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.

Daring to Be Unpopular (Part II)

Part II is coming after a long walk with my own dog. I want to take a turn in the discussion for a moment while the material is still fresh in my mind.

How is is that in my late 40s that this topic is still a familiar problem for me…especially as it relates to dog grooming? I think I have some answers, and I hope to wind this post up with solutions as well as tell you “the rest of the story” (ala the late, great Paul Harvey).

Some of the ways that I get into these difficult grooming situations again and again probably arise from several factors that other animal workers can relate to; some may only be particular to me:

Flattery

“I heard that you are a good (groomer, trainer, dogsitter…).”

“You were referred to me by (someone I like or admire and don’t want to let down)…”

Compassion and Marketing

“I just rescued this dog from (somewhere) and they recommended that I bring him/her to you.” (Word of mouth advertising…isn’t that what everyone seeks?)

Pressure

  • Financial — dependent on income from grooming, walking, sitting, training, etc.
  • Employer–expected to get the job done
  • Precedence–This is a biggie that can really make me sweat with anxiety. I have done the job before.
  • Time–it takes time to explain policy and philosophies. Easier to just take a dog in and get the job done.
  • Shock–“How much do you charge for training?!”
  • Unrealistic Expectations–“My dog is really good.” (The dog isn’t–the person is in denial or ignorant.) I have to be the one to tell them the truth…I am the bad guy. I long for the days when I was rewarded for lying (“Here you go! She’s such a sweetie, petey pie! See you next month!” “How was she? Well, she’s not super crazy about getting her toenails done, you know, but she’s such a cutie petutey. Who loves you?” after a crazy battle where you wish you never had to see the dog again. The cute bow makes it look as though the whole thing never happened.)

Familiarity/Relationships

Neighbor, co-worker, acquaintance, etc., “I just got a dog! I want you to work with him.”

I am sure there are many more, but those are just off the top of my head.

Here are very typical scenarios:

A groomer works for an employer (small or large). The employer wants revenue; the employee needs a job. The customer is someone they do not want to offend. This is a setup for not-very-good things to happen.

What happens when you get a dog in that does not want to hold still? They are not biting, but they are making your job as a groomer beyond physically exhausting? Tell the boss you can’t do the dog? Tell the owner you can’t do the dog? Or simply grin and bear it? The latter is usually the route groomers are very often forced to take. They don’t want to become “the problem.”

Often, as in my case, I was young and didn’t have other skills to fall back on. I needed the money. It is desirable for employment purposes to be the one who can be relied upon to “get the job done.”

By the end of a day, it is too tiring to even have a conversation with an owner because a groomer may be in the middle of trying to get five other dogs finished. A lengthy conversation about behavior is just not practical. Calling an owner mid grooming to inform them that their dog cannot be groomed is just as painful of a conversation. Owners get mad, wouldn’t you?

Grooming salon owners aren’t always groomers. They often have no idea just how difficult and demanding the job is until they get their hands into the project themselves. I’ve seen more than one would-be owner/groomer decide to learn how to groom and find that they will charge double the rate they were expecting the employee to normally be paid because it was “extra hard and time consuming” if not “dangerous.”

The employer would like all of the business in the area; they have rent to pay and profit (and sometimes shareholders) to make. The concept is inherently flawed for one reason: Dogs are on their own time schedules. They do not appreciate the bigger picture as to why they should cooperate.

So, where does that leave the profession?

Currently, there is legislation to require that groomers become licensed.

In my opinion (of which I haven’t had until today), this addresses part of the problem. It possibly addresses the most basic issue of how to handle a dog safely. That is, it addresses how to handle a “good” dog safely.

If a person sends their poodle to a groomer to have a haircut and the dog really is a good dog who will just stand there for handling, it is reasonable to expect that the dog will not get cut, burned, or a really bum haircut.

However, what is not taught in grooming school (or much in apprenticing) is what to do when a dog frustrates a groomer. This is where most ‘intentional’ injuries probably occur.

The dog is fidgety and dancey on the table.

It may be cute and seemingly harmless until you are spending 1/2 – an hour of unpaid time to have the patience to trim the face of a dog who is whirling its head around every time you approach it with scissors. The face is important. It is the first thing a customer will notice when they see their dog. If the face isn’t right, the customer will likely accuse you of being a terrible stylist.

If you show them in person what the problem is and the owner steps inside your salon to help hold their dog still, usually they will hold the dog absolutely still and be covering the dog with their arms so that you cannot even access the part you need to scissor. You are now forced to try to scissor the dog with shears right next to the owner’s face.

