Spring Vet Checkup

I’ve been, in the eyes of my vet’s office, pretty remiss. It only took three reminders for me to get him an appointment for his twice-yearly heartworm test. In my defense, the first reminder was apparently lost, and the second one came right before I got the flu.

I’m dreading the visit a little bit. After last summer’s vet-athon, where we were in the office at least once a month from March to September, we’ve been enjoying a nice break. Summer is hard on allergy dog. Aside from a superstitious dread that this will somehow be the beginning of another streak, I’m afraid that anxious Silas will have forgotten that he loves the vet.

(I may have told you this story before, because it’s one of my favorites: puppy Silas, age 12 weeks, almost made the vet cry. He had ringworm, so in addition to shots the vet had to do an invasive and kind of painful skin scraping. She felt bad about it. When she came back in to talk about the results, Silas, instead of cowering, insisted that she pick him up and hold him.)

Anyway, the point of this is that the universe is punishing me. Silas’s problematic skin has been perfect! I was going to walk in to the vet’s office with a brag in my heart about solving all of his skin problems. Even the weird bump on the back of his head finally went completely away.

So, of course, this morning he woke up with this:


In the picture, it’s just a tiny pink blip over his left hand eye (right hand side of the photo, right above his black spots), but in real life it’s a big red bump, clearly visible from across the room.


(Note that this is sunscreen for YOU, not your dog.)

It’s summer time, and the UV index is 11. For real. I am a pale person with a few skin cancer risk factors. Without Silas, I’d probably stay inside all summer. As it is, sunscreens are something I take very seriously.

Let’s start at the top, with your face. First off, ladies, do not be counting on that SPF 15 in your makeup. Go to your kitchen. Find the 1/4 tsp measuring spoon. Take it with you next time you put your face products on. Are you using that much of your foundation/moisturizer/what have you just for your face? If not, you aren’t getting the SPF that the bottle claims. And it isn’t proportionately less. An 1/8 tsp of SPF 30 is not SPF 15. I preach because I care.

Now, some recommendations. I can’t use chemical sunscreens on my face. (Sunscreen 101: chemical sunscreens interfere with the mechanism of sun damage on your skin. Most common in the US are Avobenzone, Octinoxate, Octocrylene, and Oxybenzone. Physical sunscreens, Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide, block UV. Both are perfectly valid when properly formulated, although sensitivities to one or more of the chemical filters are common. This is an excellent resource for checking your sunscreen formulation.) There are lots of good physical/chemical hybrids out there, especially if you’re in Canada or Europe. Many of them are better than the ones I list here. If you need an all physical sunscreen, your life is sad in the summer, and I’m writing this post for you. I cast around for a while, hopelessly lost in a sea of sticky white physical sunscreens. By the time you put enough Zinc in a sunscreen for it to be effective, you’re left with an inevitable amount of white pastiness. Only a really well-done formulation can overcome it.

This is my skin salvation, BurnOut Ocean Tested. I get antsy when I have less than half a tube on hand. It’s not as perfect now as it was, thanks to a slight reformulation, but this is great stuff. Now, let me be clear–this sunscreen is . . . unctuous. My dry skin appreciates that. If you’re used to top of the line drugstore formulations for face, you will find it hard to rub in, although it is *much* better than its competition in the natural market. It will leave you with, in makeup parlance, “a dewy glow.” I like that, too. Quite water resistant, so make sure you remove it well. Cruelty free, and priced similarly to the better end of drugstore. I suspect that on people who aren’t pale, this might leave some white residue, but you’re basically always going to get that from a physical sunscreen. That’s why the high-end physicals tend to be tinted.

If you have more “regular” skin, BurnOut’s Eco Sensitive
will do much better for you. Not unctuous or dewy, easy to rub in, but it’s too dry for my face and less waterproof. Like OceanTested, this is an 18.6% Zinc Oxide sunscreen. This one competes with the best stuff from the drugstore. My go-to body sunscreen. You can click through these images to BurnOut’s site, or this is available from Amazon and in some Whole Foods Markets. (Not mine. 😦 ) Neither of these sweat down into my eyes and burn.

There’s also the Big Guns, Shiseido’s Ultimate Sun Protection SPF 50 Cream. For years I wore this every day, until my skin got too sensitive for it. My cost-benefit analysis still lets me break this out when I’m going to get serious sun. It’s amazing. It’s expensive. It is impossible to remove even when you want to. A quick google suggests that Shiseido is currently phasing out animal testing.

