Thursday, April 27, 2017

Wait for It...

Bristol and Sami, practicing their simultaneous SIT, two days after we brought them home. (8 & 10 weeks old.)
They say you teach best what you most need to learn. How about patience? I am not a patient person. Especially when it comes to eating. Ask Chuck. When dinner is on the table, I don't want anyone dilly-dallying, delaying our dinner. 

The first day we brought Bristol and Sami home, I started to teach them SIT. Within a couple days, they mastered doing sit at the same time. A double sit? I was ecstatic. 

The next step has been trickier. I am trying to teach them some manners; I want them to stay where they are until I release them.  WAIT is my command for STAY. I expect them to wait while sitting until I release them to eat from their bowls. I expect them to wait at the bottom of the steps when I go upstairs to get something. I am hoping it will help them hold a sitting position when meeting new people, too, instead of leaping up on unsuspecting visitors. 

Waiting to meet visiting guests.

Inspired by a video of a young girl feeding a room full of pit bulldogs, I figured I would start with teaching the puppies to wait their turn to eat. After they've waited, I release one, and then the other. To be fair, I rotate who goes first. 

Here's that cute little spitfire feeding six pit bulls. 

To begin our training, I had the puppies sit while I held their dishes, and had them wait a couple seconds before putting their food on the floor. Then I had them sit, and said WAIT after I put the bowls down. We slowly added seconds until now they wait about 30 seconds before I release them. 

Sometimes, we practice waiting when it isn't meal time. After they sit, I will tell them to wait, and slowly back away from them. At first, I would only back a few steps, and then release them. Next, I was able to move out of their sight into the hallway before calling them to come.

People have asked how I am able to get pictures of the two of them together, facing the camera. This practice of sitting and waiting has helped immensely. 

To challenge the puppies, and to make a game of waiting, we play Hide and Seek. I have them sit in the kitchen, and I slowly back away, until I'm out of sight. Then I scurry to hide behind the bathroom door, or somewhere in the living room, or in the stairwell. When I call, "Here! Here! Here!" they run to find me. They seem to like it, and I love that they are getting so good at waiting.

Now if I could just find a game for myself that would help make waiting more fun. Maybe if the doctor's office, or the grocery store clerk, offered me a treat after I've successfully waited my turn without losing my cool, I would try harder. Patience is a virtue I have waited to master all my life. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Violet the Dog Whisperer

Our biggest concern, as grandparents, is that Sami and Bristol play well with young children. Socializing our puppies has been a big deal for me. Our living arrangements, two older folks with two young pups, are not conducive to exposing our dogs to a variety of people. We are so grateful for the neighbors who stop us to talk on our walks, and for our friends who have come to visit the puppies. We endure our Petco excursions and walks in city parks, knowing it is good for the pups to have new experiences, and meet new people.

Many of you have read about Little Miss V, my young friend who is finishing up kindergarten, and just lost her first tooth. When we first got the puppies, Violet and her mom came bringing gifts of Nylabones, a Frisbee, and a tug-o'war toy.  

The puppies love the toys Violet and Connie gave them.

Bristol and Sam were kind of out of control in new situations, and took a long time to settle down, which was a little embarrassing. They were only a couple months old, and I was so worried that Miss V wouldn't want to come visit me any more because our puppies didn't have very good manners yet.

Luckily, Violet is a trouper, and she eagerly accepted another invitation to come play. The puppies and I had had a few dog obedience classes under our belts, so I was hopeful things would be better this time. Our trainer had given us suggestions on socialization, and I was was pretty sure Violet would play an important role in helping me train the puppies. 

The first thing I taught V is when the puppies are trying to jump on her, she needs to act like a tree. She was a natural with our little duo! Whenever the puppies got excited, Violet would put her arms down by her sides, and turn her back to them. Then Bristol and Sam would calm down, and Miss V could play with them again. 

