Monday, May 23, 2016

Riggs Rideout: Dog Model - The Exclusive Interview

If you missed Riggs Rideout: Dog Model - The Exclusive Interview, here is a link to the free e-version:

It's all in the headshots!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Riggs Rideout: A Modest Proposal for Addressing Toronto's Raccoon Problem

Dear City of Toronto Officials:

Late last night I went into the backyard and there she was, watching me:  Big Mama, the resident raccoon. A year ago, I exchanged harsh words with Big Mama.  I suggested that she take the brood of five she’d stashed under our deck and hit the road.  She argued that she was higher up the food chain than I am.  The debate was long and loud, and did not end well for me. 

The next day, my owner (AKA “Mom”) called pest control to evict Big Mama.  For $400, the guy put the babies in what looked like a beer cooler and set it in the corner of the yard.  At nightfall, Big Mama collected her evil spawn and moved to someone else’s yard.  But they kept coming back to taunt me.  Their petty squabbles as they raided the garbage bins disrupted my sleep all summer long.  I got hoarse from barking.
Working hard at nothing

Now, Big Mama is back and she’s smirking.  She’s laid five more masked eggs and the cycle is about to begin again.

I know City Officials get a lot of complaints about this topic.  Toronto is called “the Raccoon Capital of the World” and it isn’t a compliment.  A 2014 poll showed that the majority of Torontonians supported the idea of humanely culling raccoons to control their population. No one bothered to poll me, but you know how I’d have voted. 

Mom, not so much.  She thinks the baby ’coons are cute and loves the nickname “Trash Pandas.” That said, she worries about disease, and curses when she cleans up their poop and the garbage.  And it really annoys her that I cannot pee if Big Mama is in the vicinity.  Basically, I have bladder paralysis from spring to late fall and must be escorted down the street to relieve myself. 

On top of all this, they infringe on my walk, which I’m sure you know is the highlight of every dog’s day.  In recent years, the City has seen fit to eliminate most of the public waste bins in my neighborhood, and the remaining few are designed to be raccoon proof.  Which also makes them practically human-proof.  The foot pedals don’t work and no one wants to touch the dirty flap. So Mom has mapped out a route with a dumpster to offload poop bags. 

Would you like your life to be restricted by dumpsters and Trash Pandas?  
Making an honest living in the ravine
I’ve heard that there are as many as 100 raccoons per square kilometre in some Toronto neighborhoods.  That means they outnumber dogs by far and maybe even humans.  Perhaps that’s why City Hall treats them like esteemed taxpayers.  I remind you, they are not—and they’re not even owned and licenced by taxpayers, as dogs are. 
What exactly do they offer?  Yes, photos of the masked marauders zip around social media like wildfire.  But for every cutie climbing a crane, riding a subway, or visiting a classroom, there are dozens ripping up houses, sheds and even boats.  Let’s not even talk about rabies and distemper.

I know how government works:  you’ve held meetings about Citizen Raccoon.  You’ve generated policy papers, briefing notes, and Powerpoint decks galore. No one wants to make tough decisions or generate negative headlines. 

That’s where I, Riggs Rideout, come in.  Have I got a solution for you!  It’s humane, too. As a minor celebrity, I’m well aware of the importance of public perception. What I propose is a win-win for everyone.

A very special shawl
I present a photo for your inspection.  This attractive garment is a shawl, or pashmina, worn by one of Mom’s colleagues.  The tag says it’s 50 per cent raccoon fiber.  The owner gets a lot of compliments, and claims it’s very warm. 

City Officials, you can guess where I’m going here.  This is a tremendous opportunity.  Raise your hands and vote for the Toronto Trash Panda Pashmina.  Put those pests to work!

All you need to do now is round up them up and drive them to that land you can’t develop for "classified" reasons.  Treat them like royalty.  Hire limos and put them up in a Trash Panda resort if you like.  Feed them well with the food waste you’re constantly trying to unload (and no one believes you’re really recycling, anyway). Sing them lullabies if you must, so they sleep well and grow fur in abundance. And then… comb them.  Gather that lovely hair, and hire skilled craftspeople to knit up those shawls. 

With the right marketing, Toronto’s Trash Panda Pashmina could become the must-have souvenir.  I envision them in every tourist trap. Give them away to celebrities at the Toronto Film Festival, and every high profile event. 

The benefits to the City are many: job creation; waste reduction; happy homeowners; and lower heating costs (a pashmina for every taxpayer!). 
I’d add “happy dogs” to that list, but you don’t seem to care much about canine citizens.  That’s a shame, because as rising dog model I stand to attract a lot of attention to this fair city.
With my busy schedule, it’s tough to volunteer, but I’d be pleased to be part of the Trash Panda Project.  I assume you allow dogs in City Hall? I’m quite sure the raccoons are already there.

