Thursday, June 30, 2016

Cat product review: Flitter and Cheese from PetSafe

Action shot of kitty and toy

Living with a small kitten is absolutely wonderful. But it can also be absolutely exhausting. These little creatures have a play drive like you absolutely would not believe. Fergus here starts playing the moment he wakes up, and he keeps on going though the night. He has plenty of balls and mice and discs to play with, but he often wants movement. If I don't give him a toy that moves, he'll pounce on his roommates and make a game out of watching them run (bad kitty!).

So you can imagine how excited I was when I won a contest from Kitty Cat Chronicles. And how really excited I got when I learned what I had won: Not one but TWO toys from PetSafe! I thought I'd review them both.

Maggie and the flitter toy

The first is this toy called a "Flitter." It's a sturdy little thing has a motor connected to slender arms. When you turn the thing on, those arms move randomly, and each movement makes little dragonflies swing in the breeze. This toy also comes with a tweeting-type mechanism that makes noises randomly.

Two cats playing with one toy

Of course, Fergus thinks this toy is really wonderful. It makes noise AND sound, and it's absolutely impossible for him to figure out or best. As soon as I turned it on, he was hooked.

But surprisingly, even senior cat Maggie likes this toy. She isn't as vigorous in her play sessions as Fergus is, but she will take a swing at the toy from time to time. And she also seems to enjoy watching Fergus play with this toy.

Fergus the kitten and his toy

And Fergus plays pretty darn rough. He's picked up these little flies and tried to run off with them, he's held on to the arms while the motor is running and he's stood in the path of the arms and been battered by them. Despite all that, this toy keeps on moving. I pick it up between sessions, so he won't eat the flies. But this thing seems capable of standing up to heavy use.

It does come with a "play while away" feature, in which you can program it to play with your kids a time or two while you're at work. But I don't think I'll set that up with Fergus. I know he'd kill the flies when he had access to them in a nonmoving form, and I like to supervise his rough play style, so I know he won't get hurt.

But, if you had sedentary cats (like Maggie), the play-while-away mode might get them to move around a little throughout the day. And that might be a big bonus.

Fergus and his cheese toy

Our other toy is this thing called a Cheese. It's shaped like a big block of cheese, with little whiskered mouse heads that pop in and out randomly from either side. It doesn't make chirping noises, but the motor is loud. Fergus knows when it comes on, and he always comes to check things out. And often, he tries to bite those little mouse heads. He also sneak-attack pounces on the block.

This is a toy I set up to perform randomly throughout the day, because I know he won't break it. But I will say that he doesn't enjoy it as much as the Flitter toy. And my other cats don't like the Cheese toy at all.

So, thanks to my lovely fellow blogger for the super-neat prizes! And here's to PetSafe for making products that can keep crazy kittens busy.

Speaking of: Any of you have awesome kitten entertainment tips to share? I'd love to hear them. Hit me up in the comments!

Disclaimer: I won these prizes in a contest. I did not pay for them, nor was I asked to review them. I did review them because I like them. But no money changed hands in return for this review. And all opinions are my own.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

A pet blogging conference through a dog's eyes

Sinead in her carrier waiting for the plane

Last week, Sinead and I spent four wonderful days in the company of like-minded pet bloggers. I had a ton of fun, and based on the amazing photos I got of Boston terrier Sinead during her week in Arizona, I know she had a great time, too.

So for today's Wordless Wednesday post, which is hosted by BlogPaws, I thought it might be fun to show just a few of a dog's experiences at a pet blogging conference. That way, should you choose to take your dog to a similar conference, you'll know just what to expect.

So let's get started.

Sinead and cutouts of cats

Pet blogging conferences give you the opportunity to meet with brands that make pet food, pet toys and other animal goodies. For Sinead, that meant her conference was about posing with quite a few logos, including this one from a cat food provider.

Sinead with a photo of her pug brother

Sometimes, there are surprises. At the Weruva booth, for example, we found that pug brother Liam was used in some marketing materials. That gave me a nice little ego boost.

Sinead the Boston terrier sleeping

Down time for dogs comes during the classes and training sessions. Whenever I sat down to learn, Sinead curled up in order to catch a few winks. I saw quite a few dogs doing that. I think many of them were hoping their people would stay and learn more!

