Puttering Along

I didn’t mean to go so long without posts–and many thanks to those of you who sent me concerned e-mails. It warms my heart.

I haven’t been posting because life is very slow and boring here. Which is not complaining, by the way. Boring is one of my favorite things in the universe. It just doesn’t inspire a lot of exciting blog posts.

So, here are some musings of a not-earth-shattering variety.

1) I have decided that I’m going about Silas’s nail trimming all wrong. Silas is a dog who adores–and NEEDS–process and routine. I keep trying to do wait until he’s calm and happy, then whip out my nail clippers for a little counter conditioning. He is never going to be okay with that. Surprises are his least favorite thing in the universe. Instead, I’ve decided to make the whole process as he already knows it less scary for him. We trim his nails with him standing on the kitchen table, where I can see what I’m doing and he doesn’t squirm. Instead of conditioning the clippers, which is getting me no place meaningful, I’ve started working on the other part–picking him up and putting him on the table, then letting him get back down. Or, even just picking him up and putting him right back down, then giving him a big treat. I wish I could train him to put himself on the table, but I’ve never been able to manage it. I can’t even say how much better it made bath time when he learned to get in the tub on his own. Standing him on the table is hardly the most sensitive and humane way to do this, but it’s what he knows. That goes a long way with Silas. Basically, I think the best I’ll ever be able to do with him is to make him as happy as he is at the vet, where he loves everything except the actual exam.

2) I have realized with kind of a dull sense of dread that we’re due back at the behaviorist in January, and she’s going to ask lots of questions like “did you finish the relaxation protocol?” and “how many times a week is he getting out?” Gulp. I guess I need to start doing “real” training again.

3) I put a new thermometer on the end table on Wednesday. Silas sniffed of it and walked on by. This counts as progress.

4) Our winter weather is a fickle, fickle beast. It’s never colder than about 30 degrees here, which probably seems warm to a lot of you, but our house is exactly the opposite of everything warm and snug. Poor nearly-naked Silas was miserable last week when the temperature inside the house dropped from 75 (our summer air conditioning setting) to 65 in the span of one day. This week should be warm again; maybe Silas’s winter coat (to the extent that he gets one) will come on in. He has a sweater that he hates. If any of you have great ideas for keeping a short-haired dog warm, please let me know. He’s all warm and happy in this picture, which is how he stayed until he stood up and realized that his sweater was attached to his body OMG I HAVE TO SCRAPE IT OFF NOW BEFORE IT KILLS ME.

Warm and sleepy

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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Confessions

Dear Blog Readers:

I have some things I need to get off my chest.

1) I told you that I would come back and review Merle’s Door. I lied. I read a little over half of it, and then suddenly I was filled with a deep and powerful rage/nausea. I returned it to the library and I try not to think about it.

2) I told my husband that I would make all of Silas’s dog treats to help offset the cost of his behaviorist expenses. There are four kinds of store-bought treats on my refrigerator right now.

3) Even though I’m unemployed, I find it impossible to stay on schedule with my blog reader and do anything during the day except sit in front of my computer. I love you all a lot. I’m still reading your blogs. I’m trying a new commenting schedule, so let’s hope it works.

4) I worry that you all only read the first and maybe last paragraph of my blog posts. I talk a lot.

5) I will never be a famous blogger, because I am EARNEST and SINCERE. But also, see #3, #4, and the fact that I published two posts last week with crazy italics formatting.

6) I signed up for an account at Petsmove.org, and I’m so bad at taking Silas for walks that I actually forgot the name of the website.

7) In my defense, Silas won’t walk from home, and these days it takes a solid ten minutes of terrified trembling before he’ll get in the car. (If you have deep insights into dog psychology, please share. He’s perfectly fine as soon as he gets in.) So do the math: at least ten minutes to get ready. Ten minutes to soothe Silas’s feelings and get him in the car. Ten to fifteen minutes to drive to the closest decent park. Silas prefers his walks in the half-hour range. Then ten to fifteen minutes driving back home. If he’s happy with fetch on the stairs for his everyday exercise, so am I.

8) I donated two leashes, a collar, and two harnesses to a local charity this week. They all violently clash with each other and are mostly made for different sized dogs.

9) My kitchen smells like canned tripe.

10) I’ve never really really LOVED this blog design, and I’m becoming convinced that the type is too small. Is it too small? Or is my laptop too small?

Anything you need to confess?

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?

Inspired

I’m not always good at looking at the big picture. I get wrapped up in what is happening right this minute, or today, or tomorrow. I lose track of how those things stack up into months and years. Setbacks are even harder–when that tomorrow becomes today and doesn’t look at all like I wanted it to, I’ve been known to have a little meltdown.

I can handle the day to day of dog training–wickedly smart Silas makes that very easy–but I’m not good at patience.

Thanks to the Pet Blogger’s Gift Exchange, I’ve been reading along with Maggie of Oh My Dog! And Maggie is one of those people who can look past the little setbacks, see the big picture, and have faith that all those little efforts will be worthwhile.

When she wound up, unexpectedly, with Newt the Cat, she knew it would take some work to integrate the cat with her three dogs. The dogs first met the cat in June. By July, everyone had realized there might be a bigger problem. Did Maggie give up? Did she get deterred by a few setbacks? Did she lose sight of the goal? Hell, no.

She kept training and training. For six months, until she finally got everyone on the same page.

If you like narratives of dog training that worked, it’s a heck of a story.

And, of course, integrating the dogs and the cat is only one example of her wonderful patience. Just try to read her Letter to Lucas, her reactive middle-dog without getting a tear in your eye. Or the one to Cooper, her brilliant-but-anxious youngest dog. Watch how casually she drops in the year and a half that they worked on Lucas’s dog reactivity. If you click around her blog for a while, you’ll see it over and over again.

