Mommy Soup

Good ol’ Ranger boy took a trip to the vet the other day and had a full blood panel test. The results came back, but were different than I expected: Ranger has protein in his urine.

Vet recommendation: Feed Ranger a diet with less protein per serving.

Hmm…he’s only 5 years old. What is all this about anyhow? So, I took 5 dog health and holistic type dog books out of mine and my friends’ collective libraries and set out to read.

Ranger rarely drinks water. Uh oh. Bad news for kidneys. It is possible that at his young-ish age he is experiencing a decline in his kidney function to where he needs less protein, but could it have to do with water consumption as well?

Also, one of the treatments for failing kidneys is to give a subcutaneous fluid injection (a needle is inserted just under the skin and fluids are pumped in). Expensive at the vet (or scary for me to do my self), and not fun for the dog.

So, being the fussy dog mommy that I enjoy being to my guy, I decided to experiment with water. And what about his existing food? It’s still food, right? I have two large bags of a very high quality dog food (Acana Pacifica, to be specific), It has lots of other great ingredients that I would have a hard time assembling twice a day, day after day. So Mommy Soup was born. And, he loves it!

Slurp! Slurp! Slurp! All that good water getting inside of him. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see him pee as much as he is.

I’m taking Ranger back in for a complete urinalysis next week, so I will provide an update to see if anything has changed or improved, but I have to think this is a step in the right direction.

Mommy Soup Recipe

Now, I tried putting his kibble in my soup batch the first time and cooking it all together, but then I couldn’t tell exactly how much protein/kibble he was actually getting.

New concept: Keep a big batch of good tasting, healthy water in the refrigerator. At feeding time, measure out a little less kibble than he normally gets (used to be 1/2C, am now reducing it to 1/3C and checking to see if he complains about being hungry. So far, so good.) I toss his kibbles into a pan, add a lot of the liquid to make a decent sized bowl of soup. (1 1/2C maybe? I’ll measure sometime. I just eyeball it, you can experiment with what you think the right amount would be for your dog). I warm it for just a few seconds so that the kibble expands and absorbs some water too. He loves lukewarm food so much more than cold. It’s amazing the difference it makes for a lot of dogs.

Soup Ingredients:
*Bottled water (don’t want the kidneys to have to try to eliminate any toxins–I get mine from a local water store)
* Meat (so far, I’ve used chicken and some salmon skin, might try duck next)
* Asparagus (I read this was healthy for kidney functioning)
* Parsley (same with parsley)
* Kale (just seems like it’s good for everything)
* Carrots (why not?)
* Rice (just happened to have some on hand–he likes it)

Note: No onions! No salt!

Organic vegetables: Yes

How much meat? I don’t know. Enough to flavor the water. I used a package (about 1lb. of *organic* boneless chicken thighs from Costco – again, want my mixture as clean as possible so that his kidneys aren’t fighting to filter pesticides, hormones, etc.) to about 6C of water. I like it to e very, very watery. I accidentally made a batch that turned into being more of a chili texture and he didn’t like it at all.

1. Cook meat in the water slowly. (Don’t boil it to death, just cook it and let all the juices come out).
2. Dice all of the vegetables together in a food processor. (I had to do this because my dog will not eat a vegetable if he detects it in its natural form. (I’ll post a picture and you’ll get the idea!)
3. Once the meat is cooked, I toss in the vegetables and let it simmer awhile in the meat juice.
4. If using rice, cook it on the side and add it to the cooked meat/vegetable mix.
5. I’m not sure how much protein is in salmon skin, so I have been removing the skin from the water and tossing it even though I know he loves these as a treat. I’ll play it safe for now until I get his next test results back. I do pick out the cooked chicken pieces and chop them up small and put some back into the soup. I freeze the rest to be used as treats for training.

If you have any great additions or variations…or if there is something I am seriously overlooking, do let me know in the comments. I’m just really pleased to see him drinking in this water and I think it seems overall like a pretty healthy (or at least neutral) way of doing so.

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What Ranger thinks of vegetables!! It’s like he had an outright tantrum.

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Training vs. Beauty

By now you may have heard about the $1M dog. If I remember correctly, it was a dog that won a championship at a major show. I want to say it was a Chow. And I think it was purchased by someone in China. I should get off my duff and look up the exact details, but it isn’t really the point I want to make. I remember the first thing I thought when the story first hit the news and my non-dog fanatic friends exclaimed, “WOW! Did you hear that?” My response was, “It still needs to be trained. Without that, it’s worth about $1.” At least to me.

And what do I mean by trained? First and foremost, I want a temperamentally sound animal. That is, I want one that has been nicely socialized…even if I were in the market for a ‘protection dog.’ Especially if I were in the market for a protection dog. Having a dog that is ‘in their right mind’ is what I would want…more on that in an upcoming article that I am working on that I think a lot of you will be excited to read. I have a surprise guest interview I’ve been working on for a couple of months. Can’t wait to finish this!

Beyond this, it is truly amazing how much cache a dog can have with training. You can have a beauty of a dog who is so untrained as to be a nuisance (or one that is temperamentally very unsound) next to one with a whamo of a hairdo and no impressive pedigree. I’ll take the latter and turn it into the dog that everybody wants in pretty short order. Having grooming skills just allows me to top off the good manners and tricks, etc. with some pizazz. Truly amazing.

Were I simply to groom a dog into a very lovely coiffed showpiece, I AM likely to to get it adopted more quickly than being a matted mess, however, without the training, I am also likely to see the dog returned. Not good. Not good at all.

Here’s a real life example:

I inherited a sweet, fat, untrained Chi/Min Pin mix from my elderly father (the dog was a gift -another blog post for another day). He had no idea how to raise a puppy. She became, as my mother put it, the Helen Keller of dogs. She would run amok, scream at my father until he fed her from his plate. She defecated and urinated all over the 4-level house and furniture, had horrid separation anxiety, and would methodically chew up pieces of the furniture. Dad kept her on a tan harness and a purple leash and took her to the dog park a couple of times a day.

Meanwhile, my brother (also my father’s neighbor at the time) purchased a very expensive pet store Yorkie (yes, the dreaded pet store, sick variety). They paid an ungodly amount for her, spent gobs in grooming so that she would look just so (I lived in another state at the time) and gave her lots of bling, expensive carrying totes, fancy treats, dog condo…the works. She was a fashion item and substitute baby for his wife. (Don’t worry, they don’t know I have a blog. Yet. ha!)

