REVIEW: Chaser – Unlocking the genius of the Dog who knows a THOUSAND words

Chaser - unlocking the genius of the dog who knows a thousand words REVIEW

A couple of months ago I was asked if I wanted to review a copy of Chaser, now remembering the media circus at the end of 2011 about the dog that knew a 1000 words I jumped at this opportunity. After reading the first few pages I decided that it was a book I needed to give my full attention and with my other responsibilities with school one that went onto my pile for reading after exams during the Christmas holiday.

Now this book is almost an autobiography of how John ended up teaching his dog Chaser so much, it talks you on a personal level as if it is letting you inside the family at the same time as talking about one of the biggest scientific moments ever in animal learning. Once I started reading I was lost to the world and simply couldn’t put this book down.

Chaser was not the first dog in the Pilley family, and before the story of Chaser starts John looks at what he learnt from his previous dogs Yasha and Grindle whom he used in his classes. Being a psychologist gave John the background in learning and cognition that was needed to understand why things happened how they did and not just that they did. This knowledge is shared throughout the entire book, looking at the theory, implementation and his own results with Chaser. Taking you on a journey from getting a new puppy, through to how they nearly lost her and the name for her was chosen through to becoming a complete sensation.

Personally I hate most dog “training” books, guides and methodologies as I have always had a strong belief that dogs are smart enough to learn through just positive methods. This book is the perfect demonstration of how this can be achieved, and should I believed be required reading for anyone that is even considering training animals.

Overall I would wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone looking for a heart-warming yet educational story about how you can teach a dog language. I am just waiting to hear more about future progress with Chasers learning, or indeed the replication of this learning with other dogs.

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A new procedure, a behind the scenes look… (Day 461)

Equine Patient Recovering from Surgery

Today’s Diary Entry is sponsored by Vet School Success

When you take a pet to the vets you expect the best treatment, and most vets strive to ensure that this is given. Sometimes however pets need special treatment or surgery that the vet has never done before. Today I wanted to talk about this as it is something that not many people actually get to see, or that is often spoken about.

A common problem in thoroughbred horses is that off splint bone fractures, basically back through evolution horses used to have more than 1 finger, and the remains of these have become really small yet stay on the side of the metacarpal and metatarsal bones. This bone in the horse is between the carpal (wrist joint) and the fetlock joint (like the knuckle in humans). Horses have the third or middle bone which is large and can support the entire weight, with the rudimentary remains of the 2nd and 4th bones as well.

Now these splint bones fracture under the pressure of normal work causing pain and inflammation along with lameness. The easiest and most common fix to this problem is to remove the fractured piece of the bone. Now this is a surgery that has not been performed at the clinic by any of the staff surgeons, yet is required to treat the horse. This is the best thing I think about being a veterinary surgeon, that you can always learn something new and so the surgeon started researching the best procedure to use for this surgery.

Now as a student I revised the basics of anatomy, functional anatomy along with the procedure. Now come Monday the surgeon did a practice surgery on a dead leg, looking at both the procedure, and the best position to operate from as well as different techniques for closing. I was asked to assist in this practice surgery which helped me understand the procedure better, as well as the surgeon to give me more experience in a place which put no patients at risk.

Now the actual surgery took place this morning with another doctor assisting, however understanding the procedure gave me the ability to also learn from it as I understood what was happening along with why. Its also given me a new appreciation of my chosen profession, and a understanding that we are all still students when it comes down to it, just some more experienced than others.

Equine Patient Recovering from Surgery

Loosing patients… (Day 460)

Ready for the next patient

Today’s Diary Entry is sponsored by Spikes World Wildlife Food

As a vet I will have to deal with regular loss, from patients that just cannot be saved to the patients where it is kinder to relieve their suffering with euthanasia. Last Friday I experienced a first with the loss of a horse whose owner spoke English, and who I had spent time speaking to in the treatment of the patient. This horse had chronic long term problems before being referred to us. The patient was stable on Thursday evening, yet when I arrived on Friday morning was in acute colic with suspected rupture of the gastrointestinal tract.

Now I will say that these owners whilst obviously upset found the same positive that I find in these situations, they found the learning experience. A vet is not just there to patch up animals, they have the task of educating owners (and sometimes being educated by owners) so I found it interesting being part of this discussion for the first time. To be honest this also helped me as I do not like losing, so seeing some good come out of it was a good thing.

Now personally I hate losing patients, however for each one that I lose (and I remember them all) I have learnt something. Its made me a better student, and one day a better doctor. I no longer assume anything, and will take the laughter that is dished up when asking a stupid question as sometimes I am right. I’ve learnt that no one knows all the answers, that discussion and throwing ideas out there in a group is sometimes the way to a solution to a problem. That taking an extra 10 minutes to do a clinical exam is ok, or even when I have nothing on me just reaching out to check the pulse, glancing at the posture and touching the patient can tell me a lot. Taking 30 seconds to check a patients name before working with them is good too, and when no one is looking having a conversation with them is pretty normal too.

Most of all I’ve learnt that I can be as good as I want to be if I put the work in, the only expectations I have to live up to are mine. Its not ok for me to be average because that is not me, I will push myself as far as I can, whether it is reading that extra article, studying up on an alternative treatment or just making sure I understand exactly what went wrong.

