May 2022 Training Challenge – Getting in the Enrichment Habit

I’m gonna be calling out some people here right in the beginning. 

Raise your hand if you WANT TO DO THE THING, but something is standing in your way? 

And what do I mean by that? 

I want to give my dogs frozen food puzzles to lick once a day, but I can’t seem to do it. 

I want to spend 3 minutes training my dog, but I have only done it once in the last two weeks. 

I want to give my dog boxes with kibble in them to destroy, but it takes so much effort. 

I want to __________, but ___________. 

Yeah, friend. Me too. 

Building habits around our pet’s enrichment plan can be difficult in the constant churn of the rest of life. I have grandiose goals for my two dogs, but those goals often fall by the wayside as other fires appear on the horizon. 

If this sounds like you, then stick around, this training challenge is for you. 

This month, your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to figure out what’s standing in the way of your best intentions. 

What is stopping you from turning your intentions and goals into sustainable habits? 

Oof, that seems like a big question, right? 

Don’t worry. 

We’ve helped thousands of families on their enrichment journey, and we’ve seen some of the common barriers among our clients. Check out these common barriers and the ways families have overcome them.

 

The “It Needs to be Perfect” Struggle 

Do you find yourself saying things like… 

“Well, I need to do all of these things before I can start.”

“I need to know all the things before I can start.” 

“If I can’t do it all, I can’t do any of it.” 

I think most of us have been there at some time in our lives. We want to do things “right”, so we put it off until we can feel like we are doing it “right.”

So, do you feel your inner perfectionist standing between you and your enrichment habit? 

You don’t have to know everything about everything for a stellar enrichment plan for your dog. That’s what behavior consultants are for, they can help you build your plan, leaving you to focus on execution. This doesn’t mean you can’t still learn *all the things*, but it does mean that you don’t have to do it with the cloud of pressure over your head! 

Separate the habit from the results. Integrating new routines into your life takes time, so sometimes, it’s helpful to say, “In order to benefit my pet, I need to do the thing. The first step, is getting the thing done”. Split the criteria for yourself. Start with doing the thing, and then add in those additional steps later. 

And remember, something is likely better than nothing, and you can start small. Start with one small step, and when you have that integrated into your routine, add something else. This is something else a qualified behavior consultant can help you with. Small steps are our specialty!

 

The “Too Many Choices” Paralysis

Do you find yourself saying things like… 

“I don’t know what to do today?” 

“I can’t decide where to start!” 

“Should I be doing this or that?”

And then doing none of the things? Analysis paralysis is a real thing, and with the millions of enrichment options available, we see it seep in often. Where do I focus my attention? What if I make the wrong choice? What if there is a BETTER option? 

So, do you find the sheer number of options overwhelming and paralyzing? 

First off, you won’t know if there is a better option for your pet unless you try some stuff. Working with a professional can help narrow down your options, and direct your focus, but at the end of the day, I can tell you most, if not all dogs, benefit from opportunities to partake in sniffing. What I can’t tell you is what format or structure of sniffing is going to most benefit your dog. Does scatter feeding in the yard, tracking scents, sniffing through boxes and obstacle courses for food, or sniffaris provide you the best results? We need to do some trial and evaluation. And until we have that information, there is no bad option as long as it is safe, healthy, and appropriate. 

Looking at 10 options is likely too much, but looking at 3 can be manageable. So, narrow it down to three. If your dog’s enrichment program has some flexibility, and a sustainable, realistic and effective enrichment program should have some flexibility built-in, then toss all the options into a hat and pull three out to choose from. Or better yet, learn your pet’s “Yes, please!” and “No, thank you.” and ask them to pick for you! 

 

The “Chasing the Shiny” Burn Out 

Do you find yourself saying things like… 

“I’ll just add one more toy to my shopping cart.” 

“My dog is too fast!”

“I saw this incredible thing on Instagram…” 

This one is often tied with The “Too Many Choices” Paralysis and The “It Needs to be Perfect” Struggle. In an effort to have the best-darned enrichment plan, we are constantly searching the internet, listening to podcasts like Enrichment for the Real World, and looking for new enrichment options, and I see a couple of things happen here.

You may feel like your enrichment plan isn’t enough because other people are doing different things. You may not be using the results in your pet’s behavior to gauge its effectiveness, and because of that, you may get to a point where it doesn’t feel sustainable, or realistic anymore. Doing more, doing different, and doing new constantly is not feasible. 

So, do you feel the burnout creeping in and blocking your enrichment habit? 

