Episode 38: Changing Patterns and Learning New Behaviors with Guide Dog Instructor, Laura DeMaio Roy

about the episode

Laura DeMaio Roy has been training pet and service dogs for 10 years with a specialization in guide dog training and instruction. She has run successful dog training businesses in Connecticut and Colorado and currently owns DoggyU LLC where she runs a popular YouTube channel and helps owners train their own service dogs. Her YouTube channel, DoggyU, brings practical, positive reinforcement-based step-by-step training instruction to those who may not otherwise have access to it. Her channel also covers product reviews, dog lifestyle videos, service dog training, and dog and van travel videos. Laura has performed with her dogs all over the country, spoken at national and state conferences, and her dogs have appeared in print media ads.

Laura is a certified guide dog instructor and placement specialist for Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation where she trains and places German Shepherd Guide Dogs with clients throughout the US and Canada. She holds a BA in Business and Entrepreneurship and a Masters degree in Public Administration with a certification in Public and Non-Profit Management from the University of Connecticut.

Outside of her career, Laura enjoys traveling in her van with her two dogs, Jake and CoolWhip, visiting national parks, hiking solo or with her husband, playing disc, training tricks, herding, bikejoring and jogging with her dogs, and generally exploring everything the US has to offer. She has officially visited all 50 states!

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Episode Transcript

Laura: I just think about how I would want to be treated. Is this how I would want to be as a learner? Do I want to be shown the way or do I want to have to be forced into the way of doing something? I want to be shown so that I can build my confidence just like every animal does. They want to build their confidence. They want to feel good in the situation. And that's what I try to do with training.

Erik Weihenmayer: It's easy to talk about the successes, but what doesn't get talked about enough is the struggle. My name is Erik Weihenmayer. I've gotten the chance to ascend Mount Everest to climb the tallest mountain in every continent, to kayak the Grand Canyon and I happen to be blind. It's been a struggle to live what I call a no barriers life, to define it, to push the parameters of what it means. And part of the equation is diving into the learning process and trying to illuminate the universal elements that exist along the way. And that unexplored terrain between those dark places we find ourselves in the summit, exists a map. That map, that way forward is what we call no barriers.

Jeff: Laura is a certified guide dog, instructor and placement specialist for Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation. She trains and places German Shepherd guide dogs with clients throughout the US and Canada. She's been training pet and service dogs for 10 years. She also runs a YouTube channel called DoggyU where she helps owners train their own service dogs with practical, positive reinforcement-based step-by-step training instruction. Laura has performed with her dogs all over the country, spoken at national and state conferences and her own dogs have appeared in print media ads. Outside of her career, Laura enjoys traveling in her van with her two dogs, Jake and CoolWhip and visiting national parks around the US.

Erik Weihenmayer: Laura, welcome to the No Barriers Podcast. It's so awesome to have worked with you over the last couple of weeks. And what people can't see is that right behind me is my new guide dog, Zena. Zena.

Jeff: Princess warrior.

Erik Weihenmayer: Princess warrior. Yeah. And you're a Fidelco trainer and so you were out here in Colorado training me with the dog for the last couple of weeks. And this is my fifth dog. And she's a guide dog, not a seeing eye dog, right?

Laura: That's correct. Yeah. See eye is like brand, like Kleenex is a brand. So everything is under the guide dog realm. And then you have brands of guide dog, I suppose.

Jeff: I don't know if it's because I know she's female or not, but I've known all your dogs since the very beginning and she's the prettiest.

Erik Weihenmayer: She is pretty.

Jeff: She's really beautiful.

Laura: She is pretty.

Erik Weihenmayer: She's sort of like, I don't want to stereotype, but she is a cuddler. None of my other dogs have been quite such a cuddly coo cuddler. I [inaudible 00:03:14] on my back like working out, she'll run over and jump on top of me and start emphatically licking my face.

Jeff: Oh my God, I love you.

Erik Weihenmayer: Yeah. And then she'll just cuddle up. So Laura and I been training for a couple of weeks and I brought her to Vegas to an event where I was speaking to a bunch of people and it was this huge day leaving at five in the morning. And then we went to Vegas and then I had another talk in Seattle or Salt Lake City, excuse me. And we got to the hotel room at midnight and I laid on my back in my hotel room to stretching out my back at midnight and the dog laid on top of me and started snoring, loud snoring.

Laura: I mean, we worked her quite a lot that day.

Jeff: It was a big day.

Laura: So that was a huge, huge day for any new guide dog.

Erik Weihenmayer: I crush my new dog.

Laura: I think she handled it incredibly well.

Jeff: She had no idea what she was getting into.

Erik Weihenmayer: Yeah. She did so well that day. I know that wasn't her first time in airports, but it was a significant day walking through airports and moving sidewalks and escalators and elevators-

Laura: And new hotel-

Erik Weihenmayer: New hotels.

Laura: ... And then talking in front of 1500 people and big day for day nine of placement.

Erik Weihenmayer: And Laura, we taught her how to walk out on and find the podium because if you think about it, guide dogs are trained to avoid objects. Right. So how do you train them to walk to the podium? So how'd we do that?

Laura: We used a bat chaining technique where we basically taught her that there was cheese for her at the podium. So we basically put her a foot away, had her go find the podium, find the cheese, put her two feet away, have her find the podium, find the cheese, and then take the cheese off of the podium and put it in your hand. So that it was now like a target that she needed to reach.

Erik Weihenmayer: The executive introducing me. We had him give her the cheese too.

Laura: Yes, that's right. Yeah. So that she knew that those were people we want to find and not people we want to avoid.

Erik Weihenmayer: Yeah. So cheese is the answer to a lot of, it's the source of many solutions, if you think about it Jeff.

Jeff: Somebody made millions of dollars with a book called Who Moved my Cheese.

Laura: That's right.

Jeff: So you should do like a doggy version of Who Moved my Cheese.

Erik Weihenmayer: Cheese is the Answer. That's my next title of my book. So talk everyone through the process of a guide dog training, where the dogs start and where they finish because I don't think people have any idea of what a process. Not to lead too far here, but that's why I thought you'd be such a good guest because this no barriers life is about process. Right? And you have to bring these dogs through this incredible transformative process.

Laura: Yes. So what a lot of people don't know is these dogs are raised by these amazing people who we call puppy raisers. They take the dog at around eight weeks and they raise the dog like their own. They bring them to classes. Usually several times a month. And they do basic obedience and socialization. Socialization is the thing that once that socialization period closes, it's very hard to socialize a dog. So their main function is to get that dog out and about, let it see lots of different things, dogs, people, locations, all of that is critical at that young age. And then around 16 months or so the shepherds, and I'm speaking about Fidelco specifically, because that's the organization that I work in.

Erik Weihenmayer: Everyone wants to raise puppies by the way, don't they?

Laura: It's hard to raise a puppy. It is a really hard job.

Jeff: Are these predominantly German Shepherds like is there a pretty specific?

