Another Way in Which Silas is a Freak

I counter condition Silas to the yard guys with kibble. Kibble is the only thing cheap enough, if you want to be brutally honest about it. The yard guys are slow and very loud. It takes a lot of cookies to get through it. I try to dodge the landscapers, but lately they haven’t been sticking to any particular schedule, except for coming on Tuesdays.

This week, Tuesday was particularly bad. The gutter cleaners were here on Monday, so Silas was already on-edge. Then, it has suddenly become spring, so apparently the yard stuff is taking even longer than usual. The guys came by at 10:30. And at noon. And at 2:30. And at 4:45. At 4:45 I was about to go out there and give them a good piece of my mind, but it really wouldn’t have done anything except upset Silas even more.

I keep some of the kibble in a glass peanut butter jar, with the rest of the bag staying sealed up in the pantry. At 10:30, Silas used up the last of the kibbles in the jar, so I refilled it. At 5:00, I realized that well over half the jar was gone again. This meant Silas had eaten something like a cup and a half of kibble.

At 2:30, he hadn’t taken any kibble at all; he’d just wanted me to hold him. At 4:30, I noticed that he was taking the kibble, but then spitting some of them back out. At 5:30, I ate a delicious fresh cinnamon roll from the bakery down the street, and he didn’t ask for one bite. I offered him a small portion of dinner at 9:00, just to be safe. As expected, he turned it down.

This morning, out of curiosity, I took a look at the kibble serving. Two and a quarter cups for a 30 pound dog.

This means that Silas had breakfast, then he had a generous dinner’s worth of kibble, and then he was done eating for the day.

Yeah, my dog eats until he’s full, and then he stops.

Keep Yourself From Going Crazy, Too

Everyone’s a little out of sorts around here. I’m having the seasonal allergies of doom. (Why, yes, it is spring here, and I am NOT READY for it to be hot again.) Silas has been what feels like constantly on-edge, culminating in a long series of total meltdowns yesterday.

The HOA decided it was time for spring gutter cleaning, so Silas and I woke up yesterday morning to a man standing on my roof, clearly visible through my skylight. Then they moved over to the garage roof, clearly visible through our patio doors. You can imagine how well this went down. They were gone before 10:30, but then Silas was convinced that every sound–and I mean every sound until we went to bed–was the evil people coming back to stand on his roof again.

It was not a good day.

When Silas woke me up at 6:30 this morning barking like a crazy, I knew that I needed to regather the shreds of my very fragile zen in order to get through today. Tuesdays are always bad, since they’re our regular landscaping day. Despite counterconditioning him to the leaf blower for the better part of two years, we’ve only made so much progress. So, what do you do, when your dog that you can’t leave has driven you to the brink of insanity? When one more bark is going to reduce you to a temper-tantrum or to a sobbing mess, and there are probably 50 more barks coming?

Here’s my list:
–Watch dog training videos. This one is be a double-edged sword, because it can send you into the “my dog is defective” spiral, but it can also be good inspiration to work through challenges.

–Fantasize about getting away. Tomorrow, when everything is back to normal, I’m taking myself somewhere nice and quiet. In three weeks I get two whole days of Silas staying with my mom.

–Put more of the burden on your partner. I’m usually the one who intervenes when Silas has a fit, but sometimes I know that I’m just not in a good place to deal with it. Those days I’ll make my husband handle him.

–Play a silly dog game. You’ll improve your relationship with your dog and help stop some of the stress that is accumulating for both of you.

–Use the resources you have. I have a small selection of things that actually help Silas’s anxiety, but (aside from his daily meds) I tend to save them for bigger problems. If your dog is making you crazy, that’s a bigger problem. Depending on your dog, this might be a DAP product or a special puzzle toy or a ThunderShirt.

–Change the environment. This one is, again, really dog-dependent. Know your dog and watch for stress accumulations from one situation to the next.

–Take whatever break you can. Your dog needs you, sure, but does he need you right this second? This probably makes me a terrible person, but sometimes I’ll just go sit in the bathroom with the door shut. Take a mental vacation.

How about you? What do you do when your last button has been pushed?

Knitting Buddy

I’m attempting a pretty ambitious knitting project. Somewhat stupidly, this knitting project is for a baby that’s due in March. I think it’s mid-March, but this is a fifth baby so I’m working with March 1. More stupidly, despite ordering the yarn in October, I started knitting it in mid-January. And even then, to be honest, I wasn’t that serious. When I ran the math last week, I realized that the project was still doable, as long as I spend (please, laugh with me, not at me) two hours a day working on it. And no, my hands will not stand up for knitting two solid hours in one session.

