The Common Mistake That Will Cost You

How many times have you made this mistake: you learn something new and go straight to the fun part. The harder part. How can you push this new skill? What else can you do with it? Aaaaand you conveniently skip right over mastering foundation skills before doing all that. 

Sound familiar? Yeah, for me too. I’ve learned many skills that I’ve had to go back and re-learn and master those foundations after the fact. Usually, I would do that after I get myself into trouble or a sticky situation by trying to perform a more advanced skill without having a solid foundation first. And it’s always been harder for me to re-learn and undo those bad habits than it would to have learned the foundation in the first place. 

For some aspects of my life, I’ve learned that lesson (it only takes a few times of trying to crochet without a pattern and undoing 3 hours of work before taking the hint); when I want to try something new I watch foundation videos to make sure I start off on the right foot. I ask the experts what skills I need to perfect before I can get to the fun part. I practice until those skills are comfortable before trying to push the boundaries. For other aspects of my life, I’m still in that stage of recognizing I should do that but thinking this time it will be different. (It never is.)

This seems to be a pretty common trait of human learning: pushing boundaries before we’re ready. I see it a lot with my clients, too, where they gloss over critical foundation skills to get to the fun part. Or, gloss over critical foundation skills to get to the part that they think they need. But, here’s the thing. There’s a whole lot more that goes into what you actually need to develop a skill than the skill itself. 

 

A Low-Stakes Example

A few Christmases ago, I wanted to crochet bookmarks for a few friends. I had seen a cute pattern on Pinterest for an animal with a long, flat body and a little 3D head that would pop up out of the top of the book. But, of course, I wanted to make everyone’s favorite animals for their bookmarks instead and there were no bookmark patterns for those. 

I had crocheted amigurumi (that’s the fancy term for 3D crochet projects) twice before and kind of knew what made it work. I decided to give it a go and make my own patterns. I already hinted at the result above: I crocheted for hours and unraveled my work several times. I knew how to make a sphere because I had a pattern for that, but what about an animal with a more pyramid-shaped head? What about an oval? I had completely overestimated my abilities because I didn’t actually have the foundation skills; I didn’t know truly why it worked the way it did and I didn’t know enough to be able to break the rules of the patterns I could find. 

It took me a lot longer and many more headaches to try to do something I “kind of knew” instead of learning the foundation skills first and then getting to the fun part. I did eventually figure it out, and now I’m kicking myself that I didn’t write down the pattern for some of these! It will take me a long time once again to figure it out because it was pure trial and error instead of tweaking known rules. 

 

 

What does this look like in relation to animal behavior?

There are two ways that I see this often come out in relation to pets that we work with:

  1. Humans trying to speed through their foundation skills, or skip them altogether
  2. Ignoring the foundation skills the animal needs

Let’s take a look at each of these.

 

Skipping the human skills

The first often looks similar to my crochet example. The human knows a bit about some of the foundation skills and is itching to get to the fun part, or the part that they think is relevant to their goals. They don’t realize how much more laborious (and in the case of aggressive animals, unsafe) they’re making it by trying to speed through their foundation skills. It’s like a tortoise and hare situation. 

Here are some of the foundation skills that humans need to work with their pet who has behavior issues:

  • Observation skills
  • Understanding of body language for that particular species
  • Ability to watch the environment and their pet at the same time
  • Ability to react to the pet’s body language within seconds
  • Timing for training exercises
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Ability to respond appropriately to behavior throughout the day, outside of only within a training session

The results are often very different if one of these skills is lacking. When I did in-person sessions my clients would joke about how well-behaved their pets were for me, like their pet was in the principal’s office on their best behavior. The truth was that I had mastered the above foundation skills, which made my results different. Once my clients were proficient in those skills they saw the same results. 

Sometimes we see folks skipping the foundation skills because they’re not as exciting (like I did in the above example). Sometimes, though, we see this happening because they don’t quite understand how those skills are relevant to their pet’s behavior modification plan. I get that too; it can be hard to conceptualize some of these concepts without seeing a real-time application. 

I see that a lot with learning body language. For those people who understand in theory why it’s important but have a hard time truly visualizing it, I often see a light bulb go off when I start to point out their pet’s body language signals in real-time and then predict what they’re about to do and what the human should do in response. It’s much easier to conceptualize when you see it being put to such a helpful use! If that describes your situation, be sure to ask your consultant to explain what a particular skill is used for and to demonstrate it. 

 

Skipping the pet skills

In this week’s podcast episode, Kathy Sdao talked about the importance of eating as the first behavior. It’s hard to train using food if we have a pet who doesn’t reliably eat treats! Often when I see folks skipping pet skills, it’s the skills like this that we don’t even think about teaching. The behaviors that we often take for granted, like eating, sleeping, relaxing, sniffing, and mobility. We’re focused too much on the end goal behavior and forget that there’s a whole host of mechanics- aka other behaviors- that make up that end goal. 

This is why here at Pet Harmony we focus on enrichment first when we meet with a new client. Enrichment means meeting all of an animal’s needs and those needs provide the foundation on which the rest of the plan is built. For example, if we have a pet who has trouble sleeping they’re not going to learn and retain information very well. We’re going to work much harder to teach basic skills to that animal than to one who is well-rested. The same goes for a pet who has an upset stomach, or is wired with too much energy, or who doesn’t feel safe in the training environment. Meeting needs is the ultimate foundation. 

