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!

Who’s got four paws and a CKC Novice Rally Obedience Title?

THIS GUY!

12

 

We arrived early and got a good spot in the corner. This is where we hung out between runs, and where Milo rested while I walked the courses and chatted with the other hoomins.

boy's home

Milo, chilling out between runs.

 

Can you believe that he earned all this bling? I might have to make a quilt or something.bling c

 

And here is my angel from heaven barely resisting tearing off this his ribbons.

bling a

I am very proud of my boy! ❤

 

Life with a recovering reactive dog​: Part two

Note: This is part two of a two-part post. Click here to read part one.

Now.

A couple of months ago I signed Milo and me up for a research project investigating canine fear and aggression in veterinary settings. I jumped into this survey eagerly, sure that Milo’s jackassery would provide them with some interesting data. They wanted to know about dogs acting out, and boy could tell them about a dog acting out.

I don’t think I was ever so pleased to be so disappointed about an experiment.  You see, the survey questions all had a time index.


What sorts of fear behaviour did Milo exhibit at his last vet visit? None.

During that visit did he show any aggressive behaviours when:

  • Getting weighed? No.
  • Touched? No.
  • Vaccinated? No.
  • Having his ears examined? No.
  • Having blood drawn? No.
  • Having his temperature taken? OK, Yes. He growled at the vet tech when she tried to stick a thermometer up his bum. Fair enough. We didn’t get a temperature that day.

If those questions were about my worst vet visit or any vet visit three years ago, the answers would have been different. When I sat down to take this survey, I was ready to give those three-year-old answers. But, in the last three years Milo, and I, have changed. He’s a more confident dog. I’m a calmer person. And we’re a stronger team.

I caught myself living in the past again when Milo and I were camping at Killbear Provincial Park. Our campsite was beside what must have been an intergenerational, extended family camping trip. There were at least seven children under the age of five, they yelled a lot, and all of them, except the newborn, seemed to think that running while yelling was the thing to do.

Screaming creatures darting around—the kind of game that Milo was always keen to join, except that he weighed more than any three of those kids combined. I steeled myself for a couple of days of barking and a complaint from the Park Office.

Would you like to know what happened?

Nothing.

Milo started staring at one of the kids, and I told him to knock it off and that we don’t bark at silly things. He knocked it off and did not bark at the silly things. There were a bunch of people with dogs at that campground. And every single dog that walked by reacted to those children more than Milo did, every single one.

People came by my site and complimented Milo on being such a good boy.

One person even told me that I was “lucky” to have such a good dog. I let that one slide on by.

I will always be careful and respect the fact that Milo is a formidable animal. We’ve done a tremendous amount of work together over the years, developed a fantastic relationship, and things got better.

I love him to distraction. I just have to remember to love the dog he is right now.

2

 

Fitness and flourishing: The benefits of attending to your dog’s mental health

They say that a tired dog is a good dog and, generally, they’re right. This is a little bit concerning because although this summer with its camping and hiking and swimming has been good for both of us, Milo is getting physically fitter than I am. Each day the gap between what I can do to tire him out and what it takes to tire him out gets a little bit wider.

tired dog

Milo and I have been camping for 11 weeks now. He started out strong and is getting stronger–swimming more days than not, playing a vigorous game of fetch on most days, and hiking almost every day. He’s a great big muscle with outstanding endurance.

I’m sure I’m much fitter now than I was at the beginning of this trip too. First of all, Milo never hikes alone. Many hikes have the word “lookout” in their name. I guess people like a view, and you need high ground for that sort of thing. So, lots of this summer’s hikes involved an uphill trek. I grew up in a part of Canada that’s so flat that people say you can watch your dog run away for three days. As a result, whenever I put on any vertical metres it feels like a serious (and somewhat exotic) workout. It seems like I’ve been walking uphill all summer, and I’ve noticed that it takes more to get me huffing and puffing than it used to.

German shepherd sitting on a rock looking out over a deep blue bay

Milo at Lookout Point.

There are other ways my daily activity has increased. For one thing, Milo and I travelled across the country which means I’ve hitched and unhitched my trailer many many times. Setting up the trailer involves deploying five, yes five, jacks, and none of them is electric. I’m getting some serious pipes.

Playing with Milo provides a good workout as well. When we play tug, there are times when I am yanking on my end of the toy as hard as I can. He is strong enough to pull me over, and I have to pull back. It is fun and exhausting and we’ve been doing lots of it this summer.

Except for my Fitbit saying that my resting heart rate is nine beats a minute lower than it was at the beginning of the trip, I don’t have a way to measure my increased fitness. But I know I feel good, and that is better than numbers.

However, even though I feel great, I get tired before Milo does, every single time we play or hike or swim. We are often a tired person and a slightly winded dog duo. This has not turned out to be a problem though because although it is true that a tired dog is a good dog, a mentally fit dog is a good dog too.

I’ve been thinking about physical fitness in terms of how much exercise it takes to make me and Milo tired, but fitness also includes mental fitness, or psychological well-being, or mental health, or whatever you want to call it. This summer our mental fitness has been improving in step with our physical fitness, and that helps him be a good dog and helps me be a good person.

 

German Shepherd laying on a grey rock.

Milo’s the good dog.

 

In addition to getting more exercise, we’ve been eating good food, spending time in nature, enjoying long hours of restful sleep, and experiencing very little stress. Milo has a guardian who is more centred, and I have a dog who is calmer. It seems like neither of us is sweating the small stuff as much as we used to.

For example, the last people who used the campsite we’re in right now left a week’s worth of stinky trash and recycling in the fire pit. That is the sort of thing that used to make me fume. But this time I just thought “some people make it easier to leave the place better than I found it than others.” It only took about 90 seconds to clean it up, and now I’m enjoying a campfire. Milo is laying on the ground beside the picnic table I’m using as a desk.  He’s keeping tabs on the neighbours, and paying attention to dogs walking by in a way that’s alert but relaxed. In other words, he’s being a German Shepherd Dog.

It’s not that he’s too tired to get in trouble, it’s that he is physically and mentally fit. His needs are being met and his life is full enough for him to enjoy being good–good in the sense of being well behaved, and good in the sense of flourishing.

This trip with Milo has helped make my life full enough to enjoy being good too!