July 2021 Training Challenge: Evaluate Your Enrichment Plan

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This month’s training challenge is about our favorite topic: enrichment. 


More specifically, evaluate your enrichment plan


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If you’ve spent 2 minutes putzing around our website or social media pages, you’ve likely gathered that “enrichment” is our jam.  If you’ve spent more than 2 minutes, it’s likely that it’s yours too.  You’re our people.

If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed with all the good ideas and desires to implement enrichment, you are not alone.  When I started reflecting on what I needed to do to create the best life for my pup Opie, it was like a deluge of information that I loved kept overflowing my capacity to actually implement any of the ideas I had.  I was so excited with every new bit that I read that I wouldn’t finish one thought before running off with another. Nothing ever stuck. What I needed was a systematic, step-by-step approach to reflecting on the aspects of enrichment and working through the steps to achieve my goals.

Today we are going to break down the 4 questions that guide you in creating an enrichment plan to meet your pet’s needs.

When reflecting on how we can create rich, fulfilling lives for our pets, it always comes back to enrichment–meeting all of our animals’ needs. For more examples of enriching activities, check out Ellen’s blog post Enrichment Isn’t About The Activity. For an even deeper dive into what “enrichment” is and isn’t (and how we can implement it in our animals’ daily lives), check out Allie and Emily’s book Canine Enrichment for the Real World

Today’s blog is all about reflection.  We need to think about what behaviors we want to see for all of the aspects of enrichment and how we are setting our furry friends up for success. For the purpose of this blog post today, I am going to zero in on ONE aspect of enrichment, but to get an idea of the full scope for any animal, you can sign up for our free Enrichment Chart Guide here. This guide will help you identify where to start.


The 4 Questions To Ask Yourself When Creating An Enrichment Plan

Aspect of Enrichment Focus: Physical Exercise


Question 1: Is this need being met?

This question may seem like a simple yes or no, but dig a little deeper into your answer. For physical exercise, consider your animal’s size, energy abundance, disposition, instinctual behaviors, and (if applicable) species/breed typical activity.  Take for example: if you are noticing undesirable behaviors at 7 pm, does the amount of exercise in a day correlate to the frequency or intensity of that behavior? 


Question 2: Am I providing my animal with agency?

Much like humans enjoy feeling in control of our choices, so too do our pets. Providing multiple appropriate options for our pets results in more confident, resilient animals.  Pardon my double reference, but Allie and Emily’s book really dives deep into the legitimacy of this statement. It’s easy to assume that dogs want to go for walks, cats want to climb scratch poles, and horses want to gallop.  It may well be true that your pet is fulfilled by these exercise options, but what would they choose if they had the say?  Brainstorm a few options for your pet and let them choose their exercise for that day.


Question 3: What is the priority of addressing this aspect of enrichment?

As I mentioned earlier, it’s easy to get over-excited and overwhelmed with the awesome ideas you read about giving your pet a better life.  I’m right there with you. Consider the importance that you place on each aspect of enrichment, review your Q1 & 2 answers, and give it a number from 1-10.  If physical exercise is not being met consistently, you may score it an 8; however, if physical exercise is being met, but you have not yet incorporated agency, you may score it a 5.  Address another aspect that has a higher number, enjoy the rewards of your work, and move along to the next goal.


Question 4: What is my plan of action?

Here’s where we get to it.  Oftentimes, when we feel overwhelmed it’s because we don’t know what our next steps are. It’s okay! Take a breath, and let’s break down what we do know.  Reflect on your knowledge, training, and expertise, and reach out to someone when you are stuck.  If your animal has limited mobility, but you are not qualified to assess what physical exercise is safe and appropriate, call your veterinarian.  If you only can think of taking the pup on a walk, pop on over to our Facebook page to get some new ideas. If your animal is reactive or fearful and struggles to get physical exercise, reach out to a behavior consultant.


I’ve worked with a pup who came to class jumping and lunging around barriers, unable to focus on his owners (and causing them the inability to focus on class), and passing notes at any opportunity.  Turns out, because of the family’s schedule, the dad leaves right from work to pick up the pup for training class, skipping his normal walk in order to make it in time for class.  With just a little stroll around the parking lot and a few rounds of “find it!”, the pup was eager (but not too!) and ready to focus in class.

People, we’re doing the best we can with what we have. The hardest thing for us pet parents to do is to toss out our preconceived notions about what we think our pet needs and rather observe what our animal is telling us.  Asking yourself these 4 questions to create an enrichment plan will help to streamline the process of providing your pet with what they deserve.

Some things may work, and others may be back to the drawing board.  Think less that your efforts are trial and error and more that it is trial and eval.  I know you’re excited and want to get started.  Take a breath, take a step, and enjoy observing what your animal is telling you.

To help organize your thoughts, sign up for our free Enrichment Chart Guide here.


Now what?

  • Ask yourself questions 1 & 2 to determine where there’s room for improvement. 
  • Assign priorities to those areas for growth and choose the one with the highest need.
  • Develop your plan of action (or work with us to help you!) and get started! We have plenty of ideas in our Enrichment for Pet Behavior Issues FB group, or if you need more personalized help you can work with our consultants
  • Share your training challenge results with us @petharmonytraining on Facebook and Instagram! We love hearing from you.


You’re doing great!


May 2022 Training Challenge – Getting in the Enrichment Habit

I’m gonna be calling out some people here right in the beginning. 

Raise your hand if you WANT TO DO THE THING, but something is standing in your way? 

And what do I mean by that? 

I want to give my dogs frozen food puzzles to lick once a day, but I can’t seem to do it. 

I want to spend 3 minutes training my dog, but I have only done it once in the last two weeks. 

I want to give my dog boxes with kibble in them to destroy, but it takes so much effort. 

I want to __________, but ___________. 

Yeah, friend. Me too. 

Building habits around our pet’s enrichment plan can be difficult in the constant churn of the rest of life. I have grandiose goals for my two dogs, but those goals often fall by the wayside as other fires appear on the horizon. 

If this sounds like you, then stick around, this training challenge is for you. 

This month, your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to figure out what’s standing in the way of your best intentions. 

What is stopping you from turning your intentions and goals into sustainable habits? 

Oof, that seems like a big question, right? 

Don’t worry. 

We’ve helped thousands of families on their enrichment journey, and we’ve seen some of the common barriers among our clients. Check out these common barriers and the ways families have overcome them.


The “It Needs to be Perfect” Struggle 

Do you find yourself saying things like… 

“Well, I need to do all of these things before I can start.”

“I need to know all the things before I can start.” 

“If I can’t do it all, I can’t do any of it.” 

I think most of us have been there at some time in our lives. We want to do things “right”, so we put it off until we can feel like we are doing it “right.”

So, do you feel your inner perfectionist standing between you and your enrichment habit? 

You don’t have to know everything about everything for a stellar enrichment plan for your dog. That’s what behavior consultants are for, they can help you build your plan, leaving you to focus on execution. This doesn’t mean you can’t still learn *all the things*, but it does mean that you don’t have to do it with the cloud of pressure over your head! 

Separate the habit from the results. Integrating new routines into your life takes time, so sometimes, it’s helpful to say, “In order to benefit my pet, I need to do the thing. The first step, is getting the thing done”. Split the criteria for yourself. Start with doing the thing, and then add in those additional steps later. 