I look forward to presenting my proposal in person at your earliest convenience.

Respectfully yours, 

Riggs Rideout,
Dog Model

Riggs Rideout: A Challenge to Hug-Hating Dog Expert Stanley Coren

Dear Dr. Stanley Coren, 

I would like to express concern about your recent article in Psychology Today: “Don’t Hug the Dog! – New data shows that hugging your dog increases its stress and anxiety levels.” 

I’m aware of your reputation Dr. Coren. You’ve written a lot of books and articles about dogs, and seem to be highly regarded as an expert. Normally, I’d hesitate to take issue with your views, but your article has raised anxiety levels around my house. My owner, AKA “Mom,” is hugging me less and when she does, she’s scrutinizing me for the signs of stress you identified, such as yawning, looking away, lip-licking and whale eye.  

And because she’s staring at me—probing, evaluating, over-analyzing—of course, I yawn and avert my eyes. So now she’s wracked with self-doubt:  Has she been forcing herself on me all along? Has she missed the signs? Have I always hated the hug? 

In other words, because of your article, she’s second guessing and I’m not getting the luv I need. We’re not “us” anymore.
Do I look like I'm suffering?


Now, my mom is not a natural hugger. She comes from a long line of chilly stiff-upper-lip types. In fact, that’s the key to how I transformed her entire life: I provide an outlet for decades of backed-up hugs, and have likely prevented her from detonating one day. 

Has it always been easy to be on the receiving end of a hug-fest? No.  I am not a demonstrative dog, and rarely waste a wag on the undeserving. As a pup, mom’s sloppy affection got in the way of important things, like chasing and pinning the cat. At maturity, however, I began to see the upside of this hugging business. Granting permission to squeeze got me a free pass onto the couch, for starters. I used to play dead as she hauled me aboard so she wouldn’t know I liked it. Now, I have to compete with my “little sister” and it’s a free-for-all. 

We live in a cold climate, Dr. Coren, and a couch cuddle is hardly a punishment. Mom is well-padded and therefore preferable to the floor. Plus, she understands reciprocity: before she locks me down and falls asleep, she offers a decent amount of patting, or “forehug.” If she tries cutting it short, I let her know she’s not done with paw twitches. Inevitably, I slip into sweet dreams of rabbit-chasing, sometimes waking mom up with yips. Other times, she wakes me with her snoring (don’t tell her I told you).

In short, hugging works for us. So I would like to inquire, respectfully, about your research methodology. What dogs did you survey in your research? Terriers? Border Collies? Dogs-with-jobs types? And who was doing the hugging? Owners, strangers, or unpredictable small humans? And by what means did you gather input from dogs? 

I know dogs are as different as snowflakes. All I can
Make mine a choke-hold!
tell you is that I, Riggs Rideout (a dog model of some repute), rarely turn down a hug. I don’t just endure it, I solicit it. Although I welcome hugs from a variety of people, including children, I will agree that strangers should use common sense, even with a calm doodle like me. Normally, I insist on a few dates and a whole lot of head scratching before permitting a home run. 

In closing, Dr. Coren, I want you to know I am available as a consultant in your future research. I can’t resist mentioning that many years ago, Mom read your book Why We Love the Dogs We Do. That’s the one with the personality test telling humans which breed of dog suits them. She recalls that the Beagle came up as her ideal match. Not to disparage you—or Beagles for that matter—but it’s pretty obvious that a doodle is her perfect partner.  

Is it possible you have a purebred bias? I don’t want to start a flame war, here. Rather, I’d like to encourage you to go and give your dog—whatever the breed—a great big hug. Don’t stare or pester him/her with questions. Sometimes, a yawn is just a yawn. 

Respectfully yours, 

Riggs Rideout,
Dog Model

Monday, March 7, 2016

Going Places – How to Take Your Non-Service Dog along for the Ride

Riggs will never be a service dog.  Although he’s genial, largely unflappable, and a cut above average in obedience, his natural talents don’t lie in therapy.  There’s a reason I call him my rogue!   
Curl throw-down

Since I never expected anything more than regular pet companionship, I’m not complaining.  Like many dog owners, however, I wish I could take him with me everywhere.  Going places together is good for him, and it’s good for me.

Most businesses seem to disagree.  Unless dogs have service creds, they’re usually not welcome.   

Still, it doesn’t hurt to ask.  I figure the worst that can happen is they throw city by-laws at me.  And if they want to label me a crazy dog lady, well, I've beaten them to it.