At the other end of the spectrum, I’ve been pleasantly pleased with Bullfrog’s Quick Gel.
The excellent thing about this is not so much that it’s great as it is that it’s *fast.* If you are already out and kind of sticky, and you need a sunscreen top-off, rubbing in a cream can be pretty gross. This gel goes on like hand sanitizer and dries fast. Warning: because it goes on fast and dries fast, it is easy to miss places and to put it on too thin. My husband has freakish tan lines to prove it. Also, note that quick gel texture comes with some alcohol content, so watch out if you have sensitive skin. Not sure about the cruelty-free status here, as our tube was an emergency purchase.

Fine print: I only wish I could get PR samples of sunscreen. Everything here is bought, tried, and tested by me, on me.

Lap Dog

Silas was a champion while I had the flu. We snoozed together all day, and that was all he expected of me. My domain was the chair, and he kept me company mostly on the chair’s ottoman.

When Silas was a baby, he was just not that interested in cuddling. We have a long tradition, dating back to that first July, of curling up together on the sofa through the morning coverage of the Tour de France, but for the most of the day he had “his” end of the sofa.

As he gets older, though, he’s more and more interested in sitting next to a person. Not on, just near. Over the winter I blamed this on the house being a little chilly, but it seems to be persisting.

The flu seems to have brought this to an entirely new level that is lingering even though I’m mostly back to normal. He is, for instance, now trying to sit in my lap, rather than his usual adjacent position.

I guess I’m lucky he only weighs 30 pounds.


Review: Susan Garrett’s Recallers Course

Silas and I are wrapping up Susan Garrett’s “Five Minute Formula for A Brilliant Recall” class, so I thought I’d chat a little with you about it here.

People who talk about Susan Garrett on the internet either love or hate her, usually fervently. (As is true for most people who talk about most things on the internet.) I feel like I need to get that out there before this review can get underway. I don’t feel the need to assess her personality, which is where most conversations about her seem to end up.

The course has been a lot of fun. The class gives you a new lesson, almost always in the form of a game, to play every week day for eight weeks. (An introductory week, six weeks of games, and a bonus week, as of Recallers 4.) Silas was able to participate more in some of the games than in others, which, from the comments, seems to be true of almost every dog enrolled. The games themselves are intended to teach your dog value for you and for paying attention. Only a handful of them are explicitly about teaching your dog to come on command.

So, does Silas have a Brilliant Recall at the end of the class?

No, but it’s getting better.

The truth is that Silas needed a lot of rudimentary work as we went through the class. The games are often presented with “beginner” and “advanced” levels, and for most of those we stayed at the beginning stages. Paying attention to a person is just not natural to him, so we didn’t get any “free passes.” I think people who ramp all the way up to a fantastic recall in just eight weeks need less work to start with. Silas’s recall on cue was very rusty before we started, because he’s so very rarely off leash. (He will usually come back to me outside just for the joy of running.)

While we don’t have a perfect recall in just eight weeks, this class has been so good for Silas. He can now play with my husband without becoming a whirling dervish. He will play tug in the park while “terrible” things happen, like cars driving by at a distance. Since Silas is hesitant to eat outdoors, this is a great way to counter-condition him to his many fears. Without me even trying, his sit-stay has become astonishingly good. As in, “Drat, I forgot to tell him he could get up” good. We never had a sit-stay, only down. I posted a few weeks ago about how much he has improved in general, and I think part of it is the skills and confidence that he learned in this class.

April 23

Is this course right for you? It depends. If your dog is very sedentary, this play-focused class might not be a good fit for you. If your dog does not play tug, you will be frustrated, although there is good support within the class for teaching your dog to tug. Susan’s Crate Games program is an unspoken prerequisite for the class. A few people complained pretty bitterly because they couldn’t, for whatever reason, use a crate, but I honestly didn’t see that it was an insurmountable obstacle. The course material is pretty relentless, with a new thing to do every day, which is a pro for some people and a con for others. If you’re a perfectionist, you may struggle to let go of Monday’s game that your dog never “got” and move on to Tuesday’s.

