When Your Dogs are Your Coworkers – And Work is Hard

In this episode of K9 Conservationists, Kayla and Marissa Martino get personal discussing the woes of conservation work when handling your emotions while working! They discuss ways to balance how you’re feeling while trying to make the job as positive as possible for your K9 partner.

Episode suggestion: Just train the dog! 

  • I think many of us can relate to being kinder to our friends and our dogs than we are to ourselves.
  • The pressure to be positive all the time, and the pressure to show up in a way that is supportive and kind and offering grace and doing the right thing by the dog – like, it is real.
  • Expectations are good, pressure is bad.
  • I thought that I was accepting my imperfections, but I actually just thought that because I’m not perfect, I can’t be a perfectionist. In my head, I thought perfectionists were perfect who didn’t realize they were perfect.
  • Does that level of thinking have a hidden assumption that both of you will arrive at perfection? 
  • Of course you can be a cheerful person who has bad days. Of course. (But not me!!!)

Call to action: Follow us on social media. Reach out to Kayla if you’d like to volunteer with helping put together a scentwork course.

Links Mentioned in the Episode: None

Where to find Marissa: Website | Book | Podcast | Connection Summit | Instagram | Facebook

You can support the K9 Conservationists Podcast by joining our Patreon at patreon.com/k9conservationists.

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Transcript for the Episode

Kayla Fratt (KF): Hello and welcome to the K9 Conservationists podcast where we’re positively obsessed with conservation detection dogs. Join us every week to discuss ecology, odor dynamics, dog behavior, and everything in between. I’m your host, Kayla Fratt, and I run K9 Conservationists where I train dogs to detect data.  

Today, I’m talking to my dear friend and former boss, Marissa Martino, about, oh, gosh, we talked about so many things, we mostly were talking about how to show up and work with your dog when maybe you don’t want to. And how specifically in this line of work, sometimes we have to do that in a way that an average pet owner might not have to. It turned into this amazing and weird therapy session that I hope you guys really enjoy and find valuable, as we’re talking about giving ourselves grace and moving forward as good trainers. I really hope you enjoy this, and I’m really excited to get to it.  

Before we do, let’s talk about our weekly suggestion. This week, our weekly suggestion is just train the dog. If you’re struggling, if you’re frustrated with something with the dog, or your friends or yourself, just figure out a plan and start chipping away at it.  

The example here was that I’ve been really frustrated with Niffler. I had labeled him as this independent dog who didn’t listen to me and didn’t stay close off leash, and I was just like, “Oh, teenage boys.” I thought he’ll grow out of it, he’s a Border Collie, he’ll get better off leash. I wasn’t working on it, and I wasn’t working on it, and then I was realizing, okay, I’m getting frustrated by this. I went ahead and started working on it, I started carrying a pocket full of treats and taking him on an off leash walk, just a little 10 minute walk every afternoon, every evening, and rewarding him for check ins. I’m going to tell you something, it’s going to blow your mind: It’s getting better. I was making excuses and labeling him and just moving on. It’s not that this was driving me nuts, it’s not that it was a welfare issue. It was potentially a safety issue, but I was just ignoring it. It turns out if you stop ignoring problems, sometimes they get better. That’s our weekly suggestion. Now let’s get to our interview with Marissa.  

Thanks for coming on the podcast, Marissa.

Marissa Martino (MM): Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.

(KF): You and I were talking a couple weeks ago. I had had a hard day of working with Niffler and was feeling frustrated about our relationship. You were the first person I wanted to talk to about handling the relationship you have with your dog and how to put that first when you also have a job to do. That’s what we’re here to talk about. We don’t have a script, so if you want to jump in with any initial thoughts or questions or, let’s just go for it.

(MM): Well, first of all, I was thrilled to receive the message from you. And also, when you’re thinking about relationships, that my name came in your mind. So, thank you so much. I’m really excited about that. When I received your text, and you said, “I have to work with Niffler,” there was urgency in the words. You said, I have to work with him. It’s for my job. And yet, what if I can’t work with him that day emotionally? Or, what if he can’t work with me? How do I navigate that in order to support the relationship but also get the job done?

(KF): Yes, exactly.

(MM): As you know, I know nothing about conservation. I’m not going to give conservation tips here. What I was most curious about when I read your text was, what is defining that urgency? Is urgent the word that you would use to describe how you’re feeling when you have to get a job done?

(KF): Yeah, I do think it’s pressure almost. To me, urgency feels a little bit like a rush, a time crunch. I wasn’t necessarily feeling that, but I believe the day that I text you, I had a morning where I woke up on the wrong side of the bed, I was grouchy, and I was just not in a mood where I would recommend training your dog. I was crabby, I needed to go for a run, do some yoga, and maybe answer some emails and then maybe come back to my dog in the afternoon. Because the temps were going to be hot, most of our days here in Nebraska that summer had been in the 80s, 90s, or even into the 100s in the afternoons. Because of that I need to be able to get out of bed and get to work with my dog. It wasn’t even so much about Niffler. It wasn’t that he was doing annoying teenage boy stuff, per se, he was just being a coworker.  

