Thursday, April 24, 2008

Oh Behave! Dogs from Pavlov to Premack to Pinker by Jean Donaldson

Link: Oh Behave!: Dogs from Pavlov to Premack to Pinker

I bought this book, sight unseen, because Jean Donaldson wrote it. One of her other books, The Culture Clash: A Revolutionary New Way to Understanding the Relationship Between Humans and Domestic Dogs, is generally regarded as one of the top books in dog training and animal behavior.

That said, here are some things I wish I had known before I bought her latest book, Oh Behave!

First, almost all the chapters start with a "Dear Jean" letter sent in from a reader. Since it is a Q&A format, the answers sometimes seem specific to the question.

Second, she also highlights the "Key Concepts" that are covered in that chapter. However, sometimes I feel that these concepts are merely touched on, not always 100% covered, because they are often huge topics.

Third, I wish I had thumbed through the table of contents to get a rough outline of the book's sections to understand if it would be useful to me overall. At the risk of disclosing too much, here are the section and chapter headings.

Section 1: Behavior
Chemistry and Constraints: How We Choose Our Dogs
Test Your Dog's IQ
Observation vs Interpretation
Wolf Behavior Patterns
Social Organization Models; A Mind Virus
Neonate Puppies
The Owner Signature: How We Build Our Dogs
What Is Play?
Dog Cognition Research
Ambivalence and Conflicting Motivation
Nutrition and Behavior
Malingering: Do Dogs Ever Fake It?

Section 2: Training
Dog Training Philosophies
Puritanism and Reward Training
Pavlov in Everyday Life
Prompting and Fading
Exploiting Premack's Principle
Ringwise Dogs
Training Deaf Dogs
Managing Barrier Frustration
Home Alone Training
Scratching the Rescue Itch

Section 3: Behavior problems
A Problem According to Whom?
Oh Behave! Love and Mounting
Car Whining
Behavior Problems in Geriatric Dogs
Understanding and Executing Time Outs for Dogs
High Performance Dogs
Dogs and Cats
Small Dog Syndrome
Tales From The Potty Training Trenches

Section 4: Fear & Anxiety
Better Safe Than Sorry: Fear
Compulsive Disorders in Dogs
Understanding Psychotropic Medications for Dogs
Desensitization to Veterinarian Visits
Separation Anxiety
Do Dogs Pick Up Their Owners' Prejudices?

Section 5: Aggression
The Dog Bite Epidemic
Aggression Prognosis Estimates
Resource Guarding in Puppies
Resource Guarding Prevention
Fighting Dog Rehabilitation
Predatory Drift
Breed Specific Legislation and Behavior

Section 6: Genetics & Evolution
My Genes Made Me Do It
Genes and Behavior
Adaptive Significance of Various Dog Behaviors
Chows vs Border Collies
Theories of Domestication
Breeder Power
Dog Moms and Other Evolutionary Misfires

Last night, I read through the chapters in section 1. I have to say that I think that each chapter is going to be hit or miss with me.

For example, the chapter called "Chemistry and Constraints: How We Choose Our Dogs" wasn't that enlightening. Jean even admits that there isn't a lot of research about how we choose our dogs, and she confesses, "So, using a wholly rigorous approach -- mulling it over in the shower and chatting with some dog friends -- I have generated the following list of dog choice factors." At least she's honest, but in a book that throws Pavlov, Premack, and Pinker in the title, I figured the conclusions would be based more in research than mulling it over.

On the other hand, I really enjoyed the chapter called "Observation vs Interpretation." She contrasts the behaviorism school of thought versus other interpreters, and I'm pretty sure she's implying folks like Caesar Millan in the later case. It's pretty clear from the subtext that she doesn't like the whole "the dog is displaying his dominance" school of thought.

In the end, I think I'll end up marking the chapters that are worth reading, and then taking the bibliography in the back and doing some further reading. This book is almost like a series of blog posts strung together, and although that's not really what I look for in a book, it's probably a good starting point for learning more about what we really know about animal behavior science.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Save the date for the 2008 Furry 5K

This year’s Furry 5K will take place on Sunday, June 8th at Seward Park. I'm saving the date - so should you.

