A poop talk

We volunteered at the island school this week, first doing a very introductory presentation on how it took us a LONG time to accomplish our goal of sailing to the Bahamas. We started planning for this thirty one years ago. We learned how to sail (I never even sat in a sailboat until I was 26 years old), and then borrowed boats, owned our first boat together, and then we got our second boat together. We’ve been working on our beloved “Magus,” a 37 foot Banjer pilot house ketch, since 2008, and now finally this year we were able to sail her to the Bahamas. It feels like such an incredible accomplishment to be here! It was a lot of work, but it was worth it!

We’ve had to solve a lot of problems over all these years  and so we shared a little bit about how we coped with and resolved some our our big problems just one little piece at a time.

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One of the problems we have to solve when living on a boat is poop. Not just our own poop, but  dog poop. Nobody likes to talk about poop, but it’s  not a great idea to overlook it either.

My idea of a happy day is any day where I can just jump off the boat and swim around it. So, I don’t dump shit in the water, because I would never want to shit up the water quality around my boat. We use a urine separating composting toilet for human poop. You  don’t “have to”dump shit into the water. You really don’t. And, honestly, I wish you wouldn’t.

So, I feel the same way about dog shit. I don’t toss it into the harbor because I don’t want it to get into my hair  if at some point I jump in to swim.

So, we made a mini composting kit special for our dogs’ poopies! It works great!img_4131

This is a two quart container 1/4 filled with peat moss. The dogs poop on deck, I pick it up with the “kit bag” and drop it into the peat. I roll the kit around a bit to mix the poop with the peat moss and I leave the kit open and exposed to air for the few minutes I am collecting and depositing poop. The poop molds over and disappears into the peat (very!) rapidly. This is our forth day of using this kit, and it is amazingly unstinky. I did add a little scoop more of peat moss today.

Why encase feces in plastic bags? Truly  the right thing to do with compostable organic matter is to compost it, especially if your only other option is open air burning.  Do you know how smokey, toxic and gross it is when you try to burn a pile of dog shit that is in little plastic bags?  Shit in plastic bags doesn’t burn that well.

Elliot Colman shared some research once about how composting helps neutralize so many toxins, including chemicals like DDT. We take our compost out into the woods and dig a hole, bury it, and cover it with more compostable materials. Making a mini compost pile, and then burying that in the woods to be further digested by soil microbes is a better option than bagging the poop in plastic.img_4133

Not to sound poop “holier than thou,” because we do sometimes dump pee into the harbor. We have pee collection jugs that we can cap and store when full, to dump on an outgoing tide at least, or preferably while at sea. But when the dogs pee on the deck, as they do daily, we just scoop up sea water, and rinse off the deck. Although pee is not always “sterile” as some claim, it does not pose the same risks that feces pose to human health.

What’s worse than pee and poop? As much as people don’t like to talk about poop, it’s even harder to talk about all the waste that is not compostable.

Plastic waste is a big huge problem. It can feel overwhelming. So we start just start by solving a piece of the problem, and then we can build on that.

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Alpha, omega, or neither?

I was going to try to trick you and ask you to guess which dog is the “alpha” dog. Tigerlily is 12, a curly barbet, and Bee is a 7 year old mixed breed. Both are spayed females. And the answer to my silly question is “it depends.”

Dogs change roles, they trade places and behave differently in different contexts. The term “alpha  dog” really doesn’t mean much if it means anything at all.

What matters is that Bee has great social skills around dogs, and she is most eager for human contact (which is really evident when Albert leaves the room, as she will stare after him and bounce around with excitement when he comes back). Tigerlily is most driven to sniff and hunt, which is obvious by the way she might scream with excitement if a kitty approaches her.

Bee is more dependable off leash around prey,  whereas Tiger performs best doing water retrieves and tricks that involve retrieving games.

Bee dominates (babysits) Tiger in many situations. She tells her what to do and helps me keep her out of trouble. But Bee also grovels, she used to submissive urinate, she is sensitive and emotional, while Tigerlily is tough as nails and doesn’t need attention but  knows how to get the things she does want.

