2014 Pet Blogger Challenge

Jessica sunset dogs

Today is the day of the 2014 Pet Blogger Challenge hosted by GoPetFriendly and Will My Dog Hate Me.

It’s the time pet bloggers answer some questions to see how far we’ve come and make some plans for where we’re going.

It’s also a chance for our readers to learn a little more about our blog.

Without further adieu, here are my answers:

1) How long have you been blogging?

I have always hiked with my now 11 year old Dachshund Chester but started blogging about our adventures when we added Gretel to our family.

As soon as I realized she loved to hike just as much, I knew it wasn’t a fluke…small dogs could hike and loved it!

We’ve been sharing our stories for the past 3 years to break the stereotypes of small dogs (they are capable of much more than most people give them credit for), promote fitness for you and your pooch, and share tips, reviews and the beautiful places we go.

2. Name one thing about your blog, or one blogging goal that you accomplished during 2013, that made you most proud.

Oh, geez. The years seem to blend together. I think it was this past year when I redesigned by blog. I am much happier with the layout and design now.

3. When you look at the post you wrote for last year’s Pet Blogger Challenge, or just think back over the past year, what about blogging has changed the most for you?

I feel that things became clearer for me last year and I have hit my stride. I feel like I need to worry less about blog stats now.

Worrying less about the details, and having a better idea about where my blog is going, allows me to concentrate more on creating quality content and getting my message out.

The frequency of posts has changed for me too. I started out 2013 posting 5 days a week but now I only blog 2 or 3 days a week on average.

I started graduate school a few months ago (a move inspired by this blog) that that really cuts into my blogging time so I was forced to cut down.

4. (a) What lessons have you learned this year – from other blogs, or through your own experience – that could help us all with our own sites? (b) If you could ask the pet blogging community for help with one challenge you’re having with your blog, what would it be?

Hmmmmm…….I think I continue to learn that in order to stand out you need a niche – something that you alone (or at least mostly alone) do well.

However, I learned from my own experience that having too specific of a niche will appeal to a lot less people and can limit your blog’s potential.

“Niche” is more about discussing common issues that people can relate to through your own unique lens or cause.

I have a hard time coming up with a challenge I could ask the blogging community for help with.

It’s not because I don’t face challenges and have a lot of questions. It’s that I address them as they come up through the BlogPaws pet blogger community.

It’s such a great resource and everyone is so supportive and helpful.

5. What have you found to be the best ways to bring more traffic to your blog, other than by writing great content?

Really, writing great content is THE key. Without that, people will not come to your blog, or become regular readers, no matter how much you promote it.

However, AFTER great content, promoting my blog posts on social media has been one the best ways to bring traffic to my blog.

Something I have gotten better at this year is SEO too. I still don’t go overboard with keywords but I look at what search terms people are using that lands them on my blog and try to weave more of those keywords in where I can (well, the ones that I WANT people to know my blog for anyway).

6. How much time to do you spend publicizing your blog, and do you think you should spend more or less in the coming year?

Yikes. Too much. And not enough. I could certainly be more efficient and effective with my time.

I loosely tracked the time spent on blog-related activities for about a month. Here was the result.

Daytum social media
Minutes Spent on Blog-related Activities in a Month

7. (a) How do you gauge whether or not what you’re writing is appealing to your audience? (b) How do you know when it’s time to let go of a feature or theme that you’ve been writing about for a while?

Well, I think to some extent, if you write about what you love and what interests you the right audience will show up.

The key to keeping them interested is to give them new information and to occasionally add new topics while not making changes that are drastic or too far away from your niche.

I keep an eye on blog traffic to make sure I am not turning a large number of people off.

I let go of a feature or theme when the joy is gone for me. When I am no longer interested and it feels like too much work, it is time to move on for me.

I think a blog is ever evolving and you can’t make room for something new or great if you are holding onto things that no longer help you reach your goals or don’t inspire you.

8. When you’re visiting other blogs, what inspires you to comment on a post rather than just reading and moving on?

I am more likely to comment when there is something I can relate to.

Also, giving me food for thought, a tip or advice or sharing a fun story inspires me to comment.

