#53 - Are Necessary Evils Really Necessary?

[00:00:00] Allie: When we discover the root of our goals, we’re able to come up with more solutions and those solutions might be something that’s easier to put into place, whether that’s from relying on a simpler management strategy, or starting with behaviors that an animal is already offering that you can use instead of having to train something from the ground up.

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.

Last week, we heard from Kyle Hetzel and one of the topics we discussed was finding alternative solutions to old problems.

This week, we’re going to dive further into whether necessary evils are actually necessary and talk about implementation with the animals in your life. In this implementation episode, Emily and I talk about pruney shame fingers, is this for us or for them, and getting to the root of your goals. Let’s get to it.

 We chose violence for today’s topic, Emily.

[00:01:02] Emily: Yeah, no joke. But I feel like, at this point if you’ve been listening to this podcast, it’s not like you aren’t prepared for us to sometimes come in a little, you know, spicy.

[00:01:13] Allie: But like, spicy in the nicest way possible. We’ll still take an empathetic approach today, y’all. Don’t worry about that.

[00:01:20] Emily: Oh, for sure. We’re not coming in hot, per se. We’re just coming in warm. Warm and spicy, like a good chai masala.

[00:01:29] Allie: That’s almost the tea I’m drinking today. Yeah, fun fact, any whozles let’s actually talk about today’s topic. We are talking about are necessary evils really necessary? We had an episode a while ago about what to do when agency isn’t an option, and we touched a little on this topic then, but let’s dive deeper into it today.

[00:01:50] Emily: Yeah, I feel like this is such an important topic because it’s such a human tendency to fall into those auto epistemic logical fallacies that I speak about all the time, I feel like, where we think to ourselves, I’ve tried everything and nothing has worked, so we just got to do the thing. And that’s a super understandable situation to be in, but like, we can do better when we have the tools to do so. So, let’s talk about those tools.

[00:02:19] Allie: And not only having the tools, but gaining fluency and using them by reassessing what you’re doing periodically and asking yourself, ” I might have had to do this with, or to my pet, given the knowledge, skills, tools, bandwidth, what have you, I had in the past, but is that still true? Do I have the tools to be less aversive, less invasive, and less inhibitive now, and should I change what I’m doing?”

[00:02:45] Emily: Yes, exactly. That is… Such a beautiful point to make because the, that process of reviewing our past attempts is actually a part of the cyclical process that we use to gain fluency and skill in something called Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle. It’s called reflective observation, but what can make this reflective observation process tricky is that a lot of us can just have the tendency to use that reflective observation process to beat ourselves up and just like marinate in shame.

And that’s not how we gain fluency. That’s how we wear ourselves down, right? So, learning how to look back and go, “Okay, I did the best I could at the time, and there’s no shame in that, but now that I’ve got more knowledge and experience under my belt, what would I do differently?”

[00:03:42] Allie: So, I just imagined you like pouring in bath salts or bubble bath labeled shame, and then just chilling in that when you said marinating in shame.

[00:03:51] Emily: My fingers are all pruney with shame.

[00:03:54] Allie: The shame fingers! Oh no!

[00:03:56] Emily: All right, so dry out your shame fingers, and let’s talk about how to never get shame pruney fingers again. So, first of all, we got to get comfortable using criteria for determining if a necessary evil is actually necessary. So, what is your actual end goal? And does that end goal actually need the process that you’ve been accustomed to using in order to reach that end goal?

So, for example, I was working with some clients a few years ago and we were talking about managing their dog’s reactivity to visitors coming into their home. And they were like, “Well, look, we have to shove our dog in the crate because he really hates his crate. And I mean, really hates it. And we just don’t have time to train him to like his crate, so we really don’t have that as an option.”

And I was like, “Cool, cool. I totally hear you, but why does he have to be in the crate?”

And they kind of got like a blank look on their face and they were like,”To keep him separated from visitors?”

And I was like, “Yeah, certainly that is one way that we might do that. Is the crate a necessary part of our goal, though, or is it is our goal just about keeping the dog and the visitors safe and separated?”

And they were like, “Yeah, that last thing.”

So, I was like, “Okay, so since he loves being in the backyard, what if we just put him in the backyard instead of in the crate before visitors come over?”

And they were so cute, they basically just looked like those little mind blown emojis that you can use on the internet. It was my favorite thing.

[00:05:35] Allie: Sorry, you had to specify that you can use on the internet, you sounded like an 80-year-old human.

