Looking back on another year of dog blogging

Pet Blogger ChallengeThis is my first year participating in the Pet Blogger Challenge, a “blog hop” that’s hosted by Go Pet Friendly and Will My Dog Hate Me?

It’s nice to have the opportunity to reflect on why I keep a dog blog (short answer: because I’m crazy) and what I’m looking forward to in the coming year.

Without further ado, here are some answers to the challenge questions:

1. How long have you been blogging? Please tell us why you started blogging, and, for anyone stopping by for the first time, give us a quick description of what your blog is about.

I started this blog in May 2011, a year before we adopted Pyrrha, our first dog. I was driving my husband insane with my desperate need to talk about dogs all the time, and so I started a blog as an outlet for my year of concentrated canine research. This is still a blog that focuses on learning about and from dogs, specifically our two dogs, Pyrrha and Eden, who were adopted through Southeast German Shepherd Rescue.

2. Name one thing about your blog, or one blogging goal that you accomplished during 2013, that made you most proud.

I don’t know how to answer this question, honestly. I just feel grateful to have a community of readers who are always so encouraging and helpful when I have questions!

3. What about blogging has changed the most for you?

I feel more confident about expressing my opinion now than I did when I first started blogging about dogs. This clearly has to do with the fact that the more I actually live with dogs (instead of just reading about them), the more I actually learn.

4. What lessons have you learned this year — from other blogs, or through your own experience — that could help us all with our own sites?

Ask people for advice! I think I started getting a readership simply because I desperately needed help, and people are usually willing to share their experiences and offer counsel when you ask for it. I’m still really grateful for that interaction on this blog, and I’ll keep asking questions!

5. What have you found to be the best ways to bring more traffic to your blog, other than by writing great content?

Coming up with better, more searchable headlines. And using more photos! Everyone likes to look at photos, even if they’re just breezing over the text.

6. How much time to do you spend publicizing your blog, and do you think you should spend more or less in the coming year?

Not a ton. I have a Twitter account, which I’m using more regularly. I’m also on Instagram and Pinterest. I got off Facebook recently, though, and that was one of the best decisions of my young Internet life.

7. How do you gauge whether or not what you’re writing is appealing to your audience?

Comments are always a helpful gauge, along with site views. Posts that ask questions tend to get the most feedback.

8. When you’re visiting other blogs, what inspires you to comment on a post rather than just reading and moving on?

When I feel a connection with the post, or feel like I have a similar experience to share, I am more likely to leave a comment.

9. Do you do product reviews and/or giveaways?

Yes, both! I particularly enjoy reading and writing book reviews, and we’ve done a handful of product reviews (mostly food items, which the girls love). I’d love to have the chance to offer more giveaways.

10. When writer’s block strikes and you’re feeling dog-tired, how do you recharge?

Take the pups on a walk! This is not my full-time job, either, so I probably spend less time blogging than most “professional” pet bloggers. But it’s been easier to blog lately, having the craziness of adding a second dog to the household provide fodder for blog content.

11. Have you ever taken a break from your blog? How did that go?

Not yet! I’ve made this my main Internet outlet, pulling away from my personal blog some, and I’ve been happy with that decision. Dog people are so much nicer than normal people. 🙂

12. What goals do you have for your blog in 2014?

I’d love to improve my writing abilities and continue to build a community here.

SIDE NOTE: I got to see Bo again! Bo now lives in Florida with his mama, but he is the dog who taught me the most in the year that I was waiting to adopt Pyrrha. It was very special getting to see him; he is such a sweetheart. He is starting to get some white around his muzzle! Aww.

Reunited with Bo! Love that boy. #goldenretriever
Reunited with Bo!

Why do you blog about dogs? Are you participating in the challenge?

Playing with Heath

On Sunday, sweet Heath came by for a brief play-date, relieving Pyrrha from her weekend of boredom. (She was cooped up inside with me while I slowly recovered from whatever upper-respiratory-nastiness this is.)

