This Close!

I took Silas to a new park yesterday. It was deliberately selected to be a manageable challenge. I could park right next to a large open area, with some trees. That open area continues all the way to a fairly busy road on the right, but on the left it backs onto an endless series of unfenced soccer fields.

We’re supposed to be working places that he can see cars, but not be overwhelmed by them. Our best candidate of our usual parks is out because of the weather–there’s a perfect place where Silas realizes “Oh, crap, that’s a car way out on the horizon. I have to turn around!!!” but it’s about a ten minute walk from the parking lot. Lazy heat-hating dog is not up to walking ten minutes and then doing (psychologically) hard training.

I spotted this new park while I was out scoping a new bike route. The bike route was a bust, but the park was not. It was a great choice because we could basically get as far away from the road as we needed to, even if that was two acres.

We ran around, we played, with chased, and we gradually inched our way closer to the road. No compulsion, just running around. We got so close I took a picture, even:


It looked much closer in real life, and he got a little closer before we left. We were at the park a little over 15 minutes, and he was happy for all but one minute right at the beginning.

I must confess, he does have some medication that we’re using for situations like this. He only gets it as-needed, and it’s a pretty small dose. The medication emphatically does not work miracles–it dials his level of anxiety down slightly, but it doesn’t turn him into a happy-go-lucky, in-love-with-the-world kind of dog. The intention of the medication is to give us room to train–because he couldn’t function if there was a car anywhere in sight, there was no way to do things like reward-based counterconditioning.

Even with his medication, he refused to take any food in this park. He was happy to run and play, though. It is not only huge progress in and of itself, but it gives us a really great place to work from.


I’ll never be one of those famous dog bloggers, for lots of reasons. Aside from too many words/too few pictures and all that other stuff, my brain goes like this:






I’d call it some kind of ADD, except these phases can last for months. I circle back to everything in time, and nothing is ever completely gone. Whatever I’m “in to” at the moment does tend to take up 75% of my conscious brain time, though.

This used to bother me a lot, usually because I’d spend a good bit of my discretionary income on something and then change hobbies. What I’m realizing more and more, though, is that it’s actually good for me to put my energy in new places. (Although, I have learned to set myself some limits on new ventures that require money.) Sometimes the crossovers between Hobby A and Hobby B turn out to be very fruitful, in surprising ways.

For the last week or two, I’ve been spending most of my internet time reading about women and fitness, body acceptance, and nutrition science. (If you’re interested in any of that stuff, start with Go Kaleo, a blog written by one of the more awesome women on the planet.) This has led to some changes around the house, which have led to me having ALL THE ENERGY, to lapse into internet-speak.

ALL THE ENERGY then translates back into dog training, of course, which is a very good thing.

Moral: don’t feel bad for doing what your brain really wants you to do. As Pamela at Something Wagging likes to say, “good for the dog; good for you.”


As kind of an aside, Susan Garrett is about to open her Puppy Peaks class (which I will not be taking, because all my dog training money is going to the behaviorist). As a lead up to her classes, she always runs a pretty interesting series of free videos, intended to get you hooked. The first one for Puppy Peaks is here. I really like some of the things she says in this first one. Just beware: whatever you think about Susan’s methods, which I personally like a lot, she is extremely good at marketing her products. It’s so easy to get sucked in that I really debated posting the link.

Wordless Wednesday: Dog and Baseball

Silas found this baseball at the park.

He wanted to chase it, but mostly he wanted to roll on top of it.

Yes, there is an incredibly loud exercise class on the other side of this field.

(Also: I’m getting a notice that there may be ads in this post. This seems to be, d**n them, a new level of WordPress hell. Please let me know if they become a problem.)

On Perfection

Excuse me while I step onto my soapbox:

I posted yesterday about being a terrible dog trainer. And all of you said some version of “Oh, me too. I’m so glad someone brought this up.”

