To go with today’s episode: a video so you can see a messy and comfy dog people studio apartment and meet everyone (except for Game who is in the car crate because we wanted to talk rather than teach her not to eat Norbert) and me because I’m holding the camera – but you can hear me talk a little). And good music because dog play requires good music!
These clips are all from the first day the animals met, not from the day we recorded the podcast. By then, everyone had gotten used to each other and calmed down, and Chai knew how to relax around Norbert and where his personal space bubble started. He set an excellent boundary with her on day #1 (early on in this video!)
When Norbert comes back up from the floor in the middle of the video, you’ll see Niffler do some excellent splitting (he is being a moving fence!) between Chai and Norbert.
Chai’s “I’m not quite sure what to make of you”-pacing resolved itself later that same evening when she drifted off to sleep and Norbert showed more interest in the rain outside the window than in her.
I also felt like the podcast (particularly our accidental conversation about dating and the less accidental part about independence) required some more thought-out thoughts from me. I don’t know who listens to my podcast or reads my blog and ended up writing a whole long personal story about many things I hadn’t said on air.
And then I decided against sharing it. I didn’t get it right, and language (thank you, Saint-Exupéry) is the source of misunderstandings. Just know that there’s a lot of personal stuff I’m not talking about in this episode. That I’ll share with friends like Kayla, but not necessarily on air (not yet anyways). Things that matter to me even if I don’t say them publicly. The podcast is just one of many slices of life.
I’ll leave it at that! And I wish everyone who could possibly read this or listen to my podcast well.
The dog training world is very campy. That’s bullshit, but it is the way it currently looks to me. This image is what I’m picturing when I say “left of center” or “right of center” in the podcast. It also shows you where I’d put myself, training-wise … and who I’d consider “my people”: anyone who’s not a campy extremist, really.
However, in an ideal world, there wouldn’t be a continuum at all. Instead, we’d have a menu of sorts, like a menu at a restaurant. On that menu, you’d find everything from BAT to Nepopo. We’d order the menu alphabetically in order to not play favorites.
Every training technique and system ever invented would be on the menu. And we dog trainers would choose one or two or three of them to study and become experts in by means of learning from the ones who came before us (standing on the shoulders of giants, as we always do).
We’d pick in terms of what we want to learn and teach; in terms of what feels good to US as individuals. Our picking would not be judgmental. It would be like picking the flavors of ice cream to go in your cone – not like picking a political party.
By picking your flavors of ice cream, you are not saying the other flavors are evil – you are just saying, these are my favorite flavors (these are the ones I want to learn more about and become an expert in). You can still be best friends with someone who chooses different flavors of ice cream. You can even talk about ice cream or taste their ice cream out of curiosity, and let them have a taste of yours. It would be encouraged rather than criticized: tasting each other’s ice cream is what friends do, after all.
That’s very different from choosing a political party: if you choose a political party, you are making an idiological (rather than subjective) decision, and you feel strongly about it being the “right” or “better” one – at least that’s how I feel when it comes to politics. I only have voting rights in Austria. Austria is a democracy with a large menu of political options. I oscillate between two of them, and have never voted for any other one: the Green party and the Communist party. I like both of them, and which one I will end up voting for is often a close call, and depends on the issues at hand and how they are handling it. I can’t see myself voting for any of the other parties, and some of the other parties (the ÖVP and the FPÖ, for example), I consider downright harmful to the planet, humanity, society and community.
In an ideal world, dog training would be like eating ice cream, not like voting. Thank you for coming to my TED talk!
Here’s a link to the podcast episode this post is riffing off of:
I wanted to add a little extra information to this week’s podcast – it has a funny background story.
Many years ago, as I was just starting out as a professional dog trainer, I took a year-long course for future trainers. I had selected it based on what I had read about it and the fact that I really wanted something in person (rather than KPA online).
The course turned out to be a disaster:it wasn’t at all what the description had me believe it would be. I knew this after 15 minutes of class, but wasn’t allowed to sell my spot to someone who actually wanted it (instead, that someone else had to purchase their own spot, which put us over the promised max number of students).
The teacher used learning theory terms incorrectly and was just really … insensitive and mean to folks. They were one of those people who love dogs and dislike humans. They were PETA-level-type animal advocates who basically thought dogs should live in large enclosures (like zoo animals), receive enrichment, and not be tortured by hikes, sports or clickers. This was not the trainer I wanted to be, and the course frustrated me over and over again.