Play date with Heath
Handsome Heath!

Isn’t he handsome? He has such a beautiful mane and manly coat.

It was unseasonably hot, so the dogs tired out rather quickly, but I think they had a great romp.

Play date with Heath

Play date with Heath

Play date with Heath

I love the goofy faces they make in the middle of play:

Play date with Heath

Play date with Heath

Play date with Heath

Play date with Heath

Tired, happy pups! Taking a break for some kisses.

Play date with Heath

Play date with Heath

We hope to have Heath over again soon!

Play date with Heath! #golden #gsd

Meet Georgia, Pyrrha’s new aunt!

It is with great delight that I introduce you to Pyrrha’s new “aunt,” Georgia!

Georgia on the porch

My husband’s parents just adopted this precious puppy, their first official “foster failure.” My in-laws are generous, loving advocates of their local lab rescue and they have served as a foster home for labs in need for about a year now.

Georgia

Just about a week ago, however, little miss Georgia came tumbling into their lives and they just couldn’t say no. I mean, could you?? Look at that face!

Sweet baby Georgia

From these photos, I’d guess that Georgia was some kind of golden retriever/spaniel mix. She’s only 7 weeks old right now. What would you guess her lineage is?

We hope to take a trip to see them and meet Georgia very soon. Welcome to the family, little girl. You are one lucky pup!

Pyrrha and her young suitors

We enjoyed a lovely Sunday play-date with Heath, the handsome golden retriever, and Loki, back for his second round.

Sweet Heath

Heath showed up first and he was a perfect match for Pyrrha’s energy level. The pair did a lot of rolling around, kissing snouts, and chasing. They were a delight to watch.

In love

Ears flying

Look of adoration

Handsome dude

Here Pyrrha displays her best “be pretty!” for Heath’s mama, the Keeper of the Treats:

Be pretty

Essentially, they ended the afternoon completely smitten.

Conspiring

Young lovers

Loki showed up later and then it was all one big love train.

Butt-sniffing train

Trio at play

It’s fun to watch Loki, the baby, gain confidence and work his way into playing with the big dogs. (Although, at 55 lbs. at 5 months, Loki will very soon be THE big dog.)

Loki is getting bigger

As you can expect with two young, unneutered males, there was also a lot of humping going on, but Pyr didn’t seem to mind it much. She’d take it in stride and then turn around and give the boys a taste of their own medicine.

Ganging up on Pyr

Puppy play-dates! Always the highlight of my weekend. Hope to have Heath and Loki back again soon!

Pup links!

That’s a lot of shibas you’ve got there, sir. Source: Hei Astrid

Dog-related links from around the Web this past week:

Life with Two Shibas. What’s it like having two shibas in the house? A realistic and detailed portrayal of how to welcome that second dog into your home and how to create balance and stability thereafter. (Shio the Shiba)

Frisbee Discs for Dogs: What’s the Best Disc on the Market? While I have very far-fetched dreams about Pyrrha taking interest in a Frisbee, I still love watching dogs play with flying discs. Does your dog love to chase a Frisbee? Here’s an article with some reviews on the best discs for your dog. (Whole Dog Journal)

Heart Spaghetti. A discussion of the importance of heartworm preventatives, particularly during this time of year. (Couches for Breakfast)

Post-4th Puppy Extravaganza. Seriously, what could be better than the chaos of 15 German shepherd puppies tearing through one’s home?? (Blackthorn Kennels)

When Time Isn’t Enough. This is a very honest post from Vanessa about how Rufus still hasn’t warmed up to his human dad, even after two years. It made me wonder if Pyrrha will ever love Guion, but it was simultaneously encouraging to know I’m not the only one in this boat. All I can say is, Vanessa and I–and Rufus and Pyrrha!–are lucky to be tied to such patient, persistent men. (The Rufus Way)

