New Podcast: BewilderBeasts!

 Hi everyone! 

It's been a minute, hasn't it! I didn't drop off the planet, though it might feel that way. I've been busily working on a project that I hope helps people find joy and curiosity through this difficult year. 

It's a podcast called BewilderBeasts that was inspired by the Somercamp 2020 class, "Amazing Animals" for kids. In it, we learned about jobs animals do for humans (like bees in Croatia who find underground land mines), unusual jobs humans can do if they want to work with animals (like forensic veterinarian), and amazing animals in the news. 

Here is a taste with Episode #6: The Exploding Whale and A Cat Who Solved A Murder

Let me know what you think, and if you have suggestions for future episodes! 

Download wherever you get your podcasts, or directly from BewilderBeastsPod.com OR on the BewilderBeasts playlist on YouTube! While you're there, you can also see the classes for kids that inspired this entire project, participate in training challenges from the summer at your leisure, or take full classes (like scentwork) FOR FREE from the comfort of your home. 

Be safe, keep washing your hands, and.... y'all, VOTE. 

And, if you need some escapism, listen to BewilderBeasts. New episodes drop every Wednesday morning.




Escape Artist Puppy who Won't Come Back for Food

In today's Q/A, we have a terrier puppy who loves to escape, but also won't come back for food if she does get out. So, we break this down into two different topics and address them both! 1. How to keep a dog from escaping 2. How to find what is reinforcing to a non-food hound The lesson is here: Also, in this video, Melissa is still crisis parenting in a pandemic while working from home:
We talk about how to search for Flirt Pole without stumbling down an unintended sex dungeon rabbit hole:

and we talk about how hunters bathe who in doe urine for hunting season actually might be onto something with dog training...

Ew. I know, but maybe it'll help you get your dog to come back to you if he or she escapes - not bathing in doe urine. I'm not a monster. I'm thinking just reasonable amount of doe urine ...maybe on a tug toy....if your dog is into it. Let's find out how all these string together, shall we? Because, I don't think dog training should just be fun. I think it should be funny. ***** If you have questions about living life with dogs, feel free to add them in the comments section here or feel free to contact me! Until next time!
- M3


What Should I Ask My Veterinarian About My Aging Dog?

A dear friend posted a question in a Facebook group and I thought I'd put some thought into it. The question was simple but because of COVID19, there were some added complications - 

I knew she was getting older, but all of a sudden she’s old. We have a 6 week follow up appointment at the vets tomorrow morning to make sure she’s still a healthy old, but I want to make sure I’m asking all of the right questions. Which is made harder when all of the questions have to be asked over the phone because COVID means Dad sits in the car while she has her exam. So what questions did you ask your Vet when your dog got older?
It brought out several voices who wanted to offer guidance. The thread was exactly why I created the group: Kind, helpful people coming together to answer someone's question with compassion and data.

Also, they come for the distractions.

Y'all, what is EVEN up with her arms and legs?

But today, we talk about aging dogs and what to ask in the age of COVID19. 

What to ask if you can't go into the hospital?

The hardest part of COVID19 is that many pet owners cannot go into the building. They either have to wait in the car in the parking lot or go home to wait for a phone call. I would absolutely advise that everyone who has big questions or bigger decisions make a list before the visit. Start a few days early and everyone in the family writes down their questions on the same sheet of paper, the same shared to-do app, whatever can funnel every thought into the same space. 

Then, if you have a veterinarian who is taking emails, send them screenshots or pictures of the list. This can help streamline the process for everyone and make sure all the questions get answered. If not, give them a hard copy of the list so they can work on the answers in the phone call to you from your car.

The biggest concerns for aging dogs are of course related to comfort. Common issues revolve around arthritis (pain after running. stiff getting up, soreness, etc), loss of hearing, sight or smell, and an increased need to go to the bathroom are a few of the biggies. 

The list of issues and concerns might be longer if a dog has other underlying conditions, injuries, or complications, of course, and that's where the list comes in super handy. If a dog seems to forget who a person is, or is "forgetful", acting different, or in the case of my friend, "woke up suddenly older", then absolutely a trip to the vet is a good call. 

Pain Management (or, why your vet hears 'Can I Give My Dog CBD' a thousand times a day):

You all know I think it's super important that we all stay in our lane, but with CBD, it's the question that every dog trainer, veterinarian, groomer, dog walker, everyone in the pet industry has heard or has been asked to weigh in on - and not in the same way an NSAID would. Why is that? Well, for starters, CBD is reported (anecdotally) to help with most issues under the Canid sun but it also hasn't been tested or studied in trials. 

