[00:00:00] Kathy: Nothing spooky right after food. Being mindful of not putting food, peanut butter in the bathtub to get the dog to walk into get the bath. Yeah, I’m just going to go, we might create an aversion to peanut butter, some cases we might create an aversion to all novel foods.
[00:00:16] 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…
[00:00:35] Emily: …and I’m Emily Strong…
[00:00:36] 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 Kathy Sdao. Kathy Sdao is an applied animal behaviorist. She’s been a full-time animal trainer for 35 years, first with marine mammals, and now with dogs. At the University of Hawaii, she earned a master’s degree as part of a research team, which trained dolphins to understand sign language. She then worked for the United States Navy training dolphins for open ocean military tasks. Kathy also worked as a marine mammal trainer at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma, Washington. After leaving the zoo world, she co-created Tacoma’s first dog daycare. Kathy launched Bright Spot Dog Training in 1998. Services include consulting with families about their challenging dogs and mentoring professional trainers who want to maximize the power of positive reinforcement training.
Kathy is proud to be an original faculty member for Karen Pryor’s ClickerExpos. She’s taught at 41 of these popular conferences. Kathy has lectured at venues across the United States, Canada, and Europe, and in Australia, Israel, Japan, and Mexico. In 2012, she published her first book, Plenty in Life is Free Reflections on Dogs, Training and Finding Grace.
Food motivation is a term that comes up a lot when folks are talking about training their pets. And while all individuals are intrinsically motivated by food, because they have to eat to survive, it can get a little more complicated when we’re talking about the behavior of reliably eating. Which is usually what many folks are really referring to when talking about food motivation. And not reliably eating, can lead to some sticky situations.
In this episode, you’re going to hear Emily and Kathy talk about being a detective when your pet doesn’t eat, because it’s a behavioral emergency when they don’t. Why the back of your pet food bag, probably isn’t an accurate recommendation for how much food your pet should eat. And how you can create aversions to food, doing things that people very commonly do.
All right, here it is, today’s episode. Kathy Sdao Food Motivation Myths.
[00:02:57] Emily: All right, let’s get started. I’m gonna ask you to tell us your name, your pronouns, and your pets.
[00:03:03] Kathy: Kathy Sdao, she, her and my dog is Smudge, and Smudge is a seven-year-old, I don’t know, do we trust the DNA? We’ll call him a pointer, boxer, border collie rescue, who we’d all say as a catahoula leopard dog, if we were walking him on the street, but I adore him and he’s my only dog currently.
[00:03:29] Emily: I absolutely accept that as a label for your dog. That’s pretty cute. All right. So, tell us a little bit about your background, and how you got to where you are.
[00:03:42] Kathy: Yeah. It was a crazy serendipitous, convoluted route. So, the summary is I got, my undergraduate degree in Psychology, specializing in animal behavior, and then, weirdly started graduate school in organizational psychology a very long time ago. You may not have been born. It was a long time ago. And in a month decided organizational psychology was so boring. I couldn’t cope. Quit graduate school abruptly, got a job at the local mall, watched a TV program, there’s the serendipity. A Nova program on teaching sign language to dolphins. I was 25 years old, I lived in New York state, that program was in Hawaii. I decided I’d apply, got accepted, moved to Hawaii changed my entire life based on the fact that I thought that was the most fascinating thing ever.
So, got my master’s degree at the University of Hawaii, teaching sign language to bottle nose dolphins along with a big research crew there. And, subsequently got hired by the US Navy to do dolphin training in the open ocean, that was also in Hawaii. It was very expensive to live in Hawaii and all that was a kind of a dream job. Decided to move to the mainland, and there was a job opening in Tacoma, Washington at their zoo Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, for a marine mammal trainer. I had a pretty niche job, and so moved to Tacoma over 30 years ago now and fell in love with it, it’s a beautiful place. I am looking out my window right now at all my cherry trees in bloom.
They’re gorgeous. It’s spring here and worked at the zoo for many years with a whole lot of different Marine mammals, but after a while, decided that that was not the career I wanted for the rest of my life, and struck out and opened a dog daycare. I wanted to stay in Tacoma, but there weren’t any other jobs for marine mammal trainers in Tacoma.
Imagine that! it was only the zoo. And so, starting, doing dog training by opening a daycare, so that I could immerse myself in, you know, Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hour eyes, which I didn’t know at the time, but I knew I didn’t know enough about dogs. So, uh, owning a dog daycare will immerse you in that really quickly, lots, and lots, and lots, of dog behavior.
And that was almost 25 years ago. So, have been working right now, especially since the pandemic, as a behavior consultant with families and their dogs, who have behavior problems, especially aggression and anxiety. Before the pandemic, and maybe now, I don’t know, cross our fingers, will travel again to teach seminars and workshops to trainers and other dog advocates, on the science of training, which I love. So, used to do that pretty regularly before the pandemic, and may start up again.
So, I’ll give a shout out at the end of our conversation about upcoming in person gigs. I have on my schedule, which seems really weird, ‘cause it’s been a while. That’s my business, Bright Spot Dog Training is my business, and again, it’s mostly I’m consulting with families, about their dog behavior problems, and also traveling to teach.
[00:06:36] Emily: I love that. Yeah. I think we’re all easing our way back into in person interactions, so I can empathize with you there.
As you know, our podcast is focused on enrichment and all that that entails. And food is a big part of enrichment, a lot of species-typical behaviors are centered around food acquisition, foraging is a big part of an enrichment plan, and of course we also use food and training a whole lot. So, when people report that their pet doesn’t seem to be food motivated, that’s a big deal.
Since you offer some fabulous resources on food motivation, we wanted to chat with you about your take on this topic. To start off, can you give us a broad overview of what’s actually going on here when animals appear to be unmotivated by food? What are some of the common contributing factors here?
[00:07:23] Kathy: So, your question is so important to me, Emily, that it’s a topic I’m so passionate about, that I feel like I could just talk for a straight half hour on that big, broad question, so I’d rather, like let’s have a conversation about all the things that can be going on when you and I, and, and our colleagues who are listening, hear our clients and students say, “Oh, I’d love to do that positive reinforcement kind of training with my dog, but I can’t because my dog’s not food motivated.” So, for us, it’s foundational that it is a factor in people making choices about what tools they’re going to use, which parts of the operant conditioning quadrant, specifically to get geeky, they’re going to be drawing on to be able to do some training, especially with their pet dogs.
When my own clients say that to me, I consider it a behavioral emergency. When they say, “Ah, but my dog’s not food motivated.” It seems like a tangent, and to me, it’s absolutely the first step in creating a successful training plan for the dogs that I’m working with. Trying to be detectives about what might be going on is a big, broad, and important question, and Emily, one of the weird things that’s happened since the pandemic, it it’s changed all our lives in so many ways, and one that I wouldn’t have been able to predict is how often I’m doing consultations on Zoom. That’s a surprise to me, I like to be in the same room as my human and dog students typically.
But one of the topics that I’m doing a good number of zoom consultations on are colleagues, other dog training professionals, who are struggling with this issue, both with their own dogs, but with their own clients and students. So, I’ve been heartened in how much it’s resonating with colleagues as a topic that we need to be really thoughtful about, and that we can do something about.
So, the other good piece of it is I get to have feedback from each of these, you know, behavior is the study of one, there is no formula for how to resolve this. There are ideas I have, things we want to consider, and that’s what we’re going to talk about, but then I get to see, as clients are applying those suggestions, how they work or don’t work, and we can continue to customize the plans.
[00:09:35] Emily: I love that you pointed out that it’s a behavioral emergency, because I think for a lot of species, there are some legitimate reasons that it may be harder to figure out what this animal Is motivated by, or how to use food and training, but for dogs, particularly they, as a species are opportunistic scavengers.
