Reactive Dogs and Cats: A Socialization Guide [Part 1]

reactive dogs and cats socialization guide

If someone had told me a few years ago that Bailey will one day be able to peacefully coexist with a cat, I would think it crazy. Cats have always been yet another one of her triggers, but with them it didn’t come from a place of fear, as much as it came from a place of instinct. She has always had an outstanding prey instinct - she’d happily chase squirrels, birds and cats over the edge of a cliff. This is why she’s always been obsessed with chasing the ball and why keeping her prey instinct under control has also proved to help with her reactivity rehabilitation as well.


Even though she and I have already overcame many triggers in our years together, I never dared imagine cats would be one of them. Whenever she saw the stray cat that I am feeding, she’d fly into a hysterical frenzy. She saw her as an intruder on the window and showed her no mercy. So needless to say, when Shadow decided to move in, I was more than just a little worried.

 

START OUTSIDE OF THE HOME      

I took it super slow. The first day of socialization we were outside in our terrace; I put Shadow in Chilly’s giant crate and leashed both dogs on the other side of the terrace. They could see each other but there was no way to reach each other. Bailey did well until Shadow started climbing all over the crate - that was a trigger for her. Rather than trying to “calm her down” I simply took the leash and took Bailey back inside, while Chilly stayed with the cat. The next time, I was prepared and made sure to give Bailey big big big reinforcement every time she looked at me, even if the cat wasn’t doing anything in particular. I was rewarding check-ins. I wasn’t saying any cues to her at all, because I wanted her to observe Shadow in her own rhythm and check-in with me whenever she feels like it.

 

Side note: these check-ins are a life-saver for reactive dogs! If the reactivity to a certain trigger is so bad that your dog always flips out, teaching him to look at you whenever they sense fear is a super helpful way of managing a situation. Eventually you’ll be able to get closer to the trigger or your dog won’t feel as much fear around it anymore and will be able to look at it without these check-ins altogether!


Bailey did really well with this. Soon after that, I got Shadow her own carrier and we started to uplevel our training. I will admit that we rushed this part a little bit, because Shadow started to come inside the house at that point, so I had to make this top priority. Basically, I put Shadow in a carrier and then I just walked past it with each dog. I reinforced calmness. Chilly, my non-reactive bug, did super well and after a few training sessions didn’t mind the cat at all. Bailey not so much. She was VERY aware of Shadow and we kept our distance at the beginning, then gradually started coming closer until we were able to walk around the carrier completely without Bailey obsessing over the cat. Once we were close enough, both of the dogs sniffed the cat but Bailey much more hesitantly.

 

I used food as a reinforcer through this entire process and I stand by that 100%. I’ve noticed some trainers speak very ill of using food as a reinforcer, even within the positive reinforcement community. I would like to address here that every dog is different and each case of reactivity is unique. I cannot imagine doing this with Bailey without food. Praise is not enough for her to reinforce a calm behavior and toys get her too hyped. The first time we were able to stand right next to the carrier, she started becoming too hyped about food as well (because the presence of the trigger made her nervous), so we took a step back and started again. At one point I started to use food selectively (meaning I didn’t need to reinforce every single time anymore) and before long, we were able to happily march around the carrier without any food needed at all.

!!! PLEASE REMEMBER !!!

  • Make sure your reinforcer is not making your already reactive (and therefore nervous) dog even more hyped up.

  • Don’t be afraid to take a few steps back if you see your dog is getting overwhelmed

  • My training sessions lasted MINUTES. None of them were longer than 10. I would also advise not to expose your dog to a trigger every single day but in my case, I basically had no choice so I was even more adamant to keep these sessions as short as possible.

  • You reactive dog will need to decompress afterwards, so make sure they get A LOT of rest.

  • You are not using food as a bribe or a distraction!!! You are using food as a reinforcer and a way to change your dog’s emotional blueprint.

Example: every time your dog looks at the cat and remains calm, he is immediately reinforced. As you were able to read, in the beginning stages I only reinforced Bailey for check-ins with me, when we still had a big distance between us and the cat. Many would argue why not immediately start by reinforcing her when she looks at the cat. YOU CAN! This is why I said every dog is so unique. My Bailey’s reactivity was so incredibly severe when I got her that she would have a complete meltdown if she so much as sensed, sniffed or heard a trigger. Seeing it would result in an outburst that she could barely snap out of. There are days when I wonder how we ever survived those months and years. As a result of that, she and I have built this check-in system that allows her to first get comfortable around a trigger (without having to look at it) and THEN we move on to getting closer and reinforcing her when she either looks at it or simply remains calm around it. Some people seem to think that if a dog is looking at you he is not paying attention to the trigger - trust me, your dog can still sense the trigger. They’re not stupid.😉

 

Pay attention to your dog, I don’t care what is written on the internet, even on my blog. Cultivate critical thinking! If some trainer has never worked and lived with your level of reactivity, they can’t know.

 

An unpopular opinion, I know. But it’s the truth. Watch your dog’s body language at all times and see how he responds to what you are doing together. If you see that he is calming down, you are on a good path. If you see that he is starting to display signs of discomfort (raised hackles, licking lips, lifted paw, whining etc.), get a bigger distance between you and the cat or stop the training session altogether. Maybe your dog has had enough for one day and needs some rest - that is okay!

 

The last stage of this training was to have Shadow in the carrier placed on a table and the dogs were unleashed around it, together. This step went without any complications at all, perhaps because they weren’t separate in this stage. They went to the table, sniffed the carrier from underneath and then started playing with each other or simply calmed down, stretched on the floor and that was it. Eventually I was able to move the carrier back to the ground, right next to them and all was well. Sometimes they came to briefly sniff Shadow but never both at once and mainly they just left her alone.

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TWO IMPORTANT THINGS TO NOTE:

FIRST: my cat Shadow was NEVER afraid of dogs. She has been comfortable around them since she has adopted us, which has made this process outstandingly simpler. In the beginning stages of the socialization I always gave her a big meal in the carrier and she was facing away from the door while I worked with the dogs. She never had a problem with resting in the carrier either - again, this has made my job a lot easier. If this is not the case with your kitten, I would advise the following: first, make sure she is crate trained! Reinforce the living jesus out of a carrier or a crate so that your cat can willingly go inside of it and stay there comfortably. Patience is your best friend here! This training will also come in handy whenever it’s time to take a vet trip, so you’ll be thankful you did it! Second, get a helper. If your cat is not fully comfortable with the dogs then please don’t do this alone. Get someone to help you with the cat as you’re tending to the dogs. They can sit next to the carrier and monitor the cat’s behaviors and emotions, as well as reinforce her with food in the same way you are doing with the dogs. This is how she’ll learn that being around dogs is a short activity that brings her food - and we all know how much kittens love food!

 

SECOND: this whole outdoor process happened within a two month period. Some steps we breezed over, some steps took longer but just so you know, there is NO TIME-FRAME on how fast this will happen for you. I didn’t have any timeframe set for myself here and it gave me a lot of freedom. Don’t rush this, take it slow if you can. Some situations are unpredictable, as you’ll learn in the Part 2 of this guide; I had to move Shadow into the house full-time overnight. When those situations happen, we push through, we maybe have one or two extra training sessions that we could otherwise leave out but even so, WE NEVER EVER EVER RUSH ANIMALS INTO SOMETHING THAT CAUSES THEM DISCOMFORT or could result in them not trusting us. Our job is to keep them safe!

 
All socialization truly is, at its core, is making sure our dogs (and cats) feel SAFE in a variety of situations.

Whether you already live with a cat and a reactive dog, or you’re merely thinking about adopting one, please start this process outside of the home on a neutral territory. I know this is a bit of a challenge with a reactive dog, because unless you have a backyard or a terrace, you might not be able to do this. Apartment hallways are terribly stressful for reactive dogs, not to mention parks. If you have the option to drive to a big field or a meadow and have someone with you that could help you, you can still do these sessions outside of the home where you have the ability to keep your dog at any distance that you wish. Again, I urge you to do this even if you already live with a cat and a reactive dog and it’s not working out! We don’t speak this enough but part of what triggers reactive dogs is the notion that they don’t have anywhere to retreat. This is why outside work is so important, because you can build up the distance.

 

Hopefully this post was able to be of service - this is just Part 1 and it speaks about the work outside of the home. Part 2 will address home manners, cohabiting within a small space, managing your dog’s chase instinct and more! But first, I want you to digest this post and get to work.

 

Please don’t rush this process and give your animals as much time as they need.

 

I promise you, it’s all worth it in the end! 🐕❤️🐱

 

My Cat Almost Died Because I Was An Idiot

shadow cat sick

Six years ago when I adopted Bailey I had zero knowledge of dog training, but I did have my intuition and compassion. Unfortunately, in the first year of my life with her, I often listened to all the wrong people who were so very eager to give me advice. Sometimes I listened to them, sometimes I didn’t - but all the while I felt like the most stupid and incompetent person on the planet. Should training my dog really be this hard and complicated? Is it my fault that Bailey is so afraid of everything? Am I really too soft with her? These were the questions that were keeping me up at night but eventually I found incredible resources on positive reinforcement and my education started to match what my intuition was saying - that raising dogs should be done through compassion and patience, not painful and repressive “techniques.” Six years later, I like to feel that I’ve learned from this experience. Never listen to people who aren’t credible, do your own research and always trust your gut.  

 

Apparently, I didn’t learn this lessons as well as I had hoped. The universe has served me a very big lesson by bringing Shadow into my life and instead of doing a better job at following my principles than I did 6 years ago, I failed the test - and as a result, I went through one of the most painful experiences I had ever gone through as a pet mom. 

 

When I found Shadow, I thought she’s going to be a normal stray cat that only comes by to be fed once in a while but otherwise roams freely in the environment. But with her, it soon became clear that she has become very attached to me and the home. She belonged with us almost instantly. I wrote a special blog post about this, introducing her on this platform for the first time and talking about my transition from dog-mom-only to dog-and-cat mom. At the time of writing that post, I was trying to adjust to having Shadow as an indoor/outdoor cat. This arrangement has felt uncomfortable for me since day one, but I was told that “this is a cat. They need their freedom. We’ve had cats all our lives and they’ve all been outside throughout the day. They are cats! This is not a dog!” I’m not going to make excuses as to why I didn’t listen to myself (or did more extensive research that went beyond “how to take care of a stray cat”), other than the fact that I was completely burnt out and going through a billion changes in my life. It was the worst time ever to get another animal, so I figured these people must be right and even though it went against every single cell of my existence, I kept letting Shadow roam outside. She was an exceptional huntress and caught a rat or a bird every single day. She always kept near the house, but I was never ever relaxed when she was away. Eventually she started journeying further away from the house and my anxiety kept deepening. But hey, this is a cat, not a dog Luna. You can’t tame her or train her. She needs her freedom. Right? 

 

Wrong. Luna of the past, you were so wrong and look what it almost cost you. The week before my birthday (which falls on the 25th of June) Shadow became completely lethargic and stopped eating. She was fine in the morning but by evening she wasn’t herself anymore. She was roaming around all day, so obviously I had no idea what could have happened that made her this way. I figured maybe she just ate a giant rat again and needs some more rest. The fact that she wasn’t eating was alarming because she has an insatiable appetite, but I figured I’d wait and see. This was Tuesday. The next day I was home alone all day, babysitting Ursha, so I didn’t have too much time to pay attention to where is Shadow. She remained near the house, but still refused to eat and her movement was extremely slow, her eyes unfocused. When my family came home in the evening I broke down in tears because I couldn’t ignore my intuition anymore. I knew it in my gut that something was wrong - very wrong. The vet clinic that works after-hours wasn’t available for walk-in patients, but I did talk to the vet on the phone and he said to wait until morning and then take her to my regular vet. We did that. That morning she threw up and my vet gave her anti-vomiting medication as well as some anti-dehydration liquid. She said it looked like Shadow has eaten something bad but should be okay once she starts eating again. I was instructed to keep giving her this liquid with a syringe and was also given special food for stomach issues that should have gotten her through the weekend. That was Thursday. 

 

On Friday, Shadow still refused to eat, drink or move. I tried with the anti-dehydration liquid and a special gel paste that gives a dehydrated animal the necessary ions. She refused to be fed whatsoever and it took me a while to master the syringe but I want to say that even though Shadow resisted against it, she never once scratched or bit me. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: she is the most gentle animal I have ever had. At that point, I have cried every single day of the week. Hoping and praying that she’s going to be okay. Wishing on every single star that exists that on Saturday morning I wake up and she starts eating again. 

 

On Saturday morning, I woke up to her throwing up all of the liquid she has been given in the past two days. I called my vet and she told me to immediately bring her in for an IV. I was then told that if a cat doesn’t eat for 2 days it’s extremely dangerous for them and potentially lethal - at that point, Shadow hasn’t eaten in 4 days going on 5. They took her in for the IV and I was sent home for a few hours. I started to break the second I got back into the car, but once we made it to our home driveway, I had a complete meltdown. I was crying so hard I couldn’t breathe. My whole body was hurting and I was choking on my own snot. What have I done? What the fuck have I done? How could I have let this happen? How could I have been this irresponsible? If she dies, it’s on me.

 

When the vet asked me if Shadow ate something bad, I couldn’t give an answer. When she asked me where Shadow has been, I couldn’t give an answer. When she asked me if something has happened to her, I couldn’t give an answer. I couldn’t tell them anything that would help her because I didn’t know anything. I let my damn cat roam free - you know, like I DON’T do with the dogs! My dogs have all of their primal instincts satisfied, their nature is incredibly respected AND YET, they aren’t outside on the street alone all day. Somehow, this is completely logical to me when it comes to dogs - they don’t belong on the street. Just because they can survive as stray dogs, doesn’t mean they should be forced to. I would never let Chilly roam around to find his own food, I would never just open the doors for Bailey to go out into the world when we are literally surrounded by roads and live right next to a damn highway. Honestly, why do we understand this about dogs, but completely flip the script when it comes to cats?

shadow cat outdoor cats

In that moment, in our driveway, it dawned on me that I’ve made a huge mistake by not trusting myself. By not trying harder. By allowing people to say to me that she’s “just a cat, not a dog” - just like they were saying to me about Bailey 6 years ago, “she’s just a dog, not a child.” Honestly? Fuck those people. And fuck me, too! The fact that six years later I was still willing to listen to people who obviously don’t see or understand animals in the same way that I do is absolutely shameful. The fact that I couldn’t be bothered to do more research into cats because boo hoo my life is a mess right now and I really don’t know if I can handle another animal, is seriously idiotic.

 

I mean, why did I come here on this planet if not to make it a better and safer place for animals? Why did I create this platform if not to raise awareness about responsible pet ownership? 

 

I wish I could say I cried out my heart in that driveway but I didn’t - I proceeded to cry all four hours that she was getting the IV. When we picked her up, she got painkillers (because they didn’t know if she’s vomiting because she ate something bad or was she hurt and that triggered the symptoms), I got syringes and food that I was instructed to forcibly feed her no matter what, and she got super strong anti-vomiting medication. My vet said that if all these meds don’t work on her, something is seriously wrong and she may have pancreatitis. We came home, I put Shadow in her crate (she was completely high from the meds) and cried cried cried some more. 

 

On this note, I’m not usually the quickest to cry. I usually exhaust all other options of dealing with life until I hit an absolute wall. When that happens, my heart is usually so broken and exhausted at that point that the tears just won’t stop. So I hit a wall on Saturday and will probably always consider it one of the worst days of my life. Force feeding Shadow was horrific. Shoving a syringe in her mouth as gently as I could while she was trying to wiggle out of my hands and then squeezing the food into her mouth and holding her mouth closed so she doesn’t spit it out … all this a couple of times a day because we couldn’t do more than two or three syringes of food at a time. It was hell. My hell, her hell. Just looking at her felt like she's not really here anymore. Wherever I put her that's where she stayed until I picked her up and moved her again. She felt so far gone. 

