Blog

December 2022 Training Challenge: Explore Enrichment Outside of Foraging

Happy December, everyone!

It is time for our final training challenge of this year! 

This month, we challenge you to explore enrichment opportunities outside of the foraging category.

One of the questions we get asked often is, “What about non-food related enrichment?” And this month, we challenge you to dive in, look at some of the other categories of enrichment, and spend some time focusing on there. 

 (Disclosure: some of the links in this blog are affiliate links. We receive a small commission for purchases made through these links at no extra cost to you. This helps us continue to put out free content to help you and your pets live more harmoniously!)

 

First, what else is there? 

 


And the answer is, so much! 

While foraging is a way that many creatures on this planet spend their time (finding and acquiring food to sustain oneself is pretty important to staying alive!), it isn’t the only thing that creatures need to survive. There is so much more when we are looking to help our pet thrive.

In Canine Enrichment for the Real World Allie and Emily outlined 14 categories of enrichment, and while foraging is one of them, it is only 1 of 14! 

 

So, let’s take a gander at the other 13!

A few weeks back, Allie wrote a stellar blog article, Dog Enrichment Categories Explained where she dives into each of the categories, gives examples, and inspiration. If you’re looking for a more in-depth description of each of these categories, make sure you check that out. 

For reference, here are the 14 categories: 

  • Health and Veterinary 
  • Hygiene 
  • Diet/Nutrition
  • Physical Exercise 
  • Sensory Stimulation
  • Safety 
  • Security 
  • Species-Typical Behaviors
  • *Foraging*
  • Social Interaction 
  • Mental Exercise 
  • Independence 
  • Environment 
  • Calming 

And of course, we need to give a shout-out to agency as well! 

 

Whoa! There are so many options! But what does my dog need? 

Now that we’ve briefly listed the categories of enrichment, the next question people most often ask is, “What enrichment should I use with my dog?”

Which is a great question, but one that frankly, I can’t answer for you without asking you a litany of questions and some trial and eval. 

There are so many factors that go into creating each individual’s enrichment plan. I have two dogs in my family, that have lived in 4 houses, in 3 states. With each move, they have different needs. With development, age, environment, location, and health their needs have changed. 

Allie discusses a couple of practical ways to explore and find what your dog needs in this blog, so make sure that you check out that blog before continuing! She went into much more depth than I will go into here, and it also includes a link to our “Are Needs Being Met? Checklist” to help guide you throughout the process of identifying your dog’s needs! 

 

Once you have an idea of where you want to focus, then you start crafting a plan! 

Start with a goal, and then ask yourself, “How can I achieve this?” 

It may be something like: 

 

“How can I help my pet be more independent?”

“How can I help my pet better self-regulate and calm?”

“How can I help my pet get their extra energy out?”

 

And from there, you trial and eval. 

 

Of course, we’ll use Griffey as an example.

Griffey has a bad back and has developed pretty intense allergies over the past couple of years. If you have heard me tell the story of Griffey, you know that we’ve tackled many challenges throughout his time with our family. We’ve worked on big responses to other dogs, discomfort around strange humans, being comfortable home alone, building lilypads of safety in the world, and generally trusting that the world isn’t full of scary monsters. 

And while there are overarching things that living creatures need (see the 14 categories of enrichment), how we met those needs shifted and changed through each of those stages of our journey. 

At this point, foraging is the smallest subset of Griffey’s plan. It’s a pretty well-oiled machine that doesn’t take much time, energy, or bandwidth from us. But we still utilize food in a lot of areas because it’s easy and effective. We are constantly teaching him new things, and for that, we may opt to utilize food rather than something else. 

So, for now, our focus is on meeting his health and vet needs, both as they are now, and how we predict what they will be in the future. 

Let’s look at some of the ways we’ve adjusted our plans in order to better meet his needs outside of foraging:

*Disclaimer: As mentioned above, each family and pet’s enrichment plan is unique to them and their situation. The details of Griffey’s enrichment plan shared below have been determined and developed with the help of Team Griffey, which includes many professionals with specialties (both medical and behavioral). None of the details below are intended as directions for your situation or may even be relevant to your pet. Work with the appropriate professional when developing a plan for health or behavior challenges to make sure that your plan is effective, sustainable, and helping you.* 

 

Health and Vet 

We’ve established with some INCREDIBLE vets to make sure that his health and veterinary needs are taken care of. This includes scheduling time with our vet so that she can become his friend before we need to do the icky things to him. We also have worked with our vet to develop a medication protocol for those visits that are just going to stink and an allergy medication regimen that takes his current skillset and self into account.

*Adding Agency* – Working on Care with Consent with the wonderful and amazing Sara McLoudrey, so that Griffey can communicate when he’s ready for things, and when he needs a break. Sara has a great Instagram here!

 

Hygiene

With the direction of the veterinarian, we developed a bath regime to help with his discomfort. 

*Adding Agency* – We worked with Griffey to make sure he was driving the bus during bath time. We swung just a bit too far, and now, we can barely keep him out of the shower 😀 

 

Diet/Nutrition

We switched from a kibble-based diet to a canned food diet to manage the storage mites (one of Griffey’s most extreme allergy triggers). This means we also had to find different shelf-stable treats to station around the house in our treat jars since kibble was no longer an option.

*Adding Agency* – Griffey and Laika’s stomachs are good when we rotate through different flavors of the same food, so they get to pick which of the blends they get for their meals.

 

Physical Exercise

We do a lot of tug in the house. Grasses are another one of his big triggers, so during certain times of year, we spend more time inside than out. 

*Adding Agency* – He gets to tell me when he’s ready to continue playing, when he needs a break, and when he needs a quick game of tug RIGHT NOW. 

 

Sensory Stimulation

We have window film up in the front room, and keep sound masking on throughout the day. After this most recent move, it took us about 2 weeks to get everything set up, and ooohweeee did it make a difference in his ability to settle. 

You can find many options for window film to meet your aesthetic. 

*Adding Agency* – We also provide quiet locations throughout the house so that he doesn’t HAVE to listen to the sound masking if he doesn’t want to. 

 

Safety

We moved into a location that has two homes in it, and the other tenant has a dog. With Griffey’s discomfort around other dogs, we put 3 layers of barriers in place and a communication system so that we can feel comfortable that the only time they will have visual access to each other, they will be supervised. We are laying down rugs/yoga mats/traction mats on all the slippery surfaces so we don’t need to worry about him slipping out.

 

Security

We have safe spaces peppered throughout the house, and gave Griffey a refresher on The Flight Cue when we moved this latest time. The window film and sound masking also apply here. 

*Adding Agency* – He has lots of safe spaces to choose from and ways to move away from his stressors. Both mom and dad are here to support him, so he gets to take his pick the majority of the time. 

 

Species-Typical Behaviors

Sniff walks, destruction, digging, and bed building are all common activities in our house. 

*Adding Agency* – Through the “Do You Wanna…” game, I can let him pick what activity he wants to participate in.

 

Foraging

We have options for various puzzle toys, sniff activities, scatter feeding, destructibles, and more. The most common ones in our house these days are licking opportunities, like lick mats, toppls, and kongs to help channel some of his licking and grooming time toward something other than himself. 

*Adding Agency* – He gets to pick the format that he gets his food in most days. 

 

Social Interaction

He gets the opportunity to have time with my partner, myself, and Laika throughout the day. My partner and I facilitate play sessions with the dogs, and we make sure we carve out time to just snuggle and be present with both dogs. 

