#58 - Christina Horne: Systems for Navigating Service Dog Training & Society

[00:00:00] Christina: And I also think it’s the responsibility of the educator to get to know their learner, not to just roll up and start training, but to establish a rapport. That’s something that’s, I think, really incredible, because I think in situations where there is confusion or frustration, that bond is going to be what bridges the gap. And I, and I’m, I’ll die on the hill of, of making sure that training is fun because then that creates space for creativity that creates space for the learner to have those light bulb moments.

[00:00:35] 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…

[00:00:52] Emily:  …and I’m Emily Strong…

[00:00:54] 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 Christina Horne. Christina is an armed forces brat with a degree in psychology and a concentration in philosophy and behavior analysis. She delights in working with people and animals alike. She began her professional training journey in 2004 at PetSmart and has trained everything from humans to marine mammals.

Curious by nature and a perpetual student, she jumps at the opportunity to have an adventure. Whether it’s volunteering at her local search and rescue chapter or going on road trips with colleagues to teach workshops in the middle of the desert, she is there with a smile and infectious enthusiasm. And I can attest that she is definitely there with a smile and infectious enthusiasm.

I just love Christina as a human being. She has such a fresh take on teaching and training, and the relationship between teachers and learners, which is applicable regardless of what species you are teaching, and I think just makes us better teachers and trainers of our pets. In this episode, you’re going to hear Emily and Christina talk about giving your learners space to just do things, the power dynamic in the teacher learner relationship, acknowledging privilege and marginalization, and check yourself before you wreck your learner.

Alright, here it is, today’s episode, Christina Horne: Systems for Navigating Service Dog Training and Society. 

[00:02:41] Emily:  All right, tell us your name, your pronouns, and your pets. 

[00:02:44] Christina: My name is Christina Horne. My pronouns are she, her, and I have one, what I like to refer to as a Heinz 57 dog or a summer dog. She’s some of this and some of that.

[00:02:59] Emily:  I enjoy that. All right, tell us your story and how you got to where you are. 

[00:03:03] Christina: When I was a kid, I initially wanted to be a dolphin trainer. And I realized very quickly going into college that that industry was really competitive, it was not necessarily a good fit for my personality. And I realized that I had a massive love of philosophy, which I’ll get into later. So, I decided to do psychology and philosophy instead.

And I just started off working at PetSmart and Petco’s and learning via hands on and helping managers ops management, which I absolutely adore. The small business management. I owned a franchise, dog training franchise briefly, pooper scooping, pet sitting, dog walking, dog training, dog boarding as well.

I did a brief stint as a marine mammal trainer, which was absolutely eye opening. And then I really started to kind of focus on more specific training, like task training for service dog training. I was really interested in clicker training for like, field dog retriever training. And I just rolled up one day on my local search and rescue group as a volunteer and they had me get lost.

So, I’ve dabbled in a variety of different things just because of my love for approaching dog training and behavior mod. Oh, and also, I worked with you, Emily, as a behavioral consultant for a good stint looking for a mentor, for sure. So, kind of been all over the place. I, I would say my background is strongest in dealing with dogs with behavioral issues and, oh yeah, I also had a brief stint running an animal shelter in the backwoods of Floribama. Grassroots. That was a lot of fun. I enjoyed that.

[00:04:58] Emily:  Yes. Yes, you’re, you and I share that background of like doing a little bit of everything because we’re interested in all of it. And so, I, that’s one of the things we bonded over when we first met was how much we just sort of like go around grabbing every opportunity we have. 

[00:05:19] Christina: Yeah. That was not in order either by any means. 

[00:05:21] Emily:  Yeah, no, I wouldn’t expect you to tell the story in chronological order. Okay, so full disclosure for our listeners, as you probably already picked up on, Christina and I have I have kind of had a ride or die friendship for several years now, and Christina, I’ve watched you teach both humans and non-humans on multiple occasions in multiple contexts. And one of the things that just gives me goosebumps every time I watch you work is how incredibly fast you are at being able to assess where your learner is and, and then adjusting your approach accordingly. 

And when I say adjust your approach, what I mean by that is that understanding exactly what your learner needs to thrive, even if that means starting at a place that looks nothing like what most folks might think of as training. I think my favorite example of this is when we were playing a training game called Portal with some friends of ours, and during one round, when you were in the role of teacher, you noticed that our friend who was in the role as your student was really stressed out by the game pieces being just jumbled up in a pile, which is very on brand for her. So, the first thing you had her do was organize the pile, and that just kind of blew my mind because I was in the headspace of like, well, this is a a game about shaping, so we shape. And you were like, well, yes. And sometimes you start way, way back before the target behavior and you focus on some of those foundational skills or just meeting their needs, right? 

So, give us a chance to see through your eyes for a while and talk us through your process. What is going through your mind when you first start working with a learner who is new to you? And how do you formulate your goals, figure out where you need to start, and construct a path from where your learner currently is now to where you want them to be?

[00:07:16] Christina: Well, let’s see. I have a very strong passion for being aware of power dynamics, and the responsibility of the educator. I tend to try to do a self-assessment of myself and where I am in that moment so that I can be the best educator that I can be. I know myself pretty well, so I know I have a fairly low threshold for frustration.

