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Pet Lover Geek: Utilizing Pet Behavior & Training To Keep Fido Safe

On today's episode of Pet Lover Geek, powered by PetHub, Lorien talks with Jamie Damato Midgal, CEO and founder of FetchFind, to learn how training and understanding your pet's body language can keep him safe at home. In honor of Lost Pet Prevention Month, Lorien is talking with pet industry experts throughout July about the basics of lost pet prevention and recovery techniques and resources. PetHub started Lost Pet Prevention Month in 2014 to drive deeper conversations around all of the ways pet parents can prevent a pet from becoming lost, as well as how to get them home quickly if they go AWOL (Absent WithOut a Leash).

 

 

 

Lorien Clemens Welcome to Pet Lover Geek, the PetHub podcast where we dig into 21st century product trends, we chat with experts about the best pet parenting tips out there, and we even explore some of today's cutting-edge scientific research and advances out there for our fur kids. And today, we are going to learn about the secrets to understanding your pet’s behavior so that you can help keep them safe and happy.

Back in 2014, PetHub started National Lost Pet Prevention Month so that we could dive into deep conversations of all the ways that pet parents can prevent a pet from becoming lost, as well as how to get them quickly home if they go AWOL, you know, Absent WithOut a Leash. So over the next few weeks, we are bringing you in-depth interviews with some of the leading pet industry experts who are going to talk with us about loss prevention and recovery, and that includes pet behavior and more.

Kicking off the discussion with one of the best tools that we as pet parents have when it comes to loss prevention and recovery, and that is behavior. Our pets have mastered communicating with us via their body language and behavior, but it's our job to learn how to read those cues and understand them.

And through those cues, we understand our pet’s feelings: Are they happy? Are they confident? Are they scared? Are they insecure and stressed? And that will help us keep them healthy and safe at home.

I am so excited to introduce our guest today - Jamie Damato Midgal. Jamie has been innovating in the pet industry for nearly 25 years and she currently reigns as the CEO and founder of FetchFind, which offers on-the-go staff training and business solutions for the pet industry. She also happens to be one of my favorite people on the planet and I'm so excited to have her here.

Under her leadership, FetchFind has been recognized for numerous awards, including one of the top five most innovative pet care companies via the Pet Care Innovation Prize award from Purina.

So today, Jamie and I are going to dive into some of the best tools, strategies and techniques that will help you not only read what your pet is trying to tell you, but also understand it as well, because Jamie is a dog training expert.

Jamie, welcome to Pet Lover Geek. You've been on the show before talking about dog training tips, so I was really excited to dive into this with you.

Jamie Damato Migdal All those same comments back to you. I love you, I love your company, I love being here with you; and if I can be helpful to pet owners, I am here for it.

Lorien Clemens Awesome, I'm excited about this. So, let's just jump right in. How people view their pets has just changed dramatically over the last few decades, even since I was a kid. Some surveys report that as much as 95% of pet owners consider their pets to be members of the family. I mean, I know we do. We call them our fur babies. I’d just like you to talk in general about some of the changes you've seen in the way we approach pet parenting and how we care for our pets in general.

Jamie Damato Migdal So it's a big question. I love that you recognize that pet ownership and all of the energy behind pet ownership has shifted over the last two to three decades. When I first got into the industry in 1994, you know, it was just very different. People did two things and they did them very well. Number one is they really trusted their pet care professionals to be the experts in their life. So whether you were a dog walker or a trainer or you owned a facility, a groomer - veterinarians aside - you know, pet owners were really great about using those professionals as a resource for information, support, etc.

And then the other piece that has shifted, or what used to be, I think in sort of the Golden Age, if you will, is the - how shall I say this - the quality of dogs. The German Shepherd of 1995, as an example, was a very different German Shepherd than in 2020. Everything from their physicality, their emotional stability. So these two factors combined... sort of the shifting of pet owners' experience on how they find information, who they consider to be the experts, and also the quality of cuts that we're seeing in the country right now. And frankly, there's some quality issues with dogs that are being bred. And there's some quality issues with dogs that are coming out of shelters.

And so, you put those things together, where people are overwhelmed and don't necessarily lean on the folks that are there to help them, and you’ve got dogs that are a little bit more behaviorally challenging, it can be a rough road for people.

