Herbie Learns to Swim

As you may have gathered by now, I’m a pretty outdoorsy person. I love to hike. I love to explore. I love nature. I love to trail ride. I love the beach in winter when I have it all to myself. But perhaps more than all of that combined, I love to swim.

My summers for as long as I can remember have featured me soaking in various bodies of water until my skin threatens to fall off. I took swimming lessons at the local lake as a child. I was an active and competitive sailor from fourth grade through the end of high school, which is when I discovered that, with the help of a wet suit, I could swim from March until November. When that wasn’t enough, I joined the high school swim team and swam all winter long. I had a pool membership in our apartment complex for years. When I got my driver’s license, my best friend and I would drive into the middle of nowhere, hike a few miles into the woods, and go swimming in a deep river, complete with a rope swing. Since then, those adventures have turned into rafting trips down the Delaware. Seriously… I am very happy in the water.

When I finally, FINALLY got a dog, I was looking forward to taking her on all my outdoorsy adventures. She would be my partner in mischief. The world would be our playground. And Herbie was awesome. She scaled rock faces. She climbed mountains. She crossed logs over white water. Mud, rain, heat, it didn’t matter. From snow mobile rides in the Catskills to hikes in 90 degree weather in North Carolina, Herbie’s attitude was ‘bring it on!’ My dog was fearless and fit and loyal and adventurous… everything I’d ever wanted in a dog.

There was one minor glitch…

Herbie sucked at swimming.


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The Team Unruly Review of Puppybooks, Part I: Leslie McDevitt, Control Unleashed: The Puppy Program

Here is the absolute best thing I can say about Leslie McDevitt’s book, Control Unleashed: The Puppy Program (or any book, really). Five days ago, I walked into my house with a squirming, 17-week old cattle dog x JRT in my arms, feeling slightly crazy and temporarily overwhelmed. The minute I got her to settle down for a nap, I went over to my increasingly towering stack of puppy books, searching for something to reread that would remind me that, yes, I would be able to do this, that I had the tools to transform this zoomy, barky, mouthy bundle of kinetic energy into a happy, focused, engaged dog who loved to learn and was a great buddy and sports partner. The book that I grabbed was McDevitt’s.

I was predisposed to like Control Unleashed: The Puppy Program because her first book Control Unleashed: Creating a Focused and Confident Dog rocked my world when I first read it. I got ahold of Famous Original Control Unleashed when I was trying to figure out how to work with my first dog, Lucy, who was anxious and highly reactive. The book is geared towards sports people (agility in particular) who are looking to get their dogs through behavioral issues and back into sports. At the time, I was very far from considering dog sports–I just wanted to be able to take my dog outside to pee without it being the end of the world. The stuff I learned from Control Unleashed (particularly the Look At That game, which I’ve written about here before) is what got me from the crazy dog I had then to the significantly-less-crazy agility veteran who is currently sleeping on my couch. The thing I found most revolutionary about CU is how different of an approach it took to dealing with distractions: a lot of the books I was reading, the classes I was going to and the trainer I was working with at the time were all telling me that the problem was a failure in my relationship with Lucy, that I had to be the most interesting thing in her world, way more interesting than all the things that scared her, and that she needed to be focusing on me 100% at all times. I looked at my environmentally-reactive terrier and felt hopeless: even at the best of times, I definitely had competition for The Most Interesting Thing In The World with her, and hearing over and over again that the problem was our relationship preyed on all of my fears that I was not good enough to help this dog who I loved so much and who needed my help so desperately.

