Episode 27: Katie Sturino, mom to @ToastMeetsWorld, on Instadog stardom

katie sturino and her dogs by annie grossman

Katie Sturino, “dogager” of the late dogs Toast and Underpants (on phones). She currently is mom to (left to right) Cheese, Sock and Muppet.

Meet Katie Sturino

If you’re into following dogs on Instagram — and really, why wouldn’t you be — you probably have come across Toast Meets World. Toast who, sadly, passed away last year, was one of the first megastars of Instagram. She had over 350000 followers, and appeared in Vogue and on Good Morning America and Harper’s Bazaar. She even married Ramona Singer’s dog on an episode of Real House Wives of New York.

It’s tempting to say Toast just brought this all upon herself because she was adorable — she was indeed quite cute, and particularly memorable looking because she had a tongue that was always sticking out. But I’d say the real reason for her success was the powerhouse publicist who rescued her, Katie Sturino, who I was fortunate enough to interview for this episode.
Katie now manages several Instagram accounts for her dogs — she continues to manage to manage Toast’s account, her dog Muppet’s account, and also her late dog Underpant’s account. When she isn’t managing dogs on Instagram, she is managing them in real life: She currently has three dogs, the aforementioned, Muppet; Cheese, who, like Toast, were rescued from puppy mills; and Sock, a 16-year-old gray furry lump who moved in when Katie’s fiance moved in with her.
There are so many amazing things about Katie — I mean beyond the fact that she is one of the only people I have ever met who has lived in a Manhattan apartment with five dogs (scouring my brain, the only person who tops that is a local client who has seven dogs, three cats and a 55-gallon fish tank), in addition to several rodents and a bird). The thing that I think is coolest about Katie is the way her career has kind of evolved and thrived in unusual directions because of her love of dogs. She started out in fashion PR, and ended up promoting her dogs’ Instagram accounts as a personal project — kind of a challenge, to see how far she could take them. Sponsorships from the likes of Barney’s — sponsorships for her dogs — ended up leading her to get attention for the The12ishStyle, a blog and Instagram account she started for herself. With the The12ishStyle, she has basically created a brand that is all about how to look awesome in celebrity-worth clothes even if you’re not a tiny person. She uses the term “body neutral” which I really like as an alternative to the whole “body positivity” movement. As someone who is a pretty solid size medium, I really like that term. Like can’t I just be a normal sized, healthy woman and not have to label myself as part of some, like, movement?
megababe bustdustBut there’s more — She went from dog publicist to I guess what you might call a plus sized fashionista to product developer. She recently launched  MegaBabe, which is a line of personal care products that tackles lady problems that I don’t think anyone else has ever tried to touch. Two of the most popular products in the line are Bust Dust which is a lotion meant to tackle boob sweat, and then this stuff called Thigh Rescue. (I traded Katie for a stick of it in exchange for a few rolls of my Donald Trump Poop Bags, and I love it).
I went to Katie’s apartment to hear how she managed to parlay her passion for rescue dogs into all these other interesting areas. Here are some of the products and other things we mentioned:

Woof Shout Out:

Terry our School For The Dogs studentGoldendoodle Terry, who can be found on Instagram at TerryTheDood, has been a regular at our Day School program for the last two years, but he’s moving to Brooklyn, so we are preparing ourselves to see him a lot less. Gosh we’re going to miss this sweet, teddy bear of a dog!

Music:
Thanks to Pabrizzer for his ukulele cover of the one-hundred-year-old song “K-K-K-Katy.”

Sponsor:

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Podcast Episode 26: Teach a foolproof DROP and COME using Classical Conditioning

classical and operant conditioning dog training by annie grossman i Most of the time when we teach a dog a new behavior, it follows an “if/then” equation. If you sit, then you get a treat; if you stop jumping, then I’ll greet you. This is training using Operant Conditioning, which is basically just a label for “learning by consequence.” In the latest episode of School For The Dogs Podcast, I talk about a different way of training certain behaviors, specifically “drop it” and “come.” This “different way” involves making use of another kind of conditioning: Classical Conditioning.

Over at the School For The Dogs blog, I give steps for training “come” and “drop it,” and I’ve also broken down how to think about Classical and Operant Conditioning in terms of a vending machine and a “magic claw” machine.

Here are some other posts I’ve written in the past that may help clarify the differences between these two kinds of conditioning:

Punishment and Reinforcement understood by reading Little Golden Books

Dog training lessons learned from watching Girls

Operant Conditioning and Classical Conditioning explained in the Big Bang Theory

Let’s talk about Classical Conditioning with dog trainer Anamarie Johnson

Using Classical Conditioning to teach someone to hate Beethoven, cowboy boots, and their ex

Further notes: 

whistle recall dog trainingIf you’re looking for a nice step-by-step guide to training “come” using Classical Conditioning, I highly recommend the DVD Training The Whistle Recall by Pamela Dennison.

