#22 - Practical Problem-Solving

[00:00:00] Emily: I think one thing that can really trip people up, is the notion that intention influences the consequence and that’s not always the case. So, sometimes there are intentional consequences, in other words, consequences that we’re actually trying to construct or apply. And then there can be unintentional consequences where, either we are doing something that we don’t realize is impacting the behavior, or there’s something else in the environment that is impacting the behavior that is actually acting as a consequence, and what we are doing is irrelevant to our learner.

[00:00:35] 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…

[00:00:53] Emily: …and I’m Emily Strong…

[00:00:54] 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 Ken Ramirez, and one of the topics we discussed was troubleshooting your training. This week, we’re going to dive further into problem solving and talk about implementation with the animals in your life.

In this implementation episode, Emily and I talk about what to do when seeing with your eyes, not your ideas is difficult, expanding the antecedent picture, and a situation in which treats were punishing. Let’s get to it.

I loved everything about Ken’s interview. And it was so interesting to hear him answer questions about enrichment, that we get all the time and to be able to hear how he answers those questions.

[00:02:00] Emily: Same. I stand by my statement that even though we approach enrichment differently than he does conceptually, when it comes to practical application, we’re pretty much doing the same thing. And I’m not gonna lie. That is super validating.

[00:02:16] Allie: Yeah, I literally put that in the interview notes section when he was speaking.

[00:02:20] Emily: Did you see me grinning like a fool and like practically bouncing outta my chair? I, I would’ve been embarrassed, but I was too excited to care.

[00:02:27] Allie: I feel like that’s been your MO for all the interviews, but yes, I did. And especially when he was talking about troubleshooting your training.

[00:02:36] Emily: Why you gotta call me out like that, Allie, but yeah, but yeah. I mean, troubleshooting is a favorite topic of mine, as you know. So, let’s talk about our three takeaways from what he had to say about troubleshooting, because this is such an important aspect of animal care. Being able to figure out why things aren’t going as planned instead of just blaming the animal, and jumping to corrections or force is really a critical component of animal welfare.

[00:02:59] Allie: Right, the rat is never wrong. So, the first step in this is to identify if a behavior is increasing, or decreasing, or staying the same. And this is especially a time where you need to see with your eyes, not your ideas. There are plenty of times where I see someone doing some sort of exercise, or activity, or whatever it is.

And they’re like, “Oh, yeah, this is like, this is working. We’re getting more of the desirable behavior.” And then when I ask them to send me a log that says the same thing, their log does not say the same thing.

There are a lot of cognitive biases that impact how we think about those particular situations. And so, this is a situation where if it’s hard for you to see with your eyes, not your ideas, which that’s true for all of us at some point in time in our lives, because like I said, cognitive biases.

You need to log that. So, set up some really simple way that you can use to log that information so that you have tangible data that says, yes, this behavior is increasing, or decreasing, or staying the same.

[00:04:16] Emily: And then I think the next part of that, which, I mean, sometimes these can happen concurrently just because this is the second takeaway doesn’t mean that they have to happen sequentially, right? But the second take away, or facet of troubleshooting is identifying what is the consequence to the behavior.

I think one thing that can really trip people up is the notion that intention influences the consequence and that’s not always the case. So, sometimes there are intentional consequences, in other words, consequences that we’re actually trying to construct or apply. And then there can be unintentional consequences where, either we are doing something that we don’t realize is impacting the behavior, or there’s something else in the environment that is impacting the behavior that is actually acting as a consequence, and what we are doing is irrelevant to our learner. So, we have to identify what the actual consequence is that is either increasing, or decreasing, or maintaining that behavior. And also, we have to remember that animals aren’t super great at delayed consequences. Really the thing that happens immediately after their behavior is the most likely thing to be impacting the behavior. And that’s something that we mistake a lot. So, if you try to apply a consequence, minutes or hours after the behavior’s performed, I can guarantee you that that is not actually acting as the consequence for the behavior you think it is. Because the animal got a consequence immediately after they performed the behavior, and the consequence that you applied happened, way, way, way later, after about, you know, 80 something, other behaviors. So, really pay attention to what is happening immediately after the behavior, and that’s probably the thing that’s influencing the behavior.

