Dog's Life: Lifestyle
This summer, Laura Diaz, Yappy Treats Cart founder, CEO and maître d’cart, can again be found under her colorful cart’s big umbrella selling Dogfroyo, her all-natural frozen yogurt treats, to New York City’s dogs at Riverside and Central Parks. These much-in-demand delights— inspired by her ice-cream-loving dog Sisu—are handcrafted in small batches using human-grade ingredients and Greek yogurt. Dogs happily lap them up (they’re great for pup parties too). See where to find Laura and her cart, or a local retail outlet at yappytreatscart.com.
The Bark had a chance to speak with Ken Ramirez about his experience with clicker training and what the future holds for him in his new role as Executive Vice President and Chief Training Officer for KPCT.
The Bark: Why is it important that people successfully train their companion dogs?
Ken Ramirez: There are so many reasons that training is important. It is a critical part of good animal care, just like veterinary care, nutrition and a safe environment. You cannot give animals all they need unless it includes a training program. Good training helps teach animals how to live successfully in our world, and helps to build a strong lasting relationship between people and their pets.
Bark: Tell us about your professional experience with operant conditioning or clicker training.
Ramirez: I began my training career working with guide dogs in a very traditional training environment. However, right out of college I had the opportunity to work with a variety of marine mammals, birds, and big cats in several zoological facilities. That is where I was introduced to the world of positive reinforcement and marker-based training. That experience changed my life as I experienced how powerful this type of training is. Not only is it force-free and fun for the animals, but it assists in developing strong relationships with each animal partner. I went back and re-read all my animal behavior text books, made contact with my professors, and began trying to understand why this type of training was not more wide-spread, except perhaps in the world of marine mammal training. My quest for knowledge exposed me to Karen Pryor and some of her early works. I read every positive reinforcement training article I could find, sought out conferences and training organizations that could forward my knowledge and understanding of effective positive reinforcement training. I had the good fortune to travel to many corners of the world and work with a wide variety of species of animals, and discovered just how universal this technology really is. In 1989 I was hired by the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago to oversee the development of their animal training program. Since joining Shedd, I have had the good fortune to oversee the care and training of more than 32,000 animals representing over 1500 species. I continued to consult with many zoo and aquarium programs worldwide. Then, in 1997, Western Illinois University asked me to develop a graduate course on animal training, which I still teach today. In 1998, I returned to dog training as a consultant to several search and rescue dog teams, which led to my involvement in many other working dog programs including service dogs, law enforcement, and a return to guide dog work. When Karen Pryor decided to start ClickerExpo, she chose Chicago as her inaugural location. She invited me to that Expo as a guest speaker, which led to an invitation to join the faculty the following year, and I have been on the faculty ever since.
Bark: What has been the biggest revelation about this method of training animals?
Ramirez: The biggest revelation for me every time I train an animal is how much they enjoy the process and how it assists in relationship building. Additionally, as someone who began my career more than 35 years ago using more traditional training methods, I always marvel at how well positive reinforcement works and how much stronger and precise behavior is trained in a fun force-free environment.
Bark: Is it your experience that most animals enjoy learning and training exercises?
Ramirez: Absolutely. That’s what makes positive reinforcement so effective—the animal is a willing partner in the process and it is so much fun for them.
Bark: What has you most excited about working with Karen Pryor's clicker training programs?
Ramirez: I am excited about everything that Karen Pryor Clicker Training represents. Karen was an inspiration to me personally as I was seeking good information about the use of positive reinforcement training during the early stages of my career. I am passionate about educating people about the power of positive reinforcement and the beneficial impacts it has on the welfare of the animals in our lives. Each program, whether it be the ClickerExpos, the Karen Pryor Academy, or the production of positive reinforcement books and training tools furthers the education of the public about marker-based positive reinforcement training. I am excited about helping to continue and further the amazing body of work that Karen has produced over the years.
Bark: Do you currently have a dog, cat or other pet?
Ramirez: I have had dogs my entire life. Sadly, my 12-year-old Spaniel that I adopted from a shelter after my first Clicker Expo 11 years ago, recently passed away. I will probably look for my next dog at one of the local Chicago shelters sometime later in the year. However, I established a dog training program with dogs adopted from local shelters at the Shedd Aquarium several years ago, and I consider the four dogs in that program close companions and training partners. These four dogs include a Pit Bull, an Airedale, a Shepherd, and a Lab.
Ken Ramirez is a regular consultant for zoos, oceanariums, and parks around the world. He has held top leadership positions in most of the profession’s associations, including as past president of IMATA (International Marine Animal Trainer’s Association). As part of his leadership, Ken has been involved in the creation of a certification process for animal trainers in zoological settings. He has been featured on television and in the media numerous times, including as host of a popular Australian television series Talk to the Animals. Ken has been on the faculty of KPCT’s ClickerExpo conference since 2005; he also teaches graduate-level courses at Western Illinois University.
