January 2022 Training Challenge – Creating SMART Goals

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Happy New Year, everyone! 

Goal setting is a common activity around the New Year, and so this month’s training challenge is to set SMART goals for yourself and your pet. 

SMART goals are…  

S – Specific 

M – Measurable 

A – Achievable 

R – Relevant 

T – Time bound 

You may already have a goal for your pet, and let’s be honest, I think we all do. But, let’s go through the framework and see if it’s the right goal for right now. 

 

Specific 

Narrow down your immediate goal. You’re always going to have your ultimate goal in the back of your mind, but let’s focus on something more concrete to start. 

Ask yourself 

  • What needs to be done? 
  • What are the steps to get there?
  • Who will be doing it? 
  • How will they do it? 
  • What do I need to complete this goal?  

So instead of “I’m going to tackle my dog’s separation anxiety”, it might look like “I’m going to learn what is required to tackle my dog’s separation anxiety”. 

Instead of “I’m going to socialize my dog with other dogs”, it might look like “I’m going to look at some resources about what good dog-dog body language looks like.”

Instead of “I’m going to get my dog to listen outside”, it might look like “I’m going to teach my dog to look toward my face.”

 

Measurable 

Tracking your progress has a number of benefits. How will you know if you are succeeding? How will you know if you need to try something else? 

What are some objective measures you can use? Is it time comfortably home alone? Is it the distance from a scary monster? Maybe the number of reactions a day? 

 

Achievable 

Make sure your goal is realistic and attainable. If you aren’t sure, a qualified behavior professional can help you (this one can be very tricky). Remember, we aren’t talking about your mega goals here (although, having those be realistic is also important!). What’s that next benchmark that you are working toward? 

For example, at the beginning of a separation anxiety-related behavior modification journey, it might be a realistic goal for your dog to be comfortable with you closing the bathroom door or taking out the trash, but is not realistic to have them be home alone during the 4th of July fireworks. 

For a dog that’s afraid of other dogs, it may be realistic for your dog to look at you when another dog is passing on the street, but integrating them safely into a daycare environment wouldn’t be realistic or attainable. 

For a dog who hates to have their nails trimmed, it could be a realistic and attainable goal to teach your dog to use scratchboard, but may not be realistic to shoot to do all 4 feet with a Dremel in one sitting. 

Consider, is this goal doable? Do you and your pet have the necessary skills and resources? If you don’t have the skills or resources, that points you toward another relevant goal that may need to take priority. 

 

Relevant 

Does this goal matter to you, and does it align with your other goals? Why is this your goal? Does it align with your other priorities? 

This can help you make sure that your goals are sustainable and help you to identify areas where you might look for alternatives. 

For example: “I need my dog to get along with other dogs because I can’t leave them alone.” You are absolutely right! While working on Separation Related Problems, it’s advised you avoid leaving your dog home alone. But, sometimes, there are other options that won’t drain your resources and align better with your future goals. If your dog needs someone home with them, it might be more realistic to “work to build a relationship with a reputable pet sitter” so that your dog can have some company while you take care of yourself, but you might also find less stress around traveling. 

 

Time-Bound 

Now this one can be a slippery slope. If you’ve ever asked “how long will it take for my dog to…” you likely got a “well, it depends” answer. And that’s true! There are too many factors for us to predict those bigger goals. 

However, creating some time parameters for your goal can also help to ensure you are biting off the right amount for your goals. If you are trying to build a habit, such as “I want to file my dog’s nails two times a week”, you are likely to want a longer time frame, such as a few months.

If your immediate goal is to watch two YouTube videos on dog body language, then a few months might not be the appropriate time frame. Maybe a week or two would be a better fit. 

That being said, we want to set realistic goals! If videos are not your preferred learning style, what might take me 20 minutes can take you a very different period of time. Setting goals you can achieve is important! 

 

Wins Along The Way

When we track only to our mega goal, like my dog can be home along comfortably for 4 hours, I can pick up my dog’s food bowl when they are finished eating, I can walk down the street without an explosion, I can make it through a Zoom call without interruption… we lose sight of all the wins along the way. 

When that happens, you may find yourself feeling like “nothing is working” and that “you’ll never get there”. When setting goals, we always have that big goal in mind, but the smaller goals are the ones that keep us in the game. 

Your goals should be realistic, doable, and concrete so that you can celebrate every step of your journey. 

 

Now What? 

  • Do you already have goals for the next year? Are they SMART? 
  • If not, see if you can make them SMART goals! Are they Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound? 
  • If you need an extra bit of accountability, share your SMART goals with us on Instagram @PetHarmonyTraining

Happy Training, 


Ellen

 

 

You Can Comfort Your Dog

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Soapbox time: 

You can comfort your dog.

It’s okay. 

You aren’t going to “reinforce” the fear. 

In fact, I encourage you to help your dog when they are afraid.

Sometimes things are scary. It’s a part of life. In fact, a really, really, important part of life. It’s part of what’s kept species surviving until this point. We all feel fear, and the way we all handle and cope with it is a little different. 

One of my favorite stories from my partner is a time when he was hiking in the Pacific Northwest. He hadn’t timed his descent very well, so he’s running down the mountain trying to beat the sun setting. He comes around a corner and comes face to face with a giant elk buck. 

Now, how do you think you’d respond? 

Me? I’d likely shriek. Maybe hit the deck in hysterics.
My partner? He put his fists up. Like he was about to fight. A GIANT ELK BUCK. 

Is this rational? ABSOLUTELY NOT. But, when we are afraid, we aren’t in the space to react rationally. We are looking for survival. P.S. he made it out safe and sound without having to punch a buck. 

Let’s be honest, had someone else been there, they wouldn’t be comforting Nathan. They would have been too busy reacting with their own survival instinct. 