 

I've been obsessed with the universe since I was a child. For me, it represents a higher power of choice. I talk to the night sky a lot - the stars and the moon have always been where I place all of my wishes and gratitude and worry. I'm not sure if that counts as an equivalent to praying, but it has gotten me through life so far. On Saturday night I felt so empty and devastated. I was sitting outside and I felt a feeling of complete surrender. All I could do was look up to the sky and make a promise to the universe: if Shadow survives, I am not only going to become the cat mom that she deserves to have, but I will also change the mission of Mother of Rescues. I swear to the stars that if my baby makes it, I will not only raise awareness about compassionately parenting traumatized dogs, but also about claiming full responsibility for the safety of our cats. I will make it my mission to teach humans that cats deserve to live a life of integrity where all of their instincts are satisfied and they are kept safe. I will socialize my reactive dog to this cat so well that I will shut everybody up. I will train this cat and prove people wrong. I am going to turn my stupidity into a learning experience for the masses - I promise. Just please … let her live. 

 

Come Sunday morning, last day before my birthday. She still wasn’t eating on her own or moving much. I took her out into the sun. I figured it could only help her, but another part of me thought that if she dies, at least she’ll have spent her last day in the sun. I would wish the same for myself. That’s when I felt that I had no more tears left to cry, not even one. I held her in my arms and we just sat in the sun. Even the syringe-feeding wasn’t so bad anymore. Afterwards, she went to a glass where I had water (that I was just about to put into the syringe) and she started drinking by herself. It felt like a miracle. It was a miracle. I have never loved the sound of an animal drinking more than in that moment; it was the most beautiful music. Later that day, another miracle. She took a few bites of food on her own. I made sure she had food available throughout the day, so by the evening she actually ate a respectable amount on her own! I was overjoyed but still worried that she might throw it up, because if she did, it would point towards a serious illness. 

 

Come Monday. My birthday. Shadow pooped first thing in the morning, after a whole week of nothing moving through her. I’ve never been so happy to see poop, let me tell you. No throwing up. She looked happy, responsive. She started climbing everywhere again, didn’t want to be carried all of a sudden, wanted to walk on her own, she was interacting with the dogs and we were outside together almost all day. She was awake, happy … herself. I have gotten some really good birthday gifts over the years, but this was by far the best one. My baby staying with us.❤️ I still thank her every single day for staying. I’ll never get over this, or not very soon anyways. And I know that I have a job to do now.

 

This platform is dedicated to raising awareness about compassion - for traumatized dogs and cats alike. For normal dogs and cats too. For any animal that needs your patience, care and devotion, when your environment thinks you are crazy. This is who this platform is for. I re-wrote the mission statement and I would love it if you took a minute to read it; you can find it here!

 

I feel compelled to say that throughout this whole week, Bailey and Chilly have been the source of my greatest emotional support. They have been with me every step of the way, looking at me with big eyes and showering me with love, patience and understanding. Shadow was with us in bed almost all the time and even though she peed in it twice, nobody seemed to mind. This week has truly bonded us even more as a pack. 

sleeping baby cat

So here you have it, my story. Our story. The story that almost didn’t have a happy ending - the story that universally definitely doesn’t often get a happy ending like this. Whether you are considering having a cat, have found a cat, could possibly one day find a cat or adopt a cat, have friends who have cats … here is what I want you to take away from this post: 

 

Outdoor and indoor/outdoor cats aren’t safe. PERIOD. If you don’t let your dog roam free all day long, don’t let your cat do that. If you do let your dog roam free all day, you need to sit down with yourself and reassess your priorities and projections. Allowing our animals to be unsafe in the name of freedom is a paradox. An animal that is not safe is NOT free. An animal that belongs to somebody but isn’t under the protection of that somebody throughout the day is NOT free. An animal that dies 10 years before her time because a human being couldn’t honor her instincts within the realm of safety is NOT free. Freedom and safety go hand in hand. Committing to an animal means committing to satisfying her instincts and this does NOT mean forsaking your responsibility to this animal and letting her roam free in an environment that is not only unsafe, but often very actively rigged against her. 

 

I understand that there are many stray cats who have been spayed and neutered and checked by vets and they are living the stray life, staying away from humans or only coming by to be fed every now and then. I understand that capturing (and taming) them is often a big challenge, I understand that shelters sometimes can’t take them in, I understand stray cat problematic is heavy. But I’m not talking about this right now. I’m talking about adopting an animal, buying an animal, committing to an animal … and then refusing to take responsibility for her safety. I’m talking about cat ownership that by default allows cats to roam free throughout the day. If you currently have an indoor/outdoor cat and are reading this, this post is probably pissing you off. GOOD. If I had read this post before all this happened I would be hella triggered. It sucks when someone challenges the beliefs you are passionately defending even though you’ve never rationally examined them. And that’s exactly the point - you cannot rationally justify allowing your cat to roam free because all statistics, environmentalists and other experts can easily prove you wrong. When I was finally educating myself from the proper sources, I was blown away by the information that nobody has ever told me about before. I was emotionally justifying my previous decision, probably because I was projecting a lot of my own shit onto Shadow. As humans we feel trapped a lot, so hey, why not project some of that onto our animals, let them irresponsibly roam free and call it a day? 😉 OR … we could call ourselves out on our own bullshit, admit we’re not perfect, cry a lot when shit hits the fan, educate ourselves from people who actually know what they are doing … and snuggle with our babies at the end of the day, fully knowing that they are healthy, safe and happy.

 

Since Shadow became an indoor cat we’ve gotten so much closer through my making sure that her predatory nature is honored. But this is a topic for another blog post. For now, I want to end with this: I hope that you can learn from my mistake so that you never have to live through this story yourself. I hope that you can admit to yourself your own mistakes, whatever they may be. I hope that you can forgive yourself for them, too. Personally, I’m still working on that last one, but I know that if all this had to happen in order for me to wake up and expand this platform to the point where it makes an even bigger impact than before, then I can make my peace with it. 

 

Shadow is right next to me as I am writing this. She is sleeping and there is something about her peaceful breathing that swells my heart. She is a gift. All of this, a gift. Life, a gift. Death, a teacher. The prospect of death, a perspective. All we ever have is now. And right now, we can choose to be better than yesterday. I know I am. Are you? 

Sleepy shadow cat

From Dog Mom to Cat Mom

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When I was picking the name for my platform two years ago I desperately wished for Mother of Dogs, but it had already been taken. I settled for the Mother of Rescues instead, but I always kind of felt the need to specifically explain that I only have dogs. In fact, I never even considered having cats because I am such a dog person. I figured that cats are far too independent for me, so I would worry about them roaming around too much. Besides, everyone told me they have a very snarky personality and aren’t as affectionate as dogs. I really believed that to be true, so I never considered having cats at all.


A little over a month ago, right on the day of the Scorpio Full Moon, I was sitting on my balcony when a stray cat climbed up on it. She looked to be in a really bad shape. Because I was already feeding another stray cat at the time, I luckily had cat food in the pantry so I went and got it. The cat trusted me immediately and as she came closer to eat I could see that she was really roughed up. She had a bunch of hair missing, a tiny wound on her neck, a stitch hanging out of her belly and the top of her left ear cut off - both of which was an indication that she had been spayed not long ago. She was very hungry. It seemed like she can’t get enough of food. After she’s been fed, I tried to slowly touch her, fully thinking that this feral cat is not going to let me do it. Well, she did! Not only that, she immediately lied on her back and exposed her belly to me, asking for cuddles. The bond was there instantly - just like that.

 

When I look into the eyes of an animal, I do not see an animal. I see a living being. I see a friend. I feel a soul.
— Anthony Douglas Williams

 

After that, she never left. She was always either on our balcony or our roof. She tried to get into the house multiple times through the open windows and one time even got stuck on a half-open window. The dogs barked at her if they saw her, but she really didn’t seem to mind - or run away. I took her to the vet a few days in, because her stitch didn’t look good. They took the stitch out, gave her an antibiotic for an infection she had and informed me that she had overcome microsporia before I found her. That’s why her hair was missing and why she was used to humans and the house - she must have been recovering for a while before they spayed and returned her to the streets. Her behavior at the vet stunned me. She was absolutely calm and not panicky at all. I expected to come away from the examination completely scratched - I wore long sleeves on purpose. But little cat did absolutely nothing, she just patiently underwent the examination - because she had been through all of this before, of course. After we got a clear bill of health and the vet logged her into the system, we headed home.

 

It was clear to me, at that time already, that this little soul belongs with us.
 Shadow at the vet 

Shadow at the vet 

I named her Shadow, which may seem an odd choice for a name but it really fits her. First, it was the whole Scorpio Moon thing. I’m really big on astrology and Scorpio is a sign that rules the shadows. It’s a sign that is inviting us into the unknown. Her arrival pushed me into complete unknown and made me face a lot of my misconceptions and prejudices. The second reason is that I couldn't go anywhere without this cat following me like a true shadow. We have windows all around the home (we live in a big attic apartment), which means she can comfortably see into the house from the roof. If I was in the kitchen, she was at the kitchen window. When I went into the bedroom, she went to the bedroom window. So little shadow earned her name; Shadow.🖤

 

I realized really quickly that Shadow doesn’t want to be an outside cat. She loves being outside and has all the freedom in the world, sure, but she prefers spending most of her time inside with us. Once that became clear (basically on day three), I knew I had to socialize the dogs to this cat. We have two Irish Setters who genuinely don’t care about cats, so they weren’t too much of a challenge. I’m still a little panicky if Ruby is in the same space as her and off the leash, simply because she is such a giant dog and Shadow is so small, but there truly haven’t been any incidents, so we’re doing great!


Then there are my dogs. I’ll start with Bailey - my reactive little treasure. I truly thought she’s going to be the toughest cookie because she has an insane prey drive. At the beginning, I was right. I tried to do counter-conditioning but she was so over the threshold it was impossible. So I took a different approach - I put her on the leash and we just walked past the cat (who was safely in a transporter) from a certain distance and kept these sessions super short. I reinforced her for keeping her focus on me at first, but gradually moved to reinforcing her for looking at the cat and staying calm. Eventually we could do a circle around Shadow and then I just kept them in the same space (outside), each of them behind a boundary, so they got used to each other’s presence and practiced calmness. I’m actually surprised by how quickly it clicked in Bailey’s head that this cat is not prey but a family member. I can now have Shadow in my lap and Bailey just comes up to us, sniffs her and then leaves. She’s still a little afraid of her, because Bailey always needs a certain amount of time to start trusting a new animal, but I’m okay with that. I’m outstandingly proud!

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Chilly on the other hand was immediately okay with the cat (he has zero prey instinct) and we had a couple of beautiful counter-conditioning sessions. They were textbook perfect. But he does have a shortcoming: he is very playful and his border collie nature makes him a little too fast and often too rough when he is playing. This has never been a problem before because both of my dogs are VERY high-energy. One of the reasons I wanted a BC was because I needed someone who can keep up with Bailey - and despite Chilly being so fast and energetic, he is still not a match for her speed! ;) When they play, they are absolutely insane; but their dynamic is beautiful to watch. If Chilly gets a little too raunchy, Bailey lets him know. However, I can’t really expect him to have this dynamic with Shadow. When she is still, all is well. But when she moves, he wants to jump at her and bark at her to play, but she runs away as an instinct. We only had one incident when I didn't see her come into our yard but Chilly did. He was after her before I could even get a chance to react. He was trying to herd her - that’s his instinct. Shadow seemed to know it wasn’t life and death because she wasn’t even really running away or trying to defend herself, she just looked mildly annoyed that he was in her space. Nobody got hurt but I did have a minor heart-attack. 

 

I’ve never been one of those owners that put the responsibility of harmonious cohabitation on their animals, rather than carry it themselves. (You know the ones … “Oh you just need to let them hash it out themselves. They need to figure it out on their own.” Yeah, NOPE!)

 

I’m overseeing every single interaction very carefully. I am afraid that Chilly might unintentionally hurt her or that Shadow will snap at him and hurt him. I want both of them to feel safe and calm around each other. So as of now, they are only together when we are in the house, where they are both calm and still. Mutual time in the yard so far is off the limits. The next step in our training will be that I have Chilly on the leash in the yard with Shadow present. He is the smartest boy in the universe and I know that he will soon learn that she is simply not his playmate or herding buddy. If he knew it with chickens, he’ll know it with the cat!

 

The last furry baby that is trying to adjust to our new reality is Ringo. He has only been with us since September last year and came to us with a big and unmanaged prey drive. He’s had the toughest time adjusting to Shadow’s presence, but is making progress each and every day! My sister is very committed to his training and I am truly proud of both of them. As of now, Ringo doesn’t bark anymore when he hears her meowing at the window or when he sees her in my lap as I carry her past him. This is already a huge success!

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As you can see, we have all hands on deck socializing our five dogs to this little feline creature.

 

She is absolutely unaffected by the presence of the dogs. She doesn’t care about them whatsoever and shows no fear around them, to the point where I wonder if she even has survival instinct, haha. She is also the most gentle animal I have ever held. She loves to cuddle all day long, she falls asleep in my arms, she just wants to be near me no matter what I’m doing. Has everybody lied to me about the nature of cats? Have I been pranked by the world? She does roam around during the day, but not as much as I thought she would. She spends the majority of the day with us. Needless to say, I am absolutely smitten with her. I am completely in love. She is such a cuddle bug and just what my soul needed at this point in my life.

 

I never thought I’d ever have a cat but the universe had different plans - and I finally understand why the name Mother of Rescues was always, always meant to be.❤️

 


This is a story about Shadow and her five canine family members. What is your kitty story? Do you have dog and cat babies living together as well? Please share your experience in the comments! I would love to hear some tips and tricks on how you are balancing both! :)

 

When Love Equals Fear: The Truth About My Paralyzing Fear of Losing My Dog

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This is probably one of the hardest blog posts I have ever written, but there is a part of me that hopes putting this out there is going to feel somewhat therapeutic. Ever since I first got Bailey I’ve had this paranoid, debilitating fear that something bad is going to happen to her. At first I thought it was a normal and temporary thing … I was in a dark place when she came to me, she changed my life instantly and I thought that maybe I’m just afraid because I’m not sure if this love is here to stay. I really hoped that, as the time passes, I will become less afraid - I’ll get used to having her around, right? Well … Bailey is going to be with me 6 years this summer and the fear is still here. I have been pushing it away constantly, never daring to even speak about it, until I recently heard someone talk about this same paranoid fear in their podcast and it hit me right in the heart. I couldn’t really push it away anymore because I finally started to understand how much it has been affecting me for the past six years.

 

I have a lot of souls in my life that I love dearly, both human and canine. Obviously the thought of losing any of them is too much to bear, but it’s just one of those things I don’t really think about - probably like most people. I mean, we would all go insane if we constantly contemplated losing our most loved ones. But this is exactly what is happening to me with Bailey. I don’t know if there has been a week in our whole time together where I didn’t excessively worry about her dying. This thought is always in the back of my head. Sometimes I would overthink myself into crying because the anxiety is so heavy. I would hold her in my arms and think "Please don't die." The fear is overwhelming and it always has been. I’m not religious, but of course this goes out the door when we need a favor from the universe - so I would often just pray pray pray to the sky to keep her safe.

 

I don’t like leaving her anywhere without me because I’ve always feared she might die when I’m away and I won’t be able to be with her in her last moments. How messed up is that? I get that this is not a normal fear of loss. I just don’t always know where it comes from - or why it has centered around Bailey.

