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Wednesday, September 29, 2010


I recently heard the hard numbers, for how much food is wasted in the US. Its 40-50%.

Take that in a moment. We throw half our food away.

Numbers for the rest of the world is similar, its not just the wastefull Americans this time. We all suck at this apparently.

I have always grown plants, I remember being 7 years old digging up seedlings and transplanting them into pots, watering my morning glories and fussing over sunflowers (in pots that never got very big).

The past five years or so tho, I have begun to really put this deep seated urge to use. First growing indoor and outdoor potted plants...learning to remember to move, clean, water, prune them etc. Since this is som'thing you must teach yourself to remember. Plants don't cry when they are hungry, so its easy to forget them.

second, once we are in the house, I forayed into "drought tolerant". The desert scaped yard in my head, was beautiful. But it was not to be.

I found out, after I bought every succelent and cacti known to man, lowes and homedepot. That almost everything available was cacti from high elevations/mild climates...or succulents that were meant to grow under the shade of other, larger plants. Or wanted no rain in the winter, and monsoon rain in the summer, and would die if not carefully managed.

Every single one of these plants, pretty much had a heart attack if I didn't water daily, and if placed in the sun, they would burn. Ever seen a cacti burn? Its really depressing.

So in the end, the only landscaping I could do with succulents where with the ones they use on the freeway embankments, whose cuttings I stole from behind a autoparts place that backed up to an offramp. All the expensive and rare plants were useless.

So back to the drawing board. More plants, and more research later, I found the best thing for me to do, was to drive around and see what species were clinging to life in my neighbors yards. Talk about depressing...

Each house has basically no yard, or a yard of weeds, with one or two trees or shrubs clinging to life despite being completely ignored.

So what I found in my "research" is that the following plants survive here with little to no care.

Southern magnolia
Jade plants
cape honeysuckle

and thats pretty much it.

Well armed with my new knowlege, I lansdscaped my little heart out, still lost a few to the wind, but for the most part, all is green.

So then I started learning about permaculture. Now I came to the realization, that I really should be growing USEFUL things on my land. Granted the flowers make great food and habitat for birds/insects, which was a goal...but now I really need to make use of things, or else suffer the guilt.

So began my foray into "farming".

Let me tell you now. There must be som' pretty savy people out there, or som' really magical chemicals, or else we'd have nothign to eat. This. Shit. is. hard.

Iam learning. Trial and error, research. I had to learn how to mulch, mulch correctly, how to prune/water correctly. How to plant/place trees. Times of year to grow veggies...bugs...rain...disease...placement...wind AAAAAA!!!!

Each year gets easier, but of course, each year, I try and take on som'thing new, or som'thing more than I should, so there is always a project to fail. I have finally come to grips with the fact that my soil is absolutely useless, and I will have to buy/make all my soil for the whole property.

I guess my point is, I now see why no one does this. Its hard on the body/mind/soul. But in the same note. We really DO need to ALL do this. We are running out of water/space/peace of mind. And instead of creating food and habitat, we are watering turf, and poisoning bugs, and fertilizing our roses. I can't remember the last time I used chemicals or fertilizer. That was a great feeling, knowing my yard was so healthy that everything was balancing. Seeing the birds and insects and reptiles that were NONEXISTANT three years ago makes me beam.

This is the right path, I know it. I just wish more people were on it.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Thinking, or feeling?

Forget the idea of alpha and dominance, that I don't buy into anyway...but the idea of dogs living in "packs" also makes me want to peel off my eyelids every time som'one uses it to explain behavior.

My dogs live together, they eat together, they hang out. They play, they share things, they chase each other. What a lovely little pack right?

Most people see a group of dogs in a home and think that, wow look they formed a pack.

Here's the thing.... My house has doors. My yard has a fence. My dogs hang out because they have too. Not because they want to. They get along because I've intro'd them correctly, given them each enough space they don't feel crunched and I've trained them to put up with, or even like, through countercondtioning, the other dogs habits they find annoying.

The dogs didn't "form" anything. I went out, acquired them, and now force them to live together. Kinda a new perspective on animal ownership eh?

if I left my gate open, and I wasn't here. They would wander off. I can't really say who would stick around, and who would leave, but with so many smells and things to do, I can say staying nearby is pretty boring. I imagine Tippy going the furthest, she gets so intense when she finds a scent.