 

How do I make sure I don’t miss those foundation skills?

One of the best answers is to ask an expert. They should know what skills go into a particular exercise, from training mechanics to beyond. But if that’s not currently in your cards, think about the mechanics that go into a particular exercise or behavior with the determination of a toddler. 

 

For example:

Goal: I want my dog to calmly look at another dog and look back at me for a treat on a walk instead of barking.

To take a treat, they have to reliably eat in that environment. 

To reliably eat in that environment, they have to reliably eat that treat period. 

To reliably eat in that environment, they have to feel comfortable enough to be able to eat. 

To feel comfortable in that environment, they should have an escape route. 

To have an escape route that works, they need to have practiced the escape route ahead of time in an environment where they’re comfortable enough to learn a new skill. 

To practice the escape route, we need to identify an environment that they are comfortable in.

To identify an environment they are comfortable in, we need to be able to see signs of stress and signs of comfort. 

To see signs of stress, the dog needs to be comfortable at some point in time so we can see a difference between stress and comfortable. 

For the dog to be comfortable at some point, they need to be able to relax. 

 

See how many other behaviors go into that one end goal? And that’s just looking at one piece of that goal! We could do the same thing with the other behaviors included in that sentence: calmly looking at another dog, looking back at the handler, and the handler being able to dispense the treat. 

This is why asking an expert is easier; we’re more proficient at doing all of this. 

 

Now what?

  • Take a close look at a behavior or skill you’re trying to teach your pet. 
  • If you’re getting stuck, identify where you’re getting stuck. Then, consider all of the foundation skills and behaviors that make up your goal behavior. Is there one that could use some sprucing up?
  • Dive into that foundation skill and focus on applying it in easier situations. When that feels comfortable, then try applying it to the situation you’re stuck on. 
  • Is that situation getting less sticky? If so, great! Continue on that vein. If not, go back to the drawing board. 
  • If that all sounds like a heck of a lot of work, work with a professional. We work with clients all over the world. Check out our services here. 

Happy training!

Allie

 

The Physical Exercise Conundrum

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I talk quite a bit about playing tug with Oso. It’s part of my go-to example of how we experimented with mental and physical exercise to combat the dreaded Winter Oso. But here’s what I don’t share as frequently: I can’t actually play tug with him. 

This is a prime example of “do what I say, not what I do”. I’ve talked for years to my clients about not creating an athlete that they can’t keep up with. But, usually, I’m talking about cardio. Somehow I didn’t generalize that statement to strength exercises when it came to my own dog. 

So here’s what happened. When we were in the midst of experimenting with Oso’s enrichment activities, my husband was the one who started playing tug with him. And our new routine meant that he was the one playing tug with Oso almost daily. I watched as the two joyfully battled it out: evenly matched. My husband is considerably stronger than I am, especially when it comes to grip strength. Months went by before there was a night that my husband couldn’t play with him and I had to step up to the plate. Which is when I learned that I couldn’t. Oso was now much stronger than I was. 

 

Exercise creates athletes

How do people become athletes? They exercise. They train. They push themselves to run the extra mile. Add the extra weight plate. And, if they keep gradually increasing distance, weight, or something of that nature they eventually enter the athlete echelon. That means that in order to get the same effects from exercise, they have to do more of it. A 3-mile walk to a marathon runner has a different effect than a 3-mile walk to someone who lives a more sedentary lifestyle. And that can happen with our pets, too. 

I usually see this play out in a few different ways. Because I live in the Midwest, I especially see this problem seasonally. When it warms up, folks will start running with their dogs. That’s all fine and well until we hit winter and it’s not possible or at least pleasant to run with your dog anymore. The human opts for a treadmill instead, but we often see a canine athlete who now can’t run and is bouncing off the walls. 

I also see this play out when folks are training for races. Many will include their dog in their training regimen, but then decrease that exercise when the race is over. But, again, we now have a canine athlete who isn’t getting enough physical exercise.

And, perhaps the most common scenario I see is the well-intentioned pet parent who is just trying to get their dog enough physical exercise. I think we’ve all heard the expression “a tired dog is a happy dog” and I’ve seen many folks unintentionally create athletes by following that line of thinking. More on that later.

 

Athletes are not inherently “bad”

Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s not an inherently bad thing to have a canine athlete. There are many reasons to purposefully create one! The second part of that statement that I tell my clients is the important part: don’t create an athlete that you can’t keep up with

Oso being muscular isn’t a problem (he actually gets a lot of compliments from the vet for how well-muscled he is). But it could be a problem that I personally can’t play tug with him. Dogs who enjoy running and who can run for miles a day aren’t inherently a problem. But it is a problem if your dog needs to run miles a day and you live in a city or have to deal with cold winters that make running with your dog challenging. It’s the mismatch between the human needs and the canine needs that becomes the problem. 

 

So what do I do?