 

Maybe it’s the co-dependency. I love Chilly just as much, but somehow I can understand him as a completely separate entity from me. I can’t do that with Bailey. I swear she is somehow a part of me in a way I cannot explain. Looking at her is like looking into a mirror. We reflect each other all the time. When she is sick, my whole body physically hurts. I can’t even make this up! When she can’t sleep at night, I instinctively wake up too. Sometimes we’re out on a walk and I can feel her tense next to me without even looking at her and I know that she can sense/hear/smell a trigger that’s not yet in our visual field. We’ve always had incredibly strong non-verbal communication. Chilly needs a lot of verbal direction and instructions, he loves to follow cues and interact through the voice. But Bailey is pure intuition and most of the time we communicate without words. She has always been very co-dependent with me and while we’ve worked through a lot of that, at the end of the day I know there is nobody in the world she would feel more comfortable with than she does with me. We just “get” each other.

 

So maybe this fear is so big because I think losing her would be losing me?

 

I think if I lost her, I would lose this giant part of my soul. Like I couldn’t function without her because before she was in my life, I wasn’t actually functioning. I know this has nothing to do with her and I know that her mission in this lifetime was never to “fix” me; it was to wake me up. Her mission now is to keep me awake, keep me on my toes, keep me learning, keep me striving for more knowledge so that I can help more people. This blog, and all the knowledge I have, are a result of her being in my world. Adopting Bailey has changed the entire course of my life. Looking at how much I’ve built on this journey, how much has came into fruition since I’ve had her, because I have her … it’s almost as if I don’t know what life would look like without her in it.

 

If I was normal, I would say to myself that this is something I really don’t have to think about for the next 10 more years and I would relax into the fact that I have the most wonderful companion in the universe here with me. I would be thankful for this deep love - and I am, every day! But the love comes with fear and this fear … this fear is too much.

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"In order to have peace, we must first have trust."

- Insurgent 

In all these years, I have dreamt that she had passed away two times (and that’s still two times too many). Both of those dreams were incredibly intense. They weren’t normal dreams … you know, where the pictures feel a little hazy and you feel a bit detached and time passes differently, more quickly and in sequences? These dreams were not like that. They were REAL. As in, time was normal and it went on forever and I physically felt everything in my body. Think about your normal dreams … you don’t usually feel the physical sensations, it’s very rare. But in these dreams I physically felt everything. I was holding her and shaking her, I tried to scream and nothing came out, my legs were shaking … needless to say, I woke up completely traumatized. The first time I panically shook Bailey awake to see if she’s okay and the second time I was so exhausted from the dream I couldn’t even properly move, I was just lying there, thanking the universe for waking me up.

 

So, I’ve been thinking about this lately - more consciously now than before. I’ve been trying to analyze it, to pick this fear apart and pinpoint where it started or why it’s so intense. I’ve been surrounded by dogs my whole life, a lot of them have passed away, most of them have passed away suddenly … but I managed to process all of their deaths before I even got Bailey and even last year, when we lost Lady, this fear stayed the same. Not that it could get any more intense than it already is, but I know that Lady’s passing didn’t contribute to my paranoia. If anything, I was so consumed with Chilly at the time (because he took it a little hard at the beginning) that I barely had enough time for Bailey. So clearly, this fear couldn’t have been triggered by the loss of other dogs.

 

The more soul searching and digging I do about this issue, the more I realize it’s deeper than just this moment, these six years, this one soul.

 

I’ve spoken about my childhood a little bit up here before, even though it’s always hard for me to write about this because first, I’m very private and second, I’m trying to keep the attention on rescue dogs. But the fact of the matter is that if you are a human raising a dog, somebody else was raising you too. And that IS significant and it DOES play a role, whether you realize it or not.

 

I was raised in a house that was always full of fear and anxiety. The women in my life could never relax into love or even motherhood - there was always fear, fear, fear. I remember being a child, living a completely chaotic life but every now and then things got a liiiiitle bit better. I would relax, thinking that things are going to be okay now. Then, something major and bad happened again - and it was back to chaos. Rinse and repeat! I think I got the impression that good things don’t last. I got the impression that love equals intense fear. Maybe this is why I can’t relax into loving Bailey. Because it’s so intense and joyful and she was the first dog I ever adopted. I sort of expected something to go wrong.

 

I had never been taught how to love someone without reading them chapters from the book of anxiety.

 

I have to shoutout Chilly at this point, because he is the dog that taught me to relax. Loving him makes my heart lighter. Maybe that’s why this yearning to release this fear has come up now, after all this time. I still carry this fear with me every day but I am learning to shift my thought patterns and relax into this love.

 

It’s okay. All is well. Bailey is anchored in my heart - now and always. She is safe safe safe. I wake up every morning to her snout nuzzled into my neck. I don’t want to pollute those moments with anxiety anymore. I want to cherish them, live in the moment and give thanks to the universe every single day for bringing her to me. She is, and always will be, my life’s best part.❤️

 

Your Own Agenda vs. Your Dog's Actual Needs

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I've been a much better mom to Bailey since Chilly has come into our lives now almost two years ago. Before him, I never realized how many things that I was doing with Bailey were completely my own agenda. It's normal that as dog parents we sometimes convince ourselves we know exactly what our dogs need. We think we know best for them which often leads to completely ignoring the signs they're sending us that say "hey, I don't really like this!" Sometimes we WANT them to like something or to be a certain way so bad that we fully detach ourselves from what they've been desperately trying to tell us. This is something that is asking for reflection, whether you have a reactive dog or not! 

 

I love long walks. This was one of the main reasons why I wanted a dog in the first place - to be able to stroll around the neighborhood and chill in the park. When I got Bailey, a lot of those dreams didn't come true, for obvious reasons. I managed to make peace with the fact that she's not a park dog, a loves-children dog, a loves-other-dogs dog, a hardly-ever-barks dog ... but for the life of me, I couldn't make peace with the fact that she doesn't enjoy walks. For years, I insisted on long walks with Bailey every single day, even though they caused her anxiety. Even after we worked through a lot of her triggers, she still didn't seem particularly happy about walking around the neighborhood. She does like hiking in nature, but definitely needs a couple of days to decompress afterwards (especially if it's a new environment).

 

I was a student when I got Bailey, so I spent a lot of my days at the university, sitting in a classroom. I needed our long morning and afternoon walks so bad that I couldn't let them go. I kept thinking that Bailey NEEDS them - but this was just my projection, this was what I was needing and wishing from her. I couldn't possibly figure this out ... until Chilly came along. He is an absolute explorer and he LOVES walks. In the morning he's almost exploding of excitement because he wants to go out so bad. He could walk for hours at a time and not get bored, he's completely relaxed on these walks and it's totally his thing.

 

It wasn't until I saw how HAPPY Chilly is on our walks that I realized Bailey expresses this same happiness in completely different environments and activities. A lightbulb turned on in my brain - at last!  

 

Slowly but surely we've developed a new routine, one I recently had a chance to reflect on and truly see how much it has been benefiting Bailey. First thing in the morning, I take Chilly out for a longer walk. He has the chance to sniff around, to explore, we always go to a park or a meadow to do some tricks, basic obedience and he often gets off leash time as well. By the time we come home, I've had my daily dose of a walk, I'm feeling fresh and in good spirits, Chilly is tired and relaxed, so I swap him for Bailey. Instead of mindlessly walking around with her too, she and I go straight to a meadow that's close to our home and she gets to either chase a ball, chase a frisbee, explore if she's up for it (I always give her the option and she decides!) or do some nose work.

 

Everything is done on HER terms. Some days she's in a better mood than others, so we stay longer. Some days she doesn't really feel like exploring at all, so we don't do that part. I'm giving her full control over what she wants to do. I follow her lead. This has been making her SO much happier. When we're walking home afterwards she's practically smiling. She has a big tired grin on her face. She is in a very relaxed state, her instincts are nurtured and satisfied, her mindset is instantly better. When we come home she doesn't need to decompress because this activity was decompression enough! She's happy! 

 

We still take longer walks too, of course. But because they are now less frequent, when we DO take them she is much more relaxed and in a better state of mind. She also knows she'll have the chance to decompress afterwards, if she needs it. She doesn't wake up agitated anymore, thinking that I'm about to drag her around the noisy neighborhood for an hour. When we're setting up to leave the house, she's excited because she knows a super fun activity is waiting for her outside! I think this routine has put her in a better state of mind where she's not constantly put in situations where she's surrounded by a million triggers. We live in the city and there's no way to have a morning walk here without passing dogs, kids, cars, bikes etc. She doesn't react to these triggers anymore most of the time because we've worked really hard and came a long way - but with that said there's still a long way to go and as she feels the presence of so many triggers and distractions at once, I know it makes her uneasy and I don't want her to experience this every single day.

 

I'm happy we've found this routine that works for us and that I was finally able to separate my own agenda from Bailey's needs. I'm inviting you into reflecting on your own routines now - are they serving you or your dog?

 

If you have a reactive and fearful dog ... how do you think THEY would choose to spend their days? What truly makes them HAPPY? Which activities relax them?

 

Is there something that you're doing that you feel like you HAVE TO do, but you know it's not making your dog happy? Is there an ambition you have and you're rushing your dog to achieve it? It's normal to make these mistakes but once we recognize our shortcomings we can decide to do better!

 

Make a list of activities that make YOU happy and a list of activities that make YOUR DOG happy. See what overlaps and make those activities a #1 priority.

 

Things that don't overlap have importance too but they are secondary. Remember that the whole point of opening your home to a dog is to help them THRIVE not just survive.❤️ I hope this gives you some food for thought and you can reflect on how you're spending time with your precious pooch in a way that makes BOTH of you relaxed and happy! 


On this note, I'd love to hear about some things that make your reactive dog happy! What are some (indoor or outdoor) activities that you do together that you both love? Please share them in the comments below! 

 

Blurred Lines: Where Does "Discipline" End and Abuse Begin?

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A couple of days ago I had to call the police because a woman was abusing her dog right outside my kitchen window. He was off the leash (she didn't even have a leash on her!) and I guess he didn't want to jog next to her. She called him to her and the dog practically crawled back to her. This scene alone was heartbreaking. What followed was her grabbing him by the muzzle, violently shaking him (I was actually afraid she might snap his neck) and then proceeding to lift him off the ground by the muzzle. He was whimpering with pain. It all happened within a couple of seconds and as soon as she grabbed his muzzle I opened my kitchen window and started yelling at her to stop. She completely ignored me and started jogging away, her poor dog following, tail between the legs. I called the police on her immediately.



I was shocked and traumatized by what I had seen as well as overwhelmed with anger. It's hard for me to understand what possesses humans to unleash their fury onto their dogs in such a way. I'm sure we've all been angry with our dogs - anger is a normal human emotion. But to lash out at them to the point of physical violence is a whole other conversation we need to be having. I've been noticing that people who believe in physically disciplining their dogs are dangerously crossing the line to abuse.

 

I've been thinking about this for the last couple of days. I know a lot of people who wouldn't call themselves dog abusers but they still punish their dogs physically. I know I've lost my temper in the past and yelled at Bailey for just ... being Bailey. I know I've seen a lot of people interact with their dogs in a way that made me very uneasy.

 

How can we be better than that? How can we start with OURSELVES first and then let our actions reflect on the outside, where they contribute to raising the human consciousness onto a new level of understanding canine behavior? How can we lead with love, kindness and compassion?
 

Let's start with this concept: your dog is NOT to blame when something goes wrong. When he "messes up" it's either because you didn't communicate with him clearly enough or because there was a lack of boundary - which was YOUR responsibility to set in the first place! The next time you want to get pissy because your dog did something "on purpose" ask yourself ... could I have prevented that? Can I use positive communication to make sure this doesn't happen again? Can I seek the help of a professional if I am at a dead end? Can I solve this problem without disrespecting the integrity of my dog?


I really don't think there's such a big void between "disciplining" our dogs and abuse. To me, any physical handling of the dog with the intent to cause pain IS abuse. This doesn't always mean you are a terrible person or a shitty dog owner - sometimes it means that you've been exposed to information in the media that led you to believe you have to "dominate" your dog. That you have to be "the alpha." You may have been exposed to trainers who told you that applying pain to your dog's neck (through prong/choke/shock collars) will "teach" him what's right. You may have been told that smacking your dog over the nose is discipline and that it doesn't really hurt him.



All of this information is false. There is countless scientific research done that PROVES the damage aversive collars do. That PROVES force-free training is the best one for your dog's state of mind. That PROVES there is no such thing as a dog dominating a human.


I don't know what led that woman to believe that she can hurt her dog in the way she did. With her, wasn't just a case of misused "discipline," it was pure violence. What shocked me was how comfortable she was doing it out in the open. Zero shame. Where does this begin? Maybe it begins in the collective belief that when a dog behaves "badly" he deserves to be punished? Maybe it begins in the lack of laws we have to protect dogs? Maybe it begins in believing the trainers who insist that dogs need to be TAMED and their wild spirit needs to be broken in order for us to be "the boss"?



I don't know if the police was able to track the woman down. I know that at best they could have fined her for an unleashed dog and issued a warning that she's been reported for abuse. At best. I don't know what this poor dog's life looks like on a daily basis or what I'm going to do if I see them again. I only know that I am haunted by how normal she seemed. You know, the kind of person you see in a grocery store and never think twice about. I'm haunted by the lack of her shame. The dog's painful whimpering. The police telling me they can't dispatch anyone right away because everyone is out of the station, monitoring snow covered roads. The constant questioning "should I have done more than just yell and report her?"

 

If you only take one thing away from this post I hope that it is this: BE KIND. Be kind to your dogs and to your humans. Self-reflect and hold yourself accountable to being a kind dog parent, a kind dog guardian. Someone who understands where a dog's behavior ends and their own anger begins. Who understands where your own agenda threatens to overpower your dog's integrity as a sentient being.
 

Nobody is perfect and we have all fucked up - but it's what we strive for on a daily basis that matters. It's the conversations we have with our family, friends and neighbors that matter. This woman is someone's friend and neighbor too and I wonder if the people in her life ever address how she treats the dog.



Don't shy away from the tough topics just because you don't want to offend someone. TALK about positive reinforcement, TALK to the person screaming at her dog at the top of their lungs, TALK to the person with a prong collar, TALK about how your emotions affect you as a dog parent/trainer, TALK to someone when you're frustrated with your dog. Start a conversation about raising our dogs with respect. When you respect someone you don't hurt them - it's as simple as that.
 


We can all do (and be) better. I can only hope that I have done my part for that one day and that I am putting enough educative material out there with this blog.



Let me know down below how you're contributing to the way we're treating dogs or if you have ideas on how to be more involved. Any action and idea is welcome - it can be as simple as sharing positive reinforcement Facebook posts or promoting local force-free trainers.


Let's build a better and safer world for the creatures who embody nothing else but unconditional love.❤️

Unfiltered Life: My Dog's Latest Outburst

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We had a big outburst today. A lady with a toddler parked herself right outside my bedroom window. The toddler was loud. I wasn't in the room and Bailey decided to put her paws on the window shelf to see outside. I think the sight of a toddler and a stroller and a lady and the loud screeching was too much for her to handle. I was in the kitchen cooking and I heard the loudest barking outburst ever. It was so sudden and so loud that I KNEW she was looking out the window. Even though I designed my entire bedroom in a way that she can't do that, she still found a way. The toddler was too loud and she had to make sure we were safe, I think, only to find that we "weren't." 

 

Upon hearing the outburst, my first emotion was anger. I was pissed. Why THE FUCK is she looking out the window? Why isn't she sleeping in her bed? I call "Bailey go lie down!" and nothing happens. The barking keeps going on. Frustrated and angry and super annoyed I put the soup off the stove and go to my room. 
 

