You Can Comfort Your Dog

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Soapbox time: 

You can comfort your dog.

It’s okay. 

You aren’t going to “reinforce” the fear. 

In fact, I encourage you to help your dog when they are afraid.

Sometimes things are scary. It’s a part of life. In fact, a really, really, important part of life. It’s part of what’s kept species surviving until this point. We all feel fear, and the way we all handle and cope with it is a little different. 

One of my favorite stories from my partner is a time when he was hiking in the Pacific Northwest. He hadn’t timed his descent very well, so he’s running down the mountain trying to beat the sun setting. He comes around a corner and comes face to face with a giant elk buck. 

Now, how do you think you’d respond? 

Me? I’d likely shriek. Maybe hit the deck in hysterics.
My partner? He put his fists up. Like he was about to fight. A GIANT ELK BUCK. 

Is this rational? ABSOLUTELY NOT. But, when we are afraid, we aren’t in the space to react rationally. We are looking for survival. P.S. he made it out safe and sound without having to punch a buck. 

Let’s be honest, had someone else been there, they wouldn’t be comforting Nathan. They would have been too busy reacting with their own survival instinct. 

So let’s use a different example. Maybe one of mine. Maybe one that should come with a…

CONTENT WARNING: SPIDERS 

Because… 

I’m afraid of spiders. I’ve been bit by spiders with unfortunate consequences one too many times to want them near me. I don’t trust them. I’ll side-eye them as I slink out of a room. Yes, I know. NOT ALL SPIDERS will bite and are harmful. Rationally, I GET THAT. Does it help? No. Not really. Do you know what else isn’t helpful when you’re scared of something? “Oh, you’re fine!”, “they don’t bite!”, “ buck up!”. 

When I lived in Florida, I really had to take some time to address my fear of spiders. They were everywhere. Especially since I worked outdoors. The first piece of advice I got was “check underneath things before you pick them up”. I felt neither safe nor secure. 

My basic training plan included: researching the heck out of the native spider species. Which ones were venomous, which ones made cool webs, how could I identify the different species? This helped me to know which ones were the ones to ‘RUN AWAY!!!” from, and also, provided safe, controlled exposure to the sight of spiders. 

Then, I learned neat facts about the different species. Could I find some cool tidbits of natural history, evolution, behavior that I could share with people when I saw them? I was trying to replace repulsion with appreciation. I still think fondly of the golden orb weavers and the spiny orb weavers

And you know what was really helpful? People being supportive. People validating my fears and encouraging my behavior change journey. 

 

Comfort can look like a lot of things.

For dogs, it can look like providing a barricade between the scary monster and your dog. It can look like providing them a way out. It can look like sitting and petting them. It can look like providing a safe space, or a lap to sit on. 

Comforting our dogs can help them recognize they are safe, and to feel secure in their environment. 

For us, it can look like humoring your friend when they start spouting facts about spider behavior in the middle of a walk. It can look like validating their fears. None of these things reinforced my fear. In fact, all those acts of “comfort” helped me progress and build a real, lasting appreciation for spiders.

Well, at least some spiders. It’s still a work in progress. 

 

Now what? 

  • Identify what your pup looks like when they need help. Are they barking and lunging? Running and shaking? Crying and pacing? 
  • How can you support your pet when they are struggling? Do they need a safe place to sit? Do they need a way to get away from the thing? 
  • If you worry that your pup’s fear or anxiety is impacting their quality of life, we are here to help you. We can support our pup when they are afraid, and turn the scary monster into the cookie monster. Contact us at [email protected]

Happy training!

Ellen

Introducing Strangers into the Equation

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We help a lot of families and their pets with a variety of different behavior problems. We help families with resource guarding, stranger danger, dog-dog reactivity, leash reactivity, separation anxiety, noise phobia, body handling issues, aggression, anxiety, fear, and more. 

Each behavior issue brings its own suite of struggles for the families. Each one can impact the entire family as they work through the training plan and move toward harmony with their pet. It’s hard, and those struggles are real, valid, and very impactful.

However, there is a unique difficulty when you need people outside of your home to be involved in your pet’s plan. 

For people working on stranger danger, (with the help of a qualified behavior professional) families might come to a point where another living creature will be involved, and that’s hard. That is going to add in another level of unpredictability, which is nerve-wracking and stressful. 

I often have clients ask something along the lines of “how do I get the person to follow my instructions?” 

And you know what I tell them? 

“Expect them to deviate from your instructions.”

It stinks. We may have well-meaning family and friends that want to help us and our dog. They may be all in, but here’s the thing. People are funny. They are SPECTACULAR at doing the exact opposite of what you tell them to do. It’s like when you tell someone not to think of a pink elephant; it’s the only thing they can think of.

