HOLY S*!%… HERE GOES NOTHING

When New Year’s Eve rolled around this past year, I remember thinking, “I accomplished a lot in 2014. I got my KPA certification and I finally got the Manager of Special Events promotion I wanted at the shelter… I guess 2015 will just be a coasting year.”  Boy was I wrong.

As of next Wednesday, I am officially saying goodbye to my full time, 9-5 job as an event planner. Yup, I’m doing it – I’m moving to training and behavior full time!  I’ve accepted a part time position on the behavior team at the Washington Humane Society and then will be expanding my role with Dog Latin Dog Training.

What does that mean? It means that for two and a half days a week I’ll be working with shelter dogs – evaluating them for adoption, running playgroups, doing behavior modification, teaching volunteers and staff about positive training as it relates to shelter animals, working with adopters, and so much more. It also means that when I’m not at the shelter, I’m working with private clients. It means I have more time to devote to them and their dogs. It means I can make my own schedule. It means I have time to actually blog (!!) and to organize more presentation opportunities and to do continuing education. It means I get PAID to put 110% of my effort and my heart and my soul into exactly what I want to do. Every. Freaking. Day.

I feel so thankful for the four years I spent in nonprofit development. Being an event planner for two different animal shelters taught me so much. Event planners have to be organized, detail oriented, good at working under pressure, able to multitask and really good at working with people. Thanks to the years spent mastering these skills, I consider myself relatively business savvy and able to connect with people in a way that will help me accomplish my long term goals in the dog world (and I’ve got some big goals!).

While I enjoyed my time on the admin side of helping animals, there was no denying the nagging feeling that dog training – specifically as it relates to the human-canine bond – was my purpose in life. I recently went to a TEDx talk about “being rebellious.” One of the speakers really stuck out to me. He talked about his experience breaking away from his own set status quo, and how it was scary, risky and against the norm, but so necessary and exciting. What resonated with me most was when he said, “You don’t make a difference by staying comfortable.”

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So I left my comfort zone. It was scary to let go of my 9-5 job. It was even more scary to let go of my consistent paycheck (duh). But as soon as I made the decision, everything felt right. Even when I told my coworkers at my current job, I got the response, “Well that took longer than we expected :-).” This is where I’m supposed to be, and I couldn’t be more ecstatic (I’m literally tearing up as I write this). Welcome to this new ride you’ll be joining me on, you guys. Cheers to growing up, taking risks and following your passion!
TACO

16 HOUR FOSTER DOG

Holy moly do I miss fostering. I knew I missed it, but I didn’t realize quite how badly until I was walking through the kennels at work and saw this adorable little face staring at me through the wires of her kennel door.

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The funny thing is that I was actually heading back to the dogs to check out this adorable pit puppy we’d just gotten in, but this girl with no name caught my eye. She was just so mini and waggy! I cooed at her through the gate, which just made her melt into me more, which then made me melt… I was done.

I went to inquire about her. She was a stray, which explained why she didn’t have a name. I had had had to take her out. I had to spend more time with her! She was just so cute. I hadn’t felt this way about a dog in a long time.

She came and hung out at my desk and did wonderfully. Bringing a dog to my cubicle is a good test, and can actually give me a lot of information about the dog. Does she settle well? Is she super extra curious? Does she get freaked at the office noises she hears? Can I occupy her with a chew? This pretty girl, of course, passed her test with flying colors. So obviously I had to take her home for the night.

Yes, I would say this is one of the perks of working at a shelter: being able to have a foster dog slumber party whenever you want. I geared the little one up, and off we went for our 16 hour adventure together.

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At this point she still didn’t have a name, so I called her Penny. Because she can fit right in my pocket.

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I brought her home and obviously my roommates fell in love with her. I also obviously broke my very own #1 rule of keeping a foster dog’s world small during the transition, and out we went with Penny to Meridian Hill Park. I made sure to bring lots of treats with us so I could show her the behaviors I did want from her while we were out (attention to me, loose-leash walking, etc.). Turns out, Penny rocks. Here are some pictures from our adventure:

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So then of course she was so tired that she was extra snuggly in bed with me that night, which is my absolute favorite part of fostering. It might have only been 5 pm to 9 am, but the time spent with Penny was a nice glimpse of what fostering was for me at one time and what it will be for me again one day. For now I will just continue to enjoy the times I do get to steal shelter dogs and call them my own… for 16 hours.

