Saturday, July 23, 2011

It sure looks like language use to me

Today we needed to drop of some Mountaineer Magazines at Wholesale Sports. Since Wholesale Sports is a dog friendly store and they're all fans of Ranger of course we took him with us. As soon as we got to the desk where we drop the magazines off he was eagerly looking for his favorite clerk, the one who always gives him treats. When he didn't see her he called for her and the instant she came out his bottom hit the floor and he began repeatedly signing food. She came over and petted him and made much of him and while he soaked it up he continued signing food. She stopped petting him and told him she'd go get his treat. Ranger sat quietly and stopped signing food. It was clear to me that once he'd made it clear to her that he wanted his treat he was content to wait for her to get it. He didn't continue to superstitiously sign he used his sign to say what he wanted and once it was clear he was going to get it he stopped asking. That sure looks like language use to me.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Hidden Valley Photo Blog V

[edited 2/22/2013 some photos were removed as an experiment. All photos that were removed were different views of the photos remaining]

I'm combining my regular blogs this week. Ranger and I regularly visit Hidden Valley to take photos and see what the beavers have been up to. He doesn't always go with me but he comes along often enough. And for the record since this is nature preserve land he is always on leash.

Seeds and blooms continue to be a big story in Hidden Valley as does an increase in beaver activity.
Looking across the meadow you see how much of the grass has gone to seed.

Seeds are great at hitching rides in order to propagate their species. Ranger's coat collects an amazing amount of seeds requiring a lot of brushing when we get home.

Close up the seeds are lovely.

Everywhere there are grasses going to seed.

Flowers bloom all around.
Pink roses make a beautiful contrast with the weathered shake siding.

There are lots of blooms to admire in Hidden Valley.

The dam continues to grow.

Everywhere there is more evidence of the beavers at work.

 It’s clear the beaver slide is getting a lot of use.

These branches are about three and an half feet off the ground. These must be good size beavers.

Although beavers are said to prefer Alder to other types of trees these beavers are chewing Rhododendron,


And Alder

Beaver have very hard teeth!

Ranger and I will enjoy our hikes through Hidden Valley and our observations of nature and beaver activity. Until next time.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Ranger Recommends Don't Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor

Don't Shoot the Dog: The New Model of Teaching and Training
by Karen Pryor
In Don’t Shoot the Dog, Karen Pryor provides magnificently managed descriptions of positive reinforcement clicker based training. This book is  the most fundamental text on the subject of clicker based training. Pryor’s book gives you a sound understanding of the process of using a clicker as an adjunct to positive reinforcement training. The book is delightfully written and laden with engaging stories. I especially enjoyed her description of teaching a kitten to play the piano—literally to play a simple song. Pryor is a gifted teacher and writer. As well as ways to employ positive reinforcement principles with animals she includes suggestions on how to change negative behavior of human beings into more pleasant interactions.  I finished the book energized and anxious to put the things I had learned to work. It made me a better and more effective trainer for Ranger.  I consider this book to be one of those that are essential reading for everyone who wants to train animals.  

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Feeding the dog Part II

If you feed your dog a Raw diet he is a health hazard T/F

This really is a serious issue that needs to be given careful consideration if your dog does therapy work. Unfortunately, just as with the question of the health benefits of feeding your dog Raw the scientific evidence is, to say the least, inconclusive. Or to put it bluntly the evidence is all over the map and often contradictory; one study shows a greater degree of e-coli shed in the fur of a Raw fed dog, another that there is less Mersa on a Raw fed dog’s coat. Yet another study indicates more salmonella on the coat of a dog that is fed Raw and still another that there is less salmonella on the coat of a dog that is fed Raw and more on the coat of a Kibble fed dog. There really is no definite information one way or the other. So what do you do? You can do like the Delta Society and prohibit Raw meats in a dog’s diet if they do Therapy work. That’s one solution. Of course this solution forces people to choose between letting the dog do the work he was born to do or feeding them the diet they have determined is optimum for their dog.

Ranger and I are registered with Therapy Dog International. They didn’t take the militaristic approach of banning all Raw fed dogs. Instead it was left to the individual human partner. I much preferred this approach. Don’t get me wrong there is a very real concern about passing pathogens from the therapy dog to the person they are visiting. Human partners of therapy dogs are encouraged to carry hand sanitizer and to offer it to anyone that has been petting their dog. Dogs are expected to have been bathed within 24 hours of a visit. Good hygiene is the rule and not the exception.