In the positive reinforcement dog community, we talk a lot about making sure you’re coming into your training in the right headspace. I felt like I didn’t have that luxury at times this summer. I’ve had that feeling before in this job, but I was feeling that particularly acutely. Maybe this does relate to the fact that Niffler is a teenager, our working relationship isn’t as smooth as my relationship with Barley. There are more hiccups with him for sure. Then on the other side of it, his reinforcement history is lower with searching. It is easier if I get frustrated with him, and yank on the leash a little hard, or recall him with a harsher tone of voice than I would like to, it is easier to set him back in his training than it is with Barley.  I don’t think it’s actually necessarily that Niffler is any more sensitive than Barley, it’s just that he’s younger and newer. With Barley, because he’s been playing this game for so long, it’s much easier for him to absorb a bad mood or bad training. 

If I remember right, that’s where all of this was coming from. I just wanted to brainstorm and talk about it and see if we can come up with anything. I think most of us would say, “Oh, you’re in a bad mood, or you’re having a rough day or whatever, just take your dog for a decompression walk and that’s good enough for today.” With my job, my dogs are my coworkers sometimes, and I have to be able to train them on days where I don’t want to sometimes. It’s almost this blending of the relationship between my dogs aren’t just my dogs, they’re also my coworkers and sometimes you don’t like your coworkers, and you still have to work with them.

(MM): Yeah. And I’m curious to know, in the past, when you didn’t like your coworkers, what did you do?

(KF): I don’t think I have had many jobs where I have been in… Mind I was your coworker at one point. (laughing) I know, I know. (laughing) I was even thinking, DFL Dumb Friends League – an animal shelter, for many of our listeners, they probably know, that’s where Marissa and I met. She was my manager there. I haven’t had many jobs where I’ve needed to collaborate closely with my coworkers. If I’m not in a good mental space for that, I haven’t had a lot of jobs where I have to do that, especially day in and day out.  

One of the things I’ve found is, I have worked as a sea kayaking guide. I only did that a couple days a week, and that is a really high stress job. But because I only did it a couple days a week, I would say pretty much all the time I could get myself in the headspace I needed to be. I wasn’t having to do it day in and day out for weeks at a time.  I’m not sure if I’ve had to collaborate closely with coworkers when I’m having a hard time or I might have just communicated to them and say, “Hey, can we reschedule this meeting? I’m not in a great headspace, or can we table this conversation?” and move things or just let them know I’m in a weird headspace today. Tabling or delaying discussions or letting them know if my texts or emails come off a little curt, or they’re coming in a little late, hopefully, I’ll be back on the ball tomorrow.

(MM): So, it sounds like you’re proactively knowing what is coming up for you and that you’re a little bit off and that you might not show up as your best self. And then you are pushing back, right? Any sort of meeting or something like that, or you are just communicating with your colleague that, “Hey, I’m off.” Why is that not an option for the training?

(KF): The way that our summer has been scheduled for this particular job is that we have a set number of turbines that need to be surveyed each week. Ideally, each turbine is surveyed exactly seven days apart. So, if it’s done on a Tuesday, it’s always done on a Tuesday. We don’t have many other tasks, so I’m not quite sure what it would look like to kind of push things off. Other than, I have done this a couple times this summer, where I’ve done the minimum amount of turbines that I need to do that day and then know tomorrow is going to be a longer day, but I just need to go home and just cut the day shorter. Again, because of the temperatures and the way that this particular study is set up, there’s not really a good way to put the dog away and just do a computer day of work today or something like that.

(MM): So, there’s a temperature, weather conditions in addition to the schedule of the actual project. And are you and Niffler working daily? 

(KF): Yes, we work daily. We work together Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday in general. The weekends and Wednesdays are supposed to be rest days or swing days in case we have thunderstorms or something I need to catch up.

(MM): Let’s go back to the day that you felt this way and you were texting me. You woke up, you said grouchy, right? Like wrong side of the bed, you’re just like in a mood, right? And who knows why. So many contributing factors to why that happened. When you started to notice that you are grouchy, what was the initial thought that you had?

(KF): I think, some amount of resentment came from feeling like I didn’t have many options.  Knowing I’m just really not feeling it today, I just don’t want to be at work. I feel like I have to show up and be cheerful and be this cheerleader for my dog. Be able to deal with the fact that we might flush a jackrabbit or something and respond to that appropriately and in a way that I can feel good about. I was already spiraling before anything even happened. I knew it’s going to be hot so I have to get going early. I have to go to work because we’re supposed to have thunderstorms on Thursday so I can’t just not work today and plan on working extra another day. There’s going to be things that come up that are just a normal part of this job. I think one of the toughest things for me is figuring out how to put on that cheerful face and being a good positive reinforcement dog trainer, when I’m just really not feeling it. I don’t know what better way to say it right now.

(MM): Yeah, I get what you’re saying. So then, what did you do? So, you woke up, you felt frustrated, you felt sort of trapped, I guess is what I’m sensing. And then what did you do?

(KF): I went to work. There are some things that I can do to minimize my own frustration throughout the day that can help. One of the things that I will decide to do based on how I’m feeling is working Niffler on a long line or off leash. On one hand, if he’s on a long line, I’m not going to lose him to jackrabbits or something. Which is good, because losing him to jackrabbits obviously makes me a lot more frustrated. On the other hand, if I’m in a really bad place, sometimes having him off leash is actually better, because then I can’t give a leash correction. Sometimes when I’m not my best self, that’s actually probably a good thing to not have the option for me. 