We took the puppies for a walk to help them settle down a little more. I showed Violet the commands they were learning, and let her practice with Bristol, who is a little more consistent on following directions. Miss V has a soft voice, so I told her to pretend she was at her mom's theater, and to project when she talked to Bristol. I think her helping with training instilled some confidence in our little dog whisperer, and earned her some respect from the puppies. 

"Sit, Bristol."

The two of us enjoyed some Greek yogurt while I got caught up on kindergarten happenings, and Miss V showed me her cute smile now that she's lost her first tooth. All in all, it was a wonderful visit. We were even able to read a book on the couch while the puppies played with their Kongs in their crates. 

Violet loved petting Sami, who has the silkiest, soft coat of any dog I've known. Every once in awhile, she would stop long enough to give Bristol a little affection so he wouldn't feel bad because, Violet admitted, she likes Sami more. Unlike many kindergartners, Miss V seems aware of the needs of others, even big, clumsy puppies.

Violet did a great job of following directions, and caught on so quickly that the puppies pick up on the energy we have; when we're excited and loud, they're excited and loud. She stayed calm and they behaved better. Maybe she will go on to be a dog trainer when she grows up. She sure was a good little dog whisperer for Sam and Bristol!

Ugh. Enough Already.

"Ugh, could you just NOT?" Sometimes I wonder if this is what the puppies think as I crawl toward them on my belly with my phone in my hand, to capture just the right shot, in just the right light, at just the right time. 

It's been worth it to me, no matter what they think of my shutterbug addiction, if dogs even have opinions. I have thousands of pictures of our puppies, which means I have thousands of memories and moments in time, captured for me to enjoy later. And I do. I scroll through my phone's photo library nearly every single day, amazed at how much they've grown, and what they've learned to do. 

So today, here are the un-photogenic shots of my beautiful babies. Those moments when I start to wonder if they've had quite enough photo sessions with their private puparazza. Maybe the trade-offs are worth it to them, though. Three square meals, a roof over their heads, belly rubs, daily walks, and treats, plus my devoted care; all in exchange for simply having their pictures taken. Often. I've tried to make it worth their while. Poor little puppies. Lucky, lucky me.  

Monday, April 24, 2017

Taking a Break

Being a puppy parent is more than a full-time job. Full-time employment is at least 40 hours a week; full-time parenting, as any mom or dad can tell you, is non-stop, 24/7. Just like human babies, canine babies grow and develop, and as little ones become more independent, parents can reclaim some of their independence, too. Luckily, puppies don't require babysitters when we sneak out to have some fun; they just need reliable crates, and some chew toys and treats. 

Weekends are when my husband and I get to take a break from the daily grind. Chuck gets to leave behind his daily commute and worries at work, and I get to spend time with my best friend doing what we love to do. We still can't leave the puppies home all day, but we take mini-breaks for 1-3 hours to do the things we enjoy; photography, listening to music, and eating out. This last weekend we took pictures, listened to some amazing tunes, and feasted our eyes and our lenses on an amazing field of tulips. 

Team Bennorth enjoys taking pictures for a few local non-profit organizations. Friday night we put in a quick appearance at the youth group talent show sponsored by our church, and then we drove to Elgin to photograph an open mic night at a non-denominational church there.

The Kingdom Advancement Center welcomed us with open arms, and we enjoyed shooting their event which featured spoken word artists, rappers, and poets. The enthusiasm of the crowd was electric, and the energy level was high. It was a late night for us old folks; it ended around 10:30. If you know us at all, you know we are usually in bed by 8. Somehow when we're taking pictures, we usually don't notice physical discomfort or sleepiness as much.

Saturday morning came early. It was National Record Store Day, so after editing some pictures and a quick breakfast, we headed to Kiss the Sky record store in Batavia to enjoy some live music. We love the variety of genres represented at Kiss the Sky. Last month we enjoyed the Blue Grassical event just as much as listening to the singer-songwriters on Saturday.

