Know When To Walk Away

Silas’s favorite park in the UNIVERSE!! is actually a terrible park for dogs.

The paths are narrow, and there is either heavy underbrush or water on both sides of the trail.


For example.

Those narrow trails make it really hard to meet people or dogs. They come around blind corners, and you have no choice (unless you get lucky and are in a rare clearing) but to meet them head on. This is setting dogs, especially, up for disaster. Let two dogs, even dogs who are decent with other dogs, walk directly toward each other in a confined environment, and somebody is likely to react.

It took me a long time to learn to trust my instincts and to not worry about other people’s feelings in situations like this. If I’m meeting your dog head on, and he’s not 100% friendly (by my judgment, not yours), I’m going to do what I think is necessary. Silas is on the skittish-but-okay side with other dogs, and I’d like him to not collect evidence that other dogs are terrible.

Tuesday we met a little Schnauzer. When we were still quite a distance away little Schnauzer let out a little bark. Just one. And I instantly turned around and walked as fast as my legs would carry me back to the last trail junction, where Silas and I could wait for them to pass. (Bless Silas’s heart, he was so good. He walked right away, stayed with me without stopping, and then stood with me on the “scary” trail.)

It probably hurt Schnauzer “mom’s” feelings or embarrassed her. I know how women are. But I didn’t have time to explain, to blame the design of the park. I didn’t think her dog was going to attack Silas. We weren’t afraid of him. But you have to do what you have to do, and sometimes avoidance is really the best thing.


Silas likes to sleep with his chin elevated on various things. A heap of blankets. My leg. A pillow. The couch arm. A stuffed toy.

He’s always been that way:

puppy sleeps

Sometimes he comes up with a strange combo, though. Yesterday I looked over and saw this:


Yeah, that’s a knobby-ended Nylabone. Nothing says nap time like a hard plastic object under your neck.


We’re back from our Christmas trip.

Silas was a champ.

His medication works smoothly enough that it isn’t always easy to tell what benefits are from training and what are from the medication. But, that’s also the wonderful thing about it–when we take him off the medication, he’ll have a history of good interactions that he can draw on, that felt like just-plain-old life.

Some highlights of our trip:

Silas and Dusty the ancient, completely unsocialized, Golden Retriever mix coexisted 100% peacefully at my husband’s family party this year. Dusty is a pretty serious resource guarder of toys. Silas, on the other hand, doesn’t care at all about his toys but gets really edgy when anybody (or dog) gets too close to me. With people he just gets a little over exuberant, but with dogs he can get a little growly. For the past two years, this has made Christmas a little tricky. In some fascinating dogs-only communication, the two of them seem to have set their parameters amicably this year. Silas wouldn’t even pick up Dusty’s toys when Dusty walked away from them, and Silas does not understand leaving things alone if he can reach them. Dusty, for his part, snuggled my husband and I separately, while one of us had Silas outside.

Silas coexisted quite amicably with my brother’s baby, without even any real signs of stress. She was never on the floor where she could move toward him, or anywhere that they could touch, which is the key to this, but it was a big improvement even over the last trip.

Silas was also better with adult people on this trip–he let my husband’s grandmother pet him, perhaps the only thing that really truly made her happy on Christmas. He and my father-in-law have worked out some ground rules that don’t involve barking. He barely barked at my brother. The only total bust was with my husband’s uncle, who is a very loud, boisterous, “all dogs love me” type. Silas is not good with people like that.

Silas also ate every meal I offered him, which is a miracle.

There are still dozens of things we are working on or should be working on (more on that to come), but we’re in a pretty great place right now compared to where we have been.


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.

Doggone Holidays

Yesterday I got a really sappy e-mail from some e-mail list. It instructed me, very sweetly, to “meditate on how you want your children to feel over the holidays!” I don’t have children and probably shouldn’t be on this e-mail list.

My sarcastic brain immediately kicked in–“I should just replace ‘children’ with ‘dog.’ Then everyone would understand how ridiculous this is.”

But, wait. How does my dog feel about the holidays?

I can sum it up in one word. Stressed.

For people, holidays are about putting up beautiful decorations, shopping for thoughtful presents, gathering with our families and/or friends, and eating delicious food. From your dog’s perspective, that same list means: a lot of new off-limits objects in the house, being left at home alone more, less exercise, strangers in the house, a kitchen full of potentially dangerous food items, and a lot of pressure to behave well. It’s even worse if you travel. Combine that earlier list with long car-rides and being in a strange environment, possibly even with strange dogs. Your dog can also pick up on your stress. Hate your in-laws? Want to kick the radio every time “Santa, Baby” comes on? Your dog knows.

Some dogs thrive on a house full of laps and would never dream of opening Grandma’s present for her. For other dogs, it’s an almost unbearable burden. Stress is cumulative, and by the time your poor dog is facing down your cousin Lisa’s over-tired toddler on Christmas night you could have a really bad situation on your hands.

I’m going to run a series over the next week about helping your dog cope with some of this stress. The first post will be up Monday, starting with things you can do right now before things are too hectic.


Has your dog ever had a bad holiday? What’s your biggest challenge?

Who Decides What’s Fun?

I’m reading Merle’s Door right now. I have many, many conflicting thoughts about this book, more of which I’ll share here when I finally finish reading it. But, reading along today I stopped in my tracks.