I open the doors and I see her glued to the window barking so hard she's shaking. The hair was raised from the top of her head down to her tail. I call her name. Twice. She doesn't even hear me. I walk to the window and pick her up. She's surprised and looks up at me with the biggest eyes I've ever seen. In that moment all of my anger evaporates and I can't believe I ever could have felt that. She was so afraid - and incredibly relieved when she saw me.

 

I say "It's okay. Mom is here. It's okay."

 

She stops barking as soon as I pick her up. I hold her until she starts breathing normally again. I take her to the bed, away from the window and I try not to cry. She lies down and looks at me with these eyes. Like she knows. She knows it was a lot, she knows I'm trying to keep it together, she knows I don't always know what to do, she knows I would fight the whole universe to make her feel safe. She lies completely still and I snap this picture. She is tired and shaken and I want to remember this moment in case I ever get annoyed with her fear again. 

 

I say "I'm sorry bug."
 

I'm sorry the world feels so scary for her. I'm sorry that I sometimes feel anger and annoyance. I'm sorry that her first interaction with this planet was so bad it has left a mark on her forever. I'm sorry that some days, all I can do is love her. Nothing more - nothing less. <3

Positive Reinforcement is Not Permissive Upbringing

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I’ve been noticing a pattern of thinking among some dog parents lately and I feel called to address it. It’s the belief that positive reinforcement equals permissive upbringing. I already wrote a little bit about what positive reinforcement represents to me in this blog post, but I wanted to write a separate post to address some main concerns about force-free training that people often have.

 

A lot of people (myself included) have been raised with a lot of punishment. Modeling what we’ve seen our parents do (and sometimes other people as well), we develop a belief that only punishment can show someone what’s wrong. I mean, how else would they know, right?

 

Here’s where it gets tricky - punishment may show someone what’s unwanted behavior, but it doesn’t show them WHY this behavior is unwanted and WHAT they should do instead.

 

Growing up in an environment where punishment is the main choice of “discipline” often leaves us confused and unsure about how to establish constructive communication. We simply try to avoid being punished, often not knowing what the hell we should do to please the one who punishes us. The same thing happens to our dogs.

 

Because the popular media and the self-proclaimed “dog whisperers” have convinced millions of people that dogs need to be “dominated” and that you have to be the “alpha” (despite the fact that “dominance theory” has been disproven by the same guy who came up with it and many other scientists as well), people take on the burden of being the disciplinarian. This is a tough role, a heavy cross to bear. You are expected to be strict, firm, loud and sharp. You’re not allowed to feel bad for the dog you’re disciplining because (like your disciplinarians have told you), “this is for his own good!!!!”

 

Let me stop you right there and first tell you that we can all be so much better than this. We can be so much better than raising our most loved and vulnerable creatures with fear and intimidation. We don’t have to repeat this cycle of fear, just because we don’t know what else to do. It’s on this point that I often run into a pushback from other dog parents. They genuinely don’t know how to explain to their dog what they want, because nobody ever taught them how.

 

As people, we have incredible difficulty communicating with our own species, let alone a different one. It’s normal to feel confused about this. It’s normal to feel a bit helpless. After all, you are on the beginning of a very big learning experience, aren’t you? This fear of the unknown and confusion about everything we have been taught for decades usually leads to people having strong misconceptions about positive reinforcement. Again, this is a totally normal response, but I would like to highlight that it’s your responsibility as a dog parent to always seek knowledge about constructive ways to communicate with your dog. Always!

 

One of such ways is setting up solid boundaries.  

 

The Role of Boundaries

I always say that boundaries are my favorite thing in the world. I love them in all of my relationships, including the one I have with my dogs. Boundaries are essential, but there is always a kind and loving way to set them. People can be a little more complicated, but at least with dogs you’re setting a boundary to someone that always wants to please you. Boundaries are the foundation of any good relationship. Just like you explain to your boyfriend that you need Saturday brunch with your best friend to stay sane, you can explain to your dog that when you’re working at the computer, he needs to leave you alone. Just like you explain to your mom that she can’t come over unannounced, you can explain to your dog that paws don’t belong on the dining table. Kapish?

 

Let’s look at how you can set these boundaries in a way that doesn’t include force or punishment. Instead of yelling at your dog for stealing food from the table, you can simply set up a routine where every time you sit down to eat, he has to wait in his crate or on his dog bed. You can also set up a baby gate on your kitchen door or keep him in another room. No fuss, no yelling. Just a simple way of saying “Hey, when I’m eating, this really has nothing to do with you and it’s best if you wait outside the kitchen.” You can even give him a chew toy in the beginning stages of reinforcing this boundary to really make it clear that when you’re sitting at the table, he has something better to do than trying to steal your food.

 

It’s funny that people think positive reinforcement means the lack of boundaries because it’s actually quite the opposite: positive reinforcement is built on boundaries!

 

The more you set clear boundaries, the less you’ll have to argue with your dog. Prevention is one of the greatest tools in force-free training. When something goes wrong, don’t ask yourself how can you punish your dog. Ask yourself “How can I prevent this in the future?”

 

Do you see the difference? Punishment puts all the blame and responsibility on your dog, but positive reinforcement puts the responsibility on you - where it belongs! If you have been calling your dog for the past 10 minutes and he’s still not coming back it’s not your dog’s fault, dear friend. It’s your fault and your responsibility. You have a responsibility to teach him a reliable recall and to not let him off the leash if the recall isn’t solid enough. You see how this works?

 

Positive reinforcement is NOT permissive upbringing because it’s built on boundaries and prevention. It’s built on us recognizing our own responsibility.

 

If you were raising your dog in a permissive way, this would mean that your dog is always off the leash even though he doesn’t understand the concept of recall, it would mean that he runs up to every dog he sees and is disrespectful of their personal space, it would mean that he can get your attention whenever and however he wants, that he controls when you go out on a walk and when he eats and when he plays (usually with constant whining or barking at the owner until he finally gives into the dog’s wishes) and so on. The thing about permissive upbringing is that it has its limits. At one point, the permissive dog owner loses his temper and - you’ve guessed it - yells at the dog and punishes him.

 

These dogs don’t feel safe at all - they feel confused and exhausted because they always have to be in control. If your dog barks at you three times a day to feed him and four times a day to let him out and he's constantly whining until you give him attention and when you want to work he keeps bringing you toys ... your dog is not happy. He is irritated from all the extra responsibility that should have been on YOU! Failing to provide a stable environment is not good upbringing at all. Failing to provide safety and structure results in our dogs striving to provide it for themselves, usually in very unhealthy ways.

 

You see now that positive reinforcement doesn’t mean anarchy, it means that we recognize our dog’s needs and tend to them in the kindest way possible. It means that we step up to constructive communication and always, always learn about how we can parent them in a way that respects their integrity.

 

Unwanted Behaviors - Do We Just Ignore Them?!

Some people believe that unwanted behaviors should just be ignored and once the dog figures out they won’t grant him any attention, he’ll likely stop with them. I absolutely DISAGREE with this. Sure, some things that our dogs do are attention seeking indeed, but most of them aren’t. Most unwanted behaviors are a result of some kind of a frustration and they are our dog’s way of telling us something is not okay. If we just ignore these behaviors, we’re essentially failing our dog.

 

So how can we stop the negative behaviors without using force? Can we use any corrections at all? What about the word “no”?

 

When an unwanted behavior is in motion, there are numerous things you can do. First, you can simply call the dog by his name and ask him to come to you. That immediately puts a stop to whatever he’s doing. You can also offer him a different behavior to do instead. For example, if he’s trying to jump on you, ask him to sit or lie down. In order to do that, you’ll need to have some solid behaviors already in place, of course.

 

Some people don’t believe in using the word “no” within the frames of positive reinforcement, but personally I’m not too touchy about it. The reason is because “no” is just a word and it means nothing to our dogs until we give it a meaning. You can use any other word that means “stop what you’re doing.” I know a lot of people use “leave it.” Personally, I do use the word “no”, but it’s introduced to my dogs during their basic training and carries the same connotation for them as any other word. It’s simply a cue that means “stop what you’re doing” and it’s always followed by a behavior I would like them to do insteadOn this note, I do recognize that people often abuse the word "no" by repeatedly saying "Nooooo. No. No!!!!!!!!!! NOOOOOO!!!!! HEY, NO!" If you are doing this, ditch the word altogether because your dog doesn't really have a good association with it.

 

Whatever “interrupter” you use, please make sure you’re not just telling your dog what they shouldn’t be doing and failing to provide an alternative behavior. Make sure the dog knows what you want from him!

 

Lastly, you can simply distract your dog with something else - this is usually the technique that works best with puppies who don’t have any solid behaviors yet. Use a toy or food to distract your dog from whatever else he is doing. Show him that if he follows your lead, exciting things happen!

 

Don’t forget that all of these ways of “correcting” a behavior only serve the purpose of interrupting the unwanted behavior in the moment that it’s happening, but after that it’s your responsibility to make sure that the unwanted behavior doesn’t get the chance to repeat itself. You can do that by implementing - let’s say it together kids - boundaries and prevention!

 


I hope I was able to clarify some positive reinforcement misconceptions with this blog post and that you’re walking away from it more secure in the next steps you’ll be taking with your training. Above all, I hope that I was able to bring positive reinforcement closer to some of you that are still struggling with the concept of it.

 

What does positive reinforcement represent to you? How do you set your boundaries? Please share your point of view in the comments below!

 


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Adopting a Second Dog: Will I Love Him the Same?

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Love; the most powerful force in the universe. We all experience and understand love in a very unique way, whether it be in romantic relationships, within family, friends or with animals. Everyone’s experience of loving a dog is different - and every experience is valid. I know a lot of you only have one dog who you love with all your being. I also know some of you are exploring the possibility for another dog, but always stopping at the same point: wondering if you could ever love a second dog the same as your first one. I know, because I used to feel the same.

 

Some people never think about this topic, never doubt their own capacity of love. That’s great and if that’s you, I hope you approach this article with open mind and compassion. For some of us this is a very real topic and I think it’s important that we talk about it.

 

Without further ado, here is my take and my personal experience on this question:

 

is it possible to love a second dog the same as you love your special first?

 

When I adopted Bailey 5 years ago, we instantly had a connection. I can honestly say I never had to work to build our bond, it was just there. I did hand feed her from day one, so this probably contributed a lot, but even before her first meal ever, while we were in the car driving from the shelter, the bond was there. It felt cosmic. Meant to be. I’ve known we are soulmates since the first second.

 

Growing up, I always imagined myself with a pack of dogs - two dogs minimum! Even on Bailey’s adoption day, I had a thought in the back of my mind that she is only my first dog and that more of them are going to come along. I was very unprepared for her issues, truthfully, but I was also unprepared for the amount of love I feel for her. It was life-changing and scary. What if something happens to her? What if I’m never going to love another dog like this again?

 

I couldn’t even imagine that a love like that could be matched - ever. So for a while, because of Bailey’s reactivity issues and my overwhelming love for her, I pushed my dreams for a second dog out of my head.

 

When she was about three years old, the wish for another dog arose again. I don’t really know what triggered it, but I just assumed Bailey would benefit from a canine companion and my daydreams of having a pack returned. It was always just Bailey and me. I wanted to add one more soul to create a dynamic trio, a team, a pack. Bailey’s training was progressing well and I was confident that we would do just fine with another dog. For the next two years, this wish would burn inside of me, but for situational and financial reasons it was “never the right time”. I felt like I was totally ready, Bailey was ready … but life was just a mess.

 

Enter December of 2015. My life has finally gotten a bit more stable. Things were flowing into the right direction and I made a decision: I’m going to adopt another dog in 2016. I knew I wanted a Border Collie, I knew I wanted a rescue. I started following shelters and rescue organizations on Facebook, checking for possible Border Collies. In the beginning of February, I found him. There was a post about a little pooch being found sick on the streets of Bosnia. At the beginning, I didn’t think he’s going to end up mine. I figured someone else will adopt him once he’s released from the vet. His photos kept popping up on my feed, so I was following his recovery closely. I fully believed he had so many possible adopters already lined up, I genuinely didn’t even consider him. Until one day, a picture was posted of him in his foster home - and the caption read he’s still looking for his forever home. He was looking so devilish, healthy and happy. I could not believe that he still hasn’t found a home! My brain went: what sane person would ever pass up on this baby? I wrote a message to the woman who rescued him in the middle of the night and the rest is history. We underwent a phone conversation and a home check. After the home check, it was official: we’re going to drive to Bosnia and pick up my baby number two, a boy I named Chilly.

 

The gravity of me adopting another dog didn’t hit me until the evening after the home check. I was cuddling in bed with Bailey, thinking of how much she means to me and all of a sudden, my heart stopped.
HOLY - FUCKING - SHIT. What the HELL am I getting myself into? Am I insane? I don’t think I could ever love another dog like I love Bailey! This is impossible! Why am I doing this? It’s going to be so unfair to the other dog! What if he won’t get enough attention because of Bailey’s special needs? What if he’s going to be super jealous? What if I completely mess this up????

 

All this and more. A million what-ifs and a self-doubt so big it could pass as a mountain. I quote my mom a lot, because she says the wisest things, and when I was really young I asked her how she can divide her love between four kids. She said: “Love does not divide - it multiplies.” Meaning, you don’t have a fixed storage of love that you have to divide between different people and animals. Love multiplies with each soul we grow to love. I decided to trust mom on this one. I also knew that Bailey is going to eventually love the new addition too, so it was worth the try. Besides, I couldn’t get Chilly out of my head. He was already my dog, even though he was so far away. He had yet to be neutered and I worried about that constantly. I worried about how he’s going to handle the journey from Bosnia and if he’s going to have a hard time adjusting to his new life. I bought him the cutest dog bed (that he chewed up on day 7) and the cutest leash and the cutest toys.

 

I loved him since the moment I saw his picture on Facebook, I just didn’t realize it - because it was the kind of love I wasn’t used to. It was full of worry and responsibility and having to overcome my own feelings of self-doubt. It was the kind of love that puts up a mirror and tells you “this is what we need to work on.”

 

Once we finally drove to Bosnia and Chilly was finally in my arms, I felt like my heart is going to burst. I missed Bailey the whole day so terribly, but I knew Chilly belonged to me the second I first held him. When we got back home later that evening and I saw him with Bailey, I knew I made the right choice. Sure, she was nervous around him and unsure. But he was patient, curious and loving - towards us both. The three of us clicked together like we were always meant to be a family.

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Having one reactive dog and one young Border Collie has made my life incredibly busy overnight. In the first weeks, I didn’t really walk around thinking about how much I love Chilly or how silly it was for me to ever doubt that. I tried my very best to set up a daily routine that would work for all three of us. It was a lot of work, especially because I was doing separate training sessions. Then one day, Chilly got really sick. I hate canned dog food and I don’t know what the hell has gotten into me that day, but I gave some of it to Chilly and it upset his stomach. I was so terrified. He was throwing up all the time. I was worried he has brought a weird bug from Bosnia. I was worried he has an undiscovered disease. It happened in the evening and I was on the phone with the vet, almost sobbing into the phone, describing his symptoms. The vet reassured me it’s just an upset stomach and gave me further instructions. At 1am, Chilly finally stopped throwing up and I decided it’s time to go to sleep. I tucked Bailey under the covers, I moved Chilly’s (half-eaten) puppy bed out of his crate and spent the whole night sitting next to him. I couldn’t leave him alone for one second.

