#31 - Creating Sustainable Management

[00:00:00] Allie: All animals, including humans, require some level of management. While we work primarily with pets with maladaptive behaviors, like aggression, anxiety, and fear, this is still true for pets who don’t exhibit maladaptive behaviors.

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 podcasts. Last week we heard from Naomi Rotenberg and one of the topics we discussed was practical management solutions.

This week, we’re going to dive further into creating sustainable management strategies and talk about implementation with the animals in your life. In this implementation episode, Emily and I talk about the theme for the season’s episodes, the things that give us nightmares, set it and forget it strategies, and simplicity.

Let’s get to it. Y’all don’t know this yet because we batch record interviews usually out of order, but the theme for this season ended up being practicality.

[00:01:32] Emily:  I love how that always works out like that. We go into a season without a conscious decision to have a theme. And yet, we do seem to get recurring themes every season so far. But I do have to say that this season seems to have the most overt theme by far.

[00:01:49] Allie: But it’s been so lovely to hear that message from so many people, especially because it’s something that we really emphasize in our Enrichment Master Class.

[00:01:58] Emily:  You know that one of my favorite things to tell my clients is if you can’t do this every day for a year, let’s figure out how to make it more sustainable for you.

[00:02:07] Allie: I do know that. I think a lot of times when we talk about sustainability, we think about activities. We think about training exercises, and mental and physical exercise, and what we actively do with our pets. But I think management sometimes gets lost in that train of thought because it’s not as active, or because it’s been slowly shaped over time so that the individual person finds it as such a normal way of living that until they say everything they do to someone else, do they realize. Maybe their management plan isn’t as practical or sustainable as they thought it was.

[00:02:46] Emily:  And I think another thing that happens is that what, you know, people get excited about progress they’re seeing, and they think, “Oh, great. I don’t need management anymore.” When in reality, management is the thing that’s allowing the progress to happen. So, management is still necessary in order for us to fully reach our goals.

[00:03:05] Allie: And to be clear, all animals, including humans require some level of management. While we work primarily with pets with maladaptive behaviors, like aggression, anxiety, and fear. This is still true for pets who don’t exhibit maladaptive behaviors. If you have a dog, you’re likely not leaving a garbage can uncovered that has a full thing of chicken in the middle of the floor and expecting them to not eat it. Garbage can lids are management. Fences are management. Leashes are management. The ridiculously difficult to build Plexiglas wall around Zorro’s tank is management.

[00:03:39] Emily:  last one sounds like, it might be a little bit of a personal experience for you, Allie.

[00:03:47] Allie: Right. Like a little like thorn in my side here.

[00:03:52] Emily:  You, you definitely had feelings about that one.

But anyway, management is for everyone, right? Even us, we arrange our environments to give us the greatest chance of a safe and successful life. I’m not going to intentionally immerse myself in things that make me angry, or anxious, or unhealthy because my outcomes wouldn’t be as great if I did that, I mean, that’s kind of a no brainer, right?

And Allie, I know you don’t watch scary movies because you know that you’ll get nightmares if you do. That’s management. I’m okay with scary movies, they don’t give me nightmares, but if I go to bed right after work, especially on the nights when I work late, I will have stress dreams about work. So, I have to have at least two hours of unwinding time between work and bed to prevent me getting, work related stress dreams. And that’s management too. Management isn’t a cop out. It’s not a crutch. It’s just careful environmental arrangement so that we can more easily be our best selves.

[00:04:52] Allie: Absolutely. So, let’s get into how we can do that with our pets. The first takeaway for today is, when possible choose set it and forget it strategies. So, for example, I don’t have to remember to do something to keep Oso from foraging in the garbage, because the kitchen garbage can has a lid that automatically closes and the bathroom can lives under our sink.

Another example is whenever I have a client who needs baby gates, as part of their management strategy, needs us a strong term, so let’s say whenever we’ve identified that baby gates would be the best option for their management strategy. I recommend the kind that screws into the wall and has the door in them. So, they don’t have to remember to put a gate up every time.