When humans interact with other animals there is a risk. The trick is to manage the risk. Since Ranger is a rough coated dog and there is possibly a greater chance that bacteria will get caught in his coat he will not be visiting high risk populations; in other words no visits to the local Chemotherapy ward for him. So what do we do to keep the populations he does visit safe? When we arrive for a nursing home visit I wipe his face, shoulders and all four paws with an antiseptic wipe. He’s already had a bath and been well brushed out so with the addition of the antiseptic wipe down we’ve done our best to minimize any health hazard he might pose. Additionally he is on Sentinel which not only prevents heartworm but also some pathogens that are contagious to humans. We take reasonable precautions and get on with letting him do what he was born to do. 

Something that has been well documented and demonstrated is the health benefits conferred by visits from Therapy animals. The lowered blood pressure, the boosted immune system, the increase in oxytocin all of these benefits have solid scientific proof behind them. Personally, I believe that the well documented benefits outweigh the potential risks.

Until next time. 

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Feeding the Dog

At our most recent veterinary check up Ranger and I fell afoul of the new veterinarian in the practice. The subject was what Ranger eats. The veterinarian didn't approve. Ranger eats a largely raw diet and I don't plan to change that. Yes, I know there are some concerns about bacteria. Yes, I know there is not solid science demonstrating that Raw is healthy. Yes, I know lots of dogs do well on kibble only. Yes, I know cooked food diets are an alternative to Raw if I want to put in the work. I also know that since we started feeding him raw food Ranger has not had any health issues, his teeth are very white and shiny, he smells less doggy and his coat glows. In addition I know that I did a lot of research before we switched and that I try to keep abreast of what science there is on the subject. This wasn't a lightly made decision following a fad it was researched, reasoned and frankly agonized over.

I do wish that there was solid science available but the fact is there is not. There is a lot of anecdotal data and there are several flawed and/or inconclusive studies. What I know from personal experience is that we adopted Ranger and fed him exclusively on high end kibble (Blue Buffalo). We'd had him just a few months when he had his first bout of gastro-enteritis necessitating a trip to the emergency vet, x-rays, subQ fluids and a lot of terror. He wouldn't eat the Blue Buffalo after that so we switched or Orjens and Acana brands of kibble. Six months later he had another go around with gastro-enteritis necessitating more vet visits, subQ fluids and medication. This happened twice more as he continued to eat Orjens and Acana,  grain-free high end kibbles. At this point we'd had Ranger two years and he'd had four bouts of gastro-enteritis. Several people told me they'd had similar problems but the problems had gone away once they switched to Raw. Anecdotal evidence but from people I knew and whose dogs I knew and something had to be changed; if there was some way to put a stop to these recurrent bouts of illness I owed it to Ranger to find it. I started reading everything I could find on the subject of feeding Raw. I learned that dogs evolved as scavengers and opportunistic eaters. I discovered that a dog's digestive system is much shorter than that of a human and that their stomach acid is comparable to battery acid. I was reminded that it wasn't that long ago that dogs were fed exclusively on table scraps and human leavings. I learned that what most veterinarians are taught about feeding dogs while in veterinary school is sponsored by dog food manufacturers. With some trepidation I determined on a two week experiment. For two weeks I'd feed him a Raw diet and see what happened.

The first thing I discovered is that Ranger will only eat raw meat that is chopped up fine and ground meat is better. The second thing I discovered is that organ meat needs to be chopped and lightly sauteed in olive oil before he'll eat it. Still he was eating raw meat and seemed to like it. At the end of two weeks his coat positively glowed, his poop was smaller and less smelly, he was drinking less water, his teeth that had been getting yellowish were white and he'd lost a bit of weight. He hadn't been overweight before but he had been at the top healthy weight. It seemed logical to me that the smaller poop meant he was making more use of the food he was eating. Drinking less water because he was getting more water from his food seemed a good thing since some studies have shown a correlation between drinking lots of water and likelihood of developing stomach torsion. The weight of the water is thought to stretch the tissue holding the stomach in place making torsion more likely. As a big dog Ranger's risk of stomach torsion is already higher than that of his smaller cousins so doing something that reduced his risk struck me as a good idea. Over all he appeared healthier at the end of two weeks. He also really really wanted his kibble. The books and websites tell you that you shouldn't switch back and forth between kibble and raw, that doing so will make the dog sick because his digestion can't switch easily between the two. The more I thought about it the less sense this made so I gave him his bowl of kibble. In fact I started feeding him more and more variety of foods with Raw being the foundation of his diet. That was over two years ago and since that time he hasn't had any stomach upsets. Maybe it is coincidence, maybe he outgrew the gastro-enteritis, maybe he'd do just as well on a cooked food diet. I don't know but I do know I'm not willing to experiment now that he is healthy.

I'm not a fanatic. I don't think everyone should switch to Raw food but if that's their choice it should be respected. Next time I'll discuss the impact his diet has on his job.