Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Holiday Gifting for Pets
56 percent of dog lovers buy their pups a present

According to a recent Associated Press-Petside.com poll, 56 percent of dog lovers will be buying their pets a Christmas gift this year. The percentage stayed consistent even among people who have lost their job in the past six months.

One of my favorite parts of the holidays is buying gifts for my friends and family—and that of course includes my pets.  This year’s goodies include a Ram Tuff Woolly Tail tug toy, a sparkly pink paw identification tag, and the Nina Ottosson Dog Spinny Game.

I love watching the dogs tear open their gifts, although sometimes I’m sure they think ripping the wrapping paper is much more fun than the present inside.

To add to the holiday fun, in recent years, my friends and I have done a canine gift exchange. After Thanksgiving, we put all of our pets’ names in a bowl and draw a Secret Santa for each dog. It’s lots of fun and my crew always ends up with goodies I wouldn’t have thought to buy.

Do you have any holiday gifting traditions with your pups?




News: Guest Posts
First-Dog Advice for Youngsters
Kid-friendly website for families who want a dog

It’s the time of year when children are encouraged to say what they want for Christmas and Hanukah, and sometimes a puppy is on the list. Families with young children considering adopting a dog, either as a gift or down the road, should check out a new website created by the University of Illinois Extension called “Best of Friends: Kids and Dogs.” Designed for 4th through 6th grade classrooms, anyone can use the site to walk through the questions that need to be asked and answered before such a big commitment.

  From realistic cost estimates to evaluating the best dog for your home, Best of Friends helps guide the whole family through the decision-making process—celebrating the wonderful addition a dog can be but staying grounded in the important challenges and responsibilities of this relationship.


Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Canardly Marley
What breeds are in this dog?

I love mutts, mixed breeds, crosses and every other sort of unidentifiable dog. Part of me doesn’t care what breeds they have in them. I’m charmed when I ask someone what kind of dog that is and they lovingly say, “He’s just a dog.” Another part of me is fascinated by what the mix of genetics means for a dog’s appearance and behavior. I often describe my dog Bugsy as “half Black Lab, half handsome stranger.” Most of the time that is enough knowledge for me, but sometimes I feel as though it’s my life’s quest to learn more about his ancestry.

  Yes, I know you can have your dog’s DNA analyzed to learn what breeds they have in them, but these results are so unreliable that as a scientist, I just can’t put much stock in them. For me, it’s much more fun, and just as informative, to ask a ton of people familiar with dogs what breeds they think are in a dog.   My friend’s dog Marley is an unknown mix. He’s the sort of dog who was long ago described as a Heinz 57. Nowadays, dogs like Marley are more likely to be referred to as a “Canardly” as in, “You canardly tell what he is.” So, I put it to you. Based on the pictures of his face, his side view, and his back end (I find rears informative—don’t ask me why!) what breeds do you think are in his ancestry? He is approximately 23 inches tall at the shoulder and weighs 55 pounds.   I have my own ideas about what’s in him, but I don’t want to bias anyone. To keep me honest, I will tell my fellow bloggers what my guesses are, and in a few weeks, I’ll post them. I look forward to hearing what you think.


Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Paw Prints Say Welcome
Vacation rental has perfect decorations

Recently, my family spent a week in Puerto Rico, where we spent part of our time on the island of Vieques. Our lodging was a vacation rental called Casa de Kathy, and there was much to love about this cute two-bedroom house near the beach. But what I’ll remember most about it is the decorations in the bathroom.

  Kathy and her late dog Canelo (Spanish for cinnamon) had left their footprints on the wall of the loo along with the traditional symbol of welcome—the pineapple. It was so charming, and the first detail of the place that stuck in my mind. And it will remain in my memory along with thoughts of snorkeling in the paradise of the Caribbean.   What decorations do you have in your home of the canine variety?


Dog's Life: Lifestyle
No Dogs: What Would You Miss?
I'd miss the little things

If I had to live without contact with dogs (shudder!), there are so many things that I would miss. Besides the obvious and main benefits of love and companionship, it’s the little things I think I would miss about dogs.