Remember earlier this year when our President suggested sunlight and disinfectant as cures for COVID19? There is a reason it's irresponsible to put things out there that aren't founded. 

flu shot GIF
“You see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number [on the] lungs, so it would be interesting to check that...We’re going to have to use medical doctors, but it seems interesting to me.” -D.Trump, definitely not a doctor.

Arguably, not a president.

Dogs are known to suffer from a placebo effect, so if someone is using CBD for just one of the reasons people decide to use CBD oil - 

  • Pain
  • Cancer
  • Vision Loss
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Epilepsy
  • IBS
  • Cardiac Benefits
  • Anti-nausea
  • Appetite stimulation
  • ...and More! 
- it could work? Maybe? And the number of people on the Internet who get upset who are convinced their veterinarians won't talk to them about this potential lifesaving alternative is so incredibly disheartening. 

See, vetrinarians in some states are allowed to discuss CBD as an option while other states ban the discussion from the jump (veterinarians can lose their license if they discuss it with patients). 

What I will say about CBD is the same as what my favorite medical podcast, SAWBONES, has to say about cure-alls. 

Cure-alls cure nothing

The SAWBONES episode on wine as medicine is so good and so funny. And, demonstrates the phenomenon of cure-alls perfectly.

Candy Cure GIF by zoefannet 

...At least,  on paper. There were some studies in the works before the COVID disruption (my new band name), and of course, tons of anecdotal data (though, remember placebo effects!) 

It's important to note that of my client base (again, all anecdotal!) those who have used CBD for anxiety still have had to use traditional pharmaceuticals to help with significant anxiety-related concerns (separation anxiety, fireworks, and noise phobia, living with kids, etc). If the anxiety is bad enough to warrant medical help, it can be really hard to get the medication correct even with a medical degree as every dog's health is totally different. 

I've spoken about Sadie's need for behavior modification medication that she needed as she aged - her inability to cope with noises, with changes in routine, with other dogs all got worse as she got older. A friend had a dog who presented exactly the same as she did - and yet, the medication that worked for Sadie did not work for that other dog. The medication that worked for the other dog did nothing to help poor Sadie. And we had the guidance of medical professionals and behavior specialists!

I can't speak to the pain side of things as I am not a veterinarian so I am not dispensing medical advice. However, if thought there was something out there that would help my dog and even if the placebo effect seemed to help my dog, great! But, I would try proven medication first (anti-inflammatories that have been trialed and tested, anxiety medication that would work NOW) and if I still felt like my dog needed additional comfort, either the medication dosage would need to be tweaked, or maybe I'd try something else that would help him, but I would never use it as his only medication as it's not trialed or tested, and not as a first resort. If my dog was in pain, I'd want to stop that pain, ASAP. 

TLDR: That's not to say I wouldn't ever consider using CBD, but I wouldn't consider it first. I'm not anti-CBD, and I could see cases where I might personally choose it for my dog, but I'm just not endorsing it until I see the receipts and for now, given the state of the country, I'm going to defer to the experts.  :) 

anything expert sevenredlines GIF

As another poster suggested on the thread: 

I would really look to address pain and maintain. Dogs are usually very stoic, so I would suspect some discomfort. Also, aim to figure out how much and which activities are best as in movement every day-but not running-adding in swimming if she will and really look to make her as happy and comfortable as possible.

Veterinarians are the experts here - and of course, they are going to give you the best advice they can. They aren't holding back, they aren't in bed with the "Anti-Dog-Pot-Lobby" -  and I promise they aren't being assholes by not suggesting this as a viable option. They are trying to be responsible and do what is going to help your dog, right now.  Given there are lots of variables with dosing, acquisition, placebo, strain, all of it - the responsible thing is to not advise for it until there is proof CBD can help for the thing a particular owner would be asking for it, and it probably won't help with everything on the ever-growing list of what the Internet says CBD, in theory, can fix. 

Sensory Loss

Since our dogs can't talk with us or to us about the aging process, we have to look at behavior changes. Anytime there is a sudden change in behavior, it's important to get thee to the vet, stat. In part because sudden changes can indicate an entire grocery list of issues - not least of all is sensory loss. Loss of hearing, sight, and yes, even smell, can all relate to behavior changes. 

