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:
- Scatter feeds
- Non-frozen lick mats
- Frozen food toy
- Play sessions with me
- Play sessions with each other
- Social time
- Teaching relaxation
- 40-minute walks in the morning
- 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
||High Effectiveness, Low Effort
|Low Effectiveness, High Effort
||Low Effectiveness, Low Effort
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:
- High effort: snuffle mats
- Medium effort: scattering food on the patio
- Low effort: throwing food around the room from the couch or bed
Teaching a new skill or working on one of our training goals (recall):
- High effort: Practicing at the local park
- Medium effort: Practicing nose-to-hand target
- Low effort: Giving my dog a treat when they look at me
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
- Stuff and prepare frozen food toys
- Take each dog for an individual walk, scatter feeding breakfast, practice skills on a walk
- Mid-day cuddle session
- Frozen food toys stuffed in boxes for dinner
- A rousing evening play session
“I’m so tired” day
- Morning cuddle session
- Lick option for breakfast
- Spend time in the sun – practicing the flight cue
- Mid-day cuddle session
- Short tug game if needed
- 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.
- 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!
- 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!
- 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.
- 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!