Noah Gabriel. Check out the video clip of his Al Green cover below.
Two of our favorite local performers, Noah Gabriel and Jake Mack were featured artists at Kiss the Sky. Noah performed some of the songs from his newly released album, Dead Reckoning, available online at, and as a download from iTunes, Amazon, and Spotify. Jake's music can be found at Jake Mack Music.

Jake Mack

We grabbed some Culver's famous butter burgers on our way home to take care of the puppies. It was finally time for Bristol and Sam to have a break of their own. They played in the backyard and enjoyed the beautiful weather. 

Our lazy afternoon at home was spent editing pictures, and resting with Bristol and Sam. Chuck had heard about a great photo opportunity in nearby Geneva on Fargo Boulevard, and asked if I wanted to check it out. 

Apparently, one of the homeowners works tirelessly to provide a gloriously landscaped yard full of tulips and other springtime flowers. The golden hour of the day was approaching, so we jumped in the Highlander to see what we could see. We were not disappointed. 

Our Friday and Saturday had been jam-packed. We had plans for church and a visit to Cantigny Gardens Sunday, but we were too exhausted to leave the house. We ended up crashing on the couches with the puppies after breakfast, and then again after lunch. I had such a hard time waking up in the afternoon. My only accomplishments were making Chuck some chocolate chip cookies, and his favorite parmesan roasted potatoes.

My napping buddies are always ready to take a break from puppying.
Chuck managed to not only play hard, but work hard this weekend. He mowed the lawn for me so my knee can have a little longer to get feeling better, and he installed the new washing machine we bought second-hand. Bless his heart, he even took the middle of the night puppy nature calls so I could get two full nights of sleep. How did I get so lucky?

My Handsome, enjoying a well-deserved break at Record Store Day. 

We believe in working hard and playing hard. Sometimes we play so hard, we even have to take a break from that, and rest hard for awhile. It's all about balance, right?

* * * 
Here is a quick clip of Noah's cover of Al Green's "Let's Stay Together."

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Chronicles of Insomnia

Awake since midnight, I am plagued by a Diet Pepsi-fueled sleepless night, or is it that my old friend insomnia has returned with a vengeance? I'm sitting on the couch, reading, and eating grapes and cubes of Swiss cheese. Every bite of grape sounds so loud inside my head, and I wince, hoping against hope Bristol can't hear my chewing in his sleep from the next room. That dog loves food, and wouldn't want to miss a bite.

Between my iPad, my Chromebook, and my Himalayan salt rock lamp, the living room is glowing softly. The irony isn't wasted on me that I just finished reading an article in the New York Times called "Sleep Is the New Status Symbol," by Penelope Green. These glowing devices I turn to when I am awake could contribute to my lack of sleep.

Chuck is always chiding me, "Just close your eyes. You can't sleep with your eyes open." He makes sleep sound so easy, and for him, most of the time, it really is. I wish it were for me.

Mentally, I scan my daily schedule, and realize I have a very light day ahead of me. I can take a nap this morning, or later this afternoon, during the puppies' quiet time in their crates. I can take TWO naps!

At the moment, my iPad's screen is darkened, and it is reflecting the full moon outside in its shiny blackness. I thought my eyes might be playing tricks on me, but when I looked through the lace curtains, I could see the moon, wearing a halo of white clouds, high in the sky. 

Bristol just whined in his sleep. Those puppies are champs when it comes to sleeping. I should take a page from their book. 

How to Have a Happy Life, by Bristol and Sam: Eat three meals a day, with a few healthy snacks. Exercise regularly. Play hard. Don't overthink things. Nap when possible; remember, it's always possible. Give and receive affection. Be devoted to the people who've made a difference in your life. 

A friend suggested Bristol's Native American name would be Runs with Wrinkles. 

It's time to try to go back to sleep. With any luck, the puppies will sleep in until four, and I will catch another 40 winks until then. 

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Sleep, or the Lack Thereof

Sleeping, no doubt, is the super power of puppies. Bristol is our reigning champ, with Sami getting an honorable mention. They can sleep through nearly anything; a slamming door, thunderclaps, and in Bristol's case, falling off the couch.