Show of hands, who just thought of a pink elephant…

Anyone with a reactive dog that has told someone to “ignore” their dog knows exactly what I’m talking about. 

So, if you can expect that people will do the opposite of what we ask, how can you prepare?  

*Please remember to work with a qualified behavior professional to fully address your pet’s problem behaviors. If your dog is fearful, uncomfortable, or dangerous around strangers, you should not be introducing them without the oversight of a qualified behavior professional.*

 

Be very, very particular about who you ask to help. 

If you have to provide this person feedback, will they get defensive? Do they try to follow directions? Remember, you are the one that will go home and continue to live with this pet. You are the one that might feel disheartened if things don’t go as planned. Set yourself up for success too. You have every right to tell people “no, you can’t meet my dog”. 

 

Instead of asking, “how can I get the person to…” ask yourself “how can I set my dog up for success when someone…” 

This might be a subtle shift, but it can make a HUGE difference. Expect people who are around your dog to want to look at your dog, EVEN IF you ask them to look away. Instead of harping and hounding, consider how you can get them to look at you instead. This might look like me putting myself between the two and body blocking, it might involve drawing their attention to something else like the weather (a lot of people will look up if you look up and mention something). 

If I’d see someone about to invade Griffey’s space, I’d call him over to me. People can get defensive with you saying “my dog doesn’t like to be touched, please don’t”, but when I’d call Griffey over and “practice recall”, the tone would shift to people being so impressed with his come-when-called behavior. 

If someone doesn’t follow instructions, what’s your plan to help your dog regardless? 

 

Give very clear instructions. 

When we were first introducing people to Griffey, we knew that “ignore my dog” wouldn’t work. Instead, we gave instructions like “stand by the light post and stare at the lake”. The more concrete your instructions, the easier they will be to follow. “Cross your arms” or “put your hands in your pockets” can be much more effective than “don’t reach for him”. 

 

Only give instructions you need to.

Often, these people haven’t gone through the same struggles you have. Filter the information to the most important pieces. It will help them retain the information and follow your instructions. Instead of providing them with ALL the scenarios, provide them with the things they absolutely need to know. 

 

Remember, you have skills they don’t. 

Think about how much you’ve learned about body language, thresholds, management… since you started this journey with your dog. It’s highly likely the people helping don’t have those same skills. And that’s okay! 

They can still be helpful, but just like we want to have reasonable expectations of our dogs, we want to have reasonable expectations of the people who are helping us. It’s not their responsibility to read your dog’s stress level and body language. 

 

Now What? 

  • If your dog shows signs of fear, anxiety, discomfort, or aggression around people, work with a qualified behavior professional to build a plan to help your pet navigate around people. We are here to help. Email us at [email protected]
  • Determine how you can help your dog be successful, even if someone struggles to follow your instructions. 
  • Discuss with your behavior professional the skills you might utilize or the instructions you might give before the situation arises. 

Happy training,

Ellen

Spoilers: Creatures Love Spoilers

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Predictability is a hot topic within welfare. It’s important for everyone. You. Me. Our pets. Our ability to predict and react accordingly is critical for us to successfully navigate this wild world. People are able to enjoy stories and media more if they know the ending. When given the opportunity to sample items, people are more likely to participate in activities.

Watch a room light up when someone starts a round of Bohemian Rhapsody or the “Manha Manha” song from The Muppets. You HAVE to join in! That feeling when your GPS gives you an accurate travel time? It’s fantastic. 

On the flip side, a lack of predictability, especially over things we find aversive, can send us into a tailspin of deleterious effects including frustration, learned helplessness, aggression, and medical problems. You can see this in this short video (content warning for some colorful language!). The person in the video is filled with frustration at the unclear criteria. Have you been stuck in traffic watching your travel time creep up? It’s a terrible feeling. 

 

What does this mean for our pets?

When we first make a new addition to our home, overhaul our schedule, move residence, or experience some sort of other life change, there is a growing period. Things are less predictable. Tensions are usually running high. We face so many new situations where we ask “if I do X, what happens next?”. One of the things we can do for our pets (and ourselves) is to assess how we provide routine and predictability.

This doesn’t mean regiment every waking moment: 7:00 wake up, 8:00 breakfast, 9:00 flirt pole. I’m a big fan of creating honest signals of what comes next in a smaller context. When someone starts a sentence with “Ellen…” I know I need to pay attention. When I see a yellow traffic light, I know I need to slow down. Little things like this free up so much brain space. 

