Monday, August 29, 2016

Back Yard Deer

Photo of a backyard deer ripped through the Prisma app on an iPhone.

This Land Is Your Land

This land is your land. Never let anyone take it any of it away. Ever.

Arty Semi Nation

They Invented Animal Training

This article was written for the June 2010 issue of Dogs Today magazine. Illustration by Kevin Brockbank.

Who invented animal training and what can we learn from them?

The question may seem silly. Animal training is older than the hills. For certain, it is as old as the dog.

That said, most of what we call animal training today fits into the folder of "operant conditioning," a term first coined by American psychologist B.F. Skinner in the early 1930s.

Chase it around the room, and operant conditioning is simply learning from consequences.

Skinner codified the basic principals of operant conditioning, and he invented a laboratory-based mechanical-training machine which rewarded animals with food when they pulled levers and pecked at spots.

Skinner's real claim to fame in the world of dogs, however, is that he hired Keller and Marian Breland -- two young assistants who more or less invented the modern art of animal training.

Teaching Pigeons to Bowl

The Breland's made their first big discovery while working with Skinner in 1943.

As odd as it sounds, the goal on this occasion was to train pigeons to "bowl" a ping-pong ball down a short alley to knock down a few pins. Keller Breland decided to use a hand-held switch to trigger a food reward, rather than a purely mechanical device. A small problem was that the pigeons had no interest in pecking at the ping-pong ball! Though Keller waited for hours for the right behavior to express itself, it never happened. In frustration, Keller decided to give the pigeons a reward for doing anything approximating movement in the right direction. To his amazement, the pigeons caught on pretty quickly, and the completed trick was learned in short order.

Thus was born "shaping," or progressive rewards based on approximating a task.

The second big development occurred in 1945. By this time, B. F. Skinner had left the University of Minnesota, and the Brelands had decided to strike out on their own as professional animal trainers.

While shaping tricks, the Brelands noticed that the animals themselves seemed to be paying attention to the noises made by the hand-held food-reward switches.

Keller and Marian Breland soon discovered that an acoustic secondary enforcer, such as a click or whistle, could communicate to an animal the precise action being rewarded, and it could do so from a distance.

The Brelands called this a "bridging stimulus," (now generally called a bridge) and it dramatically sped up animal training by increasing the amount of information going to an animal.

Thus was born clicker training.

The Rise of Commercial Animal Acts

By now the Brelands had created their own animal training company -- Animal Behavior Enterprises. Their first contract, with General Mills, was so successful that other contracts with movies, circuses, museums, fairs, and zoos soon followed.

Over the next several decades, the Brelands trained more than 15,000 animals representing more than 140 species. At one point, the Brelands had more than 1,000 animals under training at a single time -- a jaw-dropping level of production.

The Brelands did not just train animals; they also trained other animal trainers who went on to work at such venues as Busch Gardens, Disney World, and Sea World. The Brelands themselves signed contracts with such major amusement parks as Marineland of Florida, Marineland of the Pacific, Parrot Jungle, and Six Flags.

Rewards-based clicker training worked so well that in 1951, the Brelands authored an article in American Psychologist, in which they said they thought rewards-based clicker training might work on any animal to train just about anything.

And then something happened. They noticed that clicker training was, in certain circumstances, beginning to fail in ways they could no longer overlook.

When Clicker Training Failed

In a 1961 paper entitled, The Misbehavior of Organisms, Keller and Marian Breland described their first experience with the failure of reward-based operant conditioning.

It seems that when working with pigs, chickens and raccoons, the animals would often learn a trick and then begin to drift away from the learned behavior and towards more instinctive, unreinforced, foraging actions.

What was going on?

Put simply, instinct was raising its inconvenient head.

Though Skinner and his disciples had always maintained that performance was driven by external rewards or punishments, here was clear evidence that there was an internal code that could not always be ignored.

The Brelands wrote:

These egregious failures came as a rather considerable shock to us, for there was nothing in our background in behaviorism to prepare us for such gross inabilities to predict and control the behavior of animals with which we had been working for years.... [T]he diagnosis of theory failure does not depend on subtle statistical interpretations or on semantic legerdemain - the animal simply does not do what he has been conditioned to do.

The Brelands did not overstate the problem, nor did they quantify it. They simply stated a fact: instinct existed, and sometimes it bubbled up and over-rode trained behaviors.

Clearly, every species had different instincts, and just as clearly, a great deal of animal training could be done without ever triggering overpowering instinct. Still, the Brelands noted,

After 14 years of continuous conditioning and observation of thousands of animals, it is our reluctant conclusion that the behavior of any species cannot be adequately understood, predicted, or controlled without knowledge of its instinctive patterns, evolutionary history, and ecological niche.

The Problem with Dogs

What does this have to do with dogs?

