Smaller Steps Make for Faster Progress: Splitting for Yourself

Last week we talked about the concept of “splitting” (breaking larger steps or behaviors into smaller steps) and how it will improve your training with your pet. But I’ll clue you into a secret: the rules of behavior science apply to all species. That means that we can take the concept of splitting and apply it to our own learning as well! Those of you working with a dog trainer or behavior consultant (or physical therapist, occupational therapist, etc.) might notice your professional doing this for you already. It usually looks like:

“Start with this step and then we’ll add to it in our next session.”

It’s not that your professional is looking to draw out the training process or for more money by adding sessions, it’s that they know that splitting enhances learning for all species. In other words, they know you’ll be more successful this way. It’s easier to focus on one thing at a time until you become proficient at that, then add a second activity, then the third, and so on. Otherwise, you’ll likely find yourself overwhelmed, unsure of what to work on, and ultimately giving up. 

How can I split my own learning process?

It’s one thing for a trained professional to break down the steps for you and guide you through the process they’ve devoted their life to and it’s a completely different thing for you to do this for yourself. If you’re like me, you want to do or learn a bunch of things all at once and be proficient at them tomorrow. We all want things right now and unfortunately learning to proficiency just doesn’t happen that way. But here are some steps to help you split your own learning process to make it both more efficient and less overwhelming:

  1. Choose one thing to focus on at a time. That might be one thing today and another tomorrow but you’ll make more progress focusing your effort on just one skill, activity, or goal. Choose something that will be easier but also impactful. 
  2. Find someone (or several someones) who’s done what you want to do and learn from them. You may be saying, “Allie, what gives? You’re supposed to be giving me tips on how I can do this by myself.” Yes, that’s true, but let’s be real: you likely aren’t going to even know the steps to take to learn a brand new skill. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to hire a professional. Blogs, podcasts, videos, and interviews are a great way to learn from someone who’s been there and done that. It’s also nice to do this step early in the process so that you can decide if you really do need to hire a professional sooner rather than later. 
  3. Write out a few steps that you know need to happen based off of your research in Step 2. Again, narrow your focus down to just one of these items.  
  4. Zoom in on that step. What are the tools, skills, and resources you need to complete that one item? Write all that out. Research more if necessary!
  5. Looking at your list, what is the one thing that you can do right now with the skills and resources you have? There’s always at least one thing that won’t take too long. 
  6. Congratulate yourself for taking the first step! Choose another easy one. Continue until you run out of steps that you can do right away with the skills and resources you have. 
  7. Choose another step that requires something you don’t have: tools, resources, skills. Get what you need to complete that step and then do it! Continue until your list is done. 

After going through that process a couple of times a lot of people decide that it would be easier for a professional to split the learning process for them. That’s true and okay to decide! That’s what we’re here for: to track your progress and dole out learning in bite-size pieces for you. But know that you can always ask to split your steps further or take the above steps to do it yourself. You’ll be on your way to more proficient learning in no time!

Now what?

  • Choose something that you want to learn and start the above process!
  • Reach out for help when you get stuck. It’s okay to ask for help when you need it!
  • Have fun! Find ways to incentivize your learning so that you stick with it. 

Happy training!


Smaller Steps Make for Faster Progress: Splitting for Pets

I recently met with the cutest new puppy, Maddie, and her family. Maddie’s mom told me that she was having trouble teaching their new puppy some basic manners. During their training sessions Maddie would get frustrated, grumble, and walk away. That made it frustrating for the humans, too. 

I asked her mom to show me what she was doing and quickly discovered the problem: the steps were too big. I offered to work with Maddie and described the process I was using called “splitting”.  Maddie made quick progress and was learning enthusiastically. Her mom exclaimed:

“Ohhh, I was expecting too much!” 

Maddie’s mom started working with her again– this time splitting the steps– and Maddie learned enthusiastically for her as well. Hooray for Maddie and her family!

Splitting is the process of taking a task or larger step and breaking it down into smaller steps. It’s like teaching a child how to read: first we teach the letters, then how the letters sound together, then how to sound out parts of the word, then the whole word and so on. If we started teaching the word as a whole first the child would likely get frustrated and give up. We need to split it into smaller steps. 

Here’s an example of splitting while teaching a go-to-your-bed-and-lie-down behavior:

  1. Look at the bed 
  2. Lean towards the bed
  3. Take one step towards the bed
  4. Take two steps towards the bed, 3 steps,etc.
  5. Put one foot on the bed
  6. Put two feet on the bed, then 3, then 4
  7. Turn head over left shoulder
  8. Turn over left shoulder until facing human
  9. Bend elbows
  10. Lie down on bed

Even within this example there are several times that I lumped smaller steps together for the sake of convenience (which is usually why we lump instead of split in the first place!) However, you get the picture. There are a lot of steps that go into that single lie-down-on-bed behavior and we can and usually should be reinforcing our pet every step of the way. 

Splitting allows us to create easier wins for our learners (all species included!) That means less frustration and more success. Splitting also makes it easier for us to have a higher rate of reinforcement (aka how frequently we’re treating) which can do things like speed up learning, boost confidence, and improve our relationship. Splitting provides us and our pets with a ton of benefits. 

If there are so many benefits then why don’t we do it more? Well, splitting is a skill and like every skill we need to learn how to do it and practice it to become more efficient. Also, not only is it a skill that many people have yet to acquire, but it’s also a process that can seem counterintuitive. We need to take smaller steps to reach our goal faster? That doesn’t sound right. But, as we saw with Maddie, splitting into smaller steps usually does help us reach our goal faster. It’s like the old saying goes…

Slow and steady wins the race!

So the next time you and your pet are stuck take a moment and ask yourself, “How can I split this step?” Your pet will thank you for it! 

Now what?

  • Practice conceptualizing splitting. A good way to do this is to watch a video of an animal performing some behavior. Slow the video down and watch it frame-by-frame if needed. Write down each step the animal takes to perform the behavior; essentially, each new thing the animal does in each frame. If you’re looking for an extra challenge try to watch the muscles contract before the animal moves! Now that’s some serious splitting.
  • Consider a behavior you would like to teach your pet. Write down each step your pet will need to take to perform the behavior. 
  • With your steps in hand, start teaching your pet the new behavior and treat each step along the way. Phase out treats as your pet becomes proficient at performing the smaller steps. Did your pet learn the behavior faster when you treated for each step along the way? Were you and your pet more or less frustrated? Were there times that you had written down smaller steps than your pet needed? 

Happy training!


P.S. Next week we’re going to look at applying this concept to humans!

Podcast Episode 16: Transcript

#16: Flight Training Mini-Sode

[00:00:00] Emily: But when people go all the way to the end, I really love watching the wheels turning and the dogs, like little brains where they’re like, “This is unpleasant, I’m going to leave now. Okay. Bye!” That’s just delightful to me.

[00:00:14] Allie: Welcome to Enrichment for the Real World, the podcast devoted to improving the quality of life of pets and their people through enrichment. We are your hosts, Allie Bender…

[00:00:33] Emily: …and I’m Emily Strong…

[00:00:34] Allie: …and we are here to challenge and expand your view of what enrichment is, what enrichment can be and what enrichment can do for you and the animals in your lives. Let’s get started.

Thank you for joining us for today’s episode of Enrichment for the Real World. And I want to thank you for rating, reviewing, and subscribing wherever you listen to podcasts. We have a special mini-sode for y’all today. We get a ton of questions about Flight Training. So, we wanted to put together a little episode to answer the biggest questions that we get in honor of our Flight Training for Professionals On-Demand Course, coming out the day this episode airs.

In this episode, Emily and I talk about what flight training is, why everyone should have this skill, and a brief overview of how to do it. Let’s get started.

So, let’s start with the number one question, what is flight training?

[00:01:27] Emily: I have to always start by saying there’s nothing new under the sun, every protocol that exists on the planet is harnessing, you know, the same finite number of behavioral principles that just exist in the world, so there’s nothing particularly new, or shiny, or sexy about the flight training protocol.

However, the reason we found so much success with it is because really what we’re doing, is breaking down the components of reactivity training, and starting with the one that gets overlooked the most often or is done in a kind of aversive of way unintentionally. And we’re making it fun instead. And that aspect of reactivity training is choosing to escape, choosing to move away from a stressor when you can’t handle it.

So, we’re basically pulling that part out and saying, focus on this first, and then we can teach the animals how to check in with you, and then we can teach them how to investigate when it’s necessary or appropriate. So, flight training is really focusing on how do we teach animals, how to escape first in a way that is teaching them the concept. So, they’re conceptually learning, when I feel overwhelmed by something, I can move away from it to get relief.

[00:02:52] Allie: I think that’s a great point that there’s nothing new under the sun and for what it’s worth, we, for the longest time, were calling it flight training, because we don’t have a better word for it.

You know, this is not something that we intended to create or anything. It was just that we saw a need. We saw a need for animals to be able to move away from stressors. And we started putting together, different exercises to see what would work best, and that’s how we came up with our, our flight training.

[00:03:20] Emily: That’s a good point that we weren’t actually trying to create a protocol, we weren’t like, “You know what? Let’s create a new protocol that’s just a variation on the theme.” We started doing this at a sanctuary where there are over 400 dogs that were in incredible amount of stress and the protocols that we had already been taught, kind of, sort of worked? But with that, with that environment, it was really hard to implement the existing protocols, so we had to like mosaic together, different aspects of different protocols, and work on making it really fun for it to even be effective in that environment. And then when we went back into private practice, we were like, oh, yeah, this is actually a really practical way to teach clients too, because we’re splitting those approximations and we’re focusing on one skill at a time, instead of trying to, like hit them with everything at once.

[00:04:08] Allie: So even though we kind of just stumbled into the protocol that we now teach to almost every single one of our clients, and our entire team teaches to almost every single one of their clients, I now think that this is a skill that everybody should have, and I don’t mean like specifically our flight training protocol skill.

I mean, the skill of being able to move away from a stressor, and not just for our pets, honestly, for everybody. I. my favorite thing that somebody said, when I was talking about this, I don’t even remember who it was or in what capacity, but they’re like, “Man, can you teach that to humans for internet fights?”

And I like, yes, all individuals need this skill. So, one of the reasons that I think everybody needs this skill goes back to something Emily said is that this is a coping skill. It is unrealistic for us to think or expect our pets to be comfortable in 100% of situation. It’s much more realistic for us to teach certain situations, and to help our pets be comfortable in those particular environments, and then teach them coping skills to handle anything else that might be thrown their way.

