10.26.2017

Excerpt 1

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

Here is an excerpt:

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

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

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

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

 -M3

10.12.2017

Naked Diner Podcast

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

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

So, when in Rome...


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

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

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

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

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

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

9.12.2017

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. 

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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.”


9.08.2017

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. 

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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. 

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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). 

-M3

8.26.2017

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.  
-M3

*********************
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.
#NotAllHerosWearCapes

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.

7.06.2017

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.

#Irony
It was important to listen. Critical.
Not listen to counter-attack.
Just...listen.

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.





5.08.2017

Blogger "AwesomeDogs" posted a fantastic piece on prong collars. Her theory is pretty global and works in a lot of areas, not just dog training. Her theory was, "You don't know until you try, right?" She took a prong collar and wore it around her neck to see what it was like to wear one. This wasn't for BDSM (which is totally fine if that's your jam - this wasn't that). This wasn't to show that positive reinforcement is better, or that prong collars are better. She was curious, so she did the thing that we should all do before using a tool that uses pain in order to get a behavior.

She used it on herself. 

I would caution to stay away from the comments section as it predictably goes down some pretty insulting roads.

I used a shock collar on myself once to see how it felt. It was a former dog walking student's device. The collar went up to 100 and I set the device to 20, 1/5 the maximum shock. Even at that volume, my arm instantly shot out from my side the millisecond I depressed the button with my right hand.  My left hand, the hand holding the collar, clenched tighter around the device (not what I wanted) and as soon as I ceased depressing the button, my left hand opened up, shooting the shock collar away from my body. My arm hurt for a few days after that from the sudden and involuntary convulsion brought on by the shock. I felt ill from the inside from where the electricity tore through my body, trying to escape through the floor where my feet were touching the linoleum (as electricity is want to do).

I have a lot of feelings about these tools, but I believe fully in this statement as it relates to shock, prong collars, choke chains, and more.


We get a lot more out of understanding instead of controlling. The dog does, too. I think in 2017, we should all do a better job of trying to understand one another instead of trying to control others. We'd get a lot more done and be more effective.

Sure, it might be harder in the long run to use a more humane tool or your dog might be big and strong, or there was something you read years ago that said you had to be pack leader but the truth of the matter is that the physical and emotional fallout of using tools that cause pain to get behavior have far more dire consequences. There are better tools out there, and (luckily) a far better understanding of dog behavior using science, observation and learning theory that will allow for a much happier dog and a much better experience for everyone.



1.09.2017

Closer to Dog

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Jaclyn Smith from "Closer To Dog," a podcast about people who work with dogs, coyotes, wolves and other canids. She takes a look at everything from a day in the life of an Animal Control Officer, to Slobbr - an app for dog owners that assists in finding dog-friendly outings, eateries and veterinarians. She has a great tone, out-going personality and is naturally very curious.



It was, by far, the most fun I have had recording any interview.


Jaclyn came to a disc dogs class at Everydog, and then we interviewed in the family MINI Countryman because the boxing gym next door was...well, let's just say it was in full swing. And by swing, it sounded like sitting ringside for UFC Fight Night.

The MINI is a fantastic place to record, as long as you don't mind the occasional passersby peering into the car (that is fogging up due to two grown adults talking to into microphones for 45 minutes). I really hope that someone passing by had a great story to tell.

"Heya, Mike? Out there, that fogged up car...what do you think they are doing? Yeah, they were each holding a small ferret and talking into it. What do you think that's about?" 


So without further adieu, here is the link to this week's "Closer to Dog", all about disc dogs (but really, so much more). If you like it, go back and listen to some of the other episodes. They are fun and informative. You might even recognize some of your favorite Boston-area dog-folk like Michelle from Slobbr, and Zee from Wolf Hollow sanctuary in Ipswich, MA.

 Enjoy (and laugh!)
 -M3

12.20.2016

Discussion with Tracie Hotchner: "Importance of Environment in Lives of Dogs"

I recently had an incredible discussion with Tracie Hotchner, host of "Dog Talk" on the Radio Pet Lady Network. 

I had never been interviewed for a radio program before! This was quite exciting and Tracie was such an engaging host! We discussed not just "Considerations for the City Dog," but what inspired the book, how people perceive dogs in the city, #HandsOnFirst and much, much more. We laughed a lot and had a fantastic discussion about the importance of weighing environment on our dogs' lives. 

If you care to take a listen, you can hear our discussion here, or you can download on your favorite Podcasting Application!

Happy Holidays!

-Melissa

9.15.2016

The Garmin Thing...

Let's say I made a tool designed to keep kids safe. This tool would keep track of a child's activity, keep them from getting into things, and allow a method in which parents could reprimand their children with an app on the phone.

Let's say I did not consult with parents, teachers, social workers, pediatricians or anyone else who have an invested interest in keeping children safe.

And this tool keeps kids safe by shocking them. Sometimes it's a consistent thing - every time they get near the knife block - but sometimes randomly because a parent just didn't like what the kid was doing at the time with no other feedback. This is a tool marketed for all kids, regardless of sensitivities, health or behavioral issues, and no other feedback aside from "sometimes I get shocked when I'm left alone at home." What could POSSIBLY go wrong?

If I did that, I would deserve 100% all of the flack that Garmin is getting right now from professionals and people who work hard to educate about pet safety, science based training methodology, and actual-real-life learning theory.

I have no doubt that Garmin tried to do a good thing (with dollars as a motivating factor because yes, they are a big company), but I have no doubt their initial intentions were good. "Let's get people a tool that can help them get piece of mind while they are away from their beloved pet." That said, without (clearly) speaking with behavioral science folk, veterinary behaviorists, applied animal behaviorists or people who are certified in professional dog training, they missed the mark by a lot. And by providing this "tool" to clients without any knowledge of behavior, how it works, and how something so punitive can backfire so terribly, many dogs are going to be harmed behaviorally and physically --- all in the name of "keeping him safe."

Had they spoken with these individuals, imagine the wonderful tool they COULD have designed.
I feel it would have been amazing.
Maybe there is a company out there that would like to design such a thing.