Friday, September 30, 2011

Bulldogs as Mascots? Why?

The Mississippi State Bulldogs face off against the University of Georgia Bulldogs, and ESPN has this unfortunate title:

Only one Dog can survive this one

Actually with a face so brachycephaic there is no room for a tongue, and with an airway smashed and corkscrewed, I am not sure either of these two canine mascots will be alive too long. 

Why would anyone select an animal mascot that is deformed, defective and on the verge of being defeated before it even walks on the field? 

If an American team wants a dog that suggests speed, brains, fearlessness, tenacity and grit, kick the English Bulldog to the curb, and embrace the American Pitbull. 

A Theorist in the Forest

Animals, of course, are real animal trainers, and they are teaching all the time.

The skunk's stripe is there to remind all of the consequences of getting too close. Once sprayed, most animals are a thousand times shy!

The rattlesnake's rattles are there to remind all of the consequences of getting too close. Once bitten, most animals stand well back!

The Spitting Cobra's hood is there to remind all of the consequences of getting too close. Once sprayed in the eyes with venom, most animals flee as soon as they see a rising hood!

In the insect world, of course, there are so many species reminding all of the consequences of getting too close, that there are entire species which have evolved as mimics!

Operant Conditioning 101 With Children

If dogs could talk, like this child, they too would tell you that rewards work to encourage a behavior and mild aversives work to discourage it.

Yes, there is a role for punishment ("time out" is the punishment here) in raising kids. 

Of course, there is another part of operant conditioning, which can be seen in the hilarious video seen below. This is extinguishing.


Now, here's a question: Is this mother being cruel to this child because she is not giving it a response?

Is this child being unnecessarily and dangerously stressed because the mother is ignoring the child?

Is this mother teaching the child to scream and cry hysterically in order to get its way?

If this mother succeeds in getting this child to stop throwing temper tantrums, will that child simply grow up to throw temper tantrums at other people?

Believe it or not, this is what some people believe might happen if you do not give in to a child (or the dog) and simply practice old-fashioned extinguishing.

No wonder so many dogs, and kids, are such a mess!

Yard Fox in the Rain

Maybe once a month I set out a camera trap in the front yard, toss some bit of leftover refrigerator content (sliced up hot dog, old bread) and a little Purina into the grass and this is what I get -- lots of fox and the occasional raccoon.

This night it rained like someone had zippered open the sky, but it stopped at some point and the neighborhood wildlife made its appointed rounds.

There are at least three fox here -- the two heavy-set adults in the first two photos are quite distinct from the lighter juvenile in the third frame. I think there is a fourth fox later on. Everyone seems to be in pretty grand health.

Terrierman In German!

Sprechen Ze Deutsche?  Not me!  But here's a few translated bits from the blog:

Sagan or Snookie? With Video Goodness.


Thursday, September 29, 2011

I Like Black Coffee With My Humble Pie

Humble Pie with the Blackberries, who were three of the best studio singers in the business and had backed Tina Turner as "The Ikettes" and Ray Charles as "The Raelettes." 

Steve Marriott singing.  This is the group after Clem Clempson replaced Peter Frampton. 

Marriott died in 1991 in a house fire associated with cigarettes and booze. 

Dog Penis Mushroom

The Elegant Stinkhorn fungus (Mutinus elegans) is also called the "dog penis" mushroom, and I had a small line of them yesterday morning in front of the camera trap next to the greenhouse. By evening they were gone. It rained buckets last night, however, so Satuday should be good mushrooming weather!


Your Dog Eats Shit for the Same Reason You Do

Why do dogs sometimes eat shit? Well, believe it or not, they eat shit (of a fashion) for the same reason you do: both dogs and humans are programmed by nature.  As Derek Mead explains over at MotherBoard:

The question then is: why eat shit? I mean, we can’t all be eating organic quinoa salads and Purina One (that’s the fancy stuff) all the time. But it does seem weird to have abject cravings for such terrible food all the time. As always, evolution plays a role.

Thanks to the laws of thermodynamics and bioenergetics, no biological system can ever be 100 percent efficient, including digestive tracts. That means that, of all the nutrients that go into something’s mouth, some of those nutrients will come out its rear....

... The Neolithic agricultural revolution (PDF), during which humans began to switch from being hunter-gatherers to farmers and herders, only occurred around 12,000 ago. Our modern diet has only really been around for at most a couple hundred years, and has fundamentally changed in even the last century, thanks largely to the increase in use of refrigeration systems.

Humans and dogs now have access to a nigh-unlimited stream of food but our physical centers for taste (tongue, brain, etc.) haven’t had much time to evolve beyond our former food-stressed lives. When we were stuck searching for food all day, our omnivore selves ate a lot of leaves and berries because they’re easier to catch than a juicy, meaty creature. Cravings can be a weirdly logical thing, as evidenced by some of the absurd things eaten by pregnant women. It’s like your body says: “The baby needs something found in sauerkraut and Sriracha. EAT A PINT OF BOTH.”

At their core, cravings have been shaped to fit our past food circumstances. Salt and calorie-dense fat were hard to find but incredibly valuable. When we found some, we pigged out, like we see now in nature when predators stuff themselves silly. It’s a basic concept: if something’s rare and essential, we’ll take it however we can get it, and our tastes will evolve to entice us to do so.

....The dog eating his turds most likely doesn’t see it as gross, at least not in our sense of the word. Rather, that poo nugget is a nutrient-dense plate of leftovers.

So next time you are scarfing down a big greasy, salt-laden chunk of meat, or a fat and sugar-soaked bowl of ice cream, just remember that you are biologically programmed to eat your shit every bit as much as your dog is programmed to eat his shit. 

And if you think the dog needs to stop eating his sheet, well then maybe that's also good advice for you to stop eating so much of your shit too!  Something to think about as this nation heads past a 25% national obesity rate.

