Thursday, February 4, 2016

Police shootings, emotional damages, and the value of our companions.

I am looking forward to the progress of this trial in Michigan, encouraged by the ruling so far. US District Court Judge Gershwin Drain has ruled that the owners of a dog named Clohe, shot in Flint, can recover emotional suffering damages in their Federal Court fight.

Clohe was a 15 year old mixed breed dog. Flint and other Law Enforcement Officers were attempting to serve a warrant...at the wrong address. Clohe, who lived next door to the target address, emerged from her doggie door to see what was happening in her neighbor's yard and was shot in the face by police.


So dear Clohe, 15 years old, in her own yard, minding her own business, was shot by police looking for a fugitive in the wrong house.

In the past the value of a companion pet has been established as the cost of going to the pound and just "replacing" the dog. This has, in the past, ignored the suffering of the owners and the value of the years of companionship and memories as if they could just be "replaced".

In the case of Criscuolo v. Moses Lake Washington we got a first start at building value for a companion animal beyond "replacement" or "market value". This has continued with our decision in Branson v. Commerce City, CO where another Chloe was shot and the settlement was $262,500.00. Hopefully this trend will continue, placing adequate value on Clohe in Michigan that recognizes the emotional stress these incidents place on owners and the true value of the years of memories and companionship that constitute our bond with our companion animals. I know personally that dogs I have had have been far more than competitors or "property". There were days where my furry buddy was essential to getting through challenges that I faced.

It is time we recognized legally these bonds and values. This case in Michigan will hopefully help keep the momentum.

Here is a section of the article from Great Lakes Echo, by Eric Freeman, posted by Capital News Service on February 3rd, 2016. The full original can be accessed on the web HERE.

Owner can sue for emotional damages over shot dog

February 3, 2016

By Eric Freedman

Capital News Service

The owners of a dog shot and seriously wounded by a Michigan Corrections Department investigator can sue the state for emotional distress and mental anguish damages under federal civil rights law, a judge has ruled.

U.S. District Judge Gershwin Drain rejected the state’s argument that the owners, Erica Moreno and Katti Putman, would be entitled only to economic damages if they prove that the investigator acted unconstitutionally.

The investigator, Ronald Hughes, several state troopers and a Flint police officer on a multiagency team went to the wrong house in Flint while searching for a fugitive in June 2014, according to court documents. They had an arrest warrant for the fugitive.
Hughes mistakenly went into the backyard of the fugitive’s next-door neighbors, where he saw 58-pound Clohe, a 15-year-old pit bull mix, coming out the door and shot her in the face, the decision said.

Clohe is “a friendly family dog who gets along with her neighbors and never has attacked or bitten anyone,” the suit contends.

Trial is scheduled to begin Feb. 16 in federal court in Detroit.

In his decision, Drain said, “Clohe lost a portion of her tongue and a tooth and endured three surgeries to repair damage suffered as a result.”

The state denies any wrongdoing and counters that Hughes shot the dog in self-defense.

The internal affairs division of the Corrections Department reviewed the incident but the results of the inquiry are confidential, according to department public information officer Chris Gautz.

Clohe’s owners, Erica Moreno and Katti Putnam, filed a civil rights suit, claiming Hughes violated the 4th Amendment constitutional guarantee against “unreasonable searches and seizures.”

Shooting Clohe was an illegal “seizure” of their dog, the suit contends. “In sum, Hughes went to the wrong house to execute an arrest warrant and shot the dog without any reasonable basis for doing so.

Shooting the dog “was objectively unreasonable because Clohe was not barking or making any threatening gesture towards Hughes,” it said.

The attorney general’s office asked Drain to disallow so-called “noneconomic damages” and limit any jury award to the difference between what Clohe is worth now and what she would have been worth if she hadn’t been shot.

Christopher Olson, a Royal Oak lawyer representing Moreno and Putnam, said the state argued that it’s a property damage case but, in fact, it’s a constitutional violation case.

