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.

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


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


It is essential that you know your audience.  I wrote about this in an earlier blog posting.  (Check the June 2007 entries.) You have to tailor your approach to suit your audience.  For dog trainers, there are two primary audiences:  (1) Experienced dog trainers and those who want to become experienced dog trainers, and (2) pet owners.


If your audience is experienced trainers, they already know a lot about dog training, whether or not you agree with what they know.  What they are often working toward now is improving their records of wins with a favorite dog or gaining greater respect in the field.  If you want to be their trainer, you must always remember that they most of all want to be respected as professionals.  They will respond better to compliments and reverence to their expertise and educations than they will to your attempts to teach them new skills.

Be humble and learn to get your reinforcers from your students’ successes.  You are going to be their coach, not their teacher.  And by coach, I mean “life coach”, not “professional sports coach”.  Your job is to help them excel and to lift them up high while keeping your profile modest.  Sound counter-intuitive?  Keep reading! 

Your job in working with the advanced audience is to support them in what they are already doing, to offer feedback on the things they request feedback on, to offer new information that perhaps they haven’t had a chance to access.  Anything you do to change their behavior must be done delicately and subtly. Reinforce what they do that works by praising their expertise and professionalism.  Ignore what they are not doing well at the same time.  Before long you’ll probably find that the reinforcement for the good performances builds those skills to the point that they overwhelm the undesirable stuff and it fades away. 

And if you want to be successful, you must not try to take credit for the change.  Brag about your student to others, in front of the student whenever possible.  Does this sound like I’m telling you to eschew all your own glory?  Does that sound counter to the idea of promoting your training business?  Think about overhearing some trainer at an agility trial saying this:

“I’ve got to tell you about my student, Louise Tate!  She just won her MACH title with her dog, Spider! I am so excited for her! She has worked hard and it has really paid off.” 

Is that not the teacher YOU would want to work with?  By bragging about your students’ successes you are promoting yourself in the best possible way.  You’re showing that not only are you a good instructor- after all, look at what your student accomplished!  You’re also saying that you are willing to not just share but freely give away the glory. 

Everyone knows the old dog world saying, “The only thing two trainers can agree on is that the third one is wrong.”  I urge you to create a new one. 

The only thing that trainer talks about is how great her students are.”  Work on praising your students until you start hearing this from other people.  Your students will love you.  Then they will talk about you to all their friends.  And the best marketing engine in the world will be off and running. Word-of-mouth.

What about the student who isn’t doing so well?  There are a few different things to consider.  First, remind her about the successes she’s had, no matter how small.   Remember her big successes forever. And point out small successes immediately as they occur, while minimizing responses to problems. One of the biggest problems she may be having is paying too much attention to mistakes.  Don’t you join in with her on that!  Help her focus on successes and goals. 

Mistakes are just starting places.  They’re not failures.  

Do not think you’re going to win their hearts by knowing something they don’t know. You may NOT know anything they know.  What will set you apart from all the rest is being proud of your students even when they surpass you.  The way to their hearts is to let them know you believe to the bottom of your heart and to the depths of your soul that They are great trainers, and that you will freely announce that to the world.  Then do it! 

Copyright 2007, Kellie Snider

Don’t forget to order your copy of our new DVD:  The Constructional Aggression Treatment:  Shaping Your Way Out Of Aggression.  It’s a complete seminar in a 5 disc set. Save yourself some travel expenses and attend your next seminar at home! 

“…your seminar has been the best received of any I have ever produced.” 

Alta Tawzer of Tawzer Dog Videos.

Ken Ramirez, Marine Animal Trainer

The Organization for Reinforcement Contingencies with Animals

In the Department of Behavior Analysis at the University of North Texas

Announces ORCA’s Annual Lecture Series

(Open to the public!)

Professional Animal Trainer

 Ken Ramirez

“The Practical Side of Science”

For Animal Trainers, Handlers, Pet Owners & Professionals

October 20, 20073:00-6:00pm

UNT Campus ENV Bldg., Room 130

Public Admission:  $45

UNT Employees and Students:  Free 

3 CEUs Approved by CCPDT 

Profits after expenses will benefit ORCA.

·         Ken Ramirez has been a professional trainer for more than 30 years.

·  He is currently the VP of Animal Collections and Animal Training at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium.

·         Ken is a regular speaker at Karen Pryor’s ClickerExpos. 

·         Ken’s experience includes work with guide dogs, search and rescue dogs, standard pet training and many exotic animals.

