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Homeschooling Your Dogs

5 Oct

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I homeschool my wiener dogs and have for years. They learn better without all the distractions that can happen in a large classroom. And I feel better knowing that no one is taunting them for their short legs and long bodies.

In case you are thinking of trying homeschooling yourself, let me share with you my dogs’ daily class schedule to help you set up your own canine curriculum.

1st period: Music. I play either my thumb-harp or guitar very badly – as is my way – and they howl along in delight – or anguish. Sometimes it’s hard to tell. The goal here is to get them to sing every morning because studies show that music improves learning and retention. Alternative: If you live near a fire station, rather than schedule music class first thing every morning, be flexible and start your lesson whenever sirens go off. If you have a reluctant singer, start the howling yourself.

2nd period: P.E. Regular exercise is vital for both the brain and body, so I like to make sure that my dogs get theirs in early every day. Probably the most important suggestion I have for you is that it’s important to tailor the class for each dog so that they stay interested and motivated and less likely to bite your ankles (or your knees, for those of you with taller dogs).

Here’s our current schedule: Murray’s class consist of 30 minutes of my tossing the ball down the hall, his retrieving it and then making me chase him around my desk to pry it from his mouth. We both wear a Fitbit to keep track of our steps, but I multiply his by 7. Katja gets her physical activity by running in the back yard chasing squirrels, then coming inside and demanding I open the other door so she can do the same in the front yard. I get a nice upper body workout from opening and closing doors 200-300 times during class. Sanders is in a higher grade and his PE class consists simply of circling on a pillow until it is soft enough for a nap. I try not to join him, but sometimes the teacher needs a break.

3rd period: Ethics. If we’ve learned anything from the world in the last few years, it’s that everyone could use some more instruction of wrong and right, good and evil, friend and foe. In our class, we concentrate specifically on who NOT to bite (mail carrier, trash man, friends, improv troupe) and who TO bite (ex-husbands, anyone trying to get me to vote against my own reproductive rights. We also have a unit on who NOT to hump (basically everyone, unless consent is given). Consent is a regular topic of discussion and I am proud to say that my dogs understand what that means better than most human men.

4th period: Art. Stimulating canine creativity is vital to success later in life, so we do some form of art every day. In the spring, class consists primarily of painting all the windows in the house with nose prints. These paintings are monochromatic and primal and would probably sell for big bucks in a gallery, but we’re not in this for the money. In the fall and winter, art class consists of dragging leaves and mud into the house and stomping them firmly into the rugs and furniture. This is messy, but the colors are delightful and justify purchasing a new vacuum cleaner.

5th period: Math and Science. There are many ways to teach math to your dogs in a way that is both fun and informative. For example, I put five cookies in my palm and offer two each to two dogs and only one to the other. Every time, the shortchanged dog will growl and insist that s/he needs another, showing that s/he is able to do both division and addition. Most of our science lessons, on the other hand, revolve around gravity and take place in the kitchen around meal preparation.

6th period: Field trips. We take ours literally to a field somewhere nearby. This not only gets everyone out of the house, it allows the dogs an opportunity to learn wildlife identification techniques. For example, I may ask, “Whose poo is that?” or “Was that hole dug by a gopher, a mole, or a Republican Senator emerging from the bowels of hell?”

You, of course, will want to tailor your curriculum so that it meets the specific academic needs of your pooch or pooches. But if you stick to it, you will succeed as a canine home-school teacher, as I have. I am proud to say that right now, all three of my hounds are on the Dean’s list! Cookies for everyone!

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Having the Birds & the Squirrels Talk

6 Sep

Katja insists on barking at each bird and squirrel that dares visit our yard, even momentarily. So today, we sat down on her bed (also known as the sofa) and had the birds & squirrels talk.

Me: Honey, I don’t know what you’ve heard from the older dogs, but when a woman and a computer are having relations, it’s best when you don’t bark ALL THE TIME.

Katja: But if I don’t interrupt them, they could make babies! And then there would be more of them! And more barking! Really, I’m trying to prevent wildlife overpopulation.

Me: That’s not your responsibility, honey. Don’t do what all the other dogs do just because you feel peer pressure.

Katja: Oh, I don’t follow the pack. I lead it.

Me: Well, it’s really distracting from my job.

Katja: I thought your job was to open the doors to let me in and out and occasionally to lift me up so that I can smell higher up the tree to determine just what kind of squirrel or bird situation we’re dealing with.

