What does your dog want from life?

Silas is not a social butterfly. I have a sincere and, I think, not unfounded hope that he can exist peacefully in the world, but I don’t think he’ll ever love crowds.

When he was a puppy, I spent a lot of time dreaming about taking him places. Shopping in dog-friendly stores, hanging out at dog-friendly coffee shops, meeting up with other dog-owning friends. If I just did everything that Ian Dunbar and the instructor for our puppy kindergarten told me, I was sure I could do those things.

I was wrong, and I’m okay with that.

Puppy Hates the Beach

Baby Silas was not fond of the beach.

Here’s the thing I’ve learned, going to all those dog-friendly places without my dog. A good portion of the dogs there aren’t wild about it. I mean, they usually behave themselves. Some of them obviously enjoy hanging out with their people no matter what, and some of them do genuinely solicit attention from strangers. But a lot of them are also either very stressed themselves or causing a lot of stress to someone else.

Take the miniature poodle I saw at PetCo last week. It’s hard for me to tell with small dogs, but I’m guessing he was adolescent. After he tangled his owners legs in his leash, because he was so excited he ran around like a crazy, she put him in the shopping cart. He promptly stood on his hind legs and put his feet on the edge of the cart. “Oh, I hope he doesn’t try to jump out!” she said. “Sit! Sit! Sit!” He did not sit. He was too excited to listen, and his owner’s anxiety was palpable from the next checkout lane over. Who was gaining what from putting him in that environment?

I’m not saying don’t take your dog out, by any stretch. I certainly do take Silas out, albeit with a keen eye to his anxiety threshold. I just wish people would think a little more about it first. Would your dog want to go with you to the store or the cafe? Or do you want to take your dog?

A Park, Revisited

The park closest to my house has been known to make me crazy. There’s a small dog park there, which does nothing more than encourage people to view the whole unfenced park as an off leash dog area. Combine that with a large apartment complex across the street, and you can get a lot of chaos. I’ve realized, though, that the down side of me being a control freak is that it can over-limit Silas’s exposure to things that he’s perfectly capable of handling.

For the last eight months, it’s been almost impossible to get to the “bad” park, thanks to some road construction, so it’s been a moot issue.

Sunday we finally tried again. I needed a place to test Silas around other dogs, you see. I’ve been worried that he’s getting a little reactive, but I haven’t had good evidence one way or another. I just worry. So, this morning before a big rain storm rolled in, we tried it out.

And it was fine.

As usual, there weren’t any dogs in the actual dog park, so we played some Frisbee and watched. On the way across the park, we spotted a big dog playing catch. No trouble. Once we were inside the dog area, a Labrador ran up to the fence. Silas ran along side of him for a few seconds, then dropped into a play bow. Two Shih-Tzus on the way back to the car weren’t a problem, either, although they weren’t very close.

I was a little sad that nobody actually came into the dog park with him, but also a little relieved. Baby steps, you know.

It’s a good option to have up our sleeve, anyway, even if I have to make sure I’m not there during peak hours. Silas’s favorite park is very much bound to Silas’s favorite walk, which is a little long for hot weather. That’s why I’ve been deliberately seeking out some alternatives for him–places where we can play a little fetch or just run around to get some exercise in a more summer-friendly time frame.

Product Review: K9 Closet Smoothie Tag Collar

I can’t believe I haven’t reviewed this before.

Silas has a beautiful leather collar. It makes him itch. I’m not sure if it’s the weight against his neck or an allergy to the metal buckle, but he scratches a lot when he wears it. So much that his neck, where he doesn’t have a lot of hair, was always red and clawed up.

I had a lot of trouble finding an alternative, though. I didn’t want to give up the security of metal hardware in favor of a plastic buckle. We’ve also had a lot of trouble finding collars and harnesses the right size for Silas. The 10-14 inch size doesn’t usually have enough slack, while the 14-18 inch size comes off over his head.

I was excited when I ran across K9 Closet. They offer lots and lots of collar styles at custom sizes, guaranteed to fit your dog. We picked the “Smoothie Tag Collar.” This is not a walking collar. There is no leash ring, so one less thing to irritate Silas’s sensitive skin. His name and phone number are embroidered on in letters large enough to be visible from a distance, which is fantastic. While I’ve had to edit my phone number out of a few blog photos, I know that Silas is probably too skittish to let a stranger read his real ID tags. On this width collar, the phone number is legible even with him at the end of a six foot leash. He’s microchipped, but avoiding the step where he has to go to the animal shelter seems like a good idea.

Most importantly for Silas, the collar is lined with a soft fleece fabric:


It’s very light, and sits comfortably against his neck:
collar 3

Because you slide the collar on over his head and then tighten it, there is some metal hardware. The structure of the collar keeps it mostly away from his skin, though:
collar 4

So far there has been no additional itching or irritation of any kind, and Silas has worn this collar 24/7 since early November.

The absolute simplicity of this collar has been wonderful. It’s also a little frustrating, though. Even if you’re like me and never go for real walks without a harness, sometimes you just need a quick clip for a leash. I’ve been known to cheat and clip my leash around the fabric, but I doubt that would work on the wider sizes. I’m thinking about ordering him a martingale style next, just so we have a more reliable back-up for his harness.

Bottom line: if your dog can’t handle regular collars, and you aren’t down with the nylon collar+plastic buckle look, these collars are worth a try. If your dog wouldn’t let a stranger read his tag information, they might be a lifesaver.


Our day in pictures:

A new area of the park! This is the “scary” park, but on the opposite end of the parking lot. I think it’s an unofficial overflow from the soccer field.

Tuesday outing

Silas thinks hard about it:
Tuesday outing

Then finds the tall grass behind the fence:
Tuesday outing

That’s better:
Tuesday outing

But it’s a little warm out:
Tuesday outing

Should we try somewhere with air conditioning?

