Don’t Let TV Train Your Dog

When we decided our household needed a dog – long before we actually got one – I started an All Things Dog project.  I researched breeds and breeders, read books about dogs, and started watching television shows on dogs and dog training.

Puppy Moses

And then when Puppy Moses came along, what did we do?  Obviously, we signed up for training classes and professional help.

…Or maybe it’s not so obvious.

There is a growing population of television personalities who will teach you about your dog, from He Whose Name Shall Not Be Whispered, to Some British Lady, to a Canadian with a Receding Hairline.

On the face of it, I suppose I am generally happy for a number of reasons that these people are out there doing what they do.  The increasing popularity of these dog-related “reality” shows brings an added emphasis to dog training, and I hope the result has been that more people have an interest in training and properly exercising their pets.  These shows also acknowledge that those with “problem dogs” can seek and receive help, and all of the people mentioned above emphasize that issues can be resolved, also noting that they often originate with (or at least are exacerbated by) the owners.  In addition, these TV trainers often use their increasing profiles to bring more widespread awareness to a lot of animal issues, including promoting rescue organizations and adoption, proper pet health, and drawing attention to the problem of puppy mills.  So yes, there are definite benefits.

On the other hand, there are also draw backs.

Just like I can’t expect School of Golf to teach me all I need to know to achieve a handicap under 10, these dog-related television programs should not be considered substitutes for real life, hands-on help and training.  On-course lessons with a golf pro will be time better spent improving your game than hours sitting on the couch watching the experts do their thing.

Now, don’t get me wrong, these shows can be highly entertaining, and I still watch them myself.  It’s a very satisfying formula:

  1. Montage of frustrated owners with “dog from hell” who have “tried everything”;
  2. Enter Guru;
  3. Guru works magic on dog;
  4. Guru works magic on owners;
  5. Owners attempt to apply learned magic to dog;
  6. Guru improves technique, assigns homework;
  7. Relative degree of success;
  8. Happy, optimistic owners;
  9. Happy dog.

Almost without exception, there’s a feel-good happy ending.

However, to take a 30 or 60 minute program as a realistic representation of any dog training process is a mistake.

The producers of these shows know the formula and they know what gets ratings and how to get the series renewed.  A lot of information about the hows and whys of what goes on is left out for both time constraints and to appeal to a broader audience; we are never given the complete picture.  Instead, we are shown the “best TV”, which emphasizes the dog’s bad behavior in the beginning, the improvements at the end, and a small, simplified version of how they got there.  Often, it’s not explicit that sometimes the Guru visits several times of the course of a week or month, and a lot of the work is done off-camera through the homework assignments the owners have been given.

Yes, when asked, each Guru emphasizes that consistent, hard work and dedication on behalf of the owner is the ultimate key to success, but all of the televised representations reinforce a “quick fix” ideal.

And this is the problem.

Despite any “seek local, professional help”-type warnings, people (likely always) will still try it at home.  This is how the holiday season a few years back ended in so many house fires; people decided they wanted to deep fry their turkeys, too.

Problems arise when dog owners take techniques or information they see on TV, apply them partially, incorrectly and sporadically without knowing why, subsequently fail or maybe even make things worse, and then assume that this counts as a legitimate training attempt.  Now they’ve “tried everything” with their dog and then become frustrated and even more despondent.

The other problem is that the Super Fans grow to consider themselves experts.  They’ve watched every episode, read a book, maybe even attended a seminar.  They grow to believe that what they’ve learned from television is good enough, and that seeking professional help from a local trainer is extraneous.

And, fine, I will concede that if you’ve got your dog where you want them behaviourally without help, that’s great, but believe me, you’re either the exception to the rule or have way lower standards.  Most often, owners have incorrectly diagnosed their dogs (perceived “aggression” or “stupidity” are personal favourites), so not only are they trying the wrong thing or worrying about the wrong behaviours, it’s an extra obstacle to get them to let go of these preconceived notions when they do seek professional help.

At the end of it all, I guess I’m just complaining about something that will never change.  Though I suppose the benefits of the popularity of the TV dog trainers probably outweigh the negatives, there will always be these significant drawbacks.  People will always mimic the actions of celebrities (Kanye’s Venetian-blind-like sunglasses? Really?), and will always try to save a buck by watching some TV instead of paying for a course (I’m still waiting for the History Channel to award me my viewer-earned Bachelor’s Degree).  And it sure is easier to sit down on the couch for an hour than to go out, interact hands-on, and be accountable to a trainer or instructor.

I get it; I just don’t like it.

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iPad & Katy Perry: The Wonders of Internet Search Terms

One of my favourite things about blogging with WordPress is the Site Stats page they provide.  It tells me how many clicks were made on my blog each and every day, and on what pages.  It also tells me what other websites bring traffic, and how much, to my blog (Facebook, Twitter, other blogs, etc.), and also what external links people click while reading my blog.  There are lots of ways you can analyse your readership, whether by week, month, post, or what have you.

And while I do find these statistics endlessly interesting, I think my absolute favourite part of this service provided by WordPress is the Search Engine Terms function that tells me which phrases, when entered into a search engine, direct people to my blog.

I find the results in this category highly entertaining, very informative, and also an interesting reflection of what people are looking for on the internet.  And I don’t know if maybe it’s against some top secret Blogger Code to disclose these sorts of things, but I’m going to go ahead and share some of the interesting things I’ve discovered so far, in my short few months of experience.

