Does Your Pet Have Mountain Lion Brain?

Have you ever said something like:

Treats won’t work if he’s barking.

Nothing works when he sees another dog!

She won’t pay attention to me when she’s like that. 

If you have, then this post is for you!

Before we get started and I explain what the heck “mountain lion brain” means, we first need to define one term: threshold. “Threshold” refers to that line in the sand where underneath the line your animal is “okay” and over the line they go into fight-or-flight mode. This is an overly simplistic view (for a more in-depth discussion as to types of thresholds check out this article) and there are more options over threshold than just fight or flight, but for our purposes in this post this definition will suffice. Essentially, under threshold can look like this:

Photo by Jamie Street

While over threshold can look like this:

Photo by Nick Bolton

Or this:

Or even this! (I mentioned there are more options than fight or flight; freeze is another option.) 

Photo by Mia Anderson

Understanding thresholds and what your particular animal’s body language looks like below and above threshold is imperative to successfully working with them, especially for those working on fear, anxiety, reactivity, and aggression. One of the reasons for this is that learning– or at least the type of learning that we typically think of with training– does not happen over threshold. This is another overly simplistic and inaccurate statement for the true science pros in the audience, but it’s true from the eyes of the average pet owner. This is why your dog won’t take treats or sit when he’s reactive. It’s why nothing works at that moment. 

I call this over-threshold state, “Mountain Lion Brain”. You have willingly come to this webpage and are hopefully comfortable and able to absorb the material. However, if you were being chased by a mountain lion and I ran up alongside you and asked if you’d like to learn about your pet’s behavior, the answer is no! You couldn’t possibly learn while you’re being chased by a mountain lion. You have “Mountain Lion Brain”.

That over-threshold state is not conducive to learning for you or your pet. Your pet is not stubborn, or stupid, or has selective hearing when they’re over threshold. When they’re experiencing “Mountain Lion Brain”, the fear/strong emotions center of their brain takes over and essentially shuts down the learning and reasoning parts of their brain (overly simplistic but you get the picture). They’re not learning because they can’t. 

Sometimes when I explain this, a client will ask me, “But he’s not actually in danger. Why does he still have “Mountain Lion Brain”?” A good question! Threats are not always physical and they’re not always “real” from an outsider’s perspective. For example, public speaking is one of the top fears of people across the world. There is no actual, physical threat in public speaking (unless maybe you’re a prominent and controversial figure). The threat is not “real” from an outsider’s perspective, however, can feel very real to the person who fears public speaking. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if someone else perceives the threat as “real” or valid; it only matters if the individual experiencing it perceives it as such. Fear doesn’t always make sense. 

What Should I do if my Pet is Experiencing “Mountain Lion Brain”?

The best answer is to remove the threat and/or your pet from that situation. A note: many pets will “redirect” their frustration or fear onto the closest being when they have “Mountain Lion Brain”. This is why many dogs bite their owners for grabbing their collars when they’re reactive. It’s safer to remove the threat instead of your pet. If that’s not possible, please do so with caution and by physically handling them the least amount possible. 

There’s no sense in trying to train if your pet is not going to be able to learn. Make a mental note of your pet’s body language leading up to threshold, what the involved triggers were, and anything else of consequence so that you can avoid those situations in the future. Your behavior consultant will be able to help you make a plan to work on behavior concerns under threshold, where both you and your pet will be safer and more successful. 

Now what?

  • Learn your pet’s body language approaching threshold. This step is so important that we give it to almost every client as one of their first homework tasks. This helps to make your pet’s behavior more predictable to you. 
  • Identify triggers based on your pet’s body language. Additionally, identify if your pet is able to learn, respond to you, and eat when you see certain signals. That lets you know how close they are to “Mountain Lion Brain” and gives you information as to whether this is a training moment or a management moment. 
  • Find management solutions to keep your pet under threshold. Get creative!
  • For additional help with body language, management, and other foundation skills, check out our Setting Yourself up for Success: Behavior Modification Basics course.
  • Contact your behavior consultant to help you with any of the above and to come up with a solution to working on your pet’s behavior concerns under threshold. If you aren’t yet working with a behavior consultant, contact us at [email protected] to work with someone from our team!

Happy training!


Why Doesn’t My Dog Respect Me?

If you prefer to listen to this blog post, click here.

A lot of clients over the years have come to us to help them with a laundry list of behavior issues, and on that list is something along these lines:

“My dog doesn’t respect me.”

“My dog respects my spouse a lot better than me.”

“My dog listens to me when it’s just the two of us, but as soon as other people are around they completely lose any respect for me.”

These concerns are completely understandable, especially when so many of the training recommendations on TV and the internet tell you how important it is for your dog to respect you, and how you can’t be a good leader if you don’t command your dog’s respect. That’s a lot of pressure to put on ourselves and our dogs!

But I’m going to let you in on a little secret:

Dogs have no idea what respect even means.


So… what DOES respect even mean?


The tricky thing about expecting a dog to show us respect is that everyone involved has to know exactly what “showing respect” looks like. 

I had a conversation with some of my students in our mentorship program about respect a while back, and at the time, several of the students participating in the conversation had young children, ages 3-6. I asked them to ask their children what respect means and to film their responses. The videos were hilariously adorable. One child said, “Respect means… giving respect!” Another child, after a prolonged silence, whispered to her mom, “You say it!” Another said, “Respect is something grownups know.” 

So respect is a concept that even children have a hard time understanding, much less dogs. But to be honest, it isn’t really something that grownups know all that much better!

This social media post went viral for the very good reason that it beautifully illustrates how the definition of respect can be slippery even for adult humans:


So kids struggle to define respect, and adults struggle to define respect, but how do dictionaries define respect? Guess what: even dictionaries have multiple definitions!


Merriam-Webster’s definitions include:

  • An act of giving particular attention  
  • High or special regard
  • The quality or state of being esteemed

Oxford’s include:

  • a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements
  • due regard for the feelings, wishes, rights, or traditions of others
  • admire (someone or something) deeply, as a result of their abilities, qualities, or achievements


Clearly, respect is a complex and nuanced social construct. If humans, of any age, struggle to define it for themselves, does it seem realistic to expect dogs to grasp the concept?


Misunderstanding respect = misinterpreting behavior


But do definitions really even matter, anyway? Lots of people seem to get their dogs to respect them, so does it really matter whether the dog understands what respect means?

Actually, yes!

The problem with trying to command respect from a dog without really being able to define what that looks like is that lots of other things can then look like respect to us. In almost every single dog training video where a trainer points out a dog’s behavior as “respect”, something else is going on instead. And when we misinterpret our dog’s behavior, we are at a much greater risk of responding to that behavior inappropriately.

So what are some common misinterpretations? What’s going on instead?

  • One of the most frequent ways we see the word “respect” being misapplied to behavior is when the dog is actually exhibiting some kind of distress–typically fear. Fear is frequently misinterpreted as respect.
  • Another common situation in which the word “respect” is misapplied is when a dog is in a shut down state
  • In many cases someone might think that a dog is being disrespectful when they actually have mountain lion brain.
  • People also might think a dog is being disrespectful when really the behaviors they’re learning just haven’t been fully proofed yet!
  • And sometimes, people say a dog is being respectful when the dog is just really focused on the handler–which is a good thing! 

These are just some of the most common ways in which the notion of respect (or disrespect) gets in the way of accurately identifying what’s going on, but of course there are many, many others! So do you see now why worrying about commanding a dog’s respect isn’t a particularly useful way to approach training?


So what do YOU mean when you say your dog doesn’t respect you?


A far better way to solve the problems you’re experiencing in your relationship with your dog(s) is to ask yourself exactly what respect looks like to you. When you find yourself wishing that your dog showed you more respect, think about exactly what they’re doing, and exactly when they’re doing it. Like this:

When [describe the specific context], my dog [describe what your dog does].

For example:

I feel like my dog doesn’t respect me when [I call his name when he’s in the backyard] and my dog [ignores me completely].

Once you’ve identified exactly what you mean when you think your dog doesn’t respect you, you then have a clearer goal to aim for–which can make all the difference!


Now What?


  • Use the fill-in-the-blanket method above to identify exactly what your goals are.
  • Learn dog body language to more accurately identify what your dog is telling you.
  • If you need help clearly defining your goals or figuring out how to more successfully reach your goals, that’s what we’re here for! You can contact us at [email protected] to schedule an appointment.

Be well, 



We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know


Every now and then when speaking with a prospective or new client they’ll tell me:


“I don’t know what to do. I’ve tried everything already!”


I’ll ask them to describe to me what they’ve already tried. Often the list is quite long and I understand why they made the above statement. But, here’s the thing. We don’t know what we don’t know. And, even if we did try something, that doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t work without some troubleshooting. We shouldn’t let not knowing what a professional can do for us keep us from reaching out.


Everything to you is not everything to me

Think about a time when you started learning something new. In the beginning, it seemed pretty simple and straightforward, right? It seemed like you could easily master this new skill in no time. Then you took a deep dive into different aspects of this topic and realized that it’s not so simple and straightforward. There’s a lot of nuance. There are a lot of related topics that you probably needed to learn about in order to better hone your skill. The more you learned the more you realized how much there was to know.

Animal behavior is the same way. Just because you don’t know of another way to do something doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. It just means that you don’t yet know how to do it. When people tell me they’ve tried “everything”, it really means that they’ve tried everything that they know to do or have researched. That doesn’t mean it’s everything that I know. Everything to you is not everything to me. 


Troubleshooting is key

Occasionally I get a new case where someone is already doing the exercise that I was planning to recommend to them, but they’re telling me that it’s not working very well. Do we immediately try a new exercise? No! I first ask them to show me what they’re doing (even in a remote session) or send me a video of them working on it if they’re not able to demo live. 

Watching them perform the exercise is often where that aha moment happens and I find myself saying, “That’s why it’s not working! It’s an [insert training mechanic here] problem.” As with most things, the devil’s in the details. Let’s take counterconditioning for example. Counterconditioning is a specific scientific term that essentially means associating a scary thing with an awesome thing in a way that scary predicts awesome so it can become awesome in and of itself. That’s a diluted definition and we’d actually need to see the scary thing become awesome for it to count, but you get the gist. 

Every now and then someone will tell me that they’re working on counterconditioning with their pet. However, when I ask them to demonstrate what they’re doing they are not actually counterconditioning. There are a lot of ways to do it incorrectly and there are only a few ways to apply it correctly. Once we tweak how they’re doing the exercise we’re able to make more progress with it. 

Perhaps the problem in implementation is not in their mechanics, but in their setup. Let’s say someone is implementing a counterconditioning exercise in a situation where their pet is too stressed to learn (hello, mountain lion brain!) While technically we can still do that and make progress, there are ways that we can change the setup to make it easier. Once again we can tweak how they’re doing the exercise so they’re able to make more progress with it. Even if someone’s tried “everything”, it doesn’t mean that troubleshooting isn’t necessary.


It hasn’t been long enough

One last note on “trying everything”. Many times when I hear this statement I see someone who’s tried a lot of different things for only a few days at a time. Think about how long it took you to learn something new or, better yet, to develop a new habit. It was a lot more than a few days. The same is true for our animals; change takes time and a whole lot of practice. Trying something for just a few days doesn’t count. 


Now what?

  • Do you find yourself not reaching out for professional help because you don’t know what they could recommend that you haven’t tried already? Reach out! Chances are that they know of something you haven’t seen before or can help you troubleshoot what you’re already doing. We offer services worldwide; email us at [email protected] to set up your first session. 


Happy training!


Shifting the Focus

“It’s not all about you.” How many times have you heard this statement? We could all probably be rich if we had a dollar every time we heard that phrase (okay, maybe not rich but could at least buy a new food puzzle for our pets). Well, I’m here to give you one more dollar; this time, in relation to our pets’ behavior. 

Others’ behavior often feels very much about us. It can feel like a slight, like retaliation or revenge, or purposefully trying to get our goat. But – here’s your dollar – your pets’ behavior isn’t about you. It’s about them. This isn’t to say that we don’t cause or influence certain behaviors to happen. It’s not to say that your relationship with your pet isn’t a factor in their behavior. It means that they’re behaving this way to meet their own needs first and foremost. 

Let’s narrow our focus a bit to look at the situations where I find myself having this conversation with clients. Common statements that start this discussion include:

He gets mad at me when I leave and pees out of spite. 

She’s protecting me whenever someone comes to the house. 

He won’t listen to me when he’s reactive; he’s stubborn.

Why is he doing this to me?

In each of these statements, the focus is on the human. What if we assumed it had nothing to do with the human? What if we put the focus on the animal? In that case, those statements could become:

This cat is anxious when left alone, and elimination can often happen due to fear or stress. 

This dog is afraid of strangers, and is protecting herself from a perceived threat.

This dog currently has “mountain lion brain” and can’t respond to you because the fear center of his brain has taken over everything else.

Your pet isn’t giving you a hard time, they’re having a hard time. 

Okay, that last one I stole from a social media meme that was going around a while ago. If anyone knows who the original source is please let me know so I can give them credit! 

When we change the stories we tell ourselves about why our pets do what they do, it can be not only eye-opening, but also relieving. I wrote about that in this blog post last year. 

Behavior serves the individual who’s doing the behavior and all behavior serves a function (except arguably for stereotypic behavior, which is beyond the scope of this post). Behavior serves to meet needs, from physical to mental to behavioral needs. Reactivity and aggression serve to tell a threat to go away. A recently declawed cat eliminating outside of the box serves to relieve the pain litter often causes on sore paws. Not coming when called from the yard serves to prolong the fun they’re having. It’s about them, not about you.

Now what?

  • The next time you catch yourself thinking about your pet’s behavior with yourself as the focus, try reframing it and put your pet as the focus instead. What need could they be trying to meet?
  • Not sure what’s included in your pet’s needs? We go in-depth into those categories in our book Canine Enrichment for the Real World. Join us in our Enrichment for the Real World Community group on Facebook for more free info, too!
  • Speak with a consultant if you need extra help shifting the focus of your pet’s behavior.

Happy training!


Why Do We Use Food in Training?

A common question when it comes to animal training is:

Why are we using food to train?

Do we have to use treats?

Can’t I just use praise or petting?

Let’s dive into why we use food in training and why it can be so beneficial to the learning process. Doing so requires knowing a little about the science behind it and a reminder that only the learner gets to decide what is actually reinforcing to him.

Types of reinforcers*

There are several different categories of reinforcers, but let’s just focus on primary and secondary reinforcers for now. Primary reinforcers are those things that are necessary for survival: food, water, shelter, etc. Because they’re necessary for survival, all individuals find these reinforcing in most situations. Secondary reinforcers are things that have been paired with primary reinforcers so that they too become reinforcing: toys (paired with play and fun), petting (paired with physical contact), etc. Because they must be learned, they are not inherently reinforcing to all individuals. 

As mentioned, food is a primary reinforcer because it’s necessary for survival. That’s why it’s so easy to use food in training; it’s [almost] always desirable! Whereas secondary reinforcers, which can be powerful training tools, need to be paired with a primary reinforcer first and in a way that makes them just as powerful. Essentially, we have to do extra training in order to make those things as successful. This is why toys may be reinforcing for one dog but not for another, whereas food is generally reinforcing for both. In short, primary reinforcers are more likely to actually be reinforcing without additional training and among those, food is usually the easiest to dispense. 

*Side note: there’s a problem with how I’m talking about reinforcers in sweeping generalizations in this section which goes back to only the learner decides what’s reinforcing. We have to actually observe the behavior to see if it’s increasing or decreasing to deem something as reinforcing in that context. It’s not enough to just apply a reinforcer and assume that it’s going to work in the way that we intended; observation is vital. Additionally, reinforcers are not always desirable (yeah, behavior is weird sometimes) and so these sweeping generalizations can get dicey. In short, know that there’s a lot more to the story above and that this is just meant to dip your toe into this topic as a pet parent.

Common concerns

When speaking with pet owners, I find that the concerns about using food vs. another type of reinforcer have less to do with the actual science and “why”, and more to do with one of the following concerns. 

“I’m worried about them gaining too much weight.”

I often hear something along the lines of, “He’s going to weigh 300 lbs at the end of this!” while speaking with clients about their pet’s behavior modification plan. While it’s said as a joke, it really is a way of voicing concern about weight gain. Others come right out and tell me that they’re worried about their pet gaining weight because of training. It can be a valid concern, especially for certain breeds.

If we’re working with a young, growing pet or a high-energy individual who hasn’t had weight concerns before, I tell my clients that while it’s something to keep in mind, we don’t necessarily have to be immediately concerned. Let’s start the behavior modification process and if we see some weight gain then let’s adapt accordingly. If we start to see problems or if it’s an individual or breed who is prone to weight gain, then we have some options:

  • Use smaller treats (I break small training treats in halves or quarters even for Oso)
  • Experiment with fruits and veggies for treats
  • Set aside some of their meals to use for training
  • If it’s a treat-heavy day then give them a little less during meal-time

“I’m worried they’ll get an upset stomach.”

There are many people who’ve experienced their pet having an upset stomach due to the type of treat or having too many treats. I often hear of pets throwing up or having diarrhea after hour-long training classes. Some pups will keep eating even if they’ve surpassed their limit! If this is something you’ve experienced, keep in mind that training sessions at home should never be that long. 

As trainers, we have to compromise in providing longer services (aka training sessions) because it logistically works better; we wouldn’t recommend actually training that long (which is why there needs to be so much down time where the pet isn’t working during those services). I generally start with training for 2-3 minutes, then take a break, then train for another few minutes. Many pets are done after 10-15 minutes of this repeating cycle. Some pets (*cough cough* puppies) need less training time than that whereas seasoned learners can go for longer. Short bursts of training can be quite effective. And, short sessions means you’re not plying them with food for an hour at a time, causing upset stomachs.

The other factor behind this concern is for pets who have naturally sensitive stomachs. In that case, we should be speaking with the vet about what foods they can have and limiting the ingredients to what their stomach does well with. Sometimes we have to get creative when it comes to certain diets; a professional can help with that since it’s more specific to your individual pet’s needs.

“I don’t want them to become dependent on food.”

Cheeky response warning: I hate to break it to you, but if they’re alive then they’re dependent on food. We all need food to survive and that’s where the dependence comes from, not from using it in training. 

What I think people really mean when saying this is…

“Do I have to use food for training forever?”

It depends. It depends on if you’re talking about one specific behavior or when teaching new skills, your pet, and a few other things. If you’re talking about always using food while teaching new skills, I would say the answer is, “Sure, because it’s easier to do so.” You could absolutely beef up your other reinforcers so that they’re as effective as food is at teaching new behaviors, but the “work smarter not harder” response is to continue using food for teaching new skills.

If we’re talking about one specific behavior, then my answer is still, “It depends.” Oso has a few behaviors that I never treat him for; I use “real-life reinforcers” to maintain the behavior. For instance, he knows an “up” cue for jumping on the furniture or jumping into our laps. The reinforcement for doing those behaviors is proximity to us (which his behavior has said is reinforcing) and being on the comfy furniture. However, there are behaviors that I will always treat him for because they’re a matter of safety and they need to be super reliant, like coming when called. Real-life reinforcers aren’t enough to maintain that specific behavior for him in all situations. 

To break down that “it depends” into a more concrete answer: It depends on whether other things– like petting, praise, toys, etc.– are enough to maintain the behavior to the level you want/need it to be. If yes, great. You can maintain the behavior with other reinforcers. If no, then continue using food. 

“It’s difficult to have food on me all the time.”

If you’re one of those people, like me, who doesn’t enjoy having treats in their pockets then yes, this is true. (More power to those people who do it, though!) To get around this, I have treat jars set up around my house for easy training and recommend that folks keep a stocked treat pouch attached to their leash for easier access. 

“Food doesn’t always work.”

Even though it’s a primary reinforcer, there are reasons why food would not be reinforcing in certain situations. In more extreme cases, I’ve seen where punishment related to food has essentially made food itself scary. But the more common reasons are that we’re asking them to do something that’s not worth the food or that they’re not able to learn at that moment. 

Let’s use a human example to explore when food isn’t worth it. Say you’re doing one of your favorite activities and someone approaches you and tells you that you need to stop what you’re doing and do your taxes instead. Fat chance, right? Maybe they offer your $5 to switch tasks. Thanks but no thanks. Now let’s say they offer you $50,000 to stop what you’re doing and do your taxes right now instead. I don’t know about you, but I would jump on that opportunity.  If you were given $50,000 for switching from your favorite activity to doing your taxes enough times then you would readily make the switch because you have a reinforcement history for doing so with a reinforcer that’s worth it. 

Now, let’s apply that to an example that I mentioned earlier: I always use food as a reinforcer for Oso’s recalls. Oso is outside doing one of his favorite activities of hunting for rodents. I need him to come inside so that I can leave; he’ll be left alone with something to do but it’s definitely way less fun than hunting for rodents. I could offer him the Oso-equivalent of $5 for coming inside: a kibble. Or I could offer him the Oso-equivalent of $100 for coming inside: treats he loves. A kibble just isn’t worth it; it needs to be better than that. Oso now has a strong enough reinforcement history that I don’t necessarily need to give him the treat but because I want to keep it as a super reinforcing behavior I will continue to do so. 

The other reason why food might not work in that moment is because of stress, fear, or anxiety. Food isn’t reinforcing when you’re protecting yourself from a perceived threat. We’re just focused on living to eat another day at that moment. I wrote an article dedicated to this here, titled “Does Your Pet Have Mountain Lion Brain?

Now what?

  • If you’re hesitant to use food in training, which of the above reasons most resonates with you?
  • Take the time to read through and sit with that point. What concerns do you still have?
  • Speak with your behavior consultant or trainer about those concerns; they can help!
  • Get to training and make your own observations. What reinforcers build super strong behaviors in your pet? 

Happy training!


When Should We Be Concerned About “Fine”?

I’ll admit, I’ve had an issue with the word “fine” for longer than I’ve been involved in animal behavior. The reason for that is fairly perfectly summed up in this meme:

But I digress. Onto how this relates to animal behavior!

Something I hear frequently is:

“I don’t get it. He tries to bite people normally but is totally fine when they take him in the back at the vet clinic!”

When I hear this, I ask my client more questions about that scenario: what sort of body language do you see at the vet? Does your pet seem fearful or is he totally happy and excited to be there? It’s almost always the former. In that case, I have to break some bad news to my clients: their pet is not actually fine. 