[00:05:24] Emily: Yeah. And I think one of the things that we both learned first at the sanctuary and then continued to learn in private practice is that it’s really so much easier if we teach animals, especially dogs, how to escape first, before we ask them to try to do anything else, like engage, check-in, or investigate. Because it’s a pretty, I think universal experience, I feel pretty comfortable making this assertion, I don’t have any evidence aside from anecdotal evidence, but I feel pretty comfortable saying, that it’s a pretty universal experience that if you know, that escape is an option, you don’t feel the need to escape as often.

Whereas when you don’t have escape as an option, it’s all you can think about and you’re more likely to fall back on fight, or shutting down, then flight, if you don’t know that flight is an option. And this was really made apparent to me at the beginning of the pandemic when we were like that first two weeks where everybody was like in total lockdown, right.

I work from home, and I like never leave the house, I leave the house like maybe once or twice a week, and that’s fine with me, like I’m totally a homebody, and happy to stay at home. But as soon as they were like, you can’t leave your everybody’s in lockdown, all I wanted to do was leave. And I think we see that with animals too, we have to start by teaching them that escape as an option so that it’s easier for them to stay in the moment and do that kind of engaged, thoughtful, checking in, or investigating feeling safer because they know that they can leave if they need to.

[00:06:55] Allie: The example of that, that I give to my clients is the doctor’s office.

You go into your room, examination room. Is that what they’re called? You go into your room, the nurse says, okay, the doctor will be in, in a moment. They closed the door behind you, and you say, “Okay.” And if you’re me, you start scrolling your phone because what else are you going to do during that time? And you’re fine.

You’re fine, being in the room with the door closed. However, If the nurse were to take you into the room, say the doctor’s going to be in, in a moment, close the door, and lock it from the outside. You’re not going to be okay with that situation, you are going to try your hardest to get out because you can’t.

So, agency is so important, and it really changes how stressed you are, that changes how much you’re going to be able to learn, that changes how much progress you’re going to be able to make, like we said before, it’s just a way better option. Then a lot of the other options, you know, the majority of animals who are coming to us are coming to us because they are using those fight type behaviors, aggression, anxiety, however you want to term it.

They are telling other individuals that in no uncertain terms, they want them to go away, and if they’re able to leave the situation, instead, the majority of people like that option better.

[00:08:16] Emily: We really broke it up into let’s teach flight first, then we can teach engage, then we can teach investigation. But we have to break up that flight part even further, because a lot of times when people try to do this, what they end up doing is just dragging their dog away from a stressor, which actually increases the stress for the dog, which then could make the reactivity worse.

So, we have to actually teach that as a skill, so that dogs know to do it first of all, and secondly, enjoy doing it, which is how we buffer against the stress of the situation. So, we break this down into three parts. Allie, do you want to get that first part going?

[00:08:57] Allie: Sure. So, for professionals, this first step is going to come as no surprise. It is teach this cue and skill in a place with minimal distractions where the learner is going to be successful. You’re pretty darn sure that the learner is going to be successful with this, and this step doesn’t usually take long, which is fantastic. And then we can move on to the next step of actually being able to use this with stressors.

[00:09:22] Emily: Yeah. So, after the dog learns that that cue means that fun things are going to happen. If they follow their handler, then we can teach them when you see the stressor and you can’t handle it, which at first is like all the time, right? We’re going to practice this all the time, we’re going to move away from the stressor until you feel relief until you’re not stressed anymore, and then good things will happen. And we just keep doing that until the dog learns, when I’m in the presence of a stressor, I can move away to get relief.

[00:09:56] Allie: And once we start seeing that, where they’re asking for space, then we can lean into how they ask. A lot of times I see animals ask for space in different ways, and part of this seems like a preference thing, part of it seems like an environment thing, and part of it seems like how they’re humans teach this skill.

I’m sure there are a lot of factors, but this can look differently depending on the animal. So, I tell my clients, however, they’re seeing their pet ask for space and internalizing this flight cue, lean into that, whatever that looks like. If that is them trying to cross the street, as long as it’s safe, they can do that. If that looks like them doing some sort of fidget type behavior, like a displacement sniffing, then lean into that, whatever it looks like lean into how your pet is interpreting and processing that skill.

[00:10:48] Emily: The beautiful thing about this is that in, in many cases, when the client is consistent about this and continues to proof the behavior, what we see is that the dogs learn the concept. They internalize the concept, so they don’t need a cue anymore. They just have this realization that if stressor is overwhelming for me, I’m going to move away to obtain relief for myself. And that’s really the goal. It doesn’t, we don’t always get there because a lot of times clients are just happy where they’re at, and they don’t want to finish the plan, and that’s fine too, if they’re happy with where they’re at good for them. But when people go all the way to the end, I really love watching the wheels turning and the dogs, like little brains where they’re like, “This is unpleasant, I’m going to leave now. Okay. Bye!” That’s just delightful to me.

[00:11:36] Allie: It’s the best when you see that, and I want to mention to, you know, we’ve been talking about primarily pets with maladaptive behaviors, but like we were saying, this is a skill that everybody should have. And so, even if you have a pet who doesn’t have maladaptive behaviors, chances are, they may be already choosing to move away from stressors, and that’s why they don’t have maladaptive behaviors, but this is a skill that really every pet, regardless of their behavior should have. Sometimes we just have to teach it, and for other pets, we don’t have to teach it.

[00:12:08] Emily: Yeah, I think that’s a good point. Every animal, every, every individual, every learner across species should know how to move away from stressors when they’re overwhelmed by them. And so, I think it’s kind of prophylactic, if we teach animals, before they have an issue, we can prevent issues from happening in many cases. So, that said, we obviously, with what we do in the clients, we see, we’re typically dealing with clients whose pets have maladaptive behaviors, and one of my favorite examples of how powerful the flight cue was with a client of mine who had two large, kind of mixed breed dogs, they were both in the 60 to 80 pound range, their names work Gog and Magog and they had been getting along, for like the first couple of years that they were together, she took them to obedience training, and then they started fighting, and we won’t get into that whole saga.

Because they were such big dogs, and they were both fairly persistent dogs, their fights were actually pretty expensive, and injurious, like they would really damage each other, and have to go to the hospital, so it was a really big problem, and we worked on a lot of different things to help address this.

I, I do not want to make any kind of claims that the flight cue was the only thing they needed, these types of behaviors are serious, and they typically need a multifaceted approach, so just know I’m not getting into the whole case study, but the flight cue is a really important component of that, and it was one of the first things that we started because at the beginning, they couldn’t be in the same room with each other without trying to go after each other. And so, the first thing that we had to teach them was when you’re upset about this other dog, you move away and you go to a safe space, and the safe spaces where all good things happen, and the other dog doesn’t go there.

And then we also worked on other stuff, one of my favorite emails, I save emails from clients that are like really touching. And I saved this email from this client because she said they had a management fail where they left the house unexpectedly and forgot to put the dogs in their respective areas. They have rooms where their dogs go when they’re out of the house, and she panicked because she realized that she had left the dogs out unattended while they were gone, and when she came back, the dogs were fine, and they were hanging out in their respective safe spaces.

And she looked back at their webcam, and like a delivery guy had knocked on the door, and the dogs got upset and started barking, and then like, they both got up to the door, and they kind of looked at each other, and then they just like, moved away in each went to their own, their own little like relaxation station and she was like, “It was a miracle!”

And I was like, “I am so proud of you. Good work. Obviously let’s try not to have another management fail, but like how beautiful to know that that was a little safety net for the moments when management did fail.” I just loved that because that’s the goal, is that they don’t need a human to cue the behavior, they can do that on their own and make that decision for themselves

[00:15:15] Allie: That’s an amazing story. As we were trying to come up with our anecdotes before this episode, one of the things Emily and I were talking about is that it’s actually kind of difficult to come up with stories because just like what we were talking about with relaxation protocol, for, for us, this is like, yes, welcome to Tuesday.

We, we teach this so many times, but that’s a really memorable story. I wanted to mention too, when we’re talking about this, a lot of times we are using some of our more sensational stories to really drive home how impactful this can be, but a lot of times it doesn’t look as sensational as some of the stories that we tell about this.

And so, I wanted to take a little bit of a different approach and tell a story that is very common for our clients, and our clients are thrilled when this happens, but to outsiders who aren’t living in this experience, they’re like, “Yeah. Cool. Okay.” Because that’s kind of more what we actually see. So, we want to make sure that if you’re working on flight training and you’re like, “Yeah, cool, this is great.” That you recognize, like that is a huge win. It doesn’t have to look like these sensational stories that, that we have. We have years of flight training, so we get, you know, we can amass some of those sensational stories.

So, one of the clients that I think of with this is, I don’t even remember this client’s name, this dog’s name, I remember that he was a German Shepherd and that is all I remember of this client. They were pretty early on in my private client days. I remember the situation so clearly because it was in this moment where, like Emily said, we, we developed this protocol at a sanctuary, and then we were like, “Yeah, this could actually be helpful for private clients too.” It was this moment where I was like, “Yes, this will work for private clients too.” Where I had that like generalization light bulb moment. And so, we were working with this German Shepherd just in their driveway and I was using a stuffed dog as the neutral dog, and the stuffed dog, Mr. Pickles is my stuffed dogs name, and he was across the street, and we are just working on some look at that with a stuffed dog. We had already taught this German Shepherd, a flight cue before we started working on look at that because as Emily said, we need to be able to get out of the situation before we can start working on the situation.

This dog was working great for a couple of minutes, and then got up, and started moving away from Mr. Pickles, and moving towards the garage. And I said, you know what, go ahead and follow him, and the clients followed him. He went and sniffed around the garage, I prompted them to play a little, find it game with him. He did, he took another couple minutes sniffing, and then it was like, “Okay, I’m ready to work again.” By himself, unprompted, he went right back to the spot where we were originally working on the look at that game, sat back down, and continued the game. It was so beautiful to see this dog very politely ask for a break, his humans respond appropriately, and give him the break, and then he said, “Cool, and I’m ready again. I’m not stressed anymore. Let’s go back to the fun game. “

[00:18:39] Emily: I love that so much, that’s the goal, right? And most of the time a really good training should make for bad TV, right? It doesn’t have to be sensational. It should kind of be like watching paint dry. To the outsider, it should look like the dog being boring. That’s what we want from a dog who has a history of disproportionate responses to things in their environment. I love that cause it’s such a good example of like, like you said, our welcome to Tuesday. It’s like, this is, this is what most of our cases look like. We get a dog from being very TV worthy to being like not good for TV at all, cause they’re just like a dog hanging out, living their life. And that’s what we want.