Predictably, the dog will jerk wildly and surprise the owner who will nearly move right into your scissors. It is very dangerous. Again, they will conclude that you are a terrible groomer. They will not conclude that they need to pay you more.

At this point, a discussion about training just seems impractical to an owner. After all…they are just here for a haircut. Their dog is an otherwise “good dog,” right? And there begins the slippery slope for a groomer of just sucking it up, smiling, taking payment, and starting to mutter at dogs “Hold still. Stop. Stop. STOP IT!!!” and jerking on the dog.

Okay, so you probably get the picture. And, outsiders might be likely to say, “Well, you’re the one who chose your profession!”

My answer: Unfortunately (and, sometimes fortunately)…yes. You are right.

My other answer is: And you chose to have a dog. It’s time for your education and involvement as well. I cannot/will not lie to you anymore. I will assume the financial losses (or gains) from this decision. I might lose you as a client. I won’t, however, let the dog down.

Solutions:

I seek a win/win for all.

What I want: Every dog to behave well on the table. I want each dog to be “teachers pet;” to set them up for a lifetime of good handling by anyone who handles them. Isn’t that really the kindest thing we can do as pet owners? I want my dog to be the first one to be adopted if something were to happen to me.

    What I am willing to do:

  • Notify current and/or potential clients about the way that I work. I will groom good dogs…only.
  • If there dog is not a good dog and they are open to suggestions, I will direct them to the best resources. I hope to be considered to be one of those good sources.
  • I will find other means of income and let grooming become a hobby; no more struggling with dogs because I need to meet my financial needs.
  • I welcome any tests or certifications. I will be proud to pass them.
  • I will overcome my shyness and dare to teach.

Daring to Be Unpopular (Part I)

I have a confession. Well, I have many, but I’ll just focus on one for this entry. Here it is in all of its nakedness. (Deep breath)

I would rather do something unethical than to not be liked.

Wait, no…I don’t think that’s it. Let me try again and really nail it down.

I hate conflict. And sometimes I would rather let myself get walked on than tell someone something that I know they are not going to like to hear.

That’s pretty close, I think. Here is another truism about me:

I am HORRIBLE at delivering bad news.

And so this morning’s topic is about a very, very difficult conversation I just had at 8 a.m. I said what had to be said and it turned out to be one of the best experiences ever. And, no, I did not cave to the person, and no, they probably won’t come back. No, we did not get into an argument. I just stood firm.

So, I had a grooming appointment today with a dog that is a violent biter. I have worked with the client in the past and have been willing to try to help his dog that has a long coat that must be groomed.

The dog is a rescue with an unknown history. His biting is unpredictable and even getting a muzzle on the dog has proven to be dangerous and unreliable. Out of compassion, I had originally agreed to try to help the dog. But, the pattern was soon set. The owner has not invested the time nor the effort to seek out training for the dog.

And before I berate the owner, let me say that I understand. Our pets are a very personal topic to most of us. We are attached and we have our reasons why we do or do not do something.

I chose training and I see that it works. It has taken a lot of time, effort, reading, workshops, etc. to understand more complicated topics associated with training. This dog happens to fall into the “advanced” category, just as handling a wild animal would.

The word “dog” by itself connotes “easy” because we are familiar with the domesticated animal. However, when a dog has serious behavioral issues, it is difficult for most of us to accept that our named and loved pet now needs to be re-categorized as “liability” and “not for the novice.” After all, this dog is still good ‘ole “Spot” to us.

It has taken me several years to be clear about this.

I transitioned from grooming to training a number of years back. I then began to specialize in both grooming and training. So many behavioral issues arise when a dog is being groomed. You see the best and worst because the dog is being subjected to some often, stressful things that will put the dog to the test.

With as much experience and knowledge as I have in both realms, I STILL have a tendency to get into the zone as a groomer. I become task oriented and obsessed with achieving a great-looking haircut. This goal is often at odds with a dog that is behaviorally challenged. By ignoring the behavioral needs of the dog, I am not doing the dog a favor by insisting that I get its haircut just so.

I’ve had to make a decision. Which is more important? The haircut or the experience for the dog.

When I’m away from the grooming table, I would answer “the dog’s experience” of course. When I’m in the middle of a haircut, it’s very difficult to “let it go” and send the dog home half shaved if need be. I hope and think there will be groomers who follow me in the future who will not struggle with this as much as I do; that they will be able to put the scissors down and have the difficult conversations with dog owners with more confidence and finesse than I am able. That is what I hope to teach and inspire in any of my students. For whatever reasons, I am a wimp inside and very much a people pleaser. I admire people who don’t struggle the way I do. Personally, I get a stomachache when interpersonal conflicts are concerned. It’s probably why I do gravitate toward working with animals. It is cliche.