Some of us are not so lucky. All of my adult life, I've been a pretty light sleeper. I can fall asleep at the drop of a hat; I just can't stay asleep. I'm pretty satisfied if I can get six hours. The month of January, after we bought our Himalayan salt rock lamps, was nothing short of miraculous for me. I was sleeping 7-8 hours nearly every single night. Was it the lamp? I'll probably never know.

Then we adopted our two super sleepers in February, and my insomnia returned when I had to take the puppies out every couple of hours during the night. We're down to about one potty break a night these days, but if my eyes even flutter open after I've fallen asleep, I struggle to return to my slumber. And if I have to get out of bed to stumble around in the yard waiting for Bristol and Sam to do their business when it's cold outside, that's all she wrote. My night is over, and my day has begun. I just have to try to catch up on sleep when the puppies nap.

And nap, they will. It really amazes me sometimes. When we first brought them home, Bristol was battling a couple of illnesses, and he slept way more than Sami. Nowadays, they both sleep plenty, but Sami occasionally outsleeps Bristol. 

I envy the puppies' ability to sleep 12-15 hours a night, waking only long enough to potty and wolf down a quick breakfast. They are still taking a couple naps a day, too, each lasting 2-3 hours. Sigh. I really am so very jealous.

For now, I can only hope that once the puppies' bladders will allow them to sleep through the night, the blissful sleep I enjoyed before we became puppy parents will be mine again. A girl can dream, right? I might not be able to sleep, but I still have daydreams about a full night's sleep.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Reward and Redirect: Teaching This Old Dog New Tricks

Gone are the days of swatting a rolled up newspaper at a misbehaving mutt, or pushing a puppy's nose in his accidental puddle. That's old school. 

All of our puppy training has been about rewarding good behavior, and redirecting undesirable behavior. That sounded good to me, and reminded me a lot of my techniques as a mom and school teacher. 

"Catch them being good" was my motto. Whenever my class, or a child of my own, was working quietly or doing things well, I would praise them, and point out their good behavior. If children were fighting over a toy, I would offer a similar toy, or distract them with something else to do together. It often worked. 

Basically, we try to reward Bristol and Sam whenever they're doing something good, whether it's following a command, or sitting quietly while we have dinner, or ignoring distractions when we're outside. You know what they say, you get more of what you notice. 

But it's really hard not to notice your brand-new shoes have teeth marks, or that your carpet is sporting a big yellow stain, or that the noise level has gone up a few thousand decibels with the inevitable barking, or that there is a shedding force with which to be reckoned frolicking on your sofa. Of course, you NOTICE, but what's a puppy parent to do? Raising puppies isn't that different than children, with the exception of the language issue. I can reason with a human child. Talking to my canine children is not effective.

According to today's experts, give dogs a task to perform, or present them with a suitable alternative item on which to focus. The premise is to redirect all of that frenzied energy to something constructive. In theory, it's a wonderful idea.

With reddened cheeks, I must admit I still find myself blurting out, "NO!" in the heat of a moment. 

Bristol's playful batting and mouthing the lace curtain results in a big rip in the fabric? "Bristol, NO!" 

Sami slams into my bum knee during a moment of excitement? "Ouch! No, Sam!" 

The frenzied zoomies the puppies love to do all over the house, chasing each other at a dead run, leads to pandemonium, and loud thuds reverberating off the walls and furniture? "Puppies, NO!"

Bristol has his own way of saying NO. It's pretty effective. 

Ooh. Old habits die hard. When we first learned about redirecting the puppies' attention, I tried very hard to remove the negative word from my vocabulary. It was so much easier for me to help Chuck remember to give the puppies something else to do if they were doing something destructive, rather than just repeat the word no. Yes, it's always easier to see someone else's mistake instead of our own.

"Here, Honey, give Bristol this chew toy when he's chewing on your rawhide laces." 

