November 2022 Training Challenge: Teach a New Behavior Through Shaping

I don’t know about you, but October seemed to just fly by! Let’s hop into this month’s training challenge, which is the next installment in the “ways to teach behavior” series! 

As a reminder, in September we talked about how to teach your pet something new through capturing. Capturing is waiting for your pet to do the desired action naturally and then rewarding them for doing so. 

Last month, in October, we talked about how to teach your pet something new through luring, which is utilizing a piece of food or a toy in your hand to guide your pet through the motions. 

And that means, this month, we challenge you to teach your pet something new through shaping!

Like with the last two months, I am going to use the behavior of “go to spot” or “go to bed” for demonstration, but there will be a list of additional tricks you can teach your pet through shaping at the end! 

 

And of course, let’s talk about what shaping is first!

When we are talking about shaping, we are talking about a way to teach a new behavior by reinforcing gradual or successive approximations toward the end goal. The idea is kind of like playing “hotter – colder” where you lead someone around in space by saying things like “warm, warmer, hot, hotter…” as they get closer to a spot, or “colder, ice cold…” as they get further.

It is very common to hear the term “splitting” come up when we talk about shaping. So let’s also define that as well. When we talk about splitting, we are talking about how we are going to be breaking down the steps for our goal behavior to find those gradual or successive approximations. 

If you ever had to do the exercise where you wrote instructions for an alien from outer space to make a PB&J, it’s kinda like that!

 

Teaching something through shaping can look something like this… 

And don’t worry! We are going to break all this down even more in just a bit. 

 

But first, let’s talk about why we may or may not choose to shape a behavior.

There are a lot of reasons we might suggest taking a shaping approach to teaching a new behavior. 

  1. When you start from that very first approximation and work your way up, you always have a foundation to return to. If I have 10 steps that I can use to teach my dog to do something, I have 10 ways to help my dog remember the thing we were working on! 
  2. When done well, it reduces frustration for both the teacher and the learner by increasing the rate that the pet “wins” or “gets it right”. You can get many repetitions really quickly, and hey, who doesn’t like to “win”!? 
  3. It really builds communication between you and your pet. It’s a conversation as you’re teaching. 
  4. You can teach some incredible things that would never be possible with capturing and luring. 
  5. You are always starting from a place of success and focusing on what you do want rather than what you don’t! 

All that sounds great! Why might you not choose to shape? 

  1. It does require some foundational skills, and you may need to work on those first. The teacher needs to have clear communication through their mechanics, keen observation skills, and clear consistent timing to help the learner figure things out. 
  2. While you’re gaining those skills, might you get a little frustrated, and so might your learner, and nobody enjoys frustration.
  3. It takes planning. Before you go to teach your pet something new, you need to consider what the steps of your plan might look like. 

Now, to be fair, those are all true of any time we are teaching a new behavior, and none of that is to scare you away! Shaping can be incredibly fun once you and your pet get the rhythm down! 

All right, now that that is out of the way, let’s take a look at how you might prepare to shape your pet going to spot or bed. 

 

Determining your plan

First, clearly define your goal. It could be something like, I want my pet to place all 4 feet on the blue towel.

Once you have that, I find it easiest to work backward.

So, then ask yourself, in order for my pet to place all 4 feet on the blue towel, what does my pet need to do? 

In order for my pet to lie down on the towel, they need to put 3 feet on the towel. 

In order for my pet to put 3 feet on the towel, they need to put 2 feet on the towel. 

In order for my pet to put 2 feet on the towel, they need to put 1 foot on the towel. 

In order for my pet to put 1 foot on the towel, they need to move toward the towel. 

In order for my pet to move toward the towel, they need to orient toward the towel. 

In order for my pet to orient toward the towel, they need to look at the towel. 

If we were to then reverse the order it might look like this: 

Step 1: Look at the towel 

Step 2: Orient toward the towel 

Step 3: Move toward the towel 

Step 4: Put 1 foot on the towel 

Step 5: Put 2 feet on the towel

Step 6: Put 3 feet on the towel 

Step 7: Put 4 feet on the towel

Now, keep in mind, your pet might offer something that is not on your list, and that’s okay, they aren’t robots! Anything that is “hotter” toward your goal gets marked and treated! See the example below! 😀

 

Sweet! We’ve got the plan. What next?