This way, next time, I may be able to do better.

Ready for the next patient

The end of semester 3 of vet school (Day 457)

Psoroptes mite

Todays Diary Entry is Sponsored by Best Pet Hair Cleaner

Well today was the last day of teaching for Semester 3, its hard to believe as it feels like just yesterday when I was writing about starting the new semester. So much has happened that I barely know where to begin when rounding up this year so I guess I will compare it to this time last year.

Last year was my first year, I knew very little and so was planning to do my exams in the “ages” I had before the next semester started – strangely ages was not really ages and so this year I’ve learnt and so far have got 3 of my 7 exams done. I should update my progress record in a bit however so far I have passed

  • Diseases of Small Mammals – A grade
  • Diseases & Breeding of Reptiles – A grade
  • Pharmacy & Therapeutics – B grade (85%)

The exams I have left are slightly bigger…

  • Radiology and Imaging Diagnostics (everything xray + ultrasound)
  • Toxicology (all the different poisons for all different animals)
  • Nutrition (everything from 2 semesters)
  • Anatomy II (organs, blood vessels and the nervous system)

So now I am looking at trying to get either Radiology or Toxicology finished this next week, both are pretty tough but I think that Radiology exam, may be the easier for me as it is something that I really enjoy as it can tell you a lot for such a quick test. Then again toxicology may be the best to get out of the way so that I can do Radiology followed by the next two in early January… I like being able to organise my own exam timetable, but also find it is a nightmare for procrastination and leaving exams to the last minute.

Anyways, onto my semester, this year has been a lot more interesting as I have been working on a project with the university to implement a new IT system for students to be able to view surgeries online. This means that I’ve had the chance to play with some equipment that otherwise I wouldn’t – and also means that i have been collecting material to go onto the website later. On the other side of this my classes have also been more interesting, I absolutely love pathophysiology – I have a problem with curiousity as I love to understand why and how things happen. This was one of the things I hated with my first degree as we were expected to just accept that things were.

I guess highlights from this semester include doing my first surgical procedure, getting to see a lot, and then getting to learn a lot. My biggest hate this semester has been parasitology, even after studying for weeks the blobs and dots under the microscope still mean nothing to me. Its going be a pain as the final exam is next summer so covers a year worth of parasites. The last couple of classes we moved onto ectoparasites so ticks and fleas which I understand a lot better and actually make sense as you can see what they are under the microscope – take a look at this one for example….

Psoroptes mite
This is a Psoroptes mite, looks rather like a monster doesn’t it!?!

In all, things have been clicking into place and I am becoming more confident that maybe I can learn to become a vet in the remaining 2 and a half years I have left here.

A busy yet educational weekend…. (Day 452)

Kosice snowy view

Todays Diary Entry is sponsored by Pet Hooligans

Just a very quick entry to cover this weekend as I have been slacking recently and desperately want to get back into the habit of keeping my diary updated as it also helps me remember stuff. This weekend has been very busy from me, starting with being woken up early Saturday morning with a single word text message…


Now going instantly from asleep to pulling on clothes, sprinting out the door to arrive at the clinic just 18 minutes from the time I got the text message. Now when I get a message like this I do not know any details, I just know that I was needed there immediately so move as fast as I can. In emergencies things happen fast, there have been cases where things are over in a couple of hours to things being over weeks later. In this case it had also been snowing overnight so I had ice to contend with on my way as well…

Kosice snowy view

There had been a horse admitted Friday that had an unknown history, and then a second horse admitted for colic. Now colic is a horse owners worst nightmare, and something that warrants immediate veterinary attention – time here can be crucial and delaying to see whether it fixes itself is an extremely big risk. This patient had been moved straight in and had been treated and monitored overnight, now the surgeon was doing the exam to determine the exact cause and treatment program. In this case it was diagnosed as proximal enteritidis – meaning that it was medical treatment and not surgical though the horse still needed careful monitoring to avoid complications.

Next on the list was the horse with the unknown history, a large swelling on the face warranted drainage so this was done and then lavage to kill the bacteria. After this we drained an abscess on a hospitalised patient and then I spent some time monitoring the colic patient. In the afternoon I managed to grab some food (breakfast/Lunch/Dinner) all rolled into one before heading back to the stables to give the 5pm medications. Colic horse was doing well, and the owner had arrived for the horse with the unknown history so I spent some time collecting a history so that we could formulate a plan for investigation Monday morning.

I had the doctor arrive in the evening to check the patients, and whilst he was here another emergency call came in, this time for a eye. After grabbing the eye kit we started out, this time it was a field visit in the snow and pretty cold. The patient had a opaque cornea – basically the usually transparent front of the eye had become completely white when the owners had come check on her in the evening. Now this being done we did an exam and gave medication before leaving.

Now today started for me with a 8am check of all the patients in the stable, before the doctor arrived with news that the eye may have got worse and so we were going to do a suprapalbebral cannula – basically where we put a tube into the top of the eyelid to administer medications easier. On arrival however we found that the eye was looking a lot better. After this I spent some more time with the history taking for the mystery horse and then went out to field again at dinnertime to check on the eye again. This eye was healing extremely well with parts of the anterior chamber and lens now visible.

Now it really is time for me to study, read up on tomorrow’s procedures, and then grab a few hours sleep before a 5am start tomorrow.