December 2021 Training Challenge: Manage One Trigger for Your Pet

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I can’t believe that it is already December! 

With the holidays continuing through the remainder of the year, we thought a management training challenge is in order! 

So this month, we challenge you to create a management plan for one of your pet’s triggers. 

When we are dealing with stress, anxiety, and/or fear any management we can put in place will help our pets. If you haven’t seen it already, make sure to check out this blog on trigger stacking. Allie talks about why management is so important for our pets, and how it can make a big difference. 

Remind me, what’s management? 

Great question! When we are talking about management, we ask: 

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

When we implement a management strategy, we are looking to avoid exposure to the stressful thing entirely. Sometimes, that’s not possible, and in those cases, we look to minimize exposure. 

The end of the year is a time when our pets could experience any number of triggers: 

  • New decorations
  • A higher volume of deliveries
  • More people coming to the house
  • More things for your pet to get into
  • Seasonal fireworks
  • Neighbors having company
  • Neighborhood or local celebrations 

If you know that something is stressful for your pet, start to build your management plan today! Don’t wait until the last minute, or both of you will be stressed. 

Now What? 

  • Identify a stressor for your pet. The first step to building a management plan is to know what you need to manage! 
  • Once you know what you are going to manage, ask yourself the following questions: 
    • How can I keep everyone safe?
    • How can I avoid the stressful thing? 
    • How can I make the behavior I don’t like less likely to happen? 
    • What would I prefer to happen instead? 
  • Implement your plan! Tag us @petharmonytraining to let us know how your management plan is going! 

Happy training,

Ellen

November Training Challenge: “Yes, please!” vs. “No, thank you!”

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Happy November, everyone! 

As always, with the start of a new month, we have a new training challenge for you and your dog! (This also applies to different species, so if you have a bird, cat, turtle, or something else, you can also participate! You might just want to make a couple of adjustments.)


This month, the training challenge is to learn your dog’s “Yes, please!” and “No, thank you!”

 

If you’ve been following us for a while, you know that we really focus on learning body language and building observation skills in order to better support and navigate the world with your dog. Honestly, you won’t believe how much it will make a difference in your relationship with your dog. Communication is a two-way street, and as much as we expect our dog to learn our language, we need to learn theirs. 

This month, we are going to zoom in and talk about one small aspect of our communication with our dogs and that is the way we pet them. Humans are primates. We use our hands for everything, we hug and kiss and sometimes smother other beings. It’s the way that we show love and affection! 

But, when we look at other species that we might share our home with, that isn’t how they show love and affection. So, we need to bridge that gap. How do we do that? 

 

We learn our dog’s “Yes, please!” and “No, thank you!”

Now, each dog is an individual, so it’s up to you to learn your dog’s language, but in general here are some examples of “Yes, please!” and “No, thank you!”

*Only try this if your dog does not have a history of problems when touched (including, but not limited to, snarling, growling, shivering, cowering, snapping, or biting). If your dog does have problems when touched, then work directly with a qualified behavior professional like Pet Harmony to address your dog’s concerns. 

 

“Yes, please!” might look like your dog…  “No, thank you!” might look like your dog…
Moving closer Shifting their weight away
Pushing into your hand  Walking away
Nudging you Freezing
Putting your hand on them Whale eye 
Doing a well-practiced behavior  Turning their head away
Getting soft eyes Not moving closer
Giving you a big, silly smile Holding their breath
Melting Ignoring you
Giving you no choice in the matter Anything short of a “yes, please!”

How do we go about learning this? We spend some time interacting with and observing our dogs. 

 

So what does this look like?

Wait for a time when your dog is soliciting attention. 

Very gently, slowly, and softly, reach your hand out toward their shoulder. Stop about halfway to their body. This is how we ask “is this what you want?” 

Pause once you reach about halfway and observe your dog. 

What do you see? Do you see something on the “yes, please!” Or “no, thank you!” list? 

If you see a “yes, please!” continue moving your hand and make contact with your dog. Softly pet or scratch your dog. 

After 3 seconds, lift your hand away a few inches, and pause. Again, we are asking “is this what you want?” 

Observe what your dog does. They may be finished and give you a “no, thank you!”. If you see a “yes, please!” continue for another 3 seconds and repeat. You may find that your dog will adjust so that you can scratch or pet their favorite spot, like behind the ears, or on their chest. 

