All stunts performed without a ruler

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, someone asked if anyone had trained their dog to put their toys away in a basket. This was my answer:

I tried. Mr. Potato Brain (aka Kip) would put one toy in the box. Then he would go get a second toy, bring it to the box.... I think the conversation in his head went something like this....

"Hey! Let's clean up the toys. I'll put Mr. Squirrel in the box. Now I'll go got Mr. Squeaky Ball. HEY!!!! Look, it's Mr. Squirrel!!!! I haven't seen him in ages!! Wow, lets play with Mr. Squirrel. Bored with Mr. Squirrel, let put him in the box - holy Moses, it's Mr. Squeaky Ball!!!!!!!"

So only one toy was ever in the box at one time. If I put the toys in the box, Mr. Potato Brain decides that the toys are complaining about being in the box, and so removes all of them.

So I gave up. The toys are all over the house. Sigh.


Basically, the toys are in their proper place if they are where Kip put them. If I move them, they are, by default, in the wrong place. (It's actually not all bad, since this trait can be exploited, I mean used, to entertain Kip on rainy/snowy/nowayinhellwe'regoingforawalkinthatweather days - I put all the toys somewhere, Kip goes and gets them. Wash, rinse and repeat.)

Yesterday, however...

I especially love the color-coded thing he has going on.

(Please note the carpet is actually worse in person. And no, I have no idea what made that stain. I try not to think about it. I cannot WAIT to tear it up)

Newton's Third Law and Dog Training

"To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction."

Newton's Third Law of Motion.

And, the first law of dog training. Confession time first. Kip is my first dog, and he is only 2 years old. So, I don't have a lot of experience in dog training. But, being the left-brained type I am, I have invested hours in reading about dog training, talking about dog training, discussing dog training, arguing about dog training... and watching dogs. And of course, training Kip.

In that entire time, I have had a natural abhorrence for gentle leaders, front-clip harnesses (actually, harnesses in general) and the like for walking dogs. My opinion is that every dog should be taught to walk nicely on a simple collar and leash. And that those devices (herein after called GL/Hs for the sake of conciseness) simply prevent certain actions, but do not actually train the dog to walk nicely.

But today, I had a breakthrough. I figured out why GL/Hs don't work.

Because they punish instead of correct.

Yep, you heard me, they punish.

Stay with me here, we're about to take a detour.

Let's look at a dog that barks at the mailman. To simplify it, the mailman is a stimulus (S), and the barking is a reaction (R).

Thus, a dog that barks:

S ==> R

Now, enter the human. Generally, humans at this point will act in some manner to quiet the dog (Action, A).

S ==> R ==> A

But, an action that comes after the reaction is actually punishment (P), and any dog that learns from punishment is learning through fear. This is why trainers will tell you disciplining a dog after the fact for doing something wrong doesn't work.

S ==> R ==> A ==> P

Most trainers will agree on how you stop a dog from barking - you understand the stimulus, and stop the barking before it starts. You correct (C) the behaviour before it starts by reading the dog's body language. The onus is on the human, not the dog, to prevent the reaction, and to reward either the lack of reaction (NR) or a wanted secondary action.

S ==> C ==> NR ==> reward

That's what I've done with Kip. I know when he's about to bark simply by reading his body language. Stopping the subsequent barking started out with a larger correction on my part (clapping my hands, grabbing his collar, etc), but is now down to either a verbal cue ("shht") or just a look from me. And he gets rewarded (verbal praise) for not barking. If I'm not in the room, he gets rewarded for giving a single bark, then coming to find me (a wanted secondary action).

So, what does this have to do with leashes and collars? It sets up why those devices that prevent behaviour are actually working as punishment.

Please note - I am not using the term punishment to mean physically harming the dog, etc. I'm using in to describe an action on the humans part in response to an unwanted behaviour, after the dog has done it. Thus, yelling at your dog for barking is punishment. Traditional house-training ("rub his nose in it") is punishment. Any action on your part to change a behaviour after the dog has done it is punishment. In contrast, a correction is something given to a dog to prevent a behaviour. A verbal cue when you see your puppy start to squat in the house to prevent him from peeing is a correction. A hand signal given to keep a dog sitting before the dog can break the sit is a correction.

Corrections train; punishments either don't train at all, or do so by fear.

So, what do
GL/Hs do?

The dog is walking on leash, and encounters a stimulus. The dog then reacts, generally by running towards (or away from) the stimulus, until it is prevented from doing so by the device.

S ==> R ==> A

But remember, any action that comes after the reaction is punishment.

S ==> R ==> A ==> P

So, anyone relying solely on a GL/H to prevent an unwanted action is actually punishing their dog for reacting to the stimulus.

Now, what do prong/choke/shock collars do? When used properly, they prevent the reaction. When learning how to properly use one, you are told to watch the dog, and act before the dog reacts. Thus, they are corrections. And the lack of reaction is rewarded.

