#34 - Sara McLoudrey:
Care With Consent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[00:07:19] Sara:  Yep.

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

[00:07:20] Sara:  The Dark Ages.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[00:30:09] Sara:  Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[00:55:38] Sara:  Mm-hmm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for listening. You can find us at 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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