Ken began his training career working with guide dogs for the visually impaired and has maintained a close connection to dog training ever since. At the Shedd Aquarium, Ken spearheaded the development of a program to rescue dogs from animal shelters and to train and care for them in order to show the public the transformative power of marker-based positive-reinforcement training. Outside of Shedd, Ken’s canine work includes training for search and rescue, guide and service work, scent detection, animal husbandry, and more.
A winsome Pit Bull lands a role on the Great White Way
When actors James Franco, Chris O’Dowd, Leighton Meester and Jim Norton take the stage in the Broadway adaptation of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men at the Longacre Theater, they share it with a geriatric—though spirited—co-star. Resting comfortably on a quilted pillow for much of the show is Violet, a deaf, 14-year-old Pit Bull.
Because Violet, who plays ranch hand Candy’s (Jim Norton’s) dog, has a wandering eye and has become fast friends with fellow cast members, she is banned from the green room. Instead, she shares a dressing room with Lydia DesRoche, an NYC dog trainer—and the first female dog trainer on Broadway—who has successfully taught her when to walk onstage and where to sit for the seven minutes she appears during each performance.
“Violet’s task is to connect with Jim (Candy),” DesRoche says. Based on his dapper looks, DesRoche’s own 15-year-old Pit Bull, Blue, whom she rescued as a puppy from a junkyard in Harlem, was originally cast in the part. He was replaced by Violet, his understudy, one week later, when he repeatedly missed his cue to get up from the makeshift Depression-era pillow he was parked on for the show. (Offstage, Blue, now the understudy, and Violet occupy the same, large, pillowy bed. Even though there are two, they prefer to share.)
In the play, Candy’s dog is unnamed, but both he and his dog have outlived their usefulness on the ranch. “The other ranch hands lack sensitivity towards animals; the dog has no purpose and therefore, they want to shoot her,” says Norton, an Olivier and Tony award–winning Irish actor and dog lover who has raised his own Boxers in Ireland.
“Because Violet’s deaf, she always looks at you very intensely. Her deafness enhances her ability to concentrate, to pay attention,” he says. “We’ve done 23 shows, and as it comes to the moment when Joel [one of the ranch hands] takes her away from me, each time she looks at me more intensely. Dogs are so perceptive. They have qualities we don’t know about.”
A veteran stage actor, Norton admits to being more calm and “very relaxed when on [stage] with Violet. They [dogs] live in the moment. It’s interesting to observe how content they are to sit.”
Although Norton was raised with dogs in Dublin, he had never before acted with one. “Star quality is the ability to displace air,” he says. “Babies and animals are not aware of how attractive they are. They don’t try to get attention, so everybody’s drawn to them. Actors can learn a lot from Violet. She takes the spotlight because of her stillness. Everybody’s looking at her.”
Violet was given up by her owners to Brooklyn Animal Care and Control, one of the city’s kill shelters, in 2011. Then, her name was Cheyenne and she was about 10 years old. She was also emaciated, had an abscess on her neck (most likely the result of a dog bite) and her ears had been unevenly cropped close to her head. Despite that, she was sweet-tempered and became a favorite with the shelter staff.
“She had the most pleading eyes,” says Christy Allen, who had owned a Pit Bull before she adopted Violet. Allen, with her 10-pound Miniature Pinscher, Bella, in tow, took the subway from their home in Central Park West to the shelter in East New York. The next day, she brought Violet home. Allen and DesRoche are neighbors, and when Allen needed help with dog training, she called DesRoche.
I work as a vet in city shelters, and can testify that Violet’s adoption was nothing short of miraculous. Geriatric dogs in general are harder to place than younger, healthy ones, and dogs of any age surrendered by their owners do not require the same mandatory five-day hold in the shelter as strays. They can be euthanized to make space. However, dogs are kept longer if they endear themselves to the staff and are healthy. Violet’s flirtatious “eye,” sweet demeanor and sheer luck saved her life.
There is also, of course, the stigma that Pit Bulls carry. Nationwide, approximately 75 percent of all Pit Bulls and Pit Bull mixes who wind up in shelters are killed. Some cities and countries have Breed Specific Laws (BSL) that ban outright the ownership of Pit Bulls. Denver, Colo., is one of them; Ireland, Jim Norton’s home, is another. “They’re so gentle and so sweet,” he says. “It’s awful the way they’ve been abused and used as aggressive guard dogs. It’s a problem of our making.”