And remember, something is likely better than nothing, and you can start small. Start with one small step, and when you have that integrated into your routine, add something else. This is something else a qualified behavior consultant can help you with. Small steps are our specialty!


The “Too Many Choices” Paralysis

Do you find yourself saying things like… 

“I don’t know what to do today?” 

“I can’t decide where to start!” 

“Should I be doing this or that?”

And then doing none of the things? Analysis paralysis is a real thing, and with the millions of enrichment options available, we see it seep in often. Where do I focus my attention? What if I make the wrong choice? What if there is a BETTER option? 

So, do you find the sheer number of options overwhelming and paralyzing? 

First off, you won’t know if there is a better option for your pet unless you try some stuff. Working with a professional can help narrow down your options, and direct your focus, but at the end of the day, I can tell you most, if not all dogs, benefit from opportunities to partake in sniffing. What I can’t tell you is what format or structure of sniffing is going to most benefit your dog. Does scatter feeding in the yard, tracking scents, sniffing through boxes and obstacle courses for food, or sniffaris provide you the best results? We need to do some trial and evaluation. And until we have that information, there is no bad option as long as it is safe, healthy, and appropriate. 

Looking at 10 options is likely too much, but looking at 3 can be manageable. So, narrow it down to three. If your dog’s enrichment program has some flexibility, and a sustainable, realistic and effective enrichment program should have some flexibility built-in, then toss all the options into a hat and pull three out to choose from. Or better yet, learn your pet’s “Yes, please!” and “No, thank you.” and ask them to pick for you! 


The “Chasing the Shiny” Burn Out 

Do you find yourself saying things like… 

“I’ll just add one more toy to my shopping cart.” 

“My dog is too fast!”

“I saw this incredible thing on Instagram…” 

This one is often tied with The “Too Many Choices” Paralysis and The “It Needs to be Perfect” Struggle. In an effort to have the best-darned enrichment plan, we are constantly searching the internet, listening to podcasts like Enrichment for the Real World, and looking for new enrichment options, and I see a couple of things happen here.

You may feel like your enrichment plan isn’t enough because other people are doing different things. You may not be using the results in your pet’s behavior to gauge its effectiveness, and because of that, you may get to a point where it doesn’t feel sustainable, or realistic anymore. Doing more, doing different, and doing new constantly is not feasible. 

So, do you feel the burnout creeping in and blocking your enrichment habit? 

Remember, enrichment isn’t about the activity. It’s about the results in the animal’s behavior. So, if you’re chasing the shiny because you think novelty and newness are necessary for an effective enrichment plan for your dog, I give you permission to slow down. Close your 95 internet tabs that are open with new enrichment ideas, and return to the basics and foundations. More is not always more when it comes to enrichment. When you provide an opportunity for your pet, do they engage with it? Does the activity help meet your pet’s needs in order to empower them to perform species-typical behavior in healthy, safe, and appropriate ways? If the answer is no, then it’s not helping your goals. 

Unless, you’re like me, and chasing the shiny is part of YOUR enrichment plan. Sometimes, that activity can be cup filling for the human, and if that sounds like you, then, by all means, keep your 95 browser tabs open, and continue to scroll Instagram. But, watch out for those times when Compare Leads to Despair, and if you feel that happening, circle back to my above point.  Does the activity help meet your pet’s needs in order to empower them to perform species-typical behavior in healthy, safe, and appropriate ways? Take a moment to be present with your pet. When the activity we partake in helps to empower them to perform species-typical behavior in healthy, safe, and appropriate ways, slowing down to observe and appreciate our work is really important.


The “I Don’t Have the Bandwidth” Challenge 

Do you find yourself saying things like… 

“There’s no way I can do that every day?” 

“I don’t have the time to be able to _____.” 

“I’m so tired.” 

Yup. I feel all of that. We only have so much that we can give, and your oxygen mask needs to be on before you can help anyone else. 

So, do you feel like you can’t take on one more thing? 

Be kind to yourself. We all have 24 hours in a day, but we all have a different 24 hours. My partner is out of the house for 12 hours a day, and I work from home. What each of us can feasibly, sustainably, and reliably do for the dogs is different. If you have a bandwidth struggle, make sure you are taking care of yourself as best you can. (I’m going to plug a great self-care/self-enrichment resource here.)

And this is one where I really encourage you to work with a professional to strip down to the bare bones of what is necessary to meet your pet’s needs and your goals. You’ve got a certain amount of resources to share, so let’s make sure you are focusing on the things that will help you make the biggest impact. We can help you tweak small things that will make a big difference.

Meal prepping your frozen food puzzles for 2 weeks can make it more sustainable and more likely to happen. 

You can also prepare your dog’s food in boxes DIY destructibles if you store them in a pest-proof container and use them within a couple of weeks. 

It might be moving where your dog’s food is kept to make things easier for everyone. 

It might be putting up some window film so that your dog is able to rest throughout the day. 

Small changes can result in big wins. 


The “I Can’t Tell if it is Working” Fog

Do you find yourself saying things like…

“I think he likes ____.” 

“I guess it’s worth it.” 

“I don’t know if it made a difference.” 

To stick with an enrichment plan, you really need to see the wins. You need to see your pet’s behavior change. You need to observe the differences it is making, or else what is reinforcing you to continue doing the thing? 

So, are you not sure that your enrichment plan is working? 

Refresh your body language observing and interpreting skills! Through body language and observation, you’ll be able to see the changes better, or lack thereof, and can assess your plan with confidence. 

Keep a log of your pet’s behavior? What do you find undesirable? What behaviors do you find desirable? Are you seeing changes in either the undesirable behaviors or the desirable behaviors? Keeping a tally of your observations can help you be objective! You can see how Allie has done this with her nemesis, Winter Oso. 

If you aren’t seeing the desirable changes, make adjustments! Your enrichment plan was likely created with a goal in mind, so adjust to continue working toward that goal. 


Now what? 

  • There are a lot of reasons that can get in the way of building a sustainable enrichment habit. Identify some of the barriers that are getting in your way. Once you know what they are, or at least have an inkling, you can start knocking those barriers down! 
  • We’ve helped thousands of families not only create sustainable, effective enrichment plans for their pets but also troubleshoot barriers to creating long-lasting and effective habits. We’d love to help you, too! We see clients all over the world and can help with any behavior problem remotely. Click here to get started.

Happy training,


Feline Enrichment for the Real World

What is Enrichment?

At Pet Harmony, we talk about enrichment all the time, but if you’re a new cat owner, or just recently joining us, we need to define enrichment. It’s more than just Kongs and toys. Enrichment, as described in episode one of our all-new podcast, is “meeting all of an animal’s needs in order for them to be physically, behaviorally, and emotionally healthy enough to perform species-typical behaviors in safe, healthy, and appropriate ways.” Go listen to Episode 1 of Enrichment for the Real World for more on that!

So, like canine enrichment, feline (cat) enrichment needs to be specific to them. Just because something works for a dog, doesn’t mean it will work for a cat — and just because a certain activity helps one cat, doesn’t mean it will work for another. We need to provide cat-specific enrichment to have a healthy cat. When our cat is healthy, our relationship with them is so much better.

