November 26, 2014

The Family That Chews Together...

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November 23, 2014

Ruby Reviews: Pop Your Pup Customized Shirts


I have been so excited to share this awesome product with you - customized shirts from Pop Your Pup! I was thrilled to see The Ginger Sisters' likenesses in the colorful, pop-art style, and can't wait to wear my beautiful dogs around town.

I think the pictures speak for themselves - Pop Your Pup did a fantastic job creating wearable art featuring my two favorite dogs. Thanks to my ridiculous collar collection, I was even able to coordinate the girls accessories with the shirts!

These shirts would make a wonderful gift for the dog lover who has everything, and Pop Your Pup makes the process so easy. You simply upload a photo of your pet (the higher quality the better) and select which garment you want - they have men's, women's and kid's sizes. 

Pop Your Pup will send the artwork for pre-approval before printing the shirt, and their turnaround and shipping times are super-fast (and free). Best of all, 10% of their sales are donated to animal shelters. I am going to be proudly wearing my shirts everywhere and now I won't even have to get my phone out to show off pictures of Ruby and Boca!

Special thanks to my dad - who would say he's not a dog or a blog person - for these great photos.

Disclaimer: I was provided Pop Your Pup customized shirts in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own and I only publish reviews for products I feel comfortable using in the day to day life of my pets. 

November 20, 2014

Another Post About Shock Collars

ian dunbar shock collars
Recently I came across a blog post promoting e-collars for a big name brand. I was surprised and disappointed in the level of support it received, leading me to once again examine my position on the use of these tools. First off, from here on out I am calling them one thing: shock collars. Not the "softer side" of what they are: e-collars, static collars, training collars, remote collars...shock collars. I did quite a bit of research for this post, which lead me to change my shopping habits so that my dollars, where possible, were not supporting retailers or manufacturers of shock collars. This past week, I've done even more delving into the history, sale and prevalence of shock collars and examined more deeply why, exactly, I am so vehemently opposed to them.
I'm not arguing the effectiveness of shock collars. Shock collar training works through operant conditioning - the same principal as positive reinforcement. Modern studies are proving that reward-based methods are both more effective and pose a reduced risk for distress and lasting negative psychological effects. The use of shock collars falls into two of the four quadrants of operant conditioning  - negative reinforcement and positive punishment. The collars are commonly used in one or both of these ways:

1. The dog receives a shock for an undesirable behavior, such as barking or digging (natural dog behaviors). This is an example of positive punishment, because you are adding an aversive consequence to reduce frequency of a behavior.

2. The dog receives continual shocks until it does the desirable behavior, such as being shocked continually until it is in heel position. This is an example of negative reinforcement, because you are taking away an aversive consequence to increase frequency of a behavior.

A shock collar, by design, is always an aversive tool. What does aversive mean? It means "causing avoidance of an unpleasant or painful stimulus." Those fancy shock collars that have one hundred different levels just give the ultimate precision in discomfort. Call it "annoyance," "stimulation," "just a tap" - it is unpleasant enough that the dog changes its behavior in order to avoid it. I watched a manufacturer's instructional video for an anti-bark collar - the dog in the video jumped and cowered when it received a shock for barking, and the video warns not to accidentally receive a shock yourself. It is instinctual for a dog to hide its pain, and even if the owner tries the shock levels on themselves, how is that any guarantee that they are feeling the same thing the dog is feeling? Pain tolerance varies by individual, which is why in the many reviews of shock collars that I read, there were complaints ranging from "my dog didn't feel anything" all the way to "my dog cried and hid the rest of the day."

The fear of malfunction alone should be enough to make people think twice about using them. There are no regulations in place regarding the performance or reliability of these products. Again, based on pages upon pages of reviews that I read, there were instances of buttons being stuck down and the dog being shocked for unknown durations, and contact points causing actual burns on skin. If you think these are old or outdated examples before the technology was improved, they were all from readily available products in 2014. Shock collars range in price from $39.99 to upwards of three hundred dollars. I suppose as with all get what you pay for.

