[00:00:00] Mike: In some cases, when you address the underlying issue, lack of enrichment or lack of actually satisfying the dogs innate needs or underlying medical issues, you address the behavior. If we address the fuel behind the behavior, then there’s no motivation for that dog to do it in the context we’re trying to fix. So, sometimes we don’t have to look at addressing the ABCs at all in that particular environment sometimes it gets fixed by addressing that fuel.
[00:00:28] 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…
[00:00:42] Emily: …and I’m Emily Strong…
[00:00:44] 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 Michael Shikashio. Michael Shikashio, CDBC is the founder of aggressivedog.com and focuses on teaching other professionals from around the world on how to successfully work aggression cases.
He has a five term president of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, IAABC, and is a full member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainer, APDT. Michael is sought after for his expert opinion by numerous media outlets, including the New York Times, New York Post. Fox News, The List TV, Baltimore Sun. Web MD. Women’s Health Magazine, Real Simple Magazine, Sirius XM Radio, the Chronicle of the Dog, and Steve Dale’s Pet World.
He also hosts the popular podcast show the Bitey End of the Dog, where he chats with the foremost experts on dog aggression. He is a featured keynote speaker at conferences, universities, and seminars around the world and offers a variety of educational opportunities on the topic of canine aggression, including the Aggression in Dogs Master Course, and the annual Aggression in Dogs Conference
One of the things I love about what Mike is doing in the industry is focusing on empathy and compassion for all learners, including our human learners. We had the honor of speaking at his Aggression in Dogs Conference last year, and on the last day, the speakers were all remarking at how, without speaking to one another about this, or Mike: asking us to talk about it, all of our presentations discussed how to support the human side of the behavior modification journey and being compassionate and empathetic to our human clients. This is really a testament to what Mike: is trying to accomplish in the animal behavior consulting industry, and you’re going to hear a lot more of that in today’s episode. Fellow behavior professionals, you’re really going to dig this one.
In this episode, you’re going to hear Emily and Mike talk about important foundation questions when it comes to working with aggression cases, finding connections with parallel professionals, and kindness over competitions All right here it is. Today’s episode, Mike Shikashio Influencing the Industry Through Empathy.
[00:03:08] Emily: Okay, thank you for joining us. I’m going to have you say your name, your pronouns, and your pets.
[00:03:15] Mike: Alright, I’m Mike Shikashio, him/his and my pets are Castana, who is a Chilean street dog, and Bernardo who’s a Chilean street cat.
[00:03:25] Emily: Oh, that’s adorable. I love that. I know a lot of street dogs. I don’t know that many street cats though, so that’s pretty cute. I’m sure there’s a story behind that.
[00:03:35] Mike: There’s a big story behind that, one is that I’m allergic to cats, and we have a mutual agreement in the house that he just can’t sit on my head while he’s, while I’m sleeping at night. And that all works out.
[00:03:46] Emily: Good, I love to hear that. Living with animals and sometimes a negotiation, right? So, tell us your story and how you got to where you are.
[00:03:56] Mike: So, I’ve been in the dog world for about two decades now, and I started off with a lot of rescue, foster kind of stuff while I was working at a full-time job somewhere else. I always wanted to have a dog business of some kind, and I originally wanted to do like a dog daycare, but that quickly panned into dog behavior because I was like, “I’m going to open a dog daycare. I should probably learn a little bit about dog behavior.” And I started to learn about dog behavior. I’m like, “Forget the dog daycare stuff, this training stuff is way cooler.” Not that dog daycare is a bad thing, it’s just that, that’s what I was interested in. I started getting into the training and getting more of the behavior issues, as a lot of rescues will start to send you because if you’re fostering those dogs, they’re going to know you’re capable of handling those kinds of dogs after time goes along. And so, I started getting more aggression cases, nothing really severe at the time, but enough where I wanted to learn more about that.
And that’s where I took the deep dive into working with aggression cases, just because I loved that particular aspect of helping dogs. And I think the main reason was because I felt like I could help the most dogs if I could learn a lot about aggression because a good percentage of the dogs that I was seeing returned to rescue, or shelter, or surrendered, were because of some type of aggression issues.
So, I thought what better way to help these dogs then to try to learn as much as I could about aggression, and that’s how it turned into what I’m doing today is just focusing exclusively on aggression and trying to, um, spread the good word about how to help dogs that have aggression issues.
[00:05:18] Emily: We definitely have some parallels. I started in non-behavior aspects of animal welfare, and then because of my work in there ended up where I am. So, it sounds like we have some, parallels in our journeys. So, today our primary topic is going to be about enrichment and its relationship to how we think about and deal with aggression.
And, you know, there’s some side topics I’m hoping we get to along the way, but one of the things that Allie and I both really care about is helping listeners understand how these topics are applicable to them. So, talk to us a little bit about why people should care about our topic today and how it’s relevant to them.
[00:05:56] Mike: Yeah, so enrichment is kind of one of the, and I know we’re going to get to this topic in a little bit, but it’s as looking at all of the foundational aspects of behavior, and what can impact behavior. Enrichment for me with aggression is really important because a lot of the dogs are lacking enrichment because of the aggression and because of management.
So, in many cases, our clients are already doing things to manage the behavior, to prevent aggression from happening, but what happens is that that dog’s universe gets much smaller because we’re putting those management’s controls on the behavior and their environment, which in turn impacts the enrichment.
So, I’m often seeing that low level of enrichment, or lack of, sometimes entirely anything for the dog, and that of course impacts behavior. The two are tied together very closely. We can definitely get into other foundational aspects I look at, but I’ve learned to also focus on it much more so over the last few years than I did previously. Because I was focused much more on just the behavior, you know, just the ABCs, but I’ve learned to look at aggression through other lenses, and why other things are so important.
[00:07:02] Emily: Nice. I love that. Allie and I have a specific structure or approach to how we work through aggression cases, and it took us a while actually, to be able to articulate that process for other behavior professionals, precisely because it took us a while to realize that not everybody was viewing behavior through the lens of an enrichment framework.
So, talk to us about your approach. How do you typically structure your behavior modification plans and how do you incorporate or consider enrichment as a part of that process?
[00:07:30] Mike: Yeah. So again, getting back to that, you know, in terms of what I look for for our foundational aspect, some of us might call it distant antecedents, or there’s all kinds of different terms out there, right? As far as what might be fueling a dog’s behavior, impacting the dog’s behavior, other than the direct triggers or antecedents in the environment.
And so, when I’m first talking to clients, that’s how I structure my framework, because I’ve found this nice flow that works for me in the intake part, or when I’m talking to clients that works out best, especially for aggression cases. So, what I usually do is the first part of my consult is just going through the basic information, get the dog’s name, age, and all that good stuff.
And then I start getting into things that are not likely to bring up much of an emotional response in the human, because I actually want to build some trust and rapport with that client before I get into those more emotional topics. So, I don’t talk about the bite history at all until a little later on the first, 10 15 minutes is just nice talk, ” What do you like to do to you with your dog?”