Sinead the Boston terrier and cactus

Hotels that host these conferences are pet-friendly, which means dogs can hang out in open spaces like lobbies and hallways, as long as they are on leashes. Sinead and I did a lot of that in Arizona. It was simply too hot to go outside, but we wanted to get some sun therapy. We could get that in this gorgeous lobby.

Sinead the Boston terrier in the lobby

But there are spaces in hotels in which dogs are not allowed, including food prep areas and pool areas. Sinead was pretty disappointed about that, as she thought she should be able to go anywhere.

Sinead the Boston terrier asleep

But the main thing she wanted was to sleep. She was simply exhausted by all of the visiting and eating and walking and performing. Every time she had the chance, she had a nap. I don't blame her.

Sinead the Boston terrier in her bed

She even got to sleep in the big bed with momma, and that's quite a treat. For her, that one little perk may have made the entire trip worthwhile.

Would you ever consider bringing your dog to a pet blogging conference? Drop me a note and let me know. And if you came to BlogPaws, tell me how it went! Love to hear your comments.

And remember to visit a few of the other blogs in this hop. It's a great way to make new friends.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

4 key tips for small, shy dogs heading to big, wild dog events

Sinead wearing a best dog banner

Sinead the Boston terrier is a shy dog. She didn't come from an abusive background, she hasn't endured some sort of trauma in the home and she isn't dealing with a medical condition that causes her pain. She's just shy. She's always been shy.

In addition, Sinead is small. Like, really really small for a Boston terrier. This breed of dog should be about 17 pounds, although many of them are much bigger.

Sinead is only about 7.5 pounds. So she's really tiny.

Want to know how tiny?

Sinead the small dog in her chair

That tiny. It's phenomenal.

When Sinead has an episode of nervousness or fear, she shivers and quakes. And when teeny dogs do this, it's enough to worry you. And it could be enough to bring out your protective side. I know. It happened to me. For a long time, I thought the answer was to keep her home, all the time, so she wouldn't be worried.

Shy dog training (which I wrote about here and here) changed a lot of that.

In class, I learned a little more about how to help Sinead explore her boundaries, so she could learn to overcome at least some of her fear and enjoy her life a little more. And those training tips came in super handy last week, when we were at BlogPaws.

This conference contains literally dozens of dogs, along with hundreds of people who love dogs. And that means Sinead had to push her boundaries pretty darn far.

Here are my 4 top tips that help her to get through, and grow from, situations like this.

1. Load up on really good dog treats.

When Sinead is a little worried, it's hard to get her attention. But if I don't get her attention, her fear tends to grow. Working through that means bringing really high-value treats to any stressful situation. Kibble or dry biscuits just won't cut it. She needs cheese or chicken or hot dogs to help her break out of the fear trance and pay attention to me.

Really good treats can also help a shy dog to experience a positive interaction with a visitor. Which brings me nicely to my next point. 

2. Explain your dog training goals to all visitors. 

Small dogs are magnets. Everyone wants to coo over them and pet them and pick them up. That means people tend to run up to my small dog with outstretched hands. I can't even imagine how terrifying that is for her--unless those outstretched hands contain something yummy.

When people want to visit Sinead for the first time, I tell them that she is shy and probably won't appreciate being petted or cuddled. I'll tell them they can give her a treat, snap a photo, watch her do a trick or just talk to the lowly human that is me.

Most people are receptive to this conversation. They love dogs and they want to see dogs succeed. Explain it well, and you'll have an ally. And the best thing? Shy Sinead remembers people. That means she's apt to interact with those people when she sees them again. People are so thrilled when they get accepted into her inner circle, and my conversations help to make that happen.

Sinead the small dog in a red chair

3. Offer a way to get up off the floor. 

When your dog is this small, she can worry about being stepped on, kicked or picked up by strangers. Sinead is constantly on the lookout for dangers when she is on the ground. She becomes a completely different dog when I pick her up.

A small dog in your arms can feel like a much bigger dog. That little difference in height can help a shy dog feel safe enough to play, bark, interact and accept pets from strangers.

I use my arms, if I must. But I also have a little kangaroo pouch I can put Sinead in, so she feels safer. She spent a lot of BlogPaws in that pouch, and she loved it.

4. Give your dog a break. 

Even happy, confident dogs need to get away from it all from time to time. If they don't, these can become dogs that make poor choices about how they interact, what they do and how they feel about the people who are supposed to protect them.