[00:05:44] Emily: Surprise. I’m actually a granny.

[00:05:47] Allie: Sorry, go ahead.

[00:05:49] Emily: No, fair enough. Fair enough. I had a, I had a crotchety old lady moment. It’s fine. Those happen from time to time. Okay. What was I talking about? Oh yeah.

So, the thing is, it’s not even that uncommon. Like even though I find it delightful when people have those moments, it is a delight that I get to enjoy often because we humans try to come up with new solutions within the same framework, or paradigm, or process that we’re used to when actually we need to step outside of that framework, or paradigm, or, or process and approach the problem from a totally different perspective.

So, that’s the first step. Identify your actual goal and assess whether the processes you’re already familiar with are actually necessary to reach your goal.

Second, we need to ask ourselves if what we’re doing is for us or for them. Sometimes a necessary evil feels necessary because we’re prioritizing our feelings about their experience over their actual experience.

Where I see this most often play out is when people are trying to solve a problem that isn’t an actual problem. So, for example, when I lived in Salt Lake, a local trainer had asked me to put eyes on his case. And one of the biggest issues was that his client had an active little Jack Russell Terrier who he was afraid might have a light chasing compulsion.

And they had done all this really hefty management to try to prevent this little guy from chasing light and shadows, and it was becoming unwieldy for the client and restrictive for the dog, like really restrictive, but the client couldn’t afford a veterinary behavior referral.

So, this trainer came to me and was like, “Help, what do I do?”

So, I was like, “Well, first of all, let’s go back and actually look at the behavior to assess whether it’s adaptive or maladaptive.” So, we asked the client a ton of questions about context, duration, intensity, et cetera. We looked at lots of videos of this dog doing this light and shadow chasing behavior.

And then we observed the dog in person. And guess what? This dog’s light and shadow chasing was perfectly adaptive. He was just performing breed typical chasing, fast moving things and digging at them behaviors in a play context. And he did it for short periods of time, and yeah, while he was really intense when he was doing it, and it took some extra effort to get his attention, that’s not necessarily maladaptive.

I think most people who have worked with working line, ratting terrier breeds would go, “Yeah, that tracks.” Right? But most importantly, he didn’t exhibit any frustration during or after those moments, and it didn’t compromise his behavioral diversity.

So, the behavior problem wasn’t actually a problem at all, and the solution to that issue was just let him do it, right? Just let him play. As dog trainers, we’re told that light and shadow chasing is always maladaptive and we have to do something about it, but our collective industry feelings about this topic don’t have anything to do with that dog’s actual lived experiences. That’s not to say that it’s never maladaptive, but we have to look at the animal in front of us to figure out if that’s the case. And that wasn’t the case for this little guy.

Then thirdly, we need to do a risk versus reward assessment. Is this thing you perceive as being necessary actually reducing risk? Is it actually the lesser of two evils? And how do you know that’s true? When Allie and I used to travel around the country working with shelters, rescue groups, and sanctuaries, we’d see a lot of people proactively correcting dogs in playgroups when the dogs were actually playing well, but just getting louder or more animated.

And when we’d ask them why they had corrected the dogs, the reason was often that the handlers were concerned that the play might escalate to a fight. But that had a lot more to do with how the handlers had been trained to manage playgroups and their own fears than what the dog’s actual body language indicated.

So, we’d ask them, “Is the risk of this escalating right now, when the dogs are actually having a grand old time, greater than the risk of creating confusion, fear, and avoidance by correcting them for having fun and demonstrating great play skills?” and the answer was almost always, “No.”

So finally, I’m going to keep harping on this until the day I die. Remember those auto epistemic logical fallacies where we think we’ve explored every possible solution because we’ve explored every possible solution that we know of. But we are more effective as a collective. And yes, that rhymes. I didn’t mean it to rhyme, but it does rhyme. We are more effective as a collective.

So, get into the habit of checking in, and talking with, and asking help from mentors, and ask colleagues, and heck even ask newbies. Because you might be surprised how much you can learn from people who are approaching a problem with a completely fresh perspective and a learning history that comes from completely different professions than what your background has taught you.

We at Pet Harmony rarely try to solve a problem ourselves when we get stuck on something. We workshop almost everything that we do. So, that is a really good habit to get into because we are more effective as a collective. Whew! Okay, that was a mouthful. Allie, I’m gonna shut up and let you talk now.

