Sunday, February 28, 2010

How to Train a Cheetah


A rabbit-coursing Cheetah in the UK, circa 1937.

I am always a bit amused by the folks who talk about scientific dog training.

What they are trying to suggest is that there was no good dog training before B.F. Skinner (or Karen Pryor) and that they have discovered a secret science.

Now I am a big fan of B.F. Skinner. A great man.

I am an even bigger fan of Keller Breland and Marian Breland, who studied with Skinner, and with Bob Bailey who married Marian Breland after Keller died and who went on to helpe popularize reward-based animal training here in the U.S.  Karen Pryor will tell you most of what she knows she learned from Bob Bailey, who will tell you most of what he knows originated with Marian and Keller Breland who, in turn, learned a great deal from Skinner.

That said, B.F. Skinner did not invent operant conditioning, any more than Newton invented gravity.

Operant conditioning predates Skinner by many millenia, and not just in training dogs.

Consider this text from an 1865 publication entitled "Dog Breaking: the Most Expeditious, Certain and Easy Method".



Hey, that's operant conditioning!

Well yes it is. And in a book called "Dog Breaking" no less.

Hmmmm.... What's that about?

Well, it has more to do with language than technique. Language, you see has always been a problem in dog training.

The term "breaking," as used here, is simply a term moved over from the world of horses. It does not mean you are beating a dog into submission. Far from it, if you actually take the time to read the text.

But of course, when a rival publication came out in 1882, the term "breaking" was the new bogey man (every new product needs to first demonize the old).

Breaking? That must mean beating the dog to death right?

Who wants something that is broken? No one!

The new publication was entitled, "Practical Dog Training: or, Training vs. Breaking" and it wanted everyone to know that you could actually train a dog with a bit of food and a check cord.

And never mind if that was the the exact same message of the earlier text!

The "dog training wars" had started, and YES, it was mostly nonsense right from the start.

Of course, when B.F. Skinner's disciples came along, they too promised a new "scientific" system to replace the "old coercive" system of dog training that they said had preceded them.

They had just learned, they said, that animals could be taught to come for a piece of food, and that they could be taught to avoid things that made them uncomfortable.

Really? Tell us more!

Of course when Skinner showed up, he did not clarify things much in terms of language, did he?

In fact, he made an even bigger muddle of the language by using words like "punishment".

Punishment? Who wants to punish a dog? No one!

In fact what was being meted out most of the time was not "punishment" as we commonly use that term, but a simple instruction that says "we need less of that."

What Skinner called "reinforcement" was simply instruction that "we could use a little more of that."

Language continues to obscure, of course.

When Cesar Millan talks about "dominance," he is not talking about beating a dog as some assume; he is saying the human needs to be setting the agenda. The human needs to decide what food is served, when it is served, who gets it, and in what quantities. The human needs to decide when a walk starts, where it goes, and when it ends. The human needs to decide the rules of the house, not the dog.

Of course words like "dominance" tend to set off a lot of folks, just as words like "punishment" do.

Most of the time these folks have not actually bothered to read B.F. Skinner or Cesar Millan, much less page through old dog training books by Barbara Woodhouse or William Koehler, or the even older texts on "dog breaking."

It's so much easier to demonize stuff if you have not actually read it!

OK, enough about that. Point made (if a point is to be made).

I promised a lesson in how to train a Cheetah. Where is that?

The paragraphs below come from that earlier-named 1865 text on "Dog Breaking," and once again we find operant conditioning at work:

The education of the cheeta is no less progressive than that of the dog; and whatever patience the latter may require from his instructor, the former demands far greater; not so much from want of docility, as from the nearly total absence of all the feelings of attachment so conspicuous in the canine race.

The cubs when they are very young are stolen from the rocky fastnesses where they are usually bred. They are immediately hooded, and allowed no other exercise than what they can take when they are led about by their keeper. While he is feeding them, he invariably shouts in a peculiar key. In a month or so their eager looks, animated gestures, and possibly cheerful purr-ing, testify that they comprehend its import as fully as a hungry young ensign does "the roast beef of old England." They are then slightly chained, each to a separate bandy (bullock-cart), and habituated to its motion. They are always fed during the drive. They thus learn to expect a good meal in the course of their airing.

After a time the keeper, instead of feeding a promising pupil while he is a prisoner, goes to a little distance from the bandy and utters the singular cries now so joyfully heard, upon which an attendant slipping off the chain and hood the liberated cheeta runs to his trainer to be fed. By degrees this is done at increased distances. He is always conducted back to the carriage by the keeper's dragging at the lump of meat of which the animal retains a firm hold.

The next step is to for the man to again commence feeding near the cart, but without making any noise -- the removal of the hood being the only thing to tell the spotted beast to begin to look about him for his dinner. The last step is the substitution of a kid or wounded antelope ... His education is now completed; but for many months he is never unhooded at a herd unless the driver has managed to get the cart with a very favoring distance."


If you are a hawker or falconer, this all might sound pretty familiar.

Indeed, falconers had been training and flying wild birds for a millenia before B.F. Skinner trained a pigeon, or Bob Bailey noted that "you cannot choke a chicken."

But don't tell that to the "modern scientific" trainers. They still have something "new" to sell!
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Saturday, February 27, 2010

You're Not an ABUSIVE Trainer, Are You?



Have you noticed that the "instant experts" have decided that every kind of dog collar is the wrong one?

A flat collar, after all, does not stop the dog from pulling, while a slip collar can choke!

Surely no one would greenlight either one!

A pinch collar pinches, while an e-collar shocks.

Surely no one would greenlight either one!

What about a constriction harness or a head halter?

Good lord NO!

The former squeezes the dogs insides and does nothing to stop the dog from pulling, while the later can scrape against the eye and cause corneal damage and neck injury.

After hearing this, if you are terrified that you might "do it wrong," with your new dog, then the message has worked.

You see, so much of this nonsense comes from "click and treat" dog trainers who are intent on selling their services, their books, and their CD-roms.

Their main message is that you are probably incapable of training your own dog without their input.

