3.19.2020

"In this isolation, we are not alone"

Test, test...*blows dust*...is this thing on?

Hi blog followers, if you still follow :) It's me. Melissa. I know it's been a while, but with Covid19, I felt it important to reach out.

Some dogs don't understand social distancing. For that, I'm thankful this one holds us up when we are sick, sad, or too tired to get up.

I wrote a post on Instagram today for people who are struggling. Initially, I had been making Dog Training Challenges in this Covid 19 pandemic to keep my students upbeat, busy, working. I recorded versions of lessons for three classes at Everydog Training Center for my personal students, dozens of videos with the team at New England Dog Training Club so they could continue with classes, and started daily challenges for my followers. I did it for them.

...or so I thought. 

Here is what I wrote. I think a lot of people might feel the same way, and I want you to know you aren't alone. Here are the words, and here is the OG post. If need to reach out at all or vent to the universe, I'm here. I will read every comment (even the spammy ones from places afar, because that's a thing!) but if you need anything, I'm here.

***

Real talk. 



I keep saying these #dailychallenge #dogtraining videos are for my students.
I'm slowly realizing they are for me, too.
In these videos are mistakes, mistakes I won't edit out because we all make mistakes. (Like in this one, forgetting to check the stability of a table before sending #CaptainLove up onto it for a proofing exercise.) I finished uploading all the training exercises for #NEDTC for classes to resume online for the foreseeable future, and some of the lessons for my #Everydog classes are also uploaded on my personal YouTube account, but as soon as the last video cleared the "processing" phase, I fell apart.

Socially isolated

There are jobs and there are JOBS. My job is my life, my passion. Communicating with students, working with animals, all of it is what makes life living for so many of us in the pet industry. The human connections I make through dog training isn't just a perk, it's necessary for my soul.

I am a teacher in my soul. Dogs give me a connection to people. A connection I love, crave and need as much as air or food.

So when the last video processed and I had nothing to complain about ("Why it's this taking so long?") or tinker with ("What's this button do?"), I had nothing left but to think about the new reality of being inside, like most of you.
I had time to think about my dear friend who is an ER doctor at the biggest hospital Boston, friends who are sick, my sister who works in a nursing home with the patients at the highest risk. My brother in the restaurant industry. I had time to think about my Dad sitting at home, him slowly realizing this isn't something bless out of proportion, but this is real life and death. Thinking about the kids in college who can't go home, or worse, have to go home even if they don't feel safe or can't get back into the US after because I suspect this is the next nail for xenophobia. And the people who will be forever touched by this novel virus.

So yes, these dog training videos are for you, my students and people who want to play along with me.

But I'm not going to lie. They are my anchor right now because without this connection, I feel like I'll become unmoored.

Helping students navigate the tunnel in last month's Tricks and Games class

Be safe out there. Check-in on your extrovert friends. Check on your hairdressers, dog walkers, dog trainers, veterinarians, doctors, parents, colleagues. Check on in your child's teachers, coaches, and Capoeira instructors. They are fueled by the same passion, and might appreciate a quick check in or virtual hug. 

In this isolation, we are not alone, and that's an important distinction.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B96yLbLp370/?igshid=krqz4l8g2960

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/citydogbook/
Facebook communal group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/123850104320567/
Twitter: @Muttstuff
Instagram: MelissaMcCueMcGrath
Youtube: Melissa McCue McGrath, CPDT-KA

9.17.2019

Environmental Considerations In Urban Dog Training

Have you ever wondered what it's like to see the city experience from your dog's perspective? 


Let's take hallways for example. Hallways are great for people. They are often the quickest way from point A to point B. If we're talking about a multiunit apartment building, then straight lines are the best way to put several units on a floor, then stack those floors above each other for maximum space usage, or maximizing the monthly income for the building owner.

When I see a hallway like the one below, I just think about how much fun it would be to rollerblade or skateboard down it.

These 400 square foot units would be approximately 7 billion dollars a month in my home city of Boston. 

