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It’s Getting Hot in Here!

Texans love to say that we have three seasons: winter, early summer, summer, and late summer. This year, we didn’t have much of a winter, and our spring (early summer) temperatures were the highest in recent history. What does that mean for our upcoming summer? Since we can’t trust The Weather Channel to accurately tell us what will happen an hour from now, the best we can do is assume it’ll be hot, hot, hot! 

As pet parents, we need to pay close attention to what the Texas sun does to our pets. Some pets can handle the heat better than others, but none are particularly happy about our constantly rising temperatures. Here are a few tips to get you started in the right direction:

1. Walk when it’s cool. Yes, I know that sounds ridiculous, but “cool” is relative. I don’t walk my own dogs between 10am-6pm in the summer months. Early morning and late evening walks are best. Two of my dogs are bracyphallic breeds (Boston terriers, pugs, boxers, bulldogs), which means they have short noses. It makes it harder for them to breed, especially in the heat. I pay special attention to them and am sure to walk when it isn’t hot.

2. Place your hand on the pavement for 30 seconds. If you can’t hold your hand there for half a minute, then your pup certainly can’t be expected to walk for 30 minutes. Remember, the heat can burn their paw pads. It often takes till after 8pm for the street to fully cool in July and August.

3. NEVER, EVER LEAVE YOUR DOG OR CAT IN THE CAR! When the outside temperature is 85F (a dream for us May-September), the inside of your car, even with the windows open, will reach 120F within minutes. Dogs die yearly because a pet parent thought they were just stopping into the store for a few minutes. Running into CVS? That’s never a quick trip with those lines and slow cashiers. Take your dog home and come back. Yes, it takes extra time, but it also saves his life.

4. Have fresh water for your dog with you all the time. I have bowls outside, inside, and water bottles on our walks. I clean indoor bowls 3-5 times a week and outdoor bowls daily. 

5. Buy them a pool. Seriously! My pups aren’t swimmers, but they love a fun way to cool off after a walk. They have a blue plastic baby pool ($10 at Academy), and all 4 of them find different uses for it. Buckley plays and splashes around in it. Oliver climbs in to rescue tennis balls from what he believes will be their certain demise. Lily and Daisy treat as a giant water bowl. No matter what the use, all four get to cool of their bellies. 

6. Dogs don’t sweat. They pant. Try cooling them off by spraying their bellies, which helps much faster than spraying their backs. I also have “cooling bandanas.” You soak the bandana for 15-20 minutes, and it expands. They then wear them on our walks to keep cool. You can also pack a washcloth with you on a walk and soak it after or during your walk. Wipe their bellies with the cool washcloth, and you’ll have a happy pup.

7. ICE! After playing in the yard or exercising, give them ice as a treat. It helps them from drinking too much too quickly, cools them off, and it’s a zero calorie treat.

8. Puppy ice cream. The store bought kind is full of all sorts of preservatives and things that don’t need to be in your dog’s body. Try the homemade version: 2 cups plain yogurt mixed with 1/2 cup peanut butter. Pour the batter into paper cups (bathroom kind), and then place the cups in the freezer. You’ll have puppy ice cream in no time!

These are just a few of the many ways to keep your dogs happy, safe, and healthy this summer. Stay tuned to the blog and Ollie and Friends’ facebook page for more tips.

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Go, Go, Gadget Arm!

The most common behavioral problem my pet sitting clients list on their forms is leash pulling. It’s also biggest window into how often, and long, a dog is walked.

Many trainers and pet sitters hear “I would walk him more often, but he pulls me down the street.” Instead of working on the pulling issue, pet parents often resort to purchasing products that advertise fixing the problem, or worse, they completely stop walking their dog. They may leash their dog to go potty or from the car to the dog park, but their dogs no longer get the benefits from a walk or run with their parent.

There is a way to improve how much and how hard your dog pulls. The first thing you should do is gather any pinch collars or choke collars and toss them in the trash. The point of those is for your dog to feel a pinch in his throat every time he pulls. Most dogs develop a tolerance to the pain and keep pulling, and the long term effects on the inside of their throat will make your stomach turn. If you do feel you need a tool to aid you, get a Gentle Leader. The key is to remember it’s a tool. Use it for a week or so while you follow the tips I’ll provide later in this post. As your dog improves and you gain confidence, wean off the Gentle Leader. Eventually you won’t need it unless you try walking your dog in a new park with lots of pups around and want the extra help. Again, remember it’s a tool and not magic.