Get ready for your session! Grab your treats, and your clicker or marker, your towel, and call your dog over! 

Put the spot or bed down, and be ready! Most dogs will immediately look at the thing, and that’s your chance to get that first approximation and get the ball rolling! 

As soon as you see anything that is “hotter” toward your goal, mark and then delivery a treat to your pet. Even if it wasn’t something you expected, like Griffey touching the basket with his nose, and raising his paw up to the rim of the basket. You can see me working through the process with Griffey here: 

 

 

Now, I couldn’t come up with anything “new” for Griffey to practice with. We’ve done this a lot. Like a lot, a lot, so there are a couple of things to keep in mind. 

Griffey is a champion of this behavior. We’ve practiced it with a ton of things, in a ton of locations, and it has paid VERY well for him in the past. Don’t expect your pet to “get it” within a minute unless they are also super well-practiced! 

If you and your pet are new to shaping, keep it short, keep it sweet, and keep your rate of reinforcement high! 

 

And as always, some tips to help your training

  1. Minimize distractions. Shaping can really work that noggin, so try to practice in low-distraction environments. 
  2. You want to mark and treat for movement, not for stillness. If your pet stands there staring at you to do something, then toss a treat, and the second they are done, start marking and treating them for movement. Their eyes move? Mark and treat. Their weight shifts? Mark and treat. They turn around? Mark and treat. Some pets, especially those new to shaping need to be taught that trying things is what pays, not waiting for us to lead the way. 
  3. Be prepared before you engage with your pet. It can be really frustrating for our pet to be waiting for us to be ready, so be prepared before you get your pet out of their comfy spot. Plus, you don’t want to miss the opportunity to mark and treat! 
  4. You may need to split more finely than I did above, and that’s okay! The more steps you fall back on, the better! 
  5. Where and how you deliver the treat will make a difference. If you get stuck, ask yourself, can I deliver my treat in a way that will make the next approximation more likely?

 

Additional tricks or skills to teach through shaping:

  1. Crawl under something
  2. Switch the light switch
  3. Back up
  4. Peek-a-boo
  5. Reach for the sky!
  6. Close the door

 

Now what? 

  1. Decide what you’re going to teach your pet through shaping! There are so many options beyond what we listed here, and Kikopup has fantastic tutorials for so many things! 
  2. Start teaching the thing! Remember, if both you and your pet are new to shaping, it won’t look exactly like what you see in the videos, and that’s okay! It’s a learning journey for you both!
  3. Let us know on Facebook or Instagram what you’re working on! We’d love to see your progress! 

October 2022 Training Challenge: Teach Your Pet Something New Through Luring

I hope y’all are having a smooth transition into fall! With the start of October comes the next in our series of training challenges about ways to teach a behavior to our pets. This month, we’re going to talk about luring! 

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

Last month, we talked about capturing as another way to teach a behavior to our pet. In case you missed it, make sure to check out how to Teach Your Pet Something New Through Capturing, too! 

Just as I did in the capturing blog last month, for sake of demonstration, I’m going to keep the behavior the same (go to a spot or bed), but stick around until the end of this blog post for suggestions of other behaviors that you can teach commonly through luring!

Let’s get into it! 

 

First, let’s talk about what luring is. 

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. Or, as you can see in this video, Allie is luring Oso from a sit to a down:

 

Luring is an easy way to start teaching a lot of things as most pets and their people do well with it. But, like with all things, there can be some downsides! 

One of the complaints we get most often from families that have taught things through luring is that their pet will only do it when they have a treat in their hand. And this is an extremely common challenge! While luring may look very simple in execution, to do it well, and to fade the lure (remove the lure from the picture), can take some finesse and skill! In order to make sure that the lure isn’t solidified as part of the picture, we often recommend practicing 2-5 times, then removing the lure from your hand. 

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. So, what might that look like? Check out the video below to see a demonstration of how we might teach a dog to go to a spot, or bed, with a lure! 

*Welcome to a behind-the-scenes look at the chaos that is my office :D*

 

 

I always recommend starting by testing your lure without any agenda. Does your dog follow the lure? Are you able to move while holding the lure (this isn’t just a dog skill!)? 