I know that I really enjoy learning and I know that that is important, the process of learning, that’s important for me to, to maintain that kind of, or to cultivate that sort of environment for, for my learner. So, the first thing I do is assess myself. Where am I? What am I looking at? And I also think it’s the responsibility of the educator to get to know their learner, not to just roll up and start training, but to establish a rapport. That’s something that’s, I think, really incredible, because I think in situations where there is confusion or frustration, that bond is going to be what bridges the gap. And I, and I’m. I’ll die on the hill of, of making sure that training is fun because then that creates space for creativity that creates space for the learner to have those light bulb moments.

And then you have that really amazing sort of, reciprocal. oxytocin going, right? Where, you know, my, my learners calming down, like I’m relaxing, everybody’s going into that window of arousal where amazing things happen. So, I remember sitting there watching all of this stuff piled on there. And I remember the anxiety of, “Okay, I don’t even know how to scope, what my training plan is going to be.”

 So, before we even started, I ended up with like, I think like 15 training plans because I think it’s easy to, oh, we’ve played that game, right? Where you have to everybody takes a guess of like how many steps it takes to make a sandwich or something like that. And everybody’s like wildly off, right? So, at least I know going into it. Okay. Yeah. Slow down. Right? We got to, yeah. We got a split, not lump, and I thought, alright, she’s already stressed out. Like, how are we going to make this fun? So, I ended up with a list of like, I don’t know, 15 things, which was, I think I chucked half of them and then I circled back, and we were able to achieve those, like once we had established a rapport.

So, I just remember looking at that pile thinking, like, I don’t even, and then I looked at her and I was like, you know what? You were made for this, just error free learning, right? So, everything she picked up, I just said, “Yes.” And so, I gave, I gave her space and the magical thing was is that when I gave her that space, she started like lining animals up and I was like, yes, absolutely, line those animals up. 

And she kind of looked at me funny, and I could see the mistrust there. And I think we underestimate like how much like, mistrust and unknown there is, there’s a chasm between the learner and the educator that begins there. And I think we should honor that. I sound like, you know, like a tree hugger, which I probably would be if I was allergic, but just giving her the space to kind of move.

And so, she like lined all the animals up and then I was like, oh, cool. Good job. And so, everything gets see heads turning because I’m just over here going, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. Like everything was right. And it took, I don’t know, I think three lines of animals lined up where she started to relax. Because the other thing I think about culturally, is how hard it is for people to take feedback for people to worry about making a mistake, right? And we know that the teacher’s disapproval doesn’t have anything to do with training. In fact, it can, you know, inhibit training or hold it back. 

So, there is a lot of foundational work we had to do to establish a place where we could actually learn in a safe place. And that’s another hill. I’ll die on, safety. When it comes to learning something new, like it’s, I think it’s really critical to establish safety because then you free up people to do amazing things. And so, after she like lined some things up, she thought about it and then she, started to organize things in different ways.

And then at that point it became a two-way street. Then she started, she stopped working through her own anxiety, she became oriented in the space of learning as a partnership, and then she was like, well, I’m gonna start to put these animals together. And I think we had some bowls, different bowls, and so I just set up 2 or 3 different bowls and then those bowls became an environmental cue, right? To organize things that we loosely organize stuff. At this point, I was just like, I don’t know, put them in the bowls the way you want, because our goal is going to be to clear our training space, right? So, because she was able to take ownership of how she organized things, and it was a lot easier for her to reach back into those bowls because she made them. And that was one of the most fun things to do. 

And by the time we hit that point then she was on a roll, right? And then that’s what created that behavioral momentum. And then we started having fun with it. And it was, it made me giggle a little bit to kind of look around and see how easy it is for people to fall into learned helplessness from frustration. And like, I mean, you know, we could like, go to work, or, you know, like, we can find so many different places to just be frustrated. Like, learning something new with someone that you already like and that you already, you know, are receptive to, like, this should be easy and fun. 

[00:13:38] Emily:  I love that. I do want to say that you said that I mentored you and I don’t, I don’t think that’s the whole story, because even though you like, to say that you just rolled up and like decided that I would be your mentor, I feel like the learning was definitely the mutual. And I was as much mentoring under you as you were under me. And one of the most important lessons that I learned from you was to develop that awareness of the power dynamic that, that is at play in the teacher learner relationship and the responsibility that we have as teachers to be aware of that dynamic. Because that was not, I think, because for most of my life. I was, I did not have that power dynamic, I was the one that was kind of in the, in the subordinate position, either in ways that I’m marginalized or as a child, as a student, as a, as a mentee, that when I started teaching other people, I wasn’t used to being in that role of that, that power dynamic, right? 

And so, I mean, and I think, you know, for animals, it was a little bit different. I’ll get to that in a little bit, but and so, I wasn’t aware of the impact that my feedback had on people because I was entering it under this assumption of like, I’m no, I’m nobody special. I’m just Emily. And, you know, I’m, I’m learning too, and we’re all learning together. 

And so, I would, you know, ask somebody to do something well, and another component of that too, is that I had to learn that not everybody has the same relationship with learning that I do. And that learning had been heavily reinforced for me for the majority of my life. And so, for me, that kind of feedback is exciting and it’s, and it, and it’s challenging and it makes me want to do more. And so, I had to learn not only that, when you’re in the role of a teacher, your decisions, your actions, the comments that you make hit different when, when, when you have that power dynamic when you’re a student, than if you’re just, you know, it’s thought of as a peer. And also, I had to learn that I can’t go into a teacher learner dynamic with the assumption that everybody has the same relationship to learning that I have. And even though you’ve taught me many things over the course of our relationship, I think that’s the most profound lesson I got from you because I didn’t have that before I met you. And I see you do that with your learners. 