Our pets obviously do need physical exercise, so how do we walk that fine line of providing enough exercise but not creating an athlete that we can’t keep up with? Because the problem is the mismatch between the human and the pet’s needs, I can’t answer that for you. You know what your needs are better than I do. But to answer that question, I tell folks to ask themselves if they could do this activity every day for a year. 

Can you do this during all seasons? Can you do this on workdays and weekends? Can you do this if you get injured during your workout routine? And, if the answer is no, then we have two options:

  1. Reevaluate our physical exercise regimen as a whole
  2. Find alternatives to make this regimen sustainable

The reason we opt for tug with Oso is because it’s sustainable. It meets his physical activity needs as evidenced by the effects it has on his behavior and also we can play in the house, negating weather. We can play on workdays and weekends. But we can’t play if my husband is injured or sick (well, I can try but it doesn’t usually work as well). And so on those days, we have alternative options. They don’t work as well depending on the weather, but they get the job done well enough. 

 

Is a tired dog really a happy dog?

I mentioned this pervasive statement earlier, and I feel I’d be remiss if I didn’t comment on this. One reason that I see folks unintentionally creating athletes is because of this belief that a tired dog is a happy dog. And so well-intentioned pet parents will over-exercise their pet in hopes that that will solve a particular problem. 

In reality, a happy dog is one who has all of their needs met. Physical activity is just one of those needs. More often than not, when folks are having to over-exercise their dog it’s a sign that there’s room for improvement in our enrichment strategy for other needs- usually mental exercise or calming. When I see this happening with a client I instruct them to explore different types of activities beyond physical exercise, and that often provides them with the results that they were looking for that physical exercise was not providing. 

 

Now what?

  • Observe the effects that physical activities have on your pet’s behavior. Remember, we need to see desired results for it to count as enrichment
  • Take a look at your pet’s physical exercise strategy. I talked a lot about dogs in this post, but this is applicable to all species! The first question I want you to answer is: is my pet’s physical exercise strategy actually having the intended effects I want it to have? If the answer is yes, great! Move on to the next question. If the answer is no, take a moment to reevaluate your pet’s enrichment strategy as a whole. Here’s a post showing what I did for Oso
  • The next question is: could you do this every day for a year? Essentially, is this strategy sustainable? If the answer is yes, awesome! Keep doing what you’re doing. If the answer is no, decide whether you need to rethink it entirely or if you want to simply add some activities to your toolbox to supplement when needed. 
  • If you need to supplement, it’s time to try some new activities or tweak the ones you currently have and observe the new effects!
  • Finally, tweak your physical exercise strategy as needed. 

Happy training!

Allie

February 2022 Training Challenge – Spice Up Your Scatter Feeding

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Scent work is a pretty big deal for dogs. 

Dogs have evolved to use their nose. Their nose is capable of INCREDIBLE things. They can sniff out truffles, medical conditions, help with conservation efforts, track and trail scents, and so much more. 

Their sense of smell is how a dog sees the world. Through smell, they gather information, determine how to respond, find good things and avoid noxious things. There are very few things as definitively “dog” as an incredibly powerful sense of smell. 

You may have heard us discuss species-typical behaviors a time or two (or million), and harnessing a dog’s sense of smell is one of the most effective and simple ways to provide an enriching experience for your dog. The positive impacts of olfaction-based activities are numerous. There are a plethora of scent games you can do with your dog, which means there is something for just about everyone in most situations.

At the end of this blog, there will be a list of other scent options for you and your dog to try, but in terms of simplicity and versatility, few things can compete with scatter feeding. 

 

Scatter Feeding 

This is a foraging option that’s used widely in both zoos and domestic animal care. Simply put, it’s tossing food around so that an animal who has evolved to use their sense of smell to find food actively uses their sense of smell to find food. 

I know, sounds too good to be true, right? 

You may be surprised. Simple changes in how we deliver our animal’s daily food can make a huge difference in their overall behavior and welfare. 

This study by Nathan Andrews looked at The Effects of Automated Scatter Feeders on Captive Grizzly Bear Activity Budgets and found large, observable, measurable changes in the Grizzly Bear’s behavior: 

Findings include a significant decrease in time spent in [repetitive behaviors] and a significant increase in time spent active while the feeders were in use. Further, the bears exhibited a wider range of behaviors and a greater use of their enclosure.” 

While dogs aren’t bears, both species use olfaction to navigate the world, and as Nathan shares in an upcoming podcast episode, this enrichment was effective for both the bears in the study and his pet dogs at home.

*make sure you follow us on our Facebook page and Instagram for alerts on an exciting, upcoming podcast, Enrichment for the Real World, that formally goes live on March 7th. The first episode has Nathan talking about this exact study and more!*

 

The Beauty in Versatility 

I mentioned earlier that scatter feeding can be incredibly versatile, which is one of the things I love most about it. I don’t need to teach my dog a million things or purchase a bunch of toys. With one activity, I can meet so many of my dog’s needs, and it will always be challenging. 

If you need a review of how to start teaching your dog to look for scattered food, check out this past Training Challenge around “Find it!” 

