Thanksgiving pride and joy

Lately, when we bring the dogs to Rob’s parents’ house, they behave very well and wind up calmly lying down: Mia on a throw rug while Leo helps himself to the couch. In the past, Leo’s countersurfing has been a problem, but since he seems to have matured a bit, I was eager to bring them both to Thanksgiving dinner.

Our gathering was small: me and Rob, Rob’s parents, Rob’s uncle and aunt, and a delightful six-year-old girl Leo has known since he was a puppy.

Here he is, getting ready to pull her wheelchair like it’s a sleigh.

And here he is pulling her as Mia cheers on.

I know, normal people post pictures of their meal.

I didn’t realize that Rob’s aunt had never met the dogs. I felt a cold stab of guilt when Leo and I opened the door for her and she recoiled, saying “I’m quite terrified of large dogs.” A year ago, I might have panicked and stuck Leo in the car and made him wait out the rest of the celebration there, but I had faith in my boy, who has no history of snarling at anyone while off leash. I murmured to Rob to make sure Leo didn’t pester her at all, and Auntie clarified that she was terrified of dogs she didn’t know. Rob asked if it would help if she petted Leo, and she said it would.

Leo did a fair bit of polite wandering prior to dinner being served. Nothing inappropriate, but to someone afraid of dogs, I know Leo’s size is intimidating.

During dinner, Mia lay down underneath the table, a little closer to Auntie’s feet than I would have liked, but I’m not sure Auntie even noticed. Leo lay down on a mat behind Auntie at first. Then he did a cursory counter check while the kitchen was unattended. When he returned, he lay down on the other side of the table.

A perk of Rob’s and my never actually eating meals at our kitchen table is that our dogs don’t beg. At all! So kudos to us!

After we finished eating and the older men returned to the football cave, however, Leo stood and wrapped his teeth around the drumstick end of the turkey carcass still sitting on the dining table.

“Ha, ha, anyone want turkey leftovers?” I could afford to joke, because I don’t eat turkey.

No one was overly troubled by this transgression. After all, the turkey was at the exact height of Leo’s nose when he stood. What’s a dog to do?

Then, just as Rob’s mom congratulated herself for getting the rest of the food put away quickly in Leo’s presence, my boy propped his paws on the counter and licked a stick of butter in a dish.

“Just throw it out,” said Rob’s dad. (Leo is a repeat butter-stealing offender. Once he ate the whole stick before we caught him.)

“He only licked the top stick of butter,” I defended.

And Auntie agreed. “It’s true. I saw him.”

After that, I put Leo’s leash on, to keep him away from the counters and to play reindeer games. But then his leash got caught on one of the wheels of the wheelchair, so I detached him and was distracted long enough for him to snatch a wing from the turkey (now on top of the stove) and race around the house with it.

“Just let him have it,” said Rob’s dad. Yeah, that’s how permissive my dogs’ grandparents are.

“The bones are cooked; they could splinter,” I said.

I retrieved the wing bones from his mouth and gave half of his booty to Mia.

When I got home, I laughed at this post about countersurfing on Victoria Stilwell’s Positively blog. That might have been useful to read before dinner. But I already knew, the failure in management was ours. You can’t get mad at a dog for doing what comes naturally. (Honestly, I can’t get mad at Leo for anything. He’s just Leo.)

At the end of the day, I was thankful that Leo waited until after we’d eaten to showcase his naughty side. And I was beyond thrilled when Rob’s mom reported that Auntie was very impressed with how well-behaved our dogs were. Even after witnessing Leo’s antics!

I know I’m a little late to the Monday Mischief party, and Thanksgiving seems like it was ages ago already, but maybe some of you are still catching up too.

Anyone else have a countersurfer attend Thanksgiving?

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Give doggies the gift of mental stimulation

I celebrated Christmas with my babies this weekend because I leave tomorrow for my traditional Los Angeles festivities.

the tree

I showed a lot of restraint by only buying the kids one present. To Share. Am I stingy or what?

Since it’s so dark, wet and cold around here, I’ve had to find creative ways to keep the dogs entertained. I’ve been feeding them their evening meal in puzzle toys. Based on the concept that our dogs’ ancestors used to spend a lot more time hunting for their meals, food puzzles make domesticated doggies work for their food.