Some dogs who lose vision might not be able to perceive someone/something coming in fast (like off-leash dogs or a tennis ball), those who lose registers of hearing might not be able to hear footsteps or cars pulling into the driveway (therefore surprising the dog when someone just magically walks through the door!), and still others might not be able to find treats hidden around the home. Any changes in behavior should absolutely be checked by a veterinarian, but in aging dogs, sensory loss should be a big part of the discussion. 

Other Suggestions

Some of the other suggestions were incredibly helpful and I wanted to put them here, too. Talking to your primary veterinarian about home visits so your dog doesn't have to get in or out of the car (or stand on a slippery floor at an animal hospital), alternative therapies like chiropractic and water therapy for dogs (water therapy near our apartment has helped so many of my clients aging dogs!) and of course examining trouble spots for older dogs can be a game-changer. 

  • Slippery floors can hurt aching, aging joints. Putting rug runners or bath mats in high-traffic areas to help an aging dog get from point A to point B without having to work so hard on linoleum, wood, or tile floors can really make a huge difference. 
  • Nosework and scenting games can keep a dog active and engaged mentally like crossword puzzles and chess do for humans. Keeping hides in a comfortable place for an aging dog is important - so an older greyhound looking at nose height might be more comfortable than leaning down like a grown giraffe for a floor hide, and alternatively, a 13-year-old dachshund looking up really high might be painful, so be mindful of the hides. 
  • Take it slow. The same walk you used to do in 25 minutes might take much longer or the distance might need to be shortened. Now more than ever it's important to go at your dog's pace and help them out. 
  • Doggie Massage - my friend and colleague, Amy Campbell, is a certified canine massage therapist. I can speak personally to the benefits of this craft. As Sadie was aging, Amy was studying to earn her certification. Every treatment, Sadie came out of it like a new puppy for several days. It was clear she felt better, much more limber, and was able to relax - something she was not able to do often as a high-drive Border collie in a city with a baby in the house. I've heard the same with acupuncture and chiropractic treatments for dogs. And yes, I know I might come off as a hypocrite as I wasn't endorsing CBD, but these treatments have certifications, a foundation in canine anatomy and physiology, and can help without adding unregulated chemicals to a dog's body that might counteract existing medication a dog might be taking.
  • Physical Therapy can be an absolute game-changer for older dogs, too! It's movement, strength, flexibility, and I'd argue, a connection to people.  
  • Appropriate exercise
dogs jumprope GIF
Not this

All in all, it can be eye-opening to see a dog getting older. For me, staring down the barrel of time for my beloved dog, Sadie, was hard. I feel like I was grieving her eventual departure from this mortal coil since she turned 8 - that's a long time to be looking for the exit with your friend. Every choice was, "is this good for her? Is this the right call?" 

And if you're thinking, "Is this the right call?" then the answer is almost always, yes. I believe fully that even if it's the wrong call, if you're thinking that question then you have the best intentions at heart, and your canine partner-in-crime (CPC?) is lucky to have you as their guardian. 

deon cole dogs GIF by Angie Tribeca
CPCs for Lyfe.

Books and Resources? 

Books can offer some help, as can podcasts and just talking with other people who are going through this, too, but unlike puppyhood, the resources are much fewer.

Good Old Dog: Expert Advice for Keeping Your Aging Dog Happy ...
"Good Old Dog" by Nicolas Dodman, DVM
Nicolas Dodman's book on aging is a great perspective from a veterinarian and compassionate human. And, if listening to a discussion instead of reading a book is more your vibe, there is the conversation he has here on NPR about the book. 

The AVMA is a great resource, too, specifically on aging animals. 

Hannah Brannigan's podcast, "Drinking from the Toilet," (great name!) explores the aging dog with trainer, canine massage therapist and all-around awesome dog lady, Lori Stevens. 

Age is but a number

And with that number, different issues pop up. It's part of the dog-owning journey and given that in comparison to puppyhood, there are SO few books about this part of the dog-owning process, I think it's important to talk about openly. Puppies are easy to love - even when they are peeing on your floor. Older dogs, maybe not so much. 

Puppies are exciting because there is so much potential.
But with older dogs, there is history, habits (good and bad), and a foundation of love. 

Of the two, it's harder to write about history because it's often so personal. We all tell our stories and our dog's stories with a very anecdotal slant, a personal slant, looking down the tunnel of inevitability - this ride will end. Our co-pilots are statistically more likely to cross the rainbow bridge before we do, and that feels so unfair. 

