Sunday, December 9, 2018

Inspiring Health & Wellness

At this time of year I spend a lot of time reflecting on all that has happened in the past year. Life got a little busy this year with adopting a new dog, nurturing a growing relationship with Alan, and spending time and money on house projects. All of that has left me feeling like I've neglected getting outside and exploring nature this year. The lack of hiking and walking has left me with a few extra pounds that I didn't have last year, so my health and wellness has suffered a bit with all this busy-ness too.

Not letting hunting season stop us from hiking... sporting our blaze orange!

A few weeks back, I mentioned how I just started up again with our weeknight walks around the neighborhood. I had stopped doing these when we adopted Jake because it became too physically difficult for me to control both dogs by myself. Instead of doing the logical thing - walking them separately, I just stopped walking altogether.

That loss of exercise combined with a very hot and humid summer left me a few pounds heavier by this fall. I was surprised to see the scales tipping at close to 145 lbs. - almost 10 lbs gained in a year and a half.

I know that doesn't sound like much to some, but on my small 5'4" frame, it adds up. Maybe not visually so much, but physically I felt unhealthy. My knees started hurting again, my posture was terrible, my back/neck/shoulders were killing me.

And then the real kicker... I had to buy bigger pants. That was the last straw.

I swore after I lost all that weight back in 2015 that I would NEVER buy bigger pants again. So I made a commitment to myself that I would get back on a weeknight walking schedule with the dogs. Now I get even more exercise than before because I have to walk the dogs separately, which guarantees at least an hour and a half of walking each night.

It's been a month since we've been back on this schedule and I've already lost 3 lbs! I'm feeling so much better... my posture has improved, I'm motivated to lift weights and do crunches in my living room again and I have much more energy.

We don't let a little snow stop us from hiking!

I had forgotten how good exercise feels. And now that it's become a habit again, it's easier to stay on track. The LightHound harness is helping me stick with the walking program now that the evenings are dark. And a good pair of fleece-lined pants are keeping my legs warm enough to stay out for longer periods of time. Having the right outdoor hiking gear is important in making your outings enjoyable so you keep on track with a routine.

Sugar-dusted trails sparkle in the sunlight.

I started this blog to document my outdoor adventures with my dogs, inspire and motivate people to get outdoors with their dogs and to provide information and tips on dog-friendly outings. So even though I got off-track on my fitness and outdoor routine this year, I hope I'm still inspiring some of you to discover nature - in all seasons - and get some exercise with your dog. You need the fresh air and exercise as much as they do, so use them as your support group and get out there!

My little kitchen/office assistant.

Stay tuned for our winter outdoor adventures now that we're heading into the next season - we have a lot of fun things planned! We're making sure that the colder weather doesn't keep us from enjoying nature and getting exercise.

No more excuses!

Jake begging for crumbs under the kitchen table, watching me eat.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Review: Noxgear LightHound Harness

I ordered the Noxgear LightHound Harness weeks ago and we've been anxiously awaiting its arrival. Unfortunately they were back-ordered for a while and then the recent fires in California delayed the resupply. But we finally got it delivered the Friday after Thanksgiving and had a chance to test it out last night!

NOTE: This review is purely one dog-lover's review/opinion for other dog-lover's informational purposes. I have no affiliation with Noxgear and did not receive anything in exchange for my review. Product was purchased with my own money and all opinions are my own. I urge you to research any purchase on your own to determine if it's something you want to buy. I hope this review helps you make that decision. (Jake is wearing size Large in the following photos/videos).

The box it came in was so small, I was worried that I'd received the wrong item, but sure enough it was the LightHound harness. I took it out of the box and adjusted the straps to fit on the dogs to see if I'd ordered the correct size - everything fit perfectly and the harness was so easy to figure out that I barely even looked at the instructions.

Once the straps were adjusted to fit both dogs, we tested the different lighting options. There are several solid colors to choose from and also a few "preset" light sequences, including a blinking one called "disco dog!"

Last night, when I walked the dogs, there was a light rain so it was the perfect opportunity to test out the harnesses "rainproof" ability. Jake doesn't like walking in the rain very much, so we had a very short walk around our neighborhood and then I switched out the harness so Charlie could take a test run. (*Note: This harness is not waterproof, only rainproof, so make sure not to let your dog go swimming in it!)

Charlie loves to walk, no matter the weather, so we were out for over 40 minutes. I let Charlie choose which direction she wanted to go and she immediately headed toward downtown Wausau on one of the more well-lit streets. She got a lot of attention from passers-by that wanted to check out her blinky harness and give her some love. On our way back home, Charlie wandered through some darker streets where we had a chance to test the extent of the visibility of the harness.

While I liked the blinking "disco dog" mode for visibility of the dogs, it was a bit distracting to my eyes and made it hard for me to concentrate on the sidewalk. I think once we get a layer of snow on the sidewalks, I'll be using one of the solid blue or white light settings to help us navigate any icy spots during night walks.