We can provide our pets with similar signals throughout the day! Consider smaller routines you can provide. Some of which are initiated by you, some are initiated by our pets and each has its own benefits. 

 

When X happens, Y will happen.

If you read Allie’s blog post on agency, she mentioned, while we strive for high levels of agency, “Agency doesn’t mean that your pet has full authority to do whatever they want.” Creating clear communication and predictability in the environment can really help create a more harmonious cohabitation with our pets. 

Clear indicators can provide information for our pets so they know what is expected of them and what options are on the table. 

When I put my headset on, I’m unavailable. When I take my headset off and sit on the ground, I’m available to play with my dogs. 

When I walk quietly toward the closet, it’s not for treats. When I say “wanna get a  cookie?” and walk toward the closet, my dogs are going to get a treat.

These dichotomies have helped my dogs to relax. Instead of being hypervigilant of my behavior, wondering when they are going to adventure with me or I’m gonna go get them a chew, I make it very clear through repetition that they don’t need to attend to me during these times. I’ll let you know when you need to know.

 

When I do X, you do Y and I will do Z.

Sounds a bit like training, right? It sure is! Sometimes we want to shake things up, and other times, I want the consequence to be incredibly predictable and clear to my dog. 

When I open the back door, if you go potty outside, I’ll give you a treat. 

When I ask “do you want to cuddle”, if you come over, I’ll give you scratches. 

When I get your harness, if you jump on the bed, I’ll get you suited up. 

I think most people have a lot of these built into their day-to-day. If you see some uncertainty, see if you can tighten it up. If you pick up the harness, and your dog runs between you and the door repeatedly with excitement, start picking up the harness and walking directly to a predetermined spot. By harnessing at the same place each time, your dog will start meeting you at that spot. 

 

When you do A, I will do B.

These are routines initiated by my dogs. I saw something they offered and made the choice to tie that offering to a predictable result. 

When you bring me a wubba, I will play tug. 

When you stand by the back door, I will open it. 

When you are trying to run away from something, I will run with you. 

When you paw at the blanket, I will cover you up. 

When you growl, I will give you space.

What I find really special here is that it allows my dogs to initiate what they need. By building a predictable pattern that I will do THIS when you do THAT, my dogs can be an active agent in communicating and meeting their needs. 

Having these small routines in place gives you something to fall back on during times of chaos. 

 

Now what?

  • Think about your normal(ish) day. What are some things you are going to do? Wake up, take the dog out, feed the dog, get ready for the day, some sort of enrichment for your pup, answer email, check on your garden… Can you provide more predictability within a routine?
  • Take a list of things your pup offers, and decide how you can predictably respond. When you do X, I will do Y. Can you help your pup tell you what they might need?
  • If you already have some routines established, take it one step further, can you provide your pup with more agency
  • Send us pictures and videos of you working on your routines  @petharmonytraining on Facebook and Instagram!

Happy training,

Ellen

 

Treats for Nothing?!

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I’m going to say something that is going to sound strange. Making your pet sit is probably not helping their anxiety-related behaviors. Making them hand target, look at you, or anything like that is also probably not directly helping their anxiety-related behaviors. What will help is going to feel weird, because it’s going to feel like they’re getting treats for nothing. 

 

Wait… what?

Learning can take different forms. Two that we talk most frequently about are:

  • Cause and effect (operant conditioning)
  • Associative (classical conditioning)

Cause and effect (operant) learning looks like:

  • This cat has a history of getting treats for sitting, so they’re more likely to sit in the future.
  • This person has a history of getting hurt if they put their hand on the hot stove, so they’re less likely to put their hand on the hot stove in the future. 
  • This dog has a history of being petted (something they don’t enjoy) when they sit on the chair, so they are less likely to sit on the chair in the future. 

Past consequences dictate future responses in similar situations. It’s most of what the average person thinks “dog training” looks like. 

Cause and effect learning is great for teaching particular behaviors or skills. But it’s not as great at changing an emotional state. For that, we should look at associative learning. 

Associative (classical) learning looks like:

  • The ice cream truck song plays and you are immediately happy because it signals ice cream is coming (or at least that’s true for me)
  • The cat who comes running when they hear the can opener
  • The dog who gets excited when you pull out their leash
  • The pit in your stomach when you see an email from the IRS and don’t know what it says

Notice how all of the above are emotions. And when it comes to anxiety-related behaviors, including fear and aggression, we want to teach an emotion because realistically the problem is an emotion (like fear). Now, it’s true that cause and effect learning and associative learning aren’t truly separate; they’re happening together. But, we can still rely more heavily on one than another in a particular situation. And that’s why sit, touch, and watch me- while helpful for a lot of things and great relationship-builders- are probably not helping directly with anxiety-related behavior. 