McDevitt changed that. Her argument about reactivity, paraphrased, is basically this: “Look, you cannot be the most exciting and important thing in your dog’s life all the time; you can be with somebody you dearly love, and nevertheless, you sometimes still want to watch a TV show instead of interacting with them, or jump out of the way of a passing car when they’re nearby. When your dog is having a panic attack, the most important thing is the thing that is causing the panic. So the best thing you can do is give her the tools to cope with the panic in the moment, and then eventually help her get to a place where she feels she doesn’t need to panic anymore.” That argument was really revolutionary for me: as a person with a fair bit of anxiety myself, it made a lot of intuitive sense, it seemed significantly more humane (as well as significantly more realistic) and, most importantly, it was the first thing I tried with Lucy that worked, and worked well. It turned me into a lifelong McDevitt fan.

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Meet Widget, and also, the return of The Team Unruly Review of Puppybooks

Longstanding TU readers might remember that back in…Decemberish? I announced that a) I was getting a puppy and b) that in preparation for that, and to calm my “OMG, I have never had a puppy before!” jitters, I was going to read and review a whole bunch of puppy books. A good friend of mine, who, among her many sterling qualities, happens to be a fabulous AmStaff breeder, was going to breed my favorite of her dogs, and I was going to bring home an 8 week old male performance/possibly conformation project from that litter. I got, I think it is fair to say, borderline obsessive about the litter: I made myself an enormous family tree for the Futurepuppy that stretched back to the turn of the century and that was also elaborately color-coded by various dogs’ sport titles, so I could tell at a glance how many of Futurepuppy’s great-great-great-great grandparents had, say, earned their CD. I read up on as many of the lines that were represented in the breeding as I could, spent hours pouring over material on gauging puppy structure, built myself a little puppy-sized A-frame and wobble board and read every reasonable-looking book I could find on puppies, puppy training, puppy pre-sport stuff, etc.

Well, as Rabbi Hillel (filtered through Woody Allen) once said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” First, Mamadog did not cooperate: when she was initially going to be bred (by AI), she went into a silent heat, so the window was missed. She also comes from a long line of dogs who go a loooooong time between heats, and she decided she was not going to be the exception there. As time ticked on and no puppy was on the horizon, I started doing the math and realized that the earliest time I could possibly bring pup home would be this fall, right around the time I will likely be moving and starting a new job. I thought about my Great Life Plans, realized that the next good time to get a puppy would be….a shockingly long time from now, got depressed, imagined getting my first puppy in my forties. I tried to work on my promised puppybook series, but every time I started, I got bummed about the prospect of No Puppy for Me and quit.

Then, last Saturday, I was doing my regular volunteer shift at the shelter near my house: we got word that a puppy who’d been adopted from us was being returned, and so I set to work prepping a crate for her and getting the intake stuff ready. An hour later, in came this wiggly little 17 week-old cattle dog/Jack Russell cross girl, who, at the time, was suffering under the name of “Enya”. She’d initially come into the shelter as a maybe-9-week-old pup: she and her three siblings had been put into a Rubbermaid container and left in the middle of a busy street (luckily near a red light camera, so the jerks who put her there have now been cited.) A nice person got them out of the street and brought them to the shelter, where they’d all been adopted out very quickly. Too quickly, in Enya’s case, as she’d been adopted out to a couple in their 90s (one of whom was disabled to the point where they weren’t able to participate in the puppy’s care), and it became clear pretty quickly that a baby cattlejack was a lot more than they were equipped to handle. So she came back to the shelter several weeks older, but as blank of a slate as she was when she went out.  She was very much not potty trained. Her ears went back when she heard the word ‘No’, but she didn’t have any idea how to sit or do any of those babydog things. She was 90% comprised of little puppy shark teeth. She climbed. She wiggled. She yelled if she thought she was being ignored. You could practically see the little wheels in her head turning, coming up with all kinds of exciting trouble to get into.  She was baaaaaad. She was awesome.

