Things I Love

Silas knows to walk slowly down hill, so that he doesn’t pull me off balance.

He knows it’s okay to pull me back up the hill. I wouldn’t have made that last one on Tuesday, with the slippery sand, without you little buddy.

Silas is smart. He’s gone from having no idea he even had back feet to being able to go 360 degrees around his perch in four or five short training sessions. And that’s one example out of a hundred.

He doesn’t drool. I know you people with drooly dogs learn find it charming, but no.

He worries a lot about my welfare. It would be nice if he didn’t feel like he had to physically split me away from every person in the world, but his heart is in the right place.

Silas forgives people, even after they terrify him.

When Silas does something, he does it 100%.

He thinks upstairs is exclusively for playing, so he runs up before me to play bow at the top of the stairs. He does it every time, just in case I want to play a little game of get your feet at the top.

When I get up in the morning, he curls up on my pillow until I get ready to go downstairs.

Ears. Enough said.


What are you loving about your dogs today?


In order to offset our escalating dog-ownership costs, I made the commitment to stop buying dog treats. Instead, I would make them all myself. The only exception to this is Fromm’s Pork and Peas Kibble, which at four dollars a pound is vastly more economical than anything I can make. Otherwise, all of the treats that Silas can eat tend to be quite pricey.

Because Silas is picky and has a sensitive stomach, and because I’m kind of lazy about actual baking, this mostly has me slaving over chopping turkey up into the dehydrator. Recommended equipment: a great pair of kitchen scissors.

If you can get it, turkey breast is far and away the easiest. The trick to turkey breast is to cut it across the grain of the meat. Then, you can leave the treats in long strips and break them up as needed. If you cut with the grain, you won’t be able to break the treat up once it’s dried. Also, trim out any connective tissue or fat, because they don’t dry well. The great thing about these treats is that they require minimal chopping and are very dry and clean, with minimal stink factor. The down side is the price. Because I can only find added-sodium free turkey breast at the fancy grocer, it’s $6-$7/lb. By the time you dehydrate it, this is not significantly cheaper than store-bought treats.



Next up on our order of preference is turkey hearts. Turkey hearts are cheap if you can find them–one pound, which yields three or four ounces of treats, costs less than $2. They require more cutting work than turkey breast, though. You have to remove whatever fat is on the outside of the heart. Also, you can’t break turkey heart once it’s dehydrated, so you have to snip it into fairly small pieces if you want training-sized treats. If you do a good job of trimming off the fat, these are also clean and non-greasy enough to carry in your pocket. They are a little smellier, though.

From time to time I break out the big guns–liver. I hate chopping liver to dehydrate. It is so slippery and gross. It also makes your entire house smell like cooking liver, and liver smell will permeate anything that you carry treats in. Don’t put it in your pocket loose! The real trick with liver is to use the solid dehydrator trays that they recommend for fruit jerky. On the mesh trays, the liver will ooze down between the bars and be very difficult to remove. (Sorry if I just ruined fruit rollups for you forever.) You can break liver up once it’s dried, but make sure that you get the pieces thin enough to dehydrate properly. Even fully dry, liver doesn’t keep quite as well as the others–I try to store it in the freezer and grab a handful at a time. Dehydrated liver still packs a good nutritional punch. It’s especially useful for raw fed dogs who don’t really like raw liver. Just watch how much you give at one time–it can cause a little stomach upset.

This is part of the Tasty Tuesday Blog Hop

Powered by Linky Tools

Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

Collars and Leashes

This is a totally frivolous post. I’ll just let you know that in advance.

The behaviorist wants me to try a new kind of harness with Silas. I don’t think his leash manners are really that bad, but whatever. I pay her a lot of money, I might as well take her advice.

What I can’t decide on is the color.

When you have a white dog, the collar and harness world is your oyster. Anything goes. Our current setup is red. I like the red leash, because it has a traffic handle, but six feet is a lot of leash for Silas.

We also have a “neutral” colored four foot brown leather leash. Our last harness was blue. We used the leather leash and he wore a matching leather collar. It looked quite dashing, but the leather collar bothered him. The new harness would be front-clip, so I don’t know about the four foot leash. Will it be enough to keep him out of my way?

This is not counting two long lines, the green cotton web leash that matched his puppy harness, and a basic black four foot nylon leash that I keep in his park bag for emergencies.

So my options are
1) Buy the new harness in red, and use the existing red leash. Keep the accumulation as low as possible, because it’s getting ridiculous.
2) Buy the new harness in any color, and use the brown leather leash. It’s a nice leash.
3) But the new harness in any color, and buy a new leash to match. (I’m thinking green.) Why the heck not?

