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Archive for the month “January, 2012”

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!


Memorial Park: Houston’s Inner Loop Oasis

Memorial Park is known to all Houstonians. Runners love the loop, families enjoy all the picnic areas, and mountain bikers have trails that will fulfill their need for adrenaline. There are numerous soccer and baseball fields, as well as one of Houston’s nicest public golf courses. The tennis courts are also booked from open to close. With all of this activity, can dog lovers and their four-legged children enjoy the park, too? Absolutely!

When I was puppy mom to only Oliver, we often walked the loop that runner’s frequent. The path is just shy of 5k, at 2.88 miles, and it is busy all day. The path is sand and crushed granite, which is great on dog paws. Just be sure to check between your dog’s toes for any tiny rocks later. With just one dog, the loop is great. Two dogs are okay if they walk nicely at your side. Any more than that, and it would be best to walk in other parts of the 600 acre park. Memorial Park runners are notorious for being so focused that any walker, especially one with a dog enjoying all the smells, is very annoying. Be prepared for bad looks, or maybe worse.  This is definitely not the spot for walking on a loose leash. Of course, if you run with your dog this is a great place for you.

There are dog fountains attached to the people fountains every so often along the trail, and there are bowls placed by courteous citizens near the workout station in front of the tennis courts.

Now that I am blessed with four amazing pups, we never set foot on the official loop trail. Today, we visited Memorial Park, and we parked between the baseball fields and tennis courts. We walked across the street from the loop trail, heading towards Woodway/Picnic Ln. The path is wider, winds, and runs along the woods. There is also plenty of grass on one side to walk in if you feel like avoiding the path.

The grassy area is often full of lounging readers and frisbee games on sunny days. My pups and I use it for training purposes. Every 5-10 minutes, or whenever another dog is close by, we walk about fifteen feet into the grass and work on some “Watch” and “Sit” cues. Mixing training and a walk is a great way to break up the walk and make training more exciting.

Oliver and Buckley waiting for their reward for a perfect response to my "Watch!" command in Memorial Park today.

Our favorite spot is the Houston Arboretum, and that wonderful nature trail will get its own post. We go there on each of the dogs’ birthdays, and as often as we can otherwise.

Memorial Park is a must for any active person, dog lover, or family. No matter what you want to do, there is a spot for you. My pups always have a great time on our adventures in this well-cared for park.

For more information on Memorial Park, please visit the city’s website at:

Happy walking!


Water, Water, Everywhere

One of the easiest ways to keep your dog healthy is making sure he always has plenty of water, whether you are at home, in the car, on a walk, or out in the yard.

On walks, I always make sure to have water for my pack. In the summer and on extra long walks, I carry a bottle with me, and the rest of the year the bottle is full and waiting for us in the car. There are often dog water fountains on the trails, but those are not always clean enough to keep my dogs both healthy and hydrated.

We have these dog water bottles, and when inverted it has a spout for your dog to drink directly out of it. I trained my pups to use it by spreading peanut butter on it.

You have many options for dog bowls at home, and it’s also a good idea to have fresh water in your yard, whether your dog spends just plays outside periodically or most of the day.

The most durable and easiest to keep clean bowls are stainless steel bowls. Unlike plastic bowls, they resist bacteria and cannot be chewed.

A water dispenser is great for the multi-pet household.

This pet water fountain is fantastic! My pack got it for Christmas. The filter is changed every two weeks, and fresh water is constantly filtered. The movement in the water and fresh water encourages your pets to drink. My pups drink a lot more than they used to, and I love how clean it is.

No matter what type of bowl you choose, clean it thoroughly every few days. Dump the water, and wipe it with a paper towel. When you see the color and buildup on your paper towel, you’ll see why it is so important to keep it clean. You would not drink out of a dirty glass, so why should your sweet dog? Most dog bowls are dishwasher safe, and you can also soak them in warm,  soapy water. Just be sure to make sure any suds are gone before allowing your dog to use the bowl.

A healthy dog is a happy dog, and you can start with a clean, full bowl of fresh water.



Danny Jackson Dog Park (Westpark): Where the Pet PTA Meets

Dog parks are a blessing to the city dog, and Houston really puts pride in ours. For a long time, Oliver and I were regulars at Danny Jackson Dog Park on Westpark, near the intersection of 59 and 610.

Location of Danny Jackson Dog Park

In 2008, Oliver and I walked the Memorial Park loop, and then we headed to Westpark. We were regulars, but that particular day changed us. A beagle jumped in my lap while her sister and dad were nearby. Nearly four years later, those beagles are now my sweet little girls, and their dad is my boyfriend. We have great memories of the Westpark dog park because of that, but we do not enjoy going there anymore.

Many dog parents refer to this particular dog park as the one with a Pet PTA. A group arrives at nearly the same time, sets up chairs, and loudly chats and laughs while their dogs cause all sorts of trouble. We’re all glad they’re having a great time together, but the cost is their dogs’, and our dogs’, safety. This group is rarely involved in what their dogs are doing, and the PTA’s presence changes the dynamic of the small dog section.

The large dog section, however, is full of life and dogs flying into the water after tennis balls. If you have an athletic pup and don’t mind getting muddy, the large dog section is worth a visit. Grab your rain boots, a Chuck It!, and head over to Westpark!

