The Bitey End of the Dog

Victoria Cussen Ph.D, CAAB

August 19, 2022 Michael Shikashio CDBC Season 3 Episode 20
The Bitey End of the Dog
Victoria Cussen Ph.D, CAAB
Show Notes Transcript

One of the most atrocious activities that I can think of that humans have asked dogs to take part in is --- illegal dog fighting. My special guest for this episode is Dr. Victoria Cussen who is the Senior Director of Applied Behavior Research for the Behavioral Sciences Team at the ASPCA. Victoria has incredible insight into the behavior and welfare of fight bust dogs, and this episode is packed with myth busting and a unique look at the behavior, and often resiliency of dogs where the past humans in their lives have failed them.

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About Victoria:
Senior Director, Applied Behavior Research, Behavioral Sciences Team, ASPCA

Dr. Victoria Cussen is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and serves as the Senior Director of Applied Behavior Research for the ASPCA’s Behavioral Sciences Team (BST). She earned her Ph.D. at the University of California, Davis where she studied individual differences in resiliency to stress in captive animals. She earned her Master’s in Applied Animal Behaviour and Animal Welfare from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, where she completed her thesis on environmental enrichment for pet dogs. 

The utility of model dogs for assessing conspecific aggression in fighting dogs study:

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One of the most atrocious activities that I can think of that humans have asked dogs to take part in is illegal dogfighting. My special guest for this episode is Dr. Victoria cussin, who is the Senior Director of Applied Behavior Research for the behavioral sciences team at the ASPCA. Victoria has incredible insight into the behavior and welfare of fight bus dogs. And this episode is packed with myth busting, and a unique look at the behavior and often resiliency of dogs where the past humans and their lives have failed them. And if you are interested in hearing more about applicable tangible and immediate steps you can use with your own dog, or in your cases, I just launched a subscription series called Help for dogs with aggression, which is an additional format to this podcast where I walk you through a variety of aggression issues, and how to solve them. You'll find a little subscribe button on Apple podcast where the by the end of the dog show is listed. Your support of the show is very much appreciated. Everyone welcome back to the bitey end of the dog this week, I've got Dr. Victoria cousin, who is a certified applied animal behaviorist and serves as the Senior Director of Applied Behavior Research for the ASPCA behavioral sciences team. She earned her PhD at the University of California Davis, where she studied individual differences in resiliency to stress in captive animals. She earned her master's in applied animal behavior and animal welfare from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, where she completed her thesis on environmental enrichment for pet dogs. I'm really excited to jump into this episode, because we're going to be talking about a number of topics including pitbulls and fight bus and cruelty cases and all this wonderful work that Victoria is doing for the ASPCA. So, welcome to the show. Thank you. I'm very excited to have this conversation with you. Yeah, I'm excited to because I know that we're going to be talking about some potentially controversial topics, and certainly topics that can be bring out heated discussions, especially in the dog training world and dog training community. So tell me about your work with ASPCA. First, I think that'll give us a little better understanding of what you're seeing and what you're getting into. Sure. So it's really hard to summarize this simply because the team that I'm on the behavioral sciences team wears kind of a few different hats. So a large part of our team provides internal behavior liaison services to our various facilities, around different parts of the country have for those behavior teams, right to just assist them with implementing and growing their behavior programs. And then there is the research component of the behavioral sciences team, which I head up with a small mighty team of two. And we engage in internally facing research to come up with ways to develop data driven behavior interventions for animals in our care. And then we also collaborate with external, other shelters. So partners to validate those maybe same behavior interventions or different behavioral interventions working with at risk populations, mostly of dogs, um, but we do have cat work that we support as well. And trying to basically minimize the euthanasia of adoptable animals coming out of shelters. And then we also have the cruelty facing part of our work, which I think you and I will talk a lot more about today. And there we support work that our national field response team engages in. So both disaster but also cruelty cases and a wide variety, so hoarding puppy mill cases, but also dogfighting cases. And so the ASPCA has teams that investigate and gather evidence to support law enforcement in their raids and busts of some of these really horrible conditions that animals are experiencing. And then a whole wide variety of teams of which the behavioral sciences team is part removes animals from these situations, provides veterinary exams, forensic veterinary exams to document physical cruelty, in certain cases, provides temporary shelter while these cases are pending. Because unfortunately, you know, these animals are considered evidence then in cruelty cases and and so you have this situation where you might have long term holds of animals that you wouldn't ideally want to have but for legal reasons, you have to supporting them physically and psychologically while they are being held with legal cases when their way through the system. And as part of that work So, the behavioral sciences team, I'll just abbreviate that BST for short going forward. So we help with the removals provide humane handling support during that process. And then we also do behavior, evaluations of the dogs that are coming in to assess their fear, aggression, things of that nature, and provide that to prosecutors to also support their their cases. So that's kind of it in a nutshell. Yeah. Quite a bit of work. And that's, you know, I want to give a shout out to the SPCA, what an amazing work you all are doing. I know you work with Dr. Pam Reed. Shout out to Pam as well. And it just it's incredible. Because what I love about ASPCA is and the work you're doing is that you are in the field. So