Goals for April

I’ve been coasting. Since I put Silas on his medication in the fall, I have to confess that I’ve done very, very little training with him. After our last behaviorist visit in December, my dog training collapsed. It was just such a relief that I didn’t have to be working through something every minute. I didn’t have to make visible improvement to show the doctor. I didn’t have to deal with Silas barking at something 30 times a day. (We’re down to somewhere between 2 and 6, I’d guess, depending on how noisy the neighborhood is.)

Mostly, I’ve been resting on Silas’s somewhat tenuous laurels as a pretty good dog as long as nothing bothers him. He’s a great companion around the house, and in all honesty it’s not hard to arrange my life so that very little crosses him. People will talk on the sidewalk and dogs will bark, but I don’t have to have people over, or take him to parks where he can see cars, or drive him anywhere that someone will walk up to our car while its stopped. (It the double-edged sword of reactive dog ownership–after a while, you don’t even realize how much you’re compensating.)

It’s time to get back to work.

To that end, April has three deceptively modest goals.

1) Work on Silas’s focus. I want to start moving some of his great indoor behaviors outdoors, but we’ve got to build a little better foundation first. Silas outside has the attention span of a squirrel. Maybe less. I don’t want him to gaze adoringly at me all the time, which I find creepy, but we can search for a happy medium.

2) Go to the park twice a week. I would say three times, but April here can be pretty wet. If it’s a total mud pit outside, I will cheat and substitute PetSmart, but if it’s actively raining I can’t risk traumatizing him.

3) Get back in the habit of daily training sessions.

Food Review: Ziwipeak Daily Dog

We know now that one of Silas’s safe foods is venison. The problem with venison is that it’s not the easiest thing to come by, which is what motivated me to post yesterday’s list. I can’t cobble together enough components to make a complete raw venison diet in-house, and what raw venison I can get is so expensive that I might as well buy pre-made foods and save the hassle.

My go-tos for prepared raw food are always Primal and Stella and Chewy’s. Now that Silas can eat venison, there’s also Ziwipeak.

The first thing I bought by Ziwipeak was their venison treats. These are handy little flakes of dried venison, and Silas loves them. One day I did the math, though, and realized that the Ziwipeak Air-Dried Venison food was the same texture and probably the same taste, but much cheaper per ounce. (For my allergy peeps: do note that while Ziwipeak’s jerky treats are pure venison, the food also contains green-lipped mussel.)

Then we went on vacation. Prepared food is the easiest thing to travel with, so I grabbed all his venison foods. In a total rookie move, though, I grabbed the nearly-empty bag of Stella and Chewy’s instead of the full one, AND the bag of frozen Primal turned out to be almost empty. Fortunately the Ziwipeak was almost brand new. With a dog like Silas you do NOT do trial-by-fire with new food, but we didn’t have much choice.

Fortunately, Ziwipeak saved the day.

I first realized its magic while we were still driving. We were still driving at dinner time. I scooped out his scoop of Ziwipeak, and he dove in nose-first and ate it straight from the measuring cup while sitting in a moving car. He also ate every bite when my husband and I left him with my parents over night, which is unusual. Remember, this is my dog who doesn’t really like food, especially not when he’s stressed.

Travel, in my opinion, is where this food really shines. It’s apparently delicious, and it’s basically like feeding kibble. Scoop, dish, go. Unlike regular raw food, or even the frozen stuff, I would have no qualms at all leaving this food with a dog in boarding, with a house sitter, etc.

There are a few drawbacks. First, this food stinks. When you open the bag, you get a blast of really strong meaty smell, like sticking your head inside a bag of beef jerky. I don’t think it’s terrible, just strong. My mother said she almost gagged. It also seems a little hard for Silas to digest. Visibly everything was okay, but let’s just say that he was not the most pleasant companion for the 12 hour drive back home. I think our next bag will be the venison and fish. Maybe since it’s a white fish it will make the food a little easier on him to process.

Another downside is the price. Venison is expensive. According to our package, the 2.2 lb bag would last Silas, weighing in at 32 pounds, a week, and it costs (brace yourself) between $32 and $39, depending on your source. For venison, this is definitely within the range of average, which is why Silas only eats venison one week out of five. Still, if your dog doesn’t need exotic proteins, I can’t imagine that being appealing. If you do need a pure-convenience, no-refrigeration-required venison food, Ziwipeak is actually a good bit cheaper than Stella and Chewy’s Freeze Dried.

