The Bark

Thank you, thank you, thank you to The Bark Magazine.

They consistently put out a great product but this month warrants special accolades.

I'm an unknown author who worked incredibly hard to advocate for my students and urban dogs all over the country. The problem with being an unknown author is...being unknown.

For The Bark to select Considerations for the City Dog for a review in their coveted winter issue (they only produce 4 issues a year!), I'm beyond speechless.

The Bark not only speaks for dogs, but they speak for the unknown author, indie author or authors of small publishing houses that might get overlooked by the Bigger Publishing Houses (tm).

Interestingly enough, I'm not the only Boston area author in this review section. Fellow New England Dog Training Club member (and longtime author), Susan Conant, is also reviewed in this particular issue. It's like I had a buddy along for this ride, and I'm so happy to see NEDTC represented in a few genres in such a great magazine.

Thanks for looking out for us, Bark, in the same way you look after dogs.

If you're looking for something special to read for your holiday travels, feel free to pick up this issue of The Bark - I hear they have some pretty great books in their reviews section!

Happy Thanksgiving,


Muzzle Up!

Here is a post I wrote for 2 Dogs Treats last week. I thought it was an important one to share here in its entirety. 

Muzzle Up!

If you are reading this right now, you might think muzzles are only for “bad dogs.” Dogs that are aggressive, dangerous or mean.

I hope to change your mind by the end of this post.

I will introduce and discuss the many reasons for acclimating every dog to a basket muzzle, particularly in an urban environment. Your vet would argue (rightfully) that all dogs should be comfortable wearing a muzzle and I have to agree.

A Labrador Retriever wearing a Basket Muzzle. 
(Courtesy of TheLabradorSite.com)
Before I list the many reasons that pet professionals are pro-muzzle, I want you to think for a minute. What circumstances would a muzzle be useful? Think about veterinarians, the law, natural disasters. Now can you think of any other reason to muzzle train your pup?

Here is a short list:
  • Veterinarians might have to muzzle your dog if he is seriously injured. When our greyhound broke his leg at home, my instinct was to grab his basket muzzle, put it on him, and then evaluate the situation. When a dog is in excruciating pain (such as a broken leg), their instinct is to prevent more pain. Even the best behaved dogs that would never otherwise bite their owners have bitten owners, passer bys and veterinarians - all of which were trying to help the dog. You can’t help your dog if you are also going to the ER for a significant dog bite, so put the muzzle on Sparky first and then assess the situation.
  • Dogs that eat EVERYTHING. If you have a dog who has had to go to the veterinarian more than once this summer for parasites because your dog eats everything on walks, a muzzle might be a great option for preventing illness and more vet bills. This also applies to labradors who eat rocks, poop (coprophagia) or other forms ofpica.
  • Local evacuations: With more and more natural disasters nationally, the chances of evacuation due to natural disaster are (sadly) increasing. Many people do not want to leave their pets behind in case of emergency, and many choose to ignore evacuation requests because of their pets. Don’t risk your life, or your pets life. Many evacuation sites will allow you to bring your pet IF it’s in a crate and muzzled. When a dog is stressed out, the likelihood of a bite increases so for everyone's protection, your pets need to be muzzled and / or crated. If you haven’t started crate training, here is a great place to start.
  • Reactive Dogs: There are aggressive dogs (dogs that for a variety of reasons charge and bite) and there arereactive dogs. Dogs like my former dog, Sadie, who had a large personal space bubble and was perfectly fine as long as no other dog came into her space. If they did, then she would react by lunging, barking, and loudly express her displeasure at the intruder. It’s an even harder situation when the dog coming into her space is a “friendly” dog who “just wants to say hi.” Sorry, this might be unpopular, but as the owner of a reactive dog (like thousands of you in cities) your dog’s friendliness has absolutely nothing to do with my dog’s comfort. Your dog’s “good intentions” is not permission to come into any dog’s space. Full stop. This is why leash laws exist - it’s not just for the safety of your dog, but for the dogs that are uncomfortable their surroundings. If you do not have the ability to call your dog from any distraction (including other dogs) your dog should be leashed until trained. With that said, as an added bonus, a dog like Sadie could have worn a muzzle - which would have been a visual cue to the FDO (friendly dog’s owner) that this dog should not have her space infringed upon. Sometimes a little extra security goes a long, long way.
  • If you are in a busy environment and other people ignore pleas to not get in your dog's face. If you are someone who says “yes, I know he’s cute, and he likes people but I think he’s overwhelmed now,” a muzzle is a good visual marker for people to give a little bit of space so this dog can take a quick break.
  • Bully Breeds: If you own a bully breed, or a banned breed (there are 75 of them in the USA - is your dog on this list?), a muzzle might be a necessary evil for you to keep your dog. In some cases, you can only walk your banned breed down the street of your neighborhood, regardless of temperament, with a muzzle. If you think breed bans are just for ‘pit bulls’ and other bully breeds, then you’re in for a surprise because in some cases, Chihuahuas, American Eskimo Dogs and Golden Retrievers are on the list. If you are the owner of these dogs in a locale that bans these breeds, you are now going to start feeling the heat in the way that bully breed owners have been for decades. It’s time to stop BSL (breed specific legislation) and instead employ individual risk assessment per individual dogs.

