Why I Never Give My Dog People Food

Let me get right to the point.  I never give my dog people food. Why?  Because people food doesn’t actually exist.  There are consumables and poisons (and some fast foods in between).  If you’re asking if I give Opie some of the same food that my family also eats, then my answer is ABSOLUTELY! *Disclaimer- This blog is not intended to replace veterinary advice. Some of the foods that we eat can cause harm to our pups like chocolate, grapes, garlic, onions, pits of fruit, cooked bones etc. AND some dogs may have allergies just like us.*


So why am I making a point to tell you all of this?

Whenever I am working with a family I like to get a list going of the dog’s food preferences so that we can have a good idea of how to pair the value of the treat with the difficulty of the task.  Most families report that their dogs enjoy the crunch of a common dog treat but will come bounding for a bite of freeze-dried liver.  Sometimes when I’m giving suggestions for other foods to try like broccoli, carrots, cheese, ham, eggs, etc, I am confronted with a common answer:

“We don’t like to give our dog people food because we don’t want to encourage begging.”

This is a valid concern. Honestly, I don’t care if your dog begs or not, you get to decide your threshold on that; however, I can definitely empathize with the frustration of a dog staring/barking/pawing when you would like to eat in peace and isolation.   I don’t want my dog barking at me when I sit down at the table for dinner.  I don’t want my pup putting his paw up on my leg when I eat my ice cream on the couch.

But the food itself is not the problem. Dogs want to eat.  Dogs know that you’re eating food that they would also like to eat. You giving them that food doesn’t inherently create a desire for that food– their big beautiful noses already know that your steak is going to taste good–but the pattern of how they earn that food definitely reinforces whatever they did to get it. 

Dogs learn consequences through understanding sequences.  If you feed your dog consistently from the table, he’s going to learn that he gets fed when you sit down at the table.  If you give your pup finger licks of ice cream when you’re chilling on the couch, she’ll probably follow you to the couch and sit in front of you with those big puppy-dowg eyes every time you make a bowl.  In the same respect, if your dog chooses to lay down on his bed while you chop veggies and THEN you then toss a piece of that veggie in his bed, he is more likely to go to his bed when he sees you chopping veggies.

Behavior is shaped through reinforcement.  The value of reinforcement, the consistency of reinforcement, and the location/sequence prior to reinforcement all contribute to the likelihood and intensity of that behavior.  If your pup is begging for your food, it may not be solely because of that food but possibly because of their learning history.


Corinne’s Favorite Ways of Using “People” Food:

  • Instead of discarding broccoli stalks, freeze them (or keep raw) and give your pup a “broccoli bone” to gnaw on while you make dinner.  You could also use a whole carrot!
  • Set up a bed near the kitchen table and only toss scraps when they are laying down on it
  • Layer a Kong with plain yogurt, pumpkin, green beans, and peanut butter, and freeze it for a long-term dog project while you watch a movie.
  • Save the cut ends of green beans as tiny, crunchy training treats.


Now what?

  • Think about times when your dog begs. Consider what has happened in the past and ask yourself what you would rather they do instead.
  • Reflect on your own reasons for why you feed your dog what you feed them.  If they’re healthy and you’re both happy with how things are going, great, no need to change a thing!
  • If you’re interested in incorporating foods that you eat into your pup’s diet, talk with your vet for more information on how to keep your pup safe.

You’re doing great!


Why I Stopped Asking My Dog to “Come”

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


We say we want to provide our dogs agency.  We say we want to give them options.  We say we want them to feel like they have a choice in the life they live.  So why do all the dog trainers and all the dog owners keep drilling away at recalls???  Why do we keep asking our dogs to come!??!?!?!

Because of safety (and probably many other very appropriate reasons as well).  

We can help manage situations, circumvent issues, and protect our pup if we can get that ever-so-sought-after “Rock Solid Recall.”  There are too many scenarios that may occur where it is in the best interest of our dogs, and of those around them, for the pups to run excitedly to our side when we say “come.”

How do we do it?  The age-old checklist

  • Prepare the environment for success
  • Reinforce/reward desired behaviors
  • Incrementally increase distractions, duration, distance, etc.

About a month ago I was filming some training sessions of myself with Opie and I noticed that he was not consistently coming to me when cued with “Opie, come!”.  Either something else in the environment was more rewarding (continuing to lay on the comfy couch, catching spare shreds of cheese dropping from my son’s hands, etc.), or I was making it too difficult for him (too far away, in a new environment, etc.).  Feeling the pressures of embarrassment from experiencing a failed recall while filming AND re-living it while watching my video, I reflected on this and I sadly realized that I don’t have a Rock Solid Recall.


Until I accidentally found out that I did.

