Archive for June, 2010

Is that a weed?

The only thing I hate worse than weeding is herbicides.  I love my garden. I love the way it looks. I love the way it smells. I love the way it tastes.  I love the idea of growing my own food. And of using something other than generic labor and water intensive ornamentals in the landscape.

What I don’t love is the work it takes to keep my garden in magazine cover condition. So I don’t.

I’m a lazy gardener and I take shortcuts. I plant most of my beds very intensively. More plants means less space for weeds.  I let spreading viny plants like pumpkins and other cucurbits take over much of the garden in late summer. They conveniently crowd out weeds when I get tired of pulling and hoeing them.

I mulch. I do what I can to water plants directly instead of watering the whole garden (though in a place like Minnesota where we get regular rain I’m not sure this makes a real difference). I pull handfuls buckets of weeds and feed them to the chickens.

But sometimes it makes more sense to call a freaking truce.

So when this mullein plant sprouted in an out of the way corner of the rock garden I let it go. Baby mullein plants are fairly easy to control and the fragrant spikes of the mature plants provide a nice contrast to the pumpkin, tomato and lily plants in this area.

I let wild field violets fill in the border next to the anchos. They crowd out just about everything else and contrast nicely with the oxeye sunflowers thriving next to the drain spout. Wild violets, being much more invasive, are not allowed to gain a foothold anywhere.

Another common ‘weed’ I tolerate is purslane. Purslane, colloquially known as little hogweed, is an annual succulent that’s been grown as a leafy vegetable for centuries. Purslane doesn’t just add a hearty crunch to your salad – the leaves contain more omega 3 fatty acids than any other land plant. Add beneficial quantities vitamins A, C, B, magnesium, calcium, iron, potassium, cyanins and xanthins and you’re crazy to toss this pretty little invader in the compost heap.

Purslane may be invasive but it’s shallow-rooted and requires little water or nutrients. Given its relatively innocuous nature there has been some interest in using it as a living mulch. Because I think the plant is both attractive and quite tasty I’ve decided to give the living mulch thing a shot. I’m going to experiment with letting it go in the places it sprouts to evaluate how good it is at crowding out other more problematic weeds.

What does one do with a surfeit of purslane? Today I made purslane potato salad. I took a dozen or so golfball-sized redskin potatoes, half a large sweet onion, 3/4 Cup of purslane leaves, 2 ribs of celery and a handful of fresh dill leaves and dressed them with a nice homemade lemon vinaigrette. It was delicious.

And no, I’m not going to provide detailed directions. This is salad people, not rocket science!

The stems and extra leaves were pureed with tomatoes (also from the garden) and added to tonight’s dog food. Nom nom!

June 30, 2010 at 11:10 pm 13 comments

Around the Web

There appears to be some confusion over at Google about that whole ‘don’t be evil‘ thing…


Via SFGate – The most depressing news story ever:

There are many incompetent people in the world. Dr. David A. Dunning is haunted by the fear that he might be one of them.

Dunning, a professor of psychology at Cornell, worries about this because, according to his research, most incompetent people do not know that they are incompetent.

On the contrary. People who do things badly, Dunning has found in studies conducted with a graduate student, Justin Kruger, are usually supremely confident of their abilities — more confident, in fact, than people who do things well.

Great. Now not only do I have to be depressed about the number of people I know who will apparently never get it… the truly scary news is that I’ll never really know whether or not I’m a clueless dolt.


Speaking of clueless people, it is not unusual for me to meet clients with unrealistic expectations who expect me to wave a magic wand and make their dog’s problem behavior vanish in a puff of rainbow fairy dust. Because it such a device could be enormously amusing (if not highly lucrative) I have often wished I had one.

And today I thought that wish had come true.While browsing around ThinkGeek I came across this:

According to ThinkGeek The Magic Wand Programmable Remote:

…may not make legions of kobold minions explode into flames, but it will learn up to 13 commands from your existing remote controls and map them to particular magical motions. Flick the wand from side to side to flip the channels, twist the wand to turn up the volume. A beam of light will shoot out the unicorn tail hair and magic will happen! The Wand can learn from any remotes in your house and once you master its 13 movements, you can mastermind a symphony of electronic enjoyment from the comfort of your couch.

