We’re back from our Christmas trip.

Silas was a champ.

His medication works smoothly enough that it isn’t always easy to tell what benefits are from training and what are from the medication. But, that’s also the wonderful thing about it–when we take him off the medication, he’ll have a history of good interactions that he can draw on, that felt like just-plain-old life.

Some highlights of our trip:

Silas and Dusty the ancient, completely unsocialized, Golden Retriever mix coexisted 100% peacefully at my husband’s family party this year. Dusty is a pretty serious resource guarder of toys. Silas, on the other hand, doesn’t care at all about his toys but gets really edgy when anybody (or dog) gets too close to me. With people he just gets a little over exuberant, but with dogs he can get a little growly. For the past two years, this has made Christmas a little tricky. In some fascinating dogs-only communication, the two of them seem to have set their parameters amicably this year. Silas wouldn’t even pick up Dusty’s toys when Dusty walked away from them, and Silas does not understand leaving things alone if he can reach them. Dusty, for his part, snuggled my husband and I separately, while one of us had Silas outside.

Silas coexisted quite amicably with my brother’s baby, without even any real signs of stress. She was never on the floor where she could move toward him, or anywhere that they could touch, which is the key to this, but it was a big improvement even over the last trip.

Silas was also better with adult people on this trip–he let my husband’s grandmother pet him, perhaps the only thing that really truly made her happy on Christmas. He and my father-in-law have worked out some ground rules that don’t involve barking. He barely barked at my brother. The only total bust was with my husband’s uncle, who is a very loud, boisterous, “all dogs love me” type. Silas is not good with people like that.

Silas also ate every meal I offered him, which is a miracle.

There are still dozens of things we are working on or should be working on (more on that to come), but we’re in a pretty great place right now compared to where we have been.


I’m not always good at looking at the big picture. I get wrapped up in what is happening right this minute, or today, or tomorrow. I lose track of how those things stack up into months and years. Setbacks are even harder–when that tomorrow becomes today and doesn’t look at all like I wanted it to, I’ve been known to have a little meltdown.

I can handle the day to day of dog training–wickedly smart Silas makes that very easy–but I’m not good at patience.

Thanks to the Pet Blogger’s Gift Exchange, I’ve been reading along with Maggie of Oh My Dog! And Maggie is one of those people who can look past the little setbacks, see the big picture, and have faith that all those little efforts will be worthwhile.

When she wound up, unexpectedly, with Newt the Cat, she knew it would take some work to integrate the cat with her three dogs. The dogs first met the cat in June. By July, everyone had realized there might be a bigger problem. Did Maggie give up? Did she get deterred by a few setbacks? Did she lose sight of the goal? Hell, no.

She kept training and training. For six months, until she finally got everyone on the same page.

If you like narratives of dog training that worked, it’s a heck of a story.

And, of course, integrating the dogs and the cat is only one example of her wonderful patience. Just try to read her Letter to Lucas, her reactive middle-dog without getting a tear in your eye. Or the one to Cooper, her brilliant-but-anxious youngest dog. Watch how casually she drops in the year and a half that they worked on Lucas’s dog reactivity. If you click around her blog for a while, you’ll see it over and over again.

Thank you, dear Maggie, for being a wonderful example and teaching me to have faith in the process, however long it takes. Happy holidays.


I’ve been hit by some kind of nasty virus. Maybe the flu, even. I’m having trouble stringing together sentences. Which, honestly, is a big improvement over a few days ago, when I was having trouble stringing together consecutive minutes awake.

I’m going to try my very best to be back in a timely manner to showcase my Pet Blogger’s Gift Exchange partner.

Until then, I’ll leave you with the most pathetic dog in the history of dog sweaters:


Apparently shivering is preferable to wearing clothes. Who knew?

The Rug

Several years ago, I had a lovely wool area rug. Not an antique, but good quality. Then the pipes in our poorly insulated house froze (this was a different climate) and flooded my floor while we were out of town, and the first responders tossed my rug over in the garage. By the time the carpet restoration people came, the rug was a moldy mess.

We never bothered to replace the rug. We were about to move, and then we got Silas. Puppy Silas was a devoted rug-chewer, so rugs weren’t safe even after he was house trained. He’s a grown-up now, though, and our floor is cold. It was time.

