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Waldo Canyon Loop Trail

Yesterday, my family hit the Waldo Canyon Loop Trail. We hadn’t been able to go hiking in quite a while, due to conflicting schedules and other plans, so it was nice to get out.

My Boyfriend found the trail using AllTrails, and downloaded the map, which is a nice feature of the app. We had an embarrassing amount of trouble finding the trailhead, as the dropped pin on Google maps was about a mile off. After we passed the dropped pin, we pulled into a small parking lot on the side of the highway to turn around. After driving around a bit, unable to find the place, we realized that parking lot we turned around in was actually our trail head – doh!

Once we got going, and hiked far enough for the highway to be out of earshot, we quite liked the trail. We enjoyed the thick woods as well as the scenic views. The trail itself seemed well-maintained, which I surely appreciated. There was evidence that a tree had fallen onto the trail, but had been cut and moved out of the way. Further down, there was a nice bench made of polished logs made by a local scout troop

This was the first hike that Molly wore her dog backpack for. It fits a bit awkward on her as she’s too large for a small, but a bit too petite for the medium-sized pack that I bought. Still, it didn’t seem bother her at all, and she loves putting it on as she knows it means going somewhere fun (we’ve had her wear it to the dog park to get used to it.) It was really nice not to have to unpack ourselves to give Molly food and water when she needed it, she had that herself. In one side of her pack, she had her water, on the other side, she had her food and a collapsible bowl with compartments for food and water. You can carry your own things now, dog!

Sadly, as we had a late start, we weren’t able to complete the trail and had to turn back early. It was getting dark by the time we made it back to our car. It would be nice to return to this trail another time.

Remember Pet Parents On Mother’s Day

I actually don’t call myself a “pet-parent,” nor do I call my dog my “fur-baby.” I like such terms, but I tend to avoid using them, myself. The only reason for this is because I don’t want to give ammunition to people who would accuse me of doting on my dog only to “make up” for not having children. There’s nothing more irritating than being told that I’m misdirecting my “natural maternal instincts” whenever I take care of my dog properly. 

I understand why people do call themselves “pet-parents,” and their animal companions “fur-babies.” It seems cruel, for one thing, to refer to pets as property to be owned. Animals aren’t toys, or decorations, or accessories. They’re thinking, feeling, living beings who we are fully responsible for as caretakers. It is our duty, when we take animals in, to see to their physical and mental wellbeing to the best of our ability. We are to raise our animal companions in stable, loving homes. To do any less is negligent. From the moment you bring an animal home, it is your responsibility for the rest of its life, not just until caring for it becomes inconvenient for you. If you aren’t prepared for that responsibility, get a picture of an animal instead. “Pet-parents” understand this. The specific things one is responsible for may be different, but the level of responsibility between caring for pets and caring for children is the same.

Additionally, the use of the terms “pet-parent” and “fur-baby” relate to the pet’s role within the family. It doesn’t matter if the animal isn’t a human child, the bond between someone responsible enough to take pet care seriously and that pet, is comparable to that between a mother and human child. This is especially pronounced in families without children, which are a growing segment of the population, but is a dynamic that should be present in any home with a pet anyway. My dog is certainly part of my family of three, and we take good care of her and love her dearly. Mothers don’t have the monopoly on love, on bonding, on care-taking, or on family.

In outrage that us mere non-moms would use such terminology, Susan Maushart, has written a piece for Huffington Post attacking the convention.

Because Pet Parents Are Moms Too!

I hate to be a bitch about this — but hey, female dogs are people too, right? — but when I read that subject line on an ASPCA email this week, it really gave me hairballs.

This reminds me, I really should subscribe to the ASPCA’s newsletter.

As for dogs being people, some people would argue that they could be considered such. I’m certainly more inclined to consider a dog a person than I am to consider a corporation or a human fetus to be such. 

I am a pet owner and I am a mom, and frankly, my dear, the two have about as much in common as a goldfish does to Godzilla. Rub my nose in it if you like, but it’s about time this whole “Pet Mommy” thing got some serious yanking back.

If you’re a responsible caretaker of your pet at all, then the burden that comes with that should be at least comparable to childcare. Dogs have needs beyond kibble and water. They need love and attention. They need socialization. They need positive reinforcement and encouragement. They need to be played with. They need to exercise. They need to have fun and experience new things. They need to be given rules and boundaries. They need to learn and be stimulated mentally. They need to be respected. They need to be rewarded with treats and toys and experiences they’ll enjoy. If you’re taking care of your dog right, you’re doing a lot of work.