Labels , such as alpha dog,  can make it difficult  to see behavior objectively. There are many reasons  why one dog might  behave aggressively, or  why another might seem like such a wuss.   It’s not because one dog is alpha and the other dog is not.

 

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Tether training by Jenny Ruth Yasi

img_2356Teaching your dog to relax on leash, play nicely with other dogs,  settle in one place, relax around distractions, begins with tether training. These simple training principles apply not only to tether training, but also to training any cue.

Start by making it easy, with short duration, no distractions, and build slowly to reward greater difficulty, duration, distractions. Teach all the pieces of behavior separately, and then put them together. When the dog is responding perfectly, you can start to “shrink” your cue(s).

First, I’ll show you the “finished” behavior. In the picture below, my two boat dogs are in an unfamiliar area, surrounded by high distractions. They are very experienced. I no longer need to  tether the leash, but I leave the leashes on as a conditioned cue, to help make difficult behavior (people, dogs, birds, boats all moving around them) feel easier. Unhooking the leash is an example  of how a trainer might “shrink” a cue. I was practicing having them lay down and wait, and then go to a target (the mat) from a distance.

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Initial cues for “tethering”  are a leash and (highly recommended but not essential) mat.

  1. Begin by introducing the leash. Clip it on, feed a treat, and take it off. With puppies, clipping the leash on and off is also a foundation for learning to come when called. Hold up the leash, clip it on, feed her, and take it off.  Practice in a small room with no distractions, such as the kitchen.  Then, practice in a fenced-in yard. Soon, she will come running when you hold up the leash.
  2. Introduce the mat. During dinner times,  feed the puppy on the mat, and then put it away. This mat should be a special one. Don’t leave it in the crate overnight, but for dinner you could put it inside her crate with the door open. When s/he is released (or gets off the mat), put the mat and food or treat away.  When you begin tether training, the puppy or dog should already love to see the leash as well as the mat. As you can see,  if you practice feeding on a mat in the crate, it helps condition a relaxed quiet feeling in the crate as well!  This comes in very handy when you travel or participate in fun dog events.img_0147
  3. Now, screw a drawer pull to the baseboard in the kitchen, loop a non-chewable leash through it, and lay the mat beside it. The dog should naturally goes to the mat. Clip on the leash, feed (or give a chew). Unclip, and give your release cue (“okay! go play!”).  Practice three or four times, and put the gear away. Hopefully the dog is disappointed to see it go!

Over the next week, practice several short sessions each day.  Don’t forget to practice your release cue when you end the game.  If you want, you can also say “down” as she chooses to lay down (associating the cue with the behavior), and then deliver a food reward in the down position. Watch for nice relaxed behavior. Wait to give her more treats or chewy bone for an instant when she is  not resisting the tether in any way.  Ideally, focus all your food treats on her while she is in the down position.

Make your reward memorable by  prolonging treat delivery.  Rather than gulp and forget, try giving a chewy bone, or  breaking one treat into many small pieces and feeding them like spaghetti,stringing it out to make it last. She should be in the down position as she is eating.

4. Condition a “keep going signal” (KGS) . This helps you build duration on ANY behavior by inserting “yay!” between other sorts of treats.  Give a praise and treat  in the down position. Say “yay,” then  quickly give another treat.  Unclip and say “okay! go play!” You can tell you’re doing great if you have to say go and play more than once. Leave ’em wanting more!

5. Over the course of the next few days, build the amount of time s/he practices on the mat. Clip  as you start to make supper. After she lays down (click!), place a treat in her mouth. She should still be down.  Say “yay!” as she continues to lay down and give her another treat!   You can say yay again, wait two seconds, say yay again, and deliver a treat. The word “yay” is becoming a “conditioned encouragement” signal, that lets her know a reward is coming. You can use it to help you build duration.

