Saturday, July 4, 2015

Let Freedom Ring! Napi's Designated Birthday/Gotcha Day!

Two years ago, my husband rescued Napi. Well, it was a few days after the 4th, but since he was saved from an abusive situation, Cesar decided it fitting to celebrate Napi's freedom day on, well, the day of freedom.

Today is also the day we celebrate his birthday. When he was rescued, Napi was probably around a year. Maybe a bit less. But since we really have no way of knowing, we gave him the 4th of July for both of his important dates.

 He has a few scars from his early years, but he improves every day. Mostly, it's been a combo of meds and love; I am sure I do a lot of training throughout the day, but none of it is all the conscious. These days, after about five minutes of barking, he will settle in and play with new people and dogs.

I love Napi to pieces. He's a fabulously wonderful, difficult, horrible, absolutely amazing dog. I wouldn't give him up for anything.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

In Memory of Nicky

Nickolas J. Cat

September 2000-May 10, 2015

I've been avoiding writing this post for awhile; it's hard to believe that Nicky is really gone.

I adopted Nicky in November 2000 as an 8-ish-week-old kitten. I have kitten pictures of him, but that was the pre-digital era. Barring a period of time when he lived with my parents (I lived somewhere that didn't allow cats), I've had him ever since.

How is it that I don't have any PICTURES of Nicky and Maisy together? Here- have a video instead.

Nicky was always a playful little beast. As a kitten, Nicky played fetch. It was adorable. We'd throw one of those barely-counts-as-a-mitten things and he'd chase it and bring it back. He also would brush up against my landline (remember those?!) and call my mom on speed dial.

"Whatever it was, I didn't do it! It was the cat, honest!"
As an adult, he adored catnip and would gladly bliss-out any day of the week. I actually have a plant of the stuff that I grew just for him. He also had a charming habit of sleeping on my head, and a not-so-charming habit of drooling on my face and in my ears. It was disgusting, but I would give anything for that now.

"What? He's in MY crate!"
Things got harder when the Barrera household formed last summer. Not only was Nicky older and arthritic, but Lola was quite scared of him. It took awhile, but we did find a tentative peace in the house. The pictures I have of them together are some of my favorite.

"Dis MAH kitty."

This spring, when it became clear that he was very sick, we began to allow him to do whatever he'd like. As it turns out, that was go outside. He wasn't really allowed to do that before, and he became obnoxious in his attempts to get outside. Mostly he sat in the sun, and I was happy to sit with him.

The best family picture I ever got.

It astounds me how big of a hole such a small being can leave. The dogs have such big personalities, they are so demanding. And yet, Nicky's absence is so conspicuous. I miss him so much. I will always love him. <3 p="">

Oseh shalom bim'romav hu ya'aseh shalom.
Zichronam Liv'racha, Nicky.
May your memory be a blessing.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Review: Merrick Power Bites Treats from

New. Favorite. Treats.

This month sent us Merrick Power Bites and I love them! They are everything I want a treat to be:
  • made in the USA
  • quality ingredients
  • soft and easy to eat
  • palatable to all four dogs
  • easy to handle
  • leaves no nasty residue on my fingers
  • they are the perfect training treat size!
Seriously, ya'll. Zukes have always been a favorite because of the size, but even those I would cut in half or fours. These? These require no splitting. They are about 2/3 the size of a Zuke already! So they are great for training little dogs, especially with reactive dog work.

Well done, Merrick. And thanks, Chewy, for providing me with this treat. (For free, but with no other expectations on what I say.)

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Review: Evanger's Freeze-Dried Tripe from

This month we got to review Evanger's Freeze-Dried Tripe from Now, I'm no stranger to tripe. I've used it freeze-dried, I've used it raw, I've used it blended up in a food tube. So the biggest thing that you should know about tripe - the fact that it SMELLS - was not a surprise to me. In fact, I thought this smelled less? But then, I've worked in nursing homes and group homes and am pretty immune to bad smells, so. 

Like every Chewy product I've gotten, it's high quality: made in the USA, single-ingredient, you know the drill. This was different from other freeze-dried treats I've used, though. The label says "lightly" freeze-dried, and it is. It's softer, it breaks apart nicely, it's less dusty than other freeze-dried treats, and... it leaves a residue.

