Want a Rock-Solid Come When Called?

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One of the things we often have clients want to work on is having their dog come when called. It makes sense! There are going to be times when you need your dog to pay attention to you, when you may need to move away from some scary monster, or navigate around that awful smelling carcass on the beach. 

While a rock-solid come when called, or recall, can, and usually does, look effortless, behind that behavior is a vast history of practice. Like all things, it takes time, energy, effort, and consistency to get that lightning-fast return to you. 

And there are tons of games or exercises that you can do with your dog to help solidify this skill. I’ll link some of these exercises below. 

But first, I want to talk about one major mindset shift that has helped tons of pet parents go from feeling like their dog will never respond to building recall through their day-to-day life. 


Are you ready?

A recall isn’t about what you have right now. 

It’s about all the hundreds, thousands, or millions of times you’ve called your dog in the past. 

It’s about the history, the value, and the consequences of your dog coming to you. Recognizing, acknowledging, and shifting your mindset, can make a huge difference in building a solid recall each and every day. It’s not about concrete sessions, it’s about what coming to you predicts for your dog.


Think about something that always has your dog right by your side. 

Maybe the crinkling of a food bag. The sound of the cheese drawer pulling open. The sound of the door to the yard opening. The sound of their harness or leash being picked up. 

What happens when they hear or see that thing happening? How quickly do they come over? What does their body language look like? How reliably do they come over?

What happens once they get to you? Do they get a piece of treat? Do you give them access to something? Do you go for a ride or a walk? 

And from their perspective, is that a good or a bad thing? Looking at their body language, and observing their response will help you identify this! 


Now, think about the last 10 times you wanted your dog to come to you.

Why were you calling them over? Were they getting into something? Did you need them to come inside, so that you could start your zoom call? Were they chewing on something or digging in your garden? Was it just to say, “Hi!”? Was it to play a quick game of catch?

What happened once they came to you? Did you take something away? Did you close off access to the yard and/or their sunspot? Did you have to give them a bath? Did you get them a treat or a more appropriate toy to play with? Did you scratch them in their favorite spot?

When they came to you, from their perspective, was it a good thing or a bad thing? And this is a bit nuanced, we need to look at our dog’s body language to get an idea of how they feel about something. Does their body language tell you that they are STOKED about the thing, or were they bummed about the outcome? 


What does coming to you mean for your dog?

Take a moment and consider the number of times coming to you means delightful or wonderful things for your dog, and the number of times it’s somewhere between a bummer and terrible. 

If you’re taking stock and realizing that the scales are tipping toward bummer/terrible, that’s okay! Now that we know, we can do something about it! Let’s get your dog looking at you the way they look longingly at their treat container. 


Great, how do I do that?

  1. When your dog looks in your direction, comes over to you, asks for attention, otherwise images with you, make it worth their while! Give them access to their favorite things. Engaging with you isn’t the end of the fun, it’s the start of the fun! Maybe they come in from the backyard, you close the door and immediately take them outside to bask in the sun. Coming over to you means treats, toys, play, attention, scratches, whatever is your dog’s jam. 
  2. Avoid punishing them for coming when you ask. Don’t call them and follow that with something they dislike or hate. If your dog hates baths, don’t call them over and then put them in the tub. If your dog is loving their time outside, don’t call them in, shut the door and leave it at that. Trade them for their loss of access to the yard. In my house, they come inside, I shut the door, and they may get a tasty treat, a rousing playtime, scratches, or open blinds so there is sun access in the house too. 
  3. You can practice some recall games to help solidify that relationship. Here are some great resources to get you started: 
    1. Summit Dog Training’s Recall Youtube Playlist
    2. Kikopup’s “How to Train Your Dog to RELIABLY Come When Called” 
    3. Kathy Sdao’s Training a Reliable Recall Part 1 and Part 2



A recall isn’t about what you have available right now.

It’s about all the hundreds, thousands, or millions of times you’ve called your dog in the past. 

It’s about the history, the value, and the consequences of your dog coming to you. When the wonderful things vastly outweigh the not-so-great things, the scales are tipped in your favor. Your dog will look forward to interacting with you, and love to come to see what is in store. 


Now What? 

  • Start tipping the scales in your favor! When your dog looks in your direction, comes over to you, asks for attention, otherwise images with you, make it worth their while! Get creative with this, it doesn’t always have to be treats. Think about things that your dog asks for, works for, or might even get a little annoying about. 
  • Look for times that your dog coming to you might not be great for them. Can you change some things up to make it better for your dog? Instead of coming always meaning you’re leaving the park, sometimes it means you’re just saying “Hi, friend!”, giving a treat, tossing a ball, or sending them back to continue playing! 
  • Practice daily! Build this exercise into your day-to-day life. 
  • If you’d like more help crafting a rock-solid come when called, let us know! Fostering relationships, building two-way communication, and helping families fall in love with their pet again is our jam! Email us at [email protected]!


April 2022 Training Challenge – Creating a Relaxing Environment for Your Pet

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Happy April, everyone! 

If you’ve been following our podcast, you know that we’ve been talking about teaching our pets relaxation skills. It’s a skill that’s so important, that it even has its own category in Canine Enrichment for the Real World. Both Episode 4 and Episode 5 focus on what relaxation really is, how to help our pets learn these skills, and some of our favorite approaches to teaching relaxation. 

There are tons of ways to help your pets with their relaxation skills, so this month, for our monthly training challenge, we challenge you to create a relaxing environment for your pet. 


So what does a relaxing environment look like?

Why thank you for asking, that’s a great question, and I would love to tell you. The catch is, that, like so many answers in the behavior world, “it depends.” 

There are a lot of factors that go into what a living being finds relaxing, and let’s explore those a bit!


How does your pet’s species typically sleep?

The first step to understanding what your pet might find comforting and relaxing is to understand what that looks like for your pet’s species. Different species will need different things. For a dog, being stuck on a tree limb is going to require active muscle engagement, balancing, and full-body awareness. For a bird, laying on the ground may be stressful, in the wild, which would expose them to predators, and put them in a vulnerable spot. 

So, ask yourself, do I know how [insert your pet’s species] typically sleeps? 

Is it up high or down low? Is it in something, under something? What time of day do they typically sleep? Do I really know, or is this based on something that I’ve been hearing all my life that I should fact check?


What does your pet look like when they are relaxing?