Where was I? Yes, today’s appointment that I cancelled.

Thanks to a late-night call from someone I work with (I’ll not name him/her in case they don’t care to be identified), I was told that the dog/owner and my working with them the way I have in the past presents a legal liability and that they would prefer that I cancel the appointment. We talked about alternative options for the owner–all of which are expensive and time consuming.

In my mind, I was hearing “BUT HE GAVE ME A $45 CHRISTMAS CHECK THAT HE HAND DELIVERED!!”

Sure I always cringe and dread our upcoming appointments. Sure, I wonder if this will be the day that one of us finally gets bitten (hard). But, how do I fire a ‘nice’ client? How do I? How do I?! I’m supposed to offer attractive alternatives. I DO NOT WANT TO HAVE THIS CONVERSATION! Especially on the morning of his appointment. I AM GOING TO LET SOMEONE DOWN. I AM GOING TO RUIN THEIR DAY. THEY WILL NOT LIKE ME.

Cute, Amazing Things You Wish You Had on Film

Chai, a very handsome, smart, and rowdy husky puppy (that might have been redundant) went to the dog park with Ranger today. They had a ton of fun.

One of the most intelligent(?) or at least one of those things I never get tired of is Ranger when he understands what I want.  He just “gets it” even though I haven’t ever formally tried to train this.  Caveat: It’s not always reliable, but when he does this behavior, it is invaluable.  Might have something to do with spending so much time together that I can sort of point and suggest things and he guesses pretty well.

The park is enormous and Chai (6-mo. old puppy) went happily bounding off , to play with a group of dogs. More dogs were coming in, and I wanted to kind of help him not get caught up in a dog drama. Wasn’t critical (or I would have been over there myself) but, just trying to stay one step ahead of the predictable.

Ranger was happily cuddled up next to me. I touched him, pointed, and asked “Will you go get him?” He checked in with me and I encouraged him, “Yah, will you go get him?” and pointed again.  Yep, he understood and didn’t get distracted. He ran across to the end of the park and engaged the puppy in play and then teased him all the way back to me.

If you’re not really watching, those behaviors are really easy to dismiss or overlook, but I’m always impressed and fascinated. Yes, Ranger looks to be partially a herding breed of some type, but he really doesn’t generally exhibit herding behaviors, except an occasional classic stalking pose when something intrigues him.

The other behavior that is pretty close to this is that I can point to an object (say at the beach) and ask, “Ranger…take it.” He will look in the general direction that I’m pointing to and trot out and start to look around. When he gets near it, I can usually say, “Yep, that’s it. Take it.” He’ll pick it up and I can usually say “Bring it” and almost always, he’ll bring it back to me (or at least pretty close).

Love that.

Nifty Solution Alert

If you can imagine (since I live in my dog business shop) it is a daily struggle to keep things clean and free of fur.

Until now, I’ve been using large shag throw rugs that are comfortable for the pets but murder for me to maintain.  One urinary incident requires me to treat the spots and take them to the laundry mat–and it’s not so inexpensive. Then I have to air dry them which can take at least one really good sunny day.

Today, on Easter Sunday, I cruised around Big Lots! for an afternoon activity. I found a whole new idea I hadn’t thought of before: Anti-Fatigue mats. The particular mats I found were supposed to look very uptown in a stylish kitchen. (Though, I think if you did have a very expensive kitchen, these might not be so impressive looking.)

I guess people  buy them to stand on when they have to stand for long periods of time  while cooking and whatnot. Groomers buy them, but they usually come in colors that are so wild that they can wake you up in the night.

These, however, are chocolate brown with a basket weave texture. They have about a 1″ foam padding and are sturdy (not likely to get ripped), wipeable and non-slip! I love them. Ranger likes them.  They cost $19 each.  I got the last two. I will be scavenging for 3 or 4 more. Heck, I might even actually use one in my kitchen!

No more worrying about my dog eating a raw bone on something that isn’t easily sanitized. Cool to sit on in the summer and if I want to add a little extra cush/comfort/warmth, I can just toss fuzzy pad, towel, or blanket over the pad.  Pet fur or dog accidents? Piece of cake: Just wipe pad and toss the light covering in the wash.

Neat! Especially since I’m not one of those types who usually comes up with the  super ideas. 😀

The Games Dogs Play (1)

Numerizing these, because I’m sure there will be more.

As we know, dogs definitely play games with each other. And, often they invent the rules. Here’s a current, embarrassing (for my dog) game he plays with his small, fluffy gal pal.

Stealing

Necessary supplies: Two yummy, long-lasting chews or stuffed, frozen Kongs.

