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

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

What enrichment can I use with a resource guarder? 

What enrichment can I use for separation anxiety? 

What enrichment can I use for dogs that steal? 

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

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

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

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

 

Using Enrichment for Problems

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

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

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

Health/Veterinary

Hygiene

Diet/Nutrition 

Physical Exercise

Sensory Stimulation

Safety

Security

Instinctual Behaviors/Species-Typical Behaviors 

Foraging

Social Interaction

Mental Exercise

Independence

Environment 

Calming

 

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

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

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

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

 

The One Where The Dog Couldn’t Sleep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The One Where the Dog Wouldn’t Move

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

The undesirable behaviors: cowering, flinching, staying stationary. 

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

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

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

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

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

 

The One Where the Dog Would Bite

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

The undesirable behaviors: biting, lip curling, growling

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Now What? 

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

Enrichment Isn’t About the Activity

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

 

What is enrichment?

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

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

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

Enrichment isn’t measured by: 

They played with the item or not 

They spent 20 minutes on dinner instead of 5 minutes 

They “liked it”

They “had fun”

Enrichment can be measured by: 

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

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

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

Activities can be fun!  

But they may not be enriching. 

 

And you may be wondering, does this really matter?

Yes, for a couple of reasons. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Now what? 

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

 

Are These Things Derailing Your Training Sessions?

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We talk a lot about setting yourself up for success when you are about to go into a discrete training session. Have treats easily available. Have a plan including what you are working toward and how you will get there. Create an environment where the “wrong” answer is less likely than the “right” answer. 

Even with all those precautions, things can derail. Our cart can jump right off the tracks like in Donkey Kong Country. I recorded a training session that derailed and I can be heard saying “I’ve made a mistake”. It happens to all of us. Especially because us being ready and our learner being ready isn’t the same thing. 

Learn from my mistakes, consider these things when your cart jumps the rails: 

 

Does your pet need to go to the bathroom?

No, really. Don’t take this one for granted. I have seen this make and break training sessions. I knew a puppy who would get snarky and annoyed with playmates when he needed to poo. Once he went poo, it was a complete turn around to the happy, playful pup we all knew. Griffey does well home alone 99% of the time. When he’s not? When he fails to go poo before we leave. 

When we were teaching Griffey loose leash walking skills, we waited until he pooped three, yes, you heard that right, THREE times before he was able to focus enough to practice training exercises. 

 

Is your pet thirsty?

During their Live at the Ranch, Peter Amelia made a wonderful point that birds often get thirsty during sessions. Some of their behavior could be labeled as “stubborn” or “dismissive”, but in all reality, they just need a drink of water. Once that very basic need is met, they may turn around with a reinvigorated excitement to participate. I highly recommend watching that video. Seeing Peter discuss all the ways they needed to help Milo (their Military Macaw) to get comfortable enough to be ready to train was truly special. 

 

Are they too hot or too cold?

I currently have two dogs in my home and worked with countless others where temperature brings out an entirely different dog. Griffey has a hard time when it is hot out. He has a really hard time focusing. He gets thirsty, he goes to find a cool spot, he can’t use his cave bed because it’s too hot and can have a hard time settling. Laika is the opposite. If it’s below 65 degrees Fahrenheit in the house, she’s staying in bed. No amount of chicken or cheese is worth working in the “cold”.

I’ve seen dogs who couldn’t participate or settle because they were too hot or too cold. Do you know if you have a hot or cold weather pup?

 

Are you trying to teach the wrong thing at the wrong time of day? 

Teaching my dogs fitness at 5:00 am when they are still asleep, or relaxing at 9:00 am when they are at their peak activity time is just working against my goals. Sometimes, we have the time we have and we need to make it work, but ask yourself if you are making it harder than it needs to be. See if you can shift your training to a time of day that matches your learner’s natural rhythm. Asking a nocturnal animal to learn at high noon, or a late riser to exercise before the sun comes up will likely lead to frustration for you, and discomfort for them. 

 

Are you violating your pet’s expectations?

