Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Legend of the Ghost Dog

It was a dark and stormy night. Badger the puppy was chewing happily on one of his toys, unaware that his life would soon take a terrifying turn. As he looked out toward the balcony, he saw a horrible visage! It was shaped like a dog but had no smell at all. Its black fur was translucent and its eyes hollow and soulless. Was it a ghost??

The ghost dog lies in wait behind Badger

Badger yelped in surprise but decided to be friendly to the ghost. He assumed a "play bow" position and wagged his tail. The ghost dog did the same. Badger leaped toward the ghost dog and... crashed into the sliding glass door. The ghost dog was completely incorporeal on the balcony!

By this time, Badger had had quite enough. "Go away!" he barked at the ghost dog. The ghost dog barked back with equal ferocity. Badger looked to his humans for help, but they only scolded him and gave him a time-out in his crate. At least there he was safe from the rude ghost dog.

But there was no way to hide from the ghost dog. Every night, it would come out and taunt Badger, first asking him to play and then barking smack at him. According to legend, there is even a room in the apartment where the ghost dog can appear in bright daylight....

The bedroom: the most haunted room in our apartment

Mushroom, on the other hand, has never seen a ghost.

Is your dog scared of their reflection?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Diablo 3 vs Torchlight 2

I had the best, most awesome blog post idea yesterday, but I didn't write it down. After spending the morning trying to remember it, I gave up and decided to just write a post on video games. Diablo 3 had its open beta over the weekend, so I checked it out, expecting to be amazed and left eagerly anticipating its May 15th launch. Instead, I was underwhelmed.

Mushroom is underwhelmed by my photography skills

I found Diablo 3 to be mindlessly easy. See an enemy? Click on it until it's dead. That's it, with the exception of health potions and 4 usable spells at a time. You can group with up to three other people, but each person is largely self-sufficient, and there are no group strategies required.

Llamaentity, who was a fan of Diablo 2, had a particular dislike of the lack of talent trees and automatic leveling in Diablo 3. This means that every character of the same class and level has the same unlocked skills and the same attribute points. The only customizable options are gear and which six spells you choose to keybind to 1-4 and the right and left mouse buttons. Therefore, there is no value to creating two characters of the same class with the exception of questing with a lower level friend.

Sadly, I can understand why Blizzard made the game so simplistic and limited the only true customization to gear choices. In Diablo 3, there will be a real-money auction house where players buy/sell gear to/from one another using real money, and Blizzard gets a cut of each sale. So if the only way to improve or differentiate a character is through gear... well, you get the picture.

Luckily, there is another multiplayer dungeon-crawling game coming out soon, Torchlight 2 (no official release date yet). My favorite feature of the original Torchlight was that each character, regardless of class, gets a pet that can be sent to town to sell loot while the adventurer is free to continue the dungeon. Here is a video of the pets that will be available in Torchlight 2:

Did you play the Diablo 3 open beta? What did you think?
How do you think Torchlight 2 will compare with Diablo 3?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Getting a First Dog - Part II

This is the 2nd part of a list I made of things we did right and things we wish we had done right before we got our first dog, Badger. (Read part 1 here.) The target audience is people who don't currently have a dog, which probably doesn't include anyone reading this blog. But if any of my dog-less friends asks for advice, I can just give them this link instead of trying to come up with something off the top of my head.

DO - Make sure you budget for the dog. Dogs are expensive. Between food, treats, vet bills, apartment fees, and toys, our regular monthly cost for Badger was about $150. And this isn't counting "start-up" costs like a crate and adoption fees. It is also very easy to overspend on dog-related items. I have a problem with buying too many dog toys, and Llamaentity has a problem with buying too many dog treats.

The objects in this picture total about $400
DO - Find a vet. We looked on Yelp and found a nearby vet with good reviews. I'm sure there's a better way to do this, but our vet turned out to be pretty good. Badger had digestive problems from the moment we got him, so it was good that we already knew a place to take him.