 

Somewhere around 4am it hit me: I can’t believe I ever thought my heart isn’t capable of loving another dog. Here I am, terrified to bits and pieces for a dog that I have barely had a month. This feeling of my heart aching with fear - this is what love feels like.

 

Chilly was alright within a couple of days (thankfully!) and our life went back to normal. Since that day, I have often re-examined my love for him. I would think about how much he makes my heart sing. How he fills me with joy. I would think back on how I used to doubt my own capacity to love.

 

I did get one thing right though: I don’t love him like I love Bailey. But I also don’t love Bailey like I love him. I don’t love my mom the way I love my sisters and I don’t love them the way I love my mom. I have learned that every love is absolutely unique. They are all love, all equal … but all different.

 

There are all kinds of love in this world but never the same love twice.
— F. Scott Fitzgerald

 

I know better know. I know that I will never love anyone like I love Bailey and Chilly, but that doesn’t mean my love ends with them. It only means I love each soul individually. Each soul has traits that I am in love with. Every relationship is completely different and one of a kind, every relationship teaches you different things and shows you newfound depths of love.

 

I am so thankful for both of my dogs. They are my greatest teachers and I know that I really needed this lesson on love, because I often think about it in other areas of life too.

 

If you want to have another dog and your only hesitation is the fear that you won’t love them the same as you do your first dog, let me tell you this: you will not the love them the same - you will love them differently, but equally. Give the second dog a chance to step into your life and teach you a lesson about how love always, always multiplies.  

 

How many dogs do you have? What have they taught you about love? Share your insights in the comments below!

 


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Rehabilitating a Reactive Dog Is a Lifelong Process

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If I had to sum up my mission in one sentence, it would be this: my mission lies in raising awareness about how positive reinforcement can help your reactive dog. This is the number one message I’m always trying spread and stay true to.

 

But sometimes, life with a reactive dog can get really hard. They’re barking all the time. Everything is scary to them. Your family doesn’t understand you. Positive reinforcement is taking too much time. You find yourself wondering: is it ever going to get better?

 

The short answer to this question is: YES and NO.

 

Some things will get better, I promise. My Bailey was so messed up when I adopted her, I sometimes can’t believe how far we’ve come, especially given all of the mistakes I made in the first year of our journey together. It’s almost unbelievable that she’s the most well-trained dog in our household, despite her issues with reactivity.

 

There are definitely many ways to tackle reactivity with positive reinforcement. You can start by signing up for my free email course (Reactive Dogs: Where to Start) or hiring a really good force-free dog trainer (How to Choose a Good Dog Trainer). You’re going to need a lot of patience and support, but the hard work is so worth it! DO NOT fall prey to people who say that traumatized dogs need prong or e-collars! These collars will only solve YOUR problems, not your dog’s! Click here to read why positive reinforcement is THE ONLY way to truly help your fearful dog!

 

Now let’s talk about the other part of the answer: NO, some things might never get better.

 

Your dog might never be excited to meet a new dog, human, child. He might always be afraid of thunderstorms and fireworks. Visitors at the house might always be a problem. There are several reasons for that. First, if your dog is afraid of loud noises, he can be triggered at any time because noises are impossible to predict. Second, if your dog is afraid of other dogs, you can run into off-leash dogs at any time. Most of them are unpredictable and have poor training - they run up to you and invade your dog’s personal space. Third, if the problem lies in people and children, it's usually hard to explain our dog's needs to them. They often don’t respect the boundaries we set and instead of listening to us, they start preaching. Not to mention, children are very loud, fast and unpredictable.

 

Do you see my point? You cannot control your dog’s environment all the time, so some fears will always stay present.

 

My advice is to change your mindset.

 

When I started working with Bailey, I set a goal: I want her to stop barking at other dogs. But looking back, this goal wasn’t particularly realistic. I wasn’t aware of how deep her problems were and that they go way beyond dogs. The core of her issues is the lack of her general feeling of safety. Once I changed my mindset, things improved drastically. I set new goals:

  • I want to create more safe spaces for Bailey.

  • I want her to be able to observe a dog from a safe distance.

  • If she flips out because of a loud noise, I want to be able to manage that.

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Nobody can just fix their dog overnight. If you are setting your expectations too high, you are going to be disappointed - and your dog is going to become even more frustrated. Once Bailey and I started reaching our smaller goals, we kept setting new ones. Today, we can pass most dogs at a close proximity and she doesn’t bark. Sure, she still gets triggered if a dog is off-leash or if he barks at her, but this is just something that we have to manage.

 

Remember: it’s not about completely getting rid of your dog’s reactivity. This can take YEARS and some of it may always be present. It’s about learning how to manage it.

 

None of us signed up to have a reactive dog - or if you did, you are my personal hero. I’m not ashamed to say that I never would have chosen this for myself; I was 19 years old, fresh out of High School, zero dog training knowledge. But I believe Bailey was given to me for a reason and not a day goes by that I don't thank the universe for blessing me with her.

 

Some days I do (still) get scared. Loud noises are still a big challenge for us. I wonder: is it always going to be this way? Am I going to have to worry about her for the next 10 years? How are we going to cope with all the life changes yet to come?

 

I know it’s not easy, making a home out of a realization that your dog might never be normal.

 

I can’t travel with Bailey by any means other than by car. She’ll never be around children. If I ever foster, I’ll have to take so many precautions. Just this year, with two new dogs coming into the house, it’s been really hard for her. This is our reality. But it’s manageable.  

 

But you know what? It’s more than just manageable - it’s a learning experience every single day. It’s the unique feeling of joy when she overcomes a fear. It’s extra cuddling when she’s having a hard day - or when I’m having a hard day. It’s educating other people, it’s running this blog, it’s being a better mom to Chilly, it’s growing into a better human.

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It’s crying because of fear and frustration but then getting back up the next day and understanding that the most important job I have is teaching Bailey that the world is a beautiful, safe space - even on the days when I don’t believe in that myself.
 
It’s our reality. It’s not perfect, but it’s worth it.

 

If you ever struggle really hard with having a reactive dog and feel like you have absolutely no support system, please join my FREE email course that will help you get started and guide you through the beginning stages, or just email me at luna@motherofrescues.com if you have a specific question.

 

Rehabilitating a reactive dog might be a lifelong process, but you don’t have to do it alone! 

 


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Love Letter of the Month: Luna and Chilly

Most of you know that the reason for starting this blog was my reactive baby girl Bailey. I wrote about our special connection here. She is my first dog and a really big challenge, but I always knew I’m going to have more than one. I wanted a second dog for years, but was hesitant due to Bailey’s reactivity and co-dependency. What if I adopt another dog and she hates him? Or worse, what if I adopt another dog and she makes him reactive too? There was a lot of fear, doubt and even disapproval from my environment, but nonetheless I have decided to trust all the knowledge I have acquired over 4 years and adopt another dog. I trusted that Bailey and I were ready!


On 26th of March 2016, Chilly came into our lives. He is a tiny rescued border collie and the joy of my heart. He is the sweetest and most amazing boy in the world. He is calm, patient, curious, adventurous and beyond energetic. All of my fears were completely ridiculous, because he has been very helpful in my work with Bailey. They have a special connection and I love watching their bond grow. Today is 20 months since his adoption day and I want to celebrate this occasion with dedicating November’s love letter of the month to him!

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A LOVE LETTER TO MY MENTALLY STABLE DOG 

Written by Luna C. Lupus


My dear sweet Chilly,

 

This might be a love letter, but it’s also a gratitude letter. I am so thankful for you, I’ll never be able to fully put in words. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

Thank you for coming into our lives. You are more than I ever could have dreamed of. The ultimate joy of my heart, a daily lesson in unconditional love and the little creature that makes my heart grow. I always think I have it all figured out, but then you teach me something new every single day. You teach me that an aching heart is still capable of so much love, that there is always a second chance at life and that we can go through pain with grace if we only open ourselves to curiosity and adventure.

 

Thank you for loving our Bailey as much as you do. Thank you for being patient with her. She really needs you. Every time she gets upset over a loud noise, you stay calm and I notice her looking to you for stability. I notice myself looking to you, too. Before you came to us, it was just me. Nobody understood Bailey’s issues as much as I did and to the same extent, they didn’t understand her gentle, loving, calm side either - because they never got to see it, as she only shows it in the safety of our bedroom. You changed that. Your stability showed her that the world is safe and that nothing bad is going to happen. And when she does have a bad moment, I am not alone to deal with it anymore, because you are right there beside me.

 

When you and I combine forces, we are Bailey’s best support team in the world! She’s become so much more interested in the world ever since you’ve been in it. You truly are the best thing that ever could have happened to us. You fit with us so right, it was always meant to be. The bond and dynamic the three of us have goes beyond words, common sense or this lifetime.

 

Thank you for being my adventure dog. I always wanted a dog that I could take on long carefree walks or in the park or everywhere else I might go. I had to grieve that part with Bailey, but I did find it with you. Our long morning walks are so healing for me. I love to watch you explore the surroundings and practice tricks in the park. I love it how you trust me even when you are afraid. Slowly but surely you are going to leave your past behind and become even braver than you already are!

 

Thank you for pushing me out of my comfort zone and for taking my knowledge of canine psychology to another level. Working with you is such a joy. Your sensitive nature and an eye for detail have made me more mindful in how I communicate and what I pay attention to. You help me focus on the here and now.

 

When I look into your warm brown eyes or when I see you do your jumping tricks, I am centered in the present. There’s no place else I’d rather be.

 

When I got Bailey, I found my soulmate. A being that feels like the other half of me. Someone with a story so like mine, it’s sometimes impossible to help her without helping myself first. When I got you, I found my best friend in the universe. You are my joy, Chilly. You’ve shown me aspects of life I didn’t know before. You’ve made me a better human and a better mom. You are always challenging me to be adventurous, to be an explorer and a wanderer. You inspire me to be curious about the world and to chase every single butterfly I encounter. Your love for adventure has woken up a side of me I wasn’t in touch with before. I keep my eyes open now and I am not afraid to chase the unknown.

 

My love for you grows every day.
You are so incredible, my heart might burst!

 

It takes everything in me not to cry with humility when you fall asleep on my lap. I wonder how I deserve all this love. How did I get so lucky? How did I ever live without you? I know it’s only been a year, but the time before you seems like such a distant memory. You’ve brought so many changes, all of them resulting in pure joy.

 

Thank you for being Bailey and mine’s source of stability, playfulness and courage. We both love you more than we can possibly explain or understand and your arrival filled this house with more love, joy and loud barking than I ever thought possible.

 

Thank you for everything that you are and for loving us with so much grace.
You mend us.

 

Love, mommy

 


Thank you so much for reading this letter. Click here to read all the letters in this series! 

If you want to submit your own, email me at luna@motherofrescues.com! :) 

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2017 Has Not Been Easy but My Dogs Have Taught Me These Important Lessons

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There is so much about this year that I don’t even know how to put into words. It has been one of the toughest years for me - and for many others, too. There has been a lot of loss, a lot of release, a lot of transformation. I already wrote about the process of losing Lady and how that has affected me. Naturally there have been other losses and changes too, all very personal. Changes in my business, changes on this blog, changes within family, changes within friends and most of all, changes within my soul. I am not the same person as I was a year ago, not even close. This year was all about letting go and moving forward. 

 

Throughout this year, I have held onto my love of dogs more than ever before. Dogs understand me far more than people do, I believe our souls vibrate on a more similar frequency. It has been like this since I was a child. My connection with Bailey and Chilly has always been very healing for me and this year has been no exception.

 

Every day my two furry children teach me about life, unconditional love, surrender and purpose. They are the two souls that love me at the end of the day no matter how shitty that day was. They are my anchors. My sweet duo. My family.

 

I have learned a lot this year and my two little munchkins played a role of being big teachers! Sometimes it might seem like I am teaching them, but it’s quite the opposite. I only raised them; they teach me. Here are some of the most powerful lessons that my dogs have taught me this year in the midst of troubling waters, heavy hearts and utter chaos:

 

1. THERE IS NO SHAME IN REST

Bailey is really big on resting. She can be curled up next to me sleeping for as long as I need her to. If I decided to sleep for 24 hours she would happily do it with me. Sometimes I am running around all day, trying to outrun my own emotions and when I finally collapse into bed at the end of the day and she curls up next to me … I can feel it in my bones that I should have done it sooner. We exhale the day together and I am reminded in that moment that rest equals self care. I’ve been practicing taking naps now. During the day, if I feel exhausted or upset, instead of pushing through or burying my head in a giant bowl of pasta just to cope, I’ll simply lie down on the bed and let Bailey snuggle with me.

 

It helps, sweet friends. 
Rest really does help - and the world does wait.

 

 

2. SLOWING DOWN MAKES YOU MORE MINDFUL 

My daily walks with Chilly are my favorite thing. Due to her reactivity, Bailey’s outings and exercises are a little more work for me and have more structure to them, which is absolutely okay, but with her I am always in “work mode.” It’s different with Chilly. I can put on my headphones, turn on the epic Game of Thrones soundtrack and just take a slow walk with my mind turned-off. Chilly loves to explore his surroundings and he is never in a rush. He has taught me how to be more mindful. How to explore every inch of a meadow, how to sit down in a park and just … be. This stillness is something I didn’t know before. Our mornings have now turned into that part of day when we just explore nearby parks and meadows, do some socialization work with him and proof behaviors or tricks. I am totally present in the moment, I forget about time, I remind myself to walk in a slower pace. Chilly loves it and so do I! I used to rush everything in my life, but since I have slowed down, my days have been a lot less stressful, my mind more clear. 

 

 

3. FIND YOUR BALANCE AND TURN IT INTO A HOME 

I know that some people don’t believe in balance, but I have found that finding balance within my days keeps me healthy and happy. Chilly and Bailey are polar opposites; they balance each other out. Bailey can sleep the rainy days away and Chilly could be in constant movement if I didn’t stop him. Bailey is fearful and Chilly is curious. Not only do they help balance each other, they also help balance me. I am a total introvert hermit and when I want to spend the day in bed watching TV shows, Bailey is always up for the job. But when the time comes to be more social, to go out and take a long walk throughout the neighborhood, Chilly can’t wait to tag along!

 

I have learned that it’s totally okay to mix down days with adventure days. To mix being careful with being brave. Our souls don’t have to be just one thing, you know?
 

I have also been implementing this balance philosophy into how I feed, exercise and train my dogs. I don’t strive for perfection anymore, like I used to. Some days we are more active than others. Some days I can prepare fresh food for them and some days it just doesn’t work out. Some weeks we are really good at proofing tricks, some weeks we forget about them altogether. Consistency is important, but it shouldn’t be an obsession. This new-found balance in our rhythm has helped us become more connected and excited about life. After I spend some days being lazy, I can’t wait to be more adventurous. After I spend a whole day working, I can’t wait to take a day off the next day. After we skip Frisbee for a couple of days, the dogs go bananas when they see it again! Thank you, balance.

 

 

4. ALL IS WELL - EVEN WHEN IT'S NOT

Like my darling Bailey, I am also prone to anxiety. I always consider everything that could possibly go wrong and have over the years accepted anxiety as my general state of mind. This year has really pushed me to my limits and put this to the test. Dogs are far more mindful creatures than humans. At the end of the day, when the whole day is behind them, my pups curl up on my bed and fall into sleep so peacefully. They surrender to life, they leave the day behind. They trust the morning is bringing new adventures. All is well - this is what I’ve been saying to myself lately. At the end of the day, when the lights are out, I can hear my two favorite souls on this planet breathe right next to me. No matter what has happened that day, all is well. I can leave the day behind. I can sleep soundly knowing I will wake up the next day to their cute little snouts nuzzling me awake. And whatever that day brings … at the end of it, I will still fall asleep to the sound of them breathing peacefully. All is well.