Before you leave on a walk, take a deep breath, and do your dog (and yourself) a favor: keep your phone in your pocket. The more your focus is on your dog, the walk, and the environment around you, the better off you are. If you are distracted or tense, that will be communicated to your dog through the leash*. Now, let’s walk!

The following are different exercises I do when a dog, whether my own or a client’s, pulls:

1. My dogs rarely pull anymore, but if they miss a day of walking, which only happens because of rain, then the next walk starts off a little nuts. To regroup, I call them to me by saying “Puppies, watch!” They all ignore what has their attention and sit at my feet, watching their mom. 8 eyes are on me, and they each get a tiny training treat. I do this as many times as we need for them to get back in their normal walk routine. It typically only takes one or two regroup sessions for them to calm down and walk on a loose leash.

2. Stop walking: If you plant your feet in the ground, your dog may continue to pull and even make choking noises. He’s fine, but the second he loosens up, take a few steps and praise him. Repeat when he pulls again, even if you only took two steps. You could do this once or for 10 minutes straight, it depends on how stubborn your pup is. He will soon learn that not pulling means walking forward comfortably.

3. 90 Degree Turn: If your dog pulls in a certain direction, such as when you leave the house and he immediately heads to the right, then make a 90 degree turn. He will have to follow you. If he pulls again, turn. It doesn’t matter if you end up walking in a square for a bit.The point is, you, the pack leader, chose the direction and your pup followed you.

4. Double the Training: Take advantage of the no-pulling training session to review other basic obedience commands. For example: Stop walking the second your dog pulls, and happily say “Charlie, come!” When he trots back to you, praise him. You can work on come, sit, and sit stay.

The above four tips are not the only solutions to end leash pulling, but they are certainly my favorites. Many trainers want your dog to walk next to you, on the left, on a loose leash. Others say your dog should be at your side or behind you. I don’t agree. Sure, if you are doing obedience trials, then you need to follow those rules. But what I want for you is to enjoy walking your dog. He wants you to take him on walks, and you will do it more often and for longer periods of time if you enjoy it.

My hope is that you can walk your dog on a loose leash, even if he’s a few feet ahead of you. I just want you and your dog to get all the benefits from a good walk. For your pup, it is a mental and physical experience. For you, it’s exercise, time outdoors, and getting to know your pup. If your dog sees a squirrel or another dog and lunges, just call him back to you. Be consistent with your training, especially if multiple people in your house walk the dog.

Happy walking!

*Be sure to work with your dog on a 4-6 foot leash, not a retractable leash. You need as much control of your pup as possible.

Terry Hershey Park: Like Our City, It’s Always Growing

When I was a kid, Terry Hershey Park was a one and a half mile loop just west of Eldridge Parkway off of Memorial Drive. Soon, an extra loop was added that was accessed under Memorial and headed towards I-10. At the time, my mom would run the loop while I rolled around on my rollerblades or walked our Airedale terrier.

Terry Hershey Park path and the Buffalo Bayou

Today, Terry Hershey Park is nearly 12 1/2 miles and growing. According to their website, they plan to start a trail north of I-10 to the Addicks Dam. For the inner loop resident, is the trek out to West Houston to TH worth it? Absolutely!

As a multi-dog mom, I find the best time to go is late morning to early afternoon on weekdays. If I have someone walking with me, then the time is more flexible. Single dog parents, bikers, and runners can go anytime. I opt for late morning to early afternoon because I want my dogs, others on the path, and me to enjoy TH to the fullest. If we go at a busy bike time or right when families are going for walks, it makes things tougher on everyone. Instead of doing the intervals we enjoy (fast walk, medium speed, stop and smell every blade of grass, and potty speed), we would have to be more collected and stay out of people’s way.

Daisy's following her nose as usual.

The trail follows along the Buffalo Bayou and is paved. We typically park near Beltway 8 and walk to Kirkwood and back (5.39 miles). One of the great things about TH is never having to set foot on the street and watch for cars. The path winds with the bayou, up and down hills, and under major north and south streets. If you are heading west, the bayou is on your left. On your right, you’ll find all the extras: huge meadows great for a dog to roll or play ball, playgrounds, and benches. West Houston has really focused on making TH an important part of the landscape and neighborhood culture.