On my side: despite being vast in scale and impressive looking, this is easy knitting. I turn on the Olympic coverage (the athletes did not pick Russia’s human or animal rights practices) and plug away.

Also on my side: Silas adores any plan that has me sitting on the sofa with him. This is how we’re spending a lot of time:

Knitting buddy

Now, excuse me, I’ve gotta go knit.

My New Favorite App

Technically, my new favorite smart phone app has nothing to do with dogs. Not even by a stretch.

It’s a housekeeping app.

Stay with me.

Home Routines is basically the app version of the Fly Lady cleaning system, which it seems like everyone has heard of. The premise is that you create habits by pinning certain tasks to certain times of the day. You already do this with some of your most ingrained behaviors–brushing your teeth before bed, for instance.

The strength of Home Routines is that, while it is based on housekeeping, it’s customizable to be pretty much any routine behavior that you want. It comes pre-programmed with Morning, Afternoon, and Evening routines that are pre-filled with standard chores, plus a rotating weekly list of specific areas of your house to clean. You can change any of that, though.

Here’s a screenshot of my main page, to make this all more clear:


And here’s where it surpasses any mere list app that I’ve ever seen: it automatically resets at the time of your choosing. You can even set different intervals for different sections. I wake up every morning and see a clean slate for my daily to-dos, but my list of weekly stuff only resets on Tuesdays.

I was pretty happy with it as a reminder to do my chores, when I had what I think of as a stroke of genius.

We all say that we want to do some kind of training every day, or get in a certain number of walks a week. Saying does not equal doing, though, as we all know. Putting Silas’s relaxation protocol right there between putting away the laundry and sweeping means that it gets done more often than not. I at least look at the app several times a day (you can set reminders), which means it’s on my mind. No more “drat, it’s bedtime and I forgot to work with the dog!”

So I thought I would pass this along to you. There may be other apps out there that do the same thing, but this is the one I have.

Fine print:
Alas, nobody paid me for this. Right now the app is Apple only, but they say an Android version is in the works.

On Dog Shows

I am the happy owner/guardian/whatever of a mutt. A mutt with a seriously mixed genetic bag. Brilliant, terrified, structurally-sound, riddled with allergies. A loud-mouth who does not give strangers the benefit of a doubt. A champion snuggler who would never dream of waking me up early on the weekend.

People seek out pure-bred dogs to even their odds. Breed isn’t a sure-bet, which I wish the general public was more aware of, but you at least know what game you’re playing. As a person who, to push the metaphor a little further, got off the plane in Vegas and walked unknowingly straight to the high-stakes poker table, I am deeply sympathetic to that.

My official stance is that I don’t see any harm in dog shows. I do see the harm in individual breed clubs favoring extreme exaggeration of certain traits, to the detriment of the dog’s overall wellbeing.

But, where it gets tricky is that every dog breed isn’t like that. We can all bemoan the worst examples, and you know what they are, but they aren’t the majority. Any dog, mutt or show, can have certain genetic faults (see: Silas) without that necessarily being a condemnation of an entire breed.

What I think is more common is a gradual softening of the breeds. Terriers, for instance, have slowly drifted upward in size and downward in prey-drive. Many hunting breeds have been split into “show” and “working” lines as an attempt to preserve function and drive. For most would-be dog owners, our modern lives don’t really fit with many of these dog breeds, which were formed when the world was a very different place. Is it our obligation to preserve, above all else, those specific functions? What about the ones that the world doesn’t need anymore? Before you jump to a conclusion about that, remember that there are entire breeds originally intended for nothing other than fighting. Or, on the other hand, is it okay to preserve a kinder, gentler version of any given breed? Is it ethical to dial a dog’s natural inclinations down a little? If so, how far?

Of course, if you pursue that line too far you hit another snag. Working is a natural way to prove health. A Bernese Mountain dogs with bad hips and a heart condition is not going to be the best cart puller. Those German Shepherds with weak rear ends are not taking down bad guys. Function keeps the form in check. Toy breeds, in this respect, are a cautionary tale.

In my mind there are three types of dog breeds out there: 1) genetic nightmares, 2) watered-down (for good or for ill) versions of long-standing breeds, and 3) breeds that preserve something worth preserving. Aside from a few outliers on either end, though, it’s very difficult to put a breed into one category or another, especially since you’ll see a smaller version of that same continuum within a given breed.

