#64 - David Roberts: Getting the Most Out of Your Dog's Enrichment Toys

[00:00:00] David: And so, one of the things that I always ask them is, “What does your dog like to do?” And “What is your dog actually willing to do?” Because it’s a different concepts with that. So, I see what they’ve already engaged in, right? Does your dog like to play tug? Does your dog like to snuffle? Does your dog like to shred everything? Does it like to run? What are the types of enrichment that you’re already giving them that you may not even know that you’re giving them?

[00:00:26] 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…

[00:00:43] Emily: …and I’m Emily Strong…

[00:00:45] 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.

The voice you heard at the beginning of today’s episode was David Roberts. David grew up in Washington State and then joined the U. S. Navy. When he joined the Navy, he started working in medicine. Being in the Navy took him to multiple different countries, including Italy, Spain, Turkey, UAE, Bahrain, and Cuba.

After leaving the Navy, he lived in Arlington, Virginia, and then moved to Norfolk, Virginia, to be closer to his daughter. When in Arlington, he met his wife, Diane. After moving to Norfolk, they got their first pet together, Nellie, a Staffordshire Terrier mix.

She has been Diane’s soulmate. When they first got her, they had no idea how to train or manage her needs. After about a year of reading the wrong training methods, Diane got into pet sitting and realized that what they were doing wasn’t the best way. That is when she started getting involved in behavioral training, and started her pathway to owning her own pet sitting business, which evolved into a dog training business.

From there, she started to get David more involved into dog training and dog enrichment. She asked him to start making toys and leashes for her clients, and that blossomed to where they have grown to today. They have been blessed to participate in APDT’s 2023 conference, and AIDC’s and 2023 conferences, and will be at the AIDC conference in 2024, along with IAABC’s Foundations Conference in 2024.

I met David at a couple of conferences this year, and he’s just a delightful human being. His wife describes him as a goofy golden retriever, and that is just such a perfect description. I love seeing somebody who is so passionate about enrichment and thinking about how we can create products that work for both the pets and their people. data driven processes for developing enrichment tools, meeting animals needs in cost effective ways, troubleshooting dogs interest in toys, and sacrificial shoes.

All right, here it is. Today’s episode, David Roberts getting the most out of your dog’s enrichment toys.

[00:02:57] Emily: All right. Tell us your name, your pronouns, and your pets.

[00:03:01] David: So, my name is David Roberts. I go by he, him. I have four dogs currently. We’ve had a lot of other dogs, but our four current animals are Nelly, we call her our Wonder Wiggle. Dexter, he’s our blocky headed dumb baby boy. Wednesday, named after Wednesday Adams and then we got Chicken, named after Chicken Little.

Nelly is a pittie mix. Dexter’s a pittie, more on the American bully side. Wednesday Adams is our Frenchie, and Chicken is our collie that we’ve fostered failed from a bad situation, and she’s the scaredest dog that we’ve ever met. But we love her.

[00:03:37] Emily: Hence the name. I feel like you have just forever shaped the future of this podcast because now I need to start asking guests What are your pets names, and also, what are their real names? What are the names you call them at home, right? Because our dogs are Copper and Brie, but what we call them is Plopper, Plops, or Ploppertop. And then Brie is either Tomato, Tornado, Tomasina Tomatotron, or Thomas. So, so, I feel like that’s been missing from our podcast is like, “Well, what do you really call your pets? Not just what are their official names.”

[00:04:09] David: Yeah. And I can’t distinguish between the two because it’s like when you’re talking to your kids like you have their names, and then you have the ones when you’re mad, and when mom and dad are mad, you know what to call them and when they’re being good, you have those names. So, it’s all about the personality.

[00:04:22] Emily: Yeah, for sure. I definitely, like their real names are almost like a cue to check in with me. And then like the, their nicknames are what I call them when I’m just talking to them all the time. So, I appreciate that. Gotta love that. All right. So, tell us your story and how you got to where you are.

[00:04:39] David: So, we got our first dog Nelly, and we were, my wife is new to dogs and she always wanted a dog, but we wound up getting a dog together. I’ve been raised with dogs. It was all basically the old school methods of this is how you do it from your family, and this is what worked. And as soon as we got our first dog, my wife was working as basically a receptionist, and then doing some pet sitting on the side.

And then she did, so got more into the pet sitting, and then got into the training aspect of why we do things, because it was more interesting. She wanted to know the why. And so, she really dove down into the path of behavior and trying to figure out what was right for the dog. And realized all the mistakes that we’re making with Nelly.

