Wednesday, February 25, 2015

You actually celebrate your dog's birthday? You betcha!

Sydney receiving a birthday gift last year.
Sydney receiving a birthday gift last year.

So, here we are... February 25, 2015.  That means that our beautiful Shih Tzu, Sydney, is 7 years-old today!  Later on today we plan on having dinner, doggy birthday cake, and gifts for Sydney.  Some people might roll their eyes and think, "She's treating that darn dog like a kid again!  Doesn't she realize that it's JUST a dog?"

Why, yes, I do realize that she's a dog.  But to us (Matt, Taylor, and myself), she is not "just" a dog."  She is a member of our family.  She is a part of our family that we love and can't imagine not having in our family.

Sadly, there will come a day when she won't be in our family anymore because she is a dog, and - even in optimal health - will not live as long as we will.

Someday, Matt or I will be taking her to the vet's office for the last time and will come home without her.  We may even have to make the decision at the vet's office to end her suffering (if she's suffering), if we haven't already discovered that at our home and taking her there to have the vet's office take care of her body.  She will be a geriatric dog someday whose body will start to show old age, just like a geriatric person's body does.

And most heartbreaking of all, someday we will have to break the news to Taylor that her doggy sister is gone, and we will have to watch her mourn losing her sister in addition to dealing with our own grief.

We will live many years after Sydney does, and we will always remember how happy she has made us and what a wonderful part of our lives she has been.  Even if we were to get another dog, no dog will ever take her place.

But not yet.  Hopefully, not for years.

It is for these reasons that we celebrate our dog's birthday.  Each year that we get to February 25th with that adorable little Shih Tzu cuddling on Matt's or my lap or to see her playing fetch with Taylor - seeing this dog turn another year older is a GIFT.

Technically, each day is a gift for ALL of us.  However, each day and birthday with Sydney is a gift.  It's a gift watching this dog still play and frolic.  It's a gift watching Sydney greet her neighborhood doggy buddies.  It's a gift watching this dog still play and have energy like a puppy!  I love watching her get the "zoomies," the act of running around the house at full speed randomly with a burst of excitement.

Sydney, herself, is a gift.

And there is absolutely no shame at all in celebrating another year with her.

My family's dog, Rocky, a Pekingese, lived to be 16, and he lived a good life. He was my furry brother from the time I was in 4th grade until I was almost 26.  He cuddled next to me when I was sick, cuddled me and gave me doggy kisses when I was sad, and made me smile and laugh MANY times.  I miss him every day!

I also loved my grandma's two dogs that I knew as a kid - Chi Chi, a Poodle, and Tobie, a Pekingese, who was Rocky's life companion! I miss them as well!

Sydney's biological father, Koda, died at age 5 of kidney disease.  His family misses him every day.  The fact that his "children" and his partner, Zonie (the puppies' mother), have outlived him and are pretty healthy makes his family happy as well.

Celebrate your dog's life.  Celebrate your cat's life.  Celebrate your horse's life.  Celebrate your (insert whatever pet you have)'s life.  Someday, you won't be able to celebrate it, and you will wish that you had.
"Our family is not complete without Sydney!" - last page of Sydney & Me
"Our family is not complete without Sydney!" - last page of Sydney & Me

Monday, February 23, 2015

JODI'S OPINION ON BEAUTY: What we need to stop teaching our daughters and sons

Cinderella and Prince Charming - the handsome prince and beautiful maiden at the ball 

I'm going to step away from the usual child-dog topic for a day and focus on something that bothers me.  A lot.

After thinking about it out of no where, I decided to put my thoughts in writing and share them.

Keep in mind that this is all my opinion.  I am not a licensed psychologist, relationship expert, or anything like that.

I was talking on the phone one day to someone who was complaining about her daughter's boyfriend.  Some of the complaints were legitimate: he stays too late to visit, he doesn't bring her home on time when told what time she has to be home (this is partially the girl's doing), and he doesn't speak much to the parents.  But the biggest complaint about the boyfriend?

"I don't know what she even sees in him! He's not that great looking!"

And cue my forehead slap and eye roll.

Let's step outside the Disney fairy tale world of the beautiful princess meeting a handsome prince living happily ever after, shall we?

I know that our society has been stuck on good looks for centuries.  So, I'm aware of the fact that this one blog post about it will not change the way everyone sees good looks and what kind of people they find attractive.

