For a couple of reasons, we need to switch dog training facilities. After talking through some of Silas’s “special needs” with the training manager, we decided it would be best if Silas came by to meet the trainer and see how things went. At the time, I thought this was a sweet offer, like, “Oh, come look around! You’ll love it here!” After we got off the phone I realized that they actually wanted to evaluate us before they recommended a class.

When you use the word “evaluate” and “Silas” in the same sentence, I get kind of anxious. I know he’s kind of a mess, but I’m a little touchy about other people telling me that. (This is the A #1 reason he’s not in doggie daycare, which I think he would enjoy. I can’t handle him not passing the admission test.)

If the purpose of an evaluation is to see a dog’s full range of behaviors, we certainly achieved it. Silas met the training manager and greeted her perfectly. He sat in front of her, let her pet him, etc. Then he peed all over the floor. The actual trainer (male) set off a hysterical barking episode. People outside, even with dogs, could walk past with no problems. Yep, that’s the range.

Silas also did his usual too-scared-to-eat-outside routine, which was what I needed to actually show the trainer. At this facility, intermediate obedience is outside and (as I suspected) that’s not going to work.

The good things are many, though. Silas did not pull me around like a crazy on the end of his leash. He met dogs in a totally awesome way. He almost immediately took treats from the trainer, even after the barking episode. Most of our conversation was outside, and by the end Silas actually did eat a few little treats. Even better, just as I was leaving the trainer mentioned non-treat reinforcement. I pulled out Silas’s beloved tiny beaver toy. He did his full-on “How can I get that?!?” routine for tiny beaver toy, including lying on his side. On the sidewalk. It was nice to prove that he both knows things and has potential to work outdoors.

Even better, new trainer could tell what was up. He watched Silas’s body language, and we talked though some of the degrees of stress Silas was showing. His last trainer, as sweet and helpful as she was, mistook him being completely catatonic for him “calming down.” There were some other really good signs, too–he admitted that we might be better off going to the (apparently really awesome) veterinary behaviorist in town. He sketched out a training plan for Silas that made a lot of sense, based on some things I’ve been reading.

The verdict is that we are, indeed, not ready for Intermediate Obedience. Instead of going through Obedience I (version three), though, the trainer thinks we would be better off using our money for private lessons. He thinks that maybe two or three private lessons will teach Silas a few coping skills that will give him a better foundation for the regular class.

Here’s hoping.

(I’ve been a boring blogger this week and haven’t posted any pictures. Tune in tomorrow for an extravaganza!)

Allergy or Intolerance?

Sometimes in food-allergy circles you will hear someone snort, often dismissively, about “intolerances.” Martyrs love their martyrdom, you know?

The difference between the two isn’t always obvious, even when you’re doing due research diligence. Take this quote from a piece in the Whole Dog Journal:

“Food allergy or intolerance can cause intermittent to frequent vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, loss of appetite, itchy skin or ears, eosiniphilic plaques, and a number of less common disorders.” (Susan Weistein, Whole Dog Journal, Oct. 2006 Linked article probably behind paywall).

Note that all symptoms, both digestive and otherwise (itchy skin, etc) are under that “allergy or intolerance” lead in. But that isn’t entirely true. Let’s look to humans for some illumination:

The “intolerance” we most often hear about in humans is lactose intolerance. A lactose intolerant person who drinks a glass of milk will experience some stomach upset. While that stomach upset can be fairly severe, there aren’t non-digestive symptoms.

A true food allergy, on the other hand, can be life-threatening. Many schools have gone “peanut free,” because even incidental exposure might cause anaphylaxis in highly allergic children. Not every food allergy is so dramatic, though. The Mayo Clinic lists a group of minor symptoms for even peanut allergies, like itching.

The grey area is in the overlap between the two. In that same list of peanut allergy symptoms, you’ll see digestive problems. This overlap also exists for dogs. Both allergies and intolerances can cause stomach problems. For dogs the situation can be somewhat murkier than for people, though, because severe human food allergies seem to cause a wider range of symptoms. I’ve never read of an allergic dog having difficulty breathing, for instance. (There are other differences, so be aware that the analog only works so far. To give an example, in humans food allergies are a childhood problem, often lessening or entirely disappearing in adulthood. In dogs, they are almost always adult onset.)

An allergy, by definition, involves an inappropriate immune system response. In dogs with food allergies that response usually manifests as itching and/or ear problems. Given typical dog responses to itching and/or ear problems, you’ll probably see an array of secondary issues, like recurrent skin infections. There is some debate about the necessity of obvious GI problems to indicate a food allergy. It may take weeks for food allergy symptoms to subside once the culprit is removed. A food intolerance, on the other hand, confines itself to the digestive tract and resolves itself basically as soon as that food has been digested.