Yet, it's the way it goes - but just because they can't catch a ball, or chase a rabbit with the same pep, they can totally rock a sofa cushion, watch Netflix, and be what we always think of them as: 

st bernard dog GIF

Our best friends. 



Intro to Disc Dogs!

Sports ebb and flow. And one of the things that I find interesting is that Disc Dogs is one of those sports that, for beginners, seems to get hot for a minute and then fades away a bit, but then comes back. I should say, this is true in my area and only really for beginners. In higher-level competition, that is ALWAYS hot.

dog fetch GIF by HuffPost
Keep in mind, not every dog is going to be into this sport.

We must be on an upswing as I've had a few inquiries about disc dogs in the last few weeks, and in a Facebook group I recently joined, we were talking about sports and inclusion, access to canine sports in particular.
One member noticed I did disc dogs, and I decided now would be a good a time as any to put a couple of feeler videos out for disc --- BUT The caveat is that I don't have a disc dog anymore. Sadie passed away in 2014 and now her memory resides in how I teach and I'm reminded of her when I see the ink on my right arm. Captain is SO not a disc dog. Not at all.
However, I can still teach the first couple of lessons - how to pick a disc, see if your dog is into the sport, resources and how to throw a roller. That's easy enough! The rest of the stuff I'm going to happily hand over to my assistant, Nic! He's the guardian of a beautiful one-eyed dog named B'Elanna and together they will go through the more technical aspects of disc, throws, skills, and more. So watch here, get started, and then bounce over to Nic's channel as soon as he gets it up and running!

dog frisbee GIF
What it feels like playing disc without a disc dog on these videos

In the meantime, there are other resources for you if you wanted to get started:

So get out and play with your dog! 


Going Back?

Hi Everyone!

I know we're all excited to get back into the swing of things. Students are excited to go back to classes or have put off training online in favor of in-person training. Trainers are so excited to say, "So long, Zoom, and your tiny, tiny squares my students fit in! See you in person, class!" and I totally get that. I miss my students, I miss teaching, I miss everything about the teaching experience.

Miss U GIF

There is quite a bit of discussion about going back. Going back to classes, going back to teaching, all of it, but in a series of meetings I've had with a few different training outfits, there are some considerations that we really need to look at as trainers as we prepare to "go back to normal" and the first thing to hammer home is---

It's not going to look normal.  

Even if we do everything "right", state regulations and guidelines are going to severely limit how we can interact with people. If we're outside, we have to remain at least 6' away, which is good, which is the right thing, but we'll be in masks. Students will be in masks. Sometimes students have to use our facial expressions and mouth reading to get what we're saying when we are teaching in fields anyway, so our students who depend on those extra cues from our faces to understand what's happening won't be available to them. Hard of hearing students will likely feel, and will be, left out.

Church Reaction GIF by Robert E Blackmon
Y'all are going to take me SO seriously in my PPE! 

Parents with young children at home - I can speak to this as a teacher who has a 2nd grader in my home. I could put the burden on my husband who is working at home (our insurance, income, everything is tied to his job right now, and we're fortunate that he is able to work from home. Not everyone is so fortunate). But it wouldn't be fair for me to say, "Hey, work from home and help our daughter with school, with reading, with all of it AND keep up with your meetings, work, while I leave the house to teach." She can't come with me, she needs support here, so for the teachers who have young kids, this is really hard.

And the students who have young children: We'll be limited to 10 people outside - that includes the teacher and maybe an assistant. That could be 8 dogs (one handler each) and an assistant - or, it might be 4 couples (4 dogs total) and an assistant. Those people who have always been welcome to bring their kids won't be able to ---- 

----and with summer camps rightfully closed right now, where are those young kids going to go?

Summer Camp GIF by TV Land
The same can be said for staying at home all summer.

We'll likely not be able to help all of those families if they have to choose between having only one person take the dog to class and just not going at all.

The burdens are real. We can say, "Woo! Epidemic over!" but for someone like me, a higher risk person, the risk doesn't go away because the state says, "We are open for business!", and we'll have a population of students who will feel similarly and are not physically or emotionally ready to go back to classes in person.

Spaces will be affected - right now, we have some state guidelines, but cities have different regulations. Parks might not allow groups of 10 if you train in public spaces, or like one of my training gigs, we teach at a school. They aren't letting anyone in (rightfully so) and since they are busy with students, accessibility of online content for their students, getting lockers cleared out for the kids (since no one has been let back into schools since the shutdowns, lunch boxes are NASTY, festering in lockers!), etc, your renting gig might be (and should be) last priority. You might be stuck in limbo.

