First Fact Finding Mission For Soul Mutt Foundation 2018
This is the first of a three-part series I will be sharing over the next few weeks.
Parts 1 and 2 will be about the interesting journeys I took in 2018 to help me better understand one of my burning questions: Why are so many dogs ending up with behavior problems, homeless, even destroyed—and what information are we learning so we can resolve this ill-behaved dog epidemic?
Part 3 will be my state-of-the-union address for what we can do to make the changes needed.
My first adventure.
It’s 5am. The spa music on my alarm wakes me on a chilly Wednesday morning in Los Angeles. Two of my dogs wake up if a cricket farts, the other is snoring like a chainsaw in the armpit of her favorite human on earth—my wife Melissa.
Today is a traveling day. A road trip would not be complete without my loyal, traveling, food dumpster, security detail dog Jake, but this morning is different. I have a hard decision to come to grips with, but it has to be done. Unfortunately, at Jake’s age, he needs to be close to our magical vet in LA, and his needs are more important than mine. However, I promised Jake I would do him proud and share all that I’ve learned from him. So for this trip, a new sidekick travel companion is born—Kita aka “Monkey Feet.”
It’s now 6am, the van is packed, and it’s time to hit the road for a week. First stop Vegas, then New Mexico.
My goal during the trip is to observe, listen, understand, spot trends, and be there firsthand to feel and see what people are struggling with in their human/canine relationship.
Some of the questions I have interest in for owners and rescues:
Why did they get a dog or choose to save this dog?
Is this their first dog? If not, did their other dog have behavior problems?
What have they been doing to solve their problems?
Have they sought out professional advice? Did it help?
Where did they reach out for help first? Friends, family, past experiences?
What things do they like and not like about their human/dog relationship?
During a wonderful 3-day stop in Vegas to visit a new friend (word up Rachel), I talked with a few groups of owners, had a haircut at Rachel’s amazing Aveda Salon to donate my hair, and then I was off to meet some more dog enthusiasts. It was hard to leave, but we had to roll on.
9 hours later, a few cups of coffee (always), and 3 pee stops, my canine co-pilot and I arrived at a dog trainer's facility located in New Mexico.
I always lay low in another artist’s studio, so I stay out of the way just observing and taking it all in. My host gives me the rundown of her day, I say "sounds great," and then head out for a short walk with Kita to stretch our legs and get a feel for our surroundings for the next few days.
When I got back, I walked into what became my biggest takeaway from this whole fact-finding mission.
I was introduced to a middle-aged woman who was responsible for pulling and fostering the dog in front of me, an adolescent, ornery, confused white boxer mix.
Me: Hi, who is this guy?
Volunteer:This is Brutus. He was pulled from a high kill shelter down south.He jumped off a moving train while rescuing a child from a house fire after surviving a seizure and driving himself to the vet.(That’s not what she said, but if this guy could walk on water she was a believer.)
She goes on to say, He eats only grass-fed antelope free ranged in New Zealand, flown in on a jet first class that runs on solar power and rainwater. Only the best for Brutus.
I responded:Totally of course! If you didn’t I’d call PETA on you immediately.We had a little giggle.
I equate the next part of the discussion to watching a play. Once you see it, even with different people, it is still the same play. This was a rerun for me, but I was intrigued as always.
Volunteer: He knows sit, loves head rubs, and of course, he does that cute thing [insert stimulator of human emotion...AHHHHHHH and throw in some baby talk, too.] He’s so well trained.
Now the Second Act: I’ll totally wait if you need a break.
She repeats again, This guy is the best, but...
And this is where the fun starts for me. Grab the popcorn and tell a friend shit is about to get real.
*Cue Jaws music starting low leading to a build-up of epic proportion.*
Volunteer:Buuuuut he was such a jerk the other day! Can you believe he jumped on grandma last night? Grandma is old and fragile. He should know better.
She says this as he is climbing all over her, and she is rubbing his head telling him it’s going to be ok. I don’t know what was going to be ok and neither did he. :)
I agreed. Of course, he should [insert my best award-winning surprised and shocked face and an enormous sarcastic,“What a jerk Brutus is”].
She couldn’t tell my sarcasm was spread as thick as peanut butter. I’m from NJ; it's like a dialect.
One of the things we all know without a doubt is dogs are great (dare I say phenomenal?) at discerning who they should jump on by age, size, gender, race, time, weather, hair color, and of course when you are all dressed up for a special night out. They should just know better, RIGHT?!
She adds: How could he do that? Doesn’t he know what we are doing for him? Doesn’t he appreciate it? (She is referring to his baby talk, belly rubs, gourmet diet... I guess?)