you have, you know, again, I always give the story. Some of the best handlers I've met on the planet come from the SPCA. So you're right in the field doing the work. But you're also backed up by the rigors of science, and the background that you have and all the research you're doing. So it's sort of like this best of both worlds in terms of helping the animals and so thank you for all of the work you're doing with your team and shout out to the SPCA as well. And so let's jump right into the conversation here. As far as you know, some of the work in the fields you're doing because I know one of the topics that I get asked a lot about is pitbulls and since we have listeners from around the world. Let's first define what a pitbull is. And you get that question what is your elevator pitch for this is a pitbull. I would say that a pitbull is a category. It's a label that gets applied to a variety of bullied type breeds. So a pitbull itself is not a breed. But you have the American pitbull terrier, which is a breed the American Staffordshire Terrier. And of course, those breeds are derived from other breeds that were developed in England that were used way back in the day in the 1800s. As butcher dogs, they were used to hold bowls. And then over time, they just started pitting the dogs against each other and fighting them. So yeah, you will hear a lot people saying a pitbull is not a breed. And that is true. But it's a label that is used in certainly for the for the dog fighters that use it in general, they use several different breeds. But in general, the American pitbull terrier is a favorite of the dog fighters. And you know, the colloquial term that's applied to the dogs is Pitbull. And certainly with those dogs, there are lineages that are associated with them and underground registries and that we can talk about if you want, but they're also suspect, right? So. So and I'm coming at it from a very from the lens of working on cruelty cases a lot. So if I get to dogfighting centric, feel free to redirect me because of course, the the label the overarching umbrella term of PIPA holds true regardless of, you know, where the dogs are coming from. They know I think there's gonna be no shortage of questions about this topic. So there's definitely no need to redirect at this point. But I think you know, so now that we've defined that term for the sake of our conversation, you kind of were talking about, you know, working lines, or maybe, you know, in the, in the fighting lines, can you talk more about that? So we're talking about genetics, and you know, what the fighters the dog fighters are selecting for? So in that regard? You know, you've heard the saying, it's all on how you raise them. So let's dispel that myth. First. Talk more about genetics and your experience there. Yeah. And so I think that, we think in very binary terms, and it's, it's really trite, right to talk about and I don't even want to say it, because every time I hear it, it's like nails on a chalkboard for me. nature versus nurture, right. And we all know that it's, that's a false dichotomy. Its nature and nurture. And so we, I think, I think of it as a pendulum. I think in the past folks talked almost solely about genes in genetics, and you know, deterministic terms and a dog is X, Y, or Z genetics, and so they're going to be X, Y or Z, behavioral phenotype as well as physical phenotype. And then the pendulum kind of swung the other way, in terms of animals are blank slates and we can provide a particular environment we can provide particular inputs and learning experiences, and we can and sort of mold animals to be anything we want them to be. And we sort of forgot about the genetic part, right. And I think that, certainly my perspective, and I think the perspective of most people that work in the area is that we have both. So you have a genetic background, the way I describe it to people, when I'm talking to like private clients, for example, is like, if you think of, and I'll preface this with saying, I'm really bad with metaphors, so forgive me, it's probably going to be a terrible for but if you think about it, as a car, right, and the genetics are sort of the speedometer, and I didn't invent this, I'm sure somebody else invented this analogy. But you're sort of working within the confines, and you're never you can shift the sort of average speed or the needle, right, when you're talking about the sensitization and counter conditioning and learning, you know, associative learning experiences. But you're not going to turn a Pinto into a Lamborghini, and vice versa, like you have the sort of mechanics that are underpinning that you're working with. And that's the way I think of the sort of genetic background of the dog that you're working with. And then within that you are aiming. When you're doing b mod, you're aiming to change things, but when you're raising an animal, you're just aiming to, like get them to a particular place. Does that make sense? Is that a terrible metaphor? Sorry, you were like, right in my brain right there, because I was thinking this would be a good place for a car analogy. You know, if you're talking about things like phenotype and like, you know, so you get the these these dogs, they they're bred, and then you see certain appearance, of course, but then we're looking at the behavior aspect that they're often trying to select for. And it's not just again, you might have that Pinto you were just talking about, but there's so many other variables that can impact the performance of that car. Right. And so, on top of the genetics, we have to talk about the experiences as well, because I know we've we've all met pitbulls that you know, they're the lemons, right? So if we're going to the car analogy, they don't work out like they're supposed to, or so maybe you go out and you're like, you're building these Lamborghinis. But then you get one that can go 20 miles an hour, let's say that's a lemon, it's not performing like we're trying to build, or like, what, what they're selecting for? And so yeah, the car analogy totally makes sense for me. You know, I kind of want to talk more about that to the other influences, right? When we're talking about behavior. So we've got the genetics, what we might be selecting for, but what other influences to typically see, in those kinds of cases, that's going to impact behavior. Well, I mean, it's everything right, so you have the environmental conditions, so that the conditions that are housed in and, you know, this does go back to the the raising component, you have the learned experiences, so the training that is given to these dogs, which is not some, the training that we think of when we talk about training, but you