Posts filed under ‘dog’

Open please

“I did not know they came in bottles!”

August 28, 2010 at 9:19 pm 3 comments

Excuse me

Click for link to full size version

He’s right. A good pet dog would have.

Whether you walk on two legs or four, honoring someone else’s personal space is a universal sign of respect among social creatures.

I like demonstrate this the first week of my beginning obedience classes by standing uncomfortably close to one of my human students. Once I’ve crowded the person to a visibly irritating extent I ask them how they feel. Replies typically run to some combination of: “Uncomfortable.” “Irritated.” “Like I want to move away.” “That you’re a very rude person.”

While most humans have an innate understanding of the rules of personal space within our own species, we tend to fall miserably short when it comes to applying this important idea into the way we live with our dogs.

There are strict cultural rules about how we interact with strangers, friends, relatives and loved ones in space,  but puppies and babies are exempt from those rules. If a strange toddler jumps into my lap and kisses me, I’m probably going to react more in delight than disgust. A random teenage boy who takes the same liberties will not get the same kind of reaction.

Because it takes more than a decade for an innocent baby who doesn’t understand social rules to morph into a  teenager who flouts them, it makes perfect sense to us that the two creatures should be held to different standards. The problem is that a dog makes this transition almost overnight.

And so we forget to teach our dogs to respect our personal space.

We keep dogs partly because they have a charming tendency to reward our attention with lavish affection. Touch is a vital part of the human – canine relationship. Problems arise, however, when we blindly accept physical contact from our dogs in all situations.

Like the rude teenager who crowds you into a clothes rack at the mall and laughs as he clears the sidewalk with his skateboard, a pinball dog has no respect for the rules of shared space. Pinball dogs are the rude, pushy beasts who knock over furniture and small humans, jump on visitors, trample flowerbeds and otherwise wreak physical havoc on nearly everything they come into contact with. Some of these dogs are good-hearted but socially inept while others understand the rules and choose to exploit them for their own evil purposes.

Barbarian or boor, a dog that crashes through life like a four-legged demo derby champion isn’t much fun to live with. And like a pushy teenager searching for boundaries, he’s not really comfortable with the situation he finds himself in.

Dogs are social creatures.  They have an innate sense of the importance of courtesy.  As I’ve written here before, Peggy Post’s “Emily Post’s Etiquette“ includes several pearls of wisdom applicable to modern life with dogs. I especially like this bit from the introduction:

Etiquette must be active. It isn’t enough to know what to do. Courtesy matters only when it is translated into everyday behavior – not just put on for show when it’s convenient. The rewards of an active commitment to everyday courtesy are myriad, though not often tangible. There are also important personal rewards that some people may not even be aware of, including the self-confidence that comes from knowing what to do in new or difficult situations; a positive reputation with others; and personal relationships that are more congenial, even in times of stress, because the people involved treat one another with respect.

Teaching and maintaining a formalized set of behaviors (i.e. rules of etiquette) to your dog gives him a roadmap that helps him navigate an often alien human world. It’s one of the most valuable gifts you can give him.

Yielding” is a fair and gentle way to teach your dog to respect your personal space using methods he understands naturally. Teaching your dog to “yield” is incredibly simple. All you need to do is use the side (not toe) of your foot or outside edge of your leg (not the point of your knee) to nudge him out of your way. This must be accomplished with gentle but insistent nudging, never a kick or poke.

As you nudge your dog say “Excuse me”. Repeat the phrase with each nudge and keep nudging him with an even, insistent cadence until he moves. Once your dog moves, praise him and step through the space he was occupying when you started the exercise. Only make him move once. If you pester a dog with incessant nudging and make him move repeatedly you’ll either convince him that you’re a clueless dolt or incite him to the kind of rousing body slam games you were trying to cure in the first place.

Practice the exercise several times a day in a calm, matter-of-fact way. And once you start doing Yielding exercises with your dog stop stepping over or around him when he’s in the way. Considerate people will move out of your way when space requires it, you should expect the same kind of courtesy from your dog.

If you have a very large dog or one who is skilled in manipulating the law of inertia in his favor, begin by practicing yielding when the dog is sitting or standing. If you’ve got a small dog or one who’s naturally more polite and conscious about space you may want to start by practicing the exercise when the dog is lying down. (And if you have an aggressive dog – get professional help before you embark on any kind of training program.)

Your goal is to teach the dog to calmly and agreeably move out of the way without being nudged.

It may seem like a silly and somewhat pointless exercise, but Yielding is an important part of my training program. Once your dog understands that he needs to move out of the way when you say “Excuse me” you’ve got a way to stop him from jumping up on you because a dog cannot possibly move politely out of your way and jump up on you at the same time. Yielding is a convenient way to teach the dog not to cut in front of you when he’s on a leash. You can also use it to move a dog off the furniture and to stop him from jumping up on counters. And asserting your space is a great way to reinforce the “Leave it” command and teach a dog to wait at doors.