So, you get some enrichment answers there. What are some of the activities, what’s your daily routine look like? Because I want to get information the most important foundational aspects for me, of course, in aggression cases are the medical history, of course, because there’s a lot of underlying medical issues that can impact behavior. The enrichment history, so what is the dog receiving in terms of enrichment and exercise? The environments I’m also looking at, so what is the context in which it happens, the aggression happens? So, some of those foundational aspects, it’s going to start to help me paint a picture of what’s going on the case.
And then again, into the bite history, because by that time I’ve established a little trust. I’ve had a little conversation with that client and be able to kind of get a feel for how they like to disseminate information and give me the information, which is going to allow me to get more truthful information later on in the consult as well.
And so, I can, ask questions about the bike history and that’s often when sometimes the emotion starts to come into the case. And I’m able to navigate those conversations now because I’ve built a little bit of trust with that client. So, all of that gives me the information, which then allows me to craft the behavior change plan, right?
And behavior change plans in aggression cases always start with safety and management, right?
We always want to start with safety management because we need to prevent rehearsal of the behavior, but we also need to keep everybody and all the other animals safe if it’s an aggression case. So, we start with the safety and management and then we get into the behavior change strategies.
Those behavior change strategies are going to be based on the foundations. So, do I need to refer to a vet for the underlying medical issues? Do I need to suggest alternate enrichment activities or enrichment activities in general? And then we of course address the actual behavior in the context and the environment that happens, which is the ABCs of things.
I think that’s allowed me to take a lot of the noise air quotes here, a lot of the noise out of what can happen in aggression cases. Cause we get a ton of information, and it can be difficult to digest that and know what to put out there in front of the client or baby behavior consultants or trainers we might be mentoring.
Having that more simplified framework can be very helpful towards eliminating some of the confusion, and we can talk more about that as well. Like what questions you can ask and how to fine tune your intake process.
[00:10:39] Emily: Right. One of the things I love about what you were talking about is that you start with the client’s sense of comfort and safety. I think that’s a thing that is starting to become a more prominent discussion in our field, but historically has been really neglected, and we need to take an approach of, your client has to put on their oxygen mask first before they can put the oxygen mask on their pet. I love that you start your consultations with building that rapport, giving them a sense of safety and comfort, and getting to identify their needs and how best to meet their needs, before moving on to why they hired you.
So, that is just absolutely beautiful. I’d also love to hear your journey in learning how you articulate what you do. Was it as much of a journey for you as it was for Allie and me? You started teaching other professionals before Allie and I did, you have more experience with that than we do. So, I would love to hear your process of learning how to articulate that because we’re newbies compared to you when it comes to that aspect of it.
[00:11:44] Mike: Well, I’m still on that journey of learning how to articulate things well. I think it’s important to always be looking at that aspect in our work with our clients and with our students. Because the faster and more simplistic ways of saying things the just more efficient, you’re going to get in your consults.
So, one little thing I did when I was doing a lot of in home consult, is that either on the drive home or when I return, I’m going to take a look at my intake form, and I’m going to look at the questions I asked and I’m going to look at the information I got and I’m going to ask myself the question, “Do I need to really ask that for this particular case? Is it relevant?” Because what’s going to happen is you’re going to start identifying things in cases, let’s use an example, like a dog that barks and lunges at other dogs on walks, quote unquote leash reactivity type of case. And we’ve got a nice laid out intake form, and part of it’s like, where does your dog sleep at night or something like that as part of our intake form, just something we just routinely would ask in all of our cases and I’ll ask myself, “Why do I really need to know where the dog sleeps at night, if the issue is just solely happening outside?” I can eliminate that question the next time I have a similar case. And as you go along, you’ll start to create a system in your own mind about how to ask questions, which questions are relevant and which are important, so much that your intake form, or at least my intake form now is just big blocks of lines where I fill it out. I’m still old school the one thing I’m still using paper for is my intake forms just cause I just chicken scratch, and I have my own little shorthand I’ve developed over the years. You know, it’s just more efficient for me, but, uh, whether you’re on your notes or your computer or whatever it is, you can have sections for that.
So, in my intake form, I don’t have actual questions anymore, like where does your dog sleep? What kind of tools? I have sections, training, enrichment, medical history, environment. All of those things are just big blocks of just empty lines, where I fill out the questions or the answers to the questions I’m asking.
But the questions that I’m asking, I’ve learned over the years, are the ones that are going to be most relevant to that case. So, what used to take me 30 to 45 minutes of history taking, question asking what the client is now distilled down to maybe 10 or 20 minutes, and that buys me a lot more time to do more important things during the consult, such as the safety and management or implementing training recommendations.
That particular exercise has helped me become much more efficient and much better at articulating things for both my clients and my students, because it’s important to stay on topic and to stay relevant, especially in aggression cases, because you got, you have a short amount of time, 90 minutes to two hours most initial consults take. Most people are not going to have the attention span past that two hours, once you hit that certain mark, you still have to see that the pupils dilate a little, the eyes gloss over, you know, those little signs that, or the yawning, they just, they’re done.
That could be wasted opportunity, because when do you usually give the most important information? It’s usually the last 10 minutes after you’ve gotten all the history, developed a plan, and now you’re giving them the information they need, and what if you run out of time or you’re hitting that spot where they’re just tired.
They’re mentally just not paying attention to you anymore. So, to be successful in terms of giving them the information that’s very relevant, I think it’s important to be very efficient and articulate things in that way.
So, uh, so that’s one little trick I learned, I also learned to use a lot of analogies. Like I love the analogy you just used, Emily about the face masks with air, the oxygen mask in the airplane. Such a great analogy, but a perfect one you can use with clients or something similar if we’re explaining a particular concept. That I find extremely helpful.
Over the years, I’ve also developed some canned responses. You hear the same questions over and over like, “Oh, I don’t know about muzzles. What do you think about muzzles?” And it just, if you have a canned response ready to go, then you don’t have to think about it much, and guess what happens also, you get to learn how to articulate it better and better each time based on all that information you’ve gotten the first 10 minutes of figuring out what kind of client you got in front of you.
And that’s sort of the art of it. The art of the consulting side is that in that first 10, 15 minutes, you’ve got to be knowing what questions to ask. You’ve gotta be developing a relationship with the client. You’ve gotta be determining what kind of client in terms of their learning style and how they might be giving you information, how they might be answering questions.
Are they maybe sugarcoating things or hiding things, and you’ve gotta be paying attention to the dog if you’re in person sometimes. So, there’s a lot going on and just that first 10, 15 minutes. So, it can be a little overwhelming at first, and that’s why I always recommend after the end of your console, go back and look at your notes or at least think about your conversations and ask yourself, “How could I have done that more efficiently, or I could have worded that better? Did something feel off, or maybe it didn’t seem like I communicated well with the client?” Think about that and just be like, how could I improve that? And that’s how you, I found helps me really streamline things, both with my students and my clients.
[00:16:27] Emily: I love that. What’s fascinating to me in speaking with you and other colleagues who have been consulting for a while is that all of us have identified the same kind of pitfalls in consulting. It’s remarkable to me, how many different ways people have found solutions or workarounds for those pitfalls.
So, I love learning your way of doing that. Of how you deal with that critical first 10 minutes and how you address that. When you realized this for yourself and had learned this system for yourself, all the things that you just talked about, streamlining your intake form, or your intake process, and establishing rapport and safety, identifying client needs and all of those things.