Typical Feline Behavior

Anytime I am trying to figure out what species-typical behaviors are, it is important to research the species. When we know what an animal usually does, we can give them ways to meet those needs that don’t compromise their physical, emotional, and behavioral health — or our own.

A brown tabby cat high-fives its parent.

Here are some behaviors cats typically perform:

  • Dig around in loose substrate in order to urinate and defecate.
  • Bury or hide their urine and feces in said substrate
  • Groom or “bathe” themselves
  • Scratch on things
  • Jump and climb
  • Hang out in elevated spaces
  • Hideout in small spaces
  • Eat multiple small meals in a day
  • Follow a hunting cycle of stalk, pounce, eat, groom, sleep
  • Bat small objects with their paws, sometimes causing them to fall

Notice that I said these are some things cats typically do. Not all cats do all these things, and I also didn’t list all the things cats do. These are just some very interesting areas that can become problematic for your home if your cat doesn’t have an outlet.

How Do I Provide Enrichment for a Cat, and Why Does it Help?

If your cat is performing a species-typical behavior in a way we don’t like, we can offer activities we do like. Even if they seem unrelated, they may still reduce stress as well as behaviors we don’t like.
Here are four easy enrichment ideas to try with your cat:

  • Provide multiple, desirable elevated spaces for your cats, and train them to use them. Buy or make a tall cat tree, or install cat-friendly shelves. If they weren’t in your house, elevated spaces available to them outside are: the tops of cars, roofs of houses, fence lines, trees, and rocks. Small, three-foot-tall scratching posts with beds attached do not make good elevated spaces for cats.

A brown and grey cat tree nearly touches the ceiling in my house. It is near a window for prime sun bathing and birdwatching opportunities.

    • Why? Access to high spaces has been proven to reduce stress-related behaviors in cats. It also gives them somewhere to run to that small children or dogs cannot reach. Providing these spaces and training your cat to use them will also make them less likely to use your furniture to get up high and knockdown cups, vases, or other valuable objects. (Be sure to provide appropriate elevated spaces in places your cat commonly goes onto undesirable surfaces — give them a spot in the kitchen where it is okay for them to watch you cook, for example.)
  • Simulate hunting through play. Cats are ambush hunters. That means that they hide, stalk, pounce, and attack their prey. Unlike dogs, who are opportunists by nature, wild felines rely on hunting to survive. Eating dry kibble from a bowl just doesn’t cut it for most cats! Try lots of different toys to see which ones they fancy. Make the toy act like prey: sometimes it is slow, sometimes it is quick… sometimes it hides… sometimes it hops! The more it moves like a little bird or mouse, the more likely your cat is to love it. Most cats love a good teaser toy, like the ones pictured below. Or, if they are like my cats, they may also appreciate a good game of fetch. Be sure to put out meaty treats for them to eat when they finish playing. I like to use freeze-dried raw treats like PureBites. I just drop them into their bowls or on their cat tree at the end of a play session.

    • Why? When their little hunter instincts aren’t being used in play, they might be used on ankles, hands, and other pets in the household. Being given appropriate outlets for their hunting instincts can notably decrease aggression in cats.
  • Provide multiple scratching surfaces throughout the house. There are many types of scratching surfaces available for your cats. There’s cardboard, jute, and carpet, to name a few. Cats like to scratch in areas they like — in the living room, in the bedroom, etc. Try providing different types in the areas they like to scratch most. If your cat has a positive reaction to catnip, you may choose to use it to attract them to the scratchers. You can also drop a favorite treat each time a cat uses an appropriate surface. Some cats like scratching vertically, some like scratching horizontally. Try both. A common deterrent for cats using their provided scratching posts is when the post moves when they scratch it. So make sure the scratcher you’ve provided is tall enough for them to stretch and scratch, and heavy or secure enough that it won’t wobble too much.

Brown kitten scratches on black scratching post.

    • Why? Well, scratching is a stress reliever for cats, just like chewing is for dogs. Not providing them with this outlet is likely to get your furniture and carpets ruined — or, if we have punished scratching too severely, the stress may come up as other undesirable behaviors, like urine marking or increased aggression.
  • Provide foraging opportunities for your cat, especially just before bed. You can use fancy cat puzzles like the one pictured below, or you can simply provide cat-friendly food or treats and place them around their space at different levels and in hidey holes. Cats will use their keen senses to hunt out and find the treats. It takes some time for some cats to get used to it, and we can help you shape this behavior in your cats.

A grey tabby cat uses her nose, paws, and brain to get her favorite treats from a treat puzzle.

    • Why? Sniffing out food and eating small meals are both excellent ways to tire out a young cat and reduce stress in all ages. You will probably sleep better when your cats get to hunt out some especially tasty goodies just before bed, and it is another way to help them gain confidence with their cat furniture.

There are, of course, tons of other ideas to try with your cats. I haven’t even touched on many categories of enrichment. These four tips address many feline-typical needs, and I’ve found them to significantly decrease behaviors we might find annoying in our feline companions.

Now What?

  • Try doing one of these things for your cat — just dropping a few tasty treats on an unused cat tree or rearranging the top of the bookcase to be cat friendly can go a long way!
  • Don’t go too over the top. Introducing too many of these things at once won’t just stress you out — it may also stress your kitty! Try one thing at a time, and use trial and eval to figure out which things work for your cat. And don’t be afraid to return or donate toys that your cat doesn’t like.
  • Work with a qualified Behavior Consultant if you need help with your kitty. These things might help, but we can also hone a plan specific to your cat! If you’re ready for a professional, you can work with us here.
  • Join our free Facebook group, “Enrichment for the Real World

Happy Training,

All About the Pet Harmony Enrichment Framework

If you’ve been following us, you know that enrichment is our jam. We wrote Canine Enrichment for the Real World, have enrichment courses, and imbue it into everything that we do at Pet Harmony.

And, just so we’re on the same page, the way I’m defining enrichment is:

Enrichment means meeting all of an animal’s physical, mental, and emotional needs in order to empower them to perform species-typical behaviors in healthy, safe, and appropriate ways.

That’s a mouthful, so we often just say that enrichment means meeting all of an individual’s needs.

One of the facets of enrichment that we’ve been talking about a lot is our Enrichment Framework. This framework is how we systematically meet individuals’ needs to affect behavior change. And while we originally intended the Pet Harmony Enrichment Framework to be a way for us to better communicate with other professionals how we do this, it can be applicable to the everyday pet parent as well! 


Let’s dive in to see how this framework works and how you can use it with your pet.


