Biggest Challenge

I recently filled out a dog training survey that asked what my biggest training challenge was. My first response was to laugh. Given the context of the survey, I think the other answers were probably things like “my dog breaks his start line stay in agility.” I don’t mean to mock anybody else’s challenges, because I know that dog sports people have invested significant time and money into training their agility dogs, but I would love for that to be my biggest problem.

I don’t remember what I actually wrote. I think it might have been about how we’re basically housebound, now that Silas is afraid of both the car and the sidewalk. (They’re both getting better, but at a glacial pace. On Monday, Silas sniffed the middle of the bush past the gate, instead of just the closest corner.)

The question keeps kicking around in my brain, though. What is my biggest dog training challenge?

It’s me.

Silas is a fragile dog. On Monday’s walk, fortunately after we were back inside our gate, he stepped on a water meter cover that shifted under his weight. He jumped, and I said to my husband “Well, I’ll never get him out here again.” I was only partly joking. Silas remembers everything.

Last time he was doing any real sidewalk walking, I got cocky and took him out in a gentle rain. It took six months to a year for me to get to set foot out of our garage again.

That kind of thing has made me fiercely protective of him. I’m afraid–not without reason–that any bad experience is going to ruin the tiny scraps of regular life that we have left. If he meets a snarky dog in the pet store, will he ever go again? If I take him to the park and we run into a group of children, will he be too scared to go back? If I encourage him to take one more step, or to get in the car, will that be enough pressure to ruin our progress? If I drive him home from the park with the windows down, will he stop getting in the car?

I have become the dog equivalent of a helicopter parent. If you aren’t familiar with the phrase, it’s the word my teacher friends use for those parents who are always hovering, waiting to swoop in and save their kid from whatever real or imaginary problem he or she faces. Kids with helicopter parents tend to not turn out well, because they never learn any real life skills.

That’s my biggest dog training challenge. I’m so protective of my anxious dog that I don’t give him a chance to grow.

Before Silas

In the spirit of throwback Thursday, I’ve been thinking about Anna The Fox Terrier.

Anna was not my dog. She belonged to a graduate school professor of mine. Every year, he picked whichever of his teaching assistants seemed the most responsible, and paid him or her a generous stipend to watch Anna while the family went on vacation. Now that I have a dog, I’m boggled that he didn’t care if we had dog experience or not, although Anna was not high maintenance. I honestly think he saw this as a charitable project, since our stipends didn’t pay out during the summer.

And, let’s be clear, dog experience I did not have. I grew up in the country, so there were dogs around, but I’d never even seen a dog who lived indoors. I’d never taken a dog for a walk. I’d never even fed one.

Anna had a sassy little personality, and she knew who was boss. Two weeks in to my month-long stay, I mentioned to the family that she woke me up at 5:30 every morning. They’d never heard of such craziness. So, the next day, I tried to ignore her. It didn’t work. When she wanted a walk, she would nose her leash, where it hung next to the door, until it jangled in a particular way that you could hear through the whole house. This happened twice a day, morning and evening, and I obliged. She also never asked her family for that, come to find out. I was an ambitious young thing, so I would sometimes get up and go for a run, then come back and pick her up for her walk. She disapproved.

Maybe because I was giving her easily double the exercise she usually got, I have no memories of interacting with her during the daytime. I don’t remember snuggles, or even pets. One night it stormed and she got in the bed with me, but that’s it. I’m not sure if she never really liked me, or if she just wasn’t that kind of dog. Or maybe I’ve just forgotten. I do remember that Anna, who was a “senior dog” and weighed less than 20 pounds, still had a vertical leap as high as my shoulder.

She loved the vet, where I had to take her for a bath. She waited at corners on walks until I said it was okay to cross the street, an arrangement we instinctively arrived at. One day, her collar fell off on a walk, and she just stood there for me to put it back on, while internally I panicked.

It hit me one day recently that Anna, the dog who taught me that I could have a dog, is probably not alive anymore. This dog-sitting job was seven or eight years ago, and she was already in her teens.

The world lost a great dog when it lost Anna.

In Which I Go to a Dog Show

On the issue of purebred dog versus rescue mutt, I am Switzerland. A really, really overthinking, emotionally compromised Switzerland. Which is all I have room in this post to say.