A bit about thresholds

We’ve talked about thresholds before in our “Does Your Pet Have Mountain Lion Brain?” post. Essentially, it’s that line in the sand where under threshold your pet is okay and above threshold they’re in fight-or-flight mode (this is an overly simplified version; I recommend Eileen Anderson’s blog post to learn the nuances). However, our pets have more options than just fight or flight when they’re over threshold. Freeze is a third option. 

What does “Freeze” look like?

A quick note before we continue: there’s also a body language signal that we refer to as “freeze”. That type can be a bit different than the “freeze” option over threshold that we’re currently talking about. 

Over threshold, “freeze” looks like when a rabbit spots you crossing their path. They get very still, as if they’re saying, “If I don’t move then you can’t see me and won’t eat me!” This is true for our pets, too. Freeze looks like a stiff stillness. One of my favorite resources to help my clients understand this important distinction between “fine” and “freeze” is this video from Eileen Anderson (note: while shut down and freeze are technically different, the concepts are similar enough for our purposes at the pet parent level):

Thank you Eileen for letting me link to your video here!

As you can see, there are very subtle differences between “fine” and “freeze”. It’s easy to see why many people don’t spot what’s happening! 

Why is “Freeze” Not Fine?

At this point when I’m talking to my clients, they often ask me if this is really a big deal. Their pet is not actively aggressing, nor running away, and the clinic staff is able to do what they need to do for the health of their pet. Why is that not okay? The answer is dependent on who you ask. 

From the human point of view, everything is okay. We’re able to perform the tasks we needed to to keep the pet physically healthy and we were able to do so safely. It’s a win-win for the humans! From the pet point of view, however, it’s definitely not a win-win. They’re still scared and over threshold, which can feed into other aspects of life. For instance, a client recently told me that her dog had major regressions in all of her anxiety-related behaviors, including light/shadow chasing, reactivity, and aggression, after she came back from a tooth extraction, even though there were no negative reports from the clinic. Behavior doesn’t happen in a vacuum; many seemingly unrelated things do impact one another. 

Experiencing these traumatic (again, from the point of view of the pet and not the human) and unavoidable events can lead to learned helplessness. This is a state where an individual has learned that nothing they do affects their outcome so they choose not to do anything when put into stressful situations. I mentioned the vet clinic, but I also see this happening at groomers and even at dog parks and doggy daycares. 

There’s a whole host of negative mental and physical side effects from learned helplessness, from disrupted sleeping patterns to increased anxiety-related behaviors. We talk a ton about this in our book in the Agency chapter if you’re interested in this topic. In short, “freeze” is definitely not okay from the point of view of the pet’s mental and behavioral health. 

What can I do?

The good news is that your pet will tell you when they’re uncomfortable and, in most situations, we can advocate for them! The above video excellently showcases different dogs in this shut down state but it’s up to us to learn our own pet’s body language to know what it looks like for them. 

When you see your pet entering that zone, take a moment to assess the environment and situation. What is your pet responding to? I’ve been using a vet visit as an example but this can happen in other situations, too. For instance, when I first adopted Oso he would choose “freeze” during thunderstorms. How can you manage the environment in that moment to alleviate your pet’s stress? 

And, of course this wouldn’t be a training and behavior blog without recommending training! When you know what is making your pet uncomfortable you can work on helping your pet feel more comfortable in those situations. Above I stated that when I first adopted Oso he would freeze during thunderstorms; that’s because we worked through that fear using counterconditioning and he is no longer as frightened of them. There’s no reason for him to freeze because it’s not that scary. That is the true win-win. 

Now what?

  • Continue learning your dog’s body language and stress signals. Here are a couple books to help you with that (these are Amazon affiliate links. We receive a small commission for purchases made through these links at no extra cost to you. This helps us continue to put out free content to help you and your pets live more harmoniously!)
  • When you see your pet choosing “freeze”, assess the environment and situation to determine what the triggers are. Make a note of those. 
  • Work with your behavior consultant to determine the best course of action for working through your pet’s fears. While it’s possible to do this on your own, your behavior consultant should help you do this in the Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive way so that you don’t have unintended consequences down the road. 
  • Work through your pet’s behavior modification plan and see those true win-wins roll in!

Happy training!


7 Tips for Working with Your Leash Reactive Dog

Does your dog look like this when they see another dog, human, car, runner, skateboarder, or something else when they’re on leash?

If so, you’re not alone! Leash reactivity is a common canine issue in the United States; it’s one of the maladaptive behaviors that I see and work with most. 

In this article, I’m defining “leash reactivity” as: a set of agonistic-looking behaviors, such as barking, lunging, and/or growling, when a dog sees an external trigger while on leash. I often hear new clients describing this behavior like:

He goes crazy when he sees another dog. 

I have trouble controlling her when joggers go past us on the trail. 

He’s leash aggressive. 

All of those typically fall under what I would define as “leash reactivity”. 

Why is my dog leash reactive?

There are a lot of factors that go into an individual’s behavior; we’ll get into all of those in a future blog post. For now, you’ll just need to trust me that this is usually a fear/stress/anxiety-related behavior. The best defense is a good offense. Yes, even if your dog plays great with dogs off-leash or at daycare, leash reactivity can still be a fear-related behavior! 

Every now and then I see a case where it’s excitement-based, but it’s far less than people typically think. And, it’s important to note that excitement can turn into frustration which can turn into anxiety. Speak with the behavior consultant working on your case to learn more about the factors involved in your individual dog’s behavior.

Tips for working with your leash reactive dog

  1. Manage. The more your dog practices his reactivity the better he’s going to get at it. The first step to working with reactivity is building a solid management plan to prevent your dog from practicing the unwanted behavior; this also lowers his stress levels. Management can look like: discontinuing walking in general and getting exercise in a fenced-in yard, walking during quiet times and in quieter locations, and crossing the street when you do see a trigger. It’s difficult to make expedient progress without a solid management plan. 
  2. Learn your dog’s body language. New clients are often amazed that I can tell them their dog is about to react before it actually happens. It’s not magic; it’s body language! When that happens, I explain to them everything that I saw that told me what was about to happen and teach them how to see all of that too. In no time they’re able to predict their dog’s reactivity outbursts just as well as I can! When you know your dog’s body language inside and out you can better predict their behavior and make more effective management and training decisions more quickly. This component quite frequently makes the difference between dogs who make a little bit of progress and dogs who make a lot of progress. 
  3. Distance is your best friend. Our goal is to keep our dogs under threshold and away from mountain lion brain so that we can teach them new skills when they’re capable of learning. There are a few ways to do this, but increasing the distance between your dog and the trigger when you see their body language signals escalating is one of the simplest. Subdivisions rudely are not constructed to provide great training spaces; you may need to go outside your regular walking areas to get the distance you need at the beginning of the process. I like giant parking lots and parks. 
  4. Practice before going on a walk. Behavior modification is a hard process for both you and your dog. You’re both learners in this! I rarely see clients perform spectacularly when they go for a walk and employ a new technique immediately after learning it. It’s like taking the test right after you attended the class with no study time in between. And, to add to that, working on leash reactivity while on a walk is hard regardless of your skill level. It takes a long time to master watching your dog and your environment at the same time, get the mechanics between handling your dog, leash, and treats, and you have triggers popping up unexpectedly. Start practicing your behavior modification techniques in the house, yard, or car (again, parking lots are great!)  so you can get the mechanics down first. Start implementing techniques on a walk only when you feel completely comfortable and confident in easier scenarios. Your behavior consultant can help you come up with ways to practice in easier scenarios before the big test. 
  5. Watch your leash length. Have you ever heard that your stress travels down the leash to your dog? One of the unconscious ways that we do that is by tightening the leash when we see a trigger, especially before our dog sees it. Your dog can associate the leash tightening with the trigger and make them even more reactive. I know it’s hard, but keep that leash the length you normally have it at (unless you have a retractable leash, which I don’t recommend using for a leash reactive dog) and cross the street instead of walking your dog nearer to the trigger on a tight leash. If you find it difficult to break this habit then have someone walk with you to help hold you accountable. 
  6. Work slowly and purposefully. I see the following mistake happen frequently: the dog is doing great across the street so the person decides to practice on the same side of the street. It rarely goes well. There’s a whole lot of distance between the opposite side of the street and the same side! I recommend decreasing distance only a foot or two at a time. When the dog (and you) has mastered that distance then decrease by another foot or two. Slow and steady wins the race; pushing rarely goes well in the long run. 
  7. Respect your dog’s requests by teaching a “flight cue”. Your dog has a few options when he is put into a scary situation; the most common we think about are “fight” or “flight”. The goal of these is the same: put distance between yourself and the scary thing. The first option involves telling the scary thing to go away whereas the second involves you choosing to move away yourself. We like the second option way more! But that means we need to respect that option and allow our dogs to move away when they ask to do so. I like to teach dogs that they have this option– even on leash– by teaching them a “flight cue” that means we’re moving away. We can then expand that by building a dialogue between the dog and handler so the handler can respect any dog-initiated flight requests when they happen. 

Now what?

  • Go through the above tips again. What is the one category that you want to focus on? Where do you either need the most help or do you think with a little tweaking it can be an easy win for you? Write it down. 
  • Next, write down how you’re going to improve within that category. Your behavior consultant can help you here! This could include watching videos on YouTube to better see dog body language as it happens, videoing your own dog and yourself to see if you tighten your leash, or scouting out some additional areas to work in!
  • Schedule your tasks for improvement in your calendar. Aim for 5 minutes per day. 
  • Get to work! If what you’re working on seems too difficult then break it into even smaller pieces. Again, your behavior consultant can help you with this. 
  • If you’re not already working with a behavior consultant I highly recommend it. It’s hard to learn a brand new set of skills by yourself without guidance. A behavior consultant can set you on the right path and help you troubleshoot when things don’t work as expected. 
  • Join us for our upcoming FREE workshop: Roadmap to Behavior Solutions. Information and registration here

Happy training! 


Podcast Episode 36: Transcript

#36 - Dr. Susan Friedman:
Become a Better Animal Trainer

[00:00:00] Susan: Being able to observe carefully, that there are other ways to meet outcomes that include the learner in their own path. I don’t know how you can do that without observing well. And being again, we’re, you know, it is full circle. You and I always end up back in the origins places, because they are the underpinnings. This is the natural science, this is our gravity. Is that your outcomes are better when you are in conversation with the learner, when you are in dialogue, not monologue with the learner.

[00:00:29] Allie: Welcome to Enrichment for the Real World, the podcast devoted to improving the quality of life of pets and their people through enrichment. We are your hosts, Allie Bender…

[00:00:49] Emily:  …and I’m Emily Strong…

[00:00:50] Allie: …and we are here to challenge and expand your view of what enrichment is, what enrichment can be and what enrichment can do for you and the animals in your lives. Let’s get started.

Thank you for joining us for today’s episode of Enrichment for the Real World, and I want to thank you for rating, reviewing, and subscribing wherever you listen to podcasts.

The voice you heard at the beginning of today’s episode was Dr. Susan Friedman. Susan G Friedman PhD is a professor emeritus in the Department of Psychology at Utah State University. Susan has co-authored chapters on behavior change in five veterinary texts, and their popular articles have been translated into 17 languages.

They teach seminars and courses on animal learning online, How Behavior Works: Living and Learning with Animals, with students from 60 countries so far. Susan also consults with zoos and animal organizations around the world. They were appointed to the F&Ws California Condor Recovery Team from 2002 to 2010, after which time the team was retired, due to the success of the birds in the wild.

They are the chairperson of the Scientific Advisory Committee of American Humane Association, AHA Film and TV Unit, and a member in good standing of ABAI, ABMA, IAATE, and IAABC. See and

For those of you who have had the pleasure of hearing Susan talk before, you know that this is going to be a great episode full of nuggets that you can apply to your animal training, but also just to your life in general.

Susan walks the walk when it comes to implementing what they know about behavior to all facets of life. Plus, Susan has the best, most soothing voice. In this episode, you’re going to hear Emily and Susan talk about, learners are learners are learners, do you actually need to teach that behavior, and unnatural solutions for natural behaviors.

All right. Here it is. Today’s episode, Dr. Susan Friedman, Become a Better Animal Trainer.

[00:03:02] Emily:  Hey, everyone. Emily here. We wanted to provide a content warning for this episode because we do discuss some difficult topics such as ABA practices with human learners and the not so great history of the development of what least intrusive practices have looked like over the past few decades. So, this content warning is to empower you, our audience, with the knowledge you need to make healthy decisions about how and if you should consume this podcast content.

Please see the show notes for more specific timestamps.

All right, so I wanna start by asking you to tell us your name, pronouns, and pets.

[00:03:44] Susan: I am Susan Friedman pronouns, I’m a they/them proponent, although I’m not offended by she and her. And being a Star Trek fan where everybody was called, sir, really my whole life, I thought that made the most sense of all is to just take that out of the discriminations that we’re making.

And pets, I have quite a few. Uh, I have a new puppy Odie who’s a Cav-a-poo from a really lovely breeder and puppy raiser Liz Maslow, some of you may know her. And this little pup is a great example of what it’s like to have as much of the probabilities in your favor as as possible, both genetics and early learning history. My daughter has his brother in New York City, so comparing notes has been really enriching for both of us. And then we have a chocolate lab, uh, named Ray after Ray Coppinger, and a dear friend who’s passed on and was very influential in thinking about dogs in pet dogs in different ways. And, um, he hunts with my husband who’s a Nevada cowboy. So, that’s an interesting aspect to our lives. And, uh, then we have my old dad who passed away in 2015, we have his shih tzu named Athena. And so that’s sort of, um, an emotional lifeline to my father who lived with us for five years. And, uh, is also a very interesting experience to have, not the man, but the dog, and, um, we love them all dearly.

And then for better and worse, I have three parrots, and I say worse because I’ve come to have my consciousness raised about the wisdom of having parrots in a home, flighted animals in a living room, very demanding, and as a result trying to meet their needs, we have a summer aviary, which is mesh here in Utah, and then we have a winter aviary with a heater. So, it’s quite the luxe environments and still very inadequate, um, for their needs. But, um, we have Blizzie who is a cockatoo, and we have Mohali an African Grey, and we have Ricky who’s a Severe macaw and they, are all in various stages of plucking feathers sometimes and just other behaviors. That’s the main one, that keeps me running to figure out how to provide better for them.

And from that 25-year experience, cuz that’s how long we’ve had them, I’m comfortable in sharing the opinion that we shouldn’t be raising baby parrots for the companion pet trade. And if people are interested in having them, there are thousands of parrots who are in rescues and sanctuaries needing good adoptive homes. I work with The Gabriel Foundation, so it’s probably a good time on behalf of parrots to mention that, that the name of that organization.

And let’s see. I think that’s what we have for now. You never know what tomorrow may bring. I have two daughters. I would put them, I would put them in the pet category because in my teaching, I’ve, you know, I started out 20 years with human learners with special learning needs, special relative to the mainstream flat education, we provide. Students who learn, no matter what their teachers know or do versus those that learn only because of their stellar environments and stellar teachers. And, um, I’ve come to connect those dots that children are captive learners as well, right from the beginning. You know, we’re controlling every aspect of their lives. And of course, my work has been connecting the dots from children to non-human learners. And it’s very rare that I don’t see something of relevance from one view to the other in my work. So, I would add two daughters who are in their thirties, and who are magnificent people, big contributors, happy people, so we’re very grateful for that.

[00:07:50] Emily:  Yeah. I think maybe we should reframe the question and say family instead of pets. I agree with you that learners, are learners, are learners, and of course, there are differences across species. But yes, I have, I agree with, with your sentiment there. So, tell us your story and how you got to where you are.

[00:08:08] Susan: You know, I, I keep working on some kind of summary, interesting description, and I haven’t quite landed on that. How do you sum up a, a lifetime, to explain the path you’re on right now. But essentially, I was the, the third kid of three daughters in, the Bronx, and then the suburbs. And as the third child, at least in our family, I was just, I was allowed to grow like a weed.

I was completely uncontained by these parents who by the third child I think were kind of exhausted. And that was very important to my, my tendencies, my personality style was to be uncontained, I think right from the beginning, and then fortunately had parents who were supportive of that in their, in their fatigue, parental fatigue.

Loved animals, like so many of us, I mean, I was, we all have such a similar story around that, I was the kid who was crying over birds that blew out of the nest or bringing home stray kittens who weren’t really stray as it turns out, they just belonged to the neighbor down the street. And, um, and then crying, you know, for hours because I had to give it back, and so that interest was there. You know, who knows where those super early interests come from. Knowing about epi, epigenetics now, you know, it makes you wonder if that isn’t part of learning that’s been so far unaccounted for, rather than any genetic source. But loved animals, but always had a really hard time with authority.

So, once I got into the school system, I was in the principal’s office by kindergarten, which when, you know, given what we know now is just such a stunning failure. That a five-year-old would be tossed out of the out of the room. But I had a wonderful principal, and so of course that behavior that got me thrown out started to strengthen because it was not only escaped from the classroom, but it was positive reinforcement to be with this principal who gave me, kept me busy with the mimeograph machine. You’re probably, your, your listeners are probably too young for the mimeograph machine. I think that part of, of my style of behaving has been important in getting me where I am today. It made me a doubter, and a questioner and, um, comfortable when something doesn’t make sense to push back on it, although I’ve learned to push back politely to keep the conversation going. And then from there, you know, if we just, uh, hop into college. I was a psychology student, and I was very interested, and it was the first schooling that I did that I did well in was when I started learning about behavior. And when we got to the chapter on Skinner, you know, the bells rang, and the light turned on.

It just made so much sense to me. Um, and I was really drawn to it. And now I understand that part of the appeal of this science is that unlike other schools or, sub-departments in psychology, behavior analysis is a natural science. We take a natural science approach. So, we’re looking at the relationships between variables in the environment, and trying to make sense of it from a natural science, scientific method approach. And so, it’s available for everybody who looks to see these connections, like gravity is available to anybody who notices. Things keep going down, not up or sideways. And that just, I don’t know why, really appealed to me.

Um, so my first job was at a residential treatment center, and I worked in the units that, had boys that were labeled emotionally disturbed or behavior disordered. I think those are terms that are still used today. And the head of the school was Wells Hively, who was one of Skinner students at Harvard and his, yeah. And one of his, his, graduate student mate was, um, Ogden Lindsley, who some of you may know from his contribution to precision teaching and to taking data to make decisions. Not always just going with our gut, both of which can be fallible, but combined can be really great, for teachers and learners. So, I started right out of the gate with a really strong influencers and very deep information, and then went to graduate school in special ed and had some great mentors there.

Mainly my focus was research in that degree. And, um, then started teaching about, teaching children labeled learning disabled or behavior disordered in Boulder at the University of Colorado. Came back here after five years in Africa, um, with my husband’s work. He’s a, I say he’s a cowboy from Nevada, meaning really his attention is about grasslands, and moving cattle, which itself has many ethical dilemmas for us to consider. And, um, he, his work brought us to Africa for five years. It was typical story, supposed to be one year, then it was two, and then before you know, it, it was five. Um, with our two daughters who were 11 months old when we first went, and then I came home and had the second, brought the second back at seven days old, and um, left when the oldest was six years old and the youngest was three. That was an interesting transition from Africa to Utah.

And then I started teaching again and after 10 years of teaching, I started to get itchy feet. I felt like keeping the information in the ivory tower was not a passion for me. Generating more ivory tower people was not a passion for me, although it certainly has its place, particularly in research. So, I started to build Behavior Works, although I didn’t know I was building anything. I was just making moves, picking things up as the current in the river brought them to me. I’m much better at watching the current and picking something out than I am generating the current, and so I started writing for parrot magazines, the pop magazines that you find in, uh, PetSmart and Petco and so forth. And, uh, I remember when I, when I wrote about the first ABC to a parrot list, and I said, you know, maybe there’s another reason that the parrot is screaming loud decibels, long duration. Maybe it has to do with the consequences of screaming. And maybe if we look at the antecedent arrangement, we might find ways to enrich that parrot’s behavior in a day. So that screaming for potentially attention is not as reinforcing. And it was a list of over a thousand people and not one person responded. I just, I just tossed that into the wind, and into a parrot Yahoo list, and this was about 1997. And not a word, not a comment back. I’m sure they were thinking, “What the heck is this now, ABC?” you know?

But I kept writing in those magazines and explaining that we’re making, um, a big mistake by always looking inside the organism for explanations of why they do what they do. And that what’s inside in terms of genetics, and brain, and body certainly are pieces of the jigsaw puzzle. But the late breaking sister to the table is what the environment’s doing, and it is after all the environment that influences genes, and brains, and bodies. So, how we could have come up with an entire culture that is completely behavior blind to the influence on all systems of the environment. It, it, it’s astounding we’ve been as successful as we have, cutting out one of the strongest influencers over behavior, the environment, the interaction between the behaver and the environment. So, I, um, it just went from there. It was sort of the right person with information people were interested in at the right time. Slowly but surely, those sands started to shift so that people were more interested in hearing about this, and then other people were doing it too, you know, great things happen all over the world together, there’s never one inventor, right? Edison and Darwin are great, great examples of how there’s never one, you know, the other people are talking about the same stuff and inventing all over the world.

And then here we are. I was fortunate enough to meet you, and to influence you, and for you to influence me, and the other people who are helping you with this podcast. yeah, just kept teaching, and teaching, and teaching. So, high points were meeting Steve Martin from Natural Encounters to be able to learn from him and his birds. And then, uh, Clicker Expo was a high point. Getting to meet Ken Ramirez, and Kathy Sdao, and Michele Pouliot, so they were big influences for me. And, uh, yeah, we’re just this nice big community now.

[00:17:21] Emily:  Yeah, every time I, get discouraged about how much work there still is to do, I remember that you started, you know, the very, very baby beginnings of Behavior Works was 1997, which is the year that I graduated high school. And I’m like, that, that was not that long ago. And look how far we’ve come. So, I need to be more patient with the process because a lot has changed in a relatively short period of time.

