Car Conversations

We’re in the market for (groan) a new car. My husband’s truck gets 15 miles per gallon, needs air conditioning work, and before long it will need $1000 worth of big expensive tires. That’s not to mention the fact that it’s a terrible fit for our urban life. The financial sense has finally clicked over to “buy” rather than “continue to get along.”

Silas is, by the way, scared to ride in the truck. I can’t blame him–the truck is rougher over the road, bigger, and louder than my small SUV.

A few days ago, I caught myself saying, “You know, we could buy [car X]. It looks almost exactly like my car. Silas would love that.” My husband said, “You’re right! He wouldn’t be afraid of it at all.”

This is life with an anxious dog, people.

Silas and the Dog Next Door

Fortunately, not our door. My next door neighbor is a dog loving angel, and I’m sure I’ll miss her desperately when we move.

My parents, on the other hand, live in the middle of a doggie turf war. Their rural neighborhood is home to a host of free-roaming, easy-living dogs. Their house is at a sharp bend in the road. Their right hand neighbors are separated by a privacy fence that for some mystery reason doesn’t extend all the way to the road. Those people have a chihuahua-type dog. Their left hand neighbors are across the road. They have a larger shaggy black dog and a smaller sleek black dog who is about Silas’s size. Nobody lives directly to the front or the back, and the neighborhood dogs like to roam in those wooded areas. Down the road, a few houses back from the left hand neighbors, are a boxer and a pit bull.

Last time we were home, the pit bull was a new addition to the neighborhood. He was apparently wreaking havoc on the “ownership” of Mom and Dad’s yard, because all the dogs were in her yard constantly. This trip was much better–the black and tan dog is clearly in charge of everything again.

I have to be very, very careful with Silas and these dogs. He does not like the black and tan dog. He got away from me once to chase the boxer, but it seemed more curiosity than anything else. The pit bull is an unknown quantity. All of them wear jingly tags of some sort, so as long as I’m paying attention we’re okay. The problem is, ironically, the chihuahua. I’m slightly more sympathetic to him than the others–his owner is an elderly lady who clearly can’t afford to fence her yard. For a long time, he was only out when she was, but the last few trips I’m seeing him more alone. He darts around the end of that privacy fence lightning fast, and silently.

Because the dog issue seemed to have settled down, I’ve been letting Silas off his leash, as long as there were two people. On previous visits I’ve been having him drag his long line, but after he wrapped it around my leg and left a big burn I stopped. So, we were playing frisbee, and little dog snuck up on me.

Silas chased him all the way back home. The good news is that Silas wasn’t barking or growling at him. Knowing Silas’s preferred games, he was possibly picturing this as a great game of chase. The other good news is that little dog ran right back to his own front porch, where I could actually catch Silas. Even better news is that someone at little dog’s house opened the door while this was happening, and Silas did not bark at him.

Of course, he still blew me off to chase away the dog next door.

Silas did not get to go off leash any more on this trip.

In Which Silas Disgusts My In-laws

My in-laws are vegans. And germophobes.

I have to watch what I let Silas do there. I carry his tidiest food. I make sure he stays on top of the sofa slipcover. I wipe his feet when we’ve been outside.

Still, Silas gets to be off leash at their house, and he gets into a little doggy trouble from time to time. He’s a clean and tidy little guy, but he’s still a dog.

When we were visiting last week, Silas did something he’d never done before. We were walking along the edge of their back field, when Silas dove into the tall grass and started rolling around madly. Then he trotted out with something in his mouth.

My mother-in-law let out a horrified sound.

A few days before, you see, my father-in-law had found a chunk of desiccated animal fur, probably from a squirrel. He’d pitched it off into the bushes, where Silas happily found it, rolled on it, and brought it back out.

I really wish my in-laws hadn’t been around when he found it. I reclipped him to his leash, and he pretty promptly dropped THE BEST TREASURE EVER. I would absolutely have let him have it back for a little while longer, just because he was such a good boy giving it up. (He wasn’t eating it, just carrying it, and it was completely dry.)

Instead, we had to go back inside and get a frantic scrub down with a soapy paper towel.

Bonus story, about why I really need to do more nose-work with Silas: my father-in-law picked up the hide and moved it to the edge of a shed, underneath a five gallon bucket. My husband and I knew that he had moved it, but not to where. On our next outing, Silas darted to the shed and started to frantically sniff one of several buckets that were overturned. Sure enough, he’d found the hide, from at least eight or ten feet away.

After all that, he was exhausted.

No back feet!

I’d always read that dogs don’t have great awareness of their hind legs. Agility people go to a lot of trouble to create what they call “rear end awareness.” Since Silas taught himself to go up the stairs backwards, I figured he had a pretty decent grasp.

I was wrong.

Yesterday I tried to shape Silas to stand in a box. It is slightly smaller than his natural stance, meaning that it wasn’t inevitable that his back feet would wind up in with his front feet.

He was completely clueless about what I could possibly want. He got front feet very quickly. Then he progressed through things like: sitting, with his front feet in the box. Lying down, with his front feet in the box. Sitting next to the box. Sitting next to the box, while barking. Scratching the bottom of the box.

We seem to have some work to do!

The Scariest Toy of All Time

When we got to my parents’ house last week, my mom had bought Silas a new toy.

It turned out to be the scariest toy of all time.

Scariest toy ever

This is supposed to be a hedgehog, but obviously it is an armadillo. It’s a big toy, as you can see from the picture. Mom was hoping that a toy made for bigger dogs might be a little sturdier.

The problem with Armadillo is not that he’s a big toy, though. You see, Armadillo does not squeak. Instead, he grunts. Oinks, maybe? It’s a much lower/deeper sound than any toy Silas has had before, and it terrified him.

