Wow. I just listened to the first episode of Season Four of Michael Shikashio‘s podcast, The Bitey End of the Dog. He interviews a range of great thinkers related to canine aggression in his podcast, including, this season, Karen London and Mark Beckoff. But the first episode was with me, focusing on trauma in dogs. I don’t usually listen to podcasts I’ve done after they’ve been recorded, but this time I did, and was reminded how Michael’s knowledge, compassion, and insight, make him an exceptional podcast host and canine expert. I think you’ll agree when you listen.
But before you do, a warning: This is no “beach read.” Both Michael and I are both flat out honest about how our own personal traumas have informed our perspective on dog training. Michael, bravely and brilliantly, shares publicly, for the first time, a years-long trauma that he endured with an abusive spouse, and I talk about being sexually assaulted in a fun house–an event not mentioned in The Education of Will, but something I have shared when speaking around the country. Listening to the traumas of others can be triggering, so please listen only when you’re in the right space to do so. I can say, feeling abashed at what seems like an egocentric admission, that I found our conversation riveting. (I keep deleting that last sentence, and then putting it back in. Okay, I’m keeping it in. Eeeeeps.)
We talked about so many things, from how to know if a dog has been traumatized, the importance of compassion to both dogs and dog owners, and the importance of giving traumatized individuals as much agency and autonomy as possible. Both of us believe that some of the aggression we see is based on so many dogs in the U.S. having so little control over their lives, I’ll be curious to hear what you think after you listen.
What I want to focus on specifically today though, is our discussion at the end of the podcast about how experiences with abuse and trauma inform so many of us who work with dogs. Both Michael and I are aware that our pasts have had a significant impact on how we work with dogs. I have always been attracted to fearful animals–I remember loving a horse who many disliked because he was so skittish. I just felt like I “got him.” The horse I didn’t like riding was bold but needed pushing rather than soothing. Hmmm. And Michael’s compassion for aggressive dogs (and their owners) is driven in part, no doubt, by his understanding and empathy for individuals who have been traumatized.
So here’s my question for you: What part of your life experience has informed and affected the way you work with dogs, whether it’s your family dog or the dogs of your clients? Is there a particular type of dog or behavior that you are drawn to? Is there something in your past or experience that you think has had an influence on how you work with and live with your dog?
I think this could be a fascinating conversation for our village. Listen, if you can, to us on The Bitey End of the Dog, and jump into the discussion. Or just add your own experience and we’ll all take it from there.
One last thing I should say; full disclosure and all: Here’s what Michael had to say about me at the beginning of the podcast: “In this episode, I have the distinct honor to chat with one of my all time heroes in dog training, Patricia McConnell. Her work was pivotal in helping me learn more about kinder, gentler methods to dog training, and her knowledge, kindness, and generosity will forever be etched into the betterment of humankind.”
So, I am of course, ONE HUNDRED PERCENT OBJECTIVE ABOUT EVERYTHING I HAVE TO SAY ABOUT MICHAEL. Of course I am. (When I saw this I asked him to give the eulogy at my funeral, with the warning that he’d have to wait awhile.) But, truly, thanks Michael for having me on, for our conversation, and for your bravery talking about your past. You rock, even if you didn’t say all those ridiculously kind things above.
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Here’s an antidote to talking about trauma–Lambs! Please explain to me how they could be cuter. These adorsable things were calling for their momma at John Wentz’s farm, and I’m not sure how anything could look sweeter.
Here’s something else wonderful: My good friend and colleague, Melissa McCue-McGrath, (Considerations for the City Dog, Bewilderbeast podcast),came to visit and help out in the garden last weekend. (Just a short trip from Maine!) She worked like a field hand in the garden, but allowed me to reinforce her by taking her to the best cheese shop in the U.S., Fromagination.
On the flip side, it’s been a million degrees outside and hasn’t rained for two years. Oh wait, maybe not quite that hot or that long. But, still. Gardening consists of watering to try to keep things alive versus weeding, planting, and transplanting. This is the third dry spring we’ve had, but the worst so far in length. In The Before Times, springs were wet and then things got drier June through August. All of our native plants and animals are used to lots of wet days in April and May, so there’s a lot of adjusting to do.
In part because of all our garden’s flowers, we are a haven for a family of hummingbirds. This is “boss female,” who may be tiny, but as you can see by the DO NOT MESS WITH ME sign on her face, is not delicate in any way. The male Ruby-Throated, no doubt her mate, is terrified of her. So is “black belly female,” and who can blame them? But she can’t be everywhere all at once, so all three get to come to the table, a feeder attached to the living room window. They make me so happy.
Here are the flowers out the same window, with the native honeysuckle vine that the hummers adore, in the background.
In other avian news, Robert and Roberta Robin have nested again outside the living room window in a box that Jim built for them last year. There are four babes, and they are starting to flap their wings. I expect they’ll be gone soon. I hope Robert and Roberta will go for a second nest this summer; I can watch them from the couch, where I spend WAY TOO MUCH TIME now, and I consider them good friends. I doubt it’s reciprocal. (But they know me. Last night a visitor sat at my usual place and on the couch and Robert/a stared at them for a full minute. Might as well have said “And who the heck are you?”)
Maggie would like you to know that she is being tortured and desperately needs an intervention. It seems that Tall Two-Leg Female decided she was limping on Friday, and won’t let her play or work sheep. She would like to say that THREE LEGS ARE ALL I NEED! I DON’T CARE IF ONE HURTS! PLEASE SEND HELP. It looks like help will soon arrive, her limp has greatly improved, so maybe only a few more days?
Skip, on the other hand, is raring to go. I got down on the floor to snap a photo and he slid his way over to me and put his head on my knee. Don’t let that mellow face fool you. As soon as I get out the whistle he’ll be standing on his back legs at the door.
Which is exactly what I should do now–wrap this up and go move the sheep around. We’re trying to protect the pastures as best we can, but it’s rough with no rain in so long. And Skip is desperate to work, so it’s time. I hope your weather has been kinder, and that you find the time to listen to Michael’s podcast. It’s something else. Please join the conversation about how your past–no matter what it includes–has informed how you work with, and relate to, your dog.
Bye for now, and a reminder that there’s always something to rejoice,