Pawsitively Amazing: Smiley. An apt name for this golden retriever, who was born without eyes into a puppy mill environment. But he just radiates joy! The description of his relationship with his owner is supremely touching. (Daily Dog Tag)

Let’s Be Gentle, Not Judgmental. A very humble and encouraging post by one of the most popular foster mamas out there, about the myths she once believed about her dog and others’. Such a great exhortation for us to be more patient and gentle with those who may still have some things to learn about their canine companions. Because, really, who of us has all the answers? (Love and a Six-Foot Leash)

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

We’re out of town for another long weekend (another wedding and another road trip). This time, Pyrrha will be hanging behind with her angelic former foster and her pack. It’s the best form of doggy daycare for her and she always comes back to us very tired and happy. Hope you all have pleasant weekends!

Dogs with bad manners

Dogs in flight. Click for source.

(So, I couldn’t find a photo illustrating dogs with bad manners. These two are just REALLY excited to go outside…)

On Tuesday, I read the article “He Just Wants to Say ‘Hi’!” by Suzanne Clothier, who wrote one of my favorite books about human-dog relationships. Clothier’s basic premise is that we, as dog guardians, often misinterpret canine behavior and are frequently slow to recognize dogs with bad manners–especially if it’s our dog who is the rude one.

As Clothier says:

It never fails to amaze me how willing humans are to excuse and rationalize a dog’s rude behavior instead of teaching them good manners. Part of developing appropriate social behavior is learning that no matter how excited you may be, there are other folks in the world and certain basic rules of politeness still apply no matter how excited you may be.

I realized I had totally seen this in action when I was walking Bo at the park some months ago–and I was definitely the one at fault. While we were walking in the park, we passed a big cluster of dogs on leashes with their people. Bo happily bounded up to the group and was wagging all over the place. A woman with a pair of greyhounds walked over to let her dogs join the circle. Bo went over to greet the pair, and the senior male greyhound growled and snapped at him. His woman instantly jerked the dog’s collar and reprimanded him, saying to me, apologetically, “Sorry, he’s just a grumpy old man.”

But after reading Clothier’s article, I realized that I was the one who should have been apologizing. The old grey was just trying to teach the over-exuberant Bo some manners. Instead, we humans interpreted the greyhound as reacting “aggressively,” where it was Bo who was at fault. Bo listened closely to the greyhound’s reprimand, however, and immediately backed off. It was just us humans who didn’t understand what was going on. I wish I could see that woman again and tell her that her genteel old boy wasn’t the one to be scolded.

Clothier suggests that we need to pay more careful attention to the ways that our dogs interact with other dogs. We should be able to recognize when our own dogs are being rude AND when other dogs are approaching our own with impoliteness. While we can’t control other people’s dogs, we can be advocates for our own–and that sometimes involves physical action. Clothier writes:

I encourage handlers to be quite active in protecting their dog – whether that means quietly walking away to a safer area, or, when that’s not possible, literally stepping in physically to present the first line of defense. Stepping in between two dogs is a classic act of leadership. Dogs do it with other dogs all the time, so this same gesture coming from a human leader is understood and appreciated.

This simple act of stepping between an approaching rude dog can do a lot to defuse the situation, if you know your dog isn’t one to tolerate impoliteness. Finally, as she says, we have to remember that we are responsible for our dogs and we cannot expect perfection:

We cannot expect our dogs to be saints – at least not until we can rise to that level of tolerance ourselves. And that’s unlikely to happen any time soon. We can expect our dogs to be tolerant to the degree that we educate them, socialize them and protect them – with respect to their individual needs and boundaries.

I’m glad I read Clothier’s article and glad to have had my eyes opened to a particular aspect of canine behavior that I had previously misinterpreted.

How about you? How does your dog handle rudeness? Do you feel like you’re able to detect when your dog is being the impolite one? How do you defuse building tension between dogs?

Weekend with Bo (and the ZoomGroom)

I’m trying to get as much time as possible with Bo before he moves to Florida at the end of June, so I kidnapped him for most of this past weekend.

