Happy Holidays from Feathers and Fur!


2006 (27)2006 (24)

Sam is 9 years old, Lily is just 2, and the birds — Bobby da bird and his sister, Kurt — are 4 years old and newly adopted.



12.16.07 CashandJB1

Cash: 4 months – Jenna: 26 years – Bobby (in the cage!): 5 years




Lily is 4, Cash is 1!




Stockings: less than a week old!



Cash is 3, Lily is 6, Bobby is 8. (Lily is clearly being tortured!)




 Lily: 7 Jenna, regardless of how she acts, is 30 years old.




Lily is 8 and Cash is 5, and now old hands at these photos!


And to continue the tradition this year…

xmas 2013v2

Lily is 9, Tango is 8 months, and Cash is 6. We’ve come full circle, with a new bird and a 9-year-old dog. As it was in the beginning!

May your dreams be sweet and the feet you cuddle with stink-free!

lily sleeping with us

– Jenna, Sam, Lily, Bobby, Cash, and Tango at Feathers and Fur


Dog Body Language: facial expressions!

First, your primer on what to look for:

When dogs are feeling anxious, the muscles on the back of the skull tighten, pulling the facial skin tight. This causes the ears to pinch against the skull, the whites at the corners of the eyes to show, and if the dog is panting the back molars to be seen.

Dogs might feel stress either because they’re physically stressed (stop playing fetch! Your dog is now overheated!) or mental/emotional stress. It’s this latter that we’re going to look at today.

The opposite would be a dog who isn’t under stress, but isn’t listening to his owner, and may be aggressive. When the ears pull forward, usually creating a wrinkle in the forehead, the dog is no longer tuned in to his owner. (He might just be excited about making new friends, or he might be preparing to attack.) When they’re friendly, the nose comes up and usually twitches, catching scent. When they’re not friendly, the nose drops down and they watch out of their eyes.

More details we’ll note as we go through the pictures! Hover over each image to get the notes for what’s going on in that dog’s face.

Callie Buna Bed

   Nose is way up, ears are swiveling back to acknowledge not just what he was focused on, but what's going on around him as well. Better! I would expect this dog to jump on me in greeting.







And with that last mixed-message picture, you can see how important it is to take into account not just body or tail or facial expression, but all of it at once.

Next week: we take all of it into account!



Dog Body Language: Tails and spines

Continuing our body language series! Last week we had a quickie overview of body language. Today we’re breaking down tails and spines!

The rule of thumb: The height of the tail generally indicates the level of energy and the willingness to engage. (The willingness to engage may or may not be a good thing.) The higher the tail, the higher the energy and the more likely the dog is to engage. The lower the tail, the lower the energy/likelihood. It is not an indication of happiness.

Sometimes, you’ll hear people refer to a high tail as “high confidence.” I don’t. Some of the most confident dogs I know have low tails. They’re usually older dogs who are happy to engage if approached, but would rather be off doing their own thing, kthnks.

A high tail might mean, “I’m so happy to see you; I’m going to jump on you!” or it might mean, “I’m going to rip your face off!” Both are a willingness to engage.

A low tail might mean, “I’m so content right now, willing to hang out and nap,” or it might mean, “I’m terrified!” Both are not wanting to engage.

How do you tell the difference? The spine! The spine is the emotional state: the more pinched, stiff, tense, or still the spine, the more negative the emotional state. The more relaxed or wiggly the spine, the better the emotional state.

You take “willingness (or lack thereof) to engage” and “emotional state” and you combine them to create a rough estimate of a dog’s mood. You can kind of apply it to human moods, with a few alterations (such as anger; dogs don’t get angry, really. But they do get aggressive when we would be angry, so you can still match it up pretty well, knowing that ‘aggression’ is the substitute for ‘anger.’)

Ready? I’m going to post pictures. Hover over the picture to see the dog’s mood and a detailed explanation after you’ve made your guess!



Sheba and Dawn 3-2012


dog photo

All right, this was JUST a look at spines and tails. Adding in faces can give a great deal more information: we’ll start that next week!


