Closer to Dog

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Jaclyn Smith from "Closer To Dog," a podcast about people who work with dogs, coyotes, wolves and other canids. She takes a look at everything from a day in the life of an Animal Control Officer, to Slobbr - an app for dog owners that assists in finding dog-friendly outings, eateries and veterinarians. She has a great tone, out-going personality and is naturally very curious.

It was, by far, the most fun I have had recording any interview.

Jaclyn came to a disc dogs class at Everydog, and then we interviewed in the family MINI Countryman because the boxing gym next door was...well, let's just say it was in full swing. And by swing, it sounded like sitting ringside for UFC Fight Night.

The MINI is a fantastic place to record, as long as you don't mind the occasional passersby peering into the car (that is fogging up due to two grown adults talking to into microphones for 45 minutes). I really hope that someone passing by had a great story to tell.

"Heya, Mike? Out there, that fogged up car...what do you think they are doing? Yeah, they were each holding a small ferret and talking into it. What do you think that's about?" 

So without further adieu, here is the link to this week's "Closer to Dog", all about disc dogs (but really, so much more). If you like it, go back and listen to some of the other episodes. They are fun and informative. You might even recognize some of your favorite Boston-area dog-folk like Michelle from Slobbr, and Zee from Wolf Hollow sanctuary in Ipswich, MA.

 Enjoy (and laugh!)


Discussion with Tracie Hotchner: "Importance of Environment in Lives of Dogs"

I recently had an incredible discussion with Tracie Hotchner, host of "Dog Talk" on the Radio Pet Lady Network. 

I had never been interviewed for a radio program before! This was quite exciting and Tracie was such an engaging host! We discussed not just "Considerations for the City Dog," but what inspired the book, how people perceive dogs in the city, #HandsOnFirst and much, much more. We laughed a lot and had a fantastic discussion about the importance of weighing environment on our dogs' lives. 

If you care to take a listen, you can hear our discussion here, or you can download on your favorite Podcasting Application!

Happy Holidays!



The Garmin Thing...

Let's say I made a tool designed to keep kids safe. This tool would keep track of a child's activity, keep them from getting into things, and allow a method in which parents could reprimand their children with an app on the phone.

Let's say I did not consult with parents, teachers, social workers, pediatricians or anyone else who have an invested interest in keeping children safe.

And this tool keeps kids safe by shocking them. Sometimes it's a consistent thing - every time they get near the knife block - but sometimes randomly because a parent just didn't like what the kid was doing at the time with no other feedback. This is a tool marketed for all kids, regardless of sensitivities, health or behavioral issues, and no other feedback aside from "sometimes I get shocked when I'm left alone at home." What could POSSIBLY go wrong?

If I did that, I would deserve 100% all of the flack that Garmin is getting right now from professionals and people who work hard to educate about pet safety, science based training methodology, and actual-real-life learning theory.

I have no doubt that Garmin tried to do a good thing (with dollars as a motivating factor because yes, they are a big company), but I have no doubt their initial intentions were good. "Let's get people a tool that can help them get piece of mind while they are away from their beloved pet." That said, without (clearly) speaking with behavioral science folk, veterinary behaviorists, applied animal behaviorists or people who are certified in professional dog training, they missed the mark by a lot. And by providing this "tool" to clients without any knowledge of behavior, how it works, and how something so punitive can backfire so terribly, many dogs are going to be harmed behaviorally and physically --- all in the name of "keeping him safe."

Had they spoken with these individuals, imagine the wonderful tool they COULD have designed.
I feel it would have been amazing.
Maybe there is a company out there that would like to design such a thing.


#BSLisBS Part 2: Therein Lies The Rub

I've written before on the absurdity of Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) and why BSL is BS. It hit home for us last year when we had Cinderella, a 65 pound "pit bull" for 48 hours before our landlords decided we couldn't have a pit bull type dog on the premises.

Cinderella is now living with three kids, one of which is autistic. She is doing wonderful work helping her live life to the fullest, which is really what this dog needed to do.

