#61 - Everything in Moderation

[00:00:00] Allie: I feel like so much of the time when I’m talking with somebody who is pretty knowledgeable about enrichment, we end up talking about replacing novelty with nuance. It’s not always about adding more. It’s not always about adding different. It’s about these little, tiny nuanced tweaks that we can make that can really elevate an individual’s quality of life.

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 Kalyn Holl and one of the topics we discussed was living a life in moderation. This week we’re going to dive further into everything in moderation and talk about implementation with the animals in your life.

In this implementation episode, Emily and I talk about how behaviors aren’t necessarily good or bad, the dangers of all or nothing thinking, and a malamute who didn’t want to run. Let’s get started.

All right, Emily, I feel like this is a topic that we talk so much about with not only clients, but with a lot of professionals as well.

[00:01:37] Emily:  Yeah. And I got to say, I love that this is a common conversation because it means that people in our profession are caring more and thinking more about animal welfare, and enrichment, and helping animals to be able to perform species typical behaviors and all of that stuff. And also, it means that now more people care about that, we’ve got to do a whole lot more fine tuning, right? Of what exactly that means and looks like in reality.

[00:02:06] Allie: 100%. I feel like so much of the time when I’m talking with somebody who is pretty knowledgeable about enrichment, we end up talking about replacing novelty with nuance. It’s not always about adding more. It’s not always about adding different. It’s about these little, tiny nuanced tweaks that we can make that can really elevate an individual’s quality of life.

[00:02:31] Emily:  For sure. And I think that’s the perfect segue leading into our first takeaway, which is that behaviors aren’t inherently good or bad. We have to think about behaviors in terms of them being an evolutionary adaptation so that animals can thrive in their environment. And when we think about behaviors in that way, we get to remove the moralism from the equation and really assess is it really the worst thing in the world that this animal is doing this? Can we just let them do it? Or do we need to ask them to do it in a different context? Or is it actually harming them? Or, you know, others? Is it, is it causing harm in some way? So, the way that we can do this is by looking at the behavior and the context in which it evolved to happen versus how it’s happening now.

So, for example, if we see a dog who is chasing the shadows of leaves in the grass and, you know, pouncing on the shadows, we don’t need to immediately panic and think, “Oh my gosh, this dog has a compulsion. We’ve got to work on it. We’ve got to do something about it.” Right? Instead, we can look at those behaviors and go, “Oh, you know what? Those are actually a play version of predatory behaviors. So, this dog is playing, which is healthy.” Play indicates that they are not experiencing any acute or chronic stressors. And also, they’re getting to do some predatory behaviors in a safe and appropriate way. So, I’m not going to do anything about this. I’m going to let the dog keep doing that, right?

On the other hand, if we see the dog doing that for hours, and hours, and hours and it’s compromising that dog’s behavioral diversity and perhaps even causing some physical harm to that dog, then we can worry about, okay, this is no longer a healthy expression of this behavior. Now we need to get concerned that maybe there’s something going on that we need to address, right? So, if we look at behaviors in through that lens, instead of this behavior is always good, this behavior is always bad, and we should never see it. It can help us make better decisions about how to care for the animals in our lives and what behaviors we can just let them do and not be helicopter parents.

[00:04:41] Allie: So, and I want to add. And that a little bit that that also includes behaviors that we humans are often scandalized by, and that even those behaviors do have an evolutionary function, and that includes things like biting, and growling, and lunging, and all of those things that we don’t particularly enjoy. A great example of this is resource guarding.

I get a lot of clients who ask me about resource guarding, especially between their pets, whether that’s a dog-dog household or a dog-cat household, whatever it is. Where one individual is guarding an item or food or whatever from another individual. Usually when they bring that up, they are asking of, “Well, how do we change this?”

And I ask a whole lot of questions to determine, is this an adaptive behavior that everybody is pretty much okay with it happening and we’re just having a conversation? Or is this a maladaptive behavior in which somebody is either completely out of line with what they are desiring or they’re overreacting or something.

So, if you have resource guarding and it’s merely a conversation where a dog is chewing on a bone, let’s say, and, and another dog comes past and start sniffing it. Dog A growls Dog B moves away. Totally acceptable conversation, in my opinion, where Dog A said, “Hey, no thank you. This is mine right now.” Dog B said, “Well, okay.”

Everybody reacted appropriately. However, if Dog A is chewing a bone, and Dog B is ten feet away sniffing a flower, and Dog A chooses to attack them over that, because they happen to be ten feet within the premises of their bone, that’s not an okay behavior. That is dangerous. That is a huge overreaction to dog B’s behavior. That’s something that we would want to change. So, instead of looking at good or bad, from a moralistic standpoint, we need to look at, is it adaptive or maladaptive?