S ==> C ==> NR ==> reward

And that is why they are so effective at training dogs.

I admit, you can probably use GL/Hs in an effective manner to prevent the reaction, again by watching the body language of the dog and using it to prevent a reaction (and many people misuse prongs, etc., as punishments). But no one that I have ever heard recommend them talks about that. It's simply "use it, and it prevents your dog from doing X". In other words, the onus is on the device, not the human. That's why it's easy to use. That's why so many people swear by them.

But that's also why they will never work in training any dog to be able to walk on a simple collar and leash, unless the human on the other end of the leash knows the difference between corrections and punishments.

Is it sustainability or frugality?

I've been pondering this for a while. When I was house hunting, I had a definite list of wants. I wanted a 3 bedroom house (yes, even though I'm the only human that lives here, 3 bedrooms gives me the ability to have both a home office and a guest room). I wanted a lot that was either fenced or fence-able (it's all about the dog, you know). I wanted a dining room. I wanted a house in a certain price range, but that was structurally sound. I wanted a house with a garage, and that was close to the water.

All of those were "wants" not needs (well, except for the structurally sound bit!). I was willing to compromise.

The one thing that I was not willing to compromise on?

A large, sunny lot.

Because I believe in living a sustainable lifestyle, as much as I possibly can.

This, for various reasons, will be my first vegetable garden since childhood (trying to grow tomatoes on a small, shaded balcony in Saskatoon does not count). And boy, do I have plans.

I want beans, and peas, and radishes and lettuce, and tomatoes (gotta have tomatoes) and peppers both sweet and hot, and herbs. I want rhubarb, and strawberries and raspberries. Asparagus. And cucumbers. And maybe corn. Possibly potatoes. And of course onions and garlic. And and and...

There are a lot of reasons for this. I love gardening, both food and flower. I think what you grow yourself is better for you, and if we all did it, we would substantially reduce our burden on this planet (think of the gas required to get strawberries grown in South America to Canada). And as much as I love mowing the lawn, I would love to mow a smaller lawn that much more.

I have been reading books, and surfing the web, and reading different blogs about sustainable living (like this one. And this. And this. And this fantastic one (maybe I can get a hawk??) And I've already mentioned this one).

I've joined a frugal living group on Yahoo, looking to learn from their experience.

And I learned something I had previously known, but had forgotten. Frugal doesn't necessarily mean sustainable.

I try to live my life, and let others live theirs. If what someone is doing doesn't impact me, then, really, do I have the right to criticize (obviously not talking about human rights abuses, etc.)? But since when is the definition of frugality "get as much processed food as you can as cheaply as possible"?

Don't get me wrong - I'm not some granola-eating, Birkenstock-wearing hippy (although I do love granola, and actually have all the ingredients on hand to make my own). I drive a 6-cylinder car with leather seats (heated leather seats. Hey, I live in Canada. We have winter here. It's long and cold. And besides, I bought the car off the lot and it came that way :) ). I have a small passion for Kraft Dinner (that would be Kraft Mac & Cheese for my southern neighbours). I have been known to eat at McDonalds on occasion (and (treason!!) I think McDs has better coffee than Tim Hortons!).

This "frugal" living group is interesting. There are tons of posts about coupon clipping. To teach others how to get a passel of frozen dinners for little or no money (about what they are worth, in my mind). Post after post after post about how to stretch a jar of salsa - but nary a one suggesting making your own. Baking bread? Nope. Growing herbs? Nope.

And the only gardening post was one discussing something called a "topsy-turvey" (those work out to $18 each, BTW, plus tax!).

So when did frugal become solely about getting manufactured good cheaply? I understand people are busy. I know that raising kids is a lot of work. But you know what? Both of my parents worked, raised three kids, and had a large vegetable garden. My mom had a large cold cellar filled top-to-bottom, side-to-side with shelves of home canning. They made their own wine, before kits were available - that means actually buying the grapes and crushing and pressing them.

I know families today who do the same thing (try twin toddlers, a job, many social commitments (both parents are very active in the community), and yet still able to have a fantastic yard full of flowers and vegetables). It is doable.

When did people stop gardening? When did the lawn become the focus of the yard? When did it become normal to spend a small fortune on flowering plants, but nothing on a plant that would productively put food on your table?

So, is sustainability frugal?

I think it can be. I'll be building raised beds (heavy clay soil is not ideal for growing), and will have to buy the lumber, soil and some great compost/manure to get it going (this will be next year, again, for various reasons). I will also buy a composter and possibly rain barrels. I need to buy a large freezer (I feed Kip raw, so there tends to be a lot of meat in the freezer at any given time.). I need to stock up on canning jars and lids (I have some now, but will need more).

So that first year, the garden will in no way be frugal.

But every year after that? Hell yes! Especially if I can save seeds.

Sorry for the overly-long rant! And excuse me for now - I have to go research something called "lasagna" gardening...


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