Me: You’re right. That is part of my job. But I also need to write on the computer so that I can make enough money to afford food and treats and gas to put in the car so I can drive you to parks.

Katja: I love parks! There are so many different squirrels and birds to bark at. I do tire of the same old faces at home.

Me: Okay, then, so it’s agreed. You’ll let me have some peace and quiet so I can write something and afford the luxury you’ve gotten accustomed to.

Katja: OMD! Squirrels! Two of them! BARKBARKBARKBARKBARK!

Me searching the internet for YouTube videos on how to effectively communicate with a teenage dog: Alrighty, then.

Triple Threat

19 Aug

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My best number of dogs is three. Sure, I’d like ALL THE DOGS, but I have determined that three is a better choice for my sanity.

One dog means one lonely dog who chews up everything and makes you feel super guilty every time you leave the house. And there will probably be howling at home and you’re sure that no matter where you are, you can hear it.

Two dogs means each has company, but when you have to take one dog to the vet or for a spa day at Spot’s Spotless Spa and Spaghetti Spot, then you’re left with one dog at home, which as we have already determined means everything gets chewed up and you feel super guilty. More so even because now that one lonely dog is a dog who isn’t used to being home alone EVER. Your mom hearing will pick up even sadder howling in the wind, the kind that dogs who get lost in the woods do when they’re sure they’re going to have to join a herd of deer because they’ll never see their pack again.

But when you have three dogs, all these problems are solved. Whenever you leave with one dog, two are still home, keeping each other company.  So what if every time you go for a walk, you get caught in a tangle of macramed leashes and while you’re trying to unwrap your legs before the blood flow is cut off, a big dog walks by and now you have pack mentality happening and all three of yours decide to bark and growl and attempt to rush at the big dog who turns out to be your neighbor’s Golden Retriever, who is the sweetest Golden Retriever in the history of the breed and now she’s cowering behind her owner and you’re sucking blood off your knuckles while yelling an apology over the cacophany.

IT’S ALL WORTH IT BECAUSE NO ONE IS LONELY (CAN YOU HEAR ME OVER THE BARKING?)

Will You Be My Dog Friend?

10 Jun

When it comes to small talk with strange dogs, does the cat have your tongue?

Let’s face it, not every human knows how to make a good impression on canines and their humans in social situations such as neighborhood walks, treks to the dog park, and Sweet 16 birthday parties with squirrel-shaped piñatas. It’s hard to get past first base (tail wagging) to second (invitation to scratch between the ears) if you’re drooling like a Mastiff who has just had a root canal. And forget about third base (sloppy kisses all over your face and ears), if you’re hemming and hawing more than an astronomy professor at a Flat Earth Society meeting.

Fortunately, we, the Jasheway dogs, are here to offer our best advice gleaned in our combined 22 human-years of experience with people who were clearly not socialized well at a young age. We bark and bark at those people and still they don’t learn. In order to make our tips easier for you humans to understand, we’ve granted our mother permission to type them out on her computer. This activity will also keep her off Facebook, where she spends way too much time lately signing petitions and yelling at the screen.

Before we get started, make sure you are sitting. Sit. Now stay. Good human.

Phrases to avoid because they make you look sad and desperate – We’ve been around the block a few thousand times and there are certain cliched dog pick-up lines that never work with us. You should exclude all of these from your playbook:

  • Who’s walking who? This one makes us bite our tongues to not correct your grammar.
  • Don’t look now, but there’s a pack of dogs following you. This one is used on our human and it impresses her even less than muddy pawprints on the bedspread.
  • Oh, look! A parade! Yes, there are four of us and a stroller, but what kind of pitiful parades do you attend? When we hear this, we feel that you’re judging us for not having put on costumes and hired a marching band before heading outside.
  • I’d better guard my ankles! This line may only be used with those of us who are low-riders, but whenever we hear it, we start imagining what your ankles taste like. We’re guessing sesame-garlic tofu.

Avoiding gender confusion – Sure, you can walk up to a Golden Retriever, a Pibble or  Pookimo (American Eskimo + Poodle) and stumble over your words as you try to guess whether you’re talking to a good girl or a good boy, all the while trying to take a sneak peak down under. Or you can call every dog you meet “it” in an attempt to not offend us.