[00:06:04] Allie: And an example of what that could look like is, we get, I don’t know if you get questions a lot about this Emily with clients, but I do get questions from clients asking about timeouts for, you know, particular behaviors, and we talk about, okay, well, what does that look like? How are you implementing this? What’s the actual consequence that’s happening? All of that, because one of the things that I see a lot when clients are asking me, if my usually dog, cause that’s usually the species I’m working with, ” If my dog is being annoying to, to me to another animal in the household, can I give them a timeout?”

And I ask them to describe what that looks like when they give that time out. And they say, “Well, I either grab a treat and I lure them into their crate.” Or “I grab their collar and I relocate them into their crate.” Or, or whatever it is. Usually it’s one of those two things, and I ask them, “So how’s that working out for you in teaching them, not to be annoying?” And the client usually at this point’s like, “Hm. Not great. They’re still annoying.” and so we talk about, okay, because the timeout isn’t actually the consequence to that behavior. It’s you grab a treat. Or you walk towards them, you are in some way paying attention, or saying there’s going to be a treat here, or whatever it is.

And this little light bulb clicks on, usually at this point where they’re like, “oh, there’s a lot of steps in between them being removed from the situation and the actual behavior that I’m trying to change.”

And, and so we talk about here’s what else you can do in this situation, and also if you just need a break from your dog, yes, they can go into their crate, as long as you understand that that’s not actually going to change the annoying behavior. And. Here’s a, a, a few tweaks to make it more effective for, for you here. So, that’s an example that I see all the time with my clients where, they think that the timeout is the consequence. When in reality that’s like six to 10 behaviors down the road.

[00:08:15] Emily: I have another favorite example. We’re just story-tastic season. But I have another example of this, which is actually kind of cute. So, some friends of mine, have the biggest hearts, hearts of gold. And they took in this stray tom cat, who had been really badly beaten up by another cat, and they’ve spent an enormous amount of money on vet bills, and have been taking care of this kitty, despite vigorous protestations from the kitty.

They have decided to adopt this little cantankerous little dude. I, I just, I love them so much and also because I’m a behavior professional and they aren’t, I had a really funny experience where we were, my partner and I went over to hang out there out at their house, the husband was showing me how this cat gets really cranky with him.

And he’s like, “I just want him to get on my lap and uh, he’ll come up to me and I’ll pick him up and, and he gets cranky about it, and so I’ll try to pet him, and then he bites me.” And I was like, “Yeah, okay. So, first of all, the cat already like said, ‘I don’t like this.’ And then, ‘ Oh, you don’t like that. How about this other thing that you definitely don’t like?'” So, we’re looking at body language, and we’re seeing this escalation in behavior, right? So, we’re at their house and kitty is watching me from a distance, and every time I look over the cat, I just kind of slow blink, and look away. And the cat kind of starts scooting a little closer, and a little closer, and I look, slow blink, look away. And then kitty jumps up onto the arm of the chair. And I offered my hand to let the cat sniff, far away that the cat would have to move towards my hand, and the cat sniffed my hand, and I didn’t touch him, and he was like, “All right.” So then he like bumped my hand, he’s like, “All right, well, you can pet me now.” So, I, I did a little head scratch stopped and he was like, ” Okay. I think I can probably crawl into your lap now.” And so, he sat on my lap, and I didn’t touch him. And then he was like, “Okay, but you can touch me now.” and then I touched him. So, this is kind of a consent story, but what it really is, is a troubleshooting story. Because the husband was like, “How did you do that? How did you get, he doesn’t do that for us? He doesn’t sit in our lap.” And I was like, ” I was paying attention to the behaviors, he was offering me, and I was giving him things that he wanted when he offered a behavior that I wanted.” And in a few minutes, I got a cat who was definitely not interested in me to sit on my lap, and that cat stayed on my lap for hours that night, he was my buddy.

So, that’s how fast those consequences happen. They’re giving you immediate feedback, and you’re giving them an immediate response. And that’s just this conversation that happens. So, those consequences, it may seem like little, tiny things that aren’t that big of a deal, but that’s a really good example of a contrast and consequences and what a huge impact that had on the behavior of that animal.

[00:11:07] Allie: And I think that illustrates really well why professional behavior consultants exist. Because there’s so much thought that has to go into it, and we’re talking about such small moments in time and fleeting moments in time where like, if you had missed a slow blink, you might have been done right then and there. Because it’s a whole lot more to think about than the average pet parent, uh, is really aware of.