How long did it take you to learn how to articulate that when speaking to other professionals and teaching them how to consult? What was that process like for you?
[00:17:26] Mike: It’s been about 46 years, cause that’s how old I am now.
Yeah, it’s an ongoing process. I don’t think I understood the importance of it though, until I really started learning about just how important the human side is in aggression cases, shout out to Dr. Rise VanFleet and Human Half of Dog Training, when I read that. And she actually gave me the opportunity to review that book when, when she was working on it. So, I got a nice, I got an extra deep dive because I was helping her with some of the bullet points, and so I really got to learn sort of the ins and outs of that book, and it was so helpful to me because it was really eye opening in terms of what I need to be looking at, concentrating on because it’s so much of it is focused on the humans and aggression cases.
I mean, let’s face it, the vast majority of aggression cases, the success rests on the humans because of what they need to do. It’s much different than some other types of training. Because with aggression cases, it’s the humans that have to be watching the management, and the safety, and understanding their dog’s body language, and their dog’s needs, and all those things.
It’s not to say that other types of cases don’t also require that, but aggression cases especially are focused on those things. I would say in the last, maybe I think that book came out seven or eight years ago, I could be totally off on that. I’ve been focusing on it and heavily since then and watching all of those aspects and how much it can make a change in the success in our aggression cases, when we start to really focus on the human side of things.
[00:18:48] Emily: So, one of the things that I love that you touched on in, in your response to that was the importance of working with clients, when they’re dealing with a dog with aggression, that we have to really help them to find a way to work through it in a way that feels good to them, that is going to be successful for them.
And I want to kind of delve into that a little more deeply, because one of the most common questions that we get in our courses and in our webinars is this idea of how do you sell clients on enrichment, right? When they’re already feeling stressed, and they’re already overwhelmed, and they just want this really difficult thing that they’re struggling with to just go away. They want the pain to go away. How do you sell that, a sell that concept on clients? And one of the things that we tell people is that we don’t talk to clients about enrichment. We’re just focused on helping them to reach their goals, and the process by which we’re doing that is enrichment.
But in many cases, as you, as you know, aggression cases are made significantly worse by a plethora of unidentified and unmet needs. What is your process for helping clients to identify and meet those needs?
[00:20:02] Mike: Yeah, that’s such a great question because I can imagine that it is a tough sell to say something like, okay, here’s this enrichment concept, or this word that maybe you only heard a couple of times in your life and it’s somewhat foreign to, I think a lot of pet owners when they hear that, like, “What does that really mean? What is enrichment? Is it physical and mental? Is it playing with toys? What, what does that actually mean?” So, you, you first have to explain what that is to the client, so they understand what it means, but we also have to sell it to them and why it’s beneficial. So, what I do is I usually go back to and using a lot of human analogies again.
And so, I’ll use an example of what’s in, and I love to ask clients what they do for a living, because if I have a little bit of an idea of what they do, I do like to use analogies, and they’re like, “Okay. So, you’ve got a lot of stress at work. You’re working 50 hours a week, even if it’s from home or whatever. And you go week after week without having any time to go to the gym. You haven’t been able to watch your show because of the kids are up at night or the kids are home sick. You haven’t gone out on dinner on the weekends. You haven’t gone on vacation anywhere. How you feeling?” And you often get very classic response, you know, stressed, overworked, overwhelmed.
And I’ll say, “Well, that’s similar to what your dog might be experiencing because they are not getting any of that Netflix time, or getting the massage, or all those things that can be beneficial to them and think about how it might impact their behavior.” And so, I also will make sure I’m stressing that, cause humans have this nature of like, don’t fix it until it’s broken kind of thing, and enrichment is one of those things that it’s hard to see anything that’s broken. Because it’s not directly addressing the issue in this, in their mind, it’s not that quick fix or that quick, let me address this right away type of situation, and that can even happen with some trainers I’ve seen where they’re so focused on the ABC, sometimes you forget about the other things that are important. So, I, I do focus on saying, “Okay, in terms of solving things, we want to lower your dog’s stress levels, for instance. That’s, I think better, a better selling point, then we can increase your dog’s quality of life.
It sounds great. It’s beautiful on paper and it sounds wonderful, and it makes a nice quote on Facebook or something like that, but people aren’t going to say, you know, “I want the nicer tires for my car because it’s going to provide a smoother ride.” They want to know that their tires about fall off or explode because it’s bald and we need to fix that, and if you don’t, you run the risk of getting into an accident or off the road. So, you have to put a little bit of urgency into it, I think. And same thing with the medical issues, right? Sometimes, you have to sell them on it and explain why it’s a problem rather than something that’s going to supplement it in an anecdotal or ancillary way.
If we sell them more like a, an urgent, um, I don’t want to say emergency, but something that’s has some urgency to it, I think that that’s helpful for a lot of clients, because then they’re seeing that it is something that needs to be put in right away for the fix.
[00:22:57] Emily: Right, right. Yeah. Can you share with us any cases that you’ve had, whereby focusing on meeting needs, you saw significant improvement before you even got to a serious, more structured ABC type of training plan?
[00:23:11] Mike: Yeah. For me, what comes to mind is the breed specific needs. So, you have, clients that might adopt a dog, or acquire a dog that is a particular breed and they not, they don’t understand or didn’t do much research about the breed specific characteristics or behavior characteristics, and what we’ve purpose bred for in some of the breeds. Uh, let’s say we use like a herding breed, like a border collie or something. Well, most, most border collie owners either figure it out really quickly, or have done a little research ahead of time, but you get that. Well, let’s actually use cattle dogs because that one is not as common. some cats, some of my cattle dog clients, they are not, uh, they get the dog, but they don’t understand sort of the background.
And so, yes, like for instance, it’s been a few years now, but a few years ago, I had a cattle dog client that’s, was doing the usual nipping at heels as people were leaving or moving around the house. The exercise and enrichment was pretty much at a zero. They were looking for the sort of lapdog concepts, right?
So, think about how do you, how do you change that? Cause you’ve got a dog that needs a significant change and the amount of exercise and enrichment they’re getting, and you’ve got a cattle dog, young cattle dog at home doing some maladaptive behaviors. So, how do we fix that with that particular client?
So, that was a little bit of a tough sell at first. So, what I did a little bit of shaping in that one, I said, “Let’s see what your outside environment is. Cool. You’ve got this large backyard. Let’s use some games that are going to be easy for you, but that’s going to provide your dog some exercise.” So, we started with a flirt pole and teaching a basic, some level of stimulus control around that, and teaching with clients, just the basic part of that. Because this client was not the very active type, so not a lot of hiking.
And so, it wouldn’t make sense for me saying,” Well, you’ve got to take this dog hiking off leash for 10 miles a day. That’ll help.” It’s not realistic in that case, but the flirt pole was actually a lot of fun for this client, especially the, uh, the husband that really loved this, the kind of rough and tumble type of action.
But with some controls, you don’t want to just go wild with a flirt pole, but that made such a big change for this dog because now the dog had an outlet, the humans had an outlet, and they, they realized that this is going to be extremely helpful for the issue that they were having.