Remember, enrichment isn’t about the activity. It’s about the results in the animal’s behavior. So, if you’re chasing the shiny because you think novelty and newness are necessary for an effective enrichment plan for your dog, I give you permission to slow down. Close your 95 internet tabs that are open with new enrichment ideas, and return to the basics and foundations. More is not always more when it comes to enrichment. When you provide an opportunity for your pet, do they engage with it? Does the activity help meet your pet’s needs in order to empower them to perform species-typical behavior in healthy, safe, and appropriate ways? If the answer is no, then it’s not helping your goals. 

Unless, you’re like me, and chasing the shiny is part of YOUR enrichment plan. Sometimes, that activity can be cup filling for the human, and if that sounds like you, then, by all means, keep your 95 browser tabs open, and continue to scroll Instagram. But, watch out for those times when Compare Leads to Despair, and if you feel that happening, circle back to my above point.  Does the activity help meet your pet’s needs in order to empower them to perform species-typical behavior in healthy, safe, and appropriate ways? Take a moment to be present with your pet. When the activity we partake in helps to empower them to perform species-typical behavior in healthy, safe, and appropriate ways, slowing down to observe and appreciate our work is really important.

 

The “I Don’t Have the Bandwidth” Challenge 

Do you find yourself saying things like… 

“There’s no way I can do that every day?” 

“I don’t have the time to be able to _____.” 

“I’m so tired.” 

Yup. I feel all of that. We only have so much that we can give, and your oxygen mask needs to be on before you can help anyone else. 

So, do you feel like you can’t take on one more thing? 

Be kind to yourself. We all have 24 hours in a day, but we all have a different 24 hours. My partner is out of the house for 12 hours a day, and I work from home. What each of us can feasibly, sustainably, and reliably do for the dogs is different. If you have a bandwidth struggle, make sure you are taking care of yourself as best you can. (I’m going to plug a great self-care/self-enrichment resource here.)

And this is one where I really encourage you to work with a professional to strip down to the bare bones of what is necessary to meet your pet’s needs and your goals. You’ve got a certain amount of resources to share, so let’s make sure you are focusing on the things that will help you make the biggest impact. We can help you tweak small things that will make a big difference.

Meal prepping your frozen food puzzles for 2 weeks can make it more sustainable and more likely to happen. 

You can also prepare your dog’s food in boxes DIY destructibles if you store them in a pest-proof container and use them within a couple of weeks. 

It might be moving where your dog’s food is kept to make things easier for everyone. 

It might be putting up some window film so that your dog is able to rest throughout the day. 

Small changes can result in big wins. 

 

The “I Can’t Tell if it is Working” Fog

Do you find yourself saying things like…

“I think he likes ____.” 

“I guess it’s worth it.” 

“I don’t know if it made a difference.” 

To stick with an enrichment plan, you really need to see the wins. You need to see your pet’s behavior change. You need to observe the differences it is making, or else what is reinforcing you to continue doing the thing? 

So, are you not sure that your enrichment plan is working? 

Refresh your body language observing and interpreting skills! Through body language and observation, you’ll be able to see the changes better, or lack thereof, and can assess your plan with confidence. 

Keep a log of your pet’s behavior? What do you find undesirable? What behaviors do you find desirable? Are you seeing changes in either the undesirable behaviors or the desirable behaviors? Keeping a tally of your observations can help you be objective! You can see how Allie has done this with her nemesis, Winter Oso. 

If you aren’t seeing the desirable changes, make adjustments! Your enrichment plan was likely created with a goal in mind, so adjust to continue working toward that goal. 

 

Now what? 

  • There are a lot of reasons that can get in the way of building a sustainable enrichment habit. Identify some of the barriers that are getting in your way. Once you know what they are, or at least have an inkling, you can start knocking those barriers down! 
  • We’ve helped thousands of families not only create sustainable, effective enrichment plans for their pets but also troubleshoot barriers to creating long-lasting and effective habits. We’d love to help you, too! We see clients all over the world and can help with any behavior problem remotely. Click here to get started.

Happy training,

Ellen

Help Your Dog Relax – Start With Yourself

Relaxation is a staple topic in many of my sessions with clients. Being able to take a load off, fill your cup, get true rest, and be able to self-regulate is a huge part of having mental, physical, and behavioral health. It’s so important that “calming” is its own category of needs in Canine Enrichment for the Real World and the Pet Harmony Enrichment Framework

There are a ton of ways to help your dog learn relaxation skills (some of which will be linked below), but the focus of this blog isn’t centered on getting your dog the skills. This one talks about the human end of the leash, and what we can do to help them. 

 

Let me tell you a story, I promise there is a reason.

Years ago, I never put much weight on the idea that dogs “get our energy”, and that is a whole blog post of its own. That was, however, until we were looking to get Griffey a pet sitter. 

