The Seductiveness of Why

The Seductiveness of Why

 

My training as an archaeologist prepared me well for my work with dogs.  Archaeologists tend to be consummate generalists. We learn some biology (How do bones grow?), some physics  (How do percussion waves through volcanic glass make razor-sharp flakes?), and some chemistry (How does radioactive decay tell us how old stuff is?).  Of course, we also learn a lot about humans, our culture, our society, and our fascinating history as primates.  

Dog trainers have to be generalists, too.  We need to know how to teach, how to counsel, and how to use modern applied behavior analysis techniques to change a dog’s behavior and emotions.  We must have a solid understanding of evolution, genetic and environmental effects on behavior, and of ethology.  

I once worked in a bone lab as an archaeologist, reducing animal carcasses to skeletal material for a comparative bone collection.  This cemented my ability to handle really gross stuff, a skill I’ve found useful with dogs who aren’t motivated by the usual fare.   

But I think the best gift I received from my archaeologist past is a tolerance of uncertainty.  (Did modern humans float from one continent to the next during the last ice age, exploiting the rich marine environment at the ice’s edge?  Who knows!  Who do we share our branch of the hominid tree with, really? Who knows!)  Some questions do get answered as time and science marches on.  Some questions, though, seem unanswerable, at least without time travel.  But here’s the thing: not knowing the answers to these questions has not stopped the archaeological juggernaut.  Sites are excavated, artifact collections are assessed and re-assessed, and archaeological papers are published.  

This comfort with uncertainty has been a great boon to my ability to help my dog training clients.  Beyond the broad strokes of motivation (Is the dog scared or upset?  Or is he feeling fine and just being a dog?), it often really doesn’t matter why.  In fact, getting stuck in a loop of asking why, why, why, is a common reason that owners and new trainers falter.  Yesterday, an owner asked me why her dog buries pieces of chewed-up hose in her rose garden, only to immediately excavate them, then re-bury.  (Is he angry at me for putting him outside? Is he communicating something?) An answer starting with “Because...” would likely delve into dogs’ fascinating position as a domesticated canid with remnant food caching software, made ‘buggy’ through generations without selection pressure.  Despite my own love of evolution, and her use of the seductive why, I knew that a long-winded explanation was not what this client was asking for.  My suspicion – soon confirmed – was that what she really wanted was simply to get the dog to stop digging in her rose garden.  We decided on a digging pit, I pointed out how cool it was to watch her dog showing off some of his wolf ancestry, and I was able to quickly move on to another issue she was having with her dog.  

A comfort with uncertainty allowed me to make the best use of my client’s time and money, which is no small deal.  But much more importantly, it opened up time in my consult to create a more enriching environment for this dog, and allowed us to tackle other behaviors which were interrupting the peace in their home.  Time spent on a discussion of what, if anything, the behavior communicated (or how the hose may have mimicked ligaments from a caribou’s leg) would have detracted from our session.  In other words, there would have been a real time and money cost to the client, and a welfare cost to her dog.   

Why is a seductive question.  Uncertainty is a frustrating state.  So I tip my hat to my archaeological studies for the comfort I now have side-stepping the why why why, accepting the uncertainty inherent in dog training (we really do not know what dogs are thinking! Really!), and allowing me to spend the most time doing what I really want to do: helping people, and helping dogs. 

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Staff Profile: Kristi Benson

Kristi Benson is a dog trainer living on a small farm in central Manitoba, Canada. An honors graduate of the program, she now works for the Academy for Dog Trainers as a student mentor and coach, directing special research projects and organizing the Academy’s Wednesday Webinar series.

Kristi’s dog addiction is firmly rooted in racing sled dogs. She has her own crew of sled dogs and for the last decade she has directed a micro-rescue, placing racing dogs in homes as pets. Through her dog-training business Kristi teaches adult dog and puppy classes in several nearby communities, works one-on-one with owners whose dogs are having behavioral issues, and consults for many local foster-based rescues. 

Her love of dogs (and her love of using humorous narrative as a pedagogical tool) was cemented during her time living and working in Canada's far north. Today, she continues to work as a research anthropologist, archaeologist, author, and cartographer with First Nations communities in Canada’s subarctic. 