And thankfully, Nelly is such a wonderful dog and just feed me and we’re happy. But we realized all the bad things that happened. And so, we got more into getting to know different books, and your books, and just knowing different things of how dogs work. And so, she started going from pet sitting to dog training, taking on clients and focusing on the behavior.

And one day she came home and she was like. “Yeah, so I have this kind of idea, can you make this happen?” And I said, “What is your idea?” And so, she, it was on Facebook groups have enrichment and stuff. And we started off with the PVC pipe and putting holes in it to make it into different toys. And what we, what I found, and I’m in medicine as my real kind of day job stuff is, well, if it all just falls out, there’s no purpose of it.

And the things that we were seeing was, a one-and-a-half-inch pipe with 30 holes and you just touched it and all the kibble fell out. And we realized that wasn’t really working for what we wanted for the purpose that you want for it. And so, we designed it to make less holes, and then I got the idea to add some rings on it. To make it even more challenging. So that way it goes back and forth. And I had a whole bunch of, 10, 15 other ideas that came through that were like, this is too hard. This is too easy. This is not working. This isn’t what it needs to be.

And then the more and more she got into it, she’s ” Hey, can you do this? Can you make these leashes?”

And we’re like. ” Well, what’s wrong with the ones you get?”

“Well, they’re like $90. And I really don’t want to buy a thing that 100 to tell my clients.” And it was like, “Well, let me see how much they can do to make it.” Cause I can make it, I like tinkering. And so, we wound up going down that pathway and adding onto the toys.

So the first, six months to a year, is making the toys, doing my little events and trying to get people to try them out.

And she’s like, “Hey, try these leashes.” And she’s like, “The ones that I get, they’re expensive, and I don’t want to recommend them because you’re already paying 300, 400 per training. And now you’re going to tell me, go and buy all this stuff that’s going to improve my dog, but it might not. And I like my retractable. I like my, Carhart, I like all these other leashes.”

And so, she was like, “Well, try this leash out.”

And, and so she wound up designing the leash in between me and her, hey, let’s put this D ring right over here so it slides up and down. Let’s put this one here so you can do these multifunctional things. And you see a lot of them and ours are similar, but they’re different.

And I put a lot of thought process into the things that I make. I want to make sure everything’s working right before I send it out. It gets tested and make sure it looks right. It’s not missing a piece. I offer the lifetime warranties on almost all of my products because I back it. I think that if you’re going to spend the money on a leash, a toy, all of these things. It needs to be affordable, so that way it’s not putting all this burden.

We’re already spending so much money on food, treats, toys, training. If I’m not going to, if I’m going to spend money on another product, I want it to last. And so, that’s where it got us, and now we’re to a point where we’re adding more products that help out the animals, not just for the feeding part of it, but helping a dog be a better dog.

And that’s one of our philosophies at UltiMutt is to let your dog be a better dog. And whether that’s giving them all the things to destroy or working their brain and helping them go do scent work. We want to be there and support what you’re trying to do, in making a better life for your dog.

[00:08:42] Emily: I love that. And I think one of the things I love the most about your journey into finding yourself running this business that probably you did not anticipate when you were first starting out, is that every step of the way was data driven, right? It was a trial and eval process of, okay, so this is the, the problem or the challenge what can we do to address that?

And that’s very much the way Allie, and Ellen, and I have operated and in running our business as well. Is like approaching everything through this descriptive process of what is our goal? Why do we have that goal? What are we trying to accomplish here? And is our approach actually achieving that end. So, I love to hear your journey because yeah, coming from medicine as a background, it makes sense that you have that sort of data driven process, but I love to hear that.

[00:09:34] David: Yeah. It’s interesting talking to like go into some of the conferences we’ve been to. Cause I got an opportunity to go to Aggression in Dogs last year in Rhode Island, and that was wonderful for us. And somebody just reached out to me to say, “Hey, you got the, I see your toys on this enrichment group. I think you’d be wonderful.”

And so, we did it, but it wasn’t about going there and being like, “I have this best product.” There were so many people that were there in support of, I love your idea, I like what it does, I like the design behind it. And one of the other things that I didn’t mention was, is whenever I started. Is I looked into the materials that the product is made out of because I started looking at doing, I started, with our own dogs of using the PVC that was at Home Depot, and where that evolved from was like, “Hey, it’d be fun to do colors with it.”

