Guidelines for responsible blogging about class discussions

The whole time I’ve been writing this blog I’ve been developing a university level class on the philosophy of companion animals called Animals in our Lives. It is not an animal rights class, it is a class on the philosophy and science of human relationships with animals. I have a great bunch of students, and the class has been going very well. So well in fact, that I want to blog about some of the things we’ve discussed.

I haven’t written about my classroom before and I want to be careful to treat my students fairly and with respect.  How does a person write ethically, responsibly, about what gets said in a classroom?

I have two concerns and, sadly (or at least complicatedly), they pull in different directions.

  • First, the classroom is not a public space, and I need to protect my students’ privacy. I won’t name them on my blog.
  • Second, one of the most important aspects of academic integrity is to give credit to people for their ideas.

This gets complicated because often, perhaps even most of the time, ideas develop during discussions and so they are not really any individual person’s idea. And, in the cases where an idea is an individual person’s, it is very easy to forget and sometimes hard to notice, who the original author of the idea was.

It took a little longer than I would have liked for me to realize that the first step for treating my students with respect was to explain my worries and ask them what they thought was the right thing to do.

Together, we came up with a set of guidelines:

We decided that for the purposes of blogging about this class:

  • In general, the ideas that arise in class discussion are authored by the group. Therefore, when I blog about an idea that we discussed in class, I will say that the idea arose in class and I will bring the blog post to the students’ attention, so they can see what I wrote.
  • If they feel that the idea I wrote actually arose from an individual student, they just have to let me know, and I’ll edit or remove the post. A student can let me know themselves, or they can speak up for another student, or they can leave an anonymous note in my mailbox in the philosophy department.

I think this should satisfy my concerns about protecting students and giving them credit for their work.

If you have any other suggestions, please tell me. I care about being a good teacher of people as well as a good teacher of dogs.

Consent, respect, and dog safety

The woman walked straight up to Milo and me, grabbed Milo by the fur on both sides of his head, kissed him on the nose, and nuzzled his head with her face. That’s right, with her face.

Of all the dumbass things to do…

toothy darling

Raise your hand if you think it’s a good idea to grab this guy by the head and rub your face on his nose.


If I freaked out, it could have been the match that set off that powder keg, so I shoved a handful of liver treats in Milo’s maw and chirped, “OK, that’s enough cuddling.”

The woman backed off with her face still attached to her skull while Milo concentrated on getting all of that liver out from between his molars—it was a big handful of treats—and all was well.

Think about the fight or flight response. When a dog is on a leash, flight is not an option. This is one of the reasons why some dogs act more aggressively when they’re on a leash than when they aren’t.

Never approach a dog when they don’t have the option of saying “no thanks” and leaving.  It is about respect, and consent, and common sense.

Ideally, if you meet Milo and me on a walk and you want to say hello to him, the scene plays itself out in one of these ways:

Scenario 1
You: “Can I pet your dog?”
Me: “Not today, thank you for asking.”
And Milo and I walk on.

When this happens, don’t give us the stink eye, because you know what? Although there are lots of reasons why we may not want to interact with you, neither he nor I have to give you a reason. I always appreciate it when people ask rather than, say, walk up and grab Milo’s face. But, if you ask and give us one bit of grief for saying “no,” you aren’t really asking. That is not cool.

Scenario 2
You: “Can I pet your dog?”
Me: “Milo sit” (with me between him and you).
Me some more: “Thank you for asking. Let’s see if he wants to say hello. If, when I release him he walks up to you, you can scratch him under the chin or on the side of his body.”
Me, to the dog this time: “Milo, would you like to say hello?”

This scenario can end in two ways:
Ending a: If Milo wags his tail and walks over to you, you get to share some personal time together.
Ending b: If Milo doesn’t happily walk up to you, I’ll say, “I guess not today. Thanks again for asking.” And Milo and I walk on.

In an ideal world if you and Milo interact, three of us—you, me, and Milo—all have to consent.

I won’t let him go bounding up to you and sniff your crotch or demand to be petted, and I won’t let you pet him if I don’t want you to and if he doesn’t want you to. The interaction will start when he walks up to you, and it will end when any one of the three of us wants it to. He tells us that he wants it to end by moving away. Milo is more fun and makes friends faster when he gets to consent.

If you want to pet a dog, but you’re wondering what doggie consent looks like, I recommend that you go over to Sara Reusche’s post at Paws Abilities. She gives a great step-by-step description of how to determine if a dog consents, and continues to give consent, to a social interaction.

This way everyone gets treated with respect, and everyone stays safe.

 

Animals in our lives: Teaching the Philosophy of Companion Animals

This semester I’m teaching a university class on the Philosophy of Companion Animals called “Animals in our Lives.” Wow. I feel so lucky to do this! My students are hardworking, engaged, and good-natured, and together we are doing great work. Thanks gang!

Developing and teaching a new course takes up every spare moment. After getting my work done, going to the gym, and training and exercising Milo, I’m usually finished for the day. So, I’ve been posting here less frequently than usual.

Thank heavens I have my students’ permission to post about our class.

For starters, here is an excerpt from the syllabus that explains a little bit about what we are up to.

Animals in our Lives, Philosophy 271

Course Description
This class explores the science and ethics of human relationships with companion animals.

Course Outcomes
In this class you will:
1. Explore the social influences on, and impacts of, scientific research
2. Develop an understanding of the relationships between humans and companion animals from scientific, philosophical, and practical perspectives
3. Acquire the skills and confidence to learn, assess, and use scientific information

Discussion Topics
Unit 1: The science of emotion and the role of emotion in science
• The neurobiology of canine love
• The impact of human emotion on animal research
• The movement of scientific knowledge from the lab to the public

Unit 2: Anthropomorphism or anthropodenial
• The sense of smell and what it’s like to be a dog
• Consciousness and animal minds
• Folk psychology across species

Unit 3: Do good animal handlers and trainers need science?
• Is clicker training scientific?
• The media and celebrity dog trainers
• Different kinds of expertise and the public understanding of science
In each unit, we will explore readings from scientific, philosophical, and popular sources.

So far we’re just getting going on the unit on love.

I’ll update you as we move through the class.