[00:19:18] Allie: Yes, absolutely. And his parents were so thrilled to see that they recognized it for what it was that this was the first time he had ever asked for a break instead of going over threshold. And so, it’s not good for TV, but when you are living it and, in the moment, it is so exciting to see pets that make those decisions, use those skills.

All right. Thank you for joining us for today’s mini-sode, and y’all, if you are a professional and you want to teach your clients how to do this, our Flight Training for Professionals Course is now available. If you’re looking for a way to better meet your client’s and their pet’s needs, which means better compliance, more follow through, more money, and happier pets, check out our Flight Training for Professionals Course at forward slash flight training. And trust me, it is really for professionals, it is super heavy on how to teach to clients. Regular pet parents are not going to enjoy this course. If you’re a pet parent, and you want help hit us up, we have clients all over the world that we help teach this skill to.

Thank you for listening. You can find us at and @petharmonytraining on Facebook and Instagram, and also @petharmonypro on Instagram for those of you who are behavioral professionals. As always links to everything we discussed in this episode are in the show notes and a reminder to please rate, review and subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts a special thank you to Ellen Yoakum for editing this episode, our intro music is from Penguin Music on Pixabay.


Thank you for listening and happy training.

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Podcast Episode 13: Transcript

#13 - Where to Start Your Enrichment Journey

[00:00:00] Emily: So, as you’re learning about and preparing for your new pet, think about these innate behaviors as being typical, something that’s totally healthy, normal, but give every individual the space to tell you what behaviors come naturally to them.

[00:00:19] Allie: Welcome to Enrichment for the Real World, the podcast devoted to improving the quality of life of pets and their people through enrichment. We are your hosts, Allie Bender…

[00:00:36] Emily: …and I’m Emily Strong…

[00:00:37] Allie: …and we are here to challenge and expand your view of what enrichment is, what enrichment can be and what enrichment can do for you and the animals in your lives. Let’s get started.

Thank you for joining us for today’s episode of Enrichment for the Real World, and I want to thank you for rating, reviewing, and subscribing wherever you listen to podcasts. Last week we heard from Peter Amelia, and one of the topics we discussed was where to start on your enrichment journey. This week we’re going to dive further into what that foundation looks like and talk about implementation with the animals in your life.

In this implementation episode, Emily and I talk about why this episode should probably have happened much earlier, why we need to split hairs when it comes to species-specific, species-typical, and breed-typical behaviors, and examples of how we made the most out of situations in which we didn’t necessarily do our research beforehand.

Let’s get to it. I feel like this should have been an earlier episode.

[00:01:34] Emily: Yeah. Hindsight is 2020, isn’t it.

[00:01:37] Allie: That it is. So, here we are episode 13, talking about starting your journey. Better late than never, I guess. And the reason we should’ve started this earlier is we’ll dive into what you need to put into your backpack on your learning journey.

[00:01:50] Emily: Call back to episode one. What, what.

[00:01:52] Allie: What, what, indeed. And to be clear, even if you’ve started your enrichment journey, it never hurts to take a look back at your foundation to make sure you have everything. Much of mastery means mastering the basics and continuing to focus on your foundation.

[00:02:07] Emily: Yeah, that reminds me, was it Ken Ramirez? Who said masterful training is just basic training done really well? I feel like that applies to enrichment as well.

[00:02:16] Allie: I think it was Ken. And if it wasn’t, y’all tell us who we’re actually thinking about here. So, in our interview with Peter, we talked about the enrichment journey ideally starting before you even bring an animal into your home, and that starts with researching that particular species’ needs.

[00:02:32] Emily: Yeah, so the first takeaway from that is to find some reliable sources of information about the species in your care. Learn about their environment, their diet, social structures, et cetera, and find an ethogram that lists their species-typical behaviors in context. So, you can more accurately anticipate, identify and understand the natural behaviors you may observe in that species.

Learn about the species’ activity budgets, for example, how much of the day do they spend obtaining food? How much, and when do they rest? How much do they play? How much time do they spend alone versus with others? What kind of seasonal changes might they undergo? All of that information will help you to better prepare your home for a new pet. And before we go further, I want to sidebar a little bit because there seems to be a lot of confusion about species-specific, species-typical, and what those terms mean. The term species-typical is an updated response to the old term species-specific, which has fallen out of use in the scientific community.

The more that the various behavior sciences learned about behavior, the more apparent it has become that there’s actually a lot of complexity, and therefore variability in the individual expression of natural behaviors. The term species-specific implies that every member of a species will perform that behavior, and only that species will perform the behavior. In reality, there’s no such guarantees. So, yes, there are certainly a whole lot of innate, unlearned behaviors that are typical within a species, but the likelihood or degree to which any individual will perform any of those behaviors varies wildly.

Additionally, many of these innate behaviors are not unique to a species, which is the other reason we can’t accurately call them species specific. This might seem like hairsplitting, but it’s actually a pretty big deal if you think about what that looks like in terms of practical application. If we believe, for example, that all dogs should love playing with large groups of other dogs because it’s species-specific, right?

We might try to force a dog selective dog into a playgroup, and that would be awful for that dog. Another example would be like, if we believe that all scarlet macaws chew on wood, because it’s species specific behavior, then we might stock our macaws cage with nothing but wood toys, and then we might feel confused or frustrated when the bird isn’t playing. And then we might wrongly conclude from that, that our bird just doesn’t like playing with toys or that there’s something wrong with them. When in reality, they may just strongly prefer shredding paper or Palm leaves or something like that to chewing on wood.

So, this is really our second takeaway. The term species-typical reminds us that while we should definitely be able to identify those natural behaviors and provide an appropriate outlet for them when they crop up, at the end of the day, we really just need to look at the animal in front of us and observe the behaviors they’re offering to determine what they need.

And this is even more true when we’re focusing down to the level of breeds within a domesticated species since there’s even less definition or distinction among the breeds. We really can’t assume that any behavior is specific to any breed because there’s huge variability in how individuals within a breed may behave as well as profound similarities across breeds. And with mixed breeds, all genetic bets are off. So, as you’re learning about and preparing for your new pet, think about these innate behaviors as being typical, something that’s totally healthy, normal, but give every individual the space to tell you what behaviors come naturally to them.

[00:06:21] Allie: Emily, do you have a favorite place to look for ethograms and activity budgets?

[00:06:26] Emily: Literally, the internet.

[00:06:27] Allie: That was super helpful, I think what I meant to ask was places that will have up to date scientific information instead of like a half-truth blog post, someone shouted into the ether 17 years ago.

[00:06:40] Emily: I know, I know. I couldn’t resist giving you a hard time. No, but seriously when I’m looking up an ethogram, I really do just use Google. If I can’t find anything good through a regular search, I’ll turn to Google Scholar, but it’s not about using a special search engine, it’s about looking at the source to determine its validity.

Ethologists, that is people who have PhDs in ethology, are going to cite their sources. They’re usually publishing through a university or an academic journal, or in like the case of Roger Abrantes, they have their own website where their bio is like, ” Yo, I’ve literally devoted my life to this academic field, so you should, you know, listen to me about this topic.” And then they state where they got their degrees, and it typically includes links to the field research that they’ve done, stuff like that.

[00:07:25] Allie: One day, there’ll have to be a course for behavior professionals about how to critically assess information sources.

[00:07:31] Emily: Not just behavior professionals, the entire world, but yeah, gosh, if only someone would get together with a bunch of colleagues and mentors to create that course. Gee, I wonder who would take on that whole huge project?

[00:07:44] Allie: It’s like vague booking for podcasts instead of Facebooking. Anyhow, now that you’ve done the research as to what that particular species needs, it’s time to figure out what that would look like for you, and if it’s actually feasible. I wish I had done this when I brought Zorro into my household because I realistically would not have him if I knew what it meant to care for him. I love the little guy, and also, he doesn’t necessarily fit into my lifestyle as well as I would like. It’s one thing to know what it looks like to care for a species, and it’s a different thing to think through the day-to-day logistics of what that actually entails and how that’s going to change your life. Because adding an additional member to your household, regardless of species, is going to change your life in some fashion. So, we need to ask ourselves if that lifestyle change is feasible, and weigh the pros and cons. It can’t just be like, I like turtles, so I’m like at a turtle. It needs to be, this creature is going to live the next 25 years, and am I ready, willing, and able to care for him and the way he needs through the many, many life stage changes I’m going to go through in the next 25 years?

So, this is going to be a what not to do story about Zorro. I got Zorro when I was 19, you know, before my frontal lobe was fully developed and I could make decisions, that, you know, took into account what my life was going to be like. And I kind of knew how to care for him. I had a friend, actually, I was talking with her, I said something along the lines of, “I like turtles.” And she asked, “Do you want to turtle?” And the answer probably should not have been yes, but the answer was yes. Her family had several turtles and I got Zorro because he was a bully and he was picking on the other turtles in her household, and so they had to have it in a separate enclosure for him because he was a bully and had to be like, a Singleton turtle. That just wasn’t sustainable for, for their lifestyle. Their household was set up for one turtle, enclosure, not multiple turtle enclosures. So, she was looking to rehome a turtle.

I said, yes, and she did tell me how to care for him, the things that he would need, the routines that they had set up in place in their household to care for their turtles. But I didn’t really understand all of the details and the nuances that went into that. It’s one of those situations where somebody can tell you, and keep telling you, and until you live it, you don’t really understand what they’re talking about, and that was definitely my experience with Zorro.

I knew that he needed a basking lamp but didn’t know that the light needed to be UVA, UVB, heat, and that there were different types of light bulbs just in the world beyond 60 watt versus a hundred watt.

I also knew he needed weekly water changes, but I didn’t think through that that would include an hour of lugging buckets of water back and forth in the setup that I had, and I still have to do that in winter in my house now. And I definitely didn’t know that I would develop a chronic illness that would make that incredibly challenging.

I knew he would eventually need a bigger tank, but I didn’t realize that I would one day be buying a 100 gallon stock tank, which is still small, by the way, that’s still a small size for him, but I literally can’t fit anything larger into my house, there was like a centimeter on either side of that tank to get it through the door, into my office, so I literally can’t fit anything bigger and into this space. And he takes up almost a fourth of my office anyway. I definitely have done the research along the way approach with him, and I can honestly say that I would not have him had I known all of this before I brought him into my household. Had I really thought through how it was going to change my life, and the routines that I would need to develop around him.

