Wednesday, 28 March 2012

The Importance of Pack Walking

Every now and then you might see us use the term “pack walk”, as in, “I took my dog for her pack walk this morning”. You might be wondering what exactly that means and how it differs from your typical outing with your dog. There are  many different forms of exercise that you can help your dog engage in: free play (like at the dog park), structured play (a game of fetch), and the all-important “pack walk” (*leashed or not).

{Pack walking: you're doing it wrong. Photo:}

Walking with your dog on a daily basis satisfies his animal need to migrate. From an evolutionary point of view, your dog is hardwired to move in order to survive. Dogs thrive on working, and that includes hunting for food with their pack. In modern times, the domesticated dog might have a very different “pack” than he did, say, 5000 years ago. Your dog’s pack means you and every other animal he lives with. But always remember: YOU, the humans, are the leaders. We went into detail with this concept in our last post (Dealing With Dominance), but now you can take that concept and apply it to the most important part of your dog’s day: the walk.

A lot of dog owners believe that taking their pet to the park to romp with other dogs is the only form of exercise they need. While socializing with others and running like a madman is certainly great for your dog, the leashed walk is so much more important for your dog’s mental well-being and his feeling of security within his pack. Think of the leashed pack walk as not only a physical workout, but a brain workout, too! If you’re thinking “How is his brain working? We’re just walking!”, you are not alone. Before hurdling into dog ownership, I thought the same way. But, during the pack walk, you will be asking a lot of your dog. And here’s how: ...

Read the rest of this post over at the Sault Dog Blog!

Saturday, 24 March 2012

DIY: Faux Boxwood Topiary

Kristen (my right-hand woman, partner in crime, best friend, drinking pal, etc.) was looking to make a centerpiece for her Baba's 80th birthday shindig next weekend. For those who don't have a Baba, that's Croatian for 'grandmother'. Anyway, Kristen decided on making a faux boxwood topiary with little pink flowers for accents. She also wanted the centerpiece to be homemade, so we incorporated natural pieces from the backyard (and other places, but we'll get to that).

Kristen had picked up a few things from the dollar store:

"Boxwood" plastic wreath
  • 3 "boxwood" mini wreaths
  • a tapered steel planter pot
  • bag of moss
  • a little bunch of pink faux flowers
And a couple of things from Michael's:
  • floral arrangement wire
  • one good sized (technical, I know) Styrofoam ball
  • a block of floral foam

We chatted away while plucking the "foliage" from the three wreaths. I placed the Styrofoam ball on the planter pot and we got to work sticking the foliage in, making sure that no Styrofoam was left visible. It was tedious. And I developed a callous on my index finger. But it was easy.

Halfway there!
While I was stabbing Styrofoam, Kristen was outside with a flashlight (and the dogs), hunting down some nice sticks to use as the "trunk" for the topiary. She trimmed the three sticks downs and secured them with the floral wire.

One of the most enjoyable things about DIY is finding on-the-spot solutions. How would we make a decent (but clean) hole in the Styrofoam ball for the "trunk" to fit in? Hmm. Kristen's lightbulb moment came and she rushed to the kitchen and came back with a melon baller. Of course!

After jamming the sticks into the Styrofoam ball, the other end was pushed through the floral foam inside the steel planter. Then, we decided it needed a little more weight in the bottom of the planter to hold the topiary up. Plus, a little filler around the floral foam would make sense, right? So, road trip. What? It's 10p.m. on a work night! But, we needed rocks. Or gravel. Or something. So we drove somewhere and filled a bag. I'm not going to lie - we felt like criminals. And maybe .... technically, we are. But sometimes, crafting is dangerous. And we're bad-ass crafters.

We packed the bagged moss on top of the rocks and placed some little pink faux flowers throughout the topiary and ... voila! A cute centerpiece for a birthday. Or a mantel. I really like it on Kristen's mantel.