[00:17:47] Susan: That’s right. I agree with that. When I think about what’s changed in the last 25 years, and now there’s an an influx of new revisions, as people start to, I don’t know what the metaphor would be, sort of tighten the threads on, um, the least intrusive principle, um, becomes a better guide for what we do, and we are asking questions like, “Gee, do you really need to use extinction to put a behavior on cue?” Or, “Do we really need to have so much presence in animals’ lives or might we turn over more of this to the environment we provide, and less one-to-one where the human is the highest point of every day?” That’s a very relevant question, especially for zoo animals. So, the fact that there’s these new, new winds every 10 or 20 years that help us refine even further, I can’t even imagine what we’re gonna be doing in 20 years, no less 50 years. So, it’s, it’s a very exciting planet to have landed on. I often say, on a bad day, you know, absorb this experience as well, because when they beam you back up to your planet for the report, you know, on Earth you’ll be able to say all of this really amazing, and rich information about how hard it is, but how fabulous it is, and how many failures we have, but how many successes we have. It’s, it’s an amazing thing to be here. if that doesn’t sound too strange.

[00:19:24] Emily:  It real. It really is. It really is. Life is interesting. I just finished watching a show called Station 11 on HBOMax.

[00:19:32] Susan: Yes, I’ve seen it. And I read the book, uhhuh.

[00:19:34] Emily:  Okay. I love it. It was, it filled my cup for sure. But I love that, like the message of the show is that even we have these like major setbacks and major tragedies and there’s still hope. There’s still progress, there’s still joy. And what moving forward looks like is different. We’re not trying to recapture something from the past. We’re inventing this new, there’s something new to move towards. It’s not just recovering what we lost.

And that was something that I was like, wow, that is so pertinent to our profession because in so many cases we’re working with animals who have experienced major traumas and we’re not trying to get back what we lost. But there is something that we can move towards that looks totally different. And through our work with these animals, we actually come up with something better. Like we become better at working with behaviorally healthy individuals, behaviorally healthy learners by learning from how to make, behaviorally unwell animals, uh, move forward and, and heal through that process. Right?

[00:20:38] Susan: It’s also, I’ll tell you, it’s also relevant to my stage in life as a 70-year-old seeing all these new and different things coming in. And the tendency is to want it the way it was, right? Well, when I was your age and when I was working with kids, and you know, we didn’t have cell phones and computer when I, when I, I remember when.

And so, what you’re saying really hits home, uh, because it’s about remembering that it isn’t reclaiming what I experienced. It’s about bouncing forward to keep bouncing forward. Um, so thank you for that. Yeah, that’s a great idea.

[00:21:17] Emily:  Uh, moving forward, speaking of moving forward, uh, I wanted to bring you on because of all of my mentors, you’ve really been my greatest teacher about how to have really good observational skills. As you know, this podcast is focused on enrichment, and in order to build a solid enrichment plan, you need to have solid observational skills.

So, I’d love it if you could share with our listeners some of your best takeaways for how to develop really solid observational skills.

[00:21:43] Susan: Yeah, I do think that, seeing what’s in front of you. With whatever modality you use to take in this information is a key to the castle. There are a few keys, but this is one of them. And of course coming up with, teaching children, or I was the trainer of trainers at the center. I would go into the classroom and I would watch, and take data on the relation between the environment and the behavior we were seeing, including the teacher as the environment and the other children at as the environment relative to the, to the kid I was watching. So, I’ve been, um, trained to look for information and to target what I’m looking for, behavior environment in co influence, um, for a very, very long time. I started in my, early twenties or 19, something like that.

And then, when I started working with animals, I didn’t have that skill because my skill was related to those micro face, facial expressions we were talking about. And, seeing where a hand was and whether it was balled up in a fist, so that could be interpreted as uncomfortable and, uh, where shoulders are and relative to ears and that sort of thing. And then what in the environment occasion, those responses.

When it came to looking at animals, I didn’t have that yet. And so, I had to really work to be able to learn new languages across the species. And I remember I was on the fortunate enough to be on the Condor recovery team and, um, that was very exciting for a behavior person to, to be in with those biologists and to have some influence. I will tell you; I never really came up with anything of great influence. I wouldn’t say. So that’s something I look back on and wonder, could I, could I have been more influential now, or were they not ready to have behavior environment be as influential as it as it has become? But that’s on one of the lists, one of my lists of, I wish to have done it better somehow, but I still haven’t figured out how yet. So, it sits there. Um, but I remember being at the LA Zoo, looking at the condors that they were, breeding and, and in the plan of putting the young condors back into the, in California condors, back into the environment, into the, uh, free world. And I stood behind Mike, uh, someone who had incredible gifts and skills with these condors.

And I said to him, he said, “Oh look, that one’s about to fly.” And I was, I said to him, “What, what did you see that allowed you to know that?” And most often what you get back from people is, ” Oh, I don’t know. I just, you know, I just, I’m good with animals, I’m good with California condors.” You know? as a behaviorist, I want to say, “Yeah, but what was your life experience that brought you to this?” You know, it’s interesting, um, intuition in behavior analysis, many of us call it our latent database. So, it’s still part of what we’ve learned, but it’s in the part of the brain where you’re not thinking. It’s in the non-conscious, automatic, fluid part of your brain, like the part of brain you use when you drive home. And don’t remember stopping at the stop sign. You know, you’re not problem solving the stop sign. You’re not even hearing your thoughts about it; you’re just doing it. That bigger part of your brain is, um, where he was and that’s what he was calling just his intuition.

But that was a good enough, from a science point of view. So, I kept scratching at those doors, and finally he would say things like, “Well, watch that left shoulder. Do you see it going up? And watch how he’s starting to move the two wings in a pumping action. Look how he’s coming down in his center of gravity. Watch those eyes. They’re going left and right. And so, they’re, he’s getting ready to take off.” And over the many querying, you know, standing behind great trainers, and saying, “Tell me how you knew that.” I was able to build up this database, if that doesn’t make it sound too unmedical. Data is very magical to me.

And I was able to then start generalizing across species because there is so much that we share, and that’s something that I’ve, I’ve noticed as well is our cultural stories are so much about celebrating how we’re different. Noah’s arc, the ultimate icon of diversity, two by two, the giraffes and the snails, but really what our interest is, or in addition to that, our interest is what makes us the same. Because we are using universal principles of behavior that we then custom fit not just to the species, but to the individual who may or may not be like their species general descriptions. Right?

So, we’re, we’re going down to an even smaller level of analysis. When I look at a tiger, I have some general ideas of what tiger body language is in general, but any particular tiger, or any particular dog, or parrot, or child, or colleague may use their body language in non-typical ways. And so, part of the skill is to be able to switch focus from your general ideas about what it is going to be to what it actually is, and then that’s not enough. You have to not only be able to observe it, to perceive it, but then you have to let it influence what you’re going to do next. And that’s been the add-on for me, maybe the last 10 years or so that I’ve realized that it’s not enough anymore to help people learn how to look by standing behind experts and saying, but what did you see? Then you have to open up really wide to let that information move you. So, we’re not doing things to animals or learners we’re doing things with, and it’s this dynamic exchange.

And so, just this year, Amy Schulz and I, who’s a behavior expert and does a lot of work with giraffes at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, she and I presented a paper at ABMA, the, um, zoo, Behavior Management for Zoo Association, calling it a dynamic training system, and our reinforcement less about schedules of reinforcement, continuous, intermittent from textbooks. We have a slide that, that cuts the cord from a textbook and says, that’s not really describing what we do when we train. If you’re following a schedule of reinforcement, that was very important because it taught us how behavior patterns are moved, are related to rates of reinforcement, but when you’re training, it’s this dynamic reinforcement system that doesn’t follow a schedule printed out on a paper. The animal may look uncomfortable, so you may up your rate of reinforcement, and then they may show you comfortable behavior, so you can reduce your rate of reinforcement. So that sort of broke through this idea that it’s not only enough to observe well and to interpret well, especially when you don’t have the verbal bridge.

But even when you do, because the verbal bridge is, you know, our best report, it may not be accurate either. but then you have to really open your chest, you know, open up wide to be able to let that move your behavior. It’s not a monologue anymore. In 25 years, we’ve come to this new place where we’re seeking out ways of having a dialogue with the learner and, and that’s that for me is the new high watermark of teaching.

[00:29:40] Emily:  I love that, and I think that it’s such a, an important point that we learn all of these things about the opera consequences, and the schedules of reinforcement, but we need to move the conversation forward and stop bickering over those things. I, the way I talk about it is like, you know, that’s like learning those things is like learning the letters of the alphabet. But when you’re talking about what constitutes great writing, you’re not arguing about which letters you’re using, right? So, you have to learn them.

[00:30:08] Susan: Magnificent metaphor. That is unbelievable. I will use it. I will cite you, that will help get people to your book. The main citing to get people to each other. That’s really great. That is really great.

[00:30:20] Emily:  Because it is, it’s about looking at the big picture and, and being able to have a conversation. That’s what good observational skills do for you is being able to be present in the conversation between you and I, I even hesitate saying you and your learner, because as you know, and you taught me, actually, you’re both the learners in that, in that in interaction, right?

You’re both simultaneously learning from and teaching each other, and so that is such an important component of, or no, it’s such a, an important outcome of good observational skills, right?

[00:30:54] Susan: Right. And when you say, um, we’re both learners, that’s another way of saying that you’ve allowed yourself to be influenced, right? It’s the same behavior, the same concept. When I say open yourself up to be influenced, to say that in short, is allow yourself to be learning as you’re teaching. It’s a, it’s about the dialogue. So that’s, that’s, yeah, really cool. That’s exactly how I see it as well.

[00:31:20] Emily: I just wanna take a moment to express so much gratitude to you because as you mentioned earlier, I did, I stumbled across you when I needed it most. And, and I, I have learned so much from you, and this has informed everything that I do. So, I’m really honored to have you on to have this discussion cuz it feels like full circle, like coming back to where I started

[00:31:42] Susan: Isn’t that fabulous? Yeah, you’re an influencer. You build something that helps change the world, and I feel that that warmth and gratitude to you as well. I remember you. I mean, it’s been a long relationship now, right? We’ve known each other for and, and interacted for a long time. You know, it’s really a beautiful thing. This community has provided us really well, and and we’ve provided well within it too, so we enjoy it.

[00:32:10] Emily: So, along the lines of, observation really being a component of having that conversation, and dynamic interaction. I wanna broach a sensitive topic now because I think it’s both really, really important, and also really relevant to this discussion. As you know, many people with autism are, are hurt and angry, and rightfully so about the ways in which Applied Behavior Analysis has been poorly applied, resulting in coercive and sometimes even abusive practices.

One of the mantras that I’ve seen coming out of this hurt and anger is, ” Don’t observe, include.” and I understand where that’s coming from because essentially what they’re saying is, stop treating us like lab rats and let us have a say in our own experience. And that’s absolutely correct and justified.

That said, one of the things that you do incredibly well and that I am learning from you, is providing your learners with lots of agency, which is giving learners control over their own outcomes. Which is exactly what the don’t observe, include mantras asking for, right? So, what I’ve learned from you is that you can’t actually give your learner agency if you don’t have really finely honed observational skills.

So, like we were talking about before, you have to observe, so that you can interpret, so that you can have that dynamic interaction, right? Um, and I experienced that from you as a teacher, that you are one of the first teachers that I had that really included me in my own learning process. And I felt like you were alongside me instead of in front of me. So, can you speak more to that? I would love to hear you dive a little deeper into that, aspect of, of how observation is a critical component of including the learner in their own learning process.

[00:33:47] Susan: Yeah. I think that, first of all, let me acknowledge, let me acknowledge the, I mean, I feel odd even saying, you know, acknowledges, though my acknowledgement would ever mean anything to anybody. You know, it’s my actions that will mean things. But when I hear the description from people who are now adults who have come through the early Applied Behavior Analysis programs of the sixties, seventies, eighties, and even, and even into the nineties. I, I wanna say, that I really hear you. My own experience confirms much of those descriptions, and at the same time to say that behavior analysis is not a monolith, it is not one single thing. It is applied in many different ways across many different appliers, like any, like any profession. But when I look back on my own work with the boys that I described earlier, there are things that we did, like timeout rooms, and, and stuff that I, I would not want to do now. And I will share with you, I had a very, I don’t know, it was an impactful experience for me.

I went, you know, I haven’t worked in Special Ed for 25 years, working with non-human learners now has ex, exceeded my experience with people. I went to teach at a school for children with autism, and other learning needs, to be a speaker about my animal work, at a conference. And when I went into the school, the children were coming in at the beginning of the day. And there was a big reception desk, a long reception counter, and I was on one side of it with another Behavior Analyst, Shahla Ali, whose work in ethics is profound. So, you might want to check her out. Shahla Ali Rosales you’ll be able to find her on the internet. And, the other speakers were kind of milling around, and she and I were hanging out on the end of the desk watching, observing these children come in. And one boy came in, maybe he was about five years old, and I noticed that he, they locked the door.

So again, I’m just highlighting all the things, good, observing, you know, keeping your mouth closed for a minute, which is not always easy for me. And just watching things unfold. And he threw, you know, a, a temper tantrum for lack of a better label for it. He did not want to be in that building, and his mom was on the other side going back into the car to drive away. They locked the door, and he was just clawing, and slamming, and fighting, and it was heartbreaking to see how much energy and behavior he was putting into getting out. And I turned to Shahla and I said, “Are we still doing this? Because you would never do this to a lion. You would never do this to a koala. And I would never have done this to my child.”

And it reminded me also of the early days in my writing when I was really shut out by the lay experts of the day. You’ll remember in the companion parrot world, one of them said about my work in disagreement, “Well, you would never let your child decide whether to take a bath or not. And you would never let a child decide whether to go to school or not.”

And when I got to the point in my career where I could write a veterinary chapter, my first chapter, that was my conclusions was some people may think that it’s right to prevent behavors from behaving and to not help them, um, and to not hear them, and see them, and be influenced. But, but in fact, I wouldn’t force my child to go to school. I’d ask, “What’s going on at school that makes it an aversive place to be?” And why do they not wanna take a bath?

So, you see, this is the changing of the guard, as we talked about in the beginning. This is the changing from generation to generation. I would no sooner force a kid, or an animal to do something they didn’t wanna do, barring a lifesaving maneuver, than I would, you know, wear my pants on my head. It’s just no longer in me. It is not my culture. It’s not the way I see the world anymore. With force and coercion first. With this notion that it’s better for the kid, or the animal in the long run to force them.

So, one thing that I would say is, I look back on some of the things that I did in my career working with autistic kids or behavior disordered children, all those labels, you know, you know that I don’t like those descriptors anyway. But these are the kids who would not succeed without the really the best teaching we’ve got. You know, and that’s the label I prefer. The rest. The rest of the kids learn under terrible circumstances and seem to be okay. But, these kids that I’m describing, don’t do well, just thrown into the deep end of the pool, and you know, asked to claw their way to the side and dangle there for six hours a day. There are things, when I look back, I wouldn’t do, but it was not some of the abuses that I’m aware of now. And that I was even aware of then. That being able to observe carefully, that there are other ways to meet outcomes that include the learner in their own path. I, I don’t know how you can do that without observing well. And being again, we’re, you know, it is full circle. You and I always end up back in the origins places because they are the underpinnings. This is the natural science, this is our gravity. Is that your outcomes are better when you are in conversation with the learner, when you are in dialogue, not monologue with the learner.

So, I know that I’ve kind of rambled around your question, because what you bring to me in that question is an opportunity for me to, to say yes. Those early years were, were not what we know now, but, but I will say, and I even hate the word, but you know, it feels hot. It burns me when I say, but I will say that we didn’t know what we know now. You know? I was also scuffing my puppy 30 years ago, and doing the Monks of New Sketes alpha roll. Thinking that I was doing not only the right thing, but the best that we knew at that time. So, from my vantage point, but with careful respect to the people who actually experienced those abuses, one element to contribute, and then it’s either picked up or it’s not, is that we really didn’t know what we know now. And had we known what we know now, I don’t know about some people, will always be abusers, but the mainstay of behavior analysis would’ve been doing and are doing what we know now. So, we think of having kids sit at desks with, you know, thousands of discreet trial training for a raisin and, um, not letting them get up, or forcing them to bring the plate to the sink. Or not only does that challenge our ethical stance, which is now clearly the least intrusive, effective method, but what is least intrusive has wildly changed to include the learner. I don’t think that, I, I think that observation skills are super important because to have that dialogue, you’ve gotta see who’s in front of you.

[00:41:17] Emily: I think one of the things that I also want to acknowledge is that, like you said, the field in general knows more now than it did and does better now than it did. And also, there are still people who are doing some pretty terrible things because of different a, you know, a lack of access to, really good mentors, and teachers within their profession.

And the reason I bring that up is because I had a conversation recently with a behaviorist in our field. I normally prefer to cite my sources, but in this case, I wanna be sensitive to the fact that she was talking about her child. So, I don’t want to, out that. But she was saying that her, her child was telling her that a lot of the, the training was focused on, getting people with autism to stop stimming because it’s not socially acceptable to stim. And he was saying, it’s not a problem for us. Why are you, it doesn’t matter what, what teaching style you use, the teaching goal is messed up because it’s not a problem for us, so it shouldn’t be a problem. You should learn to accommodate your learner.

And I thought that was such a beautiful and insightful comment from a person with autism to say like, this is, this is the conversation that this is part of this observational skills is, not just observing the behavior that’s happening and the impact of the environment, but observing the relevance of our, of our goals, and are those goals actually even, correct? Are they even helpful? Are they healthy, are they beneficial? And I see so many parallels between that and, and working with non-human learners as well. So, much of dog training and bird training. It’s like, why do they need to learn that? It’s, it’s not helping them, it’s not working towards their physical, behavioral, and emotional health.

And so, that is part of that conversation is, when you teach in the way that you have taught me to teach, being able to observe means also being able to say, is this even a goal? Is this healthy for us, right?

[00:43:10] Susan: Huge. Emily. This is a huge concept. I mean, we could talk really all day so productively about this because it runs through all of our work, and all of our interactions. This is how I ended up in the principal’s office. Why did I need to do the snail shape another time? I had done this nail shape to fluency, and of course the reason why the teacher had me do it was it kept me busy, and then they were able to walk around the room and help others who weren’t fluent in their snail shape. But I was done. Why? And that why does, why does the learner need to know this or do this?

And even if you have a great reason, because the notion I think we can open up to, to remember back in time how little was known. I mean, those discreet trials and the hands down to stim, and stuff that was in comparison to the generation before that, that would’ve tied the kid down, or put ’em in the attic their whole life. So, if we want to, we don’t have to, but it is of interest to me to take even a longer view of where those goals came from, were the hope that you could give children a repertoire that would make them have a, a more mainstream life. That was in a time where being in a mainstream was the ultimate. For my mother, the ultimate was, was producing three children who would be in the mainstream. The fact that the mainstream changed, I have no aprons in the house, no pearls, and I’m certainly not meeting my husband at the door with a martini after taking care of the children, and cooking dinner, right?

So, everything is always moving, and I never, I don’t hold the value that people shouldn’t be angry. And I mean, I’m angry about many, many things and they’re righteous angers. But I can say for me, from my point of view, I can remember the previous generation. And when you come from that generation’s force and coercion, to my parents, so your grandparents’ generation, that turned down that dial, at least mine did, and then my generation that turned it further down, but missed a lot of things that we look at now and say, “How could you have missed that if the stimming behavior is not a problem for the individual, why would that be a goal?” Especially given the amount of time, and energy, it is effortful to change those behaviors, if in fact you ever do. What, we need a very good rationale for why that would be important.

Times have changed, but I will say, cuz I think it’s so, there’s so many facets to this conversation. It would be easy to shortchange it in just one talk, is that times have changed. We know better now, but part of the reason why we know better, or we’re moving in that ongoing, always improving direction, part of the impetus of those changes is the righteous anger. So, I never want to forget that without the righteous anger that I read about, and hear about, and the information it holds for us. About what it was like to be in those situations, and so forth. That is our, our best source of change. So, you know, I grew up in the age, you know, sitting on the White House, long singing We shall Overcome. It is the dissidence that has an impetus to move us forward. It’s not the only way, it’s not the only impetus, but it’s a critical one. So, that’s why I’ve always invited, you know, PETA to the table conceptually. We never want to sit at a table where all we have is our own reflection, or we would not only be back in the trying to reduce stimming, we would be back in locking kids in the attic. So, that’s very important too. So, where anyone falls on this picture, or where, where they lie, and how they feel, you know, I think we have to be open to the full range. And I’m just expressing where I am today, and to have that information, you know, we didn’t have that information from autistic people in the past, and our, all our goals were about nor normalcy. Look how in our, in our culture now we’re, we’re cracking out of that restriction about what normal needs to be.

I remind people that we didn’t know what we know now, and that each person will experience that effect in their lives. That they look back and think, how could I have missed this? That, that’s just a very natural part of growing. But at the same time, this information is very precious because it’s part of the impetus we need for change. If we don’t get that feedback, what would be the reason for changing what we do?

[00:47:56] Emily: I think it’s really important, and much appreciated that you don’t tone police people and that you give them the space to have and express those emotions. Because I see that happening so much with people who are pushing for change in general, everywhere. I think that tone policing happens, like you’re, you’re not, you’re not going to be as effective as if you’re angry. And that’s simply not true, as you pointed out. Where I think it’s the most painful for me is when I see the positive reinforcement community, people saying, “You can’t feel anger because that’s not positive reinforcement.”

And, and that is like, let’s not, that’s not, that’s not what positive reinforcement means. It’s not meant to suppress people’s emotions and, and silence their anger, valid, like you said, righteous anger. So, I appreciate you taking the time to, to say that because it’s so important to say, ” We hear you, and your anger is valid, and your anger is going to continue to propel us forward, and in making better changes, and, and moving forward.” So, thank you for that.

[00:49:02] Susan: It’s interesting to hear you say that people will say, if you are committed to a positive reinforcement style of interaction with the world, that that means that you don’t feel anger. That that’s, um, maybe a new one for me. So, I’ll, I’ll give that more thought. I’m not, for me, that’s clearly crossed wires. I don’t, I don’t spend a lot of time being angry as you know, but I mean, to not be angry when you feel anger. I would, I guess it’s what you do with it, you know?

So, you observe the feelings that we call anger. And this is one of the cool things about understanding emotions from a behavior analysis point of view, is that rather than thinking of it as just something going on inside you, that when you feel those emotions, that you then look outward to the environment, and ask what’s going on that is, that is setting those emotions in play? And then use your behavior, your superpower, to change the environment to move them. So, there’s a lot of problems with anger, if it is suppressed, but also if all you do is feel angry. Anger is an emotion that I assume has evolved to spur action. And so, that’s how I think about those negative feeling emotions is, what’s my action? You know, why am I feeling this? What am I gonna do?