But he’s an example of when you know better, you do better. And instead of dwelling on the past and beating 19-year-old me up, which, you know, I think all of us have experienced beating our teenage selves up for one reason or another. Instead of doing that, I figured out, how can I be the best pet parents to him?

Like I said, I love the little guy. He cracks me up on a daily basis, and I do want to be the best pet parent that I can be for him, so I had to learn along the way, how to be the best dang aquatic, turtle owner that I could possibly be.

[00:12:38] Emily: Yeah. I had a similar experience with rabbits. I’ve always loved rabbits and I loved whenever I would get a behavior consulting client with rabbits. It was always fun to work with them. But I’d never owned any, I’d never had any in my house, and then, somebody that I know through the shelter network, in Salt Lake, asked for a temporary foster home for a rabbit in a shelter who needed medication, and the like med routine and treatment routine was more involved than the shelter staff could do.

So, I was like, “Sure, I’ll do it.” She gave me again, like you with the turtles, she gave me good starter information, and I already knew a little bit about rabbits, just from working with them in a professional capacity, but I didn’t actually know what that would look like, what the implications were for having a rabbit in my home, and what that day-to-day routine would actually be like.

It was supposed to be a short-term foster and long, long story. But, eventually the rabbit was legally abandoned with me and I ended up doing, hospice, golden years routine, keeping this, her name was Little Flopsy Cottontail, so we called her LFC for short. So, I kept LFC until the end of her life.

And she was blind, and deaf, and older, and sick, so she herself, wasn’t actually a big lifestyle change for me, but because I had a good experience with her and I really enjoyed having her in the house, I then agreed to adopt a rabbit who was a behavior case, who had been rehomed multiple times for biting and I was like, “Ah, I could do it with LFC, I could do it with this young, adolescent, male rabbit. That’s totally the same thing. An older, blind, and deaf, female rabbit and a young, healthy, adolescent male. Sure.” And then I got the Zorro syndrome, right? Like, “Oh, what do I do with this rabbit?” Who, by the way, I named him, Harey Bundini, because he was so good at escaping his enclosure, and so I had to figure out how to integrate him into my whole bird room. He needed the entire room, he was not content to just live in kind of an ex-pen enclosure, and so I had to figure out how to cohabitate him with birds because there was nowhere in the house that I had space for him to live. And I had to figure out what I needed to change about my bird routine to keep him safe, and there was this whole thing about rabbit proofing the room and learning that, and then learning what that looked like, and what the implications were in terms of my cleaning routine, and how that would work.

And it ended up just being this, just like you experienced Allie, the more I got into it, the more I realized I had no idea what I had gotten myself into. And like you with Zorro, I love Bundini. I love having rabbits, it is such a joy, they are so cute, and fun. And also, I wish I had known what I was getting myself into because I wasn’t aware of all of the complicating factors. Oh, another one that I didn’t think about, was that a lot of rental homes don’t allow rabbits because they’re considered verminous pets. So, I right now, Bundini is staying with a friend of mine until my partner,and I can buy a house. So, that kind of stuff, like, I didn’t think about that. I didn’t know. I wish I had done my research. So, I think for both of us, that kind of take-home point is, even if you dive into something with an animal, and you know, find out you weren’t really fully prepared, you can totally still do that research, have that learning curve, and successfully have them in your home.

And I think on some level you’re learning until you die, there’s always more to learn about the species that you work with, but we are kind of cautionary tales, I think, Allie and I. Do what we say, not what we do, ideally learn about all that stuff and think about what that would look like for your day-to-day life. Before committing to bring that animal into your home, because a lot of times you get in and you realize exactly how much is required and it may not be something that you would have signed up for if you knew what it was going to look like.

[00:17:00] Allie: And I know that this whole time, you and I have been talking about other species because that’s really what we were talking about with Peter, but I wanted to mention too, that this can still be true with a species that you’ve had your entire life. I mean, I hear on a weekly basis from new clients that they have never had an animal like this before, and for a lot of people as we get further into it, and especially as I open up with my experience with Zorro, of like, “I love him, and also, I would have made a different decision if I knew what this meant for my life.” My clients will share with me, “Yeah, I would not have chosen this animal had I known what I was going to get myself into here.” And so, this is something that you can experience even with a species that you’ve had your entire life, not just a species that’s new to you. Especially as more and more people are wanting to help animals with behavior problems and bring those pets into their homes. A lot of people don’t know, like me with Zorro or you with a Harey Bundini, Emily, what that really means as far as their future lifestyle.

[00:18:16] Emily: For sure, and I think that message here isn’t, don’t adopt animals, right? That’s definitely not what we’re saying. But I think it does help a lot too, you know, informed consent is a thing, right? Go into it with your eyes wide open, and make sure that you’re prepared as much as possible, so that you can help animals without sacrificing your own quality of life or wellbeing.

[00:18:37] Allie: Absolutely. So, today’s episode, we talked about where to start your enrichment journey. Ideally, you’ll do this before you even bring an animal into your household, but we don’t always live in the ideal world. So, you can still do this, even if you’re starting in on this part of the journey with an animal who’s been in your household for years, that was me with Zorro, it did not start before I got him, it started after he was in my household. Our takeaway points are research the needs of that particular species. Again, even if it’s a species that’s been in your household for a while, you may be surprised when you do the research on that species, that there is some myths that may or may not be true, that you’ve thought were true.

The second is to save room for observing individual preferences, see with your eyes, not your ideas. And once you do that, do some thought work of what that would look like and how this animal is going to change your lifestyle. If you’re a pros and cons person, make a pros and cons list that would put Rory Gilmore to shame. If you’re a daydreamer, make Davey Jones happy. I’m done with pop culture references. Point is, really consider what it will be like, to decide if it’s something you can handle next week, we will be talking with Dr. Eduardo Fernandez about the science of enrichment.

Y’all I really feel like Eddie is the epitome of continuing to hone and master our foundations. He is always helping me to dive deeper, and really understand the nuances about enrichment, and also makes me question what I think I know to make sure that I actually know it, which we could all use someone like that in our lives.

Thank you for listening. You can find us at and @petharmonytraining on Facebook and Instagram, and also @petharmonypro on Instagram for those of you who are behavioral professionals. As always links to everything we discussed in this episode are in the show notes and a reminder to please rate, review and subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts a special thank you to Ellen Yoakum for editing this episode, our intro music is from Penguin Music on Pixabay.


Thank you for listening and happy training.

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

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,


Podcast Episode 5: Transcript

#5: Creating a Restful
Environment for Our Animals

[00:00:00] Allie: The goal is for an animal to be able to complete their own stress response cycle. They need to be able to self-regulate their own stress levels. It’s not about stay. It’s not about going to a place. It’s about self-regulation.

Welcome to Enrichment for the Real World, the podcast devoted to improving the quality of life of pets and their people through enrichment. We are your hosts, Allie Bender…

[00:00:33] Emily: and I’m Emily Strong….

[00:00:34] Allie: and we are here to challenge and expand your view of what enrichment is, what enrichment can be and what enrichment can do for you and the animals in your lives. Let’s get started.

Thank you for joining us for today’s episode of Enrichment for the Real World, and I want to thank you for rating, reviewing, and subscribing wherever you listen to podcasts. Last week we heard from Dr. Chris Pachel and one of the topics we discussed was how important relaxation is.

This week, we are going to dive further into relaxation and talk about implementing this often-undervalued category of enrichment with the animals in your life. In this implementation episode, Emily and I talk about the difference between shutdown and relaxation, why stay is not relevant to your relaxation protocol, and a little Pom with real big feels.

I think this is one of my favorite topics. How about you?

[00:01:29] Emily: Yes. Same.

[00:01:30] Allie: I feel like I say that about most of the topics, but whatever, anyhow, relaxation. This is one of the facets of enrichment that we felt deserved its own category when we were talking about the pet world, because it’s so often overlooked and undervalued.

We hear that old adage of a “tired dog is a happy dog,” and so folks think that that means exercising the bejesus out of their pets as the answer. In reality. A lot of times when pets are struggling with relaxing it’s because they’ve never been taught that skill. So, exercising the bejesus out of them while it might seem like it might be working in the short term, doesn’t teach that skill, and so we often see folks then having an issue down the road, where they can’t exercise their pets enough, they created an athlete that they can’t keep up with, and the pet still doesn’t know how to relax.

[00:02:20] Emily: Yeah, I think this is one of the saddest things to me actually about the pet world, because you see people who are so committed to their dogs, that they want to do anything to make them happy, and they end up running themselves ragged, and they just end up with an animal who needs even more interaction instead of less. So, for sure, this is a topic that’s near and dear to my heart.

[00:02:43] Allie: And that’s a great point that it’s done with the most love in their heart but it’s just not as effective at getting that relaxation. And one of the things that I hear from my clients, I don’t know if, if you hear this to Emily, but one of the things that I see more than hear, is when I’m talking about, “We need to teach them how to relax” there’s a little bit of kind of confusion on their faces, as if they were thinking, “But they sleep, so I don’t like they do relax. I don’t get it.”

[00:03:15] Emily: Yeah.

[00:03:15] Allie: And you see the same thing?

[00:03:17] Emily: Yeah. I mean, people have even said to me, “I don’t think that’s the problem. My dog sleeps fine at night.”

[00:03:24] Allie: Right. And different skills sleeping because you are exhausted, is not that the same thing as being able to relax. And so, one of the examples that I give to my clients is, think about meditation. For people who have tried meditation, and I would say that’s probably like a lot of people in our country at this point, because it’s, you know, there’s been hype, there has been stuff about meditation and…

[00:03:51] Emily: Yeah.

[00:03:51] Allie: All the benefits

[00:03:52] Emily: It’s pretty well known by now.

[00:03:54] Allie: Uh, yeah. And so, I tell them, think about meditation. In the beginning, clearing your mind for even a minute, is a really challenging task, but as you continue to practice, then you can clear your mind for longer and longer. So yes, you have a lot of skill sitting there and doing nothing, but to actually be able to relax and calm your mind to the point of meditation is absolutely a learned skill. And that’s similar with our pets, too.

[00:04:27] Emily: I love that analogy because it’s, it’s spot on.

[00:04:30] Allie: I appreciate that. I’m glad you liked it. So, in short, most everyone can learn how to be more relaxed in their life, and that includes our pets. And that may mean overall in all situations, or that may mean in some very particular situations, like when the doorbell rings for dogs or seeing predatory birds outside of a window for our parrots, or when a strange, scary stranger comes in the house for everyone. That’s my biggest fear, is strangers coming into my house. I don’t need to be relaxed when that happens.

