Einstein Ain’t Got Nothin’ On Tonk!

It’s time for me to be honest, friends. I have a problem. It started out innocently enough, but it is something that has been worsening over the past 5+ years, and I can’t seem to get it under control. It has become an obsession of inappropriate proportions. When I’m not in close proximity to it, I talk about it, and when I’m not talking about it, I’m thinking about it. It can be incredibly embarrassing, and is interfering with some of my relationships. Most of you probably know what I’m talking about…

I’m obsessed with my dog.

Seriously though. I think Tonka is the bomb-dot-com, and I’m not afraid to let everyone know all the reasons why! Forget the ‘My child is an honors student’ bumper stickers… my dog is WAY smarter than your honors student! But whereas my bragging has always been very much subjective (or so I’m told…) I have finally found a verified tactic to support all of my obnoxious claims: that’s where Dognition comes in!

Dognition is a website designed by specialized canine scientists to evaluate your dog’s personality and intelligence. By putting your pup through his paces in the form of interactive games, Dognition intends to give you further insight into the intricacies of your dog’s preferences and learning style. More than that, the results of these games can be graphically compared to other Dognition dogs, as a whole or based on specifics such as gender, breed, or size. Dognition claims that this is a fun way to learn more about your pet while increasing your bond and relationship. Even more importantly, they believe what sets them apart is their example of ‘citizen science’ – their research can be conducted by everyone, not just people with Ph.D.s! This allows collaboration with dogs and owners all around the world, achieving a much quicker, broader (not to mention more natural and humane) understanding about dogs than what researchers would be able to do on their own.

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Of course, I couldn’t wait to get started with Tonka… After inputting his various physical statistics, as well as uploading a picture, we were ready to get started with their basic survey. This included questions about Tonka’s typical behavior and preferences. Some of the questions were pretty straightforward and logical as to their purpose (Does your dog typically get along with other dogs?) whereas others were a little more curious (Does your dog typically tangle his leash on your walks?) I was expecting that the completion of this survey would result in an initial baseline evaluation, but it did not.

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Nevertheless, the next step was to begin the series of games! They were broken up into 5 categories with various time estimates: Empathy, Communication, Cunning, Memory, and Reasoning.

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Each section suggested using a quiet room, free from distractions and other pets, as well as treats and a (human) partner. While it was fun to complete this with J, I would say that for a dog as perfect as Tonka (I told you, addiction is a disease. I can’t help it!) it probably isn’t necessary to have extra help. Some of the games also required miscellaneous household items, such as cups or sticky notes.

We only had time to complete the first three sections, and we had mixed reviews. It was fun to give Tonka some dedicated focus, and I can guarantee that he relished the one-on-one time. It was also nice to be able to see just how awesome he is (there I go again)… but seriously, I think any dog owner would be proud while watching their pup navigate their way through the games. The results seem to attempt to put a positive spin on any behavior, in order to help owners see the best in their pups.

My only frustration mostly resulted in the fact that there really wasn’t much feedback after each section was completed. While it was nice to see what Tonka’s results were, there wasn’t much explanation as to how the statistical data we reported resulted in their evaluations or why they came to those conclusions. The first two sections were very straight forward: for Empathy, Tonka scored high on the side of bonded, as opposed to individualistic, and for Communication, he scored high on the side of collaborative as opposed to self-reliant.

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Then we came to the Cunning portion. Essentially, the dogs were required, through a various set of circumstances, to stay in a sit while in the presence of a tasty treat. They were NOT to take the treat, even when we looked away or turned our backs or did a number of other designated behaviors, until they were given a release. Tonka, of course (guys, I seriously can’t control it) aced it every time… not ONCE did he go for the treat without my consent. However, even after I input this information, they told me that on a scale from trustworthy to wily, he scored directly in the middle. I still can’t figure out how with his perfect score, they came to that conclusion! I trust him more than I trust my husband KIDDING… but seriously.