And I was like, “Well, paints not safe for dogs.” And then I started looking into PVC. PVC is by itself is not safe for dogs when they chew it. It’s a low risk of cancer forming, but with the phthalates and metals that are in it, it’s totally like a shot that you don’t want to take with your dog. And so, then I started researching wholesale companies and other things that do color, and one of the companies that I found actually removes the phthalates and the metals, so that way it’s safe for the dog.

Because I can’t stop your dog from chewing, but I don’t want to be responsible for your dog getting cancer because I didn’t do the things that I did. The company I use makes a lot of aquarium equipment, agility equipment, so they’re already in the pet industry, so they’re already aware of the things that need to be done.

But that was one data point that really stuck home for me is making it safe. And then when I was at AIDC last year, that it really became something that was a passion. People understood that I actually put the effort into making sure that there wasn’t just, “Hey, I’m trying to make a dollar because of this toy.”

It’s, there’s data behind it that is what I, me and my wife and our colleagues all believe in. And then that got brought up again this year at AIDC this year. And then APDT, which is where I met Allie for the podcast, but it was really fun just meeting her and picking her brain, talking to her I wish you were there.

[00:11:38] Emily: Yeah, we try to split up duties, so we’re not all having to go to everything. That approach of like, how can we make it safe, and how can we make it effective, is where I really see a potential for our field, and particularly enrichment-based products, improving and where they can go is not just, do we like the toy? Does it look fun to us? Do we think it’s like a cute thing that a dog could play with? But what is it? What are we hoping to get out of this toy? What are our goals for it? How do we know that the toy is achieving those goals? And how do we know that it’s achieving those goals in a way that meets our safety needs and our pet safety needs.

[00:12:18] David: That’s a hard line to cross because we can make these things as safe as possible, not have everything in there and make it the most down to earth, raw, natural, everything, but then that comes with a price tag on it that prices you out of what people are wanting.

Because again, like I said, we’re spending as much, so much money on all the consumer side of the food, the treats, the training to make our dog feel better, and be better, and get them into their natural behaviors, but if I’m going to spend 150 on a product, I might not have that.

[00:12:50] Emily: There was a toy probably about a decade ago that I really loved recommending to clients because it served the same function that yours did in that it was a way it was possible to have the base model that was, you start off simple, you meet the learner where they’re at and make sure that they can succeed in a minimally, with minimal errors, right? But you have to have a way to make it more challenging so that as their skill grows, we can match their skill with an appropriate challenge, right? And that company unfortunately didn’t last, even though I loved it because of that balance that you are talking about of meeting the animal’s needs for safety, and opportunities to play, and opportunities to forage, and all those things. And also, meeting the client’s needs of, is it affordable? Is it sustainable? Can we make it happen? So, I definitely think that you’re not alone in that process. I think, people have tried that in the past and struggled to implement it. So, I love to see you doing what you’re doing because you’re making it in a way that actually works in that regard.

So, talk to me about how you both increase the challenge level of the toys that you’ve designed and also how you assess what a dog’s current skill level is. How do you lead your customers through a kind of process to help them determine where they can start with their pets?

[00:14:14] David: So, one of the things that I do, and it’s easier being in person, this is, trying to sell something like this online is very difficult. But if you already have a background or even the slightest knowledge of engagement enrichment, then these products are like, yay, we’re going to go down this pathway because I can see the practicality of this, but my more normal clients that I have right now where customers are at our pop-up vendor, and farmers market events, and so I could engage with them personally.

And so, one of the things that I always ask them is, “What does your dog like to do?” And “What is your dog actually willing to do?” Because it’s a different concepts with that. So, I see what they’ve already engaged in, right? Does your dog like to play tug? Does your dog like to snuffle? Does your dog like to shred everything? Does it like to run? What are the types of enrichment that you’re already giving them that you may not even know that you’re giving them? And so, when we talk about our snout roller, which is the main product that we’ve been referencing I usually recommend them starting off with one of them and not using any of the rings.

And we added the rings to make it more challenging based off of the size. But I also see what kind of dog that the person has, right? So, if a dog is sitting here and they have a big old blocky headed pittie knowing that I already have two blocky headed pitties, I’m already going to say that your dog probably needs a little bit different of a toy than what you want to, your pocketbook’s probably going to want to afford from us.

Again, we try to keep everything reasonable, but the price difference of $5 with a toy you’ve never seen before, and not sure how your dog’s going to react, can be difficult. And so, what we do is I tell them, hey, this is how it works. You put your dog’s kibble or treats inside, and I usually recommend their kibble because I don’t want them to get fat and obese or anything like that because you’re feeding too much treats because you want your dog to be alone from you for a few minutes.

