Photo: Unsplash/Andrew Pons

I Was Accused of Animal Negligence (the Behavior of Shaming)

Before I tell you the story, there are a few tidbits that you should know about me:

  • I’ve been vegan and/or vegetarian since the age of 14 (for animal welfare reasons);
  • I spent my college years getting a degree in animal psychology and behavior; and
  • I’ve logged thousands of hours offering ethical behavior help to families and individuals struggling to understand their animal’s behavior.

Essentially, I’ve dedicated my life to the study and application of how we can treat animals in a more humane way.

So then, I have this dog. She is, by far, the most extreme case I have ever encountered in my years working as a private animal training and behavior consultant, at the humane society and in veterinary clinics.

She used to be labeled as fear-reactive or dog-aggressive. Along with her anxiety and compulsive issues, she exhibited severely aggressive behavior towards humans. She is incredibly aware of the tiniest fluctuations in her environments; she is sensitive, and I have come to learn so much about what that means for her and how it affects her behavior.

Long story short, I spend a lot of time working with her, and I devote a lot of energy to devising ways I can meet her needs and help her heal.

One of the ways I care for her is by arranging a special time for us to go on walks in low-stimuli environments that are trigger free. This way, she gets to engage in plenty of dopamine-releasing scent work, I get to take my dog trainer ego off the table for an hour, and instead, I just experience her for who she is; it’s always an inspiring activity… until today.

Why I Was Accused of Animal Negligence

Today I wrapped up the enrichment walk with our typical search and impulse control games. We then walked back to the car to prep her a puzzle toy that she enjoys while we relax in the back seat before leaving. I then remembered that I needed to run into the building of a nearby office to make a quick scheduling change for an upcoming appointment.

So, I decided to drive the car up to the front of the building and parallel parked behind a small SUV which had a lady, probably in her 60-70s, inside it. Mind you, I take these walks early in the morning or late in the evening, and this morning’s temperature was a chilly 48 degrees Fahrenheit outside. I was wearing my puffy, long, black, hooded coat with my ever-present treat pouch attached to my hip.

I hopped out of the car, ran inside, and a total of three minutes later (literally) I emerged from the building only to find the lady I had parked behind standing in the doorway.

“Hun, is that your car out there with the dog?”

My eyes bolted to the car as I panicked that something had happened. I nodded once I saw the car, seemingly in the same condition I left it three minutes before.

“Well, I thought you were going to be in here for a while… You know, you really can’t leave him in there like that without a window cracked.”

It caught me so off-guard – considering I was shivering moments before entering the building – that I just smiled, nodded and mentioned what I do for a living, as if to say, “Hey, thank you for being concerned, but you should know I’m a major animal-supporter. If they handed out awards for being concerned about living creatures, I would most certainly have collected a couple plaques.”

And I really meant my smile and nod in a way that wasn’t pompous but almost comical. In that moment, it was so crazy to me that she had formulated this idea of who I was…  And it was so different from reality.

After smiling I walked away towards my car, and then she shouted behind me, “Ah, so you should know better!”

And Here’s What This Story Is About: Shaming

Shaming is probably the number one behavior modification tool used by the common non-behaviorist. I see it in schools, parenting, romantic relationships, professional relationships and in the pet world. It is a form of positive punishment that adds something (verbal correction) to decrease the likelihood of the behavior (me leaving dog in car) occurring again in the future.

And it is not effective. With my background in psychology and behavior, what I really want to get at is the way we connect with each other, and the significance of how we do so.

This woman had no idea about my background (to the dismay of my ego), but she approached the situation by telling me how inherently bad I was. This is the difference between feeling shame and feeling guilt.

Guilt is feeling bad about a choice you made, a behavior. Shame is feeling bad about who you are.

Often we see people initially start by trying to make the other person feel guilty, as she did by bringing up the behavior, but as the conversation went on and she was not feeling validated, she moved to shame: You are a bad person.

I’ve been in this woman’s shoes. I’ve been at the grocery store (on a summer’s day) where the outside temperature was 100 degrees and spotted a dog being left in the car as a family shopped. I’ve spoken to the family. Except when I did it, it is was from a place of kindness and compassion – a gentle nudge and an invitation to have a conversation.

In today’s fear-based world, it is easy to let your mind spot the “bad” people and make sweeping judgements and generalizations. I fear, though, that may be the very behavior that stops us from really getting to see who is around us and how beautiful and giving the world may actually be.

