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Water Explorers: Family Fun in the Sun

Water ExplorersFew images evoke the feeling of “getting away from it all” as does a canoe, kayak or raft gliding with the current. But you don’t have to live on water — or own a boat, for that matter — to organize an offshore trip. Nor do you have to sign on to an expensive, multi-day, wild river run to experience the wonders of water travel (sans motor) firsthand. With a little research, you can plan a safe and fun expedition that won’t sink your finances in the process.

Rent, rent, rent your boat: Where there is a lake or river, there are usually clubs, outfitters and/or liveries that rent out small vessels — and of course, life jackets — for several hours. Former river guide and adventure mom Julie Thorner of Bryson City, N.C., recommends using an adventure vacation site and doing a little research to find reputable outfitters. Typically, you don’t have to worry about securing a permit. That’s the job of the organization you rent from, and it’s covered by the small fee you’ll be charged for the rental.

Know your water: What you do need to worry about, says Thorner, are the conditions of the water you plan to travel on. She advises all canoeists, kayakers and rafters to make a point of knowing the water. Rivers and rapids are classified to help paddlers know how challenging a route is. For example, a Class I river has few ripples or obstacles, a Class II has some moderately difficult rapids and so on up to Class V, an extremely challenging river with narrow passages, rocks and violent waves.

Know your limits: Novice paddlers looking for excitement can consider a rough river but only if they invest in the services of a guide to travel with them, says Thorner. The experience of a seasoned paddler will help calm nerves — if not the waters — when the craft encounters Class III or IV rapids. A good outfit will have a policy for determining age-appropriate trips. Just make sure in advance that all members of your group, kids and adults alike, are up for the adrenaline rush that comes when you hit dicier waters.

Take it slow: Prefer to leave the guide behind? Paddling newcomers should stick to lakes, which are flat except during windy weather, or Class I or II rivers. You don’t need a guide to do a day float on a gently flowing river or on a lake, says Thorner. “Plus, it’s a great confidence builder to do it on your own,” she says. If younger children are on board, bring along plenty of snacks and plan to stop several times along the banks of the lake or river, making sure to tie up the boat if you intend to swim or walk along the shore.

A no-tip tip: It doesn’t take much for a heavy canoe or traditional kayak to tip over, and righting them, especially in a current of any kind, can be very difficult. Many outfitters also offer inflatable kayaks (often called duckies) and rafts, which are less tippy and much easier to right should they flip over and you fall out. Patsy Fisher of Etna, N.H., once tipped a canoe on the Connecticut River while paddling on her own, and pulling the overturned craft to shore — forget about righting it — was “incredibly difficult.” That’s one reason she prefers the serenity of canoeing on the lake near her home, especially when she’s with one of her three children. “You can hold a conversation — or not — while you’re skimming across the water,” she says. “It’s physical, it’s peaceful, and you can enjoy nature.” Perfect.

How to Include The Family Dog In Summer Trips & Activities

Right around Christmas time, I wrote an article about safely traveling for the holidays with your pet. We touched on many things from car safety (using proper harnesses and seat-belts and being in the back seat) to night-safety guidelines and which ‘tools’ were the best to use and which ones to leave at home (with respect to leashes and collars). If you missed this article, here is the link so you can get up to speed on some important safety information.

While all of those same suggestions apply now, there are other things to take into consideration during the hot summer months if you’re planning to include the dog in your activities. Whether you are going for just a day trip, or an extended vacation by car or RV, here are some things you are going to want to keep in mind for safety this summer.