For example, the search terms function has taught me that writing about Jake Gyllenhaal that one time was probably the best move I could’ve made for attracting unsuspecting blog guests.  It seems almost daily people are searching for “dogs of Jake Gyllenhaal”, “Jake Gyllenhaal, dog lover”, “Jake Gyllenhaal dogs”, “good pictures of Jake Gyllenhall” or some similar variation, and it is this very subject that has brought the most aimless surfers to my blog – much to their dismay, I’m assuming.

The next most popular is my article on bloat, which pleases me.  When I was looking for information on gastric torsion myself, I was frustrated with what I did and did not find, and, not to toot my own horn too much, I do believe I’ve put together a pretty good resource for inquiring dog owners.  So that’s good.  On the other hand, the people who searched for “xray sex” and “bloatness of tummy during period” and wound up at the Soapbox were probably more than just a little disappointed.

And then there are the miscellaneous, diverse search terms that cause me endless wonder and curiosity, and really provide quite the emotional rollercoaster.

“ban flexi leash”:  This one came up yesterday, and my immediate thought was ‘hooray!’  Someone agrees with my distain for these stupid things!  Then I thought, what if the searcher is actually worried about a possible ban because they love their flexi-leash too much?  Ick.

“back alley bitches”:  Ha! I’m guessing this isn’t actually intended to be dog related.  Sucker.

“learn how to talk like a Torontonian”:  Ummm… I think you pronounce it “Tranno”.

“chow chow Winnipeg Kijiji”:  My knee-jerk reaction here was frustration about people looking for dogs on Kijiji.

“outlawing puppy sales in stores”:  Yes, please!  Happily, quite a few similar search terms on this very subject have directed people in my direction.

“can I return opened dog food at petland”:  The person who wrote this and I would never be friends.

“backyardsoapbox”:  Geez.  Get it right.

“how to report possible puppy mill Calgary Alberta”:  I really, really hope this person found the information they needed (call Animal & Bylaw Control!) and reported their suspicions.

“steamy men and women”:  This lonely person was definitely let down.

“train him”:  Referring to a dog… ?

“dogs with guns”:  This one actually comes up a lot and is a little alarming.  Is someone out there arming a canine militia?  Should we be concerned?

“how to surrender my dog Richmond bc”: And this one just plain broke my heart.

Darn. Not in the Top 10… yet.

Ode to Musher’s Secret

Welcome to my very first product promotion!

To those inquiring minds, yes, I am doing this completely without the manufacturer’s notice or consent (but if they want to send me a lifetime supply after the fact, I’d be glad to take it).  Though, I do promise not to make a habit of these, and will save the blog for only exceptional products.

Anyway….

For those fellow dog owners living in generally unsavoury winter climates, I suggest you drop everything and rush right out to buy some Musher’s Secret, if you don’t already have some.

It is, without question, my number one, entirely essential winter product for dogs.

Musher’s Secret, originally produced for sled dogs, is a natural, non-toxic wax that, when applied to your dog’s paws, creates a barrier between their feet and the icy, snowy ground.

My husband and I first learned of this product ourselves last winter when Moses (our Newfoundland) would get balled up ice and snow stuck in between the pads of his feet when snowshoeing – or sometimes even when going on regular daily walks.  Being a hairy dog with webbed paws, the ice balls became a common occurrence, and were obviously painful and uncomfortable for him; he would frequently stop mid-stride to try to chew them out.

Enter Musher’s Secret.

Problem = Solved

Now all we have to do is apply some Musher’s Secret to his paws every couple of days.  The wax creates a barrier between his feet and the ground so now no snow freezes to his feet.  Walks and other winter excursions can now continue without pause.  Our winter-loving dog can now enjoy the snow unencumbered.

The nature of the product also means that it doesn’t leave any residue in the house, so you don’t need to wash it off after use.  In fact, we’ve found that with regular outside activity, applications every other day or so are usually sufficient.  Although, Moses does happen to think it tastes quite delicious, so sometimes more frequent applications are necessary.

But the product isn’t just helpful for long-haired dogs.  We’ve used Musher’s Secret on the paws of short-haired dogs who’ve stayed with us, and the added barrier between their feet and the ground means their feet do not get cold as quickly, and winter walks don’t need to be cut short.  It’s a great alternative to booties that often fall off, or to foregoing walks altogether (never recommended).

In addition, it also protects your dog’s feet from salt and other chemical agents used on the roads and sidewalks this time of year.

And, according to their website, it’s also a popular summer product in warmer climates, protecting your dog’s feet from excessively hot pavement and sand.

Lastly, it’s great bang for your buck: we bought ourselves a 200g tub last winter and still have approximately a third of it left.  I don’t exactly remember what we paid, but I estimate in the $20-25 range.  Whatever it was, it sure was worth it.

So there you have it.  Go buy some Musher’s Secret – there is a retailer list on their website, and lately I have noticed that it is becoming more readily available and carried by more pet stores.

Musher's Secret: Making winter fun easier on Moses

Nuptial Annoyances

Warning: The following blog post contains strong opinions that are jaded, cynical, and probably insulting.  Please be advised that if you have ever held a wedding, attended a wedding, or daydreamed about your future wedding, some – if not all – of the following will offend you.  If it makes you feel better, yes, I too was guilty of some of the points that follow, but if I don’t get lenience, neither do you.  Continue reading at your own peril.  Reader discretion is advised.

Introduction

Weddings are inherently cheesy events.  It’s something about bringing together distant relatives and long-forgotten friends, groups of people that only find themselves in the same room at weddings and funerals, and forcing all these folks to sit and watch while you prove how much you love your significant other.