Object: Tease each other to no end and try to steal each others toys without directly intimidating or harming one another.

Recommended for: No one, especially aggressive, toy/food aggressive dogs. (I don’t even want to imagine.)

Who laughs hysterically every time these two particular dogs play this:  Sadly, me.

Why? Because the rules are:

  • Whatever you have is not as interesting as whatever the other one has.
  • Must not let the other know that you are secretly coveting and calculating how you will attempt to snatch away the item.
  • Bonus Points are awarded for the ability to snatch the other’s item and quickly return to your own and sit on it so that you have one to tease with and one to hide.

Some Strategies:

  • Chew the one item you were given (that you normally couldn’t give a **** about) as though it was what was on your Christmas list, delivered personally by Santa. This is to capture the attention of the other and develop a heightened demand.
  • If you fall for the first strategy and it is obvious that it worked on you, just admit it and go ahead and abandon your own item. Walk straight over and openly stare (from a safe-enough distance) at the one who is currently winning. Stare hard, don’t blink, and will the other one to give it up. Sometimes it works; the other one gets bored of being the champion.

THE single best strategy when you are hideously losing thus far:

  • Stop chewing. Stand up and act as bored as a DMV employee and casually walk to the front door.  Out of the blue, deliver the most shockingly, loud outburst of a bark as possible and begin to scratch at the front door. The poor, unsuspecting victim will suddenly rise and run to the door with you thus allowing you the advantage of knowing that you will dash back to their/HER bed and greedily snatch and openly, furiously, and cruelly chew on the coveted toy to upset your opponent so badly that they can’t think straight enough to understand that the process will work equally as well on the offender.

Note to originator of this amazing strategy, if you use this technique on me one more time in the middle of the night to Punk me out of bed for the purpose of letting you outside to use the restroom, only to turn around and run into the kitchen and paw at your food bowl because you’re having a snack attack (Hint: Your outfit DOES make you look chubby!), then I might decide to start playing that fun game where I pretend to throw balls into the bay for you to chase.  Respect is a two-way road, Man.

 

 

Ranger earns (and gets) an apology.

My dog barks.

Bark.

BarkBarkBarkBarkBarkBarkBarkBarkBarkBark

Not-so-surprisingly people who are not me are even less thrilled than I when he gets on a roll. In fact, they can get downright steamed up…(MOM).

Well Ladies and Germs,  I am a hear to howl it from my doorstep that e.v.e.r.y  dog indeed gets his DAYAYAYAY!

Let me see if I can recall the parting sweet words of praise that this unsung hero finally got to hear, “That’s a good boy, Ranger.” (Mom, 2011) The apology was not as clear to hear; it was mainly implied…even after many collection attempts on my part. I tend to think it says more about the person who can or cannot give a compliment than it does about the person (or dog) who might deserve it.

So, “check it” (I’m now Randy Jackson)… While staying with my mother the other night, I learned that a new neighbor moved in across the small lane from her. The man  wasn’t even settled in for more than a mere 3 hours when a fire truck, an ambulance, and a police car arrived and carted someone away from his place in the ambulance.  Via eavesdropping through our window (and being fortunate enough that he speaks at a volume like he’s coaching Little League), I learned that the ‘accident’ stemmed from a drunken brawl between this new guy and his ‘friends.’  It was during the drama that I commented to my mother that this 50-something, sunburned, loud boozer seemed dicey (code for ‘likely going to be the source of ongoing annoyance for my mother who craves stone-cold silence’).

That’s when she told me that, in fact, she had met him earlier in the day and that he boldly came over and introduced himself in a way that made her feel very uncomfortable (“HI THERE! I’M YOUR NEW NEIGHBOR! WANT A BEER?”). And, yes, he speaks in all caps.

On a parallel note, it is at approximately 5:30 p.m. when Ranger seems to enjoy a good bark like it’s a Cuban cigar from a private reserve. It’s nerve wrecking to my mother and annoying to me, but it IS predictable.

“Hmm!” I  thought in my head (as opposed to..?) “How about putting Ranger outside on the porch and letting him bark at whatever moves him (the neighbor)?”

And so it was.  “BarkBarkBarkBarkBarkBarkBark” Every time the man either went in or out of his RV. Even as the man boldly tried to force himself onto other unsuspecting residents (i.e. ‘socialize’), Ranger demanded to be noticed and make himself the center of attention..”WOOF!” I peeked to see if Ranger was getting noticed. Check. At one point, Ranged managed even to stop the man’s loud, drunken bullsh***ng session with someone entirely and take full notice of ‘da dog.

