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

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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?

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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

When Compare Leads to Despair

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“She is our third Golden Retriever and the other two never growled when we went near their food bowls.”

“Our last Labradoodle loved every person he met. This one hides and growls if people come over to visit.” 

“She’s our second German Shepherd. Our other one just left our cats alone.”

“Our previous rescue dogs have all been super chill but our recent rescue can’t ever settle down and is always getting into everything.”

 

I’m sure you’ve detected a running theme in these imagined but all too real scenarios behavior consultants and trainers hear all of the time. Well-meaning dog owners can’t help but compare and contrast their current dog with the dogs they’ve shared their homes with in the past. Truth be told, it’s not just clients we are working with that make a habit of comparative thinking. Parents do it. Teachers sometimes do it. Bosses can be guilty of it as well. Honestly, we all do it, even if we aren’t always completely aware of that fact. 

 

To Compare Is Human…..

We, humans, are hardwired to compare and contrast. It is an adaptive behavior and a survival technique. Our ancestors had to be able to critically assess which of the foods they were foraging for were safe for consumption and which ones would have limited the gene pool by poisoning them. Being able to compare, among many other things, a potential meal’s texture, color, shape, size, and structure was integral for making sure that the item being analyzed was safe for ingestion. Being able to contrast two similar plants, one which was safe to eat and one which was not, was a skill that has kept us humans on planet Earth for generations upon generations. And beyond survival, being able to critically compare can help us classify and categorize information which in turn can certainly help us simplify our lives. 

 

Orange You Glad I Didn’t Say Lemon?

Take fruit as an example. I, for one, am glad that I can simply look at an orange and a lemon and immediately tell the difference between two fruits that fall under the citrus fruit category. No need to cut open and taste each one. Past experience has taught me to expect that an orange will taste sweet and a lemon’s tang will cause me to pucker up my lips, usually, before the lemon even reaches my mouth. 

Being able to compare the taste of a lemon to an orange saves me a whole lot of time and is incredibly helpful when I am looking for a sweeter beverage to accompany my eggs and bacon in the morning. I challenge anyone to substitute unsweetened lemon juice for orange juice as their breakfast drink of choice and tell me they absolutely love it! This is just one of the many ways that comparison helps us to make an informed (and in the fruit example, a much more palatable) decision. 

 

Which Brings Us Back To Dogs

When it comes to our dogs, however, one of the unfortunate side effects of comparing one dog to another can be that the comparison very often comes with preconceived expectations (the reason why my lips would pucker before I even brought the lemon up to them) of how our dog will or should behave or perform or what they will enjoy or how they will make us feel or laugh or smile. When the dog doesn’t, or simply can’t, live up to those expectations, there is all too often the inevitable disappointment or letdown that follows. Which typically doesn’t feel all that great and can lead to a sense of defeat or dare I say, a sense of despair. 

We are oftentimes left wondering, “Where did I or my dog go wrong?” Which in turn can damage the relationship we have with the dog standing before us; the one who is currently in need of our guidance and help. 

 

Here Are A Few Questions To Consider

If we know that making comparisons is a species-typical behavior for humans, what can we do about it? First, being fully aware that we have a propensity for comparative thinking can be very helpful. We can’t change what we don’t acknowledge. 

Secondly, I want you to honestly ask yourself a few questions. Please ask yourself, is the comparison I’m making between past and present dogs helpful? Is it neutral? Or is it harmful? 

An example of a helpful comparison could be thinking about the difference between your dogs’ body language. Learning how each of your dogs expresses themselves can be a very informative exercise. This type of comparison should be done as objectively as possible and can be a great way to learn each of your dogs’ ways of communicating with you.  

A neutral comparison might be that your current dog loves hotdogs more than any dog you’ve owned before. There is no judgment or expectation of your current dog. Rather, you are observing what your current dog likes to eat without any attached expectation of a certain outcome. 

Conversely, a harmful comparison might be that your current dog lunges at and barks or growls at people and dogs when you walk him down the street. This is a behavior that you haven’t seen in your other dogs. Therefore, you might surmise this dog is “bad.” Or “aggressive.” Or “broken.” This comparison does nothing to inform you about the behavior you are seeing and it is applying a label to your current dog that may not be accurate. 