(MM): Good job noticing both of those things. It’s tough to have to balance the two. 

(KF): If he takes off after a jackrabbit, that’s a really good way to send me into a spiral. If I was just on a hike or a walk, I’d probably just say, “Okay, time to go back to the truck before we’re done for the day.” I don’t feel like I have the option in this job. That’s not saying anything bad to my current employers. I’m being paid to show up and find stuff with my dog and I need to be a professional about that. I know at least a couple of the days this summer where I’ve had this problem. I have worked six turbines, then I can go home and I’m leaving a short enough to-do list that if I’m feeling better tomorrow, I can easily get it all done tomorrow. So, trying to get enough done that I’m kind to my future self, but just working a minimum amount. 

Some of the other self-care things that I can do on this particular project is we have some human only searches. So, I might sprinkle in those human only searches a little bit more to get myself a little bit more time. They’re nice as far as if you’re in a bad mood. You’re just walking 100 meters to the wind turbine, walking around it, and walking 100 meters back to the vehicle. It’s just a nice little power walk, which can be good for mental health.  

Those are kind of the big things that have felt like they’re within my control that aren’t directly training related. The other thing that I have done that is directly training related is making sure to carry good food reinforcers with me. Sometimes I can fake it till I make it if I do some good food based training with Niffler, and really playing with him and reinforcing him for the stuff I like. That can help boost my mood. I just don’t really like relying on that to fix things.

(MM): Why not?

(KF): I think it feels a little unfair to him, even though it is probably in his long term best interest. I don’t know, why do I feel like that? I guess I have kind of strong feelings about not wanting to rely on or overuse my dogs to help my own mental health or to boost my own mood. Obviously, they do that, but I don’t necessarily like leaning into that too much. It feels like a lot of pressure for them.

(MM): Yeah.

(KF): I don’t know, maybe I’m overthinking that, too.

(MM): I would agree with you on that perspective. I think our culture does that in a weird way, in a variety of different way. If you’re doing food training with him, is it an exercise that you do with him that uplifts both of your moods? And because it uplifts yours and you’re probably engaging in that exercise for you, it feels a little imbalanced? Is that what you’re saying? 

(KF): Yeah, I guess so. Which it doesn’t necessarily have to feel that way. The other thing that I can say that does genuinely really help, is sometimes it does feel like it gets him going and a little bit more engaged with me and a little bit of that behavioral momentum of helping make sure that he’s staying on track. It’s probably behavioral momentum for me, too. I have some amount of feeling more connected with him on both ends of that. If we can do a couple hand targets and a couple spins, then we might be able to start that search with both of us feeling more connected.  

That is one of the biggest differences between Niffler and Barley so far. Niffler has never done anything other than be a Search Dog versus Barley was my companion for a couple years, he’s done agility. Niffler disconnects from me really easily during searching, which is one of the things that makes him a really great search dog, but it also can be very frustrating to say, “It’s time to turn around and start to transect.” And he’s just kind of off in his own world. So sometimes starting out with that food training is a really good practical thing. Maybe I’m just in my head a little bit about conflating that with the idea of using dogs to cure depression.  I’m not doing the same thing, but maybe sometimes feels that way to me. In a way, that’s not quite reasonable.

(MM): It sounds like the outcome of that is actually positive for both of you. It’s not like it’s just for you. It is behavioral momentum, like you said, for both of you.

(KF): Yeah. Yeah, I guess so.

(MM): And I’m wondering, too, how is that different? Or the same as knowing to put a long line on? I know it’s a management strategy versus a training strategy. They’re strategies, right, to support your emotional health, the dog’s emotional health in that moment. It’s basically, you’re setting up the conditions so that both of you are going to be more connected.

(KF): Now that you’re putting it in that framework. It’s like, oh, yeah, we’re just doing some good antecedent arrangement on both ends of the leash, to make sure that I’m at least more able to show up and train the way that I want to work. I don’t even want to say we’re not really training, I’m handling them. Yeah, that does make a lot of sense. I haven’t had a day like this for a little while. I will say there are probably moments almost every day where he does something that annoys me, but I probably do something that annoys him too.  

Today, the thing he did was we were working off leash at a turbine, and he caught a scent and was following the scent cone. It was absolutely beautiful working on his end, except he followed it like 60 meters to a dead cow. Which is absolutely not what we’re searching for. It was beautiful, it was beautiful work on his part but I was just kind of standing there. He wasn’t recalling to me, I couldn’t get him to leave the carcass. It was one of our last plots of the day, and I was just like, “I don’t want to have to walk an extra 120 meters to go get you and bring you back.” And he also wasn’t alerting because if he alerted to it, I might have considered rewarding him for it because it was technically, animal decomp. As far as cow versus bat, I might have rewarded him for it, but he just stood there and it took five minutes to recall him. I could see him, there was nothing dangerous, just frustrating. If I were not working, I might have just put him in the car and headed home at the end of that, but we had to go do a couple more plots.

(MM): So I’m thinking about going back to that day again. Were you able to notice the self-care techniques that you talked about? And implement them on that day? Or did you feel stuck?