As far as I can tell, we’re all women here. Women are under a lot of pressure to be perfect, from both inside and outside of ourselves. We feel like horrible people when our dogs misbehave. We feel bad for eating cheesecake. (We feel bad for not eating cheesecake.) We have nagging guilt over not going to the dentist every six months. We are deeply ashamed of things like the way our stomachs look when we put on our swimsuits. We wince when someone at the mall gives our shoes “the eye.” Just this morning, I was a little embarrassed because I was driving the oldest car in the parking lot. Those of you who have children, from what I can tell, feel bad about some kind of parenting decision basically all the time.

This is too much feeling bad.

Here at My Imperfect Dog, we are not on board with perfection. When I named the blog, I was pointing out the obvious fact that Silas is, umm, problematic. It was also a way to remind myself to accept that imperfection for what it is. No dog is perfect, ever, just like no human is.

There’s a fine line between having healthy, ambitious goals and living in guilty misery. Sometimes I cross it. Sometimes we all do.

Everybody fails. Those failures are important. They’re signs of trying new, hard things. A lot of those “failures” and “imperfections” that we beat ourselves up about, though, are not real at all. Your car is not a failure. Your clothes are not a failure. Your body is not a failure. Your dog is not a failure.

Love yourself the way that you love your dog. Extend your compassion toward yourself. Be gloriously imperfect.

A confession:

Look, I’m just going to put this out there.

I can talk dog-training all day long. I’ve read the books. I’ve taken the online and the in-person courses. I’ve talked to the best dog trainers in my city. I know the theories like the back of my hand.

But I’m a terrible dog trainer.

I am short tempered. I scold Silas for barking, even when I know better. Even when the voice in my mind says the whole time, “Where, exactly, is this getting you? Is this really the kind of person you want to be?” It just . . . comes out.

I have slow reflexes. When the behaviorist told me to kneel down and pet Silas for good walking, he was always four steps ahead by the time I got to the ground. I’m young-ish and reasonably fit. I’m just slow.

I can’t remember the rules in the heat of the moment. I sent a training video to his behaviorist, and she pointed out that I was doing something completely obvious that I knew I shouldn’t have been doing.

Even worse, I am too soft-hearted. I don’t mean too soft-hearted for physical corrections, which is a different kettle of fish entirely. I mean, I make too many exceptions. These range from “Oh, it’s okay for him to do [insert problem behavior] here, because he’s nervous” to “I dropped his cookie, so it’s okay if he breaks his sit.”

If Silas were (no offense) a dumb, happy dog, I could probably get away with all of this stuff. Alas, he sees right through me.

Breaking the Cycle


When you have a nervous dog you get into a rut. This “problem” dog can’t be taken out in public, so you think, because he behaves so “badly.” For your nervous dog, this causes massive behavioral and emotional fall out. It goes something like this:

1. Nervous dog is a little skittish at the park.

2. Because he is skittish, he pulls on his leash and is hard to manage.

3. Then he, say, barks at someone who startles him.

4. You, embarrassed from the barking and/or bruised from being hauled across the park, don’t take him to the park for a week.

5. Nervous dog is now less familiar with his environment, and reacts even more strongly.

6. You don’t take him to the park until guilt absolutely compels you. If you have a yard, you gradually stop taking him out at all.

7. Nervous dog loses all of his coping skills and is now terrified to leave the house/yard, even to go to places that used to be okay. You are reinforced in your belief that the dog can’t be taken out.

Additionally your dog, once you give up on going out, lives an incredibly sterile life. He sleeps the same naps in the same beds. He goes into the yard and sniffs the same trees and pees on the same piece of lawn furniture. He maybe plays with the same tennis ball and chews on the same chewbone. This is not the stuff of good mental health. Anxious dogs can get very rigid about what is “acceptable,” so it’s very important to keep variety in their activities.

