How I deal with Zika

Our retirement plan when we got married was someday, after retirement, we would sail through the Caribbean. As our luck would have it, just as our dream is getting ready to come true, mosquitos have become more dangerous.

A similar story plays out for couples who have yearned for a baby, and just as the day approaches when their dream can be realized, they have to worry about Zika.

Sometimes we just have to cope with new dangers. Here is what I am doing to cope with Zika and keep our plan alive.

Our plan does not involve having babies, but zika is dangerous for adults too. It can cross the blood brain barrier, invade nerve tissue, cause stroke or paralysis.

I’m not familiar with Zika, but I am familiar with mosquitos. I’ve been bitten a lot over the years, so I know how it usually happens. I think I never have gotten bitten through my clothing. I’ve never been bitten in a grocery store. I get bitten when I am uncovered, outside. So, all I have to do is cover my body in those situations where I would otherwise get bitten by mosquitos. To bolster basic clothing, I decided to treat our most-used, favorite clothing with pyrethrins.

I bought a Sawyer Pyrethrins product, and sprayed our favorite lightest weight pants, socks, long sleeve shirts, hats, scarfs and house dress. I sprayed our most-likely-to-be-worn hot weather clothing, but didn’t spray heavier clothing. I know from experience that mosquitoes don’t bite through my coat or sweatshirt. I do spray shoes and socks with the pyrethrins, and that leaves exposed skin on hands and wrists and face, and possibly neck to worry about.

I don’t think I have ever been bit in the face with a mosquito, so for us, think our hats and scarves will protect out necks and heads so mostly need Deet just on hands and cuffs. I bought the DEET type that is slow release, and less toxic to humans.

My greatest historical risk is getting bitten while sleeping, probably because mosquitos love to suck the blood of naked sleeping people. So we have some excellent screens, on our boat and treated mosquito netting to sleep under. The treated net means any mosquitos that land on it will die, thus helping protect our entire boat environment.

We do have a yard lantern and “repellent” made by Thermacell. I didn’t realize when I bought it that it emits poison, not just repellent, so I don’t think we’ll need that, but its nice to have it on hand in case we feel that our situation calls for drastic measures.

I already know, from experience, that I can protect myself from mosquito bites. Covering up and not hanging out in clouds of mosquitos is key. We can monitor our environment, and add additional layers of clothing and spray in accord with how many mosquitos we see in the environment.

I am also treating my two dogs with topical pesticide that kills ticks and fleas and repels mosquitos. Treating out clothes and dogs is the less toxic way to treat our environment. I don’t want to spray everywhere for mosquitos, because that could harm the ocean around us, and pesticides can do damage to the nervous system themselves, so it makes no sense to over-use nerve toxins while trying to protect yourself from nerve toxins!

I promised Albert years ago that we would sail to someplace warm. Now he has promised me that he will take Zika seriously and stay covered. I don’t want either one of us to risk Zika, so we’re doing our trip with added precautions! As we wait for our pet permit to arrive, we’re putting the final few bottles of wine, dog food, and engine oil on board. Adventures always involve danger. As one friend pointed out, we have the risk of tick borne or mosquito born disease already in Maine. A man in New Hampshire died of West Nile Virus just a few years ago. Into our life, fears and diseases may fall. The fear is the most disabling part of the illness. We can look to our experience to realize, we can do this. It’s not what we expected, but we can hang onto our dream. Keep calm and carry on.

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“Luring” versus “Clicker training”

If you want to teach your dog a language, with many cues and behaviors, it is a bad idea to teach foundation behaviors with a lure.  You are much better off using a clicker (or other marker signal) to teach sit.

Why? Because when you teach sit with a marker signal you’re not just teaching “sit.” Puppies already know how to sit.  What you are teaching is a language. You teaching them how to use your language to collect information! Sit is such an easy behavior to mark, reinforce, release and put on cue, why don’t  trainers start off  using a marker signal for putting foundation behaviors on cue?Smokey&Bee

If we use a marker signal to teach foundations, later on,  it is much easier to teach behaviors that can’t be lured (such as backing up, right/left, paw movements, retrieve and delivery, stops and distant behaviors).  If you are teaching the dog to follow food in your hand,  it will confuse the dog when you want the dog to ignore food in your hand.