*Adding Agency* – Again, this is where the “Do you wanna…” game comes in super handy! 

 

 

Mental Exercise

Through puzzle toys, play with Laika, and our Care with Consent training, Griffey uses that noggin quite a bit! I also keep a small dish of treats available on the kitchen counter so that throughout the day, while I’m waiting for things to finish cooking or reheating, I can easily do a quick little training session with him. 

*Adding Agency* – Griffey gets to opt in or opt out of every single one of our training sessions. If he opts out, then he gets to choose what activity he does want through the “Do you wanna…” game. 

 

Independence

We worked hard on this one, and it’s a culmination of so many other things like security, calming, and more. 

*Adding Agency* – He gets to choose how close or how far he is from us. Sometimes, he needs a little extra love and support, and that’s okay. 

 

Environment

This, like independence, is a culmination of lots of little changes in other categories. Under this, I also include our home cleaning routine to manage his allergies, which changed drastically over the last year. 

 

Calming

We work on this all the time, and we have many routines in place to work on calming and self-regulation for him. This also includes many things from other categories coming together to create that restful environment for him.  And, I’m proud to say, it was clear during this last move that he has the greatest skillset of anyone in the home at this 😀 Make sure to check out Episode 5 of Enrichment for the Real World for a deeper dive into the Calming category!

*Adding Agency* – He runs this show, we are just there to support him. 

 

And keep in mind, this is always evolving. His plan 3 years ago looked VERY different than it does today, and it looks very different than it will 3 years from now. 

 

Now What?

  • Review the 14 categories of enrichment and determine where you’d like to spend your focus. There are 13 categories aside from foraging to choose from! 
  • Although we’re talking about non-food enrichment ideas, that doesn’t mean that we can’t use food as a tool. There are many activities that I listed above that I initially trained Griffey to do using food. Determine if training with food will get you further faster in the category you chose and if so, go for it! Non-foraging enrichment doesn’t necessarily mean that food isn’t involved.
  • It’s time for trial and eval. We only know if the activity or idea we chose is the right one after we implement it and observe the effects. Put your plan into action and observe how your pet responds. You can then tweak from there!

Happy training,

Ellen 

How Do I Know What My Dog Needs?

Last week I discussed the 14 enrichment categories that we outlined in our book Canine Enrichment for the Real World. Now, sometimes when people see that list they can just take it and run with it. But I’d say more often than not, the next question I get is:

“That’s all fine and well, but how do I know what my dog needs?”

An excellent question– especially since we advocate looking at each pet as an individual! Taking a descriptive approach to enrichment means identifying what the individual in front of you needs: not what their littermates or your other pet or a previous pet needed. Our go-to, short answer is to look at what their behavior is telling you. Let’s expand on that a little more, shall we?

 

How to tell what your dog is saying

We talk a lot about body language in this blog and that’s because it’s the way to tell what your dog is saying! Are they scared? Excited? Cautious? They will tell you with their body language. 

That can be helpful for some of the enrichment categories, especially the “security” category. Becoming proficient at reading your pet’s body language will help you determine how secure your pet is feeling. But there are other categories where observing the overall behavior of your pet may at times be more helpful.

This is because behavior serves a function– a purpose. While our society often thinks of behavior as random and unpredictable, it’s really not. All individuals of all species are beholden to the laws of the behavior sciences and that means that behavior serves a function. When it stops serving a function it stops happening (kinda like how if you stop getting paid to go to work you stop working for that company.) 

When we view behavior through that lens it’s easier to see those different enrichment categories come to life through your pet’s behavior. Is your dog chewing on the furniture? Puppies often do this while teething, but adult dogs will do this to fulfill that species-typical need for chewing. Is your cat scratching the furniture? Again, scratching fulfills a species-typical need in cats. Counter-surfing is a form of foraging. Jumping up on guests is a social behavior, and may indicate a lack of self-regulation or calming skills. 

So when we say to look at their behavior to determine their needs, we mean that your pet is already fulfilling a lot of their own needs; you may just not appreciate the way in which they’re doing it. Observe what your pet is already doing and start thinking about what function- or need- that behavior could be serving. 

 


Once you can identify how they’re already fulfilling their own needs, that’s when we can create a plan to meet those needs in a way that we prefer. For example, I prefer Oso to play “find it” with me instead of counter surf. It’s all about striking the balance between what’s appropriate living in our human society, what we as humans can reasonably provide and need ourselves, and what our pets need!

Okay, I know that I’m making something that takes years of practice seem easy. “Just observe your pet’s behavior!” Yeah, I get it. It’s not so easy when you don’t have as much practice doing this as a professional does. Let’s make it even easier. 

 

The Enrichment Checklist (aka Are You Meeting Your Dog’s Needs Checklist)

When we wrote our Canine Enrichment for the Real World Workbook, we wanted to clearly spell out the process that we use when creating enrichment plans. That included creating resources to help folks do what we do even if they didn’t have as much experience with animal behavior. Thus, the “are you meeting your dog’s needs” checklist was born!

To create this checklist, Emily and I went through each category of enrichment and identified the observable behaviors we look for to determine if a need is met or not. For example, does the amount of physical activity appreciably reduce fidgeting and other boredom-based behaviors? Does your dog know how to track and/or trail scents? Are they able to self-entertain? 

The checklist itself is longer than what we can reasonably include in this post, so if you’re interested in seeing the whole thing you can find blank copies of the worksheets we include in the workbook here and the Canine Enrichment for the Real World Workbook itself outlines how to use all of those worksheets.

 

What does my dog need daily? 

Sometimes when folks see that checklist I see the panic spiral start and they ask, “Do I have to do all of this every day?” Nope! (Unless your pet’s behavior says otherwise.) I don’t walk Oso every day. We don’t train every day. We don’t even play “find it” every day. His behavior says that a few times a week is all he needs of those things to meet his needs. 

The same is true for me, too. I don’t need to go to the gym every day (that would actually be to my detriment sometimes.) I don’t need to chat with my friends daily to know they support me and if I eat a less-than-healthy diet one day, it’s not the end of the world. Yes, we all need to eat, and drink water, and sleep every day. But beyond that, there’s little that absolutely has to be done each and every single day. Again, your pet’s behavior will tell you what’s true for them. 

 

Now what?

Happy training!

Allie

Dog Enrichment Categories Explained

We get asked all the time about what the “best dog enrichment activities” are or “what enrichment should I use with puppies” and the like. If you’ve been following us, you know that our answer is, “it depends on what your individual pet needs.” But, let’s face it, that’s not a really helpful answer sometimes. 

I find that when I explain the different categories of enrichment to folks, it’s often easier for them to identify what their pet needs. It’s hard to figure it out when you don’t even know what it entails! Now, there’s, of course, more to this story so we’ll come back to further identifying your pet’s needs next week, but for now, let’s focus on the enrichment categories. 

 (Disclosure: some of the links in this blog are affiliate links. We receive a small commission for purchases made through these links at no extra cost to you. This helps us continue to put out free content to help you and your pets live more harmoniously!)

 

What is animal enrichment?

If you’ve read any of our blog posts about enrichment you know that I have to start here! The definition of “enrichment” has become muddied as it’s become more mainstream. The definition that we use here at Pet Harmony is the original, historical definition: enrichment means meeting all of an animal’s mental, physical, and emotional needs in order to empower them to perform species-typical behaviors in healthy, safe, and appropriate ways. When we think about enrichment as meeting all of an animal’s needs, that opens the doors for many more categories than folks often think of. 

