January 2023 Training Challenge: Identify Where the Sunk Cost Fallacy Might be Bogging You Down

Alright, if you’ve been following us for any amount of time, you’ll know that we like to start by defining our terms. When you read the title of this blog post, you may have thought to yourself, “What’s the sunk cost fallacy?” So let’s define it! The sunk cost fallacy is the tendency we have to stick with something that isn’t serving us well because we’ve already invested time, money, effort, or any other resource into it. Think of the old adage, “in for a penny, in for a pound”, and that’s pretty much what we’re talking about here.

This happens to humans a lot. It happens to me a lot. It’s hard to walk away from something that you’ve put a lot of yourself into. It can also be hard to walk away from something that you put a lot of money into but didn’t get what you felt was your money’s worth of use out of. It can also be hard to walk away from a relationship that you put a lot of emotional investment into but for any number of reasons is no longer healthy for you.

 

There are just so dang many reasons it can be hard to let go.

And to be fair, sometimes we shouldn’t let go! Just because something is hard or temporarily unpleasant doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t good for us. Sometimes it’s important to see something through. 

For example, if we’re tracking progress and seeing that what we’re doing is working, it’s just taking longer than we had originally hoped, it might be in our best interest to stay the course. 

Another example: if we feel that a course or service is a waste of our money because we think we already know everything being taught, but we can’t answer basic questions about our progress in the course, it may be that we skimmed the surface and made some assumptions, but need to dive deeper in order to benefit from our investment. 

And another example: if we’re creating something new and we’re making a lot of mistakes and sacrifices along the way, and that process is really scary and uncomfortable, but the potential outcome is worth all of that pain? Stick with it!

 

This is why it’s important to examine the thing we’ve invested in and ask ourselves some important questions:

  • What was my goal when I originally invested in this?
  • What is my goal currently? 
  • Does this investment have a high probability of helping me to attain my goal?
  • Is it doing so in a way that is healthy and sustainable?
  • Is there a way to stay with my investment and make it more healthy and sustainable?
  • How am I making these assessments? Do I have evidence or am I basing my answers on my feelings?

 

If we conclude from our assessment that the course, service, relationship, mindset, or whatever else we’ve invested in isn’t serving a good purpose in our life, we need to let it go and move on. Life is hard enough without carrying a lot of unnecessary baggage.

This is especially important if we’re already feeling overwhelmed and overburdened. Because of my own tendency to overcommit myself, I periodically have to pause, step back, and do an inventory of everything that I’ve currently invested in to determine what I can let go of and what I need to see through to the end. After these sessions, my life feels much more doable.

That doesn’t mean these inventories are easy! Letting go of something you’ve invested in can give us some big feels. I can’t speak for you, but for me, when I find myself clinging to something that I know I need to let go of, it’s because of this narrative that happens in my head: “You’re wasting even more [time/ money/ emotion/ insert resource here] than you already have! You’ve got to stop being so wasteful! If you walk away from this now, you might as well have just set that [resource] on fire!” What helps me in those situations is to change my mindset. Dropping sandbags when you’re drowning isn’t wasteful, it’s lifesaving. 

Plus, those investments weren’t a total waste. If we allow ourselves to learn from the situation, we do get something valuable out of them. Try some of these on for size:

“I learned that I already have a good handle on this aspect of my profession, so I can feel good about my current knowledge and skills in that area.”

“I learned that this isn’t where I need to focus my energies, and that my niche is actually in another direction.”

“I learned that my path has diverged from that person’s, and while I enjoyed the time when our paths ran together, it’s time for us to explore different paths.”

“I learned that this training approach is not for me or my pet, so I am free to explore something else.”

“I learned that there’s an entirely different way to view the world and think about how I move through it.”

The more we practice letting things go that no longer serve us, the easier it is to do, and the better we get at it. And the better we are at keeping our resources and investments streamlined, the more free we will be to grow, improve, and really enjoy the things that benefit us the most.

And that’s a price worth paying.

 

Now what?

  • Whether you’re a pet parent or a pet professional, we all fall trap to the sunk cost fallacy. As we move into the new year, take stock of the last year.
    • Pet parents, is your enrichment plan serving you and your pet, or is there something that is bogging you down? Step into the new year committed to sustainability.
    • Pet professionals, is your business serving you? Do you feel satisfied and confident through your processes with your clients, or do you often find yourself caught in the “shoulda, coulda, woulda” loop? Our Enrichment Framework for Behavior Modification Class is geared toward helping professionals find the structure and systems that serve them, and in turn, their clients, and their pets. The next round starts on January 18th, so register now. 

December 2022 Training Challenge: Explore Enrichment Outside of Foraging

Happy December, everyone!

It is time for our final training challenge of this year! 

This month, we challenge you to explore enrichment opportunities outside of the foraging category.

One of the questions we get asked often is, “What about non-food related enrichment?” And this month, we challenge you to dive in, look at some of the other categories of enrichment, and spend some time focusing on there. 

 (Disclosure: some of the links in this blog are affiliate links. We receive a small commission for purchases made through these links at no extra cost to you. This helps us continue to put out free content to help you and your pets live more harmoniously!)

 

First, what else is there? 

 


And the answer is, so much! 

While foraging is a way that many creatures on this planet spend their time (finding and acquiring food to sustain oneself is pretty important to staying alive!), it isn’t the only thing that creatures need to survive. There is so much more when we are looking to help our pet thrive.

In Canine Enrichment for the Real World Allie and Emily outlined 14 categories of enrichment, and while foraging is one of them, it is only 1 of 14! 

 

So, let’s take a gander at the other 13!

A few weeks back, Allie wrote a stellar blog article, Dog Enrichment Categories Explained where she dives into each of the categories, gives examples, and inspiration. If you’re looking for a more in-depth description of each of these categories, make sure you check that out. 

For reference, here are the 14 categories: 

  • Health and Veterinary 
  • Hygiene 
  • Diet/Nutrition
  • Physical Exercise 
  • Sensory Stimulation
  • Safety 
  • Security 
  • Species-Typical Behaviors
  • *Foraging*
  • Social Interaction 
  • Mental Exercise 
  • Independence 
  • Environment 
  • Calming 

And of course, we need to give a shout-out to agency as well! 