Emotional distress damages “naturally flow in any case in which a cop shoots your dog in the face,” Olson said. “Most people who’ve ever owned a dog treat it as a family member.”

Rejecting the state’s argument, Drain noted that courts recognize that some people “think of dogs solely in terms of an emotional relationship, rather than a property relationship” and that “the bond between a dog owner and his pet can be strong and enduring.”

Drain said, “Prohibiting recovery for emotional damages stemming from the loss of, or harm to, an animal caused by a constitutional violation would conflict with the compensatory and deterrence aims” of federal civil rights law."

Drain also ruled that the jury can award Moreno and Putman punitive damages if they prove at trial that Hughes acted unconstitutionally.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Chloe case, Commerce City, CO, final chapter.

Seriously. I am so proud of our lead attorney Jennifer Edwards of the Animal Law Center in Denver, Colorado, for hanging tough and getting justice for Chloe. We can't bring her back, but we did what we could, and I call that a win.

This is a special win since the settlement is the largest ever for such a case involving a companion animal in Colorado, helping set the standard that companion animals are worth FAR MORE than just "replacement" costs. After all, how can you "replace" years of companionship, shared memories, and affection? Is there a price on that?

Chloe can now rest easier knowing that responsibility has been assessed. We will continue to battle on for others that have suffered the same fate: Bullet, Broli, Cali, Lucy, and a host of others.

Here is the news story on Chloe from Fox 31, Denver, Colorado, today.

Settlement reached in police killing of dog; May be largest in Colorado history

POSTED 12:46 PM, JANUARY 25, 2016, BY CHRIS HALSNE, UPDATED AT 01:41PM, JANUARY 25, 2016

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — The city of  Commerce City has paid what appears to be one of the largest financial settlement in Colorado history for the death of someone’s pet.
FOX31 Denver has confirmed the city recently paid $262,500 to the family of a chocolate lab-mix named Chloe, shot and killed by police. The payment was part of a settlement to avoid a federal civil court trial scheduled later this month.
In November 2012, officers responded to a report of a dog running in a neighborhood. After capturing Chloe with a catch pole and shooting it with a stun gun,  Officer Robert Price fired five shots at the dog, killing it.
Video of the event was captured by a neighbor.
Price was charged with aggravated animal cruelty but was acquitted by an Adams County jury. Commerce City police documents, obtained by FOX31, show internal affairs ruled Price was “within policy” when he killed the dog.
Using the Colorado Open Records Act, FOX31 Denver learned that in addition to the settlement, Commerce City spent $125,227.38 in legal fees, with the city’s out-of-pocket expense being a $50,000 deductible.

Colorado civil law does not allow pet owners to recover losses for a pet that exceed its face value, but recent federal court cases citing violations of the Fourth Amendment, loss of property, have changed the landscape in pet law.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

What impact do you have?


Author Simon Tyler’s latest book "The Impact Code" discusses the idea of impact; the impact we have in the world, in other people’s lives, and the impact we have on our own lives.

He defined impact as having five facets, or focuses. Those are, in his definition:

Visual
Presence
Connection
Verbal/written
Footprint

I was thinking about this as I drove and the way it might fit in with my work and life with animals. I realized that, when we train dogs, we use the same five factors to make an impact, a difference in the life of the dog and hopefully their owners.

First is visual. We, as trainers, are knowledgable in signaling and the effects of body language. We understand, and try to teach owners, about he mass of information transferred back and forth by body positioning, facial expression, and so forth. We use our body language to communicate with the dog, and we read their body language to help learn the root of their problems. They are trying to communicate: it is up to us to listen.

Our visual impact also includes the way we present ourselves to the client. If we show up unwashed and ragged our impact is not that of an expert that can be depended on. The dog we are there to work with needs us, or the owner would not have reached out. It can be critical that the owner takes us seriously and respects our experience and skills. If we don’t earn that respect the likelihood of them following our lead is slim.


