Our Reaction Scale

I mentioned yesterday that I think of Silas’s reactions on a 1-5 scale. I haven’t talked about it here–it’s an idea that’s just crystallized lately–so I thought I would elaborate a bit. These are my criteria:

  1. Notices something and alerts, but doesn’t bark.
  2. Barks once or twice, but is easy to redirect. Or, he just huffs and puffs, instead of actually barking with volume.
  3. More persistent barking, but moderately easy to redirect.
  4. Continuous barking, has to be physically removed from the situation.
  5. Hysterical barking/howling. Difficult to console or distract even after the barking is done. Often with prolonged whimpering/whining/sobbing sounds.

Level 5s are mercifully rare. I hate it. Mostly I see this with the cat howling in the middle of the night.

Level 4 is our regular “bad” reaction, as opposed to the nuclear meltdown of Level 5. Level 4 means there’s a cat on the garage roof. (The workers on the garage roof last week were somewhere between 4 & 5.) Sometimes the doorbell gets a level 4, if Silas is having a rough day. The landscapers can get pretty close to level 4 if I don’t manage the situation properly. If the cat only meows, instead of yowling, we may stay at 4 instead of escalating.

Some of our neighborhood noises are still a Level 3. With the medication, most of them have drifted downwards. If someone is screaming or laughing really loudly, we’ll get this. The doorbell is mostly a 3. Dogs barking on the sidewalk are a 3 sometimes. Squirrels are a 3 if they’re particularly tantalizing.

Level 1 and 2 are pretty random and variable, insofar as what might get a little bark on a bad day will get no bark at all on a good day. This category is mostly things like the wind blowing tree branches. Loud birds. Well-behaved-but-not-silent people on the sidewalk. “Scary” objects, like clothes hanging in a weird place. Dogs barking outside who for whatever mysterious reason don’t merit a Level 3. I often don’t even know what this stuff is, since I do not have Silas’s supersonic hearing.

The biggest difference in Silas post-medication is the frequency of all these. Pre-medication we could easily hit fifteen separate incidents on a bad day. Yesterday? Two, and one was the doorbell.

Do you have a scale? How is it different from mine?

Last Week’s Victories

Oh, we had a rough week last week. The cats. The regular landscapers. The gutter cleaners, who came a week early and walked on the garage roof. We had more level 4 outbursts (on a 1-5 scale) this week than we’ve had in a long time.

But, there was some good stuff, too. Life (and Silas’s nerves) settled back down from Thursday on through the weekend, during which all of the following happened:

–I finally found a vitamin that Silas is not immediately disgusted by. If he’s still eating it next week, I’ll give you all the details.

–Silas’s beloved neighbor walked by on the sidewalk just as we turned in the gate from one of his mini-walks. He went back out the gate to meet her. I can’t even tell you the last time Silas went out the gate. He was probably less than eight or nine months old.

–The next night on our sidewalk walk, when we got to the front gate there was an elderly pug walking our way. I deliberately take Silas out between after work walkies and bedtimes walkies, so we haven’t actually met a dog on the sidewalk in ages. Silas really wanted to meet Mr. Pug. I asked permission, we did a quick sniff, and then Silas was so excited he accidentally walked at least fifteen more feet down the sidewalk. Fifteen feet past the gate, people! He’s also starting to linger at the gate instead of bolting through, presumably because the hedge corner by the gate is the neighborhood’s most happening pee spot.

–Silas got in the car with zero drama, so we went out for ice-cream. (I got an extra cup and gave him a spoonful of mine.) Silas found this acceptable.

Can we rest now?


Cat Woe

I’m in the midst of my least favorite kind of problem: something that Silas is completely wigged out over, and I can control neither it nor him.

The Cat.

Tabby cat

Image from Nikita, via Flickr Creative Commons License.

Silas hates cats. He was attacked by one once, but I honestly think he would have hated them anyway. My personal suspicion is that his lineage is largely composed of squirrel dogs. (Which are a real thing in the South, and many of them look like Silas.) He has more prey drive than I really know what to do with.