The Ziwipeak Daily Dog food comes in Beef, Lamb, Venison, and Venison & Fish flavors. Beef and Lamb are somewhat cheaper.



Fine print: I bought this my own self, but I wish someone had given it to me.


From time to time I do an allergy-friendly food roundup here, mostly as a way to keep track of things for myself. Here’s what I found when I was scoping out venison foods for Silas. I’ve made some notes about ingredients that may be dodgy, but if you’re interested in this I’m sure you’re already a compulsive label reader. Silas’s allergies are exclusively protein, as far as I can tell, so I may have missed something. Please note that these foods vary wildly in quality and in price. I’ve tried to be pretty thorough, but I’m sure something escaped me. That’s especially true of the treats, where I just put things that jumped out at me. If you know a single-protein venison food that isn’t on the list, please let me know.

Natural Balance L.I.D. Sweet Potato and Venison (note, this one contains “natural flavor,” which has bitten me in the rear before.)
California Naturals Grain-Free Venison Meal Formula
California Natural Grain-Free Venison & Green Lentils
Pioneer Naturals Grain & Potato Free Venison
Pioneer Naturals Venison (brown rice, barley)

Natural Balance L.I.D. Sweet Potato and Venison (contains salmon oil)
Wellness Complete Health Venison and Sweet Potato Canned (barley)
EVO 95% Venison Canned (herring oil, natural flavors)
Canine Caviar 95% Venison (This does not appear to be a complete diet.)
ZiwiPeak Daily-Dog Cuisine Venison Canned Dog Food (green-lipped mussel)
PetKind That’s It! Venison (Interesting–venison and quinoa.)
Addiction New Zealand Venison & Apples Entree Canned
Addiction Hunter’s Venison Stew. (contains “liver;” I’d e-mail their customer service before I fed it.)

Raw, Dehydrated, Freeze Dried, etc
Stella and Chewy’s Simply Venison Freeze Dried
Stella and Chewy’s Simply Venison Frozen
ZiwiPeak Daily Dog Venison (green lipped mussel)–review forthcoming
Grandma Lucy’s Artisan Grain-Free Venison Freeze-Dried Dog Food
Addiction Grain-Free Fig’Licious Venison Feast Dehydrated
Addiction Homestyle Venison & Cranberry Dehydrated (oats)
Primal Canine Venison Frozen
K9 Natural Venison Freeze-Dried (egg, green-lipped mussel)

I’ll also mention my “as cheap as it’s going to get” workaround, for those of you more experienced with raw food, which is to mix Blue Ridge Beef’s Ground Venison with Bone into Honest Kitchen’s Preference. Or, for that matter, so serve it plain (as part of an overall balanced raw diet)–the Preference just bulks it up a little.

Natural Balance Sweet Potato and Venison (this appears to be a very nominal amount of venison.)
Wellness Pure Rewards Venison Jerky
Ziwipeak Good Dog Venison Jerky
Bravo! Bonus Bites Venison Liver
Nature’s Recipe Venison Recipe Oven Baked Chewy Dog Treats
Primal Venison Lung Puffs
Addiction Meaty Bites Venison Dog Treats
Whole Life Pure Venison Freeze-Dried Dog Treats
Chasing Our Tails Venison & Sweet Potato

Honorable mention goes to Addiction’s Viva La Venison kibble. It does contain chicken fat, but they swear it’s protein free. Silas has historically been okay with chicken fat from reputable companies. Since it’s the best quality of the kibbles and easily available, I’d personally risk it if I really NEEDED a kibble.

First place on the walk of shame goes to Nature’s Variety, who puts one or more additional proteins in every venison food they make, including their frozen raw.

Don’t Wake Up the Dog!

I don’t know if Silas was a harder-than-average puppy to raise. I somehow doubt it. Most of his issues didn’t come up right away, although an experienced dog person would have seen warning signs.

What I do know is that I was really not prepared for having a puppy. We didn’t intend to adopt a puppy, and we certainly didn’t intend to adopt one right that minute.