So let’s use a different example. Maybe one of mine. Maybe one that should come with a…

CONTENT WARNING: SPIDERS 

Because… 

I’m afraid of spiders. I’ve been bit by spiders with unfortunate consequences one too many times to want them near me. I don’t trust them. I’ll side-eye them as I slink out of a room. Yes, I know. NOT ALL SPIDERS will bite and are harmful. Rationally, I GET THAT. Does it help? No. Not really. Do you know what else isn’t helpful when you’re scared of something? “Oh, you’re fine!”, “they don’t bite!”, “ buck up!”. 

When I lived in Florida, I really had to take some time to address my fear of spiders. They were everywhere. Especially since I worked outdoors. The first piece of advice I got was “check underneath things before you pick them up”. I felt neither safe nor secure. 

My basic training plan included: researching the heck out of the native spider species. Which ones were venomous, which ones made cool webs, how could I identify the different species? This helped me to know which ones were the ones to ‘RUN AWAY!!!” from, and also, provided safe, controlled exposure to the sight of spiders. 

Then, I learned neat facts about the different species. Could I find some cool tidbits of natural history, evolution, behavior that I could share with people when I saw them? I was trying to replace repulsion with appreciation. I still think fondly of the golden orb weavers and the spiny orb weavers

And you know what was really helpful? People being supportive. People validating my fears and encouraging my behavior change journey. 

 

Comfort can look like a lot of things.

For dogs, it can look like providing a barricade between the scary monster and your dog. It can look like providing them a way out. It can look like sitting and petting them. It can look like providing a safe space, or a lap to sit on. 

Comforting our dogs can help them recognize they are safe, and to feel secure in their environment. 

For us, it can look like humoring your friend when they start spouting facts about spider behavior in the middle of a walk. It can look like validating their fears. None of these things reinforced my fear. In fact, all those acts of “comfort” helped me progress and build a real, lasting appreciation for spiders.

Well, at least some spiders. It’s still a work in progress. 

 

Now what? 

  • Identify what your pup looks like when they need help. Are they barking and lunging? Running and shaking? Crying and pacing? 
  • How can you support your pet when they are struggling? Do they need a safe place to sit? Do they need a way to get away from the thing? 
  • If you worry that your pup’s fear or anxiety is impacting their quality of life, we are here to help you. We can support our pup when they are afraid, and turn the scary monster into the cookie monster. Contact us at [email protected]

Happy training!

Ellen

Combatting That Enrichment Guilt

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I see a lot of people asking for more ideas for enrichment for their pets, especially on social media platforms. More variety. More ways to entertain their pets. And my question is always:

“Is your pet displaying behaviors that lead you to believe that they’re bored or their needs aren’t being met as well as they could be?”

And the answer is often, “no”. 

My next question is, “Then why are you looking for more ideas if what you’re doing right now is what your pet needs?”

Silence. Quizzical brow. And, for some folks, finally the answer of, “Because I feel guilty not doing it. I think that I should be.”

Oh boy, I’ve been there before. The Enrichment Guilt. 

 

A reminder about what enrichment is, and isn’t

In our book Canine Enrichment for the Real World, Emily and I adopted the practitioner-friendly definition of enrichment (so that it’s easier to put into practice!), which is: enrichment means meeting all of an animal’s mental, physical, and behavioral needs to empower them to perform species-typical behaviors in healthy, safe, and appropriate ways. 

In short, enrichment is about meeting all of an animal’s needs. 

Fun games and toys and activities can be a part of that enrichment strategy, but only if they’re actually meeting the needs of the individual. And only the individual can tell us if that’s true through their behavior. We don’t get to decide what does or does not meet their needs. 

 

The enrichment guilt

Enrichment has become a hot topic in the last few years in the pet-owning world. And that’s fantastic! We love it! But with all of those Instagram-worthy pics comes guilt from others wondering if they’re doing enough for their pets. Wondering if their pets aren’t living their best lives because they don’t have a social media-ready enrichment strategy. 

I’m here to tell you that you can be released from your enrichment guilt. You do not need an Instagram-worthy enrichment strategy (unless you want to). You do not need to have a ton of variety or new activities or toys for your pet (unless they say otherwise through their behavior). You do not need to search high and low for brand new, never-heard-of-before strategies if your pet’s behavior is saying that their needs are being met. Do what works for you and your individual pet without comparing yourself to everyone else. 

 

But I still feel like I should do more…

I get it. Even with knowing all this I still look at Oso and feel like I should be doing more for him. Guilt doesn’t just dissipate that easily. If you’re struggling to get out of the enrichment guilt spiral, then focus on anticipating future needs. 

Here’s what that can look like. Oso is getting older. He’s 9 this year and this is the first year we’ve noticed him starting to feel his age. He’s a big dog and mobility issues are a big deal for someone his size. Plus, he has to go down a few steps to get outside regardless of the door we use and everyone in the house likes him being up on the furniture for snuggles. 

Instead of waiting for mobility issues to become a problem, we’re being proactive. We bought stairs and started to teach him how to use those to get up and off of the bed. We’ll be able to use those for the car, too. Next on the list is a sling, for the inevitable day that we have to help him up and down the stairs. After that will likely be cooperative care training for old-man procedures that the vet will help us pinpoint. 

Because his current needs are met well on a day-to-day basis, we’re focusing on what he’ll need in the future and preparing for it now. And that assuages the enrichment guilt that I feel while making sure that I’m still being productive and working smarter, not harder. 

 

Now what?