For his first two years, it wasn’t an issue. My neighbor had an enormous orange tabby who never dreamed of leaving his sunny spot on the patio. Unlike the old cat, her new cat happily scales the tree, runs across the garage roof, and does who knows what with her time.

Neighbor kitty is a problem, but not a big deal. Silas sees her run across the roof once a week or so. But, she has disrupted the delicate feral cat balance of the neighborhood, and we are now in the midst of some kind of kitty turf war.

One meow outside in the middle of the night, and Silas is done. Sunday night he stayed awake all night after the first sound, just in case the ENEMY returned.  Last night he panted and cried and barked for an hour. The irony of this is that Silas wins. The cat meows, Silas barks, and the cat goes away. But Silas can’t believe it.

Once Silas hears the cat, he is having a full-on panic attack. There’s no training in the world I can do that would get through to him. We don’t own our townhouse or have any control of our front yard. I haven’t seen anybody in our area feeding the cats. I never hear the cat during the daytime, or on any kind of predictable schedule.

Help me?

Things I Just Can’t Be Bothered About

I read a lot of dog media, ranging from the traditional to the way-out-hippy-dippy. It seems like everybody is always prognosticating some terrible thing that is inevitably going to happen to my dog if I make the wrong decisions.

You know what? I’ve got real problems. I don’t need to borrow trouble.

So, here’s my list of things that make me roll my eyes:

1) Dog sunburn. Silas has no hair. He is white. We live in an extremely hot, UV-heavy climate. If he wants to sunbathe on the patio at 1:30 in the afternoon, I let him. I figure he has sense enough to know when he’s getting uncomfortable. I would never compel him to stay outside in the sun longer than that, because it’s a zillion degrees out there and I don’t want him to get overheated. (Dog heat stroke being a thing I do care about.) I don’t plan long outings midday, because it’s gross out there. I have never seen a single indication that he’s gotten a sunburn.

2) Vaccine paranoia. Silas gets a full series of regular vaccines, and will continue to do so until I see the first hint that he’s reacting badly to them. (My vet does use a three-year protocol.) That’s a choice that makes me happy. Make the choice that makes you happy. Stop trying to convince me that a tiny, tiny dose of rabies vaccine every three years is poisoning my dog.

3) Excessive vigilance about dog food. Yes, I’m saying it. Silas has serious food issues, and I have had to do a lot of work with his diet. But that doesn’t mean every dog needs you to micromanage every ingredient. Micromanaging every ingredient is exactly zero fun. Pick a food you and your budget are comfortable with. Feed it to your dog. Maybe rotate through all the flavors of that food, so that your dog gets some variety. Is your dog healthy? Woohoo! You have done your job. Stop worrying.

4) Babying healthy joints. I have a friend who was horrified that I let Silas jump up and down off our bed. “He’ll ruin his knees!” I kept it to myself that Silas’s favorite game is a zoomies circuit that includes jumping off the bed, running at full speed down the stairs, skidding across the sofa, and then executing a tight turn and doing it in reverse. I’m not going to critique his every motion to prevent hypothetical damage. Life is too short. Your dog or breed has a predisposition to bad joints? Then be more careful than I am. Over here? We’re playing the zoomies game.

5) Natural heartworm prevention. Ivermectin is extremely safe. (Arguably even for breeds with Ivermectin sensitivity, although there are some good alternatives on the market now.) Heartworm is extremely dangerous and extremely prevalent in our area. I am not fooling around. Your herbs work great for your dog? Good for you! Can we change the subject now?

How about you? What boogiemen do you refuse to be afraid of?

The Best Damn Tiny World

Have I mentioned lately that I love you guys? I was really down around Silas’s birthday, and your comments were just so sweet. Blueberry’s Human from Spotty Spotty Polkadotty scolded me, justly, for the sin of comparison. Then she said this, referring to her previous, less-than-social dog:

Was her world small? Absolutely – but it was full of love and fun and at the end of the day, that’s all that really mattered to her.