Laura: So Fidelco does German Shepherd specifically. So I've done service dogs of all realm. So not just guide dogs. But with Fidelco specifically, they use all German Shepherds and they have for the last 50 plus years.

Jeff: You call on the same breeders or puppy raisers, what do you call them?

Laura: We usually read in house. So Fidelco breeds in house. They do the breeding. They call it a breed within a breed. Basically they're taking dogs and creating what we're hoping to be-

Jeff: Super dog.

Laura: ... The perfect guide dog. Right.

Jeff: What happens if you get one after that 16 week, no-

Laura: 16 months.

Jeff: ... 16 months that's just like a little clown. [crosstalk 00:07:15].

Laura: I prefer to train the males, honestly, because they're always you'd do it the same way every time and they just do it. And people disagree about is there a difference between the genders as far as working dogs go. But I love a big dumb male.

Jeff: And your opinion is?

Laura: Yeah. My opinion is I love a big dumb male, but the females are a little smarter. I find them to be, they'll do a little window shopping. There'll be like, "I can do this and I can also do this at the same time." Totally personal opinion, not a Fidelco stance at all.

Erik Weihenmayer: Wait, that's true for humans, they say like women can multitask better.

Laura: Right. Yeah. So there's no scientific back. That's just my [crosstalk 00:07:53].

Jeff: My 14-year-old son is like a 16 month old guide dog.

Laura: Yeah. German Shepherd guide dog.

Jeff: So what about the outliers?

Laura: So what if they don't make it? Is that what you're asking?

Jeff: Yeah and what does that look like?

Laura: So that's a career change dog. All right. A dog that's not going to make it for a variety of reasons, we're going to try and find them another job. So whether that's police, bomb sniffing, drug dogs, that kind of thing.

Jeff: So if they're overly aggressive-

Laura: Not aggressive just-

Jeff: Maybe that's be a good cop dog.

Laura: ... Just not suitable because you have to think about guide dogs as this elite type of service dog that has to deal with so many stressors all the time and come out and still be watching for there human at all times. It's one of the tougher of the service dog type dogs. So not everybody, most dogs are not going to be the right fit for that. Now Fidelco has been breeding them for years to do this specific job. So their idea of getting it right is a lot higher than say you take your German Shepherd off the street and try to train them to do this. But not every dog is perfect. Right. They're not supposed to be rocket scientist. So they might go out to another type of service work or they might go police or they might be pet homed.

Jeff: Okay. So there are some things that can just-

Laura: That don't make it.

Jeff: ... Say like, "You're just going to be a pet dude." [inaudible 00:09:05].

Laura: Yeah. Absolutely. Or if there's a medical problem or any number of little niche things that is not going to make an inappropriate service dog, they go out, we try to find them a career. They might go back to the puppy raiser and live with the person who raised them. Lots of different options for career change dogs.

Erik Weihenmayer: The puppy raisers are secretly hoping they don't make it through the process.

Laura: Some of them are. But then we have amazing puppy raisers that have been doing this for 30 years and they've gone through 20 dogs. We have really dedicated people. So then at 16 months they come in and that's where their college starts. Their formal training starts. And formal training at Fidelco specifically, because that's my experience is anywhere between six and nine months for a German shepherd. That's coming in at 16 months.

Jeff: So now they're over-

Laura: Now they're with a trainer-

Jeff: ... Two and a half years old.

Laura: ... When they go out. Over two usually, which is great because they're mature enough to be able to do the work. So they do this training process that involves training five days a week with a specific protocol that they follow to go from being just a normal well socialized pet type dog to being able to guide a person in the real world.

Erik Weihenmayer: And what does that process, the college experience look like? Because it's so counterintuitive some of the things that you have to do with the dog. For instance, I know one of the things a dog doesn't have fear necessarily of a car, right? So there's all these things that you have to-

Laura: Not inherently.

Erik Weihenmayer: Inherently. Right. So there's all these things that you have that when I as a blind person get the dog, they're trained. But before that that had to be trained into them.

Laura: Yeah. So we start super slow, just with everything else you want to build, create building blocks for the dog. So we start by introducing them to a clicker. So clicker is the type of training that I do, whether it's for Fidelco or my own business is positive reinforcement-based training. So the click equals a reward. So the dog starts learning that you're basically taking a picture of the behavior that you like and they remember that and they're like, "Oh, the human liked it when I did this, it earned me a click in a tree, so I'm going to do that again." So that's kind of like the learning process for them. And we start with being able to just stop at curbs, really basic. Can I walk in a big loop and stop at curbs? Can I then move on to going around obstacles?

Laura: So I'm going to teach them, okay when I come upon something in my way, I'm going to first start by saying, can you just move off your straight line a little bit? Can you go off your straight line another two steps? Can you go back to your straight line? Because guide dogs work in straight lines. We want them to hit curbs in a straight line. And then if they come across an obstacle, they move off the straight line and then return to it to make sure that your orientation stays correct. So you know what's going on as a user.

Jeff: Did you know that?

Erik Weihenmayer: Yeah. I didn't know.

Jeff: That's pretty fascinating.

Erik Weihenmayer: Remember the story of Helen Keller, like she had to connect language with water and different things like that. So how do you make the connection if you're doing it in such a positive way, right? How do you get them to connect that in the beginning that that's what you want them to do-

Jeff: Association with the object.

Erik Weihenmayer: ... Because they have no clue what you want them to do.

Laura: Yeah. So that's where that language, that clicker and that marker of the clicker creates this language between the trainer and the dog. And it allows you to say like, "This is what I like, here's your reward for that." And just like humans, just like anybody, whatever gets reinforced, you'll do more of. Whatever doesn't get reinforced, you'll do less of. Okay. So the same thing works exactly for the dog. It works for all mammals is if you're getting reinforced for doing a specific behavior, you're going to repeat that behavior. No, it's a lot of repetitions. Sure. I mean, we're walking in circles for a long time with these guide dogs trying to do our curbs and doing [crosstalk 00:12:51].

Erik Weihenmayer: Incredible patients, right?

Laura: Yeah, it does take quite a bit of patience. And the way that guide dogs have been trained has evolved over time. It used to be a lot of choke chain, if you didn't do it right, you get corrected kind of thing. That's not how Fidelco specifically functions anymore.

Jeff: Well, so the whole ideology of how you go about training went from negative and then got switched to positive affirmation.

Laura: And that's not to say that at some point we're not holding the dogs accountable for their behavior. But if I come up to you and I push you into your seat and I say, "Sit." You're going to be like, "Don't touch me." If I come up to you and I say, "Hey, do you think you could sit down also, here's some pizza." And you're like, "Oh yeah, I could probably do that." Right. So I want to create a better relationship with my dog and I want a dog that wants to do the job instead of is afraid to do something wrong. Right?

Jeff: Yeah. Well I think this is a, it's not a mystery that this could be good parenting techniques too.

Laura: Works for all types of [crosstalk 00:13:50].

Jeff: Because you have to balance out the, "Nope, that's not cool. You can't do that." But I want to build you up on a positive way.