The dog had never been socialized with outside people or dogs other than mine. She was never house trained (and at 10 years old, she still isn’t). She bit people she didn’t know and has recently started biting and drawing blood even from them. We live too far apart for me to work with her personally.

I trained the ‘boring’ tan dog (who they wouldn’t allow in their house due to “allergies”) to do all sorts of things and her status went through the roof. Decided to bling my new dog up a little as a reward for weight loss and doing a million good manners and cool tricks (to include pooping into a bag when I would open it and earning her CGC. Nice trick!) This dog was also exceptional with people and especially with children–a true behavioral find.

I splurged on a pink, italian leather with Swarovsky crystals harness and leash set, pink leather running shoes, and a set of Doggles glasses for the frying pan hot Palm Springs daytime streets. People literally stopped to take photos and video the day I bought her stuff (~$200+ worth).

Next thing you know, I got her involved with therapy dog and service dog work. This dog had adoption offers. You name it. The name Chi Chi became “Can she come over to visit? I love her!” Even my brother and wife forgot about their boycott of this dog and their allergies and would use full animation to exclaim, “Of course Chi Chi can come in!” (I was also became entrusted to care for their Yorkie. Later, I became the convenient daycare provider so they wouldn’t come home to a soiled home while running errands. Uh huh, you know how it goes.)

Unfortunately, Chi Chi is gone now, but I have had many moments filled with sobs after sweet encounters with people who were enchanted by a dog who would give them the attention that society often does not.

One encounter was especially memorable. We were riding the bus (she as my service dog for seizures). A mentally and physically disabled man was riding in his group. He had a crooked smile and shakiness to his body. He very politely leaned forward and asked, “May I pet your dog?” I was more than happy to say, “I think she would really like that. Please do.” He acted as though the Queen of England had invited him to lunch.

He stretched one single, shaky finger toward her. In response, she moved her head toward his hand and let her ears go very wide with gentleness and her big doe eyes. I have never seen someone take so much care in petting. As he pet, his mouth grew into the most incredibly wide smile. I could tell that her response to him made him feel important and loved. I tried not to let anyone see, but tears were squeezing out the sides of my eyes. Only after we de-boarded the bus at our stop did I allow myself to openly cry. I put myself in his position. His day is likely filled with routine. Society may or may not really “see” him (or want to) because of his disabilities, his abnormal appearance and physical limitations. This dog went far out of her way to see and accept him. How would you feel? I know it would make my day, at least! It would be an almost spiritual experience.

So, yes, after years of grooming, I am able to style a dog to make it stand out and get noticed. But, I am more proud of the knowledge, motivation, and ability to create a dog that is safe, fun, and makes others feel good. I am proud that people want the mixed breed that does amazing things. Sure, his coat looks great because he’s cute without my hand in it. The only question I am asked is “Where did you find such a smart dog?” The Humane Society. He was an accidental litter mix of anybody’s guess.

Sure he’s smart. They all are. I went far, far out of my way to teach him as many good social skills as possible. He’s more behaviorally challenged than Chi Chi, but he has home offers. He makes people laugh. He has short hair, so bathing is about the only thing I can do to maintain his pretty looks. But, yes, that training pushes an average dogs’ status far beyond what looks alone can do.

There are a lot of pretty dogs of every single breed sitting (or dying) in shelters. That’s what is wonderful about training–it is a controllable element. Beauty is a gift that is, to some degree, out of our hands.

Training truly levels the playing field.

Feeding Time Fun

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Something different today. Here’s a film I made this morning (translation: Bed Head and workout clothes for me–very professional. That’s how mornings roll at the West Coast Pets ranch. You want film? You just have to take what you can grab in the moment).

I wanted to demonstrate how a simple meal can be made more fun for your dog. Let’s begin by looking at how the dogs look just after eating their meals. How great is this?? With two pooped dogs, now maybe I can get some work accomplished.

Sleepy Time = Work Time for Saranimals!

Sleepy Time = Work Time for Saranimals!

Will You Still Love Me, Tomorrow?

As only real life has a way of doing, it tests you. It humbles you. If you have a soul at all, it sends you home in a reflective funk that only your best friends and family can help you sort out and salvage what’s left of you by holding up a mirror and saying, “Look! You know what I see? Someone who is lovely. Someone I want to know. Someone I trust.”

And here’s how fast something can go from a happy day full of laughter to a pensive mood. It only took 2 hours to sink me to my core.

I knew I was taking a risk by writing “When Leaving Your Dog with a Professional” because it set me up to be held more accountable than if I hadn’t.

So, let’s take a look.

Yesterday, a friend asked for help at her dog wash for just 2 hours. Sure, I could come in. I love to go in.

No sooner did I arrive than the groomer in the back called out for my help. “Sara, do you think you could assist with this dog (Golden Retriever). It’s giving me some real trouble.”

“Sure.” (First thought–how difficult could a golden really be? Just nervous and struggling on the table?) I went back to see the dog professionally and safely tethered on the table. Excellent work, Lindsay! I was delighted and proud to see that. It was also in a muzzle. Knowing L, she wouldn’t put one on unless it was truly necessary.

The dog had deep mats, the owner said the dog didn’t bite, but I completely trusted L when she said that the dog *is* biting and “head butting.” She did a great job shaving the body per owner request, and was at the last frontier: The head and neck. She asked if I could hold.

As you know, I’m not into the fighting thing and I could tell the dog was stressed and acting especially strange.

L warned me to watch my face because of the head butting. I have many, many years of grooming experience and have really never experienced anything quite like it. The dog was erratic. It would stand calm as we gently touched and tried to slowly work our way toward the front.

I even stopped a few times and said, “Wait, I can feel some tension rising in myself. How about if we just stop and relax ourselves for a sec before we start again? It is good to know yourself. L was so great to go along with this. And, by tension, I mean…this is inevitable when there is is a high degree of difficulty or risk.

The dog started screaming and barking erratically while throwing its head about. It sounded kind of hoarse. To the untrained eye, I think all of the wild motion with its head looked, perhaps, like the dog hadn’t been out for a run and was excited to go somewhere or that it is a happy hyper dog. To my eye, it looked like full-out stress and panic.