6. If she stands  up (or makes any mistake!) after you say “yay!” don’t click, nor give her the treat.  After mistakes, just say “oopsie!” and wait. Most likely s/he’ll lays back down Say “yay!” enthusiastically again, and  give her the bone to chew. Note: A KGS is not a reward marker. Unlike the Reward Marker Signal (RMS), or “click,” and KGS doesn’t guarantee reward, but it lets the animal know they are headed in the right direction. Another phrase for  “yay” versus “oopsie” signals are “conditioned encouragement” versus “conditioned discouragement.”

Important! Before she has a chance to get bored or fuss, release her and put all the gear and fun stuff away. Never overwork your puppy. Don’t try to push her to do more than s/he is ready to do. If you know she can’t do it, don’t.  S/he should be happy to see the mat and tether come out, and she should never find out that there might be any reason to sneak off when you aren’t looking. You are not feeding her to hold her in place, but instead you are giving her energy for relaxing on the tether.  Eventually, you’ll be able to practice leaving the room for just a second, and come back in, and give her a treat.Over time, you could also practice having someone else deliver your dog a treat on the mat, while you are standing on the other side of the room.

Prevent problems! As with crate training, don’t  give attention and food to stop a dog from fussing. Generously praise and food/chew/toy reward quiet unfussy behavior. Release your dog before there is any whining/ complaining.

Know your dog. If your dog has previously had bad experiences on leash or tether, make this game brief, easy, highly rewarding.  Use roast beef for a treat and practice just for one second, several times per day.

Obviously, don’t tether your dog in the hot sun, or the cold lonely basement,  or when she needs to go to the bathroom, or where another dog (or cat!) can harass or hurt her. Practice tether training after a nice walk, or during dinner when she is tired after a long day. Just as true of you, your dog must feel safe and comfortable, or she will not be able to learn.img_4575

Trouble shoot: If you goof up and the puppy is barking or misbehaving on the tether,  crate or gate her (even if for just a minute) and put away the toys and treats. Don’t get mad for heavens sake. And don’t punish it. Just don’t reward it.  Make it easier next time by sitting with her, petting her, settling her down and then release her. You want the dog to learn, when you respond to cues,  you hang out off leash. If you’d prefer to take a nap in the crate,   wild naughty behavior will surely get you there.

How to use the tether: If a loose puppy is harassing an older dog, tethering is a great way to give  puppy-wuppy a “handicap.” Tethering puppy allows the older loose pet to interact and play, and then escape from the little terror! Tethering  makes it easy to practice distance behaviors. Tethering makes it easy to capture “down” and sit, and put these on cue with a reinforcement marker signal (RMS) or clicker.

Never leave the dog tied up unsupervised, as they are vulnerable to being stolen, attacked, or strangling. I tether my dog while I walk an agility course or while I help a classmate with her dog. I have my dogs wait (they think of it as being tethered) on the dock while I am climbing off the boat. They are often “tethered” (waiting on a mat)  when I am on the beach. In classrooms I use both the tether and mat and crate, and then I shrink those cues according to how the dogs are responding.

While ultimately the next cue or the release (“okay, let’s go!) becomes the reward,  I continue to associate waiting on a tether or mat (or an imaginary mat/tether) with having a “nice time,” ie., regularly pet, praise, brush, feed and give  chews to your dogs when they are waiting nicely on a mat or tether. As your dog becomes familiar with your evolving verbal cues ( I use “wait,” “mat” “down” “yay” and “oopsie” etc),  your dog will be able to really understand and anticipate what is going to happen next. This ability to anticipate  helps dogs relax and feel more confident, less frustrated.

Congratulations in reading this far! Please let me know in the comments area if you need any clarifications, or how your training is progressing!  Your comments and questions are appreciated!img_4518

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I’ll (try to) be there for you

The weather was not perfectly still. A big Northwest gale had  passed, still the ocean surface scalloped energetically. The tide was going out. Albert found an island, Gumelemi Cay, that looked like it could have great snorkeling.  We inched off the channel and anchored in an idyllic, though bumpy cove off a teeny island. Albert brought his underwater camera.

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We put on snorkels and fins and fell into the water. There was a pretty good current and it sent us whizzing over muddy clumps of grass, not coral gardens. Still I didn’t want to be a spoilsport. We were hoping this would be the best snorkeling of our lifetime.