            Here’s the thing: We’re not hung up on gender or gender labels. We’re fluid, like the water coming from a sprinkler on a hot summer’s day, especially those of us who have been fixed. So, just call us “good dog” and be done with it. However, we will not abide by being called “it.” How would you like it if we called your human child “it”? Are we a table, a ball, or jar of peanut butter that was left too close to the edge of the table that we accidentally knocked it to the floor and not only cleaned all the yummy spread out but then proceeded to chew through the plastic? We are not! Either call us by our name or use the singular “they” pronoun, which is great because it works for dogs AND humans!

Speaking of which, ask us our name – Sure, it’s right there on our collar, but if you’re socially inept, chances are we’ll run circles around you, tying you in knots and bringing you to your knees on the dog path before we’ll let you take a gander at our ID tag. The polite thing to do is ask the human. After all, they are probably profoundly proud of the moniker they’ve created for us, despite the fact that some of us are definitely not a “Katja” or a “Murray” – we’re clearly a “Princess” and a “Sir Lancelot,” but we go along to get along. That’s what makes us good dogs. Even though one of us is a princess and the other solves crimes.

By the way, you may also want to ask the human their name. This is not entirely necessary, but the extra work is appreciated and can improve your chances of creating a lasting connection.

Last, prepare some lines in advance – We’ve already established that you’re not that quick on your paws, so it would help to be prepared, like those Boy Scouts we always bark at when they show up at the front door asking for our cans and bottles. For the last time, our garbage is ours!

Here are some lines you might try (although we encourage you to come up with your own too):

  • What’s a good dog like you doing in a park like this?
  • Do you come to this fire hydrant often?
  • I don’t have to ask what your sign is. It’s Beware of falling in love with dog.
  • Want to know a secret? Cats freak me out too.
  • Your eyes are the color of a really fine kibble, the kind that comes in a box, not a bag.

Keep in mind that we dogs are all unique individuals and not every line will work on all of us, but it certainly will help you to have something up your sleeve (which at least you have. We can’t keep anything up our sleeves). That way, the next time your mouth gets dry and you shift from foot-to-foot trying to think of just the right thing to say, you won’t be at a total loss.

Well, that’s our best advice to you. Good luck and may dogs be with you.

The Heart is a Muscle

22 May

Whenever we lose a family member, we feel that our heart is breaking. And sometimes we worry that it will never heal and feel whole again.

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That’s when we need to remind ourselves that our heart is a muscle and muscles need to stretch and flex and work to stay strong.

In the past six weeks, my heart has been through a workout that would put even Richard Simmons and Jillian Michaels to shame. And I did it all without putting on a pair of cross-trainers or strapping on a Fitbit.

These three adorable faces belong to the three dachshunds (although Murray, top left, reminds me that he’s a dachshund/kangaroo/Tasmanian Devil mix) who are making sure that I don’t let my heart sit around on the sofa, crying and eating popcorn — not when there are walks to take, squirrels to chase, bellies to rub, and love to spread.

Sanders (the strawberry blonde at the top) and Katja (the brindle who believes she is the reincarnation of Amelia Earhart) found me just when I needed them. Good thing they have excellent senses of smell because I was buried under some covers, hiding from the world, and perhaps desperately in need of a shower.

Murray, Sanders and Katja understand better than I do that they will not replace Watson and Penny, just as Watson and Penny did not replace Justin and Maddy Lou or Copper and Slate. What they are doing is replacing pain with joy, tears with laughter, self-focus with time spent trying to come up with something other than broccoli that Katja will eat or talk Sanders out of barking at everything that moves or throwing a half-eaten toy bear for Murray to fetch for the 8,713th time today.

Unlike the other muscles of the body, making a heart bigger and stronger simply requires opening it up to more love. And that’s my favorite kind of exercise.

Happy Dog Mother’s Day

13 May

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Photo credit: Mary Cruse

When you’re a dog mom, you know there are some things moms of humans have to deal with that will never be an issue for you — your dog will never get a tattoo or call for bail money or tell you she’s dropping out of college to form the Blue Woman Group, for example.

We mothers of canines — those of us who can’t see through our glasses because someone licked them and who consider a 3-pack of lint rollers the perfect Mother’s Day gift — we can expect constant love and devotion, a cold snout in warm places, welcome homes that surpass all others… and that our children will probably not outlive us, at least not in years on this earth.