Quite a lot. You see a small, but vocal and militant group of clicker trainers believe everything a dog does is learned by external rewards, and internal drives are "old school" fiction.

While the Brelands argued that a species could not be adequately controlled without “knowledge of its instinctive patterns, evolutionary history, and ecological niche," the most extreme militants in the world of clicker training now seek to minimize and disavow the very nature and history of dogs.

Dog packs? There are no such things, we are told.

Dominance? It does not exist in feral dogs or in wolves, and never mind the experts who disagree.

Prey drive? Not too much said about that!

Of course, instinctive behaviors and drives do not disappear simply because they are inconvenient.

As Keller and Marian Breland put it,

[A]lthough it was easy to banish the Instinctivists from the science during the Behavioristic Revolution, it was not possible to banish instinct so easily.

Of course, one must be careful to qualify the role of instinct.

Yes, dogs have instincts, but the history of dog breeding has largely been about reducing instinctive drives. As a consequence, most breeds have instinctive drives that are sufficiently attenuated that they are not much of an impediment to basic rewards-based training.

That said, not all dog breeds are alike. Not every dog is a blank slate, as the owner of any herding dog or game-bred terrier will tell you. Prey drive does not disappear because you want it to. Many problematic behaviors in dogs -- especially behaviors in hard-wired working dogs that are being raised as pets -- are self-reinforcing behaviors that express themselves without any external reinforcement at all!

Clicker training, the Brelands remind us, cannot solve everything.

Is rewards-based training the most important tool in any trainer’s box of tricks and methods?

Absolutely. There is not much debate there.

But the Brelands remind us that dogs do not come to the trainer as a tabula rasa, nor should we think of all dog breeds as being more or less the same, or that all responses are equally conditionable to all stimuli.

Dogs and other animals, it turns out, are a bit more complicated that white rats, and the real world is not a laboratory.

In the wild and on the farm, animals have managed to learn, all by themselves, since the Dawn of Time and long before clickers came on the scene. How did they do that? Does the real world have as much to teach us as the lab? Keller and Marian Breland thought it did.

Happy in the Field

Digging on the dogs.

Half the Population of Australia

Half the Population of Australia is in the red bits.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Grilling and Chilling

The Muttniks practiced their long down-stay while I did some grilling and worked on freeing some memory on my cell phone.

How Much For That Deformed Dog in the Window?

How much for that intentionally deformed dog in the window?

If it's a Boston Terrier, perhaps quite a lot. From the Embrace Pet Insurance web site:

Bostons are also among the flat-faced, or brachycephalic, dog breeds. While endearing, flat faces bring with them many health problems, some minor such as snoring and snuffling, and some major, including life-threatening breathing difficulties that may require surgery to correct, if they can be corrected at all.

The flat face is associated with a condition known as hemivertebrae, a malformation of the bones of the spine. Symptoms start in puppyhood and include limping, staggering and a lack of coordination. The puppy can end up paralyzed, and surgery is often the only treatment.

The flat face of the Boston Terrier also puts his eyes at risk of a number of injuries and diseases. There are 20 eye disorders that are known to occur in the Boston, and they're the number one reported health problem in the breed. Also, a small but significant number of Bostons are deaf in one ear, and some are completely deaf. It's important to discover this when the dog is as young as possible, because it will affect his training and socialization at a critical age.

Finally, Boston Terriers do share one problem with the many other small breeds: kneecaps that can easily slip out of place, a condition known as luxating patellas, which requires surgery to repair.

Condition - Risk Profile - Cost to Diagnose and Treat
  • Patellar Luxation - Medium - $1,500-$3,000
  • Craniomandibular Osteopathy - High - $500-$2,000
  • Mitral Valve Disease - Medium - $500-$2,000
  • Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease - Medium - $1,000-$3,000
  • Cataracts - High - $1,500-$5,000
  • Cushing's Disease - High - $3,000-$10,000

Pet insurance for Boston Terriers costs more than for mixed breed dogs. This is because Boston Terrier are much more likely than mixed breed dogs to make claims for hereditary conditions that are expensive to treat.

Embrace pet insurance plans offer full coverage for all breed-specific conditions (excluding those that are pre-existing) to which Boston Terriers are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your Boston Terrier is when he’s a healthy puppy. You can’t predict what will happen in the future, and pet insurance is the one thing you can’t get when you need it the most.

Lizards Beyond Nuisance

From the Cayman Compass, on the big island of money-laundering and tax evasion, come this story of alien invasion:

Contract hunters would need to cull nearly 200,000 green iguanas per year at an estimated cost of more than $1 million to make an impact on the exponentially increasing population of the invasive species.

A Department of Environment report on two test culls held earlier this year indicates that a sustained culling project would likely generate around 200 tons of iguana carcasses annually – equivalent in weight to about 80 adult elephants.

Fred Burton, who led the pilot project, said the test culls proved effective but chaotic. Overall he said the results of the pilot were “discouraging” and the scale and cost of the task was greater than originally hoped.

