Is Your Pet’s Behavior Unpredictable?

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Let’s talk about a phrase that I hear from folks regularly:

 

My pet’s behavior is unpredictable. 

 

Typically when I hear this it’s coming from folks who have a pet who is biting and they’re describing the bites as unpredictable. And phrasing their pet’s behavior in this way tells me a lot about what’s going on with the human end of this relationship. It usually signals to me that the humans are frightened of their pet and their behavior and what that could mean for the future. 

It also often tells me that they’re frustrated; they’ve been trying to figure their pet out to no avail and have finally hit the breaking point in which they’ve decided they need professional help. This phrase tells me a lot about where the humans are in the behavior modification journey and for that, I’m grateful to hear it.

It doesn’t, however, tell me a lot about the pet’s behavior. And the simple reason for that is: behavior is predictable. Really the only times that it’s truly unpredictable is when there is some sort of serious mental or physical illness going on and that’s not very common. (And, in reality, there’s still a lot of nuance of how predictable that behavior is, and that’s way beyond the scope of this article.) That’s so uncommon that I’m not even going to go into what could cause that to avoid the whole I-Googled-my-symptoms-and-now-I-definitely-think-I’m-dying-from-a-rare-disease syndrome. We’ve all been there; let’s not go there now. 

So, if behavior is predictable, why do I hear from folks on a weekly basis that their pet’s behavior is unpredictable? There are two reasons that I frequently encounter why it might seem like an animal’s behavior is unpredictable:

  • We can’t see it coming
  • We haven’t yet figured out the triggers

 

We can’t see it coming

This category refers to being able to read your pet’s body language. I (and the rest of the Pet Harmony team) always start off by talking about body language with a new client. While there are some body language signals that are intuitive (e.g. pretty much everyone knows a tucked tail means a fearful dog), there are a lot of signals that are not intuitive and we wouldn’t expect folks to know them without studying body language (e.g. stress yawns, lip licks, not all tail wags are friendly for dogs and a cat’s “tail wag” is definitely not friendly). “Unpredictable” often just means that they haven’t yet learned their pet’s body language and way of communicating. 

This is one of my favorite lightbulb moments to see in my clients. I typically start describing Oso’s body language signals in certain situations, and I can see that lightbulb happen: “Ohhhhh there probably are signals and I’m just not seeing them.” We don’t know what we don’t know and we can’t see a particular behavior coming if we don’t know what to look for! Learning body language helps your pet’s behavior appear more predictable. 

Now, there are times where we truly don’t get a lot of signals, and that could be for a few different reasons. It could be that they’re experiencing stress a lot of the time and so it’s easy to look like they’re going from 0 to 60, even though it’s really 59 to 60 (hello, trigger stacking). It could also be that the pet has been punished in the past for exhibiting warning signs and we’ve taught them to not communicate with us. More information about why I love warning signs here. If you suspect that either of these is the case for your pet, start working with a professional asap. 

 

We haven’t yet figured out the triggers

There could be a few reasons why we haven’t yet figured out the triggers:

  • Humans and animals experience the world differently
  • We’re thinking too much like a human
  • There are triggers that others can’t perceive
  • Trigger stacking

 

Humans and animals experience the world differently

Humans can see a rich tapestry of colors, but birds can see UV colors. Dogs can smell cadavers underwater. Cats have one of the broadest hearing ranges recorded among mammals. A 30-pound dog might seem small to you, but to a Chihuahua it’s big. 

Different species experience the world differently, and that means your pet may be encountering a trigger that you don’t experience. And while that might make your pet’s behavior seem unpredictable, your pet is still responding predictably to a real stimulus in the environment. Being able to read your pet’s body language allows us to bridge the gap when we can’t or don’t experience the world in the same way. 

The other way that I see this manifest is in what our brains filter out throughout the day. If I’m waiting for a package to be delivered I will hear the brakes on the truck from further away. If I’m not expecting a package I might not even notice that they’ve stopped next door. We filter out stimuli that aren’t relevant to us all of the time and that’s true for all species. But what’s relevant to each individual is different. If you have a pet who has big feelings about the delivery truck you better believe they will hear the truck from further away! You may be experiencing the same stimuli that your pet is but are filtering it out instead. 

 

We’re thinking too much like a human

The way that I typically see this one unfold is when folks are thinking about the trigger in terms of how they feel about it instead of how their pet feels about it. For example, I see this a lot when the issue surrounds handling sensitivity or being touched or pet. Contrary to popular belief, our pets do not instinctively enjoy being touched by humans, and certainly not by all humans in all ways. That would be like us enjoying any random person touching us– even just gently on the shoulder– on the street. No thank you. Personal bubbles exist for a reason.

However, when we’re thinking about it through our human lens, we assume that because we have a good relationship with our pets or because they live in our household, that they should also enjoy us touching them at all times. We let our ideas cloud our observations. 

We underestimate how much our ideas can cloud our observations. I not infrequently have people tell me in the same breath that their pet’s behavior is unpredictable and also that it usually happens in x situations. (And, to be fair, I’ve also said things like this! I’m not immune to this phenomenon!) They tell me what the trigger is but because they can’t understand or believe that that’s the problem, they can’t see it for what it is. We need to observe objectively, without letting the stories or ideas we have about our pets get in the way. 

The other way that I see this manifesting is in a difference of details. For example, we understand that a person is a person whether they’re sitting or jogging. It’s the same person so they should elicit the same reaction. Right? However, a pet with stranger danger will tell you that there’s a big difference between a person sitting, standing, walking, and jogging, and they’ll likely tell you by having a different reaction in those different situations even if it’s the same person. Sometimes our human logic and reasoning get in the way of observation as well. 

 

There are triggers that others can’t perceive

We already talked about how different species experience the world differently, but individuals within the same species also have different experiences. And what’s going on with us internally does play a role in our behavior. One of the best examples of this is pain. Yes, we can sometimes see when someone else is in pain. We can see limping or favoring a particular limb. We can hear when someone cries out. But pain isn’t always so obvious, especially when it comes to animals. 

Our pets are typically wonderful at hiding how much pain they’re in. But that doesn’t mean that they’re not experiencing it or that it’s not impacting their behavior. There may be internal reasons for acting or reacting in a certain way that we’re not privy to. This is why behavior consultants so frequently recommend folks start with a vet visit first. We can’t train away a medical problem. 