The clients that I see who have a real struggle with remembering to put the baby gates up have different outcomes than the people who opt for the screw in ones that they can just set it, forget it. They either leave the door open, leave the door closed and that’s all they have to do.

[00:05:53] Emily:  The next takeaway is think outside the box, which means that there are many times when clients will struggle to come up with management solutions. And your story reminded me of a client that I had, where for a lot of different reasons, they couldn’t use the screw in type of baby gate. And they did keep forgetting the spring loaded baby gate and they couldn’t come up with a third strategy.

And so, for them, the easy straightforward set and forget it thing, wasn’t available and they struggled to come up with another solution. It’s really easy for us as behavior professionals to come up with solutions in those strategies. We will give them a strategy and then they’ll ask, ” Why didn’t I think of that?” Well, because we do this for a living, right? I, I even tell clients, it’s almost like I do this for a living. When you’ve seen as many cases as we’ve seen, and all the different solutions that are available, it’s easier to come up with a creative solution for that client and their complicated reality, right? Or their unique environment or whatever.

Another aspect of that thinking outside the box is to remember that it’s not an all or nothing thing. It doesn’t have to be all the management or none of the management. So, part of thinking outside of the box means recognizing when there are opportunities for compromising, or when the management plan can be adjusted based on where you are in your pet’s behavior modification journey.

[00:07:18] Allie: Do you remember what you did for that particular client, what the solution was?

[00:07:22] Emily:  Oh yeah, we got an X pen. We wedged the, wedged is maybe not the right word, but for lack of a better word, we wedged one end of the X pen behind their sofa and the other end of the X, X pen behind the bookshelf on the other side.

[00:07:39] Allie: Nice, yeah. I, I find that a lot of times when I get the, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

It’s to like, ” You know, there are baby gates that are longer than four feet long, right?” Like there are eight- and 10-foot-long baby gates and X pens and all that. Like, I feel like that’s the solution that a lot of times I get that comment on.

[00:07:58] Emily:  Well, Yeah, because they weren’t allowed to screw things into the wall, but the spring loaded one didn’t fit in the wall because of where, like the door jams, um, not door jams, the what are they called? Door frame. Where the door frames were, and the, the surface of the wall didn’t facilitate those spring-loaded things, so they couldn’t figure it out. And for me it was obvious like X pen used the furniture to hold the X pen in place. But it wasn’t obvious to them because they don’t do this for a living.

[00:08:25] Allie: Exactly. Yes, so our last takeaway for today is to make it as simple as possible. And sometimes utter simplicity isn’t going to be effective, but we can almost always find a way to simplify what our clients have been trying to do before they work with us. And I think that example, Emily is a really good example of that simplicity too.

 I’ve seen clients makeshift, and like kudos to them for trying to think outside of the box and trying to come up with a solution, but I’ve seen clients like hardcore makeshift, some sort of barrier, which nobody can get over or through, including the humans, and they’ve effectively blocked off part of their house to every single individual who lives in it.

And we could say like, ” Let’s do an X pen and, and you could even get a kind that has a door in it.”

One of the ways that I help clients come up with simpler solutions is to revisit their goals, to begin with, to make sure that what they’re trying to accomplish is realistic and sustainable in the first place. And we don’t have to have some really complicated convoluted management strategy to achieve something that perhaps we shouldn’t be trying to achieve.

Again, the theme for this season is practicality. And yes, you can train almost every behavior, but will you, and should you? Those are all very different things, and so it’s really easy to say, “Oh yeah, we can do that.” And it’s another thing to say, “But I actually will do that. And I should do that.”

You know, a lot of times we have to help clients navigate the can versus will versus should. Sometimes making a management strategy simpler means revisiting our goals.

And one of the reasons that I recommend doing that for clients is because one of the things that I’ve heard from many clients over the years is that they are concerned that they can’t go on vacation because nobody else could follow their management strategy safely and reliably.