And what’s so funny to me is that, that was always obvious to me when I’m working with non-humans, like it was always obvious to me that I have all the control. I have all the power. So, it’s my job to make sure that they have as much agency as possible and that I’m meeting their needs and I’m responsive to their body language. But I had to learn that that was also true for humans. And so, yeah, I just have to say thank you for that because it was not, learning was definitely not a one-way street when we were working together, that’s for sure.

[00:16:41] Christina: I think, I will, first, I appreciate that. And second, it was nice to have somebody else to look at and be like, “Did you see that? You saw that, right? Okay.” I think we both learned that when we were in Utah, as far as working with humans and actually seeing the fallout from that on a cultural level, on an interpersonal level, and just how complicated it is for a person to develop the agency, to access Google, and defy an entire lifetime, right? Of, of, of not necessarily, I mean. 

[00:17:19] Emily:  I’ll just say it, cultural conditioning. I don’t mind saying it, cultural conditioning. Let’s call it out for what it is. 

[00:17:25] Christina: Yes. And cultural conditioning is incredibly heavy and also very, very easily dismissed, and that is something that has always really resonated with me. Like it is something that can be just habit or just the way in which we move through the world. I mean, it’ll be the last thing anyone will bring up, or address, or offer as context for very, very important things. So, I’m glad at least you and I were able to be like, huh, noted. All right, we’re gonna have to circle back around to that. 

[00:18:02] Emily:  Yeah, we definitely had many moments where we just kind of look at each other like, “I see you. I know exactly what you’re doing and I’m here for it.” Our relationship during that period was instrumental to me surviving a very hard time in my life. I’ll just put it that way.

[00:18:18] Christina: Well, I appreciate that. I think I, well, agreed. 100%. But I think it also taught me how quickly. I need to recalibrate. Just hit the reset button. And also, teach humans the reset button, and safe words, whatever you want to call it. The idea that you can be like, “I don’t know.” Or “I’m buffering right now.” Or “Emily, Christina said something and what did she mean?” Which is one of my favorites.

[00:18:50] Emily:  Yeah. Yes. Yes. So, I’m going to translate for our listeners because I think we need to fill in more gaps. So, to clarify, a lot of times the, the, in the, the, culture that you and I operated in together, a lot of people didn’t know that they had the agency to express when they were confused, or frustrated, or weren’t sure what, what their action items were, or, you know, it, was that feedback, praise or criticism, I don’t even know. 

And one of the most fulfilling things that we saw for me, anyway, one of the most fulfilling things that we saw with the people that we worked with is watching them learn how to ask for that clarification, ask for us to meet their needs in a better way, ask like, “I don’t feel good about this.” Or, or just have the vulnerability to say, “I’m going to show you something that I think is imperfect. And I know I made mistakes, but I I’m here for your feedback.” Or like in the situation that you’re talking about, where people are like, ” I don’t quite follow Christina’s nonlinear thinking, you translate for me because I want to learn what she has to teach me. And also, I need a little help.” Right? And seeing that increase in communication where people feel felt safe enough to, to ask us for that was, I think, a big moment for both of us. Yeah.

[00:20:09] Christina: For me as well, I think it’s interesting to think about a learner not knowing what to do, especially if they’re anticipating suppression. You start to see all sorts of behaviors. In addition, you see an absence of behaviors. And having that context, and that willingness to kind of scrap, to maintain that safe space for learning definitely goes a long way.

[00:20:34] Emily:  Yes, it does. I super agree about that. Along those lines, I want to dig in more to what I’ve referenced several times at this point, which is what a nonlinear thinker you are. And for people who are listening and don’t understand what I mean by that, I want to tell a story.

So, okay, time for, it’s, it’s confession time. When I, here we go, when I first learned that you had decided to focus on service dog training, I let out this kind of like, guttural laugh that comes straight from the diaphragm, like, you know, the laugh I’m talking about. And the reason I did this is because my perception of service dog training is that it tends to be really kind of linear and formulaic. And I don’t mean that in a disparaging way at all. That’s just the nature of the beast, right? 

And I think it’s because, my perception of service dog training is that service dogs all need to learn a base set of skills, and then they need to be able to do them everywhere, which means that there’s a whole lot of proofing involved. And if the right dogs have been selected for the job, which they usually are, there’s not a whole lot of troubleshooting required. 

And as you know, I did service dog training for a few years, and while I enjoyed it a lot, actually, I realized pretty quickly that it doesn’t really play into my strengths, because I tend to thrive in situations where a lot of out of the box troubleshooting is required, because I’m also a nonlinear thinker, but not, not at all like you. And that’s one of the things that I’ve always really admired about you, is how you, you don’t, necessarily process things in like the order in which we would expect somebody to process or, you know, not in chronological order, not in like an order of events. 