Once your dog is able to find food reliably, you can start to look for ways to increase the complexity: 

Instead of playing in an empty room → try your back patio 

Instead of keeping the treats close together → gradually start increasing the area of the scatter 

Instead of using an empty floor space → start adding in obstacles for treats to fall under and around 

Instead of practicing only in your house → try in a low distraction patch of grass 

Instead of keeping all the treats on the floor → start putting them on a variety of surfaces 

Instead of keeping them out in the open → hide some treats in boxes, plastic cups, dixie cups 

When varying scatter feeding, you can increase the difficulty by: 

Increasing the area of the scatter, the intensity or number of distractions, the number of competing smells, the number of obstacles, the duration of the scatter and so many other things. 

Get creative with it! Your dog might surprise you! 

Other scent game options

Formal nosework is always an option, but if you are looking for something a little more loosey-goosey, check out these additional scent opportunities: 

Now What? 

  • If you’ve never tried scatter feeding for your dog before, start teaching your dog to search for treats.
  • If your dog has experience with scatter feeding or “find it!”, try increasing the difficulty in one way. You can mix up the different ways you challenge your dog to keep things fun and interesting for you and them! 
  • Follow us over on Instagram to get alerts when our new podcast goes live! 

Happy training,

Ellen

January 2022 Training Challenge – Creating SMART Goals

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Happy New Year, everyone! 

Goal setting is a common activity around the New Year, and so this month’s training challenge is to set SMART goals for yourself and your pet. 

SMART goals are…  

S – Specific 

M – Measurable 

A – Achievable 

R – Relevant 

T – Time bound 

You may already have a goal for your pet, and let’s be honest, I think we all do. But, let’s go through the framework and see if it’s the right goal for right now. 

 

Specific 

Narrow down your immediate goal. You’re always going to have your ultimate goal in the back of your mind, but let’s focus on something more concrete to start. 

Ask yourself 

  • What needs to be done? 
  • What are the steps to get there?
  • Who will be doing it? 
  • How will they do it? 
  • What do I need to complete this goal?  

So instead of “I’m going to tackle my dog’s separation anxiety”, it might look like “I’m going to learn what is required to tackle my dog’s separation anxiety”. 

Instead of “I’m going to socialize my dog with other dogs”, it might look like “I’m going to look at some resources about what good dog-dog body language looks like.”

Instead of “I’m going to get my dog to listen outside”, it might look like “I’m going to teach my dog to look toward my face.”

 

Measurable 

Tracking your progress has a number of benefits. How will you know if you are succeeding? How will you know if you need to try something else? 

What are some objective measures you can use? Is it time comfortably home alone? Is it the distance from a scary monster? Maybe the number of reactions a day? 

 

Achievable 

Make sure your goal is realistic and attainable. If you aren’t sure, a qualified behavior professional can help you (this one can be very tricky). Remember, we aren’t talking about your mega goals here (although, having those be realistic is also important!). What’s that next benchmark that you are working toward? 

For example, at the beginning of a separation anxiety-related behavior modification journey, it might be a realistic goal for your dog to be comfortable with you closing the bathroom door or taking out the trash, but is not realistic to have them be home alone during the 4th of July fireworks. 

For a dog that’s afraid of other dogs, it may be realistic for your dog to look at you when another dog is passing on the street, but integrating them safely into a daycare environment wouldn’t be realistic or attainable. 

For a dog who hates to have their nails trimmed, it could be a realistic and attainable goal to teach your dog to use scratchboard, but may not be realistic to shoot to do all 4 feet with a Dremel in one sitting. 

Consider, is this goal doable? Do you and your pet have the necessary skills and resources? If you don’t have the skills or resources, that points you toward another relevant goal that may need to take priority. 

 

Relevant 

Does this goal matter to you, and does it align with your other goals? Why is this your goal? Does it align with your other priorities? 

This can help you make sure that your goals are sustainable and help you to identify areas where you might look for alternatives. 

For example: “I need my dog to get along with other dogs because I can’t leave them alone.” You are absolutely right! While working on Separation Related Problems, it’s advised you avoid leaving your dog home alone. But, sometimes, there are other options that won’t drain your resources and align better with your future goals. If your dog needs someone home with them, it might be more realistic to “work to build a relationship with a reputable pet sitter” so that your dog can have some company while you take care of yourself, but you might also find less stress around traveling. 

 

Time-Bound 

Now this one can be a slippery slope. If you’ve ever asked “how long will it take for my dog to…” you likely got a “well, it depends” answer. And that’s true! There are too many factors for us to predict those bigger goals. 

However, creating some time parameters for your goal can also help to ensure you are biting off the right amount for your goals. If you are trying to build a habit, such as “I want to file my dog’s nails two times a week”, you are likely to want a longer time frame, such as a few months.

If your immediate goal is to watch two YouTube videos on dog body language, then a few months might not be the appropriate time frame. Maybe a week or two would be a better fit. 

That being said, we want to set realistic goals! If videos are not your preferred learning style, what might take me 20 minutes can take you a very different period of time. Setting goals you can achieve is important! 

 

Wins Along The Way

When we track only to our mega goal, like my dog can be home along comfortably for 4 hours, I can pick up my dog’s food bowl when they are finished eating, I can walk down the street without an explosion, I can make it through a Zoom call without interruption… we lose sight of all the wins along the way. 

