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don’t be so certain

Monday, July 2nd, 2018

Recipe: homemade beef jerky for dogs

In my younger years, I used to make all manner of declarations. I would never do X. I will always do Y. I’m not sure if it is age or simply life that has shown me how ridiculous I sound being so rigid, so certain. Because there have been plenty of times when I was wrong. I always assumed we would be a single-dog family, and I always thought it would be a Labrador retriever in my house.

It was several weeks ago when I saw a cute little puppy cross my Instagram feed. Her name was Abbie, and RezDawg Rescue, based in Denver, was trying to find her a home. She had a very serious look about her 4 month old face and there seemed to be a hint of sadness in her eyes. So cute, I thought. She’ll be snatched up in no time. Then a couple of weeks ago, Abbie came up again in my Instagram. I couldn’t understand how she hadn’t been been adopted yet. Throughout the day, I mulled over this little girl and began to feel personally wounded that no one wanted her. For the next few nights, I would read her description after Jeremy had fallen asleep, and then I would cry quietly in the dark. I kept it to myself, until I didn’t.

I mentioned Abbie to Jeremy just over a week ago. The look he gave me was one of dread. We had only recently arrived at the point where we could live semi-normal lives with Neva. I knew Jeremy did not want a second dog, but he asked me if this was what I wanted. I didn’t know. I didn’t want a second dog. I didn’t want to introduce uncertainty and potential chaos into our delicately balanced life with Neva. But I knew we could give Abbie a good and happy home and I felt I just wanted to love her. I already loved her. Tears. What to do?

Jeremy suggested to find out if she had been adopted.

She hadn’t been.

Then we asked if we could meet her.


meeting puppy in her foster home

puppy with her foster family



Abbie’s foster family had two of their own dogs, a cat, and a handful of foster pups. Linda, Abbie’s amazing foster mother, told me if she didn’t already have two dogs, she would have kept Abbie. I could see why. Abbie was a calm, sweet, gentle girl when we met her. A little shy, definitely puppy, and interested in people and animals. We left after our visit feeling that she was a good fit for us. It was clear that Linda loved Abbie and had provided a safe and nurturing environment for her. I was told by RezDawg Rescue that Linda wanted to make sure Abbie went to the best possible match. Suddenly I worried that we wouldn’t make the cut. Driving home, I stared ahead into the night and said aloud, “We’re good dog owners, right? I mean, we can give her a good life, right?”

The next 24 hours were a whirlwind of cleaning Neva’s old puppy crates and toys, writing down new items we needed to get for the puppy, getting the house ready for a puppy, and running through my long list of potential puppy names. It is my tendency to want to name the dog before I meet her, but with every dog we have, Jeremy insists that we get to know their personality before choosing a name. He is right, of course.

Abbie came home with us Thursday night. She took in the new surroundings cautiously, but adjusted quickly. Neva freaked out. WHAT IS THIS PUPPY THING YOU BROUGHT HOME?!?! Neva was scared of the puppy, and yet Abbie seemed to feel comforted by Neva’s (spazzed out) presence. Linda had noted that Abbie would do well with another dog to give her some confidence. We could see that right away. She would shrink from the yard the first night unless Neva was out there with her.

Over the next two days Abbie became Yuki. We tested other names, but they didn’t fit. Yuki can mean snow or happiness or courage in Japanese. We like all three. Little Yuki is the dream puppy we never had until now. At 5 months (and 32 pounds), she sleeps through the night in a crate, has a very generous (to us) potty schedule of 6-8 hours, learns quickly, and walks quite well on a leash. She likes our vet. Yuki is adjusting so well and beginning to spread her wings.


yuki at the soccer field

she looks sad, but she’s really happy

resting easy in her forever home



My greatest concern was Neva. Would a puppy push Neva over the edge? The first night seemed to stress our girl out – a little puppy jumping on her head and sleeping in her beds and dragging her toys around. If Yuki tried to squeeze into a doggy bed with Neva, Neva would immediately jump out and run away. When we took the dogs to the soccer field for a fetch session, Neva was elated to chase her ball and utterly dismayed to find Yuki stalking and chasing her every move. The two really turned a corner on their first hike. Both were well-behaved (amazing for Neva!). We could see that Yuki sought out Neva’s presence when she wanted reassurance – like when that really tall male hiker passed her – and Neva didn’t mind the little pup sidling up to her with a gentle body check. As Yuki bounded clumsily down the trail chasing butterflies, Neva patiently waited in the shade with Jeremy until we caught up.