The person I was back then was definitely edgier than the person I am today. I was self-righteous, radically queer and angry at the world.
From this class, I have taken no dog training knowledge – but it led me to cross paths with two people I wouldn’t want to miss in my life today. It was over a decade ago, and yet, these two connections persist.
One of them is Kenne who I interview on this podcast. They did not even take the course themselves – their wife did; Kenne and I just connected over random parking lot conversations.
The other one is Chris (who happens to live in Graz as well) and who is to this day one of my closest and most trusted friends. We connected right away over a shared love of Standard Poodles (I had Phoebe, who could be Chris’ vicarious Poodle) and shared queerness, a fondness of biology and intriguing discussions of relationship dynamics. Chris, in case you happen to be reading this – know that love you and that meeting you made up for all the suckiness of this course. I can’t even remember or imagine not having you in my life.
Kenne sometimes showed up during class breaks to visit their wife Sarina, who was taking the course. But there was this one time that, I believe, is what caused me to (quoting Rachel) want to keep an eye on this person and what they were doing in their life. Low-effort to maintain, and yet feeling like it is a meaningful connection with someone I so appreciate having met. The person I am today still appreciates Kenne, even though I have probably chaged a lot (and so have they, I imagine. Change, and be ready to change again!) Even though we don’t talk all the time, I feel like if I needed a place to stay in Graz, I could just ask Kenne and they’d say, “Of course!” And vice versa, of course, wherever I am in the world. Some people are just warm and engaging and wonderful to connect with, and Kenne is certainly one of them.
Anyways, back in the day, Kenne happened to be sitting in on the class I was giving my end-of-class presentation in. The edgy, feisty Jack-Russel-Terrier Chrissi of days gone by used this presentation to drive home two points: one, I wanted to show that teacher how to teach an engaging class. How it was done! How engagingly, interactively and fun one could teach! I made people laugh, moved while I was talking and threw high-value chocolates to (at) everyone asking or answering a question. I believe I had even brought a pineapple (thanks for that one, Kathy Sdao!) to add some extra flavor to my presentation. I used big words I had heard used incorrectly over the course of that class, speaking fast-paced and keeping people on their toes. Nobody was going to fall asleep this time!
It felt satisfying. And yet, afterwards, on the parking lot, I realized that the message I had tried to get across had probably gone over most people’s heads. After all, no one teaching or taking this class was a native English speaker, but since the person teaching it didn’t speak German either, it was conducted in English. It did not go over Kenne’s head though. They approached me in the parking lot and told me I was a sexist genius. To the Chrissi from back in the day (flaming red hair and all), this was a big compliment and I loved it. It let me know that Kenne had both read the organizers and teachers as snake oil salespeople, and had been amused by my retort. And as long as one person got it, I was happy. I felt like I had reached my goal.
To me, that was the beginning of our friendship. From my point of view, had Kenne not made this comment that day, we might have drifted apart.
Before recording this podcast, I asked them why they thought we had stayed in touch. Apart from their wife and me, they aren’t in touch with anyone from back then either. And what Kenne said made me smile. It’s something that still resonates with the Chrissi I am today: Kenne said I was an authentic person and they played with my Poodle, so of course we stayed in touch. (Or that’s what I heard or wanted to hear anyways.) So you, Kenne, are also worth having gone through that ridiculous course for. I feel SO grateful to have met you and get to have conversations like this one! Thank you!
I just got to have Marc Bekoff on my podcast! We talked about Jessica Pierce’s and Marc’s latest book: A Dog’s World – Imagining the Lives of Dogs in a World Without Humans.
I translated this book to German, and it recently got released by Kynos Publishing. Since I usually stay in touch with “my” authors in the translation process, I grabbed the opportunity to invite Marc on a Zoom chat.
In this episode, I acknowledge the relevance of A Dog’s World to pet dog owners today, and I challenge Marc on the conclusion drawn in the book: that the species dog would survive (or turn into a new species) if all humans disappeared. It’s the latter part that I want to talk about some more after further thinking about the book and our conversation.
Survival in a posthuman world
What I’m still grappling with is the idea that dogs would survive without us. My openion (and yes, this is VERY MUCH an opinion because we can’t test this scenario in a meaningful way) is that dogs would go extinct in a world without humans.
Jessica and Marc believe that many dogs would not only survive, but thrive in a world without us.
Suspension bridge on a trail in Amatlán de Quetzalcóatl, Morelos
Where we come from
Only in the course of this conversation did I realize how different the points of origin of our respective arguments are, and how our respective conclusions followed, perhaps quite naturally, from exactly these anchor points we already had long before this conversation.
