Rally Obedience: E​ngagement and trust

Milo and I just earned a score of 96 / 100 at the mock trial that was the final exam in our advanced Rally Obedience class.

I wish Milo the AwesomeDog could read because this post is all about thanking him for being such a wonderful partner.

attentionMilo was super engaged during the trial. This means that he was paying attention to me with laser focus. He was not asking, but demanding, that I give him a job to do and he put his whole self into doing what I wanted. He didn’t just walk, he pranced. He didn’t just jump, he leaped. He was beautiful, and we were a team.

One of my classmates praised him for being so “sharp.” She said, “his eyes are always on you, even when you’re talking to someone else.” I don’t think she realized how grand, and complicated, this compliment was.

It is not just his nature to pay attention like this. He and I worked through some difficult things together, and we developed a solid relationship. We both know that we have each other’s backs and that the world is better and safer when we’re a team.

Also, we practice engagement almost every day. We spend more time training this than anything else. I say “look,” he looks me in the eye, and I give him a treat or a game of tug or a cuddle. We do this before breakfast, on walks, when we go to new places, and when we’re watching TV at night. You can train a dog to pay attention to you. When you have that under your belt, everything else gets easier.

When Milo is engaged it is a big deal–he’s 90 pounds of muscle and smart as a whip. It’s a big deal because he’s trusting me and putting all of his brains and brawn at my service. That trust and willingness to work for me with his whole magnificent self is a gift for which I am profoundly grateful.

Thank you, Milo.

 

Animals in our lives: A philosophical investigation of the science of companion animals

I am terribly pleased to announce that I’ll be teaching Philosophy 271: Animals in our Lives, a new course offered by the Philosophy Department at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada.

This class is a philosophical analysis of contemporary scientific research on companion animal (mostly canine) cognition, emotion, and training.

The students and I will explore:

  • how this scientific research is embedded in contemporary culture,
  • the practical influences on, and impacts of, this research, and
  • the role of values and ethics in the creation and use of this new scientific knowledge.

I’ll keep you posted as I develop and implement this course. I am So. Excited.

Phil 271 Animals in our lives

Learning how to play fetch with Milo: We only play games we both want to play!

Generally, a game of fetch involves a person throwing a ball, and a dog running after it and returning it to the person. Imagine my surprise when my Fitbit informed me that I walked a kilometer and a half during a short game of fetch. It seemed Milo and I were doing this wrong.

So, the next time we played fetch, I pretended to be an anthropologist observing this game while we were playing it. “What are these strange creatures doing with that round yellow thing on a string?”

I observed that Milo and I weren’t playing one game, we were playing two. The first game looked a lot like fetch. He’d go chasing after the ball and bring it back to my general vicinity. The second game included two things he loved: hanging onto the ball and being chased by me.

pls throw

The trouble is that while Milo loves both games, I only want to play the first one. That clever, clever dog had me playing a game I had no desire to play. Hmmm.

Here is what I did:

I made up some rules for our game.

  • I throw the ball. If he brings it back to me and stays close enough for me to grab his collar, I throw a little happy party for him and immediately toss the ball again.
  • If he doesn’t bring it back to me and stay close, I go get him. But when I go get him, I quietly snap on his leash and we walk off the field for a couple of minutes.
  • His choice: play fetch by the rules, or not play at all.

Within 40 minutes, he was choosing to play by the rules. I was shocked at how fast this happened.

I noticed a neat thing when he started playing by the rules. He’d bring the ball back to me, and then move his head, or move one front paw, like he was starting the Keep-Away Game, and then he would stop and settle back down right close to me as I grabbed his collar. His conflicting desires were revealed by those small movements. I would love to know what it was like for him inside his doggy mind as he stopped himself from making a choice that would not get him what he wanted.

Here are some things I am going to try to remember from learning how to play fetch with Milo:

  1. I need to stop, watch, and think about Milo and my interactions.
  2. It is good to take a bit of time to make a plan.
  3. Milo and I will only play games that we both want to play.

handsome Milo

 

Gift ideas for people who love dogs (and science)!