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PS – Penny was of course scooped up right away. Watching her walk out of the shelter with her new mama brought back some crazy bittersweet feelings!


WINGING IT: OUR SMALL SCREEN DEBUT

Never a dull moment over here. A few weeks ago I had the exciting opportunity to take positive training on TV!

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Being that my full time job is in marketing, I’ve been on TV plugging fundraising events a handful of times (the first time I hung out with Johnnie Cash was when I took her on the news to promote our annual gala!). This time was different though – I secured the gig myself on behalf of Dog Latin and decided the content for the five minute segment. I pitched a “Clicker Training 101” angle and I was so excited to use this opportunity to spread positive training to the masses.

After I got confirmation that we had the segment, I realized I didn’t have a dog to come with me… oops. Minor detail, right? Luckily Dog Latin had just started working with this a-maz-ing client, a six-month old golden retriever named Scarlett. Despite being a young puppy, Scarlett was the absolutely perfect dog to bring with me to show off what clicker training can do. Her owner has been teaching her different manners, behaviors and tricks using the clicker since she was just eight weeks old! Not only does Scarlett have a large repertoire of behaviors, but her focus is unbeatable – especially for her age.

To prepare for our taping, I took Scarlett out on the town to work around distractions. As I’m sure you know, your dog’s ability to respond to cues out in the “real world” is a whole different ballgame than in your living room! The last thing I wanted was for her to see the studio, the cameras and all the people and freak out or be unable to work. So we went to PetSmart and to outdoor town squares and I did my best to create challenging environments for focusing – and Scarlett rocked it each time. We went into our TV debut with a bangin’ reinforcement history.

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We were appearing on The Pet Show with Dr. Katy. I admire Dr. Katy because she’s so successful in what she does – helping the public with their pets – and she has a blast doing it. She also doesn’t compromise who she is just because she’s in the public eye. Her twitter handle reads, “Veterinarian, Mom, Writer, Rabid LSU Fan. Snarky stiletto loving country girl rockin’ the big city.” Love it, girl – you do you!

Scarlett and I showed up to the studio armed with roughly one zillion hot dogs and pieces of cheddar cheese. I knew my reinforcer had to be a goooood one if I was going to keep her attention over the crazy sights and sounds of the news station. I was so relieved when she still had her sparkly, perfectly attentive face on at the studio.

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We were the second guest, and as the show started taping I heard, “And then later we’re going to learn how to train your pets without treats.”  What. What. I repeat…. What. That’s not what I (thought I?) pitched! Clicker training! We use food in clicker training (which I addressed in last week’s post, you’ll remember)! It wasn’t anyone’s fault, but at this point it’s a real time taping, meaning no re-dos, and I’ve got about five minutes until I’m on and I need to figure out what the heck I’m going to talk about. Thank goodness my amazing friend and colleague Katya was there to talk me down from a COMPLETE AND TOTAL FREAK OUT. “There are plenty of rewards other than food,” she said. “You know this – you have plenty to still talk about. You’ll be fine.” She was a lifesaver.

The cameras started rolling and all of a sudden it became easy. As I settled in and started talking about training, I immediately relaxed. I did have plenty to talk about – from switching to functional rewards, to how to get behaviors we like, to showing off Scarlett’s tricks – the five minute segment flew by. Scarlett did unbelievably well, and Dr. Katy was a gracious host.

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So, like I said, never a dull moment! No matter how much you plan and prepare, it never goes as intended – especially with dogs! But I am so beyond thankful for this opportunity and the many lessons learned from the experience. I look forward to making next time (because there will be a next time!) even better.

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Technology wins again and I can’t figure out how to embed the video, so to watch the clip you have to head to the website. We start at about 8:10!


BREAKING NEWS: YOUR DOG’S FOOD IS NOT MADE WITH A SUBSTANCE FROM MARS

First of all, I’d like to give a huge THANK YOU for the overwhelming support you all gave me after last week’s relaunch of the site. I’m so excited that you’re excited! Your encouragement and enthusiasm made all the work I put into it way worth while.