So, I think that’s an important thing to consider too. I mean, sometimes people stay angry because they’re reinforced for it. I, last year I actually yelled at my online class students because somebody said, “Oh, I, I feel like such an imposter. I’m so confused.” And I watched that go by the chat board, and, um, people kind of rallied and said, “Oh, don’t feel, don’t feel like an imposter. Don’t feel confused. Don’t worry. It was hard for me too when I was new.” And um, then the next class that came through again, the person said it again, and everybody piled on petting, and making her feel better. And after the fourth or fifth time, I finally said, “Hey, we do hard things all the time. Doing hard stuff is part of what we have to do. And when you reinforce those utterances of, “oh, oh, oh.” What do you, is that really what you wanna do? Yeah. What’s going on here?” So, it was so funny cuz I’ve never yelled at an online class before, but there’s where I felt a little bit of flare of temper, just saying, um, ” What are we reinforcing?”

And so, sometimes when I see someone who is in constant anger and without action, I have to observe carefully to see is the lack of action because they’re being blocked from action, which then our job is to help open doors to action, or is it because it’s reinforcing in their community? And that’s something that I’m observing all the time as well. You know, and people say they have the imposter syndrome, and everybody piles on to tell them how great they are.

I usually type in, ” Just think for a minute, what’s reinforcing about that? Is there anything reinforcing about that?” It’s kind of a shocking curve ball, but I ask myself the same question as well.

[00:52:08] Emily:  Yeah. My response to a lot of people tell me they have imposter syndrome. And a lot of people ask how Allie and I have done everything that we’ve done, and, and they say, “Well, you know, I couldn’t because I have imposter syndrome.” And, and my response to that is, ” We all have imposter syndrome and it depends on what you do with it. Right?” Like for me, when I have that feeling of imposter syndrome, that’s the signal that I should learn more about the thing that I’m doing.

[00:52:33] Susan: Bravo. That’s my answer too. I say to people, you feel like an imposter cuz you are an imposter. What the hell are you doing working with aggressive dog behavior? That dog’s going to eat the baby. Go get a mentor. And that’s one of the things of course that distinguishes you. Is that, you kept yourself in an active learner role at the same time you’ve been the teacher to others.

I guess it’s what you were saying to me before, but it really comes clear to me now. You just never stop being both at one, maybe we could replace the phrase imposter syndrome with humble. Oh, you mean like you might not feel like you know everything? Well, we all feel that way. Now, what are you gonna do about it?

That’s right. I’m a, I’m a little bit of a hard ass on this stuff. Because the people who say it are often really new in the field, and I’m, some days I’m like exhausted with how much information I’m holding. You know, it’s heavy after all of these decades of learning, and I wanna say, just go learn.

[00:53:33] Emily:  So, Neil Gaiman told a story about, he was at a party, and, and Neil Armstrong was at the party, and he’s like, “I don’t know why I was invited to this thing, look at all these people that are so incredibly accomplished, like, why am I here?” And he was like, “If Neil Armstrong can feel imposter syndrome, then we all can, right?” So, I, I see, I, I recognize what you’re saying about how we see that a lot in, um, new people, but I think everybody feels that to an extent, but there’s a difference between seeking comfort and reassurance, or just seeking knowledge. Right? So, we all feel that way. And then what do you do about it? And it’s the same thing with anger too, right?

But it’s a little, that’s a little bit off topic, but I think it’s, um, a kind of a natural progression of this conversation of, being really good observers of behavior to include the learner, and to have a productive goal in mind, right? And so that we don’t get stuck in whatever we’re in.

[00:54:26] Susan: Whatever you do, just keep moving. That’s what one of my main phrases from raising my teenage daughters. You know, go to college, don’t go to college. Whatever you do, just keep moving. Don’t get stuck. Yeah. I just wanna throw in before you, so deftly change us back to the topics that you wanted to talk about. The reason why I think that I push back on the imposter syndrome thing and the idea that we all feel it, we do, I think we do. I think experts do feel it when they’re in new settings and so forth, and so that’s a very important share.

But imposter syndrome is a construct. It’s a label. It doesn’t exist in any tangible form. And so, I actually went to the internet and said, “Okay, what, what do clinical psychologists mean by this phrase?” And I wonder how many people have sought that information out? Or are they just grabbing the common vernacular, meaning of the two terms together, and then using it to describe what they do? Imposter syndrome is not when you’re new to a profession, and you feel insecure, you feel worried that you don’t have enough experience to do well. Which if you’re new, you probably don’t, without a mentor, but it’s when you are highly accomplished, and you feel insecure about your abilities.

So, I think that’s an important thing to remind people is that this has a technical meaning. And if you’re not highly accomplished, and we can describe what that is. You know, at least several years in the field, with some accomplishments and some failures to learn from, and you know, then it’s not the right term. If the right term is, I’m feeling unprepared, given my level of experience and education to do this case, many times I say, “Well, I agree. So, who’s your mentor? Who’s your supervisor?” And that’s a big problem because we don’t have enough mentors at this stage in our profession.

[00:56:18] Emily:  I know, that’s why I started the mentorship program,

[00:56:21] Susan: Fantastic.

[00:56:22] Emily:  Because it’s a fair point. I mean, we were looking at, you know, there’s a lot of different training academies, and some of them touch on behavior consulting to a greater or lesser degree, but none of them, I mean, they’re focused on training, rightfully so.

It’s not a criticism of these programs, right? There are no programs that focus on behavior consulting as a parallel profession to training, but they are two separate things. And there wasn’t, a program like that didn’t exist, and so my response to my anger about that was to create a program because it didn’t exist.

[00:56:58] Susan: Cool. And where would we find that program? Now you get to plug.

[00:57:03] Emily:  Well, this is on our website, pet harmony, but also, we’re here for you, not me, but my, but my point is that yes, that is, th, this is very salient to the conversation that we’re having now of getting mentorship. And also, what do you do with uncomfortable feelings? They’re not bad just because they’re uncomfortable and, and we shouldn’t suppress them. And this idea of positive reinforcement training, being incompatible with negative feelings is just not true.

[00:57:31] Susan: I don’t even get the connection. That’s how far from that I am.

[00:57:34] Emily:  Yeah, I’ve seen people just like shaming other people for being angry, rightfully angry about things and saying, “I thought you believed in positive reinforcement.” And it’s like what? Those two things are have nothing to do with each other. What are you talking about?

[00:57:46] Susan: I hear it now. It’s that if I am like emoting, yelling, feeling high emotions, high arousal, negative value in my, my world, now understanding that emotions are tracking the contingency, the environmental experience that I’m having now.

And somebody says to me, “Stop shouting. I thought you were into positive reinforcement.” I mean, I guess what they’re saying is that you should be catching me being good, and ignoring what you think I’m doing that’s not good? Or talking about what you think is not good that I’m doing in a less punishing way? So would we, if we replace the word anger with the action of punishment, and people said, “Don’t. Stop punishing me, I thought you were into positive reinforcement. Let’s talk about this.” Maybe they would get further in our language. But you’re right, it’s not about suppressing emotions, and it’s important that we observe the emotions and, that we ask, what in the environment is setting that emotion in play?

Rather than only looking inward to get an explanation for why we’re feeling that way. I would say that the new information is our feelings, our tracking the experience we’re having, and by connecting the two, we’re able to then act on the environment to change the feelings.

[00:59:11] Emily:  Yeah, I would agree with that, I think, there, yes. There’s, um, there’s that fine line to walk of when you’re angry, you don’t take it out on a person, but saying, because I am angry, and I’m speaking out against something. and it’s not directed at any person. It’s just talking about an issue at large.

And I’m saying myself, because I wanna make sure that I’m not, um, putting this on somebody else, right? So, this is, I’m not referring to any specific incidents, I’m just bringing it into myself. So I’m, I’m holding myself accountable, not other people, but, the, the right thing to do in that situation where someone is, taking a stand about something, and, and it having valid anger about it, instead of telling them, don’t punish people, and now if they were, if somebody is attacking a person drive, if I was yelling at you, Susan, about something that you did, then that’s where that punishment conversation would be maybe relevant. Like, okay, how can we, how can we set this up differently? But if somebody is angry about something that is an, an injustice, right? Shaming them and saying they’re not, you know, using positive reinforcement is, uh, is not the most productive.

[01:00:18] Susan: It’s not even. It’s as far, I mean, I’ll cons, I’ll continue to think about it, but it doesn’t strike me as even relevant. So yeah, I mean, emotions also are behavior, and part of our, behavioral evolutionary history. And so, I think we need to ask what function do they serve? And when we have an answer to that, you know, which is I think that they are, the first flag out that says something’s wrong, and then we learn what to do about it. I guess if someone said that to me when they saw me being angry about an issue, you know, I would feel incredibly shut down and blocked. So, we have to talk more about this and think of good ways to respond.

[01:01:00] Emily:  Yeah, I would love that. We can, we can have a follow up conversation later about this. Okay, so let’s move on. we’re gonna just move into the outro because we’ve had a rich conversation and also, we need to be mindful of time. What is one thing you wish people knew about either this topic, your profession, or enrichment? to choose.

[01:01:22] Susan: You know, for me, they’re all so closely related that I can, I can even imagine an answer that just nets all of those, um, prompts. I think that the, the new edge for me and for the people that I’m working with is not about, enrichment as an item, as a thing you put into an enclosure, or into a bird room, or aviary. That the new goal is now to create environments, and behavior analysts have always been big environmental engineers, at our best, that’s what we should be doing, is to create environments that encourage, that facilitate varied behavior, diverse behavior for diverse reinforcers. So, if we understand that we’re all behaving for an outcome for reinforcers, or to escape a verse of stimuli, that’s what behavior evolved to do. To give us the power to not only be influenced by the environment, but to move the environment. So, it’s a, by by definition, it’s an empowerment to be able to move the environment with our behavior. What are we moving it for? We’re moving it for diverse reinforcers, and that requires a diverse behavioral repertoire. So, now when I look at an environment for a kid, for my puppy, for zoo animals, I’m scanning with my observation skills. In what way does this environment facilitate diverse behaviors for diverse reinforcers? And that if we did that, I think we would cover all of the things that you mentioned. And that’s what I would like people to take on board. Is observing environments and then creating with our actions environments that do that.

And you describe to me your bird room, you know, where you’re addressing sound reinforcers, and activity reinforcers, and dismantle reinforcers. You know, these are diverse reinforcers that require a wide range of behaviors within the biology of the animal. And I, I, I do think less about what’s in the natural environment versus in captivity in human care. I think more about where we are here, how can the natural ethology of the animal, their natural history inform us? But we also have to be mindful that they’re in the environment they’re in now, and we could do all sorts of things that we wouldn’t see in a giraffe’s natural environment that would still produce diverse um, behaviors using all of their senses, all of their adaptations for a wide variety of outcomes. If we could focus on that, I think we would have quite a different. set of goals for our training and our consulting work.

[01:04:16] Emily:  That’s one of my takeaways that I want people to think about is, when we’re constructing an enrichment plan, and we’re looking at the environment, the role that it plays in that enrichment plan, a lot of times you have to think about unnatural solutions to elicit natural behaviors.

My bird throwing a cat food can across the floor that’s an unnatural uh, solution. Eclectic parrots aren’t throwing cat food cans around the wild, but it is eliciting a natural behavior. And that’s sometimes I think hard. People get really stuck on the natural thing sometimes, and they’re looking just for natural objects, and that’s not a criticism. I love that people are thinking about that, but sometimes we have to look to things like food puzzles and cat food cans, to get the job done right.

[01:04:59] Susan: Right. It really, it really pushes us to consider the construct natural behavior. You know, what, what does it mean? And I think that a misunderstanding from my point of view that people hold, when you think that behavior is inside the organism, instead of in the exchange between their biology and the environment. Then you think they have a repertoire inside them, and enrichment is about triggering those things inside to come outside. That’s not my view, or I would say not a learning science view of natural behavior. Natural behavior is any behavior that can be displayed by an animal, and what we’re trying to do is give them purpose. So, they may, we may have enrichment environments, enriched environments, environments rich with varied stimuli that elicit natural behaviors. But we also may be evoking unnatural behaviors, like a dog sitting to get food. That is an unnatural relation between consummatory behavior and sitting, because they don’t sit in the wild, right? They stalk, they hunt, they procure. So, I’m not even sure if we couldn’t do well to expand this concept of an enriched environment should elicit natural behavior.

 It should elicit and evoke diverse behavior, whether we see that behavior because it’s been learned in the wild, or because it’s been learned in human care. So, what we think of as natural behavior. Is that a lack of learning? I don’t think so. I think it’s the result of selection by reinforcers in the savannah.

[01:06:48] Emily:  I love that so much.

[01:06:49] Susan: Is a little bit of a different angle, but it’s sort of where I’m at these days.

[01:06:53] Emily: It’s lighting me up because that is a beautiful way to articulate what I was trying to articulate. So, thank you for that. I, I’m definitely going to take that, and of course, cite you.

[01:07:05] Susan: Oh no.

[01:07:06] Emily:  Uh,

[01:07:06] Susan: Good.

[01:07:08] Emily:  Next question. What is one thing you’d love to see improved in your field?

[01:07:12] Susan: Yeah. You know, that is such a hard question. I guess I would love to see a redefinition of the idea of an expert, and that, like you said, that we value our experts by how much they’ve learned, and moved, and changed what they do and teach that. We don’t consider experts, people who hold a union card, and that that never changes. Because I think that our audiences, and our clients have a lot of power over what we do, by what they reinforce, and if they’re looking for people who are never changing, that encourages us to stay fixed in what we know and what we do.

But if our clients and audiences value us for being learners as well, and don’t lose confidence in us, or in one another, then we’ll all be, you know, eating information, practicing all the time. And so, yeah, maybe that, maybe that boils down to, um, being less judgmental as a reaction. And if we’re going to be judgmental, have that be more of a considered response.

I’m not afraid of judgment, it’s that knee jerk reaction that is, um, fractionalizing our, in our, our community. Why is it reinforcing that we are broken into small pieces all the time? How is it possible to be respectful colleagues, but hold different points of view? Those are, those are the kinds of things I think that I most care about in terms of thinking of our community of influencers.

[01:08:51] Emily: I love that. I think the, one of the reasons that I talk so much about critical thinking skills is because it’s hard for people to, to separate disagreement from violating boundaries, or from ad hom attacks, and, or from just directness, like not even a criticism. And so, it’s difficult for people to have those conversations without understanding where to draw a line, or where, where, where do we say, this is just a learner who’s in their learning process, and where do we say this is not okay and it needs to stop? And that can be very difficult if you’re not able to distinguish between disagreement, boundary violation, ad hominem attacks.

[01:09:30] Susan: It’s huge. Are you writing about this? Because I think it would be really valuable. You are a big thinker, and a great analyst. You call it critical thinker, I call it an analyst. And your ability to break, your ability, your actions to break apart these, um, very complex issues that we all suffer, I think is a really big contribution for you to make more of because I think that’s really important.

And I’m always asking as a behavior analyst, what is reinforcing about this fight. I don’t get it. Why is it reinforcing to say Susan Friedman said this? Ha ha. And I don’t, I just don’t get it. And I don’t do it. You know, on a bad day I might privately melt down, but I would always judge it as a bad day, and misbehavior, you know, it would not be something I’m proud of. Yeah. So, I hope you’ll write more about the, some of the ideas that we’ve talked about.

[01:10:27] Emily:  There are resources in the works.

I actually just did an interview with Marissa Martino for her podcast, talking about critical thinking skills, I made a little infographic on epistemology for people, we discuss it in the Mentorship Program, in Pro Campus, our professional membership group, we have critical thinking skills sessions. I’m working on it, and also we have a, a larger course that we’re working towards.

[01:10:51] Susan: Good. I’m so glad to hear it.

[01:10:52] Emily:  I think it’s, it’s, I think it’s important to help people navigate the sticky stuff.

[01:10:56] Susan: Absolutely. I mean, philosophically important. North Star finding important.

[01:11:02] Emily:  Continuing on, what do you love about what you do?

[01:11:06] Susan: I love influencing, and I love learning. I mean, there’s nothing, many, many of your listeners who know me will know that I have dinner every weekend with my mentor, Carl Cheney who’s a profoundly important, old time behavior analyst. What a lucky mentor to have right in my own town. And every single dinner, I, I, I stop, my eyes pop outta my head, my jaw falls to the floor, and my husband just hands me a pencil, and a napkin, and I start writing. You know, I, I love to know. And then I love to use that knowledge with influence. So, the two make a very happy life when you love to learn, and you love to teach. What could be better?

[01:11:48] Emily:  Yeah, I agree. having control over your outcomes is cup filling.

[01:11:56] Susan: So, what do I love most? Controlling my outcomes. That would be the perfect answer. How do we control our outcomes? By being a good learner and a good teacher.

[01:12:04] Emily:  Yeah. Uh, what are you currently working on? If people want to work more with, or learn from you, where can they find you?

[01:12:11] Susan: I’m, I’m currently, well, I’m always working on my own knowledge and skills, so that is not meant to be, you know, a kind of Pollyanna comment, I am always track tracking the trail of information that I hear here and there and digging up the research to support it, and or to refute it. You know, I’m always swimming around in, in research, and I’m trying to think of what, what am I working on specifically now in terms of writing? Um, I’m hoping to update my online course slides, so that they’re not in comic sans font anymore. Have we gotten past the comic sans? My daughters tell me we have.

But I’m not working on any specific writing, just all the things that I, that I’m always doing. And then, um, your, the next part of your question was, oh, where can you find me? well, there’s two fun sources. I’m not a big marketer, by any means it’s taken me the 25 years just to get comfortable, where I’m at. But the Facebook page is something that I, I’m quite happy with because it’s light and fun, but it always carries information, in a nugget somewhere in that page.

So go to Behavior Works Facebook and scroll and just see all the incredible content. None of it is my content really. It’s my writing about other people’s great experiences. So that might be fun for people to learn about behavior through this video and paragraph on the Facebook page. And then behavior there’s everything on that website is available to you to download, and to use to reprint, to put on the back of a t-shirt. There’s nothing on the website behavior that you can’t download, and have, and use. And if there’s anything that you wanna edit for your particular scenario, just email me and, and we can make sure that the edits are in line with my original intent or hope for that piece of information.

[01:14:08] Emily:  Wonderful. Thank you.

[01:14:09] Allie: As always, I learned so much from listening to Dr. Friedman. Susan is a lifelong learner and so open with their learning journey. Many people consider kind at odds with critical, but I think Susan demonstrates beautifully how you can keep a critical eye to your actions and to always strive for improvement while being kind and compassionate in teaching. Next week we will be talking about unlocking the behavior matrix part one.

Thank you for listening. You can find us at and @petharmonytraining on Facebook and Instagram, and also @petharmonypro on Instagram for those of you who are behavioral professionals. As always links to everything we discussed in this episode are in the show notes and a reminder to please rate, review and subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts a special thank you to Ellen Yoakum for editing this episode, our intro music is from Penguin Music on Pixabay.


Thank you for listening and happy training.

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Podcast Episode 34: Transcript

#34 - Sara McLoudrey:
Care With Consent

[00:00:00] Sara:  I love changing people’s perspectives. My degree is in photography and I, that’s all that photography is, is showing people something in a different light, and changing people’s perspectives, being creative in our problem solving. That’s what art school teaches you is like nothing is a wrong answer, and I come up with wacky solutions to things all the time.

My client this morning actually was really beating herself up because she didn’t realize that, what she thought was excitement in her dog’s male trims was actually anxiety, and I had to have a little chat with her and pull her back down. They didn’t even think that dog was gonna be able to stay in the home cuz he was being aggressive towards the husband during Covid when there was only two people in the house, and they’ve gone from not being sure if that dog was gonna stay in the house, much less stay alive. To realizing this is anxiety and what a difference. So, changing that perspective and her relationship now is just blossoming in such a different way cause we’re working on care with consent, but now it’s filling into all of these other holes.

[00:01:01] Allie: Welcome to Enrichment for the Real World, the podcast devoted to improving the quality of life of pets and their people through enrichment. We are your hosts, Allie Bender…

[00:01:20] Emily:  …and I’m Emily Strong…

[00:01:22] Allie: …and we are here to challenge and expand your view of what enrichment is, what enrichment can be and what enrichment can do for you and the animals in your lives. Let’s get started.

Thank you for joining us for today’s episode of Enrichment for the Real World, and I want to thank you for rating, reviewing, and subscribing wherever you listen to podcasts

The voice you heard at the beginning of today’s episode was Sara McLoudrey. Sara McLoudrey is the owner of Decisive Moment Pet Consulting and has been a professional dog trainer for 18 years.

Currently Sarah is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant, CDBC with IAABC. CPDT-KSA, Fear Free Certified Professional, Level One Elite and Certified Trainer, Low Stress Handling Certified Fit Paws Master Trainer and Tag Teach Level Three.

Over the years, she has seen how our relationships with dogs have changed and even how the positive slash force free slash clicker training world has evolved. Sarah specializes in Care with Consent, aka cooperative care and loves seeing cases focused on human directed aggression, resource guarding, helping senior dogs thrive, and living with intact dogs. While specializing in these topics, of course, she sees all types of serious behavior cases. Currently she offers personalized behavior modification programs, monthly membership communities, and virtual classes, such as Care with Consent Foundations, Tip Top Toenails, and Muzzle Magic. In addition to working directly with clients, she also offers services for pet professionals, veterinarians, veterinarian nurses, groomers, and training colleagues.

Her professional animal training career started in 2004, founding Root Dog Training in Suburban Chicago. In 2016, she sold Root, moved to Portland, and joined the team at Synergy Behavior Solutions.

 Over the years, Sara has completed with positively trained dogs in retriever field tests, high level competition and rally obedience utility and RAE level, confirmation, and elite level nose work. Currently, Sara shares her life with Lindy, a four-year-old Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever.

Sara has such a fresh perspective on cooperative care, and one that I naturally gravitate towards. Her Care with Consent philosophy is so in line with our work smarter, not harder approach to enrichment and animal training, and I love the emphasis that she puts on sustainability for the human. In this episode, you’re going to hear Emily and Sara talk about going from cooperative care to Care with Consent, how Sara trims her dog’s nails, the value of predictability, and building your dog’s team. All right. Here it is, today’s episode, Sara McLoudrey Care with Consent.