On Saturday, we walked briskly in the rain and then I brought him back to our apartment to test out the ZoomGroom I recently bought. I know it’s not the most effective brush for hair removal, but I had heard good things about its massaging powers and how much dogs seem to like it.

Pile of my fur
Goofball, with a small pile of fur behind him. (We hadn't really started yet.)

When I pulled the ZoomGroom out, he became extremely excited. I think he thought it was a new chew toy. After he calmed down a bit, I was able to use it and he seemed to enjoy the whole process. The brush did pull off a lot of fur (not nearly as much as a Furminator), but it was still a considerable amount for such a seemingly simple product.

Dog hair
My pants, post-grooming session.

My only critique is that the ZoomGroom seemed like it just loosened up a bunch of fur instead of collecting it. After grooming for about 10 minutes, he was just covered in even more loose fur than when we started. I don’t know if I was using it wrong or what, but I definitely won’t be using that indoors again. There was fur flying everywhere!

Bo baby
He's just happy all the time.

Still, he seemed to enjoy the whole session.

On Sunday, we went back to the trail and hiked briefly with Bo and our friends Matt and Liz. I was just daydreaming the whole time about how soon I’d be able to do this with my OWN dog.

Moving in two weeks and one day! But who’s counting?

6-mile trail walk with Bo

Bo! Photo by his mama.

On Saturday morning, Guion and I took Bo exploring along the trails near our future house. It was a beautiful morning and we ended up walking about six miles. We walked the last few miles of the marathon that was going on around town, too; Bo proved to be a welcome distraction for some (justifiably) exhausted marathoners. We used our new leather leash on the walk and I just loved it; it’s already so soft and strong and infinitely better than any nylon leash. Bo was delightful, as always. True to his nature, he was very distracted by the river and all its trappings and kept trying to sneak down an embankment and jump in. He’s pretty great. I am really going to miss that boy. His mama got into a graduate program in Florida and they’ll be moving down there this summer. Don’t want to think about it. I will miss them both something awful…

Hope you had an equally happy and sunny weekend!

Pup links!

A lady and her English cocker spaniel. Source: LIFE magazine archives.

Dog-related links from around the Web:

If the Characters in Downton Abbey Were Portrayed by Canine Actors… A friend shared this on my Facebook wall, and I just had to share it here, too. If you watch the period soap opera Downton Abbey, you will appreciate these comparisons. I think they’re pretty spot-on. Matthew is totally a golden retriever and Mary makes a lot of sense as a poodle. And, poor Edith! The Bedlington terrier! (Dogster)

How to Properly Care for Your Dog’s Teeth. Canine dental hygiene is usually pretty terrible, and, from my experience, it’s an easy thing to forget to take care of–and not exactly fun when you do. This is a thorough article, however, that reminds us all of why it’s very important to care for our dog’s pearly whites. (The Whole Dog Journal)

Investigating Halitosis. Related to doggy dental care, here’s a veterinarian’s list of possible causes of your dog’s terrible breath. (The Bark blog)

Where’s the Beef? Subtitle: “Why your dog should never eat another Milk Bone or Beggin Strip, and you should avoid the Slim Jims.” You won’t ever want to buy those products again after you read this article by Amy Renz. (Goodness Gracious Treats)

Identifying Merle. I grew up with a beautiful tricolor merle Australian shepherd and I’ve always had a fondness for merle coats, especially when they come from conscientious breeders. But I learned a ton from this post and learned that I’ve been incorrectly identifying some dogs as “merle” that really aren’t. Fascinating stuff. (Musings of a Biologist and a Dog Lover)

House Rules and Time-Outs. Aleksandra shares her wisdom about how they use “time-outs” to teach their newly adopted pitt, The Dude, some house manners. Great, gentle, and effective advice. (Love and a Six-Foot Leash)

