Tag Archives: dogs

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.

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.

Moment to Moment

26 Apr

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Early last month, I had three dogs sharing my heart, sofa, and most of my snack foods.

Late last month, there were only two, as Penny’s dementia and cancer became too hard for her and I made that decision no pet parent wants to make, but we all have to because that’s the contract we write in exchange for wagging tails, slobbery kisses, and being pulled down the street after yet another squirrel who dared dart in front of us.

Watson, at 15 and 3/4 and Murray at 4 had to take on extra duties. Fortunately, they were up to the task, as even in his advanced age, Watson could still hear, see, think, and walk (in his very slow manner). And Murray is always ready for extra kisses and definitely all the popcorn he can find by diving into my cleavage.

Five days ago, while doing landscaping as a volunteer at my local humane society, I met a 12-year-old dachshund named Beamer who had just come in and was looking for a new home. I started thinking seriously about it. Well, to be honest, I’d already been thinking about adding a new dog to the family, one who was older and who’d be willing to snuggle on the sofa while Murray and I played endless games of fetch at the nearby school.

Four days ago, while doing a training at the humane society, I sat down with Beamer and we discussed the advantages to both of us of his becoming one of my pack. I told him that I had floor heat (which cold doxies love), a south-facing bay window with a ramp up to it for him to use, and that I was easily trained. He told me that he was a good boy, a good kisser, and was not easily trained. I decided to start the adoption paperwork and bring Watson and Murray to meet him when he was done recovering from his dental extractions.

Three days ago,  like a freight train hitting the side of our house and shaking all of us to the core, Watson suddenly started exhibiting signs of dementia (getting lost, getting stuck, wandering), of losing his vision, and not wanting to walk. My big, handsome goofy man who just last week was flirting with a friend of mine (he’s always had a thing for the ladies) and humping his koala bear in the car before going to the park, got lost inside himself.

This boy has been the man in my life for six years and no human man could ever compare. He’s had cancer twice and is body is covered with very large lipomas, but when I look at him, I see my own heart beating steadily and happily. But now it’s skipping beats and the edges are ripping.

Yesterday, we went to the vet and then I headed towards the natural dog food store for supplements to help with cognitive function. If only they had an herb for a heart that knows what lies ahead.

Tomorrow is the day we are supposed to meet Beamer and see if he fits into our family. And I will put Watson in the stroller and try to contain Murray’s enthusiasm because love is love and as much as I know it will hurt in the end, living without it is not an option I ever want to explore.

Goodbye Penny: On Losing A Dog with Dementia

21 Mar

I helped my sweet girl Penny leave this life on Saturday. She had dementia and rapidly growing mammary tumors and things were getting worse quickly. I wanted to make sure her passage was peaceful, not panicked. A veterinarian came to the house and Penny lay on her sofa with her brothers and me at her side. Neil Young’s Only Love Can Break Your Heart played as she left us.

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But the truth is, like her brother Justin before her, Penny had been leaving for a long time. Dementia does that. The loss you feel for your beloved pet happens every day for months or years as you watch them lose their joy. The last time I saw Penny roll in the grass was last summer. Rolling in the grass had been one of her favorite past times. And instead of enjoying sitting in the sun as she always had, the brightness confused her and she would react as if startled and frightened. Just last week, we had a warm sunny day and I took her outside to sit in the grass, careful to point her away from the sun’s rays, but still she was not comfortable there. I carried her back into the house.

I’d been carrying Penny around for six months because she forgot how to go outside, where her water dish was (and how to drink – she would often drink the air above the bowl, which I kept raising up in hopes she would find it), and how to back out of places she got stuck in. With Justin, whose dementia lasted longer, I had to put boxes in every corner and crevice where he might get stuck and he still managed find his way into spots he couldn’t escape from.

There is no easy way to experience grief. It is awful to lose a pet unexpectedly. I’ve done that several times and it feels like someone has physically ripped the heart out of your chest. It is equally awful, but completely different, when the loss is spread out over a long period of time. Death feels like a relief, but you feel angry at yourself that you are not as torn apart as you believe you should be. You forget that tiny pieces of your heart have been ripped out for a long time. The sadness creeps up on you, but it seems familiar instead of surprising. You still glance around the room, looking for your sweet furry friend, but when you remember, pain is balanced with the calm of knowing they are not lost, afraid, or confused. Only you are.

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