Friday, April 22, 2016

Earth Day: The Greenest Food Is The Food You Harvest Yourself

On Earth Day, I like to celebrate by eating meat and veggies which I have harvested myself.  The wild turkeys have not gotten on board yet this spring, so this Earth Day, it will be a pheasant stir fry.  I've written on this before, but a lot of people do not realize that the "greenest" meat you can eat is meat you hunted and harvested yourself.

Think about it: The supermarket chicken or beef that you consume has been bred to produce more meat.  It has been injected with all sorts of stuff to improve yield.  The profit margin on things like pork and chicken is so small that farmers grow these animals in huge barns stuffed to the gills with animals.  Your beef may have been raised in Texas and shipped to Maine or Alaska or Washington.

In contrast, the deer or turkey you shoot is living wild and free until the moment you shoot it.  It lives on fresh feed.  Fossil fuels were not burned to feed it, butcher it, or ship it to a market near you.  Hunted meat is the ultimate "green" meat.

Having said that, if I had to live on meat that I hunted, I would get very hungry.  Sure, a lot of my meat is hunted, but I just don't have the time to get out and hunt as much as I would like to.

If you are like me and can't get out and hunt and fish as much as you would like...or maybe hunting and fishing are not your thing, there are other things you can do to be "more green" this Earth Day.

1) Shop your local farmers market.

Meat and veggies in these markets did not travel from South America to get to your plate.  They traveled from an adjacent county.  Also, honestly, these markets are a lot of fun.

2) Grow your own food

In a 4 foot by 8 foot garden bed, you can plant enough tomatoes, peppers, and onions to keep you in fresh salsa all late summer and fall.  With a small investment, canning your salsa is pretty easy and can make your harvest last until next year.  A small garden is really quite easy.  If you are space limited, you could grow a lot of things in pots on a deck.

Every morsel of food that is grown in your back yard is something that is not processed, packaged, and shipped.

3) Buy a hunting or fishing license

Do this even if you don't choose to hunt or fish.  Money collected from license sales is directed back into conservation efforts.  These conservation efforts are not limited to improving hunting and fishing options.  The projects more often than not directly benefit non-game species.  Additionally, habitat improvements which target game species will help non-game species as well.

Partaking in just one of the above is huge.  All three, and you are entitled to the badge of smugness reserved for Prius drivers.  Enjoy your Earth Day.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Your Dog Is Overweight: Recognizing Obesity In Dogs

Yes, your dog is overweight.  How do I know?  OK, I really don't.  However, I have found far too many people who really don't have a clue what an overweight dog looks like.

On more than one occasion, people have looked at my dog and offered comments like, "Looks a little thin", "Too skinny", or "a little anemic".  For those of you who have yet to meet Shiloh, let me describe him.  Because of genetics (and nothing to do with me), he is trim, athletic and well muscled.  Every description I've read has him at an ideal weight.

Another story: Went to a friend's house to help him remodel. I was greeted by his pups, who I hadn't see in a while.  Each dog was slightly overweight and I told the owner as much.  Slightly offended, the reply was that they had just come from the vet and given a clean bill of health.

By VinnieRattolle (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
This Dog Is Overweight
 One more: A good friend took one of her dogs to the vet.  She knew that the dog needed to lose a bit of weight.  when the vet proclaimed that the dog's weight was just fine, my friend called out the vet.  Here was the answer: 
"Well, yes, your dog could stand to lose a bit.  But honestly, people take such offense when I tell them that their dog weighs too much that anymore, if the weight problem is not too drastic, I just let it slide."
CC BY 2.0,
This Is A Healthy Weight Dog

Our dogs lives are too short.  The list of complications for our dogs from being overweight is well known (see here)  .  But the first step for a better (and possibly longer) life for your dog is to understand what a healthy weight looks like.

1. A dog should have a waist

When you look at your dog from above, there should be an hourglass figure.  Broad in the rib cage, broad in the hips, but narrower between.  If it is a straight line, your dog is overweight.

Also, when looking at the dog from the side, there should be abdominal tuck.  In other words, the should not hang down, but should be up tight into the dog.  The lower the belly is hanging, the fatter the dog.

In short, the dog's waist ought to be tiny.  If thick when viewed from above or from the side, your dog is overweight.

2. Ribs should be felt, not seen

If you can't feel the ribs without having to press and dig for them, then your dog is overweight. 

Check this out for some pictures.

Look, I'm not trying to guilt you into anything.  But you might not have all the info.  Push the topic with your vet.  Don't ask if my dog is overweight.  Ask if your dog is an an ideal weight and you might find a different answer.

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Saturday, April 9, 2016

Off Leash Training: Expectations

When people consider off leash training  for their dog, often, they have a picture in their mind.  And, often that picture looks like this:

What do we see here?  We see folks strolling in the woods, and the dogs are strolling along side.  The dogs never go too far away.  In this and other pictures, we often see Labrador Retrievers or Golden Retrievers.  These are dogs that were originally bred to work near to their handlers.  That is the nature of any retriever...the dog stays close and then is sent out to fetch and return to the handler's side.

I had a conversation recently with a dog owner.  She was struggling a bit with off leash training.  Her pup's recall is not what she wants it to be.  She expressed her mental picture: going camping with the dog and the dog stays in the campsite with them.

Her dog is a Brittany.  Unlike a retriever, a Brittany is bred *not* to work close by the handler's side.  Brittanys and other pointing breed dogs are bred to run "out there", looking for critters.  Even the closest working pointing breed dogs will still work in excess of 50 yards.

The breed of dog is important when considering your goals for off leash training.

There are two categories of behaviors for a dog.  First, there are the learned behaviors.  He learns that there is a squirrel in one particular tree.  He learns that if he comes when called, he gets cuddles, loving and treats.  These behaviors can be reinforced or these can go extinct if not reinforced.

The other category of behaviors are intrinsic.  These things were bred into the dog or genetic to dogs.  Many dogs like to chase squirrels.  This desire is genetic.  Same with the (unfortunate) desire to roll in smelly things.  This is fun because it is fun.  It is in the DNA of a dog.  Changing these behaviors is much harder because you are going against the very nature of the dog.

How close a dog stays near you is a intrinsic behavior.  Changing it is to change the nature of the dog.

When you do off leash training, you may find you need to alter your expectations, based on the dog.  I run my dog off leash all the time.  I do so in a 700 acre state park and I use a GPS tracking collar on him.  He comes when called, but I need to use a whistle as he is often out of sight and earshot.  If my expectations for off leash training were to have the dog within a 5 yard circle when we went for a walk, I would be working against the grain.  I would be working against his internal motivations.  Possible?  Sure, but definitely an uphill battle, and if the dog likes to range, you'll need to be ever vigilant.

In the weeks ahead I hope to talk more explicitly about off leash training.  But the first step in that training is to evaluate your dog and determine a reasonable expectation based on the dog's own motivations.