There Are Worse Things

Patent Medicine

Cures Distemper, Jaudice, Worms

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Digging on the Dogs in a Land of Rabies

Today is World Rabies Day

I dig in the eastern United States, and we dig all year. There is no season here. All we have is the end of the calendar year.

The good news is that red fox are extremely plentiful.

The bad news is that unless you are running them with hounds (and I am not), they only go to ground in my area between January and February due to our relatively warm weather.

Of course, we have more than red fox. We also have grey fox, an animal not closely related, but quite similar in appearance, but with a dun-colored coat and a rather surprising ability to climb trees if pressed. This animal tends to den in rocky escarpments, and is more common in the mountains than in the farm country I normally hunt.

Groundhog are common all over, from mid-February to the first of December. They are a large and solitary marmot weighing 10 to 15 pounds, and they hibernate for a few months in winter, losing perhaps a third of their body weight during these lean times.

Though their jaws are short, their bite is more powerful than a fox, and their teeth are like sharpened chisels. Groundhogs do not look like much, but this animal can away dig like a badger, has no neck to throttle, and has a skull as thick as a frying pan. They are tougher than they appear, and I have seen more terriers punished by groundhog than by fox.

Possum can be found all year long, but I do not count them for much. They are an ugly and smelly creature that looks like a large rat, and they weigh anywhere from 9-15 pounds. Though this marsupial has more teeth than any other mammal in the America's, its teeth are small and they have light jaws and cannot do much damage to a dog.

Skunks are generally located to ground in late Fall, and are not a game species, but a small nightmare on legs. Yes, they can carry rabies, but this is not the main issue; it's the spray. A dog sprayed by a skunk underground may be dead in only a few minutes. Even if the dog is gotten out alive, skunk toxic shock may set in as red blood cells explode inside the dog due to the peculiar chemistry of the offending mist.

Finally, there are raccoons. Most raccoons den in old trees, but they will also go to ground and I often find them jungled up in old groundhog holes when the weather begins to turn cold. There is nothing quite like this animal in the U.K. -- it has hands almost as nimble as that of a small monkey, relatively powerful jaws, and can weigh up to 40 pounds, though in my experience those found underground rarely weigh over 20 pounds.

I dig on 25 to 100 animals a year, most of them groundhogs, and most of the time there is no drama to report.

The variation in numbers is a reflection of my work and family schedules, the weather, and my changing style of attack in the field.

When I was younger, I wanted a big bag at every outing, and so I would spend nine hours in the field making that happen. Now I am happy to bag one or two in a day, and trundle home a little past noon for some family time.

This year my count was 34: 19 groundhog, six raccoon, five fox (all let go), and four possums. A light year.

I mostly dig alone, not because I am a recluse, but because it's a long way between diggers in the U.S. If you dig very much over here, you learn to dig alone and to carry all your tools.

Looking back over the last year, I am happy to report no serious harm came to the dogs. There were a few muzzle rips, of course, but these were of no concern -- mere "shaving cuts" in the vernacular of American terrier work. The only thing that required a veterinary staple gun was when one dog was ragging a dead animal and, in its enthusiasm, it ran up against my sharpened machete which was stuck in the ground after the dig. Stupid me! The dog was stuck back together and out in the field two weeks later.

I do not count drama a mark of success in the field, and I am happy to report I have never had to call anyone else to help get a dog out of the ground, not have I ever had to call out heavy equipment. Knock on wood!

I am also happy to report I have never had a dog killed underground, though in the interest of full disclosure, I will say I did have one dog paralyzed for six hours after a Black Widow Spider bit her underground on a blistering hot day. Months later that dog later had a heart attack or embolism above ground after successfully working four earths earlier in the day. She would have died that day regardless -- I am happy when she went, she was out in the field, above ground, running down a freshly mowed field, and generally doing what she loved more in life than anything else. We should all be so lucky!

Did the spider bite weaken her heart? I do not know for certain, but I have always thought so. She was a much-loved dog, and I received condolences from four continents such was her fame. She was not much to look at, but she was the light of my life.

The ground where I dig is complex and the geology variable. Rocks and roots are common, sand almost unheard of.

The good news is that most settes are less than four feet, and two-foot "pop holes" are common enough to keep me happy.

A 10-foot dig? I do not count that a bonus!

The last dig of the year was a bit memorable.

It was, in most ways, a typical dig. I was walking the edge of a field, checking possible fox settes with my little bitch Pearl, when I noticed Mountain, my slightly larger bitch, had disappeared.

I found her a few minutes later, just inside the woods line. She was underground and baying up a storm.

I laughed, as I always do, and downed tools. I love to hear to code explode inside the dogs!

The sette was on a steep slope below the field, and there was a fair amount of loose rock at the hole -- a sette dug by a groundhog, without a doubt.

I staked Pearl 12 feet from the entrance, and located two possible exits. I slid a rock over one, and left the other one open -- a possible exit for the dog should a skunk be found to ground.

Mountain sounded, and from her baying, I could tell she was right up on it. I listened, and then I heard it -- the rumble of a big wooden table being pulled across a floor.

A raccoon!

I boxed with the locator, and was pleasantly surprised to find Mountain only three feet down. Excellent.

I started to take the first foot and a half of dirt off the top.

Dirt? What dirt? This earth was a jumble of shale and cobble. No doubt the stone made the dog sound deeper than she actually was.

I popped into the sette at only two and a half feet. Excellent. This was going to be an easy one!

Mountain was right where I dropped the hole, but my digging had caused a few stones to slip out of place. I pulled her out by her tail, gave her the harsh grunting sound that she understands to mean "let the man do his job," and I reached in to clean out the pipe.

She wanted back in, of course, but I pushed her away to shine a small flashlight up the hole.

Looking back at me was the face of a raccoon. Excellent!

I let Mountain back into the pipe to hold the raccoon at bay while I pulled a small pole snare from my pack.

I encourage the use of a pole snare at the end of a dig, as it saves the dog a lot of damage and allows an animal to be pulled, photographed and released without harm, or dispatched with a minimum of fuss.