 

Whoa! There are so many options! But what does my dog need? 

Now that we’ve briefly listed the categories of enrichment, the next question people most often ask is, “What enrichment should I use with my dog?”

Which is a great question, but one that frankly, I can’t answer for you without asking you a litany of questions and some trial and eval. 

There are so many factors that go into creating each individual’s enrichment plan. I have two dogs in my family, that have lived in 4 houses, in 3 states. With each move, they have different needs. With development, age, environment, location, and health their needs have changed. 

Allie discusses a couple of practical ways to explore and find what your dog needs in this blog, so make sure that you check out that blog before continuing! She went into much more depth than I will go into here, and it also includes a link to our “Are Needs Being Met? Checklist” to help guide you throughout the process of identifying your dog’s needs! 

 

Once you have an idea of where you want to focus, then you start crafting a plan! 

Start with a goal, and then ask yourself, “How can I achieve this?” 

It may be something like: 

 

“How can I help my pet be more independent?”

“How can I help my pet better self-regulate and calm?”

“How can I help my pet get their extra energy out?”

 

And from there, you trial and eval. 

 

Of course, we’ll use Griffey as an example.

Griffey has a bad back and has developed pretty intense allergies over the past couple of years. If you have heard me tell the story of Griffey, you know that we’ve tackled many challenges throughout his time with our family. We’ve worked on big responses to other dogs, discomfort around strange humans, being comfortable home alone, building lilypads of safety in the world, and generally trusting that the world isn’t full of scary monsters. 

And while there are overarching things that living creatures need (see the 14 categories of enrichment), how we met those needs shifted and changed through each of those stages of our journey. 

At this point, foraging is the smallest subset of Griffey’s plan. It’s a pretty well-oiled machine that doesn’t take much time, energy, or bandwidth from us. But we still utilize food in a lot of areas because it’s easy and effective. We are constantly teaching him new things, and for that, we may opt to utilize food rather than something else. 

So, for now, our focus is on meeting his health and vet needs, both as they are now, and how we predict what they will be in the future. 

Let’s look at some of the ways we’ve adjusted our plans in order to better meet his needs outside of foraging:

*Disclaimer: As mentioned above, each family and pet’s enrichment plan is unique to them and their situation. The details of Griffey’s enrichment plan shared below have been determined and developed with the help of Team Griffey, which includes many professionals with specialties (both medical and behavioral). None of the details below are intended as directions for your situation or may even be relevant to your pet. Work with the appropriate professional when developing a plan for health or behavior challenges to make sure that your plan is effective, sustainable, and helping you.* 

 

Health and Vet 

We’ve established with some INCREDIBLE vets to make sure that his health and veterinary needs are taken care of. This includes scheduling time with our vet so that she can become his friend before we need to do the icky things to him. We also have worked with our vet to develop a medication protocol for those visits that are just going to stink and an allergy medication regimen that takes his current skillset and self into account.

*Adding Agency* – Working on Care with Consent with the wonderful and amazing Sara McLoudrey, so that Griffey can communicate when he’s ready for things, and when he needs a break. Sara has a great Instagram here!

 

Hygiene

With the direction of the veterinarian, we developed a bath regime to help with his discomfort. 

*Adding Agency* – We worked with Griffey to make sure he was driving the bus during bath time. We swung just a bit too far, and now, we can barely keep him out of the shower 😀 

 

Diet/Nutrition

We switched from a kibble-based diet to a canned food diet to manage the storage mites (one of Griffey’s most extreme allergy triggers). This means we also had to find different shelf-stable treats to station around the house in our treat jars since kibble was no longer an option.

*Adding Agency* – Griffey and Laika’s stomachs are good when we rotate through different flavors of the same food, so they get to pick which of the blends they get for their meals.

 

Physical Exercise

We do a lot of tug in the house. Grasses are another one of his big triggers, so during certain times of year, we spend more time inside than out. 

*Adding Agency* – He gets to tell me when he’s ready to continue playing, when he needs a break, and when he needs a quick game of tug RIGHT NOW. 

 

Sensory Stimulation

We have window film up in the front room, and keep sound masking on throughout the day. After this most recent move, it took us about 2 weeks to get everything set up, and ooohweeee did it make a difference in his ability to settle. 

You can find many options for window film to meet your aesthetic. 

*Adding Agency* – We also provide quiet locations throughout the house so that he doesn’t HAVE to listen to the sound masking if he doesn’t want to. 

 

Safety

We moved into a location that has two homes in it, and the other tenant has a dog. With Griffey’s discomfort around other dogs, we put 3 layers of barriers in place and a communication system so that we can feel comfortable that the only time they will have visual access to each other, they will be supervised. We are laying down rugs/yoga mats/traction mats on all the slippery surfaces so we don’t need to worry about him slipping out.

 

Security

We have safe spaces peppered throughout the house, and gave Griffey a refresher on The Flight Cue when we moved this latest time. The window film and sound masking also apply here. 

*Adding Agency* – He has lots of safe spaces to choose from and ways to move away from his stressors. Both mom and dad are here to support him, so he gets to take his pick the majority of the time. 

 

Species-Typical Behaviors

Sniff walks, destruction, digging, and bed building are all common activities in our house. 

*Adding Agency* – Through the “Do You Wanna…” game, I can let him pick what activity he wants to participate in.

 

Foraging

We have options for various puzzle toys, sniff activities, scatter feeding, destructibles, and more. The most common ones in our house these days are licking opportunities, like lick mats, toppls, and kongs to help channel some of his licking and grooming time toward something other than himself. 

*Adding Agency* – He gets to pick the format that he gets his food in most days. 

 

Social Interaction

He gets the opportunity to have time with my partner, myself, and Laika throughout the day. My partner and I facilitate play sessions with the dogs, and we make sure we carve out time to just snuggle and be present with both dogs. 

*Adding Agency* – Again, this is where the “Do you wanna…” game comes in super handy! 

 

 

Mental Exercise

Through puzzle toys, play with Laika, and our Care with Consent training, Griffey uses that noggin quite a bit! I also keep a small dish of treats available on the kitchen counter so that throughout the day, while I’m waiting for things to finish cooking or reheating, I can easily do a quick little training session with him. 

