Be The Change for Animals: Shop Force-Free

I announced last week that I am no longer purchasing any of my pet supplies from companies who choose to sell shock, prong, or choke collars. If you want to read more of my reasons, and a fairly lively blog comment discussion, you can refer back to the original post here.

The problem with activist blogging is that we exist in a bubble. The people who read our blogs regularly are already above-average dog people, and it’s hard to get through to the general public.  Everyone who has a dog has to shop, though, at least a little. Changing how people shop and what stores offer is our chance to reach people who aren’t savvy or interested enough to spend their leisure hours reading dog blogs. As bloggers we have tremendous power to shape the decisions that pet stores make, which in turn affects the decisions of people who would never dream of reading a dog blog. This is why Lara of My Rubicon Days and I teamed up to create our #forcefreeshopping campaign.

#forcefreeshopping

It’s time to think a little harder about our shopping habits and our promotions. Whose products do you choose to review? Whose website do you link to on Pinterest? When a retailer asks for your feedback, what do you say?

We need to use our market influence to influence the market. Almost all of us are committed to positive animal training with our own dogs. If you want the world to have fewer choke chains, prong collars, and electric shocks, help get those things out of stores by refusing to frequent or support places where they are sold. 

 


 

Ethical shopping is hard. To make it easier for you to transition away from your current retailers, I’ve put together a list for you.

One of the easiest things to do if you already know what your like is to buy your food, toys, collars, and treats, directly from the manufacturer. Most, although not all, food, treat, and toy companies host e-commerce on their own site. Etsy is filled with custom collars, beds, and dog toys. There are some really lovely companies out there right now making dog products.

It’s a littler harder to find one-stop shopping. People who carry everything tend to carry . . . everything. Sometimes you need to buy a leash AND a toy AND a bag of treats, and you don’t want to pay shipping three times. I’m going to hit some high points here, but look out for some more in-depth discussions over the coming weeks.

My new first stop is SitStay.com. They have a great variety of treats that are made in the USA, and they sell all my favorite brands of toys. They don’t sell an enormous range of foods, choosing instead to focus on a few good-quality brands, but they will let you buy individual cans of dog food. If you have an allergy dog or a picky eater, you know how important that is. I spoke to their CEO on the phone while I was developing this campaign, and she is really looking to do some good things with the company in the future. If there’s something you wish they would carry, consider asking.

If you’re looking for a high-end boutique experience, look no further than Olive Green Dog. They sell some of Silas’s best treats and foods, but they also feature really lovely small, independent toy, leash, and collar companies. If your dog is a tornado of destruction you might want to look elsewhere, but if you love to stand out from the crowd this is your shop.

DoggieFood.com is the Switzerland of dog training. They sell no training equipment of any kind, clickers or shock collars or anything in between. They do have the biggest variety of food I’ve ever seen on one website. If you need something really specific, they probably have it.

And there are dozens more really awesome places that I just don’t have room to feature here. (Best name ever? Beowoof Provisions for Pets.) Lara and I have put together a great Pinterest board of online shops that choose not to sell aversive training equipment. We tried to feature a good mix of all-in-one places and some specialized retailers of things like beds or collars. There is some adorable stuff over there–making that board almost ruined my budget.

 


 

Let’s be honest, though. Not buying is not enough. 

#forcefreeshopping

I’m thrilled to give you alternative places to shop. That’s the much less important side of this struggle. You may not have the guts to tell your neighbors to stop letting their kids walk Fido on a choke chain (I know I wouldn’t), but you need to give your local store a chance. Tell them why you’re taking your regular business elsewhere, and what they can do to regain it. While you’re at it, tell your favorite online shop why you’re canceling your auto shipment.

Here are some tips for writing a good letter:

–Be brief and to the point. Two paragraphs should be adequate.

–Point out how long you’ve been a customer. If you’re in their customer database, make sure to remind them of how to look you up.

–Tell them concretely where else you’ll be shopping. It’s very persuasive to know that your nemesis across town is getting your business.

–Stick to the facts. If you want help with those, go over to read Lara’s post for today. She has links to the newest and most relevant studies.

–Keep the emphasis on the inventory, not the owner. The owners of my local pet store have done great things in my community; we just don’t see eye to eye about their current store inventory. You want there to be room for a conversation. To that end:

–Don’t rant and rave, in your letter on their social media profile. Feelings run high about animal welfare, but extremism is more often alienating than persuasive.