I seriously love how Kristen used branches from her own backyard. Even though the dollar store "boxwood" is relatively impressive, the real branches lend an even more believable quality. You like?

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

The Musical Canine

Nope - the title isn't about farts.

Some animal psychologists suggest that your dog might be able to respond (ie. like or dislike) to your music. According to this article, research has been a little wishy-washy in that department, but some folks swear their animals can really dig certain types of music.

To test this fascinating hypothesis, I took to my iTunes for a little research of my own. I plunked Azi by the stereo and played some Springsteen at a normal range of volume. Then I turned it up, because frankly, there was an awesome sax solo happening at the time. Then, I turned it down low, until it was barely audible. In all three instances, this is the response I got: 

Dog, jamming to the Boss.
Ok, that didn't really happen. I listen to different types of music at different volumes and the dog doesn't seem to notice much at all. With one exception: certain "pitches" of musical instruments do catch her attention. However, her response usually has more to do with interest rather than pleasure or displeasure. A high-pitched flute note can cause her to perk up her ears and stare at the speakers, as if there might be an animal trapped inside. Not exactly what the musician intended, I bet.

Do you leave classical music on for your dog when you leave the house? I do sometimes. While there has been loads of research done on the effect of music on other animals (human fetuses included!), dog-specific research is sort of sparse. Deborah Wells, from Queen's University in Belfast, led a study that was quite unique. It found that dogs who listened to classical music were more relaxed and well-behaved than when listening to metal or pop. I can relate.

Does your dog seem to show a preference for certain types of music? Got a furry ABBA fan on your hands (I'm not talking about your father or uncle)?

While you think about conducting your own research, let me inspire you with an excerpt from "Classical Music For Dogs". With a video that has 88, 995 YouTube hits and counting, maybe they're on to something ...

Glass Globe Bird Feeder: A Reader's (Wicked) Version

Remember when I made this bird feeder out of a glass globe? Well, I originally got the idea from a Pinterest pin. I love Pinterest for encouraging people to share ideas and expand their innovative minds. In a recent conversation with a friend (hi, Brit!), we were commenting on how Pinterest has really helped us think differently - that is, more creatively.

As it turns out, Jess also takes great pictures.
A lovely reader emailed me her take on the bird feeder project. Jess used a clear globe instead of the white milk glass and tied the twine around the feeder instead of using silicone. This is probably a more sturdy way to hang the feeder (check out those knots!) and lends it a little more visual interest. Plus, Jess saved herself from smelling the hideousness that is silicone rubber. Loving it - thanks, Jess!

Monday, 19 March 2012

Getting Tree Sap Out of Dog Fur

Dogs have a tendency to enjoy nature in a way that I envy. Sometimes, they inadvertently bring nature into the house on their fur. When you've got a dog or two, that comes with the territory. And if your dog has ever gotten tree sap in his fur, you know how frustrating (and ineffective) it can be to try and pluck the sticky bits out.

Tree sap + fur = sticky dog
When I was about 9 years old, I devoured horse-related magazine and books. I was insanely obsessed. Luckily for me, a child's mind is like a sponge and I remembered some of the most helpful details to this day. The good news for you dog owners is that some of those horse beauty tips apply to just about any animal with fur! So, when my hound came in from a romp in the yard this morning, an ancient lightbulb lit up ...

If you have a sticky dog, use butter! Grab a pat of butter in one hand and smear it on the fur that has sap in it. If your dog objects, but butter on the other hand (or a toy) and let him lick away while you work. He might even start to love this treatment. Normally (with horses), you would want to use soap and water to get the greasy butter out of the fur when you're done. But if your dog has short hair, I wouldn't worry too much. Again, he'll just think you left a treat there for later!