*Adding Agency* – Griffey gets to opt in or opt out of every single one of our training sessions. If he opts out, then he gets to choose what activity he does want through the “Do you wanna…” game. 

 

Independence

We worked hard on this one, and it’s a culmination of so many other things like security, calming, and more. 

*Adding Agency* – He gets to choose how close or how far he is from us. Sometimes, he needs a little extra love and support, and that’s okay. 

 

Environment

This, like independence, is a culmination of lots of little changes in other categories. Under this, I also include our home cleaning routine to manage his allergies, which changed drastically over the last year. 

 

Calming

We work on this all the time, and we have many routines in place to work on calming and self-regulation for him. This also includes many things from other categories coming together to create that restful environment for him.  And, I’m proud to say, it was clear during this last move that he has the greatest skillset of anyone in the home at this 😀 Make sure to check out Episode 5 of Enrichment for the Real World for a deeper dive into the Calming category!

*Adding Agency* – He runs this show, we are just there to support him. 

 

And keep in mind, this is always evolving. His plan 3 years ago looked VERY different than it does today, and it looks very different than it will 3 years from now. 

 

Now What?

  • Review the 14 categories of enrichment and determine where you’d like to spend your focus. There are 13 categories aside from foraging to choose from! 
  • Although we’re talking about non-food enrichment ideas, that doesn’t mean that we can’t use food as a tool. There are many activities that I listed above that I initially trained Griffey to do using food. Determine if training with food will get you further faster in the category you chose and if so, go for it! Non-foraging enrichment doesn’t necessarily mean that food isn’t involved.
  • It’s time for trial and eval. We only know if the activity or idea we chose is the right one after we implement it and observe the effects. Put your plan into action and observe how your pet responds. You can then tweak from there!

Happy training,

Ellen 

November 2022 Training Challenge: Teach a New Behavior Through Shaping

I don’t know about you, but October seemed to just fly by! Let’s hop into this month’s training challenge, which is the next installment in the “ways to teach behavior” series! 

As a reminder, in September we talked about how to teach your pet something new through capturing. Capturing is waiting for your pet to do the desired action naturally and then rewarding them for doing so. 

Last month, in October, we talked about how to teach your pet something new through luring, which is utilizing a piece of food or a toy in your hand to guide your pet through the motions. 

And that means, this month, we challenge you to teach your pet something new through shaping!

Like with the last two months, I am going to use the behavior of “go to spot” or “go to bed” for demonstration, but there will be a list of additional tricks you can teach your pet through shaping at the end! 

 

And of course, let’s talk about what shaping is first!

When we are talking about shaping, we are talking about a way to teach a new behavior by reinforcing gradual or successive approximations toward the end goal. The idea is kind of like playing “hotter – colder” where you lead someone around in space by saying things like “warm, warmer, hot, hotter…” as they get closer to a spot, or “colder, ice cold…” as they get further.

It is very common to hear the term “splitting” come up when we talk about shaping. So let’s also define that as well. When we talk about splitting, we are talking about how we are going to be breaking down the steps for our goal behavior to find those gradual or successive approximations. 

If you ever had to do the exercise where you wrote instructions for an alien from outer space to make a PB&J, it’s kinda like that!

 

Teaching something through shaping can look something like this… 

And don’t worry! We are going to break all this down even more in just a bit. 

 

But first, let’s talk about why we may or may not choose to shape a behavior.

There are a lot of reasons we might suggest taking a shaping approach to teaching a new behavior. 

  1. When you start from that very first approximation and work your way up, you always have a foundation to return to. If I have 10 steps that I can use to teach my dog to do something, I have 10 ways to help my dog remember the thing we were working on! 
  2. When done well, it reduces frustration for both the teacher and the learner by increasing the rate that the pet “wins” or “gets it right”. You can get many repetitions really quickly, and hey, who doesn’t like to “win”!? 
  3. It really builds communication between you and your pet. It’s a conversation as you’re teaching. 
  4. You can teach some incredible things that would never be possible with capturing and luring. 
  5. You are always starting from a place of success and focusing on what you do want rather than what you don’t! 

All that sounds great! Why might you not choose to shape? 

  1. It does require some foundational skills, and you may need to work on those first. The teacher needs to have clear communication through their mechanics, keen observation skills, and clear consistent timing to help the learner figure things out. 
  2. While you’re gaining those skills, might you get a little frustrated, and so might your learner, and nobody enjoys frustration.
  3. It takes planning. Before you go to teach your pet something new, you need to consider what the steps of your plan might look like. 

Now, to be fair, those are all true of any time we are teaching a new behavior, and none of that is to scare you away! Shaping can be incredibly fun once you and your pet get the rhythm down! 

All right, now that that is out of the way, let’s take a look at how you might prepare to shape your pet going to spot or bed. 

 

Determining your plan

First, clearly define your goal. It could be something like, I want my pet to place all 4 feet on the blue towel.

Once you have that, I find it easiest to work backward.

So, then ask yourself, in order for my pet to place all 4 feet on the blue towel, what does my pet need to do? 

In order for my pet to lie down on the towel, they need to put 3 feet on the towel. 

In order for my pet to put 3 feet on the towel, they need to put 2 feet on the towel. 

In order for my pet to put 2 feet on the towel, they need to put 1 foot on the towel. 

In order for my pet to put 1 foot on the towel, they need to move toward the towel. 

In order for my pet to move toward the towel, they need to orient toward the towel. 

In order for my pet to orient toward the towel, they need to look at the towel. 

If we were to then reverse the order it might look like this: 

Step 1: Look at the towel 

Step 2: Orient toward the towel 

Step 3: Move toward the towel 

Step 4: Put 1 foot on the towel 

Step 5: Put 2 feet on the towel

Step 6: Put 3 feet on the towel 

Step 7: Put 4 feet on the towel

Now, keep in mind, your pet might offer something that is not on your list, and that’s okay, they aren’t robots! Anything that is “hotter” toward your goal gets marked and treated! See the example below! 😀

 

Sweet! We’ve got the plan. What next?

