September 2022 Training Challenge: Teach Your Pet Something New Through Capturing

It’s September, y’all! That means it is time for our monthly training challenge! There are many ways that we can teach a behavior, but for this training challenge, we are going to focus on capturing! 

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

This is the first segment in our series looking at different ways to teach our pets new behaviors, and for the sake of demonstration, I’m going to keep the behavior the same (go to a spot or bed), but stick around until the end of this blog post for suggestions of other behaviors that you can teach commonly through capturing!

First thing first, what is capturing? 

Capturing is waiting for your pet to do the desired action naturally and then rewarding them for doing so. Often, we find that a marker is helpful for capturing. 

In this video, Allie shows what capturing might look like if you were looking to teach your pet to put their head in a box: 


If our desired behavior is for our pet to put their head in the box, we might put the box down, and wait for our pet to investigate the bottom of the box.

For our example of going to a spot, like a bed, a perch, or a stool, then we would put the object down, wait until our pet moved to that spot, then use our marker, and then deliver something wonderful like a treat. 

Now, you may be thinking, isn’t that going to take all day!? And the answer is, yeah, sometimes it can. Both of my dogs have a long history of going to “that thing that is a different texture than the thing that you’re on” and snoozing in their beds behind me while I work, and still, without some additional consideration, it maybe awhile before they go to their beds.

I started a zoom recording to demonstrate what capturing might look like if you were waiting throughout the day for your pet to go to their spot. I sped this video up because, let’s be real, no one needs to see me typing for this long, but this took about 5-6 minutes for Laika to walk over to the bed and lie down.


One of the large complaints that we see with capturing is that it can be a little slow. But, if you’re more like me and patience is something you’re working on, there are some things that you can do to speed up the process. 


Observe your pet to know when the thing is more likely to happen

Once you know what you want to capture, consider the different factors that set the stage for that thing to happen. 

In order to successfully capture behavior, you really need to know when it is likely going to happen. Some things happen based on the time of day, during different activities, with different people, or in different situations. 

You may find that your dog is more likely to bow after they get up from a nap. Or they are more likely to get a toy when you first get home from work. Or they are more likely to smack their lips right after they eat. 

For my dogs, if I want to capture them going to their spot, I know it’s more likely when:

  1. I’m settled and resting. It is going to be a big ask for my dogs to go lie on their bed if I’m moving around the house doing things. We’ll work on that later! 
  2. They have a place that they gravitate toward. Laika would rather stand than lie on the tile. This would go MUCH slower without something cozy for her to lie on. 
  3. I’m working with their natural activity rhythm. Super early morning, mid-day, or after dark are times when they are more often going to their bed on their own accord. 
  4. There is a beautiful sun spot on the floor. 
  5. They’re tired.


Stack the deck in your favor

How you do this is going to be dependent on what factors you already identified and what you’re looking to capture! 

If your dog loves lying on hardwood and you get them the cushiest, most plush bed in the world, that’s not exactly stacking the deck in your favor. But, if your pet loves lying and sitting in the sun, then opening the blinds and putting their spot there can help you be prepared to mark and deliver your treat quickly and efficiently. 

When teaching various species to go to a spot, here are some things that might make it a little easier: 

  1. The spot needs to be somewhere you can see it. If you want to capture them doing it, you need to know they are doing it! 
  2. Make sure the spot is of reasonable size. If it’s too small, it can be easy to miss. You can always make it smaller later! 
  3. Make the spot easy to get to when you’re starting, putting it in the middle of the floor, or between you and the entry to the room you’re in can be helpful compared to a corner far away from you.


And some final tips for capturing: 

  1. Remember, when we are capturing, we are looking for something that we already see our pet doing. If it isn’t happening already, you can’t capture it! 
  2. Make sure treats are readily available where you will be doing the capturing. This is most effective when the time between your pet doing the thing and the reinforcer is 2-3 seconds. 
  3. You may find a marker helps the process, so if you don’t have a marker signal or cue already, check out this video
  4. Think about the things that your pet already does that you’d like to see more of. Those are excellent options for capturing. 


Additional tricks or skills to capture

If your dog already has going to their spot down, then here are some other commonly captured behaviors for you to try this month: 

  1. Sit and Down 
  2. Your dog licking their lips
  3. Putting their head down 
  4. Deep breaths 
  5. Sneezing 
  6. Yawns 
  7. Head turns 
  8. Bows 
  9. Looking at you 
  10. Picking up a toy 
  11. Ear twitches
  12. Sniffing 
  13. Vocalizations 
  14. 4 on the Floor 
  15. Calmness 
  16. Put your head in a box 
  17. Lying on their side 


Now What?

  1. Decide what you’re going to teach your dog through capturing! There are so many options when it comes to this, so you can be creative. Just make sure it’s something that your pet already does. 
  2. Consider whether or not there is something you can do to make the thing you are capturing more likely. More repetitions can make the learning process faster.
  3. Have fun with it! Once you get the hang of knowing what you’re looking for, observing your pet doing it, and delivering a reinforcer, you can do so much with your pet! 
  4. Let us know on Facebook or Instagram what you’re working on! We’d love to see your progress! 


5 Reasons Why Every Pet Needs an Enrichment Plan

If you’ve been following us for a while, you probably know that we think enrichment is a must. We still get a lot of questions, though, about if enrichment is right for you and your pet or if everyone needs an enrichment plan. My answer? Yes! Everyone should have an enrichment plan for their pet. Let’s get into 5 reasons why I think this is a must-have for every pet. 


Before we do that…

Let’s define enrichment real quickly for those of you who are new to us. We’re using the original definition of enrichment: enrichment means meeting all of an animal’s mental, physical, and behavioral needs in order to empower them to perform species-typical behaviors in healthy, safe, and appropriate ways. 

Enrichment means meeting all of an animal’s needs. 

While the term has been watered down on its way to the pet-owning world, it really means so much more than entertainment and boredom busters! We get into the deep dive of all 14 categories of canine enrichment in our book Canine Enrichment for the Real World. But in the meantime, just trust that we’re talking about ALL needs here. 

Now on to the good stuff!


1. Meeting needs makes everything else easier. 

None of us can be the best version of ourselves when our needs are not met. If you are tired, or hungry, or scared, or bouncing off the walls with energy, you are not likely to be the best you that you can be. That’s true for our pets, too. 

That means that those basic manners you want them to learn are harder. Those coping skills you want them to have when you leave the house aren’t as effective. The household rules are harder to adhere to. Everything is just more difficult than it needs to be. 

Ken Ramirez and Emily had a great discussion about this in a recent podcast episode. In that episode, Ken discusses his primary and secondary reasons for training. Primary reasons include those that directly benefit the animal: cooperative care, mental stimulation, physical exercise, etc. Secondary reasons include things that we train for us humans: manners, sports, service work, police work, etc. Emily sums it up perfectly by saying, “when you are focusing on that primary reason, first, it makes the secondary training easier and more successful because you’re working with a physically, behaviorally, and emotionally healthy animal instead of one whose needs might not be met and has some deficits as a result.” 

So regardless of what goals you have for your pet- snuggle buddy, athlete, gentleman, trick dog, resilient, well-rounded, relaxed, service dog- focusing on enrichment first will help you get there smoother.


2. Meeting needs helps curb behavior problems.

Unmet needs can cause or exacerbate behavior problems, from anything like attention-seeking nuisance behaviors to aggression and anxiety. Again, we can’t be on our best behavior if our needs aren’t met! And while not every pet exhibits behavior issues, those are the pets we work with here at Pet Harmony so I had to include this as a reason for an enrichment plan. 

We bake this step into all of our clients’ plans- even if they’re not aware of it. It’s one of my favorite parts of the behavior modification journey (are you surprised?) The reason that I love this part is because you get to see what is actually a behavior issue and what is an enrichment issue. 

Often I’ll start my clients off with activities to help meet certain unmet needs and they’ll come back just a few weeks later with a noticeably different pet. Not a perfect pet, mind you, but one who is exhibiting fewer or less severe behavior issues. At that point, we get to focus on the behaviors that truly require behavior modification instead of having to focus on every single behavior they originally came to me with. An enrichment plan often helps you work smarter, not harder, on your pet’s behavior modification journey! 


