So what have you been up to?

I saw a funny post the other day about how we talk to our dog friends vs. our non-dog friends.

My answer to the question ” what have you been up to?” varies based on the audience.

For my non-dog friends, I’ll say I’ve gone on a couple of weekend get-aways to visit friends. I’ve also been going to the beach a lot, trying to get back into a workout routine and researching organizations to start volunteering with in the fall. I try to sound like a normal person that isn’t doing “weird” stuff.

For my dog friends, depending on what I know of their dog activities, I will be more forth coming with my answers i.e. I’ve been training Maisie to be a Therapy Dog and have found an organization that I’m pretty excited about. I’ve gone through my own training with them and I’ll be tagging along this week to observe their program in action.  Hopefully we will pass their dog team test so that we can volunteer with them in the fall. We’ve been going on a lot of training walks, in and out of stores and mixing up our destination to expose her to lots of different situations and people.IMG_6995For dog enthusiasts, I might elaborate a little more. Winn and I have been doing all kinds of advanced training over the last several months and have entered several different types of trials and have earned five titles.  Right now we are focusing on Water Rescue training and are having a blast!

I’ve been around water my entire life and for about 10 years I worked at my local YMCA teaching 3-5 year olds pool safety and how to swim.  I loved working with that age and I really felt like I was teaching them something that could save their lives. Now I’m exploring a different form of water safety by working with Winn and her natural instincts. It’s just for fun, she’s not going to be a lifeguard or a search and rescue dog, but I love swimming with her and having a reason to be in the water again.IMG_3514I’ve taken a couple of trips with her to learn the skills needed to enter and pass the junior level Newfoundland Water Dog (WD) test and have been working on a few of the skills included in the senior level Water Rescue Dog (WRD) test. (Last year I volunteered to help at the water tests in my area and wrote about those skills here and here.) She loves the water and has amazing instincts.  We work really well together but being in the water is exhausting and I’m reminded that even though she’s a big dog, she’s still young and she tires easily. I’m also getting used to being in the water again so we are both working on building our stamina in the water and knowing when to call it quits.IMG_4455This week, I’ve been filling out entry forms for water tests put on by different regional Newfoundland clubs.  Two are close by, about an hour’s drive and two are further away and would require a hotel stay.  I hope to get into at least two, maybe three.  My friend who has been doing this a long time and teaches water skills clinics would like me to go to Canada with her so Winn could also try for her Canadian Water Rescue Dog title.  I think this year, we will just focus on her American title and consider that in the future. I’ll be thrilled if we get the title this summer, but I’m loving the bond we’ve formed and the fun we have learning new skills.  I have high hopes for us as a working team and there are so many possibilities for us to explore!

Winn and her training buddies Clarence and Cass–both featured in last year’s Water Weekend posts


PSA: Watch out for falling corn cobs!

What do bagels, apple cores, pizza crusts, squirrels and corn cobs all have in common? All of these items have fallen out of the trees in our yard over the last couple of months. I blame it on the squirrels.  They rummage through the garbage dumpster of the nearby condo building, find treasure and then scurry up our trees where they return to their nests. Most of the time, the squirrel and their goodies make it all the way back but sometimes they lose their grip and a random food item will fall to the ground.  And yes, occasionally they make a bad jump and end up falling out of the tree as well.

I know that it’s nesting season when I  find a pile of leaves and branches in the yard that wasn’t there the day before.  I would guess that one out of every four leaf bundles falls to the ground while they are building their nest. Shortly after that, random food and trash starts to appear and continues to fall for the next couple of months. Squirrels have 2 litters a year, early spring and mid-summer.  Right now, they are prepping for the mid-summer. (About a month ago, I was in the yard and 3-4 young squirrels were chasing each other when one fell out of the tree and landed a couple of feet away from me.  To my utter shock, it jumped up and ran away.  I’ve found enough dead ones in the yard to assume they don’t usually survive such a fall.)IMG_4074What got me to write about this? Last week, I spent a full day in the Animal Emergency Room with Winn after I discovered that she had consumed a corn cob.

A couple of years ago, I read an article about the dangers of corn cobs to dogs and since then have had a healthy fear of having one of the dogs eat one.  Until then, I was completely unaware that a dog could die from ingesting a corn cob. Corn cobs don’t break down in the digestive track and their cylindrical shape contributes to the risk of obstruction.  If the cob is already dried out, its sharp edges can shred the lining of the intestinal track. Another risk is that it can get stuck in their throat, either going down or coming back up if vomiting is induced.  The best course of action is to get your dog to the vet as quickly as possible.