Intimately involved in visual impact is presence, both for owner and dog. If your presence is calm, relaxed and confident (but not cocky or know-it-all) both dog and owner take your cues and relax. Tension, fear and worry tend to back off a bit. Both human and dog respond to the cues you give.

There is no spooky “energy” thing going on here. You are acting like a professional. There are plenty of times that I find myself in a situation that could potentially go very wrong. A professional and calm demeanor usually helps establish a similar response. It may be a case where I am truly concerned about getting bitten, but the professional in me is out front. I am not careless or reckless. I observe, make plans for what may go wrong, and keep the exit in mind, but you can do all that and keep a calm, professional bearing.

That calm, professional bearing, coupled with empathy and compassion, helps build connection. There are plenty of dogs out there that can kick my aging self all over the map. They have teeth and strength and are far faster than I. It is physically impossible - and foolish - for me to try and apply force to a dog that has size, speed, and has killed a human before I met them.

Instead I go the other way. I establish a connection, an agreement if you will, with the dog. They don’t hurt me and nothing bad happens…but they can’t drive me away either. I won’t  hurt them either, and when they give me acceptance signals I return them. We communicate. We build a working relationship, even if for just a short time.

This does not always work. Some dogs are too damaged to build such a relationship. Some take a long time and I have to be patient. I am not there to prove anything. I am there to assess or to help.

Likewise, I am not going to get compliance from an owner if we do not connect. Hearing and seeing what I have to say is not enough. They have to process the information, to take it in. They have to see how the answer fits into their lives, and my job is to help them see that. That requires a connection. Hopefully, once we connect and they start to see results I will have opened their minds enough for them to reconnect with their dog so they can solve problems together.

We, as trainers and behavior consultants, have to be masters of  communication. We have to have the owner take in and process the information we give them. We have to explain some pretty complicated concepts succinctly and clearly without being condescending. It is fine for us to sit around a table with a few beverages and debate +P, -R, classical conditioning and response time, but owners just tend to glaze over. They aren’t looking for a degree: they want Fritzi to stop pooping on the rug.

We may write blogs, or give handouts or book recommendations, but we must get the essence of our training to owners in quick, short and digestible chunks. We must use verbal and written communication skills to get through the haze.

Finally we have to consider our footprint. Not the ones that our boots make on the carpet (although avoiding those is part of being a professional), but our footprint as shown by the track of dogs behind us. Have we made a difference for the dogs? Have we made a difference to the owners? Did we leave a gentle trail that dog and owner could follow? Did we impact their mental surfaces with respect and kindness? Or did we kick a door in, stomp around, knock over the furniture, and leave chaos in our wake?


Impact is a better assessment of our abilities and our success than money or fame. As trainers we need to be mindful of our impact. We have the ability to make a big one. Make the best of your opportunity for impact.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

How animals assess their world: Is it safe to go outside?

Two posts back we talked about perception and a dog’s response to a perceived threat. I want to go into that a bit more this week and talk about the steps that a dog goes through when assessing their surroundings and the objects or people in them.

As I said before, a dog, in fact any animal, makes an assessment that starts with safe vs not safe. This assessment is made based on hardwired survival behavior, physical and other cues, experience, and training.

The best outcome for an animal is that a situation is safe. Just determining that a situation is safe is not all that happens though. From basic safe the animal decides whether to stay in place or approach. If they approach, the long term decision for approach may be determined by whether the approach is reinforced. Is there a reward that makes it worthwhile to pursue this behavior in the future? Is a need fulfilled? If so, the approach is reinforced and becomes more likely to occur in the future.

This is what we strive for. We want our companions to be reinforced by approaching us, and we fulfill their needs when they do. Fortunately for us dogs are social beings and want our interaction. They have a need for social contact, and we can fulfill that need in a positive manner. We can also provide the physical bits that aid in their survival, like food and shelter.