3. Ensuring optimal quality of life. 

A good life is one where your needs are met. I know you’re here because you want to make sure you are providing your pet with the best possible care and life that they can have in your household. An enrichment plan can help you know that you are providing your pet with a great quality of life instead of always second-guessing and worrying that you’re not doing enough. It provides peace of mind for you and a great life for your pet. 


4. Getting the most out of your relationship. 

Something that never fails to bring a smile to my face is when clients tell me how focusing on their pet’s needs has helped to improve their relationship. By viewing unwanted behaviors through the lens of unmet needs, they’ve been able to shift their mindset in a way that not only improves their pet’s behavior but also improves their relationship! 

I know this is true for me. There are times when Oso does something I’d rather he not. Being a professional doesn’t make me immune to my dog annoying me! In those moments I try to take a step back and ask myself, “What does he get out of this? What need is this behavior meeting?” Essentially, I put myself in his paws for a moment. From there, I can find a more appropriate option for meeting that particular need and that makes whatever he’s doing less annoying and allows me to enjoy him more!

5. You already have one, whether you know it or not.

You already have an enrichment plan, even if you’re not thinking about it in that way or with those terms. You feed your pet. You provide them with shelter. You’ve taken them to the vet. Chances are that if you’re here you have also provided them with a comfy place to sleep, some sort of training, food puzzles, and other activities. All of those are to help meet your pet’s needs! 

If an enrichment plan sounds cumbersome or superfluous or extravagant, think again. You already have one by virtue of caring for your pet. So if you already have one, why not make it the best plan it can be? 

The way to make it the best plan it can be is to make it purposeful. I wrote a couple of weeks ago about how being strategic with your enrichment plan helps to create a sustainable plan. When you have a clear vision of your goals and metrics for success you can lean into the things that work for you and your pet and scrap the things that don’t work. Again, it’s about working smarter, not harder.


What does an enrichment plan look like?

That may look different depending on where you are in this journey and what works for your household. It may look like a robust, well-fleshed-out plan like the kind we help folks create or you may be in the beginning stages of creating your pet’s plan or you may currently be at status quo with your pet’s plan until they get older or there’s an environmental change. That’s okay! The important thing is that it works for you and your pet and both of you are getting the intended results from your plan. 

Here’s an example of working through a robust plan: Part 1 & Part 2. 


Now what?

  • Take stock of what your plan already looks like; remember, you have one by sheer virtue that you’re caring for your pet! Do you need to focus on creating a purposeful plan first or are you working on fine-tuning?
  • Build in that strategy. Your enrichment plan doesn’t need to be about adding more, more, more. It needs to be sustainable for you while getting the results you (and your pet!) want. If you don’t know what your goals are yet, that’s the place to start. If you know your goals but don’t yet have metrics for success, that’s the place to start. If you have all that but don’t have a way to track those metrics, then that’s what you should focus on next! 
  • Do the thing! Focus on improving one thing at a time. 
  • Need a clearer path to building your plan? I get it; it takes a few more pages than what I can do in a blog post 😉 Check out our new Canine Enrichment for the Real World Workbook for help with building and implementing your plan. 
  • Professionals: are you ready to take enrichment to the next level for your clients? Our Enrichment Framework for Behavior Modification Master Class takes you on a deep dive to help use enrichment to its fullest potential to help your clients get better, faster results. Register here

Happy training!


What I’ve Learned About Enrichment Since Our Book Came Out

Books are great, don’t get me wrong, but one of the drawbacks about them is that they’re outdated as soon as they’re published. Because we’re in a constant state of learning, books are like a moment in time that gets frozen–a snapshot of what we knew and thought at the time of publication. They do not reflect what we know and do now.

That’s not to say that things are entirely different now than they were at the time of publication! Books still have a lot of value and convey a lot of important information. Our book, Canine Enrichment for the Real World, is still very much a reflection of our approach to behavior change. But we have certainly learned more and do better since it came out. Here are a few of the things we’ve learned and changed since we wrote it:


Species-Typical vs. Instinctual

When we wrote the book, we were passionate about walking the tightrope between scientific accuracy and accountability on the one hand, and accessibility and relatability on the other hand. This is harder than you might think! 

For example, we were trying to decide what to name the chapter discussing modal action patterns, and we ended up calling it “Instinctual Behaviors”. When our mentors were reading the manuscript and giving us feedback, one of them told me, “You know, ‘instinct’ is an outdated term, and we really don’t think about or talk about those behaviors in that way anymore.” 

“I know,” I replied, “But what’s the alternative? Calling it ‘Modal Action Patterns’? That’s going to feel overwhelming to a lot of people. I’d rather err on the side of accessibility over accuracy in this situation.”

Of course, not long after the book came out, I realized that we could have called the chapter “Species-typical Behaviors.” That would have been both accurate and accessible! It didn’t have to be one or the other.


Discussing the Nuances

In that same chapter, I had written about 9 pages discussing how and why the term “Modal Action Patterns” is an updated and more accurate replacement for “Fixed Action Patterns”, and the terms “Species-Typical” and “Breed-Typical” are likewise updated and more accurate replacements for “Species-Specific” and “Breed-Specific”. After reading back over that section, I realized the discussion was convoluted and felt esoteric and irrelevant to behavior professionals and pet parents. In a fit of panic, I deleted it all and decided against going into that level of detail.

Since then, I have learned much more succinct ways to discuss these topics, as well as why it matters. And it essentially boils down to this:

When we call things “fixed” or “specific”, it implies that these behaviors are permanent, universal to every individual within that breed or species, and can’t be changed. What we know now is that even innate behaviors have a wide degree of variability among individuals within a breed or species, some individuals won’t express them at all, and most relevant to us, innate behaviors can still be changed!

The notion that innate behaviors are “fixed” or “specific” leads people to think of enrichment in a more prescriptive way: “Because this is a German Shepherd, this dog will always exhibit this behavior and that can’t be changed, and they will always need this particular enrichment activity.”

Yes, we should be aware of species- and breed-typical behaviors, and we should learn about the modal action patterns of the species we work with, but we still must always meet the individual in front of us and learn from them what they need. We should also always work to help them be more behaviorally and emotionally healthy, even if the behavior they’re exhibiting is common within their breed or species.


We Got Some Things Wrong, and That’s Ok!

It’s hard to be a layperson who reads, interprets, and synthesizes research for other laypeople. Sometimes you’re going to get it wrong. And I did! There was one part of the book where I discussed a paper about Sensory Processing Sensitivity, and I overstated what the paper said. I attributed Sensory Processing Sensitivity to a single gene based on misreading some details in the paper. 

Fortunately for me, Dr. Jessica Hekman, a behavioral biologist and veterinary geneticist, reached out to let me know that I wasn’t speaking accurately about the topic. She was kind enough to meet with me and walk me through the paper to explain how I had gotten it wrong, and what was a more accurate way to talk about it. Essentially, it is this: some dogs, like some humans, do seem to experience Sensory Processing Sensitivity, and there does appear to be some genetic influence. But there are multiple contributing factors and we’re only just beginning to understand this phenomenon.

But that’s ok! Making mistakes is a part of the learning process, and one of the most common mistakes we humans make when we’re undereducated about a topic is to oversimplify it! So, it gave me an opportunity to learn more and do better, and as a result, Jessica and I have become friends and collaborators.


Natural History Is Still a Thing

For some reason, I had gotten it into my head that referring to an animal’s ethological context as “natural history” was outdated, so I avoided that phrase entirely in the book. Since then, I learned from my friend and mentor, Eddie Fernandez, who has devoted his life to enrichment-related research that, in fact, “natural history” is a wonderful and accessible way to talk about it! I use that term all the time now.


Clarity About Behavioral Diversity

When we were writing the book about enrichment, I’d read some articles about behavioral diversity and had a vague understanding of what it meant. I got the general concept that behavioral diversity is when animals perform a wide variety of species-typical behaviors, just like they would if they lived in their natural habitat. But it wasn’t until I had a conversation with the excellent and incomparable Ellen Yoakum, our teammate and co-owner of Pet Harmony, that she gave me a crystal clear definition: “Behavioral diversity is a measure of the number of behaviors that a species exhibits, as well as the frequency of those behaviors. It is thought that when behavioral diversity is high, we are meeting the needs of the animal, and when it is low that may be an indicator of possibly compromised welfare.”


