#16: Flight Training Mini-Sode

[00:00:00] Emily: But when people go all the way to the end, I really love watching the wheels turning and the dogs, like little brains where they’re like, “This is unpleasant, I’m going to leave now. Okay. Bye!” That’s just delightful to me.

[00:00:14] 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…

[00:00:33] Emily: …and I’m Emily Strong…

[00:00:34] 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. We have a special mini-sode for y’all today. We get a ton of questions about Flight Training. So, we wanted to put together a little episode to answer the biggest questions that we get in honor of our Flight Training for Professionals On-Demand Course, coming out the day this episode airs.

In this episode, Emily and I talk about what flight training is, why everyone should have this skill, and a brief overview of how to do it. Let’s get started.

So, let’s start with the number one question, what is flight training?

[00:01:27] Emily: I have to always start by saying there’s nothing new under the sun, every protocol that exists on the planet is harnessing, you know, the same finite number of behavioral principles that just exist in the world, so there’s nothing particularly new, or shiny, or sexy about the flight training protocol.

However, the reason we found so much success with it is because really what we’re doing, is breaking down the components of reactivity training, and starting with the one that gets overlooked the most often or is done in a kind of aversive of way unintentionally. And we’re making it fun instead. And that aspect of reactivity training is choosing to escape, choosing to move away from a stressor when you can’t handle it.

So, we’re basically pulling that part out and saying, focus on this first, and then we can teach the animals how to check in with you, and then we can teach them how to investigate when it’s necessary or appropriate. So, flight training is really focusing on how do we teach animals, how to escape first in a way that is teaching them the concept. So, they’re conceptually learning, when I feel overwhelmed by something, I can move away from it to get relief.

[00:02:52] Allie: I think that’s a great point that there’s nothing new under the sun and for what it’s worth, we, for the longest time, were calling it flight training, because we don’t have a better word for it.

You know, this is not something that we intended to create or anything. It was just that we saw a need. We saw a need for animals to be able to move away from stressors. And we started putting together, different exercises to see what would work best, and that’s how we came up with our, our flight training.

[00:03:20] Emily: That’s a good point that we weren’t actually trying to create a protocol, we weren’t like, “You know what? Let’s create a new protocol that’s just a variation on the theme.” We started doing this at a sanctuary where there are over 400 dogs that were in incredible amount of stress and the protocols that we had already been taught, kind of, sort of worked? But with that, with that environment, it was really hard to implement the existing protocols, so we had to like mosaic together, different aspects of different protocols, and work on making it really fun for it to even be effective in that environment. And then when we went back into private practice, we were like, oh, yeah, this is actually a really practical way to teach clients too, because we’re splitting those approximations and we’re focusing on one skill at a time, instead of trying to, like hit them with everything at once.

[00:04:08] Allie: So even though we kind of just stumbled into the protocol that we now teach to almost every single one of our clients, and our entire team teaches to almost every single one of their clients, I now think that this is a skill that everybody should have, and I don’t mean like specifically our flight training protocol skill.

I mean, the skill of being able to move away from a stressor, and not just for our pets, honestly, for everybody. I. my favorite thing that somebody said, when I was talking about this, I don’t even remember who it was or in what capacity, but they’re like, “Man, can you teach that to humans for internet fights?”

And I like, yes, all individuals need this skill. So, one of the reasons that I think everybody needs this skill goes back to something Emily said is that this is a coping skill. It is unrealistic for us to think or expect our pets to be comfortable in 100% of situation. It’s much more realistic for us to teach certain situations, and to help our pets be comfortable in those particular environments, and then teach them coping skills to handle anything else that might be thrown their way.

[00:05:24] Emily: Yeah. And I think one of the things that we both learned first at the sanctuary and then continued to learn in private practice is that it’s really so much easier if we teach animals, especially dogs, how to escape first, before we ask them to try to do anything else, like engage, check-in, or investigate. Because it’s a pretty, I think universal experience, I feel pretty comfortable making this assertion, I don’t have any evidence aside from anecdotal evidence, but I feel pretty comfortable saying, that it’s a pretty universal experience that if you know, that escape is an option, you don’t feel the need to escape as often.

Whereas when you don’t have escape as an option, it’s all you can think about and you’re more likely to fall back on fight, or shutting down, then flight, if you don’t know that flight is an option. And this was really made apparent to me at the beginning of the pandemic when we were like that first two weeks where everybody was like in total lockdown, right.

I work from home, and I like never leave the house, I leave the house like maybe once or twice a week, and that’s fine with me, like I’m totally a homebody, and happy to stay at home. But as soon as they were like, you can’t leave your everybody’s in lockdown, all I wanted to do was leave. And I think we see that with animals too, we have to start by teaching them that escape as an option so that it’s easier for them to stay in the moment and do that kind of engaged, thoughtful, checking in, or investigating feeling safer because they know that they can leave if they need to.

[00:06:55] Allie: The example of that, that I give to my clients is the doctor’s office.

You go into your room, examination room. Is that what they’re called? You go into your room, the nurse says, okay, the doctor will be in, in a moment. They closed the door behind you, and you say, “Okay.” And if you’re me, you start scrolling your phone because what else are you going to do during that time? And you’re fine.