In the episode, I talk about how stores make use of Classical Conditioning when throwing big sales. When I think about this, I always think about… Crazy Eddie! If you watched TV and lived in the New York metropolitan area in the 1980s, you gotta remember these commercials…

Woof Shout Out: 

frank drawing by annie grossmanIt’s impossible to not love our beloved student Frank, depicted at right in a custom portrait (I offer these at StoreForTheDogs.com).

Follow Frank on Instagram at @GoodBoy_Frank.

Music: 

Thanks to ToastGarden for their ukulele cover of the song “Time Is On My Side.”

Sponsor: 

If you have yet to sign up for a two week trial from SaneBox, then I’m willing to bet that your inbox is… a mess. What are you doing with your life, friend?! SaneBox is like a personal assistant whose sole job is to help you spend less time on email. You literally train it to learn what email is important, and what isn’t. You can also use it to send yourself reminders in the future, schedule when you plan to reply to certain emails, and more. Check it out, and get a $15 coupon, when you  visit this link.


Podcast Episode 25: A Better Mousetrap: Building The Perfect Bully Stick Holder

bully stick holders by annie grossman

I first discovered that bully stick holders were a “thing” last year when I went to Global Pet Expo, the Orlando-based yearly pet product showcase. There, I encountered two bully stick holders made by two different companies, and I thought… finally! For years, I’d seen clients try to figure out ways to slow down their dogs’ bully stick consumption, for reasons having to do both with safety and frugality, but all their attempts were homemade hacks that only produced their own problems: A metal vice on the end of a bully stick might keep the end from getting swallowed, but do you want your dog chewing on metal?

The two that I saw at Global Pet Expo were the Animaswizzler and the Qwizl. The former, was made by a small company that was already making an ingenious device made to extend the life of Himalayan chews (the Animatwist — which can be modified to be used with an Animaswizzler, too). It was made of rubber and plastic and formed a kind of lattice cage over the bully stick. The latter, made by the Montana-based company WestPaw, slid over the bully stick like a thick sleeve.

Bully stick holders. From top left, clockwise: Everchew, Bully Buddy, Qwizl, Animatwist, Bonehead, Animaswizzler.

In this episode, I surveyed all the bully stick holders I’ve come across in the year or so since then. The best one I’ve come across, however, is not yet for sale. It is called the Everchew. In this episode, I interviewed its inventor, Kirby Kendall, who is currently working to raise funds to produce it, on Kickstarter. You can contribute, and get pre-order the Everchew, through Oct. 3, 2018.

In our conversation, Kendall and I discussed the fact that some people might be put off by the fact that the Everchew needs to be used with bully sticks that have a small hole drilled in them. The fact that it is held by a pin that goes through a hole really makes it much more sturdy than all the other models I’ve seen. He plans to sell them along with bully sticks that have a hole already in them, but he and I guessed that people might want to use bully sticks they purchase themselves. After we talked, he sent me this video showing how easy it is to drill a hole into one yourself.


You can check out an array of bully sticks at StoreForTheDogs.com.

Still trying to figure out what a bully stick is?! I’ve compiled everything I know about bully sticks in this blogpost.

Fun Dog Fact Of The Day: In 2014 an Austin, TX, supermarket was sued by the state for trying to sell bull penis to its clients. Apparently, it was shipped to the supermarket as “not for human consumption,” but the employees repackaged it. In China, bull penis is thought to be an aphrodisiac, and the supermarket has a large Asian clientele, so… it’s possible that the store’s customers were happy to see pizzle for sale.

Our Woof Shout Out: A few days before I recorded this episode, we received news that my business partner Kate’s dog, Disco, appeared to have cancerous tumors in his spleen and possibly around his heart, and would likely have to be put down. The diagnosis was sudden and shocking. The day I posted the episode, however, there was a glimmer of hope, as a couple of doctors seemed to suggest that the situation might not be quite so dire. Sadly, however, this morning Kate and her husband Jared had to euthanize Disco, who took a sudden turn for the worst.

Kate and Jared took him in as a foster dog from New York City’s Animal Care and Control in 2010, but then fell in love with his goofy personality and epic underbite. He helped inspire Kate to become a professional trainer, and served as the inspiration for our logo.


Disco had to be euthanized today after receiving an unexpected terminal diagnosis last week. He had a wonderful life and gave us all so much love. He will be missed very much. 

Music: Thanks to JazzBanjoRex for his ukulele cover of the song “Bully of the Town.”

Sanebox trial school for the dogs

Sponsor: If you have yet to sign up for a two week trial from SaneBox, then I’m willing to bet that your inbox is… a mess. What are you doing with your life, friend?! SaneBox is like a personal assistant whose sole job is to help you spend less time on email. You literally train it to learn what email is important, and what isn’t. You can also use it to send yourself reminders in the future, schedule when you plan to reply to certain emails, and more. Check it out, and get a $15 coupon, when you  visit this link.