Activity Budgets Are For Everyone!

Way back when I was first learning how to be a behavior consultant, one of my mentors at the time had given me the impression that activity budgets were complex academic things that laypeople like me shouldn’t be doing. Ever since then, I’ve avoided any discussion of them because I thought they were outside of my lane. 

But in the same conversation about behavioral diversity mentioned above, my lovely teammate Ellen taught me that activity budgets don’t have to be super complicated, and anyone can use them.

Activity budgets show us how much time is typically spent performing any given behavior, on average, for a species. They are incredibly helpful, because it gives us a baseline of what to expect from the animals in our care. If we see an animal performing a behavior outside of the typical range, we can pay attention to that as an indicator of potentially compromised welfare. On the other hand, what our society typically thinks of as insufficient or excessive may not actually align with the activity budget of that species, which gives us permission to ignore societal pressures and let an animal do the thing that aligns with their activity budget. In this regard, everyone who works or lives with animals can benefit from learning about and using activity budgets!


There Are Multiple Enrichment Frameworks

When we were writing the book, we mentioned the S.P.I.D.E.R. Framework because we thought that it was the one and only standard for implementing enrichment programs. But I learned from my friend and colleague Nathan Andrews (who was our first podcast guest because he’s #lifegoals in terms of his understanding of and skill at implementing enrichment programs) that, in fact, there are many enrichment frameworks created for zoos, aviaries, and aquariums! We didn’t mean to snub them; we simply didn’t know about them.


We Still Decided to Make Our Own Enrichment Framework

Despite the existence of multiple enrichment frameworks, we still ended up making some adaptations to S.P.I.D.E.R. to make it more applicable to companion animals and their caregivers. After writing the book, we talked to a whole lot of people who felt overwhelmed by the notion of using an enrichment framework to effect behavior change, and got stuck on some of the elements of zoo-oriented frameworks that don’t translate easily to a home, shelter, or training facility environment. We learned that if we wanted to be effective at teaching people how to do enrichment, we needed to create a framework that spoke to their specific needs.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg! I could probably write a whole other book and all the things we’ve learned since the book came out, but these are some of the really big ones. It’s a great reminder that reading books is important, but it’s also important to not stop there, but to keep learning and growing and keeping your knowledge up to date.


Now What?

  • If you’d like a short primer on the history of enrichment, its functional definition, and definitions of enrichment-related terms, you can listen to the introductory episode of our podcast.
  • If you’d like to read more updated information about enrichment and instructions for applicability from us, you can buy our new companion workbook.
  • If you’re an animal behavior professional and you’d like a more in-depth education about how to effect behavior change through an enrichment framework, you can check out our Enrichment Framework Masterclass.

Strategic Equals Sustainable

We’re all about sustainability here at Pet Harmony. And by that, I mean creating a behavior modification plan for helping your pet that is sustainable for you and your lifestyle (though we’re all about the environment, too!) We could create the greatest plan that’s ever existed, but if you’re not able to implement it, then it’s not the greatest plan. 

Most of our clients are quite busy. They have full-time jobs and kids and often other pets in addition to the pet they’re seeking help for. Their behavior modification plan simply can’t be yet another full-time job. And, even if they do have the time for that, we don’t want our clients to have to do that! 

That means that if we’re going to create a behavior modification plan that is sustainable, we need to focus on the activities that are going to give us the most bang for our buck. The ones that we can use and reuse in different situations. We need to know what’s working so we can do more of it and know what’s not working so we can do less of that. In other words, we need to be strategic. 


What does “strategic” look like?

It’s easy to say that we need to be strategic in our behavior modification plan, but what does that actually look like? How can we get the most progress for the least amount of effort? Here are three ways that we use strategy for sustainable change. 


Bang for your buck exercises

When I’m choosing which training exercises to give my clients, I’m always looking for the ones that can be used in a number of different ways or scenarios. I ask myself, “What’s the fewest number of exercises that I can teach that will still let us reach our goals?” As many of my clients know, one exercise can be used in a variety of ways! 

Let’s use “Find It” as an example (check out how I usually teach this here). I love this game because I can use it for so many different purposes. It’s great mental exercise, can be used for calming and de-stressing, can be used to teach that scary things aren’t so scary, to relocate a pet without touching them, and more! While we could choose different exercises for each of those goals, why would we when one can suffice?

It’s easy to hop on Google and believe that you need a lot of different exercises to help your pet throughout their behavior modification journey. And while, yes, there are some cases where we need more tools in our training toolbelt, there are a whole lot of times where we don’t. We should lean into the exercises that work instead of always chasing the shiny new thing. And that leads us to…


Being an amateur scientist (it’s not as scary as it sounds!)

We can’t lean into the activities that are working if we don’t know what’s working and what’s not! Being strategic means being a bit of an amateur scientist. That might sound scary, but I promise that it doesn’t have to be! What this means is that we try one or two things at a time (preferably one but that can be hard!) and see the effect that activity has on your pet’s behavior. Once we know the effect that activity has, then we can decide if we should do more or less of it based on the results. Is the activity actually working as we intended it, or do we need to troubleshoot it or scrap it altogether? This is how we can make sure that we’re only doing things that are actually working, instead of doing a bunch of things that may or may not be yielding results. 

Sometimes it’s easy to see those effects, but oftentimes we need some sort of data tracking to better see results. Again, it’s not as scary as it sounds! We set many of our clients up on a simple numerical chart where all they have to do is write down a number or sometimes we help them integrate this tracking into daily habit apps they already use. Just like with the overall behavior modification plan, it has to be a system that you will actually use! 

The reason that we often use data tracking is because behavior change rarely flips on and off like a light switch. It’s more like a faucet where you see less of a certain behavior before it fades. It’s so much easier to keep track of frequency and intensity when it’s written down somewhere instead of keeping that all in your head. Plus, it’s easier for us as the consultant to help you when we can see all of that data! Check out our podcast episode on Data Tracking if you dig this topic


Operating within a proven framework 

This one’s a little harder to see from the client side of things, but having a framework that we operate in as the consultant helps to make things more sustainable for you in the long run. Operating within a framework (we use our Pet Harmony Enrichment Framework) helps us to move through your journey more systematically, knowing exactly where we are and what we’ve tried and haven’t tried. 

But more than that, it can help you work through behavior problems the way that we as professionals do. Here’s an example. I just graduated a client to as-needed sessions (congratulations team Seneca!) There are more goals that this family would like to accomplish with their pup and he’s a candidate for future, unavoidable regressions (aren’t we all?) We could absolutely have continued our regularly scheduled sessions.

But Seneca’s parents and I could confidently, cheerfully graduate this pup because they know how to operate within the same framework that I used to help them reach this benchmark. They know how to observe his behavior, what activities to try, how to measure progress, and how to troubleshoot when things don’t go as planned. 

And they were able to do that because I walked them through the same framework, in the same way, enough times that they can now do it themselves (even if they didn’t know that that was what was happening!) Plus, they know that I will always be here to support them if they need help in the future. That’s why we graduate to as-needed sessions. 

If I had thrown a bunch of spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks or moved through their behavior modification plan in a different way with each new scenario, we would have had a different result. When your consultant models a strategic behavior modification journey it will be much easier for you to emulate it! And while I miss clients who have graduated, I’m always thrilled when they no longer need me. That’s my goal! 


Now what?

