“Pet” Peeves

I’ve been leaving a lot of blog comments this week about my dog-owning pet peeves, which led me to formulate the list.

I try not to be overly critical of my fellow humans, really I do. I’ve learned to let go of a lot of things that used to really bother me. Some things are just so egregious that I can’t help it, though.

My short list of things dog-things that make me crazy, in order from least to most annoying:

5. Putting poop into the poop bag, and then leaving it on the trail anyway. Sometimes we have all run out without a bag. Sometimes you have two bags, and the dog poops three times. Sometimes we really do come back for that on the way out of the park. But if you put it in the bag, put it all the way in the trash. Don’t just leave it there as a stinky, plastic-wrapped time capsule.

4. People who deliberately make faces at Silas while he is in the car barking at them. I’m desperately trying to train him through this, and you wouldn’t believe how many people egg him on.

3. Improper use of a flexi-lead. They do have a time and a place. Like, a person in a wheelchair who owns a Yorkie. I see an alarming number of people (especially small women) who use them with their very large dogs to keep the dog from pulling them over. Not the answer, people. Not the answer.

2. Improper use of aversive training equipment. I’m never a fan of the pinch collar. But if you’re going to use one, it had better be well fitted, with a backup collar and a separate leash attachment. I can’t tell you how many badly fitted pinch collars I saw at the pet fair. (Why carry a dog to the pet fair if it still “needs” a pinch collar?) Which leads me seamlessly to the biggest peeve of them all:

1. People who don’t listen to their dog. If your dog is at the end of his leash having a panic attack, I don’t judge. I’ve been there. Stuff comes up unexpectedly. If your dog is at the end of his leash having a panic attack, while you chitchat calmly with the neighbor, talk on the phone, or shop at the pet fair, I’m giving you the evil eye.

What are your doggie peeves?

Morning Routine

Like a lot of dogs, Silas picks up on human routines very quickly. He’s usually the first one of us to realize that something new has even become a routine.

This morning when I came out of the kitchen, he was sitting in the floor next to the chair whining.

It took me a minute to realize why–I was doing the routine “wrong.”

Three days a week we get up early to work out before my husband leaves for work. After we exercise, I make the humans a post-workout smoothie, feed Silas, get my coffee, and sit in the “snuggle chair.” Silas goes back to sleep in my lap for a few hours while I get things done on my laptop.

My husband and I have switched things up a bit, though, and have started a new workout plan. It’s a little longer, which means I have to pick up a few of the morning chores that my husband usually does while I’m trying to drag myself out of bed. Instead of exercise–>blender–>feed Silas–>snuggle time, it was more like blender–>feed Silas–>pack my husband’s lunch and do some things in the kitchen. By the time I was done, Silas was sitting pitifully next to the chair, apparently feeling rejected.

I don’t know why he didn’t just get in the chair by himself, but as soon as I sat down he got his blanket and hopped right in.

A Question of Timing?

Silas and I got to the park in the afternoon, except in peak summer. Around 2:00, I wake him up from his nap, put on his harness, and off we go. We do this three or four times a week, depending. On Tuesday, I took him for a very long walk, which usually means he doesn’t want anything besides a few games around the house the next day.

My husband runs with his work buddies on Wednesday evenings. He’s a very good runner, unlike me, and finds their usual pace and distance to not be much of a challenge. This week, he decided to run to the park, meet the guys, and then run with them. Even for him, it’s too far to run back again, so I agreed to drive over and pick him up. (This timing bypasses a nasty traffic jam, even though it’s the same number of trips.) The plan was not to take Silas, because we had a busy evening, but it was in our minds that this could be a thing for future Wednesday evenings.

Silas had other plans. Three minutes before I needed to leave for the park, he sprang off the sofa, raced to his tennis ball, and insisted that we play fetch. “Well, I can’t leave him like this. He’ll get into trouble,” I thought. “I’d better take him with me.”

Excited Silas only barely noticed that I put on his harness, which usually destroys his soul. He jumped right in the car and let me clip him to his car attachment.

The park we were going to is one of the scary parks. Year before last the city removed considerable deadfall from this park, leaving a too-clear view of the road. I haven’t been able to get Silas back, except on the weekends when we can drive further in. “Alright,” I said to my husband, “We’ll go over for just a minute. He won’t go very far here anyway, and then he’ll sleep while we finish our To-Do list.” I wasn’t wearing park shoes or clothes, and my husband had just run eight miles.

So I was, of course, wrong again. Silas, his whole little body vibrating with joy, sprinted my poor husband all the way across the park at top speed. Then, because I was afraid he was getting too close to the edge of the park, where he freezes, I called for him. To my surprise and my husband’s dismay, he sprinted all the way back. Then we played tug with a toy. Then he ran around some more. Then we played tug with a stick. I’m still not sure he was ready to go when we left after half an hour, although he seemed pretty tired once we got back. This is the dog who will pull me back to the car after 20 minutes if he can.


This has me really wondering about timing our park visits. Is he better off if I wait for a time he is naturally energetic? Or is that just going to make him too much for me to handle? It may become new policy to wait for “peak times” to go to the scarier places.


Stress Stacking

One of the less pleasant sides of owning a fearful dog is that stress is additive.

