Thursday, August 25, 2016

Beautiful Germany - Summer of 2016

Prepare yourself: This post is going to feature a lot of dog pictures

Typical smalltalk topic: The weather. People in Germany keep on complaining a lot about it. Me too. I didn't have a very high opinion of this year's summer and originally I intended to write about horrible weather when I thought back on our trips we have done so far and actually the weather was pretty good on every single one of them.

Back in April we travelled the Niederrhein, the region I grew up in, which means forests, lakes and a lot of meadows. It was a beautiful trip to the Krickenbecker Seen, with nice scenery and a lot of sun. It wasn't particularly warm, but in April you never know right?

Self Portrait in the Krickenbecker Forest
Dangerous Dog

Fusion Festival this year was great fun. We have never been such a big group there, which worried me in advance, because when you bring together many of your friends, you never know how they get along. It was great! Everyone clicked and we had the most amazing week together. The weather was awesome. Warm enough to have a dip in the lake, cool enough to dance all day and night. We saw some pretty great concerts, including the Mexican band Pantheon Roccoco, which partied so hard, I could hardly keep up. Check them out, they are great fun!

An Onion a day...

Turns out, it did rain from time to time

About a week after Fusion festival some of the Fusionists reunited at the annual Mosel Couchsurfer Meeting. What a blast! And again, the weather was fabulous. We swam in the Mosel and Lisek had never swam as much as there before, as everybody threw his ball into the water again and again. Even the formerly terrified children of our friends started to love the little sausage dog after a while. I love Lisek for being so calm and getting everyone to like him eventually. 

Hiking in the Beautiful Mosel Area

At the end of August, Mr. Schön's brother invited us for brunch at his place in Bremen, so we took a long time to go to Bremen and had some stops along the way. We stayed near a lake which we ran around in the morning and then decided to go to Papenburg, which has the most southern seaport - in Germany I think. Although it is still pretty far from the sea it certainly has a very maritime feeling about it. There is a lot of canals in the streets with pretty bridges (apparently they call it the Venice of Germany) and a very well-known chantier, whose "products" we saw all over town. Papenburg is really pretty, typical of the North of Germany are all the red brick houses, which I find totally charming. 

The first weekend of August we have been to a country- wedding of two Berliners getting married in Brandenburg. The two days party took place in and around an old farmhouse, which was beautiful. The weather - again- was perfect and we had a lot of fun. 

The party venue. Isn't this adorable?

I am looking forward to September when I will be off to Edinburgh with my mum and off to Ibiza with Mr Schön for a few days. At the moment the weather is so summery that I don't even go out during the day as over 35° is definitely too hot for me. 

I promised a lot of dog pictures:

Krickenbecker Lakes in April

Love this picture

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Home Alone

Our aim: A relaxed Lisek when he is home alone

We have had Lisek for over a year now and we cannot imagine to be without him anymore. Only two days ago we had brought him to a friend and we kept on forgetting that he was not there, wondering why he didn't come when we called. You get so used to having the little ones around. We always take him anywhere, as he cannot stay home alone. I don't have to mention that it is a hassle; no matter where you go, you always have to put him somewhere or take him. We haven't been to the cinema for ages, at parties we always ask whether we can take him and what I miss most is the regular sauna going.
As difficult as it is to leave him at home, as easy is it to take him anywhere. At a friend's 30s birthday he lay on the dancefloor, sleeping while people were dancing all around him. In restaurants, he immediately falls asleep, he generally is quiet and calm.
As long as we are around. Whenever he is left alone, he is nervous and he used to bark for hours. He doesn't destroy our interiour, which is good, but we were sorry not only for the dog, but our neighbours. We are on good terms with the neighbours, so when he was barking, making them crazy, they just texted us and we came back.
We installed a camera, to check on him, when we left him alone. Also we are using an app, called the dog monitor, that writes a protocol about the barking activities of your dog. With the help of these monitoring possibilities we at least could check on him and analyse the status of our problem.

It was severe, Lisek usually stayed calm for ten to twenty minutes and then he started to jump on the furniture and bark. I had read that leaving him in an enclosed environment can give dogs a feeling of safety, so we decided to always leave him in the living room when he has to stay home alone. Whenever he noticed that we got ready for leaving him, he would start to whine and get really nervous.

So I started reading. Our last dog had the same problem and it was limiting us whenever we wanted to do something outside of the house. When we got Lisek I swore we would teach him to stay home, no matter what. Teaching a dog to stay home alone is probably the most diffcult task of dogtraining. You cannot enforce good behaviour while you are away and it is a natural urge to be with the pack.

I learned that there are two causes for dogs who cannot stay home alone: separation anxiety and control issues. If your dog is howling when alone and stays very close to you, also when you are outside, chances are that she really suffers from separation anxiety. When he is rather barking angrily, when at home and doesn't care much about you when you are outside for a walk, plus when he often stands in your way, he might rather suffer from control issues. Lily, our old dog had separation anxiety, which is really difficult to train, Lisek has control issues. which can have to do with his position in the pack.
He feels responsible for us from time to time, a reason why he might be stressed when left alone. Also dogs who suffer from this problem might have an issue with self control. To train this and also to tire him out when we are outside I train "stay" with Lisek often. Either he just has to stay while I walk away, or - which is much harder for him - when I throw the ball.