When that happens, you may find yourself feeling like “nothing is working” and that “you’ll never get there”. When setting goals, we always have that big goal in mind, but the smaller goals are the ones that keep us in the game. 

Your goals should be realistic, doable, and concrete so that you can celebrate every step of your journey. 

 

Now What? 

  • Do you already have goals for the next year? Are they SMART? 
  • If not, see if you can make them SMART goals! Are they Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound? 
  • If you need an extra bit of accountability, share your SMART goals with us on Instagram @PetHarmonyTraining

Happy Training, 


Ellen

 

 

October 2021 Training Challenge: Train for Five Minutes A Day

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It’s time for our monthly training challenge! 

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

Incorporate 5 minutes of training every day

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

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

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

 

But is that enough? 

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

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

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

 

How am I going to remember? 

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

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

 

What if I’m overwhelmed by 5 minutes? 

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

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

 

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

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

 

Allie 

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

 

Amy 

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

 

Corinne 

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

 

Ellen 

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

 

Emily 

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

 

MaryKaye

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

 

No One Right Answer

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



Now What? 

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

August 2021 Training Challenge: Teach A Trick

I love trick training.

I love how fun it is to see animals learning.  I love the relationship built between species. I love how cute the end results are. AND I love that the pup doesn’t always realize that this fun game we’re doing is actually functional for our lives.  

As I was thinking about this month’s training challenge (“Teach A Trick”), I mentally scrolled through the whole Rolodex of tricks I’ve seen and done with dogs, and I kept coming back to wanting to teach you something that can be adorable AND functional.

This summer, our household became a playground as we celebrated our human kiddo’s first birthday.  I had no idea we had so many cabinets, and to a toddler, behind that cabinet door lies a world of wonder that needs to be explored. Everything stores something and after a few minutes… all of those somethings are on the floor (stay tuned for a future Slick Tricks to teach your pup how to help you clean up toys).

So what did I do when I grew tired of constantly closing the half-opened cabinet to the pots and pans with my foot as my boy whisked me away by pointer fingers to his next exciting discovery? I said to myself, “Corinne! Opie is amazing and he knows how to close the cabinets!”

 

So let’s learn the trick that I like to call, “Can you get that for me?”

When teaching a trick, it’s important to consider all of the actions that your animal has to do in order to complete the task.  When we break the behaviors of the trick down and reward in tiny, manageable steps (“splitting”), we create clarity, increase confidence, and ensure success for our pups. 

In order for a dog to close a cabinet door, they need to know how to touch something with their paws or their nose.  First, we will teach “paw/high five/shake/fist bump”, then we will transfer this to the cabinet using a target.  My pup likes to touch with his paw, but feel free to replace the term “paw” with “nose” if you’d rather your dog close something with his/her snout.

Teaching this skill takes multiple training sessions, so make a note where your pup leaves off at the end of one session and start a step or two before that when you begin your next session. Practice each step until your dog is accurate 80-90% of the time. As always, keep training sessions short, positive, and fun. 

 

What you need for this trick:

  • Treats
  • Marker: an auditory cue that tells your dog “what you just did will bring the goodies” (i.e.- click, “yes”, “good”) 
  • Target: a visual tool to help with precision (i.e.- piece of painters tape)

 

Part 1: Teach “paw”

  1. Put a treat in a closed fist.
  2. Offer the fist to the pup.
  3. The curious pup may sniff/lick/explore. Wait the pup out.
  4. When your dog touches your hand with his paw, mark, then reward with the treat.

**Continue this step until your dog is consistently offering his paw **

  1. Start to offer your fist without the treat inside.  Mark and reward with the other hand when his paw makes contact. Repeat.
  2. Start to open your hand.  Mark and reward with the other hand when his paw makes contact with your open palm. Repeat.

**Congrats!  You just taught your pup “shake/fist/high five!”  Party time!  Name this whatever you want and continue using this cue for the next few steps (or stop here, get a high five from your pup, and bask in your training glory). For more info on adding a verbal cue, check out this video.**

 

Part 2: Transferring the touch

  1. Continue practicing “high five”, but now add a target on your palm. I like to use a piece of painter’s tape.  When your pup touches his paw to your target (the tape), mark and reward. Repeat.
  2. Start to move your hand (with the target on it) to different levels and angles (in front/side/below/higher/lower/behind/further).  Mark and reward each success.
  3. Move the target to the end of your fingers and repeat the above step.  Mark and reward.
  4. With the target at the end of your fingers, place your hand near/in front of a closed cabinet door, gradually getting closer to the door so that your hand is flat on the cabinet, palm facing out. Mark and reward each success.
  5. Gradually move the target from halfway on your fingers/halfway on door > to ¼ on your fingers/ ¾ on the door > 100% on the door.  Mark and reward each success.

*Congrats!  You successfully used a target to transfer the pup from touching your hand to touching the cabinet.  Now let’s add the new verbal cue “Can you get that for me?”.  For more info on switching cues, click here!