Just as with the first category, being able to read body language helps to bridge this gap. In addition to body language, being able to objectively observe our pets’ behavior over a course of time and recognize subtle changes can help us with this category as well, especially if we’re talking about pain-related behaviors. It’s important to note that behavior modification plans still need to be based on observation of body language and behavior, instead of trying to psychoanalyze our pets. More about that here

 

Trigger stacking

Last week I talked about trigger stacking: when a bunch of smaller stressors or triggers add up to create a bigger reaction than if just one of them happened. A lot of times when folks label behavior as unpredictable, it’s because sometimes there’s a problem and sometimes there isn’t in the exact same situation. Often, the culprit is trigger stacking (when it’s not one of the above reasons). I talk all about this phenomenon here, so I won’t spend much more time other than to say that once you uncover how trigger stacking affects your pet, their behavior becomes much more predictable. 

 

Now what?

  • Have you found yourself thinking that your pet’s behavior is unpredictable? Take a moment and think about all of the scenarios in which you see that behavior. What are the commonalities? What happens before the behavior happens that sets the stage?
    • Be sure to think about those commonalities from different perspectives; don’t think like a human! 
    • Make sure your ideas about your pet aren’t clouding your judgment. Sometimes I find it helps to think about the exact same behavior but as if another pet who I don’t know is performing them. Do your observations change if you think about it in that way?
  • Learn your pet’s body language. Behavior is so much more predictable when we can see it coming.
  • Manage undesirable behaviors by avoiding situations in which the undesirable behavior happens. One of the perks of being able to see your pet’s behavior predictably means being able to better manage it!
  • Being able to see your pet’s behavior is one thing, but being able to address it is another. We always recommend seeking professional help for pets with aggression, anxiety, fear, and the like. 

 

Happy training!

Allie

What You Need to Know About Trigger Stacking

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I talk about trigger stacking a lot. It’s in my typical first-session spiel for new clients, I talk about it frequently in follow-up sessions, and I even use the term to describe my own emotional state. So, what the heck is it?

Trigger stacking refers to that phenomenon when a bunch of smaller stressors or triggers stack or add on top of each other to produce a different reaction than if just one of them happened. 

 

Some examples

We’ve all had those days where nothing goes right. You forgot to set your alarm the night before and wake up late. Then your car has trouble starting. Then you hit every single red light on the way to work. By the time you finally make it, you’re close to bubbling over. And then someone makes an innocuous observation that they beat you to work today. You explode. 

That’s trigger stacking. It’s the straw that broke the camel’s back. It’s not that the innocuous observation was so stressful that it alone elicited the explosion. It was because, after everything that happened before it, that little bit of stress was enough to push you over the edge. Had it been a normal, relatively stress-free morning and your coworker just happened to have arrived before you and made the same remark, it likely wouldn’t have elicited an explosion. 

We all experience this phenomenon, so let’s take a peek at what that looks like for a dog who’s reactive to other dogs. They go outside in the yard in the morning and see a dog a few doors down. A little bit of stress. They come inside and the neighbor dog can be heard through the window. A little bit more stress. We go to work and they watch– and react at– dogs walking past the window all day. More stress. We come home from work and take them out for a walk and even though we’re trying to avoid other dogs and keep a healthy distance, every dog they see still results in blusterous reactivity. They were stressed before the walk even began. We didn’t stand a chance. 

Or, last week Ellen talked about managing stranger danger behaviors. Trigger stacking for stranger danger pets could look like a party instead of having one guest over. Or having one or two people at a time but one right after another the whole day. There are a lot of slightly different scenarios that can elicit trigger stacking, but it boils down to several triggers in a relatively short amount of time. 

 

Why is this important?

Stress impacts behavior. We have only to look at our daily lives to see how much stress impacts and affects behavior. Heck, this last year was one giant lesson showcasing how stress affects behavior in different ways and in different individuals. And even though it might seem like our pets are living stress-free lives, they aren’t. They experience stress, too, and it affects how they behave. 

We at Pet Harmony wouldn’t have jobs if stress didn’t affect behavior. It’s the culprit behind maladaptive behaviors, including aggression, fear, and anxiety. And, when we recognize the role that stress plays in those behaviors, we can address those behaviors much more effectively. 

Here is a great YouTube video by Donna Hill that gets into trigger stacking and stress hormones.

 

It’s not just within a few minutes

It takes stress hormones a while to leave the body. The actual amount of time changes depending on the species and the particular hormone. Some last for a few minutes, others hours, and some last for a few days, and chronic stress impacts the amount of time as well. It’s much more complicated than what we can get into here (and I’m certainly not an expert in physiology!), but the short of it is that stressful events can impact behavior for days after. This means that we can see the effects of trigger stacking culminating over longer periods of time than just a few minutes. What happened this morning can impact the afternoon can impact the evening. 

 

What can we do about trigger stacking?

For those of you who have followed us for a while, the answer should come as no surprise: management! Management is one of the best ways that we can mitigate the effects of stress and trigger stacking (there are others, too, that we won’t get into here.)

Management means setting up the environment so that your pet is less likely to experience stressors or triggers or avoiding them when we can’t arrange the environment. This looks like getting physical exercise in the backyard instead of going on walks in a dog-filled neighborhood. This looks like putting your pet away when the repair person comes. This looks like not picking up a pet who tries to bite you when they get picked up. 

We’re often asked about management being a band-aid. It is! But a necessary band-aid. Not having management would be like not dressing a wound after surgery. Is the bandage fixing the wound? No. Is it preventing it from getting worse and having other ancillary problems? You bet. Let’s not knock management just because it’s a band-aid. It’s still a necessary and integral part of a behavior modification plan, especially when you take into consideration that brains under stress do not learn well. If we want the training and behavior modification techniques we’re using to work, we need a brain that can learn it. And that means management. 

 

Now what?

  • Take a look at your pet’s stressors. Do you see multiple stressors happening throughout the day? If so, you probably have some trigger stacking on your hands. 
  • If you’re not sure if trigger stacking is at play, keep a log of your pet’s triggers and behaviors. It’s much easier to see trends this way. 
  • After identifying triggers, take a look at your management plan. If you don’t have one, make one. If you do have one, take an objective look at what you’re doing well and if there are areas for improvement. 
  • Want more information about how stress impacts behavior? Join us for our free 5 Tips for Addressing Your Dog’s Problem Behaviors webinar tonight!

 

Happy training!

Allie

You Have to Practice Before the Test

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When I’m giving a client a new activity, I always tell them to practice first in scenarios where they’ll be more successful. For example, practicing loose leash walking or the flight cue inside. Or Look at That or a greeting strangers protocol with faux triggers or people they know. Every now and then, someone will come back to me with:

 

I tried what you said to do and it didn’t work.