And so, I tell them their kibble. Most people usually use their treats, and then I tell them if they aren’t working on with that food, maybe it’s their food, or maybe it’s not a high value treat. Maybe they’re just not engaged, and sometimes they have their dogs with them when they come to our events, and so I can get them to play with it.

But then they also are overstimulated. There’s a person, there’s a dog, there’s a thing, there’s something, there’s a squirrel. And so, you can see them start to engage, and then they stop. But it’s really getting that used to that beginning engagement. And I usually recommend high value treats.

Natural treats are all those things that I go with. The higher, the stinkier, the better. But also I, if they say my dog won’t play with a toy, right? My dog is not food motivated at all. I used to say, “Well, you’re, maybe you’re not using the right treats”, but then I listened to the podcast you did with Kathy said, hey, I was like, well, maybe there’s more going on here, and that started where my mind started going with. What is going on with your dog? Are you feeding him too much? Are you not feeding them the right food? Are they not getting all their health values met?

And so, that’s where we talk to them about what is it that you’re trying to get out of this? Is this just to keep their brain going? Okay, well maybe this toy may not be the right one. Maybe they’re more into snuffling, but I know from anecdotal evidence that 90 percent of dogs are going to play with my stuff if you put the right food and the right treats in there.

Because they want to. It goes back to their natural instincts of foraging, finding, sniffing. Hey, what is this? The curiosity of a dog is so crazy. And then to determine if it’s the right level is, when is your dog engaging and when is your dog not engaging? Because I can put the toy out there and use the toy without any rings, and then they use it, and then the next week they use it, the next day they use it, and then a couple weeks later, they stop using.

Well, why aren’t they using? Well, it’s too easy. If I did the same crossword every single day or the same level word search every day. I’m going to get bored and stop doing it. And that’s what I tell a lot of people. So, we got to keep on adding, and that’s why we add the rings. So our small one, you can get with one ring and it blocks one of our two holes.

Our large one has four holes in it, and we give you up to four rings that slide on and off. And the first one is a small ring that I always recommend putting on there. And the reason I recommend putting the small one on is because noise can be scary. And getting a dog that is maybe averse to a little bit of noise or pounding. Or things going back and forth, that little one is going to just make a little noise, but all that food’s still going to come out, so it keeps them engaged. Yes, something happened. I moved it. Yeah, there was a little bit of a scary noise, but I got something good out of it. So, it reinforces like not every noise is bad. And so, that’s where we keep them going. And then you add another ring. And then you add another ring. Then you add another ring.

Next thing you know, they have four rings and that five-minute feeding time out of a bowl, unless you have a lab of that, which would be what, 10, 15 seconds, now goes to 30 to 45 minutes. And they have fun with it. They’re rolling it around.

The biggest drawback I’ve heard from clients is that they their dogs will throw it underneath the couch. Well, cool. Your dog threw it under there. Yes. It’s a pain to get it under, but are they still trying to go after and get the kibble out of it? My dog Nellie, she loves taking that toy, rolling it underneath the couch, cause it adds another challenge for her. Cause she’s already figured this out. It’s just more of a timing app. Okay, I got to stay engaged. I got to stay engaged. Let me try to do something else. I’m going to throw it inside of the underneath the couch, paw at it for another 20 minutes to get that last piece.

Other things that we tell customers to do is to take a larger treat. So maybe you’re trying to get their kibble. I’ll have them put a hot dog, a piece of chicken heart or something that’s bigger than the holes. So that way they’re still playing with it. They’re trying to get that other piece out. Maybe they go back and pick up their little pieces of kibble after, but then I have the client. They tell the client, hey, make sure that you give them the reward that you just stuck in there as a benefit for doing a good job.

Yeah, they didn’t get it out when you were trying to, but you still got it. So now you can work on other things. So, now it’s like I get something good after and then you start working your way back into it. But the sound aspect of getting them used to it with the sound, that’s one way that we try to help them overcome it because it can be scary for a little dog to make it with those large sounds.

[00:20:10] Emily: There are so many things that you said that I want to pull the thread a little more because so much good stuff there. The thing that’s the most recent is the thing that’s coming to mind right now. I love that you are helping them to brainstorm different ways to make it work for them.