I do use a lure sometimes, especially with adult troubled dogs (but not to teach sit) and it’s actually not that easy to use a lure correctly. I’ve seen problems that arise when a lure is used incorrectly. For example, what happens if a dog doesn’t sit when a pet owner sticks food in his face? They take away the food? That’s not fun. That’s (technically speaking) a form of punishment. Or if they keep sticking the food in his face? They are rewarding him for not sitting?  It is hard to really control or even understand the behavior science of reinforcement and punishment when you are using a lure.

I understand why people use a lure to teach sit. Typically, they are afraid the clicker won’t work. They haven’t conditioned the clicker and so they have more confidence that a dog will follow the lure. They dread  dead air time, where a puppy is standing there doing nothing but thinking.  Some trainers and students are coming from a history of pushing  dogs into a sit, and while they have gotten beyond that they still can’t stand waiting for the dog to sit on it’s own.

But waiting pays off . Once the dog “gets it” the whole room gets excited. Using a click, everyone can see that dogs are not stupid! Everyone can see that the dog “figured it out.” When you clicker train a sit, you can see that dogs are really very intelligent!

Clients who lure their pup too easily wind up with a diminished sense of canine intelligence. They may go home thinking that the only thing that matters to their dog is hotdogs!

And really, you have accomplished very little when you use a lure to teach sit.  Any time “saved” with luring a sit is going to be spent in tearing your hair out with behaviors down the road.  We humans are so confusing! And  you can’t lure a dog into sit from a distance.

Rather than thinking to yourself that you are teaching your dog to “sit,” remember you are teaching your dogs a language! A lure is not a language, because food in your hand  means many different things. And food as a stimulus for behaviors is problematic. I’ve worked with dogs who see a treat and run to escape it! They recognize a lure might be a trap! “You are not going to catch me with that hotdog!”

And some dogs see a lure as a tease. “Either give it to me or don’t give it to me, but  it’s stressing me out when you keep waving it in my face but then it seems like you don’t want me to take it!!” Dogs can become uninspired and unmotivated when people make mistakes with lures.

A clicker (I use a tongue click) brings clarity to the conversations we have with our pets.  It’s the first word  of a language dogs can easily understand, and the perfect place to start learning that language is with foundation behaviors. When you’ve taught  foundation behaviors using marker signals, you have a foundation of signals — a simple, clear, kind, and friendly language — that you can use to teach your dog ANY behavior, and you are positioned to develop a richer understanding of how animals really think.


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Six Ways to Prevent “Surprise Aggression” with your dog.


Six ways to prevent “surprise aggression” with your dog.

  1. Give your dog lots of opportunities to blow off steam with physical exertion. Fenced in yard, dog park, on dragged long line, dog daycare
  2. Give your dog plenty of time alone to rest and recover from social interactions, don’t allow social opportunities to go on and on for hours. Put the dog away. He can chew on his bone while you party.
  3. Use positive reinforcement, rather than punishment, to teach your dog to walk nicely on a head halter or flat collar and to relax in a crate, on a mat, in a kennel or on a tether.  That’s so you CAN put the dog away, and so your dog won’t hate you.
  4. Choose natural food with 20% protein, not super high protein crazy-making formulas. Dogs evolved on human garbage. They are a lot more relaxed on lower-protein diets.
  5. Be aware of the times your dog gets “frustrated” and focus your training and management plans on reducing frustration and increase your rate of reinforcement for calm, relaxed, self-controlled behaviors.
  6. Evaluate your expectations of your dog and yourself. Why do you have a dog? What do you want from your dog? Are your expectations reasonable?
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Singing Rocks

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Stand up comedy

Jenny2If you think midlife is funny you should come and hear Jenny. After thirty of years marriage, motherhood and other adventures, Jenny is still the youngest spirit in any room. Joyful, uninhibited, sexy and honest to a fault, this rising comedy star puts together a world of adult adventures into a night that will Jennypromo1leave you feeling braver. Jenny applies her funny feelings onto such serious situations such as popularity contests, and why people hate you when you’re popular.  A dog trainer by trade, Jenny is into behavior science and can explain why, biologically,  it’s good to be bad. She’s performed at fundraisers, clubs and Maine summer camps such as Wassamkee Springs,Funny Fridays at Andy’s Old Port Pub, and various benefits for Comedy Denizens.

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Fleas and Thanks You


Though you enjoy having your dog, you don’t want pesticides snuggling beside you.

