A Quick Note:

Susan Garrett has opened up registration for her “Five Minute Formula to a Brilliant Recall” training class.

Silas and I are already registered. I’ve been told by both of the good local training places that he isn’t a good candidate for more classes, so I’m hoping that this online format will help us go places. Literally and figuratively. You wouldn’t believe the progress we’ve made using just a few of Susan Garrett’s methods and tips. Now, this class is not cheap–it in fact ranges from “not cheap” to “HAHAHAHAHA”–but I have it on good authority that the cheapest class package will still get you a great experience. That lowest tier pricing is only slightly higher than typical for my area. And that’s just a once a week class with an average dog trainer, not an every-day interaction with someone at the top of the field.

Anyway, registration isn’t open long and the classes aren’t offered very frequently, so I thought I would let you all know.

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The Bad Side of Food Allergies

This week has been a comedy of food errors.

One day last week, or maybe even week before, Silas hit our twice a week threshold with throwing up, which is when I know I have to change his diet. I cut out the pork.

Nothing changed. He’s still throwing up, and he’s been pork free long enough that any symptoms from that should have abated.

This leaves us a few suspects. Far and away the worst case scenario is that he could be allergic to his turkey. Food issues do change over time, and there’s a chance that using turkey as his primary food for nine months has made him sensitive to it. There’s also a possibility that he’s become allergic to his venison tripe. You know, that stuff that I spent $200 stockpiling, because he could eat it and it was being discontinued. This is a strong chance, because the tripe was “grandfathered in” rather than really carefully tested. The third contender is dairy.

On the other hand, if could have nothing to do with food at all. The vomiting has possibly been triggered by his freakish love of eating acorns. Acorns contain some seriously stomach irritating chemicals, and the ones here are an inch long or more.

So, we have four very clear possibilities. Easy enough to cross check, right? We’re old pros at this elimination diet thing, right?

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

Yesterday went like this, and has been pretty typical: Silas woke up and ate his ground turkey. I carefully doled out the last few dehydrated 100% turkey treats to get him through scary landscaping day. I go to the fridge to feed him his dinner, and it is still frozen. I put it down to defrost 24 hours in advance, but that wasn’t enough. In despair I gave him the half can of venison tripe that’s about to go bad in the fridge. Then my husband lets him sneak a few pieces of cheese while we’re making dinner.

So, he ate every one of the possible allergens. And, sure enough, he threw up this morning.

I usually tell people that the food allergies are mostly an intellectual problem. Once you get your head around the fact that you have to control everything your dog eats, they really aren’t that hard to live with. Until they are.

I’m hoping that next week is better. Primal has put out a freeze-dried version of the food Silas ate when we first did his elimination diet, so I bought a bag of that for defrosting emergencies. That should automatically get us down to just the two possible triggers. Plus we figured out the acorn thing–I honestly had no idea that they were bad for dogs, so I never bothered to make him spit them out. Fortunately the acorns are only in the front yard and at the park, both places where he’s closely supervised.

The sunny side of this is that he really probably can eat pork. Taking it away doesn’t appear to have affected his symptoms at all.

Grace

In my non-dog life, I’m taking an online cooking/nutrition workshop. It’s pretty hippy-dippy (an expression I use with very deep affection). In the introductory video, the instructor, not unlike cupid, shot a little arrow into my heart.

She’s talking about letting go of expectations.

“If your vision [for the short-term future] seems pretty grand, let that go… The more patient you are, the more grace you offer yourself…the further you will go on this journey.”

It’s easy with dog training, whether your dog is a nut like Silas or not, to put tremendous pressure on yourself, from “I can’t click fast enough, so my dog isn’t learning the trick” to “my dog is neurotic and it’s all my fault and if I just work hard enough I can fix it.”

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I drafted the above section of this post late last week. Since then it’s taken on some heft that I didn’t really intend. As I suspected, something is wrong in Silas’s diet. Then we had a tough weekend of hitting our heads against some of his worst fears.

Let go. Breathe. Look at the big picture.

In that big picture, there is so much more than the litany of little mistakes that can seem so overwhelming in the day to day. Fun and joy and laughing at this goofy dog. A strengthening bond. Progress toward a less anxious future.

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Accept with grace your mistakes, and your halting progress, and your awesome successes, and your perfect days, and the fact that grace is hard.

