#39 - Q&A - Enrichment for Herding Dogs

[00:00:00] Emily:  I think the biggest misunderstanding about enrichment is that it’s just entertainment or keeping animals busy. And enrichment is so much more comprehensive than that. And it’s really about helping them to be the best version of themselves and allow them to fully explore their, their potential, right? So, it’s much more comprehensive than are we keeping them busy and entertained.

[00:00:22] 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…

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

[00:00:42] Allie: …and we are here to challenge and expand your view of what enrichment is, what enrichment can be and what enrichment can do for you and the animals in your lives. Let’s get started.

 Thank you for joining us for today’s episode of Enrichment for the Real World, and I want to thank you for rating, reviewing, and subscribing wherever you listen to podcasts.

In this Q and A episode, you’re going to hear Emily, Ellen, and I answer your questions, including the biggest misunderstanding folks have about enrichment, our go-to activities, the enrichment category we wish got more love, and of course, the question we named this episode after enrichment for herding breeds in urban and suburban environments. All right. Here it is. Today’s episode Q and A Enrichment for Herding Dogs. Ellen, take it away.

[00:01:32] Ellen: All right. Our first question was from Amy, and her question was, in your experience, what’s the biggest misunderstanding people have about enrichment?

[00:01:40] Emily:  For me, Allie, I don’t know if this is true for you, but I think the biggest misunderstanding about enrichment is that it’s just entertainment or keeping animals busy. And enrichment is so much more comprehensive than that. And it’s really about helping them to be the best version of themselves and allow them to fully explore their, their potential, right? So, it’s much more comprehensive than are we keeping them busy and entertained.

[00:02:06] Allie: That’s exactly what I was going to say is that people think of enrichment as activities or items and not as goals.

[00:02:14] Ellen: All right. Our next question was from Brandee, and that is what’s your go-to quotations, enrichment activity, and why?

[00:02:21] Allie: This is true. Regardless of what folks are working on, I am almost always talking about scent work with my clients regardless of their goals. Uh, because it can fit so many of the enrichment categories. It’s a species typical behavior for dogs, which is primarily what I’m working with. Uh, but it’s also forging. It can be mental exercise, it can be calming, it can serve so many different functions, and, and we can use it for maladaptive behaviors as counter conditioning, we can use it as a distraction technique, we can use it as a form of rewarding behaviors we like. There are just so many ways to use scent work and find it, or scatter feeding is usually what I’m talking about when I do that. So that’s my go-to activity for everything.

[00:03:10] Emily:  Yeah, for dogs, I think that’s definitely true. For other species, though I have different go-to activities that have the potential to be enriching.

[00:03:19] Allie: That’s a really fair point my go-to for cats is something in relation to their hunt, feast groom, sleep cycle, and not scent work. So yes, my answer was very dog centric.

[00:03:29] Ellen: All right. Our next question is from Megan for herding dogs in the suburb or urban environments, what enrichment activities do you recommend to help satisfy their particular hypertrophy behaviors in the predation motor sequence?

How about we start by defining predation motor sequence. For listeners that may not know what that is.

[00:03:47] Emily:  So, when we’re talking about a predation motor sequence, what we’re really talking about is a modal action pattern, which is series of innate behaviors that are chained, be together and happen reliably in that same sequence. So, for dogs, depending on how specific you wanna get, a predatory modal action pattern typically looks like, searching for something, and then once they see it, stalking, and then chasing, catching, and killing, and then eating, of course, right? So, that would be the modal action pattern that we’re talking about. With, herding breed dogs, the, the parts of that modal action pattern that have been selectively bred to be stronger in many individuals, the tendency is on that, um, kind of hypervigilance, so scanning the environment, seeing something, stalking it, and chasing it. And then we’ve maybe weakened the catching and killing parts because it wouldn’t be very advantageous to have herding dogs catching and killing the herd they’re supposed to protect, right?

So, um, what we’re really looking at is, or I think what the question is really asking is what can we do to help dogs who exhibit those tendencies of vigilance, stalking, and chasing, is can we give them a more appropriate outlet for those behaviors? And I think that, before I even answer that question, I wanna say, make sure that your dog is actually doing those things, because a lot of times people assume that because they have a dog of a certain breed, therefore they need to perform these behaviors.

But if you’re not seeing the dog performing those behaviors, then that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ve inherited those behavioral tendencies, and that those behavioral tendencies have really expressed themselves. That they have had a learning history that encourages those behaviors to continue.

So, I don’t think you need to create work for yourself if your dog isn’t already doing those behaviors, and then the second thing I would think about before answering this question is, is the dog doing this in a healthy or appropriate way, or is this a maladaptive coping mechanism?

And the reason I think it’s important to bring that up is because, in a lot of cases, there are individual learners who have some kind of anxiety or even generalized anxiety, and they don’t have skills to cope with a certain situation. And so, because they don’t have any learned skills, they kind of fall back on innate behaviors. And so, a lot of times we’ll see these modal action pattern behaviors happening, not because the dog is trying to do this in a functional way, or because they’re enjoying it, but because the dog is actually feeling really anxious about something and they’re just coping by doing this modal action pattern.