 

The 14 categories of dog enrichment

These categories can be applicable to many species (in fact, we actually collated these from information about zoo enrichment and didn’t create them ourselves), but since we wrote Canine Enrichment for the Real World let’s stick to canines for this post! Since there are a lot of categories, I’ll provide a brief definition, example, and idea for each (usually of something I do with my own dog). Next week we’ll get more into how to figure out which category(ies) you should focus on with your pet. 

 

Health/Veterinary

This one’s pretty straightforward; we’re talking about physical well-being. I think of this category as anything you would take your dog to the vet for. This can include things like pain management, disease prevention, and treating diseases and injuries. I want to stress that preventative care is just as important as care for diseases and injuries. I’ve talked about our foray into canine massage therapy as a form of pain management and prevention for my senior pup, Oso, and I think it’s a great idea for any pet who is okay with being touched all over. Here’s a post with him and his newest favorite person:

 

Hygiene

This one is obviously another physical well-being category, and I think about this one as anything a groomer would do. This can include cleaning ears, brushing fur, and brushing teeth. I’ve seen some folks put nail trims in this category and others put nail trims in the Health/Veterinary category. I don’t mind either way as long as they’re on your radar in some fashion! Grooming wipes are one of my favorite, go-to, easy hygiene recommendations. 

 

Diet/Nutrition

Another straightforward category that we humans are all too familiar with! Most folks think only about meals for this category, but I also add in treats and edible chewies here, too. That’s why treat preference tests are one of my favorite activities in this category. Check out how I do those below. 

 

Physical Exercise

This is a category that many folks think of when they think of “canine enrichment”. I think it’s great that it’s on a lot of people’s radars already! There are so many examples that can go into this category, but some of my favorites are fetch, tug, flirt pole, hikes, weight pulling, and running. Oso and I are currently working on strength-building and purposeful movement as part of this category so he maintains his muscle mass as he ages. The nice thing about that means we get to work on physical exercise inside the house which is a win-win depending on the weather!

Sensory Stimulation

The category is referring to sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. While we can certainly have a pet who is understimulated in regards to their senses, oftentimes I found many who are overstimulated. There are too many sights or sounds or smells, etc. An example of this is a dog who is afraid of thunderstorms or fireworks. They would be much happier with a quieter environment at that moment! To help meet that dog’s needs, we may do something like sound masking where we play sounds or music to help drown out the offending booms. Enrichment isn’t always about more stimulation; it can be about less, too!

 

Safety

Safety means physically being out of harm’s way, regardless of how you feel about a situation. We’ve seen plenty of pets who feel safe in unsafe situations! This category can include things like removing poisonous chemicals or medications from your pet’s reach, planting safe plants in the yard, and keeping your pet on a leash while in a busy area. For Oso, this means having stairs to our bed so that he can safely get down without injuring his joints. 

 

Security

Security means feeling like you are safe, regardless of whether or not you are. This distinction is often the culprit behind many new pet parents telling me, “I don’t know why they’re afraid of me, I’ve never hurt them!” Safety and security are different. This category can include setting up safe spaces and working through fears at your pet’s pace. Oso has several safe spaces in our house and is always able to access them when he needs to. 

Species-Typical Behaviors

This is just as it sounds: behaviors that a particular species performs. Dogs dig, chew, bark, shred, and destroy. Cats scratch, meow, purr, groom, and hunt. Birds preen, shred, vocalize, and nest. Often these are the behaviors that we’re not too enamored with from our pets; we are a different species with different species-typical behaviors, after all! But just because we don’t appreciate these behaviors doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t allow them to perform them. It just means having an appropriate outlet to do so. For example, Oso loves destroying things. That does not mean he’s allowed to destroy the furniture. It means that we have DIY destructible items (made out of literal garbage) that he can shred to his heart’s content. More information on that in this blog post about DIY destructible enrichment items. 

 

Foraging

Foraging means searching for and finding food. This is a species-typical behavior, but it’s one that all species perform! If you think about animals in the wild, much of their day is devoted to foraging. Our households are set up very differently than the wild which means we need to provide foraging opportunities for our pets. This can be things like find it, snuffle mats, and hiding food puzzles around the house. Oso is a big fan of the “find it” game which I outline in this video. 

 

Social Interaction

Dogs are social animals (which is not true for all species). That does not mean, however, that there are rigid rules about which species they are social with. I’ve met plenty of dogs who care a lot more about humans than their own species and I’ve met plenty of dogs who don’t care at all about humans and love hanging out with other dogs. So while many folks only think about dog-dog interactions in this category, like playgroups and doggy daycare, hanging out and playing with their humans also fits this bill! Some dogs are not huge fans of other dogs, and that’s perfectly fine! You can get plenty of snuggle time in, instead. 

 

Mental Exercise

Here’s another category that many people think of when they think, “dog enrichment activities”. Again, I’m glad to see this coming to the forefront! Mental exercise can include training, food puzzles, and even foraging (a two-for-one!) I love trick training for this because there are so many options and it’s just more fun for everyone in my experience. Oso helps demo some activities for my clients, which I don’t count as mental exercise for him. They’re usually things he knows how to do very well and don’t require a lot of thought. However, when it’s just the two of us we work on new training activities and I can tell that that is more tiring! Here’s a cute Halloween trick we’ve been working on. 

 

Independence

Independence refers to being able to feel comfortable on your own and also being able to make decisions on your own or not having to rely on others for everything. Obviously our pets can’t be 100% independent because our human world is designed for opposable thumbs and money, of which they have neither. But that doesn’t mean we can’t help them gain more independence! Being comfortable with exploring the environment, being comfortable with being left alone, and gaining life skills are all ways that we can foster independence. We’ve done all of this with Oso, but I see it so plainly when he’s exploring the backyard. He’s confident, comfortable, and making his own decisions and problem-solving. I love watching him out there! 

 

Environment

This is a big category that involves a whole bunch of things: living in a city vs. rural area, who they live with, temperature, and so much more. There’s often overlap with the Sensory Stimulation category, and that’s okay. We talk about enrichment categories as discrete units because that’s how human brains work, but the real world isn’t so black and white. It’s more like guidelines.

When we were buying a house, we had Oso’s environmental needs in mind. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that we chose a dog whose environmental needs closely match our own. I need green and space to hang out and that’s also what he enjoys. We need a relatively quiet area and so does he. That might be an extreme example that we were able to do because we adopted Oso knowing that we were buying a house in the next few years, but there are certainly ways that you can set up your environment without moving or visiting places that work for your pet! Sniff spots can be a great option for folks who don’t have an off-leash area for their dogs. 

 

Calming

This category is one that much of the literature nestled within the Environment category and Emily and I chose to pull it out to highlight its importance for pet owners. Again, we often see overstimulated animals, and wanted to emphasize that rest and relaxation are just as important as mental and physical exercise! This can include safe spaces, relaxation protocols, massages, and anything else that induces a calm, relaxed state. We talk about that more in this podcast episode. For Oso, he uses shredding and chewing as calming activities (which are also species-typical activities, another two-for-one!) 

 

A note about agency

I can’t talk about the enrichment categories without mentioning agency: the ability to make decisions that result in desirable outcomes. Our pets need to willingly engage with activities for it to be considered enrichment (and we also need to see a change in behavior for it to truly count). Check out this blog post all about agency here and this one about when enrichment isn’t enriching here for more information on these topics. 

