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Want a Rock-Solid Come When Called?

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

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

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

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

 

Are you ready?

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

What does coming to you mean for your dog?

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

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

 

Great, how do I do that?

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

 

Remember…

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

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

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

 

Now What? 

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

 

4 Behavior Changes to Expect as the Weather Warms Up

 

A few Sundays ago it was one of the first nice, weekend days of the spring here in Illinois. And that meant that I had back-to-back clients who all of a sudden were having problems that they hadn’t had all winter. And, as you know, when I have the same conversation multiple times in a row I turn it into a blog post! 

 

Behavior Can Change with the Seasons

I’ve talked before about my arch-nemesis, Winter Oso, which is the name we give to Oso when he’s more annoying because he’s not getting as much exercise in the yard. And I know a lot of you have your own winter version of your pet. I certainly talk through this quite a bit with my IL clients!

But I haven’t talked much yet about behavior changes that happen when the weather starts warming up. Just like we see behavior changes when it gets cold, so too can we see changes when it gets warm. Let’s dive into a few of the most common behavior changes that we see when the weather warms up. 

 

Difficulty Recalling

Recalls are the fancy term that dog trainers use to describe “coming when called”. I see this manifest in a few different ways. This could look like a dog who is more distracted in the yard and that’s why they’re not coming to you when you call. But oftentimes I see it look a little more subtle, where they’re out there sunning themselves and enjoying the day and just don’t respond to you when you ask them to come inside. That’s exactly what was happening with my clients a few weeks ago. 

Let me be honest here, I can’t blame them too much. After months of dreary midwest winter, I also spend as much time as possible outside when the weather starts to warm. I definitely have that in common with these pups. And truthfully, this is a behavior change that isn’t necessarily a “problem” behavior depending on your set-up and schedule. I work from home and we have a fenced-in yard that is quite secure and safe so I can let Oso hang out outside for as long as he likes those days. 

Where the problem comes in is if you have a kiddo who wants to be outside and you don’t have a safe set-up or a schedule that allows for the dalliance. In that case, we should be figuring out common ground with our pup (which may likely include spending a bit more time out there when it works with your schedule) and making sure that coming inside is super fun. One of the common things that we do as humans that comes back to bite us is asking our pet to come inside so we can leave the house for work or errands. Coming inside stops the fun! And when coming inside stops the fun, your pet is going to be less likely to come inside. 

 

Chasing critters

Many folks with dogs who chase critters get a respite in the winter months. But springtime means a surge of critter activity and that means we usually see an increase in chasing critters. Again, this isn’t necessarily a “problem” behavior. Chasing critters is a normal, species-typical behavior for dogs (and cats, and other species). We should be allowing our pets to perform species-typical behaviors in healthy, safe, and appropriate ways. What that looks like for Oso is that he gets to chase critters to his heart’s content in the yard. 

What I’ve deemed as “inappropriate” for that behavior is screaming at critters while chasing (yes. It’s a scream, not a bark.) or trying to chase everything while on leash. Chasing critters as a whole isn’t a problem, but doing it in those particular ways is. That means that we didn’t work on him not chasing critters at all, we only worked on him not screaming when he does it and he has a cue when on-leash that tells him when he’s allowed to chase the critter. 

 

Leash reactivity

Speaking of screaming and leashes… this time of year is always when we get a surge of folks who want help with their dog’s leash reactivity (barking, lunging, growling on leash to other dogs, people, vehicles, or anything, really). There are more people and other dogs out and about in the neighborhood and that makes management for leash reactivity much more difficult in the warmer months than it is in winter. 

Many people know to anticipate this when the weather warms up, but I find that folks who brought home pups in the winter may not expect this behavior change because their dog wasn’t really in situations before that would cause them to react. It’s not that the behavior suddenly started; it’s that the environment changed. 

This is one that we do label as a maladaptive behavior, or a “behavior issue”, because it’s stressful for both you and your dog. No one is likely having fun at that moment. Early spring tends to be a great time of year to start working on your pup’s leash reactivity because there are more opportunities to practice than in winter, but not usually as many overwhelming scenarios as we see in late spring and summer when it’s consistently nice and school’s out. 

 

Window reactivity

This one is really just another manifestation of the above issue. Usually, when we see a dog with leash reactivity, they’re also reactive through the windows when they see someone or something passing by the house. Warmer months typically bring more people going by your house and that usually means an increase in reactivity. 