And while Cinderella didn't work out for us, she really got the best possible gig and is living a fantastic life. While we were angry, heartbroken and all of the things you would expect having to turn a dog into a shelter for doing nothing wrong, and having to explain the word "discrimination" to our three year old daughter, we understood. Our next dog would not be a pit because at the end of the day, the landlords make the rules and though we are adults, we have to abide by those rules.

Our search got much harder, but after several months of looking, we brought home Captain Love in December of last year from New England Brittany Rescue.

(Best guess? Beagle/Pointer?)

And herein lies the rub regarding BSL and why I think it's utter BS.  

Any dog with a slightly blockier head can be considered a pit bull by people who know Jack about dogs.

Even if that dog is Captain Love.

Today, our landlords had a home inspector come in. Captain jumped at the door. Aislyn was trying to open the door, so my focus was on Ace, not the dog. When the inspector and landlords girlfriend came into the apartment, I didn't have full control of Cap. He jumped. I put a leash on him (after he slipped his collar!), got him working, and moved him to an open area of the apartment. I got his focus back in less than 30 seconds, which is more than I can say for my preschooler who was jumping all over the landlord's girlfriend and inspector.

They were here for 5 minutes. They left. I did apologize for his overexcitement, but she said it was fine. I don't like my dog jumping, but I handled it in an appropriate manner - as appropriate as one can when someone is coming into your house with a key.

Six hours later, I got texts from my landlord asking if Captain Love was a pit bull. This affects his insurance (which I'm aware of). The inspector told our landlord that the dog "looked like a pit bull and was terribly managed." Frankly, Aislyn was managed poorly, and the dog - after the initial jumping at the door, was totally fine and attentive. From her vantage point though? Yes, I could see that she would think as someone who doesn't know dogs might think that this is a literal shit show.

The last hour has been an anxiety provoking experience where I'm having flashbacks to taking a perfectly sound dog to a shelter, mixed with google searches of "where to find a cheap RV in a hurry?" because there is no way on earth that we are giving up this dog.

It's hard enough to be in the dog world and educate people about who is qualified to help with dog behavior. It's harder still when home inspectors are suddenly dog breed enthusiasts, and landlords can technically evict you for having any dog that "looks like a pit."

The slippery slope of people seeing what they want to see in dogs can affect people in a society where BSL is a real-life thing. Anyone, ANYONE who *thinks* a dog looks like something can say something that has real-life consequences to families who love their dogs. It's happening RIGHT NOW to Dan Tillery, a performer in Michigan who has had two veterinarians say his newly adopted dog is an American Bull Dog - but the cops think that he's a pit bull, and therefore, they can remove the dog or slap fines until the dog is out of the jurisdiction.

I stand with Dan and Diggy. #BSLisBS

It's been awkward since the first time our dog had to get relinquished by no fault of her own last July. Feelings were hurt and things were awkward going forward, which is not how I hoped to remember this place or the people we rent from. They are lovely people - truly. Yet one thing that hits an emotional chord can really affect relationships and it's going to be just plain weird, awkward and uncomfortable now. Particularly when my vocation is working with dogs and people all day long, and to not be trusted to follow the rules set by our landlords (because with that distrust, it seems like we are sneaking out to get a secret pit bull) is really, really, really insulting.

Even if Captain Love, or Diggy was part pit, it shouldn't matter. Even if either dog was full pit, it shouldn't matter. As stated before, personality should matter - we all have stories of getting bit by dogs that were XY or Z breed. (Mine is husky.  A friend's is Basset hound. Others still are pit bulls. My vet friends all have a demon retriever story in their arsenal.) But even if you take that part of the argument away and say we are not discussing what is, and what is not, a pit bull ----

---Today I had to have a conversation with someone who controls my living space about the block-headedness of my pointer/beagle mix and was nervous about it because I know how people see dogs who have skulls that are a 1/4" bigger than a goldendoodle's. Today I feared my husband and I would be packing up this week with our kid, dog, two cats and we'd figure it out later. That panic is now gone (landlord said "no, we're good.") but what happens the next time? Every time he walks by our front door, he's going to look in at the jumping "pit bull" and question it.