"Chuck, just tell Sami to sit when she's leaping up on you." Oh, yeah, I thought I was all that, and a bag of chips.

Then days became weeks, and weeks became months, and I had to admit that the word NO was still in my vocabulary, too, as the puppies and I spent every single week day together while Chuck was at work. I still have so much work to do. 

"Stop Saying NO" is a quick half minute video from Urban Dawgs that explains the rationale behind using cues instead of saying no, which will only confuse a pooch. I have watched this a few times, trying to let the brief, but important message sink in.

I have been slow to grasp the concept of redirecting rather than simply yelling "NO," hoping against hope that our little canines can understand English, as well as the nuances of facial expressions and body language. Teaching this old dog new tricks won't be impossible, I just think it's going to take me a little longer to make redirecting my go-to response when our puppies need correction.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

All's Quiet on the Midwestern Front

When all is quiet on the Midwestern front, I'm a nervous wreck. Back in the day, you know, before we had puppies, I craved silence. While I still love me some peace and quiet, I find that now it just makes me jumpy. Silence is not golden while raising puppies. If Bristol and Sam are in the house, I know I should be hearing something at all times.

When the puppies are eating, I hear crunching. When they are playing, I hear growling, and loud thumps and bumps when they run into furniture or hit the floor. When they are moving from room to room, I hear dog tags jingling. Even when they're sleeping, it's not quiet. Bristol snores loud enough for the both of them. There should never, ever be silence at Chez Bennorth when puppies are present.

Hard to believe this pup is loud, even when he sleeps, isn't it?
Maybe not.

So when I hear nothing, I panic a little. Whenever I realize I haven't heard a sound, I no longer breathe a sigh of relief, and relax into the quiet. No, I become hyper-alert, straining my ears to determine where the puppies are, and what they are doing. If the house is silent, it is rarely because they are sleeping peacefully because seriously, the snoring of the big, grey galoot is loud. So I am pretty certain I will find them on the no-no furniture, or in the only room we don't want them to enter, getting into some sort of trouble. 

What could they possibly do? Let me tell you. Destroy Chuck's slippers. Eat houseplants. Scatter dirt from said houseplants. Jump on our queen-sized air mattress. (Could they also pop it? Chuck wonders.) Jump up on the bay window. Use your imagination. I do. 

Bristol is a big bruiser, and there isn't a cardboard box big enough to stop him from getting where he wants to go, and he generally wants to go into our makeshift bedroom, formerly known as the family room. That wouldn't be such a big deal, but that is the room the puppies nearly destroyed on the fateful day of the THE GREAT ESCAPE. I just don't want a repeat performance of a shredded houseplant, chewed up slippers, things knocked over, and puppy accidents galore. So we work very hard to keep them out of there, but so far, without much success.

Before you suggest baby gates, let me tell you one thing I love about our house. We have an open floor plan. I'm going to tell you something I hate about our house, too. That dang open floor plan. It makes it tough to close off any area to marauding puppies. But we've tried.

We have lined up a couch and an end table to blockade the open space between the kitchen and our new bedroom. There is a gap, though, and we keep trying to figure out how to make it puppy-proof. 

We've used the boxes that contained their dog crates, reinforced with a heavy container of puppy kibble. I've booby-trapped the box so that their metal food bowls will clatter to the ground when they push the box aside to sneak through. In an ideal world, that should work, right? They are tricky. The bowls have only fallen once, and I've caught them in there too many times to count. 

We have an elaborate system of boxes all over the house to keep the pups where we want them. Boxes used to block the hallway, but that set-up became obsolete within a few weeks of the puppies' arrival. They just nosed their way through the boxes and chair. 

Chuck has placed huge cardboard boxes on the furniture we are keeping off-limits to canines. "I love what you've done with the place," I told him. He just grinned. I can't fault him for trying. My big dilemma is where to hide our supply of huge boxes when company comes to visit. First world problems...