I remember being deeply thankful every time he fell asleep. The catch was that if I did anything to wake him up, it was 50/50 if he would go back to sleep. Waking up the puppy became a huge no-no. Puppy is asleep on your lap and you need to use the bathroom? Hold it. If the dog is asleep on your leg, you are absolved from chores. It’s still the excuse that trumps all other excuses. I had to stop sitting in “snuggle chair,” because Silas would get in my lap and sleep from the time I sat down to drink my morning coffee until lunch time. It was just easier to sit somewhere else.

It’s silly now, because at almost three years old, Silas is a much more determined sleeper. He’s curled up against my leg right now. I know that if I get up, he’ll just scoot over into my warm spot and go back to sleep. I won’t be unleashing the puppy tornado. Still, that first six or eight months left a lasting impression, and I’m sitting here instead of making breakfast.

I wonder if that’s why I have so many pictures of Silas sleeping?

Sweet sleeping dog

That poor dog can't be comfortable.

Sweet dog swaddled in fleece blankets

What's cuter than a sleeping puppy?

Sleepy dog

Annual tradition of watching the Tour de France

Silas sleeps while I read

Warm dog sleeping in the sunshine

Baby puppy sleeping on the back of the sofa.

Sleeping puppy

Or maybe it’s just because they’re so adorable. I do know that when I left Silas with my mom over night, she sent me one text message. It was a picture of Silas sleeping.


A lot of my blogger friends are advocating for their various cities to win in the Go Pet Friendly contest for the dog friendliest city. Me? Not so much.

I’ve always been really confused by the dog culture here. Rates of dog ownership are high, and this is a big city. There’s a thriving local chain of top-notch pet food stores with what feels like dozens of locations. Every shopping center in our suburbs has a PetCo or PetSmart. You name a brand of dog product, and I can probably buy it locally. People here have dogs, and they spend money on them.

On the other hand, you see surprisingly few dogs out in public, aside from their regular walks around the neighborhood. Last time I took Silas to PetSmart in the evening, we saw one dog. I might see five or six on a Saturday. Every now and then I’ll run into a dog at the local pet stores, but it’s rare. I take Silas to two fairly busy parks, and we almost never see dogs in either. (In their defense, one of these parks has an area that is quite popular with dogs. Silas is afraid of that side.) There are a few really nice dog parks in town, but no off-leash natural areas.

Partly I think the problem is the weather, as I mentioned to Jen at Back Alley Soapbox a few days ago. For over half the year, it’s too hot to leave your dog in the car for even a few minutes. If I need to pick up dog food and grab two things from the grocery store, Silas has to stay home.

There are also very strict health codes here about dogs and food. Dogs aren’t allowed at my farmer’s market, for instance, because a few vendors sell food to be eaten on-site. Dogs are allowed on restaurant patios, but most restaurants don’t have direct access to the patio without going inside. (I assume this is related to liquor licensing. Most coffee places have open patios.) So, no dogs.

Mostly, though, I feel like the great humanization of dogs just hasn’t happened here on a broad scale. People have dogs. People love their dogs. But, they’re “just dogs.”

I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining–just stating the facts. In reality, I am A-OK with this. We encounter a good level of dogs for Silas, and I get to eat in restaurants without having to share my dinner with him. Because taking your dog isn’t the default behavior, I’m spared seeing all those dogs who are more afraid to be out in public than their owners understand. Also, in my somewhat limited experience, “dog-friendly” often means “Everyone loves dogs! Who cares if they behave or follow the rules!” If I see an off-leash dog on my side of town outside of a dog park, chances are very high that it’s perfectly well-behaved. (Most recently, a labrador who sat and gazed adoringly at his owner while I rode by on my bicycle. It was like the Twilight Zone.)

As for Silas, he likes having the park to himself:

Is your town dog-friendly? Do you like it that way?

Online Dog Training

I loved being in dog classes with Silas. They were, alas, just too hard for him. He was frightened by normal training exercises like politely greeting strangers, and he found it very hard to work around other dogs. I could probably have fixed this by moving to a better trainer across town, but it would have meant taking Obedience I for the third time. Which would have been okay, if Silas hadn’t known everything in Obedience I before we started it the first time. Plus at his school, Obedience II was outside, near a road, so I wasn’t sure we could progress anyway.