 

Disclaimers. 

Alright. I took an INCREDIBLY simplified approach to an INCREDIBLY complicated subject. A subject that people get Ph.D.s in. I do not have a Ph.D., and even if I did there’s no way to distill everything about how individuals learn into a blog post meant for the average pet parent (or any blog post, for that matter). So, the disclaimer is that it’s way more complicated than what I’ve just laid out using layman terms instead of accurate terminology.

 

But, can basic cues help?

Yes… Behavior doesn’t happen in a vacuum and a lot is dependent on what the problem behavior is. I see quite a number of clients who have dogs who bite them (the owners) in various situations. For those folks, I often start them off with sit, attention, and hand targeting. It’s a great way to build relationships, build positive associations, and establish yourself as the “super fun treat person”. And that can help with some of those problem behaviors because of the role the relationship plays in them. It doesn’t address the trigger directly per se but can help with other factors that are involved. 

Because both types of learning are happening together, we do get some good feelings by working on basic cues, too. For that reason, I’ll often incorporate basic manners training into situations in which there’s not necessarily a discrete trigger at the root of the anxiety (after thorough investigation to make sure that that’s actually true). This can happen quite a bit for kiddos who are diagnosed with generalized anxiety by a vet or Veterinary Behaviorist. Going through a well-known, fast-paced basic manners repertoire can help build confidence in some of those situations where it doesn’t make as much sense to use other techniques. 

And, finally, basic cues build skills and we can incorporate those skills into our behavior modification plan. So, all in all, yes, basic manners and even tricks can help. However, notice that everything above was talking about helping indirectly. At no point did I say that it would address the actual trigger causing the behavior. So while they do help, basic cues alone are likely not going to get you where you want to be as efficiently or effectively. 

 

Redefining “nothing”

We have a hard time being okay with giving our pets treats for nothing. It’s so ingrained in our culture that “rewards” should only happen for doing something. But, we also have a hard time recognizing behaviors that we like when we see them. So if you’re having a hard time being okay with the thought of giving your pet treats for nothing, let’s redefine nothing. 

Behavior is always happening. Always! Even when they’re sleeping, the behavior is just that: sleeping. The problem we run into is that we often think of behavior as something quite active, like jumping or barking. But sitting quietly on their bed is just as much of a behavior as the others and one that we tend to like a lot more. 

Instead of saying that they’re doing nothing, look at what they are doing. Perhaps they’re quiet. Or sitting politely. Or calmly lying down. Are those behaviors not worthy of a reward? If you want those behaviors to happen more often, then your answer should be a resounding yes! 

 

Tying it all together

Okay. So we have different types of learning and we have a different way of seeing the behaviors we like. How does this all tie together? 

Associative learning often looks like “treats for nothing”. In reality, it’s a nuanced and slightly complex method with the treats happening at just the right moment to change those underlying emotions so we can actually address the trigger. And if we do it correctly, it’s going to look like treats for nothing. It’s going to look very boring. And it’s going to be more effective than having them sit or hand target or look at you. 

Not only does associative learning sometimes look like treats for nothing, but sometimes cause and effect learning does, too. This often happens when we’re working on duration. Let’s say that we’re working on duration in the crate for a dog or cat. When I’m working through this skill with folks, I start by prompting them when to treat. And that often is just when their pet is looking up at them from the crate, waiting for more treats. Sometimes I’m met with the question, but they’re not doing anything; why am I treating now? My response? They’re staying in the crate– and that’s the behavior we want! 

 

Now what?

  • How good are you at noticing when your pet is performing behaviors that you like? This could be being quiet, sitting politely, calmly lying down, or anything of the sort. Be honest: do you notice your pet when they’re doing things you like or mostly just when they’re doing things you don’t like?
  • If you struggle with noticing your pet’s desirable behaviors (and we’ve all been there!), make a point to notice your pet throughout the day. Set an alarm on your phone if you have to. The first step is to just notice what they’re doing. 
  • Treat your pet for behaviors you like throughout the day, like sitting, being quiet, and lying down. 
  • Ask your behavior consultant how you can build positive associations with triggers for your pet. We only recommend doing this with a professional, because the devil’s in the details here, and doing this the wrong way can lead to undesirable consequences. 

Happy training!

Allie

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

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Happy November, everyone! 

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


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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

So what does this look like?

Wait for a time when your dog is soliciting attention. 

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

Pause once you reach about halfway and observe your dog. 

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

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

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

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

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

Pause halfway and observe your dog. 

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

 

Let’s simplify it!

