Must Love Dogs: Tips for a Dog Friendly Wedding

As many of you know from seeing my posts on Instagram, Chris and I included Boots and Ranger in our wedding ceremony. And how could we not?! They’ve been such a huge part of our lives as individuals and as a couple; they’re family!

Including your pup on your wedding day is obviously a very personal decision- you know your dog best, so consider how they’ll react to the amount of guests you plan on inviting and the nature of the venue. This was a balancing act for us- both Ranger and Boots have their own special needs, so we included them in ways we knew would work for them. Here are some of the things that I found important as we planned our day with our pups in mind!

1. Know your venue!! If having your dogs in your wedding is a priority, don’t even entertain the idea of a venue who’s less than thrilled with it. Having the dogs in the wedding was hugely important for us, so it was the very first thing I asked when I reached out to venues. If they said no, I didn’t read anything else they had to say, because I didn’t want us to fall in love with a place who wouldn’t happily accommodate our babies. Our venue, Nature Pointe, was lovely, and our venue coordinator, Courtney, even let us bring the dogs out to practice several weeks before the wedding! It made all the difference. Boots did have an episode of separation anxiety screaming when he walked away from me with my triplet sister/Maid of Honor to walk down the aisle, but it all ended up okay and everyone who knew him chuckled. I attribute that to the time we spent practicing!

2. Choose your vendors wisely. As I said above, our venue coordinator was not only understanding, but excited about helping us to include Boots and Ranger in our special day! As we reached out to other vendors, I always mentioned right away that our dogs would be a part of the getting ready process and the ceremony. Why? Because as absolutely foreign as it is to me, some people are afraid of dogs, especially big dogs like Ranger. Some people have far worse dog allergies than I do. Some people just… don’t like being around them (which I will never understand, but there’s no accounting for taste I guess!) The girls and I got ready at me and Chris’ house, so the dogs were around everyone who came in. I ensured our amazing photographers, hair stylists, and makeup artists were not only accepting, but comfortable and excited about the fact that there would be dogs around all day! I would highly recommend our incredible vendors:

3. Assign a Canine Point-Person! Based on our pups’ needs and our venue’s requirements, we knew that the dogs would need to leave prior to the reception beginning. I think this is really important as it ensured that they got to relax after such a big, busy day, and that we were able to attend to our guests without worrying who was taking care of them. Our dear friend Kelsey knows the boys super well and is well acquainted with their special needs. She made sure to be on hand after the ceremony to help give the dogs breaks from family photos, and drove the dogs home to rest when the ceremony and photos were done. She made sure they got the stuffed Kong’s that were waiting for them and returned to the reception, letting us know they were safe and sound. Having a trusted person who the boys love on hand made such a big difference for Chris and my peace of mind and their comfort!

4. Keep your dogs comfortable. This is one way in which we could have done better, admittedly. Our ceremony was outdoor and it was HOT. I wish we’d thought to provide something for the boys to lay on, but thankfully they both found some shade. We made sure to have water bowls in each dressing room and actually had one behind the alter as well. We didn’t dress them up, because neither is comfortable in clothes for long periods (with the exception of Boots’ winter sweaters.) Instead, we got them bow ties that matched the groomsmen & bridesmaids! We chose not to do the traditional Air Force saber arch because we knew it would be scary for Ranger. If you want to include your dogs in your wedding, considering little details like that is important because it’s not just about what you want, it’s about whether or not they’ll be comfortable and safe.

5. Include your dogs in the details! Though our boys were luckily able to be present with us on our wedding day, we also included them in smaller details. Our wonderful officiant, Pat, told our love story, making sure to mention how special it was that the dogs were included as they’d been what brought us together. We chose to do a hand-fasting for our unity ceremony, and when we picked that, Chris joked that we should use a dog’s leash instead of a scarf! At first that sounded silly, but the more we talked about it, the better an idea it became. So we did! We also got the cutest little silhouette topper from Etsy shop Rustic WD Art – they custom made it to my specifications as much as possible. Some other great ways to include your pups might be weaving an old name tag into your bouquet, or having custom drinks done with your pets incorporated into the names.

It’s hard to tell what it is from this angle, but I always have a little bit of Boots with me- his exact paw print is tattooed on the inside of my left wrist!

All in all, I think the most important thing was that our family and friends were completely behind us including the dogs in the wedding. One of the first comments made after we got engaged was, “So will Boots be walking you down the aisle?!” If our families thought we were being silly or obsessive, they (thankfully) didn’t say so- they seemed to truly understand why it was so important to us. For that, Chris and I are truly blessed!!