DO - Find a dog trainer. We spent a good deal of time "patching up" Badger's behavior problems through internet research. I would not recommend doing this, because there is so much advice on the internet, some of it conflicting. We tried a lot of different methods that we found online. Some of it was helpful, and some of it was potentially harmful. If I could do it again, I would have established a relationship with a trainer before even bringing Badger home. Also, if you are getting a pitbull or pit mix, ask the trainer if he/she works with them. Some trainers do not; other trainers offer a discount! =)

Badger waits patiently for a hotdog slice

DO - Research quality dog foods. My family and Llamaentity's family always fed our dogs Science Diet, but it gave Badger terrible digestive problems. It wasn't until we did more research that we realized Science Diet wasn't as high-quality as it pretended to be. (Advertisers lying? Shocking!) We found out about California Natural during a local dog event, and Badger's digestive problems have since been fixed. (Yes, I know that California Natural was recently bought out by Proctor & Gamble, but it's the best food we've found so far for Badger's delicate digestive system.)

DO - Be willing to sacrifice your social life. Llamaentity and I don't have as active a social life as we once did because of budget issues and the fact that we have to accommodate the dogs' schedule. Also, wait a few months before scheduling a vacation. You want to give your new dog plenty of time to settle in.

"Why do you need a social life? Aren't I enough?"

DO - Read dog blogs! Okay, so if you're reading this, you're already reading at least one dog blog. But if you're looking for more dog blogs, click on the "Dog Blogs" link right under the website header. I've learned a lot by reading other people's blogs!

Do you have any additional pointers on what to do (or what not to do) when getting your first dog?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Big 5-0

It's the 50th blog post! I can't believe I haven't run out of things to write yet. As a bonus, there is now a link to all the dog blogs I follow (right under the header). If you have any blogs to recommend (including your own), please leave a comment!

And now, back to our regularly scheduled Saturday squabbles

Friday, April 20, 2012

Keeping Busy

The problem with making plans is that they inevitably go awry. Yesterday I posted "Getting a First Dog - Part I", and I was hoping to get to Part II today, but there is a more pressing matter. Blizzard is doing a public stress test of the Diablo III Beta this weekend. And who has two thumbs and the ability to stare at a computer screen for 16 hours straight? ME!! (Maybe I should be less proud of this fact.)

"Why aren't you using those thumbs for something important, like feeding me?"

 Now that we have Badger and Mushroom, a true weekend-long gaming spree is no longer possible. I'll have to get up from my computer to walk them, feed them, and train them, but if I cut out eating and personal hygiene, that can easily make up the time. (Kidding. Totally, possibly, maybe kidding. A little bit.)

Walk them in the shower while eating?

What I'm concerned about is that the dogs need almost constant supervision. When we watch a movie, we have to pause it several times to break up their squabbles, give them time-outs, call them away from the shoe rack, etc. It's a little better when we have just one dog roaming free, but I did have to get up in the middle of a Left 4 Dead game yesterday to take away a stuffy that Mushroom had chewed through.

RIP squeaky green heart

We don't want to keep them crated all weekend, but we also don't want to be getting up to check on the dogs every 20 minutes. I think I'll be trying a combination of crate-and-rotate and treat-dispensing toys.

How do you keep your dogs busy when you want to concentrate?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Getting a First Dog - Part I

Can you believe that a year ago, we had zero dogs? Two Pitties in the City wrote a great post earlier this week about how to integrate a 2nd dog into your household. Though adding Mushroom has been quite an experience, I think that getting Badger (our first dog as adults) was more of a life-changer. Here is a list of things we did and things I wish we did:

DO - Make sure you are allowed to have a dog. If you rent, read your contract or ask your landlord. Many apartments have size and/or breed restrictions. We've even heard of a landlord requiring a DNA test for a dog to determine its breed(s). If you own your home, you should still check to make sure there are no breed restrictions in your town.

Wonder what a DNA test would reveal with this one...

DO - Adopt! If you adopt a dog from a kill shelter, you are directly saving that dog's life. If you adopt from a rescue or no-kill shelter, you are opening up a spot for another dog. Conversely, buying a puppy from a pet store causes puppy mills to profit, and they will remain in operation as long as it is profitable. Buying from backyard breeders disincentivizes spaying and neutering pets, which in turn increases the shelter population. If I could pick out one point from this list as being the most important, I would pick this one.