I watch Sinead for things like panting or hiding or pinning her ears. If she does that, we're done. It doesn't matter what I had planned. It doesn't matter who I wanted to talk to. It doesn't matter what time it is. When she's done, I need to be done too. We head back to the hotel room or some quiet area for awhile until she feels ready to head back out.

Working with a shy dog like this is one of the most rewarding things you can do. Seeing Sinead improve from one BlogPaws to the next? It makes me happier than I can express. But these tips made that success possible. If you're planning to push your shy one, do try to follow my lead.

And if you have a shy dog, did I miss anything? Love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Monday, June 27, 2016

I hate cat overpopulation; I don't hate cat shelters

Sweet cat in a cat shelter

Know your enemy. It's one of the keys to success when you're dealing with any kind of fight or conflict. And it's something cats know all too well. Think about it: Before kitties pounce, they plot the attack, they tread their little back feet and they judge the size of the opponent. They never strike without thinking it through first.

If only people who loved cats would do the same.

Predictably, when summer comes around and the kitten population seems to explode, someone out there writes up some kind of rant about an uncaring cat shelter.

Typically, the person doing the writing has found a litter of kittens that are sick or underfed or unweaned or all three. These are kittens that need around the clock care from a family with access to the support of a shelter. In short, these are kittens that need to be enrolled in a foster care program at a cat shelter. With that care, they can grow up into pets like Fergus here.

Fergus the rescue kitten sitting on my lap

These people find very sickly kittens and bring them to the shelter, with visions of healthy kittens like Fergus dancing in their heads. They demand: "Take this kitten now! And do everything you can to fix it! But I cannot help either financially or physically. I demand that you do the work, but I cannot help."

I get it. I really do. These are people that care about cats. And they hate the way cats are treated in our communities. They don't like to see kittens treated like trash.

But sometimes, in the depths of kitten season, rescue choices are slim.

Sometimes, there are no foster homes open.

Sometimes, there are no kennels open.

Sometimes, there's no budget to nurse very sick kittens back to health.

Sometimes, kittens are so ill that they put other resident cats at risk.

Sometimes, kittens require such intense medical care that their early lives are a misery and they face days of excruciating discomfort unless a medical team makes the terrible choice to lead them across the rainbow bridge.

And yes, sometimes people make mistakes and don't show the compassion they should.

Kitty in shelter

When any or all of these things happen, the shelter may not be able to take in the kittens. Or the kittens may be accepted into the shelter, only to end their lives in the shelter.

People get mad. They should get mad.

But not at the shelter.

Know your enemy. You're mad at cat overpopulation. You're mad that there aren't better choices for the cats in our community.

When you know your enemy, you can do so much more. You could participate in trap-neuter-release programs in your community, to reduce the kittens that come in next year. You could donate to a spay/neuter program in your community, so low-income families can provide surgeries for their beloved pets. You could become a foster parent and save kitten lives directly. You could volunteer in a cat shelter, and see why some people may be so tired and frazzled and just depressed about cats that they say things that might seem hurtful or callus or just wrong.

But there's one thing I want everyone to stop doing.

Don't bash the cat shelter.

In your fight against cat overpopulation, the cat shelter is your ally. The shelter staff can partner with you. Attack them, and you lose a vital resource. What happens to all the cats they're caring for right now? Can you take home the hundreds of cats they care for?

Of course you can't. You need the shelter. And the shelter needs you.

Know your enemy. Then fight that enemy.

Please. The cats are counting on all of us.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Sunday cat selfie: Popoki and her friend

Popoki the cat posing with her friend

Popoki the cat is back in the writing studio full time, after a short hiatus caused by foster kittens. She continues to avoid the company of other cats when she can, although foster failure Fergus is making slow inroads into her heart, so she prefers to stay in the studio where she has all the fun without the business of other cats.

And there's something else in the studio she really likes: This little sock monkey.

I thought I'd let her pose with her beloved monkey for the Sunday Selfie series, as hosted by The Cat On My Head. What do you think?

Popoki the cat with her toy

This toy is about the same size as Popoki, and there's something about it she finds very comforting. I often find her snuggled up to this guy during the day, crossing her paws in the toy's lap while she sleeps.

Granted, this toy is in a chair in the corner of the room that gets a lot of sun. So it's very possible Popoki would sleep in this spot even if the toy wasn't a major attraction. But still. I think it's sweet that she has a snuggle friend.