  1. Once your pup is consistently touching the target on the cabinet, practice doing it with the door open.  Mark and reward each time your pup touches the target, even if it does not close the door.  Gradually increase the criteria by waiting to mark until the door moves, and eventually, closes.  Your goal is to mark the moment you hear the door shut. *NOTE: if your dog has a history of sound sensitivities, consider laying a dish towel over the edge at the bottom of the cabinet to dampen the sound.
  2. Once your pup is responding to your cue and closing the door all the way, you can start to take the target off the cabinet and transfer it to other doors.

You did it!  Your kitchen will never look like that scene from The Sixth Sense again.  Have fun with this trick by making a little maze throughout your kitchen that your pup can clear.  It’s a very fun 15 secs for both the dog and the humans cheering him on!

 

Now what?

  • Have fun working with your pup on these tricks! Tricks are awesome because the necessity is so low.  Tricks are a great way to deepen your relationship, discover your pup’s motivators, and learn their signals for when they’ve hit their limits (and apply this knowledge to any behavior modification plans you are working on as well).
  • Share your pictures and videos of your pup helping you keep the house in order with our Facebook and Instagram pages! You can tag us @PetHarmonyTraining! We love seeing cute things!

You’re doing great!

Corinne

June 2021 Training Challenge: Focus on One Thing

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

Happy June! Let’s get right into our June Training Challenge:

 

Focus on one thing

 

This one’s pretty straightforward, but let’s talk a bit about why it made the cut. 

 

If you chase two rabbits, both will escape

There’s a Chinese proverb that says, “If you chase two rabbits, both with escape”. While I wouldn’t condone literally chasing rabbits, figuratively, the proverb is spot on when it comes to behavior modification. 

Because of the nature of cases that come to us, we see pets who exhibit a vast array of maladaptive behaviors in just one individual. Rarely is there ever just one thing going on. I’ll often ask folks to prioritize the laundry list of issues they gave to me and ask which is the most pressing one. Essentially, what should we focus on first. For some people, that thought exercise is really easy. They may say something like, “We’ll manage the resource guarding and stranger danger, but the leash reactivity is really challenging because we don’t have a fenced-in yard.” Perfect! We’ll start with the leash reactivity and go from there. These folks tend to make progress more quickly and then we can focus on the next thing when the first item is in a good place.

Other times, though, I see folks who have a hard time prioritizing. They want to work on the resource guarding, stranger danger, and leash reactivity all at the same time. Or, I’ll sometimes see where in the first session we agree to focus on the leash reactivity, but when I see them a couple of weeks later they’ve been working on the stranger danger instead and haven’t progressed very much with either issue. 

If you split your attention between two issues, you won’t make a lot of progress with either. When you chase two rabbits, both will escape. You’ll make progress faster by managing the issues that can be managed and working on just one issue at a time. There are, of course, situations where that’s not entirely possible, but it’s possible to an extent in almost every situation. Focus and you’ll get faster results. 

 

Now what?

  • Make a list of the behaviors your pet does that you’d like to change. 
  • Go through your list and determine which of those are manageable and which aren’t. That will help you prioritize. 
  • Of the behaviors that aren’t manageable, determine which is the most pressing. It might be the one that’s the biggest safety concern or the one that’s the biggest annoyance.
  • Start working on your one thing! If it’s a safety concern, while highly recommend seeking professional help to make sure you go through the process safely. We’re here to help you with that with private sessions or our Roadmap for Behavior Solutions Program. If you’re not quite ready to take the leap into a behavior modification journey, our Beginning Behavior Modification course is right for you. 

 

Happy training!

Allie

Enrichment Isn’t About the Activity

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

This month, we are spending quite a bit of time talking about overt vs. covert behaviors. We want to switch our language from constructs and covert assumptions to overt, measurable, observations. This is also true of our enrichment plan.  

 

What is enrichment?

The simple definition of enrichment is: meeting all of an animal’s needs. 

We can expand that to a full definition: enrichment means meeting all of an animal’s needs in order to empower them to perform species-typical behavior in healthy, safe, and appropriate ways. 

When we see pets with behavior problems, both nuisance behaviors, and maladaptive behaviors, we always look to see if their needs are being met. Enrichment isn’t an activity we do or a thing we give to our animals. It is in the opportunity and ability for the animal to meet their needs, and we measure that through the behavioral changes we see as a result. We cannot say an activity is “enriching” if we don’t see a change in their overall overt and observable behavior. 

Enrichment isn’t measured by: 

They played with the item or not 

They spent 20 minutes on dinner instead of 5 minutes 

They “liked it”

They “had fun”

Enrichment can be measured by: 

Changes in their overall behavior (my dog barks at sounds outside 50% less on days after we take a 45-minute sniff stroll)

Decrease in undesired behavior and/or increases in the desired behavior (my dog doesn’t mouth me at night when we play tug in the middle of the day and/or my dog rests more at night when we play tug in the middle of the day)

Now, I’m not saying this to be a party pooper. If you want to do activities with your dog because they are having fun (what does their body language tell you?), and you are having fun, then do it! 

Activities can be fun!  

But they may not be enriching. 

 

And you may be wondering, does this really matter?

Yes, for a couple of reasons. 

When I’m implementing an enrichment plan to help with pet behavior issues, I want to do things that are really enriching, not just occupying my dog. I want to objectively know that I’m meeting their needs in a way that works for both of us and will support our progress on a behavior change program. Let’s look at an example. 