If, at any time, you get a “no, thank you”, remove your hand and give your dog 3 seconds. You can ask again. You may present your hand in a different way, like toward their chest, or their chin. Again, very gently, slowly, and softly, reach your hand out toward them. Stop about halfway to their body. This is how we ask “is this what you want?” 

Pause halfway and observe your dog. 

You may find that, while your dog was asking for attention, scratches might not be what they want! It might be to play or to go outside. And that’s okay! We respect their “no, thank you!” 

 

Let’s simplify it!

You ask your dog “Is this what you want?” – Offer your hand halfway to your dog and pause.

Does your dog say “yes, please”? Then pet your dog for 3 seconds, remove your hand, and repeat! 

Does your dog say “no, thank you”? Then pull your hand back, if your dog stays, you can ask again, but maybe change your offer. 

If they walk away, then you have a very clear answer! 

 

The beauty in communication

Over time, you might start to see patterns develop in your dog’s preferences! 

For example, Laika loves her left armpit to be scratched. 

Griffey likes to be rubbed on the top of his face. 

Laika prefers morning scritches (much more “yes, please!”) and Griffey finds certain lotions to be horribly offensive (much more “no, thank you!”, well, to be honest, I’m not sure that “no” is that subtle). 

When we know our dog’s preferences, we can better meet our dog’s needs. If they need some time and attention from us, we can give them the type of social interaction they prefer. 

And, when we develop this system of communication, our dogs learn how to ASK for social interaction in the way that they need. It’s a beautiful thing when our dogs can request for their needs to be met. 

 

Now what?

  • Practice seeing subtle signs of communication. This blog on body language (includes cats too!) provides resources to learn more about body language! 
  • Determine what your dog’s “yes, please!’ and “no, thank you!” looks like. How do they communicate? 
  • Practice the routine with your pet: “is this what you want?” → “yes, please!” or “no, thank you!” → respond accordingly. 
  • As you find out your dog’s preferences, we’d love to hear about it over on our pet parent Instagram @petharmonytraining! Tag us in your videos, pictures, or stories. We’ll be sharing some of our own as well!

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!

September Training Challenge: Management Plans for Visitors

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It’s already September, and that means it’s time for our monthly training challenge! 

As we head into fall, and the holiday season, now is the time to start planning for visitors. As we’ve mentioned before, you need to practice before the test. That means, start building or adjusting your management plan this month, before the onslaught of trick-or-treaters or holiday guests

 

Management Plans

Let’s start off by clarifying what I mean by “management plan”. When I refer to your management plan, I mean how you are: 

  1. Keeping everyone safe 
  2. Preventing unwanted behaviors 

In a successful management plan, we are striving to do both of these things for our pets (and ourselves!). There are other elements that come into play, but start here!

If you read that list and thought, “I have no idea. What is this person talking about?”, don’t worry. Follow along below to start your management plan! 

 

Start Here

The first step in preventing unwanted behaviors is to identify the unwanted behaviors. So ask yourself, “what does my dog do around visitors that I find undesirable?”

Do they: 

  • Run around screaming 
  • Door dash 
  • Jump on or mouth the visitors
  • Lunge/bark/bite at the visitors  
  • Refuse to come to you
  • Insert your list here

Create your list of undesirable behaviors. Once we know what you want to change, then we can start to build and implement a management strategy.

 

Next Step

For each undesirable behavior, ask yourself these 2 questions: 

  1. Is everyone safe? 
  2. Can I prevent this behavior entirely?

Let’s look at some fictitious examples, shall we? 

My dog starts running around and screaming as soon as the doorbell rings

  • Is everyone safe? Yes. Well, minus my eardrums.
  • Can I prevent this behavior entirely? Yes. Disconnect doorbell, or have visitors text/call when they arrive. 

My dog runs out the door each time it opens

  • Is everyone safe? Definitely not. We live on a busy street.
  • Can I prevent this behavior entirely? Yes. Two or more barriers between my dog and the outside world will prevent them from getting to the street. I also won’t have to worry about visitors accidentally letting my dog out. 

My dog runs out the door each time it opens

  • Is everyone safe? Definitely not. We live on a busy street.
  • Can I prevent this behavior entirely? Yes. Two or more barriers between my dog and the outside world will prevent them from getting to the street. I also won’t have to worry about visitors accidentally letting my dog out. 