Get ready for your session! Grab your treats, and your clicker or marker, your towel, and call your dog over! 

Put the spot or bed down, and be ready! Most dogs will immediately look at the thing, and that’s your chance to get that first approximation and get the ball rolling! 

As soon as you see anything that is “hotter” toward your goal, mark and then delivery a treat to your pet. Even if it wasn’t something you expected, like Griffey touching the basket with his nose, and raising his paw up to the rim of the basket. You can see me working through the process with Griffey here: 

 

 

Now, I couldn’t come up with anything “new” for Griffey to practice with. We’ve done this a lot. Like a lot, a lot, so there are a couple of things to keep in mind. 

Griffey is a champion of this behavior. We’ve practiced it with a ton of things, in a ton of locations, and it has paid VERY well for him in the past. Don’t expect your pet to “get it” within a minute unless they are also super well-practiced! 

If you and your pet are new to shaping, keep it short, keep it sweet, and keep your rate of reinforcement high! 

 

And as always, some tips to help your training

  1. Minimize distractions. Shaping can really work that noggin, so try to practice in low-distraction environments. 
  2. You want to mark and treat for movement, not for stillness. If your pet stands there staring at you to do something, then toss a treat, and the second they are done, start marking and treating them for movement. Their eyes move? Mark and treat. Their weight shifts? Mark and treat. They turn around? Mark and treat. Some pets, especially those new to shaping need to be taught that trying things is what pays, not waiting for us to lead the way. 
  3. Be prepared before you engage with your pet. It can be really frustrating for our pet to be waiting for us to be ready, so be prepared before you get your pet out of their comfy spot. Plus, you don’t want to miss the opportunity to mark and treat! 
  4. You may need to split more finely than I did above, and that’s okay! The more steps you fall back on, the better! 
  5. Where and how you deliver the treat will make a difference. If you get stuck, ask yourself, can I deliver my treat in a way that will make the next approximation more likely?

 

Additional tricks or skills to teach through shaping:

  1. Crawl under something
  2. Switch the light switch
  3. Back up
  4. Peek-a-boo
  5. Reach for the sky!
  6. Close the door

 

Now what? 

  1. Decide what you’re going to teach your pet through shaping! There are so many options beyond what we listed here, and Kikopup has fantastic tutorials for so many things! 
  2. Start teaching the thing! Remember, if both you and your pet are new to shaping, it won’t look exactly like what you see in the videos, and that’s okay! It’s a learning journey for you both!
  3. Let us know on Facebook or Instagram what you’re working on! We’d love to see your progress! 

October 2022 Training Challenge: Teach Your Pet Something New Through Luring

I hope y’all are having a smooth transition into fall! With the start of October comes the next in our series of training challenges about ways to teach a behavior to our pets. This month, we’re going to talk about luring! 

This month, we challenge you to practice your training skills by teaching your pet a new behavior through luring!

Last month, we talked about capturing as another way to teach a behavior to our pet. In case you missed it, make sure to check out how to Teach Your Pet Something New Through Capturing, too! 

Just as I did in the capturing blog last month, for sake of demonstration, I’m going to keep the behavior the same (go to a spot or bed), but stick around until the end of this blog post for suggestions of other behaviors that you can teach commonly through luring!

Let’s get into it! 

 

First, let’s talk about what luring is. 

Luring means having a treat (or toy, etc.) in your hand and moving that hand in a way that when your pet follows they perform the desired action. For example, to get a pet to sit via luring you’d move the lure hand up over their head and as the head goes up the butt goes down. Or, as you can see in this video, Allie is luring Oso from a sit to a down:

 

Luring is an easy way to start teaching a lot of things as most pets and their people do well with it. But, like with all things, there can be some downsides! 

One of the complaints we get most often from families that have taught things through luring is that their pet will only do it when they have a treat in their hand. And this is an extremely common challenge! While luring may look very simple in execution, to do it well, and to fade the lure (remove the lure from the picture), can take some finesse and skill! In order to make sure that the lure isn’t solidified as part of the picture, we often recommend practicing 2-5 times, then removing the lure from your hand. 

The thing to remember with luring is to fade the lure quickly so you’re not stuck having to have a treat in your hand forever. So, what might that look like? Check out the video below to see a demonstration of how we might teach a dog to go to a spot, or bed, with a lure! 

*Welcome to a behind-the-scenes look at the chaos that is my office :D*

 

 

I always recommend starting by testing your lure without any agenda. Does your dog follow the lure? Are you able to move while holding the lure (this isn’t just a dog skill!)? 

Lure your pet once, and when they *do the thing* give them the treat. 

Lure your pet a second time, and when they *do the thing* give them the treat. 

Repeat with nothing in your hand, but with your hand in the same position, and if your dog *does the thing* mark and give them a treat! 

If your dog doesn’t *do the thing*, then lure one or two more times and then try again with an empty hand. 

 

Tips to Help Your Training 

  1. Start simple! This may be a new skill for you and your pet, and if that’s the case, don’t try to lure them over some complicated obstacle course, start small, like taking 1 or 2 steps, or going to bed. 
  2. If your pet turns away from the lure in your hand, it isn’t going to be very effective. This can happen for a number of reasons ranging from your lure not being of appropriate value, or even pets learning that lures predict unfortunate things for them (Kathy and Emily talk in depth about this in Episode 19 – Kathy Sdao: Food Motivation Myths around the 37-minute mark!) You may need to start teaching there rather than with a trick! 
  3. Avoid luring your pet into a situation where they will be uncomfortable (also discussed in Episode 19 – Kathy Sdao: Food Motivation Myths!) If you aren’t sure if your pet is uncomfortable or not, brush up on your pet’s body language. Some of our favorite dog and cat body language resources are here, and this is one of our go-to resources for parrot body language.
  4. Whenever teaching something to your pet, start in a low-distraction environment. It will make things easier for you and them.
  5. Be prepared before you engage with your pet. It can be really frustrating for our pet to be waiting for us to be ready, so be prepared before you get your pet out of their comfy spot. 