(KF): I think a bit of both. Probably feeling stuck at first. I know one of the other things that I have done that I don’t think is actually effective, but I do it, is I will also text my co-workers here who are also handling their dogs. And it’s probably more of a venting sort of thing, at least at first, that’s probably not as healthy. Oftentimes, my coworkers have been pretty good about being like, “Well, do you want to end the day early? Do you want us to take a couple of your plots?” I think I’m coming to them almost wanting emotional validation. They’re going into a problem-solving mode, which normally isn’t what you would want to do in a relationship. But in this coworker specific situation, it actually works quite nicely where they can kind of almost kick my brain back into the gear of problem solving, and just being like, “Oh, right, yeah, okay, I could just end the day early, I can put a leash on him, I can reward him for extra things, I can put some gimmies out to help make sure that he’s feeling really up and motivated.” One of the other things I’ve found is, if he’s making more finds, he moves more slowly. I get less frustrated with him if he’s moving more slowly and methodically and staying close to me versus when he’s not finding much he tends to range much more, which makes sense, but then I’m ending up calling him back to me a lot. I think it’s probably frustrating for both of us.

(MM): You said something about problem solving might not be the right option for a relationship, but it’s interesting. Problem solving sounds like that does switch, it like gives you space to think that there are other options.

(KF): Yeah, it’s funny, this was an argument I’ve had with at least one of my exes, me coming to them with what I feel like is an emotional problem that I want support for and then going into problem solving mode. It generally makes me feel worse, but for whatever reason, in this particular situation with my coworkers, maybe because I’m not so emotional about it, I’m able to then realize there are solutions. Potentially, it’s also because we’re actually communicating in real time when this problem actually has something that needs to be solved. And it’s not just something that I can step away from an event about, one way or another. I have to do my turbines today. Was that the question you were asking?

(MM): Yeah. I’m wondering if you wake up, you’re feeling grouchy, you’re feeling overwhelmed, whatever it is, you don’t want to go to work.

(KF): Which we all feel that way.

M(MM): I know, I know. (laughing) Your specific example. If I don’t want to go to work and write an email or something, it is different. If you were to go to work, and it be an off day, and you’d have a hard time, what are you concerned about happening?

(KF): I think the biggest thing I’m concerned about is my relationship with Niffler and his training.

(MM): Okay, say more about that.

(KF): If I’m going to work and having an off day, I’m likely then to lose my temper at him for something that I wouldn’t normally lose my temper at him for or wouldn’t want to be. I never really want to lose my temper, that’s not a fun thing. And it’s not how I want to interact with my dog or the world. But that’s the biggest concern, I don’t want to lose my temper at him. I don’t want to startle him or upset him. And especially there’s this additional pressure of within the search context.  I’ve probably told this story to you before, and I know I’ve told it on at least one podcast before, of teaching Barley to backup. I got frustrated enough times when I was teaching him to backup and I was just sighing because he was backing up into a down, or maybe a bow, I can’t remember, maybe both. And after two or three days of training sessions like that, I cued him to back up, and he just went and hid under the couch. And it was awful, but it’s like, oh, well, it’s just back up. I just broke a useless thing that I was just teaching him for no reason. But if the equivalent were to happen with Niffler searching, I’ve got this one-year-old dog that I’m hoping to have 10 years of coworking with together. Maybe that’s one of the other things that is part of the problem here, is figuring out how to feel empowered enough as a young professional, to be able to put my relationship and my dog’s long-term career first. Maybe there might be a day, and luckily this didn’t happen yet this summer, where the right thing for my dog’s long-term career and our long term relationship would be to not work at all. I would hope that I would be able to make that call. And that I’m working under the sort of people that would understand that and be able to navigate that with me.  

One of the things I was thinking of, because we were talking about the fact that you know, of course, we all wake up some days and don’t want to go to work. And there’s two things that came to mind, as you said that. One being sometimes I feel guilty that I don’t want to go to work because I have this dream job. I have this job that I’ve worked so hard for and so many people would be so thrilled to have my job. And I get told that every day on social media, every day I get comments from people to the tune of, “Oh my gosh, you’re so lucky, I wish I had your life, I wish I had your job.” And there’s this guilt then whenever I don’t like wake up and just go well, I’m so excited for work, I’m such a grateful, cheerful person, here’s a sunflower and a cup of tea. Of course, I don’t do that every day, but there’s this guilt with that.  

And then the other thing that came to mind, which is completely unrelated to that, but is related to the idea of waking up and not going to work. And this was something I struggled with, actually, when we used to work together at the shelter. Having these days where I woke up and whether I was PMSing or didn’t sleep well, or whatever it was, and just being like, “Oh God, I don’t know if I can go in and work with a high arousal shelter dog today,” because I don’t know if I can interact with this dog without becoming extremely frustrated. My head is just not screwed on straight. And at the shelter I had the ability to be like, “Hey, can I work with cats today?” Or “Can I work with fearful dogs where I just sit on the other end of the kennel and play treat and retreat?” Normally, as you may remember, I loved working with the high arousal. That was that was my jam, but some days it wasn’t.