For those of you that don’t know me (Hi! I’m Ellen!), and my dog, Griffey, came into our family with lots of capital B, capital F, Big Feels. He was scared of other dogs, fearful of strangers, showed some Separation Related Problems, wasn’t potty trained, and got sick in the car. We had made a lot of progress on the separation skills, got him very well potty trained, was doing great in the car, building some relationships with people, but was still scared of other dogs, so he would be considered a “special care needs” dog. 

At the time, we were living in Seattle and ready to start finding him pet care so that we could continue to travel. Through our incredible network, we were able to find a pet sitter that opened their home to reactive dogs. They had created a wonderful environment for dog reactive dogs. They wouldn’t go for walks, but they had options for in-home or in the yard exercise. The dogs would only be home alone a couple of hours a day and pets were welcomed into the home like they were one of the family. The pet sitter had incredible skills in terms of body language, observation, and training. It was the perfect setup for our needs, and the pet sitter required gradual exposure to them, their home, and the stays, which we were looking for. 

As you can probably imagine, I was a little stressed. I REALLY wanted this to go well. Traveling was something that was important for my partner and me to refill our cups and be our best selves, as well as get our continuing education via conferences. 

 

During our first visit…

We were all just going to hang out and chat while we saw if Griffey would be able to settle in their home while we were present and supporting him. As Griffey was milling around and exploring, the rest of us were sitting on the couches, chatting it up. He was being a busy bee, which isn’t surprising given all the new things to explore, smell, and experience. 

After about 20-30 minutes, he still wasn’t slowing down. 

The pet sitter looked at me and said, “You seem a little tense. How about you try to sit back, put your feet up, settle into the couch, take a deep breath, maybe yawn, and see what happens.” 

And I thought to myself, “I would rather die than put my feet on a stranger’s furniture, I absolutely cannot, but I will.” 

So, I did. I scooted back into the couch. I sat as I would at home, I took a big deep breath, forced a yawn, and tried to sink into the couch.

Griffey came back to the room and looked at me. 

He looked at my partner. 

He looked at the pet sitter. 

He looked back at me.  

He jumped on the couch, found a blanket, made a bed, laid down, let out a big sigh, and started to get droopy eyes. 

And I learned something, or maybe solidified something that day. 

 

We can get in the way of our dog relaxing. 

When working with families on teaching their dog(s) relaxation, I often get questions or statements like… 

“He’s staring so intently at me.” 

“He’s on his mat, but he doesn’t look relaxed. He’s still tense.” 

So often, when working on teaching a dog to relax, we as well-intentioned humans will fail to be relaxed. We will be focused. We will be staring. Our body language may indicate that activities are on the horizon. We may even hold our breath waiting for the dog to do the thing. 

And you know how a lot of dogs respond? By mirroring that back. You may see them laying very erect in a sphynx down, focused on their person, their breathing may be rhythmic, but very shallow. They might engage with you waiting for more information. 

If this sounds like you, turn toward yourself and see how you are holding yourself. 

Are your shoulders up to your ears? How much tension is in your back? How is your breathing? Are you staring? 

Try re-setting yourself. Take a deep breath. Shake it off. Drop your shoulders. Instead of staring at your dog, try looking out of your periphery, or watching your dog in a reflection. 

When I suggest these changes to families, they usually come back stunned at what a difference it makes in their dog’s ability to settle. 

You might be surprised what a difference it can make. 

 

Now What? 

Happy Training! 

Ellen

 

  

 

Want a Rock-Solid Come When Called?

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

One of the things we often have clients want to work on is having their dog come when called. It makes sense! There are going to be times when you need your dog to pay attention to you, when you may need to move away from some scary monster, or navigate around that awful smelling carcass on the beach. 

While a rock-solid come when called, or recall, can, and usually does, look effortless, behind that behavior is a vast history of practice. Like all things, it takes time, energy, effort, and consistency to get that lightning-fast return to you. 

And there are tons of games or exercises that you can do with your dog to help solidify this skill. I’ll link some of these exercises below. 

But first, I want to talk about one major mindset shift that has helped tons of pet parents go from feeling like their dog will never respond to building recall through their day-to-day life. 

 

Are you ready?

A recall isn’t about what you have right now. 

It’s about all the hundreds, thousands, or millions of times you’ve called your dog in the past. 

It’s about the history, the value, and the consequences of your dog coming to you. Recognizing, acknowledging, and shifting your mindset, can make a huge difference in building a solid recall each and every day. It’s not about concrete sessions, it’s about what coming to you predicts for your dog.

 

Think about something that always has your dog right by your side. 

Maybe the crinkling of a food bag. The sound of the cheese drawer pulling open. The sound of the door to the yard opening. The sound of their harness or leash being picked up. 

What happens when they hear or see that thing happening? How quickly do they come over? What does their body language look like? How reliably do they come over?

