What Do We Mean When We Say “Observe Your Pet”?

We use that phrase a lot. 

“Observe your pet.” 

But, it can be helpful to better describe what we mean when we say to “observe your pet” because if we’re being honest, that’s a pretty nebulous statement.

When we talk about observation we’re talking about using your senses to gather information about your pet. Your pet is a dynamic individual with preferences, ways of communicating, ways of moving, and ways they engage with the world! 

We can set up specific situations to learn more about our pets. Things like preference tests can be fantastic ways to learn your pet’s preferences. We can try different things to see how they respond in deliberate and intentional ways. But we can also take the time to engage our senses and learn about our pets as they navigate their day-to-day life. 

And a side note: it’s important to tailor your observation practice to the skills you find most reliable and/or practical for yourself and your pet. Each relationship is unique, and what works for my pets and me, may not be the best place for you to focus. All humans have different faculties and perceptive ranges, and all pets are unique in the way that they express themselves (both based on learning history and physical morphology). 

Without my corrective lenses, I cannot see the slight furrow of Griffey’s brow or the tightening of Laika’s eyes. Once my corrective lenses come off, I need to rely on very different indicators, like my dog’s ear positions (because, let’s be honest, their ears a huge), vocalizations, and their muscle tension.

So, let’s get into it!


What do you see?

We often use vision to collect a ton of information about the world. It is a sense that many people rely on to navigate their world and to get to know their pets. 

I am able to see where my dogs choose to spend time, and then, I am able to use that information to help make them their perfect safe spaces. I guess I could also “feel” this by tripping over them or sitting on them, but that’s definitely not ideal!

I can see when they walk up the stairs a little slower or are moving a little differently and then I can touch base with our veterinarian. I can also listen to hear how their feet sound as they go up the stairs, or if they wore tags, how they jingle.

I can see their body language as the world moves around them and then I can help make adjustments to help them be more comfortable, like putting on sound masking or closing the blinds. I can also use their muscle tension if I have my hand on them. We spend a lot of time snuggling, so if I feel their muscles tighten, I can use that as information that they need some adjustments.

I can help give my dogs activities that promote rest and relaxation throughout the day by observing the changes in the way they spend their time. I can also hear rest and relaxation in the form of deep breathing and occasional snoring.

The amount of information we can gather through watching can be overwhelming so here are some prompts to get you started and some examples from my own pets:

Who does your pet choose to greet throughout the day? 

What activities does your pet choose to engage in during the day? 

What toy does your pet use the most often? 

Where is your pet choosing to spend their time? 

Does your pet spend more time in one spot than another? 

Does your pet choose one bed over another? 

How is your pet engaging with their toys?

How is your pet engaging with the enrichment opportunities you are providing? 

How does your pet move? 

Do you see changes in their coat or skin?

Do you see changes in the way that they move? 

When do you see signs of stress?

When do you see signs of joy? 


What do you hear?

The way our pet sounds can give us so much information about the way our pet is feeling, moving, or experiencing their world.

For example, I know that when I can hear my dog’s bellies making noises, Laika is going to be much more sensitive to space invasions, and Griffey is going to be much more restless. 

I know the difference between Griffey’s “HOOMAN! OPEN DOOR” and Griffey’s “HEY, HOOMAN, WE IN TROUBLE!” and Griffey’s “HOOMAN! YAY!” barks. Laika has both a play growl and a “please, no” growl. 

Here are some prompts to get you started: 

How do your pet’s feet sound during different activities? When they are running, playing, or meandering? 

Can you hear their nails tapping on the floor? 

What do their different vocalizations sound like? 

When do you hear growling?

When do you hear rapid, sharp barking?

When do you hear deep woofing?
How does your pet’s breathing sound? Can you hear any changes?

How much does your pet typically snore? Is that increasing?

Do you hear their stomach making noises? 

Are you hearing anything abnormal, like coughing, sneezing, or that awful jump-out-of-bed-with-record-speed retching? 


What do you feel?

In general, we’re a pretty handsy species, so it is really common for us to spend a lot of time touching our pets (unless they are not fans of it). You can use your normal petting, scritching, and snuggling routines (again, as long as your pet consents to this! You can check out petting consent tests here.) to learn a lot! 

How tense are your pet’s muscles? 

How does their breathing feel?

Can you feel their pulse?

How does their coat feel?

Do you feel any new lumps or bumps? Or have any known lumps and bumps changed?

How is their breathing or muscle tension changing? 

How much tension is on the leash? 

How close to them are you? 

Can you feel what position they are in (sitting, lying, standing..)? 

Do you tense up when you touch something specific? 

Are they touching you (Laika greets us with an ever so gentle nose boop to the calf)?


What do you smell?

And this is the last one we are going to cover because, well, I’m not sure how the sense of taste would fit into all of this. Aside from trying the occasional dog treat, it isn’t a sense I engage much when it comes to my pets. 

But smell can give you a lot of information, whether you want it or not. I’m sure we’ve all had the “Ew, what is that?” to turn around and see our dogs with the biggest, the silliest smile on their face.

So, again, here are some prompts to get you started: 

How does your dog normally smell?

Do they smell different today? 

Does their urine or feces have a different odor than normal? 

Do they leave a trail of odor as they walk past?

Does their breath smell different than usual? 


Get curious

So, you’ve taken the time to observe your pet and utilize your senses to gain information, maybe even learn new things about them. Now what? 

Get curious! You can start asking yourself why that is the way that it is. You can start to play with things to learn even more about your pet. Let’s look at an example:

We have two mats in our kitchen, one is Griffey’s actual mat that has traveled to many locations with us, and the other is a bath mat that sits in front of the dishwasher. Over time, we noticed that Griffey spends more time, and relaxes more deeply on the mat in front of the dishwasher. So the question became, why? Is it because the sound of the running dishwasher provides some relief? Is it because he prefers the bath mat to his dog mat? Is it because it is closer to the action? Or is it because the bath mat is on the heated floor? After testing different variations, we learned that it was in fact the heated floor. 

And that helped us to craft a cozy nest for him so that we could get a little extra space when resting on the couch. 

From all the things you observed, now you can ask more questions, and learn even more about your pet. 


Now what?

  • Take the time to observe your pet. Use your sense to gather some new information about them! The prompts above are just to get you started! 
  • Get curious about something your pet does. Why is that your favorite toy? Why do you frequently pick that bed? You may be surprised at what matters to your pet!

Happy training,


That’s What Your Behavior Consultant is For

I’ve worked with a lot of different professionals in both my personal and professional life. Until recently, I thought that I needed to know what I wanted the professional to do for me before I hired them. I knew my problem (well, at least I thought I did). I researched solutions and knew what solution I wanted (well, at least I thought I did). Then I would find a professional who would perform the solution that I wanted for what I understood was the problem. 

See, I’ve always been taught that if I have a problem I need to also come up with a solution before asking for help. I don’t really know exactly where I learned that from- society, family, school, who knows- nor did I realize that I was behaving with that particular thought process. But, boy, did my behavior say that I thought that way. 

Until we were working with a professional and I didn’t have the answer. It was someone working on an aspect of business that was still fairly new to me and I hadn’t done my usual research-a-thing-to-death-before-deciding-I-needed-to-hire-a-professional thing. She was recommended by a trusted colleague and so I hired her without my usual research fanaticism. And that meant that I didn’t even know what I didn’t know. I couldn’t even feign an answer. 

Finally, after much deliberation, I went back to her and said, “I have a problem with this thing but I don’t have any suggestions on how to fix it.” Her response was exactly what I’ve apparently been needing to hear my whole life. She said, “I don’t expect you to have suggestions or solutions. That’s my job. You just need to tell me what you want fixed.”

Many months later, I still think of this interaction. It’s allowed me to work more cohesively with other professionals. I’m now able to say, “I have a problem and I’m coming to you with it so you can solve it since I can’t.” Honestly, it’s made my life a whole lot better.

