Silas versus the Himalayan Chew

My dog is too smart.

Before we went on our trip, I bought Silas one of those yak milk Himalayan chews.

He was interested in it, but he didn’t really like it. He would pick it up and carry it around. He would lick it. But he wouldn’t chew. As an afterthought, I put it in his bag for the trip.

On our second day, he fished it out of the bag and carried it around for a while.

Then I spotted him with . . . half . . . of the Himalayan chew. Just half, and he was chewing pretty enthusiastically.

“Good grief,” I thought. “When he decided he liked that thing he really went to town. It hasn’t been five minutes.

When I went into the other room, there was the other half. It turned out, Silas had dropped the chew and broken it in half. This, apparently, was a vast improvement.

After Silas finished the first half of the chew, I expected him to be similarly excited by the second half. Usually the whole challenge is with “new food,” and the chew wasn’t new any more. But, no.

Instead, he would pick up the second half of the chew, fling it up in the air, and watch hopefully for it to shatter on the ground. It never would. My mother finally whacked it with a wrench and broke the half in half. The quarter-length pieces are a little short for a hard chew from a safety standpoint, but Silas is both supervised and extremely careful.

Now he’s repeating the same procedure with the little quarter that’s left. Pick it up, drop it, hope it breaks. Sorry, kid. We left Grandma’s house. I’m not breaking your chew bone for you.

Dog Days? Hardly.

Untitled

I think everybody around here is suffering from the hot-climate version of SAD. It’s brutal out there. Last weekend the humidity was actually 90%. Not the 90% that people say, when they’re hyperbolizing about how hot and humid it is. Really 90, according to the national weather service. In case you’re wondering, at 90% humidity you feel a lot like you’re having a heat stroke, even when you aren’t. Nothing your body does to cool itself does any good. It’s hard to breathe, even. When it isn’t crushingly humid, it’s pushing 100 degrees.

Silas can’t even do his favorite summer thing, which is to go sun on the patio. He tries, but he’s too hot in five minutes. At the park he lasts about ten.

Instead, we’ve been in the doldrums. We take naps on the sofa. We train a few tricks, but nothing is terribly new right now.

Not that I’m here to complain; that isn’t what I meant to do at all. I’m just explaining the lack of fun dog-related content. It’s snooze-ville around here, while we do our summer hibernating. I’ll buck up.

Sunscreen

(Note that this is sunscreen for YOU, not your dog.)

It’s summer time, and the UV index is 11. For real. I am a pale person with a few skin cancer risk factors. Without Silas, I’d probably stay inside all summer. As it is, sunscreens are something I take very seriously.

Let’s start at the top, with your face. First off, ladies, do not be counting on that SPF 15 in your makeup. Go to your kitchen. Find the 1/4 tsp measuring spoon. Take it with you next time you put your face products on. Are you using that much of your foundation/moisturizer/what have you just for your face? If not, you aren’t getting the SPF that the bottle claims. And it isn’t proportionately less. An 1/8 tsp of SPF 30 is not SPF 15. I preach because I care.

Now, some recommendations. I can’t use chemical sunscreens on my face. (Sunscreen 101: chemical sunscreens interfere with the mechanism of sun damage on your skin. Most common in the US are Avobenzone, Octinoxate, Octocrylene, and Oxybenzone. Physical sunscreens, Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide, block UV. Both are perfectly valid when properly formulated, although sensitivities to one or more of the chemical filters are common. This is an excellent resource for checking your sunscreen formulation.) There are lots of good physical/chemical hybrids out there, especially if you’re in Canada or Europe. Many of them are better than the ones I list here. If you need an all physical sunscreen, your life is sad in the summer, and I’m writing this post for you. I cast around for a while, hopelessly lost in a sea of sticky white physical sunscreens. By the time you put enough Zinc in a sunscreen for it to be effective, you’re left with an inevitable amount of white pastiness. Only a really well-done formulation can overcome it.

This is my skin salvation, BurnOut Ocean Tested. I get antsy when I have less than half a tube on hand. It’s not as perfect now as it was, thanks to a slight reformulation, but this is great stuff. Now, let me be clear–this sunscreen is . . . unctuous. My dry skin appreciates that. If you’re used to top of the line drugstore formulations for face, you will find it hard to rub in, although it is *much* better than its competition in the natural market. It will leave you with, in makeup parlance, “a dewy glow.” I like that, too. Quite water resistant, so make sure you remove it well. Cruelty free, and priced similarly to the better end of drugstore. I suspect that on people who aren’t pale, this might leave some white residue, but you’re basically always going to get that from a physical sunscreen. That’s why the high-end physicals tend to be tinted.

