Family Friday: How to Be Your Dog’s Best Friend

Dog is man’s best friend, and woman’s too. Our dogs are always thrilled to see us, dinner’s exactly what they were waiting for, and they’ll do the darndest things just to earn a treat. This is the current version of the pre-dinner routine that our rescue Lab Kumba performs for a crisp crunch of cucumber.

We may think that we fully reciprocate the friendship with our dogs. We have given them room and board with sofa privileges, regular exercise, and chewy toys. But are we really doing everything we can to advocate for our pups when they really need a friend?

Trainer Alison Chambers, owner of Complete Canine Training, knows that we can be better advocates when our dogs are stressed by: 1) learning their body language, 2) recognizing signs of distress, and 3) practicing defensive handling to get our dogs safely out of potential trouble.

Learn your dog’s body language.

We may be chatting on the phone or smelling the roses while we’re walking our dog, but Fido is constantly aware of his surroundings, especially someone or something approaching. Here are some signals to watch for in your pup.

Relaxed, pensive, politeAlert, concerned, tense
Ears backEars up
Head turnedHead down, or staring
Mouth openMouth closed
Body looseBody rigid

Each dog uses his tail to express himself, too. A slow wag might mean she’s relaxed and happy, or that she’s apprehensive. Carrying her tail high might convey pleasure or concern. A tail between the legs when you’re out for a walk? “Get me out of here!”

Common canine calming signals — self-soothing actions like a human’s nail biting — are lip licking and yawning.

Mimic or otherwise acknowledge distress.

Yawning or licking your lips, too, lets your dog know you’ve “heard” her.

Trainer Alison Chambers, owner of Complete Canine Training

Make distance your friend.

Put as much distance as you can between yourselves and the source of the stress.

Trainer Alison Chambers, owner of Complete Canine Training

Use the environment.

Move behind a fence or onto a porch. Lift your dog to safety onto a truck bed or into a trash can. Use a folding chair or a hose or your leash to create a space around you.

Do NOT pick up your dog. He will instantly become prey for the other dog. And you could be seriously hurt.

Trainer Alison Chambers, owner of Complete Canine Training

Use your voice.

A loud “GO HOME!” In an aggressive tone lets the enemy know he is not welcome.

Trainer Alison Chambers, owner of Complete Canine Training

So, listen to your dog’s body language, just like she listens to yours, and you’ll both get more enjoyment out of being each other’s best friends. As always, thank you to the Labrador Retriever Rescue of Florida, for bringing this dear boy into our lives!

Kumba, our rescue black Lab
Kumba, our rescue black Lab

You can read more of Alison’s guidance in previous posts: How to introduce your pandemic pup to a new dog, How to help your unsocialized dog say hello ,How to train your pandemic pup, and Why training your dog is not about the tricks.

Family Friday: How to Introduce Your Pandemic Pup to a New Dog

If you’ve been following my blog, you know that we rescued a black Lab just before the pandemic hit last year. Kumba was sweet, rail thin, and nervous-aggressive around other dogs. We had just one session with trainer Alison Chambers, Complete Canine Training to begin helping Kumba to get accustomed to another dog before we locked down into quarantine.

Kumba looking in, Pancho looking out ….

As Alison said in a recent post of ours, social distancing has helped dogs be around other dogs without being forced into being buddies. Nose to nose greetings between leashed dogs sounds like a good idea to humans but is a recipe for disaster to our canine companions. Over the past 15 months, Kumba has become more relaxed around other dogs and in fact has several puppy friends in our neighborhood.

The pandemic has done wonders for dog socialization, exposing them to different things without requiring participation.

Alison Chambers, Complete Canine Training

Three weeks ago, we put Kumba’s readiness to be around another dog to a critical test when our daughter’s Lab, Pancho, came for a two-week stay. It was touch and go for a couple of days, but, thanks to Alison‘s guidance, Kumba’s resilience, and Pancho’s excellent guest manners, the dogs figured out how to share us, our home, walks, and even … (I am not suggesting this, but it was something that happened organically along the end of Week One) drinking out of each other’s water bowls.

At Alison’s recommendation, we introduced them in neutral territory during a walk at a gradually reducing distance, then sat with them in our backyard, then entered a toy-free home environment while constantly monitoring and trying not to panic when either dog bark-snarled to assert his space. That final point is the most difficult.

Have them meet in neutral territory

Alison Chambers
Success means smelling the same thing at the same time!

Rather than have Pancho come charging to the house, Alison suggested we have the dogs see each other outside. We walked out with Kumba and Pancho was across the street on the opposite sidewalk. Oh, a dog. Okay. Check.

Take a parallel walk

Alison Chambers

Keeping them at a distance from each other, with my daughter holding Pancho’s leash and me holding Kumba’s, we did a leisurely stroll around our lake, territory that’s familiar to each of them but which is not either one’s turf. We gradually reduced the distance between them until we were on the same sidewalk and slightly off sides. Kumba was pretty nonchalant and Pancho was totally fine. Check.