He highlighted a series of potential problems that the country faces in scaling up eradication efforts to the necessary level, including disposal of the carcasses.

“The scale of the green iguana control challenge exceeds DoE’s current capacity, and requires government to consider options to resource this major undertaking,” Mr. Burton wrote in his report.

“DoE estimates a cull of 177,500 adult and sub-adult iguanas per year will be necessary to initiate a decline in the green iguana population if we begin the operational cull in 2017. This implies an operation almost 10 times larger than the recent experimental culls.”

The report cites earlier surveys that indicate the green iguana population is doubling every 1.5 years “threatening a catastrophic impact on the natural environment and socially unacceptable problems for agriculture, infrastructure and residential areas.”

Against this backdrop, the Department of Environment organized two test culls in June this year. The first involved three teams of skilled hunters working to eradicate iguanas in three specific areas with high iguana population densities.

The second involved teams of licensed “bounty hunters” who were paid $5 a head for their catch. A total of nearly 19,000 iguanas were culled in the two week-long experiments.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Extreme Morphological Variation

Dog skulls give you some idea of the extremely plastic nature of the beast.  No other species has as great a weight and size difference, from 2 pound teacups to 200 pound giants.

Ten Million Tons of Dog Poo

According to Susan Freinkel, 
writing in LiveScience, “America's 83 million pet dogs produce some 10.6 million tons of poop every year. That's enough to fill a line of tractor-trailers from Seattle to Boston."
Studies have traced 20 to 30 percent of the bacteria in water samples from urban watersheds to dog waste. Just two to three days of waste from 100 dogs can contribute enough bacteria, nitrogen and phosphorous to close 20 miles of a bay-watershed to swimming and shellfishing, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It also can get into the air we breathe: a recent study of air samples in Cleveland, Ohio, and Detroit, Mich. found that 10 to 50 percent of the bacteria came from dog poop.

100 Years of Greatness: America's National Park

In 1916, Stephen Mather and Horace Albright
envisioned a "National Park Service" that would pave the way for a new era in stewardship of our national treasures – the revolutionary idea that the federal government should set aside land for preservation and public enjoyment.

Just below my house is Mather's Gorge, named after Stephen Mather.

Dog Whistles and Racism

The lead editorial in today's paper is about the overt racism being used to court voters at the top of the Republican ticket. Unknown to the writer, the dog whistle was first created by Francis Galton, the founder of the field of eugenics, which not only gave us the death camps of World War II, but which also gave us the twisted intellectual thread that holds the Kennel Club together to this day.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Coffee and Provocation

Obama to Create Largest Protected Place on Earth
President Obama is more than quadrupling the size of the Papahānaumokuākea (pronounced “Papa-ha-now-mow-koo-ah-kay-ah”) Marine National Monument in Hawaii which President George W. Bush established a decade ago. The expanded national marine monument off the coast of Hawaii will encompass 582,578 square miles of land and sea.

The New Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument
President Obama has designated Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument our nation’s newest national monument and the 413th site in the national park system. Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument will permanently protect north-central Maine’s awe-inspiring mountains, forests and waters for current and future generations. The approximately 87,500 acres that make up the new national monument is rich in biodiversity and known for its outstanding opportunities to hike, canoe, hunt, fish, snowmobile, snowshoe and cross-country skiing.

The Most Ever
President Obama has protected more than 265 million acres of land and water -- more than any other President in history.

Off-grid Autonomous Tents
We need more of these.

Bite Force
What animal has the strongest bite? It looks like the saltwater crocodile beats them all.

An Unrequited Love
A tortoise ran away from home and fell in love with a drain cover.

NPR Says Goodbye to All the Comment Trolls
Comment areas have become cesspits of destructive hate, slander, tin-foil hat conspiracy theories, and ignorance.  NPR is done with them.  

Darwin Prunes Out the Inbred
A new study finds inbreeding may cause birds to sing off-key, hurting their chances of mating.

Badger Cull in UK to Control Bovine TB
The cull is on again; but still no legal hunting. If you want to know what bad wildlife management looks like, this is it. Instead of revenue flowing in from licensed hunting with a season, and bag limit, the U.K. is paying to have badgers killed at an average cost of £7,262.21 per badger.

Elon Musk Wants to Be Your Roofer
His next gambit is selling solar roofs. Not something on your roof -- the entire roof.

Too Much Truth

Feed Me Like a Wolf

"The preferred diet of the wolf is not cooked backstrap from the pride of the herd, but raw flesh ripped from the diseased rectum of a downer cow."

I am always a bit surprised at how many people have strong opinions about dog food, and how few of these opinions are actually supported by common sense.

For example, most dog food dogmatics are focused on dog food quality rather than quantity.