For years now, it’s been accepted usage for pet owners — invariably child-free pet owners — to refer to their dogs and cats as their “kids,” and to do so without apparent irony. And an estimated $50 billion a year in pet-related goods and services currently fuels this delusion. Doggie daycare. Pet strollers. Halloween costumes. Veterinary insurance.

She says “invariably,” but non-childfree people often refer to themselves and others as “pet-parents” as well, especially if they work in a field that involves constant interaction with pets. There aren’t that many of us childfree folks, you know.

Animals are expensive, especially when they’re cared for right. I’ve had Molly for less than a year, and I’ve already dropped over a thousand dollars on her in 

the form of a plane ticket, a crate, food, toys, a bed, a home pet-dish, a portable pet dish, a harness, a seat-belt, a car tarp, treats, training tools, hygiene products, two leashes, a collar, tags, pet fees at home and when traveling, training classes, a backpack for hiking, and veterinary bills. And every bit of it was absolutely necessary in order to take proper care of her.

Doggy-day care is actually a great idea. Dogs have feelings too, and it’s not uncommon for them to experience separation anxiety when left home alone. Their nervousness at this situation may cause them to be more likely to be destructive than they otherwise would be. Dogs get lonely, bored, and scared just like anyone else. And if a care-taker is likely to be away for an extended period, it’s nice to know that the dog will be let out when it needs out, and that it will have adequate food and water. Additionally, dogs are social animals and being around other dogs is great for their enjoyment, and their emotional wellbeing. It’s good to socialize dogs with strange dogs and people. It’s certainly better than leaving them at home alone all day. I don’t use doggie day care myself, as someone is usually home, but I certainly see the appeal.

Pet strollers are another good idea for small breeds. Little dogs still need exercise, but they might tire on a walk long before a human does.

Halloween costumes are just a bit of fun. The author even admits to having her own dog wear one.

Veterinary insurance is a must! Medical care for pets can be expensive. I hate to see animals that could otherwise be saved and restored to good health simply because the care-taker was to cheap to actually follow through on their responsibility to their pet. I’d like to remind the class that animals aren’t toys to be discarded when broken. They’re living beings who you take responsibility for.

What? No college fund?

Actually, I’ve already spent a pretty penny on training courses for my dear Molly. When I get the time and the money, I’ll bring her to more classes still. Eventually, I’d like to have her certified as a therapy dog. It’s not exactly a four-year university, but it’s a considerable amount of training for a dog, and a considerable financial investment for myself.

There’s even an entire new literary genre riding on the back of our boundary confusion: “dogoir” — a heartwarming, first person narrative centering on the relationship dynamics between ordinary pet-owners and their spiritually gifted-and-talented woofspring.

Do you feel your ears perking up? Think about it. When’s the last time you picked up an inspirational book about child-rearing? Never. Because there is no such thing.

Actually, yeah, there is a ton of baby-worshipping, diaper-sniffing, umbilical cord-gazing drivel literature out there. It’s a flat lie to state otherwise. Hell, there are entire blog communities centered not just around the practical aspects of child-rearing, but the qualities of the relationship that are either romanticized or entirely imagined.

Real parents write bestsellers with titles like Go the F**k to Sleep and The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Real parents write survival guides. Field notes. Training manuals. Not freaking fantasy fiction with fur.

Actually, most “real parents” don’t write anything at all except facebook posts about the latest diaper blowout.

It’s become ideologically unsound to say so in public, but you and I both know that pets are stupid. Not just “slow” or “differently intelligent” — just plain stupid. (When we say a poodle is intelligent, we forget that we are speaking in purely relative terms. Compared to a pincushion, sure.) That’s not a moral failing. It’s not something we love them in spite of. It’s something we love them because of.

Pets aren’t stupid. It’s nonsense to say they are. It’s nothing but speciesist snobbery to hold the intelligence of another species to the standard as a human. Suppose I said humans were clumsy and compared them to cats to do so? Suppose I said humans were blind and compared them to hawks? Suppose I said humans were slow and compared them to antelope?