Popoki the cat with her toy

She's very respectful with this toy, as she doesn't bite it or claw it or otherwise try to harm it. She just likes to snuggle with it.

Popoki the cat with her toy

Thanks for checking out her photos! Do leave me a note, so I'll know you were here.

And, as always, thanks to our wonderful hosts for the hop. We always have so much fun working on the hop. (Well, I do. Popoki spends a lot of time sleeping.)

If you've never hopped before, what are you waiting for! There are tons of great blogs to visit. Visit a few and make new friends!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Pet blog conferences: 5 reasons you should go

Sinead in her BlogPaws badge

I am not a full-time pet blogger. I have another job, which I love and which keeps me very busy. And yet, I set aside a full week each and every summer to the health and development of my pet blog. That conference is BlogPaws (and Sinead is doing a lovely job of modeling last year's badge, don't you think?).

Starting today, I'll be soaking up the knowledge in Phoenix at BlogPaws. And before you think I'm crazy for going, let me tell you a little bit more about why I think all pet bloggers should go to a conference like this.

Reason one: You'll get new readers

During meals, mixers and classes, you'll be elbow to elbow with other pet bloggers. And anyone you meet could, in theory, be a reader. Last year, I met tons of really wonderful pet bloggers and their pets, and many of the folks I met have become my most devoted blog readers. I see their names in the comments of my blogs, and they tap me on social media to check on my progress.

That's publicity you might struggle to realize outside of a pet blogging venue. And it could be worth a lot. After all, when you're trying to use your blog for something like a job or a sample or an award, you're required to demonstrate a boost in readers. You could get that boost if you network at a conference.

Reason two: You'll meet brands

Want to get cat litter, dog toys, dog food or pet bowls for free? You could, if you become an influencer. The product reviews I write are often triggered by an email from an industry representative who wants me to try something out in return for my honest opinion. How do these people know how to contact me (aside from my contact page)? They met me at a conference.

Exhibit halls are the center points of conferences, and at pet blogging conferences, they're stuffed with animal product brands. Every brand is a business opportunity. If you make your time count, you could have dozens of new connections (and new swag opportunities) after a conference. 

Reason three: You'll pick up technical skills 

Pet blogging is a little easier for people (like me) who spend all day in a day job working on internet marketing and SEO. It's harder for people who don't know anything about building, maintaining, tracking or improving a website. You can pick up some of those skills at a conference. Take a class, ask questions, take notes and sit down for one-on-ones. You might not be able to learn everything you'll need to know, but you'll learn a lot.

Sinead the Boston terrier and the author
Coming to BlogPaws? We are. Stop us and say hello!

Reason four: You'll get inspired

Keeping up a pet blog, in addition to doing things like working and cleaning and walking and volunteering, can be a little draining. I've seen more than one pet blogger give up on the enterprise this year due to basic fatigue. Going to a conference can help.

There's something about sitting in the room with other people who do what you do, struggle with what you struggle with and feel what you feel. You walk away with a good feel for what people want to hear, and you're motivated to bring those words to life. Believe me. There's no way you can go to a conference like this and feel like blogging isn't worth it.

Reason five: It's just plain fun

 Conferences aren't just classes and swag and glad-handing. They're also about eating and dancing and dress-up and play. They're about getting away from work and life and just enjoying your time. For me, this conference is also a way to connect with Sinead one-on-one. It's just the two Dion girls against the world. And I always come away from the experience with a deeper understanding of this little creature that trusts me. It's wonderful.

So have a convinced you to go to a conference? Drop me a note and let me know. Need more convincing? Check out the blogs in this hop, hosted by BlogPaws. Many of the people in this hop are going to the same conference I'm going to. See the expertise you could connect with!
And finally: Want to stay up on the latest and greatest with me, Sinead and our conference? We're slaying social! Check out my Instagram, Twitter and Facebook feeds. I'll be posting throughout the conference.

Can't wait!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Flying with your dog: 5 things that happen at airport security

Sinead the Boston terrier in her carrier

Last year, when I took my dog on an airplane for the very first time, I was a nervous wreck. And there was one point of the journey that seemed to cause me the most anxiety. That one point: Airport security.

TSA screeners are under a lot of pressure to move air travelers through lines as quickly as possible, and as a result, they don't tend to be a friendly lot. They bark and point and wave their hands around. I was just sure I'd do something wrong, and Sinead the Boston terrier and I would hang up the whole line and get ridiculed.