And, and so when I say nonlinear thinker, what I really mean is you don’t take a standard approach to how you think through and process information or your environment or events. And so, if I, if that was my experience with service dog training, and you are the most nonlinear thinker I know, I was like, “Okay, she’s either going to get bored and bounce in like two and a half seconds, or she’s going to make me question everything I thought I knew about service dog training.” And of course, it ended up being the latter. Of course, it did. So, talk to me about your approach to service dog training.

[00:22:55] Christina: Well, I’ll simplify things. I am here to build agency. I am here to make learning fun. And I am here to challenge dogs in a way that hopefully helps them develop intelligent disobedience and foster a spirit of persistence. Whether I have enough time, energy, resources, support, right? Like it depends on what day it is.

I don’t know if I’m necessarily going to be in it for the long haul as far as being able to do all those things. But I think when I have succeeded in establishing a rapport with the dogs, I’m, I feel pretty confident at observing something that I guess I would call attunement, where you have a dog that feels safe with you, enjoys learning, and rather than relying on tuning things out, becomes tuned in to you.

So, I really, I really enjoy coming across the dogs that just kind of stare through my soul. I’ve had a few dogs respond to me in ways that’s allowed me to train them something completely different than what I set out to. So, I really, I think when it comes to service dog training, I tend to take a welfare approach because I think it should be a mutually beneficial relationship. And I think when it is, I think the dogs surprise us. And I hope as things progress, it becomes less and less a surprise and more and more an appreciation for attunement. Does that make sense?

[00:24:44] Emily:  Not only does it make sense, but a couple seasons ago, we interviewed Ken Ramirez, and he was talking about when he goes into facilities and teaches them how to teach animals, he says the priority is meeting the animal’s needs, meeting welfare, and then by doing that first and then teaching skills, everybody’s better off for it, and so I’m hearing, I’m hearing you saying something very similar that, like, your primary focus is their welfare and then the work comes out of that. Am I hearing you correctly? Is that, do Am I missing a nuance? Is there anything? 

[00:25:19] Christina: Nope, you said it better than I did. Because that’s when you start having fun. That’s when you start to see creativity. That’s when you can, you know… challenge a dog and watch them buffer and watch them go, ” Okay, what about this?” You know, and then you surprise them. They surprise you. Everybody’s having fun and you. both walk away empowered. 

[00:25:38] Emily:  Yeah. It is really exciting. I, I will say one of the things that I miss the most about service dog training is those moments when you start to take them out into the world to practice what they’ve been learning in more familiar places and seeing them get that look on their face like, ” I know what you’re at, I know what you want me to do here. I know. I know how to do, I’m going to do it, like right here in this totally new place.” And it’s, it was, it would just give me chills every time because it’s like, yes, you, you get, you cat, you’ve caught the vision of what we’ve been working on. So yeah. 

[00:26:10] Christina: And they’re wagging, right? They’re happy. Like you can build habits, all sorts of ways, but it’s, it’s fun to see a dog go, oh, smile, you know, give you their doggy smiles. And rather than being anticipatory or shut down, but to be attuned, and engaged, and sometimes alert on you. And you’re like, “Ha, it’s me. I’m the problem. Good dog.”

[00:26:35] Emily:  Yes. When the learner gets to a place where they can like tell the teacher to take a seat. You’ve, you know, you’ve like reached your goal, right? When your learner is like, when your learner’s like, “I got something to teach you.” You’re like, “Yeah, all right, I’m here for it.” I love that. So, when you’re in a facility environment like that, where you’ve got a lot of dogs and limited time of day, you, you mentioned, you sort of alluded to this, but you said you may not always get all the way to the end with a dog or, or whatever. But how, what’s your process when you’re working on this on a bigger scale? Because I only ever worked with private clients and their specific dogs. So, I don’t have that experience of, of, applying this philosophy to a whole building, a whole facility. So, so talk me through how you approach those situations.

[00:27:29] Christina: I will take time to sit down and meditate with the dog. So, while they’re in do nothing, I will regulate my nervous system. I also try to focus on what I can and cannot control because there’s a lot of moving parts. And just understanding within a facility what things bridge the gap, whether it, what builds resilience, right? 

The idea pretty much is just to look at your available resources. It’s pretty new to me working in a facility environment. Part of it is, like I said, just controlling what you can control, and not worrying about what you can’t. Developing rapport with your coworkers so you get timely feedback so that you can adjust in real time, and and check your ego.

And I usually tell myself slow is smooth, and smooth is fast. And definitely taking the time to, to just sit down, one of my favorite, it’s probably inappropriate, one of my favorite YouTube meditations. I think you know which one I’m talking about. I will use that one because that one definitely, effectively, and quickly helps me reset my nervous system. 

[00:28:49] Emily:  So, for those of you who don’t know what YouTube, meditation we’re referring to, there’s also a book version of it written by Jason Headley, and we can link to his name at least. Because we can’t link to the book title in our show notes, but yeah, it is, it is actually, it’s both hilarious and helpful simultaneously. Yes.

[00:29:12] Christina: Yeah, I hit my own reset button. Sometimes I’ll get the dog and we’ll have a decompression session where I’ll just lay out in the middle of the floor, and I’ll do my box breathing, and if anything I will teach the dog that like if it’s not working, we’re gonna readjust, and I will start to do it first before I ask you to do it, then we will start to do it together, right?