Dog Body Language: How To Read it

How well do you know dog body language? Let’s practice!

There are three big things to look for when you’re looking at body language.

1. Tail. The height of the tail generally indicates the level of energy and the willingness to engage. (The willingness to engage may or may not be a good thing.) The higher the tail, the higher the energy and the more likely the dog is to engage. The lower the tail, the lower the energy/likelihood. It is not an indication of happiness.

Sometimes, you’ll hear people refer to a high tail as “high confidence.” I don’t. Some of the most confident dogs I know have low tails. They’re usually older dogs who are happy to engage if approached, but would rather be off doing their own thing, kthnks.

2. Spine. The more relaxed the spine, the better the emotional state. The more tense or still the spine, the worse the emotional state. Keep in mind that the tail is part of the spine. Also keep in mind that a dog might have a mostly loose spine, with a touch of tension. You can generally say, “my dog is 70% relaxed and 30% negative emotional state,” and you’re pretty accurate.

You can combine energy and emotional state and get a human emotion that’s close enough to a dog emotion. Am I ready to engage and in a bad mood? My temper is flaring, and I’m aggressive. (High tail, stiff spine.) Am I low energy/not wanting to engage, in a good mood? I’m feeling like settling in for some snuggling, TV watching, or book reading. (Low tail, relaxed spine.) You can go forward with that, I hope!

3. Facial expression.

Stress and anxiety: When a dog gets stressed out, the muscles just behind the ears tense up. This draws the ears back, widens the eyes, and pulls the lips away from the molars. If your dog has one of these indications, they’re a little stressed. Two, and they’re more stressed. Three, and it’s time to stop everything and figure out what’s going on RIGHT NOW. Of note: if your dog is panting and stops suddenly, back off. That’s a bite warning.

Now, some stress is good. The stress of learning something new in a difficult (distracting) situation? Good! The physical stress of playing fetch? Good! (Though time to stop playing before your dog overheats.) In both cases, the spine will be relaxed; they’re thinking hard or playing hard, but they’re in a good mood.

The bad kind of stress is when they’re not being asked to learn something new or they’re not under physical stress, and they look stressed. This is what leads to anxiety. We should also see the stress of learning something new ease off as they get good at it. My dog is chewing on a bone and looking stressed? Something is very wrong. I need to remove my dog from the situation and/or figure out what’s wrong, and possibly call a dog trainer.

Tuned out: The opposite facial expression is when your dog picks their ears waaaaaay up and focuses with their eyes on something not-you, most often creating wrinkles in the forehead. What they’re saying right now is, “I’m really interested in that thing, and I’m going to decide what to do about it.” They might decide to be friendly… but they  might not. What we’d like is for them to see something, prick the ears, and then bring the ears back again. Now they’re saying, “I’m really interested in that thing. Do you see it? What should I do about it?” Voila! You can call the shots.

Friendly: Nose up, nostrils or muzzle checking a scent, usually with a slight side to side movement. Your dog is saying, “Hi! Want to be buddies? Can I smell you?”

There’s a LOT more detail work you can do — which we’ll do in photos over the next month or so — but that’s the big, basic earmarks. Let’s look at these obvious ones.



IMG_0077Here we have Diesel (left) and Cash (right). Both are shepherds with upright ears. Start at the tail: Diesel’s tail is low, near his hocks: low energy, doesn’t want to engage. Cash’s tail… well, I think I can make it out back there. It looks a little farther from his body — a little “higher.” More likely to engage.

Next, we look at the spine. Diesel has a little tension there, holding his head down. Doesn’t want to engage (tail), and negative emotional state (spine). Human translation would be: I’m unsure, I’m sulking, I’m pouting, I’m nervous. Human and dog emotions aren’t exact, but close enough to give us an idea of what to do. Cash’s spine looks relaxed. Higher energy, good emotional state: I’m ready if you are.

