#35: Implementing Predictability for Security

[00:00:00] Allie: Oso has different ways to ask for things because we’ve been very predictable with the consequences to certain behaviors. If you perform this behavior, this is what’s going to happen. If you perform that behavior, that’s what’s going to happen. He has a lot of different ways to ask for things because we have responded the same way every time.

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…

[00:00:40] Emily:  …and I’m Emily Strong…

[00:00:41] 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 Sara McLoudrey, and one of the topics we discussed was Care with Consent. This week we’re going to dive further into predictability and talk about implementation with the animals in your life.

In this implementation episode, Emily and I talk about how we met, in which I screamed at her, and she decided we would be professional wives, you know, totally normal reactions on both ends, how little often simple life changes can result in big predictability outcomes, and Emily’s resource guarding soapbox.

All right. I’m going to tell y’all a story about how predictability impacts behavior. And that’s the story of how Emily and I met. We met at a sanctuary. I was already working in the dog behavior department, Emily was working in the bird department, and she was thinking of coming into the dog behavior department, and y’all know how that ended up.

Spoiler alert, that happened. We were coworkers. Any who, Emily had a meeting with my manager, and so like a typical person who was waiting for a meeting to start, she was sitting in the lobby of our building where our office was. I walk into the building, see her pause, probably a good two to three seconds, and start screaming. Because I didn’t think anybody would be sitting in the lobby, and you know, fight or flight responses are a thing, y’all. And startle responses are a thing, and therefore I screamed for what, Emily, would you say? Like 20 seconds, 30 seconds. Like way longer than.

[00:02:40] Emily:  It was so long. It was the most, it was the weirdest like stare at me silently for a few seconds, and then just this long, protracted scream. I was absolutely dying.

[00:02:55] Allie: And I l I remember this because this happens, this happens to me where like I scream, and my brain is like, you are fine, this is not a threat, this is just a person interacting in the environment in a way that is very typical of this environment’s interaction, and I still keep screaming beyond that point.

It’s like brain is like you’re safe. And then a good 10 seconds later brain is like, and now you can stop screaming. So, that’s how Emily and I met. She was sitting there being a typical human, and I walked in, and didn’t expect her, and screamed at her for a long time. This is, this is not the only time, by the way, that I have met someone because of my startle response.

I’ve met other people because I was startled that a human was in an environment that they had every right to be in. So, because I startle frequently when I can’t predict that something will happen, I would say that to colleagues, the first question I would get is if that’s ever got me into trouble when working with a anxious or aggressive animals.

But the answer to that is no, it hasn’t, because I anticipate that something will happen in that environment, and so my behavior is different. If I don’t anticipate somebody being there, I have a grandiose startle response. If I do anticipate that something may happen to me, I am actually very levelheaded.

[00:04:22] Emily:  Yeah, exactly. Because predictability can reduce the intensity of how aversive or scary something is or how distressed we feel about it. So, the example I used in our book was when I got my back piece, I actually have a full back piece, which I think surprises a lot of people who don’t know me very well. People who know me well are like, yeah, that tracks.

[00:04:43] Allie: A back piece is a tattoo, by the way, for those of you who are not in the tattoo world.

[00:04:48] Emily:  Right. Yeah. Okay. Thanks for that, Allie. Yes, it is a tattoo. I have a full, a tattoo that goes across my entire back. People always ask me, “Oh, my God, did that hurt?” And my answer is, “Well, yeah, a little. I mean, in some places it actually felt good. In other places it hurt a little bit. There were a few places that it hurt a lot.”

It’s, it was completely different experience because, you know, I knew what was gonna happen. I agreed to it. We planned for it. I went to my tattoo artist’s place of business. I laid down on the table. I knew it was coming. We had six, six-hour sessions and each time I went I knew what to expect because I had experienced it before.

There’s also another element of, uh, having control over the experience because if I needed a break, I could tell him, please stop. And he would stop and give me a break. So, there’s also that ability to stop it, and escape it when I needed to. But the predictability was a really important component of that, it would have hurt a lot more if I had just been like, kidnapped off the street by some rando strangers, I didn’t know what was gonna happen, where they were taking me, what they were doing to me. They, you know, strapped me down to a table, and then tattooed my back. That would’ve been a lot more painful because I didn’t know what to expect. And then if that happened five more times after that, I would probably start to generalize that fear to like being out in public. Who know is today the day when the scary tattoo people show up, and whisk me off, and tie me down, and, and stab my back with a needle thousands of times? So, the predictability reduced how painful the tattoo was because I knew what to expect, and I had an escape. So, it’s super important to keep predictability in mind when we’re working with a learner who is experiencing distress, and or when an unavoidable aversive stimulus is a part of their experience.