What happens once they get to you? Do they get a piece of treat? Do you give them access to something? Do you go for a ride or a walk? 

And from their perspective, is that a good or a bad thing? Looking at their body language, and observing their response will help you identify this! 

 

Now, think about the last 10 times you wanted your dog to come to you.

Why were you calling them over? Were they getting into something? Did you need them to come inside, so that you could start your zoom call? Were they chewing on something or digging in your garden? Was it just to say, “Hi!”? Was it to play a quick game of catch?

What happened once they came to you? Did you take something away? Did you close off access to the yard and/or their sunspot? Did you have to give them a bath? Did you get them a treat or a more appropriate toy to play with? Did you scratch them in their favorite spot?

When they came to you, from their perspective, was it a good thing or a bad thing? And this is a bit nuanced, we need to look at our dog’s body language to get an idea of how they feel about something. Does their body language tell you that they are STOKED about the thing, or were they bummed about the outcome? 

 

What does coming to you mean for your dog?

Take a moment and consider the number of times coming to you means delightful or wonderful things for your dog, and the number of times it’s somewhere between a bummer and terrible. 

If you’re taking stock and realizing that the scales are tipping toward bummer/terrible, that’s okay! Now that we know, we can do something about it! Let’s get your dog looking at you the way they look longingly at their treat container. 

 

Great, how do I do that?

  1. When your dog looks in your direction, comes over to you, asks for attention, otherwise images with you, make it worth their while! Give them access to their favorite things. Engaging with you isn’t the end of the fun, it’s the start of the fun! Maybe they come in from the backyard, you close the door and immediately take them outside to bask in the sun. Coming over to you means treats, toys, play, attention, scratches, whatever is your dog’s jam. 
  2. Avoid punishing them for coming when you ask. Don’t call them and follow that with something they dislike or hate. If your dog hates baths, don’t call them over and then put them in the tub. If your dog is loving their time outside, don’t call them in, shut the door and leave it at that. Trade them for their loss of access to the yard. In my house, they come inside, I shut the door, and they may get a tasty treat, a rousing playtime, scratches, or open blinds so there is sun access in the house too. 
  3. You can practice some recall games to help solidify that relationship. Here are some great resources to get you started: 
    1. Summit Dog Training’s Recall Youtube Playlist
    2. Kikopup’s “How to Train Your Dog to RELIABLY Come When Called” 
    3. Kathy Sdao’s Training a Reliable Recall Part 1 and Part 2

 

Remember…

A recall isn’t about what you have available right now.

It’s about all the hundreds, thousands, or millions of times you’ve called your dog in the past. 

It’s about the history, the value, and the consequences of your dog coming to you. When the wonderful things vastly outweigh the not-so-great things, the scales are tipped in your favor. Your dog will look forward to interacting with you, and love to come to see what is in store. 

 

Now What? 

  • Start tipping the scales in your favor! When your dog looks in your direction, comes over to you, asks for attention, otherwise images with you, make it worth their while! Get creative with this, it doesn’t always have to be treats. Think about things that your dog asks for, works for, or might even get a little annoying about. 
  • Look for times that your dog coming to you might not be great for them. Can you change some things up to make it better for your dog? Instead of coming always meaning you’re leaving the park, sometimes it means you’re just saying “Hi, friend!”, giving a treat, tossing a ball, or sending them back to continue playing! 
  • Practice daily! Build this exercise into your day-to-day life. 
  • If you’d like more help crafting a rock-solid come when called, let us know! Fostering relationships, building two-way communication, and helping families fall in love with their pet again is our jam! Email us at [email protected]!

 

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

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

 

Happy April, everyone! 

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

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

 

So what does a relaxing environment look like?

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

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

 

How does your pet’s species typically sleep?

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

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

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

 

What does your pet look like when they are relaxing?

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

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

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

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

 

Where or what does your pet currently use to relax?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

And what does that all mean for me?

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

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

 

Now What?

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

 

March 2022 Training Challenge – March Madness For Your Dog

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

 

It’s a new month, which means it’s time for our next training challenge! 

This month, we challenge you to explore your pet’s treat preferences. To do a March Madness of treat testing if you will!

Treats can be so extremely helpful in training and behavior modification in a variety of ways. It’s effective, efficient, and often requires very little additional training to be utilized. If you have any questions about the use of treats in training, Allie wrote this stellar blog about all things treat-related! 

One of the things that we want to know when embarking on a behavior modification journey is “what is your dog’s extra special treat?” What are the things they are *SO EXCITED* about? 

Sometimes, you may have an idea of what your dog’s extra special treat is, and sometimes, it’s helpful to do a food preference test. Even if you do think you know your dog’s extra special treat, it can be fun to see if they agree!