In Winn’s case, I don’t really know when she got it or how much she ate. She threw-up 4 pieces one morning, and I wasn’t even sure what it was at first. The texture was strange, not completely hard like a bone but not soft and pliable either, but then I noticed a corn kernel and I knew immediately what she had found. I tried to figure out when she might have gotten it.  She was in the yard a couple of times the day before but I had been with her most of the time.  Her dinner didn’t come up with the cob pieces and I know she didn’t get it after dinner because she was never out of my sight.  She went out and did her morning business just fine, she was hungry for breakfast and was showing no signs of distress.  Could that mean the corn cob just jiggled around in her belly for a day or two before she barfed it up? Could that be all there was to it?

I had booked a morning swim time for Maisie and Winn so I loaded them both up in the car and decided to call the vet on our way.  I described everything that had happened and what I knew and didn’t know.  I was not surprised when I was told to bring her in right away for an x-ray, they would squeeze us in as soon as we got there.  So…I turned the car towards the vet’s office and the three of us arrived about 10 minutes later.

It didn’t take long for the x-ray and sure enough, there were visible pieces scattered around her abdomen and her colon looked a little enlarged, perhaps she’d already expelled some on her own. There were a couple of pieces she was concerned about so the x-ray was sent to the emergency surgeon for a consult.  The surgeon agreed with her assessment and wanted to see us, surgery would probably be needed.  I have always been concerned about the use of anesthesia on my dogs, and after losing Annie shortly after her oral surgery, my fear has been heightened. Winn’s vet encouraged me to express my fears to the surgeon and assured me that they would talk through any and all questions or concerns that I had.

Maisie was so concerned about Winn and kept a very close eye on her.

I gathered everybody up and we quickly headed to the car.  Winn was still showing no signs of distress, other than a little anxiety about being at the vet’s office, so I decided to head home.  I could drop off Maisie and change my clothes (I was still in my bathing suit, shorts and a t-shirt, not the most comfortable outfit to wear while waiting around in an air-conditioned office).

Winn and I were shown into an exam room where we met with another dr.  The surgeon was still with another patient, but we talked through different scenarios, what the procedure would entail and the fact that Winn would need to stay overnight in recovery for two days (very scary). We decided to get her pre-op blood work done as well as an ultra-sound which would give us a clearer picture of where the pieces were.

It was all becoming so real, so scary and the waiting was excruciating, but the dr. came back with a big smile on her face.  All of the cob pieces had already traveled through her small intestine and most of them were in her colon! They don’t operate once they show up in the colon because she should be able to eliminate them on her own.  What a relief!

They gave her some fluids to keep her hydrated but were comfortable sending us home with care instructions that included warning signs for me to watch for.  If anything changed in her condition, we were to come back for another ultra sound and more tests. I wanted to cry from relief, but I gathered our things and quickly checked out.  We were incredibly lucky that it all turned out so well and surgery wasn’t needed!


Now I’m going to hop onto my soap box and talk about pet insurance.  It’s horrifying enough when you find yourself and your pet in an emergency situation.  Trying to absorb everything you are being told in order to make a good decision for your pet is incredibly difficult.  I knew as I sat there trying to hold back the tears, that whatever decision I had to make, I didn’t have to make it because of finances.  Surgery is expensive, surgery on big dogs can be more expensive, but having pet insurance can give you peace of mind while you are making that decision.  I knew I was responsible for my deductible and 20% of the fee because that is how I set up the policy for Maisie and Winn.  I only have sick/emergency care but it covers tests, treatment, therapies and medications. (I didn’t insure Annie because everything with her was a pre-existing condition. I wish I could have, managing all of her health issues was expensive.)

Most hospitals expect you to pay at the time of service (but many are willing to work with you especially if they know you have insurance to cover the bulk of the fees), my solution for this is that I have one credit card that is just for the dogs, but I know I will be reimbursed after my portion is paid.  The staff at Winn’s vet office and the animal hospital submitted the claims for me that same day and I received an email from Embrace a couple of hours later that they were processing the claims.

Our friend My Brown Newfies has written a great post about pet insurance comparing the different companies.  You can read her excellent post here and I hope you find it helpful. I encourage everyone to get pet insurance,  you can tailor many of the policies to suit your needs and budget. Hopefully, you will never need it but if you do, it will be one less thing you have to worry about when you furry best friend is sick.

With the 4th of July occuring at peak season for corn on the cob, please keep and eye on your dogs and make sure the cobs are properly thrown out so that they don’t get them and you can all safely enjoy the holiday!


Take your dog to work day

Today is take your dog to work day and since every day is take your dog to work day for me, I wanted to highlight someone who has created her own work environment outside her home and incorporated a space for her dog so that he can join her there too.IMG_7507I’ve known Lindsay for a long time.  She helps me feel young by covering up my gray hair. We’ve had a standing appointment for years, the only thing that has changed is the frequency as I get a little older.