On the other hand, when an animal evaluates a situation as not safe they are presented with three basic responses: Freeze, Flight, or Fight. Everything that happens in a not safe circumstance is a modification of these three choices.

First let’s talk about freeze. This response is the bunny rabbit response: stay really still, try to blend in, and maybe the scary thing will overlook you and go away. For rabbits and other animals that blend in (the technical term is protective or cryptic coloration-we call it camouflage) this is a common response. They stay still because many predators react to movement. If you aren’t obvious and don’t move, you may not attract attention. In the wild, if you are potential prey, attention is bad.

For dogs this is less, er, useful. A 98 pound harlequin Great Dane is really tough to miss, regardless of the background. Staying still is not a real option most of the time. Dogs that freeze are, in my experience, usually not trying to blend in-they are, instead, so fearful that they can’t decide whether to run or fight as they perceive that both options are equally dangerous. Dogs that show serious freezing may have been abused, or suffered from making either choice in the past. The have acquired learned helplessness, which we will talk about another time.

With freezing off the table in many cases, we are presented with the age old dilemma: fight or flight. Of the two, flight is usually the safer, and most common choice.

Flight is easy to understand. You see something scary? RUN AWAY! Live to eat another day. This makes sense. If you are paying attention to your surroundings, you can even see the scary thing before it sees you and, by fleeing, you may avoid the confrontation completely. Avoidance by flight is really safe and, if you successfully stay under the bad thing’s radar, you can continue your life unmolested. To do this you require an escape route, for which animals are scouting all the time. If you are pursued, you may have to make the decision again to keep running or turn and fight, but running is still the best option if you can.

Fight is the least attractive option. Someone is getting hurt. Getting hurt is always a less attractive option if you are trying to survive. Getting hurt as an option means that you either have nowhere to run or you have to protect something worth possibly dying for.

The first step to fighting is to try and become scary yourself. Get big, get loud, get fierce. Make the other guy think that you are bigger and badder than they are. Maybe they will decide to take the flight option. This is behavior we see in a dog that is frightened and feels that flight options are limited. This can be backed into a corner, or even more insidious, being chained in a small area (which is another topic coming up in the future). They growl, snarl, lunge, bare their teeth, and try to look as intimidating and dangerous as they can. This looks, and is, frightening and dangerous. The good news is that, in most cases, if you give an animal in this situation an exit, they will turn fight into flight. Give them an out. They will mostly take it.

In canine conflicts, if bluster doesn’t work, then the two in conflict may proceed to what is essentially ritualized combat. This is your typical dog fight. The two dogs come into physical conflict, but are mostly pulling their punches. Neither really wants to get hurt, so they show inhibition and control of their biting. There is a lot of spit, sound, and fur flying. There may be punctures and torn ears. No one, however, really gets injured. One or the other decides that enough is enough and retreats or surrenders. Case closed for the day and survival is achieved.

If this doesn’t work, the the situation escalates into full-on high stakes combat. Someone isn’t going home today. This is the final option. In the overall scheme of things, this is the least attractive option because one animal is likely killed and the other may be mortally wounded. If your strategy is for the species to survive this is not good, as you may be reducing the healthy population and limiting your survival chances. Remember: if your goal is to keep your species alive and reproducing, you try and stay alive to spread your genetic material far and wide. Killing off too many of your cohorts limits this ability. This is something that we as humans seem to have forgotten, but then that is partly why I now deal with dogs after doing my years dealing with nasty people. Dogs have better sense.

Ultimately the conflict must be defused or resolved. Either way the animal is seeking to return to a state of safe. That is the root. They aren't plotting beyond that. There is no desire to establish an empire and exploit the local weaklings. That is human. As long as animals can provide for their basic needs conflict is unnecessary. Fulfilling needs and reducing conflict makes the world safe and allows the propagation of the species, which is really the bottom line for any organism. Make more of yourself and keep them all healthy.