Now, let’s talk about food.

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Hi, I am a dog trainer who uses food in training – and I absolutely love it. I train using primarily positive reinforcement. What this means is that I add something good to increase the likelihood of a behavior occurring again. If I add something and it does not increase the behavior, it’s not doing the job. More importantly, it’s the learner who decides what is reinforcing and what isn’t. Just because you want Fluffy to enjoy pets does not mean Fluffy will enjoy pets.

The thing about food is that it is a primary reinforcer, meaning animals are hard wired to like it and want it. Most of the time, food is good enough to make a behavior happen again (depending on the difficulty of the behavior and the value of the food, but that’s for an entirely different post). Toys, praise, etc. are not always a good enough reinforcer, at least in the beginning, to increase a behavior. It’s like the equivalent of giving you a glass of lemonade to mow the lawn, versus giving you $20 to mow the lawn. Which is more motivating? (Trick question: it’s actually your spouse’s nagging.)

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As much as we would love our dogs to work with us “just because they want to,” that is not the case. They don’t want the glass of lemonade. Well, some do. But most don’t. We need to pay them and make it worth it for them. There are times when toys or praise just won’t cut it with our dogs, especially for tough behaviors like not going bat s*%t crazy when the doorbell rings. Using food in training allows us to mark and reward behaviors we like so that our dogs begin to do them more often. Stay calm to earn a “good boy!” from my human? No thanks. Stay calm for some juicy hot dogs? Now you’re talking!

I totally understand the concerns people have about using food to train their dog. The three gripes I hear most often are 1) I don’t want a dog who will only work if I have food 2) I don’t want my dog to get fat and 3) I don’t want my dog to think he now deserves my people food. Here’s the shocking part to a lot of people: trainers who use food don’t want any of those things either!

If you use food correctly, you can avoid all of those issues. Seriously! 1) Don’t go to your treat stash until after your dog has completed the behavior. As in, don’t stick the treat in front of Fluffy’s face and then give the cue. Give the cue, then treat. This makes it a reward, not a bribe. 2) I’m a big fan of shifting calories away from the food bowl. This is a win-win because your dog is working for his meals and therefore not taking in a ton of extra calories, and he’s getting extra mental stimulation! Which we know is super important. Lastly, 3) People food is only “people food” if it comes from the dinner table. Have you checked out the ingredients labels on your dog food bag? It (hopefully, ha) consists of what we consider “people food” – not a foreign substance from a faraway planet. Your dog will not translate getting cheese as treats to automatically deserving a bite of your grilled cheese sandwich. (But then again if he does think that, just teach him an awesome “place” behavior while you eat dinner and maybe he can get a bite or two!?)

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Do I fade the food eventually? For many behaviors, yes. Or I at least move to a more variable rate of reinforcement with treats while transitioning to functional rewards like getting the leash put on before a walk or tossing the toy. But for some behaviors, like a potentially life-saving recall or serious behavior modification, I usually don’t. The strategies and theories behind how long and how often we use food are a bit more complex and for another post.

Now, of course, like with everything else in the dog world, there are exceptions. There are dogs who will bend over backwards for their human’s giggle or for the toss of a ball. For those dogs, those functional rewards are more motivating and reinforcing. But most dogs need that food when you’re teaching them. I’m writing this because I had a really funny/borderline mortifying experience when I did a taping for a local news show the other day (which deserves its own post) and I wanted to address the whole “treats in training” debacle before I write about that experience. Because I don’t know about you, but I’m not working for just hugs, kisses or lemonade, no siree, Bob – and I wouldn’t expect my dogs to either.

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NEW BLOG, SAME US

Hi! Hi hi hi! Welcome back! I’m saying this to you all, but I’m also saying it to myself. Welcome to the new and improved Peace, Love & Fostering blog! (If you’re reading this in your email, that’s your cue to hop over to your web browser and check out our new layout... except maybe wait until you’re by a computer because mobile is nice but not that nice).

I know you guys watched me let PLF fall by the wayside over the past year and a half. I witnessed it too. I had so much else going on. I was too busy. I wasn’t fostering anymore. This site started as a way to get the word out about my amazing foster dogs – once I no longer needed it for that, what exactly was its purpose? Where was my inspiration? Well, sometimes it takes some time and space apart to realize you really were meant for each other.