I would comment on more blogs if I had the time but if I feel like I am reaching for something to comment on I will most likely read and move on.

On a related note, if I have to spend too much time searching for a post (like when I visit a hop a few days after and click on a link that takes me to a blog’s home page instead of the hop-themed post) or completing a captcha, I give up and move on.

9. (a) Do you do product reviews and/or giveaways? (b) If so, what do you find works best, and what doesn’t work at all? (c) If not, is this something you’d like to do more of? What hurdle is getting in your way?

Yes, I do product reviews. I do a lot less than I used to though.

I was bombarded with requests from general products or services and realized that they take a lot of time.

My readers are not really interested in things not related to being active with your dog and cookie cutter reviews so I have gotten more creative and in-depth with them…which takes even MORE time.

Because of the time involved, I found I couldn’t continue to write them unless I was compensated for my time. I charge for reviews now and am more selective about what I share with my readers.

In truth, asking to be compensated for my reviews or product features has cut down on requests. However, the requests I do get are for products more relevant to my blog.

The reviews I get passed over for allow me to spend more time creating my own content and spreading my message. It’s a win-win situation for me.

10. When writer’s block strikes and you’re feeling dog-tired, how do you recharge?

Hiking! Unfortunately, I can’t hike every day though so I need to come up with other things I can do at or close to home.

Shopping actually helps me a lot. It doesn’t have to involve spending money but I like to go to the local upper-end, outdoor mall and wander around the shops for a couple of hours.

I also like to unplug for a couple of hours and play with Chester and Gretel without worrying about creating blog material.

11. (a) Have you ever taken a break from your blog? How did that go? (b) Have you ever thought about quitting your blog altogether? What makes you stay?

Yes, I have taken a break from my blog.

I have taken a break for a couple of weeks here and there. The longest break was a month.

Honestly, yes, I have thought about quitting my blog several times in the last year. 

For the first two years I was really dedicated and spent 30 to 40 hours a week blogging. Now I am in graduate school, ironically inspired by this blog, and I am rehabilitating my back to relieve chronic, debilitating pain so I have less time to spend on it.

In truth, my priorities have changed. I enjoy the occasional adventure where I can just go and not have to worry about an “angle” for the blog or take tons of pictures.

However, I really do love sharing our stories, inspiring people and keeping in touch with the friends I have made along the way (both fellow bloggers and fans). There may come a day when I move on but right now I have no plans to quit.

12. What goals do you have for your blog in 2014?

Pet Blogger Challenge 2014

I love being a pet blogger but I am an outdoor adventure blogger at heart too.

I want to be able to speak to both sides of myself so I plan to include some more human and outdoor focused posts in 2014.

I am going share hiking tips for both dogs AND pet parents. 

I want to take the product reviews beyond those for dogs (although that will be the majority of them) to things like backpacks, shoes, clothes and gear for people (of course, it will always be through the view of a pet parent).

I am also going to talk a little more about the grand adventures of other hiking dogs (not just Dachshunds, and of all sizes) and start a new Twitter chat, #AdventureDogChat.

About the Author

Hi, I’m Jessica. I’m a Dachshund sitter, President of the largest social Dachshund club in Washington State, a dog trainer in training, and I’ve been a Dachshund owner for 20 years. I have over 150,000 hours of experience with the breed. When I’m not working, you can find me hiking, camping, and traveling with my adventurous wiener dogs.


  1. As a fellow graduate student, I know the burdens of juggling all that responsibility. I’m sorry to hear you’re in chronic pain– that must be really hard for an active person.

    I love your cheeky blog name, and I hope you continue doing everything you love doing with your weiners. 🙂

    1. Yeah, chronic back pain is kind of a downer. I manage with it the best I can though. School keeps me to busy to go hiking too much anyway right now.

      Where are you going to graduate school and what for?

        1. My undergrad degree is in Environmental Geology. I always thought that if I hadn’t gotten a degree in that, I would have done something like psychology or anthropology. I love to learn how people work.

          I guess in a way I AM doing that now. Inspired by this blog, and my public education experience (environmental education), I decided to change or significantly modify my career. I took a 9-month certificate program in social media management last year. That made me want to learn more about telling stories online. I started my graduate program in Digital Communications last quarter. I attend the University of Washington.