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Staff Profile:Erik Tamm

Staff Profile:Erik Tamm

Erik Tamm graduated with honors from the Academy for Dog Trainers in early 2016 and joined the Academy staff a few weeks later. Erik's main responsibility in the Academy is caring for the technological infrastructure of our online community and coursework. 

Erik has a background as a software developer and became interested in dog training after moving to Hong Kong and volunteering to help the island's feral dogs.

Today, he divides his time between programming and dog training. Erik works with all kinds of cases but has taken a special liking to dogs with body handling issues.

Erik lives on a small island outside Hong Kong, Cheung Chau, with his wife and his two dogs, Charlie and James. During his time off he enjoys windsurfing and volunteer work to improve the lives of the feral dogs on the island.

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Staff Profile: Casey McGee

Staff Profile: Casey McGee

Casey McGee graduated from the Academy just this year, in February 2016. She still feels like a giddy newcomer on the dog training scene: blessed to have had the chance to learn from the best, filled with hope and passion for the future of a force-free dog training industry, and now thrilled to be a part of the amazing staff team at the Academy. 

Casey also studied with Malena DeMartini and is a proud 2015 graduate of her intensive training program—the only one of its kind to certify dog trainers to work with separation anxiety and isolation distress.

She and her partner lost an aggressive dog to euthanasia several years ago when, like so many of us, she followed the most readily-available advice for dealing with aggression and, in desperation, used coercive and intimidating training methods. At the time she didn't have access to a trainer who could help her first do no harm to her beloved pup. Today she wants to be that trainer for families struggling with the confusion and heartbreak of a serious behavior problem.  

Casey found her calling in force-free dog training after years of animal rescue volunteering and a career working with advocates, law enforcement and prosecution to reform the way that public institutions respond to domestic violence and sexual assault. She now owns and operates Upward Hound and lives on a retired dairy farm in western Wisconsin with her partner, three dogs and a flock of geriatric chickens.

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On Motivation

The Academy for Dog Trainers is honored to take part in the Companion Animal Psychology #train4rewards Blog Party!

         

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

"Those who merrily food train have made a critical leap in their thinking: their bond with the dog is separate from the technical task of manipulating his behavior. There is no rivalry. They don't see themselves in competition with food for the dog's attention; they merely point out to the dog that they control his access to food. Some people find it magical to see the intensity for which a dog will work to eat—it is, after all, a very basic motivation."

- Jean Donaldson, Dogs are From Neptune

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Lettre ouverte aux propriétaires qui pensent que des gâteries corrompront leur chien

Je comprends. Vous préférez ne pas utiliser de gâteries pour entraîner votre chien, parce qu’il devrait apprendre les bonnes manières sans recevoir quelque chose en retour. Vous pensez que si vous lui donnez des friandises, vous atténuerez la valeur des récompenses bien plus importantes, comme votre approbation. Vous vous dites qu’il ne saura jamais discerner le bien du mal et que jamais il ne vous respectera. Vous pensez aussi qu’il deviendra dépendant des gâteries et que sans elles, il ne fera plus ce qu’il a appris.

Je comprends. Vraiment.

Mais je dois vous avouer quelque chose. Vous avez tort. D’abord, votre réflexion est inexacte, parce que vous projetez des concepts de psychologie morale applicables aux humains capables d’échanges sociaux sur votre chien, alors qu’il ne sera pourtant jamais considéré comme un membre à part entière de la société. Ensuite, malgré toutes vos bonnes intentions, vous avez tort sur le plan moral, car vous opterez inévitablement pour des méthodes d’entraînement ayant recours à la douleur et à la peur. La science et les organismes professionnels réputés se rallient tous derrière un fort consensus : la douleur et la peur causées délibérément sont néfastes et inhumaines et n’inculquent pas chez le chien une capacité de discernement moral. Tout ce qu’elles permettent d’accomplir, c’est de traumatiser un chien au point où il fera tout ce que vous voulez.