That their management strategy is completely dependent on one person, and that is a recipe for burnout. So, another factor for simplification is making sure that everyone involved in the pet’s life can maintain that management strategy, and that includes whoever is going to be watching your pet when you’re on vacation. Because if it’s all dependent on one person, it’s so much more likely to fail.

[00:11:06] Emily:  When we start working with clients, so much of their management is really labor intensive and burdensome and sometimes overwrought. And like you were saying kudos to them for commitment and creativity, but let’s do something that makes your life easier and something that everyone can accomplish and, and be on board with.

[00:11:26] Allie: Let’s get into a few stories of times that we helped clients create a more sustainable management solution. it’s so funny because I was literally telling Emily and Ellen this story yesterday or two days ago, and then when we got to recording today’s episode, I was like, “Wait, I’m just going to use this story that I literally just told them about this topic. So, I have this absolutely phenomenal client, whom I love and adore so much, they are, are some of the sweetest people I’ve ever met. They adopted two dogs who they were told, were a bonded pair. And we’re not going to get into the rabbit hole of what is, and is not actually a bonded pair, but I will phrase, or I will sum up that rabbit hole with very few times have I seen animals who are described as bonded pairs, actually being bonded pairs. That’s the moral of that soap box. So, they adopted these two dogs who were described as bond, a bonded pair, and that should have been, my soapbox should have been a spoiler alert, they were not actually a bonded pair.

Their personalities could not be further apart from one another. Holly is a firecracker and they’re only about a year apart, actually. I think Holly might be five now, and uh, Sox is six they’re only about a year apart. Holly is a firecracker. She is like the stereotypical terrier digging, and running, and energy, and feelings, and a thousand pounds of personality in an eight-pound dog. And Sox, I always think she is 10 years older than she actually is because she’s just the granny kind of dog who just wants to nap and not be bothered and, and all of that.

 And about a year after they were adopted. These dogs started getting into a lot of fights and their parents were obviously very concerned about this and started complete separation management for them. They were fortunate in that they are an elderly, retired couple and so it’s just them in the house. They have a two-story house.

They had a lot of space that they could do this really separated management, which they needed to in the beginning. I think we did double baby gates with dead space in between for their training. And I think they needed about 10 feet of dead space for the dogs to feel comfortable even with the baby gate in between.

So, these kiddos ended up needing quite a bit of space and it, it, they, we were very fortunate that they actually had that to work with. For quite a long time, it was one dog would be on one level of the house, the other dog would be on the second level of the house, and they would switch them throughout the day.

Luckily, these two kiddos are very small. It was very easy to swap them because they could actually pick them up, both of these girls were okay with being picked up and, and so that was very fortunate for them.

As we went through and in the beginning, I told them, “I don’t know what the outcome is going to be here. It’s very hard to predict outcomes when we’re talking about intra household aggression, because there are so many factors beyond our control and sometimes personalities just straight up do not get along. And that is true for humans as much. It is as it is for dogs.” And so, they knew that these girls being fully integrated again, may not be the answer may not be the outcome. And so, we were working for quite a while. These girls were making leaps and bounds of progress. We got to the point where there’s only one baby gate between them.

They don’t need the visual barriers. They’re able to move away from the gates. They’re able the little scruffy terrier, Holly is her name, had a whole host of feelings about other things too. She had uh, leash reactivity, and stranger danger, and resource guarding, and a whole host of things. The Dachshund Sox had a bunch of handling issues, which were exacerbated by pain that we didn’t know was happening until we started working more with her vet.

So, we’re making progress and, we got to this point where Sox just straight up doesn’t like Holly. It’s not that they are going after one another, it’s not that they are having problems with the current management strategy. It’s that, we cannot safely predict that Sox would not tell Holly to stop being Holly.

And that Holly would be okay with Sox telling her that. We can’t reliably predict that. And Sox has every right to tell Holly to stop being Holly, because Holly is a lot for everybody who lives with her. And also, it’s not necessarily safe for Sox to do that. Holly and Sox’s parents and I had a frank discussion of, we have made so much progress and still Sox just flat out doesn’t like her, and we don’t know that she’s ever going to like her, and it’s kind of valid and fair for her not to like her.

