Category Archives: Dogs

Iatrogenic Death*

Primum non nocere; first, do no harm.

As I mentioned last time, I have a dog who has cancer and we are dealing with that as best we can, part of which is giving him a chemotherapy drug. He’s 14 years old and we decided we would not do any invasive procedures at all (ie, surgery) and if he doesn’t tolerate the chemo well we will discontinue it, but this week I had an experience that was harrowing because of its implications, both for our pets and for us as humans who must visit doctors.

This is Karloff:


Karloff had visited the oncologist our vet recommended, and she prescribed a drug called Palladia for his cancer. This drug is so toxic they tell you to wear rubber gloves when you give to to the dog and to keep the dog from licking you while he is taking it, so we know it is pretty strong stuff.

We gave Karloff his first prescribed 80mg dose of Palladia Wednesday with dinner. Thursday morning, out of curiosity, I was reading about the drug online and I saw that Pfizer recommends a far lower dosage for a dog Karloff’s size so I called the oncologist to make sure the amount is what Dr. XXXX wants us to give Karloff. Dr. XXXX wasn’t in but Dr. ZZZZ told me it was not correct and I should bring Karloff in right away, which I did. She ran a blood test, which apparently came back okay, and she apologized for the error, which she realized was a very serious one; if I hadn’t caught it, we would have given Karloff 80mg each time instead of the 35mg he is supposed to get. (She said she thought the dosage had been miscalculated as mg/pound instead of mg/kg like it is supposed to be.) She also prescribed an antacid for any stomach issues for the next week, and she tried to contact the manufacturer to see what they had to say about overdosing with this drug, only to be told that they were “all in a meeting”, something which boggles my mind, given the size of Pfizer.

Dr. ZZZZ was great about all of this, and I thanked her for seeing Karloff right away and I told her that I did not blame her for someone else’s error, but I asked her to express my extreme displeasure about this to “whomever was responsible”, and I also asked her if she could see if they could institute some sort of protocol to prevent this from happening again to another client. Karloff seems to be tolerating the 220% overdose of the chemo okay, but many dogs might not have handled it as well, however the really serious issue here is this: what if the client hadn’t decided to read up on the drug and hadn’t checked the vet’s math? How many people do that, anyway? Then the dog would have been getting the overdose for the entire course of chemo – at least until the next visit when the mistake might have been caught, but maybe it wouldn’t, either.

Where this assumes more importance than just somebody on a blog talking about his dog who has cancer is that in humans mistakes like this are one of the leading causes of death in the United States. (Third highest, to be exact.) When I first read this I was astonished and I had a hard time believing it but now that I have had a firsthand experience with it I can see how even the most qualified people can make errors and the implication is disturbing. Take a look at this study to see what I mean. And here is another article on the same topic. There are people who claim this is all fearmongering paranoia but after my own experience this week I can’t take them seriously.

I would encourage anybody who is taking medications to review them and make sure the dosages are correct!

*Iatrogenic death means death caused by the doctor.


Posted by on September 20, 2014 in Dogs, Health


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Pictures Of Lily (CHOCOLATE!)


As much as I love the old song by The Who (and that means a lot), I like another Lily now, too.

I train dogs, but Lily isn’t a dog. Lily is a candy company and they make a chocolate bar that I think is pretty interesting. Around here, we use them a lot like money.

Dogs brought me the chocolate bars in that picture because chocolate is my preferred medium of exchange. Some of the dogs I know come to visit for the day or even a few days (which is why there are so many chocolate bars in this picture) and they have decided to pay me with chocolate for the experience; this, I think, is a great idea on their part. One dog by the name of Misha has given me so many that we sometimes call her Wonka, but the real-world Wonka bars aren’t very good and they come from a parent company I’d rather not buy from.

I don’t want just any chocolate, and they know that. These enthusiastic critters know that I want one brand and one flavor, so that’s what they bring. Is that good dog training or what?