The other day, while I was doing some Christmas shopping, I spotted a rug that I liked well enough and that was inexpensive enough to use as a “trial” rug.

Silas adores the rug.

Rug buddy

He’s usually suspicious of new things in the house, but from the first second I started to unroll the rug, he was running around on it, stretching and jumping.

Now I’m starting to question the wisdom of my light grey rug. I bought it because it matched the dog hair, but it’s quickly taking over from the stair landing as Silas’s go-to spot for chewing antlers and running to eat particularly good treats.

We’ll see how long it lasts. Silas’s love can be a little overwhelming for us all.


We’re meeting the bloggers around dog-ville today. I waffled for a long time before I realized that I have an extremely distinctive dog. If somebody who knows me runs across this blog, they’re going to recognize Silas. If I run into a blog reader in public, ditto.

So, here’s me:


The questions are actually harder than the photo was. Because I got to this one: What is one thing you’ve done that you’re most proud of? and realized it was time I ‘fessed up.

I’ve alluded here and there to the fact that I’m chronically unemployed, but I’ve never gone into it. You see, a few years back I got a PhD in English Literature from a pretty good university. I’m immensely proud of it and have no regrets. But, the recession hit universities very hard just as I was coming out of graduate school. My friends have managed to piece together temporary positions and two year contracts, but (unlike them) I was married. I wasn’t uprooting my husband from his great job that he loved to live in Podunk, Iowa and make almost no money. Now, even if the job market for the humanities recovers, I’m not competitive anymore. Which is hilarious, since I wrote a dissertation about literature. It’s not like I’m sequencing genes. I’m casting around for a new career, but nobody will hire me because I have a PhD and teaching experience instead of real job skills.

I don’t talk about it a lot because 1) while some of the fault was mine and some wasn’t, it’s still a huge failure and 2) people get really weird. Please don’t get weird. I’m promise that I’m not criticizing your grammar or your writing or your taste in books.

Yes, this is why all of my blog posts are so long.

What’s your favorite non-animal related book?

Seriously, did you read the last answer? How about five. Anne of Green Gables. Bleak House (don’t knock Dickens until you’ve tried him as an adult. I don’t know why they teach Great Expectations in high school. I guess because it’s short, comparatively, but it’s Dickens at his very most . . . Dickensian. I like David Copperfield as a good starter Dickens.) Little Women. Anything by Georgette Heyer. Persuasion (no, Pride and Prejudice is not Jane Austen’s best book. And while we’re at it, Jane Eyre is Charlotte Bronte’s worst book. Try Shirley and get back to me.) For all that, I have a terrible time reading fiction now. Contemporary stuff is too angsty, and the old stuff still feels like work.

Now, for the less serious, if you haven’t run screaming already:

Who’s your favorite actor?

Cary Grant FOREVER.

What’s one thing you have to do every day?

Drink coffee. Just two cups, but they’re important.

What do you wish you were more skilled at?

Sewing. I have a machine and I know how to use it, but I’m not very good. I don’t practice much because the machine bothers Silas.

Favorite meal?

Breakfast. I love almost all breakfast foods, but I am completely baffled by our cultural obsession with bacon. I mean, it’s nice enough, but it’s not THE ONE TRUE FOOD. (That would be tomatoes, in the summer, just off the vine.)

How is your pet most like you?

Have you read my blog? If I answered this, y’all would think I’m crazy.

What can your body do for you that makes you most proud?

I think this is the most awesome question in the survey, and I’m betting most of us skip it. So I won’t–I’m a reasonably serious cyclist. I spent most of the fall working up to riding 100 miles on January 1, but the weather is killing my training. It rained every weekend in November, and now it’s freakishly cold. I’ve had to reschedule for March 1 instead.

What’s one thing you could do to be more kind to yourself?

Learn how to let go of things. I tend to dwell on mistakes. I’m better about it now than I was a few years ago. Wisdom of age or something.

What drives you nuts about your pets?


If you didn’t have your current pets, what pets would you choose to have?

I play this game a lot. The answer depends on what kind of day I’m having with Silas, with answers ranging from an elderly pit bull to a Border Terrier puppy. I was actually looking at greyhound rescues before we found Silas.