DO - Keep an open mind. I was set on adopting a Border Collie or Border Collie mix because my family's dog was a Border Collie. Mushroom is basically the opposite of a Border Collie - short fur, stocky build, not too bright - and we love her anyway. Also, with mutts, it's often hard to identify what breeds are in their genes, let alone any breed-specific traits.

Mushroom thinks all commands mean "down"

DO - Adopt an older dog instead of a puppy. This one ties in to the above point. If you're really set on a puppy, I can't change your mind. But puppies require a lot more time than adult dogs. We got Badger as a puppy, and he could only hold it for a couple of hours at a time. Llamaentity works as a homemaker, so we were able to accomodate this schedule, but it would be difficult for people who work full-time outside the home. See also: teething, energy levels, socialization

Puppy Badger: good at being cute, bad at just about everything else

DO - Meet your dog before deciding to adopt. If there is a foster-to-adopt option, use it! We adopted Badger from a rescue in Tennessee that ships dogs up to the Northeast. Although Badger turned out to be a wonderful puppy that grew into a wonderful dog, not everyone is so lucky. Our friends adopted a Chihuahua/Dachshund mix sight-unseen, and he turned out to have fear-aggression issues that they weren't told about.

I have a few more items on the list, but I'm going to split them into a separate post to keep this one a manageable length. Hopefully I'll get around to Part II tomorrow!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Training Session 1

After just one training session, Badger and Mushroom are now absolutely perfect!

The Antler Thief, Scene 1: Thief ponders her next move

The Antler Thief, Scene 2: Thievery is its own reward

Just kidding. We have a lot to work on, but now we know what to work on and how to work on it. We covered a lot of new behaviors in our first session last weekend. Our trainer, Bird from Queer Skies Ahead, even sent us a three-page-long training plan. These are the 5 main behaviors that make up our homework:

  • Not jumping on people - this one is self-explanatory
  • "Touch", also known as "hand targeting" - we hold out a hand and say "touch", and the dog touches it with its nose
  • "Wait" for treats
  • Lie down in crate before being let out
  • Looking at us periodically to check in

We changed our "release" word from "okay" to "go ahead" because Bird pointed out just how much I use "okay" in conversation. She also taught us that panting doesn't always mean a dog is happy. Sometimes dogs pant out of stress. If Mushroom pants, it's pretty clear that she's either stressed out, or she's just been exercising. She's not usually one to smile. But with Badger, I admit I sometimes have a tough time distinguishing between a stressed pant and a happy one.

While our dogs are still far from perfect, we are really enjoying the homework. I particularly like that it forces us to spend time actively engaging each dog instead of just handing them antlers and calling it a day. Badger and Mushroom particularly like that we've upgraded their treats to hotdogs and cheese.

The local pittie union demands no less than two hotdogs and two sticks of string cheese per day

Monday, April 16, 2012

Happy Patriots' Day!

"Give me liberty or give me hotdogs! Actually, just give me hotdogs."

*Note: Patriots' Day does not actually celebrate the New England Patriots football team. It commemorates the Battle of Lexington and Concord. The Boston Marathon also occurs on Patriots' Day. Unfortunately, I did not get the day off from work.

Sunday, April 15, 2012


Don't worry, we're not looking for a new home for Badger. He's here to stay. Taking inspiration from In Black and White's Adopt-a-Bill series, I'm going to highlight a few dogs that remind me of Badger, both in looks and in personality.

For reference, this is Badger. He is not available for adoption

1. Bob
Photo credit: Saving Pets' Lives

Bob was pulled from the South Houston Animal Shelter by Saving Pets' Lives. He is about 33 lbs and neutered. They describe him as sweet, happy, and not hyper. He shows no interest in other dogs and does well with leash walks, baths, and car rides. He has a short-term foster but needs a long-term foster and/or a forever home.

2. Sage
Photo credit: Puyallup Animal Rescue

Sage is a 5-year-old spayed female pitbull at Puyallup Animal Rescue in Pierce County, WA. She enjoys cuddling and playing fetch. Based on her pictures, she is also always smiling!