  2. Hmm, now you have me wondering if I did this last year… I think I did maybe… might have to do it again! Regarding the thing about a specific niche, I sometimes find myself struggling with mine as well. While I strive to be an overall pet blog, it’s hard. Unlike you, I wanted to have an extremely broad niche. But, it can be hard to appeal to everyone all the time. Especially cat folks it seems, as I don’t have a cat right now. Thanks for sharing this, it should be interesting to see what everyone posts.

    1. Maybe you need to get a cat. Problem solved 🙂

      I think the freedom of being an overall pet blog would be nice. However, I DO think it is important to be known for something unique. However, it doesn’t have to be a specific subject matter like mine. It could be a unique voice or perspective. It’s important for me to have my hiking “clothesline” to tie everything together.

  3. I’ve been subscribed to your blog, through RSS readers, for the last year or so, and I have noticed the schedule change to about 2-3 posts a week – and I must prefer it. 🙂 On an unrelated note: I don’t believe you spend so much time on Twitter! What do you do on there?

    1. Oh, you better believe I spend a ton of time on Twitter! That was actually a low-average week. I attend an average of 2 twitter chats a week for an hour. (120 minutes). I check Twitter 3 times a day for 15 to 20 minutes each to read posts, retweet, and respond and engage in conversation. I also spend at least 15 minutes a day scheduling posts. My average minutes a week spent on Twitter is closer to 500.

      I’ve had to choice but to go to 2 – 3 posts a week but I feel a little like the quality of my posts has improved. Also, I realized that people don’t have the time to read 5 – 7 posts a week on my blog and only get to 2 – 3 anyway on average. My posting frequency as decreased but my visitor numbers have stayed the same or increased.

  4. Really support your goal of expanding the blog to outdoor adventures with humans, too. Read that and thought: yes! Felt so right.

    And so totally agree: “On a related note, if I have to spend too much time searching for a post (like when I visit a hop a few days after and click on a link that takes me to a blog’s home page instead of the hop-themed post) or completing a captcha, I give up and move on.”

    1. Thanks Sue. It’s a really natural progression for me. I have had at least one foot in the door of the active, outdoor career field for the last 18 years.

  5. Great post – thanks for sharing! I was disheartened to read you’d thought about quitting the blogging game – DON’T DO IT! I just found you, and it wouldn’t be fair to me! 😉

    But seriously, I think it would be an easy thing for you to work outdoor adventure blogging seamlessly into this blog. I love the idea of reviews and giveaways that are focused more on people than dogs, and I totally see that working for you. Can’t wait to see all this all evolves!

    1. Well, I certainly wouldn’t want to be unfair 🙂 I use a lot of outdoor products now that I would love to share with my readers. I think the human element is an important part of the story. Both people and pets need to be properly outfitted and prepared for outdoor adventures.

  6. I love your new blog design and I’m glad you took part in the challenge, though I am intimidated by that chart (not the amount of time that you spent in each activity, though that’s pretty impressive but that you were able to create it in the first place).

    P.S. You always have great content and there’s nothing wrong with your spelling and grammar.

    1. The chart was super easy. The hard part was remembering to fill it out. It’s a website called Daytum. You can track simple things about your life and it automatically makes charts like these. I had to use it for a grad school project and thought it would be interesting to track my blog stuff.

  7. Jessica, I just love your post. As you know, I too needed time to live life without worrying about what angle I’ll write about. The way you respect your own needs and tailor them to the other things in your life is inspiring. And your web design is just GORGEOUS. You are on of my favorite bloggers to watch — always engaging, interesting and innovative. Cheers to a wonderful 2014!

    1. I took Gretel and Chester to a place that has agility equipment they can play on for an hour this morning. It’s nothing formal. I only took one picture while I was there! It was so nice to not have to worry how I would “spin” what we were doing and just concentrate on fun.

      Thanks for the wonderful compliments Kim! I really respect you as a blogger so that means a lot to me.

      I appreciate that your blog posts are always thoroughly thought through. I tend to be more fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants. I am glad to hear you like my blog design too. I redesigned it at the beginning of last year but I am already feeling the urge to tweak things. However, I can’t afford anything major so I promised myself it would be at least another year before I made any big changes.