It managed to rip the muzzle off several times and pinch fingers through the muzzle at us.

Our challenge? To remove two golfball-sized mats behind its ears that were attached extra close to the skin. Ouch. Just then the dog headbutted me in the mouth. My lips are bruised. It think L told me that she had gotten it earlier as well.

And here’s an important point for me: I still did not get angry with the animal. Not a bit. I still saw a very, very troubled animal that was behaving entirely strange, even for a stressed animal. And then I noticed what looked like red marks around the neck. As I mentioned, the dog was properly noosed. Then L mentioned that she thought the owner had mentioned a shock collar. Hmmm…clues.

L and I worked well together on a challenging dog well as a professinal team. We had an ongoing conversation….

“Should we stop?”
“What do you think?”
“Hmm…let’s stop for a sec and think about it. Give the dog a chance to relax for a second. Collect ourselves to release any tension and see if we want to approach it again.”

“It’s on the verge of needing to go to the vet. Think the owner would take him in because of the extra costs?”

“Maybe. They’ll have to go through the same thing there unless he will also pay for sedation. Depends on the vet.”

“Look at these red marks on the neck.”

“Oh yah, I think he might be using a shock collar.”

“Mmmm! That could explain a LOT about the behavior. It’s exactly the kind of general panic I have seen in shocked dogs.”

“This isn’t likely to be someone then who is interested in going about this from a healthy behaviorally modification approach. Won’t want to spend the money. There would be a lot of work that needs to be done.”

“Ok, let’s try one more time and see what we get. Are you ready?”

“Mmm hmm.”

“If I lose a grip. Let’s both let go at the same time.”

And so on…

It was a dramatic scenario with a lot of screaming that, I think, had little to do with actual pain for the dog. And if there had been someone filming, it would have looked incredibly bad. As it was, a brand new groomer (her first day) told the owner of the store that I was hurting the dog. Force holding a screaming dog while trying to shave. You know…one of those videos.

We ultimately were able to get one ear handled and then concluded we would recommend that the owner take the dog to the vet for the rest.

“Am I doing the right thing?” I asked myself.

The dog owner who was fully tatted up came back–I know! I just made a judgment that was meant to describe is not descriptive at all because the super nice and knowledgeable instructor at the Apple store earlier was also visibly tatted with large ear piercings to boot. Just think the ‘other’ kind of tatted up type. I could tell I wouldn’t be having THE talk (about what my opinion is of how his dog is acting and why), but I was calm and honest that his dog was very stressed and biting.

“He would have probably been better then if I had left his shock collar on him.”

Boom. And there it was.

I mentioned that we ‘could’ try to see if we could get the remaining mat behind the ears if the dog was any calmer with him being there. So, the groomer bravely came out and tried. The owner told us, yah, no problem. He’ll behave for me. The dog surprised his owner with a bite, even though the dog was indeed noticeably ‘calmer’ than with us. So, we talked about that and I could only find it in myself to suggest that next time, other than a sedated trip to the vet, the way to go might be to have him present. I didn’t add “minus the shock collar” because sometimes you really know that this will come down to a discussion that is bordering on one about religion. That is, nobody’s mind is changed and you both come away frustrated.

And back to my imaginary video, a possible news crew, and “What do you have to say for yourself?!”

I had to leave for a long run on the beach and was almost weirded out to realize that part of the time I was actually talking out loud. It was traumatizing to me. I don’t take these things lightly.

Mostly I work with owners who bring there dogs to me, sometimes, because multiple grooming salons have turned them away. They are willing to pay for positive reinforcement techniques to try to change themselves, their approach, and to make life better (sometimes simply from a simple Classical Conditioning approach initially) for their dog.

To be in the trenches with the general public is akin to watching warfare to some extent. The ignorant behavior is akin to seeing how some people treat their children in public. If you’re as sensitive as I, you practically have to leave a store…and you’re on the verge of shaking. I now pity what a pediatrician in a low-cost clinic might experience on a daily basis. They probably only have enough time to address illness, and maybe a suspicious physical injury, but how much time do they have to address psychological pain? The conversation could skid out of hand with a parent…”Don’t tell me I don’t know how to raise children! Spare the rod, spoil the child!!”

I decided I would explain to all of the microphones shoved into my face, following me to my car that, yes, I will answer all of their questions in a sit-down interview as we watch the tape. There is not anything on the tape that I’m ashamed of.

In the interview, I would point out the things I already have, and I would also ask them to simultaneously roll footage that HAS made the news of “Groomers Gone Bad.” MY body language.

While you see a firm hold on some very loose skin that the breed is known for having, I’m not grabbing the neck itself. I am not shaking the dog and yelling at it. I am not hitting the dog or slamming it into a wall. I am attempting to get a firm hold that will, hopefully, temporarily suspend the dogs thrashing just long enough to get a small amount of work done.

I take breaks to ease the tension that is building. Tension only from an adrenaline producing situation. I am not mad at the dog. I will also show that we are petting the dog and trying to patiently work the clippers up the back of the dog where he is not reacting so that we can kind of sneak one tiny shave into the ‘red zone’ area.

I will show that even after being headbutted in the mouth, you do not see me seeking revenge. Contrast that scenario with the other videos. It is a different type of video. I would then probably ask to show video of how I normally approach training for dogs to cope with vet and grooming handling. I would show the process and the results.

I would conclude that, indeed, this is a worst case scenario–one that I don’t normally like to be involved in, which is why I have a different business. Grooming for the general public in which ground rules and philosophies are not shared is a risky proposition. It’s truly sad when a breed that is normally a fairly compliant, coaxable breed has gone nearly mad. I would have been less surprised by that particular type of behavior from a more traditionally feared-by-groomers breed such as a Chow. With Chows, groomers are usually more surprised when they meet a very sociable cooperative one that is not easily offended.

After thinking this through, I came away with a clear conscience. Not a happy one.

Additionally, I hope what I’m about to say next says it all for those who know how protective I am of my own dog and the extents to which I go for mine and any of those entrusted in my care. This is not exactly comparing apples to apples because my dog is unlikely to behave the same way, but let’s just suspend reality for a moment.

