Friday, February 26, 2010

No Dry Food

Once again, my quick wits saved the day. Though still groggy, I was patiently waiting outside the litter box this morning for some play time. Iggy, one of my feline household companions, was playing hide-and-go-seek. I caught onto this and was waiting outside the box surprise him. A lick or two behind his ear was in order. When he spent the better part of ten minutes inside the box I became concerned and did what any thoughtful dog would do: I barked.

Jason came and investigated. Things didn't sound very good. He took the top of the litter box and Iggy did some serious complaining. There was some hushed talking downstairs and a short while later Iggy was whisked out of the house in a plastic box with holes cut in the side. Could you imagine having to travel around in that?  Why not walk? Those cats are very strange. I do believe I will never totally understand them.

Anyway, I was very upset that I couldn't come. I wanted to get out of the house. I was informed that dogs weren't welcome at Iggy's doctor because it's for cats only. The nerve!

As usual, the vet talked Jason's ear off for a good hour. This guy seriously knows everything there is to know about cats. For example, last year Dr. Carlson told Jason about the evils of dry cat food. He was aghast to learn that dry food was the worst possible food to feed cats. If not a contributing cause to the fatty liver disease that took the lives of Jason's previous cats, a dry food only certainty didn't help. Here is a link that will take you to a page that pretty much describes the evils of a dry-food only diet for cats. Want to know even more? Here is another similar source of information.

Back to today. Dr. Carlson was at it again teaching Jason. He explained that cats evolved from desert dwelling creatures: they adapted to their environment by having their moisture requirements met solely by the moisture found in their prey. When is the last time you saw a cat in the wild hunt down a bag of dried cat food? What does a wild back of dried cat food look like anyway?

Iggy mostly eats a canned food diet with a little bit of dry kibble. The problem is that there is just not enough water in the canned food for him. Iggy, being picky, only likes to drink out of the dripping faucet. Jason, being frugal, thinks it's a bad idea to leave the faucet on all day for the cat. See the problem?

Iggy basically had sand in his bladder, the pH of his urine was off the charts, and he was wicked uncomfortable. He got some pain meds and muscle relaxants (he's been no fun today--sleeping up on the fourth forth floor which is out of my puppy reach).

Dr. Carlson also now has both cats on a slurpee diet. Canned food only--and that food is now mixed with as much water as the cats can tolerate. Jason whisked equal parts food and water together. He thinks it looks gross. The cats however find it delicious. I also find it rather yummy. Of course, I also find dead frogs on the road yummy so my tastes are somewhat suspect.

Looks like things are getting back to normal. If you have cats in your life, give some thought to their diet. Opening up a bag of dry food just isn't good enough.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Wednesday Smile

Therapy Dogs in Action

Here is a clip about a therapy dog named Sugar Bear. He works at a hospital in Seattle. Hospitals can be such a scary place--imagine how comforting it must be for young children who are spending a lot of time in the hospital to be greeted by a happy dog.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Electricity: It's not for puppies

Well that was a scare. I thought I would have myself a little break today. I went into my breakroom (the corner of the office, tell Jason to get me a real space) and settled down. This silver cord was way to interesting. I started to chew and within a second, zap! I yelped quietly and moved away slowly.

This is clearly not safe for puppies. Just because you think you are paying close attention does not mean you actually are. Have you made your house puppy proof?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Monday Mindfulness

My walk yesterday started off being rather difficult. You see, being a puppy, I find everything exciting and interesting. Especially other dogs. This in itself is not a problem as it's a good thing that I'm curious about the world. It's a problem because part of being certified as a therapy dog involves a test. Part of that test is being able to walk past a neutral dog without have a huge reaction.

The test isn't until June and Jason is already worried.

The walk started off well enough. It was cold but reasonably sunny. Jason brought along a new toy: a chuck it launcher. It's big fun for me. Jason can launch a tennis ball up into the air. The area that I frequently go walking in has wide open spaces. This makes it possible for me to really run!