As it turns out, I had lovely screeners in every airport I went through last year. And I have no reason to expect any different this year.

But, I also think that I might not be the only person with security worries this travel season. So I thought I might outline what happens at the screening checkpoint when you have your little dog with you. If I can reduce your anxiety, my job is done!

So let's get started.

You've checked your baggage at the counter, paid your fees and have walked up to the screening checkpoint. Here's exactly what happens.

Sinead the Boston terrier prepares for an airplane trip

Step one: Your dog's paperwork is inspected.

Dogs traveling in the cabin with their peeps aren't issued tickets. But, the ticket counter agent or the airline website should provide you with a receipt for any fees you've paid to bring your dog on the trip. The security team often wants to see those receipts, so they can ensure that you're not sneaking a pet on board.

In addition, a TSA agent can ask to see something called a Health Certificate (see an example of one here). This is a piece of paper issued by a veterinarian that asserts that your dog is healthy enough to fly. Last year, no one asked to see my certificate. But I've heard horror stories of people turned away at security because they didn't have it. A cert costs something like $30, and it's good insurance, if you ask me. Have it with you, just in case.

Step two: Your dog comes out of the carrier.

You can't just keep your dog in the carrier and slide the carrier through the x-ray machine. You'll be asked to take your dog out of the carrier, and the team will require that your dog is 100 percent naked. That means no shirts, no collars, no harnesses and no booties. I take everything off of Sinead before we get in line at security, just so I can ensure that I won't have to take that step and hold people up. 

Step three: You'll walk through a special gate.

When you have an animal with you, the TSA asks you to go through a different x-ray machine. I have no idea why, but they ask you to do so. You'll walk through the machine with your arms outstretched and your dog in your hands. 

When you've walked through that gate, the TSA screeners will mark your hand with a powder and ask you to hold your hand up for inspection. Apparently, they're looking for some kind of igniting residue here. Then, you'll do the same with your other hand. Going through this test means passing your dog from one hand to the other, and the team will not hold your dog for you. I use commands like "wait" and "stay" to keep Sinead from wiggling out of my arms during this test. 

Step four: Your dog carrier will move through the scanner. 

Your dog's carrier will be x-rayed, along with your carry on bags, as you go through that hand test with a screener. I saw one or two people who had pets run into trouble with the scanning, as they had gel-like treats and gel-like foods in the pockets of their dog carriers for their pets to snack on during the flight. Remember: Anything they'll take from your luggage they will also take from your pet's luggage. That means no alcohol, no gels and no weapons. 

Step five: Your dog goes back in the carrier.

When all that work is done, you have a ton to accomplish in a short period of time. You have shoes to put back on, bags to pick up and a dog to deal with. You might be frantic about grabbing your bag first. But, the TSA team will want your dog in the carrier before you do even one more thing. Airport rules require dogs to stay in their carriers while they're in the airport. Pop your dog in first, or else you'll get some TSA ire. 

And that's it! All of this takes just minutes to complete, and while it's a little nerve wracking, it really is over fast. And once you know what to expect, it's not very stressful. 

At least, I hope not!

Have you flown with your dogs before? Did I miss any steps? Shoot me a note in the comments! Love to hear from you.

Monday, June 20, 2016

June 2016 BarkBox review: Dog toys and dog treats with a camping theme

Sinead the Boston terrier and her BarkBox toy

It's always a good day when the mailman comes with a BarkBox in his hand. And yesterday was our day. This month's box is adorable, as everything is designed to remind you of the joys of camping.

As always, I thought I'd review the dog toys and dog treats we got in our shipment. Be aware that I am not compensated by BarkBox for these reviews. I am a paid subscriber, and I'm happy to pay for my subscription. But, should you choose to get your own box with the affiliate link I'll provide at the end of this post, I will get a little discount on my subscription--and so will you.

Now that those disclaimers are out of the way, let's get started!

Liam the pug and Sinead the Boston terrier share a shipment made for small dogs. Typically, that means we get toys that both of these kids can handle. But this month, the toys we got are a little on the larger side of things.

For example, this is Sinead and the toy from The Zany Bunch that came in our box. It's a little bear with stretchable legs that she could use for tugging. It's covered with a nappy fur that Sinead typically likes a ton. But just look how big it is, when compared to her.

