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Posts tagged ‘patricia mcconnell’

Mom Was Right: It’s Not What You Say, It’s How You Say It

A good friend of mine is about to bring home her very first dog. As you can imagine, I want to give her buckets of advice to help make this an awesome experience. I want to tell my friend everything I know, so that she can avoid all the mistakes anyone has ever made in the history of owning a dog.

I bet you guys can relate. If you’re involved in animal welfare or a pet-related business you’re probably doing a lot of knowledge dropping. From trying to explain the problem with puppy mills to trying to convince someone to leash their dog, we all want to get others to listen to us. It’s not easy!

It got me thinking: How can we share information with others in a way that’s truly helpful and well received? How do we keep the conversation going and create the right conditions for learning?

Over the years, I’ve picked up some tips that have helped me to get better at talking with others about stuff that I’m passionate about.


Here’s one thing I know for sure:

Being right is not enough. What good is being right if no one sticks around to listen?

How we give people information is as important as the information itself. Mom was right when she told us, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it!”


These are the four nuggets that I try to keep in mind, so that I’m not just talking to my cats:

  1. Avoid Information Overload
  2. Personal Experience is King
  3. Help Them Save Face
  4. Small Steps Deserve Big Cheers



Avoid Information Overload

You can’t know too much, but you can say too much. – Calvin Coolidge

When sharing information, particularly with a newbie, we have a tendency to blast the pants off of them with information. One sure way to kill a learning buzz is to overwhelm someone. When I’m overloaded, I just shut down. Like a fainting goat.

Myotonic fainting goat

too. much. information. (source)


One of the hardest lessons for me to learn back when I was working at the shelter was that adopters can only take in so much information at once. I wanted to tell them EVERYTHING they might ever need to know right then, while I had them in my clutches sight. So I would start burying them in information: health and medical needs, behavior and training advice, favorite toys, treats, tools, books, what the dog’s poop looked like, and a brief history of how man domesticated the dog.

What they wanted was to get their hands on the dog in front of them and experience it for themselves. They could only absorb a tiny smidgen of what I was saying.

So, I learned to tell them just the most important information and then put a cork in it. This was excruciating. Cutting to the chase is not my strong suit (see: this blog). But I knew that if I wanted them to hear the really important bits, I had to cut back on what I said overall.

Avoid overloading your listener. They don’t need to know everything all at once. Try to let the newbies – whether they’re new dog owners or new to a challenging experience or an animal welfare issue –  get their footing before you slam them with everything you know.

Keep it simple, give them a few concrete actions steps, and send them home with stuff to read later. Patricia McConnell says so. If the situation allows for it, make yourself available for a follow up. The follow up is important because…


Personal Experience is King

“There are three kinds of men. The ones that learn by readin’. The few who learn by observation.
The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.”
― Will Rogers

I have to pee on the fence. So do many adopters, clients, advocates, and probably your uncle Larry too.

We learn by doing and we’re not the only ones. Remember learning to drive?  No matter how good the manual may be, it’s not the same as actually driving a car. Once you have some time behind a wheel, then the manual suddenly makes a whole lot more sense. Oh, you think as you hit your first patch of black ice, that’s what skidding feels like. Which way do I turn the wheel again?!

It helps to acknowledge this need for experience, so you can let go a little.

At the shelter I learned that people needed to experience living with the dog before they could truly make sense of the resources they’d received.

Before: it was me yammering at them while their brains were hijacked by shmoopy-faced dogs. What I was saying couldn’t compete and didn’t feel relevant in that moment.

After: they had experienced the shmoopy-faced dog taking a dump on their rug and it became real (and smelly). They could put what I had said about house-training into context. It was suddenly personal, relevant, and really believable!

Once I understood this need for experience, I did two things: I incorporated hands-on learning during the adoption counseling (ex: I would have them put the harness on the dog themselves to learn how it fit) and I made myself available for help after they brought the dog home.

Is that lady saying you need to crate train me? She's crazy. I'm perfect and I never poop.

Is that lady saying you need to crate train me? Don’t listen. She’s crazy. I’m perfect and I never poop.