If you go it alone with a book from the library, you might injure your dog!

Never mind that hundreds of millions of dogs have been trained for thousands of years on six continents without the advice of click-and-treat dog trainers.

The click-and-treat folks want you to know they are here to Save the Day ... provided, of course, you have a credit card.

Part of their pitch is fear.

You aren't an ABUSIVE owner are you? Because they want you to know they do not believe in ABUSIVE dog training.

You don't believe in OUTDATED training methods do you? Because they want you to know they believe in only the LATEST, MODERN methods.

Surely you want to be modern and non abusive?

All right then -- sign up with any of the trainers to be found in the directory!

Now there is nothing wrong with going to a dog trainer (all for it), and there is nothing wrong with click and treat dog training (all for it)

But do me a favor eh? Don't piss on my leg and tell me it's raining!

Example one is the simple slip collar. It's been used for a thousand years and it works.

I am past 50 years old and I have never seen a dog injured by one, and I bet you haven't either.

I have seen dogs injured by cars, fences, broken glass, hot tar, and nails, but never by a slip collar.

Now take a look at this pamphlet put out by an outfit in the U.K. called the "Association of Pet Dog Trainers".



The take-away message this outfit is promoting is that we are supposed to "lead them not choke them.'

That sounds brilliant, but take a close look at the picture in the middle.

How can you lead a dog if the point of tether on the harness is at the midpoint, and facing backwards?

You can't!

In fact a harness of the kind shown is what you might put on a sled dog or a horse hitched to a plow or wagon!

Harnesses of this type are designed to pull a weight from behind, not allow an animal to be lead from the front. In short, the harness shown does the opposite of what is needed!

What about the text on the side that says "Studies"? That sounds substantive, but guess what? No studies are actually cited.

What you get instead is text from an unknown canine opthamologist who warns that "91% of dogs with cervical anomalies experienced harsh jerks on lead or had a long history of pulling on the lead."

That sounds ominous until you think about it for 15 seconds.

Did you notice the lack of a numerator? Did you notice the lack of source? Who did this study? Over what time span? Did you notice there was no mention of how these "injuries" were defined? Was this a longitudinal study?

We have no idea. This could be 11 dogs over 50 years out of a population of 60 million dogs for all we know.

What we DO know is that in 2,000 years of dog training, no one else seems to have seen widespread neck injures in dogs from proper use of a slip collar.

William Koehler did not see it, nor Barbara Woodhouse. You and I have not seen it. And neither has your veterinarian, I will bet. Have you noticed that your vet puts a plastic slip lead on all the dogs before leading them to the waiting room?

But, of course, there's more. Did you notice that the text talks about dog injuries occurring when a dog has "a long history of pulling on the lead"?

Eh?

A choke chain is designed to prevent pulling on the lead. It is not a tie-out collar; it's a training collar!

This is basic.

Also basic is how to put on a choke collar.

Look at the picture below, on the same pamphlet. The big choke chain at left is backwards!



And these folks want to instruct the rest of us on how to train a dog?

Who are these folks? Who or what is the "Association of Pet Dog Trainers"?

It sounds fancy, but in fact this outfit is nothing more than an umbrella click-and-treat dog training referral service which markets it members by demonizing other dog training methods.

Cesar Millan? Shoot him! His methods do not work (and never mind that you can see them working fine every night on your television).

Chain slip collars? Inhumane and out of date (and never mind they have worked for 2,000 years).

E-collars? Ban them! (and never mind they work fine provided you read the instructions).

To support their authority, this dog trainer referral service parades their logo. Apparently a bit worried that their logo alone might not be enough, they also toss on a dog food logo for added measure.

Surely a few logos are authority enough to criticise and demonize Barbara Woodhouse, William Koehler, and 2,000 years of successful dog training by experienced men and women on six continents?!

Now to be clear, I am not saying these folks cannot train a dog.

Of course they can.

But you will pardon me if I hold on to my wallet with one hand and my slip collars and leashes with the other.

You see, I am pretty sure about one thing ....

If someone comes along and tells you that everything that everyone else has been doing for 2,000 years in the world of dogs is entirely wrong, you should RUN (not walk!) in the opposite direction.

Nothing good starts with a lie.

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Friday, February 26, 2010

God Says to Kill SeaWorld's Management?



Over at a web site called Rightly Concerned they seem to be suggesting that God wants Seaworld's management DEAD.

Their rationale? The Bible tells them so!

Chalk another death up to animal rights insanity and to the ongoing failure of the West to take counsel on practical matters from the Scripture....

... If the counsel of the Judeo-Christian tradition had been followed, Tillikum [the Killer Whale that killed its handler] would have been put out of everyone's misery back in 1991 and would not have had the opportunity to claim two more human lives.

Says the ancient civil code of Israel, "When an ox gores a man or woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten, but the owner shall not be liable." (Exodus 21:28)

So, your animal kills somebody, your moral responsibility is to put that animal to death. You have no moral culpability in the death, because you didn't know the animal was going to go postal on somebody.

But, the Scripture soberly warns, if one of your animals kills a second time because you didn't kill it after it claimed its first human victim, this time you die right along with your animal. To use the example from Exodus, if your ox kills a second time, "the ox shall be stoned, and its owner also shall be put to death." (Exodus 21:29)


Of course, the Bible also greenlights slavery, rape (provided you pay a small fine and marry the girl), and human sacrifice.

Follow directions people!
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Don't Worry, Be Happy

Found this over at We Need Coffee and loved it.

For those who want an epic beat-poem voicing a similar thought, however, click here.

Yes, it's 9 minutes long, but it's worth every second! Promise.
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Are Pet Dogs More Myopic Than Working Dogs?



The "Nearsightedeyes" web site reports on a study of about two hundred dogs by veterinarian Christopher J. Murphy and his colleagues who found that certain breeds of pet dogs were prone to myopia.

..... two-thirds of Rottweiler and half of German shepherds and miniature schnauzers in this study were significantly myopic, by more than 1.5 diopters. The myopic Rottweilers were close to 3 diopters nearsighted on average. Generally, people who have more than about 0.75 diopters of nearsightedness will complain of noticeable impairment and find they need to wear glasses or contact lenses to function in everyday life.