  • Take a look at your behavior modification journey and ask yourself if you could do what you’re doing every day for a year. If the answer is yes, awesome! Keep doing it! If the answer is no, identify which aspect is unsustainable in the long run. 
  • Once you’ve identified which aspects are untenable, ask yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing. Is it because you tried a bunch of different things at the same time and don’t actually know which is working and which isn’t? Is it because you have one activity for each individual scenario? Do you have an unsustainable management plan which is likely to be resolved once starting behavior modification? Dig deep to discover why your plan is unsustainable. If you’re working with a consultant, bring your concerns to them and they can help you figure out what the problem is and how to resolve it. 
  • Now that you know the problem, you can resolve it! If you don’t know what’s actually working, you can discontinue activities and test one at a time to see the effects (sometimes you don’t have to discontinue and can separate them enough). If you have a bunch of activities, see if you can tweak just one or two to work in multiple scenarios. If your pet is displaying any type of aggressive behavior I highly recommend you work with a professional for this part. And if you’re stuck here, a professional can help you regardless! You don’t have to have all the answers; that’s our job. 
  • Professionals (I know you check out our blog posts to use for your clients, too!): if you’re interested in learning more about our Pet Harmony Enrichment Framework and how we create sustainable plans for our clients, check out our FREE webinar: 3 Strategies to Uplevel Your Consulting Skills to Solve Behavior Challenges: happier pets, enthusiastic clients, and a more rewarding career using the Pet Harmony Enrichment Framework. You won’t want to miss this!


Happy training!



5 Reasons Why Enrichment Is Your Behavior Modification Plan

We work with families that are experiencing issues ranging from mild annoyances to struggles that are greatly impacting the quality of life for everyone in the home. And as a team, we utilize the Pet Harmony Enrichment Framework to help us, our clients, and their pets to have a successful, sustainable behavior modification journey. 

When people hear that we utilize enrichment to address behavior challenges, they sometimes are a bit skeptical. Whether they are a pet parent looking for assistance, a pet professional looking to better help the families under their guidance, or someone who is both, it’s not uncommon for them to wonder… 

How do I incorporate enrichment into my behavior modification plan? 

If you’re working with, living with, or addressing behavior challenges, you may think you have your “behavior modification plan” and then your “enrichment plan”. 

But enrichment is all about meeting an animal’s needs, and that can look like a lot of different things. It isn’t an activity, it isn’t a toy or an object, it is the outcome of opportunities that our animal engages in. 

Sometimes you need to teach skills to help better meet an animal’s needs and sometimes you need to better meet an animal’s needs before they can effectively learn new skills. We can’t neatly separate the two, and as you make progress in one area, you will see changes and developments in others. With each sliver of progress, you’ll unlock new ways to adjust your plan.

Once you start measuring enrichment by the outcomes, not the activity, it opens up so many new opportunities for you and your learner. It adds depth, richness, and flexibility to your plan.

When the root, the very foundation of your plan is to change behavior through meeting your animal’s needs, then enrichment is your behavior modification plan, not supplemental.  


So, let’s look at some examples of why utilizing an enrichment framework is so important and celebrate some successes along the way!


Unmet needs can make teaching hard

If you are to look at what people often think of when they hear “behavior modification plans,” they are often focused on teaching a new skill or replacement behavior. The emphasis is on changing the behavior within the context that it occurs. 

And yes, when we work with clients, this may also be a goal that we have! However, when we don’t look at the full picture of what the animal needs, we may fail to address something that’s impeding learning, such as an underlying medical condition, chronic stress, the need for behavior medication support, or other unmet needs that make learning difficult. 

When we first start by making sure our animal is able to learn, that they receive any medical attention that is indicated, that they have the medication support to foster learning, that we’ve managed the environment and their stress, and/or identified any other roadblocks for them, then our teaching can really take hold. They can acquire new skills and learn to use them in new situations. We can teach them ways to better meet their own needs, and how to navigate the world more effectively. 

From the human side of things, it is not uncommon for families to come to us who have already been trying to teach their animal something for weeks, months, or years. To get no results, or very few results can be frustrating and demoralizing. Taking a step back and meeting needs to foster learning can catapult your progress in incredible ways.   

When we first started working together, Zena was barking at every little thing outside the house, through the windows, and in the backyard. Each little thing would send her into a tailspin that was difficult for her to recover from. The first step was to create an environment where Zena could learn, and as we discussed ways to decrease stress for the whole household, Zena’s person came up with the idea to use bubble wrap to cover the windows (without losing natural light!) and started utilizing sound masking to decrease auditory triggers. 

A week later we touched base, and those small adjustments led to improvements for everyone. Zena’s barking and reactivity decreased significantly, the rest of the house also had less stress, and Zena’s person saw that Zena was able to learn in ways she had never seen before. 


Meeting needs addresses the fuel, not just the flames

When we start by addressing unmet needs, then we are addressing the issue at the source. No fuel, no fire. 

And let’s talk about what happened next with Zena! Once Zena was in a place where she was able to learn effectively and efficiently, Zena’s person was then able to teach Zena what to do instead of running, screaming, spinning, and yelling at all the little triggers. Zena was using all her bluster and might to get the things to go away. A person passing outside? Bark and they go away. Dog barking outside? Bark and they go away. 

Zena needed space. She needed distance from the things and the only way she knew how to get it was to go on the offensive. So, we taught her how to get the distance in a way that didn’t disrupt the whole household, and frankly, was more effective! 

By seeing and acknowledging that Zena needed space from the things she found stressful, we were able to teach Zena, not only how to get distance on her own, but how to get distance and relief at the same time through the Flight Cue. Now that Zena is well practiced in walking away and finding relief, she’s able to do it unprompted, and with other stressors in her life. While we are working on teaching her that she doesn’t need to be stressed about those things, she’s made incredible progress just by having the agency to move away from uncomfortable things, and without that skill, we couldn’t teach her that the mailman isn’t a threat to her very existence as efficiently and effectively.  

Comment reads: “Today I had some big wins and need to share with a group that gets it.

1) I took Zena out on a 15 ft leash near my houe and she sniffed a lot, checked in with me and kept to her leash length. We heard something scary and I did our flight cue and we both ran the other way and she was happy!

2) I had a tree guy in the back yard. I forgot he was there and let Zena out. She barked at him, I did the flight cue and she came to me with a few barks over her shoulder. Both of these activities would have been a DISASTER before I started this training. I am overjoyed and feel so proud of Zena!”


Meeting needs promotes sustainability

One of my favorite examples of this is Barty Boy Neutron, a well-intentioned cyclone of a pup who was running his family ragged. They were doing ALL THE THINGS with Barty Boy, trying to meet all his needs, and still, even after HOURS of activities, Bart would parkour all over the house every evening. 

They tried all sorts of physical activity, foraging, and mental stimulation. They were dedicated to giving Barty everything he needed, but what they were doing wasn’t sustainable, safe, or realistic in the long run. So, we dove a little deeper into what Bart might need. He was getting adequate exercise. He was getting lots of mental stimulation, and foraging opportunities. He was partaking in lots of dog-typical things like sniffing, chewing, and licking. 

One of the things his people did observe is that he ran hot. He would seek out cool spots in the house. So, his family crafted him the perfect cool place to help him self-regulate his temperature. Once he had a nice cool place to relax and settle, we saw giant improvements in his nightly routine, and his family was able to execute a sustainable routine to keep him happy, healthy, and safe. 

Comment reads: “The reason I started a “settle” cue was bc about a year ago, Ellen suggested that he might not know how to calm and/or cool himself down after some play. Being 60% English Bulldog, #bulldozerbart is veryyyy sensitive to the heat. More than I ever would’ve expected as never owning a bulldog myself. He was outside for about an hour, medium activity level and the outside temp is 68* with 15mph winds, NOT what you’d consider warm but here we are. We stated giving Bart a cool place to lay and I worked with teaching him to settle on it with my gudiance for the last year. I had set the fan and mat up earlier figuring he’d want it at some point but I’d have to help.

I just found him laying here after playingoutside, mnowing he normally would come in and bounce around and not be ready to settle without help.

TLDR: Bart put himself in the “settle spot” tonight after playing outside when he’d normally need guidance to the spot. My boy is growing up!”


Meeting needs helps the entire family, not just one individual

When we’re sharing our space with other living creatures, our lives become acutely intertwined. When one being is struggling, it can impact the entire family unit. Using the Enrichment Framework takes into account all the beings involved, including the humans and the other pets. 

In some instances, families that come to use are working on inter-household conflict, and whether that is dog-dog, dog-cat, dog-human, [insert species here]-[insert other species here], it is stressful for the entire family. Everyone in the home is walking on eggshells, and feeling secure in the place you’re supposed to feel safe can be difficult. 