Anyway, when I realized yesterday that there was a big dog show in town, I decided to go. (No photos, both because the few I snapped are bad, and because I didn’t ask any kind of permission.) The day I picked was actually kind of boring, from the purely show side, as it was very early in the process and most of the classes were quite small. This also meant that I didn’t see a huge variety of dog breeds, because only some breeds were showing. It was also hard to keep up with what was happening where, since there were at least 15 show rings running, intermingled with vendors and grooming stations.

Despite it being not terribly exciting from the show perspective, I found the whole experience to be emotionally exhausting.

I think there’s pretty general consensus that some show dogs are genuinely lovely creatures, and some are genetic disasters. (Trying to get people to agree about which are which is the trick. Also, some of those genetic disasters are out there for everyone to see, but others are hiding on the inside in the form of serious health or temperament issues.)

What I didn’t expect is that TV is a terrible averager of dogs.

Dogs that look lovely on TV looked amazing in person. As soon as I was inside, I ran across a class of Dobermans that was breathtaking. The Golden Retrievers looked like they just stepped out of fashion magazines. Scrappy Norwich Terriers vibrated with joy to be in the ring. Those strange looking Bedlington terriers are, in person, kind of adorable. I texted a picture of a Basenji to my husband, and he immediately asked if Silas needed a sibling.

Unfortunately, I also found the opposite to be true. I walked in to the arena from a back way, where many of the big dogs were milling around outside with their owners. Literally the first dog I saw of the entire event was a poor German Shepherd whose back legs wobbled pathetically with every step. He wasn’t even the worst; no wonder Westminster doesn’t show that angle. Dogs that seem just a little too much on TV were way too much in person. I saw a Basset Hound who was one leg wrinkle away from not being able to walk, and several Sharpeis who were surely incapable of seeing.

It was also obvious that some of these dogs were deeply loved and some of them were commodities. (If an unstressed, healthy, non-toy dog freely uses the bathroom in his crate, the message I take away is not that he is a beloved family pet.) In that regard, I found the breed-specific rescue booths, with their adoring volunteers, comforting, although then I had to feel bad for the poor homeless dogs.

Like I said, emotionally exhausting.

I will say, I think anyone who wants a purebred dog should go to the shows before they’re dead set on a particular breed. Most people pick their “ideal” dog breed from a picture and a general description of its temperament, which is only a tiny part of the picture. For instance, Viszlas, which were pretty high up on my fantasy dog roster, routinely emit a howl that sets my teeth on edge. Scratch that.

Have you been to a dog show? Did you enjoy it?



People who have made no progress…look back and say “I’m so satisfied with that! My life was wonderful!”…I can at the very least say that even if it isn’t much, I’ve made some progress…and that’s good. Because I have regrets, I have done well. —

Atsuko Wantabe, quoted in A Different Kind of Luxury by Andy Couturier


Be the Change for Animals: Spread the Word

I thought Ian Dunbar was a weird, crazy man when I read his puppy books at the insistence of a friend. I listened to his advice, though, and took Silas to puppy class.

It might be exaggerating to say that puppy class saved his life, but it might not.

I rescued Silas at five weeks old. On our first day of puppy kindergarten, when he was ten weeks old, he was terrified of all the other puppies. On the fourth and final Saturday of puppy kindergarten, he was still not able to engage with the other puppies. So we rolled him over into their next program, a puppies-only, very closely supervised version of doggie daycare. By the end, he loved dogs.

Young puppy Silas

Poor scraggly guy.

I have no doubt that puppy kindergarten and puppy daycare are the only reason that Silas isn’t dog-reactive, and I’m not sure if the me of those days could have successfully managed a dog-reactive dog.

Our additional weekly socialization homework compelled us to do all kinds of other good things, too, like going to a variety of local parks and meeting a certain quantity of strangers. When Silas got older and became pathologically fearful of new things, that background saved us.

People are going to acquire puppies. By all means, if you know the person’s intentions in advance, do everything you can to help them make a wise decision. Once they have that dog in their home, though, it’s no longer the time to educate them about puppy mills, backyard breeders, or the wonders of rescue. The best thing you can do is help keep that puppy out of the shelter.