The next element of this is to know what relaxation looks like on your pet’s species, and on your pet. In the Enrichment for the Real World Episode #5, Allie and Emily discuss how stillness doesn’t mean relaxed. 

I can be perfectly still on a rollercoaster, and you better believe I am not feeling relaxed! Relaxation is about the body moving through the stress response cycle, physiological changes like heart rate, respiration, and the like. 

So, ask yourself, do I know what my pet looks like while they are relaxing? 

What are their eyes doing? Are they blinking slowly, or are their eyelids looking droopy? How deep and slow are their breaths? How do they position their body? How much muscle tension do they have in their back, neck, and/or shoulders? 


Where or what does your pet currently use to relax?

Now, sometimes, we are starting from scratch on this (like Dr. Pachel and Emily discussed in Episode 4), but you may find that your pet has already given you some information on what they find relaxing. And, keep in mind, these can be locations or activities! 

You may start to see a pattern to what your pet finds relaxing. When we know what relaxation looks like, we can let them tell us what they need to have a relaxing environment.

Where do you see signs of relaxation? When do you see signs of relaxation? Do they gravitate to the same spot to sleep? Do they prefer a wood floor over a dog bed? Do they sleep under or behind something? Do they spend a lot of time next to a fan, heater, or searching out a sunspot? Do they rest more after certain activities like a sniff walk, shredding a destructible toy, licking on a lick-mat, or using a flirt pole? Do they seek out a dark, quiet place?

So, ask yourself, what are some things that help my pet relax? 

Is there a type of bed that you see more relaxation on? For example, a cot might get a different response than a plush bed. Is there a time of day when you see the most signs of relaxation? 

Are there activities that you do with your pet that either get or are followed by an increase in signs of relaxation? 


And what does that all mean for me?

You’re ready to start building your pet a relaxing environment!

Create a spot where your pet can start relaxing more often. Take the information you collected and build your pet’s ideal relaxation station. In this spot, you can try providing them with some of those activities you identified that elicit an increase in signs of relaxation. You can practice mat work or relaxation protocols to help your pet learn to relax in this location.


Now What?

    • Build your pet’s ideal relaxation station! This might be a dark, quiet room with a cozy dog bed, or it might be a high shelf in your office for your cat. After you’ve observed their behavior, take their preferences into account, so that you’re starting from a place of success. 
    • Continue to teach your pet to relax here, whether that’s with opportunities to engage with activities that help them relax during or after the fact. 
    • If you want to practice some of those Relaxation Protocols that were mentioned in the podcast episodes, awesome! We have another blog that looks specifically at that
      • P.S. if you are in Pro Campus already, you can find the Pet Harmony Relaxation Protocol in your account under “Pro Campus Weekly Recordings”, “Training Challenges”, “Relaxation Protocol”. You’ll find a video that shares how to execute our Relaxation Protocol, how to teach it to clients, and a handout that you can use with your clients! 
    • Tag us on Facebook or Instagram @petharmonytraining, so we can see your pet’s relaxation station! 


Making Training Real – for Sessions and for Life

What is training your animal like every day? Is it always fun? Is it always a walk in the park? Or do you feel overwhelmed by the goal of achieving “perfect dog mom of the year?” Maybe your life is so hectic that it makes it hard to fit training in? Maybe there is something else that makes it hard for you to take the things you know you should do with your dog, and put it into practice. 

Like many of you, I have had pets my whole life. I had hamsters, gerbils, fish, mice, rats, cats, dogs, frogs, and probably more. But as a child, if I slipped up on something, or if I made a mistake, my parents would take care of it, and it didn’t usually bother me a lot. And when it did, I usually felt like it was not my fault entirely. Our dog didn’t receive training, and our yard remained unfenced because my parents wouldn’t pay for it. As a kid, there was really very little I could do about it. I just promised myself that when I was an adult, I’d do things right. 

Training Sessions

Then, you become an adult. And with Adulting, comes a lot more stuff you didn’t plan for. Like me, you may have had some mental or physical health issues become more prominent. We have jobs and significant others; maybe even children and church or club responsibilities. There are dishes to do, laundry to fold, and mouths to feed. So, sometimes, even training for five minutes a day can seem INSANELY overwhelming, especially if you are neurodivergent like me, and find caring for your OWN needs somewhat frustrating.

That is all terribly disheartening, I know. Please, give yourself some slack! You have done your homework! You are here, reading the Pet Harmony Blog, and doing the best you can with the knowledge you have. We’re all busy, and many times the thing stopping us from being truly efficient in helping ourselves and our dogs is making the time to do so. 

Break it Down

One of, if not THE most important part of any training plan is breaking things down into smaller chunks so that the learner can progress with as little stress as possible. So, if we’re talking about making daily training a realistic goal, and bringing training to real-life situations like Allie brought up in her past post, “Bridging the Gap Between Training Sessions and Real Life,” you need to TRAIN YOURSELF. That’s right. Sit down, and break the training plan into manageable chunks for yourself. Look at your goals, and don’t simply think about your pet; think about yourself. What parts of your training may not fit into your life the way you hope it might?

Is it hard to figure out when to practice your Flight cue with your reactive dog? What is preventing you from doing it? If it is time, think about your daily routine, or even your weekly schedule, and Think about times in your REAL life when you might need it, or when you will be reminded of it. 

For example, I should trim my pets’ nails once a week. Unfortunately, in the past, I really only thought about it when Maya stepped on my foot, or when Sylphrena (my cat) scratched Maya when trying to play. So… not as often as I should. What I realized is that I could set up another cue for myself. I decided that every time I saw Maya’s claws, I would try to remind myself to clip her nails. Every morning, I sit on the couch for a bit to drink some water and take my medicine, and Maya loves to sit next to me and snuggle while I wake up. So, I put the nail clippers and an old peanut butter jar full of treats next to the couch. Now, we play the bucket game a few times a week to get her nails done.


Ways to Shape Your Own Behavior:

Making training a regular part of your life can be tricky. Forming new habits is hard. So, there are a few things you can do to help it be easier:

  • Attach it to an existing behavior. For example, every day, you eat breakfast and feed your dog. If you do a bit of training with your dogs’ food or some tasty treats just BEFORE feeding them, then you will be more likely to remember.
  • Replace an existing habit with this new one. Let’s say you have a dog who barks, lunges, and is generally no fun to walk. You can make your training session happen when you used to walk your dog. You can make training more tiring with play as a reward. Tug, fetch, or a flirt pole can work as an option for many dogs. OR, you can break up the training session with play breaks! So you might do sit, down, reward; stay, walk away, come back, treat. Then, release your dog and run around with them, or play a game with them. Having play as a part of your training sessions can be a rewarding option for many dogs and owners. 