So, and it helps with teaching very functional things, like, for instance, teaching a dog to have a nice off button. There’s this sort of, you know, potential for hyper vigilance when you want a dog to ignore the environment and only be oriented to you. But for me, as someone who’s neurodivergent, that, for me, I feel like, and I may be anthropomorphizing them, but I feel like that takes a monumental amount of energy, and I don’t take that lightly, and it’s obviously very different, for each dog, and you train the dog in front of you. So, I do enjoy the dogs that may be considered quite soft who are just kind of like, “And I’m shutting down.” 

And I’m like, “You know what? Cool. Me too.” 

Like how do we how do we navigate this because that’s how you build resilience, not necessarily plowing through, but just being being committed to like, righting the environment, if you can’t do that, you right yourself, right?

If you’re taking too many big leaps, then again, you start splitting, and split all the way down into a way where at the very least your dog is what I would consider maybe emotionally resilient. So, that when we do place them with the clients, there’s going to be that chasm all over again, right? And they have to take time to establish a rapport with the dogs and the dogs are, are learning in a new environment, but they, the dogs at least have some, have some tricks.

My favorite is when they will offer a paw and they’ll be like, “Just. Just stop. Stop. Like, please just stop.” 

And I’m like, “Okay, cool. Reset button. Let’s develop your agency.” It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re opting out, right? But we’re gonna, you can communicate to me that we need to. Roll back to something else, and it definitely is really fun to see a dog become more confident when they realize that communication is a two way straight, street and not necessarily outside of, “Hey, you have a diabetic low.” Or “Hey, you’re going to pass out in the middle of Target and maybe you should go lay down.” Or “Hey, this child is trying to elope. I’m going to sit and prevent them from doing that.” 

So, it kind of takes the scope of communication outside of a very small world. And I think there are differing ideas about that because we do want consistency. But for me, it’s really important for a dog’s personality to remain intact. I mean, they need to learn appropriate things, right? We need to shape their behavior towards something that’s going to be sustainable living in our, our house, our houses, our, our lives. But for me, there is something that’s really incredible about building agency and seeing a dog maintain their personality, because I think that’s where they draw from and able to be able to do their job.

[00:32:39] Emily:  Yeah, I, I agree. Yeah, when I first started service dog training, I was surprised by how much blowback I got from people who were saying that service dog training is unkind to, to dogs because you know, it’s making them, it’s depriving them of the ability to be a dog. And I didn’t really understand that criticism. I understood where it came from and the root of that, that desire for dogs to have agency and, and live according to their natural history.

Obviously, that’s what we’re all about. So, I understood, the philosophy, but I didn’t understood how it applied to service dog training because the only service dog training I had been exposed to was the kind of stuff that I did and that you currently do. 

Now, obviously we know that that’s not true for all service dog training, and any aspect of animal welfare can have these pockets of approaches or philosophies where we’re not actually meeting the animal’s needs and we’re not taking care of them. But I do understand now, I have a better understanding of that position or that approach of like being against service dog training because of the potential for that type of training. So, can you talk to me about how you, watch for dogs’ responses when they’re either working with a potential client, or when they’re working with you directly, where you might see that they’re not really into it, that maybe they’re shutting down, that maybe they’re doing training because they feel like it’s expected of them. Like, how do you make that assessment? Or do you even see that because you do so much kind of foundational work that that just doesn’t happen to you? What are, what are your thoughts about that?

[00:34:24] Christina: I think there are some very telltale signs, and most of it is just the absence of behavior. You, you lose that sort of loose, happy, like, “Yay, let’s do this. We’re having fun. I enjoy the learning situation.” Sometimes it’s like different environmental cues, whether it’s something physical, a sound, a location. I mean, they’re, they’re just dogs, right? And, and we all, we all know that any kind of cue can predict things. So, yeah, it usually comes down to that. 

I think there is, I think ideology goes into the space between intent and execution. So, I can completely understand that people may think that, you know, dogs aren’t robots, and training a service dog can be inherently unethical. And I am always open to a conversation or a dialogue in good faith about unpacking that and evaluating that because I think it’s important. And I think that’s something that’s at least one good place that we should cultivate as that industry moves forward. Accredited or not, and I’ve worked for both. 

[00:35:47] Emily:  I love that response because, and I’m going to emphasize something that you said, is that the conversation has to happen in good faith because we have a policy that we do not have bad faith conversations. If people come in hot with a lot of assumptions and accusations, and they’re clearly missing big chunks of information, but they’re clearly not interested in hearing and having a conversation about it, we just don’t engage at all. Because in order for those conversations and shared learning to happen, it has to be a good faith conversation where people are approaching with curiosity, and a growth mindset, and being willing to learn new information that challenges their existing beliefs and their existing feelings. And, and it’s just not, it’s not good for anybody to have, try to have bad faith conversations. It’s not good for us. It’s not good for them. It’s just not good. So, I, I love that you said that, and pointed that out because I think that is so critical to creating a shared pool of knowledge that we all can learn and improve from. So, yeah, thank you. Thank you for that. 

[00:36:49] Christina: I also think you should have a plan for when that is not the case well. 

[00:36:53] Emily:  What is your plan for when that’s not the case? I’m interested in learning. 