The animals in this study population were all pets. Interestingly, when Murphy and his coworkers looked at a second population of German shepherds – animals kenneled at Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael, California – they found that the guide dogs had average normal vision, with fewer than a third showing even as much as 0.5 diopters of nearsightedness.

The guide dog program did not specifically test dogs’ vision in selecting animals, but they did flunk out any dogs that failed to perform well in training, which suggests that myopia results in a real impairment in getting the job done. The average farsightedness of sporting dog breeds suggests that there has likewise been selection at work in these breeds – that good distance vision has a demonstrable effect on making a good working dog.

The researchers noted a tendency for severe nearsightedness to run in families, which suggests a strongly inherited component. In breeds that are not expected to perform anything more demanding than lying on the carpet, walking on a leash, and finding their supper bowl, there has no doubt been little selection for good vision, which has allowed myopia to sneak into the gene pool.


I would throw up a caution flag here: a pool of 200 dogs is pretty small, and not much can really be known about vision across breeds with a sample size so small.

How many Rottweilers, German Shepherds and Miniature Schnauzers were really in the sample, and how much genetic variation within these breeds did that sample really represent?

Not many and not much is my bet!

That said, an expanded and improved study might be a good project for some budding canine opthamologist to cut his or her teeth on.

A hat tip to Gina Spadafori at Pet Connection for sending the link my way!
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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Free Willy?



Whatever happened to Keiko?

Kieko, for those who do not know, was the star of the movie "Free Willy."

Keiko was born in 1977 or 1978, and captured near Iceland in 1979. He was then sold to the Icelandic aquarium in Hafnarfjörður.

Three years later, in 1982, he was sold to Marineland in Ontario, Canada, where he first started performing for the public and where he began to develop skin lesions.

In 1985, Keiko was sold to Reino Aventura (now "Six Flags Mexico"), in Mexico City, for $350,000.

It is here that Willy first came to the attention of a writer and producer for Warner Brothers, who wrote and produced the movie "Free Willy," which premiered in 1993 and made over $153 million worldwide.

Thanks to publicity from the movie and its sequels (and with the very reluctant support of Warner Brothers) a push was made to "save" Keiko by moving him to a better aquarium in the U.S.

In 1996, Keiko was flow out of Mexico by UPS and rehomed at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in his own $7 million tank. Over the next two years, Keiko gained over 2,000 pounds in weight and rid himself of his skin problems.

In September of 1998, Keiko was flown to Iceland under the auspices of Jean-Michel Cousteau's Ocean Futures Society.

The goal: Return Keiko (aka "Willy") back to the wild.

Keiki was flown in a US Airforce C-17 transport jet to a massive holding pen in Klettsvik Bay in Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland where he was to be re-acclimatated to the wild.

Part of the reacclimatization program eventually included supervised free swims in the open ocean where, after a period, Keiko appeared to begin feeding on his own, and where he also met (and perhaps socialized) with wild Orcas.

On a supervised free swim in July of 2002, Keiko disappeared, and he could not be relocated despite satellite telemetry attached to one of his fins.

In November of 2002, Keiko was spotted off the coast of Norway, almost 900 miles away, and he followed a fishing boat to the port of of Halsa,. Norway.

From Halsa, Keiko was led, through the open ocean, to nearby Taknes Bay where he was fed by caretakers, and where the responsibility for his care was transfered from the Ocean Futures Society to the Free Willy Keiko Foundation and the Humane Society of the US.

In December of 2003, Keiko died in Taknes Bay, Norway, apparently of pneumonia.

He was buried on shore, his grave marked by a stone cairn assembled by Norwegian school children.
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The Three Parts of Operant Conditioning

What we call "dog training" is also called "operant conditioning."

For all the mumbo-jumbo you hear about dog training, there are are only three basic parts to it: positive reinforcement, aversive reinforcement, and extinction.

Positive reinforcement is any kind of consequence that causes a behavior to occur more often. Examples include food, praise, and play. In some situations, positive reinforcement can be the removal of an aversive reinforcement.

Aversive reinforcement is a consequence that causes a behavior to occur less often. Examples include a leash pop, a harsh sound, or any kind of nonverbal aversive communication made through body movement or positioning. In some situations, punishment can also be the removal of a (positive) reinforcement.

Extinction is simply a complete lack of response. The nonresponse should be total -- no eye contact, no noise or sound triggered by the dog, and no responsive body movement. The dog is invisible.



Watch the short animated clip above, and you will note that the cartoon Cesar Millan uses all three methods to train South Park's Eric Cartman after "Super Nanny" collapses and goes insane in the face of the trials and tribulations of this spoiled-rotten child.

Step one in the Cesar Millan bag of tricks is to extinguish Cartman's negative behavior.

What Millan is doing by ignoring Cartman is signaling that a "new sheriff" is in town -- one that will not be overly reactive.

When Millan talks about "calm, assertive energy" what he is really saying is that the owners have to react less.

A calm owner is not sending a lot of signals, and an assertive owner is not sending tentative or confusing signals.

Send fewer signals. Send clearer signals. Do not be drawn into the dog or the child's drama in a kind of call-and-response situation.

By ignoring young Eric Cartman at the beginning, Millan is creating a "silence" which forces Cartman to pay attention. Suddenly he is not running the show, which means he now needs to pay attention to see how (and if) he can regain control. Cartman is used to running the show and he thinks that is his job. Millan is teaching him something else.

Cesar Millan puts up with a certain amount of nonsense from young Eric, and then he sends a negative signal. The signal has two components; one is tactile, and the other is oral (but not verbal).

Even as he sends the "punishment" of an unambiguous negative signal, Millan is also maintaining his control by ignoring Cartman.

Cartman is not able to "lead" the group by acting out. In fact, both Millan and Cartman's mom are ignoring him! He has gotten a negative reaction, but he has not gotten an empowering response that makes him the center of attention.

At the end of this clip, Millan is seen walking Cartman.

