Daily Archives: May 7, 2012

“If You Eat Your Bed, Where Will You Sleep?!?!” Notes on Adjusting to Life with a New Dog

The newest member of my household is a sinewy, energetic, pit/lab/mystery mutt from the Animal Rescue League.* Frida Sweet-a Face, or Frida for short, has been a handful. But the love, joy and health that a dog brings into the home  is worth far more than every toy shredded during puppyhood. She’s been with us for only about four months, and with plenty of patience and advice from various dog training books, Frida is slowly becoming a well-mannered young lady.

Skinny Frida

The day Frida came home – she was a bag of bones then.

She had been surrendered to ARL at about age one, because her previous owners believed she was “too much to handle.” Many dogs of Frida’s age are given over to shelters. I learned in Bruce Fogle’s Dog that this is the canine stage of development most closely related to human adolescence. “Dog body, puppy brain,” is what I apologetically say to strangers in the street when she jumps on them. (Jumping happens less often these days, I promise!)  These dogs learned the rules as young pups. However,  in their adolescence, they question authority, i.e. chew up their beds and steal cheese from the counter. Adolescent dogs can be gangly, awkward and clumsy. They don’t realize that their bodies are wielding more power than before. A ten pound puppy jumping in your lap is adorable.  A sixty pound adolescent doing the same is a little painful.  Many owners just give up on these dog-hooligans.

“I can do this,” I thought. I worked with teens for a long time, and the age group is very close to my heart. “I’m a very patient person,” I thought. Despite all of that, there was an extended adjustment/figure-this-whole-energetic-dog-thing-out period. She lunged at cars, people, birds, cats. She crashed into tables; she attacked shoes. One day she sneaked out of the fence and ran next door, where our two year old neighbor Charlie was playing with his mom.  Frida kissed him on the cheek, and sneaked back under the fence, quite proud of herself. Charlie giggled. (Charlie’s family has dogs of their own and so his mother was most gracious about the whole incident.)

What baby-kissing dog is all bad? We just needed to help her get good.  We read piles of dog books; we signed her up for classes at ARL. We learned the hard way that if Frida doesn’t expend enough energy, she goes a little, shall we say, nuts. All dogs are working dogs, so every dog needs a challenging job, whether the job be walking, running, playing, fetching, or another activity. Two forty-five minute walks a day weren’t quite enough for Frida’s “work ethic.” So I started running with her, building up her endurance a little bit at a time, and that seems to keep her shenanigans to a minimum.

In addition to expending energy, she must also practice her manners. New dog owners are encouraged to introduce their pet to as many new situations, people, and animals as possible. So we’ve traveled with Frida all over Western PA: hiking, walking, dog parking, and visiting family and friends.  Dogs are not born with instincts that tell them to interact with other beings; they must be taught.  Frida used to greet everyone with  a hearty jump, a bump/crash,  and a maybe a few bats of the paw.  These days, she is a more mellow greeter, and all the dogs, cats and humans on our block are rejoicing.

Some folks swear by a specific dog trainer or book to train their dog, but we use a hybrid of different techniques.  I definitely recommend reviewing more than one source of dog advice. We go over the commands we learned at ARL’s basic training class at least once a day. We use Cesar Millan’s methods in some cases, but “calm assertive energy” is tougher than it looks on TV. I’m currently examining the presidential route by reading Dawn Sylvia-Stasiewicz; she trained Obama’s dog. My father swears by the Monks of New Skete; they’ve been successfully raising German Shepherds at their monastery for decades.  If you are interested in pursuing a homeopathic, herbal approach to dog wellness, then I highly recommend reading all of Juliette de Bairacli Levy; she learned from the Roma. Bruce Fogle is my favorite.  He has written extensively on dog health, dog psychology and dog breeds.

Frida in a healthier place

Frida with some meat on her bones

Best of luck in all of your doggie endeavors!


*A note on shelters –  Animal Rescue League is not the only game in town, there are plenty of other good shelters and organizations dedicated to dog adoption, such as Animal Friends and the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society.