I can’t stand milk chocolate, and normally all I used to eat was 85-90 % dark stuff, but I find that if I eat too much of it I get, well, jittery, for lack of a better word. I stumbled across these Lily bars when someone gave me one as a gift and I left it in my freezer because I figured if it had stevia in it I wouldn’t like it; stevia has a weird, bitter aftertaste that totally makes me turn the other way. Eventually, of course, I ran out of “good” chocolate and got desperate and tried it. To my considerable surprise, I liked it. These are not like most other chocolate bars, that’s for sure. For one thing, while the label says they are sweetened with stevia, they also have inulin and erythritol in them, and in much bigger quantities. I suspect the label features stevia so prominently because of its PR value; it is certainly not the biggest sweetener in the product by weight.

Some people have problems with these ingredients; inulin is a mildly sweet (and somewhat bulky) prebiotic that your body doesn’t actually “eat” but the bacteria in your gut will consume it. Erythritol is a sugar alcohol that has no calories and is not quite as sweet as table sugar by volume. Because the nutrition label of the Lily’s bars tells me they are 55% chocolate instead of the 85-90% I am used to I would expect the Lily’s bars to taste like milk chocolate, but they don’t, because the other 45% is not sugar; there isn’t any sugar in them. While they don’t taste like the very darkest chocolate available they are surprisingly intense, given that 55% figure – let’s say that to me they seem somewhere in between, no matter what the actual percentage is.

And I don’t taste the stevia at all. Big plus.


Of course, the dogs can’t have any of this; chocolate isn’t good for them, and in sufficient quantities it can really hurt them.

Because I left the first bar in the freezer and liked it that way, I have continued to store them there. Frozen, they remind me of Nutty Buddies (if you are old enough to remember those), probably because of the almonds. Whoops, I forgot to issue the standard disclaimer: this company doesn’t know me from a hole in the ground, I didn’t get paid for this article, and they probably wouldn’t even think much of it since I have little interest in the other flavors, which don’t work so well for me. But this one…it’s a keeper, and if you want to try something a bit different (there are so many good chocolates out there, after all) this would be a place to start. I’m guessing the target audience for this is people who want low-sugar chocolate, appreciate fair trade products, know something about ingredients and either want or aren’t bothered by the sweeteners they’ve used (inulin, erythritol, and stevia), and who are willing to pay more than the price of a Lindt bar.


One more tool for your bag of tricks, because the dogs like treats, but so do we. And the dogs aren’t bothered at all if they can’t have these.


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Posted by on August 11, 2014 in Dogs, Recipes & ingredients


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The Wamni Omni*


This was probably someone’s pet. I found it on the lawn in front of a house I walk by early every morning when I walk my dogs. (I live in a fairly big city; I’m not in rural Americana.) My first thought was that a coyote had caught this cat, although a Fish & Wildlife person I spoke with offered up the idea that some owls are also capable of this – I have to say, that one had not occurred to me. I rule out dogs for the simple reason that very few of them will actually eat what they kill unless they are truly feral. I suppose it’s not impossible, but I’ve never seen one in the neighborhood, while I’ve run into coyotes many times, some of them rather large (45 pounds or so).

The coyotes don’t bother me or my dogs because the coyotes are too smart to mess with me. If they caught the dogs it might be a different story, but coyotes are not stupid and it would take something pretty dramatic to get one to take on a full grown human. But it’s been interesting to see them because one of my dogs looks a lot like a coyote in some ways and so far, my dogs and the coyotes have simply looked at each other. One big coyote stopped and stared at us so we did the same thing. I found it interesting to watch him from 30 feet; he wasn’t frightened and I wasn’t disturbed because if I had to, I could kill him. My dog must have picked up on my lack of worry because she just watched him, too. Eventually we all got tired of this and just went our own ways.

People who let their cats go out on their own are opening the door to this pictured outcome, of course, but most cat owners simply don’t want to think about it. It never seems to bother most of them when the cat brings home a bird or a mouse, though. Cats are carnivores, they are not omnivores like we are; while we can subsist on a meatless diet, we don’t do well on it (sorry to offend any vegans dropping by, but I doubt there are any) but cats can’t do that, and they like to hunt. But turnabout is fair play; coyotes, too, are carnivores, just as are owls.

It’s all a circle.