So, that’s me. I skipped some of the questions, because this post is ridiculous even by my own standards, but I couldn’t pick just five. For real–almost 800 words?!

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Proof that it works!

We’ve been plugging away at the Relaxation Protocol for a long time now. We started working on it pretty seriously back in mid-October, and you can see my most recent posts about it here and here. The protocol is listed as 15 “days.” Some of them took Silas one day, some of them took weeks. (And I’m bad about doing it every single day, if we’re going to be totally honest.) 

While Silas is getting pretty darned good at doing the protocol things themselves, he’s hasn’t really been generalizing the behaviors outward. This is expected–dogs aren’t good at generalizing behaviors. This is one of the reasons that you do the protocol over and over in various situations. So, a sudden knock on the wall while Silas is already on his mat is no big deal, but the same sound when he’s on the sofa still gets a bark. 

Yesterday afternoon we were all in the kitchen. I was making toast, my husband was pouring some tea, and Silas was sitting on his rug in the kitchen, hoping he could persuade me to give him some dinner. 

The doorbell rang. 

I almost missed it, because Silas did not bark. He didn’t even move. The doorbell sound is pretty muted in the kitchen, but if I heard it you’d better believe that Radar-Ears heard it. 

I walked into the living room, opened the door, got the package UPS had dropped off, and turned around to find Silas calmly watching from the middle of the living room. No barking like a lunatic! No running at the door to see what was going on! 

So, take heart, my fellow Relaxation-Protocol peeps. You may see real-world results sooner than you think. 

Day Five: Managing the Big Day


Today is the last day in my Holiday Stress series. We’ve danced around the subject all week, but now it’s time to get down to it. What do you do on the day of your big holiday party?

Obviously, the easy answer is don’t host one. If you have an anxious or rowdy dog, get Cousin Pauline to host the family potluck this year. Offer to help clean and decorate if you have to.

Not everybody can do that, though. Maybe you have the only house big enough, or you’re like us and are traveling to the Big Family To-do. What can you do then?

The most practical thing is to limit your dog’s access to the actual party. Close him in a spare room if he’s trustworthy, or crate him somewhere quiet. If the party is all your side of the family, have your significant other take the dog on a nice long walk or drive.  This is what we do, by the way–we stay with my mom, who hosts her family Christmas. My husband makes the rounds, then I send him and Silas to see my in-laws. If your dog likes boarding and you have a trustworthy facility, send him to the kennel for the duration of your party.

You can also get creative and host a time-limited event. A dog who is fine with people for an hour or so may get increasingly stressed when they stay and stay and stay and disrupt his whole routine. Get rid of that lunch party that drags on until you have to get the leftovers back out and feed people dinner. Ask people to show up at 6 for dinner. Or, have them for the usual lunch, but then drag everyone out at 3:00 to watch a movie or go for a walk. If you host a smaller, adults-only party, have cocktails and appetizers at home and then dinner out.

No matter how long your party is, or on what scale, make sure your dog has a safe place to go when things get to be too much. This is especially important if there are children at the party, because they may very well follow your dog under the table or behind the chair or into his usual hiding place. Then your dog is trapped, which is a disaster waiting to happen.

It’s also important to keep your dog supervised. Don’t just assume that someone else is watching. If you’re elbow deep in the dressing, specifically assign someone to watch Fluffy. Discuss in advance what “watching” actually means. Even if your dog is a saint among dogs, accidents can happen. A guest might leave the gate open, or your dog’s perfect recall might only be perfect when you call, or a kid might feed your dog who knows what.

Above all, watch your dog for signs of stress and adjust accordingly. I love this graphic from Sophia Yin, who has a lot of great downloadable posters on her site. You are your dog’s only advocate. If you aren’t used to standing up for yourself with your family, practice saying things like, “Oh, that silly dog, he’s getting a little worried about you. He’d be happier if you petted him like this/left him alone/waited until he knows you better.”

How do you manage your dog on the big day? Or is this your first holiday season together?


(The fine print for the whole series: Don’t trust anyone on the internet for advice about serious training issues. If your dog has a history of biting, separation anxiety, extreme fear, resource guarding, or generalized anxiety, please get professional help.)