Join us for The Seattle Animal Shelter’s 9th Annual Furry 5k Fun Run and Walk!

Grete needs a little sister

Note: I'm only halfway serious. Halfway.

From: ME
Date: Wed, Apr 16, 2008 at 12:44 PM
Subject: OMG

Can I PLEASE get another one?

There was a 9 week old puppy downstairs today. Grete LOVED it.

She CLEARLY needs a little sister.


new jacket!

Grete got a new jacket last night at Unleashed Pawsabilities. It is the West Coast Storm Jacket from RC Pets.

She totally looks like a superhero. In fact, Aaron suggested that I add the following to her jacket. (BTW, this precious applique can be found here.)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


Tonight I hard boiled some eggs for quick snacks for me. However, Grete showed such an amazing interest in them that I decided to cut some up into pea-sized bites and use them as quick training treats. They're a little slimy to use on a walk, but for quick tricks in the living room, I don't think there is a better treat for her. We'll see how the first few bites sit tomorrow. If it goes well, from what I've read, she can have up to 1 egg every other day or so.

Grete on Meta Grete !

A book by Grete Waitz, my dog's namesake, on Meta Grete!

Monday, April 7, 2008

new design

in an effort to cheer myself up about the AKC CGC, i've adopted a new template for the site. out with moto - in with minima.

Failing the Canine Good Citizen test

Tonight, we attempted the AKC Canine Good Citizen test.

I have very mixed feelings about tonight, and I'll try to tone down some of my frustration.

Here's how the evening played out...

We left work at 5 to hit the dog park. I figured we could get out some of Grete's energy and dog-fixation there. At the park, she played a little and then followed me around beautifully. Toward the end of our visit, I encouraged her to go say hello to other dogs, but she preferred to stay with me. Things were looking good.

After we left the park, we were driving up 65th when we saw Jason walking down the hill. Random. We stopped to chat, and Jason decided to join us for the test. (He had just gotten his hair cut on Phinney Ridge and was walking down to catch the bus home.)

We arrive at Ahimsa at 7:15, and the evaluator explains the test items. She also tells us that she's going in the order that people registered on the site, and that it usually takes about 10 minutes per dog. Realizing that we're dog #8 of 8 total dogs, Jason and I do the math, and I take him home, stopping to get a to-go burrito on the way.

Grete and I arrive back at Ahimsa at 8:15, and we slink back in during the 7th dog's test. Since most of the dogs are done and we're the last dog, the evaluator has us do the "Test 8: Reaction to another dog" test FIRST. (Ugh. Not the best test to warm-up with!) The instructor was on the fence about Grete's success here because when I shook the stranger's hand, Grete got up to say hello. She never came into contact with the other dog, but she showed more than a "casual interest" in the other dog.

We go through the other test items, and on "Test 5: Walking through a crowd," the evaluator has a dog act as the 3rd person. Grete shows more than a "casual interest" in the dog there, and the evaluator later uses this as part of her reasoning to fail Grete.

All other test items Grete passed. She even passed Test #5 -- but she is apparently too friendly with other dogs to be considered a Canine Good Citizen.

Here is my problem with this.... In many of Grete's classes at Ahimsa, we did what was called a "meet and greet" with the other dogs. We would go up to a person with a dog on a leash, let the dogs sniff briefly, and then immediately call them back. This behavior is not acceptable to the CGC test though. Now, granted, we also practiced the "sit while handler says hello to a stranger with dog" but this was often done after we had done "meet and greets" and/or playtime with all the dogs.

Here's my point. Grete doesn't run up to dogs on a walk. Even at the beach this weekend, I could call her away from dogs while she was off-leash. She can ignore a whole dog-park full of dogs. She just can't ignore a dog at Ahimsa. Thus, I'm a little bitter that we failed the test - especially since her Ahimsa training should have prepared her for this test. (One of the trainers pointed out that Ahimsa training wasn't a prep for this test, but I would argue it should be considered more.)