3. Philip
Photo credit: ALIVE Rescue

Philip is a 2-year-old, 60-lb pit/lab mix at ALIVE rescue in Chicago. He is neutered, housebroken, and crate-trained. Embarrassingly, he knows more commands than Badger does and also walks well on a leash. He is looking for a home without cats.

4. Cooper
Photo credit: A Heartbeat at My Feet

Cooper is being fostered by the awesome folks at A Heartbeat at My Feet. Although he's not the same color as Badger, they are so similar in every other way that it makes me wonder if they might be siblings. Here are the ways in which they are similar:
  • They both weigh about 45 lbs
  • They are both vaguely pittie-looking, with large heads
  • They are both from Tennessee
  • They are both about a year old
  • They both love everything
  • They both smile a lot

I know most of you already have a dog (or several dogs), but if you've fallen in love with Badger, please don't steal him from us. Adopt one of these dogs instead!

P.S. I've been writing and publishing my posts at night before going to bed. I've noticed that the majority of the blogs I follow publish new posts in the morning. Does anyone have a preference when my posts are published?

Friday, April 13, 2012

Training Session 0

Hi, I'm a nerd, and I start counting at zero. This is particularly fitting because the session we had last week was the consultation. When I posted about looking for a trainer, I was contacted by Bird of Queer Skies Ahead, who offers private dog training and lives reasonably nearby. (Thanks for commuting out for us, Bird!)

Even though we didn't do any training, the behavioral consultation session made me feel a lot better about our situation. We went over their histories and what we were hoping to accomplish. I admitted to wanting dogs like Miss M and Mr B from Two Pitties in the City. Looking back on my answers, I definitely commend Bird for not facepalming. We settled on four main areas of work: Badger and Mushroom's interactions with each other, leash reactivity toward other dogs, jumping on strangers (and occasionally us), and whining in their crates.

Then came the part that made me feel better. Bird asked if there was anything that would elicit a growl or a snarl from the dogs. She went through a long list of scenarios, and we answered no to all of them. This was very reassuring because I was reminded that Badger and Mushroom are generally pretty good dogs. I spend a lot of time worrying about their negative traits but evidently not enough time appreciating their virtues.

Our homework was to prepare the dogs for clicker training by teaching them to associate a "click" with a treat. Mushroom was scared of the sound at first, but she is so food-motivated that she quickly got over her fear. Badger, who is not as food-motivated, would actually run away and try to play with his toys while we were holding the clicker, so we switched from feeding him kibble to feeding Old Mother Hubbard training treats. For the moment, he's hanging around while we click, but he gets this wild look in his eyes, like he's ready to bolt at any second.

We'll see how well we did with homework when Bird comes back for our first real training session this weekend. She's also bringing in the big guns (hot dogs and cheese), which just might convince Badger that it's worth behaving.

Thanks for sticking with me through that wall of text. Now the fun part - photos from our hike today!

Llamaentity: "Don't use the picture with my leg in it."

Badger shows off the wild eyes

Mushroom watches Badger drink (gross) water from the stream

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Celebrating the Little Victories

Llamaentity and I are not the most socially adept people. While we have expressed the desire to get to know our next-door neighbors (who not-so-coincidentally make delicious-smelling food), we actually don't know the names of any of the neighbors in our apartment complex. Not one. Llamaentity once asked a guy his name and then promptly forgot it - so now we just refer to him as "the dad of the two girls". There's also "the woman with the pug", "the boy who plays on his DS" (aka "the boy who is scared of dogs"), and "the mother of the boy who plays on his DS", just to (not) name a few.

I was heading into our building with Mushroom this morning as one of our neighbors, "the woman who might be the daughter of the elderly couple whose Yorkie recently passed away", was exiting. We said hi, and she held the door open for me as Mushroom tried to jump on her. Fortunately, I avoided having to mumble an apology about Mushroom's behavior because the woman was facing the other direction and holding the door open for the person behind me, a man I had never seen before who shall henceforth be referred to as "the man holding a stack of pillows".

As we waited for the elevator, "the man holding a stack of pillows" asked how old Mushroom was. I said that she was a little over a year old, and this was as big as she would get. He then remarked, "She's so quiet!" I agreed and said it made her an excellent apartment dog. During the whole conversation and the elevator ride afterward, Mushroom was in a sit-stay and wagging her tail. I was quite proud of her for not embarrassing me.