Around that time, a friend of mine suggested that I look into Susan Garrett’s classes. This coincided with the reopening of her premiere class, “The Five Minute Formula For a Brilliant Recall.” (Internet shorthand, “Recallers”). Recallers was an amazing experience, and so much more than just getting your dog to come when you call. If you have a dog who loves to play, I can’t say enough good things about this class. We still play some of the games from Recallers almost every day. The down side of Susan Garrett’s classes is that they are expensive. Absolutely worth it, but you can’t produce money out of thin air. I paid close to $400 for a mid-tier membership last year, although there was a cheaper level. If you’re interested, start saving your dollars and sign up to be notified when the next session opens here. I would expect it to be opening in the next few months, since the last one opened in early March of 2013, but it’s hard to predict.

Online training seems to be a really burgeoning field, though, so I thought I would throw out a few other things that have crossed my radar.

First, the well-respected Fenzi Dog Sports Academy is currently running registrations for their April 1 session. Unlike Recallers, the Fenzi classes are more specifically focused, with a college course catalog set up. You can take classes focusing on nose work, obedience, tracking, rally obedience, general dog behavior, and a few other things. Each area of focus has at least a few levels that you can progress through. Classes operate on a tiered price system, ranging from $65 to $260 dollars depending on how much personal interaction you want with the instructor. I just signed up for their first Obedience Skills class with Silas, because I’ve been feeling like he needs some new things to learn. (Some days I fantasize about how easy life would be with a dumb dog. Boring, but easy.)

Also, I haven’t spent a lot of time with Absolute Dogs yet, but the few things I’ve seen are great. They also do a lot of play-rewards, which I love to see. Learning to use play effectively as a training reward was a real breakthrough for us. I think you could get a lot of value out of their free videos without spending a penny, which is the main reason I’m linking here. They’re also offering a brand-new online class. Interestingly, they’re doing a monthly format that turns out to be fairly inexpensive–about $30 a month. My one unanswered question about them is exactly what they’re teaching, aside from relationship building, but I’m afraid if I do too much research I’ll get sucked in.

A few cautions about online training classes, though: First, you’ll run into a fairly extreme group of people. The internet brings out the worst in us. You’ll see a small but vocal minority of people who are REALLY into competition and have a kind of blind perfectionism. I’ve had to step back from more than one conversation that is, in essence, “How can I get my dog to behave more like a robot 100% of the time?” More importantly, just like with real training classes, do your research. It seems like I hear about more of these online classes every day–there are three or four more that immediately spring to my mind but that I didn’t know enough about to list here–but just because someone puts out a pretty video doesn’t mean they know what they’re doing. It’s a great alternative for people who love dog training but don’t have local resources, but I’m not sure how much top-quality material the market can really produce.

Have you ever taken an online class with your dog?

It’s all fun and games until someone calls the Mounties

Thursday’s trip to the park was a great success. I thought Silas wasn’t going to get in the car, and then I realized that because I was avoiding saying the word “car” he just didn’t know what I wanted. Once we got that straightened out, he hopped right in. He wasn’t the happiest ever in the car, but not too bad:


Then we got to the park where it was a lovely, if very pollen-y, day. Silas ran around happily, including exercising his great talent for finding baseballs in the weeds. What he wants to do with the baseball is roll around on top of it. What he gets is more like this:



(Yes, our grass is that green. Don’t hate me.)

At roughly the 20 minute mark I spotted a mounted policewoman making her way in our direction. Now, Silas has never seen a horse up close, with or without a person. He is skittish about people doing “weird” things. Given that combination, I feel like the horse thing went pretty well. I walked him directly back to the car (while he tried to drag me to the horse), and just about the time we got to the car he had had enough and started to bark a little. Nothing too crazy, but it was on the edge of escalating. If I’d been able to get to my keys faster, he would probably have been okay. As I pulled out of the parking lot, about ten more mounted police came into view, so I’m thrilled that I got out of there promptly.

Also, I have to include this hilarious outtake from my attempt to get the first picture. We were stopped at a red-light, and I snapped my quick phone photo right as a motorcycle happened to drive by:


It’s a pity it’s blurry and off-centered. I could probably win the internet.

That’s More Like It

Before we went on vacation, I posted that we were in a pretty bad place. Silas had randomly, although not without warning, gotten too afraid to get in the car. Since I have to drive him out to the park for walks, we were completely housebound.