The sound of silence only means trouble right now. One day, there's that phrase again, I won't have to worry about their destroying furniture or rooms, but for now, I will choose puppy noises over silence, because when all is quiet on this Midwestern front, I know I have to find Bristol and Sam fast before they do something I'll regret. Prevention is key!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Pampered Puppies

Life was much simpler, growing up in rural Virginia with outdoor dogs. All we needed for our family pet was a collar, and a big, old bag of dog food. The world was their bathroom. Living on large tracts of land, we didn't worry about dog poop. That's how I remember our childhood with dogs, anyway. We didn't exactly have pampered pets when I was a kid. I have always loved dogs, and I was so glad our parents let us have them, but I think there must be less of a bond between outdoor dogs and their families. 

Living in the suburbs, life with dogs is different. My mom was shocked we were going to have both of our puppies, who will grow to be fairly large dogs, indoors. I explained to her that there is actually a city ordinance about the length of time a dog can spend outside in the yard. The Midwest has extreme weather; brutal winters and hot, humid summers. That ordinance would also make non-dog owner neighbors happy to know they only have to put up with dogs barking outside for a limited amount of time. I've become one of those people who walk their dogs, making sure I have a bag, just in case. Nothing will annoy a neighbor than a dog leaving a nasty deposit in their yard. 

Our puppies are quite pampered, and we know that. In the beginning, it seemed we had very frequent package deliveries from Petco, Amazon Prime, and Bristol and Sami have soft blankets to sleep on in their crates, and we invite them to sit with us on the covered couch. Sami has been known to sneak into bed to snuggle with Chuck early in the morning before he gets up. When I noticed Bristol seemed bothered by the cold, I even made him a NO-SEW JACKET. Both of the puppies sprawl across the couch when they are getting sleepy.

Even our friends spoil Bristol and Sam. Some of them brought gifts for the puppies when they came to visit. The puppies' toy pile kept growing, thanks to the generosity of our friends.

Thanks to Connie and Miss V, and Trudy and Jane for all the fun toys!

A few weeks ago, Chuck and I were loading the car for Puppy Preschool. You might think all we would need to put in the car for an obedience class would be the puppy. You would be wrong.

When it's puppy class night, we have to bring a mat for whichever pup is attending the lesson, and a chew toy. We have an "at-the-ready" puppy bag, much like a baby's diaper bag, that stays in my car, or near the back door that we take to class or when we're going for an outing with Bristol and Sam. It contains a bottle of water, an empty container to hold the water, a container of kibble, doggy waste bags, a couple of chew toys, an extra leash, and hand wipes. 

While Chuck was loading Sam into the crate in the back of the Highlander, I told him I'd forgotten the puppy treat bag we wear on our belts during training. Back into the house I went. While I was grabbing the bag, I found our clicker for class, too. I tell you, there is a plethora of puppy paraphernalia with these two in our house.

Puppy stuff, puppy stuff, everywhere! On the kitchen counter there is a plastic tote containing the puppies' medicines, brush, toothbrushes, vet records, extra bags, and a leash. In Chuck's office there are two large dog crates, and on top of them, the extra blankets and towels. Inside the crates are fleece blankets, bones, and empty Kongs. 

On the living room floor, scattered from heck to breakfast are a multitude of puppy toys. Most days begin with the toys in a tidy pile, but they don't stay in that formation once everyone's awake. In the backyard, there is even a puppy play pen. 

When we were first filling out applications to adopt, a couple of the shelters asked if we understood the expense of dog ownership, and asked if we were prepared for that. I blissfully checked off that we were, indeed, ready to assume financial responsibility for a dog. Little did I know at that time that we would not be adopting ONE dog, but two little puppies! Double the pleasure; double the expense.

Walking the puppies is SO much easier when Chuck comes, too.

It hasn't been cheap, and it hasn't been easy, but we are the proud puppy parents of two pampered pets. The caretaker in me wouldn't have it any other way. My life as a stay-home dog mama has given my retirement so much more purpose. I'm a happy girl.