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

 

 

Shaking dogs: It’s Physics!

There are lots of neat slow-motion videos of dogs shaking. But this one is probably the best. Why? Because it features David Hu, a mechanical engineer from Georgia Tech, who explains his research on shaking dogs AND how that research can be applied to all sorts of things ranging from solar panels, to cameras, to planetary rovers (OMG, this pun just made itself 😀 ).

The video is 2 minutes long. Don’t let the mouse in the first frame deceive you, it’s about dogs. It really is full of adorable shaking dogs.


This is a great example of scientific research with applications that wouldn’t, at least immediately, come to mind for most of us.

To some people, research on dogs seems wasteful.

But, research on canine health has resulted in huge improvements human health and human medicine. And David Hu’s research on shaking dogs, a topic that at first glance seems whimsical and even silly, could someday help us humans explore other planets.

Shaking dog

Thanks buddy!

Reentry after an extended​ RV trip: Do turtles get homesick?

At 22 I was finishing up my undergraduate degree and itching to see the world. I needed to get off the Canadian Prairies, away from Saskatoon where I was going to school, and escape any and all things related to farming. So, I bought a good pair of shoes, a backpack, and a plane ticket and was off to eat my way across Europe.

chocolate-croissant-illyI devoured curry and toured the Tower of London, nibbled Pain au Chocolat after climbing the Eiffel Tower, picnicked with a grey-eyed man on the Piazza San Marco and then we strolled arm in arm along Venice’s canals. I gorged on goulash and spaetzle before retiring to Budapest’s Roman Baths, snacked on Sachertorte after seeing The Magic Flute at the Vienna Volksoper, and drank beer under Munich’s Glockenspiel. And, I wallowed in homesickness as powerful as it was unexpected. I would never have predicted that the best part of that trip would be returning home.

Johannes Hofer combined the Greek words for homeward journey, ‘nostos,’ and ache, ‘algos,’ to give us ‘nostalgia,’ which originally meant, quite literally, ‘homesickness.’ He coined the term to describe an illness rampant among Swiss mercenary soldiers in France who were incapacitated by a melancholic yearning for their mountain homes.

My travels always ended with nostalgia, until now.

If it weren’t for the brutal facts that winter is coming, and that I need to, eventually, show up at work to get money for gas, beer, groceries, and campground fees, I would have happily kept on trucking. Not for a single second did I ache for home.

Milo and I in our travel trailer—like turtles, our home was always with us. And I realized that, for me, home is where the puppy is.

Black and tan german shepherd laying at an open door

Dump Station Diaries

I understand the urge to squeeze every possible moment out of a weekend camping. Lots of families roll into a campground on Friday night and check out at the last possible minute on Sunday.

That’s a lot of people leaving at the same time. The last stop for most RVers before heading home is the park dump station, which means that around checkout time on Sunday there is always, always, a line. If there are ten RV’s in front of you, you’ll be hanging out, at the sewer, for an hour waiting your turn.

There’s a difference between knowing something and really knowing something. You really know about the campground sewer bottleneck once you’ve been stuck in it. The last time I was in a bathroom line this long was when I went to see The Who.

a curved driveway in a field of green grass and pine trees, with three white travel trailers hooked up to family trucks.

You can’t see the whole line because it is curved, it is longer than it looks here, my truck is the blue one pulling the Sportsmen.


For me it wasn’t actually that bad –I just gave Milo a chew toy, pulled out a book, and put on some music. There weren’t any fires I needed to put out.

But, some of those vehicles were full of tired families. That had to be a long, long wait for those parents of colicky babies and sunburned kids who wouldn’t stay on their side of the bench seat and whose bladders were filling up as the minutes ticked by.

So, here’s a piece of advice. If check out time is 11 AM, don’t show up at the dump station between 10 and noon on a Sunday. While you have to be out of your campsite by 11, you can stay in the park all day. Why not leave the site and have a picnic lunch before hitting the dump station?

I don’t really care about the line, this is just some friendly advice for families. I could see the will to live gradually seep out of parents as they waited to deal with their kids’ sewage, for the second time, and that is no way to end a camping trip.