And there’s actually an interesting paradox when it comes to weddings.  Those who embrace the cheesiness seem to wind up with the best weddings: they’re fun, relaxed and everyone has a good time, including – and most importantly – the honoured couple.  The others who take the whole thing too seriously, constantly stress about planning, and honestly believe their wedding is perfect and entirely tasteful are usually blind to the fact that the kitsch has taken over, while remaining wound too tightly to enjoy themselves on their Big Day, or allow anyone else to either.

Weddings are becoming less a ritual about life-long commitment, and more a display of wealth and extravagance, as couples become convinced they must buy dinner for anyone they’ve ever met and cover each chair in only the finest linens.  There is always a feign of resistance to the default wedding format, as the couple tries to incorporate personal touches, but in the end nearly all weddings turn out the same, and the personal touches seem to only create caricatures of the individuals themselves.

So, exhibiting my penchant for complaining by way of itemized list, please find below The Ultimate List of Wedding Grievances, written in conjunction with a Con List cohort.

Because someone needs to say it.

xkcd shows us how it all begins

The Ultimate List of Wedding Grievances

1.  Glass clinking during reception to coerce the bride and groom to suck face for the crowd.  It is disruptive and the perverted enthusiastic guests and children often get out of hand.  No one wants to see people make out with mouthfuls of prime rib.

2.  The receiving line.  While über-traditional and practically the only way you’ll get to see all of your 300 guests, the 40 second interactions are hardly meaningful.  The guests queue up for an eternity, and your crazy old aunt will always think it’s appropriate to talk to each wedding party member for a full 8 minutes, thus holding up the whole production.  Those receiving lines that include the entire massive bridal party and all parents and siblings are the worst.

3.  “The Chicken Dance,” “The Macarena,” “The Locomotion” and “The YMCA”.  Self-explanatory.

4.  The cake cutting.  In case you didn’t know, the mid-dance cake cutting is the exit cue for guests who are bored, tired, or just want to leave.  This probably sounds familiar: “I’ll wait until they cut the cake, then I’ll go.”  By the time the cake is cut, most people are too tired, drunk, or full to want another dessert.  They either want to leave or to just keep partying uninterrupted.  It really slows down the night’s momentum when you to make everyone stop and gather for the photo-op.  And if the couple smashes the cake into each other’s faces… well, it’s been done.  It’s not original, funny, or cute.  It should also be noted that most wedding cakes are not delicious: taste is inversely proportionate to aesthetics.

5.  The mother/son, father/daughter dance.  If the groom wants to dance with his mother, fine, he probably should at some point.  But do we need to pause the party so everyone can watch?  Not necessary.  Full bridal party dances fall under the same criticism, and even the all-important First Dance treads dangerously here, since all most couples do is sway back and forth.  Bor-ing.

6.  The lame wedding favours.  What am I going to do with 1 oz of maple syrup?  How long am I obligated to keep it before I can throw out the dove-shaped paperweight with your initials on it?  Seriously, your guests won’t miss these cheap trinkets if you decide to opt out.  A third of them don’t even take them home in the first place and 6 months later the rest won’t even remember what you gave them.

7.  The notion that money is an appalling, impersonal gift.  Myth!  While the Mother-of-the-Mother-of-the-Bride may be mortified at the suggestion, most contemporary young couples, especially those who have lived on their own or lived together prior to the nuptials, will be very appreciative; they already have a toaster oven.  Not only is money or a gift card acceptable, it makes gift shopping much easier.

8.  Any speech or toast longer than 5 minutes; 3 minutes is ideal.

9.  Children.  Evidently, putting a kid in a pretty dress or a mini tux is a free pass for any and all forms of misbehaviour.  And an open bar/family gathering apparently gives dutiful parents the excuse to be distracted or blatantly ignore the ruckus.   Sure, who wouldn’t want to take their shoes off and run around screaming in their dress clothes?  But if I can’t do it, neither should your child.  Unfortunately, this is generally unavoidable, as most parents will take personal offence if you attempt an “adult-only” wedding.

10.  Pets and/or children as part of the ceremony.  There’s a reason Hollywood lists these two things as the most difficult to work with (close third: Christian Bale).  Temper tantrums (or dogs running amok with wedding bands) trump “cute” every time.

11.  Every-man-for-himself reception seating.  This usually ends in groups of friends being split up, dubious seat-saving, and complaints.  Make a seating plan – place cards are cheap, and you should have a good idea of who should/can sit where.  If for some reason your new mother-in-law doesn’t arrive early enough to get her spot at the best table, you will hear about it for the rest of your life.  “John’s speech was so touching.”  “Well I don’t know dear, I was so far away I couldn’t hear him, let alone see him up there.”

12.  Brunch/lunch receptions.  I’ve never been to one, and I wouldn’t go if invited.  Okay, maybe I would, but I wouldn’t be stoked about it.  If it’s a budget thing, cut down the guest list and host a dinner like a normal person.  An evening cocktail party reception could be an acceptable middle ground if done properly.

13.  The dreaded “cash bar”.  It’s striking how those so often concerned with “tradition” and “custom” still opt for the cash bar – a major faux pas in traditional wedding etiquette.  And it automatically labels you as “cheap” (sorry), since asking people to pay for anything at your wedding is generally in bad taste.  If it’s a cost issue, consider how out of hand the size of your wedding has gotten in the first place, or make some sort of compromise such as providing wine, but not spirits, or discounted drink prices.  In three years, people won’t likely remember what wedding favours you provided, but they will remember whether or not they had to pay for their booze.  Of course, it could be worse; you could have a “dry” wedding.

