#62 - Q&A: Handling the Holidays

[00:00:00] Emily:  So, enrichment isn’t only free operant learning. It also can include discrete trial training and it can also include a lot of stuff that isn’t really learning at all. It can also include setting up their environment in a way that promotes physical health, or emotional health where the animals aren’t really engaging at all, it’s just allowing them to be healthier.

[00:00:25] 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…

[00:00:42] Emily:  …and I’m Emily Strong…

[00:00:43] 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.

Hello, friends, and welcome to the last episode of Season 5. Thank you so much for joining us this season. As we normally do, we end out the season with a Q& A episode, answering your questions. So today, we are talking about dig pits, freeing the operant and if that is or is not enrichment, or how it’s included in enrichment, and surviving the holidays.

So here it is, today’s episode, Season 5 Q& A, Handling the Holidays.

All right, Ellen, what questions do we have for today?

[00:01:42] Ellen: Let’s get started with our first one. And the first one is, how did you make the dig pit for the leash reactive dog? And this is in reference to a specific reel from Instagram, I think it was shared other places, but we’ll make sure to put it in the show notes so you can see what sparked this question.

[00:01:59] Allie: Yes, that’s a great question. And I did not create that dig pit. That video came from one of my fabulous clients with their dog named Tia, and they created that dig pit for her. So, I can’t talk to how they specifically created that dig pit for the video that’s in the reel, but I can talk about how I’ve created dig pits in the past. I am a big fan of those harder plastic kiddie pools. The inflatable ones are just asking and begging to be popped in my opinion. So, I like the harder plastic kiddie pools.

You can find them for like 10 bucks at like big box chain stores, or dollar stores in the summer. And either putting dirt or sand in them if you want like a pretty natural digging substrate. But I’ve even seen people put those ball pit balls that, and you can buy just like a big bag of them at. Again, a box chain store.

So, ball pit balls. I’ve seen people do just like a bunch of toys or clothes. You have a lot of different options depending on if you want your pet to dig or if you want to use it as like a giant kind of snuffle adventure box.

[00:03:16] Ellen: Alright, thanks, Allie. And our next question is, I just learned about the concept of freeing the operant, but how is it different from enrichment?

[00:03:25] Emily Strong: Yeah. I am assuming that this question is in reference to the podcast episode from ATA from a few weeks ago where Ryan had Susan Friedman on and that the name of the episode is Freeing the Operant.

And so, I’m just going to answer this operating under that assumption but what Susan was referring to is free operant conditioning, which is a type of learning which is in contrast to discrete trial training.

So, discrete trial training is what most people think of as training, where the teacher controls the antecedents and consequences, and each trial refers to the trainer gives the cue or the antecedent, the learner performs the behavior, the trainer delivers the consequence. That ABC is a single trial, so they’re happening in these discrete units of cue, behavior, consequence.

Free operant conditioning is a different type of learning where you set up the environment so that the learner can engage however they choose. Or sometimes you don’t set up the environment, sometimes the environment just exists. And the learner controls their own process, their own learning process, so, the environment is offering the antecedents, and the learner engages, and the environment delivers the consequences.

So, if that is indeed what we are talking about, that podcast episode in which Susan is talking about free operants training, then it actually can be a part of enrichment. It often is a part of enrichment, but remember that enrichment is about improving animal welfare, particularly by empowering them to perform species typical behaviors. To be able to behave as closely to their natural counterparts as possible.

So, that’s a wide net and can include a lot of different experiences, a lot of different processes, a lot of different strategies and items and different ways that we would enable that to happen. So, free operant training is 1 way that we can enrich an animal’s life. And that typically looks like environmental enrichment where we are creating an environment that has all the antecedents ready to go so that the learner can engage whenever they want, in whatever way they want, and get whatever they’re getting out of it. So, yes, I love that, whoever asked this question, I love that you connected those dots in your head, but enrichment is not just environmental enrichment.

It’s not just about creating a space for the learner to control their own experiences. There are a lot of opportunities for discrete trial training within an enrichment framework as well. Because, in many cases, we need to teach an animal a skill, a very specific skill, through luring, shaping, capturing, or any combination thereof, so that they have the ability to do a thing.

So, for example play is an innate need, or an innate behavior for dogs, but that doesn’t mean that dogs know how to play on their own without being taught. So, a lot of times we have to teach dogs how to do things like nose work, or how to fetch a play fetch with a ball. And that doesn’t mean that it is unnatural, it just means that we are providing these learning opportunities that if they were feral dogs, their parents would teach them in that natural setting.

So, for example, with a lot of parrot species, they’re from rainforests, and so part of enrichment is making sure that they have humidity in their bird room, or in the house, or the aviary where they live. That is similar to the humidity that they would experience in a rain forest, and the reason that’s an important part of enrichment is because when the air is too dry, it can cause them to have for poor feather quality, itchy skin, which then can cause them to hyper focus on their feathers, and cause feather destructive behavior, and be constantly itching themselves, and that can compromise their welfare, their behavioral diversity, all of that stuff. So, providing humidity is a type of enrichment that requires no interaction from the learner at all, but it absolutely impacts not only their physical and emotional well-being, but their ability to perform other behaviors, and have that behavioral diversity.

So, enrichment is a lot more than any one type of learning style, but absolutely free operants is a part of that puzzle, is a part of the picture.

[00:08:19] Ellen: Awesome. And then our last question ish, we got a lot of questions that were around specific situations and specific challenges, and unfortunately, we can’t answer them in this format. We don’t have enough information. I could give you a very long list of all of the questions that we have about each of those scenarios that we would need answers to.