Peut-être fermez-vous les yeux devant tant de preuves et de bonnes raisons parce que vous n’êtes pas intéressé à connaître la perspective scientifique ou encore trouvez-vous émotionnellement insupportable de motiver votre chien avec des morceaux de poulet. Si c’est votre cas, alors je ne peux rien faire pour vous. Cette approche d’entraînement où vous traumatisez consciemment et délibérément votre chien, je ne la comprendrai jamais. Éventuellement, la loi fléchira sous le poids de la science et vous interdira d’étrangler, de frapper, d’électrocuter ou d’effrayer votre chien. Entretemps, malheureusement, il semble que vous puissiez faire comme bon vous semble. 

Si toutefois les preuves vous ont ouvert les yeux et qu’en plus vous ne retirez aucun plaisir à voir votre chien se recroqueviller de peur ni ne voyez cette méthode comme triste, mais nécessaire, alors la suite vous intéressera. Voici la réalité : vous faites du mal à votre chien sans même améliorer son intelligence morale, ce que vous visiez au départ. C’est une illusion. Ne pensez surtout pas que votre chien vous en remerciera un jour. Il ne fera jamais la bonne chose parce que c’est la bonne chose à faire. Il fera ce que vous lui dites de faire pour que vous arrêtiez de lui faire peur. 

Sur Google, vous trouverez une panacée de recherches exhaustives transculturelles sur l’« évolution du désir de punir les transgresseurs sociaux », qui traitent de notre motivation profonde de veiller à la droiture morale chez les autres membres de la société. Cela touche un vaste éventail de choses, des systèmes juridiques à l’éducation des enfants. Cependant, un chien n’est pas un humain. Il n’a pas la capacité de discerner le bien du mal que nous aimerions tant lui apprendre. Par contre, comme il peut distinguer ce qui est sécuritaire de ce qui est dangereux, nous concluons que nous avons réussi à améliorer sa boussole morale en l’empêchant de faire ce qui nous embête grâce à l’intimidation que nous lui infligeons, et non pas des gâteries. Mais ne soyez pas dupe. Ce n’est pas la droiture morale ni votre approbation qui motive votre chien. Ce sont les cris, les coups, les coups de pied, les colliers étrangleurs, à pics et électriques qui lui font faire ce que vous lui demandez. Si vous voyiez un gardien de zoo s’en prendre ainsi à un animal, vous appelleriez la police. 

Les entraîneurs canins louches savent que voulez que votre chien soit moralement docile. Ils exploiteront ce désir et vous feront croire que ces méthodes ne lui font aucun mal ni ne lui font peur. Selon eux, la peur, c’est le respect. Ils vous diront que les gâteries corrompront votre chien. Si vous y croyez aveuglément, vous finirez par accorder plus d’importance à la soi-disant amélioration morale de votre chien qu’à votre chien lui-même. 

L’erreur de confondre l’éducation des enfants à celle des chiens est très compréhensible. Notre chien fait partie de la famille, alors nous sommes très tentés de suivre notre instinct moral. Je cède maintenant la place à deux de mes collègues qui ont partagé avec moi leurs points de vue quant à ce phénomène lors d’une récente discussion.

L’experte en entraînement Ann-Marie Brady Levine résume bien cette erreur : (traduction libre)

« Dans le cas d’un enfant, nous lui apprenons les comportements appropriés pour notre espèce. Toutefois, dans le cas d’un chien, nous exigeons souvent de lui qu’il n’adopte pas les comportements pourtant appropriés pour son espèce. Nous lui demandons d’exécuter quelque chose qui ne correspond pas à son comportement programmé naturellement. Et pour qu’il y arrive, il nous faut souvent le récompenser. Tout comme vous le feriez si vous demandiez à votre tout-petit de marcher sur les mains au lieu des pieds. Les mots encouragement ne vaudraient pas grand-chose, surtout sur une route de gravier. »

La vétérinaire Dawn Crandell explique comment les objectifs des chiens et des humains diffèrent : (traduction libre)