However, this is perhaps more symbolic of the feeling dogs get walking down the hallway:


Consider what it would be like if there are doors that open (seemingly) randomly on both sides of a dog. That can be scary, especially if a kid jumps out screaming because she's hopped up on sugar. To a dog, it might look like people are popping out of the walls like the worst magic trick imaginable. There is nowhere to run, and assuming the dog is leashed, this can certainly add to the frustration. If there are two dogs walking towards each other, then you can imagine how things could escalate quickly for everyone.

Dogs can hear everything on the other side of each door with their sensitive hearing.

They can smell all the food created on the other side of each of these doors in addition to your neighbor's nail polish remover, or the cat box down the hall. All of this is undeniably overwhelming to a dog. 

Straight lines are essentially the third circle of hell for dogs, so hallways and sidewalks are just harder for dogs in many cases. 

Dogs do circles really well. Circles are just simply more polite. Exhibit A: 

dogs game show funny wheel of fortune butt sniff - 8140613632
Circles! 
But circles are not great for people as we think in lines when designing urban spaces. Back to hallways. If there is an elevator at the end of a hall, it might look like this to us: 

Pretty inviting for an elevator. 

However, to some dogs, this just looks like a trap. The doors open, people go in, then disappear. The dog might as well be walking right into this: 

Post image
Spoiler alert for Stranger Things, Season 3 

I have many clients who just can't get their puppy house-trained on the fifth floor because the puppy is too scared of the elevator. In addition to just getting into the doors, add the dropping sensation of what amounts to a moving box (flying coffin) the puppy is now trapped in. Each passing floor the puppy feels that sickening stomach drop story, by story, by story. Don't get me started on the kid who gets on the elevator with Axe Body Spray. 

How to teach your teen to use AXE body spray + a locker room printable


It's no wonder so many dogs struggle.

And this is just the living space! They all eventually have to venture outside where there are more straight lines, more noises, more traffic, and the worst of the worst to dogs everywhere: Skateboards by the dozens.

Because of these considerations and unique issues we are finding in urban dog training, Susan Smith of Raising Canine has invited me back to speak! This time, I've been invited to present on specific issues relating to training dogs in more populated environments. If you are working as a dog training professional in the city, everything you know as a dog trainer might go out of the 7th story window.

If you are a dog trainer interested on taking clients in the city, or if you are looking for some creative workarounds for common urban dog training issues, please feel free to join the webinar! It'll be October 2nd, 2019, at 10:30 Central (11:30 Eastern). I like to have fun with my presentations, as you can see.

Susan also has other webinars, many are free, some with CEUs, from top professionals like Jennifer Shryock (Family Paws, a resource I recommend to every new parent with dogs); Ian Dunbar; Teoti Anderson; Jolanta Benal; Jean Donaldson, and Nicole Wilde to name a few.

So, grab your autumnal beverage of choice, click on the link, and let's talk all things #citydog from the comfort of wherever you prefer to watch the internet. 

6.14.2019

It Started As A Joke...

During the #Train4Rewards blog party, there was a quick aside on a Twitter thread.




But then, I walked Captain and all I could think about was what WOULD this listicle look like if he wrote that piece for Huffpo? I mean, for something like this, there would need to be a strong perspective, a youthful voice and gifs. SO MANY GIFS.


Huffington Post - ENTERTAINMENT

15 Reasons You Should Let Me Roll In Goose Shit

By: Captain Love McGrath, Urban Dog Beat Reporter

You know the drill. Your owner gives you a bath and then cuts up the equivalent of 17 hot dogs as some sort of forgiveness tax, but it doesn't work. Dogs have RIGHTS, and I'm here to lay it out, right here, right now why we should - nay - have the RIGHT to roll in goose shit. Humans, listen up, because it's about to get reeeeeaaaaally real all up in here.
  1.  My nose is better than yours: Sure, it smells bad to you, but it doesn't to us. We have a more powerful nose, so we know what a good smell is vs. a bad one. I'll leave you to opening peanut butter jars, you leave the odors to me.



  2.  I'm not doing meth: Seriously. I could be doing doggy meth instead and end up in one of those Florida Dog memes (it's like Florida Man, but with dogs. Look it up).



  3. Urban dogs need to feel connected to nature: You humans do this by deep meditative breathing and focusing on a photo of a cabin in New Hampshire. I live in the same 600 square foot apartment you do, and I can't see colors (at least, not meaningful ones to you - photos don't do it for me, hunny). I can, however, connect with nature in a different way. By rolling in goose shit.

