Wednesday night was stormy. Two inches of rain in some parts of the city. Our usual parks with their dirt paths were out of the question. Instead we went way out, to a park Silas hasn’t been to.

It was wonderful. Late spring after a rain, with super blue sky, wildflowers, and an almost empty park. We were even far enough out to get away from the traffic noise, which I didn’t realize was possible here. (You can hear the freeway at our usual parks. Fortunately fast-moving traffic doesn’t scare Silas, or he hasn’t put the sound together with the cause.)


To either side of that paved path is basically bog, which I didn’t really think through in advance.

Some things are worth getting a little dirty for.






In that last photo you can see a little bit of how muddy Silas is, but not that he covered his entire head in mud.

Silas and I walked down beside that bridge on our way out. Silas found a big stick, and we had a slightly crazy game of “tug on the ever shrinking pieces of stick.” When I looked up, a person on a bike had stopped riding to watch us. Silas was in top tugging form, and then he ripped around like a crazy dog. Slightly muddy dog joy exuding from every pore. I ran into the cyclist again before we got to the car, just after Silas had dropped and rolled in a puddle, and he said, “What kind of dog is that? He has so much character!”

We came straight home for baths, including washing the leah, collar, and harness.


I’ve been doing something a lot of us probably don’t do–watching a dog training DVD from a trainer outside of my usual style.

The background: I do positive training, with clicker training for new skills that need it. I’m not wild about clicker training every little thing. That said, Silas knows the meaning of the word “no,” and I have punished him for some bad behaviors that we couldn’t break otherwise. (Mainly a spritz of water for scratching the couch cushions, which he was doing obsessively.) Those “corrections” never enter into our training sessions; they’re reserved exclusively for problem lifestyle behaviors. I try my darndest not to need them there. I would never, ever physically correct him, because it’s not something I like and, far more importantly, he’s too sensitive for it. This DVD I’m watching uses some reward markers and some scolding, with physical corrections presented as appropriate once the dog reaches a certain stage.

What is really interesting to me is the amount of words that are required to, at the most basic level, use both “yes” and “no” to teach a behavior. The context of this is teaching tug, specifically teaching tug well enough that it could be used as an obedience reward. This requires that your dog has good drive for the tug toy, and that your dog will give and take the toy immediately on request.

One of the schools of teaching tug uses dramatically fewer words than the other.

School A:
Tell your dog to take the tug. Dog tugs. You can praise or whatever as the dog tugs, then hold the toy still and ask the dog to give you the toy. The reward for giving the tug is that the dog gets to tug again. If the dog barks for the toy and you don’t like that, walk away. The only words are the give and the take. If the dog takes the toy before you ask, simply hold it still again. Even the release word is not terribly important; I’ve actually dropped mine with Silas recently in favor of just hold the toy in a particular way.

School B:
Tell your dog to take the tug. Dog tugs. Ask the dog to give you the tug back and hold the toy still. If the dog continues to tug, say no. Repeat no “as needed.” Then praise the dog. If the dog barks for the toy, scold them. Then give the dog the command to take the toy. Ten seconds of a given session may sound like “Out. No. Good. No. Yes.” The end point of this training (what the instructor does with his own dog) looks identical to School A’s.

Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong in telling a dog no or an equivalent word, in the non-angry way that happens in this DVD. It’s useful data for them in some scenarios. BUT, a dog who won’t release a tug doesn’t give a d**n about what you’re saying. They are not on your planet. If they were, the game itself would have already cued the release. That is, holding the toy still is the only data the dog really needs. In the zillion sample scenarios on the DVD, almost every single owner struggles with when and how to say the various cues, and the trainer has to constantly prompt them.

My question is: why bother? Why clutter up your training with so many completely unnecessary, hard to manage words, when you’re already giving the dog all the information it needs?

Does This Count As Progress?

On Saturday we had a little mix-up. It’s time for our semi-annual exterior termite inspection, you see. This involves the pest control man poking around in our garage and back patio.

Our building was due next Saturday, the 13th. My husband had a big event out of town that day. “You’d better reschedule the termite man,” I said, because I wanted to take Silas to the park and miss the whole thing.

Last Wednesday, his big event got moved to this Saturday. “I really didn’t want the dog here when the termite man comes,” I said. “Call and move him back to the first day.” The call was made, the termite man was rescheduled.