Mmmm, cat food:
Tuesday outing

All done:
Tuesday outing

Two New Things

I learned something last week, thanks to an outgoing uncle who insisted that Silas would be able to handle him visiting my parents. I’m sure it’s nothing new, but it’s new to us. In my own mind I call it “making circles,” which is a non descriptive title if there ever was one. The point of making circles is familiarization with a scary object (in this case a person, which means it works wonderfully). Walk by scary object with Silas on leash. Allow whatever reaction happens to happen (that is, barking) and allow curious sniffs, but don’t linger. Make a circle large enough that Silas is calm on the far side. Repeat, until the reaction to the scary object is gone.

This works really well for us because Silas doesn’t like being surprised, but he does usually like the thing doing the surprising. That is, Silas likes people just fine, once he gets over them doing whatever weird thing set him off, and most of the other things that worry him are, in fact, completely non-threatening. A big box, for instance, or something that made a weird sound when his toy hit it. Walking away gives him time to turn his brain back on and realize that.

Thing two: we’ve upped the training ante a little. Miraculously, two fairly intense weeks of counterconditioning plus one week away from home really took the edge off of Silas’s barking out the window. I can’t keep up such a high level of food-based counter conditioning, though. That volume of treats, even of the best, healthiest things I could make or acquire, was too much for his delicate stomach. Now that he isn’t so paranoid, though, I’ve got a new plan. First, I’ll definitely keep up the counterconditioning for the major triggers–if I can hear a group of people talking out front or the gate opening, the treats will be coming. I’m calming down the random anxiety barking with play or other distractions. Secondly, I am thumbing my nose at the evil HOA lady and taking Silas out front more. She may not like it, but as long as he’s on the sidewalk she has no way of knowing that we aren’t on our way out the gate. My hope is that he’ll realize how very un-scary those things he barks at really are. If not that, which probably isn’t a leap dog brains can really make, he’ll at least get out more and see more of the world from a place where he’s pretty comfortable.

Wordless Wednesday: A good roll in the park

A good scratch

A good scratch


Now for a few words:

You know what makes a blog run better? Not spending one week out of every month somewhere with no internet, which is what I’ve been doing since October or so.

So, I’m just now announcing that Blueberry’s Human is the winner of my giveaway for Lew Olson’s Raw and Natural Nutrition for Dogs. Congrats!

“Regular Dogs”

Going back to see my family is like entering an entirely different world as far as dogs are concerned. My family and larger circle of acquaintances thinks the stuff we do with Silas–crate training, obedience classes, keeping him on leash outdoors–is crazy weird.

Some of what I see there is just wrong. Even on busy roads, for example, people allow their dogs to roam freely. Very few of them are altered or provided with adequate veterinary care. There’s also still a lot of misguided punishment–my cousin, for instance, saying that her dog “didn’t want to come when I called, because she knew I would spank her for barking at the mail man when she got back.”

What I found a lot more interesting was what I’ll call the better side of hands-off dog rearing. The dogs themselves were, by and large, friendly and outgoing. My aunt’s sweet and friendly nine week old puppy got passed around a family gathering of 30 people, which my aunt hosts every week. Her older dog watched quietly from the sidelines, but clearly wasn’t phased by the crowd. This wasn’t a deliberate effect of “puppy socialization”–it’s just living life and assuming that your dog can handle it.

Interactions between the dogs were interesting, too. One food dish shared peacefully among three resident dogs and one guest. Two adult dogs reacting appropriately to two puppies, two puppies playing well with everyone.

It made me wonder, thinking back to my own “well-trained” dog who could never have handled the crowd, if the most modern and up to date training methods are maybe too structured and regimented. Or, more to the point, if things like “puppy socialization” are a crutch we’ve come up with, because by and large modern people live extremely isolated lives.


I’ve always been proud of the fact that, however nervous Silas is with people, he’s pretty good with other dogs.

Then, he started barking at them sometimes.

Then he started barking at them more often.

I realized quite suddenly last week that this is entirely my fault. We went to the dog park a few times with him, and he was pretty good. Not perfect, but who is? But I was so terrified about “what if” something bad happened that we stopped going.

Spanish moss

So something bad did happen–he started to lose the benefits of being well socialized with other dogs as a puppy.

Not only that, I was making it worse. See, I actively dodge other dogs when we’re out, even dogs who want to greet politely. In fact, my mental dialogue runs from downright cranky (“I wish those people and their dog would quit following us. Good grief, can’t I even come to the park in peace?”) to completely paranoid (“Oh no! Those people want to bring their dog over here. I think I can outrun them.”)

We’ve all read a hundred times that dogs pick up on this stuff. I always assumed that I had a free pass, because Silas pays what looks like extremely little attention to me when we’re out.

It was the cat incident that really brought how false that was into focus. See, I was terrified that being attacked by that cat would make Silas afraid of other animals. The first dog we saw was a Pekingese at a highway rest area. I was already a little irritated, because it can be hard to get Silas to use the bathroom on the road, and I knew he’d never go around another dog. Plus, “oh, I hope he doesn’t bark at that dog. If he’s scared of dogs now we’ll be so miserable!” Sure enough, he barked. A very similar scenario played out at the rest of our stops.

On our way back home we didn’t see as many dogs. Finally, I acted on my realization that I was causing my own problem. When a cute little Schnauzer got out of his car across the street, I exercised some self control. I calmed down my breathing. I did not immediately head further away. I admired how cute the little dog was, instead of seeing him as the enemy. It wasn’t a truly effective experiment because I’m not sure Silas ever noticed him, but either way he was also calm and happy.

I probably won’t be headed right back to the dog park or anything so drastic, but I will try my best to freak out less.