Beyond the Basics – Exercise

September 3, 2010

I’m starting a new series called “Dog Care – Beyond the Basics” with the hope of providing potential and new dog owners with useful information. Everyone over the age of five knows that you have to feed a dog, give it water and you’re supposed to take it for a walk once in a while. In my experience, some people stall out after that point, but there is so much more to dog care.

First and foremost, don’t look at it as a chore. I choose to look at dog care as a chance to spend time with my friends. Because at the end of the day, I count my dogs among my very best of friends.

I’m starting with exercise because that’s one of the easier aspects of dog care, yet also one of the most important. First, you need to determine the type and level of exercise that’s right for you and your dog. Walking should be one part of every dog’s exercise regimen. You can also add other activities based on what your dog likes to do. Some fun ideas include swimming, frisbee, fetching tennis balls, agility courses and so forth.

Next, you need to purchase supplies. For a walk, you will need a collar and leash or other means of attaching your dog to you. You can try a harness, but I don’t recommend this for large or strong dogs – you are literally harnessing their pulling power. If your dog has a problem with pulling, try a Halti Collar or similar halter-like device. I personally don’t recommend choke- or pinch-style collars, but some people report good results with them. You will also need doo-doo bags. Responsible dog owners clean up after their pets. No one wants to step in your dog’s crap. I have a special pouch that I take on walks; it contains doo-doo bags, hand sanitizer and tissue, just in case. If you will be walking after dark, look for reflective or light-up collars, leashes and vests to improve visibility.

There are tons of toys and accessories you can get to add fun activities to your dog’s exercise routine. My dogs are retrievers, so LOTS of tennis balls and a very sturdy throwing disc (I use the Kong brand) are a must. I also recently purchased a tennis ball flinger. It may be due to operator error, but so far I am not a big fan. Your mileage may vary. Small, indoor dogs may appreciate a laser pointer. Mocha enjoyed chasing one when she was a puppy. There are also lots of water toys and accessories if you have access to a safe place for your dog to swim and retrieve. I get most of my dog toys and accessories at Petsmart or Tractor Supply.

Now that you’re all set, you need to scope out good places to exercise. Dog parks are the obvious choice, but not all of us have access to one. Check with your local parks and rec department to find out what parks and trails in your area permit dogs. Keep in mind that dog parks and some other places require that your dog be up to date on vaccinations before entering the facilities.

If you know of an accessible field or meadow, this can be a good opportunity to try some off-leash activities. Make sure you trust your dog’s obedience level before letting her off the leash!

Not all exercise has to take place away from home. If you have a sizeable yard, you can play fetch or set up an agility course. If you live in an apartment and have a smaller dog, you can interact and play indoors.

Keep in mind that not all dogs have the stamina for long exercise sessions. Young puppies, old dogs, obese dogs and dogs in poor health should be evaluated by a vet before starting a new exercise routine. Also, some brachycephalic breeds (dogs with short noses) such as pugs and bulldogs can easily overheat.

Make sure your dog has access to plenty of fresh water, and give her a rest every little bit. You want exercise sessions to be fun, not torture.

Finally, a word on why exercise is so important. For starters, it helps maintain a healthy weight, which reduces the chance of future problems such as diabetes, arthritis and heart disease. It keeps your dog healthy and in shape, which is important because a fit dog can recover from injury or illness more easily than a dog that’s not physically fit. Last but not least, exercise presents a great opportunity to strengthen the bond between you and your dog. It reiterates training and lessons and helps develop trust. Exercise should be a mutually enjoyable and beneficial activity for you and your dog.


“We don’t use volunteers.”

August 31, 2010

This was the (rather shocking) response I received when I called my local animal shelter. I’ve lived here for two years and recently decided it’s high time I get involved in the community, as it were. My first inclination was to volunteer for an animal rescue. According to Google, there are none here. Disbelieving, I called the animal shelter or “dog pound” in town, which is allegedly affiliated with the SPCA.

I finally reached someone during their fairly useless business hours (1-5 pm Tuesday- Friday, 1-4 on Saturdays.) I confess, while I didn’t exactly expect the lady who answered the phone to squeal for joy when I explained the reason for my call, I was hoping for a little more enthusiasm than what I got.

“I was calling to see if you all needed any volunteers.” You all  is a perfectly cromulent pronoun in these parts, by the way.

“We don’t use volunteers,” the dismal-sounding voice replied in a tone that hinted at her low estimation of my intelligence.

Taken aback, I fumbled. “Oh. Really? That’s… huh. Well, do you know of any shelters or rescue organizations in the area that might?”