know, the sort of training fights and sort of teaching them that they need to be aggressive in order to survive, essentially, and that's a little bit anthropomorphic terms to put it in. But there are mock fights where they pit the dogs against either, you know, a handicapped dog that, you know, is physically prevented from injuring them to sort of build confidence and then exposing them to dogs, it will be superior fighters to them to instill sort of some defensiveness and need to aggress. So they're sort of the whole package. There's also, in addition to the things that they're actively doing, they're things that are just passively being withheld from them in terms of opportunities for socialization and experiences with the world. And we can definitely come back to this, because we see a high degree of fear in a lot of these dogs as well, in terms of just sort of normal environmental situations that they may not have been exposed to that do lend themselves to behavioral rehabilitation. So yeah, there's that whole, I think what we would all think of when we when we talk about, you know, how you raise them. But then to circle back to the genetics, even within that you have individuals that experience these really limiting and inadequate circumstances and are resilient, right, and so they do come through it without large behavioral deficits, which again, goes back to individual differences and is probably related to the genetic makeup of that particular dog. I think, certainly the way behavioral genetics is portrayed in the popular press, it's, you know, we found The an aggression gene or we found a fat gene or we, you know, like we talk folks like easy answers. And they also like clickbait headlines. And so we talk about things in very simplistic terms. And I am not a geneticist, so I'm not going to pretend that I am. But I think if you asked 10, behavioral geneticists, they would all say that it's very complicated, you're dealing with what they call, many genes have small effects. So it's not like there's a specific gene that you're selecting on, which tends to mean you have more variability in the behavioral phenotype of the offspring from any given pairing, because it is more complicated in terms of how these things are transmitted. intergenerationally. So that's, that's one component. And then you, you mentioned working lines, right. And that's how I kind of conceptualize the fight bred pitbulls as being essentially a type of a working line. But for folks that are familiar with other breeds, the differences between working line and show line or field bred and you know, just your standard average companion, pet bred dog, there's, within a given breed, there's a wide variety of different lines or types, behavioral phenotypes that you can get through artificial selection, right. So through imposing specific traits that you want to maintain this sort of debate around pitbulls really ignores that fact, right? So just because 200 years ago, somebody bred for specific traits, and a particular breed does not mean that the dog you meet on the street today has had any selective pressure on it in that vein, for, you know, however, many generations are between then and now. And that has a massive impact on the behavior, right? So just like if you stopped selecting and for hurting ability and a collie line today, 200 years from now, you're probably not going to have a functional, you know, herding dog. Right? So that makes sense. And so it's, again, this kind of simplification of a nuanced discussion. Yeah, so kind of had me thinking about going back to this, you know, the lemons that don't work out, right. And we think about other other working tasks, you know, so I'd like to Bruiser, we're talking about German Shepherds. But in your experience, if you had an estimate of the number of dogs that actually don't do well in that particular arena, so they don't they don't actually do well as fighting dogs. Do you have any data on that? I think it varies, Mike, I think there are particular individuals that are quote unquote, good breeders for what they're breeding for. And they might have more sophisticated breeding programs. And they might have a much higher success rate. I know that one of our bloodsports investigators, Terry Mills, he has a quote that says, you know, you're lucky if you get one game dog in a litter. And that might be even for, quote, unquote, good breeding operations. And I think in just our anecdotal experience, so we've not me personally, as an organization have done hundreds of cases and have dealt with 1000s of dogs. And it might vary from a third of the population to half the population that are extremely aggressive to conspecifics, which, if you think about it, is really low, right in terms of your woman to win or ratio. But if you look at even very sophisticated and organized breeding programs, so like the military working dogs at Lackland, Air Force Base, I read, and this was just an interview, but it was with one of their military personnel who said that their washout rate is about 50%. Right. And so I think that's super illustrative that you really have to assess the individual dog in front of you because just knowing even that they're from a specific line, does not mean that they're going to have that suite of behavioral characteristics that you want, be that for good or for ill purposes. Right. So in other words, if we're going back to our car analogy, we could say that the production line needs a lot of work. Because we're not gonna get consistency. Right? Yeah, you're getting like a Lamborghini and then a Pinto. And then I don't want to insult any particular cars. I'm just throwing word salad out there. Subaru. Yeah, very, very inconsistent, but again, with some variation in terms of how good the breeders or the person was in their breeding program. Are you seeing now that you're you've been working these cases for a long time? Are you seeing a reduction in the number of fight cases are you seeing an increase are about the same? So it's so hard to get good numbers about, you know, like, absolute numbers about the situation? Because it is illicit, it's underground. So it's kind of hard to track. And it's very complicated, because while you know, prosecutors would love to prosecute every potential fighting case that they could, I'm sure, it's hard because you do have this one, the component of the animals being living evidence. And so it's a massive undertaking to care for, and how's the animals after they conduct a raid? Right? So then it's like, where are we going to keep these animals? How are we going to care for them, until the court decides if they're going to go back to the owner, or if they're going to be permanently