 

And then…

Implementation! Start putting your management plan into place ASAP. The sooner you and your dog can practice the plan, the better you will be before the night of the test. If you or your dog will need additional skills to make your management plan work, then start teaching and practicing those now! 

 

But I Don’t Know How To Manage This Problem!

I have some good news, we can help. Management can be very personal, and while the goal may be very broad, there are a ton of ways to meet a goal. Our behavior consultants can help you not only make a management plan for your pup, but we can also help you take it a step further! If you want to go from complete chaos around your company to know how to navigate visitors, we’d love to help

 

Now What?

  • Whether you are assessing your current management plan or building one from scratch, start by asking yourself “what are the concrete, observable behaviors I don’t like?”
  • Once you have your list, start building your plan to keep everyone safe and prevent unwanted behaviors. 
  • If you’d like help building or adjusting your dog’s management plan to meet both your needs and theirs, let us know. We’d love to help you
  • Check out our upcoming free webinar 5 Tips for Addressing Your Dog’s Problem Behaviors… No Matter the Problem! You might find some management inspiration during it!

 

August 2021 Training Challenge: Teach A Trick

I love trick training.

I love how fun it is to see animals learning.  I love the relationship built between species. I love how cute the end results are. AND I love that the pup doesn’t always realize that this fun game we’re doing is actually functional for our lives.  

As I was thinking about this month’s training challenge (“Teach A Trick”), I mentally scrolled through the whole Rolodex of tricks I’ve seen and done with dogs, and I kept coming back to wanting to teach you something that can be adorable AND functional.

This summer, our household became a playground as we celebrated our human kiddo’s first birthday.  I had no idea we had so many cabinets, and to a toddler, behind that cabinet door lies a world of wonder that needs to be explored. Everything stores something and after a few minutes… all of those somethings are on the floor (stay tuned for a future Slick Tricks to teach your pup how to help you clean up toys).

So what did I do when I grew tired of constantly closing the half-opened cabinet to the pots and pans with my foot as my boy whisked me away by pointer fingers to his next exciting discovery? I said to myself, “Corinne! Opie is amazing and he knows how to close the cabinets!”

 

So let’s learn the trick that I like to call, “Can you get that for me?”

When teaching a trick, it’s important to consider all of the actions that your animal has to do in order to complete the task.  When we break the behaviors of the trick down and reward in tiny, manageable steps (“splitting”), we create clarity, increase confidence, and ensure success for our pups. 

In order for a dog to close a cabinet door, they need to know how to touch something with their paws or their nose.  First, we will teach “paw/high five/shake/fist bump”, then we will transfer this to the cabinet using a target.  My pup likes to touch with his paw, but feel free to replace the term “paw” with “nose” if you’d rather your dog close something with his/her snout.

Teaching this skill takes multiple training sessions, so make a note where your pup leaves off at the end of one session and start a step or two before that when you begin your next session. Practice each step until your dog is accurate 80-90% of the time. As always, keep training sessions short, positive, and fun. 

 

What you need for this trick:

  • Treats
  • Marker: an auditory cue that tells your dog “what you just did will bring the goodies” (i.e.- click, “yes”, “good”) 
  • Target: a visual tool to help with precision (i.e.- piece of painters tape)

 

Part 1: Teach “paw”

  1. Put a treat in a closed fist.
  2. Offer the fist to the pup.
  3. The curious pup may sniff/lick/explore. Wait the pup out.
  4. When your dog touches your hand with his paw, mark, then reward with the treat.

**Continue this step until your dog is consistently offering his paw **

  1. Start to offer your fist without the treat inside.  Mark and reward with the other hand when his paw makes contact. Repeat.
  2. Start to open your hand.  Mark and reward with the other hand when his paw makes contact with your open palm. Repeat.

**Congrats!  You just taught your pup “shake/fist/high five!”  Party time!  Name this whatever you want and continue using this cue for the next few steps (or stop here, get a high five from your pup, and bask in your training glory). For more info on adding a verbal cue, check out this video.**

 

Part 2: Transferring the touch

  1. Continue practicing “high five”, but now add a target on your palm. I like to use a piece of painter’s tape.  When your pup touches his paw to your target (the tape), mark and reward. Repeat.
  2. Start to move your hand (with the target on it) to different levels and angles (in front/side/below/higher/lower/behind/further).  Mark and reward each success.
  3. Move the target to the end of your fingers and repeat the above step.  Mark and reward.
  4. With the target at the end of your fingers, place your hand near/in front of a closed cabinet door, gradually getting closer to the door so that your hand is flat on the cabinet, palm facing out. Mark and reward each success.
  5. Gradually move the target from halfway on your fingers/halfway on door > to ¼ on your fingers/ ¾ on the door > 100% on the door.  Mark and reward each success.