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I am an animal trainer and owner of Bark and Soul. I have guided hundreds of people to new, empowered and educated relationships with their pets through my science-based and heart-centered approach. I earned my degree in Biological Psychology with an emphasis in Animal Behavior from UC Davis and worked in veterinary clinics, shelters, farms and sanctuaries before opening my own practice. My unique approach integrates the latest research in the fields of psychology and mindfulness studies.

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I Was Accused of Animal Negligence (the Behavior of Shaming)

Before I tell you the story, there are a few tidbits that you should know about me:

  • I’ve been vegan and/or vegetarian since the age of 14 (for animal welfare reasons);
  • I spent my college years getting a degree in animal psychology and behavior; and
  • I’ve logged thousands of hours offering ethical behavior help to families and individuals struggling to understand their animal’s behavior.

Essentially, I’ve dedicated my life to the study and application of how we can treat animals in a more humane way.

So then, I have this dog. She is, by far, the most extreme case I have ever encountered in my years working as a private animal training and behavior consultant, at the humane society and in veterinary clinics.

She used to be labeled as fear-reactive or dog-aggressive. Along with her anxiety and compulsive issues, she exhibited severely aggressive behavior towards humans. She is incredibly aware of the tiniest fluctuations in her environments; she is sensitive, and I have come to learn so much about what that means for her and how it affects her behavior.

Long story short, I spend a lot of time working with her, and I devote a lot of energy to devising ways I can meet her needs and help her heal.

One of the ways I care for her is by arranging a special time for us to go on walks in low-stimuli environments that are trigger free. This way, she gets to engage in plenty of dopamine-releasing scent work, I get to take my dog trainer ego off the table for an hour, and instead, I just experience her for who she is; it’s always an inspiring activity… until today.

Why I Was Accused of Animal Negligence

Today I wrapped up the enrichment walk with our typical search and impulse control games. We then walked back to the car to prep her a puzzle toy that she enjoys while we relax in the back seat before leaving. I then remembered that I needed to run into the building of a nearby office to make a quick scheduling change for an upcoming appointment.

So, I decided to drive the car up to the front of the building and parallel parked behind a small SUV which had a lady, probably in her 60-70s, inside it. Mind you, I take these walks early in the morning or late in the evening, and this morning’s temperature was a chilly 48 degrees Fahrenheit outside. I was wearing my puffy, long, black, hooded coat with my ever-present treat pouch attached to my hip.

I hopped out of the car, ran inside, and a total of three minutes later (literally) I emerged from the building only to find the lady I had parked behind standing in the doorway.

“Hun, is that your car out there with the dog?”

My eyes bolted to the car as I panicked that something had happened. I nodded once I saw the car, seemingly in the same condition I left it three minutes before.

“Well, I thought you were going to be in here for a while… You know, you really can’t leave him in there like that without a window cracked.”

It caught me so off-guard – considering I was shivering moments before entering the building – that I just smiled, nodded and mentioned what I do for a living, as if to say, “Hey, thank you for being concerned, but you should know I’m a major animal-supporter. If they handed out awards for being concerned about living creatures, I would most certainly have collected a couple plaques.”

And I really meant my smile and nod in a way that wasn’t pompous but almost comical. In that moment, it was so crazy to me that she had formulated this idea of who I was…  And it was so different from reality.

After smiling I walked away towards my car, and then she shouted behind me, “Ah, so you should know better!”

And Here’s What This Story Is About: Shaming

Shaming is probably the number one behavior modification tool used by the common non-behaviorist. I see it in schools, parenting, romantic relationships, professional relationships and in the pet world. It is a form of positive punishment that adds something (verbal correction) to decrease the likelihood of the behavior (me leaving dog in car) occurring again in the future.

And it is not effective. With my background in psychology and behavior, what I really want to get at is the way we connect with each other, and the significance of how we do so.

This woman had no idea about my background (to the dismay of my ego), but she approached the situation by telling me how inherently bad I was. This is the difference between feeling shame and feeling guilt.

Guilt is feeling bad about a choice you made, a behavior. Shame is feeling bad about who you are.

Often we see people initially start by trying to make the other person feel guilty, as she did by bringing up the behavior, but as the conversation went on and she was not feeling validated, she moved to shame: You are a bad person.

I’ve been in this woman’s shoes. I’ve been at the grocery store (on a summer’s day) where the outside temperature was 100 degrees and spotted a dog being left in the car as a family shopped. I’ve spoken to the family. Except when I did it, it is was from a place of kindness and compassion – a gentle nudge and an invitation to have a conversation.

In today’s fear-based world, it is easy to let your mind spot the “bad” people and make sweeping judgements and generalizations. I fear, though, that may be the very behavior that stops us from really getting to see who is around us and how beautiful and giving the world may actually be.

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