Fat and Happy

We took Silas for his checkup with the veterinary behaviorist two weeks ago. (Yes, I am a bad blogger.)

He was so happy!!! to see her. He was jumping on people for pets and trying to climb the desk to see the receptionist, you name it. This is what happens when you have a dog who is unreliable with strangers–his manners are terrible.

I got a good report on his behavior walking around outside her office. I was hoping he would walk on her sidewalk. That was a big no, but he was at least less panicky to just be outside in the parking lot. Plus we got big bonus points because he didn’t bark back at a little reactive fluffy dog.

The behaviorist was sympathetic to his current road block, which is that he still has a lot of fear-associated habits, even now that the fears are gone. So, for instance, he is perfectly comfortable on our sidewalk, unless we try to walk even one step past a certain point. Then, he’s as bad as ever. Alas, her best advice was to just keep doing what we’re doing.

So, things are good. Lots of room for improvement, but good.

When the behaviorist weighed him for his new short-term medication dosage, we got quite a shock, though. Silas is up to thirty-seven pounds. Oh my goodness.  He’s really best around 32 pounds. We’d been hovering around 35, which is okay but not great. I checked as soon as she said 37, and sure enough I have to dig in to feel his ribs.

It turns out that with a dog shaped like Silas, you just don’t get the other indicators. He still has a waist. He still has a pretty extreme tuck-up. He doesn’t look that much heavier. But he’s busily turning into a little butterball. I think he’s given me so much misery about eating since summer that I haven’t been paying enough attention to what he is eating.

Now, more exercise, fewer cookies.

Has your dog ever snuck on a few pounds while you weren’t watching? What gave it away?

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.

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?


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.

I Don’t Want To Pet Your Dog

Silas dislikes strangers.

I don’t know, maybe that’s phrasing it a little strongly. Silas, in fact, adores strangers, as long as they’re behaving predictably. It’s just that he adores them like he adores a fresh bush to sniff–he wants to go see them and give them a thorough examination. He continues to be baffled that this fresh two-legged thing to sniff expects to reach out and touch him as part of the sniffing ritual. Because he doesn’t handle being startled very well, you can see why a small problem might arise. Somewhere between 50% and75% of the time, the person he’s sniffing will manage to initiate contact in a way that Silas finds acceptable. The rest of the time, not so much.

Needless to say, we don’t meet a lot of strangers unless I have some pretty clear evidence that things will go well.

His little problem has also made me very sensitive, to the point of paranoia, about petting dogs I don’t know. Over time, my paranoia has crystallized into this rule:

I pet dogs who are actively, happily, and politely soliciting my attention. Otherwise, I leave them alone.

If your dog comes up to me, when I don’t have Silas, and makes a sweet “please pet me!!!!” face, I’ll probably oblige. If your dog is watching me curiously, I’ll try to have non-threatening body language, but I’m not going to solicit attention. I am not going to coax a dog over, unless we’re in some kind of lost dog emergency situation. I am not going to ask you if I can pet your dog, unless your dog asks me first.

Petting your dog is none of my business.

Petting is not an inalienable right that comes with having hands. Having soft fur does not mean that you have no say so about what happens to your own body.

This Round Goes To Me

Silas just can’t handle seeing the things that go on in front of our house. The neighbor sitting outside with her dog. The little dachshund from across the way. Squirrels. Teenagers on the sidewalk. Cars driving by. It wasn’t always this way–I have pictures of him next to the open windows up until he was about six months old. But, now all of our front windows stay under serious cover. Our floor-to-ceiling living room windows have old-fashioned metal blinds, firmly closed. Our stair landing window has one broken blind slat, so it also has a tension-mounted curtain.

Silas, however, is a smart dog.

Above my front door there are two tiny windows. If Silas sits on exactly the right stair, he can see out these two tiny windows, down to a little sliver of the sidewalk and the back edge of a parking lot.