A target stick, magic wand and remote control all in one! I was really excited about it until reality crashed in and I remembered that most remote controlled electronic equipment is operated by infrared signals. My remote training collars receive radio signals (the same kind of system used in R/C cars)  so, sadly, my future television career will not be built on this particular magic wand.


Last, but not least, via thepapierboy’s flickrstream in honor of today’s solstice I bring you – Poophenge!

June 21, 2010 at 10:43 pm 6 comments

Go with the flow

I just finished reading Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s “Flow: The Psychology of Optimum Experience”.  Dr. Csikszentmihalyi’s work focuses on happiness, creativity and success.  He is best known for his work on flow.

In Csikszentmihalyi’s own words, Flow is the state of:

“being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

Focus and concentration are the foundation of flow. When we’re engaged in flow we engage all of our physical and emotional resources to act and learn. And, flow isn’t just a way to maximize our potential, it is also very a strongly intrinsically rewarding state of mind.

Most researchers seem to think that flow is a uniquely human trait. I find this odd because it seems to me that flow is the natural state for a mentally balanced dog. In my experience, dogs have an absolutely wonderful natural tendency to become completely immersed, and find great joy in, even the simplest of tasks.

Flow is a complex abstract concept. If you’re interested you really need to read Csikszentmihalyi’s book. For those who want the Cliff Notes version, this video presents an accessible short description of flow:

The video emphasizes the importance of flow in education. When we are challenged in ways that stretch our skills without stretching them too far, we tend to move into flow. I think that this is true for dogs as well as for humans.

Flow is important to dog training in two ways.

First, if you experience flow regularly as you work with your dog, not only will you be driven to seek out more of the good feelings elicited by the positive experience, being in the flow state also puts you on the right track to master the art of dog training.

Second, when the dog experiences flow during training sessions not only does he get more out of the work — because the work itself becomes intrinsically rewarding he’ll learn to look forward to training sessions.

How can we harness the power of flow? According Csikszentmihalyi there are five essential steps involved in transforming the performance of physical acts into flow*. The first time I first read these steps I was shocked by their striking similarity to a class handout I wrote some time ago explaining how to set up a dog training session.

Combining Csikszentmihalyi’s steps with mine I came up with the following blueprint to achieve flow in dog training:

  1. Start by setting an overall goal that includes several measurable sub-goals. Having a plan in place, even an informal mental plan, before you get started helps keep you focused on the task at hand. Measurable stepwise sub-goals help provide a sense of accomplishment along the way.
  2. Find ways to measure your progress. Define how you plan to measure success at each step in the process. This will keep you on task and remind you to keep giving your dog helpful input as you work. Humans have an unfortunate tendency to obsess about end goals. It’s important for us to remember that in flow the journey, not the destination, is our goal.
  3. Make successively finer adjustments both to your performance and to your dog’s performance as you progress. Strive for better performance in many different sub-parts of the task. Working on different parts of a task helps keep training interesting. Mastering one part of a task also frees mental resources to focus on other parts.
  4. Look for ways to use your training skills to deal with unexpected outside forces that act as distractions. Use novelty to keep your dog (and yourself) interested in the work. Remember the importance of surprise in learning.
  5. Increase the level of difficulty as your skills and your dog’s skills improve. Regularly adding new challenges improves skills and helps prevent boredom.

A wonderful side benefit of a flow-centered training program is that, because it is strongly intrinsically rewarding, sharing time in the flow state enhances the relationship between you and your dog. It also provides excellent cross-training  opportunities to enhance your dog’s ability to exercise self-control.

* Chapter 5, page 97.

June 18, 2010 at 1:49 pm 3 comments

Objectivity FAIL

There have been some interesting goings on at the StarTribune this week. It started on Sunday when Jean Hopfensperger published a piece titled Humane Society, fighting a “smear”.

The story quickly hit local dog boards and generated some interest both because of the subject of the story and… because the piece was quickly scrubbed not only from the paper but also from google’s archives, shortly after it was published. A few people (including yours truly) wrote to the paper asking why the story was pulled. No answers were given but the story mysteriously re-appeared on the StarTribune’s website today.