 

Now what?

  • If you’re brand new to enrichment as a form of meeting needs, chances are you’re a little overwhelmed! Take the next few weeks to just focus on one category at a time and identify what you already are doing to help meet your pet’s needs in that category. You’re likely doing more enrichment than you realize! If you’ve been at this for a while do a quick scan to see if you need to update any information about your pet’s needs.
  • As you go through, chances are that you’ll find a category that you think has some room for improvement (or maybe multiple categories). Choose one that you’d like to focus on and identify one activity to try first. Being systematic about this makes it more sustainable. 
  • Incorporate that activity into your pet’s plan for a couple of weeks and see if it helps to improve their behavior or gets you closer to your goals! For example, Oso jumps up on the couch better after his massage appointments and that’s getting us closer to our goals of maintaining his mobility as he ages. If an activity is making anything work, obviously discontinue immediately. 
  • If you’re looking for more about how to do this with your pet, check out our Canine Enrichment for the Real World book for theory and activity ideas and our Canine Enrichment for the Real World Workbook for the nuts and bolts of how-to. Professionals: we have a course that teaches you how to implement this with your clients, too! You can find more information about our Enrichment Master Class here. 
  • We have plenty of free enrichment information over on our Instagram and Facebook @petharmonytraining. Follow us for more!

Happy training!

Allie

Why does my pet listen to my partner and not me?

We like when our pets are predictable. Heck, we like when everything in our world is predictable! I think that’s why aside from the overarching “why does my pet do that?” question, I get asked, “why does my pet do that in relation to X scenario?” question most frequently.

Here’s what I mean:

Why does my dog listen to my husband and not me?

Why does my dog only sit for me?

Why will my cat only play with me? 

Why does my dog bite only one person in the family?

Why does my bird only bite me?

While there are many more factors that can change behavior than just the humans involved, let’s focus there for today, starting with why our pets might behave differently in different scenarios in the first place. 

 

Why animals behave differently in different situations

There are a lot of factors that set the stage for a particular behavior to occur, including age, genetics, learning history, environment, and more. If you change one factor then you’ve set up the stage differently, meaning that the behavior might be different than in another situation. Here’s a human example just in time for Halloween:

I have never barricaded myself in my house and nailed boards to my windows. 

If we change one factor- in this case, the environment is now a zombie apocalypse- there’s a very good chance that my barricading behavior will change and that I will indeed nail boards to my windows. A change in environment, whether it’s the external environment around us or an animal’s internal environment (e.g. stress, pain, etc.), is very often a cause for a change in behavior. 

Okay, that might be kind of a silly example though the premise is solid. Let’s look at one that is a little more realistic: resource guarding a credit card. While humans call it “being careful” or “protecting yourself”, we can just as easily call our behavior surrounding keeping our credit card numbers private resource guarding. Here are four different scenarios in which my behavior would change:

If my husband asked me for my credit card, I would say, “Sure, it’s in the usual place. Use the green one.” I wouldn’t check to make sure that he used the correct one and I likely wouldn’t check to make sure he put it back until I went to use it myself. 

If a store clerk asked me for my credit card during checkout, I would hand it to them, watch them perform the transaction, and expect to get my card back immediately after. I would likely even double-check that my card is in my wallet after they’ve handed it back. While I would willingly hand my card over in this situation, it’s definitely with a more watchful eye than in the previous scenario. 

If a stranger stopped me on the street and asked for my credit card, the answer would be no and I would walk away. 

If a store clerk asked me for my credit card as soon as I entered the store when I was not checking out, the answer would also be no and I would likely leave the store. 

The relationship that I have with the person matters, as does the context in which the behavior is occurring. 

While it’s nicer to think about relationships in the emotional sense, in this case, they’re a part of that “learning history” component. I have a learning history that says that my husband won’t steal from me. I have a learning history that a store clerk will ask me for my card during checkout and they will return it after the transaction is completed. My past experiences are influencing my behavior in all of these situations. 

Now that we know some of the reasons why a pet may behave differently in different situations, let’s take a look at that first scenario listed all the way at the beginning of this post: why does a pet listen to one person and not another?

 

Why does my dog listen to my husband and not me?

Whether you have a dog, cat, bird, chinchilla, or something else at home, chances are that your pet responds to one person more than another in your household. When this happens, typically it’s due to a difference in learning histories with those individuals. 

Here’s an example using the behavior of getting off of the couch when asked. 

Scenario A: Jordan asks Rover to get off of the couch, and when he does, they give him a treat. Stevie asks Rover to get off of the couch, and when he does, they say “good boy” and move on. After several months, Stevie notices that Rover gets off the couch when Jordan asks but not when they ask. 

What’s going on? It pays better to get off the couch for Jordan than it does for Stevie. 

Scenario B: Jordan asks Rover to get off of the couch. If Rover doesn’t get off the couch, Jordan asks again in the same way or tries to distract him to get off the couch. Stevie asks Rover to get off the couch. If Rover doesn’t get off the couch, Stevie will yell and drag Rover off the couch by the collar. After a few weeks, Jordan notices that Rover gets off the couch when Stevie asks but not when they ask. 

What’s going on? It’s scary not to listen to Stevie but it’s neither scary nor beneficial to listen to Jordan. 

Scenario C: Jordan asks Rover to get off the couch.  If Rover doesn’t get off the couch, Jordan asks again in the same way or tries to distract him to get off the couch. Stevie asks Rover to get off the couch. If Rover doesn’t get off the couch, Stevie will yell and drag Rover off the couch by the collar. After a few weeks, Stevie notices that Rover is growling at them whenever they approach the couch but Rover doesn’t growl at Jordan. 

What’s going on? It’s scary when Stevie is near the couch so Rover is telling them to go away, but it’s not scary for Jordan to be near the couch. 

Learning history plays a big part in how your pet responds to you in general, but it can also be a big reason why they respond differently to different people in the household. My dog, Oso, can do all of his tricks for me, but can’t do all of them for my husband. There’s no secret as to why: I taught him all of those behaviors and regularly practice and reinforce them whereas my husband doesn’t. If he were to start training Oso as much as I do Oso would respond in the same way to him as he does to me. 

That’s the great thing about learning histories; they can be changed. You don’t have to be resigned that your pet listens to your partner more than you. We can change what we’re doing to change the results! 

 

How can I use this to better train my pet?

There are a few things that I recommend when I see this phenomenon happening with my clients:

  1. Identify the difference in how you and the other person have reacted in the past, how you currently react, and anything else that’s different. Sometimes we see really big differences like one person will physically remove the dog from the couch whereas the other takes a hands-off approach. Sometimes we see quite small differences that have a big impact, like using different treats. 
  2. If it’s difficult to identify the differences, get an outsider’s perspective. Sometimes that means calling in a professional like our team, but sometimes folks can easily step into that perspective by watching videos of themselves and their household members interacting with the pet. I recommend this step even if you already have identified some differences because there may be more that you haven’t noticed before!
  3. If one person is getting better results with a pet, figure out what they specifically are doing and why it’s working. 
  4. If you’re okay with why those techniques are working, everyone can start emulating them! If you’re not okay with why those techniques are working (for example, if one person is relying on fear, frustration, or intimidation without knowing it), then develop a plan of action for what could be more effective moving forward. 

 

Now what?