So, when we see that a dog doesn’t appear to be food motivated, that to me is an indicator that they are not physically, behaviorally, or emotionally healthy, or some combination thereof, so we really do need to get in there whether or not somebody wants to use food in training, right? That’s still a sign that we need to explore, are there some physical, behavioral, or emotional health issues we to address, which is enrichment at its core, right? It’s not just an, a behavioral and emergency, it is a welfare indicator that there’s more to explore there, right?
[00:10:32] Kathy: Oh, so beautifully stated. Exactly that. Sometimes, when my clients will say, “Well that, you know, that really doesn’t matter.” I just did a consultation, for new client going to her apartment it. So, it’s fairly new for me to go into people’s homes to do consultations. I lost my consultation space recently, and so I’m going back to meeting new clients in their home on occasions when that’s a safe thing to do. And so, for this young Yorkie puppy, the food bowl was full, I could see when I walked in, the food bowl was full, and already, that gives me a lot of information. We can, we can talk more about that as we’re going, but when I said to the client, “Huh, little concerned, that your dog might not be a reliable eater.” She said, “Why would I care about that?” And it’s interesting to me who was for many years, a staff biologist at a zoo, for many species, the only indication you have that they’re not feeling well is they refuse food. So, if that becomes a daily baseline for you, your dog often refuses food, I just don’t know how you know, when they’re not feeling well, we are missing a huge physical welfare indicator. So, I’m so glad you brought that up. It’s crucial information.
[00:11:43] Emily: I, uh, spent 23 years and the veterinary world before I moved to behavior consulting and absolutely, inappetence is one of the first symptoms of many, many, many, many diseases. And so that’s always the conversation I have with clients as well. If your dog is chronically inappetent, then there’s a risk of a disease progressing past the point of being able to treat that because you don’t recognize that because your dog is just kind of always inappentent. So, first things first, we have to rule out a medical cause, right? I think that’s the first step in solving this problem.
[00:12:20] Kathy: Absolutely, and you know what you just said reminded me, I’m not making this up, it sounds like I’m exaggerating, but my own dog Smudge, a seven year old medium-sized mixed breed, a couple of days ago on our walk, I handed him a piece of the treats I often use on our, our walks together and his latency to eat, it was about, I’d say five to seven seconds. And I got home and called the vet. That’s how much his baseline eating is: offered food, eats immediately upon release if he’s on a down stay, if he’s not on a down stay, I mean, eats right away. Zero latency. That brief a latency to me, indicator something is actually not right for him physically.
So, on that tiny little bit of information, I can call the vet and hopefully get in front of any kind of sickness really early. And I know for some of my clients, they’re like, “How long do I wait for them to eat?” How long do you wait for him to respond to any other cue?
Offering food is a cue to do a behavior. And we don’t normally wait more than about five seconds. So, do you understand what I’m saying to be able to go, that is actually great information for your veterinary staff. Yeah. Thanks for that perspective.
[00:13:27] Emily: Yes, absolutely. And I think the other thing that happens too is even, even when it’s not a physical health issue, I think in general, our culture stigmatizes mental health issues and downplays them. And that’s even more true for non-humans than it is for humans. So, even if the animal is physically healthy, we still have to acknowledge that this inappetence, especially in an opportunistic scavenger species, where they, as a species eat, whatever they can, whenever they can. That can be an indicator of a behavioral, or emotional health issue, which is a whole other can of worms, right?
[00:14:02] Kathy: That’s exactly right. And don’t you find that the explanatory fictions that pop up about that breed, not being a strong eater or, and, and especially if you’ve worked with a lot of species, you’re like, “Huh? Come again?” What do we, what, what is the actually that well-intentioned excuse compensating for? It’s compensating sometimes for us having heartbreak, when we admit our dog is really too uncomfortable right now, behaviorally, mentally, emotionally to be able to eat, they’re not in a great brain state to be able to eat. And that is a much more complicated answer than, “Oh, this breed tends to be finicky.”
[00:14:43] Emily: What’s interesting to me about the conversations around breed, I think is, is, is true for anything, when we don’t have a deep understanding of a topic, we tend to oversimplify things, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of, that’s a very human trait, right? But I think what happens with these conversations around breed is that people are recognizing an experience that is valid, or a pattern that they’re seeing within a breed that is valid, but they’re misattributing the cause to say, “Oh, this is a genetic thing.” So, for example, if we say that, Pomeranians are finicky, it’s a finicky breed, the kernel of truth in that is that Pomeranians might be more prone to anxiety disorders. And so, because they’re prone to anxiety disorders, that frequently impact their ability to eat because they’re kind of existing under this chronic stress. We still have to treat that, right? One of the things that I learned from my time in the veterinary world is we have to differentiate between common and normal, just because it’s common for a Pomeranian to be so anxious they don’t want to eat, does not mean that that’s healthy, normal, and we still have to treat that for what it is.
[00:15:48] Kathy: Wait a minute, how am I this far into my career, 40 years in, and I’ve never heard common versus normal? That’s fantastic. Where did I miss that little nugget of wisdom? Oh, I am so stealing that and I’m going to give you credit for it. That’s lovely, because exactly right. That those are very different statements.
[00:16:12] Emily: So, without giving us your entire webinar, which I would love for you at the end of the episode, to tell people where they can access these webinars that you offer, but without giving away the whole webinar, talk to us about some of the different aspects of behavioral or emotional health that may be the culprits for some of this finickiness that people perceive in their pets.
[00:16:33] Kathy: So, I’d love to even operationalize a little bit like what we’re talking about when we say, and again, it’s sort of a cliche phrase. It’s often stated, at least when I hear it, “My dog isn’t food motivated.” That’s actually a weird phrase, right? Food motivated. And so when we dive down a little to go, what does that actually look like?
To me, there’s two kinds of contexts. It could be finicky about mealtime, and finicky about food offered as treats outside of mealtime. Now, we know that’s a continuum there there’s no like dividing line between what is a meal in a bowl, and what are treats offered in a more training context. They sort of overlap a bit, but those seem to be two different contexts that humans offer food.
And when I say not food motivated, I’m looking at, I already mentioned the latency to eat. Dog has offered food, released to eat it, how long does it take them to start chewing, you know, picking up food in their mouth, chewing and swallowing? How often do they snub food? Is this a occasional thing? I’m working with a lovely client right now, remotely it’s beautiful a Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever, who has a weird occasional inappetence.
So, we’ve been doing some really great sort of data collection. He’s a scientist, so we’ve got these cool graphs, and all this data he’s collecting. It’s given me life, right? So, we’re still varying some of the sort of environmental variables before we doubled down on going back to the vet, the dog has had a medical checkup, and seems fine, but something else is going on.
So, it’s this occasional, not very often, but when the dog doesn’t eat, the dog doesn’t eat at all. So, we’re, we’re being good detectives about what that might be. But I also have as a criterion, once the dog starts eating, do they continue eating? How long does it take them to say yes to eating? How often do they completely snub a meal or a treat, say, no, I can’t eat that at all?
Once they start eating, do they continue to eat? Do they go all the way through the meal basically, and get to the very end? So, looking at that allows us to kind of say, what is it that we want to improve? When we say my dog isn’t food motivated, and Emily is as you and I are coming at it from a training perspective.
My quick answer to folks, as I’m trying to be pithy, especially when I’m meeting a new client, I don’t want to go into all the words I’m using here. I will simply say to them “yet.” So, they will say, “Ah, but my dog is not food motivated.” And I just say “Yet.” Which goes, there’s learning involved in this behavior, and I want to look at eating as the initial behavior, we want to increase the frequency of. Basically, we would go eating is the first operant, we’re going to work on to get it to be more likely right? And more sort of reliable using consequences, which is what we do as trainers all the time for other behaviors. So, the little bit of a perspective shift is simply to go, it is actually the behavior of eating that we want to improve before we go on to improve other behaviors where we might be using the food as the consequence, as the positive reinforcer.