As an organic grower, I very rarely put pesticides in my garden (exception made for wasp nests), and as an herbalist, I avoid putting pharmaceutical chemicals in my body. As a dog trainer who enjoys a snuggly dog or two in the bed, you might imagine I learned to tolerate fleas. Nope! We have modern day chemicals that are truly effective and non-toxic, that allow us to control fleas very effectively and easily, without too much poisoning of ourselves or our environment.

Like head lice on humans, the battle with flea must be won decisively. Not only because flea bites are itchy, and the sound of a dog scratching drives me up the wall, but because fleas (like ticks) host diseases that can be transmitted to humans. Most commonly in our neighborhood, fleas transmit tapeworm. The dogs get the tapeworm from eating a flea, and then the human baby could also get the tapeworm when she sucks on a toy that contaminated with tapeworm eggs off the dog. Icky as that is, it could be worse. In other regions of the world, fleas have transmitted plague, and ebola-like diseases.


All the pets in the home need to be treated with lufenuron for it to be effective.

But pesticides aren’t risk free either. Exposure to pyrethrin products and other neurotoxic chemicals has been strongly associated with later development of Parkinson’s disease. Organophosphates can penetrate the blood brain barrier and influence animal behavior, as well.

Topically applied pesticides are generally absorbed and then excreted in active form in a dog’s feces. Genetic deformities of frogs and other creatures in the great lakes regions has been associated with S-methoprene (in Frontline plus), and other hormone mimicking pesticides in the environment. Fipronil (also in Frontline Plus) breaks into components that are many times more toxic when exposed to sunlight, and although many of these flea and tick products are listed as “waterproof” that’s not entirely true. They are washed off  and rubbed off when our dogs are petted, bathed, swimming.

The Natural Resource Defense Council recently produced a report on the dangers of these chemicals to human health (see resources) and they show that typically children carry the most dangerous loads of these unintended chemical exposures. And many of the effects and actions of these chemicals are unknown. While risk of cancer or neurological disease if used as directed might be slight, skin sensitivities, allergic reactions, autoimmune disease, behavioral and other risks related to exposures are not well understood.

To add insult to injuries, as bacteria become resistant to antibiotics, pests over time become resistant to pesticides. Take for example Frontline Plus (containing fipronil and S-methoprene,) or ProMeris. Companies which sell these products site studies found an initial 90-98% kill rate of the fleas and eggs, with reduced effectiveness over the course of a month as dogs swim or are bathed and the product wears off. That means more than 5-10% of fleas survive. Just one of these naturally more pesticide-resistant-fleas can lay 2000 eggs within two weeks. Each surviving generation is genetically more resistant to the chemicals. Some studies say it can take only six generations until a local strain of fleas is completely resistant to a pesticide.

In the Midwest, where farmers apply long-lasting pesticides to kill ticks on cattle, they are seeing pesticide resistant ticks. Here on the Maine island where I live, pesticides  work against ticks, but we have a population of fleas which is not even nervous around Frontline.

Happily,lufenuron doesn’t work by killing, but you feed your dog a monthly lufenuron pill, and when fleas bite your dog, they can’t lay viable eggs. Completely non-toxic to humans and dogs, fleas also don’t become resistant to the action, and it can’t wash off. Lufenuron is sold as “Program,” and sold in combination with some heartworm medications such as Sentinel.

We give lufenuron year-round in Sentinel, which also treats to prevent heartworm, whipworm, roundworm, hookwoom. Bagging feces and disposing for incineration will help prevent any surviving parasitic worms (and flies) from reproducing in our environment, as well as collect any chemicals that might be excreted.

Typically, lufenuron is started in combination with a Capstar pill. Capstar kills the fleas on your dog within a couple of hours, and can’t rub off on you or your family. When the snow is gone, if I take my dogs into areas where they might run into ticks, I apply a topical poison for ticks, but otherwise, the monthly dose of Lufenuron, and the rare dose of Capstar (after a flea-infested play-date) provides us with a flea-free environment.

If you use pesticides on your pets and you don’t also use lufenuron, beware! Your surviving fleas are breeding a colony of pesticide resistant fleas.

At Whole Dog Camp, I now require all canine participants to be on a lufenuron treatment program. Even if that is the only chemical my clients use, it means fleas can’t breed here. If all islanders used lufenuron, within just a couple of years, island fleas would all be dying of old age.