Erik Weihenmayer: This so interesting because this is like, I had this exact experience on the stage with one of my dogs. I was trying to teach him how to like the stage because he has to be there in front of audiences and he has to find the podium. And I would walk him towards the podium and the more times I did that routine, the more he was cowering and I was like, "What is going on? Why is the dog just naturally not doing this?" And I totally realized that positive affirmation thing because something in me was stressing the dog out. I was stressing the dog out because 99% of the time the dog doesn't do what you want him to do. It's me, it's not the dog.

Erik Weihenmayer: And I realized-

Jeff: [crosstalk 00:14:44].

Erik Weihenmayer: ... This is my relationship with my kids. That half time I want my kids to do something, it backfires. It backfires because I'm stressing them out in some kind of way where it almost has a negative effect and they shut down. And so the way we corrected that was as you said, just cheese at the podium. Make them love that podium, make it all positive

Laura: And cheese is like a reinforcer. We all come out of the womb wanting food, right? So that's why that as a reinforcer for service dogs works really well. Whereas some dogs, if you're looking outside of the service dog world, you're looking at more types of working dogs like police. You might use a ball, to create that positive association. The dog might be obsessed with having this ball and you have to find the reinforcer that works for that dog, for them. Just like for you, you have things that you like. If you guys offered me a plate of mushrooms, I'd be like, "Gross. That's not reinforcing."

Jeff: Whoa, hold on a second.

Laura: Sorry, I don't like them.

Erik Weihenmayer: And then so the next time finally when I got the dog to love the podium.

Jeff: Same dog?

Erik Weihenmayer: Same dog, Gerry, my fourth dog, he was so excited that I said, "Go find the podium." And he ran across the theater, missed the stairs, leaped up onto the stage. I totally smashed my shins into the stage. At least I'm decently athletic. So I popped up on the stage like, "Tadaaaa." And then walk to the podium and then wipe the blood off my shins later. And-

Laura: Too much motivation.

Erik Weihenmayer: I had to suppress my annoyance because the dog loved what I wanted her to do. And so even though I was like, "Oh, I can't believe you did that." I had to reward her for that experience and then she settled down.

Laura: And then work it but to do the stairs again.

Erik Weihenmayer: Exactly, that's so counterintuitive.

Jeff: You did a course correction though with your dog. And I feel like if we're going to stick with the parenting parallel, we have to do course corrections for parenting too, right? You're like, "Oh that's not working with this kid." Your two kids are very different. Would you agree?

Erik Weihenmayer: Right.

Jeff: Yeah. So you're like, "Oh, what I was doing with Emma is not working for Arzu." And I'm finding with my kid like, oh this is a start, stop. He isn't really responding in a healthy way to negative reinforcement. So let's change it like you've had to. So what you're saying is that every dog just like people have these different personalities that have these different response mechanisms and they ultimately want to make you happy. Right?

Laura: I wouldn't say that they necessarily want to make you happy. That's super a human thing to ascribe to dogs in the same way that like I've worked with all types of animals, with this type of training. So I've worked with pigs and horses and we did some work when I was down in Florida with cheetahs and rhinos. A rhino doesn't care about making you happy. They respond to incentives. So the same thing with the dog. Now a dog's more prone to caring what you think. Absolutely. But ultimately behavior breaks down to we do what works. So for if what's working for the dog is finding that podium, it's a good thing for him, then he's going to continue to find the podium.

Erik Weihenmayer: As long as the blind guy doesn't screw him up.

Laura: Yeah. I mean-

Erik Weihenmayer: And stress him out.

Laura: And stress him out. Right. Your own emotions. Yeah, I'm putting that down.

Erik Weihenmayer: Because whenever I feel like I'm stressed out, I feel like the dog shuts down.

Laura: Yeah. And that's the team thing, right? So because a guide dog isn't just like this plug and play thing that you, okay, you pick up the handle and now it magically brings you all the places.

Erik Weihenmayer: It's not like a car.

Laura: It's a car. It's not even a robot. It's an animal with feelings and it's a teamwork thing. So you're always meeting each other halfway and trying to figure out each other and how to respond to those things. And yeah, if you're having a bad day, it can affect the dog's work and if the dog's having a bad day it can affect your day. All right.

Jeff: So before we got on the air, I was talking about this book Sapiens, which I think I highly recommend. Erik's read it, one of the introductory chapters is talking about how homo sapiens made the split from the other homo erectus, homo habilis, australopithecine, all these other different sub human species. There was a few things that caused that separation. One of them was fire, one of them was tool builders and one of them was the domestication of a dog.

Laura: Interesting. Ever read that.

Jeff: And it was because now we have a companion. Now we have somebody that, and I don't know if-

Laura: Is alerting.

Jeff: Yeah. I don't know if the author Harari wanted to say like, the dog wants to please because maybe that's not it to your point, maybe it was just the dog now is a hunting companion. And a-

Erik Weihenmayer: It's like a symbiotic relationship, right?

Jeff: And a safety mechanism. Like it just did so much for us and apparently homo sapiens did it. Neanderthals didn't domesticate the dog and it was a really big deal in the progression for us. So I mean for, I don't know, 150,000 years we've been domesticating dogs and they've been our-

Laura: Companion.

Jeff: Are right next to us through everything.

Laura: Yes. And I'm not trying to say that a dog doesn't care about you at all. That's just not true. It's just that everybody is motivated by reinforcers and that's what dogs are motivated by. But yeah, and the relationship that you build with them.

Erik Weihenmayer: But you do have to dive into the negative side too, right? You were telling me the other day, or maybe this morning that in the beginning you would crash into a garbage can.

Laura: So we would hit a garbage can.

Erik Weihenmayer: So talk about that side because-

Laura: So that's a natural consequence, right? Because in training for guide work, the consequence for not going around the trashcan, once the dog has fully established that they understand what they're supposed-

Erik Weihenmayer: Just for context, we're walking on the sidewalk and it's garbage day and there's garbage cans all on the sidewalk and the dog Zena was doing this amazing job walking me around the site around the trash cans every time.

Laura: Right. And so when we're talking about progression of training for a guide dog, we're giving them the tools to understand what we're asking them. So which is I need you to go around a trashcan. Now what is the consequence of not going around a trashcan? If she walks you into a trashcan, you hit the trashcan. That's a natural consequence. And that's kind of what we use to help build the dog skills to say like, "Oh my, if you don't do this thing then this person's going to hit into the trashcan." So as a trainer I am also going to hit into the trashcan." And that's a consequence for the dog.

Erik Weihenmayer: And you allow yourself to crash into the trashcan so that the dog gets the consequences.

Laura: Yeah, at a varying level depending on the dog. Right. So it really depends a lot on where they are in training, how soft the dog is, how hard the dog is. About how hard I'm going to make my walking into something. Because like Zena-

Jeff: You're being dramatic though, right? What's it like to show her there's consequence?