On the other hand, if you have an energetic dog who has been kicked out of in-person classes like we have, or if you don’t otherwise have good local classes, it’s worth a look. It was expensive ($200 for the cheapest level, with moderate pressure to upgrade to the $400 or the crazy-expensive level), but I personally felt like it was a very good value even at $400. This isn’t a class that teaches your dog a few tricks; we’ll be using some of these games the rest of Silas’s life. I’m not sure that we’ll re-enroll every time she offers the class, like some of my classmates do, but I am very pleased with having done it.

(ETA for 2014: For Recallers 5 the tiered pricing has been dispensed with, and I can see why. Even at $400, I think this class is absolutely worth the money if you can afford it. Local training classes in my town are $150-$200, and you only get new material five days. I am happily re-enrolled myself, although Alumni get a discount.)

And We’re Back

I didn’t mean to fall off the face of the planet. It was a busy week around here the week of my last post, and then my husband left on a business trip. I had a dozen things planned. So, the day after he left, I got the flu. I didn’t think it was possible to get the flu in May, but I’m pretty sure I did. It’s been a week now, and I’m just starting to feel up to looking at things with words.

Silas, bless his heart, has been a champ. We napped 18 hours a day together. I got his meals in kind of on time. I let him in and out of the patio, where he can use the bathroom. I would feebly throw his toys a few times for him. He seemed to understand that it was all I could do, and he didn’t ask any more of me.


I’m hoping to get back in the swing of things now.

How are you?


It’s easy to tell when your fearful dog is “misbehaving.” There’s nothing subtle about barking or flattening to the ground in terror. The improvements are harder to notice, in part because a dog who doesn’t react is just behaving “like he ought to.” It’s also easy to rationalize away improvements. “Oh, he must not have seen that,” or “I’ll bet that was a fluke,” or “We just haven’t seen anything very scary lately.”

The truth is, I’ve been running a little tally of stuff with Silas that is starting to tip toward the near-miraculous.

Some of them I’ve posted here. Yesterday I talked about him being perfectly content at the scary park. Last week, I posted when he politely declined to be petted by a stranger. There have been a lot of smaller things that I haven’t really mentioned, though, because in isolation they seem trivial.

–Two times in the past week or so, Silas has walked calmly all the way back to the car instead of bolting in a panic through the parking lot.

–Last Friday at the park, a car drove right past while we were playing, on a road that is usually closed to car traffic. Silas kept playing.

–Sunday a man roller-skated by us while pushing a stroller. No big deal.

–Tuesday, he didn’t bark at the landscapers at all, even when they were fairly close to the house. He didn’t even get off the sofa. (We did leave before they got right to our door.)

–Also on Tuesday, a group of people walked nearby while we were at the park, and he didn’t care one way or another.

–He will now reliably eat treats outside in places that he’s been before.

There have been a few bumps in the road, but it’s been a remarkably pleasant few weeks. Enough of these “flukes” are happening in a row that I’m starting to think of them as long-term improvements.


When Silas was a wee lad (that is, summer of 2011) he loved the second closest park to our house. (The closest park is the “bad park.”)


True fact: we were really worried that his ears were going to stay that way.

The nice thing about the second closest park is that is combines two rare commodities: open space and shade. It’s also not a “fun” park for humans–it’s just a large picnic area, and there’s a playground and all kinds of stuff just down the block. It’s practically a guarantee that we’ll have it to ourselves on a weekday. So, this is the best place in town to put Silas on his long line and play frisbee or to get a “quick fix” on days it’s too hot to stay out more than a few minutes.


Unfortunately, the year that Silas was a wee lad we had a terrible drought, and the park lost a lot of trees. There’s still shade in the park, but the barrier between the parking lot and the road had to be cut down at the beginning of last summer. Silas couldn’t handle it. Even on the extreme back edge of the park, he would catch sight of the moving cars and panic.

I really needed this park back. The third closest park hosts a lot of summer activities for children. The other parks in town are all at least half an hour away.

I’ve been very strategically working Silas through his issues this spring. First, we would go to this park, but either play on the sunny end, which is further from the road, or run on the trails. Then I would take my husband with us on the weekend, when you can park in a different place, where you can’t see the road. Silas re-learned that this park is Tremendous! Fun!

So, yesterday we tried it. And it worked!


I can’t entirely praise myself for it–the bushes and ground cover have started growing back between the parking lot and the road–but I do think I deserve a little of the credit.