Every time I said “Opie, Come!”, I wanted him to excitedly come by me; however, I wasn’t making it worth his while.  Some of the time, I did not reward him in proportion to the level of difficulty of actually coming.  Most of the time, I asked him to come when I really didn’t care if he did or didn’t come, I just wanted to give some lovin’–if he didn’t feel like it, I let it go because it wasn’t necessary and I don’t need to pet him if he doesn’t want the petting.

I wasn’t consistent with my expectations for his behavior after the cue, and I wasn’t consistent with my reinforcement of the cue “Opie, Come!”

But then, a glimmer of hope shone through my recall woes when I was assembling dinner.  I had a spare piece of fat that Opie just NEEDED to consume, so I said “Opie, do you want this?!” I heard his jingle jangle of tags tear down the hallway and he slid expectantly into home base.  Opie has a recall, it’s just not what I purposely trained.

I took a second to reflect on how I accidentally trained this.  To get the food, Opie needs to be next to me.  I consistently reinforce this by giving him what I have, why else would I say “do you want this?”  The value of the treat changes depending on what is on the chopping block, so I keep his interest piqued.  It’s the perfect combo to keep him excited and interested in moving his body close to mine.  I’ve started to proof this behavior so that I’m not only cuing it from the kitchen, and soon, I’ll be able to use it in the event I really need him to be by my side.


And as for “Come?” 

I still use it, it just makes too much sense in my human brain, but it’s not my recall word.  I now think of it more as an invitation for Opie to join me rather than a cue I can use for safety if I need it.


Now what?

  • Ask yourself, “Do I have a Rock Solid Recall?  Why is this important to me? Why would this be important to my dog?”  The answers will kick start your training plan.
  • Consider resetting your recall cue.  Start back with the basics to get a good reinforcement history going.  If you’re stuck, no worries, your friendly Pet Harmony Team is here to help.

Happy training,


Sniffari or Sorry, Can’t Party?

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Why are we taking our dogs on a walk? Physical exercise? Mental stimulation?  Because we think we should? Side note: I once read an article on heart.org about all these wild health benefits that dog owners have. . . it didn’t directly link the scientific studies that contributed to these claims, but it’s enough reasoning for me to feel good about sharing our lives with these furry family members.

This blog is about walks, but it starts a bit further down the walking journey.  Your pup already (read: usually) walks on a loose leash.  Your dog finds value in being by your side.  Your dog isn’t insisting on having a conversation with the neighbor dog crossing the street.  For more tips on working with leash reactivity, check out this blog by Allie.

This blog is specifically all about the sniffing aspect of walks.  You’ve read enough of our blogs (and maybe even Allie and Emily’s book Canine Enrichment For The Real World) to realize that allowing our pups to sniff is beneficial on so many levels; however, it can be one of the hardest competing reinforcers when working on walking.  One of the longest conversations I have with families who are working on loose leash walking is sparked by the question: “What is the point of your walk?”  Once we unpack the answer for that, it makes training (and expectations) a whole lot clearer.

My family is a walking family.  We’ll take two-a-day, maybe more.  It’s our favorite way to exercise our dog because we enjoy getting out of the house, and Opie took to the activity with very little reactivity (but a lot of pulling for the first year). Once we decreased the pulling, there was just one more thing that left me more frustrated by the end of the walk than when we started.  The incessant sniffing.  And pausing.  And more sniffing.  And shoving his nose into the dirt as he repeatedly clears his airways.  We like to think that before we got him, Opie was this heroic Search and Rescue dog and he’s just reliving his glory days on the force.  That works with calming me down sometimes, but certainly not always.  I remember one midwestern winter walk when I broke down in tears because I was so cold and tired and my fingers hurt and I didn’t feel like waiting for his sniffing to stop. I honestly screamed to the heavens “come onnnnn whyyyyyy.”  It wasn’t my finest moment, but we’ve moved on.

So something needed to change.  I needed to reflect on why we were going on walks, what benefits I wanted Opie to experience, and why a walk suited us better than other exercise.  After a bit of reflection, I realized that we can come to a happy medium with Opie’s sniffing desires.  I want Opie to get as much sniffing as he can, but I needed a cue to let him know that we need to get moving and wonderful things still await us ahead. I trained a countdown cue that I now use when he’s starting to sniff too long for my schedule.
Before going on a walk with Opie, I find I get the most enjoyment out of the walk when I know what my expectations are.  I’ll do a quick check on how I’m feeling, what Opie’s day has been/will be like, and I set out knowing if today is going to be a “sniff to your heart’s content” or an “andiamo regazzi, we gotta get a move on.”  This way, before we even close the garage door, I’m prepared for the training that needs to happen and can communicate with my pup accordingly.

There are so many types of walks, some may be for exercise, some for relaxation, some for mental stimulation, and some just to… complete a bodily transaction.  The type of walk may change based on the path you take through the neighborhood that day, the people/creatures that are out, the time of day, the time you have, the weather, etc.