Why am I telling you all of this? What on earth does this have to do with pet behavior consulting and training? Well, now that I’ve identified this trend in my own behavior, I’ve started seeing it with my clients, too. I see clients who have researched the bejeezus out of their pet’s behavior. They think they know what the problem is. They think they know what the solution they want is. Sometimes I agree with their assessment; sometimes I don’t. And sometimes, I see that this thought process is really getting in their own way of making progress. Just like it did (and sometimes still does) for me. So for all of you out there who are like me, this one’s for you.

How this can get in the way of progress

There are a few different ways that I see this particular human behavior get in the way of making progress on their pet’s behavior modification plan:

  1. Misidentifying the problem means researching the wrong solutions. Sometimes that means you have to unlearn the incorrect thing and then relearn the correct one. That takes extra time. 
  2. Solutions aren’t necessarily cut and dried when it comes to something complex like behavior change, which means the chances of coming up with the correct solution are slimmer for non-professionals. 
  3. Misidentifying why something works can cause someone to go for incorrect solutions for seemingly similar behaviors that are actually quite different. 
  4. Waiting longer than necessary to start working with or communicating problems with a professional. 

There are plenty more behaviors that I see getting in the way that appear to be along this same vein, but this list is sufficient for now. It’s kind of vague, though. So let me give you a real-world example that I see all the time. 

Fido barks. A lot. At everything! Fido’s body language is saying that he’s usually uncomfortable when he’s barking, but his pet parent, Jane, hasn’t learned how to read canine body language yet and so isn’t aware of that factor. Jane gets on the Google machine and searches “How do I get my dog to stop barking?” There are a whole bunch of articles that talk about how to decrease barking. Jane tries a few tactics, which either don’t work or seem to make the barking worse. What gives?! She’s now at her wit’s end and reaches out to a professional for help. 

After thorough history-taking, the professional identifies that Fido is barking because he’s uncomfortable. Jane hears this and tells the professional that she wants to help Fido feel more comfortable and teach him that the world isn’t so scary. They spend the rest of the session discussing how to help Fido feel more comfortable in the world and spend very little time talking about the barking that caused Jane to book the appointment in the first place. The professional does assure Jane, though, that Fido should bark less when he feels more comfortable. 


What you actually want is going to dictate what you should actually do

In the previous example with Jane and Fido, we see that Jane is actually more concerned about Fido feeling uncomfortable than she is about the barking. She cares more about him feeling confident and comfortable in the world than she does about stopping the barking. Especially if Fido feeling confident is going to naturally decrease the barking! 

That means the solutions the professional will provide for Jane are going to be about helping Fido’s comfort levels and will be less about the barking. Jane should have actually Googled how to help her dog feel more confident! But she wouldn’t have known that without a professional helping her through that discovery. 

On the flip side, let’s say Janet has the same problem with her dog, Fluffy. The only difference is that Janet isn’t as concerned about Fluffy feeling comfortable as she is about the barking after hearing the same thing from the professional. She really just wants the barking to stop. The solutions that Janet goes for will likely be different than Jane’s because they actually want different things. 


What you actually want is going to dictate what professional you should go with

It should come as no surprise to those of you who have interacted with us or our content before that here at Pet Harmony we care about the learning experience from both the human and the pet’s perspective. We want everyone- regardless of species- to feel confident, comfortable, and empowered through an empathetic learning journey. And that means we tend to attract the Janes of the world. Now, that’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with Janet or that she’s a bad person. It just means she’s not going to connect with our material in the same way that Jane will. And that’s okay! Maybe we’re not the right fit for Janet.  

When you’re searching for the right professional for you, you need to find someone who cares about the same things you do. If you want someone who is going to build your pet’s confidence you need a professional who cares about your pet’s mental health. If you want someone who is going to help keep your family safe you need a professional who cares about safety. 

So how do you do this? If they provide free content like a blog, podcast, or social media, then check out their content. You’re not necessarily looking for how to fix your problem; you’re looking for the things that the professional cares about. Are they talking about the things that you care about? Or are they talking about things that you don’t particularly care about? 

I personally think free content is a great window into what someone cares about, as someone who writes a lot of free content! I get to choose the topic and how I talk about it without thinking about engaging in a back-and-forth conversation, which means I’m more likely to share my beliefs unfettered. That’s not always an option, though, so talking with your next potential professional can be a great option, too!

If you’re already working with a professional, you likely already have some insight as to how they put their beliefs into action. If you’re vibing with how they’re responding to your case, awesome. If you have a feeling that something just isn’t quite gelling, start by talking to them about it. Sometimes it’s a miscommunication issue that can be solved. Sometimes they may just not be the right fit for you. 


When you find the right professional, you don’t need to come up with the solutions

When you’re working with a professional who values the same things that you do, you can trust them to come up with the best solution and that means you won’t have to do it yourself! It’s actually often better that way. Not only is it the reason you’re paying them and less work for you, but it sometimes means it’ll be easier for you to accept their solution. When we envision something going or working one way and then someone gives us another option, it takes a moment for us to get on board no matter how good that option is. Humans are just quirky that way!

The amazing thing about this is it frees you up to be more open about problems or issues you’re having. You no longer have to think about a solution before communicating with your professional! You get to just discuss with them and let them work their magic. 


Now what?

  • Are you someone who feels like you have to have a solution before you can come to a professional with the problem? Me too. Identifying and admitting this behavior is the first step. 
  • If that’s you, your next step is to make sure you’re working with the right professional. They’re going to be the person who has the same values as you! Actually, this step is important regardless of whether you find yourself having to have solutions before communicating problems! 
  • Then, discuss any issues you’re having with the professional. Be open to whatever solution they pose. It may be very different than what you would have come up with- and that’s a good thing! If you knew how to fix it you probably would have done so already. 

Happy training,


March 2023 Training Challenge: Find a Fun Way to Practice Your Observation Skills

If you’ve been following the Enrichment for the Real World podcast, you already know that observation skills have been a frequent topic!

And, let’s be real, it’s always a frequent topic here at Pet Harmony.

Observation skills will help you in so many ways when developing an enrichment plan and living with your pet. 

As Dr. Friedman said in their podcast episode: 

“Being able to observe carefully, that there are other ways to meet outcomes that include the learner in their own path. I don’t know how you can do that without observing well. And being again, we’re, you know, it is full circle. You and I always end up back in the origins places because they are the underpinnings. This is the natural science, this is our gravity. Is that your outcomes are better when you are in conversation with the learner, when you are in dialogue, not monologue with the learner.” 

Strong observation skills unlock the opportunity to involve your pet in their care, offer and increase agency, provide enrichment that makes a difference, see the subtle changes in your pet over time, and have a conversation WITH them. 

We tend to focus a lot of our discussion of observation skills around communication with pets, learning their body language, creating a dialogue between us and them, but observation skills benefit more than just your communication, and you can build those skills in a variety of ways. 


So, this month we challenge you to find a way that to build those observation skills that you find fun! 


Let’s talk about some activities that have helped me, and other members of the Pet Harmony team practice and hone their skills of observation, and how they helped us. 


1. Puzzles 

Puzzles can be a great way to practice your observation skills! When working with another living creature, one of the things we often need to do is filter gigantic amounts of information. What is happening in the environment? What is my pet telling me? What is my pet doing? What am I doing? What am I telling my pet? What do we do next? 

It can be a lot! 

Puzzles are an excellent way to practice scanning the pieces to find *the right piece*, to practice filtering information and putting it together, to practice matching *this* to *that*. 


2. Where’s Waldo?

Again, living with another creature, and just generally navigating the world requires us to filter so much information. Hidden object games, or Where’s Waldo are a great way to practice looking for specific information. It can help you identify new ways to look for things. Looking for a trumpet, but aren’t finding the color? What about the shape, or any small accents added to the image? Can you identify 5-10 different characteristics of the item, object, or creature?