My few concerns were answered willingly and warmly by a Dognition representative. She acknowledged that the team at Dognition works daily to make improvements as they receive new feedback from satisfied and interested customers. One of the things at the top of their priority list is just what I mentioned: giving additional feedback following each section of the assessment. If Dognition is this awesome as a start-up, just imagine what it will become as it grows and develops in the future!

This was a fun way to spend an evening with two of my favorite guys, and I think that Dognition is on to something great. One of my favorite things about Dognition as a company are their philanthropic efforts toward shelter animals. The Dognition Shelter Program aims to spotlight dogs who may be more commonly overlooked, perhaps due to special restrictions or other ‘less-desirable’ qualities. By quantitatively evaluating and recognizing these dogs for their other unique and appealing traits, the DSP has demonstrated incredible success in finding homes for them. What a great way to give the dogs some fun attention and enrichment, while providing an individualized resume for prospective adopters!

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Dognition has various options of enrollment, including a one-time fee ($19), monthly charges, or a yearly membership. If you are interested (and who wouldn’t be?!) Dognition has generously offered our readers 25% off of the yearly membership. All you have to do is enter this code: Tonka20

Let me know what you think! Have you tried, or even heard of Dognition before? If so, where do your dogs stand against the rest of the pack?

We Need Worry, We Need Grace

Any guesses as to why there was no post yesterday? I’ll make it easier for you by offering a multiple-choice exam…

A) Work-related stresses

B) Family-related stresses

C) Health-related stresses

D) Dog-related stresses

E) All of the above

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If you guessed E, you’d be right! Of course, if you guys are anything like me, the only one you’re most concerned about is D. Thankfully, all is well now, but unfortunately we took a SUPER fast, SUPER emergency trip to the Pittsburgh Veterinary Specialty & Emergency Center this week for everyone’s favorite gentleman, Tonka.

Foster Dad and I took a day-trip on Sunday to visit some good friends and family in the Philadelphia area. Thankfully we have the best friends in the world, two of whom happen to live right here in Pittsburgh, and they offered to hang out with the pups for the day. They reported that all went well, but on Monday Tonka had vomited four times. This is very out of character for him, but as he seemed fine otherwise, we went about life as normal.

The next day, however, he was not himself. See, Tonk is the type of guy who is the life of the party. You know, the man every pup wants to date and every dog wants to be. But on Tuesday, he was no social butterfly. He seemed listless and uncomfortable, and wanted to be alone. As the day went on, he started to have a hunched appearance and wasn’t moving around normally.  I thought he might have had something going on with his spine, and had planned to make an appointment for the next day with the animal chiropractor we used. However, after dinner that night, his symptoms became extreme, to the point that he refused to move. Typically, Tonka is stoic to the extreme: I don’t think I’d ever even heard him vocalize pain at all to this point. While I panicked with a non-responsive dog in my arms, J called the chiropractor, Dr. Dave, as our regular vet was closed for the evening. Unfortunately, after explaining the symptoms, our worries were confirmed as Dr. Dave rushed J off the phone and told him to get Tonka to the emergency vet immediately. He suspected that we were dealing with pancreatitis. Essentially, this is a severe and sudden inflammation of the pancreas, and despite aggressive treatment, it can have a high mortality rate. The pancreas serves to digest the food, but in cases of pancreatitis, the digestive enzymes are released too quickly and begin to act on the organ itself, which causes a cascade of devastating events within the body.

I won’t bore you with all of the details, but after a terrifying 45-minute drive to the emergency clinic in which Tonka began to go into shock, we eventually got to the clinic and were seen almost immediately. Blood was drawn, radiographs were taken, IV’s were administered, and options were discussed, but thankfully pancreatitis did not seem to be on the table. After a few hours of pain meds, fluids, and nutrients, Tonka-Tue was on his way to recovery.

In the end, the worst part about the evening’s outcome was the astounding bill we had to pay, but I know I don’t have to explain it to any of you when I say it was worth every penny. Emergency scenarios of any kind truly put into perspective that we must always treasure our loved ones.

