Christmas

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.

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Inspired

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.

Sweater

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:

sweater

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.

Hello.

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:

photo-34

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?

BARKING.

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

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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?

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(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.)