  • Set reminders on your phone, or on other devices you see frequently. Make sure you set them to go off at a time that you should have time to do it. 
  • Track your sessions. This is a way to reinforce your future self!! It can help you feel accomplished, and I don’t know about you, but when I feel good about something, I tend to do it more. You could go as far as to make a training journal, or just write a checkmark on your calendar for each day you did train.
  • Find a support system. Having someone to talk to about your goals helps to hold you accountable. You can find this with fellow dog owners, your trainer, supportive family members, or even online groups, like our Enrichment for Pet Behavior Issues Community on Facebook.
  • Finally, find a way to make treats easily accessible. The more accessible they are, the easier it will be to start training in any moment. Use old peanut butter jars, or buy reusable jars and stash them in convenient places: by the door for your house if you have an excitable greeter, By the back door if you want to work on things outside, or even stash a few in your pockets. (Caution, please make sure that you take all the treats out of your pockets and stash your dirty clothes in a place that your pup cannot easily access to prevent them from chewing holes in all the places your treats have been!)


Now What?

Once you make training more of a part of who you are every day, I find that most people have an easier time incorporating training into their lives in a less formal manner. For example, now that I have treats next to my bed, I can toss her treats during a thunderstorm, or when a visitor knocks on my door at an unexpected time. These are not planned training sessions, but if I hadn’t set myself up for success by planning and practicing for them, then it would never have happened. 

Simple, but precise

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Animal training professions are unregulated, which means that anyone can hang a shingle and call themselves a dog trainer. As a result, there is a wide variety of advice about animal training on the internet and in real life, and in many cases, unfortunately, dog trainers put more emphasis on marketing themselves than in learning about ethical, compassionate, science-based behavior change techniques.

One of the outcomes of this phenomenon is that there are a lot of highly effective marketing campaigns that sell people on how quick and easy their “system” is. If you have a dog with behavior issues that range from being a nuisance to being downright dangerous, who wouldn’t want a solution that is quick and easy and requires almost no effort on your part? Of course that sounds appealing. It’s a perfectly natural thing to want that.

The problem is that those quick fix techniques are the modern day equivalent of snake oil. They work by shutting down behaviors. It is, in fact, quick and easy to shut down a behavior in many cases. But shutting down behavior is problematic for many reasons. Although we don’t have the time in this article to go into those reasons in-depth, a quick summary boils down to this: shutting down behavior is like masking a symptom of disease rather than diagnosing and treating the disease itself. It’s like giving cough syrup to someone with lung cancer to make the cough go away instead of diagnosing and treating the cancer itself.

If we truly care about the animals in our care, we care about their physical, behavioral, and emotional health. Which means that we want to address the root cause of behavior issues, identify and meet their needs, and teach them life skills to help them navigate the world more safely and successfully. And because behavior is a complex interplay of multiple complex systems, that isn’t always a quick and easy process (although sometimes it can be!).

We can’t wish away the complexity of behavior, nor should we try.

That said, a good trainer or behavior consultant should do two things for their clients:

  1. Take the simplest approach possible.
  2. And when a simple approach isn’t possible, they should break the complexities down into a series of simple steps.

We often have clients tell us, “I can’t believe how simple this is!” And yes! In many cases we can break things down into small enough steps that each step feels very simple and doable for our clients.

But here’s the other catch: these steps are simple, yes, but they are also by necessity precise. In many cases people may try to implement a simple strategy, but it doesn’t work for them because of one tiny detail that makes a world of difference. I tell my clients all the time, “The devil’s in the details.” And it’s those little details that can trip us up.

Sometimes a client will tell us, “I followed the training plan 100%, but it’s not working.” We can hear the defensiveness in their voices. We can see that they think we think they’re lying and they haven’t really done the work. Or they’re thinking, “Have I been lied to? Does this method even work, really?” In reality, we believe them! It’s easy to follow a training plan almost entirely but miss a small detail that makes a big difference. And that’s just the reality of working with complex sentient beings!

So instead of trying to find someone who will give you the simplest, quickest solution possible, find someone who will help you fully navigate every aspect of your pet’s physical, behavioral, and emotional health in ways that feel simple and doable to you.


Now what?

  • If you find that the training plan you’ve been given is too overwhelming, let your consultant know. Don’t be afraid to ask them to break it down into smaller, simpler steps for you.
  • If what you’re trying isn’t working, work with your consultant to make sure there aren’t any details that may have fallen through the cracks.
  • If you are a current or aspiring behavior professional who wants to learn how to break complex behavioral journeys into simple, sustainable steps for your clients, we’ve developed the Pet Harmony Mentorship Program to empower our students to become competent, confident, compassionate behavior consultants. We welcome you to join us!

6 Things I Bring to Every Training Session

In my experience, most people have a very concrete idea of what it means to “train” an animal. Usually, when people say they are going to go “train their dog” they are thinking in terms of concrete sessions. Our pets are always learning, but when starting a new behavior, or using an old behavior in a new context, setting up a controlled training setup can be SUPER helpful. 

So, when I’m heading out to train my dogs, what are the things I ALWAYS have with me?


I know what my goal behavior LOOKS like. 

If I say “I want Griffey to touch the target”, that can look like a lot of things. What is the target? A body part or an object? Is it vertical or horizontal? What part of Griffey should make contact with the target? His paw, nose, feet, belly, bum? 

Instead of “touch the target”, I might say, “I want Griffey to place his two front feet on this stool” or “I want Griffey to press his chin into my flat hand with my palm turned toward the sky” or “I want Griffey to make contact with his nose on my closed fist”. 

If you’ve never trained something before, or visualization is difficult, look up pictures and videos of your desired result. You can start to match to sample! When I started doing fitness training with my dogs, I spent a lot of time looking at videos of dogs with good form and skill so I knew how my desired goal looked. 

The more specific we can be with our goals, the easier it will be to help guide our dog toward the right answer. 


I know how I will teach it. 