 

Additional tricks or skills to teach with a lure: 

  1. Treat magnet – this is a staple in the Yoakum household and Hannah does a great job of walking you through the process in this blog! 
  2. Spin 
  3. Dig 
  4. Peek-A-Boo! 
  5. “Reach for the sky!” 
  6. Army crawl
  7. Figure 8 between legs
  8. Walk over something 
  9. Two or four paws up on something 
  10. Nod your head

 

Now What? 

  1. Decide what you’re going to teach your pet through luring! There are so many options beyond what we listed here, and Kikopup has fantastic tutorials for so many things
  2. Practice with your pet following the lure before you try to use it as a tool. Some pets will have a harder time with that initial step, for any number of reasons, so practice that first. 
  3. Don’t forget to have fun! If you find yourself getting frustrated or overwhelmed, take a break and do something that both you and your pet find enjoyable. 
  4. Tag us on our Facebook or Instagram to let us know what you’re up to!  

September 2022 Training Challenge: Teach Your Pet Something New Through Capturing

It’s September, y’all! That means it is time for our monthly training challenge! There are many ways that we can teach a behavior, but for this training challenge, we are going to focus on capturing! 

This month, we challenge you to practice your training skills by teaching your pet a new behavior through capturing!

This is the first segment in our series looking at different ways to teach our pets new behaviors, and for the sake of demonstration, I’m going to keep the behavior the same (go to a spot or bed), but stick around until the end of this blog post for suggestions of other behaviors that you can teach commonly through capturing!



First thing first, what is capturing? 

Capturing is waiting for your pet to do the desired action naturally and then rewarding them for doing so. Often, we find that a marker is helpful for capturing. 

In this video, Allie shows what capturing might look like if you were looking to teach your pet to put their head in a box: 

 

If our desired behavior is for our pet to put their head in the box, we might put the box down, and wait for our pet to investigate the bottom of the box.

For our example of going to a spot, like a bed, a perch, or a stool, then we would put the object down, wait until our pet moved to that spot, then use our marker, and then deliver something wonderful like a treat. 

Now, you may be thinking, isn’t that going to take all day!? And the answer is, yeah, sometimes it can. Both of my dogs have a long history of going to “that thing that is a different texture than the thing that you’re on” and snoozing in their beds behind me while I work, and still, without some additional consideration, it maybe awhile before they go to their beds.

I started a zoom recording to demonstrate what capturing might look like if you were waiting throughout the day for your pet to go to their spot. I sped this video up because, let’s be real, no one needs to see me typing for this long, but this took about 5-6 minutes for Laika to walk over to the bed and lie down.

 

One of the large complaints that we see with capturing is that it can be a little slow. But, if you’re more like me and patience is something you’re working on, there are some things that you can do to speed up the process. 

 

Observe your pet to know when the thing is more likely to happen

Once you know what you want to capture, consider the different factors that set the stage for that thing to happen. 

In order to successfully capture behavior, you really need to know when it is likely going to happen. Some things happen based on the time of day, during different activities, with different people, or in different situations. 

You may find that your dog is more likely to bow after they get up from a nap. Or they are more likely to get a toy when you first get home from work. Or they are more likely to smack their lips right after they eat. 

For my dogs, if I want to capture them going to their spot, I know it’s more likely when:

  1. I’m settled and resting. It is going to be a big ask for my dogs to go lie on their bed if I’m moving around the house doing things. We’ll work on that later! 
  2. They have a place that they gravitate toward. Laika would rather stand than lie on the tile. This would go MUCH slower without something cozy for her to lie on. 
  3. I’m working with their natural activity rhythm. Super early morning, mid-day, or after dark are times when they are more often going to their bed on their own accord. 
  4. There is a beautiful sun spot on the floor. 
  5. They’re tired.

 

Stack the deck in your favor

How you do this is going to be dependent on what factors you already identified and what you’re looking to capture! 

If your dog loves lying on hardwood and you get them the cushiest, most plush bed in the world, that’s not exactly stacking the deck in your favor. But, if your pet loves lying and sitting in the sun, then opening the blinds and putting their spot there can help you be prepared to mark and deliver your treat quickly and efficiently. 

When teaching various species to go to a spot, here are some things that might make it a little easier: 

  1. The spot needs to be somewhere you can see it. If you want to capture them doing it, you need to know they are doing it! 
  2. Make sure the spot is of reasonable size. If it’s too small, it can be easy to miss. You can always make it smaller later! 
  3. Make the spot easy to get to when you’re starting, putting it in the middle of the floor, or between you and the entry to the room you’re in can be helpful compared to a corner far away from you.

 

And some final tips for capturing: 

  1. Remember, when we are capturing, we are looking for something that we already see our pet doing. If it isn’t happening already, you can’t capture it! 
  2. Make sure treats are readily available where you will be doing the capturing. This is most effective when the time between your pet doing the thing and the reinforcer is 2-3 seconds. 
  3. You may find a marker helps the process, so if you don’t have a marker signal or cue already, check out this video
  4. Think about the things that your pet already does that you’d like to see more of. Those are excellent options for capturing. 

 

Additional tricks or skills to capture

If your dog already has going to their spot down, then here are some other commonly captured behaviors for you to try this month: 

  1. Sit and Down 
  2. Your dog licking their lips
  3. Putting their head down 
  4. Deep breaths 
  5. Sneezing 
  6. Yawns 
  7. Head turns 
  8. Bows 
  9. Looking at you 
  10. Picking up a toy 
  11. Ear twitches
  12. Sniffing 
  13. Vocalizations 
  14. 4 on the Floor 
  15. Calmness 
  16. Put your head in a box 
  17. Lying on their side 

 

Now What?

  1. Decide what you’re going to teach your dog through capturing! There are so many options when it comes to this, so you can be creative. Just make sure it’s something that your pet already does. 
  2. Consider whether or not there is something you can do to make the thing you are capturing more likely. More repetitions can make the learning process faster.
  3. Have fun with it! Once you get the hang of knowing what you’re looking for, observing your pet doing it, and delivering a reinforcer, you can do so much with your pet! 
  4. Let us know on Facebook or Instagram what you’re working on! We’d love to see your progress! 

 

August 2022 Training Challenge: Add Sustainability to Your Enrichment Plan

If you’ve been following us for a while, then you know that we put a hefty emphasis on sustainability for pet parents. 