[00:19:44] Emily: Operant behaviors are behaviors that are elicited by a stimuli in the environment called antecedents and are affected by other stimuli in the environment called consequences. You can think of opera behaviors as actions.
I absolutely love how you frame that for clients, that you’re saying they don’t eat readily yet because it validates their experience, you’re not arguing with them. You’re not saying like, “Nah-uh your dog should be a good eater.” You’re saying your experience is valid, and it is an experience that we can change.
There’s something we can do about this, we’re not powerless in this state of your dog, not being food motivated. That’s something I’m going to steal from you.
[00:20:30] Kathy: Good. We can inform each other’s, you know what I’ve realized again, in I’m doing, individual consultations with clients over the past couple of years, pretty heavily on this topic, is one of the topics that I cover. One of the things that’s become apparent to me in a way I couldn’t have verbalized before, is how much grief is involved in watching a dog not eat. Because for most of us, we’re old enough to have had to suffer through a dog dying, and often that dying process includes inappetence. And so even if we can’t state it, it’s crushing to see a dog, not eat for many of us, because it brings up all kinds of anticipatory grief for the current dog that isn’t eating. It’s actually painful.
So, to not only not argue with what your experience is, but to have great big open hearts of compassion to go, it is hard to watch a dog not eat, because some of the interventions we want to do some of the environmental shifts we want to do involve being really thoughtful about how we offer food.
And sometimes this is hard for the humans, and I used to go like, why is this so difficult for the human to change their behavior around this? Oh, because you’re actually picking up a full bowl of food when your dog says, “Yeah. I’m not hungry right now.” Is really painful for the human. So, it’s been helpful to go, I think we have authentic grief around this sometimes, and to minimize this as a “Eh, he’ll eat eventually, no dog starves themselves. Just to have some tough love around it.” That to me feels a little harsh for folks who are doing the best they can, loving that current dog, and suffering when they turn away from food, because they’re predicting this dog might actually be sick. And gosh, this might be more than just sick.
[00:22:17] Emily: And I think another thing that happens, or at least in my experience with clients, I see also a feeling of hurt or betrayal, like culturally, they come from a place where food is love, and so when the dog doesn’t accept that offering of love, it feels like a break in the relationship, like why doesn’t my dog except these, my love language, right? On the opposite end of that spectrum, I also see clients who have a lot of anxiety around food for themselves, so then, they almost need their dog to not be food motivated because that’s how they relate to food, and so this idea of like, trying to make their dog eat food kind of brings up a lot of stuff from their own life. So much of this conversation around food with clients, I love how sensitive you are to the client experience, and what they’re bringing to the table, because it’s not just about the dog, right? It’s also about the human experience, and their background, and their traumas that is informing how they perceive their dog’s relationship to food.
[00:23:23] Kathy: Oh, my gosh, this conversation Emily is giving me life. Both of those insights are fabulous. My Italian grandmother concurs completely with food as the language of love and there is no possibility there isn’t a huge rift in the relationship, if you would turn down, right any of, I’m sorry, I’m going to, I don’t want to breed stereotype, I also don’t want to sort of racial stereotype, or heritage, but my Italian relatives you eat. Right? I mean, you eat or else you got big problems. Also, that whole idea of our own relationships with food and how really complex human relationships with food are. We could go down a really big rabbit hole. Years ago, a friend gave me a book called, ” Women, Food, and God,” and I thought, “Why? I don’t actually have a problem with food. Like, it’s one of the few sort of things I don’t have a problem with!” And the book, I’m pretty sure it was a book by Geneen Roth was fabulous, because it brought home for me, like your relationship with food touches everything, including your spirituality, and like, wait, what, we’re just talking about an operant behavior of eating, aren’t we?
I love that you’re alluding to, “No, there’s lots of layers to this and it’s a rich conversation.”
[00:24:38] Emily: I think that’s definitely a part of this approach of helping people to troubleshoot, why their dog doesn’t seem to be food motivated, is also troubleshooting where the client is at in terms of their perception, their emotions, their core beliefs around food, all of that stuff, can be a huge component of that.
[00:24:57] Kathy: Can I just tell you really quickly a case study, it just very quickly, and it hits on what you’ve just said. It’s actually, if you asked me like my top five, most, you could either say memorable or really end of the bell curve consultations I’ve done, like really unusual was a client who came to see me.
This is more than five years ago now with a little dog, who wasn’t eating, and in doing the interview with her, I still remember the dog’s name, Frankie, the little schnauzer mix. The conversation with the client was so unbelievable in terms of the function that the dog’s inappetence was serving in her own behavioral and mental health issues.
It was astonishing to me, her feeding rituals took three to four hours a day for this little dog. And we’re very ritualistic. It had six steps to it, as I’m talking to her, I’m like, “Yay. I can actually help you. I’m so, oh, I’m so confident I can help you. I don’t even need to hear your whole current ritual.”
She couldn’t do it. She couldn’t do the thing I was suggesting. It was really not going to work for her to solve this problem. So, at the time I didn’t have words to be able to go, “Let me move a little slower with you. This is really threatening.” But it gave me some insight into that three to four hours she was spending, trying to coax her dog to eat, who by the way was two pounds overweight, that whole, great ritualistic feeding program she developed was serving in an avoidance function in her own life for some other issues. And so, I didn’t realize that at the time, I’m just like, “Yay, I’ve got the answer for you!”
And she could do it for a very short term, and then she couldn’t do it. And so, we’re looking at an issue that, you’re having so much wisdom into how complicated it can be. And we as behavioral professionals go, ” Let me make some suggestions to give you ideas on how you might accidentally be reinforcing inappetence.” Right? Which is where we’re actually going with this, is actually we’ve trained them not to eat well.
[00:26:59] Emily: That recognition of, “Oh, we need to stay in our lane.” Like, this is actually something where I need to refer you to a therapist, because this relationship that you have with your dog, you need help that I can’t provide because there’s some human aspects of it that I’m not qualified to give you help with.
But the other thing that you brought up that I loved is that the dog was actually two pounds overweight, right? So, that’s one of the first things I look at. If somebody tells me their dog, isn’t food motivated, I look at the dog’s body condition score, and if the dog is, you know, within a normal, healthy weight range or even overweight, my question to them is what do you mean when you say your dog isn’t food motivated?
Because I can see that your dog is getting a sufficient number of calories every day, so where’s that perception. And a lot of times it’s something as simple as the back of the dog food bag says that my dog should be eating two cups twice a day or whatever. Right?
[00:27:54] Kathy: Absolutely. In fact, I would say that question about what your dog’s ideal weight has to go into our training plan. And I’m going to tell you very few of my clients have ever had this conversation with their veterinarian. I have lots of veterinarians who are friends of mine, and I will say, “Oh, your dog’s carrying some extra pounds.”
The veterinarian whom I adore has said that the dog’s weight is fine. And so, we get into the conversation about what does actually fine mean? No, we want ideal weight. Let’s have that conversation with your veterinarian because to me, ideal weight is going to be leaner than you would expect, and it absolutely rarely follows the instructions on the back of whatever bag of food or box of food you’re feeding. That’s not how to make our decision.
And so that conversation, that motivating operation of how much extra weight is your dog carrying is a huge factor in being successful in this. It’s the question I first asked when people send me an email and go, “Hey, I heard your webinar about food motivation, and I’d like to talk to you specifically about my case. Can we do that?” That’s how I’m getting these zoom consultations. My first question is going to be, tell me about your dog’s current weight, and your dog’s ideal weight, and weirdly that’s often not been a consideration. It is much more, they’re not eating as much as the bag says they should. Huh? Different question.
