The Dog as the Ultimate Health Upgrade [transcript]

Written by Christopher Kelly

March 24, 2018


Christopher:    Hello and welcome to the Nourish Balance Thrive Podcast. My name is Christopher Kelly and today I'm delighted to be joined in person by a very special guest. Her name is Torea Rodriguez. Say hello, Torea.

Torea:    Hi, everybody. Nice to be here again.

Christopher:    Yeah, Torea has been on the podcast at least twice before. I should link to those in the show notes for this episode.

Torea:    Sure.

Christopher:    Yours was our very first episode. Do you remember that?

Torea:    I know. That was a long time ago, right?

Christopher:    That would be really embarrassing if I was asked to go back and listen to the very first episode. But, yes, Torea was the person who started the podcast. It has been such an amazing experience since then. Today I wanted to talk about something that's been, I think, one of the most important things I've done to improve my health and that is to get a dog.

    I honestly believe that this is as important as any of the dietary changes that I've made, quitting my job and finding my purpose and all of that stuff. I honestly believe that the dog has been that important. The reason I wanted to talk about it today was because I feel like I'm in this window right now where I remember what it was like to contemplate getting a dog and the concerns that I had about getting a dog.

Torea:    I think when I first met you, you were just like, "Dog, no way."

Christopher:    Yeah. I was completely dog agnostic. I posted a picture of the dog on Facebook recently and an old girlfriend said to me in the comment section, "I remember you saying that dogs were completely pointless." I was in a very different place back at that time. My behavior was a little odd to say the least. I'm sure I said that and I'm sure I thought it. Now, I just can't imagine that because the dog has been such an amazing thing. The reason I wanted to get you on with me today, Torea, was because you actually know something about dogs.

Torea:    I do, yes. Let's see. I've been a dog owner for the last 21 years and only one of those years did we not have a dog. I grew up with dogs. Yeah, it's a topic near and dear to my heart.

Christopher:    And you're one of those people -- I've not met many people like this that is able to go a mile deep and a mile wide on many different subjects. I feel like you know a lot about a lot of stuff, do you know what I mean?

Torea:    Thank you. I'll take that as a compliment, thank you so much.

Christopher:    Yeah, take it as a compliment. I think it's a very difficult thing to do. I think that most people they'd go an inch wide and a mile deep whereas you seem to know a lot of stuff about a lot of stuff which is quite surprising.

Torea:    Which is interesting because our episodes that we've done have covered a lot of varied topics.

Christopher:    A lot of grounds, yeah. A lot of grounds. So, talk about your experiences of having a dog. Did someone make a decision or were they always there or how did it work?

Torea:    Well, I grew up in a ranch in Colorado so part of ranch life is you have a ranch dog. So, it was just kind of default. They were there. I always had dogs in my life and horses and ducks and all that stuff, chickens. But then I went off to college and I wasn't going to get a dog. I couldn't afford a dog at that time. I could barely take care of myself and get myself through college and that kind of thing.

    But shortly after college and probably entering the workforce for a couple of years I really started to miss having an animal companion of some sort. That was part of my growing up and it was very rewarding for me to have an animal companion. It kind of kept me grounded. I didn't realize it at that time but I missed it.

    It was a lot of conversation with my boyfriend at that time who's now my husband on can we really do this and can we take care of them and how do we do this with both of us working and can they stay at home alone and all those questions had to be answered. But then we just bit the bullet and we got a puppy and life has been totally changed ever since then.

Christopher:    What were the benefits when you said to your boyfriend who's now your husband, Jeremy? What did you say to him? How did you persuade him of the benefits? What did you say those benefits were?

Torea:    I think, for the most part, it had to have been just the companionship of having a dog. Having a dog with us hiking or out in the backcountry -- At that time we were doing a lot of backpacking and we wanted to take him out into the backcountry and go backpacking a lot. Just having another companion.

    My husband and I have made the choice not to have children so that also was in the conversation of if we're choosing not to have children, should we choose not to have a dog too? We decided to have a dog as part of that companionship. And then I think the other part too was just something fun to do, something to bond us together. We were going to be responsible for training, walking and feeding and all of that stuff. It was something for us to do together.

Christopher:    Right. I see. So, I was trying to solve some very specific problems when I got a dog about a year ago. We were talking about this before we started recording that nobody really jumps into action from point zero. There's this thing called the transtheoretical model that I talked about previously with Simon Marshall where he talks about the stages of change. For the longest time I was in pre-contemplation. I'd never even considered the idea of having a dog and then I started to contemplate it.


    I feel like one of the major triggers that prompted me into action was Tommy's talk that he did at the UK Biohacker Summit -- and I'll link to that in the show notes for this episode. I'm sure by now people are familiar with Tommy's work and especially the systems analysis approach which I'm sure you appreciate.

Torea:    I love it.

Christopher:    Torea is a biochemist. So, Tommy has been taking this tool that's traditionally used by chemical engineers and tries to understand a complex problem by drawing a map. When you think about a complex problem like insulin resistance, what are all the things that cause insulin resistance? We've got maybe refined carbohydrates, sleep deprivation.

Torea:    Stress.

Christopher:    Stress, chronic infection, the septic patient.

Torea:    Circadian rhythm inversion.

Christopher:    Exactly. So, it was all these things. And so Tommy puts them all on a map and then he draws these arrows that show the direction and the things that feed into each other, feed forwards and feed backwards and sometimes you get virtuous cycles and sometimes you get vicious cycles. The thing that Tommy presented as his ultimate biohack was the dog as feeding forward.

Torea:    Did he have a dog at that time?

Christopher:    He did. I don't think he was a dog owner before he met his now fiancé Elizabeth. She was the dog owner. They've got two boxers now. They since got another boxer. I think all the NBT people have now got dogs maybe with the exception of Megan who probably would like a dog but her living environment doesn't--

Torea:    Keep pre-contemplating, Megan. It's all good.

Christopher:    Keep pre-contemplating. It was obvious to me that time watching that presentation the dog would solve a lot of my problems. So, as an endurance athlete--

Torea:    Let me ask you though, how did you know that the dog was going to solve the problem? What problem were you trying to solve?