For Prolonged Car Rides, RV Trips AND “Detours” Along The Way:

  • Never leave your pet in the car: Just like you’d never leave your child unattended in the car, never leave your dog in one either. It heats up and becomes a furnace very quickly… and since most pets have a ‘built-in’ fur coat, they can over-heat that much faster! Oftentimes we think ‘we’re only running in quickly, they’ll be fine just for those few minutes’. But let’s face it, when traveling with kids, those few minutes can turn into much longer than you expected just trying to corral them back into the car! And don’t forget that Fido might need a bathroom break and to stretch his legs too!
  • Sight-seeing and tourist attractions along the way: If you plan on doing some sight-seeing along the way, map out your trip in advance, and figure out the spots you want to stop at and go sightseeing.
    • If they are indoor spots (like a museum) or a theme or water park, unless your dog is a Service Dog, they are generally not permitted inside. Do your research way in advance, and get some suggestions on local kennels or pet-sitters in those immediate areas, and find out what their availability is, and if you need to make a reservation. *Note: Many of the theme parks such as Disney and Epcot Center have on-site kennels.  This way your time with the kids is not rushed and you know your pooch is safe while you enjoy some quality family time together.
    • If they are outdoor spots, like walking or nature trails, a lake to swim in, or picnic spots, and your dog is welcome there (call in advance just to make sure this is still the case) make sure you bring plenty of fresh water for them as well as for yourself and the kids. You never know what kind of bacteria or microorganisms might be living in any specific lake or body of water, so providing frequent drinks for your pet will reduce their ‘natural instinct’ to drink from any source available if they are thirsty. Many pet stores (and Amazon) offer collapsible water dishes that even have a carabineer to attach to your belt-loop.

Full Day Outings

  • A full day of hiking: If you will be hiking for several hours, you’ve probably packed snacks for the kids. Make sure to bring some food for your dog to snack on too. Think about it- after an hour, we often feel hungry… not necessarily for a full meal, but a quick ‘pick-me-up snack’. Your dog is no different. So make sure you bring some extra kibble along, or some milk bones for them to snack on. Avoid training treats and small chewy snacks… as they are very high in sodium content, and will make your dog dehydrate faster, and be thirstier. Another type of collapsible dish offers food AND water capacity
  • Be aware of signs / symptoms of heat exhaustion AND heat stroke for both your children and your pets…

  • Hot pavement and rocky terrain: Another thing to take into consideration when hiking with the kids and pets…. Consider for a moment all the reasons you wouldn’t have your child hike barefoot. Those same reasons apply plus a few more.  On top of the potential for possible cuts from rocks, and burns from hot pavement (some trails are partially paved), while dogs primarily ‘sweat’ through excessive panting, they also have a small amount of sweat glands that are prominently in the paw pads. If the pads get burns, or dry out and crack, it can cause your dog to overheat that much faster. Besides the boots your dog can wear for winter or rain, some new ‘“ultra cool” – breathable boots’ boots were created with a ‘cool down’ feature which will protect them from overheating as well as prevent cuts and scrapes.  I also like to use a product called ‘Musher’s Secret’. This is a wax that goes on their paws and protects them from the heat.
  • Sunburn: Beyond packing water for everyone (kids and dogs) and making sure they get shade, many people do not realize that their dogs are just as susceptible to sunburns – and even skin cancer – as their kids are! Here is a link to a very informative article to learn more about which dogs are more prone to sunburns, which areas on the dog’s body are more apt to be affected, how to treat it, and more importantly, how to avoid it…and don’t forget to bring sunscreen for your kid’s delicate skin too!
  • Keep your dog on leash at all times: I know, I know…. The point of being out in nature is to explore and be free! And it is fun to give them the chance to be free and watch them explore new things! But what if the ‘new thing’ they want to explore can potentially be dangerous? Like another dog that comes by that is not so friendly? Or a wild animal that they decide to suddenly chase after? Or worse: A child who is AFRAID of dogs, that does not know your dog is a sweet and friendly outgoing mutt that just wants to say hello? Oftentimes, in their panic, they run, and can get hurt. I will be the first to say that as a professional dog trainer, my dog has an amazing recall…. But he is still a dog… not a robot! This is not his every day environment…. and when new and exciting things are all around him, can I 100% guarantee that he will listen to me when I call him back? Nope – not unless I have him on a leash. And please…. Leave the retractable leashes at home! The purpose of the leash is to give you full control at all times. Retractable leashes cannot guarantee that. I recommend nothing longer than a 6 foot leash. One last comment on this: If your dog is friendly and sweet with those he knows but not very social with unknown dogs and people, they may not be a great candidate for hiking trails. Your dog will smell, hear, and see others long before you do. This is your vacation, but others want to enjoy a peaceful quiet walk on their vacation too! A dog that barks or yaps incessantly, or growls and snaps at others can ruin your vacation and spoil it for others too! Be aware of your dog’s temperament and be considerate of others.
  • Vaccinations and flea and tick preventative: It is important to remember that this is not your backyard… and diseases can be found in many species of wild animals… disease that can immediately affect and harm your dog: and ultimately harm your kids. (see my article about how regular vet visits can help keep your child safe….parts one and two). Also, Make sure your dog is on flea and tick preventative!! Last thing you want are those critters ‘hitching a ride’ on your pet or your kids!! Make sure you do a nightly check of both the kids and pets after a long day of hiking to make sure they are both free of any free-loading cling-ons!!
  • Dog friendly parks: I am going to add one last link that I found to be very informative. A ‘Dog’s guide to visiting National Parks’. It has some great information on some of the National parks and their rules and regulation regarding dogs.