Now, while you are the one who typically gets to decide what type of walk it will be, remember, most of the time, these walks are for our dogs.  The walks should always be something that completes their stress cycle, not something that gets them more worked up.  It should be something that satisfies their needs, not something that we force them into.  It should be something that allows them to do doggy things like sniff and explore. In any case, before you head out, make sure you get in the right mindset about if the walk is going to be a sniffari, or a sorry-can’t-party.

Now what?

  • Reevaluate what you want your walks to look like before you go for each walk.
  • Note the ways we communicate to our pups if they can go on a Sniffari (sniff to your heart’s content) or if time is tight and it has to be a Sorry, Can’t Party (gotta keep it moving).
  • Ask yourself– Why are we going on walks?  What benefits does my dog get out of the walk? How can we reinforce our pups for choosing to move forward when we need to get moving instead of sniffing that tapestry of scents?

You’re doing great!

How I Whoopsied and What I’ve Learned

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I need to be honest.  We hit the rescue roulette jackpot when Opie came into our lives.  Don’t get me wrong, he was a 1-year old adolescent, and we still have the gnawed baseboards to prove it… but he’s lively, playful, a clear communicator, and cute to boot. He tells us when he’s uncomfortable and he brings us toys that he wants to destroy when we leave them out.  He’s a great pup with predictable behavior and predictable emotions and predictable values.


Or so we thought he was completely predictable.

Opie loves to unwrap presents.  He’s got the fervor of a toddler at a birthday party with the artistry of a ribbon dancer during his big number. It’s fun to watch and thus we have certainly reinforced the behavior with our praise of enjoyment.  It’s a behavior that we don’t mind seeing and have put cues on when he’s allowed to dig in and when he needs to leave it alone.  He knows to leave the presents alone under the tree and he gets invited to partake in the celebration of discovery when the time is right.

Until last Christmas.  Looking back, it’s completely clear and was 100% predictable, but in the moment it seemed like it happened out of nowhere–completely unexpected.  My family celebrates Christmas.  My immediate family (and their 2 small pups) were over at our house and we were sitting around opening presents in the front room. Opie was enjoying his job of shredding the opened wrapping and tissue paper near my adult brother while alternating with trying to help my brother take out the next sheet of tissue.  My mom’s younger pup was sniffing around and nosing into the presents as well and then the thingThe split freeze. My stomach flip. The not well-timed recall. The growl-whale eye-air snap combo… and ding ding ding, everyone to their corners, please.  

I felt terrible.  I felt guilt. I felt my heart pounding.  We did not expect the wrapping paper to be such a high value for Opie.  We did not expect there to be any issues between the two dogs because they have always gotten along before. We had never seen Opie resource guard anything. The whole scenario was a bit shocking for us.  Luckily, nothing serious happened, Opie had a well-placed air snap and Chloe heard the message loud and clear; however, it gave me the opportunity to reflect and evaluate what we could change to help our animals find success.

Environment factors that may have affected the behavior:

  • Masked people over at our house
  • 2 small dogs at the house who Opie needs to practice self control with
  • Less rest during the day
  • Exciting unwrapping game
  • More exciting unwrapping
  • More exciting unwrapping without a cue
  • Some exciting shredding prompts so he stops unwrapping the things he shouldn’t
  • More exciting shredding without a cue
  • EVERYONE IS UNWRAPPING THINGS [email protected]#[email protected]$#@#$%#@$%

When you list out the triggers that could have contributed to his eustress/distress it’s painfully obvious that he was hitting threshold long before the resource guarding; we should have sent our Opie Dog to his calming location with a delicious peanut butter-green bean-shredded cheese frozen project… but now we know better. We’ve seen more.  We’ve forgiven ourselves for missing the signs and we’ve created a plan for this year that combines management, relaxation, and prevention.  

Dogs are wonderful and they tell us a lot of things, but sometimes it can feel unexpected.  It can feel overwhelming and alarming for us, but usually, a little reflection from the dog’s perspective can help you see solutions for the future.

Oh, Opie Dog, don’t you worry, you’ll get your chance to wow us with your skills sans opposable thumbs… but just not when you’re turned up to 11.


Now what?

  • If your pup presents unexpected behavior, wonderful, you have a dog.
  • Think about all of the other things that happened over that day that may have contributed to that behavior.
  • Take note of what happened and brainstorm with your team how we can help the dog be successful in the future.

Happy Training,


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!


July 2021 Training Challenge: Evaluate Your Enrichment Plan

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

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


More specifically, evaluate your enrichment plan


(Disclosure: some of these links 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!)

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

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

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

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

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


The 4 Questions To Ask Yourself When Creating An Enrichment Plan

Aspect of Enrichment Focus: Physical Exercise


Question 1: Is this need being met?

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


Question 2: Am I providing my animal with agency?

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


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

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


Question 4: What is my plan of action?

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


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

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

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

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


Now what?

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


You’re doing great!