Podcast Episode 24: Let’s talk about in-home grooming with NYC dog groomer Ani Corless

When I first started out in dog training school, a friend of mine accidentally introduced me to someone as an aspiring dog groomer, and I was a little offended. It seemed, at the time, like confusing a school teacher with a hair dresser.

Fast forward nearly a decade: I am now someone with ideas that are not at all that snobbish. I’d love to learn how to be a groomer! To be sure, this isn’t because I care very much about dogs who look primped and polished — I don’t judge those who focus on that stuff, but it’s not really my thing. What I do think is so cool about groomers — good groomers — is that they get to interact with dogs in an intimate way on the regular, for a dog’s entire life. What’s more, they are experts at doing something that could be potentially really terrifying to a dog, and part of their talent is making sure that the dog is comfortable with the process, in addition to making sure that the dog is literally physically comfortable (bad grooming, or lack of grooming, can lead to all kinds of discomfort), and that the dog’s owners feel as happy as they can about living with a hirsute creature who simply has husbandry-needs that are different than his own.

Indeed, I now daydream about going to grooming school myself!

Meet NYC Dog Groomer Ani Corless

For this episode of School For The Dogs Podcast, I interviewed Ani Corless, a NYC dog groomer whose Manhattan-based company, Luxury Groomer, specializes in going into people’s homes to groom their dogs. I personally think this is the best way for a dog to be groomed, since a dog’s home is likely where he or she is most comfortable, and also there isn’t the stress of being left for an unknown period of time with a potentially strange person.

I asked Ani a couple of additional questions about grooming.

Ani and one of her clients.

If someone is interested in becoming a groomer, what is the first thing you suggest they do?

Hang out at a groom shop for a day. Watch what the job is really like. Then talk to the groomer and see what options in your area are to get started.

What is the most important bit of advice you can give to a dog owner who is trying to keep his or her dog looking good between groomings?

Depending on your dog’s specific needs, brushing is always a good idea. Good, proper brushing that your groomer can show you how to do. If you’re not able (or don’t want) to brush, then make sure your dog stay out of the water if he is a dog who doesn’t shed. Or else he will get matted. Your pet may need ears cleaned in between and tear stains or eyes wiped daily. Toothbrushing for everyone!

What is your favorite thing about being a groomer?

I get to mix creativity and playing with puppies all day.

What is one important thing that an in home groomer offer that a grooming facility can’t?

A true one-on-one, calm experience.

Creative Grooming

One of the things Ani and I discuss in the podcast is “Creative Grooming,” which is grooming where dogs are cut dyed in all kinds of incredible ways — it’s kind of like a mix of grooming and sculpture. I actually went to a “Creative Grooming” competition in Hershey, PA seven years ago and produced a short video about the event for Vice.com.

Interested in pursuing a grooming career?

PetGroomer.com offers both a list of US programs and several informative articles on selecting a school.

Hair Vs. Fur

I found this Whole Dog Journal article about dog shedding to be really interesting. Turns out, the notion that some dogs have hair and other dogs have fur is… false. All dogs have the same thing  — call it what you want, hair or fur– and all dogs shed. Thing is, some dogs have hair that is in a growth phase most of the time (like human hair) and other dogs (ones that shed more) have hair follicles that are dormant most of the time. What’s more, like human hair, dogs have different maximum growth capacities, which can differ from one individual to another. Dogs who need to be groomed regularly, like most poodles, have hair/fur that will naturally grow to a long length before falling out, whereas a dog like a bull terrier has hair that naturally has a much shorter ultimate length. We humans also have hair that will only grow to a certain length, but we just usually don’t notice this since we usually cut it before it gets so long that it’ll naturally stop growing.

jimmy buckets lion dog

Meet Jimmy Buckets!

Our “Woof Shoutout” this week goes to a gorgeous doodle who is our neighbor at School For The Dogs. Unlike most dogs, he has a signature hair cut: He is groomed to look like a lion. Learn more about him on Instagram: @jimmybuckets.

And now, a word from our sponsor…

Sanebox trial school for the dogs

If you have yet to sign up for a two week trial from SaneBox, then I’m willing to bet that your inbox is… a mess. What are you doing with your life, friend?! SaneBox is like a personal assistant whose sole job is to help you spend less time on email. You literally train it to learn what email is important, and what isn’t. You can also use it to send yourself reminders in the future, schedule when you plan to reply to certain emails, and more. Check it out, and get a $15 coupon, when you  visit this link.