So while you technically are allowed to go back, you might not be ABLE to go back yet. And that's hard to grapple with.

As trainers, I think it's going to be very important to recognize that while we have had vocal students champing at the bit to come back to class, and we are so ready to go back, we're not fully there yet. This abnormal is not over yet. That doesn't mean we shouldn't try, but there are a lot of things we need to consider, too, about HOW we teach.

Canadian Comedy GIF by CBC

When I work with students in a class setting, I definitely come within 6'. Often. If a dog is jumping, chewing on the leash, unable to sit or down, I can calmly help my student. I can demonstrate skills with their dog. I can show them the mechanics and talk about body pressure, or tension in the leash, I can do lots of things up close. I can size harnesses - or send my assistant over to do so. If there is an emergency, I need to be able to get in and help, but now, we can't.

We won't be able to interact inside of 6' with dogs and people. 

Snl Reaching GIF by Saturday Night Live

We won't be able to come in close and have a conversation in class in hushed tones, "I see you're getting frustrated. You're doing a good job, but maybe you should take a break, come back next week. It's ok, he's over threshold, I see you, I understand. It's totally hard. I've been there, we see a lot of this," etc.

At 6 feet away, in front of the whole class, trying to talk loud enough our student hears it, it will likely be heard by other students, which will make what is usually an emotional conversation in private feel very pointed and directed, and might not be received the same way. An emotional connection and moment of a professional, intimate conversation up close with someone who is struggling can go really well as a teacher, and really wrong if that tool is no longer available.

It's going to be very different.

Just because we're "going back" doesn't mean it's going to be the same. For the trainers reading this, we're going to have to learn new skills all over again, the second time in a year, without a roadmap, without a lot of guidance, and with a lot of PPE.

We are all in this together but there is one more thing I'd like to bring up.

While so many things will be different when we do get to go back, I hope you don't stop communicating virtually with students or leaving that behind. What technology has done is allowed us to reach students who might have, for so many reasons, not have had access to, or felt comfortable in, positive reinforcement dog training classes.

I'm not going to speak in hushed tones here - dog training is very, very white. Especially in my little world of competition obedience. And yes, people of color (POC) are absolutely invited, but might not feel entirely welcome. Lots of glances that say, "What are you doing here" without ever saying a word. We need to do more, listen more, and be more supportive of POC who wish to train dogs in predominantly white spaces or support those who wish to jump into dog training as a profession. I'm so lucky to have two assistants whose voices are heard, and they are amazing dog trainers who I can't wait to share training environments with as they continue to gain experience, but I have a lot to learn from them, too.

Keeping online learning as an option for people who don't feel comfortable in white spaces is important.

Keeping online options for our community members who have social anxiety issues, or other hurdles to feeling totally comfortable in a dog training (loud, social, crowded) environment is absolutely a challenge. And they should have access to good dog training options and help.
Daniel Craig Puppy GIF by JustViral
Every lesson. Oh, this poor dog!

Keeping free Youtube content online for people who can not afford dog training classes (because it's not the cheapest thing in the world!) whether they lost their job due to COVID19, or not, it shouldn't matter. Dog training should be accessible to everyone.

Keeping options open for people who are working three jobs, or essential workers who are working 48 on, 24 off - those schedules are really hard to work around, and dog training might be something they really want to do, but due to the nature of their job, they might not be able to commit. They deserve and need support and quality information, too.

So whatever happens with dog training and reopening, it's going to look different, but I don't think we should throw away everything we've learned in the last 10 weeks. I think it's important to keep a lot of these things in place as we continue to move forward in this new abnormal.



Hierarchy of Awesome!

Let me tell a quick story that will tie in nicely. When I was 16, all I wanted for Christmas was a Discman. (It was the 90s).
90s vhs GIF

All my friends had one and as cassettes were going out of style I thought I'd finally be cool. I'd be able to buy CDs instead of sitting with blank cassettes with my finger on the record button waiting for the DJ to play my favorite song, and for the DJ to STOP TALKING SO I COULD GET THE INTRO.

It was a different time.

So, Christmas morning, I came downstairs, and my dad handed me a box. He was giddy. Now, my dad taught weapons at West Point and was a corrections officer. He didn't do giddy, so obviously my anticipation started to build.