But a lot of those situations that were given to us circled around dogs being comfortable with people. And since it’s coming into the holiday season, we know that this is a skill set that a lot of people are focused on and working on around now as we prepare for holiday jaunts, adventures. Whatever we want to call them.

So, we thought we’d take this kind of prompt a little more generally and talk about the way that we each might set up the environment with, between the three of us, we have five separate dogs, three separate families, and how those interactions with humans may look different for each of us.

[00:09:15] Allie: So, and if we’re talking holidays specifically, and I think I’ve said previously on this podcast that Oso was a stranger danger kiddo. We are, have now swung that pendulum to the opposite side where new people tend to be very exciting and we’re working on, okay, but that doesn’t mean climb into their lap immediately, and most people don’t appreciate a 90-pound dog that insists that he has to sniff your hair. He has to. It’s just what he feels he must do, and most people don’t appreciate that behavior. Anywho.

So, for holidays, I mean, we’re pretty lucky in that the people that we would have over for the holidays are all people that Oso enjoys, that he has known for years, that he does very well with. And that’s pretty strategic, in that I said the people we would have over for holidays, we are not hosting a giant family party, and Oso is a really good excuse for us to not have to do that, because we don’t want to have to do that either but there are absolutely people that are in our lives and whom we care about, who we would not have over to our house for the holidays, and if we did, Oso would then go somewhere else. We’re very lucky that he loves hanging out at my mom’s house, and so he could always go there if we were having a larger holiday party.

I think it’s just not worth it from a human from a mental and emotional health standpoint, I know I would be so anxious about having to be a host, and have the house looking nice, and do all the things, and worry about him on top of it. I know I would be a nervous wreck if I did that to myself, and so I’m not going to put him into that situation. I’m also not going to put myself into that situation.

Emily, how about you?

[00:11:18] Emily Strong: Yeah, so it’s pretty funny because Copper… Loves everything and everybody and I mean, he’s a dog who self-handicaps even for insects, he just wants to be everybody’s friend, but he’s also into like, group think with Brie. And Brie, given her feral past, does not feel the same way. And so, Copper’s like, “Hi, friend, I love you.” And Brie’s like, “No, I’m here, you creepy stranger.” And Copper’s “Oh, yeah, no, I don’t love you. Get out of here, you creepy stranger.”

So, we have to be very careful about, you know, how guests meet our dogs, because if Copper and Brie are separated, Copper can be the life of the party, but if they’re together Brie has a rule that three strangers may enter the house. And she can handle three new people, and she can go through her little greeting ritual, and meet them and be okay with them in her house, but if there are 4 people in the house, she just can’t cope with that. It is not okay. It will never be okay. She’s just not okay with 4 people. So, when we are talking about holidays, the question is how many people are planning on coming to the house? Because Copper could handle anything, but Brie’s got a max of three.

So, for example, last year we had 1 friend stay with us for Christmas. That was fine. Year before last, we had a big family reunion type of Thanksgiving and we said, yeah, no, that’s not happening at our house. Somebody else is going to have to host that. And the dog stayed home, and we went to the Thanksgiving party without them.

So, that’s kind of where our decision making happens is how many people are coming over. For my dog, for Brie, that’s what matters. But, you know, it’s different for every family and every dog and every household. So, yeah, we can have small gatherings in our house. And if there are any larger than 3 people, we leave the dogs at home and we go elsewhere for those gatherings.

[00:13:25] Ellen: Yeah, it kind of sounds like there’s a 3, across the board with all of us, it’s just, I don’t know if that’s like a magic number or something, but we’re, I think we pretty much max out at three people or so. And we’re the same for our kiddos. So Laika, life of the party, she has gone to 100 person gatherings and been the happiest dog in the entire world. She loves to shriek, but her shriek is like Buddy the Elf when he sees Santa Claus. For all humans that she can’t be best friends with. Because, heaven forbid, mom, just let her run around like a wild creature.

And then Griffey has his own issues, and quite honestly, for Griffey unless you decide that you have to pay attention to him, he’s pretty happy to ignore you, so in those situations, yes, we taught him the flight cue, we practiced that, and we established that, but he also comes with a pretty good flight and until you tell me, are giving me signs that I’m not allowed to.

And so, for him, we just really invested in certain people. Either they were people that we were going to have to have in our, our sphere because, you know, they live with us, or the people that we are going to have care for our pets in the future, or our best friends, or those individuals. It’s a lot like what Allie and Oso were saying, and Emily, it sounds like you too.

We have people that are in the inner circle, and we have invested in them being in the inner circle. Utilizing all of the skills that we have taken time to teach, both the people in our life and our dogs, and that way that goes pretty smoothly and doesn’t add that additional stressor of I have to manage the dog, and manage these people in my house, and oh no somebody just knocked over that vase that was a gift from Great Aunt Nana, and that’s kind of sad, and now I have to deal with those feelings, too. So, you know, I think if there’s a right answer for every family, or maybe a better answer, maybe not a right answer, but there’s a better or smoother answer for just about every family and every combination.

[00:15:23] Allie: And I know, Ellen, that we got a few questions about flight training, and we did an episode on that. Do you remember what episode number that is being the memory wizard you are?

[00:15:33] Ellen: Of course, I do. I am sure it was episode 16, but I will also confirm that and put it in the show notes.

[00:15:40] Allie: Thanks. And for anybody who is looking for help on just surviving the holidays, just getting through the next month and a half, one of our fabulous consultants, Tracy Harachi, who you heard at the beginning of this season, is hosting a webinar, Surviving the Holidays with Your Pet. So, if you’re interested in signing up for that webinar, go to PetHarmonyTraining.com forward slash holidays.

Thank you so much for joining us for season five. We did it, y’all. And we will be back next year for season six.

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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