If you dig as often as I do, your goal is to keep your dog healthy enough to work next weekend as well as this. There is also the little matter of rabies, which is endemic in the eastern U.S., especially in the mid-Atlantic region where I dig. The dogs are vaccinated, of course, but I am not.

My goal here was to pull Mountain, slip in the shovel, tie up Mountain, and then pull the shovel, and snare out the raccoon. Standard stuff. What could go wrong?

Of course, Mountain had not read the play book! While I was getting the snare from my pack, she grabbed the raccoon and pulled it clean out of the pipe.

Whoops! The battle was on!

Now to be clear, hunting with terriers is not animal fighting, and a dog is not supposed to be engaged with the quarry outside of the pipe.

Such is theory.

Of course, in theory, practice and theory are the same, but in practice they never are!

It all happened very quickly.

With the raccoon free of the den pipe, Mountain and the raccoon were a rolling ball of fur and teeth.

There was no place to put in a boot to pin the raccoon, so I reached in to pull the raccoon's back haunch, in the hope of seeing, and getting hold, of its tail.

Like a flash, however, the raccoon spun around and sank a canine tooth through my leather glove and into the base of my thumb.

A few second later, it was all over; the raccoon was tailed out, the boot was on, and the animal was humanely dispatched as quickly as it takes to say it.

My thumb did not hurt, and I was not even sure the raccoon had bit me. When I pulled the glove off, however, there it was: a single puncture and a spot of blood.

Now what?

You see, rabies is endemic in my area, and it is particularly common in the raccoon population. I know that, and act accordingly. As a consequence, I have never been bit.

Up to now.

Still, what were the odds? This appeared to be a healthy animal.

I washed out the wound, let it bleed, and washed it out again.

I thought about the options. It was Sunday. Even if I took the animal to be tested, that would not happen until tomorrow, and they would still require me to get rabies shots while the testing was being done.

I was conflicted. The chance of this animal being rabid was very low, but it was not zero.

If you Google "rabies" in this country, you find a couple of articles a day, and a lot of them are from my area and involve raccoons.

On the upside, there had been only one fatal case of rabies in the U.S. in the last 10 years.

On the downside, it had occurred just 20 minutes up the road.

I washed out the wound again, checked over Mountain (she was fine), and examined the raccoon. It looked healthy.

I thought about the production and drama that would be made if I took in the raccoon, or told my wife I had gotten bitten. I would never hear the end of it.

Of course, on the other end of the stick there was the prospect of dying from rabies. Would my son have to go out to the wood shed and shoot me like the rabid dog in the Disney movie, Old Yeller?

I repaired the sette and removed the stone from the blocked hole.

I packed up the tools, and swung the dead raccoon up high into the fork of a small tree to get it out of the way so the dogs would not rag it.

And then I left.

I fretted about my decision for the next few days, but my decision had been made by my actions, not by rational calculus.

I read up on rabies. It was slow acting. An early symptom was a headache that would not go away.


If that symptom occurred, I would take drastic action. By then, of course, treatment would be too late. I would have to choose my own exit.

In the interim, there was nothing to do but go about business as usual, which I did.

But of course, I still worried.

Two weeks later, and with no headache, I began to make a private joke. If I said something out of line, to a coworker, I would laugh it off. "Don't mind me; it's just the rabies talking."

Everyone laughed. They had no idea.

I seemed to be passing for normal, which is better than most days.

I relaxed, and the worry orbited out of the front room in my mind.

Now, four months later, I am in the clear.

No worries.

Angry Little Monkeys in Their Hives


Yesterday I wrote a bit about teaching operant conditioning to monkeys.

I think it's important, if you are teaching an animal, to remember the nature of the animal!

Double Dipped in Stupid

Here's a person who is double dipped in stupid, and her life is out of control as a result.

I have written in the past about the fact that Dogs are Not Kids, but I suppose I should also mention the corollary:  kids are not dogs.

Where are kids and dogs alike?  They both need exercise, they both need discipline, rewards and consistency, and they both need your time.  So put down the phone, turn off the television, and step away from the computer once in a while.  Six hours a day looking at little video screens is quite enough!

Want to read more?  Along with the link, above, you might enjoy "Your Dogs are a Mess (And Your Kids Are No Prize)"

Next Time Someone Talks About Jobs

Next time someone talks about jobs... ask them if they are wearing anything made in America.

Ask if illegal aliens clean their offices and do their lawn, and whether they repair their Japanese car with parts made in Korea.

Ask if they think America was great when unions did not exist and everyone had minimum wage jobs, or when unions were strong and wages were enough to support a family while you held your head high in church and put folding money in the plate.

Ask if America was great when we had small stores and a main street, or when we replaced it with a massive parking lot at the WalMart.

Ask if they will support a candidate whose core platform is Made in America by Americans.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Suburban Camera Trapping

From The New York Times (hat tip to Kim Bates for the link!) comes this nice article/blog post, with video and venn diagram, on suburban camera trapping, showing the difference between "wild" and "urban" (i.e. suburban) locations.  Notes the author of the post:

I love camera traps because they are easy to use, and it is fun to look at the results. Lock a camera to a tree, write down the GPS coordinates, and walk away for a few weeks.

Come back and you get to look at new clips of animals running around. It is rare to take a walk in the woods and actually see a mammal like a fox, but put a camera trap out and you’ll get them....

We found higher diversity and overall higher activity of animals in our camera traps set in urban forests than in those out in the wild areas.

Of course, you may "walk away" only to find your camera stolen!    Set up in haste, and regret in leisure! 

That said, if you are interested in camera trapping on your own property, Moultrie has a "two-for-one" sale going on right now for their Game Spy D-50.  $120 for a pair.  Check it out!

Training the Owner is 99% of the Job

Milking Stools and Operant Conditioning

Operant conditioning has three legs.

You know what's wrong with four legs?

A four legged chair is unstable unless all four legs are the same length (i.e. have the same value) and the floor is perfectly flat.

A three legged chair, however, is always stable, even on rough ground.