[00:36:56] Christina: Rapid acceptance, and trying to remember what is effective with whom, how, when, and why. And again, regulating myself, I, I wish that I could, get that webinar that you had about, overt and covert assumptions and have everybody that I know inside and outside of the industry, you know, kind of do that presentation. Because I think it definitely creates an opportunity to very nicely show people, “Hey, like, this is, this is hard. This is hard, being able to differentiate between overt and covert assumptions and then self-reflect about, like, how often you capriciously do that in everyday life and how easily it goes unchecked and becomes status quo.” 

[00:37:50] Emily:  Anytime we’re working with animals and animal welfare is a topic, there is a risk for, you know, misunderstandings and, and different things. Beliefs or ideologies and opposition. And I think that is just a very human tendency in general, because we all have beliefs, we all have a learning history, we all have ideologies, and we’re all coming to the table with our own pool of information, right? And so, I think, you know, just in general, this is a very human thing to, to have these, these topics. These moments of, of conflict or opportunity for conflict resolution. So, along those lines, 

I’m going to out you a little bit now, because when we were preparing for this interview, you told me that you needed structured interview questions so that you, and I quote, don’t devolve into a conversation about capitalism, hegemony, and your hellish experience as a queer Black woman. loved that email so much. Because, first of all, one of the things that I think makes you so incredible at your job is that you take your observations, and experiences, and life philosophies, and apply them that the work you do with both humans and non-human learners. I mean, you know, we’ve, we’ve already talked about that, about the, the power dynamics that are at play and, and, you know, privilege is a power dynamic. Capitalism is a power dynamic. All of those things that you were talking about before are a result of your lived experiences, right? And how could that not bleed into what you do? Nothing exists in a vacuum, so we’re all influenced by our worldviews and our lived experiences. 

But secondly, this idea of when you’re out there living your life and doing what you do and, you know, having the knowledge and experience that you have and people are going to be upset at you, sometimes you have to acknowledge these complicated social issues that are feeding into these misinterpretations or, you know, moments of conflict. So, I actually do want to hear what you have to say about this and how it, how it plays into what we do for a living. So, I’m just going to sit back, shut up, and let you say your piece. 

[00:40:08] Christina: Well, I’m tired. My soul’s tired. First of all. Second of all, I just tried to fall back on the fact that I have conflict resolution skills. And I have a lot of privilege. I had a dad who had three Master’s degrees, one in international politics, one in counseling, and the other one, I don’t even remember what that one was and my mom had, she was short, I think a semester of a Master’s degree in child and developmental psych.

And I had parents that really wanted me. And when I popped out, they were like, “Oh Lord, this one, is cool. It’s cool. Like we have the tools.” So, I had parents who were able to make it very clear to me that I was different. That’s okay. We’re going to give you the tools that you need to survive. And I think maybe not from a monetary standpoint, but from a developmental standpoint I was rich.

I was, there’s a wealth to having the privilege of being raised that way, even in dealing with systemic injustice, home was always a safe place where people would always tell you and I could always ask my Christina questions and they could be like, “Yeah, no, you don’t have to match, but like, here’s some consequences for that. You get to choose how much blow back you get, right? Like, there are pros and cons to the decisions that you make. ” But we are not going to leave you in a place where you walk away disliking yourself because of the mistakes that you make socially. We’re not going to tell you that we’re not going to model behavior that involves internalizing mistakes and having that affect my sense of self.

So, I think, I rely heavily on that. And just a naive, naive commitment. To approach people with curiosity, and a willingness to try, and the rapid acceptance, very, very rapid acceptance of needing to stop, and reorient, or repopulate, or sit in my feels. Feel, know my feelings may be valid and, and try and figure out what I’m going to do next.

And to not spend time demonizing or labeling people, but just maintaining that curiosity about, all right, what works? I mean, I always enjoyed the fact that you, you referred to me Crucial Conversations, didn’t you? And for me, that was really eye opening and validating because I’m the queen of, “you know, there’s a name for that?” At work when people do things, whether it’s a fallacy or we’re talking about, you know, how we premack, you know, dogs or people on a certain situation. 

And so, oftentimes I have learned to get my validation from literature, and not necessarily my peers, and I think that’s really, really nice. It’s a nice cheat code because I think it circumvents barriers for, cause I mean, like kind of a handful in more ways than one, and in different ways as I get older, and in very valid ways for other people. And I do my best to not diminish those barriers for other people, but to try and hold space for them and just be like, “Hey, I’m operating in good faith. Like you may not necessarily feel comfortable being in conflict with me.” And I’m by no means, I’m going to be perfect, but oftentimes I’ll, I’ll just try to get ahead of it and be like, hey, my favorite thing at work was playing the game of establishing a rapport with some of my coworkers and being like, “Hey, you wanna have a safe word?”

Because if I get frustrated, or I’ve been labeled as intense, even though I don’t necessarily raise my voice, I think that is 100 percent valid. I think it’s fun to hand people cheat codes to yourself and just be like, “Hey, you could just be like, Hey, Christina, take a lap.” Right? Like if I’m intense, or I’m frustrated, or if I am fixated on something, because I lack larger context and I’m not going to get that larger context to facilitate me moving on, then like here, here’s a tool and then I pay attention to who takes that tool and who does not. And then that informs how I move forward. Did I answer your question? I feel like I was rambling.