[00:05:01] Emily: Right? Yeah. I think most of us would be pretty freaked out by that.

[00:05:06] Allie: And that’s all right. Fear is, uh, is typical it got us this far. But in all those other situations, I think it’s fair to say that relaxation would, it would be a great goal. And so this topic is absolutely relevant to all species.

[00:05:21] Emily: I totally agree with that, and it was really interesting hearing from Dr. Pachel about how he teaches relaxation, because it’s different than how we go about it. How you and I do it.

[00:05:34] Allie: PS for those of you who are already in Pro Campus, you have access to our version of the Relaxation Protocol. Go into your course, weekly recordings, training challenges, then Relaxation Protocol. You’ll have a video describing how we train it, how we teach it to clients, and also a handout that you can use with your clients as well!

[00:05:57] Emily: And that’s just another example of how there are many paths up the mountain, and there are a lot of different correct ways to get the same results. So, some things that are the same between what Dr. Pachel does and what we do, and again, it’s not about right and wrong, it’s just different, ways to, to achieve the same outcome.

Is that, first of all, the animal has agency in the process. They have choice and control over their outcomes throughout the Relaxation Protocol that we’re using. Secondly, that we’re doing this in a way that provides the animal with opportunities to pursue things that they want to obtain rather than avoiding things that they don’t like.

And thirdly, we are determining whether or not relaxation is actually happening or not by looking at the change in body language signals and the change in breathing patterns, instead of stillness being our only criterion. Stillness is not necessarily the goal of relaxation protocols, although it is often a by-product of them.

[00:07:05] Allie: And making that distinction between goal versus by-product I think is really important. And I have that conversation with my clients a lot of, “We are not going to use a stay cue in your relaxation protocol, but if they’re relaxed, they’re going to stay there on their own. But again, it’s a choice and not a cue or a command.

[00:07:28] Emily: Absolutely. And I think one of the things that’s different about how we teach relaxation protocols versus a lot of the ones out there, is that we actually let the dogs be in whatever position they want to be in, so that we can use their choice to lay down as a litmus test for how relaxed they’re actually feeling. Which is a different approach than a lot of other people. And yet it is still very successful. Right? we do that all the time and we see that has a really good outcome in almost all, all of our cases.

[00:08:01] Allie: I think that conversation is really important too. You know that there are a lot of paths up the mountain and there are a lot of right ways to do something because there’s so many different protocols and exercises and activities out there. And we get asked all of the time, you know, which is the right one? And the answer is there isn’t necessarily a right one, you do you, like whatever works best for you and your individual pet. Yes, what we do may be different, you know, the, the nitty gritty of it might be different than what Dr. Pachel was talking about in his interview, but there are so many similarities, and those similarities are what’s really important and really salient and is what makes it, so that all of those different options work. And so, I love that you broke that down, Emily as to, if it fits these criteria, then you’re good to go. And there are a lot of ways to do the same thing. So, let’s dive a little bit deeper into how we can implement relaxation with our pets at home.

[00:09:07] Emily: Yeah, so this is another reason that we have to learn how to be able to read and accurately interpret body language. Because we can’t actually know if an animal is really, truly relaxing if we don’t know what to look for. So, there’s a difference between some of the protocols out there that are really focused on physically holding a dog, or a horse, or any other animal into a position until they relax. Which doesn’t actually achieve relaxation. It just achieves learned helplessness or resignation, versus any protocol that focuses on what are we seeing the animal doing that’s indicating to us that they’re truly feeling relaxed? Are we seeing that the whole process was being done in a way that they chose to engage with, and they had say in what was happening to them and they had choice and control over their outcomes? And then are we seeing body language signals of a really, truly relaxed dog or horse or parrot or cat? We’re seeing that nice, slow breathing that happens when we’re really feeling melty, right? Melting into the space that we’re in.

So, I think that’s the first takeaway. You’re going to hear us say this a lot, learn to read and accurately interpret the body language of the species that you’re working with so that you can see for yourself if they’re actually exhibiting relaxed behaviors, not just stillness.

[00:10:45] Allie: Shut down is not our goal.

[00:10:47] Emily: Right. Exactly.

[00:10:48] Allie: As you said, I think that’s going to be takeaway number one, for many, many, many of these implementation episodes.

[00:10:56] Emily: Our poor listeners are probably going to get sick of us saying it, but we’re going to keep saying it anyway until the day that we die.

[00:11:02] Allie: We’re sorry, everyone. Sorry, actually, it’s sorry, not sorry. Let’s be real about this.

[00:11:07] Emily: Yup, sorry, not sorry.

[00:11:09] Allie: So, takeaway number two. In last week’s interview with Dr. Pachel, we talked about relaxation protocols. So, I think we’d be remiss if we weren’t as warrants to talk about it here, but before we do that, let’s get super clear on the purpose of using one of the many relaxation protocols that are out there.

The goal is for an animal to be able to complete their own stress response cycle. They need to be able to self-regulate their own stress levels. It’s not about stay. It’s not about going to a place it’s about self-regulation. Now that we have that, there are a lot of re relaxation protocols out there and different people like different ones, and that’s totally okay. For example, we created our own version for Pet harmony based on Dr. Karen Overall’s Relaxation Protocol. And that includes 15 different phases and a bunch of different steps. And that works really well for a lot of clients who aren’t as familiar with splitting larger steps down into teeny tiny approximations when it comes to training, because it does that work for them.

And I tell my clients that it does all the thought work for you, you just have to do the thing, it will tell you exactly what to do. And I appreciate that, I don’t have to put any extra brain cells into it, and I know a lot of my clients appreciate that too. However, I have a client who I would count more like a friend at this point, shout out to Amy, who told me it makes her anxious to have all those unfinished steps. So, she prefers Suzanne Clothier is Really Real Relaxation Protocol and she absolutely has the training chops to be able to do that one, so I told her, “Go for it. I, I don’t mind as long as we are working on relaxation with your dog.” So again, there’s not one right way up the mountain, figure out what works best for you and your pet.

[00:12:59] Emily: Absolutely. And obviously we’ve been talking a lot about relaxation protocols specifically when we talk about calming enrichment, because it is one of our favorite strategies. But there are a lot of other options here, it could be things like structured nap times, which is an especially favorite strategy for us when we’re working with shelters. It could be deep breathing exercises like Dr. Karen Overall’s, Bio-feedback Protocol. It could be giving them self-soothing opportunities like licking or chewing, if that does indeed soothe your pet. So, you don’t have to do a relaxation protocol, even as long as we’re achieving our end goal of the animal, being able to self-soothe and complete that stress response cycle when unavoidable stressors arise in their life, which they do, they will, right? Stress is just a part of life. Then as long as we’re meeting that goal, there’s just lots of ways to get there and do that.

 So, we like to tell you all success stories about implementation strategies, so that you can see what this looks like in real life and that we’re not just making this up. And to be honest, we had a hard time this time coming up with individual stories, because we implement some kind of relaxation procedure with almost every single one of our clients, and it almost always has a huge impact. So, it was hard to choose just a couple of stories because this kind of success story or outcome is kind of like, “Welcome to Tuesday” for us.

Relaxation is just a really important component of addressing maladaptive behaviors. We did have a little bit of challenge, but we were able to kind of pick two where it was especially poignant or meaningful. So, Allie, what was your story that you want to share?

[00:14:54] Allie: My story is Grizzly, and Grizzly is a little Pom who has real big feeling.

Grizzly has feelings about a lot of things to be honest, but one of the things that he has real big feelings about is the man who lives in his household. I’m just going to call him dad. So, Grizzly has real big feelings about dad, he thinks dad is scary, dad is like, “Why are you yelling at me all the time?”

There’s some relationship that is being repaired on both ends. Dad, dad is moving along faster than Grizzly. And side note. I have to say, this is one of the cutest cases in that this is a case where one of the kids is really involved, which I love to see those cases.

 There is a little girl and Grizzly was supposed to be her responsibility and I, I’m terrible, y’all at figuring out ages of kids. I know I was told at some point in time, and I don’t remember it at this moment. I’m terrible at figuring out ages because my niece and nephew, who are seven now, are like the shortest stack of pancakes you’ve ever met, and so I’m like, “Surely this child is like, I don’t know, four, because they’re the same height as my niece and nephew.”

And, and they’re like, “No, that they’re eight.”

I’m like, “Okay. I, I have no idea what I’m doing.” But y’all get what I’m saying of like, I’m really terrible at telling age with kids

So, I don’t know how old this little girl is, but ten-ish, I would say. Training Grizzly is one of her responsibilities and she takes this very seriously. It is so cute. And so, relaxation protocol was one of her tasks with Grizzly. And I have to tell you, like, behavior does not lie, we can tell when folks are working on things.

It was one of those situations where I could tell how much work this little girl put into Grizzly’s relaxation protocol. We were talking about how’s he doing? What are we seeing? And they were telling me that he’s going to his bed more frequently, he’s hanging out there, he is going there and being calm when he’s there, and relaxing when he’s there. And I was like, “Oh, this is beautiful. Okay. We are on the right path.”

And then in our last session, which I think is maybe the third or fourth session I’ve had with them, we said, all right, we’re ready to work on this new exercise, and let’s practice this with dad. Which is going to be challenging for everybody involved. It was so interesting to watch. I am obviously working remotely with this client because I only take remote clients at this point, but I was able to see the entire thing unfold, where dad came down the stairs and Grizzly was like, “I have feelings.”

 They had two beds for Grizzly and dad was coming closer and Grizzly was like, “I don’t know what to do.” and went to one of his beds, and he was like, “I can’t take food, I can’t train, but I am in my bed. Darn it. Because that is where I go when I’m stressed and when I need to relax.”

It was just so fantastic to see that even though we hadn’t necessarily talked about that next step of being able to use going to his bed and relaxing through that relaxation protocol as the next step in his plan, Grizzly showed us that he was ready for that next step.

He was like, “Y’all, I’m stressed. Can’t deal with you right now. I’m going to my bed. Talk to me later.”

It was so fantastic to see. So, Grizzly has more work to do, but he is just fresh on my mind and such an amazing example of when the dog has really dog, pet, whomever, when they’ve really taken it digested what we’ve been working on and are starting to implement it to self-soothe.

It was so great to see with Grizzly.

[00:19:00] Emily: Yeah. It’s so satisfying to see an animal, have a moment and then make a choice that is good for themselves. Because of what we’ve taught them. There’s just nothing in the world that compares to that experience for me. I just think it’s so extraordinary.

