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!

May 6, 2009

Hear Ye, Hear Ye!

We have a special announcement to make. A new visitor, Rachel from Rachel's Doggie Life, dropped by our blog on Tuesday, May 5. Rachel's friends include Bailey, Oliver, Mac, Rocky, Sophie, and many more--too many to list them all.

Now Rachel's friends include the WoofGang. We're always flattered to add another Follower to the Gang. While she was here, Rachel awarded the WoofGang the coveted "Lovely Blog Award." We prominently hid it at the very top of our gadget list on the front page of our blog. Amid all the whooping and hollering, we humbly accepted.

Not only is the award something extremely Woof-worthy, but it empowers us to pay it forward! That means we can now share it with our friends in the bloggy world who also belong to the doggie world. You can't beat that with a marrow bone.

So in the interest of sharing our delight with others, making new friends, and stretching our happiness till it touches others, here are the latest recipients of the Lovely Blog Award as determined by the Really Kool Awards Committee here at the WoofGang:

The Barking Dog Blog
Crazy Coulee and Little Lacey
Hearts on Noses (in honor of the fun we had with the Canine Flu article)
A Red Dog in the Red Rocks
Chloe Honeygo Beasley
Fresh Paper news
One Lab at a Time
Fergiesims Family

Here's the deal...
1) Accept the award, post it on your blog along with the name of the person who has granted the award, and add his or her blog link.
2) Pass the award to up to 15 other blogs that you've newly discovered. Remember to contact the bloggers to let them know they have been chosen for this award.

You all deserve the hearty handshake, pat on the back, and the warm glow of victory.

May 4, 2009

Canine Flu Alert! Canine Flu Alert!

Rich: Swine flu pandemic reports mount every day, so the WoofGang remains watchful. In the interest of public safety, the WoofGang Department of Dogland Security (DDS) boosted its swine flu advisory level to two ears up. DDS epidemiologists evaluate new information as quickly as it is retrieved. If current conditions deteriorate, the advisory level will be adjusted to an unprecedented three ears up.

DDS advises that graver dangers may lie ahead. The swine flu reportedly migrates from one species to another; dogs could be next. Preliminary reports indicate this is already happening in remote areas along the coast of Labrador. Could the swine flu virus migrate to the canine population and then to humans? Experts say 40 percent of U.S. households owns a dog. The propagation rate of canine flu would exceed that of swine flu. Comparatively few households own family pigs.

A canine flu pandemic could overwhelm medical and veterinary resources. In anticipation of an onslaught of walk-in patients, DDS issued an advisory late yesterday to veterinary clinics worldwide to upgrade their billing systems. DDS also alerted lapdog journalists to begin frightening the public over yet another world catastrophe.

The canine flu virus mutates rapidly, adapting to its host DNA. Within days hundreds of thousands of viral variants could replicate--roughly equivalent to the number of breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club (whose website is strangely silent on this issue).

* Retching or belching from deep within
* Increased sensitivity to smells; desire to sniff others
* Hiccups and twitching while sleeping
* Scratching behind the ear using one foot or the other
* Head cocking while engaged in active listening
* Sudden interest in chewing, especially remote controls and undergarments
* Ceaseless retrieving for no apparent reason
* Excessive excitement at drive-up fast-food windows
* Jumping on strangers or house guests
* Incessant drooling before meals
* Hair loss, especially in spring and fall
* Marking your territory

Variants of the virus originate in specific breeds and are especially dangerous to humans:

Germinus Labradorus: extreme hunger, swallowing before chewing
Bichon Friseicus: production of excessive eye goop
Germanicus Shepardus: using your nose to round up your children

Your dog could be a canine flu carrier. If so, you are in imminent danger. Fortunately you can readily determine if that furry friend sleeping on your sofa is an actual domestic danger. If your dog responds immediately, joyfully, and obediently to your verbal commands, something is alarmingly wrong. Before panicking, verify this is your dog. If it is, take immediate corrective action.

Authorities at the CDC (Centers for Dogs-ease Control) expressed concern that the term "canine flu" could mistakenly create the impression all dogs are carriers. After assuring the public that First Dog, Bo, is "apparently healthy," a senior administration official in the Dog House said a team labored deep into the night evaluating less offensive designations. The Dog House, working in conjunction with the WoofGang, will monitor this blog for alternative names for the virus in its comments section.

Am I safe?

What can I do to avoid catching the canine flu?
Nothing. Trying to prevent the flu is like chasing your tail.

What should I do if I catch the flu?
Tie yourself outside and be happy I don't throttle you.

No, seriously, what should I do?
Sit, lie down, stay. At home.


"Daisy, are they clean yet?"

Happiness Is . . .

Happiness Is . . .
a warm puppy named Daisy!