[00:06:34] Allie: And keep in mind that distress happens to everyone. Regardless of how much we try to eliminate it. So, predictability is helpful for all individuals in our lives. So, let’s talk about how we can increase predictability in our pet’s lives. And the first one is to create a schedule.

[00:06:55] Emily:  I think this is something that people get a little bit confused about because people think that creating a schedule means that they have to say like, at seven 15, we’re gonna get out of bed, and at seven 30 we’re going to go on a walk and we’re going to walk for 17 and a half minutes, and we’re gonna come home, and wait a full 30 seconds before we feed the dog.

And a schedule doesn’t have to be that tied down. It’s more about the sequence of events, like what happens in what order than it is very rigid time periods. So, for example, my partner and I, you know, we typically get up around the same time in the morning on the, on our workdays, but on our weekends, we’ll sleep in and our, none of our animals are distressed by that because it’s not about what time we start our routine, it’s that the routine happens in a specific order. And, if I violate that routine, the animals remind me, especially the birds, Allie and Ellen can testify how many times, they could probably tell you the times that I have not done my morning bird routine at the normal time because my birds are very good about reminding us that I have not done the morning routine yet. So, we have to create a schedule in which the sequence of events is predictable. And we know we’re going to do this, and then this comes next, and then this comes next, and then this comes next.

[00:08:14] Allie: Our animals get used to routines, sometimes people enjoy that and sometimes people don’t enjoy that. But when we’re really strategic about it, we can really use this to our benefit. One of the nice things about animals not being able to generalize super well is that you can create really, really specific routines based off of very small changes in the environment. And the example that I use for that is our bedtime routine with Oso. A queen size bed is the only size of bed that will fit into our bedroom, and we have a 90-pound dog who we enjoy snuggling with in the morning, not in the evening when we are trying to go to bed.

So, we taught Oso, he is allowed in our bed at all times, except when we were actually going to bed in the evening. In the evening he comes in from outside, he goes and lies down on his bed. We get into our bed, and life is good. Somewhere in in the morning he will get up off of his bed, and come up into our bed, and as he’s gotten older, that time gets pushed back, so it’s earlier and earlier. I think it’s around like 2:00 AM right now, and we are unconscious, so there’s nothing we can do to change that behavior. So that routine is so instilled in him that there have been times where like if one of us is traveling and uh, and we’re like, yeah, you should come up and snuggle in bed because there’s all this room now, and he is like, ” I sleep in my bed for the first two hours of the evening, and then I get into your bed at 2:00 AM.” You can have very specific routines for your animals. It doesn’t have to be an all or nothing thing, you just need to make sure that you’re really, really consistent with those routines, that only vary based on small environmental cues.

[00:10:07] Emily:  This is especially important when there’s going to be some kind of unavoidable aversive, or a potential aversive thing happening to our animals. And I think that’s really scary for a lot of people because I know a lot of people are like, “Wait a minute, if my animal knows that this sequence of events results in something that they don’t like, they are just better at avoiding it, and then it’s harder for me to get them to do the thing, or to go through it. So, predictability is awful. Why would you recommend that? Are you completely off your rocker?”

That’s valid. That’s a super common experience. I’m definitely not trivializing that experience because it, it does happen, but it doesn’t happen because of the predictability. It actually happens because of the sequencing of events.

And what happens is things that can sometimes be good, or benign, end up predicting bad things. And so, they don’t trust the thing. Because when you put the leash on with your like vet voice, like, “It’s okay, this is totally fine. We’re just going for a walk. I’m definitely not taking you to the vet.” The animals learn to predict that that kind of like overly friendly, overly happy voice means that something bad is gonna happen afterwards. So, that’s actually called reverse conditioning and it’s the opposite of what we’re trying to do, which is this appetitive counter conditioning where the scary thing predicts a good thing instead. So, we need to kind of flip the script to make the aversive thing predict something good instead, so that we get through the thing, we’re honest about it. We’re like, “Okay, yeah. We’re gonna go on a car ride, and we’re gonna go to a place that you might not love, but something good is gonna happen. And then we might have to take your power away for a little while, but then we’re gonna give you your power back.” So, if we build predictability, and the sequence of events so that instead of tricking them into the bad thing and then the trick becomes the predictor for the bad thing. We build the sequence of events like, “Okay, we’re about to do this thing. None of us love it, but we, if we get through it, there’s peanut butter for you at the end of it.” That completely changes the experience for both the animal, and the person who’s trying to get the animal through the thing that’s maybe not awesome.

So, I think that’s the second takeaway is pay attention to the order in which good things and bad things happen, and make sure that the bad things always predict the good things, not the good things, predicting the bad things.