Our third takeaway is when the low hanging fruit, isn’t the obvious answer we need to dive deeper. And one of the things that Emily and Ken talked about in last week’s interview was expanding that antecedent picture that you’re looking at, looking at everything that’s happening in the environment that sets the stage for that behavior to occur and not even just everything in that particular moment and environment, but that could also be what happened previously. Do we have moments where we have trigger stacking going on with the animals that we work with? That is very frequently the answer, is that there are moments of trigger stacking going on. We need to expand the picture that we’re looking at if we weren’t able to find an obvious answer.

[00:12:28] Emily: And that’s really where enrichment comes in, too. Because we’re looking at the animal’s physical, behavioral, and emotional health, so that’s also some internal stuff. The solution may not be obvious, because it’s not actually something that’s happening in the external environment, but in the internal environment, something like illness, or pain, or motivation, or fatigue, right?

There are things like that that can also influence the behavior that we’re not gonna find in the external environment, because it’s happening in the animal, and that’s why we are such strong advocates for taking an enrichment approach to behavior change, because if we consider those things first, a lot of times, troubleshooting becomes a lot easier.

[00:13:12] Allie: That is absolutely true. We’ve said it a million times that if your needs are not being met, then you cannot be the best version of yourself. A lot of times, not all the time, but a lot of times there’s something in the internal environment that is, making troubleshooting more difficult than perhaps it needs to.

 And so, because there are so many complexities when it comes to how to expand that picture and what to look at, we really recommend going back to Ken’s episode. I mean, let’s be real, you probably already have about 20 times, at this point, because I know I have, but going back to listen to what Ken was talking about when it came to troubleshooting, and all of those complexities.

[00:14:00] Emily: For sure. If you’re anything like us, you’ve definitely already listened multiple times. Pretty much, as soon as we finished recording it, I wanted to go back and re-listen to everything he said.

[00:14:09] Allie: Absolutely, about halfway through my, my brain was like, “Hold on. There’s a lot of information happening. We’re gonna need a moment to digest and come back to this.”

All right. So, let’s get into some troubleshooting stories. You’ve already heard a few troubleshooting stories today, but let’s get into more stories.

And the first is I worked with this dog, like five years ago. I do not remember this dog’s name. I’m gonna call her, Bailey because there’s a good chance that was actually her name. There are a lot of Baileys in my area, especially five years ago. So, we’re gonna call her Bailey. Bailey was this cute, little scruffy thing of a dog, and she was scared of just everything. She had been recently adopted by the sweetest elderly lady, and Bailey was a stray prior to coming to the shelter. It looked like she did not have a lot of experiences with humans, and perhaps the experiences that she did were not amazing. And so, bailey was pretty much afraid of everybody, including her new adopter.

This woman came to me with Bailey asking to improve the relationship, to help Bailey not be afraid of her. We talked about Bailey’s body language signals, we talked about all the things that, that we always talk about with, uh, clients who have pets with maladaptive behaviors. We then started working on some hand targeting with Bailey. We said, okay, hands are very scary for her, to the point where like feeding was difficult, treating was difficult, doing things that, uh, it would be nice to be able to incorporate in our training was difficult because hands were scary.

So, we decided to do some hand targeting and, and let Bailey come to the hand. I set it up in the least aversive way that I could possibly think of, I sat on the floor, I sat sideways to Bailey, I had my hand resting on the floor, and every time Bailey looked at, or approached, or interacted in any way, shape or form with my hand, I would say a little tiny verbal marker, cause a clicker would’ve just completely freaked her out. Did a little tiny baby verbal marker and placed a treat in front of her. She investigated my hand a few times. I continued. Yes, placing the treat in front of her and then she stopped investigating and I said, “Oh, that’s interesting.” There’s nothing in the immediate environment that’s changed, let’s look at the consequence. And I thought back for a moment, and I said, you know what? There was the ever so slightest lean back, weight shift. When my hand would come out to put the treat in front of her, I bet I inadvertently punished her by giving food in that way.

And I had chosen that, cause I thought throwing would’ve just been the absolute worst, and she would’ve stopped playing with me. I accidentally punished by giving treats in this particular way, what could I do instead? So, I was like, all right, let’s try like, the tiniest baby toss, where it’s more like a, like a flick than a toss, and let’s see what that does. So, I let Bailey know there’s a new way that treats are happening, here’s just a, a freebie treat, so you know that there there’s a new way that treats are happening here. And Bailey said, “Oh, I did not like placing. I do like this whole flicking, the treat thing, that’s okay. I can get behind that, and freeze dried liver just happens to be delicious.”