Oliver & Buckley are really curious about the bayou.

There are only two real downsides to TH: few water fountains and crazy cyclists. I always carry water with me on this trail, making the first problem a non-issue. The cyclists here are even faster and crazier than those riding through TC Jester Park. Part of the problem is the terrain. Although the path is  paved, there are numerous steep hills with tight turns. Due to the trees, you can’t see if someone is coming around the bend too late. I always make sure my dogs are very close to me at these points.

Lily's grabbing a mid-walk drink from the doggy bottle.

You and your dogs can have a great walk here. If you don’t typically go on really long walks, be careful. Always remember that you have to turn around and walk back. I recommend walking 20-30 minutes, resting, and heading back if this will be your first visit to TH. Wear some sunscreen, grab some water, and lace up your shoes!

My crew getting ready to cross one of TH's bridges.

For more information on Terry Hershey Park, please visit http://www.terryhersheypark.org

TC Jester Park: Houston’s Bag of Chex Mix

On Valentine’s Day, my four-legged loves and I headed to TC Jester Park. We had a good time, but that isn’t always the case. This has to be the most unpredictable park in Houston. It’s our bag of Chex Mix.

I love Cheddar Chex Mix. It’s my favorite road trip food, and my old VW Beetle had cheesy fingerprints on the steering wheel by the time my Virginia to Texas trips were over. The problem with Chex Mix, however, is that some of that processed cheese goodness is incredible, and sometimes you pull out some dull tasting cracker. You never know what’s going to happen when you put your hand in that bag, and TC Jester Park is equally unpredictable.

The girls can't wait to get the walk started.

Cheddar Chex Mix has triangle-shaped cheese crackers and Chex Mix cereal covered in powdered cheese. These two pieces are the most coveted pieces in the mix. Rejoice if you find one in your hand. At TC Jester Park, the well-groomed paths, mostly kind people, Texas wildflowers along the bayou, and the many different activities you, your family, and your dogs can enjoy are the cheese crackers and cheese covered cereal of the park. There are two full Frolf (frisbee golf) courses, a public pool, playground, exercise station, baseball field, picnic tables, and dog park.

My dogs always enjoy doing a full lap on both of the paths, often switching from the paved to the dirt path and taking time to roll in the grass. There are always plenty of dog owners out for a run, walk, or headed to the dog park. I have noticed lots of the dog owners here are more in tune with their dogs and dog behavior than in other parks, which I appreciate. You see a lot of hardcore dog owners at TC Jester.

The boys checking out some dogs in the distance.

There is a dry piece of Chex Mix cereal in the Cheddar Chex Mix bag, and I can only imagine that it’s there as a palate cleanser. It is pretty tasteless alone, but if you grab it with the cheddar pieces it compliments them. There are parts of TC Jester park that are just as mediocre, at least for the dog owner.

The dog park portion of the park opened in late spring 2011, and both the large and small dog sections were originally covered in mulch. After some complaints about the pain that could cause puppy paws, the mulch is much more sparse now. After even a light rain, the park is pure mud. Depending on the dog, that can be good or bad. Or maybe that depends on how much you worry about your car’s interior. The dog owners here are much more involved  than at other parks. You rarely see people lounging and talking. They do talk to each other, but friendships are built while throwing tennis balls for the dogs and sharing dog training tips. This is definitely a park where lots of caring pet parents bring their pups.

The path leading towards the dog park

There are other downsides to the park, aside from the dwindling mulch and mud. We once had a problem with a man sitting outside the park and throwing his half-eaten fried chicken, bone included, into the park. He didn’t like my requests to stop, despite my explanation of the dangers for the dogs. There is also trash left frequently, the trash can is outside of the park (requiring you to leave your dog when you throw away his poop), and the gates to each side of the park have been damaged or completely off their hinges more than once.

Oliver hunting a squirrel in the small dog park

The remaining two pieces in the Cheddar Chex Mix have no place in that bag. Why are they there? One of them is about an inch long, white, and a cross between a cracker and a pretzel. The other is the worst tasting pretzel…ever. And I love pretzels. So what can we do without at TC Jester Park? My top two are bikers and trash.