At every show, DesRoche is stage left. Violet’s deafness spares her the loud gunshot in each performance, but it also deprives her of the audience’s applause. The trainer continues to work with Blue in the event he’s needed as an understudy and, thanks to her positive reinforcement training methods, he’s now getting up on cue. “They never stop loving to learn,” she says, observing her ancient dog’s newly found youthful spirit.
Of Mice and Men is due to run through July 27, 2014. In between shows, Norton spends downtime with Violet, enjoying her company. “When the show’s over, I’ll miss her terribly.”
This is a touching story of a seizure-alert dog’s participation at a graduation ceremony at Idaho State University. This Pit Bull’s person, Joshua Kelly who was suffering from epilepsy recently completed his degree, but sadly had died in February. To honor his memory, Terrell Kelly, Joshua’s father, brought Cletus to walk the “stage” with him to pick up his son’s diploma, this gesture was met with cheers from all—a very moving moment indeed.
From rescue to model dog
When it came time to plan our cover for Bark’s summer issue, we didn’t need to look far and wide. The perfect model dog was sitting in our in-box. Back in March, Bark blogger Shirley Zindler shared her story of a remarkable little dog named Mr. Peebles whose will to live coupled with the love and care of an equally remarkable foster mom … was nearing a happy end. Mr. Peebles started life as an abandoned newborn—brought to a northern California shelter with serious head trauma that included a skull fracture and severe bit wounds. After several surgeries and months of devotion and TLC, he has made a full recovery and by all accounts is a happy, friendly puppy full of life. When we posted Mr. Peebles story, he received well-wishes from around the world. People were inspired by his will to survive, and the dedication shown by his foster mom. Mr. Peebles would make a wonderful cover dog.
At the end of March, we arranged a photo shoot with Mr. Peebles with the hopes of catching his spirit on camera. He was all that we could hope for … a normal, rambunctious 4-month-old puppy. He showed no signs of timidness or trepidation. He was a joyful model and wore us out! We got some great photos, and some delightful video. The clip above shows Mr. Peebles at “work”—greeting Natalia Martinez, and pouncing on Bill Parsons—Natalia and Bill are partners in Photo Lab Pet Photography, the dynamic duo who photographed our session. Mr. Peebles is still waiting for his forever home and the next chapter in this heartwarming story.
P.S. We’ve received several queries about the lovely collar Mr. Peebles is wearing on her cover photo — it’s from our friends at Aroo Studio.
Pet-friendly shelters can be lifesavers for victims
We caught an interesting story on the National Public Radio's Latino USA on Sunday … the report discussed the connection between domestic violence and pets. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NVADV) finds evidence that many women at risk of spousal abuse refuse to leave out of fear for their pets — studies show that between 18 and 48 percent of pet-owning women at domestic violence shelters had delayed their escape from their abusers because of their pets. Providing shelter and services to victims of domestic violence that include accommodations for their pets can be key in these life or death decisions. The numbers are still small, but some shelters like New York City's Urban Resource Institute are beginning to open their doors to pets—first cats, and now dogs. Listen to how the bond between survivors and their pets is an important part of the healing process.
News: Guest Posts
As a young photographer working in San Francisco in 1994, I discovered that I absolutely loved photographing dogs. Around the same time I also discovered a very creative couple in Berkeley were starting up a dog magazine called The Bark. I shared some of my photographs with Claudia and Cameron, the editor and the publisher of The Bark, and told them that if they ever needed imagery for their magazine that they should call me. I also told them that I was interested in advertising my dog photography services in their new magazine. That was twenty years ago and they have been using my images and I have been advertising in their magazine pages ever since! My framed cover photographs for The Bark are some of my most treasured possessions from my career as a dog photographer.
Thousands of dogs and clients later, I have decided that I want to use my imagery in a new and unique way. In my mind the use of dog imagery on paper products is sorely lacking in creativity and beauty. My intention is to set a new standard for the quality of dog photography used on cards and gift items. I enlisted the help of my extremely talented sister, Melissa, who just happens to be a graphic designer, and using my vast database of twenty years of dog photography we have created The Dog Studio.
We are preparing to launch our card line this month with 48 greeting cards and 48 Dog Packs, sets of notecards featuring specific breeds, at the National Stationery Show in New York City.
We are also running a Kickstarter campaign to help the business get off the ground, and with just four days left we are at 75% of our goal! We have some great rewards for those who back The Dog Studio: portrait sessions, signed books & posters and of course lots of greeting cards. Check it out, it’s a fun Kickstarter campaign!
Our website: www.thedogstudio.com will be launched later this month as an ecommerce site but for now you can visit it and get more information about what we are doing. Keep an eye out for our new Dog Studio ad in The Bark coming soon...