If you want to take it a step further, you can try noticing small things your pet does. Great starter options are to notice when your pet sighs, goes to their spot, or insert something here that you love that your pet does.


3. Spot the Difference 

This is an oldie, but a goodie! Spot the difference activities can be a fantastic way to hone your observation skills! Static images, and even finding easter eggs in media (Psych pineapple, anyone?) can be low-stress ways to flex that observation muscle.


When working with other creatures, I often ask myself, “What is different?”

What is different in their body language? What is different in the environment? What am I doing differently? How does their response differ between these two activities? How does their response differ between these two different situations? What is different in their movement?

One of the questions we get all the time is along the lines of “Why does my dog bark at some people and not others?” Or “Why is my dog comfortable in the crate as long as the door is open?” 

And, a great place to start is to ask yourself, “What is different about these two situations?” 

Here are two videos of Griffey. He’s vocalizing in both, but ask yourself, what are the differences between these two videos? 


What body language do you see?

What differences do you notice in the environment?

What differences do you hear in the vocalization? 


4. Marking for *something* 

If you’re looking for a refresher on what “marking” is when we are teaching our pet something, check out this video:

In order for a marker to be effective, we need really clear and consistent timing. The good news is that we can practice that without our pet! 

You may decide that you are going to “mark” each time the actor in the show blinks, or when a bird lands on the tree outside, or you can even make it a family game! 

Games like Slap Jack practice reacting quickly to specific criteria, which is exactly what we are looking for in training. 

If you’re really looking to challenge yourself, grab some dice, and play with a friend. One person rolls the dice, and the other person “marks” for a set of criteria. You can make it as simple or difficult as you want: mark for 2, mark for even, mark for odd, mark for divisible by three. If you really want to up the ante, pull out some D20! 

For one of our skill-building exercises, we even had Emily read Green Eggs and Ham and the rest of us needed to “mark” each time Emily said, “Sam I am”. And I’ll be honest, I’m much better at visual criteria than auditory! 


5. Bird or Nature Watching 

There is so much to observe and investigate in nature. Learning to tell different species of plants or animals apart takes strong observation skills. Learning to identify the different calls of animals in nature can be an excellent way to improve your auditory observation skills. 

It allows you to practice identifying sequences as well. In Dr. Susan Friedman’s podcast episode, they talked about their experience learning how to tell when California Condors were about to take flight.

It takes time to learn those small changes, but over time, you’ll be able to better predict what will come next. Knowing the precursors to your pet barking, running, or jumping can make the process so much easier! 


6. Drawing, painting, and/or creating 

Through projects like drawing, painting, and just general creation, you can practice that attention to detail. While this may take some additional skill building, learning to turn your attention to small details and differences, troubleshooting why something is just *a little off*, can help you cultivate a skill to troubleshoot when things aren’t just quite going as planned in your enrichment plan. 


7. Video Games 

Shoot, through video games, you can practice all these skills and more. From noticing subtle changes in the environment to learning patterns of behavior from other players or foes, and fine-tuning your timing, video games of all sorts can be valuable tools for improving your observation skills. There is something for just about everyone out there, so play around with your options! 


Now What?

  • Find something that sounds like fun to you! When we find something fun, cup-filling, and engaging, we are more likely to actually *do the thing*, and build those skills!

Happy training!




5 Questions to Ask to Find the Right Dog Behaviorist, Behavior Consultant, or Dog Trainer

It’s been said many times, but it bears repeating: the animal training fields are unregulated. What this means is that there are no requirements in order to declare yourself a dog (or bird, horse, etc.) trainer or behavior consultant, start a business, and charge people money for your services. And while the term “behaviorist” is typically reserved for professionals who have a higher-level degree in one of the animal behavior fields, it’s colloquially not used that way which adds further confusion. 

As a result, this profession is a lot like the Wild West. There’s a wide variety of methodologies, ideologies, and levels and types of expertise, but little to no professional accountability. This can make it scary and overwhelming to find good help if you need it. So many behavior professionals out there! And most of them sound very impressive and persuasive! But how do you know? Who can you trust? Who is telling the truth, and who isn’t? Who is effective and who isn’t? This is particularly daunting if you’ve already been burned, and wasted time and money on services that weren’t helpful to you. It takes a lot of bravery and determination to venture back into the Wild West when you’ve already been burned by it.

Despite these uncertainties, there are tools available that can increase the likelihood of finding a professional who can help you and your pet(s) in an efficient and compassionate way. And, in my humble opinion, the best tool in that particular toolbox is one that might sound as daunting and overwhelming as finding the right behavior professional for you! Hopefully, though, you won’t feel that way by the time you’re done reading this article.

The tool I’m referring to is a crucial component of critical thinking skills called epistemology, but you really don’t need to remember that word if it’s off-putting to you. Another way to think of epistemology is “the theory of knowledge”. In other words: what do we actually know? And how do we know that what we know is true? How can we identify reliable, accurate information and distinguish it from misinformation and misleading half-truths?

By taking an epistemological approach to selecting an animal behavior professional, you don’t need to become a behavior expert yourself! You just need to learn how to ask yourself these five questions while looking for the right behavior professional for you:


Let’s break each of these questions down and talk about how they apply to finding the right behavior professional for you:


#1. Does the teacher have the qualifications they claim to have?

Because this is an unregulated profession that lacks a clear process for how and what to learn, what competencies to develop and demonstrate, and what kind of assessment process qualifies you to work as a professional within it, individuals and organizations within the field have come up with a seemingly endless list of letters that a person can put at the end of their name. It can make your head spin! Even people within the field struggle to keep track of them all.

But these letters don’t carry equal weight and validity, nor do the titles that go along with them.

Let’s take a look at the various types of titles that you might run across:


College degrees

There are a number of academic fields that can, at least in part, prepare someone for work as an animal trainer or behavior consultant. However, these degrees and their associated titles can be abused or misused in this profession.

For example, just because a person has a PhD at the end of their name doesn’t mean that their degree has anything to do with animal behavior, and therefore does not make them more or less qualified to work in this field. A person with a PhD in botany, for example, may be quite knowledgeable about botany. They may even be quite knowledgeable about animal behavior! But their PhD does not indicate competency in animal behavior.

The other side of that coin is where people give themselves misleading titles that indicate a formal education they do not possess. It is not uncommon to see on a dog trainer’s website that they claim to be a behaviorist, or an ethologist, or a psychologist, or any number of other, similar titles when in fact they have no formal education in any related field.

Action item: check their website to see what, specifically, their degree(s) are in.


Professional certifications

There are a few professional certifications available to animal trainers. These are created by certifying bodies (organizations) which have created a clear rubric for what competency looks like for each certification they offer. People have to go through some kind of assessment process (usually an exam, with or without submitting videos of their training, submitting a client log, submitting case studies and scenarios, or other demonstrations of competency) which is submitted and graded anonymously to prevent the examiner’s bias for or against the individual from influencing their assessment.

It is rare, but every once in a while you may encounter a trainer who claims to have a certification they don’t actually have, or will make up a certification altogether. For example, we once encountered a trainer who claimed to be a certified behavior consultant through Pet Harmony, even though this person had never been through any of our courses or programs–and even if they had, we don’t offer certifications of any kind!

Action item: Do a web search to find the organization that offers the certification. Because several professions may use the same letters, you will probably have to be somewhat specific in your search (e.g. “CDBC dog certification”). Then look at their directory to confirm that the professional you’re looking at is, indeed, listed.


Technical certifications

By far and away, these are the most abundant types of certifications available in this profession. Unlike professional certifications, any behavior professional can create a course or a program of some kind and then create a certification for it. They typically operate alone, therefore lack the professional consensus of a certifying body. These certifications are usually given upon completion of the course without requiring any kind of proof of competency. And even if there is some kind of exam, it typically lacks the anonymity of a professional certification assessment.

