The gift of attention, love, and trimming Milo the AwesomeDog’s nails

black and tan German Shepherd with happy expression on his faceThe gift of your undivided attention is one of the simplest, although not one of the easiest, ways to show that someone you care about them. We’ve all had those conversations, sometimes serious, sometimes playful, during which we’re 100% engaged with another person. These conversations build relationships. Two people become one. Time stops. Or flies. Attention can be an expression of respect and an expression of love.

Marilyn Frye is one of my favorite philosophers. In her book, The Politics of Reality, she cautions us to take responsibility for what we pay attention to and what we ignore. She reminds us that “attend,” and its opposite, “ignore,” are verbs. They’re action words. We are responsible for our actions.

I’m grateful to Frye for reminding me that I need to be responsible for what I pay attention to because it is easy to switch over to automatic pilot, let myself get distracted, and only attend to things that get right up in my face.

Milo the AwesomeDog does not like manicures. I used to deal with this by grabbing his paw, telling him not to be a baby, and trimming his nails as quickly as I could. This is less than ideal, and so I’m working on a counter-conditioning regime where I break the nail trim process down into baby steps and use rewards to help Milo build a positive association with each step.

He has to be OK with one step before I move onto the next, and this forced me to pay attention to him in a new way. Instead of zeroing in on his paw, I had to back up and look at all of his body language to gauge how he was feeling.

I learned something that made my heart swell. I thought I had maximal love for him, and it turned out I was wrong. You see, Milo doesn’t dislike manicures. He hates them. He presents a classic picture of a stressed dog—probably the same level of stress that I feel looking forward to and enduring a long and painful dental procedure. But even so, he submitted to those nail trims because I asked him to. It was something very difficult that he did for me, every week. And it never even occurred to me to be grateful.

I would not have noticed this if I didn’t back up and give his whole self my undivided attention.

Milo is the epitome of a fine hound.

Training Tuesdays: April 24, 2018, Milo needs a challenge

Hi fans! This is a short post because it’s grading season, and I’m up to my eyebrows with student work from my Philosophy 271: Animals in our Lives and Philosophy 458/673: Feminism, Bodies and Biology classes. I had the pleasure of working with two groups of fabulous students and so the grading is not that bad. But, holy smokes, is there ever a lot of it.

I had an epiphany this week—I’ve been treating Milo like a baby and he’s bored. I was so focused on splitting his training tasks into tiny pieces that I was slowing him down and frustrating him.

I had this epiphany because my friend Liz said, “Carla, you need to give him more difficult things to do.” Does it count as an epiphany if someone straight out tells you something? Probably not technically, but this week had an ‘epiphany-feel’ about it.

After that fateful conversation with Liz, I gave Milo long tracks with multiple articles—he did a great job. No more waiting for him to find an exact heel position. I simply demanded it and he stepped right up and met my higher expectations. And in Rally class, which we just started, I demanded serious attention, which he gave me.

Note to self: “Do what Liz says more often.”

So, this week the plan is to do more of those things: long tracks, precision in heeling, and focused attention even in a distracting Rally class. I am feeling hopeful.

You might remember that I’ve also been working on getting Milo to tolerate a manicure. In the last couple of weeks I’ve come to see that Milo deeply despises have his nails trimmed. So, I’m keeping us on a baby steps schedule for this counter-conditioning procedure–tiny steps and lots of hotdogs.

Next week I’ll fill you in on our progress. Cheers!

Black and tan German Shepherd sniffing brown grass

Milo has what you call a “deep nose” when he tracks and that is a good thing.


 

Training Tuesday: April​ 17, 2018

German Shepherd puppy wearing a graduation cap and looking at cameraThe theme for this week’s training plan is “When the ice melts.” Mother Nature dropped a few centimeters of slush on us last week, which is now frozen solid. Living on a curling rink has put a little hitch in Milo and my training giddy-up. But, this too shall pass. Here’s my weekly report:

Last week’s plan:
• Practice indicating articles in the house
• Do a few steps of focused heeling
• Do some counter conditioning for handling Milo’s paws to make nail grinding easier.

What we did:

I had to rejigger my plan on Thursday because the article indication and heeling went faster than I expected.

Article indication
After one day he responded to an article, in every room in the house, like this:

I think we’re ready for the track.

The focused heeling was fine. I added some more steps.

Paw handling was our biggest challenge.
• The trouble is that I started out using cheese as a reward. When Milo smells cheese, he goes into hyperactive, happy overdrive, which is not the frame of mind I want him to be in for nail trims. I want him happy, relaxed, and still. We switched from cheese to kibble on Thursday, and things went much better.

This coming week’s the plan is:
• Mix up 5, 10, 15, and 20 steps of focused heeling on low-distraction parts of our walks. We’ll move to a field when the ice melts.
• Tracking is on hold until the ice melts. When we start up again we’ll practice on a 100 step track with one right turn, one article on the track, and one article at the end of the track.
• Add touching the (turned off) grinder to each of his nails with lots of reinforcement.
• Keep doing a couple of Rally signs on our walks.

Stay tuned for next Tuesday’s training report!

Milo and my tips for a successful trip to the veterinarian

Patricia McConnell’s post encouraging us to thank the veterinarians in our lives coincided with Milo the AwesomeDog’s and Hoss the Cat‘s annual check-up.

I’ve taken McConnell’s advice on many things, and in the spirit of that tradition, I want to give Dr. Magyar and all the staff at Close Veterinary Clinic a big shout out.

The folks at the clinic included me as part of the team examining Milo, which made the visit so. much. better.

This was a challenging trip for Milo.