Look, I'm no stranger to nasty, slimy treats. Those are the best for reactive dog work, after all. But ew. These leave an oily residue like a bad lotion or something. Thankfully it washed off really well, but given the feeling and the smell, I will not use these for training! 

Napi says they're delicious, though!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

I took all four dogs to the dog park and no one died.

Two marvelous things happened on Friday. I found myself with the day off, and it was nice out.

After a long Minnesota weather, I was eager to get out of the house, and I figured the dogs were, too, so I made the decision to take them all to the dog park. I don't usually take Napi to the dog park because of all the crazy, but I decided to take the risk for a number of reasons:
  1. The dog park we go to is huge and wooded, limiting the amount of interaction you have with other dogs,
  2. It was the middle of the day on a weekday, further limiting the number of folks that would be there,
  3. Napi seems to have the highest energy level of my dogs, meaning he needed the exercise most, and
  4. I wanted to see how he was doing on the meds.
This probably isn't something I'd recommend others do, but at the same time... well, it was nice out. And you can't keep your dogs in a bubble; you need to provide challenges from time to time. And it was nice out. Yeah, mostly we went because of cabin fever. I decided that we'd leave early if Napi really couldn't handle it, and I made him drag a leash so that if he was a jerk, I could easily intervene. (And I did several times.)

Napi actually did fairly well. Here's a video of early on in our park trip:

And here's one from the end of the park visit:

Both videos suck from a cinematic standpoint; I was more focused on him vs. keeping him in the frame. Sorry about that. Anyway, he did better the longer we were there - the opposite of how Maisy is/was.

In the first video, he was barking at that other dog. He would actually snap at other dogs that he thought were threatening. A few times he was right - one dog was super stiff in its body language, and another was bothering Maisy - and a few times I think he was just guarding me/my treats/his buddy Pyg.

The second video is even cooler. You can see him stiffen up when he sees another dog approaches (it's a Springer, not that you can tell), and he then chooses to come to me for a treat. So does the other dog, but Napi only growled a tiny bit (I can't even hear it on the video).

What these videos tell me is that while Napi still has a long way to go, he's making nice progress. He's learning to think a bit before reacting. He's able to exercise some small amounts of self control. He can recover quicker from stress than he could before. He sees me as a safe person he can depend on.

Despite all this, the dog park will not be a regular part of Napi's life. He's still practicing more bad behavior than I'd like, and besides, the park will only get busier and more crowded as it gets nicer out. I don't want to risk a dog fight, and I do think that's a distinct possibility. Still, it's nice to celebrate success with a reactive dog.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Review: Nylabone DuraChew Dental Chew Dino Toy from

This month, we tested the Nylabone DuraChew Dental Chew Dino Toy from And the verdict? Well, 3 out of 4 dogs agree:

This thing is totally chewable! Maisy, god bless her, has absolutely no interest in this (or most other chews for that matter).

Things that are awesome about it:
  • The dogs like it way better than regular shaped Nylabones.
  • Exciting enough that they have chewed on it regularly over the past week.
  • Not exciting enough to cause dog fights, meaning I can leave it sitting out.
  • Sweet dinosaur shape.
  • Made in the USA.
  • Seems to be pretty durable so far. 
  • Only $3.99 right now!
Things that aren't so awesome about it:
  • Only rated for dogs up to 50 lbs. (Not a problem for me, but it might be for you.)
  • Really, really hurts when you accidentally step on it in the middle of the night.
Disclosure: I got this free from but was not paid in any way for what I'm writing. These are also my opinions and I wasn't told what to say.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Behavior Problem or Medical Problem?

The sweater in question.
Lola hates having her nails trimmed. Or her feet touched. Or, heck, even her legs, and it all came to a head a few months back when I was trying to make a fleece sweater for her without a pattern. This necessitated a lot of putting it on and taking it off as I worked out the alterations, and by the end of the day, Lo had nailed me right in the arm. She was D-O-N-E with this being touched stuff.

I've worked with dogs before who didn't like to be touched, so I got to work doing handling training. I started doing exercises to help Lola associate being touched with awesome things. I moved slowly, always watching her body language to ensure I didn't rush her. And things... well, they didn't really get better.

