December 2022 Training Challenge: Explore Enrichment Outside of Foraging

Happy December, everyone!

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

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

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

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

 

First, what else is there? 

 


And the answer is, so much! 

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

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

 

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

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

For reference, here are the 14 categories: 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

It may be something like: 

 

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

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

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

 

And from there, you trial and eval. 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Health and Vet 

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

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

 

Hygiene

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

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

 

Diet/Nutrition

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

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

 

Physical Exercise

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

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

 

Sensory Stimulation

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

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

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

 

Safety

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

 

Security

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

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

 

Species-Typical Behaviors

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

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

 

Foraging

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

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

 

Social Interaction

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

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

 

 

Mental Exercise

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

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

 

Independence

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

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

 

Environment

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

 

Calming

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

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

 

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

 

Now What?

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

Happy training,

Ellen 

How Do I Know What My Dog Needs?

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

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

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

 

How to tell what your dog is saying

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

What does my dog need daily? 

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

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

 

Now what?

Happy training!

Allie

Dog Enrichment Categories Explained

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

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

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

 

What is animal enrichment?

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

 

The 14 categories of dog enrichment

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

 

Health/Veterinary

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

 

Hygiene

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

 

Diet/Nutrition

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

 

Physical Exercise

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

Sensory Stimulation

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

 

Safety

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

 

Security

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

Species-Typical Behaviors

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

 

Foraging

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

 

Social Interaction

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

 

Mental Exercise

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

 

Independence

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

 

Environment

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

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

 

Calming

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

 

A note about agency

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

 

Now what?

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

Happy training!

Allie

Enrichment Activities for Dogs with Separation Anxiety

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

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

So let’s get into it!

 

1. Building a relaxation station 

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

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

 

2. Long-term calming projects 

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

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

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

 

 

3. Scent work 

A dog’s sense of smell is just incredible. There are very few things as “doggy” as sniffing, and harnessing a dog’s sense of smell is one of the most effective and simple ways to provide an enriching experience for your dog. The positive impacts of olfaction-based activities are numerous

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

 

4. Bolstering security at home

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

But is it enriching? 

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

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

And the answer is likely, “no.” 

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

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

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

 

Now what? 

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

What About Agency in Training?

Earlier this month, we had a really great question enter our inbox:

I have a 1-yr-old Chow-Pitbull-Cattle Dog-Mastiff mix (Embark). We train nearly daily, with multiple short sessions, 2-4 minutes each. Sometimes he’s really into it, sometimes (and I’m sure partially due to a lack of clarity on my part–working on it) he’d rather flop over and do some maintenance and cleaning of the old undercarriage. I’d really love to teach him an “It’s your Choice” cue–tell him we can use this training session to work on whatever he wants. I honestly don’t care if he chooses to work on positions or heeling, or if he just wants to play a game of tug. He’s the most joyful dog I’ve ever met, he makes your typical lab look grumpy! I’d love to be an agent of even more joy for him and I’m also hoping to increase his engagement in training. So far everything I’ve done with this goal in mind has resulted in a session where he’s just trying to guess at what I want. I’d love to see him express what he wants. 

And really, there are two questions here that we get asked pretty frequently: 

  1. How can you increase agency in training sessions? 
  2. How can I help my dog communicate what they want or need?

These are both fantastic questions, and each deserves its own attention, so today, we’re going to be chatting about introducing agency into training, and stay tuned next month for the conversation of building a way for your pet to communicate their needs!

 

So, let’s start with what agency is. 

The concept of agency is a pretty big one, heck, there is a whole chapter dedicated to it in Canine Enrichment for the Real World. But in order to answer “how can I introduce agency in my training sessions?” we first need to know what agency is. Allie did a great job of diving into the topic in a past blog, Agency: What It Is & Why Your Pet Needs It and I highly recommend you check that full post before continuing here.

The short answer is agency is the ability to have some level of control in our environment and be able to make choices that will result in a desirable outcome. Agency requires at least two desirable choices. Our favorite demonstration of this is Eddie Izzard’s “Cake or Death” skit. 