 

After some sleuthing, we sometimes find that the problem is that they tried to use it in a more difficult situation before they or their pet were ready. That happens to all of us (myself included!) at some point! But, if we go straight to testing without practicing, we usually fail the test. 

 

Practice makes perfect

This cliche applies to behavior modification: practice makes perfect. Well, as close to perfect as we can expect from a living, breathing individual with free will. The situations in which we want to use our pet’s skills are usually higher stress situations, either due to excitement or distress. I liken this to a “test”, where you’re expected to perform skills you’ve been learning in a higher stress situation. But the only way to do well in that type of situation is to practice a lot in easier scenarios that gradually build in difficulty. 

Imagine we plucked someone off the street, told them the basics of brain surgery, and then asked them to perform brain surgery on someone. Show of hands of who’d like that person to operate on them? That’s a hell no from me! I want someone who’s gone through school, practiced on cadavers, and has operated on a bunch of people before me. I want someone who’s practiced. 

Teaching our pets something once or twice and then asking them to perform it in a high-stress situation is like asking someone we’ve plucked off the street to perform brain surgery. It’s just not going to go well. And, if through luck it does, it’s not going to be predictably replicable. We need to practice in easier situations that gradually build in difficulty in order for them to succeed. 

 

What do easier situations look like?

This will be different depending on the skill or maladaptive behavior we’re talking about and where the pet is in their learning journey. In general, easier situations can look like something as simple as you and your pet training in your living room without anyone else around or it can look like a watered-down version of the situation you’re working up to. You have a lot of options when it comes to an easier situation. In general, choose a scenario where you’re pretty sure your pet will be successful. 

Keep in mind that “easier” is subjective, and is based on current skills. Calculus is easy for someone with a Ph.D. in math but it’s hard for a 3rd grader. Staying still is hard for a puppy but is easy for a service dog. The goal is to practice in situations that gradually increase in difficulty but for each step to still be easy for your pet’s current skill level.

 

Now what?

  • Determine what an easier situation looks like for a skill you’re trying to teach. 
  • Start practicing! If your pet is doing well, keep practicing. If they’re not doing well in that situation, that means it’s currently too difficult for them. Go back to the drawing board to figure out what would be easier for them and try again. 

 

Happy training!

Allie

What Gardening Can Teach Us About Behavior

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I’m a plant person. So, naturally, I was thinking about plants as we were readying a space to install raised beds last year. We have a shady backyard and while we chose the sunniest spot for the new beds, I was carefully monitoring how much sunlight it actually got so I knew which plants to put in. And that’s when I realized that there are some similarities between plants and animal behavior.

 

Environment matters

I mentioned that our backyard is shady so we didn’t have a choice to put our raised beds in an area with full sun (unless we wanted to chop down a tree, which we didn’t). That means that those beds house our veggies that need less sunlight: peas, salad greens, carrots, radishes, broccoli, cauliflower, etc. They’re loving it! Those plants are doing great and we’re getting to eat the rewards of that hard work. The environment is set up for those particular plants to thrive.

 

Definitely part shade! Fencing up to keep Oso from eating the veggies before we do.

 

But what would have happened if I had tried to put plants in those beds that required full sunlight? Some of them may survive, but they would never thrive. They would never do as well in partial light as they would in full sunlight. It wouldn’t matter how well I cared for them. It wouldn’t matter how much water they received or how much compost I added to their soil. They still would never thrive, no matter what I did. 

Environment matters. Each plant needs a particular type of environment in order to thrive. That’s true for our pets, too. Our pets may be okay in an array of different environments, but will likely only thrive and be the best they can be in certain ones.

We know this already for ourselves, whether consciously or not. When I think of this topic, I’m reminded of my professional wife and Pet Harmony co-owner, Emily. Emily and I met when we were working in southern Utah. She knew that she wasn’t a desert person even before moving there. She described to me that she had low-level stress all of the time by living in a desert and that she felt a sense of relief when she traveled somewhere greener. I didn’t really understand what she meant until I found myself experiencing that same relief when I would travel back to Illinois. I didn’t know I had low-level stress from living in a desert environment until I wasn’t in the desert anymore. 

It’s not that either of us did poorly living in the desert (well, Emily may say otherwise at times). But we would never be our best in that environment. It’s not the right living situation for us. The same can be true for our pets, too. A pet with sound sensitivity is going to have a harder time living in a city or living with certain kids. Dogs who come from a working line will do better in a household that loves doing things with their dogs and perhaps has more space. I’ve mentioned before that we adopted Oso as a behavior case. In our environment, he’s incredibly easy on a day-to-day basis. That wouldn’t be true in a different one, though (and was not true in several of his previous environments). Environment plays a role in behavior. 

 

What if my environment isn’t perfect for my pet?

If you’re reading this and thinking, “Uh oh. I know my environment isn’t the best for my pet. What do I do?”, you’re likely not alone. Many of the cases we see are situations in which that environment is simply not the best for that pet and that’s a large reason as to why they’re having problems. It wouldn’t be as hard in a different environment. 

One thing that we can do is management, and that can go a long way to improving the environment. For example, if we know our pet has a hard time with sounds and we live in the city then we can explore different sound masking options. Or, if we have a dog with leash reactivity to other dogs we could walk them in an industrial area where there isn’t likely to be other dogs. There are tweaks that we can make to improve our environment for our pets. 

This is also where behavior modification comes in. We can help our pets feel more comfortable in their environment and teach them skills that can help them interact with it. In some scenarios, these skills can help them be much closer to the best version of themselves; in others, it may only help make the situation okay instead of great. 

There are also several times where we’ve seen people choose the answer: change the environment. I did this with Oso when we moved back to Illinois. Our set-up in Utah was not ideal for him and we knew that when we brought him into our family. However, we also knew that we were moving in a few months and that we would be able to have a much better environment for him in Illinois. He’s one of the reasons we live in the house that we do today. I’ve seen other folks do the same when they’ve moved in the middle of their behavior modification journey and their pet’s behavior was a factor in their new location. Emily had a client who wasn’t planning on moving and then did so specifically for her dog! 

The question we get not infrequently when talking about changing the environment is about rehoming. That conversation is outside the scope of this particular post, but it is a viable option in some cases. Sometimes loving an individual means doing what is right for them, even if it’s hard for you. And sometimes what’s right is allowing a pet to be in an environment that’s set up for them to thrive even if you can’t be the one to provide it. 