Podcast Episode 23: Navigating dog runs and managing elevator manners

dog training annie grossman In this Q+A episode of my podcast, I discuss how to deal with dogs in elevators, how to navigate dog parks, how to deal with a dog gets who off leash, and how to help a dog who attacks her brother whenever they pass another dog. But first…I talk about the best part of the “back to school” season…
Shopping!
We recently started stocking these really cool fleece activity mats, which are great for keeping a dog occupied. You can hide treats or try food in the flaps and folds and tufts, and the whole thing can then be tossed in the washing machine. They fold up easily, which makes them great for traveling.
We also just got in a product that makes bath time a lot easier: just smear some peanut butter on these suction-cupped wall mounted doodads and let your dog lick it off during his bath.
Lastly, a shout out to our fave harness at School For The Dogs, the Freedom harness, which has a back clip and a front clip. You can attach a leash to both places for extra safety. Or just use the front clip — front clipping harnesses tend to reduce pulling. We also like to recommend it because it has velvet straps that go under the armpits, which can reduce chafing, AND it comes in lots of lovely collars.
Here are some further notes and resources:
On dog parks…
My opinion about dog parks in general is… don’t go! My opinion is that we all take a big risk when we bring our dogs to dog parks, since we don’t know what dogs will be there, or if the other dog owners will be paying attention to their dogs.  Dogs tend to play best one on one, so if you have a friend who has a dog your dog likes, and a back yard, that’s the better option. If you do choose to go to a dog park, here are some things to keep in mind:
-Think about it as time that you and your dog are spending together, where he gets to be off leash. He doesn’t have to play with other dogs.
-Stay close to your dog. Try not to be more than ten feet away from your dog at any point
-Interrupt your dog frequently with a treat. This way, your dog won’t learn that you only interact with him at the park when it’s time to go.
-Be mindful of your dog’s body language and other dogs’ body language. If your dog is showing a lot of “displacement” behaviors, he may be uncomfortable. Displacement behaviors are thing like shaking of, yawning, and nose looking.
-Encourage one-on-one play.
-Coordinate with owners who have dogs your dog plays well with so that you can be at the park at the same time.
Our School Yard at School For The Dogs is basically a members-only dog run where the dogs are all pre-approved, and there is always a trainer present to monitor things. Wouldn’t it be great if all dog parks had life guards? You can learn more about School Yard here.
Trainer Sue Sternberg has devoted much of her career to helping people be better dog-park goers. Here is a video on behaviors to watch out for at dog parks.
Another great resource for navigating dog parks is her app, Dog Park Assistant.

On off leash hours, and catching runaway dogs…

whistle recall dog training Some parks, like Prospect Park and Central Park in NYC, have off-leash hours where dogs are allowed to roam during certain hours (in NYC, those hours are between 9PM to 9AM). Again, I think you have to accept a lot of risk whenever you’re letting your dog play with unknown dogs, and that risk is trebled if you’re letting your dog play in a place that isn’t fenced in. If you are allowing your dog to be in this kind of situation, you may consider using a very long, lightweight leash. You also want to make sure that you’re dog has an excellent recall. I suggest teaching your dog a “whistle” recall, which is basically just a recall that you can teach by forging a strong association between the sound of a whistle and delicious treats. You don’t have to use a whistle, but it’s a sound that carries well, and works nicely since it is so different than anything else that your dog is likely to hear. For more information of the whistle recall, I suggest checking out the Pamela Dennison DVD, Training The Whistle Recall.

On dealing with a dog who attacks her sister when she sees another dog… 

Some dogs will displace their excitement about seeing another dog — whether that excitement stems from fear or happiness or frustration — by attacking whoever is closest. As I say in the podcast, it’s kind of like when you get in an argument with someone at work, manage to keep cool, but then lose your temper with your spouse when you get home. In the situation that the questioner gave, the “problem” dog is attacking the household’s other dog whenever she sees another dog on leash or outside of the yard.
grisha stewart dog training bat For this issue, I suggest starting by working with just the one dog in a neutral spot — not the yard. Find someone else who has a dog who is willing to work with you, and then figure out how far that other dog needs to be for your dog to not be freaking out. If that distance is 50 feet, your going to stand with your dog at a distance of 50 feet, and click/treat whenever the dog looks at the other dog. You can also follow the click (or your marker word) by booking it in the opposite direction when your dog looks at the other dog — distance from the other dog can be a reinforcer — or play with your dog with a toy after the clicker. Only decrease the distance between the helper dog and your dog when you are sure your dog can progress to a closer distance without freaking out at all. Only bring in the other dog, and/or practice in the yard, when you can get to a pretty close distance to the helper dog. To learn more about this kind of protocol, check out Grisha Stewart’s BAT protocol.
On riding in elevators with dogs… 
It isn’t uncommon for dogs to stress out when they have to enter an elevator when another dog is in the elevator, and/or when another dog enters an elevator. Here are my suggestions on dealing with this common issue:
-Focus first on riding in the elevator with your dog and dealing with a dog who comes in; while you’re focusing on this part of the issue, avoid getting into an elevator when another dog is already there
-Teach your dog that great things happen in the back corner of the elevator. The goal should be for your dog to be spending as much time in an elevator as possible with his butt to the door, and his head in the far corner. You can start by simply letting your dog lick peanut butter from a liquid treat dispenser held in that corner during the whole ride. From there, you can progress to only delivering it when the doors open.
-Practice a nose touch, teaching your dog to touch a post-it or a clicker stick or just your hand whenever the elevator doors open. The object your dog is targeting should be held in that special far corner. Cue your dog to touch the object the moment the door opens. You can practice this in your apartment by recording the sound of the elevator opening, then playing this sound, and then cueing your dog to touch the object. Eventually the sound will become the cue. You can also ride the elevator at odd hours when you can — without annoying your neighbors! — press every button, and cue your dog to touch the object you want him to target (in that special corner) whenever the door opens.
Have a question you’d like to have answered? Submit it here, or leave a voicemail at 917-414-2625.