It’s frustrating to see the extreme myopia that often comes along with dog shows and breeding (see: Dalmatians, for the most concrete example), but I’m not ready to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Some Practical Examples

Since my post last Monday, it’s been kicking around in my brain that there’s a level of dog training that goes past the merely positive. I was articulating part of this with my series last week about dogs who don’t want cookies–it’s one (don’t get me wrong, very important) step to train with positive reinforcement, but it’s a second step to look at what your dog really finds the most reinforcing. That may be what you think (cookies), but it may be something else altogether. Considering the dog’s perspective can be a radical shift.

While I’ve been thinking about this, a couple of examples have crossed into my notice.

First up, this youtube video from Kikopup:

Notice that she’s focused on both making her dog more comfortable in routine situations AND on the dog’s wellbeing throughout the training. Her refusal to push the dog yields, counterintuitively, a quicker and more complete result.

Another wonderful example is this handout from Grisha Stewart. There is, generally, a lot of greatness on the Empowered Animals website. I picked this particular example because it’s a quite radical reimagining of what leash-walking even means.

Lastly, I really love this article by Suzanne Clothier on “difficult-to-train” dogs. Why is your dog hard to train? Look at it from the dog’s perspective.

If we question everything, how far can we go? If we stop to really look at the conventions, even those of positive training, what does that yield?

Joint Supplements and the Younger Dog

I’ve been doing some research lately about the benefits of joint supplements for dogs who don’t already have problems. Can glucosamine and/or chondroitin prevent joint trouble, rather than just helping the arthritic?

Abby at The Doggerel mentioned that she was interested in this as well, so I thought I would put my research up here.

First up, a few things from the Whole Dog Journal. I personally feel like the WDJ does a good job moderating between the best of good traditional veterinary medicine and the best of good alternative medicine, so they’re a go-to source for me. Apologies if these links are behind the paywall; I’ve tried to include the relevant bits in my summaries.

Before we get on to supplements, a reminder that keeping your dog at a healthy weight is the most important part of joint health. No supplement can compensate for a lifetime of overloaded joints.

A casual google of “preventative glucosamine for dogs” turns up mostly forum posts, especially from forums devoted to dogs with “problem joints” like Shiba Inus and Golden Retrievers. There isn’t a lot of real information out there. Rounding up what I have found:

More concretely, this article from 2004 recommends “taking a proactive approach to joint maintenance and injury prevention starting when an athletic dog is one to two years old” because “athletic dogs have healthy joints that have not sustained damage yet. But, active dogs regularly ‘push the envelope,’ causing some joint inflammation that can develop into early joint breakdown.” The effect of this added glucosamine is to stop “the cycle of net cartilage loss due to overuse, injury, or joint disease.”

Dogs Naturally, whom I trust slightly less, argues that raw-fed dogs get adequate glucosamine from their diets, especially if you include cartilaginous foods. That article also contains some tips about picking a good supplement that my other research validated.

If you want to get your answer straight from the source you should trust the least, manufacturers of joint supplements seem to think they benefit every dog. Nupro claims that their formula “is not just for Senior Dogs or those who may have joint issues! Active athletes . . . show dogs, working dogs . . ., sled dogs, hunting dogs, herding dogs, AND large breed dogs, as well, will benefit from the addition of Glucosamine to their daily regimen.” Wapiti Labs sells a mobility supplement especially for dogs “in the first stages of life” (as opposed to their senior formula).

On the other hand, from a less-research-more-pragmatics angle: while glucosamine is reported to have almost no incidence of side effects, most of the manufacturers also have a lot of fine print about “stomach upset” and/or bragging that their formula is “easier to digest.” Dogs with diabetes or blood clotting problems should not take glucosamine. Also, my food allergy friends, WATCH OUT for sneaky animal-derived ingredients. The most common source of glucosamine is shellfish, which your dog may not be able to handle. I also saw at least one supplement that clearly listed its chondroitin as “porcine.” This is above and beyond the usual allergy cautions, namely that most dog pills have added meat flavors.

Also on the anti-side, joint supplements are expensive and the research on their preventative value is, at best, inconclusive. Combined with the fact that pet supplements are not extremely well regulated, that could easily mean you spend years and years giving what is little better than a placebo.

Hey, I promised to show you the research I have so far. I didn’t promise to make a conclusion.

Have any of you researched this?