Mushroom, on the other hand, finds me terribly embarrassing

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Portion Control

Plump sausages with faces

When Mushroom first came to live with us, she was so skinny you could count her ribs. I checked last week, and I have no idea where her ribs are anymore. It looks like we've been overfeeding the dogs. Oops.

Here are the things we've tried to prevent the dogs from becoming overweight, in chronological order:
  1. Swapping treats for carrots - this worked for Badger, but Mushroom refuses to eat carrots, so we went back to training treats
  2. Breaking training treats in half
  3. Using a mixture of treats and kibble for training
  4. Finally, using only kibble as treats (with some exceptions)

So far, so food good. (This was an actual typo.) What we forgot to keep in mind was the amount of kibble we were feeding them through training and meals. It turned out that we were feeding a lot more kibble during training than we'd originally thought - and we were neglecting to decrease the amount we fed during meals, resulting in overfeeding. For example, during our one hour walk this evening, I managed to feed Mushroom half a cup of kibble. She normally gets fed 3/4 of a cup twice a day, so I had to decrease her dinner to a quarter cup.

Right now, we measure the amount of kibble we put in their treat bags (we use plastic ziploc bags), and then we estimate how much we've fed the dogs through training by looking at how much is left in the bags afterward. Then we decrease their meals by the amount that they've already eaten. Theoretically this should work, so hopefully we'll start seeing results (and waists) by next week.

What's your trick for keeping your dog at a healthy weight?

Monday, April 9, 2012

A Failure and a Success

I went to Petsmart this morning to pick up some Easter toys on clearance. And by "some", I mean 10. The cashier asked me how many dogs I had, and I said 2. Then she asked me what breed they were, and I said...

Mutts. *womp womp* I told myself that the next time someone asked what my dogs were, I would say pitbull mixes.

These toys will last Mushroom several months or Badger several minutes

As luck would have it, I got another chance during my Toastmasters meeting. I was talking about how Badger doesn't mind getting his nails clipped, but Mushroom hates it, and someone asked what kind of dogs they are. I said they were pitbull mixes, and she followed up by asking, "What made you decide to get that type of dog?" It wasn't accusatory, just curious. So I explained how we were told that Badger was a Cocker Spaniel/Border Collie mix, but he grew into something resembling a pitbull mix. And how he was such a wonderful dog that, for our second dog, we specifically looked for a pitbull type dog.

Hey look, I downloaded Instagram

Too bad I can't download better photography skills

And then... nothing. No arguments, no fear-mongering, no yelling. The conversation segued to another person talking about his sons. It was as if I'd just talked about my goldfish. I was quite relieved. Hopefully revealing that my dogs are pitbull mixes will always be this easy.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Househunting and BSL

We're sort-of-househunting. That is, we're vaguely interested in owning a home (everyone tells us it's the time to buy), and I'm browsing the internet to get a feel for what's out there. There are a lot of things we want in a home, but there are only four things we need:

  • Affordable price (this is a no-brainer)
  • Safe neighborhood (another no-brainer)
  • Move-in ready (we're not the project type)
  • No BSL

Thing #5 - antlers

 The fourth one makes things difficult. Earlier this week, Malden, Massachusetts passed breed-specific legislation requiring "pitbulls" to be muzzled. Falling under the "pitbull" umbrella are American Staffordshire Terriers, American Pitbull Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, Bull Terriers, and mixes. The article didn't make it clear who gets to determine whether a dog, especially a mixed breed, is a pitbull, but in other nearby towns, the police officer or animal control worker decides based on physical appearance.

Good evening, officer. You're not here to take my donut, are you?

As if being first-time home buyers wasn't daunting enough, we now have to do additional research not only on which towns have BSL, but also on which towns are considering BSL. Ultimately, there's no way of knowing where BSL will strike in the 5 years, or even the next 5 months. Now, I know that life is full of surprises, some of them nasty, and no matter how hard I try to keep my family safe (this includes Badger and Mushroom), accidents can still happen. But it's absolutely terrible that things that are supposed to keep us safe (laws) and people who are supposed to keep us safe (police, lawmakers) are actively making things less safe for us (BSL). (Off topic: This is how I feel about racial profiling of people as well.)