To be clear, I’m not saying that these certifications lack any value or merit whatsoever! But all they really indicate is that someone completed a course of some kind and therefore may have a higher degree of proficiency at the specific techniques taught in that course than someone who hasn’t completed it. These certifications really don’t indicate overall competency, efficacy, or ethical comportment.

Furthermore, these certifications are the easiest to abuse. It’s much harder to tell whether someone has actually completed the course associated with the certification. A trainer who has a whole string of these letters at the end of their name may be enthusiastic about learning lots of different techniques, or they may be using those letters to project an inflated sense of competency. Be especially wary of anyone who creates a certification and then uses their own letters at their end of their name. Self-certification is sketchy at best.

Action item 1: Don’t be dazzled by a string of letters. Remain neutral and curious.

Action item 2: If someone is self-certifying, proceed with caution.


Professional memberships

The last type of title you might see at the end of someone’s name isn’t actually letters at all, but a series of numbers preceded by a pound sign. All that means is that they are sharing their membership number from a professional organization. Professional memberships require nothing more than paying a fee. That’s it. Not only do these numbers indicate literally nothing about an individual’s qualifications, this practice is almost always a ploy to project an inflated sense of competency. To the untrained eye, the more letters and numbers you have at the end of your name, the more impressive you are!

Action item: If someone is using their membership number as a title, proceed with extreme caution.


#2. Do they cite their sources?

As this profession grows and evolves, we are collectively developing more of an awareness of the behavior sciences and how they impact what we do. That is a good thing! And we are moving in the right direction! However, this budding interest in science means that we are still far from achieving scientific literacy, as a whole. As a result, it has become quite popular across methodologies to throw around scientific terminology and make confident assertions about what science says. This can be as alluring as it is confusing. If one trainer is using fancy words and confidently claiming that science says one thing, and another trainer is using equally fancy words and confidently claiming that science says something mutually exclusive, who do we believe? Is it all just a matter of opinion or perception? Or schools of thought?

We could devote our lives to investigating these questions, but fortunately you don’t need to become a professional philosopher to get some practical, nuts-and-bolts answers that can provide you with some guidance.

A good place to start is by simply asking the behavior professional to back their claims by citing their sources. That’s at least a first step towards gauging the reliability of the professional you’re considering hiring.

Action item: If a behavior professional is providing information that they claim is based in science, ask them to show you the literature supporting their claims. If they can’t or won’t, proceed with caution.


#3. Are their sources sound?

So let’s say you get those citations from the behavior professional you’ve been talking to. Now what?

Again, this is a deep well that we could dive into if we wanted to. There’s a reason that epistemology and related critical thinking skills are taught over multiple courses; there’s a whole lot of ground to cover! But again, you don’t have to become an expert to learn some basic red flags to look out for.


Scenario 1

If their claim is based in science but their source is a webpage, an opinion piece, a YouTube video, a popular book (that itself lacks rigorous citation) or really anything other than primary literature, that right there is a huge red flag. A scientific claim should have a scientific source.

Action item: Investigate what the citation actually leads to.


Scenario 2

If their citations are actual research papers, that’s great! And also, it’s worthwhile to see if those papers were published by a predatory journal. Publication in a predatory journal doesn’t immediately invalidate the paper, it just means that there was no peer review process, so the paper is more likely to have serious methodological flaws that wouldn’t pass the rigor of the peer review process.

To be clear, the peer review process is in itself flawed, and even highly regarded peer-reviewed papers can have methodological flaws. The scientific process is imperfect because it’s being performed by humans, and humans are imperfect. But the beauty of working within the scientific framework is that it is a transparent, accountable, and self-correcting process. Our goal isn’t to get a 100% guarantee; it is to reduce risk.

Action item: Investigate whether the citation was published in a reputable journal.


Scenario 3

If a professional is not making a claim based in science, we can still ask the question, “How do we know that this claim is true?” For example, if a trainer is claiming that they have 100% success with their clients, it wouldn’t make sense to ask them to cite a research paper proving that their claim is true. But we could ask them, “How are you making that assessment?”

If they say something like, “We follow up with our clients 1 month, 6 months, 1 year, and 5 years after they graduate from our program to see if the skills they have learned from us continue to serve them well and their pets continue to pass the welfare and quality of life metrics we have provided for them, and every single client has remained successful up to 5 years after graduation,” ok! That’s a pretty solid assessment on which to base the claim that they have 100% success! Let’s set aside the fact that a 100% success rate is highly improbable; if they were to have kept that level of documentation, it is more likely that their claim is accurate. Anything short of that, however, may indicate that the trainer either doesn’t know enough to really know how to make such assessments or is intentionally misleading people in their marketing.

Action item: Ask them, “How are you making that assessment?” in response to personal claims.


#4. Do they use precise language?

We at Pet Harmony have a mantra that we use to remind ourselves and our colleagues to exercise some intellectual humility: 

Undereducation overstates.

What we mean is that, the less we know about a topic, the more likely we are to make overstatements, broad generalizations, and confident assertions. We’re more likely to speak in absolutes like “always”, “never”, or give confident predictions about future events.

Conversely, the more we learn about a topic, the more cautious and precise we become in our language, our predictions, and our assertions. 

If someone is using grandiose language in their messaging, be wary. These are just a few examples of the kind of overstatements that you might encounter:

  • Claims to be the world’s best dog trainer
  • Claims to be revolutionizing the industry, or that they’re introducing something completely new and never before seen
  • Claims to have 100% success rate or offers a 100% guarantee
  • Claims to be fluent in multiple scientific disciplines despite a lack of any degrees in any of those disciplines
  • Claims that science has proven that their system works or is correct or is the best
  • Really, claims that science has “proven” anything

This one can be a little bit tricky, because SEO and marketing consultants often teach business owners to use grandiose language, and it can be admittedly difficult to find a balance between writing website copy that is accurate while still writing copy that is good for SEO. There are gray areas on our own website that made us all squeamish and ended up being a compromise between what was suggested and what we ideally would have preferred to say! But when in doubt, ask the behavior professional what they meant by those statements. If they stand behind the hyperbole and insist that yes, they really are the world’s best dog trainer, or yes, their system really is changing the whole industry, or yes, they really can predict your pet’s future behavior with perfect accuracy, that’s a red flag.

Action item: Identify hyperbole and ask for clarification.


#5. Are they receptive to questions and constructive feedback?

From my personal perspective, this last one is arguably the most important one. We’re all human. We all make mistakes. We don’t know what we don’t know. We’re doing the best we can with the information and resources we have available to us at the time. I have made more mistakes, more overstatements, and been wrong more times than I can count. Many of those times have been very public. It happens to all of us. And! When I learn better, I correct my errors and change my behavior.

So someone could fail all of the criteria above, but if you asked them about it, gave them constructive feedback, and offered them resources to learn and do better, and they were willing to learn and grow and change their behavior and do better, they could still end up being a great partner in helping you to achieve your goals. Demonstrating a willingness to exchange knowledge rather than insisting on being right and maintaining some kind of unidirectional power dynamic goes a long, long way in how effective they can be at helping you.

Action item: If you have any concerns about any red flags, talk to them about it! Observe how they respond. 


In summary…

At the end of the day, remember that these are just guidelines to help you mitigate risk and increase the chances of choosing a behavior professional who will be effective at helping you to reach your goals in a way that meets both your and your pet’s needs. There are no guarantees. There could, hypothetically, be someone who fails all of the above criteria but still ends up being great for you. Conversely, just because someone passes all of the above criteria with flying colors doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re going to be a good fit for you. These are techniques to help you gauge how reliable someone’s information is–no more, no less. It may still take you a few tries to find the right behavior professional for you, just like it sometimes takes a few tries to find the right doctor or the right therapist or the right personal trainer. Keep at it! You and your pet deserve to enjoy success and find harmony within your home.


Now what?

Happy training, 


Why Does My Dog Bark So Much (& What To Do About It!)