The double-edged beauty of my K9 is that if he isn’t already your friend, he doesn’t go out of his way to solicit new friends. The harder a person tries to sweet talk him (especially if you are not a senior citizen woman), the more wild he barks.  I’ve appreciated this feature when solicitors come to the door (“What??! What? I’m sorry, I can’t hear you…the dog, you know. Bye.”) Ok, so the downside is that if he needed to be rescued, well…hopefully it would be by a senior citizen woman in a wheelchair.

For the first time, Ranger’s bark was a comforting sound to my mother. “Keep it up,” she said. “Let ‘er rip, Ranger!,” I cheered.

“Think you’ll be able to sleep well tonight?” I asked my normally fretting mother.

“I sure don’t think anybody will want to bother us if they think they have to get past Ranger first.”

“What? I can’t hear you. Did you say that Ranger’s bark is valuable??”

“Good boy, Ranger” she acknowledged.

“And what else?” I asked.

“What?”

“An apology for being annoyed with his practice barking–he has to stay in tune like you do with singing,” I pointed out.

“Yah, well…ok.  I’ll just record his voice and play it now and then to make it sound like he’s here.”

“But it’s his size and looks that achieve the total effect.”

Yah, whatever.

So, today (2 days later), I went by to visit Mom with Ranger and his little cowgirl friend, Elsie Mae. Elsie is small, white, and fluffy.

My mother was sitting outside enjoying the sunshine in her wheelchair. ‘Manchild’ was making himself right at home (and the center of attention) in front of my mother’s house drinking and playing a game of juvenile football toss with another like type.  Don’t we all pretty much  know what happens when  a football is informally thrown around people (especially people in wheelchairs who cannot easily get out of the way and are limited in their options as to where they can enjoy the outdoors? It will inevitably hit or scare someone.  Total shocker, right? And, you know how you feel when said person is your own mother.

It happened as I pulled the dogs out of the car. As predictable as Richard Simmons becoming more flamboyant by the year, the football hit my car (located about 3 feet from my mother) and went underneath it (“Heh, heh, WHOA! Heads up, folks! I’ll just come over and get it” yelled the socially deaf one.)

Before I knew it, he was walking toward us. Ranger assumed ‘the position’ and gave him his best performance of ‘This is a PRIVATE party, friend.” I backed him up by adding, “Wait! Stay there.  Let me get him into the car first. He’s not the friendly one.”

<Takes a bow>

I performed a convincing act of loading a barely restrained Ranger back into the car as the guy repeated, “Oh, he isn’t the friendly one.” I kept little Elsie with my mother.

A classic Good Cop; Bad Cop move. It worked. He carefully and quietly retrieved the ball and ended the game.

I whispered to my mother that due to current demand (and lack of prior proper appreciation), Ranger now charges $10/hour for his services. He likes cash. That golden bark and intense stare with a nice, stiff tail and rigid body posture is exquisite when desired.

She had a new appreciation for the formerly accused  “shedding parasite carrier.” I then mused aloud if it was safe for my “Golden Pipes” to be in her home. Surely I wouldn’t want to expose him to any potential parasites or chemicals that could cause him to fall ill. Mwah ahh ahhh. Victory is sweet.

I haven’t even come to the best part.  My mother’s favorite part of the day is reading everybody’s horoscope  (right before forcing us to listen to the obituaries). It’s also the time I tend to roll my eyes a lot and become semi-comatose. For the heck  of it, I asked “What sign is Ranger? What does his say?”

Turns out that he’s a Libra. And, I quote (from the San Diego Union Tribune) on the date of his first Bark-Ranger duty…

“The challenges of the day call for boldness. You bravely speak your mind, support the side you think is right, and facilitate justice. You’ll sleep soundly tonight knowing you’ve put in a solid day’s work.”

Priceless (and a little cosmically unnerving to a non believer).

Foxtails

It’s about that time. Foxtails are blooming. They are currently green in color, but they are starting to dry out to a wheat color. And when they do become dry they become a real danger to your pets.

Ever stuck your finger into the little holes of a Swiffer then you’ll know what I’m talking about. It’s a one-way kind of deal. Those little teeth allow you to push them inward, but resist letting you get your finger unstuck. Ouch.

That’s exactly what foxtails do. They travel in one direction and they just keep on going.

As a groomer, some of the worst (and most common) cases I have ever seen are when foxtails go into the fur between the pads of a dog’s foot, then travel all the way through the foot to emerge from the other side. As you can imagine, this is very painful. Yet, pets have been brought to me in a matted state and the owners’ were not even aware that there was a problem.

In addition to pain and the possibility of infection, foxtails can also just as easily get lodged into your dog’s ear and or inside of his nose. I’m not sure what could specifically happen if a foxtail is capable of traveling up through soft tissue into your dog’s head, but I’m certain in cannot be good.