I’m going to go out on a limb and propose that much of the time, this type of comparison is made out of a sense of frustration and a desire for things to be different. Or better. Or like they used to be. Or how we imagine they should be. Which can turn into wishful thinking and a lot of second-guessing ourselves. So, what should we do instead? 

 

I’m Glad You Asked

Now that we are more aware of how human nature can lead us down the path of comparative thinking, perhaps a better use of our time would be to see our dogs as the individuals they all are and to accept the things about them that are different than the dogs we’ve owned before. 

I personally think one of the greatest gifts we can give to anyone, regardless of species, is to see the individual in front of us and try to get to a place of understanding and perhaps even more importantly, acceptance of who that individual is. I think of it as an active observation, without judgment, of the individual. Acceptance carries no hidden agenda or preconceived notions. It is simply the act of making peace with the way things are. 

But let’s not confuse a state of acceptance with a state of resignation. The difference between the two is that acceptance can feel proactive while being resigned to a situation is reactive and comes with the added burden of acquiescing to something we didn’t ask for or want. Resignation can leave us feeling powerless and feeling like we have no control over any outcomes. 

However, when we truly reach a place of acceptance of an individual, we can let go of the imaginary ( and let’s admit it, sometimes wholly unrealistic) perfection of who that individual, at least in our minds, is supposed to be. Once we alter our original expectations for this individual,  we can start working on a plan to help the individual with whatever issues may be impeding their success. We do not ask for the individual to be perfect. But for our lives with the individual to be meaningful, connected, and genuine. 

 

It’s Not Nirvana

Let’s not seek a state of perfection based on past experiences with previous dogs because that ideal does not exist. Not for us and certainly not for the dogs that we invite into our lives. Let’s instead find a reason to love the quirky things that make our dogs the individuals they are. After all, they don’t judge us for singing in the shower, eating Cheetos for breakfast (especially if you would be so kind as to share), or laughing uproariously at Schitt’s Creek. 

And if you find that your dog has behaviors that fall outside of the range of what is considered to be typical for most dogs, please do your research to find a reputable, ethical, science-based behavior consultant. One that keeps up with the latest scientific research and holds themselves accountable for continuing education so that they can be best prepared to help design a behavior modification plan to help you and your dog have a meaningful, connected, and genuine relationship that is not influenced or haunted by the ghosts of dogs gone by. 

 

Now what?

  • If you find yourself making comparisons, ask yourself is the comparison helpful, neutral, or harmful. 
  • If the comparison is helpful or neutral, continue on. If it’s harmful, however, then dig deep as to why you’re making this comparison. Is it because you’re frustrated or wish things were different with this pet?
  • For those quirks that are truly quirks and are not dangerous or harmful to the pet or others, try looking at them through a different lens to see if you can start to feel differently about them. If those quirks are dangerous or harmful, reach out to our team at [email protected] to schedule a consultation.

MaryKaye

June 2021 Training Challenge: Focus on One Thing

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Happy June! Let’s get right into our June Training Challenge:

 

Focus on one thing

 

This one’s pretty straightforward, but let’s talk a bit about why it made the cut. 

 

If you chase two rabbits, both will escape

There’s a Chinese proverb that says, “If you chase two rabbits, both with escape”. While I wouldn’t condone literally chasing rabbits, figuratively, the proverb is spot on when it comes to behavior modification. 

Because of the nature of cases that come to us, we see pets who exhibit a vast array of maladaptive behaviors in just one individual. Rarely is there ever just one thing going on. I’ll often ask folks to prioritize the laundry list of issues they gave to me and ask which is the most pressing one. Essentially, what should we focus on first. For some people, that thought exercise is really easy. They may say something like, “We’ll manage the resource guarding and stranger danger, but the leash reactivity is really challenging because we don’t have a fenced-in yard.” Perfect! We’ll start with the leash reactivity and go from there. These folks tend to make progress more quickly and then we can focus on the next thing when the first item is in a good place.