I was running back and forth having a great time. We came around a corner to another big open field and I saw a dog off into the distance. Yeah! A playmate! I started a high pitched bark and whine: that's what I do when I want to play. The other dog apparently really reacts to other dogs because his owners were trying hard to get him back under control just like Jason was trying to do. He kept calming telling me to focus, sit, and even a couple of high fives. I'd amuse him by looking at him and hovering above the ground in a sort-of-sit. My heart wasn't in it because I so desperately wanted to go play. What fun!

Two other dogs came up and I gave up any pretense of listening to Jason. This looked like serious fun and I wanted to play. I greeted the two new dogs and their owners. I was barking as loud as I could trying to get the other dogs attention. The humans were giving the exasperated Jason some training tips. "Have you tried a can with pennies in it to get her to stop barking," one said. The other commented that "this is exactly what shock collars are for." Ouch! I'm glad I wasn't paying attention.

It took Jason awhile to finally get over feeling exasperated with me. I think he was actually frustrated with himself. The two other dogs weren't barking (they actually don't do a lot, I wouldn't either if I got shocked by my collar). Jason was probably wishing I'd hurry up and start behaving, or maybe he was worried when it comes time for my test I would fail.

Something finally clicked in his brain. He loosened up his super tight grip on my leash. I suspected he also loosened up his super tight grip on his own thoughts. He showed me the ball inside the chuck it launcher, threw it a short distance, and told me to go get it.

I stopped barking on the spot and ran. I was glad to bring it back to him since I knew he'd get all excited and throw it again. Without giving me time to think, he took the ball again as soon as I brought it back and launched it way off into the distance. I was off after it again running as fast as I could. I forgot all about the other dogs--even the puppy off into the distance who was still barking at me.

Jason needed to get a grip on himself and be mindful of his emotions and what was really happening in the moment. I think he realized that he was experiencing fear about things that haven't even happened yet (we will fail our tests, other dog owners are judging him, etc.). This is an example of the cognitive distortion of negative forecasting (anticipating things will turn out badly and assuming that the prediction is already an established fact).

Of course I'm going to bark at other dogs when they are close. This is what I do. I bark. I am dog. I am also highly motivated to please humans. Apparently some humans don't find it pleasing when I bark at other dogs inviting them to come play with me. Jason remembered that while I will probably bark when left to my own devices, I'm likely to be redirected if he gives me something else to focus on--especially if it is something that both of us find pleasing. In comes the ball and the magic happens.

This isn't a quick fix. I'm probably going to have to encounter other dogs another 30 or 40 times. I'm going to have to bark at them, I'm going to have to react strongly, and Jason is going to have to give me another job to do. I'll eventually get the hang of it: it's okay to say hello but endless barking isn't the way to make anyone happy.

My behavior isn't controlled by fear (can of pennies, shock collar). This would work, though it would only work if the fear is always present (constant use of the noxious sound of a can of pennies, constant use of a shock collar). Rather, my behavior is shaped by my deepening bond with my human companion and my desire to be engaged with him in  mutually pleasing him. This method takes a little longer but ends in offering a more enduring pattern of behavior (I will not need to have a constant reward for my behavior--intermittent "good girls", ball tosses, or tasty bits of food suffice).

Try it at home with your dog. You'll like your results and you'll like how you feel.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

It's Morning in America

I still want my stick! I woke up this morning thinking about the stick. As you might have guessed, as soon as I walked out the front door I made a bee-line right for the same stick I was playing with yesterday. Yeah!

See what a powerful reinforcer something like a stick can be? People commonly misunderstand the concepts of rewards. I hear a lot on different TV programs that people shouldn't reward their dogs (or children!) too much because they will become lazy, spoiled, fat, or generally misbehaving little creatures with no self control.