pink muzzle.png
Pink, custom, blinged out muzzle for this beauty! 
For more information about this particular piece, visit RedStarCafe

There are great resources for muzzles, including the popular Muzzle Up Project. This website lays out even more resources and reasons for muzzles, and works hard to erase the stigma of muzzles. The Karen Pryor website also is addressing the muzzle issue.

With all of that said, muzzles are still used on dogs that are aggressive, so it’s important to give space to ANY dog wearing a muzzle. Until we can all get on board and ask every dog owner if it’s ok to say hello to their dog (and keep going if the answer is “No,” for any reason!), then muzzles are a necessity.

And, in some cases, are really, really cute :)

2 Dogs Treats owner Christian enters J-Lo in a Halloween contest. J-Lo is wearing a Duck Muzzle - a functional muzzle designed to take some of the stigma out of muzzling dogs. Good boy, Christian! You’re doing an AWESOME job advocating for your pup!

So next time you see a dog in a muzzle, there is no reason to be alarmed. The owner is protecting their dogs from illness, good intentions and eating terrible things. They are advocating for their dog’s space. They are teaching their dogs that muzzles are no big deal in the event of an emergency. These are good dog owners who are being proactive and protective for a variety of reasons.

Training goal: Get a muzzle and start teaching your pup to wear it. You don’t have to have your dog wear it all the time, but you can start getting your dog used to it. Your vet, trainer and others will thank you for it in the event of an unforeseen circumstance. The time to try a muzzle is not when you’re being evacuated or your dog has broken his leg - the time for muzzles is when you can teach them to wear it comfortably, and treat it like a party trick.

Until next time! 
Melissa McCue-McGrath, CPDT-KA
Author Considerations for the City Dog | Co-Training Director NEDTC.org | Co-Conspirator at CarTalk FIDO


Pet Professional Guild FREE Member Webinar

Hey guys!

I'm really excited! I am giving my very first webinar through the Pet Professional Guild on 12/28/2015!

It's titled "Intention, The Law, and Rescue" . It will address the intention of all the parties involved in dog rescue, the legal loopholes that some rescues circumvent (and the ramifications of those loopholes), and what we can do to identify responsible rescues. I'll be touching on #HandsOnFirst and the Pet Finder Loophole, real dog bite cases in the news, and address how the very way we discuss rescue and dog bites can harm dogs/owners long term.

I'm really excited to present this webinar. If you need CEU's, here is the break down:


I hope to see you on the 28th!


Why I Won't Sign The "Save Neville" Petition

There is a post circulating like CRAZY on Facebook. It’s called “Save Neville.” The Change.org petition states that a family with a young child was looking to adopt a dog. They entered a pen with Neville and “other dogs” that were playing. The staff advised the family not to put the child on the ground, but they did anyway and when the toddler grabbed Neville, Neville bit the youngster in the face. As a result of that single bite wound Neville is court ordered to be euthanized.

Upon hearing that story, I’d sign that petition! This dog is misunderstood. His face is so cute! It seems to be one bite. This dog might not be placed with kids in the home, but surely this is a dog worth saving, right? I mean, the parents clearly didn’t listen and the responsibility is on them...right?

Here is a great lesson in making sure you have all the facts before jumping on a Change.org bandwagon, especially if it seems like the petition is one sided.

According to a news piece on this story, there were up to five dogs in the pen with Neville and they were all playing. As a professional, I read that as “jazzed up.” The shelter said they told the family not to put the child down (citing common sense) but the family denies being told. This part is he-said-she-said and can’t be proven unless the surveillance camera (which is part of the case) can point to the staff saying, “Hey, don’t put your kid on the ground.” When the 2-year-old reached up to “hug” Neville after hugging and shaking the dog previously, the dog turned and bit the child in the face which resulted in 16 stitches at a local hospital.

The photo of the child’s wounds was notably absent from the petition.

That does not sound like a single bite wound, though maybe it is? It *could* be a quick bite to delicate skin where 8 top teeth met 8 bottom teeth resulting in 16 stitches (or something like that.) It could also be 3 teeth grabbing and shaking the toddler which would scale significantly higher on the Dunbar Bite Scale.