Books! Books! Books! I went from being a shy nerd in high school to being a proud nerd in university. I loved university so much that, except for one mercifully short semester waiting tables, I never left. Proud nerds like to give and receive books. I haven’t read all the books that about dogs and science, but I’ve read lots of them. Here are some that would make good gifts:

My top pick:

what the dog knowsWhat the Dog Knows: Scent, Science, and the Amazing Ways Dogs Perceive the World, by Cat Warren

What the Dog Knows is one of those books that you sit down to read for half an hour, and suddenly three hours have gone by, you’re starving, and it’s dinner time. It’s a page-turner about working dogs who use their sense of smell for a living. Cat Warren, a journalist turned university professor, guides us on a tour of the science of the canine sense of smell, the history of scent detection and tracking, and the practice of training and working with dogs by telling the story of searching for dead people with her cadaver dog, a German Shepherd named Solo.

Runner-up:

the two in oneThe Two in One: Walking with Smokie, Waking with Blindness, by Rod Michalko

This memoir documents sociologist Rod Mechalko’s changing understanding of his own blindness through his relationship with his service dog, Smokie. Although there are places where this book can be a very dense read, it is also touching, and at times funny.

Stranger: Is that one of those blind dogs?

Mechalko: “I hope not!”

The story of the developing trust and respect between this scientist and his dog changed how I think about working guide dogs. And, Michalko’s changing relationship with his blindness made me think about disability not as a lack or absence, but as a different way of being in the world.

Third place:

animals make us humanAnimals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals, by Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson

As usual, Grandin encourages us to pay close attention to the creatures around us. With clear and concrete prose the authors explore the emotional architecture of different kinds of animals to figure out how to maximize their emotional welfare. There are three things that I especially love about this book. First, the authors respect both scientific and practical experts in animal behavior and combine insights from both groups of people. Second, this book highlights the work of field scientists, and the importance of keeping science open to researchers with a wide range of experiences, perspectives, and skills.  Finally, this book is premised on the notion that humans are animals too. The authors use their emotional framework to advocate for creating environments that encourage humans to treat animals in ways that maximize animals emotional well being. That is clever and demonstrates an interesting sort of integrity.

Tied for fourth place:

How Dogs Love Us: A Neuroscientist and His Adopted Dog Decode the Canine Brain, By Gregory Berns

The Genius of Dogs: How Dogs are Smarter than you Think, by Brian Hare
how dogs love usThese books offer the reader a glimpse of what scientists actually do. Gregory Berns offers a fascinating discussion of the research ethics involved in training pet dogs to participate in fMRI experiments. He treats his canine research subjects with the same ethical consideration that is mandated for research with human children. Cool.

the genius of dogsWhat grabs me most about Brian Hare’s book is that he doesn’t just explain his experiments, he explains how he developed those experiments and why he ran the experiments the way he did. Reading this book can help a person understand how to think like a scientist. These two books aren’t written with the same grace as my top three picks, but they are both good picks for people who want to think about science and ethics as well as learn something about canine cognition and emotion.

What books would you add to this list?

 

This blog is about RV travel, dogs, and science.  Here is my RV travel-themed gift list, and here is my German Shepherd Dog-themed gift list. Happy holidays!

Gift ideas for German Shepherd lovers

Are you having trouble coming up with gift ideas for the German Shepherd lover in your life? Here are some possibilities:

Gifts for the dog.

Love me, love my dog. When people by my dog Milo presents, I find it adorable. What to get though?

Dog treats and chews! Just remember that GSD’s can have finicky stomachs so it’s a good idea to snoop around and see what your friend usually gives her dog. Or, you can ask for her advice on good treats and chews, and she’ll likely tell you all you need to know.

  • Bully Sticks are great chews but can be pricey, so they make a great gift.