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

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

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

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

 

The beauty in communication

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Now what?

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

How Making Yourself a Sundae Can Help You Train Your Dog

If it’s 8:30 pm, you better believe my mind is scrolling through the options of ice cream that are lurking in the back of my freezer.  Dinner > put toddler to bed > prepare for tomorrow > sit on couch > want ice cream–it’s a very predictable sequence for me.

But this post is not to talk about my obsession with the creamy deliciousness of this nighttime treat or my conditioned behaviors.  Today’s blog is to highlight the teeny tiny steps that need to occur in between identifying “I WANT TO EAT THAT ICE CREAM” and actually consuming it.  

All learners have to figure out what they need to do (behavior) to get to their end goal (goal + reward).  Often, we think of what the end behavior should look like (when my dog sits, he gets a cookie), but we forget that the end behavior has a bunch of tiny behaviors that need to take place on the way. To save you some frustration and your pup some confusion, let’s figure out why we should split instead of lump when training any behavior.

 

Splitting: breaking down the criteria of a learner’s behavior into smaller approximations to the end behavior

Lumping: assuming that the learner knows what behavior specifically helped them get to the end goal

 

If my end goal is to eat a sundae, let’s see the steps I would take to reach my reward.

  1. Go to freezer.
  2. Grab ice cream.
  3. Scoop ice cream into a bowl.
  4. Add toppings.
  5. Put ice cream back in freezer.
  6. Eat ice cream : P

You probably followed all of my steps with no confusion, right? Sure, you’ve gotten yourself a bowl of ice cream before so it makes sense.  But what about someone who has never gotten ice cream before? Someone who doesn’t know English?  Someone who doesn’t have the same physical abilities as you?

The roadmap to this behavior above is an example of lumping.  We’d reinforce (read: give treat) after each step along the way.  For someone who has a good understanding of english and has done these behaviors before, you could probably get them to the end goal with just these few instructions.

But for someone who is new to your house, language, physical demands, etc., you’d tell them to go to your freezer and they wouldn’t even know where to begin.  Let’s see what questions we can ask ourselves about these smaller goals. Your answers will help you to split these behaviors to create more opportunities for success.

 

1. Go to freezer.

“Where did I start? Did I feel like getting up?  How does my body have to move to get myself into a position to walk? Where is my freezer with ice cream (the garage)? Do I need to put slippers on to go into the garage? Is the path clear of baby toys as I make my way through the house or do I have to step over things? How heavy is the freezer door? Do I have both hands free?”

2. Grab ice cream.

“Where is the ice cream in the freezer? Are there more than one? Which do I want to eat? Is there anything in the way of grabbing the ice cream? Do I have enough hands to hold the door/move the vegetables/grab the ice cream?”

3. Scoop ice cream into a bowl.

“Wait, am I scooping ice cream in my garage by the freezer? Did I have to go back inside? Where are the bowls? Where is the ice cream scoop? Where are the spoons? Which hand should I use? Do I always use this hand? Why is the ice cream tub so cold and sticking to my fingers? Is there a towel around for me to hold this? Why is the ice cream so hard? Would it be better to soak the metal scoop in warm water? Should I just wait for the ice cream to soften? Should I have worked out my biceps today? Do I want to put anything on this ice cream–I’ve done it before and it tasted good so maybe I’ll do that again?”

4. Add toppings.

“What do I have in my cabinets? What do I feel like eating? Do I like all these textures? Does this make the ice cream taste better or is it more work than reward? Where are my toppings located? What ice cream to sprinkles ratio makes sense? Is my whipped cream still good? How long after the expiration date can I use these maraschino cherries? Should I just risk it? Yep, they smell fine.”

5. Put ice cream back in freezer.

“Do I have to do this now, or will it make it until I finish eating? Where are those slippers again? Where should I put this sundae while I go put the ice cream away so Opie doesn’t taste test for me?”

6. Eat ice cream : P

“Ugh, finally.” (*sits on the couch and turns on an episode of The Amazing Race from 2004 as Opie sits hopefully alongside*)

 

There are so many things that you have to have a handle on in order to achieve your goal.  Maybe you don’t normally have to go to the garage freezer for ice cream (learner confusion). Maybe you have thought about other ways that were easier that got you ice cream before (reinforcement history).  Maybe the set up of your house or your physical limitations make getting the ice cream more difficult (management of environment).  Maybe you just don’t think that ice cream is worth getting off the couch for (value of reward).  The same stuff happens in our dogs’ brains when they’re trying to learn something new.  They don’t exactly know what we want.  They try out other behaviors that have been rewarded in the past.  The environment is not set up for success. They do the things that are most valuable to them.  

