The portable skill that matters- Adaptation

We recently took in some stray kitties and talking to people about them got me thinking about the way judge adaptation is slowly dying as a skill. What do these two things have to do with one another? Well here we go.


I don’t know who you are, but I’m guessing you think a few things about yourself.

-you think you are a good/nice person

-you think you are good at communication

-you don’t think you are terrifying


But if you meet a new animal, they think the opposite of all of these things:

-you are evil/out to get them

-they don’t know why you are doing the terrible things you are doing like bathing them or giving them medicine

-you stomp around like a giant/godzilla


I came to this realization very young. Every Christmas we would have to go to my aunt’s house to sting popcorn and cranberries together, a process that takes forever, is painful, and produces and ugly and useless finished product- classic MN suburb behavior. The one upside was Mimi. Mimi was my aunt’s cat, and I was obsessed with her. The minute I got in the door I would take my coat off, scream “MIMI” and begin chasing her around the house for hours. She of course hated this and as a result me. One year when I was about 7 some random person at the house saw me doing this and scooped up me and the cat and took us to a different room. They sat me and the cat on the bed and told me not to move. After what seemed like weeks the cat started to calm down and I reached out to pet it. They immediately slapped my hand. “Let her come to you” they said. After another 500 years of waiting the cat slowly came over to inspect me. 10 minutes later we were BFFs for life.


So what is going on here? I was thinking from my perspective about what I wanted- to pet the cat. The quickest way to do that was to run for it and lunge. The cat was thinking from their perspective- why is this psychotic child chasing me? It probably wants to eat me. The cat, like most judges, is too stubborn to change its mind about this so you have to be the one to change, to adapt.


So, the process of adaptation I want to focus on is roughly the following


  1. Figure out what the other person(or cat) wants
  2. Give it to them
  3. Wait


It’s not complicated. Well ok, it can be kind of complicated. Figuring out what other people, or animals, want can be somewhat tricky but like anything else its a skill you can practice. Before we complicate this with human psychology lets just focus on animals- cats and dogs. This is important- cats and dogs are not people, and as a result they don’t “think” like people. This is REALLY hard for people to wrap their minds around. Here are a few of the most common mistakes people make with animals


  1. Getting angry because “they know”- this is a dog park classic. “You know you aren’t supposed to take another dog’s toy/jump on people/bite etc- so now I get mad at you!”. No, no they don’t “know” anything. They literally do not have the part of the brain that “knows”. Take the famous “pavlov’s dog“, those dogs don’t hear a bell and think “oh boy here comes dinner”. Salivation is a conditioned reaction, not a thought process. People assume animals are like them, so they think “well if I did this behavior what would be my thought process?” They remember being a child, being told not to do something, and how they made a decision to do it anyway and they think the dog is doing the same thing. They aren’t, the dog saw motion and instinctively chased it. They didn’t “think” about it or make a decision. You can easily tell this by looking at any of millions of “mistakes were made” dog videos on youtube- they can’t help themselves sometimes. The same people show up at the dog park every day for years shouting the same nonsense at their poor dog about how “they know better’, its not the dog who doesn’t know….
  2. This pet is like my pet- it is, but your relationship with this pet is not like the relationship you have with your pet. Have you ever had to work with someone who everyone hates because they are super obnoxious but over time you learn to love them despite how crumudeonly they are? That’s you. When you meet a new pet it is like transporting that worker to a new office. They don’t have the years of good will built up through small random acts of kindness that cause you to put up with their crap, its just crap. Petting dogs on the head is a good example of this. Dogs, for the most part, hate that. But they will tolerate it from their feeders, I mean owners,  the same way people will tolerate nonsense from some people but not others.
  3. Following pseudoscience. The biggest example of this is the Dog Whisperer. Cliffs notes for those of you who don’t want to read: “dominance” theory is the idea that some animals, originally wolves, organize their societies in a hierarchy with one wolf being the “alpha”. This is nonsense. The original theory was based on a study of captive wolves who were not form the same family- conditions that never appear in nature. Under these weird conditions the wolves behaved… wait for it… weirdly. Somehow this sparked an entire field of animal research nonsense for almost 40 years, and even now that the person who did the original studies has gone to great lengths to explain the errors people still believe it. So you get people at the dog park trying to “dominate’ their dog, show their 8lb poodle who is boss, you know man shit. This doesn’t work. Why isn’t it working? Do you even dominate bro? It doesn’t work for a million reasons (you aren’t a dog being a good start) but trying to explain this to people is impossible-it’s science!


So how would we approach these situations differently using our 3 step process?