  • Get cracking! Figure out a behavior that you want to work on. These are often the things you make the other person do because “they do it better” or “it works better when you do it.” 
  • Use the above steps to develop your game plan. 
  • Start working on your plan of action! Remember, behavior change takes time. And my timeline is often in months, not days. If you’re trending in the right direction then you’re doing something right. 

Happy training!

Allie

 

Enrichment Activities for Dogs with Separation Anxiety

This week, we kicked off season three of Enrichment for the Real World with an episode focused on Enrichment for Separation Anxiety, which combines two of my favorite topics. Enrichment and helping pets to be comfortable alone.

In this week’s blog, I decided to share some of my go-to recommendations for pups struggling with separation anxiety. And while this blog is tailored to folx who love a pet who struggles with separation challenges, these are great activities for any family that has a dog. They can provide benefits outside of the ones briefly discussed here. 

So let’s get into it!

 

1. Building a relaxation station 

This is a big one! Building a place where your dog can go and take a deep breath and self-regulate will help you so, so, so much in so many ways. Creating a restful environment for our pets can give them the ability to self-soothe and self-regulate without you, which is key for being comfortable at home alone and increasing their independence.  

If you’re ready to start building a relaxation station with your pet, then check out Episode 5 – Creating a Restful Environment for Our Animals and our April 2022 Training Challenge: Creating a Relaxing Environment for Your Pet. Each of those resources will dive deeper into what it means to create a relaxing environment. 

 

2. Long-term calming projects 

Many of the dogs that come to me for help with building comfort at home alone or separated are also working on building self-regulation and self-soothing skills. Long-term calming projects are an excellent way to help your pet start practicing those skills on a daily basis. 

When trying to find each dog’s optimum long-term calming project(s), I coach families to trial and eval a variety of options related to licking, sniffing, and chewing. Often dogs will turn to at least one of those activities already when they are trying to self-regulate. Providing dogs daily opportunities to practice these skills and engage in these activities can lay a foundation for you to further teach your dog self-regulation and self-soothing skills. 

Play around with the type of licking, sniffing, and chewing activities to see what is your dog’s jam, what can smoothly incorporate into your schedule, and which is most effective at helping your pet relax. 

 

 

3. Scent work 

A dog’s sense of smell is just incredible. There are very few things as “doggy” as sniffing, 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

So, all of that is to say, help your dog spend time sniffing. Sniffing, whether it is formal tracking and trailing, taking a sniffari stroll around the park, or scatter feeding can all help your dog be the doggiest of dogs, and can either directly or indirectly help them navigate the world. 

 

4. Bolstering security at home

Help your pup feel secure at home. Some of you will have pups that are completely unphased by anything when they are home. They feel safe as long as you are there and they are home. And that’s great! But, I know there are many of you that are reading this and your pet struggles with some stuff, even at home, and even with you around. I know because, well, same.

Implementing management, whether that’s window film so your dog isn’t sitting at the window exploding at every person, dog, or leaf that goes by, or turning on the TV to drown out a little of the outside nose, there are lots of small changes you can make to help your dog take a load off. It’s hard on everyone to be “on” all the time, we all deserve a little R&R. 

 

5. Foraging opportunities that have your pet practicing moving away from you 

A lot of separation-related stuff focuses on “Pup, you stay here while I leave.” But flipping the script and having your pup practice getting some distance from you in a way that is safe and fun for them can give you an excellent foundation to work from. If you have a pup that seems glued to your side, utilize puzzle toys that help your pup move away and come back, like the kong wobbler, or a water bottle with some holes *safely* poked in and some treats inside, or some treat scatters can be excellent options to practice that ebb and flow from you. 

Depending on the mode that you choose, and your dog engages with, you may also be getting some physical or mental exercise, and some species-typical behaviors. I’m all about those multi-tools!

 

But is it enriching? 

Remember, enrichment is about meeting your pet’s needs to encourage them to perform species-typical behavior in healthy, safe, and appropriate ways. By providing opportunities to engage in enrichment activities, we can help our pets be their very best selves and live happy, healthy lives. But not all activities are enriching. 

This is a fantastic list of possible activities (I know because I effectively use them with clients all the time), but if you’re anything like I was at the beginning of my journey with Griffey, you might see that list and think “I NEED TO DO ALL THAT?!” 

And the answer is likely, “no.” 

Because not all of those things will be effective for every dog out of the gate. Sometimes we need to prioritize one way for one family. Sometimes, there are other things to tackle first. You, your dog, your family, and your situation are unique, so in order to build a sustainable plan, you need to know what ACTUALLY works, and what is just MAKE work. 

And that’s something I can’t answer here, because, friend, I don’t know your specifics. But, that is something that I and the rest of the Pet Harmony consulting team help families with every single day. 

And even if the answer is, “yes, we need to do all of that.” We can help you make it sustainable and effective. Because the point isn’t to sacrifice yourself so your pet can thrive. We want everyone to thrive.

 

Now what? 

  • If you’re ready to incorporate some of these activities into your dog’s routine, then scroll back up and make a plan! 
  • If you’re ready for additional guidance and support, whether that is helping your pet learn to be comfortable at home alone, building a sustainable and effective enrichment plan, or anything else to build harmony in your home, then we’re here for you. Book a package with our consultants! 
  • And whether you’re a family living with a pet who can’t be comfortable at home alone (yet!), or a professional helping families navigate this challenge,  if you’d like even more tips when it comes to working with a pet with separation-related challenges, I’ve got you covered! Get 5 Tips for Working with Separation Anxiety Dogs here. 

November 2022 Training Challenge: Teach a New Behavior Through Shaping

I don’t know about you, but October seemed to just fly by! Let’s hop into this month’s training challenge, which is the next installment in the “ways to teach behavior” series! 

As a reminder, in September we talked about how to teach your pet something new through capturing. Capturing is waiting for your pet to do the desired action naturally and then rewarding them for doing so. 

Last month, in October, we talked about how to teach your pet something new through luring, which is utilizing a piece of food or a toy in your hand to guide your pet through the motions. 

And that means, this month, we challenge you to teach your pet something new through shaping!

Like with the last two months, I am going to use the behavior of “go to spot” or “go to bed” for demonstration, but there will be a list of additional tricks you can teach your pet through shaping at the end! 

 

And of course, let’s talk about what shaping is first!

When we are talking about shaping, we are talking about a way to teach a new behavior by reinforcing gradual or successive approximations toward the end goal. The idea is kind of like playing “hotter – colder” where you lead someone around in space by saying things like “warm, warmer, hot, hotter…” as they get closer to a spot, or “colder, ice cold…” as they get further.

It is very common to hear the term “splitting” come up when we talk about shaping. So let’s also define that as well. When we talk about splitting, we are talking about how we are going to be breaking down the steps for our goal behavior to find those gradual or successive approximations. 

If you ever had to do the exercise where you wrote instructions for an alien from outer space to make a PB&J, it’s kinda like that!

 

Teaching something through shaping can look something like this… 

And don’t worry! We are going to break all this down even more in just a bit. 

 

But first, let’s talk about why we may or may not choose to shape a behavior.

There are a lot of reasons we might suggest taking a shaping approach to teaching a new behavior. 

