My Own Dog Sport

I envy people who do dog sports. It took me a long time to pin down exactly why–I’m not keen on giving up every weekend to agility trials, and I am so not standing in the sun all day to do field testing. So, why did I feel this little nagging pang of envy?

Lately I’ve figured it out.

I envy dog sports people because they have such clear, established training agendas. Their dog needs to do X, Y, and Z, with X, Y, and Z speed or accuracy.

Silas really does love to work, although his anxiety interferes. I didn’t put this together until the behaviorist pointed it out, but it’s true. For a dog who, let’s face it, spends 98% of his life hanging out in the house, it’s not always easy to channel that drive into anything. We’re at a place now where he knows the basic cues very, very well, and the “cutesy” tricks are not really in his repertoire. He’s more of a forward-motion guy. It was so much fun teaching him to heel, which I say with zero sarcasm at all.

So, I decided to invent my own dog sport.

It’s called “Competitive Sidewalk Walking.”

Like running an extremely fast agility course, Competitive Sidewalk Walking is not just something we can walk right out the door and do. We will never be the Border Collie of the Competitive Sidewalk Walking games; we’re in it for the fun.

Like all dog sports, Sidewalk Walking will require extensive foundation work, lots of exposure to the venue, and even counterconditioning to the scary things that happen in or near the competition. It might be a very long time before we even get to “compete.”

I’m making a training plan now. Silas is resting up.


Harness Woes

In my list of dog priorities, keeping Silas’s skin attached to his body is at a firm position #2, second only to keeping his food in his stomach instead of vomited back onto my patio.

To this end, we have owned a lot of harnesses.

Here are my problems:
1) Silas is a funny-shaped dog. He has a very large chest circumference for his size, but it’s in a very oval tall/narrow configuration. We have been stymied by several otherwise nice harnesses that just don’t come in a size to fit him. Even his current harness, which comes in rare and wonderful “between” sizes, is not a perfect fit–the chest band is let almost entirely out, while the shoulder straps are too loose in the tightest setting.

2) Silas has wacky metal sensitivities. I can’t figure out what it is exactly that bothers him, because dog-gear companies aren’t lining up to tell you what metal they use in their buckles and clasps. His city dog tags left him with an oozing sore on his chest, so I have to keep all of his ID tags in a Quiet Spot neoprene sleeve.

3) Silas has extremely little hair, especially on his belly, chest, and behind his front legs.

4) Silas cannot be walked on a collar, because he is crazy reacts unpredictably to the world.

I thought I had solved all of these problems with his Lupine Roman Harness. That’s his red one that has been in all the recent photos. I love this harness. My one issue was that some of the seams are quite rough on the inside, but I added some stick on moleskin padding.

Now I’m noticing, though, that his chest is perpetually scabby.

April 23

None of the potential problem seams are in the chest area. This leaves me with three theories:
1) The nylon webbing, which is quite soft for nylon webbing, is too abrasive for him.
2) He’s starting to react to the metal chest ring for some reason.
Or 3) Now that most of the paint is worn of his dog tag clip, he’s reacting to it.

I’m really hoping it’s #3, which is a quick enough fix with a new tag clip. (I can’t really move them. The metal d-rings on collars also sometimes bother him, so his current collar doesn’t have one.) Finding the Lupine harness took months and basically exhausted my local resources. I may be reduced to either finding him a shirt to wear under his harness or sewing (hahahahaha) some kind of fleece cover for it.

Do any of you know a fleece-lined harness that doesn’t sit right behind the dog’s front legs?

A Tactical Error

There are perks to having a smart dog. Silas has taught himself a lot of really handy behaviors. Sometimes his smartness sneaks up on me in a bad way, though.


We have a small upright freezer in our dining room. I keep all of Silas’s miscellaneous stuff up there–the nail clippers, his seldom-used hairbrush, a few jars of treats, his medications.

One day last week, something on top of the freezer started to wig him out. I thought it was my camera tripod, which doesn’t usually sit up there. I moved it. The next day, he was barking nervously at the top of the freezer again. I took everything off the freezer, showed it to him, and then picked him up to show him that there was nothing left. That seemed to work.

That evening, I heard him whimpering and got up to investigate. There he was, sitting next to the freezer, whining. There was nothing at all scary left up there–I’d even put all the big boxes down flat.

And then it hit me.

I showed him my secret stash of the extra-special dog chews.

Drat it.

Wordless Wednesday: Blue, Blue, Blue

We’ve been bordering on drought again this summer, and apparently the rain was very welcome. Muggy, but so beautiful and clean looking:


No pictures of Silas from this outing. There was already a dog in our “happy place,” so we were on the scary side of the park. No time for photos; this was just a quick snap on the way back to the car.