 

Accepting our pets for who they are

Sometimes the issue is not necessarily the environment our pet lives in, but the environments we want them to be a part of. For example, a dog who’s afraid of kids might do quite well in their home environment which doesn’t have kids but it would be disastrous to take them to a family party in which there are a lot of kids running around. Or, a pet with generalized anxiety might do well with their day-to-day routine and home, but would likely not do as well traveling cross country in an RV with their family. We need to accept our pets for who they are and not put them into environments in which we know they won’t do well. We wouldn’t ask a plant to need less sunlight, would we? (Okay, I actually make that request of plants all the time and then they start dying so it’s not a successful request.)

 

Now what?

  • Evaluate your environment objectively. Try to keep emotion out of it as much as possible (I know it can be hard!) Is your environment perfect for your pet? If yes, great! If no, keep on reading. 
  • Consider how you can manage your environment to help make it closer to what your pet needs. Start implementing those management strategies!
  • Evaluate how those management strategies are going. Is it sufficient or do you need to go to the next step of teaching skills and modifying behavior? If it’s sufficient, great! If not, keep on reading. 
  • Work with a behavior consultant to determine which skills will help your pet and your particular situation. A professional will be able to get you results faster than if you were to go through it on your own. Email us at [email protected] if you need help or get started immediately with our Beginning Behavior Modification on-demand course! Even remotely we can still evaluate your environment; we’ve mastered the wobbly Zoom house tour without getting seasick!

 

Happy training!

Allie

June 2021 Training Challenge: Focus on One Thing

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Happy June! Let’s get right into our June Training Challenge:

 

Focus on one thing

 

This one’s pretty straightforward, but let’s talk a bit about why it made the cut. 

 

If you chase two rabbits, both will escape

There’s a Chinese proverb that says, “If you chase two rabbits, both with escape”. While I wouldn’t condone literally chasing rabbits, figuratively, the proverb is spot on when it comes to behavior modification. 

Because of the nature of cases that come to us, we see pets who exhibit a vast array of maladaptive behaviors in just one individual. Rarely is there ever just one thing going on. I’ll often ask folks to prioritize the laundry list of issues they gave to me and ask which is the most pressing one. Essentially, what should we focus on first. For some people, that thought exercise is really easy. They may say something like, “We’ll manage the resource guarding and stranger danger, but the leash reactivity is really challenging because we don’t have a fenced-in yard.” Perfect! We’ll start with the leash reactivity and go from there. These folks tend to make progress more quickly and then we can focus on the next thing when the first item is in a good place.

Other times, though, I see folks who have a hard time prioritizing. They want to work on the resource guarding, stranger danger, and leash reactivity all at the same time. Or, I’ll sometimes see where in the first session we agree to focus on the leash reactivity, but when I see them a couple of weeks later they’ve been working on the stranger danger instead and haven’t progressed very much with either issue. 

If you split your attention between two issues, you won’t make a lot of progress with either. When you chase two rabbits, both will escape. You’ll make progress faster by managing the issues that can be managed and working on just one issue at a time. There are, of course, situations where that’s not entirely possible, but it’s possible to an extent in almost every situation. Focus and you’ll get faster results. 

 

Now what?

  • Make a list of the behaviors your pet does that you’d like to change. 
  • Go through your list and determine which of those are manageable and which aren’t. That will help you prioritize. 
  • Of the behaviors that aren’t manageable, determine which is the most pressing. It might be the one that’s the biggest safety concern or the one that’s the biggest annoyance.
  • Start working on your one thing! If it’s a safety concern, while highly recommend seeking professional help to make sure you go through the process safely. We’re here to help you with that with private sessions or our Roadmap for Behavior Solutions Program. If you’re not quite ready to take the leap into a behavior modification journey, our Beginning Behavior Modification course is right for you. 

 

Happy training!

Allie

Maybe It’ll Get Better On Its Own and I Won’t Need Professional Help

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When I was little, I thought it would be a neat experience to lose my voice. Don’t ask me why; kids are weird. Well, I should’ve been careful what I wished for because voice loss is something that I’ve dealt with extensively as an adult. Recently I realized how much my journey with my voice loss parallels what I see pet parents going through with their behaviorally challenged pets, especially when it comes to thinking something will get better on its own, so I wanted to share my experience with y’all. 

 

It started out as “not that bad”

I started routinely losing my voice 5 years ago, around the time I was diagnosed with a chronic illness. Voice loss for me takes many forms, but the most common is a deep, husky, seemingly testosterone-fueled voice that’s still audible but not as loud. Sometimes it goes into a high-pitched “squirrel-voice” territory, sometimes only a whisper, and sometimes absolutely nothing can come out. But usually, voice loss for me resulted in what everyone around me calls my “man voice”. 

It wasn’t that bad. I could still talk, be understood, and ultimately it didn’t impact communication. I could still do my job. It was annoying and though I recognized that it was a problem that I should probably do something about, it wasn’t bad enough that I did anything about it. This might sound familiar, huh?

 

It started getting worse

My voice loss started getting worse about 1.5 to 2 years ago. It started happening more frequently and for longer periods of time. Before I would lose my voice for a day or so every few months. Now it was happening for days at a time without more than a month or so of normalcy in between. Last August I lost my voice for 2 weeks straight, with 3 days of absolutely no sound coming out. I had to reschedule all of my clients. It was no longer annoying, it was now affecting my livelihood. 

I started googling what was going on and considering seeing a doctor, but then my voice returned and I went back to my daily life. It still wasn’t bad enough that I was willing to overcome the barriers I had to seek professional help. 

 

The breaking point

At the beginning of this year, I lost my voice. Period. Seemingly permanently. Two weeks stretched to three, then to four. I could muster some version of a normal voice just long enough to meet with someone or record a presentation, but those who have heard me speak a bit started commenting on how weak my voice was even with the musterable version. And, afterward, I wouldn’t be able to talk almost at all. My voice loss was no longer a nuisance; it was an emergency. 

After the third week, I decided I needed professional help. Enough was enough. Plus, I had googled enough that I was worried I was causing permanent damage to myself and that’s a scary thought when speaking is your profession. I scheduled an appointment with an ENT. 

 

But maybe it’ll still get better on its own…

It took a couple of weeks to get an appointment; I was now 5 weeks into this most recent bout of voice loss. I was resting my voice much more frequently because the more I used it the worse it got. The Pet Harmony team kept me in check and picked up pieces that I couldn’t do (thanks, ladies!) I primarily communicated with my husband via hand gestures and written text. I scheduled fewer clients. Once I finally admitted that I had a big problem, I finally started treating it that way. 

And, because of that, my voice returned a few days before my appointment. It wasn’t great, it was still weak and didn’t sound quite right, but it at least didn’t hurt to talk for a bit. And I found myself thinking:

Maybe I don’t need professional help after all. Maybe it’ll just get better on its own. 