We saw a huge uptick in requests for help with this behavior when the pandemic started in March/April 2020. Everyone was out walking their dogs more frequently than before and that meant a lot more passers-by! Oso’s reactivity at the window had a bit of a relapse during this time, too, but thankfully we had years of working on this behavior under our belt so we were able to nip it in the bud pretty quickly. 

While this one is also labeled as a maladaptive behavior, it can sometimes be easier to manage depending on your setup and where your house is located. But if you’re wanting to work on leash reactivity, I highly recommend also paying attention to this behavior. Trigger stacking is a thing, after all. 

 

Now what?

  • Simply observe your pet as the weather changes (even folks in temperate climates that don’t have as drastic of temperature changes will have other weather changes!) Do you see any behavior or body language changes with the changing season?
  • If you do see behavior changes, ask yourself if it’s actually a problem. Feel free to use the above if you’re seeing one of the behaviors that I mentioned!
  • If the behavior isn’t a problem or just requires a small tweak to routines, fantastic! If the behavior is a problem, we’re happy to help. We see clients all over the world and can help with any behavior problem remotely. Click here to get started. 

Happy training!

Allie

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

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

 

Happy April, everyone! 

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

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

 

So what does a relaxing environment look like?

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

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

 

How does your pet’s species typically sleep?

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

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

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

 

What does your pet look like when they are relaxing?

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

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

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

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

 

Where or what does your pet currently use to relax?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

And what does that all mean for me?

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

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

 

Now What?

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

 

Sniffari or Sorry, Can’t Party?

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Why are we taking our dogs on a walk? Physical exercise? Mental stimulation?  Because we think we should? Side note: I once read an article on heart.org about all these wild health benefits that dog owners have. . . it didn’t directly link the scientific studies that contributed to these claims, but it’s enough reasoning for me to feel good about sharing our lives with these furry family members.

This blog is about walks, but it starts a bit further down the walking journey.  Your pup already (read: usually) walks on a loose leash.  Your dog finds value in being by your side.  Your dog isn’t insisting on having a conversation with the neighbor dog crossing the street.  For more tips on working with leash reactivity, check out this blog by Allie.

This blog is specifically all about the sniffing aspect of walks.  You’ve read enough of our blogs (and maybe even Allie and Emily’s book Canine Enrichment For The Real World) to realize that allowing our pups to sniff is beneficial on so many levels; however, it can be one of the hardest competing reinforcers when working on walking.  One of the longest conversations I have with families who are working on loose leash walking is sparked by the question: “What is the point of your walk?”  Once we unpack the answer for that, it makes training (and expectations) a whole lot clearer.

My family is a walking family.  We’ll take two-a-day, maybe more.  It’s our favorite way to exercise our dog because we enjoy getting out of the house, and Opie took to the activity with very little reactivity (but a lot of pulling for the first year). Once we decreased the pulling, there was just one more thing that left me more frustrated by the end of the walk than when we started.  The incessant sniffing.  And pausing.  And more sniffing.  And shoving his nose into the dirt as he repeatedly clears his airways.  We like to think that before we got him, Opie was this heroic Search and Rescue dog and he’s just reliving his glory days on the force.  That works with calming me down sometimes, but certainly not always.  I remember one midwestern winter walk when I broke down in tears because I was so cold and tired and my fingers hurt and I didn’t feel like waiting for his sniffing to stop. I honestly screamed to the heavens “come onnnnn whyyyyyy.”  It wasn’t my finest moment, but we’ve moved on.

So something needed to change.  I needed to reflect on why we were going on walks, what benefits I wanted Opie to experience, and why a walk suited us better than other exercise.  After a bit of reflection, I realized that we can come to a happy medium with Opie’s sniffing desires.  I want Opie to get as much sniffing as he can, but I needed a cue to let him know that we need to get moving and wonderful things still await us ahead. I trained a countdown cue that I now use when he’s starting to sniff too long for my schedule.
Before going on a walk with Opie, I find I get the most enjoyment out of the walk when I know what my expectations are.  I’ll do a quick check on how I’m feeling, what Opie’s day has been/will be like, and I set out knowing if today is going to be a “sniff to your heart’s content” or an “andiamo regazzi, we gotta get a move on.”  This way, before we even close the garage door, I’m prepared for the training that needs to happen and can communicate with my pup accordingly.