Food preference tests can give us an idea if our dog prefers one thing over another, which means we can use their favorite thing for the more challenging situations.

 

Doing Food Preference Tests 

 

 

Now What?

  • Collect 3-6 treats to test with your dog. I give you permission to think *safely* outside the box! Consider trying some new items with your pet!
  • Grab a pen and paper, and create your very own, treat test march madness bracket! You can even have the family take guesses at which treat will win the test. 
  • Complete the treat preference test with your pup, and find out your dog’s preferred treat. 
  • Let us know over @petharmonytraning on Facebook or Instagram, what’s your dog’s preferred treat?!

Happy training,

Ellen

Dog’s Behavior Got You Down? Try These 5 Things

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

 

I’m gonna take a guess. 

If you’re here, you likely have a dog that has some… struggles. 

People come to us with a whole variety of challenges, and whatever their struggle, situation, or condition, it all boils down to the same 5 basic steps. 

So, if your dog’s behavior has you down, make sure you give these steps a shot. This is going to be a very brief overview. The application of these steps to your specific situation is much greater than what we can share in the span of a blog, but we cover all of this and more in our Roadmap for Behavior Solutions Program

 

Management

Our goals for management: 

  1. How can I keep everyone safe?
  2. How can I avoid the stressful thing? 
  3. How can I make the behavior I don’t like less likely to happen? 

If your dog has a behavior that’s got you down, ask yourself these 3 questions. Management is extremely personal because each family lives in a different environment. A management plan for a dog who barks at people who walk in the upstairs apartment is different from a dog who snarls and growls when their family approaches the dog bowl. 

Your management will be adapting and evolving with changes in the environment. It should be sustainable, effective, and robust to help you, your family, and your pet follow through.

 

Two Way Communication 

We ask our dogs to listen to us often. In order to successfully help your dog navigate their struggles, you also need to know how to listen to them. This is where body language comes in. 

Knowing what body language to look for, being able to see it on your dog in real-time, and being able to respond appropriately will help you and your dog create a fluent communication system. Once you and your dog are able to communicate, you’ll be better equipped to handle situations and work through struggles together. 

 

Meet Their Needs 

Again, this is going to be brief (I mean, there is already a whole book just on this topic!). Meeting your dog’s needs will let you pick that low-hanging fruit. Sometimes, big improvements can come from small changes. 

One client was able to get some peace and quiet by giving her dog a cooling mat and a fan. 

One client was able to save her furniture and baseboards by giving safe chewing opportunities 2 times a week. 

Sometimes, it can be this simple. Other times, we have more complex needs that will take more time to address, but once we tackle those small steps to get big wins, we can move on to some of the needs that might be more labor-intensive to fulfill. 

 

Learn New Skills 

You and your dog are both going to need to learn some new skills. Your standard basic manners aren’t going to help you navigate the world with a dog who is afraid of the postman, or can’t be home alone. When your dog is struggling, we often need to implement another set of skills… a unique set of skills… to help your dog. The foundation skills needed will be different depending on your dog’s struggles. 

So, before you jump into the deep end, you and your dog both need to know how to swim. 

 

Apply the New Skills 

You’ve implemented management, you’ve learned to read and respond to your dog’s body language, you’ve met your dog’s needs, and you’ve taken the time to learn new skills to help your dog in this world. Now you’re ready to start directly helping your dog overcome their challenges. Creating safe, comfortable, and controlled environments for your dog to practice those new skills in a way that they will be successful will help both you and your dog see progress toward your ultimate goal. 

 

Integrate New Information 

As you go through this process, you’re going to learn more about your dog. Your dog may surprise you as they progress, build new skills, gain new confidence, and refine their communication with you. Occasionally, circle back and make sure that your original plan is the best plan. You might find small adjustments that can lead to an even more efficient journey. 

 

Now What? 

  • If you found yourself asking, “but how do I…”, then check out our 12-week Roadmap for Behavior Solutions Program: The step-by-step guide to creating a harmonious, fulfilling life for you and your dog with behavior problems, without sacrificing yourself. 

 

“Where Did I Go Wrong?”

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

 

If you have a dog with behavior problems, you may have asked yourself “where did I go wrong?”

This is a thought that many of our clients share, and it’s a big, scary question. The internet is rife with things you “have to do” and a million things that you “did wrong”, and my guess, if you are here, you’ve already been down that rabbit hole. 

But here’s what I want all my clients to know… 

Yes. There are always ways we can improve and things we can do better. But there are also numerous factors outside of your immediate control. So, let’s briefly chat about some of those factors and if you stick with me to the end, I’ll give you some suggestions of what to do next, because your situation is not a lost cause, it’s not all doom and gloom, and our lives with our dogs aren’t all about the past, there is the future too. 