Christopher:    That's what I was going to say. I'm an endurance athlete and I love to ride bikes especially the mountain bike but we know that humans are upright bipedal organisms that are probably designed, he says in inverted quotes, to walk. There's some good studies -- When I make a statement like this, I'm going to link to a study in the show notes that shows that what I'm saying is likely true. It seems like even if you are a prolific exerciser you cannot negate your need to walk. And I believe this to be true because of the way that my body was starting to feel. If I don't walk--

Torea:    Yeah, okay. So, you were noticing issues.

Christopher:    Oh, yeah, physical stuff. My lower back would hurt especially and my ankles would hurt. I did a podcast recently, actually not recently, two years ago, 2015, with Nigel McHollan and he fixed for me a bunch of things that look like mechanical issues but they actually weren't. They were soft tissue issues. So, it looked like I had a leg length discrepancy. He showed that it has nothing to do with the length of the bone. It was a soft tissue thing.

    I had weak muscles that were not firing properly. That was what was leading to the leg length discrepancy. Nigel did a fantastic remediation job on me. He got that pain to go away. But eventually, I realized that if I stopped doing the remediation the pain would come back. That's a sure fire sign, right? There's an underlying root cause that you haven't addressed. Just continually doing the remediation is probably not going to be enough.

    Eventually I figured out that it was the deficiency of walking that was causing the problem. Who would have guessed that spending three hours a day spinning tiny circles in a seated position would have had some knock on effects? I figured out that if I walked enough then the pain would go away. But guess what? It was hard to try and walk that much. Once you're being used to flying down the trail at 20 miles an hour, walking is kind of dull.

Torea:    Did I tell you about the time that Chris Kresser told me to start walking?

Christopher:    Did he?

Torea:    Yeah. Chris Kresser was my practitioner early on when I was dealing with Hashimoto's and adrenal fatigue and all of the different things that I ended up dealing within my health. At that time, like you, endurance cyclist. I was cycling 150 to 200 miles a week.

Christopher:    Oh, shit. That's even more. That's a lot.

Torea:    That was my thing. We were talking specifically about the adrenal fatigue and how bad it was and he said, "I really want you to consider exercises being a continued stressor not helping you."

Christopher:    Right. It's the [0:09:13] [Indiscernible] known as adrenal fatigue.

Torea:    Exactly. And he said, "I really want you to cut back on the cycling." And I said, "Okay. So, you mean a 35-mile training ride, right?" And we literally had to negotiate and finally he said, "You know what, hang up the bike for six months." And I looked at him and I said, "Well, what do you want me to do instead? I can't be a couch potato. That's got to be just as bad." He's like, "Why don't you try walking?" I thought he was a lunatic. I really did. Because I didn't know how to walk. I always thought it was boring and slow and my body didn't know how.

Christopher:    Because it is.

Torea:    My body didn't know how either. So, yes, I started walking with my dogs more. That's kind of what got me into walking so much.

Christopher:    And I can tell you it has solved my problem. Now I have a dog. I also have an Apple watch. My father-in-law kindly bought me an Apple watch recently. I wouldn't have chose that device myself but I have to say that now I have it actually quite enjoy it.


    I know that I wouldn't have enjoyed it before because it would have told me that I was doing between probably 500 and 1000 steps today. And you think it sounds ridiculous but when you work at home and you work on a computer, it is possible to get through the day on a thousand steps. Whereas now, it's easy for me to get to 10,000 steps and sometimes to 25,000 steps quite easily.

    In fact, Torea, maybe this is a good time for you to tell us about your morning routine because we left you the Apple watch this morning? You've done, what, 7,000, 8,000 steps?

Torea:    I average 17,000 steps on one month but, yeah, I've done 7,000 already this morning.

Christopher:    It's 9:30 a.m.

Torea:    It's 9:30, yeah. My morning routine starts at least an hour and a half before the sun comes up. We wake up and get dressed.

Christopher:    In February?

Torea:    In February, yeah. In fact, I was noting this morning that the sunrise is happening earlier now so I don't need a head lamp anymore. But, yes, so I basically get dressed, take my vitamins and grab the dog and we go for a long walk. It's usually an hour and a half or two hours.

Christopher:    No breakfast, just straight out the door?

Torea:    Straight out the door. It's the first thing we do. I do that for a number of reasons. Not only do I need to get the dog some exercise and need some exercise but I'm after that first morning light. I'm after getting in the sun, having it shine in my eyes. I don't have sunglasses, none of that stuff, and just being in the sun and the light as everything is waking up and it's fantastic. So, we do that for a couple of hours. And then we come home and have breakfast and do the rest of our day.

Christopher:    Interesting. That would be the next point that I would bring up, that I will provide a reference for in the show notes, is that you can avoid some of the problems associated with light at night if you get some bright sunshine first thing in the morning. Forget about the blue blockers, grab a dog. I mean, of course, you can do these things without the dog.

Torea:    You can, of course. But it's a lot easier to get outside. This morning it was freezing temperature, zero Celsius this morning. It was really bitter cold. If I didn't have a dog I would probably have put on my socks and grabbed a mug of tea and cozied up instead of getting out in the sunlight first thing in the morning.

Christopher:    Exactly. This was the other thing that I saw on Tommy's systems analysis and I knew that the dog would solve this problem. It has solved the problem. I do exactly the same. One of the first things I do in the morning, and I have to admit that I'm a little bit wimpy compared to you, that's exactly what I'll do in the summer, bounce out of bed, grab the dog, let's go, and I don't walk as far, only 20 minutes. I don't think it has to be a long hike.

Torea:    It doesn't have to be a long hike. We just prefer it.

Christopher:    Yeah, exactly. Even just 20 minutes of whatever the available light is outside, I think, is going to be helpful. Yeah, the dog is the trigger.

Torea:    Absolutely.

Christopher:    That makes that happen. It's the trigger for me throughout the day to go walk. The dog will tell me. He knows. If I close the laptop, regardless of my intention, his nose, his wet nose is going to be in my arm. "Okay, let's go walk." I'm like, "Yeah, you're right. We should go walk because I know that's what you need to do."

Torea:    Exactly.

Christopher:    That's phenomenal. I can talk about another benefit that I saw on Tommy's systems analysis. It's also turned out to be true. I live in a very rural part of Santa Cruz and most of the houses here, they're on quite large parcels like one and a half and maybe even more acres. So, you really have to make a concerted effort to meet your neighbors. And, of course, what better way to meet your neighbors than with a puppy.

Torea:    That's right.

Christopher:    You'll meet your neighbors pretty fast, I guarantee it, if you start walking around the neighborhood with a puppy. Now, I know all of my neighbors.