Many people reviewing shock collars report that they only have to reach for the remote for the dog to "know what's coming" and behave. When I train with my dogs, I love to see their open-mouthed, tongue-lolling grins and their butts wagging because they know what's coming...a yummy treat or a favorite tug toy. I don't understand why you would want your dog not to be motivated by good things, but to suppress behavior out of fear of bad things. One of the things that bothers me about a shock collar remote is the distance it provides...people who probably wouldn't dream of hitting or kicking their dog have no qualms about pressing a button that causes their dog to yelp or jump. The dog doesn't know where it came from, and there was no physical contact. It is the same kind of sneaky rationalization that much of the advertising language from the shock collar manufacturers and retailers use, softening "shock" to "static" and "correction" to "stimulation."

I asked my Facebook followers to tell me the first word that came to mind when they thought of shock collars, and created a word cloud from those results:

Given that it's my audience, built mainly of like-minded, force-free-philosophizing dog lovers, the results are no more surprising than a leading shock collar manufacturer's press release stating that 86% of people already using shock collars found them to be an effective training tool. The people already using these collars are not the minds I'm hoping to change, no more than they are going to change mine. There is absolutely nothing that could convince me to put a shock collar on my fearful, sensitive, reactive dog or my calm, gentle, normal dog. 

In all my thinking, discussing and reading, I've come to realize that my own distaste for the collars is tied more esoterically to cultural attitudes. I see parallels in the use of shock collars to animals bought on a whim and later dumped in shelters for not conforming to expectations. The assumption is often made that dogs are just supposed to intrinsically know how to behave, even though many of the things we want them to do or not do are against their very natures. I question the desire to control them - often suppressing the very behaviors that define their dogness - with the push of a button. I can hear the criticism now "but don't you use a clicker - isn't that a button?" A clicker is simply a marker, no different than saying "good dog" except that it allows for more consistency and precision. It is not an attention-getter or some kind of remote and it is not even positive reinforcement on its own, but the promise of positive reinforcement. The shock collar remote and the beep or vibration "warning" mode that many possess are the threat of positive punishment.

I know that many of my readers are on the same page and while it is nice to be in good company, my aim in these sorts of posts is to reach the one or two people who may have already bought a shock collar but are hesitant to use it, those with reactive dogs who are thinking of it as a last resort, or someone who thinks there can be no harm in trying it. I'd ask you to reconsider, to do your own research, and to ask whether you would rather have a dog working with a currency of trust, or one working with a currency of fear. 


The Welfare Consequences and Efficacy of Training Pet Dogs with Remote Electronic Training Collars in Comparison to Reward Based Training

Amazon reviews of Remote Shock Collar

The Pet Professional Guild

Training With Grace

November 19, 2014

Do I Have Something On My Face?

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November 18, 2014

How My Reactive Dog Helps Me Appreciate Winter

When most people think of Colorado, they think of skiing and other winter sports. I'm a Colorado native and not only am I not a skier, snowboarder (save for one season in college), snowshoer or snowmobiler, but I really don't care for winter at all. I dread the short days, dark nights and cold temperatures, the donning of bulky gear and the scraping of frozen windshields. If I had my way, I'd just eat a bunch of pasta and hibernate until spring; however, I have dogs...dogs that need walks.

Boca's feelings on this snow and ice business mirror my own. She came from a tropical island and doesn't understand this cold, white sand. Ruby spent her first winter outings last year shivering, but seems to have acclimated quite well and got a serious case of the zoomies on my patio when it was covered with fresh snow this weekend. Both girls have very short hair and I feel that coats are a necessity for them when it's 30 degrees or less, which it has been more often than not for over a week now. Boca also wears booties because her paws seem especially sensitive.

As much as I drag my feet into my snow boots, I have to admit that winter-time walking does have its perks when you have a reactive dog. Here are some of the things I've grown to appreciate:

  • Snow is a wonderful sound-proofer. With the exception of some new noises like the scrape of snow shovels and the rumble of the snow plow, things are generally quieter when snow blankets the ground. We've been enjoying some top-notch snuggling with less distracting noise from outside.

  • The rabbits are less active! There is one that has made its den right outside my front door, but Ruby doesn't know that, and we have been seeing far fewer on our walks. 