Marc’s longest field research project, I believe, was on the lives and behavior of coyotes in Yellowstone National Park. As an ethologist, Marc observes behavior and writes ethograms (a list of observable behaviors and their contexts) about different species in their natural environment. In Marc’s case, these species were primarily wild canids.
Marc is a dog lover who has also spent many days at dog parks, observing the interactions of Boulder’s dog park dogs through an ethological lens. Marc has researched, by reading everything that is available in terms of observational studies, the lives of free-roaming domestic dogs around the world, and observed feral dogs arund Boulder. On the podcast, Marc points out that the ethograms of domestic dogs and wild canids is nearly indistinguishable.
Marc has also lived with dogs: companion dogs who were off leash when Marc was out with them around Boulder, CO. Marc observed the behaviors these dogs would engage in in their off-leash lives. (They were only out and about off leash when Marc was with them – so probably living degrees of freedom similar to my own dog, who is not a free-roamer.)
Taking the similarity of the ethograms, the independence of Marc’s own dogs and a group of feral dogs who would make occasional trips to the dumpster but also hunt outside of Boulder, Marc and Jessica Pierce conclude that there would absolutely be individual dogs – enough to form new wild populations – surviving the demise of the human species.
Suspension bridge on a trail in Amatlán de Quetzalcóatl, Morelos
The anchor point of myship train of thought is different. I am a dog trainer. The dogs in my life are usually sports or working dogs, or very active companion dogs of high-maintenance breeds, or not so active dogs living with highly sophisticated dog folks who are most definitely not average pet dog homes. I have never had a pure pet dog myself, and neither do most of the folks I work and interact with today. My personal interest and the areas into which I am trying to stretch are behavior analysis, psychology, neurology, and behavioral medicine. I have no degree in any of these fields, but I try and learn as much as I can about them. I also live in a part of the world where many (most?) dogs are homed free-roamers. I love observing them; I consider their life quality high, and I have dedicated a Youtube Channel to them.
When I think “domestic dog,” what comes to mind is not the general pet dog population: I think of dogs who live with geeky trainers on the one hand, and free-ranging dogs on the other hand. I sometimes forget that there are also pet dogs.
When Jessica and Marc think “of “domestic dogs,” I suspect they think of pet dogs on leashes and in dog parks on the one hand and wild canids on the other hand.
What I agree on with Jessica and Marc
I fully agree with Jessica’s and Marc’s conclusions about how the lives of pet and companion dogs could be improved, and how we can draw these conclusions by looking at the behavior of free-ranging dogs today.
The sociability and ability to form groups and packs is something I see a lot in free-roamers, so we’re on the same page there as well. I don’t doubt that dogs will be (variable degrees of) sociable and able to form packs. Free-roaming dogs already do.
Alloparenting also occurs in domestic dogs that are kept in groups when breeding as well as in free-roaming dogs. Again – I have no doubt posthuman dogs could alloparent (and some would do so if they survived).
I don’t doubt that they will hunt solitarily either – I know plenty of dogs who will do so when given the opportunity (these are not free-roamers, but sports and working dogs). What I wanted to be convinced of, however, was the cooperative hunting part – something I’ve never seen and find hard to imagine.
The food resource thing …
I have never – NEVER – seen free-roaming dogs who did not depend on anthropogenic food resources. Even the feral dogs around Boulder that Marc mentions visit the dumpster. That makes me suspicious of whether they could survive if they had to rely on hunting. When Marc’s student saw them hunt cooperatively – did these dogs actually take down prey, or were they just chasing, like many dogs would, without actually killing/consuming? I am not clear about this. Even if they killed, but did not consume – I don’t think we could call that cooperative hunting. For hunting to be hunting, doesn’t it need to end in eating the prey? (I don’t know; I’m sure there is a definition though.)
What even is a feral dog?
A feral dog is a domestic dog who isn’t tame. A dog like this will have a bigger flight distance than other free-roamers. I have seen very few feral dogs in my life, and they usually look as if they were starving because they are too scared to visit the dumpster on a regular basis.
How do feral dogs happen? I suspect a truly feral dog has missed out on any and all human contact during the sensitive socialization period, as a very young puppy. This can happen if a free-roaming dog has puppies away from their home – say in a forest where humans rarely go -, and the dog’s humans don’t look for or don’t find the puppies.
