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Archive for the month “February, 2012”

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

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