In a Happy Place

It hit me today, while we were taking a practically perfect walk on a practically perfect day, that we’re in a really good place right now.

First, we’re finally reaping (some of) the benefits of all that good training we’ve done over the years. Teaching a puppy and an adolescent dog is really a leap of faith. You (or we, at least) don’t always see the kind of results that you want. They’ll learn to respond to your cues, but “behaving” like a civilized dog comes along slowly. Now that Silas is two and a half, we’re starting to see some really nice things. Like, I can finally sweep the floor without him chasing the broom or eating the hairballs I sweep up. Or, when I unbuckle his seatbelt at the park, he can hop in my lap and sit still until I let him out, rather than clawing my legs to ribbons.

His hyper vigilance is also settling down, thanks to the wonders of modern pharmaceuticals. He still gets really upset at certain things that happen outside, but it’s two or three times a day rather than twelve. Literally twelve–I kept records.

This has combined in a wonderful way with a lot of work we did teaching him how to settle down. That’s most of what we did the first three months we were going to the behaviorist. Stop inadvertently encouraging/rewarding pointless busy-ness, and instead teach him to chill out on his own. Instead of poking a toy at one of us constantly for four hours a day, he’ll try it a time or two, get the message, and go relax somewhere.

Lastly, as I mentioned yesterday, Silas is on a pretty stable diet now. It’s been three months or more since his last food allergy outbreak. A happy stomach makes for a happy dog.

You know what this all means? At least compared to what life has been for the last two years, we are living like regular people with a regular dog. I mean, I don’t have any illusions. That normalcy hinges on a lot of avoidance behaviors that have become an invisible part of our routine and may, to be perfectly honest, always need to be there. There’s always, always work to be done. But for now, I’m pretty happy in our happy place.

Four foods!

When I first started researching Silas’s food allergies, I came across the opinion that it took four proteins to make a sustainable diet for dogs with allergies. I’m not even entirely sure, at this remove, what the author really meant by that statement. At the time I took it to mean that with four proteins to choose among, your dog was less likely to develop over-exposure allergies. (The worst thing about having a dog with food allergies is that if you find one safe food and feed your dog that forever, chances are high that he will become allergic to or sensitive to that food.)

So, for a long time, four proteins has been really fixed in my mind as THE GOAL of the food allergy trials.

People, we are there. Our most recent food trial officially ended in the last week or so.

Silas can safely eat venison, turkey, pork, and some types of fish.

FOUR FOODS!

Pardon my outburst. If you’re keeping track, that means he’s allergic to chicken, beef, lamb, duck, and salmon.

So, what next? Enjoying ourselves. For a couple of reasons–most importantly Silas’s hit-and-miss appetite and the relative rarity of proteins we would be forced into–I think we’ll let it rest for a while. I’m planning to tinker a little bit with adding eggs and dairy, both of which he eats very well in incidental amounts, back into his actual meals. Eggs have some key nutrients for raw-fed dogs, and, selfishly, I have trouble getting through a big tub of yogurt on my own. I may, eventually, do another food trial or two, but I would like to leave myself some of the more “common” novel proteins just in case we need them.

It is so nice to take a step off the merry-go-round for a while.

Wasteful

Every January I go through the house and get rid of stuff. We’re planning for our next move to be into an even smaller house, so I’m trying to empty as many closets and drawers as possible. This year, the annual January downsizing coincided with a lot of reading about the environmental implications of trash, which has made it extra-guilt-inducing.

As part of this process, eventually I got to Silas’s stuff. And boy, is there a lot of it.

I won’t even list the number of coats and jackets and harnesses and grooming tools. We won’t talk about the mountain of food products that are either in use or sitting around because they caused an allergic reaction.

Instead, we’re talking about this:

Creating Less Waste With Pets

I’ll bet you have a similar box full.

What’s worse, this is just what was in the box. I keep some things down for Silas to use. (Too many toys out at once + dog with a problem relaxing = disaster.)

Silas still generates a lot of trash, even though I’ve been more careful lately, and most of it is really, really trash. Dog food and treat bags are almost always either a plastic/paper hybrid that can’t be recycled or plastic outright. Dog toys tend to be made of mixed plastic (like a “rubber” toy with a squeaker inside) or of unknown materials that are difficult to recycle. Color me a bleeding-heart liberal yuppie, but it bothers me to be filling up landfills with toys my dog didn’t even like that much.

So here are some things tips for cutting the trash and the clutter:

1) Donate used-but-functional leashes, collars, and harnesses to your local shelter, along with those gently-used toys that your dog just didn’t like. Check individual policies before you just show up with an armload. Some shelters particularly don’t want or need toys.