The piece presents a strongly one-sided defense of Janelle Dixon’s condemnation of Humane Watch’s campaign to inform pet owners about how little money fund-raising behemoth the Humane Society of the United States uses to directly support animals in need.

While readers may assume that a woman representing a local animal shelter is primarily driven by a desire to save as many pets as she can, it may not be quite that simple. Ms. Dixon is not only president of the Animal Humane Society in Golden Valley, she’s also the president of the National Federation of Humane Societies (NFHS).

What is the NFHS? According to the social activist networking website care2:

Earlier this year when Pacelle was criticized for his role in euthanizing dogs rescued from a dog-fighting operation, HSUS made a commitment to begin evaluating all rescued dogs on an individual basis.  This commitment has led HSUS to launch The Shelter Pet Project – a multi-million dollar marketing campaign to end euthanasia of healthy and treatable homeless animals.

It has also led to the creation of the National Federation of Humane Societies. This is a coalition of dozens of major shelters and rescue groups throughout the country that have vowed to stop euthanasia for healthy homeless pets by the year 2020.

Stopping the euthanasia of pets is a laudable goal, but the StarTribune opinion piece story appears to have been lifted entirely from a letter NFHS wrote to Mr. Richarad Berman of the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) dated May 25, 2010. A letter that is posted prominently on the HSUS website.

The letter states that the HSUS’s “charitable purpose has never been questioned.” Apparently Steve Putnam, author of the letter and the executive director of NFHS, doesn’t spend much time on the internet. HSUS’s ‘charitable purposes’ have been called into question for years by yours truly and a host of other bloggers, forums, webgroups and advocacy groups. It’s old news.

Putnam goes on to state that “The HSUS mission has always included a focus on large-scale animal cruelty and eliminating animal suffering. HSUS has always been transparent about that mission.” Perhaps HSUS is completely transparent when they’re dealing with groups who share their ideals, but in my experience, the group makes millions by taking advantage of the fact that a very large number of pet lovers think that the Humane Society is the same thing as their local humane society. HSUS further obfuscates the truth by prominently featuring the plight of homeless pets (the same ones they spend less than 1% of their funds to help directly) in their advertising copy.

While he calls CCF’s motives into question, Putnam, for some reason, does not feel the need to mention the very strong ties between NFHS and HSUS. Neither does Dixon.

So Putnam and Dixon both have a pro-HSUS bias. Big deal. I’m a huge fan of freedom of speech, and as such, I support the rights of Putnam, Dixon, CCF, HSUS and NFHS to lobby and speak out on issues as they see fit. While I would fight to the death to support the rights of these people to speak their minds – I’m convinced that it’s immoral (and quite possibly illegal) to engage in misleading advertising.

As I’ve stated before I meet a very disturbing number of average Americans who donate money to HSUS in the mistaken belief that their money is going directly to fund their local shelter. While we all bear the responsibility to make reasonable efforts to investigate where our donations are being used, the deceptively ambiguous ads used extensively by HSUS – in my opinion – lead most people to a false sense of assurance that their money will go directly to support the care of pets in need rather than to support lobbying efforts that many of these same people disagree strongly with.

I’m also not a fan of advocacy journalism. The words you read here, on this blog, represent my opinions. I do not present this site as a news outlet so you can safely assume that anything you read here reflects my own personal bias. And unless you’re a complete dimwit, you probably understand that’s pretty much status quo for the blogosphere. The same can not (or at least should not) be said of the non-opinion pages published in a newspaper. When a journalist lifts information from a letter that is nothing more than a strongly worded opinion/PR piece and publishes it as ‘news’ without looking for, examining and discussing an opposing viewpoint – she spits on the idea of objectivity.

But, as I’m sure most of you know – that isn’t news. Spittoons appear to be common fixtures in newsrooms these days…

June 16, 2010 at 12:29 pm 14 comments

It’s a Sh*tty Job

And somebody’s doing it exceptionally well. Here’s the poop via today’s StarTribune:

This is why your mother says to wash your hands after handling money.

An employee of DoodyCalls Pet Waste Removal in St. Louis says he recently found $58 packed in dog poop, then returned the cash to the pooch’s owner.