  I would be sad never to have their tongues on me, especially in the morning when they poke under the covers and give a quick lick to my toes or nose. It would be sad not ever to look in the rearview mirror of the car and see nothing but a dog’s face. I would even miss having dogs step on my foot and continue to stand there, seemingly unaware of my discomfort.   I love seeing dogs twitch when they dream, and stretch while on their backs with their front paws bent up like they are begging. I enjoy the crazy backwards sneezing of dogs, and the way they jump straight up with all four feet off the ground when they get excited. I would really miss the endless excitement of each and every walk, and the way so many dogs act like this walk, this very one, is the highlight of their entire existence.   There are so many more little things that I would miss in the absence of my canine friends. What would you miss about dogs if you could no longer be in their company?


News: Guest Posts
Showing and Telling
Your stories give us something to bark about

One of my favorite parts of my job is reviewing submissions for contests, especially Show & Tell. Your stories and photos never fail to lift my spirits. From funny to ridiculous to sublme, readers remind me of the many surprises our dogs have in store for us. They challenge us to be the best people we can be and then they reward us by putting their best paws forward.

  Recently, we received a few images from Connie Page in Fairbanks, Alaska. In a short note, she described how her co-pilot, Cedar, stood by her as she fought her battle with ovarian cancer. Dogs as healing companions is an image I’ve seen surfacing frequently these days, from “Devotion” by David Weiskirch, an essay about how dogs helped his wife’s healing (Bark, Issue 60, Summer 2010) to Dana Jennings’ new book, What a Difference a Dog Makes, which grew out a New York Times blog post about the lessons he learned from his dog during treatment for prostate cancer.   There is something in the photo of Connie and Cedar that captures the spirit of this healing relationship. There is Connie, serene and beautiful in a breathtaking wilderness she knows is good for her and her dog. At her side, Cedar sits with her tongue loose from what has probably already been a wonderful adventure. She looks ready to spring and gambol as soon as the shutter clicks—and get back to the business of reminding her person what this living business is all about.   I’d love to hear more stories about the different ways dogs cajole, support and distract their people through illnesses. Comment below or join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter @The_Bark #healingcompanions.



News: Guest Posts
Dog watching in NYC
Do city dogs have it better?

Dogs have been man’s best friend for thousands of years, adapting to nearly any living condition man throws their way. Whether living in a cave or on a snowy mountaintop, dogs and humans have weathered many different conditions and lifestyles together. And this weekend I witnessed perhaps one of the most interesting (and overwhelming!) environments dogs share with us: New York City.

  My best friend Carrie moved to New York earlier this year, and pretty much since the day she moved we had been planning my visit. Carrie gets me, and she gets dogs. For the past few years, she has willingly shared her birthday party with my Schipperke Leo, so she knew when I came to visit I would want to do something dog-oriented. We hung out in dog-friendly neighborhoods, sipping on tea in cafes and catcalling every dog that walked by, “Oh look at that Terrier, he’s got a good attitude!” “Work your thang, Puggle!” “Rock them dreads, Puli!”   While New Yorkers are famous for their no-nonsense, fast-paced approach toward life, they surprised me in how willing they were to stop and chat about their dogs. They’d offer up stories, discuss potty habits (“Lola always has to potty right in front of Club Monaco, it’s her thing.”), even show off their pup’s impressive tricks. (An Afghan Hound I met in Chelsea knew his right from left; I know humans that don’t know that.) Even more surprising was how dog-friendly the entire city was: Bowls of water were placed outside of storefronts, parks readily had Mutt-Mitts available, and one bakery had a tray-full of treats available.   Each neighborhood seemed to have it’s own canine attitude: Central Park West dogs hang in packs and bark a lot. SoHo dogs are laid back, watching the world go by, while their people drink coffee at cafes. Brooklyn dogs look like they have somewhere to be, with no time to stop and chat (unless sniffing for food around a taco truck).   It seemed like dogs were everywhere. Considering most New Yorkers don’t own a car and dogs aren’t allowed on the subway or in taxis, I found myself wondering if these dogs lived most of their lives within a 20-block radius of their homes walking the same sidewalks everyday, encountering the same dogs and smells, or if there were ways for them to get out of the city. Maybe take the Staten Island Ferry?   I don’t know what I expected, considering my previous notions had been informed by Disney’s Oliver & Company. Somehow street dogs singing Billy Joel tunes just didn’t seem realistic. No matter what the living situation, from lofts to brownstones, it was amazing to see how well dogs adapted. While I can’t imagine Skipper or Leo living without weekend trips to the beach or hiking trails, maybe there are benefits to city life I have never considered. Do you know a city dog who could set me right?