(MM): Yes, and some days it wasn’t. So, there’s a few things I want to say and a few questions I have as well. There sounds to me like there is this pressure to actually do and be a lot of things. To do is to go to work to make sure that you’re supporting healthy relationship, to get the training exercises right. It is a lot of doing. You need to be able to do all these things, and it has to happen today, and there’s all this pressure. Then there is this pressure to show up and be a certain way. Which is knowing what to do in the relationship with the dogs. Cheerful, you kept saying cheerful a lot, really positive, free from frustration, not feeling guilty, right? It’s this sort of perfectionism. And I’m curious when your dogs don’t show up perfect because they don’t, what sort of grace do you offer them? Let’s say Barley is having a hard day, how do you handle that?

(KF): I’m supportive emotionally to him with whatever he needs. Then I’m usually going into some amount of problem-solving mode of trying to figure out why. What do you need in this moment? Do we need a massage? Do you need more food? Do you need to sleep? What can I offer you to help? Do I need to go put you away for a little while and let you sleep? Definitely more grace. I think many of us can relate to the idea of we’re kinder to our friends, and hopefully, to our dogs than we are to ourselves.

(MM): Yeah, because I think you have the skills and you have the wherewithal to notice that and then be kind and offer your dogs grace. I want to point out two things that you said, you want support first, acknowledgement and support for that emotional reaction, in addition to problem-solving. And I don’t know if we can move straight into problem-solving without having that feeling or that experience validated. Some people might not need that. It sounds like, given what you said earlier, it is helpful at times for you to have your experience validated. Would you agree with that? 

(KF): Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. 

(MM): It’s interesting, because no one’s there with you. It’s just you and Niffler. The only person that is on the hook for validation would be you. For you to offer it to yourself.

(KF): Yeah. One of the other things I have done that has been helpful is one of my good friends, Toni, is also a field biologist. At least a couple days I’ve texted her. And it’s funny, this is maybe one of the hallmarks of a really good friend. I’ve texted her with a question along the lines of, “How do you survive long field seasons?” And she’s responded with, “Oh, my gosh, I know what you mean. It’s super tough. What’s going on?” She knows that I’m not actually asking the question that I’m asking, she’s just an excellent friend. And I’ve got her then my good friend, Charles, are the two people that over the course of this summer, I’ve had a couple days where I’ve texted one or both of them.  

So, I guess I am able to get that support elsewhere. And I think one of the things that I’m really excited about what this conversation already is realizing some of the coping mechanisms I was using that were smart and good that I wasn’t recognizing that I was using. And just operationalizing these things and listing them out for myself, but also hopefully, for anyone else who’s listening who’s run into similar things.

(MM): Are you in a place where you’re expecting that you wake up daily cheerful and ready to go? Because people are telling you that your job is great on Instagram?

(KF): Yeah (laughing)

(MM): Is that the expectation? 

(KF): Yeah, yeah. I think that is the expectation I’ve been putting on myself. (laughing)

(MM): I mean, no wonder that when it comes up, that when you wake up in the morning, you’re like, “Oh, my gosh, there it is. I’ve been trying to avoid this thing.” And yet, it’s still there because it’s life. Everything fluctuates our mood, behavior, the conditions.

(KF): Yeah. Today, it was just super hot and dry and my eyeballs hurt. I don’t want to be here.

(MM): I don’t want to be outside. 

(KF): It’s hot, I don’t want to be outside. You can see I’m sweating here, followers can’t. It’s funny because I don’t think if we hadn’t primed my brain for this conversation already, and if you hadn’t named things so specifically, I don’t think I would have admitted that that is the pressure that I’m putting on myself. If you’d asked me 35 minutes ago, I would have said, of course I don’t think that I need to wake up cheerful and grateful and happy to go to work every day, but apparently, I have been putting that pressure on myself.

(MM): It’s funny, the word cheerful is really interesting, you kept saying that over and over again. I wrote it down because I was like, “Oh, wow.” I do think, just as a side note, not something as it relates to you, but it is part of this particular conversation is that, gosh, we as positive reinforcement trainers, the pressure to be positive all the time and the pressure to show up in a way that is supportive and kind and offering grace and doing the right thing by the dog. It is real. I always go back to the blog post that you wrote forever ago, about how you get frustrated with your dog. People were so excited about that post because it’s human, we’re all human. Yes, there are good strategies to implement. There’s management plans we can do. There’re amazing training exercises to offer choice. And life happens. I think the more we stopped talking about that the expectations get a little bit more unrealistic and a little bit more unrealistic. Then we all feel like we’re not arriving to this place that is supportive of our dogs and ourselves. I’m encouraging our listeners to know you’re going to try your best for the tools that you have in that moment and sometimes it’s going to be less than ideal. That is life.

(KF): Absolutely. I think there’s something interesting, too, about the nexus of, you’re absolutely right on, the positive reinforcement trainer thing of being so much pressure. Not just with people, which is a good thing. I think expectations are good pressures, or something along those lines. 

(MM): We’ll not overthink that yet. 

(KF): But that there’s this nexus of positive reinforcement training on social media that I think can be really challenging, particularly, because when I’m out on assignment for my job, I tend to be really socially isolated, and I fill that void with the junk food that is social media. That social media already has so much toxic positivity in it as well. I live in a van and I do this amazing job, and I get to go to work every day in these beautiful places with my dog and look at this picture of my dog and my van in front of the sunrise. But the downside of that is I woke up in the dark and I’ve been waking up so early all summer that I’m not hungry, so I don’t eat breakfast. I’ve gained weight because I’m eating so much junk food because I don’t have time or want to cook. There’s all of this messiness that I think both positive reinforcement training and social media don’t like to allow.