Imagine my surprise when the doorbell rang at 9:00 on Saturday morning. Silas and I were asleep. I sent Silas to his crate, where he miraculously went even though my bleary self couldn’t find a cookie to toss in. It was, of course, the termite man. Apparently our request to re-reschedule hadn’t made it all the way down the line. He asked me to let him in the garage door. I ran through the house, opened the garage door, grabbed up a handful of cookies and tossed them to Silas, and went out back to deal with the termite man. We walked around on the patio for a few minutes, then he left.

At this point, literally as I am walking back in, my neighbor rings the doorbell. She heard me talking to the termite man, so she brought me over a package that had gotten left at her house by mistake.

Now, Silas barked basically the entire time this was happening. Not 100%, but not dramatically less. He had to run out and make sure the evil termite inspector was not lurking on the patio. Then he was a little edgy for the next few hours. (In a sad irony, he was outside later when I opened the door for a magazine salesman because I expected the mail lady. The one time a loud dog would be handy…)

But: he has not had a serious regression in his paranoia levels, like he did after the plumber came. Aside from the few hours immediately post, he’s just been his usual semi-paranoid self.

Does not having a huge setback count as progress? I’ll take it.


(Some of my favorite notebooks, image from Amazon.)

Let’s talk record keeping.

How much data do you have about your dog?

Bloggers, is it just what you post publicly? How do you convert the blog format into data that works for you?

I keep two logs for Silas, both of which I started here and moved to pen-and-ink places. Most importantly, I have a food diary for him. It includes a daily list of every scrap and crumb that enters his mouth. “Piece of paper wrapper from my salmon patty” featured in a recent entry. Plus, I take note of when he throws up or seems nauseous or doesn’t want to eat a meal.

I’ve also been trying to keep better records of his training, but I’m struggling a bit to find a format that I like. What do you use?


Silas will be two years old at the end of next month. It’s something I approach with a little nervousness. I know with my logical brain that no door is going to snap shut, but two is the last date you usually hear about for making big changes, for good or ill, with a dog’s mental development. I’ve read in a few places that it’s easiest to fix socialization gaps before age two. I’ve read a lot of reactive dog stories that contain the phrase “Oh, he was okay until he was about two and then he started … ”

It’s left me with the feeling that there’s a big clock ticking over my head. Especially because we’ve seen a lot of behavior changes in the last few months, on both sides. Silas is finally capable of loose leash walking! He’s learning to take treats and do simple commands at the park! He’s reacting better and better to people in familiar environments (like strangers in a store or park we go to frequently). He’s learned to jump in the bathtub on his own, and he’ll play with water in puddles. He ate dinner for my mother one evening while we were there over Easter.

On the other hand, he seems to be getting particular about other dogs. He only reacts badly to maybe two dogs out of ten, but that reaction is no little mild grumble. He will wake up from a dead sleep to bark hysterically at someone talking on the sidewalk in front of our house. That last one I don’t get at all–we’ve lived in the same house, with the same street noises, since he was five weeks old. He would rather die than walk down our sidewalk or even put his head out of our garage door.

I’m trying to take it one day at a time, but looking ahead I’m worried. I feel like we’re working through his mild problems, while the big problems are silently escalating in the background. For the first time, I’m seriously considering going to the veterinary behaviorist (we have a good one locally) and getting him professionally evaluated and medicated, at least for the short term. I can’t train him through a problem that instantly turns his anxiety dial to 11, and it seems like that’s what we’re getting down to. We’ll see.

Working Dog

One day a few weeks ago, I googled something like “dog treeing squirrel.” I was curious, you see, about Silas’s truly excellent squirrel-treeing form. The result was that I fell down the internet rabbit hole (pun woefully intended) of squirrel hunting.

It was a window into an entirely different dog world. The squirrel hunters combine two sides of something that just don’t coexist for most of us anymore. In our little corner of the internet, most dogs aren’t doing the “job” they were “bred” to do. (There are some exceptions–the dogs at 24 Paws of Love sled, and the 2BrownDawgs do field retrieving. I’m probably forgetting a couple. Still, our part of the blog world is not brimming with terriers who hunt rats and border collies who herd sheep.) More typically, we’ve–at best–deflected those behaviors into dog sports, like agility or flyball, that ostensibly use the same drive and skills.

The squirrel hunters, in contrast, are breeding dogs 100% for their ability to perform a job, and then using them to do that job. While all the squirrel dogs on the internet have a vague similarity about them, mostly in size and body shape, nobody cares what they look like. The postings of puppies for sale aren’t showing AKC registrations, but lists of hunting events that the parents won.