And finally, I’ll end this by saying there are many pet-friendly places to take your whole family (dog included) this summer, but it is vital that you really know your dog and pay close attention to his body language. Unlike your older child who can verbally communicate with you that they are tired and/or hungry… or a baby who gets cranky to convey the same message, your dog cannot tell you what they need or what they are feeling. Being aware of them at all times will enable you to determine when they are enjoying their time with the family, and when they have had enough and need a break. A grumpy tired dog can quickly become an unpredictable one. Don’t forget to do your research in advance, make whatever plans and reservations you need to make, and this will ensure that you, your family, your dog, and others around you will all have a safe and enjoyable summer together!

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Reference: Information for the Heat Exhaustion, Heat Stroke charts were compiled from the following sources

Family Fitness: Stretches Everyone Will Love

Happy healthy family making gym exercisesDuring the winter, it can be difficult to get yourself, not to mention your family, to do any exercise. Now toss a PANDEMIC with social distancing and quarantines into the mix!!! My suggestion: Get everyone going with a gentle stretch session. Stretching will not only help relieve stress, but also energize your entire body. It’s also a great way to get kids moving in a focused manner.

Below are a few great stretches for you and your family to enjoy. All you need is comfortable clothing, a carpeted floor (or a yoga/exercise mat on hardwood), lighting that’s easy on the eyes and down- to mid-tempo music. On a last note, if you are going to help one another stretch, heed the advice of Dr. Timothy McCall in Yoga As Medicine: The Yogic Prescription for Health and Healing: Adjustments should be gentle, like the “laying on of hands” from biblical folklore. Never push too hard or tug too firmly. Remember: You are attempting to reduce, not aggravate, stress!

Cat/Cow Sequence: Moving Your Spine

Nothing feels as good as getting your spine moving, which is why many yoga classes begin with a simple cat/cow sequence. It loosens the muscles around your spine and gets blood flowing into your shoulders and intestines, which helps digestion.

  • Begin on your hands and knees with your hands placed directly underneath your shoulders, and your knees placed directly below your hips.
  • With your inhale, allow your midsection to relax while you draw your shoulders together on your back and gently gaze up. Try not to arch your neck too much; instead let your shoulder blades guide your gaze upward slightly. Let your tailbone lift and feel your sit bones widen.
  • Begin to draw your belly button in and up as you exhale, tucking your chin into your chest and rounding your upper back, like you are pushing the floor away. Try not to cramp up around your neck; there should be a stretch, but you don’t want your collarbones to feel as if they are being pinched together. As your navel pulls up and in, your tailbone will lengthen, giving you a nice release in your lower back. Repeat for 10-15 breaths.