How many collars and leashes do you own? If you have multiple dogs, you can give a per-dog average. Which one of my options would you pick?

You Win Some

Silas has a lot of good points that get skimmed over here on the blog, because the BIG NEWS of everyday life is usually generated by his anxiety.

Tuesday at the behaviorist was actually pretty awesome. Silas took treats in the parking lot while we worked on his leash walking EVEN THOUGH a few cars pulled in and out.

Then, on our way back in, a little lap dog barked like a crazy when we came in. (Bless you, little dog owner, for holding him instead of having him on a flexi lead.) This was a bad situation for Silas, because it really was right as we were coming in the door. AKA, surprise barking!

Silas just walked on by. I’m not sure that he even noticed the little dog. Which is both a victory and not–he was really booking it back to his safe place in the exam room.

It was a good reminder for me, though, that Silas is actually not a “reactive” dog in the traditional sense of the term. He will bark at people in select situations (appearing in places he doesn’t expect, or reaching for him when he doesn’t want them to), and he will get a little grumbly with other dogs in select situations (mostly if they get in his space when we can’t get away), but none of his reactions are really vocal for no reason. He almost never barks at a person or a dog just for being where he can see them.

Sometimes it’s nice to remember that there are behavioral problems your dog doesn’t have. (Silas also isn’t destructive and hasn’t had an accident in the house since he was a puppy.)

In lieu of a relevant photo, which I don’t have, I’ll give you tiny puppy Silas looking very angelic:

Baby puppy

The Rules

Silas is a happy little guy, as long as the world operates 100% according to his rules.

Some of these rules are transparent to me. I try my best to go along with them when I can, even when it’s inconvenient.

Some of them are indecipherable. I’m sure there are reasons and patterns for these things, but I don’t know them.

The most important set of rules is Silas’s long list of things that are safe and not safe. It’s a long, extremely specific, and very arbitrary list.

Last Tuesday at the park, for instance. We were at Silas’s favorite park. This is one of very few outdoors places where he is 100% happy. As long as we’re on the trails and not in the parking lot, he’s better with people here than almost anywhere. His leash manners are better. He’s more willing to eat. Even here, I managed to terrify him.

What did I do that was so bad? I broke the rules.

I walked him twenty feet off of his usual route, to get to a trash can so that I could throw away his poop bag. He spent the entire twenty feet (during which time we were within sight of his regular route) flattened to the ground, clawing desperately at the dirt, trying to turn me back to the safe route. This was with a dose of his short-term anti-anxiety medication.

The good thing about the rules is that they allow for a lot of randomness. Once you are on “the list,” you’re on. The park that is usually closed to cars? Gets a free pass for the odd car driving by. The pet store? It’s okay for people to pet him. Parking lots? Not nice, but infinitely less evil than any other place we might see a car.

The bad thing about the rules is that, especially as Silas gets older, it is almost impossible for me to change them. Which is, I know, typical dog stuff. That’s why puppy socialization is so important, and now that Silas is two and a half that window is long closed. But even in the realm of normal dog training, Silas’s fear of the “bad things” is so strong that I can’t break through. There is no trainable distance that we can be from a moving car. There is no audible-to-humans sidewalk noise that I can use as a base for counter-conditioning. There is not one step on the scary trail that isn’t so stressful Silas would refuse a treat.

I’ve been resisting for a while now, but I think it might be time to put him on some daily medication. My hope is that this will loosen up “the rules” enough that I can put some things on the “good” list. I’ve got nothing to work with right now.

An open letter:

Dear people at the park on Sunday:

I couldn’t help but overhear your dogs having a very bad reaction to each other. I also heard that it went on for a very long time. I don’t know whose dog started it. You, with the Golden and the Maltese, were probably very surprised when that Airedale came around the corner. I also have a dog who doesn’t like to be surprised, so I have a lot of sympathy. And I know that sometimes dogs can be jerks. I’m not blaming either of you. Kudos to you both, in fact, for knowing that your dogs were not model citizens and having them on appropriate leashes.

What I want to talk to you about is that you didn’t do anything to intervene in the situation. In fact, the opposite. Mr. Golden, you stood perfectly still, while Ms. Airedale walked by very slowly. Dogs can be jerks. Sometimes it’s hard to get away. Sometimes you just wish the ground would swallow you up. But it isn’t going to. When you let bad encounters go on and on and on, all you are doing is making the future worse.

