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!

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