The coral bordered a cut between a ledge island and the larger island of Guana Cay. As we headed towards it, waves were breaking on one side. Our idea was  we’d stay on other side. As we approached we could see that the coral bank must drop off on the breaking waves side. Then I saw this really big huge fish, the size of a cat, with very funny twiddling fins. I touched Albert and pointed. We willingly followed it for maybe one stroke, then we were both abruptly swept across the reef, and into a very strong current.

I love to swim, I am a strong experienced swimmer, and we have snorkeled together many times, but as I got swept over, water filled my snorkel and I couldn’t  seem to recover from it. I found myself guzzling seawater. Gasping I hollered “I’m heading back!” With relief, I registered that he  was  also heading back.

img_4323I had another few seconds of getting really pooped by waves before I could come up for air and look around for Albert. He was pretty near, clearly going through a similar experience.  I got off the snorkel and got on my back, and I saw Albert was doing the same. I said, “I’m not sure if I can make it.” I tried to see the boat. “Oh my God!” I couldn’t see the boat right away and  thought maybe we were really being swept away faster than we were swimming back.  Then I saw the boat. I didn’t really have any energy for fixing the gear on my head, and the snorkel was useless in this chop, so I just flipped it up and gasped on my back,  the snorkel getting wacked against my head by the waves.

“That’s good, do the back stroke.” Adrenaline helped. “We’re halfway there,” Albert said. It was such a relief to see we were getting closer rather than further away.

sunp0021When I got to the boat, my energy was so depleted my arms and legs were like rubber. Somehow I pulled myself up the ladder and Albert followed.

“My knees are knocking. I don’t know if it’s because I’m scared or because my muscles are totally drained.”

“Yeah, that was pretty intense.”

In the days since, we’ve talked over what could have happened. If we had gone just a little further, what if we’d been swept out to sea.

As it was happening, I could see that he needed to save himself and I needed to save myself. We couldn’t really help each other. It took us thirty minutes to get back to the dinghy.

The day before it had been my birthday. I am never my best self on my birthday. Albert gave me a birthday card that reads “Jenny- Happy 58th trip! Like the moon and the stars seem to revolve around the Earth, I revolve around you. Thank you for being you, my partner and help-mate. I will always be here for you.” Love Albert.

And on my birthday, I didn’t like the card. “But you won’t always be there for me!” I am not a person who takes our mortality lightly.  And yes sure, he revolves around me but what does that mean, anyway? And as though I was still menstruating, I wept. “You didn’t get me a birthday present?”  The card was it.

But now, I’ve got these pictures. sunp0055

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For What It’s Worth

IMG_4258.JPGNow that Albert is retired he’s able to join me at these little school gigs  with the dogs. Last week I did a short unit on “incremental problem solving” with the help of Albert and Tigerlily, and ever since we’ve been running into the kids around the island. “Mr. Albert! Miss Jenny!” And if we don’t have the dogs with us, “Where’s Tigerlily? Where’s Bee?”

Today we  helped again with a different school project, where kids measured shifting sands, pulled invasive plants, picked up and tallied trash, counted piping plovers. When we arrived, some of the kids greeted me by singing one of my songs (that I taught them last time) back at me. “I’m gonna plant a tree!”img_4236

My songs aren’t on the radio. I’m not famous. But the kids made me feel that way when told me they want to grow up to be a songwriter and a dog trainer and a volunteer just like me.

Walking back from the beach, we met up with a loose dog.  One child asked,”do you need to hit dogs sometimes?”  Another child answered for me, having discerned the answer from our performance last week. “No! If you want to teach it first you need to know what the dog likes!”

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As we walked, I pointed out the way organic matter decomposes and turns to dirt. One little girl asked me, “Do you have trees where you live too? Do those leaves become dirt? Do all leaves become dirt?”

It’s so easy to be helpful. Together our group of parents and kids bagged up trash. We gathered some data. We comforted each other. The kids probably don’t realize how all the little things they said were worth so much to us.