He then said, "This is what you wanted. I hope you like it!"

excited happy birthday GIF

I ripped the paper and saw a box. I didn't even look at what the box said - I just kept on ripping. I was finally going to get the thing I really wanted ---- Dad was on the edge of his seat, trying not to smile (which was standard operating procedure), and I got inside only to discover that Dad and I had a clear misunderstanding.

My dad thought he understood what I wanted. He was excited. He did not understand what I wanted.

I wanted a CD player.
He gave me a CB Radio.

Very different media devices.
radio GIF
My handle was "Little Cricket." 

I wish I could say I handled it well. But, I was 16, my hopes were pretty high, and so I ran to my room and cried for an hour. Not my proudest moment.

Now let's go back to this idea of the hierarchy of awesome. 

If we are giving our dogs what we THINK they want, assuming that it's rewarding to them because we tell them it's rewarding, because it's a present from us, then we might be missing the mark. We aren't reinforcing anything at all.

So, how do we find out what is really rewarding to a dog?

We sit down with members of the household and figure out their top 5 favorite things. Is it rolling in goose poop? Is it playing chase? Is it chicken?  Is it chasing chickens? How about cheese sticks? Sniffing things? Digging? How can we use what dogs find rewarding to our benefit? Nothing is too gross or weird. Really take some time to think about what your dog truly loves.

Above is a video of me creating a hierarchy of awesome with my 7-year-old daughter, Acey. In it, we discuss how certain things we can use in specific situations, and how things (like marrow bones, which are highly reinforcing to Captain, might work well for duration behaviors, but not so convenient for taking out on walks). I then use an example from this morning as to how I used the game, "Find It", Captain's favorite thing, to get him distracted when "Leave It" wasn't working.

When I think back on that CB Radio, I learned a LOT about the idea of rewards. They are always in the eye of the recipient. I also learned to be gracious, but dogs don't need to be gracious. They'll tell you they don't like it (or don't want it right now) by walking away, ignoring you, all those things humans just are taught not to do. So we have to start thinking of what they like, what will they really work for, what is really rewarding to THEM, not to us.

Think back to Harry Potter books: When Ron was given yet another homemade sweater his mother made him, he was bored, or just embarrassed. Yet when Harry got one, he was elated! That sweater meant he had a family. Identical gifts, one recipient rolled his eyes - the other was over the moon.

Weasley jumper | Harry Potter Wiki | Fandom

Funny epilogue: When I moved to Ohio to go to college, I owned a Ford Festiva. It was the size of a toaster and about as safe to drive as one. I did ultimately put the CB radio in the car for those long drives across the country to and from school. My college roommates superglued a whirliegig to the antenna in college, which at first really made me upset as I was trying to fit in, but ultimately I learned to love that little car and the stuck and also functional as I could find my shoebox car in a parking lot. Plus, it was fun to yell "Wheeeeee!" as I rode down the road knowing the whirliegig was spinning away. Not unlike the piglet from the Geico commercials. 

piglet GIF

So, take some time today and figure out the hierarchy of aweome for your dog. Every dog's list will be different. Captain's is in the video, but Sadie's would have been: 

The other ball
Chase a cat
Squeak toy

(Which is why when we did nosework, we used a tennis ball for a reinforcer, not food). 

For Zeppelin, our greyhound:

His bed
Access to couches
Your bed
Hot dogs (which we used for nosework) 

So, make your list. I'm curious to see what your lists look like! 


The Nose Knows (Modified Museum of Science Presentation)

This is an updated and modified version of a live presentation given at the Museum of Science in Boston, Massachusetts in February, 2020. I had never been more excited to be invited live to give a talk as this time, I had friends! Some training friends came, Captain got to show off his scentwork skills, and we got to talk with kids. It was so exciting to be backstage at the Museum of Science, my daughter's favorite place to go in the city, my sister came down from Maine with her family, students came to see us talk,  I'm not going to lie. It was amazing. I felt like "we made it!"

This presentation was given once, then we were invited to come back for two more weekends leading up to the COVID19 crisis. We finished up, gave the stage to other performers who would come and engage with the museum patrons until the end of May when the exhibit was to move on to a new city....

Until Covid19 hit in mid-March, shutting down the museum and the "Dogs, A Science Tail" exhibit, which was the right call....

But, several of my daughter's classmates and schoolmates were planning on going to see the #DogsAScienceTail exhibit and missed it as it's a rotating exhibit.