Thank you, dear Maggie, for being a wonderful example and teaching me to have faith in the process, however long it takes. Happy holidays.

Hello.

We’re meeting the bloggers around dog-ville today. I waffled for a long time before I realized that I have an extremely distinctive dog. If somebody who knows me runs across this blog, they’re going to recognize Silas. If I run into a blog reader in public, ditto.

So, here’s me:

photo-34

The questions are actually harder than the photo was. Because I got to this one: What is one thing you’ve done that you’re most proud of? and realized it was time I ‘fessed up.

I’ve alluded here and there to the fact that I’m chronically unemployed, but I’ve never gone into it. You see, a few years back I got a PhD in English Literature from a pretty good university. I’m immensely proud of it and have no regrets. But, the recession hit universities very hard just as I was coming out of graduate school. My friends have managed to piece together temporary positions and two year contracts, but (unlike them) I was married. I wasn’t uprooting my husband from his great job that he loved to live in Podunk, Iowa and make almost no money. Now, even if the job market for the humanities recovers, I’m not competitive anymore. Which is hilarious, since I wrote a dissertation about literature. It’s not like I’m sequencing genes. I’m casting around for a new career, but nobody will hire me because I have a PhD and teaching experience instead of real job skills.

I don’t talk about it a lot because 1) while some of the fault was mine and some wasn’t, it’s still a huge failure and 2) people get really weird. Please don’t get weird. I’m promise that I’m not criticizing your grammar or your writing or your taste in books.

Yes, this is why all of my blog posts are so long.

What’s your favorite non-animal related book?

Seriously, did you read the last answer? How about five. Anne of Green Gables. Bleak House (don’t knock Dickens until you’ve tried him as an adult. I don’t know why they teach Great Expectations in high school. I guess because it’s short, comparatively, but it’s Dickens at his very most . . . Dickensian. I like David Copperfield as a good starter Dickens.) Little Women. Anything by Georgette Heyer. Persuasion (no, Pride and Prejudice is not Jane Austen’s best book. And while we’re at it, Jane Eyre is Charlotte Bronte’s worst book. Try Shirley and get back to me.) For all that, I have a terrible time reading fiction now. Contemporary stuff is too angsty, and the old stuff still feels like work.

Now, for the less serious, if you haven’t run screaming already:

Who’s your favorite actor?

Cary Grant FOREVER.

What’s one thing you have to do every day?

Drink coffee. Just two cups, but they’re important.

What do you wish you were more skilled at?

Sewing. I have a machine and I know how to use it, but I’m not very good. I don’t practice much because the machine bothers Silas.

Favorite meal?

Breakfast. I love almost all breakfast foods, but I am completely baffled by our cultural obsession with bacon. I mean, it’s nice enough, but it’s not THE ONE TRUE FOOD. (That would be tomatoes, in the summer, just off the vine.)

How is your pet most like you?

Have you read my blog? If I answered this, y’all would think I’m crazy.

What can your body do for you that makes you most proud?

I think this is the most awesome question in the survey, and I’m betting most of us skip it. So I won’t–I’m a reasonably serious cyclist. I spent most of the fall working up to riding 100 miles on January 1, but the weather is killing my training. It rained every weekend in November, and now it’s freakishly cold. I’ve had to reschedule for March 1 instead.

What’s one thing you could do to be more kind to yourself?

Learn how to let go of things. I tend to dwell on mistakes. I’m better about it now than I was a few years ago. Wisdom of age or something.

What drives you nuts about your pets?

BARKING.

If you didn’t have your current pets, what pets would you choose to have?

I play this game a lot. The answer depends on what kind of day I’m having with Silas, with answers ranging from an elderly pit bull to a Border Terrier puppy. I was actually looking at greyhound rescues before we found Silas.

So, that’s me. I skipped some of the questions, because this post is ridiculous even by my own standards, but I couldn’t pick just five. For real–almost 800 words?!

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Round Up

November was like a black hole. I started out the month with a pretty reasonable list of goals, and I got none of them done. None! Not in the blog, not in my dog training, and not even in my non-dog life.

So I’m going to post a mishmash of things and get caught up.

First, because one is sitting next to me right now, I want to tell you all that Nylabones now come in peanut butter flavor. Both the original and chicken flavored ones have enough chicken in them to flare Silas’s allergies, and for some reason the bacon flavored ones only come in the “extra tough” type. Silas does a good enough job tearing up his mouth with the regular ones. (I’m really of two minds about the Nylabone for exactly that reason.)

Secondly, Silas just got a very positive evaluation at the behaviorist. I’m so happy! When the receptionist asked the vet if we needed to come back in for a recheck, she said, “Oh, just keep in touch.” Meaning, we don’t have to go back again in six weeks. We’re going to adjust his medication a little bit, but she thinks I can handle the training stuff from here.

In that same line, Silas is making great progress with the Relaxation Protocol. You have your dog lie down on his mat and relax while you do increasingly harder things over a span of weeks. It’s well calculated to include something bound to set off almost any dog–clapping your hands, counting out loud, jumping, walking away, disappearing from the dog’s sight, knocking on the wall, or (our nemesis) ringing the doorbell. I’ll write more about this separately tomorrow. The doorbell thing was hard work.

I’ll end with some proof that white dogs are hard to photograph. So cute! So overexposed!

Untitled

Yes, I know his coat is comically small. His bigger, newer, much nicer coat sends him into a depression so deep he can barely walk at all, let alone go to the park.

So what’s going on with you all? I’m about to start making my blog rounds to see what all I’ve missed!