Torea:    And you didn't before?

Christopher:    No. I was here for a whole year, didn't know, literally didn't even know my next door neighbor.

Torea:    I used to tease you about being a hermit.

Christopher:    Yeah. Well, I was. That's why. I meet guys out on the trails and I would ride bike with friends on the weekends but, yeah, my neighbors, I had no idea who they were. And they turned out to be the most amazing people. My next door on one side, his name is Rick Hunter, and he hand-builds steel bicycles in his workshop here in Bonny Doon. You can go and check him out Hunter Cycles. That's on one side. He's got a dog and now Kipper and Jay-jay, his dog, love to play together.

    And then on the other side, I've got Elizabeth and Larry, and I've forgotten the name of their essential oils company but they have an essential oils company and he has a mass spectrometer in his house so that he can do a sanitary check on--

Torea:    Which is so fun.

Christopher:    Amazing. He's old now and he doesn't do as much of that anymore but just amazing stories from these people that are just right next door to me that I never would have known. So, there is an argument to be made, as you said in the beginning, the dog itself, the animal itself can be a companion. I think I could link to some studies that show that animals can be great companions.

Torea:    Yeah. But I have to say, on the social aspect of it that you were just talking about, just recently we moved to a new neighborhood last year and we didn't meet a lot of neighbors when we moved in.


    Some people were nice. Some brought us welcoming gifts and that kind of thing. We really didn't meet a lot of people even though we were walking out together as two humans. The moment you get a dog or the moment you get a puppy, the game changes and people automatically, not all of them, some of them are scared of dogs but not all of them.

Christopher:    Yeah. Some kids as well. I've met quite a few kids [0:15:33] [Crosstalk].

Torea:    But most people start to become much more social themselves when they see the dog and you become more approachable. That's kind of an interesting sociological observation.

Christopher:    Maybe this is it since I've thought of it right now because the number one question that you get when you're out walking the dog is, "What type of dog is that?" So, why don't you tell us what sort of dog you got?

Torea:    Oh my gosh. My dog, you mean? She's a Plott Hound and every time I say she's a Plott Hound I get really strange looks.

Christopher:    What's a Plott Hound?

Torea:    What the hell is a Plott Hound? Yeah, she's a hound that comes from the East coast of the United States. They're hunters and they're bred to hunt in packs for large games, so bear, mountain lion, boar, really big game dogs and she's just a goofy hound. She's cool.

Christopher:    It's weird, isn't it? You would expect -- When you say those things, I'm like, wow, this is like one badass dog. But the temperament is not like that at all, is it? How does that -- I guess, it's just the pet dynamic.

Torea:    Yeah. So, when they get out in the pack or, case in point, when she catches a scent of a coyote, her personality is completely different.

Christopher:    Interesting.

Torea:    She's on point. She's wanting to go chase that coyote all the time. But at home when she's not distracted by her nose, she's totally laid back, chill, has her nap game really strong. So, yeah. I mean, she's really a goofy dog. We love her.

Christopher:    Well, I think like a contemplator now and ask you how did you decide on that particular dog? Because that was something that I spent a lot of time laboring over and in the end I just went with what my wife told me I should do which is really almost a really good choice. How did you decide?

Torea:    I think it's super important to consider your lifestyle and the kinds of things that you're into. Not all dogs are going to be hikers. Not all dogs are going to do what your dog does with you which is trail along the mountain bike and not chase after coyotes. Mine will chase after coyotes.

Christopher:    I never thought about that.

Torea:    So, you kind of have to think about your lifestyle a little bit and read up on the breed. They're gross generalizations about the breed when you're reading this stuff so take it all with a grain of salt but just really start to think about your own personality and how you might mesh with that kind of dog.

    We just started researching breeds. We had Jack Russells before and Jack Russells are high energy balls of craziness dogs and we're no longer in our 20s so we were like, "I don't know if we can do another 20 years of high energy dogs." So, we decided that we'd go for a lower energy dog and, yeah, and so I chose low energy.

Christopher:    And so hiking is the main thing that you like to do with her?

Torea:    Yeah, hiking, camping, backpacking, that kind of thing. We've had a lot of conversations about is she ever going to be an off leash dog that doesn't go after a game? No, probably not. She was bred to do that. So, we'll see. We might get to off leash some day.

Christopher:    Okay. That's so weird because my experience has been so different. You shouldn't think that I did a lot of research and understood this really well before I made the decision because I absolutely did not and I have all kinds of anxiety about what it would be like living with a dog. But Julie lived with a girl friend that had a cattle dog. It's an Australian cattle dog sometimes called a Queensland blue heeler. I've heard other names too.

    It's a cross between a dingo, an Australian dingo, and probably a border collie. I'm not sure anyone really knows. And then I heard that they bred in some Dalmatian because they like horses. So, that's what leads to the dapple coat. The coat is quite interesting. Julie had a really positive experience living with one of these dogs when she was in college, I believe, and she said, "Oh, yeah, we should get a cattle dog. It will be great for you on the trail." "Okay. I don't feel like I'm really making any progress here."

    One of the main things I wanted to do actually was live with a dog. I was calling up breeders saying, "Can you lend me one for a couple of months because I want to know?"

Torea:    You wanted a trial run?

Christopher:    Yeah, I wanted Airbnb for dogs. I'm really frightened about what this is going to be like. Is it going to tear apart my furniture? Is it going to be non-stop remediation of problems caused by the dog? Is it going to run away? Am I going to spend my whole life looking for the dog because it's run away? These were genuine concerns that I had.

    And so I wanted to live with a dog for a couple of months and everybody just looked at me like I had two heads. You talk to a breeder and you say, "Can you give me one for a couple of months so I can just check out?" And they were like, "I have no idea what you're talking about right now." So, in the end, we just had to bite the bullet and dive in. I feel like I might have--


Torea:    Can you try that with parenting?

Christopher:    Yeah, that's right.

Torea:    I'm sure you'd be looked at like three heads.

Christopher:    It's called babysitting. You just give them back at the end of the session if you don't like it. But, yeah, so everything has worked out so good and I feel like I might have gotten really lucky by choosing this particular breed of dogs. If you're listening to this and you're a contemplator or maybe you're a pre-contemplator before you started listening to this podcast, I think this type of cattle dog might be a really good choice because he's what you would call a Velcro dog.