Day Four: Products to Help


So far this week, we’ve talked about lots of ways to make the holidays less stressful for your dog: making time for games, heading off some potential problems at the pass, and being more thoughtful about your holiday traditions.

Just in case those aren’t enough, today I’m going to post about some more direct remedies. With anything on this list, make sure that you try them well in advance of when they’re really needed. Some may not help your dog, and some may cause unforeseen problems. This list is arranged roughly by intensity.

No list of anti-stress aids would be complete without a mention of Bach’s Rescue Remedy. Depending on your perspective, this is either fakery of the highest order or very refined alternative medicine. I have some. I’ve used it. I can’t say that I’ve seen a difference of any kind, but some people do. At worst, it’s very harmless when given as indicated and easy to administer. It comes in several formulations, including a pet-specific one–be careful not to buy the chewables, which contain xylitol.

Aromatherapy for dogs is another fairly benign solution. Does it work? Maybe, says Patricia McConnell. There are LOTS of pet-specific products on the market, and I haven’t tried any of them. Be mindful that your dog’s nose is a lot more sensitive than yours, especially if you’re using scented products in a small area, like your dog’s crate.

The Thundershirt is riding quite a wave of popularity right now. This one I’ve tried, and it does help Silas to some extent. Results, obviously, will vary dog to dog. Don’t want to spend so much money? Try the DIY T-Touch compression wrap. It’s very important that you put the wrap or shirt on before the dog is stressed, and that you periodically use it in low-stress situations. Otherwise the dog learns to associate the shirt with Bad Things Happening.

I think of DAP as an amped-up aromatherapy. Our experience with DAP was a little weird–the diffusers made no difference at all, but the collar was a miracle. Until one day, it wasn’t. After about three months, we either got a dud collar or Silas got used to it. If your house has open architecture or your dog has worse problems away from home, try the collar or the spray. If your dog spends most of his time in an enclosed room, if you have multiple dogs, or if your dog does a lot of swimming, you’re better off with the diffuser. DAP was actually recommended by my behaviorist, who did caution that the results are widely variable.

Last, but by no means least, there’s always prescription medication for dogs who really need it. Talk to your veterinarian or find a veterinary behaviorist.

Do you have a favorite stress remedy that’s not on the list?


(The fine print for the whole series: Don’t trust anyone on the internet for advice about serious training issues. If your dog has a history of biting, separation anxiety, extreme fear, resource guarding, or generalized anxiety, please get professional help.)

Day Three: Make Some Changes


Today in my Holiday Stress series we’re going to answer the big question: Do you need to change your holiday traditions to accommodate your dog?

I’m not saying that you should dispense with everything that you really love about the holidays. But look around. What do you really love about the holidays? Some of the things that make your dog the craziest may not be as important as you think.

How much time do you spend stressing about your dog destroying your decorations? Opening your presents? Eating Aunt Sue’s annual box of chocolates? The more you stress about it, the more edgy your dog will be. The more times you scold, the worse you’ll both feel. What about from the dog’s side–Is your dog afraid of the Christmas tree? Terrified of the fire in the fireplace?

If something isn’t important to you, let it go. If the mantel full of antique ceramics doesn’t make your heart sing, leave them in the attic so that you can keep playing fetch in the house. Put away the antique tree skirt that nobody really sees in favor of one that can be washed or thrown away if puppy mistakes your tree for, you know, a tree. 

You can also simplify your social calendar. Cut down on the number of mindless shopping trips and parties away from home with people you don’t really like. You’ll be less stressed, your dog will spend less time alone, and you’ll both be happier.

For things that can’t be jettisoned, or that really do matter to you, consider management. If your dog is afraid of the Christmas tree, but you really love it, make a compromise and move it to a room that the dog spends less time in. If you can’t move the tree, try Leslie McDevitt’s “Look At That!” game to desensitize your dog. Find a very thorough discussion of this quite useful exercise here.