How does this apply to us and our interactions with our dogs? They need to identify safe vs not safe, and need guidance to figure out what things are real threats and what are not.

Our dogs take major cues from our behavior. If we are tense or nervous, that information is quickly picked up by our dogs. If we are relaxed and receptive, generally so are our dogs. They do make their own decisions apart from our cues though, based on the input we have already discussed: scent, vision, hearing, and as associated with their own experience. Our job is to equip them, through socialization and positive experience, with familiarity with enough novel situations that they more accurately assess situations. Dr. Ian Dunbar says that all our puppies should meet 100 new people before they are eight weeks old, and another 100 people between 8 and 12 weeks. I personally have seen the result of this. When I was doing a lot of dog demonstration events I took litters of pups to expos where, over three or four days, my pups met up to 30 or 40,000 people. These became bulletproof pups.

Those particular opportunities are not available for everyone, but the principle is the same. Lots of exposure, lots of positive.

This also applies to adult dogs, even those who have had bad experiences. It does take a little longer. Your dog, even with a bumpy road behind them, can learn to be accepting and secure. They can expand their world of safe, and you can make your companion's life more relaxed, more enjoyable, and safer for you, them, and everyone else.

But if your dog insists that something, or someone, is not safe: don't force them. That will make things worse. Maybe, your dog sees something you don't. Look and listen and respect your dog's opinion. They may be right.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

For the New Year: resolutions and wishes and time.

This is the time of year when people go around wishing you all sorts of things, and then expecting you to make great resolutions about what you will accomplish in the New Year. Of course, we all know most wishes and resolutions are gone as quickly as the high cirrus clouds borne on the jet stream.


Next week we will get back to the serious stuff, particularly how your dog assesses life, their environment, and how you can work within this framework to keep Fluffy secure and why bad things are bad...and how being a jerk doesn't work.

But for now, I want to pass along a few wishes and maybe a resolution or two.  Simple resolutions are more likely to stick. After all, less effort = more success.

Here are my simple resolutions to make the upcoming year more enjoyable for both of you.

Resolve to teach your dog ONE THING. It doesn't matter what. Just one thing. It may be to sit when you ask, or walk on a leash without dragging you like a mule plowing a field. You might teach Franklin to shake hands, or roll over. Teach Sassy to look at you while walking whenever she sees the neighborhood cat they hate so she learns to recover from distraction and walk calmly. Teach ONE THING.

Resolve to try ONE NEW ACTIVITY with your dog. Agility, fly ball, obedience, nose work, dancing...there are a huge number of activities that you can try with your dog. Try one. Any one. Do one thing that involves both of you. At least once.

Do something for ONE DOG that is more than forwarding sad, tragic requests on the Internet. Forwarding and networking takes up a lot of time and makes a lot of people feel better, and may actually connect people and dogs in need, but GET OFF YOUR CHAIR. Leave the computer for a few minutes and do something. Drop off a bag of food at a rescue (and donating remotely doesn't count). Take a single day and walk one dog, any dog, at a shelter. Take brownies to your Vet's office. Take cookies to Animal Control to let them know that even if they aren't perfect you appreciate the things they do right. One time in the next year get out of the house, and out of your comfort zone, and do something for ONE DOG.

Learn one new thing ABOUT your dog. Read about body language. Look up the history of dogs and humans-it goes back a long way. Watch one training video and then decide how that particular trainer is full of nonsense and YOUR DOG is better than that. Ask your Vet about one thing going on inside your dog that you don't understand. Read a blog about pets by someone you hate and use it to find your own better way.

Now for my (and Petey's) New Year's wishes for you and your companion.

I wish for you and your dog good health, physical and emotional. I wish for the bond between you to grow stronger through the year.

I wish for you and your dog to find one new challenge this year. One new adventure, one new experience. Take your dog for an ice cream cone. Take them to hike a park you have never explored. Walk or jog a dog-and-owner 5K for a cause. You both could use time off the couch.