Every time.

With Captain jumping at the inspector, our landlord is now positively reinforced for telling us that pit bulls can't be here because if that pit wasn't managed properly and bit the inspector, he'd get sued. That pit bull "would have bit" and therefore, he's likely thinking he's saved himself from getting sued.

(Suffice it to say, someone would absolutely be sued if any of our dogs bit an inspector or anyone on the premises: it would happen if it was Captain Love, Cinderella or Sadie-Jane. It would have been much more likely with fluffy Sadie with a stranger coming into our home and her doggie-dementia than the other two canine residents. Zeppelin would have slept through it.)

I wonder if the inspector would have said a word if my Golden retriever jumped up to say hi while I had my back turned to wrangle my 3-year-old? If she was afraid he was a pit bull, her guard would have been up and she'd be more likely to say something - which is really the case for anyone who has a 35-70 pound, short haired, stocky dog with a block head. And for that:


-Melissa McCue-McGrath, CPDT-KA
Author, Considerations for the City Dog


Home Turf

Hi everyone !

 Several weeks ago, I saw Dr. Nicholas Dodman present on separation anxiety at the Nine-Zero Hotel in Boston. It was such a lovely presentation (and I applied some of what was learned on Captain Love's separation sadness at departures). After the talk, my dear friend and colleague, Vivian, introduced me to the organizers of the event - Cold Noses Foundation. They seemed excited to hear about "Considerations for the City Dog" and invited me to present on the book!

 Suffice it to say, I'm really excited.

 I'm also a bit nervous.

But still totally, 100% excited.

 The presentation is on 6/21, downtown Boston. The tickets (like the tickets for Dr. Dodman) are $15.00 and all the money goes back to help Cold Noses Foundation set up spay/neuter programs & educational programs around the globe to prevent homeless pets - a huge part of what #HandsOnFirst is all about. Not only am I flattered to be given the privilege to speak, but I'm proud to be given the opportunity to have my talk give back to something I wholeheartedly support and have been publicly speaking about for the better part of the year:

 Here on DogCast Radio.
 Here with Don Hanson & Kate Dutra (part 1 & part 2 ).
 At Tufts Cummings School (for the veterinarian behavior club)
 At Massachusetts Vet Tech Association.
 Here is the webinar for the Pet Professional Guild.
And here for Raising Canine coming this October.

But this one - to get a platform in my home city to have the ticket sales go back to fixing the biggest issue I see in the training industry over the last decade? It's really, really incredible and I'm really looking forward to it.

If you are near Boston on 6/21, I'd love your support - come down to NineZero to see this presentation (which covers many of the topics in the book, including #HandsOnFirst). If you can't come, you can still make a huge difference. I'd really appreciate you'd tell your city-dog owning friends and pet professionals about this talk. It's really not about listening to me blab on about dogs. It's about starting to look at  environment as an impact on urban pups and what we can do to be better stewards for our city-dwelling canines. That, and you're supporting a pretty sweet cause: a group putting a dent in pet overpopulation problems in underfunded areas around the world. I think that's something we can all support.

And just in case you are curious: Yes, the hotel has a bar. It's on the second floor.



Take A Step Back

A terrible incident occurred at the Cincinnati Zoo over the weekend. A young boy got through the enclosure and dropped 12' into the Gorilla World exhibit. We've all seen the video and I'm not going to sensationalize this event by posting it here. I will say that the full video is really hard to watch as a mother and as someone who works with animals every day.

As with any tragedy involving animals and humans, particularly young children, emotional responses run strong. It appears everyone has turned to the Internet and social media to arm chair quarterback what should have happened. There are petitions on both "sides" (though I hesitate to use that term because this is way more complex than a black & white issue). Some petitions are calling for criminal charges to be filed against the parents of the child who got through this enclosure and involve child protective services.

Some petitions are looking to shut down the zoo's exhibit, or the zoo itself.