Mondays are the worst day to visit this park because of the giant crowds that flock here over the weekend. There are picnics, parties, and baseball games. On Monday, the trash cans are overflowing, confetti is stuck in the grass, and I am constantly trying to keep my dogs from picking up leftover food. It’s really great that Houston families are spending time outdoors together, but the park is absolutely trashed.

The other nuisance is bikers. White Oak Bayou runs along the park, and there is a bike trail (the paved trail) that begins at 11th St. and TC Jester and ends near 43rd St. Sometimes you’ll meet a family or a couple who are on a bike ride on a sunny day. These bikers are not the problem. The hardcore cyclists are, and they do not care about signs instructing them to yield to pedestrians. Two of my dogs are terrified of bikes, and being run off the path by rude and speeding cyclists has only escalated their fear. I think the bikers should be allowed to ride as fast as they please on all of the White Oak Bayou Trail except the small portion that runs through the park. There are often toddlers, dogs, and families on the path, and the bikers can be dangerous.

Practicing for the Tour de France

When you put the gross pretzel and cracker, the dry cereal, and the pieces covered in cheese together, you have a great snack. Sure, I almost always leave the pieces I don’t like at the bottom of the bag, but they are still a part of Cheddar Chex Mix. They’re the mix part. Whenever I’m loading my dogs in the car and deciding where to go, I always have mixed feelings about TC Jester. Am I going to get a clean, drama and cyclist free walk? Am I going to have to pull chewed chicken out of my dogs’ mouths? What will the walk hold? It’s a mixed bag.

 

Jump Up, Jump Up, and Get Down! Please!

You love it when your dog greets you by throwing her front paws in the air and giving you a hug, and you laugh when your small dog jumps up and tries to kiss your face. The problem is, your friends and guests do not think it’s all that cute.

What do you do? One of my client’s emailed and asked for help. He and I used to laugh about his two dogs and the hugs they give. Both dogs are in the 80 pound range. He’s okay with it because they’re his dogs, and I’m okay with it for two reasons: 1. They each just give me one, non-annoying, totally sweet hug when I arrive. 2. I’m a dog lover. But not everyone who enters his house likes this, and it’s inevitable that the boys will knock someone down someday just out of excitement. My new task is to get them to stop jumping.

As soon as I arrived for our first session, I realized there was a problem: they weren’t jumping on me. How do you teach a dog, or dogs in this case, not to jump on people if they are not jumping on you? Easy. Teach them to jump first.

I used the words “up” and “off” for training. “Down” seemed like a bad option in case they already used that word with their dad to lay down on their bellies. I decided to work with each dog individually. The plan was 10-15 minutes with one dog, play time with both for 5 min, 10-15 minutes of work with the other dog, and then more play time.

The reason I taught them to jump first was so that they could jump on cue, and then they could also stop jumping on cue. If their dad wants either of them to give him a hug, he can say, “Up!” and get a hug from his pups. If they start to go crazy when a guest comes in the front door, a simple “Off!” will work.

To teach “up”:

1. Take a treat and raise it to your chin while saying “up.”

2. Say it once. If the dog does not jump up to the treat. Put your hand down and wait a minute before repeating. When training any new trick or behavior, never repeat the command. The dog will just think “I only have to do what she says after she says that word 4 times.” He should do it after one cue.

3. Give your dog the treat while saying “good up.”

4. Repeat 5-10 times in a row.

To teach “off”:

1. When your dog is in the “up” position, take a treat and lower your hand towards the floor (making sure he knows there’s a treat in your hand) and say “off.”

2. If he follows your hand, he will naturally put all four paws on the floor. Say, “Good off!” and treat.

3. Repeat.

Now it’s time to combine the two commands. The goal is to praise but not treat your dog until the entire sequence is complete.

1. Raise your hand to your chin, treat in hand, and say “up.”

2. Say “Good, up” and immediately lower your hand to the ground while saying “off.”

3. Praise and treat your dog.

4. Repeat

This method worked really well for both of the sessions I’ve had with these dogs so far.

No matter how big or small your dog is, always remember that your guests may not think it’s cute to have your dog bouncing up and down when they are trying to come in your house. I let my dogs jump on me, but they listen when told not to. Good luck with your jumping beans!