14.  Ceremony/dance-only invitations: there’s a dinner, but some of you are not invited.  Ouch.  A guest considered for the dance-only invitation should not be a guest at all, plain and simple.  It’s not like the dance-only invitees will be completely unawares of the dinner that occurred just before their arrival, and receiving the second-class invite is insulting.  Expect these guests to arrive only for the open bar – if they come at all – and not to bring a gift (could you blame them?).  This is truly a do-unto-others situation.  Not to mention, if you have a group of dance-only guests, you are now obligated to provide a well-stocked midnight buffet.

15.  The plethora of wedding-related events: bridal showers, bachelorette parties, engagement parties…. And your guests are expected to bring gifts to all of them?  Prepare to lower your expectations.

16.  The Bridal Party.  Being asked to be a member of a bridal party should be a request made to close friends you’d like to share the experience with – not to recruit free manual labour.  Brides and grooms should acknowledge that it is expensive to be in a bridal party, and that few people have the balls or the foresight to say “no” when asked to be a part of one.  Keep their costs reasonable and their time commitments manageable.

17.  Facebook event invitations.  I’m all about losing useless and out-dated traditions, but really?  Too far.

18.  Outdated and over the top decorations.  Miles of tulle draped from the ceiling of a dingy community hall or a plastic gazebo does not magically transform it into the Banff Springs Hotel.  You’re not fooling anyone, so keep it simple.

19.  Throwing rice/confetti.  Someone has to pick that up!  Is it really appropriate to show how happy you are for the bride and groom by throwing food at them?  I think not.

20.  The notion that this is the most important day in everyone’s life.  It may be one of yours, but chances are your old college friend or second cousin doesn’t care nearly as much.  Please keep this is mind when you make demands of your attendees.

21.  Spelling and grammatical errors on wedding invitations.  You will be judged.

22.  Weddings during long weekends.  Perhaps a bigger deal here than in warmer climates, but Alberta/Canada sees a limited number of long weekends in a summer, and I certainly don’t want one to be monopolized up by your wedding.

23.  About the bridesmaid dresses: “Oh, that’s versatile, you can totally wear it again”.  No, you cannot.  Use of this and similar phrases should be ceased immediately.  Regardless of how it looks, it is and will always be the bridesmaid dress from so-and-so’s wedding.  Therefore you can’t knowingly wear it again to another event, especially one that people who were at the wedding will be attending.  Even if you’re at a totally unrelated work Christmas party on the other side of the globe, Facebook photo tagging will reveal you.  Besides, the majority of these dresses all have that everlasting bridesmaid-y feel to them – even the black ones.

24.  “This tastes like ‘wedding food’.”  Maybe I watch too much of TLC’s Four Weddings, but this is the most ridiculous complaint.  There’s no such thing as “wedding food”.  It’s mass-produced banquet food that shows up at every event with 75 or more guests.  With few exceptions, quality is lost to quantity.  If you prefer not to be subject to this grievance, forego the frequent menu tastings and spend your time trimming the guest list.

25.  Do not invite people you don’t expect or want to come just to be polite, and then panic when they come.  You had that coming.

26.  Also do not invite people who are not invited to the wedding to your wedding related events (e.g. shower, stagette).  If they come, it’s just to make a scene or make you feel bad, so doing so just means you’re asking for trouble.

27.  The thank-you is NOT an outdated tradition and proper thank you notes should be sent to everyone and sent promptly.  This goes for wedding and shower gifts.  Some people will have you believe you have a year to send these notes, but anything after a couple of months will have guests raising their eyebrows.  That same tradition says guests have a year after your wedding to give you a gift – would you be okay with waiting so long?  Just get these formalities over with.  The acknowledgement is always appreciated.  And as with invitations, you cannot use Facebook for this.

28.  Guests who do not dress appropriately.  I don’t care who you are or what the venue is, 99% of the time denim is not appropriate.  Just because they have collars, plaid and golf shirts are still not acceptable.

29.  Keep your registry under control.  You need a wide range of price points, and a lot of items in the reasonable $75-$125 range.  A huge registry with lots of expensive items will be interpreted as greedy or delusional.

30.  The infamous Bridezilla and her lesser-known minion, the Groomonster.  Serving as a G-rated euphemism for “crazy bitch”, perhaps the daily use of the term “Bridezilla” on TV networks such as TLC has desensitized friends of the bride to the full meaning of the term and their impending doom.  All brides have Bridezilla moments – it’s basically unavoidable.  The less you think you are being a Bridezilla, the more likely you are a behaving like a complete psycho.  But just because “everybody does it” doesn’t mean it’s acceptable.  Try to have empathy and try to remain calm if something goes wrong.  At least one thing goes wrong at every wedding – accept it and move on.  Yes, it’s “your day”, but you invited the rest of us and we have to put up with you.

31.  Gift-openings.  Yawn.  They are boring and no one cares.  If you had a registry it can easily be deduced that you received many things from it.  I don’t feel it necessary to check and make sure.

32.  Going somewhere warm and far away for your wedding because you’re too cool to do it locally like everyone else? “Oh, a wedding in Hawaii! Real original!”  – Peter (Jason Segel), Forgetting Sarah Marshall

33. Wedding photos by formula. I have this picture; you probably have (or will have) one just like it.

Is My Blog Copyrighted?

If even fleeting, the issue of copyright can strike the mind of many of us who post our thoughts, opinions, work, research and information online.  Who can use it or share it?  And to what extent?  What rights extend to my intellectual property?