Now, the faces. Diesel’s ears aren’t pinched against his head, but neither are they relaxed. Those muscles indicating stress are tense, then, but not overly so. If you look closely, you can see the whites of his eyes. Tense ears and whites of the eyes are two of the three anxiety signs; this is a stressed dog. Cash’s ears are relaxed alongside his head, not pinched back. The whites of his eyes might be showing; I can’t quite tell. His back molars are not. So he might have one out of three stress signs. Neither dog has a raised nose saying, “I want to be friends!” (Cash does that put-upon look whenever I tell him to lay down so I can take comparison pictures. *grins*)

In looking at these pictures, I would say that Diesel probably has anxiety problems, while Cash isn’t thrilled in the moment. Now let’s focus on one thing at a time.

Facial expressions:




Here we have ears pinched back, whites of the eyes showing, and visible back teeth. You can’t quite see the back molars, so the anxiety could be worse, but it’s definitely not good. This is all three signs of anxiety.






Ears up, watching with his eyes (the slant of his face is closer to vertical than horizontal). He’s tuned me out, and making up his own mind for good or ill!







Both dogs have sideways ears; they’re tuning in the humans. I can only see Lily’s face, but she shows no signs of anxiety. Cash’s ears are relaxed, though I can’t see his eyes or molars. He’s probably fine, too!




Tails (energy level, willingness to engage)


Two dogs: the shepherd has a high tail, even though he’s sitting. He’s willing to engage. (Note the hand on his back holding him still!) The husky has a low tail: she’s saying, “I’m low energy, I don’t want to engage entirely.” If she was totally unwilling to engage, she wouldn’t be sniffing. But my guess? If the shepherd turns to sniff back, she’ll retreat.



Another example: note the HIGH tail. This dog is very willing to engage, and as shown in the next picture, does so a moment later!








Finally, spines. Note the very loose and relaxed spines:

Lazy Layla

san and donis hugging















Tense spines:



Strain on the leash always means tense spine: if nothing else, your dog has to tense up to strain against the leash. This can actually create aggression where none existed.

Also check out the noses: the shepherd, even though he’s taller, has a more-lifted nose. The slant of his face is closer to level. The terrier has a lowered nose, and from how much harder he’s straining, his spine is more stiff.



Stiff spines; head held low on the grey husky, head pulled back on the black one. In both cases, there’s stiffness and rigidity in these spines. Negative emotional state.

Can you spot any of the three signs of anxiety in their facial expression? Hint: there are two!


Over the next month I’ll start posting photos and dissecting them. I have tons, but you’re welcome to send ones that stump you, or even videos. (Spines are always easier to tell on video!) You can respond on any post, or email them to jenna.b.mcdonald [at] gmail [dot] com!


‘Tis the season… for shedding!

Like many other people, my dog sheds A LOT. Some information on dogs and shedding:

  • Short haired, single-coated dogs shed a little bit, all year long. Most people don’t really notice it and will say their dog doesn’t shed. It does, just not a lot! These are breeds like short haired terriers, Great Danes, most hounds, chihuahuas, and so on. On these short haired/single coated breeds, the white areas shed more.
  • Double-coated and long haired dogs shed a tiny bit all year long, and then more heavily in the spring and fall when they grow in their summer and winter coats. These dogs range from Labradors to German shepherds to… well, all shepherds and collies, among many others. Most dogs are in this category.

There are all sorts of brushes and things you can use for de-shedding a dog, and they certainly help (especially if you brush your dog regularly). But MY favorite method is the coat-blowing method.

You can take your dog to a groomer and say, “Please blow out their coat!” and most groomers will know what you’re talking about. Or you can do it yourself! Here’s how:

1. You’ll need a dog dryer. You can get these for about $100 on most pet websites. You do NOT want a cage dryer, but an actual machine with a hose attached! I highly recommend one.