We create patterns and daily rhythms whether we want to or not. When I first moved down to the Bay Area, around 5:00 pm, I’d wrap up whatever activity I was doing to clean the house a bit, play with the pups, and start preparing dinner so we could eat when my partner got home. I didn’t do this intentionally. But I definitely did it. 4:45-4:50 pm rolls around and if you’ve ever been on a call with me, you’ll see both dogs behind me stretching, bringing toys, rearing up on me with the expectation of play. 

5:00 pm wouldn’t be the ideal time to teach my dogs something stationary. They have an expectation and history of an active activity at that time. Shifting gears is entirely possible, but also takes some time. 

If you’ve been using your 12:00 lunch break to play with your pup, maybe some high energy tug or fetch, and suddenly you decide to start using that break to work on relaxation on the mat, consider that you’re working against your pup’s expectations. You may need to fade into a less exciting activity instead of quitting cold turkey. 

 

It’s important to remember, our “ready” and their “ready” are two different things. I do my best work early in the morning, and Laika peaks around 10:00 am. Griffey does better when it’s below 75°, and Laika thrives about that. We all have preferences. Navigating those preferences to get the most out of our efforts is a skill. I created a “ready check” routine with my pups and established an “I need a break” routine with them (more on that another day). Next time you have a training session derail, ask yourself if any of these things could be going on. 

 

Now What?

  • As you go through your training sessions, pay attention to things that might be impacting your session. Either write some notes down or keep a mental log (I’m terrible at this), for when they are having a rock-solid day and when they (or you!) are struggling. Look for patterns to see what will benefit your session. 
  • As best you can, make sure your learner’s basic needs are met before you get started. Join us over in the Enrichment for Pet Behavior Issues Facebook group for even more ideas to meet your pup’s needs. 
  • If you would like another set of eyes on your training to help make it as efficient as possible, email us at [email protected] to set up a session! While it can be a lot of fun getting in tune with your dog, we can help you streamline the process. 

Happy Training,

Ellen

5 Common Mistakes in Households with Multi-Pet Guarding

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If you’ve read our blogs this month, you already know how I’m likely to start this one. Guarding is normal, but it can also be maladaptive, or just disruptive. Living in a multi-pet household, you are already juggling the needs of multiple creatures. No one needs the additional stress of conflict over resources. 

If you’ve experienced multi-pet guarding, you may have turned to the good ol’ google machine to do a quick search on what to do. There is a ton of information out there, some of which can make your situation worse. Let’s talk about 5 common mistakes when it comes to multi-pet resource guarding, and what to do instead.

 

Mistake #1 – Punishing the growl 

We’ve written more than once about how we love a dog that growls. A growl is a warning. I’ll take a warning over a bite any day. Now, I don’t like that my dog feels the NEED to growl, but that’s a different topic for a different day. This is about keeping the growl. Keeping that very, very polite warning that I am crossing a line. 

I understand that a growl can be scary, and that sometimes our reactions are out of fear as well. I understand that hearing a growl will put us on the defensive. But, trying to suppress or stop the behavior of a growl won’t change the dog’s feeling that they NEED to growl. It will remove a very clear warning from their communication system. You may have a dog that goes from: 

Growling —> lip curling —> air snapping, and/or biting 

To 

Lip curl —> air snapping, and/or biting 

I have off days. I have days where I’m distracted. I may not catch every lip curl, but I likely will catch every growl. 

 

What you should do instead: 

Listen to the growl. The growl needs to work for your pup. If your dog growls, give them space. Back up. Leave them be. I know this may feel counterintuitive, but remember, in the moment, we are working to diffuse the conflict, not add to it. If it’s toward another member of the household, help that member back up. Remember, we want the growl to stay intact. If you’d like a more in-depth example, check out this blog on pets who growl when you move them

 

Mistake #2 – Taking Stuff Away 

It’s common internet advice to take from one and give to the other to “show them” they “don’t own things”. There are a couple of problems with this idea. One, taking stuff away just because you “can”, frequently exacerbates resource guarding. Two, if you really safely can’t, you are putting yourself in harm’s way, and bringing more conflict into your relationship with your pup. Three, if you have inter-household resource guarding, taking items will increase conflict AND then put the pups in proximity to be uncomfortable over said resource. 

Imagine you’re browsing on your phone and someone is lurking over your shoulder. You may turn the screen away or put your body between you and the person. Then, someone comes over, snatches the phone out of your hand and gives it to the lurker because “you can’t share nicely”. I don’t know about you, but I’d be furious. 