  1. When you start from that very first approximation and work your way up, you always have a foundation to return to. If I have 10 steps that I can use to teach my dog to do something, I have 10 ways to help my dog remember the thing we were working on! 
  2. When done well, it reduces frustration for both the teacher and the learner by increasing the rate that the pet “wins” or “gets it right”. You can get many repetitions really quickly, and hey, who doesn’t like to “win”!? 
  3. It really builds communication between you and your pet. It’s a conversation as you’re teaching. 
  4. You can teach some incredible things that would never be possible with capturing and luring. 
  5. You are always starting from a place of success and focusing on what you do want rather than what you don’t! 

All that sounds great! Why might you not choose to shape? 

  1. It does require some foundational skills, and you may need to work on those first. The teacher needs to have clear communication through their mechanics, keen observation skills, and clear consistent timing to help the learner figure things out. 
  2. While you’re gaining those skills, might you get a little frustrated, and so might your learner, and nobody enjoys frustration.
  3. It takes planning. Before you go to teach your pet something new, you need to consider what the steps of your plan might look like. 

Now, to be fair, those are all true of any time we are teaching a new behavior, and none of that is to scare you away! Shaping can be incredibly fun once you and your pet get the rhythm down! 

All right, now that that is out of the way, let’s take a look at how you might prepare to shape your pet going to spot or bed. 

 

Determining your plan

First, clearly define your goal. It could be something like, I want my pet to place all 4 feet on the blue towel.

Once you have that, I find it easiest to work backward.

So, then ask yourself, in order for my pet to place all 4 feet on the blue towel, what does my pet need to do? 

In order for my pet to lie down on the towel, they need to put 3 feet on the towel. 

In order for my pet to put 3 feet on the towel, they need to put 2 feet on the towel. 

In order for my pet to put 2 feet on the towel, they need to put 1 foot on the towel. 

In order for my pet to put 1 foot on the towel, they need to move toward the towel. 

In order for my pet to move toward the towel, they need to orient toward the towel. 

In order for my pet to orient toward the towel, they need to look at the towel. 

If we were to then reverse the order it might look like this: 

Step 1: Look at the towel 

Step 2: Orient toward the towel 

Step 3: Move toward the towel 

Step 4: Put 1 foot on the towel 

Step 5: Put 2 feet on the towel

Step 6: Put 3 feet on the towel 

Step 7: Put 4 feet on the towel

Now, keep in mind, your pet might offer something that is not on your list, and that’s okay, they aren’t robots! Anything that is “hotter” toward your goal gets marked and treated! See the example below! 😀

 

Sweet! We’ve got the plan. What next?

Get ready for your session! Grab your treats, and your clicker or marker, your towel, and call your dog over! 

Put the spot or bed down, and be ready! Most dogs will immediately look at the thing, and that’s your chance to get that first approximation and get the ball rolling! 

As soon as you see anything that is “hotter” toward your goal, mark and then delivery a treat to your pet. Even if it wasn’t something you expected, like Griffey touching the basket with his nose, and raising his paw up to the rim of the basket. You can see me working through the process with Griffey here: 

 

 

Now, I couldn’t come up with anything “new” for Griffey to practice with. We’ve done this a lot. Like a lot, a lot, so there are a couple of things to keep in mind. 

Griffey is a champion of this behavior. We’ve practiced it with a ton of things, in a ton of locations, and it has paid VERY well for him in the past. Don’t expect your pet to “get it” within a minute unless they are also super well-practiced! 

If you and your pet are new to shaping, keep it short, keep it sweet, and keep your rate of reinforcement high! 

 

And as always, some tips to help your training

  1. Minimize distractions. Shaping can really work that noggin, so try to practice in low-distraction environments. 
  2. You want to mark and treat for movement, not for stillness. If your pet stands there staring at you to do something, then toss a treat, and the second they are done, start marking and treating them for movement. Their eyes move? Mark and treat. Their weight shifts? Mark and treat. They turn around? Mark and treat. Some pets, especially those new to shaping need to be taught that trying things is what pays, not waiting for us to lead the way. 
  3. Be prepared before you engage with your pet. It can be really frustrating for our pet to be waiting for us to be ready, so be prepared before you get your pet out of their comfy spot. Plus, you don’t want to miss the opportunity to mark and treat! 
  4. You may need to split more finely than I did above, and that’s okay! The more steps you fall back on, the better! 
  5. Where and how you deliver the treat will make a difference. If you get stuck, ask yourself, can I deliver my treat in a way that will make the next approximation more likely?

 

Additional tricks or skills to teach through shaping:

  1. Crawl under something
  2. Switch the light switch
  3. Back up
  4. Peek-a-boo
  5. Reach for the sky!
  6. Close the door

 

Now what? 

  1. Decide what you’re going to teach your pet through shaping! There are so many options beyond what we listed here, and Kikopup has fantastic tutorials for so many things! 
  2. Start teaching the thing! Remember, if both you and your pet are new to shaping, it won’t look exactly like what you see in the videos, and that’s okay! It’s a learning journey for you both!
  3. Let us know on Facebook or Instagram what you’re working on! We’d love to see your progress! 

7 Fun Halloween Activities for Dogs

Holidays are best spent with the ones you love, and for many of you out there, that means your dog (or cat, or bird, or turtle). So if you’re looking for some fun things to do with your dog this Halloween, look no further! 

A note: yes, we’re the enrichment ladies. But notice that I’m talking about “Halloween activities”, not necessarily “Halloween enrichment”. Enrichment is about meeting your pet’s needs to encourage them to perform species-typical behavior and achieve desired behavioral results. While some of these activities may fit that bill for certain individuals, I doubt that all will be for all individuals. This post is really just talking about activities you can do for the purpose of fun instead of for the purpose of meeting needs. More information about this is in this blog post about When Enrichment Isn’t Enriching. 

1. Leaf pile hide-and-seek.

All you need for this one is a pile of leaves, some treats, and your dog! Sprinkle some treats in a safe leaf pile and let your dog go to town sniffing and searching for them. This is one activity that may very well prove to be an enrichment activity for your dog as it has the potential to fulfill the foraging, species-typical needs, and mental exercise enrichment categories.

2. Bobbing for toys.

A twist on the classic bobbing for apples. Fill a small container with water, put some floating toys or treats in it, and let your dog fish them out! Bonus points for dogs who already know how to get a specific toy and asking them to grab one in particular. 

3. Preference test different Halloween treats.

One of the best parts of Halloween as a kid was all of the different types of candy. It was like a neighborhood-wide candy preference test to determine your favorites. We can do the same for our dogs! Pick up some of those fun Halloween treats at your local pet store and go to town with a treat preference test! Check out the video below for how to do a treat preference test. 

4. Treat for looking at Halloween decorations.

I always wonder what dogs think about decorations at this time of year. Some of them must be pretty scary, no matter how well-adjusted they are! We can help make decorations less scary by treating our pups for looking at- but not necessarily approaching- Halloween decorations. If they want to investigate they can as long as you’re sure that the decoration isn’t going to move and startle them. 

5. Doorbell as a “place” cue.

Teaching your dog to go hang out on their bed when the doorbell rings is a useful behavior in general, but it’s especially useful during Halloween! Check out the video below for how to teach a new cue for a known behavior. 

6. Trick-or-treat trick.

This trick involves asking your pet to pick up a plastic pumpkin (in Oso’s case, a cat face) like they’re going trick-or-treating. You can teach this trick like you would any pick-up-and-hold behavior!

7. Play dead trick.

A classic trick that will have your dog rising from the grave! This is a two-part trick: 1) lie down 2) flop over on your side. Oso’s cue is “bang bang”. The first “bang” signals the down and the second signals flopping over. 