[00:19:18] Allie: Absolutely, and this was a dog who was yelling at dad every moment that he got, we had zero yelling. He just went straight to his bed and said, “Don’t talk to me. I’m here. I’m self-soothing right now.”

[00:19:29] Emily: I love that.

[00:19:29] Allie: And no barking.

[00:19:31] Emily: I love that. So. My story is about a dog named Reese who was adopted by a woman who was a grad student and lived in an apartment, lives in an apartment in downtown Chicago with three other grad students.

One of the other roommates also had another dog. And Reese had just a hard time. She was having a hard time adapting to living with that many people and another dog in a really busy downtown area. She came from a shelter, which we know to be a shelter that gets dogs from rural areas and brings them in.

So, it seemed to me like Reese was probably one of those rural dogs that had been adopted out into the city. Of course, four grad students are very busy, and they have, you know, friends come over and it’s a somewhat hectic household. And so, Reese was really struggling, particularly with, the man in the house, the male roommate, and with the other dog.

We started the relaxation protocol with both dogs, so that the dogs could just move away from each other and move away from the hustle and bustle of the house. Yes, we need to build other skills. Yes, we need to build trust and relationships. Yes, there’s a lot that we need to do, but as a first response, let’s have the dogs seek safety when they don’t have any of those skills onboarded yet.

So, we worked on the relaxation protocol with both of these dogs. I met with all of the roommates, and one of the things that one of the roommates who’s not the owner said was, “I didn’t think this was possible. She goes to her own bed now when she’s stressed out.” The client herself is delightful, great client to work with, but what was really adorable is that the roommate started really becoming a behavior geek and she was so floored by how well this was working, that she was starting to learn more about behavior because it just blew her mind that these dogs, both dogs could make a choice to go and relax in their respective bedrooms, when they were feeling overwhelmed by each other or by other stuff going on in the house.

And of course, from there, we were able to build relationships with other roommates and Reese was able to go out on walks and not react to everything out on a walk anymore. So yes, we did all of that stuff later, but the relaxation protocol was that first. I loved seeing not only the dog’s responses and how they learned that and used it, but it just was delightful to me to see the roommate and her response to that and how amazed she was that that was a thing that could happen. I thought that was really sweet.

[00:22:18] Allie: I love that. I love when it just opens up the world for the human learner, with what’s possible for their pet. I love that so much.

[00:22:28] Emily: You just get to see, like you’ve set them on their journey towards learning more and being passionate about behavior.

[00:22:34] Allie: Absolutely. So, our three takeaways, quick recap. Our three takeaways for this week, I think we had like kind of three and a half. I feel like that’s also going to happen where there’s three and a half.

The first one is, we need to be able to accurately learn and read body language. And again, our goal is relaxed, not shut down, and while those may seem similar on a cursory glance, when we dive deeper into subtle body language signals, there’s quite a difference between those. That’s the half.

[00:23:07] Emily: We should probably just have another t-shirt that says “Relaxation, not resignation.”

[00:23:13] Allie: [Gasp]

[00:23:14] Emily: I’m just saying.

[00:23:15] Allie: Okay, I’ll put it on my list to make that one.

[00:23:17] Emily: Okay.

[00:23:18] Allie: I love it. Oh, my goodness. You are brilliant. Okay. So, relaxation, not resignation is half-step, 1.5.

Number two is relaxation protocols, there are a lot out there pick which one works best for you and your pet.

And number three is there are a ton of other options, so try a bunch of things with your pet. That could be midday naps. That could be deep breathing exercises. That could be self-soothing opportunities like licking or chewing. There are a lot of options out there, and it’s just a matter of what works best for your pet.

Next week, we will be talking with Mara Velez about shelter enrichment, and playgroups, and agency in play groups, and it is exciting, y’all. Just trust me. You’ll be excited when you get there next week.

Thank you for listening. You can find us at and @petharmonytraining on Facebook and Instagram, and also @petharmonypro on Instagram, for those of you who are behavior professionals. As always links to everything we discussed in this episode are in the show notes, and a reminder to please rate, review and subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts. A special thank you to Ellen Yoakum for editing this episode, our intro music is from Penguin Music on Pixebay.

Thank you for listening and happy training.

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How Making Yourself a Sundae Can Help You Train Your Dog

If it’s 8:30 pm, you better believe my mind is scrolling through the options of ice cream that are lurking in the back of my freezer.  Dinner > put toddler to bed > prepare for tomorrow > sit on couch > want ice cream–it’s a very predictable sequence for me.

But this post is not to talk about my obsession with the creamy deliciousness of this nighttime treat or my conditioned behaviors.  Today’s blog is to highlight the teeny tiny steps that need to occur in between identifying “I WANT TO EAT THAT ICE CREAM” and actually consuming it.  

All learners have to figure out what they need to do (behavior) to get to their end goal (goal + reward).  Often, we think of what the end behavior should look like (when my dog sits, he gets a cookie), but we forget that the end behavior has a bunch of tiny behaviors that need to take place on the way. To save you some frustration and your pup some confusion, let’s figure out why we should split instead of lump when training any behavior.


Splitting: breaking down the criteria of a learner’s behavior into smaller approximations to the end behavior

Lumping: assuming that the learner knows what behavior specifically helped them get to the end goal


If my end goal is to eat a sundae, let’s see the steps I would take to reach my reward.

  1. Go to freezer.
  2. Grab ice cream.
  3. Scoop ice cream into a bowl.
  4. Add toppings.
  5. Put ice cream back in freezer.
  6. Eat ice cream : P

You probably followed all of my steps with no confusion, right? Sure, you’ve gotten yourself a bowl of ice cream before so it makes sense.  But what about someone who has never gotten ice cream before? Someone who doesn’t know English?  Someone who doesn’t have the same physical abilities as you?

The roadmap to this behavior above is an example of lumping.  We’d reinforce (read: give treat) after each step along the way.  For someone who has a good understanding of english and has done these behaviors before, you could probably get them to the end goal with just these few instructions.

But for someone who is new to your house, language, physical demands, etc., you’d tell them to go to your freezer and they wouldn’t even know where to begin.  Let’s see what questions we can ask ourselves about these smaller goals. Your answers will help you to split these behaviors to create more opportunities for success.


1. Go to freezer.

“Where did I start? Did I feel like getting up?  How does my body have to move to get myself into a position to walk? Where is my freezer with ice cream (the garage)? Do I need to put slippers on to go into the garage? Is the path clear of baby toys as I make my way through the house or do I have to step over things? How heavy is the freezer door? Do I have both hands free?”

2. Grab ice cream.

“Where is the ice cream in the freezer? Are there more than one? Which do I want to eat? Is there anything in the way of grabbing the ice cream? Do I have enough hands to hold the door/move the vegetables/grab the ice cream?”

3. Scoop ice cream into a bowl.

“Wait, am I scooping ice cream in my garage by the freezer? Did I have to go back inside? Where are the bowls? Where is the ice cream scoop? Where are the spoons? Which hand should I use? Do I always use this hand? Why is the ice cream tub so cold and sticking to my fingers? Is there a towel around for me to hold this? Why is the ice cream so hard? Would it be better to soak the metal scoop in warm water? Should I just wait for the ice cream to soften? Should I have worked out my biceps today? Do I want to put anything on this ice cream–I’ve done it before and it tasted good so maybe I’ll do that again?”

4. Add toppings.

“What do I have in my cabinets? What do I feel like eating? Do I like all these textures? Does this make the ice cream taste better or is it more work than reward? Where are my toppings located? What ice cream to sprinkles ratio makes sense? Is my whipped cream still good? How long after the expiration date can I use these maraschino cherries? Should I just risk it? Yep, they smell fine.”

5. Put ice cream back in freezer.

“Do I have to do this now, or will it make it until I finish eating? Where are those slippers again? Where should I put this sundae while I go put the ice cream away so Opie doesn’t taste test for me?”

6. Eat ice cream : P

“Ugh, finally.” (*sits on the couch and turns on an episode of The Amazing Race from 2004 as Opie sits hopefully alongside*)


There are so many things that you have to have a handle on in order to achieve your goal.  Maybe you don’t normally have to go to the garage freezer for ice cream (learner confusion). Maybe you have thought about other ways that were easier that got you ice cream before (reinforcement history).  Maybe the set up of your house or your physical limitations make getting the ice cream more difficult (management of environment).  Maybe you just don’t think that ice cream is worth getting off the couch for (value of reward).  The same stuff happens in our dogs’ brains when they’re trying to learn something new.  They don’t exactly know what we want.  They try out other behaviors that have been rewarded in the past.  The environment is not set up for success. They do the things that are most valuable to them.  

When you’re feeling frustrated or stuck with a behavior that you are trying to train, just take a beat.  You aren’t a terrible trainer. Your pup is not stubborn, or disrespectful, or dumb.  The team just needs to reevaluate what is going on.  Ask yourself some guiding questions and see if the answers can help you split the behaviors into smaller, more successful chunks.  You’ll get it (or you’ll find someone to help you get it).


Now what?

  • Make yourself a bowl of ice cream (It’s for science.)
  • Identify a training trick/behavior you and your pup are struggling with.
  • Ask yourself questions to help break down the smaller steps that need to occur.
  • Reward consistently as the team experiences success.


You’re doing great!


August 2021 Training Challenge: Teach A Trick

I love trick training.

I love how fun it is to see animals learning.  I love the relationship built between species. I love how cute the end results are. AND I love that the pup doesn’t always realize that this fun game we’re doing is actually functional for our lives.  

As I was thinking about this month’s training challenge (“Teach A Trick”), I mentally scrolled through the whole Rolodex of tricks I’ve seen and done with dogs, and I kept coming back to wanting to teach you something that can be adorable AND functional.

This summer, our household became a playground as we celebrated our human kiddo’s first birthday.  I had no idea we had so many cabinets, and to a toddler, behind that cabinet door lies a world of wonder that needs to be explored. Everything stores something and after a few minutes… all of those somethings are on the floor (stay tuned for a future Slick Tricks to teach your pup how to help you clean up toys).

So what did I do when I grew tired of constantly closing the half-opened cabinet to the pots and pans with my foot as my boy whisked me away by pointer fingers to his next exciting discovery? I said to myself, “Corinne! Opie is amazing and he knows how to close the cabinets!”


So let’s learn the trick that I like to call, “Can you get that for me?”

When teaching a trick, it’s important to consider all of the actions that your animal has to do in order to complete the task.  When we break the behaviors of the trick down and reward in tiny, manageable steps (“splitting”), we create clarity, increase confidence, and ensure success for our pups. 