I wish for you good surprises and joy. I wish for you adventure and quiet time together. If you have an older dog I wish for peace and comfort and ease in their last years, and a quiet, restful passing if they need to move along.

I wish you snuggles and fetching and tug toys and late night barking at invisible ghosts (they are tricky those ghosts-a dog's gotta be watching all the time!) and a few (not too many) holes dug in your yard after evil moles. I wish belly rubs and cookies and chasing of tails (you should try it-even if your tail is too short). And if you have the chance I wish you puppy breath and tiny paws on the floor and puddles and chasing butterflies.

Above all I wish for you and your dog the gift of time. We have so few years with our dogs that we need to steal a few extra moments when we can. I wish for you to find a few of those extra moments to steal, and steal them greedily. Moments not squandered on distractions. Moments on the couch and in the car and on the trail and sitting curled up. Moments looking at your dog in wonder and in real life, not just snapchats and vines and pictures on a screen. Moments interacting, not just observing. These moments are moments invested, not spent. These moments are the snips and snorts in between all the other stuff in your life. That's what we and they are here for.

I wish you wishes granted and promises kept and intentions followed up, even if just once. That one time will live on long after for both of you.

These are my best wishes for you all. Peace, pets, and good sniffs.


Saturday, December 26, 2015

Understanding perceptions.

It happens suddenly some times.



We are out, or at home, with our Wookie-like companion (yes, this is Star wars release week), and everything is going swimmingly well. People are greeting the Wookie, our Wook is happy and loving the attention, getting pats from strangers...and suddenly Wook gives someone the look and backs away. We don't see a problem. We get defensive and tell Wookie to go say hello, and Wook responds by backing away more, and maybe even growling or raising a lip to show just the hint of teeth. We get upset. Maybe we even scold Wook, and amid profuse showers of apologies we retreat, internally (or otherwise) cursing our stupid dog that chose that moment to go all Cujo. We don't get it, and we might assume the worst-our dog has suddenly developed "aggression problems."

What is going on here? Has the Wookie "snapped?"

Are we doomed?

The incident makes more sense if we understand that animals assess and classify everything they encounter into one of two default states: safe or unsafe.

Our pets, all animals (ourselves included), are constantly evaluating their environment, scanning for threats. It is not something we have developed as "sophisticated" organisms: this evaluation is a survival mechanism that goes back into what we call the reptilian brain, that part of us that is trying to keep us from being eaten. Dogs have this too. They are, no matter how brilliant and secure, constantly checking for survival cues. Threats may be learned or automatically recognized. The onrushing charge of a bigger animal makes hardwired sense. Dogs understand and avoid this threat. We also recognize big issue threats like this pretty well.

Some threats, or perceived threats, are less obvious. Our dogs have a fine sense of position and body language. Their hearing is different, with a far wider range than ours. Their sense of smell is phenomenal. They pick up cues the we miss. I have said before that I believe dogs think we are their “slow” relatives. Our dogs, while evaluating the environment, are constantly evaluating people too. They are calculating safe versus unsafe.

Cues, subtle and not so much, couple with socialization and training to form the basis for their decisions of how to act or react. We, as good owners, have taught them a lot of different things. We have taught them manners and guided their development as welcome additions to the social scene. We have nurtured their positive interactions with people and dogs, and given them clear but generous boundaries within which they are safe and secure.

But sometimes our Wookie picks up cues that we miss. We may never know just what they are: it could be the scent of something that lingers around a person. It could be small movements that don’t add up for Wookie. It may be pheromones that we cannot possibly detect. After all, dogs can detect chemical imbalances like a pending seizure. We only consciously pick up a tiny fraction of those cues, but have you ever met someone who just gave you the willies? That. Exactly. Our best buddy the Wook has picked up…something.