What is the Dunbar Bite Scale? If you call a professional like me into your home if your dog nips, bites, or wounds another party (person or dog), the scale I use to quantify those bites is the Dunbar Bite Scale. If you scroll down through the linked article, there are great cartoons that aren’t too graphic that illustrate perfectly how I scale a bite from Level 1 (air snap/ dog bit and “missed”) to Level 6 (death to the victim). There are only 6 levels, but they are quantifiable and can tell us a lot. How riled up was the dog? Given the severity of the bite, was the dog reacting to stimuli (a kid grabbing him?) or “looking for trouble” (charging and attacking the victim). Dogs don’t tend to start biting at level 3, 4 or 5...so the higher up the bite scale tends to indicate a bite history. This bite scale is really important in my line of work and professionals like me work hard to get this information out there. I think every bite needs to be quantified and an appropriate plan should be in place. All of this is dependent on the stress of the dog and the bite level of previous bites.

I feel if we can change the way we talk about dog bites, we can stop victim blaming and stop our knee jerk reaction to the poor dog who just didn’t know any better. I’m not saying I don’t sympathize with the situation, or want to save the dog - but this type of banter needs to stop:
“The parents should have known better.”
“The kid shouldn’t have hugged the dog.”
“Yes, the kid got 16 stitches, but he won’t likely have permanent damage.”
“I’ll take Neville. Say he ran away and give him to me.”
“The parents should have been bitten.” "The parents brought this upon themselves. I have no respect for them."

These are all, sadly, comments taken directly from the Change.org petition. It’s heart breaking. This happens every time there is a dog put on doggie death row, but we have to change the way we talk about and handle dog bites and ethical rescue/adoption in this country if we really want to save these dogs.

Again, I’m not saying this dog is dangerous. I don’t have all the facts - and that’s why I’m not weighing in on if he should have a stay of execution. Some dogs are dangerous. Some dogs should not be homed. Sometimes it’s the people, but sometimes it IS the dog. Sometimes it’s the environment. Sometimes it’s poor placement from the shelters. And sometimes it’s the people. All the people. Including the shelter employees. We need to stop saying “there are no bad dogs, only bad people” because that isn’t fair to the 2 year old kid in this case who has to deal with stitches and maybe long term fear of dogs. Yes, there were people in this case who made this worse, but canine genetics might have also played a part in this case, and the dog might not have been ok with kids. That’s not for me to say because (again) I haven’t met this dog or seen the file. It is, however, food for thought. There is much more here than an online petition.

In this case, I see several failures and teachable moments:
  • On the part of the parents who put a kid in a pen with multiple dogs, but maybe they didn’t know better - and knowing that “hugging” dogs is not good practice is just now getting in the zeitgeist. Not everyone knows this so that’s not fair to put on the parents. We are all still learning. Also, not every person is a dog expert, and we’re learning more every day. If they ignored shelter staff, then this is on them, too.
  • On the part of the shelter for having a family with a young child meet more than one dog in a pen.
  • On the part of the shelter for not knowing subtle stress signals in dogs if any were given, or likely triggers in dogs (for instance: 5 dogs zipping around and a toddler reaching for one of them).
  • On the part of the shelter for not immediately intervening when the toddler moved towards Neville. The parents might not be experts, but the shelter staff should know better...but maybe they don’t. Again, we are all still learning, and many shelters don’t have access to the tools they need. Their good intentions are there, and needed to save dogs, but they need more tools to make better decisions when introducing families to pets.
  • On the part of the shelter for not removing the family if an employee did say, “Hey, I don’t advise you putting your child on the ground.” That would be a great time to reassess the situation if there were warnings about putting the toddler on the ground. Maybe then pick a suitable match and bring the family into a single room to meet the dog - a room with a poster on “how not to say hi to dogs.”

Here’s the take away: Victim blaming is never...let me repeat, never, ok. The way I see it, everyone “failed” but that doesn’t mean it’s the time to victim blame. I see gaping holes in education and safety protocol. It’s time to look at this event and say, “Hey, we need to do better and we can’t let this happen again.” How do we do that?

  • The way to truly save Neville is to have an Applied Animal Behaviorist or a Veterinary Behaviorist assess the dog. And, they might say that he needs to be euthanized, but at least it’s from someone with the authority to make this sort of call. These findings should be presented to the court.
  • There needs to be a management plan and a behavior plan in place if he is saved.
  • The shelter needs to look over their policies of how families meet dogs (and maybe provide education to their shelter staff, volunteers and community about how to interact with dogs safely.)
  • They need to learn about, and teach, stress signals in dogs.
  • The shelter needs to be ok if this dog gets euthanized. They also need to make sure they take the proper steps to make sure this never happens again.
  • The shelter can ask a behaviorist (someone with a PhD in the field or a certification stating they have taken classes in animal science - not any ol’ person who says they are a behaviorist. They need to back up their profession with actual credentials) to come in and work with them on proper assessment practices and how to manage the dogs and the people who want to adopt these dogs safely.