And we are part of the circle too, even the vegans, LOL. Although they are responsible for more animal deaths than most of us who actually bother to find out anything about how our food is sourced and try to do something about it. Lierre Keith’s book The Vegetarian Myth has probably been the biggest stumbling block for the vegans and vegetarians of the world, although most can’t get past the fact that the title calls their lifestyle a myth so they tend to dismiss it out of hand reflexively. Too bad, because Keith is the poster child for veganism and what it can do for you; that’s why she wrote the book. I would think that vegetarians would want to read it if for no other reason than to familiarize themselves with some of the arguments that can be used against them, many of which are devastating. That the vegetable people have somehow taken on for themselves the moral high ground is both understandable and preposterous; it shows how people want to do good but are unwilling to think through the consequences of their actions. Thus, without thinking very deeply about the subject, a lot of people tend to agree that “not eating animals” is the best thing to do, and if not eating them meant that animals would not die than I’d agree with them, too. But it doesn’t. Keith phrases all of this better than I could do it, so if you want to disagree with me I’d suggest you go to the source and find out what she says and then disagree with her directly and not by proxy.

When I was younger I hunted, so I’m not squeamish about the fact that animals must die for me to eat. I’m too old for that now, but we buy our beef and lamb from a farmer we know and we see the animals grow up in their pasture and we see the lives they lead. I don’t think there’s any comparison to the life of a feedlot steer at all and the animals’ food does not require huge amounts of oil to grow; once again, it’s a circle. Likewise, while we don’t have chickens ourselves, we do the best we can to get eggs from birds that do not live in battery farms, and who (we hope) actually eat insects. I saw a posting on a paleo blog the other day by a reader who said “chickens that eat bugs? What a peculiar thought!” Yet this commenter presumably has done at least some thinking about the subject; obviously a ways to go yet. It’s harder to get pork that comes from a good source, but there are ways to do it without buying half a pig; it takes some effort to find the sources, but you can do it if you really want to. Most of us don’t really want to, I think. It’s just easier to get in line for the shrink-wrapped packages that grow on pork trees somewhere. Damn, we are a thoughtless people!

Here in Oregon it is easier to do a so-called “green burial” than it is in some other states, something that pleases me because that’s what I would want. And maybe those bugs can get a little payback. Like I said, turnabout is fair play. Circles, you know?

It’s all a circle.


*Wamni omni is the Lakota word for whirlwind. It’s pronounced (very approximately) “wah-many oh-many”, a nice piece of onomatopoeia.

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Posted by on July 27, 2014 in Dogs, Uncategorized


Tails & Tales

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Posted by on July 14, 2014 in Dogs, Images


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The Training Game

FunClass1-23-11Tiny(Click for a larger version)

These easy “tricks” were taught with a clicker. But this kind of training is really interesting when you start working with people.

I thought it might be fun to do some posts on games you can play with kids, only they aren’t the ones you usually think of. The first one that I’m thinking of is not really suitable for very young children, although precocity can make all the difference. It also happens to be a really intense way to experience a small part of what it must be like to be an animal and deal with people!

This game is called “The Training Game” and I got it from Karen Pryor. Pryor, it has to be noted, wrote what I think is probably the single most influential book in the history of animal training (at least for the general public – hey, you can use it to train people), Don’t Shoot The Dog. It’s not a dog training book, per se. The Training Game’s purpose is to get humans to try to understand how to train animals better, but it offers some incredible insights into our own behavior, and not just with animals. And it’s a hell of a lot of fun. Because my audience here is not composed of hard-core animal trainers I’m modifying the game somewhat to avoid all sorts of explanations that would be important in the context of Pryor’s instruction. By all means, read her book, but you don’t need to for our purposes here.

To play the game, here’s what you need:

Your family. Or a group of people. That’s it. Well, let’s add a little signaling device, like a bell, or a horn, or a hand clap or anything else that makes an abrupt, noticeable sound.

We need that item because in this game you don’t get to speak. We are going to train the animal only with positive reinforcement. We will use the bell/horn/clap as a replacement for speech, which is why I specified the abrupt, noticeable sound. Trainers are used to using clickers (a little plastic box that sounds like a cricket), but hardly anybody is going to have one of those around the house and if they do, they probably don’t need this game anyway.

So here’s how it works: we take turns being the animal and the trainer; everybody gets a chance at both roles. We start by having the first “animal” leave the room so we can discuss what Teacher #1 is going to teach her. We pick something simple for our first attempts, maybe on the order of “Let’s have her turn on the light” or “Let’s get her to pick up the telephone”. Seems dumb (and easy!) but it is neither. After we decide what #1 is going to teach the animal, we have the animal come back in the room, and remember: NOBODY TALKS.