 

What should you do instead: 

Give each pet a place where they can enjoy the item in peace. Provide full separation, and if possible, maybe even remove all visual access. Let them have their thing until they leave the item on their own. Being able to eat, play, rest, and meet other needs in peace is really important. 

 

Mistake #3 – Letting them “work it out”

So, here’s the thing, dogs who have the skills to “work it out”, don’t need to “work it out”. This phrase usually pops up when there are already high levels of conflict within a relationship, such as fighting. If we think of our relationships as a bank account, all it can take is one bad incident to completely bankrupt the account. Rebuilding that account from broke is a whole lot harder.

 

What you should do instead: 

Get really, really good at reading body language so that you can intervene and address things early. Noticing the smallest change in your dog’s body language can help you catch situations where they may be feeling discomfort much earlier than if you wait for the growl. Help your pets out and get them both separated from each other. Provide them the opportunity to do things in peace. Put a management system in place to keep situations of conflict low and prevent situations where you might use the phrase “let them work it out”. 

 

Mistake # 4 – Chalking it up to a one time fluke 

It can be easy to say, “oh, that’s just a one off”. The problem is, we may not notice the pattern until it’s been happening for days, weeks, or months. Remember our bank account? Freezing the account after one withdrawal instead of 5, 10 or 15 can be really helpful. 

 

What to do instead: 

Again, study up on your dog’s body language. Being able to notice changes and patterns quickly will make a huge difference in your journey. When my dog’s stomach is upset (loose stools), we have bigger feelings about kibble than on a regular day. I’ll see faster eating, more whale eye, and more vigilance than days when her fecals are normal. I can adjust our household routine to make sure she’s getting the peace she needs when she isn’t feeling 100%.

 

Mistake # 5 – Trying to DIY

I’m all for DIYing on a ton of training. There are incredible trainers and behavior consultants out there providing wonderful free resources for people. I frequently look up instructional videos for training a myriad of things. Finding a fun behavior on YouTube and giving it a go with your pup can be a great way to have fun, get some mental enrichment in, and bolster your relationship. The time to DIY is not when anyone’s safety and quality of life is on the line. 

 

What to do instead: 

If you already have conflict in your home and safety and quality of life are concerned, it’s time to find a qualified professional. Find help early, so that your behavior professional can help you avoid common mistakes from the start. Think back to that bank account. Minimize withdrawals as soon as possible. With the guidance of a qualified behavior professional, you can start safely and productively making deposits again. 

 

Now What?

  • Look at your current set up and see where you can make any of the changes I suggested above. Start with one change, and go from there!
  • If any of this resonated with you, come join our Free Resource Guarding Workshop happening 4/5/2021-4/9/2021. We will be talking more about Resource Guarding and all things related. 
  • If you are living with a pet that resource guards and you’ve identified you’d like professional guidance, I highly recommend our upcoming Resource Guarding Immersive Digital Course. You can learn more here

Happy training! 

Ellen

 

 

 

5 Benefits of Muzzle Training You Might Not Know About

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I love muzzles. I think they are great. I heard Veterinary Behaviorist Dr. Chris Pachel refer to them as a portable baby gate on Drinking From The Toilet and I thought that was so clever. 

Muzzles, at least here in the United States, tend to carry a lot of stigma. It’s so unfortunate, because they are as important as a harness or a leash. Over the past few years, thanks to diligent dog trainers, and the wonderful community the Muzzle Up! Project built, we have made a ton of progress. You can find gorgeous custom made muzzles that will allow your pup to reap the benefits of a muzzle in comfort AND style. Trainers, like the wonderful team at Summit Dog Training, have paved the way to help clients navigate the stigma of their dog wearing a muzzle

You can find lots of great articles on the benefits of wearing muzzles, like this one from Synergy Behavior Solutions.

Now, enough fluff.

Hot Take: All dogs should be muzzle trained.  

Now, as I type this, I can feel the flinching, the gasps, the defensiveness that my prior statement will cause. But bear with me. I don’t use words like “all” and “should” lightly. Muzzle training can really improve your dog’s welfare and help us to meet their needs. 

 

I want to focus on 5 benefits of muzzle training you may not know about.