*Congrats!  You successfully used a target to transfer the pup from touching your hand to touching the cabinet.  Now let’s add the new verbal cue “Can you get that for me?”.  For more info on switching cues, click here!

  1. Once your pup is consistently touching the target on the cabinet, practice doing it with the door open.  Mark and reward each time your pup touches the target, even if it does not close the door.  Gradually increase the criteria by waiting to mark until the door moves, and eventually, closes.  Your goal is to mark the moment you hear the door shut. *NOTE: if your dog has a history of sound sensitivities, consider laying a dish towel over the edge at the bottom of the cabinet to dampen the sound.
  2. Once your pup is responding to your cue and closing the door all the way, you can start to take the target off the cabinet and transfer it to other doors.

You did it!  Your kitchen will never look like that scene from The Sixth Sense again.  Have fun with this trick by making a little maze throughout your kitchen that your pup can clear.  It’s a very fun 15 secs for both the dog and the humans cheering him on!

 

Now what?

  • Have fun working with your pup on these tricks! Tricks are awesome because the necessity is so low.  Tricks are a great way to deepen your relationship, discover your pup’s motivators, and learn their signals for when they’ve hit their limits (and apply this knowledge to any behavior modification plans you are working on as well).
  • Share your pictures and videos of your pup helping you keep the house in order with our Facebook and Instagram pages! You can tag us @PetHarmonyTraining! We love seeing cute things!

You’re doing great!

Corinne

July 2021 Training Challenge: Evaluate Your Enrichment Plan

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

This month’s training challenge is about our favorite topic: enrichment. 

 

More specifically, evaluate your enrichment plan

 

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

If you’ve spent 2 minutes putzing around our website or social media pages, you’ve likely gathered that “enrichment” is our jam.  If you’ve spent more than 2 minutes, it’s likely that it’s yours too.  You’re our people.

If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed with all the good ideas and desires to implement enrichment, you are not alone.  When I started reflecting on what I needed to do to create the best life for my pup Opie, it was like a deluge of information that I loved kept overflowing my capacity to actually implement any of the ideas I had.  I was so excited with every new bit that I read that I wouldn’t finish one thought before running off with another. Nothing ever stuck. What I needed was a systematic, step-by-step approach to reflecting on the aspects of enrichment and working through the steps to achieve my goals.

Today we are going to break down the 4 questions that guide you in creating an enrichment plan to meet your pet’s needs.

When reflecting on how we can create rich, fulfilling lives for our pets, it always comes back to enrichment–meeting all of our animals’ needs. For more examples of enriching activities, check out Ellen’s blog post Enrichment Isn’t About The Activity. For an even deeper dive into what “enrichment” is and isn’t (and how we can implement it in our animals’ daily lives), check out Allie and Emily’s book Canine Enrichment for the Real World

Today’s blog is all about reflection.  We need to think about what behaviors we want to see for all of the aspects of enrichment and how we are setting our furry friends up for success. For the purpose of this blog post today, I am going to zero in on ONE aspect of enrichment, but to get an idea of the full scope for any animal, you can sign up for our free Enrichment Chart Guide here. This guide will help you identify where to start.

 

The 4 Questions To Ask Yourself When Creating An Enrichment Plan

Aspect of Enrichment Focus: Physical Exercise

 

Question 1: Is this need being met?

This question may seem like a simple yes or no, but dig a little deeper into your answer. For physical exercise, consider your animal’s size, energy abundance, disposition, instinctual behaviors, and (if applicable) species/breed typical activity.  Take for example: if you are noticing undesirable behaviors at 7 pm, does the amount of exercise in a day correlate to the frequency or intensity of that behavior? 

 

Question 2: Am I providing my animal with agency?

Much like humans enjoy feeling in control of our choices, so too do our pets. Providing multiple appropriate options for our pets results in more confident, resilient animals.  Pardon my double reference, but Allie and Emily’s book really dives deep into the legitimacy of this statement. It’s easy to assume that dogs want to go for walks, cats want to climb scratch poles, and horses want to gallop.  It may well be true that your pet is fulfilled by these exercise options, but what would they choose if they had the say?  Brainstorm a few options for your pet and let them choose their exercise for that day.