That's why milking stools have three legs.

The three legs of operant conditioning are:

  1. Reinforcement (treats, play, etc.);
  2. Punishment (voice corrections, leash corrections, etc.), and;
  3. Extinction (no reaction from behavior, desensitization).

Can you add legs by splitting things and listing them as separate legs?  Oh sure.  You can make reinforcement "positive" and "negative," for example, and by so doing make it completely opaque to a lay audience. 

In fact, with very little effort at all, you can make operant conditioning so incredibly complicated no one will understand it.  But let's start small and simple first.  After all, we are training humans, not a higher life form like a Beluga Whale.

Training humans?

Yes, we are training humans to train animals . . . Which is to say we are training humans

Now here's something important about the shaved ape that is called a human:  It has a hard time remembering numbers greater than three. 

Humans prefer three ideas, three rules, three characters, and three examples.

This is a fact.

It's why we we pray to a trinity called the Father-Son-and-Holy Ghost and why we call the alphabet the "ABCs" and the musical scale "Do-Re-Me."  

It's why we have the Three Stooges, the Three Little Pigs, the Three Blind Mice, and Goldilocks and the Three Bears. 

It's why the Nazi's talked about "Ein Volk, Ein Reich, and Ein F├╝hrer" and why our Founding Fathers referred to our national purpose as "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness."

When a speech writer is crafting a speech, if he really knows his business, he will make only three points, whether that speech is three minutes long or three hours long.  After all, the audience is only going to remember three points -- pick them and frame them tight!

The Ancients, of course, knew this.  The Latin phrase, omne trium perfectum, conveys the idea in just three words.

THREE is teachable and memorable for humans.  

In fact, when scientists talk about memory, they use the rule of three, noting that memory has three parts (encoding, storage and retrieval) and that there are three types of memory (sensory, short-term and long-term).

You want to teach humans to teach dogs? 

My suggestion is to start with the three parts of operant conditioning:  Reinforcement, Punishment, Extinction.  

That's a conceptual milking stool that will work even if one leg is longer than the other, and even when it is being tested on the rocky ground of real people and real dogs in real situations!


Labradoodles, Blindness and Dog Dealing

Wally Conron, now retired at age 81, writes in the Australian edition of Reader's Digest about what happened when he decided to solve a very specific problem for a blind woman in Hawaii, and then found himself tumbling down the slope to creating a contrived breed with a mostly-contrived set of attributes.

While working with the Royal Guide Dog Association of Australia as its puppy-breeding manager in the early ’80s, I received a request from Hawaii. A vision-impaired woman there, whose husband was allergic to dog hair, had written to our centre in the hope that we might have an allergy-free guide-dog.

"Piece of cake," I thought. The standard poodle, a trainable working dog, was probably the most suitable breed, with its tightly curled coat. Although our centre bred and used labradors, I didn’t anticipate any difficulties finding a suitable poodle.

It turned out I was wrong: after rejecting countless poodles with various problems, some two years and 33 disappointing trials later, I still hadn’t found an appropriate dog for the job.

In desperation, I decided to cross a standard poodle with one of our best-producing labradors.

The mating was successful, but it produced only three pups. We sent coat and saliva samples of each pup to the Hawaiian couple, and the husband found one sample allergy-free. At last we were getting somewhere, but a big job lay ahead. The pup had to grow up and prove suitable for guiding work; and then it had to be compatible with the visually impaired client. We had a long way to go.

With a three to six-month waiting list for people wishing to foster our pups, I was sure we’d have no problem placing our three new crossbred pups with a family. But again I was wrong: it seemed no-one wanted a crossbred puppy; everyone on the waiting list preferred to wait for a purebred. And time was running out – the pups needed to be placed in homes and socialised; otherwise they would not become guide-dogs.

By eight weeks of age, the puppies still hadn’t found homes. Frustrated and annoyed with the response to the trio of crossbreeds I had carefully reared, I decided to stop mentioning the word crossbreed and introduced the term labradoodle instead to describe my new allergy-free guide-dog pups.

It worked – during the weeks that followed, our switchboard was inundated with calls from other guide-dog centres, vision-impaired people and people allergic to dog hair who wanted to know more about this “wonder dog”.

A simple cross was now a "wonder dog."

Of course, it was all nonsense. The first cross was fine, so far as it went, but the next cross was a great deal less so.... not that the puppy peddlers cared in the slightest:

I quickly realised that I’d opened a Pandora’s box when our next litter of ten labradoodles produced only three allergy-free pups.

I began to worry, too, about backyard breeders producing supposedly "allergy-free" dogs for profit. Already, one man claimed to be the first to breed a poodle-Rottweiler cross!

Nothing, however, could stop the mania that followed. New breeds began to flood the market: groodles, spoodles, caboodles and snoodles. Were breeders bothering to check their sires and bitches for heredity faults, or were they simply caught up in delivering to hungry customers the next status symbol? We’ll never know for sure.

Today, some strains of "Labradoodle" breed more-or-less true, but fly-by night crosses are as common as rainwater and ALL of the "hypoallergenic" claims are simply untrue. Yes, some people are less reactive to some dogs which may shed less, or even have less hair, but ALL dogs shed, and ALL dogs have hair or fur.  Bottom line: If you are truly and seriously allergic to dog hair, then do not get a dog of any kind!

And what about Wally Conron?  Today he says:

''All these backyard breeders have jumped on the bandwagon and they're crossing any kind of dog with a poodle. They're selling them for more than a pure-bred is worth and they're not going into the backgrounds of the parents of the dogs. There are so many poodle crosses having fits, problems with their eyes, hips and elbows; a lot have epilepsy. There are a few ethical breeders but very, very few.''

Conron says that despite the fact the dogs have helped so many blind people, he regrets creating the first cross-breed. "I released a Frankenstein.... People say 'aren't you proud of yourself?' and I say, 'not in the slightest. I've done so much harm to pure breeding.'"