So, darling blog, I am back for you. Whole-freaking-heartedly.

It all started a couple weeks ago when I got an email with an amazing new opportunity (which I’ll write about later). This person found me through PLF. After celebrating the offer, I immediately regretted not keeping up with posting here. What if this person had passed me over because I didn’t have recent content? Or they dug back into my early posts when I had no idea what I was doing because I didn’t give them enough good posts to read more recently? What if they took my lack of posts as a lack of commitment!? I could have missed this chance, and the thought of that really scared me.

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I immediately sat and thought about why I don’t post anymore (because the dog trainer in me HAD to figure out what was so aversive about it). There are a couple reasons, but one of the blaring ones was the feeling that the blog’s layout and style no longer fit me or my mission. It is very “me three years ago.” Don’t get me wrong – I loved my self-made layout and it served me well for many years, but it was time to grow up. It was time for my blog to reflect the person I am now, mid-twenties.

I contacted my good friend Dani DiPirro, blogger, graphic designer and positive thinker extraordinaire, and asked her for ideas. Turns out that rebranding is, well, what she does (among other things)! I jumped at the chance to use her creativity and expertise. The best part? She’s been reading PLF for years so she knows what’s at the heart and soul of the site. We started brainstorming, and all of a sudden the most amazing, perfect, I-couldn’t-have-dreamed-up-better PLF brand was created.

I’m armed with new graphics (seriously, Dani is a genius), I’ve taken new (real!) photos for my posts and I’ve written new menu pages (if you’re bored, go check them out!). I am absolutely head over heels in love with everything about the crisp new look. It’s so “me right now.”

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But on top of that, I’ve also got an improved outlook, voice and mission. Like I said before, the time I took away from the blog that I spent living and learning has left me with a new sense of self. I’ve got stuff to say! And I think I can say it in a way that will resonate with you! And the fact that I’m confident in that makes me really excited to WRITE! You might have noticed that I changed the tagline from, “The three ingredients to a warm heart and saved lives” to “Lessons learned from fostering, training and loving dogs.” Because that’s really what this space is about: living life, learning from it and sharing it with you – but luckily in a way that involves dogs so it’s not just me talking about myself, ha!

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The cherry on top is that I finally got my .com address. Yup, bookmark it: peacelovefosterDOTCOM. I love you, WordPress, but I just couldn’t live with you in my URL anymore. The site is still a work in progress (hey, life), but making this huge jump has been enormously refreshing and challenging and rewarding and so, so worth it. I feel lucky that I have this space in existence where I can brand myself outside of my training company or my events job – because, at the end of the day, I’ve got my own voice and I’m going to use it to make a difference.

Thank you SO much for sticking with me through all this. See you back here SOON!

MEJC


HOW DOG TRAINING HELPED ME THROUGH A CAR ACCIDENT

Just five short months ago on my birthday, October 1st, I drove home my first big girl purchase – a brand new 2015 Mazda CX-5. It’s my dream car: manual transmission, black, equipped with Bluetooth and a back up camera and perfect for driving around both two-legged and four-legged passengers. I love love love my new car.

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On Monday night I was driving through a really terrible three-lane traffic circle during rush hour. I was cautiously navigating my way through the circle in the middle lane when BAM! another vehicle smashed into my car, gashing up the entire driver’s side and ripping off the plastic molding. In that moment my heart shattered into a million pieces. I was fine, luckily, but my car! My brand new baby car! I kept it together, thought to myself that it was going to be okay because it wasn’t my fault, and got out of my car to get the process started.

As the other driver started telling the cop what happened, I waited for the explanation of why he merged into my lane. Accidents happen. It’s a chaotic traffic pattern with a lot of angry drivers, I get it. Insurance would cover the damages and I wouldn’t be penalized. Then all of a sudden he says, “so then she cut me off and hit me.” Wait. WHAT. My mouth dropped open. My heart started racing. I could feel my eyes starting to sting with tears of frustration. How could he try to blame this on me? I didn’t do anything wrong!? A million thoughts started rushing through my mind. I wanted to scream.