When you’re feeling frustrated or stuck with a behavior that you are trying to train, just take a beat.  You aren’t a terrible trainer. Your pup is not stubborn, or disrespectful, or dumb.  The team just needs to reevaluate what is going on.  Ask yourself some guiding questions and see if the answers can help you split the behaviors into smaller, more successful chunks.  You’ll get it (or you’ll find someone to help you get it).

 

Now what?

  • Make yourself a bowl of ice cream (It’s for science.)
  • Identify a training trick/behavior you and your pup are struggling with.
  • Ask yourself questions to help break down the smaller steps that need to occur.
  • Reward consistently as the team experiences success.

 

You’re doing great!

Corinne

October 2021 Training Challenge: Train for Five Minutes A Day

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It’s time for our monthly training challenge! 

This month is focused on habit building. Your challenge, should you choose to accept it:

Incorporate 5 minutes of training every day

Now, that may sound like a breeze to some of you, and some of you might be thinking “there is no way.” 

Both of those responses are valid! Some folx do better with 5 consecutive minutes and checking that box off, and others, finding 5 minutes to dedicate at any given time is going to be a struggle. 

The good news is, whether you want to mark it in your calendar and check that box, or would prefer to fit it in where you can, we’ve got suggestions for you. 

 

But is that enough? 

This is a question we get a lot. When we have pet parents come to us, they are expecting HOURS of work a week. I can’t tell you the number of relieved sighs we get when they get instructions like “practice this for 1-2 minutes a day” or “count out 10 treats and do 10 repetitions”. 

More training doesn’t mean more results in most cases. Usually, it just leads to more frustration, more hard feelings, and more discouragement. 

As a general rule of thumb, one to two minutes is where we suggest pet parents start when both they and their pet are new to training. You can accomplish a lot in two minutes!

 

How am I going to remember? 

Excellent question! This is going to depend on the person! Here are some of the ways my clients have remembered:

  • Put it on your calendar 
  • Add it to an already existing routine
  • Put treats next to the kettle or microwave and practice while they run 
  • Create a tracker so you can mark it off 
  • Find an accountability buddy! 

 

What if I’m overwhelmed by 5 minutes? 

You know, I’m not going to lie. There are days where 5 minutes feels like too much. And for those days, I encourage my clients to try some of the following: 

  • Take 5 treats and practice 5 times 
  • Put treats in places so you can catch them doing the good thing
  • Turn to yourself with kindness and compassion! Some days are hard, and that’s okay. Put your oxygen mask on first. 

 

Now, we thought we’d do this blog a little differently… 

This month, the whole Pet Harmony team is contributing. We thought since we are all different people, with different situations, and different routines, it might help you to see how six different families make training an everyday thing: 

 

Allie 

Like Ellen, a lot of Oso’s training happens as a part of our regular day-to-day routine. Coming inside, especially when the neighbor dogs are barking? Treats! I happen to be sitting with him on the couch when the delivery person is coming to the door? Treats for not yelling at the person! Sitting politely outside of the kitchen while we’re cooking? Veggie scraps! For the activities that can’t be as easily incorporated (like filing his nails), I’ll often squeeze that in when I have a couple of minutes and have a timer set in some fashion, whether it’s how long it takes something to heat up in the microwave or the duration of a song. Knowing that it’s only going to be a few minutes makes me more likely to do it because it seems less daunting than having to spend a half-hour on training. 

 

Amy 

I practice “place” with both my cat and dog before giving them their food. I do play sessions daily with my cat and dog. I let them decide which toy or play they want to participate in, unless I am not feeling well, and then I usually default to “find it” with both animals. Other things I do regularly with them are counter-conditioning to nail trims and other activities that they don’t love that need to be done. But by far my favorite way to spend time training is with trick training. My cat knows how to sit and high-five, and she is learning down and spin. Even reptiles and fish can learn to perform tricks, and this is an excellent way to bond with your pet and is a great source of mental enrichment if done in a way the learner enjoys!

 

Corinne 

The amount of our formal daily training ebbs and flows with the seasons.  Opie and I do a lot in the winter and summer, but less in the spring and fall.  With school starting back up and me teaching all day, I get behind on the silly tricks and games that take some thought, but we are always learning together.  I love to use real-life reinforcers to learn with my pup.  During our walks, we will practice walking “close” when a bunny or squirrel or activating dog is in the area.  To reinforce this behavior,  he is rewarded by flocking the tree, doing a sprint with me, or REALLY sniffing that light post that the activated dog just left a voicemail on.  When our toddler is eating dinner, Opie practices self-control and “leave it” as delicious food rains from the heavens. Opie is rewarded for this behavior by getting to be our vacuum cleaner when we say “clean up after Walt”.  For me, daily training is all about finding the teachable moments. I try to use Opie’s impulses to guide me to understand what he wants to do–what would truly be rewarding for him.  Once I know what’s reinforcing, then I can ask for behaviors I want to see and use the real-life reinforcers to back me up.