And yet, quality hardly matters as most dogs in this country (even most working dogs!) can easily have their nutritional needs met by grocery store kibble or carefully selected table scraps.

Which is not to say that everything is fine in the world of dog food.

The problem, however, is not too low a quality of food; it's too high a quality of food, and too much of it too.

Most dogs in this country are overfed.

Fat dogs are not only losing years off of their lives, but they are also costing their owners (and this nation) billions of dollars in unnecessary veterinary bills.

Most of the problem, of course, is that people are over-feeding their dogs out of guilt for spending too little time with them.

Another factor, however, is that many modern dog foods are packed with calories which means "just a little more" may end up putting on real pounds.

Add in the chronic lack of exercise that most dogs receive, and you have the same prescription for fat pooches as for obese humans.

It's not just too many calories, of course. Modern dog food is also loaded up with vitamins and calcium, and this triple combination means many large-breed dogs are growing up faster than God intended, and as a result they are suffering from increasing amounts of nutrition-related dysplasia.

Are canine web sites and list-servs abuzz about the need to feed dogs less in order to keep them in proper weight?

They are not. Up to 40 percent of the dogs in this country are over-weight, and obesity is the number one killer of dogs and people in this country, but that conversation tends to strike a little too close to home.

Put three people in a room and talk about obesity as a health issue, and at least one of those people is going to cop an attitude: Are you talking about me??!

Which circles back to the issue of dog food. What should you feed your dogs?

My standard answer has never varied: Whatever you want!

When people ask me when I feed my own dogs, I tell them grocery store kibble. What brand? I feed Purina at the moment, but what brand does not really matter so long as it's the house brand of a major manufacturer like Purina or Pedigree which work hard to control their supply chain.

Almost none of the "boutique" dog food companies make their own foods; they contract out with a nameless, faceless companies like Menu Foods or American Nutrition, Inc.,. which have no brand or history to protect, and are entirely mercenary when it comes to production.

Purina and Pedigree, by comparison, have their own manufacturing facilities, important historical brands to protect, and a decades-long track record with most suppliers.

Why do I feed my dogs kibble? Simple: Kibble has been treated with fire.

While cooking does not cure all ills, it cures most, and that is especially important with meat. The more you know about meat -- any kind of meat -- the more likely you are to order your steaks "well cooked."

I recommend buying from a grocery or "big box" store, because unlike food bought at pet stores and veterinary offices, the dog food at a grocery or big box store is rarely older than two weeks, and also tends to be cheaper.

Whatever brand of big-name kibble you choose to use, one thing is almost guaranteed: your dog will end up eating better than you do.

Not only is most grocery store dog food balanced for proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, but it has probably been tested under longitudinal trials involving thousands of dogs over many years.

Can most dog owners say that about the food they eat? I think not!

As for dog food being full of snouts, lungs, udders, and shin meat, it most certainly is. It also has chicken feet ground up in it, as well as bones and beaks, and pieces of tail, testicles and cow privates.

All of this is excellent food, and most of it was "human quality" until very recently.

Of course, we Americans now turn up our nose at such stuff. We demand that all meat be the very choicest cut served on a white napkin placed on top of a foam plate. The meat must be dyed the right color to make it pleasing to the eye, and the whole thing must be shrink-wrapped, dated, bar-coded and placed in a cold packing crate near the pass-through aisle in the super market.

Only then will we buy it.

Blood and guts? Testicles and snout? Entrails and feet? Most Americans shudder at the parts of a pig or cow that nurtured our grandparents not so long ago.

Go overseas into the markets of Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia, however, and people are still eating everything, including the squeal.

Ox Tail soup? Bones for Ossobuco? Udders for sausage? Stomachs and lungs for Haggis? Testicles for breakfast? All good food.

What is laugh-track funny are the folks who pop up in every dog food debate to talk about the diet of wolves.

Now a wolf is not a dog -- a point I have made in several posts before -- but let's let that go. Let's talk about what wolves do eat, instead.

You see, whether wolves are chasing caribou in the Arctic, pulling down elk in the Yellowstone, or stalking buffalo in Kansas, they are all doing the same thing: they are looking for the young, the sick, and the infirm.

A downer cow? To a wolf that's the dinner bell ringing.

Yes, that's right: The preferred diet of the wolf is not cooked backstrap from the pride of the herd, but raw flesh ripped from the diseased rectum of a downer cow.

Funny how that fact never makes it into all these conversations about "natural" dog foods.

Nor is it ever mentioned that wolves eat a lot of rabbit, deer and rats riddled with round worms and other parasites. Disease? A wolf likes nothing better than a diseased animal; they are so much easier to catch.

Unlike your kibble-fed dog, wolves are not eating nice bits of flesh from healthy animals that have been given vaccines, regular vet checks, dosed with antibiotics, and given unlimited amounts of high-quality feed and clean water.

But that's what our dog food is made out of.