  • Taking back the pavement! Aside from the most die-hard of runners, our streets and sidewalks are emptier and blessedly free of cyclists and skateboarders. We can even venture into the open space near my house without fear of many encounters.  

  • More playtime! With scarcer and shorter walks, I have to get creative with other ways for Ruby to burn energy. Much to her delight, we've been playing her most favorite thing - tug - more often, as well as working on increasing her confidence with fetch and brushing up on her tricks. My couch potato Boca is content to spend her extra time napping.

  • It's actually kind of pretty out there. Let's be honest...if not for the dogs, I would be spending a lot more time in my pajama pants and a lot less time trying to figure out how I can manage the poop bags without taking my gloves off (spoiler alert: I can't). Seeing my breath is not high on my list of priorities, but sometimes, when the snow is crunching under my feet in that inexplicably satisfying way and Boca is doing her funny pony-bucks out of sheer joy and Ruby's cute snout is dusted with frost, I think for just a moment that winter is not so bad.

November 15, 2014

Ruby Reviews: The Honest Kitchen Winter Warmers


I was very excited for The Gingers Sisters to try a new holiday treat from The Honest Kitchen - Winter Warmer broths! I feed The Honest Kitchen food and treats regularly, and have the utmost trust and confidence in their products. 

The Winter Warmers come beautifully packaged (marigold not included) in a set of three and would make a perfect gift for the health-conscious pet parent. My set came in the mail just before I left on a business trip to Florida and upon my return winter had most certainly arrived. 

Colorado has been experiencing record-breaking low temperatures - double digits have been cause for celebration. Boca came from the tropics in late April, and I think she has been missing the island weather this week! Her paws are especially sensitive, so I've been bundling her up with a coat and booties when we venture out. I thought that the girls would appreciate a warming broth after one of these polar walks. 

The Winter Warmers come in three flavors; Beef  & Bone Broth, Chicken Consomme' and Turkey Stock. Each has just three or four ingredients. Ruby and Boca sampled the Beef & Bone Broth, which contains dehydrated beef, pumpkin, shitake mushrooms and chard. They are very simple to make, just add 1 tablespoon of the mix to hot (not boiling) water.

The broth smelled rich and savory in their bowls, and I let it cool considerably before offering it to the girls. They seemed to enjoy their warm treats and I'll be offering it to them regularly throughout the winter to ensure that they stay hydrated. 

Winter Warmers are only available for a limited time, so hurry over to get yours if you think your pup would like to try this cold weather comfort food! 

Disclaimer: I was provided a set of The Honest Kitchen Winter Warmers in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own and I only publish reviews for products I feel comfortable using in the day to day life of my pets. 

November 11, 2014

Ruby Twosday

It's Ruby's Maybe Birthday today, a combination of a best-guess estimate and maximization of my favorite number, eleven. 

I'm not home to celebrate with her and make her scrambled eggs for breakfast and give her extra kisses (or let her give me extra kisses more correctly). 

Instead I'm staying on the eleventh floor of a hotel in Florida for a business trip, and Ruby is getting snow back home! Temperatures in Denver dropped 20-30 degrees within an hour yesterday and they will not get out of the teens until Friday. 

It's strange to sleep alone when you are used to two warm souls curled up close. I miss Ruby's pouty lip she gets when she is sleepy and Boca's paw draped over me. 

When I get home tomorrow, The Ginger Sisters are getting some special winter treats, and snuggles and scritchins galore. 

Happy second birthday, Little Rubes. I love you so darn much. 

November 8, 2014

Ruby Reviews: The Honest Kitchen Nuzzles

We are big fans of The Honest Kitchen at my house, so The Ginger Sisters were happy to taste-test another wonderful treat: Nuzzles, a crunchy combination of duck & cherry.  

Nuzzles are made with just eight natural, human grade ingredients, not one unidentifiable or impossible to pronounce: 

Barley flour, duck, molasses, water, eggs, coconut oil, cherries and Parmesan cheese

They are a cute heart shape that can easily be broken into smaller pieces - perfect for sharing!

