Monday, August 18, 2014

Visiting Wolf Park

I would have posted this blog sooner but my stupid computer disk drive was acting up and I couldn't access the photos from the weekend. What is a blog post without cool pictures?? But at last, here is awesomeness :).

At the end of July I attended a three-day seminar by Ken McCort at Wolf Park in Battleground, Indiana - The Behavior of Canids: Similarities and Differences. It was amazing! :) Last year at the APDT conference I sat in on Ken's seminar so when I saw that he was coming to Wolf Park, I got excited and signed up.

The three-day seminar covered quite a bit of information and featured both Ken and Pat Goodman. They covered so many wonderful topics, I'm not sure I can choose a favorite :). But I did find reviewing the role of Dopamine (DA) and Endorphins in reward-based learning fascinating. Three years ago I attended a Karen Overall seminar and learned all about the way the brain works and how the chemicals correspond with behavior. Ken reviewed how those chemicals work with and facilitate the learning process.

When you are teaching a behavior the DA spike is after the bridge (or marker), but once you have an established behavior the DA spike actually comes at the antecedent (cue). And when you have moved the behavior to a variable reward schedule, the DA spike is still at the antecedent but it comes at a much higher level. The same follows for Endorphins, which just proves how addicting learning can be :).
<for those not familiar, the process of teaching behaviors goes: antecedent (cue), behavior, consequence, and the bridge (marker) comes at the behavior>

Obviously, the best parts of the weekend were spending time with the animals :). I mean I love learning, but hands-on learning is the best lol. We got to go in with Gray Foxes, five different wolves, and also a coyote. All three species are considered canids but all are very different from each other and act very different. There is just something so thrilling about interacting with a wild animal. Obviously, these animals are not 'completely' wild as they have been socialized to humans, but they still have all their instincts and behaviors.

The foxes were quite skittish and always seemed to be moving. They move just like cats lol!! And they even climb trees - I had no idea they could do that. The foxes were soft as well but pretty smelly. I guess their urine smell is very strong, although we couldn't smell it outside the enclosure, we could definitely smell it inside. Foxes also like to steal :). At one point I had a fox in my lap - their feet feel just like cats, seriously. Their toes are soo tiny and tight together.

The coyotes were fascinating as well. The first session, we just watched Ken work with them on some basic behaviors. It was really interesting to watch him teach the same things we teach our dogs to a pair of coyotes :). The coyotes are also very skittish and have tons of energy. You could almost feel the energy come off of them. The coyotes are super smart but very wary. You can definitely see how that attribute would help them live so close to humans and survive!

On the last day of the seminar we got to go in with one of the coyotes - Twister, the male (he less crazy than the female). We were actually the first group to get to interact with the coyotes (outside of senior Wolf Park staff) EVER. That was way cool - we got to be guinea pigs (and hey we all survived lol). We went inside the enclosure in pairs with Ken and two other staff members and we each worked a few targeting repetitions.

And obviously we interacted with the wolves! They have them divided out to keep the peace :). The first session we went in with Fiona (the dark one) and Wonton, two of the older wolves. They were obviously more used to visitors and were quite calm about everything. Fiona was a social butterfly and I'm sure she visited everyone in our group at least twice :). The wolves are incredible and when they are this well socialized, you can totally see some of our canine companion's traits in them. Just never forget these are wolves and they have a different line of communication :).

We also went in with the 2-year-olds - Bicho, Kanti, and Dharma (the darker one). Bicho and Kanti are lovingly referred to as the Butterscotch boys. They are gorgeous...and hard to tell apart! Since these three were a bit younger, they are also much more rowdy compared to the two we visited with earlier. Which I totally thought was more fun :), they reminded me of my crew lol. It was also interesting to watch the staff manage the wolves to help them maintain their level of control. Management always come into play at a certain extent until the animal you are working understands what is expected of them. Sometimes I wish pet dog owners understood this :).

It was quite a weekend! I wish I lived closer (it's a 7-hour drive for me to get there), I would totally visit all the time. I will definitely have to carve out some time to visit next year and bring along Nicholas :). I think he would love it! I highly recommend attending a seminar out there or even just visiting on a regular day and doing the tour. You won't regret it!

**All photos pictured here were taken by Monty Sloan during the weekend seminar and are posted with permission.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Medical Roller Coaster of Life...Starring Bourbon, Monday and Rookie!

I think August is going to be a weird month, here we are 5 days into it and already I am wore out!