Music: 

Thanks to JazzBanjoRex for his cover of the one-hundred-year-old song “Back To School Again.”

Sanebox trial school for the dogs

Sponsor:

If you have yet to sign up for a two week trial from SaneBox, then I’m willing to bet that your inbox is… a mess. What are you doing with your life, friend?! SaneBox is like a personal assistant whose sole job is to help you spend less time on email. You literally train it to learn what email is important, and what isn’t. You can also use it to send yourself reminders in the future, schedule when you plan to reply to certain emails, and more. Check it out, and get a $15 coupon, when you  visit this link.


Podcast Episode 22: Let’s talk about SFTD’s origins with co-founder Kate Senisi

Here’s something I’ve learned in my nearly four decades of bumbling around this planet: It’s easy to make friends, hard to make good friends, and nearly impossible to find a friend who can also be a partner. I consider myself very fortunate to have found one: Kate Senisi.

kate senisi dog trainer school for the dogs by annie grossman

Kate Senisi, by Annie Grossman.

This episode is sort of an interview? It’s really more of a conversation with Kate, who I consider one of my closest friends. Kate and I met in 2011, not long after I attended the Association of Professional Dog Trainers’ annual conference, which was held that year in Atlanta. I went just weeks after graduating Karen Pryor Academy, and the conference really helped me clarify the kind of dog trainer I wanted to be. It was thrilling to be around so many people who were making a living at training dogs — or trying to — and it was a moment where it started to congeal for me that I really wanted to write about the industry and the field more than anything else. But I knew I needed to build my own training practice first. I came back to NYC excited to work with clients but… I had no idea where to start. I had gotten an education, but I didn’t really have any practical experience, and there was no obvious place to find a mentor in NYC. I felt pretty stumped. I joined the local Association for Professional Dog Trainers’ meetup group, hoping to find direction.  Kate contacted me through the group. She was working as a graphic designer and was in exactly the same place I was — both literally and career-wise: She lived across the street from me, and was also trying to figure out how to be a professional dog trainer. I had a girl crush on her immediately, mostly because she had an awesome website, amazing hair, and an adorable pit bull who had the world’s most endearing underbite.

kate senisi and annie grossman dog trainers

Me and Kate at the opening party for our first storefront location in September 2014.

We decided to team up to see if we could figure it out together. I had the nutty idea of turning my living room into a dog training studio, and together, we did just that. Having a physical “classroom” somehow grounded us, and also set us apart from other trainers in NYC, who generally train out of dog day cares and pet stores. Things were slow-going at first: I remember in January of 2012 we papered our neighborhood with flyers advertising our first class and…. no one ever called. But then we put up a website– which looked great, thanks to Kate’s graphic design background —  and a Yelp page, and we offered discounts to our friends… and eventually the phone started ringing.

That was about six years ago, and boy how things have changed! We are now in a commercial store front — we moved into our first one on East 2nd Street in 2014, and then upgraded to a larger space in the same building the following year — and we will be transitioning to an even larger location later this year. We have ten employees, a private dog run, a dog walking service, and classes with waitlist that have waitlists. We service something like 50 clients a day, have an online store, a blog and… a podcast! So, that’s our success story, in a nutshell.

Here is a shiba inu, one of our first students, playing with a homemade flirt pole in our first class room (in my apartment).

kate senisi dog trainer and disco

Kate and Disco.

Further notes…

kate senisi dog trainer school for the dogs

Disco and Kate (and me) in our first classroom, which was in my living room.