Walking does several things simultaneously-- it gives Cartman something physical to do, and it helps to drain off "the jitters" that both kids and dogs naturally have if they are kept cooped up for too long.

Taking Cartman for a walk also forces the Mother to spend "alone time" with Cartman -- a major reward for Cartman (attention-seeking is one reason he may have been acting out).

The act of taking Cartman for a walk also puts the Mother in the role of initiating, leading and ending the activity.

In short, walking the child or the dog is both a reward (time with mother), a remedy (activity soothes anxiety), and a recapitulation of the pack hierarchy (the Mother is reinforced as the pack leader).

Watch any episode of The Dog Whisperer, and you will see Millan use these same three techniques over and over again.

And to recap, he is using ALL of the tools of dog training:

  • Positive reinforcement (reward)

  • Aversive reinforcement (punishment)

  • Extinction (nonresponse to minor inappropriate behavior that is not self-reinforcing).


Is Cear Millan using dog treats and a clicker for positive reinforcement? No, not generally. But yes, that too is a way of giving positive reinforcement. Contrary to what some dog-training faddists might have you believe, however, click-and-treat is not the only way to give positive reinforcement.

Is the punishment harsh? No. Cartman is not being spanked, much less whipped with a telephone cord. What is happening here is simple communication. The goal is to get the child or the animal to understand what is not wanted, as well as what is wanted. Aversives do not need to be harsh for either a human or an animal to want to avoid them.

You will note that Millan does not always use a leash to train. It shocks people that Millan actually touches a dog! Oh. My. God.

But Millan is no fool -- he knows dogs in houses do not (and cannot) spend their life on a leash, but mild corrections are still needed. The answer: a simple tap with his fingers and a harsh (but not loud or overly threatening) sound serves as a warning that the immediate behavior is improper.

Millan's timing is excellent. He generally corrects dogs in mid-action, and so there is no ambiguity as to what is being said. Sometimes he will "body block" by squaring up his body with the dog -- a way of punctuating his message.

For the record, your life is a product of the same kind of operant conditioning that is being practiced by Cesar Millan.

You get to work on time because of the prospect of positive reinforcement (praise, pay and promotion) and negative reinforcement (criticism, demotion or termination).

If you tell a racist joke at the water cooler, and your coworkers turn away and act as if you are invisible, your bad behavior will be extinguished pretty quickly.

Here's a question: Do you think people would stop at a red light if they did not get traffic tickets for running through them?

Should a store owner praise you and tell you what a wonderful person you are when you pay for your goods, but simply look the other way if you steal them? If you steal from the store, should the limit of the store owner's displeasure be to tell you "no" and not praise you?

How do you think society would work if there was only praise and no punishment?

How do you think society would work if there was only punishment and no praise?

Think both of those questions over.

You see, the world needs balance. And it needs balanced trainers who come at the job with a complete set of tools.

As I have noted in the past, I can build a house with only six tools, but I need every one of them to do a credible job.

The fact that I do not use a level and a square as often as a saw and hammer does not make these two tools expendable.

And so it is with dog training.

I can train a dog with only three tools, but I need all three do to a credible job.

I would no more salute a dog trainer who never used aversive reinforcement than I would hire a builder who never used a level and a square, and for much the same reason -- lining things up and keeping them tight makes the entire structure more durable under stress and in bad weather.

And really, isn't that when we need a good house most?

As for Eric Cartman, how did the rest of his training go? Well, let's see:


The entire episode can be seen here.

Notice that young Eric Cartman had settled down pretty quickly.

Is he happy that he is not the center of attention and leading everyone around? Not yet! But Mrs. Cartman is not at her wit's end here -- a glimmer of hope is revealed because for the first time ever, Cartman is getting clear and consistent communication. Part of that communication is that bad behavior has consequences, and that the agenda is no longer being set by the small annoyance at the end of the leash.



In the end, Eric Cartman is completely transformed. No longer angry and out of control, he is getting regular positive feedback for engaging in model behavior.

He has learned the most important rule of society: Do good, get good; do bad, get bad.

But of course, it turns out that young Cartman's needs are easier to fill than his mother's!

When Cesar Millan leaves, Mrs. Cartman find that she is lonely again, and she reverts back to her old ways of making Eric the center of the house, sending the wrong signals, and relinquishing all power to "the little monster".

Any question as to how that ends?

Now to restate a point I have made before: Cesar Millan's way is not the only way to train dogs.

That said, all successful training methods are based on only three components: positive reinforcement, aversive reinforcement, and extinction. Almost everything else else is chaining, shaping, timing and repetition -- methods to put a point on the pencil.

Different trainers will have different mixes of positive to negative reinforcement, and some will use extinction to better effect than others.

Some trainers are better at timing and nonverbal communication than others.

Different trainers will have different preferences in terms of rewards and aversives, and most good trainers will change those rewards and aversives based on the type, temperament and preference of the animal.

That said, if a trainer does not ever use extinction and does not ever use aversives in training, you do not have a complete trainer or a complete training system.

Can a man with just a hammer and a saw build a house?

Sure.

But remember that the house will be slower to build, will leak when it rains, and will be hot in summer and cold in winter.

Some people are fine with that -- "Hey, it's just a little cabin in the woods. I'm almost never there."

Other folks demand a higher standard. They want a carpenter with a tape measure, a square and a level as well a hammer, a saw, and a glass cutter.

Not only will the house that carpenter builds go up faster, it will also do the job better in the long term.

Yes, both carpenters will be working with just saw and a hammer most of the time, but those four other tools, properly used, actually do make a world of difference.
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Same Breed, Same Day


Click to enlarge

Cesar Millan's much-loved and gentle Pit Bull, Daddy, has gone to the big kennel in the sky. He was sixteen years old.

Like so many Pit Bulls, Daddy was a dog acquired in haste by a young person -- this time the rapper Redman.

When Daddy was four months old, Redman decided the dog was more than he could handle, and he took it to Cesar Millan who ended up keeping the dog.

Daddy was raised it in a calm, assertive manner (I had to say it) in a pack of more than 30 other dogs of every size, shape and demeanor.