Why are there so few of them? Because most of them will die! Your chances of survival are much higher if you are not feral and can access human handouts and the waste we generate.
Wouldn’t there already be feral dogs everywhere today if it was easy to be one?
I also suspect that if dogs without humans were a realistical scenario, we’d already see successful secondarily wild dogs who have no contact with humans whatsoever, and who hunt cooperatively. As far as I know (and I may be totally wrong – please comment with resources if I am!) these dogs do not exist today. (It has been argued that Dingoes are not feral dogs, but true wild canids. That said, I have read that there are secondarily wild dogs on the Galapagos Islands. I haven’t had time to look into them yet. If these dogs were truly feral and descended from the domestic dog, and were not dependent on any anthropogenic food resources – this would be a convincing argument for me that under specific and rarely occurring circumstances, the species dog might be able to survive in certain locations in a post-human world.)
The posthuman dog future I imagine, based on my anchor point
From my current point of view, given the dogs I see, I think most pet dogs, if left loose in a world WITH humans, would make decent free-roamers and enjoy the trash we leave behind as well as our handouts. They’d have social relationships etc. Working dogs like mine would also enjoy killing all the livestock around town (which would result in them getting poisoned or shot).
If I imagine the fate of dogs in a world without humans, these same dogs would eat all the trash we left behind, and then feast on the livestock (easy prey) as well as urban rats and pigeons (also easy prey). And then, they’d die, mostly in the transition dog generation (the generation of dogs who still had human contact).
I have a hard time imagining dogs learning to hunt cooperatively in the little time they have after all the livestock and trash are gone. Most of them will die, and the few that survive … Will they be neutered? In that case, they’re in a genetic dead-end street. Will enough of them be both intact and able to hunt cooperatively? I really doubt it because the free-roaming dogs today – remember that’s about 80% of the world’s dog population! – have been selected (naturally, if you will, by humans killing dogs who kill livestock) to NOT hunt. I’m not sure if “average pet dogs” will be able to hunt. Working dogs certainly would (solitarily at least), but there are so few, and they are so far apart, that they may never meet each other. And if you’re a working dog (other than a terrier), you may be too big to sustain yourself on the kind of prey you may be able to catch by yourself once the livestock is gone. And the livestock will be gone because it will either die without us or be killed by transition dogs.
A thought experiment
I just googled, and according to a dubious source (but that’ll do for my thought experiment), a 100g jack rabbit contains 173 calories. Now let’s see how many calories an adult dog needs. Say Game’s RER is 650, and if she had to stustain herself by means of hunting, her caloric needs would be 650 x 2-5, which, if I’m calculating this correctly (and I may not), makes 1295 caloiries. That’s a lot more than a single rabbit. If Game had to sustain herself on jack rabbits she’d have to catch 1295 divided by 173 makes 7.5 jackrabbits every day. That is A LOT of rabbits. I cannot imagine a world in which my dog would successfully catch this many rabbits on a daily basis.
We’d also have to look at the energy spent on hunting a rabbit. Since this calculation is based on the caloric needs of an active working dog, let’s say if all of Game’s hunts were successful, she would meet her caloric needs every day with 7.5 rabbits. But she is unlikely to succeed every time. So how many calories would she loose with each rabbit that got away? How many calories does it cost to hunt one rabbit? (I do not know.)
In any case, if two rabbits, after a high-energy chase, got to safety, Game would be losing rather than gaining calories. Consequently, that very same day, 7.5 jack rabbits would not be enough anymore – she’d have to successfully hunt, kill and consume, say, 9 to make up for the energy spent on the ones who got away. This is even less likely because every hunt is tiring, and hunts #8 and #9 have a smaller chance of success because of it.
Dogs don’t need to eat every day. So Game could go a while without eating 7.5 rabbits a day and still do okay. She’d gain experience hunting with every attempt – but she’d also spend energy on every attempt, successful and unsuccessful. After several days of not eating, there may be peak performance due to peak motivation, but then that performance will go down unless Game was highly successful at peak motivation. So by the sheer amount of rabbit hunting required, I don’t think it is realistic for a dog of Game’s size to survive as a solitary hunter. Most solitary hunting canids are smaller than she is. (There are solitary coyotes or foxes, for example, and they get by hunting bunnies and rodents (and, given the contents of the scat I’ve seen around Guanajuato, lots of cactus fruit). Game is heavier than they are.)