I, of course, overdid it that day or two and ended right back into the position I was in when I scheduled the appointment in the first place. Okay, enough kidding myself, it wasn’t going to get better on its own. What problem actually does?? I’ve yet to truly find one (aside from the few times where age does make a big impact). 

 

The barriers that keep us from seeking help

I know I said the purpose of this story is to talk about the thought process that maybe it would get better on its own and I’ve already done that, but it feels weird to bring you along this journey without finishing it. So, we continue.

I had my appointment and I started realizing all of the barriers that I had to seek professional help. While not all of them are relevant to the behavior modification journey, two of them are:

  1. What if they don’t believe me?
  2. What if there’s nothing they can do to help me?

I hear variations of these two fears frequently when I meet with new clients, and here I was thinking about them as I pulled into the parking lot. I was worried that, because I was sometimes able to pull off a seemingly normal voice, that the ENT wouldn’t believe that the problem was as severe as it was. What if my voice was fine during the appointment?

And, even if it wasn’t and he did believe me, what if there was nothing that they could do to help me? What if it’s something that’s just part of my chronic illness, never destined to get better than manageable? What would that mean for the career I’ve built on using my voice? 

I wasn’t able to articulate the reasons why it took me 5 years to seek professional help until I was there. 

 

I wish I’d found help sooner

My appointment went better than I imagined it could. Their team worked efficiently and soon I had an answer; the doctor explained to me why my voice sounded the way it did. They were compassionate about how much this was affecting me and didn’t say anything about how I should’ve sought help sooner. The doctor prescribed speech therapy and explained why that was the best course of action. I walked out of the office feeling empowered to change my problem for the first time in 5 years. And I wished I could’ve done this for myself sooner. 

 

Putting in the work

Speech therapy reminded me so much of the behavior modification process. Both scaffold exercises, moving from easier, foundation skills to building on more challenging skills. Both require management, to keep the problem from getting worse in the meantime. And both require looking at the entire picture because one of the root causes may be something that seems entirely unrelated (did you know you can breathe wrong? And that can impact your voice?)

But what reminded me most of the behavior modification process, is that you get out of it what you put into it. Halfway through, the grad student helping with my case started commenting on how quickly I was progressing. I knew exactly what she meant. She could tell that I was doing all of the exercises they gave me twice a day like I was supposed to. My voice didn’t lie. It wouldn’t be getting better if I wasn’t putting in the work, even the work that I wasn’t quite sure how it could help. Of course, there can be a lot of reasons why progress happens at different rates, but this was a clear case of where it’s all about following the plan the professional gives you.

I ended up being able to graduate from speech therapy a week early because of this. Again, she commented about how quickly I progressed. I told her that I was a consultant as well and that I understood that a plan only works if you follow it. And boy was I determined to have my voice back as quickly as possible. 

 

Maintenance

The other part of speech therapy that reminds me of the behavior modification process is the need for maintenance after you’ve finished the plan. Even though I graduated from needing weekly sessions, I’m still not done. And, because only some of the root causes are likely changeable in the long run, I’ll probably never be truly done. I still have to keep better care of my voice. I still do my exercises on a maintenance basis, instead of twice a day. I still have good days and bad days depending on how hard I was on my voice. The difference now is that I know exactly what to do to keep it from getting worse and to improve it once more. 

 

Now what?

  • If you’ve been in the same boat with your pet’s behavior problems that I was with my voice, be honest with yourself. What are the barriers you have to seek professional help? What are your fears and doubts?
  • Talk through those fears and doubts with someone. This could be someone in your inner circle, it could be one of our professionals (email us at [email protected]), or with another pet parent in our Enrichment for Pet Behavior Issues Facebook group. You’re not alone, nor should you have to feel that way. 
  • Start seeking professional help. Problems don’t get better on their own. Check out our new Roadmap For Behavior Solutions Program for the most cost-efficient, comprehensive solution we offer: http://petharmonytraining.com/roadmap-for-behavior-solutions-program/ Or our Beginning Behavior Modification on-demand digital course if you’re raring to get started now: http://petharmonytraining.com/beginning-behavior-modification/ 

 

Happy training!

Allie

May 2021 Training Challenge: Overt vs. Covert behavior

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Happy spring! I have no idea how we’re already in May, but here we are. And with the new month comes a new training challenge. Here’s the challenge for May:

 

Describe 1 construct or label using overt behavior

 

Okay. What the heck did I just say? This training challenge requires a bit of a vocabulary lesson. Now, y’all know I try to not be super vocab-heavy or technical in these blog posts, but this is one where the technical terms end up being the easiest way to communicate this concept. I promise to make it as painless as possible! Let’s dive in. 

 

Overt vs. Covert Behavior

Overt behavior refers to observable, measurable behavior. Examples of this include:

  • The person took three steps to the right
  • The hawk is flying at 20 mph
  • The dog’s ears turned back and are sitting low against the skull
  • The cat jumped onto the counter

There’s no arguing whether these behaviors are or are not true because we can see them and measure them. 

Covert behavior refers to internal thoughts, feelings, motivations, and intentions. And a construct is our interpretation of those covert behaviors. If you want to think of covert behavior and constructs as the same thing for now, go for it. The technical differences between those two aren’t as relevant for our level of discussion. Examples of this include:

  • The dog is mad that I left him alone and that’s why he pees when I’m gone
  • The dog is anxious when I leave him alone and that’s why he pees when I’m gone
  • The dog doesn’t know to not potty inside and that’s why he pees when I’m gone
  • The dog is trying to claim his territory when other dogs pass by the house and that’s why he pees when I’m gone

As you can see, there’s a whole lot of debate as to whether these behaviors are or are not true. Here we have the exact same overt behavior- urinating when left home alone- but I’ve heard all of the above as constructs people have created to explain that particular behavior. 

Here’s the thing with covert behavior and constructs: we’ll never know if they’re accurate. Heck, we’re even terrible at guessing the covert behavior of our fellow humans, with whom we speak the same language! How can we assume that we’re better at guessing the covert behavior of another species that doesn’t speak the same language? 

One more vocab word to throw into this mix: labels. A label is something we use to describe someone. For example, we could say a pet is:

  • Stubborn
  • Fearful
  • Aggressive
  • Anxious
  • Sweet

All of those are labels. 

 

Why does all of this matter?

All of this matters for a few different reasons:

 

The words we use shape our judgment, and ultimately can shape how we feel about our pets

Let’s say we have a dog who sometimes lies down in the middle of a walk and cannot be coaxed to get up for several minutes at a time. 