But what I do want to accomplish with this is to at least get some of you thinking on what things we say on a frequent basis that might be teaching our sons and daughters the wrong thing on how to pick a mate in life.

Cinderella was a beautiful young woman whose heart was also kind.  Prince Charming was a good looking young man who also seemed to be a kind young man. He and Cinderella seemed to destined to be together.  In "Cinderella II," they are just as much in love.

This is not necessarily reflective of real life and relationships in the real world.  Good looks are nice to have, yes.  But they do not guarantee a happy relationship or marriage. They will not guarantee a happy life or being with the perfect person.

I am not saying that "all" good looking people are conceited and selfish, but let's assume for a moment that they are.

How many of you know that guy who is gorgeous? His hair is never out of place.  He flashes that seductive smile that drives the girls crazy and makes them squirm. He dresses better than many other people. He says all the right things.

Rather than thinking that Mr. Dreamy has finally arrived, you should be raising red flags.  If he seems too good to be true, he probably is.  If he spends that much time making himself look good and knows what to say to get a girl to fall for him, his focus is on himself, not his potential girlfriend.  He KNOWS that he's good looking.  He may also think that he's God's gift to women.  If he's selfish and all about himself, do you really think that he'll be faithful?

Again, this is not to say that ALL good looking guys are like this, but it's a common enough characteristic.

And the same with a beautiful girl... she may have Barbie-doll good looks, perfect body, perfect hair, and the best dresser.  However, she may think that she's too good for just anyone.  She may have no problem cutting down another girl that she sees as beneath her.  Conceited, self-centered, and shallow. 

And, yes, not all pretty girls are like that, but it's a common enough occurrence.

This is why we have to watch how often and in what context we bring up another person's good or bad looks.  Your children are listening to what you say, even when they seem like they aren't.  When they hear you say, "What does she even see in him?  She's too pretty to be dating someone as average/overweight/ugly like that guy!" (And vice versa for a good looking guy dating a not-so-good-looking girl.  This can also apply to same-sex couples.)

What message are we getting across?  Good looks should be the #1 priority when seeking a relationship with someone.

There is more to a person than their good looks - or lack of. Maybe there are kind people out there who also happen to be good looking.  However, we need to teach them that it's not everything.

You can still point out if a girl is pretty, but make sure to make an observance (if you can) about how she is acting.  "That girl is pretty, but look at how rude she is to the server."

Here's another: "Look at how beautiful that girl is, and I love it how she's helping the server clean up that water spill at their table."

"That guy is hot, but he seems to be ignoring the girl that he brought with him."

"That's guy over there is gorgeous, and look at how he just opened the door for that elderly couple that just walked in."

"That girl over there isn't that pretty, but they guy with her seems crazy about her!  They seem very much in love."

"That guy who just walked in with that very beautiful girl is kind of heavy, but he's just opened the door for her, pushed her chair in for her, and seems to be very kind to her."

Surely, you can find other examples of what kind of person someone is (or first impressions) other than just their good looks.

And if your son or daughter ends up dating or marrying someone who is not physically beautiful by society's standards, you can bet that your son or daughter found something beautiful inside that person's heart that trumps what any pretty face, perfect body, and flawless hair could ever have. Or maybe that there is nothing on the surface that you can see, but for some reason, that couple just has chemistry that not even they can explain.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Child & Dog Safety: Don't Leave Them Alone! EVER!

"Mommy and Daddy like to keep playing safe and fun for Sydney and me!" - Sydney & Me on leaving small children and dogs alone together.

Three years ago I was watching the news.  I learned of a heartbreaking story of a young mother losing her 2-day-old baby after her husky had attacked her baby.  The baby was asleep, and the mother left the room to use the bathroom for just a couple of minutes.  When she came back downstairs, she found the most traumatizing scenario that parents of a human and pet child could ever imagine.

Her baby's head was bleeding, and her husky was standing over the baby.  Apparently, the husky attacked the sleeping baby boy.

It's unclear what led to the attack.  The husky was partially disabled and was a rescue. No one really knows what trauma this dog may have endured prior to adoption to suddenly attack a baby out of no where.  Also, this baby could have looked like prey to this dog.  We don't know.

It's a situation that I cannot fathom happening in my home. I felt horrible for the mom discovering that her husky had killed her new baby.  If it ever happened to Taylor and Sydney, I don't know what I'd do.  I really don't.  I don't know what my husband would do.  It would tear our family apart.