 

Question 3: What is the priority of addressing this aspect of enrichment?

As I mentioned earlier, it’s easy to get over-excited and overwhelmed with the awesome ideas you read about giving your pet a better life.  I’m right there with you. Consider the importance that you place on each aspect of enrichment, review your Q1 & 2 answers, and give it a number from 1-10.  If physical exercise is not being met consistently, you may score it an 8; however, if physical exercise is being met, but you have not yet incorporated agency, you may score it a 5.  Address another aspect that has a higher number, enjoy the rewards of your work, and move along to the next goal.

 

Question 4: What is my plan of action?

Here’s where we get to it.  Oftentimes, when we feel overwhelmed it’s because we don’t know what our next steps are. It’s okay! Take a breath, and let’s break down what we do know.  Reflect on your knowledge, training, and expertise, and reach out to someone when you are stuck.  If your animal has limited mobility, but you are not qualified to assess what physical exercise is safe and appropriate, call your veterinarian.  If you only can think of taking the pup on a walk, pop on over to our Facebook page to get some new ideas. If your animal is reactive or fearful and struggles to get physical exercise, reach out to a behavior consultant.

 

I’ve worked with a pup who came to class jumping and lunging around barriers, unable to focus on his owners (and causing them the inability to focus on class), and passing notes at any opportunity.  Turns out, because of the family’s schedule, the dad leaves right from work to pick up the pup for training class, skipping his normal walk in order to make it in time for class.  With just a little stroll around the parking lot and a few rounds of “find it!”, the pup was eager (but not too!) and ready to focus in class.

People, we’re doing the best we can with what we have. The hardest thing for us pet parents to do is to toss out our preconceived notions about what we think our pet needs and rather observe what our animal is telling us.  Asking yourself these 4 questions to create an enrichment plan will help to streamline the process of providing your pet with what they deserve.

Some things may work, and others may be back to the drawing board.  Think less that your efforts are trial and error and more that it is trial and eval.  I know you’re excited and want to get started.  Take a breath, take a step, and enjoy observing what your animal is telling you.

To help organize your thoughts, sign up for our free Enrichment Chart Guide here.

 

Now what?

  • Ask yourself questions 1 & 2 to determine where there’s room for improvement. 
  • Assign priorities to those areas for growth and choose the one with the highest need.
  • Develop your plan of action (or work with us to help you!) and get started! We have plenty of ideas in our Enrichment for Pet Behavior Issues FB group, or if you need more personalized help you can work with our consultants
  • Share your training challenge results with us @petharmonytraining on Facebook and Instagram! We love hearing from you.

 

You’re doing great!

Corinne

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

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!

April Training Challenge: Drop It

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Happy kind of spring! We have another fun training challenge this month:

 

Teach a “drop it” cue during play

 

Playtime can very often double as training time. The two do not have to be mutually exclusive! 

Before we get into some examples of how to do this, let’s have a brief chat about what I mean by “drop it”.

 

“Drop It”: The Behavior

When I say “drop it”, I mean the specific behavior of removing an item from your mouth. I like to have specific cues that mean specific behaviors to limit confusion with a pet as much as possible. 

If you are using “leave it” for both behaviors of not putting something in your mouth and removing something from your mouth and it’s working, keep doing it. I’m not here to fix things that aren’t broken. However, if your pet is struggling to learn that the same thing means two different behaviors, then I suggest having one cue for each. Remember: just because we understand the concept of synonyms does not mean our pets do. 

Another reminder: our pets don’t speak human language. You need to teach your pet what the “drop it” cue means before it’s going to reliably work. Fairly often someone will tell me that their pet does not drop something when asked to. And, almost just as often, I’m met with blank looks when I ask them how they taught that behavior. Stubborn quite often means they were never taught how to do it in the first place. 

And, one last note: this behavior needs to be reinforced just like all others if you’d like to see it continue. If the only time you’re using “drop it” is to ask your pet to give up something amazing for nothing in return or only at the end of a play session, they’re going to discontinue following that cue pretty quickly. Like all behaviors, it needs to be worth it to the individual performing it.

 

“Drop It” with Fetch

There are a few variations that usually work for teaching this cue while playing fetch. 