Overt behavior: lies down while on a walk for several minutes

Constructs and labels I’ve heard people use to describe this behavior:

  • Stubborn
  • Too hot to walk
  • Scared
  • Watching everything; attentive or focused on their surroundings
  • Getting old and joints might hurt

Now, how do you think the person who thinks their dog is stubborn feels about them vs. the person who thinks their dog is getting old with ouchy joints feels about them? My guess is those two people have a pretty different relationship with their pets and feel very differently about this particular behavior. 

 

Our judgment shapes our decisions, for better or worse

Let’s continue with the previous example. Each of those people would likely choose a different path to change that behavior. This might look like:

  • Stubborn: force them to walk
  • Too hot to walk: manage by walking in the morning when it’s cool
  • Scared: seek help from a behavior professional
  • Watching everything; attentive or focused: train a watch me or attention cue
  • Getting old and joints might hurt: speak with their vet about pain management options

One behavior, 5 different options for treatment based on our assumptions about what’s happening. But, and I can’t stress this enough:

 

We don’t know if our assumptions about covert behavior are accurate.

 

That means that we can’t make training decisions based on covert behavior, constructs, or labels. While we might be right in our assumptions, we can end up doing more harm than good if we’re wrong. For example, if the person thinks their dog is stubborn but actually they’re too hot to walk or in pain, forcing them to walk could end up seriously injuring them. Assumptions do not make for effective decisions; observing overt behavior makes for effective decisions. 

 

Our assumptions cloud our observations

I see people on a daily basis who are struggling to reconcile seemingly incompatible thoughts, theories, assumptions, etc. that they have about their pets. The most common I hear is reconciling the “sweet” label with a dog who is biting people. This usually comes in the form of the following statement:

 

They’re so sweet 95% of the time but it’s just that 5% we’re worried about

 

It’s hard for us to wrap our heads around how a pet who is sweet can also bite someone; sweet individuals don’t hurt others. When I see this happen we usually have a discussion that we’re the ones setting up that false dichotomy; their pet can still be very sweet with them but also fearful and biting other people. They’re not mutually exclusive behaviors. 

Sometimes, though, I see people struggling with that more than others. In those situations, I often see where folks will hold fast to a label or construct that they have about their pet and it makes it so they cannot see overt behavior that contradicts that label. 

For example, I’ve worked with a few clients who had leash reactive dogs and would even bite other dogs in some situations. The dog was showing clear signs of stress around members of their own species and even though we went through all the typical spiels about anxiety-related behaviors, they still believed that their dog truly enjoyed other dogs because they had a dog friend as a puppy. They couldn’t see the stress signals I was pointing out to them because that contradicted who they thought their dog was. Needless to say, those folks made much slower progress than their counterparts until we reached the point where they were able to see with their eyes, not their ideas. 

 

Hold up. Don’t you use labels and constructs all the time?

Yep! I do. Even though we shouldn’t make training decisions based on constructs or labels, they’re really helpful for communicating as long as all involved parties are defining those words the same way. For example, if I had to describe leash reactivity as barking, lunging, growling, and air snapping at the end of a leash when a dog is near another dog every time I talked to a client, we’d never get anything done. Instead, I tell my client, “this behavior that you’re describing I’m going to call leash reactivity.” That way we can communicate more efficiently and be on the same page as to what we’re defining as leash reactivity. 

 

But, what about the anxiety label you use? Isn’t that an assumption?

Right again! Those of you who have done an initial consultation with me might remember that when I describe your pet’s behavior as an anxiety-based behavior, I’ll actually say it’s a behavior based in anxiety, stress, fear, however it helps you to think of it. The next sentence is usually something along the lines of, “Those are all technically different, but for our purposes, I’ll use those phrases interchangeably because we can treat them all the same way and that’s really what I’m more interested in.”

Those are, however, all still labels or constructs. The reason I feel comfortable using those to make behavior decisions is because of body language. There has been enough study on body language, and studies are still coming out, that we can make an accurate enough guess as to broad strokes of covert behavior– like excitement and fear. So really those behavior decisions are happening based on body language and other behavior observations (overt behavior), and we attribute those body language signals to different constructs or labels. 

 

Back to the training challenge

Alright, I think we’ve detoured from this month’s training challenge enough for it to now make sense. 

Your task for this month is to take 1 construct or label that you have for your pet and describe it using only overt behaviors. Here’s an example:

Construct: Zorro likes his new tank setup

Overt behavior: Zorro is spending more time basking, less time trying to escape, and less time performing repetitive swimming behaviors in his new tank setup than his old one. 

If you’re feeling extra ambitious for this challenge, you can then turn that overt behavior into a different construct or label so you can see how easy it is for folks to create different explanations for the same behavior, like this:

New construct: Zorro has realized that I have finally outsmarted him when it comes to him escaping and he’s given up. I’m finally smarter than my turtle. 

Turtle resting on artificial grass on a green wooden platform. He is behind plexiglass and there's a black lamp behind him.
What I describe as Zorro enjoying his new tank setup

Now what?

  • Choose a construct or label. 
  • Think about what your pet is actually doing when you use that construct or label. What do you see with your eyes? 
  • Share your results with us on Facebook or Instagram @petharmonytraining
  • If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, we have a video training on overt vs. covert behavior in our Beginning Behavior Modification course

 

Happy training!

Allie

 

P.S. We have something BIG in the works to help even more pets and their people. Stay tuned for an announcement later this month!

April Training Challenge: Drop It

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Happy kind of spring! We have another fun training challenge this month:

 

Teach a “drop it” cue during play

 

Playtime can very often double as training time. The two do not have to be mutually exclusive! 

Before we get into some examples of how to do this, let’s have a brief chat about what I mean by “drop it”.

 

“Drop It”: The Behavior

When I say “drop it”, I mean the specific behavior of removing an item from your mouth. I like to have specific cues that mean specific behaviors to limit confusion with a pet as much as possible. 

If you are using “leave it” for both behaviors of not putting something in your mouth and removing something from your mouth and it’s working, keep doing it. I’m not here to fix things that aren’t broken. However, if your pet is struggling to learn that the same thing means two different behaviors, then I suggest having one cue for each. Remember: just because we understand the concept of synonyms does not mean our pets do. 

Another reminder: our pets don’t speak human language. You need to teach your pet what the “drop it” cue means before it’s going to reliably work. Fairly often someone will tell me that their pet does not drop something when asked to. And, almost just as often, I’m met with blank looks when I ask them how they taught that behavior. Stubborn quite often means they were never taught how to do it in the first place. 