Now that I am in my 34th year of dog momdom, the ebb and flow of life is clearer than ever to me. At this point, I have lost Copper, Slate, Maddy Lou, Justin, Penny and Watson, the last two sweethearts in the past six weeks. And I have adopted Sanders (right in photo above) and Katje (center) to join Murray (on the left). Katje has only been here two days and has just finished doggy orientation.

This Mother’s Day is bittersweet. I’m still mourning the loss of Penny, the world’s best garden helper and Watson, the dog who made me laugh out loud so many times that now the silence is deafening. But I’m also celebrating the three kids who are here with me on this warm and sunny day. All of us have been out pulling weeds, with Murray and Katje spending time exploring every bug and scent, while Sanders naps in a sunny spot in the dirt.

I thought I’d offer a few thoughts to all the dog moms out there on this, our special day:

  1.  As much as possible, live like your dog, fully present in the moment. Notice the world. Honor the fact that you are here another day. Run across the field with your tongue out.
  2. Enjoy everything. If your pup can fully celebrate the words “park” and “ride,” you can find the joy in everyday moments. If you have to use Cirque du Soleil skills to cook a meal without tripping over dogs underfoot, focus on the beauty of that, rather than the frustration.
  3. When it is time for your kids to leave, know that you will survive the heart break, the tears, and the “what ifs.” Your heart will forever carry scars shaped like paw prints, but love and laughter will get you through the first day and then all the rest. And the best place to find love and laughter is by adopting a new dog and making sure someone else who needs a mother has one.
  4. Even if no one else celebrates your momdom, you know that you’re a mother, even you’ve never birthed or raised human children. You know that there are no lengths to which you would not go to make sure your canine children have their best lives. And if you have a spouse, they probably know deep down that in an emergency, you’re saving the dog. Especially if said spouse did not get you a Happy Mother’s Day from the Dog card today.

 

Leigh Anne Jasheway is the author of 25 books, including her latest, The Dogs’ Guide to Human(Kind), available on her website, accidentalcomic.com.

 

What Doggone Grief Looks Like

8 May

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It’s been five weeks since Penny passed and one week since I lost Watson.

I do not spend my days lying in bed weeping. I have tried that with previous losses and it just makes me feel sadder and fatter from lack of exercise. Not to mention, I have two silly, sweet, hungry hounds who need my attention and would not tolerate my refusal to change out of my PJs and take them for walks and throw the ball and open and close the door 400 times a day.

Humans have this weird idea that everyone grieves in the same way, but it’s just not true. Some people can’t eat, while others eat everything in sight (“I fall into the latter category,” she says while finishing up a piece of vegan dark chocolate). Some people cry so much they really should drag around a saline drip to make sure they’re hydrated while others can’t make the tears come (I cry at dog food commercials, so that should tell you what category I’m in). Some people wear black and drag themselves through their days like Goth teenagers while other wear Hawaiian shirts hoping the bright colors will cheer them up (Aloha!).

One thing I do to process grief is write a lot of jokes. I’m a comedy writer and teacher. Processing negative emotions with humor is not only what I do, it’s what I teach others to do to help maintain their sanity. This week, I’ve written more than 100 jokes – not many of them about my dogs, but all of them fueled by their departure. Laughter works as a form of tension release and if you can create the laughter yourself, it’s even better.

There are other ways I’ve been grieving that some might consider odd:

  • I refuse to vacuum because what if I remove the last of Penny or Watson’s hair from the rug? (I know I’ll have to end this moratorium at some time, like when the dirt and dog hair gets so high my other short-legged pups have to wade through it. )
  • I wear Watson’s dog collar around my neck sometimes. And Penny’s occasionally as an ankle bracelet. Just around the house. Not out in public – although never say never.
  • When I’m feeling really down, I sprinkle some of my babies’ ashes in the back yard and sit with them.
  • I now have a co-pilot when I drive. It’s a worn-out koala hand puppet named “Koality Bear.” This bear has been in the back seat of the car for five years. It was Watson’s “humping bear.” Every time we went for a ride, he got so happy, he had to hump something, so Koality Bear, it was. Now Koality rides up front, strapped in with a seatbelt. Don’t worry, I won’t try to use the carpool lane.

What I’m saying is that as long as you’re not hurting yourself or anyone else, when it comes to processing grief, you do you. And if I see you wearing a dog collar in the store, we’ll give each other a knowing nod.

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