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We Need to Talk About the F Word

Alright folks. It's intervention time. We need to talk about your use of the "F" word. You've been using it all over the place, and I just can't take it anymore! It's not okay, and it needs to stop. For the love of Dog, stop the madness!

What F word, you ask?

Oh, oh NO. Not that F word. Whoops. Sorry, my bad!

The word I'm talking about is "fine".

Before you ask, yes, I realize that I sound like I've lost it a little and I'm coming from out of left field to most people. Why not use fine? It's not profane, it's not a slur, so what's the deal, crazy Mary!?

You see, when I walk into someone's house, sit down, and start taking a history on their dog, time and time again there's that "f" word. How does your dog do at daycare? "Fine!" How did your dog do at the vet? "Oh, she was fine!" What does your dog do when being groomed? "I mean, he looks fine".

"Fiiiine you say?!"

Here's the scoop: "Fine" is a largely unhelpful word in the world of animal behavior. You see, "fine" is a label. And the problem with labels is that it can mean something different to everyone. Fine to one person might be "relaxed, loose body language with an open mouth and parallel wagging tail" (we could also label that "happy"), and fine to another person might be "sitting stiffly in the corner not approaching strangers, but not behaving aggressively" (we could also label that "avoidant" or "apprehensive"). So, do you see how labeling both of those "fine" might lead to some miscommunication? In animal behavior and dog training it behooves us to "operationalize" a dog's behavior, which basically means describing EXACTLY what we're seeing, instead of using labels and constructs (stories we tell ourselves about the animal) to describe behavior.

The place that this has the biggest impact is when working with dogs who hav