Teacher #1, meanwhile, has the bell and is watching the animal. Let’s go with the pick-up-the-phone behavior; as soon as the animal makes even a tiny move in the direction of the phone, Teacher #1 rings/blows/claps/whatever the signal. Once. Then Teacher #1 waits for the animal to get closer to the phone; if the animal moves in the wrong direction nobody says anything. It’s dead quiet. When the animal heads back towards the phone, reward. (In this context, the sound of the signal is a reward; it tells the animal “you did good”.) By now, you can see how this works; it is a series of approximations, with the animal getting closer and closer. A simple task like this example might be very easy but it could also surprise everybody and be a nightmare, and that’s when the game becomes interesting and useful; I think the most valuable lessons are learned by the animal, and they have to do with how lousy humans are at communicating what they want. You really start to feel for the poor dog when you have had to try to figure out what a lousy trainer wants you to do, and that empathy can make you a much better trainer.

Just look what can happen if the trainer signals at the wrong time or if the animal simply misinterprets the signal! The only way to correct the behavior is to wait until a non-error happens and reward it. I promise you, this can be frustrating, but the people who get it, really get it.

As Pryor points out in her book, this kind of technique can be used to reinforce all sorts of behaviors, not just train dogs. But in order to use it you have to understand how it works, and that takes a little bit of practice and some fooling around. And some mistakes along the way. Some people seem to have an innate gift for this and others struggle with it – some of those will probably just quit, which is too bad – immediate buzzkill for the group. So try not to let that happen, but don’t stress over it, either.

You can play this with just two people, of course. It still works but I find it less interesting because of the missing group dynamic. Remember, everybody needs to experience both ends of the process, and nobody gets to talk during the game.

(I must add that when doing this with a real animal you first teach the creature to associate the signal with a food treat or some other thing it likes. With people, when you play this game you don’t have to do that because they can have the concept explained to them and they’ll automatically respond to the “reward” without prior conditioning.)


Okay, holding my car keys isn’t that impressive, but Coulaine learned to do this when she was 12 weeks old. I taught her with a clicker. The Training Game pays off. If you saw the movie Babe, you saw clicker training at work, at least on many of the non-animatronic animals. (The duck carrying the clock on the stairs, for instance.)


I taught her to wear the mask the same way.

Coulaine has her own web site here.

Update: you can read about the game on Karen Pryor’s own site.

And finally, here is a very short video of Karloff weaving as I taught him to with the clicker. We could have done this a lot faster if I hadn’t had to take video and avoid stepping on him at the same time.

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Posted by on July 3, 2014 in Dogs


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That Guy With The Dogs


The paper boy is quitting.

Boy, does that conjure up all the wrong images. Makes you think of a 13 year old Leave-It-To-Beaver kid who rides his bike around the neighborhood, throwing papers into people’s flowerbeds and saving up to buy a better bike for the summer. Instead, what we got here is a former pro baseball player, now a talent scout and coach, with two giant pit bulls in the back of a huge Ford pickup truck. And he’s been on this route for at least the last fifteen years, although I’ve only been meeting him on our morning walks for ten or eleven.

And he doesn’t need the job so we won’t be seeing him any more after a month or two. Meet Darold Ellison, and meet his two dogs Titan and Troy; we’ll miss them all.


5:30 this morning

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Posted by on November 20, 2013 in Dogs, Images, Uncategorized


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Raptor Dogs



Laguna Negra, Brazil

A heretofore unknown Brazilian dog trainer has created a new protection dog which is taking the dog world by storm according to reports in the Journal Of Canine Hermeneutics. Trainer Peinhador Luzadon is credited with reviving the sagging Brazilian guard dog market which is currently suffering because of the poor performance of the Fila Brasilieros and Argentine Dogos often used there. Additionally, the dogs, which only weigh about 25 pounds, have created an entirely new kind of protection dog technique: the Piranha Attack, in which a group of dogs is employed to savage an intruder from all directions with a total body mass greater than that of the larger, more traditional guard dogs. Only the bones are left, and they get chewed eventually.

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Posted by on November 5, 2013 in Dogs


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