I love to have a variety of treats on hand to keep training interesting for my girls, and I want their treats to be as healthy as the rest of their diet. I am always confident that The Honest Kitchen has the best interest of my pets in mind.

Product reviews are a perfect opportunity to practice their modeling skills (sit-stays, down-stays, and "watch me"). Boca is becoming a real pro at posing, and Ruby is always happy to show off with some tricks.

We took advantage of one of our last days of sunny weather before temperatures plummet next week. I even recruited my dad to help with some pictures! 

Ruby will jump through hoops for The Honest Kitchen! 

We have also been practicing "in" and "out" with her hula hoop - she caught on to it in a heartbeat and is happy to demonstrate for a heart-shaped cookie! 

Disclaimer: I was provided a sample of The Honest Kitchen Nuzzles in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own and I only publish reviews for products I feel comfortable using in the day to day life of my pets. 

November 4, 2014

Walking Adventures and Reactive Encounters

October was a great month for The Ginger Sisters. My dad is living with me for the time being, and so the dogs have company all day when I'm at work. Although we haven't kept up with all of our fall training goals, we've had some interesting experiences of note.

On Halloween morning, my dad and I took the girls for a lovely hike in Evergreen, at an open space area with miles and miles of trails called Elk Meadow. I parked at the end of the parking lot to give us the best chance of getting in and out of the car without encountering anyone, but even though there were several other cars parked, we actually didn't see another soul until the return hike. It was a beautiful fall day and the trail we chose was very open, winding through a meadow flanked with pine trees. The girls had such a good time sniffing and exploring. At one point I took them into a mowed area and ran around with them, letting Boca drag her leash. She stayed close, paid attention to where I was and came running every time I called. That dog is not going anywhere.

On the way back we saw a few other people, but because of the tall grass I was able to take Ruby off the trail without incident. She didn't even notice the other dogs because she was too busy digging for voles. I was so happy to find this trail system that seems perfectly suited for walking reactive dogs. We will be returning for sure on some of my Fridays off. I was thrilled that we all got to enjoy some time in the beautiful Colorado mountains. Going places with a reactive dog is always a gamble and a risk I often don't want to take, but days like Friday made it all worthwhile. Unfortunately, I left my phone in the car so missed out on some great photo opportunities. 

We had several loose dogs run up to us last week. Boca is absolutely fine with this, so I mainly have to worry about managing Ruby. Ruby initially greeted the bigger hound-dog type that ran over to us in our townhome parking lot politely, but snapped at him as he turned away. That was disappointing for me as I've always thought Ruby was more frustrated greeter than dog-aggressive. I still couldn't blame her - my dogs were the ones on-leash. A few days later a tiny fawn-colored chihuahua came running toward us - Ruby was excited but I wasn't terribly concerned and the owner scooped the dog up before it reached us. Another loose chihuahua charged toward us on Sunday evening, and while I thought the owner was going to call it back, she inexplicably went back inside her house leaving us to deal with the dog alone. Ruby was amped up by its barking but I was able to get my dogs away without the chihuahua following us. It's so weird that we had this happen three times in the course of a few days. 

I've also started walking the girls in the neighborhood across the busy street, something I stopped doing for a while because the street crossing could be so stressful.  I've found that if we go early on weekend mornings, there isn't much traffic, and now that the weather is cooling off there aren't as many cyclists and joggers out. I carry Ruby across even if no one is coming - it just makes me feel safer. Once we are safely across the street, aside from a few dogs in yards, things are fairly quiet and the wide streets give me an opportunity to change direction, zig-zag, and practice Ruby's heel in small circles (which she is very good at). We also don't have the cursed rabbits to contend with! 

The end of daylight savings time means dog walks in the dark every day after work and I don't like it one bit. I have an LED collar and leash but find that they don't offer much help when trying to pick up after the dogs on the dark, leaf-strewn ground. I am not sure I can juggle a flashlight, two leashes and poop bags, especially when I'll soon be wearing gloves. I'm considering a head lamp - just the thing to complete my dorky dog lady winter ensemble! What ways have you found to make nighttime dog walking easier?