Option 1: 2-Toy Fetch

  1. Grab two identical (if possible) toys that your pet likes playing fetch with.
  2. Throw one toy.
  3. When your pet brings Toy 1 back, make a big fuss over Toy 2. Make it seem like the most fun toy that’s ever existed. 
  4. When your pet drops Toy 1, immediately throw Toy 2. The hope is that throwing Toy 2 (continuing the game) reinforces the drop it, not any other behavior– like sit. We’ll only know if this is effective for this pet if they continue dropping the toy moving forward. 
  5. Pick up Toy 1 while they’re chasing after Toy 2.
  6. When your pet brings Toy 2 back, make a big fuss over Toy 1. 
  7. When your pet drops Toy 2, immediately throw Toy 1. 
  8. Repeat until your pet reliably drops the toy. Pay attention to the cues that they are going to drop the toy. Some will chew it a few times then drop, others it’s based on proximity to you, others it could be a change in head position.  
  9. Add in your “drop it” verbal cue right before they drop it. If you’ve successfully completed Step 8 you should be able to tell when they’re going to drop it and say your cue before the behavior happens. Reinforce by tossing the other toy, like before. Repeat until, in this context, your pet reliably drops the toy on cue.
  10. If you want to add some other behavior between the drop it and toss, now’s the time. 

 

Option 2: Using Treats

  1. Grab a toy or two that your pet likes playing fetch with
  2. Throw the toy
  3. When your pet brings the toy back, show them a treat (luring) and say “drop it”. 
  4. When your pet drops the toy, give them the treat, then pick up the toy. If you’re having trouble with your pet grabbing the toy again when you’re reaching for it then toss the treat instead of handing it to them so they’re busy while you’re picking it up. 
  5. Because you’ve already rewarded the “drop it” behavior, you can ask for a sit or anything else you’d like before throwing the toy again. 
  6. Repeat the above steps 5 times. 
  7. The next time your pet brings the toy back, say “drop it” without showing them the treat. If they do, awesome! Hand or toss them the treat. If they don’t, repeat the above steps. 
  8. You can either slowly phase out the treat and just have the continuation of the game be the reinforcement (if it is, actually and indeed, reinforcing enough) or you can keep the treat in the game long-term. There’s no harm in that. 

 

“Drop It” With Tug

Let’s get one question that I hear frequently out of the way: does tug cause aggression? The short answer is no. The slightly longer answer is that there have been one or two studies looking at tug and aggression and they did not show that there was a significant correlation between the two. Now, two studies are not a lot and there could absolutely be more research done on this and that’s something we should keep in mind. Anecdotally, I frequently play tug with dogs who are considered “aggressive” and still have all my limbs (even the resource guarders!)

The way to teach “drop it” with tug is exactly how you would do it with fetch, just with tugging instead of throwing. I recommend playing for just a few seconds at a time (10-15 seconds). This can often make it easier for them to drop it because they’re not fully in the throes of tugging. 

 

Now What?

  • Choose your game and toys. 
  • Get to playin’! If you’re using treats, you may need to experiment with the type of treat to get the perfect value of “worth dropping the toy for” vs. “not too exciting that play stops”.
  • Share your progress with us @petharmonytraining on Facebook and Instagram

 

Happy training!

Allie

 

March 2021 Training Challenge: Teach a Trick

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Happy March and almost spring! It feels like a good time to have some fun with our pets as the weather is warming up, so this month’s training challenge is:

 

Teach your pet a new trick

 

This is one that anyone with a pet of any species can participate in! I’ll likely work on a target with Zorro (the turtle) and some new fitness exercises with Oso. The word “trick” is pretty subjective so I think some of those exercises should be allowed to count. 

 

Why I love trick training

There are a lot of reasons to love trick training. Two of my favorites, though, are that it can be a great relationship builder and a great confidence booster. I find that when I see my clients working on training exercises that are supposed to serve a particular purpose, like teaching “place” with the intention of using it when the doorbell rings or working on Look at That for reactivity, they tend to be a little more tightly wound. 

In general, they get more frustrated when their pet doesn’t pick up on the exercise quickly and they’re more quick to get discouraged when it’s not going as planned. With trick training, I usually see them loosen up and be more forgiving of their and their pets’ mistakes. That can go a long way towards relationship building! Everyone just gets to have fun. 

