September Training Challenge: Management Plans for Visitors

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 2021 Training Challenge: Nose to Hand Target

Click here if you prefer to listen to this blog post.

Happy February! This month’s training challenge is with our upcoming webinar, Pandemic Puppies: Finding Harmony in the Future in mind. We wanted to include something that is helpful to the pets we’ll be talking about later this month in the webinar, but is also helpful for all pets and easy enough to include in a training challenge. So, here it is:

 

Teach or proof a nose to hand target

 

Ellen has a great video on what a nose to hand target is, how to teach it, and what it can be used for. Check it out here:

 

 

What is it?

A nose to hand target is when your pet touches their nose to your hand. We often just refer to this as “hand targeting” but I wanted to include the specificity here to make it known that an animal can target different parts of their body to different things. For example, one of the coolest applications I’ve seen is a hyena who was taught to target their neck to the bars of a crate so their caregivers could take jugular blood samples easily and in a way that wasn’t scary to the hyena. 

 

Why it’s useful

Ellen goes into a lot of cool ways that you can use a nose to hand target in her video. Here are some of my favorite ways that I’ve used a nose to hand target:

  • Teaching a more precise recall (come when called). You can get the pet into exactly the location and even orientation you’re looking for with a target which isn’t possible with a generic recall. 
  • Relocation. Want your dog to get out of the way? Hand target. Want your cat to jump off the counter? Hand target. Emily used a beak to spoon target for one of her birds who would try to bite hands coming into his enclosure to feed him. He was happy to move away to the spoon so that anyone who watched him could care for him safely!
  • Jump to hand target. I use this with those jumpy dogs who just need to get those one or two jumps in before they can sit and be calm. I talk more about this in this blog post about how the Water Principle in hapkido applies to our pets.  
  • Harness training. I worked with a cat years ago, Milo, who was comfortable with wearing a harness but wasn’t as keen about it going over his head. We taught him to put his own head through the harness with a DIY target stick (a pom pom attached to a chopstick). 
  • Hand shyness. While this isn’t always the most appropriate approach to hand shyness and you should absolutely work with a professional before trying this on your own, it can be an effective way to help pets who are uncomfortable with hands. My favorite example is Castiel, who was very uncomfortable with hands and eventually learned to target new people’s hands as the final step in his greeting protocol. 
  • Exercise. I worked with a pup who had hind-end mobility issues. His caregivers were concerned about how they would provide him with the physical exercise he needs. We decided to teach him a nose to hand target and would ask him to walk just a step or two at a time to touch the hand. This was plenty of exercise for him! Now, I ask Oso to run across the house and jump up to a hand target to get extra winter exercise. 
  • Tricks. There are so many tricks that can be taught using a nose to hand target (or other targeting behavior)! Spin, jump, bow, figure 8s, and more. 

And, the last reason I find this a useful behavior, is because it’s usually an easy behavior to teach. There are absolutely pets who say otherwise, but on the whole I see the majority of folks having quick success with this. Not only is it an easy behavior to teach, but I find that it’s often easier to perform than some of the more common tricks, like sit. There are plenty of times I’ve seen a dog who’s too distracted to sit, but not too distracted to perform a hand target. 

 

How to teach a nose to hand target

The simplest option is to extend your hand a couple of inches away from your pet’s nose, wait for them to investigate, then mark and treat from your opposite hand when you feel their nose or even whiskers in the beginning. Ellen does a great job of showing different ways to teach this in the video above. 

Note: if you have a pet who’s uncomfortable with hands near their face, work with a behavior consultant on how to safely teach this behavior. There are more options available than what we can get into in a generic post or video!

 

Who should learn a nose to hand target?

Almost every pet can benefit from this– including all species! A hand target specifically may not be appropriate for all pets, in which case you can use something else for them to target to. 

 

Now what?

  • Go forth and teach a nose to hand target!
  • Does your pet already know this behavior? Your training challenge is to then proof or strengthen this behavior. Check out the below videos on how to do that:
  • Share pics and videos of you working on a hand target with your pet! Email us at [email protected] or connect with us on Facebook or Instagram @petharmonytraining

 

Happy training!

Allie

January 2021 Training Challenge: Video Your Pet Home Alone

 

We are full swing into our free Separation Anxiety Workshop this week! In honor of that workshop and our Separation Anxiety Immersive Digital Course which starts this upcoming Sunday 1/10/21, I wanted to do a separation anxiety-related training challenge this month. Here it is:

Video your pet home alone

Here are a few screenshots from one of our consultants, Ellen, doing this activity:

 

Why everyone should do this

In Ellen’s blog post about her dog’s separation anxiety journey last month (check it out here if you haven’t read it yet), she mentioned that scientists are starting to think that more pets have separation-related issues than we previously thought– up to 22.3% – 55% of the dog population. That’s a whole lot of dogs! Even if you think your pet is fine being left alone, let’s double check just to make sure. 

For those of you who do have a pet who you think may be displaying separation-related issues, this is definitely something you’ll want to do. The first thing we ask potential separation anxiety clients to do is send us a video of their pet home alone. With other behavior issues we’re able to ask questions about what the person sees their pet doing and we can determine what’s going on that way without needing to see the behavior (more info here). However, with separation-related issues the person can’t know what their pet is doing without a video. There can be other explanations for certain behaviors aside from separation-related distress, so a video is incredibly helpful in this situation.