Rub a Dub Dub, Four Pups in a Tub

Do your kids run, hide, or throw a tantrum when it’s bath time? I can’t imagine what it’s like chasing down a kid every night and trying to convince them baths are not horrible by filling the tub with rubber ducks, toy boats, and bubbles. Every couple of weeks, I corral my dogs outside or in the bathroom for some major spa time.

Your dog’s breed plays a big role in how often he needs to be bathed. Check the AKC’s website or a breed specific book for an idea, or if you have a mix, then go with whatever breed is dominant. Both Boston terriers and beagles are fine with a good bath every two to four weeks. Of course, if your dog jumps in the water at the dog park or plays in the mud, then he’ll need a bath more often.

With four dogs, I have to set up an assembly line and keep everyone nearby. As soon as the first dog is in the tub, the other three look at each other as if to say, “We have to get out of here! It’s too late for Lily!” I make sure four towels are ready, all collars are off, and baby gates are used to keep them from running and hiding somewhere.

How to wash a dog may seem obvious, but there are things we need to be aware of. Make sure to bathe your dog with warm, not hot, water. The water should not be too cold either. Get your pup totally wet, but be careful with the ears. Water in the ears can lead to ear infections, and it’s best to wipe out their outer ear with a towel as soon as the bath is finished. Don’t worry about hurting their ear drums. A dog’s ear canal is sort of l-shaped, and you cannot touch the drum with your finger or a towel.

After your dog’s coat is wet, rub shampoo on him  everywhere. Don’t forget his paws, tail, and belly. I often let the bubbles sit on them for a few minutes to let the shampoo really do its job.

Lily is letting the suds soak into her coat.

Kong makes a great bath tool that helps give your dog a really deep clean. It really gets through thick fur.

Despite the look on her face, Daisy likes the Kong massage part of the bath. She turns into jelly!

After a good scrub, I pour more warm water all over the dog, and then I clean my dog with the Kong again. Repeat the rinse and rub until you no longer see suds.

Now it’s time for the only part of the bath my dogs enjoy: snuggling in a towel. Each dog gets their face dried first, and then I wrap them in a towel like a newborn baby and snuggle. This, of course, is my favorite part, too.

Oliver, falling asleep during snuggle time

Buckley is such a cuddle bug.

After snuggling, I make sure each dog is very dry so as to avoid any illness. My advice, if you’re ever at my house during bath time, is to get out of the way after each is clean.

Something weird happens to my pack when they are clean. All four are suddenly think they entered a UFC match, and they race from room to room at full speed, wrestle, bark, and then pass out. While this is funny to watch, it reminds me how strong a dog’s sense of smell is.

It is a good idea to avoid bathing your dog if you have plans to visit doggy day care or the dog park that day. Wait until afterwards. Dogs greet each other and learn about each other by how they smell. Dog shampoo masks a dog’s scent, and it isn’t unusual for a freshly bathed dog to be the victim of a dog brawl at the park. So make it easy on your dog, other dogs, and yourself by waiting to bathe your pup until after he plays with other dogs (except your other dogs, of course).

Enjoy doggy bath time!

 

Rainy Day Fun

It seems Houston is either in a drought, and looks like this:

Or the Heavens open up, locking us in our homes or face flood waters.

The last few days have been raining off and on, making it difficult to have a really good walk or run with our dogs. Sometimes, my dogs spend rainy days sleeping, but the moment that they are leashed they behave horribly because of all their pent-up energy. To avoid a bad walk and an angry dog mom, I try to come up with fun ways to exercise them indoors.

Rainy days are great days to work on dog training. No matter how old your dog is, the training never stops. As our dogs age, we tend to stop doing all the training we were so diligent about when they were pups. We get more relaxed and let them get away with more. A day when you’re stuck inside gives you the perfect excuse to work on any behavior issues.

With four dogs, I often separate them. I take one dog into a room and barricade the door with a baby gate. This way, the other three can still see that dog and me. I work on sit, stay, come, down, and maybe teach him a fun new trick. Then I let him out and bring in a different dog. After each dog has had 10 minutes of individual work, I then work with the whole pack.