I’ve watched her grow in her career through her promotions, salon changes, and partnership.  This year, she took the brave step of opening her own shop, and it’s wonderful!IMG_7510The space is light, bright and welcoming, and has a cool, relaxed vibe.  Capone is the shop dog.  He casually strolls around, sometimes greeting clients and sometimes sleeping through new arrivals. He has his bed situated by the window and may occasionally be found sprawled out on the couch.  Linmay Studio is at the top of my favorites list as a place to sit back and relax.  The mood is always friendly and I feel so pampered when I’m there.IMG_7508A few weeks ago, Lindsey had a special event to introduce Chad, her newly hired stylist, to her clients and she invited Maisie and me to stop by.  I have never brought Maisie with me to one of my appointments, I respect the fact that this is Capone’s place and when I’m there, it’s my time for me, I enjoy the break from keeping a well behaved dog by my side. Since Maisie is always eager to check out a new place and meet new friends, I brought her along as my sidekick for the event.IMG_7016Maisie and Capone got along beautifully, although he did try to claim me as one of HIS people which was pretty funny.  We had a nice time sipping Mimosa’s (just for me of course) and Maisie made herself right at home.  I admire Lindsay for following her dream and creating this space.  She had a vision, and took a leap of faith to make it happen! I look forward to many more years of “me” time with Lindsay and her shop dog Capone.IMG_6995

Winner, winner, chicken dinner!

I’ve been dog training a lot lately.  I mean, A LOT.

Maisie and I are still diligently working toward becoming a therapy team.  I must admit, I’ve been ready to throw in the towel a couple of times but then I take a breath and try to focus on how far we’ve come.  We are sooo close, my greatest hope is that we will be able to wrap this up and get working very soon.IMG_7172Winn and I have been doing a different kind of training.  We’ve enjoyed Rally Obedience and she has earned her Rally Novice and Rally Intermediate titles. We are at a stopping point with it for now because the next levels all include a jump and that is not good for her until she’s about two years old.

Since Rally has helped us form a great foundation as a working team, I decided to learn about what was required to earn an Obedience title.  I observed a few trials when we were at Newfoundland National and the Beginner Novice level seemed to be a good match for our skills.  Winn would be on leash and rally signs are laid out for the heeling pattern.  It all seemed doable for us, but I would be limited on commands and signals, which is very different from Rally.  In Rally, I can talk to her and encourage her as much as I want, not so in Obedience.

I printed up the rules so that I could have a clearer picture of what I should be doing and scheduled a couple of short sessions with our Rally trainer. The two exercises that I was worried about were the Figure Eight and the Sit for Exam.  Both involve strangers and Winn can be a little shy.

In Rally, the Figure Eight is done around cones and we easily go around them with no trouble, even with food bowl distractions near our path.  This test requires two strangers to stand facing each other instead of cones.

The Sit for Exam requires me to put her in a sit/stay then stand 6 feet in front of her while the judge approaches her and gently touches her head.  Up until now, I have stood next to her while she is meeting a stranger which over time has gotten much easier for her.

We met with our Rally trainer to practice all of the exercises so that I could get used to doing them with the obediance guidelines.  There are specific positions to hold my hands, some exercises allow one phrase of encouragement and others don’t. Most exercises allow either a verbal command or a hand signal, not both.  All of that is new for me as a handler and Winn needs to be comfortable heeling next to me while we work our figure eight around people as well as having the judge approach her without me by her side.  We had people from the training center help us and after practicing several times, we both were a lot more comfortable with what we needed to do.

Last weekend we entered a show to give it a try and we did pretty well!  The funny thing for me was that it was held at a sporting facility that for many years was one of my lacrosse carpool destinations.  My son played indoor lacrosse every winter with the same group of boys during grade school and middle school.  When I walked in with Winn I had a major deja-vu moment.  The crating area was in one of the basketball courts and the rings were set up on one of the turf fields. I couldn’t believe it!  I sent my son a picture and he recognized it right away.  My husband advised me to not let Winn lose her mouth guard.  That made me chuckle.

The turf field

Winn’s crate is pretty big and I found a great spot next to a Great Dane and her owner that I’ve seen before at trials.  Once our hang out spot was situated, I wanted to walk her around on the turf so that she could get used to it.  That was a new experience for her. We have always been on hard or padded indoor surfaces and the turf has a very different feel.  I wasn’t the only one curious about how the dogs would do on turf, I watched mixed reactions from many of the other dogs and handlers around us.  All of us had the same fear that they would feel free to potty on the turf, but I don’t think that happened.  At least I never saw it happen which was a relief.