Ironically, Tippy is the most attached to us, IMO. Yet, she'd be the first to bail.

I don't really envision them staying together either...maybe run down the same road until a split, and then, each engrossed in their own interest, part ways.

There are ALOT of stray, and dare I say feral even, dogs here. I see them alone, I see them in groups...BUT I always see them in DIFFERENT groups, or I see group members ALONE and then back again, but with a different group. They don't stay together. I've seen it with my own eyes. I don't need to travel to Romania, or to the Mexicans dumps. Its happening here. Right here in Socal.

Iam not a leader. Iam a resource. Just like a stray learns a house will provide food, since my dogs do not free roam, they have learned I provide food. Or attention, or access to things, etc. The dogs stay with me, not because they respect me as a pack leader. But because they need me, on a physical, or emotional level to survive.

Perhaps its the logical side of me that can say that, and not feel any ill will towards the dogs, and can not feel that cheapens the relationship we have. Truth is truth tho, truth doesn't not cheapen anything.

I tend to see things in a mechanical way, and not romanticize everything. Pack leader is a romantic title. Unfortunately, while I have no problem with romantic notions, in and of themselves...the over romanticising of ideas such as this one, can be to the detriment of our beloved dogs.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Who is training who?

There is a great chapter in Karen Pryors book Lads before the Wind where she talks about animals that have mastered the system of communication your using, and then turn in around on you and use it to communicate with YOU.

She then gives several examples, that, when you think about it, kinda makes the hair on your neck stand up. At least to me anyway. Its one thing for you, as a trainer to communicate clearly to your animal, its one thing for an animal, to communicate with you, using its normal behavior. Its totally another, and downright spooky when the animal uses YOUR method of communication, to communicate with you.

We were at the park the other day, Emma, myself and the spicy one. Both dogs are fantastic off leash, and have speedy recalls, even with the dog park in the background and rabbits everywhere.

Because of this trust, I do let the dogs get a decent distance away before I recall them. 120ish feet apparently. Interestingly enough, I had to google to figure out how wide a soccer field is...but little tan frankendogs know, without the computer.

Chili has a fasinating new behavior. He will run out, what I now know is 120ft more or less. He will stop. Turn to face me and sit.

Then he waits.

This behavior first appeared almost a year ago, but I shrugged it off. Now it is so frequent Iam 100% positive this is intentional.

Turns out, in training the recall, I would call the dogs back at varying distances. But I would ALWAYS recall them when they got so far away they were out of my comfort zone. I wasn't really noting distance, I was just going off gut feeling "eeeeh they are getting too far away, better call 'em back".

So now...Chili is INTENTIONALLY going to the edge of my comfort zone and turning around and WAITING for me to recall him. I can walk up to him, I can talk to him (usually I laugh at him or ask him wtf hes doing)...but if I don't give the recall cue, his butt is firmly glued to the grass.

So hes now training ME. Hes learned he can make me call him, which leads to treats. An unintentional behavior chain (unintentional, on my part, Iam sure VERY intentional on his)

He also has begun to bring me objects he can't seem to figure out or open. Or, since he was a puppy, bring me objects that shouldn't be on the floor. Look mom, I found a pen, look mom I found this piece of trash...etc...

He got a Kong stuck on his mouth once, he went to Kevin and asked him for help.

Smart little snot.

The other "whos training who" comes from mimicry. Som'thing dogs are not supposed to do well. Iam sure it falls into "social learning". Though I haven't read much on the subject.

I taught Kiwi to push closed doors open with her face. Critter already did this, but the other three would not even try. If the door was ajar, they would try, but only if it was open enough that they barely had to bump it to get through.

What I taught Kiwi was, I turn the knob but the door stays closed. Kinda like the door is off just enough it can't lock..but visually looks 100% shut.

She caught onto this quick, and I soon put "push" on cue.

Within three days. Emma, Chili and Tippy learned this behavior. Unless som'thing magical happened, they MUST have learned this through observation. Tippy was first, which did not shock me, as I watched her learn how to use a buster cube from observing Chili. No trial and error. Just literally watched him, and then did it. All this after that cube sat, full of food, unused for about a year.

The dogs can learn from each other...perhaps this is why each new rescue gets easier and easier to acclimate. Fascinating!!

Anyway, Iam curious as to what the future will bring. I also can't wait for the next "ah you little shit" moment where I realize Chili is training me.