There are so many types of walks, some may be for exercise, some for relaxation, some for mental stimulation, and some just to… complete a bodily transaction.  The type of walk may change based on the path you take through the neighborhood that day, the people/creatures that are out, the time of day, the time you have, the weather, etc.

Now, while you are the one who typically gets to decide what type of walk it will be, remember, most of the time, these walks are for our dogs.  The walks should always be something that completes their stress cycle, not something that gets them more worked up.  It should be something that satisfies their needs, not something that we force them into.  It should be something that allows them to do doggy things like sniff and explore. In any case, before you head out, make sure you get in the right mindset about if the walk is going to be a sniffari, or a sorry-can’t-party.

Now what?

  • Reevaluate what you want your walks to look like before you go for each walk.
  • Note the ways we communicate to our pups if they can go on a Sniffari (sniff to your heart’s content) or if time is tight and it has to be a Sorry, Can’t Party (gotta keep it moving).
  • Ask yourself– Why are we going on walks?  What benefits does my dog get out of the walk? How can we reinforce our pups for choosing to move forward when we need to get moving instead of sniffing that tapestry of scents?

You’re doing great!
Corinne

Feline Enrichment for the Real World

What is Enrichment?

At Pet Harmony, we talk about enrichment all the time, but if you’re a new cat owner, or just recently joining us, we need to define enrichment. It’s more than just Kongs and toys. Enrichment, as described in episode one of our all-new podcast, is “meeting all of an animal’s needs in order for them to be physically, behaviorally, and emotionally healthy enough to perform species-typical behaviors in safe, healthy, and appropriate ways.” Go listen to Episode 1 of Enrichment for the Real World for more on that!

So, like canine enrichment, feline (cat) enrichment needs to be specific to them. Just because something works for a dog, doesn’t mean it will work for a cat — and just because a certain activity helps one cat, doesn’t mean it will work for another. We need to provide cat-specific enrichment to have a healthy cat. When our cat is healthy, our relationship with them is so much better.

Typical Feline Behavior

Anytime I am trying to figure out what species-typical behaviors are, it is important to research the species. When we know what an animal usually does, we can give them ways to meet those needs that don’t compromise their physical, emotional, and behavioral health — or our own.

A brown tabby cat high-fives its parent.

Here are some behaviors cats typically perform:

  • Dig around in loose substrate in order to urinate and defecate.
  • Bury or hide their urine and feces in said substrate
  • Groom or “bathe” themselves
  • Scratch on things
  • Jump and climb
  • Hang out in elevated spaces
  • Hideout in small spaces
  • Eat multiple small meals in a day
  • Follow a hunting cycle of stalk, pounce, eat, groom, sleep
  • Bat small objects with their paws, sometimes causing them to fall

Notice that I said these are some things cats typically do. Not all cats do all these things, and I also didn’t list all the things cats do. These are just some very interesting areas that can become problematic for your home if your cat doesn’t have an outlet.

How Do I Provide Enrichment for a Cat, and Why Does it Help?

If your cat is performing a species-typical behavior in a way we don’t like, we can offer activities we do like. Even if they seem unrelated, they may still reduce stress as well as behaviors we don’t like.
Here are four easy enrichment ideas to try with your cat:

  • Provide multiple, desirable elevated spaces for your cats, and train them to use them. Buy or make a tall cat tree, or install cat-friendly shelves. If they weren’t in your house, elevated spaces available to them outside are: the tops of cars, roofs of houses, fence lines, trees, and rocks. Small, three-foot-tall scratching posts with beds attached do not make good elevated spaces for cats.

A brown and grey cat tree nearly touches the ceiling in my house. It is near a window for prime sun bathing and birdwatching opportunities.

    • Why? Access to high spaces has been proven to reduce stress-related behaviors in cats. It also gives them somewhere to run to that small children or dogs cannot reach. Providing these spaces and training your cat to use them will also make them less likely to use your furniture to get up high and knockdown cups, vases, or other valuable objects. (Be sure to provide appropriate elevated spaces in places your cat commonly goes onto undesirable surfaces — give them a spot in the kitchen where it is okay for them to watch you cook, for example.)
  • Simulate hunting through play. Cats are ambush hunters. That means that they hide, stalk, pounce, and attack their prey. Unlike dogs, who are opportunists by nature, wild felines rely on hunting to survive. Eating dry kibble from a bowl just doesn’t cut it for most cats! Try lots of different toys to see which ones they fancy. Make the toy act like prey: sometimes it is slow, sometimes it is quick… sometimes it hides… sometimes it hops! The more it moves like a little bird or mouse, the more likely your cat is to love it. Most cats love a good teaser toy, like the ones pictured below. Or, if they are like my cats, they may also appreciate a good game of fetch. Be sure to put out meaty treats for them to eat when they finish playing. I like to use freeze-dried raw treats like PureBites. I just drop them into their bowls or on their cat tree at the end of a play session.