Some of you have been here long enough to have read the post in which I wrote a letter to Tonka about how much he meant to me, and why. It is one of my favorite pieces of all time. With so much focus on the rescues, as well as the girls who require a lot of management and reminders, it can be so easy to let my special guy fall to the side. The good dog, the easy dog, the quiet dog, the friendly dog… there is nothing about Tonka that is less than perfection, and yet, he suffers for it.

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As I write this, he rests at my feet, tail thumping with every deep exhale or pause from the keyboard. There is something so special, so intuitive about this dog. When a foster comes into our home, he looks at me silently as they bump into him or try to steal his food. He sits patiently for pets from children and tugs from babies, and finds the perfect spot to snuggle when tears are shed. While out on the trail, the other dogs blazing ahead for new smells and discoveries, it is Tonka who returns to me with regularity, to check that I’m not far behind. He will always choose me… over food, other dogs, or even rabbits and squirrels, but yet he is calm and confident when alone. When Gaige and Georgia bark or growl at strange sounds in the night, it is Tonka who bravely investigates in front of the pack, forging through the darkness without hesitation. Without any practice or refreshers, or even food as motivation, he will dazzle a crowd with his bag of tricks. He has slept without complaint for thousands of miles as my co-pilot, and watched protectively from just outside the dusty arena as I spent hours in the saddle, practicing and honing my skills. He has quietly occupied himself during my study sessions, even when I would forget to let him out or write straight through his dinnertime, and truly protected me when our safety was on the line. Never a complaint, never a bad day, never an accident or mistake, and certainly never accusations, guilt, or judgement. Whenever I look to him or snuggle him or praise him or acknowledge him, he doesn’t remember all of the times I’ve fallen short, but delights in the present and the attention that showers him. Couldn’t we all stand to be a little more like Tonka?

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Tonka’s greatest gift to me is the gift of grace. How many days do I waste with worry, wondering what if, second-guessing my approach or others’ perceptions? I wonder, have I spent my days wisely? I worry that I focus too much on the have-to’s, and then stress that I haven’t soaked up every minute. How many days end with feelings of failure? Well, none of them that also end with Tonka snuggles. He reminds me that I’ve done at least a few things right in the world.

So thanks for understanding why things were a little quiet on the blog front yesterday. My man and I both needed some extra attention… for him, to soothe away the sickies, and for me, to remind myself that to him, I’m always enough.

How to Vacation with Your Dog…

And live to tell the tail tale!

Rule #1: Don't have your parents take your family photos. Just don't...

Rule #1: Don’t have your parents take your family photos. Just don’t…

Thank you to our readers for being so patient last week while we were vacationing with family in the Outer Banks! I had hoped to sneak in a few posts throughout our time away, but a lack of consistent internet access made that goal almost impossible. Nevertheless, the blog and our readers were never far from my mind!

We so enjoyed our time away, but more than that, we relished the opportunity to enjoy it with our best boy, Tonka. Having our dog on vacation brought an added level of enjoyment to our trip. However, we also saw lots of owners and pups on the beach that maybe hadn’t taken the time to fully think through their plans. Because of that, we want to share with you our tips for a vacation that is enjoyable for both you, and your pups!

1) Put yourself in their… er, paws.

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Is your dog a seasoned traveler, or a vehicle vomiter? Is he or she able to be comfortable in new environments, or do they prefer their home and regular routine? Are they a dog that prefers your companionship to all else, or do you have a regular dog sitter or boarding facility that your pup adores?

Rather than thinking about what is most enjoyable or convenient for you, take time to consider your dog’s preferences. If he or she is not going to fully enjoy the vacation, then you can bet that it will be more stressful for the rest of the family as well.

Tonka is a dog that will never be as content without me as he is when he is in my presence. He loves traveling, but makes it easy on me by sleeping the whole trip. Conversely, Gaige is pretty much the same dog regardless of who is around or where she is, while Georgia feels most comfortable in her home environment. Because of all of that, it was simple for us to decide which dog came along for the ride, and which stayed in the safety of our home.