New Mexico brides, please feel free to reach out if you have any questions about our vendors or anything else! I’m happy to share what worked for us through the very hectic process of wedding planning.

Yours truly,

The new Mrs.,

What It’s Really Like to Be a Dog Person

To start off, I want to clear something up from the get go- there is a difference between “owning a dog” and being a dog person. People who own dogs (hopefully) provide all of the necessities for a dog to live- food, water, and shelter- the things that the law says must be provided, and sometimes not much more. Dog people, dog guardians, dog moms and dads, we’re different. There are varying degrees of crazy dog person- I’m well aware that I’m at the higher end of that spectrum, and I’m 100% okay with that. 

A good friend of mine pointed out that so many of us dog people post hundreds of photos of our pets on Instagram and gush about them, but we don’t illustrate the real and sometimes difficult aspects of being a good pet parent. I think that how we deal with the things that aren’t warm and fuzzy dictate the kind of dog moms and dads we are, so we should talk more about those things! 

Boots is my soulmate and my best friend, and he also regularly wakes me up in the middle of the night to go outside. Is he going outside to pee or just to sniff? That’s really not clear to me, and thankfully I now know that if he gets a walk every single day, the odds of him sleeping through the night are much higher. I’m a super light sleeper, and it was really really hard when he was waking me up at 2:00 am every single night for months on end. When he had urine crystals, it was sometimes 2-3 times a night despite him getting aggressively treated for them immediately. I’m not someone who functions well on a funky sleep pattern and I can admit that as much as I love my dog, there are times I’ve wanted to cry because I’m so tired and he needs to go out again

Dogs also really like to eat things that aren’t food. Chris loves to garden, and he loves to add both Southwestern and Cajun elements to our garden to represent both of our heritages- one of those was a very old, sun dried steer skull that he bought from a yard sale for $5. The idea was to grow succulents out of it, but Ranger did not agree with that aesthetic choice and instead decided to eat it. I didn’t realize he’d actually consumed any of it until the middle of the night when he jumped off of the bed and started throwing up pieces of it all over the bedroom floor. I had never felt more like his mother than I did at that moment, and never been more worried about him. I stayed up watching him all night, ready to drive him to the Emergency Vet in an instant. Thankfully, he was just fine. We definitely had to pay for carpet cleaning when we moved out of our rental home because we never could get that vomit stain out of the floor, but I’d pay it a hundred times over for Ranger to be okay. 

Both of my boys are behaviorally special needs in different ways, and that’s been it’s own adventure. Boots and I hyper bonded with each other pretty much immediately when I adopted him. When I was in college we rarely had to be apart and that only contributed further to our closeness, which manifested in Boots’ screaming when he wasn’t able to get to me. When I was in the shower, he’d sit outside the door and alternate between whining and screaming, much to the displeasure of everyone I’ve ever lived with. He still whines and occasionally screams when we’re separated, and he does not like to share my attention. While I’ve accepted that that’s who he is, it has strained some of my human relationships… but that’s just life with a dog that you love. If they can’t hang with him, they’re not going to be in my life. Ranger, on the other hand, was very under-socialized when he came into the shelter. Chris has done so much to counter his early months, but that said, Boots, and Chris and I, are Ranger’s anchors. He functions like a well adjusted pup when we’re around, but he does revert back to his very fearful roots when we’re not or when any piece of the puzzle changes. He doesn’t like strangers, and he’s terrified of bearded men to this day. If anything in the house moves, he panics a little bit- moving with him was incredibly difficult for that reason. He hates cardboard boxes!! All that said, Ranger is our baby boy and we adore him. He’s such a special dog. 

Caroline Knapp’s book, Pack of Two, sums it up perfectly- “I once heard a woman who’d lost her dog say that she felt as though a color were suddenly missing from her world: the dog had introduced to her field of vision some previously unavailable hue, and without the dog, that color was gone. That seemed to capture the experience of loving a dog with eminent simplicity. I’d amend it only slightly and say that if we are open to what they have to give us, dogs can introduce us to several colors, with names like wildness and nurturance and trust and joy.” Reality with dogs is taking the good with the bad. It’s recognizing that their presence changes things, and that sometimes accommodations have to be made. Life as a dog person means that you can’t necessarily jump on a plane to another country at a moment’s notice, but you can take a walk and encounter a whole different world through their nose and eyes. It’s understanding their needs so that we can enrich their lives as much as they enrich ours, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Let’s Talk About Enrichment!