That was the case for Rylee’s family. Rylee, the dalamation pictured below, had started growling, snarling, and lunging at the other dogs and cats in the household. Family time was no longer something that felt comfortable and cup filling, instead, it was riddled with stress and grief. 

By taking an approach to meet Rylee’s needs to help him engage with species-typical behaviors in healthy, safe, and appropriate ways, his family was able to make incredible progress. Each step on their journey opened up new opportunities for them along the way. This involved working with their fantastic vets to meet his medical needs and that helped him to be in a place to learn. From there, we were able to teach him about his safety room, and with that progress, he was able to start communicating when things were just too much and he needed his safe space. 

By addressing Rylee’s needs, the rest of the family is able to feel safe and secure moving around their home. And I mean, come on, look at that smile!


Meeting needs helps you and your pet learn skills that will help for a lifetime

Our pets are living beings with needs that will change as they age and develop. What one dog needs at 6 months, won’t be the same at 6 years, and that’s just a part of life! 

When we take an approach to explore and meet our pet’s needs, we are taking an approach that will help us in the future. We are creating a more robust behavioral repertoire and a foundation that we can always return to if we hit a bump in the road. When we utilize an Enrichment Framework, we are building in checks and balances, we are taking a directed approach to behavior change that will help inform future decisions and adjustments.

And that brings us to Otis. Otis is a wonderful little pup that is learning that it is okay to be home alone. Otis’ person is working on teaching Otis skills to help him self-regulate, self-soothe, and to be safe and feel secure in their home. These are all things that directly translate to being able to be comfortable at home alone, but the exercises, activities, and skills that Team Otis is working on will do so much more than just that. They are building a strong relationship that can weather storms, Otis is learning predictable and safe patterns that will help him during life changes in the future, and they are building a system of communication that will help day in and day out.

Watching Otis breathe deeply while learning to spend time alone is a reminder that meeting an animal’s needs doesn’t always look like what you see on the internet. Sometimes, it takes information to know the true beauty and joy of what you’re seeing, and Team Otis is doing an incredible job. 


All of this and more is why we suggest meeting needs first.

The majority of the time, if you jump straight to the “problem”, you’re going to miss out on the low hanging fruit, you may be doing things that are going to be ineffective or inefficient, and you may dread the process. Working through an Enrichment Framework can help you take a directed approach where you know that you’re meeting your needs and your animal’s needs. 

Instead of thinking and treating enrichment as a supplement to your plan, center it in your plan, and your results might just surprise you.   


Now what:


Happy training, 


August 2022 Training Challenge: Add Sustainability to Your Enrichment Plan

If you’ve been following us for a while, then you know that we put a hefty emphasis on sustainability for pet parents. 

When you have carefully crafted a plan that is designed to meet your animal’s physical, emotional, and behavioral needs, to enable them to engage in species-typical behaviors in healthy, safe, and appropriate ways, it is because you love and care about animals in your life. 

Unfortunately, the best plan won’t meet your animal’s needs if you can’t sustain it.


Sometimes, it goes a little something like this… 

You catch the enrichment bug!

You read all the things. Listen to all the podcasts. Start collecting ideas, making plans, buying tools and toys, and filling so much time with these activities and ideas of what you want your enrichment plan to be. 

And then something happens. 

Maybe you get an extra project at work and start putting in some overtime. 

Maybe you get injured or sick and need to focus on healing. 

Maybe you get tired from doing all the things. 

But, you still try to fit all those activities, ideas and plans into time, energy, or bandwidth that you no longer have.

And it’s just not sustainable. You can keep it up for a bit, but eventually, the execution falls apart, and if you’re already feeling that enrichment guilt, you may even feel crummy because you aren’t superhuman. 

But, you don’t need to be super human if you focus on creating a sustainable enrichment plan! Sustainability is key to the long-term success of an enrichment plan. It is important for your pet’s welfare and your welfare, and it is doable! 


Sustainability requires multiple plans

A single, rigid plan will fracture and crack under the weight and variability of everything else that people need to handle in their day-to-day life. 

A single plan means that you are creating something that can’t shift and integrate into the very natural changes that occur day to day, week to week, year to year. 

So, this month’s training challenge is to start exploring flexibility in your enrichment plan. Let’s start with 1 goal or activity, and build from there! 

Sidebar: The following suggestions are working under the assumption that you already have a first go at your enrichment plan in place. If you are just getting started, then I suggest you start here, with our step-by-step guide for crafting the first draft of your animal’s enrichment plan! 


So, what might this look like? 

In my house, and for my clients, I work to create a tier system based on effort for the pet parent. 

Now, an important note: effort is relative. What I might label “low effort” for me, might be “high effort” for you, and that’s okay! There are so many things that impact how we grade effort. Avoid comparing yourself to others! 


First, list your goal

For example, in my house, for Griffey and Laika: relaxation and rest while I’m at work.


Second, list the options you have available to you that meet that goal. This is where your previous “trial and eval” comes into play!

Griffey and Laika: 

  1. Scatter feeds 
  2. Non-frozen lick mats
  3. Frozen food toy 
  4. Shreddables/Destructables
  5. Play sessions with me 
  6. Play sessions with each other 
  7. Social time 
  8. Teaching relaxation 
  9. 40-minute walks in the morning 
  10. Teaching a new skill or working on one of our training goals 


Third, consider the effectiveness of the activity in helping you to achieve your goal and the amount of effort that activity takes for you. 

I tend to use 4 categories:

High effectiveness, high effort – very effective, see large improvement toward your goal but also takes more involvement from me 

High effectiveness, low effort – very effective, see large improvement toward your goal but takes little involvement from me 

Low effectiveness, high effort – somewhat effective, see some improvement toward your goal may need additional activities, but also takes more involvement from me 

Low effectiveness, low effort – somewhat effective, see some improvement toward your goal may need additional activities, but takes little involvement from me 


High Effectiveness, High Effort 

  1. 40-minute walks in the morning 
  2. Frozen food toys
  3. Teaching relaxation
  4. Shreddables/Destructables
High Effectiveness, Low Effort 

  1. Scatter feeding 
  2. Non-frozen lick mats
  3. Play sessions with each other 
  4. Play sessions with me 
Low Effectiveness, High Effort

  1. Teaching a new skill or working on one of our training goals 
Low Effectiveness, Low Effort

  1. Cuddle time 


Fourth, amend your current enrichment plan to include options for varying levels of effort. 

You can even adjust some of your activities to be more clear. For example, I may have 3 tiers for different activities: 

Scatter feeding:


Teaching a new skill or working on one of our training goals (recall): 


Fifth, start adjusting your daily routine for sustainability. 

Some days you’re going to have all the time, energy, and bandwidth. Some days, you won’t, and that’s okay! Here’s what two different days may look like in our house: 

“I can do anything!” day

  1. Stuff and prepare frozen food toys 
  2. Take each dog for an individual walk, scatter feeding breakfast, practice skills on a walk
  3. Mid-day cuddle session 
  4. Frozen food toys stuffed in boxes for dinner 
  5. A rousing evening play session 

“I’m so tired” day 

  1. Morning cuddle session 
  2. Lick option for breakfast  
  3. Spend time in the sun – practicing the flight cue 
  4. Mid-day cuddle session 
  5. Short tug game if needed  
  6. Dinner scatter fed 


Start from a point of success 

I gave a lot of examples from my house, but remember, just like with your pet, you want to start from a place of success. If you aren’t ready to look at an overarching goal like “increased relaxation”, then start with making 1 of your staple activities more sustainable. Let’s build you an enrichment plan that works on your best days and your harder days. 


Now What?

  1. If you haven’t started creating your pet’s enrichment plan already, then start here, with this step-by-step guide to help you go through the process!
  2. If you’re ready to start tackling sustainability, then narrow your focus to one thing, either one activity or one goal, and go through the exercise listed above! 
  3. If you’re a pet parent and find yourself overwhelmed by choice, then email us at [email protected]! Our consultants have helped hundreds of families create an enrichment plan that addresses each family’s goals, meets the human’s needs, and meets the pet’s needs.
  4. If you are a fellow behavior professional that is looking to increase engagement and sustainability for your clients, then make sure to join the waitlist for our Enrichment Framework for Behavior Modification Master Class! We spend a lot of time discussing sustainability for your clients!