confiscated. And so there's a lot of costs and complexity associated with that, that not all, you know, Prosecutor offices would necessarily be able to support which the A tries to help with, you know, as much as possible when we do participate in cases in terms of the housing and care for the animals. But prior to that, you have the investigation. And it is similar to any kind of undercover investigation, like a narcotics ring or something, it's very hard to infiltrate, you have to get people frequently undercover, to gather enough evidence to actually get warrants and execute a raid on the law enforcement side of things, which, so for all of those reasons, I think it's really challenging to know, what I can say is that dog fighting is illegal in all 50 states, even attending of dog fight is illegal in all 50 states. But the estimates are that there's, you know, 10s of 1000s of people that are actually associated with dogfighting at any time in the United States. And it covers a super wide demographic, and we can, you know, I imagine maybe we'll talk more about the sort of this the housing and we think of dogfighting as being this sort of extensive, you know, they're outdoors or on these chain spaces. And but we've had cases in Brooklyn, where you have a whole, many, many dogs stacked in terrible conditions and crates in a basement in a building in a city. So it really is occurring and probably more places than we like to think it is. Yeah, so still sounds like quite a widespread issue and problem. It's it's tragic in so many ways, because the question I had next is about the dogs that do pass the assessments. So they you the somebody deems them safe for adoption, do you find sometimes some of those dogs? So we put behavior assessments on dogs, and we often look at many different aspects of assessing for behavior, not just one assessment, or, you know, we add in a more robust way of determining what this particular dog might be like, whether it's in a foster home or with the people that are handling the dog. Do you have cases where it becomes an ethical concern or questions of saying, how do you really know? You know, if you have that question, pointed at you, what do you really know in terms of placement? Right, so maybe three months down the road, something happens and somebody comes back to say, well, you know, this dog attacked another dog or, you know, what do you do in those cases? Yeah, I mean, I think that we always have concerns or put a lot of sort of intention and thought into all of the placement decisions because we do have an ethical duty to the community to be placing animals that are safe to place. I think you touched on one of the factors that helps so as to be confident is the duration of time with which we see the animals, right. And so it's not just that initial assessment, it's observing them in a variety of situations in the shelter environment, in their kennel during medical handling. In playgroups for the dogs that are safe, you know, to put into play groups, that's a really important form of sort of mental stimulation and enrichment for them. So we see them interacting socially with other dogs. And all through that process observations are being made, they're being documented, any concerns are being flagged in our system, and being followed up on. So we also tend to not do a lot of direct placements. So we work with placement partners, standard brick and mortar shelters who are getting all of the information that we have about the animals, and then they would be also collecting their own information on the animals prior to placing them. And we do we do a follow up with the adoptive owners on a recurring basis. And so we do it, probably gonna get the time points wrong off the top of my head, but a few weeks post placement a month or six months, and then a year post placement. So we do try and do a sort of long term follow up on these animals. And, you know, like a lot of surveys, so the response rate on those is fairly low. And what does that mean? I hope it means that the owners are like, Oh, everything's great. And I don't have time to fill that out. Right. It's sort of like the restaurant reviews where you only hear from the people who are hated the lettuce, or whatever. But within the the surveys that we get back, I would say that we don't have reports of dogs that have done egregious things in the community. So out of hundreds and hundreds of surveys that we've sent back, owners are reporting that the dogs are not always worry free in terms of what dogs are, right. So we they have dogs that are somewhat leash reactive sometimes, and they have dogs that might bark, people coming onto the property, but we're not getting reports of serious injuries to humans or other dogs. Yeah, that was gonna, I was thinking as you're going through that, it must be a tremendous amount of pressure and a sense from both sides, if you get what I'm saying. So people that are saying, you know, save them all, you can totally adopt that every single dog and then others that might be saying you're not it's very risky if you're adopting all these dogs from a particular type of case. And so it sounds like you've come up with a fairly robust system of making sure you're crossing your T's and dotting your eyes. Yeah, it's definitely been in the middle, where I think it's an indication that you're doing things correctly when you're making everybody annoyed, right? So that you're probably being conservative, but also really committed to, to saving as many dogs as possible that are safe to place in the community, right. And we would love that to be all of them. But the reality of what we see, that's not always the case, the Michael Vick case is really kind of the turning point for placing dogs from fighting cases. Because prior to that, the standard was, like you said, you know, these dogs are from this background, they're not safe to place. And so we're going to euthanize all of them, right. And so I think we forget that we've come a very long way in a relatively short period of time, in terms of shifting the balance from, you know, euthanize, all of them to place as many as possible in a manner that is responsible and ethical for the communities that the dogs are going into. And, you know, I think that we as dog people, we'd get very tunnel vision on the dog in front of us, right and so the particular individual animal in front of us and like, of course, we want to do everything we can for that dog and stepping back and taking the wider view that it's not just this dog. It's all the other dogs in the community that this stuff Dog is going to interact with, it's the family that this dog is going to live with, you know, and how their life is going to be