Toys! My dog is a pretty typical GSD in that he goes through toys like a wood chipper and so new toys are always appreciated. If you like the person, avoid squeakers!

Consumables. 

Admittedly these gifts are utilitarian instead of romantic. But a dog lover can always  use things like:

Coupon book for dog chores.

To have a German Shepherd is to love a German Shepherd, but these dogs are a lot of work. One gift idea is to make a coupon book for dog chores that you’re willing to help out with. Warning, this only works if you have zero responsibility for the dog. It’s not a gift if it is something that, in all fairness, you should be doing already. Here are some ideas for the coupons:

  • Walk dog on a cold day
  • Walk dog on a rainy day
  • Clean up poop in yard
  • Bathe dog
  • Dremel dog’s nails
  • Vacuum furniture
  • Vacuum house
  • Vacuum the car

German Shepherd themed stuff.

German Shepherds are the second most common dog breed in North America and our make-a-lot-of-junk industrial complex has capitalized on this fact. You can buy German Shepherd themed everything–seriously you can find pictures of German Shepherds on everything from pot holders, salt shakers, and coffee mugs, to leggings, hats, and hoodies, to keychains, mousepads, and Christmas tree ornaments. Type “German Shepherd” into the search fields on etsy.com or amazon.com and you’ll have more ideas than you can throw a stick at.

Why not get a cute German Shepherd tote bag, and fill it up with all sorts of fun doggy things?

Walking in a winter wonderland.

German Shepherds take their people on long walks in all sorts of weather. Anything that takes the sting out of cold winter walks will be appreciated: gloves, hats, scarves, socks, insulated coffee mugs, you get the picture.

Jewelry.

It is easy to find all sorts of GSD themed jewelry. Most of it is cute, but much of it is of questionable quality. Remember that you get what you pay for.

What about a locket with a picture of your friend’s dog in it? Ebay always has a nice selection of lockets that won’t break the bank. And if you have money to burn, you can’t go wrong with Tiffany’s!

Photos from the heart.

Do you have a great shot of your friend and their dog? If you do, put it in a frame and wrap it up! You could also find a high-quality pet photographer in your area and treat your friend to a professional photo shoot.

Worst Present EVER.

Are you a risk taker? Some people call German Shepherds “German Shedders.” These dogs leave clouds of fur, all over the house, all year long. If you’re brave and have zero romantic hopes about the dog lover in your life, you might consider giving them a vacuum.

What items would you add to this gift list?

This blog is about RV travel, dogs, and science. Click here for my RV travel-themed gift list and stay tuned for my science-themed gift ideas 😉

Gift ideas for a woman RV traveler

When it comes to RV traveling and full-time RV living, space and weight are limited. Anyone who spends a lot of time in an RV already has everything they need, and probably can’t carry much more than they already have. So, how on earth do you choose a gift for them? I surveyed friends and Facebook and came up with lots of ideas:

Gift cards. A gift card can be a very thoughtful present for some who travels a lot. My Mom sent me a Tim Hortons card, and I thought of her fondly every morning as I sipped my coffee. Here are some gift card ideas:

  • Amazon
  • Canadian Tire
  • Gas Cards
  • Starbucks
  • Tim Hortons
  • Restaurant chains
  • Mountain Equipment Co-op

Gift certificates. If you want to make someone happy, buy them a massage after a long drive. Yum.

  • Spa day
  • Pedicure
  • Camping stores

Consumables. The goodness of most of these things is obvious. But an RV traveler might be the only person who would actually appreciate charcoal for Christmas.

  • Chocolates/cookies/candy
  • Coffee/tea/hot chocolate
  • Cheeses/jerky/salty snacks
  • Wine
  • S’more fixings
  • Home baked goods
  • Flowers
  • Sunscreen/bug spray
  • Matches/lighters/candles
  • Charcoal/wood/fire starters

Cozy, comfy things. Things to fight off the early morning chill are always nice.

