I’m joining the team at Pet Ed Veterinary Education and Training Resources!

I am thrilled to announce a new collaboration!

Vickie Byard CVT, VTS (Dentistry) is the founder and president of Pet ED Veterinary Education and Training Resources . PetED provides on-site specialized education for veterinary professionals around the world.

PetED educators are experts in their given fields, and I feel incredibly lucky Vickie Byard has invited me to be the behavior trainer for PetED. Here are the PetED Educator Profiles, including mine:

Don’t worry: I’m not going anywhere! PetED is one more amazing way for me to reach a larger audience of hospitals, pursuing my passion for education as part of a well-respected group of professionals.

Thank you, Vickie, for this amazing opportunity!

Be sure to LIKE Teaching Animals and Pet ED on Facebook to stay in the loop about exciting educational events in the future.

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2015 Veterinary Technician of the Year

Veterinary Technician of the Year

I am proud to be PetPlan USA’s Veterinary Technician of the Year!

The process has been truly amazing. PetPlan sponsors this event annually to highlight special veterinary professionals. The categories include Veterinarian, Veterinary Technician, Veterinary Receptionist, Pet Owner, and Veterinary Practice of the Year.

Nominations are accepted from the public. Clients and colleagues can nominate one candidate per category. For 2015, there were approximately 3000 nominees! Each nomination is reviewed by a committee and semifinalists are selected. Semifinalists are asked to submit a packet of information including interviews, personal statements, CV, photos, videos, and anything else they believe helps the judging panel get to know them. Semifinalists are also posted on PetPlan’s website so clients, friends, and family can vote for their favorite nominees.

Monique, Ginny & Micah
Monique, Ginny & Micah on the red carpet!

My nomination was submitted by my dear friend and long-time client Nancy Burke. Her nomination was incredibly touching and I’ll never be able to thank her enough for sharing her thoughts about me and what I do with PetPlan.

Accepting the Award

Once the Semifinalists are narrowed down to Finalists, each finalist is invited to a black tie gala where the winners are announced. This year’s gala event was held at the Four Seasons Resort in Orlando, FL in conjunction with the North American Veterinary Conference.

I was quite nervous about the event, but thrilled to be accompanied by two of my dear friends and veterinary colleagues: Ginny Price, MS, RVT, VTS (Behavior), and Micah Brodsky, DVM.

Highlights from the Gala can be watched here: https://youtu.be/W6yoEWZo1Hw

The announcement was accompanied by a video interview conducted a few days before the gala. The video of my interview is available here:  https://youtu.be/fd8dPklEUJA

Award Plaque
Award Plaque

When I came home, I found the most wonderful surprise from my team! A party, with cupcakes, celebrating both my birthday and my new award. I am so proud to work with such a great team.

Many thanks to PetPlan USA, Nancy Burke, all of my colleagues and supporters, mentors and friends, and of course my wonderful husband. Without your support, guidance, inspiration, and voices, I would never have arrived where I am today. I am blessed to work and live in an environment where I have the support and freedom to follow my passion. I live the dream of educating pets and their owners every day, while providing the very best in veterinary medicine. I get to travel the country educating veterinary professionals, make new friends, and hopefully inspire others as much as my clients, colleagues, mentors, and friends have inspired me.

I would encourage anyone who has a favorite veterinary clinic, veterinary team member, or favorite pet parent, to participate in the nominations process for the 2016 Vet Awards!

Every nomination earns $1 for charity, and you’re giving your favorite vet professional a wonderful gift by nominating them.

Nominate by visiting PetPlan’s Vet Awards site!

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Dogs at Play

I notice while teaching classes that my students benefit from a lesson in what play should, and should not look like. As an ongoing project, I will try to collect some additional video of play, but I have started here with a video of normal play between 2 familiar dogs.

Play involves willing participants who work together to keep the game going. Play often involves wrestling, inhibited biting (mouthing), charge and retreat, posturing, staccato movements, rhythmic movements, parallel movements, repeated invitations to play like touching, play bowing or running with an item. Additional normal play behaviors include growling, barking, chasing, poking, etc. Generally play partners experiment to see what works best for them. During normal play, if there is a size or strength differential, you should notice the stronger dog “handicapping” himself, allowing the game to continue without overpowering, overwhelming or frightening a play partner.

Watch this video of Lucy and Rye. At first, you might feel like one is “attacking” the other, or being “mean.” However, if you watch closely you will see that at any time either dog could disengage and they wait for one another, invite one another repeatedly to play and agree on games they both enjoy. What you do NOT see is yelping, uninhibited biting, one dog leaving with the toy, serious competition over the toy, hiding, cowering, lip licking or other conflict type behaviors.

Trouble with the embedded video? Watch it here instead.

Play is a mutual endeavor. Watching for signals that stop play like prolonged hiding, snapping and retreating while taking cover, cowering, uninhibited biting, yelping or anything that sounds serious will help you guide appropriate play with your own dogs.

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“The Lassie Myth” – Why do people feel compelled to avoid rewards?