My short, tongue-in-cheek answer to the question, “Why does my dog bark so much?” is that they’re a dog and that’s one of the ways they communicate. But that answer doesn’t usually help and doesn’t make for an interesting blog post. So let’s dive in a little further, shall we? Starting with a few fundamental pieces of information about barking that will help you figure out where to go from here.  


Barking is a form of canine communication

I already mentioned that barking is a form of communication. It’s a natural, normal, species-typical behavior for dogs. And while I know it can be frustrating, it’s not “bad” behavior, per se. I appreciate that my dog barks to tell me he wants to come inside or barks when someone approaches the front door. I was less enthused when he would bark and lunge at people, dogs, and loud/large vehicles that passed by us when I first adopted him. 

All of this is to say that barking in and of itself is not necessarily the problem. It’s simply a form of communication and sometimes can even be a symptom of the real problem. When clients come to me asking how they can get their dog to stop barking, I ask them to describe the situations in which they don’t like their dog barking, or want their dog to bark less. Then I ask them in what situations they do want their dog to bark. Most of the time they have at least one situation where they do want their dog to bark or at least where they don’t mind it. 

I bring this up first so you can keep that in mind as you read on about why dogs bark and what we can do about it. Sometimes the answer is- nothing! Let them be their doggy selves! And that’s okay. If both you and your dog (and neighbors within earshot) are happy and healthy then you don’t have to do anything.


Barking works

When a behavior is continuing to happen, that means that it’s working for the individual performing it. Why bring this up? Because very frequently I hear, “My dog is barking for no reason.” The laws of behavior say that that can’t be true. Behavior happens for a reason.

Sometimes the reason becomes clear when we look at the consequences of that barking. Fido barks and the scary person moves further away. Fluffy barks and their favorite person moves closer. Rover barks and their person joins in the ruckus with them!

Other times it can be more difficult to figure out what your dog is getting out of barking. That could be because we’re not experiencing the consequences as our dog does (i.e. they have a different sensory experience than humans do), we’re not yet proficient in observing behavior objectively, or the consequence is something that they are experiencing internally (e.g. barking is fun!) Working with a professional who is proficient in observing behavior objectively can help with some of this, however, there will be times when we just can’t know what’s going on without being able to speak a human language with our dog. 

5 reasons why your dog is barking

Now that we know some fundamentals about barking- it’s a species-typical behavior used for communication and your dog is getting something out of it- we can look at some common reasons why dogs bark. 


1. Attention-seeking

Oftentimes dogs bark because we respond to it. Remember- it’s a behavior that works! And even negative attention can still be attention. Only the learner gets to decide what is reinforcing to them and for some dogs that can include being yelled at or asked to be quiet.  


2. Excitement

Joyful exclamations are not just for humans! Sometimes our dogs are so excited that they can’t contain themselves. 


3. Fear, anxiety, aggression, or a startle response

While these are all different, I lumped them together because they share the same common core issue: discomfort. Many dogs learn that the best way to get something scary or unsettling to go away is to tell it to do so. 


4. Medical conditions 

There are some medical and cognitive conditions that can increase vocalization and some dogs bark when they get injured. Physical discomfort, not just emotional discomfort, can lead to barking!


5. It’s fun, a habit, or some other reason we’ll never know for sure  

I put this as a catch-all category for when dogs bark and we don’t get to know the reason until we can teach them to speak a human language. Behavior is complex and sometimes we just have to accept that while we might not know the reason, we can still modify the behavior. 


How can I tell why my dog is barking?

While barking is a form of communication, it’s not the only one. Dogs primarily communicate through their body language and that body language will give you some insight into why your dog is behaving in a particular way. Here are some questions to think about when it comes to figuring out why your dog is barking:

  • What does their body language look like? Are they loose and wiggly or stiff and tense? Are there other stress signals?
  • What are they barking at?
  • What does their bark sound like? Low or high pitched? Fast or slow tempo? 
  • What usually happens after they bark in this particular way? Do you pay attention to them? Does something move closer or farther away? 

Remember to look for all of the communication signals- not just the vocalizations- in addition to what they’re getting out of the behavior! 


How can I teach my dog to bark less?

Get ready for the standard dog trainer answer that annoys pet parents: it depends. As we discussed, there are a lot of different reasons why a dog barks in the first place. The answer to how you can teach your dog to bark less is going to depend on why they’re doing it in the first place. For example, if you have a senior dog undergoing cognitive decline which is causing them to vocalize more, a dog trainer isn’t the answer. Your vet is. On the flip side, if your dog is barking aggressively at people who enter your home, your vet isn’t the answer. A behavior consultant who specializes in behavior issues is. 


Let’s look at the broad strokes of where to start with each of the above reasons:

  1. Attention-seeking: make sure you’re meeting your dog’s needs before they feel it necessary to tell you about them. Asking for attention isn’t a bad thing. I very much appreciate when my dog let’s me know he is having tummy trouble and needs to go out in the middle of the night! I don’t want to eliminate attention-seeking behavior entirely. I want it to happen in a way I find appropriate (aka I don’t find it annoying), and it’s much easier to do that when we have a successful enrichment strategy first. More information about that in this blog about meeting my Winter Oso’s needs.
  2. Excitement: provide appropriate energy outlets while teaching calming skills. Anyone who has spent some time with elementary school-aged children knows that being calm is a skill and one that takes quite a while to learn. Once again, it’s far easier to teach that skill when we’ve addressed our dog’s needs for an appropriate energy outlet when they’re excited. 
  3. Fear, anxiety, aggression, or a startle response: the first step here is management. By that I mean arrange the environment so as to prevent your dog from being exposed to the thing they’re barking at. Both you and your dog will get some relief! The second step here is to work with a professional who is skilled in working with pups with these particular issues. Anxiety and skill-building are different things, as any human with anxiety would tell you. Successfully and safely working through these issues to help your dog feel more comfortable and confident isn’t necessarily intuitive and can have a large margin for error if you’re not sure what to do. 
  4. Medical conditions: with any behavior, especially those that crop up suddenly, we recommend speaking with your veterinarian first. You may not know how medical concerns could impact a particular behavior, but your vet should! Check out this blog post about medical issues impacting behavior if you’re interested in learning more about this topic. 
  5. It’s fun, a habit, or some other reason we’ll never know for sure: this is another one where I recommend working with a behavior professional, if only because the answer is going to be so dependent on the situation that it’s difficult to provide a solution in a blog post.

Now what?

Happy training,


Changing the Stories We Tell About Our Pets

Have you ever had a rude server in a restaurant and thought to yourself, “well, she must be having a bad day”? Or maybe you have a pushy coworker and find yourself thinking, “clearly his parents never taught him any manners. I bet he’s an only child.” Humans tend to love telling stories to explain behavior. It’s hard not to. When we encounter a behavior we have trouble understanding, it’s fairly natural for our brains to invent a story that might explain why someone would act that way.

Of course, we like to tell stories about our animals too. “My dog pees on the carpet while I’m at work because he’s mad at me for leaving him home alone.” Ever heard that one before? Or how about this one: “My cat is afraid of men so she must’ve been abused by a man in the past.” Or maybe: “My horse balks at the halter because he’s lazy and doesn’t want to be exercised.”

The thing is, all of these stories could theoretically be true, but until we are able to read the minds of animals, we can never know for sure. There are a million other possible stories that could explain these behaviors and, even more important to keep in mind, all of them are being filtered through a human lens. Your dog urinating in the house because he’s angry at you seems like a logical explanation from a human perspective, but does it actually track with what we know about dog behavior and emotion? It’s completely possible that your cat is afraid of men because of past abuse, but it could also be that your cat hides from the men in your house because of the way they approach her or because of their scent or their gait or any other number of factors that could cause fearful behavior for any number of reasons.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with theorizing about why your pet behaves the way they do and doing so doesn’t make you a bad pet parent. It’s pretty natural to wonder about animal behavior and stories can even help us to connect to our pets. However, it’s important to keep in mind that these stories are just that: stories. They could be true or not, but we can never really know if our guesses actually line up with the internal experience of an animal.