I’m sure you all can relate to this feeling. We’re all human. It’s that gut-wrenching, emotional reaction inducing feeling. It’s when a lot of people make decisions they wouldn’t normally make. As a positive dog trainer, I’ve taught myself to strive to not be reactive. These are the same emotions that owners and trainers feel when they are frustrated enough to do a leash pop or perhaps a harsh verbal correction. It’s these moments, after our dogs have messed up and maybe angered, scared or embarrassed us, where we as humans make emotional training decisions in reaction to what our dogs have done. What I work towards as a trainer is keeping these emotional reactions in check and, better yet, being proactive about the behavior that sparks them. Adding aversives to an already emotional situation often makes it worse. It takes practice and patience and a totally new frame of mind, but now when my dogs mess up I take a deep breath, address the issue and figure out how to change it for next time.

In this moment Monday night, standing in the freezing cold next to my horribly damaged brand new car as rush hour traffic whizzed past us, staring at this person who was trying to accuse me of an accident I didn’t cause, all I wanted to do was react. I wanted to yell and argue and ask him why he was being so mean. But I didn’t. What would that help? I took a deep breath, and I put my energy towards finding a solution. Instead of losing it on him, I let him say his peace (the cop wouldn’t take a report anyway so it was up to insurance to work it out later) and I formulated the next steps in my head: gather as much evidence as possible, call insurance ASAP with my full story, stay calm, etc. Reacting would have added fuel to the fire – just like with so many situations involving our dogs.

I’m thankful that I’ve learned this skill, and that I’m in the position to help other dog owners learn it as well. The type of reward based training we do is not just skipping aversives or ignoring unwanted behaviors, it’s about having the mindset that we can prevent these behaviors from happening by thinking critically, teaching appropriate alternatives and setting our dogs up for success – not by reacting after they’ve already failed. I unfortunately found out the tough way that it helps in all areas outside of working with dogs, but you don’t have to! I encourage you to see if there are pieces of your life where you can switch from being reactive to proactive – the peace of mind is totally worth it.

King


25 LESSONS IN TIME TO TURN 25

If you are reading this it means that I have made it to the big 2-5. Yep, last week was my birthday. Twenty five years old. There are a lot of intimidating aspects about turning 25, but one of them is the fact that this was birthday number four I am celebrating on this blog (22, 23, 24 – whoa what a time machine!). Time flies. What better way to jump back on the blog than to channel my inner BuzzFeed and make a list of everything I’ve learned up until this very day?

In all seriousness, I’ve grown up immensely between October 1st last year and October 1st this year. It’s been a crazy, beautiful year and it feels like a lot of different journeys came to a head. Dogs have taught me a lot. My relationships have taught me a lot. My job has taught me a lot. So here are 25 lessons that I’ve learned over the past 9,138ish days. I promise to make most of them dog related.

1. Everything is a work in progress. Like this blog, for example. If you’re reading it on the actual site then hi, welcome to my new design that I hoped to have finished weeks ago for a big unveiling. Oops. But you can’t let a little lag in progress discourage you from reaching your goal. I will complete this makeover… one day!

2. “You have to be well to do good.” This is my favorite quote from an awesome blog post the geniuses at Notes from a Dog Walker wrote about setting up boundaries for yourself to prevent compassion fatigue. Re: #1 – I haven’t been updating this blog because I’ve been working on, oh, just about one million other things. It’s not that I don’t love this blog and wish I could give it more of my attention, but it came to the point that for my own sanity something had to give – and that something was this sweet little nook in the corner of the internet. Luckily I know it (and you guys!) will always be here for when I have some extra time to breathe :-).

3. Science is a thing. Oh the world of dog training… whew! I’m exhausted just thinking about all of the debating, the arguing and the I’m-right-you’re-wrong-ing. Over the past few years my knowledge for animal behavior has grown to a point where I feel comfortable digging up the scientific reasoning behind why I train the way I do. I grew up loving biology and majoring in animal science, so in my adult life I’ve really valued knowing the why behind what I do with animals – it helps me not lose sleep over the arguing. I’m confident in what I know. As late Dr. Sophia Yin writes, “What does it mean to base your training on science? It means using the scientific method to work through the problem and possible solutions, as well as measuring behavior change and evaluating your methods based on results.” Swoon.