 

Genetics

The nature or nurture debate has been around for ages, and as we are learning more, we are realizing, it isn’t nature OR nurture, it’s nature AND nurture. Genetics plays a role in your dog’s lifelong behavior, but as we adjust the environment our dog lives in, and provide them with the opportunity to learn new skills, your dog may be able to learn to thrive in an environment that used to provide a challenge. 

 

Prenatal Environment

As we learn more about the impact of stress and trauma on the body, we’ve learned that the prenatal environment can have a lasting impact on puppies. Stress on mom can impact the puppy’s future behavior and the way they interact with the world.

 

Early Socialization

You’ve likely heard of “critical periods” and “socialization periods”. These are present in many species of animals, and dogs are no different. During different developmental stages, pups’ brains are best equipped to learn different skills, from safety and security around novel objects to dog-dog interpersonal skills. Both having negative experiences, or having no experiences during these developmental periods can lead to increased fear, anxiety, frustration, and/or reactivity as the dog becomes an adult.

 

Learning History and Past Experiences

As long as an animal is alive, it is learning. They are learning what is safe and what is not. They are learning how to navigate the world. They are learning how to get the things they want and avoid things they don’t like. Yes, single situations can have profound effects on future behavior, like an off-leash dog chasing yours, or a serious illness and a young dog. But, long-practiced histories can also make a difference! As you embark on a behavior change journey with your dog, you’re going to learn more. You’re going to gain new skills and knowledge, and you might want to look back on yourself and be critical. But, keep in mind, we are all doing the best we can with the information we have.

 

Okay, you’re still here.

If you read all that, you might be thinking “I’m doomed! What else is there!?”

The point of this isn’t to have you feeling down in the dumps. It’s to help you leave the past in the past, and turn to face the future. 

I’ve got some good news. We can always improve our situation. Behavior is not set in stone. It is complex and complicated, but it’s also malleable and when we change the environment, we can change behavior. The Roadmap for Behavior Solutions Program was created to help pet parents like you do just that. Through 5 tried and true steps, you can help your dog address their struggles: 

  1. Implement an effective, sustainable management plan
  2. Build two-way communication 
  3. Identify and meet your dog’s individual needs
  4. Learn foundation and life skills 
  5. Apply your new skills 

If you’re ready to build a future for you and your dog, come join us on this journey. We’re here to support you every step of the way. Register for our free webinar Living With a Behaviorally Challenging Dog: 3 Tips for Families Who Have “Never Had a Dog Like This Before” for 3 tips pulled directly from the Roadmap for Behavior Solutions Program to help your dog be their best self. 

 

Now What? 

  • Be kind to yourself. Living with a behaviorally challenging dog isn’t easy. 
  • Look for support from your friends and family and from a qualified behavior professional. 
  • Come join us for our free webinar Living With a Behaviorally Challenging Dog: 3 Tips for Families Who Have “Never Had a Dog Like This Before”. Register here

 

Why I Don’t Settle for “Fine”

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

 

Let’s chat about fine. We’ve talked about “fine” before. We are likely going to talk about “fine” again. It’s a word that gets used a lot when we are talking about our pets. 

He’s fine with the vacuum. 

She’s fine with me touching her feet. 

They are fine with other dogs. 

Usually, when I hear people using the term “fine” they really mean “keeping it together”. Sometimes “fine” is the goal. When my partner and I hunkered down at home with our pups during Irma, we were extremely satisfied with “fine”. There are going to be infrequent situations where “fine” gets us through.

However, sometimes we settle for “fine” when we should be shooting for great. And “fine” really isn’t what we want, especially in behavior modification.

 

“This is fine”

I think at this point we’ve all heard the pop culture usage of “fine”. There is the “This is fine” comic:

Comic created by KC Green. Find more of KC’s work here

 

And to be honest, this comic applies to a lot of life. That’s one of the reasons it’s circulated on the internet for years. 

There’s the discussion of “fine” in The Italian Job and that fine really means “freaking out, insecure, neurotic and emotional.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my dogs to be “fine”. I want them to be good. I want them to navigate the world with anticipation of good things. I want my dog to be comfortable moving through space. 

“Fine” isn’t going to get your dog comfortable being alone. “Fine” isn’t going to help your dog bond with a new pet sitter. “Fine” isn’t going to teach your dog that it’s a good thing when you pick up their food bowl. 

 

Spot the Difference

Here are some examples where “fine” really won’t cut it, and what we are looking for instead. See if you can spot the differences in the situations!

 

So What Do You Want?

You want comfort. You want joy. You want positive anticipation. 

I want dog moms, dog dads, and dog paw-rents everywhere to say with confidence that their dog is thriving. 