    He just doesn't -- I think he experiences emotional pain every time. And it's not to the point where you'll do stuff, like crazy stuff. It's not like I can't leave him in the car or at home or anything like that. But when we're out on the trails or even just walking around the neighborhood he gets to a point it's almost like there's an invisible line touching. He wants to go on and check out that smell but he can see that I'm no longer visible and it's like, "Which way do I go?" He always chooses to follow me route. I've never--

Torea:    Mine's so opposite.

Christopher:    Yeah, so I've never have -- We don't even have a leash right now. He's not wearing a collar. He's been like that from when I first got him at four months old. I think we did something important there that not everybody will be able to do which is that we didn't have him as a puppy. I've heard there's some important stages of development that you don't want to mess up. You really don't want to stress out a dog of a certain age.

    And so we just let the breeder -- I'll link to the breeder, actually, that we got this dog from in the show notes. I think she did a fantastic job on Kipper because he's just so, so good. Even from that very first walk he wouldn't move more than just a few feet away from me even without a leash. And now when we run on the trails -- So, he's a great dog on the trails both on foot and on the bike. He'll follow me.


    One of the main problems I have is motivating him to run hard enough. You don't realize how fast you're going until you ask another animal to match you on foot. He is highly motivated by balls and sticks and stuff like that. He's definitely strong and fast-twitch but it's difficult to get him to express that much enthusiasm for following a bike although he will do it for short periods especially but then he doesn't--

    You can see it's happened. We've seen a deer will run right across the trail and he's like, "Whatever. I'm just going to stay here with you and follow that tire." That's amazing. And squirrels and all that stuff, he just doesn't care at all.

Torea:    Yeah. It seems we picked [0:22:24] [Indiscernible] drive dogs. Jack Russells, hounds, the whole bit.

Christopher:    Yeah. So, what other benefits can we talk about?

Torea:    Well, I think one that I realized after you and I had talked about doing this episode actually is there's a mindfulness aspect to having a dog. What I mean is that the year that I didn't have a dog, when I was out hiking on my own I was using photography as a mindfulness tool. I would go take detailed pictures of flowers or mushrooms or whatever I was finding in the forest and that was a way that I could practice mindfulness without having to sit down on a meditation cushion.

    When you are dealing with a dog and probably in the first year that you have that dog, you're going to be training that dog getting them accustomed to what are the rules in the house, what's okay to do, what's not okay to do. Sometimes you'd like to actually work with a trainer and start training them to do a biddy and start to do whatever you want them to do. And so training and working with her every time we go out has become my mindfulness. I need to be really present to what's going on with her.

Christopher:    I was going to say, by mindfulness, you mean something that's going to bring you into the present moment?

Torea:    That's right. That's what I mean, yeah, being very focused on the present moment. Because if I'm thinking about my day and what's going on in my schedule or I'm thinking about something that happened yesterday, I'm going to miss what's going on with her and, like you said, it's easy to screw some things up, and then give her incorrect cues and then she gets confused.

    So, being present with the dog and being consistent with the dog by being present with the dog is a really interesting aspect of it. And so now I take less photographs and I'm doing more time with her. That's one aspect of training a dog that I thought was critical.

Christopher:    You take more photographs of the dog though. I will link to your Instagram account.

Torea:    Great. Yeah.

Christopher:    I'm guilty of it as well, I have to say. I'll link to my Instagram account too. It's cck197. I post quite a lot of pictures of Kipper and I've posted a few videos of us running together on the trail.

Torea:    That happens in life. You have a kid then all of a sudden there's kid photos. You have a dog, then some dog photos. And, of course, puppies.

Christopher:    Apart from the second kid, you probably have to search high and low to find a picture of [0:24:36] [Indiscernible] on the internet right now whereas there's like 8,000 off of Ivy, our first child.

Torea:    Of course, yeah.

Christopher:    So, if I could raise a potential objection here, because this is one of the things that I always concern about, would the dog be a potential stressor because I'd losing my shit over whatever it was doing? So, I don't know, you're on the beach and it's in somebody's lunch bag and that person's getting upset. I mean, good luck trying to be mindful and zen when that's going on. How do you deal with that sort of thing?


Torea:    That's a challenge. We've had some issues training our dog to not chew on Sheetrock furniture, those kinds of things. For me, it's a little bit of self-control. I know that I can't get angry at her for doing that. Her mouth is sore and she's still developing her jaw. So, knowing that her jaw is still developing, she needs something to chew on. That tells me that, okay, I can give her a little bit of a timeout so that she learns not to do those things but when I'm giving her timeout I'm giving her something else to do.

    In that sense, it's kind of a self-control thing. But you're right. The stress is there. I think it's important to note that stressors are going to happen. Life is going to happen. Something is going to go wrong with the dog or you might have a medical issue with the dog and you'll be stressed out over that. Life just happens. Know that, especially if you get a puppy, because puppies, you need to toilet train them, you need to train them--

Christopher:    We didn't do any of that.

Torea:    You were lucky because you didn't have to go through that. But typically, getting a puppy is a lot of work. It's like having a newborn. And so you're going to be stressed. You're going to have nights where you're not getting full sleep because the puppy has to go out to pee.

Christopher:    But it will pay dividend eventually.

Torea:    It does pay dividends, for sure. So, I guess, my advice is just know that life happens and when we are experiencing some stress, take a look at the rest of your life and what can you offload, what can you balance that stressor with? Does that mean that you're doing more meditation or does that mean that you're getting rid of some extra commitments so you can have some space to just kind of decompress knowing that you're having extra stress?

Christopher:    Right. So, you're reminding me of the Jon Kabat-Zinn quote. You can't stop the waves but you can learn to surf.

Torea:    That's right.

Christopher:    So, it turns out, you were a fantastic source of resources for helping with dog behavior, Doggy Dan. I should link to--

Torea:    Doggy Dan is one of my favorites.

Christopher:    Doggy Dan is fantastic. It turns out that many of our unwanted reactions to the unwanted behavior makes the unwanted behavior even worse. So, in Tommy's systems analysis, this would be a vicious cycle. So, I'd give you an example, and I see this in one of my neighbors all the time. They've got two small yappy dogs which are famous for being yappy. That's why we call them that. Every time they see Kipper -- and Kipper is totally not bothered by them at all, by the way. It's kind of funny. Anyway, they get bonkers. And then guess what he does?

Torea:    He yells at them?

Christopher:    He yells at them. He goes bonkers. And then guess what the dogs do?