  • If you’re on the hunt for new activities for your pet, ask yourself if it’s because you’re actually seeing behavior that suggests your pet is bored or needs tweaks to their enrichment plan or if it’s for you. 
  • If it’s for you, dig deeper into why you’re looking for new activities. Is it because of enrichment guilt?
  • If so, I release you from your enrichment guilt! Did it work? If yes, awesome. If not, then consider your pet’s future needs and start preparing for them. 
  • Professionals: if you’re ready to take your enrichment game with your clients to the next level, be sure to join our waitlist for our upcoming Enrichment Framework for Behavior Modification MasterClass: https://petharmonytraining.com/enrichmentframework 

Happy training!

Allie

Spoilers: Creatures Love Spoilers

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Predictability is a hot topic within welfare. It’s important for everyone. You. Me. Our pets. Our ability to predict and react accordingly is critical for us to successfully navigate this wild world. People are able to enjoy stories and media more if they know the ending. When given the opportunity to sample items, people are more likely to participate in activities.

Watch a room light up when someone starts a round of Bohemian Rhapsody or the “Manha Manha” song from The Muppets. You HAVE to join in! That feeling when your GPS gives you an accurate travel time? It’s fantastic. 

On the flip side, a lack of predictability, especially over things we find aversive, can send us into a tailspin of deleterious effects including frustration, learned helplessness, aggression, and medical problems. You can see this in this short video (content warning for some colorful language!). The person in the video is filled with frustration at the unclear criteria. Have you been stuck in traffic watching your travel time creep up? It’s a terrible feeling. 

 

What does this mean for our pets?

When we first make a new addition to our home, overhaul our schedule, move residence, or experience some sort of other life change, there is a growing period. Things are less predictable. Tensions are usually running high. We face so many new situations where we ask “if I do X, what happens next?”. One of the things we can do for our pets (and ourselves) is to assess how we provide routine and predictability.

This doesn’t mean regiment every waking moment: 7:00 wake up, 8:00 breakfast, 9:00 flirt pole. I’m a big fan of creating honest signals of what comes next in a smaller context. When someone starts a sentence with “Ellen…” I know I need to pay attention. When I see a yellow traffic light, I know I need to slow down. Little things like this free up so much brain space. 

We can provide our pets with similar signals throughout the day! Consider smaller routines you can provide. Some of which are initiated by you, some are initiated by our pets and each has its own benefits. 

 

When X happens, Y will happen.

If you read Allie’s blog post on agency, she mentioned, while we strive for high levels of agency, “Agency doesn’t mean that your pet has full authority to do whatever they want.” Creating clear communication and predictability in the environment can really help create a more harmonious cohabitation with our pets. 

Clear indicators can provide information for our pets so they know what is expected of them and what options are on the table. 

When I put my headset on, I’m unavailable. When I take my headset off and sit on the ground, I’m available to play with my dogs. 

When I walk quietly toward the closet, it’s not for treats. When I say “wanna get a  cookie?” and walk toward the closet, my dogs are going to get a treat.

These dichotomies have helped my dogs to relax. Instead of being hypervigilant of my behavior, wondering when they are going to adventure with me or I’m gonna go get them a chew, I make it very clear through repetition that they don’t need to attend to me during these times. I’ll let you know when you need to know.

 

When I do X, you do Y and I will do Z.

Sounds a bit like training, right? It sure is! Sometimes we want to shake things up, and other times, I want the consequence to be incredibly predictable and clear to my dog. 

When I open the back door, if you go potty outside, I’ll give you a treat. 

When I ask “do you want to cuddle”, if you come over, I’ll give you scratches. 

When I get your harness, if you jump on the bed, I’ll get you suited up. 

I think most people have a lot of these built into their day-to-day. If you see some uncertainty, see if you can tighten it up. If you pick up the harness, and your dog runs between you and the door repeatedly with excitement, start picking up the harness and walking directly to a predetermined spot. By harnessing at the same place each time, your dog will start meeting you at that spot. 

 

When you do A, I will do B.

These are routines initiated by my dogs. I saw something they offered and made the choice to tie that offering to a predictable result. 

When you bring me a wubba, I will play tug. 

When you stand by the back door, I will open it. 

When you are trying to run away from something, I will run with you. 

When you paw at the blanket, I will cover you up. 

When you growl, I will give you space.

What I find really special here is that it allows my dogs to initiate what they need. By building a predictable pattern that I will do THIS when you do THAT, my dogs can be an active agent in communicating and meeting their needs. 

Having these small routines in place gives you something to fall back on during times of chaos. 

 

Now what?

  • Think about your normal(ish) day. What are some things you are going to do? Wake up, take the dog out, feed the dog, get ready for the day, some sort of enrichment for your pup, answer email, check on your garden… Can you provide more predictability within a routine?
  • Take a list of things your pup offers, and decide how you can predictably respond. When you do X, I will do Y. Can you help your pup tell you what they might need?
  • If you already have some routines established, take it one step further, can you provide your pup with more agency
  • Send us pictures and videos of you working on your routines  @petharmonytraining on Facebook and Instagram!

Happy training,

Ellen

 

Remember to Enjoy Your Dog

When you have a dog with behavior problems, it is very easy to get caught up in the struggles. 

But, as the year comes to a close, we invite you to take a deep breath and remember all the good your dog has to offer. I know it’s hard sometimes, I’ve been there. 

Taking a moment to practice gratitude can help keep you going. 

When I used to run group classes, I used to ask folx to introduce themselves and their dogs, to share their goals for the class, and to tell me one thing they really liked about their dog. 

Whenever I would state the prompt, I could feel the entire room stiffen. 

Everyone would be worried about what they were going to say. I could see the looks on their faces that said “but my dog’s a jerk, that’s why I’m here” or the panic “that I can’t think of anything I like!” They were trying to come up with something exceptional.