Lure your pet once, and when they *do the thing* give them the treat. 

Lure your pet a second time, and when they *do the thing* give them the treat. 

Repeat with nothing in your hand, but with your hand in the same position, and if your dog *does the thing* mark and give them a treat! 

If your dog doesn’t *do the thing*, then lure one or two more times and then try again with an empty hand. 

 

Tips to Help Your Training 

  1. Start simple! This may be a new skill for you and your pet, and if that’s the case, don’t try to lure them over some complicated obstacle course, start small, like taking 1 or 2 steps, or going to bed. 
  2. If your pet turns away from the lure in your hand, it isn’t going to be very effective. This can happen for a number of reasons ranging from your lure not being of appropriate value, or even pets learning that lures predict unfortunate things for them (Kathy and Emily talk in depth about this in Episode 19 – Kathy Sdao: Food Motivation Myths around the 37-minute mark!) You may need to start teaching there rather than with a trick! 
  3. Avoid luring your pet into a situation where they will be uncomfortable (also discussed in Episode 19 – Kathy Sdao: Food Motivation Myths!) If you aren’t sure if your pet is uncomfortable or not, brush up on your pet’s body language. Some of our favorite dog and cat body language resources are here, and this is one of our go-to resources for parrot body language.
  4. Whenever teaching something to your pet, start in a low-distraction environment. It will make things easier for you and them.
  5. Be prepared before you engage with your pet. It can be really frustrating for our pet to be waiting for us to be ready, so be prepared before you get your pet out of their comfy spot. 

 

Additional tricks or skills to teach with a lure: 

  1. Treat magnet – this is a staple in the Yoakum household and Hannah does a great job of walking you through the process in this blog! 
  2. Spin 
  3. Dig 
  4. Peek-A-Boo! 
  5. “Reach for the sky!” 
  6. Army crawl
  7. Figure 8 between legs
  8. Walk over something 
  9. Two or four paws up on something 
  10. Nod your head

 

Now What? 

  1. Decide what you’re going to teach your pet through luring! There are so many options beyond what we listed here, and Kikopup has fantastic tutorials for so many things
  2. Practice with your pet following the lure before you try to use it as a tool. Some pets will have a harder time with that initial step, for any number of reasons, so practice that first. 
  3. Don’t forget to have fun! If you find yourself getting frustrated or overwhelmed, take a break and do something that both you and your pet find enjoyable. 
  4. Tag us on our Facebook or Instagram to let us know what you’re up to!  

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

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

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

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



First thing first, what is capturing? 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Stack the deck in your favor

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

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

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

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

 

And some final tips for capturing: 

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

 

Additional tricks or skills to capture

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

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

 

Now What?

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

 

July 2022 Training Challenge: Explore Variety Through a Cardboard Box

Happy July, y’all!

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

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

We’ve all been there, right? 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Remember…

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

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

 

Now What? 

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

May 2022 Training Challenge – Getting in the Enrichment Habit

I’m gonna be calling out some people here right in the beginning. 

Raise your hand if you WANT TO DO THE THING, but something is standing in your way? 

And what do I mean by that? 

I want to give my dogs frozen food puzzles to lick once a day, but I can’t seem to do it. 

I want to spend 3 minutes training my dog, but I have only done it once in the last two weeks. 

I want to give my dog boxes with kibble in them to destroy, but it takes so much effort. 

I want to __________, but ___________. 

Yeah, friend. Me too. 

Building habits around our pet’s enrichment plan can be difficult in the constant churn of the rest of life. I have grandiose goals for my two dogs, but those goals often fall by the wayside as other fires appear on the horizon. 

If this sounds like you, then stick around, this training challenge is for you. 

This month, your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to figure out what’s standing in the way of your best intentions. 

What is stopping you from turning your intentions and goals into sustainable habits? 

Oof, that seems like a big question, right? 

Don’t worry. 

We’ve helped thousands of families on their enrichment journey, and we’ve seen some of the common barriers among our clients. Check out these common barriers and the ways families have overcome them.

 

The “It Needs to be Perfect” Struggle 

Do you find yourself saying things like… 

“Well, I need to do all of these things before I can start.”