If it hadn’t been so sad it would have been hilarious. Silas wanted to play with Armadillo so much. Then it would make that sound, and he would back away barking. We would throw the toy, and he would run after it, but he couldn’t pick it up. If he grabbed it, you see, it would make that noise. Eventually he learned to take it by the legs or the head, where there isn’t a noise-maker.

I’d say we’re solidly in frenemy camp now. Silas plays with Armadillo by making a wide variety of grumbling noises at it, while he takes tiny flea-bites at it with his teeth. I don’t know what that means, psychologically, but at least he’s not afraid of the noise anymore.

(Edited to add, many months on: I get a pretty good quantity of e-mail about the Hedgehog/armadillo toy. Apparently it has many fans. As far as I know the original toy came from Wal-mart. I’ve looked everywhere online for one with no luck, and ours is long gone. If any of you knows the brand name, feel free to post in the comments. I don’t know what your chances are of finding one in-store, but it’s worth a look.)

Silas and the Baby

I mentioned on Wordless Wednesday that Silas was hiding from “the human baby.” I didn’t mean to leave you all hanging. This is my brother’s new baby, who is about four months old now. (My nephew is almost 15.)

I have to say, I was simultaneously impressed and saddened by Silas’s reaction to lots of things on this trip back home. Sad because he was such a nervous wreck the whole time. Impressed because he managed to be pretty functional in spite of it. I’ll post about some of his other challenges over the next few days.

As for the baby: if it had been my baby (heaven forbid), with a “proper” introduction, I think he would have come around to being okay with her. Except for a few outliers, his reactions were, for him, fairly mild anxiety. I don’t think it would have ever amounted to anything except some barking, but obviously I had to make sure there was a less than zero chance that it could. So our interactions with the baby were mostly quick sniffs of the person holding the baby as we passed along to other places in the house.

The thing Silas did take a little hard was my mother’s defection to camp baby. My mother is the only person in the world, aside from my husband and I, that Silas truly loves. He’s okay with my dad, and he’s getting there with my in-laws, but my mother is his BFF. And then she went to the store one day and came home with baby toys instead of dog toys. Silas was crushed. If I hadn’t been there to see it, I wouldn’t have believed that he would even have noticed. She had to go out the next day and buy a new toy for Silas.


I’m allergic to cats. I like them, but I’m never going to be able to have one in the house.

As a result, Silas hasn’t had a lot of experience with them. He’s sniffed a few in the vet’s office, where they sometimes have foster kittens in an enclosure in the lobby. Otherwise, his whole experience of them is the time that he got attacked.

Silas is, somewhere in his DNA, a terrier, with a terrier’s instincts to hunt and kill things. He never really gets the chance, but he dearly loves to chase a good squirrel now and then. The ones in the back yard are especially troublesome to him, because they never come down low enough for him to get a good chance. They run across our garage roof, where Silas can see them but not reach them.

Lately, something else has been running across our garage roof.

That would be the neighbor’s cat. At first I thought the neighbor didn’t realize this was happening. She lets the cat out onto her seemingly safe patio, which has at least eight feet of wall or fence on every side. Then the cat climbs a tree, leaps to the garage roof (our garages are all adjoined), and runs across to do who knows what.

Silas is, needless to say, somewhere between bloodthirsty and terrified by this. I honestly think that he sees this cat as the WORLD’S BIGGEST MOST EVIL SQUIRREL.

In order to stem the tide of frantic barking, I casually mentioned to the neighbor, “Oh, is that your new cat I’m seeing run across my garage?” This is a lady who genuinely loves animals, and I expect she’ll be upset by this. “Yes!” she says, “the new cat is such a handful!” And then the conversation turned to something else. I still don’t know why she’s letting the new cat outside, since she knows it’s running away.

A little while ago, the inevitable happened. Instead of climbing down the neighbor’s tree, the cat climbed down our tree. Luckily Silas was inside at the time. I have never heard him so upset over anything. It’s been over half an hour, and he still can’t go to sleep. His eyes drift closed, and then snap back open to look out the patio door.

Poor anxious guy. I guess I’m going to have to speak more firmly with the neighbor.

Monday Park Report

We just got back from a seriously uncomfortable trip to the park.

I complain a lot about our summer weather. Truth is, I’m not very good in the heat, even though I grew up in a warm climate. I sunburn easily, and I quickly overheat and start to feel nauseous. Silas isn’t a lot better. The trick is, supposedly, to get outside every day in the spring, so that your body can adjust to the heat as it gradually warms up. Well, this year summer flipped on like a switch, and it happened while I had the flu.

It’s very easy to stay inside all summer. Silas really doesn’t mind. One outing a week is fine by him, as long as we’re playing indoor games. The downside of that is that he needs exposure to people and moving objects and other animals, otherwise his anxiety levels start to go back up. After living like a hermit for a few weeks, he is very sensitive to anything “unusual,” which is basically everything.

Today I thought, “Well, I’ll just put on my big girl pants, and we’ll go out first thing.” Except after a month of not using Silas’s big park bag (the one that holds water for both of us, which I have to carry if we’re going to be out more than half an hour. Otherwise I carry a small bag with just water for him.) its contents were all over the house. Then I wanted to go to the park that was the furthest away. It was, all told, a little before 10:00 when we hit the trail, and about 11:00 when we got back to the car. Now I know that this is too late. It wasn’t even that hot. 88, with 68% humidity, but the sun was just brutal for that last half hour.

On the plus side: Silas got over his fear of the park bridges. He was always fine with them, and then I made the mistake of stepping on a loose expansion plate one day. Ka-Pow! And then he was afraid to cross them. A little time away and he’s forgotten about it. He did bark at some pedestrians, but not too much.

The far away park, with it’s longer walks and less shade, is probably getting dropped off our repertoire for the next few months, though.