In his 16 years on earth, Daddy showed what is possible with a Pit Bull in the right hands.

Sadly, too many Pit Bulls end up in the wrong hands.

Every day of the week, more than 2,400 Pit Bulls are euthanized in America because -- like Daddy -- they were acquired in haste, and unlike Daddy, they were unable to find their "Cesar Millan."
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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Killer Whales and the Limits of "Click and Treat"



In the March issue of Dog's Today, veterinarian Ian Dunbar has an interesting line.

After telling us that "science based training techniques are the best way of getting good, reliable results," and explaining that he never uses any aversive corrections when he dog trains, and that he even dislikes leashes because "leash training gives owners a false sense of security," he asks "I mean, how on earth would you reprimand a naughty killer whale?"

Right.

Dunbar is a pure "click and treat" dog trainer. He runs a dog training school in California, and he has written dog training books. I said nice things about him (and every other dog trainer who has ever written a book) in the March issue of Dog's Today, even as I explained the limits of his type of pure-positive training.

As for Killer Whales, you would think their name might be a caution.

You might think Ian Dunbar would have done a little research on this animal before writing about them.

You see, there are only 47 captive Orcas in the world, but these animals have attacked their positive-training handlers dozens of times, and have actually killed five of them.

The latest fatality occured today at Sea World.

I cannot tell the story or raise the issues better than Heather Houlahan does over at her blog, Raised by Wolves, so go over there to read her take on it all. And be sure to read it all.

As for Ian Dunbar, I have good news for him: there appears to be a new opening for a trainer of Killer Whales at Sea World.
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Pedigree Dogs Ex-SLOWED



Pedigree dog food has some good ads. See here for two past examples featured on this blog.
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Girls Gone Wild :: 1924


Click for huge version.

Three models in 1924 at "Arlington Beach", which was an amusement park on what is now the grounds of the Pentagon, across the river from Washington, D.C. and about a mile from my house. The water at this "beach" is the Potomac River.

Image from Shorpy.com. Click here for a terrific colorized version.
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Just Another Agility Course


This is a repost from July 2007.


While hunting with terriers is an ever-changing, always dynamic day in the field, Kennel Club go-to-ground earthdog trials are normally about as interesting as watching submarine racing.

Hours are spent on the sidelines looking at absolutely nothing, as everything takes place underground and there is no real quarry or actual digging. Bring a chair and a book, and maybe an iPod. It's going to be a long day.

In the video clip, above, we see a valiant attempt to make the slow-moving earthdog trial a visual sport, with an up-and-down earthdog setup, built above-ground, and coupled with a clear plastic side so that the dogs can actually be seen by spectators. I think this rig may have been created for an Animal Planet TV show.

The object of the endeavor is a fox mask at the end of the run.

What is missing here, of course, is even a close approximation of real work; the dog does not have to find the quarry, nor can it get lost underground as there are no side pipes.

The wooden walls are smooth and spacious and present little obstacle to even an over-large dog.

Though there is a constriction point at one point in the pipe, the dog can see what it is up against, and since the barrier is exactly the same as the one it has faced in training, it is not much of a novelty. Even then the dog has to be coaxed to "dig through" the blocking material, which is not real dirt, root and rock but paper excelsior.

Finally, of course, the thing at the end of the pipe is taxidermy and not a live fox, groundhog or raccoon that will lunge, bite, rip a muzzle, snarl, or even bolt.

This is a habit-trail for dogs, same as pet stores sell for hamsters.

I used to think go-to-ground trials did no harm and might even do some good if they drew people into the real world of terrier work, but I am no longer sure. This "see through" trial is even easier than a regular go-to-ground set up, and is pretty far from real terrier work.

There is really no way to "fix" these earthdog trials with better design. The reason for this is simple: the dog has to get through the trial in a few minutes so that the next pay-to-play contestant can step up in an orderly matter. Nor can the test be too hard, or folks won't drive hours to collect their ribbon. Nor can people be asked to carry tools or do any actual digging as many of the human contestants seeking ribbons are in such poor physical shape that crossing a gravel parking lot is considered a journey.

How many people think these earthdog trials are a close approximation of real hunting? Most think that, I can tell you!

That said, if they get even a few people out in the world of digging ... well, there is some small hope of that, I suppose.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

C-Sections at the Kennel Club


A Mastiff gets a c-section.

A study paid for by The Kennel Club, and published in the Journal of Small Animal Practice notes that in some breeds, the vast majority of dogs are now born cesarean.

The study looked at 151 breeds that reported on at least 10 litters. A total of 13,141 bitches, whelping 22,005 litters, were included in the analysis. The frequency of cesarean sections was estimated as the percentage of litters, by breed.

The top ten breeds for cesareans were:

  • Boston Terrier (92.3%) (#19 AKC breed in 2009)


  • Bulldog (86.1%) (#7 AKC breed in 2009)


  • French Bulldog (81.3%) (#24 AKC breed in 2009)


  • Mastiff (64.6%) (#27 AKC breed in 2009)


  • Scottish Terrier (59.8%) (#52 AKC breed in 2009)


  • Miniature Bull Terrier(52.4%) (#125 AKC Breed)


  • German Wirehaired Pointer (47.8%) (#74 AKC breed in 2009)


  • Clumber Spaniel (45.2%) (#128 AKC breed in 2009)


  • Pekingese (43.8%) (#53 AKC breed in 2009)


  • Dandie Dinmont Terrier (41.4%) (#151 AKC breed in 2009)


What's the cost of a c-section on a dog? Anywhere from $500 to $1,200 or more.

There were only seven breeds for which there were no reported cesareans. These were the Australian Silky Terrier, Curly Coated Retriever, German Pinscher, Hamiltonstovare, Irish Terrier, Pharaoh Hound, and the Portuguese Water Dog.


A Logical Conclusion: Chihuahua as Handbag





Reductio ad absurdum.
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Monday, February 22, 2010

Old Dog : Joyce Carol Oates



From Old Dog a short piece by Joyce Carol Oates in Where Is Here?