I would trust any of the people in my circle of associations of people who are as close to nearly completely positive reinforcement trainers as is humanly possible to handle my own dog in the exact, same manner in an emergency–screaming, biting, flailing, and all.

I would fully trust that they are only doing what is necessary and probably apologizing to him (Ranger) all the way. It would be upsetting to them. It should be upsetting. They would not gain pleasure from this or seek to teach him a lesson. They are only in survival mode and do not take the behavior personally.

They are not mad at the dog. Next, my dog would be in recovery mode and it would be a high priority for them to discuss and prepare a well-thought-out behavior modification plan that is based on building his confidence, lowering his fears, and wrapped up in a bow of cheers for his successes. These are the type of people and groups that I associate with.

I called on a few of them last night to help me through the night from a heavy heart. As is so true to the nature of this philosophy and the type of people that it tends to attract, they assured me that the context was a very tough one and that the dog was fortunate to have me as the one who must restrain it knowing that I don’t take the behavior personally.

With that, I look forward to more time spent in the helping realm than the survival realm for which I think I have sufficiently paid my dues over the past 30+ years. In my ideal world, we have a very, very low need for survival mode and that those who are involved in it are highly educated in stress awareness and the solid principles of Classical and Operant Conditioning and who are also actively engaged in continuing education as behavioral science evolves. They are people who are able to engage in discussions of the staple books in these realms (as well as having read outdated books that do not follow these principles).

Sara

Are You Willing To Be Wrong About That?

“Are you wiling to be wrong about that?” Leonard C. Hawes, Professor at University of Utah (favorite professor, I might add) This entry is dedicated to Dr. Hawes.

We think we know everything, don’t we? Doesn’t matter the subject, but because it’s in our head we know what we know what we know what we know. And we are usually pretty confident about that, right?

And where did we learn what we know? You’ll have to answer it for yourself. We all do.

I have been quite open about the fact that I was not raised by any stretch to use positive reinforcement with people or animals. I probably did some of it naturally, but the people, the times, and the context for ‘training’ and handling dogs were very influential to my learning the principles of “Do what I said, or else.”

It was common for people to “rub a dog’s nose in it” as a house training  method. We used choke chains to teach our dog’s how to walk nicely on a leash. We gave “commands.”And here were other concepts considered to be “common knowledge” that everybody seemed to ‘know.’

  • Using treats to train was considered cheating.
  • Luring a dog to do something also did not count.
  • The most important ‘commands’ you could teach were: Heel, Sit, COME, Down, Stay.
  • If you were serious, you spent an hour a day training your dog.
  • Dog food is for dogs. People food is for people.
  • Only feed your dog kibble to keep his teeth from rotting.
  • Dogs live outside.
  • Spanking, hitting, and yelling are part of training and showing the world that you have control over your dog.
  • Don’t treat your dogs like children.
  • Only tough ‘dog’ people can handle big, tough breeds.

Those are just a few.  Where did I learn these? A list of sources include:

  • Family
  • Neighbors
  • Dog Owners
  • Dog Enthusiasts
  • Dog Training Classes I attended
  • TV
  • Pet Stores and Groomeries where I worked.

Something I wondered about, but wasn’t sure, and then finally concluded that I tend to over think things and, surely, if there was anything to it, someone would have told me by now was…”Do dogs feel pain the way we do?’ During my early years as a groomer, I concluded that they must not. They probably have a much higher tolerance for pain which is why they don’t seem to learn or listen when we hit them, yell at them, or push them around when we are trying to groom them. It helped me to justify a lot of treatment toward the animals left in my care that I wouldn’t even consider doing now.

Three or four major things contributed to my change in perspective.

  • In the early ’90s I worked with an older woman at her grooming salon. (Ha! I’m probably older than now than she was then!) We used to enjoy condescending to the idea that PetSmart was adding grooming to their list of services. It wasn’t uncommon for us to receive a phone call that we created an acronym for – CYFI? “Can you fix it?” For us, it was about the haircut. One day she commented, “You know? When people tell me they have 20 years of experience in grooming, the only thing I can think is…”well, it depends on what you’ve been doing for 20 years.” It was a comment that stuck with me. I was just young enough to wonder what she was talking about. I wasn’t a fabulous stylist at that point, and I didn’t want to become that person that someone would say, “Well, she’s been doing the same stupid thing for 20 years! Her experience is hardly something to be proud of.”
  • During roughly the same time period, I was in college. I was incredibly fortunate to have a Professor at the University of Utah who forever shaped my thinking skills. Dr. Len Hawes was/is a professor of Communication who can never be duplicated. I don’t recall the topic being discussed at the time, but (as he always does), he challenged us with some of the most difficult and profound questions, of which “Are you willing to be wrong about that?” is one that I keep in my back pocket to this day. It is so very relevant to changing outdated and sometimes abusive treatment toward animals.

   This most simple question can, if willing, lead a person toward quality answers and solutions. Was I willing to be wrong about how I was treating dogs when I was grooming? Unfortunately, that wasn’t the question I was asking myself at the time. I was asking “How can I stop grooming dogs and never have to see them again?” (If that isn’t career burnout, I don’t know what is.) My answer was, “Quit that hellacious job, try to get a steady (clean) job working at the post office so that you can finish your college degree.” It’s amazing what happens when you are very specific about your goals. I earned the degree and thought I would never look back. I concluded that I was not an animal person. I felt they were poor substitutes for human company, too basic and not capable of much more than eating, playing with toys, and going to the bathroom.  Which leads to conversion influence #3, Chi Chi.

  • Fast forward 20 years. My widower father lived with his untrained dog in a large  home. The dog was noisy and untrained to the fullest extent of the meaning. She was sweet enough, but at 83 years old and a 4-level home, he could not get this little Chihuahua mix housetrained nor was he able to keep the messes properly cleaned. *sigh  When I came to visit, this exuberant little dog would bark and often urinate in front of me, on my pillows, and sometimes defecate in my room. To say I wasn’t charmed is very accurate. I was very vocal to my father about not riding in his car in my good clothes.