Until we’ve experienced something for ourselves and figured out how it’s relevant to us personally, it’s tough for us to understand something new or believe it to be true. There’s a kinesthetic learner in all of us.

That’s why it’s such an a-ha moment when someone lives with a reactive dog for the first time. Suddenly, they understand everything anyone has ever yelled at them, like “my dog needs space!” because now they’re living the DINOS-dream for themselves. It wasn’t real until then. Personal experience is king.

I don’t mean to say we shouldn’t try to help others understand things in advance. Anyone who is a little further along in the journey should try to put down gutter bumpers to help newbies do the right thing and prevent anything truly bad or dangerous from happening. But we also have to accept that people need room to do some learning on their own. Which means that mistakes are inevitable…

 

Help them Save Face

“At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” ― Maya Angelou

When people make mistakes, your job (if you want them to learn anything) is to protect their dignity. Help them save face, so they’ll stay in the conversation.

In other words, try not to shame the shit out of them. If you do, you’ll lose them in a heartbeat.

Years ago I met my now-BFF while she was working in a Philly pet store that sold only very high quality food. The brand my family had fed my childhood dog (it rhymes with Defiance Riot, which is also the name of my imaginary hardcore band) wasn’t for sale. I mentioned that the food must have been OK, since we bought it from our vet.

My friend, who probably wanted to vomit all of her holistic health and nutrition knowledge at me, simply said, “Yeah, it’s not so great.” And she causally pointed to a book Food Pets Die For, if I was interested in learning more. The book was also her way of saying, it’s not just my opinion. Check out this expert.

Her super laid back brilliance allowed me to absorb this surprising new knowledge while maintaining my dignity. I was privately embarrassed that I knew so little about dog food. My friend, who wanted me to learn more, helped me to see where I had room to improve in such a generous way. She didn’t put me on the defensive. Instead, she opened the door a crack and gently suggested I take a look.

And I did, because I didn’t have to admit I was an idiot in order to do it.

So hard to do, isn’t it? I know. But we have to remember this isn’t about us showing off how much we know or how skilled or smart we are about a topic. It’s about helping someone else feel comfortable enough to check out what’s on the other side of the door.

Help others save face when they share something that you may not agree with or when they make a mistake.

If you blast them with negative information – telling them how wrong or dumb they are or how horrifyingly awful that product/trainer/idea is that they like – you’ll run the risk of shutting them down in embarrassment and shame. It doesn’t matter how right you are, if the person you were trying to reach has left the conversation because they hate they way you’ve made them feel.

I’m still learning how to do this, btw. It is hard.

side note: Have you guys heard about “spontaneous trait transference“? That’s the phenomenon where people spontaneously and unintentionally associate what you say about other people with you yourself. So if you’re talking about a certain dog trainer or co-worker’s negative qualities, guess what? The people listening are associating those negative qualities with you. It works in reverse too, thankfully.


Small Steps Deserve Big Cheers

“Nine tenths of education is encouragement.” Anatole France

So you’ve got someone who’s listening? Cool. Here’s my favorite way to keep people interested in learning: Be a cheerleader. Pom poms are optional, but kind of awesome.

Celebrate whatever it is that you want them to do more of – no matter how small – and build the foundation of a genuine and positive relationship with your adopters, clients, friends, and neighbors (maybe even your adversaries!). When people feel good, they stay engaged.

Don’t wait for them to get it all right before you start celebrating their accomplishments. Remember these words, spoken by the great sage Bill Murray in What About Bob?:  Baby steps.

Small steps deserve big cheers. Even if you’re dying for them to speed things up and get to the other side, keep rooting them on if they’re headed in the right direction (p.s. they may never get to the other side, so try to accept that not everyone will do things exactly as you do). They’ll appreciate your support and encouragement. It will make them feel good about themselves and their choices. And that will help them stay motivated to continue, even if things get more challenging. They may even allow you to continue on the journey with them.

baby-steps

“I feel good, I feel great, I feel wonderful.” – Bob


There’s tons more advice out there about how to effectively share what we know, but those are my guiding nuggets. The truth is that I still fail at all four of these steps all the time. But I’m always trying to improve, because every once in a while I really want to help someone learn something new or useful. I bet you do too.

