#15 - Data Tracking for Enrichment

[00:00:00] Emily: You can spend a whole lot of time and effort doing things because you think you’re supposed to be doing them and believing that they work because that’s what everybody says. Or you can pretty quickly assess whether or not you’re actually making tangible progress towards your goals and adjust accordingly. Data collection makes your efforts more efficient, and who doesn’t like getting some quick wins?

[00:00:26] Allie: Yeah. 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…

[00:00:41] Emily: …and I’m Emily Strong…

[00:00:42] 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 Dr. Eduardo Fernandez, and one of the topics we discussed was data tracking for enrichment. This week, we’re going to dive further into data collection and talk about as painless as possible implementation with the animals in your life.

In this implementation episode, Emily and I talk about why I don’t have a master’s degree, why you need to be collecting data if you want to work smarter, not harder, and how to make this as painless as possible, as simple as a row of X’s and checkmarks. Let’s get to it.

[00:01:36] Emily: So, I don’t know about you, but I love that data collection is entering the conversation more frequently in the animal training community these days.

[00:01:43] Allie: Oh, absolutely. We talk about being descriptive, not prescriptive in your enrichment strategies all the time, and you can’t do that without some level of data collection.

[00:01:53] Emily: For sure. Data collection is a super important part of the process of being able to identify what your actual outcomes are. I love that more of us practitioners are participating in the conversation too. Bringing the focus back to what is practical and sustainable for clients because we’ve both come from places where the data collection was pretty labor intensive. I struggled to stay on top of it. There’s no way I could expect my clients to do that. All of that.

[00:02:22] Allie: Data collection is legit the reason that I don’t have a higher education degree. As part of my honors thesis for my undergrad, I chose to do a study looking at enrichment in shelters. So. I was super into it, I came up with the hypothesis, it was something I was super passionate about, and also it sucked the living soul out of me to do the data collection for it. If I never have to do one minute scan samples again, I will be happy. So, it’s one thing to understand that data collection is necessary to affect real change, and it’s another to actually be okay doing it, not even enjoy it, just being willing to do it.

[00:02:59] Emily: And it’s one thing when your job is to observe behavior, and implement a behavior change plan and track data. It’s another thing entirely when it’s your pet, and you’ve got a busy life, and you hire someone to help you deal with your pet’s issues, and then they’re asking you to not only do stuff with and for your pet, but also you have to keep track of it?

Yo, no one wants their pet to be another full-time job.

[00:03:26] Allie: But that said, y’all know that we are work smarter, not harder people, and while data tracking might seem like it’s working harder in the long run, it actually helps you to work smarter.

[00:03:38] Emily: Right. You can spend a whole lot of time and effort doing things because you think you’re supposed to be doing them and believing that they work because that’s what everybody says. Or you can pretty quickly assess whether or not you’re actually making tangible progress towards your goals and adjust accordingly. Data collection makes your efforts more efficient, and who doesn’t like getting some quick wins?

[00:04:02] Allie: Everyone likes quick wins. So, because we know that data collection tends not to be a favorite pastime of most people, let’s talk about how to make it as painless as possible. And the first part should be pretty painless because it doesn’t even include data collection. That is identify what your goals are. We talk about this all of the time when we’re talking about our Enrichment Framework, you need to know where you’re going in order to know if you’re getting there. That’s why step one of the Pet Harmony Enrichment Framework is to list current desirable and undesirable behaviors, as well as future desirable behaviors, AKA your goals. Not having a goal is like going on a road trip without a destination, you may have fun, but ultimately, you’re wasting gas driving around aimlessly, if you actually meant to end up in a specific place.

[00:04:52] Emily: Right, we’re not saying that you can’t do fun activities with your pet, just for the joy of doing them by all means, do that, do the things that bring you and your pet joy. But if you’re using an enrichment framework to affect behavior change, it just makes a whole lot more sense to know what your behavioral goals are. After you’ve clearly defined your behavioral goals, you can then figure out what progress towards that goal would look like. What are you tracking exactly? Are you looking for increased rest periods during the day? Are you looking for shorter barking periods? Are you looking for a specific replacement behavior? Like, going to the relaxation station instead of yelling at the UPS guy? Are you looking for an increased interaction with toys that encourage the appropriate expression of species-typical behaviors?

 A lot of people make the mistake of thinking of behavior as all or nothing, either the behaviors happening, or it isn’t. When in reality change happens in approximations. It’s easier for us to weather the setbacks, both logistically and emotionally, when we see them in the larger context of overall change, as opposed to just having a general impression that something is or is not working. The thing is our cognitive biases are unavoidable and being able to identify and track our approximations is the only thing that really lets us see past those biases.

[00:06:16] Allie: Oh, absolutely. You and I both use this as a way to help our clients remain optimistic through the natural setbacks that happen in a behavior modification journey. They get to objectively see how far they’ve come and that the setbacks are objectively not as bad as they once were. The bad days aren’t as bad, even if that’s not how it feels in the moment. So, the third step after you have your goals, and you know what metrics you need to track is to determine how you’re going to track that information. We teach our clients and Enrichment Masterclass students, how to turn behaviors into numerical value. So, all folks have to do is jot down a number in a physical calendar, app, or whatever they’re going to use and see it. But there are a lot of ways to do it. You can email yourself. You could keep a journal, use a habit tracking apps. If you have a way that you track information already just use that. I have a lot of behavior and habit tracking processes so that I can just like function as a human, and I personally liked different processes for different habits.