So, the dog was not a real, severe aggression case, and I wouldn’t even necessarily say it was aggressive behavior, but it was nipping and biting at the heels of people in the home, sometimes outside in the yard. And that completely replaced the behavior, the flirt pole behavior or enrichment, I should say, replace that because the dog now had an outlet. So, sometimes it’s a very easy fix that not, of course not all cases are like that, but that one rings to me. You know, it’s definitely breed specific behaviors, we have to pay attention to that enrichment aspect for sure.
[00:25:51] Emily: Yeah. I think one of the things that we found the most interesting in the, in the research that we were doing to write the book, was looking at how what are called modal action patterns, which for our listeners who aren’t familiar with that term, they’re innate, unlearned sequences of behavior. So, that they’re not individual behaviors, there’s a whole sequence of behaviors, and how influenced those can actually be. By not just breeding, although we certainly do breed certain aspects of a modal action pattern to be stronger or weaker based on what we want that dog to do, but also how influenced it can be by environmental arrangement and the consequences that they receive.
And that to us was just such an important moment. Just because your dog is a heeler doesn’t mean that you have to just live with a dog who’s going to have these like cheap shot, nipping behaviors. Yes, that is a result of a modal action pattern, but that doesn’t mean that you just have to live with it.
You can do stuff about it. You can do things to change or alleviate that behavior problem. So, I love your example with the heeler because that’s, that is a beautiful example of seeing a modal action pattern express itself in a way that we would expect it to express itself under those conditions, and we were able to change the conditions to change the behavior, even though it’s an innate behavior. So, thank you for that example. That is really beautiful.
[00:27:32] Mike: Sometimes we’re so concentrated on the ABCs, the environment, the context, and in some cases, when you address the underlying issue which, in that case, lack of enrichment or lack of actually satisfying the dogs innate needs or underlying medical issues in some cases, you address the behavior. So, you don’t always need to be looking at the environment in context. I focus of course heavily on that, looking at the contexts where it’s happening, but sometimes we don’t necessarily need to look at that particular antecedent. If we address the fuel behind the behavior, then there’s no motivation for that dog to do it in the context we’re trying to fix. Right? So, sometimes we don’t have to look at addressing the ABCs at all in that particular environment sometimes it gets fixed by addressing that fuel.
[00:28:20] Emily: Right. Exactly. One thing that we all have in common, you, Allie, and I is our collaborative approach to behavior change. I feel this is an important part of the enrichment process because sometimes the road to physical, behavioral, and emotional health, which is critical to behavioral diversity and performing species-typical behaviors in safe, healthy, and appropriate ways requires the help of people from multiple areas of expertise.
I can’t be my client’s veterinary behaviorist, and veterinary nutritionist, and dog walker. I can’t be all things for my client. So, how do you determine when to bring a parallel professional onto your client’s team, and what are those conversations with your clients look like?
[00:29:05] Mike: Yeah. Another great question because I think it’s helpful for clients to understand, and the one I use is the medical model, the human medical model, because most clients are going to understand that, and they understand sort of the nuances of communication between doctor’s offices and other ancillary practitioners.
So, I do the same. If they are kind of stuck in that, “Well, do I really need to do that? Or how’s that person gonna help me?” I’ll say, “Because I’m not a vet, or I’m not a physical rehab specialist, or any of those things, just like you see your general practitioner doctor or a specialist, you know, you see a heart surgeon or somebody that specializes in a particular area of medicine, it’s the same for training and behavior. The training field is still somewhat new compared to the medical field, but it’s starting to become like that, in that we’re seeing specialties.” And I’ll use an example of myself, be like, “If somebody asks me to train their dog for agility. I wouldn’t know where to start.” I don’t know the first thing about agility, and like nothing at all. And so, I would prefer, and I would bring somebody else in. If you asked me to train your dog agility, I would say, “Well, I know somebody that does, but I can’t help you at all on that.” And so, I’ll help the clients understand that there are going to be people that are going to be much better at understanding a particularly unique aspect, whether it’s a veterinary behaviorist, or veterinarian, or somebody that needs to work on rehab with the dogs got physical issues.
And once you do that, then they start to understand kind of where to go. I will also mention that, in order to have those conversations with our clients, we have, should have the resources ready to go for them because we could talk about and be like, “Oh, yeah, you should go see a veterinary behaviorist or you know this veterinarian.”
And that they’re going to ask you, “Well, okay, so who do you recommend and what if you don’t have anybody or you, or maybe that person’s booked out quite a bit in advance?” What I recommend for every trainer listening in any trainer, behavior consultants, or veterinarian, or really any anybody in this field that’s listening in right now is to find those, those connections ahead of time.
And there’s so many benefits to doing that. And obviously the number one benefit is you now have referral sources for your clients. You have somebody that you can refer to that you trust that you’ve already talked to, but guess what, you’re also building a connection with that person, who’s going to end up referring back to you for other things.
So, you’re building a referral source as well. You’re also furthering the growth of the industry, so you’re not only just doing it for your own needs, you are furthering the growth that the industry, you’re helping your fellow trainers out there, and you’re helping your fellow veterinarians out there, because what happens is this collaboration towards the information, which is vital right now to our industry, and the right information, the information that we really want to get out there about changing behavior.
And one of the only ways to do that is by establishing relationships and trust with our colleagues, whatever profession they’re in and because it’s not easy to do in other ways, right. We know that there’s, there’s other avenues we’ve tried that don’t always pay off, so sometimes it’s on the micro level. It could be just that one veterinarian or that one other trainer that specialized in something else that you reach out to you make that connection and they start to learn some things from you, and you learn some things from them. And that’s how information gets spread. I think in the most effective way.
Because it’s not just some short Facebook post or social media thing on TikTok. It is a lot more than that. So, I do recommend, it’s good to have all of those colleagues, if you don’t know somebody, cause the training world is lonely enough, reach out, just keep reaching out and be aware that some people are going to give you the cold shoulder or they’re going to be too busy or are they going to say no.
And that’s okay because there’s, trust me, there’s plenty of other folks out there that are willing to step up and to help and to form those connections.
[00:32:41] Emily: For sure. I think when I started out, I knew, like one veterinary behaviorist, I knew of two, but I only like had a relationship with one. And I had my go-to website for veterinary nutrition, and when I was in Austin, I knew like very few of the sports dog trainers or like the basic manners trainers that I would refer to, I had a short list and the longer I’ve been in this profession, the longer my referral lists have gotten for that very reason. Not everybody’s available, sometimes people aren’t comfortable taking on a case that you try to refer to them, sometimes people go on hiatus, and the longer our lists have become, the more impactful and helpful we can be to our clients.
And I absolutely agree with you. We’re seeing that right? Veterinary behaviorist are now booked out for months, which was not the case when I first started as a behavior consultant, more than a decade ago, but that’s because we have, normalized this concept of when your behavior consultant or your trainer recognizes that your dog has a need, that lies outside our area of expertise, we can refer to a veterinary behaviorist, and now they’re in a great deal of demand. So really, instead of looking at this, field competitively, like if I give this client away, I’m losing business, we should look at it as a rising tide lifts all boats. Because that’s exactly what we’re seeing.