Behavior is a number one killer, more than more than any other disease, even combined; heart disease, cancer, all of these other issues that dogs are known to have, but behavior is the number one.

Lorien Clemens Well, it's one of the number one things that leads to a pet getting lost in the first place, which is why you're here talking with us today. Because, you know, as we've included our pets more and more in our everyday lives, there's a lot of things that we get complacent about, and that's one of the reasons why this Lost Pet Prevention Month we are going back to basics.

After you do pet identification, the very next thing for Lost Pet Prevention is going to be behavior. No matter how long you've owned a pet, whether you're a brand new pet owner and you're just figuring this stuff out, or you're like me and you've had dogs and cats all your life and I've gotten complacent, and paying attention to those behavior cues of dogs letting me know that they're uncomfortable, they're not having a positive emotion, but maybe I'm not reading it well, because those uncomfortable moments - those nervous moments, those anxious moments, those sad, upset moments - can often lead to a dog “running away” or getting themselves into a displaced situation. Can you talk a little bit about some of those really common things that people just need to start being aware of?

Jamie Damato Migdal There's a myth that goes around in dog training, which is that dog training requires effort; you’ve got to put it on your calendar, you’ve got to pay for it, you’ve got to carve out time and it feels overwhelming.

I think that because dog training has that same connotation of working out, people just do nothing versus think about a way to incorporate it - just like with working out. Going for a walk with a friend is working out, but you don’t think of it as working out. Dog training is the same thing. There are beautiful, brilliant ways that if you incorporate a couple of key things into your life with your dog, you don't ever have to put “dog training” on the schedule.

So, I have a six-pound Chihuahua mix. She is a hurricane Harvey rescue and we were just fostering her. We failed as most people do with a six pound Chihuahua mix. So her sister, our older dog, unfortunately did just pass away a couple of weeks ago. And when you have two dogs in the household, what ends up happening is that there's like a relationship that develops where they facilitate each other's behavior. So training is a different beast when it comes to multiple dogs.

Now that Mimsy is gone, having just Sassy on her own I’m back to basics because she doesn't have her facilitator anymore, which was Mimsy - Mimsy helped her to have better behavior. I'm seeing a dog I've never met before because two dogs together are very different when you separate those dogs - very different behavior. It's a completely different animal in many, many ways for reasons that we don't have time to get into today.

That said I'm back to basics myself, and you know what I do, Lorien? All I do is I bring my bait bag outside - my bait bag is a little thing like a fanny pack with a pocket that you can put treats in. Soft, compelling, delicious, unique treats, and it could be human food, so pieces of hot dog, cheese, bacon. And, you go outside and use the treats, you call your dog to you while you're walking your dog on a leash, you pop a treat in their mouth when they are standing nicely - when they're standing next and close to you. You become a factory; you become a Pez dispenser, and becoming a human Pez dispenser while you're outside with all the distractions is the number one way to regain that attention, that trust, build that relationship. Dogs are food motivated; they like stuff just like we like stuff. You like stuff?!

Lorien Clemens Oh, yeah, definitely. I'm food motivated, I’m like so food motivated.

Jamie Damato Migdal Food, money, attention - dog’s are the same way! And so really, dog training is as simple as thinking of working out as going for a walk with your friend and getting 10,000 steps in that way. Taking a bait bag, going on a leash, going outside, grabbing a long line, going to a local park, playing monkey in the middle if you have a friend or someone that you live with, that could be on the other end and you guys call it all back and forth.

It is fun - training supposed to be fun. And I think that because we've become very serious in many ways as a pet owning society, and that's okay, the industry grows through that complexity. However, there's basic things like dogs are still dogs. Yes, they've changed in many ways over the last several decades and ownership has seen a huge... I mean, I don't even know how much it's gone up. It was $17 billion when I got into the industry, and now we're going to be at $100 billion soon.

Lorien Clemens It hit $93 billion last year. It's insane.

So you talked a little bit about, you know, getting the trust back and getting the dog focused on you and that kind of thing. There's a lot of dog anxiety now. You hear about it all the time. And there's also some concern of what's been going on lately with the pandemic and people being stuck inside with their dogs so much right now - what's going to happen when people start going back out into the workplace and that anxiety, especially separation anxiety, and that anxiety we know can lead to dogs getting out, you know, running away.