So what can you do about it? In the case of separation anxiety and control issues, one element is key: proceed slowly. Train the dog to lie on his blanket and not to follow you around in the apartment. So far Lisek was allowed in every room, but apparently it can help to establish taboo zones, so now he is always told off when he enters the bathroom. He also was pretty free to lie everywhere in the livingroom, apart from the sofa. We have a red carpet, which when he is lying on it, has to be hoovered every day. Now he is only allowed on his dog bed, we have to invite him to lie on the carpet. We even walk into the apartment before him now, and so on and so on. There is much more limitation to his life now, also he has to stay right next to us or behind us on the leash. All of these are ways we want to show him that we are the responsible ones and that he can relax. Sometimes, when I sent him away at first, I felt like a horrible person, but it turns out he really responds well to it.

When we first started training to leave him, I only closed the door of the living room for a second, then opened it again. Several times a day. Then for ten seconds, thirty seconds, a minute and so on. When the dog is still relaxed. lying on his bed, everything is ok. When your dog is getting up and starting to get nervous, go back to a shorter time period again and start anew. After a while you might be able to leave him in the room for a long time.

It can help - if your dog is not destroying stuff- to leave an old t-shirt with your smell for him, that way he might miss you less and feel more secure.

Another good advise I found was, if your dog gests anxious when you put on shoes, take your keys or put on your jacket, you should delete their connection to you leaving. So you just put these clothes on from time to time without anything happening. Once your dog stays relaxed when you collect your stuff and put your shoes on, the connection between them and you going away is deleted. You can proceed with the rest of the training.

Treats can make staying home a bit sweeter
One small tipp, but also fun for us was, to make the time you are away interesting for your dog. For this you need a toy, maybe one you can fill with treats, but you do not give it to your dog. Instead, you put it on a shelf, and a few times a day, you take it into your hands and make a big fuss about it. Give it to your partner or your children, let them make a fuss about it as well, oohing and aahing. The dog will be super excited about it, but you just put it back on the shelf.
The next step: you put the toy on the floor, and tell your dog not to touch it. Put it back on the shelf.
Next step: you give it to him, leave the room immediately, come back after ten seconds, take it away and put it on the shelf again. Proceed with 20 seconds the next day and so on. The dog will want you to leave the room for longer periods of time and appreciate the time alone. I bought a Kong ball that you can fill with treats (Kong are the only toys Lisek hasn't managed to destroy yet)

We did all of this and have managed to leave Lisek for an hour without barking now. He is also much more relaxed when he knows that we are going to leave. When I work from home during the week, I leave him as often as possible, for an hour and check what he is doing and how nervous he is. I always hope he will eventually sleep while we are away, but so far he is waiting for us to come back.

Another good advise: Take them on a long walk, play with them and make them really tired before you leave the dog alone. That is what I do, I only leave him when he is tired, so that he has the chance to relax.

A further note: Do not say goodbye to the dog, just leave him, as if it was the most natural thing in the world. At the moment I often sit in the hallway to our apartment and watch Lisek on the screen of my phone. It is a good idea to leave the dog alone for several times a day (but only the amount of time he can already handle!) and when you come back in, to ignore him for a while. When you enter and get him all excited, the dog will be nervous by anticipating your arrival. I have read that once you manage to leave the dog for over an hour, he won't notice the difference between two and three or six hours, which I don't believe, but I keep my fingers crossed.

Next week I will try to leave him for 1,5 hours. Another important thing: do not go back to your dog when he is howling or barking, as you are enforcing the behaviour your dog is showing at that moment. Be sure that he is quiet the minute you enter your apartment.

Good luck !

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Creative Day - Dog Bed and Collar

Today I was really inspired to sew something, after a long time of only knitting. One reason is Lisek. who is mastering lying on his own bed at the moment. It is part of training him to be quiet while staying home alone: to assign him his very own place and to forbid him to lie anywhere else.

Also, he gets all his treats in his bed now, which is why it quickly looks pretty horrible and has to be washed. As we had bought only one bed I decided to make him another one, in order to be able to wash either one. There was so much nice fabric to choose from, I decided on one strawberry pattern and one with white hearts on green. I filled it with little plastic balls, which I sew an inlay for, so that I can still wash the outer parts.

If you want to make a bed yourself:

You cut two big pieces measuring 100 and 70 cm,
two stripes measure 110 x 15 cm
two that measure 80 x 15 cm

Then you sew the fitting stripes to the first big piece, putting right side onto right side. Make sure that the stitching of all four pieces meet, in order to close all the gaps. When you are finished, you close the sides, also by making the stitches meet the stitches from the upper part. After that you sew the bottom part to it, right side facing right side, but make sure you leave a rather big gap you can later close with the help of buttons, if you like.

Sew all the sides to the top
Leave a gap for the inlay or filling - maybe bigger than this 

The inlay can be made the same way, but actually, I just took a big piece of cloth that measured 220 x 80 cm and joined all the sides except for one whole on the side, to fill it with material, and then closed the "gap". Here I used a zigzag stitch in order to make it really stable and flexible at the same time, so none of the horrible little pastic balls escape.

That's my inlay

It was quite a hassle to put the inlay into the cover, as I had made the whole a little bit too small. In the end I succeeded and made a poor puppy lie on the bed. I think it will take Lisek some time to love it as much as his other bed, as he is not used to dig a little whole into his bed, but I think he will like it eventually. It looks super cute to see him lie in it already.

Another thing I made today was a new collar for the little one, fitting his turquoise leash that he already has. I also like the fabric for the collar a lot. If you want to make a collar for your dog as well, be sure to get all the extra parts, like the metal ring and the latch. To make it a secure collar, you need to sew in squares like I did here. That way there is no danger of the seam to rip open. I took another collar I really like as a model.

Still not sooo comfortable
... but being a dutiful dog, Lisek still stays on his bed, as told
Better already....