Sinead the Boston terrier and a very big toy

She clearly wants to play with it (look at those pinned ears!), but it's a little too big for her to get a handle on. This is a toy that's better suited for a dog that's about Liam's size.

He is, however, very much in love with the other toy that came in our shipment, so he may not be ready for this bear quite yet.

The other toy is made by the BarkBox company, and it's a touch on the vulgar side. It's shaped like a roll of toilet paper, with a hard plastic center and crinkling paper that unravels. Liam thinks this toy is wonderful.

Liam the pug with his toy

He's spent hours shaking this toy between his teeth. And then, he played a very favorite game in which he covers up a toy with his blanket and then shakes the blanket until the toy flies free. He only plays this game with the toys he really likes, so this one is a winner. But again, it's big. It's a little too big for Sinead, and it's much too heavy.

Thankfully, there are treats I can use to help Sinead forget about her lack of toys. First up are granola bites from a company called 2 Traveling Dogs. These snacks really do look like a granola bar a human might eat, and both Liam and Sinead love them. I've been using them on our morning walks with great success. They do not crumble in my pocket when I'm walking (bonus!) and they seem to be high-value treats the dogs will work for.

Next, we got a set of treats that are made to resemble s'mores, made by a company called House of Pups. These snacks have carob and pomegranate in them, and they're a little puffy like a marshmallow. I opened the bag up today, just to see how the dogs would react.

Liam the pug and Sinead the Boston terrier and a cookie

They're snapped to attention! (And Liam has some fluff in his mouth from his blanket. I told you he loves that toilet paper toy.) These cookies do break apart easily, so I can use them as rewards at home, when I need the dogs to do something but I don't want to overwhelm them with food.

The last treat in the bunch is a pressed meat stick, made by the BarkBox manufacturing arm. The dogs always love these things, so I'm happy to have one to hand out.

That's it for this month's shipment! If you'd like to see reviews of prior boxes, click or here or here or here or here. And if you want to try your own BarkBox, use my code for a discount. And leave me a comment, so I'll know you were here!

Disclosure: Some product links in this post are “affiliate links.” If you click on them and make a purchase, I'll get a commission. Rest assured that I only recommend products that I believe provide real value. This disclosure comes in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Sunday cat selfie: Kittens will sleep anywhere

Fergus the kitten posing for the camera

A camera is an absolutely vital tool, when you have a kitten in the house. Every time I turn around, it seems like Fergus is doing something adorable. And this week, he's come up with the cutest habit that's perfect to share in the Sunday Selfies series, as hosted by The Cat on My Head.

Here's what's went down.

I knew I wanted to feature Fergus in this week's post, so I set out to find him. I searched all of his beds, my bed, all of the furniture and all of the spaces behind the furniture. I just couldn't find him anywhere, and since he doesn't know his name quite yet, I couldn't get him to come to me when I called.

And then I turned around and found this.

Fergus the kitten in a basket of toys

This is a basket that I use to collect dog toys. And it seems as though Fergus thinks this is a wonderful place to sleep. He was snuggled down for a nap, and he's been returning to that spot to nap throughout the day.

I suppose this makes sense. Many of the dog toys are plush, so a basket of toys is probably pretty darn soft. And, Fergus has a close relationship with both Liam and Sinead, so he probably finds the smell of their slobber pretty comforting. So I can see why he'd want to sleep here.

And it's clear that he does not want to me moved. Want to see a kitten pout? Here you go.

Fergus the kitten in a basket of toys

Look at those little pursed lips! He doesn't want to be messed with, since he's all snuggled down with toys. So, rather than upsetting him, I decided to just take his selfie while he was in a space in which he felt comfortable.

So here is Fergus, where he wants to be. Pretty good, right?

Fergus the kitten in a selfie

Thanks, as always, to the hosts of our hop. We always have so much fun working on photos and fun stuff for this blog.

If you've never hopped before, what are you waiting for? Check out the other awesome photos available. Just do me a favor: Leave me a blog comment first, so I'll know you were here. Thanks!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Dog stairs: How can you make your pug use them?

 Liam the pug and Fergus the cat on dog stairs

Earlier this summer, Liam the pug wrenched his back while jumping up to sit next to me on a chair. He spent weeks recuperating in his crate, and he's only recently been returning to exercise. I'm happy to report that his back is, so far, healing up nicely.

But to keep that process moving forward, I need to do one key thing. I need to keep him from jumping up and jumping down from high places. Both of those activities can put a great deal of stress and pressure on his delicate spine. And that pressure could make his back pain come back.