  4. Hypocrite: You have goose feathers in your jacket. Why can't I have a little goose in MY coat?


  5. I Don't Tell You How To Have Fun: I have seen what you call fun. You either stare at a screen, or drink that weird stuff and sing tragically off key to old Cher albums when you think no one is listening. I'm listening. It's offensive to my ears. I can't open the door and leave - because, no thumbs. This is ALL I HAVE.



  6. Instinct: Sometimes I just see it and I have to have it. I can't explain it. I have no idea what I'm doing, but it's great.


  7. Geese are tough. I mean, look at how mean these guys are. They take NO guff, not even from cows. COWS. Cows are bigger by like, a million per cent. Furrrrreal.




    If I can smell like a goose, maybe they'll be nicer to us when we walk by on our nightly walk. Just sayin'. I'm just trying to save your life by rolling in pieces of feces.
  8. I have no idea what I'm doing: Are you still reading this? Seriously? I mean, I thought you'd quit at Hypocrite...



  9. Parasites never hurt anyone:
    Wait, actually, they do. Have a gif of BoJack Horseman.



  10. You have your preferred Goose:  I have mine. And it's shit.



  11. This Simpsons gif: I'm a dog, and typing is hard. Have a Simpsons gif.



  12. All those times YOU came home smelling of goose: After Merideth's bacherlorette party, after your 30th birthday, after the break up from whats-his-butt-I-think-it-was-Josh? And you came to bed, stinking of it, and I STILL curled up next to you.




    I NEVER JUDGED YOU. I roll in one little goose poo, and it's bath time. Sheesh!
  13. I could resort to other tactics, but choose not to: Like, I was born with a particular set of skills, MAD SKILLZ, and I don't go around using those skills on things you love. But, I could, if I were that kind of dog, use these skills if I didn't get my way. ImmaJustSayin'.



  14. Whenever I see goose shit, I have feelings. Real feelings. Like, whenever I see goose shit, smell goose shit, it makes my heart go aflutter and I want to scream from the rooftops, "I Love You, Goose Shit! I LOOOOOOOVE YOOOOOOU!"



  15. But more than anything, I just really want to feel loved in return.


     
___________

Before you go, check out more Huffpo pieces, like: 
What Type of Carrot Best Describes Your Sex Life

And

Rage Rage Rage IT'S ALL BURNING Rage Rage Rage

And

Meet Denver Zoo's Same Sex Flamingo Couple, Lance Bass and Freddie Mercury*

(*actually, the last one is totally real and is super sweet.


What They Don't Tell You About Professional Positive Reinforcement Training

This post is part of the #Train4Rewards Blog Party  Follow Companion Animal Psychology on Twitter/FB/Web - it's one of my favorite go-to places on the internet, and I think you'll love it, too! 

The 2019 Train for Rewards Blog Party


*When I wrote this, I wrote it from a dog training perspective, but this abSOLUTEly can be true for horses, cats, bonobos, first graders, etc.  
-M3
________________________________________

I haven't written here since January. I've been busily writing an educational memoir that focuses primarily on what it's like to really be a dog trainer, one who came from a background where we alpha rolled dogs, bit their ears (I cringe at thinking that) all under the guise of "love," keeping them "safe" and most of all, obedient.

And how as a young girl, I knew it was wrong, but it took a long time to unlearn.

I'm not alone.

I was mentoring a Victoria Stilwell Academy student, Zoe, in 2016. As Zoe was finishing her program she asked me, "What do I need to know going in?" I reminded her of all the technical stuff she'd need to know for any tests she'd have to take for certification, but that's when she stopped me.

"No, not that," she said. "What do I need to know. The stuff they didn't tell me in class." 

There is MORE to being a dog trainer than sit, down and stay, and Zoe knew it from the jump.

So I wrote her a book, the same one I'm working on now. 


Here's the thing: If someone jumps into this industry because they love dogs, or they want to advocate for dogs*, the thing they don't tell you is that every facet of our lives as professional dog trainers has the potential to become a magnifying glass for stress signals, learning theory, communication, boundaries, all of it, in every single area of a professional and a personal life experience. And for some of us, that's amazing.