Yielding teaches a dog to think about what he’s doing with his body and how it affects those around him. It’s an important part of proper human-canine etiquette. And it’s an incredibly easy thing to teach your dog to do. So – what are you waiting for?

August 24, 2010 at 8:57 pm 11 comments

Photo Friday

Shepherd with his horse and dog on Gravelly Range Madison County, Montana, August 1942. Reproduction from color slide. Photo by Russell Lee. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress Color America

From the Denver Post’s July 26, 2010 plog feature Captured: America in Color from 1939-1943.

These images, by photographers of the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information, are some of the only color photographs taken of the effects of the Depression on America’s rural and small town populations. The photographs are the property of the Library of Congress and were included in a 2006 exhibit Bound for Glory: America in Color.

August 13, 2010 at 9:23 am 6 comments

In The Garden

We’ve all got jobs to do


Digging, hauling, removing rocks – darling husband does the heavy work


Watering, weeding, planting, pruning – the one-armed wonder does the light work



Audie does double duty – hauling a bucket of bugs, worms and weeds feed to his chooks and acting as chief of vermin control


The peeps manufacture mulch and fertilizer
Yup – in the garden, everyone’s got a job to do


 Well…. almost everyone

June 5, 2009 at 3:11 pm 1 comment

A Dollar’s Worth

Worried about hyperinflation?
Facing possible foreclosure?
Need to kill some time in the unemployment line?
Want to make a $1 tip look impressive?

Try dollar bill Origami!

(Note: please forgive the shallowness and brevity of current postings.  Currently limited just to use of my non-dominant hand, everything is surprisingly difficult and frustratingly time-consuming.)

March 22, 2009 at 3:08 am Leave a comment

ABC Exposes American Dogs

Last year Jemima Harrison’s controversial BBC documentary Pedigree Dogs Exposed gave British dog lovers a shocking look into the ugly side of the dog breding industry.  Inbreeding, exaggeration of maladaptive traits, a maniacal focus on eugenic purity and an obsession with fashion over function have wreaked havoc in far too many breeds.  While the expose hasn’t yet provoked the kinds of wide-spread changes in breeding that many of us would like to see; it certainly opened a lot of eyes.

This week ABC’s Nightline aired an eye-opening episode called Best in Show? exposing the countless, needless problems caused by closed registries.  As my friend Gina posted over at PetConnection:

It’s time to open these registries and get some fresh genetic material into the business of purebred dogs. And into the dogs as well. Open the registries to well-planned, scientifically sound outcrosses. You will still have your breeds as you like them, just healthier.

I couldn’t agree more. Pat the Terrierman posted some great information here — he was involved in preparing the episode.  Please watch both documentaries and share them with your dog-loving friends.  We owe our dogs the best health we can give them.  To do that we need to provide them with a genetic heritage based on health, temperament and working ability rather than outdated ideas of exaggerated type and racial purity.

March 13, 2009 at 1:52 am 2 comments

No Leash Laws for Wolves?

WDIO Duluth reports:

Linda Ziegler says she let her 5-year-old dachshund, Jenny, outside just before noon last Thursday. Ziegler was standing on her front steps when two timber wolves appeared.

“The minute they spotted her, well that was the end,” said Linda. “They went right after her and they killed her. And they were carrying her around the yard and there was no one around anywhere. So I was under the impression that these two were wild.”

Wolves depredation on dogs in Minnesota has become more common in recent years as wolf populations increase and animals come into more frequent contact with hunters and human habitations.  In Wisconsin, wolf depredation on bear hunting dogs is now a serious enough problem that the DNR has published a guide and maps of ‘caution areas’ to help hunters reduce conflicts.

More wolves means more wolf / dog confrontations. Still, Minnesotans don’t expect to have their dogs killed by wolves during a short pee break in the front yard. Especially when the wolves in question are “tame” animals out on a photo shoot…

The wolves belong to the Minnesota Wildlife Connection. Founder Lee Greenly says the business provided the animals for a photo shoot near the Ziegler’s property when the wolves wandered a little too far.

“I deeply regret that this incident happened and we’ll take precautions,” said Greenly. “99% of the time it’s never a problem. It’s just that 1% that happens, and this happened to be a problem.”

Yeah Lee.  I’m guessing this is much like that 1% of stuff that happens when an untrained, unsupervised dog is allowed to run loose. The times when he kills chickens, craps in the neighbor’s yard, is hit by a car or gets shot for running deer.  It’s also the 1% of stuff that responsible animal owners do their best to avoid. But hey, it’s OK  ’cause, you know – these weren’t dogs. They were wolves.

