The importance of philosophical research on love and dogs

Examining the relationship between love and science about dogs brings me joy, and it provides tools for deciphering how social values influence a wide range of scientific projects.

Before I started thinking about dogs all the time, my philosophical research focused on sexism and racism in science and engineering. I love working on canine science, but occasionally I get a guilty tickle in the back of my mind suggesting that I’m shirking my responsibilities, that I should be fighting for justice instead of fooling around with love.

I stamp those twinges down though, because love is important.

Earlier this year I spoke on a science ethics panel along with two men—one presenting research on the dangers artificial intelligence and the other talking about flaws in medical research. When I stood up and started talking about love and dogs and science, I noticed a few sideways glances from some of the very serious folks in the audience.

I didn’t have to work hard to imagine them sighing and shaking their heads, ‘those ladies, always going on about feelings.’ Or, ‘Just what I was looking forward to, an academic chick flick.’

Undaunted, I smiled and kept talking. I held the ground between those very serious people and the door, and they had nothing to do except listen.

After the AI man, the medical research man, and I, the loves dogs woman, finished our talks we fielded questions from the audience. It became apparent during the question period that both of these guys’ research could benefit from the ethical model (Nancy Tuana’s Ethical Dimensions of Scientific Research) I was using to understand the impact of love on canine behavior research.

I study how love influences the interactions among (1) social values, (2) research ethics, and (3) the kinds of scientific questions, methods, and analyses that researchers use. It turns out that understanding the relationships among these three things is just as important for conducting effective medical research and creating ethical AI as it is for understanding how dogs think. And it was just these sorts of interactions that the other members of the panel needed to consider in order to move their research projects forward.

Loves Dogs Woman to the rescue! 😛

Do yourself a favour, get a Clam Quick-Set Screen Tent to escape the bugs

Last spring the bugs feasted on Milo the poor AwesomeDog and me, and it was miserable. I tried all the things: a smoky fire (I suffered respiratory distress before the bugs did), citronella candles (no effect), essential oil repellants for both Milo and me (not strong enough), dousing myself in enough Deet to melt every piece of plastic I touched (gross). The only moderately effective and not disgusting tactic was fire up a powerful fan.

I promised myself that this year would be different. I did some research and bought myself a Clam Quick-Set Screen Tent for my birthday.

Map indicating locations of campsites and trails

OMG! It is fabulous. Thank you, Self, for getting me such a great present!

It is 11 feet across and more than 7 feet tall in the centre. I set it up, by myself, in less than a minute. Seriously, less than a minute. And, it doesn’t take any longer to take it down and stow it away.

Some of the reviews complain that it’s tricky to take down. It isn’t—read the instructions. If reading instructions is not your thing, there’s a bunch of instructional YouTube video’s waiting to be watched.

This tent’s big enough for a picnic table, but I outfitted it with a comfy chair, a dog bed, an inflatable air mattress, and a cooler. I sit in there in the evenings sipping a beer while Milo chews a bone, and occasionally in the afternoons, I bring out a magazine and nap on the air mattress. Heaven.

Don’t be stingy, buy the optional wind panels too. Because this tent pops open, the sides protrude beyond the roof. If it rains, some rain will come in through the mesh. The side panels attach with Velcro—super easy—and will deter the rain.

I don’t usually do product endorsements, but this screen tent is worth every penny.

Happy camping!

Inverhuron Provincial Park: Beach and Hiking Trails

Milo the AwesomeDog and I enjoyed some pleasant hiking at Inverhuron Provincial Park last week.

Chain Trail:

We stayed at the Holmes Bay Campground and it took us about 25 minutes to walk along Chain Trail to the Dog Exercise Area. Once there, Milo enjoyed a swim in Lake Huron, and we turned around and walked home.a map showing campsites on three campgrounds, as well as walking trails

The trail is flat, well-maintained, and dry, all of which makes for an easy stroll. Our walk snaked between the lake shore and the campgrounds, offering both shade and lake views. green forest, blue sky, and a white space age looking towerThose views tempted Milo the AwesomeDog to give a few mighty yanks on his leash. I tried explaining to him that we were in fact on our way to a spot where he could swim, but delaying gratification has never been his strong suit.

Encountering an emergency alert siren for the Bruce Nuclear Power Station, which is less than three miles away, freaked me out. I’m glad there is an alert system, but the juxtaposition of the siren tower with the sound of the waves and the wind in the cedars was disconcerting.