[00:06:47] Emily:  That really brings us to our next point, which is that we tend to, humans, we tend to think in these extremes of something is either good or it’s bad. Something is all or nothing. And so, our second point is be aware of that all or nothing thinking when we’re making enrichment decisions for the animals in our care, because it doesn’t have to be that extreme.

There’s, there’s lots of, of different possibilities on the spectrum, right? If we’re looking at an animal, and I think this comes up most frequently in dogs with the discussion around dog breeds, but I see this happening in a lot of different situations, but where we see it most frequently is in dog breeds.

If there’s a dog breed that needs less of something, or needs more of something, that doesn’t mean that they need all of it or they need none of it, right? So, for example, just because sled dogs were bred to run does not mean that they should be running all the time, that they should spend their entire life running.

We don’t need to make sure that they’re running several hours a day because you know, if they are pet dogs in a home, they don’t need to be running several hours a day. We’re not conditioning them to be a marathon runner if they’re not actually running marathons, right?

And then on the other hand, if we have a dog breed, say like sighthounds, for example, who don’t use their noses as often, that doesn’t mean that they don’t still need nose work, right? Because they’re still dogs. And yes, selective breeding can increase or decrease the number of scent receptors they have. But we’re talking about, you know, within a range of 400 million to 200 million, as opposed to humans with our 5 million scent receptors. So, they’re still dogs. They still primarily use their nose. They still need to learn how to use their nose in constructive ways. We can’t say that just because they’re a sight hound and they are meant primarily to be using their eyes. They don’t need scent work at all.

And those kind of all or nothing conclusions that people come to are really common and nothing to be ashamed about because that’s how our human brains work. But we need to look at these behaviors in the context again, in which they were originally evolved for and also look at the activity budget of the animal and say, “Hey, look, this is still a dog, and it still is beneficial to them to use their nose.” And so, we need to give them opportunities to use their noses, even if they’re a breed that has fewer scent receptors relative to other breeds.

[00:09:11] Allie: And so, when we’re talking about how do we avoid that, really, we need to look at the animal in front of us and look at how are they using that behavior. And I also like to include in this using trial and eval for different activities. So, we’ll take that scent hound, for example, and say, okay, what does the scent hound do when there’s no scent work that they get in, in their daily life versus what happens when they get 10 minutes, when they get 30 minutes?

One of the things that we see is that eventually we have diminishing returns on our investment when we do too much of an activity. for example, we have a Malamute and a lot of times when we think of that breed, we think, oh, this dog needs to run. Well, do we get the same effect, the same outcome if they run for a mile versus five miles, if they run for 10 minutes versus 30 minutes?

Because if we have the same exact effect or outcome with less input from us, I don’t know about you, but that’s the thing I’m going to choose. I’m a work smarter, not harder person. If I can do the same thing in five minutes that I can do in 15 minutes, I’m going to do it in five minutes. So, we really need to be asking the animal what they need and observing their behavior in order to get that answer.

[00:10:30] Emily:  And that leads us to our third point, which is one we’ve said before, but bears repeating, and that is, and also, it’s one that Kalyn said last week in their interview, and it made me so happy to hear them say it too, and that is that rest is a skill. Many, many individuals need to be taught. Not everybody knows how to rest.

And so, if we have an animal who is a sled dog, and we’re running them, and they still can’t relax. The appropriate response to that is not more exercise, the response is teaching them how to rest. So, that was one thing that I loved Kaylin talking about was how when they’re teaching these sled dogs, they know how to run and they also know how to rest and they teach both of those skills in tandem, right?

So, that’s definitely something that we need to make sure that we’re doing for these animals instead of just believing that because they’re a sled dog and we’ve already run them a lot and they still have energy, we need to run them more. I love that shift in perspective of, “Hey, actually, do they know how to rest? Have we taught them that? And have we taught them the contexts in which they need to rest?”

And like I said, we’ve discussed this before. You can go back to previous episodes to hear more in-depth discussion about that. The ones that I remember off the top of my head are Dr. Chris Pachel’s interview and the implementation episode that came after it. But for sure, that’s something that we’re going to keep talking about until the day we die, probably.

[00:11:55] Allie: Yeah, please. Thank you. I mean, honestly, I’m a person that needs to learn how to rest too. So, it’s, it’s not unfathomable to think that it’s a skill that not all individuals have because it’s a skill that I am currently working on.

[00:12:10] Emily:  What? You? No!