Other times, though, I see folks who have a hard time prioritizing. They want to work on the resource guarding, stranger danger, and leash reactivity all at the same time. Or, I’ll sometimes see where in the first session we agree to focus on the leash reactivity, but when I see them a couple of weeks later they’ve been working on the stranger danger instead and haven’t progressed very much with either issue. 

If you split your attention between two issues, you won’t make a lot of progress with either. When you chase two rabbits, both will escape. You’ll make progress faster by managing the issues that can be managed and working on just one issue at a time. There are, of course, situations where that’s not entirely possible, but it’s possible to an extent in almost every situation. Focus and you’ll get faster results. 

 

Now what?

  • Make a list of the behaviors your pet does that you’d like to change. 
  • Go through your list and determine which of those are manageable and which aren’t. That will help you prioritize. 
  • Of the behaviors that aren’t manageable, determine which is the most pressing. It might be the one that’s the biggest safety concern or the one that’s the biggest annoyance.
  • Start working on your one thing! If it’s a safety concern, while highly recommend seeking professional help to make sure you go through the process safely. We’re here to help you with that with private sessions or our Roadmap for Behavior Solutions Program. If you’re not quite ready to take the leap into a behavior modification journey, our Beginning Behavior Modification course is right for you. 

 

Happy training!

Allie

Maybe It’ll Get Better On Its Own and I Won’t Need Professional Help

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When I was little, I thought it would be a neat experience to lose my voice. Don’t ask me why; kids are weird. Well, I should’ve been careful what I wished for because voice loss is something that I’ve dealt with extensively as an adult. Recently I realized how much my journey with my voice loss parallels what I see pet parents going through with their behaviorally challenged pets, especially when it comes to thinking something will get better on its own, so I wanted to share my experience with y’all. 

 

It started out as “not that bad”

I started routinely losing my voice 5 years ago, around the time I was diagnosed with a chronic illness. Voice loss for me takes many forms, but the most common is a deep, husky, seemingly testosterone-fueled voice that’s still audible but not as loud. Sometimes it goes into a high-pitched “squirrel-voice” territory, sometimes only a whisper, and sometimes absolutely nothing can come out. But usually, voice loss for me resulted in what everyone around me calls my “man voice”. 

It wasn’t that bad. I could still talk, be understood, and ultimately it didn’t impact communication. I could still do my job. It was annoying and though I recognized that it was a problem that I should probably do something about, it wasn’t bad enough that I did anything about it. This might sound familiar, huh?

 

It started getting worse

My voice loss started getting worse about 1.5 to 2 years ago. It started happening more frequently and for longer periods of time. Before I would lose my voice for a day or so every few months. Now it was happening for days at a time without more than a month or so of normalcy in between. Last August I lost my voice for 2 weeks straight, with 3 days of absolutely no sound coming out. I had to reschedule all of my clients. It was no longer annoying, it was now affecting my livelihood. 

I started googling what was going on and considering seeing a doctor, but then my voice returned and I went back to my daily life. It still wasn’t bad enough that I was willing to overcome the barriers I had to seek professional help. 

 

The breaking point

At the beginning of this year, I lost my voice. Period. Seemingly permanently. Two weeks stretched to three, then to four. I could muster some version of a normal voice just long enough to meet with someone or record a presentation, but those who have heard me speak a bit started commenting on how weak my voice was even with the musterable version. And, afterward, I wouldn’t be able to talk almost at all. My voice loss was no longer a nuisance; it was an emergency. 

After the third week, I decided I needed professional help. Enough was enough. Plus, I had googled enough that I was worried I was causing permanent damage to myself and that’s a scary thought when speaking is your profession. I scheduled an appointment with an ENT. 

 

But maybe it’ll still get better on its own…

It took a couple of weeks to get an appointment; I was now 5 weeks into this most recent bout of voice loss. I was resting my voice much more frequently because the more I used it the worse it got. The Pet Harmony team kept me in check and picked up pieces that I couldn’t do (thanks, ladies!) I primarily communicated with my husband via hand gestures and written text. I scheduled fewer clients. Once I finally admitted that I had a big problem, I finally started treating it that way. 