 

River Trail:

River Trail is a sort of bait and switch. The pamphlet describes it as moderate to difficult with large hills and rough surfaces. But, it starts out as a wide gravel path leading over an arched bridge of worn wood that would be right at home in The Shire. German shepherd dog sitting on a wooden bridgeUp until that point, a person could manage in flip flops. But, believe the pamphlet and wear good shoes. Some of the hills were very steep and ran alongside the eroding riverbank—not a great place for kids or strollers. It was useful to have Milo on a harness for part of that hike. He knows that “hup, hup” means lean into the harness, and I appreciated the help on some of those uphill scrambles. Also, this poops him out, which is good for both of us when we get home for our afternoon nap.

Pay attention during your hike because some of the trail markers are faded and difficult to spot.

River Trail skirts along the riverbank and winds through groves of cedar trees. Milo and I finished this pretty loop in about an hour.

Beach

Boardwalks arc across the ecologically delicate sand dunes that separate the sandy beach from the parking lot, protecting the dunes from foot traffic erosion. Milo and I only got as far as those boardwalks because dogs aren’t allowed on people beaches in Ontario – I suspect this has something to do with not wanting kids making castles with urine-soaked sand. Whatever the reason, Milo and I didn’t actually go to the beach. I only mention it here to let you know that even though the water level in Lake Huron is high this year, there is still a good-sized strip of soft-looking sand along the water’s edge.

If you would like to know about Holmes Bay campground at Inverhuron click here.

Inverhuron Provincial Park Site 247

Milo the AwesomeDog and I spent last week at Inverhuron Provincial Park in our 18-foot travel trailer. I give the place two thumbs up.

Campsite 247 is excellent—level, covered in gravel with good drainage, ringed with sweet smelling and privacy providing cedar trees. It is a pull-through site with long driveways at each end, which provided a buffer to the road and other campers. The lakeshore is a two-minute walk away, as is Chain Trail, a well-maintained path that skirts along the Lake Huron shore and provides a scenic a 25-minute walk to the dog exercise area.Map indicating locations of campsites and trails

The park website noted that campers might need an extension cord to reach the electrical outlets. I always bring one and so was a bit smug about what I thought was advice for newbies. But, I had to sign out a third cord from the park office. Be warned, they require a $150 deposit. The deposit makes sense because I could easily imagine driving off with that cord without thinking about it and $150 was enough to remind me to give the darn thing back.The image is filled with a smiling German Shepherd face.

All of this wonderfulness is somewhat tempered by the intermit low-level hum of the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station. A few years ago, the sound would have bugged me. But, the park was so pretty that it put me right in my happy place and I just thought, “Oh well, it’s making electricity. I’m using electricity. Fair enough.”

Be warned, if you camp here, be sure to check out the pictures and the privacy ratings of your site on the Ontario Parks Online Reservation System when you book your trip. A woman staying at an interior, non-reservable site told me that her place was surrounded by unsightly felled trees. Ick.

Red and orange clouds fill the sky and their light is reflected on waterMilo and my trip to Inverhuron benefited from some good luck: the wood was dry, the other campers were quiet and friendly, and the sunsets were stunning. We’ll be back.

Note to self: next time try to get site 261. Even though it is a back-in site, because of the layout backing up will not be complicated and it is gorgeous.

Milo the AwesomeDog on the Lake Huron shore

Milo and I concur: MacGregor Point Provincial Park remains a fabulous place for camping with dogs. We started our camping season with a week-long trip to Ontario’s West Coast, the Lake Huron shore. MacGregor’s Algonquin campground has quiet, private sites nestled in a lush cedar forest. In addition to ample hiking, the park includes an expansive natural shoreline with lots of room for your canine companion to enjoy a swim. I suspect this is Milo’s favorite place to visit!

FYI, we stayed in campsite #67–a level, pull-through site with electricity, a firepit, and a picnic table.

smiling German shepherd looking right into the camera.

“I love you, Mom. Can we swim now?”

German shepherd resting his nose on a piece of driftwood

This is a good stick. Someone needs to throw it in the lake…”

silhouette of German shepherd head against a blue lake with a red orange and blue sky This sunset would be prettier if I were wet.

wet German shepherd laying on a beach with a blue lake in the background

Finally! Swimming!

The trouble with goals: From dissertations to dogs

Big goals freak me out. They give me stress. They seem impossible. They are paralyzing.

However, I want to make progress with Milo in the sport of Schutzhund and to do this I need some big goals. Eek.

I’ve encountered this dilemma before.

I spent six years in graduate school. Much of year five involved staring at my computer screen and freaking out because I was sure that I didn’t know enough and wasn’t good enough to jump over the last hurdle between me and my doctorate: writing my dissertation. A dissertation is a 200 or 300-page original research paper. Staring at the first paragraph I typed on what would be page one, made the last paragraph on page 200 seem impossibly far away.