The whole point of Merle’s Door is that Merle’s dog door gives him freedom to interact with the world as he chooses. Kerasote positions this freedom as the only thing that dogs really need or, indeed, want. He argues that freedom teaches dogs to think, so that they don’t even need training. Indeed he mocks most dog training, even going so far as to argue that clicker training “short-circuit[s]” the dog’s “ability to think on its own.” Dog trainers are Big Brother in George Orwell’s 1984 (his metaphor, not mine.) Aside from being a real, and I think deliberate, misunderstanding of what good clicker training is about, this is where we hit hard against the fact that this book is the story of one dog. A memoir, trying to pass itself off as the TRUTH ABOUT DOGS.

Let’s grant Kerasote his premise (and I’m not sure we unilaterally should) and say that we have some kind of obligation to help our dogs do what they love. Here’s the thing: some dogs love to work and for some dogs that work looks a lot like conventional dog training.

It’s an idea that I resisted myself, even. I thought of the more formal obedience-style training as a kind of grim reality of living with a dog–learn sit and down and walk on a leash so that we can get them over with and do other things that are actually fun. It’s a pretty common way of thinking right now, which is why competitive obedience numbers are plummeting as a percentage of dog sports enrollment.

Imagine my surprise when Silas thought that heeling, which I started teaching as a kind of grim obligation, was the best game ever. At this point, Silas will stay right with me even if I throw cookies across the room as we walk. I do make training pretty fun, and we have a long history that will support “training=happy times.” Silas is not the kind of dog, though, who is just looking for a way to make me happy. (See my utter failure at teaching him to turn around in a circle, AKA the easiest dog trick of all time.) Something about heeling just makes him really happy.

In other words, my dog is autonomously choosing to do the least autonomous dog-task of all time. And that’s okay. You have to look past what “ideal dog in the abstract” wants and see what your dog wants. Then you can evaluate whether it’s a good idea or not (a point where I think Kerasote is often a little too lax). Who gets to decide what your dog thinks is fun? Unlike what Merle’s Door posits in ways both direct and indirect, that isn’t always the most wolf-like thing.

How about you? Does your dog like to do things that aren’t “supposed” to be fun?


Silas has a funny tail. I suspect that one of the breeds he’s mixed with is either naturally short-tailed or is a breed that is usually docked. He has a few inches of chubby tail, then there’s a sudden drop off and the rest of it is skinny.

Now that he’s an adult it isn’t very obvious. Unless he’s cold, that is. Then the hair on the chubby part poofs out.


It’s like my own little thermometer.

Things I Love

Silas knows to walk slowly down hill, so that he doesn’t pull me off balance.

He knows it’s okay to pull me back up the hill. I wouldn’t have made that last one on Tuesday, with the slippery sand, without you little buddy.

Silas is smart. He’s gone from having no idea he even had back feet to being able to go 360 degrees around his perch in four or five short training sessions. And that’s one example out of a hundred.

He doesn’t drool. I know you people with drooly dogs learn find it charming, but no.

He worries a lot about my welfare. It would be nice if he didn’t feel like he had to physically split me away from every person in the world, but his heart is in the right place.

Silas forgives people, even after they terrify him.

When Silas does something, he does it 100%.

He thinks upstairs is exclusively for playing, so he runs up before me to play bow at the top of the stairs. He does it every time, just in case I want to play a little game of get your feet at the top.

When I get up in the morning, he curls up on my pillow until I get ready to go downstairs.

Ears. Enough said.


What are you loving about your dogs today?


This week we fell into a new routine.

I took Silas out walking on Tuesday. Despite the comparatively long walk, he wanted to play all evening. Then we took him out with us to drop off the recycling.

On Wednesday, he slept the entire day. I mean, all of it. We were gone from 5:30-7, so I don’t know about then. We got home at 7, ate some dinner, and K played with Silas maybe ten minutes while I was in the tub. Then he was back to sleep.


On Thursday, Silas and I went to the pet store and the park, after Silas started poking me with a toy at 10am. After lunch there was TRAUMA, as the maintenance man came to clean the front door. (Don’t ask me–we rent.) Silas was terrified. By which I mean, he had a barking meltdown the likes of which you have never seen, then I took him out on the patio, where he continued to bark whenever it occurred to him. To pass the time (seriously, how long can it possibly take to clean a door?) we did some shaping work toward a new trick. Then I played with him the entire time K took a nap at 6. Then we played fetch when I went up to shower. Then we did recalls up and down the stairs after dinner. Then I did his mat work.

Today? Asleep. Like a rock.

I don’t really understand it, but I guess I can go along with it.


My husband has a joke about how many bicycles he needs: n+1. If it’s been a while since you took algebra, “n” is a stand in for “number.” It’s the geeky math way of saying “one more than I have right now.”

Silas’s N+1 equation is blankets.

When Silas wants to snuggle, he brings a blanket with him. He doesn’t care if you already have one. I’m sitting in my chair right now with two fleece throws and a dog bed. In five minutes, when he decides to get off the couch and come sit with me, chances are that he will bring the fleece throw off the sofa.

Blanket love

You can really watch his little head spin when he realizes that the snuggle place is already full. One day, he tried to bring his crate mat up in my lap. Except he’d already brought three blankets and two fleece dog beds, and he just couldn’t figure out how to get in the chair with one more. He finally sat down and cried until I rearranged all the blankets.

I’ve finally gotten smart and started sneaking the extras back off the chair whenever he gets up.

The thing I can’t figure out is how to cut down on the number of blankets in the house. The house just seems to absorb however many things I bring in, and Silas has a place in his heart for all of them.