Monthly Archives: May 2009

Weekend Window Shopping: Bird Collars

To save for Sesame, I need to resist buying whippetwear. Tempting as it is, because there’s so much great stuff out there, much of it made by lovely whippet-owning individuals. It’s nice to support them while supporting my whippet habit. My compromise is to enjoy window shopping. And when Sesame is here, he will not go cold, you can be sure of that. Or be unfashionable, for that matter. I’m just following the Golden Rule: Save first, then spend. 

Here is one item I’m lusting after, telling myself “Look, but don’t buy. Yet.” It’s a stunning bird collar from 2 Hounds Design.

Red bird collar from 2 Hounds Designs

Red bird collar from 2 Hounds Design

At $32, it’s an affordable splurge. But any collar is more fun with the matching leash ($29). And with two dogs, how can we not treat them (meaning us) both?

Turquoise is Machu Picchu's color!

Turquoise is Machu Picchu's color!

Sesame, you have not been forgotten. 2 Hounds Design makes the birdie collar in 3 colors! We see how having three dogs changes the budget – three new designer collars and leashes would push $200. Yowza!

 

 

No boy of mine will wear pink. (Well, until he asks.) Biski, looks like you'd have to give the red one to Sesame!

No boy of mine will wear pink. (Well, until he asks.) Biski, looks like you'd have to give the red one to Sesame!

 

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Letting a Sighthound Off-Leash

The main thing I heard about sighthounds when I got a whippet was, Do not let them off-leash! Because of their chase instinct, they can bolt. I assumed this meant that for the rest of our together lives, C-Biscuit (and later Sesame) would be tethered securely to our sides. Or, rarely, let loose on a fenced field.

Bob and Biski

Bob and C-Biscuit: Multi-day hiking trip, never letting go of the leash!

We did umpteen hikes last year, including scaling Giant Ledge with heavy backpacks on, with Biski on no more than a 6-foot leash (we abhor flexi-leads). We even lived in fear of letting go of the leash. Every time Bob and I handed off the leash between us, we would both hold it in our clenched fists while confirming, “Okay, YOU HAVE IT?”  

When I say "heavy packs," you didn't think I meant OURS? (Don't worry - she's only carrying snack packs of M&Ms!)

By "heavy backpacks," you didn't think I meant OURS? (Don't worry, she's only carrying M&Ms!)

A dog can, and eventually will, get away. When he does, you want to know you still have some control over him and some confidence about his returning. As the football folks say about players partying after a touchdown, “When you get to the endzone, try to act like you’ve been there before.” You don’t want your dog waiting years to get free, then bolting when he finally does. It pays to build some experience and trust regarding being off-leash.

We heard about our friend Grace letting her two whippets off-leash. Off-leash? we marveled. How? I’ve since learned that plenty of whippets and greyhounds romp off-leash – and come back reliably. I think training a dog to be off-leash, in safe circumstances, is a great exercise for us (peace of mind, convenience), for them (freedom and fun!) and for the bond between dog and owner (trust = love).

A bright coat and cowbell make it easier to track a wayward pup

A bright coat and cow bell make it easy to keep track of pups on the trail

Here are the steps we took, with Grace’s guidance, to letting C-Biscuit off-leash:

Bob demonstrates that a bag of treats acts as an invisible leash

Bob shows that a bag of treats acts as an invisible leash

Helpful equipment:

 

Step 1: Whistle training

Condition your dog to race towards you with relish when you blow a whistle. Use a treat that’s especially high-value, and make it obvious at first: When they are right next to you, blow the whistle (not hard! they can hear it), and treat them to a delicacy. Repeat this several times over a couple days. Then get the dog from the next room with the whistle, and gradually from farther away. Next, go to a fenced yard or field. When your dog is already running towards you, blow the whistle and give special treats. Don’t be stingy: Really deliver here, as this is the key to your dog doing what you ask in the future.

Release the hounds!

Release the hounds! C-Biscuit and Grace's two whippets in the vanguard.