And so, we got through that snafu and by the time we were, we were done for that session, her mom was able to actually start lifting her hand off of the floor and have Bailey willingly come over, happily touch, and move away to be treated. So, that’s an example where the consequence that was happening was not the consequence I thought I was delivering. And I really needed to go back think through the body language that I was seeing the super, super subtle body language that happened to figure out what was wrong with my consequence, and change that according.

[00:18:31] Emily: It’s such a powerful reminder that only the learner decides what’s reinforcing and punishing, or what’s appetitive or aversive. Because we would assume that that would be positive reinforcement, but it turned out to be a positive punishment instead. So, I love that example. I have a little bit of a different example of troubleshooting, where I was working with these absolutely fabulous clients. I adore them and they have a fearful and reactive Bernese mountain dog, and we were working together on a lot of stuff, they’re super committed. We were making a ton of progress. We were working on the relaxation protocol, and they hit a snag where they couldn’t do any part of the relaxation protocol that involved them moving away from the mat because the dog would follow them off the mat every time.

The standard kind of go to troubleshooting for that is splitting the approximations into smaller pieces. So, instead of doing three big steps backwards, we’ll do three little baby steps. And then when the dog can handle that, we do three like medium size steps. And then when the dog can handle that, we do three full size steps. The dog was still following the clients off the mat, and so then we, I tried splitting the approximations, even smaller. Dog was still following client off the mat. I said, okay, it’s strange, because when I do this with her in our sessions, she doesn’t do it for me, but when you do it, she does it for you. I have them, send me a video of when they were doing it when I wasn’t there. What I noticed is that the client, cause when I was there, the client was looking at me, but when I was not there, the client was making direct eye contact with her dog. When we had been working on recall with the dog, she had taught this dog a recall where she’s making eye contact with the dog the whole time and encouraging the dog. I realized that eye contact had become an inadvertent cue for following the client. And so, she was giving this dog conflicting signals, right? Because she’s making eye contact with this dog as she’s backing away.

And the dog’s like, “Okay, we’ve, we’re locking eyes. This must mean I’m supposed to follow you to the ends of the earth, but you like, don’t like that. You’re, you’re you were wanting me to stay here. I don’t understand.” I, I suggested to the client, instead of looking at your dog, when you take steps backwards, I want you to look at your own eye level at whatever is behind the dog. So, in this particular situation, the dog’s relaxation station was in front of a dresser drawer. So, I said, look at that drawer handle that is at your eye level when you’re backing away from your dog. So, she tries that while we’re on a zoom session. Immediately she’s able to walk three full, huge steps away, and the dog just like hangs out on the mat, super chill. And so, I was like, that was the difference. That was the thing. That was the reason that it wasn’t working is because she had previously, that dog had learned that if mom makes eye contact with me, I follow mom wherever she goes. And that was interfering with what we were trying to do with the relaxation protocol, and so all it took was shifting the client’s eye contact from the dog to the dresser behind the dog, and magically the dog could stay put while, while she did the rest of the relaxation protocol. It was one, a little tiny detail that made a huge difference, but this time it was an antecedent instead of a consequence, it was happening as a part of the cue instead of a part of the consequence

[00:21:57] Allie: And that happens so, so, so frequently where someone will say I’m having trouble doing x activity, and we’re like, okay, there’s this part of the environment, or what the human is doing, or whatever it is that has become part of the cue, and if that thing changes, then the animal does or does not do a particular behavior. And I think that’s why video is so helpful for that. So, you can really slow it down, go back, watch individual things over, and over again, to see what is actually changing, when a behavior sometimes happens and sometimes doesn’t happen.

Also, I got the Gilmore Girls theme songs stuck in my head. When you were talking of the like, where you lead, I will follow. Okay. We’re done.

Today, we talked about problem solving, and figuring out what the obstacles in the environment are. The steps are first, identifying if a behavior is increasing, or decreasing. Then identifying the consequence of that behavior. And finally, when the low hanging fruit, isn’t the obvious answer, diving deeper and expanding the antecedent picture that you’re looking at.

Next week, we will be talking with Lisa Clifton-Bumpass. Lisa is one of the most compassionate, empathetic people I know, and she absolutely brings that into her work with animals. She is starting conversations in the animal behavior fields that I think will become some of the biggest topics of discussion in the years to come. I know I said in season one that I want to be Mara when I grow up, well, I also want to be Lisa when I grow up. And Ken and everyone we’ve talked 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.

Thank you for listening and happy training.

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