So, I think, what happens when people don’t have a lot of knowledge or experience in a specific area, we’re more likely to say, “Oh, we’ve exhausted all our resources. This just doesn’t work.” and move on. And the thing that you’re doing is the thing that good teachers do, which is introducing their learners to lots of other possibilities so that they’re more resilient and more likely to try different things and brainstorm when they see what possibilities are out there. So, if a client is ” Well, my dog doesn’t like toys.” You’re like, okay, let’s get in here together and brainstorm different solutions to find out why your dog isn’t doing it. I love the idea of putting a high value piece of food in there to get the dog more motivated and then giving it to them at the end. That is beautiful, chef’s kiss.

But also, I really love this idea of helping people around, like helping people navigate really common kind of pitfalls that happen. Like, okay, so maybe reframe it for yourself that your dog getting their toy under the sofa isn’t the worst thing in the world that it, depending on their skill level and their motivation level, that can actually just. Add to the challenge of getting the food out. And I will add to your brainstorming things that something that I’ve recommended the clients and that we do ourselves for our dogs is we get like cheap cushions from, you know, a cheap store or thrift store or garage sale or something, and we shove them under the sofa so that there’s only six inches deep that the object can roll under the sofa before it hits something. So, it sets them up to succeed because yes, it rolls under the sofa. And yeah, they have to dig to get it out. But it’s still close enough that they can dig it out as opposed to being if it rolls all the way to the back of the sofa that no amount of digging is gonna get it, so that can just be frustrating, right?

[00:22:19] David: Something even cheaper I’ve had people tell me is pool noodles, take pool noodles and put them under there. Dollar general or something like that.

[00:22:26] Emily: Yeah, I love the idea of pool noodles too. So, there’s like multiple ways to turn what people might feel like is an obstacle, or something that could potentially be frustrating for them or their pet into an aspect of the challenge, an aspect of the play, right? So, that’s beautiful.

I also want to talk about what you were saying earlier about letting the dog tell you what, or how they prefer to play. So, asking the pet parent, what does your dog do? What does your dog like to do? What activities do they get into? How do they get in trouble? Like when they do things that make you wanna pull out your hair, what is, what are the things? Because usually that’s a species typical behavior that we just need to find a more appropriate outlet for, but pet parents don’t know that, so we can help them by asking those questions. I love that so much.

[00:23:23] David: And one of the things that I see is the parents being like, well I got this cute little Aussie dog, and I thought it was going to be the cutest thing because I see them on TV, or I see them here, and they have no idea what they’re getting into. And I see it at our farmer’s markets and all the time the dog’s just wanting to do things, nipping, or herding kind of things.

And I was like, I have another toy for you. And it’s, this, there are snout rollers are great, but we also make a flirt pole that we took between two of two different brands and we made our own. And I tell them all about the flirt pole and this is exactly what my dog needs, because they didn’t do the research on it and what they’re getting into.

And so, it’s getting into that species typical behavior of understanding what it is that you’re actually trying to do, and why it’s not being met, and what it is that they need to do. Like my baby boy, Dexter, he loves to shred. He loves to tug. He loves to do things. And we can tell him go get a toy when he’s acting up a little bit.

We’re like, go get a toy. And he’s likes to go, and shred, and we got our toughie toys and we got all of our things that work really well for him. But our other dog, if they see a touch, it’s like, all right, we’re going to destroy this whole thing. I’m not stopping until I get this out. And then we have our little Wednesday, who’s I want to meet all the people. I don’t care. I’m going to run up on things. I have no manners because there’s a person here.

And so, it’s just all different, and some of them are species typical behavior, and some of them are just who they are as their personalities. And so, we gotta find out what is that species typical behavior, and maybe we’re not meeting them because of the way that they’ve been bred, and things that they’ve been doing. And so, it’s, I still don’t even know what our chicken dog likes to do. We’ve had her for two years. I couldn’t touch her for six months. We could, it took us six months to get a collar on her. And now she, but she can play with every single dog that we have. Coming up and getting pets or anything like that? Nope, she runs the other way. It took us, I want to say six weeks for, as soon as we let her outside for crates. We got her when she was 11 weeks, I think it was. And we let her outside to go hang out with the dogs. It took us like almost two days to get her from her backyard into back into the house because she was so scared of everything.

But we had to be, go slow with her. That’s what really set up my mind on different aspects of what dogs are, because like we see this collie and it’s okay, you should be playing with everything, should be, be doing this. And the next thing she’s not wanting to meet anybody. And we just got to let them have their own time. And I think that we expect so much from dogs because what we see in different places, that it’s not what we actually are getting. And when we aren’t getting what we need from them, we get frustrated.