[00:04:09] Emily:  All right. So, I’m gonna ha start by asking you for your name, your pronouns, and your pets.

[00:04:16] Sara:  Okay, Sara McLoudrey. Our joke is that we’re loud, we’re not clouds. My pronouns are she and her, and my current pets are a 12-year-old American Water Spaniel named Rizzo and a four year old Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever named Lindy.

[00:04:34] Emily:  Excellent. Uh, tell us how you got to where you are. What has your journey been like?

[00:04:39] Sara:  As all dog, I feel every single dog trainer, behavior consultant started with a naughty dog. Mine started with Bailey Bad Lab and I actually was going to, I went to college for a degree in photography. I went to Maryland Institute College of Art and was doing a photography project about a service dog organization.

And then met my now husband, and he had Bailey Bad lab and Bailey Bad Lab was dog reactive when he was placed as a service dog, should not have been placed, but that’s a whole nother story. Um, he was going out in public wearing at that time, unheard of a shot collar and a prong collar, but is now sadly also commonplace.

And he dragged my husband headfirst into the back of a Volvo station wagon in downtown Bethesda, Maryland to attack a dog in the back of a car. We decided that that was going to kill my husband and we needed to retire him as a service dog. And it was recommended to us to go see a veterinary behaviorist.

So, we trugged up to University of Pennsylvania to go see Dr. Karen Overall, and I did not know at that time that my two and a half hour consult with Dr. Overall was going to be the turning point in my life. And she told us to start feeding our dog cheese and we thought she was crazy. And we thought Iams puppy biscuits were very generous. So that started it all. Um, did growing up actually, before I became a, before my degree in photography, I actually wanted to be a non-human primatologist and study the mountain gorillas. So, I actually, it’s full circle in a very roundabout way. So that’s, that was many years ago and I, I’m trying to think where did we go from there?

Um, so I, yeah, then I mentored with somebody who was a positive reinforcement dog trainer when I got my second Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever in 2001 and changed the way I trained. that is all the start of it.

[00:06:31] Emily:  Excellent. I also. from like kind of crossed over from a more aversive background, and also have those experiences of like, wait, what? There’s another way to do this. I had no idea. I mean, I did have, I, I, I was aware of it, but I just thought it was ridiculous. You know, those silly old cookie pushers.

[00:06:52] Sara:  Well, for me it was, it was 19 98, 99, and you know, Yahoo groups were just getting going. YouTube didn’t exist yet. There wasn’t a way to share the information the way that we do now. And, um, we actually got excommunicated from the service dog organization cuz I put a head collar on the dog. And that was back when if you wanted a general leader, it was a prescription from your veterinarian.

[00:07:17] Emily:  Yeah, I remember those days.

[00:07:19] Sara:  Yep.

[00:07:19] Emily:  Back, back in the day.

[00:07:20] Sara:  The Dark Ages.

[00:07:22] Emily:  Yeah. I think every time I start to feel like impatient or frustrated or discouraged about where our profession currently is, I just remind myself of the nineties and I’m like, oh no, we’ve come a long way. We’re good.

[00:07:34] Sara:  We’ve come long, doing very, very good.

[00:07:39] Emily:  Yes, yes. Excellent. So, I think you’re best known for the work you’re doing with Cooperative Care, and that’s obviously a component of enrichment, which is the focus of our podcast and something we care about a lot because giving animals agency to participate in their own wellness care has a huge impact on their overall welfare.

Can you share with our listeners more about your approach with cooperative care?

[00:08:04] Sara:  First is my approach is I am working on changing language. So, I don’t call it cooperative care. I call it care with consent. The main reason I do that is there’s a lot of times when we have to do things to our pets, but that mean they can’t have consent in what we’re doing. I think the idea of cooperative care has become this high idea that if you cannot do everything exactly cooperatively, and your dog does a chin rest while everything happens to them, that you are not doing it right,

And that’s just not practical all the time, and so I’m very much about practicality when it comes to training. And I, the of my cooperative care clients, Care with Consent clients dogs who have pretty significant aggression issues already. I’m not doing a lot of preventative care with consent.

I would love to do more of it, but people come to see me when things have gone really bad already, and they maybe are on their second or third veterinarian that they’re working with or, you know, whatever it might be. And so, that’s kind of become my niche. And it’s really important to me to change that vocabulary because I think as, as soon as people see that they can’t do it cooperatively a lot, especially in the veterinary community, they resort back to a lot of force, and they don’t know the in betweens. And that’s where I wanna try to start to fill that gap is where are those in between on, you can still have consent it doesn’t have to be fully cooperative.

[00:09:30] Emily:  I love that so much because you’re absolutely right. I mean, there are a lot of people who don’t have the time, interest, or bandwidth in doing all the layers of training that’s involved in sort of a standard cooperative care approach. And I’m not bashing that by any means, and I know in many cases it’s really useful. But we have to meet clients where they’re at, and we have ot meet animals where they’re at. One of the things that we harp on a lot is, moving away from false dichotomies. Like where there’s a belief that there’s only two options and realizing that there are more than two options available. And this is one of those situations where I think a lot of people are in that mindset of either cooperative care or it’s force. And actually, there can be something between.

[00:10:09] Sara:  And there’s a lot of ways to achieve that in between also. It doesn’t have to just be training, it can be medications, it can, you know, there’s other ways to work that.

[00:10:18] Emily:  Yeah, I, I’ve experienced that with one of my dogs who I had done cooperative care training with him to get him to do nail trims, and then he broke his toenail at the base and so we had to cut it off at the base. And then, so I had to do retrain and it took like a year to get him to where he was fully participating in nail trims again, and then it happened again.

And then the second time, it took almost two years to get him back on board. And then it happened a third time. This is a, a rough and rowdy playboy who likes to get out and dig in the dirt, and so he breaks his nails. And after the third time, I was like, I, I need to really reevaluate why I need him to hand me his paw and sit there.

That’s not, that’s not realistic for him with his history. So, I need to find something that’s going to minimize his stress and work for him. He’s aware of it, he has an opt out, but maybe cut him some slack, and just acknowledge this is, this is hard for you, buddy, for good reason, and let’s get this done together, right? So, I would love to hear more about how, how you approach that.

[00:11:22] Sara:  Yeah. And so, I think also too, it’s trying to meet the, it’s not only to meet the client’s needs, it’s not only to meet the pet’s needs, it’s also to meet the staff at the veterinarian, or the groomer’s needs. Because they have constraints and they have lots of, especially post covid, they have lots of pressures on them, and need to feel safe in their job. They need to feel comfortable in what’s gonna happen. And that is critical. And I think a lot of times when people, trainers, more than the, our pet clients, um, when they walk in and they’re like, I’m gonna do this all cooperatively, it’s like, whoa, who are you? Why are you showing up? What is this about? How am I not gonna get bit? People forget that there’s, that, that part of the equation also, that’s really important to address.

[00:12:04] Emily:  Thank you for advocating for groomers and veterinary staff as somebody who spent 23 years in the vet world, I appreciate you

[00:12:15] Sara:  Yes. So, talking about where can you find that in between? So, my older dog, Rizzo has toenail issues also. I think every dog trainer has at least one dog who has toenail issues. and we have this whole setup now, where I do pick her up, and she’s only 35 pounds. I pick her up, I lay her on her back, she knows how to lay in my legs, but I have this whole way of asking her is she ready to be picked up?

And so, I drop a couple treats between my legs, and if she willingly comes up and eats those treats, all right, that’s step one of, she’s okay. I drop a couple more treats, I reach towards her collar. Does she come? And yep, she does. When I touch her collar, does she stay there? Yes, she does. Then I know I can go in and scoop her up and put her in position and there are days where she skittles out of the way and is like, “Nope, this isn’t gonna happen.”

And then even once she’s in position laying on her back, as I go to grab a back foot, if she pushes and pulls it away from my hand, we stop. But I go and do a different foot, different nail. So, even within position, she has additional ways to communicate she needs a break or needs to move on.

And once she’s in position, I actually don’t restrain her at all. Um, she can get up at any time and we can try again. So, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. And I can put her in position. And then my other dog has this, probably like one of my, I’ve done lots of training. I’ve done utility level obedience, I’ve done field training positively, I’ve done lots of different things. Probably one of my most proud things is my young dog just gives me her little paw all daintily and lets me trim her nails beautifully. And it’s one of things I’m most proud of.

[00:13:46] Emily:  I think that’s fair. That’s valid, right? I mean, uh, getting dogs to say, “Yes, please not only touch my feet but squeeze my nails.” That it is quite an accomplishment. And I have to tell you, it makes me feel good to hear your description of how you work with your other dog, cuz it’s very similar. I don’t put him between my legs, but we let him lay down on the sofa with my partner on one end with the peanut butter and me on the other end.

That conversation of like, “How do you feel about this? Okay, now how do you feel about this part?” And that means sometimes we get a couple nails and he’s done for the evening and other times I get all four feet done and he, and he was there for it the whole way. It was a little bit validating to hear that we have similar approaches for our kids who struggle with nail trims.

[00:14:26] Sara:  And she’s 12, and your dog has had a lot of toenail injuries, and there’s some days where, yeah, it’s not gonna feel great, and I don’t know why, and you can’t really tell me why. So, I’m gonna disrespect that you’re kicking your back foot out for a reason. And I’m gonna, we’ll do it again next week.

The other thing that’s really helped actually, that dog with nail trims and is a good thing to think about for everybody is, I would put them off because she didn’t like them because it stressed me out, it stressed her out, and then it would be worse.

And even though she does a nail board on the, and she, I still do nail boards on the front and then I trim just because it’s fun for her. But what we do is every Tuesday morning is nail morning. And setting up that routine, both of my dogs know, and I will never understand how dogs know a Tuesday morning from a Monday morning when they like I the same routine in the morning.

But they know my young dog always goes first, and then now my old dog sits outside the window, or sits outside the bathroom door and squawks at me the whole time. Which people are like, “Oh, that’s really annoying.” I’m like, “Nope, it is awesome. Cause she used to, as soon as she would see me go do that before she would go and leave, and now she sits at the door and screams for her turn.”

And so, that routine helped me know, like, I’m gonna do it today. It helped the dog have that set predictor predictor of when, when it’s gonna happen.

[00:15:41] Emily:  Right. Predictability is such an important part of animal welfare because letting them know what’s coming, I mean, anytime we know what to expect, that shouldn’t say anytime, in almost every case, predictability reduces anxiety, right?

[00:15:57] Sara:  We have the studies to show it.

[00:15:59] Emily:  Right, exactly. So, I love including that predictability. I’m less disciplined than you are in terms of like doing it a set day every week. But the predictability for us is, I do everything to prepare for the nail trim in a very specific order. I go get to the materials, my partner sits at a very specific place on the sofa, I hand him the peanut butter, and then I sit on the floor next to the sofa facing the dogs, and then they have the option to get up on the sofa or not.

So, I don’t have that routine that you have, but we do have the sequence of events that says, “Okay, nail trimming is coming, and you can opt out of it if you’d like, but if you opt in, there’s peanut butter in it for you.”

So, what are some other, mindsets or tips or strategies that you recommend for, that middle ground of like, it’s, it’s maybe not full-blown cooperative care training, but it’s what’s practical, and sustainable for everybody involved.

[00:16:53] Sara:  So, you just answered your own question. It’s all about predictability. I am the queen of predictability. It is my thing. I know there’s a couple camps within the Care with Consent, cooperative Care world. Some people believe like, so let’s say we’re gonna do a vaccine, or an injection of some sort, and some people believe on a single predictor cue that the animal’s gonna be touched. I am all about, the more the merrier, the more the dog knows. Like, I usually break it down to a touch like a, a lot of people call it hand, and then a pinch, of I’m going to manipulate your skin, and then poke for me usually means I’m gonna poke, something’s gonna not feel good. So, sorry about that, but it’s not gonna feel good. But we do know statistically, if you have a predictor cue prior to something being uncomfortable, that it will reduce the stress and anxiety of that situation. And so, the more we can add predictor cues in, but being in control of those predictor cues is so critical.

And that’s where I think a lot of our veterinarians are not aware of things. Because they bring in the puppy for their first puppy vaccines, and they’re playing with the puppy, and they’re all awesome and everything’s great, and then that same person now turns into, you know, the Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde now, now that person’s hurting me.

And what could they do? So, I think about in pediatrics, they never allow the doctors to give vaccines to kids. They don’t want that associated with the doctor. Could we do that? Can we, set up a very clear, like somebody, I, somebody was telling me that their veterinarian puts on a funny hat when they are doing puppy visits and they have to do something bad. They like put on this ridiculous hat. Something to make it clear that this is gonna change, something is gonna change about the situation, and so predictor cues are really easy to blend into the world. Any pet parent, any trainer can start adding in predictor cues and it makes a big difference if you’re aware of them.

Cuz if you’re not aware of them, your dog is, or your cat, or your bird, or whatever, they’re all aware of them, and they’re figuring it out on their own and not always in the best way that you want them to. Cause that’s where you’re like, oh, as soon as I think about going to the vet, my dog has left the room. You have done something in the predictability chain that lets them know that that’s gonna happen, besides cats who get the carrier out cuz the person did leave the carrier out the whole day.

[00:19:11] Emily:  Right. And I think that touches on a really important point, that I think, people are afraid of predictability because in their experience, predictability has always meant for the animal this thing equals catastrophe, and I’m going to avoid a catastrophe at all cost. It’s not intrinsically predictability that that elicits that response. It’s that. there’s this aspect where we’re like, ” Hey, it’s not gonna be that bad.” And then we go, “Ah, yes, it is!” Right? And what we really need to do is switch that and turn it into more look, “This thing is gonna happen and it’s gonna be yucky, but after that is when the peanut butter happens.” Or whatever, right?

[00:19:51] Sara:  Right? And so, I call it intentional versus unintentional predictability. And so, the unintentional predictability is the separation anxiety dog who has figured out that when you pick up water bottle A, you are leaving for the day, and when you pick up water bottle B, the dog is going for a walk with you. And when we can start to control those predictor cues and use them with very clear intentions, with a, with a long-term process, and not moving too fast, that’s where we can work on it together.

[00:20:19] Emily:  Sequencing is such an important part of, you know, successfully implementing these protocols, and it’s not something that’s necessarily. you know, common sense or intuitive. So, overtly that kind of sequencing to people is so important for success.

[00:20:37] Sara:  When you talk about the, you know, predictability cues, clients name every body part, Like I have clients who ears, lips, teeth, belly, butt.

Stethoscope cuz a stethoscope feels way different than like, especially I have this, a particular vizsla client I’m thinking of and stethoscope on a vizsla is gonna feel very different than a stethoscope on a doodle. A smooth coated dog is gonna be different than a coated dog, and everything like that. And so, thinking about how the predictors impact that too.

[00:21:00] Emily:  I think the question I have for you then is do you coach clients to maybe make modifications if they have like a Weimaraner instead of a doodle, so for when you’re practicing the stethoscope, pay attention, your dog has a thin coat, this is probably gonna be cold, maybe warm it up in your hands a little bit before you touch them with it. Is that part of that process?

[00:21:19] Sara:  It can be. And also, the, those cue words because the vet isn’t necessarily going to do exactly that. You know, they might not warm it up for you. With that particular visual client, we did start with a warmer stethoscope and then, and she would just hold it in her hands for a little bit, and she even has to cue, um, chest versus belly cuz his belly is way more sensitive than where his ribcage is, listening to the heart versus listening to belly sounds.

 I was just working with a client this morning where once you made contact, touch contact with the dog, the dog much preferred that to maintain that contact, where some dogs, if you maintain contact, it makes them crazy, and it makes them get really anxious at like, “Ah, just get your hands off me.” And for some dogs, maintaining actually calms them, and they know where that hand is gonna go, and so that I tell most of my care consent clients is there’s gonna be a lot of testing.

What works for you? What works for your dog? Most of my training that I do, I try to set up as a single person provider because I do not, I do not get help when I do stuff with my pets. My husband is disabled, I have a surly teenage son who is delightful most of the time, but not always and always have to do my care myself. And so that’s where I’m looking at too, is what does that look like if it’s just you?

[00:22:36] Emily:  That’s excellent. I, I love that. that’s something that professionals forget a lot. We’re trying to set up things that could work and we’re like, “Okay, person A does this and person B does this.” And sometimes that really is the best or the only way to do it, but I love that you’re also thinking about like practicalities of what, what do we, how do you get somebody who lives alone to do this on a on a regular basis if your training plan requires a minimum of two people, right? So, I think that’s such a, I just love how practical and well thought out your approach is for like, what’s actually gonna work out the best for everybody involved in these real-world situations.

And I think that’s one thing too about, you know, the positive reinforcement community, for lack of a better term, is that a lot of times we’re so intent on avoiding aversives that we forget how to prepare animals for the unavoidable aversives in life, and how to like teach them to be resilient. And that’s such an important skill that, um, everyone needs to learn of all species. So, I love that you’re also thinking about that and paying attention to that.

[00:23:40] Sara:  For most of my clients, their goal might be, let’s say a blood draw or I have a lot of Cytopoint clients right now. Allergies are bad this year it seems like across the country, but the, I always talk to people, the first thing I like to train with dogs is a cooperative sedation. And this just happened to one of my clients is like, you don’t know when the emergency clinic visit is gonna have to happen because they tore out a nail, or they cut themselves on the fence, and if we can have a muzzled sedation protocol, that can happen anywhere. That is step one. And then everything else can be easy from there.

[00:24:13] Emily:  Absolutely. So, what are some of your most memorable sort of successes from this, these, protocols that you teach people?

[00:24:21] Sara:  I worked last year with a diabetic Dachshund who at the sight of a needle was aggressing towards his people, and actually with almost any body handling, so his diabetes was not under control, so he was having a lot of physical issues. He also has, invertebrate disc disease. He was all, all sorts of stuff going on.

And we finally made an agreement with their primary care veterinarian that they were capable of doing his, his insulin injections. And so, they were going twice a day to their veterinarian to get the insulin inject, which like, first of all, total kudos to the client. And we spent so much time, he was being aggressive, getting his muzzle on, so we had to get creative.

We actually taught him to go into a cone. Instead. We taught him to go in a little, I call it my little squish box, and so that they were able to be, cause they were really afraid of their own dog. And to see now that he, they are managing his diabetes all by themselves, he has a glucose monitor that he uses that they can put on and off of him.

And his behavior once his, understandably, once his diabetes was under control, is significantly better. He also is a patient at the Veterinary Behavioral clinic and he’s on anti-anxiety, like there’s a lot of layers to that particular client, but to see people go from not only they really thought he was going to die because of his diabetes, did not get under control he was. And to see that shift was just amazing. now we can deal with other, you know, his other behavioral quirks that he has going on. But that was a huge one to really see the difference with.

[00:25:51] Emily:  I love that, I mean, it’s so funny because. Dachshunds are little dogs, and yet some of the worst bites I have seen have come from Dachshunds. They, they a lot of times can really do some damage if they want to. So, it’s reasonable to be afraid of their dog in that situation, right?

[00:26:08] Sara:  Yeah. And I think that’s one of the hardest things is when people can’t do the care themselves, now they have a dog with allergies. I always joke that any dog who has cooperative care or body handling issues should have no additional health issues. And it seems that everyone that does has additional health issues.

Probably one of my, first cooperative care clients that I was really excited about was right before I left Illinois actually and moved to Portland. I had a vet, uh, veterinarian called me up and say, “This dog’s been kicked out of two clinics already. We brought him here. It’s a Bernese Mountain Dog, so big dog and we need to get him muzzle trained.” And we even tried, they tried an in-home visit instead of at the clinic. It was not gonna happen safely for anybody. And so, and it was an older client, and she was not really able to do the training herself, and couldn’t really manage him herself, and was very nervous about it.

So, I did a, I did day training and would pick that dog up two to three times a week, and would take him to the clinic, and I got a muzzle trained, and we did. I, I, I still can’t believe sometimes that we did a completely cooperative, unrestrained, no pre-visit medications cuz that wasn’t really on people’s mindsets at the time, front leg blood draw on that dog. And, ended up that in the process of doing all of this training, he ended up getting diagnosed with two bad hip, two bad shoulders, one bad elbow, all these other issues. And so, he had to start doing adequate injections and then I had to move. But they said just even the muzzle training alone made it so that clinic was able to see that dog safely and proceed forward with what needed to be done with his care.

Um, and I know he is still kicking, so he’s still around. and it’s, I think about 120-pound dog that had been kicked out of two clinics, one being an emergency clinic, and I always say like if the emergency clinic can’t handle your dog, cause they know how to handle the crazies, they couldn’t, they asked, they couldn’t treat ‘ em, so. ‘ a catch 22, right? Because a lot of times the pain is feeding into the handling issues, but you can’t diagnose, and treat the pain without handling the dog, so it’s one of those things that it’s, so important to, to be able to control the, the behavior side. And by control, I don’t mean control the animal, I mean have some influence over the behavior side because you’re not gonna be able to get to the medical side without it.

[00:28:23] Emily:  Of that, that I work closely with, showed me a video of a dog who was having some aggression and body handling issues, and she showed me his gait and she was like, ” What do you think going on with his…”

And I was like, “it’s weird, but I can’t tell, is it like bilateral hip dysplasia, or what?” And she was like, “Yeah, I couldn’t tell either.”

And then so they had to sedate him to do the x-rays. His hips were beautiful, his spine was beautiful, his tail was broken. And they would not have been able to figure that out if they hadn’t done the, like you said, the cooperative sedation, or the sedation with consent. That was such a huge component. So yeah, that stuff is, it’s so important when there’s that intersection between medicine and behavior that we help facilitate the medical part with the behavior part.

[00:29:09] Sara:  A lot of clients, you know, vets accuse them of their being the problem in the clinic that, “Oh, your dog is acting up cuz of you.” And there are some clients who should not be in the exam room, and as a training professional, if you’re working with those clients, step forward. You know, I, I have a number of clients that I have been there for the sedation exams. I’ve taken dogs back into X-rays because the client wasn’t comfortable, but that dog, you know, and cuz you have that relationship with the dog, that’s different than the staff, and different than the, than the client. And sometimes it is okay to be that person. Be the in between.

