Sunday, July 14, 2013

Great Book for Understanding Your Dog's Noodle

93% of a Dog's Brains are in her Nose
Most dog books are about picking a dog or training your dog or fixing dog problems.

This one is not one of those. It is entirely about how dogs understand their world ("dog cognition") and the experiments that reveal their nature.

You see many dog books by PhDs (sometimes in a subject having nothing to do with dogs). I've read several and they tend to follow a pattern. Credentials. Some observations with experiment to back them up. Then, very quickly, they fall into conventional wisdom, anecdotes, opinions, and other "facts" that are justified not by science and experiment, but purely by the authority of the author.

Almost everything said about dogs in "Genius of Dogs" is based on rigorous, repeatable and often ingenious experiments. If there's only a single experiment backing up an observation, the authors tell you it's possibly questionable till someone else can repeat it. That's honesty! That's respect for your reader! Dog books don't usually admit to their fallibility.

The "Genius" in "Genius of Dogs" refers to those mental abilities dogs have that are truly exceptional in the animal kingdom. The two that really stood out:
1. Dogs are brilliant (compared to even primates) at recognizing human direction (like pointing and facial expression). What's truly amazing is that this does not seem to be a learned thing. As young puppies, relatively isolated from human contact, they still pick up on gestures like pointing. Wolf cubs and chimps can't without a lot of training.

2. Dogs aren't unusually gifted at solving problems like mazes or getting around obstacles or opening latches. In fact, they seem to be not all that bright in some experiments. But if you SHOW them how to solve a problem, they will pick it up almost immediately. They might not know how to go around a fence to get some treats, but once they see another dog or a human go around, they get it. I've seen this brilliance at copying behavior with my own dog. I spent a day and a half laboriously teaching him to go through a dog door with treats and luring and what not. He slowly got it. But with another dog who couldn't figure out the dog door either, when he saw my dog, Pogo, jump through a couple times, he figured it out instantly. 30 seconds of training vs a day and a half! Learning by example is a dog thing. Learning by conditioning (clicker/reward/positive or Alpha/do what I say cause I say so and I'm the boss both work, but aren't playing to the dog's mental strengths).

The book is essentially a list of experiments and results strung together with some personal anecdotes from the (apparently) main author, Michael Hare. The anecdotes are mostly benign and sort of amateurishly told compared to the meat of the book. But they are harmless and tend to relieve what might otherwise be a moderately dense book. (It's not a text book, but it is a book filled with explanation and evidence).

There is a small section on training at the end. Mostly it's critical of current training methods for following classical conditioning/behaviorist/operant clicker methods. The main point is that dogs are not black boxes and their best way of learning is not from simple action/reward/punishment, but by using their strengths (learning by copying and by reading human gesture). That's not completely fair because all clicker training (and alpha training too) emphasize the human connection with the dog. The dog must give the trainer his/her attention. The dog is not put in black box isolation from other stimulus. Still, the authors' point that training could better take advantage of dog Genius is well taken and could lead to some remarkable new training techniques if some human genius could work out a system...

Great Dog Harness

Sense-ation Dog Harness - "Swim" model
Why a dog harness?  If your dog is a puller or if he has linebacker syndrome (his head is smaller than his neck) or if he/she is just a little too independent on walks, a harness can make life more blissful for both of you.   Front-clip harnesses that have the leash attachment strap in front of the dog's chest (not on his back) can give your dog a better sense of where you'd like him to go.  And if there's any pulling in a different direction, the harness will give real positive feedback - redirecting the dog without choking.   If you're not enjoying your dog walks, give one a try.

I've used a few different brands and I like Sense-ation by Soft-touch concepts best.   It's the simplest to put on and to adjust, and it just seems to be the most comfortable for the dog.   They have a few different models, but my favorite is the "Swim" model.   It's made of a softer material than their usual nylon, yet it seems to be a bit more durable.   My only real complaint is that the dog can chew through the harness pretty easily if he wants to.   Sense-ation harnesses are among the easiest to chew - probably because they are softer.  They will repair a strap for $5 with free return shipping.  You have to get it to them though.  I'm on my 6th repair (I have a couple backups for when the harness is in transit).

Another nice thing about the Swim model is that it dries faster and holds less water than nylon.  In a rainy place like Portland, that tends to make for a less smelly harness.  It is pricey and can be hard to find in stores.  $30 at Amazon at the moment.

Great Tug Toy for Dogs & Owners who don't like Rope

Tri-Pull Tug Toy
My dog loves to play tug (aka Tug-o-war), but doesn't seem crazy about any of the many rope toys I've tried.  He just can't get a great grip or it doesn't feel good in his mouth or - who knows?  Dogs have strong opinions.

This is Pogo's favorite toy period (maybe the chuck-it squirrel if he's in the mood, but mostly this).  The Tri-pull tug toy.   Each of the pads/pods at the ends have pretty tough squeakers in them.   You get a nice soft wrist loop - which is comfortable for long sessions.  I have to admit, my dog loves to chew the wrist loop off as soon as we start playing - even though it's attached with seat-belt like tough material.     The pods are attached with an even heavier duty felt material he has not chewed through yet.  That's saying something.  This is the toy I pull out when I just need to wear Pogo down a bit more at the end of the day.