 

Now what?

  • Choose an activity that sounds like fun for both you and your dog and get started!
  • We’d love to see your Halloween activities. Tag us @petharmonytraining on Facebook or Instagram with what you’re working on!

 

Happy training!

Allie

Playing the “Do You Wanna…” Game

Last month in the blog What About Agency in Training, we focused on increasing agency within training sessions, and mentioned that this month we were going talk about ways to help your pet communicate what they want or need. 

Our pets are communicating with us all the time. Through their body language, their behavior, through the ways that they interact with the world. Taking some time to simply observe what they do throughout the day, the way that they interact with things, and how they interact with you can give you a great insight into what they need and how they ask. 

 

For example, I know that my dogs need the opportunity to destroy things. 

How do I know this? 

Left to their own devices, they destroy things. 

The shreds of cardboard and toy carcasses scattered throughout the house tell me that is something that they want or need. 

 

 

I know that Laika wants to play fetch. 

How do I know this? 

She’s shoved the ball in my hand since she was 8 weeks old, and when I toss the ball, she continues to bring it back.

But sometimes, as she approaches me with her freshly retrieved ball, and I extend my hand for her to put the ball in, she’ll turn her head and push her should into it instead. 

When she does this, she’s asking for scratches. 

 

And Griffey needs and wants to play tug. 

How do I know this? 

From the day we brought him home, tug has been an activity that leads to a much more restful pup. Through consistent and predictable tug games, he can now place the tug toy in my hand to continue the game. 

 

 

Turn away and chew on it to help himself regulate.

 

 

Or run away and lie down when he’s finished with the activity. 

 

But sometimes, we aren’t sure what our pets want or need. When we go through the basic checklist, food, water, temperature, and attention, it just doesn’t appease the gremlins.

So, we play the “Do you wanna….” game. Because even though both of the humans are in professional animal care, sometimes even we are stumped. And I do think that it is important to let your pet ask for what they want or need sometimes. By letting them communicate with us, we are giving them control over their outcomes, and agency in getting their needs met. 

 

What does the “Do you wanna…” game look like?

Great question, I’d love to tell you.

We start each sentence with “Do you wanna…” and end it with something that we’ve already taught them. This can be an activity or an object, like “play” or “broccoli”. 

Here’s an example with Laika: 

 

“Do you wanna get your ball?” → sit = nope 

“Do you wanna come here?” → stare = nope 

“Do you wanna treat?” → stare that says “I’m not mad, I’m disappointed” = nope 

“Do you wanna go outside?” → stare that chills your soul = nope 

“Do you wanna go downstairs?” – stretch in a play bow, tail wag = yes! 

We can go through the list of things we’ve taught them through our lives together, and when we get to the thing, they give us a wholehearted “YESSSSS!”

 

But my dog doesn’t know those things

Ours didn’t either! We always start by pairing the activity or object with the word we are going to use. 

That means when we teach our dogs something new for their “do you wanna…” game, we start by consistently and predictably pairing the word we are going to use, with the activity or object to follow. 

For example: 

“Go outside” → open door 

“Treat” → get and give treat 

“Downstairs” → go downstairs 

“Wubba” → offer wubba 

“Walk” → get leash

“Broccoli” → give broccoli 

“Brussel sprout” → give brussel sprout 

The options are endless! 

Be consistent (the word always means the same thing), and predictable (create a routine around each activity), and soon, you’ll be able to ask your pets “do you wanna… go outside?” 

If they say “no, thank you” continue down your list. If they say “yes, please” then outside you go! 

 

Now what? 

  • Pick 2 things to teach your pet and start teaching them THIS sound or gesture means THIS activity or object. Remember, 1 name, 1 meaning! 
  • Once you’ve taught them that THIS sound or gesture means THIS activity or object start playing the “Do you wanna…” game. If they say yes, then do the thing, if they say no, then move on! Keep in mind, the “no” is as important in this game as the “yes”. You aren’t trying to make every answer a “yes”!
  • Make sure to follow us on Facebook @Petharmonytraining and Instagram @petharmony training for more tips on finding harmony with your pet! 

Happy training,

Ellen

How Leash Reactivity Taught my Dog Flight

As a dog professional, I want to share a little secret with you. My dog is not perfect. Nor do I expect him to be, because, spoiler alert, neither am I. My dog has some traits that are less than desirable. He is sometimes more vocal than I would like. He is not shy about asking for yummies to be handed to him from the dinner table (thanks, husband for teaching him that neat trick.) He is, shall we say, an enthusiastic greeter when folks walk in the door. All of these “habits” work for him. He has been rehearsing some of the behaviors for years and years. Hello, enthusiastic greetings. He has been rehearsing others for less time. Hello, begging at the dinner table. The common thread that maintains all of these behaviors is his learning history that when he performs x, y, or z behavior, a consequence will very reliably follow. Sometimes it’s someone’s attention, sometimes it’s a tasty dinner morsel. There is really no mystery or magic to it. 

As his guardian, I have to decide which behaviors are tolerable to me and which ones aren’t. If I decide that a behavior is tolerable, well that’s pretty easy. Life marches on. However, if a behavior is intolerable, then I need to get to work and decide on a course of action that is going to help both of us. Again, no mystery or magic. Just good old-fashioned strategizing, implementation, monitoring, adjusting, and then, (and here is sometimes the hardest part of all), reliably maintaining the new replacement or alternate behavior. Because I’m human and sometimes I get sloppy. Or I am feeling lazy. And sometimes, I just don’t want to have to think about it. I just want…………a break. 

 

Can you please just stop yelling? 

So, here is the most undesirable behavior my dog used to exhibit that I found intolerable: he used to yell at all of the dogs he saw on our walks. All………of………them. Loudly and with gusto. This inability to see other dogs while on leash (for some dogs it’s people or cars, or bikes, etc.) without telling them off is commonly referred to as leash reactivity. Typically, telling other dogs off looks like lunging at the end of the leash, barking, growling, snapping, and I would assume in my dog’s case, landing a bite if we were close enough (which I made sure of never being.) 

This behavior was intolerable to me because it was not safe, it was not peaceful, and quite honestly, it was embarrassing. I mean to tell you, I got some looks. Actually, I got a lot of looks. It wasn’t my dog’s fault. He had been aggressed by an off-leash dog and so he thought he wasn’t safe. And just like his begging at the dinner table works, the dogs that he barked at always moved away from him because, rightfully so, people would always turn away from the snarling and snapping dog at the end of my leash. My dog’s behavior was being reinforced because it afforded him the distance he needed (other dog moving away) to feel safe. And even though the behavior felt intolerable to me, it served an important function for my dog. I knew I needed to help him find a more appropriate and peaceful way to keep the function of the behavior (increase in distance) that would also help maintain my sanity while I was helping him learn that other dogs on leash were nothing to be worried about. So, I did the only thing any reasonable dog parent would do. I taught him how to take flight. 

 

Fly Dog, Fly

Ok, I didn’t really teach my dog to fly in the traditional sense of what it means to aerodynamically launch into the atmosphere and soar amongst the clouds. But I did teach him a new skill set that included choosing flight as an option as opposed to “fight”  when he saw another dog on our walks. The flight that he was taught meant that he didn’t need to yell at dogs to get them to move away because he could choose to move away himself. He would have the agency to gain the distance away from other dogs that he desired in a more socially acceptable way. That was a Big Win for both of us! Because instead of dreading our walks I could now focus on teaching my dog that the sight of other dogs was actually a predictor of something great instead of the predictor of something awful. 