Smart

I spend most of my time here talking about Silas’s “bad” side–his anxieties and what we do about them, or his various food problems. This is, partly, because I like to imagine that my travails are helpful to other people. Also, it’s more exciting reading than “Day 132: Silas did not chew on anything.”

So I’d like to take a minute and brag.

I’ve been teaching Silas to lie down on his expensive dog bed that he never liked. (The cue is going to be “Rest,” because he already knows that “Bed” is the thing the people sleep in.) His bed, because he insisted that it be in the middle of the living room, is about five feet from his crate. One of the easiest ways to get him off the bed, so that I can cue him to get back on the bed is to send him to his crate.

Because I’ve been inhaling all things Susan Garrett for the past few weeks, we’ve been using a combination of treats and tug as our training reward. That means that while we’ve been training, we’ve also been working on giving the tug toy back when I ask and waiting to take the toy until he’s been cued.

After, literally, no more than half a dozen sessions Silas will wait in his crate while I enticingly dangle his favorite, special tug toy outside the door, until I tell him he can take the toy.

This is a dog who had no concept of “take it,” (he did know the principle, but there was no specific cue and we had only used it with food) and had never been trained to stay in his crate with the door open until released.

I like to think that this is brilliance at work. And that is some of it. He’s very good at making intuitive leaps in his training. I was still teaching “take it” separately, not as a release cue at all, when he voluntarily started to offer the combination behavior. I was dangling his toy, preparing to say “Take it” just before his teeth closed, when I realized that he was still lying down in his crate watching me.

More importantly, this is the power of finding something that your dog really loves and coupling it with his training. Silas is not only learning things incredibly fast, he’s practically vibrating with joy during these training sessions. The play reward is both more Silas’s style, and it makes it easier for both parties to have fun with training.

Does your training look like this?

Attention

Well, That Didn’t Work

Sunday we tried to take Silas some new places. He didn’t like them.

The first reject was a linear park in a neighborhood a few north of ours. My husband tried to take him there while I grabbed a grocery or two, but no dice. Apparently he walked about twenty feet and then tried to bolt back to the car, through traffic. Oops. The linear park was too close to the street.

The second one was a different part of one of the usual parks. This is a more popular running trail. Non-Silas dogs love to run with their people here, and my husband has ambitions toward making Silas his running buddy. We made two mistakes here: first, we tried it on a beautiful weekend day, and secondly we started at the wrong place. The section of path we chose was, it turned out, not far enough from the road, and Silas was scared to death.

The second park at least has some hope. Silas was pretty content to stay in one place. He didn’t try to bolt. He met a Standard Poodle and seemed pretty happy about that. He just wasn’t that interested in actually walking. I think that if I start on a quiet weekday, on a different section of the path, we might do okay.

In the meantime, Silas prefers the other half of the park.

Tuesday outing

We went to that side and played some compensatory Frisbee. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

What We’re Eating Now

Err, Silas, that is.

I know you all are on pins and needles, right?

So am I.

The gold standard for a food introduction is twelve weeks. If you can get through twelve weeks with no issues, then you can consider that food to be safe.

We’re officially at the end of week 12 with pork. So, party!!

But:

Something isn’t quite right.

I have been having misery getting Silas to eat since we came back from seeing my parents. I hope that this is just because I overfed him while we were there. (I didn’t take my scale.) We’ve also been going through a lot of treats since we came home, what with the counterconditioning. Silas is not a dog who loves food enough to overeat. I don’t know, though. Is his stomach just bothering him? I don’t think so–I think he just prefers treats to his food. It’s also reinforcing for him. I can’t let him skip eating, because it makes him throw up. The more I stand on my head, the more he expects me to. I’ve cut his meals down to 5oz each to see if being a little hungrier is all it takes.

He’s also thrown up three times in the last four weeks. Not consistently enough to raise my allergy red flags, and with some extenuating circumstance, but still.

In the past when I’ve tried to talk myself into a food being okay it hasn’t ended well. Since we got through at least two months with the pork, though, I’m hesitant to give it up. Instead, we’ve given up everything else as of the 13th. No grains, no eggs, no nibbles off my plate. We’ve gotten sloppy after eight months of this. I’ve got my fingers crossed. If he throws up one time or less from now until the end of February, I’ll call pork a success.