   And then there was ‘the fall’. In short, I found my father’s health failing so quickly that I needed to move in to care for him…and her (the dog). Fast forward again and I needed to have my father moved to an assisted living facility. Even after moving in, I had no specific investment in (or attachment to) Chi Chi. However, I did have an interest in making life sane for me as I had to provide constant physical care of my father. An unhousetrained dog was simply untenable.

   To my credit, somewhere in my knowledge bank, I had learned that to properly house train a dog, you had to get it out every two hours and celebrate the success–ignore the mistakes. Such is my nature to really make a project out of something if I care. I had the dog on a leash…even as I slept. I forced myself and this dog to go to the bathroom at all hours of the night and day. She would not have a chance to sneak off and get it wrong. I would know where she was at ALL times. Little did I know I was heading into the “set them up for success” philosophy.

Success! She was housetrained. At 8 years old, Chi Chi had accomplished what had never happened in all of those years.  And then I needed to break the reality news to my father…”We need to find another home for Chi Chi.” My father protested some. I was practical and assertive. “Dad, It’s just a dog! It’s not even healthy to have such an unnatural attachment to an animal. She’s not a human.” Yes, these words came out of my mouth. In what must have been a Sophie’s Choice for my father, he finally relented, “But please make sure she doesn’t wind up as bait in a pitbull ring. There was a news story on TV about that in this area.” It was the first of many tears to come for me. My father had accepted that this could be the fate of his beloved dog.

For the sake of my father, I could not let this happen. I didn’t realize what I was committing to, but I was now accepting the permanent care of his dog. Note that I still did not hold any particular affection for this dog or any other. They were still unnecessary, expensive hassles as far as I was concerned. But, if I must have a dog, one thing was certain. She must be obedience trained. No exceptions. And, if there was one thing I knew, it was how to get a ‘stubborn,’ ‘spoiled,’ ‘lazy,’ dog to “heel.”

And so I went to a small pet supply store. “Do you carry choke chains?” I asked a young man. His response, I thought, was not appropriately respectful. “Yes, we carry them, but there are better ways to teach a dog how to heel now.”

A kid approximately 3/4 my age. What would he know? I was the one with years of experience. In fact, kid, you are insinuating that I don’t know what I’m doing and I really, REALLY do NOT appreciate that. Where is your boss? She is closer to my age and would understand. The ‘boy’ politely sold me the choke chain. I was not in the mood to hear of some mamsy pansy method or new, expensive gadget when I know perfectly well how to teach a dog to heel.

“Are you willing to be wrong about that?”

No, I wasn’t.

Why? I think there were several reasons:

  • I was in the role of being a caretaker for my father and, as such, many decisions had to be made in a no-nonsense, decisive sort of way.
  • I didn’t think dogs felt pain in the way that we do, remember?
  • When it came to animals, I didn’t want to be second guessed.
  • I didn’t want to spend a whole lot of time discussing a subject that ranked lower on my scale of importance than other, more competing things.
  • I just didn’t care.
  • There was no effective, convincing, attractive ‘thing’ that reached out and influenced me. Did I need a celebrity on TV to influence me? A romantic influence? What could have reached me at that time? I can only guess.
  • I didn’t feel like learning anything new. I had too much else going on.
  • Who do you trust? There are literally hundreds of dog training books on the market? Go with the classics or go with some airy fairy, ineffective book. My father and brother had purchased some and even attended lessons at PetSmart, but boiled them all down to “You need to be smarter than the dog.” (WHAT did that MEAN???! Are we not calling ourselves stupid at this point since this dog is not trained??)

I took my choke chain and vowed not to return to this know-it-all store who can’t respect a simple request for a choke chain without me having to justify and explain myself. I was annoyed.

Can you now appreciate the barriers, obstacles, and context that worked to prevent me from changing my mind about a long-held belief and why I might defend them? I can.

So what changed my mind? I would normally fight and resist giving credit to a large corporation. Credit is due. PetSmart. That’s right. I’ll admit a sellout right here and now. My father and I went to PetSmart for some supplies. Life was getting heavy and lacking levity when caring for a father alone. I needed something amusing to read. I dodged the boring “Breed” books, but found myself attracted to the brightly colored magazines at the checkout stand. A single issue magazine called “Clicker Training” featuring “Tricks” jumped out at me.

Tricks? I had been playing with tricks throughout my entire childhood. I managed a couple of basic tricks with our 3+ dogs. It was fun but exhausting. Could I learn something new? I was tired of obedience. What did this relatively inexpensive magazine have to say about tricks? I tossed it onto the checkout stand and went home to read.

I read even though, here came another convincing belief that I had somewhat overcome as a child, “Chi Chi is old. And everybody knows that an old dog cannot learn new tricks.” But, I had taught our 10-year-old Beagle at 11 years old how to shake hands, play dead, sit up pretty, and a silly game I invented. Did I still have the knack? And, the Beagle was different…I ‘cheated’ and used treats. As a child, I had always pictured myself being the grand trainer in a circus ring with poodles (and a Beagle) on a stand ready to shoot through a ring of fire upon the tap of my wand and command. There was one motivation toward learning something new anyhow. My family was convinced I had missed my calling in life…they had the confidence in me even when I thought I no longer cared.

And so I read. And I purchased a ‘clicker.’ Experiments designed to amuse both my father and I were now underway. “Load the Clicker.” Simply click the device and then treat. Hmm….really?

One thing that would be the ultimate test for me with regard to training was something that I could never figure out how to train. I could understand (even if I wasn’t knowledgeable enough to get good results) how to teach a dog to come to me, but as I had tried to train my Golden Retriever for competitive obedience, how would I train the dog to go away from me? It was one of the most exciting things to watch in a scenting competition. The handler/owner would point to a field and send the dog out. Send the dog out? How do  you convince your dog to go running away from you? What trick did I need to know to teach that? Maybe I could learn(?)

“Touch” was the first experiment I tried with the clicker. This ‘trick’ basically involves presenting your hand near your dog’s face, then coordinating a click just as her nose touched my hand, followed by the delivery of a treat.

Note: I was only willing to give these experiments a try for the purpose of potentially teaching a dog a trick. Obedience was a word that became loaded with dread and, remember, I knew what I was doing in that realm, right?