The Pet Harmony Enrichment Framework

Enrichment frameworks are nothing new. They help animal caregivers be more strategic with the limited resources they have and that makes an enrichment plan more sustainable in the long run. Our framework is a modified version of one called the SPIDER Protocol that many zoos use. Our goal was to make something more friendly for the average pet household. Here are the steps we came up with:

  1. List desirable and undesirable behaviors. We need to know where we are and where we want to be to make sure we’re on the right path! This list includes current undesirable behaviors that your pet is exhibiting and current and future desirable behaviors. 
  2. Are needs being met? In our book, we outline 14 categories of enrichment needs, from health and veterinary care to mental exercise to foraging to calming. This step is also about surveying where we currently are.
  3. Are agency needs being met? Agency means having the ability to make choices that result in desired outcomes. All individuals need to have some control over their lives, and that includes our pets! This step is the final one in surveying where we are by taking stock of how much agency the pet has within each of the 14 enrichment categories. 
  4. Narrow down your options. Now that we have an idea of where we are and where we want to be, we will have an idea of what categories we want to improve in to help us get there. For example, if we have a dog bouncing off the walls in the evening we can look into physical and mental exercise options to see if that affects that particular behavior. While there are a ton of options and ideas out there, not everyone is going to be right for you, your pet, and your household. We need to narrow it down to what’s possible for this particular scenario.
  5. Prioritize activities. Some options will be simple and some will be more time-consuming. Prioritize activities that give you a lot of bang for your buck by choosing simple, easy-to-implement activities that address multiple needs.
  6. Develop a plan of action. This is the who, what, when, where, and for how long. Planning these details ahead of time helps you more easily enact the plan without letting things fall through the cracks.
  7. Implement and document. Finally, we’re ready to do the things! But if we’re going to be as strategic (and therefore sustainable) as possible, we want to be objectively observing and perhaps even documenting the results to make sure that we’re on the right track. More about that in Emily’s blog post: When Enrichment Isn’t Enriching
  8. Reassess, readdress, and do it again. Needs don’t just go away after being met one time. It’d be amazing if we could sleep once and never sleep again! Alas, the world doesn’t work that way. We will always need to reassess, readdress, and do this framework over again to address any changes- desirable or undesirable- that we see in our pets.


Um. This seems like a lot of work. 

Remember how I said that we originally created this for professionals? That means that this framework is more involved because we as professionals need it to be this in-depth. And, realistically, the Pet Harmony team typically does the above steps in their head when working with a client so it can be a lot less work than it seems. 

So let’s break this down into something salient for the everyday pet parent…


What this looks like for the pet parent

What this looks like is going to depend on whether or not you’re working with a consultant who uses this or a similar framework. For example, if you’re working with a Pet Harmony consultant you don’t have to worry about any of this. They’ll bake it all into your behavior modification plan for you! 

If you’re DIYing this (no shame in that!), then here’s what it can look like:

  • Learn more about the different species-specific needs your pet has. I, of course, suggest our book Canine Enrichment for the Real World, but there are other resources out there, too!
  • List desirable and undesirable behaviors. We still need to know where we are and where we’re going. 
  • Of those undesirable behaviors, which are typical of the species? Dogs bark, dig, chew, and forage for food. Cats scratch. Parrots shred. If the undesirable behavior is a normal species-typical behavior, then search for alternatives that allow them to perform it in a more appropriate way. Or, are there skills that they could learn in a particular category that would help? For example, most people add extra physical exercise for dogs who have trouble settling when a lot of time they need to learn the skill of relaxing instead. If the undesirable behavior involves fear, aggression, and/or anxiety we will always recommend working with a qualified behavior professional. 
  • Experiment with one new activity at a time and observe your pet’s behavior during and after the exercise. Is the activity actually having the intended effect? If yes, fantastic! If no, tweak the details like who, what, when, where, and for how long to see if it works better that way. 
  • Go back to your list of desirable and undesirable behaviors to see how you’re doing. Do you need to do some more experimenting? If yes, do this process again. If you achieved your goals, celebrate and know that you’ll have to do this again for changes in your pet’s age, health, and environment. 

That seems a lot more reasonable as a pet parent, huh?


Now what?

  • If you’re interested in all things enrichment, make sure to join us in our companion Facebook group, and 
  • If you are a professional looking to incorporate an enrichment framework into your consulting, our Enrichment Framework for Behavior Modification Master Class is the complete A-Z course for force-free behavior consultants, from “how the heck do I implement this” to “how did I ever live without this?”


Combatting That Enrichment Guilt

If you prefer to listen to this post, click here.


I see a lot of people asking for more ideas for enrichment for their pets, especially on social media platforms. More variety. More ways to entertain their pets. And my question is always:

“Is your pet displaying behaviors that lead you to believe that they’re bored or their needs aren’t being met as well as they could be?”

And the answer is often, “no”. 

My next question is, “Then why are you looking for more ideas if what you’re doing right now is what your pet needs?”

Silence. Quizzical brow. And, for some folks, finally the answer of, “Because I feel guilty not doing it. I think that I should be.”

Oh boy, I’ve been there before. The Enrichment Guilt. 


A reminder about what enrichment is, and isn’t

In our book Canine Enrichment for the Real World, Emily and I adopted the practitioner-friendly definition of enrichment (so that it’s easier to put into practice!), which is: enrichment means meeting all of an animal’s mental, physical, and behavioral needs to empower them to perform species-typical behaviors in healthy, safe, and appropriate ways. 

In short, enrichment is about meeting all of an animal’s needs. 

Fun games and toys and activities can be a part of that enrichment strategy, but only if they’re actually meeting the needs of the individual. And only the individual can tell us if that’s true through their behavior. We don’t get to decide what does or does not meet their needs. 


The enrichment guilt

Enrichment has become a hot topic in the last few years in the pet-owning world. And that’s fantastic! We love it! But with all of those Instagram-worthy pics comes guilt from others wondering if they’re doing enough for their pets. Wondering if their pets aren’t living their best lives because they don’t have a social media-ready enrichment strategy. 

I’m here to tell you that you can be released from your enrichment guilt. You do not need an Instagram-worthy enrichment strategy (unless you want to). You do not need to have a ton of variety or new activities or toys for your pet (unless they say otherwise through their behavior). You do not need to search high and low for brand new, never-heard-of-before strategies if your pet’s behavior is saying that their needs are being met. Do what works for you and your individual pet without comparing yourself to everyone else. 


But I still feel like I should do more…

I get it. Even with knowing all this I still look at Oso and feel like I should be doing more for him. Guilt doesn’t just dissipate that easily. If you’re struggling to get out of the enrichment guilt spiral, then focus on anticipating future needs. 

Here’s what that can look like. Oso is getting older. He’s 9 this year and this is the first year we’ve noticed him starting to feel his age. He’s a big dog and mobility issues are a big deal for someone his size. Plus, he has to go down a few steps to get outside regardless of the door we use and everyone in the house likes him being up on the furniture for snuggles. 

Instead of waiting for mobility issues to become a problem, we’re being proactive. We bought stairs and started to teach him how to use those to get up and off of the bed. We’ll be able to use those for the car, too. Next on the list is a sling, for the inevitable day that we have to help him up and down the stairs. After that will likely be cooperative care training for old-man procedures that the vet will help us pinpoint. 

Because his current needs are met well on a day-to-day basis, we’re focusing on what he’ll need in the future and preparing for it now. And that assuages the enrichment guilt that I feel while making sure that I’m still being productive and working smarter, not harder. 


Now what?

  • If you’re on the hunt for new activities for your pet, ask yourself if it’s because you’re actually seeing behavior that suggests your pet is bored or needs tweaks to their enrichment plan or if it’s for you. 
  • If it’s for you, dig deeper into why you’re looking for new activities. Is it because of enrichment guilt?
  • If so, I release you from your enrichment guilt! Did it work? If yes, awesome. If not, then consider your pet’s future needs and start preparing for them. 
  • Professionals: if you’re ready to take your enrichment game with your clients to the next level, be sure to join our waitlist for our upcoming Enrichment Framework for Behavior Modification MasterClass: https://petharmonytraining.com/enrichmentframework 

Happy training!


