April 17, 2009

Pan is my Chinese Crested mix, for those of you who don’t know. He’s 7 years old, originally adopted from Frisco Humane Society when he was a year old. At his first check up he came up heartworm positive, was treated for heartworms, no problems ever since, on heartworm preventive ever since. Always in great health since then. Wasn’t even having any symptoms. He was young, he got over it.

So, on March 11 I came home from work and he was a little wheezy, and I was thinking I’d probably have to take him to the vet, but within a few minutes he went into severe distress and couldn’t get enough air. He was trying hard to breathe, but began to stumble and I thought he was going to pass out. I rushed him to the emergency vet. She did x-rays and examined him. There were striations in his lungs and she thought maybe they were scars from back when he had heartworms. She put him on steroids, and thought it might be an asthma type reaction.

He hasn’t had another event like the severe incident I took him in for, but he hasn’t been breathing well. He pants all the time, he sleeps a lot more. He’s one of those little dogs that always jumped 4 feet into the air over and over at the back door to be let in. Now he can only jump maybe a foot into the air. Maybe 2 on a good day.
No fever, no upper respiratory symptoms.

Today I took him to our regular vet and he said it doesn’t make sense that the heartworms would act up 6 years after treatment when he’s had no trouble in all that time. He tested him for new heartworm activity just to be on the safe side, and it came back negative. He said it would be really rare for a dog on heartworm preventative to get heartworms, but he wanted to be sure before chasing down a lot of other options.

I brought him the x-rays and he agreed they didn’t look normal.

He is going to send them to a veterinary radiologist and see what he thinks. He just says it’s a very unusual looking x-ray. So we’ll see, I guess.


Good-bye to Bravo

February 22, 2008


Some of you know Bravo from training classes over the past several years. Some of you know her from watching the Constructional Aggression Treatment DVDs. She is the brindle Greyhound that worked as a decoy. She was the fine dog this column was named for.

This week Bravo was trying to get up from her bed and her leg suddenly sustained a spiral fracture, a break that should have taken a lot of force to cause. She spent a night with our vet before we opted to see a veterinary surgeon. I spent quite a bit of time sitting on the floor with her yesterday late afternoon, just talking and stroking her ears, her favorite thing.

It turned out that Bravo had bone cancer (osteosarcoma). This is a leading cause of death in Greyhounds. Because she has had a series of health problems lately and it was estimated that with amputation we could probably expect another 4 months with her, we decided that we could give her a gift of freedom from pain.

My 20-year-old son, Jesse, and I went to the surgeon’s office and spent some time with her today although she was sedated. We were with her when she was helped to go. It was a peaceful end.

Bravo came to us at Christmas of 2001, a terrified, overwhelmed, severely underweight Greyhound with very little experience of the world. She suffered from separation anxiety until my husband decided to just not lock her up when we left the house. After that she did just fine.

On her first day in our home, a cold winter day, she took a drink from my water garden, then walked forward and found herself in 2 feet of water and no understanding of how to get out. She learned how to get in and out of the water garden after that, and on warm days laying in the pond was one of her favorite ways to cool off.

A few days later we approached a Papillion and her owner on a walk and Bravo crawled inside my coat and wrapped herself around and between my legs. She was terrified of the small dog. Our cat, Mouse figured out that he could torment her by walking behind her. She was afraid of him too.

But those early frightened days didn’t last. Bravo soon discovered TTouch and became a big fan of attention from humans. The first time she saw children was at the vet’s office. Two tiny tots looked in the window. She went to them and looked them up and down, rubbing dog snot on the window. She adored kids forever after. Bravo loved all people. She loved nothing more than greeting new people and inviting them to rub her silky ears.

On one occasion at the dog park a big, beautiful Borzoi arrived and was surrounded by a gang of Goldens and Boxers who were up to no good. Bravo trotted into the fray from across the park, got in beside the Borzoi who was bucking with fear, and put her nose to the ground. She walked peacefully along until he got the idea and imitated her. The Goldens and Boxers stopped, shook themselves off and backed away. The Borzoi, still bewildered, went about his business of sniffing the park. Bravo came to me, exhausted and ready to go home.