Kate’s dog is named Disco, and he is a rescue from New York City’s Animal Care and Control. She and her husband fostered him at first, but then they fell in love with him — you can’t not fall in love with him — and decided to keep him. He is a mush of a dog who loves nothing more than to cuddle and to make out with my little dog, Amos. It’s both gross and totally adorable. As I mention in the episode, the term “pitbull” is a generic, broad term that doesn’t refer to any one specific kind of dog. It’s often used for Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, American Pit Bull Terriers, American Bulldogs and Staffordshire Bull Terriers, but lots of dogs who are mixes of these breeds (or just look kind of like them) get labeled “pitbulls,” which is only troubling since there are bans on pitbulls in cities throughout the country. Because the term really is based on looks, it is, in my opinion, rather arbitrary and unfair. Most of the pitbulls I know are wonderful, friendly, snugglebugs. In fact, a century ago, pitbulls were called the “Nanny Dogs” because they were believed to be so good with children. They were indeed so beloved by Americans that they represented us in World War One propoganda posters. To learn more about pitties, I suggest checking out the book The Pitbull Placebo by Karen Delise.

pitbull poster world war 1

This World War One poster used a pitbull-type dog to represent the USA

 

Music: 

Thanks to Lloyd Davis for his cover of the  one-hundred-year-old song “Sister Kate.”

Sanebox trial school for the dogs

Sponsor:

If you have yet to sign up for a two week trial from SaneBox, then I’m willing to bet that your inbox is… a mess. What are you doing with your life, friend?! SaneBox is like a personal assistant whose sole job is to help you spend less time on email. You literally train it to learn what email is important, and what isn’t. You can also use it to send yourself reminders in the future, schedule when you plan to reply to certain emails, and more. Check it out, and get a $15 coupon, when you  visit this link.

 


Podcast Episode 21: Being BF Skinner’s Daughter: Deborah Buzan Dispels The Myths

bf skinners daughter baby boxDeborah Buzan is a well-respected London-based artist, and the daughter of one of the most famous scientists of the 20th century, BF Skinner. But, too often, when she meets new people, they aren’t interested in discussing her career, or her lineage: They just want to know if it’s true that she is insane. Sometimes, they are simply surprised she never killed herself. Occasionally, they ask about her law suit against her dad. And they always want to know what it was like to be raised in a box.

Buzan isn’t insane, never attempted suicide, and wouldn’t have ever considered legal action against her father. But she was raised in a box. Sort of. This latter fact is what spurred the former rumors, most of which came into existence because people conflated the “Skinner Boxes” her father used in his experiments with the “Baby Box,” which was really no more than a high tech crib that he built for his youngest daughter to sleep in and sometimes to play in.

In this episode, I interviewed Buzan, who did an excellent job of explaining how the “Air Crib” (as it was usually called by her father) was designed to help babies and parents and wasn’t at all a “training” device. She also talked some of the other ingenious things he did for his family to try to engineer a happier and safer home for his wife, children, and even for his dog.

deborah buzan bf skinners daughter

The Ladies Home Journal article that first labeled Buzan as the “Baby in a Box”

You can read a transcript of the interview at School For The Dogs’ blog. 

Here are some of the things referenced in this episode:

Books: 

If you’re new to Skinner, About Behaviorism is a good place to start as it is, literally, about the philosophy/science that he is largely credited with founding. In Beyond Freedom and Dignityhe discusses how we can use an understanding of behavioral science to address many of the problems facing the world. Walden Two is a kind of science-fiction novel he wrote about a utopia where people are controlled by positive reinforcement delivered in a smartly engineered environment. It’s kind of like what would happen if you a government set up and run by good dog trainers!

Skinner writes about the conception of, and reactions to, the Air Crib, and also about his music-box toilet-training gadget in the second of his two autobiographies, The Shaping of a Behaviorist.

References & Sources: 

  • You can read the Ladies’ Home Journal article that planted the seed for most of the controversy about the “Air Crib” here.
  • As a teenager, Buzan worked with Karen Pryor, of the Karen Pryor Academy, at Sea Life Park in Hawaii. You can read about Pryor’s time at Sea Life Park in her book, Lad’s Before The Wind. 
  • The BF Skinner Foundation, which is run by Buzan’s sister, Julie Vargas and her husband Ernest Vargas, can be found online at BFSkinner.org. They publish a free quarterly newsletter called Operants.
  • The titular essay in Lauren Slater’s book Opening Skinner’s Box was one of the very first things I ever read about Skinner. While I recommend giving it a read, I do take issue with how she mischaracterizes the Air Crib, saying that Skinner used it to “prove his theories by putting [his daughter] for a few hours a day in a laboratory box . . . in which all her needs were controlled and shaped.” Buzan wrote a response to the article in The Guardian, aiming to correct Slater’s misrepresentation.
BF skinner daughter deborah

Deborah Buzan is an artist living in London.

Music: 

Much thanks to Melissa Mahony of the Channel Drifters thechanneldrifters.com for her cover of Hello My Baby and to David Beckingham for the rendition of The Blue Danube.