So, what is our new goal for them? And their humans said, ” Really what we would love, and what we would be okay with, and what would be sustainable for us, and would be good quality of life for all four of us would be for Holly and Sox to be on the same level of the house for the entire day, and not have to switch one or the other between the downstairs and upstairs. And if the humans could be on the same side of the gate, and one of the dogs not be with a human, and that dog being okay with that.”

And Holly does jump baby gates. And so, they had to they were really clever with this, they got one of those tension shower rods, and put that right above the baby gate. And that is enough extra height that Holly can’t jump it. But they were reasonably concerned that Holly would try to jump the gate if there was not a human on the same side as her. They said, “And our big goal would be for all of us to be able to watch TV at night because the girls do like cuddling with them during TV time, but it doesn’t necessarily have to look like the girls don’t have any form of management during that time. I said, “Okay. That is an easier goal to reach than the girls being able to be completely integrated back to each other.”

And so, we started working for that. We started working for training the girls to be okay for longer periods of time, both on the same level. Does that mean we need more visual barriers over the gates? Do we not need visual barriers over the gates? Luckily, because they can both walk away from the gates, they don’t need visual barriers anymore.

Uh, and then we started training for building duration for their humans to be on one side of the gate together, and have a human, not be with a dog. And so, we started gradually building the duration for that until, they told me, “Oh my gosh, I was able to do all the chores I needed to do and not worry about which side of the gate I was on and who I was with.”

Now we are working towards the girls feeling comfortable, relaxing on their relaxation stations with being tethered so that they can hang out on, on different pieces of living room furniture, far enough away that they will feel comfortable while their humans watch TV and be integrated into board game night with their humans too, while being safe and comfortable being together.

[00:19:30] Emily:  That’s the cutest and I love it so much. Such a great story. I have a little bit of a different type of story in that, we actually did achieve full integration and it didn’t take nearly as long as I thought it would. So, my management story, isn’t so much about being in it for the long haul, but I mean, three months can feel like an eternity.

I am not trying to downplay anybody who’s put in months of, of any kind of effort, but three months is also much shorter than we typically expect for cases like this. So, this was a sh, a much faster case than I anticipated, but I still love it for this example, because the, the complication here was that we had a 12-year-old lab with a lifetime history of terminating cats. We’ll use a euphemism because I didn’t do a content warning beforehand. So, this was a, a dog who had spent 12 years terminating kitties, and then of course their teenage daughter one day brought home a kitten. And was smitten with this kitten and was not taking no for an answer. The parents were like, ” we want her to have this kitten, but like, what do we do?

Our first session was like, “Look, we need to reframe our expectations because this dog has a 12-year history, and a cat in this house is in dire risk, and management can fail. We, we really need to think about whether or not this is worthwhile, and this is safe, and you know, like you need to prepare yourself for what could potentially be catastrophic if management fails, and your children see something that they’re maybe not ready to see.” And we have that conversation, the family talked about it, and they were all like, “We we’ll do whatever it takes. We wanna do this.”

So, I was like, “Okay, we’ll try this. This makes me nervous. You’re gonna sign a waiver. We had a really serious talk about how important the management component of this was, and they were super on board with it, but their valid concern was we have four children that span, you know, ages four to 14, how do we get everybody including the four-year-old to follow the management plan?”

 Looking at the layout of the house, there were some real complications, and also the concern, as Naomi brought up in the, in her interview last week, when you have a dog, who’s had free roam of a house for 12 years, and then an animal comes into the house and restricts access, that can cause a lot of distress and resentment and all of that stuff. The management strategy that we came up with was actually, “Look, you’ve got this kitten in the house, the kitten is about six weeks old, so totally new environment for the kitten. Kitten’s still in critical socialization period, 14-year-old, if you want this cat in this house, basically this cat is going to live with you. You are responsible for this kitten at all times.”