impacted. Those are super important things to bear in mind, like the sort of holistic view of welfare of all individuals. Very important points you're making there. And I want to pick your brain more about assessments as well as using stuffed dogs. But first, we're going to hear a word from our sponsors, and we'll be right back. Hey, friends, it's me again. And I hope you are enjoying this episode, you may have figured out that something I deeply care about is helping dogs with aggression issues live less stressful, less confined, more enriched, and overall happy lives with their guardians. Aggression is so often misunderstood, and we can change that through continued education, like we received from so many of the wonderful guests on this podcast. In addition to the podcast, I have two other opportunities for anyone looking to learn more about helping dogs with aggression issues, which include the aggression in dogs master course, and the aggression in dogs conference. If you want to learn more about the most comprehensive course on aggression taught anywhere in the world, head on over to aggressive and click on the dog pros tab, and then the master course, the course gives you access to 23 modules on everything from assessment, to safety, to medical issues to the behavior change plans we often use in a number of different cases, including lessons taught by Dr. Chris pockle, Kim Brophy and Jessica Dolce, you also receive access to a private Facebook group with over 1000 of your fellow colleagues, and dog pros all working with aggression cases. After you finish the course, you also gain access to private live group mentor sessions with me, where we practice working through a variety of cases together. And if you need to use we've got you covered. We are approved for just about every major training and behavior credential out there. This is truly the flagship course offered on aggression in dogs, and it's perfect for pet pros that want to set themselves apart and take their knowledge and expertise to the next level are even for pet owners who are seeking information to help their own dog. And don't forget to join me for the third annual aggression in dogs conference either in person or online from Providence, Rhode Island on September 30 Through October 2 2022. This year's lineup includes many of the amazing guests you might have heard on the podcast including Suzanne cool the air, Jen Shryock, Simone Mueller, Dr. Amber Batson Kim Brophy, Karissa miroir, Laura Monaco, tirelli, Dr. Simone Gadbois, and many more, head on over to aggressive and click on the conference tab to learn more about the exciting agenda on everything from advanced concepts and leash reactivity to using positive reinforcement to work with predatory behavior. And I want to take a moment to thank one of our sponsors for the conference. As a family of world class trainers fenzi Dog Sports Academy provides expert and accessible instruction for competitive dog sports using the most progressive training methods and positive reinforcement techniques. Through their online platform. Students are able to access Professional dog training No matter your location, or pup skill level. ftsa believes the bond between dog and human is a proud and life changing partnership. And they'll work with you to develop a respectful and kind relationship with your furry best friend. Check out ftsa At fenzi Dog sports Alright guys, I'm back with Dr. Victoria cousin. And we're talking about assessments for some of these dogs that we are seeing in these cruelty cases and fight busts and the use of stuffed dogs. Now that's another somewhat controversial topic. And I've heard all kinds of differing opinions like oh, you should never use stuffed dogs. So they know it's a stuffed dog versus those are great for doing assessments and decoy work. So I know you talked about it a little bit. You talked about it the aggression in dogs conference, but what are your thoughts now? And any updates on that and using stuffed dogs for assessments in your work? I have so many thoughts. How many hours do we have? We actually have a paper that we have submitted to internal. We're currently revising that based on some great reviewer comments. So my background is from the sort of ecological training, right? And so to me, the use of models just makes a lot of sense. We know across a really wide variety of species that models even rudimentary ones are really good at eliciting social behavior and animals. And so if we think back to Tinbergen, right, and that the hearing goals and the very simplistic beak models, right, so they did a whole sort of titration of various different types of models and how realistic they needed to be eaten didn't need to be soft, and did it need to, you know, have the head and did it need to have all these other components and then for that particular behavior to be elicited, it needed stripes and or red spot or whatever it was in a particular spot, right. And so you can do it with like a tongue depressor, practically. So, models don't have to be sophisticated. Obviously, that's going to vary depending on the type of behavior that you're talking about. Right? So in that particular instance, it was begging behavior. It's a very innate behavior, right? Where high stakes, so less learning involved in terms of figuring out how to get food when you're an altricial chick that is, you know, trying to die all the time and needs support from the parent. Then if you track over time models like now, Gail Patra, Sally, who's a researcher at UC Davis, has robotic prairie chickens, I believe, no sage grouse, excuse me that she puts out into a lek, and that really effectively elicits, you know, courtship behavior, right, in in a naturalistic environment. So I will get into the more sort of, I guess, nuanced aspects of the use of models as pertains to social behavior in dogs. But just from a sort of foundational animal behavior methodology perspective, I think the use of models is very well supported in the literature over decades. Now, when we talk about models in assessing dog behavior, it's a mixed bag. Right? So it definitely is more controversial. But I think that also pertains to, what are you asking about how the behavior of the model elicits? So in some of the studies, where they found, you know, they report there's a poor correlation between the behavior that was exhibited toward the model dog and the live dog, the model dog in those studies still elicited social behavior. It just maybe was not consistent. So maybe the dog was friendly to the live dog, but they were aggressive to the model dog or vice versa. Right. And so that's a slightly different question. It's not Kana model elicit social behavior in dogs, it's