 

1. It is great mental exercise for our pup… and us.

Muzzle training puts our pup’s brain to work! When I say “muzzle training”, I don’t mean, buy a muzzle, strap it on my dog, and ABRA CADABRA! Dog is muzzle trained. 

Muzzle training, when done correctly, is a slow, beautiful process. It involves teaching our dogs to be active, engaged participants within the procedure. When we are moving through the training plan, we are looking for happy body language from our pups. And by “happy” I mean, loose, wiggly, body language, with quick responses and engagement (see Griffey’s “happy” here!). In my dogs, it’s the same body language as when I pull out dinner or get home. We want the sight of the muzzle to work like the world’s BEST recall. 

Because we are working so hard to keep the muzzle meaning “all good things”, we are also going to work our brains. Watching our pup’s body language, modifying our training, and tracking our progress is going to give us a mental work out too.

2. Relationship Building

We are so careful to make muzzle training fun for our pup, which means our pup is having fun with us. We strive to be predictable, so we don’t push or surprise our pup with too much too soon. It’s an excellent way to bolster our relationship with our dog. Having a fun activity to do together is super important. It’s 3-5 minutes of your day where you and your dog get to connect, work cooperatively, and enjoy each other.

As you progress through the training protocol, you can start to pair the muzzle with other fun stuff like sniff strolls or even foraging enrichment opportunities. You can also start using the “shove my muzzle into things” behavior for other fun tricks. We do sock muzzles in our house.

3. It’s a great way to hone your skills.

Want to practice your training mechanics? Muzzle training is the way to go. Being able to read our dog’s body language is critical when we are trying to condition a positive association with something. My goal is that with the muzzle in my lap, my dog will insert his nose, and remain in the muzzle while I clasp it behind his head.

Muzzle training is really about letting your dog control the session. Imagine sitting still on the couch and letting your pup do the work. Do you know where you would start? How would you progress? Do you know how to proof a behavior (video part 1 and part 2)? Have you ever taught a start button procedure? When we let our dog do the work, we get to park on the couch and focus on our own skills: reading your dog’s body language, your timing, your treat delivery, how you are raising criteria, and your ability to provide your dog agency.

4. It’s a great opportunity to practice providing your dog agency

I bet you can guess my next sentence by now. Muzzle training is about our dog being in control of their outcomes. It is the perfect situation to practice providing your dog with complete control over their outcomes. This is a great exercise for teaching your dog to say “no, thank you”, and for you to practice listening.

5. You, and your dog, will be so relieved.

Training, conditioning and practicing wearing a muzzle can create a wonderful sense of relief if and/or when we need to use them.

I remember a DVM (I wish I could remember who it was!) that shared a story during a muzzle training seminar I attended. They had a dog come in with something fairly catastrophic, I think it was a broken leg. It was a dog everyone knew. By all measures, this dog was “not a bite risk”. Except for this moment. The dog was in pain, people were trying to help, but he didn’t know that. For safety reasons, the dog needed to be muzzled. 

The vet pulled out the muzzle, and immediately saw the dog relax. The muzzle was well conditioned and well trained. This pup’s hooman put in the work to teach the muzzle before it was needed, and now everyone, the dog, the hooman, and the vet staff were able to feel more safe and secure EVEN during a traumatic incident. 

6. And one more benefit for good measure: the end result of muzzle training is a dog who can comfortably, cooperatively, wear a muzzle.

We have a saying in animal care that “all things with a mouth can bite”. This includes our dogs. All dogs. We do our darndest to keep them safe, prevent any bad things from happening, but we can’t control everything. Training, conditioning and practicing wearing a muzzle can, not only prevent additional aversives during times of distress, but also provide comfort like in the dog mentioned above. It allows for our dog to “wear a muzzle” (opt in) instead of “being muzzled” (having something done to them).

That’s a very important distinction.

 

Remember when I said “all dogs should be muzzle trained”? 

You should do “Whatever works for you, your family, your situation and keeps the animal and others happy, safe, and physically, mentally, and behaviorally healthy.” (see our blog on getting rid of “should”)

Muzzle training can accomplish all these things and more. The return on investment for muzzle training is so high, that I really do think it’s worth it for everyone. 