This dog still might get euthanized, or he might not, but public outcry should not be the thing that saves Neville. Using this as a teachable moment for all parties involved and to start programs in local schools (like Doggone Safe) to teach kids and parents about safe interactions with dogs is a fantastic place to start. Additionally, the Family Paws website and everything at
Living with Kids and Dogs is useful for all parents, even if you don't have dogs. Your kid might come in contact with dogs on walks, or get chased by a dog off leash - the information in these websites is invaluable and can prepare families for the unexpected.

This shelter should take the lead, learn about safe practices, and make sure they are on the hook if Neville bites again - because if they place this dog and he has another incident where someone gets seriously hurt, the shelter who stands by this dog needs to have some accountability.

-M3 *Due to hateful language in the comments section, the comments might have to get shut down. That said, I have reported comments that call me an asshole, or call the parents terrible things. I won't stand for it and will report all comments that are hateful and not helpful to the conversation. If they continue the post will remain up but comments will be disabled. We are all adults, so keep it civil. We can agree to disagree, but any and all personal attacks will be removed and reported immediately. I find it telling that the comments removed were exactly the speech I'm aiming to change. Clearly, there is more work to do.*

Car Talk: Pet Safety Equipment

Last week, on +Car Talk's FIDO Blog, Sip and I wrote a piece on the Center for Pet Safety. We looked at how they test crates, doggie seatbelts and other pet travel gear.

This was the first time I was totally speechless, which is a problem if my one job is to come up with actual words. After watching videos titled "Safety Harness Catastrophic Failure 2," it's easy to see why maybe I was at a loss for words.

That said, there is an upshot - companies ARE changing the way we gauge and rate safety equipment for Fido and Fluffy, and this is a VERY good thing!

More here!



K9 Cops Weigh In On Staying Cool on CarTalk

When I first joined the +Car Talk blogging team, there was one piece I knew immediately that I'd want to write.

Thanks to a fantastic effort by local friends, the Taunton Police Department, my blogging partner Sip, and the CarTalk team, it's finally a reality! 

K9Blitz and his heat-safe ride (Image via Twitter: @TauntonPDK9)
Thank you to K9 Blitz, Patrolman Swartz, and the Taunton Police Department. 
Sure, we talk all the time about leaving dogs in hot cars and all the reasons it's a very bad, terrible, no good idea. However, there is a demographic that absolutely MUST leave their dogs in cars every day. How do K9 Officers keep their partners cool? How do they pimp out their rides? What is the cost of keeping a car cool (and safe!) enough for the 4-legged pups in blue?

Here is that piece. 


"Considerations" on DogCastRadio!

I'd have to say in all seriousness, my interview with Julie Hill of DogCastRadio (one of my favorite podcasts about life with dogs) is the highlight of writing this book, and my profession. We had a lovely conversation where I think we both learned interesting things that both the UK and the US are facing in terms of acquiring pet dogs.

In the UK, they have a program called #WheresMum - an attempt to educate potential owners about puppy mill scams where less-reputable breeding operations will sell puppies under the guise of "the mom died at birth. It's so sad. She needs you to save her." As you might guess, this poses many ethical problems of feeding into the puppy mill industry to well-intentioned dog owners who are trying to save dogs.

Over here, I'm trying to get #HandsOnFirst to take off - my attempt to educate potential dog owners to meet dogs (rescues or pure-bred puppies) and know what a reputable facility looks like. Trucking dogs outside of state lines is a huge problem here in MA (for more about this issue, see my presentation for the Massachusetts Veterinary Technicians Association). 

And then, at the very end, my 3-year-old figured out how to turn on the keyboard and amplifier to play her version of "outro music" which had all three of us in stitches.

Julie is a professional through-and-through, and I really wish we could have met in person to enjoy an appropriate beverage. She's lovely, funny, and really takes an interest in all things "dog," .... and cheeky-toddler!

So thank you, Julie, for the conversation and the opportunity! When you come Stateside, I owe you a beverage of your choice :)

Enjoy the interview (and the conversation about dogs and fireworks) right here. 


Interview with Somerville Scout

Yesterday I met Emily Cassel, the managing editor of Somerville Scout.
considerations for the city dog
This little guy was roaming the streets of Somerville at Porchfest earlier this year.
Photo by Emily Cassel.

We had a lovely chat about dogs, the book, and life in an urban environment with pups while we were sipping on iced coffee. All while my toddler slept! Life is good.

Here is our interview about the book, #HandsOnFirst and everything #CityDog!

(I admit - though it's a very sweet interview, I teared up because she included my girl, Sadie at the very end :) )

#CityDogs #UrbanHounds #LifeWithDogs 


Two Free Presentations!

There are two chances to see my free presentation on keeping our urban pets happier! Bring questions, comments, and save some room for snacks.