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What’s in That Pile Beside My Bed

You know how you have that pile of books you’ve checked out from the library and want to read, but just can’t seem to get to? They form a nice pile next to–or on the bottom shelf of–your bed’s nightstand. Or maybe they have become your nightstand.  You renew them a couple of times, if you are able. And then maybe return them and check them out again later. It’s not that you don’t want to read them, really you do, but “stuff” keeps getting in the way like dinner, chores, kids, work, life.

I confess. I have one of those piles. Well actually, it’s grown now to three piles of about 18 inches high each. They have begun to take over that corner of my room. I think I can say with about 99% certainty that most library staff members have at least one pile similar to mine. Heck, I know one person who had to have their own hold shelf made for all the books they reserve. (As opposed to sharing one with the rest of the people who alphabetically fall around your last name.) And Jess keeps her to-read list in online form, rather than holding the books hostage.

What follows are some of the items in my piles. Because I figure if I like them enough to make them furniture in my home, I must like them enough to recommend to you.

What Chefs Feed Their Kids: Recipes and Techniques for Cultivating a Love of Good Food by Fanae Aaron – As I may have mentioned before, my son is a great eater. He eats lots of things and is always willing to try something new. I may, however, be having two other rugrats join me for a good part of this summer, who I don’t think are used to eating that way. Any help this book could offer would be appreciated…

The End of Everything by Megan Abbott – This is another one of my experiments with branching out of my genre comfort zone. I have been trying to find teen novels that appeal to me. This one has all of that teen angst, but with a suspenseful and very grown-up lesson that is learned by all. Plus when I skimmed it, it creeped me out a little.

The Grave Gourmet by Alexander Campion – This is the book we are reading for May’s meeting of the Mystery Book Group, so I will have to read this one very soon. But because I think I’m going to like it, I already have the next one in the series, Crime Fraîche, in the pile too.

Maybe This Time by Jennifer Crusie – I LOVE Jennifer Crusie. I have read most of her books. (I drew the line at her collaborations with Bob Mayer. I didn’t like the way they were written or the themes.) But for some reason, I just can’t seem to get into this one.  I keep it, thinking I’ll change my mind, but it might be time for this one to go back to the library. Maybe it’s the paranormal aspect. Maybe it’s the ex-husband who might not stay an ex. I am a firm believer that an ex-husband is probably an ex for a reason, no matter how rich or good-looking he is.

How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm: And Other Adventures in Parenting (from Argentina to Tanzania and Everywhere in Between) by Mei-Ling Hopgood – People in other countries raise their children differently than we do. Really!  Did you know that? And their kids turn out just as good as ours do, and sometimes better. I wish I had read this earlier and I just might have done one or two things differently…

Before They’re Gone: A Family’s Year-Long Quest to Explore America’s Most Endangered National Parks by Michael Lanza – Last summer we visited several national parks out west. Some of the most beautiful were the ones no one ever talks about. Those are the parks I am most glad that I got to see. I have a feeling this book will lead me to several more.

I Am Maru by Mugumogu – Have you seen that cat from Japan on YouTube? The one that likes to slide into boxes? Well, like so many blogs and stars of the do-it-yourself online set, he now has his own book. Warning: kitty cuteness overload is imminent!

Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez – I saw a review for this book online and was intrigued. I knew southern male slave owners often had a female slave as their mistress, but the idea of taking a yearly vacation with that slave, to a resort in the North?  Shocking!

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt: A Novel in Pictures by Caroline Preston – This is another keep-reading-outside-of-my-comfort-genres pick. But I love looking through people’s old scrapbooks, vintage postcards and spunky female protagonists, so I think this will be a winner.

Winged Obsession: The Pursuit of the World’s Most Notorious Butterfly Smuggler by Jessica Speart – There’s a black market in butterflies?!? Get out! This novel about the pursuit and capture of one of the most notorious butterfly smugglers sounded like it would have me on the edge of my seat. Plus, butterflies are pretty.

So, those are a few of the items in my pile. What’s in yours?

-Melissa M.

P.S. I’ll be moving soon. Then the dilemma will be: move the pile or return it all and start again…


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