Bravo was the lead decoy dog for the Constructional Aggression Treatment procedure, working with a lot of scared and angry dogs to help them find better ways to deal with the world. She did important work and she did it well.

Bravo came into this world in April 1999, bred for a life as a racing hound, but she didn’t spend long in that life. She was better suited to keeping the yard cleared of squirrels and making sure she had the first choice of dog beds and making sure there were toys all over the downstairs of the house, just in case.

On her last night at home she slept on the couch cuddled up next to my husband, getting her ears rubbed, her very favorite thing. The next morning she ran outside and around the back of the house, the important first act of any good day. She came in and ate, and found her way to her bed in my office. After a short nap she tried to get up and her good old bones just couldn’t hold on any longer.


Some of you have asked what you can do to remember Bravo. The best gift of all would be a donation to ORCA, the Organization for Reinforcement Contingencies with Animals, at the University of North Texas. Write ORCA in the subject line and “In memory of Bravo” in the memo line.

Mail your check to:

ORCA Treasurer, Department of Behavior Analysis, P.O. Box 310919, University of North Texas, Denton, TX 76203-0919


April 1999 to February 22, 2008

Adopted into her family on Dec. 22, 2001

Kellie Snider, BS, MS


Photo by Kellie Snider, Copyright 2008

Background Music: Got to Be More Careful

by John Cleary and the Absolute Monster.

I have become concerned about the recent trend to use dogs to “supervise” children with autism. Some people have stories about wonderful things that happened when children were paired with assistance dogs. This is great for them, but the experiences are not necessarily universal.

Because autism is a spectrum disorder and the abilities and skills of one person with autism may vary dramatically from those of another, there are some for whom a dog may be an excellent choice as a pet and companion, if the person is interested in having a dog. However, for many of these high functioning people, so long as autism is the only disability present, there is no real need for an assistance animal since they are capable of caring for themselves. These people should be included in deciding whether they will get a dog or not, and what kinds of training the dog will receive.

The children with autism that are given assistance dogs are often not capable of participating in the decision to get a dog, nor in the training of a dog. In some cases, through no fault of the child, the animal may be mistreated. This is not because the child is “bad”, of course, but only because he isn’t capable of providing the kinds of guidance and care a dog needs, and because he may not understand when the dog is being hurt. Despite the romantic notion that dogs understand that children with autism are different and remain gentle with them, it is not clear that this is true. Although there is an idea in the culture these days that dogs are a lot like people with autism, there is no evidence that this is true, either.

For children with autism the assistance dog is usually placed in the family when it is still a young puppy and the parents are responsible for most of his/her training. Unfortunately the parents of children with autism are often overwhelmed with the enormous responsibility of raising a child with autism and adding the responsibility of training a service dog is asking a lot of them, even if they are initially quite motivated to do it.

Perhaps a greater concern is that among the diagnostic symptoms of autism is an absence of social interest. In other words, people with autism may not read facial expressions or body language appropriately or at all. They often do not like being touched. They do not make eye contact or look directly at other people or animals. They may respond in abnormal or unusual, sometimes dangerous, ways to tastes, tactile stimuli (whether pain or seemingly mild sensations), sounds, smells, and visual stimuli. They often do not care about animals, and may not like being touched by animals.

Unless and until a child has exhibited a positive response to animals on multiple occasions, an assistance dog is not recommended. Animals may be used in various kinds of therapy, including behavioral treatment to help the child learn to tolerate animals, under supervision for limited periods of time. Often pairing children with autism with assistance dogs is done because it makes grown-ups who do not have autism feel good.

Last but not least, the life of an assistance dog is challenging. For most assistance dogs the positive relationship with his partner is what keeps him going. It is difficult to forge interpersonal relationships with children with autism. For the dog assisting a child with moderate to severe autism, sometimes this social reinforcement is not available. It is up to other family members to ensure that the dog’s needs are met and that nothing happens toward which he may respond with aggression or fear.

If a dog is to be placed in a family to help a child with autism, the parent must always be present and responsible for the dog during every interaction he has with the child. This is for the protection of the dog as well as of the child. It is an unfair and potentially tragic mistake to assume a dog can be a nanny or a supervisor for any child, especially one with autism. Likewise it is unfair to expect a child with autism to be responsible for the safety and well-being of an assistance animal.

