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.


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.


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..."


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.


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 
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. 


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.


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 :)


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. 



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!


Travelin’ Dog

This article first appeared in the 2017 Summer edition of Maine Dog Magazine.

Captain’s Log: Travelin’ Dog

Vacationland garnered widespread attention in March when Maine Representative, Jim Handy, proposed a bill mandating all dogs should be physically restrained in moving vehicles. He later decided to pull the bill, but not before it brought up an interesting national discussion. Another area of my job is blogging with veterinarian extraordinaire, Dr. Sip Siperstein, for Car Talk (yes, THAT Car Talk). Together, we tackle some of the more interesting aspects of pet travel. Some of the pieces are fluffy and silly, but when something like this comes across our desks, we take these on, too.
In every aspect of my job as a professional dog trainer from working hands on with dogs to writing about them, safety is my number one concern. My biggest pet peeve (pun completely intended) is observing dogs in the laps of drivers in a moving vehicle. My veterinarian friends all have stories to tell about dogs that have fallen out of the window at speed. These injuries include broken bones, smashed skulls, eyes falling out of the socket, and skin rubbed completely off of the body, exposing muscle, tendons, and even bones. Some of these dogs go through several costly, painful surgeries and many others do not survive. 
Additionally, if the airbag is deployed due to an accident, little Fifi will likely be crossing the Rainbow Bridge. These cases are incredibly sad considering they are almost always prevented by making sure the dog is not sticking his head out of the window and not sitting in the driver’s seat. So while I think the bill is a great one to suggest given these terribly gruesome and potentially fatal outcomes, there are some other considerations to weigh.
Maine still has many farmers who use working dogs to protect livestock from coyotes and other predators. These dogs often look like 100 pound polar bears (Kuvasz, and Great Pyrenees). They are raised from puppy-hood with the sheep they guard. When a coyote or other predator threatens the flock, the guarding dog comes out of hiding with her teeth bared, and typically wins. These dogs, while incredibly social with their sheep, are often not known for their flexibility regarding changing environment, new people, and new experiences which makes situations of restraining these dogs by way of seat belt or crate to go to the veterinarian a much more challenging and stressful event. I’d personally suggest that during the socialization period, these dogs are acclimated slowly to crates, harnesses and travel, but because their job is to live with and protect the flock, that can be tricky.
The other big hurdle that I can’t seem to shake relates to the safety of the harnesses and crates that dogs would presumably have to use to get from point A to point B. Until very recently, independent studies on the efficacy and safety of pet travel gear didn’t exist. Every harness, crate, and restraint system sold was tested by the company that created the device, which in short, meant there was no standard of safety. The company could throw a piece of lettuce at the device and suggest the harness stood up to “rigorous testing,” stamp it as “safe,” and sell it to you. That is, until the Center for Pet Safety came along with some eye opening crash tests in 2013.
The Center for Pet Safety (CenterForPetSafety.org) is the first independent group to test restraint systems against a standard. They teamed up with Maine’s State commuting vehicle maker, Subaru, to test harnesses and crates in real crash tests. These crash tests were conducted in the same facilities used to test car seats for kids and seat belts. The dummy dogs used in these tests were weighted like, and looked like, common pet dogs. This was by design so when the tests were running, people didn’t see a fake dog cruising through the air - people saw a real likeness of a dog cruising through the air.
When Dr. Sip and I saw the videos of the crash tests, each of us watching on opposite coasts of the US, the line went silent. We saw dogs in harnesses that were labeled as “safe” fly through the air when the straps failed, and through where the windshield would be at 30mph. There was a dachshund that sailed through the belted-in mesh dog crate as if there was nothing more protecting the dog than a sheet of printer paper. The solid crates dented and collapsed, no doubt causing injury or death to the animal trapped inside.
What was particularly heartbreaking was just a few months before, Dr. Sip and I had recommended all pets be restrained in either a harness or a crate when traveling to cut down on distracted driving, and then the Center for Pet Safety results came across our desks and we just wanted to cry. Recommending pets are confined or restrained is certainly something we would love to do, except there are only a few tools on the market that meet independent safety standards, and the ones that are actually safe are cost prohibitive. The ones that don’t meet the standards give an owner a sense of false sense of security and likely won’t keep Fido safe in an accident.
My feeling on this whole thing, and I know not everyone will agree, is that we can at least make sure that dogs don’t have their heads out the windows while we are driving. Rocks and debris that can crack your windshield can cause significant damage to a dog’s eye, nose, or face if hit. Very few things are more distracting than a dog spurting blood and howling in pain while your eyes are supposed to be on the road. If a dog were to fall out of the car at speeds, fatalities are likely. If an accident were to occur and the dog is in the front seat when an airbag is deployed, the dog will not likely survive. I also feel if a dog that can be safely restrained to reduce distracted driving, this can minimize the risk of an accident to begin with. These are all things we can all do to really keep our dogs safe.
Where we get into murky waters is if a dog is more stressed out by the restraints which can lead to an increase in distracted driving, or if the equipment doesn’t work in an accident. After purchasing a safe harness for Captain, he twisted and turned so much he got himself stuck in a way my husband and I couldn’t fix on I 95. The equipment needs to be better. This is where companies can come in to aid this process. Currently, the only harness on the Center for Pet Safety approved list is the Sleepypod ClickIt Harness, but others are stepping up to the plate. Companies like Kurgo had changed the design of their harness to meet the rigors of crash tests in their own testing trials, but have not yet been tested by the independent group (as of this writing in 2017). For the record, only three crates met the safety requirements set by the Center for Pet Safety but they did not test other crates that could potentially pass independent tests.