[00:29:18] Emily: Motivating operations impact how effective a consequence is going to be in a specific context or situation. They can make a consequence more or less motivating for the learner. They’re also called four term contingencies because there are four components to this type of learning, the motivation, the antecedent, the behavior, and the consequence.
Yeah, maybe it was 2006 or 2007, I was still a vet tech, but I was already sort of moving into the behavior world at the time, a study came out, showing that, I can’t remember the exact percentage now, so I don’t even want to quote, but a very high percentage, something like three quarters of veterinarians and veterinary staff, can’t actually accurately identify a body condition score for dogs and cats in the United States, because we’re so used to seeing overweight pets that we’ve kind of skewed up to where we think that that is a normal. So we’re back to the common versus normal. Right? So, I think that’s, it’s funny that you brought that up because that, when I read that study and I was still a vet tech that kind of blew my mind, I was like, “Oh, wow. Our perception of what is normal has been skewed.” And part of it is because those dog food companies based their daily caloric recommendations on working, breeding animals, in other words, the ones who are using the max amount of energy, and that’s does not describe most of our pets. Right?
[00:30:45] Kathy: Absolutely. When I used to travel to Europe to teach, and hopefully will again, the very first time I ever went, this was in, I think Norway is the first country. I didn’t know what was happening. I’m like, where are all your normal weight dogs? Like seriously walk in the streets. And then it was like European country after European country. Oh my gosh. It was such a shock for me to see that average dogs on the street were what I would have called skinny. No. Oh my gosh. The flip side, all my European friends who visit us, I’m like, oh, you don’t even book. Yeah. How to, how to accurately judge what the ideal weight is.
[00:31:26] Emily: And the, and the mantra is underweight is under muscled, right? So, people try to make a decision based on, can I see the ribs? Oh, I can see my dog’s ribs, they must be underweight or, or, oh, I can see my dogs, you know, pelvic bones, they must be underweight. It’s actually underweight is under muscled. If your dog is well muscled, it’s okay to see a little rib, a little spine. That’s, that’s, that’s actually a healthy, normal weight for dogs.
[00:31:51] Kathy: a client, a long-term client, who’s always had beagles, and she’s lovely. She has got a beagle now who’s maybe about a year and a half, and so when I went to visit them this last time, she said to me, “Oh my gosh, everyone is giving me grief about this dog’s weight.” I’m like, “Oh my gosh, it’s the most beautiful beagle I’ve ever seen. Like, no, no, hold the course. It’s oh my gosh.” But when you actually are like doing that really thoughtfully, she’s getting grief from her family, from her friends, from people passing by.
[00:32:19] Emily: I had a client who, when I was still doing service dog training, I had a client, who lived in a condo and she was reported to animal control because, several people in her condo thought that she was starving her service dog. And I had fortunately had a good relationship with the municipal shelter where she got reported to it.
And I had to have a conversation with the ACO about underweight is under muscled, and that we have to keep this dog lean because she’s a weight support dog, and we have to reduce pressure on her joints. And fortunately, everything worked out well for her, but for a disabled woman to go through that stress of being reported to animal control, being accused of abuse, and starving her dog, when it’s just that people in this country can’t recognize what a healthy weight is, to me, that was a huge eye-opener.
[00:33:04] Kathy: I will tell you when I had my previous dog Effie, who looked like a Fox hound mix, she was 60-ish pound dog. The difference in her food motivation when she was 63 pounds and she looked fine, nobody would think she was overweight and 60 pounds really an ideal weight was astronomical. Those couple of pounds on that dog made a real difference, and people will go, I have had clients now that I’m consulting with go, “Oh, I really don’t feel good about starving the dog.”
I, nowhere near this is not a food deprivation solution at all. And Effie was in no way serving, but the difference in her sort of willingness to do learning for food was really intensely different based on those couple of pounds. So, when you and I are having this conversation about ideal weight, it’s not just an interesting cultural phenomenon in the United States.
We’re having a conversation about, it feeds back into the loop of, it will change your training. And people only come to see me about training, unfortunately, when they’re, I’m one of the last resorts like training, maybe lifesaving at the point, I’m working with clients. It doesn’t matter. All training is important.
I’m not saying that special, but in the cases here where I want to go, we want to be super efficient in our behavior modification plan. You’re making a big decision based on whether we have success or not. That food motivation makes a difference in how efficient we can be.
[00:34:27] Emily: Absolutely. I loved that you brought that up, that it’s not food deprivation, but when you just let an animal go through the normal hunger cycle that they would go through, it is a game changer, right? Because as we know, fullness, the experience of being full is an abolishing operation for the behavior of eating as it should be. Is your dog not food motivated because your dog is full all the time is, is that the actual issue that we’re dealing with here?
Abolishing operations are motivating operations that decrease the effectiveness of a consequence. For example, being full acts as an abolishing operation for food as a consequence because food isn’t as effective as a consequence if the learner is full. This is contrasted against establishing operations, which increase the effectiveness of a consequence. So, to continue our example, hunger is an establishing operation for food as a consequence because hunger can make food more effective as a consequence.
[00:35:31] Kathy: I loved the way that you just said that, so that idea, that dogs would experience some hunger, that’s a good thing. Not food deprivation, not that. And, and you know what? I went to graduate school long enough ago in animal behavior, food deprivation was a thing like people would be worried about that for really valid reasons, if you’re going to the original research, and looking at those lab rats at 80% of their, like, I get it, I get where the fear comes from. But that’s what we’re talking about. We’re talking about normal hunger, which is a need that animal has to fulfill, which is what training is based on. Training is fulfilling the needs of your learning partner.
That’s a good thing to have needs. So weirdly, you know what I’m saying? When we go now everything is available to you all the time, the constantly full food bowl, which I’m seeing in this young Yorkie, that actually to me, is a real problem. And I get why people get to free feeding, because the dog’s finicky, they want to maximize the opportunities to eat, but it doesn’t actually work that way.
[00:36:33] Emily: Yeah. It’s, it’s counterintuitive, I think, but by letting them have actual mealtimes, whether that’s coming out of a bowl, or a food puzzle, or training session, however it’s happening, letting them have food mealtimes is actually more species-typical, than a constant, unending supply of food. That that’s not realistic for their environment at all. Really, for almost any animal, except maybe, you know, grazers who have just an unlimited supply of grass.
[00:37:04] Kathy: And sometimes in order to be pithy, I will say trying to be kind, “Gosh, dogs are grazers.” This little Yorkie puppy was picking up a kibble or two occasionally, carrying it to the other room, batting around with its paws. Like when, when kibbles become toys like already, you’re like, yeah, that’s, that’s not, that’s now we’d like food puzzles when we set them up that way. But when the actual full bowl of food becomes interesting, because I can bat it around, yeah, that’s not normal eating behavior for a dog.
[00:37:35] Emily: We’ve discussed, the fact that it might be a physical health issue, and the fact that it may be some emotional or behavioral health issue, and we’ve talked about the fact that, actually the dog may be perfectly food motivated, we’ve just maybe fed them a little too much.
What about the times where, well, I’ll just share my experience and ask you if this is something that you see too? I recently moved from a state where there’s a lot of this use of food and like a reward, the good punish, the bad type of way. And so, as a result, I got a lot of clients where the dog would eat out of a bowl, just fine, but really avoidant of food around hands because of that negative conditioned emotional response, if food is being used in training, that also means shock, or shaker cans, or leash corrections, whatever. How do you talk to clients when you encounter that, or first of all, I guess, do you encounter that, when and if you do, how do you talk to them about that?