Harambe (credit: Cincinnati Zoo website)

It's too easy to just yell and scream when something goes wrong. It's easy to think we know all the facts.

We really just don't.

The aftermath, though not nearly as global, reminds me of the Save Neville petitions from last year. This was a case that I reference in many of my presentations because of the perfect intersection between the animal and human worlds, and what happens when we just jump into the fray without knowing the full story.

The quick and dirty that was passed around Facebook:

A Change.org petition states that a family with a young child was looking to adopt a dog. They entered a pen with Neville and “other dogs” that were playing. The staff advised the family not to put the child on the ground, but they did anyway and when the toddler grabbed Neville, Neville bit the youngster in the face. As a result of that single bite wound Neville is court ordered to be euthanized.

The facts of the case that were absent, not discussed, or not fully understood by well-intending individuals included how many dogs were in the pen, and some huge educational gaps on the part of the shelter in how people meet their potential dog. The internet sent petitions calling for protective services to be called on the "negligent" parents, and others called for the shelter to get shut down. If you break it apart, it's really another case of not having all the facts. Once all the facts were presented, it turned out there was a much more to suss out, and a much more rational solution. (More on the Neville Case, go here.)

I think the bigger take away here is stop and take a step back. I think we would all do better to listen to the experts, consider there are two families (a zoological family and a family with a small child) who are grieving. We should stop with the online petitions unless there is a full appreciation of every intricacy as to what happened, which includes listening to zoologists and animal behaviorists (people who have earned a PhD in animal behavior). 

Petitions and yelling will not bring back Harambe. Petitions and yelling will not undo the heavy burden of guilt and second-thinking that the family has undoubtedly been dealing with since this incident knowing their child could have died, their child was in danger, and an endangered gorilla is now dead - and now the internet backlash calling for Child Protective Services or shutting down the zoo.

This incident comes at a moment when every week the morning news mentions "tourists approach rare animal and animal is killed," or "person is killed by wild animal while trying to get a selfie."

It is  time for us to look at how we engage with animals.

There have been dozens of news pieces just this year on people walking up to wild animals - a baby dolphin died because people wanted to take a selfie.

A baby bison died when tourists thought the calf looked "cold" and they put it in the back of their truck.

There are many, many more stories just like this, from 2016 alone.

We have to pay attention around animals. We have to respect their right to be on this planet just as much as we are, and if we aren't fully absorbed in the moment and think about the consequences of our actions or inactions, animals or people can die.

This is just as true for dogs, bison, dolphins and 400 pound endangered gorillas. We have to do better.

If the zoo didn't act in the way they did, this boy would likely have died.

As heart breaking as this is, it still could have been much, much worse had the two female gorillas not been called out of the enclosure by quick thinking staff that have taken the time over the years to prepare as much as possible for something like this.

This could have been much, much worse if the child died, too.

This could have been much, much worse if the boy's mother jumped in after her son.

If the parents removed the boy from the exhibit, he might not have gone in the enclosure...but how many of you have had the experience of watching a 3 or 4 year old child? It's HARD. They are fast. They are small. I've had Aislyn disappear on me for a few seconds (which seemed like minutes) and I had my eyes on her as we were walking through a mall. It doesn't take much for an accident to happen, even if you do everything right.

I'm not here to judge the parents - and I'm not here to judge the zoo's actions. Most of you know my stance: let the pros do what they need to do in an emergency. I'm a dog trainer, not a zoologist. I trust Jack Hannah, Jane Goodall, and Thane Maynard in this case as it relates to animals they understand. I would not trust them if they were explaining how to make the perfect pizza sauce - I'd look to someone who is an expert. 

Well, maybe an expert without anger management issues.

I also trust that if there are any safety protocols the Cincinnati Zoo (or other zoos) can employ after this incident, they will do it if it doesn't negatively impact the quality of life of the resident animals. Lastly, I trust that the family involved has learned a great deal and they don't need petitions calling for child protective services. Mom didn't toss her baby into the gorilla pen. It's a wake up call for all of us to be aware of ourselves, our kids, and the animals around us.