  8. I think you are in a fun niche, and you write about it so well. Hopefully you will survive school, and things will get easier when you have more time.

    1. Thanks Mary. Our blogs are so different is some respects but I love that we have the love of hiking with our dogs to connect us 🙂

  9. I really enjoyed reading your challenge, mostly because yours is one of the first blogs I really began to follow. Even though I thought I knew most of your story I enjoyed learning more about your beginning and where you want to go. I wasn’t aware of your back issue, something we have in common so would be interested in learning more about that. I was diagnosed with a dibilitating condition last year that I am trying to maintain now without surgery. Sandra & Dolly

    1. Are you going to BlogPaws? I forget if you said you were. We could always talk more then. I am sorry to hear about the diagnosis of your condition. I grew up with a Mom that had several chronic health problems and, as the years went on, became terminally ill. I know what I struggle dealing with any kind of ongoing disease or pain can be a REAL challenge.

  10. Want to know something funny? While obvious, it never occurred to me that you are performing some advocacy on behalf of small dogs! You are GOOD. I say that because I am your target audience and it’s definitely working.
    I am one of those big-dog owners who braces herself when passing a small dog on a walk – waiting for the barking and lunging. In my neighbourhood, I pretty much know which dogs will and will not do it, but I still anticipate it with new dogs. A prejudice, I know.
    But I also know little dogs are capable of all the things big dogs are! Nothing irks me more than when a small dog owner says their dog doesn’t “need” a long walk or “can’t” hike because they tire easy. That just means they’re out of shape (barring specific/unusual circumstance, of course).
    Anyway… /rant. Looking forward to seeing how your content expands in 2014! If you get free smartwool products to review, consider me super jealous.

    1. Ha, ha. I am sneaky I guess 🙂 Sadly, small dog “sterotypes”, like yapping and being lazy, came about because some small dogs just are. They aren’t all that way though and most of those issues could be corrected with “big dog” training and exercise. I will fully admit that I have slacked on Chester and Gretel’s training. It is an easy thing to do when, honestly, you can physically control your dog for the most part. You are very right about small dogs not “needing” exercise or being lazy. They are lazy because they are let to be and they are out of shape. The aggression and excessive yapping can be related to frustration because they have so much pent-up energy. I may not be super great at the actual training part but I hope that I can improve the lives of some small dogs out there by inspiring their owners to exercise them more.

  11. Given that you have a sultry voice and a cute face (I’m not being facetious, but serious), have you considered vlogging instead of blogging at least one day a week? Combining your hiking time with video? Kill two birds with one stone. I can totally see you rocking that.

    1. Why thank you Ma’am 🙂 I have considered incorporating more video but never thought of doing it while I was actually out hiking. I look like a sweaty, hot mess and can barely catch my breath when we are hiking. Ha, ha. Maybe I could do some of how-to hiking posts by going to a natural setting in the City and recording a video there. Learning more about how to film and edit video is on my list of things to do. I am clueless right now. I plan to take a class about it during graduate school.

  12. I like what you do with your wiener. True confession: Until recently, I absolutely HATED little dogs. Every little dog I had ever known yapped, nipped, jumped on and peed on everything (and everyone) in sight. I saw no purpose to living with such unruly, neurotic beasts. Then I started going to obedience and agility trials and saw the most amazing little dogs in the competitions. They were focused, and smart and well-behaved. I had a revelation: it’s not the dogs, it’s the owners! (duh) When little dogs are trained, socialized and treated like dogs (instead of accessories or substitute children) they are awesome. Blogs like yours are needed to convert big dog snobs like my former self. Thanks for sharing your wiener with the world.

    1. I have to say I DO treat my dogs like my children…mostly. I love care-taking for them, buying them things, and taking them with me to as many places as I can. However, I realize they are dogs with needs that are different from actual children. I wish I had trained them better because, you are right, a well trained small dog is really awesome. It’s not too late so I am starting with some small things. They will never be models of obedience but I want people to have a better impression of them in person (they look so peaceful on camera right? Ha, ha). Exercise plays a BIG part in having a well behaved dog and you might be surprised at how much a small dog can need. Ideally, I could give Gretel 2 – 3 hours of vigorous exercise a day. We have some very active days but I am working on being more consistent on a daily basis with that too.