When I was young, our dog got one in his ear and we had to have it surgically removed. As I recall, the symptoms were constant head shaking. With a foxtail in the nose, I would imagine that some of the indications would be sneezing and/or rubbing of the nose, and possibly in a worst-case scenario blood coming from the nose.

If you suspect that you dog has a foxtail lodged in his/her nose, do go to your vet to have them ‘scoped.’ Your dog will likely need to be put under anesthesia to have this done.

With my current dog, I had worked on having him hold his head steady in my chin for examinations. Financially, this turned out to be a good use of my time. My dog, Ranger, was acting like he might have gotten a foxtail into his ear. Instead of requiring anesthesia, I was able to have him hold so steady that they were able to scope him very quickly. The cost? A whopping $30.

Stay safe out there!

Worthy of Posting

Progressive Reinforcement Trainer Logo

The following is a manifesto written by one of my good friends who is one of the most talented trainers in the world (literally, she travels the world and teaches and is a very popular sensation on YouTube).

This document  is well thought out and worthy of a post on this site. It might be a bit advanced for those who are new to training, so I’ll try to provide a brief summary.

Summary: Emily Larlham is proposing a new vocabulary term for training that is very clearly positive-reinforcement only. She provides the details of what this is and is not. She proposes the new term because “positive reinforcement” has all but lost meaning due to overuse and misuse.

The type of training she practices (and that I always hope I am practicing) is what my mother described as this “Your dog receives either neutral (at worst), a reward of some type, or a jackpot for excellent behavior. Never a punishment.” It’s close enough, though ignoring unwanted behavior is “punishment” in the technical sense, but that’s getting into the nitty gritty.

I don’t care what it is called, but it, in my opinion (and unless science or some other very persuasive theory comes along to blast this one out of the water) is what I, personally, consider to be the highest level of training there is.

In our circle of training friends, we really don’t consider it ‘training’ unless you are challenging yourself at this level. Intimidation isn’t impressive: Anyone can do that. This tight set of constraints in training forces a trainer to be creativeknowledgeable, and skilled and is the ultimate in showing respect to an animal.

Because, in order to employ this type of training, you have to know what a specific animal likes/dislikes, fears, is annoyed by, what motivates the animal–experience and studying both play a part for a good trainer to either begin a new behavior or change an existing one.

“Do no harm” is the minimum requirement; “Help this animal to feel secure, even tempered, and confident” while learning is the ultimate goal. It’s the healthiest relationship we can have with animals.

Proud to call myself a Progressive Reinforcement Trainer.

Here is the manifesto in full from her website:

Progressive Reinforcement Training Manifesto

By Emily Larlham

The Need for a New Term:

A type of animal training exists that involves no forms of intimidation, confrontation, violence, reprimands, or domination.

This non-violent type of training has gone under many names: “Clicker Training,” “Positive Training,” “Positive Reinforcement Training,” and “Reward Training,” among others.   There is a need for a more specific, more accurate, more inspirational term.  The above terms have been used so loosely in recent years that they have lost their original meanings.  How has this happened?  Trainers who use compulsion methods may incorporate a clicker (a noise maker to mark desirable behavior) and refer to themselves as a “Clicker Trainers.”  Trainers who use painful or intimidating methods may include food or toy rewards in their training and refer to themselves as “Reward Trainers” or “Positive Reinforcement Trainers.”  It is already possible that a member of the public may seek the guidance of a trainer who claims to be “Positive,” only to find out that this trainer routinely uses physical violence towards animals.

I propose a new term that trainers and members of the general public can use to refer to this type of modern training – a training system that is not only humane, compassionate, and reliable, but is also based on the latest scientific studies.  Because this form of training constantly incorporates the latest and most reliable scientific findings, and because it furthers an evolutionary progress toward a more harmonious relationship between humans and the animals who live with them, it shall be referred to as Progressive Reinforcement Training.

Progressive Reinforcement Training essentially means teaching animals by rewarding desired behaviors and excluding the intentional use of physical or psychological intimidation.

Progressive Reinforcement Training means:

1) Training by rewarding desirable behaviors so they will be more likely to occur in the future, while preventing reinforcement of behaviors that are undesirable.

An example:  Letting a dog walk forwards while the leash remains loose to sniff a bush as a reward for not pulling, while not letting the dog reach the bush if the leash becomes tight (so that pulling on leash is never rewarded).