Laura: Yes. Depending on where we are in training. Yeah. Like for instance, Zena is pretty soft, right? So she doesn't need a harsh correction to understand what you're asking of her. So I might for her just like, and realize you can't hear me tapping the table, but just tap that trashcan and say, "Watch if I hit into it." So training isn't cookie cutter. It's very much a science, but also an art. And that I need to know the learner, the dog that I have and how they are going to respond to whatever.

Erik Weihenmayer: Yeah. Zena actually, if I'm walking and it narrows up and I'd tap the wall with my right hand and I say, "Watch, watch out." She'll actually react physically.

Laura: Move to the side.

Erik Weihenmayer: Yeah. Physically she's like, "Ooh, okay."

Laura: She's a sensitive or softer dog.

Jeff: Well, help me differentiate softer and harder. What does that mean for the dog's personality?

Laura: Yeah. So for instance, taking Zena as an example, if you were to go, like uh-huh (negative) or something like that with Zena, she cares. She's like, "Oh, I did something." Whereas some dogs are, some of the German Shepherds are-

Jeff: [crosstalk 00:22:23] referring back to-

Laura: ... Roots, right? They're just like, "I don't care if you say uh-huh (negative) I'm still going to do the thing that I wanted to do." So that's where I might like if they weren't paying attention, I might hit a garbage can harder and be like, "Whoa, look at what happens when you don't go around this garbage can."

Jeff: So I was just imagining do you like Charlie Chaplin and blasting through it all?

Laura: No.

Jeff: That doesn't happen.

Laura: No.

Erik Weihenmayer: Hit the deck and go flying in the garbage can.

Laura: Absolutely not.

Jeff: So that doesn't happen.

Erik Weihenmayer: All the garbage goes flying out onto the streets.

Jeff: It's just a tap.

Laura: No. Yeah, no-

Erik Weihenmayer: There's music playing in the background?

Laura: Because I don't want to create fear. Right? Because I don't want a dog that when they see a garbage can is like, "Oh my God, we're going to go in the road." Because these garbage cans are terrifying. I don't want that. So I have to be careful about how I use those natural consequences.

Erik Weihenmayer: So that's really, I mean tap into that because that's really interesting. If you correct the dog too much, if it's too negative, the dog shuts down because they're fearful and then that must be a huge struggle for them to get that back. That confidence back and that positivity back.

Laura: Well, I mean, a good example, I had a dog that I was working and this was just a service dog. I was working for a private client. They got hit with the door. They got hit with this door by accident. It closed on them and the dog didn't want to go through doors for three weeks and we had to spend a ton of time positively reinforcing, going to doors, feeding for it, making it a really positive experience. What I love about positive reinforcement training is it's hard to mess it up to create permanent damage with a dog. When you're like, "Yes, you've done the right thing. Yes, you've done the right thing." You correct them bad one time, you can really mess up their work. Same thing goes if a dog gets attacked by another dog, it can potentially end the career of a dog because of the trauma experienced from that scary thing. Which is why the switch to positive reinforcement as far as training new behaviors has really revolutionized what dogs can do because they're wanting to do the job more.

Laura: I can't force a dog to go to the fridge and get me a drink. But I can make them want to do it and it creates a much better relationship with the dog.

Erik Weihenmayer: And by the way, you're not talking theoretical. You've trained. Yeah. Tell-

Laura: Yeah. My dog can get a beer.

Erik Weihenmayer: Tell people all those cool stuff you train your, not your guide dogs but your other dogs to do.

Laura: Well, I mean, the retrieve. Right. So my dog being able to go get me a beer from the fridge is the same retrieve as someone needs to go get an EpiPen.

Erik Weihenmayer: You're going to start a trend here, everyone's going to want to train their dog to get a beer for them.

Laura: Or do whatever. When I got started with my dog, Jake, he was super fearful. I mean he, you'd look at him and he would run in the corner and pee because he was so afraid of people because I got him as an adult. He had been tied to a deck for two years and he'd never lived in a real house, so I had to build him up and I did that doing trick training, trick training and service dog training are pretty similar beasts as far as things go. The only difference is your approach to it is that a lot of people are like, "Oh that's a fun trick versus, oh that's a task skill that the dog has." But I use things like teaching him how to climb a ladder or teaching him to get the mail or just these things where I could keep telling him, "Yes, you're doing it right. Yes, you're doing it right." And building his confidence to the point that I was using him for shows and trick stuff all over when before, I mean really he was so afraid of every [crosstalk 00:25:46].

Erik Weihenmayer: And you can see this stuff on DoggyU, right?

Laura: Yeah. I have some up on the YouTube channel.

Erik Weihenmayer: Yeah. You have incredible stuff up on YouTube. So that sounds like from a normal person's standpoint, outlandish that you can train a dog to climb a ladder. Do you have to stand at the top of the ladder with a piece of cheese?

Laura: So an interesting thing, you can teach tricks all different ways, but everything is breaking the behavior down into little pieces. So a good example of that is actually getting a beer, right? You can't talk to your dog and be like, "All right, get me a beer." Because the dog doesn't speak English. So instead I have to say, okay, what are the components of my dog being able to go to the fridge and get me a beer? Well he needs to first be able to find the beer in the fridge. So can I leave the fridge open and have him retrieve, assuming he already has a retrieve, find that one thing and make nothing else in the fridge. So it's easy for him to say, the only thing in the fridge is that beer. That's what I'm looking for.

Erik Weihenmayer: So you might clear everything out, just not the beer.

Laura: Everything out.

Erik Weihenmayer: That's the only thing you can choose.

Laura: I want him to be successful. Yeah. And then I'll say, okay, Now that you've retrieved that beer from me, let's teach you-

Jeff: It sounds laboring. So it's a little labor intensive.

Laura: Oh God.

Jeff: Emptying out the fridge just to want beer in there? But it's worth it in the end?

Laura: I have a dog specific fridge, obviously that I train with.

Jeff: Oh, dedicated doggy fridge.

Laura: Yeah.

Erik Weihenmayer: But your point is just right though. I noticed this in the training process, just my own little training process with my five dogs. You really have to break it down. You can't assume anything and then you have to go out of your way to create that kind of success that you're talking.

Jeff: No stuff skipping.

Laura: Yeah. And that's when people get into trouble with training, they lump things together. They're like, "Oh, I'm going to do this and this." And the dog's like, "Well I haven't learned this first skill fully yet." So yeah, you have to break things down. And it's not a quick process. We live in a culture that wants instant gratification. I taught my dog to sit pretty because he didn't have the muscles for it. It took me two years to build the muscle he needed to do that cute beg behavior that you see with dogs. And that's a long process. A lot of people don't want to commit to that and that's fine. But that's the type of skills and that's why going back to service dog training, it takes one to two years to fully train a service dog.

Laura: If you're talking about starting a puppy at eight weeks because you have to break down these skills into little pieces and then build on them. And you have different dogs and different personalities. I have two different dogs and incredibly different personalities as far as training goes. And you have to adjust to the individual that's in front of you.

