To start, I have to begin the way I always do when talking about Ranger- he’s the second dog I never knew I always wanted. Before him, I did know I wanted a second dog, but it just never worked. Boots and I helped a series of foster dogs find their way to their forever homes, but none of them were the right fit for the two of us. We’d been a pack of two for so long that I just didn’t think we would find a human or a dog who’d fit into our life.
I’m not going to tell me and Chris’s love story today, except to say that it definitely sounds like something out of an implausible and cringeworthy Hallmark movie! But Ranger is 100% the reason our paths crossed, and for that, I will be forever grateful. Just like I was when I stumbled upon Boots, Chris was lonely and needed a best friend when he found Ranger. My mentor and dear friend, Sue, coached Chris through the adoption of a very fearful 5 month old Ranger. His hard work, dedication, and patience on top of the foundation that Sue built are what made Ranger the incredible dog he is today.
Coincidentally, Chris adopted Ranger right before his 25th birthday- Boots’ adoption fee had been my 20th birthday present to myself 5 years prior! He was terrified at first that Ranger would never come to love or trust him. As a significantly under-socialized stray puppy, Ranger was incredibly afraid of things like going through doorways, walking on leash, being reached for, being in the presence of unknown men, and many other every day things that most people take for granted. I can’t say enough that Chris’s hard work and patience and love made the biggest difference for this big beautiful boy.
There are so many things I love about who Ranger is- he’s so goofy when he’s comfortable! He loves to play with other dogs and he will do his damndest to catch toys in his mouth. We call him our big whale because if he’s feeling lazy, he’ll throw himself forward an inch at a time to be loved on. He’s incredibly gentle, with both people and other animals. He’s learned to be a big boy and express his boundaries, but he always does so with great restraint. The way he handicaps himself to play with Boots, simply laying on the ground and bopping and weaving his big head while Boots jumps up and grabs him by the ears and carries on brings me endless joy- I could not have picked a better little brother for him.
So as February has just come to a close, I celebrate the two amazing gifts I’ve been given by the universe- my fiancé and my second baby. I could not be more grateful for how the two of them have changed me and Boots’ life!
I’m not much of a winter person- I see those of you who hike in the cold and the snow, and I admire you, but that’s just not me (or Boots- Ranger, however, loves the snow!) Something that I do love in the winter is a bubble bath with a movie playing on my laptop, complete with a beer or glass of wine and a face mask if I really need some self care.
Like any crazy dog lady, many of my favorite movies involve dogs, because the best art mimics life if you ask me. So this Valentine’s Day, whether your Valentine is a dog or a person or both, these are the dog movies I most recommend cuddling up on the couch and enjoying!
Dog Days is an ensemble rom-com starring Vanessa Hudgens, Nina Dobrev, and Adam Pally among many others. It’s a lot like the Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve ensemble rom-com’s, except it’s dog centric which obviously makes it better. My triplet sister and I went to see it on a Tuesday night in a mostly empty theater, and while it was absolutely cheesy and predictable, that’s what we both needed and we loved it! It’s on Hulu now, so I definitely plan on having it in heavy rotation.
2. Bolt is an absolutely charming Disney movie staring Miley Cyrus and John Travolta’s voice acting, and if you haven’t seen it, honestly, where have you been?! The first time I saw this movie it stressed me out intensely, but ever since, it’s been one of those things I can put on when I need to relax and zone out a bit. Over the summer, I watched it during a monsoon storm with Boots curled up at my side and it was magical. It will definitely make you cry but in the best way.
3. Isle of Dogs takes it another direction entirely- I’m not a movie buff at all, so I didn’t totally get the Wes Anderson excitement in regards to this movie, but I did love it so much that I saw it in theaters twice, which says a lot for me. (I hate movie theaters because they’re always too cold, I can never get comfortable, and I hate not being able to pause it when I need to get up for a bathroom or snack break!) I would have seen it a third time if I could have dragged a third person to go see it with me! I think Claymation is amazing, and I loved the story line as a whole. As someone who would absolutely hijack a plane to rescue my dog, I was super impressed by this movie. PRO DOG!!
4. Marley & Me is one of those movies that I feel has to be included in just about every dog movie list because it encompasses something so special about our lives with these incredible souls by our sides. Just like John Grogan, I feel like my dogs have been witness to some of the biggest growing pains and moments of my life, and this movie beautifully illustrates that. We’ve all had dogs in our lives like Marley- incorrigible and too smart for their own good- this is a good reminder to love them well. Also if I need to cry, this movie does the job 100% of the time. We all have those moments where we need to let out some emotion but it just won’t come, and Marley & Me is my solution in a pinch. 10/10, will cry to again!!