      Thanks for keeping up with our blog.

  13. I always find your blogging activities so inspiring. I can’t believe you do all of that hiking with back trouble. Of course, it is probably the very best thing you can do for your condition. I’ll join the ranks with the others who have back problems but I did undergo surgery for mine. Congratulations on going to graduate school and best of luck!!

    1. i am surprised how many people can relate to my back problems. I try not to let it slow me down (much) or to whine about it so I feel kind of funny that I mentioned it here. I have worried a couple of times that I would need surgery but so far the doctor has not recommended it. It’s a balance with the pain and being active. Being at a healthier weight helps my back but too much activity makes it hurt worse 🙁 I am sure you can relate.

  14. I’m sorry to hear about your back pain 🙁 There is nothing worse. I enjoy your adventures and as a huge hiking fan, cannot wait to see your tips for pet parents! We are excited to have a young pup to hike with this year (I think!).

    1. Do you say “I think” because you are not sure your new pup will like it? They do say that a puppy shouldn’t do big hikes until they are 6 months and their bones are fully formed. I think I started Chester and little earlier than that because I din’t know any better.

  15. I love the layout that you chose for the site! This is the first time I’ve visited you and the first thing I thought when the page loaded was “Oh, this looks like a really fun blog.” It has a lot of energy 🙂

    1. Thanks so much! I’ve never really known how people feel about my layout. I didn’t even have a concrete description to share with my web designer – I just had a feel I was going for. I am pretty happy with how it turned out but some things still seem a little “off”. I guess you can always nitpick it to death though.

  16. “I think a blog is ever evolving and you can’t make room for something new or great if you are holding onto things that no longer help you reach your goals or don’t inspire you.” HEAR HEAR! I’m a huge believer that people (and dogs) are constantly changing and our blogs need to change along with us. I’ve really enjoyed following your evolution, as you’ve redefined this space and I look forward to what you do this year!

    1. I think we NEED to change to stay relevant to our readers. I also view blogging as a creative outlet for me and I am constantly learning about my interests and vision for it. I think both of us have grown and changed a lot from the beginning.

  17. It really sounds like you have some good goals and plans set! That is awesome!
    I need to start doing more adventures without thinking of the blog too, I think that would be really nice and refreshing for me!

    1. My hubby is so patient and understanding. I am ALWAYS taking pictures of the dogs when we take them places. Sometimes he tries to help me wrangle him. Some of those times I end up going all grumpy-director on him…..no….gah….just…over THAT way! It’s a nice change when we can just enjoy the experience and quality time together.

  18. I really like the idea of adding all of your outdoor interests to the blog…it’s an extension of who you are so why not? I totally agree with you on content. Yours is always well written and informative. I really like that WHERE you live is a big part of your blog. We probably live as far away from another as you can get in the US, I’m in S. Florida. When I read your blog I get a sense if what it is like without actually being there…which is awesome!

    1. Glad we make you feel like you are here. We are fortunate to live in an amazing part of the country. It makes our hiking pictures easy – just point and shoot. Ha, ha. You are lucky in South Florida though to not have to deal with the gray and rain. I love the sunshine so that IS a downer around here.

  19. Oh, my gosh. I’m so glad you mentioned the captcha thing. It drives me crazy, and I’m unlikely to leave a comment if I have to fill that silly thing out! I’m so glad I happened to chat with you briefly at BarkWorld so that I could discover your blog. I love that you have discovered who you are as a blogger, and I’m super excited to see what unfolds for 2014 (especially the hiking tips for pet parents)!

    1. Ironically, I have less time for my blog this year but I feel more focused….well, at least until it changes again. Ha, ha. I am glad we got to chat a little at BarkWorld too. I am still making it through the Challenge posts but I’m going to hop on over and check yours out now so I don’t miss it.

  20. Well said, ” I think a blog is ever evolving and you can’t make room for something new or great if you are holding onto things that no longer help you reach your goals or don’t inspire you.” and I totally concur.