Well, first I’ll do away with the issue of plagiarism, which is simply someone taking something you’ve written and posting it as their own.  It’s wrong ethically and legally, and while hard to pursue online, you can often seek retribution simply by having the plagiarized content removed (forcefully or not).  Anyone with post-secondary research experience should have had the fears of plagiarism planted deep, and there are many ways to prevent the suggestion that someone else’s idea is your own by making reference to quotes and proper citations, or hyperlinking back to the original material.

But copyright does not just mean taking credit for someone else’s work; it also relates to unauthorized use and reproduction.  Hence those copyright warnings at the beginning of DVDs – we do not have permission to duplicate the movies fully.  Such is the case with published books.  You can’t go purchase the latest best seller and take it to Staples to photocopy the whole thing and distribute it to friends (I have doubts photocopying would be significantly cheaper, but you couldn’t scan it either).  This process impacts the financial gain the writer/publisher receives from the publication, and they could reasonably seek recovery in the form of costs from you for this action.  Fair enough – you’re stealing.

On the other hand, you are allowed to copy excerpts and quotes from publications without having to pay for them as long as you’re using it for reasons considered “fair use”.  Fair use qualifications include commentary, criticism, parody, research, news and education.

So what about my blog?  I’m not a published author; do I have these rights?

I sure do.  According to this super helpful website, everything is copyrighted essentially as soon as it’s written.  Canada, the United States, and many other countries follow the Berne Copyright Convention, giving authors and artists immediate protection for their work, my blog included.  WordPress and other hosts offer an option to include a copyright notice on posts and pages, which will serve as a helpful reminder to anyone tempted, but isn’t strictly necessary.  The only way you’re not covered is if you specifically denote your work to be public domain.  And just because something is online does not mean it’s public domain.

Personally, plagiarism, yes, would bother me; I put the work in and I want credit for it.  If you find a way to capitalize on something I’ve written, kudos, but I want the benefit, and I’m not inclined to share.  And credit is easy to give.  You can even recopy a whole post of mine if you like, as long as you link back here or give my blog credit (though I do know many bloggers strictly opposed to complete entry recreations whether or not they get credit, so make sure you check for a policy before reposting an entire work of someone else).  To give credit to an original author is a simple request – and an obligation.  Heck, you can take a post of mine, break it down, criticize it extensively, and I’m happy as long as my words remain my own.  I’ve even got one post where I’m asking you to copy the whole thing and sign your name to the bottom, and please feel free to do so.  Thankfully, I’ve not yet experienced a need to be concerned about plagiarism, which either means people are generally very respectful and diligent, or perhaps that I need to up the ante in quality (mimicking is the sincerest form of flattery as they say).

What About Facebook?

Before I started the Soapbox, I used Facebook Notes to post my entries.  Do I own that or does Facebook?

Well, Facebook Terms of Use seem to be ever-changing these days, with increasing privacy concerns and copyright concerns (especially about photos, it seems).

The first order of business, and self-protection due diligence, is privacy.  If you don’t want everyone to access your information or ideas, observe how you share them.  Check your personal settings and consider where you’re posting: public groups, applications, a friend’s page, a public figure’s page, etc.  If you don’t want just anyone to access something you’ve got to say or share, you yourself are the first step of appropriately managing your own affairs.

As I read the current Facebook policies, it seems that our ideas and work remain our own and there is a system in place for Facebook to maintain that.  If you feel a third party has infringed on your copyright, there is a complaint process in place, and it does not seem that Facebook automatically takes ownership of anything you post there.

But what happens if I were to devise the most clever status update ever, and everyone copies it, but I want all the credit?  Well, tough.

First of all, get a life.

And secondly, at the time of writing, the Facebook policies specifically state (and as a user, you’ve consented even to these policies if you didn’t bother to read them) that “You understand that information might be reshared or copied by other users”.

Furthermore: “Information set to ‘everyone’ [such as in a public group or celebrity profile] is publicly available information, just like your name, profile picture, and connections.  Such information may, for example, be accessed by everyone on the Internet (including people not logged into Facebook), be indexed by third party search engines, and be imported, exported, distributed, and redistributed by us and others without privacy limitations. Such information may also be associated with you, including your name and profile picture, even outside of Facebook, such as on public search engines and when you visit other sites on the internet.  The default privacy setting for certain types of information you post on Facebook is set to ‘everyone.’ You can review and change the default settings in your privacy settings. If you delete ‘everyone’ content that you posted on Facebook, we will remove it from your Facebook profile, but have no control over its use outside of Facebook.”

So there you have it.  I could take your hilarious status update, post it as my own or even post it on Twitter without giving credit and that’s just something you’ve consented to by my being able to view it and copy it in the first place.  This is how the 24 hour news cycle is able to quote posts on pages, profiles, and groups – and even Twitter.  What this has to say about the quality of journalism there is another issue altogether.  And if you are given credit by name, then you really have no complaint, as the plagiarism aspect is removed and you really have no copyright.

And this is why I started the blog.  My copyright here is much more secure than my Facebook Notes, with the added benefit of expanded readership without having to add hundreds of thousands of Facebook friends.  Thankfully, my Facebook Notes only really included topics like canine bloat, which is really information I’d like to get out there as much as possible, with credit and acknowledgement being a fringe benefit.

And Twitter?

Good question.

Luckily, the re-tweet option generally means you will receive credit for your tweets.

The Twitter Terms of Service state that your content is your own responsibility (you own it, but the consequences of it are also yours).  But while your tweets are always yours, by using Twitter you’re also giving Twitter a non-exclusive right to copy, reproduce, and distribute them.