[00:34:11] Mike: Yeah. I think you said a really important word there, it’s like, forget about that competition word right now, because there’s way more business to go around than anybody can handle. The entire industry is overwhelmed. If you’re not seeing a lot of business, there’s perhaps a reason for that.
It could be the location. It could be the advertising, or whatever. But I can tell you that it is, there is an overwhelming amount of business available out there. It’s really not about competition for me, it’s more about surviving right now. All the trainers, and consultants, veterinarians are just completely overbooked and overwhelmed, booked out for a couple of months at a time in some cases, or more. So, no need to worry about competition right now.
[00:34:50] Emily: For sure. I definitely agree with that. Another thing that we all agree on and care about is about meeting our client’s needs as well. Since it’s a vital part of the enrichment process, we already kind of touched on that a little bit, but again, one thing that I really admire and appreciate about you is how well you extend this concept, not just to your clients, but also to your behavior professional clients. We consistently hear about how kind and supportive your community is, and we certainly experienced that with you in the conference as well, which we recently participated in. So, we know from firsthand experience that safe and supportive communities don’t just happen on their own because we have our own communities that we’ve been building, they actually require careful, careful antecedent arrangement and thoughtful care and guidance to make sure that we’re maintaining a safe and supportive community. So, talk to us about how you foster nurturing environments, both in your conference, and in your masterclass community.
[00:35:55] Mike: Well, I appreciate the kind words about the reputation that the group holds. It’s, it’s really, it’s meaningful to me because I agree. I think the student group that I have is, one of the most wonderful, caring, kind groups that I’ve ever seen in any discussion, atmosphere. So, shout out to them, shout out to all the Aggression in Dogs Master Course students, and everybody else that participates in the conference as well, because they’re so kind, and wonderful with each other, and supportive as well.
When I first started the course and the group, what I did was actually invites maybe a dozen or so people that I knew were also very kind and how they communicate with others because that kind of sets the tone. I think it’s really important. The tone that you set is the tone you’re gonna get.
So, if you set a tone of some arguments right away, or some typical Facebook sniping, and all that stuff that can happen, that’s how it’s going to end up. And it’s going to stay that way for a while unless you fix it. This is coming from experience from the old Yahoo group days and moderating lists and all of that.
So, I had some experience before, Facebook was even around and, it helped me realize that “Okay, in order to set an atmosphere, you’ve got to do it right away and you’ve got to do it by leading by example.” So, when you are having conversations as well, regardless of how difficult that conversation might be, or how, mean or nasty it’s how you reply. Because if you reply with kindness and empathy, regardless of what they say, they could say the nastiest, meanest thing to you, right? And you still want to reply with kindness and empathy. Now, if they continue. That’s one thing, but you’ll be surprised just how often that person changes their tune, because you often get supportive comments from the other folks that are in their groups that are also going to respond in a similar way.
And so, you’ll see maybe three or four comments come in like, “Wow, thank you for your opinion. I appreciate, you know, where you’re coming from. I can understand why you’re thinking, your thought process,” that whatever, however you want to respond. But it’s showing that you’re listening without criticizing what they’re saying.
If you see three or four comments coming like that, suddenly that person sometimes changes their tune. Like, “Oh, maybe I don’t have to be so defensive here. What I’m used to doing in other groups for making the same or similar statements, maybe I can be understood here.” And that’s how meaningful conversations can happen.
And once that you set the tone of kindness, right, from the start and empathy, right from the start. That’s what’s really been helpful for my group. I’m very fortunate to have only had to jump in maybe three or four times in the last two years on certain threads, but other than that, I don’t have a moderator.
There’s no moderation in the group. There’s no, nobody’s put on moderation. I’ve never had a block or kick anybody out. It’s all self-moderated. And again, I think a credit to the students of course, but it’s also how you set the tone.
[00:38:40] Emily: I, I love everything that you said, and I super agree with it. I think one of the things that I’ve had to navigate personally is, establishing boundaries, so that I have the spoons to do that in my communities. Because as you can imagine with the mentorship program, having dozens of people in it, and sometimes people have a lot of struggles with their learning journey, or what’s happening in their life and how it’s impacting them. And then Allie and I have multiple Facebook groups that we run, that kind of, being present for people when they’re having a hard time, it does take a toll on you. It does wear you out. And I found that I had no spoons left, or no grace left, to deal with people being confrontational or violating my boundaries in outside of those communities.
I found myself just being exhausted by conflict, that became conflict because I didn’t have the spoons to be empathetic. Because I was spending all my empathy in our communities where it mattered. That has been a huge lesson for me in self-care, and establishing boundaries, and not putting myself in a position, just like an aggressive dog, we wouldn’t take a dog who struggles with reactivity or aggression to other dogs, to a dog park, and then just expect them to cope over, and over, and over again, like that’s setting them up for failure.
And I realized that that was what was happening with me as well. I need to not put myself in those positions to, have those stressful interactions when I’m spending my spoons in these groups where setting that tone is critical, is so important. When I see other people doing it well, like you, I have to give you props for that because I know how challenging it is, and how much energy it can take to be empathetic in the face of people having big troubs, right? And how much I’ve had to modify my own environment to protect my own emotional health and give myself the space to rebuild those reserves after spending them in that way. But you’re absolutely right. It is so worth that learning journey, and it is so worth doing that labor to end up with these communities where people feel safe enough to be vulnerable, to ask hard questions, to ask questions that they’ve had a history of getting attacked for even bringing up.
There’s nothing more rewarding than watching humans and non-humans, feel safe enough in a space that you’ve created to risk that kind of vulnerability.
[00:41:12] Mike: You said a really key word there too, it’s the learning journey. And it really is something that we as consultants in this field, or as trainers in this field have to learn as a skill, is communicating with our colleagues because it’s not easy. As you mentioned, it can take a lot of spoons. And so just going back to that, what I was talking about before with, it’s taking a moment, after a consult and thinking through that, and what could I have worded differently or said differently? You can apply that same concept, your conversations on social media, or in your groups, or with your colleagues, because what happens is you start to develop candid responses. So over time, as you know, you, if you’ve been in training long enough, you see the same arguments, whether it’s type of collars, or what kind of diet, and you start to see the same comments over and over, and, you know, the difference between training like dogs versus marine mammals and why you wouldn’t use certain tools or whatever, you see the same conversations over and over.
But the nice thing about seeing the same things over and over is that you start to develop canned responses. Like you will start to learn what response actually works best in that conversation to make sure it’s productive and meaningful, and to make sure that person feels heard that way you can continue in that productive dialogue.
So, I think it’s a skill that again, it’s I think if I was joking, my kid I’m like they should teach like social media conversations in school, just like they would teach financial literacy or things that they just don’t teach kids. I mean, yes, it’s the parent’s job, but I think it would be beneficial to learn it also as an actual thing, because you see just how much it can impact behavior online and just how detrimental it can be to trainers, especially because of what I said before. Dog trainers, we live in a lonely world. We don’t go to a workplace where we have 20, some of us do, but most of us are flying solo, and where we don’t have like a workplace, we get to sit at the water cooler or have lunch with people. You’re by yourself, most of your interaction is going to be online, and sometimes it can get really snarky and mean, and you can find yourself running out of spoons in those conversations.