The Common Mistake That Will Cost You

How many times have you made this mistake: you learn something new and go straight to the fun part. The harder part. How can you push this new skill? What else can you do with it? Aaaaand you conveniently skip right over mastering foundation skills before doing all that. 

Sound familiar? Yeah, for me too. I’ve learned many skills that I’ve had to go back and re-learn and master those foundations after the fact. Usually, I would do that after I get myself into trouble or a sticky situation by trying to perform a more advanced skill without having a solid foundation first. And it’s always been harder for me to re-learn and undo those bad habits than it would to have learned the foundation in the first place. 

For some aspects of my life, I’ve learned that lesson (it only takes a few times of trying to crochet without a pattern and undoing 3 hours of work before taking the hint); when I want to try something new I watch foundation videos to make sure I start off on the right foot. I ask the experts what skills I need to perfect before I can get to the fun part. I practice until those skills are comfortable before trying to push the boundaries. For other aspects of my life, I’m still in that stage of recognizing I should do that but thinking this time it will be different. (It never is.)

This seems to be a pretty common trait of human learning: pushing boundaries before we’re ready. I see it a lot with my clients, too, where they gloss over critical foundation skills to get to the fun part. Or, gloss over critical foundation skills to get to the part that they think they need. But, here’s the thing. There’s a whole lot more that goes into what you actually need to develop a skill than the skill itself. 


A Low-Stakes Example

A few Christmases ago, I wanted to crochet bookmarks for a few friends. I had seen a cute pattern on Pinterest for an animal with a long, flat body and a little 3D head that would pop up out of the top of the book. But, of course, I wanted to make everyone’s favorite animals for their bookmarks instead and there were no bookmark patterns for those. 

I had crocheted amigurumi (that’s the fancy term for 3D crochet projects) twice before and kind of knew what made it work. I decided to give it a go and make my own patterns. I already hinted at the result above: I crocheted for hours and unraveled my work several times. I knew how to make a sphere because I had a pattern for that, but what about an animal with a more pyramid-shaped head? What about an oval? I had completely overestimated my abilities because I didn’t actually have the foundation skills; I didn’t know truly why it worked the way it did and I didn’t know enough to be able to break the rules of the patterns I could find. 

It took me a lot longer and many more headaches to try to do something I “kind of knew” instead of learning the foundation skills first and then getting to the fun part. I did eventually figure it out, and now I’m kicking myself that I didn’t write down the pattern for some of these! It will take me a long time once again to figure it out because it was pure trial and error instead of tweaking known rules. 



What does this look like in relation to animal behavior?

There are two ways that I see this often come out in relation to pets that we work with:

  1. Humans trying to speed through their foundation skills, or skip them altogether
  2. Ignoring the foundation skills the animal needs

Let’s take a look at each of these.


Skipping the human skills

The first often looks similar to my crochet example. The human knows a bit about some of the foundation skills and is itching to get to the fun part, or the part that they think is relevant to their goals. They don’t realize how much more laborious (and in the case of aggressive animals, unsafe) they’re making it by trying to speed through their foundation skills. It’s like a tortoise and hare situation. 

Here are some of the foundation skills that humans need to work with their pet who has behavior issues:

  • Observation skills
  • Understanding of body language for that particular species
  • Ability to watch the environment and their pet at the same time
  • Ability to react to the pet’s body language within seconds
  • Timing for training exercises
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Ability to respond appropriately to behavior throughout the day, outside of only within a training session

The results are often very different if one of these skills is lacking. When I did in-person sessions my clients would joke about how well-behaved their pets were for me, like their pet was in the principal’s office on their best behavior. The truth was that I had mastered the above foundation skills, which made my results different. Once my clients were proficient in those skills they saw the same results. 

Sometimes we see folks skipping the foundation skills because they’re not as exciting (like I did in the above example). Sometimes, though, we see this happening because they don’t quite understand how those skills are relevant to their pet’s behavior modification plan. I get that too; it can be hard to conceptualize some of these concepts without seeing a real-time application. 

I see that a lot with learning body language. For those people who understand in theory why it’s important but have a hard time truly visualizing it, I often see a light bulb go off when I start to point out their pet’s body language signals in real-time and then predict what they’re about to do and what the human should do in response. It’s much easier to conceptualize when you see it being put to such a helpful use! If that describes your situation, be sure to ask your consultant to explain what a particular skill is used for and to demonstrate it. 


Skipping the pet skills

In this week’s podcast episode, Kathy Sdao talked about the importance of eating as the first behavior. It’s hard to train using food if we have a pet who doesn’t reliably eat treats! Often when I see folks skipping pet skills, it’s the skills like this that we don’t even think about teaching. The behaviors that we often take for granted, like eating, sleeping, relaxing, sniffing, and mobility. We’re focused too much on the end goal behavior and forget that there’s a whole host of mechanics- aka other behaviors- that make up that end goal. 

This is why here at Pet Harmony we focus on enrichment first when we meet with a new client. Enrichment means meeting all of an animal’s needs and those needs provide the foundation on which the rest of the plan is built. For example, if we have a pet who has trouble sleeping they’re not going to learn and retain information very well. We’re going to work much harder to teach basic skills to that animal than to one who is well-rested. The same goes for a pet who has an upset stomach, or is wired with too much energy, or who doesn’t feel safe in the training environment. Meeting needs is the ultimate foundation. 


How do I make sure I don’t miss those foundation skills?

One of the best answers is to ask an expert. They should know what skills go into a particular exercise, from training mechanics to beyond. But if that’s not currently in your cards, think about the mechanics that go into a particular exercise or behavior with the determination of a toddler. 


For example:

Goal: I want my dog to calmly look at another dog and look back at me for a treat on a walk instead of barking.

To take a treat, they have to reliably eat in that environment. 

To reliably eat in that environment, they have to reliably eat that treat period. 

To reliably eat in that environment, they have to feel comfortable enough to be able to eat. 

To feel comfortable in that environment, they should have an escape route. 

To have an escape route that works, they need to have practiced the escape route ahead of time in an environment where they’re comfortable enough to learn a new skill. 

To practice the escape route, we need to identify an environment that they are comfortable in.

To identify an environment they are comfortable in, we need to be able to see signs of stress and signs of comfort. 

To see signs of stress, the dog needs to be comfortable at some point in time so we can see a difference between stress and comfortable. 

For the dog to be comfortable at some point, they need to be able to relax. 


See how many other behaviors go into that one end goal? And that’s just looking at one piece of that goal! We could do the same thing with the other behaviors included in that sentence: calmly looking at another dog, looking back at the handler, and the handler being able to dispense the treat. 

This is why asking an expert is easier; we’re more proficient at doing all of this. 


Now what?

  • Take a close look at a behavior or skill you’re trying to teach your pet. 
  • If you’re getting stuck, identify where you’re getting stuck. Then, consider all of the foundation skills and behaviors that make up your goal behavior. Is there one that could use some sprucing up?
  • Dive into that foundation skill and focus on applying it in easier situations. When that feels comfortable, then try applying it to the situation you’re stuck on. 
  • Is that situation getting less sticky? If so, great! Continue on that vein. If not, go back to the drawing board. 
  • If that all sounds like a heck of a lot of work, work with a professional. We work with clients all over the world. Check out our services here. 

Happy training!



Is Enrichment The Square or The Rectangle?


I’m sure most of us remember that math lesson that happens to very accurately describe a lot of unrelated topics:

A square is a rectangle, but a rectangle is not a square. 

Funnily enough, Emily just used this example in a recent blog post without knowing I was using the same example while writing this one. It really does describe a lot of topics!

Recently, Emily came across a Facebook post where someone was asking about enrichment activities for their dog. The group moderator tagged her to see if she had any suggestions. The poster thanked the moderator for the tag but mentioned that her dog did not have any behavior problems, so didn’t think that our enrichment framework could help. 

So the question became: does enrichment, and more specifically the Pet Harmony Enrichment Framework, require behavior problems?


Here, enrichment is the rectangle. 

