#13 - Where to Start Your Enrichment Journey

[00:00:00] Emily: So, as you’re learning about and preparing for your new pet, think about these innate behaviors as being typical, something that’s totally healthy, normal, but give every individual the space to tell you what behaviors come naturally to them.

[00:00:19] 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…

[00:00:36] Emily: …and I’m Emily Strong…

[00:00:37] 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 podcasts. Last week we heard from Peter Amelia, and one of the topics we discussed was where to start on your enrichment journey. This week we’re going to dive further into what that foundation looks like and talk about implementation with the animals in your life.

In this implementation episode, Emily and I talk about why this episode should probably have happened much earlier, why we need to split hairs when it comes to species-specific, species-typical, and breed-typical behaviors, and examples of how we made the most out of situations in which we didn’t necessarily do our research beforehand.

Let’s get to it. I feel like this should have been an earlier episode.

[00:01:34] Emily: Yeah. Hindsight is 2020, isn’t it.

[00:01:37] Allie: That it is. So, here we are episode 13, talking about starting your journey. Better late than never, I guess. And the reason we should’ve started this earlier is we’ll dive into what you need to put into your backpack on your learning journey.

[00:01:50] Emily: Call back to episode one. What, what.

[00:01:52] Allie: What, what, indeed. And to be clear, even if you’ve started your enrichment journey, it never hurts to take a look back at your foundation to make sure you have everything. Much of mastery means mastering the basics and continuing to focus on your foundation.

[00:02:07] Emily: Yeah, that reminds me, was it Ken Ramirez? Who said masterful training is just basic training done really well? I feel like that applies to enrichment as well.

[00:02:16] Allie: I think it was Ken. And if it wasn’t, y’all tell us who we’re actually thinking about here. So, in our interview with Peter, we talked about the enrichment journey ideally starting before you even bring an animal into your home, and that starts with researching that particular species’ needs.

[00:02:32] Emily: Yeah, so the first takeaway from that is to find some reliable sources of information about the species in your care. Learn about their environment, their diet, social structures, et cetera, and find an ethogram that lists their species-typical behaviors in context. So, you can more accurately anticipate, identify and understand the natural behaviors you may observe in that species.

Learn about the species’ activity budgets, for example, how much of the day do they spend obtaining food? How much, and when do they rest? How much do they play? How much time do they spend alone versus with others? What kind of seasonal changes might they undergo? All of that information will help you to better prepare your home for a new pet. And before we go further, I want to sidebar a little bit because there seems to be a lot of confusion about species-specific, species-typical, and what those terms mean. The term species-typical is an updated response to the old term species-specific, which has fallen out of use in the scientific community.

The more that the various behavior sciences learned about behavior, the more apparent it has become that there’s actually a lot of complexity, and therefore variability in the individual expression of natural behaviors. The term species-specific implies that every member of a species will perform that behavior, and only that species will perform the behavior. In reality, there’s no such guarantees. So, yes, there are certainly a whole lot of innate, unlearned behaviors that are typical within a species, but the likelihood or degree to which any individual will perform any of those behaviors varies wildly.

Additionally, many of these innate behaviors are not unique to a species, which is the other reason we can’t accurately call them species specific. This might seem like hairsplitting, but it’s actually a pretty big deal if you think about what that looks like in terms of practical application. If we believe, for example, that all dogs should love playing with large groups of other dogs because it’s species-specific, right?

We might try to force a dog selective dog into a playgroup, and that would be awful for that dog. Another example would be like, if we believe that all scarlet macaws chew on wood, because it’s species specific behavior, then we might stock our macaws cage with nothing but wood toys, and then we might feel confused or frustrated when the bird isn’t playing. And then we might wrongly conclude from that, that our bird just doesn’t like playing with toys or that there’s something wrong with them. When in reality, they may just strongly prefer shredding paper or Palm leaves or something like that to chewing on wood.

So, this is really our second takeaway. The term species-typical reminds us that while we should definitely be able to identify those natural behaviors and provide an appropriate outlet for them when they crop up, at the end of the day, we really just need to look at the animal in front of us and observe the behaviors they’re offering to determine what they need.

And this is even more true when we’re focusing down to the level of breeds within a domesticated species since there’s even less definition or distinction among the breeds. We really can’t assume that any behavior is specific to any breed because there’s huge variability in how individuals within a breed may behave as well as profound similarities across breeds. And with mixed breeds, all genetic bets are off. So, as you’re learning about and preparing for your new pet, think about these innate behaviors as being typical, something that’s totally healthy, normal, but give every individual the space to tell you what behaviors come naturally to them.

[00:06:21] Allie: Emily, do you have a favorite place to look for ethograms and activity budgets?

[00:06:26] Emily: Literally, the internet.

[00:06:27] Allie: That was super helpful, I think what I meant to ask was places that will have up to date scientific information instead of like a half-truth blog post, someone shouted into the ether 17 years ago.