Of course, Conron did not really harm pure breeding at all, did he? Nope, not in the slightest. Purebred poodles are as common as rainwater, and some lines have a mess of health problems due to inbreeding.

But the notion that outcrossing is a surefire gateway to health?

Nope that's simply not true. If you are outcrossing to stock you do not know and have not bothered to investigate you may be buying into, or creating, problems.

So where did it really go wrong?

Where it went wrong is that Conron coined a name for this cross-breed and imbued it with miraculous powers that the dogs never had.

What happened next was that other people took his myth and his marketing and paired it with greed.

But isn't that what's happening with every breed all the time?

Yes, the world is full of "-oodle" crosses that do not breed true and have health problems, but health problems are legion in almost every "pure" Kennel Club breed, and most folks are not interested in breeding dogs to a standard, so how much new harm has been done?

No, Conron's cross did not change the world of dog breeding, but that was not his goal, was it? Did he forget what he set out to do? It wasn't to change the world of dogs; it was to find one specific dog for one specific customer. Did he do that? He did. His mistake was not in doing a cross for a purpose; it was engaging in a little dog dealing in order to get rid of his overage. Like the Sorcerer's Apprentice he discovered he was working with a force -- dog dealers -- that he could not control. But did Conron invent dog dealers? He did not. They have always been with us.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Harry Potter Dog Rehoming

Berry, the black German Shepherd who found fame as "Padfoot," the animal animangus of Gary Oldman's character Sirius Black in Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban has been given to the German Shepherd Dog Rescue in the U.K. because stuntman Paul Thompson has decided he can no longer care for the dog due to his travel schedule.  Berry is now 10 years old, and you can read his story here.


Coffee and Provocation

The American Kennel Club Tries to Stay Afloat:
As I have noted in the past, the AKC is losing registrations so fast it may end up going out of business as a dog registry within a decade.  In order to keep up an income stream, the organization is pairing with everyone from puppy mill dog peddlers (buy a broken dog!) to drug companies (drug your broken dog!) to pet insurance companies (insure your soon-to-be broken dog).  Now they are plumping for an auto-insurance company.  I suppose desperate organizations will do desperate things. Nonetheless, I predict the AKC will go out of business before they change their business model.  This is a small-brained dinosaur, and you know what happened to them!

Synurbic Animals are Found in Suburbia:
The BBC is all over it, and thanks to them I have learned a new word.  Read the whole thing.  Lots of nice bits, including this one:  "Foxes now live in densities up to 30 times greater in urban areas than in the country."  For extra credit, read the title of this post outloud, quickly, three times.

Glamour Shots for Shelter Pets:
This seems an obvious idea, so why is it so slow to actually take hold?  Check out the examples of success in the video from CBS!  Can there be a better service project for a high school photography club?  Suggest it!

Lassie Does It Again:
A collie named Lassie located and rescued a lady that was lost for two days.  Obvious.

John Katz Makes More Money Off Of Killing His Dog:
John Katz's claim to fame is that he bought a border collie he could not train, and so he euthanized it.  Then he wrote a book about that dog and made a massive profit. Now he has written another book about grieving the dog that he had killed because he could not train it. This seems to be a very popular genre of dog book these days in which a half-wit, totally unprepared narcisist anti-hero buys a dog, chaos and tragedy follow on, a book gets written, and then Hollywood turns it all into a romantic comedy.  Whiskey-tango-foxtrot.

Veterinary X-Ray Contest:
Not the weirdest stuff ever found in animals, but a nice sampler.

Are Dogs and Cats Helping to Kill the Oceans?
How much fish is used in dog and cat food? A lot more than you think! And it's not just dog and cat food; it's also pig and chicken feed too. As this New York Times op-ed by Paul Greenberg notes: "The pet food industry now uses about 10 percent of the global supply of forage fish. The swine industry consumes 24 percent of fish meal and oil — fish oil being considered the best way to wean piglets. Poultry meanwhile takes as much as 22 percent, which means that even when Coco ate chicken, indirectly he was still eating fish." Of course, the fact that fisheries bycatch is recycled into cat, dog, chicken and pig food is simply a choice that this use pays more than dumping it overboard, reducing bycatch, or using bycatch as fish food.  There is, of course, a third way, which is what I do:  I do not eat fish or anything commercial from the ocean, and I feed my dog land-based foods.

We Are Now Seven Billion Humans:
The human population of Earth reached 1 billion in 1830, 2 billion in 1930, 3 billion in 1960, 4 billion in 1975, 5 billion in 1986, and 6 billion in 1999.  This month, world population will click past the 7 billion mark.  Clearly, we cannot grow on like this.  We are killing the planet.  To be clear, we are not killing the planet because we are malevolent, but because there are too damn many of us.  This is a solvable problem, but the solution starts with you.  Remember, no amount of "reduce, recycle, reuse, and repurpose" will do more than simply not having biological children. You want kids?  Great!  Adopt. There are, literally, millions of children in the world dying right now for what you seek to offer as a parent.  You already have kids?  Great!  You can still be be part of the solution by funding efforts to provide voluntary contraception to low-income people at home and abroad

A Humback Whale is Saved and He Says "Thank You":
Watch the whole thing. Better than Disney, and totally true.

Cod Comes Back in the North Atlantic:
Proof that if we will only get off of Mother Nature's neck she will bounce up, dust herself off, and eventually dance a jig.

Best Project Ever for a Father and Son/Daughter:
Make your own rod and reel and go fishing with your 6-12 year old.

Dinosaur Feathers Found:
Trapped in amber, no less!

Best Selection-Bias Story Ever:
During WWII, statistician Abraham Wald was asked to help the British decide where to add armor to their bombers. After analyzing the records, he recommended adding more armor to the places where there was no damage!  To find out why, read the rest of the story!

A Million Typing Monkeys Write Shakespeare:
Man's most complex machine is finally used as intended:  a million virtual typing monkeys have cranked out a Shakespeare sonnet.  If we will only give these virtual monkeys a million virtual bowls of cocaine, they'll soon be cranking out Love Boat scripts!