If you have two or more dogs, it’s a great idea to pick a name for the pack. With my pups, I can say “Buckley, come!” and he’ll race towards me. If I want all four to come, I say, “Puppies, come!” “Puppies” is the pack name. You can pick any name you want. When I just want Daisy and Lily to go outside, they hear “Girls, potty!” Along the same lines, Oliver and Buckley are referred to as “the boys.” This means they have individual names, a pack name (“puppies”), and smaller packs within the larger pack (“girls” and “boys.”)

It’s very important that each individual dog, the pack, and the smaller packs listen to me when asked. Having them trained as a pack and individually has endless benefits on walks, in dog parks, and when guests are visiting.

There are other fun ways to spend rainy days with your dogs. You can play games such as “find it,” which works great with hounds and hunting dogs. Show them a treat or toy, let them smell it, and then hide it. Now ask them to “find it.” My favorite is taking stacks of books and laying a broom across them, creating a jump. We have our own agility fun in the living room, and the dogs love it.  I add books to raise the jump for an extra challenge. They burn energy and love being silly.

What are your rainy day dog activities?

A Year as a Pet Sitter

A year ago today, I opened my pet care business, Ollie and Friends Pet Care. Every second was a new learning experience, and I wish there were a way to thank each person, dog, cat, fish, and bird that has been a part of my first year as a small business owner.

The decision to open Ollie and Friends came quickly but not after some mental reconciliation. My favorite job, to date, was pediatric hospital chaplain. Typically, when I say that, people cannot believe that anyone would enjoy such a job, but I loved it. I loved being a part of a family’s most precious moments, whether traumatic, sorrowful, or joyful. It was a blessing to be there for both hugs and tears. Yet finding a permanent chaplaincy position isn’t easy, and I had to find other ways to use my Master of Divinity and minister to children. All the while, nothing made me happier than being with animals.

Growing up, the one major bond my mom and I shared was how close we felt to God when walking a dog in the woods or riding our horse. I have always been told I have a gift with animals but never thought of using that as a basis for a career, let alone combing my faith and animals to create my own business. That all changed after meeting with a pastor who attended the same church in Houston and the same seminary in Austin. He encouraged me to talk to a fellow seminarian who said she was “a pastor to people through their pets” and told me it was not important to follow my passions. Animals are my passion.

That week, Ollie and Friends Pet Care, named after my oldest Boston terrier (the “friends” are my other three pups), opened with a small website and an email out to my Junior League friends asking them to spread the word.

Here we are, a year later, and the growth of my little pet care business is astounding. A day off is a luxury, but I wouldn’t trade it. I love the challenge of dogs who are fearful and need some extra love and work. I love being greeted with wagging tails at every visit. It’s also nice to finally be able to put all those books on dog psychology and training I’ve read to use on dogs besides my own.

To every two-legged, four-legged, finned, and winged friend out there: Thank you for giving me an unbelievably incredible first year. It is a blessing and honor to love, care for, teach, and learn from your pets.

Many thanks,

Jessica

Houston Arboretum: Heaven for a Dog’s Senses

The Houston Arboretum and Nature Center is a gift to our city’s children and dogs. It’s certainly a gift to the wildlife that call it home. The entrance is off of Woodway in Memorial Park, and it’s been a favorite spot of mine for years.

Sign at the entrance on Woodway

Visitor's Center: a must see for kids

My dogs and I hit these trails on each of their birthdays and as often as we can throughout the year. They are allowed a much looser leash here than if we were walking in a neighborhood so that they can experience all the trails have to offer their senses.

What to bring: water, leashes, doggy bags, durable shoes. What to leave at home: Your worries and your to-do list.

A Few Simple Rules: Let your dog's (and your) curiosity run wild, but please don't jog or bike here. Both will scare wildlife.

To help protect plants and wildlife, please stay on the well-maintained paths.

Let's go, Mom!

The Arboretum is extremely well-cared for by volunteers and through donations. The paths are clearly marked, and you can pick one route or switch trails as often as you please.

Signs like this one mark all the different trails

In the spring, you will find a huge field filled with wildflowers. Enjoy the beauty, but please respect them and just admire them from a distance.

One of my favorite things about walking these trails is never knowing what we’ll find. Sometimes we end up walking along the wildflower field, and other times we are slowly walking down a winding path along trickling water. Today, we found a pond filled with turtles.

The boys checking out the action in the pond.

The girls are in sensory overload and not sure what to smell or watch next.

Buckley really wanted to know what was moving in the water. He was fascinated!