 You can get it at (which also happens to be the best place for rawhide) for about $10.   Whitedogbone sometimes has sales & coupons.  They do charge for shipping, so get some wholesome hide rolls while you're at it.   They have lots of other tough toys.  I've tried a few, but this is the only one I've ordered again.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Great Rawhide Rolls

Wholesome Hide Retriever Rolls
My terrier was a voracious chewer (thank God - not quite so much now).   He went through so many bully sticks and "indestructible" toys and FURNITURE(!) that I tallied any chew I bought him in dollars per hour of distraction.    When he started to go through a 12" bully stick in 15 minutes, I knew I had to find something that'd last him a bit longer.

I tried the Himalayan Chews (10$ gone in 10 minutes), various raw hides from pet stores (he would break them apart because most were made from a solid outer layer with pressed bits inside where you couldn't see).     After some reading, I discovered Wholsome Hide.   Made in the USA.  Don't be fooled!  Most rawhides (even with USA in the name) are not processed in the US.  Most of the hides do come from the US meat packing industry, but they are sent to other countries (mostly shoe manufacturing countries in the far East), where they are heavily chemically treated - typically after going rotten.

Wholesome Hide Rawhides (I get the retriever rolls) are made from single pieces of raw hide rolled up.  You can look at the side of the roll and see the even thickness all the way to the middle.   And they are processed without some of the horrific agents used in less regulated places (Hey China, I'm looking at you!). is the best place I've found to buy them.  There's a bit of a lag in delivery.  Figure 1-2 weeks.   They have sales fairly often and look on for coupons.   They also have a couple toys the dog likes.

Great Dog Food – Merrick Grain Free Kibble

Merrick Grain Free Kibble
Dog food choice is a tough nut.  There's A LOT of choice and a lot of advice from well intentioned people who don't know how to read a label.   And different dogs are tolerant of different things, so there's not going to be one super food for all dogs.
But Merrick Grain Free works for me, and I think it's a wonderful choice for many dogs.   It has high quality ingredients, high protein content - and a very high proportion of the protein comes from meat.  This is not for your vegan dog.

I also really like Acana and Orijen dog kibble (made by Champion Pet Foods in Canada).  I think the quality is about the same, but for the price, Merrick gives you more meat content.   You would need to go up to something like Orijen "Regional Red" to match the meat content of the Merrick Grain free.   Merrick seems to be easier to find and sells for about 2/3rds the cost of Regional Red.   (Orijen "Adult" is also similar in protein content, though possibly with a little less meat making up the protein .  It sells for about 20% more than the Merrick and is also a great food).
Flavor:  My dog likes the Merrick, Orijen and Acana too (Acana is a bit lower in protein vs the others - which is easier to digest for some dogs.)    But I actually taste the dry dog food myself.  Not very scientific, but... The Regional Red & Merrick have a much stronger & richer flavor than the Acana (Wild Prairie variety).   And the Merrick actually smells and tastes not bad to me!   That's not common in dog food.    Take it with a grain of salt.  Dogs like stuff people don't.   Just look at where they stick their nose.

I know there are hundreds of brands of dog food out there, and probably dozens that are top quality.   But I like Merrick for the quality, content, and price (and taste!).

Great Water Fetch Toy - Floating “Bumper” from

Floating "Bumper" Retreiver Toy that Floats
floating "bumper" for playing fetch in water from
While tossing a stick for my dog in the Willamette River at Sellwood Park (Portland, OR), his attention was snatched by a guy throwing one of these things for his retriever.   It floats.  It's easy to see.  The dog loves it.  It's just a great water fetch toy.   I should've asked where he got it, but instead just looked on Amazon.  These things were $20 and up.  Pricey.  After a bit more Googling, I discovered it's called a bumper and before there were dog versions, they were dock bumpers to keep little fishing boats from getting scratched up.   Someone figured out they were great fetch toys and so... has a great selection and lots of good info.  For example, orange = great visibility for owners.  Not so hot for dogs (doesn't contrast with the water with their limited color vision).   So they sell different version. White. White/Black. Orange.    And they are CHEAP.  Like $4.25 (as of this post 7/13/2013).   Less than 1/4 the price.   High quality too.   And they come with a little free rope just to make them easier to grab.

CAVEAT/WARNING/YOU MAY NOT LIKE THIS: A lot of people who train their dogs for hunting use "traditional" (negative feedback/punishment) techniques. sells stuff for those people.  If you would prefer not to support a company that sells choking, shocking and otherwise not very nice kinds of training tools, Stay Away.  What can I say?  I'm a sucker for cool dog thingies.  I balance my karma by buying carbon offsets, not eating much meat (Pogo does what he wants), and not yelling at small children.  But Each Person Must Be His or Her Own Judge.