Pancho looking over his shoulder

Pancho first, leashes off, be in the backyard.

Alison Chambers

How do you fake relaxing in the backyard while every nerve in your body is attuned to what your dog may or may not do to your other dog? This was a more challenging process than I had expected, in large measure because we were on the dogs’ timetable. We also realized that our reactions could be more alarming than the dogs’ reactions to each other. It took a while, but Kumba and Pancho were both eventually able to lie down and even close their eyes. Check.

Clear toys, beds, bowls before you go indoors.

Alison Chambers

Cleared out the house’s public area, leaving the (back) family room and the (front) living room as big open neutral territories. Pancho hung out in the front room while Kumba was in the back. The kitchen in between became the demilitarized zone, where both dogs could amiably convene in case the person chopping up the food drop something on the floor. They both know that happens all the time. They say food brings people together, same for dogs!

Keep the calm. Dogs and their humans need breaks.

Alison Chambers

We initially kept the boys in separate bedrooms at night and if they were in the house without us, but otherwise they gradually figured out how to coexist together. We praised good behavior— I’m pretty sure lots of treats were dispensed by the other human in the house—and the dogs self-corrected when they stepped over each other’s borders. There’s nothing ambiguous about Pancho’s “hey, get your nose outa my face” bark.


They may never be friends, but our two good dogs co-habited very well. They’ve both spent a lot more time asleep this week!

Wow Kumba!!! What big strides you make!! 😎😎

Alison Chambers

Travel Tuesday: Looking Back at Our 2016 Mediterranean Cruise

Our daughter and her fiancé visited over the weekend. It was heaven having double the number of people and dogs in the house after a year of isolation. “The kids” are headed to see his family in New Jersey and New York while we are dog-sitting our first black Lab, Pancho for the week. The initial rough patch at integrating a new “old” dog into the house routine has smoothed out as they accept each other’s territory and learn to share us.

Over dinner, we got to talking about travel, somewhat wistfully. The pandemic and my nearly dying during a transatlantic cruise have put my husband and I permanently off taking another boat anywhere type of adventure. But V and C are just beginning their life together, and there is one trip that, even now, we are encouraging them to take — a Mediterranean cruise. Here’s a pictorial essay that shows why.

Venice, Italy

The canals of Venice
The canals of Venice, Italy Photo: Jane Kelly Amerson López

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Dubrovnik marina
The marina alongside the ancient walls of Dubrovnik, Croatia. Photo: Jane Kelly Amerson López

Kotor, Montenegro

The ancient city of Kotor, Montenegro
The quaint city of Kotor, Montenegro. Photo: Jane Kelly Amerson López

Corfu, Greece

Bathers in the azure Adriatic in Corfu, Greece
Bathers in the azure Adriatic in Corfu, Greece. Photo: Jane Kelly Amerson López

Sorrento, Italy

Looking across the Bay of Naples from Sorrento
Looking across the Bay of Naples from Sorrento. Photo: Jane Kelly Amerson López

Pompeii, Italy

The ancient market of Pompeii is overlooked by Mount Vesuvius
The ancient market of Pompeii is overlooked by Mount Vesuvius. Photo: Jane Kelly Amerson López

Rome, Italy

The Trevi Fountain. Tossed a coin over our shoulders to ensure we will return! Photo: Jane Kelly Amerson López

Monaco

Nice, France

A balcony and flag over the spot at which we enjoyed a café. Photo: Jane Kelly Amerson López

Provence, France

Barcelona

(Which will be its own pictorial essay another time) and then we flew home.

Can you see why this trip has stayed with us? Here’s to the post-pandemic world!

Family Friday: How to help your unsocialized dog say hello

A dog on a leash encountering another dog is like a person in handcuffs walking into a party.

Alison Chambers of Complete Canine Training

Alison Chambers knows dogs, and she shares her expertise to help us better understand and live with our pets. In my March post, she gave us tips on helping pandemic dogs through separation anxiety. We’ve had great success using her tips to wean our rescue Lab Kumba from our constant presence. Things to chew on help!

Our rescue Lab Kumba and his chew toy
Our rescue Lab Kumba and his very well chewed toy

Today’s advice is on helping socialize our pets. We discovered that our sweet new boy had a wild streak of aggression when confronted with another dog. The pandemic has helped keep such encounters at bay. But as life opens back up again, how can we help our dogs meet each other? Here’s Alison’s advice.

Rule Number One: Don’t let dogs go nose-to-nose. Human look each other in the eye and face each other when we speak. To a dog, a direct stare is an invitation to conflict.

Rule Number Two: Keep the leash loose. Restraining a dog sends the message that what they are greeting is dangerous.

Rule Number Three: Limit the transaction to two seconds. Then recall your dog with his name, not a yank on the leash. Remember Rule Number Two?

Rule Number Four: Not all dogs want to say hello. Read your dog and the dog you have encountered.