[00:29:49] Emily:  Yeah, I mean, really our job as behavior consultants is advocating for our clients, which sometimes means helping them to be aware of their own emotional state and how that’s impeding their progress, and then helping them with that emotional state. So, I think that is such a huge, that is our job, right? To help our clients

[00:30:09] Sara:  Yes.

[00:30:09] Emily:  recognize, “Okay, I need to escape this situation because I am too stressed to handle it well. So, I’m gonna let somebody else take over for me, somebody that I trust.” Which actually is a beautiful segue into the next topic I wanted to discuss with you, which is, I love that you work with a veterinary behaviorist because one of the things that we talk a lot about at Pet Harmony is how behavior consulting is at its core, a collaborative profession.

And it is typically our job to build a team of people whose individual expertise can help our clients to reach their end goals and to advocate for our client and make sure that everyone on our client’s team is on the same page. That is such a huge part of what we do as our job, as our profession that, I imagine since you work with a veterinary behaviorist, that you have this whole team building thing down to an art form, right? So, can you talk us through what that process looks like for you?

[00:31:04] Sara:  Yeah. And so, I, when I moved to Portland, I actually was planning on starting my own business, and I had reached out to Synergy Behavior Solutions, Dr. Valli Parthasarathy and to introduce myself as a new trainer in the area. I, not a new trainer, but new to the area, and they brought me in to meet me before they would wanna refer to me, which was great.

First of all, step one, great sign, and then unbeknownst to me, I was being job interviewed, So I ended up getting, offered a full-time position there. And I’ve, I was full time there from 2016 until just this past fall, and it’s amazing to watch what a, when you have that team. And the team isn’t just the veterinary behaviorist.

It should be the client, the primary veterinarian, the veterinary behaviorist, sometimes the dermatologist, and the internal medicine, and you know, and, and understandably not everybody has unlimited pockets, but what can we do? And I think the biggest thing that most of our clients at Synergy will say is they wish they came sooner.

That you, we’ll look at vet records frequently cuz we, cause we’re a veterinarian office, we’ll look at the client’s records and we’ll see that they were recommended to see us a year earlier, six months earlier, the dog was only six months old and now they’re two. You know, and so that’s a really interesting side of it that they don’t even realize that we are seeing because of what’s in the vet records almost everybody says. And working with a veterinary behaviorist, their job should be to look at the full picture of what is going on, and their job is to notice those, you know, what’s going on Musculo-skeletally, I think the I just saw was something like, I would easily say with our, our clientele is 80, up to 80% of dogs seeing a veterinary behaviors has some type of pain issues. How can we separate pain, versus behavior, versus IBD? The number of gut issues that we see in patients, and that is their job, is to really work on pulling those apart.

And we cannot expect our primary care veterinarians to have that level of expertise. And we cannot expect them to be comfortable with the level of medications that our veterinary behaviorists are comfortable with. When my old dog, Rizzo went to go see the neurologist, she’s like, “Wow, that’s a lot of gabapentin your dog is on.”

And I was like, “Well yeah, cuz da da da.” And she’s like, “Oh, okay. Is it working for her?” I’m like, “Yeah.” So, like even the neurologist who prescribes Gabapentin all the time was shocked at how much she was on, but to bridge that gap between her physical issues and her health issues, it was what was working from, cuz of course my dog is a patient at the Veterinary Behavior Clinic. You want that communication.

It really is about collaborative communication. I have never met a veterinary behaviorist who does not want to hear and see notes from the person’s trainer. They want to work with us. And they’re very busy and they might not respond back to you right away, but they’re still thankful.

[00:34:20] Emily: There’s just so much to that. My, my brain’s kind of going off into 20 different directions right now with what you said, because there are so many layers to what you just said that I think everybody in one, one of the behavior professions needs to hear, right? Because I think lot of people are kind of coached into thinking, if I’m really good at my job, I, I’ll never need to refer out again, cuz I’m just really, really good. Like that’s my goal. To get so good, I don’t need to refer out. And I have found the opposite, like the longer I’ve been in this profession and the better I get at my job. The more likely I am to refer out, and build a team for my client, and stay in my lane, and recognize what other people’s specialties are. And also recognize when specialties are needed more frequently than I use to, right? But then the, another layer to that is I think a lot of times people mistake no feedback for, like not being appreciated or being ignored. And so, people don’t tend to continue to like communicate, and give notes, and make sure everybody’s on the same page.

Cuz they’re like, well, they never respond to my notes. They’re probably not even reading them. And that’s not it either. I think everybody who works in a behavior field should spend a little time working in a vet clinic, and a little time working in a shelter, and a little time working with breeders and a little time like, just when you, when you see the bigger picture and you have been in those shoes, you understand what’s happening on their end is a totally different world than what’s happening on our end.

[00:35:48] Sara:  Especially for, yeah, like at Synergy Behavior Solutions, it’s a one doctor practice, so every prescription that needs to be refilled, it’s so time consuming, all of these different things, people don’t realize how long, you know, every client needs help. Especially behavior clinics have so much you know, they’re getting back so much information about medications, and behavior, and so much different than a general practice clinic. And every part of it is super time consuming.

And so, people, yes, people read notes, and probably in, as long as they’re not concerned about what’s happening, they probably are not gonna respond back, and it’s not cuz they’re trying to be rude, or a jerk, or whatever, they have 50,000 other clients and things that need to happen.

[00:36:33] Emily:  Making sure that everybody’s on the same page, and has the same information doesn’t mean that everybody’s gonna give you the same level of feedback. And it, you’re right. It’s not because they’re being rude, it’s because they’ve got 10 million things going on, and they’re gonna base their next step on the information you give them, or at least incorporate your information into what they do. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to like, send you a thank you letter.

[00:36:56] Sara:  Right. And sometimes they do, but sometimes they don’t.

[00:37:00] Emily:  Um, and sometimes the thank you is they continue referring clients to you and keep working with you.

[00:37:05] Sara:  It’s important to think about with those notes is also don’t forget your primary veterinarian, because sometimes maybe they’re not seeing a VB, or you know, something else, and having that relationship as as a behavior consultant is so critical to make sure that you’re having those open lines of communication with the primary care veterinarian also.

[00:37:26] Emily:  I think one of my, the most profound lessons I got about that particular topic is was living in Utah. Because when I moved to Utah, there was one vet, in the entire area that I could find, who worked with veterinary behaviorists and had some kind of knowledge about psycho-pharmacology.

Most of the vets in the area were, were just opposed. I was like, “How am I gonna do my job in the state?” What I found was by, you know, working with a client, and getting the client to work with a veterinary behaviorist, and then making sure that everybody had all the, the information needed and continuing to keep the regular DVM in the loop, it changed the vet’s perspective about both behavior and collaborating with veterinary behaviorists, so that in the future they were more willing to do that. And then I started getting clients from them where their vet had already started them off with the VB and then they were just coming to me for implementation.

If you share that information with everybody, you’re giving everybody on that team the opportunity to learn, and grow, and build new networks, and collaborate and therefore become more effective.

[00:38:33] Sara:  I think for me, one of the, uh, interesting cases before I worked at the Vet Behavior Office, when I was still in Chicago, I had a client that I kept referring like, I really want you to go, and I know that the upfront price tag for most of our veterinary behaviorists is, is pricey, and I understand that.

And it was just out of their price range for quite some time. I kept saying to these people, it was a middle-aged, Cavalier, neutered, but had been rehomed, the uncle had passed away, and they had gotten the dog. So, I like, he acts like an intact male, I don’t understand this, he’s door bolting, he’s marking like I just, it’s not adding up.

And within the first 10 minutes at the Veterinary Behavior Clinic, the um, at the time it was Dr. Ciribassi in Chicago, and he’s like, “I will bet my practice on the fact that this is an incomplete neuter. He marked, or attempted to mark 90, over 90 times during his initial consult in the clinic.” And we’re like, oh, no wonder why the people are having trouble house training, he had a retained testicle. 10 minutes into the consult, and one blood test to figure out, and he had been going to, I think he had gone to two different veterinary clinics in the area, and it wasn’t anything wrong with the veterinarians, the primary vets that they were seeing, cuz he looked neutered, and all of his paperwork said that he was neutered.

Cuz when the uncle got him, it was listed as neutered, and we think it just was a undescended testicle from a small dog. I always felt bad that they spent all this money on me. And they, they got great training, it wasn’t like they got bad training, and we did lots of great things with that dog, but within less than a, and I warned him, I said, this is now like a seven year old dog who’s been marking and all these things, within less than a week, he was able to be completely loose in the house and sleeping in their bed as soon as he was neutered. And so, they’re like, “Why didn’t we do this sooner?”

[00:40:27] Emily:  You’re also the queen of segways, because that again is the perfect segue for the next thing, I was gonna ask you about, that I saw that you work with Intact dogs. Because a lot of there, surprising number of people who don’t, and I think, you know, the research that has been coming out lately that’s been turning our old views of the role of spay and neuter and behavior has been really fascinating. I’ve had my own journey of working with intact animals before, so I would love to hear more about your experience working with intact dogs.

[00:40:58] Sara:  I am constantly amazed at the number of professionals, both behavior consultants, people who don’t consider, just consider themselves pet dog trainers, even veterinarians, vet techs, and nurses who have no idea anything about intact animals. For me it was very eye opening, I have been involved with Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers since 1999, long before anybody knew who they, what they were.

Um, I did, I did breed a litter at one point in time. I’ve always lived with intacts dogs cause I show in confirmation and things like that. When I got Lindy, my young dog and I mentioned to Dr. Valli at Synergy that, cuz she was going to work with me, that I was going to leave her intact, the horror in Dr. Valli and I’m gonna call her out here cause I we’re very, very, very dear friends besides being coworkers, and she now has a whole different opinion about it. But she was really worried. And so, when Lindy came into season for the first time, and I didn’t bring her to the office that day. Dr. Valli comes up, she’s like, “Why isn’t Lindy here?”

And I said, “Well, you told me that when she was in season, she wasn’t allowed to be in clinic.” And she goes, “Well, that’s before we knew her. She’s really easy to live with and everything.” She’s like, “Well, how about this? We’ll see, we’ll let her come in, and we’ll see how she is, and if it affects,,,” You know, it’s a behavior only clinic, and we’re a standalone behavior only clinic, it’s a very rarity in the behavior world. We’re not in an emergency clinic or anything like that. And she’s like, “Let’s see if it affects our patients. If it doesn’t, she’s welcome to be, be here in season. She just needs to wear her panties. No problem.” She’s now four years old, has gone through three, four seasons and she goes the whole time she’s in season. She is never a problem. It does not affect any dog. We’ve never had an issue with dogs when she’s in season in the building. We don’t have a ton of intact males that come, but we do now, my coworker Lorenzo, has an intact male and she was in season with, he was still a baby. So, we’ll see how it goes the next time.

It’s, it really changed Dr. Valli’s view of living with an intact female. And she, the last time I went out of town, Lindy came into season, and I can’t leave her home with my husband and my son for logistical reasons. And I said to Dr. Valli I’m like, “Could you watch her? Cause she’s in…” And she’s like, “Okay, I guess we can.”

And she then had her at her house in season and got to see what having an intact female was like in, and she said it was, she’s like, “Okay. So, I put panties on her, it was so easy.” And so, I think part of it is opening up people’s eyes that, it’s a thing and it’s not crazy.

Recently I had a bunch of trainer friends, all of their first intact females came into season within like a couple weeks of each other, and I’m like, do you guys need a support group for each other? Cause they were all like, “Oh my god. And there’s bleeding and there’s panties to put on, and she’s being weird”. And they don’t live like, and so it was really funny. We had like a whole like Facebook chat about living with intact females. I always joke, I had one girl that whenever she came into season, if she could eat bon bons, and watch chick flick in her crate, that’s how she would spend the three weeks. And then I’ve had other girls where you wouldn’t even know they’re in season. And so, it is hormones, and Lindy, my young dog, when she gets close to coming into season, she actually becomes more noise reactive.

And so, it’s about observing behaviors, but then, then people freak out with girl, it’s, it’s easier with boys. That’s why I’m talking mainly about girls. Um, false pregnancies, people think that they only happen sometimes, but actually they happen every single time a girl goes through season. The hormonal changes are the exact same if they are pregnant or not, but some dogs hide it better.

So, we call it an overt versus covert false pregnancies. And so, some get real crazy, and you really have to know when to expect that, you also need to know when Pyometra might happen. You know, there are some other health issues around it, and you do have to be careful. You can’t be, you know, letting your dog run in a dog park when they’re in season. But also, it’s not that hard.

[00:45:12] Emily:  Yeah. It’s so funny because when I was a kid, my dad gave my mama a boxer puppy, and he bought the dog from a breeder who was like, “Well, I was really planning on showing her and breeding her, so I’ll let you have her on the, as a pet, on the condition that I can still do the things I wanna do with her.”

We bred her and I, I just grew up, you know, with boxer puppies. And, and then when I started volunteering in shelters and working in vet clinics, I learned how bad it was to leave them intact. And I did see so many Pyometras and so much testicular cancer. I believed all the things that I was taught because of, you know, what I saw.

And then it took me until my mid-twenties learning critical thinking skills and realizing, ” Hmm, my experience with, boxers growing up does not align with my beliefs, or what I’ve been taught in the shelter, in the vet world and that’s because of selection biases.” Like, uh, we only get to see the, the un, the intact females who have pies because the healthy females aren’t coming in for emergencies, right?

You can think something’s really, really bad if you only see it when it goes horribly wrong and you never see when it goes really well, right? I, it took me a while to be like, oh yeah, that’s why my experience growing up was totally different than my experience as an adult in, in shelters, and in clinic, in vet clinics.

And I think that’s just an important thing to be aware of is that we’re all operating under these selection biases, none of us can have, a totally comprehensive perspective. Some of us have been operating in more aspects of animal welfare than others, so we have a little bit of a broader perspective, but nobody can have a comprehensive perspective.

You have to take everything that you believe about these things with a grain of salt, because there, there are so many cases, if you talk to most responsible breeders, they’re gonna tell you they’re intact males are not these, you know, they’re, they’re not constantly picking fights and they’re female intact dogs aren’t constantly going around and fighting with other females and all the things that we’re taught. It’s not that simple, right?

[00:47:16] Sara:  I think, I feel at least the concept that a dog must be neutered to fixed behavior issues is, that myth is getting a little bit better. It’s still out there though, I think, pretty prevalent. We try really, we get a lot of calls actually at Synergy where I have my appointment scheduled for three weeks to have my dog neutered, and these are the behavior issues going on and we basically have to try to convince them not, to postpone that appointment at least until they see Dr. Valli, cuz we like, let, let us have a veterinarian who can see both sides of the picture help you make that decision. It’s a lot easier to convince somebody to leave a male intact than it is a female.

A lot of people just don’t wanna deal with their female being intact. And I under, I understand it. you start looking at the cancer rates, and you start looking at some of these other things, and crucial ligament tears, and all of a sudden you really start to wonder what have we done it? And it clearly in other countries to, it’s actually illegal to spay or neuter unless there is a medical reason, a lot of the Scandinavian countries and such, they don’t have over pet populations like we do.

So, it’s very much a cultural thing that we need to work on.

[00:48:33] Emily:  Absolutely. All right. So, we allow our Pro Campus and Mentorship Program members to submit questions for our guests, and the most popular question, for you was, what do you think are some effective ways to get groomers on board with cooperative care and consent? Or we can say Care with Consent.

[00:48:52] Sara:  The, for groomers specifically, I am very much about empowering clients to do a lot of their grooming on their own, especially if they already have a dog who has some history. It usually is not overly difficult to groom your own dog, if you don’t wanna show cut, and you don’t get all bent outta shape if it doesn’t go perfect. Hair grows back.

And I taught myself how to groom, and I groom, my dogs don’t need a ton of grooming for the show ring, but my, I had a dog that was a, Pomeranian, Jack Russell, Bichon, Poodle mix, and it was the worst of all worlds. He shed, and he would get matted, and needed to be groomed every four to six weeks, and I, there was no way that dog was going to go to a groomer. So, some days his haircut looked great, and some days it was too short, or a little too wonky, and guess what?

His name was Bueller, it worked for him. That’s one thing is I definitely try, or simple things like, can you bathe your dog at home, so the dog doesn’t have to be bathed at the groomer? So, I definitely do a lot of work with that with clients, and then the other thing is showing the groomers that we’re gonna make their life easier.

And it’s really, the proof is in the pudding. One of a fellow trainer friend here in Portland, she does a puppy day school where she takes two puppies a day and does lots of socialization with them. And one of the things she does is she is partnered up with a particular grooming salon, and she does visits to the grooming salon, at least once a month and any like the other puppy that she has for the day needs to go to the groomer, both puppies go and get treats, and get up on the table and all of those kinds of things. And it makes a huge impact, and it makes their life easier.

Other thing I’d love to empower groomers is refer out. Your job is not a behavioral consultant. You can’t do those nails? Refer out.

You can’t, that dog is trying to bite you? Refer out.

I think that’s a hard thing cuz groomers are so afraid to tell clients when things aren’t going right that they’re gonna lose the client, and they won’t. That is gonna, if they, the way they, of course, obviously the way they handled it could lose a client, but I think more likely they’re gonna lose a client if they find out that they’ve been muzzling their dog without them knowing, and you know, one of the staff members got bit and they don’t know. The number of clients I meet whose dogs are muzzled without their knowledge is shocking and appalling, both in the veterinary setting and the grooming setting.

[00:51:12] Emily:  I think that’s super helpful. Yeah, I mean, helping people to realize that we can make their job easier, and that the onus isn’t entirely on them, that they, that there is help for them, is such a compassionate and effective approach. I love that. All right, so we ask all of our guests the same last few questions, so we’re getting to those now.

Uh, and the first one is, what is one thing you wish people knew about either this topic, your profession, or enrichment, your choice.

[00:51:40] Sara:  I think for enrichment is enrichment doesn’t just have to be food enrichment. So, I, and I know you guys talk about this a lot, and training is enrichment, interactions, I love sniff spots. We have great Sniff Spots here in Portland. I do not throw a ball once I have a retriever and a spaniel, balls do not come out as Sniff Spots.

We walk and we let them sniff. I’m a big nose work nerd, and so scent is a big part, about enrichment I think that people really miss out on of trying different, I, the other day I saved all of my vitamin jars, and then I just like put them in the house and the dogs were fascinated by like, vitamins have really strong smells, and they would like go over and they would just spend all this time sniffing these vitamin bottles. Talk about simple enrichment!

[00:52:32] Emily:  I love this. Like low effort, low cost, high yield strategies. Oh, I love it. Okay. What is one thing you’d love to see improved in your field?

[00:52:44] Sara:  People realizing that they can do something if their dog hates the vet, or the groomer. That the veterinarians need to help not make the problem worse, but that there are ways to help it. I think so often people just accept these problems as normal. “Oh, every dog hates the vet. Every cat hates a vet.”

It’s like, no, they don’t. even if they do, how can we make it less stressful? And I think that I, having a dog, Rizzo’s my second dog with canine cognitive dysfunction, and that falls into that same category of old dog stuff, shouldn’t just be written off as old dog stuff. There’s a reason why it’s happening.

And so, even, even my boss, my lovely boss, when I started to see things, because Rizzo was my second dog with cognitive dysfunction, I picked up things way earlier. I picked up things way earlier, actually on my first dog too, then most veterinarians will be willing to treat, and part of it is I have a very intense, in depth, very detailed relationship with my dog, so I do see things that maybe your average pet person wouldn’t, but it doesn’t have to be. And there are things that we can do to help. Enrichment is actually a huge part of it, keeping them using their nose, and keeping them mobile with, you know, exercises and things like that. But the other thing is there’s medications, there’s supplements, there are things, and that’s where I think also people like, “Oh, it’s an old dog. It doesn’t need to see the veterinary behaviorist.” Holy cow, with Rizzo getting her pain and her cognitive stuff under control, what a difference it has made in her life.

[00:54:15] Emily:  What do you love about what you. Do.

[00:54:17] Sara:  I love changing people’s perspectives. My degree is in photography and I, that’s all that photography is, is showing people something in a different light, and changing people’s perspectives, being creative in our problem solving. That’s what art school teaches you is like nothing is a wrong answer, and I come up with wacky solutions to things all the time.

My client this morning actually was really beating herself up because she didn’t realize that, what she thought was excitement in her dog’s male trims was actually anxiety, and she was really beating herself up and I had to have a little chat with her and pull her back down of before I saw her another consultant who referred her to me was seeing her and that dog was, they didn’t even think that dog was gonna be able to stay in the home cuz he was being aggressive towards the husband during Covid when there was only two people in the house, and they’ve gone from not being sure if that dog was gonna stay in the house, much less stay alive. To realizing this is anxiety and what a difference. So, changing that perspective and her relationship now is just blossoming in such a different way cause we’re working on care with consent, but now it’s filling into all of these other holes that she has and, yeah. Changing perspective.

[00:55:34] Emily:  Same. I mean, that I live for those paradigm shifts, right?

[00:55:38] Sara:  Mm-hmm.

[00:55:38] Emily:  They’re just miraculous. Um, okay. So, what are you currently working on? If people want to work more with, or learn from you, where can they find you?

[00:55:48] Sara:  My website is Decisive Moment Consulting, and I do a lot of online classes and I have a membership group for, because cooperative care, care with consent activities is not something that gets solved quickly. It is a lifetime for most pets, and we lose our mojo real fast with our training, even us professionals, so we actually have a lot of professionals in the group. And so, if you take our foundations class, or if you do a private sessions with me, then you can join our membership group, our monthly membership group, and we a cha, a monthly challenge of different skills, we have open office hours, just a supportive environment of, “My dog got the rabies vaccine!” And everybody’s excited and cheers.

So that, cuz it really is lonely doing cooperative care work when it’s slow go, and maybe your vet’s getting a little anxious and would like things to move along faster, or you would like to move things along faster too. So, I have that monthly membership group, the online class, um, I’m actually really excited.

I just, it’s filled but it’ll be offered again is I’m doing a Care with Consent Tricks class. So, I am very much about having fun while training and anytime, cause when I deal with resource guarding, human directed aggression, care with consent clients whose dogs have probably done some pretty big damage, and it can get hard emotionally for both the clients and myself.

So, I am very much about, “What can we do to have fun in the name of care with consent training?” So, we’re doing a whole four weeks tricks class on like, stick your head in this object that kind of looks like a cone, and how can we stand in weird objects to be foot soaks, in a paradigm shift of it’s all tricks.