  • I brought him and Hoss in together, and Hoss cries when he’s in the car. This, understandably, upset Milo.
  • Milo met a feisty Frenchie in the parking lot. Milo didn’t react, but it got him jacked up.
  • And then, we hustled right into a tiny exam room, which removed “flight” from Milo’s fight or flight options.

He was controlling himself, but I could see that he was really stressed.

I told Dr. Magyar right away that Milo was nervous and even though the clinic was obviously busy, he took his time giving Milo treats and talking to me so that Milo had some time to calm down and get used to him being in the room. Even so, I was the one who pulled back Milo’s lips so Dr. Magyar could examine his teeth, and I suggested a muzzle for Milo’s tummy exam and blood work. (I’d already taught Milo to wear a muzzle and so that was no big deal.) During most of the visit, I stayed in charge of keeping Milo’s front end still, which meant that I could hold him and soothe him.

Our vet visit was safer and less stressful for everyone because Dr. Magyar and his staff integrated me into the team that examined Milo. I am very grateful for this. 

Black and tan german shepherd puppy lying on a cream colored sofa

Ever since he was a wee puppy, Milo has enjoyed excellent veterinary care.


Here are some things Milo taught me about how to have a good trip to the vet:

  1. Practice the different parts of a vet exam at home with lots of treats, so your dog is used to being handled.
  2. Teach your dog about muzzles, even if you think you will never need one. Milo has never bitten anyone, but better safe than sorry is a still a good moto.
  3. Watch out for things that stress your dog and avoid them if possible before or during a vet visit. Milo and Hoss will have separate trips to the vet next year.
  4. Learn to read your dog. When Milo gets wound up he gets a little wrinkle in his forehead, he lifts his right paw, his body gets stiff, and he starts to pant.
  5. Advocate for your dog and communicate with the vet and their staff.
  6. Get permission to visit your vet clinic just for fun and have little happy parties when you are there (for Milo these parties should include abundant cheese and praise).

And, don’t forget to thank your vet!

P.S. This is a dog blog and so Hoss the Cat often takes a backseat. In case you were wondering, both Hoss and Milo are healthy. And, Hoss was a charming and easy patient.

 

Staying safe on winter walks

v5

Milo loves the snow

While there are things that worry me about walking with Milo in the Canadian winters, the cold isn’t one of them. With good gear and common sense, the cold is not that hard to manage. Besides, Milo loves it, or at least he loves the snow. He frisks like a puppy when he sees the white stuff falling. But I do worry about

  • slipping on the ice,
  • Milo hurting his paws, and
  • getting hit by a car.

Here’s how I minimize those risks:

To protect myself slipping on icy streets I wear Yaktrax, which are traction devices that attach to the soles of your boots. I like this brand because they tend to stay attached and they’re not sharp, so you won’t accidentally cut yourself (or your dog).

I apply Musher’s Secret, a good paw wax, to Milo’s paws before we head out. This protects him from sharp ice and rock salt, and slows down the build-up of snow between his toes. It is worth the cost because I want him to be comfortable and the thought of restricting Milo’s exercise while his paws heal makes me shudder.

v2

Please drive carefully!

In my part of the country and in my neighborhood, drivers speed. Although this sort of irresponsible behavior makes me angry, it actually makes me furious, aside from shaking my fist there is not much I can do. Add slippery streets and the fact that in midwinter it’s dark by 5 PM, to the scofflaw speeders, and walking in my residential neighborhood becomes downright dangerous. Milo and I both have dark coats, so I put a reflective vest on him, and I wear a blaze orange touque. When people see us, they might think we look bizarre, but at least they see us! Milo loves his vest because it reliably predicts a winter walk.

BTW, as I was working on this post, I came across a similar article over at Maplewoodblog.  You should check out how she manages her winter walks. Hint: she likes Musher’s Secret and Yaktrax too.

What do you do to keep safe on your winter walks?

 

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

 

 

Please, leash your … children

Over the last four days, three children have charged Milo. They squealed, threw their arms in the air, and ran, full tilt, right at him. In the olden days, this is when natural selection would happen.

back and tan German Shepherd Dog standing on a rocky outcrop against a blue sky

This is Milo, the dog those children charged.

These situations turned out OK because Milo and I have practiced staying calm around children. I kept the kids off Milo and Milo under control, but those kids gave him a fright. He barked at one of them (so did I actually) and the parent gave me the evil eye as they collected their progeny.

I am proud to say I adulted very well. I ignored  the parent and put Milo through a little obedience routine. I wanted him to remember that although kids can be irritating they are not a big deal, and that he and I have more interesting things to do than attend to them. I also wanted the parent to see that Milo is a serious and well-trained dog.

It is common to be more strongly influenced by bad events than by events that make you happy, so common in fact, that psychologists have named the phenomenon. They call it negativity bias. I bet Milo and I have met hundreds of kids and hundreds of dogs on this trip and that most of them were perfectly fine. However, my memories of the good interactions are not nearly as strong as my memories of the bad interactions.

And you know what? Dogs dogs suffer from negativity bias too. The kids who disrespect and frighten Milo are going to make a disproportionate impression on him. Just like negative interactions are more likely to stick in your mind, they are also more likely to stick in a dog’s mind. A bad experience with a child can make it more difficult for a dog guardian to nurture a dog who is friendly and behaves well around children.

The bottom line is that if you happen to have access to a child, Milo and I would be very grateful if you taught them how to respect dogs. This makes it easier for people like me to teach our dogs to respect children.

To learn more, check out the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals webpage where you’ll find information about how to respect dogs and help children and dogs live well together.