#32 - Marissa Martino:
Cultivating Connections for Behavior Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you talk more to our listeners about your approach?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for listening. You can find us at 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.

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