So Game would likely have to go after larger prey, and large prey can often only be overwhelmed by means of cooperative hunting. Will dogs really figure that out in time? I have my doubts. The largest prey animal I know fairly well are (Austrian) deer, and they are fast and flighty. It’s certainly possible to hunt them cooperatively, but I imagine it would require a lot of practice. And transition dogs may not have that time. Especially because, being dogs, they would not gather to brainstorm for a future of hunting while there still were anthropogenic food resources. Instead, they would – evolutionarily myopically, if you will – focus only on these easily accessible resources until they ran out of them. (Just like we humans and our fossil fuels, really. We’ll only implement meaningful changes once we’re past that climate change tipping point, and at that point, our changes will make little or no difference for many folks around the world, because the places they live today will have become uninhabitable for our species. This is an opinion, not a fact, and I would love for it to be wrong.)
Suspension bridge on a trail in Amatlán de Quetzalcóatl, Morelos
There may be dogs (smaller than Game) who can sustain themselves on bunnies and the like. But will they happen to be close enough to another transition dog to breed? Maybe in rare cases. Will their puppies survive? Few will, I assume, because the survival rate of wild canids and free-ranging dogs is very low.
The anthropogenic world as the dog’s niche
After thinking about all of this some more, my opinion still is that dogs won’t survive without us – even though during the conversation itself, I was trying to be open to the possibility that they would.
I would not say that the ecological niche of the domestic dog is the human household (80% of the world’s dog population is free-roaming), but I would say that their niche is the anthropogenic world. And this niche will disappear with us. I’m not optimistic they’d adapt to a new niche fast enough … even if they all happened to be free and outdoors when we humans disappeared from the planet. I think of their niche as the anthropogenic world in the same sense I think of this being the niche of urban rats and pidgeons. In my opinion, all three of the above would die after eating all the resources we left behind when disappearing. I suspect this will be the fate of everyone who is considered a Kulturfolger animal in German.
I also realize that this very much is an opinion based on my background, my work and my interests. I can absolutely see how a different background, like Marc and Jessica have it, will lead to completely different conclusions!
Why does everything have to be so annoyingly relative?
Coming at a topic from different angles can lead to misunderstandings or talking past each other – I think this, too, happened to us. And it just goes to show how difficult it is for folks from different fields, who have different jargons they take for granted, to understand each other! For example in my conversation with Marc, this happened when Marc used the word “engram.” This term also appears in A Dog’s World (once). I had never come across it before, and researched a little when translating the book. Conveniently, the German equivalent is “Engramm.” It’s basically the same word with the same Greek root. In the book, Marc writes:
“We’ve provided a range of ideas about what the evolutionary trajectories of posthuman dogs might look like. A recurring theme has been trying to understand and appreciate the ancient impulses and memory traces that still lurk in dogs’ brains—the indelible engrams that still influence what they do and how they feel and which will shape how they do without us.”
(Page 157 in my copy of the publisher’s PDF)
I looked up the meaning of the term when I was translating, but I can’t say I feel like I understood it. The way Marc uses the term, it seems to refer to a kind of collective memory of generations long past. Something that isn’t “active” – basically something that isn’t “online,” but could theoretically be brought online again by life circumstances. From digging into the topic a bit, it seems to still be controversal whether engrams actually exist.
On the podcast, Marc used the term engram again, and I asked whether this would work like a modal action pattern. (“Model action pattern” is in my active vocabulary; I know its definition: it is a behavior chain that is released by a certain stimulus and usually displayed through to the end (it is difficult to interrupt). It hardly varies from one occasion to the next or between individuals. Modal action patterns are more like a highly complex reflex you don’t consciously control than advanced and varied social communication. Modal action patterns are NOT offline, but very much online, and they are innate. An example is the hunting sequence of the wolf: search – eye-stalk – chase – grab-bite – kill-bite – consume. Another example is the herding behavior of the Border Collie, which is a modified hunting sequence: it goes from search to eye-stalk to chase, and ends there.
Anyways, so I asked Marc whether an engram was like a modal action pattern, only that it would be brought online by necessity rather than already being online and simply being displayed when a certain stimulus was present.
Marc ended up basically giving me the definition of a modal action pattern. But whatever an engram is, it can’t really be a modal action pattern – unless there is a field (psychology? ethology?) that uses “engram” in the way behavior analysts use “model action pattern,” and the terms actually mean the same.