So consider how you’re sharing what you know. If you don’t, you might get pegged as the Crazy Dog Lady. That’s an easy way for others to dismiss all the great stuff you have to share. And that would be a bummer for the dogs. They need you!



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Hello Off Leash Dogs. Meet My Friend Direct Stop.

(Download and print the pdf version of Hello Off Leash Dogs)

Ask anyone who walks DINOS: “What’s your worst fear?” and they’ll all tell you the same thing: Off Leash Dogs (OLDs).

When you’re out walking your DINOS and you spot a loose dog, with no owner in sight, it’s hard not to throw up, just a little, as you mentally run the list of ninja moves you might need to escape untouched.

With that in mind, I wanted to share some tips for dealing with OLDs. But just so we’re clear, nothing works 100% of the time.

The thing about off leash dog encounters is that they’re a little different every time and there are always a lot of variables in play. So what works once, doesn’t always work the next time. What’s safe to try with one dog, may not be safe with another. I know, because these tips don’t always work for me.

I’d be perfectly happy if someone invented a Pop-up Teflon Dog Walking Tent, so that I could lurch down the block with my DINOS, safely ensconced in our own personal fortress. But hey, sometimes these tips do work, so they’re worth storing in the old noggin.

Here they are, starting from the beginning:

INVEST in a wardrobe that has generous pockets or a little dog walking bag.

On every dog walk, you should take the following, in addition to poop bags:

High Value Treats

Cell Phone with Camera and Animal Control on Speed Dial

Direct Stop aka Spray Shield

+ One Bodyguard (it does help to have a second set of hands, just saying)


BE QUIET

There are a lot of loose dogs hanging out in their yards. The very first thing you can do to avoid a confrontation is to slip by unnoticed. I do this two ways:

Cross to the other side of the street, so I’m not directly in front of their property

 Tell my dogs to put a lid on it aka silence those tags


Tip for Leashed Dogs or Dogs Inside Houses: Being quiet helps, even if the dogs you’re passing are inside or on leash. I used to walk a reactive Olde English Bulldog that wore so many tags, collars, harnesses, gold chains, gongs, and sleigh bells that we alerted every dog in the whole of South Philly that we were coming. Not surprisingly, we had to walk a gauntlet of barking dogs and he struggled mightily to keep his cool. It was unnecessary work – we were bringing the dogs to us, when we really wanted them to go away.


ENGAGE YOUR DOG

Sometimes our DINOS are the ones attracting the attention with all that “debating” they like to do. So if you spot a dog before (or after) your DINOS does, be sure to engage your dog. Keep them focused on you, instead of staring or lunging at the other dog. Ask them to “look” at you. Talk to them in a happy, loose voice. Sing them a silly song with their name in it. Put a treat or toy in front of their nose. Do whatever you need to do to keep their attention on you, as you steer them past the dog hanging out in your neighbor’s yard, or while you do a u-turn (see below).  You can flash a “stop” hand signal at the other dog too, just to reinforce the message that you and your dog aren’t interested – thank you very much.


Tip for Fenced in Dogs: If you’re passing dogs that are contained and barking or running the length of the fence, try this: Cross the street to make space and say “Hi Guys!” in a loud and cheery, high-pitched voice. Sometimes that’s all it takes to shut them up and it tells your dog that things are ok.


LICK YOUR LIPS

You need to try to stay calm, if you want your dog to stay calm too, so do a body scan. Are you pulling the leash tight? Relax a little. Are you holding your breath? Lick your lips. You can’t really hold your breath and lick your lips at the same time. Talk in a happy tone. Let your dog know you’re cool.


WHEN A DOG IS FOLLOWING YOU:

In any situation you have to do two things – deal with your dog and the oncoming one.

This is really hard because these encounters typically happen in a matter of seconds, so even the best laid plans go out the window.