I have a lot of anxiety about Silas, because his problems are not minor. The list of things that he cannot do? It has some fairly serious stuff on it, some of which I can’t even bring myself to talk about. So when Silas does something like start refusing to get in the car, I panic. I panic because I envision his 50% tolerance for people eroding as he gets less and less exposure. I panic because it took me years to build up enough confidence for him to be semi-comfortable in some select number of parks. I panic because I imagine every setback as some kind of slippery slope that ends in tragedy.

It’s partly justified, but mostly silly. We did manage to get him to the park one day last week, and he was absolutely fine. Better than fine. Maybe we’re over some kind of hump–with three years of good park experience, a few months away aren’t going to be the END of park going anymore. We met my neighbor outside one day last week, and Silas was thrilled to see her. While we were talking to her, my other neighbor walked out, and Silas really wanted to meet him, too. Obviously, our last few months of isolation hasn’t been a big deal.

So for now, I’m shifting my focus.

Who cares if Silas’s world has gotten very, very small?

We’ll have the best damn tiny world in the universe. 

Five Things on a Monday

Sleeping upside down

1. Silas accurately pinpointed a weird sound in our living room as coming from the fireplace. We thought he was crazy. When my husband went outside to look, just because it calms Silas down, there was a woodpecker on the chimney.

2. Silas ran into my neighbor outside over the weekend. He was so happy to see her. I need to give her a copy of our house key, because I think she’s the only person in town that Silas would trust to let him out in an emergency.

3. Silas has absolutely no manners when he’s greeting people. I don’t know how to fix it. I mostly don’t let him interact with strangers, because his preferences are a little unpredictable, which makes training opportunities few and far between. He was too skittish to do the meet-and-greet training in our obedience classes.

4. Silas loves five people in the world unequivocally: Me. My husband. My mother. The neighbor. Some random girl in the lobby of the vet’s office, who we will never see again.

5. Silas has largely gotten over his phobia of spray bottles, except for the one my husband uses to clean his glasses. The humans can discern no difference between that bottle and any other.

Three Years Old!

Silas’s third birthday passed this weekend without a lot of fanfare. As you can probably tell by my very sporadic blogging, things have not been super-shiny-happy here lately. It’s not that things are bad. If anything, it’s something of the opposite–we’ve settled into a very pleasant, but very boring and very secluded routine. His birthday made me a little sad, because I feel some kind of finality that he’s really, truly an adult now, and I can’t expect him to just “grow out of it” anymore.

On the other hand, we finally got to take down the baby gate in our bathroom, and this week I learned that I can have throw pillows on my sofa again. As long as I’m willing to share, that is:


Silas has been happily taking his very short sidewalk walks, which you can see here if you don’t mind truly execrable video-while-walking:

His ears are mostly back, but in a fairly neutral way (the closer they are together on the back of his head, the more freaked out he is). You can tell that he’s checking over his shoulder a lot, but he’s also able to stop to sniff the bushes. I get very excited at the end of the video, because he walks past the gate to sniff the bush on the far side. That means he did not frantically dart under the gate, and he didn’t try to drag me the last few steps. This is pretty typical for these outings, plus 20 seconds or so at the beginning while I got the camera set up. When I say little walks, I mean it. On a usual day we walk around between the townhouse buildings for a few more minutes once we’re done.

That is, alas, the only way I’m able to get him out of the house. Smart Silas has progressed to the point that he will happily get in my car as long as I have absolutely no walking apparatus. No bag, no car keys, no harness. If my husband is home, the two of us can cajole him in, but I hate to undo my happy-counterconditioning by pressuring him about the car too often. We get his exercise by playing upstairs-downstairs fetch over our loft railing. He loves the park once we’re there–I just can’t get him to connect the pieces.

I’m really uncomfortable with our very small life, because I know that Silas doesn’t benefit from it in the long run, but everybody’s happy for now. When there’s no pressure from the outside world, Silas is officially the world’s sweetest, smartest dog, so we get by.

Which circles back around to my fairly radical drop in blog posts–it’s times like this that I have to dial down my over-investment in his life. If I work too hard at being the best dog-person ever, I get really frustrated when he doesn’t make more progress. If think about nothing but my dog all day, surely my dog could get his act together? Alas, that isn’t how it works. I’m trying to pop in a few times a week; I can’t promise more than that.