Jeff: So can we back up a little bit and talk about you?

Laura: I guess.

Jeff: I've always been interested in animal behavior myself. I've always been fascinated by it. Even as a kid I just remember watching flocks of birds and just watching wild animals and how they interacted with each other when there was a threat, when there was love, when there was anything like food, the basic necessities. So was that you as a kid? And if so then how did you then, where was the, I guess the aim, the finality of saying, "Okay, this is what I'm fascinated with and this is where I'm going." And do you have some stories of your youth where you realized that your life needed to be directed around animal, and animal behaviors?

Laura: So what's really interesting about this whole thing about me being a dog trainer is I didn't own a dog until I was hired at Fidelco to be a dog trainer.

Jeff: Even as a kid?

Laura: Even as a kid, we never owned a dog.

Jeff: You never had one.

Laura: We had cats.

Jeff: Oh, that's so wild.

Laura: Yeah. But I did live in a household where my mom was really interested in the environment and my family very much fostered being outdoors, camping, going to different, when you went to zoos, we went to all different places. We always took a family trip to some type of nature type thing. So it was always-

Jeff: Where was this? Where did you go?

Laura: I grew up in Connecticut. Yeah. So we-

Erik Weihenmayer: And that's where Fidelco's located?

Laura: Is there in Bloomfield, Connecticut. Yup. So I always had been fascinated with the natural world. We weren't able to own a dog because of we had cats, so I would even go as far as practice training with the cats and what really kind of changed the trajectory, I'd done horses. I'd been always been fascinated with horses. And when I was in college, I was getting my management degree at Yukon and I realized three years in and I was supposed to graduate early by a semester. So I had half a year left and I realized, "Oh no, I don't actually want to work in the corporate world. This is a problem for me." So what I realized, I went down to Florida and I did this internship where I was working with exotic, so hoofstock. So I was working with rhinos and giraffes and cheetahs and I was very much-

Erik Weihenmayer: This is a place I visit, White Oak.

Laura: Yeah. White Oak.

Erik Weihenmayer: It's incredible, like a nature preserve. Right? And they do a lot of biology.

Laura: Yeah. 8000 acres.

Jeff: It's a little bit of a jump though. From, "I'm not going to be in the business world to where I'm going to go work with rhinos."

Laura: Yeah. I actually turned down a business internship that I had gotten and I was like, "You know what? I need to take this opportunity. I am not passionate about corporate America, so I need-"

Jeff: But where was like, "Maybe it will be animals." Where was that [crosstalk 00:30:45]?

Laura: Oh yeah. I mean I just always had an affinity for animals and animal behavior and I was always just like an outdoor kid. A kid that wanted to be outside that was going to take your dog and play with it and train it to do stuff. But really in college is when I took the leap and was like, "Okay, I'm going to not go on this path." Because I'd been very academic up until then. I've been very much like, I need to be a straight A student. I needed to do like this, like very prescribed path in life. And I got this opportunity through a friend of a friend to go down to Florida and I was like, "You know what? Let's just do it." And I mostly was a glorified weed wacker and a poo picker-upper. But then I also got to do some really cool stuff with exotics.

Laura: And then I also learned about positive reinforcement there. So they were how do you get a cheetah to stick their tail out of the cage so that you can do a blood draw? Well, you don't do it by forcing the cheetah to do it. You don't force a cheetah to do anything.

Jeff: You don't do anything by forcing a cheetah.

Laura: And that's really where the basis of my understanding of how to train came from is seeing these animals that you do not force to do anything willingly do these cooperative care-

Jeff: So you don't that, cheetah will stick it's throat out of the cage so you can stick a needle in it?

Laura: And you can do a blood draw, you can put you can put a rhino and teach them to put their foot up on a pedestal so you can file their pads or their feet. So it opened me up to all of this amazing way of training animals that wasn't reliant on dominance or my physical ability to control that thing. Right? You're creating a relationship where the animal wants to do the thing,

Erik Weihenmayer: But then you have to like jump on a zebras back or something?

Laura: No, I did not do that.

Erik Weihenmayer: You didn't do that?

Laura: At the time-

Erik Weihenmayer: Somebody did that, right?

Laura: Yeah. At the time there were a little wild west down there for a giraffe. Some of the things that they did.

Jeff: But then there's obviously some advanced training, right? That happens with you. You're like, "Okay, this is my path and I'm going to go for it." How does that work out?

Laura: So I ended up, I took that internship. It kind of turned where I was going. And instead what I decided to do is go get my MPA, my master's in public administration. So what I realized is I had this, I was almost finished with this business degree and I didn't want to do that. So I was like, all right, where can I fit animals into my life? Right? Because I'm not going back to get a biology degree. It wasn't going to happen. I don't actually have a strong science brain. So I was like, all right, every place that works with animals is a nonprofit. So why don't I go to school to get my MPA to do nonprofit management? And then I can be involved in animals in a way that I am able to be involved with animals. So I went and got, I was working on my degree and I started volunteering. One of my friends, Dodi, she got a puppy from Fidelco. And what we haven't mentioned is probably important, is that my dad's blind.

Jeff: Oh yeah. That's an important piece of information.

Laura: Little piece of information.

Erik Weihenmayer: Little piece of info that might into the equation.

Laura: Yeah. My dad has RP, retinitis pigmentosa, which is a slow blinding disease. So I grew up in a household with one driver. I grew up in a household where blindness was a thing, but it wasn't really a thing because that's how I grew up. I didn't understand that there was other families that didn't have a blind father. It was just wasn't in my purview. So I'd be like, "Oh, other people have two cars. Other people actually use glass cups and we use plastic cups, so they don't break." It was just normal for our family. So I had my friend who was raising this Fidelco puppy, I was like, "Oh, why don't I go and volunteer there. I'm looking for a volunteer opportunity." So I spent every Saturday there for six to eight hours working with the puppies and I started as a dog walker and then they asked me to work with the puppies and I'd go to class and I got just really excited about it and I saw what these dogs were doing for people. And at the time my dad did not have a guide dog.

Jeff: And never had.

Laura: And never had.

Jeff: Because you'd never had a dog in your house.

Laura: I never had a dog and he'd never had a guide dog.

Jeff: Well, is it because he didn't have availability access to it?

Laura: Well, he wasn't ready. When you're talking about a slow blinding disease, the point at which you announce to the world that you're blind is complicated. So at the time he wasn't really using a cane until I was probably 20. So it was still the kind of thing where there's so much discrimination around blindness that he was trying to hide it with good reason. Because there were jobs he didn't get because he was blind. And so that was like, it just had a big influence, obviously on what I do now. And I was finishing up my master's and Fidelco said, "Hey, we have a position. Do you want to work for us?" And that was a really, it was a tough point in my life because I had to decide do I want to make money or do I want to do this thing that I really enjoy doing? Which is a lot of choices that you have in life.