[00:44:58] Emily:  Yeah, I mean, I didn’t really have a question. I just wanted to give you space to say what you wanted to say about capitalism, hegemony, and the hellscape that it is to be a queer Black woman. And I, and I, love everything that you said, because, I mean, there’s so many things that I loved about what you said, and one of them is the idea or the notion that you can simultaneously be marginalized in some ways, and have privilege in other ways, and I think that is a really hard thing sometimes for people to sort of wrap their heads around. 

And I have found it really helpful for me to acknowledge both, to acknowledge the ways in which I’m marginalized and also to acknowledge the ways in which I’m privileged so that if I accidentally show my privilege in a way that is harmful to somebody else, I’m not taking that as like this personal offense, like, like, an assumption that I just have, I’m never marginalized and I’ve never had any disadvantages. It’s like, oh, this is one area in which I have privilege and this other person doesn’t, and I now am aware of that. And now I can use my privilege to be a better ally instead of, you know, traipsing around being an unintentional jerk. Thank you for, for bringing that up. Cause I think that’s a big deal. 

[00:46:14] Christina: It’s also helpful for switching gears in real time, because oftentimes I want to raise my hand and be like, can we evaluate this carceral mindset? And I get looks and I think, cool, not the time, not the place. This is not the space, like, shift gears, let it go, try something else. 

[00:46:34] Emily:  Yeah. And I think that’s another, another aspect of what you said is one thing that I have struggled with is like a need to be fully understood and when people, when people are mad because they’re missing pieces of the puzzle and they don’t fully understand me, it’s, it’s, it’s been really hard for me. And also, I learned that a lot from you, like you were one of my best teachers of this, of learning to just let that go and let people be wrong, um, has just been a huge journey for me. And I remember one time sending you a Marco Polo, just sobbing about how frustrating it is to it, certain aspects of like the culture that I come from running face first into the predominant cultural paradigm that I was living in at the time. And, and you just being like, “Hmm, welcome to my world, you got to just accept that, that, you know, like, just let it go. Just let, let people, you know, be on their own journey.” Right. And so that was, that was huge for me. 

[00:47:35] Christina: Yeah, you gotta put a little Vaseline on your cheekbones and you have to schedule a lot of recovery time. 

[00:47:41] Emily:  Yes, 

[00:47:42] Christina: Turn your head, make the blows glancing, and operate from a place of gratitude if you can as well. Like, sometimes I am grateful when people just simply communicate. Sometimes I’m grateful when I can accept that I will never have the kind of control over my environment in which I feel like I need to really succeed, and to be able to demonstrate mastery to my coworkers, right? Sometimes you just have to like take 15 minutes a day and shut down sensory input and just acknowledge that that’s what you need, figure out what you need, and figure out how to get assistance to ask for what you need if that’s feasible.

[00:48:32] Emily:  So, what I’m hearing is that for both humans and non-humans have making sure that you have a way to have your needs met and, and that includes sensory needs and sensory processing, and being able to communicate to people when you need a break, and when you need to tap out, or when you’re coming in hot and you need to, you know, have feels, which I also have to teach my animals how to do that.

It’s just better. It’s better. Everybody’s better. And humans and non-humans are just better when they, when we can meet our needs and communicate our needs to other people and have people honor those boundaries and help us, right? That’s what I’m hearing. 

[00:49:10] Christina: Yes. Naps and snacks. too. 

[00:49:13] Emily:  All right, so what are our observable goals, and actionable items that people can take away from this discussion?

[00:49:19] Christina: Goodness. Number one, I think it is to operate in good faith, to check yourself before you wreck your learner. I think people should honestly consider what leading with curiosity means for them. I don’t know how, good luck with that. Hydrate while you do it, maybe you stop for hugs if you can. Is, is any of that observable or actionable? Yeah. The hugs is good. 

 I guess lastly, I would say would be to be mindful of the power dynamic and its relationship to responsibility with regard to the relationship between the, the teacher and the learner, and that understand that the more you dig into that, I think the more scary, it should be, and I think that’s okay. 

[00:50:11] Emily:  Yeah. Yeah. And, you know, I think that applies to not just, you know, human to non-human learner, but, you know, consultant to client, dog trainer to their class, everything. And it’s not that I want people operating from a place of fear, but I want people to be, I mean, I think everybody should be a little bit scared that somebody else’s wellbeing is in their hands. And so, like, yeah, not scared, like, you know, fear scared, but be in a sense, a place of awe and a place of, feeling the weight of the responsibility on your shoulders that you are responsible for someone else’s learning process. Not to the point of, not to the point of like discouraging people from being in the industry, but like, you know, have a little awareness of the power dynamic. Yeah. 

[00:50:53] Christina: And insofar as not just biding your time and waiting for that power dynamic to flip, inevitably. Because I think often times, we tend to cope by leading with that, like, yeah, okay, just we’ll wait until there’s a shift. And dog training should not be, what is the book? It’s a book by Naomi Klein called Disaster Capitalism. Off topic. You should read it. It’s interesting. 

But yeah, I don’t, I think when I say, when you, when you are self-aware about power dynamics, I think it should be scary. I think maybe scary wasn’t necessarily the best way to put it, but to definitely think about what it means for you to prioritize that self-awareness and be prepared to kind of, you know, go, “Oh gosh, I, I don’t even know what to do with that.” And I think that’s okay and that’s a great place to start. 