And, look, I get it. I’ve been in their shoes. So, I always started us off. I’m not going to put someone on the spot without a little bit of vulnerability. So my introduction would be something like: 

“Hi, I’m Ellen… general get to know me, my goals for this class… and I have two dogs. Griffey is my kiddo that keeps me on my toes, and something I really like about him is that he always has very consistent poops… or his ears are bigger than his face… or my absolute favorite, every time he tries to counter surf, he toots loud enough I can hear it in the other room. We call it his alarm. Something I love about Laika, my wonderful little lady, is that she has a look that embodies the “I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed” phrase.”

And boy, when I shared those, I could feel the tension in the room melt away. Because you don’t have to think of some amazing accomplishment. There are many things you can appreciate about your dog. 

 

Now what? 

  • Think about some things you appreciate about your dog. When you look at them and smile or laugh, remember that. 
  • Join us over on our pet parent instagram. We’d love to learn what you appreciate about your dog. Tag us @petharmonytraning!
  • Know that this post is not intended to lead anyone to feel guilt or shame. If you read this and struggle to find the good (and believe me, I’ve been there), we want to help you enjoy your dog again. Contact us at [email protected] 

Happy training,

Ellen

This One is for the Littles

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Can we talk for just a few minutes about the littles? For those of you into children’s literature, I’m not talking about a diminutive sized mouse named Stuart. I’m talking about dogs who, due to decades upon decades of selective breeding by us human folk, come in small to sometimes tiny packages. I’m thinking of breeds such as Shih Tzus, Chihuahuas, Pugs, Malteses, Dachshunds, and Yorkies among many other breeds, as well as any combination thereof. Usually, these pups weigh in under 20 pounds although many are significantly smaller than that. 

 

The Reason for This Post

Lately, I’ve been providing an abundance of behavior consultations to families with smaller-sized dogs exhibiting bigger-sized behavior concerns. These dogs’ owners contacted Pet Harmony for help with concerns about their small dogs who were snarling, growling, snapping, and in some cases, biting family members or guests in situations where the dog was most likely feeling uncomfortable but the family didn’t realize it. There was never any doubt in my mind about whether these families love their dogs but there had been a breakdown in the relationship due to the dog making behavioral choices that were upsetting and sometimes frightening to the owners. 

The owners were confused as to why their beloved pets were growling or snapping at them or delivering bites when they were just trying to show their dog love, affection, or pampering and care. The unwanted behaviors were oftentimes occurring when the owners were hugging or kissing their dog, or when they were trying to pick up their dog to embrace them or carry them around or move them from one place to another.  I’m not judging the owners for wanting to do this with their dogs. I mean, who could look at the face of a Shih Tzu or a French Bulldog and not want to give them love and affection when their faces are so very smoochable? I understand these feelings all too well as I am the proud pet parent of a small floof myself. But kissing and hugging and touching and embracing are all decidedly human ways of expressing affection and although some dogs can learn to enjoy it, many are simply tolerating it at best. It is this lack of understanding communication styles between two completely different species that can cause problems to come bubbling to the surface and take owners by surprise. 

 

It All Started When…

Much of the time, an owner will report that the snarling, snapping, growling, or biting behavior started out of nowhere. They will tell me that their dog “FiFi” always enjoyed or never had a problem with:

  • Being carried around or moved from place to place
  • Being hugged or kissed
  • Being physically restrained
  • Being touched, petted, or groomed
  • Being dressed in totes adorbs outfits
  • Being placed in someone’s lap

 

The Out of the Blue

And suddenly, out of nowhere, tiny “FiFi” started to bite mom, dad, the kids, or visitors to the home. Truthfully though, the behavior most likely didn’t come from out of the blue at all. The more likely explanation is that “FiFi” had been desperately trying to communicate her discomfort with all of the things listed above and the owners didn’t understand her way of saying it. And because they didn’t understand yet, she escalated to biting, which is a behavior that gets the attention of almost all humans, even when delivered by a dog with a smaller-sized mouth. 

 

Would You Do That to a St. Bernard?

Why is it that things we would never dream of doing to a dog weighing 80 plus pounds, are somehow perfectly acceptable to do to dogs who weigh only 10? Our little dogs often are asked to tolerate us doing so much more “stuff” to them simply because of their size and simply because we can. Can you imagine anyone swooping in to pick up their St. Bernard and whisking them off to another room even if they physically could?  What if the St. Bernard was to emit a warning growl as the person came swooping in?  Would they still proceed anyway? I imagine that growl would give most people pause about whether or not what they are doing is truly necessary. And yet, so often when small dogs emit a growl, people don’t take it seriously. Instead, they either continue to do what they were doing or they punish the dog for using the warning system nature provided. 

In some cases (hello social media, I’m talking to you) you’ll actually see people not only laugh at but actually encourage the little dog to exhibit behaviors that are deemed “aggressive.” All for the sake of some views, shares, and likes. Those types of posts make me cringe the most because they perpetuate the myth that small dogs are inherently laughable and that doing “stuff” to them to elicit a response is not only acceptable but all in good fun. That in turn maintains the misguided labels people use to describe small dogs who are only behaving in certain ways because they have learned that is the only thing that works. 

 

Unlabeling Our Littles

Aside from height and weight there really are not that many differences between the littles and the bigs (or the mediums for that matter.) They still have the same need to express species-typical behaviors such as sniffing, chewing, digging, and scavenging or foraging for food. They still have the same needs for social interactions, safety and security, health and hygiene, as well as the more obvious need for food, water, and shelter. And yet, so many times little dogs are given labels such as yappy or spoiled, or stereotyped as having “little dog syndrome” or a “Napoleon complex.” I say rubbish to all of that. 

One of the laws of behavior is that behavior works. We all behave in our environments to get more of what we desire or less of something we wish to avoid. The weight or height of a dog doesn’t change that fact. The super “yappy” Yorkie is barking for a reason. The tiny chihuahua with the Napoleon complex? There is a reason for that behavior too and it hasn’t so much to do with the dog’s size but with the dog’s inability to have a say about things that are either being done to or around it. 