I’ve watched some videos or been instructed by an expert and I have an idea of what I want my end result to look like, now I figure out how I’m likely to get there. If Griffey is putting his two front feet on something, I’m going to start with something flat on the ground or slightly elevated. If Griffey is going to put his chin on something, I’m going to start with the thing under his chin. 

Without any of this prep work, if I call Griffey over, and expect him to “figure it out” we are both going to get frustrated. I’m going to be annoyed because “IT IS SO OBVIOUS!!!” and he is going to be frustrated that I’m just standing there teasing him with the setup that usually means COOKIE! 

So, minimize distractions, have your dog relatively close to you. How can you make the right answer the easiest answer? If I want Griffey to step on a sticky note, I might start with a full letter-sized sheet of paper and gradually rip pieces off to make it smaller. If I want Griffey to touch his nose to my fist, I’m going to start right next to his nose instead of 6 feet away. 

I think in terms of flow charts, if this, then this, then this… If that helps you, give it a go!


My treat pouch. 

I’ve spent years finding the treat pouch that works best for me. I need something I can easily close in case I kneel down (no mugging!). My hand needs to be able to fit seamlessly inside when it’s open. I prefer a waist strap to a shoulder strap. I like pouches that can also double as a purse since I tend to wear clothes marketed to the part of the demographic that apparently doesn’t need pockets. I tend to run with my pups on walks, so things need to be secured while jogging. 

Fumbling for treats, running out, trying to carry stuff in your hands is going to make training feel clunky, uncomfortable, and hard to maintain, so it’s worth finding something that really WORKS for you. 


Treats of adequate value for the task at hand.

Is this a $5 behavior or a $100 behavior? If I try to pull out the good stuff, those $100 for fitness training with Griffey, he’s a mess. He’s so excited that he can’t focus. Fitness training is kibble training. Now, if I’m asking for something harder, then the goods come out. Cheese, chicken, leftover steak are all $100 bills that I can use when I’m asking for harder things like coming when called when there is a squirrel taunting him in the backyard. 


The right mind space.

This one is a big one. Before I start a session, I check in with myself. If I’m trying to teach something new to me and to him, it’s not a wise choice to continue if I’m crabby. My perception of the session is going to be garbage and the shame spiral is right around the corner. There are things I can do on autopilot at this point, but if the cognitive load is going to be great, I’ll save it for a day when I have the resources to spend. 


A training partner that is saying “HELL YES!” 

Some days, my dogs just aren’t into it. There are a ton of factors that can play into that, and we will talk about those in a different blog. It’s okay that sometimes they don’t want to. Some days, I pull out my fitness equipment, Laika looks at me, looks at the station, and goes back to bed. Let’s be honest, I feel that way too some days. In the event they aren’t ready to rock and roll, we do something else. Would they rather do trick training, or practice relaxing outside while things happen in the world? OR, maybe today, we scrap that whole plan and it is foraging enrichment day. 


Training sessions are a brilliant way to facilitate communication and bolster our relationship with our pets. It’s great mental enrichment for both of us. But, as I said earlier, our pets are always learning, so make sure to check out next week’s blog. Sometimes, if you are anything like me, setting up for a “training session” is just too much. Next week, we are going to share some tips and tricks to make teaching and learning a smooth sailing activity for both you and your pet. 


Now What? 

  • Think about something you’d love to teach your pet! Start with something that doesn’t carry any baggage, like a spin, a bow, or one of our Slick Tricks! If you are looking for inspiration, check out Kikopup’s YouTube channel. She’s got an incredible collection of videos around fun tricks and life skills that give you videos so you can see what the behavior LOOKS like, and helps you figure out how to train as well. 
  • If you are ready to tackle a behavior that is bringing stress to you, your household, or your dog, come join us for the Roadmap for Behavior Solutions Program. This program provides the Roadmap you need to tackle behaviors from frustrating to frightening. 


5 Tips for Travelling with Dogs

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Originally, I had a different topic planned for this week, but when life throws you lemons, try to make lemonade! 

This last week, my partner and I found out that we suddenly had to drive from the Bay Area to Seattle for some family stuff. Both our dogs were coming with us, and as such, we needed to prepare not only our stuff, but also their stuff. 

Traveling with a big feels dog can be very different from traveling with an “easy” dog. I’ve done both, and when Griffey was added to our family, there was a lot more that we had to consider when we were road-tripping. 

So, since I’ve done the work, made the mistakes, and adjusted my plans, I thought I would share 5 tips to make your journey just a little bit smoother. 


1. Know your dog’s essentials 

I always start with the essentials first. What are the things your dog needs daily? Create a list! I suggest writing this all down and keeping a copy with your pet’s records. You can refer back to it for future trips, or even keep a “go bag” packed and ready. Since I live in a place where evacuations happen, I keep all these things collected in one place ready to go at a moment’s notice.  This is specific to each dog, so my list won’t be your list, but here is my list to get you started: 

  1. Enough kibble for both dogs, plus some. 
  2. A bowl for water and we have one of these fancy things
  3. A basic pet first aid kit
  4. Both dog’s harness
  5. Both dog’s standard leash
  6. Poop bags
  7. A ball for Laika and a wubba for Griffey
  8. Digital copies of my dog’s records
  9. Daily medication and supplements
  10. Both dog’s muzzles


2. Pack the things that will set you up for success

The essentials are the things I want ready to go at a moment’s notice. The items in this list go beyond the essentials. As you think about what’s in store for your trip, think about “what if…” situations. What are some of the things that will make everything easier? For Griffey, we have certain medications on hand in the event that we need them. We bring each dog’s safe space (a blanket of Laika’s and a bed of Griffey’s), a variety of treats of different values, treat pouches, long lines, empty frozen food puzzles, other food puzzles, bones, canned dog food, stuff to bathe your dog (if necessary), crates. Remember, each dog’s list will be personalized. What’s my dog’s “extra” maybe your dog’s “essential”. 


3. Know your management plan before you leave 

Don’t draft your management plan on the fly, adjust your management plan on the fly. 

Ask yourself 

  1. How will I keep everyone safe?
  2. How will I decrease stress?
  3. How will I prevent unwanted behavior?

This can include new environmental concerns (foxtails, rattlesnakes, fire ants, among so many others), as well as things you already know your dog struggles with. When we are in places with foxtails, we need to make sure our dogs are foxtail free. When we travelled places with fire ants, we tried to stay away from mounds when the dogs were going to the bathroom. 