If a parent of a child with autism wants to get a dog, that is great, but the adoption of a dog into any family must be taken seriously. Talk with others with similar experiences, determine what the dog’s needs are and how those will meld with those of the adoptive family. Will the family have the time, wherewithal and money to care for a dog in addition to a child with autism? Caring for a child with autism is expensive. Is there enough money in the family to care for a dog’s needs should he become ill or injured?

If a dog is to be placed with a family of a child with autism there should be a guaranteed return policy. No matter what, the family must be able to return the dog to his breeder or assistance dog group if it doesn’t work out for any reason.

It is simply not safe to entrust a child with autism to a dog’s care unless an adult is in charge and on task in overseeing all interactions. Nor is it safe to entrust a dog with a child with autism except under adult supervision. A dog adopted into the family must be trained, and assistance tasks may be helpful, but perhaps not as helpful as solid manners training.

Kellie Snider, BS, MS

Board Certified Associate Behavior Analyst

Speaking up for those who have no choice.


Background music:  I Can’t Get No Satisfaction… the Rolling Stones.  Some guys are working on my house and it is playing on their radio.   

I just unsubbed myself from a discussion group about canine aggression which I joined as a little experiment.  (Nah, I won’t say which one!) Over the two days on the list, someone came up with a problem with a young dog bugging an older dog and the older dog getting snarky in return.  My suggestion?  Management during meal times.  Teach the dogs what to do instead of snarking at each other.  I didn’t respond to their recommendations to correct, I just added Manage and Teach.  There was no serious aggression yet- it was all managable without punishing either dog.  (I know a little something about canine aggression.) 

I posted a couple of times before getting a public rebuke from a list moderator saying that what I was saying was “rhetoric that doesn’t work” and referring to positive training as “the dark side”, while, out of the other side of her mouth, saying this was a list for trainers to talk openly about training without “fear of being unsubbed or worse”.  Yet they were making it clear right from the start that I was not free to suggest anything on that list that didn’t involve corrections.  I was being told that I should fear being unsubbed or worse.  (What’s worse in discussion group land?  Is she going to stalk me?  Geez.)

Talk openly, my eye.  It seems to be quite difficult for positive and correction-based trainers to speak openly together … even when we want to.  But I can understand.  On my own discussion list I will shut down conversations that get adversarial, so maybe that moderator had a history of such.  Not with me, though … she didn’t give me a chance.  She went into correction mode before she got to know me.  I realized I wasn’t going to learn anything there and opted to leave. 

Her response demonstrated a definite defensive posture she had obviously learned before I came along, and a clear over-reading of what I wrote. That’s sadly common.  I’m thinking it means too many positive trainers aren’t positive with their correction-based colleagues.  That’s something we should work on, but it’s hard when we’re being yelled at. 

From what the moderator wrote, the list assumes that positive training is nothing but clickers and treats for all problems.  There’s so much misinformation about it.  I was a handy target for whatever anger they’ve learned to have toward anyone working to effectively change animal behavior without causing them unnecessary pain and distress. 

There are those clicker trainers with limited repertoires that use nothing but clicks and treats, but as clicker trainers mature in the profession they learn a lot more. The clicker is a great teaching tool for many things. It’s not appropriate for everything.  When someone jumps right on that old “You can’t cure all ills with clickers!” bandwagon I know I’m dealing with someone who doesn’t know much about positive training. I hope if you’re reading this you’ll take that as a cue to study. 

Probably the best thing about the positive training world is that the members are largely devoted to learning, studying, even, in some cases going back to school and investing great amounts of time, money and effort to really know what they are talking about.  I have to be frank.  I don’t see this on the correction-based training side.  It’s their choice… but it means they can’t defend their practices.  They can only be defensive.

The biggest problem I have with the Anti-Positive side (or as a colleague of mine calls it, Negative Training) is that they often dismiss or even ridicule scientific research on behavior and training.  They aren’t educated in the sciences of behavior, they don’t know how learning works.  Yet they condemn positive trainers for following the science and training effectively without force and pain. 

What kind of world is it that promotes force and pain and won’t listen to alternatives?  Even when those alternatives are proven to be effective? 