When you have carefully crafted a plan that is designed to meet your animal’s physical, emotional, and behavioral needs, to enable them to engage in species-typical behaviors in healthy, safe, and appropriate ways, it is because you love and care about animals in your life. 

Unfortunately, the best plan won’t meet your animal’s needs if you can’t sustain it.

 

Sometimes, it goes a little something like this… 

You catch the enrichment bug!

You read all the things. Listen to all the podcasts. Start collecting ideas, making plans, buying tools and toys, and filling so much time with these activities and ideas of what you want your enrichment plan to be. 

And then something happens. 

Maybe you get an extra project at work and start putting in some overtime. 

Maybe you get injured or sick and need to focus on healing. 

Maybe you get tired from doing all the things. 

But, you still try to fit all those activities, ideas and plans into time, energy, or bandwidth that you no longer have.

And it’s just not sustainable. You can keep it up for a bit, but eventually, the execution falls apart, and if you’re already feeling that enrichment guilt, you may even feel crummy because you aren’t superhuman. 

But, you don’t need to be super human if you focus on creating a sustainable enrichment plan! Sustainability is key to the long-term success of an enrichment plan. It is important for your pet’s welfare and your welfare, and it is doable! 

 

Sustainability requires multiple plans

A single, rigid plan will fracture and crack under the weight and variability of everything else that people need to handle in their day-to-day life. 

A single plan means that you are creating something that can’t shift and integrate into the very natural changes that occur day to day, week to week, year to year. 

So, this month’s training challenge is to start exploring flexibility in your enrichment plan. Let’s start with 1 goal or activity, and build from there! 

Sidebar: The following suggestions are working under the assumption that you already have a first go at your enrichment plan in place. If you are just getting started, then I suggest you start here, with our step-by-step guide for crafting the first draft of your animal’s enrichment plan! 

 

So, what might this look like? 

In my house, and for my clients, I work to create a tier system based on effort for the pet parent. 

Now, an important note: effort is relative. What I might label “low effort” for me, might be “high effort” for you, and that’s okay! There are so many things that impact how we grade effort. Avoid comparing yourself to others! 

 

First, list your goal

For example, in my house, for Griffey and Laika: relaxation and rest while I’m at work.

 

Second, list the options you have available to you that meet that goal. This is where your previous “trial and eval” comes into play!

Griffey and Laika: 

  1. Scatter feeds 
  2. Non-frozen lick mats
  3. Frozen food toy 
  4. Shreddables/Destructables
  5. Play sessions with me 
  6. Play sessions with each other 
  7. Social time 
  8. Teaching relaxation 
  9. 40-minute walks in the morning 
  10. Teaching a new skill or working on one of our training goals 

 

Third, consider the effectiveness of the activity in helping you to achieve your goal and the amount of effort that activity takes for you. 

I tend to use 4 categories:

High effectiveness, high effort – very effective, see large improvement toward your goal but also takes more involvement from me 

High effectiveness, low effort – very effective, see large improvement toward your goal but takes little involvement from me 

Low effectiveness, high effort – somewhat effective, see some improvement toward your goal may need additional activities, but also takes more involvement from me 

Low effectiveness, low effort – somewhat effective, see some improvement toward your goal may need additional activities, but takes little involvement from me 

 

High Effectiveness, High Effort 

  1. 40-minute walks in the morning 
  2. Frozen food toys
  3. Teaching relaxation
  4. Shreddables/Destructables
High Effectiveness, Low Effort 

  1. Scatter feeding 
  2. Non-frozen lick mats
  3. Play sessions with each other 
  4. Play sessions with me 
Low Effectiveness, High Effort

  1. Teaching a new skill or working on one of our training goals 
Low Effectiveness, Low Effort

  1. Cuddle time 

 

Fourth, amend your current enrichment plan to include options for varying levels of effort. 

You can even adjust some of your activities to be more clear. For example, I may have 3 tiers for different activities: 

Scatter feeding:

 

Teaching a new skill or working on one of our training goals (recall): 

 

Fifth, start adjusting your daily routine for sustainability. 

Some days you’re going to have all the time, energy, and bandwidth. Some days, you won’t, and that’s okay! Here’s what two different days may look like in our house: 

“I can do anything!” day

  1. Stuff and prepare frozen food toys 
  2. Take each dog for an individual walk, scatter feeding breakfast, practice skills on a walk
  3. Mid-day cuddle session 
  4. Frozen food toys stuffed in boxes for dinner 
  5. A rousing evening play session 

“I’m so tired” day 

  1. Morning cuddle session 
  2. Lick option for breakfast  
  3. Spend time in the sun – practicing the flight cue 
  4. Mid-day cuddle session 
  5. Short tug game if needed  
  6. Dinner scatter fed 

 

Start from a point of success 

I gave a lot of examples from my house, but remember, just like with your pet, you want to start from a place of success. If you aren’t ready to look at an overarching goal like “increased relaxation”, then start with making 1 of your staple activities more sustainable. Let’s build you an enrichment plan that works on your best days and your harder days. 

 

Now What?

  1. If you haven’t started creating your pet’s enrichment plan already, then start here, with this step-by-step guide to help you go through the process!
  2. If you’re ready to start tackling sustainability, then narrow your focus to one thing, either one activity or one goal, and go through the exercise listed above! 
  3. If you’re a pet parent and find yourself overwhelmed by choice, then email us at [email protected]! Our consultants have helped hundreds of families create an enrichment plan that addresses each family’s goals, meets the human’s needs, and meets the pet’s needs.
  4. If you are a fellow behavior professional that is looking to increase engagement and sustainability for your clients, then make sure to join the waitlist for our Enrichment Framework for Behavior Modification Master Class! We spend a lot of time discussing sustainability for your clients!

July 2022 Training Challenge: Explore Variety Through a Cardboard Box

Happy July, y’all!

This month’s training challenge is inspired by one of our more frequently asked questions about enrichment.

What are some new enrichment things I can do for my pet? 

We’ve all been there, right? 

Scrolling through all the Instagram-worthy activities, looking at the plans professionals have developed for their own dogs and pets, thinking, “I really need to do more.”