2) Consider your destination

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The OBX beaches are notoriously dog-friendly. Many local stores even welcome dogs into their buildings! It is also a fairly easy drive for us, which made it easier on Tonka, as well. If we had been considering a flight, there is no way we would have put any of our dogs through that stress for a short vacation.

Furthermore, we were sure to do our homework up front. Our beach house rental was dog-friendly, and we researched the local beach and leash-laws as they applied to dogs. We also had the number and location of the local vet on-hand, in case of any emergency. Finally, we were sure to check Tonka’s tags and licenses in order to keep him safe in case of unforeseen circumstances that might separate him from us.

3) How easy is it for you to manage your dog?

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If your dog is a hand-full at home, expect for their behavior to be dramatized while in a novel environment. Things will be hectic at times, and there will be lots of new sights and smells. If you have difficulty handling your dog at home, chances are that those issues will only be exacerbated on your vacation. You are going away to decompress and relax… if bringing your dog along will only increase your anxiety, then it isn’t worth it for either of you! In that case, he or she will have a much more enjoyable time at home with a friend or at a boarding facility.

Tonka will stop on a dime at the sound of my voice, and will never venture more than a few feet from my side, even when off-leash or in hot pursuit of a sandpiper! Because of that, I knew it would be stress-free to have him join us. On the other hand, Gaige is notoriously naughty, and I knew that if we brought her along, some sort of comical troubles would ensue!

4) Be prepared to make new friends!

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While we were mindful of leash laws and appropriate dog interactions, remember that others, both tourists and locals, may not be so respectful. It is important that your dog be well-socialized in order to justify a trip to the beach, or you may risk an ugly situation. From our experience, the beach during vacation season is probably not the best place for a reactive or defensive dog, only because there are so many elements that are outside of your control. Keeping such a pup in the safety of their own home is probably the best option.

If your dog is friendly with other pups, then he will have a blast at the Outer Banks beaches! Many of them turn in to rowdy dog parks, with dogs frolicking and chasing each other through the sand and waves. Conversely, be sure to respect local leash laws and other dogs (or humans!) who may not feel comfortable in such an environment by maintaining appropriate control of your dog at all times.

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5) Embrace the mess

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Water + Sand = Mud. Rinse. Repeat. (x100…)

That was essentially the theme of our vacation! We couldn’t get enough of seeing Tonka revert back to his puppy-like antics on the beach. We enjoyed it so much in fact, that we didn’t really mind having to bathe him after every jaunt out to the water. However, it helped that we packed lots of extra towels, casual clothes, and spare collars and leashes.

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6) Be Mindful of the Weather and All that it Entails

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It was very difficult for me to see owners who drug their dogs out onto the beaches on the hottest days, and didn’t provide them with any shelter or fresh water. You know that sand and black pavement that are too hot for you to step on without shoes? Remember that it is just as painful for your pups. No dog will enjoy the beach during the hottest days, so be sure to have adequate accommodations at your rental to keep him or her safely secured and entertained while you lay out or enjoy the surf. Tonka enjoyed every second of his early morning and evening romps in the water, and snoozed soundly while we were away during the heat of the day. That way, we didn’t have to worry about lugging jugs of water or having burned paw pads.

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When all else fails... bury your head in the sand!

When all else fails… bury your head in the sand!

As for vacationing with your pet goat? Sorry, you’re on your own. But maybe this guy can help…

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Confessions of an Ignorant Dog Owner

I want to share with all of you an experience that I once had, years ago. I’m not sure if I am sharing this for the sake of full disclosure, to rid myself of some guilt, or to educate others, but I do know that I feel it is important to share. SO here goes…

Some of you may know that I got Tonka when I was just finishing high school, which I did a year early, and so I was only 17 years old. However, I took this responsibility very seriously. Having temporarily retired from my competitive horseback riding career, training and socializing Tonk became my hobby, and so it filled many of my waking hours. Yeah, there is probably a psychology lesson in there somewhere, but let’s just say that I put every ounce of heart and sweat into his upbringing.