Steve Wilson retrieved the money when he spotted it encased in poo. Wilson, whose honesty obviously far outweighs his squeamishness, sanitized the bills before returning them.  News reports did not specify whether he used gloves, bags or other means to extricate the funds in question.

According to the Santa Maria Times:

The company said the money was torn, but the serial numbers were identifiable, which means the bills could be returned to a bank and replaced with new money.

Wilson is reportedly the first pooper scooper to provide this kind of above-and-beyond service to his clients. Kudos!

June 15, 2010 at 8:39 pm 5 comments

Animal Attraction

I like to experiment with essential oils. I love perfume. Good perfume, not cheap drugstore stuff.  And essential oils not only give me a way to experiment with different scent combinations, I can also use them make my own scented soaps and cleaning products.

One day as I was playing around with mixtures of different scents while surrounded by a pack of curious dogs I thought “I wonder what the dogs think of these?”.

Anyone who’s spent a bit of time with dogs understands that they don’t make the same kinds of value judgments about smells that we do.  Seriously.  In case you have not already noticed the obvious, your dog adores smells like shit and week old garbage and rotting flesh and he probably thinks that smells like fabric softener and Glade air freshener are utterly revolting (just one more thing the dogs and I have in common).

It’s easy to find places where dogs and humans disagree on scent. I was interested in finding places where the dogs and I agreed.  So I collected a dozen or so vials of essential oils and four dogs (the number I had here at the time) and conducted an informal experiment. I put a drop of each oil on a small piece of paper then held the sample out toward each dog in turn and let each one decide whether they wanted to explore it more intimately or not.

The results were interesting.

Being courteous beasts, the dogs politely and carefully sniffed each sample I offered them. They seemed to react neutrally to most of the scents, generally taking a quick, cautious sniff or two then looking at me inquisitively*. All four turned their noses up at eucalyptus and preferred to avoid it. Three expressed similar distaste for tea tree oil and two for violet.  Wintergreen made one dog sneeze and the other three refused to sniff it. I didn’t force the issue.  They showed a somewhat marked interest in sandalwood, patchouli and ylang-ylang, taking a few extra sniffs and pausing between them as if to process the aromas.

The dogs were all mesmerized by three of the scents – vetiver, frankincense and oak moss with vetiver being the clear winner.  All four of them were entranced by it.  They didn’t just take a few polite whiff of the sample – they inhaled slowly and deeply then paused to process the aroma between each sniff. Charlie even tried to follow the bottle into the cabinet.

It was an interesting little experiment but I didn’t intend to follow up on it. That is, until last week. I was browsing aisles of beauty products while waiting for my stylist and while I don’t spend much money on that kind of thing (generally preferring utility to luxury) I sometimes like to check out scent products.

A row of bottles in the Aveda aisle caught my eye. Being somewhat paranoid about most over the counter scented products I sniffed each one cautiously. Most of were a lot sweeter and more citrusy than the scents I tend to prefer, but one hit the jackpot.  Chakra 1 is a blend of vetiver, frankincense (olibanum) and patchouli.  Strong and woody but not overpowering, it wasn’t something I’d ordinarily buy, but it was relatively inexpensive and given the results of my recent experiment I suspected that the dogs might enjoy it. So I brought a sample home.

I’m glad I did. Chakra 1 has been a big hit with the beasties. When I put it on they sniff me like a freshly decorated hydrant. And if I spritz a little on one of the dog beds, the boys will roll on it in apparent ecstasy.

I tend to prefer somewhat masculine grassy and woodsy fragrances rather than the fruity or flowery scents that dominate the market. Because the dogs and I seemed to have somewhat similar tastes, I decided to do another experiment and test their reactions to my perfume collection. While they were distinctly unimpressed by most of the products, Muschio di Quercia was everyone’s paws down favorite and young Charlie displays a clear and consistent interest in Privet Bloom**.

Most people probably think that testing animals’ reaction to perfumes is an odd idea, but it appears that I’m not the only one doing it. Or even the first to do it. Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal has the details:

Zoos have long spritzed perfumes and colognes on rocks, trees and toys in an effort to keep confined animals curious.