And, because of that, my voice returned a few days before my appointment. It wasn’t great, it was still weak and didn’t sound quite right, but it at least didn’t hurt to talk for a bit. And I found myself thinking:

Maybe I don’t need professional help after all. Maybe it’ll just get better on its own. 

I, of course, overdid it that day or two and ended right back into the position I was in when I scheduled the appointment in the first place. Okay, enough kidding myself, it wasn’t going to get better on its own. What problem actually does?? I’ve yet to truly find one (aside from the few times where age does make a big impact). 

 

The barriers that keep us from seeking help

I know I said the purpose of this story is to talk about the thought process that maybe it would get better on its own and I’ve already done that, but it feels weird to bring you along this journey without finishing it. So, we continue.

I had my appointment and I started realizing all of the barriers that I had to seek professional help. While not all of them are relevant to the behavior modification journey, two of them are:

  1. What if they don’t believe me?
  2. What if there’s nothing they can do to help me?

I hear variations of these two fears frequently when I meet with new clients, and here I was thinking about them as I pulled into the parking lot. I was worried that, because I was sometimes able to pull off a seemingly normal voice, that the ENT wouldn’t believe that the problem was as severe as it was. What if my voice was fine during the appointment?

And, even if it wasn’t and he did believe me, what if there was nothing that they could do to help me? What if it’s something that’s just part of my chronic illness, never destined to get better than manageable? What would that mean for the career I’ve built on using my voice? 

I wasn’t able to articulate the reasons why it took me 5 years to seek professional help until I was there. 

 

I wish I’d found help sooner

My appointment went better than I imagined it could. Their team worked efficiently and soon I had an answer; the doctor explained to me why my voice sounded the way it did. They were compassionate about how much this was affecting me and didn’t say anything about how I should’ve sought help sooner. The doctor prescribed speech therapy and explained why that was the best course of action. I walked out of the office feeling empowered to change my problem for the first time in 5 years. And I wished I could’ve done this for myself sooner. 

 

Putting in the work

Speech therapy reminded me so much of the behavior modification process. Both scaffold exercises, moving from easier, foundation skills to building on more challenging skills. Both require management, to keep the problem from getting worse in the meantime. And both require looking at the entire picture because one of the root causes may be something that seems entirely unrelated (did you know you can breathe wrong? And that can impact your voice?)

But what reminded me most of the behavior modification process, is that you get out of it what you put into it. Halfway through, the grad student helping with my case started commenting on how quickly I was progressing. I knew exactly what she meant. She could tell that I was doing all of the exercises they gave me twice a day like I was supposed to. My voice didn’t lie. It wouldn’t be getting better if I wasn’t putting in the work, even the work that I wasn’t quite sure how it could help. Of course, there can be a lot of reasons why progress happens at different rates, but this was a clear case of where it’s all about following the plan the professional gives you.

I ended up being able to graduate from speech therapy a week early because of this. Again, she commented about how quickly I progressed. I told her that I was a consultant as well and that I understood that a plan only works if you follow it. And boy was I determined to have my voice back as quickly as possible. 

 

Maintenance

The other part of speech therapy that reminds me of the behavior modification process is the need for maintenance after you’ve finished the plan. Even though I graduated from needing weekly sessions, I’m still not done. And, because only some of the root causes are likely changeable in the long run, I’ll probably never be truly done. I still have to keep better care of my voice. I still do my exercises on a maintenance basis, instead of twice a day. I still have good days and bad days depending on how hard I was on my voice. The difference now is that I know exactly what to do to keep it from getting worse and to improve it once more. 

 

Now what?

  • If you’ve been in the same boat with your pet’s behavior problems that I was with my voice, be honest with yourself. What are the barriers you have to seek professional help? What are your fears and doubts?
  • Talk through those fears and doubts with someone. This could be someone in your inner circle, it could be one of our professionals (email us at [email protected]), or with another pet parent in our Enrichment for Pet Behavior Issues Facebook group. You’re not alone, nor should you have to feel that way. 
  • Start seeking professional help. Problems don’t get better on their own. Check out our new Roadmap For Behavior Solutions Program for the most cost-efficient, comprehensive solution we offer: http://petharmonytraining.com/roadmap-for-behavior-solutions-program/ Or our Beginning Behavior Modification on-demand digital course if you’re raring to get started now: http://petharmonytraining.com/beginning-behavior-modification/ 

 

Happy training!