There he lies, in the grass, in his habitual place, waiting for you. It has been years. He is aged, near blind. But he waits. In the grass, in his usual place. For you.

He is part collie and part German shepherd. His fur has coarsened and feels like wires, dry and unforgiving, to the touch. Its luster has long since faded; it’s that drab dun color of a deer’s winter coat. He is lying, forelegs extended, shoulders and head quivering erect. His eyes are rheumy, as if covered with a thin film of mucus. His muzzle is gray, his lower lip unnaturally swollen. From time to time his nose twitches and his ears prick up alertly at imaginary sounds; actual sounds, less loud and immediate, he is less likely to hear.

He has become an old dog, you would hardly recognize him now. The bony haunches, the lusterless eyes, ribs showing through his fur. When he’d been a puppy, his small eager body was charged as if with electricity; he seemed never to sleep, nor even to rest. His eyes shone with a doggy intelligence and good will. His feelings were easily hurt but his hurts easily forgotten. He loved you above all things, and has never outgrown that love. You were his fate, you alone. Though this was not a fate you would have acknowledged.
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Sturdy Dark Haired White Working Women in Flats



Gina, over at Pet Connection, posted this one, and it's pretty good, so I'm posting it here as well.

And yes, women are over-represented at dog shows. Demographic research shows 61% percent of dog show watchers are women and 39% are men. To put it another way, women are 19% more likely than the average adult to watch dog shows, while men are 20% less likely. Dog shows also have the greatest appeal among consumers ages 45+.

As for handlers -- the folks paid to walk a dog around a ring on a string -- they too are mostly women.

Are blondes under-represented at dog shows? I had not noticed, but it would not surprise me if it were true.

Get Rich Raising Nutria!



Wow! What a great idea! It says in this 1958 Popular Science ad that the price of nutria pelts is already almost equal to mink. And these exotic rodents breed like ... well, rodents! Women will always wear fur. What could go wrong? Nothing! Just look at that cool logo if your confidence is wavering. This is sure to be an exploding market for a bright, energetic young person.
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Saturday, February 20, 2010

When Direct Mail Is a Threat to Dogs



In the last week we have seen PeTA and the Humane Society of the U.S. inject themselves into the arena of pedigree dog health.

Wayne Pacelle wrote a piece over on his blog, trying to inject himself into the debate, while PeTA crashed center ring at the Westminster dog show with two activists holding placards that were laughably off-message.

My position is pretty simple: direct mail professionals and vegan clowns will not improve the debate on the health and future of pedigree dogs.

Here's a thought: The men and women who actually care about dogs have brought this debate up to to this point, and they continue to move things along quite smartly.

Maybe they don't need any "help" from people whose primary interest in dogs is direct mail fundraising?

Of course, I am not the first to say it.

Jemima Harrison, the producer of BBC's Pedigree Dogs Exposed, has already blasted PeTA for its stunt theatrics, noting that the world hardly needs a lesson in dog health from a group that kills 97% of the dogs brought to its shelter.

So why are PeTA and HSUS suddenly so interested in dog health?

It is not because these are new issues!

In fact, this debate is as old as the Humane Society and far older than PeTA. But for more than 100 years, the "humane" movement has said nothing. Problem? What problem?

In fact, as I have noted in the past, this silence was not entirely accidental. The animal rights movement and the parade of mutants we see in the Kennel Club show ring today are different roses that have sprouted from the same root. And that root has nothing to do with dogs.

"Pedigree people have pedigree dogs" sniff the over-weight matrons of the Kennel Club who seek to associate their common lives with aristocrats or historical figures who once owned "their" breed.

"And pedigree people do not abuse animals by hunting them, or eating them" sniff the under-weight vegans of PeTA who are trying to find a "cause" that will elevate their lives over the humdrum.

For both sides, the only "work" required of a dog is for it sit on a couch.

And that's why both sides are so dangerous to dogs.

You see, most dog types and breeds were created for something: improved function.

Herding dogs were created to herd.

Livestock guarding dogs were created to guard.

Terriers and dachshunds were created to go down tight holes to bolt or battle a fox or badger.

Pointers and setters were created to hold steady over birds -- first for nets, and later for firearms.

Retrievers were designed to retrieve shot birds, tossed boat lines, and pretty much anything else a human might suggest.

But of course the folks at PeTA and HSUS do not buy the premise.

These organizations are actually opposed to hunting and herding.

Have a husky pull a sled? That's cruel!

Have a greyhound catch a rabbit on the fly? That's cruel!

Have a collie herd sheep? Thats cruel!

PeTA and HSUS deny the functional reason hunting, herding, and pulling dogs exist.

For PeTA and HSUS the only purpose of a dog is to be a pet.

And since a pet has no real function other than not to bite the hand that feeds it, there is no need for dog breeds at all.

Knowing this, why would anyone ever listen to HSUS or PeTA when it comes to breed health?

A concern about breed health assumes you actually care about the breed.

But, of course, that is a bit hard when you have open contempt for the work that breed was created to do!

Which is not to say that the AKC and the Kennel Club are not thrilled to see PeTA and the HSUS start talking about canine health.

Perfect!'

Now the kennel clubs can try to frame the "debate" as being about "animal right lunatics" who are in opposition to all canine work and breed purposes, versus kennel club "dog experts".

And never mind that the Kennel Club's dog "experts" have never dug a terrier, shot a bird, hitched a sled, or coursed a rabbit.

And never mind that this debate was created and is being pursued by those who have put "Dogs First" rather than direct mail economics.

Neither side cares about that now.

For PeTA and HSUS this looks like a new topic with which to fill their direct mail coffers.

For the kennel clubs, this looks like a new development which can be used to deflect serious charges about pedigree dog health and welfare.

Each will try to use the other to carry on with their "business as usual."

And if that happens, the dogs are sure to suffer.
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More Soft Core Doggy Porn?

It seems Hollywood is cranking out more soft-core doggy porn.