 

Ellen 

Some days we incorporate a more formal “training session” (see last week’s blog), but mostly, I focus on catching my dogs when they are doing things I like in their day-to-day routine. For me, I have a couple of things that I look out for so that I can make sure I’m still helping my dogs practice things that are important to me! I have treats stationed by the back door, so every time my dogs come in, they get a treat. I will spontaneously call them from random places to practice coming when called. And, because I don’t want barking to become a way they ask for attention, I practice polite ways of requesting attention. For Griffey, it’s every time he brings me his wubba. For Laika, it’s every time she comes into my office and bows. For our more formal goals (fitness training, husbandry…) I try to carve out about 30 minutes 3-5 times a week to make progress on those goals. 

 

Emily 

After an animal has been fully incorporated into my home and has all the skills they need to thrive in our environment, I do very little structured training. Instead, I use real-life opportunities to practice skills. For example, if someone knocks on our door and the dogs bark, that’s an opportunity to practice quieting down. When they’re outside playing or chasing wildlife, that’s an opportunity to practice recall. If they’re all worked up after a rousing play session and I need to get on a Zoom session with a student or client, that’s an opportunity to practice unwinding at their relaxation station. When new people come to the house, that’s an opportunity to practice Look At That, the Flight Cue, and/or Find It (depending on the circumstance). Every mealtime is an opportunity to practice their scent trailing skills through scatter feeding. Every nail trim is an opportunity to practice their start button behaviors. In every interaction like this, I ask myself, “What is it I want them to learn from this experience?” Then I make reinforcement available for those desirable behaviors.

 

MaryKaye

My dog is now almost 14 years old so daily training is never a super formal thing for us. Like everyone else on the Pet Harmony team, I look for reinforceable moments and capitalize on those. The one thing I do work on daily with Fonzy is being able to walk past other dogs without him having a yelling contest at or with them. I ALWAYS bring treats with me when we are out for our daily walks so that I can proactively reinforce the behaviors that are not “yelling” at the other dog. If he simply looks at the other dog, small pieces of hotdog happen. If he walks past and ignores more hotdog. If he chooses to go sniff in the grass instead of bark, magical hotdogs suddenly appear on the ground for him to sniff out and find too! He has a history of leash reactivity and these maintenance reinforcers make a huge difference in his behavior. He now mostly thinks that other dogs make hotdogs appear and he is all about that! 

 

No One Right Answer

As with so many things, there isn’t just one way to incorporate training into your day-to-day routine. Each of us has been adjusting our routines for years, so trial and eval different options for your family! Finding what works for you and your pets is what is important!



Now What? 

  • Determine how you are going to incorporate training into your everyday routine! Do you need to check it off a list? Do you need treats somewhere out in the open to remind you to do it? Set yourself up for success, whatever that may look like! 
  • Trial and eval over the next month. If something isn’t working for you, try something new!
  • Join us in the Enrichment for Pet Behavior Issues Community Facebook Group and over on Instagram @PetHarmonyTraining! We’d love to know how you plan to train every day!

Measuring Success in Behavior Journeys

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I tried to walk my dog today.

Because Griffey has some leash reactivity, we have a fairly strict management plan for him. If we are not out of the house before 7:30, we don’t walk that day. We meet his needs in other ways. 

Walks after 7:30 aren’t fun. For anyone. He’s scared. I’m frustrated and annoyed. Both of us are hypervigilant. Neither of us starts the day off by melting the stress away and feeling empowered. It bleeds into and makes the rest of our day harder. 

So, we manage it. Sometimes, even with management, stuff happens. 

 

And stuff happened today.

I saw a biker coming down the opposite side of the cross street as we entered a 6-way interchange. Even if the biker turned in our general direction, they SHOULD have been on the opposite side of a garden median. I brought Griffey as far away from the street as possible to get him the distance he would need. 

And it would have been fine. Except the biker decided to ride against traffic and get within 6 feet of us. 

To share my internal dialogue would be… colorful. With so much space, with me clearly trying to get more distance (no other reason someone would duck behind garbage cans), why would you ride ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE STREET!? 

Either way, it happened. I started to beat myself up. Helloooooooo, shame spiral! But then I looked at Griffey and realized Griffey was okay. 