I was a scholarship student, and I was broke. When my funding ran out, I would not be able to pay rent, I would lose my student visa, and I’d have to leave the country. So, you know, no pressure.

My dissertation supervisor gave me a gift. He said that the last word on page 200 was the last word he would read and so ‘it would behoove me to finish before then.’ This gave my task a concrete endpoint.

With nothing to do but think and write, and facing the looming specter of homelessness, I did some math. I knew I could write three pages in a day and I knew I was ‘only allowed’ to write 200 pages.

200 pages divided by 3 pages/ day meant that I could write my dissertation in 67 days. If I worked five days/ week, I could finish my dissertation in 14 weeks. My deadline was 16 weeks away. That was tight but doable. My plan included weekends off, which meant that if I got sick or hit a dead end, I had a bit of leeway.

Once I had a plan that I was confident was doable, my writing problems melted away. I just followed my plan.

On every weekday I drank coffee, went to the office, edited yesterday’s three pages and wrote that day’s three pages. Some days I was done by noon and some days it took me until midnight, but when my three pages were written, I could go home and relax, knowing that I was on target with my plan. Writing became fun because it no longer seemed like I was working on an impossible task.

From dissertations to dogs

Spring is here, and it is time to set summer training goals. This year I would like to earn tracking and obedience titles in Schutzhund. Here’s the trouble, those titles feel like my dissertation—so freakishly big and intimidating as to be paralyzing.

I need the equivalent of my three pages a day but for dog training. In short, I need a plan.

Here’s how the plan-making will work:

  1. Make a list what Milo and I need to do to have a good shot at these titles.
  2. See if that list is manageable as part of a happy life for both of us. My work is more demanding now than it has ever been before, and if all goes well, a puppy will be joining our pack in the late summer so I might need to back off a bit.
  3. If the list is not manageable then I’ll revise our desired outcomes.
  4. If the list is manageable, turn it into a plan.
  5. Execute the plan.

In addition to relieving performance pressure, there is another benefit arising from having a plan: Success means carrying out the plan, not getting the title. What if the day of the trial Milo gets up and eats a bee, or I get sick? Or we have a bad day? If the goal is following the plan rather than achieving the outcome, then success is something that I have more control over.

I always roll my eyes when I hear someone say, ‘it’s all about the journey.’ But, with Milo it is. He’s not interested in getting titles; he’s interested in what we do together every day. Focusing on the plan lets me concentrate on his happiness and well-being, and it makes the journey less stressful and more fun for us both.

Stay tuned for a draft plan.

2019 Canine Science Symposium

grey fabric with a cartoon image of the golden gate bridge over blue water and yellow sand with a black outline of a dog in the middle of the frame. the words 'Canine Science Symposium 2019' are printed across the bottom of the image.I’m sitting in the San Francisco airport on my way home after a great weekend at the Canine Science Symposium.

This event drew a crowd of people who had as much dog hair on their clothes as I did and who were happy to talk about dogs for as long as I was. The 200 participants, hailing from across the US and Canada, all have great compassion for the dogs in our lives—this is a powerful common denominator uniting a group of people.

Here are a few of the things I learned:

Clive Wynne delivered an alternative analysis of the research papers claiming that canine behavioral tests are not predictive or useful. Wynne’s lesson is that we must pay attention to the statistical analyses in research papers and double check that they are asking the questions that we think they are asking. My take away is that we should keep an open mind about these tests and while they are not perfect, they can still be useful.

Kelsea Brown’s and Monique Udell’s lectures emphasized that when it comes to assessing canine behavior and temperament, context matters. This context includes things like the relationship between the dog and its handler and the position of the handler. While I bet every dog trainer in the room already knew this, there are two significant reasons for providing scientific confirmation for things that many people already know.

  • First, some people have a serious bias in favor of scientific over practical knowledge, and if those people include lawmakers and policymakers, it is useful to be able to give them the sort of confirmation that will work for them.
  • Second, this research can have an impact on how shelter workers assess dogs. Shelter workers are the unsung heroes of the dog world. I would never ask them to do an additional job unless I was confident that it was necessary. So, further confirmation from researchers about context lets shelter staff and volunteers know that it worth their while to assess dogs in a variety of ways.

I also learned a ton of practical information about nose work training from Nathan Hall. There is too much detail to share here, but lordy, the combination of chemistry, dog noses, and physical techniques was cool!

Aaaand, I got to have a drink with Denise Fenzi, where I learned that I could keep my cool even when I have serious fangirl feelings.

fehr, fenzi and wynne

From left to right Clive Wynne, me, and Denise Fenzi. I think I look a bit drunk in this picture, but I assure you I’m not. It’s just that I am really happy!