In order for a dog to close a cabinet door, they need to know how to touch something with their paws or their nose.  First, we will teach “paw/high five/shake/fist bump”, then we will transfer this to the cabinet using a target.  My pup likes to touch with his paw, but feel free to replace the term “paw” with “nose” if you’d rather your dog close something with his/her snout.

Teaching this skill takes multiple training sessions, so make a note where your pup leaves off at the end of one session and start a step or two before that when you begin your next session. Practice each step until your dog is accurate 80-90% of the time. As always, keep training sessions short, positive, and fun. 


What you need for this trick:

  • Treats
  • Marker: an auditory cue that tells your dog “what you just did will bring the goodies” (i.e.- click, “yes”, “good”) 
  • Target: a visual tool to help with precision (i.e.- piece of painters tape)


Part 1: Teach “paw”

  1. Put a treat in a closed fist.
  2. Offer the fist to the pup.
  3. The curious pup may sniff/lick/explore. Wait the pup out.
  4. When your dog touches your hand with his paw, mark, then reward with the treat.

**Continue this step until your dog is consistently offering his paw **

  1. Start to offer your fist without the treat inside.  Mark and reward with the other hand when his paw makes contact. Repeat.
  2. Start to open your hand.  Mark and reward with the other hand when his paw makes contact with your open palm. Repeat.

**Congrats!  You just taught your pup “shake/fist/high five!”  Party time!  Name this whatever you want and continue using this cue for the next few steps (or stop here, get a high five from your pup, and bask in your training glory). For more info on adding a verbal cue, check out this video.**


Part 2: Transferring the touch

  1. Continue practicing “high five”, but now add a target on your palm. I like to use a piece of painter’s tape.  When your pup touches his paw to your target (the tape), mark and reward. Repeat.
  2. Start to move your hand (with the target on it) to different levels and angles (in front/side/below/higher/lower/behind/further).  Mark and reward each success.
  3. Move the target to the end of your fingers and repeat the above step.  Mark and reward.
  4. With the target at the end of your fingers, place your hand near/in front of a closed cabinet door, gradually getting closer to the door so that your hand is flat on the cabinet, palm facing out. Mark and reward each success.
  5. Gradually move the target from halfway on your fingers/halfway on door > to ¼ on your fingers/ ¾ on the door > 100% on the door.  Mark and reward each success.

*Congrats!  You successfully used a target to transfer the pup from touching your hand to touching the cabinet.  Now let’s add the new verbal cue “Can you get that for me?”.  For more info on switching cues, click here!

  1. Once your pup is consistently touching the target on the cabinet, practice doing it with the door open.  Mark and reward each time your pup touches the target, even if it does not close the door.  Gradually increase the criteria by waiting to mark until the door moves, and eventually, closes.  Your goal is to mark the moment you hear the door shut. *NOTE: if your dog has a history of sound sensitivities, consider laying a dish towel over the edge at the bottom of the cabinet to dampen the sound.
  2. Once your pup is responding to your cue and closing the door all the way, you can start to take the target off the cabinet and transfer it to other doors.

You did it!  Your kitchen will never look like that scene from The Sixth Sense again.  Have fun with this trick by making a little maze throughout your kitchen that your pup can clear.  It’s a very fun 15 secs for both the dog and the humans cheering him on!


Now what?

  • Have fun working with your pup on these tricks! Tricks are awesome because the necessity is so low.  Tricks are a great way to deepen your relationship, discover your pup’s motivators, and learn their signals for when they’ve hit their limits (and apply this knowledge to any behavior modification plans you are working on as well).
  • Share your pictures and videos of your pup helping you keep the house in order with our Facebook and Instagram pages! You can tag us @PetHarmonyTraining! We love seeing cute things!

You’re doing great!


How & Why Remote Consulting Works


2020 was the year of Zoom and it looks like at least part of 2021 is going to be the same way. We at Pet Harmony were fortunate that we’d been offering effective remote consulting services for years already; it was an easier transition for us than for many other training and behavior companies. But, just because it was an easy transition for us doesn’t mean that it’s been an easy transition for pet parents to take the leap and try remote consulting services. 

We address concerns every single day– usually multiple times per day– from pet parents who know they need help from a behavior consultant but are skeptical if remote services can help them. And, what pains me is when people choose to hold off on much-needed professional help because they’re skeptical about remote services. 

The hard truth is that I know they’ll likely contact us again, but the next time it will be when the behavior is worse and more difficult to modify. I’ve had a number of clients this year who decided not to take us up on remote services at the beginning of Covid, only to contact us months later in desperate need of our help when their dog had bitten someone again or the family was at the end of their rope. I wish I had gotten to work with them sooner. 

After receiving another response today of, “We’re looking for in-home sessions only. We’ll be in touch when things open back up.” I decided that it’s high time I write a blog post specifically about how and why remote consults work to help struggling pet parents understand that they don’t need to put off seeking much-needed help. Let’s talk about the main concerns folks have with remote consultations and why they’re not as concerning as you may think.

If you’re looking for a quicker answer, check out this video pulled out of one of our recent FB live chats:



Common Concerns About Remote Sessions


“I don’t know how you’ll help me if you can’t see the behavior.”

This is by and large the number one concern we hear from people, especially for pets displaying aggression or reactivity. And, the short answer is, we don’t need to see the behavior to help you. Even if we were doing in-person sessions we still wouldn’t want to see the behavior (especially if the behavior is biting strangers coming into the house.) The longer answer to this is in this blog post about how your pet is not like your car. 

When someone knows enough about behavior (which an evidence-based consultant should), then we don’t need to see a behavior to know how to modify it. Behavior is much more predictable than people think; it follows specific rules. That means that professionals know what questions to ask you to understand your pet’s behavior and even if a behavior seems unpredictable to you, it usually isn’t to us. If something does sound funky or we need additional help aside from asking questions, we’ll ask for a video if it’s safe to get one. 

Again, this is the same for both in-person and remote services. Purposefully stressing out an animal so we can see the behavior in real-time doesn’t help us or the animal and usually means your pet is less capable of learning later on in the session when we’re doing hands-on exercises. Trying to show us the behavior in a session (remote or in-person) usually comes back to bite people in the butt. 

While we don’t need to see a behavior to know what’s going on, watching you work with your pet is a different story. That’s where videos come in! And, to be honest, I find videos more helpful than watching someone in real life (and I know my fellow PH consultants agree). We can watch the video as many times through as we want and focus on different aspects each time: something that’s not possible in real time observation. The other great thing is we can then play through the video for our client (via screen share) so they can see what we’re seeing, too. We’ve seen that videos are a more effective teaching tool in that way as well.  

To sum up this concern, we don’t need to see your pet’s behavior to know how to modify it and what we do need to see we’ll ask you to send us a video of it. 


“How can I get hands-on practice in a remote session?”

This is probably the second most asked question we get when someone is skeptical about remote services. The answer is: pretty much in the same way you’d get it in an in-person session! There are a number of ways for us to demonstrate exercises: videos, demonstrating with our own pets, props. We then watch you over the video feed and provide real-time feedback as you practice. The only difference is that we can’t demonstrate exercises using your particular pet. But, if we’re doing our jobs well by providing clear instructions and splitting steps into small enough approximations (I.E. baby steps) so that you and your pet can be successful, hands-on practice is just as effective remotely as it is in-person. 


An example of hands-on training in a session (and Oso lounging after his demo work was done!)


“I’m not great at training, so I want a professional to do the exercises with my pet.”

We know our clients aren’t professional trainers (usually). If you knew what to do and how to do it you wouldn’t need us! The great news is that you don’t need to be a professional trainer in order to see results with a good behavior modification program because so much of a good behavior modification program is not actually about training. 

Behavior modification techniques can actually be fairly simple at their core and our consultants purposefully choose the simplest exercises we can for our clients. If you can toss some treats on the floor you can already do several of those exercises. The implementation and what to do in different situations is usually the trickier part and where a behavior consultant is vitally important. But, again, the training mechanics are often easier than what you’d see in, for example, a trick-training class. 

The other side of answering this question has to do with how relationships and training for real-life situations play a part in behavior. I frequently tell my clients that it doesn’t matter if I can get their pet to do something, it only matters if they can do the same. I don’t live with them so it doesn’t matter that much if I can do it. I can absolutely help teach the dog foundation skills and then transfer that knowledge to the humans, but over the years I’ve found it more effective in the long run to spend that time helping the human train those foundation skills instead. 

The reason for this is that when we move to a different environment or situation, we often need to reteach those skills to our pets (who don’t generalize very well). If I taught the foundation skills, the pet parent is now stuck. If I taught the pet parent to teach that particular behavior all the way through, then they know exactly what to do in those situations and don’t need me. Behavior consulting is one of those jobs where we teach you how to not need us. 

The last part of answering this question, as I mentioned above, comes down to relationships (which includes a learning history with someone). If a dog learns that they can trade coveted items with me in exchange for something delicious, it doesn’t mean they’ll do the same for anyone else. A human example of this is that I’ll let my husband take my credit card but wouldn’t let someone else do the same. It will take less time (and money) for me to teach someone how to trade with their dog rather than building that skill with me first then transferring it to the pet parent. 

To sum up this answer, you don’t need to have amazing training skills to see great results and at the end of the day it doesn’t matter if a professional can get your pet to do something. It only matters if you can.  


“I don’t know how remote sessions can be effective.”

This one really boils down to not knowing what the behavior modification process entails. At the end of the day, your behavior consultant is a human trainer who knows a lot about animals. A whole lot of the behavior modification process is actually educating the pet parents in topics like body language, management, and enrichment. So as long as we can communicate effectively, we can educate effectively. That doesn’t have to happen in-person.

We have hundreds of clients whom we’ve never met in person who have successfully worked through their behavior modification plan with pets presenting really challenging behavior issues. We’ve also worked with all of the typical maladaptive behaviors remotely quite successfully: stranger danger, leash reactivity, intra-household aggression, resource guarding, separation anxiety (this one works way better remotely, actually), stereotypic/compulsive behaviors, and so many more. Remote services have not limited our effectiveness or the types of cases that we see. 