5. Walking the Dog is a cheesy, predictable Hallmark movie and anyone who knows me knows that I eat those up, no matter how ridiculous they are!! Do most of the Hallmark and UP! movies recycle the same 20 actors for every movie? Absolutely. Are they almost cringe worthy in their cheesiness and predictability? YOU BET! But for me that’s a big part of what makes them so much fun and so relaxing to watch. A girl can’t help but enjoy a silly, predictable happy ending every now and then, right? Pinterest (oddly) starting suggesting all of the Hallmark & UP! dog related movies to me on my feed, and I have to say, I’m here for it! I’m definitely not telling you that you can watch this entire movie for free on YouTube…
Like I said, whether your Valentine is human or canine, these movies are guaranteed to make you laugh, cry, and groan at the cheesiness. Comment and tell me your favorite dog movies, books, and any other dogs in pop culture that you enjoy!
Hiking the La Luz trail up to Sandia Crest is a goal I’ve decided to conquer in 2019. La Luz is a beast, and seemed like an insurmountable goal for years- especially when I was first diagnosed with asthma at 19 and was told that I only had 73% of the lung capacity that I should. I’ve come a long way since then with my health and my fitness, but I tend to get off track without a specific goal in mind. My triplet sister, an incredible endurance athlete who runs marathons, suggested a hiking goal, and I thought it was a great idea!
I was never much of a hiker until a few years ago, after going through a bad breakup and finding it to be an empowering thing to do on my own, just me and Boots. I’m drawn to basically any activity where I can bring him along, so I was sold pretty quickly and began to do easy little day hikes with him. I always brought too much supplies and over-packed, but I did and still do consider it a great responsibility to take care of us both. Chris and my first date was a hike with our pups, and I credit that date as a big part of what built a solid foundation for our relationship. There’s nothing like just walking and talking in nature with dogs by your side!
Now that Boots is getting older, I do get a little more worried about what he can and can’t do, or about whether I’m pushing him too hard. For his part, Boots has always been able to keep up pretty well, despite his small stature! It has been really hard for me as we’ve entered his senior years to realize that he may not always be able to be as active as he was when we were younger. Hiking isn’t important to me without the dogs, though. So part of my goal for La Luz is to hike with Boots as far as he can make it, then let him ride in this super sweet carrier backpack so we can get to the top together! The together part is what’s important to me.
Ranger is an absolute pro at hiking and has great off leash skills, though it’s super important to us to respect other dogs and their families by staying on leash in leash law areas. Knowing him as a scared, flighty puppy, it’s crazy to me to see how far he’s come and how confident he is both on and off leash while hiking. Chris started with him as soon as he was old enough to physically handle it, and it definitely shows.
After spending the last two years day hiking with these boys, I feel like we’ve got a system down. Is it like having kids in that it takes us twice as long to prepare to hike and we have to carry twice as much gear and water to ensure all of our safety and success, but I wouldn’t have it any other way!
I’m no pro at any of this outdoorsy stuff, but if you’re going to start hiking with your dogs, here are my tips for doing so:
Bring twice as much water as you believe you’ll need. Really & truly. There is nothing worse than being out on the trail and not having enough water for yourself and your dog to stay comfortable!
Tell someone where you’re going, even if other people are coming with you. The Find My Friends app exists for a reason!
Carry first aide for yourself and your dog- the thought of being caught in an emergency with no way to help my dog is a terrifying thought for me.
Be respectful of other dogs and their people! Fearful and reactive dogs deserve to get out and explore nature without months or years of training being ruined by off leash dogs rushing at them.
Hike your own hike! If you’re slow, that’s okay! If you and your dog have to stop and rest often, you’re doing right by both of you! Don’t let anyone judge your speed or ability- everyone starts somewhere.
BRING TREATS! Of the human and canine variety! Hikes are more fun with snack breaks!!
I have two very good dogs in front of me, one tiny and one huge, and a tiny and huge bowl of kibble to match. The boys know the routine and they love to play the game. Both Boots and Ranger start offering me behaviors- sits and downs and hand targets- because they know that they’ll get their dinner piece by piece as we play together. No matter how my day has gone at work, getting to spend joyful time with my dogs puts me back into the present and gets me out of my own head.
Of course, it wasn’t always this way for me. If you’re reading this, you may already know that Boots came into my life in the summer of 2011, and that Ranger came much later, with my now fiancé Chris. Because of this, each of their training backgrounds are very different. Boots and I attended a very outdated training school in our small college town- I’m not here to judge anyone’s training methods, as each of us is truly trying to do what will be best for our dogs, but I never felt fully comfortable with this trainer and her outdated and aversive methods. The dogs didn’t have the chance to make a mistake or learn to think and make decisions, but rather how to respond to a Command. Despite my discomfort with the whole situation, I never questioned anything- I didn’t have the background knowledge at the time to. Anyway, the way that the dogs were handled made it very clear to me that the only option, in class, was to do as this person told me to.