[00:12:13] Allie: I know, it’s a shock.

[00:12:14] Emily:  So, my example is, I know you’re going to be shocked to hear this, drum roll please, a Malamute. So, I had some clients who had adopted a Malamute from a rescue group that I work with quite a bit. And they had already adopted two huskies from that rescue, and they were athletes themselves.

And so, every day after work, they would go out and run a whole lot. I don’t remember the exact amount of time, but it was, it was a whole lot and their huskies just lived their best life. And so, they adopted this Malamute and this little guy had a big guy. I don’t know why I call them little, he was a big dude, he was middle aged, like five years old or something, and he had no history of behavior issues at all. And when they adopted him, he started becoming reactive to dogs and even to people. And he’d even bitten a couple of times now, granted they were low level bites, no, you know, medical attention needed, but still a dog who had no history of that to suddenly doing that was concerning.

So, they brought me in to consult with them. And after having a conversation with them and seeing videos and, and talking to them about what was going on with this dog and asking lots of questions, it seemed to me like this dog was unhappy because he was running a lot and he didn’t want to run a lot.

And, when I mentioned that to them, the look on their faces… was, was hard to swallow. It was, they were, they, they had looks like, I don’t like what you’re saying and, and I’m thinking angry thoughts about you. And it was a little bit scary. And, and we, they just couldn’t, they couldn’t hear that because they have a Malamute and Malamutes run and that’s, that’s what they do. And how could I even possibly suggest that they should run their Malamute less? And so, uh, you know, they politely showed me to the door. And I thought I’d never hear from them again.

And then shenanigans ensued, and they went on a whole journey of their own. And then a few months later, a few weeks later, I don’t know, a time later, I heard back from them and they were like, “So, uh, can we, can we talk about that again? Can we, can we come back to this conversation?”

So, we had more conversation about it, and what that might look like, and what they could trial and eval to assess and they got to a place where they were ready to, to hear it, and to do the trial and eval and in a matter of days, like I don’t even think it was a full week.

They got back to me and they’re like, he’s a totally different dog. Like he just wanted to be a couch potato. Who knew? So, we just leave him home and we go off on our adventures and we come back and he’s just living his best life. And don’t worry. He was getting exercise, but he just wasn’t getting the, the sheer volume of running hours that, that two Huskies were getting. And so, I think he’s a really good example of how, just because he’s a sledding dog, didn’t mean that he wanted or needed to run multiple hours a day. And he was able to be physically fit with much less exercise. And he was telling them like, “Bro, I don’t want to be a marathon runner.”

And when they listened to him, he stopped having to tell them in, in, you know. unpleasant ways that that’s what he needed. So, he’s a really good example of being a breed that is bred to do a thing and him being like, “But no, though, not me. I’m an individual. And I say, no, thank you to that.”

[00:15:39] Allie: So, I tried to come up with a story about a particular individual and my brain is just overloading me with, like, all of the dog and cat cases that I have ever worked. And so, and so I don’t have a particular individual. I have many individuals that I’m thinking of.

Specifically, I’m thinking about those cases where we get called in where a dog is chasing a cat. And usually when we get called in for those cases, the pet parents are asking us to stop that chasing behavior. They’re, they’re very much in that all or nothing black and white thinking. And one of the very first things that we talk about is that chasing critters is a species typical behavior.

Behaviors aren’t inherently good or bad. Chasing this particular cat in the household is not a desirable behavior, and yes, we are going to address that, and no, it’s not fair to this cat who lives in this household, and everybody’s feelings are valid, and all of the things. There’s a whole lot of layers to those cases.

But the chasing as a behavior is not necessarily the problem here. And so, one of the things that we do for those cases is we provide appropriate chase outlets often through things like a flirt pole. And it is really hard for people to get on board with that because they’re like, “No, we don’t want chasing. What do you mean? We’re going to promote chasing.” And it’s like, it’s, it’s fine. It’s in this context, it is okay. We’re teaching that in the other context, it’s not okay. I find that the people who take that leap of faith and do provide those appropriate chase outlets have such an easier time than the people who really want to quash that chasing behavior altogether. So, I think that’s a great example of everything in moderation, that we don’t need to get rid of that behavior completely. We need more appropriate outlets for it. And also, to teach rest and relaxation when the cat is around, and that we should not chase this particular individual in our household.

So today, we talked about everything in moderation, that behaviors are not inherently good or bad, the dangers of all or nothing thinking, and something that we are going to be talking about until the day we die, that rest is a skill that we need to be teaching, all individuals, apparently myself included.

Next week, we end out the season with a Q&A episode answering your questions.

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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