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Bite Me!

In another post I wrote about my fears of Zika, dengue and chikungunya, and how I planned to protect myself from mosquitos. But  we have seen exactly one mosquito since we arrived in the Bahamas and we killed it! (You’re welcome!) The no see ums, however, have a bigger bite.

It makes you crazy at first because you can’t see um! Although they are only a bother when there is no wind, no see um bites make some people itch like craaazzy! That’s me! Albert is not bothered in the slightest.

Deet didn’t seem to work, but I found this awesome sunscreen, in a gallon size jug, which is non toxic to coral reefs, that works like sticky paper. I lather it on, I don’t burn and the no see ums get gooped up in it and can’t bite. It’s a little messy but hey, we don’t care.  img_4113Coconut oil also worked, and the husband didn’t mind me lathering myself up that at all! Long sleeve pants and shirts and socks, hats,  closing the screens carefully on windless days also worked great. On hot still nights,  I walk around and look at the windows just before sunset. Any bugs which sneek in congregate inside the screens and windows near sunset. I spray windex on them which kills them dead, and makes me feel weird about Windex.

I also brought a tube of topical Benadryl that really stopped the itching, and cortisone cream also worked. You definitely don’t want to scratch because scratching makes it worse. If you don’t itch, the bites go away in 24 hours.

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Vixen and Vino

img_4077“So what sort of accent is that?”

For the record, I don’t have an accent, you have an accent. But people have asked about my accent all my life.

When I was little I explained it saying, “My Italian Grandfather lives with us,” or “My Nana is Scottish.” Maybe it’s that I’ve taken a lot of voice classes and lessons or I just like to enunciate. And weirdly, if I am speaking with a French speaker, I suddenly get a French accent. When speaking to a religious fundamentalist, I start thanking God more than usual. It’s not an accent, it’s verbal nervousness. And this lady has been calling us “dahling,” and hugging us a little too enthusiastically for two days.

“Well dahling, I thought maybe it sounded maybe a teeny bit Scottish, or maybe voice lessons. Maybe that’s it. It’s just a curious little lilt. I couldn’t place it.”

“Oh well, you are the one who has a beautiful accent.”

“Oh yes I know dahling, my mother  said I would have a true Londoner’s accent and I truly do. This is  proper

English. I can’t help it!”

She is a beautiful skinny Pilates instructor, a few years younger than me, batting her eyes at my husband and inviting us to join her for a Pilates session the next morning. I agree, but privately express a few reservations to Albert.

“She’s awfully touchy feely. I can’t relax in a Pilates session if this woman starts touching your body all over the place.  We don’t know her.”

“She won’t be touching my body at all,”he scoffs, but  a little glow shines cheerfully, like a halo hovering just over his bald spot.  And I don’t want to be a party pooper. Many men have flirted with me over the years, I tell myself. This is his turn.

So I soldier on bravely that night, as one of several enlistees playing music around the campfire. The fire was bright, the starlit sky magic. The ocean swirled at our feet. At some point I set down my guitar and hunted the shadows for my husband. I found him seated beside the vixen and her maybe irritated husband.

“What are you doing? Come sit beside me.” I had an Aussie sitting beside me, adoringly pouring me shots. It seemed like a good idea to provide our new crowd of friends with visual evidence that Albert and I are a couple.

“Oh, you need me?” The Vixen flashed me a slightly guilty smirk. I grabbed Albert by the ass and led him back to the campfire.

“I wasn’t talking to her,” he said. “She came over and whispered something in my ear. That was a little weird. I don’t even know what she said! But I wasn’t hanging out with her.”

The next morning in our Pilates session I am doing a child’s pose, and look left under my armpit to see my husband on the mat beside me. He is being straddled by the Vixen, who has both her hands on his stomach. I focus on my breathing, but there is a little twist in my stomach.

Later, Albert and I have this conversation.

“She touched me?” He claimed he hardly  noticed it. “Didn’t she touch everyone? She was STRADDLING me?! I had my eyes closed!”