This is so far from the truth. Sure, food can be rewarding. There are tons of other non-food things that are rewarding. Take me for example. I love food as much as the next dog. I also love to play tug and well, you know all about my fondness for sticks. These are actually more powerful reinforcements for me. If Jason lets me do either of these two things after I do something he wants me to do, I am significantly more likely to do what it is he is asking for me.

Remember the easy way I've told you how you can use the Premak principle for puppies: if you want the puppy to do something you want (a low-probability behavior), pair that behavior with an activity that the puppy wants to do (a high-probability behavior). It's fun and rewarding for both human and puppy!

Friday, February 12, 2010

I Want the Stick

Stick: (n) A long slender piece of wood, especially: a. A branch or stem cut from a tree or shrub. b. A piece of wood, such as a tree branch, that is used for fuel, cut for lumber, or shaped for a specific purpose. c. An irresistible toy that I want right now.

So I've been terribly cute for the last couple of hours. For the better part of the last three months I've ignored the bell that is hanging on the door. I'm supposed to ring it when I go outside. I pretend that I don't know what it's for. Tonight things have been different as it is most clearly the bell I ring when I want to go outside to retrieve my stick.

You see, it all started earlier this afternoon. Jason was taking out the trash and I found a stick. We played for about ten minutes in the front yard. I ran back and forth, galloping, leaping, and generally enjoying my stick. Can you imagine that Jason wouldn't let me bring it up into the house? I got this idea in my puppy brain: I'd ring the bell. Jason would want to reward that and take me outside. That's just what I did: over and over again. I think he finally caught on because after our third time outside, and I made a bee-line for my stick, Jason finally figured out the game. 

Did he let me bring it in the house? No. He mumbled something about the Premack principle being at play and wouldn't let me bring my stick in the house. I even tried my pleading Basset Hound eyes. Apparently, the Premack principle says that if one wants to perform a given activity, one will perform a less desirable activity to get at the more desirable activity. In people terms, if you want to eat dessert (an activity that  many human children have a high probability of wanting to do) you have to eat your vegetables first (an activity that many human children have a low probability of wanting to do). In puppy terms, high-probability behaviors are what the puppy wants to do; low-probability behaviors are what the human wants the puppy to do. 

Jason wants me to pee and poop outside on a regular basis. He also wants me to ring the bell when I feel like doing this. I think he's crazy and being unreasonable. I want to go outside and play with my stick. I'm likely to ring the bell to do this, as it is something I really really want to do. If I ring the bell (something he wants me to do) and then pee or poop outside (something else he wants me to do), he'll let me play with the stick (something I really really want to do).

I think I have to go now.

By the way, I wasn't playing with that kind of stick. The cats are the one's who like eating things that crawl. Not me.

Therapy Dogs in the News

Dog Helps Iraq Vet with PTSD: 'My Little Marine'

Jason tells me he was first inspired to find a dog to share his work with when he heard an NPR podcast about the Puppies Behind Bars program. The program has inmates--doing time for crimes such as murder--train dogs to help others in need. The program is remarkable:  it is where "hope blossoms and lives are being transformed one puppy at a time."

The link above takes you to an article about Pele who is helping a returning veteran. This link takes you to a video about the training process of the dogs.  These stories offer up some of the bet of what the human spirit has to offer.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


Just a few too many people have looked askance at me while I am playing tug-of-war with Jason. I understand a couple of the strange looks. When I was a little puppy things got a little carried away and I lost a tooth (okay, three teeth). That was an accident and doesn't count.

While I'm not exactly sure how this has happened, tug has gotten a bad rap with some dog trainers. Some feel that tug is interpreted by the dog as a play for dominance. One would never want to be engaged in such a game with a dog, the logic goes.

In  my puppy opinion, this notion is based on outdated and disproved models of dog behavior. Check out my blog posts here, here, or here if you want to read more.

Back to not playing tug. This is all just plain ridiculous.

I love tug.

  • Tug is a fun, safe way for me to engage in some of my natural predatory instincts. 

