My Dog Was Addicted to Rawhide, So I Put Her Through Rehab
I've never been a smoker or a heavy drinker or really an addict of any kind. The only thing I can't live without is coffee. I love coffee. I expect coffee. I rely on coffee. If the fine people at Starbucks/Peet's/Four Barrel/Community Coffee/you-get-the-idea-I-like-coffee told me, "Sorry, we're cutting you off," I would have a meltdown.
I imagine that's how Braxlee felt the day I told her, "I'm sorry, baby. The vet said no more rawhide."
From her wee puppy days until last year, Braxlee's favorite FAVORITE thing in the world was rawhide. Sheep ears. Pig hooves. Bully sticks. She ate it all.
It turned into an expensive habit. When we lived in New York, there was a pet store on our block that sold Old West Dog Treat beef tendons. (After experimenting with various tanned animal options, we chose the beef tendons because they didn't stink like the bully sticks.) Braxlee got one each afternoon following her walk in Central Park.
When we moved to San Francisco, we found another neighborhood pet store that sold the same beef tendon strips. (Win!) Unlike the New York pet supply, this store had a rewards program that offered a $5 credit for every $50 spent. (Double win!) After racking up a few of those $5 credits in just a couple of months (yikes!) we realized that we needed to start buying rawhide in bulk. So we started ordering 50-count boxes of rawhide on Amazon, and, instead of a trip to the pet store, we had a daily venture to what we dubbed “the closet of magical secrets.”
The closet of magical secrets, or COMS, is a large, mirrored cabinet in our entryway where we once hid Braxlee's treats. Each evening, after her walk, Braxlee would sit impatiently in front of the COMS, waiting for her rawhide. But last year, the closet lost its magic.
Initially, it was a supply-and-demand scare. When I tried to reorder a giant box of beef tendons, Amazon was out of stock. Alas, the entire Internet seemed to be void of Braxlee’s favorite treat. I returned to the neighborhood pet store, only to learn that it couldn’t get the beef tendons either. Eventually, the store found a suitable replacement, but that wasn’t the end of the rawhide drama.
A few weeks later, during a routine checkup, our vet discovered that Braxlee had cracked her rear molars. The official term was “slab fracture of the fourth upper premolar.” (According to the vet, it’s common after chewing on hard things.) We're not sure if the beef tendons were to blame, or if it was the bone that a well-meaning neighbor gave her, but our poor little girl had to have the cracked teeth surgically removed. It had become a health issue.
After that, no more bones or rawhide.
The switch did not go over well.
Braxlee continued standing in front of the closet of magical secrets, demanding her daily rawhide, giving us sad puppy eyes that said, “If you actually loved me, you would give me what I want.” And my husband and I found ourselves explaining to her that she was a good girl, but the rawhide was gone.
I wouldn't have faulted Braxlee had she smothered me in my sleep as payback. The poor little girl was in withdrawal. The fact that I'm still breathing is proof of her benevolent nature.
Looking for softer "treats" that Braxlee could eat, we discovered that lettuce, blueberries, or bacon could work as rawhide substitutes. Especially since each treat came with a new and exciting ritual. Let me explain:
Blueberries are tons of fun for pouncing games because they shoot across the kitchen. I’m pretty sure Braxlee awards herself extra points when she either A) scores a goal (i.e. traps a blueberry under the refrigerator), or B) chews a blueberry and spits it out on one of my rugs. Based on the rug carnage, I shudder to think what kind of disgustingness lurks under the fridge.
Can dogs have OCD? Because Braxlee doesn’t just eat lettuce from her bowl. She removes one leaf at a time, and alternates eating the leaves on three different rugs in the house. (Yes, there’s a pattern: Food is more satisfying when consumed on a rug.) And this isn’t just an occasional habit. Since post-walk lettuce has replaced post-walk rawhide, I can confirm that the lettuce is a full-on obsession.
This may be the best game of all. Braxlee lurks under the stove while the bacon is cooking, just in case we want to give her a slice. Then she lurks under the dining room table, just in case bacon should fall while we eat. Finally, she chases her tail a few times on her way to the living room, where we always give her post-breakfast bacon. We try to convince ourselves that we’re not rewarding begging because we don’t feed her from the table, but she’s knows what’s up.
Granted, I still feel guilty shooing Braxlee away from the rawhide display when we go to the groomer for her monthly pawdicure, but she enjoys her afternoon lettuce break, she likes her blueberries, and she’s ecstatic whenever she gets bacon. Plus, the post-walk lettuce ritual is cheaper and healthier than rawhide. (A bag of romaine at Trader Joe's is about $2, and it lasts about five days.)
For now, the vet is happy with the lettuce habit. It's better for Braxlee's teeth and it helps her maintain her girlish figure. But if she ever tells us that we have to stop giving Braxlee lettuce, I'll have to sleep with one eye open.
Do you have a treat-obsessed dog? Tell us your story in the comments!
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