Sponsor:

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Podcast Episode 19: How to train a dog to “sit” from scratch

My latest podcast episode is all about teaching a dog to sit. Because… who doesn’t want a dog to know how to sit! In the episode, I break down how to do it, and how not to do it. In doing so, I introduce some training vocabulary I thought it’d be worth defining:

Capturing:

Capturing is the process of pinpointing a precise moment in time when an animal is engaging in a behavior that you, as the trainer, want to encourage. I think of it like the shutter of a camera literally snapping a moment in time.

Marker:

A marker is what we use to “capture” a behavior that we want to encourage. A marker can be any neutral stimuli that the animal perceives. It should be distinct and speedy and easy to notice and to deliver. A marker should act as a “conditioned reinforcer” or a “secondary reinforcer,” in that it should always be swiftly followed by something that your subject likes, be it food, play, or praise. With dogs, we tend to use a clicker, a word (I usually say “Yes”). Dolphin trainers usually use a whistle. Horse trainers often use a tongue click.

how to train a dog to sit

People too often try to teach “sit” by resorting to leaning over a dog (to get the dog to look up) or by holding a hand over the dog’s head. Drawing by Annie Grossman

Luring:

Luring is the process of “helping” a dog, usually by using body language or by using food. Often, when teaching sit, people tend to get stuck in luring, and use their hands (frequently with fingers pinched as if they’re holding food, whether or not they are) long after the dog needs that kind of visual prompt. In my experience I find that people often lean over as a kind of lure, since leaning tends to encourage a dog to look up, and when a dog’s head goes up, a dog’s butt tends to go down.  I suggest luring no more than a couple of time if you must. In almost every case, it’s better off to get away from luring as quickly as possible, or to avoid it from the beginning.

Midwifing:

Truth be told, this isn’t really a dog training word. I’ve borrowed it from Plato and Freud, both I of whom used this term to refer to the idea that one may “pull” an idea or realization out of a subject. The traditional way of teaching “sit” seems, to me, like midwifery of this kind: A person says “Sit” over and over, sometimes using various physical lures and prompts, until the dog sits. I tend to think of this as a backwards way of teaching something, since, in the case of “sit,” there is no idea or realization that needs to be pulled out of the dog. The dog already knows how to sit. The trick is communicating to him a) we like it when you sit and b) “sit” is the word we use to describe that thing that you’re doing.

Cue:

Traditionally, when we ask a dog to do something we want him or who to do, we refer to this as a “command.” In the world of Positive Reinforcement training, we tend to use the word “cue” instead. To some extent, it’s just semantics — I mean, you could refer to asking your dog to do something as “Howdy Doody-ing” and your dog wouldn’t care! But we say “cue” because, once we teach a dog the meaning of a word (the “cue”), than the presentation of that “cue” let’s them know that there is something in it for them if they partake in the associated behavior. The word “command” instead implies a kind of “or else” that is inherently coercive.

OTHER NOTES

Fun Dog Fact Of The Day: 

This month marks the 40 year anniversary of NYC’s Pooper Scooper Law, which made it illegal to not pick up after your dog. It was the first law of its kind in the country. You can read more about it at the School For The Dogs blog.

Woof Shout Out:

leo tolstoy frank dog real happy dogs

Photo by Milla Chappell

Meet our student Leo Tolstoy Frank, who you can find on Instagram at @LeoTolstoyFrank. His two dads have been bringing him to School For The Dogs in the East Village all the way from Harlem– no small trip! He recently completed our Sidewalk Psychos program. Says his dad, Steven: “Before Leo started Sidewalk Psychos with Kate, we went out of our way to avoid other dogs on our walks. He couldn’t pass most dogs on the sidewalk without an outburst, so we’d end up taking circuitous routes around the neighborhood to avoid a confrontation. Now we (and Leo) have learned how to manage the situations we can control, and how to avoid situations we can’t (off leash dogs are the worst!). Now Leo can pass just about every dog on the sidewalk without incident!”  Nice job, Leo!

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Podcast Episode 18: The Dog Training Triad Part 3

dog training triad timing

This episode is all about the importance of good timing in dog training. It is the third part in a series about what I call The Dog Training Triad. You can find Part 1 here (on Management) and Part 2 here (on Rewards). In my opinion, if you can understand these three pillars, you’re well on your way to being able to train a dog (or any animal) to do anything he or she is physically capable of doing.

Here are some of the people, tools, and books referenced in this episode:

BF Skinner: 

bf skinner animal trainer

BF Skinner (1904-1990) is considered to be one of the founding fathers of the study of the science of behavior. 

Skinner is, in my opinion, probably one of the most important scientists of the 20th Century. If you’re jonsing to nerd out on animal behavior, I suggest reading… everything he ever wrote! He has already come up on the podcast and will definitely come up again in future episodes. Here are a few things I’ve written about him in the past:

How Trained Pigeons Could’ve Won World War II

Happy Birthday, BF Skinner

Tools:

While a clicker isn’t essential to training, it can certainly be helpful. We sell a variety of kinds of clickers at StoreForTheDogs.com. I also like using the app DoodleBuddy to help demonstrate the importance of timing, while taking some of the work out of having to use a marker word yourself: Your dogs nose activates the screen, acting as a “marker.” Read more about how you can use a touchscreen device with your dog here; see this post to learn about a few of the apps I have found that you can use to make “art” with your dog — and practice using a “marker” at the same time.