     Gunner Kennels G1 Intermediatewith 8’ Tie Downs
     Pet Ego Forma Frame Jet SetCarrier with latch connection
     Sleepypod Mobile Pet Bed with handilock

I wanted to see a bill that would result in safer travel for our four-legged companions. Stories of dogs that are thrown from the car during an accident, resulting in that dog being hit by another car, or missing for weeks on end if they are found at all, are incredibly heart breaking. Stories from my veterinarian friends of dogs falling out of the car window, an event that could be completely prevented if the dog didn’t have access to the down window or was not sitting in a driver’s lap are emotionally crushing. The ultimate emotional wound striking the owner of a dog in surgery while they recount, “but it was his favorite thing to have his head out the window.” These actions often come from a place of joy and love. We love our dogs and want them to be happy, so we let them ride on our laps or sniff the breeze as it whirrrrrrs by their olfactory organ at 55 mph on Rt 1. We never want anything to happen to our pets, our precious cargo, but at the same time, I can’t in good conscience state that all dogs need to be restrained in a car, at least, not until the equipment is affordable and safe for all four-legged passengers. While I’m glad the bill was proposed to start a conversation, I don’t think we can legislate something like this right now, though if cops wanted to ticket people with dogs on their laps or heads out of the windows as “distracted driving”I’d be 100% in favor.
Companies are catching up, costs are coming down, and cars are even starting to consider our pets as passengers with special Fido Features. While we are getting there, we are not there yet. I’m with the American Veterinary Association on this one - I highly recommend at least preventing distracted driving by restraining a dog in a moving vehicle. Don’t play, feed, or try to train your dog while you are operating a car. If possible, make sure pets are traveling in the back seat, away from airbags. If you can afford to swing for the $500 Gunner Kennel, by all means, go for it. If you cannot afford that or drive a Honda Fit, do the best you can with the tools you have to keep your pet as safe as you possibly can by preventing accidents from the minute the key is turned. Lastly, do yourself a favor, and see a science based, positive reinforcement trainer to help your pet acclimate to a restraint system if you think you’ll ever need to transport your dog anywhere, including the veterinarian. A veterinarian who will hopefully be seeing Sparky for an annual visit and not for any of the injuries in this article.

Melissa McCue-McGrath, CPDT-KA is one-half of the FIDO Blogging Team at Car Talk Plaza. She is also the co-Training Director at New England Dog Training Club and the author of ‘Considerations for the City Dog.”


It's Official

All right. Here it goes.

*Deep Breath.* 

There is a new book in the works! 

This project focuses on the questions my latest dog trainer mentee, Zoe, asked while she shadowing me for five months. These are the stories I told her on long car rides to and from clients homes in an effort to teach her what they don't really teach in dog training school. In these stories are some of the more interesting cases, bizarre moments no one can be prepared for, hard lessons and ethical boundaries professional contractors face when they are given permission to go into someone's home. 

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling
The day the decision was made. Captain approves!

I'm really, really excited to be writing again. I invite you to all continue watching this space for the occasional blurb. 

Inline image 1
In case you're wondering, this is where we are in in the process.