How will you keep your dog from distracting you while you are driving? 

If your dog has a hard time around strangers, how are you going to manage their exposure? 

If your dog is reactive on the leash toward other dogs, how are you going to manage their exposure? 

What elements of your current management routine can you bring with you, and which ones do you need to adjust? 

What type of housing will you be utilizing?


4. Discuss your plan with the rest of the family BEFORE you are stressed

Don’t wait until you are in the thick of it to create or communicate your plans to the other people on the trip. Travelling can be stressful, and it’s even more stressful when you have your big feels dog with you. 

Here are some of the conversations my partner and I had to get you started: 

What are we going to do at rest stops? 

Can we predict any situations that might be more than our dogs can handle? 

How are we going to help our dogs decompress? 

How are we going to meet their needs on the road? 

What are we going to do in states where you don’t pump your own gas? 


5. Keep a list of pain points while you go

Things may not be perfect, and that’s okay! Sometimes we need to trial and eval. So, while you are going through your trip, keep a list of pain points you want to address later. It can be small things like “ration out their daily food in separate containers” to “work on being comfortable in the crate while I go into the gas station”.

While you are in the middle of your trip, both learning and teaching may be difficult, so keep a list of things to work on in the future. When you’ve both had a chance to decompress, return to the routine, and are ready to gain new skills. 


Now what? 

  • Create your dog’s travel list. I suggest writing down both the essentials and the things that will help you navigate more smoothly. In some situations, all you may have room for is the bare necessities, so know what those are beforehand. 
  • Develop your management plan before you leave, and discuss it with everyone involved. When tensions are high, sleep is low, and space is limited, those same conversations might feel much higher stake than on the couch in your living room. 
  • If you already have some things you want to work on in preparation, come join us for the Roadmap for Behavior Solutions free workshop happening next month. We will discuss more ideas that will help you and your dog navigate this wild world together!

What You Need to Know About Trigger Stacking

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I talk about trigger stacking a lot. It’s in my typical first-session spiel for new clients, I talk about it frequently in follow-up sessions, and I even use the term to describe my own emotional state. So, what the heck is it?

Trigger stacking refers to that phenomenon when a bunch of smaller stressors or triggers stack or add on top of each other to produce a different reaction than if just one of them happened. 


Some examples

We’ve all had those days where nothing goes right. You forgot to set your alarm the night before and wake up late. Then your car has trouble starting. Then you hit every single red light on the way to work. By the time you finally make it, you’re close to bubbling over. And then someone makes an innocuous observation that they beat you to work today. You explode. 

That’s trigger stacking. It’s the straw that broke the camel’s back. It’s not that the innocuous observation was so stressful that it alone elicited the explosion. It was because, after everything that happened before it, that little bit of stress was enough to push you over the edge. Had it been a normal, relatively stress-free morning and your coworker just happened to have arrived before you and made the same remark, it likely wouldn’t have elicited an explosion. 

We all experience this phenomenon, so let’s take a peek at what that looks like for a dog who’s reactive to other dogs. They go outside in the yard in the morning and see a dog a few doors down. A little bit of stress. They come inside and the neighbor dog can be heard through the window. A little bit more stress. We go to work and they watch– and react at– dogs walking past the window all day. More stress. We come home from work and take them out for a walk and even though we’re trying to avoid other dogs and keep a healthy distance, every dog they see still results in blusterous reactivity. They were stressed before the walk even began. We didn’t stand a chance. 

Or, last week Ellen talked about managing stranger danger behaviors. Trigger stacking for stranger danger pets could look like a party instead of having one guest over. Or having one or two people at a time but one right after another the whole day. There are a lot of slightly different scenarios that can elicit trigger stacking, but it boils down to several triggers in a relatively short amount of time. 


Why is this important?

Stress impacts behavior. We have only to look at our daily lives to see how much stress impacts and affects behavior. Heck, this last year was one giant lesson showcasing how stress affects behavior in different ways and in different individuals. And even though it might seem like our pets are living stress-free lives, they aren’t. They experience stress, too, and it affects how they behave. 

We at Pet Harmony wouldn’t have jobs if stress didn’t affect behavior. It’s the culprit behind maladaptive behaviors, including aggression, fear, and anxiety. And, when we recognize the role that stress plays in those behaviors, we can address those behaviors much more effectively. 

Here is a great YouTube video by Donna Hill that gets into trigger stacking and stress hormones.


It’s not just within a few minutes

It takes stress hormones a while to leave the body. The actual amount of time changes depending on the species and the particular hormone. Some last for a few minutes, others hours, and some last for a few days, and chronic stress impacts the amount of time as well. It’s much more complicated than what we can get into here (and I’m certainly not an expert in physiology!), but the short of it is that stressful events can impact behavior for days after. This means that we can see the effects of trigger stacking culminating over longer periods of time than just a few minutes. What happened this morning can impact the afternoon can impact the evening. 


What can we do about trigger stacking?

For those of you who have followed us for a while, the answer should come as no surprise: management! Management is one of the best ways that we can mitigate the effects of stress and trigger stacking (there are others, too, that we won’t get into here.)

Management means setting up the environment so that your pet is less likely to experience stressors or triggers or avoiding them when we can’t arrange the environment. This looks like getting physical exercise in the backyard instead of going on walks in a dog-filled neighborhood. This looks like putting your pet away when the repair person comes. This looks like not picking up a pet who tries to bite you when they get picked up. 

We’re often asked about management being a band-aid. It is! But a necessary band-aid. Not having management would be like not dressing a wound after surgery. Is the bandage fixing the wound? No. Is it preventing it from getting worse and having other ancillary problems? You bet. Let’s not knock management just because it’s a band-aid. It’s still a necessary and integral part of a behavior modification plan, especially when you take into consideration that brains under stress do not learn well. If we want the training and behavior modification techniques we’re using to work, we need a brain that can learn it. And that means management. 


Now what?

  • Take a look at your pet’s stressors. Do you see multiple stressors happening throughout the day? If so, you probably have some trigger stacking on your hands. 
  • If you’re not sure if trigger stacking is at play, keep a log of your pet’s triggers and behaviors. It’s much easier to see trends this way. 
  • After identifying triggers, take a look at your management plan. If you don’t have one, make one. If you do have one, take an objective look at what you’re doing well and if there are areas for improvement. 
  • Want more information about how stress impacts behavior? Join us for our free 5 Tips for Addressing Your Dog’s Problem Behaviors webinar tonight!