Cake or death does not meet the 2+ desirable choices and outcome criterion for agency, it’s a “yay or nay” situation, and what we want is “yay or yay”. 

 

The difference between “yay” and “nay”

If we are looking to provide our pet with 2 or more choices that result in desirable outcomes, that means, we need to know the difference between our pets saying “yay!” and our pets saying “nay!” 

Knowing the body language of the species of our pet can help us identify when we are getting that “yay” from them rather than the “nay!” We covered how to start identifying those in your pet in our November 2021 Training Challenge: “Yes, please!” vs. “No, thank you!”. Whether you are just starting to observe and communicate with your pet, or you are looking to hone your skills, it can be a great starting point.

Keep in mind, what is desirable is fluid, it can change with a number of factors. What is desirable one time, may not be desirable another!  Being able to observe your pet in real-time, and notice those “yays!” and “nays!” will help you assess whether your pet has agency during an activity. 

For example, Griffey LOVES playing with his flirt pole. He gets wiggly and does his joyful “woowoo!” when it comes out (yay!), but if I brought that out at 4:30 in the morning, he’d dive into his cave bed and grumble (nay!). 

Or for Laika, she gets so excited to go adventuring in the yard (yay!), unless it is raining, and then she’d really rather not (nay!). 

This is really a foundation for introducing agency into the equation.

 

Okay, so what next?

So, you have a solid idea of what agency is: 

Agency is the ability to have some level of control in our environment and be able to make choices that will result in a desirable outcome.

You can fill in the blanks: 

My pet’s “yay!” looks like:

My pet’s “nay!” looks like: 

Excellent! We can start looking at introducing agency into your training scenarios! 

 

Provide multiple ways to get the desirable thing.

If you are using chicken in your training because your dog loves chicken, well done! You’re using something of value to your dog. Now, consider the number of ways that your dog can get the chicken. Remember: agency is having the ability to make 2+ choices for a desirable outcome. The outcome can be the same thing, it doesn’t have to be a separate option, as long as it is desirable. 

This could look like this: 

Training with me gets chicken 

Using this puzzle feeder set to the side gets chicken 

Going to your mat gets chicken 

If our dog only gets chicken if they do what we ask, then they don’t have agency. It can really challenge our skills as a teacher if we open the number of opportunities up to our pet!

 

Provide multiple desirable options. 

You can let your pet pick the treats at the beginning of the session. Offer chicken (or a treat of your pet’s choosing) and cheese (another treat of your pet’s choosing) and see which one they opt for. (This post talks about doing a treat preference test with your pet!) Utilize that in your session for the day. You can even let them choose the exercise you work on with a little bit more intentionality! But that requires quite a bit more intentionality!

 

Listening to the “nay”. 

There are going to be times your pet is going to give you the “no, thank you”. I thank my dog for each and every “nay” as it gives me more information. Recognizing the “nay” and still providing a desirable outcome is a fantastic way to turn the table from “do the thing I asked or else no chicken” to “do the thing I ask, or communicate your needs and get chicken.” 

If this is a topic you’d like to learn more about, I highly recommend Enrichment for the Real World Episode 21 –  Ken Ramirez: Comprehensive Care. Around the 30-minute mark, Emily and Ken talk about what listening to a pet’s “no” can do for our relationships and our training. 

 

Now What? 

  • If you’d like a more in-depth look at agency, check out Allie’s blog fully dedicated to agency. 
  • If you’re ready to start identifying what your pet’s “yay” or “nay” looks like, then I recommend starting here. 
  • If you are ready to start introducing more agency into your training sessions, then look at the list above and identify areas for improvement! Make one change at a time so you don’t overwhelm yourself! 
  • Make sure to join our mailing list so that you get notified when our blog for building communication with our pets comes out next month! 

Happy training,

Ellen

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!

Allie

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!

Allie

 

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, 

Ellen

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!