But cooperative hunting – not hunting, but the cooperative part – can, by its very nature, not be a modal action pattern. Modal action patterns are rigid and hard to change, and cooperation is flexible and adaptive. So Marc didn’t answer my question, and I don’t think that was on purpose, but either because Marc isn’t familiar with the way “modal action pattern” is used by dog trainers or because I didn’t manage to formulate my question clearly! Argh! Or maybe I’m using an outdated definition of modal action pattern!
Cooperative hunting is by its very nature varied because different individuals have different roles. In a word: I still don’t understand what exactly an engram is. In both a German article and the English Wikipedia article, it seems to be about memories of something that happens in your lifetime, and (maybe) the physical location where these memories are stored in the brain. But this is not the way Marc uses the term, as far as I can tell: cooperative hunting can’t be an experience being remembered by an individual dog who has never had the experience of hunting cooperatively.
I don’t think it has been shown that it is possible to “remember” the social behavior of our very distant ancestors. Sure, we are influenced – both through social learning and genetics and in-utero/in-petri-dish experiences by biological relatives and the folks around us. But these are not distant ancestors! So I am still confused about the engram explanation of cooperative hunting, and this is frustrating to me. We were discussing a topic we were both passionate about (dogs), and we didn’t speak the same jargon. I’m used to talking to behavior folks and dog trainers, and we have a shared vocabulary! Marc is probably used to talking to ethologists or pet folks. With the former, there is a shared jargon (which I do not speak), and the latter probably don’t ask the kinds of questions I ask. Anyways, if someone reading this can explain the meaning of “engram” to me, please leave me a comment!
Communication is fucking hard!
In the end, this is probaly the take-away from the conversation I find most fascinating: it is difficult to understand each other if you don’t have a shared vocabulary! And it is really the anchor point of our experience our our field that informs our opinion! When you start with wild canids and compare their ethograms with domestic dogs, you’ll conclude that because they are very similar, they will also be able to hunt cooperatively. (At least if you are Jessica Pierce or Marc Bekoff.)
When you start with working dogs (and know little about wild canids) and observe free-roaming dogs who depend on anthropogenic food resources, you don’t think they will master cooperative hunting. (At least if you are me.)
Suspension bridge on a trail in Amatlán de Quetzalcóatl – and Game’s tail!
And really, this is a metaphor for so many things in life! Depending on where we’re coming from, we’ll find strong arguments to support our respective opinions. (Yay, confirmation bias! Yay, anchoring effect!) We may be fully convinced of them. And yet: some of them are opinions, not facts. It’s both hard and worth striving for to hold both these truths at the same time: on the one hand, our convictions themselves on the basis of which we are who we are in this world. And on the other hand, the fact that some of these convictions will always be opinions we can’t currently fact-check. And that’s fine. Complicated – but fine. Doesn’t make them less valid. But sure makes everything a whole lot more complex.
There are facts, of course. I am not a relativist. I see facts, and will fight for them, especially if they are facts I care about on a deep and personal level. But whether or not dogs would survive in a world without us? That’s not something we will ever be able to know.
1. The free-roaming dog with the big wound on his leg – pictures:
To give you a face to go with the pictures of the wound below – we’re talking about the dog who looks like a Mal mix. He’s Game’s and my friend, and the young Husky mix next to him is his buddy. You may have seen both of these dogs in some of my videos already:
Picture of the wound on this dog from January 27, 2022:
A better pic I managed to take on February 1st:
The wound starts looking smaller – the picture below is from February 8, 2022:
And below, 2 pictures from February 14: now there’s no way of denying that he’s healing up!
I didn’t take any pictures after this, but a few weeks later, you could hardly tell there had ever been a wound!
2. The dog with the dangly leg I saw near a freeway on my road trip:
By the way, if you want to roam and ramble with your dog the way I (Chrissi) do with Game – who’s not free-roaming, but has a lot of freedom when the two of us are out together – join me in Out and About at FDSA! Registration is still open, and class starts on October 1st. Gold students tend to work on a large variety of eclectic topics related to being out in the world with their dogs. It’s always an interesting and rich class to follow along with, even if you’re only reading along at the Bronze level!
Sue doesn’t teach a class in October, but the spay/neuter webinars she and Jessica Hekman presented on September 22 may still up for purchase on the day this podcast episode airs! I attended both of them live, and highly recommend them. Grab ’em while you can: https://www.fenzidogsportsacademy.com/self-study/webinars
PS: For a weekly glimpse into the life of free-roamers, subscribe to my latest passion project: my Free Ranging Dogs Youtube channel! I discuss their behavior, body language, interactions and various ethological concepts in the video description, and release a new video each Sunday afternoon. My goal is to build a free resource and share the free-roamers Game and I encounter on our meanderings with anyone who’d like to learn more about them.