Pet stairs, like this set, are the answer, people tell me. With these stairs, pets can climb both up and down from furniture without harming their delicate backs.

Liam the pug with his pet stairs

There's just one problem: Liam pretty much hates these stairs. Fergus the little kitten loves them, as he can run up and down the stairs to get to the places that are normally hard for his little kitty body to reach (Missed his adoption story? See it here.). But Liam avoids those stairs with all of his might.

Training is the key here.

Liam is an athletic dog, and he's perfectly capable of leaping onto the couch, should he want to do so. It is my job, as his trainer, to make the stair option much more attractive.

Treats help. I can coax him to go up the stairs if I use a treat in front of his nose. And I've been using the word "stair" and asking him to touch the stairs with his nose for a treat. The idea is that I might be able to train hum with the term "take the stairs," when I don't want him to jump.

But if I am not actively training with him, Liam will attempt to skip those stairs altogether. Which is fine, as I've found another great use for them.

Stairs like this can also work like blocking devices. If I push the stairs close to the coffee table, Liam can't get a good leaping point onto the couch. I've blocked that route with the stairs. Typically, that means he stays on the floor. And that's where I want him in the first place.

I have every confidence that Liam will, in time, learn to use these stairs. But here's my takeaway for all of you: If you're hoping your little one will magically understand the benefit of stairs like this, it's time to adjust your expectations. To dogs, these stairs can just be confusing. You'll need to train with treats to make those stairs part of your dog's life.

Anyone out there use pet ramps or pet stairs? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Hit me up!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Wordless Wednesday: Dog photo shoot goes wrong

Sinead the Boston terrier caught sneezing

Normally, Boston terrier Sinead and pug Liam can be relied upon to take a good photo. Sure, there may be one or two outtakes among the golden dog photography examples, but there are usually a few good ones I can pull out of any photo shoot.

Not today.

I had planned to share some photos of Liam and Sinead in front of my magnificent lavender plants for Wordless Wednesday, as hosted by BlogPaws. But instead, all I got were outtakes.

Seriously. Every one is funky.

Sinead the Boston terrier with her mouth open

I can't tell quite what she's doing here. Barking or whistling or smacking her lips. But she doesn't look like the pretty dog we all know and love.

And the next shot isn't better.

Sinead the Boston terrier looking a little drunk

It looks like she's had one too many martinis here. Is she winking? Smirking? It's hard to tell.

Sinead the Boston terrier smirking

And now it looks like she's talking out the side of her mouth to her drinking buddy. What in the world went wrong? I was going to try to set her up in a new spot for new photos. And then I got this.

Sinead the Boston terrier squinting into the sun

No photos, please! Okay, I get the message.

So I thought I'd move the shoot over to reliable pug, Liam. He'd been watching this whole thing go down, so I felt sure he'd know what I wanted. Unfortunately, I think the shoot went on too long for him.

Liam the pug looking bored

He looks just really bored here, doesn't he? Not interested in working this photo shoot at all. But I thought I'd try once more.

Angry pug

Okay, I'm done.

Any of you out there have horrible photography days? Shoot me a note in the comments and share your stories. I'd love to hear them!

And be sure to visit the other blogs in this hop. There are so many wonderful pet blogs out there just waiting for you. Come see them!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Foster fail: Do you really fail when you keep a kitten?

Fergus the siamese kitten in the sunshine

In essence, a cat foster home is a little like a human baby NICU. A foster parent provides around-the-clock, and sometimes critical, care for wee animals that just aren't healthy enough to adopt out to average families.

At the end of this little stint of caregiving, you're meant to give the little kittens back to the shelter, so they can be adopted. If you do not return the kitten and instead adopt it yourself, the kitty you keep is a "foster fail."

That's what happened with Fergus here. He was scheduled to head to a home with his brother, but that adoption didn't go as planned. So I kept him here with me. He's technically a foster fail.

Fergus the Siamese kitten stretching

But it got me to thinking. Is this really a failure? I'm not so sure.

When you work as a foster parent, you know a ton about the kittens in your care. You know what they like, what they don't like, what they will eat and what they will reject. You know what sorts of environments make them happy, and you know what environments tend to stress them.

In short, you're in a great position to work as a kitty matchmaker, when you're emerging from a foster kitten contract. And sometimes, you find that the best match is your own home.