This is, I imagine, what all deliberate dog breeding was like at some point, in a past that is becoming quite distant. “I’ll breed my best shepherd to my neighbor’s best shepherd, we’ll get great shepherd puppies.” Because people were geographically isolated, a certain cohesiveness of look eventually came about, and in time the look itself became a shorthand for what the dog was capable of. The look was refined much later. We, being modern people who call pest control instead of owning a good “ratter,” tend to fixate on just the look.

I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with owning a dog whose main purpose is that he looks the way you want him to look. Breeding for pure appearance, though, is deadly. (A good breeder is, at minimum, also breeding for health and temperament, but we all know that a very small percentage of dogs come from that kind of situation.) It has also, for many breeds, gradually stripped away the very reason that they were bred to start with. My neighbor’s Gordon Setter is as interested in birds as I am in professional wrestling. Nobody cared if her parents and grandparents were titled field hunters; they just wanted a black and tan dog of certain proportions.

On the other hand, most of us don’t have the desire, environment, training facilities, or know-how  to work a working or hunting dog. Plus, high-level working dogs often have far more drive and independence than people really prefer in a household pet. There’s a lot to be said for coming home in the evening to a dog whose “job” is “snuggle buddy,” rather than to a dog who is neurotic because a Kong can’t replace a herd of sheep.

It’s hard not to feel like something very important has been lost along the way, though. Not just a natural series of health tests (a dog can’t pull a cart with hip dysplasia), but an entire history and purpose. Toy breeds aside, dogs were meant to do things, not just sit under a table at the local coffee shop, stroll through the park, or nap on our sofas. We’ve forgotten that and so, in a wide variety of breeds, have they.

What have we gained in return?

Boo Boo

We went back home over Easter weekend, where Silas (as usual) had a blast.

No thanks to my father-in-law, who cleaned off the field that housed the World’s Best Hide-N-Seek. Not only did cleaning off the field ruin the hide-n-seek, it also left it covered in sharp stubble.

That’s how Silas wound up with this:


I probably failed big time on the doggie first aid. That is, I didn’t do anything about it. It really bothered Silas for me to touch it, so after a once-over to make sure there wasn’t a briar or anything in his foot, I let it go. He licked it clean a few times over the next few days. I made sure it wasn’t swelling or looking too red or anything, and I let it heal on its own. It’s mostly better already, after five days.

Have you had a paw injury? How did you treat it? I couldn’t come up with any kind of medication that he wouldn’t just lick back off.


Sometimes this blog thing is pretty handy to have around. It was time to go buy food for April. So, I went to the freezer and surveyed what was still in there. Then I came back here and pulled up my post about what I bought at the beginning of March.

Looking at the difference between them, I see that Silas ate almost exactly the right proportions of food in March.

He’s also (seriously knocking on wood) doing okay with the re-addition of pork to his diet. That means I was right about this most recent flare being an unrelated bout of acid reflux. Aside from Saturday, when he threw up some kind of foreign object, he’s been great since we switched to three meals a day. He’s been eating three proteins, people! Three! Sardines, pork, and turkey!

Speaking of handy, while we’re on the subject of food, these freezer baskets have changed my life for the vastly better.

Three of them fill the bottom of my freezer. One for meat with bones, one for meat without bones, and one for whatever food we’re incorporating in controlled amounts. I can’t tell you how happy I am to not be dropping freezer bags full of turkey necks out on my feet while I dig for the liver.


Wednesday night we played Hide-N-Seek with Silas. One person upstairs, one person downstairs. While one person hid, the other person played with Silas as a reward for finding them. The hidden person then called his name one time from the hiding place.

Silas found us both every single time, usually without even any hesitation. Places one of us hid:

–Under a big pile of blankets on the bed
–In Silas’s crate
–In the downstairs coat closet, with the door cracked
–In the upstairs closet, with the door completely shut
–In the upstairs bathroom, which is behind a baby gate
–Behind the sofa
–Behind various doors that always stay open
–Under the desk, with the chair pulled in
–On top of the washing machine, with the laundry room door partly shut and the washing machine on
–On top of the counter in the wet bar (Oh, 70s architecture), with the doors partly shut
–In the corner behind the bedroom chair

I think we’re going to have to drop the name call. It’s making it too easy! He loves this game, though, even when it is too easy.