At the back edge of that parking lot, there is a large electrical shed. Our side of that electrical shed is, apparently, the place to hide from the high school that’s on the next block. You can imagine how well this goes over with Silas, who has been increasingly obsessed with sitting on “his” stair and staring out the little windows, waiting for someone to walk by so that he can bark.

I have struggled to find a way to cover these little windows. One problem is that there is nowhere to mount any kind of curtain-hanging hardware. The other problem is our HOA, which is run by very cranky and extremely particular retirees, who, I am sure, care deeply about my window coverings.

This weekend I took a nice walk through the townhouses, looking up at people’s above the door windows. Because we have a little roof over the door and a dimly-lit hall, the only thing you can really see in anyone’s window is a dark reflection.

I trotted back home with a little joy in my step, and taped black paper over the inside of the windows.

The view from outside? A dark reflection.

The view from inside? Nothing. I really do hate to cut Silas off from the world completely, but an obsession with barking at every person who walks past our house is the opposite of helpful.


I miss my little bit of unfiltered natural light, but I do not miss Silas’s burgeoning OCD.

I have to confess, I giggled when he went to sit on his stair and realized that he couldn’t see out.


Security Blanket

My pictures of Silas are littered with an assortment of largely disreputable-looking beds and blankets.

We have the grey one, which goes way back to puppy days:

Young puppy Silas

In fact, it goes way back to when I gave it to my husband, probably circa 2001. He resented the dog a little for taking it.

Later on we acquired the yellow one (foreground) and the blue one (background)


My mother gave him the red-striped one:


And, lest we forget, there is a lavender one, which is really just a piece of fleece fabric:


We also have a series of crate mats and dog beds. I keep buying them, hoping to replace this horrible thing:


We tried a really nice one from West Paw, which has somehow ended up staying in Silas’s travel crate:


And we get a lot of mileage from these fluffy ones, which Silas loves so much that we bought three:


(They’re from the pet store in my mom’s town, and I couldn’t risk going without one if he chewed a hole in it.)

Silas prefers them in a stack:


All the blankets

Or in your lap:


But most especially he prefers to be sucking on one as he goes to sleep:




I just go with it. It makes him happy.

I have finally learned to NEVER buy another blanket, because we’re obviously living in the textile version of Hotel California. I can “replace” them however many times I want, but when he roots through the stack to get his old favorites, I just don’t have the heart to get rid of them.


Can I just say that my dog-laziness has reached new lows?

No mojo

Silas is getting somewhat closer to going back to the park, but I don’t want to do too much too fast. So, a few times a week we walk around the block. Halfway around. More like a quarter, in fact.

In the evenings, Silas wants to play, but he generally prefers to do his pure playing with my husband, who is faster. If I throw Silas’s toy, he’ll take it back to K. So there’s that. I do some, but not that much.

What he wants to do with me is our mix of play and training. To which end  we were enrolled in three online dog training classes, two of which ended just last week. Three, by the way, is too many. Do not get grabby hands with these things or you will burn out.  I’ve, umm, downloaded all the assignments. For one class I did two out of twelve before resorting to the internet version of cramming them all in a drawer. For the second, where the exercises don’t really build on each other, I made a deliberate choice to get more proficiency per-exercise before teaching the next one, so we’re also at something like two out of ten. The third class? It’s long-term, and I haven’t even logged into the website in two weeks.

Cue me, hanging my head.

This is a problem I have a lot, in fact. I’ve even written about it here a few times. I will devote a lot–presumably too much–energy into being the “perfect” dog trainer for a few weeks, and then for the next few I just can’t be bothered. Something will happen to remind me of how really, really messed up Silas is (this time it was the car thing, followed by the exterminators, followed by my out-of-town BFF having to stay at a super-sketchy hotel near the airport because I can’t let anyone in our house), and it lets the air out of my little balloon. What difference does it make if Silas can execute a perfect foot target?

The difference, of course, is that his way-too-smart brain needs something to do with itself, and training is quite literally all we have. That’s not exactly motivating, though.

How do you get your dog mojo back, when things are a little stale?