So, I think, for our own survival as a profession, it’s very good to continue, learning those skills of how to communicate with each other in a respectful and kind ways.
[00:43:20] Emily: Yeah. Yeah. And one of the other things that I’ve had to learn is communicating when I don’t have the spoon. So, if somebody is really confrontational to me or violates a boundary and I’ve just spent all day spending all my spoons on other things I’ve learned to say, “I can’t talk to you about this right now. This is not a discussion I can have right now, either let’s drop it or come back to it later because this is not going to go well.” Right?
[00:43:42] Mike: Such a good point. It’s such a good point because what happens is if you don’t respond, especially if you have one of the group moderators or you’re kind of leading the group is going to think, “Well, Emily doesn’t care. She’s just, no response.” So, that’s such a great, addition to our conversation there that, hey, it’s okay to let people know, “Hey, I need a minute.” Pause the commenting on the thread if you need to, and say, “I’ll come back to this, but I needed a little time and I appreciate your understanding.” And that goes a long way again, helping others understand that, hey, you actually care, and you just need a moment for yourself and then you’ll come back to it.
[00:44:14] Emily: Right. Yeah, for sure. It’s such an important skill. Again, we were talking before we started recording about how you enter this profession, thinking here’s the skill set I need to learn about training or behavior consulting, and then you get into the profession, you’re like, “Oh, my God, there are all these other skillsets I have to learn now that I didn’t even know I had to learn.”
And this is a good example of that. Like, who knew that a critical part of behavior consulting was going to have to be learning how to communicate the level of spoons you have on social media. Like, that’s just not something that anybody would anticipate, right?
[00:44:46] Mike: I’m going to go play with puppies all day for a living.
[00:44:50] Emily: Exactly. That whole daycare thing sounding really appealing. I might be changing.
[00:44:54] Mike: Yeah. I don’t know what I was thinking.
[00:44:58] Emily: Yeah. Okay. So, what are our observable goals and actionable items that people can take away from this discussion?
[00:45:06] Mike: Yeah. I know we talked a lot about, kindness and empathy. I feel like those are almost becoming like cliche buzzwords for 2021, but it’s so important. Right?
I think we focus a lot on the human side of these cases and how to communicate effectively with them. So, I hope that focus continues where we’re all learning, how to talk to each other, how to be kind to each other in our consults and with our colleagues.
I think that’s a big takeaway from our discussion. Definitely. Because here’s the other thing, there’s not a lot of training for us as trainers and consultants on that aspect. So, the human consultant, there’s, there’s some, really great trainers out there that are also dual psychiatrists, psychologists backgrounds, like, Dr. Rise VanFleet, which I mentioned, Dr. Melanie Cerone. There’s some really great, educators out there that are doing that now, but I think we need a lot more of it in our field. I think it should be almost a mandatory aspect of what we learn as trainers, just as good as we get at learning how to use a marker signal.
We should be getting training on how to talk to clients, especially in aggression cases, because of all the emotion involves. Not only emotions, but the impact on society with regards to injuries, civil lawsuits, and all the things that can happen to the dogs after a dog bites, the reputation of the dog or their breeds, or there’s so many ramifications that can happen if we’re not having impactful, meaningful, successful conversations with our clients, that it just, when you think about it, how much sense does it make?
I mean, it makes perfect sense that we have to be really great with the humans as well. So, I hope that continues. I see it continuing. I at least I see like that shift, which is nice, but I think, if our, any of our, uh, human specialists that are listening in keep doing what you’re doing and keep sharing the information because we’re listening, and we want to learn more, we’re thirsty for more.
[00:46:55] Emily: Yeah, that, that became apparent when we were developing the mentorship program is how much emphasis we had to put on the human aspect of consulting in the mentorship program, because absolutely like you get into the profession, and you realize like “Wow. This is not just a piece of my job. This is like, critical to my job.” Learning from people like Dr. Cerone and Dr. VanFleet is really, really important. So, we allow our Pro Campus and Mentorship Program members to submit questions for our podcast’s guests, and I was wondering if I could ask you one of those questions now.
[00:47:31] Mike: Absolutely.
[00:47:32] Emily: Okay. The most popular question submitted was what are some of your favorite go-to enrichment strategies for some of the most common aggression issues you work with?
[00:47:43] Mike: My go-to strategies, tell them to go to Dogwise or Amazon and get the Canine Enrichment for the Real World book and read it. That’s my go-to strategy. Actually, it kind of is honestly, but, um, yeah. So, with aggression cases, the thing that happens is we have to look at safety and management. So, it’s different than a lot of the other types of cases where that’s the first thing I’m looking at is considering, because I could say, you know, go through some more walks, or go for some sniffaries but that has to be done in a way that’s also making sure we’re maintaining safety and management, preventing rehearsal of any kind of aggressive behavior, but also keeping the public or the person or other dogs, animals safe.
And I mean from bikes, because we have the dogs also feeling safe, and we want to make sure they feel safe and have agency, but really, we’ve got to look at that for us, because what we’ve talked about earlier is that a lot of that enrichment opportunity has significantly been diminished because of all that safety and management.
So, if we have a particular site, let’s use a couple of different types of cases, let’s say we’ve got a resource guarding case the dog guards, puzzle toys, or any kind of food items, so obviously we can’t say, “Okay, so we’re just going to do, to address the enrichment needs, we’re going to put more puzzle toys all over the place and just give it a good shot to have at it.”
We’re gonna increase the heck out of the enrichment. Hide Kong’s everywhere, and all that stuff. But that’s obviously not appropriate to that particular case. So, what I will do is make sure I have some alternative activity that also meets the client’s lifestyle, because we can’t recommend things that the client’s probably not going to do.
You know, something like go for a 10-mile hike again, off leash, let your dog sniff in a certain area. So, I try to have a kind of a list of things that I think I can recommend for that particular case. That’s going to be appropriate based on those safety and management. So, if it’s a resource starting case, I might say, how does your dog do on those walks? How does your dog do outside? Can your dog go, go outside on a long line in a wooded area where the dog would just go be a dog sniff around, enjoy life in that particular environment where there may not necessarily be resources? Can we implement something like nose work? Shout out to the, um, the nose work instructors, the National Association of Canine Scent Work.
I met a couple of their instructors when I was at, I was out in Lake Tahoe last year for the Wild Blue Dogs Camp, like really awesome fundraiser for cancer research in dogs. It wasn’t necessarily an aggression focused type of thing. I gave a little talk on aggression, but it was mostly just dogs having fun. And I got to hang out with the nose work instructors, I learned a lot of stuff and it is really cool, but it’s really cool to see just how much when the dogs get into it, how awesome that is for their dog, for their enrichment.
You’re tackling so many things at the same time when you’re doing that as well. That’s the nice thing, and it’s doable for most clients. So, I’ve been recommending that quite often lately, and of course meeting breed specific needs. So, if a dog that needs more exercise physical, then I’m going to look at things.
Do we need to stop those walks outside? And here’s the one thing, here’s the one thing that’s happened over the last decade or so, is it kind of tapered off a little bit, but I remember, you guys probably remember this too is 5, 6, 7 years ago. Everybody was so stuck on the walks because someone out there at one time said, exercise, discipline, affection, that little catch phrase really caught on. And unfortunately, the exercise in the show was mostly just walks, right?