Baby Tonk

Baby Tonk

When I went on to college, it was no surprise that he went with me. He was everyone’s favorite pup. He was the type of dog that could calm even the most reactive of dogs, and do it well. It took a lot to ruffle his coat.

Helping me study

Helping me study

The amazing farm where I had an equally amazing experience... but the same was not true for Tonk =/

The amazing farm where I had an equally amazing experience… but the same was not true for Tonk =/

A few years later, when Tonka was 3 or 4 years old, I took a summer internship on a horse farm in VA. It was a dream job, even though the hours were exhausting. Best of all, I could take my pup with me (as if I would accept a job otherwise!) The only downside? The owner, who I deeply respected and admired, bred Labs. That was all fine and dandy, but his male lab, Chase, was quite a handful. Of course being intact and overflowing with hormones, Chase had little respect for anyone, and nothing in the way of manners. He did what he wanted, when he wanted, and it didn’t really matter who tried to stand in his way. Unfortunately, Chase took a quick disliking to Tonka. Tonka would try to avoid him, but if I was standing between the two, he never hesitated to defend me. I did my best to keep the dogs separated, but Chase’s owner seemed intent that the dogs would eventually work it out themselves. Of course, that never happened. Over the course of the summer, Chase attacked Tonka three separate times, and did the same with two other dogs. Once, when one of the other dog’s owners interfered with the attack, she suffered a nasty bite herself, for which I took her to the emergency room an hour away in the middle of the night. These weren’t just your run of the mill dog fights… they were serious aggression issues. Tonka still has white scars on his face that tell the story.

This was Luke, one of Tonk's friends on the farm, and one of the first pitties I knew personally!

This was Luke, one of Tonk’s friends on the farm, and one of the first pitties I knew personally!

That summer seemed to instill in Tonka a mild yet lasting distrust of other dogs, particularly males. Of course I couldn’t blame him. At the same time, I felt such immense guilt for not being better able to protect my dog from Chase and his ignorant owner. However, the man was thrice my age, and was responsible for my wages, job, and living arrangements. To say it was a delicate situation is to put it mildly.

Getting to work with your dog was pretty much the best thing ever...

Getting to work with your dog was pretty much the best thing ever…

When we returned to State College that fall, I made it my mission to improve Tonka’s socialization in order to bring him back to where he had been previously. At the time, I thought that the best way to do this was to visit the dog park. For a while, this worked wonders. Tonka loved going to the park and interacting with the other dogs and owners, most of whom we knew by name. For a long time, we did not experience any issues. However, in a college town, you can expect that not everyone who frequented the park was a responsible dog owner.

Dog park dog

Dog park dog

On one sunny afternoon after I was finished with class for the day, Tonka and I were playing fetch in an empty corner of the dog park. He was totally relaxed and focused on the task at hand, enjoying some one-on-one time with his mama. Usually the center of the pack, he was content to play with me while the other dogs wrestled and played probably 100+ feet away from us. All of the sudden, out of nowhere, a male boxer who had just entered the park, ran past the other dogs and people, and literally came flying straight at my dog (like, so fast he was truly a blur), straight into his side, with such force that Tonka was instantly knocked to the ground. This dog, for no obvious reason, began attacking Tonk. Without any conscious thought, I ran over to the dogs and started kicking the boxer that was still on top of Tonka. I still don’t know what prompted me to do that, but I can guarantee that it was a gut reaction to a traumatic situation. I know that I was not kicking him with full force, or at all to try to hurt him, but enough so as to dislodge him without getting bitten in the process. I also know that it only took one or two kicks to redirect his attention… I was not repeatedly kicking a dog in the stomach. A few seconds later (although this all felt like an hour!) a young man, about my age, came and retrieved his dog by the collar. He seemed like a nice person, but he was irate at me for kicking his dog. He yelled something about his dog having fear issues, and how could I kick someone else’s dog? No apology or even acknowledgement of the fact that his dog had just attacked mine without any provocation. He quickly left the park. I was so shaken up that I don’t think I even said anything to him, either in apology or defense. I went to retrieve Tonka, who seemed to escape with a few minor injuries, at least of the physical variety. Some other dog owners came up to me to report that this was not the first time they had seen this boxer attack another dog, but nothing could really calm me. That was the last time I visited a dog park with Tonka, until this experience years later, with Gaige. (Long-time readers will remember that we had a less dramatic, but similar, experience with her.)