More American Genius:
A Hammock Boat.  I so want one of these!

Digging on the Dogs, Dancing With Bees Edition

Kelly and Connie, with Dash and Joe.

I drove a little north of Baltimore to meet up with Connie and Kelly who were in from California and staying with Larry and Linda Morrison.  It's always great to see Linda and Larry! Ginger, who is half-sister to my Mountain, is still bouncing up and down like a ball, and eager for a scratch on the belly. Yes, all is still right with the world at Larry and Linda's!

We headed out to a farm a bit up the road, and after hacking through a short arm of very tall corn we hit a hedgerow.  We walked only a few minutes before Joe, Connie's Patterdale dog, marked a sette. He was baying up a storm at the hole, but he was not going to ground, and I think Connie may have thought he was false-marking, as dogs in California do not get a lot of field work and a groundhog this quick out of box seemed a little too lucky. Connie and Kelly moved down the hedge while I shouldered tools and retrieved Gideon, who was tied to a bit of barbed wire fencing off to the side. I unclipped Gideon, and he went over to the hole and disappeared underground. I waited, and less than a minute later, he opened up -- he had clearly found. Joe the Patterdale was right!

I downed the tools, and took a shovel and bar across the expanse of barbed wire to the hole.  I located Gideon about 15 feet from where he had entered, very near another entrance to the sette. A single scoop of dirt off the top of that entrance, and I was looking down the tube. Connie and Kelly came back, and it was just about then that the groundhog appeared in the hole, looked up at us, and then turned around and went back down the pipe towards Gideon, who was still baying. Connie opened up the posthole diggers and had just taken a single stab at the earth where I had barred into the pipe, when the groundhog showed up at the hole again.  This time, when it turned around, I reached in and tailed it. For the record, if a groundhog is in a tight earth and you have it by the tail, that does not mean it is going to come out of that earth with a light yank!  This groundhog braced in tight, and I held on for a few minutes, letting it tire itself out before I managed to get both its back legs into two hands.  With a couple of very strong pulls, I got it free of the hole.

We put the snare on the groundhog so it could serve as a bit of a training tool for Kelly's dog, Dash, who has very little experience with dirt work in general, or groundhogs in particular. 

Dash was a little dubious at first, but she eventually started barking up a storm while remaining well back.  Good enough for a first time!

Dubious Dash meets his first groundhog.  No contact, and the groundhog was unharmed.

We went down the the hedge a bit farther and crossed over a small creek. On the other side, while we were checking holes for activity, Joe and Gideon caught a small groundhog above ground, and I stepped in to sort it out. Two down and barely any digging at all!

I suggested we head to a copse of trees on higher ground.   I was pretty sure we would find there, and after going uphill through thick blown-down corn, we did in fact find. In fact, this little wooded area surrounded by fields was riddled with holes!

Joe the Pattedale found a live sette almost immediately, but he could not get inside, as it was very tight and blocked with roots.  In fact, it was solid welded mass of roots right across the top -- I could not even get a bar into this earth!

Dash, the Jack Russell, marked on a sette a hundred feet away, but it was under broken glass and windows, and I was hesitant to put any dog to ground right there.

After Connie and I tried for a while to get into the sette where Joe the Patterdale was trying to enter, I took Gideon and tried a hole a little up from where Dash had marked under the broken windows.

Connie, with bar, watches Joe try to enter root-hardened den.

This was a big open hole coming out of the side of a small rise (i.e. good drainage), and Gideon opened up immediately and stayed baying.  Excellent!  The problem here, of course, was that there were about 9 bolt holes that we could see, and no doubt a few more we could not. 

I went to grab my tools, and when I came back Gideon had stopped baying, but he was still underground.  A few minutes later he came out, and I feared a bolt.  In fact, a bolt had occurred -- the other two dogs entered and bayed a bit, but they too grew disinterested as Gideon cast about on top looking for whatever had dashed off to freedom.

Dash check out the sette.

We walked a bit farther into the copse, and Joe the Patterdale found again in a nice hummocky bit of hole-riddled earth. I staked out Gideon and let Joe have time to find his game and go deeper.  We popped in one hole, cleared a little dirt, and he moved a bit farther on.  It sounded to me like he was very close (a slight change in the timbre of the voice). 

We located with box and bar, and I started to sink another hole.  It was going well, in soft earth, when I spied what I thought was a bit of Styrofoam underground at the bottom edge of the hole.  Then I saw two bees roll out from under that Styrofoam.

"Get the hell out of here," I yelled.  Connie asked if it was a skunk, and I yelled "Run... BEES!" as I tried to throw a little bit of dirt back over the hive.  For my troubles I was stung once in the head, twice in the lips, and once under the arm pit.  Kelly and Connie both got stung too.  Yes, we ran like hell!

I went back immediately to get Gideon, who was staked upwind from the bees, and not too close.  He was fine, and as yet unstung, but as we walked away he finally did get stung.... in the testicles.  Ouch!  Dash got stung in the testicles too.  Double ouch! 

I let the bees calm down a bit before I went back for the tools, and then we headed back to the truck.  I had to carry Gideon most of the way, however, as my little dog was suddenly super, super horny and he was not too particular that the other dogs in the field were male.  Looking back, I think the bee sting may have released a huge amount of testosterone into his system.  One thing for sure:  he remained comically hyper-sexed the rest of the day. 

Joe the Pattedale works past the first pop hole.

We loaded up the truck and headed to another part of the farm.  Though we had had quite a bit of rain the previous week, I thought we might be able to find a raccoon along a creek that bordered a soy bean field on one side, and tall corn on the other. 

We tied up Gideon (the little sex fiend) and Joe and Dash noodled around in the thicket before one of the dogs really opened up baying.  And guess what?  It was Dash!   Yahoo!  It seems the penny had dropped.  Excellent!  

Of course Dash had found underneath an enormous mound of multiflora rose that itself was covered over with Chinese Tear-ThumbSigh.  No matter.  Man and machete went to work, and Dash growled and barked up a storm through it all. 