Laura: And I obviously picked Fidelco and I'm so grateful that I did and it was the best decision I've ever made. But once you get hired as a guide dog instructor, you're actually an apprentice and you're an apprentice for three years. So I got all of my training during that three years and at the time that's when I had moved out of my house. I bought my own house in this great section of Hartford so that I could have a dog. So that was the first time I was like, "All right, I'm finally getting my dog." So I bought this house, I got the dog. And because he had so many issues, I went to training classes.

Jeff: This is Jake?

Laura: Jake, my dog. Yeah. My old man. And-

Jeff: Is he still around?

Laura: Yeah, he's 10 plus years old and he's the best dog ever. And I took him to training classes, I took him to training classes two or three times a week. I spent a fortune learning how to do the skill, this skill and watching YouTube videos and which was important for me now that with what I do and then also my apprenticeship. So I just did this crash course in animal behavior and dog behavior. And then ironically that's when my parents got their first guide dog. So they did get a dog right when I left, so.

Erik Weihenmayer: Didn't you train your dad's dog?

Laura: Yeah. Yeah. So my first string of dogs, I had I think six, but one of them got dropped. I had five dogs. And I had this dog named Isaac and I was like, "This is a nice dog." He's got this work hard play hard mentality. So when he was working, he was working and then when you took the harness off he was silly and fun and a lot of fun. And my tag growing up was always like you got to work hard, play hard, work hard, play hard. So I was like, "Oh this dog has a nice personality." No, I did not make the decision on whether or not my dad got that dog that was a community that's Fidelco puts together a group and they make the decisions communally. But he ended up going to my dad and that was, yeah, his first guide dog.

Erik Weihenmayer: They do try to fit them to your personality.

Laura: Oh absolutely.

Jeff: So how did they know Erik or your dad? Did he come in and do an interview?

Laura: They do an interview.

Jeff: They get a sense of what the requirements are, what the personality is and then they match.

Laura: Yeah. So I would come out, if you were a new client, I would go out, I would do an interview, I'd look at your household, I'd look at what you do in life. I'd do roots with you. So go see where you're actually walking to. And then we match the dog based on those things and pace and that kind of thing.

Erik Weihenmayer: And by the way, Fidelco is one of the only schools or if not the only school that comes to you as a blind person and trains you in the area that you're going to actually be using the dog. And then the environments that you're going to be using the dog instead of going there and working on their campus.

Laura: Yeah. And a lot of more of the schools are doing some form of that, especially if you've already had one dog. But yes, we do in community placement exclusively. So as a placement specialist, I come to you and I live in your community for two to three weeks depending on if it's your first dog or your successor. And I do everything with you just like with Erik, I'm there in the morning when you're having breakfast. I'm there working with the dog.

Jeff: Oh, that's very intimate. Yes.

Laura: Yeah. It can be really intimate and it's-

Erik Weihenmayer: You went to my physical therapy appointments.

Laura: I went to your physical therapy.

Erik Weihenmayer: You went to Vegas.

Laura: Yeah. So and I do everything that you would do in your normal life. I'm there with your kids. I'm working with the dog and making sure they're calm around children.

Erik Weihenmayer: Other pets in the house.

Laura: Other pets in the house. Like Erik has two other pets in the house working on that. And when I first brought her to you and we did that parallel walking together to make sure that everybody would be copacetic when we got in the house.

Erik Weihenmayer: Yeah. You were teaching the dog how to walk beside me and not pull, walk right by my side. And when she did it, she got a nice little piece of kibble.

Laura: Kibble or whatever we had. Yeah.

Jeff: I mean, obviously I know every person you call them clients?

Laura: Yeah. Clients, users.

Jeff: It's very unique. This guy right here has got probably one of the more unique lifestyles-

Laura: Agreed.

Jeff: ... Of anybody that comes through. I mean, the demands and requirements for his dog are probably second to none, I would imagine. As far as he doesn't necessarily take her internationally, but for trips, yes. But not for expeditions, but I mean that dog has a lot on her plate with this guy. Right. So, I mean, is that true or is this like Erik is just like [crosstalk 00:39:47] dude?

Laura: I mean, we have a lot of very-

Jeff: Falls in the middle of the spectrum.

Laura: When you're talking about German Shepherds, you're talking about a lot of people who are very motivated to be out in the world and are very active. So the type of user that gets a German Shepherd is a very active person typically. So we have judges, we have Olympic athletes, we have all different types of people that use our dogs. But yes, Erik's schedule is one of the more demanding, I will say.

Jeff: It's tapering because he's getting old.

Erik Weihenmayer: I know. Yeah.

Laura: So old.

Erik Weihenmayer: Yeah. I'm going to train the dog to pick up all the hair that falls off my head to the ground. Well, back to your dad. So that's pretty interesting relationship to train your dad's dog.

Laura: You mean, terrifying, right?

Erik Weihenmayer: And terrifying. But then you didn't get to actually work with him. Did you?

Laura: I didn't place the dog because that would've been way too hard.

Erik Weihenmayer: Way too close.

Laura: And I was young, I was 22, 23. That was in my first string of dogs. I've been walking dogs for six months, so I'm giving my dad this dog that hopefully is good, but I'd never done one before.

Erik Weihenmayer: Yeah. The pressure is on, right?

Laura: And thank God the dog turned out amazing. Isaac was an incredible guide and my dad has a very demanding schedule. And kept up for many years. So he was a really good dog.

Erik Weihenmayer: Did you give your dad some advice and stuff?

Laura: Yeah, try and give my dad's on my advice.

Erik Weihenmayer: What would you tell him?

Laura: Wear a head collar. Use a head collar on the dog and then so he's on-

Erik Weihenmayer: Head collar is to control the dog's head better than a choke collar or a regular collar.

Laura: Yeah. Right. Because you just get more feedback, you get more information and you have a little bit more control. So I've been telling him that for, I don't know, eight years now. And he got his new dog and he's like, "Oh my God, using a head collar is amazing. This works great." And I'm like, "I've only been telling you that for eight years." But yeah, no, I would always help them out if there is an issue with the training, but also Fidelco provides followup care. So when I wasn't working at Fidelco, they'd still have trainers come out if he had a problem.

Erik Weihenmayer: Yeah. But he got a little extra TLC probably.

Laura: Definitely. Or a little bit of like-

Erik Weihenmayer: Extra harshness.

Laura: Yeah. "Stop following me and telling me what to do." But yeah, no, it's interesting seeing, but also the benefit of having someone who uses a guide dog in your family is you get to see the incredible transformation of independence when you're talking about for him specifically going from a sometimes cane user to using a guide dog and all of the opportunities that that opened up in the confidence of being able to walk faster. And nothing to knock cane users at all. But for him it was the right choice for mobility. Yeah.

Erik Weihenmayer: So you've told me before that getting a guide dog is not like this panacea like sighted people see like, "Oh, he has a guide dog. The dog is just magically bringing him." "Oh, bring me to the nearest McDonald's." It doesn't work like that. It's a lot of work as we're talking about. But there must also be these incredible transformational stories that you've witnessed firsthand.