 


How has this year been for you? What trials have you experienced and most importantly, what have you learned throughout it all? What is the greatest lesson your dog has taught you? Leave a comment below and let’s support each other through this year of loss and transformation.

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3 Things That Might Be Undermining Your Dog's Training Process

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We all make mistakes; that’s a fact. Nobody is perfect and as a passionate perfectionist I can tell you that striving for pure perfection has only gotten me in trouble in my life. So I’ll say it again, for those sitting in the back of the classroom: We all make mistakes.

 

 

When your mistakes set-back your dog’s training or rehabilitation process, that’s when we tend to be super hard on ourselves. Understandably so - this little four legged creature is totally dependent on us and here we are, screwing up! The one thing I’ve learned through some painful lessons of my own is that life happens to all of us. A lot of the things are completely out of our control and on most days we truly do the best we can, with what we’ve been given. I understand that it gets really hard some days and guess what? Your force-free training doesn’t have to be perfect. Before you crucify me for this statement, I think even the most famous positive reinforcement trainers with decades of experiences make mistakes sometimes. You either underestimate the situation, overestimate the dog or just break under the pressure of your own nervousness. It just happens.

 

To me, the point of positive reinforcement is to always strive to be better. Progress is better than perfection.

 

Learning from your mistakes is better than pretending you are not responsible for them and blaming the dog for his “bad behaviors.” Exploring your own patterns of thinking is better than giving up on a training system altogether because it seems like “too much work.” You don’t have to always be perfect, but you do always have to strive to be better - that’s what it’s all about.

 

Let’s look at some of the unexpected things that might be undermining your force-free training and how you can work through them to be a better dog parent, especially if your furry child has a serious case of PTSD.

 

 

1. Your Own Upbringing

How you were raised impacts a lot of things in your life and the way you choose to raise your dogs could be one of them too. Every person is different because every person comes from a unique environment and has a unique story. I don’t know your story - but you do! I encourage you to look into it and see if you can draw some parallels or contradictions between your own childhood and how you are now communicating with your dog. Are you trying to be the ultimate boss? Are you afraid your dog is going to experience discomfort, so you don’t want to set boundaries?

 

Personally, I was raised by two people who were polar opposites. One was completely authoritarian and repressive, while the other one was fully permissive. Between these two concepts, I was hella confused. I was either feeling trapped and afraid or I was trying to cope with all the freedom I was given. When I adopted Bailey, I knew I would never ever use force to raise her because by then I had learned on my own skin that it doesn’t work. So I went to the other side of the continuum: the lack of rules and boundaries. At the time, it was the only other thing I knew, so it made sense to me. I started to deal with her fears by coddling her, pushing her in interactions with dogs and humans because “she needs to socialize” and leaving her totally without protection in those interactions because I fully believed I was giving her “freedom.” I felt so very sorry for her because of the hundred phobias she had, but I did nothing of value to actually help her. My poor little baby she was, until I finally lost my shit every couple of months and yelled at her out of frustration because of her constant barking. Even the most patient humans can break under the weight of their dog being hysterical 24/7. I feel bad about it today, of course, but I want to mention it nonetheless because I’m trying to break the myth that people are either bad dog owners or perfect dog owners.

 

Our first year wasn’t all bad, mind you, there was so so so much good in it ... but as far as her reactivity goes, we were lost. The whole time I knew that while I may not be using force to raise her, something was definitely still wrong.

 

Slowly but surely I started to understand that too much “freedom” isn’t always a good thing either. I started understanding that boundaries don’t have to mean repression - they can mean a safe harbor. Protection. Giving your dog a feeling of safety, showing them that you will always make sure all is well. Once that clicked in my head and I found this middle ground, things improved for us so much. Bailey started to trust me like never before. She knew that I am going to make sure she is safe, as well as guide her rehabilitation in a very slow manner. If she ever felt overwhelmed it was my job to give her space, remove her from situation etc. We finally found balance.

 

2. Blindly Trusting a Training Philosophy

I don’t believe in blindly trusting any doctrine. I don’t believe in either side of the aforementioned continuum. I believe you should always strive to acquire more knowledge, follow what the experts say (not self-proclaimed experts but actual scientists), ask many questions and at the end of the day, think with your own head.

 

All dogs are different. What may work on one of them is not going to work on the other one. I believe in force-free training because I believe fear and intimidation should not have a place in any relationship! But within force-free training there are many roads you can go down and if choose to do so with a blindfold over your eyes, refusing to learn about other paths, it may set-back your training.

 

Some people never use the word “no” when training their dogs. Some don’t want to use treats and go for toys instead. Some feed their dogs from a bowl while others use mental enrichment as part of the feeding routine. Some don’t believe in the game of fetch, some don’t like it if the dogs jump at Frisbee, some believe dogs should never be on a leash, others believe they should always be on a leash. Some socialize their dog by putting him in a pile of puppies, other socialize their dog by hand picking canine interactions. Different owners, different dogs ... different approaches. 

 

Whatever your version of positive reinforcement looks like, it’s still better than using shock collars.

 

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Maybe you find out that some of the techniques you’ve tried haven’t been working for you - that’s awesome! You can dive into exploring others and see what works for you in the end. Always be open to learning new things, always!

 

Positive reinforcement is a journey. It’s an ocean that is hardly ever smooth. It tests our patience and trust. We’ll make mistakes because we aren’t perfect. You’ll lose your temper or re-traumatize your dog or hype up your dog instead of calming him down. Hey, it happens. Do not give up!

 

A smooth sea has never made a skillful sailor.
— Franklin D. Roosevelt

 

3. Forgetting That It Takes Time - A Lot of It

Most people give up on positive reinforcement because it takes time and dedication - something they are not prepared to invest in their own dog. Please don’t be one of those people. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard: “Well we’ve tried with food but it didn’t work. The choke collar is the only way to keep him under control.”  Needless to say, my heart breaks every time.

 

How hard did you try?

How long did you stick with it? A week? A month?

Did you have a system in place?

Were you consistent?

Did you get professional help?

Did you set your dog up for success?

Did you create a pleasant training environment for both of you?

 

Answer these questions every time when you want to give up or resort to an aversive.

 

Yes, maybe your walks are going to be far from perfect for the next three months. Maybe your dog is still going to bark at everything that moves for the next six months, before you even start noticing progress. Maybe you’ll be a little more tired. Maybe your environment will not understand and you will feel a lot of social pressure.

 

I can tell you with a certainty, it is not going to be perfect - but it’s going to be kind to your dog and that’s what makes it worth it!

 

Stick with it, stay patient and trust in yourself and your dog. The results will pay off. Nothing forms a stronger bond than raising your dog with love and compassion. That does not mean the lack of boundaries, the lack of a system, a total anarchy. It means that you are guiding your dog towards being a happier, more confident pooch. It means you reflect on your own patterns of upbringing and see what’s undermining you. It means you are always looking for more knowledge, reading books, attending seminars, talking to experts. It means that you recognize it takes time. And above all, it means dedicate yourself to growing as a person, too.

 

Putting a shock/choke/prong collar on your dog will not solve their problems - it will only solve yours. That is awfully unfair. Success is not linear and force-free training is not always going to be perfect; but it’s always going to be worth it. <3

 


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How to Choose a Good Dog Trainer

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If you have a reactive dog, working with a good dog trainer is one of the first things I’ll recommend to you. I understand that a lot of people either can’t afford a trainer or can’t find any suitable ones in their area; since I was in that same position five years ago when I adopted my dear Bailey, I write about these topics as much as I can so that everybody can learn for free, no matter where you live! In fact, I even have a free 5-day email course for those of you with reactive dogs!

 

But if you can afford a dog trainer, I encourage you to do so! When the decision falls, “Okay, I need help from a professional,” your head is immediately filled with a billion questions. How will I know who’s a good trainer? What would I even ask? What if they give up on my dog? What if I don’t like them? What if they suggest something I’m uncomfortable with?

 

I want to share the four most important things I believe you need to pay attention to when picking out your dog trainer, one that will become your support system and an important piece in the grand puzzle that is training your dog!

 

1. Training Philosophy

What makes a good trainer? Is it the experiences that they have, the number of owners they have helped or is it their values, the respect they show towards the dog, their knowledge about dog psychology and body language?

 

Personally, I put a person’s training philosophy first. Anyone can strap up an aversive collar on a dog and call it a day. Anyone can shove a dog into the ground and repeat the word “alpha” because they heard it on TV from a self-proclaimed expert. Anyone can do leash corrections, raise their voice and blame everything on the dog.

 

But not anyone can sit down and try their best to understand your dog. Not anyone can care enough to ask you as many questions as needed to get a full picture of your dog’s current mentality. Not anyone will try to figure out the why of your dog’s outbursts. Not anyone will be your team member, seeking to work together with you to help your dog. Not anyone will be able to do that - but a good positive reinforcement trainer will.

 

Your core values need to be aligned with a dog trainer’s training philosophy. If you believe in raising your dogs with love and kindness, compassion and patience, then invest into a force-free trainer!

 

 

2. Experience

It’s obvious that your dog trainer needs to have some working experience but I want to stress this: if you are looking for a dog trainer to help you with your reactive dog, not every force-free trainer will do. They need to have experience with fearful/reactive/aggressive dogs!

 

This is a very vulnerable group of dogs, you know that. This group always gets targeted by trainers who use force. I don’t want this to happen to you and your dog! Find a force-free trainer that has worked with reactive dogs before. Somebody that understands their psychology and is fluent in body language. Somebody that will be able to commit to you for a longer time and won’t make promises about “fixing” your dog in a matter of weeks. Traumas don’t work that way.

 

You can ask your friends for recommendation or utilize Facebook groups. There are many groups on reactivity and positive reinforcement. The good thing about social media is that it brings together people all over the world. Ask in the groups if anyone can recommend a good positive reinforcement trainer in your area. The answers may surprise you!

 

 

3. Education

Theoretical education has nothing on field experience, but I do think it’s important to bring it up. Nowadays, anyone can call themselves a dog trainer. People might choose them because they are cheap or conveniently close to their home, but just because someone calls themselves a dog trainer doesn’t mean they are a good one. It sounds harsh, but it’s the truth.

 

I would advise you to check out where your dog trainer has acquired their education and then make a decision whether that particular training institution aligns with your dog training values or not.
 

Words like “certified” and “recognized by” and “featured in” sound very fancy - but make sure you do your due diligence on where those certificates came from in the first place.

 

 

4. Personality

By no means do I think dog trainers should be subjected to a popularity contest - not at all. But you do need to find a trainer whose personality you can cope with. They will be teaching you how to work with your dog, how to help them overcome fears, you will be spending a respectable amount of time together and if something goes wrong they will be your first call.

 

You should find someone that you’ll enjoy working with - even on the really rough days!
 

Find someone that tells you the truth, even if it’s hard to hear. Someone that won’t treat you as just another client but will fully be present with you and your dog in the moment. Someone that will also be compassionate if you are ever struggling and will encourage you not to lose faith. Most of all, somebody that you can trust.


Tell me, do you have any experience with hiring a dog trainer? What did you learn from it and what advice would you give to someone still on the fence? Share your insights in the comments below!
 
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Love Letter of the Month: Maria and Shark

People who take control of their own lives and futures are one of my favorite people in the world. There is so much strength and inspiration to be found in those special souls who prove to us every day that the life you want is just waiting out there for you to live it. Everything is possible, so long as you have the courage to chase your dreams! Maria's story has taught me that. 

When I first found her incredible blog The Tropical Dog I was absolutely amazed by the life she shares with her dog Shark. They travel the world together, like true friends always do, chasing adventures and writing about it from an incredibly realistic perspective. Her blog offers numerous travel tips and adventure stories, proving that a dog can be your best companion even if you are a passionate traveler - or maybe especially so! 

Maria wrote a beautiful love letter to her sweet Shark. Their story is truly unique, one that reminds us unconditional love is stronger than any obstacles! Today is also Shark's 4th birthday, so I'm wishing a big big big HAPPY BIRTHDAY to this charming pup! <3 

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A LOVE LETTER TO SHARK 

Written by Maria Himmich


My Sharkylove,


Today, we are celebrating your 4th birthday. I know the precise date because I know you since your very first day. Your mother, who was originally my neighbor’s dog, was abandonned to her fate and had become a stray dog. When I woke up on that October 13th, 2013 you were huddling with 3 other puppies out of the window of my bedroom. Your mother chose to give birth in my garden. I like to think that it was destiny.


At that time, I lived in Rodrigues, a small tropical island lost in the Indian Ocean, near Mauritius. I
worked for the local French Alliance. I had to leave a year later to get back to Europe, then find
another job somewhere else.

 
My life was absolutely not stable. I wanted to be a nomad and travel the world as much as I could. Like many people, I liked the idea of having a dog some day, but now was definitely not the right time.
 

So when I first saw you with your brothers and sisters in my garden, I thought I could not deal with that "problem" and told my neighbor to take care of her dog and her puppies. Unfortunately, that irresponsible woman tried to get rid of you.

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The next day, after she took your little family back, I got woken up by your cries, the we-need-help kind of cries. Your mom was also barking. I waited for almost an hour, trying to convince myself that it was not my problem. Then I decided to go to my neighbor’s garden to see what was going on. I found you and the other puppies stuck under a large piece of metal sheet in the glaring sun. Your mother couldn’t reach you and was going crazyAs to my neighbor, she had left to work and had deliberately put you there to let you die.

 

I did what I think every normal human being should do. I rescued all of you and took you and your mom back into my garden.
 

I kept you for 5 weeks, then I started to look for friends who wanted to adopt a dog. You were the last puppy left to give but I decided to keep you, just a little longer. Days became weeks, weeks became months and by the time the end of my work contract arrived, you had totally won my heart. It was just impossible for me to leave you behind, even though I had no clue how I was going to travel with a large dog from the Indian Ocean to Europe.

 

As Rodrigues island was very tiny, I had to travel to Mauritius to buy your vaccines and a travel container for the flight. Of course, my family and friends thought I was crazy. They told me I could not keep on traveling the world with a dog. Well, I did not care. The only thing I knew is that we had so much more things to live together.

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4 years later, we have traveled to 9 countries : Mauritius, Morocco, France, Greece, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and the USA.

We run a doggy travel blog together. We have shared so many crazy adventures, met so many new friends, had so much fun and created so many unforgettable memories… You have become my travel buddy, my bodyguard, my personal trainer and my source of joy.


I feel so grateful for each of the million of smiles you have already brought me.
 

Of course, I know some day you will have to leave me and my heart will broke into pieces. That is life and I can do nothing about it. What I can certainly do, though, is enjoy every single day we have the chance to live together. My Sharkylove, I promise to do my best to make that sparkle in your eyes shine as often and as long as I can.


Thank you for sharing my adventurous spirit. Thank you for your unconditional love. Thank you for being so funny without willing to. Thank you for protecting me all the time. Thank you for trusting me.


Happy birthday my little piece of tropical heaven!


I love you,


Maria


Wow. No matter how many times I re-read this letter, I'm always in awe - and tears. Big thank you to Maria for sharing her words with us. Your friendship with Shark is one of the most inspirational friendships and companionships I've ever seen and I'm so lucky to know you! If your travels ever bring you to my little country of Slovenia, we totally need to meet! <3

Check out Maria and Shark's incredible travels featured on their fantastic website The Tropical Dog

You should also follow them on Facebook and Instagram, to see their epic daily adventures - and wish Shark a very happy birthday today!!!! :) 

 

Want to submit a letter of your own? Write a letter to your rescue dog and send it to luna@motherofrescues.com to be featured! 