For others (read: spouses!), maybe not so much.

Being immersed in the world of positive reinforcement can create a perfect mirror: A mirror that when held up forces you to look back at every mistake made prior to making the commitment to using science, data, and learning theory. These last three years have been a meditation on forgiving myself for trespasses made in the name of "alpha", "training" and "respect," and I know I'm not alone. Sometimes this is a hard pill to swallow, and it's so easy to get stuck back in that place, especially if your personal journey as someone working with animals in a positive reinforcement circle did not start out with clickers, treat bags and learning theory. Most surprisingly, just like with our relationships and glaring mistakes we might have made with the dogs in our past, we have to look at other relationships, too, those with people. And that, for me, is sometimes painful, difficult and embarrassing. And again, I know I'm not alone. 

Positive reinforcement training for domestic animals is a balancing act, one the best trainers and consultants are truly bilingual. First, we take what a dog is saying with her furry body. We can't just read the dogs and report back - we have to be able to read the dog: How much pressure can we, or should we, use? How nervous is this dog, how confident, how trainable, how excitable, how everything is this dog?

And then we have to take that information, put it through the Translatomatic 3000, and assess the owner. 

How nervous is this owner? How much does he resist positive reinforcement? How on-board is he with data, science, and yes - cookies? How do we talk to him about the dog he loves in a way he can understand and execute the right plan? How do I translate this just so?  Is humor right for this guy? Is blunt force the way to go? Is talking to his wife better? 

Then, and only then can we feed this information back through the Translatomatic 3000, take out sciencey-lingo, add pizzaz, jazz hands, and relay the info back to the client.

All in 15 seconds.

(Sometimes I feel exactly like these robots: Failing with my translations.)


There is sexism - in a field dominated by women, we still deal with sexism on the daily either online, in a client's home, or on stage. I've watched men talk over women on stage, women with doctorates in animal sciences, steamrolled by men who turn and wink to the audience as if their bullying was a joke.  I've had grown men tell me my job is cute, minutes after I was crying with a client when she made the decision to euthanize her beloved pet. We haven't solved sexism, even in a field that is nearly 90% women. They don't tell you that, either. But we're working on it. 

There are healthcare considerations if one is to be a self-employed dog trainer or a contractor. In many cases if we don't work, we don't get paid, which makes things like the flu, broken bones and pregnancy much, much, much harder. Again, working on it - but this is absolutely something that should be considered.

OMG - SO MUCH PEE. And humping. To be honest, humping and pee are the dynmaic duo of awkward laughter in professional training, and if you can't handle being peed on, cleaning pee, eating a sandwich while talking about pee, poop, or worse, then at least consider a different path. I had no idea how much of my professional conversation load would be on the subject of urine and penises. Penisi? Peni? Moving on. 

There is misinformation galore regarding breed types...and if someone loves dogs as much as dog trainers love dogs, we can be pretty, pretty, pretty nasty to people who disagree with us. Be wary of comment sections, particularly in hot button topics (like anything with Pit Bull in the title). 

...and there is the Internet, which is the very embodiment of a high-wire act. Some info is great (she says, writing a blog post on THE INTERNET), and some is so very damaging to dogs and people it makes me want to cry. And, here's the thing - I've said some of those wrong things fully believing they were correct, learned differently, and that stuff despite taking it down, still gets shared on THE INTERNET. The internet is truly a double-edged sword that plays such a role in culture, society, and yes, positive reinforcement animal training.

Image of Google
Google with Caution.


And once you see stress in a dog, it's hard to NOT see stress in a dog. Dogs at the dog park, dogs on walks, dogs being dragged by their owners on the sidewalk when the dog is just trying to sniff a flower. It makes my heart break in two when the connection is lost when the dog is just another thing to do - "Make coffee, drop kids at school, walk dog." And if you know what you're looking for, the dog park will be a difficult place to go after learning what stress signals are. I've had to pay my friend to take my dog to the dog park because my dog loves it, his buddies are there, and we live in a city. Yet, I can't go without taking behavior modification medication because there are so many dogs there who do not want to be there. It's tempting to run up to the dog's care taker, grab them by the shoulders, and present a 15 slide presentation on stress signals - but that's not how this job works. You have to know when to open your mouth, and when to zip it. Yes, there will be things that are really, really hard to watch. And there is very little you can do.