And then, to make it even better, we stir in corn, rice, and wheat in order to increase fiber and add carbohydrates. We also add in vitamins and micronutrients, as well as preservatives to keep the whole thing fresh. Then we grind it all fine, cook it, extrude it, fire it hard into bite-sized nuggets, and put it in hermetically-sealed stay-fresh bags.

Poor dogs! If only they had quality foods!

On the other side of the forest, far from freeway and factory, the wolf is gobbling down the worm-filled intestines of his downer cow elk. He will eventually eat nearly everything -- ears, eyes, genitals, anus, snout -- but right now he is focusing on the nice soft bits in the stomach cavity.

After his first meal, the carcass will be dragged under a bush to hide it from scavengers. Later, the wolf and his kin will return to gnaw on the rotting flesh that is now flyblown with maggots.

This is the "natural whole foods" of the wolf, and it is the ideal that the food romantics trot out on almost every occasion.

No doubt these folks are also Rousseau-romantics who think the Indians and the aborigines lived pristine lives without war and "at one with nature." Never mind the evidence to the contrary!

As for dogs, if they are not overfed, and are regularly exercised, they are probably fine with any store-bought food or carefully-selected set of table scraps.

Dried chicken mixed with rendered chicken fat is probably no worse than any other kinds of meat protein. Never mind that asian jungle fowl is not a natural diet for any canid -- it will do just as well as beef, lamb, deer, fish, horse, kangaroo or beaver.

As for millet or barley or pumpkin or potatoes, they are probably no worse (and no better) than corn, soy, rice or wheat.

If spending more on exotic-recipe dog foods makes you feel better about your dog and yourself, go ahead and do it. It will probably do the dog no harm.

That cannot be said if you feed your dog too much, however.

Remember it's generally not food quality that kills a dog, it's food quantity.

Too much food and too little excercise kills more dogs -- and more humans -- than anything else in this country.

And that's not about the FDA or the dog food companies; that's about us.


Fish on Friday

Johnny Cash and Johnny Horton with fish at cover shoot.

Thursday, August 25, 2016


Dog Food: Are You Focused on the Right Thing?

As I have noted in the past, there is NO research anywhere that shows one dog food is better than another.

That said, I recommend a couple of "filters against folly":.

  • Big, Old Companies Are Better:  Buy from a large and established dog food maker that has its own kennels and invests in research, such as Purina. These dog food makers have established feed stock suppliers, have canine nutritionists on staff, and make their own food rather than contract it out.
  • AAFCO Feed Trials Are a Minimum:  Buy dog food that has been subjected to an AAFCO feed trial. No, these are not breathtakingly arduous trials to pass, but what's it say if your dog food maker has not even done this minimal level of testing?
  • Grocery Stores Have Fresher Foods:  Grocery stores sell a lot of everything, including pet food, and as a consequence, packaged goods move from factory to store house to store, and to home in record time. That's important for dry kibble, as the larger the store and the more volume moved, the more likely the food has been properly stored in an air-conditioned warehouse and moved quickly before spoilage.
  • Focus on Keeping Your Dog Slim:  If you are the kind of person who reads articles about dog food, then how much you feed your dog is generally more important than what you feed your dog. So long as the food is from a major AAFCO-feed trial tested brand, and is not too old, the key to nutrition is to not feed too much. If you cannot feel a rib, your dog is too fat!

I am happy to report that Dr. Lisa Freeman, a professor in the Department of Clinical Sciences at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts agrees.  

In a profile in the Tuft's Daily newspaper she notes that "The most important thing is the manufacturer," and that that a good dog food company should have at least one full−time, qualified nutritionist on board, as well as a research and development department, and that it should operate its own manufacturing plans.

Dr. Freeman says to stay away from dog food manufacturers who contract out with third party manufacturers, who do not have their own nutritionists and research departments, and who do not subject their foods to AAFCO feed trials, but instead assemble a package of kibble based on a recipe. These companies are investing in marketing, not nutrition.

Dr. Freeman also says we can ignore most dog food labels -- they are a kind of advertisement and are not a meaningful window into the actual ingredients in the food or the nutritional needs of your dog.

What about dog foods that advertise themselves as "organic" or which claims they are made of  "human−grade," or "premium" ingredients or which say they are "holistic"? 

It's all meaningless nonsense, designed to separate a gullible public from their wallet.

So what's not nonsense?  

Dr. Freeman says that labels which say they are a "complete" food are telling you something (it's a legally defined term), and so too are labels which are targeted at certain life stages, such as old age and puppies (terms defined by AAFCO).

What about animal byproducts?  Dr. Freeman says there is nothing wrong with them --  they are not poor quality meat, no matter what the chattering masses might claim.  And I guess Dr. Freeman might know -- she's not only a Veterinarian, she also has a Ph.D. from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition" (DACVN).