So, this is my mission for you: research your local training facilities. Find the class that you would take your puppy to, if you were so crazy as to get a new puppy. Use your experience of dogs and dog training to pick a good place. Then spread the word.

When you see a puppy out on a walk, or when your hair stylist tells you that she just got a new puppy, be prepared to pop out the name of that local puppy class.

I do this myself and find it to be extremely painless. People want to chat about their puppies. Then you can just slip in, “You know, the best puppy classes in town are at Fido’s Training Extravaganza.” Average Jane does not know that puppy kindergarten exists, let alone that socialization is crucially important.

Do you live somewhere with no puppy classes? Then hand out the URL for Ian Dunbar’s After You Get Your Puppy, which is online for free as a pdf.

Trained and socialized puppies very rarely wind up in shelters, so let’s help make every puppy trained and socialized.

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Kong Time

In the infancy of the blog I published a recipe for Kong filling that I still really like. However, these days I’m a lot lazier less concerned about the finer points of dog nutrition.

My Kong recipe has settled down to something of a halfway point between the two options I mentioned there.


This is a very unscientific process:
1 can pumpkin
a few dollops of plain yogurt
A spoonful of peanut butter
A drizzle of molasses (Silas doesn’t like too much, but he likes some.)
A handful of frozen raspberries. I particularly like them, because they break up as you stir. If you’re using bigger fruit, you might want to puree or chop it.

Stir together, scoop into Kongs.

I gave away my 6-hole muffin tin in a fit of downsizing, so I’ve had to adopt this bread pan instead:


I probably should have washed the frozen bits of Kong filling off before I photographed it. Keeping it real.

Some of these are obviously not Kongs. The blobby orange one is a West Paw Tux. I really love the Tux for freezing, but it’s quite easy to empty non-frozen. The long orange one is a Bionic Urban Stick. It’s a great sturdy option, but difficult to wash. Don’t pack tightly is my advice. You can see in my bottom picture that I put a cookie in before the filling.



(I could swear I published a version of this already. I can’t find it, so I’m doing it again.)

Product Review: I and Love and You Super Power Powder

What a product name!

A few months back my local Whole Foods picked up the I and Love and You product line. As one does, I cruised through all of their offerings, which include a variety of supplements, remedies, and food. They only have a few things Silas can eat, and I’ve been slowly trying the most appealing of them.

We started with their Salmon Sauce, which is a pretty typical salmon oil supplement. Even though Silas is allergic to salmon, salmon oil seems to help more with his itchiness than any of the other fish oils. We’ve now officially switched to this one from our old pump-top bottle, because the dispenser is the only 100% mess free fish oil we’ve used. Not one drip!

I had initially bypassed their daily supplement. It’s a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none kind of mix. It has some glucosamine and chondroitin. It has some digestive enzymes. It has some vitamins. It has some micronutrients. It doesn’t have a lot of any of those things, though. To pull a random example, the product has 150mg of glucosamine in two teaspoons, which is the recommended serving for a 50-100 pound dog. I’ve seen glucosamine recommendations as high as 1000mg for a dog that size. Another example at random: Super Power Powder has 7.5 IU of vitamin E. Mary Straus at Dog Aware suggests 1-2 IU of vitamine E per pound for dogs who eat raw diets.

To be fair, I and Love and You does not market this food as a supplement to homemade raw diets. Their copy quite clearly states that they’re hoping to compensate for the natural loss of nutrients as prepared food is cooked and stored. Adding 100% of the RDA for all the key vitamins on top of a prepared food that is intended to be nutritionally complete would be too much. This same premise that makes it safe for kibble-feeders makes it a less than perfect vitamin for people who feed homemade raw.

Even though the vitamin amounts are not ideal for our needs, this supplement absolutely wins where it counts:

Silas will eat it.

The I and Love and You vitamin powder stinks (literally). But apparently one of the things it stinks of is its natural peanut butter flavor. After his initial new-food skepticism, Silas has been eating it just fine. (Although, writing this review, I’ve realized that we still aren’t up to the full daily amount.)