will it elicit the same social behavior in dogs? Does that make sense? Absolutely. But then, the way I think about this, is that, why would we expect the behavior to be the same to the model, and to the live dog, if it's just sort of your average run of the mill behavior, right? So it's investigatory, or, you know, greeting or, you know, whatever that behavior is also, obviously influenced by the behavior of the con specific and I think this is where people think that models fall down, right, because they don't move like a con specific would, and they don't, you know, smell like a con specific word. And they don't sound like a live con specific word. And those are all obviously true and good points. And we know from the published literature that the size and shape and materials used to make the model can have an impact on how live dogs respond to it, right. And so everything from a little robotic model that you know, was kind of plastic and metal looking. But they covered it and fake fur and looked at how puppies versus adults interacted with it. And two different various makes or models of plastic dogs. So those factors are obviously important. And I would say that, yeah, we definitely need more. We need more research into the salient features and characteristics of you know, what makes a good model. And it could be the case that, you know, models aren't going to tell us much about how dogs are going to behave to live dogs, for what I think of is just sort of run of the mill standard behavior. I will say that in the hundreds of dogs from fighting cases that we have used a life size stuffed model so it's more natural Stick, it is a very good screening tool to screen for extreme con specific aggression. Now this to my mind is not your run of the mill behavior, I think it is. And this is me speculating. But in my opinion, my personal opinion, I think that behavior shares more characteristics with something like the herring gold pecking hit the bill, where it's more, I don't, I don't want to say stereotype because that's going to go in be interpreted in the wrong way. But it's, it's more perhaps consistent. It has a lower threshold for elicitation. And it is using less cognitive processing, of integrating across modalities on the part of the dog that's exhibiting that behavior. And I talked about this in the aggression and dogs conference. I think that if we look at animal models of human violence, so like the the rodent literature, where they have these impulsive aggression, subjects who develop extreme aggression to conspecifics, that is out of the realm of normalcy, and that it's not dependent on the behavior of the con specific, so they will attack and anesthetized on specific, right, that is not moving, and is not responding to them, they will continue their attack without any reference to what that individual is doing. Typically, this is done with males, because they're territorial, these individuals will attack females, which is very unusual. So typically, you don't see aggression for the opposite sex, right. But in these specific individuals, they do they have very short latencies, to start exhibiting the aggression. And they have very high severity of the attack of the aggression, right. And to my mind, there's a lot of parallels between that. And what we see with the fight bred dogs with extreme con specific aggression, where they don't investigate the model, their latency to attack is very short. And it does not seem to matter, that the model is not moving right during the attack, where they might have to be broken off the model, because they're just gripping and versus individuals that approach the model showing social behaviors. So we see active submission, you know, with like wiggly waggly, you know, loose back and tail sniffing the muzzle sniffing the in a genital region. And then the dogs seem to be integrating these other signals from different modalities. So the smell and the, again, this is speculation on my part, but you know, the olfactory and other signals, and they're like, oh, they come up, they're social, they investigate, they sniff, and then they lose interest. And so it seems as though there are two different types of social behavior. They're like one is very low bar for elicitation and refractory to information from the environment. And the other is like what we think of as sort of normal social behavior. And that tracks well, with reports in the literature from the use of models in, like that study I mentioned with the robotic dogs where they would see investigation and then kind of loss of interest. Sorry, that was a long winded answer. No, it's because it's great because it really helps me kind of unpack when in what you would use the stuffed dogs for as well as what kind of knowing what to look for. So you mentioned sort of the intensity or the impulsivity of the behavior. I've seen this actually where sometimes somebody will adopt a dog and they have no idea what the dog is like with other dogs. So they will say, you know, he's barking, lunging at other dogs, and I'll go through the history of like, what what is your dog do with other dogs or when it meets other dogs and they'll be like, I have no idea because we just got the dog so you can sometimes use a stuffed dog to assess just to get that initial information. And so there have been cases where the dog will just immediate soon as immediately closing distance are getting close to that stuffed dog. It's a full on bites hold shake pattern, very intense. Those are rare cases. I will make sure I don't want to scare anybody out of getting dogs and using or adopting dogs. But then the other cases are all kind of goes up and investigates and smelling the dog and you might move the stuffed dog a little bit. And there's a little bit of fear based responses and maybe a quick snap or something like that towards that stuffed dog. And there's where I can see what the arguments come in. We're saying, well, we it's baby, because it's a strange thing or startling or novel to that particular dog. However, the cases you're talking about where it's full on, I'm going to heat seeking missile towards that stuffed dog that can give us a lot of information. And so in that regard, if you see that when you're doing your assessments, let's say your team is out there, do you use stuffed dog as part of the overall assessment or and you take that information, if you see that sort of intense behavior? Yeah, so we do use the stuffed dog as part of our behavior assessment that we do three days after intake to allow them to settle into the shelter environment, we follow that to when they the animals first come in, they're under a quarantine. So we can't have them interacting with other live