Happy training!


So Someone You Love Loves a Pet With Behavior Issues?

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This week’s blog is a little different. We usually are talking to parents of pets with behavior problems, but this week, I’m talking to someone else.

I’m talking to the friends, the partners, the family, the neighbors, the co-workers of pet parents who have pets with behavior problems.

Pet parents, you are still welcome to read this, and frankly, I hope you will. Because, I know what it’s like to love a pet with behavior issues, and I know how hard conversations around your pet’s behavior can be. I’m hoping this blog will help you as well.


Having a pet with behavior problems is a lot of things.

It is hard. It is isolating. It is exhausting. It is stressful. It impacts almost every aspect of your life. Having support from people in your life can make an incredible difference in the success of your plan. Even for behavior  Sometimes, we need help. Sometimes, we need to be reminded we are more than our pet’s parent. Sometimes, we need a cheerleader. Sometimes, we just need to vent some steam. So often, when pet parents turn to their support systems, they find themselves bombarded with well-intentioned but still harmful or painful advice:

“You just need to…”

“You are causing…”

“It’s because…”

“They are never going to learn…”

“You’re coddling them…”

“I’m sure you are overreacting…”

And here’s the thing, I get it! You see someone you care about having a hard time. That’s difficult to sit with. Humans want to “fix” things. We want to make it better. And so often, when someone is being vulnerable or needs help, the only way we know how to respond is on how to “fix” it, even if we don’t know how to “fix” it.

Witnessing suffering, discomfort or difficulty is hard and makes us uncomfortable. We want it to go away, and usually, we’ve learned advice like that above makes it go away. But it only makes it go away for you, not the person you love.


But I am being supportive!

When I adopted Griffey, we came to realize he had lots of feels about lots of things. He was uncomfortable around strange dogs and people (running around, barking, pulling at the end of the leash…), if I left the room he would scream until I came back. He wouldn’t go to the bathroom in front of us. He didn’t know how to play. He didn’t know how to ask for what he needed. If we moved quickly or unpredictably, we would see him flinch and move away.

We were faced with a lot of things he needed help with. A lot about our life was going to have to change. And frankly, even with that fact, we were lucky. Both my partner and I are behavior professionals. We knew who to go to for what issues. From a procedure standpoint, we were pretty good. However, from a personal standpoint, a lot of the people close to us in our lives were the “well-intentioned” but still harmful folx. When we shared what was going on, and when we needed support, we got:

“You just need to…”

“You are causing…”

“It’s because…”

“He is never going to learn…”

“You’re coddling him…”

“Just come to dinner! He’ll be fine!”

“We really miss you…”

“Does he just run your life now?”

And you know how that made us feel? Unheard. Unsupported. Isolated. The people that we could turn to to help us with safe, slow introductions dwindled. We could kiss the idea of minimizing departures for our dog goodbye without friends to help. With each piece of well-intentioned advice, we saw our goals drift further and further away.

And for how hard it was for them to watch us struggle, for how hard it was for them to feel powerless to help, our conversation would end and the problem for them would go away. But my problems with my dog were still very real, very impactful, and each conversation would leave me feeling a little less empowered than before.

We were extremely lucky that we did have some incredible friends that were supportive throughout the process. They have been formally included on “Team Griffey” over the years.


So, how can I support the person I love?

That’s such a good question!

Again, watching someone you love struggle is hard. It’s so uncomfortable!! So what should you do instead? The folx of “Team Griffey” helped me realize the many forms that support can take:


Ask them to share their successes with you, so you can celebrate!

Your loved one is working hard. Really, really hard. It may not seem like it to you, but they are. So instead of minimizing their small successes, CELEBRATE THEM! That can look like cheerleading for them, sending them a nice note, checking in on them, bragging about their success to mutual friends, acknowledging their work and their job well done.

If your friend is able to go to the bathroom without their dog screaming, celebrate that.

If your loved one’s pet is able to look at a dog 100 yards away instead of lunging, barking, biting, celebrate that.

If your loved one’s pet was able to walk around the block instead of cowering at the leaf blowers, celebrate that.

If your loved one was able to touch their pet for the first time safely, celebrate that.

If your loved one is excited about something, celebrate that.


If you have the bandwidth to help, ask them if there is something you can do to help.

So often when we are working through a behavior modification plan, people might need help from people. They might need someone to sit with their pet to manage departures while they teach their pet to be comfortable alone. They might need a safe stranger to come and stand 50 yards away to work on stranger danger. They might need someone to pet sit their reactive dog at their house when they have an emergency come up. They may need someone who is handy to help them build some enrichment.

Now, we are all stretched a little thin sometimes, so if you can’t play an active role in the process, that’s okay! You don’t need to participate to be supportive. However, if you can, it can make a huge difference in your loved one’s life.

I am going to put a disclaimer here: all behavior modification plans should be under the supervision of a qualified behavior professional.  If you are concerned for the safety of yourself, your loved one, or the pet in the capacity that you are requested to help, then you have every right to decline participation.


Ask them “are you looking for help or are you looking for someone to listen?”

Each person needs something different at different times. Like I mentioned before, sometimes, we need to blow off some steam. Sometimes, we just need a friend to say “that sounds really hard”. Ask your friend what they need. They can better tell you than I can. If they are looking for suggestions, see the next bullet.


Recognize that you aren’t a behavior professional.

Okay, maybe you are, and if that’s the case, move along. But, if you aren’t a behavior professional, avoid providing advice on a behavior problem, and refer to a qualified behavior professional.

Behavior problems can range from annoying to dangerous, and if you don’t know how to tell the difference, have the knowledge, experience, and education to work with a range of behavior problems, you can be doing much more harm than good by providing suggestions. I understand that it can feel like “no big deal”, and you just so desperately want to help your loved one with their struggles. But we don’t know what we don’t know, and good intentions alone won’t “fix” a behavior problem (although that would be awesome!).

Sometimes, the best way to support someone you love is to say “That sounds really frustrating, and I know you are looking for help, but I am unqualified to give you any suggestions. I can help you find a qualified professional if you’d like.”