Curiouser and Curiouser. 

We’re closing today’s blog with

Feelin’ Alright by Joe Cocker.  Playing on iTunes.   

Seems I’ve got to have a chance of scene…

Every night I have the strangest dream…

Imprisoned by the way it might have been…

Left here on my own, or so it seems…

I’ve got to leave before I start to scream…

Someone locked the door and turned the key.

Feelin’ Alright… not feeling that good myself… oh oh…

But in fact, I am feeling pretty good.  Next song up…

“This is the story of Minnie the Moocher…

She was a red hot hoochie coocher…

She was the roughest toughest friend,

But Minnie had a heart as big as a whale.”

… by Band From TV.  Check it out on iTunes.  A row of good tunes can turn around a bad mood.  “Hi de hi, hi de ho… told you before that I love you so…” 

Need a best friend?

January 7, 2008


Background Music:  I heard this song called “Let’s Go Trick or Treating Dressed Up Like Marylin Manson” by Self over the weekend.  It cracks me up and I can’t get it out of my head.  So even though only I can hear it, that’s what’s playing.

I visited Operation Kindness in Carrollton, Texas last week with Mike Glass, a dedicated and devoted volunteer there to work with one of their dogs.  The staff and volunteers really go the extra mile for their animals. While I was there I met a little dog named Buster.  A very small Chihuahua. Three pounds at 7 years old.  He is the cutest little thing you ever saw, and coming from someone who is really a big dog kind of person, that’s saying a lot.  Alas, he may have some trouble with a back leg.  Stay tuned… or better yet, visit Operation Kindness or a shelter in your area. If you are in the market for a pet you’re sure to find one.  If you’re full up, just ask and see what kind of help they could use.  D0nate your old towels  or a few bucks, clean cages, walk pooches… there is always something needing doing when caring for homeless animals.  Even campaigning for the adoption of a special animal is important work!  There is a guy in our town who goes to the Animal Control in our city and takes pictures of the pets and posts them on to make sure they get the widest exposure for adoption.  What’s your talent? 

So, we’ve had this guy painting our house and there are a couple of days left to go.  Then some flooring guys come in.  Wish us patience and luck.  So far it looks very good! 

Kellie Snider, MS

Days Like This Keep Us Warm

December 27, 2007

Kellie and Lori- First Friends.

“Each night a child is born is a holy night.”

~Sophia Lyons Fahs

My son played drums during the Christmas Eve service at the Horizon Unitarian Universalist Church. The minister, Dennis Hamilton, always eloquent, spoke of the miracle of every child’s birth. Every child is born naked and needing us.

We are called to be our best selves each time a child is born. Now. And now. And now. Two hundred and forty seven babies are born each minute in this world, and two hundred and forty seven times per minute we are called upon to be responsible.

Of course we can’t care for each of the babies born all over the world, look over them personally and ensure that no one hurts them, that they get the food, shelter, clothing and love that they need. It’s simply not possible.

So, reach out to those who are close to you who need an advocate or a smile, whether they be children or someone else you can touch in some way. Elders. Animals. The homeless. The poor. Those imprisoned by criminal acts or mental disorders or developmental disabilities. The illiterate or those who are temporarily illiterate due to moving to a new country. The person whose color or religion or ethnicity keeps them outside the welcome of the community.

The lonely woman next door. The dog on the tether day after day in his back yard.

It doesn’t have to be an overwhelming task. Sometimes simply speaking up is all it takes. A hand with the groceries. A letter to the editor. An offer to walk the dog, to teach him a few tricks, to make his life a little brighter and show his owner how things could be.

Or just a bowl of water. A simple bowl of clean water.

The song in which my son performed on Christmas Eve is called “Days Like This Keep Us Warm,” by Polyphonic Spree. A perfect song of renewal for the end of one year and the beginning of the next.

Remember that 4 new babies are born every second on this planet. Every moment we live is the chance to honor a holy birth.

Here’s to your generous celebrations in 2008.

Has someone done something special for you this year, that lifted your burden? Made life a little easier? Made you smile? I would love to hear about them and share them with the readers here.


Kellie Snider, MS

PS.  Who is that in the picture?  That’s me on the left and my very first friend, Lori, on the right.  We reunited in December 2007 after not seeing each other for more than 30 years.  Still friends!