You’re fine, being in the room with the door closed. However, If the nurse were to take you into the room, say the doctor’s going to be in, in a moment, close the door, and lock it from the outside. You’re not going to be okay with that situation, you are going to try your hardest to get out because you can’t.

So, agency is so important, and it really changes how stressed you are, that changes how much you’re going to be able to learn, that changes how much progress you’re going to be able to make, like we said before, it’s just a way better option. Then a lot of the other options, you know, the majority of animals who are coming to us are coming to us because they are using those fight type behaviors, aggression, anxiety, however you want to term it.

They are telling other individuals that in no uncertain terms, they want them to go away, and if they’re able to leave the situation, instead, the majority of people like that option better.

[00:08:16] Emily: We really broke it up into let’s teach flight first, then we can teach engage, then we can teach investigation. But we have to break up that flight part even further, because a lot of times when people try to do this, what they end up doing is just dragging their dog away from a stressor, which actually increases the stress for the dog, which then could make the reactivity worse.

So, we have to actually teach that as a skill, so that dogs know to do it first of all, and secondly, enjoy doing it, which is how we buffer against the stress of the situation. So, we break this down into three parts. Allie, do you want to get that first part going?

[00:08:57] Allie: Sure. So, for professionals, this first step is going to come as no surprise. It is teach this cue and skill in a place with minimal distractions where the learner is going to be successful. You’re pretty darn sure that the learner is going to be successful with this, and this step doesn’t usually take long, which is fantastic. And then we can move on to the next step of actually being able to use this with stressors.

[00:09:22] Emily: Yeah. So, after the dog learns that that cue means that fun things are going to happen. If they follow their handler, then we can teach them when you see the stressor and you can’t handle it, which at first is like all the time, right? We’re going to practice this all the time, we’re going to move away from the stressor until you feel relief until you’re not stressed anymore, and then good things will happen. And we just keep doing that until the dog learns, when I’m in the presence of a stressor, I can move away to get relief.

[00:09:56] Allie: And once we start seeing that, where they’re asking for space, then we can lean into how they ask. A lot of times I see animals ask for space in different ways, and part of this seems like a preference thing, part of it seems like an environment thing, and part of it seems like how they’re humans teach this skill.

I’m sure there are a lot of factors, but this can look differently depending on the animal. So, I tell my clients, however, they’re seeing their pet ask for space and internalizing this flight cue, lean into that, whatever that looks like. If that is them trying to cross the street, as long as it’s safe, they can do that. If that looks like them doing some sort of fidget type behavior, like a displacement sniffing, then lean into that, whatever it looks like lean into how your pet is interpreting and processing that skill.

[00:10:48] Emily: The beautiful thing about this is that in, in many cases, when the client is consistent about this and continues to proof the behavior, what we see is that the dogs learn the concept. They internalize the concept, so they don’t need a cue anymore. They just have this realization that if stressor is overwhelming for me, I’m going to move away to obtain relief for myself. And that’s really the goal. It doesn’t, we don’t always get there because a lot of times clients are just happy where they’re at, and they don’t want to finish the plan, and that’s fine too, if they’re happy with where they’re at good for them. But when people go all the way to the end, I really love watching the wheels turning and the dogs, like little brains where they’re like, “This is unpleasant, I’m going to leave now. Okay. Bye!” That’s just delightful to me.

[00:11:36] Allie: It’s the best when you see that, and I want to mention to, you know, we’ve been talking about primarily pets with maladaptive behaviors, but like we were saying, this is a skill that everybody should have. And so, even if you have a pet who doesn’t have maladaptive behaviors, chances are, they may be already choosing to move away from stressors, and that’s why they don’t have maladaptive behaviors, but this is a skill that really every pet, regardless of their behavior should have. Sometimes we just have to teach it, and for other pets, we don’t have to teach it.

[00:12:08] Emily: Yeah, I think that’s a good point. Every animal, every, every individual, every learner across species should know how to move away from stressors when they’re overwhelmed by them. And so, I think it’s kind of prophylactic, if we teach animals, before they have an issue, we can prevent issues from happening in many cases. So, that said, we obviously, with what we do in the clients, we see, we’re typically dealing with clients whose pets have maladaptive behaviors, and one of my favorite examples of how powerful the flight cue was with a client of mine who had two large, kind of mixed breed dogs, they were both in the 60 to 80 pound range, their names work Gog and Magog and they had been getting along, for like the first couple of years that they were together, she took them to obedience training, and then they started fighting, and we won’t get into that whole saga.

Because they were such big dogs, and they were both fairly persistent dogs, their fights were actually pretty expensive, and injurious, like they would really damage each other, and have to go to the hospital, so it was a really big problem, and we worked on a lot of different things to help address this.

I, I do not want to make any kind of claims that the flight cue was the only thing they needed, these types of behaviors are serious, and they typically need a multifaceted approach, so just know I’m not getting into the whole case study, but the flight cue is a really important component of that, and it was one of the first things that we started because at the beginning, they couldn’t be in the same room with each other without trying to go after each other. And so, the first thing that we had to teach them was when you’re upset about this other dog, you move away and you go to a safe space, and the safe spaces where all good things happen, and the other dog doesn’t go there.