I won’t lie: I full on face-planted a few months ago when a total loser  lovely gal opened her front door, which opened right onto the street, and let her dog run out just as I was passing with a reactive dog. As the door opened, I was already moving to the other side of the street, to make some distance, and called “Get your dog NOW!”, but the dog was sprinting and caught up in a second. I tripped on my dog as I was trying to wrangle her and I fell. It happens. So I held on to the leash, as tight as I could while lying on my stomach, and my dog lost her marbles at the end of the leash. The other dog, stood, just an inch out of my dog’s reach, until the gal finally came to get her dog. I was glad I didn’t let go. I had a skinned knee, but neither dog got hurt and I have no doubt that had they made contact, that wouldn’t have been the case. Just wanted to share that even though my brain was telling me to do this stuff, I couldn’t make it happen that time, so I just wiped out and held tight!


FOR YOUR DOG: EMERGENCY U-TURN

Teach your dog to move quickly and calmly in the opposite direction, so that when you encounter a loose dog or a scary person, you can make a fast getaway. Teach them to do this on cue using a phrase and tone you’re most likely to use if you encounter this scenario.

Like “Uh-Oh! Let’s Go!” or “Holy Shit!” Whatever you think you’d actually say.

Here’s one way to teach them this trick and check out Feisty Fido for more, including Emergency Sit.


IF YOU CAN’T GET AWAY:


FOR YOUR DOG: BODY BLOCK

This means getting in between your dog and the oncoming OLDs. Ideally, you’ve taught your dog a great sit-stay, so that you can step directly in front of them to deal with the loose dog.


FOR THE LOOSE DOG: USE THE VOG

That’s the Voice of God aka what James Earl Jones sounds like.

Step in front of your dog and, using the VOG, say:

NO, SIT, or STOP and flash the universal hand signal for stop: a flat outstretched palm.

The goal here is to startle the crap out of the other dog, so you want to really BOOM! If you’ve got their attention, try telling them to STAY or GO HOME. Be fierce, stand tall, say it like you mean it.


WITH THE VOG OR IF THEY’RE STILL FOLLOWING YOU:


FOR THE LOOSE DOG: HURL TREATS

Take a handful of those high value treats you’ve got in your pocket and throw them right in the other dog’s face. The goal here is to startle them, then have them look around for the food, giving you enough time to get away. I’ve had a 50-50 success rate with this, so it’s worth a try, but I’ll be the first to admit, it doesn’t stop all dogs. Patricia McConnell did a test run you can watch here.


Or Toss Pea Gravel at their feet. If you’ve got room in your cargo pants for a hand full of pea gravel, it can be worth carrying some to startle oncoming dogs by throwing this at their feet.


Tip for On-Leash Dogs: Occasionally, I let a few treats slip out of my hand when someone is rapidly walking up behind me and my DINOS and I can’t get away or make space. I’ll just drop a few treats on the sly, so the dog coming up from behind takes a second to sniff around for the food, and I’ve got an extra minute to make some distance.

 


WHEN YOU ARE TRAPPED:


USE TOOLS

If your voice and treats don’t work and you can’t get away (and really, you only have a few seconds to make these calls, so you can just skip to this step, if you need to), this is when it’s handy to have another tool on you. If you frequently walk in a neighborhood plagued with off leash dogs that you anticipate fending off, it’s worth carrying one of the following:

Direct Stop

Umbrella (pop-up)

Airhorn

Shake can

Walking Stick

The idea would be to body block your dog, by standing in front of them, and then use any of the tools you have to stop the oncoming dog. Spray ‘em, pop the umbrella open in their face, throw the penny can at them, blast the air horn, block them with the stick.

I vote for Direct Stop, a citronella spray. It won’t harm the dog, if you have to spray them, so you’re not risking their health. Plus, if their owner is nearby, just the sight of the spray will likely get them motivated to grab their dog, since they don’t know it’s harmless. If you use it, spray the dog right in the muzzle.

I highly recommend practicing with these tools. I’ve heard from dog walkers who have had Direct Stop on them, but in the chaos of the interaction, their brains totally bailed and they couldn’t remember how to use the spray. To build confidence and a higher chance of success, practice unholstering and spraying. By repeating the movements when you’re at ease, you’ll build a muscle memory for that action, so that when panic takes over your brain your body will still remember what to do.


WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS:

Here’s what some people I know have done, to get their dogs away from OLDs:

Thrown them over a fence

Thrown them over their shoulders while kneeing/kicking the loose dog

Thrown them into the bed of random a pick-up truck

I’m just saying, it’s been done.