I don’t know what to say about the traumatic events that day. Of course, I feel terribly about kicking his dog. To this day, I wish I could contact the owner in apology. I’m sure his dog is not a horrible pup, and now being a person with a dog that can sometimes be reactive, I have so much compassion for both the owner and the pooch. At the same time, I was there, effectively by myself, and was trying to make a decision to save my dog. Do I think his dog was trying to kill Tonka? No, I do not. But in a traumatic situation, I don’t think my brain could process that. Furthermore, the fact that the attack was targeted and completely unprovoked made me feel as though the dog’s actions could not be predicted. Had the owner been in range to assist me, maybe he could have jumped in instead of leaving me to fend for myself. I still do not know how I would react if I were to be put in the same situation… which is just one of the many reasons that I will never go to a dog park again.

As I said when I began, I don’t know exactly why I decided to write this post today. Maybe it is to free myself of some guilt… guilt for the way I handled the situation at the dog park, and most especially, guilt for the fact that I feel I have failed Tonka as far as standing up for him in stressful situations. Of course I now know better, but I wish I could have spared him some of these experiences. Perhaps by sharing this, it will help other dogs whose owners are as well-meaning yet uninformed as I once was.

Getting our Paws Wet!

jumpusFriends… we did something so, SO cool this weekend!

While visiting family in the Richmond, VA area, we made time to visit the Dominion Riverrock Festival. Set against the backdrop of downtown Richmond’s urban cityscape and river front, the festival brings athletes, spectators, chefs, musicians, and the general community together. It is an outdoor lifestyle festival, making it possible for visitors to experience adventures including trail running, kayaking, biking, bouldering, slacklining, stand up paddleboarding, and (drum roll please!) dog dock jumping. Any guesses as to where this is headed?!

Some of you may know that our Tonka-Tue is a lifelong water lover. His favorite way to spend a day is by running after a stick or ball as it is endlessly tossed into the water. Whether from land or dock, he dives enthusiastically into the blue depths with reckless abandon.

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jumpprev1 I visited the Dominion Riverrock Festival a few years ago, and was amazed by the Ultimate Air Dogs competition. I just knew that I had to find a way to make Tonka a part of it!

jumpcollieOf course, life had other plans, and I became busy with school, horses, etc. While each trip to the river would remind me of Tonka’s aspirations, the competitive side of things took a back seat.

Fast forward to 2013… we had already made plans to visit VA this past weekend, and then realized at the last second that it happened to be the same date of this year’s Riverrock. What better way to get our feet wet?! (Literally!)

Look at this little peanut! Any pup can be a dock dog!

Look at this little peanut! Any pup can be a dock dog!

It was amazing to see so many happy dogs and dedicated owners all gathered in one place. Many of the pups were rescue or shelter dogs, and their happiness was palpable. The owners were all so proud of their pups, whether they were seasoned competitors or novice jumpers.

Look at this cutie pie!

What a cutie pie!

jumplabOf all of the demonstrations at the festival, the dock diving dogs certainly saw the most visitor traffic!

jumpmisc2The rules behind the competition are pretty straight forward. The owner throws a toy into the water, the dog runs and jumps into the water to retrieve it. Where the base of their tail hits the water is the measurement that is recorded to be compared to the other dogs. The best of two jumps is the official score.

This pooch was trained to come running at a moment's notice... he would leap into the water to show novice dogs where and how to climb out!

