The Other Wrinkle

One other thing came up on our trip that I’m going to have to talk to the behaviorist about.

Silas is terrified of cars. When the behaviorist assessed him, we walked out of her office and down the sidewalk. We didn’t even make it to the next driveway. Silas spent so much of that time flattened to the sidewalk that he almost wore his nails to the quick. I’ve had to leave parks with him because he saw a car through the trees a quarter of a mile away.

Except.

He will play in Mom’s yard while somebody drives by.

He will run around a highway rest area. He’s not the happiest dog in the world there, and we definitely take him as far away from the road as we can, but he’s no worse than he is in any semi-new place.

And here’s the real kicker: while we were away my husband borrowed a truck to move some tires. Silas and I were outside when he pulled up and drove right through the yard. It was a strange car, and there was no way he could tell my husband was driving from the angle we were at. He looked at it like, “Huh. That’s weird. Where’s my ball?”

The only thing I can think of is that maybe it’s the sound. The cars Silas is afraid of are all driving on city pavement at speeds of less than 50 mph. The road at Mom’s turns into dirt right at the corner of her yard, so the sound is really different. Cars also sound different at the highway speeds near a rest area. The truck was driving very close, but on grass it was almost silent.

It would fit in a way, too, because Silas is afraid of a lot of “roaring” type noises. He’s afraid of the vacuum, my kitchen exhaust fan, the car air conditioner on high, the blender, the hair dryer, and the leaf blower. Those and similar sounds are almost the only noises that bother him.

Now, a completely unrelated picture of Silas, hanging out in the back of the car with a mountain of new beds. (He’s obsessed with these, and our local store doesn’t carry them. We bought two more while we were away just in case something happens to the first one.)

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Adventures in Babysitting

While we were on our most recent trip, my husband went for a job interview. If the job had worked out (it didn’t; they wanted to hire him, but for a 20% pay cut. LOLOLOL.) it would have meant moving across the country. I know that Silas couldn’t handle the process. It seems like my best, in some ways, option was to see if he could stay alone with my mom overnight. He adores her, and I wouldn’t have to worry about the stress of putting him in boarding. In the real situation he would have to stay for three or four days, at least, which made it really important to do a test run before I counted on it working.

My husband and I left at about 9:00 on Thursday morning, and we came back around 8:30 Friday night. Silas did just fine. I’m not sure I’ll be able to do it so easily next time–he obviously had no idea that us not coming home was even a possibility the first night. On the second night, he made Mom take him outside around dusk and wait on us for the next half an hour. Luckily for her we came home.

Very interesting things happened while we were gone. Mom’s house is usually pretty busy with people in and out. She tones it down a lot while we’re there, but I didn’t explicitly say “Hey, no strangers while we’re gone!” On the first day, my brother, who Silas knows but isn’t really comfortable with, brought a friend of his over to do some yard work. Silas and Mom were outside when they pulled up. Silas did not bark at them. Mom even took Silas over to meet them, and he did not bark. When I took Silas out the day before, he barked over the neighbor being on his porch.

Then it gets crazier–the second day, my uncle came over. I’ve introduced Silas to him a few times before, but it hasn’t really “taken.” Silas did not bark. He walked over, gave my uncle a good sniff, and then went back to the sofa.

Our followup appointment with the behaviorist is tomorrow, and I had to get to the bottom of this so that I can talk to her about it. After we got home, I had my uncle come back over. Silas alarm barked at him more or less the whole time he was there. It wasn’t anything too bad, but it was pretty constant. I don’t know if he’s just being overprotective (something that is definitely true in other contexts) or if he was just too depressed to bark while we were gone, or what. I would say that it’s me stressing out over the fact that he’s going to misbehave, but sometimes I haven’t even seen the person until he starts barking. And he doesn’t do it all the time. It’s been ages since he barked at someone in the park or a store.

I do know that I’m going to have to give Mom firmer rules for next time. She has a “well, he handled x okay, so let’s try y” attitude. Poor Silas had to deal with my brother, his friend, my uncle, my brother coming back with the baby, and she let something slip about Silas seeing my little cousin next door. He was a wreck all weekend after all that.

DAP Comparison Notes

Some part of Silas’s progress lately is attributable to our new buddy:

The behaviorist recommended this Adaptil Collar for us. It isn’t a magic bullet. She said that some dogs would show a dramatic improvement in a day or two. Some dogs wouldn’t be any different at all. More common than either, according to her, is a kind of faint improvement. Many owners don’t notice much difference until the collar wears out, and then they think, “Oh, hmm, maybe it was helping a little.”

Adaptil (also known as DAP) is a synthetic simulation of a pheromone that mother dogs release while nursing puppies. The theory is that this scent, imperceptible to humans, is comforting to dogs at an instinctive level.

I’ve noticed one distinct, absolutely attributable improvement: Silas has always been fine in the car at highway speeds. In town, though, he can sometimes get the nervous shakes. He is much better since we put on the DAP collar.