Allie

May 2021 Training Challenge: Overt vs. Covert behavior

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Happy spring! I have no idea how we’re already in May, but here we are. And with the new month comes a new training challenge. Here’s the challenge for May:

 

Describe 1 construct or label using overt behavior

 

Okay. What the heck did I just say? This training challenge requires a bit of a vocabulary lesson. Now, y’all know I try to not be super vocab-heavy or technical in these blog posts, but this is one where the technical terms end up being the easiest way to communicate this concept. I promise to make it as painless as possible! Let’s dive in. 

 

Overt vs. Covert Behavior

Overt behavior refers to observable, measurable behavior. Examples of this include:

  • The person took three steps to the right
  • The hawk is flying at 20 mph
  • The dog’s ears turned back and are sitting low against the skull
  • The cat jumped onto the counter

There’s no arguing whether these behaviors are or are not true because we can see them and measure them. 

Covert behavior refers to internal thoughts, feelings, motivations, and intentions. And a construct is our interpretation of those covert behaviors. If you want to think of covert behavior and constructs as the same thing for now, go for it. The technical differences between those two aren’t as relevant for our level of discussion. Examples of this include:

  • The dog is mad that I left him alone and that’s why he pees when I’m gone
  • The dog is anxious when I leave him alone and that’s why he pees when I’m gone
  • The dog doesn’t know to not potty inside and that’s why he pees when I’m gone
  • The dog is trying to claim his territory when other dogs pass by the house and that’s why he pees when I’m gone

As you can see, there’s a whole lot of debate as to whether these behaviors are or are not true. Here we have the exact same overt behavior- urinating when left home alone- but I’ve heard all of the above as constructs people have created to explain that particular behavior. 

Here’s the thing with covert behavior and constructs: we’ll never know if they’re accurate. Heck, we’re even terrible at guessing the covert behavior of our fellow humans, with whom we speak the same language! How can we assume that we’re better at guessing the covert behavior of another species that doesn’t speak the same language? 

One more vocab word to throw into this mix: labels. A label is something we use to describe someone. For example, we could say a pet is:

  • Stubborn
  • Fearful
  • Aggressive
  • Anxious
  • Sweet

All of those are labels. 

 

Why does all of this matter?

All of this matters for a few different reasons:

 

The words we use shape our judgment, and ultimately can shape how we feel about our pets

Let’s say we have a dog who sometimes lies down in the middle of a walk and cannot be coaxed to get up for several minutes at a time. 

Overt behavior: lies down while on a walk for several minutes

Constructs and labels I’ve heard people use to describe this behavior:

  • Stubborn
  • Too hot to walk
  • Scared
  • Watching everything; attentive or focused on their surroundings
  • Getting old and joints might hurt

Now, how do you think the person who thinks their dog is stubborn feels about them vs. the person who thinks their dog is getting old with ouchy joints feels about them? My guess is those two people have a pretty different relationship with their pets and feel very differently about this particular behavior. 

 

Our judgment shapes our decisions, for better or worse

Let’s continue with the previous example. Each of those people would likely choose a different path to change that behavior. This might look like:

  • Stubborn: force them to walk
  • Too hot to walk: manage by walking in the morning when it’s cool
  • Scared: seek help from a behavior professional
  • Watching everything; attentive or focused: train a watch me or attention cue
  • Getting old and joints might hurt: speak with their vet about pain management options

One behavior, 5 different options for treatment based on our assumptions about what’s happening. But, and I can’t stress this enough:

 

We don’t know if our assumptions about covert behavior are accurate.

 

That means that we can’t make training decisions based on covert behavior, constructs, or labels. While we might be right in our assumptions, we can end up doing more harm than good if we’re wrong. For example, if the person thinks their dog is stubborn but actually they’re too hot to walk or in pain, forcing them to walk could end up seriously injuring them. Assumptions do not make for effective decisions; observing overt behavior makes for effective decisions. 