If you see a post that is literally just smashing keys, it's a call for help. Bring coffee, and / or whiskey (depending on the time of day). 



A Prairie Home Companion (with Custard)

While this blog is not used as often as it was BK (Before Kid) and I usually reserve this space for dog related stuff, I felt that this is a memory worth saving. This seems like as good a place to put it as any.  

This week, there have been several calls, emails and Facebook messages all with the same general theme.

"How did it go?"

What these missives are referring to is a recent trip to Wisconsin that was sparked by an unfortunate-turned-fortunate snafu by the USPS in Wisconsin. (I'm not going to rehash it, but for the full appreciation of what happened, here is the account my side of the story in all its glory.Trisha's side of the story is equally, if not more hilarious.)

Black Earth Wisconsin's one stop shop for mailing packages and self-defense.
I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I knew there would be cheese. I knew there would be sheep herding. I suspected there would be lots of corn. But how would it go? Trisha and I hadn't talked a lot aside from a group meeting with our trainers and board at New England Dog Training Club the night before she gave a really moving, incredible presentation involving the effects of trauma on people, on dogs, and what it takes to move through the space of a traumatic event. Since there were so many people there, I thought this was it - I'm going to say hi, give her a little dental related gift for humor, laugh for a few minutes and that would be that. We'd grin and each go our merry way through life thinking about how this hilarious thing ended up with a nice clean finale.

After her talk, Trisha kindly offered for me to come out to visit Wisconsin. I thought she was being polite. It's just so American to say "Hey, yeah! We should do coffee sometime!" and just never get around to it. I'm totally guilty of this. I think to some degree, we all are.

Later that week, I sent an email thanking her for coming to talk to our little club and for being so honest about her own history - a history of traumas detailed honestly, brutally, poetically and powerfully in The Education of Will - a book I can't recommend more highly. She replied by suggesting she doesn't often invite near-strangers to come to the farm and that she meant it. I should come to Wisconsin.
I kissed a goat and I liked it.
Gleefully, I called my husband and booked my flight that day.

Maybe not even in that order.

The rest of the spring and summer was dedicated to getting through the end of our first year of preschool, helping urban dogs cope, and taking on my first pig client (!). Occasionally, people would ask when Wisconsin was coming up and I'd involuntarily bounce in place like a 5-year-old hopped up on pixie sticks. Sometimes I'd fret about how this could possibly go askew (like accidentally falling face first into sheep poo), but mostly just thought about how damn excited I was. As the summer waned and Google pushed flight announcements to my phone (you have 5 days before your trip to Wisconsin) excitement was partnered with nervousness.

My baby said goodbye with tears in her eyes as she flashed the "I Love You" sign language signal from the car seat. I disappeared into the train station and I could still hear her bawling as the Mini shrank in size. It dawned on me that this was the first time in 5 years I'd have a vacation without her.

There was the inevitable flight delay (because, Laguardia).
There was a near wardrobe malfunction in which I had to lace a woman back into her shirt (again - because, Laguardia).

We were told the delay was due to rain, but I grew suspicious as we taxied onto the runway.

Rain delay my ass.

With each passing hour of travel and flight delays, I started to get a bit worried. Would we have stuff to talk about? I mean, our entire relationship at this point was solidly rooted in the fact we were both involved in a rather funny story about kink-dungeon dental tools being shipped from one person to another by accident and emails that were 95% about food. While that can carry some distance, what happens if I get there and that's ALL we have to talk about?

That was decidedly not the case. Her patient, wonderful, amazing (did I mention patient?) husband listened to the two of us go on and on...and on and on and on... for nearly three days straight about sheep, dogs, the woods, politics, gin, food, more gin, more food, cheese, sports, food and all the things that two new friends cover in a short period of time. We cleaned out a barn, swallowed some sheep poo (well, one of us did on accident. There might have been a serious misjudgment on the physics of a bungee cord under a pile of sheep poo), and walked in a real live prairie.

There is also a thing called Custard Pancakes. I'll never be able to eat a traditional pancake again.
Seriously. Do it.
 Perhaps the thing that struck me the most, aside from how big Billy Goat testicles are ...