The area I live in is kind of a weird mix for dogs: my little town is primarily populated by retirees who, for a lot of practical reasons, are generally looking for either small or extremely sedate dogs. The area around us is mostly active ranch land, and as a consequence, there are many drivey, active, working dogs who spend their days bossing cows around and doing farm chores. Many of these dogs are intact, and many of them live in areas with minimal fencing, so you get a lot of ‘oops’ litters of puppies with a lot of working instincts. These are very much not the kinds of dogs that are marketable around here, so very often, the shelter will get these amazing, well-built, worky dogs who are just full of potential and would do great in sports homes (of which there are very few in the area). TU’s Sarah’s new ACD pup River actually came from the same shelter [PSA: if you come visit me, you are probably leaving with a dog].

So anyway, you can guess at what happened with little Enya: her name is Widget now, and at the moment, she is hanging out in an x-pen near my feet alternating between nomming on a bully stick and yelling at me to get off the computer. Lucy and Nellie passed their initial meetup with her with flying colors, and she and Nellie have become absolute besties (Lucy is not inclined to be all that magnanimous with puppies, but has decided, upon reflection, that Widget is allowed to live.) She is not exactly what I was thinking of when I was imagining my Futurepuppy: to begin with, she’s a little older than I’d hoped, as she’s right on the edge of the socialization window (though luckily she’s already demonstrating herself to be a social and easygoing pup). For another thing, this gives me a three girldog household, which I was explicitly trying to avoid (though things seem to be going fine right now, so I am going to cross my fingers and hope.) She is also smart as a whip, absolutely in love with shaping, affiliative, handler-focused, has huge toy/play drive, friendly with dogs, gregarious with people, herdy, curious and brave. She starts the first of two separate puppy classes tonight, is going to her first puppy social tomorrow, and starts puppy agility camp in June. Though I’m so sad to give up the Futurepuppy that has been in my head for the last year*, I am so excited about what the future holds for Currentpuppy.

*(side note: if you’re looking for a fabulous AmStaff litter with a ton of performance potential in the next few months, I may be able to hook you up)

Now: onto the reading! My initial plan with the TU Review of Puppybooks was to begin with a side-by-side look at Ian Dunbar’s Before/After You Get Your Puppy and Patricia McConnell’s book, The Puppy Primer. However, when I brought Widget home, the first book I found myself reaching for, the one I most wanted to re-read, was Leslie McDevitt’s book, Control Unleashed: The Puppy Program. Thus, in two days, we’ll be posting my review of that book, which will be followed soon by a review of the Dunbar/McConnell books (very soon! I need to remember how Ian Dunbar built his puppy litterbox!) And of course, no TU post would be complete without pictures, so below the jump, you will find some photos of baaaaaaby Widget.

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Happy Gotcha Day Dahlia!

Five years ago today Dahlia woke up at her foster home, ate a stick of butter, and then was transported to meet up with us. I still remember her foster Mom telling us the stick of butter story (she hopped up on the table and ate it while she was out) and that she was a “little bit farty.” She did not lie.

We fell in love with her anyway.

I cannot believe it’s been five years already.

Today, Dahlia presents to you, 10 things that she will never ever learn. Continue reading

Nature’s Sleepover

“Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”  - John Muir

Weverton Cliffs, MD

Weverton Cliffs, MD

I love hiking.  I am nomadic.  I will go into snow or rain to hike.  The hottest days.  Days so cold that my sinuses freeze solid inside my head.  I seek waterfalls with a passion, feel calm walking alongside of wild rivers, and I climb straight up rocky mountains until I am panting at the top and looking out over the land below.  Over and over and over again.  I will go anywhere, and do so with great joy.  Yes, I am passionate about hiking to a fault.  Being in nature centers me.  It gives me time to think, to breathe.  In a chaotic world, I treasure my times on the trail the most.  One foot in front of the other, it’s just that simple.

And of course, by my side has always been my little corgi, Ein.  Ein was with me when I became rabidly interested in hiking.  We conquered the local county park together, and proceeded on to the secluded river trails in the area.  We climbed mountains together and ate snacks on top of them and let the wind blow over us.  Pure silence, pure peace.  Just a girl and her dog.  Perfect.

