Recently, @kelseymcdogtrainer asked how her colleagues found the force-free community, so I'm feeling inspired to share some of my story. I've always been fascinated by animal behavior, but a variety of experiences led me to a career in it. I struggled with my anxious, reactive dog, Aldo. I worked in various jobs in the animal industry and saw how fearful and stressed animals often were during vet care, grooming, boarding, training or even at home. I processed intakes at a shelter for pets being surrendered by good people who simply didn't have the resources to get the behavior help their pet needed. I eventually started learning from trainers how to train using a marker and food... But also prong collars and leash “corrections.” There was one pivotal, gut-wrenching moment where it became clear to me how detrimental these methods can be. I was a brand new graduate student at the time, and it didn’t take long to find research about the risks associated with using aversive training methods. I began to connect the dots in how my own dogs’ fear and anxiety may have been worsened by these methods. I'll never stop feeling guilty about it. I count my lucky stars every single day that, despite my prior experience, the force-free trainers in my community welcomed me with open arms. They taught me so much and changed my life in so many ways. It literally brings tears to my eyes when I think about how grateful I am to them. After my experience working in vet hospitals and other aspects of the pet industry, I was thrilled when I learned about @fearfreepets and became a certified Fear Free animal trainer as soon as I could. Over the years, the more I've learned about animal behavior, welfare and the human-animal bond, the more passionate I've become about fear free training. I'm honored to have this platform to share with you my story and to hopefully inspire you the same way so many amazing people have inspired me.
I'm so impressed with Annie and her guardian, @dennis_deitchman! Annie loves training and has made so much progress in just a few weeks. I feel beyond lucky to get to work with so many amazing pets and their people. #Repost @dennis_deitchman • • • • • So proud of Annie. We have spent countless hours working on this every single walk, every single day. Working on distractions with people, and dogs. She still needs a lot more work, but has come so far the last few weeks thanks to @coexistence.consulting who has also spent many hours working with her the last few weeks. This has all been treat based, no shock collars, prong collars. Emily's approach to training has worked wonders, and Annie is definitely happier for it - - A month ago I couldn't take her on a walk without her pulling the entire time, and without her freaking out when she saw a dog she wanted to play with. Yesterday I had 4 dogs walk within 10-30 feet in all directions all at once and she sat down, looked up at me, and waited for the barrage of treats coming her way.
This is Sherman the sheep. ▪︎ Last week, I posted about Brenda, a humane educator with degrees in psychology and anthrozoology, and the work she does helping humans and other animals coexist. I also asked Brenda what lessons she's learned from the animals she's worked with. This is what she told me about Sherman: ▪︎ One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned comes from my work at @blackberrycreek with Sherman the Sheep. During my work with Sherman, we developed a mutual trust in one another that transformed into a genuine friendship. The relationship we share is not only evidence of the strength of the human-nonhuman animal connection, but it also serves as proof of the importance of attunement and being at one with nonhuman animals. During my volunteer experience, I’ve had the opportunity to practice true attunement with each animal I have encountered. I believe that my ability to convey genuine empathy, establish healthy boundaries, and expand my perspective has created a space where I can envision what the world looks like through their individual realities. In order to establish trust and attunement, we need to meet each individual, human or nonhuman, where they currently are emotionally, psychologically, physically, and socially. This helps us to identify how we can meet their needs while establishing a genuine relationship built on comfort, safety, and a mutual understanding. Just as we view one another as individuals, we need to shift our perspective to be able to view each nonhuman animal as a soul, a life with innate needs, emotions, feelings, goals, and motivations. We need to establish a commonality with nonhuman animals, one that allows us to be at one with them, just as we also need to be one with one another. ▪︎ ▪︎ What have you learned from other animals? Comment below, message me or use the tag #lessonslearnedfromanimals for the chance to have your story shared.
Throughout my career working with dogs, my opinions about dog parks have changed the more I've learned and experienced. Especially after working in the veterinary industry, I've learned that dog parks are not without risk. In fact, most activities we enjoy have risks associated with them. I've also learned there are measures we can take to mitigate risks so that we can enjoy the benefits of activities like taking our dogs to a dog park. Here are some ways we can do that: ° √ Learn about dog body language, and pay attention to it at the dog park √ Know what to look for in healthy dog play, such as meta signals, activity shifts, role reversals, and self-handicapping √ Do consent tests if you're unsure everyone is enjoying the play √ Discuss disease prevention with your veterinarian √ Follow the park's rules (rules vary between parks) √ Find alternative activities to do with your dog if they're too young for the dog park or if they don't enjoy the presence of other dogs and/or humans √ Hire a certified force-free trainer if you have concerns about your dog's behavior at the dog park ° *To learn more about these topics, check out the link in my bio!* ° Dr. Marc Bekoff, an ethologist who has studied dog play, made many excellent points in his recent Psychology Today article about dog parks titled: Let Your Dog Tell You If They Want to Go to a Dog Park. Here's one of my favorites: ° As in all interactions between humans and dogs, we must take into account the dog's point of view—what they want and need—and listen to them very carefully. Let your dog tell you what they want to do and what they're feeling. Let them have a say about the situation at hand. And let them be dogs and engage in dog-appropriate behaviors as much as possible.