Natural Resources Defense Council. David Wallinga, M.D., M.P.A., and Linda Greer, Ph.D. Poisons on Pets: Health Hazards from Flea and Tick Products, 2000


Kaplan, Melissa Pyrethroids: Not as safe as you think 2007


BioControl and Biodiversity, Grasslands Division, AgResearch, Lincoln. Travis Glare and Maureen O’Callaghan Report for the Ministry of Health: Environmental and Health Impacts of the Juvenile Growth Analogue S-Methoprene,$File/s-methoprene.pdf 1999



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Stubborn Dogs


Do you have a stubborn dog? The reason I ask is because so many people tell me they have a stubborn dog. I also hear about dogs who are lazy, not toy driven or not interested in food, aggressive, protective, hate the crate or are just not very smart. And there is almost always one very good reason why you are having this issue with your dog.

You taught the dog to be that way. Or in the case of a rescue dog, someone else taught the dog to be that way. You can teach the dog to behave differently. Your behaviors can help or hurt the dog as he tries to adapt to your environment.

If you want a well-behaved, well-trained dog, your very first mission is to understand your dog. People assign dogs all sorts of emotions and motives that belong entirely in the human world and really have nothing to do with dogs. Stubbornness is not a dog thing. Unfortunately, stubbornness is a human thing (I can hear some of you stubbornly arguing with me right now!). Laziness is also a human thing. If you tried to explain the concept of stubbornness or laziness to a dog, they would look at you like you are insane. Because that is human thinking, not dog thought. Dogs don’t look at some dog laying there in the dust and think, that dog should get a job. They don’t resist doing what you want because they are stupid or stubborn, but I hate to tell ya, they don’t do what you want because you haven’t conditioned them to perform the behavior you need!

It might not be your fault entirely that your dog is behaving the way they are (or aren’t). Maybe you don’t know yet how to teach an animal this new behavior. Maybe you adopted a dog with learning challenges. Dogs aren’t naturally adapted to many modern human habitats, and maybe part of your behavior problems is that you haven’t created the right habitat for the dog. Most of my beginning students arrive with this notion, that they have a stubborn dog but your dog is not stubborn. Your dog is not stupid.

Dogs do what works.

If barking, clawing or destroying something means you will open a door, that’s largely why the dog is barking, clawing, or destroying something. If ignoring you leads to this wild fun off-leash adventure through the neighborhood, hey, that’s smart thinking on the dog’s part. If your dog runs around barking out windows, why aren’t you gating the dogs away from the windows?
Dogs are partly big jokers. The other part is, they are big partiers. They also like to sleep. Everything is pretty fun and funny to mentally healthy dogs. Dogs play a lot. Life is mostly a game, although for some dogs, sometimes life is an awesome horror movie and they are like kids screaming on roller coaster, it’s scary, but also they choose to get on the ride again and again! Wheeee!!!Life is sniffing around and finding stuff, and with some boring owners, sniffing around the owner is not very worthwhile so they focus their attention and interests and place the focus of their behaviors elsewhere. But sometimes it is kinda entertaining and fun to play a joke on the owner. Owners make lots of loud noises and wave their arms and scream, that’s kinda funny to watch.

You are your dog’s Guru. Your dog WANTS, and often desperately wants, to make you laugh and play. But you can be incredibly difficult to train. It seems like you can be stubborn and not that smart. You always changing your mind and sending out confusing and conflicting signals. You not only don’t send clear signals, but miss clear messages your dog is trying to give you! I first posted this with a video here that I put up in response to a woman who said her dog “loves” his shock collar. Yeah, ahuh, just like we all “love” getting shots at the doctor’s office. Maybe there is a kinky dog out there that actually does “love” getting shocked, but pain is pain. Dogs don’t love it. Don’t be stupid and stubborn about that. But I’m taking that one down and replacing it with a video example of a dog who really could come across to human beings as “stubborn.” He was a rescued Houdini who had been rehomed multiple times with severe weather and noise anxiety and an ability to bust out of anywhere. You can see how he was learning to accept confinement with the help of a stubborn human.

We often misunderstand dogs. We can use what our dogs want to strengthen (reinforce) behaviors in our dogs. Punishment is tricky, it can sometimes happen accidentally and can unfortunately weaken desirable behaviors in our dogs. And humans can have stubborn beliefs regarding reinforcement (ie: “Do I have to use food?”) and punishment (“I have to tell him he is a bad dog.”) If you are stubbornly doing the right thing and avoiding the wrong thing, stubbornness can work to your advantage.

So the first commandment of dog training: Know Thy Own Dog! To be continued….

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