So, we taught the kitten how to wear a harness and it did not actually take that long, the 14-year old’s bedroom to be the cat’s space, the cat’s living space. And the rule was, any time the kitten needed to leave the room, 14-year-old would have the kitten on the harness, would announce that she was coming out so that somebody could let the dog out in the backyard before she would bring the kitten out. And then she would go wherever she needed to go with the kitten.

So, 14-year-old was committed, I mean, The rules were, if you insist on keeping this cat. You are 100% responsible for this kitten at all times. And so that was the management plan. Kitten was on a harness, and there was lots of communication about when kitten comes out of the room, dog goes out. We also could a baby gate at the bottom of the stairs, just as a secondary measure, the dog, fortunately was old enough that he wasn’t choosing to go upstairs a lot anyway because he was starting to get some arthritis. The daughter’s bedroom happened to be upstairs, so it kind of a fail-safe.

But the real management was that the kitten lived in the bedroom and the, the girl would only bring the kitten out on that harness. So, we did, there were a lot of different aspects of this as Naomi discussed. There’s a lot of like getting them used to each other’s scent, and getting them used to seeing each other, and just coexisting. I was really impressed, like I said, it took three months for them to get to a point where the dog and the cat actually became friends and they sent me a photo, it was actually a video first. They sent me a video three months after we started of the dog and the cat napping together. And I was floored, that a dog with a 12-year history could make friends with a cat that quickly. And we still had management that they are never to be together unattended. We’re always gonna keep an eye on them because you never know what can happen. You know, Things can go wrong fast without human supervision. But what was interesting to me is that because the daughter was just essentially, the kitten lived in the daughter’s room and the daughter, daughter was essentially tethered to the kitten. Anytime she was out, there was 100% follow through with that management plan. So, there was never a management fail, which allowed them to make that progress and have only good calm, happy interactions between the two animals.

Which allowed them to start meeting each other sooner, which allowed them to start practicing, what does it look like when the kitten is playful? Can the dog still relax when the kitten is playing and running around with the kids? That happened, that process happened so much faster because there was never a chance for the dog to rehearse predatory behaviors towards the kitten. Not even once, it just never happened. And I feel pretty convinced that the reason they were able to make such fast progress was in large part, not entirely because behavior is complex and there’s a lot of things going on there, but in large part, because the management strategy was so simple and easy for them to do. And also, kudos to the 14-year-old to be that committed to it. Because it did require a lot of commitment from her, but it was the simplest strategy that we could come up with to make this, what I felt was an impossible situation super successful. And by the way, that dog and that cat were BFFs until the dog passed away four years later. So, they, they did have a lifelong friendship for the rest of that dog’s life. That’s my like, feel good, happy story about how we can make the management plan as simple and straightforward as possible, so that it’s easier for them to implement, and how much faster we can reach our goals when we have a management plan that is sustainable, realistic, and solid.

[00:26:21] Allie: I’ve heard you tell that story before, but I love it every time you tell it, like we were saying, it’s so hard to predict intra household aggression, whether it’s dog, cat, cat, cat, like cetera, insert any species you want into here, it’s such a lovely reminder that it doesn’t always have to be doom and gloom. Sometimes we can have really surprising outcomes, and sometimes that’s not in a good way, but sometimes it is in a good way. So, I love that story every time you tell it.

[00:26:57] Emily:  It is possible for there to be these really amazing outcomes, and we still have to be safe and conservative and very specific in that process because if we are going to get that result, the only way we have a shot at it is by, really, really safe and making it sustainable.

[00:27:16] Allie: So, today we talked about creating sustainable management strategies. That includes choosing set it and forget it strategies when possible, thinking outside of the box so you can come up with more sustainable solutions during each part of your pet’s behavior modification journey, and making it as simple as possible.

At the end of the day, you should be able to do your management strategy every day for a year if you needed to. Next week, we will be talking with Marissa Martino about cultivating connections for behavior change. Marissa’s introspection is something that I aspire to, and I always end up learning something about myself whenever I talk with her. She’s someone that I can honestly say makes me a better human being.

 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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