and still Daisy begins our mornings by my side of the bed--and now her evenings end that way, too.

It may sound silly, but this has actually made me shed some happy tears. In a way I'd never experienced with Bo and Buddy and Boomer, Daisy and I have bonded. In a real sense, she's "my dog." My girl. And she sleeps by my side of the bed. And I simply can't explain how wonderful that makes me feel.

May 18, 2009

The Blessing of the Dogs

Jane: It had been a grueling three weeks. Intense, even. I'd had my nose to the grindstone, working long hours every day to complete a freelance book project. I'd been so consumed with this assignment that I'd found it difficult to take time off for a quick trip to the park or a simple stroll around the neighborhood with Rich and the dogs.

Finally, with a click of "send now," the project launched from my laptop into cyberspace, aiming for the publisher's in-box. Now--whew--I could put the eyestrain and frayed nerves behind me.

So I loaded Boomer and Daisy into the car and headed west for the dog park. Once there, the dogs dashed ahead of me in a meet-and-greet frenzy of sniffing and rumbling, then excitedly followed me along the wide mulched path. Before long they were lured off the path by some invisible scent; running like the wind, leaping with pure joy through the waving green grasses, they searched for its source. I plodded on, knowing I'd catch up to them sooner or later. All the while, I felt as though I was coming out of a long, dreary sleep.

As the sun warmed my face, I thought about how fortunate these canine creatures are. They have no deadlines to keep; no professional reputation to maintain. No worries about where their next meal will come from, or what they will wear, or what will happen to them tomorrow. They live a life filled with simple pleasures and blissfully greet each one as if it was as fresh and exciting as the first time they experienced it. And they always respond to my presence with unconditional love and contentment.

I thought about how unlike them I usually am. I worry too much about image and aging, about deadlines and expectations, about what to wear and what to buy and what to eat. This emotional baggage weighs me down; it too often prevents me from living with true joy. Yet at the same time, I believe in a God who cautions me about worry, who lovingly tends to the lilies of the field, who promises abundant life to those who love and follow him. What a disconnect!

So my morning walk with Boomer and Daisy showed me how acutely I need to take a cue from my exuberant, uncomplicated dog friends. I need to live more fully in the moment, casting aside my complex cares and selfish concerns. I need to offer more unconditional love to those around me and to develop more contentment with what life hands me. I need to spend more time savoring and less time stressing; to be keen on the scent of life's beautiful blessings, to chase after its incredible possibilities, and to stay attuned to God's powerful, unseen presence.

Just as my dogs bring me joy when they're being their truest selves, I too bring my Creator joy when I'm being my truest self, doing what I was created to do: Loving. Laughing. Worshiping. Blessing others. Being alert to the sheer wonder and awesome scope of his Creation.

Thanks, Boomer and Daisy, for blessing me with this reminder. And help me to pass it on.

May 15, 2009

Sleep Positions

Two of the WoofGang's newest members are Sophie and Lucy from Cincinnati. Today we introduce you to Sophie. Sophie's master, Dan, tells us that his Lab girls help him relax and keep his blood pressure down. Small wonder--Sophie knows repose. Sophie occupies a special place in the family. It's called the window seat.

Sofie leads by example. Notice the effect this has on Dan:

May 11, 2009

Missing Max

Rich: By a chance encounter last week, we heard the news. Jane and I walked Boomer and Daisy at the county's East Branch off-leash dog park, taking the long way around. It was a quiet day there, just a few scattered cars and SUVs in the parking lot. Threatening weather suppressed the turnout among the regulars who frequent the park on Saturday mornings.

We chose a mowed path to the north, turned west, finally following the river south. Boomer and Daisy ran, played, sniffed, and chased, oblivious to dangers. We came to a narrow neck of water; the plank bridge that spanned it was washed out by recent rains, so we had to turn around. As we backtracked, a man with a Golden retriever approached. He was some distance away yet, so I called out, "Is that Max?"

I didn't need to specify a last name; Max was an East Branch legend. He and his owner, Melinda, spent uncounted hours here every weekend exploring its secrets and wonders. Park newcomers quickly made their acquaintance. Melinda and her reddish, regal Max were fixtures at this park.

This stranger approaching would know which Max I meant. He didn't hear me the first time, so I asked again, "Is that Max?"

He gave me a surprised look. "No," he said. On closer inspection his dog was older than Max, his muzzle displaying signs of gray. Max was only four and half, just reaching his prime. The man searched my face to recognize me, as if to ask, How do you know Max?