I worried that getting a good and sweet and calm puppy, basically the opposite of Neva when she was a wee one, would make me love Neva less. But after observing the way Neva has put on her big sister pants and is helping Yuki navigate this new mountain life, I love her more than ever. I think the addition of Yuki to our family has been good for her, for Neva, and for us. Just a few weeks ago I was certain that we’d always be a single-dog family. I’ve never been so happy to be wrong.


we are now a pack of four

yuki in the flowers, ready for a treat



Training Yuki has been easier than training both Kaweah and Neva at the same age. The number one priority on our list was house training Yuki because she wasn’t housebroken when we got her. She knew how to use potty pads, but we needed her to be able to potty outside and to let us know when she needed to go. That involved a combination of crate training, constant vigilance, and positive reinforcement. That first 24 hours we took Yuki out to the yard almost every hour because of our very stressful experience with Neva as a puppy. But Yuki only needed to potty every 6-8 hours – the rest of the trips she spent sniffing the yard and lazily walking around, sometimes lying down and turning her belly up to the sun. We were amazed and impressed and overjoyed. When she did actually potty, we immediately praised her (“good potty!”) and gave her a treat. Our favorite treat to work with happened to be a homemade beef jerky I made for Neva back in May.

Unlike many of the other treats or kibble, the homemade beef jerky wasn’t oily or sticky or crumby, which made it particularly easy to carry around in our pockets. It didn’t have a strong odor and broke into small pieces easily. And both dogs absolutely love it because… beef. I started making beef jerky because I recently acquired a dehydrator for preserving wild mushrooms. I typically purchase 3-4 pounds of eye of round at my Costco because it is lean and relatively inexpensive compared to other cuts they carry. You can also use flank steak or sirloin – as long as it is lean because fat reduces the shelf life of the jerky.


eye of round

trimming any excess fat



**Jump for more butter**

neva: backcountry buddies dog training

Thursday, April 20th, 2017

I watched longingly as the gentleman opened his car door at the trailhead and let his chunky yellow dog plop out. Tail wagging, gently bouncing in place with excitement, the pup’s eyes were steadfastly trained on his human. The man paid him little attention as he gathered his day pack and rummaged around for a hat. He didn’t have to pay attention, because the dog was right at his side making slight adjustments to avoid getting stepped on – like a good dance partner.

“Why can’t Neva be good like that?” I said this to Jeremy and to myself EVERY TIME I spotted a good dog, because my dog was not a good dog. She was a crazy dog. It felt like most people had a good dog without even trying, and we had a maniac despite our best efforts. We had Neva.

We had been determined to train Neva, our second dog, from the beginning when we brought her home in late May of 2015. Springtime in the mountains was the perfect opportunity to introduce Neva to all of the world that would be her doggy life with us. She met other dogs, played in the snow, hiked on trails, learned to swim, got tons of exercise, and grew into a leggy, athletic, smallish Labrador Retriever. We trained Neva ourselves following the guidance of “Perfect Puppy in 7 Days” by Dr. Sophia Yin, because yeah, we wanted a perfect puppy.


meeting banjo (and getting a treat from jeremy)

relaxing in the flowers

biting pants seemed like more fun than actual hiking

this one actually retrieves!

testing her first night in the tent (on the deck)



Neva landed far from perfect, but we would have been happy with a half-perfect or even a quarter-perfect dog. Training Neva proved difficult from the start, which made loving Neva harder than I thought it would be. We got there eventually. We put a lot of time and effort into Neva, but she never seemed to be anything other than crazy. At almost two years old, our biggest issues with Neva were 1) she would run off when she wasn’t on leash and 2) she pulled on the leash as if she were running off anyway. That’s a bit of an over simplification. Bred for hunting, Neva’s nose catches every scent on the air or ground and her instinct is to track every single one. Add to that the fact that her excitement level would shoot from zero to 100 mph in an instant and we had ourselves a dog that we didn’t know how to handle. This made time in the backcountry particularly difficult.