Cobra: Energize While Calming

After you finish your cat/cow stretches, lie flat on your stomach for Bhujangasana, or Cobra. If you’ve ever read Philip Roth’s American Pastoral, you might recall that “the Swede’s” father had no affiliation with yoga but did Cobra every day to alleviate stress. It’s also a wonderful pose to do if you’re feeing sluggish and tired, as it offers you a burst of energy.

  • Place your hands next to your chest, with your thumbs just behind the level of your armpits. Allow your forehead or chin to rest on the ground.
  • Keeping your hands on the ground, begin to draw your shoulder blades onto your back, like you were trying to squeeze your elbows together. Press the top of your feet firmly into the ground; this is important, as you don’t want to clench your butt and tighten your lower back.
  • As you draw your elbows in, begin to gently straighten your arms. (They most likely won’t straighten fully; don’t force it.) Let the action of your shoulders begin to lift your chest and, lastly, your head. It’s important to keep your pelvis (around where you’d wear a belt) on the ground. Cobra pose is an energizing movement that really works your shoulders and upper back. When lifting your pelvis, you are relying on arm strength (and probably crunching your low back). After a few breaths, easily lower your head back to the ground. Repeat five to eight times.

Child’s Pose: Finding Strength in Relaxation

Perhaps the most relaxing pose is Child’s Pose. It stretches your lower back and hip flexors, as well as your ankles.

  • After your Cobra sequence, place your hands underneath your shoulders and gently press your seat to your heels, allowing your upper body to rest on your thighs. Don’t worry if it does not reach, especially if your hips are tight; again, don’t force any of these movements. If this position bothers your knees, roll a towel or blanket up and place it behind the backs of your knees, as this will take pressure off the joints.
  • Either rest your arms straight out in front of you or next to your hips, with your head on the ground (or a block or pillow, if this position bothers your upper back or neck).
  • Take 10 deep breaths into your lower back. With every exhale, see if you can allow your hips to rest downward a little more.

Twisting out the Rest

Twisting will not only calm your nervous system, but also stimulate digestion, which can also be very helpful around this time of year!

  • Slowly lift yourself out of Child’s Pose to sit on your heels. If this bothers your knees, you can sit cross-legged. If sitting on the ground doesn’t feel good, you can sit in a chair.
  • Place your left hand outside of your right thigh and easily twist your upper body to the right. Try not to twist your hips; allow the twist to begin in your abdominal region, using your shoulders drawing together once again to accentuate the movement.
  • Feel like you’re growing taller with each inhale, and as you exhale, draw your navel into your lower back and shoulders together a little more to enhance the twist. You can rest your right hand on the ground behind you, though you don’t want to feel like you’re leaning back at all.
  • Take 8-10 long breaths here. Slowly return to center, take a breath and try the other side.

Top 10 Things A New Mother Must Know

Here are the top things every new mother should know:

  1. Don’t let the baby eat dirt
    (If the baby poops green…don’t worry)
  2. Don’t let the baby eat grass
  3. If the baby screams when you take away the bottle, chances are you didn’t put enough rum in it
  4. Should a rash develop, have yourself checked out immediately
  5. Mother in laws who think you are incompetent give helpful10 things a new mother should know advice can become clumsy around this oughta take care of the old bat accidental kitchen spills
  6. Teething is normal. Stay away from baby if urge continues
  7. Don’t try to pawn the gas smell on the baby. We all know it was you
  8. Mothers and fathers do things differently and that’s o.k. The baby will grow up to know the truth love you both and realize that you are always there for them I do way more
  9. Sucking snot out of baby’s noise is to be expected. Using a straw is not.
  10. If screaming and crying persist, go into another room or you will wake the baby

Dear Santa…Please Keep My Family Safe

Every year children all across the country and the world make lists to Santa. Wishes for new bikes and dolls and don’t forget the very latest toy. Childhood wishes and childhood dreams. Every year though children are poisoned by holiday plants; are electrocuted by holiday decorations. Parents die in drunk-driving collisions.