[00:06:40] Emily: I know, I know. I couldn’t resist giving you a hard time. No, but seriously when I’m looking up an ethogram, I really do just use Google. If I can’t find anything good through a regular search, I’ll turn to Google Scholar, but it’s not about using a special search engine, it’s about looking at the source to determine its validity.

Ethologists, that is people who have PhDs in ethology, are going to cite their sources. They’re usually publishing through a university or an academic journal, or in like the case of Roger Abrantes, they have their own website where their bio is like, ” Yo, I’ve literally devoted my life to this academic field, so you should, you know, listen to me about this topic.” And then they state where they got their degrees, and it typically includes links to the field research that they’ve done, stuff like that.

[00:07:25] Allie: One day, there’ll have to be a course for behavior professionals about how to critically assess information sources.

[00:07:31] Emily: Not just behavior professionals, the entire world, but yeah, gosh, if only someone would get together with a bunch of colleagues and mentors to create that course. Gee, I wonder who would take on that whole huge project?

[00:07:44] Allie: It’s like vague booking for podcasts instead of Facebooking. Anyhow, now that you’ve done the research as to what that particular species needs, it’s time to figure out what that would look like for you, and if it’s actually feasible. I wish I had done this when I brought Zorro into my household because I realistically would not have him if I knew what it meant to care for him. I love the little guy, and also, he doesn’t necessarily fit into my lifestyle as well as I would like. It’s one thing to know what it looks like to care for a species, and it’s a different thing to think through the day-to-day logistics of what that actually entails and how that’s going to change your life. Because adding an additional member to your household, regardless of species, is going to change your life in some fashion. So, we need to ask ourselves if that lifestyle change is feasible, and weigh the pros and cons. It can’t just be like, I like turtles, so I’m like at a turtle. It needs to be, this creature is going to live the next 25 years, and am I ready, willing, and able to care for him and the way he needs through the many, many life stage changes I’m going to go through in the next 25 years?

So, this is going to be a what not to do story about Zorro. I got Zorro when I was 19, you know, before my frontal lobe was fully developed and I could make decisions, that, you know, took into account what my life was going to be like. And I kind of knew how to care for him. I had a friend, actually, I was talking with her, I said something along the lines of, “I like turtles.” And she asked, “Do you want to turtle?” And the answer probably should not have been yes, but the answer was yes. Her family had several turtles and I got Zorro because he was a bully and he was picking on the other turtles in her household, and so they had to have it in a separate enclosure for him because he was a bully and had to be like, a Singleton turtle. That just wasn’t sustainable for, for their lifestyle. Their household was set up for one turtle, enclosure, not multiple turtle enclosures. So, she was looking to rehome a turtle.

I said, yes, and she did tell me how to care for him, the things that he would need, the routines that they had set up in place in their household to care for their turtles. But I didn’t really understand all of the details and the nuances that went into that. It’s one of those situations where somebody can tell you, and keep telling you, and until you live it, you don’t really understand what they’re talking about, and that was definitely my experience with Zorro.

I knew that he needed a basking lamp but didn’t know that the light needed to be UVA, UVB, heat, and that there were different types of light bulbs just in the world beyond 60 watt versus a hundred watt.

I also knew he needed weekly water changes, but I didn’t think through that that would include an hour of lugging buckets of water back and forth in the setup that I had, and I still have to do that in winter in my house now. And I definitely didn’t know that I would develop a chronic illness that would make that incredibly challenging.

I knew he would eventually need a bigger tank, but I didn’t realize that I would one day be buying a 100 gallon stock tank, which is still small, by the way, that’s still a small size for him, but I literally can’t fit anything larger into my house, there was like a centimeter on either side of that tank to get it through the door, into my office, so I literally can’t fit anything bigger and into this space. And he takes up almost a fourth of my office anyway. I definitely have done the research along the way approach with him, and I can honestly say that I would not have him had I known all of this before I brought him into my household. Had I really thought through how it was going to change my life, and the routines that I would need to develop around him.

But he’s an example of when you know better, you do better. And instead of dwelling on the past and beating 19-year-old me up, which, you know, I think all of us have experienced beating our teenage selves up for one reason or another. Instead of doing that, I figured out, how can I be the best pet parents to him?

Like I said, I love the little guy. He cracks me up on a daily basis, and I do want to be the best pet parent that I can be for him, so I had to learn along the way, how to be the best dang aquatic, turtle owner that I could possibly be.

[00:12:38] Emily: Yeah. I had a similar experience with rabbits. I’ve always loved rabbits and I loved whenever I would get a behavior consulting client with rabbits. It was always fun to work with them. But I’d never owned any, I’d never had any in my house, and then, somebody that I know through the shelter network, in Salt Lake, asked for a temporary foster home for a rabbit in a shelter who needed medication, and the like med routine and treatment routine was more involved than the shelter staff could do.

So, I was like, “Sure, I’ll do it.” She gave me again, like you with the turtles, she gave me good starter information, and I already knew a little bit about rabbits, just from working with them in a professional capacity, but I didn’t actually know what that would look like, what the implications were for having a rabbit in my home, and what that day-to-day routine would actually be like.