It would be unusual to see Max without Melinda. Some weekends they roamed and explored here three or four times a day for hours at a time. But if Melinda was away for the weekend, she could have found someone else to take Max to his park.

This park is where Max's senses and instincts came alive, where Max was fully Max. Under the setting sun, when the afternoon winds die and the waters calm, Max swam the lower pond with the beaver. He'd trampled every half-worn, rutted footpath of this 100-acre park thousands of times, left his footprints in the mud on every shoreline along the ponds.

He didn't tangle much with the other dogs, including Boomer and Daisy; he'd dismiss them with a simple look of his eye. He kept a distance from the other dogs waiting as Melinda gathered a walking group, then sprang ahead to lead them. He--like Boomer and Daisy--led the simple life of a contented dog: walking, sniffing, swimming, with senses alive, then doing it all over again. Over and over with his best friend.

He continued, "You haven't heard the news?"

"No," I replied. "What happened?" I didn't want to hear the words that flashed to mind.

"Max was hit by a train a few days ago."

In the moment when hearts stop, words fail. "Melinda must be devastated," Jane said.

"She is," he replied.

Max, we miss you. Somehow the words of Albert Camus I heard at church the next Sunday seemed to fit, reminding me of life's fleeting beauty:

“Beauty is unbearable, drives us to despair, offering us for a minute the glimpse of an eternity that we should like to stretch out over the whole of time.”

Max lived a life of simple beauty. His life was full but too short. In the pain of this loss, we're left with a longing to touch once more his unbearable beauty.

A Dog for Three Seasons

In response to our story, Monster of the Mudway, Barbara posted this comment: "There are only three seasons for dog owners: grass, snow, and mud."

How true. To wit:

Grass season--doesn't always coincide with "mow" season.

Snow season--sometimes known as "laundry" season for all the toweling needed when the pups come in the house.

Mud season--sometimes known as "hand me the hose" season.

Seasons Greetings!

May 8, 2009

Murphy Now

About to turn six y-o, Murphy retains all his puppy good looks to this day.

Some would say he looks the same today as he did at two months. He sports the best-looking collar you ever saw too.

Who is he? He's a good friend from the dog park.

May 7, 2009

Murphy: Thirty Pounds of Cute in a Fifteen-Pound Package

Wait till tomorrow when Murph shows up here full grown.

You won't believe your eyes!

Pink Nana

Jane: Two months ago, when we brought Daisy Dickens home, I wondered how I would feel about having a girl dog. You see, we've always had strapping young males who either liked to roam, or hump, or lift their leg and mark their territory. As silly as it sounds, owning a female pup seemed as unfamiliar to me as birthing a son (we had two precious girls).

So off I went to PetSmart before Daisy Delivery Day. I purchased a pink puppy Wubba for our newest WoofGang member. A girl's gotta have some bling, right? When we took Daisy home, I tenderly tucked her in my arms with a farewell gift from our breeders--a little pink blanket imbued with litter-mate scents.

That first night, when we trundled Daisy into her kennel in our bedroom, the pink blanket was in tow. But it--and another toy I'd warmed for comfort--did nothing to stop her crying. Yet as the days went by (and her crying decreased), I noticed Daisy developing a habit that made my heart melt. First thing each morning, when we let Daisy out of her kennel, she tenderly carried her pink blanket with her. Soon it seemed to follow her around the house.

My puppy has a blankie! I thought. And I remembered my little girls now grown, who long ago also were so attached to their "blankies." First Sarah, our eldest, with the satin-hemmed blanket her Nana gave her. We dubbed it Yellow Nana in her great-grandmother's honor. Sarah carried it everywhere while she sucked her thumb. Then Emily with her yellow receiving blanket nicknamed, simply enough, Blankie. Oh, I never dared to wash that ratty thing because then Emily could tell it smelled "different" (clean). It took months of bribes and wheedling to finally convince Emily to let go of her well-worn security talisman.

So now I have a yellow Lab puppy who loves her blankie. In honor of all the well-loved fabric that has preceded it, I've christened this blankie Pink Nana, much to my adult daughters' delight. They love it--and they totally get it. Me too.

Suddenly having a little girl dog isn't so strange after all.

Happy Mother's Day!


"Daisy, are they clean yet?"

Happiness Is . . .

Happiness Is . . .
a warm puppy named Daisy!