“I don’t reckon. They all closed down.”

I was tempted to tell her that they probably closed down because they “don’t use volunteers,” but I kept my composure, thanked her (only a little facetiously) and hung up.

A few days later, I was cleaning out my inbox and came across a forgotten newsletter from a nearby animal rescue organization. They’re in Grayson, the next county over. Not holding out much hope this time, I emailed whoever mans the website’s “Contact Us” box and offered my services. To my delight, I got an enthusiastic response a few days later. An Ashley promises to get in touch with me after Labor Day, when we will, I hope, discuss me volunteering.  Until then, I will get plenty of practice caring for dogs.

Adopting an Abused or Neglected Dog

March 12, 2010
Chesapeake Bay Retriever

Chessie, Mocha and Onyx's Mother

Inspired by Mocha and Onyx’s mom, Chessie, I’ve published an article with tips for people who are considering adopting an abused or neglected dog. The article is a basic overview with tips, factors to consider, and links to more detailed articles on food, crates, and training.

The Night of the Bird

February 26, 2010

Occasionally Mocha and Onyx let us sleep until 6am. We consider it a privilege. Most mornings, one of them has to pee at the inconvenient hour of 3 or 4am. On one such memorable occasion, it happened to be my turn to let the dogs out. Bleary-eyed, I stumbled to the back door to let them out, then collapsed on the couch to wait until they were ready to come back inside. Usually this only takes a few minutes. They do their business, then coming galloping up to the door in expectance of a snack and a quick return to their warm beds. So I waited… and waited. Finally the thought entered my sleep-befuddled brain: they’re taking an awfully long time. I’d better investigate. 

Surely you don't think WE could be doing anything naughty...


I half-heartedly grabbed the flashlight and opened the door; it was freezing and I was in my pajamas. Squinting, I called the girls as I waved the weak beam around the backyard. Suddenly a brown bullet streaked past me and crashed into the closet door. Mocha was ready for her snack, but where was Onyx? She, the sweet, obedient one, was usually the first back inside. I called her again. Still nothing. Growing concerned, I rattled a cup of food and felt relieved as I heard the jingle of collar tags coming nearer.  Onyx popped into the house, looking extremely pleased with herself. Head held high and tail wagging to beat the band, she also had something in her mouth. In the still-darkened room, it looked like a big stick of some kind. A big feathery stick. The horror of realization dawned as I flipped on the light. “DAMMIT! WHAT THE HELL! NOOO! NONONO! DROP IT! DROP IT!” Confused and slightly petrified, Onyx dropped her prize and cocked her head at me. Still shouting obscenities, I dragged two protesting pups back to their crates without a snack.
“Brian,” I hissed. Snores. “Brian!” That woke him up. 


“There’s a dead bird in the house.” 


“There’s a damn dead bird in the damn house. I need you to get it.” 

“Are you serious?” 

“It’s 4am. I don’t make jokes this early.” 

Brian gallantly disposed of the unfortunate bird. Later I felt bad for freaking out at the dogs. Onyx knows I love birds; I have bird artwork all over the house. She thought I would like one of my very own, and she was so proud of herself for getting it for me. Unfortunately this would not be our last bird incident. 

The mourning doves that frequent our backyard are not very clever


November 2, 2009

Two dogs play before the sun slung low in an unmarred sky blue enough to drink.

Its waning glow renders two perfect silhouettes, ink-black

Glowing with the corona of dark, glossy coats

Before them shimmer the fine, silver cables of a thousand unseen architects,

Their life’s work delicately stretched and spun across slender green blades.

The dogs, heedless, laugh as they run

Pink tongues lolling with the sheer joy of unfettered motion

Perfect white teeth gleam in wolfish smiles as the gallop across a thousand silver strands.

Aww, a Chocolate Lab! Wait…

August 27, 2009

why does it have curly hair?

Baby curls

Baby curls

Mocha and her siblings are mutts. Cute, smart mutts, but there’s definitely no getting around it: their origins are nebulous. Mocha’s mother, who was rescued on the side of the road while pregnant, is by appearance either a Chesapeake Bay Retriever or a Chessie mix. Chessies have curly, oily coats to protect them from cold water. They are bred to retrieve ducks & other waterfowl.

Mommy Dog, a Chesapeake Bay Retriever

Mommy Dog, a Chesapeake Bay Retriever

 Further clues that Mommy Dog is a Chessie are her webbed feet and her deadgrass-colored coat, two trademarks of the breed.