Me with Karen Pryor in 2011. I earned my “KPA CTP” aka “Karen Pryor Certified Training Partner” at the Karen Pryor Academy in 2010. 

Books:

I mention three books by Karen Pryor (founder of my alma mater, Karen Pryor Academy) in this episode, and here I am including a fourth: Lads Before The Wind, which is about her experiences learning to train dolphins.

Reaching The Animal Mind is an excellent book about the science of modern dog training. It goes over some of the neurological research that has been done on the use of the clicker.

Don’t Shoot The Dog is a classic that has a title that is a bit of a misnomer, as it isn’t a book about dogs or dog training, but rather is about how to make good use of positive reinforcement in your own life, and in order to affect change in the lives of these around you. If you are interested in Good Dog Training, this book is a must read… But if you’re a parent, spouse, boss, teacher, or really any person whoever interacts with other people, this book will only make your life better.

Lads Before The Wind is her most personal book, and goes into great detail about her life at Sea Life Park. It’s a very enjoyable read.

Nursing Your Baby is a book that I admit I haven’t read… yet. But I will! I think it’s really cool that this remarkable woman had a career as an expert in a totally different field where she basically trained mothers and babies, long before she found her calling as a trainer of dolphins, dogs, people, or animal trainers.

 

OTHER NOTES

Fun Dog Fact Of The Day:

ww2 dday clicker

Small metal clickers, aka “Crickets” were used on the beaches of Normandy by American paratroopers who were trying to tell friend from foe in the dark. One click meant “Who are you,” and two meant “Friend.” This wasn’t a very complex code, of course, which is why they apparently weren’t meant to be used for more than one battle. You can learn more about the clicker’s military history here. Want your very own reproduction WW2 Clicker? You can get one!

Woof Shout Out:

pitbull melinda dog sheaYou can follow Melinda and her beautiful dog Shea on Instagram at @mmssunshine. Melinda fosters dogs through Mr. Bones + Co.

Sponsor: 

This episode features our very first sponsor! SaneBox! SaneBox will help you get your inbox straightened out. It’s like the personal assistant you always wanted to sort your email for you, except you don’t actually have to talk to anyone. Ever. Try it out with 2 weeks free and $15 off your subscription (if you decide to sign up and… you will!) by visiting this link. No code necessary.

Music:

Special thanks to Danielle Coles and The Energy Collective for their cover of Time Is On My Side (which, like most of the songs I use on the podcast is — surprisingly! — in the public domain).

 


Podcast Episode 15: Let’s talk about dog walking with Shelley Goldberg of DivaDog

diva dog shelley goldbergMeet Shelley Goldberg, owner of DivaDog, a Manhattan-based walking and sitting service. For this episode I interviewed Shelley in her East Village home and spoke to her about her nearly 30 year career walking dogs, and managing dog walkers, in downtown NYC. In a day and age where walking companies are increasingly the domain of app developers — where steps are tracked, pees-and-poops are reported in real time, and walkers are “gigging” more than they are committing to any kind of longterm prospects — Shelley’s old school approach is, in my opinion, really refreshing. Here are some things you should know about Shelley:

  • She used to be a lounge singer at the Gramercy Hotel.
  • She company doesn’t have a website or a publicly available email address (if you want to reach her, call or text 707-DIVA-DOG.
  • She keeps her walkers’ schedule entirely on paper.
  • Hers is one of the most expensive walking companies in NYC.

There are so many pitfalls to watch out for when hiring a walker. Over at the School For The Dogs blog, I wrote up 11 questions to ask a potential dog walker. 

Miscellany from this episode:

  • Here are excerpts from the book of notes and pictures that Shelley’s walker, Rosmarus Schneck, produced while walking her charge, Fanny.

dog walker book

  • Twelve years ago I wrote this NY Times article and, in the initial draft, I mentioned that the little boy in the lede wanted to become a dog walker when he grew up. His mother freaked out and hounded me and my editor to not include this fact! Because clearly the idea that anyone should aspire to be a dog walker was… terrifying.
  • Kendall Jenner used to be a dog walker. I think this might be the only interesting fact about her. In this Vogue video, after she mentions her dog walking past, the interviewer asks her what is something about her that she wished more people would focus on and she says “my ass.”
  • The song I used in this episode is the 1958 song Rockin’ Robin by Bobby Day. I’m able to use this song because — little known fact! — its copyright was never renewed, making it a rare well-known pop song that is in the public domain. The version I used was done one-man-band style by Danielle Anderson, aka Danielle Ate The Sandwich.