2. You’ll need a brush.

Now, assuming that your dog enjoys being brushed but probably doesn’t appreciate the dog dryer, you’ll need to get them used to the dryer. Make sure you have a leash and collar on them, and a pocket full of treats. Hang onto the leash, face the nozzle of the dryer away from your dog, and turn it on. Your dog will probably bolt away. That’s okay! Ignore the behavior. Treat the dryer like a leaf blower for a little while. You’re waiting for your dog to stop bolting away and realize nothing bad has happened. This typically only takes a second. Once they stop bolting away, give them a treat and praise them for being brave.

Next, start leaf-blowing closer to them. It’s easiest if there’s a wall or fence nearby so your dog doesn’t just run circles around you. They’ll sidle away from the dryer toward the wall. That’s fine, too! Keep acting like it’s no big deal. When your dog is relatively calm (if not totally calm), give them another treat and move the air stream closer.

At some point, your dog will decide they’re done being against the wall, leap over the air stream/hose, and zip the other way. That’s okay, too! Talk to them. Tell them what you’re doing in a conversational tone of voice. Let them know that you aren’t worried about this dryer. Blow it on your own legs and body so they see it isn’t hurting you. Every time you get the dryer closer to them (even accidentally), give them another treat.

My dog, who knows exactly what the dryer is and isn’t afraid of it, still moves away when I do this. I’m pointing this out because you’re not trying to get them to stop moving away entirely; you’re trying to get them to stop flinching. We want to see that while they might get away, they’re doing so casually, without any tension or panic. This can take anywhere from ten minutes to several days, depending on whether or not your dog is afraid of other similar things. (Vacuums, leaf blowers, hair dryers, etc.)

Once your dog is moving away more causally, sit down. Encourage your dog closer. Give them more treats.

Any time you introduce something that your dog might not want to touch them, start at their hind end. Holding onto your dog’s leash near the collar, start blowing toward their back legs. Blow up their back legs, stop as soon as they stop flinching, and give them a treat. We’re trying to teach them that the best way out of this uncomfortable situation is just to let it happen and be calm. When they let it happen and be calm, we’ll stop. That said, we’re looking for shifting and maybe a little bit of a startle but quick settling. Maybe your dog will try to, again, casually walk away before stopping when they can’t. If you dog has a big reaction, back off and go to the earlier steps.

If your dog startles and is clearly unhappy (but not panicking), stop right away, treat it like a game, give them a treat, and do it again. In that situation, I might do this:

Me: *turns air toward dog*
Dog: *unhappy but not panicking*
Me: *flicks air away, gets treat to give to dog while speaking* Good job! Was that a silly thing to do? I know! That air must feel so funny! It’s kinda fun, isn’t it? Let’s do it again! *turns air toward dog, flicks it away right away* Woo hoo! What a fun game! You’re so silly. I’m gonna do it again! *repeat* Oh my gosh, I have so much fun playing with you!

Sounds silly, right? But what am I teaching my dog? I’m teaching them that this is fun, that I’m confident, that nothing scary is happening. I might even convince them that this is a good game. That’s an excellent place to start from.

Eventually, your dog will accept you blowing on his hip. From that point, you start slowly working upward. As your dog tenses about you moving toward their head, stop and move back down. Bit by bit, you’ll be able to inch higher as they get comfortable. Keep giving treats during this time!

Safety: don’t blow in any one spot for very long; the air gets hot! Keep it moving so it doesn’t over-warm one spot of skin. Don’t expect your dog to sit gracefully while you do their head, ears, or face, either. While you can force the issue eventually, it’s just as easy to let those areas air dry — and your dog will appreciate it! (Would YOU want high powered air forced up a nostril on accident? Me neither!)

Okay, that was the training portion of blowing your dog’s coat. Now that your dog can handle a dryer, tie the leash to something handy so they don’t wander off, grab your brush, and start brushing! In most cases, if you brush the hair backward while you dry, more of it comes out. If you wash your dog before, then by the time they’re dry they’ll also be pretty much shedded out!

Since the hair loosens at different times, and since washing, drying, and brushing all loosens more hair, this isn’t a total fix. After you do it the first time, you’ll see an instant decrease, followed by a few days with lots of loose hair floating around the house (but not clumps of it), followed by a reprieve. Then, as more hair starts to shed, it will gradually get worse again. Repeat as needed!