 

Giving Our Littles Agency

In their book Canine Enrichment for the Real World, authors Allie Bender and Emily Strong define agency as “the ability to have some level of control in our environment and be able to make choices that will result in a desirable outcome.” (pg 27) This holds true for not only primates and canids but all of the animal kingdom. In the case of our small dogs, it is very easy to forget that they have the same need for agency as much as their larger counterparts do. Allowing all dogs, the small, the big, and the in-between, to have some say in what is being done to them or with them has a huge impact on their mental well-being.

 I think this is particularly true for small dogs as we have a tendency to treat them like portable playthings instead of individuals with their own need to express behavior in a way that works for them. If a little dog is growling at or biting their person when they are being lifted into the air or they snap at a family member when the family member is playing dress-up with them, then that is a signal from the dog that some help is needed to make them feel more comfortable. Like all dogs, I think the greatest gift we can give to our small dogs is to learn about who they are as a species and adapt our interactions with them to reflect that we genuinely get who they are and care enough to modify our behavior to make our relationship with them be the best it can be. It isn’t just on the dog. It’s on us too. 

 

Now What?

If  you want to help your little dog feel safe and secure and comfortable in your home but are not sure where to start, here are some actionable items to think about implementing: 

  • Learn all that you can about canine body language, paying especially close attention to signals that dogs exhibit when they are worried or stressed about something in their environment. 
  • Teach your dog how to say “yes” to things like grooming, dressing them up, or husbandry procedures.
  • Conduct a consent test to make sure your dog is enjoying a petting session. 
  • Teach your dog that being picked up will predict something yummy like a small piece of hotdog, cheese, or boiled chicken.
  • Use a verbal cue or a hand signal to let your little know that they are about to be lifted. I use “1, 2, 3, Up” for my dog. It warms my heart to see him sort of launch himself up when I say the “up” part because he knows what to expect each time. Other cues that can work for lifting are “up, up and away,” “super dog,” or “take off.” 
  • And finally, ask yourself if what you are doing to your little dog is really necessary and if the answer is no, find an activity you can enjoy doing together like scent work or trick training. You might be amazed at just how smart, athletic, and eager your little learner is! 

Happy training,

MaryKaye

October 2021 Training Challenge: Train for Five Minutes A Day

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It’s time for our monthly training challenge! 

This month is focused on habit building. Your challenge, should you choose to accept it:

Incorporate 5 minutes of training every day

Now, that may sound like a breeze to some of you, and some of you might be thinking “there is no way.” 

Both of those responses are valid! Some folx do better with 5 consecutive minutes and checking that box off, and others, finding 5 minutes to dedicate at any given time is going to be a struggle. 

The good news is, whether you want to mark it in your calendar and check that box, or would prefer to fit it in where you can, we’ve got suggestions for you. 

 

But is that enough? 

This is a question we get a lot. When we have pet parents come to us, they are expecting HOURS of work a week. I can’t tell you the number of relieved sighs we get when they get instructions like “practice this for 1-2 minutes a day” or “count out 10 treats and do 10 repetitions”. 

More training doesn’t mean more results in most cases. Usually, it just leads to more frustration, more hard feelings, and more discouragement. 

As a general rule of thumb, one to two minutes is where we suggest pet parents start when both they and their pet are new to training. You can accomplish a lot in two minutes!

 

How am I going to remember? 

Excellent question! This is going to depend on the person! Here are some of the ways my clients have remembered:

  • Put it on your calendar 
  • Add it to an already existing routine
  • Put treats next to the kettle or microwave and practice while they run 
  • Create a tracker so you can mark it off 
  • Find an accountability buddy! 

 

What if I’m overwhelmed by 5 minutes? 

You know, I’m not going to lie. There are days where 5 minutes feels like too much. And for those days, I encourage my clients to try some of the following: 

  • Take 5 treats and practice 5 times 
  • Put treats in places so you can catch them doing the good thing
  • Turn to yourself with kindness and compassion! Some days are hard, and that’s okay. Put your oxygen mask on first. 

 

Now, we thought we’d do this blog a little differently… 

This month, the whole Pet Harmony team is contributing. We thought since we are all different people, with different situations, and different routines, it might help you to see how six different families make training an everyday thing: 

 

Allie 

Like Ellen, a lot of Oso’s training happens as a part of our regular day-to-day routine. Coming inside, especially when the neighbor dogs are barking? Treats! I happen to be sitting with him on the couch when the delivery person is coming to the door? Treats for not yelling at the person! Sitting politely outside of the kitchen while we’re cooking? Veggie scraps! For the activities that can’t be as easily incorporated (like filing his nails), I’ll often squeeze that in when I have a couple of minutes and have a timer set in some fashion, whether it’s how long it takes something to heat up in the microwave or the duration of a song. Knowing that it’s only going to be a few minutes makes me more likely to do it because it seems less daunting than having to spend a half-hour on training. 

 

Amy 

I practice “place” with both my cat and dog before giving them their food. I do play sessions daily with my cat and dog. I let them decide which toy or play they want to participate in, unless I am not feeling well, and then I usually default to “find it” with both animals. Other things I do regularly with them are counter-conditioning to nail trims and other activities that they don’t love that need to be done. But by far my favorite way to spend time training is with trick training. My cat knows how to sit and high-five, and she is learning down and spin. Even reptiles and fish can learn to perform tricks, and this is an excellent way to bond with your pet and is a great source of mental enrichment if done in a way the learner enjoys!