  • Electric blanket
  • Essential oil dispenser and some essential oils
  • Sparkly things to hang in the windows
  • Nice throw
  • Fleece pj’s
  • Hoodie
  • Good socks
  • Fuzzy footed onesie
  • Woolen hat and mittens

Useful things. Utilitarian presents are only good if the recipient actually needs them, so you have to do your homework. If they have everything they need, remember that a nicer or newer or upgraded version of something they already have can also be a great gift. Pay attention to what they complain about—it will give you an idea of what needs upgrading.

  • Solar powered flashlight
  • Solar powered lamp
  • Solar powered USB charger
  • Heavy-duty flashlight
  • Headlamp
  • Cooler
  • Compass
  • Heavy leather woman’s sized work gloves
  • Insulated water jig with a spigot
  • Good doormat
  • Boot scraper for outside the door

Pricier items. Notice that these items are small and useful.

  • Kindle
  • Tablet
  • Camera
  • Binoculars

What items would you add to this gift list?

This blog is about RV travel, dogs, and science. Stay tuned for the dog and science-themed gift lists. 😉

Food for Milo and me (his is raw)

Milo and I were on the road, camping in our travel trailer, for three months. To deal with the sadness of the end of that trip, I’m trying to focus on the good things about being back in a house.  Good thing #1: having a full kitchen.

I love preparing food, and it is more fun to do that in a full kitchen.

Milo’s diet.

When we were on the road, for reasons of convenience and food safety, Milo ate kibble. Now that we’re back in our house with its big fridge and chest freezer, generous counter tops, abundant hot soapy water, and local butchers he can go back to healthier eating. He gets a raw, prey-model diet, which for him amounts to about a pound and a half of food every day comprised of 45% raw meaty non-weight bearing bones, 45% muscle, and 10% organ meats (half of which is liver).

the beginning

This morning I trundled off to the farmer’s market where I spent about $50.00 buying meat and bones for Milo. This is more expensive than cheap kibble but about the same price as healthy kibble. I came home with:

  • 4 lbs of ground pork
  • 8 turkey necks
  • 6 chicken carcasses
  • a bag of chicken livers
  • (and a roasting chicken for me).

I set up an assembly line to turn that pile-o-meat into two weeks’ worth of meals for Milo. Here’s the process:

  • Step one: clean the kitchen
  • Step two: set out my kitchen scale, freezer bags, and all the food
  • Step three: fill the bags
  • Step four: take the bags down to my freezer
  • Step five: clean the kitchen again, this time with disinfectant.

 

The beginning and the end of the assembly process. It took very little time to turn this whole mess of meat into 14 individually wrapped meals for Milo. Every night I pull one out of the freezer and he has it for breakfast the next morning.


Milo has been living on this diet for years. He has never needed a dental cleaning, his breath is relatively sweet, he is in excellent physical condition, his eyes are bright, his coat is shiny, and he is a bundle of joyful energy.

My diet.

Milo is not the only one who ate differently when we were on the road. My camper is practically perfect in every way, but it has no oven. No oven means no Chicken in a Pot. I suppose I could have nestled a Dutch Oven in the coals of a campfire, but frankly, that just seemed like a big pain in the you-know-what.

While I was assembling Milo’s meals, my dinner was in the oven.

Chicken in a Pot. Mix together a bunch of potatoes, onions, garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper (you can use any roasting veg you like) and spread them in the bottom of a big oven-safe pot with a tight-fitting lid. Give a roasting chicken a good coating of olive oil, salt, pepper, and any spices you like (I use sage) and then squish the chicken, breast side down, over the veg. Put the lid on and throw the whole thing in a medium oven until the chicken is done (my six-pound bird took 2 hours at 300 degrees). If you want you can take the lid off at the end of the cooking time and pop the pot under the broiler for a couple of minutes for a crispy skin. Let the whole thing rest. Then eat it. Delicious.

 

delicious

My dinner (above) and Milo’s breakfast (below).

milo's breakfast