I would love it if you could talk about steps to, number one, if you have a dog that even when your home has anxiety issues, what steps you could do to help them deal with anxiety. But also then, if you're preparing to go back into the workplace, you've been working from home and now maybe your State is one of the lucky ones that can actually “open up”, and you're going to be going back out, spending more time away from home, - what kind of things can we do as pet parents to help curb that anxiety and help the dogs with that anxiety?

Jamie Damato Migdal The anxiety that dogs experience, in many cases, stems from the household. Dogs really enjoy as few stimuli as possible. And stimuli is everything from doorbells ringing, kids, UPS trucks - all of the things that they're experiencing at a very heightened level when people are home.

When people aren't home, with sort of a typical schedule of an American worker you're gone 8 to10 to 12 hours a day, and dogs sleep that whole time. In fact, the average dog requires or should have about 16 hours a day to rest. And so, I guess what I'm saying here - and this is probably a bit of a controversial statement - but I would say that if we don't understand what dogs actually are, what they need and who they are, just genetically speaking, the anxiety becomes a cyclical situation because we're not letting our dogs sleep for eight hours at a time during the day because of the stimuli of us being home and things happening - but also we want to be with our dogs.

So, what's happening is dogs’ brains legitimately aren't getting the rest that they need to recharge themselves, and so it becomes a physiological consideration and more than just a DNA driven anxiety.

The reason we're seeing the rise in anxiety is not because all of a sudden the DNA makeup has changed; it’s because the way that we treat our dogs and the way we misunderstand what dogs need have shifted. Dogs need a lot of rest, they need to be left alone, they need to have low-level stimuli. And that's not always possible. The best thing you can do is get everyone on the same page, to do as little touching as possible, and let the dog just be. It's always us that is encouraging all of this connectivity and wanting to touch and go. See if you can do a hands off from lunch to dinner- just don't touch Fido. Just let him let him or her just be themselves.

Lorien Clemens It's kind of back to what my mom said when I was a little kid, that whole “let sleeping dogs lie” thing. It's funny because I grew up like never waking up a sleeping dog. And then I got my own dogs as an adult and I started that way but then it got to the point where I started work from home and I’d be like “oh my gosh, he’s so cute” and I go wake him up. And of course, he’s like “I love you, Mommy. I want to be with you. I want to play with you.” and so, yeah, basically I’m my own worst enemy when it comes to that kind of stuff.

The other thing that’s coming up that I think is really important to talk about is that it’s summer. The reason we did Lost Pet Prevention Mon in July is that July 4 is the number one day for dogs to get out. It’s also summer in general; here at PetHub at our call center, we get many more calls in the summertime because people are in and out, they’re going on vacations, they’re going camping, they’re taking their dogs out to the park.

Can you talk about some of those basic, fundamental commands - like things that you need to make sure that behavior-wise, you have down pat with your dog - that is a safety prevention thing?

I mean, I know for us when the doorbell rings, our dogs now go to their place because otherwise they’d run to the door and then I’m having to manage them being at the door with whatever delivery person I’m dealing with. So we have this “go to your place” command and both dogs sit in their place and they know they’re going to get something awesome as soon as I release them. That’s how we mitigate the doorbell and opening the door. So can you talk about some of those “back to the basic” things that you need to make sure you have in place for safety to prevent dogs getting out?

Jamie Damato Migdal So number one, congratulations! “Go to place” is actually a fairly elevated dog training concept. For real, if everyone can teach “go to place” then, you know, dogs just wouldn’t run away. “Go to place” is something you can still build in as an armchair dog trainer. You still don’t need to carve out the dreaded dog training day. Create a space, which I am sure you and your husband have done that, where it’s a dog bed - ideally on the floor - and every time they self select to go into that dog bed you say “good job”, name it, “good place”. That’s dog training.

So I guess what I am saying here is that it’s not something you have to train as much as you just have to reinforce a natural behavior. After a week or so of that consistently, then you can start testing it - we call it proofing - you can start testing it where you say “Roxy, hold your place” and see what happens. Just see what happens. With dog training, it’s always about testing where you’re at and then adding form there. I think where dog training gets overwhelming or where people go wrong is they look at it as a recipe versus a process.