So when my regular salon appointment rolled around, I contacted my long-time stylist, Camille Gratton, and asked, “Can I bring my dog?”  It was fine with her, and she checked with salon owner, Liz Teti, who gave us the all-clear.  

Riggs pranced into Salon Teti, in Toronto’s Little Italy, and worked the room like a canine politician.  Though clearly a dog lover, Liz was nervous.  Riggs is 35 lbs., and far from a purse puppy.  Would he bark at people?  Would clients complain?  I eased her fears by promising to take him to the car at the first infraction, even if that meant running up the street with goop on my head.

(There.  You know my secret.  I dye my hair.) 

Luckily, Riggs acquitted himself admirably.  He greeted every client with restrained enthusiasm and welcomed all attention.  There wasn’t a peep out of him.  Mostly he just arranged himself in fetching poses, like an aspiring pro dog model. 

Camille, Master Stylist

We were there for a good time and a long time.  As my hair cooked, Camille and I covered a broad range of topics, the tamest of which was home renovations.  She’s been tending my locks for about 15 years and knows most of my darkest secrets, including the shade of my semi-permanent.  Like many stylists, she’s part-therapist, caring for what’s under her clients’ thatches, too.  

Riggs had the decency not to sigh or pace or even poke around.  The Rogue about Town seemed resigned to (bored by) eavesdropping on the girl talk.  

Ultimately, he came to the conclusion that blondes really do have more fun. 

Still, I'm sure he'd rather join me almost anywhere than be left at home, even with his raven-haired partner in crime.  

We thanked our hosts, and we left happy.  

On to new frontiers...  Where have you dared to take your dogs?  

Monday, February 15, 2016

Dear Mother Nature... A Stinky Little Problem

Dear Mother Nature:

I’m sure you’re totally swamped, but I hope you can spare a moment to discuss coprophagia.  

Yeah, that’s a mouthful… and a revolting one at that.  I guess no one really wants to talk about poop-eating, yet it’s an issue that plagues many dog-owners and it’s time we spoke up.

I’m the first to admit I was naïve about dogs before Riggs came into my life, but the scales had fallen from my eyes by the time Mabel arrived.  I was prepared for double the scooping, double the dirt, and even double the death-rolling.  I knew Mabel would follow Riggs’ dubious lead and that it would sometimes end badly. 

Mabel is not Riggs, of course.  Dogs are like snowflakes, and imperfections are part of what makes each one special.  With all credit to you, Mother Nature, Mabel is the darling to Riggs’ rogue, the sweet to his salty.  But she also has a taste for poop that he never had. Oh, Riggs will pick up a stray morsel now and then, particularly cat or bunny poop.  With him, it’s casual, an idle pastime, whereas Mabel takes it very seriously indeed.  Poop-eating has become a passion, a vocation… an obsession.  If she has to choose between chasing a squirrel or grabbing a turd, the turd wins.  And that’s just not right.

My reading suggests that mother dogs clean up after their pups and the pups learn the behavior.  Some say it goes back to the wolf den, where reducing smell could discourage predators.  Okay, I’m prepared to accept that coprophagia served an evolutionary purpose.  Now that dogs have joined us in our living rooms, and even our beds, I entreat you to turn your considerable talents to addressing the problem.  I’m confident that you can natural selection this trait right out of the domestic dog population.  

Yes, wild dog packs may need to continue eating poop.  Scavenging must leave them short on nutrients.  Here in North America, however, where dogs are increasingly treated like “fur kids” and fed high quality foods, I humbly submit that coprophagia is not only pointless, but potentially dangerous.  In warmer weather Mabel is at constant risk of ingesting parasites.  

You might remind me that dog ownership isn’t all roses, and fair enough.  I was even warned about this possibility before I knew coprophagia was a word. My cousin regaled me—in fits of disgusted giggles—with stories of her poop-eater and various (failed) attempts to combat the problem.  A good friend had a trio of poop-eaters—the smallest would actually stand under the largest in open-mouthed anticipation.  Her husband called them a “self-cleaning machine.”

So I don’t whine often.  I can and do follow Mabel into the yard at all hours in all weather to scoop promptly.  I can and do keep her leashed on the streets, although she still snags the odd tidbit, since people seem to think snow gives them a free pass on poop collection. 

The real challenge is in the parks and ravines where it’s a veritable poop buffet.  I find it hard to believe you’d want me to leash her there. Surely you prefer your canine creations to have freedom to romp and run.  Mine have great adventures on the trails and a pretty good life overall, if I do say so myself. 