Overall, I'm very happy with this purchase.These were my objectives for buying this harness:

1. Make sure the dogs are visible during night walks so we don't get hit by cars while crossing roads.
2. Light up the sidewalk so I can see where we're going on icy winter walks.
3. Something rechargeable so I'm not constantly replacing batteries.

Icy sidewalks (and the fear of falling) is my number one excuse to not walk in the winter. And since I just started getting back into a walking routine with the dogs (taking one dog at a time so I can physically handle them), I don't want the impending snow/ice to hold me back from continuing to get exercise this season. All of my issues with winter walking will be handled quite well by this harness. I'm positive this harness will help us stay active all season!

VIDEO #1 ~ demonstration of LightHound Harness (click link):

VIDEO #2 ~ demonstration of light mode and fit (click link):

**This product was purchased with my own money and I did not receive anything in exchange for my review. All opinions are my own and I would never promote something I didn't believe in.**

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Visits & a Reunion

Backseat beggar at Culver's... watching me eat lunch and waiting for his share.

Jake and I headed south on a road trip - just the two of us - last weekend. Our first destination was to my stepmom's house in Platteville to meet her new puppy, River. This would be Jake's first time visiting my family's homestead on 40 acres of rolling hillsides in the Driftless Region of the state and I was curious to see how he would do off-leash on this country property without Charlie leading the way.

VIDEO~River and Jake learning to play together (Click Link):

River is an almost 6-month-old black lab and currently un-neutered (although his surgery is scheduled soon!). Jake and River hit it off immediately and became quick friends, although Jake would soon run out of patience with River's constant humping. That was one aspect I hadn't realized would be an issue, but Jake was a very good boy and corrected River's behavior appropriately, giving him a growl and little snap when he'd had enough.

VIDEO~Inappropriate puppy behavior (click link):

It was interesting watching Jake handling a younger (and more annoying) puppy... almost like a taste of his own medicine considering how he plays with Charlie and pushes his luck with her. River also had not learned "bite inhibition" yet and still had some sharp baby teeth... Jake did a good job teaching River what was acceptable and what was not.

They played with toys well together and chased each other around the yard, always doing a good job staying close to the house and not wandering off in search of adventures on their own. I was very pleased with how well Jake stayed in the yard.

After dinner on Saturday night, Jake seemed restless and was pacing around a bit. I kept thinking he had to go potty, but then realized he was waiting to go home! This was his first "overnight" trip somewhere and he didn't know that we were staying. I used the same words I used on Charlie when she went through the same situation as a puppy... "we're staying here" "let's go nu-night" "lay down on your bed" etc. He quickly caught on and immediately slumped into his bed and passed out - he was exhausted! I think he was relieved that he could stay and just lay down and rest. River had tired him out completely.

Sleepy Jake

The next morning, we packed up the car and headed over to my sister's house in Deerfield where Jake would get to meet her dog, Bella. In addition to this next new visit, Jake's original foster parents were going to stop by and visit with him too!

Jake did great meeting Bella and they quickly warmed up to each other, romping around and playing with toys. My nieces also got to meet Jake for the first time.

Jake chilling out with my niece while she reads him a story.
VIDEO~Jake and Bella playing (click link):

When Jake's foster parents arrived, his little wiggle-butt started wagging from side to side and he got pretty excited. I don't know if he remembered them or not, but he enjoys meeting people so much! Everyone got a chance to catch up and watch Jake being silly and playful with the kids.

Sunday was a long day of driving and visiting, so Jake was more than happy to curl up in a sunspot in the backseat of the car and sleep all the way home.

His reunion with Charlie when we got home was very sweet too... you could tell they missed each other and Jake seemed relieved and happy to be back home with his pack.

Sidenote: Charlie spent the weekend with her daddy... watching football, eating treats and sleeping. According to Alan, Charlie played with her toy for about 5 minutes and then slept the rest of the time. I think it was a nice break for her to catch up on her rest and spend some quality time alternating her naps between her dog bed and Alan's lap. What a sweetheart!

If you're planning a road trip with your dog, here are some tips to help make the journey successful:

  • Secure your dog in the car.  Most people find it helpful to keep the pets secured in the backseat where they won't distract the driver. Use a crate, a harness and seatbeat combo or some other barrier to keep the dogs in the back. There are several products available these days. Luckily for me, Jake prefers the backseat so I didn't need to use anything specific for him... just made him a comfortable spot to sleep.
  • Bring comforts of home... pack their dog bed, bowls, blankets, treats, food, toys, etc. These things help a dog settle down once you arrive at your destination, giving them the security of something familiar.
  • Take a lot of breaks for walks and potty breaks. Dogs are like kids... it's hard to sit still for long periods of time. Let them stretch their legs and get some fresh air.
Safe travels everyone!

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Separation Anxiety

Charlie and Jake have grown very close since he's joined our family a little over 6 months ago. I'm constantly observing their behavior and play-style to make sure everyone is getting along and also because it's just plain entertaining.

Overall I feel that Charlie enjoys having a playmate but Jake tires her out with his constant demands. He prefers playing with Charlie over me or Alan... he doesn't quite understand how to play with humans and I think he's worried he'll get too rough. He's a very sensitive dog and is always trying to please.