To deny me this would force me to redirect all this energy into other outlets. These outlets might not be safe. You might not like these outlets. When I play tug, I get to hunt, dissect, shake, and all sorts of other great things. Jason prefers when I do this with tug toys rather than pillows, rolls of paper towels, or Kleenex boxes. I've not gotten the hang of it yet (I just ate a roll of paper towels this morning). I'm working on it, okay?

  • Tug teaches impulse control

Check out the video of me playing. Around :20 something interesting happens. Jason says "leave it" and I let go. This is such a useful skill. I share my home with two cats and an African Gray parrot. If Jason says "leave it" I will walk away from the other animals, even if I'm in the middle of pulling the kitty around the house by his ear. When I walk down the street Jason will say "leave it" if I find a discarded bagel. I will begrudgingly leave it. If there is a small child with an ice cream cone Jason will say leave it, I will even more begrudgingly leave it.

Despite my complaining, I'm learning that "leave it" is actually part of the game. While I might not get the bagel or ice cream, sometimes I get to play tug, sometimes I get a small food reward, and every time I get lots of love from Jason.

  • Tug is a reinforcer

Sometimes after I let go, Jason says take it. I get to play again. This is rewarding to me. It makes me listen to Jason more closely because I know that when I do what he asks, good things happen. Tug then become reinforcer a for all sorts of commands: leave it, take it, sit, down, stay, focus, roll over, play dead, etc.

  • Tug is a shared activity

Jason tugs, pulls, and wiggles my tug toys, they come alive. My bond with Jason becomes just that much deeper. At his hands, and in the hands of all who play with me, humans become the agents who help me satisfy my urges and emotions.

Why on Earth wouldn't you want to play tug with me? When you watch the video, see if you can see how many different natural behaviors I demonstrate while playing with my toy.

Friday, February 5, 2010

I am Not a Wolf

This morning Jason was reading the new tweets he received overnight. In a rather undignified way, he started rolling his eyes. He got a tweet from a psychologist about an article on leadership. The article linked Cesar Millian's philosophy of dog training to good leadership skills in humans. "His true gifts are in teaching the dog's owners that well behaved canines are really about the owner's willingness and ability to step up to being a (pack) leader. The lessons he teaches are insightful for any leader."

The lessons the author derived are not bad lessons: understand how dogs want to be treated; clearly communicate your rules, boundaries and limitations; use calm assertive energy; and imagine a successful scenario. It's what's behind these lessons that are troubling. In the end, none of the behaviors Millan uses to convince dogs he's their pack leader actually exist in nature--for wolves or dogs.

I've blogged before about some of the controversies surrounding Cesar Millian's training style. His training style emphasizes aversive punishments to shape a dogs behavior: endless studies have shown that behavioral training that focuses on positive reinforcement are the most effective and enduring types of training for dogs. Interested in my thoughts about that? Check out the blog posts here or here.

What got Jason rolling his eyes this morning was the conflation of dogs and wolves. This seems to be a common misconception that is in desperate need of clarification, so I'm going to blog about it today. Maybe Jason will even stop rolling his eyes. This is going to be a long one.

I am not wolf. I am dog.

Let's have a little history lesson.

Dogs have indeed descended from Canis lupus--the wolf. That however was a long time ago. Dogs were the first animal to be domesticated (from the wild wolves). This happened sometime around the end of the Ice Age. Archeologists found the first domesticated dog at a German site that dated to 14,000B.C. (that was 11,990 years ago!). It is thought that dogs worked cooperatively with humans to locate and announce the position of prey wounded by the hunters.

Just think about all the different ways in which dogs and humans have evolved together.

What was going on in the world in 14,000 B.C.? Human's were mostly hunter-gatherers. They lived together in nomadic tribes. Metal had not yet been smelted nor had agriculture or towns come into existence. There were no forms of written language. If your curious, the cave paintings in Laugerie-Basse, France were painted sometime between 15,000BC and 12,000 B.C. Wooden buildings were first built in South America and pottery vessels were made in Japan starting in 11,500 to 10,000 B.C.