[00:12:38] Allie: Yeah. And that reverse conditioning is the answer to a lot of questions that clients end up asking us. They ask us, how does my pet know the exact turn, that means we are going to the vet and we are not going to the park? It’s because reverse conditioning. Why is it that my pet who has separation related distress starts showing stress signals when I get into the shower, or when I put my shoes on? That’s reverse conditioning. We just have to be really cognizant and strategic about how we go about our life with our pets in order to get the effects that we’re looking for.

And then our third takeaway for today is building predictable consequences so you can ask your animal. So, for example, Oso knows that if he goes to our back door, and he stands near our back door, and looks at the door, and looks at us, and looks at the door, and looks at us, then we’ll say, “Do you want to go outside?” And then he’s going to wag his tail a little bit, and we’ll say, “You do?!” And then we open the door, and we let him outside, that specific behavior of standing by the back door, look at the door, look at us. Only works for going outside.

If he wants something else, he knows that he needs to do another type of behavior. If he wants to get up on the couch, he rests his chin on the couch.

If he wants to play, he does this kind of like squirrely thing. And for my husband, he’ll start trying to play with his foot, which, we talked about Oso being a foot biter, and I watched this new type of attention seeking behavior start, and I mildly tried to intervene, and I was like, this is actually pretty funny, I’m not gonna try too hard to intervene.

So, Oso has different ways to ask for things because we’ve been very predictable with the consequences to certain behaviors. If you perform this behavior, this is what’s going to happen. If you perform that behavior, that’s what’s going to happen. He has a lot of different ways to ask for things because we have responded the same way every time.

[00:14:44] Emily:  Yeah, and that’s really what I was talking about with Sara when we were talking about the nail trims for dogs who’ve already had really long histories of nail trims being horrific, and the amount of effort involved in, in teaching them to like voluntarily give you a paw, or do a scratch board or whatever thing that we would typically do in cooperative care just isn’t super practical.

That is like Copper up and down. Copper has broken his nails three times where we’ve had to cut the nail off at the quick, and bandage his foot, and do foot soaks and all of that stuff. And each time he broke his nail, it got progressively harder to reteach him, hi, the cooperative care stuff.

So, now we’re at a place where I just am like, “Okay, buddy. If you come up on the sofa when Chuck is sitting on this very specific spot on the sofa, and he’s got the peanut butter, and I’ve got the nail tremors, you know what’s gonna happen, so do you think you can handle this? Can we do this nail trimming thing for peanut butter?”

And he’ll jump up there, and then I’ll be like, “Okay, I’m gonna grab your paw. Are you cool with this?” And he’ll be like, “Yes, I can do this.” And then I trim the nail. He gets the little peanut butter. If he pulls his feet away, I give him a break. That’s his way of saying, I’m, I need to stop. It’s like me asking my tattoo artist, “I need a break from this whole tattoo thing. Can we take a minute?” And so, I, we let him stop and then if he’s done for the whole session, he’ll jump off the sofa and we end it, and we get as many nails in as he’s willing to let us get in.

If he’s not done with the session, he just needed a little break, he’ll stay on the sofa. I’ll wait until he’s settled again. I’ll pick up his paw again, and we keep going. So, that’s an example of how to use these predictable consequences to ask the animal, yeah, I know you don’t love this, but this is followed by peanut butter, and you can opt out when you need to. You can say no when you need to like take a break from this.

[00:16:31] Allie: And I think the really hard thing for people is that consistency. Especially in the opting out part of it. Where they pull their nail away and you’re like, “Oh, but I was just!” No. There was no, I was just, I was just close to being finished, I just need to do a little bit more. No, there is no, “I was just” you need to stop, and be consistent because that’s how you build that predictability, and make your life, and your pet’s life so much easier moving forward.

So, what I recommend to my clients who have a hard time with this, and let’s be real, this is a human thing, I have a hard time with this sometimes too. What I recommend is write down your rules. If my pet moves their foot away from me, I will stop. And if you need to give yourself a replacement behavior, I will count to 10, and move on to the next foot. You can do that too, but be very, very clear ahead of time so that you know exactly what you should do, and you don’t just try to sneak one in there and then ruin those predictable consequences that you’ve tried so hard to create.

Let’s get into stories. I feel. This entire episode has just been stories, but we need more stories. So, my story, and I racked my brain to try to remember what this dog’s name was, what this human’s name was. I loved this human and her dog. They were just fabulous clients, but it was, I think two years ago that I worked with them, and my memory does not last that long. It doesn’t last two days sometimes, let’s be real.