 

Our assumptions cloud our observations

I see people on a daily basis who are struggling to reconcile seemingly incompatible thoughts, theories, assumptions, etc. that they have about their pets. The most common I hear is reconciling the “sweet” label with a dog who is biting people. This usually comes in the form of the following statement:

 

They’re so sweet 95% of the time but it’s just that 5% we’re worried about

 

It’s hard for us to wrap our heads around how a pet who is sweet can also bite someone; sweet individuals don’t hurt others. When I see this happen we usually have a discussion that we’re the ones setting up that false dichotomy; their pet can still be very sweet with them but also fearful and biting other people. They’re not mutually exclusive behaviors. 

Sometimes, though, I see people struggling with that more than others. In those situations, I often see where folks will hold fast to a label or construct that they have about their pet and it makes it so they cannot see overt behavior that contradicts that label. 

For example, I’ve worked with a few clients who had leash reactive dogs and would even bite other dogs in some situations. The dog was showing clear signs of stress around members of their own species and even though we went through all the typical spiels about anxiety-related behaviors, they still believed that their dog truly enjoyed other dogs because they had a dog friend as a puppy. They couldn’t see the stress signals I was pointing out to them because that contradicted who they thought their dog was. Needless to say, those folks made much slower progress than their counterparts until we reached the point where they were able to see with their eyes, not their ideas. 

 

Hold up. Don’t you use labels and constructs all the time?

Yep! I do. Even though we shouldn’t make training decisions based on constructs or labels, they’re really helpful for communicating as long as all involved parties are defining those words the same way. For example, if I had to describe leash reactivity as barking, lunging, growling, and air snapping at the end of a leash when a dog is near another dog every time I talked to a client, we’d never get anything done. Instead, I tell my client, “this behavior that you’re describing I’m going to call leash reactivity.” That way we can communicate more efficiently and be on the same page as to what we’re defining as leash reactivity. 

 

But, what about the anxiety label you use? Isn’t that an assumption?

Right again! Those of you who have done an initial consultation with me might remember that when I describe your pet’s behavior as an anxiety-based behavior, I’ll actually say it’s a behavior based in anxiety, stress, fear, however it helps you to think of it. The next sentence is usually something along the lines of, “Those are all technically different, but for our purposes, I’ll use those phrases interchangeably because we can treat them all the same way and that’s really what I’m more interested in.”

Those are, however, all still labels or constructs. The reason I feel comfortable using those to make behavior decisions is because of body language. There has been enough study on body language, and studies are still coming out, that we can make an accurate enough guess as to broad strokes of covert behavior– like excitement and fear. So really those behavior decisions are happening based on body language and other behavior observations (overt behavior), and we attribute those body language signals to different constructs or labels. 

 

Back to the training challenge

Alright, I think we’ve detoured from this month’s training challenge enough for it to now make sense. 

Your task for this month is to take 1 construct or label that you have for your pet and describe it using only overt behaviors. Here’s an example:

Construct: Zorro likes his new tank setup

Overt behavior: Zorro is spending more time basking, less time trying to escape, and less time performing repetitive swimming behaviors in his new tank setup than his old one. 

If you’re feeling extra ambitious for this challenge, you can then turn that overt behavior into a different construct or label so you can see how easy it is for folks to create different explanations for the same behavior, like this:

New construct: Zorro has realized that I have finally outsmarted him when it comes to him escaping and he’s given up. I’m finally smarter than my turtle. 

Turtle resting on artificial grass on a green wooden platform. He is behind plexiglass and there's a black lamp behind him.
What I describe as Zorro enjoying his new tank setup

Now what?

  • Choose a construct or label. 
  • Think about what your pet is actually doing when you use that construct or label. What do you see with your eyes? 
  • Share your results with us on Facebook or Instagram @petharmonytraining
  • If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, we have a video training on overt vs. covert behavior in our Beginning Behavior Modification course

 

Happy training!

Allie

 

P.S. We have something BIG in the works to help even more pets and their people. Stay tuned for an announcement later this month!