#11 - What Will You Do
If Things Go Sideways?

[00:00:00] Emily: It’s kind of a universal truth that management fails from time to time. So, we also have to have an emergency fallback plan for when or if that happens. How do we respond in those moments where we’re kind of caught with our pants down?

[00:00:20] Allie: Welcome to Enrichment for the Real World, the podcast devoted to improving the quality of life of pets and their people through enrichment. We are your hosts, Allie Bender…

[00:00:34] Emily: …and I’m Emily Strong…

[00:00:35] Allie: …and we are here to challenge and expand your view of what enrichment is, what enrichment can be and what enrichment can do for you and the animals in your lives. Let’s get started.

Thank you for joining us for today’s episode of Enrichment for the Real World, and I want to thank you for rating, reviewing, and subscribing wherever you listen to podcast. Last week we heard from Michael Shikashio, and one of the topics we discussed was having plans B, C, D, et cetera, when you can’t do plan A. This week, we’re going to dive further into what to do if things go sideways and talk about implementation with the animals in your life.

In this implementation episode, Emily and I talk about a logical fallacy that’s holding you back, and African gray who thought an electrical cord was good fun, and some doggos who needed special management plans. Plus, how many weather metaphors can I use in the span of about three minutes? Let’s get started.

I like this topic for today because this is a skill that I use a lot in my life as both a behavior consultant, working with clients who have pets with behavior problems, and just as a human being navigating the world.

[00:01:44] Emily: And this is where critical thinking skills are super valuable, because it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking, “If I don’t do blank, then blank will happen.” Or, “If I hadn’t done blank, we wouldn’t have been able to save this dog.” It’s easy to believe that Plan A is the only plan. And That’s a type of false dichotomy that happens when we rely on the limits of our own knowledge and experience, instead of intentionally setting a growth mindset, and reaching outside of our echo chamber to learn more and get brainstorming help from others.

[00:02:19] Allie: We need to be flexible and thinking on our feet, if we’re going to be the best pet parents that we can be and take care of our pets, as well as we possibly can. There are a lot of facets to this topic, and so I think for today, I’d like us to do a broad smattering. How does that sound?

[00:02:34] Emily: That sounds great. You’re great.

[00:02:37] Allie: Thank you. The facets that I think apply here are either on the proactive or the reactive side. On the proactive side, we have the question, “How do you meet your pet’s needs and sub optimal conditions?” That could look like where you live, your personal constraints, whether it be time, money, ability, or something else, or it could be the constraints that your pet has due to their behavior?

Obviously with Mike, we were talking about dogs displaying aggressive behavior. That would look like, how do we meet needs when we can’t do X, Y, and Z safely with them? Also, on the proactive side we have preparing for when things will go sideways. Behavior is dynamic and that’s exciting in a way, and also can be frustrating for folks who have pets with maladaptive behaviors, because we always have to be planning for the “what ifs”.

[00:03:25] Emily: For sure. That level of unpredictability or complexity can be really anxiety inducing for a lot of people. It’s super understandable why so many people want to take a simplistic reductive view of behavior, because it’s easier to understand and therefore control simplistic behavior. But ironically, the best way to meet the needs of both the human and the non-human is to acknowledge those complexities and really delve into them.

[00:03:53] Allie: So, those are what we have on the proactive side. And then finally we have the reactive side, which is the “Oh, snap. It’s all going bad. What do I do this very moment?” And we’ve all been there, no matter how much planning we’ve done or what kind of pet you have or work with.

[00:04:09] Emily: It’s kind of a universal truth that management fails from time to time. So, we also have to have an emergency fallback plan for when or if that happens. How do we respond in those moments where we’re kind of caught with our pants down? So our first takeaway is what do you do in the moment, when you’re in a situation you weren’t anticipating? The prime directive is risk management and harm reduction. Brainstorming a better management strategy can happen later, skill building can happen later, evaluating enrichment strategies can happen later. But right now, in this moment? We need to do the thing that will reduce harm and mitigate risk the most. Sometimes, that can look more aversive than our typical strategies, but the good news is that it almost never needs to be excessively aversive.

So, for example, I fostered an African gray who figured out how to get out of his cage and disassemble the protective cage around the air purifier in the room. And I walked into the room, right as he had the electrical cord in his beak. You can bet that I grabbed him and yanked that electrical cord out of his beak. He definitely wasn’t thrilled, and he was definitely a little bit startled, but that was the most aversive it got. I grabbed him in such a way that minimize the potential for injury to him or to myself. I did not grab him in a way that had the potential to hurt him. I pulled the cord away decisively, but not in a way that could have injured him. And then immediately afterwards, I put him on a foraging station, gave him some space to let him calm down, I stayed with him and let him dictate how close or far I stood from him. And eventually he let me hand him an almond. It was obviously a more aversive strategy than I would ever employ in a behavior change plan, but there was nothing unnecessary in my response to him, and immediately afterwards, I gave him agency, time and space to complete his stress response cycle, opportunities for reinforcement, and opportunities to rebuild trust between us.