We eventually got down to a really nice horizontal entrance pipe on the creek end, and Connie and I dropped a few shallow holes on the uphill side where the center of the multiflora pile had once stood.  Joe and Dash bayed it up, but we never did find this groundhog (it did not squal like a 'coon), and I am pretty sure it eventually bolted out of one of the other holes we discovered as we hacked our way down through the tangle. 

Ah well!   There was no doubt at all that Dash had found, and I count this as a very good day for a dog that started out quite a bit lower on the learning curve than he ended.  Dash is going to do fine in the world of terrier work -- one or two more days in the field and he'll be like a little chainsaw roaring to life on the first pull.

All good, and we decided to call it a day while I, at least, could still walk, and the dogs were still healthy.

Pearl as Calendar Dog

Pearl, the working Jack Russell Terrier I gave to my folks when their Welsh Terrier died of extreme old age, is still working despite the fact that she is now a celebrity, featured on the back cover of the Dupont Circle Village calendar for 2012 (picture above).  So far, she has knocked off two alley rats and a stray mourning dove which she seems to have plucked and eaten in toto.  Now she has her eye on a third rat.  Fame has not gone to her head.  Go Pearl!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Victoria Stilwell Solves a Biting Problem

A random pair of working cockers; not the dogs in question.

Unlike Barbara Woodhouse, I do not believe there are "No Bad Dogs."

Dogs, like people, can be brain damaged and perhaps even psychotic. This is, of course, very rare, and so too are the number of dogs that cannot be helped by a competent trainer. 

But what is a competent trainer?

Can you be a competent trainer if you have never even owned a dog yourself?

Victoria Stilwell put herself out to the world as a dog trainer when, in fact, she had never even owned a dog.

And this was the result.

Faced with two wild-at-home cocker spaniels, one of which had biting issues and which she could not seem to help with her fly-in-and-fly-out schedule and one or two small bits of knowledge gleaned from a correspondence school dog training course, Victoria Stilwell advised the family (by phone, no less) to put the dog down.  To be clear, this is a dog that was vet-checked several times and which had no medical issues, and the other dog in the house was a train-wreck mess of behavior too (though not yet a biter).

Apparently, Victoria Stilwell had yet to hear of a muzzle.

She also seems to have no idea that there are boarding kennels where the dog could have lived out its life on her dime (she certainly has the money!), or that the dog might benefit from a little field work (yes, yes, this is a working breed).

Of course, consulting another trainer would have been out of the question. And why? Why, because Victoria Stilwell is, by her own proclamation, the greatest dog trainer in the world!

Caveat emptor.

RUN from any dog trainer that proclaims that he or she invented dog training.

RUN from any dog trainer that starts off with an "I believe" statement of philosophy rather than simple affirmation of the basics of operant conditioning -- reinforcement (treats, play, etc.), punishment (voice corrections, leash corrections, etc.), and extinction (no reaction from behavior, desensitization) which have been the backbone of dog training for over 2,000 years.

RUN from any dog trainer who does not actually watch dogs and who ignores what is obviously working, and who does not think that the dog is the real authority on what works when it comes to dog training.

Above all, accept the fact that the real "secret" to dog training is that the dog needs to be given a lot of exercise and time by you, that you need to be buy a book or two to learn the basics of operant conditioning, and that you need to learn to be consistent and reward good behavior, not bad.

As for Victoria Stilwell, I imagine she knows more now than she knew four or five years ago.

Sadly, however, she has yet to learn that she is not the world's authority on dog training.  That authority is owned by a dog. 

Fence Fighting at the Dog Trainers Guild

The first email came over-the-transom from Gina Spadafori, a fellow blogger, and author of the Dogs for Dummies book, among others.

All the click-and-treaters are screaming about this guy, signing petitions and what-not. I haven't time to get into it this week, but since the rotten dog in question is a JRT, I thought you'd be interested

She supplied a link to this video.

I quickly ripped
through the video (time is at a premium some days!) and though I disliked the presentation to both the dog and the audience, and I was not impressed with the experience of the trainer, I did not actually see anything too conceptually wrong.

[W]hat did this fellow do to the dog that has them all upset? He said NO to the dog, and the dog bit his shoe before the new idea of NO took over from the old idea that the dog had, which is that he could terrify at will. About par for the course. He did not claim space very well, and he did it all a bit too fast and with a bit more explosion than was needed (he might need to know how to go a lot slower and with lot less pressure with a larger dog), but it was not cruel and it worked.

... What's the summation of the clicker opposition? That he didn't train the dog to go somewhere else on command?

The trick to bowl guarding issues, of course, is to stop using bowls. That's what zoos do and what houndsmen do, and they are not nuts.

Gina emailed back and I think she got it right, but more on that later.

In truth I moved on to other issues. What did I care about some young fellow in the UK who was pushing things a bit too hard, and a bit too fast? That sort of thing happens all the time. For all I know, the bookers at The One Show do shoddy guest selection all the time.

Then, in my Google Reader, I spied a post from a smart lady who will remain nameless as I do not wish to embarrass her. She has been around dogs in a professional way for a long time, however, and she was opining about what sounded like the same video clip. I shot her an email and asked for a link to the clip, and for a specific autopsy on what the trainer was doing wrong (or right). After a bit of fumbling due to the BBC video driver not working in the U.S., it turned out this was the same clip Gina had sent me.

But guess what? My friend never answer the question as to what specifically this person in the clip was doing wrong. Hmmm... Would she put down her sniper rifle and come out from the tall grass and say what she thinks is specifically wrong here? I tried the question again:

Why don't YOU tell me what he did wrong.

First, tell me what is going on with the dog (what it is doing and why), and THEN tell me how to change this behavior using all three legs of operant conditioning... and then say what this fellow is doing wrong (or right).

Talk it out and be specific. There are a lot of ways of doing most things, but what is wrong (or right) with this method or the way this fellow is doing it?