These things are like church bells! Also, this might be a ram. #CityGirlFail.
...was how beautiful this landscape is. On more than one occasion it was all I could do to keep breathing. It's a stunning land. In my head, Wisconsin had to be flat. That's where the corn and the sheep live - in the flat lands. This was not the case. There is a wonderfully picturesque region called the Driftless Area. As it turns out, glaciers don't give a flying leap about state boundaries. During the last glacial period, the glaciers came through nearby regions and completely flattened them, including much of the midwest. However, the Driftless region remained unscathed. Instead of the boring flat fields I envisioned, there are beautiful rolling hills, interesting landscapes, rivers that carve into the deep valleys and slink around numerous mountains.

It looked like Ireland from the sky as the plane was landing in Madison.

There is a rumor that deer and buffalo used to play here. 
This picture is a restored prairie that we were able to visit. Luckily there are many of these around the region. This entire week back in Boston, I keep thinking back to this landscape already with a bittersweet feeling.

There is a plan to install giant electricity towers up and down the driftless area of Wisconsin. Imagining this view, a view that is getting scarcer by the day in America, decorated by 17 story electrical towers, knowing that the contractors heading up the project will receive an annual 10% minimum kick back to the tune of several million dollars is simply gut wrenching.

But this is a potential reality.

Plant cancer
I'm a fan of jobs but destroying this and places like this for older technology that is not necessary (demand is decreasing) is like saying we should mass produce typewriters again because it will create jobs.

Or, use coal.

And while we're at it, since my overbooked flight to Wisconsin proved we need more options for air travel, let's bring back the Hindenberg.

We should be picky about the jobs that are created, not just create folly towers for the sake of doing so. There are much better ways of creating jobs than tearing this beautiful place up and relying on outdated technologies. It really broke my heart to think this area could look very different upon my next visit.

In addition to the prairies, there were acres upon acres of sunflower fields, towns decorated with giant trolls and quirky people with hearts as big as belted Galloways.

I was given an angry beaver by a very polite lady at Duluth Trading Post.

Time stamp: 8:54am. Beer sightings.

There was also a lot of bright green and yellow sports paraphernalia, suggesting I made the right decision in leaving my beloved throwback Patriots hat on my dresser.

Sidenote, the Madison airport is the NICEST airport I've been in. Ever. Hands down. Flights were delayed and there were apologies and long descriptions as to why people were stuck. It was almost comical how much detail went into the one delay in the gate next to my departure, and the gate attended seemed genuinely upset for those who were put out.

It's ok, the bar was open. They figured it out.


It was lovely to be invited into a home with three dogs, a sheep named Cupcake who I'll forever think of as my kind of girl, and I was given an amazing opportunity to "work sheep" (which for a n00b in farm parlance roughly translates to, "Stand here and don't get run over").

In all my years living in the city, I've lost touch with a lot of my roots living in rural America. Yet, for the most part, I'm still comfortable mucking stalls, rigging things, tying knots, and if there were horses in that field, I'd know what to do. I'm more uneasy with cobwebs and dark corners, but poop is totally fine.

Sheep. Let's talk about sheep They seem docile, fluffy, delicate - until you are standing in a corner with one that is less-than-happy with your presence because unfamiliar people are generally considered a threat. In that moment, it becomes quite clear that sheep get their power in numbers. If you are the guy between them and their way out and you flinch a muscle, it might be a very bad day. But these sheep were totally polite and gave me plenty of time to make a good decision (move out of the way).

It also became crystal clear in a way that isn't palpable in sheep herding demonstrations, how hard these dogs are really working. Getting first-hand feedback as to what the sheep are responding to was the key to figuring this whole thing out, insomuch as an observer can figure it out. In one case, a mom and baby were separated so the dog had to work much, much harder to keep the flock together, ignoring the calls from the bleating baby ewe.

Cupcake - I love ewe!

In another situation, a sheep stepped forward to challenge the dog, yet the dog held her ground. To the casual observer, it looked like a dog not taking any guff. Getting a little background as this was playing out, it turns out this is one thing that this particular dog has been struggling with. Her history indicated the sheep would get her goat (as it were) and the dog would charge in - but she wisely held her ground. Knowing this particular dog's history and how hard this was for her, I was fully prepared to appreciate this really incredible moment between animals, and an equally incredible moment between handler and dog.

You don't get that same intimate appreciation in a sheep dog demo at the local Scottish Festival (or on Youtube).

While those are incredible and fun, being 4' from Trisha as she explained what she was seeing, and more importantly when she would shut me up so she could focus, taught me much more about the different relationships on the field.

Happy Flowers.