Torea:    They go bonkers.

Christopher:    They go bonkers. Just like the whole thing goes round in a vicious cycle. It's amazing. The energy just rises and rises and rises. And it turns out--

Torea:    And if you do the opposite, you completely ignore them, they don't get the reinforcement. They don't get the attention if you're just going to ignore them. And so that's how you can stop that vicious cycle.

Christopher:    Right. I feel like I learned this from in Doggy Dan but maybe I didn't. So, the important part I think for Kipper is the acknowledgement. The UPS truck just pulled up and he's trying to tell you about this imminent danger. And if you ignore him, he's going to go, "Whoa, he hasn't noticed yet." So, the right thing to do, I think, or at least in my dog, is to say, "Okay, great. Thanks, boy. Thank you."

    And then if he doesn't stop barking and you have to go look to see what he's barking at, is there a UPS driver there, and then he'll calm down. But now, he doesn't do that. You get to the point you're like, "Okay, thanks boy," and that's it. He will stop barking. Of course, that's the opposite of--

Torea:    It's totally the opposite. Yeah, I mean, having help in this area, right, is super key because if you've not owned a dog before, how are you going to know how to own a dog?

Christopher:    Ben House said this in his interview with Tommy: If I stop doing something new and I have no clue what I'm doing then I'm just going to get a coach. I could spend a thousand hours thrashing around on PubMed or on some other place on the internet and probably figure this out in ten years. But why would you do that when you can hire a coach? I think that's been really important. Doggy Dan, the online resource, is great. We hired a local dog trainer that I think you recommended, didn't you? Was it you that recommended George Menna?

Torea:    Maybe. Maybe, yeah. I think I got his name through the vet. I mean, just ask around. There are so many dog trainers. Even though I did this 20 years ago with two Jack Russells and we went through training with them, you'd think that I would know what I'm doing but different breed, different dynamic, different issues. I've hired two trainers here.

    I've hired one to help us through the puppy stages and now I have hired one to help us with some basic obedience and because she's a hound we're going to go into scent work with her. I've never done scent work with a dog before and I don't know what I'm doing. What do I do? Just spray scent all over the place? I don't know. So, hiring a coach is probably the single most important thing you could do to learn a new skill and not be completely stressed out or waste a ton of time or money.

Christopher:    Yeah. Save you so much time and energy.


    So, that was the other thing I was worried about. We do quite a lot of travel and I was worried what's going to happen to the dog when we go traveling. And so George Menna in Scotts Valley has been fantastic because for $50 a night he does board and train. And so you drop the dog off and he works on him whilst you're away traveling and then you get the dog back, and at this point I don't really want for Kipper to do anything, I guess, but you come back and, I don't know, he can wash a car or play the violin or something like that.

Torea:    New skills. You never know.

Christopher:    No. In the beginning -- I mean, of course, like with anything, the returns, they diminish over time. But certainly the beginning it was fantastic. He taught us a whole bunch of things that you realize -- So, Doggy Dan's five golden rules have been really, really helpful and these little things places you as the alpha. The dog is not the boss.

Torea:    They need leadership.

Christopher:    Exactly. And so these little things that you do every day that lead to you being the alpha. So, when we walk through the door -- This was George that taught us this -- you walk through first and then the dog comes afterwards. Little things like that. You think it's meaningless but then actually in some situations it's very, very helpful.

    If I'm by the side of a busy road and the trail head is on the other side of the road, I don't want the dog to bounce out the car into a busy road the moment I open the door. That's really unhelpful. So now, when I open the door, Kipper looks at me and it's like, he's a weird dog like this that he makes a lot of eye contact.

Torea:    That's great. That's great.

Christopher:    Yeah, it's great. And he's looking for me to give the word so that he can get out the door which is just fantastic. Fantastic. We talked about social connection. Definitely the dogs are fantastic for that.

Torea:    Circadian rhythm.

Christopher:    Circadian rhythm.

Torea:    Walking.

Christopher:    Walking. I wanted to add just one more thing about the social connection. I had a really fantastic time at the weekend riding with somebody that has an Aussie Shepherd which is a very similar dog. Very similar. We rode bikes together. It was really an interesting dynamic because he solved the problem that I have with Kipper not being terribly motivated to run hard for any extended period of time.

Torea:    How did he do that?

Christopher:    It's just because we're a pack now. Like when I'm one person--

Torea:    Yes. The power of the pack.

Christopher:    The power of the pack. I ride a lot on the University of California Santa Cruz campus. There's some trails there. And at the weekend it's just hundreds of people riding mountain bikes, which is fantastic. The isolation thing, it's brilliant. But Kipper being a herding dog wants to keep all of the dogs together and that's not very convenient when you just want to go for a ride. But on a smaller scale, you can use this to your advantage.

    When it was two guys on bikes and two dogs then we're a pack and so Kipper is not -- His dog is actually, the Australian Shepherd is a high energy dog, I think, that he's just like bouncing more. He would sometimes go in the front. Kipper never goes in the front. He always stays behind. And so that was a really fun dynamic.

    Anyway, the social isolation part of being part of a tribe is like [0:32:57] [Indiscernible]. That's part of it right there. I had met this guy on the trail. He was running with his dog. He's like, "Oh, we should get together and ride sometime. It would be really fun to see how the dogs--" So, that was kind of a hook that brought us together. But then also we stopped to the bottom of the Yukon connected trail which I know is not far from your house in Santa Cruz, it took us about three quarters of an hour to get away from there because it's a little hard. All the mountain bikers come through there and they were all looking at the dogs going, "Wow, that looks like a great trail dog." It's almost like you were doing, presenting a poster, a conference.

Torea:    By example.

Christopher:    Like, "Here's the dog." I thought that was really fantastic. Do you want to talk about microbes and autoimmunity?

Torea:    Yeah. Let's talk about it. One of the things -- You've listened to other podcasts that Chris had done. One of the things that's really affecting a lot of chronic illness in modern life, so first world countries but now spreading even more to other types of countries, is the lack of microbe exposure we have. I mean, we have gone down the path of Triclosan and everything which is the chemical that's in alcohol, hand sanitizers. We've been microbe-phobic for so long that we really damage the beneficial flora that are in the environment.

Christopher:    Right. And let's be clear. We solved one problem but then maybe we created another more insidious chronic problem.

Torea:    MRSA and even --

Christopher:    Yeah.