Think about a terrible morning in your own life. Your alarm clock doesn’t go off at the right time. You burn your toast, which happened to be the only breakfast food in the house. You get toothpaste on your blouse and have to change. Then the traffic is bad on your way to work. The first e-mail you open when you get there is a reminder of a very close deadline you had forgotten. At that point, you go to the ladies’ room and cry like a baby.

Every one of those things is something you could have handled, separately. And you did handle them, right up until you couldn’t. You ate leftover pizza for breakfast, found a new blouse, waited out the traffic. Then “suddenly” you “snapped” over that e-mail. Your coworkers rush over to your computer, afraid that someone has died, and see a pretty innocent looking meeting invite. “She’s lost it!”

Dogs have the same problem. Like your coworkers, we sometimes look at them and scratch our heads. “Huh? He’s never reacted to that” before. But, whereas you can come out of the ladies room and say, “Sorry, just having a bad morning” your dog just gets to look like a crazy.

Sometimes the detective work isn’t too hard. One day last week Silas flipped his poor little lid “for no reason” with an employee in a pet store. But if you trace back the steps, it seems much more logical.

1) He had to get his harness put on
2) We drove to the market
3) We drove past a sign featuring Giant Sized People right at eye level, and it scared him
4) He had to wait for me while I ran in to buy a bag of coffee
5) We drove some more
6) We went to a new store that he’d never been in before
7) A stranger was petting him
8) The stranger was petting him a little too long
9) A car alarm went off in the distance
10) Silas started barking at the stranger

I should have stepped in at stage 8 and gotten him out of the situation, but I didn’t think about all the stress stacking (I believe Stress Stacking is Grisha Stewart’s term, but it’s possible that I made it up.) that had already gone on.

The problem is that sometimes this doesn’t seem so logical. The dog’s stressors might be something that is clearly A Big Deal to your dog, but that we, with our merry top-of-the-foodchain blinders on, don’t think about. Silas is more nervous at the park if the wind is blowing, for instance. It took me most of a walk thinking “Good grief, why is he pulling on his leash so much more?” before I realized that there was a gale blowing at tree-top level. He is more comfortable at PetSmart if we use the entrance that isn’t right at the cash registers, where more people are standing around. He handles the first dog or person we meet better than the subsequent ones, and is the worst if we meet several people in a row. He has flattened to the ground in terror over things that I have never found a reason for. (I believe that most of these are wildlife smells. He patently refused to walk any further one day after sniffing a drain culvert.)

It is hard, but incredibly important that you work through this stuff with your fearful dog, and it’s a job that is basically never done. Paying attention to all the small stresses, even if they aren’t anything you can control, will help you and your dog be able to handle the big stuff.

A Query

Silas’s reactions to other dogs are becoming . . . strained. As of yet, there is not a consistent pattern of bad reactions. He loves some dogs. Others he will give a polite bottom sniff, and then we go on about our business. Sometimes he’ll react quite badly, but almost always to dogs who “started it first.” As far as I can tell, he mostly works by mirroring whatever the other dog is doing, be that friendly or not.

I worry about the bad reactions becoming a pattern, because the last thing on earth I need is to add dog reactivity to our list of behavioral problems. I also am not wild about the fact that he will practically pull me off my feet to go see another dog. More importantly, I think he’s anxious about these meetings, and the best way to diffuse dog anxiety is with a job.

My question to you, oh bloggy hive mind, is how on earth do I teach this new behavior, and what should it look like? Our obedience classes didn’t make it to dog greeting behavior, and my own research has been mostly in a different direction.

The goal, presumably, is for Silas to check in with me and then walk toward (or not) the other dog in a rational way. This is a long behavior chain, though, and we have none of the links in place. I still consider “walking in a rational way” to be a pretty great accomplishment in and of itself.

Problems: I don’t know anyone with dogs well enough to manufacture a scenario (parallel walking, etc). Our local parks are either deserted (weekdays) or packed. The one place that I can count on well-behaved dogs (perhaps tellingly, this is the human running trail, NOT the dog park) any time of any day terrifies Silas because of the car traffic. So, any plan needs to be something that I can at least try to implement in the moment, whenever that arises. Silas is not big on eating outdoors, although he’s finally started to do it once in a while. He will play or tug outside, although I haven’t tested it in a high stress location.

Does your dog contain him/herself when you meet another dog? How did you teach that behavior?

Silas vs. The Bath Robe

There was evil in our laundry room this morning. Scary, scary evil.

I was sitting on the sofa drinking my coffee, and I hear Silas making little quiet barks. I assume that he’s barking out the patio doors–sometimes he can see Evil Squirrels Who Must Be Punished. When I looked over, he was facing into the kitchen. This is pretty unusual, so I got up to investigate.

Silas led me right through the kitchen to the laundry room, where we saw IT.

Silas vs the bathrobe

An old robe that I’d washed and left hanging on the clothes bar while I decided what to do with it. When I hastily put away the drying rack last night, it pushed the robe against the wall, so that it was not hanging like the laundry is “supposed to.”

I pulled it out from behind the rack, let Silas give it a good sniff, and then he got a cardboard box from the recycling bin and went on his merry way. (Then I recreated the scene of the crime for you all.)

I hate to laugh at him when he’s scared, but sometimes you just have to.