Just because there is something strange in the air, Wookie doesn’t get a free pass to be a jerk. We do demand a certain level of civility. No lunging, snapping, or acting like a wild thing towards people. We can, though, pay attention to the Wookie’s actions, and reactions, and we can respect Wook’s space. Remember that we talked about “Minding the gap” several posts back? If not, take a second and go check out that post here.

Minding the gap and respecting our buddy’s space is critical when dear Wookie shows that something is off. Forcing contact and the invasion of Wookie’s personal space doesn’t accomplish anything other than stressing him out-and maybe setting him up for future problems.

If you place your Wookie in a social situation and he tries to tell you he is uncomfortable, respect that. First, as Douglas Adams said, “DON’T PANIC!”. Don’t allow Wookie to respond with force, but allow Wookie to maintain his space.  Redirect him into a safe, quiet behavior and respect his reaction. Be a buffer between Wookie and the person he is reacting to. Ask them to give Wook his space. Tell them it’s not personal, but don’t push the issue. Remember when Wookie is calm to reinforce that response. He may well relax enough to reevaluate his perception of the person and decide to solicit contact after he sees your reaction is stable and calm.

We must remember always that our perceptions and our companions’ perceptions can be profoundly different. Acknowledge this, respect this, and pay attention.

Personally, if my dog reacts badly to a particular person, I tend to believe the dog.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

We are always looking backwards.

The late and sorely missed comedian Mitch Hedburg had a way of boiling things down to the their elements. One of my favorite of his shticks was about a guy that showed Mitch a picture of himself when he was younger. Mitch's response was "Every picture of you is a picture of you when you were younger."

After the laugh you think a minute: yep, every picture is a picture of you when you were younger. Pictures snap moments in time, but they are always moments that are gone. No one has ever gotten a picture of their older self. We don't get to look ahead, which is probably a good thing for the most part.

Yet we are asked to predict, to look ahead, all the time with animals. We administer a rank of tests that we then try to present our results as predictive of what any specific dog will or won't do in the future. We try to guess which dog will fit better in which family, or who is a better prospect for what project or program.



We have gotten pretty good. There are tools such as SAFER, Assess-a-Pet, and MatchUp, and others that are scattered all over. Each of these tests is used by owners and trainers and shelters to try and predict the behavior of a pet and whether that pet will or won't succeed in X situation. Sadly, some groups and shelters use these tests to determine, on a single trial, whether an animal lives or dies.

I use tests too. We all do. My difference is that I use the tests, generally, as diagnostic tools. I am called in when the dog has become a problem. My job is to find the problem (which may or may not be the problem described by the owner) and try to assemble a program that just might bring things back into a sustainable state. The big aims, of course are 1) try to keep people from being hurt, 2) try to keep the dog from being hurt, and 3) try and keep the family unit together-or if not, help them evaluate options.

Now don't get excited. None of us are "pure". I also work with a few programs where we select dogs that have varying problems and try to bring them up to "adoptable" status. So yes, I am guilty of trying to predict future behavior. We have to try and select dogs that show the ability to be kept in somewhat close quarters and are at least somewhat focused on human social contact. Sometimes we are dead on-and sometimes not so much. When we are on the "not so much" path, that is where we have to reach into that creative tool box (remember last post?) and look for solutions.

The point of this ramble is that we, as trainers and behavior consultants, have to remember the use and function of behavioral testing and evaluations. These, just like the pictures we have on our phones and on our walls, are snippets of time, locking in forever the situation at a specific moment. They don't give us a look at our futures selves. Yes, we can look at these pictures and get an idea where we have come from, something that helps us to make decisions in the future. But they are all in the past. Prediction, be it from a detailed scientifically rigorous test or from gazing into a darkened mirror, is inexact and mostly peering through the fog. The same goes for our clients. We get an imperfect idea of what their past is, and can capture an image in the moment, but our testing and evaluating is still peering through the fog. We need to remember to approach these tools as they are, and build from the information conveyed rather than accept an evaluation as a final, unwavering truth.