Griffey reacts (barks, cries, whines, runs away, runs towards) sounds outside. We have two separate activities we do on a relatively regular basis: sniffing for meals in the yard, and frozen food puzzles. When we do sniffing for meals in the yard, Griffey reacts to 50% less of the sounds that happen outside, AND he reacts for a shorter duration. When we do frozen food puzzles, there is no observable difference in his response to sounds outside. One of these things is enriching, one of these things is an activity. 

We all have 24 hours in the day, but we don’t have the same 24 hours. Someone that commutes and someone that works from home has different capabilities throughout the day. Someone with a dishwasher and someone who has to hand wash dishes have different amounts of effort to clean toys. Living with a dog with behavior problems is stressful enough. My goal for my clients is that their enrichment plan provides them relief, not just more work. I don’t want time, energy, effort, and money invested in places where it isn’t objectively going to help progress our behavior modification program. 

Circling back to those two activities we do in my house: sniffing for meals out in the yard, and frozen food toys. To sniff food out in the yard, I take a couple of handfuls of kibble and toss it around. The effort from me is almost nothing. After sniffing for meals in the yard, Griffey reacts to 50% less of the sounds that happen outside, AND he reacts for a shorter duration. This means that my effort (incredibly low) gets me a great return.  Now let’s look at those frozen food toys. It takes time to stuff them, I lose a lot of freezer space, I have to expend time, effort, and energy to separate and monitor the dogs, I don’t have a dishwasher, so I have to wash all of them by hand and air dry, and I have invested a lot of money and storage into keeping all of them. The effort for me on a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high) is probably about a 7. That’s a lot of effort to not see an objective difference in his response to sounds outside. 

Being able to prioritize and build a sustainable enrichment plan is critical. If we continue to do things that aren’t meeting our dog’s needs AND create work for us, we are going to burn out. That’s time we could spend doing something meaningful. 

For Griffey, I know that the frozen food toys are an activity. Whether he gets them or not, there is no difference in his overt behavior. This means, that they are optional. On the flip side, sniffing for meals in the yard has a very large positive impact on his overt behavior. This is a staple in our routine. When things get busy, it’s incredibly helpful to know what is going to get you the best return on your investment. 

 

Now, does that mean I skip frozen food toys all together? 

Definitely not! They are an excellent management activity for me. If I need my dogs quiet for a while, or I need some space, or I need to clean the house in peace, then I pull out a frozen food toy. It keeps them occupied while I’m able to do my stuff. It’s just incredibly helpful to know that when I’m busy, tired, or just not up for it, I can skip them and my dogs won’t be impacted. Plus, it’s fun for me to watch them get all excited (prancing, galloping, hopping, windmill tails, “woowoo” bark, big dog smiles). It brings me joy, and that’s important too. 

Enrichment is a necessary part of the Roadmap for Behavior Solutions, so let’s make sure our efforts are enriching. 

 

Now what? 

  • If you don’t know where to start, you can sign up for our free Enrichment Chart Guide here. This guide will help you identify which of your dog’s needs might not be met (currently!), and where to start. 
  • If you’d like to learn more about how enrichment fits into the Roadmap for Behavior Solutions, sign up to join our upcoming free workshop.  Learn more about our free Roadmap for Behavior Solutions here!
  • If you already have an enrichment plan in place, look at the lasting impact it has on your dog’s overt behavior throughout the day. Days where you do XYZ activity, do you see an increase or decrease in measurable behavior?

 

5 Signs Your Pet Needs Professional Help

 

I’m very much a Do-It-Yourself person– so much so that I consider it a fault. I will absolutely try to do something by myself and learn a new skill if I think that I can. I see this with a lot of my clients, too. They originally tried to tackle their pet’s maladaptive behaviors by themselves and eventually found their way to getting professional help. 

In many of those situations I wish that they’d contacted a professional sooner. Sometimes that’s because they’ve tried something that has actually worsened the behavior or because they waited until it was more serious or dangerous before getting a professional involved. But there are other times I wish they’d contacted a professional sooner simply because it’s easier to change a behavior that’s been happening for less time. Well-established habits are harder to change. 

I then occasionally get cases where someone has just adopted an animal and reaches out to our team immediately. In those situations we’re almost always asked, “Do you think it’s too soon for us to see you? Should we wait a bit?” Our answer is usually a resounding, “no, it was a great decision to involve us so quickly!” 

So, as someone who is a staunch DIY-er, who tries to tackle problems without additional help, but also recognizes that getting a professional involved sooner rather than later can be beneficial, I thought it’d be helpful to discuss some key signs that would cause me to recommend someone seek professional help for their pets’ behavior. 