Note: if it’s pretty obvious your pet is distressed being left home alone, work with a consultant before doing this. There’s no need to cause unnecessary stress and a professional can give you more specifics on the set-up than what’s feasible in a blog post. 

 

How to do it

There are a lot of ways to get a video of your pet home alone. Here are a few of our favorites (Disclosure: Affiliate links ahead. 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!):

  • Zoom yourself. Set up a zoom meeting between two accounts (both of which can be owned by you!). One camera stays in the house (laptops work great here) and the other goes with you (i.e. phone or tablet). I love this option because you get real-time streaming + recording function that you can send to your behavior consultant. 
  • Ring or Nest systems. A lot of folks already have home security systems set up in their house that can be accessed in real-time and can save recordings. If you already have something like this, use it! 
  • Furbo cameras. Furbos are designed specifically for knowing what your dog is up to while you’re gone. A super cool feature is their event-triggered recording option (available through an optional subscription with the device) so you can better learn what triggers a reactive dog throughout the day. 

What you’re looking for

Long-time readers of this blog won’t be surprised at the first answer: body language. We’re looking for stress signals before and after leaving. Everyone– pets included– shows stress a little differently so the specific signals will be dependent on the individual. Common signals include vocalizing, pacing, drooling, and destruction. However, shutting down is a not uncommon signal that can also be difficult to distinguish from true rest and relaxation. 

We’re also looking for how long it takes them to calm down if we do see stress signals. Some pets’ anxiety is more centered around the actual departure than being alone for a long time. A video makes all of that clearer. Again, if it’s pretty obvious that your pet is distressed being left alone I recommend working with a consultant first so they can give you more specifics on the video set-up. 

 

Now what?

  • Figure out the technology you’d like to use to get a video of your pet home alone. 
  • Record your video. Since it’s hard to go places at the moment, a quick walk around the block can be a good start. 
  • Watch your video. What body language signals do you see? What activities do you see them performing?
  • If you’re seeing signs of stress, we recommend starting on that behavior modification journey now before it becomes a real problem when we’re back to leaving our pets for longer. Our Separation Anxiety Immersive Digital Course or a private session are both great options. We recommend Ellen for separation-related problems– she’s finishing up a program to be a certified separation anxiety consultant! Email us at [email protected] to get started with either option. 

 

Happy training!

Allie

December 2020 Training Challenge: Holiday Safety

It’s time for our last training challenge of 2020! Keeping with our holiday and enrichment theme from last month, this month’s training challenge is inspired by the “Safety” chapter of our book, Canine Enrichment for the Real World

 

Create a holiday safety enrichment plan

 

Holidays often bring about a lot of décor changes within our homes and some of those changes are safer than others. Plants like poinsettias and mistletoe are toxic to our furry family members (and us). Candles and wagging tails present fire hazards. Extra candies around the house make for prime counter surfing targets. 

Then there are those holiday decorations that aren’t necessarily dangerous in and of themselves, but that we still need to include in holiday safety plans, like Christmas trees. Or things like decorations with sentimental value that need to be protected from our pets rather than the other way around. And that’s just the decorations!

Here are 7 tips to creating your holiday safety enrichment plan:

 

  1. Manage during meals. Just like we talked about last month with Thanksgiving, sometimes management during family meals is the easiest solution. Set up the environment to keep your pet out of the kitchen or in another room entirely during holiday meal prep and eating if need be.
  2. Manage stranger danger issues. Holiday parties are not a great time to work on your pet’s stranger danger issues. This is probably not as much of a problem with this year’s holidays, but something to keep in mind for the future. Put your pet completely away so that you don’t have to worry about anyone’s safety while you’re celebrating. They’ll be happy to be away from the festivities, too.
  3. Keep ornaments, lights, and tinsel off the bottom branches of your tree. All can pose as hazards, whether ingested, tangled up in, or knocked off by your pet.
  4. Keep candles out of reach. This is easier said than done for those of you with cats in your home. 
  5. Keep hazardous gifts out of reach. Make a note of any gifts (especially food items) that are hazardous for your pet to get into and ask anyone else sending gifts if their presents should be kept out of reach too. 
  6. Watch the wires. Make sure that wires are well-hidden from pets who are prone to chewing. 
  7. Exercise pens are a Christmas tree’s best friend. Do you have a dog who’s a little too interested in your tree? Put a free-standing baby gate or exercise pen around your tree. Here’s the link to an exercise pen that we like (also pictured below). Disclosure: This is an affiliate link. We receive a small commission for purchases made through these links at no extra cost to you. This helps us continue to put out free content to help you and your pets live more harmoniously!


There are, of course, many other things that you may want to include in your holiday safety enrichment plan and each person’s plan is going to look different depending on how they celebrate during this time of year. We’d love to hear what’s included in your plan!

 

Now what?

  • Decide how you’d like to create your holiday safety enrichment plan. Does it make sense to create it as you decorate? Are there parts you need to plan for before you start?
  • Gather any management tools you need. Pick up baby gates, exercise pens, and the like before you need them. 
  • Discuss your pet’s holiday safety enrichment plan with your entire household and anyone else who is visiting your house. Make sure that everyone is on the same page to limit slip-ups. 
  • Be prepared to tweak your pet’s plan based on how it’s going. The best plans are dynamic. 
  • Share your plan with us on Facebook and Instagram @petharmonytraining 

 

Happy training & happy holidays!

Allie