Kellie Snider

Board Certified Associate Behavior Analyst

Co-Developer of the Constructional Aggression Treatment for Dogs



For the past 2.5 years I have been at work with Dr. Jesús Rosales-Ruiz developing an effective behavior change procedure for the treatment of aggression in dogs in the natural settings where the dogs live. In the course of our work the procedure has been painstakingly evaluated. Data is collected each step of the way, compared to earlier data, and examined in the current environment. When something did not work, we went back to the drawing board, took a closer look, and either adjusted the treatment or eliminated the component that was either detrimental or useless. If it did not work or did not produce a meaningful change, it did not stay in the procedure.


Breed specific legislation (BSL) has not been subjected to this kind of scrutiny.  If it has the data are not seeing the light of day. BSL is an attempt by the legal system to resolve the canine aggression problem. Unfortunately, the data cited to determine whether breed specific legislation is justified is the wrong data. The question researchers need to ask to validate BSL is, “Are there fewer dog attacks per capita after BLS was enacted than before it was enacted?” They might even add the question, “Are the attacks less severe?” Instead, the data typically cited to defend BSL involves the number of people attacked by a specific breed of dog (Nelson, 2005). There is little or no data other than anecdote available to the public about whether eliminating specific breeds of dogs from a community actually reduces the numbers of dog bites, attacks or dog-related fatalities. If they are not making the data public either they are not collecting the data, which is unacceptable, or there is something they don’t want us to see.


Dogs of any breed obtained for the purpose of fighting, guarding and protection are high on the list of dogs that attack and kill. Dogs of any breed kept in the yard on a chain or in a pen outside are among the dogs most likely to kill. Dogs of any breed that are allowed to roam loose or that are abused or neglected are more likely to kill than other dogs. Unneutered male dogs are frequently counted among those dogs that bite. (Delise, 2002)


If you take all the pit bulls out of a community, the people likely to harbor dangerous dogs will keep another large, powerful breed. The people who kept a pit bull outside on a chain will keep another breed outside on a chain. The people who abused or neglected a pit bull will abuse and neglect another breed of dog. The people who let their pit bull roam will let the dog that replaces their pit bull roam. Families that owned unneutered-male pit bulls are likely to obtain and keep intact another breed of dog. When children are allowed to interact unattended with unfamiliar dogs, chained dogs, penned dogs and family pets with histories of unresolved aggression it can be a recipe for disaster no matter what the breed. Getting rid of a breed without changing how people care for and manage their dogs will not solve any dog attack problems. 


Before another community enacts breed specific legislation statistical comparisons must be made between the before and after picture in those communities where BSL has already been enacted. To determine whether BSL is valid we do not need more proof that pit bulls are strong, powerful dogs. Everyone already knows that. But people who spend time around dogs also know that many pit bulls are friendly, gentle animals despite their strength. If communities are going to enact BSL someone needs to demonstrate that it works. So far I have not seen the data.


With pit bulls out of the picture there will still be dog attacks. Denver, Colorado banned pit bulls in 1989, and in a 1994 study Chow Chows and German Shepherds had taken their place as the dogs most likely to bite (Gershman, Sacks & Wright, 1994). Can you imagine the outcry if a community tried to ban German Shepherds? Without data showing that BSL results in a statistically significant decrease in dog attacks, legislators are misleading their community’s citizens if they claim that the knowledge that pit bulls are strong and powerful necessarily means that eliminating them will eliminate the problem of dangerous dog attacks.


Where is the data?  Until there are valid data to compare the numbers of attacks before and after enactment of BSL no one can claim that it will do anything more than cause dissention among proponents and opponents of breed specific legislation. For that we have plenty of proof.



Delise, K.A. (2002). Fatal dog attacks: The stories behind the statistics. Slanesville, WV.

Gershman KA, Sacks JJ, Wright JC. (1994). Which dogs bite? A case-control study of risk factors.     Pediatrics 93:913-7.

Nelson, K.A. (2005) One City’s Experience: Why pit bulls are more dangerous and breed specific        legislation is justified. Municipal Lawyer. 406-6.

© Kellie Snider, 2007