So how can you tell if your dog is too fat?  Dr. Freeman has a perfectly simple instruction tip:

Make a fist and feel your knuckles. If you were feeling your dog or cat's ribs, that's too skinny.

Now flat hand, palm up and feel the base of your fingers. That's overweight.

If you make a flat hand, palm down and feel your knuckles … that's just right. That's what it should feel like, with that amount of pressure.

Nice! A simple instruction tip you can use with dog owners everywhere!


IMAGINE that the children and grandchildren of bulldog breeders were all born with the human equivalent of what they inflict on dogs -- brachycephalia and achondroplastic dwarfism.

IMAGINE that the children and grandchildren of hairless Chinese Crested breeders were born with ectodermal dysplasia and the dental, skin and eye problems that come with that genetic load.

IMAGINE that the children and grandchildren of German Shepherd breeders were born with twisted and dysplastic hips.

IMAGINE that the male children and grandchildren of the Dalmatian breeders who reject back-cross dogs were born with uric acid stones so severe they have to suffer a urethrostemy, in which their scrotum is removed, and their urinary tract is permanently relocated to the base of their penis so they can urinate like a female.

IMAGINE that if it was deemed good enough for the dog, it would be good enough for their owners and their families.


A Bucket of Poop for Your Child

Do you have a young child
that is interested in nature? Why not get him or her a bucket of shit?  

Half of North Africa's Population

Half of North Africa’s population
(Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt) lives in the grey areas, half lives in the red areas.

Fishing Rod on Thursday

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Dog Food: Let's Try Science!

Did you know that there have been no long-term, peer-reviewed, double-blind studies which conclude any benefit to a RAW diet for dogs?


And can ANYONE find a single long-term, peer-reviewed, double-blind study which shows that ANY dog food is better than another?

Can anyone find a single long-term, peer-reviewed, double-blind study which shows that corn in dog food is bad?

I keep asking, and so far no one has anything.


Here we have a billion-dollar-a-year industry in a country with hundreds of thousands of scientists, thousands of wonderful laboratories, hundreds of peer-reviewed journals, and there appears to be NOT ONE study, anywhere, that says one dog food is better than another based on evidence gathered in a real live-dog double-blind feed trial.

Nor is there ONE study which says corn in dog food is bad.

Not one.

And, let's face it, it's not because the for-profit high-dollar pet food industry is not heavily incentivized to find such a study.

If you build a better dog food and can prove it, people will pay.

But, of course, no one can.

Silence can also tell a story.

But to hear silence, you must clear your mind and really listen.

  • Note: If you actually have SCIENCE, i.e. a long-term, peer-reviewed, double-blind study please post in comments, otherwise do not. I am looking for evidence, not more recycled mumbo-jumbo, anecdote and opinion. Read the title.  
    This country (this world!) is crawling with large commercial kennels and crowded dog shelters. Most real dog food companies run live feed trials. And yet not one will make a claim that their dog food is better than another.

    Think otherwise? Prove it. Post a link or citation to a long-term, peer-reviewed, double-blind dog food study conducted with real dogs.

A Question From a Lost Boy

They were sometimes called "The Lost Boys"
-- Sudanese refugees between 8 and 18 years old, separated from their families and forced on a thousand mile march from Sudan to Ethiopia and Kenya.

Half died on that trip, from hunger, thirst, exhaustion, alligators.

A few of them were rescued and delivered to places like Fargo, North Dakota, in the middle of winter.

"Are there lions in this bush?" one asked, riding in a car to his new home from the airport.

From The New York Times Magazine, April 1, 2001:
Peter touched my shoulder. He was holding a can of Purina dog food.

"Excuse me, Sara, but can you tell me what this is?'' Behind him, the pet food was stacked practically floor to ceiling.

''Um, that's food for our dogs,'' I answered, cringing at what that must sound like to a man who had spent the last eight years eating porridge.

"Ah, I see,'' Peter said, replacing the can on the shelf and appearing satisfied. He pushed his grocery cart a few more steps and then turned again to face me, looking quizzical. '

'Tell me,'' he said, ''what is the work of dogs in this country?''

This Art Exhibit Has Gone to the Dogs

British designer Dominic Wilcox was commissioned to create an art exhibit for dogs by U.K. insurance company More Than with the idea that it would encourage people to boost the physical and mental health of their pets.

The Pace of African Population Growth

Nearly all of the world's population growth between now and 2100, will occur in Africa, but population growth here in the U.S. -- mostly driven by immigration -- will shape resource dependency and land use patterns as well.

The 125 million people the U.S. will add in the next 85 years is greater than the entire population of the U.S. west of Mississippi River today.

How many forests will fall to farm, and how many farms will fall to freeway when that happens? 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Art of the Scruff

Working terriers are small dogs
and they are commonly pulled from den holes by their tails, and lifted up by the scruff of their neck.