And then we also worked on other stuff, one of my favorite emails, I save emails from clients that are like really touching. And I saved this email from this client because she said they had a management fail where they left the house unexpectedly and forgot to put the dogs in their respective areas. They have rooms where their dogs go when they’re out of the house, and she panicked because she realized that she had left the dogs out unattended while they were gone, and when she came back, the dogs were fine, and they were hanging out in their respective safe spaces.

And she looked back at their webcam, and like a delivery guy had knocked on the door, and the dogs got upset and started barking, and then like, they both got up to the door, and they kind of looked at each other, and then they just like, moved away in each went to their own, their own little like relaxation station and she was like, “It was a miracle!”

And I was like, “I am so proud of you. Good work. Obviously let’s try not to have another management fail, but like how beautiful to know that that was a little safety net for the moments when management did fail.” I just loved that because that’s the goal, is that they don’t need a human to cue the behavior, they can do that on their own and make that decision for themselves

[00:15:15] Allie: That’s an amazing story. As we were trying to come up with our anecdotes before this episode, one of the things Emily and I were talking about is that it’s actually kind of difficult to come up with stories because just like what we were talking about with relaxation protocol, for, for us, this is like, yes, welcome to Tuesday.

We, we teach this so many times, but that’s a really memorable story. I wanted to mention too, when we’re talking about this, a lot of times we are using some of our more sensational stories to really drive home how impactful this can be, but a lot of times it doesn’t look as sensational as some of the stories that we tell about this.

And so, I wanted to take a little bit of a different approach and tell a story that is very common for our clients, and our clients are thrilled when this happens, but to outsiders who aren’t living in this experience, they’re like, “Yeah. Cool. Okay.” Because that’s kind of more what we actually see. So, we want to make sure that if you’re working on flight training and you’re like, “Yeah, cool, this is great.” That you recognize, like that is a huge win. It doesn’t have to look like these sensational stories that, that we have. We have years of flight training, so we get, you know, we can amass some of those sensational stories.

So, one of the clients that I think of with this is, I don’t even remember this client’s name, this dog’s name, I remember that he was a German Shepherd and that is all I remember of this client. They were pretty early on in my private client days. I remember the situation so clearly because it was in this moment where, like Emily said, we, we developed this protocol at a sanctuary, and then we were like, “Yeah, this could actually be helpful for private clients too.” It was this moment where I was like, “Yes, this will work for private clients too.” Where I had that like generalization light bulb moment. And so, we were working with this German Shepherd just in their driveway and I was using a stuffed dog as the neutral dog, and the stuffed dog, Mr. Pickles is my stuffed dogs name, and he was across the street, and we are just working on some look at that with a stuffed dog. We had already taught this German Shepherd, a flight cue before we started working on look at that because as Emily said, we need to be able to get out of the situation before we can start working on the situation.

This dog was working great for a couple of minutes, and then got up, and started moving away from Mr. Pickles, and moving towards the garage. And I said, you know what, go ahead and follow him, and the clients followed him. He went and sniffed around the garage, I prompted them to play a little, find it game with him. He did, he took another couple minutes sniffing, and then it was like, “Okay, I’m ready to work again.” By himself, unprompted, he went right back to the spot where we were originally working on the look at that game, sat back down, and continued the game. It was so beautiful to see this dog very politely ask for a break, his humans respond appropriately, and give him the break, and then he said, “Cool, and I’m ready again. I’m not stressed anymore. Let’s go back to the fun game. “

[00:18:39] Emily: I love that so much, that’s the goal, right? And most of the time a really good training should make for bad TV, right? It doesn’t have to be sensational. It should kind of be like watching paint dry. To the outsider, it should look like the dog being boring. That’s what we want from a dog who has a history of disproportionate responses to things in their environment. I love that cause it’s such a good example of like, like you said, our welcome to Tuesday. It’s like, this is, this is what most of our cases look like. We get a dog from being very TV worthy to being like not good for TV at all, cause they’re just like a dog hanging out, living their life. And that’s what we want.

[00:19:18] Allie: Yes, absolutely. And his parents were so thrilled to see that they recognized it for what it was that this was the first time he had ever asked for a break instead of going over threshold. And so, it’s not good for TV, but when you are living it and, in the moment, it is so exciting to see pets that make those decisions, use those skills.

All right. Thank you for joining us for today’s mini-sode, and y’all, if you are a professional and you want to teach your clients how to do this, our Flight Training for Professionals Course is now available. If you’re looking for a way to better meet your client’s and their pet’s needs, which means better compliance, more follow through, more money, and happier pets, check out our Flight Training for Professionals Course at petharmonytraining.com forward slash flight training. And trust me, it is really for professionals, it is super heavy on how to teach to clients. Regular pet parents are not going to enjoy this course. If you’re a pet parent, and you want help hit us up, we have clients all over the world that we help teach this skill to.

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.


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