Oh, sure, sometimes she was okay with it, but other days she was immediately grumpy again. I also noticed that she got pretty grumbly when the boy-dogs would rough house too close to her. Not touching her, just near her. It was like she was telling them to keep their distance.

The first rule of behavior club is...
You know where this is going, right? Yup, it was time for a vet check. This is a pretty basic step when dealing with behavior problems, especially ones that crop up suddenly. Pretty much every trainer, behaviorist, and blogger I know recommends going to the vet to check for health problems before undertaking a training program.

Easy said, but harder to remember, especially when the problem sort of creeps up on you. Lola wasn't suddenly aggressive (she's not aggressive at all, actually), she was just acting a bit weird. And anyway, my dogs are no stranger to the vet. We go in for regular well checks, and I'm not afraid to have small things checked out in between. I also watch my dogs pretty closely so I know what's normal and what's not. I catch things early.

Like a needle in a haystack
Off to the vet we went. I mentioned my concerns, and our vet agreed that it sounded behavioral. The problem, of course, is that it's really hard to pinpoint a possible problem. Lola wasn't showing any stiffness. There was no limping, no panting, no licking or biting a certain area. In other words, this was a shot in the dark.

I know I'm not alone in that. I've heard plenty of people say that their vets didn't find anything on exam. I don't think that's the vet's fault at all. After all, our dogs can't tell us if and where they hurt, and I don't know about you, but I do not have the cash reserves to do x-rays and ultrasounds just to rule out a hunch. Still, because Lola's a basset hound, and thus acondroplastic (a type of dwarfism associated with malformed bones and cartilage), I thought there must be some pain in there.

Getting the most out of your exam
Now, I'm not a vet, but I've paid for a lot of vet care over the years, and in my experience, there are three main causes of pain:

1. Illness or injury
This one is probably the easiest to find clinically. Inspecting your dog for cuts or scrapes and taking vital signs can tell you a lot about what might be going on. Acute illness or injury tends to show up quickly and is therefore not usually mistaken for a behavioral problem. Still, sometimes there are sicknesses that fly under the radar. To get at these, regular lab work can help. The exact tests that are done will depend on your dog and the lifestyle risks unique to your situation, but in my experience, blood work (including a tick panel) and a urinalysis can tell you a lot.

2. Musculo-skeletal issues
Joint or muscle problems are much harder to pick up on, even with more obvious signs. Five or six years back, I noticed that Maisy had a very slight, occasional limp coupled with excessive panting, even when it wasn't hot. I took her to the vet, but they couldn't recreate the problem, so they told me not to worry. I ended up taking Maisy to a chiropractor, and later a doggy massage therapist, which did a lot to alleviate the pain.

3. Teeth problems
Dude, toothaches hurt. Unfortunately, I think mouth pain in dogs is more common than we think. Maisy is eight now, so when she started to slow down just a tad, I didn't think much of it. It's not like she got lethargic or anything; she was still playing and eating, just a bit quieter. At her well vet exam, the vet saw a chipped tooth and recommended a dental, but didn't think it was urgent. Well. When she got in there, it turns out Maisy had not one but two abscessed teeth that shattered when the vet went to pull them. Less than two weeks later, Maisy was full of puppy energy again, playing with the boy-dogs, and even doing a bit of tug!

Don't be afraid to try pain meds
I'm lucky to have a great relationship with a great vet. She did an incredibly thorough exam, and in so doing, found that Lola has very mild luxating patellas. So mild, in fact, that we aren't convinced that it was causing the possible pain; I suspect that due to Lo's front assembly, long back, and history of being overweight, she may have arthritis.

Either way, I requested a trial of pain meds. I wasn't expecting much from it, and I kind of think the vet was humoring me when she prescribed them, but the results were amazing. After a week of regular pain meds, both the grumbling about the boy-dogs and her grouchiness about being touched reduced by at least 75%! Of course, now we're left trying to figure what's causing the pain and how to address that. (That's a whole other post, of course!)

What about you guys?
Have you had a medical problem masquerading as a behavior problem? What did it end up being? And how did you find out?