Luckily for me, I was an Animal Science major in college and got the wonderful opportunity to learn about animal behavior, learning theory, and canine cognition in the classroom. I’m a huge nerd about things that I love and dogs are no exception. I’m proud to say that I scored above a hundred percent on every single one of my Animal Behavior Exams, and with that knowledge, I understood that there was a better way for Boots and I to train… but the disconnect between book learning and action was steep, so we just… stopped. We didn’t train. Boots earned his certification to be a Therapy Dog with Alliance of Therapy Dogs using what we already knew, but that was it. I couldn’t shake the guilt that I’d done something harmful to Boots in training him the way that I previously did, so I just didn’t train with him.
The heavens truly opened up for me when I found a mentor in the force free training world. Sue, you will forever be my mama bear and hero! As a newbie in animal sheltering and behavior, I needed guidance and was so grateful to find someone eager and willing to help me learn. I kept reading, I learned clicker mechanics, and Boots and I began to try to train. The only trouble was, Boots didn’t offer behaviors. I tried the 101 Things to Do With A Box game… he just sat. I realized that he didn’t know how to offer behaviors, so we enrolled in positive reinforcement classes. We started with Nosework, as I felt that would be fun for both of us and relatively low pressure. We both had a blast, and Boots began to gain back the confidence he’d lost through the previous aversive training. After that, we were rolling!
As I grew as a trainer, I learned more and more how to ask Boots to think. We learned together about targeting, shaping, and capturing behaviors. I learned the very important distinction between a cue and a command. Through all of this though, I couldn’t shake the guilt I felt about Boots’ first experience with training. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to attend Pat Miller’s Peaceable Paws Training Academy in Maryland in the fall of 2016 and to speak with her one on one about our shared experience as cross-over trainers. In response to a question about the immense guilt that I felt, she told me that she chose to move on by knowing that every dog in her present and future would have a better experience because of the knowledge she’d gained as a force free trainer. I still think about that advice constantly.
Here we are now, almost 8 years into me and Boots’ journey together. Boots is coming up on 11 years old, but he’s even more eager to learn and play the training game with me now than he was as a 2 year old. Last fall, we enrolled with the absolutely incredible ladies of East Mountain Dog Training for our first Rally Obedience class. I was literally almost shaking with nerves our first couple classes, and Wendy and Jeannie listened to my concerns about our background and my fears that Boots would hate training with me for a more structured sport, and gave both of us confidence. Boots is thriving in Rally, and I am loving it. It’s crazy to me that this sport we enjoy so much was out there all of this time without us discovering it! I am forever grateful for all that Wendy and Jeannie have shared with me and taught us both, and we continue to have a blast training with them. f
And then there’s Ranger, my big beautiful boy, who was found as a very fearful and under-socialized stray in a rural part of town. His background is so different from Boots’, and his training journey started with Chris, not me. Still, we’re learning to become a team as well, and seeing his eyes light up when the clicker comes out makes me certain about the way I’ve chosen to build our bond and trust. The foundation Chris created for him before we met continues to be the most wonderful, solid rock to build on and I love both human and dog so much for it!!
So every night I’ll be here, two happy, engaged dogs before me and a clicker and treats (or kibble) in hand, communicating and sharing the joy that force free, positive reinforcement training has brought us. They love the training game, and I will play it with them with a full heart for the rest of our lives together.
If you want to learn more about how to start clicker training with you dog, click here.
I’m Jessica, and I’m not totally sure what I’m doing here, but isn’t that how many great things start?!
I’m a Certified Professional Dog Trainer in New Mexico with the two most incredible dogs in the world, in my professional opinion. Boots is a 10 year old terrier mix, and Ranger is a 3 year old hound mix of some sort. I’m also lucky enough to have a pretty amazing fiancé, Chris, who loves our boys just as much as I do.
I started an Instagram for Boots years ago, before Chris and Ranger were ever a part of our lives, under the handle BootsAndJess. As our pack grew to include the two of them, I felt that we needed a more inclusive Instagram name, and after weeks of searching and finding that everything I wanted was already taken, I stumbled upon the idea of TheDogMomChronicles– I mean, I already chronicle our life to a large degree on the ‘gram, so why not call it what it is? After that, the idea of a blog popped into my head, and I decided to give it a try.
So what do I hope to get and give in this space? Community!! For so long I felt like the only crazy dog lady out there and worried that I’d never find my people. I’ve been lucky enough to find many of them in real life, and would love to continue to find them on the internet. Boots is entering his senior years, and I hope I’m lucky enough to connect with other senior pup parents, as I know these years will bring both joy and challenges. We’ve also just entered the wonderful world of Rally and will be entering our first trial in March- I’d love to hear from other rescue pup parents involved in dog sports.
While I do work with dogs for a living, I want to use this space to remember the pure joy I get from my dogs and the life that we share together.