For this reason, it usually isn’t productive to base a training plan on a story you have about your pet’s behavior. For example: “Maybe if I give Fluffy extra love and treats before I go to work, he won’t be mad at me for leaving and won’t pee on the carpet.” Or, maybe Fluffy is a small breed dog that can’t hold his bladder that long. Or, maybe he’s gotten older and can no longer hold it like he used to or perhaps he has some sort of medical condition that causes him to “go” on the floor while you’re gone. You might be setting your pet up for failure by basing a training plan on an assumption you’ve made without any way of knowing if it’s true or not.

The point is, while stories about our pets can be harmless, they can also cause us to get lost in the impossible game of trying to guess what’s going on in an animal’s head–and this can cause extra frustration when your pet is behaving in a way you don’t like. It’s easy (and understandable!) to feel upset or even betrayed by your pet in these instances, especially when you feel like they’re doing it to spite you or because you think they should know it’s wrong. 

But there’s good news: you can change the stories you have around your animal and doing so can help you “fall in like” with your pet again.


So how do we change the story?

    1. Read up about your pet’s species-typical behaviors and enrichment needs. This can help you contextualize why your pet does what they do and make it easier to keep frustration at a minimum when they perform a natural behavior in a way you don’t like. It’s much harder to be upset with your cat for clawing up the furniture when you understand this is a natural and necessary behavior for their species. Once you know that, you could provide a more appropriate outlet for this behavior by putting more scratching posts around the house; that way you’re setting your pet up for success instead of feeling hurt or disappointed when they exhibit a natural, species-typical behavior. 
    2. Keep an eye out for times when your pet is doing things you actually like. Humans have a tendency to fixate on negative experiences and interactions; it actually takes some work to get our brains to give equal weight to positive things. “Practicing gratitude” is something of a pop-psychology buzzword these days but this strategy can actually be really effective in bolstering our relationships with our pets. I’m willing to wager that no matter how much your pet drives you nuts, there are plenty of times throughout the day when they’re doing something that delights you–but it can be hard to notice those moments when you’re feeling frustrated or upset with them.
      To combat this, you might try setting alarms throughout the day (maybe every hour, as an example) and see what your pet is doing when the alarm goes off. If their behavior in the moment is something you enjoy or appreciate (even and especially if they’re “doing nothing”), take note of that mentally and give them a little love or even a few treats for good behavior. It never hurts! You could even make a list of all the things your pet does that you love so you can refer to this list when times are tough.
    3. Be mindful of the stories you create. When you find yourself coming up with stories about your pet’s behavior, stop and consider a few things: is this story based on things that can be observed, or is it based on your best guess of what’s going on in your pet’s brain? Are you assigning human characteristics or thought patterns to animal behavior? And if so, is this causing you to assume the worst about your pet based on your perception of their behavior through a human lens? Lastly, consider how this story makes you feel. Does it make you feel angry? Hurt? Disappointed? When you find yourself having a negative reaction to a story, I invite you to consider step 4:
    4. Become curious about your pet’s behavior. Before you jump to conclusions or get your feelings hurt, take a step back, take a deep breath, and get curious about the behaviors that make you want to run out of the house screaming. Step out of the role of pet parent and into the role of behavior sleuth. Put your own emotions aside for the time being and consider that every behavior has a function; your pet behaves the way they do for a reason and it’s probably not because they’re mad at you.
      Animals don’t have concepts of “right” and “wrong” or “good” and “bad” the way humans do. From their perspective, a behavior either works to get something they need or it doesn’t. Your job as pet parent/sleuth is to figure out what your pet is getting out of the behavior that drives you crazy. Consider the behavior from all angles and ask yourself questions like: what prompts them to behave this way? What happens as a result of the behavior? Could it be happening because of a medical condition or some other unmet need? Even if you can’t get to the bottom of the issue by yourself, reframing your perception of nuisance behaviors in this way can help you emotionally distance yourself from the problem and start to repair your relationship with your pet. 
    5. Extend compassion to your pet–and to yourself. You can show compassion to your pet by reminding yourself that you love them even when they frustrate you–and that you do them a disservice by assuming they see and react to the world the way you do. Remind yourself that they are not a human being and they have no concept that what they’re doing is “wrong” or “bad.”

It’s equally important to show compassion to yourself when you’re struggling with your pet. You are not a bad pet parent for feeling frustrated or upset with your animal. Be patient with yourself when these feelings pop up and allow yourself to be curious about why you’re having the reaction you’re having. Discuss how you feel with your trainer if you have one, or maybe a fellow pet parent–because, let’s face it, almost everyone who lives or works with animals has experienced being frustrated with them at one point or another. 

Human-animal relationships take work and effort just like any other. For the month of February, we’re encouraging pet parents to “fall in like” with their pet again. As part of this process, I invite you to examine the assumptions you have about your pet and consider if these stories are actually serving your relationship–or just getting in the way.


Now What? 

  1. Did any of the things above seem relatable? Take some time to learn more about your pet, watch out for the things you like, be mindful of the stories, be curious and compassionate. Sometimes our pets will do things we don’t like, and that’s okay!
  2. We’re here to support you and your pet as you navigate this world together. Our behavior consultants are here to help you build communication with your pet, and plan to meet both your and your pet’s needs. Check out our services here. As a bonus, anyone who books a package in the month of February will also receive our on-demand course, Beginning Behavior Modification!

February 2023 Training Challenge: Teach Your Pet to Read!

Alright, folx. Sorry for that bait and switch. 

We aren’t going to actually teach your pet to read as we read, but this fun little trick is a blast to show your friends and has a lot of practical uses!

Once you understand the concept, and you’ve worked with your pet on this, you’ll find all sorts of helpful ways to use this skill! 


What You Need 

Your pet 

A trick or behavior that your pet knows well (and by that I mean, when you ask them to do it, they are highly likely to do it) 

A piece of paper with what you want them to “read” 

Some treats 

A low-distraction environment 

A marker – whether it’s a verbal marker like “yes!” or a clicker 


Sweet, I’ve Got The Stuff, Now What? 

Great question! Let’s get into it! 

Warm up your well-known behavior with a couple of practice cues. Help your pet remember that “THIS” means “THAT”. We can all use a refresher every now and again!


After your warm-up… 

You’re going to show your pet the paper you want them to “read” 

Take a very brief pause 

Give the cue for the well-known behavior 

When they do the behavior, mark, give them a treat, and put the paper behind your back or otherwise “hide” it.


Again, you’re going to… 





Mark and reward


Practice this a few times over one to two minutes, and then give your dog a brain break. This can be a short snuffle session, a little play, or some scritches. Just something that lets them reset. 

And when you’re both ready, you can do another short session. 


You’re going to… 





Mark and reward 


What you’re watching for is the time that you show your dog the paper, and they start to do the behavior! 


Once you see that, you’re going to… 



Mark and reward


And congratulations through practice and repetitions! You’ve taught your dog to “read”! Here’s a quick video of me practicing teaching Laika to “read” the word “DOWN”.



Why This is a Helpful Skill 

Again, sorry for what might feel like a bait and switch. This isn’t particularly helpful for your dog. I mean sure, it might be helpful or quite funny if you hold up a sign during zoom calls that says “stop” and your dog goes and lies down, but the real helpfulness is for you. 

This process is known as a cue transfer. 

What we are doing is translating for your pet. We’re saying “Hey, you know that THIS means THAT already, but did you also know that THISSSS also means THAT?” 

And, because you probably already know that the order of events matters in teaching, we want: 

New cue 


Old cue 



This gives us a framework and a shortcut to teach our dog more desirable responses in a plethora of situations. 


Let’s Look at Another Example 

Griffey came to us already interested in the things that are on the counters. And really, who can blame him, we make food that smells rad! But that also meant that he was typically underfoot while I was cooking, which was both annoying and a safety concern. 