First, Airedale lady, there was no reason that you couldn’t turn around and walk away. Given the layout of the park, you were not possibly walking toward your car or back to your house. I’m going to guess you had some idea that maybe if you just kept walking your dog would settle down and get over it. Would you settle down and get over it if I made you walk very slowly past a snake? How about if I covered your chair in spiders? Would that make you a better person? I don’t think so. Or, maybe you think that your dog is just “being a dog.” He isn’t. Please, be humane. When you can easily leave a situation that makes your dog have a meltdown, leave. Was walking over to that stagnant pond really worth so much psychological cruelty? If your dog “doesn’t usually act like that,” please be aware that this is exactly how “acting like that” starts.

Now, Golden and Maltese man, I am worried about you. Leash reactive dogs can easily redirect to the closest dog in their line of sight. Please be very careful having two reactive dogs of such disparate sizes. Also, I don’t think you had as much room to walk away as Ms. Airedale, but you could have done something. Even a few steps can be a huge help for your dog. There was enough room, even, for you to move quickly past the Airedale. I’ve found that leashes with built in traffic handles are great for sticky situations like that.

Both of you need to seek some professional training help. In the meantime, though, please learn how to walk away.

My Imperfect Dog


This week we fell into a new routine.

I took Silas out walking on Tuesday. Despite the comparatively long walk, he wanted to play all evening. Then we took him out with us to drop off the recycling.

On Wednesday, he slept the entire day. I mean, all of it. We were gone from 5:30-7, so I don’t know about then. We got home at 7, ate some dinner, and K played with Silas maybe ten minutes while I was in the tub. Then he was back to sleep.


On Thursday, Silas and I went to the pet store and the park, after Silas started poking me with a toy at 10am. After lunch there was TRAUMA, as the maintenance man came to clean the front door. (Don’t ask me–we rent.) Silas was terrified. By which I mean, he had a barking meltdown the likes of which you have never seen, then I took him out on the patio, where he continued to bark whenever it occurred to him. To pass the time (seriously, how long can it possibly take to clean a door?) we did some shaping work toward a new trick. Then I played with him the entire time K took a nap at 6. Then we played fetch when I went up to shower. Then we did recalls up and down the stairs after dinner. Then I did his mat work.

Today? Asleep. Like a rock.

I don’t really understand it, but I guess I can go along with it.

A Mistake

Tuesday at the park Silas did something that he hasn’t done in a long time–he barked at someone who tried to pet him. He had learned, finally, that if he didn’t want to be petted he could walk away. I was so proud.

This particular encounter was a bad setup. Just as we got out of our car, the person parked next to us went to get in to her car. Silas had to walk past her at close range to get out, plus we were in a place (the parking lot) where Silas is already nervous. The lady was obviously not a dog person–Silas was shrinking and crouching to get past her, and she reached out for him. Then he jumped up on her barking. Ooops.

That particular behavior has worried me for a long time, because it is so dangerous. Silas has no intention of biting anyone, but with jumping plus barking all it takes is for someone’s hand to be in the wrong place for there to be incidental tooth contact. Plus, I’m always afraid that the person is going to startle and make some kind of noise that escalates the situation in a bad way, even if it’s just to reinforce Silas’s fear that people are unpredictable and scary. Not to mention that nobody likes being barked at.

Lesson one: get quicker about asking people not to pet him. I wasn’t expecting a person there, so I didn’t get my words out in time.

It also highlighted a bigger, but much more subtle mistake that I’ve been making.

It has been months since Silas met another person.

I haven’t been avoiding them deliberately, but it’s surprisingly easy. I take him to the park while most people are at work. Over the summer I had no choice but to avoid the parks that fill up with children–there’s just no margin for error with children and a nervous dog. The most popular running trails are too close to the road, and most of the die-hard, willing-to-go-out-at-100-degrees people are over there. That leaves Silas and I pretty much alone in the park. We do see people, but all summer it’s been at a distance. Aside from the behaviorist (who quite deliberately limits her physical interaction with her patients) and her staff (who haven’t been involved in our more recent appointments), I can’t remember when Silas was within leash distance of an unfamiliar person.

Somehow I stopped taking him to the local pet store, which is his “safe place” to meet people. We’ve been to PetSmart once or twice, but it’s a big store and, again, it’s easier than you would expect to get in and out without actually encountering anyone at close range. Especially because I know better than to try waiting in the checkout line. If I’d realized how important they were, I would have kept up our trips to the smaller store, but I was focusing on other things.

I feel like I keep learning the same lesson over and over again: you cannot assume that your anxious dog is “over something” and that you can devote all your energy to the next problem. Maybe one of these times it will stick.