Mommy Dog's curly rump & tail

Mommy Dog's curly rump & tail

We can only guess at the father’s breed. Because the pups were brown and black, we know the father was not a pure Chesapeake, because Chesapeake puppies are never black. Their coats are shades of brown to blend in with marshland grasses. Due to the size, shape, and personality of the pups, we suspect strong lab genes and possibly some hound dog.

Mystery Mix

Mystery Mix

Mocha’s broader features resemble those of a scent hound, such as a beagle or coon dog, while Onyx’s narrow muzzle and slightly arched back resemble those of a sight hound, such as a greyhound or borzoi.

Most people with only a cursory familiarity with dog breeds assume the pups are labs, and unless there’s a good reason to set them straight, Brian and I usually just go along with it. We’ve encountered two people who recognized Mocha as a Chesapeake.

Maury Povich paternity test, stat!

Maury Povich paternity test, stat!

Thanks to somewhat ridiculous advances in the field of genetics, we could uncover the truth of our dogs’ origins for the low low price of just $124.99. That’s right, there is now a test kit that can be purchased for at-home use that will tell you what AKC-registered breeds have come together to create your furry friend. It’s called the Wisdom Panel MX Mixed-Breed Dog DNA Test, and you can purchase it online or in select stores.

I'm a dog, you're a dog

I'm a dog, you're a dog

I can’t say it’s not a little tempting. In the grand scheme of things, though, they are just my two wonderful dogs, and $124.99 would buy a lot of treats. If anyone wants to know, I am the proud owner of the most fabulous mutts on the block.

One Very Bad Night

August 26, 2009

Since becoming dog owners, Brian and I have had a couple of Bad Nights. In fact, our first week with Mocha was a series of Bad Nights. Concerned that Mocha might experience separation anxiety from being taken away from her home and family, we put her crate right beside our bed. We were awakened multiple times a night to the urgent aroooos of a puppy with diarrhea, brought on by a dietary change and an overabundance of treats. However, Mocha’s system soon adjusted to her new diet & lifestyle, and she was sleeping from about 10pm to 6am. She never soiled in her crate, and although she still isn’t entirely housebroken, she is fairly clean in her toilet habits.

I am a model citizen

I am a model citizen

Except for this one time…

Brian and I went up to Richmond to see his sister’s new baby, Emily. Of course we took Mocha. In order to find dog-friendly lodging, we had to resort to a rather unsavory motel in a crummy part of Midlothian. Because Mocha had to spend much of the weekend cooped up in her crate, and because she had gotten carsick on the way up, and because I thought she was nearly eaten by a pit bull named Blue, we felt very sorry for her. So sorry, in fact, that we decided to let her have free run of the motel room that evening. We even broke Big Rule #2: No Dogs Allowed on the Furniture. We let her hop up on the bed with us. What does she do? Pops a squat and pees a nice big puddle right in the middle of the bed.

Brian and I looked at each other. “Um,” I started. “Uh…” Brian agreed. We ended up stripping the sheets, flipping the mattress, and sleeping on the comforter sleeping-bag style. (The comforter had avoided the golden shower because Brian had already spilled pink champagne on it and we’d thrown it in the floor. Suddenly pink champagne didn’t seem so bad.)

That was a Bad Night.

We didn’t have a Very Bad Night until Onyx arrived. Or, I should say, I didn’t have a Very Bad Night until Onyx arrived.

Don't be fooled... I brought on the Very Bad Night

Don't be fooled... I brought on the Very Bad Night

Onyx wasn’t adjusting particularly well to sleeping in her crate. She howled when we put her in, howled if she was in there for more than 30 minutes, howled if she heard us moving around in the house while she was confined. At first we used the crate divider so that Onyx had only just enough room. After a few nights, we decided she was accustomed enough that we could remove the divider and give her the whole crate. The first night was fine.

The second night, I was awakened at 1am by Onyx crying to be let out. I sighed. Brian and I both had major colds and felt like absolute zombies, but I dragged myself out of bed and into the dogs’ room. Despite my cold, I could smell something strange. Kind of earthy and wet. Still stupefied from sleep, I fumbled around in the dark and let Onyx out. When I took her outside, she wouldn’t pee. I figured it was because the grass was wet and cold, and there was a heavy, damp fog. “Look, heifer, I don’t want to be out here either,” I said, shoving her off the deck for the fourth time. Finally she ran around the corner of the house & squatted for a minute.

When I brought her back in the house, she refused to go into her crate. The wet, earthy smell seemed even more pungent. Dreading what I’d see, I turned on the light and looked inside.

