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

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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

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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

5 Tips for Your Pet’s Best Halloween

My favorite holiday, Halloween, is almost here! But while this holiday is often a favorite for humans it’s rarely a favorite for pets and that makes it stressful for their owners. The doorbell ringing all night often sends our pets into a loud tailspin. It’s a battle to get to the door when pets are crowding it. And let’s not forget the pets who get into the bowl of Halloween candy when no one is looking. Let’s make this year different by following these 5 simple tips:

  1. Put your pets away. There’s no reason your pet absolutely needs to greet trick-or-treaters or attend your Halloween party (unless contraindicated for separation anxiety). If you’re worried about your pet running out the open door or how they’ll act around people in costumes then let them hang out in another room for the evening. Many will thank you for leaving them out of the commotion! 
  2. Drown out the doorbell. Some people go as far as to disconnect their doorbell or simply turn off their porch light and leave a bowl of candy out, but if you’d like to participate in trick-or-treating then leave the TV or music on for your pet so they can’t hear the doorbell.
  3. Update your pet’s ID tags and microchip info. Better safe than sorry! 
  4. Put candy bowls out of your pet’s reach. Pets are opportunistic and just because something is toxic to them doesn’t mean they won’t ingest it (like humans and alcohol). This might mean setting the bowl not right near the front door to keep it out of reach. 
  5. Create an airlock around the door. Set up a freestanding gate around your front door to create an airlock that you can get in but your pet can’t. Here’s one that we like (Disclosure: This picture is an affiliate link. We receive a small commission for purchases made through these links at no extra cost to you. This helps us continue to put out free content to help you and your pets live more harmoniously!):


Happy Halloween!

Allie

Work Smarter, Not Harder: Treat Jars

This week’s “Work Smarter Not Harder” entry is devoted to the following phrase:

“So do I have to walk around my house with treats in my pocket all the time?”

The answer is no! There are easy ways to always have quick, easy access to treats when you’re training. My favorite is setting up treat jars where you need them most. 

There are 3 places in my house where I typically hang out or need access to quick reinforcers for training:

At night we’re usually curled up on the couch. Oso used to be incredibly reactive (ie: barky) at passersby when we first adopted him so when we moved to our new house with these gorgeous picture windows we were concerned about regressions in his behavior. He’s come a long way but every now and then he’ll see someone concerning. There’s a treat jar and clicker on the end table where we can easily grab it and work on some behavior modification. It’s come in handy for his fear of thunderstorms and fireworks, too. 

Treat jar right next to the couch makes training at the window easy!

Oso LOVES being outside. He’d be happy if we all just lived in the yard instead of the house. That made training recalls (come when called) to come inside harder. We keep a treat jar right by the back door and reinforce him for coming inside every time. His recalls are so much better now!

We’re never without treats to reinforce Oso coming when called!

If I’m home on a workday I’m in my office. You can get away with just the treat box and not look tacky when it’s your profession. 

You can get away with the treat box itself in the office of an animal behavior consultant.

Now what?

  • Where do you normally hang out and find yourself needing some quick reinforcers? Ask everyone in your household. 
  • Pick out treat jars that you like. I use little mason jars because they keep treats fresh, don’t look out of place with our decor, and frankly because I had them on hand. I’m also not worried about Oso stealing them whereas plastic bags would be pretty enticing. 
  • Put treats in your jars and place them around the house! Grab some treats whenever your pet needs a quick training moment. 
  • Enjoy the convenience and speed with which you can treat your pet! No more rushing to the pantry and missing the moment. 

Happy training!

-Allie

Work Smarter, Not Harder: Visitors

When I was first developing the notion for a Pet Harmony blog I knew that I wanted to have a “Work Smarter Not Harder” series devoted to simple and easy tactics that make a big difference. This series is inspired by those recommendations that make pet owners say, “Wow, how did I never think of that before?” I tell clients that part of my job is just arranging the puzzle pieces they’ve already created to make more sense! Our first “work smarter not harder” tip is about visitors:

If you don’t like your pet’s behavior when visitors arrive, put your pet away beforehand. 

This can help for multiple unwanted behaviors: jumping on visitors, running through the open front door, barking, or lunging or trying to bite guests. Your pet can’t do any of that if they’re not there (well, they can bark but at least it’s a little quieter)! This tactic gives you immediate relief from the problem and makes it so your pet can’t continue practicing (and getting better at) the unwanted behavior. And let’s face it: most people don’t want to be training their pet when visitors are coming in the door. I’m one of those people. 

What does “put your pet away” mean? It simply means containing your pet elsewhere so they can’t get to the door. I use either our bedroom or our fenced-in yard for Oso. Some people will use a crate or another floor entirely (like a basement or second story). Others will have someone take the dog on a walk or put them in daycare, especially for remodeling work. There are a lot of options depending on your situation! A note: leashes and tethers are an option but you’ll then need to be training as your guests arrive. That’s too much to juggle for me but kudos to those of you who are able to do this! 

I’m often asked something along the lines of, “What do I do if my pet barks or scratches at the door the entire time they’re put away?” It’s a valid question! In those cases we usually need to help the pet feel comfortable being contained elsewhere when people are home before we involve visitors. This can be trained like any other behavior. The concept is to make that place the best spot to hang out. I’m a fan of using snuffle mats, stuffed Kongs, and chewies like bully sticks when working on this. If your pet has confinement anxiety please consult with a behavior professional. 

 Another note: “beforehand” is a keyword. I’ve watched many people trying to corral their pet after the doorbell rings so as to put them away then. It usually looks like this unless the pet has had quite a bit of training in that scenario.

Image result for chasing dog gif

If you know approximately when your guests are arriving preemptively put your pet in their hang out space. You’ll be thankful when you can immediately open the door. For those of you with visitors who often stop by unexpectedly: ask your friends and family to give you a heads up before they arrive. Clients have even told me they started locking their door so their visitors couldn’t get in the house unannounced during the training process! 

The last question that I usually get about this tip is this: “Isn’t that cheating?” At some point in time many of us learned that if it’s not hard then it’s not worth it or not effective. Management and setting our environment up for success is an enormous part of behavior modification in all species. We wouldn’t call it cheating if someone who’s on a diet only stocks healthy foods in their pantry; it shouldn’t be cheating to keep our pets away from tempting scenarios either. Plus, there’s always room for training more appropriate behaviors even when we employ management techniques. It’s just working smarter, not harder! 

Now what?

  • As a household, discuss where your pet will be when visitors arrive. 
  • If your pet is not comfortable and content hanging out in this spot when you’re home, start training them that awesome stuff happens in this space. 
  • Discuss with friends and family that you’re working on training your pet and need a heads up before they arrive. 

Happy training!

-Allie