Fun in the large dog section

The small dog section leads me to the importance of being a good pet parent at the dog park. When you take your two-legged kids to the playground, you watch everything they do, who they talk to, and play with them. Why not do the same with your four-legged kids?

Good dog park behavior is an article itself, but here is a list of ways to be a responsible pet parent while your pup is interacting with others:

1. Exercise your dog before  arriving. This allows him to be less energetic, aggressive, and nervous. He will have plenty of play energy left, but it will allow him to be a good buddy for others.

2. Stay within 20 feet of your dog. If a fight starts, you are not too far away to get your dog’s attention.

3. Toss the ball with your dog and his new friends.

4. Pick up your dog’s poop!

5. Every so often, call your dog so he knows you are still present and paying attention. It will help his energy level and training, too.

Please feel free to share any experiences at either the large or small sections at Danny Jackson Dog Park, and watch for reviews of all of Houston’s dog parks.

The Right Gear for a Great Walk

If you play soccer, you need cleats and shin guards. If you ride horses, you need a helmet, boots, breeches, and chaps. What about a dog walk? What do you need, and what does your dog need?

Whether you’re walking or running with your dog, it’s exercise for both of you. It helps if you dress like you’re working out, then you will treat it just like a trip to the gym but with the benefit of being outside. I always put on running shoes. It’s better for my knees, feet, and makes me really work at the walk. The rest, is up to you. Start with the shoes though.

Your sweet pup needs to be outfitted to keep him safe and ready to work out, too. In another post, we’ll talk about training your dog to walk well. First you need the right gear. Your dog should always have on a collar with tags. If you want to use a harness as well, then go for it. Oliver and Buckley are harnessed, but Daisy and Lily are not.

Besides a collar with tags, the most important tool you need is leash. I recommend a 4′ nylon or leather leash. Most leashes you’ll find at PetsMart and other major stores are 6′. Those are fine if your dog stays close and rarely pulls. Retractable leashes are not a good idea, as they give your dog the idea that he is in charge of the walk. They can be very dangerous and counteract any work you do to show yourself as the leader.

Your dog needs a walk, just like you need exercise. For a dog, however, the walk is a physical and mental exercise. Sometimes we think letting our dog out in yard is enough. We see him chasing a squirrel and think that’s all he needs. Most of the time, a dog in the yard lays around or digs, and both of those are signs of boredom.

Do your dog, and yourself, a favor. Put on your running shoes, grab your leash, and head out to explore Houston by paw!

My pack taking over Heights Blvd

My pups are attached by couplers, allowing me to use just two leashes instead of four.

Puppy Ride!

The words “puppy ride” make up my pack’s favorite phrase. Oliver starts jumping up and down, Buckley races towards the garage, Daisy squeals, and Lily throws her front paws into the air. Do your dogs enjoy car rides?

A fun way to drive is having your dog in the passenger seat, sticking his head out of the window. It’s also super cute when your little pup rides in your lap or when your lab is behind you and sticks his head on your shoulder. Wait…scratch all of that.

All of the above are dangerous for you and your dog. A dog in your lap or moving around the car can distract you or make it difficult for you to see. Although dogs love smelling the air and letting their ears flap in the wind, all sorts of debris can get in their eyes, leading you to a huge vet bill. If that is not bad enough, think about what happens to a person who isn’t safely buckled and a car accident occurs. It’s scary to think what could happen to you beloved pet.

Here are some easy and safe ways to keep your pet safe and still enjoy a puppy ride:

1. Seat belts: Yes, they have them for dogs, and they work great. Buckle them in the back seat, and they can still watch through the closed window.

2. A raised booster seat with seat belt: For smaller dogs

3. Barriers: There are two types that work great. Hammocks protect your seats and keep them from jumping into the front seat. Wire barriers work great for SUVs and keep your dogs in the back.

4.Crates: Just like for house training, the crate should be big enough for your dog to stand up, turn around, and lie down.

Happy travels!

West 11th St Park: A Hidden Adventure

My pack and I have been Heights residents for a couple of years, and less than a month ago we stumbled upon a new spot less than 5 minutes from my house.

Near White Oak Bayou and TC Jester is W11th St.Park. Shelterwood and Shirkmere seem to be the best spots to park so as not to bother the quiet neighborhood’s residents. The park also meets on W11th, but your car will be towed if you park there.

Grab your pup, leashed, and head towards the woods. There are numerous entries into the woods, and the trails are clearly marked. The nature trails wind and bend, but it is a small trail. My pups and I take every turn, trying to stay in the wooded area as long as possible, and we’re able to stretch the walk to about 30 minutes.

We highly recommend W11th St Park. Walking on nature trails is both physical and mental exercise for city dogs. Their noses are planted on the ground, and they all listen to every noise in the trees. A dog needs time to be a dog, and nature trails help them do just that.

Enjoy this hidden adventure in the city!

Hello, Houston Pet Parents!

Thank you for checking out The 4-Legged Houstonian! Please dog ear…er…bookmark, subscribe and follow posts that will cover topics ranging from dog park reviews to dog friendly restaurants to great places to walk your dogs.

Join my dogs and I on a journey exploring what the great city of Houston has to offer us!

~Jessica, Oliver, Buckley, Daisy, and Lily


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