And that’s a really important thing to ask ourselves any time we’re in one of those situations, is it necessary? And the more we learn, the less often those aversive interactions of any kind even become necessary.

[00:06:27] Allie: The silver lining in those moments where you’re in a situation you weren’t anticipating is it gives you plenty of fodder for what to work on. One of the things that I suggest to my clients who have more challenging kiddos is to create rainy day management strategies, and this is takeaway number two.

 This could be for literally a rainy day if we have a dog who’s bouncing off the walls, if they don’t get a long walk or run outside, but usually I’m talking about those days where, for whatever reason, our pet is feeling under the weather, and we’re seeing some regressions with their behavior issue.

This could be because they have a chronic health issue that is flaring up, or they’re having a trigger stacking day, where there are a lot of stressors to deal with, and so they’re more stressed than normal and not at their best selves Whatever the reason we need a different management strategy than on a typical day.

So, I recommend my clients to think through those off days and develop a management plan specifically for those days. And to also discuss signals, to watch for, to know if we’re going to need one of those rainy-day management plans if there’s not an obvious precursor, like being out of town. These plans could look like, “What’s my management strategy for when I come home from a business trip, knowing that my pet has had a stressful past few days.” Or ” What do I do during the 4th of July for my sound sensitive kiddo?” Or “How do I tweak my pet stranger danger management plan during the holidays?” And while I’m talking about management right now, because that’s what we were talking quite a bit about with Mike, the same theory holds true for our overall enrichment strategy and each of the 14 enrichment categories What do I do when there’s a polar vortex in the middle of Illinois and my desert dog can’t meet his physical exercise needs outside?

[00:08:07] Emily: That was oddly specific. It’s almost as If that very thing has happened to you before. Anyway, so that brings us to the next proactive part of this. If we’re approaching behavior change through the lens of enrichment, that means acknowledging the environmental realities that our animals are operating under. This means, usually refining our goals to better suit the client’s constraints, and then finding ways to meet those goals, despite those constraints. So, for example, what do we do for a parrot who likes to disassemble things like his cage and the protective cage around the electrical cords?

Not only do we need to improve our management strategies to build more robust parrot proof cages, but also making sure that the bird has lots of disassembling opportunities, both in his cage and in the bird room at large. And what do we do for an active dog, living through a polar vortex? We create a schedule that involves as much mental and physical exercise including scent work, obvi inside the house.

That descriptive approach applies more than ever in situations where there are a lot of constraints. What are our goals? How can we reach those goals, given those constraints, and what are our metrics for ensuring that our strategies are actually moving the needle towards our goals?

[00:09:28] Allie: One case that I’ve talked about quite a bit before, but I think is perfect for an example of this is Bucky. Bucky came to me as an adolescent healer mix. He was a veterinary behaviorist referral, and I understood why he was a veterinary behaviorist referral. This kiddo was, to put it lightly, he was a hot mess.

If there is a maladaptive behavior out there, he pretty much had it. He had departure anxiety, he had a generalized anxiety disorder, he was biting his family multiple times per day, every day for various things, there is stranger danger and leisure activity, and, if, if it’s out there Bucky pretty much had it, there was some compulsions in there. I’ll spare you all the, the giant laundry list. We worked through with Bucky’s behavior and there were some things that were super helpful in there. And one of those was, we created special Bucky alone time. This was essentially just putting him into a separate room and giving him time to decompress.

That helped so much for Bucky. You know, he was just one of those kiddos who would get overstimulated so easily and he needed a place with very little stimulation in order to collect himself and be the best Bucky that he could be. So fast forward to one of the last sessions that I had with Bucky’s family, they have since graduated to as needed sessions. Congratulations to Bucky and his family. And we talked about rainy day management strategies for Bucky. What happened was, the man in the home was a way on a business trip. I mentioned when we were talking about rainy day management strategies before about business trips, and I had Bucky in mind when I mentioned that. He was away on a business trip and came home, and Bucky was not great. Clearly the few days that dad was gone were stressful on Bucky and they saw regressions in his behavior. That culminated in him being more mouthy, bitey, whatever you want to call it. There was teeth on skin and it was painful and we saw a little bit of that departure anxiety come back because that was a thing that was usually specific to dad.

So, we talked about, “Okay. When dad has trips coming up, we know that it’s going to be stressful for Bucky, and here’s how we’re going to get around that. We’re going to do some preemptive, Bucky special alone time. I want you to talk to the veterinary behaviorist about a special med plan during those business trips and perhaps afterwards. I believe the VB did give them a specific med plan for those particular situations, and we talked about a few other things to do for their management strategy, and that was so, so helpful to them because they knew that this was going to be a problem.