Enrichment Webinar

3 Strategies to Uplevel Your Consulting Skills to Solve Behavior Challenges:

Happier pets, enthusiastic clients, & a more rewarding career using the Pet Harmony Enrichment Framework

Live Webinar for Force-Free Behavior Consultants

This webinar is a must attend if...

Animal welfare starts with enrichment

Enrichment is all about meeting an individual’s needs. We can’t expect pets (or their parents!) to be at their behavioral best if their needs aren’t being met. And, oftentimes, that’s the key for cases that aren’t going as planned.

That’s where the enrichment framework comes in. This framework is about meeting everyone’s needs- the pet’s, the client’s, and yours- to solve behavior problems efficiently and effectively. 

Join us as we discuss key strategies straight out of the enrichment framework that will help you become an even better behavior consultant so that you can help more pets and their people.

In this webinar, you'll learn:


The Major Mindset Shift

All consultants need to learn this major mindset shift first to successfully use enrichment to its fullest extent.


Confidence-Boosting Strategy

This strategy will help you stay cool, calm, and collected while you troubleshoot something that didn’t go as planned.


Real-Life Examples of the Enrichment Framework in Action

Having trouble envisioning how this works with real clients and their pets? We’ll give you plenty of real-life examples so you can picture exactly how these strategies fit into your work as a consultant.


Our #1 Tip

This is our #1 tip to keep clients happy, working with you, and ultimately referring to you.

Allie pic with Oso

Meet Your Instructor

Allie Bender, CDBC, CPDT-KA, SBA

Allie Bender is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant, Certified Professional Dog Trainer- Knowledge Assessed, and a Shelter Behavior Affiliate. She has been in the animal welfare industry since 2006 and professionally training since 2012. She is the founder and co-owner of Pet Harmony, co-author of Canine Enrichment for the Real World, and a national speaker.

While in the animal sheltering industry, Allie realized that her passion lied in helping pets with maladaptive behaviors. Specifically, she wanted to help prevent animals with rehabilitatable problems from being euthanized. She loves working with dogs and cats displaying stranger danger, resource guarding, and leash reactivity. Her favorite thing about working with pets and their people is seeing relationships grow and seeing harmonious households develop.

Copyright 2021 Pet Harmony, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Terms & ConditionsPrivacy Policy

Results are not guaranteed because behavior, human, canine, or otherwise, are not guaranteeable.

Enrichment Framework for Behavior Modification Masterclass

Become a Better Behavior Consultant

Help more pets & their people (which makes you more money!)

Even if you don't have a lot of time for continuing education

Join the Enrichment Master Class Waitlist

Be the first to know when registration opens & get a discount


Featured On:

If you're a force-free behavior consultant

you've already heard that

enrichment is a necessary part of your client's behavior modification plan

But here's what you might NOT know:

even if you're incorporating enrichment into your plan, using it to solve behavior problems isn't as obvious as you may think

Our Enrichment Framework Can...

Solve behavior problems faster

Unmet needs can cause and/or exacerbate maladaptive behaviors. By focusing on those needs first, we can create conditions that help our animal learners learn better and faster!

Get clients on board from the get-go

Our framework focuses on all learners involved: human and animal. By creating quick wins for our clients, we can get them on board from the get-go to make better progress.

Let you work smarter, not harder

Frequently we have clients tell us that they only had to focus on the “enrichment” part of their plan in order to meet their goals, instead of working on complicated behavior modification strategies. This keeps clients happier and boosts our referrals!

Keep your clients coming back to you

Happy clients come back! From making sure their needs are being met to helping them reach their goals in a more efficient way, our enrichment framework helps you meet everyone’s needs. That means more referrals, more clients, and ultimately more money!

Enrichment is so much more than entertainment, variety, and keeping them busy


Already started implementing exercises from our book?



But how do you implement the Enrichment Framework into your clients' behavior modification plans?

If you want your clients to get better results faster, there are a lot of factors that come into play. And strategically using a framework instead of hodge-podging a lot of different techniques together will help you do that.

The fact is most behavior consultants aren't tapping into the true power of enrichment

Even the consultants who know that enrichment is about unmet needs still have a hard time truly embracing the concept instead of falling back onto the common “enrichment activities” mindset. This means that they’re using enrichment as another step in their plan, instead of using it as the plan itself.

Here's why that can be a massive problem:

R+, Force-free, consent-based consultants, whatever you want to call us, there’s a stigma that we can be a little extra. And I mean extra work. Extra time. Extra effort for our clients. And y’know what clients don’t want? Extra. If we want LIMA methodologies to rule the pet training world and have more forceful and/or aversive methods fall by the wayside, we need to start focusing on meeting our client’s and their pet’s needs and meeting them fast. And all of that is part of the Enrichment Framework. 

4 reasons most behavior consultants struggle to implement enrichment strategically


Difficulty moving past the "enrichment activity" mindset

Mindset shifts take time, patience, and work. It’s not enough to just *know* that enrichment means meeting all of an animal’s needs. We need to be able to frame our consulting around this mindset if we’re going to use enrichment strategically.


Too focused on treating the problem, instead of the individual

Laser focus can be great, but it’s not always great for a behavior modification plan. When we lose sight of the individual as a whole we can make our jobs– and our clients’ lives– harder. 


Not focused on the client's needs

Your client’s behavior modification plan needs to be like airplane oxygen masks: they need to put theirs on first before helping those around them. If we can’t meet our client’s needs, there’s no way that they can meet their pet’s needs.


Not focused on client sustainability

You can write the greatest behavior modification plan in all of history, but if your client doesn’t do it then it’s not that great at all. We can’t meet pet needs if we don’t make our plan sustainable for their humans.

Force-free consultants aren't really known for putting their clients first. And that just sends people to aversive trainers.

Meeting pets' needs also means meeting client needs.

"Thanks so much guys. I really appreciate you. I have learned so much and modified not only my intake but the way I communicate with clients. You are the BEST!"
Consultant & Business Owner


Enrichment Framework for Behavior Modification Master Class

The Complete A-Z Course for Force-Free Behavior Consultants,

From "how the heck do I implement this" to "how did I ever live without this?"

We've taken everything we've learned from writing and presenting on Canine Enrichment for the Real World to implementing an enrichment framework with our own clients

The Enrichment Framework for Behavior Modification Master Class

isn't so much a training program as it is a way to uplevel your consulting skills and career

Yes, you’ll learn the strategies behind everything you do, but more importantly, you’ll have a meticulous, step-by-step, implementation framework that leaves nothing out and takes nothing for granted as you use it with your clients.

The End Result:

Help more pets & their people more effectively & efficiently (which ends up making you more money!)

(oh and the CEUs don't hurt either: 30 CCPDT, 28 IAABC & KPA, 24 PPAB)

Enrichment Framework for Behavior Modification Master Class

is the first enrichment course for Behavior Consultants that spends equal time addressing the human and animal learners

A Sneak Peek Inside Enrichment Framework for Behavior Modification Master Class

Live sessions 9/7/2022 – 11/2/2022 (break 10/5), Wednesdays, 4 pm CST

Recorded for folks who can’t attend live!