Conditioned emotional responses are emotional responses that result from classical conditioning. Classical conditioning is a type of learning where one stimulus becomes associated with or connected to another, by being paired close together in time. It is response independent learning because the learner can make these associations without responding or acting in any way. It is also called two term contingencies because there are two components to this type of learning, the neutral stimulus, and the stimulus that already carries meaning for the learner. Classical conditioning is also referred to as respondent conditioning or Pavlovian conditioning.
[00:39:19] Kathy: I encounter this every day of my life with clients, with colleagues, with people I’m just watching on the street, at the vet clinic, because I think it takes a sensitivity to what you just said, how associative learning, how classical conditioning is happening all the time, being efficient learners, we humans, dogs, mammals probably beyond mammals, let’s just keep it to mammals for now, are constantly trying to anticipate what’s going to happen next. It’s one of the main ways we learn. And so, this very pervasive problem of, and you said it so insightfully, Emily, it is literally the context of food in a human’s hands, specifically a treat held between thumb and forefinger.
Right? So, so food, especially for some dogs, interesting smelly food, because that interesting smelly food has been using the antecedent position as a lure, and it’s been followed by something the dog finds aversive. So, the food has been used to do some quote efficient training, to get the dog to do something, and there’s an icky thing following. Now, this has many iterations. You said, gosh, there are training interventions, environmental changes, consequences that are happening in a flow, and if you are a balanced trainer, who’s using all the quadrants of the operant conditioning grid, both punishers and reinforcers, and you’re using them in real time flow, it actually means that some of your food is going to be followed by something aversive because you’re using aversive of training tools, but that doesn’t even have to be the case. You can totally not be a trainer who embraces punishment techniques, and this backward counter conditioning, this inadvertent poisoning of the food. And by poisoning, you can’t see me, but I’m doing air quotes, because in this context, we mean poisoning in the learning sense, there has been an unintended associative learning that’s happened.
[00:41:27] Emily: Counter conditioning is a procedure in which a stimulus is paired closely in time with another stimulus in order to change the way the learner feels about it.
A poisoned cue happens when a learner associates, a cue, which is a kind of antecedent, with something aversive and is therefore less likely to perform the behavior in the future.
[00:41:47] Kathy: So, one that happens, I’ve got lists, but here’s one that happens all the time. You have a shy dog, and so you hand out treats to strangers, and you say, ” Can you actually give my dog some food?”
And so, first off, I’d like to just go let the shy dog have time and space to approach at their own pace, that’s going to be, to me a way better learning experience. You won’t get as much done in a unit of time, but the dog has consent in being able to approach, but you’re, you’re wanting to, quote, socialize, close quote, um, the dog to stranger.
So, you hand out straight to a stranger, and let’s say you gave that stranger three treats, and the stranger squats down and gives you a shy dog, coaxes them over to come close and eat the 1, 2, 3 treats. Let’s say the dog even eats them. The vast majority of humans, at least that I see when the treats are gone, begin being handsy, being primates, our hands now are going to touch that dog. So, what the dog has experienced is reluctant approach to go get some food, ate, got punished for eating by intrusion of a stranger who leans over and pats their head. How long does it take to go? Yeah. I’m not actually going to approach food for the next stranger that offers it.
Do we then diagnose that situation as, oh, I think there was an unintended aversive that followed the last iteration of food in a stranger’s hand? Right. We go, oh my gosh, look how look, how shy look, how oh, dog doesn’t even like food. Dog doesn’t like food now. Right, that food avoidance is a functional behavior to go, I learned that another shoe drops after being presented with food. So, I’ve kind of gotten a reputation for, nothing spooky after food. Nothing spooky right after food. I much rather not use food with my own dog Smudge in a veterinary setting, if we have to get something done in the veterinary clinic with my veterinarian, who’s my dear friend, and if it’s a procedure Smudge, isn’t currently trained in cooperative care to do fully consent, we got to get something done, get it done, efficiently, low stress handling, do your best, even if it involves restraint and Smudge saying, “I don’t consent”, we’re going to do it fast and efficiently. Food can come after that.
So, it’s not the idea of, we don’t bring food into veterinary exam rooms. Not at all. Goodness gracious. Being mindful of not putting food, peanut butter in the bathtub to get the dog to walk into get the bath. Yeah, I’m just going to go, we might create an aversion to peanut butter, some cases we might create an aversion to all novel foods.
It’s the sequence of food followed by something the dog would behave to escape. It doesn’t have to be egregiously awful. It doesn’t have to be just shock, which tends to be my extreme version of not going there. Yet don’t go anywhere where the dog would go, I wouldn’t choose that after using food. And the reason I’m being so careful about that is I use a lot of food in training, it’s really important to me. So, if you wreck that, if you poison food, it really limits my efficacy as a trainer. I have other positive reinforcers, I do, but they’re not as efficient in training as willing, trusting acceptance of food. It makes a big difference.
[00:45:09] Emily: Yeah, Allie and I are over here, vigorously nodding our heads because we both, we met working at a sanctuary together where there were a lot of feral dogs, puppy mill dogs, hoarding case dogs, all super shy, and we saw that over, and over, and over again, where some backwards conditioning would happen, where the food would predict the scary thing instead of the other way around. And a lot of our work was focused on teaching people how to get their chronology right, so that the best thing was happening at the end. So, all the icky stuff per predicts, the awesome stuff, instead of ruining our food, by having the food predict the icky stuff. So, that’s where over here, like grinning and nodding, because we, we are definitely, onboard with, with everything that you were just saying about that.
[00:45:55] Kathy: And Emily, I feel like for non-training geeks, like, you know, I’m going to say I’m a training geek, I feel like I’m, you know, on a conversation with the train at geek, which is a good thing, but I’m saying like you’re sort of middle of the bell curve person, I feel like it, it seems like we’re splitting hairs. And we’re so not that order of events, the chronology, you just said is so meaningful that there’s no way to undo that. Like that matters in a foundational way, like gravity matters. So, you can go, “Yeah, I don’t really believe in gravity.” Gravity doesn’t care. It still keeps doing its thing. So, this order of events, this predictive learning, happens all the time, it’s so much a part of our learning heritage. We have evolved to be efficient learners, getting the order of events right, in something like a counter conditioning procedure. You’re going to go out, and you’re going to use food for your dog who lunches and barks at other dogs on walks. And you go, I’m going to use food in that context. Excellent. How many of our clients are using food when the human notices an approaching dog, they start to feed that is not going to do the work we needed to do. We actually need the dog to perceive the trigger. And that makes no intuitive sense to folks. They’re like, it’s all just food. Oh no, it’s not. No, it’s not.
[00:47:17] Emily: Absolutely. So, how do you help clients when they’ve ended up in that situation with all the best intentions, they have a dog who’s food avoidant, because they’ve had this learning history, how do you help clients through that process?
[00:47:32] Kathy: Me as a psychologist, we changed the environment, right? So, we’re the folks that go, I still remember, I tell this story a lot, but it’s so, uh, I’ve been blessed to be part of every ClickerExpo from the very beginning, so let’s see, I think we’re coming up on our 20 year anniversary. I’ve taught at 44 ClickerExpos, and this is amazing, right? Not that they get to teach, that I get to learn from the other faculty because those are some really awesome teachers, right? So, over the years, so much learning from Dr. Jesús Rosales-Ruiz, who is pithy, and funny, and genius.
And so, we’re sitting at a faculty meeting once for ClickerExpo, we’re doing some planning, and I use the phrase behavior modification, and he gives me sort of stink eye down the table, and later I’m like, “What are you giving me grief about?” He said, “Oh, behavior modification. We don’t do that. We do environment modification.”
