5 Reasons Your Pet Needs Flight Training

 

When we wrote Canine Enrichment for the Real World, there were some topics that we knew people would ask us about. We expected the questions about agency and contrafreeloading. The question that we didn’t expect was:

So tell me more about this “flight training”.

And, sure enough, each time we present or post or write about flight training- even if it’s just a passing comment- we get a lot of questions about it. So, let’s dive into the most frequently asked questions we get about this topic. 

 

What is flight training?

First and foremost, folks ask, “what is it?” It’s really just what it sounds like: we’re teaching an animal to move away from something they find uncomfortable. Many people already know about the fight or flight response (we talk about fight, flight, freeze with our clients), and so we started calling this protocol “flight training” because it borrowed a term that many people were already familiar with. For the longest time, I actually called it, “flight training for lack of a better phrase.”

As I tell my clients- most of whom are seeing me for anxiety that manifests as aggressive or reactive-type behaviors- flight is way better than the alternative! It’s unrealistic to assume that we can teach an individual to be comfortable in every single situation that they will encounter for the rest of their lives. It’s much more reasonable to assume that we can teach them how to be comfortable in certain situations and then teach coping skills that can be used in others. When taught in a particular fashion, flight training becomes a coping skill that pets can use without human prompting. It takes a while to get to that stage, but it’s always amazing to see it when it happens! 

 

Why should I teach my pet flight?

You know that we specialize in maladaptive behaviors, behavior issues, problems, whatever you’d like to call them. That means that many of my top reasons for teaching a pet flight are centered around that. However, I do think that it’s a skill that all individuals- of all species- should know how to do. Some animals already do this on their own and we simply need to allow them to do so when it happens. The animals that I work with tend to need to be taught how to move away from stress. 

 

Here are my top 5 reasons that I teach flight to my clients’ pets:

 

1. The best individual to monitor stress is that individual 

Anxiety, stress, and fear are funny things and they’re highly individualized. Some people can’t even look at a picture of a spider and others keep them as pets. Some people go bungee jumping; my mom struggles to look over a second-story balcony for fear of heights. Humans think fireworks are fun. Birds die trying to flee from them. 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it a million times more: you don’t get to choose what an individual is afraid of and not afraid of. It doesn’t matter if it makes sense to you or not. It only matters how they feel. And that means that the best individual to monitor stress is that individual.

Sometimes when we teach an animal flight, we learn that they’re actually uncomfortable about more things than we realized. I worked at a sanctuary where the staff used golf carts to move from one area to another. We had been working on an early variation of our flight training with a dog, Lee. One day his caregiver told me that a golf cart was passing them while out on a walk and Lee moved to the other side of her, which was his version of avoiding the scary thing. Once it had passed he resumed his normal walking pattern. We had no idea he was uncomfortable with golf carts passing until we gave him the ability to tell us. 

 

2. It’s way better than the alternative

I mentioned above that there are different stress responses: fight, flight, freeze (there are technically others that we’re going to ignore for now). The vast majority of clients who come to me do so after their pet starts “choosing” fight-type behaviors (choosing is in quotation marks because it’s not necessarily a conscious choice.) In those cases, the top priority is to reduce the fight-type behaviors. It’s a safety concern. 

When I’m working with those clients, I explain the stress responses and discuss why their pet is behaving the way they do. Both fight and flight have the same goal: to increase distance from the scary thing. So how about we teach them how to move away instead of aggress? Almost everyone enthusiastically agrees that flight is a much better alternative in those situations. 

 

3. Agency is good for, well, everything

Flight training allows for the choice to move away from a person, animal, object, or situation. Agency– the ability to make choices that result in desirable outcomes- is good for, well, just about everything. In particular, though, it’s really valuable when it comes to anxiety-based behaviors. If you are in an uncomfortable situation and can’t see a way out, your fear intensifies. If you are in an uncomfortable situation and know that you can leave it at any time, you’re likely to feel more comfortable and stick around longer. Flight training can help to alleviate some stress.

 

4. Having an out increases efficiency

My anecdotal experience is that teaching flight helps to make the behavior modification process more efficient. As I mentioned above, that increase in agency in stressful situations tends to decrease stress and help animals be able to learn better in stressful situations. I find that the clients who are dedicated to flight training tend to make quicker progress than those who are not as dedicated to teaching and implementing that skill. 

 

5. Knowing what to do when something goes wrong

The first part of a behavior modification plan is management: how do we set up the environment and interactions to prevent the unwanted behavior from happening in the first place? The problem is that management fails and sometimes it’s not possible to get a management plan that is 100% perfect in the first place. And that means that while we do need to be diligent about adhering to a management plan to decrease stress and unwanted behaviors, we also need to know what to do when management fails. We need a “get out of Dodge” behavior that has been practiced to the point where it can be used in a stressful situation. That’s the reason I usually teach my clients flight training before teaching them how to work in difficult situations. They need to be able to get out of a sticky situation first. 

 

How do I teach my pet flight?

There are a lot of similar protocols out there, so you’re welcome to choose whichever you like! Things like emergency u-turns, Treat ‘N’ Retreat, and the like are versions of this or incorporate elements of it. I prefer our protocol because it’s designed to be used as a life skill instead of only as a training skill but that preference doesn’t mean that other similar protocols are not effective!

The broad strokes of teaching flight include:

  1. Teach a flight cue in non-stressful situations
  2. Start using your flight cue to encourage your pet to move away from stressors
  3. When you see your pet asking or trying to move away on their own, let them do so and reward the heck out of it! 

If you would like help with teaching your pet flight, our consultants are here for you and offer remote services worldwide. Behavior professionals: we have a Flight Training Course designed to teach you how to teach your clients how to do flight training. This course is incredibly focused on teaching clients; trust me when I say that only professionals will want to take this. 