It’s all it’s, I used to do competition obedience. It’s all tricks. if you think about it that way, it’s a lot more fun.

[00:57:45] Emily:  I love that so much. I’m sure your class is delightful. Ellen has said nothing but good things about it. She’s been gushing about it. Thank you so much for joining us. I really appreciate you spending time to chat.

[00:57:57] Allie: I loved this interview so much. Sara is taking an approach to cooperative care that I can definitely get behind by recognizing all of the in-betweens and that it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing thing. We don’t need to strive for perfection, especially since that’s not as feasible for the average pet parent.

We can still give our pets consent during husbandry practices without it being a massive training undertaking. I love it. Next week we’ll be talking about implementing predictability for security.

Thank you for listening. You can find us at and @petharmonytraining on Facebook and Instagram, and also @petharmonypro on Instagram for those of you who are behavioral professionals. As always links to everything we discussed in this episode are in the show notes and a reminder to please rate, review and subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts a special thank you to Ellen Yoakum for editing this episode, our intro music is from Penguin Music on Pixabay.


Thank you for listening and happy training.

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Podcast Episode 32: Transcript

#32 - Marissa Martino:
Cultivating Connections for Behavior Change

[00:00:00] Marissa: I now have given myself permission with my clients to like really get curious with them about, when your dog does that, what do you make that particular behavior mean? And it’s kind of like even just that question alone, people are like, “I’m a failure. The dog’s a failure. We’re never gonna get past this.” And if they have those lurking thoughts, I have seen it creep into the training plan in like weird ways.

[00:00:22] Allie: Welcome to Enrichment for the Real World, the podcast devoted to improving the quality of life of pets and their people through enrichment. We are your hosts, Allie Bender…

[00:00:41] Emily:  …and I’m Emily Strong…

[00:00:42] Allie: …and we are here to challenge and expand your view of what enrichment is, what enrichment can be and what enrichment can do for you and the animals in your lives. Let’s get started.

Thank you for joining us for today’s episode of Enrichment for the Real World, and I want to thank you for rating, reviewing, and subscribing wherever you listen to podcasts

The voice you heard at the beginning of today’s episode was Marissa Martino. Marissa Martino began her career working with Canine Companions after attending the Academy for Dog Trainers in 2007.

She is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultants CDBC through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, IAABC. Since then, Marissa has had the pleasure of working for three different animal shelters, directing their behavior departments in Colorado and California. Her latest role included offering animal shelters and rural Colorado communities the education and resources needed to expand their animal welfare impact.

Marissa offers behavior consulting for animal shelters by helping them implement evidence-based, positive reinforcement best practices to reduce the stress and behavior concerns of the animals in their care. She is currently designing a behavior course for shelter professionals in Nevada on behalf of the Dave and Cheryl Duffield Foundation, piloting in the fall of 2022.

In addition to her animal welfare career, Marissa operates her private practice Paws and Reward in Boulder, Colorado. She offers in-person behavior consulting and online programs. She is the author of Human Canine Behavior Connection: Building Better Relationships Through Dog Training and hosts The Paws and Reward Podcast.

Marissa’s introspection is inspiring, and something that I aspire too. I always learn so much about myself every time I talk with her, and this interview is no exception. There is so much gold in this episode.

In this episode, you’re going to hear Emily and Marissa talk about how your stories, thoughts, and relationships impact your training, the layers of complication in human communication, giving yourself grace while continuing to grow and improve, and why everyone needs a mentor. All right, here it is, today’s episode, Marissa Martino: Cultivating Connections for Behavior Change.

[00:03:07] Emily:  Okay. Tell us your name and your pronouns, please.

[00:03:11] Marissa: Marissa Martino, she her.

[00:03:13] Emily:  Excellent. Uh, I’d also love to hear your story and how you got to where you are.

[00:03:17] Marissa: So, I don’t know if you know this, but I graduated college and I was a, I studied, uh Textile Design and I worked for Martha Stewart Living for several years. Did you know that?

[00:03:27] Emily:  I did not know that, but that’s very on brand for you.

[00:03:31] Marissa: That’s funny. So, I worked there for a few years and was like, “I don’t love this.” Like, I was never really passionate about it. It was just something I was like, okay, I’ll go to school for art and do this thing or whatever. And I was living in New York City at the time and my parents were so proud that I was working for Martha Stewart Living, and there were so many dogs in the city, and I, I didn’t really grow up with a dog. And so I was, I was really attracted to it. And I, I remember reaching out to like groomers, and daycare owners, and trainers, and I met this one awesome, thank goodness, positive reinforcement trainer. And she and I had coffee, and I left that coffee date and call my dad and was like, ” I’m gonna move to San Francisco. I’m gonna do the Academy for Dog Trainers, and I’m gonna leave Martha Stewart.”

And he was like, ” I’m so sorry. What? Like, you’ve never trained a dog in your life, A. B, you didn’t even grow up with dogs, like, C you’re not leaving your like, fancy New York City job, right?” And I, I was like, “No, I am.” And so, for a year and a half, I shadowed amazing trainers in New York City.

And, um, I did, I saved up for a year and a half, and then I went to the academy, and that was back in 2007, and then I’ve been in animal welfare, working for organizations since then, and running my private practice since 2011, and learning every day.

It’s like, I think that’s what I love about this profession is that we get to be so creative if we want to, like, if we have the capacity to take a look at ourselves and, and be really focused on our learning journey without like, really harsh criticism to ourselves. We get to be so creative in our jobs.

And so, yeah. I love that I get to learn every day and this, this, this profession is evolving every day. And yeah. And so, my dad has this joke like, I can’t believe that I was so worried about you. Like, I was like, “What is she gonna do? She gonna be, is she gonna become a dog trainer? Like, this is so crazy.”

And he’s like, and he’s like, “You, you and I have never looked back.” Because I’ve just been so fulfilled in this profession, ever since. So that has been my condensed version of my journey. Like, very much, like, I feel like I was just called into it and met the right people at the right time, and followed this like, I don’t know, like instinct to just try something I’ve never done before. And I’ve, I’ve loved it. I’ve loved it ever since.

[00:05:48] Emily:  I love that story, and also, I’m not surprised about that story because the thing, not the only thing, but one of the things that I love about you, and that was kind of like one of my first impressions about you is how put together you are, and focused, and organized, and, and so like your, your background makes so much sense.

I’m like, okay, she has some skills from a previous career. That’s, that definitely makes so much sense. And to see you take that and apply it to dog training and what you’ve been able to accomplish because of that, um, is, is just beautiful, beautiful thing to behold. So, um, I’m, I’m not surprised to hear that journey and I love it.

I’m also super glad that you met the right people at the right time cause I get to know you and be friends with you, so it’s pretty great

[00:06:36] Marissa: Oh, thank you so much.

[00:06:37] Emily:  In every season of our podcast, we like to devote one episode to focusing on the human end of the enrichment process. I know you do incredible work with dogs, both in shelters and private practice, but what I love most about you is the focus you put on building a relationship between the client and the dog as a means for navigating the behavior change process.

Can you talk more to our listeners about your approach?

[00:07:00] Marissa: Yes. And I love how you, I love how you wrote that. Putting the emphasis on the relationship to navigate the behavior change process, I thought that that was really articulate in terms of how you wrote that.

 Yes, so this approach and process is ever evolving. So, you know, the way I do it today is different than how I did it like two months ago, is different than how I did it a year ago, is different than how I wrote it in my book.

And so, that’s what’s what, like I said, really exciting about our profession, and it’s also uncomfortable, like there’s a lot of, like, I’ve been through a lot of changes and have a mentor that I’ll talk about, that supports me throughout trying to figure out what is my approach, what is the work that I’m doing in this field, and like, what lights me up about working with dogs and, and people.

And so, as I have been navigating it the past few years, it, it’s, it feels like it’s broken into two parts. So, the first part is more active, it’s like what I am doing with my clients, what I am, um, helping them see, um, it’s how I’m helping them unravel some of their thoughts. And I’ll talk a little bit about what that looks like.

And then it’s this more passive approach or this sort of like, quote unquote, a colleague called it, like, it’s my, my behind-the-scenes approach. It’s not really something I’m talking about with my client, it’s just things that I’m really aware of. And so, the behind-the-scenes approach, I’m really clear that there is, there’s a bunch of relationships that are happening when we’re working with our clients and their dogs.

And I’m sure that many of your listeners are trainers, and behavior consultants, or folks that are really geeked out about the, about these topics. They’re aware that like, and this is what we get trained on, that the dog has a relationship with his or her environment, right? Like that’s, that’s what we’re, we’re really skilled in knowing, you know, trying to figure out what are the antecedents, what, what are the consequences for particular behavior?

And how can we, you know, really support that animal? And so, it’s, so the first relationship is the dog with his or her environment. The next relationship is the client and the dog. So, what’s going on between the two? How is the client’s behavior impacting the dog’s behavior, so on and so forth. and then there is the relationship between me and the client, right? So how am I creating a really safe, non-judgmental space for the client to be curious, um, share their, their challenges. Like not be scared to tell me that they’re like, they’ve had it, or they’re really frustrated, or they didn’t do the homework, and they’re struggling, right? So how do I create a really safe space?

And then there’s another relationship, um, that I think is really critical that, um, this is where I think our, our profession needs to shine a little bit of a light on, is the relationship we have with ourselves as trainers. So, um, for a long, long time, I, probably until maybe like last year or maybe two years ago, um, and I’ve been in this profession since 2007, I never thought I was a good trainer. Never thought I was a good behavior consultant. I can tell you 40 reasons why. Um, my, my negativity bias was on fire, right? I was very much like, ” Okay, here’s how I messed up. Here’s how I messed up.” And it’s funny because that’s really a, a very black and white thought when we’re in a really gray, industry.

And there’s many times where I’ve been like, ” This is too hard for me. I, I, like, I need to go.” Um, I’m really happy I haven’t and that I have stayed with it. But this relationship with myself as a trainer, I think just as we say, our client’s behavior impacts their dog’s behavior, my relationship to myself as a trainer, the thoughts I have about myself or the limiting beliefs I carry with me, or the story I’m making up about my client, or the story I’m making up about the dog, or my worthiness is totally gonna impact my behavior.

And so, I need to make sure that I’m aware of that, like I am, I’m aware and vulnerable enough to, to like turn the mirror towards myself and go, ” Woo, like I’m carrying a lot of stuff into this session. I’m carrying the fact that I need to fix everything. I need to solve their issues in this hour-long session.” which I, I keep saying it like that because it’s like, ” Guys, we’re meeting them for an hour.” It’s like, or sometimes an hour and a half. And, and we’re, we’re trying to modify and help alleviate some significant challenge.

And so, I really try to cultivate a lot of self-awareness for myself as the trainer and how I’m showing up to my client. And the reason why I started to turn the mirror towards myself was because when I launched my book, I forget when, like in 2017 or 18, it’s got my six connection principles in it. I wrote that book through the lens of like, I need to teach my clients about the six connection principles, and they need to connect deeply with their, with their dogs.

It was like this sort of like, I’m gonna tell you what to do type thing. And my coach, who I, who has been my mentor the past few years, she’s a previous client of mine. And so, she’s seen me in action, and she supports me, weekly about cases and whatnot. And she’s not a dog trainer, she’s a coach. She was like, “I’m curious, like are you using your six connection principles like with your relationship with your clients and then also with your relationship with yourself?”

And I just like, dropped the book and walked away and was like, “Oh my gosh, I am not, I’m not, I’m not looking at all the relationships involved here. I’m just looking at the dog and, and then how the client showing up with their dog.” And so, I’ve really sort of expanded that to not, to make my life more complicated as a behavior consultant, cause our jobs are already hard, but to take a look at all these different types of relationships that are at play here and how can I be aware of these things when I’m engaging with my clients.

So, that’s sort of like the behind-the-scenes bit, what I’m doing actively with my clients. And, you know, it’s so funny, it’s taken me a really long time to like, give myself permission to just do this with my clients because I’ve made up so many stories about why it’s like, it’s maybe not my role, or like made up stories about like, I can’t talk to my clients about how they’re feeling about the situation.

And so, I finally, within the past year and a half has been like, okay, Marissa, I had a, I had a client say to me, ” You can tell me how to hold the leash and you can tell me, um, when to click and you can tell me where to deliver the treats. And you can tell me, um, how to notice triggers, how to keep my distance, you can give me all those skills, but if I still think I’m failing my dog every day, even with those skills, it’s gonna impact the training plan.” And that was such a gift that my client gave me. Because she’s right. Like we have stories and thoughts that are gonna impact our behavior no matter what. And so, I now have given myself permission with my clients to like really get curious with them about, when your dog does that, what do you make that particular behavior mean? And it’s kind of like even just that question alone, people are like, “I’m a failure. The dog’s a failure. we’re never gonna get past this.” And if they have those lurking thoughts, I have seen it creep into the training plan in like weird ways.

And I’m like, okay, so when this happened this week, what, what were the thoughts that you have? Okay, great. So, you had those thoughts, no judgment, like we all have thoughts. And then what did you do with those thoughts? How did that impact your behavior? What did, what happened in your body? Did you get tense?

Like I’m trying to get curious about their internal antecedent of their thoughts and how those thoughts impact their behavior. And previously, I would like weave it into my sessions, and now I think it’s so important. Now how I work with clients is I meet with them, and I give them those quick, easy wins that you guys talk about in your amazing Enrichment Framework Masterclass that I love and will plug, and they didn’t tell me to plug it. I just love it.

But we talk about, like I, I’m trying to give them quick wins because I do think that some people need proof in order to shift their thoughts, and other people, they can, they, they’re ready to shift their thought. They’re ready for a reframe. I ask them questions that they can unravel their story themselves.

I feel like that’s more impactful than me just telling them why thought isn’t accurate. Like, that’s not really helpful, right? But I do try to give them quick wins so that they can start to see, “Oh, wow. Like my, my dog is really successful. And wow, like I am really successful as well.” And then we have a coaching session completely separate from the training sessions where we talk about this stuff like, what thoughts are coming up? How’s it impacting the training plan? How’s it impacting your relationship now that you’ve unraveled some of the thoughts, what has happened within your relationship? I really try to shine a light on that and carve out space for that for my clients, because I think that is so important for them to see like, “Oh wow, my thoughts really do impact my behavior and my behavior impacts their behavior. And like, wow, I’ve got, I’m empowered to pay attention and to become more self-aware in order to get the goals that I’m looking for.” So, that was a long-winded way of sharing the approach.

[00:15:42] Emily:  And now I’m going to ask you to reframe long-winded to really detailed, and thoughtful, and mindful. I, I’m here for all of it. I loved everything that you said. I so resonate with that. It is so important. I think one of the things that’s really overlooked in consulting is the client’s mindset, and their emotional experience as they’re moving through this process. And we, we have to keep that at the forefront. It’s, it is, it is to me, probably the most important thing

What I tell clients all the time, which, you know, cuz you’ve been through our Enrichment Framework Masterclass is, if I can write the best training plan in the world, and if it doesn’t feel good to the client, it is a useless training plan because they feel good about what they’re doing.

They have to feel like they are, meeting their dog’s needs, that they’re taking care of themselves, that it’s sustainable, that, um, they’re having success. All of those things are so important to the process that it’s not just about writing clear instructions, it’s about making sure that they, that we’re meeting our clients’ needs as well, not just meeting the pet’s needs.

And so, I love everything that you said because that’s what, that’s what you’re about, right? Let’s show up for the clients, and really loved what you said about how we view ourselves, and how we view our own process, right? I would say the period where I was the worst, I’ve ever been in terms of, you know, professionally a behavior consultant, um, which I’m very open about and I talk about a lot. Is there’s this two-and-a-half-year period in Utah where I came in, I had some, financial safety nets, like the rug was pulled out from under my feet. So. I was panicking about money, I had not business partnered with Allie yet, so I hadn’t learned some things about how to set my prices and set boundaries. So, that was a contributing factor. And then also, I was blindsided by the communication culture in Utah, and it really messed me up and kind of shook my confidence in how I would expect clients to respond to the way I worked with clients.

And so, there’s this two-and-a-half-year period where I was just in a really bad place mentally, and I made decisions that, you know, in retrospect I was like, “Why would I ever think that that would be an effective consulting strategy? I learned better from my mentors. I did better in previous contexts.” But in that context, I was just not my best self and so I wasn’t showing up for my clients and I was making bad decisions about consulting. And I mean, I still helped enough clients that I actually ended up somehow miraculously with a pretty good reputation in Salt Lake.

Despite the fact that I was at my worst, so it’s not that I was, you know, just terrible, but I was not showing up for clients in the way that I had in the past or the way that I certainly am now. And so, that part of what you said, I think is so important. I just wanna shine a, a big like flood light on it and say, we really have to also pay attention to our relationship with ourselves as we’re moving through the discussion because how we view our process and our journey, and our competency plays such a big role.

And that doesn’t mean like this rah sis boomba, like I’m a badass. Like, that’s not what that looked like. It’s really about what you said. It’s about developing a sense of curiosity in that learning journey where we are like, instead of viewing ourselves as either competent or incompetent, we’re understanding that the learning, the learning journey is forever.

And so, we’re just curious about, our, our performance and what we could have done better, and how we can grow and, oh, this didn’t, this wasn’t what I expected. What’s going on here? Why were the results, um, different than what I expected they should be? What can I take away from this to become a better consultant?

So, it’s not about bravado or overconfidence or believing where like, you know, this profit bringing the message to the masses. It’s about developing a sense of curiosity in, in our learning journey. I know I’m basically just parroting back to everything that you just said, but I just, I just wanna like point to everything you said and go Yes.

This, yes, yes. All of it, right? So, yeah.

[00:19:45] Marissa: Yeah. And I think, you know, the, in terms of the curiosity I’m thinking about, so the past few months, talking about hard times, so I lost Sully a few weeks ago, and there’s been a million other thing, or not a million, I have to be careful about my language cause language matters, but there have been a lot of other hard things that have happened the past two, like two months.

And I have been totally over threshold, and I have engaged in maladaptive coping behaviors that I thought were like no longer available to me, but they, they have been available. And I had a colleague that I really appreciate this, she said to me, ” Yeah, that behavior you’re engaging in is, is a lot for me.”

And immediately I was like, “I did something wrong. How, how, how, how could I regress? Like I thought I worked on that beha,” like just all the story, right? And then I’m like, “Hold on a second. This is not all of who I am. This is a behavior, right? It’s a problematic behavior.” So, I could separate myself from the behavior.

It’s a behavior that’s not serving me and not serving others, and I’m over threshold. I’m way trigger stacked, I need to like take a break, take a beat, decompress, right? Like all the things that we talk about, about with our clients, with our dogs, it’s like, I would never say that a reactive dog’s response or you know, a dog that is barking and lunging at something is all of who that dog is.

And yet when we, especially as women, tend to like, hear something negative or notice something about our process, like, wow, we weren’t our best selves during that training session. My, I’ll speak for myself, my immediate, you know, behavior response is to spiral about it and then engage in all these like, maladaptive responses.

And it’s like, okay. That’s one choice. That’s one route I could go, or I could get curious, offer myself some grace, separate myself from this behavior, look at my antecedents. What are the consequences? Like, I could do all that. Like we have so much awesome foundational knowledge about behavior change. It’s like, you know, turn, like, again, turn the light towards me and like offer myself some grace and know that this is, this, like, this is not a linear process, even in our own growth, the same way that we wouldn’t expected for our beloved canines.

[00:21:51] Emily:  It is, it’s, it is a parallel and we say about animals all the time, every animal has the capacity to bite if, if the circumstances are right. And yet we don’t have that same mindset towards ourselves, right? I will definitely bite if the circumstances are right, and that doesn’t mean I’m like a lost cause.

It means, I am like every other sentient being on the planet subject to the same laws of behavior, and physiology, and hormones, and, you know, physical health, and mental health and all of those things, right? That everybody is. And so, I think that’s just a, a really beautiful reframing. I also wanna go back to, something that you had mentioned, which I think is really salient. Which is, you were talking about how, like when you wrote the book, you wrote with the, this like, you know, confidence, these are your six steps and I’m, I’m telling you how to do this right.

And I think that like, the difficulty of writing a book is that it’s not a living document, right? Like, it, it’s once it’s out, it’s out. It is the way it is. And the best we can hope for is that we sell enough copies to do a second edition.

So, I acknowledge that because there are definitely things that I, I’m like, oh man, if we ever got a second edition, I would definitely change how I phrase this in the book. So that’s, that’s definitely a thing, and yet again, that negativity bias where all we see are the flaws in our books, right? And are still saying like, oh, we love it. It was super helpful, whatever.

I would love to hear you talk about the overall kind of message in your book for people who haven’t read it? Like give us a pitch of what your book is about and why people should read it, because despite the fact that there are things you would change, there’s still a lot of really good stuff in your book, so, so give me your sales pitch.

[00:23:36] Marissa: Yeah, that’s so funny. I’ve never had to do a sales pitch for my book. So, the first thing I would change, I’ll start off with that is the title cuz it’s way too long. So, it’s Human Canine Behavior Connection. And it was, the book is trying to identify that, like there are a ton of parallels between how dogs learn, how they process their information, and the same for us. The book is divided into 10 chapters, and it talks about like how they learn, their emotional experience, Lima, so Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive, like the training approach, uh, how we’re going to, you know, set up the animals’ environment to learn like, so it sort of goes through, it’s like a basic introduction to what is training, right?

But then it also parallels all those concepts into our own lives. And so, there’s a lot of exercises in the book to ask questions about your own dog, so it’s, it’s pretty interactive like that. So, it’s get curious with your dog, so there’s a section and a bunch of questions. And there’s get curious with yourself, it’s taking those concepts and sort of drawing those parallels.

And the introduction to the book is my story with Sully when, I used to look at him through the lens of like, you know, he’s wrong or like, his behavior would, like, his problematic behavior would appear, and then I would look at it through the lens of like, you are wrong. I’m gonna blame you. I need, I need that behavior to stop.

Even though I was a stinking behavior consultant, like it was, I mean, I was very new, I was very young, but I, it was through my experience with him and through my experience with a therapist at the time where she started to draw the parallels for me. And I was like, oh, wow, there’s parallels everywhere.