If you have more “regular” skin, BurnOut’s Eco Sensitive
will do much better for you. Not unctuous or dewy, easy to rub in, but it’s too dry for my face and less waterproof. Like OceanTested, this is an 18.6% Zinc Oxide sunscreen. This one competes with the best stuff from the drugstore. My go-to body sunscreen. You can click through these images to BurnOut’s site, or this is available from Amazon and in some Whole Foods Markets. (Not mine. 😦 ) Neither of these sweat down into my eyes and burn.

There’s also the Big Guns, Shiseido’s Ultimate Sun Protection SPF 50 Cream. For years I wore this every day, until my skin got too sensitive for it. My cost-benefit analysis still lets me break this out when I’m going to get serious sun. It’s amazing. It’s expensive. It is impossible to remove even when you want to. A quick google suggests that Shiseido is currently phasing out animal testing.

At the other end of the spectrum, I’ve been pleasantly pleased with Bullfrog’s Quick Gel.
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The excellent thing about this is not so much that it’s great as it is that it’s *fast.* If you are already out and kind of sticky, and you need a sunscreen top-off, rubbing in a cream can be pretty gross. This gel goes on like hand sanitizer and dries fast. Warning: because it goes on fast and dries fast, it is easy to miss places and to put it on too thin. My husband has freakish tan lines to prove it. Also, note that quick gel texture comes with some alcohol content, so watch out if you have sensitive skin. Not sure about the cruelty-free status here, as our tube was an emergency purchase.

Fine print: I only wish I could get PR samples of sunscreen. Everything here is bought, tried, and tested by me, on me.

Love Yourself

This is the advice I give to other people with dogs like Silas:

Let it Go.

Your dog is not perfect. Your dog barks at people and other dogs in the park. Your dog is hell on a leash and tries to pull you off your feet. Your dog empties his bladder when he meets a stranger. Whatever. It doesn’t matter.

What matters is how you handle that stuff, and the most important thing you can do is to let go of your expectations.

Your dog isn’t Lassie. Your dog isn’t the one at the park that can’t tear his adoring gaze away from his person. Even if you are the best dog trainer on the planet your dog will probably never be that dog.

Let go of that dog. Do your best with the dog you have.

And while you’re at it, let go of all the stuff that dogs are “supposed” to do, and that you are “supposed” to do with them.

I have days where the thought of Silas barking at one more person at the park is just too much for me to bear. So we stay home.

I have days that I can’t stand the idea of driving across town to go to the park, since Silas is too scared to walk from home. So we stay home.

There are days when I know the park will be full of things Silas can’t handle. So we stay home.

Your anxious dog is not going to self destruct if you don’t go for a walk every day. In fact, your anxious dog will probably benefit from a break. On those days when you can’t stand watching one more bad reaction, stay home. When your last trip to the park was so inexplicably bad that you came home and cried? Give yourself a break. Trade in the walk for fetch, tug, or obedience training.

Sleeping

Love your dog, but also love yourself.

“Pet” Peeves

I’ve been leaving a lot of blog comments this week about my dog-owning pet peeves, which led me to formulate the list.

I try not to be overly critical of my fellow humans, really I do. I’ve learned to let go of a lot of things that used to really bother me. Some things are just so egregious that I can’t help it, though.

My short list of things dog-things that make me crazy, in order from least to most annoying:

5. Putting poop into the poop bag, and then leaving it on the trail anyway. Sometimes we have all run out without a bag. Sometimes you have two bags, and the dog poops three times. Sometimes we really do come back for that on the way out of the park. But if you put it in the bag, put it all the way in the trash. Don’t just leave it there as a stinky, plastic-wrapped time capsule.

4. People who deliberately make faces at Silas while he is in the car barking at them. I’m desperately trying to train him through this, and you wouldn’t believe how many people egg him on.

3. Improper use of a flexi-lead. They do have a time and a place. Like, a person in a wheelchair who owns a Yorkie. I see an alarming number of people (especially small women) who use them with their very large dogs to keep the dog from pulling them over. Not the answer, people. Not the answer.