Pack walks, walks, and things. Not that that’s a bad thing. It’s just like, that was the only thing in people’s minds. So, they were stuck on going for walks. And you’ve got all these dogs that have issues with other dogs or people on walks and then going out into the war zone of their neighborhood and practicing this undesirable behavior getting totally stressed out and they would go home with the client and be like, “Yeah, I know he’s tired. He’s painting his tongue hanging out. He’s so tired, his ears are like stuck to his head, and his he’s got wrinkles in his face. He must be tired. Right?”
And so, then you have to explain like, “Well, probably more stressful for your dog.” Go back to this human analogy. So, I’ll say it’s like stepping out into a war zone, your dog strapping up, when you put that harness on, you know, like it’s a bulletproof vest, go out there, and, and so that’s much more stressful.
So, sometimes we have to again go with, “It’s okay to stop the walks.” You have to give the client permission. That cognitive bias really sets in there. They’re stuck on those walks. So, they feel like, “w- what is Mike: talking about, you know, just stop the walks. Stop the walks? That’s, like exercise. It’s like the most important thing. That’s what I learned.” So. You have to approach it in a number of ways, you have to explain why it’s important to stop the walks, why would it be beneficial to do that? And then of course, suggest or recommend an alternative activity. Stop the walks, do some nose work in the backyard, backyard agilities and some backyard training, flirt pole, whatever it is, enrichment activities inside the home, all those things that, of course you guys talk about all the time. So, that’s really what I focus on first to answer the main question is we’ve got to make sure that it’s appropriate activity in that particular aggression case.
[00:52:41] Emily: Exactly. Exactly. I love that. We’re on the same page for sure. Okay, so we have a few questions that we ask all of our guests at the end of the interview, and so we’ll move through those now. Hopefully they’ll be fairly painless. Um, so the first is what is one thing you wish people knew about either this topic, your profession, or enrichment in general?
[00:53:04] Mike: Mm, I would say that I, you talking about just our colleagues or just the general public, that, just to clarify.
[00:53:13] Emily: We could say the general public.
[00:53:15] Mike: Oh, that’s a good one because I could be controversial, or I could be canned response, let me think about this one. I will do the controversial one because I used to do the opposite of this. Before, 10 years ago, there wasn’t a lot of knowledge about help for aggression in dogs. There was some out there, but it was very limited. In the general public, I felt was on the side of you can’t really help these dogs, or there’s not, there’s limited options for these dogs. And so, I was really moving then towards you can help most of these dogs, a lot of these dogs, there’s, there’s options to help these dogs, whether it’s through management or through behavior change strategies, or a number of other options of course. And so, I was really focused on that, but now I’m finding myself having to move on the other side of the conversation, which is that you can’t help every dog out there, and that ruffles a lot of feathers sometimes. Because it’s very unique to the individual, and the individual situation, that doesn’t get talked about enough.
You have dogs that are owned by pet owners. Somebody owns the dog, or you have a dog in a shelter system, which is owned by the shelter technically, legally, but it’s, it’s a different type of case. And so, I see a lot of our arguments online, again, about dogs that are in like a shelter system, and they have a history of aggression.
That dog has a lot less options because it’s not owned by anybody. And the person that owns the dog has a lot more options because the dog is already owned by somebody. So, there’s more investment in that, from that particular person versus a dog in a shelter setting. I’m not saying the shelters don’t care about their dogs at all. I don’t want to make that false impression, but I think there’s a different type of scenario. And what happens in the conversations is that both of those dogs are exactly the same in terms of their options, which is not true at all. And when you also, when you start to look more at a micro level, you look at where the dog is or what the dog’s issues are.
Each dog is going to be completely unique. So, you can take the same dog with the same bite history, put it in two different homes, and the outcomes could be completely different depending on the resources available, and the management, and all those things. So, there are some dogs that despite not necessarily being dangerous in one home might be extremely dangerous in another home and that’s going to produce different outcomes.
So, we have to put a critical thought lens for sure on those cases. And when we’re looking at aggression. So, it’s not a black and white answer at all. And I’m unfortunately seeing that conversation shift in the other direction now where you can help all dogs, all dogs can be helped, and that’s unfortunately not true.
And it’s actually very risky to have that mindset. It’s risky, not only to the general public, but it’s risky to our profession, and to dogs in general. If we start adopting out lots of dangerous dogs, we’re in trouble, we’re going to be getting ourselves into trouble in the long run.
[00:56:03] Emily: I super agree with you, and I am happy to jump on that controversial bandwagon with you because the belief that the options are either if you don’t understand what’s wrong with the dog, kill it or save them all, and those are the only two options that is a false dichotomy, right? As you said, it is way more nuanced than that, and there are so many contributing factors. And I think a part of that too comes from specifically our culture, Western culture in general, our fear of an aversion to death and thinking that it is the worst possible outcome, that, that, death should be avoided at all costs, that’s not a healthy mindset. One of my favorite kind of mindset changing books that I ever read, “Stiff” by Mary Roach. She talks about our cultural perceptions of death compared to other cultures around the world and in history, and I feel like in order for people to be able to engage in a meaningful and productive way in the conversation about behavioral euthanasia, you should have to read that book, because in order to have that discussion, you have to first confront your own mindsets about your perceptions about death. And that’s really adult, I mean that we could just have a podcast episode about this topic.
[00:57:18] Mike: We totally could, and that’s such a, you know, it’s such an important point because it goes back to what we were talking about before is understanding that the human side of the equation here. That’s a really difficult conversation to have, especially if it’s your first time having it. So, I recommend again to all the trainers and consultants listening, practice that conversation ahead of time, know what you’re going to say, have some canned responses or at least some response ready to go.
So, it makes it a little less stressful for you, and a little more likely you’re going to communicate in the way you want to during that conversation. So, that’s should be part of our training as well, if we’re working cases where behavioral euthanasia might be the outcome of the case.
[00:57:55] Emily: For sure. We’re definitely on the same page about that, too. Of course, we shouldn’t just kill dogs because they’re exhibiting a behavior that we don’t understand or is scary. But also no, we can’t and shouldn’t save them all. So yeah, I definitely agree with that. All right, next question. What is one thing you’d love to see improved in your field?
[00:58:17] Mike: I would like to see that this is a big topic that we could have a podcast about this too, I would, I definitely want to see the industry move forward in terms of professionalism and what I mean by that is regulation and licensing, and just generally more professionalism and kindness to each other. What I’m worried about happening is the outside world, looking at the training industry, but like, “What is going on over there with those people? They are constantly fighting with each other, and they’re posting all these, these wild videos on TikTok and all of this sniping, and like, why would I hire any of these?” So, that’s the problem I’m seeing is that it’s degrading the professionalism quite a bit.
Especially right now with the way social media is. Now, I’m not saying social media is a bad thing. There’s obviously lots of benefits to spreading good information, but unfortunately, we’re seeing that other side of it. And it spreads very quickly, the information now, and it’s very easy to see something spread like wildfire and all of a sudden, that’s the impression. If you think about other professions in the world, and you think about some, were you thinking of them at a professional level? Do you see them on social media, fighting with each other?