Dear Santa letter2As a paramedic my partner and I responded one Christmas morning to an unknown medical. When we arrived we walked past a Christmas tree completely surrounded by presents as well as two young children eagerly awaiting both parents arrival so the day’s festivities could begin. The husband met us and led us to the master bedroom. Mom was dead- had died several hours earlier. The holidays are hard times for many people even people with love, and family and friends. Some people make choices during the holiday they might not make during other times of the year. There was nothing we could do and not a more helpless feeling we could feel.

What’s amazing to me is that this call was over 20 years ago. I had no other involvement that what I stated yet I still remember it- every Christmas season. The children would be grown by now. I bet that they too still remember. I bet they still feel different about Christmas than do many of their friends.

I bet if those kids could go back in time their wishes would simply be to have Mom with them for many more years to come. So please place safety at the very top of your Santa list. As adults we need to assure the health and safety of our kids and we can’t afford a break over the holiday season.

The lyrics of one of my favorite holiday songs perhaps say it best.

My Grown Up Christmas List

….”As children we believed
The grandest sight to see
Was something shiny
Wrapped beneath the tree

But heaven only knows
That packages and bows
Can never heal
A hurting human soul

No more lives torn apart
That wars would never start
And time would heal all hearts
And everyone would have a friend
And right would always win
And love would never end

Oh, This is my grown up Christmas list”

Surprising Similarities Between Child Raising and Dog Training

Puppy Jack russell terrier lying on a carpet and looking guilty.Having been a professional dog trainer for many years, there is always one pitfall we trainers have to be careful to avoid when talking to customers and that is using ‘dog speak’ – or terminology that is very well known among us in the canine world, but to the everyday person means nothing.  So to avoid this I use numerous analogies during my training sessions to make sure my clients understand exactly what I am talking about.  I try to find examples that are common in everyday life – and more often than not, I find myself equating training situations to those that are similar with raising kids…especially when I am dealing with parents.

I know…it sounds strange, but it works.  Picture “little Johnny” instead of “little Pup-Pup” and all of a sudden, the things you would normally sit there and say “I have absolutely no idea why my dog is doing that”, suddenly become clear.  So, that being said, here are some of the more “useful” analogies I’ve shared with my customers …and some funny scenarios they’ve in turn shared with me…

Housebreaking and Potty training.  When a customer is having trouble with this task, they tell me they let the pup out, it played for hours, then came back in and peed or pooped on the floor.  There are actually three “kids and dogs” analogies I typically use to help customers make sense of this.

  • The first thing I will ask them is “Did you leash the pup and go out with them?” Usually they tell me no. So here, I will say to them…. When you potty trained your child…. Did you bring them to the bathroom door, send them inside, close the door and hope they went? Or, did you physically bring them inside, pull down their pants, put them on the toilet, and wait with them until they went? And after they went, did you just pick them up off the bowl and send them away? Or did you praise them, smile and clap your hands, give them some stickers for doing a good job?” So….. the only difference between potty training and housebreaking, besides the obvious leash and collar, indoors/outdoors thing, is that the dog gets a biscuit instead of a cookie, and we forgo the stickers and give them a toy instead! Other than that, it is the same…. You have to physically be there, stay with them, and praise when it is done.
  • Part two of the same example I just gave is that the dog is getting confused what the outside is for if they are allowed to go outside and play for hours. So for this, I tell my customers that the analogy I am about to give them is a bit outlandish, but makes its point….. I tell them, If you kept ALL of your child’s toys in the bathroom, how would you know if they wanted to go in there to play, or if they had to make? This lets the dog’s owners know that the only time pup/dog should be outside is to go potty…. Not to play…. At least until they understand what the outside is for.
  • Part three of the above example I gave is when a customer is upset that they have been working on housebreaking for two weeks… why is this not done yet… I ask them, “How long did it take your child to potty train? Did they get it overnight or in a few days? Just like potty training, housebreaking takes patience, time, and consistency.