This pooch was trained to come running at a moment’s notice… he would leap into the water to show novice dogs where and how to climb out!

jumpmisc1Tonka, of course, was such a perfect gentleman. In an environment that was at times chaotic and fraught with tension, he maintained his composure and relished the opportunity to show his skills. He remained 100% focused on me at all times… that dog makes me look so, so good. He was definitely a crowd favorite.

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Waiting in line for our turn

The 'wonderful' photos that my mother took for us ;)

The ‘wonderful’ photos that my mother took for us 😉

Thank goodness that a kind stranger in the audience happened to get a great shot and share it with us… that’s my boy!!!

Look at the faces of the spectators!

Look at the faces of the spectators!

We are in the process of researching some local groups that offer the dock diving competitions. It is such a great way to let your dog burn some energy, while also building the relationship you share with your pup. I definitely recommend checking this out!

Why Dogs?

Why dogs? What is it about these furry, funny creatures that can capture our hearts and change our lives? We (I use this term loosely!) dress our dogs up, afford them the best of medical care, take them to meet Santa Paws, provide them with quality organic food, and even throw them birthday parties… in the last 15 years, the US jumped from $17 billion to $43 billion in the amount of money we spend on our pets.

But if you are reading this blog, it is safe to say that you probably agree that loving our dogs is not all about the money. In fact, the financial ‘investment’ is probably the furthest thing from most of our minds. Loving our dogs is about loyalty and companionship, entertainment and comfort. But, the question remains: why dogs? Why not pigs or horses, or even inanimate items that constitute hobbies… trucks, fishing poles, etc?

Is it the way they love? Unapologetically and without restraint. Tongues flying, paws prancing and scrambling, they want to get as close to us as possible. They rest their heavy heads on our knees, as their deep eyes look into our own, expressing what their mouths cannot. Scientists may argue that this ‘adoration’ is simply an appropriate appreciation of resources, and acknowledgement of the vessels that provide them (ie: we bring home the bacon). However, I argue that all dog lovers know the difference between a friend’s dog, staring longingly into our eyes while we nom down on a burger, and our own dog’s adoring glances when we’ve been away for an extended any amount of time. Not to mention, what about when that loyalty extends to those members of the family who are not the ‘pack leaders’? Many new parents discover a new found love for their dogs, once two-legged puppies enter the scene. When properly introduced, dogs can take on a role that is fiercely protective of the children in their family, who have no resources to offer in exchange. Many adults will look back on their childhood most fondly when recalling memories that highlight their family dogs. Perhaps even more noteworthy, is the fact that dogs who have been socialized appropriately may display affection toward other (prey?) animals in the house, be it dogs, cats, and even bunnies.

Via tumblr

Via tumblr

Perhaps it is their zest for life, their passion, if you will. Watching a dog run and tumble in hot pursuit of a bouncing ball, or dashing and splashing their way into a cool pond is enough to bring a smile to even the most cynical among us. They bring a uniquely lighthearted intensity and exhuberance to everything they pursuit, be it chasing birds, stealing food from the table or hard-core napping. For many dogs, even training can be fun, and our pups respond almost as if they want to help us learn!

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Is it their obedience? It can’t be that, because Gaige doesn’t have an obedient bone in her body, and yet still, she is the apple of her dad’s our eyes! In fact, it is sometimes in her contrary disobedience that we are nevertheless able to so clearly see the depth of our affections for her.

Perhaps it is their honesty. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never met a dog with a particularly good poker face. Even with three pups in our house, if I walk in to a plate pulled off of the counter (Georgia) or a chewed shoe (Gaige), their guilty mugs identify the perpetrator almost immediately. Even more worthwhile are their honest evaluations of the people they encounter in their environments. I will trust Tonka’s perceptions of character over any reference or compliment I hear, because his reservations have never once been wrong.