This is episode 6 of our podcast, Our One Wild and Precious Lives (and Our Dogs). I’m really proud of this one – it turned out really well, if I may say so myself! Thank you, Peter and Val, for being vulnerable and brave and brilliant with me!
I’ll be adding the link to the episode below so you can all listen – but before I do, I want to ask you all a favor. If you are reading this (potentially because you’re a subscriber to my blog), and if you’ve been enjoying the podcast episodes I’ve put out so far – every second one is dog geeky, and every other one is about living abroad, being brave, vulnerability, mental health, politics, queer lives etc … So if you’ve been enjoying them, please subscribe to the podcast on one of the podcast platforms as well! We’re on all the major platforms. AND please, if you’ve been REALLY enjoying things, leave us a rating on Spotify and Apple Podcasts, and a nice review on Apple Podcasts! I’m not making money podcasting; I’m just having a lot of fun doing it – and seeing the listener numbers increase makes my day. Ratings and reviews will give the podcast greater exposure, and that means positive reinforcement – more listeners! – for me. Thank you so much!
I myself am super lazy when it comes to reviewing podcasts. I’ve got SO many favorites I haven’t taken the time to review yet. So I’m setting myself the goal to review one independent podcast I love for every review I get, to pay it forward! Thanks, folks!
Alright – on to this episode I really, really like! I’ll embed a link, and you’ll find the episode description below.
In this episode, Chrissi and Peter talk to Valerie Russell. Originally from the US, she has studied forensics in the UK and worked in law enforcement in the New York metropolitan area for many years. After severe depression and a PTSD diagnosis, Valerie started her life from scratch: she moved to Guatemala and opened Due South Travels, a unique and successful travel business. Val is one of the first people I (Chrissi) met in Guatemala, and I admire her on SO many levels. She is brave, courageous, authentic, and simply good people.
In this episode, we talk about mental health, all the things the animals we share our lives with do for us, the broken system of law enforcement and health care in the US, and smuggling cat nip. We hope you enjoy this conversation as the three of us did!
Canine nerd level scale: 1.5 (for interested pet owners as well as enthusiastic dog folks who already know quite a bit)
Chrissi, Peter and Amy Miller discuss their perspective on living or working with dogs who don’t appreciate being touched by strangers. This episode consists of three distinct stories: Peter’s experience as a dog walker, boarder, and vacation-experience provider, Amy’s perspective as the owner of the lovely, but opinionated Marley and his protocol for meeting new (and familiar) people, and Chrissi’s experience as a trainer working with people who share their lives with dogs who’d rather not be petted. We don’t only talk about our personal experiences, but also speculate on where the human desire to use our hands to greet dogs may stem from – and why canines might consider this rude. Most importantly, we dispel the myth that the best way of greeting a new dog is by sticking your hand in their face to sniff.
You can listen to Our One Wild and Precious Lives (and Our Dogs) on all the major podcast platforms as well as on Youtube or right here on my website. I recommend subscribing to it on one of the pocast platforms – you’ll get each episode a day earlier there than on Youtube and on my website. Also, yes, pelase do subscribe and share with your friends and, if you like what you hear, rate and review! This will help more people discover the podcast. I’m going to pay it forward by reviewing one of my favorite podcasts for every review we get.
Amy is one of the masterminds that make sure FDSA runs smoothly. Amy, you are doing A LOT of those things that seem entirely mysterious to me. You’re among the ones pulling the strings in the back, making sure the experience for everyone else – instructors as well as students – is smooth and intuitive. You are a helpdesk and tech magician, and I – just as all of our colleagues – deeply love and appreciate the work you do!
New episode! This is the first time I experimented with recording a conversation in the same room rather than over Zoom. I don’t have professional audio equipment, so we recorded a single audio track, hunched over Andrés’ little table, crumbs of mota and my laptop. The sound quality isn’t perfect – but it worked well enough!
I’ve been living with three Mexicans, and on this episode, I talk to one of my housemates: Andrés Ortega. We chat about the trials and tribulations of living with strangers, cultural differences, the colors and facets of Guanajuato City, and what we have learned from each other. Get ready for laughter, city stories, lots of mutual appreciation, and a rant about pocket-less pants!