All in all, Trisha and Jim's kindness is what I'll remember the most. They were so kind, welcoming, and lovely. It was also the first time I had left my family behind for anything since becoming a mom. This felt like a rite of passage in some bizarre way. Aislyn, who celebrated her fifth birthday three days before this adventure was about to have her first long weekend with my husband and I knew this was great for all of us.

It was the best laugh therapy, refreshing and rejuvenating thing I could have done. I'm so thankful to have been able to be invited to their home, play with their dogs, joke about the two fireflies who appeared to miss the memo on when their season ended, and share this time away from home with them.

I took this amazing trip to spend some time with someone I very publically declared a hero of mine.

I left with a real friendship, which honestly is much better.

Someday, I hope to take Aislyn here and show her this view.

Hopefully without a line of high voltage electrical lines cutting through.

For more information on Trisha's work, follow her blog: The Other End of the Leash and her Facebook page, Patricia McConnell, PhD. 

While you're at it, read her book, The Other End of the Leash . I go back to this year after year and it's perfect for dog owners as well as training folk. It's a relatable, often humorous, reminder that while dogs and people see things very differently, the bond between these two species is quite unusual. When I feel a bit lost in the balance of my job, I pull this out, laugh, refocus, and find my way back to center.

Lastly, her memoir, The Education of Will is a gripping memoir about overcoming trauma, not just for dogs but for people, too. Again, I can not recommend this book more highly. I think many people expect this to be a dog story, and while the anxiety for this dog was real and intense, Trisha knits a powerful account that is all too close to home for many women, many of whom can not tell their stories. We're all fighting demons of some sort. It's critical we remember that.


Oh Irony, You Saucy Minx

Last October, I wrote a piece for CCPDT (Council for Certified Professional Dog Trainers). The piece started out as a rebuke of media reports calling Cesar Milan a "behaviorist," which is murky territory. With each share of the sensational story, the headline, "Dog Behaviorist Investigated in Pig Attack," and variations on that theme were shared to millions of readers.

Click bait, for realz.

My issue went beyond the dog attacking a pig in a terribly set up "rehabilitation" exercise that resulted in injury to the pig - though make no mistake. I had a huge problem with this aspect, too). 

My issue was with the term behaviorist being used to describe a television personality who, as far as I can tell by checking his website and other social platforms, has never taken a class in animal behavior. This seemed ethically wrong on so many levels.

Not one reporter, media outlet or blog share seemed to dive down on who an animal behaviorist actually is or what they do. 

With that backdrop, I wrote a piece targeted to dog trainers commenting from a dog trainer's perspective on how it's unethical for us to use the term "behaviorist," unless we actually are, and since the lingo is really murky even within related fields of animal behavior, we should just stop. I then went on to define terminology we come across in our field as a guideline for dog trainers and called it a day.

The post, targeted to dog trainers, was shared among dog trainers with much more support and enthusiasm than I expected. I really was prepared for a lot of blowback from dog trainers. That never came. 

What did come was something I didn't expect.

The animal behavior community was pissed.

At first, I didn't see it.
I was on their side!
I'm helping!

Dr. Suzanne Hetts, a highly respected actual applied animal behaviorist and co-owner of Animal Behavior Associates, wrote a response piece and sent it out to the behavior community. She then alerted me in a very short email telling me about it. I immediately felt a crushing wave of anxiety. I read it. I was so mad. "I'm helping! I'm on your side!" kept going through my head as I read the piece that at the time I read as a personal attack. As time went on, I just felt crappy.

It turns out there is a big lesson to learn here. "Helping" isn't helpful when there is a failure to first seek out how (or if!) a party wants or needs help. I was doing my best to define something that I understood in my world, but not on a bigger scale. While animal behaviorists were not my target audience - the piece was written for a dog training newsletter, this population saw it.

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And they were justifiably displeased.

I immediately emailed Suzanne after she sent out her very public response.

I was embarrassed, hurt, but still quite defensive of my original piece. She was hurt, and stood by what she wrote, too. We sent emails back and forth for a few days but it was clear as the water was settling we could find common ground. I knew I settled down and my hackles went down. I'm not going to speak for her, that's her story to tell if she wants to, but we were able to start an actual dialogue and it was incredible.

This was a great lesson in how good intentions do not trump actual communication. Had I just taken an extra few minutes, or days, to reach out to animal behaviorists, I would have written something different. 

But I didn't. 