2. Improper use of aversive training equipment. I’m never a fan of the pinch collar. But if you’re going to use one, it had better be well fitted, with a backup collar and a separate leash attachment. I can’t tell you how many badly fitted pinch collars I saw at the pet fair. (Why carry a dog to the pet fair if it still “needs” a pinch collar?) Which leads me seamlessly to the biggest peeve of them all:

1. People who don’t listen to their dog. If your dog is at the end of his leash having a panic attack, I don’t judge. I’ve been there. Stuff comes up unexpectedly. If your dog is at the end of his leash having a panic attack, while you chitchat calmly with the neighbor, talk on the phone, or shop at the pet fair, I’m giving you the evil eye.

What are your doggie peeves?

Morning Routine

Like a lot of dogs, Silas picks up on human routines very quickly. He’s usually the first one of us to realize that something new has even become a routine.

This morning when I came out of the kitchen, he was sitting in the floor next to the chair whining.

It took me a minute to realize why–I was doing the routine “wrong.”

Three days a week we get up early to work out before my husband leaves for work. After we exercise, I make the humans a post-workout smoothie, feed Silas, get my coffee, and sit in the “snuggle chair.” Silas goes back to sleep in my lap for a few hours while I get things done on my laptop.

My husband and I have switched things up a bit, though, and have started a new workout plan. It’s a little longer, which means I have to pick up a few of the morning chores that my husband usually does while I’m trying to drag myself out of bed. Instead of exercise–>blender–>feed Silas–>snuggle time, it was more like blender–>feed Silas–>pack my husband’s lunch and do some things in the kitchen. By the time I was done, Silas was sitting pitifully next to the chair, apparently feeling rejected.

I don’t know why he didn’t just get in the chair by himself, but as soon as I sat down he got his blanket and hopped right in.

A Question of Timing?

Silas and I got to the park in the afternoon, except in peak summer. Around 2:00, I wake him up from his nap, put on his harness, and off we go. We do this three or four times a week, depending. On Tuesday, I took him for a very long walk, which usually means he doesn’t want anything besides a few games around the house the next day.

My husband runs with his work buddies on Wednesday evenings. He’s a very good runner, unlike me, and finds their usual pace and distance to not be much of a challenge. This week, he decided to run to the park, meet the guys, and then run with them. Even for him, it’s too far to run back again, so I agreed to drive over and pick him up. (This timing bypasses a nasty traffic jam, even though it’s the same number of trips.) The plan was not to take Silas, because we had a busy evening, but it was in our minds that this could be a thing for future Wednesday evenings.

Silas had other plans. Three minutes before I needed to leave for the park, he sprang off the sofa, raced to his tennis ball, and insisted that we play fetch. “Well, I can’t leave him like this. He’ll get into trouble,” I thought. “I’d better take him with me.”

Excited Silas only barely noticed that I put on his harness, which usually destroys his soul. He jumped right in the car and let me clip him to his car attachment.

The park we were going to is one of the scary parks. Year before last the city removed considerable deadfall from this park, leaving a too-clear view of the road. I haven’t been able to get Silas back, except on the weekends when we can drive further in. “Alright,” I said to my husband, “We’ll go over for just a minute. He won’t go very far here anyway, and then he’ll sleep while we finish our To-Do list.” I wasn’t wearing park shoes or clothes, and my husband had just run eight miles.

So I was, of course, wrong again. Silas, his whole little body vibrating with joy, sprinted my poor husband all the way across the park at top speed. Then, because I was afraid he was getting too close to the edge of the park, where he freezes, I called for him. To my surprise and my husband’s dismay, he sprinted all the way back. Then we played tug with a toy. Then he ran around some more. Then we played tug with a stick. I’m still not sure he was ready to go when we left after half an hour, although he seemed pretty tired once we got back. This is the dog who will pull me back to the car after 20 minutes if he can.

Tired

This has me really wondering about timing our park visits. Is he better off if I wait for a time he is naturally energetic? Or is that just going to make him too much for me to handle? It may become new policy to wait for “peak times” to go to the scarier places.

Interesting.

Chunky

Silas tipped the scale at 34.2 pounds this weekend. 34.2! This is up two pounds from a year ago, and almost a pound in the last month.