I think that we all need to take a step back, and figure out how we can live with animals in the wild, and in captivity, in a respectful manner and take this down a notch so we can have a respectful discussion.


As with any blog posts that might trigger significant emotional response, I will delete any and all comments that are not conducive to the conversation. I will not allow this to be a place to blame anyone involved in this case. It's a tragic story and these are real people, real animals and real employees. This is a safe place. Any name calling, blaming, threats or other comments will be immediately deleted. For those involved in this incident, I'm truly sorry for your experience and I hope some good can come of this event going forward. -M3


The Dog Merchants: A Must Read

Last year, I wrote Considerations for the City Dog. There was one statistic that stuck out in that book for many readers:

"14,000 rescue dogs were legally brought into the state (of Massachusetts), according to the Boston Globe."

This statistic is referring to the truckloads of dogs that are brought to rescues and shelters in Massachusetts that follow state law:

"All dogs coming into the state for rescue must remain quarantined until proven behaviorally and physically sound for adoption"
 -Emergency Law put in place in MA in 2005 to combat sick & behaviorally unsound dogs coming into the Commonwealth. 
Yet, thousands more dogs are illegally brought into the Commonwealth by way of parking vans of dogs outside of state borders. These dogs are passed off trucks to families who paid for them online but never met them before pick-up day at a Motel 6. Unsurprisingly, when these dogs go directly to families, some issues are more likely to occur than going through groups not ducking the legal system.

The reporter who wrote the Globe piece I referenced in Considerations is Kim Kavin. She is an investigative journalist who has been one of the few who has been diving into the challenging discussions behaviorists, dog trainers and veterinarians have been having for decades in the Northeast.

Kavin continues her journalistic journey in her book, "The Dog Merchants" which is available today.

I was fortunate enough to have received a copy of this book before the official release date. I couldn't put it down. There was a constant hum reading this book of "dogs are considered a product to someone in this line of acquisition" and that disconnect between our beloved family pets being considered a movable product was jarring.

Jarring, but true.
Someone said this was the Omnivore's Dilemma for dogs, and I couldn't agree more.

While I don't see my dog as a product, and you don't see your dog as a product, people out there do. Dogs are sold at dog auctions to shady breeders and shady rescuers alike to make money. And while you might not have that dog that was sold at auction, chances are someone you know has a descendant of one of these dogs. Or a dog bought at a dog auction and sold through rescue in an unethical way.

For profit.

And that's a really, really hard thing to look at without cringing.

She lays out the entire business of moving dogs - rescues, shelters, breeders. She shows what works, what doesn't work, the similarities between forces, and the impact televised dog events (like Westminster) have on the health of our dogs. What I like most about it is that there are terrible people out there that do terrible things to dogs, and there are well-intentioned people out there who are trying to help but are misguided. While this is upsetting, there are many things that we as consumers can do to make it better for ALL dogs.

As I've been saying for years: It's not rescue-vs-breeder. Good dogs come from rescue, good dogs come from breeders. It's finding *ethical* means of acquiring dogs regardless of rescue or breeder. Kavin hits this point home again and again and again, and I love her for it.

I wish this book didn't have to be written, but it did and it's the tip of the iceberg vs. the Titanic. Selling dogs is a huge business and I'm relieved that more people like Kavin are pointing to the elephant in the room. Click-n-Ship culture is getting a wake up call. A wake-up call that is going to start screaming until we all listen.

Kavin's book is that wake-up call.

Melissa McCue-McGrath, CPDT-KA
Co-Training Director of New England Dog Training Club (oldest AKC Obedience Club in the US)
Author of Considerations for the City Dog


Moving Day: Looking for Your Input

Since 2006, I have been writing all my stuff here at blogger. Mostly I blogged here because it was free and I couldn't code (as many of us could relate to in the early 2000’s!)