He stayed happy enough to end up like this, with just a bad moment or two:



I think yuppie, as a term, has probably faded from most people’s vocabulary. Still, I find it to be a handy word to define things that are conspicuously both trendy and upper middle class. Many of which I (obviously) participate in.

What follows is the yuppiest tale in all of dogdom.

When I say that Silas is a picky eater I am not kidding. His preferences crack me up. He will not eat eggs at my mom’s house, but he loves them here. The difference? My eggs are cage free and usually from a local farm. Mom buys the cheapest eggs at the Piggly Wiggly. He’s happy enough to eat the regular turkey that I buy, but he goes crazy for the turkey from the heritage turkey lady at the farmer’s market. (I would never have paid that much for turkey to feed the dog, but last year I didn’t know how hard it was going to be to find turkey in September. The heritage turkey lady runs on a different production schedule than the big markets.) His favorite cheese? Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

One of the places my husband and I go is a little local market/restaurant that really got their start with all things pork. We go because they make the best coffee in town. The pork is their pride and joy, though–I laughed hysterically because their idea of a Father’s Day gift was to take Dad to a hog butchering demo. My Dad’s family was quite happy when they became middle-class enough to stop raising their own hogs. Lately they’ve been offering pork dog chews. I assume they’re pig skin, but the pieces are small and Silas is a very thorough chewer.

I buy Silas pig’s ears from time to time. He’s not a huge fan. He’ll chew one of I smear a little peanut butter on it, but otherwise it just sits there. The last one I bought, he wouldn’t eat even with the peanut butter.

So, of course, yuppie dog thinks the chews from the fancy market are delicious. He has to eat them in his crate, because they are greasy and disgusting. Silas doesn’t mind his crate, but he doesn’t like to have the door shut while there are people around. Unless he’s got the magical pork chew from the fancy market, that is. Then he’s all “Don’t worry about me; I’m getting my chew on in here.”

Change in the Weather

We switched unseasonably hot for unseasonably cool and wet over the weekend. I walked down the street to the store on Saturday and practically ran back to the house. “It’s cool outside! Get the park bag! Let’s go!”

The rain on Friday was pretty epic. There were trees down in the park, even:


We did manage to find one little mud-free area, so Silas got to run around on his long line for a while:




I think it was the first time in months that he’s been outside for more than fifteen minutes. (His choice, not mine.)

It will be back in the 90s, although fortunately low 90s, starting tomorrow. I’m hoping to get one more good park outing today before the late summer weather returns to usual.


Also, I’m playing around with redesigning the blog, since it’s been more than a year with my hasty initial plan. I’m not sure if I like the new version, since you have to click through to the posts. That always annoys me. We’ll see how long it sticks. I also made a new page for our training goals.

The Cost of a Fearful Dog

For a while I was taking a cue from The House of Two Bows and posting a little monthly budget summary here. Then I realized that our numbers were crazy and I gradually quit doing it.

It is very easy when you have an anxious dog to throw money at the problem. There are a thousand calming widgets on the market, many of which do help, albeit not enough that you aren’t enticed into buying the next one. It’s also tempting to buy a lot of dog toys, because you spend most of your dog’s life in the house. Good toys that won’t leave indelible paint marks on your white walls aren’t cheap. All that’s before you even get to training classes. Also, spending money makes you feel like you’re doing something to help, even if what you’re buying doesn’t help at all.

So I thought I would present the conversation from a slightly different side. These are our current baseline minimum numbers per month, assuming that we want to make progress rather than just managing the level of fear Silas currently has:

Behaviorist: $120 (that’s for the maintenance visit). This is a fair price for our area. $120 would get me once a month with the behaviorist, once a month private lessons with a few dollars left over, or a 4-6 week class if I could find one that wanted Silas.
Food: Silas eats roughly 22 pounds of food in a month. The cheapest thing he eats is about $2/lb, ranging up to about $4. We’ll say $50, although the amount I spend per month fluctuates depending on what’s available. Our numbers are higher than typical here, thanks to the food allergies.
Prescription medications: Roughly $25. This is alprazolam and Silas’s heartworm preventative. If we decide to use a daily medication, this will obviously go up.
DAP Collar: $20, depending on where I can find it on sale. This is one of those whoo-whoo things that really does make a lot of difference for us.

That’s $215 dollars a month, assuming I don’t buy a single toy or treat and nothing unusual comes up. If financial calamity were to hit, I could of course cut out a good bit of that, but that’s not really what this post is about.

Helping a fearful dog is not cheap. Even if I could feed Silas kibble instead of raw, I would be looking at a substantial monthly outlay. I’m not telling you that because I feel sorry for myself. I’m very lucky that we can afford this, and I don’t feel bad about it.

I’m also lucky that Silas is not worse. I don’t think our numbers are the highest out there. Separation anxiety can easily cost a small fortune in either repairs to your home or in doggie daycare. In some dogs, fear can lead to aggression, especially toward other household pets, and you may have extremely high veterinary bills.