What is Mental Enrichment? To me, it’s the process of making an animal’s environment interesting and stimulating so as to decrease boredom and provide outlets for species normal behaviors. It’s letting your dog be a dog in all of his or her glory!

If you had asked me in 2011 when I adopted Boots what enrichment was, I really would have had no idea. And for college me and baby Boots, that shockingly worked out alright because he was getting TONS of environmental enrichment without me realizing it- going everywhere with me that I could possibly take him, being walked often, interacting with many people, going for rides. Now that I work a 40 hour week in a job where he and Ranger can’t come along, I prioritize getting them out for their walks and adding other mental enrichment to their lives. I realized recently that like me at 19, many people don’t know what enrichment is, or how to start in an inexpensive way, so here’s my cheap and easy introduction!

Use Puzzle Feeders instead of bowls! Your pup can solve a puzzle to get their food instead of quickly eating it out of a bowl! Not only does this provide mental stimulation, but it also slows down hasty eaters. Some great puzzle toys are Kongs, the Kong Wobbler, and snuffle mats, but you can also DIY it and use a muffin tin as a puzzle bowl! My boys were shocked and dismayed when I introduced puzzle feeders for the first time because they weren’t used to having to figure something out to get their food, but they quickly got the hang of it, and yours can to! Now they’re excited when the Kongs or snake toy come out.

Take your dog on a Sniffing Walk! Think about how much time you spend watching TV, scrolling social media, and reading books- sniffing novel things is the canine equivalent! Next time you take your dog for a walk, let them lead the way and sniff whatever they want to their hearts content. If you want to learn more about the amazing way that dogs use their noses and why sniffing is so vital for them, check out “Being a Dog” by Alexandra Horowitz! I used to worry that people would think ~tHe DoG iS wAlKiNg YoU tHoUgh~ and you know what, they are! It’s THEIR walk!! Let it be!

Play hide and go seek! This can be done with people or treats and is a blast either way. If you have a helper, have them take a treat and hide in an easy location, then ask your dog to “Go find the person!” When they do find your helper, they should give them a treat and praise. You can also do this one on one using just treats- with your pup confined, hide one treat in an easy spot. Ask your dog to “Go find it!” and they’ll be rewarded by eating the treat when they do. As they get better and better at finding hidden people and/or treats, gradually increase the difficulty of the hiding spots. We don’t do this as much as we used to anymore because Boots has a hard time when it’s not his turn, but I definitely want to reintroduce this game when my fiancé and I have a less crazy schedule so he can help me!

Practice Good Manners! Running through the cues that your dog knows, like Sit, Down, Shake, etc. is not only mentally enriching for them, but also helps them to be better citizens of our human world. Using positive reinforcement like treats and affection to train is fun for both humans and dogs! You can also work on new and fun tricks with books like “101 Dog Tricks & How to Teach Them” by Kyra Sundance or by finding a force free, positive reinforcement trainer in your area to take classes with. A good way to find someone credentialed is by searching on the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers website, or on the Karen Pryor Academy website. I’ve loved being in training class with Boots, and Chris is dying to get back in another class with Ranger, but even without class, there’s so much to learn and do at home and through Youtube videos!

I hope you go down the rabbit hole into the wonderful world of Canine Enrichment! It will make you and your dog’s life so much happier, I swear!

Til next time,

Happy 3rd Gotcha Day, Ranger!

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.

Ranger’s shelter intake photo – December 2015

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.

One of my absolute favorite shots from our engagement session courtesy of the incredibly talented Carissa & Ben Photography!

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.

Boots & Ranger on their first walk through our new neighborhood- super ready to be done moving!!

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!

Our First Hike Up La Luz!

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!

Chris, Ranger, Boots & I about 2.5 miles up the trail.

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.

The majestic Boots surveying his kingdom.

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.

Ranger is a pro on the trail- he always knows when it’s time to settle & take a rest!

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:

  1. 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!
  2. Tell someone where you’re going, even if other people are coming with you. The Find My Friends app exists for a reason!
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. BRING TREATS! Of the human and canine variety! Hikes are more fun with snack breaks!!

The best hiking treat – a trail beer! 

Hope we see you out on the trails!

Hey there!

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.

Chris, Ranger, Boots, & I, shortly after we got engaged – June 17, 2018.

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.

Cheers to the start of something new!

Peace, love, and dogs,