The folx that celebrated Griffey’s success and the qualified folx that helped us develop our behavior modification plans are all part of Team Griffey. Every part of Team Griffey is equally critical to his progress. From Aunt Mono who provided pet care while we were out of town, to our families that rooted from the sidelines, to the veterinarians and behaviorists that helped us step by step along the path (yes, even professionals have professionals!), each person who joins Team Griffey brings value. You don’t have to have the solution to add value to the team.


Now What?

  • Do you love someone who loves a pet with behavior issues? Using the suggestions above, consider if there is a way you can better support your loved one. If there is, put that idea into action!
  • If someone you love and their pet could use a professional behavior consultant on their team, our free Roadmap for Behavior Solutions workshop is a really great place to start. It will be 5 days of guidance from certified professionals to help your loved one get going on the right path.


Why Doesn’t My Dog Respect Me?

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A lot of clients over the years have come to us to help them with a laundry list of behavior issues, and on that list is something along these lines:

“My dog doesn’t respect me.”

“My dog respects my spouse a lot better than me.”

“My dog listens to me when it’s just the two of us, but as soon as other people are around they completely lose any respect for me.”

These concerns are completely understandable, especially when so many of the training recommendations on TV and the internet tell you how important it is for your dog to respect you, and how you can’t be a good leader if you don’t command your dog’s respect. That’s a lot of pressure to put on ourselves and our dogs!

But I’m going to let you in on a little secret:

Dogs have no idea what respect even means.


So… what DOES respect even mean?


The tricky thing about expecting a dog to show us respect is that everyone involved has to know exactly what “showing respect” looks like. 

I had a conversation with some of my students in our mentorship program about respect a while back, and at the time, several of the students participating in the conversation had young children, ages 3-6. I asked them to ask their children what respect means and to film their responses. The videos were hilariously adorable. One child said, “Respect means… giving respect!” Another child, after a prolonged silence, whispered to her mom, “You say it!” Another said, “Respect is something grownups know.” 

So respect is a concept that even children have a hard time understanding, much less dogs. But to be honest, it isn’t really something that grownups know all that much better!

This social media post went viral for the very good reason that it beautifully illustrates how the definition of respect can be slippery even for adult humans:


So kids struggle to define respect, and adults struggle to define respect, but how do dictionaries define respect? Guess what: even dictionaries have multiple definitions!


Merriam-Webster’s definitions include:

  • An act of giving particular attention  
  • High or special regard
  • The quality or state of being esteemed

Oxford’s include:

  • a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements
  • due regard for the feelings, wishes, rights, or traditions of others
  • admire (someone or something) deeply, as a result of their abilities, qualities, or achievements


Clearly, respect is a complex and nuanced social construct. If humans, of any age, struggle to define it for themselves, does it seem realistic to expect dogs to grasp the concept?


Misunderstanding respect = misinterpreting behavior


But do definitions really even matter, anyway? Lots of people seem to get their dogs to respect them, so does it really matter whether the dog understands what respect means?

Actually, yes!

The problem with trying to command respect from a dog without really being able to define what that looks like is that lots of other things can then look like respect to us. In almost every single dog training video where a trainer points out a dog’s behavior as “respect”, something else is going on instead. And when we misinterpret our dog’s behavior, we are at a much greater risk of responding to that behavior inappropriately.

So what are some common misinterpretations? What’s going on instead?

  • One of the most frequent ways we see the word “respect” being misapplied to behavior is when the dog is actually exhibiting some kind of distress–typically fear. Fear is frequently misinterpreted as respect.
  • Another common situation in which the word “respect” is misapplied is when a dog is in a shut down state
  • In many cases someone might think that a dog is being disrespectful when they actually have mountain lion brain.
  • People also might think a dog is being disrespectful when really the behaviors they’re learning just haven’t been fully proofed yet!
  • And sometimes, people say a dog is being respectful when the dog is just really focused on the handler–which is a good thing! 

These are just some of the most common ways in which the notion of respect (or disrespect) gets in the way of accurately identifying what’s going on, but of course there are many, many others! So do you see now why worrying about commanding a dog’s respect isn’t a particularly useful way to approach training?


So what do YOU mean when you say your dog doesn’t respect you?


A far better way to solve the problems you’re experiencing in your relationship with your dog(s) is to ask yourself exactly what respect looks like to you. When you find yourself wishing that your dog showed you more respect, think about exactly what they’re doing, and exactly when they’re doing it. Like this:

When [describe the specific context], my dog [describe what your dog does].

For example:

I feel like my dog doesn’t respect me when [I call his name when he’s in the backyard] and my dog [ignores me completely].

Once you’ve identified exactly what you mean when you think your dog doesn’t respect you, you then have a clearer goal to aim for–which can make all the difference!


Now What?


  • Use the fill-in-the-blanket method above to identify exactly what your goals are.
  • Learn dog body language to more accurately identify what your dog is telling you.
  • If you need help clearly defining your goals or figuring out how to more successfully reach your goals, that’s what we’re here for! You can contact us at [email protected] to schedule an appointment.

Be well, 



Training Outside of Training Sessions

If you’ve spent any time reading dog training blogs or have taken any classes you’ve probably heard something along the lines of:

“You’re always training.”

What we really mean by this statement is:

“Your pet is always learning.”

And, the more salient to this article statement is:

“Your pet is always learning, whether or not you intend to be teaching them the thing they’re learning.”

There are a lot of ways that we can talk about the above statement, but I want to focus this week on what that means for structured training sessions. I often hear people saying that they don’t have the time to do a structured training session within their day. I get it; oftentimes neither do I! But the great thing about our pet always learning is that we don’t always need to set up a training session in order to see results. Yes, there are plenty of things that we still need a structured training session for, but for household rules and day-to-day behavior we can get away with a lot of in-the-moment learning. 


An example

I was recently speaking with the members of our behavior consulting professional development group, Pro Campus, for a monthly training challenge (topics of which are different than the ones we do for y’all). The training challenge was about boundary training and I was giving them an example about Oso. 

The stairs leading to the side door (which lead to the yard) also lead down to our basement. It looks like this:


Obviously Oso is allowed to go down the first few stairs to go outside, but we don’t currently want him in our unfinished basement. As I told our Pro Campus members, I could have absolutely trained this behavior using regular boundary training. I could have set up structured training sessions and a baby gate. But, instead, we positioned ourselves so he could only go outside when he was on the stairs and if he found his way into the basement we immediately called him back up. It was lackadaisical. It was easy. It added zero extra time into our day. And it worked. 