Greenly says he has several licenses to breed and raise the wolves, which have been trained by Greenly and his family. He says the regulations for letting wildlife run free in rural areas are minimal.

Brilliant Lee!  The fact that the state doesn’t specifically require that wolves be kept on leash obviously gives you the right to let tame wolves who, unlike their wild brethren, have lost their fear of people – run at large in the neighborhood. Leash laws are obviously only meant for domestic dogs and the wimps that own them. Real men own wolves.  And hunt bear.

Lee enjoys the manly sport of bear hunting. So does his pal, country western singer Troy Lee Gentry.  Back in 2006 Minneapolis TV station WCCO reported that:

Investigators said Troy Lee Gentry, half of the Montgomery Gentry duo, killed a tame black bear in an enclosed pen in Sandstone, Minn. in October 2004 and videotaped it.

Investigators said Gentry then edited the video to make it appear as though the animal was shot in the wild.

Shooting bears in a barrel! I’ll bet that’s more fun than hunting wiener dogs with wolves! Unfortunately, while we won’t penalize you for letting your wolf run at large, shooting tame bears is a misdemeanor here in Minnesota. In 2007 CBSNews reported:

Gentry pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in November. Under a plea deal, he agreed to forfeit the bear and the bow he used during the hunt near Sandstone. The 600-pound bear has been part of a taxidermy display at Gentry’s home in Tennessee. He was sentenced Friday.

The bear was killed in October 2004 at the 80-acre Minnesota Wildlife Connection. Owner Lee Marvin Greenly sold the bear for $4,650 and orchestrated the hunt, which Gentry videotaped and edited to make it appear the bear had been killed in a fair chase hunt, according to authorities.

In his plea bargain agreement, Gentry admitted he shot a bear named Cubby from a hunting stand that stood in a 3-acre pen surrounded by an electric fence.  And the wildlife-loving Mr. Greenly set the whole thing up for him (for a fee, of course.)  And unfortunately for Mr. Greenly, the penalties for setting up fake bear hunts are somewhat more serious than those for hunting wieners out of season. According to the Chicago Tribune:

Lee Marvin Greenly, 46, Gentry’s local hunting guide, pleaded guilty at the same hearing to two felony charges of helping other hunters shoot bears at illegal baiting stations he maintained inside a national wildlife refuge near Sandstone in east-central Minnesota.

Our hearts go out to the Zieglers. This was a terrible way to lose a beloved friend. Our sympathies are also extended to Cubby the bear, killed back in 2006. We’d like to suggest that the USDA, Minnesota Dept. of Agriculture and Minnesota DNR consider reviewing the Wildlife Connections‘ permits.  It appears that there may be something rotten in the City of Sandstone…

February 20, 2009 at 5:35 am 6 comments

Just Get Over It

In a series of studies published last year in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Colgate University psychologist Kevin Carlsmith and his co-authors, Timothy Wilson of the University of Virginia and Daniel Gilbert from Harvard University explored the emotional costs of imposing retaliatory harm on a social transgressor. The abstract of the article presents their rather unexpected findings:

People expect to reap hedonic rewards when they punish an offender, but in at least some instances, revenge has hedonic consequences that are precisely the opposite of what people expect. Three studies showed that (a) one reason for this is that people who punish continue to ruminate about the offender, whereas those who do not punish “move on” and think less about the offender, and (b) people fail to appreciate the different affective consequences of witnessing and instigating punishment.

So, while we anticipate that exacting revenge will give us an enormous sense of satisfaction, they found that getting even just cements that sense of dissatisfied frustration more firmly in our psyches. If instead we ‘d just pull our heads our of our hinterlands and get over it — that sense of righteous indignation will fade and we’ll end up feeling less stress and frustration.

While human beings seem to have an enormously difficult time figuring this out, our dogs have a pre-programmed predisposition to forgive and forget.  It’s one of the best lessons they can teach us.

It also gives me a chance to harp on one of my pet peeves in the world of dog training.  This would be the difference between punishment and correction. Most new age dog trainers will tell you that there is no difference between punishment and correction. They’re both pigeonholed into the P+ quadrant of their sacred, reductionist operant conditioning diagram. defines punishment as:

1. the act of punishing.
2. the fact of being punished, as for an offense or fault.
3. a penalty inflicted for an offense, fault, etc.
4. severe handling or treatment. 