Furthermore, Test #5 reads like so:

This test demonstrates that the dog can move about politely in pedestrian traffic and is under control in public places. The dog and handler walk around and pass close to several people (at least three). The dog may show some interest in the strangers but should continue to walk with the handler, without evidence of over-exuberance, shyness or resentment. The handler may talk to the dog and encourage or praise the dog throughout the test. The dog should not jump on people in the crowd or strain on the leash.

Nowhere in that test description is another dog mentioned. Using a dog as the "third person" seems wrong to me, especially since it factored into her decision about Test #8.

I don't disagree that Grete failed "reaction to another dog" test, but I do think we could have passed the test given different circumstances.

Jason and I talked about how the test went on the phone tonight, and we were both reminded of how we failed our driver's tests on the first try. We were both excellent drivers (perhaps even better drivers than we are today) - but we both failed on lame technicalities that didn't even factor in the second time we took test.

Grete is still a great dog. One of the impartial observing trainers even commented, "With a high energy dog like that, it is so very easy to go very wrong -- but you've done a great job with her." Both the Ahimsa trainer and the evaluator commented that "most people would kill to have a dog that has Grete's 'problems.'"

I just wish we had passed. After all those classes at Ahimsa, we never really had anything physical to show for it. Yes, I have a good puppy -- but I place a silly amount of value in certificates and grades. I always have. (Damn you, public schools!)


I don't even know if it is worth trying to take it again in a few months or a year. We'll see.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

grete on the beach (use mute)

there isn't anything but wind noise so i recommend mute. if i was artsy fartsy, i would edit the video and add a soundtrack. :-)

grete and the gulls

grete had an incredible time at the alpaca ranch. she wasn't allowed near the alpacas, but there was still plenty to sniff around the house. the wind blew the faint scent of farm our way, and grete would often stop, face the alpaca area, and just sniff. the alpacas obviously didn't like her. most of them would stare right back. we ended up doing most of our alpaca watching on the last day from the comfort of the house.

the real highlight of the weekend -- for grete at least -- was the beach. it was a private beach for about 2 miles to the north. we fetched and frolicked on friday and saturday. i let her chase the sky rats to her heart's content. (sky rats == sea gulls.)

on sunday, we went back to double bluff beach, the dog friendly beach across the bay, and went for a long walk. on the way back from the walk, i noticed that the park sign said that the dogs shouldn't harass the wildlife.

i'm really not sure if sea gulls count as wildlife. :P

in any event, i've posted a bunch of pictures of a very happy grete here and in my flickr. (my favorites are here.) i also took some video of her running.

if you want to see other mostly-non-grete pictures from the weekend, the tag is "alpaca ranch weekend".



watching out for more gulls



zoom zooom zoom


wind in her ears

Thursday, April 3, 2008


An alpaca in Cusco, Peru
Image from Wikipedia

Tomorrow,Grete and I are heading up to the Maxwelton Aerie Alpaca Ranch for a retreat with the girls. (BTW, the ranch isn't normally dog friendly, but I spoke with Bill on the phone, and he is reasonable if you're a responsible owner.) I'm really not sure how Grete will react to the alpacas, but I will be keeping her on leash near them. Odds are she will go into "slinking mode" like she does with the crows. As long as the alpacas don't suddenly take flight, we'll be ok. :-)

Bill also said that I can have her off-leash on the beach behind the house where the alpacas can't see us. I can't wait to see her frolic in the sand like she did at Marymoore. The last time she was on a real beach, she was just a puppy. I'm sure driftwood tastes just as good as a teenager -- if not better.

Don't get buried.

mmm... driftwood is tasty.

Zip zip zoom

Grete is doing great. Yesterday and today I let her frolic at the off-leash area at work. Today, there were only two dogs outside. Both of them were older male dogs who would have none of her puppy antics. That said, they were both very tolerant as she zipped around them at top speed. It might be just an illusion, but she really does seem faster than ever.