Hmm…what do you know? She learned how to touch my hand. It worked. Wow. Interesting. I showed my father who was not so impressed. And then I wondered…instead of my hand. Could she touch a tea can? I was hooked. I started sitting in the kitchen experimenting with various ‘treats’ (vegetables, beef jerky…whatever the dog would eat.) I had little time in the day to play with this, but was happy the dog would cooperate. And then to my utter surprise, and I do mean surprise as in…”I JUST SAW JESUS!” that dog reached her tiny little face toward the tea can when I held it out. I clicked as she touched. Are you kidding me? Because now the wheels were turning.

What if I place the can on the floor next to me? Would she still touch it? The article said this was possible. But, weren’t they talking about a ‘smart’ breed like a German Shepherd or a Border Collie? This was a pound puppy. She can’t…unless I’m wrong about that. I didn’t suppose it could hurt to give it a try.

I am writing this story in slow motion so that you will, hopefully, appreciate blow-by-blow how I changed my mind in the most dramatic way and the effects it had on everything in my life.

So, there I sat in the kitchen. Can touch started to happen. How about…if I move this can 1″ away from me? I might have screamed or squealed for my father to get down to the kitchen right then. She MOVED. AWAY. FROM. ME.  AREYOUKIDDINGME????! It was the ultimate of tricks that I could imagine at the time. The absolute ultimate! And she was happy.

Morning after morning, I met my father downstairs for breakfast but not before I insisted on…”Let’s try it!” I would see just how far I could place the can away from me and still ask her to touch it. I was beyond amazed. This was the equivalent of a child learning how to sound out letters in a word. “I figured it out!! I did it. I did it!!!”

Within 2 weeks this nuisance of a dog has transformed into some kind of idiot savant. She was precious cargo. I progressed to teaching her a few other small tricks. I was in love with the dog, a method, the idea that I had a new hobby. And then I sold the house. My father ended up in assistive care; I headed back to my condo in San Diego. The condo that absolutely and in no uncertain terms allowed pets. This had never been a problem for me before. The fewer the animals in the world, the better I thought. Not anymore.

My mind worked overtime. Ever tried to hide a dog? Let me inform you that it is not easy. I had heard the terms Service and Therapy dogs. What did this mean? What would it require? I had heard that these dogs had rights. I needed to know. And, as is typical for me, I bear down when I’m determined and dig as deep as I can possibly go. I joined online groups. I started ordering books. I searched for groups national and local.

This dog was magic and I was in love. I felt I had been left in charge of a dog that had come directly from Jesus (or something like it). Skip forward–I trained this dog and helped her to earn her Canine Good Citizen badge. Then I started experiencing adult-onset seizures. Now I am eligible for a service dog, right? What do I need to know?? Whatever it is, I need to know it FAST. The condo association was hot on my heels to force me to get rid of what I considered to be the Einstein of dogs. And I found it. I found a phone that dogs could dial for help.  Immediately I ordered this expensive electronic wonder and laid out a training plan. We needed to train this and FAST.

I’ll give you an enormous tip on this–it would take a LOT longer to train this sort of task were I to rely on force, intimidation, or any amount of pain. Luring would not have been as effective either. I had to not only teach a dog to walk away from me, on cue, but I also had to teach her to now touch something very specific with her paw. Additionally? She had to apply pressure to the button. Yes, this was an eyebrow raiser for me as well. How on earth to do this?

I also needed to videotape the results and get it to the attorneys very quickly. I was racing the clock–my specialty. I work best under pressure.

And just for the sake of memories, here is Chi Chi circa 2005 dialing her phone. The result is  sweetly crude looking back. There were no smart phones with video (at least not mine). I used a digital camera that had the ability to store very short films. And, nowadays, I would not rely upon using the cue over and over. I would only say the cue once. In fact, I would probably now also use a body cue (such as a fall) to prompt her to complete the task (in addition to the verbal cue).

In order to accomplish all of this, I had to be willing to be wrong about every single concept I thought I knew about animals.

And, let me repeat, videotape and get the results to the attorneys very quickly. At the time, I knew almost nothing about how to get any type of video online. Eventually, I published this video on YouTube, but in the beginning, I think I first made a webpage through my Cox Communications provider and somehow managed to create and upload video. That is exactly how crude the entire endeavor was.

Success! It worked. The attorneys were sending me threats. I had no attorney. I relied on my writing and negotiation skills to see if I could fend them off as convincingly as possible. The video was convincing. My medical reports were convincing. The law was convincing. And, so the legal team changed strategies. “Ok, you can have a dog if…” At first they sent me a contract limiting my dog’s travels to/from the car only. The more I read about rights, I rejected it. Who was I to reject an official document from a scary legal team? Indeed. I became more determined. I would send the contract back and ask, “Why would I agree to sign away rights I’m already permitted to have by law?” And then another contract would arrive with adjusted limitations. Nope.

However, finally, I decided to draft one of my own after being threatened with fines if I did not appear before our condo’s HOA meeting to justify to the members why I needed to have a service dog. Discuss my private medical information publicly or get fined? This inspired me to create a contract of my own essentially stating, “We (the Board, the attorneys, and the management company) agree never to disclose the confidentiality of Sara’s private medical matters. This topic is now closed and there will be a dog here. Period.”

I won. They signed.

But, by far, the most impactful results of willing to be wrong about something came about as my father lay in the hospital barely able to speak. He reached for my hand one day with tears that I had never seen before and he said, “I wish I had known. I would have done things differently with you. I’m so sorry.”

Well. I could have never predicted that. It made time irrelevant. He was in his 80s, but it rewound time in a way that made everything seem ageless. He managed to learn something profound in his lifetime. And so did I.

Another unexpected outcome was how much I truly came to love and appreciate this dog. She was the inspiration for my business. I never knew that so much love and intelligence was in my midst. Being willing to be wrong about what I thought I knew allowed me to be open to learning the closest thing we have to being able to actually speak to animals. We create a shared language and have actual dialogue. It is fascinating.

And what were the costs of being willing to be wrong about something? We both felt guilt of the type that makes you cry and apologize to people and animals who have crossed your path of whom you have perhaps mistreated terribly. We had to cry. And it is something I take into consideration when I seek to influence people to treat their animals better. I know I am perhaps talking to a person like myself, who, the meaner they are, they harder they will cry. Sometimes it’s easier to hold onto a notion and defend it to avoid this type of kick to the knees of your soul.