« La récompense d’un enfant qui se comporte bien socialement est sociale : il se fait des amis, les gens sont gentils avec lui et le tiennent en haute estime. N’importe quel humain comprend et valorise cela. Cependant, les chiens ne saisissent pas toutes les subtilités des interactions sociales humaines et le fait de penser ou de suggérer que c’est le cas, c’est tout simplement faire preuve d’anthropomorphisme. »

 

   Translation by Academy grad, Claudine Prud'homme, of The Learned Dog

 

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Staff Profile: Kelly Shutt

Staff Profile: Kelly Shutt

Kelly Shutt graduated from The Academy for Dog Trainers with honors in 2013. During her studies, she apprenticed under Gallivan Burwell (also an Academy grad) of Upward Dog Training and Counseling in New Orleans, Louisiana. She has also served as the Vice President of The Sula Foundation, an advocacy organization devoted to fostering responsible pit bull guardianship in New Orleans. 

More recently, Kelly served as the Behavior and Training Manager at The Louisiana SPCA (LA/SPCA), an open-admission shelter providing animal control and community outreach for the City of New Orleans. During her time at the LA/SPCA, Kelly created a Behavior and Training department, including a volunteer-led training program for shelter dogs. She also transformed the training culture from "mixed bag" to exclusively force-free. 

Kelly currently owns and operates Dogspeed Positive Training, where she specializes in resource guarding and dog-dog reactivity. Committed to providing the most efficient, user-friendly solutions to her clients’ dog training needs, Kelly passionately pursues ongoing professional development by attending multiple seminars per year and keeping abreast of all industry developments. Kelly recently moved to Akron, Ohio, where she lives with her fiancé, Kevin Duggan of All Dogs Go To Kevin and their three dogs Villere, Rosa, and V.

 

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Staff Profile: Sarah Pennington

Staff Profile: Sarah Pennington

Sarah Pennington graduated from The Academy for Dog Trainers in 2013. The entire Academy experience has helped her in ways she never expected. A member of Academy staff since 2014, Sarah coaches students on their mechanical training skills and mentors students with their assignment submissions. She especially enjoys watching new students develop professional-level training skills.

In addition, Sarah volunteers as a trainer at the BC SPCA in Vancouver.

Sarah is happiest when working with people to help them better understand and train their dogs using a blend of compassion and modern, evidence-based training methods.

Sarah works with all types of behavior cases in her business Yaletown Dog Training but has a soft spot for fearful dogs. She tries to bust myths and spread the message of humane training with simple messages on Yaletown's Facebook page.

   

Sarah’s nursing experience in an inner-city emergency department and in a police department, working with marginalized clients, has taught her the importance of empathy and non-judgment. She tries to incorporate these qualities into her work with dog training clients who are trying to do the best they can for their pets.

Sarah also works part-time in health care where she is the Project Manager for a variety of clinical trials in cardiac arrest and stroke.

Sarah hopes that one day all animals will be trained with compassion and that the use of fear, pain or coercion will no longer be considered acceptable. Dogs make people happy. Sarah’s goal is to teach people how to make their dogs happy too, especially when training them.

Sarah lives in Vancouver, Canada, with her partner and their two dogs.

                                        

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Staff Profile: Lori Nanan

Staff Profile: Lori Nanan

Lori Nanan graduated from The Academy in 2013 and since then, has seen her life change in more ways than she could have ever imagined. As a member of The Academy staff, Lori provides orientation and support to new students, runs special projects and feels incredibly lucky beyond words to be a part of something so close to her heart. 

In her "day job", Lori works as the Canine Behavior Education Coordinator at Women's Humane Society in Bensalem, PA. In addition to teaching classes to the public, Lori runs educational workshops, where she often has the opportunity to expand upon what she has learned through The Academy in a way that makes it accessible to more people. Lori's true passion is working with shelter dogs and loves helping those who are fearful, shy or experiencing kennel stress adjust more easily. Mooka (seen below) is a dog who trembled in her kennel, but through something Lori affectionately calls "desk fostering", not only came out of her shell, but thrived with one-on-one attention and was even able to learn some fun tricks before being adopted.