Another example: If you are training a dog to greet guests politely, you first reinforce the dog for calmly keeping all four feet on the floor (not jumping) in exciting situations, and then when the dog does jump up, you remove your attention briefly (by turning away from the dog- as attention is rewarding). However, if you simply tried to train a dog not to jump up by turning away from the dog repeatedly without rewarding him for the correct choices – the dog could become frustrated.  It is true that if the dog figures out that the jumping is not getting attention, the dog will try an alternate behavior – however, a dog will more likely try jumping higher, barking, whining, and nipping over standing still or sitting for attention. By rewarding the dog for what you want him to do first, you give the dog a default behavior to try when what he is doing is not working.

Examples of Rewards:

Food, toys, attention, people, other animals, running, sniffing, swimming, going outside, coming inside etc.

Keep in mind the animal chooses what is rewarding, not the trainer. This means that if you give your dog a treat for sitting, and then ask him to sit again and he doesn’t sit, it’s very likely that the dog does not find the treat rewarding.  Other things to keep in mind are that rewards will not be effective if the animal is full, or the animal is stressed.

2) Interrupting and preventing undesirable behaviors without physical or psychological intimidation, as well as rewarding an alternate response (training a behavior you find desirable in it’s place).

An example: If you want to train a dog not to lie on your couch, you train the dog to do what you want him to do first.  That is, you train him to go and lie on his dog-bed.  Then when he does try to go on the couch, you interrupt him and redirect him to the appropriate location (his dog bed) so that climbing onto the couch remains unreinforced.  During the training process you, also use management and prevention: while you are away from the house, you block the dog’s access to the couch, as he would likely choose to lie on the couch – and be reinforced for it – in your absence.

You can interrupt an animal’s undesirable behavior so that he is not self-rewarded without using physical or mental intimidation.  To do this, you can train the animal to respond to an attention cue or a recall: something that means, “stop what you are doing and look at me”, or “stop what you are doing and come here immediately”.

A very basic training plan for training an attention noise to interrupt behavior:

First you can make the noise that you want the animal to respond to (a whistle, or a kissy noise) and then feed a treat. Repeat this until the animal is expectant of a treat after the noise.  Next make the noise while the animal is looking away from you and AS the animal turns to look at you (for the treat) mark that behavior with either a click (using a clicker) or by saying “yes”.  Once you have repeated this step you can then add distractions.  Have the animal on a leash so he cannot reach the distraction (perhaps a low value piece of food on the ground)- make the attention noise, and click or say “yes” and then feed a treat if the animal turns towards you after hearing the noise. If the animal does not turn towards you, do not click or say “yes”.  The animal should not be allowed to reach the distraction that it is interested in.  You can take a step backwards from the distraction to make it easier so the animal can succeed.  You can condition this attention noise or a recall to muscle memory in the same way a driver responds to a green light traffic signal (green light means go!).  Once you have created many different scenarios where your animal can disengage in what he is interested in to come towards you and look at you, you can start using the sound to interrupt behaviors that you find undesirable.

Keep in mind that if you ignore the animal and only pay attention to him when he is doing undesirable behavior, you will be training the animal to do exactly that which you do not want by providing your attention whenever the behavior occurs.  So the GOAL is to reward the animals alternate responses to the same situations in conjunction with interrupting and preventing the undesirable behaviors.

Example: If your dog steals your underwear and runs around the house with them to get your attention, you have got to reinforce your dog with your attention when he is calm and doing NOTHING.  When your dog is lying at your feet quietly, that is when you will reinforce him with MORE attention than when he runs off with your underwear.

3) Taking an animal’s emotional state and stress levels into account.

Trainers practicing Progressive Reinforcement read an animal’s body language to the best of their ability for signs of stress or arousal and adjust their training approach accordingly.

Example: Removing a dog that is offering stress signals from a situation where a child is chasing or pestering the dog.

4) Socializing and teaching an animal to cope with his environment using reinforcement.

You can use Progressive Reinforcement Training to socialize and teach an animal to cope with his environment by letting him experience low or non-stressful situations in which the animal is likely to succeed and earn rewards for desirable behavior.  You can then increase difficulty and distractions as the animal succeeds, with the goal of creating a confident well-adjusted animal.

An example: Teaching an animal to be relaxed and calm while being handled or restrained by using reinforcement.  Pavlov’s dog was trained to have a new emotional response to a bell because the sound of a bell was followed by food. You can train your dog to enjoy handling, very simply put, by touching the dog and then feeding the dog a treat, and increase the invasiveness as the dog remains unstressed by the situation.  If the dog were to shy away, the trainer would have to go back a step to where the dog was comfortable (Classical Conditioning).

Another example: Feeding a dog a reward for remaining relaxed and calm around an exciting situation (perhaps a road with loud traffic), first from a distance and then as the dog succeeds from closer and closer.  If the dog were to become too excited or stressed, the trainer could go back a step in the training process until the dog was successful.