If the two dogs actually do connect, expect a lot of noise. Dogs sounds awful when they’re in a tussle, but it’s usually far worse sounding then it actually is. Try to stay calm (so hard), but if you’re alone, I do suggest calling for help. I’ve yelled loud enough to get neighbors to come out of houses and give me a hand. Having a second set of hands is worth screaming for.

If you have a helper, break up the fight by: making a loud noise, spraying the dog with your Direct Stop, or finding something to use as a physical barrier to smash/slide in between the dogs so that you can safely separate the dogs. Look for something big, like a trash can lid, a chair, a recycling bucket, anything large and nearby that you can wedge between the dogs. Grabbing collars is an invitation to get bit (your own dog is likely to swing their head around and redirect on you), but sometimes people do it anyway. If you do grab collars, you can try twisting them to cut off air supply briefly. Try holding the back legs instead. When you‘re able to separate the dogs, both parties need to move away from each other, preferably in a wide circle – not straight back – and do not let go of the dogs.

If you are all alone, I’m not going to lie. It’s really hard to break up a dog fight by yourself. I’ve never had to do this alone, but what I know for sure is that when you break up a dog fight, you need to make sure that after the dogs are separated, they don’t go right back at each other. One way to do this, if you are by yourself, is to tie one of the dogs to a fence or post or whatever is there, separate the dogs, and then do not let go of the one you’re holding. Move the dog as far away as you can. If there is any way to tie them up or enclose them (unlocked car anyone?), do it. Call for help, call 911.

I know that sounds super scary, but in all the years I’ve been dog walking and dealing with OLDs, I can say that things rarely get this far (not that they don’t – they do), but for the most part, dogs chase you away from their property or chase after you to play or try to start a little bit of trouble that you can stop with one of those tools.

No matter what happens, it’s best to think about these things before they occur. Have a plan in place. Know the hot spots in your neighborhood with OLDs and avoid them, even if you have to take a less convenient route. Walk at off hours. Bring a friend, so you always have a second set of hands. Drive your dogs to a safe spot to walk them. If your dog is aggressive, use a muzzle,  so you don’t have to worry about them hurting a friendly off leash dog that gets in their face.


TO RECAP:

Give all dogs space by moving away from their property

Engage your dog – keep them focused on you and quiet enough not to attract unwanted attention

If you see a loose dog, try doing an Emergency U-turn and scoot out of there

If you’re stuck, Body Block your dog, step forward and use the VOG

If the dog keeps coming and you feel like there’s no escape, spray them with Direct Stop, blow your air horn, use your tools.

If contact is made, spray the dog or use whatever large object you have access to (from a stick to trash can lid) to slide in between dogs.

Separate dogs and do not let go. Call for help.

Go home and have a beer.

If just reading this exhausts you (sorry it’s so long), I want you to know that it’s ok to exercise your dogs at home, in your yard, or whatever it takes to keep them safe and happy. I want you guys to be as stress free as possible and for your dogs to enjoy life. Some days, that might mean skipping the walk.


Download and print the pdf version of: Hello Off Leash Dogs

I know you guys have thoughts and tips to share on this subject. Please do! We can all learn from each other here at Team DINOS, so if you have a trick, I want to know about it!

Living with DINOS™: A Resource Guide

Living with DINOS isn't always easy, but you're not alone and there is help! Check out the tools, classes, and techniques that have made a difference for the DINOS community...

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Breed Standards and Individuality in Dogs. It’s not one or the other:

 From Patricia McConnell, Ph.D. in this month’s Bark Magazine, discussing lessons learned from two Border Collies, one of which loved herding sheep in an open field, the other not so much: “It is a cautionary tale with two parts: One, dog breeds were created not for looks but for behavior, and we need to do a better job of matching a dog’s needs with the environment in which he or she will ultimately live. Two, all dogs, no matter how pure or eclectic their breeding, are individuals…Two Border Collies, two individuals.” Good advice whether you’re an adoption counselor or a policy maker: Reference breed standards, be honest about what you know for sure, but ultimately respect the dog that’s right in front of us, knowing that many dogs never got the memo about how they’re “supposed” to act based on their looks or breed