The story is simple. Sadie, the most beautiful yellow lab in the whole wide world, lives an idyllic, pampered life in the suburbs. One day, she comes into heat and has no idea what to do with her new found feelings and urges. When she learns that her loving owners are about to have her spayed, she runs away to the big city where her erotic adventures begin.


What? No rape racks?



Come on folks, this is the year 2010.

Surely the American Kennel Club and the National Animal Interest Alliance can crank out something a little more hard-core for the home video market?




It is also too bad that "The Adventures of Sadie" title has already been used. Some nice word play to be had there!

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Friday, February 19, 2010

A Report from Westminster (with photo goodness)



You want to read what the Westminster Dog Show is really like?

Here's a fine report with photo goodness from reporter-photographer Barry Petchesky, who has been attending Westminster for the last four years.

This is much better reporting than the "Sadie looked so devine" crap you normally get from the "dog press," where no one wants to step on anyone else's toes, and where the freak show of deformed dogs and strange people has been completely normalized by people who regularly attend shows populated by deformed dogs and strange people.



For those who want more, you can read last year's report. As Petchesky notes about the picture, above:

She's putting eyeliner on a fucking dog. Now that our country has gotten over tarted-up preschoolers in child beauty pageants, maybe we can muster up some outrage over this. You know how a woman will look real good when you take her home, but then you see her in the morning in her natural state? If you fell in love with Uno the Beagle last year, just know that you fell for a lie.


Want more? Read it all, and see it all, at the "DeadSpin" links here and here and here and here.

Of course, it's always hard to beat The Onion where they have titled their article: Chinese Crested Dog's Beautifully Descended Testicles Bring Divided Nation Together.


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The Color of Work

"A good terrier, like a good horse, cannot be of a bad colour."

- Alys F. Serrell - With Hound and Terrier in the Field, 1904

Bill Gates on Energy for Everyone ... Forever




Bill Gates talks about the need to transition to the Next Energy Economy, and he explains why we need it to lower Co2 to prevent global warming, to maintain our own way of life, and to improve the lives of less fortunate people in the developing world.

Here's the good news: It's doable.

As Gates notes, "a molecule of uranium has a million times more energy than a molecule of coal" and we know (in theory) how to power reactors using uranium-235 found in natural uranium.

By building "Terrapower" nuclear reactors, and fueling them with the nuclear waste (depleted uranium) that is in storage right now, we could take care of our energy needs for the next millennium or more.

Depleted waste uranium now housed in steel cylinders at the Paducah Kentucky Gaseous Diffusion Plant could supply America's current energy needs for 200 years -- and that's just one nuclear waste dump!

In other news, the Obama Administration has announced $8 billion in new federal loan guarantees to build two nuclear reactors in Georgia -- the first new nuclear reactors built in this country in more than 30 years. Right now, about 20 percent of all U.S. electrical needs are supplied by nuclear power. The Obama Administration's budget would triple – to $54.5 billion – loan guarantees available for new nuclear construction.
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I Suspect One of Us Does Not Really Exist



This is how TV and movies are made today.

Soon enough, we will have "green screen" lives and "blue screen" wives.

Some, I suspect, already do.
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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Ironic Updates on HSUS and Westminster Winner

Ironic Update #1:

Remember the story about HSUS importing a not-quite-vegetarian dog food from Uruguay?

If you recall, the dog food is over-priced, low-standard stuff made in an un-named foreign factory, and it is wastefully packaged and shipped vast distances across the equator while burning up tons of fossil fuel on the journey.

Well guess what?

It seems agenda item #79 at the Humane Society Legislative Fund is "Pet Food Safety"

Here we are told HSUS wants to "increase enforcement" and "develop certification system for oversight in foreign countries or other mechanism for enforcement of U.S. standards in products imported to this country; support legislation for mandatory recall authority."

OK. I'll go along with that.

But first how about if HSUS tells us the name of the company that is actually making their dog food?

Real dog food has a real maker, and one suspects there might be a problem if no one wants to say where the factory is, or who is running it.



Ironic Update #2:

Remember the story about the Scottish Terrier, Sadie, winning Westminster?

We gave a detailed account of the health problems facing the breed (a higher than 45% rate of cancer!) and the shortened lifespan and increased ownership costs that result.

Lisa Paddock followed up noting that "The last Scottie to win Westminster did so in 1995. A little over a year later she was dead of liver cancer or lymphoma sited in that organ. She was 5 1/2 years old."

Anyone want to start a "dead pool" on Sadie? She'll be 5 years old on April 2nd, and her in-bred pedigree can be found here.



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And YES, I am probably using the term "ironic" improperly, but if Alanis Morisette can get away with it, I figure I can too!
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Drinks After the Westminster Dog Show

Out of town dogs visiting the big city ...
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Bed Wetters and the Second Amendment



Remember how Barack Obama was going to take away all our dogs and ban all hunting?

Remember how Barack Obama was going to take away all the guns?

Back during the election season, I battled a never-ending tribe of know-nothings, right-wing wackos, wink-and-nod racists, paranoid conspiracy theorists, professional thumb suckers, and amateur bed wetters -- the people who have now coalesced into what is called the "Tea Bagger" arm of the Republican party.

They spewed this kind of stuff like an open sewer, hoping the toxin would catch fire like the Cuyahoga River did back in '69.

At the time I noted that anyone who really believed in the Second Amendment (and who actually knew their ass from their elbow) would "lock and load" in opposition to John McCain and Joe Lieberman, both of whom have long and well-documented histories as gun-controllers.

I noted that Barack Obama believed the Second Amendment was an individual right and that he had no intention of restricting it.

Now The Chicago Tribune has come out with an article noting that Obama is not anti-gun -- he is anti-gun control!

No surprise here, of course, but apparently this is quite a surprise to those on the far right and the far left who intentionally blinkered themselves in order to profit from massive direct mail campaigns designed to separate the American people from their money.

Notes The Chicago Tribune:

Among the many groups that opposed Barack Obama's presidential race, few were more certain or vehement than gun-rights organizations. "Barack Obama would be the most anti-gun president in American history," the National Rifle Association announced. "Obama is a committed anti-gunner," warned Gun Owners of America.