At the back of her crate was an enormous pile of crap. Her blanket was wadded up in another corner, soaking wet with pee. I think I stood there gaping for two or three minutes.  Intellectually I knew how to get this cleaned up, and part of my mind was running through the procedure: doo-doo bags, paper towels, cleaning spray. But the other part kept saying, “What. The. Damn. WHO is going to clean this up?!”

I yelled for Brian to come hold Onyx while I got it cleaned up. I think he knew to steer clear of me for a little while. At one point I’m pretty sure I uttered the phrase, “Why the hell didn’t we get a cat?!”

On my hands and knees, head inside the poop-filled crate, muttering a variety of obscenities and threats, I eventually got the mess cleaned up. I dug the crate divider out of storage and said to Onyx, “You better believe that your little ass is earning back the privelege of having the entire crate.” Onyx, usually a very vocal dog, didn’t make another peep until morning. She knew she was in Big Trouble.

Twice the cuteness, twice the poop

Twice the cuteness, twice the poop

Mocha: Ambassador of the Species

August 25, 2009
I come in peace, mostly

I come in peace, mostly

Mocha was my first dog. After years of cat ownership, I knew I would have to do some heavy research in order to get it right. I began watching Dog Whisperer religiously and, like any good disciple, reading Cesar’s books. For balance, I picked up several other titles like Puppies for Dummies and Housetrain Your Dog Now.

One thing I knew for sure was that with all the homeless dogs out there, I certainly was not going to buy one from a breeder or pet shop. My brother had found Mocha’s mother, Chessie, abandoned in the middle of nowhere and brought her home. A few days later she had six pups, which explained why Chessie had been so fat and sluggish. Not in a position to care for seven dogs, my brother gave them to my father, who luckily had a large dog pen and dog house. Mocha was the first pup to find a home when we brought her to live with us at seven weeks. (For more on this story and info about the other dogs, visit the Free Chessie Labs site.)

Mocha's biological mom

Mocha's biological mom

Life with Mocha was a big adjustment for all of us. She cried incessantly when we crated her during our dinner. For the first week, she woke us up several times a night howling to beat the band. Her second night here, sleep-deprived and frustrated, I vowed that I was going to give her back to my dad and chalk up the whole thing as one big mistake. (I didn’t.) It turned out that she had diarrhea from the sudden change in diet & lifestyle. (It didn’t help that we were giving her treats every time she looked cute).  Housetraining didn’t go as smoothly as I had naively imagined it would. Although our living room looked like Dog Toys R’ Us had exploded, Mocha opted to gnaw the edges off the coffee table.

Sorry for being annoying

Sorry for being annoying

Despite all this, the good far outweighed the bad. Mocha’s adorable factor and award-winning guilt-trip face saved her butt on several occasions. She was sweet (mostly) and funny. Brian and I played Frisbee and soccer with her in the yard and took her for long walks almost every day. But there was something missing. When we let her out to roam in our fenced-in backyard, she would gallop about for a few minutes, munch on oily clumps of grass from the lawnmower deck (her favorite snack), and then flop dejectedly in the middle of the yard.

The lonesomest pup

The lonesomest pup

We finally realized that Mocha was lonely. No matter how much we played with her, we couldn’t make up for the lack of fellow canine in her life. She had gone from having five siblings and her mother to having two humans with full-time jobs. At Mocha’s second vaccine series, our vet, observing Mocha’s abundance of energy, casually suggested that we get a second dog to help tire her out. I laughed. “There is no way we can handle another dog right now. This one is plenty.” But I couldn’t get her comment out of my mind. That night, I half-jokingly mentioned it to Brian. His reaction was similar to mine. “No freakin’ way.”

What? You don't want another one?

What? You don't want another one?

But the vet had planted a seed, and Mocha’s moping around the back yard proved to be potent fertilizer. Suddenly one night, Brian shocked me by saying “Let’s get another dog.” We had both been giving it a lot of thought while pretending the idea was ludicrous, but the truth was that Mocha needed a playmate, and I knew of five more puppies who needed a home. I called my dad. “Dad, you’re not going to believe this, but Brian and I have decided to take Onyx.”

The Circumstances of My Conversion

August 25, 2009

I was a bona-fide Cat Person for 22 years. My mother, you see, is possibly the world’s most ardent cat lover. She was kind of a Cesar Millan for felines: she could pet even the most ornery of them. From the time I was brought home from the hospital, there were cats in our house. Auto and Marcel were my mother’s. Then the day came for me to pick out a cat of my very own, and I chose Whiskers, who unfortunately turned out to be crotchety, antisocial, and violently unreceptive to my attempts to clothe her. My mother abides by the old adage, “cats are like potato chips: you can never have just one.” So the list of family felines continued through the years: Puppet, Stella, Gizmo, Pearl, Twinkie, Smokie, Flip, Vader, Ossie, Totoro, Petey, and Falcor.