News: Guest Posts
Animal Blessings
Remembering to care for all creatures

I was raised a Catholic. And when I was young, I was seriously into the paraphernalia of the faith—I had several rosaries, a statuette of Mary and three crucifixes. But my most favorite item was a wood hinged-box, like a book with no pages. Inside was a reproduction of a painting of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and ecology, alongside St. Francis’ prayer, which is all about being an instrument of peace, light and joy. Even after I’d left behind my faith and most of its accoutrements, I held onto the prayer. 

  I count the tradition of animal blessings to mark St. Francis’ feast day, October 4, as one of the better reasons to go to church. My first introduction to the tradition was a raucous blessing of the hounds ceremony on a Westchester farm in the 1980s. The couple dozen foxhounds in attendance barked and howled like true believers. When I lived in New York City, I attended a blessing of the animals at St. John the Divine, where they always pull out the stops. This year the procession featured a camel, a peacock, an emu, an African horned tortoise, a parrot, a goat and plenty of dogs. If you’re interested in attending a blessing with or without your co-pilot, even though the feast day has passed, there are blessings scheduled throughout the autumn.     The idea of animal blessings is, of course, not limited Christians. Most religions have a tradition of animal reverence—even if it is lost in practice. In time for our season of gratitude, Eliza Blanchard has gathered together 27 simple animal blessings and poems (including Hindu and Jewish blessings, a Blackfoot chant and a Sioux prayer) in a collection charmingly illustrated by Joyce Hesselberth. A Child’s Book of Animal Poems and Blessings celebrates the contributions of the spider and the slug alongside the whale and the wolf. A perfect read-aloud selection for kid and canine.


News: Guest Posts
Date A Rescuer?
Why not

This week Time Out New York offered a different take on Adopt A Shelter Dog Month (October) by highlighting single folks who’ve adopted dogs. Seems to me a dedication to rescue would be a pretty excellent baseline quality in a possible-future-significant-other. I can almost hear the code-crunching as someone launches a dating site dedicated to this particular niche.

News: Editors
Dogs Help Children to be More Active
Improving fitness plus being best friend

As dog lovers we know that our dogs are important to both our mental and physical health—our dogs with their daily “walkathon” needs induce us to be more active, for one. In 2009, researchers from the University of Missouri found that walking dogs makes people not only more consistent about regular exercise but those who walk with a dog showed greater overall improvement in fitness than those who simply walk with two-legged companions! Another study found that dog owners actually take 25 percent more steps per day than do those without dogs. Both studies looked at adults, excluding the younger family members.

  So recently, researchers in the UK set out to discover if dogs also increase the level of physical activity in children. They based their study on 9- to 10-year-olds, from 78 schools across the UK. The young participants wore activity monitors for a week (a small instrument that was worn over the left hip on an elasticized belt). Only 10 percent of the kids had a family dog—but they recorded the most “overall activity count, counts per minute, and steps compared with non-dog owners.”   The authors of this study acknowledged the limitations of their study group, most from a less affluent urban population. Additionally, even though the dog-owning segment proved 4 percent more active, it’s far from the 25 percent recorded in the Canadian adult study. Nonetheless, their findings are important to our understanding of just how important dogs can be to all members of the family.   How has having a dog affected your exercise patterns? And parents, can you really get your kids to walk or play with the dog?