These “kids” of ours eat their own vomit, run straight into oncoming traffic and hump the furniture. Hello? Is that a reflection of their intelligence? Even more to the point, is that a reflection on our “parenting”?

Human children do the same things and worse. Both need to be taught not to. If the author’s pet does the things mentioned, then she has failed in her responsibilities to her dog.

As for dogs, most can be housebroken within weeks of birth if the human cares enough and knows what they’re doing. Cats can be litter-trained at a similarly young age, often with little involvement on the part of any human. Cats can even be taught to use toilets. Human children? You’re lucky if they’ve stopped wetting the bed by age five.

I could be wrong, but it seems to me significant that we cannot crate our children. Nor can we expect them to heel, appreciate table scraps or take well to shock-collaring. At the same time, we do not fight for Angry Birds access with our cats. Our dogs waste little time on social media, and can almost always be counted on to say ‘no’ to drugs. And if they dress provocatively, I think it’s fair to say we only have ourselves to blame.

Actually, human children do get “crated,” if you think about it. They’re called cribs and play-pens. Even older children are often “crated” in their own bedrooms. And if you’re a decent parent, you’d better be able to expect the child to heel.

Shock collars are abuse. They shouldn’t be used on any animal. Shock collars are used on dogs and not on children because of speciesism. It’s as simple and horrible as that.

As for the rest, the author has only demonstrated why pets are better than children.

This Mothers Day, let’s remember that, as much as we adore our animals — and full disclosure: I dressed my pug as a monarch butterfly last Halloween, and it was awesome — they are not our children. To pretend otherwise makes monkeys of all of us.

Until there is a nationally-recognized holiday specifically celebrating pets, I think Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are perfectly acceptable times to celebrate our animal companions. (Share!) Anyone who would call themselves “pet-parents” is completely justified in doing so.

As for myself, apart from occasionally referring to Molly as my “baby,” I don’t pretend that my dog is the same as human child. She’s better, as far as I’m concerned. I much prefer dogs. Why would I pretend that she was something less desirable to me, right?
Kidding aside, no one is affected by using the term “pet-parent,” especially as the prefix “pet” makes the term very clear in meaning and avoids any confusion. So there’s really no sense in getting pissy over it. Calm down, Maushart. 

Happy Mother’s Day, pet mamas!

Molly, Get The Light

Last time I wrote here, I was showing off Molly’s “Easy Trick,” wherein she would push a Staples button on command, triggering it to say, “That was easy.”

Soon after she was rock solid on that trick, we began training her on a new one. One day, when I was sitting on the floor, tying my shoes, I noticed Molly sniff a touch-activated light on a table, causing the light to turn on. She hadn’t done it on purpose, it was just sniffing things. Still, I rewarded her with lots of praise for it. This gave me the idea to teach her to turn on the light on command.

Since she already understood “target,” pressing her nose to a plastic Frisbee used only for the targeting exercise, it wasn’t hard to get her to target the light. At first, I propped the Frizbee up against the light and had her target it a few times. Then, I took the Frizbee away. She was having a little trouble figuring out what I wanted, so I switched tactics. I place a treat on the base of the lamp and told her to get it. She did, and I clicked and rewarded her. As there was just a treat on the base of the lamp, she went back to sniff it. Click. Treat. Now we’re getting somewhere.

At first I rewarded Molly for any interaction at all with the lamp, whether the light came on or not. She figured out to go for the lamp in a matter of minutes. Things got difficult, however, when I made actually activating the lamp a condition for getting a reward. Fur, it turns out, doesn’t lend itself well to the use of a touch activated lamp. Poor Molly would try so hard to get the light to turn on, and would get frustrated. This was a problem that we could not continue until it could be fixed.

The solution is an odd one. I bought some beef-flavored dog-food sauce from the pet store a few days prior, and Molly had been happy to have it in her bowl. I spread a small amount of it on the lamp (ew, I know. I cleaned it afterwards.) When Molly licked it, her tongue would activate the light, and I’d reward her with a treat. By the nature of what she was doing, gradually there was less sauce to lick up. By the time it was gone, it didn’t matter because she’d learned that licking the light got her the reward.

You’ll notice in the video that I’m no longer clicking. I learned from the button game to use the effect of what she’s doing (making the button sound) was the indication she was about to be rewarded (I learned this after recording the button video.) I still use a clicker in early stages of training, but once she’s good at something, I let what she does be the reward indication. In this case, the light coming on became the replacement for the “click.” This is what works for my dog, your results may vary.