 


 

It’s not my place to get aversive training equipment completely out of the market. I don’t use it, and never would, but heavy-handed market regulation makes me ethically uncomfortable. In my vision for the future, the only people who sell aversive training equipment are people who know what they’re doing. Otherwise? An average dog doesn’t belong in a prong, choke, or shock collar, which means that prong, choke, or shock collars don’t belong in the average store. Help us make that a reality.

 

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Training This Week

Yesterday I spent a lot of time digging through my archives, filling up my new Favorite Posts page. I was reminded that I used to post a lot more specifically about what training we’re doing. I doubt that I’ll go back to the weekly routine from those early days, but here’s a snapshot for right now.

We have kind of a lot on our plates, because I got grabby hands with some of those awesome new online courses I mentioned. What can I say, Silas loves training, and I’m most motivated to work with him every day when there is someone, however distant, telling me what to do.

We’re working on three fairly new behaviors right now.

First, target. As in foot target, rather than nose target. I talked a little about this last week. It’s just a basic run over and stand on that spot kind of thing. I thought he had this one down. Then I realized that he doesn’t know the verbal. I was saying the verbal and instinctively pointing, and he was reading the point. I need to write this Sue Alisby quote over and over like “I will not chew gum in class.”:

When a good dressage rider goes through her routine with her horse, she appears to be doing nothing. Her hands barely move, her body barely moves, and any words she says are whispered. This is the ideal for dog trainers as well – quiet hands, quiet bodies, and quiet mouths. Concentrate on what your hands, body, and voice are saying to the dog. He’ll learn faster and easier when he’s not distracted by extraneous motion and noise.

Next is the classic sit pretty which Silas was never capable of doing. I couldn’t even get him to understand what I wanted. Then I tried again last week, and he’s doing great. Which is awesome, because sit pretty is a great core workout for dogs. (I wonder, in hindsight, if his musculature just wasn’t developed enough for it.) I had to use a lure to get him into position, and now I’m afraid I’ll never be able to fade it. Wish me luck.

Also bow, which is one we’ve played at learning several times before, We’ve never gotten the behavior completely fluent, in part because “Bow” and “Down” are such similar cues that Silas legitimately can’t tell them apart. We’re calling it stretch this go around and having better luck.

During playtime, we’re working casually on doing the cue I ask. Silas is an old pro at doing a behavior before I give him back a tug toy or the like, but if I use a cue he is obviously guessing. He’s old enough to know the difference between sit and down, even when he’s excited. So now if he does the wrong one, I keep the toy until he fixes it, or we reset and try again, depending on context.

So that’s what’s going on around here this week. I wouldn’t recommend teaching this many things at once if your dog doesn’t love it, but Silas is thrilled.

I forgot to snap relevant pictures, and Silas is sleeping like a baby. Instead, I’ll end with this random cuteness that you saw yesterday if you follow me on Instagram.

Silas sleeping with Kong

And yes, I trimmed his nails right after I took this. Yikes. That’s what you get if you never walk on pavement.

 

WOOF Support Blog Hop: Why I Love My Very Imperfect Dog

One of the very early posts I wrote on this blog was about why I loved all of Silas’s “problem” qualities. Go read it; I’ll wait.

While his problems are a little different these days, all of those things are still true.

Most importantly, Silas is a paranoid, anxious mess because he is an incredibly smart, very sensitive dog.

His big brain makes my life hard. He never forgets anything. “One time we walked down that trail, and the park maintenance man was there on a golf cart, so I’m never going down that one again.” I think this is why, despite my unflagging belief in the system, I’ve never had unequivocal success counter-conditioning him to anything. We made good progress on the doorbell, for example, as long as he’s in a particular place, doing a particular behavior, and I’m the one ringing the bell.

Relaxation Protocol

Okay, I’m on my mat, you can ring the doorbell now.

I love how smart he is, though. As long as I’m teaching a trick that Silas can understand (he’s better with big movements than small ones), I can get a pretty solid start on a new behavior in one session. One short session. And he adores training.

I’m not making that up. Here’s my proof: Silas is not a tail wagger. It happens rarely enough that my husband and I have been known to point it out to each other when it happens. Last night I was teaching him some new tricks, and we were both sitting on the rug. I stood up to start setting up the next bit of training, and I realized that there, out behind him where I hadn’t been able to see it, was a wagging tail.

That’s the best thing of all. This face?

Happy Dog

You’re only going to get that with a combination of play and training. And I love that about him. It’s a good thing I think teaching behaviors is fun.