    • Why? When their little hunter instincts aren’t being used in play, they might be used on ankles, hands, and other pets in the household. Being given appropriate outlets for their hunting instincts can notably decrease aggression in cats.
  • Provide multiple scratching surfaces throughout the house. There are many types of scratching surfaces available for your cats. There’s cardboard, jute, and carpet, to name a few. Cats like to scratch in areas they like — in the living room, in the bedroom, etc. Try providing different types in the areas they like to scratch most. If your cat has a positive reaction to catnip, you may choose to use it to attract them to the scratchers. You can also drop a favorite treat each time a cat uses an appropriate surface. Some cats like scratching vertically, some like scratching horizontally. Try both. A common deterrent for cats using their provided scratching posts is when the post moves when they scratch it. So make sure the scratcher you’ve provided is tall enough for them to stretch and scratch, and heavy or secure enough that it won’t wobble too much.

Brown kitten scratches on black scratching post.

    • Why? Well, scratching is a stress reliever for cats, just like chewing is for dogs. Not providing them with this outlet is likely to get your furniture and carpets ruined — or, if we have punished scratching too severely, the stress may come up as other undesirable behaviors, like urine marking or increased aggression.
  • Provide foraging opportunities for your cat, especially just before bed. You can use fancy cat puzzles like the one pictured below, or you can simply provide cat-friendly food or treats and place them around their space at different levels and in hidey holes. Cats will use their keen senses to hunt out and find the treats. It takes some time for some cats to get used to it, and we can help you shape this behavior in your cats.

A grey tabby cat uses her nose, paws, and brain to get her favorite treats from a treat puzzle.

    • Why? Sniffing out food and eating small meals are both excellent ways to tire out a young cat and reduce stress in all ages. You will probably sleep better when your cats get to hunt out some especially tasty goodies just before bed, and it is another way to help them gain confidence with their cat furniture.

There are, of course, tons of other ideas to try with your cats. I haven’t even touched on many categories of enrichment. These four tips address many feline-typical needs, and I’ve found them to significantly decrease behaviors we might find annoying in our feline companions.

Now What?

  • Try doing one of these things for your cat — just dropping a few tasty treats on an unused cat tree or rearranging the top of the bookcase to be cat friendly can go a long way!
  • Don’t go too over the top. Introducing too many of these things at once won’t just stress you out — it may also stress your kitty! Try one thing at a time, and use trial and eval to figure out which things work for your cat. And don’t be afraid to return or donate toys that your cat doesn’t like.
  • Work with a qualified Behavior Consultant if you need help with your kitty. These things might help, but we can also hone a plan specific to your cat! If you’re ready for a professional, you can work with us here.
  • Join our free Facebook group, “Enrichment for the Real World

Happy Training,
Amy

Walk This Way

 

If memory serves me correctly from my youth, it was somewhat a rarity to see dogs out on leashed walks with their pet parents. There were plenty of dogs in my neighborhood, including our next-door neighbor’s Airedale Terriers, Jo Jo the Boxer a few houses down, and every other assortment of breeds combined, milling about in fenced-in backyards but I truly do not recall any of them being taken on walks in the neighborhood. My family’s own small menagerie of beloved dogs were often found hanging out in our backyard with us and the neighborhood kids, sometimes joining in the frivolity, sometimes lying in a sun-soaked spot as far away from the action as space allowed. I am not sharing these memories with a sense of nostalgia for better days gone by but more with a sense of curiosity about the difference I notice now.
In the neighborhood where I have lived for the past 25 years, you can barely go a block without seeing at least one dog being walked by their pet parent. It is far more likely that you will see dozens of walking pairs. For the most part, it seems most of the dogs and their human counterparts are enjoying the companionship of a walk shared together. I know I certainly enjoy taking strolls in the neighborhood with my dog, Fonzy, his nose choosing where and when we turn depending on the scents he picks up along the way. And I think this is a really great thing. Until it isn’t.

 

Whatever can you mean?