On Saturday, I entered us into a Rally Intermediate trial to use as a warm-up since we work well together in Rally and followed that with two Beginner Novice trials. Winn was great in Rally and scored a 98 (we even had a Figure Eight to navigate), one of our best scores! I quickly put her in her crate and went straight to the walk through for the first Obedience trial. We were the first dog to go, so I hustled back to get her and did my best to keep calm while waiting for the judge to call us into the ring.

We did pretty well, but the Figure Eight was the tough one for us.  Winn kept stopping to  smell the shoes of one of the stewards and I’m pretty sure I gave her several voice commands to keep us going.  Fortunately, that didn’t disqualify us, but we did lose 8 out of 40 points on that. She lagged once (walked behind me) in the heeling pattern but every thing else was perfect on her part.  The judge let me know that I should use a different hand position on our recall for our next trial but she congratulated us for qualifying (scoring 170 or better) on our first try! We scored 188 1/2 out of 200 and were the only ones in our group to qualify so I was really proud as we left the ring.

We did even better the next time around.  We lost only 2 points out of 40 on the heeling, 4 points on the Figure Eight and 1/2 point on the recall  (my hands were in the right position but my head bobbed a little) for a score of 193 1/2.  She was perfect for Sit for Exam and the Sit Stay while I walked around the entire perimeter of the ring. Once again, we were the only dog in our group to qualify and I was so happy to score in the 190’s. I really didn’t expect that! We ended the day with three blue ribbons, which are fun tokens for the day, but two qualifying scores in Obedience on our first two tries were the best prizes in my opinionIMG_7452.jpgOn Sunday we entered 1 Rally Intermediate trial and 1 Obedience trial.  Day 2 has proven to be more difficult for us as a team in the past and we were definitely more sloppy.  We scored an 85 in Rally which I think is our worst score ever, but I really didn’t care because I was just using it as a warm up for our Obedience trial.  The Figure Eight was a challenge, Winn actually stopped to stare at one of the stewards and I had to give her a quick tug to get her going again. Our heeling didn’t feel as crisp as it should have and I bobbed my head again on the recall, but we did qualify along with one other dog.  We scored somewhere in the low 180’s and got second place. I forgot the score because all I really focused on was that we qualified and got the title (3 qualifying scores under 2 different judges)!IMG_7467I have to say, I really enjoyed the Obedience work.  It’s a new challenge and Winn and I have a good time working together.  We hung out with some friends who we’ve seen at previous trials and I connected with someone to start training with for Obedience.  I’ve haven’t found someone in my area and this woman told me she teaches at a dog club not too far from my house so I’m planning on checking that out next month. She and her Doberman had such a perfect Figure Eight that the judge complimented her. She gave me a couple of tips but I know that we need a lot more practice to better master the timing, pace and focus that it requires.

As a special reward for Winn, when she does well in trials I whip through the Chick-fil-A drive thru and get her a small box of chicken strips.  She loves them and now she knows what that red box is.  On Saturday I was feeling so good about our success that I bought two boxes so that she could have one after Sunday’s trial as well (they are closed on Sundays).  When we got home Sunday, I made her pose for a picture with all of her ribbons and then I went to get her reward.  I opened the refrigerator and it was gone! I knew immediately what had happened. My son Thomas had eaten her chicken! I hollered down the stairs at him and he stared up at me like I’d lost my mind when I told him that was for Winn. His response was a logical one. He said, “I thought food in the refrigerator was for eating.” I had to laugh, just a little.  Winn did find the empty box, and tore it to shreds looking for her prized chicken strips, but I found some chicken jerky in the dog treat bin that she also thinks is pretty delicious. That made her happy and was good ending to a very successful weekend.IMG_7501

In honor of Annie…

June 7th will be our annual dog birthday party.

Annie was the first dog of my dogs to have a birthday party.  She had never had the opportunity of feeling special before she was rescued and I was compelled to give her as many celebrations as possible.

IMG_2155 (1)
Annie’s first birthday party, Annie turns 10! 06/07/16
Annie turns 11! 06/07/17

This year she would have been 12.  Last year, I knew that chances were slim that we would be having another party for her. 12 is a ripe, old age for a Newfoundland but I was hopeful.  She had some chronic conditions that we were managing, but none of them were fatal and she was so happy with us.  I knew she wasn’t going to give up easily, she was enjoying the good life and for her, every day was a happy day filled with love.

Winn turned 1 on March 6th and Maisie turned 5 on May 12th.  Rather than doing birthday parties for them, I decided we would wait until June and have our first annual doggie birthday celebration.  I pulled out the hats, made some pupcakes and frozen yogurt sundaes and gave them these special treats after dinner. I remebered Annie and it felt good to have another celebration in her honor.IMG_3979.JPG Happy Birthday girls, and Happy Heavenly Birthday Annie!


a shared life with our very large dogs

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