I’m like, “Oh, God, I can’t stand you.” Of course, that’s true, because I know, right? Like, we change antecedents, we change consequences, we change context, right? Of course, we do. So, every time I say behavior modification, which is like the common English phrase, which like the rest of normal people use it. I hear, Jesus in my head with his accent going, “No, that’s wrong.”
The sort of, big bucket answer is, we change antecedents, and we change consequences. Let’s just talk about mealtimes first, ‘cause I think these are kind of two related problems, but a little separate. So, often the context that people are contacting me about is the dog is not eating meals.
[00:49:04] Emily: Antecedent are the stimuli in the environment, which signal that a specific behavior is likely to result in a specific consequence. They set the stage for an operant behavior to occur.
Consequences are the stimuli in the environment that happen in response to an operant behavior and make that behavior more or less likely to occur in the future, in the context of the antecedent which elicited the behavior.
[00:49:32] Kathy: It begs the question of how many times a day should a dog eat, and what does an actual meal look like? But let’s just use sort of the common, who I’m not going to say common and normal as synonyms anymore. The common iteration of 2 meals a day, in a bowl, in the kitchen. What’s often happened is, I think that clients have inadvertently trained all that particular meal prep to be a cue for don’t eat, right? So, I’m very much about teaching animals to respond to cues in the context outside of eating, but when you look at eating as an on-cue behavior, we’d actually say you have actually a poison cure right now. It’s very much like a client coming in saying, my dog won’t come when he’s called, pretty sure we’re going to use a different word or a different gesture than you’ve been using.
It’s just a mess. The word “come.” That is not a reliable predictor of positive reinforcement. That’s what a cue is. So, we’re going to change the cue, which for my clients means, how are we going to do mealtimes differently. And I sometimes feel like I’m playing a game of Clue, like currently it’s Colonel Mustard, in the Conservatory, with a pipe. Like, okay, we’re changing all of that.
So, we’re not using that bowl, and we’re not feeding at that time of day, and if there’s another human, it’s another human feeding, and we’re maybe scattering it on the ground, and it’s a much smaller meal. We’re going to change what mealtimes look like to be such a blank slate that I want to get the dog to say yes.
So, my criterion is, what can you feed, where, when, and how that you would bet me a hundred dollars a dog will say yes? Because what we’re actually trying to do, is teach a behavior with the cue already present. We’re using the context as the cue. So, we don’t want to get no’s. We never in clicker training or marker-based training, give a cue with our fingers crossed.
We don’t give cues if we think, oh, 50-50 chance that dog will do it. Because when the duck doesn’t do it, our only recourse, being folks that don’t use punishment or don’t intentionally use punishment very often, let’s be more specific is no reinforcement happens. Well, that’s not great. We really want, when we give a cue to have set up the situation, the dog is super likely to say yes. So, we have to start there.
So, what it often means is mealtimes don’t at all fit the human’s definition of mealtimes. The good news recently has been so many folks have been home during the pandemic that we don’t have to do twice a day meals, before I leave for an 8, 9, 10 hour day of work, and when I come home, that’s all I’ve got with the dog someone’s at home.
So, we’ve been able to do 10, not even meals a day, feeding trials a day, because all we’re doing is keeping score. How many times did the dog say yes? What is saying yes mean? Well, let’s talk to you about what your criteria is, for me it would be you put the bowl down, go release or eat or nothing, you just put the bowl down and the dog is in the bowl eating, immediately finishing what you put in. Only of what you put in possibly is three little pieces of meatloaf, one strip of squeeze cheese, one bit of whipped cream, I have a client using now. Are we going to stay at this shaping approximation, cause the dog can’t eat whipped cream, Kathy? I know, but shaping always starts almost always at a ridiculous little sliver of behavior, right?
Shaping doesn’t start at a productive thing. The dog leans one inch toward the dog bed and we click and treat it. And people are like, what the heck? What did you do? There wasn’t even movement. What are you clicking? Tiny little movements in the direction of the big behavior I’m building through shaping, shaping is awesome.
Can we shape eating? Yeah, but it’s going to start in a place that you don’t recognize. So, clients are like, wait, wait, wait. That’s not the healthy food. That’s not enough food. That’s not where I want to end up feeding him. I know, I know. We’ve got to start somewhere where the dog says yes. So, all those variables, Emily matter where, in what container, who’s feeding, what time of day, what’s in the bowl.
We’ve got a lot of things we can shift to get behavioral momentum on saying yes to eating. I realize we’re not going to start in the completely healthful space. Yes, let’s have a conversation with the veterinarian, if it feels like we’re skewing the food too far away from healthy, there are certainly foods we would not feed, they are just toxic for dogs. I get that. But we are also probably going to expand the definition of what is a healthy food, because for some of my clients, healthy food is the kibble the breeder said to feed for the rest of the dog’s life. Certainly, there are prescription kibbles that we’re going to have conversation with, with veterinarians about limited food.
This is probably beyond the scope of our conversation, I am saying I find people being very narrow in their definition of what their dog can eat, in a way that is life-threatening because they’re never going to get reliable eating. We’re shaping. We’re not caving, and going, I’m feeding you cake every day to the toddler child.
We’re saying I’m going to start with something palatable full enough and novel enough that you’re going to say yes, that we’re going to get that ball rolling. There’s other ways to do that, but to me, that’s the most, fruitful conversation to have with people of, which of those variables can you shift and which of them can’t you shift?
[00:54:59] Emily: Shaping is a procedure in which a learner is taught a new skill in successive approximations. We start by reinforcing the behavior that the learner can do, which most closely resembles the goal behavior. Then reinforcing increased accuracy over time until the learner is able to proficiently perform the goal behavior.
I think that you’re right, that’s a whole can of worms, but I think it is important to, to kind of point out the clients that kibble has only existed for about a hundred years. What do you think dogs ate before kibble existed? It’s not human food. It’s just food, right? And it’s okay for them to eat food.
[00:55:35] Kathy: This conversation is so thorny to be able to stay honest about the conversation about healthful feeding dogs. It’s political, it’s controversial, it’s commercial, there’s so many levels. And I’m going to say to my clients, I want you to be really curious about this topic forever. It’s a topic you can just keep learning about for your whole life.
We’re going to learn about our own human nutrition as well, but we really, we shouldn’t make it more complicated to feed a dog than to feed ourselves. It, it, yes, it involves science, but it doesn’t involve rocket science and It’s not just commercially sold foods. Of course, that’s a broad conversation.
Of course, the veterinarian’s part of the conversation, but in the narrowness of what is allowed to be fed it, it often hobbles the shaping program. Right? So, if we can be a little bit loosey goosey in the front end and go, I don’t actually know what’s going to matter. And what’s interesting, Emily, is in doing all these varied consultations, sometimes it isn’t the quote palatability of the food, which I would be looking at and going, I think that’s a big factor. Often. It is who has been feeding. So heartbreaking client that I work with, a lovely trainer really realized quickly and doing the experimenting, it was her presence in the room that stopped eating.
As soon as she left the room and had a camera on the dog, dog ate immediately, her leaving the room was actually the free signal for the dog to eat her coming in the room. Nope. Dog stopped eating, and it wasn’t because she was doing anything wrong. It’s because her presence had been involved in so much coaxing, pressure, hovering, helping the dog to eat. The dog was flummoxed by her presence. So, we were able to fade her back in pretty quickly, but it was an interesting, like, oh, it didn’t have to do with actually what was in the bullet had to do with my helpful hovering.
Yeah, that wasn’t helpful.
[00:57:13] Emily: What are some observable goals and actionable items that people can take away from this discussion?