2) See if your friends have dogs that can take those leftover/rejected foods, or if there is a charitable organization in your area that will accept them. Maybe because it’s so hot here that food spoils quickly, but I haven’t had much luck. If your dog eats the same food all the time, consider buying a bigger bag, which usually has less packaging per serving. (Watch for spoilage, though.) Consider baking or dehydrating at least a portion of your own treats. (If I were really a hippy, I would tell you to make sure and buy your baking supplies from the bulk aisle. In reality, I’m skeptical of bulk shopping. Feel free to ask why in the comments–no room.)

3) Check before you throw those toys in the trash. Orbee/Planet Dog takes back cleaned toys for recycling. WestPaw’s Zogoflex toys (you’ll spot several in our pile) are “designed to be recycled,” although the website is unclear about how. 100% cotton rope toys can be composted, as can other natural fibers.

4) Repair things when you can. There’s no hope for a busted tennis ball, but a stuffed toy or dog bed with one bad seam is easy to resew.

5) Remember that your dog doesn’t have the most elaborate memory. Keep most of his toys put away. Once a month or so rotate toys. Look! A new toy! In-home recycling, if you will.

6) Most importantly, stop shopping. Dog stuff is so cute! It’s hard to leave in the store. But seriously, you probably don’t need that new water dish or eight Kongs just in case or a new collar with Santa on it. My own weakness is treats–I just get so excited when I find one that Silas can eat.

7) If you must shop, don’t buy junk. If a toy won’t last more than one or two play sessions, skip it. Also, remember that your dog carries his toys in his mouth, and there are real dangers to ingesting certain kinds of paints and plastics. Personally, these days I will only buy new toys from a few companies that I really trust. As a bonus, those toys tend to be well-made and long-lasting.

Lull

The pace of life around here has dropped to “glacial.” Silas and I both seem to be hibernating. I haven’t take Silas to the park since before I got the flu, which was before Christmas. (He did get lots of exercise over our Christmas vacation.) We haven’t done any focused training in ages. I restarted the relaxation protocol, after finishing the first repetition in early December, but then let it slide.

I’m not complaining or being down on myself–it’s a part of the cycle, and, like all the other parts, it has value. We need to rest, physically and mentally, before we can tackle the next challenge.

I am starting to get that little nagging voice in the back of my mind. It’s reminding me that you can only stand still for so long with an anxious dog before you start to lose progress. Little voice says vacation was nice, but it’s time to move on.

When we do, I’ll be back here in full force.

As for me, I’ve been spending this little break discovering how awesome my public library is, which has inspired a post coming up soon.

How about you? Are you in a post-holiday lull still? Are you hibernating? Or are you energized by the cold weather and New Years resolutions?

Comfort?

Silas likes to sleep with his chin elevated on various things. A heap of blankets. My leg. A pillow. The couch arm. A stuffed toy.

He’s always been that way:

puppy sleeps

Sometimes he comes up with a strange combo, though. Yesterday I looked over and saw this:

Comfort?

Yeah, that’s a knobby-ended Nylabone. Nothing says nap time like a hard plastic object under your neck.

2014

On January 1, 2013, I said I wanted to do two things with Silas: get him out more to non-park environments and finish the Relaxation Protocol.

I dimly seem to remember taking him more places in the Spring, but I’ve been struggling with it through the fall. The weather cooled off, but I kept up my lazy summer habits. Hanging out while one of us shops for groceries and the like has also gotten very hard, because Silas is increasingly reactive toward people while we’re in the car. This has been a bell curve of sorts–he was terrible as a puppy, barking at anyone he could see, both when the car was moving and when it was stopped. Then he got much better. Now he’s regressed, but only while the car is stopped. We’re well past “this isn’t a great thing” and into “this is a major problem.” The biggest reason I use his car harness is that I live in terror of getting pulled over for a traffic violation while I have Silas. I can’t take him to parks that have a drive-up pay window, because I know he’ll go crazy when he sees the ticket person. Not good.

We did actually finish the Relaxation Protocol, finally, in mid-December. Getting through it once isn’t really “finishing,” but it should be easier to repeat now. With our holiday travels done, we’re starting a new repetition tomorrow in a different part of the house.

2013 was a major, major year for us. When I made those initial two goals, I had no idea that I would wind up taking Silas to the behaviorist or putting him on medication. Getting help for his big-picture problems wasn’t an original goal, but it was a huge accomplishment that I’m very proud of.

My 2014 plans don’t sound earth-shaking, but they’re ambitious.

First, I’d like to work on the reactivity while in the car that I mentioned above. He’s taking treats much more consistently these days, so this just needs lots of patience, car-friendly treats, and some garden-variety counterconditioning.

I also want to take more concrete steps toward getting him over his fear of cars. His medication gives me enough room to actually work, so I want to make and execute a systematic plan. I’m not making an outcome-based goal here, because that way lies madness, but I would like to see some marked improvement this year.

As for Silas, his goal is to figure out what lives in this drainage ditch at the park.

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