Years when I haven’t blown out Cash’s coat, we spend 3-5 weeks battling MAJOR hair. My place is small, which makes it worse, but typically I vacuum every day because the hair is so bad — and dog hair doesn’t generally bother me. Years when I do blow out his coat, I vacuum probably seven days total when the hair is bad, spread over 3-4 weeks and two baths/coat blowing sessions. It’s a definite improvement!


The African Grey Parrot Probably Named Tango still hasn’t been seen (his or her mama is being very protective, and a good mama) but looks like this about now:

Eyelids will just be forming (they’re sealed until now), so occasionally you’ll see what looks like a dot in the center of the closed eye. Their beaks are still soft and malleable at this age, to allow the parent’s beaks to get in there and feed them! The down is starting to thin out, and pinfeathers haven’t even started thinking about coming in yet. But they have gone from about 18 grams at birth, to 44 grams now! There’s lots of growing being done!


Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays from all of us at Feathers and Fur!





XO, Lily, Cash, Jenna, and Quin!


(You just know Lily is thinking, “You idiot. Stop looking so happy. Do you even know you’re wearing a beard?” Or maybe, “This type of thing never happened before YOU showed up…” *laughs!*)


Coming Out: Things people don’t know about me.

Well, shoot. I mis-dated this post, so it’s out almost two weeks late. Let’s just pretend it’s October, shall we?

“October?” I hear you cry. “Why?”

Well, October was national coming out month. Thing is, there are few people in my life I can come out to anymore (because everyone knows), so I post here. I’m going to tell you all a little secret that everyone knows anyway: I’m lesbian. Or more specifically, butch-sexual. (It’s a term I made up. It means, “Wow, I’m really only attracted to masculine women, the occasional transman, and once in a great while a queer-gendered guy. Talk about picky.”) I’m going to come out again (and out my boifriend with me): my assistant trainer, Quin, is my boifriend. Since that spelling doesn’t fly when you say it out loud, I generally refer to her as my girlfriend.

Aren’t we cute?

Thanks, I think so. 😉

Northern California is a pretty great place to be queer of any sort, which is part of the reason I moved up here from my little town in Southern California. It’s cooler (I lived in the desert), more dog friendly, I’ve only lost two clients because of being gay since I got here, and I have yet to feel physically threatened. Woo hoo!

Here are some commonly asked questions/commonly made statements:

#1: “Why do you even bother telling people you’re gay? It’s none of your clients’ business.”

Well, anyone who has ever met me knows I’m a story-teller. The people who spend a great deal of time in my life are usually fodder for my stories. So, for instance, I might tell a client, “Hey, your dog will always behave better for a person setting new rules who isn’t you. It’s not because they don’t like you, and it’s not because I have a lot of practice — though that helps. It’s in large part because they have no bad habits to break with me.”
Client: *continues to look sad that dog listens to me and not them*
Me: “Okay, for instance, when I needed my dog, Cash, to walk with me better, I had to get Quin, my girlfriend, to walk him. He and I had too many bad habits together; she had to come up with a new training technique for him, that I could then practice to break the old bad habits.”

Do you see what just happened there? In using a story to explain to my client that it’s okay, they haven’t failed, I outed myself. Try going for a day where you interact with a dozen (in my case usually more) people at length and never once mention your significant other. It’s amazingly difficult.

“But,” I hear you cry, “you just announced it on your blog. That didn’t come up in conversation!”

No, that’s true. I’m a big believer in being myself, which also means being visible (as above). I also believe that the more people can put a face to a title (such as ‘gay’), the more likely they are to say, “Hey, those gay people are just people… maybe they should be able to get married, too. I like Jenna, after all, and I don’t want to tell her she can’t get married. That’s silly.” But I don’t believe in shoving it in peoples’ faces: it would be super annoying if I went around saying, “Hi! I’m gay!” At least this way, people have to search me out and decide to stay and read!