Lori also works for Academy Grad, Malena DeMartini, who is considered the expert in treating separation anxiety in dogs. In this job, Lori gets to utilize skills she gained in her previous career as a counselor and case manager. One of the things Lori has learned in this position is that people who have dogs with separation anxiety are among the most dedicated dog owners out there and she loves being able to support them.

One of Lori's side projects is Your Pit Bull and You, an educational resource that focuses on highlighting pit bull type dogs in the most positive light, but carries the very important tagline "Animal Learning Isn't Breed Specific". She is incredibly proud of the message and the culture around Your Pit Bull and You, which has attracted an extremely savvy, kind and dedicated audience. 

 Lori has a dream: a world in which all dogs are trained without pain. Lori hopes that through each of her endeavors, she is helping create that world and strives to do so every day.

Lori has a motto and it's one that helps her get through even the roughest of days:

            "Dogs make the rest of life bearable."

Dogs really are such a gift and they deserve for us to not only love them, but to truly understand them. Understanding and utilizing the science of animal learning and behavior is not mutually exclusive with loving our dogs. In fact, in understanding them, we can actually create deeper relationships with them. Lori's goal is to help people who love dogs have both.

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Dog Trainers' Dilemma

Dog Trainers' Dilemma
Dog Trainers' Dilemma
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An Open Letter to Owners Who Think Treats are Bribery

I understand.  You don’t want to use treats to train your dog because he should learn appropriate behavior without having to be bribed.  If you reward him with treats, it degrades more important rewards such as your approval.  He’ll never learn right and wrong.  You want him to respect you.  He’ll also become dependent on treats and won’t perform when not bribed.

I get it.  I do. 

But the thing is this.  You’re wrong.  And you’re wrong in both senses of that word.  You’re inaccurate, because you’re firing moral psychological software, evolved for social interchange in humans, at a dog, who will never be molded into an upstanding member of society.   And in spite of your good intentions, you’re morally wrong because you will inevitably end up employing pain and fear to motivate him.  The science is in and the consensus of every reputable professional organization has converged on its findings: pain and fear are detrimental and inhumane, and don’t instill moral goodness in your dog.  They just terrorize him into doing more of what you want.     

It could be you’re not interested in the science, that you’re too far down the path of finding it emotionally unbearable to motivate your dog with chicken that no amount of reason or evidence will sway you.  If that’s you, I can’t help you.   You have a tolerance – or perhaps an appetite - for dogs cowering that I will never understand.  Eventually the law will catch up with the science and you’ll be prohibited from strangling, hitting, shocking and scaring your dog, but until then you’ll be able to indulge that need. 

If, however, you are amenable to evidence, and you don’t get a little charge out of seeing him cower, or see it as a sad but somehow necessary evil, read on.  Consider that you are causing a dog to suffer without any attendant upgrading of his moral being (your objective) because of this choice.  It’s an illusion.  He won't thank you one day.  He’ll never do what’s right because it’s right.  He’ll just keep wishing you’d stop scaring him. 

Google “evolution of the desire to punish social transgressors” and you’ll get a large, cross-cultural, robust body of research on the urge we have to morally police other members of society.  It affects everything from justice systems to child-rearing.  But dogs aren’t people.  They don’t have the complementary software to learn the right and wrong we feel compelled to teach.  They can, however, learn safe and dangerous, and so we fool ourselves that this is proof that we’ve morally improved them when we eschew treats and instead intimidate, and they then do less of what bugs us.  Because, make no mistake, righteousness or your approval isn’t driving him.  It’s the yelling, hitting, poking, kicking, strangling, digging pins into his neck, and electric shock that’s making him act closer to the way you want.  If you saw a keeper do any of this to a meerkat at the zoo, you’d call the cops. 

Sleazy trainers know you wish to create this moral being and will prey on you, telling you that these things don’t actually hurt or scare him.  They’ll label fear “respect.”  They’ll tell you that treats corrupt.  If you want to believe it badly enough, your cowering dog won’t matter as much as his fictitious moral improvement does. 