In 2003, Pat Thomas, general curator for the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bronx Zoo in New York, decided to get scientific about it. Working with 24 fragrances and two cheetahs, he recorded how long it took the big cats to notice the scent and how much time they spent interacting with it.

The results left barely a whiff of a doubt. Estée Lauder’s Beautiful occupied the cheetahs on average for just two seconds. Revlon’s Charlie managed 15.5 seconds. Nina Ricci’s L’Air du Temps took it up to 10.4 minutes. But the musky Obsession for Men triumphed: 11.1 minutes. That’s longer than the cats usually take to savor a meal.

The results of Thomas’ investigation spread quickly through wildlife biology circles and now “Obsession for Men” is widely used in zoos and field investigations. It also appears that dogs aren’t unique in their interest in selected scent products. Perfumes are regularly used to attract and entertain cougars and other big cats, and footage from scent-baited camera traps indicates that coati, tapir and peccary were drawn to “Obsession” as well.

Ann Gottlieb, the “nose” who helped create Obsession for Men, thinks there could be a number of factors in the fragrance that wild animals might find irresistible.

“It’s a combination of this lickable vanilla heart married to this fresh green top note—it creates tension,” she says. The cologne also has synthetic “animal” notes like civet, a musky substance secreted by the cat of the same name, giving it particular sex appeal, she adds. “It sparks curiosity with humans and, apparently, animals.”

According to the online perfume reference guide basenotes, “Obsession for Men” includes topnotes of mandarin and bergamot;  heart notes of lavendar, myrrh, sage, clove, nutmeg and coriander and base notes amber, musk, sandalwood, vetiver and patchouli.

Combining Obsession’s formulation data with the results of the informal research on my dogs, I’ll say that if I was interested in animal attraction I would experiment with scents featuring simple sweet heart notes like vanilla, orange and lemon combined with strong animal and woody basenotes. Based on this hypothesis and a quick perusal of reviews at basenotes the perfumes I recommend for biologists and zookeepers are:

These products are all even more expensive than “Obsession for Men” so I doubt they’ll replace it in zoos and wildlife surveys. But if anyone wants to send me samples I’ll be happy to try them on the dogs and report the results {-;

* These “neutral” scents included blue tansy, tangerine, bergamot, clary sage, cedar, rose absolute, hay absolute, peppermint, agrimony, lavendar, orange and fir.

**Privet Bloom contains topnotes lemon, bergamot, verbena; white hyacinth as a middle note and base notes sea grass and cucumber.

June 10, 2010 at 12:33 am 14 comments

The Good Dog Inside

The past two weeks have been exciting for young Charlie.  We threw a lot of new things at the boy, in this short period of time he:

  • Behaved calmly while surrounded by strange dogs and people during the Minnesota mini-gathering
  • Met a diverse crew of men who refinished our deck, and looked on with calm interest while they worked right outside the windows
  • Politely allowed himself to be approached and checked out by several strange off leash dogs at a sheepdog trial
  • Accepted my assurance that a pack of strange dogs staying as guests in our house was not a valid reason for a meltdown (I’ll add that he handled the situation with more grace than Audie did)
  • Developed a crush on our human visitor
  • Threw one brief tantrum when a strange person strode up very quickly then bent over inches away him at the trial (she was picking something up off the ground, and paid little attention to the little snot)
  • Then recovered his wits sufficiently to allow her to pet him just a few minutes later
  • Maintained good off leash manners while four different human guests were here
  • Did his first stint as a demo-dog (albeit allowing me to demonstrate how to apply a pressure-release technique to defuse a reactive dog)
  • Let my client pet him immediately after said demonstration

Charlie has come a long way. It was obvious from the start that a good dog was lurking inside the smart, resilient, obnoxious little jerk who arrived here last fall — but in the beginning, only hints of that good dog showed through.

Today Charlie is a good dog who only occasionally shows hints of the horrid little beast he never wanted to be.

Charlie watching the trial with Mark and D
Note that his leash is being held by the ‘dog un-trainer’

Charlie watches D make dinner
(I love a man who cooks for me!)

June 3, 2010 at 9:24 am 10 comments

Working out with dogs

How did they create this?
and… why?

June 2, 2010 at 8:02 pm 5 comments

Because A Dog’s Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste


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June 2010