It defines correction as:

1. something that is substituted or proposed for what is wrong or inaccurate; emendation
2. the act of correcting.
3. punishment intended to reform, improve, or rehabilitate; chastisement; reproof.
4. the various methods, as incarceration, parole, and probation, by which society deals with convicted offenders.
5. a quantity applied or other adjustment made in order to increase accuracy, as in the use of an instrument or the solution of a problem
6. a reversal of the trend of stock prices, esp. temporarily, as after a sharp advance or decline in the previous trading sessions

Did you happen to notice how that definition for correction was a lot longer and more detailed than the one for punishment? Did you also notice that while the definition of punishment relates entirely to retribution or harsh treatment — that the various definitions of correction very specifically relate in all but one instance (#4) to transmitting information?

In the four sacred quadrants of operant conditioning punishment is defined as an aversive stimulus, such as introducing a shock or loud noise, resulting in a decrease in an antecedent behavior. Note that in this context, all that is required of punishment is that it be aversive (i.e. unpleasant) and that its presentation should reduce the frequency at which the behavior that occurred before its application.  An operant punishment doesn’t give the punishee any information about what he did wrong or how we might prefer he behave. It just tells him that unpleasant consequences will tend to follow it.

Yet — radical ‘purely positive’ trainers will tell you that punishments and corrections are the same thing. And they will condemn you to a Skinnerian hell for using either.

And this brings us back to Carlsmith, Wilson and Gilbert.  The ‘purely positives’ are right in one way.  Retributional punishment, the kind where you get even, er – umm; apply an aversive stimulus to a two- or four-legged animal after it behaves in a way you don’t like is as unhealthy for you as it is for the target of your anger, oops… the subject.

Whether the purely positives want to admit it or not, outside of behaviorspeak, correction is not the same as punishment.  Correction can be gentle and it should always be fair. It doesn’t just reduce the frequency of behavior by applying an unpleasant consequence, it provides information on why the behavior is not desired and / or what other behaviors to engage in instead. And when it’s done without anger and with even a moderate degree of skill, it doesn’t create fear or stress in the student or the teacher.

Its time to drop the behaviorist’s strict reductionist / operant idea that correction and punishment are identical.  Correction is not punishment.  Correction is rooted in explanation — not in retribution.  Correction should never be done in anger.  And — because a good correction creates an immediate improvement in behavior (however small)  it should always be followed immediately by forgiveness and praise.

               Forgive him!

dog is rewarded - behavior is reinforced

January 27, 2009 at 4:59 am 3 comments

Breakfast of Champions

The English Shepherd is an all-purpose farm dog.  Unlike more specialized breeds such as Border Collies and terriers, English Shepherds are bred to herd, act as watchdogs and kill vermin.  It’s a breed characterized by substance rather than style. 

The English Shepherd Club doesn’t hold conformation events or award championships.  In fact, they don’t award titles of any kind.  The ESC’s sister group, the American Working Farm Collie Association will, however, award a  Certificate of Merit to dogs who qualify in each of the three working categories (herding, hunting and guarding). To qualify, the owner of the dog must provide verifiable evidence of the dog’s working ability in each category. This evidence can consist of a video tape or a live observation by a qualified AWFA representative.

Both of Audie’s parents have been awarded the PRGN Certificate of Merit.

Breakfast of Champoins

Breakfast of Champions

This morning  young Audie took the intiative to work on that “hunting vermin” leg on his own.  Here’s a picture of my Minnesota Feist — holding his freshly caught breakfast.

January 22, 2009 at 7:23 pm 9 comments

Stop Thief!

This just in from the “you had to see it to believe it files” courtesy of

A suspicious character entered through the front door. “I’ve never seen him shop in here before; brand new customer, didn’t even have his Fresh Value card,” store manager Roger Adamson said.

What happened next is already becoming legend. “I mean, how likely is that? For a dog to walk into a store, go down the pet aisle, get his bone and walk out?” Jacobson said.

Let’s reconstruct the crime a step at a time: Entering at the checkout area, the dog approached a young girl. “He just kind of sniffed the customer up, and then headed down the aisle,” Adamson said.

At that point, he had a decision to make: Left? No dog food. Right? Dog food. He turned right and went straight to aisle 16, the dog food aisle.

There are so many fun Christmas presents he could have picked, but he seemed to know exactly what he was after. He grabbed a rawhide bone and headed down the aisle, only to be confronted by the manager.

“I looked at him. I said, ‘Drop it!'” Adamson said. “I decided I wanted to keep all my fingers, so I didn’t try to take it from him. He looked at me, and I looked at him, and he ran for the door and away he went, right out the front door.”

The news report, complete with in-store surveillance video below:

I loved the way the dog sauntered in the door, went straight to the dog food aisle, picked out what he wanted and then ignored the store manager’s request to drop it as he trotted back out the door.

But… please don’t let your dog do this. It’s not just illegal, it’s dangerous. City streets are no place for a dog to roam.

December 26, 2008 at 9:23 pm 1 comment

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