So, in that case, it’s not appropriate to give them an outlet for that because the behavior isn’t happening in a, in a healthy way, the behavior is happening, because they’re coping with some stress. So, in that case, the enrichment needs to be, let’s teach them how to move away from stressors, and how to self-regulate, and de-escalate, and come down from that stress. And how to relax, and find, find a safe space that they can go and relax. Which has nothing to do whatsoever with that modal action pattern.

However, if we’re seeing a dog who is a herding dog and is exhibiting those, um, hurting tendencies of, look for something, see something, stalk it, chase it, then healthy outlet for that behavior can look like a treibball, which is also called urban herding, there, there are books that can teach you how to do this in your backyard, or you can take classes to learn it. It could also look like using a flirt pole. However, if you are going to use a flirt pole, I think it’s really important to use it, um, in a productive way that teaches the dog how to do the behaviors, and then stop them, and relax.

So, you need to teach them how to turn on and do the thing, and then how to turn off and take a break. So, for, if you’re gonna use flirt pole, I’ll teach people how to use it by, letting the dog chase it, letting the dog catch it, and then having the dog release it, and go do some kind of de-escalation work, like work or laying on a relaxation station or something like that.

So, you can use a flirt pole as that activity. Some people have found that they’re herding breed dogs like lure coursing, even though it, that was a game designed for scent hounds. Sometimes that’s enough for herding dogs to get to chase the thing around. Those are the main activities that I typically use, either treibball, flirt pole or lure coursing.

But remember, it’s always about the individual, and what they’re responding to, and, and what they’re enjoying. So, I think the other thing to consider is, when you offer them an activity, are they choosing to engage joyfully? Are they relaxed and happy? And even if they’re not relaxed, if they’re excited, is this, are they showing body language signals that show that it’s good, happy, anticipatory stress, not avoidance or over arousal, distress kind of stuff?

So, that was a really long answer, but that’s, I feel like it’s important to kind of layer in all of those sort of caveats because, I don’t want people taking a dog who is almost compulsively, I hate to use the word compulsively, but almost compulsively chasing things and doing that kind of herding cheap shot muzzle punching because they’re anxious and then going, “Oh, I’m gonna give my dog treibball.” When that’s not actually what that dog needs. So, I felt it was important to kind of layer all that in. Allie, do you have anything to add? Did I forget anything? Are there other activities that I hadn’t thought of? How do you feel about all of this?

[00:09:27] Allie: I feel like that was a very thorough answer. I appreciate that.

[00:09:33] Emily:  All right. I’m happy to hear that.

[00:09:35] Allie: Yes. Uh, I will add, because the question was asking about urban or suburban environments, treibball is something that you can do in a fairly small space. I’ve had several clients do flirt pole while on a leash, and if you have a smaller dog with a larger space, I’ve had people do flirt pole inside with their dogs. So, you can absolutely do those things that Emily recommended, in, in places that have smaller spaces like an urban or suburban environment.

[00:10:07] Ellen: And our last question for today is from Anna. What is one skill or enrichment category you’d love to see people focus on?

[00:10:15] Allie: I have a feeling we’re going to have the same answer, Emily. For me, it’s the calming category. There are so many pets that I see who are unable to self-regulate, who are unable to calm themselves down, and that is the skill that I teach for many, many, many of my clients. And so, frequently when we teach that skill, everything else just becomes so much easier.

[00:10:41] Emily:  Yeah. Yeah, for dogs. I definitely agree with that. I think that’s true on some level with every species because in, even in homes where there’s animals that are really confined and they need a lot more activity, confinement doesn’t necessarily mean relaxation. And so, we can see birds who are cage bound, and also still constantly hypervigilant.

And so, part of helping those birds is to give them a safe space within their cage where they can go to really relax and feel safe and restful. Um, but that said, I do think go-to enrichment activity or a category that most people should focus on does change a little bit from species to species because for instance, cats, are typically pretty good at resting and going away when they don’t feel safe.

But a lot of cats don’t have the means to do that, um, hunt, kill, eat, groom cycle that you talked about earlier in the episode. Depending on the species, it can change, but overall, if we’re just looking at all companion animals, I totally agree with you, Allie, that more people need to put a focus on, does my animal know how to self-regulate, how to deescalate, how to complete their stress response cycle and truly relax, not just stay still in a place, but truly relax, get melty. And, you know, soft features, loose muscles, droopy eyes, all that stuff. So, I think, yeah, overall that’s, I probably agree with you. Yeah.

[00:12:13] Allie: We had a lot of fun answering your questions, so keep them coming and let us know if you liked this episode and we’ll do more Q and A episodes in the future. This episode marks the end of season three! What, what! Thank you as always for hanging out with us and we’ll see you for season four in a few months.

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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