#2: People who hold your sexual orientation against you shouldn’t matter.

Yeeeaaaaah. But I have to eat. I’d rather be somewhere where people just don’t care, rather than try and cut out the clients who do care and then wonder if I’ll make enough money to pay the bills.

#3: Have people actually fired you because you’re gay?

Yes and no. If I say something about my girlfriend and they look at me with stunned silence before awkwardly changing the subject, then get off the phone/out of the appointment ASAP and never call me again… I’m pretty sure I can figure out what just happened. I know for a fact of two people who decided not to hire me for that reason. And that’s okay: if they’re that uncomfortable with it, then they wouldn’t be listening or learning very well. They need to find a trainer they’re more comfortable with. I would be vastly uncomfortable having a client that I had serious moral issues with, and I would teach poorly. In that case, I would suggest they find a new trainer. (This has also happened, though usually it happens because I realize that they need a different technique than I’m using, and I know just the person for them.)

#4: Do people ever ask you weird questions?

I am, apparently, an extremely approachable person. I’ve been told I’m very good at not judging. When people feel they can ask questions that might seem foolish or get them judged in other circumstances, and they can do so without being teased or ridiculed or otherwise emotionally harmed, they ask. So, yes, I’ve been asked a WIDE variety of questions. I love them. It means people are thinking.

#5: Are you still in touch with your family?

My family IS AWESOME. As are my friends. My extended family… well, I didn’t see my aunts and uncles much anyway, those I did see are supportive, and my cousins rock. I don’t actually think I came out to my immediate family so much as started waxing poetic about my first butch boifriend, DK (who later became a very good male friend, Ryan). My coming out moments went like this:

Chelsea (my little sister): Would you date her?
Me: YES.
Chelsea (relieved): Oh, good. I thought you might be stringing her along without realizing it.
Me: Hey! I’m not that mean!
Chelsea: But you can be that clueless.
(She’s right.)


Me: And she’s wonderful and handsome and so on–!!
Dad: *highly amused* So… are you gay? Or bi? Or do you just love people?
Me: *ponders* …I just love people.
Dad: I’m glad for you, Jenna.

I don’t think any of my other family said much of anything. They all took it in stride. *grins*

One of the other things that comes up in my life on a semi-regular basis is people apologizing for outing me. So I’m going to stay it now: Out me! Feel free to use me as an example. Tell people about the wacky gay dog trainer or the sensible gay homeschooler who came out okay after all. (Thanks, Mom!) It gives me a secret pleasure to know I”m helping to broaden peoples’ horizons! Silly, I know, but there you have it.

“Wait,” I hear you cry. “You were HOMESCHOOLED?” Yup! I went to kindergarten and college and nothing in between. It probably saved my life. Other things that people are surprised to hear, that put a face to unusual experiences:
– I suffered from severe depression as a teen and young adult, including suicidal thoughts, ideation, and near-actions.
– I have an extreme case of a type of sensory disability that affects my reading, depth perception, writing, light sensitivity, and other minor things. You can learn about it here.
– I used to get panic attacks thinking about going to work, the one and only semester I worked at a “normal” job (ie, one that wasn’t outdoors and/or didn’t involve animals).
– I am caffeine sensitive: it will also give me panic attacks. (So sad. But I love my decaf coffee!)
– I had to stop riding and training horses because I was very good at it, and so ended up with some seriously naughty horses who wanted to hurt their riders. Riding horses is now anxiety-provoking for me. I hope to get back into lessons and overcome this anxiety some time in the next year.
– I write novels. I have five novels published and a number of short stories as well, but none of them have a thing to do with dog training.

Finally, to celebrate National Coming Out Month, I’ll link you to a few articles, if you’d like to keep reading:

Don’t Ask. Tell On coming out as a straight ally. I quite liked it, and everyone could use more allies.
National Coming Out Day: It’s Actually Okay to Stay Closeted When it’s safer to stay “in” than to come out, that’s what you should do.

Now… back to plotting my next book. 😉