 

Now What?

  • If I’ve convinced you to embark on a muzzle training journey, you’re going to need a muzzle! (Disclosure: the muzzle 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!) We usually recommend the Baskerville Ultra as a good starting muzzle or the Leather Bros for dogs with longer faces. 
  • If you have a muzzle, but don’t know where to start, check out the muzzle training plan from The Muzzle Up! Project.
  • If you have done some muzzle training with your dog, share a video or picture of your dog on our Facebook, or tag us @PetHarmony on instagram! We want to see those happy pups!
  • If you are considering muzzle training because you have a safety concern, I suggest seeking professional behavior consultant support. We offer services worldwide! Email us at [email protected] to schedule your first consultation

Future-Time Planning for Pandemic Puppies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Now-Time to Future-Time

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

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

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

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

What if my pup is older? 

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

Now What?

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

– Ellen

 

Just Socialize Them!

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

If you’ve been around the metaphorical block, you’ve likely been told you need to socialize your dog. It’s become a staple in “Pet Parenting 101”. You walk your dog, feed your dog, brush your dog, and socialize your dog. This is one of those phrases that everyone knows, but may not really understand. It’s tossed around like so many other well intentioned but poorly informed sound bites. Your dog is reactive on leash? Socialize your dog. Your dog is nervous around strangers? Socialize your dog. Your dog is fearful of the wind? Socialize your dog.

And, like you’ve heard us say before, behavior is more complex than that.  

 

What is a socialization period?

A socialization period is a biologically predetermined period of time where our dog’s brains are like sponges. They are taking in information about the world, determining what is and isn’t safe, and how to interact with their environment. The experiences that dogs have during this time will have a lasting impact on their behavior. To really see how this impacts our pups, we need to know a little bit about dog developmental periods. 

 

Puppy Development

Dog development is a vast and interesting topic. For our purposes, I’m going to keep this very brief, but if you’d like more detailed information and more “how” on puppy raising, I suggest our on-demand Puppy Development course. All of these periods can vary a little from pup to pup based on factors such as health and breed, so all periods will be given as a rough timeline.

 

Prenatal – ~63 day gestation period 

Mom’s experience can affect the pup’s future learning capabilities, reactivity and resilience. 

Neonatal – ~0-14 days 

The pups are little potatoes. They are blind, deaf, barely mobile, and unbelievably cute. Caretakers can start providing structured Early Neurological Stimulation. 

Transitional – ~14-21 days 

We start to see the transition from potatoes to pups! Their ears and eyes open, they start walking and vocalizing, and we start to see social signals. Caretakers start providing safe exposure with things like adventure boxes. Avoid any harsh stimuli like loud bangs, crashes, sharp objects (they are more pup like, but also, still kinda potatoes).

Critical Socialization – ~3week-ish – 12-16 week-ish 

This is the period animal behavior professionals are talking about when we discuss socialization. This is the biologically determined period of flexibility to learn what is and isn’t safe. The critical socialization period in dogs is broken into two parts:

Primary Socialization – ~3 week-ish – 8 week-ish 

This is where dogs learn how to dog with other dogs. This is the time where it is critical that pups stay with the litter, learn from their littermates, their parents, and role model dogs. Puppies learn to read and interact with other dogs. 

Secondary Socialization – ~7 week-ish – 12-16 week-ish 

This is where pups learn about everything else: interacting with other species, humans, substrates, scents, body handling, potty training… Experiences during this time will shape how our pup buckets things into “safe” and “not safe” in the future. 

Sensitive or Fear Periods 

These are times where we see our pups become more reactive or sensitive to things. For example, pups who have seen an ironing board every day may suddenly be fearful. There are two confirmed sensitive/fear periods: one at ~7-11 weeks for that usually lasts for ~1 week, and another at ~4-12months that usually lasts ~3 weeks. Professionals think that there might be a third between ~1-2 years, but this has not been confirmed by research. 

Juvenile – ~4 month-ish – 12-18 month-ish 

Teenagers are hard… in all species. There is a biological basis for this as their brain is developing. 

Adulthood – Starts ~12-18 month-ish 

Things finally settle, and you start to look back fondly on the puppy biting, the terrifying zoomies and the smell of puppy. 

 

What is socialization?