Sure, he still had a lunging, barking, screaming fit when the biker got too close, which we work very hard to avoid. Frankly, my internal fit was significantly worse than his external reaction.

But he recovered. In record time. By the time the biker was across the street, Griffey was looking back at me, his muscles had relaxed, he was bounding next to me like a little deer. He was ready to continue on our adventure. He rebounded. He rebounded faster than I did. 

Was it ideal? Absolutely not. Will I use this information to try to inform my decisions in the future? Yes. I don’t want it to happen again. My goal is still to prevent over threshold events entirely. But it reminded me that in our behavior change journeys, success can be measured in a number of ways. Not only a reaction – no reaction dichotomy. 

 

There are multiple measures of success

Griffey being comfortable in his environment has always been the primary goal. But comfort looks different in different places. In Florida, it was the escape from the heat and fire ants. In Washington, it was finding locations that didn’t aggravate his allergies. In California, it’s finding adequate space from the plethora of scary monsters. 

3 years ago, had we been in this situation, I would have had to pick Griffey up and walk him home. This event would have brought him to and kept him over his threshold for hours. The dog that barked behind the fence on our way home would have been yet another threat to our very existence, and we would have lost it all over again. 

Instead, he was ready to continue, his body got loose, he was able to eat and respond to well-practiced cues. The dog behind the fence got little more than a chuff before continuing on our way. 

3 years ago, for the rest of the day, every little sound outside the house would have been the end of the world. He would have been hyper-vigilant. Tense. Unable to settle. 

Instead, we made it home, and he was able to settle in the sun with a frozen kong. He’s now curled up asleep in his cave. Even with the delivery person ringing the doorbell, he has been able to relax and settle. He was able to “flight” back inside when the neighbor’s dog barked across the street. 

There is more than one metric for success in every behavior change journey. I lost sight of that. 

 

Now what?

  • What are some other ways you can measure success in your journey? Does your dog settle more? Do they look to you for help? Do they tell you “no” when they aren’t ready? What are some ways you see improvement outside of your primary goal?
  • Having a hard, disheartening day? Take a minute to look at some happy time pictures or videos you have of your dog. 
  • If you aren’t sure what success looks like for your journey, we’d love to help! Work with one of our behavior consultants to make sure you are seeing progress toward your goals! 

Happy training!

Ellen

How Do I Get My Dog to Pay Attention?

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

 

Do you wish your dog checked in with you more? That your dog paid more attention to you or engaged with you more often? 

Have you ever found yourself saying something like: 

“He doesn’t listen.” 

“They never pay attention to me!” 

“It’s like I’m not even there.” 

“She ignores me.”

You are far from alone. We hear statements like these frequently from pet parents. The good news is, we can start moving that needle pretty quickly. 

Back when I used to do in-person classes, I would have people ask me how to get their dog to pay attention. During our conversation, I would watch the dog. I was observing the dog’s body language, their response to the environment, and how they are navigating the space. 

More often than not, the dog did engage with the person. And there is another construct. What does “engage” look like? The dog looking at the person, the dog making contact with the person, the dog offering the person a default behavior, or the dog bringing over a toy. 

The issue? The person didn’t see it. The dog’s efforts went unnoticed and unpaid.

 

So, ask yourself. How many times a day does your dog engage with you?

How many times a day does your dog look at you? 

How many times a day does your dog touch you? 

How many times a day does your dog bring you a toy? 

How many times a day does your dog offer you a sit or a down? 

 

How many times a day do you see it?

And how many times do you reciprocate it? 

I suspect it is happening more than you expect. 

 

Observation skills are so important!

When we start to build our observation skills, notice the things our dogs do and acknowledge them, we start to see the lines of communication open with our dogs. I’ve seen people work so hard to teach their dogs skills, but there is a second part. You need the skills to see them using their skills! 

Learn to notice your dog when they are doing the “right thing”, not only the “wrong thing”.

If you see your dog engaging with you, acknowledge it, and I bet you will see them do it more often. Sometimes a “Hey, friend! It’s good to see you!” is all they need. Sometimes a jaunt outside or a small treat. Sometimes a scratch in their favorite spot. 

 

Now What?

  • Create a list of the ways your dog tries to engage with you. Knowing how your dog checks in gives you a better idea of what to look for. 
  • For 24 hours, try to catch each time your dog tries to engage with you. Keep a tally somewhere, or have a jar of 50 pieces of kibble. Each time they try to engage, give them a piece of kibble. See how many you have left at the end of the day. 
  • To learn more about the role of observation in addressing pet behavior issues and fostering harmony in your home, join us for our free Roadmap for Behavior Solutions workshop

Happy training,

Ellen

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