I’m gonna call this dog Princess because she was a little floofy small dog. She and her human lived in Chicago, and her dog, like many small dogs that come to us, did not enjoy being handled. For the most part, this wasn’t a huge deal. We did a lot of management of, okay, we’re just not going to pick her up. We worked on some training exercises so that when she came into the apartment with her little muddy feet, she would go into a little tub of water and, and then, hand target or spin around a towel to, to dry off, uh, so we didn’t have to touch her feet as much anymore, all that good sort of stuff. But there were some situations in which it did make sense to pick her up. And partially because sometimes she enjoyed being picked up. Uh, and really, it was probably that she didn’t enjoy being picked up, but she enjoyed being held.

And the hard thing with that is, unless her human is sitting on the floor, you have to be picked up in order to be held. And so, what was happening was her dog was seemingly asking to be picked up, and then having really big feelings about that, and attempting to, or sometimes succeeding in biting her human.

And so, what we did for Princess, because I recognized, not picking her up doesn’t necessarily meet the criteria or doesn’t necessarily address all the facets of the situation. She does enjoy being held, she is asking for it, and sometimes she has feelings about it, and sometimes she’s really excited about it.

And so, what we did is we added a cue for her, like a, like a Ready Liftoff cue. But I’m not good at naming cues like that. That is definitely our consultant MaryKaye, who came up with Ready Liftoff, cuz she’s way more creative than I am about that. So, we had some sort of ready liftoff cue for Princess, where her human would say, ” ready, liftoff” and bend over, and if Princess was like, “No, I don’t want this.” And, and started displaying any stress signals, or started moving away, her human would say, “Okay.” And move on with her life. If she said, “ready, liftoff” and, and did a slight bend, and Princess was like, “Yeah, we’re doing the thing!” Then Princess’ human could pick her up.

And that was really what solved the issue for everyone, in that princess did want to be held, her human enjoyed holding her. We just needed to get this predictability and consent moment in there of, I see you want to be held, but do you actually want to be picked up in order for that to happen or not?

[00:20:40] Emily:  I love that story, and I think it’s a testament to how this doesn’t always have to be some huge, long, convoluted process. Sometimes it can be pretty simple to build in some predictability and consent to get really kind of rapid improvement in a relationship, or a behavioral, reliability, stuff like that.

And it’s funny because when we were trying to come up with stories this episode, this is another situation where we had a hard time picking a story because it’s kind of welcome to Tuesday for us, right? This is predictability and consent are things that we build into all of our cases with all of our clients.

So, instead of picking one story, I decided instead to talk about resource guarding because a lot of people who come from a more traditional background and have been learned like this kind of old school dominance theory where we believe that there’s an alpha dog.

Swear by this, procedure of having, you know, the quote unquote alpha dog eat first or get a resource first, and then, a beta dog eat second or whatever. And I’ve heard so many trainers say, ” It really works.” and my response to that is, yeah, of course it does. It just doesn’t work for the reason that you think it does.

It’s not because you’ve established one dog as the alpha, and so the other dog is accepting that dog’s superior social status. It’s that dogs thrive on predictability. All sentient beings thrive on predictability. Resource guarding at its core is an insecurity about resources and building in that predictability of when Fluffy gets food at her mat, then I am going to get food at my mat.

That is, uh, the kind of predictability that can be really effective. Now. Disclaimer, disclaimer, disclaimer. Of course, predictability is not the only thing that we do for resource guarding. It can be really complex, these cases, and there’s lots of facets to them. So, I’m not saying if you have dogs who have resource guarding issues, this is all you have to do to magically fix your problem.

But the reason that people see improvement, when they are making, their household routine so that one dog gets a resource and the next one does, and then the next one does, and so on are seeing results because of that predictability that we’ve built into those dog’s routine, they know what to expect and the fact that one dog is getting a resource predicts that they will get a resource as well. And so, of course that is going to be effective. just bear that in mind. A lot of times people can do something that works, but the reason that they think it works isn’t the reason it’s actually working, and this is one of those examples that I see happen over, and over, and over, again. It’s the predictability of that routine that is helping dogs to be more comfortable with an allocation of resources in the house.

[00:23:31] Allie: That’s a good soapbox. I like it.

So today we talked about predictability, and the way to do that is to create a schedule and routines, pay attention to the order in which good things and bad things happen, and adjust your routines accordingly, and build predictable consequences so that you can ask your animal what they need.

Next week we will be talking with Dr. Susan Friedman about how to become a better animal trainer. Susan is one of those people who truly walks the walk when it comes to incorporating their behavior knowledge into all facets of life. One of the things I absolutely love from next week’s episode is talking about unnatural solutions to natural behaviors. This is something that we get asked about a lot, so I know you will be interested in hearing Susan’s perspective.

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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