Pros and Cons of Remote Sessions vs. In-Person Sessions


Aspects of remote consulting that are more effective than in-person sessions


It’s easier for the human learner

As I mentioned above, behavior consultants are really human teachers who have a lot of knowledge about pets. And, just like our pets, it’s difficult to learn when our attention is split between different things. That’s exactly what happens in an in-person session. I’ve seen so many people worried about what their pet is doing or going to do in an in-person session that they haven’t really absorbed the necessary information I’m telling them and that they’re paying for. Because that happens so frequently, I ask all of my clients to put their pets away before I arrive (also for safety reasons) and then they’re often worried about what their pet is doing while they’re away or what their pet will do when they’re let out. Their attention is still split. 

From my experience, remote clients have a much easier time absorbing the necessary information they need to know to keep their pets and others safe. That also means that we don’t need to go over the same information as many times so we can often progress a bit quicker. 


You can revisit your session

We try to record all of our remote sessions and either send them to clients afterwards or let clients know to ask us if they want access to them. So in addition to their training plan and other training resources we send, clients can share their session with household members who didn’t get to attend or go back to helpful tips we shared while they were working with their pet. 


Our presence changes the pet’s behavior

A large portion of the pets we’re working with have anxiety-related issues and for many of them the presence of new people in the house or a change to their routine is stressful. That means that our very presence is going to change the pet’s behavior and oftentimes also means that it’s going to be harder for them to learn the skills we’d like to implement during that session. There have been many times where a pet has been too stressed to learn during an in-person session and I’ve had to explain how to do something just like I would do in a remote session (actually, I have access to videos and can use Oso to demonstrate in a remote session so it would have been a better explanation if it was done remotely). 

The other side of this is that, because we’re professionals, your pet isn’t going to act the same way they would with us as they would with someone else. We know how to set up the environment, how to move and act so we don’t elicit unwanted behaviors as much as someone who doesn’t work professionally with pets. I’ve heard so many times, “Well, he’s not doing it with you but he usually barks at people when they come in.” Or, “He must know something’s up. He’s on his best behavior.” Our presence will change your pet’s behavior but sometimes not in the way you’d expect. 


It encourages taking video of your training session

As I mentioned above, video is a wonderful tool for learning. While we make the offer for our in-person clients to send us videos, it realistically does not happen often. The remote setting lends itself to folks taking more videos for us and that is incredibly helpful for both the client and the consultant. 


Aspects of remote consulting that are less effective than in-person sessions


We can’t troubleshoot for ourselves, which is sometimes harder

There are occasionally times where a client is working on something and I wish I could reach through the screen and try a few things with their pet to troubleshoot so I can better help them through a sticky spot. While it’s not impossible to do that troubleshooting remotely, being able to troubleshoot in person in those situations would likely save us some time. 


Videos of walks are more difficult because of the scope of the camera

I’ve worked on a lot of leash reactivity cases without ever seeing the dog out on a walk. It’s very doable to work on the issue without the consultant being there walking alongside you. That said, there are times where clients want me to see their dog on a walk or are having trouble explaining something and so want me to watch a video of their dog on a walk. 

One of the nice things about being able to go on a walk with someone in person is that I can watch their dog and all around the environment at the same time. That’s more difficult to do in a video because of how wide the frame is. There are some videos I’ve seen where this isn’t a problem because the person videoing is at a great angle and/or distance, but that’s not always the case. 


Stranger danger with us

I’ve also worked on a lot of stranger danger cases without ever meeting the animal. It’s also very doable. That said, many people feel more comfortable feeding a professional to the lions, so to speak, than starting out with their friends and family. There are many things that we do and have in place to keep people safe (including practicing first with known people to troubleshoot the set-up), but many people still feel more comfortable going through a meeting people protocol with a professional first. We obviously can’t do that remotely. 



How our remote consults work

Throughout this blog post I’ve been speaking specifically about our remote sessions at Pet Harmony, and I recognize that different companies perform them differently and they’re probably not all created equal. I can only speak to ours, though. The short answer to how our remote consultations work is there’s a discussion portion and a hands-on portion and the amount of time with each is dependent on where folks are in their plans and what we’re working on. 

The longer answer is found here



Now what?

  • Have you been putting off getting professional help for your pet because you don’t want to try remote sessions? Look at the above concerns and see which speaks to you. 
  • What concerns do you still have after reading those relevant sections? Think through them and start fleshing them out.
  • Tell us those concerns. Email us at [email protected] to start a dialogue about what remote sessions can do for you. Or, if this addressed all of your concerns email us to set up an appointment. 
  • Behavior professionals: are you looking for help on how to do effective behavior consults? Check out our How to Do– And Love!– Remote Consulting Course


Happy training!


How Cherry Picking Your Plan is Getting in the Way of Your Progress– and What to do About it!


There are a lot of factors that go into how successful a behavior modification program is. Some of those factors are uncontrollable: genetics, certain things in the environment (i.e. city-living is always going to be louder than rural living), age, etc. Some of those factors are controlled by your behavior consultant: science-based, empathetic, ethical training techniques, splitting steps down small enough for both you and your pet to be successful, etc. And then there are those factors that are controlled by you, the pet parent: communicating successes and hardships with your consultant, practicing the exercises, managing stress and unwanted behaviors, etc. 

There’s one pet parent factor in particular that I want to talk about today: cherry picking parts of your behavior modification plan. What I mean by that is following some parts of your behavior plan but not all of them. Let’s dive into why it happens and why it’s so detrimental. 


Why Cherry Picking Your Plan is Detrimental

Cherry picking parts of your plan and ignoring other parts is detrimental to your progress. Yes, you can still make progress this way. Yes, sometimes you can even reach your goals this way. However, it’s probably going to be slower than it could be if you followed all parts of your plan. If the behavior modification journey already typically takes several months, why would you risk adding more time onto it?

It may also not be possible to reach your goals if you’re cherry picking. For example, if you want your pet to stop counter surfing but you keep leaving food on your counter while you’re not home and your pet is loose, you’re not going to reach your goal. Your pet could have an amazing stationing (go to a spot and hang out there) behavior when you’re cooking, an amazing “off” cue, and other foraging opportunities. You’re still not going to reach your goal without that particular management component.

Because there are so many factors that go into behavior, we usually need to address several factors to be successful. Think about it this way: all of those factors are like an orchestra that comes together to create one end result. All of the factors of behavior come together to create one end result, too. Now, if our orchestra is practicing and we improve the woodwinds, brass, and percussion, but completely ignore the strings, the end result isn’t going to be the same as if we improved each section. We can’t cherry pick and expect the end result to be the same. 


Why Cherry Picking Happens

I see cherry picking happen for a lot of reasons:

  • Not knowing what a recommendation is for, does, or why it’s important
  • Not knowing how to do or implement that recommendation
  • Not seeing the recommendation work, including not knowing how to troubleshoot it to make it work better
  • The consultant put in too many recommendations at one time
  • Forgetting a part of the plan
  • Old habits– and concepts– die hard

I’m probably missing a few but those are the most common reasons I see when speaking with my clients. Almost all of these merit an entire blog post to themselves, but let’s briefly explore each and talk about solutions. 


Not knowing what a recommendation is for, does, or why it’s important

This one is all about buy-in. Some people need to know why they’re doing something before they’ll do it. There are plenty of times that that’s applied to me, too! If you don’t know (or remember) why you’re supposed to do something or do it in a particular way, ask your consultant. There’s no shame in asking and, believe me, we’d much rather you ask straight off the bat if you’re not sure why instead of avoiding it for a few weeks. 


Not knowing how to do or implement that recommendation

This usually comes down to a break-down in communication when you’re given instructions (or can come from people skipping ahead in their plan instead of following instructions as they were relayed). An example of this is when a consultant might say “separate your dogs with baby gates and perform this exercise on either side of the gate” and you have an open-floor plan. Even though the instructions seem straightforward, the environment makes it a whole lot trickier to implement. Again, speak with your consultant and relay specifically what you’re having trouble with. The more specific the better!

If the reason you don’t know how to do something or implement it is because you’ve skipped ahead, go back to what your consultant recommended. When we say, “practice this only in your yard or with someone they know for the next 2 weeks”, we really mean it. There may be tweaks that need to be made before the recommendation can work in other capacities and we don’t want you to have to figure that out yourself. Plus, moving too fast is a prime reason for seeing setbacks later in the process. 


Not seeing the recommendation work, including not knowing how to troubleshoot it to make it work better

Reasons for a recommendation not working can run the gamut and is going to be based on the individual case. That said, almost all of those reasons can be resolved with some troubleshooting. Before giving up on a recommendation completely, talk to your consultant (noticing a pattern here?) Tell them what you tried, for how long, and send a video if you can! We don’t expect you to know how to troubleshoot something to make it more effective; that’s our job. 


The consultant put in too many recommendations at one time

I was incredibly guilty of this when I was a newer consultant, and am still sometimes guilty of this! Your consultant should tailor their recommendations to you as they get to know you better, but in the beginning it can be difficult to find that sweet spot. Tell your consultant when there’s too much, but only after you’ve made sure that it’s not actually because of one of these other reasons. I often hear someone say they don’t have time for one thing in particular, but when we talk more about it we discover that one of these other reasons is the real culprit. 


Forgetting a part of the plan

Okay, we’ve all been here, right? Remembering everything you’re supposed to do can be hard, especially in the moment. I see a lot of my clients get around this by posting their training worksheet (which we send to all of our clients after every session) on the fridge. Others opt for post-it notes around the house. The point is that the system needs to work for you. I recently spoke with a client who was cherry picking her plan. When I brought it up, she admitted that she forgot about some parts of it and doesn’t check email frequently and so wasn’t utilizing the training worksheets I was sending. We decided that her taking her own notes would be more effective. No system will work unless it works for you! Think through what systems work for you in your regular, daily life and figure out how to incorporate what you should be working on into those tried and true systems.


Old habits– and concepts– die hard

This one is part buy-in, part forgetting, and part habit. There are so many times that someone has come to me with a history of leash popping their dog and looking for a more LIMA-friendly way to walk. Usually the short-term solution involves them looping their thumb in their belt loop or pocket to keep them from leash popping. Even habits that we want to change die hard! And, sometimes, we have no idea that we’re even doing them. Give yourself some grace as you’re working on changing your own thoughts and behaviors- and remember that your pet is going through the same process. Ask your consultant if they have any recommendations to help you change particular habits (like looping your thumb in your belt loop). 


Now What?

  • Take an honest look at your behavior modification and what you’re doing. Does it match up? Even the little details? If yes, awesome! Keep on keeping on. 
  • If it doesn’t match up, which of the above (or combination thereof) best describes your situation? 
  • Talk to your consultant about what’s going on, even if you’re not quite sure what the issue is. They’ll be able to help troubleshoot the issue to set you up for success better!


Happy training!