And I was noticing just how much I was projecting some of my controlling tendencies or some of my blaming tendencies on Sully. And I was like, whoa, if I’m doing this here, am I doing this everywhere? And like, you know, spoiler alert, I was. And so, it, it’s just to help folks, like if people walk away from that book saying like, wow, I have additional self-awareness.

I need to like, pay attention to myself and see how I’m impacting the environment. to me that is like the greatest gift I can offer. and then it also talks about my six connection principles, which have evolved over the past few years as well. and those to me are like the antithesis of blaming and shoulding, and pointing the finger, and projecting your stuff onto someone else. So, they’re, they’re sort of like the antidote.

[00:25:57] Emily:  Yeah, I love that. I love all of that. So, thank you for sharing, because I want people to know what you’re writing about because I think the book has a lot of value despite the fact that there are things you would change about it. There are things that we would change about our book too, but it still has a lot of value.

So, you mentioned LIMA, we’ve had both Chris Pachel and Kathy Sdao on the podcast already, so we’re basically just working our way through everyone involved in LIMA Beings. Can you talk more about how that came together and where that project is currently at?

[00:26:25] Marissa: Yeah. That project, so honored to be a part of that project. Uh, it started Kathy, Chris and I were having some conversations like right around, like right before Covid started about these topics that I keep talking about and um. And I didn’t really know them that well then, like I just, you know, engaged with them sporadically or on the, my podcast.

And we, so Chris, Kathy, myself, Lynn Unger and Barry Finger, we came together with Dr. Patricia McConnell and we hosted two conversations, um, about the hardships of Covid. Like we, we were just sort of like, we need the community to get together. It’s not we had answers to it, it’s just we wanted to create a space to, to sort of understand that like, hey, like, or name that times are hard and gosh, what, what, what tools do we have in our behavior tool belt to support ourselves and our loved ones?

And, and so we had two conversations, and they were really well received. I think there was like 500 people on the first conversation cause Chris Pachel, Kathy Sdao, Dr. Patricia McConnell. I mean, come on. And it was free, right? So, it was a free resource to the community, and, from there, Patricia was like, thanks so much for including me, I’m gonna step away. And the five of us were like, no, we still wanna keep these conversations going. And so, we launched the ABCs of Everything, which is taking a look at, at ABC as the acronym in terms of how we can utilize our own behavior when, when working with our clients, or colleagues, or friends, loved ones.

Um, and then everybody was like, “No, what’s next? We want more.” And so, we launched our Lima Beings membership. And so that’s a monthly conversation, us founders, we talk about a topic in behavior, and then we draw some parallels about like how to engage again with, with folks in our lives, and then we have a live community call.

And man, oh man, like the vulnerability on the call, the, the way, like there’s never a time where it feels overwhelming. There’s like a perfect number of people. Everybody is so supportive. It’s really been what folks have told us, like a lifeline for them where they feel isolated in our profession, which I think is a big problem.

They’re scared to talk about specific topics, or to feel heard, and it’s been really beautiful to be a part of that. And we’ve been going, we’ve been doing that for over a year now. And yeah, we’re, we’re, we’re not necessarily pushing to make it larger, like we’re just sort of organically, like whoever comes in, comes in and if you want to drop off, you can drop off.

It’s like, come and get what you need, and be a part of the community, and it really has been, a wonderful gift in my like learning journey about myself, and also to collaborate with such amazing people in the community, but also with the founders.

[00:29:07] Emily:  I love that so much, and I love that that’s a resource that y’all created because it is really needed. You’re right, this can be a very isolating profession, and it can be a very disorienting profession, and just having that, that space for people is, is so beautiful. I, I can’t say enough kind things about what the five of you are doing.

I’m gonna add a layer of complication now. Because one of the recurring themes that I’m navigating in my own personal and professional journey is balancing that importance of kindness and safety with creating space for equally important complicating factors. There are a lot of them, right? So, for example, how different communication styles can have mutually incompatible needs for what feels safe, and comfortable, and kind in a conversation.

Um, I talk about this a lot because I have a very direct communication style and I work with a lot of people and I, I lived in a place, and I currently live in a place where the culture is more indirect. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t individuals here with direct communication styles, but being a direct person, living in an indirect culture feels very unsafe to me.

I hate having to guess what people are implying. I’m not great at reading subtext, and it makes me very anxious. But conversely, people who have an indirect communication style feel very unsafe by a direct communication style because it feels very rude, or confrontational, or abrasive, or whatever. And so, how do you define kind in, in a complication like that, right?

Another one is neurodiversities and how those can impact how people perceive and respond to social cues. So, if we have, you know, people who aren’t, aren’t as adept at reading social cues that can cause a lot of conflict. And, um, and, and how do we define kind in that situation where it’s ableist us to expect the, the neuro divergent person to, and just, you know, change the, how their brain is wired. But on the other hand, people on the other end of that, can also not feel safe or can feel threatened.

Another complication is learning how to respect boundaries when the thing that feels kind to one person actually violates the boundaries of another. I think we all have people in our lives who try to be kind and supportive, but they’re actually just being really invasive, and it can be hard to say like, I appreciate your intentions, but I really just need, that’s like super not what I need right now, right?

Another complication is the paradox of tolerance. Where by giving support to one person who is doing harm, we are by proxy doing harm to the people that they’re harming. So, kindness to the person harming is unkindness to somebody else, right? So, it’s complicated. I think it’s really easy for us to all say we believe in kindness and creating a safe space. But when you really get down to the nitty gritty of it, there’s all these layers of like, what does kindness actually look like when we’re confronted with all of these layers of complications in human communication, and human needs, and behavior and wiring, right?

And on top of that, uh, they definitely impact how effective we can be with, and for our clients, our students, and our colleagues. So how do you navigate all of these complications?

[00:32:21] Marissa: Depends on the day, right? No. But, um, like you said, it’s really complicated and so there’s a few things I wanna say about this. I, I love this question. When I saw this question, I was like, yes. Right? So, so detailed. I love all the examples.

I too have, a, you know, I’m from New Jersey, I’m Italian, and I’m the first born. And I mean, all those are assumptions about who I am, and yet, like I’m a direct woman. Like I was brought to the principal’s office many times when I was younger, like I speak my mind. And I just had a conversation with my partner the other day, because I take offense when people don’t share with me what they might need, or when people don’t share with me that they are frustrated with a particular thing I’m doing, I take such offense to that because I’m just like, well, how am I supposed to know if you don’t communicate with me? Like, I’m a big over communicator, I’m an extrovert. I like to process out loud, I sometimes feel like, and I was saying this to my partner the other day, like, I feel like I’m a little bit in the minority, and I actually need to shift some of my expectation of other people that, you know, maybe the person’s not communicating with me right now because they know I’m having a hard time. Or maybe that person’s not communicating with me because they haven’t flexed that behavior skill yet. Or maybe that person’s not communicating with me because it actually doesn’t, it didn’t land for them as poorly as maybe it’s landing for me, right?

So, there’s like all this, and this is the whole idea about pausing to notice all conditions. That’s the first one of the six connection principles. There’s observing my labels and language about whatever that person’s doing. And there’s getting curious about what else is, could be true here? Like, and so I agree with you, Emily and I like feel the struggle about like, well, just tell me, like, just tell me what you need and what you don’t need.

And that’s a lot for some people. Um, it’s not for me, but that doesn’t make it right, that I then assume it’s not for everyone else, right? So, I definitely, like, I struggle in that area and have to remind myself often.

And the other thing that comes to mind when I saw this question, I just, again, I love this question is, on my podcast we did, uh, with a, with a, a good colleague of mine, Jenna Teti, we did, a conversation about the many hats behavior consultants wear.

I’m gonna give a disclaimer before I say this. This is not to like, excuse anyone to not get better at these skills, or to just like brush them off. But what I find in our profession is that, um, we do wear many hats. Like, I think that episode we like named 10 hats. And, and some of them were funny. Some of them, some of them were like, Interior designer, aka antecedent arrangement.

Or, you know, teacher, like teaching them how to do specific skills, or coach asking really important deep listening questions to unravel some of their thoughts, right? it’s interesting because a few things happen. People reach out and were like, thank you for doing this episode, I do feel like I wear a lot of hats.

Some people said, why didn’t you add therapists, licensed clinical social worker, MFT, Marriage and Family Therapist? And I was like, well, one, we’re not those things, um, we should not be crossing those lines and we should know where that line is. But I bring this up because like, man, are we wearing a ton of hats?

And I feel like now we have to add on top of knowing all there is to know about dogs, and then all there is to know about people, then we have to know about relationship systems, now we have to know about how people learn, how people process information, communication styles, like, and again, this is not to say we shouldn’t be learning about those things, but it is also to say like, that’s a lot of pressure on us.

And I see so much burnout in this profession, both in animal welfare and sheltering, and in training. And I’m here to say that it’s really complicated, try your best to learn, know that your intention is not always what the impact is. We talk a lot about that in LIMA Beings because, and we talk a lot about in Lima beings, like how it’s, this isn’t all Pollyanna.

Like, it is really hard to support, or extend your hand to someone that’s actively doing harm to animals. Like it is really hard, and some of us still have a lot of resistance towards it, right? It’s not trying to look at this through this like really Pollyanna lens or this, um, oh, if you just do A, B and C, then like everything will be fixed.

So, offering yourself that grace, trying the best that you can, knowing that you’re gonna make mistakes, and also some of the best mistakes or some of the, best gifts I’ve ever received from clients, are the ones that have been really challenging. The ones that like, clearly, I’m not communicating what I need them to do.

I could, I could say, oh great, they’re not complying, which is just not a word we should be using. Or like, oh, great, you know, my client’s blowing me off, or they’re not doing the homework or whatever. Gosh, that is such a gift for me to take a look and go, what could I do better? Or how can I help shape their behavior to get better? Right? Like, and is this all on me? Like, is this all my responsibility? I think we as professionals carry that weight and it’s the reason why we burn out. And it is, I don’t think it’s all our responsibility. Like this is the client’s learning journey as well, and the more we try to control their learning journey or make it about us, or blame ourselves, or you know, go down a litany of like, shame spiral. Uh, we are kind of stealing, we’re kind of stealing their experience in a way. Like if they don’t wanna do the work, then they don’t wanna do the work. And if we tried our best, then we tried our best. Like I I, again, this is not to like get anyone off the hook, it is just to balance that this is all really complicated and we don’t have control over all of it.

And the, the faster we understand that and, and embrace that, I think the more room we will have to be creative, learn, try something different, instead of like approaching the case with like, oh my gosh, I have to know all these things about all these different professions and I’m a dog trainer. Like, I never knew I was needing all of this. Does that make sense?

[00:38:26] Emily:  It makes so much sense, I love hearing you talk about that, that like we have to give ourselves grace while we’re continuing to grow and improve. I think another aspect of that is something that my therapist taught me when I was talking to her about this topic, one of the things that she said to me is, why do you need everybody to understand you perfectly?

Sometimes people just have mutual incompatible communication styles, and that’s okay. You can say, ” Look, I don’t, I don’t, I I can’t, connect with you that we, we, we just don’t. We’re, we don’t, we, connect here and I can wish you the best and support your work, and also, this isn’t a relationship that is sustainable or doable for us. So, like, I need to not be, have a relationship with you, but that doesn’t mean I’m rejecting you. You’re a bad person.” And, and that was really important for me because one of the things I was struggling with is I get really, it’s really upsetting to me being a direct communicator when somebody infers things into what I was saying that I wasn’t implying, gets offended at their own inferences, and then, and then gets mad at me about it and tries to make that my problem.

I’m like, I don’t, I don’t have the bandwidth to, to carry the burden of the stories that you created in your, in your head, right? And my therapist was like, “Okay, so if people are doing. Why do you need to have a relationship with them? Why can’t you refer them on to somebody else if they’re a client, or just let them exist? Why? Why does there have to be anything there?” And that was a really freeing moment for me, that I can accept somebody for who they are and not try to make a relationship work when, when it doesn’t make sense, right? That was a really like liberating conversation to have about, like, we, we need to stop thinking of it as a, something that has to be fixed.

That feeling that we have to control it is, it’s such a, like relinquishing that control is such an important part of the journey of all of these layers of complication too. So, I think that really aligns what my therapist was saying really aligns with what you’re saying is we all have to give ourselves grace, understand it’s not gonna be perfect. Understand that sometimes there’s disconnect and relinquishing that control and letting people go on their own journey without trying to make them understand you, is, is, such part of that process, right.

[00:40:44] Marissa: Yeah, because, um, one my, what my coach always says, and she got this from, Byron Katie, who’s someone that I follow and love her work, and Byron Katie’s like, you’re in their business. Whose business are you in when you’re worried about somebody else and, and the stories they’re making about you and how they’re perceiving, inform, like, we can’t know all that, and it’s ultimately not our business.

And that’s really hard for someone like me that’s like, wait, I want everyone to like me, and I wanna make sure you understand me clearly, and did I, did I articulate it well? And am I doing a good job? Like, that’s really hard for someone like me. And it alleviates some of some of the pressure that we’re, that we’re putting on ourselves that again, try better and do better while also offering ourselves grace.

[00:41:27] Emily:  Right. Like I have that same thing, like it’s, it really matters to me that your perception is accurate. Like accuracy really matters to me and I, that you’re, what you think about me isn’t true, that’s not accurate and being okay with that. Okay. So, they believe something inaccurate about me, I don’t care. It’s not my business. Right. I love that. I love that. Marissa, you’re the best. I just want you to know that.

[00:41:48] Marissa: Oh, thank you, thank you. It’s all, it’s all my coach. I swear. She’s the best.

[00:41:53] Emily:  Well, I think, you know, we all have multiple influences and we all help each other.

[00:41:58] Marissa: True, true, I’ll take some credit. You’re right.

[00:42:01] Emily:  So, what are our observable goals and actionable items that people can take away from this discussion?

[00:42:07] Marissa: Oh, that’s a good one. I think an actionable item that people can take, is paying attention to what you are making your dog’s behavior mean. Bec, and what I mean by that is kind of a weird sentence, but it’s sort of like, okay, when my dog doesn’t listen to me, what do I make that mean? When my, uh, dog barks and lunges, even though I’ve been working on a reactivity protocol for three months and I’m sensing a regression, what do I make that mean?

Like, if you ask that question, then you can track back to like, what is the thought? And it’s, it’s fascinating when I ask my clients this question like, what do you make that mean? And they’re like, oh, that, we’re totally failing, or that I’m not a great trainer, or that, um, my dog’s never gonna achieve the goals I want, or that will never get access to off leash trails, and then my dog’s life’s gonna suffer.

It’s like, like it’s amazing the stories that we carry with us without even knowing. So, I think if, if I were to invite the listeners to do one thing is like when your dog behaves in a way, ooh, you might wanna do it for both. When your dog behaves in a positive way, what do you make that mean? You’re, I’m a great trainer. I like, right? Like, do all the things right. And, and it’s so funny because if the dog behaves in a positive way, or in a way that you are wanting, and it means something really, great for you that you’re like, yes, I have data to support that I’m great. Or this is, this is my self-worth. When the dog engages in something that doesn’t work for you, like, man, that’s a, that’s a far place to fall from, right?

And so, yeah, I would encourage folks to like, just to strengthen the self-awareness muscle that if they’re, just to pay attention to when their dog engages in one way. What do they make that mean? When their dog engages in maybe a problematic or a challenging way? What do, what do they make that mean? Um, and it’ll be really curious to see what thoughts arise in people.

[00:43:57] Emily:  I love. Thank you. All right. So, we, as you know, let our Pro Campus and Mentorship Program members submit questions for our guests, and the most popular question for you was as a behavior consultant, what are some non-dog related resources that have helped you most in growing your skills working with the human end of the leash?

[00:44:17] Marissa: I know I keep talking about this, but I, I really feel like my personal growth journey, so whether that’s been like podcasts, or whether that’s been finding people that resonate with me, or whether that’s been Buddhist teaching or whether that’s been connecting to my body, or whether that’s been working with my coach, like all of that has again, turned it towards me.

Like, how can, what’s happening for me during this process? How can I, like what patterns are, am I bringing into my practice? Because I mean, some people might have different patterns that they engage in, in their personal life versus their professional life, but what are they, and are they, are they supporting your ultimate goals?

Um, and so I would say that having, a mentor, which is something that I think our professional, our, our profession needs desperately because everybody’s like out on an island, um, I love and always point people in your direction and Pet Harmony’s direction for your programs because I think they’re amazing and there’s a community there.

And so, in terms of my, my coach the past four years, and me actually saying, Hey, we’re not gonna talk about my life or my relationship or, you know, my family. I wanna talk about my career, and I wanna talk about the work I’m doing, and you got to see me do the work, and you got to see me make a ton of mistakes, and you know what I wanna do in this world, and I want you to help me, I want you to help me figure out what I’m trying to do, and I want you to help me, um, foster the skills that I need to do this. And so, I will say that my coach has been, and all of my therapists really have been such a key element in my learning journey in, in order to support my clients.

[00:45:56] Emily:  And I will add to what you said, you will never outgrow the need for a mentor. Right. You’re never gonna get to a point of where you’re like, I have reached peak expertise, I no longer need mentors. I think one of the many things I love about Susan Friedman is how open she is about how she still has a mentor, and how often her mentor corrects her and is like, no, Susan, that’s cute, but no, that’s not how we do things.

I think that kind of transparency with her learning journey, because people tend to put her on a pedestal, and for her to say, I still have a mentor, is such a powerful message, and I, and that’s why I’m super open too, like I have multiple mentors and I learn from them and they regularly, you know, call me on my BS and all that. You know, like, that’s, that is such a, let’s, let’s normalize having mentors as like, just a part of being, uh, in the profession. I love that. Okay, so we always end our episodes with, a series of the same questions, so we’re moving into those now. The first one is, what is one thing you wish people knew about either this topic, your profession, or enrichment? Your choice.

[00:47:01] Marissa: This profession is, I think, way harder than we all knew going into it. Like I’m gonna speak for my own experience, but I keep hearing this over, and over, and over, and I keep hearing it, especially because, the population of animals that we’re working with, which that could be a whole nother topic, a whole other podcast episode, the population of animals that we’re working with and the complex behavior concerns that we’re working with, it’s hard, it’s really complicated, and life is really complicated right now. So, our profession is challenging, and, and that’s even more of a reason to have a community, to find a community around you or to, like, I’ve had people reach out to me from other states that don’t have, um, LIMA based or force free training, right?

Like they don’t have those resources there, and they wanna get connected with other trainers. Like there’s a way that we can build this community and support one another because, yeah, this is hard. It’s super rewarding and it’s hard.

[00:47:58] Emily:  Love that and 100% agree. All right. Next is, what is one thing you’d love to see improved in your field?

[00:48:04] Marissa: It’s funny that we’re talking about mentorship because, when I saw this question, I was like, mentorship, mentorship, mentorship. Because, for a long time I, like I said, I felt like I was on an island, and I would take like really easy cases because I was doing it part-time. And again, this was also why I felt like I was a, a bad trainer because there were some things I were doing that were not great, right?

Like I wasn’t getting the success that I wanted, and, yeah. Ever since I have connected with, like you said, like a variety of mentors and, and being really open, and vulnerable, and choosing the right people to have these conversations with, to be like, yeah, I did this. What do you think? And choosing a mentor that’s also gonna say like, there, like, I love, um, one of my mentors has said this, there are many ways to get up the mountain.

Like you chose that way. I probably would’ve done something different, and I appreciate that, like, because that is true about behavior change and that it’s true when we’re working with a variety of different clients, and different households, and different needs. So, if we could normalize, like you said, mentorship, I, I have felt so less alone. My skills have greatly improved. Uh, I feel confident now, uh, because I’m not on that island anymore.

[00:49:13] Emily:  Beautiful. Love it. What do you love about what you.

[00:49:15] Marissa: I love working with people. And I especially love when I see some of the challenge like, roll off their body and you, you, it’s almost like they’re lit up with relief. Whether they, they’re like, oh wow, I just have to manage this. Or, oh wow, my dog isn’t like purposely doing this. Or, oh wow. I shifted some of my perspective like that.

Those little moments where there is like a, like a, a breakthrough, a specific mindset. And then you can see, like one of my clients said once like, yeah, I noticed my thoughts and then I was able to say like, oh, I’m empowered to shift the antecedents. Oh, like, this isn’t all of who my dog is. Like she just, it was like she, she lit up, and I was so, um, honored to be a part of that conversation, and so honored to, see what happens when those mindset shifts change, and how that can ripple into the relationship. So, that’s what I love about this work.

[00:50:11] Emily:  Same relief and empowerment, right? It’s, it’s just, it’s like, oh, okay. I’m, I’ve got it. I’ve, I was able to meet the goal for my client. Yeah. Love that. What are you currently working on? If people want to work more with or learn from you, where can they find you?

[00:50:27] Marissa: Yeah. So, everyone can find me on paws and, P A W S A N D and reward. And, so everything is there, social, free resources, the podcast, um, the Positive Reward Podcast and the book. And, I am gonna be launching a multi-month program where we are taking my six connection principles, we’re learning about them, and then we’re implementing them, or putting them into action. And so, I’m really excited about that because I, I really want this program to be more integrated so that folks can, again, learn about the concept, but then how do they, how do they weave it into their experience with their own dog? How do they weave it into their relationship with themselves? And then hopefully they wind up weaving it in elsewhere in other relationships.

So that’s really my mission statement. That’s what I’m here to do. And I wanna be able to offer people a way to do that in a, in a, like through several months so that it really becomes integrated, but also through, uh, the support of community.

[00:51:27] Emily:  I love that so much. Thank you again so much for joining us. It has been a joy to speak with you, and to learn from you, and I really appreciate you in everything that you do.

[00:51:38] Marissa: Oh, I appreciate you too. Thank you everyone at Pet Harmony.

[00:51:41] Allie: I told you this episode was gold! Some days it’s very hard to be a human, but the tips that Marissa shared in this interview help to make human a little easier and reminds us to give ourselves grace when we are having a hard time. Next week, we will be talking about what do you make behavior mean?

Thank you for listening. You can find us at and @petharmonytraining on Facebook and Instagram, and also @petharmonypro on Instagram for those of you who are behavioral professionals. As always links to everything we discussed in this episode are in the show notes and a reminder to please rate, review and subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts a special thank you to Ellen Yoakum for editing this episode, our intro music is from Penguin Music on Pixabay.


Thank you for listening and happy training.

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