The additional complicating factor can be seasonal allergies. Dogs have inhalant allergies, just like people do. While itching, licking, chewing, and scratching can be caused by food allergies, they can also be caused by allergies to pollen, dust, dander, mites, and fleas.

Then, of course, if your life wasn’t hard enough, there is the sad fact: dogs who have one kind of allergy have an increased chance of having another kind of allergy. Inhalant allergies are somewhat more common than food allergies, but most food-allergic dogs I know also have inhalant allergies.

Pragmatically, the difference between food allergies and intolerances doesn’t matter very much. I suspect this is why they get casually grouped together. If your dog is intolerant of a protein, you might need to exercise less Constant! Vigilance! at every second, because the effects are more likely to be short-lived. You still don’t want to include that thing as part of your dog’s regular diet, though.

As for food allergies vs. inhalant allergies, you’ll have to use your own judgment. Watch for patterns of symptoms, from time of year to what body part your dog is scratching the most. For us, they look quite different, but it’s hard to guarantee a particular symptom dog to dog.

I hope that sheds some light on the wonderful world of “my dog’s a hypersensitive mess.” This is by no means a comprehensive look, but I’m hoping it answers some questions I’m seeing in my search engine traffic.

Exit, Duck

I posted last week that Silas was having some stomach trouble. Then he threw up twice in three days. Once in a week is a grey area, twice is his classic food-allergy pattern. So, duck, as the only new-ish thing in his diet, is out for a while.

I’m a little freaked out over this. I had been working off the cheerful assumption that everything he was allergic to was in the kibble he was eating as he developed these symptoms the first time. It’s a lot of things (thanks, Orijen), but it’s a concrete list. Before this trial of duck, he’d had it maybe a half dozen times in his life. It wasn’t quite a novel protein, but it was really close. So, we’re in some seriously murky water here. I’m trying not to think too much about it.

The hilarious up side of this is Silas’s obvious and extreme relief to go back to eating just turkey. I’m not sure if he was avoiding the duck because he knew it was bad for his stomach, or if it’s just his unyielding suspicion of food he hasn’t eaten recently. (He’s like the boy who cried wolf–sometimes he’s right, but a lot of the time I can’t trust his judgment.) After two weeks of integrating duck with his turkey, Silas was visibly nervous about eating. The combination of, in hindsight, an upset stomach and his distrust of that weird food was starting to affect even foods that he’s previously liked.

Tuesday morning’s breakfast was his plainest, most boring, most usual meal. And I swear, he pranced away from the dish when he was done.

Okay, little dog, I get it.

Dogs and Money

I’m in confessional mode today, thanks to House of Two Bows, who goes so far as to publish her dogs’ expenses every month. Our September expenses were positively outrageous, even by our standards, so I am not going to follow suit exactly.

People talk very little about the financial side of owning pets. Most Americans don’t like to talk about money. Many choices we make with our dogs, from food to toys to veterinary care, are a reflection of our own lifestyles and income brackets. Optional items bought for pets can seem like waving a big flag: “Look at Me! I have so much extra money that I spend it on my dog.” Unless you are deliberately using your pet as a vehicle for conspicuous consumption, like a movie star or socialite, that can be a little uncomfortable.

I sincerely believe that most Americans would be better off, both emotionally and financially, if money weren’t such a taboo. Hence the following rambles about our dog finances:

The fact is, we spend a lot of money on Silas. This is partly optional, partly not. We don’t have kids. We drive paid for cars. We consider it to be living fast and loose if we eat out once a week. So why not spend some money on the dog? He has a few $25 toys. He wears a $60 leather collar. His dog bed is the $150 model from LL Bean. None of those are regular purchases, but they’re there. (The dog bed was his Christmas gift last year; the collar was his first birthday present. He’s gentle enough with toys that nice ones are worth the investment. [See how intensely I feel like I have to hedge? And you all are a sympathetic audience.])

Silas is also just a fairly expensive dog, in a day-to-day, non-traumatic, kind of way. I’m not complaining, just stating the facts. His average vet bill is right at $120, not including neutering. That’s a real number, not a guess. So far this year we have been to the vet in March, April, May, June, August, and September. At one point his special food was costing us $250 a month. His raw diet is pretty economical in comparison–quick and easy math puts it around $60 a month–but it’s still more expensive than the top-of-the-line kibble he ate before, which was closer to $40/month. That $60 is before I add supplements, which add up really quickly, or treats. Fortunately we come off easily in the medication department. Silas doesn’t need regular flea control, and his heartworm medicine is fairly cheap. The cost of his food allergies is reflected entirely in his diet, unless he has a bad skin flare up.

