May 2021 Training Challenge: Overt vs. Covert behavior

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

 

Describe 1 construct or label using overt behavior

 

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

 

Overt vs. Covert Behavior

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Stubborn
  • Fearful
  • Aggressive
  • Anxious
  • Sweet

All of those are labels. 

 

Why does all of this matter?

All of this matters for a few different reasons:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Our judgment shapes our decisions, for better or worse

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Our assumptions cloud our observations

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Back to the training challenge

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

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

Construct: Zorro likes his new tank setup

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

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

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

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

Now what?

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

 

Happy training!

Allie

 

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

April Training Challenge: Drop It

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

 

Teach a “drop it” cue during play

 

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

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

 

“Drop It”: The Behavior

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

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

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

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

 

“Drop It” with Fetch

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

Option 1: 2-Toy Fetch

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

 

Option 2: Using Treats

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

 

“Drop It” With Tug

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

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

 

Now What?

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

 

Happy training!

Allie

 

March 2021 Training Challenge: Teach a Trick

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

 

Teach your pet a new trick

 

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

 

Why I love trick training

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

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

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

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

 

Some trick ideas

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

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

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

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

 

How to teach tricks

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

Now what?

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

 

Happy training!

Allie

February 2021 Training Challenge: Nose to Hand Target

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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

November 2020 Training Challenge

 

When we had originally planned our 2020 training challenges last year, we hadn’t expected there to be a worldwide pandemic. Even though this month’s challenge was with Thanksgiving in mind and this year’s Thanksgiving will likely look different, we decided to keep the planned challenge and count it as a practice run for next year! Our November training challenge is:

 

Use the Relaxation Protocol or mat work exercise from the August challenge to prep for Thanksgiving festivities.

 

The situation we were specifically thinking about when we came up with this challenge was the Thanksgiving meal, including cooking and sitting down to eat. We routinely have clients tell us how annoying their pets when they’re trying to cook and sit down for a meal. Extrapolate that to an even larger, potentially more stressful meal and you can see where preemptive training comes into play!

I talked a little about this concept in this blog post about using “human food” in training. I mentioned that I taught Oso to hang out in our dining area when we are cooking so that he’s not in the way. I was pretty lax with my criteria when I taught him this (as long as he was on the hardwood and not the tile it counted) but you can tighten up your criteria by using a mat, bed, blanket, rug or something similar to create a specific spot for your pet to hang out. 

Brindle dog lying next to kitchen table and chair.
Oso demonstrating how to politely lie next to me while we eat.

Here’s how to go about doing this task:

  1. Decide what makes sense to manage and what makes sense to train during your normal Thanksgiving festivities (remember- this counts as a practice year!) Some people will choose to manage the majority of the day and that’s perfectly fine. Others will want to put more preemptive training in place. Do what makes sense for your festivities, training schedule, and desires. 
  2. Decide where you want your pet to be during cooking and/or eating. Set up a bed, mat, blanket, rug, etc. for an easy visual cue for your pet. 
  3. Start training your pet to hang out in that spot (you can use your Relaxation Protocol and/or mat work exercise from the August challenge) when you’re not cooking or eating. We’re starting in pet kindergarten first and then raising expectations as they become more proficient at this task. 
  4. Incorporate other distractions into this training exercise. You’ll likely want to include distractions like people walking around and anything else that will happen during the holiday. You may also want to practice while you’re pretending to cook a meal so you get the hang of training while cooking in a lower-stakes situation. This step is called proofing, and is one of the stages of learning
  5. Start incorporating this exercise into real-life cooking and/or eating scenarios. Remember to reinforce your pet as much as necessary to make it worthwhile for them to hang out in their spot!

 

One last note: dogs are opportunistic scavengers by nature. Even with solid mat work training, leaving a pet prone to counter surfing alone in the kitchen with counters full of food for an extended period of time is asking for trouble. We recommend still managing situations in which you aren’t watching your pet.

 

Now what?

  • Start training with the above steps!
  • Let your trainer or behavior consultant know if you’re getting stuck. That’s what we’re here for, after all!
  • Send us pictures and videos of you working on this month’s training challenge to us @petharmonytraining on Facebook and Instagram

 

Happy training!