It’s just that “poopsicle” season is wearing me down.  Apparently freezing brings out the finest qualities in poop, and Mabel is working like a… er, dog… to clear Toronto’s ravines of all deposits before the spring thaw. 

One of my dog-walkers, a man with a strong constitution, squealed like a schoolgirl this week:  “Mabel’s relentless.  I caught her with 10 different turds, and that’s just what I witnessed.  Have you talked to your vet?”

I have talked to my vet.  First I talked to the vet’s staff, who recommended For-Bid, a product you add to a dog’s food that renders the subsequent output unappetizing.  They speculated that baiting Mabel with nasty-tasting poop in my yard might put her off the whole business.  Seemed like a reasonable experiment for $22, so I bought a box. 

Then my vet weighed in directly.  “Don’t even bother with For-Bid,” she said.  “It won’t work, and it might make things worse.”  Turns out dogs can be intermittently rewarded with swell-tasting poop in the park and become even more fanatical.  

“Well, what then?” I asked, helplessly.

“If ‘leave it’ and ‘drop it’ aren’t working, you’ll have to leash her.”

Drop it and leave it work when I can focus exclusively on Mabel’s toxic truffle hunt.  If I’m distracted for a moment, however, she returns with a s*#t-eating grin.  And when she’s off my watch, it’s a free-for-all.  

“Most dogs do this in winter,” my other walker assured me.  “I’ve seen worse.”   

Luckily, Mabel doesn’t suffer from her dietary indiscretions.  So far, the major impact seems to be on her own poop production.  The dogs eat exactly two cups of the same kibble daily.  Riggs produces a modest amount of poop, whereas with Mabel, it’s like the biblical loaves and fishes: two cups of kibble turns into five massive poops per day.  I can only assume some of it is re-poop.  

She also fills a room with eye-watering flatulence.  I can and do deploy my mouth-breathing skills.  And sadly, I must decline the kisses she offers so freely.  Her beard is always suspect.

Anyway, Mother Nature, I realize coprophagia isn’t high on your priority list, what with disappearing habitats and species.  But if you have a moment, I’d appreciate your looking into the matter. 

I know plenty of dog-lovers, by the way, and they’re great people.  If you ever have aspirations to run for higher office, you can count on us to get behind you… and scoop hard.



Friday, January 29, 2016

Friday Five with Alan Edmunds and Nike

Alan and Gail Edmunds are on my list of the Top 5 people I've met through dog ownership. Today Alan tells us what's so special about their standard goldendoodle, Nike.    

Take it away, Alan!

1.    Nike is a happy dog, like most doodles. But I mean unabashedly happy, like he’s proud to be the ambassador for happy dogs the world over. Happy to meet other dogs, other humans, and he would be especially happy to meet a few of the squirrels, cats, groundhogs, skunks or birds that frequent our back yard, or any other yard or forest we pass on our walks. He hasn’t a mean bone in his body…not even about food. It’s almost like he chooses to be happy. Better than the other options, I suppose!


2.    Nike loves to run. I don’t mean in short energetic bursts or round and round in circles, because he does that too. When I say run I mean full-on flat-out galloping for all he’s worth, with his tongue lolling out and his ears pinned back by the wind and slobber flying everywhere. His secret pleasure is blazing across the beach at our cabin in Newfoundland. Not even the seagulls get a glance. He hardly seems to touch the sand.
3.    Related to #1, Nike gets along superbly with other dogs, a great trait in our dog-walking, trail-hiking, and off-leash-dog-park-visiting world. Lucas, head trainer at SwissRidge Kennels, said Nike is an “Omega” type—that he wants to be friends and please everyone. The description fits our boy to a “T” and we love it.  But occasionally Nike’s silliness can be a pain in the ass with other dogs, and they have to sort him out. 

4.    Nike is the antithesis of pushy. He lays his chin on the couch and our bed and uses his doleful, big brown eyes with gorgeous golden lashes to ask for permission to get up. And, as much as he loves the couch and the bed, he does not get up there when we’re out… we think! He won’t eat unless we say “Okay!” and never grabs any food from out hand. Rather, he gently and slowly takes the offering like a gentleman. The only time you see even a hint of assertiveness is when we are doling out affection like scratches and rubs and playful wrestling-- then he works hard to be first in line.
Nike is first to get a reading from Alan's newly-published book
5.    While you can probably imagine his full-throated yelping and howling when we are about to leave him at the groomer—and it is full-throated!—his separation anxiety also says how much he loves us and can’t stand to be away. He’s much the same if we leave him in the truck while we peruse a yard sale or if I’m talking to someone just outside the door. Lately, Kali has joined in the vocalizing but in a much more demure manner, as befits a Bernese Mountain Dog. Heaven help us if she matches Nike’s volume! 