Whenever I see or hear anyone expresses shock at this, they have told me two things: they do not know much about small dogs, and they are not watching the dog that is right in front of their eyes.

This last point is important, as a terrier properly lifted by the thick skin on the back of his or her neck does not yowl or struggle, nor are they prone to wiggle away and jump off.

A scruffed terrier simply relaxes as their small canine bodies have been programmed to do for more than ten thousand years.

This phenomenon even has a name -- it's called clipnosis -- and there have been scientific papers written about its effectiveness on dogs, cats, and other animals.

Clipnosis, or "pinch-induced behavioral inhibition" responses, have been seen in a wide range of animals, including mice, rats, rabbits, dogs, and guinea pigs.

If you go to Google Scholar and search for "dorsal immobility" or "transport immobility," you will find a few hundred studies going back several decades.

In the modern pet world, the phenomenon is most commonly done with cats, with 2-inch binder clips creating the "pinch-induced behavioral inhibition" (see the video, below). Amazon even sells a Clipnosis Gentle Calming Cat Clip which looks suspiciously like a woman's hair clip.

Are there limits as to weight when it comes to scruffing?

Sure. I would not do it for a dog that weighed more than 25 pounds or so, but working terriers are about half that weight, and scruffing has been a traditional way of pulling terriers and fox out of holes in order to maintain maximum control and minimize struggle or fuss for hundreds of years.

To be clear -- the dog is not scruffed for a long period of time -- less than 5 seconds is typical, as seen in the video at top which is from a TV newscast detailing the recent flooding in Baton Rouge.

Whenever someone hyperventilates about it being "disrespectful" to scruff a fox, cat, or small dog I know two things: 1) they still think dogs and cats are about how they feel and what they think, and; 2) they are not being very observant.

Here's a clue:  Dogs have a useful code inside them, and using that code to help either dog or man is never wrong.

Dupont Circle Rat Sanctuary and Sonny Bono Park

This is from Google Maps. The "Dupont Circle Rat Sanctuary" moniker is simply a humorous nod to the fact that D.C. government has done very little to stop rat infestation in Dupont Circle. One problem is there are pet dogs who would get into bait trays, there are a lot of people eating lunch and throwing birdseed, and there are always homeless folks living on one bench or another. D.C. could smoke, poison, and plow the dens, but D.C. government is not that industrious.

Sonny Bono does not really have a statue
, but there is a plaque, and in the middle of the little triangle of land, buried in a time capsule, are a pair of Sonny's congressional cufflinks, the original handwritten lyrics to "I Got You Babe", and a menu to his long forgotten California restaurant. The whole thing was put together by someone who pays the city a fee to maintain this little dirt strip of a park named after their friend.  We should all be so lucky.

The Genetic Load Unseen

According to a report
from the University of Helsinki which tested nearly 6,788 dogs of more than 233 different breeds for recessive genes linked to 93 genetic disorders, about one in six dogs are carriers of something, and about one in six disorder carriers were found in a dog breed where it had not been previously seen in evidence.  The study, published in PLOS ONE, was led by Finnish company Genoscoper Ltd. in partnership with researchers from the University of Helsinki and Pennsylvania. and is considered the most comprehensive study on canine hereditary disorders so far.

What does this mean for dog breeders? Simple: the more you double down by line breeding and inbreeding, the more likely you are to see two recessive genes come together to create disease. Outcrossing does not guarantee the resulting litter will be free of disease -- you may hit the same recessive gene in the outcross -- but it lowers the chance considerably, to perhaps as little as one dog in 500.

Half of the Nation's Population Lives in the Blue Counties

Monday, August 22, 2016

American Life on the Edge

More than half of the entire U.S. population — 54%  — lives on the edge of this map.

The Last Couple on the Island

The National Park Service has formally started an Environmental Impact Statement process towards consideration of bringing more Grey Wolves into Isle Royale National Park, as only two aged wolves (father daughter) remain on the island now. At one point, there were as many as 50 wolves on Isle Royale, but inbreeding and resulting low fecundity took its toll.

The four options
on the table:

  • No action — let nature take its course. 
  • Bring in a few wolves during a one-time period, which could take a couple years. 
  • Bring in wolves multiple times over the next 20 years. 
  • Take no action now, and reconsider the top three options later on.

Drone Over Dominica Spots World's Largest Predator

Half of the Population of Mongolia

Half of the population of Mongolia
is contained in the two tiny red dots.

Coffee and Provocation

America's Oldest Magazine Takes a Stand Against Trump
In an unprecedented editorial, Scientific American has come out against the stunning and reckless ignorance Donald Trump, noting that his "lack of respect for science is alarming." The go on to note that "Americans have long prided themselves on their ability to see the world for what it is, as opposed to what someone says it is or what most people happen to believe. In one of the most powerful lines in American literature, Huck Finn says: “It warn't so. I tried it.” A respect for evidence is not just a part of the national character. It goes to the heart of the country's particular brand of democratic government. When the founding fathers, including Benjamin Franklin, scientist and inventor, wrote arguably the most important line in the Declaration of Independence — 'We hold these truths to be self-evident' — they were asserting the fledgling nation's grounding in the primacy of reason based on evidence."