Socialization is using controlled (gradual and slow) positive (party all day!) exposure during the critical socialization period to help our pup learn what is safe in the world. It’s providing our pups the opportunity to safely (their body language will tell you if they are feeling safe) interact with things. This can be people, dogs, scents, substrates, sounds, textures, structures… All these things = WONDERFUL STUFF for our pup. 

On the other side of the coin, forcing, flooding or overwhelming our pup during this time can also have long standing detrimental effects on our pup. Letting your pup “get over it”, or luring them into uncomfortable situations can lead to increased maladaptive behaviors in the future. 

 

Why the focus on socialization? 

There are so many factors that contribute to behavior that we may have little to no control over: genetics, prenatal environment, early rearing experiences, some aspects of physical health. When we adopt a puppy at 8 weeks, socialization is an area where we really feel we can actively make a big impact. Experience during the critical socialization period isn’t the end-all-be-all and there isn’t any guarantee, but it can certainly have an incredible positive impact.

During that critical socialization period (~8 weeks -12-16 weeks), it’s important to focus on quality over quantity. It’s better to have 5 controlled positive exposures than 100 slightly stressful ones. Our socialization plan should include things that will be regular experiences in our pup’s lives. You can find a multitude of checklists online. The main goal is to help your dog prepare for your life together IN THE FUTURE. 

 

I just adopted a dog out of the critical socialization period. Does that mean I’m SOL?

Not at all! While we won’t be able to take advantage of that sponge-like socialization period, we can still make a huge positive impact on our pup. Our adult dogs may not enjoy the canine equivalent of a frat party. However, they may thrive in a book club. And that’s okay! We can still work toward your pup socializing (socially interacting) with individuals. We can still teach your dog that XYZ thing predicts good things. We will need to respect them for who they are, be patient, and move at their pace. I am still capable of learning another language, but it would have been a lot more efficient when I was younger. 

 

In either case, controlled positive exposure is important. Keeping your pup under threshold, avoiding flooding, and making each experience THE BEST DAY EVER can help you make progress. 

 

Now what? 

  • Brush up on your dog body language! All living creatures communicate through body language. When do you see stress signals and when do you see your dog’s body relax? At any age, being skilled at reading dog body language will improve your communication with your pup.
  • Thinking of getting a puppy? Before you bring the pup home, start building your socialization plan. You can find checklists online, but also take stock of your life. Think about what your life will look like post pandemic. Will you be traveling for work? Do you leave the house for work? Will your pet be around other species? Will you have kids in your life? Do you have people over regularly? Remember, we are planning for the future!
  • Is your pup out of their critical socialization period? Observe your pup. Are there areas where their behavior is in conflict with your future goals? You can work on that! If you aren’t sure if you should DIY it, or seek professional guidance, Allie has you covered in this blog.
  • We’d love to help you! Email us at [email protected]m to schedule a session or check out our Setting Yourself Up for Success: Behavior Modification Basics course. 

 

– Ellen

5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting A Separation Related Problem Journey

When I realized my pup, Griffey, was showing signs of a Separation Related Problem, I felt crushed. This was not what I agreed too. I agreed to give him the best life I could, to help him be successful, but THIS was not one of the things I considered before adoption.

I was committed to him, and helping him on this journey, but being tied to him felt isolating and suffocating.

I “just” wanted to go to the bathroom in peace.

I “just” wanted to go out to dinner with my friends.

I “just” wanted a “normal” dog.

As I look back on our journey (and a successful one at that!), these are the things I wish I knew when I started.

 

You feel alone, but you are far from alone.

Griffey needed me. I expected him to need me. I mean, I am the one with opposable thumbs and the money to buy food. Of course, he was going to need me! But I was not ready to be NEEDED. All. The. Time.

Knowing that he was miserable (and by miserable I mean: crying, scratching at the exit, barking, whale eye, frantic pacing) when I even tried to close the door to go to the bathroom broke my heart. I hated that he was so stressed, and I felt powerless to help him.

My partner and I immediately ceased all non-essential departures, and it felt isolating. We chose to take turns leaving the house for errands, so we could minimize his time alone. I had so many friends with “normal” (what is “normal” anyway?!) dogs. I received all sorts of well meaning, but also hurtful advice. They just did not “get it”.