What this post is about is backpacking with dogs.  Much like hiking, I am entirely in love with backpacking.  And why?  Backpacking is a sleepover with hiking.  You hike all day, sleep in the woods, and then hike more the next day.  Hey, it’s not for everybody.  But it is for me.  And I love to have a dog or two along with me.

Double ended leashes loop easily around my hip belt for hands-free leashing.

Double ended leashes loop easily around my hip belt for hands-free leashing.


Leashes.  I am a big fan of off leash hikes for dogs.  A solid recall and leashing up when other hikers are in sight is a given, however.  Other hikers or not, when I am in it for the long haul, I like to keep my dogs leashed.  My Molly, for example, tends to run circles around me until she is dragging and exhausted.  My most recent trip was 31 miles, and keeping Molly leashed is a way to “help” her conserve her energy.  Keeping my dogs leashed also keeps them from finding things to roll in.  There are no showers in the woods, and if my dog rolls in a dead possum…that dog and all of her disgusting aromas will be coming in my tent with me at night.  No way.


Perri is tethered to a tree with the Ultimate Leash while I set up my tent.


My leash of choice is The Ultimate Leash.  The leash is adjustable to three different lengths.  I can have my dog at one, three or six feet.  There are clips on both ends of the leash, so I can either hook the leash to both the harness and collar at once, or I can hook one leash to two dogs.

After a day of hiking, when camp needs to be set up, I like to tether my dogs to a tree.  Again, I do love to let my dogs be off of their leashes when the situation is appropriate.  But in respect to other hikers, it is best to have my dogs under control – and while I am concentrating on putting up my tent and getting dinner cooked, I cannot keep a close eye on my dogs.

Water.  Water is the lifeblood of backpacking.  It is necessary for staying hydrated, cooking food, making coffee…all of those human essentials.  Whenever I go out backpacking, I plan my campsite for the night around a reliable water source.

Water is heavy.  Water weighs roughly eight pounds per gallon, and carrying enough to stay hydrated can add up fast.  Adding thirsty dogs to the equation means one simple thing: MORE water must be carried and therefore your pack will weigh MORE.

Ein Soaking in a Stream

Ein Soaking in a Stream

When I plan a backpacking trip, I find a trail guide for the area that I will be hiking in.  This trail guide will let me know every spring, river, lake or stream that I will pass along the way – as well as how many miles will come between those water sources.  The greater the amount of miles, the more water I will have to carry.  If my dogs drink up at a great stream and the next water source is only a few miles down the trail, then I will not carry a large amount of water for them – I know that they will be able to drink at the next water source.

To maximize the enjoyment of backpacking with dogs, it is best to plan ahead and find a hike with plentiful water sources.  You will keep your pack weight down and your trail dog will stay hydrated and maybe enjoy a good swim all at the same time.

Doggie Pack?  Absolutely!  I have walked and hiked Molly with a pack on since she was old enough to safely carry the weight.  It is good exercise and whittles down her energy.  So when the time came for our first backpacking trip, Molly was more than able to carry her own food and bowl.

Molly rests easy with her pack on her back.

Molly rests easy with her pack on her back.

I feel that it is kind to get a dog used to wearing a pack before asking her to walk long distances with any amount of weight.  I started Molly off on a few walks with an entirely empty pack.  Add a few more walks with a small bottle of water on either side of the pack.  Weight can be increased from there – with respect to the dog’s size, stamina and age.  It can be a juggling act to keep each side of the pack at equal weight – if the pack is lopsided then it can be uncomfortable for the dog.

Heading out to the trail with pack on back is simple enough.  I measure out enough food with two extra servings and divide the amount into ziploc bags.  Molly handles her pack well.  I always have an extra carabiner clipped to my pack, so that if Molly is struggling up a steep hill or seems tired, I can clip her pack onto mine.  My golden rule is that my dog did not ask to go backpacking, I took her along with me.  She may enjoy it, but it is my job to keep her as happy and comfortable as possible. (and sometimes that may mean carrying her pack as well as my own.)