It can also be a good confidence booster and a way for our pets to break out of their shells if they’ve had negative experiences with training in the past. I’ve had several clients who’ve started working with me and using a LIMA training philosophy after working within a different training philosophy with their pet. Sometimes, that pet is not too keen on training because training had been scary or painful in the past. With these pets, we’ll often work on them just feeling comfortable in a training scenario. That sometimes involves trick training! 

We’ll teach them something that they have no prior experience with and make it super fun: lots of treats and lots of forgiveness for mistakes. When their pet starts understanding that training isn’t always scary or painful, we can then start moving on to other exercises. 

 

Some trick ideas

There are so many possibilities when it comes to trick training and there are a ton of great articles, YouTube videos, and resources out there to give you some ideas. Here are a few of my go-to options:

  • Nose to hand target
  • Nose to post-it note target, which can then be used to turn off lights, close a door, etc.
  • Spin right and spin left
  • Back up
  • Play dead
  • Roll over
  • Army crawl
  • Speak
  • Put toys away
  • Head down
  • Head nod “yes”
  • Head shake “no”
  • Sit pretty
  • Shake/paw
  • High five
  • High ten
  • Wave
  • Dance
  • Figure 8 between legs
  • Bow
  • Jump

And those are just a few options! If your pet is physically capable of performing it, then it can theoretically be taught. Keep in mind that there are some things you may not want to teach, though. For example, it’s a cool trick to teach your dog to open a door, but there may be some doors in your house that you’d prefer them not to know how to open. Think about potential future consequences of what you’re teaching your pet to do. 

Additionally, be thinking about the impact that the trick might have on their body. A pet doing a handstand looks amazing, but is not the greatest as far as wear and tear on their body is concerned. Just because we can teach something doesn’t mean we necessarily should. 

 

How to teach tricks

There are three ways that we at Pet Harmony recommend to teach a new behavior (more exist, but these are the most LIMA-friendly options): luring, capturing, and shaping.

Luring means having a treat (or toy, etc.) in your hand and moving that hand in a way that when your pet follows they perform the desired action. For example, to get a pet to sit via luring you’d move the lure hand up over their head and as the head goes up the butt goes down. 

Luring is an easy way to teach a lot of things and most pets do well with it. The thing to remember with luring is to fade the lure quickly so you’re not stuck having to have a treat in your hand forever. I generally lure 5 times then perform the same action sans treat in hand (this can act as your hand signal). If the animal does the behavior, great! We’ve moved onto a hand signal. If not, I lure 5 more times and try the hand signal again.

 

 

Capturing is waiting for your pet to do the desired action naturally and then rewarding them for doing so. Lying down is an easy one for this. Simply wait for your pet to lie down (which they’ll eventually do) and then treat. A marker is helpful for capturing. The downside is that the pet has to naturally perform the behavior for us to capture it. And, many people would say that another downside is having to employ the patience necessary to capture during training. 

 

 

Shaping is capturing and rewarding the baby steps, or approximations, towards the end goal behavior. For example, to teach a “head down” behavior you can wait for the head to move down a little bit and reward, then continue rewarding for the head moving down a little bit more and more. A marker is very helpful here. Shaping is the hardest of the three strategies for both the human and the pet to learn. However, it’s usually how you get all of the really cool tricks. 

 

 

Now what?

  • Choose a trick. If you’re newer to training, choose something that your pet naturally does or something similar to what your pet naturally does. It’s much easier to train a behavior that you know they can already do. If you’re more seasoned, try something a little harder or more involved. 
  • Develop your plan for how you want to train this trick. Can you lure it or do you need to capture or shape? If you try plan A and it doesn’t work, what’s plan B? Having an idea of how you’re going to train will help you make quicker decisions in the moment. We love Kikopup on YouTube for all things trick training. 
  • Start training! Make sure to have fun and that your pet is frequently being rewarded. Treats are easiest for this (which we talk about here). Frustration isn’t fun and not being treated frequently enough is frustrating.
  • If you’re stuck, go back to the drawing board on how to teach this particular trick. Be sure to make tweaks based on what you’re actually seeing with your eyes, not what you think is going through your pet’s mind or what your ideas may be trying to tell you you’re seeing. Stubborn in this case is really just not understanding, and that’s on the teacher, not the student. If you’re truly stuck, choose a new trick. Again, this is just for fun!
  • Send us pics and videos of you working with your pet on Facebook or Instagram @petharmonytraining. We love to see y’all having fun with your pets!

 

Happy training!

Allie