It was supposed to be a short-term foster and long, long story. But, eventually the rabbit was legally abandoned with me and I ended up doing, hospice, golden years routine, keeping this, her name was Little Flopsy Cottontail, so we called her LFC for short. So, I kept LFC until the end of her life.

And she was blind, and deaf, and older, and sick, so she herself, wasn’t actually a big lifestyle change for me, but because I had a good experience with her and I really enjoyed having her in the house, I then agreed to adopt a rabbit who was a behavior case, who had been rehomed multiple times for biting and I was like, “Ah, I could do it with LFC, I could do it with this young, adolescent, male rabbit. That’s totally the same thing. An older, blind, and deaf, female rabbit and a young, healthy, adolescent male. Sure.” And then I got the Zorro syndrome, right? Like, “Oh, what do I do with this rabbit?” Who, by the way, I named him, Harey Bundini, because he was so good at escaping his enclosure, and so I had to figure out how to integrate him into my whole bird room. He needed the entire room, he was not content to just live in kind of an ex-pen enclosure, and so I had to figure out how to cohabitate him with birds because there was nowhere in the house that I had space for him to live. And I had to figure out what I needed to change about my bird routine to keep him safe, and there was this whole thing about rabbit proofing the room and learning that, and then learning what that looked like, and what the implications were in terms of my cleaning routine, and how that would work.

And it ended up just being this, just like you experienced Allie, the more I got into it, the more I realized I had no idea what I had gotten myself into. And like you with Zorro, I love Bundini. I love having rabbits, it is such a joy, they are so cute, and fun. And also, I wish I had known what I was getting myself into because I wasn’t aware of all of the complicating factors. Oh, another one that I didn’t think about, was that a lot of rental homes don’t allow rabbits because they’re considered verminous pets. So, I right now, Bundini is staying with a friend of mine until my partner,and I can buy a house. So, that kind of stuff, like, I didn’t think about that. I didn’t know. I wish I had done my research. So, I think for both of us, that kind of take-home point is, even if you dive into something with an animal, and you know, find out you weren’t really fully prepared, you can totally still do that research, have that learning curve, and successfully have them in your home.

And I think on some level you’re learning until you die, there’s always more to learn about the species that you work with, but we are kind of cautionary tales, I think, Allie and I. Do what we say, not what we do, ideally learn about all that stuff and think about what that would look like for your day-to-day life. Before committing to bring that animal into your home, because a lot of times you get in and you realize exactly how much is required and it may not be something that you would have signed up for if you knew what it was going to look like.

[00:17:00] Allie: And I know that this whole time, you and I have been talking about other species because that’s really what we were talking about with Peter, but I wanted to mention too, that this can still be true with a species that you’ve had your entire life. I mean, I hear on a weekly basis from new clients that they have never had an animal like this before, and for a lot of people as we get further into it, and especially as I open up with my experience with Zorro, of like, “I love him, and also, I would have made a different decision if I knew what this meant for my life.” My clients will share with me, “Yeah, I would not have chosen this animal had I known what I was going to get myself into here.” And so, this is something that you can experience even with a species that you’ve had your entire life, not just a species that’s new to you. Especially as more and more people are wanting to help animals with behavior problems and bring those pets into their homes. A lot of people don’t know, like me with Zorro or you with a Harey Bundini, Emily, what that really means as far as their future lifestyle.

[00:18:16] Emily: For sure, and I think that message here isn’t, don’t adopt animals, right? That’s definitely not what we’re saying. But I think it does help a lot too, you know, informed consent is a thing, right? Go into it with your eyes wide open, and make sure that you’re prepared as much as possible, so that you can help animals without sacrificing your own quality of life or wellbeing.

[00:18:37] Allie: Absolutely. So, today’s episode, we talked about where to start your enrichment journey. Ideally, you’ll do this before you even bring an animal into your household, but we don’t always live in the ideal world. So, you can still do this, even if you’re starting in on this part of the journey with an animal who’s been in your household for years, that was me with Zorro, it did not start before I got him, it started after he was in my household. Our takeaway points are research the needs of that particular species. Again, even if it’s a species that’s been in your household for a while, you may be surprised when you do the research on that species, that there is some myths that may or may not be true, that you’ve thought were true.

The second is to save room for observing individual preferences, see with your eyes, not your ideas. And once you do that, do some thought work of what that would look like and how this animal is going to change your lifestyle. If you’re a pros and cons person, make a pros and cons list that would put Rory Gilmore to shame. If you’re a daydreamer, make Davey Jones happy. I’m done with pop culture references. Point is, really consider what it will be like, to decide if it’s something you can handle next week, we will be talking with Dr. Eduardo Fernandez about the science of enrichment.

Y’all I really feel like Eddie is the epitome of continuing to hone and master our foundations. He is always helping me to dive deeper, and really understand the nuances about enrichment, and also makes me question what I think I know to make sure that I actually know it, which we could all use someone like that in our lives.

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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