And to make sure you're supported every step of the way, you'll also get access to:

Bonus #1:

2 months access to Pro Campus Community & Program

A $74 Value

A welcoming community that is rooting for your success and there to help you achieve it! Plus, get a peek at our one-stop professional development program that helps behavior consultants take on more challenging cases, grow their business, and get certified.

Bonus #2:

Live Implementation Sessions

A $3,200 Value

Every week Allie & Emily will host multiple implementation sessions to answer all of your questions, go over homework, help you with your cases, and anything else you need to implement the Enrichment Framework!

Bonus #3:

Course-Exclusive Case Studies

A $400 Value

Two real case studies– one focusing on the dog & the other on the human– so you can see exactly how we implement the Enrichment Framework with our clients. 

Imagine what your world would be like if you...

  • Felt confident taking on more complex behavior cases (hello helping more pets!)
  • Had the skills to turn a difficult conversation into a bonding moment with your client (hello cooperation!)
  • Got more clients to follow through with their plan (hello more money!)

The Enrichment Framework for Behavior Modification Master Class will help you do all this and so much more.

"[Allie] and Emily have given me a huge assist to become a successful behavior consultant: essential knowledge and more confidence!"
Behavior Consultant & Business Owner


Enrichment Framework for Behavior Modification Master Class

Today and get...

EMC course product showcase

The FULL Enrichment Framework for Behavior Modification Master Class

A $1,600 Value

  • Weekly live sessions
  • PDF copy of slides 
  • Audio-only version of sessions
  • Optional weekly homework activities
  • Certificate of completion
  • Logo to market your enrichment skillz
  • 1 year access to all recordings
  • CEUs: 30 CCPDT, 28 IAABC & KPA, 24 PPAB

Bonus #1:

2 months access to Pro Campus Community & Program

A $74 Value

A welcoming community that is rooting for your success and there to help you achieve it! Plus, get a peek at our one-stop professional development program that helps behavior consultants take on more challenging cases, grow their business, and get certified.

Bonus #2:

Live Implementation Calls

A $3,200 Value

Every week Allie & Emily will host multiple implementation sessions to answer all of your questions, go over homework, help you with your cases, and anything else you need to implement the Enrichment Framework!

Bonus #3:

Course-Exclusive Case Studies

A $400 Value

Two real case studies– one focusing on the dog & the other on the human– so you can see exactly how we implement the Enrichment Framework with our clients. 

That's a total value of more than $5,200

Your Investment

4 payments of


1 payment of



Need help ordering or have questions?

Email us at [email protected]

The 14-Day "Not for Me" Guarantee

We get that not all courses nor all teachers are for all students. If after attending live sessions or watching the recordings you don’t think that this is the right course for you, we will refund your money within the first 14 days of the course starting.

Frequently Asked Questions

Not a problem! We record all live sessions so you can watch the recording.

Nope. If you already know some behavior modification techniques and want to be able to use an enrichment framework with anyone you work with (i.e. volunteers, fosters, adopters, etc.) then you can benefit from this course.

Nope! If you think this course will help your career then you are welcome.

Nope! Our book is full of theory, studies, and activities. But this course is all about implementation. So as long as you trust that we know what we’re talking about, you can go back after the course and read about the theory.

Nope! Enrichment was originally developed in zoos for a wide array of different species. You can apply what you learn in this course to any species you work with.

Meet Your Instructors

Allie Bender, CDBC, CPDT-KA, SBA

Allie Bender is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant, Certified Professional Dog Trainer- Knowledge Assessed, and a Shelter Behavior Affiliate. She has been in the animal welfare industry since 2006 and professionally training since 2012. She is the founder and co-owner of Pet Harmony, co-author of Canine Enrichment for the Real World, and a national speaker.

While in the animal sheltering industry, Allie realized that her passion lied in helping pets with maladaptive behaviors. Specifically, she wanted to help prevent animals with rehabilitatable problems from being euthanized. She loves working with dogs and cats displaying stranger danger, resource guarding, and leash reactivity. Her favorite thing about working with pets and their people is seeing relationships grow and seeing harmonious households develop.


Emily Strong, CDBC, SBA

Emily Strong is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant and Shelter Behavior Affiliate. She has been in the animal welfare industry since 1990 and has been a behavior consultant since 2008. She is the co-owner of Pet Harmony, co-author of Canine Enrichment for the Real World, and a national speaker. 

Emily started working with animals at a young age and struggled with the notion that you have to hurt, scare, or intimidate animals to help them. When she discovered the behavior sciences and learned that it wasn’t necessary to do so– that we can care for emotional, mental, and physical health simultaneously– she plunged headfirst into animal behavior. Emily loves helping current and prospective behavior professionals and working with pet parents through our in-depth services. She enjoys working with all species. 

Copyright 2021 Pet Harmony, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Terms & ConditionsPrivacy Policy

Results are not guaranteed because behavior, human, canine, or otherwise, are not guaranteeable.

Community Question: What Enrichment Can I Use for [Insert Your Issue Here]

If you prefer to listen to this blog post, click here.

Over in the Enrichment for Pet Behavior Issues group on Facebook (come join us!), some of our frequently asked questions are along the lines of: 

What enrichment can I use with a resource guarder? 

What enrichment can I use for separation anxiety? 

What enrichment can I use for dogs that steal? 

What enrichment can I use for [insert behavior problem here]?

Before we dive in, let’s review a couple of things. If you remember back to last week’s blog, enrichment isn’t about an activity or toy, it’s not what we do to or give to our pets. It’s about the changes in our pet’s observable and measurable behavior after the opportunity to engage with something that allows them to meet a need. 

The simple definition of enrichment is: meeting all of an animal’s needs. 

We can expand that to a full definition: enrichment means meeting all of an animal’s needs in order to empower them to perform species-typical behavior in healthy, safe, and appropriate ways. 


Using Enrichment for Problems

The first step to goal-oriented enrichment is to list out the undesirable behaviors. Remember to use overt, observable, measurable behaviors. 

The second step is to list out the DESIRABLE behaviors. What do you want to happen instead? Remember to use overt, observable, measurable behaviors. 

The third step is to look at the categories of needs and ask yourself, based on the undesirable behaviors listed, “Is this need being met?” What category do they likely fall into? The categories are: 




Physical Exercise

Sensory Stimulation



Instinctual Behaviors/Species-Typical Behaviors 


Social Interaction

Mental Exercise





Now, let’s return to the original question. “What enrichment can I use for [insert your problem here]?”

And the very honest answer is, I can’t tell you. It’s going to be dependent on you, your dog, your situation. Without having a better understanding of your life, it is very hard (and unethical) for us to say “do XYZ activity for XYZ problem”. With different issues, we often see clusters of needs that aren’t being met, but HOW we meet each of those needs is entirely dependent on the individual. 

For example, all dogs need physical exercise, but Griffey, my 5-year-old forever puppy, and Laika, my 8-year-old dog need very different things. Griffey needs 2-3 bouts of very intense tug or flirt pole. Laika needs 15 minutes of low-key ball catching. All dogs need to participate in species-typical behaviors, but Griffey, my suspected hound mix, and Laika, my suspected terrier mix need very different things. Griffey needs the opportunity to sniff out food in the yard, meanwhile, Laika needs the opportunity to shred things for her food. 

So, because it would be unethical to tell you exactly what to do without knowing you, your dog, and your situation, let’s take a look at a few success stories where we addressed behavior concerns through the lens of enrichment. 