 

Corinne 

The amount of our formal daily training ebbs and flows with the seasons.  Opie and I do a lot in the winter and summer, but less in the spring and fall.  With school starting back up and me teaching all day, I get behind on the silly tricks and games that take some thought, but we are always learning together.  I love to use real-life reinforcers to learn with my pup.  During our walks, we will practice walking “close” when a bunny or squirrel or activating dog is in the area.  To reinforce this behavior,  he is rewarded by flocking the tree, doing a sprint with me, or REALLY sniffing that light post that the activated dog just left a voicemail on.  When our toddler is eating dinner, Opie practices self-control and “leave it” as delicious food rains from the heavens. Opie is rewarded for this behavior by getting to be our vacuum cleaner when we say “clean up after Walt”.  For me, daily training is all about finding the teachable moments. I try to use Opie’s impulses to guide me to understand what he wants to do–what would truly be rewarding for him.  Once I know what’s reinforcing, then I can ask for behaviors I want to see and use the real-life reinforcers to back me up.

 

Ellen 

Some days we incorporate a more formal “training session” (see last week’s blog), but mostly, I focus on catching my dogs when they are doing things I like in their day-to-day routine. For me, I have a couple of things that I look out for so that I can make sure I’m still helping my dogs practice things that are important to me! I have treats stationed by the back door, so every time my dogs come in, they get a treat. I will spontaneously call them from random places to practice coming when called. And, because I don’t want barking to become a way they ask for attention, I practice polite ways of requesting attention. For Griffey, it’s every time he brings me his wubba. For Laika, it’s every time she comes into my office and bows. For our more formal goals (fitness training, husbandry…) I try to carve out about 30 minutes 3-5 times a week to make progress on those goals. 

 

Emily 

After an animal has been fully incorporated into my home and has all the skills they need to thrive in our environment, I do very little structured training. Instead, I use real-life opportunities to practice skills. For example, if someone knocks on our door and the dogs bark, that’s an opportunity to practice quieting down. When they’re outside playing or chasing wildlife, that’s an opportunity to practice recall. If they’re all worked up after a rousing play session and I need to get on a Zoom session with a student or client, that’s an opportunity to practice unwinding at their relaxation station. When new people come to the house, that’s an opportunity to practice Look At That, the Flight Cue, and/or Find It (depending on the circumstance). Every mealtime is an opportunity to practice their scent trailing skills through scatter feeding. Every nail trim is an opportunity to practice their start button behaviors. In every interaction like this, I ask myself, “What is it I want them to learn from this experience?” Then I make reinforcement available for those desirable behaviors.

 

MaryKaye

My dog is now almost 14 years old so daily training is never a super formal thing for us. Like everyone else on the Pet Harmony team, I look for reinforceable moments and capitalize on those. The one thing I do work on daily with Fonzy is being able to walk past other dogs without him having a yelling contest at or with them. I ALWAYS bring treats with me when we are out for our daily walks so that I can proactively reinforce the behaviors that are not “yelling” at the other dog. If he simply looks at the other dog, small pieces of hotdog happen. If he walks past and ignores more hotdog. If he chooses to go sniff in the grass instead of bark, magical hotdogs suddenly appear on the ground for him to sniff out and find too! He has a history of leash reactivity and these maintenance reinforcers make a huge difference in his behavior. He now mostly thinks that other dogs make hotdogs appear and he is all about that! 

 

No One Right Answer

As with so many things, there isn’t just one way to incorporate training into your day-to-day routine. Each of us has been adjusting our routines for years, so trial and eval different options for your family! Finding what works for you and your pets is what is important!



Now What? 

  • Determine how you are going to incorporate training into your everyday routine! Do you need to check it off a list? Do you need treats somewhere out in the open to remind you to do it? Set yourself up for success, whatever that may look like! 
  • Trial and eval over the next month. If something isn’t working for you, try something new!
  • Join us in the Enrichment for Pet Behavior Issues Community Facebook Group and over on Instagram @PetHarmonyTraining! We’d love to know how you plan to train every day!

Measuring Success in Behavior Journeys

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

 

I tried to walk my dog today.

Because Griffey has some leash reactivity, we have a fairly strict management plan for him. If we are not out of the house before 7:30, we don’t walk that day. We meet his needs in other ways. 

Walks after 7:30 aren’t fun. For anyone. He’s scared. I’m frustrated and annoyed. Both of us are hypervigilant. Neither of us starts the day off by melting the stress away and feeling empowered. It bleeds into and makes the rest of our day harder. 

So, we manage it. Sometimes, even with management, stuff happens. 

 

And stuff happened today.

I saw a biker coming down the opposite side of the cross street as we entered a 6-way interchange. Even if the biker turned in our general direction, they SHOULD have been on the opposite side of a garden median. I brought Griffey as far away from the street as possible to get him the distance he would need. 

And it would have been fine. Except the biker decided to ride against traffic and get within 6 feet of us. 

To share my internal dialogue would be… colorful. With so much space, with me clearly trying to get more distance (no other reason someone would duck behind garbage cans), why would you ride ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE STREET!? 

Either way, it happened. I started to beat myself up. Helloooooooo, shame spiral! But then I looked at Griffey and realized Griffey was okay. 

Sure, he still had a lunging, barking, screaming fit when the biker got too close, which we work very hard to avoid. Frankly, my internal fit was significantly worse than his external reaction.

But he recovered. In record time. By the time the biker was across the street, Griffey was looking back at me, his muscles had relaxed, he was bounding next to me like a little deer. He was ready to continue on our adventure. He rebounded. He rebounded faster than I did. 

Was it ideal? Absolutely not. Will I use this information to try to inform my decisions in the future? Yes. I don’t want it to happen again. My goal is still to prevent over threshold events entirely. But it reminded me that in our behavior change journeys, success can be measured in a number of ways. Not only a reaction – no reaction dichotomy. 