Distractions. When we are training, I tell the customer to put all the pup’s toys away while we are training…and to do the same when they are practicing.   Just like turning the TV off when their kids are doing their homework…the kids are not going to be able to concentrate with all those distractions in the background, and neither is the pup!

Calm a Hyper Pup. Another analogy I find myself using – usually with puppies and very hyper dogs – is in response to an owner complaining about how they let their dog run and play outside for hours to burn up their energy, and they came back in just as crazy.  How can they fix this?  My response… with training. Then I go on to ask them when their child goes to a birthday party, there is plenty of running around, playing, etc… but very little focused work that requires brain power, so more often than not, their child comes home still rearing to go! However, put that exact same child in a classroom for the same amount of time, they come home ready for a nap. Mental stimulation is ALWAYS more taxing and tiring than physical.

Consistency. Finally, here are some additional analogies I offer my clients to help bring home why practicing what their pups have learned during training makes such a huge difference.

  • One question I get asked all the time – especially by clients who call to inquire about my one-week boot-camping (intensive training) program – is “After the week is done, will they know all of the commands they need to be a really well behaved dog?” Sounds logical…it is an “intensive” training course. Now I ask them to think about this a little differently. If your child goes to kindergarten for one week and learns their A,B.C’s…. are they ready for college? This just puts the question into perspective for them and gives them a more realistic understanding that in a week I can teach all of the basics, but it is up to them to follow through and continue with their training.
  • Also, when we are talking about consistency regarding a dog’s training, when I am asked why they need to keep drilling the dog on even basic commands such as SIT and STAY in different locations, I explainIt’s for the same reason they hold fire-drills in the schools. They do not want to wait until there is an actual emergency and hope the children will know what to do”. In your living room, with no distractions around, it is great that your dog knows the commands…. But in an emergency, it is imperative that your dog knows to follow the same commands with no hesitations.  You want to know when the fire-bell rings, the kids jump up, find their buddy, get in line, no one is scared, everyone is accounted for, no one gets overlooked and no one gets hurt.  And when you’re out with your dog – you want to know you’ve put the same safety net in place.

So, as I’ve said, it can be very helpful when trying to explain a dog training concept to a parent, to relate it to a child raising experience.

What can be very funny however, is sometimes…when I least expect it… a dog training concept I worked on with the owner works “in reverse” with the child.

My favorite story of this was little Sophia.  The entire session, this child’s name was repeated over and over and over again. Seeing this was going to make training difficult for this poor puppy, I decided to forgo the usual first commands of SIT and STAY, and work on a “WATCH ME” command. The purpose of this is that no matter what distractions are going on, when you say this command, your dog should look directly at you. We worked on the command the entire session, and the pup was focusing on us and paying attention like a champ! At the end of the session, we went over to the table where my date book was (Sophia had now climbed up on the table) and while I went through my date book, all I heard was, “Sophia stop it!! Sophia, leave that alone! Sophia, get down….” On and on it went. Next thing I know, Sophia has opened MY pocketbook, and has started to go through it. The mother was mortified, and after a minute of yelling at her to “leave it alone, get off the table, stop it” (all requests being ignored), I hear a second of silence, and the mother yells, “SOPHIA!! WATCH ME!!” …and the kid stopped dead in her tracks and stared at her Mom right in the eyes!! Her Mom at that point begged me to move in!

Not unlike little Sophia, there have been other times after a training, when I hear the parent use a technique we worked on with the dog (like STAY!!) … with their child (hand signal included)!!  And it always cracks me up when they turn to me and say, “IT WORKS!!!”

For the record…even though I’ve had a number of my customers at the end of a successful session ask …  I don’t train children or husbands!!  🙂

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