According to Marty Becker, DVM, “Eating out of food puzzles takes memory, skill and manipulation, all of which help our dogs find healthier, less-destructive ways to release pent-up energy.”

Nina Ottosson’s are highly regarded. The plastic ones are durable and easy to clean. I consider $30 to $50 to be pretty expensive for a “dog toy,” but my judgment may be clouded by the fact that regular toys don’t last very long in German shepherd mouths. We’ve had the Tornado and the Brick for a few years now, and I consider them well worth the price.

Recently, we acquired the less expensive, but equally durable and easy-to-clean Dog It Mind Games, which can be played three different ways. The spin-a-whirl version seems to exercise my dogs’ minds the best.

After a few weeks of feeding them in the same three puzzles, I worried that the novelty had worn off and my kids weren’t reaping the same stimulating benefits. So I bought them a brand new puzzle for Christmas. Made by Aikiou, it’s shaped like a paw! I picked it up at our local PetStop, and was so excited about it, I told the salesgirl that I might even give it to the dogs that night. “They don’t know when Christmas is,” I explained.

Again, I showed restraint, wrapping it and putting it under the tree. This is the first Christmas that Leo’s had free roam of the house. Could he be trusted not to mess with wrapped presents under the tree? After all, he’s been surprisingly tolerant of all our decorations. He only pulls ornaments off the tree when I’m sitting right there and he wants my attention.

Turns out, no, he can’t be trusted. How could I have thought otherwise? Within two minutes he had a corner of wrapping paper and the cardboard box underneath torn open. I confiscated the present and waiting patiently until tonight, when I gave him permission to tear it open tonight. He sniffed it and wandered away.

Typical. Last night he proved that he only wants what he’s not supposed to have when Grandma gave both doggies Crunchkins edible cards. Mia enjoyed hers immediately.

mia crunchkins

Leo wasn’t sure what to do with his, and abandoned it in search of some dirty dishes to lick. Later, he pawed through the cardboard box of used wrapping paper to find the plastic wrap that the rawhide card came in, because that’s what he wanted to chew. When we got the dogs home, Leo took a renewed interest in the edible card, running around the house, looking for a place to hide it so that Mia couldn’t take it from him.

“Leo, just eat it! That’s the only way to keep it safe!”

In the middle of the night, Mia got a hold of it and noisily ate it on the bedroom floor.

So. After I unwrapped my dogs’ gift myself, and filled it and the other puzzles with their dinner, they enjoyed their shared Christmas gift. I especially like this one, because, like the Dog Tornado, it holds a lot of food.

Leo puzzleChristmas really is all about the children, don’t you think?

Leo

Is it December yet?

Happy to see we weren’t the only ones getting our Christmas trees last weekend, even though Thanksgiving came a little early this year.

Also tickled to find a dog blogger across the country who has the same tradition as we do: Taking the dogs to the tree farm.

Our tradition goes back to 2006, when Isis was a mere Muppet Baby.

9-week-old Isis, 2006

Our visits to Red Mountain Tree Farm in Everson grew more complicated after Isis became reactive, but in front of the camera, she was a supermodel. Look carefully at the two photos to see my technique for getting her to smile.

Same tree farm, but in 2008, they had inflatable snowmen.

Christmas 2009

As devastatingly handsome as Leo is, he was camera shy during his first visit to the tree farm. I tried to encourage him by smooshing my face against his.

Leo’s first Christmas, 2010. He’s 9 months old.

My heart breaks over Christmas 2010 because we couldn’t have both dogs in the same photo. And it was Isis’s last Christmas.

Christmas 2010

A year later, we had Mia, and could photograph the doggies together.

Christmas 2011

This year, we didn’t have Rob’s mom with us to take our picture, and hardly anyone was at the tree farm when we were there, except an unattended black Lab who likes to pee on the trees. (Leo only peed on one tree, and we bought that one for the martial arts studio). So we have photos of each of us with the dogs, but none of us together.

Christmas 2012, beside the tree Leo didn’t pee on.

Leo’s still very handsome, still a little blank behind the eyes. Maybe by next year we’ll have him “smizing.”