Let's consider Fergus.

This little guy was the peacemaker of his litter. When his littermates started to mix it up, he jumped in to break up the action. He was the first to snuggle with humans and dogs. And he was the only one out of all three kittens that Popoki could even slightly tolerate.

Now, I have a full house. It's true. But I also have a house of kitties that just don't love one another. Maggie and Lucy will tolerate one another, but they have never recovered from the death of Eamon. They never snuggle. They never play together. They never groom each other. They're like roommates. And they both wander behind me a lot of the time, wailing with loneliness.

Fergus could change that. In fact, he already is changing that. Here he is just 6 hours after his initial introduction to the girls. Everyone is out, everyone is relaxed. And just a few minutes after this, everyone was thinking about playing.

Cats sleeping in a community

Popoki will be a tougher sell. And to be honest, I haven't introduced him to her formally quite yet. But it's quite possible that he'll be able to win her over, too. And if he does, it will be because I picked him specifically to integrate with her.

So is this failure? Or is this the best kind of matchmaking out there?

I'm not sure. But I do know this. If you have room in your life for a kitten and you've been wondering how to pick the right one, consider working as a foster. You'll help that little one, AND you'll have an opportunity to get a kitty that's the right fit. Just contact your shelter to find out more.

And in the interim: Welcome Fergus to the menagerie! You'll be seeing a lot more of him in the months to come.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Dog fundraiser recap: Sinead at the Salem WillaMutt Strut!

Sinead at the WillaMutt Strut
Yesterday was an absolutely wonderful day for a dog fundraiser, and we had a great one to attend. Sinead, hubby and I were happy to participate in the WillaMutt Strut: A fundraiser for Willamette Humane Society. We walked, we chatted, we met some really cool people and we all had a great time. And we learned a little bit about Sinead and her shy dog training, too.

Here's what went down.

Sinead and her dad on a park bench

The Strut's main event involves a 1k or 5k walk that humans and their dogs can participate in. The walk is in a public space, so technically no registration is required. But most people who come do register. And there's good reason to do so. Everyone who registers for the event gets a little blue tee shirt like this one, and every dog gets a little bandana to wear. Sinead absolutely hates bandanas, so we skipped that part. But hubby and I dutifully donned tee shirts. And boy, were there a lot of shirts out there.

All told, some 500 people registered for the event. So the park in Salem was an absolute sea of blue. That makes my heart swell, as every person who registered made a donation to the shelter.

Dog and dad doing a walk

Normally, when we go to this event, we show up right when it starts. But that means we end up doing a walk with a whole ton of other people. That's a little overwhelming for Sinead. She's worried she'll be stepped on or bitten, so she shivers and shakes and tries to get people to hold her.

Over the last year, I've been doing a ton of shy dog training. And we put that to good use today. But we also planned ahead for her. We didn't go when the event began. We came later. That meant we were starting the walk when others were ending their walk. See that clump of people back there? We're passing them, not walking with them. Sinead found that experience preferable.

Sinead looks out over the river

The first leg of the walk takes you over the Willamette River, which is wonderfully cool this time of year. We stopped to catch our breath here, and Sinead got to look at some dogs walking by. She was very calm and relaxed here, with ears forward and body loose. That's a huge improvement from last year, and it means our training is working.

When we started walking again, Sinead became so confident that she popped out to say hello to a few people walking by. And she exchanged a friendly nose tap with a small stranger dog. A year ago, that would have been impossible. Today, she felt pretty good about it.

Sinead running from an alpaca

But not everything about the day made Sinead leap for joy. We met this alpaca, for example, and Sinead thought that thing was pretty damn scary. She's running away from it here, and she's fleeing from the children who were petting the alpaca, too. I don't really blame her for that one, but we will need to keep up with the training so she can learn to handle new experiences.

All in all, Sinead had a great day. And I can thank Willamette Humane Society for that great day. I took her to the shelter for their Shy Dog class last summer, and I've been working those lessons ever since. Without those lessons, she wouldn't have done so well today. So I'm happy to support the organization with donations, fundraisers and my time.

Sinead the Boston terrier smiling

And thanks to all of you who helped me to raise money during my walk. More than 90% of the funds raised during the Strut go directly to animal welfare costs at the shelter. Donations allow the shelter both to rehome pets and to train pets (so they don't need rehoming in the first place). It's a great cause, right? Thanks for supporting it.