While an argument may be out there that the 140 character limit of Twitter excludes tweets from the length and creativity requirements for copyright, the Twitter policies acknowledge that tweets are intellectual property of the user, and they do have a complaint process in place for anyone suspecting plagiarism.  However, I think unauthorized use is a non-existent complaint considering the nature of Twitter itself and the re-tweet function.  You would spend more in legal fees arguing that than would be worthwhile.

So there you have it: social media copyright as I understand it.  The bottom line is often to remember that there are real people behind those screen names, so real life standards apply to online actions.  No, I don’t have an LL.B. behind my name, so don’t quote me if you’ve got a serious legal issue.  That’s not a copyright concern; I’m just clarifying my lack of liability (look what our litigious society has come to).

BtC: Advocating a Retail Pet Sale Ban for Calgary


Back in October 2010 I participated in the Blog the Change for Animals for the first time.  The city council in Richmond, B.C. had just agreed to pass a by-law banning the sale of dogs and puppies in pet stores, which is an important step in curbing the puppy mill industry.  In my post, my first point for how the average person can easily help combat puppy mills was to canvass your local government to implement a similar ban in your city.

And that got me thinking: I should practice what I preach!

Calgary, while a remarkable city in many ways when it comes to Animal & By-Law Services, currently does not have such a ban in place or any other restrictions that would help to prevent puppy mill sales (i.e. required breeding licensing, for example).  And I think it should.

Such a ban will help prevent both impulse pet purchases in pet stores and puppy mill pet sales.  It will also help ease the strain on local rescue organizations, with statistics coming from Albuquerque, New Mexico that show a 23% increase in shelter adoptions and a euthanasia decrease of 35% only a few years after enacting their ban.

Four days later I sent my letter to Mayor Nenshi and all council members requesting consideration of a ban in Calgary prohibiting the retail sale of companion animals (specifically, both dogs and cats).

And then what happened?

Nothing.

I e-mailed, I faxed, I posted my letter online and I literally received zero response from anyone.  A big fat goose egg.  Not even a form “thank you for showing an interest in your local government, now PFO”.

I waited a couple of weeks and re-sent my letter.

Crickets.

Well, not entirely.  Someone did notice, and that someone was Corporate PetLand.  I went back and forth with the nice folks over there for a while on the issue, and even that has since died off.

But you know what?  I’m not giving up.

In fact, my goal for 2011 is to band together with a group of like-minded individuals and hopefully generate a higher profile voice that won’t get filed in the city’s shredder.

Because while I truly enjoyed discussing the issue with the PetLand representatives and learning about their opinions on this subject, I remain to be convinced that this is a detrimental approach to the problem.

In fact, since I initially wrote my letter in October, Austin, Texas has enacted a similar ban of its own.  St. John’s, Newfoundland’s council has also received a proposal for a similar ban, and there is a group actively advocating for a ban in Toronto as well.

More locally, a St. Albert store, Paradise Pet Centre, has voluntarily ceased selling dogs and cats (after 30 years of retail pet sales) in order to encourage rescue adoptions.  If all other pet stores were similarly minded, I wouldn’t have to be writing this.  Unfortunately, they’re not, so implementing a ban will essentially force compliance for the benefit of the animals.  I’m okay with that.

Of Paradise Pet Centre’s new policy, the Edmonton Humane Society says: “The Society does not support the sale of dogs and cats in pet stores.  The EHS feels that a pet store selling animals for a breeder is ultimately encouraging irresponsible breeding….  Many times pet stores sell animals that originate from puppy mills and sometimes do not even know it.”

Edmonton Humane Spokesperson Shawna Randolph adds: “We hope that [other pet retailers] will follow suit and recognize that a humane business model in a pet store is successful.  It’s estimated that Canadians spend about 6 billion dollars a year on their pets, which proves that stores do not have to sell animals to make a profit.”

Calgary has recently taken a number of steps to help curb pet overpopulation, including a spay/neuter assistance program and the national 2011 Year of the Cat initiative that focuses on responsible pet ownership to combat the ever-increasing population of unwanted cats in shelters and rescue organizations.

With the acknowledgement that there is an abundance of homeless, unwanted or rescue animals within the city, it seems logical that retail pet sales only add to the problem.  Instead of commercially purchasing a new pet, there are more than enough out there in need of adopting.  In fact, retail pet sales actually add to the unwanted pet population when pets purchased on an impulse later get surrendered.

So if you agree that there are enough companion animals out there already in need of homes without the consideration of commercial pets sales, and want to help prevent puppy mill sales and impulse pet purchases, I ask you to join me (or begin a similar campaign in your own city or municipality).

How you can help:

–        Send a letter to Mayor Nenshi and your Alderman (or all of city council), asking them to consider and implement a ban on retail pet sales.

–        Spread the word and help create buzz.  Animal advocacy is (sadly) not the “sexiest” political issue out there, so extra effort is required to create headlines and achieve results.  Tell your friends and anyone you know in the pet industry who is willing to speak out (trainers, groomers, rescues, etc.) and advocate a ban – get the industry behind us!

–        Don’t shop at the stores that do sell pets; if they get the message and willingly opt to feature shelter adoptions rather than sell pets, then we don’t even need said ban. Win-win!

–        Know anyone looking for a new family member?  Promote adopting a rescue dog or thoroughly researching reputable breeders.

–        Don’t be discouraged.  It’s hard, but a worthy cause.

Help prevent puppy mills and homeless pets!

In March 2010, Valerie Berenyi of the Calgary Herald Blog My Dog Sez wrote advocating a ban on the sale of dogs in retail outlets.  If you’re not going to listen to some unknown blogger like myself, listen to her.