Suzanne then volunteered to do something that caught me off guard, almost as much as her response piece, particularly given the political climate of the last 7 months. Something she didn't have to do. She went above and beyond.

"Let's do this together." 

And we did.

It took us, no joke, 5 months to write the piece we ended up co-penning. We were invited to publish it in the same newsletter my original post was printed. I learned a ton, and I think she did, too. Plus, I feel that by doing this together, we were able to do something that hasn't really been done yet. We found common ground without being "resource guardy."

I learned that veterinarians can not call themselves specialists unless they are board certified in the specialty - and that includes behavior. Yet, dog trainers and any ol' Tom, Dick or Harry can say "I'm a behavior specialist" without any credentials to back it up.

Seems a bit unfair.

Additionally, the broad brush of "all animal behaviorists work with pet animals" is wildly inaccurate. Many observe wild behavior, some work in zoos, and some work with pet animals. The field is huge. While some animal behaviorists do work with pets, including veterinary behaviorists (veterinarians who are board certified in animal behavior), it's a fallacy that all do.

I now see why applied animal behaviorists are so upset! 

Perhaps an indication this is not the animal behaviorist you are looking for:
He gives you this photo and says: "Here's my resume. I'm here to teach your dog to stop humping your slippers."

Suzanne gave me an opportunity to explain what we dog trainers are up against, too, and I felt like she heard every word. First., there is a media and entertainment industry that promotes "behaviorists" who have no background, so in order to compete in that market, we have a population who have adopted the word in a way to be heard above the noise. We have people who email, call and text us, pleading for help - they need a behaviorist to help them with a jumping dog. A trainer for a biting dog. A behavioralist (not a word in dog training) for an 8-week-old puppy. The public is confused on these terms. We are also dealing with individuals hanging out their shingles without an ounce of dog training experience and have to compete with them, too. We are trying to meet clients and students where they are, but we have no Merriam-Webster definitions to give them. (Which is why some of us, myself included, tried to clarify these terms, but are met with blow-back. Justifiably.)

What Suzanne and I discovered, through communication and really taking a moment to see things from a different perspective, is that we really need animal behaviorists to take the lead on defining those terms so we can all lead with more clarity.

It's not on people like me to define terms at an industry, even if there is a vacuum and a great need. It's just not my place. And I get that now. I can't turn this boat around.

It would have been so easy to just write a response to her response on this blog, put it out there for the Internet to see, dig my heels, "defend myself" (whatever that means!) and defend what I wrote. I actually started something to that effect in a moment of anger 9 months ago. In writing this piece, I discovered it, and deleted it a few minutes ago. I was mad. I was angry. I didn't even open the draft because I just knew it would be bad.

Been there.

So instead of yelling via the Internet, I read what she wrote in her piece, in her emails back and forth, and I realized the irony of my original piece. "Guys, language matters and we aren't doing anyone any favors by not fully understanding the language we are using." I was using wrong language left and right and that was perfectly clear once Suzanne and I started to talk.

Oh, Irony, you saucy minx.

It was important to listen. Critical.
Not listen to counter-attack.

It's not easy to say "I'm sorry." Especially when intentions are good.

I had no intention of defining Dr. Hett's profession AT her, but that's exactly what I did. It doesn't matter what my intention was - it's how it was received.

In the same way someone "intending" to say hi to a shy dog is not permission to come into that dog's space.

How cat calling might seem like it's intended as a compliment, but it's not.

I get that now.

We have both been working incredibly hard in our industries to combat inaccurate language and terminology while trying to help the animals we love. As our industries continue to evolve and overlap in some ways, it's important to remember that these industries will continue evolving and there will be conflict.

It's how we deal with it as individuals.

Thanks to the power of the Internet we were able to take a breather, listen to each other and really write something that could be a game changer.

We found common ground and ran with it.

This is that piece.

While Suzanne took the lead on a lot of it, given that she is an applied animal behaviorist and our writing styles are totally different, we created something meaningful. There is a lot of give and take in here. I even got in a Car Talk joke which honestly, was more important to me than I realized at the time. This really is our piece. Together. Collaboration in the face of something that could have devolved into something messy, angry, and regrettable on my end.

It might not be an earth-shattering read for those not in this industry, but the journey was more meaningful. In all honestly, there is no single piece of work that I'm more proud of to have my name attached to in any way.

So, if you read this, Dr. Hetts. Thank you.