We have rejected a lot of vitamins over the years. The Pet-Tabs the vet prescribed when he was a puppy have failed several lead contamination tests. Ian Billinghurst’s E-Barf Plus seems to bother Silas’s stomach, even though Silas didn’t mind the taste. It also doesn’t list vitamin quantities one way or another. Silas would rather starve than eat the Animal Essentials Herbal Multi-Vitamin I bought after I exhaustively researched the most perfect supplement Silas could eat. The nice, basic-but-solid blend from B-Naturals has chicken liver, as do many of the others on the market. We used a powdered greens mix for a while, but Silas wasn’t wild about it. Many raw-feeders recommend using a human multivitamin, but Silas is too small.

The bottom line: we’re happily accepting that a less-than-ideal supplement is better than none at all. Since Silas does eat some prepared “complete and balanced” food, I’m comfortable with the compromise.


Fine print: I bought this myself.


The Benefits of Adulthood

Silas is three years old now.

I’ve always been skeptical of the very precise timelines you see for dog development. “Adolescence ends exactly at this age” is just such a ridiculous concept.

Silas has, however, had some breakthroughs that neatly correspond to age markers.

Just before he turned eighteen months old, I snapped this picture on a walk:



I was stunned that he could walk through the park without practically dragging me down the trail. It was like a switch flipped in his brain: “Oh, that’s what she wants. Okay.” And we had a whole walk without him pulling, for the first time ever.

Three seems to be another big milestone for us. We were able to take down the baby gate blocking the upstairs bathroom, without Silas running in to chew the rugs. I can leave the throw pillows on the sofa now, instead of only getting one out when I want to take a nap. He can walk past laundry on the floor without taking a piece for himself.

He’s even stopped a nagging behavior leftover from his puppyhood: he was an inveterate rock chewer as a baby (I assume this was a nutritional problem, given his food allergies). To keep him from eating the rocks and hurting himself, I traded rocks for cookies. This created a second problem. Namely, whenever he wanted a little snack, he would go out to the yard and dig up a rock. He still brings the odd stick or leaf in, hoping that I’ll let him chew it, but I haven’t seen a rock in a month.

We adhered to the management school of puppy training. Our motto was “don’t give him the chance to do it, and he’ll grow out of the urge.” Hence, baby gates, crate training, scrupulous housekeeping, and the Fort Knox of laundry hampers. It took a lot longer than I imagined, but we’re finally seeing some dividends.

Plus, Silas really loves those throw pillows.


Have your dogs had particularly remarkable milestone ages? Did they match up with the suggested calendar?


I approach the Fourth of July with a dose of skepticism every year. A year is a long time for a dog whose emotional responses to stimuli are still in a state of flux, so I have no expectations. Silas was a tiny baby puppy on his first Fourth. His second fourth was No Big Deal, something that surprised me at the time. Last year, he barked at the fireworks. This year, our first with his medication, I really wasn’t sure what to expect.

We’re in a good place and a bad place for fireworks–good because we aren’t in the kind of residential area that lends itself to neighbors with firecrackers all night, but bad because we’re quite near two large displays.


This year I weighed my options and decided to start off the day quite early, with a trip to the park. It was a calculated risk. Going to the park is stressful for Silas, even if he has fun once we’re there. I was really pleased that he got right in the car, and then he seemed to enjoy himself while we were there.

After a nice dose of exercise, we spent the day pretty much as normal. We’re in a bad pattern of strong afternoon storms, so there was some thunder around 6:30. At that point, I went ahead and gave him his short-term anxiety medication, just to be on the safe side. Then we had fairly close fireworks from 9:00-9:15, and further-away-but-still-loud fireworks about half an hour later.

All in all, it wasn’t too bad. Silas had some trouble with the thunderstorm, which was extremely loud, but after a few minutes he settled down. The earlier, closer, fireworks show also gave him some trouble. The Kong I had hoped would get him through wasn’t good enough, so we resorted to good old classical conditioning. Boom=delicious cheesy treat. By the end of the display, he was resting calmly near me, with a relaxed expression. The second display didn’t seem to bother him at all. I probably should have used the cheesy treats through it, too, but I didn’t want to make it into a bigger deal than he did.

How did you all fare?