Both Nike and Kali came to us via SwissRidge Kennels. Many, many thanks to Sherry for bringing joy and happiness to our home!

The Edmunds family, with Kali, Nike and Finn

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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Lifelong Socialization (AKA Rogue about Town)

“You dog people are crazy,” my beau said when I told him about my canine enrichment plan.

“Yes darling, I know.” I packed up my camera and a bag of treats.  “It’s going to be fun.”

“Don’t drop your camera,” he said.

I sighed.  I’d broken a lens on my new camera four days after getting it.  I didn’t need a reminder. “Maybe I’ll get a few good shots this time.”
“Are you sure Riggs can handle it?” he asked. “The subway’s pretty scary.”

Riggs was actually the least of my worries. “It’ll be good for him.  Even at this age his brain can grow.” 

“Worth a try, I guess,” he said. Then he snickered.  

Riggs, my resident rogue, isn’t known for his brilliance, though he has other great qualities.  When he was a puppy, I took him everywhere, knowing that socialization in the early months was vital. Later, while helping breeder Pam Headon research a book, I discovered my job wasn’t done. Some experts recommend ongoing socialization, especially until the dog reaches social maturity at about age three.  

Take your dog out at least twice a week—once for training, and once for another activity.  The training is less about what the dog learns than about experiencing the wonders of the environment with a positive spin. … You can also reinforce some of the behaviors you’ve worked so hard to teach, such as being calm around other dogs and children.  

I’d done my best.  Riggs and I had joined agility class, which we bonded over disliking.  Then we tried advanced obedience and drop-in dog socials, which worked better.  Basically, I took him wherever he was welcome, and as my left-hand man, he’d become pretty much bombproof.  

Last year, I enriched Riggs’ life further by giving him a canine baby sister.  Mabel, my sweet sensitive darling, needed far more socialization than Riggs ever did.  And since she borrows courage from her stalwart blond companion, I had to sideline Riggs sometimes and get her out on her own.  

Besides, it soon became obvious that while one canine sidekick was company, two were seen as a crowd.  

Riggs didn’t exactly suffer.  In addition to beach runs, day care, and cottage trips, he got regular hikes through Toronto’s ravine system.  But social enrichment had taken a nosedive.  Our little pack fell into a rut.   

One day it struck me that I missed him.  We never have any one-on-one time anymore, and as my first dog ever—my golden boy—I’d loved our partnership. It was time to resume our outings.  

So, last week, Riggs and I traded our usual icy trails for the sleek marble of the Manulife Center at Bay and Bloor in downtown Toronto.  

Although his first subway ride unnerved him, he was happy to accept treats, so I knew he was being enriched, rather than traumatized.  

Once inside the upscale mall, he calmed down and glided gracefully by my side to the bookstore, Indigo, which is where I do some of my best brainstorming.

By the time I was finished my latte, Riggs had acclimated to café lifestyle.

He was ready to do some serious posing, which meant it was my turn to be nervous.  Not only am I a photography novice and dropper-of-cameras, I also hate drawing attention to myself.  By now, it was lunch hour, and extremely busy: no one was going to miss this show. 

Leaning against the marble wall outside the store, I snapped off a few quick shots.  Blurry.  Shaky hands.  I tried again.   
After a few minutes, someone said, “Don't tell me you're holding up traffic to take pictures of your dog?” 

By this point I’d slid down the marble wall to the floor.  I looked up to see a row of construction workers in orange vests waiting politely to cross my sight-line. But the voice actually belonged to a colleague from my day job.

Grinning up at her, I pointed to the Indigo sign and said, “I’m enriching his life.  Obviously.”  

“You dog people are crazy,” she said.

“I’ve heard that before,” I said.  “But it’s a good crazy.” 

By the end of the outing, I believed it.  A lot of people had stopped to say hello and pat Riggs.  A few had even asked for a photo op, and Riggs happily obliged.

Then a woman came up to me and said, “Nice dog.  Nice camera. I need money.”

It was time to go home.   

On the subway, Riggs flirted with the lady next to me.  He was already a veteran commuter. 

In the end, I was pretty satisfied with the experiences we’d checked off:
  • Navigating stairs, subway, escalator, elevator and crowds.
  • Obedience under distraction.
  • Meet and greet with 20+ people.
  • Polite mingling with mall dogs in designer jackets. 
Is his brain any bigger for the experience?  The jury’s still out.  But it’s been awhile since he’s looked at me like this:

So the rogue and I will hit the town again. I need some suggestions for dog-friendly destinations.  Where do you take your dogs?
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