(MM): I think the messiness is so important to talk about, and I think it’s brave of you to be talking about this today. If we don’t talk about the messiness, it’s amazing, it’s like it just doesn’t exist. Then when it pops up, because it is part of life, and it is part of the process. When it pops up, it’s such a debilitating moment. Why are you here? Because that’s how life works. 

(KF): It feels like running into your ex. (laughing) We decided when we broke up that this was my coffee shop. 

(MM): Definitely, definitely. I feel like the more we push it out…

(KF): …the worse it is when it comes in. Yeah, yeah. And I’m sorry, I cut you off. 

(MM): No, I was going to say that.

(KF): This relates to, and I’ll let you go in a second, I was having a really lovely evening with one of my best friends a couple weekends ago. I drove six hours up to Minnesota to go see one of my best friends a couple weekends ago because I needed some good social interaction with someone that I really love and care about and have for years. We were discussing perfectionism, and she said something about me being a perfectionist, and I was like, “I don’t think I’m a perfectionist.” And she looked at me and I was like, “am I?” I ended up having this mind-blowing moment of being like, “Oh my God, my whole life I’ve thought I’m not a perfectionist, because I thought that I was accepting my imperfections.” But actually this whole time was thinking I’m not perfect, so I can’t be a perfectionist. In my head I thought that perfectionists were perfect, who just didn’t realize they were perfect.

(MM): Oh wow. That’s really interesting.

(KF): That is what I thought that perfectionism was, was someone who was perfect but not realizing it. And it’s actually all of us mere mortals, thinking that other people are perfect and thinking we can’t attain that.

(MM): Yeah, it’s not a thing. 

(KF): Yeah, yeah. Apparently for 27 years, I’ve thought I wasn’t a perfectionist because I thought that perfectionists were perfect.

(MM): It’s so funny. When I think of a perfectionist, I think of someone that doesn’t act until something’s perfect. Do you know what I’m saying? That could be one way to look at it. 

(KF): Yeah, which totally I don’t think I fit in that category.

(MM): I don’t think you fit in there. I don’t fit in that. We will make shit happen and then we will edit as we go along. I think that we’re pretty willing and brave in that moment, right? Like, throw it out there and we’ll make edits. It’s just the pressure that is put on. I resonate with that word. I put a lot of pressure on myself, I’m really hard on myself. And I have these thoughts that perpetuate that. So, when you sent me that text, and you were like, “I have to work,” there’s a lot of really strong language and, “I have to work, I have to do it.” I got your text and I was thinking, “I’m sure she does, and does she?” Is there another reality within this? Because I think we get really stuck in the one thought process. And it’s really interesting how your thought went from, “I have to work him.” And then there was all these other thoughts behind it that was like, “Well, I should also be really grateful that I have an awesome job. And I’m also supposed to wake up really cheerful. And I’m also supposed to love my dog all the time and be really positive with it.” There’re all these other thoughts that were behind this, “I have to do this work right now.” And I think all of them are really important to tease apart and ask if they’re actually true, because it loosens up the story. I’ve seen my clients do this all the time, where they then are like, “Oh, okay, I can have permission to feel frustrated. And wow, without my grip on the story. I’m actually way more productive in solutions.”

(KF):Yeah, when you, what was the phrase you just used? Of loosening…

(MM): Oh, tease it out. 

(KF): Teasing it out. That made me think of when you’re repotting plants. And if they’re a little bit root bound, you need to pull out those roots a little bit. So that they can actually take root and grow. And that’s what I’m feeling, I had this one big thing that I was fixated on, which could be like a tap root, if we’ve got gardeners, I’m liking this analogy right now. But then I had all these other roots bound up around it, and you had to deal with at least a bunch of them before things were actually going to feel happy and better as we’re going forward. That we’re actually able to grow from there. And I think one of the things that’s interesting is how much easier it is to challenge or rethink some of those assumptions than others. It is so easy for me to be like, “Oh my gosh, well, Niffler, he’s 11 months old, he doesn’t have to be perfect, we’re doing great. But I’m the experience handler, so I have to be perfect.” It’s so much easier for me to challenge some of those assumptions versus others. And maybe that’s part of the behavior change plan is that you go with the ones that you can right now. Maybe perfectionism has to wait until I find another good steady therapist for myself. But what about some of these other things? I like the way you were talking about, there’s the one in front of, “I have to work him” but then there’s these other 15 assumptions trailing on behind. Maybe five or six of those are too big and too uncomfortable to deal with while I’m in the field or in the moment that morning, but, “Okay, can we look at five or six more and, and actually tackle those in a meaningful way.” Some of them are going to be easier to dismiss. It’s really easy for me to dismiss the idea that my 11 month old has to be perfect as long as I think about it consciously. I have to remind myself I have to say that sentence in my head because otherwise I will hold him to that standard of Barley.

(MM): Yeah. And it’s interesting that you said something about like, “Okay, well, he’s 11 months, he doesn’t have to be perfect, but I have to be perfect as a handler.” I wanted ask, does that level of thinking, have a hidden assumption that both of you will arrive to a place of perfection? 