 

  1. Safety is on the line. This could be the safety of you, your pet, another human, or another animal. If any individual’s safety is at risk you should immediately seek the help of a behavior professional. 
  2. It’s a behavior you haven’t dealt with before or dealt with recently. It’s much better to learn something from a professional the first time around instead of trying your hand at something you’re not experienced with. And, if you haven’t dealt with this particular issue recently, chances are that there are now more effective or empowering ways to work with the behavior and it’s time to update your skills. This field is constantly growing and evolving and that’s a good thing!
  3. You’re not making progress. If you’ve been working on your pet’s behavior for a few months and you’re not making any progress, it’s time to call in a professional. Save yourself the time and hassle by getting help. 
  4. You’re having to resort to more forceful tools and methods. It’s a myth that certain animals need more forceful tools or methods. We work with aggressive animals of all shapes and sizes for a living and can do so in a way that’s empowering and empathetic towards our animal learner. If you’re stuck and finding yourself reaching towards more forceful tools and training methods, it’s time to get help from a behavior professional who can keep you working in a Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive (LIMA) way.
  5. You want to make sure you’re doing something well and as efficiently as possible. There are plenty of things that I choose to muddle through myself, knowing that it would be more efficient if a professional did it. However, there are other things that I want done well the first time and don’t feel that I can afford the mistakes that come with learning (like our business taxes). If you feel that way about your pet’s behavioral and mental health, then look for a professional sooner rather than later. 

 

Now what?

 

Happy training!

Allie

What Should I do if my Pet Growls When I Try to Move Him?

You remember how I’ve talked about behavior issues coming in waves for us consultants? One of my current waves is pets who growl when their humans try to physically move them (especially from off the couch!) I felt like a blog post was warranted since I’ve been talking about it so frequently lately.

There are a couple scenarios that fall into this category:

  • Growling, lip curling, air snapping, and/or biting when being physically moved
  • Growling, lip curling, air snapping, and/or biting when reaching towards them so as to move them (especially if you’ve physically moved them in this way in the past).

My simple solution? Don’t physically move them. Done! Solved! Thanks for reading this week’s post.

Okay, perhaps I should give a little bit more info about that solution before moving on. The reason behind this can be best expressed by something my dad used to tell me when I was little. Every now and then, I would go up to my dad and say something along the lines of, “It hurts when I do this” and then would proceed to do the thing that hurt. Each time my dad would say, “Doctor doctor, it hurts when I do this! So don’t do that anymore.” (Y’know, in true dad humor fashion.) I’d usually roll my eyes and walk away, but now I understand the wisdom hiding behind the dad joke. Why do we continue to do things that we know will end badly? Why don’t we just stop doing them? 

If we know that our pet will growl if we try to physically move them, why do we keep trying to do it? From what I’ve seen working with clients, the answer to this question comes from one of the logical fallacies: false dichotomies. Let’s explore that a bit more before moving on to the alternatives to physically moving your pet.

False dichotomies 

False dichotomies (or false dilemmas) happen when we think there are only two solutions to a problem: A or B. We see the situation as black or white, with no grey space in between. I can either physically move my pet from the couch where they’re not allowed or I can let them remain on the couch and break the rule. When we look at the scenario from the lens of a false dichotomy, it’s easy to see why people continue to do something that they know is going to end badly. They’re usually thinking that it’s the lesser of two evils. 

What are the alternatives?

I would say that one of my main tasks as a behavior consultant is helping people come up with plans C, D, E, and so on. I help people realize that there are very few situations involving their pet that only have two solutions. There are a myriad of win-win solutions wherein we don’t have to go into conflict with our pet when we get creative. There are a lot of ways to relocate an animal without physically touching them, too. Solutions to this particular problem include:

  • Lure him off the couch (or from wherever you want him to move) using food or toys
  • Teach an “off” cue
  • Use a hand targeting or recall cue
  • Put up a gate or something similar so he can’t get to that space in the first place
  • Make a super comfy area right next to the couch and teach him that’s the better place to be

There are even variations within those 5 options and I’m sure there are plenty of other options in addition to the ones above. With all of the solutions that exist to get both you and your pet what you want we no longer need to physically move them, and when we no longer physically move them our pet has no reason to growl in that scenario. 

But shouldn’t I teach him not to growl when I try to physically move him?

My short answer is no. There are many reasons why I ardently believe that, including: warning signs are beneficial, dominance theory has been debunked, and I believe that all individuals, regardless of species, should be allowed to have control over what happens to their bodies. The discussions of all of those points are longer than I’d like to get into in this particular post, but best believe that they’re all future blog post topics! Plus, there are so many solutions that avoid the issue altogether that I’d rather spend time and energy on more pressing behavior issues if there are any. I’m a “work smarter, not harder” person at the end of the day. 

Now what?

  • Do you have a pet who growls when you physically try to move them? If yes, which of the above hands-off solutions do you want to incorporate? 
  • Are there other points of contention between you and your pet? Are there any other solutions you can come up with that would alleviate that conflict? Remember: a behavior consultant or trainer can help you with this if you can’t think of any on your own!
  • Are you having trouble remembering to follow through with your new solution? Set up the environment to make it easier for yourself. Placing treat jars in areas where you need them can go a long way to remembering what your new solution is.
  • Having trouble making a new solution work? Reach out to your behavior consultant or trainer. There can be a lot of nuances and tweaks that can make something more effective; a professional will be able to more efficiently help you figure out what those are.
  • If you’re ready to get started right now, check out our Beginning Behavior Modification: Learn the Skills You Need to Successfully Address Your Dog’s Behavior Problems on-demand course!

Happy training!

Allie