Allie

October 2020 Training Challenge

 

Part of me can’t believe it’s already October and part of me reminds the first part that this has been the longest year ever. Regardless, it’s time for our October training challenge!

List enrichment strategies you employ while you’re gone and objectively go through the list to determine if those strategies are effective. 

Not only is this training challenge dedicated to the “Independence” chapter of our book, it’s also a great exercise in taking a descriptive vs. prescriptive approach to your enrichment plan. (Note: we decided what the training challenges were going to be well before Covid hit. While you may not be gone at work all day at the moment, this exercise still applies for shorter outings!)

 

Descriptive vs. Prescriptive

For those of you who’ve heard us speak this year, you’ve heard us talk about taking a descriptive approach to your enrichment plan.

Descriptive: “I see a change in my animal’s behavior because of the activities we’ve done or provided.”

Prescriptive: “I provided an activity for my pet therefore he’s enriched.”

With the descriptive approach, we observe behavior to determine if the activity was effective instead of assuming that it was. Did it actually meet the animal’s needs as we intended? If it did, great! We can keep doing it. If it didn’t, well, then it’s back to the drawing board. Emily wrote a great blog post about this here. It’s not enough for us to just assume that our pet’s needs are being met while we’re gone, we need to actually observe that that’s true. 

 

How can I tell if those activities are effective?

There are a few ways we can tell if these activities are effective:

  • They’re being used. If you leave a stuffed Kong for your pet and it’s untouched when you return, that’s not an effective strategy. 
  • Watch your pet on video. Want to know if the window film you put up for your pet’s reactivity is actually decreasing reactivity throughout the day? It’s time to break out a recording option and see what your pet is up to during the day. 
    • Recording options can be high-tech, like Furbo and Nest (these are affiliate links), or low-tech, like Skyping or Zooming yourself or setting up a laptop to record shorter absences.
  • Observe your pet’s behavior when you come home. Providing activities while you’re gone can be the determining factor between having an adolescent dog who’s bouncing off the walls when you come home vs. one who’s excited but not uncontrollable. 

 

Now what?

  • Make a list of the enrichment activities you utilize while your pet is home alone. 
  • Make a list of desirable and undesirable behaviors that you’re hoping these enrichment activities address.
  • Observe your pet’s behavior. Are those activities effective in increasing desirable behaviors and decreasing undesirable behaviors?
  • Adjust your enrichment plan accordingly. 
  • Share your findings with us on social media! @petharmonytraining on Facebook and Instagram

 

Happy training!

Allie

September 2020 Training Challenge

This month’s training challenge was also the September challenge from last year. Apparently September just reminds me of food puzzles! This month’s challenge is:

Teach your pet how to use a new food puzzle

As I mentioned in the beginning of the year (and throughout the other challenges), this year’s training challenges are dedicated to our book Canine Enrichment for the Real World. Each month focuses on a different category of enrichment. This month’s focus is “Mental Exercise”. 

To effectively meet the mental exercise component, make sure that your new puzzle is challenging enough for your pet to employ their problem solving skills but not so challenging that they get frustrated and give up. There’s often a fine line between the two and that’s often why we need to teach our pets how to use their new toy.

From “They Won’t Do It” to “They Love It”

While foraging (searching for food) is a natural behavior for all species, food puzzles aren’t natural. There are no food puzzles growing in the wild so that the ancient dog or cat ancestor learned how to use them and pass that knowledge down to future generations. This is why we frequently need to teach our pets how to use a particular puzzle, especially if they haven’t used one before. 

Check out our video below on how to teach your pet to use a food puzzle:

And here are some tips that I shared in last year’s blog post:

Here are some tips for teaching your pet a new food puzzle:

  • Choose a puzzle with your pet’s preferences in mind. Our pets have preferences just like we do. For instance, Oso is a rough-and-tumble kind of dude. He’s great at the puzzles that he can knock over and roll around with his nose. He doesn’t mind the noise those make though he does prefer to use them on carpeted areas. I know that if I give him a new puzzle he can roll around I don’t need to show him how to to it. However, he’s not as adept at the intricate food puzzles that require a lot of small motions and steps. His way of solving those is dropping them on the floor so they break open (which, while a valid way to solve the puzzle is also expensive to buy replacements.) If I give him a more complicated puzzle I’ll have to teach him first before he can use it without breaking it. 
  • Choose a puzzle with your pet’s experience in mind. Giving a challenging food puzzle to a novice dog is likely to lead to frustration. On the other hand, giving a simple food puzzle to an experienced dog is not going to provide much of a challenge. Think about how much experience your dog has with food puzzles and choose a new one accordingly. 
  • Work up to the most challenging setting. Many puzzles have ways to make them more or less difficult. Instead of starting with the most difficult setting we should work our way up to it by first starting on the easiest, then easy-medium, medium, medium-hard, and finally the hardest setting. This allows our pet to master each setting and build a history of getting food from the puzzle. That history will help them keep at it for longer when it becomes more challenging. 
  • Show them how but try not to do it for them. It was once thought that only primates could learn through watching others but we now know that our pets can do this too! We can encourage them to use their new puzzle by showing them how to get the treats out a few times. Be careful though not to do it every time for them. Some learn that the best way to get the food out is to let the human do it! While that’s a clever solution in using their resources it doesn’t necessarily meet the goal we’re hoping to achieve by introducing a new puzzle. Show them how a few times then let them at it. 
  • Use a higher-value food. Higher-value food helps build more motivation in almost all training scenarios: this is no different! Up the ante when they’re first learning and save the kibble for when they’ve got the hang of it. 

What food puzzle should I try?

Here are some of our favorite store bought options for dogs (Disclosure: These 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!):

Here are some of our favorite store bought options for cats (Disclosure: These 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!): 

Small dogs and cats can often choose between these lists, too!

Don’t forget DIY!

Food puzzles don’t need to break the bank. There are a lot of simple, cheap, DIY options like these:

Now what?

  • Buy and/or make your new puzzle!
  • Teach your pet how to use their new toy, if needed. 
  • Share videos of your pets having fun and using their brains with us on Facebook or Instagram: @petharmonytraining

Happy training!

Allie

August 2020 Training Challenge

This month’s training challenge is dedicated to the “Calming Enrichment” chapter of our book Canine Enrichment for the Real World and is one of my favorite exercises for clients:

Work on a relaxation protocol or mat work

This exercise is something that most pets can benefit from. I incorporate it into flight training, building a sense of security, teaching pets to be calm, and teaching them to hang out in a particular location. Almost all of my clients working through anxiety and aggression behavior modification plans get this exercise!

Oso demonstrating mat work on a pillow case.

Different options:

There are several different types of relaxation protocols and ways to do mat work. Even though some of the protocols don’t require performing them on a mat (or bed, blanket, towel, etc.), I still like to include one. Options include:

  • Dr. Karen Overall’s Relaxation Protocol
    • This is my favorite for so many reasons: the frequency of treating is higher than most people do on their own which lends itself to it working faster and more consistently & it tells you exactly what to do so there’s less room for error as long as you’re following the instructions. 
    • Emily has further developed this protocol and put a special agency twist on it which we’re finding makes it even more effective! She’ll be teaching a course on Pet Harmony’s version of this protocol for the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. Stay tuned for more info on that upcoming course.
  • Suzanne Clothier’s Really Real Relaxation Protocol (this link contains the first half of this protocol; the full protocol is available for sale here.)
    • I like this one for pets and people who need less rigidity than Dr. Overall’s RP and who also have some training prowess under their belt. It can sometimes be too loosey goosey for someone newer to training. 
  • Mat work
    • Similar to the Really Real Relaxation Protocol, but I would say even more loosely structured when it comes to relaxation as our goal. Some people start with this to teach their pet to go to a mat and then switch to one of the above protocols. 

There are other options out there but these three are my go-to exercises. No matter which option you choose, start working on this in just one location before taking it on the road. 

Now what?

  • Choose an exercise that you’d like to work on. 
  • Choose a mat, bed, blanket, towel, rug, or whatever works for you and your pet! We want to pair this mat with relaxation. I like bath mats quite a bit; the rubber backing helps it to not slide when you’re practicing. 
  • Start practicing! Remember that the goal is relaxation– not stay. I advise against using a “stay” cue and having that be the primary criterion. It’s okay if they’re not perfect at this yet! 
  • Send us your pics and videos of your pet working on the August training challenge! Email us at [email protected] or connect with us on Facebook or Instagram @petharmonytraining.

Happy training!

Allie