[00:11:45] Allie: It was a great mouthful though. I liked it. So next, after we’ve gone through all that criteria, We’ve concluded that this particular necessary evil is not, in fact, necessary. We need to determine different ways to achieve our end goal. And to do this, we obviously need to know what the end goal is. Emily already mentioned that, but something that I think is helpful here is getting less detailed with that goal instead of more detailed so you can really address the root of it.

And here’s what I mean. Let’s go with the example of wanting a dog to not jump on visitors when they first arrive in the house. An end goal could be, ” I want my dog to go to their bed and hang out there until released when the doorbell rings.” That’s a valid goal, but because of how specific it is, we’re limiting the ways to achieve it, and for this particular one, it’s going to take quite a bit of effort to train that.

Now let’s break that up into its components and broaden that goal so we can get even deeper into it and find what the root really is. The first part was, I want my dog to go to their bed when the doorbell rings. That really means I want my dog to be somewhere other than the front door when guests come in.

There are a whole lot of ways to achieve that. They absolutely can go to their bed, or they can go to a crate, or a bedroom, or outside, or behind a baby gate, or on a leash. List goes on. The second part was, I want them to hang out on their bed until released. What that really means is I want to be able to control when my dog greets the person.

Again, a whole lot of ways to achieve that. And all of the things that I just mentioned before can be used to this end too. Being able to dive deeper into your goals to discover that route is absolutely a skill. And Emily, I don’t know about you, but the way that I do that is something I’ve been doing since toddlerhood, and that’s just continuing to ask why until I get the answer. Is that true for you too?

[00:13:46] Emily: Oh my god, I’m surprised that nobody like smacked me down when I was a kid because of how often I would ask why to everything. Not just as a kid, let’s be real, the reason I’m self-employed, yeah, I was gonna say the reason that I’m self-employed is because bosses got real tired of me asking, but why? Why is that a policy? I’m surprised I’ve never been fired. So yes, same here, it me.

[00:14:10] Allie: Yes. So, keep asking why until you’re like, “Oh, that’s the answer.” When we discover the root of our goals, we’re able to come up with more solutions and those solutions might be something that’s easier to put into place, whether that’s from relying on a simpler management strategy, or starting with behaviors that an animal is already offering that you can use instead of having to train something from the ground up.

And this is essentially what we do with our enrichment framework by taking a descriptive approach to behavior and first looking at what are the desirable and undesirable behaviors before we look at how to get from point A to point B.

[00:14:50] Emily: And the last part of this is give yourself grace in the moment. Start with hindsight before trying to do this in real time. Because, yeah, if you’re new to utilizing these tools, doing it in real time is gonna be pretty dang hard, right? So, if we define fluency as speed plus accuracy, that speed part is really hard to do in real time when you’re first acquiring these skills.

So, start by practicing that reflective observation that we talked about where you look backwards and go, ” Okay, what could I have done differently in that situation, and how will I apply that in the future?” And then the more practice you get with that reflective observation exercise, that speed and your ability to do that in real time will come with practice. So, in the moment, if you’re like, “Oh, there’s probably a better way to do this, but this is an emergency and I just gotta like, get this done now.” Have peace with that because yes, it does take time and practice to build fluency.

All right, so, I’m going to give an example because I mentioned earlier that when you’re stuck, it’s not just about asking your mentors and your colleagues, but sometimes asking your students, or people who are totally, have a totally fresh perspective, have no experience, or very little experience.

And my story is about a time that that happened to me. So, I think I’ve mentioned. multiple times that when I moved to Utah, I was unprepared for the cultural differences between Texas and Utah because I assumed that there would be some cultural crossover that definitely wasn’t there. And so, for two and a half years, when I was practicing as a behavior consultant in Utah, I was definitely not my best self.

I was feeling confused, and frustrated, and jaded about the challenges I was having communicating with clients. And so, I had, I’d kind of thrown out everything that I, I knew that I had been taught, that I had been practicing that had worked well in other contexts, and I was just, giving clients the whole plan up front and like, I’m probably never going to hear from you.

I mean, I wouldn’t say this to clients, but in my head, I’m like, “I’m probably never going to hear from these people ever again. So, at the bare minimum, I can give them the training plan so they can do it on their own if they want to.” But the other thing that I was doing was cutting out a lot of the foundational skills because I had lost faith that clients would do those foundational skills.