“I need to know all the things before I can start.” 

“If I can’t do it all, I can’t do any of it.” 

I think most of us have been there at some time in our lives. We want to do things “right”, so we put it off until we can feel like we are doing it “right.”

So, do you feel your inner perfectionist standing between you and your enrichment habit? 

You don’t have to know everything about everything for a stellar enrichment plan for your dog. That’s what behavior consultants are for, they can help you build your plan, leaving you to focus on execution. This doesn’t mean you can’t still learn *all the things*, but it does mean that you don’t have to do it with the cloud of pressure over your head! 

Separate the habit from the results. Integrating new routines into your life takes time, so sometimes, it’s helpful to say, “In order to benefit my pet, I need to do the thing. The first step, is getting the thing done”. Split the criteria for yourself. Start with doing the thing, and then add in those additional steps later. 

And remember, something is likely better than nothing, and you can start small. Start with one small step, and when you have that integrated into your routine, add something else. This is something else a qualified behavior consultant can help you with. Small steps are our specialty!

 

The “Too Many Choices” Paralysis

Do you find yourself saying things like… 

“I don’t know what to do today?” 

“I can’t decide where to start!” 

“Should I be doing this or that?”

And then doing none of the things? Analysis paralysis is a real thing, and with the millions of enrichment options available, we see it seep in often. Where do I focus my attention? What if I make the wrong choice? What if there is a BETTER option? 

So, do you find the sheer number of options overwhelming and paralyzing? 

First off, you won’t know if there is a better option for your pet unless you try some stuff. Working with a professional can help narrow down your options, and direct your focus, but at the end of the day, I can tell you most, if not all dogs, benefit from opportunities to partake in sniffing. What I can’t tell you is what format or structure of sniffing is going to most benefit your dog. Does scatter feeding in the yard, tracking scents, sniffing through boxes and obstacle courses for food, or sniffaris provide you the best results? We need to do some trial and evaluation. And until we have that information, there is no bad option as long as it is safe, healthy, and appropriate. 

Looking at 10 options is likely too much, but looking at 3 can be manageable. So, narrow it down to three. If your dog’s enrichment program has some flexibility, and a sustainable, realistic and effective enrichment program should have some flexibility built-in, then toss all the options into a hat and pull three out to choose from. Or better yet, learn your pet’s “Yes, please!” and “No, thank you.” and ask them to pick for you! 

 

The “Chasing the Shiny” Burn Out 

Do you find yourself saying things like… 

“I’ll just add one more toy to my shopping cart.” 

“My dog is too fast!”

“I saw this incredible thing on Instagram…” 

This one is often tied with The “Too Many Choices” Paralysis and The “It Needs to be Perfect” Struggle. In an effort to have the best-darned enrichment plan, we are constantly searching the internet, listening to podcasts like Enrichment for the Real World, and looking for new enrichment options, and I see a couple of things happen here.

You may feel like your enrichment plan isn’t enough because other people are doing different things. You may not be using the results in your pet’s behavior to gauge its effectiveness, and because of that, you may get to a point where it doesn’t feel sustainable, or realistic anymore. Doing more, doing different, and doing new constantly is not feasible. 

So, do you feel the burnout creeping in and blocking your enrichment habit? 

Remember, enrichment isn’t about the activity. It’s about the results in the animal’s behavior. So, if you’re chasing the shiny because you think novelty and newness are necessary for an effective enrichment plan for your dog, I give you permission to slow down. Close your 95 internet tabs that are open with new enrichment ideas, and return to the basics and foundations. More is not always more when it comes to enrichment. When you provide an opportunity for your pet, do they engage with it? Does the activity help meet your pet’s needs in order to empower them to perform species-typical behavior in healthy, safe, and appropriate ways? If the answer is no, then it’s not helping your goals. 

Unless, you’re like me, and chasing the shiny is part of YOUR enrichment plan. Sometimes, that activity can be cup filling for the human, and if that sounds like you, then, by all means, keep your 95 browser tabs open, and continue to scroll Instagram. But, watch out for those times when Compare Leads to Despair, and if you feel that happening, circle back to my above point.  Does the activity help meet your pet’s needs in order to empower them to perform species-typical behavior in healthy, safe, and appropriate ways? Take a moment to be present with your pet. When the activity we partake in helps to empower them to perform species-typical behavior in healthy, safe, and appropriate ways, slowing down to observe and appreciate our work is really important.