(KF): Oh, totally.

(MM): That’s what I was sensing. (laughing) That language might need to change. You say “he’s 11 months, so he’s…”

(KF): He’s not perfect yet of course, but by the time he’s 36 months we’’ll be good. (laughing) Oh come on Kayla, you’re just doing the same mistake again. Ahh, thats funny.

(MM): That’s really interesting. You’re reflecting back what I said in terms of, here’s the main thought I have to get up for work and and there’s all these other thoughts behind it. And it’s funny when you start actually thinking about how your thoughts impact your behavior and impact, what you decide to do next. And how you show up emotionally in all of these things really, our thoughts are so powerful. And this is what my coach has told me, and I’ve seen this time and time again through the work that I have done with her. There’re all these thoughts that usually go back to what she calls the stool. There’re four legs to the stool, and there’re four really core thoughts that we have as individuals. My core thought is I’m not enough. And then that particular belief manifests in a variety of different ways. I didn’t get enough done on social media, or my podcast doesn’t have enough exciting topics in it. It just manifests in a bunch of different thoughts throughout my life. But the core of the thought is that I’m not enough. It’s a load of crap that I’m not enough. But it is interesting because when you start to actually think about some of your thoughts and be an observer to it, you’re like, “Whoa, I’ve got a million to change. But there’s actually a couple of good core thoughts that are actually having a spiral. And that’s something for your therapist, right?  

But I think that it is fun when I work with clients, and to really help tease apart some of this stuff. Because if I just go into fix it mode with them, I have found that yes, I will give them solutions and yes, their dog’s behavior will be modified and so will their’s but what’s interesting is that if they still have that thought about, “Why do I have to carry treats? Or why is it so hard? Or I feel frustrated? Why was Marissa able to do it and I’m not?” If they still have those thoughts, they’re going to impact the training plan, they’re going to impact the relationship with their dog. So being able to ask the questions that I’ve asked you today, I think is important to help clients take a look at the story that they’re writing. Because it’s going to impact our training plan no matter what.

(KF): Hey, everyone, just popping into this episode with an update on our Patreon. We still have the $3 a month Doggy Detector level, which allows you to ask questions for me and the guests to answer each episode. But now also lets you join our monthly training video analysis calls. These calls are going to be recorded, of course, and will also publish the video afterwards, for everyone to view and ask questions about prior to the call to ensure that all time zones can participates fully. So, we’ll basically publish the video we’re going to analyze so that you can ask questions and view it and prepare it ahead of time, then we’ll have the call where we talk about it, we can have beverages, it’ll be a good time. And then all of that is going to be shared later. So you can participate before, during and after. Again, just for three bucks a month.  

Now at the $10 a month Sensational Scientist level, you get everything that we got before the $3 level. Plus, you get to submit videos of your training sessions for those calls. So, this is perfect for the aspiring K9 Conservationist. And your target odor doesn’t really matter here as long as you do communicate what it is so we can think intelligently about your goals. So, this is going to be great for nosework competitors and other K9 handlers as well. And we’re really striving to make these video calls super kind and supportive and helpful. So, it’s going to be a nice safe place on the internet to get good feedback on your training sessions because I know how much of a struggle that can be especially in the scentwork world.  

So then finally, the K9 Conservationist Patrons get everything from those other two tiers plus a private 30 minute training call with me to go over whatever you’re running into with your dog. That tier is just 25 bucks a month. And that’s cheaper than booking my time at JourneyDogTraining.com for behavior modification, and that’s just because I love you and I love my Patrons.  

That’s definitely something to check out, you can join that Patreon over at Patreon.com/k9conservationists or at the link at K9conservationists.org. It’s like a tiny link up in the top bar. And then we also drop that link into our show notes. So, if you’re listening on your podcast app, you should be able to find it just right from there. So, thank you guys so much. And let’s get back to the episode.  

(KF): Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I love that. What are some of the ways that you have found to actually dig into some of, what are some of those legs to that stool? How do you find them? And if we can’t answer that here, that’s okay.

(MM): I have done it with my coach working with her privately. I think it does start off with just being an observer. I’m feeling discomfort, that’s a cue for me. I’m feeling physical discomfort. That’s a cue for me to go, “What thoughts am I thinking right now and how is that impacting my behavior in a positive or negative way?” Being an observer, the way that we’re observers of dogs and our clients all the time. We’re really, really good at watching our dogs and paying attention to them and noting all of these things, and yet maybe not generalizing, or using those skills with ourselves. So, I think just starting to notice and write that down and working with a professional to really understand, “Where is this? Where is this coming from? And how does it impact me in a variety of different ways?”

(KF): Yeah, I can definitely say that one of the things I’ve realized for myself over the summer has been coming to terms with the fact that I’m a perfectionist. Which I feel like people who know me well who are listening to this might be like, Kayla, we knew that.

(MM): Welcome to the party, Kayla.