Or watching your pet master your current offerings, so it feels like you need that next thing. Something that use to be exciting and fun has lost its spark (for you or your pet), so you’re looking for that excitement again.

And don’t get it twisted, I’m guilty of this as well! We have an obscene number of puzzle, foraging, and mental exercise toys for our dogs, but it’s a hobby for us, but not an expectation of an effective enrichment program. Because novelty isn’t always the answer. 

Novelty isn’t a requirement. Is novelty a part of an effective enrichment plan? Sure. Maybe. For some creatures, but for all creatures? Definitely not. 

 

And that leads me to this month’s training challenge: 

Explore a variety of new ways to use a cardboard box (or you can broaden it to your recycling) in your enrichment plan. 

I’ve worked with many species and cardboard boxes have been a staple in nearly all of their enrichment plans. They are versatile, regularly accessible, and downright effective. They are so useful that even Nathan Andrews talked about them in Episode 2 of Enrichment for the Real World!

You can use them as a foraging opportunity, to promote sniffing or shredding, to give the animal something to hide or rest in, to destroy, to obscure the environment, and more. 

As you embark on this month’s challenge, here is some inspiration and food for thought: 

  1. You can vary what is in the cardboard box, you can add your pet’s regular diet, treats, chews, frozen lickables, toys… the sky is the limit! Engagement with the box can lead to a variety of outcomes for your pet! 
  2. You may need to start with something easy, like a few pieces of food in a shallow, open box. That’s okay! Meet your animal where they are! 
  3. You can roll a box, put a box in a box, put things under a box, stuff the box with paper or leaves… get creative! If you’re looking for the next new thing to keep you entertained, flex those creativity muscles and see what you can come up with for yourself! Vary the way that you present the box.
  4. You can teach your pet to interact with the box, like with 101 Things to do With a Box, or use the box to teach a new trick.

In our household, we most often use boxes for “shreddables,” “destructables,” and foraging. When left to their own devices, complete and total destruction ranks high on preferred activities for our dogs. So, here are some examples of what that might look like to get you started! 

 

 

Remember…

Enrichment is measured by its outcomes, not the activity.  Let your pet’s behavior tell you what they need. It’s incredible what you can do with something as simple as a cardboard box (or recycling in general). If you find yourself looking for something novel, ask yourself, are you really looking for variety, increased difficulty, or complexity? You can achieve all of those things without needing something new, you just need to be a little creative! 

Shreddables are nothing new to Griffey, and yet, it is still an incredibly effective activity for increased rest and relaxation throughout the day.

 

Now What? 

  • Observe your pet, and identify a behavior or two you’d like to approach with a cardboard box. Does your dog dig? Can you come up with a way to use a cardboard box or recycling to give them an appropriate way to dig? Does your pet destroy things? Maybe try some destructible to give them an appropriate way to destroy. 
  • Explore ways to add variety to your plan with a cardboard box, or other recycling! 
  • Follow us over on Instagram @petharmonytraining for more cardboard box and enrichment ideas! 

June 2022 Training Challenge: Track Your Pet’s Behavior for a Month

 

Happy June, y’all!

With Season 1 of Enrichment for the Real World coming to a close, we wanted to focus this training challenge on our final topic of the season, using data for enrichment!

Now, I know the idea of collecting data can be overwhelming, intimidating, and even seem unnecessary, but, as we work to create effective, efficient enrichment plans for the animals in our care, collecting some data can make a huge difference in doing that well without sacrificing ourselves.  

So, this month’s training challenge is to collect some data on the animal in your care! 

As Dr. Fernandez mentioned in this week’s podcast episode…

“Then the second part is test things and test things in a way that you can find some type of evidence. Because we’ve talked about the importance of being evidence-based, and that means any kind of data, any kind of data that you use, and as I like to say all the time, any data is better than no data.”

 

Data can look like a lot of things

When we are talking about data, we mean a range of information. We want what we are tracking to answer the questions or goals that we have. This could be a simple yes/no, a duration of something, a frequency of something, the intensity of the behavior, and more. 

 

Some tips to keep in mind

  1. Know your question or goal. Are you gathering baseline information, like the number of times you catch your dog licking their paws? Or are you trying to see if your routine changes are helping you to progress toward your goals? Are you trying to assess if your efforts are working? 
  2. Work at the level you WILL do, not necessarily the level you WANT to do. Some data is better than no data. Focus your efforts on something you can do, and make it easy for you to do the thing. It may be a piece of paper on your desk, a whiteboard in the kitchen, texting yourself every time something happens… Get creative, but make sure it is actually doable. You can always expand later! 
  3. Clearly identify what you are tracking. Look at overt behavior, observable changes, and things that you can measure rather than focusing on a feeling or vibe. 

 

So, what might this look like in a home?

Once you know your goal or question, then you can start doing some trial and eval! As I mentioned before, there are so many different things you can look at, but narrow it down to get the information that will help you assess your goals and plans. Here are 3 examples to get your creative juices flowing.

 

Griffey’s Skin Issues

With the onset of Spring came an onslaught of allergy issues for Griffey. We’ve been working diligently with our vet to come at it from a number of angles, and last week, we implemented 2 new treatment options: weekly medicated baths and a 3x daily topical treatment for lesions that were showing up. Our goals were to see improvement in skin and coat condition, overall comfort for Griffey, and quick healing of the lesions. To ensure that our treatment was effective, we have been tracking the number of variables through a piece of paper at my desk: 

  1. The number of times he can be redirected from licking vs not (will he do something else instead or not?)
  2. The number of lesions on his body 
  3. Amount of time spent itching and licking

Over 2 weeks of data collection, we have seen a drastic improvement. It is clear that these two interventions have improved his welfare (and ours!). The amount of extra effort that these activities take is worth it, and we can see we are on the right track. 

 

Brie and Copper Barking During Zoom

Somewhat recently, Emily moved to the good ol’ Pacific Northwest with her desert dogs. Both Brie and Copper were having a hard time adjusting to life in the cold, wet climate that Seattle is known for and they had become more restless and disruptive during her zoom meetings. So, in addition to their normal scatter feeding at mealtimes, she decided to do more intentional scent work during lunchtime.