Just think about all the ways humans have changed since then. Think dogs have changed, too?

Dogs might have even separated from their wolf ancestors much earlier. A recent study in the journal Science concludes that wolves and dogs may have diverged as long as 135,000 years ago (for those of you counting, we'll round up to 133,000 B.C.).

What was going on in the world in 133,000 B.C.? It was the Middle Paleolithic era, and Homo neanderthalensis (Neanderthals) were using flint tools in Europe. Anatomically modern humans were evident in Northern Africa and the near East. This is to say, humans were not yet exactly human.

Saying I am a wolf is nearly the same as me saying you are a Neanderthal. A lot has changed in the past 135,000 years.

I've digressed a little from what I really wanted to talk about. The uproar in the dog training world has a lot to do with deciding whether or not dogs are pack animals.

There is another history lesson here that gets us to where we are.

Dominance theory dates back to 1922 when Thorleif Schjelderup-Ebbe did research on chickens. Dogs aren't chickens, by the way. Neither are wolves. This notion of dominance theory was then popularized by the Monks of New Skete with their book "How to Be Your Dog's Best Friend". The book is based on the premise that we should treat dogs like an adult wolf would treat a wolf puppy (though they never really even observed what wolves do with wolf puppies). According to the Monk's understanding, that involves fear and physical punishment (in fact, if one hits a dog and she hasn't yelped, the book suggests you haven't hit your dog hard enough).

Initially, research has shown that wolves are pack animals. That research ends up being incorrect. David Mench, Ph.D., who is a senior scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey, has shown through his research that dominance theory does not apply to wolves in natural, wild, non-captive environments. Check out this link to read his research.

In wild wolf packs there is no pack leader. Further dominant and submissive behaviors are so rare as to be virtually nonexistent. It seems that as a rough rule, domesticated forms of wild mammals will revert back to their wild-type after being feral for a few generations. If these theory is true, feral dogs should have theoretically reverted back to being wolf-like in their appearance and behavior. This isn't the case. What do feral dogs do when they are feral? They are primarily scavengers and often live alone or in very loose groups. Interested in reading more? Check out this great blog post.

So what is my puppy point? I think there are two. First, calling me a wolf is about as silly as calling you a Neanderthal. Please stop. Second, dominance theory is a poor model for describing wolf behavior and an even worse model for training dogs.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Wednesday Smile

This edition of Wednesday Smile was sent to me by my grandmother, who has been carrying around a picture of her grandpuppy since she was eight weeks old.

Some new dog breeds . . .

Collie + Lhasa Apso
Collapso, a dog that folds up for easy transport

Spitz + Chow Chow
Spitz-Chow, a dog that throws up a lot

Bloodhound + Borzoi
Bloody Bore, a dog that’s not much fun

Pointer + Setter
Poinsetter, a traditional Christmas pet

Kerry Blue Terrier + Skye Terrier
Blue Skye, a dog for visionaries

Great Pyreness + Dachshund
Pyradachs, a puzzling breed

Pekingnese + Lhasa Apso
Peekasso, an abstract dog

Irish Water Spaniel + English Springer Spaniel
Irish Springer, a dog fresh and clean as a whistle

Labrador Retriever + Curly Coated Retriever
Lab Coat Retriever, the choice of research scientists

Newfoundland + Basset Hound
Newfound Asset Hound, a dog for financial advisors

Terrier + Bulldog
Terribull, a dog that makes awful mistakes

Bloodhound + Labrador
Blabador, a dog that barks incessantly

Malamute + Pointer
Moot Point, owned by . . . oh, well, it doesn’t matter anyway

Collie + Malamute
Commute, a dog that travels to work

Deerhound + Terrier
Derriere, a dog that’s true to the end