Falcor in his beer hut

Falcor in his beer hut

In addition to loving cats, my mother mostly disliked and feared dogs and passed these traits on to her three children.  If a dog came into the yard (with the exception of Annie, our neighbor’s elderly lab mix), we were all to come inside immediately and bring as many cats as possible.

List of Reasons Not to Like Dogs

  • They chase cats
  • They don’t cover up their poop
  • They bark
  • They stink
  • They slobber
  • They will chase you
  • If they catch you, they will probably bite you

In college, I met Brian. He was perfect: sexy, intelligent, and sweet in that “my mama raised a gentleman” way. Too bad I already had a decidely imperfect boyfriend. I consoled myself with the fact that it would never have worked between us anyway, because Brian was very allergic to cats.

About a year later, when I was between cats and minus the idiot boyfriend, I ran into Brian again. This time the sparks were undeniable, and we fell into a relationship so wonderful, I found myself willing to swear off cats for good. When we got married in December of 2008, I knew I was resigning myself to a life without furry felines, but I’d be damned if I would be petless for long.

Embarking on a cat-free life together

Embarking on a cat-free life together

I had gone through a brief rodent phase in college. Fidget the hamster and Scuzzlebutt the guinea pig had convinced me that tiny furry things were not the pets for me.  Brian, preferring the most low-maintenance end of the pet spectrum, had several fish. I argued that fish were not pets, they were decorations.  Brian wouldn’t let me have a possum. What did that leave but a dog? Could I really overcome years of prejudice and embrace the idea of canine ownership? Faced with the realization that it was that or spend the rest of my days critterless, I started up a campaign of annoying Brian into agreeing that we needed a puppy.
After getting Brian on the puppy train and obtaining permission from the landlady, I brought home Mocha.
[For more on her back story and for info on adopting one of her siblings, see the FreeChessieLabs site.]
Mocha snoozing the day we brought her home

Mocha snoozing the day we brought her home

Onyx Arrives

August 25, 2009
Do I have something on my face?

Do I have something on my face?

One weekend I took Mocha to my dad’s house so she could visit her mother and littermates. I thought seeing familiar doggie faces would help with her socialization. Turned out, Mocha had become so spoiled that she railroaded over her brothers and sisters, nipping and growling and generally behaving like a brat. Only her mother, a 70-pound Chesapeake Bay Retriever, could put Mocha in her place. While my dog was terrorizing everyone else, I noticed a quiet, docile pup with the sweetest face imaginable. It was Onyx, the black female of the litter and the runt. Her dainty feet and slim features made her stand out from her rough-and-tumble littermates. She and Mocha were different as night and day.

I'm not so sure about you

I'm not so sure about you

When Brian and I came to the decision to get a second dog (see “Ambassador”), I already knew it would be Onyx. She seemed so laid-back, friendly, and sweet, surely she would counter-balance Mocha’s high energy and rough ways.

Not surprisingly, Mocha proved to be the dominant of the two, yet accepted her sister readily. Brian and I took to calling them our “cattle,” as the two frisked in the yard like spring calves and grazed on grass patties left behind by the lawnmower. No longer did Mocha mope around the yard alone. Instead, she and her sister dug tunnels under the back deck, then tore through the house with muddy paws. They knocked our lawn chairs over and used them for wrestling rings. When they were exhausted at long last, we would find them sound asleep, piled on top of each other. Success! Almost.



Brian and I had brought Mocha home at 7 weeks old. Onyx was about 13 weeks old when we got her. We felt confident that the extra time socializing with her mother and littermates would make the second-dog transition a piece of cake. Yes siree-bob, a piece of warm, brown, gooey, smelly cake…

As it turned out, Onyx’s toileting habits left much to be desired. Due to certain circumstances, she had become accustomed to doing her business on a rug before coming to live with us. Knowing this, we were a bit wary for the first couple of days. To our surprise, Onyx did fine. Then Mocha, who we had believed to be fairly well house-broken, began peeing on the living room rug. And behind the armchair in the den. And pretty much anywhere else she damn well pleased. Onyx soon followed suit. Brian and found ourselves constantly grabbing a squatting dog, yelling “Outside!”, and half-carrying the dribbling pup to the appropriate place.  The dogs started spending a lot more time outside. We would soon learn that the rug-puddles were nothing compared to what was coming… one very bad night.