 

The “I Don’t Have the Bandwidth” Challenge 

Do you find yourself saying things like… 

“There’s no way I can do that every day?” 

“I don’t have the time to be able to _____.” 

“I’m so tired.” 

Yup. I feel all of that. We only have so much that we can give, and your oxygen mask needs to be on before you can help anyone else. 

So, do you feel like you can’t take on one more thing? 

Be kind to yourself. We all have 24 hours in a day, but we all have a different 24 hours. My partner is out of the house for 12 hours a day, and I work from home. What each of us can feasibly, sustainably, and reliably do for the dogs is different. If you have a bandwidth struggle, make sure you are taking care of yourself as best you can. (I’m going to plug a great self-care/self-enrichment resource here.)

And this is one where I really encourage you to work with a professional to strip down to the bare bones of what is necessary to meet your pet’s needs and your goals. You’ve got a certain amount of resources to share, so let’s make sure you are focusing on the things that will help you make the biggest impact. We can help you tweak small things that will make a big difference.

Meal prepping your frozen food puzzles for 2 weeks can make it more sustainable and more likely to happen. 

You can also prepare your dog’s food in boxes DIY destructibles if you store them in a pest-proof container and use them within a couple of weeks. 

It might be moving where your dog’s food is kept to make things easier for everyone. 

It might be putting up some window film so that your dog is able to rest throughout the day. 

Small changes can result in big wins. 

 

The “I Can’t Tell if it is Working” Fog

Do you find yourself saying things like…

“I think he likes ____.” 

“I guess it’s worth it.” 

“I don’t know if it made a difference.” 

To stick with an enrichment plan, you really need to see the wins. You need to see your pet’s behavior change. You need to observe the differences it is making, or else what is reinforcing you to continue doing the thing? 

So, are you not sure that your enrichment plan is working? 

Refresh your body language observing and interpreting skills! Through body language and observation, you’ll be able to see the changes better, or lack thereof, and can assess your plan with confidence. 

Keep a log of your pet’s behavior? What do you find undesirable? What behaviors do you find desirable? Are you seeing changes in either the undesirable behaviors or the desirable behaviors? Keeping a tally of your observations can help you be objective! You can see how Allie has done this with her nemesis, Winter Oso. 

If you aren’t seeing the desirable changes, make adjustments! Your enrichment plan was likely created with a goal in mind, so adjust to continue working toward that goal. 

 

Now what? 

  • There are a lot of reasons that can get in the way of building a sustainable enrichment habit. Identify some of the barriers that are getting in your way. Once you know what they are, or at least have an inkling, you can start knocking those barriers down! 
  • We’ve helped thousands of families not only create sustainable, effective enrichment plans for their pets but also troubleshoot barriers to creating long-lasting and effective habits. We’d love to help you, too! We see clients all over the world and can help with any behavior problem remotely. Click here to get started.

Happy training,

Ellen

March 2022 Training Challenge – March Madness For Your Dog

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

 

It’s a new month, which means it’s time for our next training challenge! 

This month, we challenge you to explore your pet’s treat preferences. To do a March Madness of treat testing if you will!

Treats can be so extremely helpful in training and behavior modification in a variety of ways. It’s effective, efficient, and often requires very little additional training to be utilized. If you have any questions about the use of treats in training, Allie wrote this stellar blog about all things treat-related! 

One of the things that we want to know when embarking on a behavior modification journey is “what is your dog’s extra special treat?” What are the things they are *SO EXCITED* about? 

Sometimes, you may have an idea of what your dog’s extra special treat is, and sometimes, it’s helpful to do a food preference test. Even if you do think you know your dog’s extra special treat, it can be fun to see if they agree!

Food preference tests can give us an idea if our dog prefers one thing over another, which means we can use their favorite thing for the more challenging situations.

 

Doing Food Preference Tests 

 

 

Now What?