Binq Design. If I was in the market for a tiny dog, and had a lot of cash to spare, I think I’d definitely consider these functional and attractive side tables + dog beds. They look like they’d be a nice place for a toy breed to hide out during family commotion. (Dog Milk)

Bambino vs. Fido: On Loving Dogs Less. Shauna, a pregnant blogger, reflects on how her relationship with her dogs will change–and stay the same–when she welcomes her baby into the world. I found this post very reassuring. As someone who hasn’t had kids yet but plans to one day, I confess I’m frankly terrified of the idea of emotionally displacing my future dogs. But, as she points out in this post, you don’t displace your dogs in your heart; you just make room. (Fido & Wino)

BFFs. Greyhounds snuggling on the couch. So cute. (Hiking Hounds)

Religious Dog Bumper Stickers. OK, pretend bumper stickers, but these still made me giggle. My favorite: “I’m Catholic but my corgi is affiliated with the Church of England.” (Dogs of the Interwebs)

Dog Refuses to Go Into Pool to Get Tennis Ball He Desperately Needs. In need of a laugh on this fine Tuesday? Look no further than this very, very determined golden retriever and his quest for one slightly out-of-reach tennis ball. (Best Week Ever)

On the intelligence of dogs

The smartest of them all? Click for source.

Many people like to cite Stanley Coren’s now notorious list of “the most intelligent dog breeds.” People who have breeds in the top 10 like to remind other people of such and tease those who have dogs who fall anywhere below Coren’s top 10.

Stanley Coren’s Top 10 Most Obedient Breeds

  1. Border collie
  2. Poodle
  3. German shepherd
  4. Golden retriever
  5. Doberman pinscher
  6. Shetland sheepdog
  7. Labrador retriever
  8. Papillon
  9. Rottweiler
  10. Australian cattle dog

*Cited in his book, The Intelligence of Dogs. Links are to my “Breed Love” posts.

I think the problem with this list is the title. As many before me have pointed out, and as Coren’s own study acknowledges in the fine print, this oft-cited list measures canine intelligence by how quickly or effectively dogs obey humans. His study is a nice measure of obedience, but that’s primarily what it is. A more accurate title might have been “the most obedient dog breeds.”

Hounds rank very low according to this list, but that’s because Coren’s study cannot measure the independent-thinking and creativity that is employed by most hounds, especially scent hounds.

I’ve noticed this with hounds, even in my short tenure as a volunteer at the SPCA. Our SPCA has a ton of scent hounds, because we live in a part of the countryside that is popular with hunters who employ large packs of hounds and then don’t keep track of them if one goes missing. That said, I spend a lot of time at the SPCA walking hounds. These hounds are notably unresponsive to humans. They often seem to look right past you at something else (or, more accurately, at some other, more interesting smell). But this doesn’t mean they’re unintelligent; it just means they’re harder to train. These hounds are rather adept problem solvers. They figure out what they want then they plot how to get it, with or without any human aid.

Sight hounds, in my limited experience, are also very intelligent but prefer to follow their own direction. (The Afghan hound is famously ranked last on Coren’s list, in terms of what he calls intelligence.) When you ask a sight hound to do something, I imagine their internal response to be something like Bartleby the Scrivener: “I would prefer not to.” They are independent and self-directed and seem to weigh the pros and cons of following your commands.

Selfishly, I’ve always really loved dogs from the herding group, because these are some of the most human-responsive dogs of all (many in the herding group are in Coren’s top 30 “most intelligent” breeds). My favorite breeds–Australian shepherds, German shepherds, and border collies, to name a few–are incredibly attuned to their people. These high-energy dogs were made to watch human faces, study human body language, and follow human directives in their line of intense work. I’ll probably always prefer these dogs, mainly because they are so easy to train, but I think this just means that I’m lazy/afraid of how frustrated I’d get with a less responsive dog.

But at the end of the day, this list doesn’t matter. Because we know the truth: We all have the smartest dog in the whole world.