This cycle can also sneak up on you. We’re starting to see some fallout from this, even though I know better, just because it is so d***ed hot outside. Silas has dropped from three-four outings a week to maybe one outing every week and a half. He had a melt down at PetSmart the other day, because of a dog on an overhead sign. He’s always loved PetSmart. I had quit taking him because their asphalt parking lot is flamingly hot. And now, of course, I think “oh, we shouldn’t go back to PetSmart, the sign scared him.” This is the Bad Cycle of Staying Home in action. His acceptance of strangers, which was at a pretty good place in the Spring, is also getting a little rockier.

So, how do you get out of this?

1. Enrich your dog’s environment at home. Absolutely, no matter what. Puzzle toys, treats hidden in cardboard boxes, hiding a toy for him to find, a new game, training some new tricks. Do whatever you can.

2. Get over yourself. (This one is the most important, and I say it with deep love, both to you and to me.) Your dog barks. Your dog pees inappropriately. Your dog could use a refresher on leash walking. Your dog will only walk at one park, and it’s a thirty minute drive away. You will make mistakes handling and training through any of these things. Accept it. Move on. Seek professional help if you need it.

3. Find a safe, very boring place to exercise your dog. You would really prefer your dog to not get any practice with his bad behaviors, but don’t use that as an excuse to stay home. If your dog is afraid of specific things, try to minimize contact with them.

4. Go to that place. Spend as much time there as you can. Keep it positive. Watch for signs of stress and try to get out before it escalates. Warning: this may be five minutes.

5. Repeat number 4. A lot. Gradually, the safe time will expand. Your dog, who has been living is sensory deprivation, will start to be more okay with being out in the world. You can now, maybe, add a new place.

Historically, Silas will keep at least a vague memory of a particular place. When we went through almost exactly this same process this time last year (although it was motivated by some real behavioral stuff then, rather than my laziness.) I found that once I got him used to being out at all, he pretty quickly got back up to speed on all of our usual places. Don’t make assumptions, though. Every dog is different, and sometimes the places themselves change in ways that aren’t readily apparent to humans.

Late Summer Allergies

We’ve been on a rough ride here, allergy-wise.

First it was lamb. Typical food allergy stuff. I stopped the lamb, and things got only a little better. Then I realized Silas was throwing up because he was chewing a chicken-flavored nylabone. I took away the nylabone (which wasn’t even the “chicken” flavor, it was the original, and who knew that he was eating enough of it to matter?), but he was still breaking out in new bumps.

I tend to call these hives, but they probably aren’t, really. We’ve seen hives. They look like this:


I am thankful almost every day that he’s never had another reaction that bad.

These bumps are a lot more minor, mostly visible as a disturbance of his hair. You can see one here, right behind his front leg:


Or, to be more clear:
hives with circle

Here’s a terrible shot of one on his belly, where you can see what they actually look like:

On average they will form up, stay for a few days, and go away. The problem is that sometimes they form where Silas can reach to scratch them. This is the same bump under his front leg, a place he can easily claw with his back feet, two days later:

The blessing in all of this is that Silas doesn’t appear to be allergic to ragweed. We’re in the very beginnings of fall pollen season right now, and my city keeps precise data. Amaranth (pigweed/tumbleweed/lambs’ quarters) is in the air right now, as is the very first smidgeon of ragweed. Last year, at the very beginning of ragweed season, I noticed the hives, doubled his dose of fish oil, and felt very proud of myself for keeping anything more serious at bay. Ragweed is epic here. Epic.

Year two data suggests that he’s not actually allergic to the ragweed at all, but rather to other thing that’s pollenating right now. Amaranth has a much shorter season and never reaches the extreme volume that ragweed does. I’m not sure there would be medication enough in the world if Silas were actually showing a reaction to ragweed this early in the season, since it will get several hundred times worse.

So that’s a good thing. But in the meantime, he’s still breaking out with new places every day, despite a few attempts to medicate him. I’m going to have to pull out the Temaril, it looks like, if I don’t want him to scratch himself into a skin infection.