  • Collect 3-6 treats to test with your dog. I give you permission to think *safely* outside the box! Consider trying some new items with your pet!
  • Grab a pen and paper, and create your very own, treat test march madness bracket! You can even have the family take guesses at which treat will win the test. 
  • Complete the treat preference test with your pup, and find out your dog’s preferred treat. 
  • Let us know over @petharmonytraning on Facebook or Instagram, what’s your dog’s preferred treat?!

Happy training,

Ellen

February 2022 Training Challenge – Spice Up Your Scatter Feeding

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

Scent work is a pretty big deal for dogs. 

Dogs have evolved to use their nose. Their nose is capable of INCREDIBLE things. They can sniff out truffles, medical conditions, help with conservation efforts, track and trail scents, and so much more. 

Their sense of smell is how a dog sees the world. Through smell, they gather information, determine how to respond, find good things and avoid noxious things. There are very few things as definitively “dog” as an incredibly powerful sense of smell. 

You may have heard us discuss species-typical behaviors a time or two (or million), and harnessing a dog’s sense of smell is one of the most effective and simple ways to provide an enriching experience for your dog. The positive impacts of olfaction-based activities are numerous. There are a plethora of scent games you can do with your dog, which means there is something for just about everyone in most situations.

At the end of this blog, there will be a list of other scent options for you and your dog to try, but in terms of simplicity and versatility, few things can compete with scatter feeding. 

 

Scatter Feeding 

This is a foraging option that’s used widely in both zoos and domestic animal care. Simply put, it’s tossing food around so that an animal who has evolved to use their sense of smell to find food actively uses their sense of smell to find food. 

I know, sounds too good to be true, right? 

You may be surprised. Simple changes in how we deliver our animal’s daily food can make a huge difference in their overall behavior and welfare. 

This study by Nathan Andrews looked at The Effects of Automated Scatter Feeders on Captive Grizzly Bear Activity Budgets and found large, observable, measurable changes in the Grizzly Bear’s behavior: 

Findings include a significant decrease in time spent in [repetitive behaviors] and a significant increase in time spent active while the feeders were in use. Further, the bears exhibited a wider range of behaviors and a greater use of their enclosure.” 

While dogs aren’t bears, both species use olfaction to navigate the world, and as Nathan shares in an upcoming podcast episode, this enrichment was effective for both the bears in the study and his pet dogs at home.

*make sure you follow us on our Facebook page and Instagram for alerts on an exciting, upcoming podcast, Enrichment for the Real World, that formally goes live on March 7th. The first episode has Nathan talking about this exact study and more!*

 

The Beauty in Versatility 

I mentioned earlier that scatter feeding can be incredibly versatile, which is one of the things I love most about it. I don’t need to teach my dog a million things or purchase a bunch of toys. With one activity, I can meet so many of my dog’s needs, and it will always be challenging. 

If you need a review of how to start teaching your dog to look for scattered food, check out this past Training Challenge around “Find it!” 

Once your dog is able to find food reliably, you can start to look for ways to increase the complexity: 

Instead of playing in an empty room → try your back patio 

Instead of keeping the treats close together → gradually start increasing the area of the scatter 

Instead of using an empty floor space → start adding in obstacles for treats to fall under and around 

Instead of practicing only in your house → try in a low distraction patch of grass 

Instead of keeping all the treats on the floor → start putting them on a variety of surfaces 

Instead of keeping them out in the open → hide some treats in boxes, plastic cups, dixie cups 

When varying scatter feeding, you can increase the difficulty by: 

Increasing the area of the scatter, the intensity or number of distractions, the number of competing smells, the number of obstacles, the duration of the scatter and so many other things. 

Get creative with it! Your dog might surprise you! 

Other scent game options

Formal nosework is always an option, but if you are looking for something a little more loosey-goosey, check out these additional scent opportunities: 

Now What? 

  • If you’ve never tried scatter feeding for your dog before, start teaching your dog to search for treats.
  • If your dog has experience with scatter feeding or “find it!”, try increasing the difficulty in one way. You can mix up the different ways you challenge your dog to keep things fun and interesting for you and them! 
  • Follow us over on Instagram to get alerts when our new podcast goes live! 

Happy training,

Ellen

December 2021 Training Challenge: Manage One Trigger for Your Pet

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

 

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!”

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

 

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

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

 

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!