I wanted to make sure that everyone who missed the exhibit was able to see something that could hopefully foster curiosity about dogs, remind them of the amazing gift dogs have (their sense of smell is not unlike Superman's X-ray vision - both can "see" through walls!) and I never turn down an opportunity to talk about aquaphobic black labradors who help researchers find whale poop. 

(Yes. Whale poop. This was targeted to a younger audience and my daughter said kids like poop. So, I found the biggest poop story related to dogs I could find. It was a big hit!)

So, if you're a kid watching this, see if you can answer how far below your feet can a dog smell? One standard 10'  basketball hoop? Two? (Keep guessing!) 

How can you teach your dog, right now, how to find food hides using the basic skills that cadaver dogs, cancer detection dogs, and police dogs use for detection?

What are the differences between passive alerts and active/aggressive alerts? (And why is it important explosive detection dogs do not give an active alert?)

So let's learn all about the dog's nose and how much we humans depend on it! And if you like this video, feel free to share with the kids (and curious adults!) in your life who are excited about dogs. Especially those who like museum experiences and would really enjoy learning about our best friends. 



Beating The Heat!

It's hot out! There is a predicted high of 90 (f). Captain doesn't do well with heat, so instead of taking 3 walkies today, we are planning ahead. We got up a little early, went in a longer route so he could get the same amount of outside time despite missing a midday walk for to heat, and we stumbled across this! Now, you might see flats.

Not me. I see a nosework game, a mentally stimulative activity, exercise, focus and a way to tire out Captain!

I've started a YouTube channel in the hopes of helping my students find new ways to keep working with their dogs during the pandemic. I'll put some of those here and share in this way. I hope this (and some other videos!) will give you some inspiration during these trying times (and beyond!) If you try this with your pet, let me know! I'd love to see you (and your dogs!) working hard!



Pivoting in the Pandemic Talk

Raising Canine has given me an opportunity to speak about how dog trainers are pivoting during the pandemic. Yes, I've had a bit of time to work on this talk, but man - I haven't had a ton of time to practice because every time I sit down to do something, the news changes, the technology changes, my inbox has a list of dog-related issues that change each week.

I could talk about city dog issues all day - and each of the talks I give on the topic has updated information, but the bulk of the substance is the same.

Talking about how Petfinder is Craigslist for puppy sellers? That's a talk I can give in my sleep. I just did a version of it this week and the only thing that has changed was that Petfinder had changed the way the website looked and the navigation was clunky - but websites are living things if you create them correctly, and those changes are minor compared to the changes that could help the placement of millions of dogs every year ---- and on that front, nothing has changed.

But this one - this talk on pivoting during a crisis, a pandemic that is constantly changing, getting worse, affecting everyone in new ways, the news dump feels like a tidal wave pulling me under every morning...the constancy of the inconsistent pivots is what's making this one so hard.

If it's clunky, it's ok. It's ok if it's clunky because the information will undoubtedly change by tomorrow when Sue needs the presentation and will most certainly be totally out of date by Wednesday, the day of the talk.

I'm not worried at all because we are all going through rapid fire adjustments and that, I suppose, is the takeaway. Maybe I'll focus on that?

I hope you are all doing well in your homes if you are home, and you are safe if you are an essential worker. I have had a few clients get sick and luckily, to the best of my knowledge, they are all recovered and doing well. This is impossibly hard for everyone, and I hope you are finding little ways to be ok with everything changing all the time. It will get better, soon.



Red flags in Petfinder

We're on day 50 of quarantine in our city and I'm not going to lie. It's hard. Impossibly hard. But, I have had a bit of time to do some things I was hoping to do long ago that I never got around to.

One of those things was recording something relevant to my book, Considerations for the City Dog, how to find a pet ethically using the Internet. Which, it turns out, is harder than one would think. I've always wanted to show people how to navigate Petfinder and similar sites because there are some concerning trends that have been going on for years. And I'm saying this as a rescue advocate, someone who rescues and works for a rescue organization. Click-and-ship culture's effect on the acquisition of pets has pros and cons.

In watching the video above, start at around the 9-minute mark where we take a look at the first page of Petfinder. I have a search on for within 100 miles so I could see the dogs before making a decision - seems reasonable. The first page has 48 dogs, all are promoted on being within 2 miles of my zip code.

Only two, the first two dogs featured on the site, are actually here.

Where are the local dogs? They start showing up with a higher frequency after page four, which seems really unfair to the dogs who are here, who you can meet. But where are all these other dogs from? They say they are here...