The One Where The Dog Couldn’t Sleep

Let’s kick it off talking about Truman. Truman was about a 65 pound, long-backed, low-riding pup. Every night around dusk, Truman would start pacing around the home crying and panting, he’d lay down, then get back up. He would spend the entire night shifting, getting up, moving around, crying. Neither he nor his people were able to get a good night’s rest. Truman’s folx needed sleep. The sleep deprivation was increasing their overall stress and impacting their welfare too. 

The undesirable behaviors: getting up throughout the night, crying/pacing/panting throughout the evening, overall restlessness. 

The desirable behaviors: able to rest in the evening, sleeping through the night. 

When we look at the categories of enrichment there were a couple of places that we thought might need improvement: physical exercise and health/vet. 

In order to achieve the desired behaviors, we took a multi-pronged approach. We got Truman in for a general vet exam to make sure that his health/veterinary needs were being met. 

While we were waiting for that appointment, we also tried adjusting his physical exercise routine. Truman’s people noticed that he had harder nights (louder whining, more frequent adjusting and moving…) on days he went to a full day of daycare. So, we tried reducing his time at daycare to half days, then down to a couple of hours a couple of times a week. We saw an improvement, but it still wasn’t the restful nights the family needed. 

With the information that the increased activity was making the situation worse, Truman’s vet found that Truman had a back injury and inflammation that was causing physical discomfort. Once Truman’s health/veterinary needs were met, and he received treatment for his injury, he was able to sleep through the night again. 


The One Where the Dog Wouldn’t Move

Pearl was a small 4-month-old terrier mix who was recently adopted to a new family. They noticed that Pearl wasn’t like their past puppies. She hardly moved, she flinched at movements and sounds, she cowered at the sight of other dogs. Pearl’s family wanted her to feel comfortable in her new environment, and to know that she was safe and secure 

The undesirable behaviors: cowering, flinching, staying stationary. 

The desirable behaviors: affiliative behaviors toward the family and dogs, walking around, sniffing, movement. 

Based on Pearl’s behavior, we suspected that there were a couple of areas that could use improvement: safety, security, and very specifically agency within these contexts. 

The first thing we did was create a safe space for Pearl. We gave her two or three options of things to lay on, a few different toys of a few different types. She needed the opportunity to make a choice between multiple desirable things. Only good things happened in Pearl’s safe space. That was her escape, that was her place where she could control the world, any time Pearl went to her safe space, it put a pause on anything that was happening. 

When Pearl came out of her safe space, she got even more options. Do you want to engage with us? Do you want to play with a toy? Do you want to go outside? Do you want to play with another puppy? Which puppy looks interesting to you? Pearl got to drive the boat, we were merely there to facilitate. 

By the end of a week, Pearl was eager to see her family (loose body, wagging tail, gaping smile), and was soliciting play from other puppies. 


The One Where the Dog Would Bite

Turner is a small, year and a half-ish, Heinz 57 kind of mix. His family adopted him when he was 10 weeks old and shortly after realized that he had no trouble telling them when he didn’t want something to happen, in the form of biting. This especially happened when they would pick him to go upstairs for the evening or to get out of the car. Turner’s bites escalated in severity until his dad needed stitches. Turner’s family wanted him and them to remain safe and were worried that he would start biting other people aside from them. 

The undesirable behaviors: biting, lip curling, growling

The desirable behaviors: getting out of the car safely, allowing to be picked up to go upstairs, predictable reactions to handling

Turner had already seen a veterinarian who ruled out medical concerns, so we needed to look at other categories of enrichment. Based on Turner’s behavior, we knew he needed help with independence and ultimately agency (which is not a category of enrichment, rather an umbrella category that is a necessary part of all of the categories). 

The first thing we did for Turner was to give him the agency to say “no” to being picked up by teaching his parents about his stress signals and how to respond to them. As his dad said in a follow-up session, “Just don’t pick him up!” Turner was immediately a much happier camper when we gave him the agency to say “no”. 

But that still didn’t change the fact that he’s a little guy living in a big world. How was he to get in the car, on the bed, and up the stairs? That’s where independence comes in. Turner’s parents got a ramp for the car and stairs for furniture he enjoyed sleeping on in the house. However, he didn’t know how to use them, so his family is teaching him how to use those tools to increase his choices in those situations. 

Turner’s journey isn’t quite over at the time of writing this blog post, but he and his family are enjoying living a much more harmonious, bite-free lifestyle. 


In each of these cases, the dogs had needs that weren’t being met. For Truman it was health/medical, for Pearl it was safety and security, for Turner it was independence. Without all of the necessary information, advice would miss the mark. Instead, by having all the necessary information, and by meeting each dog’s needs, we were able to make progress and find harmony within the family.


Now What? 

  • Do you have a dog with some behavior you’d like to change? List the undesirable behaviors, the desirable behaviors, and then look at the categories of enrichment and ask yourself “is this need being met?” Once you have an idea, you can start strategizing your activities to have the biggest impact on your pet’s behavior. 
  • To learn more about using enrichment effectively in behavior change plans, come join us for our free Roadmap for Behavior Solutions workshop!

Enrichment Isn’t About the Activity

If you prefer to listen to this blog post, click here.

This month, we are spending quite a bit of time talking about overt vs. covert behaviors. We want to switch our language from constructs and covert assumptions to overt, measurable, observations. This is also true of our enrichment plan.  


What is enrichment?

The simple definition of enrichment is: meeting all of an animal’s needs. 

We can expand that to a full definition: enrichment means meeting all of an animal’s needs in order to empower them to perform species-typical behavior in healthy, safe, and appropriate ways. 

When we see pets with behavior problems, both nuisance behaviors, and maladaptive behaviors, we always look to see if their needs are being met. Enrichment isn’t an activity we do or a thing we give to our animals. It is in the opportunity and ability for the animal to meet their needs, and we measure that through the behavioral changes we see as a result. We cannot say an activity is “enriching” if we don’t see a change in their overall overt and observable behavior. 

Enrichment isn’t measured by: 

They played with the item or not 

They spent 20 minutes on dinner instead of 5 minutes 

They “liked it”

They “had fun”

Enrichment can be measured by: 

Changes in their overall behavior (my dog barks at sounds outside 50% less on days after we take a 45-minute sniff stroll)

Decrease in undesired behavior and/or increases in the desired behavior (my dog doesn’t mouth me at night when we play tug in the middle of the day and/or my dog rests more at night when we play tug in the middle of the day)

Now, I’m not saying this to be a party pooper. If you want to do activities with your dog because they are having fun (what does their body language tell you?), and you are having fun, then do it! 

Activities can be fun!  

But they may not be enriching. 


And you may be wondering, does this really matter?

Yes, for a couple of reasons. 

When I’m implementing an enrichment plan to help with pet behavior issues, I want to do things that are really enriching, not just occupying my dog. I want to objectively know that I’m meeting their needs in a way that works for both of us and will support our progress on a behavior change program. Let’s look at an example. 

Griffey reacts (barks, cries, whines, runs away, runs towards) sounds outside. We have two separate activities we do on a relatively regular basis: sniffing for meals in the yard, and frozen food puzzles. When we do sniffing for meals in the yard, Griffey reacts to 50% less of the sounds that happen outside, AND he reacts for a shorter duration. When we do frozen food puzzles, there is no observable difference in his response to sounds outside. One of these things is enriching, one of these things is an activity. 