I know that may sound like a big ask. 

It takes getting really good at reading your dog’s body language and skillfully creating an environment where your dog is comfortable. It means helping your dog to meet their needs. Both of you need some skills that will help your dog learn that scary monsters aren’t so scary (and maybe even AWESOME). And that can feel like a lot. 

But the second that it’s no longer a question of “I think my dog will be okay?” 

It’s a statement. 

“My dog is doing great.” 

Is incredibly freeing. 

 

Now What? 

 

February 2022 Training Challenge – Spice Up Your Scatter Feeding

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

Scent work is a pretty big deal for dogs. 

Dogs have evolved to use their nose. Their nose is capable of INCREDIBLE things. They can sniff out truffles, medical conditions, help with conservation efforts, track and trail scents, and so much more. 

Their sense of smell is how a dog sees the world. Through smell, they gather information, determine how to respond, find good things and avoid noxious things. There are very few things as definitively “dog” as an incredibly powerful sense of smell. 

You may have heard us discuss species-typical behaviors a time or two (or million), and harnessing a dog’s sense of smell is one of the most effective and simple ways to provide an enriching experience for your dog. The positive impacts of olfaction-based activities are numerous. There are a plethora of scent games you can do with your dog, which means there is something for just about everyone in most situations.

At the end of this blog, there will be a list of other scent options for you and your dog to try, but in terms of simplicity and versatility, few things can compete with scatter feeding. 

 

Scatter Feeding 

This is a foraging option that’s used widely in both zoos and domestic animal care. Simply put, it’s tossing food around so that an animal who has evolved to use their sense of smell to find food actively uses their sense of smell to find food. 

I know, sounds too good to be true, right? 

You may be surprised. Simple changes in how we deliver our animal’s daily food can make a huge difference in their overall behavior and welfare. 

This study by Nathan Andrews looked at The Effects of Automated Scatter Feeders on Captive Grizzly Bear Activity Budgets and found large, observable, measurable changes in the Grizzly Bear’s behavior: 

Findings include a significant decrease in time spent in [repetitive behaviors] and a significant increase in time spent active while the feeders were in use. Further, the bears exhibited a wider range of behaviors and a greater use of their enclosure.” 

While dogs aren’t bears, both species use olfaction to navigate the world, and as Nathan shares in an upcoming podcast episode, this enrichment was effective for both the bears in the study and his pet dogs at home.

*make sure you follow us on our Facebook page and Instagram for alerts on an exciting, upcoming podcast, Enrichment for the Real World, that formally goes live on March 7th. The first episode has Nathan talking about this exact study and more!*

 

The Beauty in Versatility 

I mentioned earlier that scatter feeding can be incredibly versatile, which is one of the things I love most about it. I don’t need to teach my dog a million things or purchase a bunch of toys. With one activity, I can meet so many of my dog’s needs, and it will always be challenging. 

If you need a review of how to start teaching your dog to look for scattered food, check out this past Training Challenge around “Find it!” 

Once your dog is able to find food reliably, you can start to look for ways to increase the complexity: 

Instead of playing in an empty room → try your back patio 

Instead of keeping the treats close together → gradually start increasing the area of the scatter 

Instead of using an empty floor space → start adding in obstacles for treats to fall under and around 

Instead of practicing only in your house → try in a low distraction patch of grass 

Instead of keeping all the treats on the floor → start putting them on a variety of surfaces 

Instead of keeping them out in the open → hide some treats in boxes, plastic cups, dixie cups 

When varying scatter feeding, you can increase the difficulty by: 

Increasing the area of the scatter, the intensity or number of distractions, the number of competing smells, the number of obstacles, the duration of the scatter and so many other things. 

Get creative with it! Your dog might surprise you! 

Other scent game options

Formal nosework is always an option, but if you are looking for something a little more loosey-goosey, check out these additional scent opportunities: 

Now What? 

  • If you’ve never tried scatter feeding for your dog before, start teaching your dog to search for treats.
  • If your dog has experience with scatter feeding or “find it!”, try increasing the difficulty in one way. You can mix up the different ways you challenge your dog to keep things fun and interesting for you and them! 
  • Follow us over on Instagram to get alerts when our new podcast goes live! 

Happy training,

Ellen

6 Things I Bring to Every Training Session

In my experience, most people have a very concrete idea of what it means to “train” an animal. Usually, when people say they are going to go “train their dog” they are thinking in terms of concrete sessions. Our pets are always learning, but when starting a new behavior, or using an old behavior in a new context, setting up a controlled training setup can be SUPER helpful. 

So, when I’m heading out to train my dogs, what are the things I ALWAYS have with me?

 

I know what my goal behavior LOOKS like. 