·         He is also the author of the book Animal Training: Successful Animal Management through Positive Reinforcement

Pay at the door or….

Mail payment to: 

ORCA Department of Behavior Analysis
410 Ave. C, Suite 360
P.O. Box 310919
University of North Texas
Denton, TX 76203-0919

pan2a.gifHere’s a fictionalized compilation of stories I’ve heard from people about their aggressive dogs.  Most people who work with aggressive dogs will recognize this story from their work.

Josie Q. Owner will say, “We adopted our dog from the shelter.  He was fine for a few weeks but after he’d been here a while he started barking and growling at any man that came over to visit.  When our friend lifted his hand one day our dog lunged at him then hid behind me.  We are sure he was abused by a man before we got him.”

People commonly assume that if their dog behaves either fearfully or aggressively that he or she was the victim of abuse.   To my surprise, while surfing the web about this subject,  I noticed that even some experts have presented the “he was abused” assessment as part of their response to owners asking about aggression in their dogs.  While certainly being abused may be the start down the slippery slope toward aggressive behavior, assuming that abuse actually occured is often stretching it.  If we didn’t see the abuse happening, it’s best not to assume it occured.  That assumption may lead us off on a path that doesn’t help us make progress in dealing with the aggression.  The good news is that we don’t need to know how behavior got started to change behavior. 

Aggression is situation-specific, and aggression toward a specific kind of person or in a specific situation does not necessarily mean that the dog was abused at any point in his life.  I’ve worked with quite a few dogs that were adopted into good homes as puppies, who were never hit or mistreated, and who still show up with aggressive behaviors at some point down the road.  Dogs, like all animals and humans, behave in ways that pay off for them.  Unfortunately, aggression sometimes pays off quite neatly for them. 

The 2 imporant questions to ask when trying to understand a given dog’s aggression is, “In what situations does this behavior happen?” and “What happens after the dog behaves aggressively?”  It is also helpful to understand situations in which the dog is not aggressive so that you can appreciate that your dog can behave in desirable ways. 

In most cases of problem aggression the dog has learned that his aggressive behavior makes people or animals go away.  The most common answer to, “What happens after he behaves aggressively?” is, “People or animals back off.”  The behavior puts distance between him and something or someone else.  The more experience the dog has in getting people or animals he doesn’t want around to back off by being aggressive, the more aggressively he will behave.

What if his aggression involves chasing prey (which may include small dogs or cats, squirrels, even children)?  It depends.  I once had a dog who eagerly chased squirrels throughout her life, and never once caught one. It appears that she was just as happy getting them to go away as she might have been catching one. Since she never caught one we might be right to assume that her behavior was reinforced by getting the squirrel to run away. For other dogs who actually catch some of the prey they chase, we might be looking at something a little different.  These dogs don’t get rid of the thing they behave aggresively toward- they kill and possibly eat it.  

From time to time we come across a dog that has been taught to play roughly and in order to initiate play they begin to act roughly.  This can accelerate to the point that they begin to growl, bark, and even bite at people they want to play with. 

The other question, “In what situations does this behavior happen?” includes all the stuff in the environment at the time the aggression occurs.  Often it will be something like, “A stranger approached him” or “another dog came into view.”  Sometimes it will be quite specific, like, “She’s only aggressive toward my sister, and only when my husband is gone.”  (Seriously!) Other times the dog may be aggressive only in one place, but not in others (e.g. He’s aggressive toward dogs in the park, but fine with dogs in our back yard), or only toward a type of person (men or children, for example).  There can even be very subtle situations like the time of day or how cold it is. 

The aggressive behaviors described here indicate that the dog has been successful in chasing men away by behaving aggressively.  We may not know why the dog wants to chase the guy away, but we can change the behavior by teaching the man to go away only when the dog is behaving nicely and stay put when he is behaving aggressively.  Clearly this may involve some training.  (The procedure is described in detail in the DVD mentioned at the end of this blog. 

The outcome of the procedure described in the DVD is that the dog will learn that his aggression doesn’t pay off, but being nice does.  Over time he will most likely stop wanting the guy to go away because he’ll learn that he is not a threat. 

The good news is that we don’t have to know why a behavior got started in order to treat it. This is especially good news because with dogs adopted in adulthood from shelters we rarely know anything about his life before the shelter.

Constructional Aggression Treatment:Shaping Away Canine Aggression                         Jesús Rosales-Ruiz, PhD & Kellie Snider                                                                                      A 10.5 hour seminar on videotape                                                                                      Produced by Tawzer Dog Videos Copyright, 2007