But, if you’re willing to be strong enough to be vulnerable, to be strong enough to lose face, to be wrong, to not be so sure of yourself, you’ll pass through to the other side and…wow.  The view is incredible. If it helps, you can assure yourself that you can always go back. Ask anyone you know who has been on the other side if they want to go back–not even kicking or screaming. They just won’t go.

The benefits are priceless. It’s a brilliant question…is there anything that you are willing to be wrong about? Something that could potentially restore a relationship, create new ones, or even better the world somehow? All I ask is that you just keep it in mind and consider the potentials.

What the…..?!? Mink oil dog shampoo.

6/22/12 Update: One one of my grooming forums, someone posted this information about mink oil alternatives. From Wikipedia:

“Mink oil is made from mink fat and originates from China. The fat that is made into this oil is stored just beneath the skin. Removed from pelts destined for the fur industry, the fat is rendered into mink oil.

Mink oil is a source of palmitoleic acid, which possesses physical properties similar to human sebum. Because of this, mink oil is used in several medical and cosmetic products. Mink oil is also used for treating/conditioning and preserving nearly all kinds of leather.

Botanical alternatives to mink oil as a source of palmitoleic acid include macadamia nut oil (Macadamia integrifolia) and sea buckthorn oil (Hippophae rhamnoides), both of which contain a larger percentage of palmitoleic acid (22 and 40% respectively) than does mink oil (17%).

‘Mink oil and its fatty acids are unique among animal-derived fats and oils. The total unsaturated fatty acids in mink oil account for more than 75% of the fatty acid content, but the oil, nevertheless, has a greater oxidative stability (resistance to rancidity)… than other animal or vegetable oils.'”

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I have a bee under my bonnet about something: The use of mink in products.

Saturday is the second tradeshow I have gone to where there is a company called “Touch of Mink” that is fairly pushy about their product (at least to me). They ask to take your hand and do a demo on it.

I tried to ask the obvious, “Mink?” Really?” Truthfully, I thought the fur industry was long gone by now. But they are so confident that I thought maybe they were going to tell me that there is a new ‘dolphin cruelty free tuna’ method of obtaining mink oil that I will be thrilled with.

At the first show (a pet event), a young  girl excitedly told me that the products are primarily used for burn victims, etc., etc. I still felt a little nervous, but didn’t want to be rude by asking for specifics and putting anyone on the spot. So, I went home and Googled. To my surprise, Utah (my 2nd home) is a major mink producer. What?! No!

My second surprise was that mink “by products” are used in dog food. Tell me this is incorrect. Apparently, the mink industry is alive and well. Who is buying and wearing mink coats anymore??? I wouldn’t dare. Sure, our mothers had them, but it just isn’t done anymore.

So, I read further and found that mink ‘ranchers’ are a die hard bunch. “How else are we going to make a living? We’ve been doing it for generations!” they were quoted as saying in news articles in response to an apparent series of raids that animal activists were doing in Utah. The activists were ‘liberating’ the mink from their cages. That’s another post for another day with the exception being that *I* have had to change careers out of necessity. It can be *did,* especially over the time period of ‘generations.’

My second tradeshow was last weekend. It was a craft and sewing show. Guess who? Touch of Mink. Again, I tried to avoid, but they called me over and, again, wanted my hand. I decided to stop and have a conversation with a more mature woman (ahem–someone my age). This was a more interesting talk because she was full of answers, even one that might be complete horse feathers. You let me know.

So, I dared to ask, “So, mink huh?” I think they are ready for people who are less questioning. Strategy 1: Re-direct. Show how amazing your skin will feel. Explain the full line of products. Do a demo.

Strategy 2: For the person who very gently presses the issue. “So, what about the mink? Is this still being done?” Launch into a hazy, Disney-fied vision using words like “by products, “these are *ranched* animals.” Does this make a difference? Because, in a way it almost makes it seem even “wronger.” I’m possibly not educated enough on the subject to have an intelligent conversation, but if there was an overpopulation of, say, rabbit or deer, then it could be argued that is a smart use of an animal that is going to be hunted/extinguished anyhow. But, to purposely breed to kill? Well, that question is one that definitely drives people into their corners on a daily basis, no doubt about that. Stay with me…

For the person who presses even further (that would be me, but I didn’t give a disapproving face, just gentle questions)

“Is it, you know, humane? These are questions my customers and friends will ask and I kind of need to know before I could promote. It does sound like it does amazing things.”

This got me into ‘testy’ territory.

“Are you a vegetarian?”

“No.”

“Well, there you go.” (Said with a cranky, impatient look.)

??? What kind of answer is that? Honestly, I did not ask the questions in a way that was aggressive. She was still holding my hand in her cleansing water. I was just a curious consumer willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. (And, p.s., YOU ARE THE ONE THAT CALLED ME OVER LIKE A CARNIE AND INSISTED ON SHOVING MY HAND INTO YOUR PRODUCT.)

It was a sudden switch from exuberant salesperson to me being a problem. Now we were getting to the nitty gritty. Vegetarian vs. Non-Vegatarian is something we all have to weigh in on personally, but straight answers were what I was going for. Any company who sells mink products would HAVE to expect that a product like this (and perhaps, horse/cat/dog meat as well) is going to raise questions from any semi-intelligent person, or at least the average American? Those are meats that we, as a culture, don’t accept very well.

They especially need to anticipate questions from business people from whom they might want to retail and/or recommend the products. Is this how I’m supposed to respond to questions from my own clients? A company that is proud and confident about their product will have nailed this sensitive topic down.

Question that I wanted to ask but didn’t dare: “So, if the oil is super important for the medical profession, how is there any left over for non-essential products such as body lotions and especially pet shampoos? We have amazing plant-based products already that do a superb job.  Is the mink industry struggling and/or greedy and just trying to create a demand? (Personal note: In all honesty, if I had a child with a severe burn or bite and the sacrifice of a mink would heal this better than any product known to man, I would justify its use. I would thank the animal profusely and apologize and be very grateful. I know, I did just stray into my own personal “Sophie”s Choice” terrain. Let me try to steer us back on track.)

Next question asked quietly and respectfully, “So, um, how *is* the oil obtained from the animal?”