When I learned that Lowell, Boston, and several other towns in Massachusetts had BSL, I thought to myself, "We just won't go into those towns." But today I realized that ignoring or running away from BSL is not going to make it go away. I've been reluctant to call my dogs "pitbull mixes" to my friends, coworkers, or even strangers that we meet on walks because I'm afraid of negative reactions. But in keeping my dogs "in the closet", I've also passed up opportunities to bust stereotypes and educate. So from now on, if someone stops me in the street to ask what Badger and Mushroom are, I'll say they're pitbull mixes. We might not change enough minds to stop the spread of BSL, but it's worth trying.

Is "hungry" a dog breed?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

New Molly Mutt Dog Bed Cover

We got the "Medium/Large" size, which was much larger than I'd expected

Stuffed with two pillows that Badger had previously ruined

Badger likes the new pillow, though we have to remind him not to chew on it

Mushroom prefers the old Kong pillow, especially now that Badger has the new pillow and doesn't try to sit on her

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Call for Positive Training Links!

A friend posted this status message on Facebook yesterday:

[My puppy] A-- is now destroying our carpet by digging it up and chewing on the fibres... we tried the no-bite spray and it turns out that she doesn't mind the taste... what should we do??

A quick summary of the comments:
  • Beat her! (obviously meant as a joke)
  • Shake a plastic jar with coins in it
  • Squirt her face with a water bottle
  • Block her off in a non-carpeted area and supervise her when she's on carpet
  • Grab her by the nape of the neck (like her mom would) and say "No!"
  • Blow air in her face
  • Use the coins idea, but say "No, A--!" because dogs like to hear their names associated with their behavior
  • Crate-train her
  • Give her toys with treats in them
  • Scruff her if you catch her in the act and try the brown Listerine
  • Rolled up newspaper (hopefully meant as a joke)

This is the puppy in question. Photo credit: my friend

I am by no means an expert on dog training, but I felt like I should chime in on the positive training side. This was the comment that I left:

We keep our dogs crated when we can't supervise them. When they're out, we shove toys in their faces and pet/praise/treat them when they play with their toys. If they do something undesired (in our case, it's usually fighting or jumping on the couch), we call them over, and if they listen, we make them sit and give them treats. If they do not listen, they get a short time out in their crates. It does seem to have helped them listen to us better.
Puppy Badger before he was banned from the couch

I really hope my friend does not employ the old-school punishment methods with her puppy. I would like to follow up with some links to some positive training methods written by an actual trainer. So far, I have the Dog Star Daily training textbook.

If you know of a good positive-reinforcement training article, please post a link in the comments!
Is there anything else I can do to steer my friend toward positive training methods?

Monday, April 2, 2012

Having People Over

The number of friends we have has been steadily declining ever since we got Badger. Since getting Mushroom, it's all but plummeted down to zero. Yes, we can meet for dinner - but we can't go for a movie afterwards because the dogs to be walked and fed. Yes, we can go to a party - but we can't drink because we have to leave early for the dogs' pre-bedtime potty break. Yes, we can spend the day at an outdoor event - but not if it's in Boston because of BSL. Our two options for social interaction with other humans are basically limited to: 1. spend an absurdly short amount of time there, or 2. invite people over to our place.

Option #2 is preferred, but we can rarely get friends to agree to it because we live waaaaayyyy out in the suburbs, and our dogs like to jump on strangers. (Far too many people have reinforced this negative behavior with 15-lb puppy-Badger, only to find that it's not as welcome with 45-lb adolescent-Badger.) To make things even more difficult, most of our dog-loving friends have small dogs who would not appreciate Badger's overly enthusiastic play style. And "you can come over to help train our dogs not to jump, but please leave your dog at home" has not proven to be an effective invitation.

We are in the process of scheduling a consultation with a trainer, so hopefully our friends will be more willing to come over after the jumping has been retrained.

Welcome. You can come in, but you can NEVER LEAVE

Do you have any tips for preserving human friendships after getting a dog?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Sleepy Sunday

Not Badger's most attractive angle

Mushroom refused to relinquish her antler, even while asleep