This training took place a few years ago and I am happy to report that my dog has exponentially improved on our walks. He rarely ever needs to yell anymore. He mostly ignores other dogs on our walks. Every once in a while he will still have an explosion but there are almost always very valid reasons. Usually, it is when the other dog is being a little too intense with their body language or the dog appears around a blind corner and startles us both. There are not a lot of things I can do to control either one of those unfortunate situations but what I can do is give my dog his flight cue and away we walk in a different direction with fluidity and confidence. He gains the distance he desires and I have the peace I desire. Another win! 

Flight training isn’t anything new under the sun (very little is when it comes to how learning and behavior works.) But it is a fairly simple thing to teach and more importantly to maintain. Because if you go back to my first paragraph, you will remember that I said a learned alternative or replacement behavior requires maintenance or it can be extinguished from our pets’ behavioral repertoire. And we can see a resurgence of the old, undesired behavior. I also admitted that I can sometimes be sloppy, lazy, or just want a break as a trainer. The good news is that my dog’s flight cue is so firmly ingrained in both my dog’s and my muscle memory, that I don’t really have to think about a thing and neither does he. Think of how you’ve reliably trained your dog to sit in a variety of situations. It’s kind of like that, only the desired outcome has bigger stakes. If my dog can continue to move away from his stressors without a scene, then our walks are more frequent and more enjoyable for us both. And that, my friends, is what it is all about. Enjoying time together and building a stronger relationship that benefits us both. 

 

Now What? 

  • If you’d like to learn more about Flight Training in general, check out Episode 16 – Flight Training Mini-Sode of the Enrichment for the Real World podcast
  • If you have a dog with leash reactivity one of the skills to focus on is learning canine body language. I know we might sound like a broken record at Pet Harmony because we state the importance of this so often, but really all successful behavior modification starts and ends with being fluid in “reading dog.” I often tell my clients that the greatest skill set I can teach them has nothing to do with mechanics, timing, or the delivery of reinforcement. It is sharpening their observation skills and learning how their dog (and the species as a whole) communicates. 
  • Be patient with your dog and kind to yourself. Even though you might be on the receiving end of some judgemental and disdainful looks from other folks, I assure you that leash reactivity most often comes from a place of fear on your dog’s part. Teaching your dog that they are safe is paramount to improvement. 
  • If walks are too hard for you and your dog right now, Canine Enrichment for the Real World has a whole lot of information on ways to help your dog be the best they can be. You can also join our enrichment-focused Facebook group:  Enrichment for the Real World  
  • Hiring a behavior professional to help you and your dog learn to “take flight” and feel safe can be a really great way to help you and your dog navigate walks in a more relaxing and enjoyable way for you both. Reach out to Pet Harmony if you need help with leash reactivity or any other troubling behavior. We are here to help in any way we can! 

Happy training,

MaryKaye

October 2022 Training Challenge: Teach Your Pet Something New Through Luring

I hope y’all are having a smooth transition into fall! With the start of October comes the next in our series of training challenges about ways to teach a behavior to our pets. This month, we’re going to talk about luring! 

This month, we challenge you to practice your training skills by teaching your pet a new behavior through luring!

Last month, we talked about capturing as another way to teach a behavior to our pet. In case you missed it, make sure to check out how to Teach Your Pet Something New Through Capturing, too! 

Just as I did in the capturing blog last month, for sake of demonstration, I’m going to keep the behavior the same (go to a spot or bed), but stick around until the end of this blog post for suggestions of other behaviors that you can teach commonly through luring!

Let’s get into it! 

 

First, let’s talk about what luring is. 

Luring means having a treat (or toy, etc.) in your hand and moving that hand in a way that when your pet follows they perform the desired action. For example, to get a pet to sit via luring you’d move the lure hand up over their head and as the head goes up the butt goes down. Or, as you can see in this video, Allie is luring Oso from a sit to a down:

 

Luring is an easy way to start teaching a lot of things as most pets and their people do well with it. But, like with all things, there can be some downsides! 

One of the complaints we get most often from families that have taught things through luring is that their pet will only do it when they have a treat in their hand. And this is an extremely common challenge! While luring may look very simple in execution, to do it well, and to fade the lure (remove the lure from the picture), can take some finesse and skill! In order to make sure that the lure isn’t solidified as part of the picture, we often recommend practicing 2-5 times, then removing the lure from your hand. 

The thing to remember with luring is to fade the lure quickly so you’re not stuck having to have a treat in your hand forever. So, what might that look like? Check out the video below to see a demonstration of how we might teach a dog to go to a spot, or bed, with a lure! 

*Welcome to a behind-the-scenes look at the chaos that is my office :D*

 

 

I always recommend starting by testing your lure without any agenda. Does your dog follow the lure? Are you able to move while holding the lure (this isn’t just a dog skill!)? 

Lure your pet once, and when they *do the thing* give them the treat. 

Lure your pet a second time, and when they *do the thing* give them the treat. 

Repeat with nothing in your hand, but with your hand in the same position, and if your dog *does the thing* mark and give them a treat! 

If your dog doesn’t *do the thing*, then lure one or two more times and then try again with an empty hand. 

 

Tips to Help Your Training 

  1. Start simple! This may be a new skill for you and your pet, and if that’s the case, don’t try to lure them over some complicated obstacle course, start small, like taking 1 or 2 steps, or going to bed. 
  2. If your pet turns away from the lure in your hand, it isn’t going to be very effective. This can happen for a number of reasons ranging from your lure not being of appropriate value, or even pets learning that lures predict unfortunate things for them (Kathy and Emily talk in depth about this in Episode 19 – Kathy Sdao: Food Motivation Myths around the 37-minute mark!) You may need to start teaching there rather than with a trick! 
  3. Avoid luring your pet into a situation where they will be uncomfortable (also discussed in Episode 19 – Kathy Sdao: Food Motivation Myths!) If you aren’t sure if your pet is uncomfortable or not, brush up on your pet’s body language. Some of our favorite dog and cat body language resources are here, and this is one of our go-to resources for parrot body language.
  4. Whenever teaching something to your pet, start in a low-distraction environment. It will make things easier for you and them.
  5. Be prepared before you engage with your pet. It can be really frustrating for our pet to be waiting for us to be ready, so be prepared before you get your pet out of their comfy spot. 

 

Additional tricks or skills to teach with a lure: 

  1. Treat magnet – this is a staple in the Yoakum household and Hannah does a great job of walking you through the process in this blog! 
  2. Spin 
  3. Dig 
  4. Peek-A-Boo! 
  5. “Reach for the sky!” 
  6. Army crawl
  7. Figure 8 between legs
  8. Walk over something 
  9. Two or four paws up on something 
  10. Nod your head

 

Now What? 

  1. Decide what you’re going to teach your pet through luring! There are so many options beyond what we listed here, and Kikopup has fantastic tutorials for so many things
  2. Practice with your pet following the lure before you try to use it as a tool. Some pets will have a harder time with that initial step, for any number of reasons, so practice that first. 
  3. Don’t forget to have fun! If you find yourself getting frustrated or overwhelmed, take a break and do something that both you and your pet find enjoyable. 
  4. Tag us on our Facebook or Instagram to let us know what you’re up to!