And I was so ill-prepared for that realization, too.

But why do we still do this if it's so hard, a job where it might sometimes feel like we are fighting dragons all day? 

That's personal. For me, there are the connections, the good stories that warm the heart, the dogs that make you bust out laughing so hard your stomach hurts, the people who hold your hand and say, "Thank you," the people who send holiday cards and become true friends. The people who come to classes and work hard, the dogs who come to classes and work hard, the community, the tribe, and yes, the smell of dusty dog fur. There are even owners who you might think are going to give up, but they go the distance for their dogs.

Moments like this, pure joy, contentedness, and magic. 

My daughter and her BFF, Captain Love

All of it.

There are moments that will stick with a trainer in positive reinforcement. For me, one moment is observing a young autistic boy who was unable to communicate with anyone, except he would consistently light up and talk every time his dog came into the room. He'd pick up her favorite thing - discs - and play with her. The dog would bounce and demonstrate happiness, as did the young boy. Then the dog would disappear, and he'd shut down again, become so insular he couldn't communicate. She'd come back in and his internal light-switch would come back on. It's the relationship and the understanding in moments like that will never leave you, and acts like armor the next time someone is too busy staring at their phone while you are talking to them about training their dog, or acts as a shield when the dog in front of you has been mistreated by a family who thought they were doing all the right things.

But that moment is frozen in time, a resource, a spark of joy, a little piece of magic here, truly here, really here. I can recall that magic anytime I feel the world is burning and things are out of my control. I can conjure magic, a magic that can only occur when a relationship is built on trust - them trusting me, and the dog trusting them.

And that's pretty damn cool.


1.06.2019

TSA: It's Not Just The Dogs

Last summer, the family traveled to the West coast for a two week, multi-state excursion. There were several flights and they each tossed challenges at us. Most memorable was the old tale of the violently ill 5-year-old vomiting on the seat, but instead of some poor person on our flight dealing with it, it was us. And instead of getting a cleaning bucket from the flight attendants, we instead got three useless, unabsorbing napkins and two literal nips of Smirnoff --- not for me and Brian to use as "coping juice" but to clean the seat and my kindergartner off with. When the attendant went to dose my child with bottom shelf vodka, I had to stop him by suggesting maybe, just maybe, it's a bad idea to have a sick kid reeking of vodka as we traverse through the airport to our next destination. I think he figured out eventually what I meant to say was, "I'd rather not my already ill kid wafting up the halls with liquor and puke because people will look, PLUS the smell of alcohol when sick likely produces...a sicker human."

But second to that less-than-pleasant connecting flight was the family behind us in the security line on our flight home from Seattle to Boston days later. They had several kids with them, all under the age of eight, including one who I gathered to be around two. As they approached the gated line, they noticed the working dog sniffing back and forth. As they stared terrified, eyes wide, the mom did her best to say, "Just keep going guys- you're doing a good job - the dog won't hurt you."

The kids stood frozen in terror, deciding how to navigate this now uncomfortable position of having to walk this one-way path past the dog and then past the dog on the loopback as the line continued in its all too familiar zig-zag pattern towards the "take off your shoes, belts, and dignity" line.

The thing that wasn't helpful? As the kids stood in frozen terror, the TSA agent started BOOMING "MOVE along, DO NOT STOP, keep GOING"

As this poor woman, holding a baby, was trying to tell her kids as calmly (through an audibly shakey voice) to keep moving, the dog won't hurt them - Captain Testosterone unhelpfully belted out, "MA'AM, if you STOP you will be pulled from the line and NOT ALLOWED TO CONTINUE TO YOUR DESTINATION. Move YOUR KIDS. Do NOT stop."