Otherwise, we’ve seen some improvements that could be the collar, or could be training, or could be total coincidence. (Like yesterday’s encounter with the baby.) To give another example of the ambiguous-type improvements: a few weeks ago I accidentally took him to the park in morning rush hour trying to avoid the heat. He was totally okay. It could have been the DAP, or it could have been that he’s familiar enough with that park to dismiss the traffic.

The part of our experience that I thought would be the most useful to you guys, though, is that we have also tried the plug-in diffusers with very little success. My musings on the differences:

Your dog obviously doesn’t have to wear the plug-in diffuser. You don’t have to worry about it getting pulled off or wet, and it doesn’t interfere with your dog’s regular collar. A dog with separation anxiety should not be left alone while wearing any kind of collar, in case they panic and get tangled. I would also guess that the plug-ins put out a more consistent quantity of pheromone, since they’re electric with a fan mechanism.

If you have multiple dogs, the plug-ins would probably be cheaper. The pricing is complicated by the huge difference between online and retail prices. The collar is not as significantly discounted online. If you shop in bricks-and-mortar stores, the collar is significantly cheaper per month. If you shop online, one collar is roughly the same price as one diffuser refill. One plug in is good for 600 square feet, so most people will need multiples for whole-house coverage unless the dog spends most of his time in one room or area.

The main benefit of the collar, as opposed to the plug-in, is that it goes with your dog everywhere. It’s in the car, and on vacation, and at the park. Silas is more anxious away from home, so this is important for us. It’s probably a smaller dose, but it is more consistent exposure for a dog who is out-and-about a good bit. Also, consider your architecture. Our main living area has a loft-style ceiling that I think interfered with the diffuser’s effectiveness, even when we were running two.

The form we haven’t tried is the spray, which is designed to be used in small or temporary spaces, like cars or hotel rooms.

Silas and the Baby, Part Two

We’re back to see my parents again (we’re on a pretty regular schedule since my grandfather died in January. My mother likes the company), and it’s been interesting to see how Silas has adapted to things since the last trip.

This morning, we hopped out of bed to run outside before it started to rain. Silas ran over to the kitchen, and there was . . . THE BABY. My mother was holding her, and my brother was standing further back in the kitchen. I was a little behind Silas, and it took me a second to realize what was going on. I hadn’t heard them come in. Imagine my surprise when I spotted Silas, looking up at the baby. No barking.

I called him to go outside, put on his leash, and he ran back for one more look. He didn’t bark even then, when I was 100% sure that he was seeing the baby.

Not only that, he didn’t bark at my brother until much later, when he quickly stood up and walked toward the door. He was even willing to lie down with a chew bone while my brother was in the room (the baby was napping elsewhere).

Progress!

The New Car

I played a trick on Silas Saturday.

On Saturday, we finally got to bring home the new car. The new car looks almost identical to my car. Both are small SUVs, both are grey. (We’re replacing my husband’s truck, so we’re now that family with the matching cars.) For humans, there are obvious differences. They aren’t quite the same size, one is a little boxier, one is lighter colored. Still, I’d bet there are people who wouldn’t notice the difference unless the cars were side by side.

When we came home from the dealer, I parked my car on the street and the new car in my place in the garage.

A while later, we took Silas to the park. He ran into the garage, then immediately stopped in his tracks. Clever dog could tell in that one step that the car parked in my place was not our car at all.

Fortunately he accepted it and, after a little initial hesitation, hopped right in.

I think he’ll really like it. We don’t always buckle him in*, and he seems pretty well able to navigate the critical gap between passenger-lap to back-seat space. Plus, the armrest is a better height for his head. It’s a huge improvement on the truck, anyway, which terrified him.

*On buckling: I’m not convinced that Silas’s car harness is demonstrably safer than being loose. Because a dog seatbelt tether can’t “lock” under sudden pressure like a human one, I suspect that in an accident he would be thrown forward into his harness hard enough to cause injury. His crate is too large to fit comfortably in the car unless I put him in the cargo area, which is both too isolated from the air conditioning (overheating being statistically far more likely in this climate than an accident that would throw him from the vehicle) and very hard on a dog as anxious as Silas. I do buckle him in when I’m driving solo, because otherwise he wants to sit in my lap, but I think of his car harness as a practical restraint rather than as a safety device. I’m not really thrilled with any of the dog-safety options.

Dog Days? Hardly.

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I think everybody around here is suffering from the hot-climate version of SAD. It’s brutal out there. Last weekend the humidity was actually 90%. Not the 90% that people say, when they’re hyperbolizing about how hot and humid it is. Really 90, according to the national weather service. In case you’re wondering, at 90% humidity you feel a lot like you’re having a heat stroke, even when you aren’t. Nothing your body does to cool itself does any good. It’s hard to breathe, even. When it isn’t crushingly humid, it’s pushing 100 degrees.

Silas can’t even do his favorite summer thing, which is to go sun on the patio. He tries, but he’s too hot in five minutes. At the park he lasts about ten.

Instead, we’ve been in the doldrums. We take naps on the sofa. We train a few tricks, but nothing is terribly new right now.

Not that I’m here to complain; that isn’t what I meant to do at all. I’m just explaining the lack of fun dog-related content. It’s snooze-ville around here, while we do our summer hibernating. I’ll buck up.