The question Emily was looking to answer was, “How many times can the dogs rest all the way through a Zoom session?” With a simple system of Xs or checkmarks on a notepad, she was able to notate which Zoom sessions they rested through and which ones they were restless. She was able to see a clear correlation between doing daily scent work with them and how many times they could rest all the way through a Zoom session. Armed with that information, she was able to incorporate that change into her day-to-day life.

 

Working on Recall

Last year I worked with a client whose dog would chase and bark at wildlife in the yard. We were working to improve the dog’s come when called, and eventually, Flight Cueing away from the critters. 

In our first session, we discussed putting a pad of paper next to the back door and each day writing a tally:

  1. Each time you call her and she comes all the way back inside. 
  2. Each time you call her and she turns to look at you but doesn’t make it back inside. 
  3. Each time you call her and she doesn’t respond. 

Over our time together, we saw many more tallies in the “you call her and she comes all the way back inside” column compared to the “you call her and she doesn’t respond.” Eventually, we were able to adjust what we were tallying to include “times she comes in without being called.” Remember, you can always adjust in the future. 

 

Now What?

  1. Ask yourself, what’s a question or goal that you have for yourself and your animal? 
  2. Determine how can you collect information easily? Pen and paper? Whiteboard? Text/email? Spreadsheet?
  3. Decide what information would help you assess your progress toward your goal? If you’re trying to help your animal relax, then tracking the duration of rest may be helpful. If you are trying to reduce alert barking, then the frequency of barking might be helpful. 
  4. Do the thing! Keep track of your pet’s behavior and look for patterns and correlations. Sometimes, you’ll need to circle back and trial and eval something else, just like Allie did with Winter Oso

Happy Training, 

Ellen 

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,

Ellen

April 2022 Training Challenge – Creating a Relaxing Environment for Your Pet

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

 

Happy April, everyone! 

If you’ve been following our podcast, you know that we’ve been talking about teaching our pets relaxation skills. It’s a skill that’s so important, that it even has its own category in Canine Enrichment for the Real World. Both Episode 4 and Episode 5 focus on what relaxation really is, how to help our pets learn these skills, and some of our favorite approaches to teaching relaxation. 

There are tons of ways to help your pets with their relaxation skills, so this month, for our monthly training challenge, we challenge you to create a relaxing environment for your pet. 

 

So what does a relaxing environment look like?

Why thank you for asking, that’s a great question, and I would love to tell you. The catch is, that, like so many answers in the behavior world, “it depends.” 

There are a lot of factors that go into what a living being finds relaxing, and let’s explore those a bit!

 

How does your pet’s species typically sleep?

The first step to understanding what your pet might find comforting and relaxing is to understand what that looks like for your pet’s species. Different species will need different things. For a dog, being stuck on a tree limb is going to require active muscle engagement, balancing, and full-body awareness. For a bird, laying on the ground may be stressful, in the wild, which would expose them to predators, and put them in a vulnerable spot. 

So, ask yourself, do I know how [insert your pet’s species] typically sleeps? 

Is it up high or down low? Is it in something, under something? What time of day do they typically sleep? Do I really know, or is this based on something that I’ve been hearing all my life that I should fact check?

 

What does your pet look like when they are relaxing?

The next element of this is to know what relaxation looks like on your pet’s species, and on your pet. In the Enrichment for the Real World Episode #5, Allie and Emily discuss how stillness doesn’t mean relaxed. 

I can be perfectly still on a rollercoaster, and you better believe I am not feeling relaxed! Relaxation is about the body moving through the stress response cycle, physiological changes like heart rate, respiration, and the like. 

So, ask yourself, do I know what my pet looks like while they are relaxing? 

What are their eyes doing? Are they blinking slowly, or are their eyelids looking droopy? How deep and slow are their breaths? How do they position their body? How much muscle tension do they have in their back, neck, and/or shoulders? 

 

Where or what does your pet currently use to relax?

Now, sometimes, we are starting from scratch on this (like Dr. Pachel and Emily discussed in Episode 4), but you may find that your pet has already given you some information on what they find relaxing. And, keep in mind, these can be locations or activities! 

You may start to see a pattern to what your pet finds relaxing. When we know what relaxation looks like, we can let them tell us what they need to have a relaxing environment.

Where do you see signs of relaxation? When do you see signs of relaxation? Do they gravitate to the same spot to sleep? Do they prefer a wood floor over a dog bed? Do they sleep under or behind something? Do they spend a lot of time next to a fan, heater, or searching out a sunspot? Do they rest more after certain activities like a sniff walk, shredding a destructible toy, licking on a lick-mat, or using a flirt pole? Do they seek out a dark, quiet place?

So, ask yourself, what are some things that help my pet relax? 

Is there a type of bed that you see more relaxation on? For example, a cot might get a different response than a plush bed. Is there a time of day when you see the most signs of relaxation? 

Are there activities that you do with your pet that either get or are followed by an increase in signs of relaxation? 

 

And what does that all mean for me?

You’re ready to start building your pet a relaxing environment!

Create a spot where your pet can start relaxing more often. Take the information you collected and build your pet’s ideal relaxation station. In this spot, you can try providing them with some of those activities you identified that elicit an increase in signs of relaxation. You can practice mat work or relaxation protocols to help your pet learn to relax in this location.

 

Now What?

    • Build your pet’s ideal relaxation station! This might be a dark, quiet room with a cozy dog bed, or it might be a high shelf in your office for your cat. After you’ve observed their behavior, take their preferences into account, so that you’re starting from a place of success. 
    • Continue to teach your pet to relax here, whether that’s with opportunities to engage with activities that help them relax during or after the fact. 
    • If you want to practice some of those Relaxation Protocols that were mentioned in the podcast episodes, awesome! We have another blog that looks specifically at that
      • P.S. if you are in Pro Campus already, you can find the Pet Harmony Relaxation Protocol in your account under “Pro Campus Weekly Recordings”, “Training Challenges”, “Relaxation Protocol”. You’ll find a video that shares how to execute our Relaxation Protocol, how to teach it to clients, and a handout that you can use with your clients! 
    • Tag us on Facebook or Instagram @petharmonytraining, so we can see your pet’s relaxation station!