Urban and suburban strolls are great for dogs who love going on them. Walks can provide wonderful opportunities for them to safely explore novel environments. Walks can provide not only physical exercise but undeniably they provide mental exercise too if we allow our dogs plenty of chances to stop and sniff (shameless plug for letting your dog stop and smell all of the things on your walks, now and forever!) However, this presumes that you share your life with a dog who, 1) enjoys seeing other people that aren’t you while out and about, 2) enjoys seeing (not even approaching or greeting, just seeing) other leashed dogs when out and about, and 3) doesn’t have great big feelings about……..I’m just going to say “stuff” because the category of things that a dog can have big feelings about is as varied and immense as the category of things humans have big feelings about too.

 

Big feelings, small world

If you are the pet parent of a dog with big feelings about one, two, or many things, it can be hugely challenging to find a safe space to walk them where those big feels don’t come roaring to the surface if your dog is exposed to the big feeling’s trigger. This situation is not as uncommon as some folks might think. In fact, if I were a betting woman, I would say that one of the biggest reasons clients hire a Pet Harmony consultant is because their dog is exhibiting leash reactivity, which broadly speaking, is when a dog barks, lunges, growls, or snaps at other dogs or people while on leash. So what is a diligent dog parent to do? We know it can be stressful, oftentimes embarrassing, and sometimes downright hazardous to continue to walk dogs who have leash reactivity. But as a dog parent, you want to do your due diligence and provide your dog with opportunities to get exercise and allow them prospects to engage with the world. That’s what good dog parents do, right?

 

Walks aren’t a panacea

First of all, let me say that there are many, many ways to be a good steward of your dog’s physical and emotional health and while walking them on leash can be a great activity for some dogs, it isn’t a panacea for meeting all of your dog’s needs. In some cases it might actually do more harm than good. If you live in an urban environment and you have a dog who has sound sensitivity, is worried about fast-moving objects, or does not like being in close proximity to other dogs or people, a walk will not be an enjoyed experience but more likely an experience for your dog to either shut down or rehearse behaviors you would rather she didn’t. This can leave you feeling defeated, worried, and wondering if you are making your dog’s world just a little too small by excluding those treasured walks. This is where troubleshooting the problem is really helpful. If your dog does have leash reactivity, you don’t necessarily have to completely cut out walks (though it is completely ok to find other activities to enjoy while you work with a behavior professional on modifying the behavior.)

 

Here comes the helpful part

When it comes to finding safe places to walk with your dog, you will want to take a number of things into account. First, there isn’t a one size fits all approach when it comes to finding a safe walking area. You will need to take several things into consideration including your personal dog, what his triggers are, and how much space he needs to stay below threshold (read more about that here.) When you are determining which choice will work best for you and your dog, here are some guidelines to keep in mind:

  1. How much exposure will your dog have to his or her triggers? If your dog is great with seeing other dogs on leash, doesn’t typically seem to notice people either, but loses her mind when a skateboard passes by then going to a park where there is a skateboard park would not be a great option. If your dog is fine with seeing other dogs, people, and skateboards but has a very strong prey drive towards little critters freely roaming the Earth (yes, squirrels, I’m talking to you) then walking your dog in a densely forested area would not be optimal.
  2. How much space does the area provide to move away from a trigger if you see one? Forest preserves are great for avoiding other dogs or people especially during the week and at certain times of the day. But what would happen if you did see a dog and person approaching or following closely behind you on the same path? Most forest preserve paths are fairly narrow so the opportunity to use a flight cue to turn around or simply stepping off the path to let the other dog pass might not give your dog the space he comfortably needs to remain under threshold.
  3. How populated is the area at the time you are most likely to go? This might take a bit of preplanned reconnaissance on your part to determine the likelihood of other folks and dogs having the same great idea during the same time period. If you live near an open field and own a long line, taking your dog for a relaxing sniffy walk can be a wonderful shared experience and a great way to get in some recall practice at the same time. Knowing ahead of time that the field is unpopulated at the time you go can make it more pleasant for you and your dog.
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  4. How secure is the area? Perhaps you have a dog-loving friend, neighbor or family member with a lovely, fenced-in yard or you found what seems to be a great location using Sniffspot and it is ready for you and your dog to use it for some off-leash fun. Great! Here are a couple of things to consider before you go. First, is the fenced area safely secured with no holes or gaps in fencing? Second, is the yard on a busy corner with a lot of pedestrian traffic? If yes, then you might want to check with the homeowner if there are times of the day when fewer people or dogs will be passing by.