Step 2: Go Hiking

Put the vest, tag collar, and for extra insurance a small cowbell on your dog and go to a trail where they can be off-leash. Make sure this trail is away from any road. If you have friends with dogs trained to be off-leash, all the better: Ask them to come with you. This triggers pack mentality and the dogs tend to stay together (as well as with you, who should be the leader of their pack). With or without company, a hike on a trail puts you and the dog in migration mode. That’s different than, say, a backyard or a dog park.

Picchu's first hike, staying on the leash

Picchu's first hike, on the leash. As you can see, Biski is hardly running away.

When you’re away from the parking area/road, let the dog off-leash. I had thought that if you let sighthounds off-leash, they would go tearing off into the wilderness at lightening speed, never to be seen again. Bob and I had Grace and her whippets, plus her cousin and his Sheltie, all well-trained, to break us in on our first off-leash experience. We couldn’t believe what happened: We unclasped the leash, and Biski kept trotting at our sides. Huh. Then she ranged a little more, with the other dogs, but never too far. We were amazed.

Continue the whistle-training on the trail: Toot, treat. Repeat. Be careful not to get nervous, whistle your dog back, and put the leash on. Teach them that whistle + return = treat + more freedom.

Not holding a leash frees me up to swing on wild vines!

Not holding a leash frees me up to swing on wild vines! (Note Biski is still underfoot.)

Step 3: Enjoy

Once your dog is used to being trusted off-leash, you can change venues and expect them to stick relatively close-by (again, always away from traffic). Always have the tag collar on and the whistle (and treats, ideally) ready.  

The way hiking was meant to be!

The way hiking was meant to be: Yeee-Haaaw!

Using this method, we took Machu Picchu off-leash almost right away, and she did great. Giving the pups some freedom to sniff & roam while hiking has been the best thing we’ve done with, and for, them. And if I accidentally drop the leash in the park, I won’t panic. 

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Three dogs is not too many!

As these illustrate, Bob and I will not be going over the top by getting a third dog.

 

Erin, the owner of Hound Togs

Erin Campbell, the owner of Hound Togs

 

Eight is enough?

Robin Brown in Louisville, TN. Handmade pajamas by bowwowware.com.

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One Dog Bed, Two Dogs

C-Biscuit loves her dog bed, a “whippet sleeping bag” from Hound Togs.

Biski loves her Hound Togs sleeping bag

Biski loves her Hound Togs sleeping bag

It’s cushiony and best of all, she can burrow.

Another company calls a similar product a “Pita Bed” (we have one of those, too, but it’s not nearly as good – it’s rectangular and stiff), so we call this her Pita Bed.

Pita goes everywhere – in the car, and even camping.

Home away from home

Bee plus Pita makes a home away from home

We thought that with a second dog, they would share resources – but we never expected C-Biscuit to give up her beloved Pita Bed on Machu Picchu’s first night home.

Machu Picchu with Biski on her 1st night home

Biski gains a playmate but loses a bed.

In fact, Picchu soon adopted the Pita as her very own.

Blondes apparently do have more fun

Picchu, practically taking over the place.

What could we do except order a second one, this time even larger – made for two whippets to share!

"The world is my fleece-lined oyster."

Biski, back in the saddle. "The world is my fleece-lined oyster."

Again the Pita goes everywhere, even on top of the outdoor dog bed (it was nippy last night, after all).

Room for two!

Room for two!

 

New sleeping arrangement

New sleeping arrangement

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Why I Let the Men Kill the Bugs

I’ve been thinking more about the tick incident and how I literally could not handle the tick and relied on Bob to remove it. I’m even a little concerned that the breeder, Greg, who I’m hoping trusts us with Sesame in a few months, will think I’m not as capable a pet parent as he’d thought.

While we were on the phone during the tick crisis and Greg asked me, “Does Bob have the tick in the palm of his hand?” I gasped, “I hope not! I told him to double zip-lock it!” When Bob started to approach me to show it to me, I squealed, unfortunately into the phone, “Keep it away from me!”

Bob: Partner, Parent, Tick Slayer!

Bob: Partner, Parent, Tick Slayer!