I mention this story because this week, the big story going around the Internetz in the canine world is that the TSA is looking to phase out pointy-eared dogs with their floppier eared cousins. Sure. Perhaps a beagle would have made the kids feel a bit more at ease but I'm here to say if you are a person, particularly a child who is terrified of dogs, the ear set and size will not make that fear go away, and screaming at a mom to move her kids only makes everyone more stressed out, more frozen more scared, and is decidedly not helpful to the situation at all.

https://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/news/2019/01/03/tsa-wants-more-floppy-eared-dogs-says-pointy-ears-look-ominous/2471061002/

Very little of this had anything to do with the floppy-eared or pricked-eared nature of this particularly well-behaved working German Shepherd. These kids were scared of dogs, period, and they were trapped. They had to walk by something terrifying and there was an unknown man in uniform yelling at them like they were in prison to just do as he said....er, yelled.

My daughter has an 8-year-old classmate who loves dogs, loves specifically how cute they are. But, whenever one passes us on the street, she stands in abject terror. She freezes. She stops breathing. Her eyes go wide. Another classmate brought their 8-week-old puppy to school pick up and while my daughter's friend really wanted to say hi to this 7-pound fluff-nugget, she was stopped by fear. She couldn't even bring herself to touch the sleeping puppy cradled in the owner's arms. She was legitimately struck by fear.

But here's the thing: She loves the idea of dogs. She adores puppies. Pictures of puppies are SOOOOOOOO CUUUUUUTE (in only the way an 8-year-old can say it, six octaves above what a normal human can vocally produce). When faced with one in her immediate presence? She's terrified.

So while the news is jumping on this story about "floppy eared dogs being less scary, pricked eared dogs being phased out", perhaps the thing to address in tandem with this phase-out could also be how to instruct TSA and police how to work with nervous kids or people who are legitimately terrified of dogs for any number of reasons (perhaps they were attacked; perhaps they have had no exposure to dogs; perhaps for some people - particularly in international airports, considering that culturally dogs are not valued as working animals or pets all over the world and are instead considered "dirty vermin" or "dangerous").

The other thing to perhaps help is to take the machismo out of the TSA line. I've seen several handlers who are praising their dogs and working with a nice loose leash, playing tug with the dog, and other great bonding experiences while the dog is working - and others - like this particular handler, leash jerking this working dog, which made the dog stand up more, posture more, widen his eyes more, turn in a more unnatural way - a jerkier way. This dog was working beautifully. There was no reason for him to be tugging on the choke chain (which you all know I have problems with anyway). He was adding fuel to the fire his partner who was yelling at everyone had set. Who knows? Maybe he was also more stressed by his partner at the head of the line yelling at people and he was unknowingly taking it out on his working dog.

So yes, while I can totally understand using flopped eared dogs as a tool, it's not the only one to focus on. And besides, I bet if there were dogs working in a more open environment instead of in a pen that looks like what we funnel cattle through before they go to slaughter, many people might feel a bit more at ease.

I've also seen some cases where enthusiasts of "pricked eared dogs" are getting upset. Just like with helping some dogs gain confidence around scary things we must find a foundational block as a stepping stone, this act of changing the overall look might be one we can consider for a short time. That doesn't indicate that pricked eared dogs are bad dogs while I can see the knee-jerk reactions happening within my very own circle of professional friends. "Get over it - teach your kids to be OK with all dogs" (I don't think that's helpful. There's more here than just teaching kids to be ok with giant dogs). My favorite argument is,  "It's breedist!" There are many dogs with pricked ears and while they might be thinking specifically of German Shepherds and Malinois, there are others, too. I saw a Schipperke at Logan a few years ago on my way to Wisconsin and while I laughed, he had pricked ears.

I think in general this could be a good step for a time while we sort out other, very real, very palpable, very alpha-male, very patriarchal problems in the way we are using dogs, and if there are ways to make more people more comfortable in a stressful situation, great.

But like most things canis familiaris we cannot just blame the dogs. While it's an easier fix to change the look of the dogs, the real fix, the harder fix, the one that is being overlooked in all the reporting is looking at how the humans are behaving.

As usual.

2.06.2018

Excerpt: Gospel

Yes, this is an excerpt from the book I'm working on. There will certainly be a few mistakes here as it's a very, very, very rough draft. While this is theoretically geared for people interested in becoming dog trainers, this bit jumped out during a reread this morning. It's about dog training but seemed relevant on a much grander scale. 