I’m sorry I only have observations right now, rather than a grand conclusion.

Product Review: Fresh Is Best Dried Treats

I’m starting to feel like food allergies are my one area of dog expertise. In the spirit of playing up my assets, watch for a few reviews here for our staple allergy-friendly products.

Beginning at the top, we have the thing that every dog owner is looking for: the high value treat. Not just a regular-old treat, but the thing your dog goes crazy for.


If your dog can’t eat 95% of the treats on the market, high value treats are hard to find. Silas is also a picky eater who notoriously turns down food when he’s stressed.

Enter Fresh is Best freeze-dried treats. We seriously would not have made it through the summer without these. A lot of people seem to just skip treats during a food allergy trial diet, but that wasn’t a good option for us. I think most dogs tend to develop food allergies somewhat later in life. Silas needed to go back through obedience class this summer, and he still gets treats around the house for this and that.

So, the good: these treats are apparently delicious. Silas has a slight preference for the Turkey Giblet Rounds, but he also loves the Turkey Hearts. The hearts are nice and tidy. No crumbs in your pockets or anything. Turkey Giblet Rounds are so good that Silas will eat them outside. They come in a handy resealable package. Most importantly for us, they’re a single ingredient. There just aren’t a lot of turkey treats out there, especially that have zero other ingredients. Since a food allergy can be to anything, including binders, fillers, or flavorings, this is incredibly important on an allergy diet.

The bad: the size. Turkey Giblet Rounds are the size of a half dollar and at least a quarter of an inch thick. There’s more variation in the hearts, but most of the pieces are similarly large. That’s well and good for a special-occasion treat, but not a good size for training a small-medium dog. The giblets are apparently a ground/formed/dried product, rather than being a dried piece of meat. They’re easy to break into quarters, but any smaller than that and they turn into powder. They also leave a powdery mess in your pockets and treat pouches. The hearts don’t fall apart in the same way; they’re just hard to break.

The neutral: the price. A 3 to 4oz bag (depending on the product; they base bag sizes off a pre-dehydrated 1lb weight) of Fresh is Best treats is $10 at my local retailer, or $9.99 on their website. If you desperately need a one-ingredient treat, you’re probably willing to pay that and break the treats up to stretch the bag. It is more or less going-rate for similar treats, but I would certainly understand if that price were out of your dog’s budget.

Bottom line: These will always be a staple, but I sometimes grumble a little.

Fine print: I am not famous, so everything I review here comes out of my own pocket. If your dog is on a “hypoallergenic” kibble, rather than a novel-protein diet, stick to using the kibble as treats. Fresh Is Best treats come in beef, turkey, chicken, duck, and salmon varieties; this review is for turkey only.

The Bad Park

There’s a park about four blocks from our house. Inside of that park is a dog park.

We call this “the bad park.” Because of the dog park, local residents treat the whole park as an off-leash area. I can understand why–the dog park is little and the ground cover is hard to walk on. Right next to the sad, pathetic dog park is a huge, grassy field that is perfect for frisbee and such. This park is the perfect vehicle for every kind of bad dog ownership ever.

I have a pattern with this park that goes something like this: Go to the park. Realize how horrible it is. Avoid going for months. Think “Oh, maybe if I go at a different time…” Go to the park. Realize how horrible it is. And so on.

Today I gave in. I wanted Silas to be able to run around, and my husband had a rare weekday off work. The “good park” where Silas can go on his long line is the one that he’s been afraid of lately. Enter the dog park. How bad could the terrible park be, at 11:00 on a weekday morning?


We get there, which is an ordeal thanks to road construction. A lady is in the dog park with three dogs. As we walk up, she’s warning another lady not to bring her little dog in, because her three dogs can’t handle it. She’ll go in just a minute, she says. After 20 minutes, for the entirety of which the three dogs are standing around, looking bored, the lady finally leaves. Both the little dog and Silas have run around enough (on their long leashes) that they’re too tired to enjoy the dog park. Using your aggressive dog to bully everyone else in the park? Check.

We took Silas in for a few minutes anyway, mostly because he needed a drink. In the meantime, a man comes into the non-dog part of the park with his Scottie. The Scottie is off leash, positioned exactly between our car and the dog park gate. We try desperately to walk around, but the Scottie runs right up to Silas. We do our usual amount of allowed sniffing and start to leave. (Sniff-n-go is one of the few public behaviors that Silas does very, very well. When avoidance is difficult, like when the other dog is off leash, I’ll let him sniff for a few seconds and then say, “Okay, let’s go!”) The Scottie follows us. Does his owner make any attempt to call him back? Nope.