The only time Oso will go into the basement now is if he’s running down the stairs after us without us realizing and the door closes before he gets outside. He has too much momentum to stop and will proceed down the rest of the stairs and come right back up. 

There was a day where there was a tornado warning and we had to coax him into the basement with us. We used to be diligent about leaving the door at the top of the stairs closed if he wasn’t going outside. We can now leave the door wide open and he won’t go down the stairs unless the outside door is open too. 


Why that worked

There are a few reasons why that method was successful. 

  1. We were incredibly consistent. My husband and I talked about the rules, what happens if he went into the basement, and how to position ourselves to prevent that from happening. We did the same thing, every day, multiple times per day, for many months. 
  2. There was very little opportunity for him to do the “wrong” behavior. Wrong is in quotes because the behavior in itself isn’t bad. He needed to go into the basement during the tornado warning. He’ll be welcome down there when it’s finished. It’s currently “wrong” because it’s dangerous while we’re working on things down there. Anyhoo. The door at the top of the stairs was closed at all times except when he was going out and we positioned ourselves so he couldn’t go into the basement. We had a management fail maybe 3 times total in the first few weeks after we moved in. 
  3. When he did go into the basement, it wasn’t reinforced. We immediately but politely asked him to come up to go outside and that is far more exciting than remaining down there. There’s nothing exciting there: no interesting smells, no food, nothing he enjoys. It wasn’t reinforcing to be down there and we didn’t make a big fuss out of it when we had a management fail. 
  4. Oso is respectful of barriers and space in general. I keep mentioning that we simply had to stand in the way so Oso wouldn’t go down the stairs. That works for him because he doesn’t push his way past barriers or us in general (and the stairs are quite narrow). Additionally, he has years of a solid “wait” cue under his belt. Another dog may have required more of a barrier, but we knew Oso wouldn’t because we know his behavior well. 
  5. We were patient. I mentioned above that we trained this behavior over many months, not weeks. Sure, it would have been faster if we did more strategic training sessions. We didn’t care about fast, though. We cared about convenience. 


What does this have to do with your pet learning all of the time?

The point of this now longer-than-anticipated example is to illustrate that you don’t have to be “training” in order to teach. Your pet is always learning and that means that you can teach behaviors as you go throughout your day instead of setting up a training session. Like I mentioned above, this can be a convenient way to affect behavior change, especially when it comes to day-to-day behaviors. 

However, when a trainer says, “Your pet is always learning” they usually say it with more of a negative connotation. This is because in order for us to use this to our advantage, we need to be very purposeful, consistent, and a step ahead of our pets. Our actions need to be intentional and thought-out ahead of time. All of that is easier said than done. 

Below are 8 tips to help you take more advantage of your pet always learning:

  1. Decide what behaviors you want to see more of and less of. This way you don’t have to stop and think about whether or not your pet is learning something you actually want them to learn. Discuss these behaviors with your household so everyone is on the same page. 
  2. Manage your environment. I mentioned above that a large part of why we were successful with Oso’s stair rules/behavior is because he had very little opportunity to perform the unwanted behavior. That means he had very little opportunity to learn how to perform the unwanted behavior better. 
  3. Know what’s actually reinforcing to your pet. Here’s a hint: if a behavior stays the same or increases, it’s being reinforced in some fashion. Period. End of story. That’s the literal definition of reinforcement. The hard thing is that only the individual gets to decide what’s reinforcing to them. I can’t tell Oso that he really enjoys hard pats on the head anymore than I can tell my husband that he enjoys Brussels sprouts. You don’t get to decide what someone’s preferences are (there are kind of caveats that are way beyond the scope of this article. Let’s just leave it at the original statement.) That means, if your dog is jumping up on you and you’re pushing them off and telling them “no” and they’re still doing it a month later, you’re reinforcing it. We need to be able to objectively observe behavior if we’re going to make the most out of this strategy. 
  4. Discuss the strategy ahead of time. As soon as Oso stepped on the first step towards the basement we were already calling him back up. As soon as he was heading down the first few stairs we were opening the door to go outside (hugely reinforcing to him). Because we discussed our strategy ahead of time (not just for this, but for a lot of his behaviors) we could react immediately, appropriately, and consistently. 
  5. Practice the strategy until it’s second nature. There will be times where the appropriate reaction is not your initial response. This can be frustrating and disheartening after the fact. If you find that it’s hard to perform the appropriate reaction immediately, practice! Practice without your pet. Think through the scenarios. Ask someone to role play it with you. Practice until it’s second nature. 
  6. Look at your pet’s past behavior to anticipate their future behavior. One of the best predictors of future behavior is past behavior. We were pretty confident that our strategy for Oso’s stair rules/behavior would work because we knew what he was like at doors in general. We knew how he went down stairs. We knew what cues we had at our disposal to use. It was just a matter of arranging everything that we knew about his behavior into this new scenario. 
  7. When you mess up (which happens to the best of us), use it as a learning opportunity for next time. I mentioned we had 3 management failures before we figured out the best strategy. Those moments were learning opportunities for us so we could be one step ahead of him in the future (literally, in this case).
  8. Make sure you’re meeting the need. Behavior isn’t arbitrary. It fills a need. If you plan on changing a behavior that’s currently meeting a need, you will need to meet that need in another way. For example, if your dog is jumping up for attention then you need to meet their attention needs in another way (preferably before the jumping starts). This strategy worked well for Oso’s stair behavior because going into the basement didn’t particularly serve a function even when he did go down there. 


Now what?

  • Is there a day-to-day behavior you’d like to work on with your pet? Make a list and choose the best one to start with as a household. It’s usually easier to choose something that’s not based in fear or anxiety for this. 
  • Once you have the behavior you want to work on, observe it for a while. What happens before the behavior? How can you manage what happens before? What happens immediately after the behavior? How can you change what happens after? 
  • Use your observations to develop your strategy. Make sure to discuss it with everyone in the household and people who are regularly present in your pet’s life. 
  • Get started on your strategy and keep observing. Are you having management fails? Are you meeting the need in another way? How consistent is your household in following the strategy?
  • Tweak accordingly and be patient. Remember that we’re going for convenience, not speed. 
  • Have a trainer or behavior consultant help you. Coming up with an effective plan is sometimes the hardest part; let a professional do it for you if you’re struggling. We work with clients all over the world. Email us at [email protected] to schedule your first session. 


Happy training!