My dog has a place that, you know, when I am getting out of the car and she is with me, she has to lay in the back on her little red bed before I will open the door and take her out because cars, as you know, are a huge place where dogs can get out.

In the car you don’t have that natural ability to reinforce it throughout the day, so what you do is lure your dog back, they get on the place, “good job”, I tell her to get in the back, she gets in the back, treat, “get in the back”, treat, “get in the back”, treat, and so on. She was actually able to do it within a day and most dogs can - if you do it consistently, take you emotions out, lower your expectations. If a dog is mildly intelligent - not all dogs are the same intelligence level, let’s be honest. They’re are some really dumb dogs. But, most dogs have some moderate level of intelligence to be able to figure these things out. And then of course, there are dogs that have incredible, incredible aptitude to learn and be reinforced.

Don’t put pressure on yourself. Think of it as a process, especially the house stuff. Enjoy it. You can videotape how you’re doing so you can actually look and see how you're managing and maneuvering that.

At the end of the day, there’s also the leash. In my house we have two fixed-leash setups with two little hooks that are mounted into the wall, and that’s where a leash always live. If I need to because there are a lot of things happening, the dogs just get tied up so I don’t have to worry about it.

Lorien Clemens We use doggy - well a child gate because we have a baby - but we have certain places of the house that we absolutely make sure that people - both the dogs and the baby - are staying contained.

Let’s shift gears and talk about FetchFind a little bit because I don’t want people to leave this podcast today not knowing the great stuff that you guys do over there. I would love it if you could talk a little bit about what you do directly with businesses in the pet industry to help them and this advancing world and new way we look at our pets.

Jamie Damato Migdal Yeah, you know, thank you for making that available and bringing that into conversation.

So here's the deal. What we just did today is what we do for pet business owners. We give them information that they pass on to their employees and onto their clients so everyone is on the same page - we basically create same page thinking because in pet care, there's a lot of myths and everyone goes “oh, my grandpa did this” or “this person did this”. There's no level setting going on.

So FetchFind is an online learning platform that level sets science-based, research-based, humane-based animal training and care. We have badge learning, gamification, all those sorts of fun aspects, but at the end of the day, all we're doing is giving practical advice in a very cohesive, user-friendly experience where folks can learn about how to take care of pets.

Business owners will subscribe to the platform and then they pass it along to their employees and sometimes to their clients, and that really does create a oneness around how we think about dogs and development and training and nutrition and all of the things.

We have over 1,000 subscribers and most of them are pet business owners, so they own a doggy daycare or they own a grooming salon or they are a dog walker or pet sitter. We are having more and more - especially during pandemic - ask us if they can give their clients a login so they can see what they are learning. Which has been fabulous.The reality is that how we put our content together is made for a pet owner because the nice thing about our industry, as you know, we're all pet owners! So we design content that is user-friendly for a pet owner, even if it’s at an advanced level - we’re still creating content that is made for everybody.

We are making it public that starting in October, we’ll be providing education to all of the PetFinder shelters.

Lorien Clemens That’s exciting!

Jamie Damato Migdal It is! So we are building content right now - taking some of the content we already have and integrating that with some new content and fusing it to make sure that the shelter staff and volunteers and foster families all have the right information as well. The shelters can get what they need and pass that information on along in a nice cohesive theory.

Lorien Clemens I think that’s really great to have that level playing field for as many starting points because shelters are where a lot of pet ownership begins for the first time. So having that playing field where everybody is on the same page is really exciting.

We love helping people with anything that has to do with keeping their pets safe at home because if you went to all the effort to become a pet parent, then you want that pet to stay home with you sage.

Jamie, I’ve got to thank you so much for joining us today on Pet Lover Geek to talk about all this fabulous stuff.

Jamie Damato Migdal My pleasure. I always love to talk about this stuff with you, you’re my favorite pet lover geek!

Lorien Clemens Oh, well thank you so much. Well, thank you for being with us today, Jamie and pet lovers.

If you want to learn more about Jamie and FetchFind, you need to head over to www.fetchfind.com or you can visit them on social media.

Be sure to tune into Pet Lover Geek in the next few weeks to hear more from industry experts about how you can can keep you pet safe, happy and home. Until next time, this is Lorien Clemens with Pet Love Geek, powered by PetHub.