Behavior problems require enrichment, but enrichment doesn’t require behavior problems. In other words, our enrichment framework can be used for any animal, regardless of whether or not they exhibit maladaptive behaviors. However, if a pet does have behavior problems, we should absolutely work through those challenges using an enrichment framework. 


The answer lies in the definition

Remember that here at Pet Harmony we use the original definition of enrichment: it’s about meeting all of an animal’s physical, emotional, and behavioral needs to empower them to perform species-typical behaviors in healthy, safe, and appropriate ways. 

All animals have needs, ergo enrichment is for everyone! 


So why do we always talk about enrichment in relation to behavior problems?

Well, it’s kind of what we do. We’re behavior consultants who work with pets who have maladaptive behaviors- like anxiety, aggression, fear, and compulsions- and we do so using the understanding that we need to meet all of the animal’s needs in order to help them be the best version of themselves and to help our clients reach their goals in a more efficient way. We always talk about our enrichment framework in relation to behavior problems because that’s how we typically use it. 

In addition to that, we want to make it clear that enrichment isn’t superfluous. It isn’t an add-on or something to focus on only when an animal is bored. It’s an incredibly important element of behavior and by shining a light on how you can use an enrichment framework to solve behavior problems we hope we’re showing folks how important enrichment truly is. 


How would you go through the Pet Harmony Enrichment Framework with a behaviorally-sound pet?

Glad you asked! Really, the process will look the same. The differences we’ll see between a behaviorally-sound animal and one with maladaptive behaviors are likely the categories of enrichment we focus on, the activities and how they’re implemented, and the goals. 


Take a look:

  1. List desirable & undesirable behaviors. Even if your pet doesn’t have maladaptive behaviors, there are still behaviors you’re hoping to see more of and less of. That could look like being more relaxed at the vet office, greater mobility for an aging pet, or just displaying a wider array of species-typical behaviors (aka behavioral diversity). Even with a perfectly behaved animal, we still want those behaviors to continue and will need to reevaluate our enrichment plan as they age and circumstances change to set the stage for those desired behaviors to continue. 
  2. Are needs being met? All individuals have needs. And needs come and go. We don’t eat one meal and then are satiated for the next several months. We don’t go on one run and that meets our physical activity needs for the next year. In addition to the cyclical nature of needs, including changes as an individual ages, they are also subject to environmental changes: things like moving, new household members, and things as inevitable as weather changes. All of that means that we need to keep an eye on our pet’s needs to make sure that we’re always doing the best we can for them, regardless of the situation. And for the household that already has an incredible enrichment plan? I recommend preparing for future, likely scenarios, like aging needs. 
  3. Are agency needs being met? Remember that agency means having some level of control over the outcomes in a situation. For folks who have pets not displaying maladaptive behaviors, this is often where we focus in their enrichment plan. How can we work on cooperative care? How can we create more two-way communication between humans and pets? Have we recently performed preference tests to see if any preferences have changed? 
  4. Narrow down your options. This part is exactly the same as working with a pet who has behavior issues. We still have goals; we still have current behaviors and behaviors we’d like to see more of or less of in the future. We still have a bunch of different ways to get from current point A to future point B and we’ll need to narrow down those options based on the resources we have at hand. Nothing new here. 
  5. Prioritize. This part is often a bit easier than working with some pets who have behavior issues. The pets we see at Pet Harmony often have several different maladaptive behaviors and it’s imperative that we prioritize what to work on first to keep our clients from burning out. That’s not always the case with folks who have a behaviorally-healthy pet, though we do sometimes still see folks trying to do too much due to enrichment guilt. Prioitization is just as important for those pet parents to ensure sustainable plans. 
  6. Develop your plan of action. This step is also the same as working with a pet who displays maladaptive behaviors. You still need to determine who is doing what, when, where, and how. 
  7. Implement and document. I think implementation goes without saying, so let’s focus on the documentation portion. I do still recommend some level of documentation or data tracking when implementing a new facet of your enrichment plan with a behaviorally-healthy pet. Often, though, we’re able to get away with it being simpler. For example, when I started monitoring how well massage therapy was helping Oso’s mobility, I was able to do that in my head using jumping on the couch as our litmus test. When we first started his massage therapy, I hadn’t seen him jump up on the couch in at least a few weeks, if not longer. He would step onto the couch instead. That made it easy to notice when he would jump because it had become a rare occurrence. As he continued having more sessions, I noticed an increase in how frequently he would jump so I could conclude that it was, in fact, having the intended result. In that situation, I was looking for a simple “yes this improves mobility” or “no this does not improve mobility” and I already had a history of observing and making a mental note of the particular behavior that became our litmus test. If I was looking at more specific details or for a behavior that I wasn’t habitually noticing, I would likely have written down the results. 
  8. Reassess, readdress, and do it again. We already talked about how needs are cyclical. They change with household changes, seasons, age, and more. That means our enrichment plan is never done. We always get to work on improving our pet’s quality of life. So even though you may go through this step slower with a behaviorally-healthy pet than with a pet who displays maladaptive behaviors, you’re still going to need to reassess, readdress, and do it again at some point. 


 Now what?

  • Ready to put this framework into action? Head over to to get a free copy of our enrichment chart and a breakdown of these steps. Follow that free guide to help create your pet’s enrichment plan.
  • Need more examples and details of how to do this? Check out our new Canine Enrichment for the Real World Companion Workbook here. This is an affiliate link. 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!
  • Get working on your pet’s enrichment plan! Share your results with us @petharmonytraining on Facebook and Instagram

Happy training!



3 Enrichment Activity Myths Holding Your Pet Back


The more you learn about a particular topic the more you realize how little you know. It’s not just a cliched saying, it’s actually a cognitive bias called the Dunning-Kruger Effect. As humans, we want things to be cut and dried, black and white, good and evil. But it’s rarely as simple as all that. There are layers to everything, nuances that can drastically change outcomes. As a behavior consultant, I see that all the time: we tweak the timing of a training exercise by literal seconds and get very different results. 

Not understanding the nuances of a topic can impede desired outcomes. And while there are many enrichment myths that I see circulated that impact results, today, I want to focus on diving deeper: the nuances. 

Before we get into 3 enrichment activity myths holding you and your pet back, let’s get on the same page about what enrichment is. Y’know, in case you’re new to us here at Pet Harmony and Canine Enrichment for the Real World

Enrichment means meeting all of an animal’s physical, emotional, and behavioral needs in order to empower them to perform species-typical behaviors in healthy, safe, and appropriate ways. 

In short: enrichment means meeting all of an animal’s needs. It’s not about providing entertainment, though that can often be a side effect. It’s not about providing more novelty, though that can be an element. Enrichment is about meeting the needs of your pet so they can be the doggiest dog or cattiest cat or piggiest pig they can be. And, in turn, that improves their quality of life. (By the way, we didn’t come up with this. This definition comes from the father of zoo enrichment, Dr. Hal Markowitz, who put the topic on the map.) 

Now that we have the bonus myth out of the way (enrichment is about entertaining your animal), let’s get to it. 


Myth #1: All Activities Are Effective

We get asked all the time about what activities we recommend for [insert enrichment category]. What are our favorite mental exercises? Physical activities? What do we do to provide security? And our answer is usually the dog-trainer-favorite but definitely audience-despised answer of: it depends. 

The black and white myth here is that an activity, inherently, either is enrichment or is not. That the activity itself is imbued with a certain level of effectiveness. But here’s the nuance: the activity doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is the effect that we see from the activity. The only thing that matters is the actual, observable result. Activities themselves are only tools to achieve results (yep, even in the case of you having fun with your pet. Fun is the result.) 

So why is our answer, “it depends”? Because our activity recommendations are based on the individual dog or pet, the humans and household, the desired results, the environment, and other factors. Sure, we have our go-to activities that tend to yield similar results in a variety of cases, but even those can require modifications or may not be appropriate for all animals. It’s not about the activity. It’s about the result you observe from that activity. 


The Solution: Data Tracking

I know, I know. Data tracking tends not to be a favorite topic. But, hear me out. It doesn’t have to be painful or intensive. It can be as simple as tally marks, adding numbers to a calendar, or clicking a button on a habit tracking app. Emily and I chat all about this in episode 15 of our Enrichment for the Real World Podcast (and be sure to check out the transcript if you prefer the blog format over podcast format!) 