Laura: Yeah. Just the confidence that having a German Shepherd or a guide dog or our service dog even outside of the guide dog realm by your side to be there to be your eyes when you're talking about guide dogs or to alert you to a seizure. If you're talking about a different type of disability, it increases your independence because you're not relying on someone to get you somewhere when you're talking about guide dogs. Or if you're a really experienced cane user you're maybe not tripping over your cane if it hits a crack. Or you're being able to walk a little bit faster because the dogs instead of the difference between using a cane from someone who's sighted and just watching not from an experience user obviously is that you're not hitting into the thing. Your guide dog is seeing that obstacle 20 yards ahead, slightly veering you to the right, bringing you around it and bringing it back. Now, that also means you have less tactile information, which some people hate. Some people hate you [crosstalk 00:43:45].

Erik Weihenmayer: You have to be almost more aware of the subtleties that the dog is doing.

Laura: Right, because you're not knocking into stuff to find out what's in front of you. Right. You're just seamlessly going around it.

Erik Weihenmayer: When I was in college, I went off to college with my new dog and I was at a party and I just kind of felt sick, very cloistery feeling like kegs and steamy, gross crowded party. And-

Laura: I've never been to one of those, but talk about, yeah.

Erik Weihenmayer: No, you've never done that. I just wanted to go back and I was all the way across campus. I'd come with a bunch of other kids and and I walked out and I didn't know exactly how to get back to my dorm, but my trainer had been up there and had done a lot of work like find home. And so this was like a weekend school and I didn't know exactly which way to go, but the dog, I just said, I got to trust the dog. And the dog walked me through parking lots and upstairs and rights and left. And I was like, "I think I'm going right." But it's like midnight and up pathways and another set of stairs, walk me right to my dorm.

Jeff: That's awesome.

Erik Weihenmayer: I was almost like crying like, Thank you."

Laura: Yeah. And a cane can't do that. Right.

Erik Weihenmayer: A cane could not do that.

Laura: But also a cane doesn't get sick and poop on your rug by accident. So there's two different ways to travel that way. And a lot of people like guide dogs. My dad has similar story. He was down at Mohegan Sun, which is a casino and he was doing a talk and he had been there the year before and the dog, he's asked him to find the room. The dog found the room from a year before that he had stayed at, which is insane. I mean to be able to have that kind of memory for where you're going, so that's the really nice thing about a dog or you're going to your favorite coffee shop and the dog can indicate where that coffee shop is, right? Yeah. But they're not going to fix it if you don't know where you're going. If you don't know a new place and you're like, "Find me a coffee shop." The dog is going to be like, "You got to tell me where to go, buddy. I don't speak English that good, but."

Erik Weihenmayer: And it's all contextual too, right? Like if you're walking by a door and you say, "Find inside." The dog, "Oh, okay. There's something over there. I'll walk over that way." "Or find the elevator." If he sees the elevator and he's not conceptually like envisioning an elevator, he's just, if it's in front of him, he's like, "Yeah, yeah, that makes sense. I've been to the one of those places before."

Laura: Exactly.

Jeff: Yeah, I've watched your style Erik, change.

Erik Weihenmayer: Oh good. Yes.

Jeff: What?

Erik Weihenmayer: My style improve and become more sophisticated. You're saying, that's what you're trying to say?

Jeff: Sophisticated. Yeah, just mature. Okay. So I mean I've known him for going on 30 years, right. So I've seen all these dogs and I've seen how he interacts with these dogs and we all soften with age. Clearly he has. But back to that very first thing we were talking about, about changing the dynamic between the negative reinforcement to the positive and realizing that that animal really does want the positive. But for you, Erik, I'm still in my mind back on the parallels between conditioning a dog and raising a kid and how if I could go back and do a few things different with my 14 year old back when he was six or seven like maybe it would have played out a little differently right now. But animal behavior in general I think is the same. I know I'm looping back again, but I've watched you change as a parent and as a blind person that has had multiple dogs and how you interact with those dogs, each of them having a different personality. And then you and your personality evolving over time and how you treat the dog and everybody.

Erik Weihenmayer: Because as I said, when my dogs had made mistakes, it's not the dog's fault, it's my fault. I have to change my approach. It's really taught me a lot about this no barriers sort of life and process. Because and looping back again, Laura, like with my kids, I sat down, we were in this kind of big family argument the other week and I sat down, I said, "We are a family. We are going to operate and conduct each other and interact on the basis of love and empathy and light." That's got to be the top first thing. And I honestly, I learned that from a bit from guide dog training. Everyone, every dog, they kind of want to be in that light and that glow, right? Things can't be motivated by darkness or negativity.

Jeff: Start with love. Let that be the first thing and lead a tip of the spear and then everything sort of fans out from that, right. Is that how you approach your training too?

Laura: Yeah. I just think about how I would want to be treated. Is this how I would want to be as a learner? Do I want to be shown the way or do I want to have to be forced into the way of doing something? I want to be shown so that I can build my confidence just like every animal does. They want to build their confidence and they want to feel good in the situation. And that's what I tried to do with training.

Erik Weihenmayer: And people have struggles bouncing back from parents who call them an idiot and try to teach them that like, "You don't know how to throw a ball." And they're stilted because of the fact that they weren't shown the process in a loving way.

Laura: And breaking it down so that it can be understood. And we're talking about communicating across the species. And when we do that, we have to be better. We have to be our best selves to be able to do that because we can't get short with them. We can't be impatient when you're trying to communicate with a species that doesn't speak your language.

Jeff: Because of the unconditionality. Right. I mean, I know there are conditions. I find that also pretty fascinating. We were talking before we came on the air that a dog is truly loving you unconditionally. "I love you no matter what mood you're in, even though you might treat me differently, I still love you the same. I love you whether you're giving me a treat, I love you, whether whatever you're doing, I love you." And I think that's such a good lesson. When I'm looking at my dog's eyes, "I'm like, I want to be more like you." And I think that I've seen like a bumper sticker, be like your dog.

Laura: Yeah. It's like be the person your dog thinks you are.

Jeff: That's right.

Erik Weihenmayer: Zena is a bit obsessed by our cat. And we're teaching her how to stay out of the room that the cat hangs out in. So I yelled at her at this point, I was like, "Get out of this room." And then a second later I walked outside and she runs over to me wagging tail and licks me and I'm like, "Oh, okay."

Jeff: Interesting. So my dog is only four years old and he has this interesting thing that I've never seen any other dog do. When I get mad at him or yell, "Get over." Instead of like sitting there and being like, "Dang." He runs to me when he's being reprimanded. Even if he knows I'm really, really mad at him.

Laura: You got lucky.

Jeff: He may get a swat on the butt. He knows-

Erik Weihenmayer: Because we've been working on that. We've worked on that. Right? One of the things I think is fascinating you've taught me is if you want a dog to come to you, you always have to make it positive. It can't be a punishment. Like, "You come here and I'm going to hit you." So [crosstalk 00:51:06].

Laura: Then why would I want to do that?