The logs in the pond were covered with snoozing turtles.

Any dog trainer will emphasize that an exercised dog is a well-behaved dog. As a pet sitter, I can tell how often a dog is walked before I even get the leash on him, and my guess is only confirmed as we head around the block. When a client tells me that their dog chews shoes, door jams, and their favorite books, it’s clear to me that he is bored and needs more exercise. What I learned through dog psychology books and caring for many dogs, including my own, is that mental exercise can be just as important as physical exercise to a dog.

The Houston Arboretum is exercise for every single one of a dog’s senses. The long strolls 0n winding paths fulfill their need for physical exercise. The sights and sounds of the forest grab their attention. The smells drive their noses wild. There are plants and animals a city dog has never smelled in the Arboretum, thrilling a dog’s sense of smell. As a cautious dog mom, I try to make sure they don’t taste anything but the tiny treats that are in my pocket.

Lily enjoyed smelling this plant, and I stayed close by to make sure she didn't take a bite.

No matter what the season, the Houston Arboretum is always beautiful.

I truly believe that the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center is a gift to the city of Houston, particularly children and dogs. Oliver, Buckley, Daisy, and Lily would certainly agree. It is fascinating to watch them discover, smell, watch birds in the trees, and then fall asleep in the car ride home. For me, a sense of calm comes over me while hiking in the Arboretum. It’s probably a mixture of the trees, leaves, and watching my own pack in a more natural state that calms me. Whatever it is, it’s a welcome feeling, and I am always thankful for our trips to the Arboretum.

Oliver and Buckley must see something pretty exciting out there.

Daisy and Lily conducting a tree stump investigation.

To the volunteers and staff at the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center, my pack and I give you many thanks!

Taking it all in...

 

Heights Blvd.: Dog Lovers, Runners, and Walkers Unite!

Heights Boulevard is known for gorgeous Victorian homes, and it is also a major north-south street in Houston’s Heights neighborhood. For Heights’ residents, it is also a great exercise spot.

Heights Boulevard has a well-cared for and wide esplanade that divides north and south traffic. The esplanade feels like a bubble of nature in the middle of a busy street, and you often forget where you are (be careful!). There is a winding trail with the same material as Memorial Park’s running loop.

Oliver and Buckley taking a break on the Heights Boulevard esplanade.

My two favorite things about Heights Boulevard have to do with the people. First of all, it seems to be the only spot where runners are courteous to walkers and dog walkers. Everyone smiles as they pass each other. Even though hearing forms of  “Wow! You have your hands full!” from passersby is rather annoying, it still shows the kind of neighborly feel that draws people to the Heights. Second, there is a shared hatred for the periodic biker on the trail. Most trails are easily overtaken by bike riders, which is both difficult and dangerous for the dog walker. On Heights Boulevard, however, runners and walkers are not afraid to let a cyclist know they have their own designated lane on the street.

Heights Boulevard starts on 3rd St and continues to 20th. On each end, you’ll find a water fountain and benches. You can park anywhere on the sides with marked parallel spots. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how much care Heights residents put into keeping this area clean and beautifully landscaped. Although there are plenty of trash cans, there are no doggy bag dispensers. Please do your part to keep the esplanade clean, and bring your own bags to clean up after your pup.

Daisy taking a drink from the dog fountain on 11th St and Heights Blvd. This fountain is pretty clean because the water is constantly flowing and draining.

This is a must for anyone who lives close by. No one cares if you want to slowly stroll or work on your marathon time. If your dog is young or not very social, then I recommend you visit in the afternoon when its least busy. The esplanade is busiest in the evening with people working out after work. You also have plenty of grass areas to go to if you need to regroup with your pup. When there are lots of dogs out, I will often hop across the street and walk on the sidewalk closer to the homes. A dog rescue often does adoptions on Saturday mornings, and I avoid walking here on that day. That’s too stressful on a pup, especially a pack of four.

The one major caution may seem obvious, but if you watch the news, it must not be. At each east-west street, there is a street crossing. Please stop and watch for cars. This is a great spot to put your dog in a “sit” and have him wait and watch you for the cue to keep going.

Heights Blvd and 7th St. Another bike/hike trail crosses at 7th St.

Enjoy yourself, and if you are not a Heights resident, welcome!

 

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