Photo courtesy of Lassie.comFor many years there has existed what I refer to as “The Lassie Myth.” Timmy has fallen down the well. Lassie, being the intensely intelligent, fiercely loyal and servile creature she is, runs home and alerts the family to Timmy’s condition, then leads them to Timmy and saves the day. Lassie does this with no prior training from her family and apparently acts only on her sense of duty and servitude for her family, asking nothing in return. Lassie’s behavior is motivated solely by her love for humans, her her role as the loyal defender of the family.

The Lassie Myth does us a great disservice in creating a reality that is in error. We must remember Lassie was just an actor. In The Silence of the Lambs, one of my favorite movies, Anthony Hopkins plays a severely disturbed serial killer. Does that mean Anthony Hopkins is really a jailed sadistic genius. Nope, he just plays one in the movies. Is Lassie really a hero by nature? Nope. He just plays one in the movies. It is critical for us as humans to separate fact from reality and be able to have realistic expectations of our relationship with dogs, not with the artificial roles created for them by the media.

This idea dogs should obey and serve humans because of their very “dog-ness” is puzzling and frustrating to me. Thanks, popular media – but no, thanks. The problem with The Lassie Myth is that it perpetuates misinformation and a culture among dog owners of feeling shame or guilt for rewarding good behavior. Many of my students initially come to class wondering what they are doing “wrong” that the dog refuses to obey.

Stock imagePeople who feel like their dog is more Cujo than Lassie often worry they are doing something wrong. Because of the feeling that dogs naturally work to please their humans if they “respect” the human enough, many owners begin working harder to get “respect” from the dog. Popular television shows, training books, blogs, videos and classes have all fed into this process, often recommending or endorsing methods that are unfriendly to dogs, if not blatantly harmful. These methods can also be quite damaging to the human-animal bond because they use fear and intentional conflict to suppress behaviors.

It can be quite reinforcing for some people to lord over a dog, intimidating it into compliance. But is it safe? Is it right? Will it bring out the dog’s inner Lassie? No. It will, however, undermine what should be a trusting relationship involving teamwork and problem solving on both ends of the leash.

The problem is that Lassie, like any other television or movie personality, is only a fictional character. She does not exist – she was portrayed by a series of highly trained (male!) dogs that had been conditioned to perform a series of complex behaviors by their handlers (the Weatherwax family) using dog-friendly methods. The handlers spent many hours training these diligent dog actors to perform their silver screen heroics.

Photo from http://www.drsophiayin.com

Further, The Lassie Myth fails to address the wide variety of trained behaviors animals other than dogs are more than willing to perform. Why should dogs be treated differently from other learners? What is it about being a dog that means harsh methods will work better for the learner than friendly methods will?


Dogs, like any other creature including humans, whales, birds and insects, are self-serving creatures. Dogs perform behaviors that benefit them in some way. To put it simply, dogs do what works. I certainly work better if I am paid for my efforts – so do my dogs. Lassie’s trainers used tools such as food and toy rewards, verbal praise and fun games to teach the complex behaviors we saw on television and movies. But it’s not all about treats and toys, it is about developing an understanding of how dogs learn and taking the time to invest in building a relationship with a dog to facilitate training.

So what are the steps to success? Find what your dog wants and loves, and make sure that access to those things is associated with desired behaviors, and develop a language of understanding so the dog knows exactly when something they love is coming right away (eg clicker, verbal marker, visual bridge, tactile bridge, etc). My own dogs love to work for play, toys, treats, verbal praise, touching and attention. Many dogs love working for things like access to favorite sniffing spots, the ability to be allowed to chase squirrels, or in the case of my work with my Border collies, access to SHEEP. Positive reinforcement doesn’t just mean shoveling cookies into my dog. It means increasing the likelihood desired behaviors will occur with greater frequency, intensity or duration in the future by making sure the desired behavior has a favorable consequence. Remember, dogs do what works just like any other animal, including the human variety!

Can you imagine putting a choke chain on an Orca? What about a shock collar on a chicken? Yet both of these animals often know more behaviors than the average pet dog. It is time to let go of The Lassie Myth, and stop convincing dog owners to blame themselves or feel guilty for having a dog who does not serve them with every breath, simply because it is a dog.

There is no shame in rewarding right behavior. Never feel guilty that your dog doesn’t hang on your every word, run into town to get milk and eggs, save the neighbors from a fire and do your son’s homework on the way home, all in exchange for a roof over his head. Lassie was just a beautifully trained actor.

Peace be with you, and in your relationship with any animal you may be teaching and learning from.

~ Monique

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Welcome, everyone to my newest project, Teaching Animals. I am a firm believer in strengthening the human-animal bond through teaching and training. This strengthening process seems to increase exponentially when we, as people, recognize our role as both teachers and learners in the relationship, and afford our animal partners the same respect and role recognition.

I look forward to sharing training thoughts, challenges, articles, links and educational materials with you through this site. Please pardon my dust as I am constructing things, you’ll see more polish and less dust as time goes on and I catch up to the learning curve.

Teach and learn,

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