"...I’m teaching these dogs, yes. I’m teaching these adults, absolutely. When I’m teaching kids I consider it a gift from the universe to make up for the sins of my past, the ignorance we had in a different time that led to a badge I wear up my right arm and the memory of a dead dog. We didn’t have a relationship with Nico. We just had Nico. There is a difference, a difference I can see as clear as day now. The science, data, and every indicator is showing that this difference does exist, this difference does matter. We must do better at listening to those who have taken the time to study and learn, and weigh that against tradition. We must stop listening to entertainers on television and accepting their language as gospel over those who are actually educated in a field..."

1.25.2018

Science Comics: Dogs

A few weeks ago, I was reading Julie Hecht's twitter feed. (Pst: If you're not following Julie, stop reading this and find her! She had me at: "finds bliss in your dog's urine.")

She mentioned on Twitter that she had a little something to do with this new comic book that came out late last year.  Turns out, she and Mia Cobb were consulted on the science of all things dog for this particular piece, illustrated by artist Andy Hirsch (Garfield comics, Adventure Time and Peanuts).


I knew if Julie was involved it was going to be great. But then I realized First Second, the publisher of my daughter's favorite books (Zita the Spacegirl, The Little Robot and Julia's House for Lost Creatures), published this, too.

I.
Had.
To.
Get.
This.
Book.

Here's the thing. I didn't get this book for my 5-year-old. I got this book for me. Once opened it and saw images like this, I realized this wasn't for little kids anyway. She might like the art style, but this DNA stuff, genetics, Mendel's peas, natural selection, and let's face it - with dogs there was quite the element of unnatural selection (which is addressed BEAUTIFULLY, I would like to add!)  would go way over her head.

Seriously, Mrs. Biology Teacher in 9th grade. This would have made my whole life 
SO MUCH EASIER in 1996.
MacMillan Publishing https://us.macmillan.com/sciencecomicsdogs/andyhirsch/9781626727687/


"This is not a book for small children," I thought. Too much science. It'll be hard. It won't be fun. Sure, the pictures are great and she loves comic books but this? No way.

So, naturally,  35 seconds after opening the book she picked it up
and had me read it to her every night for a solid week instead of Dr. Seuss, Ivy & Bean, or Elephant and Piggy. Her reading log for school proves it.





Even Captain got in on the reading action. (This is not posed. Acey put the book down by his bed because Captain needed to learn about where he came from.)

"So where is the 'Resting Hound Face' gene?"


Did she retain ANYTHING? I wasn't sure. She talked about how huskies eat snow when they are hot and don't stop running first, which she wanted to immediately try in real life. (Please don't eat the urban snow, Kiddo. It's five different shades of brown and has cigarette butts in it.) 

Fast forward 2 weeks from finishing the book. I took her to the Boston Museum of Science which is her favorite place to explore. She was extra good so I took her to the butterfly exhibit (her favorite place within her favorite place...aside from the gift shop.)  

This guy lands on the door. I took a picture because I thought, "Irony." 

File under #CamoFail. 
While I was lining up the shot of a giant, iridescent blue butterfly, literally larger than my hand landing next to a sign explaining how butterflies "blend in" for survival, Aislyn turns to me and instead of declaring, "Mommy? Look - a beautiful blue butterfly! Look how big he is..." and all the normal kid stuff I would have expected, she loudly informed the whole room:

Mom? His camouflage is broken. He'd just get eaten by a bird. Too bad. He's pretty, too.
So: Yes. She learned, processed and figured out in real life how natural selection works. 

#ScienceWIN!  

I'm not sure if the three women next to me, who were up until that moment enjoying the sereneness of the tropical butterfly gardens, appreciated this in the same way I did. They just stopped and stared at me like I had three heads. 

Sorry Mrs. Jones. If she says anything about how animals eat each other, how some animals just can't live to pass on their genes, or anything to that effect....my bad. Don't stop her, though. Please. I had a science teacher call me out in an embarassing way in the 8th grade, and I don't want that to happen to her. She's right. This is what happens. She should understand it, own it, and appreciate it. Maybe she'll be the next big dog scientist, something that exists today (something I WISH I knew about when I was a little girl) and she'll go on to do awesome things. 