Molly’s “Easy Trick”

In Molly’s puppy training, we taught her “target.” For her, “target” means touching her nose to a hard plastic Frizbee used only for this exercise (her play Frizbee is soft and looks different.) It took her a little while to figure this out. In class, she didn’t get it at all, and focused on the instructor instead. So we practiced at home.

The problem was that, while Molly associated hearing a “click” with getting a treat, she didn’t seem to associate the click with what she was doing. I’d click her for looking at the Frizbee and give her a treat, and so she’d pay attention to me, hoping for another, and ignore the Frizbee. Eventually, I started to place the treats on the Frizbee. I also discovered that she was motivated more by attention and praise than by treats alone.

Molly is smart, so she figured out the game very quickly. Within a few minutes, I no longer needed to cheat. I could say “target” and she’d go for the Frizbee. It took us a few sessions for her to figure out that I wanted her to touch it with her nose, but she soon understood. Before long, we started hiding the Frizbee for Molly to find. It became a fun game.

Since she was doing so well, we started looking for ways to build upon “target.” I remembered once seeing a therapy dog in a hospital push a Staples “Easy Button” for the amusement of patients, and decided we’d try that. Molly figured it out in one session.

First, we did some review with targeting the Frizbee. Then, placed the button on top of the Frizbee. When that wasn’t a problem for my pup, I took the Frizbee away, leaving the button. At first, I rewarded her for showing any interest in the button at all, just as I did when first teaching “Target.” Then, I rewarded her for touching it. I rewarded her extra if she managed to actually activate the button, causing it to say, “That was easy.”

Presently, we’re tying to teach her how to activate a touch lamp. She figured it out in about 1 minute, but the problem is that she isn’t always able to activate the sensor and actually turn the light on and off easily.

Congratulations Molly!

Despite my chronic tardiness and occasional laziness, Molly has graduated from Puppy Education at PetSmart. Woof! They grow up so fast.

She’s really learned a lot! I never knew what a smart dog I had until I started training her. Among her classmates, I believe that she may very well have the best “sit” and “leave it,” although she lags behind a few other dogs when it comes to focus. It’s OK pup, we’ll work on it! :)

Next, Molly will be going to Click-A-Trick classes before tackling intermediate and advanced classes each in turn. Molly is a people-pleaser and loves positive attention. She also loves using her brain and trying to figure out what I’m asking of her – it’s a game! And now that she understands the clicker, training her is much easier. Not only that, but Molly loves getting out of the house to go on a special trip, going for car rides, meeting different people and dogs, sniffing around the pet store, and class itself and all the games and treats that come with it. Training makes for a happy pup!

So far, she knows:

  • Sit (she actually already knew this before we got her.)
  • Come (she knows come, but the reliability varies depending on distractions.)
  • Lay Down
  • Target (touching an object, in this case a plastic Frizbee used only for this purpose, with her nose.)
  • Stay (She’s not rock solid on it yet, but we’re getting there.)
  • Leave it (not touching a treat or object even if I set in on the ground in front of her or hold it in front of her nose until I tell her “free” or “take it.”)

We’ve also been able to use what we’ve learned about clicker training to make bath time a bit better for her. She still doesn’t like baths,
but I can now wash her without having to tie her leash to the shower bar. Everything’s better with treats, it seems.

She also knows “button,” which was not exactly taught in the class, but the class definitely helped. Since Molly already knew “target,” learning to push a Staples “Easy Button” on command with her paw was a snap (or a “click,” really,) for my clever puppy and only took about five minutes. Like the button says, “that was easy.”

The “button” trick is simple, but I actually got the idea to teach that from a therapy dog who I saw when I was in physical therapy back when I was in the Army. This big Malamute mix named Kodiak pushed his easy button, along with doing other neat tricks. Since Molly learned target from the class, we built upon it with “button.”

Maybe she’d like to be a therapy dog some day.

ETA: I love the trainer’s penmanship. :) She wrote the certificates for us while we were there, rather than having them prepared beforehand, because she wanted to be ensured that she wrote each name correctly. She told us that she once came across a dog whose name was pronounced “Fido,” but turned out to be spelled “Phidoux.”

I told her Molly was spelled “M-O-L-L-Y… X.”


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