So it's no stunner that after a year in office, the president is getting hammered by people who have no use for his policy on firearms. The surprise is that the people attacking him are those who favor gun control, not those who oppose it.

Obama's record on this issue has been largely overlooked — except by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which recently issued a report card flunking Obama on all seven issues it deems important. Said President Paul Helmke, "If I had been told, in the days before Barack Obama's inauguration, that his record on gun violence prevention would be this poor, I would not have believed it."

Had he listened to the candidate in 2008, he would have believed. At a September campaign rally in rural Virginia, Obama declared unequivocally, "I believe in the Second Amendment. I believe in people's lawful right to bear arms. I will not take your shotgun away. I will not take your rifle away. I won't take your handgun away. .. There are some common-sense gun safety laws that I believe in. But I am not going to take your guns away."

.... [Obama] has proposed nothing in the way of new federal restrictions on firearms. Even the "assault weapons" ban signed by President Bill Clinton — and allowed to expire in 2004 — has no visible place on Obama's agenda.

Not only that, he's approved changes that should gladden the hearts of gun-rights supporters, a group that includes me. He signed a law permitting guns to be taken into national parks. He signed another allowing guns as checked baggage on Amtrak. He acted to preserve an existing law limiting the use of government information on firearms it has traced.

Still, the NRA is not rushing to recant.


Well, of course the NRA is not rushing to recant.

The National Rifle Association knows its membership is mostly comprised of right-wing gullibles who have responded to "fright factory" direct mail written for only one purpose: to winkle another $20 out of the pockets of those who are easily frightened and who are emotionally volatile.

The good news is that gullible fools represent a small percentage of hunters and an even smaller perentage of total gun owners.

There are more than 12 million hunters in America, and more than 50 million gun owners, but the NRA counts its membership at 2 million, and of those only 1 million are hunters.

To put that another way, 91% of all hunters and 96% percent of all gun owners are not NRA members!

Of course, even a smaller percentage of those who voted for Obama in the last election were members of any type of "gun control" organization.

And, to put a point on it, groups like the Brady Center are also professional "liars for hire," the same as the NRA.

The only real difference is one group seeks to pluck dollars from gullibles on the fringe left, while the other trolls for gullibles on the fringe right.

The Obama Administration is saluting neither fringe. Instead, it is saluting the U.S. Constitution, and it is saluting all of it, not just one Amendment.

How refreshing is that?


From Toothpaste for Dinner

Jocelyn Lucas on the Dangers of Skunks

Of particular interest to readers of this blog are Jocelyn Lucas's notes about working terriers in America:


A fox went to ground, and a terrier called 'Scamp" was put in, and they heard him working. Suddenly a strong smell of skunk came from the hole, and all sound ceased. They dug down and came upon the dog -- dead, while a foot beyond was the fox, also dead. Behind him the skunk - alive. Both fox and terrier had been suffocated by the skunk fumes. The dens in this country are mostly enlarged woodchuck holes. The earths are sometime rocky, sometimes in clay, sometimes in sand. Drains are never used as regular earths.


Well he got that right! Here in the U.S. our holes are tight, and we generally do not have to work drains.

As for the fox, it is hardly the most dangerous thing to be found underground in the country.

Along with the rare rattlesnake, copperhead, and black widow spider, we have skunks. In fact, more working terriers in America die from skunk fumes than anything else.

Suffocation is only part of the issue; unadulterated skunk spray itself is toxic when breathed in large amounts underground. The result is "skunk toxic shock syndrome" in which the red blood cells of the dog exploded, causing Heinz Body Anemia.

Skunk Toxic Shock is an emergency problem unique to working terriers; it does not occur if a dog is simply sprayed above ground. For more information, click here and here and here.
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Badger Digging, 1917



This is how it used to be done -- a whole tribe of men to dig, and far more dogs in the field than make sense. Were any of the dogs pictured of any actual use?
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Nature Calling


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Imagine a Stimulus Package That Worked


Keynes and Hayek throw down mad raps.

The New York Times asks us to imagine what a working Stimulus Package might look like:

Imagine if, one year ago, Congress had passed a stimulus bill that really worked.

Let’s say this bill had started spending money within a matter of weeks and had rapidly helped the economy. Let’s also imagine it was large enough to have had a huge impact on jobs — employing something like two million people who would otherwise be unemployed right now.

If that had happened, what would the economy look like today?

Well, it would look almost exactly as it does now. Because those nice descriptions of the stimulus that I just gave aren’t hypothetical. They are descriptions of the actual bill.

Just look at the outside evaluations of the stimulus. Perhaps the best-known economic research firms are IHS Global Insight, Macroeconomic Advisers and Moody’s Economy.com. They all estimate that the bill has added 1.6 million to 1.8 million jobs so far and that its ultimate impact will be roughly 2.5 million jobs. The Congressional Budget Office, an independent agency, considers these estimates to be conservative.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Like a Pack of Wild Dogs



The more you study animals, and dogs in particular, the easier it is to understand humans.

Humans are social predators; pack animals.

Look at the human face -- eyes forward, same as a dog or a lion or a wolf.

In mammals, eyes forward is the sign of a predator, just as eyes on the side (cows, deer, rabbits) is a sign of a prey species.

One reason humans feel such an affinity with dogs is they too are social pack predators.

Not only do dogs make us part of their pack, but if we have a proper relationship with our dogs, we are also the “alpha” leader of the pack.

This is why dogs are popular across the world, and across all economic sectors.

While almost everyone has to be subordinate to someone else at some time in their day, nearly everyone is King or Queen at home with their own dog.

It should be said that dog packs, like armies, churches, and offices, have hierarchies. To step outside the hierarchy is an act that generally results in a response designed to symbolically restore the order.

Not everyone is comfortable with this.

Folks who are not dog people may see an omega dog in a pack as a pitiful thing which must show submission to the alpha female or male, and which eats last, and must ask permission to go through a doorway.

But is this life really any different or worse than the army private who cannot go the to Officer’s Club, or the new hire at the company who does not have a parking spot?
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