We had seen it already. And so instead of hoping and wishing that maybe things would be different in the future, we had a game plan for here’s, how to keep you safe, Bucky happy, and therefore everyone else happy during these more difficult times for him. In the future, if dad leaving on business trips is not as stressful, awesome. But that doesn’t mean we don’t need a plan, even if we’re hoping and working towards it, not being as stressful

[00:13:01] Emily: Bucky is just such a great case, like you talk about him a lot, because he’s just a good example of a lot of different things, right? So, for me, the case that comes to mind in terms of operating under constraints, and having multiple plans, was a family that I worked with who lived in Park City. And they lived in a community where fences were not allowed because fences would kill the lovely mountain view. And so most people in that neighborhood had invisible fences, and these clients were one of those people. What happened with their dog is what happens with many dogs in that situation, although certainly not every dog, obviously, but, this dog had associated people coming into the property with being zapped by the fence, because person would show up, dog would run to the border, and consequences the dog would get zapped And so, the dog had started developing some reactivity and even biting people coming onto the property. the dog definitely associated the shock with the people coming, not with the dog’s own behavior. They were really concerned that their dog had started biting people coming onto their property, and they had seen a couple of different trainers who all had that same false dichotomy that we talked about earlier in this episode. But what was funny, is that their false dichotomy was about completely opposite approaches.

So, one of the trainers had told them, if you don’t keep your dog crated all day, then your dog is going to keep biting people. they didn’t want to create their incredibly energetic, teenage dog all day, every day.

So, they hired another trainer and the other trainer said, if you don’t keep your dog muzzled all day, your dog, isn’t going to bite people, and they also didn’t want to muzzle their dog all day, every day. What We ended up doing was neither of those things, the answer was not to crate the dog all day, every day or muzzle the dog all day, every day. Instead, I had them string up a cable between two trees in their yard that was on opposite ends of their yard, and we ran another cable from that zip line to the dog, and within the space that the dog could run on that zip line, we have lots of different enrichment opportunities.

We also focused on some enrichment in the house as well. We wanted to create a relaxation station in the home, and we wanted to create some opportunities for the dog to self-entertain. So, we would split the dog’s time between being in the house when it was more likely for visitors to come over. If they knew that somebody was coming, they could prevent that dog from rehearsing reactive behaviors by just having the dog in the house, self-entertaining. And then if it was unlikely for people to come over, they could put the dog out into the yard on that, on the long line, on the cable so that the dog could self-entertain.

And of course, we only did the dog in the yard, on the cable when they were home, so they could, you know, keep an eye on the dog. It was really important to them that they have a way for their dog to get physical and mental exercise and perform some species-typical behaviors without being able to access people, coming to the front door and also without being able to injure themselves or get tangled up or whatever. Of course, we had a training plan as well, working on changing the way the dog felt about seeing strangers on the property, the biggest obstacle for them wasn’t actually the training. It was the management strategies that had been presented to them that were excessively restrictive, and also just impractical for them to implement.

Being able to let their dog out into the yard and giving him a special space where he could do lots of fun things like scent work, sniffing things, playing with toys. I don’t even remember everything that they put in the yard for him, but that was, such an important point, and making it so that when he was in the house, he wasn’t constantly trying to get their attention. That he could self-sooth in his relaxation station or self-entertain with his toys was super important.

So, setting that up, enabled them to actually do a training plan, that would work through the reactivity, and it made it, more practical and realistic for them to do that because the day to day life stuff, wasn’t an obstacle anymore.

[00:17:30] Allie: I love that, and it’s such a good reminder for professionals who are listening that giving our clients those false dichotomies can be detrimental for the behavior modification process for those clients. And that we should be really thinking through as consultants and as professionals, what our plans, B, C, D, and E, so that we don’t have to present a false dichotomy.

Today, we talked about what to do when things go sideways. On the proactive side, we chatted about acknowledging the environmental realities that our animals operate under, and finding ways to meet goals despite those constraints, and creating rainy day management plans. On the reactive side, it’s about reducing harm and mitigating risk in the moment, and then you get to add that information to create better strategies moving forward. Next week, we’ll be talking with Peter Amelia about enrichment and a multi-species household. They have so many species in their household, I think you are really going to enjoy listening to them, talk about their household and all the things that they have going on. As somebody who has two pets in their household, it was so eye opening to hear them speak about their household. I loved it, and I think you will too.

Thank you for listening. You can find us at petharmonytraining.com and @petharmonytraining on Facebook and Instagram, and also @petharmonypro on Instagram for those of you who are behavioral professionals. As always links to everything we discussed in this episode are in the show notes and a reminder to please rate, review and subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts a special thank you to Ellen Yoakum for editing this episode, our intro music is from Penguin Music on Pixabay.


Thank you for listening and happy training.

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