As I appear to be technologically challenged and cannot get the blog hop list to appear properly, please visit the Blog the Change website to see the list of other participants in the BtC event, visit their blogs, and read about their causes.

Pet Blogger Challenge: Challenge Accepted

Piggy-backing off an idea devised by a couple of bloggers far more established than myself, today I am taking the The Pet Blogger Challenge by answering the following questions and participating in a little self-reflection.

1. When did you begin your blog?

Not long ago!  The first substantive posts were in September 2010, so I’ve only got 3 months under my belt.  In that time, I fired off 36 posts of varying degrees of quality and quantity.

2. What was your original purpose for starting a blog?

Curiosity and boredom, really.  I had various ideas for writing topics and both wanted to see how they’d turn out and wanted a place to share final products (other than Facebook Notes).  I’m more productive when kept busy, and this was a way to keep busy and research things that interest me.

3. Is your current purpose the same?

Yes and no.  My topics are still entirely selfishly motivated, but I’ve also added a do-gooder element, attempting to raise awareness on various issues and start some things.  Most notably, I’m using the blog to try to get retail pet sales banned here in Calgary.  Success is yet to be achieved, but I’ve at least garnered a little bit of attention and comment.  I’ll continue that endeavour this year as well.

I also have a minority of posts on non-pet rants and raves, which I will continue to use to blow off steam about a variety of subjects as I deem necessary.

4. Do you blog on a schedule or as the spirit moves you?

If the former, how often — and what techniques do you use to stick to it?
If the latter, do you worry about… well, whatever you might worry about (e.g. losing traffic, losing momentum)?

Part of column A, part of column B.  I tried playing around with which days of the week obtain the most traffic for new posts, and really haven’t found a sweet spot.  Instead, I aim for 1-2 posts per week, or a minimum of 6 per month.  2010 was well above that, but I had some archived material.  2011 is all newly generated stuff so I have given myself a goal minimum. 

I do worry that too few posts will lose traffic – I read somewhere that people should always find new material when they visit your blog.  This would be great advice if I knew how often the average person visited.  Then again, knowing where the majority of my readership comes from (Facebook, Twitter, Subscribers, friends), people tend to just visit when I have a new post up anyway.

Also, I don’t want to leave it too long between posts or my own interest might die off.  And I’d like to keep it a current and updated resource for visitors.

5. Are you generating income from your blog?

If so, how (e.g. sponsor ads, affiliate relationships, spokesperson opportunities)?   If not currently, do you hope to in the future — and how?

Nope.  And I have no goal to do so (wouldn’t an official sponsor ultimately censor me?). 

But if anyone would like to just give me money, I would be happy to take it.  I have a PayPal account and accept funds in $100 CDN denominations.  I look forward to hearing from you.

6. What do you like most about blogging in general and your blog in particular (bragging is good!)?

I like blogging as a way to sort through my own thoughts on various topics, and as a way to get information (and my own opinion) out there, whether or not its read.  I like my blog personally because even though I have the tendency to go on writing much longer than the average blogger, I think what I’ve got to say is well-researched and well thought out.  I’ve also learned than in mere months of blogging, I sure can stir it up and find controversy, which I personally found pretty entertaining and interesting.

7. What do you like least?

I feel like I’m still finding my exact niche.  As I mentioned before, I write a lot, with a couple of posts upwards of 5000 words, and it’s unlikely to expect someone to read the whole thing.  I have a background in academic writing, not journalism, and I am aware successful bloggers are more akin to the latter.  So I’m working on it.

Also, while it may seem my blog is canine-dedicated, I didn’t intend for that and the layout and just physical appearance really doesn’t suggest that.  Often, I simply don’t care, but at other times I wonder if I should be running two blogs – one on dog stuff, and the other on miscellaneous rants and raves.  Then again, the likelihood that I would maintain two to the same extent is slim to none, so I abandon that idea as soon as I think of it.  While this format isn’t ideal, it’s not likely to change.

8. How do you see your blog changing or growing in 2011?

My blog may change, and I hope it will improve, but exactly how I can’t predict.  I hope to make the same or better use of it, and I hope my style and voice will improve.  Obviously, growth in readership would be pretty great.

The End.  Challenge complete.

My Dog is Fat

Moses is fat.  How embarrassing.

At least he has a good personality.

Actually, we always used to have trouble keeping the pounds on him, and he historically has been on the slim side.  Moses has never been overly food motivated and often skipped meals by choice – even after the switch to a 100% raw diet.  If he wasn’t in the mood for chicken, we’d just try again in the morning.  If we tried to increase quantity at meal times to put some weight on him, he’d just skip more meals. In the spring, when he had more interest in… well, the ladies, he’d go a day or two without any interest in food.  He had better things to worry about.

In November 2010 when we weighed him, he registered in at 163 pounds, which was close to his usual 165-170 pounds – our healthy ideal range for him.

But we were looking at him the other day and noticed a little extra girth through the midsection.  We did a home assessment, checking to see how well we could feel his ribs, and noticed that they did seem to be buried a bit deeper than usual.  (For a great article on how you can use this technique to assess your dog’s weight, go here.  Your dog’s ribs should feel akin to the way the bones just under your knuckles do when you make a fist.)

Undying curiosity took me to use the scale at our neighbourhood vet today and the big guy clocked in at 176 pounds – a lifetime record high!  That means he gained 13 pounds over about 2 months, increasing his weight by almost 8%.