— Amanda Jones, Bark contributor
"I believe in God the way my dog does" —Farley Mowat
Author Farley Mowat, chronicler of humanity’s relationship with nature, ardent environmental activist and dog lover, died at the age of 92. Mowat’s prolific writing ranged from the trailblazing Never Cry Wolf to People of the Deer and numerous children’s book. In Never Cry Wolf he recounts his experience studying Arctic wolves in 1946, living in a den close to them in the Keewatin Barren Lands in northern Manitoba. As The New York Times noted in their obituary:
He portrayed wolves as patient and gentle with their own, sometimes even fond of practical jokes. They adopted orphan puppies and babysat for other wolves’ pups. They never killed more than they could eat. In one passage he described the father of the wolf family, whom he named George: “His dignity was unassailable, yet he was by no means aloof. Conscientious to a fault, thoughtful of others, and affectionate within reasonable bounds, he was the kind of father whose idealized image appears in many wistful books of human family reminiscences.”
George, he added, was “the kind of father every son longs to acknowledge as his own.”
One of my favorite books of all times was his totally enjoyable, hilarious The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be a story of his boyhood on the Canadian prairies with a pair of owls for pets and a dog named Mutt who was an irrepressible playmate and fellow adventurer who could climb trees and road in the back seat of the family’s roadster wearing goggles. This is an unforgettable glimpse of country life in the 30’s where boys and their dogs roamed free. Many reviewers note that this is the most entertaining book they have ever read, I couldn’t agree with them more. Both of his classics, this book and Never Cry Wolf, are must reads for every dog lover. Even as recently as July, 2009, Nicholas D. Kristof, an op-ed columnist for the New York Times, listed Mowat's The Dog who Wouldn't Be (first published in 1957) as one of the best children's books of all time.
Farley Mowat died only days away from his 93rd birthday, and was working on another book at the time of his death.
See a story in Bark about a young family's adventure to travel across Canada to meet with Farley Mowat.
I was looking up “notable” (dog lovers) birthdays today (May 6) because that seems to be a favorite newsy item, and I saw that this date celebrates the birth of both Sigmund Freud and George Clooney. I knew that Freud was a huge dog fan with a partiality towards Chows, so checked to see what I could find about Clooney’s affiliation with our favorite species. And lo and behold, I found that not only does he love dogs, as attested to from this Esquire interview (conducted by Tom Junod, another great dog lover, whose own wonderful story appears in our book, Dog Is My Co-Pilot) but he adopted a rescue Cocker Spaniel mix, from LA’s Camp Cocker named Einstein.
From the Esquire's Dec. 2013 interview:
A few years ago, however, he lost one of his dogs to a rattlesnake. He is a dog guy—a little sign about men and dogs adorns a living-room wall otherwise dominated by signed photographs of dignitaries—and he set about to get another, preferably hypoallergenic. He saw a black Cocker-Spaniel mix on the Web site of a rescue organization and called the number. The woman who answered said she’d be happy to bring the dog to his house, but then she explained that the dog had been abandoned and picked up malnourished off the street. “He has to love you,” she told George Clooney, “or else I have to take him back.”
At first, he found himself getting nervous—“freaking out.” What if the dog didn’t love him? Then he responded. “I had some turkey bacon in the refrigerator,” he says. “I rubbed it on me. I’m not kidding. When she came over, the dog went crazy. He was all over me. The woman said, ‘Oh, my God, he’s never like this. He loves you.’ ”
As for Freud we published a great piece about him back in 2002, but here is a memorable quote from him:
"Dogs provide affection without ambivalence, the simplicity of a life free from the almost unbearable conflicts of civilization, the beauty of an existence complete in itself."
For a video of Einstein’s story see here .
For a People article on Einstein/Clooney see here.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Therapy dogs attend marathon festivities
After the bombings at the 2013 Boston Marathon, therapy dogs from the Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dog Ministries were there within 24 hours. The group consists of 70 therapy dogs (all Golden Retrievers) from 10 states. Small groups of the dogs visit churches, schools, hospitals and disaster areas, offering the soothing, healing presence that only dogs can provide. Many survivors and first responders in Boston benefited from spending time with these highly trained and lovable dogs.
This year at the Boston Marathon and associated events, four dogs from this group will again be in attendance. Ruthie, Hannah, Luther and Rufus have traveled from Illinois to offer support and lots of opportunities for petting and loving. They are making appearances throughout the four days of events that conclude with the race on Monday, April 21, 2014. It’s the fourth visit of “Comfort Dogs” to the area since the events at last year’s race.
Every year, runners and fans of the sport watch the Boston Marathon. This year the audience is bigger because the whole world is watching. I’m so glad that these therapy dogs are a part of the celebration and that they have been part of the healing all year. They are contributing to making Boston strong.
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