5) Using a marker to train, whether it be a clicker, some other noise-maker, your voice or touch, or a visual marker.  Or, on the other hand, not using a marker, and instead for example reinforcing an animal by feeding a treat directly to his mouth.A marker can be used to pinpoint behavior.  It tells an animal that what he is doing at that exact moment in time will win him reinforcement.

For example: If a dog sits, the trainer can click as the dog is sitting, and then feed the dog a treat.  Or the trainer can say, “Yes!” in a positive tone as the dog is sitting and then feed the dog a treat or release the dog to get a toy or go out the door.

Reinforcing behavior is also possible without using a marker.  For example, you can feed a dog a treat for looking at another dog to change his emotional response to the other dog (Classical Conditioning).  You can also reinforce your dog for calmly lying around the house or outside by tossing him a treat between his paws while he is not expecting the treat and he will be more likely to repeat the behavior in the future.

6) Employing humane, effective, respectful training based on the latest scientific evidence.

A commitment to Progressive Reinforcement Training means strictly following all of the above principles – not just in training sessions, but during 100% of the time spent with an animal.

Progressive Reinforcement Training does not mean:

1) The intentional use of physical or psychological intimidation.Using your voice, touch, body language, a device, or the environment to intimidate an animal for the purpose of continuing, initiating or ending the animal’s behavior.

Examples: staring at an animal, intentionally leaning over him, poking, jerking, shocking, squirting with water, startling with a noise, or using your voice in an intimidating way to suppress behavior (saying “no” or “eh!”).

2) Intentionally disregarding an animal’s stress levels or signals.

Intentionally putting an animal in overly stressful situations in which he cannot cope, rather than exposing the animal in a way that he is under his threshold (the animal can make choices and cope).

Example: Forcing an animal to meet a stranger while the animal is offering a wide range of stress and avoidance signals.

Example:  Dragging an animal across a surface he is frightened of and refuses to cross, instead of teaching the animal to feel confident and calm crossing the surface using Counter Conditioning (rewarding the animal for choosing to take steps across the floor until the animal is confident to cross calmly on his own)

3) Holding selfish or uncompassionate goals for your training.

Intentionally putting an animal at risk for physical or emotional damage to satisfy ones own interests.

A commitment to Progressive Reinforcement means never intentionally using the intimidatory tactics above  – never in training sessions, and never during any other time spent with an animal.

Why refrain from using Physical or Psychological Intimidation?

For scientific, moral, and ethical reasons. Using these forms of conditioning can produce unwanted side effects in addition to the basic trauma they do to an animal.

The many problems with using physical or psychological intimidation:

1) Without perfect timing, intensity, and consistency, the “training” amounts to nothing more than abuse.
2) The animal learns to avoid the punisher in order to indulge in undesirable behavior.
3) These techniques can cause irreversible emotional damage to the animal.
4) The punishment can increase stress hormones, arousal, and aggression.
5) Animals can habituate to the punishment – meaning that the intensity of the punishment must keep increasing to have any effect as the animal learns to endure it.
6) You cannot change an animal’s basic emotional response to find children, adults, or other animals (or anything for that matter) reinforcing by using intimidation; you can only suppress the dog’s punished behaviors.
7) Intimidation can cause dogs to hide their warning signs before attempting to bite.
8) Dogs trained with punishment can feel trapped by their handlers, since the decision to leave a ‘stay’ or to leave the handler’s side (to escape from a bothersome child, for example) can cause punishment.  Animals who feel they have no escape tend to bite rather than move away.
9) Intended intimidation can actually increase the behavior you wish to extinguish, as intimidation involves giving a form of attention to an animal.
10) The presence of the punisher becomes less reinforcing for the animal.  If you punish your dog using intimidation, it is harder to compete with the reinforcement value of other things in the environment.  Your dog will find other stimuli in the environment more reinforcing than you as the dog increasingly associates you with punishment rather than reward.
11) Dogs who have been trained with physical or psychological intimidation do not offer behaviors on their own as readily when asked, making complex behaviors difficult to train
12) Handlers who use intimidation as punishment will punish their animals more readily in the future as punishment is rewarding to the handlers themselves (they get the result they wanted- hitting a dog made it stop barking, so they will be more likely to hit the dog in the future).  In other words, using physical or psychological intimidation causes one’s own behavior patterns to change.

In conclusion, Progressive Reinforcement Training is not a permissive form of training.  It requires providing consequences to all behaviors.  The trainer takes on the role of a benevolent leader and guide using these ethical and scientifically based methods.