The heart of this solution is that you observe the results and then make a decision about how effective an activity is for your individual animal. See with your eyes, not your ideas. 


Myth #2: If an activity isn’t effective, then it isn’t effective. 

Remember earlier in this post when I mentioned that sometimes as a consultant I’ll tweak the timing of an exercise by literally a few seconds and that yields drastically different results? Activity effectiveness isn’t all or nothing. There are little tweaks that can be made- like timing, location, treat type, and more- that can impact how effective an activity is. 

Let’s use an example for this one. During our first or second session, I asked a client to start playing the Find It game with her dog, Raina. I assumed that this game would help with Raina’s overall anxiety, would help her mom be able to lower her stress levels in stressful situations, or at least use it as a distraction if needed, and I wanted to use it as a tool to modify future behaviors. The next time I saw Raina’s mom, she told me that Raina hadn’t quite taken to the game as we had envisioned. She would only chase after the treats if she saw them being thrown instead of using her nose. It wasn’t currently effective based on the results we were hoping to see. 

Did that mean we scrapped that activity and tried something else immediately? No! I coached Raina’s mom through the exercise, making little tweaks, to get Raina searching for longer. After that step, we started expanding the search area, then moved on to new locations. Now, months later, Raina’s mom plays Find It with her regularly and it does now have the intended effect. 

Now, in this example, I felt it was worth it to troubleshoot this activity instead of scrapping it for another. Other times, I choose to scrap instead of troubleshooting. And other times still I will troubleshoot a little, decide that it’s not worth continuing down that path, and then scrap an activity for another. 

The point is that there are nuances to how we execute an activity. And those nuances can change the effectiveness of that activity. So while we need to focus on the results to decide if an activity will help us achieve our goals, we may also be able to alter those results. 


The Solution: Trial and Eval

One of our consultants, Corinne, came up with the phrase “trial and eval” and we’ve all loved it so much that it has become one of our catchphrases at Pet Harmony. If you try something that you think will work a certain way and it doesn’t, try it again, but tweak it a little. That could be tweaking your timing, including the time of day, where in the routine the activity happens, the location, or handler, or how the activity itself is executed. There are so many things to change. Some will affect the outcome; some won’t. That’s why it’s trial, and evaluate. 

Oh and that data tracking? Yeah, that will make trial and eval so much easier to keep track of the results so you actually remember what was effective and what wasn’t. 


Myth #3: All [insert species, breed, behavior challenges, etc.] need the same activities

I hope by now you know where I’m going with this. All individuals are individuals, and the effectiveness of an activity depends on a lot of factors, making it pretty challenging to make a blanket statement that all [insert whatever] need the same activities for optimal quality of life.

We especially get a lot of questions about enrichment activities for individual dog breeds, or breed types. What’s the best enrichment activity for a German Shepherd? What’s the best enrichment toy for pitties? What activities should I try with my Australian Cattle Dog or other herding breeds? 

My answer is still: it depends. Did your dog get the memo that they belong to a certain breed? Are they a Pekingese who knows in their very soul that they are destined for royalty? Or are they a Lab who doesn’t like retrieving? A Newfoundland who doesn’t like water? And that’s added on top of all of the questions that we ask for every individual: what behaviors do they show or not show? What’s your household like? Etc. At the end of the day, dogs are dogs, even if they have certain breed tendencies. Breed is only one factor, out of many, many factors to consider. 

Going further than this, I see a lot of people run into trouble when they assume that because their last pet of a certain breed liked a particular activity, that this new pet of the same breed will, too. I’ve seen quite a bit of heartbreak when people compare past and present pets like this. Check out our blog post, Compare Leads to Despair, from consultant MaryKaye here

While I wish it was as easy and black and white as saying, “All herding breeds need Treibball”, it’s not that simple. There are nuances. 


The Solution: Observing the Individual

The solution here is to observe the individual in front of you, without letting the stories you have about who they ought to be cloud your observations. I think one of the easiest ways to do this is to think of them as someone else’s pet, or of another breed. How would you interpret your observations if you had just met them? If you had no history with them? If someone was describing their behavior to you and left out what breed they are? If you remove the stories you have about who they are and why they behave a certain way, how does that change your observations? 

Once you’re able to observe the individual and truly see with your eyes and not your ideas, then you can more easily determine what activities to try and more easily observe the results of those activities. 


Now what?

  • Take a few days to observe your own behaviors and thoughts. What is the biggest enrichment activity myth that is holding you back? 
  • Once you’ve identified that myth, it’s time to get to work! Reread the solution and determine what your next step will be to bust that myth. 
  • Put that solution into action. Regardless of what you choose, I still recommend tracking your results to better see the difference. You can download a free copy of our enrichment chart with a step-by-step guide here
  • Share your results with us over in our Facebook group or on Instagram @petharmonytraining 

Happy training!


July 2022 Training Challenge: Explore Variety Through a Cardboard Box

Happy July, y’all!

This month’s training challenge is inspired by one of our more frequently asked questions about enrichment.

What are some new enrichment things I can do for my pet? 

We’ve all been there, right? 

Scrolling through all the Instagram-worthy activities, looking at the plans professionals have developed for their own dogs and pets, thinking, “I really need to do more.”

Or watching your pet master your current offerings, so it feels like you need that next thing. Something that use to be exciting and fun has lost its spark (for you or your pet), so you’re looking for that excitement again.

And don’t get it twisted, I’m guilty of this as well! We have an obscene number of puzzle, foraging, and mental exercise toys for our dogs, but it’s a hobby for us, but not an expectation of an effective enrichment program. Because novelty isn’t always the answer. 

Novelty isn’t a requirement. Is novelty a part of an effective enrichment plan? Sure. Maybe. For some creatures, but for all creatures? Definitely not. 


And that leads me to this month’s training challenge: 

Explore a variety of new ways to use a cardboard box (or you can broaden it to your recycling) in your enrichment plan. 

I’ve worked with many species and cardboard boxes have been a staple in nearly all of their enrichment plans. They are versatile, regularly accessible, and downright effective. They are so useful that even Nathan Andrews talked about them in Episode 2 of Enrichment for the Real World!

You can use them as a foraging opportunity, to promote sniffing or shredding, to give the animal something to hide or rest in, to destroy, to obscure the environment, and more. 

As you embark on this month’s challenge, here is some inspiration and food for thought: 

  1. You can vary what is in the cardboard box, you can add your pet’s regular diet, treats, chews, frozen lickables, toys… the sky is the limit! Engagement with the box can lead to a variety of outcomes for your pet! 
  2. You may need to start with something easy, like a few pieces of food in a shallow, open box. That’s okay! Meet your animal where they are! 
  3. You can roll a box, put a box in a box, put things under a box, stuff the box with paper or leaves… get creative! If you’re looking for the next new thing to keep you entertained, flex those creativity muscles and see what you can come up with for yourself! Vary the way that you present the box.
  4. You can teach your pet to interact with the box, like with 101 Things to do With a Box, or use the box to teach a new trick.

In our household, we most often use boxes for “shreddables,” “destructables,” and foraging. When left to their own devices, complete and total destruction ranks high on preferred activities for our dogs. So, here are some examples of what that might look like to get you started! 




Enrichment is measured by its outcomes, not the activity.  Let your pet’s behavior tell you what they need. It’s incredible what you can do with something as simple as a cardboard box (or recycling in general). If you find yourself looking for something novel, ask yourself, are you really looking for variety, increased difficulty, or complexity? You can achieve all of those things without needing something new, you just need to be a little creative! 

Shreddables are nothing new to Griffey, and yet, it is still an incredibly effective activity for increased rest and relaxation throughout the day.


Now What? 

  • Observe your pet, and identify a behavior or two you’d like to approach with a cardboard box. Does your dog dig? Can you come up with a way to use a cardboard box or recycling to give them an appropriate way to dig? Does your pet destroy things? Maybe try some destructible to give them an appropriate way to destroy. 
  • Explore ways to add variety to your plan with a cardboard box, or other recycling! 
  • Follow us over on Instagram @petharmonytraining for more cardboard box and enrichment ideas!