[00:51:48] Emily:  I love that. Okay. We have at the end of, or towards the end of, every episode. We let members of our PETPro professional development program submit questions for our guests. And the question that we got for you is, what are some ways we can incorporate clear rest slash off time slash decompression time into early training plans for service animals?

[00:52:14] Christina: At least the facility in which I, I work with I think having a commitment to develop a well-researched SOP… Or a standard operating procedure, that is reevaluated every few years. So, no matter what it is or where you are operating from, I think, it’s important to engage in a practice of sitting down, and looking at peer reviewed literature, and integrating that into how you approach things and having an appropriate understanding of your own resources and how that affects how you implement those things.

[00:52:54] Emily:  Yeah, I love that because I was expecting you to, to give us like, you know, well, you take the dogs and you do this in this room with the sound, and instead you’re like, no, no, no. Just think about how you’re structuring your approach. And of course, of course, that’s how you’re thinking about it. 

[00:53:12] Christina: Systems. Systems, systems. Reevaluate. Yeah. 

[00:53:17] Emily:  You, you are an ops queen for sure. All right, at the end of every episode, I ask everybody the same questions. The first of those is, what is one thing you wish people knew about either this topic, your profession, or enrichment? Your choice.

[00:53:33] Christina: I wish people knew more about agency and what it was. I spent a whole semester on the topic of agency and I think that’s just the tip of the sphere, the tip of the iceberg. 

[00:53:49] Emily:  Giving learners control over their outcomes, for sure. What is one thing you’d love to see improved in your field? 

[00:53:54] Christina: I would like, as per usual, and I think it’s a bit of a double-edged sword, but I personally would like to see more of a reliance on peer reviewed literature being introduced into the execution of how, how operations go, how those operations are informed by our ideas. Because I think it kind of shows all the different places from which we are coming from and arriving at the same place. And like to be intentional about that, I guess.

[00:54:29] Emily:  I love that. What do you love about what you do? 

[00:54:31] Christina: I love, I love watching people and animals show observable signs of empowerment. I love the space and the freedom I have at work to operate within my own neurodivergence. I love being able to go into a room, and turn off all the lights, and train a dog in there. Sometimes it’s so simple, right? Sometimes it’s just something so basic. The ability to, to be yourself and to, and to be given space for creativity.

[00:55:02] Emily:  You know, what’s funny is that it never would have occurred to me to train an animal in the dark. I, like you, am calmed by lowering light levels. And so, yeah, why didn’t I ever think of that? See, I keep learning from you, Christina.

[00:55:19] Christina: I train so much better. I mean, we have, there’s a particular room that has windows, so there’s natural light coming in, but it’s, it’s so nice. And it frees up, like, my, my brain wavelengths to be able to, like, really focus. So, it’s nice to be able to, like, move in a way that I know I can optimize my abilities as a teacher.

[00:55:42] Emily:  I love that. Thank you. What are you currently working on? If people want to work more with or learn from you, where can they find you? 

[00:55:49] Christina: The internet currently I’m working on trying to find information about training diabetic assist dogs, and I’m trying to cultivate all the different minutiae and every inch of information that I can so that I can dump it all into my brain and take off. Where can you find me? I, I’m not telling.

[00:56:16] Emily:  That’s fine. 

[00:56:17] Christina: I’m going to be in my cave somewhere, reading just on Google Scholar and probably texting you like, hey, have you heard of this? 

[00:56:27] Emily:  You don’t, if you don’t want to be found, you don’t have to be found. Our guests also have agency to, to make themselves more or less findable depending on their preferences. So that’s totally okay. 

[00:56:39] Christina: Right? I’m like, leave me alone until I show up. And I’m like, “Hi, I’m going to be your friend.”

[00:56:43] Emily:  I mean, it’s cool if people want to say something to you, I’m giving them permission to contact me through Pet Harmony and I can pass the message along to you. I don’t mind. I don’t mind being, playing a middle person so that you have your privacy And also, people can still ask you things if they have questions. I so appreciate you coming on to the podcast and sharing more about your approach and especially how you work with service dogs because I just love it. Obviously, I love you. You know that. So, I’m really, I wanted to share you with the world. I’m glad that you came out and, and, and chatted with me for a little bit. Thank you.

[00:57:22] Christina: Thank you for a platform. I hope I’ll probably have a vulnerability hangover afterwards, but I hope that I’ve used, I’ve used this platform to, to, to say what I wanted to say and also to get what I reported to get out there into the world. We’ll see. And yes, I’m definitely open to, being contacted through emily. Thank you for being my bouncer. 

[00:57:45] Emily:  I’m happy to do that for you. Um, and we can, we can just have a vulnerability hangover together because yeah, this is now the tables have turned and it’s my turn to say to you, welcome to my life. Because it hit me every week. All right. It was great talking to you, Christina. I will talk to you soon. 

[00:58:03] Christina: Alrighty. Thank you, Emily. 

[00:58:06] Allie: We hear and talk a lot about the relationship between human and pet, teacher and learner, but Christina has a different take on this than I usually hear, and I absolutely love her framing and will be thinking about this power dynamic a lot more in my own teaching with the several species that I teach, whether it’s humans, or dogs, or cats or what have you.

She is someone that I always learn from every time I speak with her, and I’m so glad that you got to learn from her too. Next week, we’ll be talking about leading with curiosity. 

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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