 

 

WOOFBlogHop1_150

 

This post is part of the WOOF Support Blog Hop, hosted by Oz the Terrier, Roxy the Traveling Dog, and Wag N Woof Pets.

Ready for my close up

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I ran across these on my hard drive last week, and I can’t remember if I ever posted them. You see what I mean, now, about Silas having no hair?

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I’m working on a couple of big posts, one about dog fitness and my Be The Change/Blog the Change post, so today I’m just going to take a moment to point out some housekeeping stuff that you may not have caught.

First, the blog has a relatively new Pinterest account, here (and I’ve added a Pinterest share button to the bottom of these posts).

Also, I’m really quite chatty on Twitter, here.

For those of you who think I don’t post enough pictures on the blog, I do a little better with Instagram.

Lastly, I wanted a much more simple layout for the blog, so I picked on this one. I really like it, after a year of feeling like my type was a smidge too small. One thing to note is that my never-in-date blogroll, as well as the links to the blog archives, other blog pages, etc, are found by clicking on those three parallel lines to the right of the blog title.

Are you supporting cruelty to dogs?

I made a terrible mistake on Sunday. I went shopping online for an obedience dumbbell. After scrolling through the pages and pages of shock, prong, and choke collars that turn up when you click on “obedience equipment,” I was left with a horrible feeling of nausea.

I rationalized, for a moment, that I don’t have to buy a dumbbell. We aren’t competing; I can get by with homemade.

Then I remembered that my local mom-and-pop franchise, where I spend a lot of money, has a stack of prong collars right there next to the clickers.

With a sinking feeling, I clicked over to Chewy.com, that place where we all love to shop. So many allergy-friendly treats! Such good shipping!

And an entire page of shock, prong, and pinch collars. 

You know what? I am done. 

I don’t care if I have to make every particle of food that crosses Silas’s lips myself. I am through giving money to people who help other people abuse dogs. 

I know that there are theoretically “correct” ways to use aversive training equipment, although the best modern dog training has moved past it. I also know that maybe 1% of the people who buy this equipment use it that way. Just watch the people walking dogs in your neighborhood on a sunny afternoon. Unless you live somewhere much more enlightened than I do, you’ll see half the dogs, frantic and confused, struggling against a pronged collar, often while their owner talks on the phone or chats with a friend. (Or drinks a glass of wine, and I only wish I were making that up.)

There isn’t much I can do about the way a stranger treats his or her dog, aside from my advocacy here, but I can spend my money however I want.

puppies against animal cruelty

 

So, there.

 

Edited to add: if you want to join me, I made a more badge-y image, although it’s not my strong suit:

Say NO to shock, prong, and pinch collars and the businesses who sell them. #forcefreeshopping

A Note on Dog Intelligence

Because Silas is my first dog, I tend to assume that all dogs are like him. Aside from his obvious freaks, that is. The longer I have him, the more I realize the good–and bad–ways that this is not true.

Last night I was teaching Silas a new trick. The objective of this trick is to touch a round flat target with his front foot. Our “target” was one of those rubber jar openers. First of all, Silas immediately understood what I wanted. The poor instructions said things like “Reward your dog for looking at the target, or acting interested in it.” Silas walked up to it and plopped his foot on top. So, we did a few repetitions. Silas walks up, puts his foot on the target, I click and throw a cookie, he walks up and puts his foot on the target, etc etc.

After a few of these, I started to notice that he was putting both feet on the target. Which is okay; I’m not aiming for precision. Then I had a technical difficulty, caused by having my treats in a too-narrow jar, and I realized that he was stepping to the left and right with his back feet.

This is when I realized that I have a very smart dog on my hands. The trick where he stands with his front feet on something and walks around it with his back feet? We learned that trick with him standing on a cake pan.

Training props

To a human mind, the cake pan and the jar opener have certain similarities, namely that they are round. It doesn’t seem that wild to think “Okay, I’m standing on a circle, I’m supposed to turn!” Dogs aren’t really supposed to get abstract concepts like “circle,” though. If we’d done it on four circular objects, and this was the fifth one, maybe.

Another possibility is that, because the cake pan is the only foot targeting trick we’ve done, he assumes that all foot targeting is supposed to be the basis of turning a circle. This is also very high-level thinking for a dog.

You know what’s really scary about it? That cake pan trick is far from fluent. We’ve worked on it maybe ten times, and the last time we worked on it was at least two months ago. Plus I trained it standing up in the kitchen, and I was training the targeting trick sitting down in the living room.