For this reason alone, it should be clear that you should NEVER leave your dog and small infant/child alone together. A lot can happen in a short amount of time.

When my husband and I took the Baby-Ready Pets class at Animal Friends before our daughter was born, the instructors of the class said that animals have natural instincts.  They also may not see the new baby/child as dominant over them in the "pack" (family). Bringing a new baby into the pack is a big change for them, just as it would be for an only human child who now has a new sibling.

With that in mind, don't take any unnecessary chances on leaving a child and dog alone together.  It only takes SECONDS for something tragic to happen.

The best advice that we received in our class was this: take one or the other with you.

If you have to leave the room, take either the baby or the dog with you.  Sometimes it's easier to take the baby, and sometimes it's easier to take the dog.  Use your judgment on which to take with you.

Baby carriers make this easier for taking a baby with you.  I had a baby sling, and Taylor loved to be in it!  She'd sometimes feel so relaxed being close to me that she'd fall asleep in there!  So, I didn't have to choose which one to take with me to put away dishes or something like that.

Sometimes if Taylor fell asleep in the bassinet, it was easier to bribe Sydney with a doggy treat and have her come with me to the kitchen or where ever I had to go.

Just don't take the chance on a tragedy happening.  What you may be doing may only take a minute or two, but what can happen in the room you just left a child and dog alone in can take only seconds to occur.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Canine Body Language and Being Proactive on Preventing Aggression

A lot of people would find this picture cute, but just seconds later, the photo could have been anything but cute. Reading canine body language could prevent your child - or anyone for that matter - from being bitten or attacked by a dog.  Once you're reactive, it's too late.

"Stay away from me!" "Leave me alone!"  "I'm scared!" "You're bothering me!"

These are things that you will likely hear a child or adult say when they're distressed and want to signal to other humans when they want to be left alone.  We only act in aggression when our verbal cues are not honored.

Dogs do not have that ability to verbally communicate distress to us.  They can't walk up to you and say, "Hey, the little girl is getting in my face too much. I don't like it.  I also don't like it when she tries to take food away from me."

If your dog is doing that, then see a psychologist because who knows what else you're hearing or seeing with those hallucinations?

But I digress.  

They don't use the same body language that you or I would use.  They can't cross their arms or pout when not happy.

When they're feeling like they need to go on the defensive, they're giving you clues that you may just not pick up on because you don't recognize them.  When you learn canine body language, you can foresee a possible ugly situation before it happens -- and keep it from becoming worse than it has to be -- if not preventing it altogether.

When you fail to see a dog's signs of being stressed or signs of aggression, you're putting the dog in a position where he or she has the mentality that, "I told you that I didn't want you to get in my face, but you wouldn't listen.  So, I had to bite you!"

You wouldn't like it if someone pushed you (even if unknowingly) to the point of acting out in aggression even if you tried to warn them.

Learning when a dog is trying to tell you this will help to prevent danger -- even a tragedy!

Things to Remember:

1. Tail wagging does NOT always mean friendly or happy.  Sometimes this indicates alertness and nervousness. It's like the equivalent of a person's nervous laughter.

2. Always ask a strange dog's owner if it's okay to pet him or her.  You just never know what trauma that dog has been through earlier in his or her life.  For instance, a rescue dog may have been abused by a grown man and may not trust all grown men.  Certain hand gestures may also make the dog think that he or she will get struck.  Check first to be safe.

3. Teach children not to look a dog in the face directly.  Some may find this threatening (some may not).  Also, they may find this annoying.

As for body language, the following pictures show postures that indicate when a dog is alert, scared/nervous, friendly, submissive, and aggressive.

If you see posture that indicates dominant, frightened, dominant, anxious/nervous, and aggressive, use extreme caution.  Better yet, turn your head and look down to avoid further interaction.  This shows the dog submission and peacefulness.  If this is shown toward a child, intervene (without making any abrupt or quick movements to further agitate the dog).  

The picture below shows similar postures as the one above, but there are also tips on what to do when you come across a strange dog.  

B. Bring in your arms to your body.  You'll look harmless.
C. Look at your feet and count in your head until help arrives.

More details on facial expressions and postures are available through the ASPCA

Modern Dog Magazine goes into details about these postures and what to look for specifically.

Understanding these signs and acting appropriately in a timely manner could be the difference between no problems and an attack -- especially a tragic attack.