How Can Your Dog Protect the Environment?

Today, in honor of Earth Day and just in time for spring, I’m talking about going green with your dog.

Earth Day 2014

You may remember the article I wrote in January about lessening your dog’s waste. (As in, broken toys and plastic widgets, not poop.)  That’s still my most relevant post on the topic, and I highly encourage you to go over there and read it. Since I’ve already written that post, today I’m going to talk about a different facet:

What We Can Do In The Park and On The Street

People who own dogs take a lot of walks, and spend a lot of time in parks. This gives us some great opportunities to make an environmental difference.

  • Pick up an extra poop. You have the bag in your hand anyway, don’t just stand there and feel superior. Leaving it in the park contaminates local water supplies and gives dog-owners a bad reputation around town.
  • For that matter: your special biodegradable dog poop bags? They’re not going to decompose in a garbage dump. Nothing decomposes in modern garbage dumps, in part by design. (If you’re interested in trash, I highly recommend Garbology by Edward Humes, which was a fascinating read.) If you’re drowning in difficult-to-recycle plastic produce bags, don’t feel bad for repurposing.
  • But, while we’re at it, don’t get plastic bags at the store just because you use them for dog poop. If nothing else, the special dog poop bags are smaller and thus use less plastic. Or try a piece of newspaper, or any non-recyclable container that you’ll be putting in the trash anyway.
  • Collect some trash and recyclables while you’re out. My local park has millions of trash cans, but also a huge problem with litter, especially around spring and summer holidays. While your dog is sniffing a bush, grab that styrofoam takeout container and throw it away. Even recyclable items are better off contained in a trash bin than blowing free where they can cause more harm. Keep a special eye out for small pieces of plastic, like bottle caps, which are easily ingested by wildlife; and styrofoam containers and plastic bags, which blow in the wind.
  • Skip the disposable water bottle. Carry water for you and your dog from home, with a reusable bottle and bowl.
  • If you’re socially minded, get your friends together to make a concerted effort at park clean up.

I’m not saying that the entire park is your responsibility. You have a right to walk your dog without becoming the Earth Police. Little things stack up, though. If nothing else, cleaner parks stay cleaner. No one wants to sully a perfect environment, but if there’s already a chronic dog-poop and plastic cutlery problem, people don’t feel like “just a little” more will do any harm.

On Motivation and De-motivation: A Parable

I have one of those “activity trackers” that you wear on your wrist. (Seriously, people, we just need to own that we’re all wearing pedometers. Me, you, and your grandma.)

It tells me when I’ve been sitting down for too long with a little red light. The little red light goes away when you walk a certain time or distance, although I can’t figure out exactly the magic number.

I hate the little red light.

You know why? Because it has ambiguous–and dare I say stupid–criteria.

Yesterday, I cleaned house for 45 minutes, and the light never went off. Every time it would get close (you can tell because it flashes), I would need to stop walking for a second or two to do something like fold a shirt. In the activity tracker’s little computer brain, not walking=sitting, and apparently sitting for one second is enough to negate several minutes of walking.

A similar thing happens when I’m at my desk at my volunteer job: a trip to the bathroom or the water cooler isn’t far enough to keep the light from coming on, let alone enough to make it go off once it has. So you know what I do instead? I don’t bother. Walking to the water cooler isn’t “good enough,” so I’m not going to do anything at all.

After a few weeks, I have learned to completely ignore the little red light, and the number of steps I walk in a day has actually gone down the longer I’ve owned the device. The little red light cares about nothing except me pacing, and the light going off is not motivating enough for me to just wander around.

Don’t let your dog training become the little red light. Fairness, consistency, and clarity are motivating. Arbitrary, ambiguous criteria with weak rewards are not.

Pavlov in Your Kitchen

New dish, happy dog

Every second that you spend with your dog, you are teaching something. Often something you don’t want. On top of that, your dog is pairing environmental cause-and-effect in his own instinctive, superstitious way.

It’s a terrible, wonderful burden.

Behaviors you didn’t really teach are tricky to change. Sometimes it’s hard to know exactly what the cue is that’s setting off the behavior. Sometimes you know the cue, but it’s not in your control. Sometimes the entire situation is completely in the dog’s head, and you’re just guessing.

That last situation is where we’ve been lately with Silas’s breakfast. I know some of you (ahem, Jodi and Jessica) have dogs whose begging for breakfast is a problem behavior, but we are the opposite. Silas has never been a great eater, and his medication suppresses his appetite. Plus, after years of food allergies, he’s naturally suspicious of food. Medically, there’s nothing wrong with him. (This is always the first thing you should check when a dog loses his appetite.)

Silas had entirely stopped eating breakfast. I couldn’t even get him into the kitchen anymore. Without his stomach problems, it wouldn’t be a big deal if he naturally preferred to eat one meal a day, but his acid reflux gets really bad if he doesn’t eat.

I finally realized that Silas had developed pervasive bad associations with eating. I think the last straw was me putting his medication in his breakfast, where it dissolved too quickly and made his food bitter. It could be lots of things, though. He eats in the kitchen, where I also trim his nails. He has stainless dishes, which some dogs don’t like. Because of his allergies, Silas has a long history of food making him sick. (Have you ever eaten something that made you throw up? Did you ever eat it again?) It really could be everything in combination–like I said, dogs are superstitious.

If I wanted him to eat, I needed to change all of the situation around him eating.

I started feeding him in the crate in the living room.

I bought him a new dish, in ceramic instead of stainless.

I switched his breakfast meal with his dinner meal, to give him the food he prefers when he’s less inclined to eat.

Sneakily, I started all these changes to correspond with our rotation to Silas’s favorite food.

So far, he’s eaten breakfast every day.

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.