Torea:    For me, growing up on a farm, I was really healthy growing up. But then I moved away from the farm, lifestyle. I went to college. I moved into the suburbia in Silicon Valley which is kind of city everywhere. That's when I got sick. Is it related? I don't know. I can't prove it. But it could be. It could be one of the contributors. I think having animals in the house, yes. Are they going to bring in microbes? Absolutely. Are you going to get licked by the dog and you might have bacteria on your face? Yeah, totally. Is it okay for your kids to eat dirt? Sure. Probably.

Christopher:    As long as it's good dirt.

Torea:    As long as it's good dirt. Exactly.

Christopher:    Come to my house--

Torea:    Make sure there's no fertilizers in that dirt. These are the kinds of things that having an animal in the house -- There's studies, and I think you found some of those studies.


Christopher:    Yes. I'll link to some of those in the show notes.

Torea:    There's studies that have proven that people who are living with animals tend to be healthier than people who live without animals. That was kind of the main point.

Christopher:    Yeah, it's interesting. And so the hypothesis is that the immune system, it needs training and it needs stuff to do. So, if you're in an ultra clean environment especially as a child the immune system might start doing stuff that maybe you don't want it to do and then you end up with asthma and allergies. So, by exposing your children, your young children to animals then you train the immune system and that leads to a lower prevalence of asthma and allergies in later life. But it's interesting to know, actually, that you did have those exposures early on.

Torea:    I did.

Christopher:    And then they went away. It's interesting. I mean, I think all this, I don't think we've proven anything actually. I think this is all still in its infancy. When you've got one four-year old daughter, one baby just born, I have a history of a wonky immune system, could we make that better for the future generation just by giving them more exposure?

    My parents were vehemently against the idea of having any animals. I can't remember much but as a child I think I did want a dog. I know that my sisters did. I'm sure they would say that. But we were denied that for maybe some of the reasons that we've kind of dismissed in this interview. I wonder whether that's part of my wonky immune system. In the beginning, in the early days you didn't really have much else to do. And so that may be important.

Torea:    Right. I wanted to add to that game level intervention thing a little bit. We see this a lot in our industry. I'm sure you've seen this where on Facebook groups and chat forums and this, that and the other, people are dissecting their root cause to the micronic little level like, "Oh, it's got to be candida," or, "Oh my gosh, it's got to be the mercury in my teeth or whatever."

    They're trying to identify the one little thing. I think that they're getting so far down that rabbit hole that we're starting to see a huge spike in orthorexia. We're starting to see people get really weird about their food and eating disorders are common now in the health industry, that people are triggering eating disorder type of stuff.

    This game level intervention of the dog, we could sit here and talk to a client and coach them on circadian rhythm one week, we could talk to them about walking another week and spread it all out and talk about each individual element until our eyes turn red or blue or green or whatever. But the point is that this is a very simple solution that encompasses so much of it that you're going to take your level of progress from these small little steps to a huge step wise difference. That's what you mean by game level intervention.

Christopher:    Exactly. In this podcast, I really wanted to give people some of the tools that I know are going to improve their health. So, we're listening to podcast, there's so much information out there. We're not short on information.

Torea:    So much, yeah.

Christopher:    And so I was thinking about this. There's a guy doing work in my garden at the moment with a chainsaw to create some firewood for our fire. Our only source of heat is firewood still. That's working great for us now that we have a really fancy fireplace that double burns and the emission is really low and all that but I won't get into that. Anyway, I was thinking about most of these podcasts that you listen to is like a discussion of the various different forms of trees that you can burn as firewood. Tanoak is great and then there's madrone which is even better. And, of course--

Torea:    And don't forget how to cut it properly.

Christopher:    I know.

Torea:    And all the different splitting and drying techniques and this, that and the other. We totally dissect this, yeah.

Christopher:    I know. But you really need is an axe, a fucking axe. I don't need more information about which is the best tree to burn for heat in my home. I need an axe. That's what I'm hoping this podcast will be. Here's what the dog is for you. It's an axe. It's actually a tool that's going to help you solve these problems rather than just more knowledge that isn't necessary. We already know that knowledge is not enough to create behavior change. I'm surprised actually, with Chris Kresser, not giving you -- I think he probably has advanced since that.

Torea:    Oh, much so. Yeah.

Christopher:    You can't just do that, like they say to me. It's like Nike, "Just do it." Just do it. Just stop riding a bike. You'll be fine. That's not enough. You can't do that. It just doesn't work.

Torea:    Yeah. You definitely want to have actionable steps. If you're going to take action, there's this whole notion in the health world and even beyond now about hacking things. What can you do that will actually make a stepwise difference? And this is one of those things.

Christopher:    Absolutely. In fact, maybe this will be a good time to do an exercise with everyone. There's a book I've been reading. It's a recommendation by Dr. Simon Marshall who's been on the podcast a couple of times.


    I really enjoy this book. It's called Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation by Gabriele Oettingen. Gabriele Oettingen in that book presents a tool that she calls WOOP. WOOP stands for wish, outcome, obstacle and then plan. So, Gabriele has done decades of research. She has experimental data that shows that this is a tool that can improve outcomes and create behavior change.

    It's not specific to getting a dog, not by any means. I mean, you could use this for anything. And so the idea is the first thing you do is this idea of mental contrasting. She's shown that mental contrasting, it helps. This is what she means by rethinking positive thinking. It's like there's this myth that you can just think about something, like have a positive thought, and then somehow it will manifest in reality which is rarely the case or what you wanted to be the case.

    But what Gabriele has shown is that first of all you consider your wish. Let's say our wish is to get a dog. So, I want to get a dog. And then you think about the properties. What would it be like to have a dog? Imagine yourself -- Maybe you're a mountain biker listening to this and you considered the idea of getting a trail dog. Think about what it would be like.

    As you're going down the trail and you got the dog yapping, sort of like Kipper that nibbles at my heels and sometimes he tries to bite the tire but that doesn't work very well, obviously, because it's going round. Anyway, you can kind of really pay attention or make an effort to try and visualize what are the properties of having a dog?

Torea:    This is where I have my clients describe it in all five senses. What is it going to feel like? What are you going to see? What are you going to smell? Who are you going to experience this with? Getting super detailed in this outcome stuff is really important.

