Environmental Considerations In Urban Dog Training

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pretty inviting for an elevator. 

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

Post image
Spoiler alert for Stranger Things, Season 3 

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

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

It's no wonder so many dogs struggle.

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

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

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

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

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


It Started As A Joke...

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

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

Huffington Post - ENTERTAINMENT

15 Reasons You Should Let Me Roll In Goose Shit

By: Captain Love McGrath, Urban Dog Beat Reporter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Rage Rage Rage IT'S ALL BURNING Rage Rage Rage


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

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

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

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

The 2019 Train for Rewards Blog Party

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

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

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

I'm not alone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All in 15 seconds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image of Google
Google with Caution.

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

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

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

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

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

My daughter and her BFF, Captain Love

All of it.

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

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

And that's pretty damn cool.


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.”