So we looked at things we had already taught him and determined what would be the most helpful in this situation. 

Nose to hand target? I’d really rather him not try to boop my hand while I’m chopping veggies. 

Look at human? I mean, sure, but he can look longingly and lovingly into my face while also putting his tootsies on the counter. 

Go to your mat? Ding, ding, ding. We have a winner! We could place the mat outside of the reach of the counters, or even outside the threshold of the kitchen. 

Then we needed to determine what the new cue would be. I could ask him to go to the mat, but I’m a silly human and forget these things. We landed on “person enters kitchen” means “go to your mat”. 


So the process looked like this: 

Mat outside of the kitchen 

Walk into the kitchen (New cue)


“Go to bed” (Old cue)


Mark and reward 

Toss a reset cookie and leave the kitchen 

Rinse and repeat 

Over time, Griffey learned, when my person goes into the kitchen, it pays (and boy does it pay well!) to go to my mat. 


What Are Some Other Practical Uses

Oooh, dawgies, the sky is the limit as long as you have some creativity! Here are some situations we use often in our household: 

  • Dog barking outside = come to person for a treat 
  • Person carrying food puzzle = go to bed 
  • See a person outside = look at mom/dad 
  • Need to go outside = bow at the door 
  • Pat on my leg or tap on my desk = pay attention to me


Now What? 

  • Assess a situation where a cue transfer might help your communication and harmony with your pet! How can you help your pet by translating for them?  
  • Start translating for your pet! You can either team them something useful to you, or just something that’s pretty stinking cute. 
  • And even though cue transfers are commonly used when tackling challenging behavior, if you’re struggling with behavior challenges in your home this process alone won’t help you and your pet find the harmony you both deserve.  Our consultants are here to help you and your pet improve your communication and enjoy each other’s company again! 

Happy Training!


Tricks for Paw Care

Nail trims and paw care are a pain point for a lot of families. 

They can be uncomfortable or even frightening for everyone involved, so we spend a lot of time talking about nail care, which you’ve probably heard lately if you’ve been following Enrichment for the Real World podcast. 

In Episode 34 with Sara McLoudrey of Decisive Moment Pet Consulting, Sara and Emily discussed the many forms that nail trims can take, and in Episode 35: Implementing Predictability for Security, Allie shares how tricks like spin and paw targets helped a little pup who didn’t care to be handled. Sara the consultant that I’m currently working with for Care with Consent for Griffey, so you’ll see mention of many of her resources through this blog! 

So this week, we’re going to talk about some tricks that can help get you started on your paw care journey and make some of those later stages a bit easier. Whether you’re an experienced trainer, or you’re just starting out, tricks can be a fantastic way to build a teaching rapport with your pet and to practice some useful skills in low stake ways. 


Teach Your Dog to Go To an Absorbant Mat 

Of course, you can always use a towel that you don’t mind getting a little dirty, but I prefer something that stays put a little nicer than a towel does and hopefully wicks a bit more water away. 

Start by teaching your dog to walk over and stand on something that can absorb some of the water and grime from their tootsies. Some dogs will have an easy time with this, and others may be a little concerned about the texture. 

We have demonstrations of how to teach “go to a spot” through capturing, luring, and shaping if you’re wondering how to get started!


Teach Your Dog to Dig or Wipe Their Feet 

I love multi-use behaviors, and this is one of those things. For my dogs, it functions as a self-soothing behavior, it enabled us to teach them how to use a scratchboard, and it can help them to wipe their feet when they come back inside.

There are a number of ways to do this! You can use a bit of luring and a bit of capturing to teach your dog to scratch or dig on a variety of surfaces. Place a small treat under a towel, a piece of cardboard, or a plastic plate (choose something your dog is already comfortable touching), and then they touch it with a foot, scratch at it, dig at it or even step on it, then mark and give them the treat. You’re looking to practice switching paws and to build up to more vigorous digging over time! 

Here’s a great tutorial by Kikopup on teaching digging!


You can also watch for your dog to do it on their own and capture it. Both my dogs are avid ground kickers after they potty on walks, so we capture that, and they also dig when they have a little extra energy to expel, so we get lots of opportunities to practice this!


And if you’re worried about getting your dog’s dewclaws, check out this tip from Sara! 


Teach your dog to spin 

Spin, going both directions, can be a behavior to get your dog to move their feet in a specific location, and can be great from a mobility standpoint for many dogs!

Kikopup has two fantastic videos about teaching spin. 


Teach your dog to step into a tub or bin 

At some point in your dog’s life, they may injure their paw, or a nail and require foot soaks, and now is a great time to start practicing getting into a tub or a bin! 

The training for this can look a lot like teaching your pet to go to a specific spot (see above), with a couple of extra things to consider: 

  1. Make sure that they are stepping into a bin or tub with traction and that won’t move out from under them! Many of our pets will be more concerned when the ground *literally* moves under their feet. As demonstrated here kitchen/chef mats can be a great way to add traction AND give you the chance to do some sniffing! 

  2. Start with a dry tub or bin and gradually add in moisture! If you’re starting this training early, you get to take your time! 
  3. Make sure that the sides of the tub or bin aren’t too high. If you have a dog with short legs, ideally they can comfortably step into it without jumping!


Now what? 

  • Get a jump start on your paw or nail care journey! Make it fun for both you and your pet with some useful tricks! 
  • Make sure to check out Sara with Decisive Moment Pet Consulting for tons of great tips, tricks, and information regarding Care with Consent classes and opportunities!

Acknowledging The Impact Maladaptive Behaviors Have on Human Emotions

I love my dog but admit as I watch my neighbor with her dog I have a twinge of envy.  He’s a goofy happy go lucky pooch who is friends with any dog or human; and happily rests chill on the couch looking out the window as the world literally walks by.  Then the envy bleeds into guilt.

My neighbor may never understand my feelings, but I’m guessing some of you might know what it feels like to have a dog who struggles to adapt to the human world.  Does your dog’s behavior make you feel embarrassed? Do you find yourself feeling isolated?  Do you feel exhausted waking up in the wee hours to get your dog out before the world is awake?  Do you resent the person who runs their dog off leash oblivious of how that might impact your dog? Do you sometimes wish you had a “normal” pet?

Plenty of research studies look at the impact of human caregiving, for example, the impact of caring for someone aging with Alzheimer’s or caring for a child with mental illness.  Less research has focused on humans and their pets.  Having a pet undergoing cancer treatment or chronic illness requiring extensive treatments can impact the caregiver in ways similar to supporting a human who is sick.  Buller and Ballantyne (2020) share the results of one of the few studies that examine the experiences of human caregivers living with a pet with behavioral problems.  Not surprising themes arose around caretaking and the kinds of emotions the pet caregivers felt. 


You are not alone.  

I bet there is more than one of us who at some point has felt like this.  

  • I feel cut off; I can’t have my friends over cause my dog would just lose it.
  • It’s embarrassing I think my neighbors think my dog is Cujo with the way he acts when he sees someone in the hallway.
  • I’m sad; she’s not the dog that I hoped I would have to take to coffee shops and hang out.
  • It’s so much work; sometimes I feel guilty because I feel like I don’t get back from my dog what I put in.
  • Sometimes I need to give myself a time out; I feel like I can’t deal with one more outburst.
  • It’s so taxing to try to figure out ways to not leave my dog alone.
  • It’s frustrating; I’ve tried so many things and progress is so slow.
  • I’m sad to see my pet struggle so much; it’s not the quality of life I want him to have.

As we grow close to marking the 3rd year since the start of the Covid pandemic, many are still struggling.  Coming out of the holiday season too may be a hard time for some especially if you’d had to rearrange your plans in order to accommodate the needs of your pet.  Sometimes it’s hard not to let the negatives just suck the life out of you.


What can we celebrate?

Sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of the small wins and what they felt like in the moment.  Over the holidays, we stopped by a friend’s house; I brought my dog’s mat, a frozen kong, and some boxes to shred and she was able to focus on those and not bark incessantly or a variety of other behaviors that have happened in the past.  Even my friend remarked that we made it through the visit without a doggie meltdown.  Hooray!  It’s so easy to just move on rather than focus on how this felt and to celebrate.  I felt relieved, it made me happy that she seemed more comfortable and at ease, I appreciated my friend for acknowledging our mini-victory and that he cared enough to say so, and I felt a sense of accomplishment for what we achieved. My dog is also pretty darn adorable when she is in shredding mode; it warms my heart. 

I think we need to recognize these victories as tomorrow will likely be another day with some battle cause she’s a “project dog” with a lot of big feels about a lot of things.  But today we need to celebrate our win and store that positive feeling into our emotion bank.    


Now what?

Navigating Difficult Conversations

Living with a difficult pet is, well, difficult. It can be an incredible experience but at the same time, it can be emotionally draining, exhausting, isolating, and frustrating. A large portion of our jobs as pet behavior consultants is to help our clients navigate through the ups and downs of this challenging journey, including their emotions and connections surrounding their pets. 

A topic that comes up fairly frequently is that of having difficult conversations with their friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, and even strangers about their pet. While this is a large, large topic that could be more deftly handled by a professional in the human mental health field, there are a few tips that I have for my clients that help them through these situations. 


What counts as a difficult conversation?

Let’s start at the beginning by defining our terms. What is a “difficult conversation”? These are discussions that have a lot of emotion involved and that means that they can be a little different for everyone, though there are some topics that almost always fall into this category. Topics like rehoming and safety for others, for instance. 

I think it’s easier for us to realize those difficult topics when they elicit fear or sadness. But I find that there are a lot of additional emotions that I discuss on a regular basis. Feelings like embarrassment, isolation, shame, and guilt. 

It can be embarrassing when a random stranger has the gall to give you unsolicited advice about your dog’s leash reactivity. It can be isolating when your friends and family disagree with what you’re choosing to do for your pet. Even questions that are asked innocently, like, “Why is your dog afraid of people?” can leave people feeling ashamed or guilty. The question then becomes: how do you navigate those difficult conversations?


Decide whether it’s worth it to engage

You don’t owe anyone outside of the situation anything. You do not owe a random stranger giving unsolicited advice (in-person or on the internet) a response. You don’t owe it to your friends and non-household family to explain the science and reasoning behind why you’re choosing the training methods you’re choosing. The only individuals you have to answer to are yourself, your pet, and anyone else involved in day-to-day care.

If it’s worth it to engage, then you can follow through with the conversation. If it’s not worth it to engage then you can end it there and move on your merry way. 

Releasing yourself from the societal obligation to engage can be liberating. This doesn’t mean you have to be rude, but you do need to be firm with your boundaries. I know, I know. Easier said than done. Listen, I’m a Midwestern person at heart and I completely understand how difficult it can be to navigate social niceties while also having boundaries about engagement in a conversation. More on that later. 


Rewrite the story in your head

(Disclosure: This is an affiliate link coming up. 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!)

This one comes from the book Crucial Conversations and is one of my favorite tips from that resource A lot of times crucial, or difficult conversations arise because we’re guessing at the covert behaviors- internal thoughts, feelings, motivations, and intentions- of the other person. Spoiler: we’re not super accurate when it comes to guessing covert behaviors of other individuals (heck, sometimes I have a hard time identifying my own!) 

Let’s go back to that random stranger scenario. When strangers give me unsolicited advice, I tend to use some not-nice language surrounding their covert behaviors. I know that’s true for many other people, too. But what if they were giving you advice because they wished someone had told them sooner that they could do something about their own difficult dog? Or perhaps they’re an extroverted dog behavior enthusiast who can’t help but try to connect with anyone who they think will want to chat about canine behavior. Now, I still likely wouldn’t choose to engage in these situations since that type of interaction is not usually worth it for me personally, but it does help to make me feel better about it after the fact. 

Let’s now look at a situation in which you might want to (or feel obligated to) engage: the well-meaning friend or family member who just doesn’t get it. You’ve decided to do something about your pet’s behavior, taken that scary leap, and are excited about working with the professional you’ve chosen, and then someone takes the wind out of your sail by questioning your decisions. I get it. We’ve all been there at one point or another. Even well-meaning people can make us feel pretty crappy. 

It can be really hard to rewrite the story in your head when it comes to someone you know well and have a history with. So instead of trying to come up with other covert behaviors that make me feel better about the interaction, I usually opt for getting curious. Why do they feel the way that they do? What have they experienced that makes them say that? For me, approaching it as a sort of outside observer helps me to arrange the pieces more logically, and then decide if what they’re saying holds water or what the grain of truth is in what they’re saying. That reasoning may not work for you, but a lot of folks have told me that asking questions and getting curious helps them for a bunch of different reasons! 


Assume that a professional you’re working with has navigated similar situations before

I wanted to mention one particular rewrite that I talk a lot about with my clients. I get a lot of similar questions about how they should navigate working with other professionals, like groomers and vets, with their pets displaying maladaptive behaviors. My answer is usually just to recommend they talk to the professional and ask them what their protocol is. 

I can’t tell you the number of times someone has described to me how difficult it is to bring their dog to the vet because they’re reactive in the lobby and when I ask if they’ve asked the clinic if they can wait in the car until they’re ready to be seen the client has said, “I never even thought to ask that!” Most of the clinics I’ve worked with have that as an already-established protocol; you just need to ask! I know from the pet parent perspective that it can seem like your pet is the only one displaying behaviors like this, but trust me when I say that pet professionals in any field have seen all sorts of behaviors on a regular basis. 


Come up with go-to responses

I have to have a lot of difficult conversations as a behavior professional and one of the most helpful tips I have is to have go-to base responses that you can tailor to fit the situation. This helps me save some cognitive load and bandwidth so I can serve all of my clients with the same level of empathy and compassion by just focusing on the nuances instead of having to come up with the base response each time. You don’t need to be a professional to steal this trick! 

If you notice that you are encountering the same questions or situations over and over, those are the ones to create go-to responses for. This can be something like when someone asks to pet your dog saying, “Not today, they’re having a bad hair day.” Or, “Thanks for asking, but they can be uncomfortable with strangers.” 

I have this with Oso’s monthly massages. When some of our friends and family first heard that Oso was getting massaged monthly when we do not do the same for ourselves, we got some incredulous “okay-crazy-dog-lady” looks. My go-to response is that it’s really helping him and we’re seeing an increase in mobility. I say it almost the same way each time but I can modify it to fit in with the situation or who I’m talking to. Usually, that discontinues the incredulous look and it makes me feel better because I know it’s the right thing for him whether or not they agree. I don’t owe them anything, after all. 


And practice them with your consultant! 

Okay, remember I said I’m from the Midwest and I completely understand how hard it is to forego some of those saccharine social niceties? Now we’re here at what to do about that. You’ve got your go-to base responses that you can tailor to fit whoever you’re talking to, now you just need practice! 

This is something that we sometimes will do with our clients who need an extra little boost but we’ve done quite a bit of this with our professional clients in our Enrichment Master Class in the past. It can be really helpful to practice saying those responses in a safe environment where you get to workshop what it sounds like. That way you can feel confident when the moment comes!


Now what?

  • Think through situations in which you’ve encountered difficult conversations surrounding your pet. What’s the common theme? How did it make you feel? Why did you feel that way?
  • Identify the situations in which you are willing to engage and those in which you aren’t. 
  • Think through and practice how you’re going to decline to engage in those conversations. Then, think through and practice how you’re going to engage in those conversations. Start coming up with your go-to base responses.
  • Professionals: if you’re looking for help on how to do this with your clients there’s still one more day to join our Enrichment Framework for Behavior Modification Master Class!


Happy training,