“Let me tell you something. These animals are treated VERY well. Because if you have unhappy mink, they do not grow beautiful coats.”

(Gulp.) Uh oh. Looks like we were getting away from the main purpose of the animal being a medical wonder. Now she’s admitting to fur mining? Don’t think I like where this is going. I kind of next anticipated some kind of reverse argument that goes like this: “Well, if we’re ranching mink for medically necessary purposes anyhow, then why let the pelt go to waste? Use every part of the animal and make sure it is salable.” Even that could be a fairly strong persuasive argument if I wanted to be on “Team Mink.”

“So, the animal is *not* alive then.”

“No, the animal is alive! They remove the fat between the pelt and the body.”

“Oh, so the animal is alive while they extract the oil?”

“Yes.”

“They don’t need to kill the mink to harvest their oil?” (In the farthest reaches of my brain, I was imagining something akin to squeezing of a dog’s anal glands. Gross, but…well, doable.)

“No. Again, they remove the fat from between the meat and the pelt.”

“Ok, I see. ‘Pelt’ just sounds like something that is not alive.” (I don’t refer to the stuff on my dog as a pelt, but as fur.)

“Yes, it’s alive.”

“Wonder how they get the oil from that? A needle into the coat?”

“Yes, that’s exactly what they do.” (My mind is now picturing something akin to liposuction on a mink.)

“Wow! That’s great and really interesting!!”

“Yes, don’t you love how your skin feels? Can you tell a difference between this hand and that hand? Mink oil is so much like our own skin oil that you can literally put a drop in your eye and it will not hurt.” (And back to all of the benefits of their products and which ones would I like to purchase today.)

“Do you have anything I can rea..?”

Before I can finish my sentence, she slaps a handout into my hand. “Yes, you can read all about it on our website. It’s all there.” And, she’s off. I presumed that I was time wasted. This is short sighted. Slap a free sample in my hand, get my contact information because if what you’re telling me is correct and harmless then I *will* order a superior product. This is how I came upon the products I rely on to this day. I will even make sure you get the commission. But, if I am treated like this *before* the sale, I am reasonably confident I will be treated with less regard after.

So, I just took the brochure and just now visited the website. Guess what is not there that you would think would be THE first question posed and answered in the FAQs?

Oh, it’s answered, and here is the official answer. The saleswoman tried to fill my head with sweet eclair cream. Mink oil is NOT obtained from live animals. According to their own website what she told me with a straight face was a blatant lie. It’s one thing to offer a product and just be honest and confident, but it is entirely another thing to fabricate something so outrageous to make a sale…a sale to a potential retailer who would then be lying (and embarrassing themselves and potentially angering customers who think I am lying to them) to their customers who rely on professionals to do their homework. “Disappointed” is the nicest word I can use to describe how I feel about this person and the company.

Another thing is that the company only mentions that this oil is used incidentally in the medical community; it doesn’t present it as being so necessary that we need to ranch mink over the whole thing. The main use for a mink, apparently, is still for vanity: Fur. And, what the heck? Sell the meat to dog food manufacturers.

Here’s the link and here’s their official information: Notice that it does not even mention the medical industry.

Touch of Mink Blog

“Mink oil is a by product of the fur and pet food industry. Minks are farmed here in the United States just as any other ranched animals: chickens for meat and feathers, geese for down for pillows and blankets, cows for meat and leather products. The mink meat is used for dog and pet food, the fur industry uses the pelts and we buy the fat and oil which would otherwise be destroyed in our landfills.  It is then sent to a Texas A & M University lab and filtered through a process to remove impurities and deodorize the oil.”

And here’s another relevant quote from their “About Us” page.

“All of us at Touch of Mink are encouraged and expected to promote integrity, honesty, respect and a professional relationship with everyone we come in contact with, especially our customers. We hope your use of our Touch of Mink products brings you healthy and younger looking skin for many years!”

I did ask her which dog food manufacturers use mink. She responded, “Almost all of them. They won’t list it as such, however, it will just be identified as “bone meal” because the public won’t tolerate seeing “mink” listed as an ingredient.”

Hmm…Whole Dog Journal, are you reading?

So, she IS aware of the controversy.

Unless someone can really convince me to see this another way or that she didn’t lie through the roof, I can’t support this. I’m pretty tolerant, but a major lie is unacceptable to me, unethical, disrespectful, unprofessional, and just really makes me mad. Your thoughts?

Update: I did email a link to this blog entry directly to the company and invited them to come here and leave a response. If they respond via email, I will post that as well. I also sent an invitation to Whole Dog Journal to read and review.

Getting in Shape

I invented a new exercise game with Ranger. I’m calling it “It’s All About You; It’s All About Me”

Mind you, I’m completely out of shape. Walking around the block has felt like an effort lately. So, this probably works best for someone like me or someone who is in medium shape versus someone like my brother who runs further than I drive every day.

I’m going to guess that our total mileage today was probably 1 mile (yay!)

When Ranger and I leave the house, it’s all about him. We walk/jog to a huge park/rec center that is probably less than 1/2 mile away. The rules are that he can stop and do whatever. It’s sort of a warm-up for me.

When we get to the park, we roam the soccer and baseball fields. He is still allowed to stop and smell. When he does, however, this is when I do a slow lunge or a squat (is that called isometrics or yoga? I don’t know. I just try to do quality over quantity.)

As soon as we get back to the road home, it then becomes all about me. So I try to jog, very slowly (pit pat pit pat) all the way home. Ranger doesn’t get to do his stops.

And, you know what? He seems to get it!

It could be as simple as a horse excited to get back to his barn, but he doesn’t mess around on his jog home. He will maybe make one pit stop, but that’s it. There are a lot of dogs that bark from inside their yards and he ignores all and just continues forward.

When I first started doing this, I would walk him on his harness so that if he pulled hard on our way home, I would just keep going. I mean, I would slow down a little, but I didn’t let him dawdle. I *would* pull him to keep going. Now, if I’m in a hurry and don’t take the time to put on his harness, I don’t worry about his pulling.  He now has a pretty nice loose-leash walk and I’m not pulling on him on the way home. He just does a nice trot all the way home.

Because it’s a game, it has become fun and I find myself getting up and out earlier in the morning. That NEVER happened before.

Here’s to fitting into my old wardrobe!!