If you have curious kids, the Science Comics books are funny, informative and beautifully illustrated for kids and adults alike. Get kids into science and comics in one easy step! Or, pick one up for yourself. You will learn something, too. You might even have something click from your 9th grade biology class that has been waiting to make sense for the last 25 years.

1.03.2018

Dog Ownership Influencing Home Buying Trends?

Hi, everyone! 

Coming up for air on this very, very cold week to share a blurb on the news. A few weeks ago, a film crew came over to interview me about a survey about homebuying trends and what dog owners are looking for in homes. As someone who has been looking for a home as well as someone who sees people transition from apartments to condos or houses with their pets, I was thrilled to be able to offer some input. 


 Since it's a fluffier piece, the hour of footage taped was boiled down to two quick lines, and it turns out, not only does the camera make someone look taller, apparently it makes them look blonder, too, but it was really fun to do and I'm so glad I was asked to participate. 

 So, I ask you: What did you wish you knew about buying a home prior to moving with Fido? What amenities were absolute must-haves if you moved with your pet(s) in the last few years and what things do you know wish you had to make your pets' lives easier?

 Asking for a friend :)


10.26.2017

Excerpt 1

I don't have a title yet for this new project, but it's coming along!

Here is an excerpt:

(I know, I have a comma problem. There will be editors!)

...We women are a lot closer thanks to the women who went before us, but yet we are still so very far away. Our march isn’t over. Even working in an industry that is dominated by women it’s clear we have so very far to go to be taken seriously professionally.

We need parents and teachers to teach their young boys the stories of powerful women so as they get older they respect them instead of brush them aside. It is beyond infuriating to walk into a home with fifteen years of experience in dog training, earning over 100 hours of continuing education credits and more, only to be dismissed because I’m a tiny framed woman. It’s a slap in the face when men ask me what I do professionally and be met with, “Oh, that’s cute”. I take my job, despite the humor in much of this book, quite seriously as do my students. If Aislyn ever feels that she can’t do something, it will be because someone tells her she can’t and she’ll foolishly believe those words. It’s my job to make sure she can shut it down before it infects her, and it’s all of our jobs to teach these same principles to all children.

The same principles of recognizing stress, teaching appropriate behaviors, and not being dismissive of bully behaviors I apply to Aislyn are the same methods that I use in puppy classes. Without science-based dog training, I would not be the same parent I am today, and while I am not perfect, I’m doing things much differently than my parents did. I get frustrated like they did, I send her to her room like they did with me. But I believe the science of dog training has helped me figure out a better way to guide my kid instead of have her seen and not heard. I also feel strongly that by guiding her without her fearing that she will be hit, postured at, threatened, struck, held down or any number of things parents had done in previous generations (including mine) is making her a stronger, more capable kid than I was at five. 

 -M3

10.12.2017

Naked Diner Podcast

A few weeks ago, Andy Hall of the Naked Diner Podcast asked me to participate in a discussion.

Now, this is not exactly my typical audience. Generally, I tend to talk with dog people, schools, or present to pet-related podcasts. This particular podcast is a comedy podcast but they have had amazing guests, such as Trae Crowder and W. Kamau Bell.

So, when in Rome...


The questions we addressed in this particular discussion went from "So, are puppy mills bad?" and "can dogs take pot?" to, "What's a Blue tick? Is that a dog or is someone on the Internet Rick Rolling me?"

Oh, and we all swear like Pirates, so if that's not your jam, you might want to sit this one out. But if you are into the NSFW interviews and also want to hear a dog trainer talk about dogs to a not-dog-training audience, then here you go!

We start the conversation at 9:00 with perhaps my favorite quote from Andy. 

"I posted on my personal Facebook page about talking about dogs. You know? We've had a lot of people, famous people on this podcast and no one ever has questions...You mention dogs, and everyone comes out of the woodwork."

This was perhaps the most fun I've ever had talking publically about dogs, how to become a dog trainer, how I got started as well as what dominance theory is (and more importantly, why it's bunk!) and all the soapboxes you have known and loved on this blog for the last 11 years. They are addressed in full, with both seriousness and humor. It was a joy!

So,  Andy and Jack? Thanks so much! See you guys again soon!
 -M3