If, on the other hand, your dog adores the tree so much that he wants to eat it, you can move the tree to a room with a door or with a doorway that can be gated, or you can move your dog to a crate or a closed room while you’re away. Unless your dog is a saint, either put the presents away until they’re really needed or block his access to the area around the tree. In my experience, most of Silas’s problems in the house have happened while each of us thought the other was watching. When your house is full of temptations, be very clear about who is watching the dog.

Cut down chances of accidental poisoning by keeping holiday treats off surfaces dogs can reach. The ASPCA reports that poinsettia poisoning is overrated, but your dog still doesn’t need to be chowing down. Put them higher up or in places the dog can’t access. It’s also a time of year when there are a lot of forbidden food items around. Don’t wrap food gifts and put them under the tree until the last minute. I hear that some truly disgusting people ruin fruitcake with raisins, and chocolate is everywhere right now. If you’re like my mom and put chewing gum in the stockings, pass up those that contain xylitol. Nothing will stress your holiday like a trip to the emergency vet.

Finally, ask yourself if your dog really wants to participate in whatever your family is doing. We love our dogs and want them around, but popping popcorn and unwrapping presents may be too much for a noise-sensitive dog. Your off-key carols may have poor Fido wishing for some earplugs. The yule log burning can make your dog very nervous. Make sure your dog always has the option to leave the room and go somewhere that’s more to his liking. If your dog is anxious about dogs or strangers, think carefully before you take him to the tree farm or to get a picture taken with Santa.


(The fine print: Don’t trust anyone on the internet for advice about serious training issues. If your dog has a history of biting, separation anxiety, extreme fear, resource guarding, or generalized anxiety, please get professional help.)

Day Two: Active Fun


Welcome to Day Two of my Holiday Management series! Today we’re going to talk about avoiding the cumulative effect of stress.

Something that your dog can handle perfectly well when it happens by itself can be a major event when it happens after a long buildup of elevated stress levels. Just like you’re more likely to snap at your spouse after a bad day at work, your dog is more likely to snap (metaphorically or literally) at little Timmy after a long holiday party. We’ll talk more about the Big Day itself later in the week, but for today we’re going to tackle that constant low-grade stress snowball.

How can you stop the stress from accumulating?

Give your dog something fun to do!

We’ll start with the basics. You’re not home as much as usual, right? So, who’s walking the dog? If your dog is used to an hour of exercise every day, and suddenly you’ve dropped down to a quick 15 minute walk in the morning, you’re going to get some behavioral fallout. I haven’t seen the statistics, but I’m guessing under-exercised dogs are much more likely to eat the Christmas tree. That regular exercise also helps to relieve stress for your dog, just like ladies’ magazines always tell you. Find the time from somewhere or consider hiring a dog-walker (if your dog would like that) to minimize changes to your dog’s routine.

You can also de-stress your dog with some fun things to do around the house. Nose work of any kind is great for a dog’s brain. It can be as easy as just hiding some treats, or your dog’s favorite toy, then turning him loose to find them. You can even have family-members hide for the dog to find, in a dog/people game of hiden-n-seek. If you want something a little more structured. Pamela at Something Wagging This Way Comes has a great introduction

If you’re one of those unfortunate people who are dealing with both a hectic schedule and truly miserable weather right now, you may want to come up with some inside games. Here’s a link to some of ours, and this is a mega-list of things to do inside. 

While you’re busy wrapping presents and baking cookies, keep your dog busy with a puzzle-toy. Using his brain will not only tire your dog down, but it will also get his mind off his problems. Know your dog and pick a puzzle accordingly. If it’s too hard it may increase your dog’s stress level. (The same goes for the nose work games above.) I ran down some of our favorites here, and our strategies for using them with raw food here, but there are millions of them on the market right now. Most of them involve food, but a few don’t. Despite the number of expensive widgets I’ve bought, Silas’s favorite is a cardboard box filled with packing paper and a few treats, then taped shut. Which is why I’m wrapping my presents and then putting them on a high shelf. 

The sneaky benefit of all these is that they’re good for you, too! Exercise and play are good for you in their own right, and having the dog occupied while you do your chores will take a weight off your mind.


(The fine print for the whole series: Don’t trust anyone on the internet for advice about serious training issues. If your dog has a history of biting, separation anxiety, extreme fear, resource guarding, or generalized anxiety, please get professional help.)