And so, I was trying to just skip to the thing that I felt would get the most buy in or give them the quickest results, and that included just having people put their dogs in somewhat stressful situations and practicing some kind of engagement like Bat 2. 0, or LAT, or something like that, and skipping the foundational skill of you can move away from stressors. Escape is an option. You, you don’t have to just sit here and marinate in stress. So, we’re talking about marinating a lot today. I don’t know why, but uh, you don’t have to just sit here and marinate in stress. But I so for a while, for a long period of time in Utah, like I said, it was about two and a half years, I was just skipping that foundational skill and cutting straight to expose the dog to a stressor, and practice check in, engagement of some kind.

And one of my students, sweetest person, shout out to Tiffany, love her so much, and we were, we, we just finished seeing a client and we were walking back to the car and in the sweetest little voice, she was like, ” Have you thought about just like, having dogs move away first so that it was maybe less stressful for them and, and less aversive and the clients would be less likely to do things like jerk on the collar or, you know, leash corrections or whatever?”

And I was like, “Oh man, I know this. I know this.”

And I wasn’t doing it because I had, I was jaded, right? And so, I thought it was a necessary evil to put dogs in these situations, cause I thought that was the only way that I would get clients to do the work. And I needed somebody who was new to the profession and looking at it with fresh eyes to go, “Hold on. Is that really necessary? Is that really a necessary evil? Do you really have to put the dogs through that much stress or is there a better way to do this?”

So that is my, that is my story, my example of how asking people even who have less than experience than you can still help you solve a problem because she was absolutely right. When I started giving clients those foundational skills again, and they started getting those quick wins, I started getting a lot more follow through.

So, she called me out, and I needed her to call me out and she had way less experience than me and she was technically in the role of students, and I was in the role of mentor, but she absolutely mentored me in that moment.

[00:19:46] Allie: My example is a necessary evil that was actually necessary. And so, I wanted y’all to see that we’re not saying that we can always be less aversive, less inhibitive, less, uh, less intrusive.

Sometimes in the moment, we have to do things that our pets are not going to like because it’s legitimately what has to happen for their health, safety, whatever. So, my example of this is we learned the hard way that there was a little gap in the threshold of the door leading outside that just happened to be Oso toenail size.

And we learned that when one day he got his toenails stuck under this little gap and tore his toenail, and there was blood, and screaming, and all of the things. Screaming from the both of us, him and me.

And after that, he had been going outside when this happened, and so he was like, “I’m just gonna live out here instead of, going back through the evil scary doorway that just hurt me a whole lot.” Obviously, that’s not a thing that I can let him do. I cannot let him live outside, I mean, I could, but he wouldn’t like that, I wouldn’t like that. It’s much better for him to be inside.

So, it was a necessary thing that I get him inside. Also, when this happened, because of course emergencies never happen when you have like three hours to work on something, this happened about 30 minutes, 20, 30 minutes before I had to leave to go see a client.

So, I had to get him back inside pretty darn quickly. I tried treats. I tried good treats. I tried all of the things that I knew, and Oso it was like, “First of all, my toe really freaking hurts right now and I’m bleeding. Second of all, the doorway is what did it. Third of all, screw you, mom. I’m not going to do this.”

So, so the necessary evil that I had to choose in that moment was I picked up my 90-pound dog, and I carried him inside up the stairs. We got him cleaned up, all of the things. That had to happen because he couldn’t just stay outside, especially since nobody was going to be home, that would not have been safe for him to do that.

And there were no other options that I could achieve in the time frame that I had, and I, I count having to go see clients as a necessity, not just like, I was going to go out for like coffee with a friend. No, like I had to do my job. So, that was a necessary evil in that moment. After that, when I got back home, and my poor kiddo with his little broken toenail and he’s all sad, then we could actually work on him being able to go through the door again, to go through safely. We got a filler, silicone filler, so that we filled the door so that that would never happen again to him. And he now goes in and out of the door easily, excitedly, all of the things. But in that moment, I had to pick up my dog who does not enjoy that, and carry him inside.

So, today we’ve chosen violence and talked about whether necessary evils are really necessary. We discussed some criteria for determining if a necessary evil is actually necessary, including what is your actual end goal? Is the end goal a necessity? Are you doing this for them or for you? The risk versus reward. Why is this necessary? Is it the lesser of two evils? And how do you know that that’s actually true? And did you ask your community? We’ve also discussed determining different ways to achieve that end goal and to start this exercise using some hindsight situation so you can give yourself more grace in the moment when things go awry.

Next week, we will be talking with Valerie Bogey about how your self care is enrichment.

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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