Bounties Work
There are no wolves in Pennsylvania and Ohio because they were extirpated after bounties were paid on them. Bounties still work, as can be seen in Louisiana, where a bounty program is working to reduce the number of nutria (coypu) eating up the marshland. During the 2012-13 hunting season, hunters using rifles, shotguns and traps killed 388,160 of giant water rats, and were paid $5 a tail for their efforts.

Camels Gave Us the Common Cold
Camels gave the world the common cold, as well as MERS.

How Do They Make Nature Documentaries?
How much is fake?  What are the ethical choices when filming a kill scene?

‘Disease Detective’ Who Eradicated Smallpox, Dies at 87
Donald “D.A.” Henderson, an American epidemiologist who led the war on smallpox that resulted in its the eradication of the disease in 1980, the only such vanquishment in history of a human disease, died Aug. 19 at a hospice facility in Towson, Md. He was 87 and is credited with saving scored of millions of lives.

Roald Dahl Beer?
In celebration of Roald Dahl's 100th birthday, fans will soon be able to drink a beer made from a yeast cultured from his writing chair.

Police Destroy House In 10-Hour Standoff with Police 
An Idaho woman is suing the Caldwell Police Department, several officers and the city for damaging home during a 10-hour standoff 2014. Police thought an armed suspect was in the house, but in fact there the only her dog.

Seventh-Inning Fetch

This dog needs to play
for Major League Baseball!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

1000-year-old Dogs Buried Under Lima Zoo

While digging at the Lima, Peru zoo, archeologists found the remains of more than 125 dogs buried among the remains of a similar number of humans. Pots and other evidence associated with the dig suggests dogs and humans were buried together about 1,000 years ago.

The humans are both men and women between the ages of 20 and 40, and look to have been killed by violent skull fracture and others blows, while it appears the dogs were strangled. The murder-sacrifices and burials may have been part of a ritual carried out after a traumatic event.  The three most common dog types appear to be very similar to the types of street dogs still found in Lima today.

Not Your Daddy's NRA

This is the National Recovery Administration, a New Deal agency established by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933 in order to eliminate "cut-throat competition" by bringing industry, labor, and government together to create codes of "fair practices" and set prices. The NRA allowed industries to get together and write "codes of fair competition" in order to reduce "destructive competition" and to help workers by setting minimum wages and maximum weekly hours, as well as minimum prices at which products could be sold.

Sunday Morning Coming Down

Can You Find It?

Eastern Screech Owl

What Do You Have to Lose?

Saturday, August 20, 2016

"Professor" Damrel's Wolf Cart

"Prof. J.A. Damrel & Five Timber Wolves pulled wagon for
"CREAM of RYE", Minneapolis Cereal Co, Minnesota, 1912"

This is a promotion wagon and card 
for "Cream of Rye" cereal from 1912.

The Minneapolis Cereal Company (now called General Mills) employed "Professor" J.A. Damrel and his team of canids, sometimes listed as "five timber wolves," to go "coast to coast" advertising their product.

The story has a few holes, however, as Mace Loftus notes over at The Wolf Crossing.

For one thing, there is no evidence this team of five wolves ever got out of the orbit of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Illinois, much less traveled from Seattle, Washington, as trumpeted in the few remaining advertising circulars of the era.

The real story appears that Professor Damrel and his wife started on the road on May 15, 1912 from their general store in Ashland, Wisconsin, and by July 30th they had reached Racine, a distance of about 374 miles in 76 days at an average speed of about 5 miles a day.

On October 17th, The Decatur Review reported that J.R. Damrel and wife drove a team of wolves into Decatur, Illinois, and that the team "is composed of three Siberian wolves, one husky, one large Alaskan dog and one timber wolf". Though Mr. Damrel said he expected to reach New York City by the middle of December, and that his dog team averaged 40 miles a day, the actual distance between Racine, Wisconsin, and Decatur, Illinois is just 277 miles, a distance traversed in 79 days at a speed of about 3.5 miles a day.

So what's the real story?

It appears Mr. Damrel dug out a litter of wolf pups near Cayuga, Wisconsin, raised them up for a year or two, trained them to pull a wagon with perhaps the addition of one or two wolf-like Alaskan sled dogs. He then sold the folks at the Minneapolis Cereal Company on a promotion for their new rye cereal, danced up a fancy story to help grease the promotion circuit (and perhaps get a free room on the way), and made a 700-mile trip of it over five months, never once tripping over his own tail in an era of weak reporting and poor long-distance communication.