[00:57:20] Kathy: I’d say don’t use food as a lure to move a dog to something scary ever. Like don’t use food to do the heavy lifting to get your dog to step on the teeter-totter, or to approach the stranger, or to get in the bathtub. It feels like drinking saltwater to me. Like it, it relieves your thirst in the minute, like it worked, it worked, it got the problem solved today, and it made your problems so much worse down the road, which we don’t want to do for anybody, right?
So that sort of having that really short goal of, I just have to get them in the bathtub. If it creates that tentativeness around eating, to me that’s going to be a big price to pay. You know, I’ve started teaching a course in teaching dogs to swallow medication, unhidden in food in, you know, don’t hide the medication in the food, don’t put it in a pill pocket for a lot of dogs that works forever and ever. And that’s great, but I want you to be mindful about whether that’s actually creating some hesitancy in just grabbing the food and swallowing,
You know, I’ve worked with marine mammals, they don’t chew, you give them food, they swallow it.
Like that is kind of what I want my dog to do. I don’t want them feeling the food in their mouth to go, is there anything icky in there? Like I’m going to gobble the food down. And it, could you sway it too much too, they’ll eat anything. Yeah, I actually, I think I could tell this story because, oh my God, she’s such a rock star, but trainer Emilie Johnson Vegh, my amazing Swedish friend, coauthor of Agility Right From The Start said her dog was such a fluent eater, she accidentally handed her dog a tiny little washer that had fallen in her bait bag, cause she had been doing some home repairs. That she realized that she handed the washer over the dog was going to swallow it because dog swallowed anything, she handed the dog and I thought, yes, every bit of training has a trade-off like you would go, oh, that would make me not train this.
And it made me go, oh my gosh, that’s like cautionary tale, but kind of funny as well. That the dogs, like you handed it to me, and I swallow it. That’s the deal that we have. I’m really cautious about any form of upgrading. So, this is very common. It happens all the time, and one of the contexts that it happens in is you have a bait bag and it’s filled with, you know, the bait bag I carry around every day has a front compartment, which is the really good food. It’s my homemade meatloaf treats, which are awesome on my website, if you want to make them, they’re super easy. But they’re healthy, palatable, breaking the teeny tiny little pieces. Don’t make crumbs all the things I want as a trainer. So, the good foods in the front of the bait bag, and then sort of the less palatable food like kibble is in the back of my bait bag.
So, when I’m taking my own dog Smudge out in the world for walks, we already went on our five mile walk this morning Smudge, and I like to walk. Um, he gets the meatloaf for handling the presence of a dog near him with grace, which means he’s doing a train behavior in the presence of dogs, rather than lunging, and barking, and scaring people, and embarrassing me. He gets meatloaf for this sort of just, you know, he’s re responding to cue might give him, he might get the kibble. So very often people have more than one level of palatability of food at their disposal. What often happens is they’ll try the lower value food. Hey, I think kibble might work here or you’re meeting a new dog, like you’re a dog trainer and you’re like, hey, I’ve got different varieties, I’m going to try the kibble to start off with, let’s see if the dog will take it. And if the dog says, no, they turn their head away. Don’t do anything. Don’t do anything else right then. Just let that be information to you. Go make some notes, go talk to the client. Don’t reach for a better treat then. That is exactly how you would train inappetence.
If you needed to do that as a trick for a movie commercial, or your movie set or commercial, like you’re hired as an animal actor trainer to teach a dog to snub food for the bad guy in the film. That’s how you teach it. They would actually turn away from food and you would click and treat that and pay them something better.
Don’t do that accidentally because of dog refusing food, calls to you to use your training skills to fix that right away. Don’t fix it right away. Move away for a minute, come back and use the better treat if you need to. So, we do a lot of testing to see if you’ll eat something. And if you won’t, we do something to the meal right then.
Oh, I have chicken in the freezer, in the refrigerator from last night, let me add it to your meal. You can add the chicken later to the next meal. If you want to change what you’re feeding the dog, based on the information you got from a refused meal, do it, use the information, do it later, do not do it contingent on the snubbing.
You will reinforce snubbing and get more of it. So wonderful. Australian trainer, Alexis Davis said to me, oh, wait, what I got from your teaching is you could add the chicken, but add it later. I’m like, oh yeah, that’s pithy.
[01:02:02] Emily: What, what I’m hearing is the other actionable item that you have for people is mindfulness in training, so that when something doesn’t go as planned, and instead of just scrambling to, to salvage it, take a step back, observe, figure out what’s going on before, just like coming in and swooping in with some higher value food.
[01:02:25] Kathy: I actually had to make it more, because I love the word mindfulness, and to me, that calls out like a set of behaviors I’ve been working on recently, and I’ll use my scientist client right now, ‘cause I’m just sort of loving the conversation he and I are having. I had to give him a replacement behavior for doing the next thing to get the dog to the toller to eat, which is you are keeping data, go mark in the scorecard, right?
You’re keeping you’re keeping score, so just go mark what just happened. In the time it takes them to go to the computer and do that, literally enough time has passed, but if you did another trial, it’s not immediately contingent on the snubbing.
[01:02:58] Emily: That is brilliant. So, we asked our Pro Campus and Mentorship Program members to submit questions for our podcast interview guests, and the most popular question for you is what do you wish you had learned earlier in your career?
[01:03:16] Kathy: How long do we have left to talk? What is Are you kidding? What do I wish I’d learned earlier in my career? Oh, girl!
[01:03:26] Emily: Okay, let’s rephrase it. What is one thing you wish; we’ll narrow it down? Pick one thing.
[01:03:32] Kathy: Oh goodness gracious, um, wow. Uh, you know, I gotta give you two. One is a good one and a bad one. I wish someone had said to me, you will learn to see behavior, and you can’t unsee it.
So, I just think a lot of us carry around the, for, for those animals that don’t have voices, all the non-humans, they’re speaking all the time with their behavior and we get better and better at seeing nuances.
And it’s, uh, it’s a lot for our hearts to bear, right. Because there’s a lot of suffering for, for everybody, but I think we’re, we get sensitized to it and that’s a lot. So, I wish someone would have just said, you’re going to have to like, keep your own heart healthy in doing this work because, yeah. So, the, the flip side of that, the good thing is, I wish somebody that told me, cause I don’t think I would’ve believed it, we’re all doing the best we can and sometimes I just want to go, well, that’s just not good enough. You just need to do better.
And yeah, we all do, and we’re all in it together. So, I think I have been able to be a bit more compassionate to realize we’re all carrying a lot around and, yeah, so when we see the suffering of the non-human animals, it’s easy to be judgmental and blaming. And so the flip side of that is I choose to believe that we’re all doing the best we can, and that includes me.
[01:05:02] Emily: Yes. One of my favorite things that I learned from our friend, and business partner, Ellen Yoakum is something that she learned from a book she’s reading, I think it’s The Body Keeps the Score.
[01:05:13] Kathy: I’m reading it now! For the third time!
[01:05:15] Emily: So, something, I think it’s from that, but you can tell me if I’m, if I’m wrong about which book it comes from,
[01:05:20] Kathy: third time!
[01:05:21] Emily: So, I need to read this book as what I’m hearing.
Um, but there’s a discussion in the book about how one of the things that we need to do for like trauma informed care in our healing process is to recognize that all of us do harm at some point in our life, or at many points in our life, and coming to terms with that, or having some peace about the fact that we all, we all cause harm.
And that’s just part of being alive. That was so huge when Ellen said that it was like, Whoa. That’s the piece of the puzzle I’ve been missing. We’re all doing the best we can. And that means that sometimes we cause harm and being able to accept that as a part of trauma informed care. Right?
[01:06:01] Kathy: Absolutely. The only alternative than in recognizing that and wanting to minimize the harm we do, I think at some point the extreme is we don’t do anything, and the world is urgently in need of skilled behavior folks. Right?