Christopher:    And then the next thing you do in this process is you envision the outcome. Maybe my outcome is to make more friends on the trail. That's the positive thing that I'm trying to achieve here. Indeed that has been the case. I'm kind of cheating here by doing WOOP after I've actually achieved the goal. But let's say that you're still in that contemplation zone at the moment. You don't have a dog and you're contemplating.

    You can do this exercise and maybe you have a different outcome. Maybe your outcome is to improve your circadian rhythm or something else. That's the next thing you do, the outcome. And then the obstacle. I think we've addressed some of the obstacles in this podcast. Certainly, for me, the obstacle -- I was worried about the dog behavior. I was worried about the dog barking whilst I was doing client calls on Zoom. I was worried about the dog barking during a podcast. And he's here right now. He's asleep over there by the door. And he could be barking. That would be a disaster if I was trying to record a podcast.

    This is the idea of mental contrasting. You're not just doing the positive part, "Let's just hope that this becomes true." You actually contrast with the negative. And it's important. The order is important. You first consider the positive and then the downside. Maybe that would be a downside. Perhaps you can think of a different downside. This is an exercise I'd encourage you to do. And then you make the plan. That's the P in WOOP.

Torea:    So, as a puppy owner, right? Because you got to skip this. One of the things that I was worried about is toileting in the house. That's a big concern.

Christopher:    Brand new house.

Torea:    Brand new house and brand new dog and don't want to screw that up. It was important for us to think about that so that we could develop a plan on how to avoid that or how to get around it.

Christopher:    Right. Is this something that you already knew? I mean, I just literally found out about this thing in this book five minutes ago. Is this something that you heard about previously? I know that sometimes the academic work disseminates into the coaching world and sometimes it loses some of its important points but generally the essence of it is still there and you will find coaches that are practicing stuff that has been shown to work experimentally but they don't necessarily know what the original source of their knowledge was.

Torea:    Right. I would say that there's a lot of elements to her work that are very common in coaching training. So, I took some formal coaching training when I decided to become a health coach and FDM practitioner. The biochemistry piece I could geek out all day but in order to make people these lifestyle changes like what we're talking about is a lot harder. I took some formal coaching training. And even though it wasn't the exact same stuff it followed the same pattern.

Christopher:    It's similar.

Torea:    It's the same pattern. This is very familiar to me. Even though I haven't read her book, it's very familiar.

Christopher:    That's awesome. I mean, it should be out there, right? I mean, I think she's been around. Like Ellen Langer, right? She's got four decades of experiments. Some of it should be out there by now. Okay. So, then, you make a plan. What's going to happen if Kipper starts barking during this podcast? We already said what we do when the dog starts barking. First of all, you acknowledge him. You say, "Okay, thanks guy. Thanks for the warning." And then what else can I do? So, I can pause the recording. I forgot about that. I've forgotten my own plan because it's never actually -- This is the thing about making a plan.


Torea:    We didn't have to come up with it.

Christopher:    Yeah. It calms you down in the moment. But actually, this has never happened. That's why I didn't know what the plan was. It's because it's never happened. The first thing you need to do is calm it down. But, of course, we're not doing this live. It's not like everybody has to wait if I have that. I can just pause the recording and say to my guests, "Excuse me. I just need to calm my dog down. Go get a glass of water. I'll be back with you in five minutes." And it'd be absolutely fine.

    I think the thing that most people would do is they'd try and soldier through it. You hear the dog barking in the background and then you're kind of stressed and nervous going, "Oh god, everybody can hear the dog barking." That's probably not the right thing to do. And so I think this, again, it's like I'm giving you an axe, not just an axe to entrain your circadian rhythm but a mental axe, a tool that you can use to get your wish to actually create positive behavior change. In case you missed all that, wish outcome, obstacle and then plan and then I'll write down my WOOP. There's actually an app for this as well.

Torea:    That's fun.

Christopher:    Yeah. It's fun, yes. Of course, you can WOOP anything. Like if you're feeling nervous about a presentation, you can totally use WOOP to overcome it. What will happen if I choke during my presentation? Well, make a plan for that and it probably won't happen.

Torea:    Have a friend in the audience who knows the Heimlich maneuver.

Christopher:    Not that sort of choke. But, of course, you can use that for anything. I would encourage you to check out that book by Gabriele Oettingen especially if you're a health coach and then check out the app. I've actually had Gabriele agree to be on the podcast.

Torea:    That will be fun.

Christopher:    That will be fun, yeah. Hopefully, we can go into more detail in the future. Maybe we should have talked about this before but I wanted to touch on this because I think it's important now. What do you feed your dog?

Torea:    Food just like we feed us. And that's the basics of it. I learned early on -- Here's the irony. When I had Jack Russell Terriers I learned about raw diets. This is well before I stopped eating processed food. The dogs were eating way better than us following this ancestral health diet way before it ever kind of dawned on me that maybe we should be doing that too. I've stuck with that. Moxie eats raw food and we've been feeding her that since she's a puppy and she's thriving on it.

Christopher:    What do you mean by raw food?

Torea:    Raw food, I mean, is food that is recognizable. It's not processed.

Christopher:    Minimally processed.

Torea:    Minimally processed. So, it's a combination of meat, it's combination of veg, it's combination of maybe some extra vitamins if you need them but typically not. It's mostly meat and partially veg for a carnivore.

Christopher:    And where are you sourcing your food from?

Torea:    Well, now, it's way easier. I used to have to make this stuff for our dog so I was grinding it all up myself and chicken wings through the grinder make a horrible noise and that kind of thing. But now, you can actually get it prepared for you and I just get it from the local feed shop. So I buy it from them.

Christopher:    What works getting out. It's funny. I had a similar experience when -- I mean, we were already on an ancestral Paleo, whatever you want to call it, diet. One of our neighbors when she saw me with the dog she's like, "Wait there. I've got a book that you absolutely must have." And she comes running out with this book. I'm like, "Okay, thanks." I'm thinking, "Thanks, but no thanks."

Torea:    Was it by Ian Dunbar?

Christopher:    It was definitely a female author. Maybe I'll find the book and link it. You don't really need it.

Torea:    It doesn't matter, yeah.

Christopher:    It doesn't matter. Anyway, the essence of the book is that dogs didn't evolve eating grains and if you feed them grains you're going to run into all kinds of health problems and you must give them a diet that genes evolve to, et cetera. So it was basically the Paleo diet for dogs. I thought it's hilarious. The next time I saw that neighbor, I said to her, "Oh, some interesting ideas in this book. Have you ever experimented with eating this way yourself?"