We all have 24 hours in the day, but we don’t have the same 24 hours. Someone that commutes and someone that works from home has different capabilities throughout the day. Someone with a dishwasher and someone who has to hand wash dishes have different amounts of effort to clean toys. Living with a dog with behavior problems is stressful enough. My goal for my clients is that their enrichment plan provides them relief, not just more work. I don’t want time, energy, effort, and money invested in places where it isn’t objectively going to help progress our behavior modification program. 

Circling back to those two activities we do in my house: sniffing for meals out in the yard, and frozen food toys. To sniff food out in the yard, I take a couple of handfuls of kibble and toss it around. The effort from me is almost nothing. After sniffing for meals in the yard, Griffey reacts to 50% less of the sounds that happen outside, AND he reacts for a shorter duration. This means that my effort (incredibly low) gets me a great return.  Now let’s look at those frozen food toys. It takes time to stuff them, I lose a lot of freezer space, I have to expend time, effort, and energy to separate and monitor the dogs, I don’t have a dishwasher, so I have to wash all of them by hand and air dry, and I have invested a lot of money and storage into keeping all of them. The effort for me on a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high) is probably about a 7. That’s a lot of effort to not see an objective difference in his response to sounds outside. 

Being able to prioritize and build a sustainable enrichment plan is critical. If we continue to do things that aren’t meeting our dog’s needs AND create work for us, we are going to burn out. That’s time we could spend doing something meaningful. 

For Griffey, I know that the frozen food toys are an activity. Whether he gets them or not, there is no difference in his overt behavior. This means, that they are optional. On the flip side, sniffing for meals in the yard has a very large positive impact on his overt behavior. This is a staple in our routine. When things get busy, it’s incredibly helpful to know what is going to get you the best return on your investment. 


Now, does that mean I skip frozen food toys all together? 

Definitely not! They are an excellent management activity for me. If I need my dogs quiet for a while, or I need some space, or I need to clean the house in peace, then I pull out a frozen food toy. It keeps them occupied while I’m able to do my stuff. It’s just incredibly helpful to know that when I’m busy, tired, or just not up for it, I can skip them and my dogs won’t be impacted. Plus, it’s fun for me to watch them get all excited (prancing, galloping, hopping, windmill tails, “woowoo” bark, big dog smiles). It brings me joy, and that’s important too. 

Enrichment is a necessary part of the Roadmap for Behavior Solutions, so let’s make sure our efforts are enriching. 


Now what? 

  • If you don’t know where to start, you can sign up for our free Enrichment Chart Guide here. This guide will help you identify which of your dog’s needs might not be met (currently!), and where to start. 
  • If you’d like to learn more about how enrichment fits into the Roadmap for Behavior Solutions, sign up to join our upcoming free workshop.  Learn more about our free Roadmap for Behavior Solutions here!
  • If you already have an enrichment plan in place, look at the lasting impact it has on your dog’s overt behavior throughout the day. Days where you do XYZ activity, do you see an increase or decrease in measurable behavior?


Future-Time Planning for Pandemic Puppies

Click here if you’d prefer to listen to this blog post.

If you read our blog a couple weeks ago, we discussed what we mean by “socialization”. Socialization is using controlled positive exposure during the critical socialization period to help our pup learn what is safe in the world. It’s providing our pups the opportunity to safely (their body language will tell you if they are feeling safe) interact with the environment.

One of our goals when creating a socialization plan is to help our pups navigate the world in the future. We are working super hard to create positive experiences around a variety of things so that in six months, a year, three years from now, a pirate walking down the street is no big deal. 

If you do a quick Google search for “Puppy Socialization Checklist” you’ll get tons of hits with some general umbrella topics: 

  • People
  • Animals
  • Objects
  • Locations
  • Smells
  • Activities 
  • Sounds
  • Surfaces

There are some *mostly* universal experiences in dog’s lives: they will encounter people of different shapes and sizes, they will encounter different breeds of dogs and some other species of animals, they will need to navigate different substrates, they will need medical attention, to ride in a vehicle, hear thunder or fireworks, experience different weather types.

Collating these different lists you’ll start to see some patterns in what we’d like our pups to safely and positively experience during their socialization period and beyond. This gives us a really excellent starting point. 

The downside to these lists? A lot of them were created in a pre-pandemic time. These were very robust 18 months ago. They are still incredibly helpful, but there is more that we need to consider these days. Our socialization plan is looking at the future, so we need to consider all the activities that aren’t a part of our daily life now, but will be in the Future-Time. 

Consider what you want your future to include when it’s safe and how that might impact your dog:

  • Do you work outside of the home? How is your pup alone?
  • Do you plan on using dog daycare? How is your pup around strange dogs?
  • Do you have company regularly? How is your pup with people at the door?
  • Do you attend or host a lot of cookouts? How is your pup with strangers?
  • Do you intend to take your dog to the coffee shop with you? How is your pup on leash?
  • Do you travel? How is your pup at new locations for boarding?
  • Do you have an annual Halloween party? How is your pup around doorbells and costumes?

From Now-Time to Future-Time

You’ve started considering what you’d like your future to have in store for you and your pup. Start training now! Start building a plan that will help you bridge the gap between their pandemic experiences and your Future-Time goals. Splice and dice so that you have bite sized activities to work through. 

One of my Future-Time goals? Returning to in person conferences. It is part of the year that both my partner and I really enjoy. Both our pups are well out of the window of socialization and we still have some work to do! We moved to a new area last year, so we are starting from scratch. 

What will we need? Past experiences have told us that Griffey does better when someone cares for him in our home. That means, we need:

  • To find an option for in-home pet care that is experienced with dogs that have some reactivity.
  • To find someone with appropriate experience and qualifications.
  • To find someone who uses LIMA (Least Intrusive Minimally Aversive) approaches to care. 
  • To budget for, and set up safe, comfortable  meet and greets for relationship building.
  • To create a list of what the person may need to be successful (diet information, enrichment information, vet information, health information, medication schedules…)

What if my pup is older? 

That’s okay! You can teach an old(er) dog new tricks! Take stock of your Future-Time goals. Look at what your pup has and hasn’t experienced. Observe your pup and let them tell you where they are and are not comfortable. We can build a plan to address both you and your dog’s needs at any age!

Now What?

  • Create a list of things you expect to change in your future life. Start brainstorming for the future you. Remember to consider the practical (work/school schedule…), and then things that bring you joy (cookouts/camping…). 
  • Think about ways to help your pup to positively experience things related to that change. Can you practice any of the things you identified safely? Get creative! This can be a fun activity for the whole family. If you love Halloween, see if you can find some silly costumes on a local Buy Nothing group. If you love company coming over, have your family role play a stranger coming over. 
  • If you are bringing home a young puppy, I highly recommend the Pandemic Puppy Raising Support Group on Facebook. They have a great amount of resources to help you adjust your socialization plan to pandemic times!
  • If your pup is a little older, you are seeing maladaptive behaviors, or you’d like someone to help guide your focus  join us on Thursday, February 18th at 5:00pmPST for our Pandemic Puppies Webinar. We will be discussing some excellent starting points for building the bridge between Now-Time and Future-Time.

– Ellen