We, we are the people that can help change the world. So, we will do harm, and we will make mistakes, and we’re still going to get out there, and keep learning.
That’s the important piece is keep learning and being humble about the, all the stuff we still don’t know. Every client I work with on this topic that I would go, ooh, I got to experience, and I got book smarts like, wow, I learned something really should have known before.
[01:06:41] Emily: Right, yes. Learn better, do better.
[01:06:43] Kathy: That book, The Body Keeps the Score by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk. The third time, I listen to audio books, I’m listening to it for the third time. And it’s a long book, I actually have to stop it, take deep breaths, and write notes. It’s the third time through. And I’m still having my mind explode. There is so much in there that’s really relevant to our own lives, but the work that we do.
[01:07:03] Emily: I definitely am excited about reading that book. That’s how I am about to Behave by Robert Sapolsky. I’m on my third read and same thing, I’m like, how did I miss this the first time around? So, there are some books like that, that it’s like, you just have to keep rereading them. Okay. So, we always ask everybody on our podcast, the same few questions as a kind of wrap up.
Hopefully, these will go pretty quickly. What is one thing that you wish people knew about either this topic, your profession or enrichments in general?
[01:07:33] Kathy: I would say that training isn’t, making dogs do things human want them to do, like, I feel like the, the word training has a bad rap and I love people to embrace training for the fun that it is, the break that it can be in our lives that can be kind of heavy, the incredible enrichment, it can be no matter what you’re teaching.
I remember years ago teaching my best student ever ET the male walrus at Point Zoo who is, we could do a whole podcast on that one particular, unbelievable animal. But I remember that sometimes zoo patrons would be critical that, you know, he knew how to dance on cue, he could play a harmonica, he could, you know, kind of goofy things, and they would go, well, you know, that’s not very dignified for him.
And I think there is a line I wouldn’t have crossed with him, like, I don’t think we would have dressed him in costumes, right? But those body movements that he learned that were kind of silly or the control, it took him to be able to play a harmonica, were enriching for him. Yeah. Training as a welfare issue for all the animals we’re blessed to live with, right?
[01:08:40] Emily: I agree with you. It’s, it has a bad rap, and it’s a reframing of, it’s not about control, it’s about skill building, and relationship building. It should be anyway, we can, we can make it that. That’s what it can be.
[01:08:53] Kathy: Well, and the work you and Allie are doing in the world, and your book goes such a long way toward that. Your book is such a embracing of something, I think that folks who work in zoos know, that training is a welfare issue for so many of the animals in our care that it, it feels like it shouldn’t be optional for all dogs that we’re blessed to live with.
[01:09:14] Emily: What is one thing you’d love to see improved in your field?
[01:09:17] Kathy: Gosh, one thing. Yeah, it’s a tedious answer, but it’s true. It, it’s hard that there’s no criteria for a professional trainer. And it’s a very thorny, I’ll use that word again, issue. There is no easy route to that, but it is difficult for me to look locally in Tacoma, Washington, at trainers still in business that feel so abusive that I just, I don’t understand. That we want consumers to have some ability to make really good choices about the professionals who are going to care for their animals, so that we’re still missing the boat on that. And I don’t know the easy answer to that, but I know brains way smarter than I am, are working on, on improving them.
[01:09:58] Emily: Yeah. What do you love about what you do?
[01:10:03] Kathy: Every day, most, every day I get to see learning happening. It feels like magic to me every time, every time! Every time I meet a new client, and I’m talking about this Yorkie puppy, because it’s my most recent new client in fact, I’m going to see her after this interview. When we end, I’m going back to do a follow up only a couple of days later with this Yorkie puppy, who really has a lot of, there’s a lot of issues in this young dog’s life.
But in the moment of watching him learn, free shaping him to do a couple of tricks, while I’m talking to the clients, I’m talking to his mom, and then free shaping him to do a backup and a scoot, that she’s not noticing I’m doing. And so, then when she looks down, she’s like, “What happened?” I’m like, “Your dog, without my touching him or talking to him, learn to do this really cool trick in like the last five minutes!” Isn’t that? How is that? How do we get to do that?
Oh, love it. Love that we’re able to do some in-person stuff, we can do that virtually, but it’s a lot easier to do it in real time with the actual animal in the room. So, love that, and I don’t get tired of it.
[01:11:04] Emily: Free shaping is not a technical term. And therefore, has a couple of different meanings in this context, free shaping refers to shaping a behavior without using any other teaching techniques, such as luring, or capturing. This type of free shaping is also sometimes referred to as pure shaping.
Awesome. What are you currently working on? If people want to work more with, or learn from you, where can they find you?
[01:11:30] Kathy: Probably easiest to go to my website, Kathy Sdao dot com. That’s K A T H Y S D A O, funny Italian last name, and it’s nothing fancy there, but you will find, all the things I’m working on, I will add this podcast to the free offerings that people can find there. You can find my meatloaf recipe if you go to my website for no other reason than that.
I’ll have you guys be able to provide a link to the webinar on increasing food motivation, which reiterate some of the things we talked about today but has some other information in it. So that would be available for purchase, from Dog iBox one of the webinar hosts that I work with. So, I can give you that link, but that’s also on my website, and I’ll just mention one other project, which is a little different than the normal work I do.
And that’s Lima beings.com L I M A Beings and Lima or Lima for animal professionals, we know is an acronym for at Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive, humane approach to how we choose our tools. That’s an algorithm for choosing, training interventions, behavior modification interventions. And a group of colleagues and I, Dr. Chris Pachel, Marissa Martino, Barrie Finger, and Lynn Ungar a little over a year ago, started a membership community where we can have conversations about extending that positive reinforcement ethic, that unconditional positive regard to the humans that we work with. Because I think once we start using verbal language, we get tripped up in our dedication to using positive reinforcement.
We fall into more sort of punitive, judging, and blaming habits that we learned as kids, even if we’re positive reinforcement professionals. So, we have a membership community that is trying to get better at the practice of extending Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive to all the humans, clients, students, colleagues, uh, that we work with.
[01:13:24] Emily: We had Chris Pachel on for season one, actually his episode just aired a week or two ago, and we have Marissa coming for season three, so we have basically the crew’s, is represented.
Well, thank you so much for joining us. I really appreciate your time, and this lovely conversation, I hope to catch up with you again soon.
[01:13:50] Kathy: And thank you for all you and Allie are doing. Your book is such a game changer. It’s you know, it’s funny, I often don’t carry my own book, Plenty in Life is Free, written about 10 years ago, still available. I think it’s still a good read, but it’s funny. I often don’t have that in my gear bag when I meet a new client, but I have other people’s books, and yours is one of the books I often carry with me to say to clients, “Oh my gosh, you’re gonna get so much practical information from this book.” And then they say, “And where’s your book?” I’m like, “Oh yeah. Oops. I forgot that.”
[01:14:19] Emily: That’s funny.
[01:14:20] Kathy: Yeah.
[01:14:20] Emily: Yeah.
[01:14:21] Kathy: Keep, doing what you’re doing. I’m grateful.
[01:14:23] Emily: We have a companion workbook coming out in the very near future. So.
[01:14:27] Kathy: Something else to put in my gear bag.
[01:14:32] Emily: Absolutely. All right. Well, thanks again, Kathy. It was such a delight to speak with you.
[01:14:36] Kathy: You’re welcome.
[01:14:36] Allie: Okay, how good was that episode? I always get so many good nuggets of information from Kathy. This is a topic that I think we really need to be talking about more, as Kathy said, eating needs to be the first behavior, and it’s a sign of welfare. Diet and nutrition is one of the 14 categories of enrichment after all. Next week, we’ll be talking about building food motivation.
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.