I feel like sometimes people get sucked into rescuing anxious dogs because they “feel bad for them.” Or, more likely if the dog is coming from a shelter, the dog’s problems don’t really manifest for a few weeks. Badly bred puppies, either from mills or from unfortunate accidental litters, may not show their problems until they enter adolescence. I think this kind of data needs to be out there as a part of that discussion.

The emotional cost of dealing with a fearful dog can be unexpectedly high. I’m used to it, and I still have days where it gets to me. The real financial cost is also quite high. It’s okay if you can’t afford either of those things. It can be a wonderful thing to help a fearful dog, but we also need to acknowledge that not everyone has the resources.

If you have a fearful dog and are willing to share, please give your numbers in the comments.


(Updating with our more recent numbers: we finally were able to phase out our behaviorist visits, and the DAP collars stopped working after a while. Silas’s daily medication plus his heart worm treatment is roughly¬†$45 per month, and his food costs have remained the same. I find that Silas is happiest if we stay involved in some kind of training class online, which ranges in price from¬†$65 per six weeks at the Fenzi academy and up.)


I try to keep things lighthearted around here. Over-thought, but generally positive.

I’m just not in that space lately. I’ve been getting a lot of reminders of things that Silas “can’t” do lately.

Last week at the coffee shop a four month old puppy just . . . hung out under the table the whole time her owners ate breakfast. No barking, no cowering, no insisting that she run up to every person to meet them with who knows what outcome.

Sunday we ran across what looked like a nose work/tracking class at the park where we bike. I would love to do a nose work class with Silas. All the dogs were sitting in crates, calm and happy, while one dog worked. More than Silas could handle? Probably.

Today we got an invitation to a housewarming party. The couple giving the party have two very friendly and outgoing dogs, and they told us we could bring Silas. They haven’t met him since he was a puppy. I’m not sure if Silas could handle just the two of them and their two dogs, let alone fifty people.

One thing at a time I can laugh this stuff off. It’s just a bad combination of things all at once, plus our visit with the behaviorist yesterday was pretty hard. Rational brain knows that we, culturally, expect dogs to do ridiculous things like they aren’t hard at all. It’s great that some dogs can do those things, but we can’t let that be the expectation for every dog. (Especially if you stack them together, the way I see some people trying–they want a dog who can win agility and flyball meets, walks perfectly off leash, can hang out without stressing while you drink a latte, doesn’t chase squirrels, has never laid tooth to anything that isn’t a dog toy, goes to the dog park like it’s Disneyland, and will let kids climb on him like a pony. But they don’t want to spend too much time in Obedience class, because that makes the dog “like a robot.”)

Anyway, pity party, table of one. I’ll try to get over it.


What Next?

Today we had the conversation with the behaviorist that I’ve been expecting for a while–the one about putting Silas on a daily medication.

She’s the one who brought it up, and she said it is entirely up to me. He’s at a manageable level. He spends more of every day happy than unhappy.

That management, though, is exhausting. It’s crept up on me gradually, so much so that I don’t even realize some of it happens. There has literally not been a person in my house besides my husband and me since we had the downstairs toilet done, and that was maybe six months ago. I know it’s been a year since we had anyone over just to be friendly.

We don’t take walks; we have to drive to the park. And not just any park–I have every park in the city ranked by how stressful they are, how far Silas can walk there before he panics over something, and how likely we are to meet someone that scares him.

If I have to leave Silas in the car (in the winter, obviously), I park all the way at the end of the lot, because he will bark frantically at anyone who walks even close to the car. This morning, he barked at the person who parked next to us while that person was still in their car.

We have heavy blinds/curtains on all the front windows, and if he doesn’t stop obsessing about the neighbor’s cat, I’ll have to put them on the patio doors.

We don’t travel at all anymore, unless we can rent a cabin (and even then I have to check, because some cabin rental places put them too close together) or stay with my parents. When we visit Mom and Dad their whole life comes to a halt, because Silas can’t handle the people who usually go in and out of their house.

Is any of that stuff an impossible burden? Not really. Does it make me feel bad? Yes.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get him through his fear of cars without more help than we’re already using. I was really proud of him on Friday. The behaviorist seemed a little alarmed that it took so much effort on to my part, plus the medication dosage we used, for the results that we got.

She insists that he won’t be dopey or drugged or funny acting–if he is, the medication is wrong. He wouldn’t be on it forever, although it would be for a fairly long time.

Still, I don’t know. If he were a person, who could weigh in on his own treatment, I would never say, “No, I don’t think I’ll give you this medication that will make you feel better.” Medicating a dog is harder, though. They can’t say, “hey, this makes me feel a little funny” or “I don’t like the way my stomach feels when I take this.” It makes it hard for me to give him a largely elective medication.