It’s an understandable error, conflating dogs and children.  Dogs are in that role in our families, and our morality instincts make it all feel very compelling.  I’d like to give the last word to two colleagues who gave me terrific insight in a recent discussion among trainers about this phenomenon.

Trainer Ann-Marie Brady Levine summarizes the against-grain error we make:

“[In the case of children], it *is* what we're doing, teaching them species-appropriate behaviours. In dog training, however, we are often asking the dog *not* to engage in his species-appropriate behaviours.  We're asking him to do something at odds with his behavioural programming.  And for that to work, we have to make it worth his while.  Much as you would if you were asking your toddler to walk on her hands instead of her feet.  Praise wouldn't cut it, especially the first time you went for a stroll on a gravel road.”

Veterinarian Dawn Crandell further explains the divergent objectives of dogs and humans:

“The reward for kids behaving in a socially acceptable way is social - they make friends, people are nice to them, others think highly of them.  All this can be understood by a human brain and has value, to a human.  Dogs have no concept of all those subtle social human interactions and to suggest or think that they do is the ultimate in anthropomorphism.”

 

 

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Why Dog Trainers Are My Heroes

Dog Trainer Life 1

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Go Canada

Go Canada II








A fantastic movement is on in Canada to ban shock collars.

Here is the information site, including a link to the petition needed to get it considered by parliament.

 
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A Very Tired False Dichotomy

After video surfaced of trainer Jeffrey Schultz hitting and making a dog scream, Schultz defended his actions by saying that the context (the dog snapping at him) was omitted in the video.  In a follow-up story on CBS by Jeff Paul, a past client of Schultz, Gary (who did not want his last name used) suggested that such measures were the thin line protecting children from being bitten and dogs from euthanasia.  His reply when asked by the reporter if it’d be concerning if his own dog were so treated:

“Absolutely it’d bother me. But what would bother me more is if my dog bit some child at a park and then at some point it’s euthanized,” said Gary.

This logic has been completely debunked by all available research, such as herehereherehere and here,position statements by the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, the American Animal Hospital Association behavior management guidelines, and the clinical experience of thousands of practitioners who treat the most serious cases and explicitly warn owners away from people such as Jeffrey Schultz.  Because what he does actually increases the likelihood of aggression in dogs.

There is no context, circumstance or back-story that makes this stuff appropriate.No Hitting

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Obedience is a Transaction, Not a Comment on Your Relationship

A superb blog post by Jess Miller that deconstructs the contention that “respect” can function as a motivator in dog training, along with why it’s appealing to people to wish for it to be so.

http://dogsandethics.blogspot.com/2013/12/exploring-problem-with-cookie-training.html

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User-Friendly and Fail-Safe

Housesoiling is always near the top of the list of behavior problems associated with relinquishment.  Dogs also take a fair amount of abuse in the name of pottying.  I have a current advanced student in Fort Lauderdale, Helen Verte, who is dazzling in many ways, but who has outdone everything I’ve ever seen on the topic of housetraining.  It’s a one-hour, twenty-buck webinar, with the two great virtues of dead-on accurate, field-tested, can’t-fail information and engaging, client-friendly language and examples.  Cherry on the sundae is it carries a CPDT CEU credit for trainers.  She’s making noises about making it available as a lunch & learn for vet practices locally and I so hope she does that.  Muah to her for this contribution.

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What Do Owners Want?

Buffy IX Flipped

MARKET RESEARCH ON PET DOG TRAINING

The Academy has enlisted the services of a marketing expert to find out what dog guardians want in pet dog trainers.

If you are a trainer, please share the survey link below with your clients.

If you are a dog owner, we would love if you could spare the time to get involved by completing the online survey. It should only take about 10 minutes. Your responses will be collated centrally and independently – they won’t be attributed to you personally. The link to the survey below – just click and you’re there.

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Can You Hear Me Now? You’re Freaking Me Out

 

 

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Flogging Children Used to be Cutting Edge ABA Too

Campaign 1

 

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Tired of Leading?

Pack is Crack 

If you’d like to participate, go to the Facebook group Out of the Goldfish Bowl and get ahold of the template to build your own (or your dogs’) to submit to Leonard.

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