A friend suggested trying an e-collar – a stimulation collar which can be adjusted to a range of 100 different levels used for training dogs – used more like a tap on the shoulder to get their attention. She had great success with her own dog, Gretel, on the e-collar. We went ahead and bought one, but waited to try it out until after our friend emailed us her “notes”. I was nervous about using the e-collar incorrectly and potentially making Neva’s training even harder. Turned out the notes were instructions written specifically for Gretel by a professional dog trainer. There was a thorough analysis of Gretel’s behaviors, reactions in certain situations, and needs from her person. I read through the instructions several times, coming to the realization that what I needed was not the e-collar, but the dog trainer, Backcountry Buddies.


the e-collar



I checked out the website and Facebook page, and read reviews before contacting Backcountry Buddies. I exchanged emails with Claire describing Neva’s behaviors and our goals for her training. [Note: Claire is not the only trainer at Backcountry Buddies, but she was our main point of contact.] In Late January, Claire came up to our house for an hour to meet Neva, administered a few behavior tests (to check for aggression – Neva isn’t aggressive, thank goodness), and gave us a consultation. She assessed Neva’s personality and told us that she thought Neva could benefit from their program. Claire described how the program works: two weeks of intensive training for Neva at Backcountry Buddies without visitation, then if after two weeks Neva requires more work, they keep her for another week of training at no additional cost. There were also warnings, like if the dog became unmanageable due to separation anxiety, we would be called to come get her and receive a refund. Before leaving, Claire showed us a few basic training exercises to practice with Neva to prepare her for camp if we decided to send her.

We had a good feeling about Claire based on her ability to read Neva, and how confidently she worked with the pup in such a short time. Neva was already very much in love with Claire. After we reserved a spot for Neva, Claire sent “homework” instructions for Neva and us in the month preceding camp and we submitted our down payment for the Board and Train 14-day Obedience 2/Adventure Prep.

On March 1, 2017, we drove Neva down to Westminster and got her acquainted with her new surroundings. She paced about in anxious frenzied excitement. Claire went over a bullet list on her whiteboard of our goals for Neva’s training, asking if there was anything else to add, then ran through her training plan based on the progress Neva may or may not make. We must have given Claire the impression that Neva was a completely feral remedial maniac because she didn’t seem to have high expectations. Our attitude towards our dogs has always been one of pessimistic realism as opposed to delusional wishful thinking (people who think their dogs are angels when, in fact, they’re assholes). Even though it was a relief to drop Neva off and let someone else deal with Crazy, by the end of the day I was already missing her.


dropping neva off with claire at backcountry buddies



**Jump for more butter**

happy birthday, neva

Sunday, March 27th, 2016

Recipe: doggy birthday cake

This weekend, we celebrated Neva’s first birthday! Can you believe it? She’s now one year old. Such a big girl compared to that silly little puppy pup she once was. Neva has learned so much since we brought her into our home. She still has a lot more to learn, but we’re so proud of how far she’s come.


the little munchkin seeing snow for the first time



Neva has had a lot of time on snow in the ten months we’ve had her, and every single time she acts like it is the very best thing ever. How could I not love this girl? I guess this is why I love dogs in general – they have this undying genuine enthusiasm for living. Jeremy and I decided that we’d take Neva on a nice backcountry ski for her special day. She got lots of snacks on the way up and tons of running on the way down.

neva wagged the whole way up

waiting patiently for more treats

skiing out with a view east toward the flats (great plains)

sufficiently tuckered out that she had fallen asleep on the ski boots



After all of that exercise, we made sure Neva replenished those calories lost and then some. She partook of some raw beef (her favorite) and sampled a couple of strawberries (she likes those) and she had cake. Yes! She had birthday cake! I had done some quick research a few days earlier to make a nice dog-friendly cake for our puppity pup. It is mildly sweet (from applesauce and banana) and tastes like a bland, fluffy quick bread to us humans, but Neva LOVES it! Of course, Neva is a lab, so she loves pretty much anything. The recipe is simple and quick. The best part is that it is pretty well-behaved even at my elevation. Winner.

cream cheese, baking powder, egg, peanut butter, whole wheat flour, coconut oil, applesauce, banana



**Jump for more butter**