And, one last note: this behavior needs to be reinforced just like all others if you’d like to see it continue. If the only time you’re using “drop it” is to ask your pet to give up something amazing for nothing in return or only at the end of a play session, they’re going to discontinue following that cue pretty quickly. Like all behaviors, it needs to be worth it to the individual performing it.

 

“Drop It” with Fetch

There are a few variations that usually work for teaching this cue while playing fetch. 

Option 1: 2-Toy Fetch

  1. Grab two identical (if possible) toys that your pet likes playing fetch with.
  2. Throw one toy.
  3. When your pet brings Toy 1 back, make a big fuss over Toy 2. Make it seem like the most fun toy that’s ever existed. 
  4. When your pet drops Toy 1, immediately throw Toy 2. The hope is that throwing Toy 2 (continuing the game) reinforces the drop it, not any other behavior– like sit. We’ll only know if this is effective for this pet if they continue dropping the toy moving forward. 
  5. Pick up Toy 1 while they’re chasing after Toy 2.
  6. When your pet brings Toy 2 back, make a big fuss over Toy 1. 
  7. When your pet drops Toy 2, immediately throw Toy 1. 
  8. Repeat until your pet reliably drops the toy. Pay attention to the cues that they are going to drop the toy. Some will chew it a few times then drop, others it’s based on proximity to you, others it could be a change in head position.  
  9. Add in your “drop it” verbal cue right before they drop it. If you’ve successfully completed Step 8 you should be able to tell when they’re going to drop it and say your cue before the behavior happens. Reinforce by tossing the other toy, like before. Repeat until, in this context, your pet reliably drops the toy on cue.
  10. If you want to add some other behavior between the drop it and toss, now’s the time. 

 

Option 2: Using Treats

  1. Grab a toy or two that your pet likes playing fetch with
  2. Throw the toy
  3. When your pet brings the toy back, show them a treat (luring) and say “drop it”. 
  4. When your pet drops the toy, give them the treat, then pick up the toy. If you’re having trouble with your pet grabbing the toy again when you’re reaching for it then toss the treat instead of handing it to them so they’re busy while you’re picking it up. 
  5. Because you’ve already rewarded the “drop it” behavior, you can ask for a sit or anything else you’d like before throwing the toy again. 
  6. Repeat the above steps 5 times. 
  7. The next time your pet brings the toy back, say “drop it” without showing them the treat. If they do, awesome! Hand or toss them the treat. If they don’t, repeat the above steps. 
  8. You can either slowly phase out the treat and just have the continuation of the game be the reinforcement (if it is, actually and indeed, reinforcing enough) or you can keep the treat in the game long-term. There’s no harm in that. 

 

“Drop It” With Tug

Let’s get one question that I hear frequently out of the way: does tug cause aggression? The short answer is no. The slightly longer answer is that there have been one or two studies looking at tug and aggression and they did not show that there was a significant correlation between the two. Now, two studies are not a lot and there could absolutely be more research done on this and that’s something we should keep in mind. Anecdotally, I frequently play tug with dogs who are considered “aggressive” and still have all my limbs (even the resource guarders!)

The way to teach “drop it” with tug is exactly how you would do it with fetch, just with tugging instead of throwing. I recommend playing for just a few seconds at a time (10-15 seconds). This can often make it easier for them to drop it because they’re not fully in the throes of tugging. 

 

Now What?

  • Choose your game and toys. 
  • Get to playin’! If you’re using treats, you may need to experiment with the type of treat to get the perfect value of “worth dropping the toy for” vs. “not too exciting that play stops”.
  • Share your progress with us @petharmonytraining on Facebook and Instagram

 

Happy training!

Allie

 

5 Tips for Living with a Resource Guarder

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Last week I talked about normal vs. abnormal guarding, and that resource guarding in general is a pretty normal behavior. Humans are masters at it! Just because something is considered normal, though, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take steps to avoid it or treat it accordingly. So for this week I thought the logical next step would be talking about tips for living with a guarder. Check them out below. 

  1. Learn their body language. For those of you who’ve followed this blog for a while, I probably sound like a broken record when it comes to the first step. When it comes to resource guarding, there are signs before the growl, air snap, or bite. Learning these signs allows you to intervene before there’s a problem and before your pet has to use those warning signals to keep someone at bay. 
  2. Make a list of all the things they guard and share it with everyone in their life. If your pet only guards, say, raw bones, you probably don’t need to write this down. You can simply let anyone who would give your pet that item know that it’s a guarded item. However, if you have a pet who guards a lot of things from various individuals, a written list can be incredibly helpful for people like dog walkers, pet sitters, and longer-term visitors. 
  3. Create a management plan and share it with everyone in your pet’s life. Now that you know what they guard, we can look at those situations and determine how we can prevent guarding. This could be something like simply not giving your pet items they guard or picking up all the toys when the neighbor dog comes over to play. Food and item guarding is usually quite easy to manage. Space and people guarding is more challenging, and often requires a professional because it’s not as easy to manage.
  4. Don’t test your pet. There are so many things that I don’t know if Oso guards because I’ve never bothered him when he has them. If it’s a high enough value I assume it will be guarded and I leave him alone and manage as I would if I knew it were true. There’s really no reason to test instead of manage. This also goes for feeding your pets together. There’s really no need to test this when you can simply feed them in separate rooms. Management is easier and cheaper than a bite.
  5. Don’t take things from your pet. It’s fairly easy to create a resource guarder. How do you create one? Take things from them. Teach them that someone is routinely going to take their valued possessions away from them or bother them while they’re eating. More info on that here. If your pet has an item they shouldn’t have and it’s not dangerous or valuable, ignore them. Let them have it. If it is dangerous or valuable, trade them for it with treats. 

 

Now what?

  • If you’re living with a resource guarder (and we all likely are, to some extent!), go through the list and determine what your first action should be. Do you need to learn more about what body language signals to look for? Or talk with the rest of the household about your management strategy? 
  • Start in on your first action item! When that feels comfortable and sustainable, choose another action item.
  • If you’re feeling overwhelmed with where to start or how much it feels like there is to do, check out our Beginning Behavior Modification: Learn the Skills You Need to Successfully Address Your Pet’s Aggression, Anxiety, Reactivity, or Fear. It walks you through learning your pet’s body language, setting up a management plan, and more. Check it out here
  • Check out our free Resource Guarding Workshop to learn more about resource guarding specifically and some of the RG-specific foundation skills. 

 

Happy training!

Allie

What’s Ab/Normal with Resource Guarding?