Is violence being done to the dog?

Does the system not work?

Is the system right in this case, but it might be wrong in another?

Is the trainer's presentation the problem?

What I got back was troubling to me, as this person has spent better than 25 years in dogs and yet she wrote the following:

I’m not a behaviorist. The dog is resource guarding. This guy has just ‘trained’ the dog not to growl – which is dangerous as it will now probably just wait till there’s a less scary person and just bite. In reality he just spent 3 hours encouraging the dog to bite his foot. I am no dog behavior expert, but I do know that showing someone repeatedly putting their foot into a snarling dog without even the simplest warning of not to try this at home is very dangerous.


Here was a person that could not use her eyes, and did not understand what she was seeing.   I was rather amazed. 

Watch the video clip for yourself.  This fellow did NOT "encourage this dog to bite his foot."

This fellow simply put his shoe near the food bowl, and the dog attacked the foot again and again on its own.

And the result? The foot did not move away -- the dog got a different reaction than it had always gotten before, and because it got a different reaction, things slowly began to change in its mind. More on that in a minute, but I could not help but notice that the mail slot issue was not mentioned at all. Mail slots are not about "resource" guarding!

I wrote back:
Lets start with your first sentence: "I am not a behaviorist." That's a cop out. You have spent several decades boiled in the dog world, and there are only three legs to operant conditioning. If you do not know what they are, and cannot describe what is going on this video, then you have not read a pamphlet and have never trained a dog with ANY problems. Let's not stand in the weeds and snipe at people who have. If you do not know what is going on in this video, please do NOT write about it, as you are not qualified to judge an honest answer from a nonsense answer.

You say this fellow has just "trained this dog not to growl" which means (according to you) it will explode on someone else.

Nonsense. This bad behavior occurs in the house where these people [and this dog] live. It should NOT be tolerated, and getting rid of the behavior does not mean the dog explodes due to some sort of imagined bottled aggression, any more than getting your own kid to stop throwing screaming fits when it does not get its way will make it start building bombs in the basement.

.... To return to the video: What is going on in all three situations is the same thing. You should have started with that! If you had bothered to read the two posts I directed you to, you would know what the core problem is, and you would be able to talk about it in terms of classical operant conditioning. Sorry, but "food guarding" is not an explanation. That's a label, and it does NOT tell you why the dog is acting the way it is. And, to be clear, that is only one of three situations going on this video. In fact "food guarding" is simply a kind of aggression that is routinely reinforced, which is why it is so common. The other two actions in this video are also reinforced behaviors, in which the dog has trained the people quite successfully.

Please read this post on desensitizing dogs to stimulus.

Please read this post on extinguishing bad behavior.

Now, why have I directed you to these two posts? Because (a bit clumsily, and too rapidly, and without a very good explanation to the lay audience) this is what this young fellow is doing, and it is why it has WORKED.

Are there other ways to train out the bad behavior?

YES, but ALL of them are going to have to start with the fact that this dog has already been trained -- he has been trained to bite and growl. And who trained it? The people like you, and the arm chair commentators who seem to be shocked that a dog would bite, and who run screaming from a few teeth and a little growling!

After a bit more palaver about the notion of self-credentialing "experts" in the field of dog training, I noted that my friend has missed the two most obvious experts to interview about this trainer: the dog and the dog's owner!

But there is another expert here -- the OWNERS of these dogs. They used to have to walk around in boots, but apparently no more. Would you have simply walked around in boots forever like they did?

Now, to be clear, I DO have some small criticism of this kid -- both his presentation to the dog, and the television audience. More on that later if you care.

But did this kid beat the dog? NO.

And did the dog change its long-developed behavior? YES.

And was this achieved through the three legs of operant conditioning? YES.

If you missed these three points, you have missed the real story, and you have missed it because you are ignoring the two most important facts, and because you do not know or understand basic operant conditioning.

And "I am not a behaviorist" is NOT an excuse.

Now, to be clear, I am not thrilled with this young wanna-be TV dog trainer.

He is moving too fast with the dog and in life. He is presenting or suggesting expertise he does not yet have.

The BBC simply failed to get a better trainer, and there are a LOT of them out there -- no disagreement on that.

That said, watch the video. Violence is not being done to this dog. This dog is doing the violence, and in the end he stops because things change (albeit not as quietly or as quickly as they might have with a better trainer with better timing and a few more tricks up his sleeve).

So what's my point?

My point is this: When asked very bluntly to detail what is wrong with what is going on in this video, someone with a quarter of a century in dogs could not tell me. She did not know and she did not even bother to really look at the video tape! She could not describe what she was seeing (from the dog or the person) in terms of simple operant conditioning.

Instead of doing the "dog work" of actually looking at the video and narrating what was going on in the simplest terms of operant conditioning, she punted to adhominem attack, rumor mongering, and generalized tut-tutting. Among the charges: this 21-year old trainer is too young, too rich, and has no credentials.

I would agree with all those points, but guess what?

The dog does not care how old the kid is!

The dog does not care if this kid has a degree, or a piece of paper bought from a for-profit self-credentialing service.

The dog does not care if the BBC could have, or should have, gotten a better or more experienced trainer.

In the end, the dog simply dealt with what was put right in front of it.

And here's the interesting part: though what was put right in front of it was a bit clumsy and done too fast, and would be inappropriate for a larger dog, this kid did get change from this dog using classical operant conditioning and without any violence being done to the dog at all.

Funny how that little fact seems to have been missed!

Gina, of course did not miss it. She writes:

I think the biggest issue is that he made the [Cesar] Millan hissy noise. It provokes a Pavlovian response in the OC [operant conditioning] world.

I have a piece going live on the new site soon.

Victoria Stilwell has offered to fly home for free to "fix" the problem.

The dog, who was so "safe" before the family wore Wellies in the home, has now been rendered truly dangerous, apparently.

Right. Gina gets it right -- again.   As for Victoria Stilwell, you can read about her solution for a biting dog here.