Here’s more about Brenda Rynders, a compassionate humane educator who inspires humans to treat other animals with kindness. Be sure to check out my earlier post for more of her story! ▪︎ “Volunteering with @_animalplace opened many doors for me in the realm of sanctuary nonprofits. I became the Volunteer Coordinator at Animal Place in 2018 and trained other volunteers about barn cleaning and the importance of socializing with animals who have endured traumatic experiences. I remained at Animal Place for one year before transitioning to my current role as Humane Educator for @humanesocietysoco. During this transition, I volunteered at two other farm sanctuaries—Forget Me Not Farm (@raymondonthefarm) and Blackberry Creek Farm Animal Sanctuary. At Forget Me Not Farm, I co-facilitated animal-assisted therapy groups for at-risk youth and educated them about the importance of practicing compassion and respect for all living and nonliving things. This experience was extremely valuable, as it allowed me to teach children how their relationships with nonhuman animals can be translated to their experiences and interactions in their own lives. ▪︎ As a volunteer for @blackberrycreek, I provided trauma-informed individualized socialization to sanctuary residents in need of psychological healing. Approaching my volunteer role through a traumatology lens allowed for a broadening of my own perspectives and taught me how to envision the world through the eyes of each animal I encountered. Not only did this enhance my connections with the residents, but it also strengthened my spiritual connection to mother nature. To me, volunteering is one of the most important things we can do. By becoming a volunteer, you are welcoming the opportunity to grow and transform into your most compassionate self, creating a kinder world for human and nonhuman animals alike.” ▪︎ Brenda continues to volunteer at Blackberry Creek Farm Animal Sanctuary and is now a staff member of Forget Me Not Farm. She also recently began volunteering with @charliesacres in Sonoma, CA. ▪︎ Is there someone who inspires you to be kind to animals? Share their story! #coexistthroughkindness
My mission is to cultivate coexistence between humans and all other animals. Over the years, I’ve met some incredible individuals who are doing exactly that. One of those people is Brenda Rynders. ▪︎ Brenda and I attended the anthrozoology program at Canisius College together, and I’ve always been inspired by her deep compassion for animals. I’d like to share her story, because I think she’ll inspire you, too. From Brenda: ▪︎ “My experience with volunteering at sanctuaries began in 2017 when I moved to California. I have always wanted to volunteer for a farmed animal sanctuary but did not have the luxury of being near one back home in Wisconsin. When I moved to California, my first mission was to locate a sanctuary that was close enough to commute to. It didn’t take me long to find @_animalplace and I immediately jumped into the volunteer experience. I would commute to Animal Place 2-3 days a week and help the staff with barn cleaning and managing the habitats for their 500+ residents. Needless to say, there was always something to clean! While some may find this type of work tedious, I find it incredibly rewarding. To me, there is something so satisfying in knowing that I can help an animal have a clean place to eat, sleep, and play. Not to mention, I love getting my hands dirty—it’s very therapeutic!” ▪︎ Read more of Brenda’s story in my next post!
It was a beautiful, sunny day yesterday, and we appreciated every second of it. #getoutsidewithyourdog
This may seem like a simple photo, but a variety of learned behaviors made it possible. I cued Aldo to jump up in the chair, to sit and then to wait. Even though he knows these cues now, it took a lot of work to get there, and it takes work to maintain them. Because dogs don't work for free (and neither do humans!), he was paid for his posing with treats he loves. Sometimes, we might take for granted everything our dogs have learned and everything they do for us. But even posing for a photo can be the result of complex and expensive behavior for our dogs, especially when they'd rather be sniffing or chasing squirrels. Next time you ask your dog to pose for a photo, be sure to pay them with something they love!
Years ago, loud noises would have sent Aela under the table to hide. A couple nights ago, I dropped the metal compost lid in the kitchen, and it was loud. Aela quickly came from the other room where she was sleeping to collect her food from me. If something unexpectedly scary happens, I've tried to always follow it up with something my pets love (usually food) as much as I possibly can. It's not always convenient to do this, but this simple moment the other night made it clear how worth it it is.
UNOFFICIAL ANNOUNCEMENT! I've been working hard behind the scenes, but I couldn't wait any longer to share the news! Heal to Howl is now Coexistence Consulting. I'm really excited about this change, and I'm looking forward to sharing with you exactly why I've chosen this new name in an upcoming post. Stay tuned!
Annie stole my heart today. She spent part of our initial consult laying next to me on the couch with her head resting on my lap. She's an absolute sweetheart! She was adopted from @seattlehumane a few months ago, and her guardian is doing an amazing job caring for her. I'm so looking forward to our next training session!
On a rainy, foggy day in December, I took my friends who were visiting from Western NY to one of my favorite places: Rattlesnake Lake. I think this lake is beautiful regardless of the weather. And it can be a vastly different experience depending on the time of year. The best part of going on a rainy, winter day is that there are less humans, so we got to enjoy the presence of other amazing animals, like this crow. I find corvids to be absolutely fascinating. Their cognitive abilities are comparable to the abilities of primates. They use tools to solve complex problems, have impressive memories, and some studies suggest they have what scientists call theory of mind. This photo captures how my friends and I perceived this moment, but I can't help but wonder, how was the crow perceiving it? . . . 📸: @darkroomghost