Charlie's gotten skilled at letting Jake know when she's had enough playtime and she has plenty of room to go rest somewhere away from him.

Also, I've been taking them for separate walks at night so they each get one-on-one time with me and time apart from each other. Charlie really enjoys this personal time, but Jake cries like a baby when Charlie and I leave him behind with his grandma.

He's slowly getting better about being separated from Charlie for short periods of time and I think this is important so he doesn't become too dependent on her. I want him to feel comfortable in any situation and not rely on her for all his emotional support. It's important for him to be confident when he's left alone or separated from Charlie so he doesn't develop separation anxiety.

Which is why I'm taking him with me for a road trip this weekend - just the two of us! We'll be heading down to Platteville to visit my stepmom and her new puppy. I'm also planning a short visit with my sister near Madison and hopefully Jake's foster mom will be able to stop by for a visit with him.

Charlie will be spending the weekend with Alan, getting one-on-one time with her daddy. I'm sure she'll enjoy the easy restful weekend watching football and eating treats.

This will be the first time that Jake and Charlie will be separated for this long, but I'm sure they'll both do great! Jake will be so distracted playing with a new puppy, stopping for some fun hikes during the road trip and meeting new people, plus it will build his confidence being out on his own and be a good bonding time for the two of us. I'm really looking forward to a fun weekend!

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Safe Hiking During Hunting Season

It's that time of year again when I have to limit which trails and parks we visit due to the busy hunting season.

VIDEO~Dogs wearing Blaze Orange last weekend (click link):

VIDEO~Dogs without blaze orange from previous week's hike (click link):

Obviously there are different hunting seasons throughout the year, but in Wisconsin, the big one is for deer and turkey hunting. Both have different restrictions and seasons, so it's important to check with local resources to find out where and when hunts are occurring.

I always visit our local DNR website to find out what types of hunts are going on and where. I also did a search of area parks and know that there are two parks in my county that don't allow hunting at any time of the year. Since Charlie is noise-reactive, I choose to stick to those parks when any gun hunting is going on, although we can't always avoid all gunshot noises since some noises carry over great distances and waterfowl can be hunted on the lakes and rivers surrounding those parks.

In any case, over the years we have become comfortable with one particular park that has everything we're looking for - secluded areas where the dogs can run off-leash, no hunting inside the park, and lots of acres to explore. It's a bit longer of a drive to get there, but always worthwhile once we arrive.

It can be beyond frustrating to hike with a noise-reactive dog during hunting seasons, as I've experienced before, but with the proper planning and preparation, you can have a great time! Don't let hunting season keep you indoors; there are almost always options to get outside.

Here are some tips to keep you safe while having fun (especially with a reactive dog):
  • Wear bright colors, or preferably blaze orange, when you are hiking during hunting season. Even if hunting is not allowed where you are hiking, it's best to be seen just in case. There are a variety of things dogs can wear to help them be seen in the woods... from expensive hiking vests to something homemade. My dogs always wear a Ruffwear harness when hiking - these can be pricey but they're so well-made that you'll only have to buy it once. Even though these are colorful, I also have the dogs wear a blaze orange neck warmer that I bought at the local hardware store for about $5.00. If you can't find a neck warmer that will go around your dog's neck, you could buy a knit cap and cut the top off it so it'll fit around their neck for a rather inexpensive way to make sure your dog is not mistaken for a deer.

  • Realize that you may have to cut your hike short if your dog hears something that causes them to react. It's no fun for anyone to force them to stay on the trail if they're too scared. Always try to make outdoor activities fun so your dog will want to go along. There have been times when Charlie and I were out in the middle of nowhere when she had an episode and we had a long and grueling hike to get back to the car; it happens. Just try to end each hike on a happy note (lots of treats and praise) so your dog doesn't get too fearful to get back out there. We have had situations where I've been forced to abandon going on certain trails because Charlie had one bad experience and every time we went back she became fearful... just from the previous memories. It's okay to put some trails "on hold" until your dog is ready to go back... and when they do, make sure you have lots of GOOD treats to make it fun again.

  • Keep your dog ON-LEASH when hiking in hunting zones. Even if they are visible, they could disrupt wildlife and hunters causing a bad experience for everyone. It's just plain polite to keep your dog on-leash if there is a chance they'll run into other hikers, hunters or wildlife. I make sure that the trails where Charlie and Jake are off-leash are secluded non-hunting zones and we're not bothering anyone else (we have secret side-trails we use to get off the main trails). Since Jake's recall isn't that great yet, I sometimes keep him on-leash and let Charlie off-leash if I can't handle both of them myself.

  • If you have a reactive dog, know the trail and what to expect ahead of time, even if this means going there by yourself to scout it first. Just because something looks good on a map or website doesn't always mean it'll work for you and your dogs. This is a worthwhile time investment to ensure you all have a good experience.
What other tips or tricks do you have for good hiking experiences with your dogs? Have you ever had an issue hiking during hunting seasons?