Poor Bourbon isn't feeling real well, we are crossing our fingers it's an easy fix but nothing that concerns our dogs is ever easy :). Over the past month, Bourbon has started two fights - one with Monday and one with Rookie. Both fights resulted in superficial wounds on the other dogs and relatively little damage to Bourbon. But this behavior is very uncharacteristic of Bourbon so we got a little worried.

I took Bourbon in to the vet to get his blood drawn the day after the last fight. He just hadn't been himself - he was very mopey and tired and just overall cranky - and so I had feeling there something medical going on. Plus, he's 9 so now I'm sure the health problems will start piling on :(. And surprise surprise, we got his blood work back and he is SUPER low thryoid. Like severely low because my dogs don't do anything half way - it's go big or go home at our house! Low thyroid (t4) for dogs is 1.2 and guess what Bourbon's value was.... 0.2. Practically nonexistent :(.

So we have two issues that we are possibly looking at: hypothyroidism or some kind cancer/disease/illness that is causing low thyroid. The rest of his blood work was great. So we are going to start a low dose of thryoid supplementation and see if he starts feeling better. We'll retest him in a month and hopefully our issue will be solved (if only it is that easy!!!).

So while we were worrying over Bourbon and managing our household to make sure he is kept separate most of the time so nobody annoys him, Monday decided she needed some attention as well. Yesterday, I had her babygated in the living room while I was gone with Rookie to the vet (more on that below) and when I got back she had eaten part of a towel that we were using as a rug at the front door. Really, Monday?!?! Ugh, she seems to do this once a year and I have no idea what triggers it. So off to our vet clinic we went to get her to puke. She puked up three times, each with copious amounts of towel in them. So here's hoping we got it all. Needless to say, she's eating some canned food for the next few days in case she needs to puke more (raw food coming back up is the NASTIEST thing in this world, seriously).

This was a full size bath towel...
And while Bourbon is cranky and Monday is trying to die, Rookie had to go in for a recheck on his demodex. We are still doing the Ivermectin but he is no longer on Cephalexin. Sadly, Dr. Noxon still found mites (and some mite families!) on him so we are continuing the Ivermectin for another two months and then will do another recheck. I think Rookie will be on Ivermectin for about year...but on the bright side - he'll never have heartworms lol! :)

Previous Posts in Rookie's Journey

April 2013, Damn Those Mites!
August 2013, Rookie Update!

So knock on wood the rest of our month starts an upward climb :).

Friday, August 1, 2014

What The Dog Knows {book review}

What The Dog Knows: The Science and Wonder of Working Dogs by Cat Warren

Cat Warren is a university professor and former journalist with an admittedly odd hobby: She and her German shepherd have spent the last seven years searching for the dead. Solo is a cadaver dog. What started as a way to harness Solo's unruly energy and enthusiasm soon became a calling that introduced Warren to the hidden and fascinating universe of working dogs, their handlers, and their trainers.

Solo has a fine nose and knows how to use it, but he's only one of many thousands of working dogs all over the United States and beyond. In What the Dog Knows, Warren uses her ongoing work with Solo as a way to explore a captivating field that includes cadaver dogs, drug- and bone-detecting K9s, tracking and apprehension dogs - even dogs who can locate unmarked graves of Civil War soldiers and help find drowning victims more than two hundred feet below the surface a lake. Working dogs' abilities may seem magical or mysterious, but Warren shows the multifaceted science, the rigorous training, and the skilled handling that underlie the amazing abilities of dogs who work with their noses.

Warren interviews cognitive psychologists, historians, medical examiners, epidemiologists, and forensic anthropologists, as well as the breeders, trainers, and handlers who work with and rely on these remarkable and adaptable animals daily. Clear-eyed and unsentimental, Warren explains why our partnerships with dogs is woven into the fabric of society and why we keep finding new uses for their wonderful noses.

My Thoughts
I seriously loved this book :). Cat did a great job of interjecting research, history, and science throughout the story so that it was informative but not dry or boring. It was a nice balance between academic discussions and real-life anecdotes of Solo's development. And who knew pigs, cats and even vultures have all been studied for cadaver tracking! LOL, I would have loved to have seen some of those training sessions :).

It was also refreshing to read about someone actually doing what we always preach about: becoming the person our dog needs us to be. "Don't try to fit a square dog into a round hole." I think many people have experienced this - just look at all the dogs being given up throughout the shelter system - but Cat stuck through it and found out what made her dog tick. What she did requires a lot of commitment, patience, and a very real desire to learn something from her dog. They were bot restless and in need of purpose and direction, and they found it together. I loved her vivid descriptions of their many adventures and I'm sure you will to. I totally recommend that everyone read this book! :)

Check out the other books I've reviewed:

Dog is My Co-Pilot