Not much of the time with the exception of some doctors in the whole vaccine situation right now, A lot of professions, you don’t see architects yelling at each other. Now, if you think of some air quotes, sleazy, or like, you know, professions, you might be like, kind of think about in your mind, like, oh, you’re that, that’s going to happen to dog trainers.
That’s going to happen to dog trainers if we’re not careful. So, I’m hoping to see us move a little bit more towards, if we want to continue making a good living at this, and to ensure we are a respected profession, have to move in that direction.
[01:00:00] Emily: I agree. I think one of the things that needs to be included in this conversation about regulation and licensing, is a focus on not just getting, you know, a license or getting letters at the end of your name, but actually being able to demonstrate knowledge and competency. Because one of the reasons there’s all these vitriolic arguments is because we’re all running around with little pieces of information, and a whole lot of cultural fog or, misunderstandings or misconceptions of topics.
So, I think one of the like significant differences is that even when you do see from other fields, somebody write a scathing article, disagreeing with studies or a colleague or whatever they’re doing it in this very academic way. Like it is really about the content, right? It’s about, and they’re, and they’re citing their sources.
They’re saying, “I don’t agree with this person’s assertion, and here’s why citation, citation, citation, citation.” Right. Whereas in the dog training world, it’s every opinion is treated as being equal. With no accountability for where you got that information, or assessing the validity of information, because we haven’t been taught how to have that kind of critical thought in assessing how we know what we know.
And therefore, we have no accountability in our arguments. We can just say that’s a bunch of hooey because I don’t believe that because look at my, all of my experience and, all of my cognitive biases that back up this experience, right? Or my perception of the experience and what it means. And that I think changes, a lot. For an example, I, for a hot minute, I was actually a history major when I was still trying to figure out what I was doing with my life.
And like, historians are actually salty AF. Like they like get into some knock down drag outs, but they are always doing it in this context of, ” None of us can know what’s happened, what happened in the past, but here’s why I believe what I believe, here’s the evidence that I have to offer.”
Humans are going to fight, or humans are going to argue. I agree with you that we should do less of it. I agree with you that we should have more empathy and kindness towards each other, but there’s no getting around disagreements. Academia is full of disagreement, that’s the foundation of science, is that the conversation in which we hash out what the data says anyway. But what’s different about it is that we are accountable for the claims that we make, and that just gets rid of a lot of that toxic mudslinging that happens.
So, I would love to see not just licensing, but specifically you have to prove that you took the time to learn things well, and that you know how to apply that knowledge in a practical way in order to get this license.
[01:02:53] Mike: I 100% I agree. I can tell you a story too. I won’t mention their name, this person is in academia and this person jumped into some of the dog training conversations because some of the work that this person is doing is with, wild dogs, but also with pet dogs and some of the research they’re doing now. This person jumped into some of the Facebook conversations and was trying to have critical conversations using the type of dialogue that people in academia use as you were mentioning, backing things up, which is a different tone and a different style of conversation. After I saw it and I kept seeing it happen in different threads, and I’m like, “Oh boy, this is not going to last long.” And literally that person after a couple of weeks was just like, ” I’m done, I’m done. I’m done trying to convince dog trainers or otherwise or prove what I’m doing. Even though I’ve been researching this for many, many years.” And has all of the degrees, multiple degrees, this person has in ethology, and neuroscience, behavior.
What we also risk happening is that we, we need the academics. We can need them, the people doing the research, to feed us that information, that’s very important to the work we do. And the last thing we want to do is get them upset. And they’re like, “You know what, I’m not going to share this with them.” Or, “I’m not even going to discuss it with them because they’re just, you know, they’re just going to argue with these really strange points or just criticize in a certain way.”
So, we gotta be careful in our conversations, be respectful to those outside of our industry as well, because it’s a great way to tear down bridges when a lot of us are trying to build those bridges, so that we can keep getting that important information fed to us.
[01:04:31] Emily: Okay. All right. So, moving on to our next question, what do you love about what you do?
[01:04:36] Mike: I love helping the people see something different in their dogs. Because a lot of the times you go in there, and they’re feeling sometimes bad about their dog, what their dog did, or their relationship’s been fractured a little bit. So, one of my favorite things to see is when they are seeing something that they missed in their dog before, that they are able to appreciate now in their dog. Whether it’s a way of understanding the aggression issue or just helping to reestablish that relationship.
That for me is the most rewarding thing because, going way back to when I was fostering, a lot of these dogs were surrendered without much conversation about it and, um, sort of, sometimes their own misunderstandings about the behavior. And so, when I can help shift their thinking or their thought process around what’s happening, and then they decide to work and the dog and keep the dog and it all ends up working out well, in some cases, that for me is the most rewarding thing because now the dog is in the home, staying in the home and the quality of life is improving for both the human and the animal. So that’s, that’s what I love what I do.
[01:05:39] Emily: Love that. And I also agree with you. It is wonderful to see clients see their pets in a completely different light. Right. I love that. What are you currently working on? If people want to work more with or learn from you? How can they do that?
[01:05:55] Mike: I am working on the Aggression in Dogs Conference for 2022. It’s going to be in Providence, Rhode Island, September 30th through October 2nd. So, that’s my sort of major-ish project for right now. I’m also during The Bitey End of the Dog podcast series, I am recording quite a few episodes in March and April.
I’m happy to be bringing in some newer folks that are new to the podcast slash speaker circuit, so hopefully we hear some new ideas and some, different names, and also bringing in some familiar names as well. So, I would say that those are two of the major things I’m focusing on. I also am hoping, once travel picks up again, start doing a little filming of street dogs around the world showcasing what behavior’s like in other countries for dogs. So, those are kind of the three major things this year for me, other than some other, you know, travel and speaking gigs and things like that, a couple of conferences, interspersed hopefully if they happen, with everything going on. And if they want to find me, I think that was the other question, aggressive dog.com. Everything’s on there, the podcast, the conference, all the courses, webinars pretty much.
And I, and I just launched a, an article section where I have some guest writers coming in. I haven’t written anything yet myself because I hate writing. I have some great things about science on there from Dr. Lana Kaiser. I have articles on reactivity on leash and, safety and management and all of these are all different trainers that came in and wrote different articles. That’s a work in progress, but aggressive dog.com is the easiest way to find them.
[01:07:21] Emily: That is exciting. Well, I have to say, I know we both probably were coming into this expecting to talk more about, uh, enrichment and how it relates to aggression, and we did a little bit, but I have loved the bent, this conversation has taken towards focusing more on the human side of things and how meeting human needs helps us to more effectively meet animal needs.
So, I really appreciate you, being willing to go on that little kind of rabbit trail with me, and we may need to have you come back so we can talk about some of those topics in a little more detail. Thank you so much for joining us today. It was a pleasure to talk with you.
[01:07:59] Mike: Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.
[01:08:01] Allie: What did I tell you about Mike’s vision of empathy and the animal behavior consulting industry? I love this movement that we’re seeing develop, and I’m excited to see it continue to grow and excited that experts like Mike are spearheading this. Next week, we will be talking about what will you do if things go sideways.
Thank you for listening. You can find us at petharmonytraining.com 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.