The rest of the dogs on the site claim to be within two miles of your zip code, but in the demonstration, these dogs are all in the American South. After someone commits to a dog because the description sounds perfect and the face is so photogenic, the rescue group will then ask you to drive to Connecticut or other neighboring states to get your new pet. 

Have you ever thought about why that is? They are trying to duck a legal loophole, which leaves you unprotected if this dog isn't a good fit, isn't healthy, or isn't as promoted.

This video takes some clips from a longer presentation I've given a few times, most easily accessed through the Pet Professional Guild.  (Though, if you are a dog training professional or work with animals in a professional capacity, you can find a professionally targeted version here through Raising Canine). 

Responsible breeders or shelters will not lie to you, nor would they ask you to drive across state lines to a parking lot to pick up a pet just to get around Massachusetts State Law. Good breeders and rescues will ask you to meet the dog on site - and if they aren't asking you to do that, I'd say walk away. The rules are still the same.

If a rescue (or breeder!) feels they need to misrepresent where the dog lives to get clicks, that's really unfortunate and I question their ability to be ethical in the sale, the transport, and to take any financial responsibility if something isn't going right. For example, if someone were to get a dog shipped directly from Texas, a dog who is described to "love kids," but this dog doesn't like your kids, or the dog isn't handling the new environment well, what are you supposed to do? The dog who was supposed to "get along with cats" kills your cat? What if the dog is really lovely, but hates the city and can't go outside - she's shivering in a corner for days? 

The rescue will not come to pick the dog back up from Texas.

What if the dog arrives with a highly contagious disease that could do harm to existing animals in your home? What if the "house-trained dog who wants to be your best friend" is actually a former puppy mill stud dog who has never left a crate and he pees everywhere - including on the other dog in your home, and he barks non-stop? 

As imaginative as all of these possibilities are, they are all taken straight from my case files in the last few years. They all have one thing in common: They were all picked up over state lines, and there was no recourse for the family. They were on the hook for thousands of dollars in behavior work, medical work (one had to go straight to the ER from the transport for a lung infection - $2,000 later, the family could bring him home, and the rescue wouldn't help. "He was healthy when he got on the truck. Not our responsibility.")

No. Not all dogs who come up via transport like this end up as a tragic tale. Truthfully, most do not. My current dog, Captain, came from North Carolina, but, we met him locally and were able to make a decision if he was the dog for us (he absolutely was). This was after meeting other dogs, some even made it into our home for a short period of time, before realizing we were not a good match for those dogs. One was so sound phobic - and we live near two highways - it would have been torture for that dog to live her life here. One loved our daughter at the shelter but after we got home the dog developed severe separation distress, and that wasn't something we could handle with a 3-year-old in the home with an active schedule. That wonderful little dog went on to live with a woman in a wheelchair who never left home. They were a perfect match!  

Many of my students acquired dogs by driving out of state and it was fine. Many of these dogs are great learners, fantastic friends, and perfect companions. 

But when it DOES go wrong, it tends to be because dog and family weren't appropriately matched and there is no support after the dog is homed.
So please, exercise some caution. Do your homework and reach out if you have questions. 

For the record: I will always rescue my pets, but there is a way to do it responsibly. Going through groups like the MSPCA, Animal Rescue League, New England Brittany Rescue, Northeast Animal Shelter and others who have dogs locally who you can visit, whether through an established foster network or a brick-and-mortar facility is the way to go for rescue. Many even import dogs from other states get a reliable profile and ensure their health before sending them into a home. Just like I would always advise clients who want a purebred dog to do their homework and always meet the puppy at the breeder's home first, I always advise meeting a rescue or shelter dog first from a place who has a reputation of helping people after the dog goes home. 

Saved shouldn't be defined as "No longer in a shelter". I can't tell you the number of dogs who are not saved because they went to a home - they are more stressed because they weren't put in the right home or environment despite everyone in the home doing everything they can for the dog.

Saved should be qualified as thriving behaviorally and physically.

If you're going to do this, I beg you to do it right because when this is all over, my colleagues and I would love nothing more than to come to your home and work with you on sit, down, stay, and stop jumping - all the things many of our clients expect to work on when they bring a new canine companion into their home. The risk of going in without support or bringing a dog in sight unseen might mean we'll have to have bigger, harder, more challenging conversations at the end of this quarantine, which is more stress on you, and ultimately more stress on your new dog.