My boys <3

My boys ❤

We cannot forgot the dog’s intelligence. Sometimes during a particularly intense training session, it seems as if Georgia’s mind is working so hard, I can actually see the lightbulbs flickering and eventually turning all the way on. Dogs are intelligent creatures, but more than the way they learn, is what they perceive. They seem to possess a wisdom far beyond their years, and hold the secrets to some of life’s most lingering questions. The greatest lessons I’ve learned in life, have come from my dog.

You have to give dogs points for their patience, which I must admit, is commendable if for no other reason than that most of us don’t possess much of this attribute ourselves. This trait is visible not just when it comes to begging endlessly for food. Our dogs spend their lives waiting for us… waiting for us to come home, waiting for us to understand their requests, waiting for us to broaden their environment to walks and adventures. They wait for us, not with frustration or annoyance, but with an unbridled joy when we finally return, get it, or explore. Another trait that humans should envy is the innate confidence that many dogs possess, which is admirable because it often exists regardless of physical stature or athletic abilities. The tiny Chihuahua isn’t afraid to yap at the massive Dane, and the diminutive Corgi doesn’t hesitate to dive head-first into the water.

I think my favorite canine trait is loyalty, which I believe to be different than love. No matter how the days pass, full of activity and outdoor romps, or spent lazily indoors, our dogs greet us with the same frivolity, regard us with the same adoration, and protect us with the same courage. They forgive us when we are unclear or inconsistent, and are always looking toward the future. Although our dogs have memories, or at least recollections, that allow them to recall where they hid their favorite toys or just why they hate the bath tub, they are quick to forget our mistakes and flaws.

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You may most admire their companionship and observance (and I’m not just referring to the squirrels outside the window) by they way they move with you through the house, shadowing your steps in and out of rooms, never letting you out of their sight for more than a few minutes at a time (unfortunately, even when it comes to the bathroom!). Again, cynics may suggest that this behavior is simply a creature being on the alert, anticipating the possibility of potential rewards such as outdoor romps or surprise snacks. I prefer the belief that my dogs can’t bear to let me out of their sight. For our dogs, not only must they keep an eye on us, but they prefer to be physically touching us: laying on our feet, nestled against our body, or heads resting on our hands. They romp through the woods, running far ahead, but occasionally turning back to us for a quick pat on the head, seemingly reassured by our presence. Not to mention, what person do you know that would be happy to go along for a car ride with you, no matter the destination or length, just content to be by your side?

Dogs are endlessly resilient and courageous. To meet Georgia is to know nothing of the neglectful past she has endured, and the same can be said for so many dogs who have experienced trauma and violence. Their courage is impressive, seen time and again in stories of devoted dogs laying down their lives to defend their  family members. The next time you roll your eyes or yell as your dog barks ferociously at the door, take a second to analyze that act. Sure, it could be a hyper-active overreaction to the mailman. At the same time, how many of our dogs would valiantly defend us with everything they have? I know I would be my own life on mine…

Those of us who work with rescued dogs, who may have seen horrors we cannot imagine, may point out that not all dogs exemplify this list. Certainly, some dogs become withdrawn from play, and are hesitant to embrace the environment around them, etc. But somewhere inside of these dogs, is a little soul that yearns to be cuddled and protected. In spite of their fears, in their hearts lies a fighting spirit that enabled them to endure their tragic past. It may take time for traumatized animals to come back to their natural state, and maybe some won’t ever recover completely, but I believe that this list describes what we all know to be the essential Man’s Best Friend . Sure, there are some quirky dogs that just don’t fit these stereotypical tendencies… and yet their owners love them all the more for it! The dogs that are ornery, difficult, and aloof can sometimes inspire the most devoted companionship out of us.

At the end of the day, I think most of us can agree that the reasons and the depth of loving our dogs are one of the few things in life that defy words, and travel just out of the grasp of language. Nevertheless, we try. So tell me: what is it about dogs, or perhaps your dog in particular, that you are over-the-moon about, and just can’t get enough of? There just might be a giveaway in exchange for your answer! (But I’ll choose to believe that you would answer even without the bribe 😉 )