All The Comforts of Home.

A dog bowl goes without saying – I prefer a collapsible fabric bowl because it is small and

Pro Sleeping Bag Thief

Pro Sleeping Bag Thief

lightweight. (I stash this in Molly’s pack.)  It is much easier to pour water into a bowl than to have a dog drink out of a water bottle.  This goes the same for when it is dinner time for your dog.  A dog bowl is not a deal breaker for a comfortable hike-with-dogs, but it certainly makes everything go more smoothly.

Bed Time.  My tent weighs an absurd eight pounds and is easily the heaviest single item that I carry with me on overnight hikes.  I specifically selected my four man tent from REI so that there would be plenty of room for myself, my husband and any dogs that we may bring along with us.  I also wanted a tent that was sturdy and able to stand up to dog paws and claws.

I am admittedly clueless when it comes to Dog Comfort in the tent at night.  Molly and I have sleeping bag wars since I am not willing to carry and extra bed for her.  Ein and Perri are willing to just lay on the tent floor.  You learn something new every time you backpack, and I am still learning when it comes to bed time.

Deanna being doctored trailside after slicing her carpal pad.

Deanna being doctored trailside after slicing her carpal pad.

Be Prepared.  A first aid kit is an absolute must for human and dog alike.  I will refer back to Kelsey’s post on creating a first aid kit for dogs, Be Prepared.  Kelsey absolutely covers all items that I consider a must when backpacking with dogs.

The photo to the left is my sister’s beagle, Deanna.  This photo was taken on my last hike without a first aid kid.  Deanna somehow sliced her carpal pad and it was bleeding, badly.  I had absolutely nothing in the way of supplies.  Thankfully my husband had a knife with him.  He took his sock off and cut it into strips.  We rinsed her paw with water and wrapped the wrist tight in order to stop the bleeding.  Everything would have been easier with a first aid kit (and my husband would have one more sock to his name!)

It’s Not For Everybody.  Being a good overnight “trail dog” is a talent that I do not feel that all dogs are blessed with.  Many good dogs are just not suited for roughing it out in nature – and that is not a bad thing.

My corgi, Ein, is eight years old.  He is fast becoming too old for the long miles.  But in his day, he was a hell of a trail dog.  Ein conserves his energy at a steady trot out ahead of me.  He drinks liberally whenever opportunity presents and cools off by laying down in streams.  Ein’s shaggy fur cools him in the heat, and keeps him warm when temps drop.  Ein will lay down on rocks, dirt, leaves, or dirty socks in the corner of a tent.  He is not picky.  He will alert bark when he hears something or sees somebody approach.  Ein knows how to “go with the flow” when he is out in nature.

My pitbull Molly, is not such a good trail dog.  Molly’s short fur leaves her shivering at the slightest chill.  Molly despises being tethered and screams and digs if she is left unattended for any period of time.  Molly does not drink up at every water source, she may only take a few laps at a time.  And at night in the tent, Molly WILL muscle me off of my sleeping pad and monopolize my sleeping bag.  No hard feelings, a girl’s got to be comfortable.  Molly is best suited for a great day hike, with her cozy couch waiting for her at the end of the day.

Hiking twenty to thirty miles at a stretch can be fun for a dog.  On the other hand, at the end of the day when it is time to sleep out in nature, it can be confusing and strange.  Many dogs are creatures of routine, and backpacking will certainly turn their schedule upside down.  Some dogs are more resilient than otherssome dogs find it difficult to adapt when their predictable routine is altered.  This is an important consideration.


Backpacking is not easy, you have to work hard for your food, drink and rest – having dogs along increases that work.  For me, a little bit of extra planning and pack weight is completely worth having my dogs along with me on my “vacation” out in the woods.  Exploring the beauty and peace of nature on foot is one of my greatest joys, and having my best friends by my side makes that experience all the more priceless.