And I’m honestly not worried, and not jealous,but I get the impression that she might be. I can understand being smitten by Albert. And her smile when it illuminates her face is beautiful in spite of the way it is aimed at Albert. It feels petty of me to be bothered by it.

That afternoon, the women at the anchorage get together over tea. In our chat, the Vixen helpfully singles me out as the type of woman who needs to lose belly weight, and who might unfortunately hate my own body in spite of the way my body is not my fault.

“But I don’t hate my body,” I stammer in somehow broken English. “My husband, he loves my belly.” I turn toward the Quebecois, surprised to hear my voice now has a French accent, “And I like to eat. He likes to eat too.”

They all nod their heads doubtfully. and somehow  I  promise to bring my handsome husband, myself and a belly fattening bottle of wine to yet another awkward social gathering. We end up sharing a sunset with just the Vixen.

“Oh hello dahling!” As we arrive, she’s showered and wearing a translucent white linen blouse that floats over her dancer’s body. Her long rosy hair is freshly washed, draped over one shoulder. She looks like I imagine our own redheaded daughter might look in 25 more years.

But almost the only other thing I can remember from this evening was the way she didn’t sit still. She’d curl one leg, flex up her foot, reach her toned leg and toes up over her head, all while flooding my husband with this radiant smile.   Albert and I giggled.

Her partner arrived as the sun disappeared, scatching no-see-um bites he’d gotten while being helpful around the farm.  Quiet, his mood seemed the normal consequence of being itchy, but I wondered if he was noticing her misdirected radiance too. He kindly grabbed a flashlight and walked us down the dock to our dinghy. The Vixen was giving Albert a good bye hug. I could hear Albert making the enthusiastic noshing noises we sometimes make when hugging beloved family members.

I imagine the boats in the anchorage could hear our loud conversation as we motored out to our boat. “That noise! ugh! I didn’t come here to listen to you groaning while hugging some strange woman!”

“What do you mean? She hugged everyone. It was just a hug. I was just being polite.”

“She didn’t hug me!”

“She didn’t hug you?”

“How would you like it if I hugged her partner that way?”  I cried. “I don’t want to do this,” My voice quavered. This was not my best self.  “I want to go home!” I felt embarassed and humiliated and achingly inadequate. I laid down in the salon berth and rested my arms across my face.

After a few minutes of Albert apologizing and explaining and reassuring and asking for forgiveness and not getting it, Albert said, “Oh and now I’m feeling kinda sick.”

“Sick?”That changed everything. Oh no! He never gets sick. “How sick?”

“Yeah, to my stomach, maybe, maybe kind of dizzy. Maybe it was something I ate. Maybe I’m just upset.”

“Oh no, I’m so sorry!  Did I  make you sick! Come get under the sheet.”

We snuggled. We talked. We were both somewhat drunk. He confirmed how he loves my belly. After 31 years, he said, he is  in love with me.

The next night, Albert was swimming on the back shore and I was playing with the dogs. The Vixen walked by, headed to her cottage. Albert and I had a plan now for our interactions and so I was friendly, not worried. Albert at 62 is lithe, agile, tanned, so handsome and strong and brilliant. I love him so much. Who wouldn’t? He finished his swim, salt water cascading off his  body.

“Your turn to go swimming!” He said. Smiling,he  took the dog leash from my hand. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the Vixen slowing her departure.

“It’s fate,” Albert laughed. “Don’t worry. Go swimming.”

The Vixen wasnt heading back to her cabin after all, but on this empty three mile stretch of pristine beach, stripping off her cover up, and charging back to visit with Albert.

But the water was perfect. I surrendered into it.  I trust him. After a few minutes, I noticed the woman standing awkwardly up to her knees in the water, looking around for someone to talk to. She doesn’t know how to swim?!

Albert was beaming  his  smile at me, wading deeper into the water, closer to me. We laughed together a little bit.  Tigerlily glided across the water like a swan on a leash.

Tiger’s paws floated above me, Albert’s toes wiggled below me in the sand, as I dove and mermaid kicked, propelling my body through the water.  No, I’m not jealous. But maybe the vixen is.

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