Like the high-waist, acid-washed jeans & Jordache combo many of us sported in the 80’s, all things must grow up or risk  not being taken seriously. So over the next few months, I will move all the relevant MuttStuff blogs over to my new website.

Yes, there was an entire generation that thought this whole thing was a "good idea."

A big-girl website.

One that I actually paid for and have up to present my dog training services, writing, books, and hopefully (if I can figure it out!) a version of this blog.

I hope to move all "the good stuff" over to the new website. That said, I'd love your help!

What were your favorite blogs? What did you find useful on this blog from 2006-present? I'm not going to kill this blog - but I do want to pull the best stuff and move it to the new site, and keep blogging over there. It's time. I'm a grown-up.
(My daughter frequently says "I'm a big girl" and promptly puts in her binky. I sort of feel like that when I talk about blogging on a big-girl website.)

So if you'd be a peach and put in your favorite, most helpful, or even just something that tickled you that I should make sure to migrate to the new website, it would be incredibly helpful.

OH, right, the new website. It's here. Feel free to check it out give feedback. Good or bad. I just want to make sure that everything looks nice, works, and is intuitive. If there is something you'd like to see, or something that isn't working, I'd love to hear about it.

Thanks in advance, you guys. As always, you're the best!


What DO City Dogs Need To Know?

A few weeks ago, I wrapped up my 5 part series with @2DogsTreats where we covered the elements in dog training necessary for living in an urban setting. Here they are in full with some funnies to get you in the mood for a little pup training! 

1. Name recognition (it sounds totally basic, but what do you want your dog to DO when you say his name? If "ignore me completely" isn't your answer, then check this out.)

2. Leave it (or affectionately called The Chicken Bone Command)

3. Wait 

4. Come (not "Come, please come - come back, *#&$^!!!! He's Friendly!)

"I'm not even going to try. Come back when you're ready, Sparky."

5. Heel.  (I might be playing favorites, but I really like how this one turned out.)

If you're so inclined, feel free to work on one or more of these elements for homework! 

- M3


Notably Missing From The Cesar Millan Investigation "Reporting"

There is a post going around my Facebook feed (which is admittedly 85% dog

(Reporting varies, stating the ear was "nipped and bled," all the way through to "bit a chunk of the ear off". I can't find a reputable source on  severity of the pig's injury.)
In all the reporting of this story, there is one thing that absolutely has to be addressed that's gone on for far too long. This is the thing that would perhaps quell some of the discussion of if Mr. Millan is "abusing animals" or if he's "God's gift to canine kind." The one thing that needs to be addressed is this:

Any and all reporting on Cesar Millan needs to stop referring to him as a
"self-taught behaviorist".

In the dog industry, a behaviorist is someone who:
  • Has received a certification from a science based group, usually after presenting 1500+ hours of dog behavior documentation and taking a lengthy exam going over stress signals, medication, anatomy, physiology, tools, and teaching ability.
  • Has a PhD in an animal related field (like zoology)
  • Is a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine who is accredited as a veterinary behaviorist through the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists.  There are only around 75 certified behaviorists through the ACVB, and Mr. Millan's name is not on the list.

The news outlets reporting on this really need to ask questions and educate the public about the following:

  • What is a behaviorist?
  • How do I find a reputable one?

By explaining what a behaviorist does and who a behaviorist is, we can avoid the tired argument of if Cesar helps dogs or not. Instead of a really emotional argument based on ambiguity, there are terms that should be defined in the reporting, and that might help clear some things up regarding Mr. Millan.

In short, Mr. Millan can call himself a behaviorist.
I can call myself an astronaut.
Neither are true.

And here is a link to Considerations for the City Dog- a book that dedicates an entire chapter explaining the differences of these professionals.

In short, if you are looking for behavior help, look for credentials and know what your behavior professional had to do before earning the  "Behavior Consultant", "Applied Animal Behaviorist" or "Veterinary Behaviorist" title before hiring. Do your due diligence for your dog's sake. If someone calls himself or herself a behaviorist, ask what they did to earn the title, and who gave them the credentials.

Good luck,