I’m really glad I found this house, and the three wonderful people already living in it. You guys are awesome! Game has been enjoying it here as well. She’s loving the leftovers that are being saved for her (especialls the month Ivan used to cook way too much), and every time tortillas go bad, or Andrés buys an entire roast chicken. Game has also received two toys from Moi. One of them, the yellow sheep, is still alive and being well loved. It is her new favorite, and even went on a road trip with us.
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Moi opened the door to his room to Game and I when we first moved in. We were invited to take over his bed – even Game! – and hang out, watching movies. We both felt comfortable and at ease right away. I’m thankful for Moi’s intuition and perceptiveness about making me feel at home!
I am grateful to have met my three housemates, having learned new modismos and gotten to know Los Simuladores. I couldn’t have found better people to share a house with. I appreciated sharing my imperfect pizza experiment with you all, having lots of coffee breaks with Andrés, sharing lunch tortas with Moi, lounging on the kitchen furniture with my dog at my feet and new friends by my side. And Ivan! Thank you for lending me your car, and introducing me to your inflables and their casa. (Ivan runs what probably is a not-entirely-legal bouncy house rental business. He also forges data for the government, but the bouncy house business is way cooler and more fun.)
I’m the lucky one. I don’t believe in God, but if I did, I would thank them for my time here, and for the freedom I rediscovered. And for something I thought everyone did, but am realizing may not be as common as I used to think: I see beauty around me all the time. I meet amazing people. (I, too, see the shadows, but also: so much good stuff!)
There’s something else I learned from Moisés that I didn’t mention on this podcast, but have to share with you because it’s brilliant! If you have raw eggs that aren’t fresh, and you aren’t sure they are still good, there’s an easy way to find out: fill a pot with water. Put the egg into it. If it sinks to the bottom of the pot, it’s still good. If it floats, it’s bad.
The other trick I learned: if you’re making coffee in a drip coffee machine (we are making a lot of coffee!), you don’t have to put entirely new coffee into the machine for every new can of coffee! You can just add a spoon or two of coffee to the used coffee already in the filter, add water, and you’ll end up with coffee just as tasty as the previous round … And you’ll be using up less coffee overall! (This is going to save me a lot of money going forwards, since I drink LOADS of coffee.) Up until now, I used to empty out and refill my filter every single time!
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You all, whether you’re reading this or not – I’m going to tell you in person again anyway: thank you for the conversations, the movie nights, water-refill and bouncy-house-recovering trips. Thank you for cotorrear-ing about dogs and the world, girlfriends and human beings, and anything from our personal challenges to family history.
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I’ll be leaving because I want to live in the middle of nowhere again, not in a place surrounded by highways. But if I could bring Moisés, Andrés and Ivan (just pack up the entire house), I totally would.
A friend (who already knows quite a bit!) recently asked me where to learn more about dog training – and I started putting this list together. It’s not complete (there are so many great resources out there!), and the order is random: I just went in the order I thought of things. There is no deeper meaning or ranking to it. I have not read every single post, listened to every single podcast episode, or seen every single video on the Youtube channels recommended (except for my own content). However, if a resource is mentioned in this post, it is because it has caught my attention, and I have seen/read/listened to and enjoyed at least some of its content. My list is not restricted to any particular training philosophy.
If you have your own recommendations for FREE resources, leave them in the comments! I’ll remove advertising and recommendations for paid content. Apart from that – go ahead and share away! Add a link, what type of resource it is, and why you are recommending it!
This episode is a 2/3 on the canine nerd level scale (*). Chrissi talks about various ways of increasing food motivation, defines reinforcement, and offers various tips and tricks for special treats.
One more research finding I would like to share, and did not mention in this episode: an experiment showed that small dogs preferred large pieces of kibble to small pieces of kibble – presumably because one larger piece smells more enticing than one smaller piece. If you train with kibble, you may be able to not only up the value of your food by using more than a single treat per rep, but by using a single, but larger piece of kibble. Try buying breed-specific kibble made for Great Danes for your Maltese, and see what happens! (Note: I have not found the scientific paper, if there is one, that goes with the experiment cited above – treat these findings with a grain of salt.)
(1) The canine nerd level scale for special interest episodes (titled “Dog geekery”):
Level 1: of interest for pet or companion dog owners
Level 2: for the engaged dog enthusiast who already knows things, and wants to learn even more
Level 3: for highly educated dog and animal training folks and professionals who love digging into the nerdy details of theory and philosophy
Wanna learn more about dogs and training from Chrissi? Join their August class at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy: Calling All Dogs!