I was hoping that vacation, which included a lot of driving, would be a reset of sorts. He’s always better if my husband and I are both in the car. I’m not sure if he finds it reassuring, or if my husband being along is just a guarantee that we aren’t going to the vet. He also prefers to ride on the freeway.

Tuesday we put my theory to the test and went for a little outing. We’re at near-crippling levels of spring pollen, so we kept it indoors with a trip to the local PetSmart. (As I’ve said before, know your dog. Silas adores PetSmart and behaves perfectly, but I also know to keep the trip very short.) Silas hopped right in the car, although he was a little anxious once we were moving.

On the way home, my husband remembered something he needed from the grocery store, so we made a quick stop. Maybe something from the trip did sink in. I had a bag of liver treats that I dispersed in a slow-but-steady stream, and Silas watched quietly as half a dozen people walked through what I had mistakenly picked as the quiet corner of the parking lot. That included two ladies who walked directly in front of our car. The ferocious barking at people walking toward the car thing is a newer behavior that I don’t let Silas practice if I can help it, so maybe it’s going to be easier to eradicate than I imagined.

The real test comes this afternoon, when I’m planning to take Silas out solo. The one thing I know for sure is that I’m walking a fine line between capitalizing on the residual confidence from our trip and overwhelming him. I hope that getting him out twice this week will be just right.

Silas and Breakfast

Here’s a riddle for you: the later we sleep, the less likely Silas is to eat breakfast.

If I get up when my husband’s alarm goes off at 6:30, Silas is sitting on his kitchen mat waiting patiently for his food when I turn around from getting my coffee.

If I’ve had a bad night of insomnia and Silas and I sleep past 10:00, I can almost guarantee that he won’t eat a bite of whatever is in his dish. He’ll take treats, but he’s not going to eat real food. The same goes for the days when I get out of bed and Silas stays upstairs.

Between those two times, it varies.

When he skips breakfast, he’ll wait until 5:00 or so and then chow down his breakfast, his usual snack, AND eat his regular dinner around 8. That’s even on the rare days that he’s eating something I can leave out until he eats it.

This dog really confuses me.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering: Silas will not get up with my husband unless I do.


Last week was a nice chance to get out of our (bad) rut. This winter I’d let our world close in just a little too small, and I was having a lot of trouble recovering. I couldn’t even get Silas in the car, let alone out to the park.

Last week we went on vacation. Which, with a dog like Silas, means “we went to visit our family, because they don’t care if my dog is crazy.”

It’s always interesting to see how Silas does in a different environment. Usually he surprises me in a good way. On this trip, he decided to upgrade my teenaged nephew to his “good” list, as opposed to his “tolerates” list. I haven’t seen anybody make that move in a long time, so it made me particularly happy. Plus, I now have hilarious photos of Silas licking my nephew’s ears. My niece, on the other hand, has learned to walk, so she is officially OFF the “tolerates” list.

I continue to be surprised by Silas’s reaction to cars when we’re not in our typical city-block context. At Mom’s house on a rural dirt road, Silas is sometimes afraid of the cars and sometimes really neutral about them. One day–but only one–he barked at the cars driving by. He’s also learned to navigate gas station parking lots without panicking. (It would never have occurred to me to even try. We always took turns sitting with him, but a few trips ago he started asking to get out.) You see this pole?


The one between the car wash exit and the road? Silas peed on it. I was so proud I took a picture.

Here’s a hilarious one for you, though–after all this, on the way back home we stopped at a station that had less of a grassy area than I thought. So I took Silas across a perfectly quiet dead-end street to a vacant lot. (Pro-tip–watch your step walking around gas stations. There’s some scary stuff out there.) He was okay but not great, until he spotted a little stretch of sidewalk. Then we had to GET OUT. Apparently the sidewalk was the last straw. It was all the proof he needed that I was trying to take him on some kind of real walk. Silly dog.

That set up another nice turn of events, though. I’ve written here before about how Silas gets hysterical if the car is parked and he can see people moving. After he rejected being outside, we sat in the car while my husband went inside, and he didn’t bark at a single person. That was after mega-stress, and in pretty close quarters. (Not a miracle cure, alas. At the next station he couldn’t handle people being barely visible on the other side of the gas pump.)

All in all, definitely a good trip. Silas needs to rest–he always sleeps for a week when we get back–but I also need to capitalize on what was hopefully a reboot of his feelings about the car. We’ll see how it goes.