(KF): I think this idea for me that I’ve carried thinking perfection is attainable, is probably one of those stories that I’ve told myself that again points this idea of, “Oh, there’s some underlying perfectionism there, that probably is not helpful. Oh, this was what I was thinking of.” So, one of the things I found really interesting is, positive self-talk is so powerful, and I actually really enjoy and find a lot of power or empowerment even in labeling things positively, as a way to shift your mindset. But I think the dark side of that is, then when you don’t reach that, probably most people would struggle with this then. One of the stories I tell myself a lot is that I am a cheerful person, that I’m a successful person, that I am self-motivated, whatever it is, I’ve got all these stories about myself, that are all really good. And I find that generally really good for my self-esteem and has been a really helpful practice for myself. Except then when I don’t live up to that, then it feels like I’ve betrayed myself in this much deeper way. And I just find it really interesting thinking about it. We talk about labels all the time with our dogs. Is Sully a reactive dog or is he a dog who sometimes has feelings? Because, many, many reasons, both in his personal history and his genetic history as a part Pyrenees. Sully, being Marissa’s dog for listeners who aren’t as familiar with her. Those labels, I think are probably generally unhelpful. 

(MM): Well, and it’s interesting, you’re saying for Sully you’re saying it’s yes and. It’s because I would agree with all the labels that you just said that you are cheerful, driven, motivated, successful, I would agree with that. And it’s like, Kayla’s really successful and she may have moments where she is not really feeling motivated to strive towards a specific goal and that’s okay, and she needs to rest.

(KF): Sully is a good dog who sometimes has big feelings. 

(MM): Exactly, that’s what I’m saying. It’s like the yes and. So, it creates room for both. When you are less motivated, not even unmotivated, when you are less motivated, does it slap you in the face and you’re like what? We don’t really identify with that we identify with being motivated only. So, it does create space for both options. Which I think is important because when we get really grippy on our story, or blinders on to that one story, we’re not open to all these other options. It’s like all these other realities. We’re only seeing a sliver of our reality based off of the thoughts that we’re thinking. But there are other realities that we’re just not open to in that particular moment because we’ve got the negativity bias blinders on. Did you say grippy is a good word?

(KF): It’s such a good word. I’m imagining, have you ever picked up a tree frog? This is such a weird biologist question. Or touched an octopus or anything I’m imagining literal little suction cups. It’s not that each individual one is holding on that hard. It’s not like if someone grabbed your arm to pull you back from traffic and it kind of hurts. It’s like each individual little grippy just has to be suctioned off on its own. And each one matters. It’s so interesting to think about how some of these labels can be used positively, as long as we don’t get too grippy. Of course, you can be a cheerful person who has bad days. Of course, but not me. (laughing)

(MM): There’s a lot of ways that our society and our culture doesn’t create space for that. Social media, the toxic positivity that you referenced. It’s like we’re fighting against this conditioning all the time. Like, wait, but not for me, right? Like, what you just said. And so, tons of grace. Tons of grace for all of us that are just trying to be kind ourselves and others.

(KF): I feel like I 100 times a day, try to channel my inner Dr. Chris Pachel. Who’s channeling his inner Brene Brown of like, everyone around me, including me, is doing the best they can with the tools they’ve got right now.

(MM): Thank you for bringing that up, because I was going to bring up my coach actually says, “Everybody’s doing the best that they can, including me with the thoughts that they have.” That is a little bit of a mic drop, I think. Because I’m like, your thoughts are impacting what tools you’re even reaching for.

(KF): And what tools you see, what tools you know how to use, the tools you’re capable of using.

(MM): Yes all of that. And I’m like, “Oh, yeah.”

(KF): Oh, I like that. I mean, I kind of hate it, but I like it a lot.

(MM): She’s pretty incredible. I love her. 

(KF): Oh, my gosh, yeah. So okay. Do you have anything you want to add? I think that’s a great place to wrap up. Do you have anything you want to add before we tell people where to find you on social?

(MM): No, I think that that was so great. Thank you for letting me be a part of that.

(KF): Oh, my gosh yeah, well done. Bringing it back to such a good little final point. So, Marissa, you’ve got a book that people need to buy because it’s about all of this. Tell us where to find that. Tell us where to find you. You offer all sorts of cool coaching and summits and all sorts of things that I think our listeners might be interested in.

(MM): Thank you. You can find me online PawsandReward.com that’s got everything there, the book, my podcast Paws and Reward. Amazing pictures of Sully by my lovely friend, Jenna. I also have the connection summit with Sarah Stremming, which is where we talk about all these topics, it’s yes and, it’s all of it. So, you can find me there or you can find me on Instagram and Facebook Paws and Reward.

(KF): We’ll of course link to all that in the show notes which you can find over at K9Conservationist.com. Thank you so much for coming on, this was a blast.

(MM): Thank you for having me!
(KF): Thank you so much for listening. I hope you learned a lot and are feeling really inspired to go out and be a K9 conservationist in whatever way suits your passions and skill sets. Marissa really inspired me to be kinder to myself, and I hope that you found it helpful as well. And this week’s call to action is to follow us on social media and then reach out to me if you’re interested in helping out with creating a course. I videoed every single training session I did with Niffler that was related to scent work starting when he was a 10 week old puppy going up through him starting to do his work. I really want to turn this into a course that would be available to all of you, but I need help. So, if you’re interested, if you have any background in scent training in particular and have some free time and want to get involved, go ahead and follow us on social media and send me a DM or email me at [email protected] And we’ll talk about moving forward with that I would really appreciate the help. Until then, you can find show notes, donate to K9 Conservationists, and join our Patreon at K9Conservationists.org. Until next time.