Griffey was an anomaly, right? Turns out, research is finding Separation Related Problems in 22.3%-55% of the general dog population.

You are so far from alone. Which means, other people out there do “get it”, and can help support you on those days that feel so isolating. The amount of incredibly smart and creative management strategies, the celebrations of small successes, the vulnerability and relatability within the community can be invaluable.

 

Remember to see your whole dog.

We started seeing Griffey’s behaviors nearly as soon as we got him home. It was extremely easy to tunnel vision on separation being the goal and the area we needed to work on. We took to contacting colleagues, buying books, searching the internet. I was going to research this to death. We were going to build a plan for separation training. Hello, coping strategy!

Yes, we did need to find an appropriate protocol and plan for training. Yes, getting expert feedback was necessary. But Griffey’s behavior when we left was only a small part of him, even if it felt like a big part to us. He had other needs that also needed to be met. He just joined our family, we needed to build healthy relationships between us and our resident dog, Laika. He had to learn what living in our house was like, what noises he would encounter regularly, what our routine entailed, and how he could communicate with us. We had to learn what his physical and mental needs were so we could meet them.

Yes, we will need to train for separation, but remember the rest of your pup. Making sure their needs are fully met will help facilitate your training immeasurably.

 

Suspending absences will really make a world of difference.

This was the hardest part for me. How are we supposed to make sure he is never alone? We both work full time. He is uncomfortable around strangers, so pet sitters and dog walkers were not going to work. He is uncomfortable around other dogs, so we could not do dog daycare. We lived across the country from our families. We had some wonderful friends who took the time to build relationships with him and they helped us out from time to time. We adjusted our weekends.

While living in Florida, we were not able to fully suspend absences, and we made some progress, but were slogging along.

Fortunately, we ended up moving back to the Pacific Northwest, and my partner was able to stay home for a few months and work on the separation training. And HOLY SMOKES! We were not taking 2 steps back for every 1 step forward. We were able to commit to manage absences to a much greater degree and we saw tremendous progress.

Finding ways to manage absences is completely worth it. It may take some creativity, asking for help, and a village, but it will make a difference.

 

Track your progress.

We had our initial goal: 4-5 hours. We had our plan and protocol in place. It is great to have a goal but focusing on progress will keep you in the game.

Find a way that you enjoy tracking your progress. It can be a habit tracker and each successful step gets a box filled in with green. It can be a jar that you drop a coin in for each successful step. It can be a white board or clipboard where you can cross off each successful step. Watching your tracker or jar fill up will show you how much success you are having.

Frequent, visible wins are important. It is hard to feel like you are making progress when you just focus on how much farther you have to go, instead of how far you have come.

 

Getting started was harder than going through.

To say I was resistant would be an understatement. I looked at what I needed to change, and it felt overwhelming. Managing absences felt impossible with all his other big feelings. Which do I prioritize? I needed to take a minute to be honest with myself as to why I was so resistant. What if it did not work, what if I failed him? If I do not start, then I cannot fail. I needed to reframe my goals: helping him be more comfortable and embarking on a LEARNING journey for both of us. I was not in this to “fix it”, I was in this to grow.

Figuring out the management of departures, finding a system that was sustainable for the entire family felt like too much. Having a professional help you get started can take so much of that burden away. Once you start, it is one day at a time. One day at a time is doable. So, start, and go one day at a time.

 

Now what?

  • Do you suspect your pup has a Separation Related Problem? What leads you to think so? What behaviors do you see surrounding your departures, or separation? 
  • Check in with yourself. How are you feeling? Does any of my story sound familiar? Can you identify why you feel that way? Your training plan can include things that are important to you. If you need an hour to go to the beach alone, can a family member watch the dog? Can a pet sitter or a neighbor? Remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint. Your needs are important too!
  • Discuss with your family (or yourself!) if you are ready to embark on this journey. If you are not sure, Allie recently discussed this in our blog. If “you have tried a program before, but….” Allie also has you covered.
  • If you are ready to embark on this journey, but going alone feels overwhelming, email us at [email protected] to set up a consultation so we can help you work on it or join us for our upcoming FREE workshop: Roadmap to Behavior Solutions

 – Ellen