4. Treat yo self. Similar to #2, it’s important you look out for yourself in your busy life. I’m sure you have work priorities, maybe a family, probably/definitely dogs, and just remember that yes, they are counting on you – but you can’t be counted on if you’re not happy and healthy! Grab that crazy-expensive pumpkin spice latte before work just because it makes me happy? Don’t mind if I do.

5. Kindness is powerful. I swear by this phrase. I’m kind to my dogs and I’m kind to people around me, and I see every day how this impacts my interactions. I’ve learned that I can get those results I want by being kind (and, yes, sometimes direct!) and respectful.

6. We’re all different. So different. Guess what, guys – I’m not you and you’re not me, so I have no idea how you think or why you do what you do! Ground breaking, I know. But this has been one of the most life changing realizations for me lately. I cannot understand why someone did what they did… and still survive? I don’t have to rationalize or understand the way a person acts to get along with them? My love of kindness might not float your boat, and that’s okay! The simple understanding that I’m the way I am and it’s probably not the way you are eases a lot of frustrations. Try it.

7. Dogs are awesome. Funny lesson, I know. But I just love them! I’ve learned to, ya know, appreciate the smaller things in life – and one of those is a wiggling dog butt greeting you at an appointment or in a shelter kennel or at the end of a long day. As trainers and even shelter workers we often turn them into such specimens (especially when I don’t have my own), we often forget the value they have on their soul. Don’t ever forget that.

8. The definition of love/hate is the internet. Am I right?? Scrolling through your Facebook feed can be so uplifting and so heartbreaking all at the same time. Do yourself a favor and set boundaries if you need to (you see what I did there?). I promise that person will not find out if you unfollow them! And you will not go to hell for not wanting to see the **URGENT DOG** postings on your own social media time.

9. “Remember that time when…” REMEMBER THESE MOMENTS. I find myself reminiscing a lot lately, I think because I’ve had a lot of “pinch me” moments the last few years. Lucky me, I know. But you never know when you’re going to wake up thinking, “Man, I was really lucky.” The past few weeks I’ve been remembering my experience of going through KPA with Paco. Even though at the time it was stressful and overwhelming, boy did we have a blast. I truly miss it, and I don’t want to ever forget it!

10. Mom and Dad always know best. Shout out to the best parents there are! Nothing makes you appreciate your parents more than growing up. You know that Mark Twain quote? “When I was sixteen, my father was the most ignorant man in the world. By the time I reached 21, I was surprised at how much he had learned in five years.” Yeah, that.

11. People can disagree and still be friends. Whoa. This was a biggie for me. You and I can have different viewpoints and that won’t cause us to be forever divided? This speaks a bit to #6 as I’ve realized that the fact that I’m different from other people means they’ll have different view points. Go figure. This has also helped immensely being in animal welfare. Agree to disagree – or, better yet, agree to have a healthy, respectful conversation. Now let’s move on and save some animals.

12. Words matter. This has so many different meanings across so many worlds of loving animals, but as I’ve matured I’ve noticed that what I say can truly, 100% have an impact on the subject matter, no matter how big or small. From gossiping to spewing misinformation about animal training to trying to be an advocate for something – think before you speak.

13. Love wildly. Don’t need much explanation here. Don’t hold back. Love your dogs and your friends and your family as much as you possibly can, every day.

14. All dogs are individuals. See #6 and #11. Same goes for dogs. The more I learn about behavior, the more I am aware that no two dogs will ever be the same, even if they’re the same breed or litter.  I work every day at not generalizing about dogs, even in a lighthearted sense (“Ooookay, let’s not generalize you guys! xoxo your let’s-give-everyone-a-chance coworker”). When you shift to this mindset, you start doing more for the dog in front of you rather than the dog you’re assuming them to be. Makes life easier.

15. If it’s broke, fix it. Or should I say, “Quit your b*tchin’.” The only one who can solve my problems is me. Instead of moping, I’ve learned to take action. It can be hard, but much more with it in the end. Like with dog training: you can get upset about your dog’s behavior, or you can figure out how to improve it.