If I say “I want Griffey to touch the target”, that can look like a lot of things. What is the target? A body part or an object? Is it vertical or horizontal? What part of Griffey should make contact with the target? His paw, nose, feet, belly, bum? 

Instead of “touch the target”, I might say, “I want Griffey to place his two front feet on this stool” or “I want Griffey to press his chin into my flat hand with my palm turned toward the sky” or “I want Griffey to make contact with his nose on my closed fist”. 

If you’ve never trained something before, or visualization is difficult, look up pictures and videos of your desired result. You can start to match to sample! When I started doing fitness training with my dogs, I spent a lot of time looking at videos of dogs with good form and skill so I knew how my desired goal looked. 

The more specific we can be with our goals, the easier it will be to help guide our dog toward the right answer. 

 

I know how I will teach it. 

I’ve watched some videos or been instructed by an expert and I have an idea of what I want my end result to look like, now I figure out how I’m likely to get there. If Griffey is putting his two front feet on something, I’m going to start with something flat on the ground or slightly elevated. If Griffey is going to put his chin on something, I’m going to start with the thing under his chin. 

Without any of this prep work, if I call Griffey over, and expect him to “figure it out” we are both going to get frustrated. I’m going to be annoyed because “IT IS SO OBVIOUS!!!” and he is going to be frustrated that I’m just standing there teasing him with the setup that usually means COOKIE! 

So, minimize distractions, have your dog relatively close to you. How can you make the right answer the easiest answer? If I want Griffey to step on a sticky note, I might start with a full letter-sized sheet of paper and gradually rip pieces off to make it smaller. If I want Griffey to touch his nose to my fist, I’m going to start right next to his nose instead of 6 feet away. 

I think in terms of flow charts, if this, then this, then this… If that helps you, give it a go!

 

My treat pouch. 

I’ve spent years finding the treat pouch that works best for me. I need something I can easily close in case I kneel down (no mugging!). My hand needs to be able to fit seamlessly inside when it’s open. I prefer a waist strap to a shoulder strap. I like pouches that can also double as a purse since I tend to wear clothes marketed to the part of the demographic that apparently doesn’t need pockets. I tend to run with my pups on walks, so things need to be secured while jogging. 

Fumbling for treats, running out, trying to carry stuff in your hands is going to make training feel clunky, uncomfortable, and hard to maintain, so it’s worth finding something that really WORKS for you. 

 

Treats of adequate value for the task at hand.

Is this a $5 behavior or a $100 behavior? If I try to pull out the good stuff, those $100 for fitness training with Griffey, he’s a mess. He’s so excited that he can’t focus. Fitness training is kibble training. Now, if I’m asking for something harder, then the goods come out. Cheese, chicken, leftover steak are all $100 bills that I can use when I’m asking for harder things like coming when called when there is a squirrel taunting him in the backyard. 

 

The right mind space.

This one is a big one. Before I start a session, I check in with myself. If I’m trying to teach something new to me and to him, it’s not a wise choice to continue if I’m crabby. My perception of the session is going to be garbage and the shame spiral is right around the corner. There are things I can do on autopilot at this point, but if the cognitive load is going to be great, I’ll save it for a day when I have the resources to spend. 

 

A training partner that is saying “HELL YES!” 

Some days, my dogs just aren’t into it. There are a ton of factors that can play into that, and we will talk about those in a different blog. It’s okay that sometimes they don’t want to. Some days, I pull out my fitness equipment, Laika looks at me, looks at the station, and goes back to bed. Let’s be honest, I feel that way too some days. In the event they aren’t ready to rock and roll, we do something else. Would they rather do trick training, or practice relaxing outside while things happen in the world? OR, maybe today, we scrap that whole plan and it is foraging enrichment day. 

 

Training sessions are a brilliant way to facilitate communication and bolster our relationship with our pets. It’s great mental enrichment for both of us. But, as I said earlier, our pets are always learning, so make sure to check out next week’s blog. Sometimes, if you are anything like me, setting up for a “training session” is just too much. Next week, we are going to share some tips and tricks to make teaching and learning a smooth sailing activity for both you and your pet. 

 

Now What? 

  • Think about something you’d love to teach your pet! Start with something that doesn’t carry any baggage, like a spin, a bow, or one of our Slick Tricks! If you are looking for inspiration, check out Kikopup’s YouTube channel. She’s got an incredible collection of videos around fun tricks and life skills that give you videos so you can see what the behavior LOOKS like, and helps you figure out how to train as well. 
  • If you are ready to tackle a behavior that is bringing stress to you, your household, or your dog, come join us for the Roadmap for Behavior Solutions Program. This program provides the Roadmap you need to tackle behaviors from frustrating to frightening.