Girly behavior to say the least. Am I really “like that?” No, I’m not. I am an independent, relatively street-wise woman from the Midwest (Flint, Michigan) who was raised by a single parent who championed feminism bordering on misandry. When my older sister had twins in February, Dad spat into the phone, “Thank God they’re girls!” (Yes, the feminist is my father.)

Dad raised four daughters on "Yes, you can!" long before Obama

My feminist father raised four daughters and prefers bitches

Dad even prefers bitches. He was relieved I wanted a second female dog, and about his own search right now for a female dachshund said, “I can’t deal with that leg-lifting crap!” (Don’t worry Sesame, he’ll love you when he meets you!)

When my husband and I were visiting home, I spotted a large crawlie and yelled from the kitchen, “Bug!” I looked back and forth from my husband to my father, neither of whom moved. Didn’t they get it? Clearly I was a damsel in distress! “Get it!” I had to tell them. My husband complied while my dad scolded, “What’s going on here? I didn’t raise you to be like that.”

He sure didn’t. And the secret is, I’m not girly and incapable – when I’m alone. If it’s clear the cavalry isn’t coming, I am a bug warrior. I also open jars, move heavy furniture and fix plumbing. When a squirrel was stuck on our 6th floor balcony and Animal Control told me they “don’t go after loose squirrels,” I got out the cat carrier and trapped it myself.

I’ve come at urban bugs with a throaty battle cry and the 4-inch-thick Manhattan phone book. I learned this from Dad: You don’t just incapacitate it, you pulverize

If I were alone with Biski and Picchu in the woods and a tick bit, I’d get it off, no question. But I’d rather not. If I can save myself the trouble and give Bob the chance to flex his manly tick-plucking fingers, why not? I think we’ve come far enough with equality that we can afford to pick and choose our chores.

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Facing Fear of the Unknown

It’s amazing how much fear of the unknown can hold us back. For years, I didn’t run a marathon because I had heard that long-distance runners sometimes lose control of their bladders – or worse – during a marathon. That image kept me far away from the starting line of any race. When finally I got an incredible training book and went for it, incontinence was never a problem.

And to think I had been afraid to get a dog!

To think I had been afraid to get a dog!

In the same way, for years I was afraid to get a dog, let alone a second one. My #1 issue was: “I am not going to stoop down and scrape dog crap off the sidewalk every day.” 

I didn’t know it was more like three times a day. In any event, like new parents not minding changing diapers, I was amazed how much of a non-issue this turned out to be. And to think that before, it had practically stopped me from getting a dog! Silly.

Then my fear became getting a second dog. Things were so good with just C-Biscuit, I worried about upsetting our happy, well-functioning household. Mostly I worried that they would fight.

So I read everything I could about choosing a second dog. The main advice was not to get a second dog of the same sex, especially not two females, who were likely to fight. One article said to get a smaller dog. The vet said to get a younger dog. Much advice centered on dominance, a pecking order between the dogs that would need to be established (by them) and reinforced (by you). I didn’t really like that idea, so I worried about that, too.

Then, as happens in life, the angels showed up: People appeared and gave advice and reassurances I needed. A friend said that 99% of 2nd whippets work out and she was nearly sure getting a second would be okay. A woman I knew only online gave me a guarantee: If this little girl didn’t work out, the woman, who already has five whippets, would take her. (The breeder also would have taken her back.) A couple I met in the park just before going to meet Picchu (a second female) said they had two females who got along great, even though “everyone had told them that two females would kill each other.” Huh.

 

 

Playmates

C-Biscuit and Machu Picchu: Playmates of the Year

 

Even though Picchu is the same age as Biski and the same sex, we brought her home and hoped for the best. Biski gets jealous when we cuddle Picchu, and for two days wrestled every toy out of Picchu’s mouth. But they’re doing no more than play-fighting, and we’re happy treating them the same. 

Maybe it’s that whippets are a pretty laid-back breed, or maybe we got especially lucky with our two. What I’m most sure of is that the best way to learn is by facing fear of the unknown and doing.

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