16. Life is about reinforcers. I keep thinking, “THIS is the best lesson I’ve learned!” throughout this whole post. But forreal, this might be it. The science of learning works across species. People (and dogs and fish and zoo animals) do what works for them. They will always do what works for them. Figure out what reinforces and motivates the people around you, and use that. Guess what: reprimanding someone for not calling you more often when they do finally call you will not increase their behavior of calling you. Telling them they’re a rockstar who made your whole day by calling them might get better results. Or giving them $5 every time they call, that might work too :-).

17. Give yourself victories. This ties into #16. Victories are what make the world go round and keep you feeling positive (they’re very reinforcing). I don’t know about you, but if I didn’t treat the simple behavior of getting my butt out of bed in the morning as a victory, I’d surely give up by 10 am. Okay maybe not. But seriously! Pat yourself on the back for those accomplishments at work. Do a little dance after you finish the dishes. Give yourself a quarter for making your bed in the morning. Acknowledging these little moments you did something right throughout the day makes ya realize that hey, you’re not so bad.

18.  It always gets better. Change is scary. Really, really scary. I remember when we were looking at housing this past summer and my roommate was panicking. I looked at her and said, “But Ash, think about it – it’s always gotten better, every time we’ve moved, even though it was always scary and hard and unknown.” Change is a good and necessary process in life. My favorite quote: “It’s always okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.” If you’re having a really bad day with your dog, remind yourself that it can only go up from there!

19. Don’t be embarrassed. This mindset is tough for me because I’m a sensitive soul and I care way too much what people think about me. But lately I’ve learned… f*!k em. Excuse my french, but seriously. The majority of people I was worried about were people I didn’t know and would never meet again. Yikes, they’re seeing me with my treat pouch! (Just kidding I have never had ANY shame in my treat pouch game, ha!). But if I break out in a dance to this awesome song on my iPod right here on the sidewalk they’ll think I’m weird. Ugh, my dog is having a bad day and is trying to eat their perfectly well behaved dog. Guess what. You are a blip in their day, they probably won’t even remember you. And if they do? Well, you’ll never know, so who cares. Same goes for people you do know. If they’re worth knowing, they won’t judge you… (hopefully).

20. Never stop learning. Continuing. Education. Continuing education. I can’t stress the importance of this no matter what you do in life, and especially in the dog world. Studies are published every day about behavior and animal cognition. Do yourself and your animals a favor and stay updated on what the scientists and professionals are saying.

21. Put down your phone. Another toughie for me. This really inspiring video called “Look Up” was circulating a few months ago about how much we miss in life when our noses are in our phones. I am 100% guilty of this almost all of the time (hey, at least I acknowledge it). There are some situations I always try to keep my phone away, and one is definitely when I’m walking a dog. Yes for the safety factor but also to be present with him when we’re on this happy little nature walk together. Again, it’s the smaller things in life.

22. Listen to the voices. Yes, the ones in your head. No, I am not suggesting you have a disorder. Malcolm Gladwell has this great book called, “Blink.” It’s about listening to that gut feeling – something we ignore all too often. Most of the time, it turns out that that feeling was correct all along. You owe it to yourself to at least take them into account and add them to the conversation in real life.

23. Take a day off. Or five. Burn out is a thing, and you don’t want it. We live in a gogogogogo world, and our bodies are programmed to be a gogo-stop-gogo-stop creature. I always feel guilty for sitting on the couch and not running around doing this, that or the other thing. But then I remember my mental and physical health is just as important as my productivity. See #2 and #4.

24. You are enough. Stop comparing yourself to anyone else – whether it be at your job, in your relationship, etc. It’s great to have people to look up to, but remember that you are not them and you need to have your own standards for yourself. You can make tweaks here and there but you can’t change who you are as a person – and the good news is that you probably don’t have to. You’re awesome, give yourself some credit.

25. YOLO. Yup, I went there. “You only live once.” Don’t use that mentality to rob your favorite pet supply store, but DO use that mentality when you’re deciding about taking a trip, visiting your family, taking that class, whatever the choice may be. Life waits for no one!

Cheers to year twenty five. And thanks to all of you wonderful people for being here for four wonderful years!

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