Erik Weihenmayer: I'm always positive like so there's a dog will always come to me. And then you taught me how to put my fist out and the dog-

Laura: And do a hand touch.

Erik Weihenmayer: And say, "Touch." And then the dog touches my fist every time. And then I have to make sure I keep it positive because she did the right thing.

Jeff: He outsmarted me because now when he comes to me, I'm really mad at me. He comes at me, he sits and he looks up at me. I'm not going to do anything negative to him. I just point at him now and I'm like, "That was not good." And I'm smiling. So he played me. He knows now, like if I do something bad, he's like, I'm going to run right over and he's going to lay down and I'm like, "I can't be mad at you. Dang."

Laura: And then you get him scritchies?

Jeff: And then I rub his face, I'm like, "Don't do it again." Yes so I just [crosstalk 00:51:51].

Erik Weihenmayer: You can BS on that, Laura?

Laura: Yeah. A little bit.

Jeff: Whatever it works. [inaudible 00:51:57]. He totally-

Laura: I can feel Laura's face, she's like the BS, that's BS face.

Jeff: Whatever it works. And I see it. And I'm fascinated by it. Like, "Good job dude. You got me."

Laura: Animal behavior is incredibly fascinating.

Jeff: It is fascinating.

Laura: And there's always more to learn.

Jeff: Well thank you Laura. And so how do people learn more about Fidelco and about DoggyU and all the fascinating stuff you're doing?

Laura: Yeah, so Fidelco is fidelco.org F-I-D-E-L-C-O.org and you'll find the German shepherds there. And that's the company I work guide dogs for. And then if you're looking for free training videos on how to train your dog, you can go to youtube.com/doggyu. And that's D-O-G-G-Y-U. I put out new videos a couple of times a month with all step-by-step training or free so you can learn how to train your dog.

Jeff: And that's anybody that doesn't have to be a no service dogs-

Laura: Yeah. So I have service dog stuff. I have pet dog stuff. And then I also have dog travel stuff because I love to travel.

Jeff: Are you going to are you going to somehow do one for me where you teach your dog how to pick up its own poop? I would like that like 10 times.

Erik Weihenmayer: You like the beer thing too, wouldn't you?

Jeff: Beer thing would be good.

Laura: But the poop thing would be better.

Jeff: Poop thing would be better. Can I ask you one more real quick question because I think this interesting. We travel a lot down to Mexico. I don't like putting my dog underneath the plane. So I also I'm very much opposed to people who abuse-

Erik Weihenmayer: Are you going to put a fake dog harness guide [crosstalk 00:53:20]?

Jeff: People who abuse emotional support animals? I don't like that at all. But I know there's places you can. Anybody can go and pay 100 bucks and you get your little certificate.

Laura: Yeah and it's BS.

Jeff: It's BS, right? So you call it what it is and tell us how you feel. Because I want more people to realize that that's BS. I just can't take my dog down there or I've got to pay a bunch of money. What's the solution?

Laura: Or you drive.

Jeff: Or do you drive

Laura: I do. I drive all over the country because I want to bring my dogs with me. Yeah, so you've got a lot of people that are abusing the system for sure. What I find that is a perspective I don't think that gets talked about a lot is that there are a lot of people who have disabilities and they're saying their dog is a service dog and it's not properly trained, but it's not that they don't have a disability, it's that they don't have the resources to be able to train their dog or their dog isn't the appropriate dog for the work. So that happens quite a bit. And then you also have the people abusing the system and we'll see where that goes as far as airlines go or the airline policies.

Laura: But it's a risk for everyone and it's a risk for legitimate service dog users to have these dogs that are totally untrained, that are being put in a situation, which is the hardest situation for a dog to be in, which is in the tin can, in the air, where they can't... And that's why you get these dogs that are biting and whining and peeing and all of that stuff. And it really de-legitimizes legitimate service dog users.

Jeff: Very good. Well said. That's what I was hoping you'd say. All right.

Erik Weihenmayer: Cool.

Laura: Glad I could deliver.

Erik Weihenmayer: Thanks Laura.

Jeff: Yeah.

Erik Weihenmayer: Thanks for being with us.

Jeff: Fantastic.

Erik Weihenmayer: Well, I'll just jump right in.

Jeff: Go for it.

Erik Weihenmayer: Because I mean, I just find this fascinating. Part of this-

Jeff: [crosstalk 00:54:46].

Erik Weihenmayer: Yeah. Maybe I'm a bit of a bit biased.

Jeff: Well, but it's awesome. Yeah.

Erik Weihenmayer: But the part of this no barriers life that we talk about a lot with our participants is this idea of being a pioneer, of being an engineer and being in charge of your own process. And to me, Laura is talking about obviously behavior, but it's dog behavior. Its animal behavior, but it's not that far from human behavior. And people when they're trying to change patterns, when they're trying to learn new things, when they're trying to fix things like dynamics that have gone wrong in their family, they have to change the pattern. They have to break the process down and like Laura teaching her dog to get a beer, you don't just say, "I'm going to go get a beer." You got to break it down to these smaller steps and practice and practice. And it's not easy or fast, right? We're in this fast culture and if you want to change things, if you want to learn new things, break it down and really think through the process, understand your landscape, understand the environment, understand the people around you, and you can affect things in this profound way.

Jeff: Creating little side bumpers that these are your requirements, this is what our end objective is and let's take multiple steps to get there with positive affirmation.

Erik Weihenmayer: Yeah.

Jeff: Right? Yeah. I mean I think we are all fascinated by animal behavior. Why? Because we're animals. And this whole story that we've been sharing with Laura is a direct parallel to parenting, to teamwork, to working in a professional environment-

Erik Weihenmayer: To trust.

Jeff: Yeah, trust, communication. And it's affirmations. It's how we want our trajectory to be reinforced. And I just thought that was interesting. I can't teach my kid by using a double negative. I need to elevate him, make him accountable, but elevate him when he does do positive things. And that's what you're doing with your dogs. It's what we do with our children and hopefully with the people that we interface with every day. So I mean, I kind of had an inkling when I saw Laura was coming on with us. I was like, "Okay, animal behavior, this is going to be a direct correlation, I think to our community and how we work with them." But sure enough, it was very, very clear to that, right? Really good stuff.

Erik Weihenmayer: Awesome. I learned a lot. Thank you everyone and no barriers.

Jeff: See you next time.

Speaker 4: Thanks to all of you for listening to our podcast. We know that you have a lot of choices about how you can spend your time, and so we appreciate you spending it with us. If you enjoy this podcast, we encourage you to subscribe to it, share it, and give us a review. Show notes can be found at nobarrierspodcast.com. Special thanks to the Dan Ryan band for our intro song, which is called Guidance. The production team behind this podcast includes producers Didrik Johnck and Pauline Schafer. Sound design, editing and mixing by Tyler Cottman. Graphics by Sam Davis and marketing support by Laura Baldwin and Jamie Donnelly. Thanks to all you amazing people for the great work you do.

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