  1. Figure out what the other person(or cat) wants
  2. Give it to them
  3. Wait


  1. “they know”- well this is about “bad” behavior- the animal is doing something you don’t want it to do. Why are they doing this? Take leash pulling, why do dogs do that? There are many reasons so lets just look at two. First, they want something- to sniff a bush, to eat a squirrel, something is farther away than they want it to be and they want to get there. You, unfortunately, are in the way. What most people do is they tug on the leash and fight the dog before giving up. They think its a contest of wills, and that the dog knows what the human is doing and is behaving badly. The dog doesn’t “know” anything remember, it just sees and acts in the moment. So instead what you need to do is show the dog that lunging/pulling is not how it gets what it wants. Instead of pulling and tugging, which the dog finds interesting/fun and is the 2nd reason they are pulling, before giving them what they want (teaching them that fighting achieves goals) you want to “be a tree”. When the dog starts pulling stand perfectly still and hold the leash taught but do not tug/choke the dog. They are in control of where they can go, but if they try and get there by pulling they cant. Now you wait. Eventually the dog will figure out this isn’t working and circle back around to you. Depending on what you want one they either heel or stand calmly you then start going where they wanted to go. Now you are conditioning them to think I get what I want when I don’t pull (behave themselves). Most people don’t do this because they have never put themselves in the dog’s position.
  2. Greeting new animals. Again, start from their position- you are new and big and scary. So with animals that aren’t overly friendly right away you need to make yourself less of these things. When greeting a new dog crouch down on their level (or lay on your stomach). Don’t stare at them as they start to approach you. If they are still staying at a distance slowly extend your hand and let them sniff it when they want. Pet them gently at first on the back. You can get feedback through this process by watching 3 things- ears, tail, fur. This is also how you can tell if dogs are playing or fighting. If you want to get more advanced you can but it usually doesn’t take much to distinguish yourself from the bad humans they regularly encounter. Oftentimes just leaving them alone/pretending to ignore them is enough. Coincidentally if you are a person who hates animals and can’t figure out why they are always bothering you this is why- by not staring at them you are making them feel safe and yourself seem approachable.
  3. Don’t project- almost all the nonsense people believe about animals starts as something they think about humans and then project onto animals. Human society is violent and competitive, ergo all animals must be machiavellian utility maximizers! Anyone who has owned a dog or cat can tell you how far from the truth this is. Even the worst most violent animals aren’t some sort of diabolical genius, like humans they have experienced a lot of trauma and have trouble moving forward. In critiques of evolutionary biology these are called “just so” stories, ie they make perfect sense when you look at something from the present backwards, however, they don’t make any sense as an actual evolutionary concept. The best example of this is a spandrel. Spandrel | architecture | Britannica A spandrel is the place between two arches. These spaces are frequently filled with art, like above. So looking back we could say “oh cool this building was designed to have little art installations”, but it wasn’t. An arch is a very strong structure, the building was designed to have an arch and the “spandrel” is just an accident that occurs because of that other structure. Similarly “cuteness” isn’t designed by evolution most likely, its a byproduct of reproduction-somethings come out small (heads) while others come out large (eyes) and we just so happen to think things with huge eyes are cute.

I Have Secured the Baby Yoda Build-A-Bear | The Mary Sue



But this only works on animals so whats the point? Well as anyone who has debated the anthro K can tell you humans are just another kind of animal. To close here is an example from real life. When I moved to Vegas I had just renewed my car registration and thought I would delay registering it in vegas to save some money. Vegas thought this was not a good idea and sent me a ticket in the mail. Now, due to a long string of events that I PERSONALLY did not think I was at fault over this process dragged out until I had a very expensive fine, which then became two very expensive fines. Since I didn’t have the money for the original ticket and since I’m an ego maniac I decided to contest these fines in court and let my debate skills win the day.


I prepared for this more than I prepared for the NDT. I had an actual accordion with blocks! My thing was scheduled for 1:30 but I got to court at 8 to watch the people ahead of me and see how things worked. It was grim. The first few people the judge humored for a couple minutes before ruling against them but then he really hit his groove and an assembly line of losses started running up the score on we the people. This was not encouraging. People who had actual lawyers were getting annihilated on cases where they seemed to have a lot better case than I did. While I didn’t learn anything from the legal flailing I did learn some things about the literal judge.


-he had clearly served in the military- emphasis on punctuality, verbal signs of respect/chain of command, curt/efficient manner of speaking… haircut

-following above he put a heavy emphasis on personal responsibility-any attempt to deny responsibility was basically a TKO

-he thought everyone he had to work with in the courthouse was incompetent, lazy, or both.

-all of his questions were “tricks”- just setting you up to get blasted with a snide comment… and he didn’t even acknowledge my inventing of that move!

So during lunch I was forced by necessity to re-evaluate my plan. I calculated the odds that my “im the smartest guy in the room” routine would work to be approx 0.0%. My odds of getting away clean slightly lower. However, I thought that I could gamble. If I took responsibility for everything in fine 1, but said I couldn’t pay fine 2, maybe I could impress him enough to get out of fine 2. This wasn’t really “risky” in the sense of it was try or die, so I decided to jump in whole hog. I knew that regardless of what happened I was supposed to pay anything before talking to the judge. So I went upstairs and paid fine 1. Wait for it.





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