Rule Number Five: Always ask permission before approaching another dog. Use the social distancing skills we’ve learned during pandemic to keep aware of personal space.

Alison Chambers of Complete Canine Training

We’ll be working on these tips as we help Kumba navigate his environment in the weeks ahead. Stay tuned for a progress report and tips from Alison Chambers on how to understand our dogs.

Alison Chambers and Otto

The Coronavirus, the Frail Elderly, and Cruise Ships

A year ago at this time, we’d never heard of the Coronavirus, I was neither frail nor elderly, and a cruise ship promised adventure and pleasure.

Today, the Coronavirus is a global pandemic that has killed thousands, including in my state of Florida. I am officially old, having hit age 65 and qualified for Medicare. I became frail when felled by illness in May and stayed that way through November; though I have worked my way back to being strong and hearty, I lost my spleen in the process of staying alive and am at greater risk for infection. And cruise ships today are in the news for trapping travelers in floating incubators of quaratined disease.

I’d like to go back 13 months to when my husband and I were starting our Atlantic crossing to Amsterdam. We were relieved to have him cleared for travel by our doctor who monitors several ongoing conditions — like diabetes — that come with the years, and ready to enjoy three weeks at sea and then one month in Amsterdam. The good news? We got three months in Amsterdam.

I’d like to go back 15 months to our Christmas week Caribbean cruise, when our only concern was whether we’d get enough of a workout in the gym to go a little nuts on the Lido Deck.

Christmas 2019 Caribbean Cruise!

But, here we are, the frail elderly in Florida, valiantly trying to do the right thing. For now, we’ve stocked the larder and loaded the fridge, and will stick close to home. We’ll wash our hands (early and often, as they said about voting in the old days of the Democratic machine), and I’ve come up with “an app for that.” My Apple Watch tells me to breathe once an hour, so I’ll breathe and wash. Cleansed inside and out.

We’ll forgo the gym for the time being, while not ignoring our fitness. Our rescue Lab Kumba gets one or both of us out for around 3 miles a day, and I have my PT workout routine. There is a lovely simplicity to outdoor living in the semi-tropics of South Florida. Which reminds me to get the mosquito people back out here as soon as things warm up a bit more.

And we’ll ignore the siren call of the cruise ships. There’s one off the coast of Florida right now awaiting Cornavirus test results of two crew. The passengers will eventually get off. I can’t imagine the desperation of the crew who sign on for months’ long contracts in exchange for a wage that is needed by their families back home far away.

We desperately need a level-headed, calm, truthful voice leading us from the White House. We have instead Trump. Please vote in your primary — we have early voting so did do our duty without the long lines this week, and before the scarcity of polling site volunteers creates craziness.

I don’t know what Bernie and Joe will say to us tonight, but their words will carry a confidence in the country I know, a country whose character is about to be challenged and whose leadership is absent.

Opening Our Hearts to Another Dog

We lost our 12 year-old Chocolate Lab more than two years ago, but the ache in our hearts made the idea of another dog too painful for most of that time. Our younger dog, a Black Lab named Pancho, was hugely helpful to my recovery when he stayed with us late last year (when our daughter was traveling), and he reminded us how much we valued the companionship (and playtime) of a dog. My friend’s rescue Golden Retriever story opened our eyes to a similar organization for Labrador Retrievers. We filled out the application, had our home inspection, and waited for the right dog.

And here he is. This is Kumba, a name of African origins meaning “black fruit tree” according to the Internet gurus. He is a four year-old Black lab from Puerto Rico who we are adopting from the Labrador Rescue of Florida. He is one of the 700 dogs that will find forever homes this year through this amazing organization of dedicated volunteers.

Kumba is the 98th dog to be fostered by Kim in Pompano Beach. She has already told us that she will cry when we come to take him home with us. Except Kumba, who seems collected, trusting, and loving.

His previous owner in Puerto Rico must have given him a good home before surrendering him to a shelter a couple of months back when he was leaving the island rather than going through the paperwork process that would have allowed him to take Kumba with him. Somewhere along the way, though, Kumba developed an infection that had him terribly anemic when he arrived in South Florida in December. It took antibiotics and two transfusions to get him back on his feet, and he is now recovering from neutering surgery.

We met each other this past Saturday when our daughter and Pancho were with us. Everyone got along. The dogs sniffed and relaxed. We hoped Kumba would be thrilled to hear Puerto Rican Spanish; he was cordial but not overly impressed. We’ll have to work on our accents while he continues to heal. When his foster Mom Kim calls, we’ll say “VAMOS!”

Kim says Kumba likes to be where his people are. We look forward to his companionship when we’re sitting writing or reading or watching the telly, and to enjoying the fresh South Florida air in walks around our lake and, when he’s ready, at Dog Beach.

We will give Kumba a good home, and food and toys and walks and love and food. He still needs to put on a few pounds. In fact, he’s a little like I was a few months ago: on my feet, but a little wobbly and a little bony. I know how important it was to grow back into myself. We’re ready to help Kumba become his full self.