While Moses is a large breed dog, and is on the big side when compared to the Newfoundland breed in general, we’re going to slim him down, with our ideal weight for him being close to or just under 170 pounds.  More exercise and less food are on the agenda, and it will be easy enough to reduce meal sizes or even impose a skipped meal now and again to achieve this

Although 6 pounds may not seem like a large concern, even a few extra pounds can have an impact in your dog’s wellbeing, with respect to both joint health (especially in the giant breeds) and lifespan in general.  Just like with people, a few extra pounds on your dog can increase the risks of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, damage to bones and joints, and decrease their stamina, liver function, and resistance to viruses and bacteria, not to mention a decreased quality of life in general.

After putting a plan in place, I became very curious as to how Moses gained the weight in the first place.  I mean, the cause obviously stems from us, the owners, since we alone determine his feeding and exercise schedules.  It’s not like he secretly binges on Doritos in the middle of the night when we’re not looking …right?

So what have we done?  What changed?

Looking at his feeding schedule, it doesn’t seem to be that.  His usual feeding regimen has been maintained, and he doesn’t get extras in the form of table scraps regardless of the time of year.  Moses has been fed five pounds of raw food per day (provided he eats it) for months, and until now there has been no real weight gain or loss, aside from usual 2-4 pound fluctuations.

What about exercise?  Well, that could certainly be a factor.  Moses always gets his 60 minutes of walking every day – without exception – but when the temperature hits or exceeds the -20°C mark, it’s rarely more than that.  It’s been a relatively cold winter in the Great White North, so regardless of how well suited Moses himself is to sustain several quality hours outside when it’s -30°C, we still call it a day after about an hour.   Well, I suppose with my new resolution (which is going swimmingly, by the way), it’s now a 65-minute minimum, but that’s not likely to be an adequate change to shed some serious weight.

Then I had a thought: one other thing has changed in Moses’ routine lately.  He was neutered in mid-November.  Could that have played a role in the weight gain?

According to the Dog Whisperer’s website, no.  The argument there is that often the diet doesn’t change and weight gain ensues, but not because the dog was fixed; it is actually because you are feeding an adult dog puppy proportions.  This may be true for folks who neuter their dog at a younger age, but I am skeptical about this argument in our situation since we didn’t get Moses neutered until he was 2 years and 8 months old, and already on his “adult diet”.

Most other sources out there suggest that the change in testosterone production post-neuter can actually play a role in weight gain after surgery, due to the effects on the dog’s metabolism.  The hormonal changes after castration often result in increased appetite and slowing metabolism.

Based on our experience, Moses’ appetite has certainly increased since he was neutered.  His previous habit of skipping the occasional meal has since ceased, and he seems much more food motivated generally.  So while we’ve always fed him 5 pounds of food per day, after taking into account skipped meals, he probably was getting 30 pounds per week or less, instead of the intended 35.  Nowadays, it’s always the full 35.

So there you have it.  Without even really realizing it, we actually have increased the amount we have been feeding him.  Taking into account the seasonal exercise decrease, I would say the weight gain is officially accounted for.  Mystery solved.  Lesson learned.

Snowshoeing with Fatso this holiday season

2011 Resolutions

I was initially going to forego resolutions for the New Year for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that they’re mostly arbitrary and rarely kept past the first week back to work after the holidays.

But then I started to get excited about making a huge list of potential resolutions I would impose on the masses provided I were bequeathed with omnipotence.  It would’ve turned into something akin to “2011 Changes for 2011”.  I had a lot of ideas.  The list included things like a mass revolt against flexi-leashes, retail pet sellers, and grain-filled pet foods.  I would’ve demanded complete nutritional assessments and overhauls for all of our pets.  Extended and upgraded training in obedience, as well as trying new skill categories such as herding, agility, or water rescue as the case may be.  Regular volunteer time spent at local shelters and large and frequent donations to charities.  Biodegradable poop bags only.

However, these are the kinds of lofty goals that require major changes (and time and money commitments) we like to think we’re all capable of but that are also inevitably doomed to fail.  Although resolutions are often made with the best intentions, “life” (whatever that is) gets in the way, and even our pet-related resolutions can go the way of the latest New Year’s diet, workout regime, or utterance of “I will never drink again”.

And this is why I have determined the key to success is small, workable changes – and not many of them.  One or two, max.

So, while you can decide for yourself what needs resolving, I’ll share with you my idea for an easy resolution for all.

In our household, the dog gets a minimum 60 minutes of walking per day (we’re lucky to be part of the minority that require only an hour).  On weekends when we have the opportunity to break routine, it’s often more than an hour at a nice location, but during the week when we have jobs and domestic duties to attend to, the usual is 60 minutes is met by taking one of a number of routes around the neighbourhood.

So looking at this routine, I resolve to add simply 5 minutes on to every walk.  The minimum will now be 65 minutes.  And the 5 minutes doesn’t have to be just adding an extra couple of blocks to the route.  I can alternatively choose to use it working on skills, patience, or focus with the dog, or bonding through play – fetch, hide and seek, etcetera.

It’s a seemingly small change, but I think it will be well worth it.  An extra 5 minutes per day adds up to 35 minutes more of quality time each week; over 30 hours over the course of the year.  That’s 30+ more hours spending time focused solely on your furry family member, something that can do nothing but benefit the pair of you.

So that’s it.  Five extra minutes.  8% more dog walking per day.  It’s simple enough and part of a pre-existing routine making it easy and not so life changing.  Status as a “resolution” alone can possibly doom it to fail, but I’m willing to give it a shot and welcome you to do the same.

Oh, and a final note to anyone who may not already have a minimum 60 minute per day dog walking routine:  get on it, slacker.  That is officially your new mandate.  Not a resolution – a mandate.  You owe it to your dog.