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Guinness Chocolate Cake

A while back, I discovered a recipe for a dense chocolate cake made from one of my favourite beers: Guinness Stout. Yep, you read that right. The rich and creamy beer can be used for other things that don't involve getting drunk! I've hung on to the recipe, hoping to tackle it for St. Paddy's Day one year (or a random family dinner). I finally won the honour of making dessert for family dinner and decided that since it's so close to St. Patrick's Day, it would be a perfect time to make it.

If you live in Ontario, you'll probably find Guinness at the LCBO in a four-pack. You only need one can for this recipe, but have no fear: the four pack will come in handy for those who find baking less-than-exciting. Like me. With ingredients in hand, Guinness in a glass, and Springsteen on the radio, I got to work. Let's do this!

FYI: Plate + candle holder = cake stand.

Guinness Chocolate Cake
For the cake:

  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup Guinness Stout (I used nearly 2 cups, but whatever)
  • 3/4 sifted cocoa
  • 2 and 1/4 flour, sifted
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 2/3 cup sour cream
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
For the icing:
  • 1 and 1/3 cup cream cheese
  • 1 and 1/2 cup icing (powdered)sugar, sifted
  • 2/3 cup cream, whipped
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. 
Add butter, cocoa, and Guinness to a saucepan and heat on medium and stir until melted. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes.

Combine flour, sugar, and baking soda in a large bowl. Pour in Guinness/butter/cocoa mix. Add vanilla, eggs, and sour cream. Beat with mixer for a few minutes, until thick and even in colour.

Pour batter into a greased and lined angel food pan (I cut strips of parchment paper to wrap around the insides). Bake for one hour. Check "doneness" by inserting a skewer/toothpick after one hour - your skewer should come out clean (a few crumbs on the skewer is acceptable). You don't want a dried out cake, so use your judgment!

Let the cake cool for 10 minutes or so before removing it from the pan and cooling.

If not already done, whip your cream with the electric mixer until fluffy (about 2 minutes). In a separate bowl, beat the cream cheese until free of lumps. Slowly add the icing sugar to the cream cheese and mix for a few minutes, until smooth. You may need to scrape the bowl to combine fully.

Gently fold the previously whipped cream into the cream cheese/icing sugar mixture until evenly mixed. Spread the finished icing on the top of the completely cooled cake. Do not extend the icing to the sides of the cake - just on the top! It should now resemble a deliciously dark pint of Guinness. Yum!!

For a little extra kick, you might want to drizzle some Bailey's or Carolan's Irish Cream liqueur across the top of the cake.
Crumbled 70% dark chocolate is sprinkled on top for a little crunch - and, because I really like chocolate.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Warning: Impulse Shopper

Whoops. I'm not going to lie - I find solace in online shopping, especially when I'm feeling a little blue. Scientist husband doesn't know this. Or maybe he does, but doesn't ask questions because he knows better than to mess with this girl when she's not feeling 100%.

Either way, today's Joss & Main sale provided the opportunity to make a quick and easy decision for my current project (the dining room). I have a problem making decisions. The more trivial the matter, the harder it is. So, I've been pathetically agonizing over lighting options until today's J & M rescued me. Most mornings, I eagerly open my daily J & M e-mail and scoff at the inflated prices, while secretly wishing  I had the income to plop a few items into my cart. Then I clicked on today's Poésy Design event and scooped up this adorable light fixture for $34.95:

Vintage-inspired handwriting on the drum shade lends a French shabby chic quality
The thing with most Joss & Main sales is that I find there isn't much information about the wares for sale and the photo descriptions leave a little bit of mystery about construction material/texture. With that in mind, I busted out my measuring tape to make sure this pendant light wasn't some dinky accent fixture and re-read the description to ensure that the lighting hardware was included. And yet, I'm still scratching my head, trying to figure out how it's only $34.95. Until I get my hands on it, I'll just assume we scored one heck of a deal and breathe a sigh of relief that I'm not longer hunting for the elusive dining room light fixture.

With the curtain panel fabric already on its way in the mail, I feel like we're getting darn close to finishing off this room ...