And, get this: as we are leaving, a car pulls up. Driver gets out, pops open the back door. Two huge dogs leap out and start charging across the park. The driver still has his head in the car, so that he can get a little dog out, and the big dogs are halfway across the park. Did even he look first, to see if there were other dogs that his charging behemoths might frighten? Nope. Did he have any guarantee that his dogs weren’t going to turn down the sidewalk and into traffic? Nope. Thank goodness we were already in the car.

Now you see why I’m willing to go fifteen minutes away, or more in traffic, to the other park.

Tummy Woes

It’s been a bad few days with Silas’s stomach. I have no idea why.

Because his food allergies go pretty quickly from “barely any symptoms” to “three weeks of antibiotics” I really watch him, especially in the morning. Since the weekend, he’s just seemed a little off. Browsing at the grass, eating a little reluctantly. I blamed the latter on me trying to introduce some new foods, of which he was deeply suspicious. We’re talking new shapes, not new proteins. Nothing that should be triggering his allergies.

Now, I don’t know. This morning he did the old routine of going outside first thing and eating plants until he threw up. Then he came inside and ate his breakfast.

There are a few possibilities, ranging from a surprise allergic reaction all the way down to the random, everyday reasons that dogs have upset stomachs.

The “randomness factor” is what makes Silas’s stomach problems hard to live with. From what his vet and I can piece together, he has a predisposition toward acid reflux, just like some humans do. Sometimes food aggravates the acid reflux, but sometimes it flares more or less randomly. (There’s a whole deal that could go here about allergies vs. intolerances, but I’ll spare you. Practically, it makes no difference.) He can handle things in isolation that he can’t handle in combination–additional stress plus delayed meals, for instance, is worse than either on its own. There’s also what I think of as the “stress circle.” Anxiety upsets his stomach, an upset stomach increases his anxiety.

I tend to leap toward the allergy explanation, both because it is historically likely and because it is an easy diagnosis. Check all the product labels, realize something is wrong, take that thing away. It’s also, in a lot of ways, the worst case scenario. We’ve already eliminated everything that can be eliminated, and have just now added back enough foods to make life reasonably easy. So, paranoid brain also wants to go there. (Un)fortunately, it’s something that time will test on its own. Either today will start a pattern, or it won’t.


(As a kind of post-script: I can and sometimes do medicate him for the random stomach upsets. I can’t do it while I suspect an allergy flare, though, because it masks symptoms that are really important. Since he’s been eating a new protein for only a few weeks, we’re still in Red Alert.)

Play Time

Silas does not know when he is tired.

Problem is, we don’t, either.

Yesterday we walked 45 minutes. This is enough to tire Silas out pretty well, between the heat and the fact that his little brain runs 90mph while we’re out. We got back from the park around 3:30. As of 6:30, he had taken a five minute nap. As of 7:30, he had made everyone in the house crazy. He was too tired to play by any of the rules, but he also couldn’t settle down.

When he finally went to sleep, it was obviously an accident:


When my nephew was a toddler, he was just like this. He would get tired, but he didn’t want to go to sleep. Then he did increasingly crazy things to stay awake.

Yesterday we had a pretty good idea that is what was going on, because of the walk. It’s such a production to walk Silas, though, that we don’t do it every day. He gets most of his exercise by playing. I feel like this is one of those grey areas of life with a dog. It’s not like there’s an equivalency table for how many minutes of walking translates into how many minutes of fetch.

Day-to-day, pragmatically, this presents something of a problem. Silas spends most of his evening either playing or trying to persuade us to be playing. There’s no way he “needs” four hours of playtime a day. The humans do not have energy (or time) to play four hours a day. Because it’s his only exercise at least 50% of the time, though, I hate to turn the little guy down. There is surely a line to be drawn in there somewhere, but it’s hard to pin down. Does he need to play for one hour? Two? Forty-five minutes? When does he need exercise, and when is he just looking for attention?

I suppose I should be counting my blessings that he brings me a ball instead of chewing my shoes.

Stopping to Smell the Roses

I can be impatient on our walks. Silas likes to walk quite fast, until suddenly he’s at a dead stop smelling the bushes. Since I stop walking when he pulls on his leash, our walks can get into a really frustrating pattern of fast-stop-fast-stop-fast-stop, with every other stop being him stopping to smell something. I get a little edgy that he’s in such a hurry that he can’t even pay attention, until he decides to not go at all.

He’s been walking so much better lately that I haven’t minded the stopping. I’ve never had much problem with the it per se, just the herky-jerky way it made our walks go. So with much less pulling and much less training against the pulling, I’m happy to let him sniff. Instead of getting impatient, I’ve been taking the chance to do a little looking around myself.





I think it’s good for us. (Bonus points for anyone who can ID that white one.)