 

Now what?

  • Watch your pet to see if they already move away in uncomfortable situations. If they do, fantastic! Make sure that you let them do so when they want to. One of the ways that flight behaviors turn to fight behaviors is to remove flight as an option. Again, flight is a way better alternative and something that I personally celebrate. 
  • If your pet does not move away in uncomfortable situations, start working on teaching flight. Again, our consultants are here to help (the devil’s in the details, after all!)
  • Behavior professionals: if you’re looking for how to teach your clients how to do flight training, you’re in luck! Our Flight Training Course is now available for sale. Check it out here

Happy training!

Allie

June 2022 Training Challenge: Track Your Pet’s Behavior for a Month

 

Happy June, y’all!

With Season 1 of Enrichment for the Real World coming to a close, we wanted to focus this training challenge on our final topic of the season, using data for enrichment!

Now, I know the idea of collecting data can be overwhelming, intimidating, and even seem unnecessary, but, as we work to create effective, efficient enrichment plans for the animals in our care, collecting some data can make a huge difference in doing that well without sacrificing ourselves.  

So, this month’s training challenge is to collect some data on the animal in your care! 

As Dr. Fernandez mentioned in this week’s podcast episode…

“Then the second part is test things and test things in a way that you can find some type of evidence. Because we’ve talked about the importance of being evidence-based, and that means any kind of data, any kind of data that you use, and as I like to say all the time, any data is better than no data.”

 

Data can look like a lot of things

When we are talking about data, we mean a range of information. We want what we are tracking to answer the questions or goals that we have. This could be a simple yes/no, a duration of something, a frequency of something, the intensity of the behavior, and more. 

 

Some tips to keep in mind

  1. Know your question or goal. Are you gathering baseline information, like the number of times you catch your dog licking their paws? Or are you trying to see if your routine changes are helping you to progress toward your goals? Are you trying to assess if your efforts are working? 
  2. Work at the level you WILL do, not necessarily the level you WANT to do. Some data is better than no data. Focus your efforts on something you can do, and make it easy for you to do the thing. It may be a piece of paper on your desk, a whiteboard in the kitchen, texting yourself every time something happens… Get creative, but make sure it is actually doable. You can always expand later! 
  3. Clearly identify what you are tracking. Look at overt behavior, observable changes, and things that you can measure rather than focusing on a feeling or vibe. 

 

So, what might this look like in a home?

Once you know your goal or question, then you can start doing some trial and eval! As I mentioned before, there are so many different things you can look at, but narrow it down to get the information that will help you assess your goals and plans. Here are 3 examples to get your creative juices flowing.

 

Griffey’s Skin Issues

With the onset of Spring came an onslaught of allergy issues for Griffey. We’ve been working diligently with our vet to come at it from a number of angles, and last week, we implemented 2 new treatment options: weekly medicated baths and a 3x daily topical treatment for lesions that were showing up. Our goals were to see improvement in skin and coat condition, overall comfort for Griffey, and quick healing of the lesions. To ensure that our treatment was effective, we have been tracking the number of variables through a piece of paper at my desk: 

  1. The number of times he can be redirected from licking vs not (will he do something else instead or not?)
  2. The number of lesions on his body 
  3. Amount of time spent itching and licking

Over 2 weeks of data collection, we have seen a drastic improvement. It is clear that these two interventions have improved his welfare (and ours!). The amount of extra effort that these activities take is worth it, and we can see we are on the right track. 

 

Brie and Copper Barking During Zoom

Somewhat recently, Emily moved to the good ol’ Pacific Northwest with her desert dogs. Both Brie and Copper were having a hard time adjusting to life in the cold, wet climate that Seattle is known for and they had become more restless and disruptive during her zoom meetings. So, in addition to their normal scatter feeding at mealtimes, she decided to do more intentional scent work during lunchtime.

The question Emily was looking to answer was, “How many times can the dogs rest all the way through a Zoom session?” With a simple system of Xs or checkmarks on a notepad, she was able to notate which Zoom sessions they rested through and which ones they were restless. She was able to see a clear correlation between doing daily scent work with them and how many times they could rest all the way through a Zoom session. Armed with that information, she was able to incorporate that change into her day-to-day life.

 

Working on Recall

Last year I worked with a client whose dog would chase and bark at wildlife in the yard. We were working to improve the dog’s come when called, and eventually, Flight Cueing away from the critters. 

In our first session, we discussed putting a pad of paper next to the back door and each day writing a tally:

  1. Each time you call her and she comes all the way back inside. 
  2. Each time you call her and she turns to look at you but doesn’t make it back inside. 
  3. Each time you call her and she doesn’t respond. 

Over our time together, we saw many more tallies in the “you call her and she comes all the way back inside” column compared to the “you call her and she doesn’t respond.” Eventually, we were able to adjust what we were tallying to include “times she comes in without being called.” Remember, you can always adjust in the future. 

 

Now What?

  1. Ask yourself, what’s a question or goal that you have for yourself and your animal? 
  2. Determine how can you collect information easily? Pen and paper? Whiteboard? Text/email? Spreadsheet?
  3. Decide what information would help you assess your progress toward your goal? If you’re trying to help your animal relax, then tracking the duration of rest may be helpful. If you are trying to reduce alert barking, then the frequency of barking might be helpful. 
  4. Do the thing! Keep track of your pet’s behavior and look for patterns and correlations. Sometimes, you’ll need to circle back and trial and eval something else, just like Allie did with Winter Oso

Happy Training, 

Ellen 

Want a Rock-Solid Come When Called?

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

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

 

Remember…

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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!

Allie

So Someone You Love Loves a Pet With Behavior Issues?

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

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.