    And she meant, "What do you mean? Raw meat?" I'm, "No, just kind of thinking about what your hunter-gatherer ancestors might have eaten and maybe trying that." And she just looked at me and went, "I never really thought about that." It's like so funny. I mean, it's hilarious, isn't it, that people, that they take better care of their animals than they do themselves.

Torea:    I find it pretty ironic that it took us a number of years. I mean, here's the thing. We even went to a lecture, his name is Dr. Ian Dunbar and he is out of Australia and he was traveling here and he was promoting his new book which was the BARF diet. It stood for biologically appropriate raw food.

Christopher:    That's awesome.

Torea:    And so you think biologically appropriate should have resonated in the human brain for the human food but it didn't. It took us a number of years to get there. We had Jack Russells until they were 15 and a half and 17 and a half. My vet always used to freak out when they saw our female because, "She can't be 16." "Yeah, she's 16." They lived a long healthy life. We never had to deal with any of these bumps and lumps that are showing up all over dogs.

Christopher:    Yeah. I see those all the time.


Torea:    We didn't have to deal with cancers. We didn't have to deal with any of that stuff. Honestly, it was, to me, an insurance policy of feeding them really good food means that I'm not spending a ton of cash with the veterinary bills later.

Christopher:    And it's kind of much better quality of life more to the point.

Torea:    Exactly.

Christopher:    We've had recommendations from you especially and so that's what we did from the outset. Darwin's had been pretty good to us. I'm still not 100% convinced by them. For one, they're very expensive. And, two, the food is kind of like a smoothie for a dog and so one of the things you learn when you try different types of food is that the reason the dog eat so fast is because it can. You've just given it a milkshake or the kibble is maybe sort of the same. They can just like literally inhale it.

Torea:    Gobble, gobble.

Christopher:    Whereas you give what looks more like a whole animal then the dog takes a reasonable amount of time to eat the food.

Torea:    Turkey carcass takes a lot longer to eat than this like mashed up stuff.

Christopher:    Right. And so I fed Kipper some small skinned mammals and it's interesting he'll eat the whole thing with the bones and it takes him ten or 15 minutes to crunch his way through the entire carcass. I think that might be good for his gut microbiome because that's animal fiber. He doesn't eat vegetables for fiber. He eats collagen which is also fermentable.

Torea:    And it keeps their teeth clean. There's a lot of benefits to really thinking about how did the -- What is it? Canis domesticus is what they call them?

Christopher:    I don't know that.

Torea:    They evolved from wolves, obviously. There was a split off. How did these canines evolve over time? I'm not saying that domesticated dogs are wolves but if you observe how wolves eat in the wild they're not given a plate full of kibble.

Christopher:    Smooth. Like I said, the stuff from Darwin's, it's good quality ingredients but it's been turned into a smoothie.

Torea:    It's ground up really fine.

Christopher:    It's really, really. I mean, you could drink it with a straw almost. It's really, really fine and I'm not sure that's ideal. I'm just thinking about another genius piece of wisdom that Josh came up within our Slack recently. He said that the only animal that fails to regulate their body weight are humans and--

Torea:    Domesticated animals that eat the stuff, yeah.

Christopher:    For all other animals, the hypothalamus just takes care of it. You don't see fat squirrels in the garden. The hypothalamus just takes care of it.

Torea:    I wonder how much processed food has to do with hypothalamus dysregulation.

Christopher:    Yeah. If you just give the animal the natural unprocessed diet that it's evolved to eat then the hypothalamus just takes care of the rest. And so if we can get these processed foods out of our diet and out of our dog's diet then, guess what, you don't get fat dogs. And it's interesting actually that I've noticed with minimally processed food that Kipper will regulate his own food intake.

    So, if we've been on a ride and we get back he will hoof down anything. You pay less attention to crunching in all of that. But on days that he hasn't been so active, he leaves some of it in his bowl. It's not he doesn't like it because -- That's one of the things I learned from Doggy Dan. If you're the boss then you control the food. The second he stops eating, he comes out from underneath him, and then it reappears for dinner and he eats it just fine. It's just that he just wasn't hungry. Think about if I give him kibble, I mean he would just hoofer it all down no matter what because you've just given him processed food. It's hyperpalatable.

Torea:    Right. And the thing is that they're not getting food in the wild all day long, two meals, three meals a day. That's not happening either. So, fasting periods are also happening in these animals. I've had the same. Moxie didn't want her food so we picked it up and she was totally fine and then hungry at dinner. No big deal.

Christopher:    Awesome. Well, this has been great. One final thing I wanted to point out because I'm sure I'll get some people ask me about this or tell me about this is that with Kipper I did wait kind of until he was orthopedically mature before I started running him hard on the slopes.

Torea:    Yeah. Good point. Yeah, you didn't start riding with him early.

Christopher:    No. A little bit, we would go for just a few hundred meters or maybe I just go around a little half mile loop where I live with him running after. That's how I knew that he would do it on the trails. I didn't train him to do it. He just did it instinctively. But I didn't run him super hard until he was about a year old. So more now it's like we've been doing 25 mile rides and longer harder stuff.

    We have a client who's a vet and he was the first person to tell me and then other people told me too. If you're a contemplator and you're thinking it would be awesome to have a trail dog and then maybe I nudge you into action and you get one, don't think that your four-month old puppy is going to run after you super hard on the trail because that may not be a great thing to do.

Torea:    Yeah, good point.

Christopher:    Maybe this is a good time to wrap up, Torea. Is there anything else you'd want people to know about? I can, of course, link to your website in the show notes. Is there anything else that you think you want people to know about?

Torea:    Not right now.

Christopher:    Okay.

Torea:    Yeah. Nice to meet people and it's great being a guest again on your podcast. If anybody wants to reach out and talk about these topics or other topics, just reach out to me. I'm happy to talk to.

Christopher:    Yeah. Well, thank you for being my coach. I don't think I would have had the same dog experience. My plan wouldn't have either, A, existed or, B, executed.

Torea:    You are so welcome.

Christopher:    If it had not been for your coaching advice. I very much appreciate that.

Torea:    I'm so glad it hasn't turned out to be the disaster you thought it might.

Christopher:    Yeah. And thank you, Tommy, for creating that important trigger that led to me getting a dog. Thanks, everyone. We'll speak again soon.

Torea:    Ciao.

[0:55:38]    End of Audio

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