This is not typical doggie-eats-pizza-scraps-and-gets-fat stuff. He hasn’t had a bite of people food, with so few exceptions that I could count them on my fingers, since probably February.

I can guess our three biggest problems right off:

1) Pork. Silas loves pork, but it is significantly fattier than turkey. 4oz of country style pork rib, which is not even the fattiest pork he eats, has 12 grams of fat (although Silas gets less than that, because human nutrition data doesn’t count the bone.). 4oz of pork tail, a rare treat, has 38. 4oz of dark meat turkey, even with the skin, only has about 8 grams of fat. Without the skin, how we usually serve it, it has 4. I’m not opposed to fat per se, but it is very calorically dense.

2) Freeze dried food. We’ve been using Primal’s Turkey and Sardine Freeze Dried food as some of our treats. When I do this, I will break off a little piece. When my husband does it, he will hand him a whole cube. A whole cube is equivalent to one ounce of Primal’s frozen raw food. Silas only eats 12 ounces of food a day. Two extra ounces is proportionately a lot.

3) Over feeding. I mentioned here that we had to put Silas on three meals a day. No big deal. My husband feeds him at 6:30am, and I feed him at 2pm and 9pm. Silas needs to eat about four ounces per meal. The problem is that raw food doesn’t always break down that way. Sometimes the smallest unit that you can cut is still over 4 ounces. I need to start watching for that and docking his other meals. He usually gets his meal with bone right before bedtime, and often I don’t realize until then that I can’t give him less than 6 oz of dinner. Also, weighing out three meals gives you lots of chances to say, “Oh, 4.5 ounces is close enough.” It apparently isn’t.

On the other hand, this is a great thing. Silas is eating, and he’s happy about it. He’s not turning down meals because his stomach hurts. I just need to watch him more closely; he’s never been excited about food before.

Wordy

I’ve been doing something a lot of us probably don’t do–watching a dog training DVD from a trainer outside of my usual style.

The background: I do positive training, with clicker training for new skills that need it. I’m not wild about clicker training every little thing. That said, Silas knows the meaning of the word “no,” and I have punished him for some bad behaviors that we couldn’t break otherwise. (Mainly a spritz of water for scratching the couch cushions, which he was doing obsessively.) Those “corrections” never enter into our training sessions; they’re reserved exclusively for problem lifestyle behaviors. I try my darndest not to need them there. I would never, ever physically correct him, because it’s not something I like and, far more importantly, he’s too sensitive for it. This DVD I’m watching uses some reward markers and some scolding, with physical corrections presented as appropriate once the dog reaches a certain stage.

What is really interesting to me is the amount of words that are required to, at the most basic level, use both “yes” and “no” to teach a behavior. The context of this is teaching tug, specifically teaching tug well enough that it could be used as an obedience reward. This requires that your dog has good drive for the tug toy, and that your dog will give and take the toy immediately on request.

One of the schools of teaching tug uses dramatically fewer words than the other.

School A:
Tell your dog to take the tug. Dog tugs. You can praise or whatever as the dog tugs, then hold the toy still and ask the dog to give you the toy. The reward for giving the tug is that the dog gets to tug again. If the dog barks for the toy and you don’t like that, walk away. The only words are the give and the take. If the dog takes the toy before you ask, simply hold it still again. Even the release word is not terribly important; I’ve actually dropped mine with Silas recently in favor of just hold the toy in a particular way.

School B:
Tell your dog to take the tug. Dog tugs. Ask the dog to give you the tug back and hold the toy still. If the dog continues to tug, say no. Repeat no “as needed.” Then praise the dog. If the dog barks for the toy, scold them. Then give the dog the command to take the toy. Ten seconds of a given session may sound like “Out. No. Good. No. Yes.” The end point of this training (what the instructor does with his own dog) looks identical to School A’s.

Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong in telling a dog no or an equivalent word, in the non-angry way that happens in this DVD. It’s useful data for them in some scenarios. BUT, a dog who won’t release a tug doesn’t give a d**n about what you’re saying. They are not on your planet. If they were, the game itself would have already cued the release. That is, holding the toy still is the only data the dog really needs. In the zillion sample scenarios on the DVD, almost every single owner struggles with when and how to say the various cues, and the trainer has to constantly prompt them.

My question is: why bother? Why clutter up your training with so many completely unnecessary, hard to manage words, when you’re already giving the dog all the information it needs?