All photographs featured in this blog post are the property of Maria Himmich

Book Review: Zak George's Dog Training rEvolution by Zak George and Dina Roth Port

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Disclosure: this is NOT a paid review, but I did get a free physical copy of the book from the author. All opinions are my own, you know I am a very opinionated lady! NONE of the links in this post are affiliate!


Kindness. Something that the world needs so desperately right now.
I firmly believe that kindness begins in the most intimate of environments. How we are with ourselves. Our spouses. Our neighbors. Our children. And, perhaps the most telling, our pets.
 

How it all began

When I adopted Bailey 4 years ago, as you well know, I got a little ball of big fear. Fear that ran so deep it soon became clear to me there's a long road ahead of us. People in my life, with good intentions, had their own ideas of how I should be raising Bailey.

 

"Speak more firmly with her."

"Yank the leash back and say NO!" "

Just let her bark, who cares!"

 

But in the depths of my heart I knew that this is not how I wanted to raise my baby. And so the search for better, kinder methods of raising a dog began.

 

 

I don't remember which video of Zak's was the first one I came across, nor do I remember how I came across it. But I do remember binge-watching all of his other videos in one night. Replaying the crucial moments over and over again, writing down important things, feeling incredibly motivated to work with my pup. What really drew me in was not only Zak's methods of force-free training, but the love that he was radiating.

 

He is beaming with love, happiness and excitement when he is working with dogs and you know what? That was new to me.
 

When I watched other people train their dogs, they were very authoritarian, sharp and psychical. When I myself was training Bailey, I used to be incredibly nervous. I only focused on my main goal (for Bailey to stop hysterically barking at everything) and completely disregarded her emotions or the fact that training was supposed to be fun! Then I saw Zak's enthusiasm and it forever changed me. I realized then and there that, even though I was using positive reinforcement, I wasn't getting results because my bond with Bailey was damaged due to my own attitude towards training. 

 

I subscribed to Zak's channel, naturally, and have been following his videos ever since. My interest in positive reinforcement and dog adoption grew into 4 years of adopting rescues and confidently, enjoyably helping them overcome their past anxieties. This life, being the mother of rescues, has led me to many, many +R resources and I keep finding new ones. But I will never stop keeping up with Zak's youtube videos. 

 

When in doubt, I know I can always rely on his videos. I can always return to the basics, always look at things from a different point of view. I can always look to him and that enables me to be Bailey's safety net, anchor and safe space.

 

When I heard about his book, I knew I needed to read it and share his wisdom with you all! I feel it in my heart that this is the knowledge that needs to be shared, needs to be visible, needs to reach as many people as it possibly can. I feel a responsibility to do my part. So here is my review of Zak's incredible book! 


The Dog Training rEvolution

 

From the moment you first open the book, you know that this is not your typical dog training book. You don't feel alienated from the author. If anything, it is clear from the very first lines that he gets you. He is one of us, the hardworking dog parents who love our furbabies beyond belief and just strive to be better for them every single day. You feel understood, heard and above all, not judged.

 

This is a book that gives you confidence as well as reassures you when you make mistakes and urges you, in the most positive way, to simply learn from them.

 

What I've noticed is that Zak uses the same tone of communication in his book as he does in his training - he is clear, direct, kind, sympathetic and a lot of fun. 

 

Throughout the book, he emphasizes the importance of prevention, which is something you'll hardly ever see in other dog training books. It is such an important part of dog training and yet so many dog owners fail to realize that. His methods focus on preventing the unwanted behavior from happening as opposed to waiting for it to happen and then correcting that behavior in a very negative, physical way. Where I'm from, positive reinforcement is still a fairly new concept and I think a lot of people struggle with it because they don't invest into prevention. Instead, they leave their dog to his vices until he develops a whole lot of behavioral problems that are, at that point, harder to change.

 

I really want to point out that if you have any issues with your dog, there's always a big chance that they could have been (or could still be) prevented. So dive into Zak's book and notice how he carefully guides you through the necessary prevention by giving you actual examples that you get to implement straight away.

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Another thing that stood out to me was him talking about the importance of a bond. Like I said, I learned this one the hard way, through personal experience. But I also learned that bond is something that keeps growing and evolving. I love how my bond with my individual dogs keeps changing and deepening.

 
My dog training philosophy is this: Training your dog is all about COMMUNICATION and BUILDING A BOND. Once that’s established, other things align as well!
 

To be completely honest with you, there aren't many widely known dog trainers who would either share that philosophy or dare to speak publicly about it. But Zak does! Every time he mentions the bond in his book my heart does a little happy dance! I am overjoyed that this knowledge is finally reaching people and if you're not using the bond as a foundation of your training, then you need this book and you need it NOW!

 

Building a bond is essential to your relationship and you mustn’t do anything to compromise it. Why? Because ”bonding is also a matter of letting your dog know that she can trust you and depend on you.”
— [Zak George's Dog Training rEvolution, page 83].

 

This is why it's called the dog training rEvolution! This dog training philosophy is revolutionary indeed! And luckily, because of people like Zak, our relationship with dogs has an opportunity to evolve. Just like any relationship, it needs trust, communication and safety. Zak likes to draw parallels with raising children or being in a relationship with other humans. He breaks down the barriers that stood so long between humans and their animal companions.

 

He puts a mirror in front of us and urges us to see that our dog's emotions aren't that different from our own, after all. He makes it clear that owning a dog is not something that you can emotionally detach yourself from. In fact, it is precisely your emotions that will help you be a better dog parent. If you tune into those, the rest should come easy!

 

When you prioritize your relationship with your dog, the teaching process becomes easy.
— [Zak George's Dog Training rEvolution, page 2].
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Now that you know Zak's philosophy I also want to tell you a bit more about how his book is structured.

 

It's a journey every single dog parent goes through. It starts with the moment when you decide this is it: you're getting a dog! But before you actually get the dog, there's a whole lot of things to figure out (the dog's breed, rescue/buy, your financial situation etc). Zak really dives into all of these fundamental things every dog-parent-to-be (no matter how experienced) wonders about at some point. He then guides you through the necessary preparations before your pooch of choice arrives home and once he's finally home with you, Zak's book takes you on a journey from welcoming the pup to explaining the basic training principles you need to know.

 

Armed with this book, you will make a badass  of a dog parent - that, I can tell you!
 

What I appreciate so much about the book is that it also covers a little heavier subjects: common behavioral issues and taking care of your dog's health. As both of these topics are very personal to me, I perhaps enjoyed those two chapters of the book the most. Simply because it finally made me feel seen, heard and appreciated.

 

I know, I know, I hate to be that dog mom, but it's the truth! Upon adopting Chilly I borrowed around 7 Border Collie books from the library and they taught me nothing. They weren't helpful at all and I had to seek Border Collie resources elsewhere (god bless the internet). But this book really makes everyone feel included - whether you have a rescue or a purebred, an angel or a little devil, a confident pooch or a traumatized bug like my Bailey. Zak is inclusive and that's very important to me.

 

His book ends on a high note: with fun tricks and activities you can do with your dog. That is perhaps one of the most exhilarating parts about being a dog owner, no? Getting to do fun things together and bonding through them!

 

Whether you read through this book in one go (like I did) or just pick chapters relevant to you (like I will in the future), it will not only leave you richer with information, but also full of enthusiasm and drive for strengthening the relationship with your dog and helping him thrive! 

Make sure you have a highlighter at hand! ;)   

 

My darling sister is already lined up to read this book. I can't wait to pass it onto her and then discuss what we've both learned and how we will implement our knowledge into our daily life with our precious rescues.

 

I want you to do the same. If you haven't yet, I want you to read this book, then come back and tell me how it shaped you as a dog parent. Tell me some of your insights. Tell me how it touched you. Let us all grow together.

 

Let us continue this movement, that Zak has started, in our lives and in all of our communities, wherever in the world we may be! 

 

I also want you to support Zak by:

BUYING HIS BOOK!

Subscribing to his YOUTUBE channel (and clear an afternoon because you'll want to binge these videos).

Liking his FACEBOOK page.

Support him on PATREON

Heart his precious dogs on INSTAGRAM.

And read his tweets on TWITTER

 

Last but not least, I would like to thank Zak for sending me this book and for unselfishly sharing his knowledge all these years! You really are making the world better, one dog owner at a time.<3


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How Essential Oils Help My Fearful Dog

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Over the years I have tried a lot of things to help Bailey with her wide spectrum of fears. Triggers such as dogs, skates, moving objects etc. have mainly been conquered through positive reinforcement and counter-conditioning. She’s come such a long way and I am very proud of her, but the one thing we’re still battling on every day basis is her noise-sensitivity.

 

She gets triggered by loud noises all the time - we live in the city and that’s something I just can’t control. The situation has given us both some gray hair, but we’re coping with it through learning about new ways to keep her calm. 

 

For last year’s New Year’s Eve we have tried the anti-stress wrap and it worked amazingly. I was very impressed and I may even buy the famous Thunder Shirt this year. We are also big lovers of music and use it in our every day life to calm Bailey down whenever she is feeling nervous or upset. I’m still surprised by how well she responds to it and how much it calms her down

 

However, some recent changes in our life and environment have encouraged me to look for more ways to help her.
 

First, we have a huge (and loud!) construction site in our backyard at the moment. We also got two new dogs this year, which means more noise in the house - either occasional barking or just the sound of them running up and down the hallway. These are the things that upset Bailey every single time. She just hates loud noises, no matter how irrational the fear. I recently read an article titled A Dog That Is Afraid of Loud Noises Is Afraid of Everything and it gave me a lot to think about. Noises are something I can’t control and they are all around us.

 

I can’t approach this with counterconditioning, because I can’t possibly isolate the noises that make her react - and even if I could, there will always be new ones to conquer. Aside from the anti-stress wrap and music, I felt like I was missing something. 

 

Enter essential oils! They were recently recommended to me and I’ll admit that I was a bit skeptical at first. I didn’t want to get my hopes up too much, but I was definitely open to trying something new.

 

I’m happy to report that after two full months of testing, I’m seeing so many positive results! To be honest, the change was apparent the first time I used them and it only got better since then. 
 

So far I have only tried two scents: lavender and baldrian (valerian). I’m open to trying more or maybe even mixing them, but this has worked incredibly well for us and I am very satisfied with the results! 

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LAVENDER

We tested this scent by putting a few drops of lavender essential oil into an essential oil diffuser that I found at home - it’s a tiny bowl of water that stands over a candle. If you love crafting, you can DIY a variety of essential oil diffusers. I mainly used this aroma in the afternoons and over the weekends, when everybody is at home and the household is a little louder than usual. (The construction site doesn’t stop on the weekends either).

 
I noticed that Bailey is much more calm and less prone to reacting when I use this essential oil. Even if there is a sudden loud noise, she’ll only lift her head, maybe silently growl a little bit, but totally keeps her cool. No loud outbursts!
 

I was absolutely in awe. I tested the oil during a thunderstorm as well and outside of a couple short barks when the thunder was loud, she was totally fine. The final test was a couple of weeks ago when my home country Slovenia won the European Championship in basketball (woohoo!) and people celebrated with fireworks. I generally don’t follow sports, so on the night when we got into the finals I didn’t even know there was a game - I wasn’t prepared for the fireworks and Bailey had a really hard time. On the night of the finals I did prepare though. I lit up my essential oil diffuser, put in lavender and the evening passed so peacefully I almost couldn’t believe it. A few short barks here and there, but other than that she was surprisingly calm.

 

This essential oil is now a part of our every day life. If we have guests coming over or if there is something loud going on in the neighborhood, I know I can count on lavender oil to keep Bailey calm. I am so very thankful for this discovery! 
 

BALDRIAN (VALERIAN)

The success of lavender essential oil within the house had me wondering if I could bring them outside somehow. How cool would it be to have them on walks with us! I stumbled upon an essential oil collar in one of the local pet stores and decided to give it a try. It was 100% natural and infused with baldrian. 

 

It had a really strong aroma. I left it out of the package for a couple of days to wear off a little bit, but without much luck. When I put it onto Bailey she absolutely hated it, so I took it off after a couple of minutes and decided to try a different approach. I didn’t know if it’s the scent that’s bothering her or just the fact that it’s on her, so I cut the collar in two identical pieces and placed one in Bailey’s crate and the other one in Chilly’s - he gets a little jumpy sometimes during thunderstorms or if new people are in the house, so I figured it would be fun to try. 

 

They both seemed to respond to it super well. Bailey spent a lot of the time in her crate by her own accord, as did Chilly. I started leaving these collars with them every time I left the house and even though they generally don’t mind being alone, they displayed calmer behaviors upon my return than usual. I am super happy with this arrangement! 
 

Maybe in combination with lavender, the two aromas are the winning thing for us. I’ll buy baldrian essential oil as well, to test it in a diffusor, because the cut up collar is starting to lose its scent. I also have yet to figure out a way to bring essential oils on our walks. Maybe I’ll DIY a collar and infuse it with just a few drops or make an essential oil bracelet for myself and wear it when I’m out with Bailey. 


Needless to say, the discovery of essential oils has changed our lives.
 

Bailey is so much calmer and there have been some very unexpected benefits for Chilly and myself as well. He’s less jumpy when he’s scared (or excited) and my own anxiety is almost nonexistent when lavender is in the air! I also struggle with insomnia and I noticed that on the days when we used lavender oil I actually had no trouble sleeping at all. These oils have been an overall success! 

 

At this moment, we are still only at the beginning of our essential oil journey - I want to learn even more about how essential oils can help dogs and share the knowledge with you as I go on.

 

If you have a fearful dog, I encourage you to give essential oils a try and see how they work out for you! Already tried them? Please comment below and share your experience!

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The Attack of Fleas: How a Multi-Dog Household Conquered an Outbreak of Fleas

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Fleas are every dog owner’s worst nightmare but if you have more than one dog (let alone five) it’s absolute HELL. We recently had a really bad flea outbreak in our home and I wanted to share how we finally got rid of them after almost a month of trying to exterminate them; how our days and weeks had looked like while battling these annoying little bugs and how we are now making sure our prevention techniques are much more current, updated and various than before!

 

1. How it Began

The first flea outbreak we ever had was last year and I’ll admit it was Chilly who brought fleas into the house. The outbreak was rather short and the fleas died in about a week or two. We bathed the dogs twice, we combed them, we gave them preventative serums, Chilly got an anti-flea collar and that was the end of it.

 

As a result of that experience I realized that Chilly has an incredibly sensitive skin and is prone to itching and irritation. Within a couple of months I ditched all chemical products, including the collar, and decided to look into natural flea-prevention options. We bought a spray that is a natural repellent and it worked incredibly well. It was the first year when we didn’t get any ticks, on any of our dogs. Even the mosquitos didn’t touch them, so we figured we were safe for fleas too.

 

Until one day, last month, we woke up into a household swarming with fleas. Apparently a big enough amount of fleas won’t care about the spray repellent. Hard to tell which of the dogs brought fleas into the house this time around but it was such a big amount of them that it gave me nightmares.

 

It’s likely that Ruby was the main culprit because she had the most of them, they were literally crawling all over her. No matter how much we washed her, she kept getting new ones - and we couldn’t figure out how!
 

From her they must have jumped on Ursha and the rest of the house; that’s how my dogs got them too. Everybody was scratching all day long. It was one of those situations when you wish you could call it an annoyance but you basically feel your sanity slipping from your hands. We braced ourselves for two weeks of constant washing, bathing and vacuuming.