 

There are multiple measures of success

Griffey being comfortable in his environment has always been the primary goal. But comfort looks different in different places. In Florida, it was the escape from the heat and fire ants. In Washington, it was finding locations that didn’t aggravate his allergies. In California, it’s finding adequate space from the plethora of scary monsters. 

3 years ago, had we been in this situation, I would have had to pick Griffey up and walk him home. This event would have brought him to and kept him over his threshold for hours. The dog that barked behind the fence on our way home would have been yet another threat to our very existence, and we would have lost it all over again. 

Instead, he was ready to continue, his body got loose, he was able to eat and respond to well-practiced cues. The dog behind the fence got little more than a chuff before continuing on our way. 

3 years ago, for the rest of the day, every little sound outside the house would have been the end of the world. He would have been hyper-vigilant. Tense. Unable to settle. 

Instead, we made it home, and he was able to settle in the sun with a frozen kong. He’s now curled up asleep in his cave. Even with the delivery person ringing the doorbell, he has been able to relax and settle. He was able to “flight” back inside when the neighbor’s dog barked across the street. 

There is more than one metric for success in every behavior change journey. I lost sight of that. 

 

Now what?

  • What are some other ways you can measure success in your journey? Does your dog settle more? Do they look to you for help? Do they tell you “no” when they aren’t ready? What are some ways you see improvement outside of your primary goal?
  • Having a hard, disheartening day? Take a minute to look at some happy time pictures or videos you have of your dog. 
  • If you aren’t sure what success looks like for your journey, we’d love to help! Work with one of our behavior consultants to make sure you are seeing progress toward your goals! 

Happy training!

Ellen

How Do I Get My Dog to Pay Attention?

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

 

Do you wish your dog checked in with you more? That your dog paid more attention to you or engaged with you more often? 

Have you ever found yourself saying something like: 

“He doesn’t listen.” 

“They never pay attention to me!” 

“It’s like I’m not even there.” 

“She ignores me.”

You are far from alone. We hear statements like these frequently from pet parents. The good news is, we can start moving that needle pretty quickly. 

Back when I used to do in-person classes, I would have people ask me how to get their dog to pay attention. During our conversation, I would watch the dog. I was observing the dog’s body language, their response to the environment, and how they are navigating the space. 

More often than not, the dog did engage with the person. And there is another construct. What does “engage” look like? The dog looking at the person, the dog making contact with the person, the dog offering the person a default behavior, or the dog bringing over a toy. 

The issue? The person didn’t see it. The dog’s efforts went unnoticed and unpaid.

 

So, ask yourself. How many times a day does your dog engage with you?

How many times a day does your dog look at you? 

How many times a day does your dog touch you? 

How many times a day does your dog bring you a toy? 

How many times a day does your dog offer you a sit or a down? 

 

How many times a day do you see it?

And how many times do you reciprocate it? 

I suspect it is happening more than you expect. 

 

Observation skills are so important!

When we start to build our observation skills, notice the things our dogs do and acknowledge them, we start to see the lines of communication open with our dogs. I’ve seen people work so hard to teach their dogs skills, but there is a second part. You need the skills to see them using their skills! 

Learn to notice your dog when they are doing the “right thing”, not only the “wrong thing”.

If you see your dog engaging with you, acknowledge it, and I bet you will see them do it more often. Sometimes a “Hey, friend! It’s good to see you!” is all they need. Sometimes a jaunt outside or a small treat. Sometimes a scratch in their favorite spot. 

 

Now What?

  • Create a list of the ways your dog tries to engage with you. Knowing how your dog checks in gives you a better idea of what to look for. 
  • For 24 hours, try to catch each time your dog tries to engage with you. Keep a tally somewhere, or have a jar of 50 pieces of kibble. Each time they try to engage, give them a piece of kibble. See how many you have left at the end of the day. 
  • To learn more about the role of observation in addressing pet behavior issues and fostering harmony in your home, join us for our free Roadmap for Behavior Solutions workshop

Happy training,

Ellen

A Behavior Consultant, A Montessori Teacher, and a Case Manager All Walk Into a Bar…

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A BEHAVIOR CONSULTANT, A MONTESSORI TEACHER, AND A CASE MANAGER ALL WALK INTO A BAR…

Ok, that didn’t really happen. But if a behavior consultant, a Montessori teacher, and a case manager did walk into a bar as the old joke goes, you would actually be looking at one person. And that person would be me. You see, prior to joining the wonderful team at Pet Harmony, I had a background as a case manager for a social service agency and then taught at a private Montessori school for close to two decades. My route to becoming a trainer/behavior consultant is circuitous and years in the making and a story for perhaps another time. Instead, this post is about the most perfect partnership between my past and present selves and how I hope that partnership will be beneficial to families with children and dogs.

You see, I recently had the honor of becoming a Family Paws Parent Educator. That means that I took continuing education coursework to become licensed to work with families with dogs and babies and/or young children. To me, it feels like a match made in heaven. I get to use my skill set as a trainer and behavior consultant AND my skill set of working with human learners too! Oh, what a gift it is when the two things you feel most professionally passionate about come together in the most delightful way! 

 

TWO-LEGGED? FOUR-LEGGED? LEARNING IS ALL THE SAME

I will never grow tired of watching learners learn. I don’t care if my learner has two legs or four. I marvel at the process every time I witness it and find it endlessly fascinating. It thrills me to see my learners acting on the environment and discovering that they can influence what happens next. Or when their foundational understanding of certain criteria becomes the building blocks for future, more complex learning. How exciting it is to see confidence grow and learning accelerate! Without becoming too hyperbolic about a thing, to be witness to the transformation your learner experiences as they become fluid in their understanding is incredibly rewarding. 