"He’s selfish!," she might as well have said.
This NOW terrible, horrible dog that should totally without a doubt (in her mind) understand how lucky and loved he is, isn’t doing exactly what SHE needs when she needs it.
How fast the story turns from “this dog is the best thing ever” to “the dog is an ungrateful bastard sucking the life force out of her heart.”
As his foster mom was telling the “story,” emotionally charged as you can imagine, confused, and at a loss for what to do, the only logical answer she could come up with is, he must need training!
I’ve found in these situations, humans love to focus on controlling behaviorinstead of understanding the feelings and emotions behind a dog’s choices, or even more completely ignore the possibility that their behavior contributes part of any dysfunction, AKA the dog needs training.This so common for people when they avoid responsibility for THEIR part of the relationship, which leads them to feel like she does, hopeless and like a victim.
At this point I’m standing with the head tilt of a curious puppy thinking, how can two beings that are so close in time and space be living two different realities?It’s fascinating to just be in the moment with that lack of self-awareness. Like many rescues, volunteers, owners, and even professionals I am around, it’s hard to come to the realization that what we are doing to solve the problem (love) is actually causing our problem.
Effort without knowledge is the cause of many dog behavior problems all over the world.
Since my mission is to represent "The Dog’s Side" of the story, I figured I might chime in with what I had been observing.
Can I ask a few questions and possibly share an observation?
Sure, she answered.Please.
What have you represented to him since the first day he came into your house? Not what your best intentions were, but how have you made him more adoptable? What has been his education? How did he interrupt you and his place in this new environment? Who was in control? Who was the teacher? The questions and answers continued.
I told her an important thing to remember is: dogs only believe in hierarchy, not equality.
Here is The Dog’s Side:
You have a situation many people struggle with. During the last 30 minute, reality-free love fest, your canine student was standing on his back legs, intermittently jumping on and off you and the entrance gate with no care for personal space the whole time—scheming, whining, and obsessing to get into the dog area a short distance away, honing his predatory skills, and you were unknowingly confirming to him these were all good choices he was making by touching him and talking to him.
You are unintentionally/unconsciously creating the exact problem you are in such an emergency to fix, but we call that love.
Brutus is interrupting this moment one way (through dog psychology), which is not the way you are intellectually rationalizing it. There is a disconnect between what is happening now, and how that leads to the problems you are suffering from later.
As a wise mentor of mine always says: the reasons we have problems with our dogs is this—dogs expect us to think like them because it’s all they are capable of, and humans expect dogs to understand what we want. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way, and you can see why we have the problems we have.
I asked the trainer whose facility we were in: what are the chances you will see that same jumping behavior the rescue is experiencing?
She replied: he has never done that here before.
Me: So then why does the dog need to be here? Does it do the dog justice to be here? What does he need to be educated about? Doesn’t a dog know how to be a dog?
If the trainer will never see the problem that is ruining the volunteers’ life and creating so many emotions, how can we explain the difference in his behavior?
Intellectually these problems are simple to understand. And it surprises most people to learn that helping dogs involves doing less -- not more. But for some humans that less is why they got their dog or into rescuing in the first place—the desire to hug, talk, give treats, play tug, play chase, lounge around, and Instagram all the cuteness, aka all those things WE call LOVE.
As she was leaving I had one more question for my new volunteer friend, and also for you.
Do you think the jumping on grandma, pulling on the walk, and all the other things that humans experience are genetic problems (out of our control) or an environmental problem (a learned behavior)?
She paused, coming to grips with the answer.
The genetic vs. learned behavior subject will be a topic I will dive deeper into in article 3. It’s important for rescues, shelters, and owners to know what they are in control of (this dog’s “behavior issues” for instance) and when professional help is really needed. If shelter and rescue workers aren’t willing to make basic conscious changes we are just wasting everyone's time and working harder then we have to, and lots of dogs are running out of time. In my opinion, working with dogs shouldn’t be a belief system, it should be based on results.
In article two, I will be sharing more experiences like this from the 7 different organizations I visited earlier this year during my 500-mile electric skateboard journey #thesoulroll. I will explore more of The Dog’s Side of the story, and bring to light simple changes that will greatly benefit the industry and dog’s lives everywhere! I witnessed organizations working harder than they had to, and I believe with a new awareness great things can be done for the animals in their care.
P.S.Check out our latest foster. She's going to make someone very happy soon.
P.S.S. The mission of Soul Mutt Foundation is to end the homelessness epidemic our pets are facing for behavior reasons by educating owners and organizations on how dog's think. If you would like me to visit your facility please email me and let's talk about making that happen. Let’s keep dogs with their families where they belong.