    Looking forward to chatting with you in May at BlogPaws!

    1. Yes. I feel like we haven’t had time to chat much the past few times I’ve seen you at BlogPaws. Hopefully we can find more time to chat this time. Did I see that you work for Pet360 also?

  21. I’m so glad I got to meet you at BlogPaws ’13. I love your blog for so many reasons. First, you bust the “little dog” stereotype. Your little dogs are rough and tumble and can probably out-hike some of the bigger “tougher” (hah!) dogs. I hope that lots of people read your blog and expand their dogs’ world because of what they see and read on your blog. Second, I love that you’re a numbers gal when it comes to measuring success on your blog. A pie chart! How cool is that?! It’s something that a lot of us bloggers loathe — analyzing numbers, but it’s also very important.

    I have all big dogs (Labradors, Dane/hound mix, Dane), but I love reading your blog! Your blog is inspirational and I’m looking forward to reading more!

    1. Well, I know for sure that my little dogs can out-hike ME. Ha, ha. Although I more recently discovered that I am not GOOD at math, I do like numbers. I am a science gal at heart but love the creativity in writing and connecting with people. I am glad I met you at BlogPaws too. I admit that I have not visited your blog often but it is one that stuck with me. I plan on working more (who am I kidding…for pretty much the first time) on training this year and plan to scour your blog for tips and suggestions. I want Chester and Gretel to be better behaved on the trail so that they don’t twart their efforts to “break stereotypes” my being annoying, barky dogs. They are Dachshunds so I don’t ever expect them to act like a laid-back lab but there is definitely room for improvement.

  22. You are one of the very few bloggers who, I think, has been able to navigate the world of staying true to her voice while also achieving a modicum of commercial success. You present yourself in such an honest way and share such helpful information while also promoting and marketing in an admirable way. I don’t know if it’s because you have better business acumen than others or if you are just so naturally talented, but it is something I have always noticed. You never lose your voice, even in reviews, and your readers are going to respond to that. This space always feels like “you”. Many bloggers would do well to watch you as I think you are proof that one can make money at this while still maintaining engagement.

    Anyway, I am so glad you took the time to participate again as I have learned so much from reading your posts. I always feel motivated to be a bit more active when I come here. I don’t know if it’s the footprints in the background or your infectious enthusiasm but I appreciate it!

    1. You are really sweet Kristine. That’s one of the kindest, most generous comments I’ve ever gotten about my blog. I do put a lot of thought into my product features and maintaining a common voice. Sometimes I fear I have missed the mark though. I write for this blog like I live my life – trying to be honest and transparent as I can, and truly living the motto what-you-see-is-what-you-get.

      I admit that I fell short in keeping up with the blogs that matter most to me this past year. Yours has always been one of my favorites though. You are so honest and funny. Not only does your blog give me a good chuckle but I always feel like I learned something, or got something of value, just by visiting.

      I think my theme for 2014 is “re-prioritizing” – everything from my career, clutter and stuff, my blog direction and spending my time where it is most important to me. I look forward to visiting your blog more often.

  23. I always enjoy reading your blog (and I love your new design). I think that during the Meet the Blogger hop you talked about wanting to have more of you on the blog instead of just the pups, and I thought that was fantastic to hear. I think that one of the things that keeps me coming back here is your authentic voice and the fact that you shine through in your posts. Expanding your focus into more general outdoor activities really does seem like a natural next step, and I have no doubt that you’ll do amazing things with it. I look forward to seeing where 2014 takes you and your wiener(s). 😉

  24. OMD, Jessica, I can’t believe I’ve never been by your blog before! I’ve followed you on Twitter and Facebook for some time but somehow never made it here. I used to take my dogs hiking all the time, especially when I lived in central Texas. When I moved to Kansas, it took a while for me to find places to take my dogs. And the ticks really turned me off. We had ticks in Texas, but nothing like here in Kansas. Needless to say, hiking is not something we do as often as we used to. I bet you and your Weiners will be a great inspiration. 🙂

  25. I am finally getting around to catching up on pet blogger challenge posts. it sounds like you have a good plan for the upcoming year. I do like the blog redesign. I hear you on captcha…lol. I wrote the same thing.

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