Having been immersed in all things dog for the past few years has sort of put my background in education (at least of the human variety) on the back burner. But completing the Family Paws curriculum reignited my passion for helping young children be successful in their learning environments too and so I’ve been quietly brainstorming about merging my passions in a way that would be advantageous to both kids and dogs. Like a flash, one day it came to me that I could help dogs by creating learning opportunities for children as they engage in making enrichment items for their four-legged best friend. And VOILA! An idea was born! 

BEFORE THE MEAT, HERE ARE SOME POTATOES

Before I share my first idea with you I thought it would be nice to provide some basic information about Montessori education since most of the ideas I will be sharing are inspired by the practical life area of a Montessori classroom. The following core principles are central to Montessori schools around the globe. Oh, and by the way, hold onto your hats folks because the parallels between the core principles of a Montessori education and what is universally understood about dog development and learning is pretty astonishing. Maria Montessori was ahead of her time and a maverick. Just saying. 

 

CORE MONTESSORI PRINCIPLES

  1. The Absorbent Mind – children are born ready to learn how to learn. I mean, yes of course they are. As are all species including the ones we share our homes with.
  2. The Sensitive Period – sensitive periods are developmental windows of opportunity during which the child can learn certain concepts more readily and naturally than at any other time of their lives. Hello, critical socialization period for puppies!
  3. Children will auto-educate themselves – and sometimes not in the way we want them to. Does this sound familiar to you dog owners as well? We know that many dogs, when left to their own devices, will certainly find self-employment by chewing on the remote control, digging in the garden, barking at all passers-by or any number of other behaviors owners don’t particularly appreciate. 
  4. Respect for the child – Don’t all living things deserve our respect including our beloved dogs?    

 

SAVING THE BEST FOR LAST

This one really speaks to me not only as a former Montessori teacher but as a dog behavior consultant as well: 

The Prepared Environment – Maria Montessori believed that children learn best in what she describes as a prepared environment. Great effort and intention are put into making sure the learning environment is organized in such a way that it supports children’s development and aids in their personal independence. Tables and chairs and shelves are sized so that the child can navigate the classroom independently. The carefully selected and designed Montessori materials are beautifully organized on shelves that set the child up for successful learning and exploration. Dr. Montessori held the conviction that in addition to the student and teacher, the environment is the “third teacher” in the classroom and thus should be prepared in a manner that captivates the child’s attention and maintains their focus. 

Every time I read this description of the prepared environment, all the dog trainer in me can think of is how closely the prepared environment mimics what behavior folks call the antecedent arrangement. In short, the antecedent arrangement describes how the environment that the animal is in has been set up, hopefully deliberately, but sometimes not, to determine which behavior the animal is most likely to execute. 

Just like in the case of children, the goal should be that the environment is set up in a way that allows our dogs to be successful learners. How cool is that?! If you would like to further your knowledge about Montessori Education just click the highlighted text. Likewise, if you would like to take a deeper dive into understanding antecedent arrangements, click the text and you will be diverted to a great article on the subject.

 

HERE COMES THE FUN STUFF!

Now that you have learned a bit more about the Montessori method, it is time to share my first idea with you. Remember, my goal is to use a Montessori-inspired approach to give your child the opportunity to learn and develop new skills while they are making enrichment items for your dog to enjoy. It is always a good idea to keep in mind that the item is only going to be enriching for your dog if your dog chooses to engage with or understands the enrichment activity. For more on creating an enrichment plan for your dog, read this: http://petharmonytraining.com/july-2021-training-challenge-evaluate-your-enrichment-plan/

I would also recommend that you set up the environment so that your child can focus on their task without the family dog trying to “help.” And what I really mean when I say “help” is sample the goods as they are being prepared. Perhaps another family member can take the dog for a walk or play a game of fetch in the backyard during prep time. 

Also, as with all things dogs and kids, parental supervision is a must. I absolutely love this product to help your child be safe and successful: Toddler Tower Step Stool. I only wish such a wonderful tool was available when my kids were younger. (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!)

One final recommendation. As the goal is ultimately for your dog to benefit from your child’s hard work, when it is time for your dog to engage with the prepared enrichment item, the child must not interrupt them. I would encourage your child to watch your dog enjoying their enrichment from a safe distance. The parent can reinforce the child’s hard work and kindness by pointing out how much the dog is enjoying the activity and perhaps capturing it on video to share with other family members later. What a wonderful thing indeed, for our children to learn the invaluable lesson that doing kind things for others, is truly a gift to oneself as well. 

 

READY, SET, GO!

Material needed

  • Muffin tin
  • Colored balls
  • Construction paper that matches the color of the balls
  • Bowl of your dog’s kibble
  • Spoon

Parent set-up

The parent will need to cut small pieces of the construction paper and tape them to the top of each section of the muffin tin as demonstrated in the first photo. Parents will also need to gather all necessary supplies and make them easily accessible to the child. A large tray works well for this. (See photos below)

Child activity

The child will use the spoon and spoon a small portion of kibble into each separate section of the muffin tin. When the kibble has been spooned into the sections, the child can then match the colored ball to the section of the muffin tin that has the corresponding color paper. 

Skills for the child:

  • Practicing fine motor skills as they use the spoon to scoop up the kibble.
  • Hand-eye coordination as they transfer the kibble from the spoon into the muffin tin. 
  • Color matching and discrimination
  • Focus and concentration 

 

NOW WHAT? 

  • Follow us on Instagram for more upcoming ideas, photos, and tutorials on kids and canine enrichment activities.
  • We would love to see your photos of your kids preparing, or your dog enjoying, the enrichment that was made for him or her! Tag us @petharmonytraining on Facebook and Instagram.
  • Read Canine Enrichment for the Real World for a deeper understanding of what canine enrichment is and how adding it to your dog’s daily routine can be a real game-changer for you and your dog. 

MaryKaye