 

2. What we tried - what worked, what didn’t

First we tried a regular anti-flea shampoo on the adult three dogs. It didn’t do much, other than irritate Chilly’s skin. We figured we’re going to need a natural option because Chilly is too sensitive to chemicals and Ursha is a puppy. My mom found natural shampoos in one of the local pet stores and we decided to give them a try. Surprisingly, they worked super well! They managed to kill the majority of the fleas and we repeated the washing twice a week, on all four dogs. (Disclaimer: at the time we only had four dogs, but by the time I’m posting this we’ve been joined by another rescue named Ringo. <3 It just took me forever to write this, haha!).

 

We washed all of the dogs’ bedding every two or three days. The laundry machine is already going non-stop in this house, but this took it to a whole new level. Washing the bedding of four dogs plus the mats that are scattered around the house (in the kitchen or the hallway) for the dogs to lie down, plus our own bedding (because pups are allowed on the bed) was incredibly exhausting and time consuming. I hated getting out of the bed some days because I knew that the first thing I have to do is put everything into the washing machine. And I had to coordinate this with the other bedding being washed as well as everyone’s clothes. To say that it was insane is an understatement.

 

We also vacuumed the whole house literally every day and for what it’s worth I called my grandmother one day and told her: “I vacuum every day now. You’d be so proud of me.”
 

We still used the natural spray repellent that I mentioned before, as well as another homemade lavender spray for spraying the household; their mats, the floor, their beds, our beds, every single surface the dogs lie on - so, every single surface in our house. We also had a big carpet in our living room chemically cleaned. I don’t think we’ve ever done as much cleaning before. ;) 

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After two weeks of this process, you’d expect the fleas to be exterminated. But somehow after this entire ordeal they were still crawling all over our dogs! I was at the end of my wits and felt like I am going to lose my mind. This flea fight has caused us much time and even more money. 

 

After googling for the millionth time what else could we try, I came across an electronic flea comb. It sounded like a really good idea and I have never heard of it before, since most of the articles I read didn’t mention it at all. I bought it online and prayed that this was the solution we’ve been waiting for.

 

It turns out that the electronic flea comb was exactly the solution we needed!
 

Despite all of the bathing and washing, somehow the fleas either jumped right back on the dogs or stayed there in the first place and didn’t die from shampooing. The electronic flea comb managed to find and kill those sneaky fleas! We combed the dogs constantly with one flea comb for an extra week and finally finally finally the situation started looking manageable.

 

After the last bathe-wash-comb-spray cycle, the fleas seem to have left completely. Halle-freaking-lujah! I am so thankful to have found the flea comb because without it I honestly don’t know what we would have done. We couldn't possibly figure out where the fleas were coming from - could be from the vet or from bushes on our street or from any of the neighborhood’s dogs. Maybe even from the stray cats that live around here.

 

The way this comb works is that it electrocutes the fleas the second they make contact with the comb and also destroys all of their eggs. It’s safe for dogs and humans, even the most sensitive dog in the universe (Bailey) was totally fine with it. I highly recommend it if you have a flea outbreak because it will really make your work A LOT easier and much quicker!

 
Don’t get me wrong, the washing and bathing is still super important, but this comb will literally kill any flea still left on your dog. Works like a charm!

 

3. Prevention tips and tricks

I’m taking prevention a 1000 times more serious now than I did before. For years I just used anti-flea serums on Bailey but Chilly has brought a more chemical-free life with him and I don’t regret anything. I’ll still be using the natural spray because at the very least it worked super well against ticks and mosquitos. I was scratching myself all summer long because of so many mosquito bites and the dogs were fine - in the end I started spraying myself with the damn spray too, haha. We’ll continue using our homemade lavender spray (water + lavender essential oil) for spraying the surfaces every now and then. We found that it worked really well and even during the outbreak I couldn't find any fleas on the dogs’ beds when I started using this spray!

 

I’ll also be using coconut oil on their skin and fur more often now; not only does it have a great many benefits, it’s also a natural flea-repellent recommended by our vet.
 

I’m looking into which foods are a great supplement to prevent fleas too; I already heard of garlic and am collecting ideas on how to sneak it into the pup’s meals. If you have an idea please share it in the comments!

 

Winter is coming (shameless Game of Thrones reference), so I think I’ll be able to sleep easily during the cold months as fleas aren’t common in the winter. But once hot and humid season comes along again we’ll be looking into some natural sprays and repellents for our backyard and the grassy surfaces the dogs like to lie or play on.

 

It’s not always easy having a whole pack of dogs but I can promise you it’s NEVER boring! ;)

Tell me, have you ever faced a flea outbreak? How did you fight it? What helped and what didn’t? And most importantly, did you buy yourself a giant chocolate after the whole thing was over or was that just me?
 
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Love Letter of the Month: Hannah and Jax

My dearest readers! September has found its way to us and it's time for a new love letter of the month! I wept reading this letter (something tells me I'm going to do this with ALL the letters) because it is so very honest. No sugar coating in this one, just plain truth. We like to plan out our life down to the very last bit but sometimes it doesn't work out the way we had hoped. In such moments, it pays off to stay positive and believe in the good things that are yet to come. You never know when you might meet a soulmate dog; or a soul-mutt as Hannah, today's featured dog mom, calls her precious pup Jax. 

Hannah is a reader of this blog and she submitted her letter via email. I felt very touched and inspired by her story. I often speak to readers who have had to make decisions that I find so heavy. Hannah's first adoption didn't work out as they had all hoped, but she refused to give up on rescue dogs and because of that, Jax has a loving home today - and we have another letter to sob over! 

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A Love Letter to Jax

Written by Hannah Gibbs


Dear Jax, 

You've stolen my heart, and I'm so glad you did. 

I have to admit you were not the first dog I fell in love with, there were Jordan and McGuire. I've always grown up with dogs, none of them were rescues, but I came to learn how much love a dog can give you. Neither of them could have prepared me for the love you would give me. 

I promised myself that I would not graduate college without coming home to my very own dog. I also have to admit that you were not my first choice, nor would you be available to adopt on that Thursday I came to the animal shelter. Unfortunately, my first choice did not get along with my family, including your nephews, Jax. With a heavy heart, I had to return him to the animal shelter. My heart healed when I saw how happy he was to see his favorite staff member.

That's when I met you, Jax. As I was walking into the shelter, a volunteer was taking you on a walk. I will never forget the smile on your face as you were heading outside. That's when I knew I needed to bring you home. I told myself that I was just emotional, and I can't let my emotions make a decision that would define my future for the next however many years. 

I visited with the other dogs at the shelter, but I kept looking for you. When you finally came back for your walk, with your tongue hanging out, and your tail wagging at top speed, I knew you were the one. It was love at first sight, you were my "soul-mutt!" 

I took you home, as you slept on my lap for the hour drive. My heart melted every time you looked up at me with those big brown eyes. I named you Jax, based off of my family and I's favorite TV show character. Little did they know that you would also steal their hearts. 

You would run around the yard with my parent's black lab, Doc, for hours playing fetch or just chasing each other. Doc would steal your food, but you didn't care. My parents were shocked to see how well behaved you were. You did not beg for food, nor did you potty in the house, you did whatever you were told, and did not whine when you were told "no". Whenever I ask my parents to stay with you while I'm away, without hesitation, they say "Yes!" every time. 

Only after a month at my parents' house, I got my first "big girl" job and we were going to move 2 hours away. The smile on your precious face when I rolled down the window, made my anxiety and fears melt away. You would stay by my side as we moved into our new place, an apartment that was pet-friendly. Jax, you have no idea how many hours I spent looking for an apartment that would accept dogs.

You would lick my tears away when I got homesick. You would sleep right next to me at night, just so I would know that I wasn't alone. 
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Now, its been four months since we've met, and 3 months since we moved. We've done everything together. We go to the Farmer's Market every Saturday and stop by your favorite dog treat store, I take you back to my parents' house so you can run around with their dog, I even got you DNA tested, so I can learn as much as I can about you.

I was so happy when I saw your DNA results. I was told at the shelter that you were a Coonhound/Pointer mix, but where they way off! Jax, you are an American Staffordshire Terrier, Great Pyrenees and Border Collie mix. Which means you are extremely loyal, intelligent, protective, calm, and watchful. It also means that you get along with children, including your 4 crazy and wild nephews, Hunter, Sawyer, Bear and Brady! It means that you put my happiness and well-being before yours. It means that your heart is so big, and so full of love. 

When I adopted you, the animal shelter staff told me about your past. My heart broke into thousands of pieces.

They said that you were from Tulsa, Oklahoma and was brought to a kill shelter as a stray. You were at that shelter for months and months. Your time was coming to an end and you were transferred to the Cedar Bend Humane Society in Cedar Falls, Iowa. You were quickly adopted out, but your owners then abused you, harmed you, and threatened you. On a stormy night, tied up to a tractor, you stayed up the whole night howling. A police officer drove by, picked you up and brought you back to the shelter.

After a week at the shelter again, I rescued you. No, you rescued me. 

Jax, I promise you this; I promise to love you unconditionally, even if you rearrange my shoes around the apartment, bark at any living thing that walks by our window day or night, and specially after you got into my camera equipment.

I promise to never leave you, I will always bring you with me, no matter where life takes us. If my job moves us to Europe, then I will be getting you a passport because you are moving too (don't worry their ice cream is even better!).

When I get married and have kids of my own, you will be right there with me. I know you will be my children's favorite thing to cuddle and run around the yard with.

Lastly, I promise you can always sleep in my bed, because honestly who could resist that precious face of yours? 

I know that you have a past full of fear and hate, I promise I will make up for those horrible horrible things.
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I promise you that I will never hurt you like they did. I promise to calm your fears and worries during every stormy night, to teach you that vacuum cleaners are not scary and hurtful, and most importantly to show you how much love and happiness this world can bring you.

I thank whoever had you first. I thank them for giving me an extremely intelligent, extremely loving, well trained and caring dog.

I also thank you, Jax. You have taught me so so much in these past 4 months. You taught me to enjoy the journey, not the destination. I enjoy car rides with you, as you are soundly asleep next to me, and then you wake up and stick your head out the window with a huge smile on your face. You have taught me to put my phone down and enjoy what is happening right in front of me. Don't worry, if I forget, you will literally knock my phone out of my hands. 

You've taught me to make time for afternoon naps, to enjoy every day in the present, to not worry about the future, and most importantly to love unconditionally, even when it seems impossible. 

Jax, here's to our new adventures together. Here's to many more walks, tons more dog treats, more bowls of ice cream, more afternoon naps in the sun, more late night movies and popcorn, and more car rides. 

I love you more than anything in this world, Jax. 

Love & Always, 

Mom


A story about companionship, hope, unconditional friendship and eternal love. My heart is all warm now! Thank you Hannah once again for submitting your letter and writing about your adoption experience from a very truthful place. I am so happy you and Jax have found each other! 

You can support and connect with Hannah by checking out her website

Want to submit a letter of your own? Write a letter to your rescue dog and send it to luna@motherofrescues.com to be featured! 

All photographs featured in this blog post are the property of Hannah Gibbs

Love after Loss: Coping with an Open Heart after Experiencing Loss

 lady bug. little donut.&nbsp;Knödel. &lt;3&nbsp;

lady bug. little donut. Knödel. <3 

Before I jump into this post with a heart that feels as heavy as a brick and as light as a feather at the same time, I’d like to give you a little update on the past 9 months of our life.
 

In January, our sweet angel Lady started showing symptoms of apathy and weight loss. She was rejecting food and movement. After a long month spent driving her from one vet to another, she was finally diagnosed with a tumor. It was big, aggressive and incurable. We said goodbye to her 5 days after getting the diagnosis, on February 6th and her soul joined the stars and galaxies roaming above us.

 

In April, my mom started looking into Red and White Irish Setter puppies because we talked about the possibility of adding a new dog to the family in 2018. Mom just wanted to do some research but as fate would have it, she had fallen in love with a baby puppy with a heart-shaped mark on her head. It felt like a sign. She contacted the breeder and long story short, an Irish Setter puppy joined the family on my birthday, June 25th!

 

The year was going to continue without other major changes, but since life is hardly ever still we have welcomed another dog into our family this week. My sister has adopted a sweet 2-year-old boy; we named him Ringo. He is of Bosnian nationality, just like Chilly. He has the most magical eyes, ones that I can faintly recall from a past lifetime. We met him on a Thursday and by Monday he was ours. It happened so fast I’ve barely had the time to process.

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baby ringo. 

I’m a hyper-sensitive introvert empath INFJ person (let me wait while you google all of those), which means I feel things very deeply. You couldn’t possibly guess if you met me, but my insides are as turbulent as my outsides are calm. Changes affect me very much. Adjusting to souls departing and arriving shakes me to my core.

 

I am trying to find the balance between grieving and loving. Being sad and being happy. Dwelling on the past and gazing towards the future.
 

My heart doesn’t always know what to make of all of these changes; how to adjust emotionally and fall asleep with a mind that is at ease. Usually it resorts to feeling everything at once. I don’t know that there is any right or wrong way to grieve. I am no stranger to loss at this point in my life and this is the lesson I keep learning over and over again: surrender.

 
Surrender to time, life, emotions and changes. Let go of trying to control things. Some days I think I’m doing it wrong and other days I know there is no such thing. Life has it’s own course and pain is in resistance. Allowing what is, letting go of what isn’t. That’s the lesson.
 

Ursha is the most energetic puppy this world has ever seen and Ringo is the sweetest, calmest boy. She is curious and hyperactive and so attentive. He is wary and focused and so gentle. They are both so new to us, but in some moments it feels as if they have always been here. I seek for little bits of Lady in such moments, just to assure myself that everything she has brought into our universe is here to stay and will forever manifest itself in the canine souls we bravely love.

 

I used to call her Lady bug and since she’s passed I’ve randomly encountered lady bugs indoors two or three times. I would call it a coincidence except I don’t believe in those. I believe she would love both Ursha and Ringo so very much.

 

It’s funny how her departure is the cause of their arrival. I was very young when someone told me that the universe doesn’t like emptiness - as soon as it finds an empty space it seeks to fill it. I have since found that to be true. Maybe life is just a series of losses and gains; arrivals and departures. Having just three dogs in the house was odd. Too empty. Too quiet. Now we have five and it’ll probably never be quiet again. ;)

 Sweet angel lady. she was such a cuddle bug. &lt;3&nbsp;

Sweet angel lady. she was such a cuddle bug. <3 

We are so blessed to have been able to welcome not one but two magical souls into the family this year. There is strength in having healed to the point where we dare to love, despite the loss. I know of people who have lost a dog and vowed to never own another one again. I know of people who have lost a dog and got another one the very next day. I know of people who have lost a dog and it took them years to adopt again. All of that is okay.

 

We grieve and process in different ways. Sometimes in solitude, sometimes in companionship of humans, sometimes in companionship of other dogs.
 

What I meant to say with this blog post full of incohesive rambling is this: I miss Lady. I miss her dearly. I miss her paws. Her smell. Her gentle gaze. And I get so unbearably sad some days. But then I look at Bailey, my soulmate. And Chilly, my whole heart. I look at our Ruby, who has been with us since I was 14. And Ursha, the baby of the pack. And Ringo, of course. Ringo with his promise of new adventures and even more healing. Looking at them swells my heart with love. So much love. And I know that all is well. I used to think people can either be happy or sad - when really, we can be so much of both, always at the same time.

 

Dare to love, my friends. Dare to love despite the loss. Dare to weep even when you are happy; to laugh even when you are sad. I know many of my readers have lost dogs in the past too. I know you are no strangers to this grief.
 

I want to end on an uplifting note, with a quote from one of my favorite books, Tiger Lily.

“I knew I’d miss you. But the surprising thing is, you never leave me. I never forget a thing. Every kind of love, it seems, is the only one. It doesn’t happen twice. And I never expected that you could have a broken heart and love with it too, so much that it doesn’t seem broken at all.”  

 


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