Do what feels right for you. What works for one thing may not necessarily work as well for something else, try a few things and figure out what works best. The biggest thing is that you need to remember to use it.

[00:07:32] Emily: And I will say that even though I help clients do this all the time, and some of my clients are, can get really into the data collection part and do a much more thorough job than I would have asked or expected them to, I am not one of those clients personally. I am so busy, I have so much going on in my life, and a lot of times I have very limited spoons because of my chronic health issues, which means that consistency is really hard for me. If it’s anything more complicated than super, super, simple stuff. And so, for me, I need a really quick and easy data collection method. I’ll give an example of what this looks like for me or what it has looked like for me recently anyway. Both of our dogs, both Brie and Copper are desert dogs. So, copper actually came from Central Texas, which is pretty lush, but he was only about two and a half or maybe three when we moved to Utah, and then we lived in Utah for eight years. So, most of his life, he lived in the desert and Brie is just straight up from the desert. She was a feral desert dog. And so, both of them came from really dry climates. They spent a lot of time outside together playing, sniffing, and exploring. And that was how they got a lot of their physical, and mental exercise, and performed a lot of their species-typical behaviors and got a lot of their sensory input.

 And then we moved to Seattle and both of the dogs are like, “What is this rainforest nonsense? Like, I am not okay with the amount of wet stuff that is falling out of the sky on a regular basis.” We’ve really struggled to get them to spend as much time outside as they did in Utah. And how that manifested for us is that in the house, they were both a lot more restless, and a lot more reactive. So, a little backstory for listeners. Because of some of my chronic health issues, my physical therapist only lets me sit at my desk upright for four hours a day, and the rest of the time I sit in this gigantic nest that I’ve made, and my dogs like to snuggle up with me while I’m in the nest. In Utah, I could sit in the nest, and they would just rest in the nest with me all day while I got work done. And what I started seeing here is that they were jumping up and down multiple times a day, knocking my laptop on my lap and, you know, making it move. They were more reactive, more prone to bark it like every little sound, and I recognized that that was because they weren’t spending as much time outside.

So, I had to come up with an enrichment plan that was simple enough for me to do in the midst of my intense work schedule, and also was simple enough to track, right? So, what are the metrics I’m using? I’m going to try to do some more intentional scent work during my lunch break, where I’m really getting the dogs to use their noses a lot. What I’m measuring is are they able to relax again? Can they make it all the way through a single zoom session? Just resting on the nest with me as opposed to hopping up and down and pacing, and reacting at the window, and all that stuff. And so, my data collection that literally looked like a row of checks and Xs for each date.

So, on this date, did they get through this zoom session without getting up and running around and barking? Yes. Then a check did they get up and were they restless during a zoom session, then put an X. So, there’s literally, date and a row of X’s and checkmarks on a notebook. That’s how simplistic my data collection was.

But what I got from that is I saw a very clear correlation between when I was consistently doing nose work with the dogs on lunch break, and the steep increase in the number of checkmarks I saw, and the times when I wasn’t doing the scent work, and how many Xs I started to see again. So, that was the level of data collection, super simplistic, and yet it was helpful for me to see that my enrichment strategy was actually effective and that I should continue doing it to get the results I needed.

[00:11:50] Allie: And just like we say for animals, behavior is a study of one, and that’s true for humans too. So, what practical and sustainable looks like will be different for different people. So, while Emily, you needed something really quick and easy, we’ve had clients over the years who have gotten really involved with their data collection.

I love when clients do this, by the way, it just, like, oh, it brings a smile to my face. And usually those were clients who did data collection for a living. I had one who had a dog with separation anxiety and stranger danger, who is a researcher, so she put all the variables into a spreadsheet and found the optimum amount of time that her dog needed to have physical activity to make the most progress with her behavior modification plan.

It was like, it was very clear that she was a researcher, all the variables were there, it was so laid out perfectly. It was amazing. I had another who was a statistician, I think, who essentially created a dog diary, and from that we discovered the dog was worse on the weekends and found that the Bob-a-lot toy made her anxiety worse, but a tricky treat ball made it better.

There was that client Ellen had, I think last year, who made the most beautiful spreadsheets, and was able to determine that I think it was like two, or eleven, I know those numbers are not similar, but it’s fine, percent more effort, a small amount of effort, more, she could decrease her dog’s activity by like something like 70 or 80%.

And I’m probably butchering those numbers, but it was something similar that it was a super low amount of effort for really high returns. So again, your data collection is going to be as unique as you are, and is going to be only effective and sustainable, if you take into account, what’s going to work best for you, and how you think and how you operate in your life

So today we’ve talked about data collection and why, if you want to make efficient progress, you need to be collecting data so that you can cut through the cognitive biases that make keeping it all in your head subjective. We need objective data to take a descriptive approach to an enrichment strategy.

And the way to do this is to first identify your goals, then identified the metrics that you need to measure to see if you’re moving the needle towards your goals, and then how you’re going to keep track of that data. Keeping in mind that practical and sustainable are going to be dependent on how you operate, your skills, your preferences, and at the end of the day, just straight up what you’re going to remember to do.

Y’all, this is the end of season one.

We did it. We made. We’re going to take a break to let you implement what we’ve discussed so far, while we talk with more fabulous experts to gear up for season two this summer.

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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