 

Now What?

  • Having helped countless clients with leash reactivity, our Pet Harmony consultants truly understand the challenges you face when it comes to reducing your dog’s exposure to their triggers while at the same time, trying to find solutions for meeting your dog’s needs. And in case you need to hear it, it is ok to find other solutions to meeting your dog’s needs that don’t include going for walks while you are working on the behavior component with a qualified professional. It is also ok to problem solve and get creative about how to safely walk your reactive dog to minimize their potential exposure to stressors. Knowing your dog, knowing their triggers, and knowing how to choose wisely (or not choose at all) can help keep everyone safe.
  • If you are looking for a way to meet your dog’s needs read this: Canine Enrichment for the Real World by Allie Bender and Emily Strong (two of Pet Harmony’s finest!)
  • If you are looking for a qualified professional to help you and your leash reactive dog, Pet Harmony is there for you! Get started here, no matter where you live in the world.

Happy training,

MaryKaye

Nervousness Doesn’t Look Like Terror

I think one of the hardest parts of learning to read body language is the ability to see the wide array of signals present for varying degrees of a particular emotion. Oftentimes when I first meet with a new client I ask them to tell me if there’s anything else their pet is afraid of that they didn’t mention on their questionnaire. Usually, there’s a pause, and then some variation of:

“He doesn’t seem to like to like [insert scenario], but it’s not like his tail is tucked or anything.”

And that’s a great example that nervousness doesn’t look like terror. 

 

Degrees of Feelings

Now, we are going to avoid the entire topic of can our pets experience complex emotions like resentment and guilt and also the topic of how can we truly know the exact emotion another individual is feeling. Those are a whole can of worms requiring a lot more scientific study. For our purposes, I think we can all safely agree that our pets experience fear. 

There are many degrees and facets of fear, though. We can classify things like nervousness, anxiety, discomfort, and terror as fear. All are different degrees of the same emotion. And with those different degrees, we see different body language signals. 

 

Nervousness Doesn’t Look Like Terror

I got the idea for this blog post a couple of months ago during a thunderstorm. Oso has come a long way when it comes to his sound sensitivities (though we still have some more work to do!) but that doesn’t mean he particularly enjoys thunderstorms. He just no longer shuts down during them. Now we see nervousness, instead of more intense fear. 

And it looks like this:

It’s subtle, right? The worried brow. Ears pulled slightly further back than normal. Stiffer body. Having to always be near us. Someone who didn’t know Oso and didn’t know his history would likely miss that this is nervous. A little bit of fear only merits a few, smaller stress signals in this case.

Compare that to when he’s relaxed:

Sprawled, loose body. Relaxed face and mouth. Ears normal for that position. Tail wherever it lands. Eyes would have been closed if I hadn’t woken him up. Hasn’t seen us for hours. 

When they’re side-by-side it’s easier to see but in the moment it’s easy to miss. 

 

What that means for you and your pet

Because there are different degrees of fear, we need to be able to see the subtler stress signals to know if our pet is nervous about something. And here’s why that matters: small stressors can add up. We call that “trigger stacking” in the dog training world and I wrote a whole post about that which you can check out here. In short, small stressors can exacerbate other behavior issues we’re working on. That’s one of the reasons I ask my clients to tell me about any other stressors in their pets’ lives that they haven’t already mentioned.

Not only can they exacerbate other issues, but they can also become bigger fears later on. I can’t tell you how many times folks come to me saying that their pet was only nervous around something for a while but it’s now escalated to barking, lunging, or biting. That’s a big deal when we’re talking about stressors like strangers. We need to monitor nervousness so that we can bring in a professional at the first sign of escalation. 

 

Now what?

Happy training!

Allie

March 2022 Training Challenge – March Madness For Your Dog

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Doing Food Preference Tests 

 

 

Now What?

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

Happy training,

Ellen

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

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

 

I’m gonna take a guess. 

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

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

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

 

Management

Our goals for management: 

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

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

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

 

Two Way Communication 

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

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

 

Meet Their Needs 

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

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

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

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

 

Learn New Skills 

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

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

 

Apply the New Skills 

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

 

Integrate New Information 

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

 

Now What? 

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

 

“Where Did I Go Wrong?”

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Genetics

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

 

Prenatal Environment

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

 

Early Socialization

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

 

Learning History and Past Experiences

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

 

Okay, you’re still here.

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

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

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

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

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

 

Now What? 

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