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Resource guarding can be scary. Seeing your sweet pet suddenly turn into a snarling mess over a chewy or their food dish is concerning. But while it’s concerning, one of the questions that I hear more with this behavior than with others is:

Is that normal?

 

Most people would call leash reactivity abnormal. Or light chasing or excessive tail chasing are usually thought of as abnormal (and they are). The behaviors that the average person labels as abnormal are usually the ones that they don’t see as frequently, whereas the average person would likely say it’s normal for dogs to bark at the mailman or to be afraid of thunderstorms. Normal and desirable are not always one in the same. 

The answer to this question when it comes to resource guarding is a favorite answer in the animal training community: it depends. Guarding in and of itself is normal, however, there are ways that it can present which are abnormal. As with most things in behavior, it’s not so black and white. 

 

Guarding is normal

We all guard or protect things we find valuable. Human examples can include something like hiding the chocolate from the rest of your household or locking your door. Humans are incredible at guarding their stuff; we have billion dollar industries devoted to helping us resource guard better. When it comes to our children and pets, though, we often expect them to relinquish their valuables much more so than we would do ourselves. But I digress. That’s a whole ‘nother topic. 

In short, guarding is a normal, natural behavior. It’s how our ancestors survived and it’s unrealistic to expect an individual to never guard something in any circumstance ever. That said, there are healthy guarding interactions and unhealthy guarding interactions. I think this may be more what people are after when they ask about resource guarding being normal: is this particular situation abnormal vs. the entirety of the behavior. Let’s take a look at some healthy and unhealthy examples. 

 

Healthy examples of resource guarding

Two criteria that I’m looking at when I’m looking at how concerning a resource guarding scenario is are:

  • The guarder’s communication (i.e. body language, like growling) is reasonable for the threat level
  • The other individual reacts appropriately by deferring to the guarder

What this can look like:

Fido has a bully stick and is happily munching away. Rover comes over and starts sniffing the bully stick that Fido is munching on. Fido shows his teeth and growls. Rover walks away. 

In that situation Fido’s communication was reasonable in that he warned Rover to leave his bully stick alone when Rover stuck his nose into the situation (literally). Rover deferred and listened to Fido’s communication by walking away. Neither dog escalated the situation. No harm no foul in this scenario.

While this may seem concerning because Fido is growling, remember that growling is simply a form of communication. It is also natural, normal, and healthy in appropriate situations. For example, no one would likely have an issue with their dog growling at an intruder. It’s not an inherently “bad” thing. We have a whole blog post here about why growling is okay and what to do about it.  

One note: “appropriate” and “reasonable” are in the eye of the beholder. There’s not necessarily a hard and fast rule when it comes to what is reasonable in a situation and there are several factors to consider. 

 

Unhealthy examples of resource guarding

It should come as no surprise that the criteria for unhealthy guarding is just the opposite of that for healthy (plus one more):

  • The guarder’s communication (i.e. body language, behavior) is unreasonable for the threat level
  • The other individual continues pestering the guarder or escalates the situation
  • There are a lot of guarded things

Let’s look at a few examples of unhealthy guarding behavior: 

Fido is happily munching on his bully stick again. Lola comes over and starts sniffing the bully stick that Fido is munching on. Fido shows his teeth and growls. Lola attacks him. 

Hoo boy, not a good situation here. Fido is again showing appropriate warning signs for this particular threat, but Lola is having none of that and instead of deferring, ends up escalating the situation. 

Let’s look at another example, which is similar but not as severe:

Fido is once again happily munching on his bully stick. Petey comes over and starts sniffing the bully stick that Fido is munching on. Fido shows his teeth and growls. Petey backs up a few inches, then immediately resumes sniffing the bully stick. Fido once again shows his teeth and growls. Petey continues backing up and immediately resuming sniffing the stick. 

This is not as severe as the situation with Lola, of course, but poor Fido can’t eat his bully stick in peace! Petey is being pretty rude by not respecting Fido’s request for space. Let’s give Fido a rest and we’ll look at another example. 

Helga is happily munching on a bully stick. Rover walks past her, about 4’ away, on his way to the water bowl. Helga lunges forward and bites him. 

In this example, Helga’s reaction is not in line with the threat level. Rover is pretty far away and presumably ignoring her and the item while he’s on his way to the water bowl. 

Let’s look at one more scenario. Peggy and Billy were told that Colonel Sanders was a resource guarder when they adopted him, but didn’t expect it to be anything like this! He growls if someone approaches his food or water dish, a chewy he’s working on, his bed and crate, and now Peggy whenever Billy approaches. Peggy and Billy are doing their best to avoid these scenarios, but it’s proving to be very difficult and they’re now worried about what else will set him off. 

In the above scenario, Colonel Sanders is guarding a lot of things: food, water, high-value items, space, and people. While guarding in and of itself is normal, this poor kiddo is likely stressed quite a lot of the time because of how many different things he guards. And, some of those things are not as manageable as others, like people guarding. Though he’s sticking with just warning signs and Peggy and Billy are doing their best to respect his request for space, we would still label this as unhealthy if only because of how stressed everyone is in this situation. Usually when I see pets like Colonel Sanders they often have other anxiety issues as well.

One last note while looking at abnormal and normal guarding scenarios: while I used pets in almost all examples, you could easily trade out a pet for a human in each of them. Humans often escalate guarding situations, like Petey or even Lola. We often also exacerbate resource guarding by trying to prevent it. More info about that here

 

Now what?

  • If you’ve seen resource guarding with your pet, think back to one of those situations. Do NOT illicit resource guarding for the sake of observation. Was your pet’s response reasonable for the threat? Did the threat (which may be you) respond appropriately? Which above scenario fits most closely with the situation you’re thinking about? Now you may be able to answer for yourself if your pet’s guarding seems normal or abnormal. 
  • If your pet is displaying guarding behavior, manage the situations so as to not illicit the behavior. This can be as simple as picking up toys that your pets fight over or feeding pets in separate rooms and picking up the bowls when they’re done. Item guarding is often quite easy to manage. 
  • Learn your pet’s body language. There are more subtle signs of guarding going on before the growl; we just need to know what to look for. 
  • If you need help with learning your pet’s body language or thinking through a management plan, our Beginning Behavior Modification Course is here to help. It goes through all of the foundation skills you need to be successful in a behavior modification plan. This is perfect for folks who have a pet displaying normal guarding behaviors but who want to make sure everyone stays safe and help keep the behavior from escalating.
  • If you have a pet displaying abnormal guarding behavior, check out our free Resource Guarding workshop happening next month. 

 

Happy training!

Allie