conspecifics. Until that Quarantine is lifted. That's usually a few days after we do most of the assessment. And then for many dogs, we will do follow up live dog testing, so Dog Dog testing, and that's a progression again of through a barrier at a distance in close proximity, all of that prior to allowing the dogs into playgroup, for example. And for that, if there are still questions they might do a modified playgroup with additional safety controls draglines and, or even muscles in certain cases. So it's really giving the animals as many opportunities as possible. In the case of egregious aggression, we don't do further testing with wild dogs, I think there's you know, the, you also have to think, again, about this holistic component of welfare. So subjecting dog friendly dog to AB, extremely aggressive dogs, even if their muzzle you know, what psychological or behavioral damage are you doing on your, your friendly helper dog, right, because very often, you might not have a whole bunch of helper dogs available, right. So you might be calling on one or two individuals to do a lot of the dog dog testing. And then also just a safety issue. And so the paper that I mentioned, that is currently submitted that specific case, which involved almost 300 dogs, they did do live dog testing with all of the dogs and regardless of the behavior toward the model dog, because that the whole point was to validate the use of the model dog. And we found very high correlation between those dogs. So there was good if they were aggressive to the model, the vast majority of those dogs were also aggressive to the live conspecifics and later testing. So it's a balance for sure. And I'm sure people have differing opinions about where their risk assessment or tolerance would lie in either direction. But I would say that we do a very, I think, good job at balancing it. And is it perfect? No, nothing is perfect. Right. Right. And I, I think further along those lines, you know, with the recent updates that have been made to how we assess animals and how we assess dogs in not only the sheltering world, but just you know, as trainers, certainly extrapolating some of the information we are seeing from some of the assessments and not just to take only one look, or one aspect is to form a much more robust picture about an animal's behavior through history, taking through that assessment through his stuffed dog through foster and shelter handler observations, all that will will give us a much better picture of the dog before we make final decisions, right. Yeah, I mean, I would say in the vast majority of applications, if you're using a stuffed dog at all, that's going to be a small kernel of information, as you said, in a larger picture that's coming from multiple different sources. Yeah, I think that's one of the misconceptions too, right. Is that Oh, are we just going to test a stuffed dog? And that's it? No, it's the one thing that we're going to do to decide a dog's fate. And that's not true in the vast majority of cases. For sure. Yeah. And so, as a scientist, I have so many like, these would be really interesting questions to ask. us. But then we also, obviously are all limited in terms of resources. And also everyone's trying to ask the most important questions that are going to benefit the animals the most. But I will just say that I think there is, in my view, an overly certain stance that people have, in terms of this question has been asked and answered about the use of model dogs and them not being useful for your average shelter dog. Right. And I think that, as a scientist, I would push back on that a bit and say that we have certainly, we have papers that indicate that may be the case. And I'm not saying it's not the case. But it's really hard when you're talking about small, small sample sizes that are heterogeneous. So you have different ages, different sexes, different backgrounds, right, that makes it hard to it's going to introduce variability. And anytime you have variability and a small sample size, it makes it a lot harder to have really firm conclusions that you can extrapolate to all the dogs right everywhere. And I think, and again, I'm coming at it from thinking about aggression, because that's just where my brain lives most of the time. But in a lot of their studies, you had really low levels of aggression, right. And so, to my mind, it's still an open question it would be, I think, it's fantastic for a group to take average pet dogs that are known to be extremely common, specifically aggressive, and test them like a large sample size, with a model dog to see if you get a similar correlation to what we're seeing with the fight redpolls. And it would also just be really nice to look for, in terms of the other standard normal social behavior, larger sample sizes that are more homogeneous, which again, it's really hard to do and shelter research, I'm not saying that it ever will be done, I would love to see it be done. And so, to my mind, I think the jury is still out in terms of, can we use model dogs as a screening tool. And this again, these are two different things you are have a tool that you're using to screen for specific behaviors, I think of it as a smoke detector, the smoke detector will tell you if there's smoke in your house, it won't tell you if your house will have a fire in 10 years or five years. It's not prognosticating the future. And so again, it's are we using model dogs to screen for specific behaviors? Or are we using model dogs to predict what's going to happen in the home and five years, and those are or a year from now or six months from now? Right? In a different environment with different circumstances? Those are very different things. And so just because my smoke detector doesn't tell me my house is gonna burn down next year, it doesn't mean that it's faulty. Right, it will tell me if there's smoke in my house today. Does that make sense? Such a great analogy. I love that analogy. So well done. And, you know, I would love to shift gears to because the work you do, certainly as you have the pressure from both sides, we're talking about, you see kind of the worst of human behavior towards animals and your work. So there must be something in the water at the ASPCA to because everybody I've met is just, they have this sense of calm and sense of resiliency to this and being able to handle seeing the worst happened to animals. And I'm sure the pictures and that the cases and the animals that you work with are in some of the worst horrific conditions and be able to go back to work the next day. And so I'd love to know, I think this will be very helpful for the listeners, I do a lot of work with aggression cases, or rescue or sheltering. And what keeps you going? What allows you to continue to, you know, how do you cope with those things? Yeah. So yeah, it's a it's really great question. And I think it probably varies for different individuals at the organization in terms of coping mechanism and what works for them. And I guess I would bring it back to this holistic view, which I think is super important. So you have an organization that is full of like super talented people in many different professions that could be off somewhere making more money, you know, like lawyers and bets and like, behaviors and all the things and they've chosen to kind of all work together for a common goal of helping animals and, you know, I know that nonprofits get flack for various reasons. And again, nobody's perfect, and no organization is perfect. But I think that he does a really good job of investing in people that are very qualified and good at what they do. And like, that is, I think, just inspirational to watch, like, you kind of get inspired by your coworkers because you see what they're doing. And you're like, oh, yeah, you want to live up to what they're doing. But you're also honestly, like, you see the best of humanity, right? So you see, it's this balance of, you see how badly one individual can impact dozens or hundreds of animals lives. And that's heartbreaking. But then you see hundreds of individuals pulling together to help those animals. And it kind of reaffirms your belief in humanity, like the, the good people outweigh the bad. It's sucks that the bad people can have such an outsized influence with what they do. But I really believe in humanity, I think there are definitely more good people than bad in the world. And then, I mean, there are definitely days where you go back to your hotel room, you just cry, or you call your dog sitter, and you're like, hug my dog for me. Because it's, it's hard, right? It's super hard. But the animals themselves and too, right, so a recent case, we're doing a removal. And we had, some of the dogs were in Shoreline crates, so they were living in very small, you know, areas and they weren't getting out clearly. And we had a dog whose nails were grown around and embedded back into their pads, right. And any of the dogs in these circumstances, like you would fully understand if they were defensively aggressive, or even offensively aggressive to people, right? You know, you get this dog that is physically damaged, and is jumping up to give you kisses, right? Like, I think you can't really look at the resiliency of animals and allow yourself to be bummed out more than they are because they experienced the situation for their whole life. I came in and experience that for a day, if you can be super happy about the good things that happen in life. Like, we can't be too bad. It's a little woowoo for for my days, but I'm actually a huge softy on the inside. But yeah, the and this is something that I've been interested in, you know, since grad school was this, this capacity for resiliency that we see in animals and humans, I just, I'm very humbled by it on a daily basis. So that definitely, I think keeps you going. Yeah, you, you share some very, very important insights and keeping surrounding yourself with others that can support you and that share the same goals and direction in helping animals. So and I want to, again, shout out to the SPCA, and everybody that I've met, and especially in the sheltering world, I find that when I see that teamwork, and support to the mutual regard for the work that you're all doing, that there's just a different atmosphere, a different attitude in which it's very inspiring to see. So thank you. And thank you to everybody listening in that is in the sheltering world for all the work you're doing. So, Victoria, thank you so much. And if people want to learn more about what you're up to, and some of the projects you're working on, where can they find out about that? Oh, that's a great question. Well, they can certainly email me, I don't know if that's an option to put that in your show notes somewhere in the show notes, you can definitely email me. One of the things that I'm working on right now, which I'm super excited about, because I'm a nerd. But I like to think about capacity building, Applied Behavior Research as well. So that we can all in the shelter world make better sort of data driven decisions about interventions in the shelter or documenting cruelty so that we can prosecute successfully. And so to that end, we have released last year and now again this year, a couple of seed grants, so requests for proposals and these are geared to people that are older doing some type of research or could form a partnership with like a local university or researchers that that have that background, but it provides money for shelter based research, as regards behavior and maintaining the psychological well being, especially these sort of at risk populations that we see in the shelters, behaviorally, so high arousal is obviously a hot topic in the shelter these days and other things of that nature. So those would be on the ASPCA pro grant opportunity page. And it would have not just those ones, but the A supports a wide variety of different initiatives. So if you're looking for funding, that's a great place to go to look. And I'm hoping to spread the word about that more. My hope is that this is something we'll be able to do year after year and really see the benefits because we do know that there are so many really dedicated and bright people out there. So we're not saying that we're going to have the best ideas, you know, it could come from somebody else. So really supporting folks to be able to, to do that I think is important. So yeah, and ASPCA pro in general. They have a newsletter I know that they send out. It has information about webinars, which would include webinars on behavior. Obviously, it's shelter behavior based for the most part. But But yeah, those would probably be the two places folks could go. Excellent. I'll be sure to link to all that important information in the show notes. Victoria. Thanks again. I really appreciate having this conversation with you. And I hope you can come on again in the future. Thank you. Mike is super fun. Yeah, great talking with you. I learned so much chatting with Victoria in this episode, and I hope to hear more from her in the future. I'd also love to hear what you would like for additional topics in future episodes of both the bitey end of the dog and the help for dogs with aggression subscription series. You can reach out by emailing podcast at aggressive That's podcast at aggressive I would love to hear from you. And I thank you for tuning into the show to stay well my friends