[00:25:59] Emily: Yeah, I think you touched on something really important, which is understanding how breed does and does not impact behavior, right? And a thing that you might’ve heard me say several times since you listen to the podcast is when we’re undereducated about something, we overstate things. And so, I think that’s what happens. We get into these like outdated nature versus nurture arguments. And the reality is, the truth is more complicated than either of those things. You can’t just take a block headed, like blocky, little bully breed dog and say, because you look this way, this is the right enrichment for you.

But you can say, “Hey, this blockheaded dog is acting exactly like we would expect a dog who looks like this to behave. So, I’m going to go for, go ahead and start with the things that are typically enjoyable, and helpful for dogs who behave this way.” And that’s probably a good, educated guess on what this dog is going to need. And then you observe, and you go, yep, typical bully here, right?

And then, but like on the other end of that saying. Just because this dog is a collie doesn’t mean that she’s going to want to do herding type behaviors. I see that she is, she’s not into that stuff, and so we need to figure out what she is into.

I think the other added complication that you touched on is how do we know when a dog is so fearful that they’re not willing to do anything, how do we know where to start, right? So, talk us through that process with your dog. What did you do to help Chicken come into her own, like come out of her shell and blossom? How did you evaluate what she enjoyed doing when she wasn’t doing anything because she was too scared?

[00:27:39] David: That’s a tough question. And I say that because Chicken still hasn’t come out of her shell. We’ve had her for two years. And she still isn’t, she is, we call her a trash dog, because she loves being into everything. She knows that she’s not supposed to be in it, but she wants to investigate, so we let her kind of do her thing. But we’re not telling her no unless it’s something bad. I can’t tell you how many shoes that I am missing and it always seems to be the right shoe. So, like it’d be okay if I got this, if she went one shoe and then I got a new pair and then she went with the other one. So, I’d at least have a pair that fit, but I’m not mad at her because she doesn’t know any better.

She’s coming out of her shell, and yes, it’s frustrating. I’m spending more money on shoes and clothes and everything else, but is it really affecting my end of the day? No, right? Yeah. Maybe I don’t go and buy the name brand clothes because I know what I’m getting to when you have four dogs, you don’t need to get to the name brand Prada, everything. Target works just fine.

And so, you gotta be able to understand where your dog is at, where your dog is going and letting them be a dog. Remember, I don’t remember if it was one of your podcasts, it was you, or I read it somewhere is we don’t want having our dog, our expectations of our dog, is, are they supposed to be a dog, or are they supposed to please us?

And, they’re a dog. Remember, these are domesticated animals that, yeah, they’re supposed to be there, but if I spend this, I need to do something, if my dog’s not doing what it is, is it because I’m not letting them do it, or is it I have different expectations for it? And, when you put those barriers up, it’s, you’re putting yourself at a what’s the word for it, a disadvantage.

Because you’re not able to see what’s going on, right? If your kid doesn’t goes out and does something, right, they’re making a mistake. Okay. They make a mistake. Are you going to punish them for it? Well, it depends on how bad the crime or the act was, but most of the time you should just, hey, let’s talk about it. This is what you did wrong. Here’s why it’s wrong.

And instead of punishing them and making something out of nothing, which we do all far too often, I’ve done it with my kid, who’s now 12, and they’ve learned so much from us having open conversations. Again, we can’t have a conversation with a dog because they don’t talk back, but we can interpret what they’re doing.

Are they cowering? Are they smiling? Are they engaging in that activity? Why are they engaging in that activity? Are we able to harness their behavior and their energy from something destructive to something positive? Our baby boy, his favorite day is Amazon day. Because he gets all the boxes, he gets to shred all the boxes, and he loves to do it.

And so, we save some boxes up and give it to him to shred. That means I don’t have to shred it. Yeah, I have to sweep it up. I don’t have to break it down, and throw it in the recycling. He does it for me. And he loves it!

And then Nellie, we had to separate her backyard into different sections because all she wants to do is dig. She is not digging for moles. She is not digging to cause problems. She does it because she likes to dig. We’ve gotten to the point where it might be a neurotic behavior because she’s been doing it for so long, but we’re catching on to that. Maybe this is it. But she was always happy. The first thing she’d do when she’d come home, we’d come home and let her out is go dig for a little bit. Dig underneath the fence, maybe that was a husky and her trying to get out. But that’s what she liked to do, and she still loves to do it. Now, she’s 11, 12 and we, she looks forward to it. We bring her in so that way she’s not doing it all day. But that way she can repeat the behavior because that’s what she enjoys. Because she goes back to doing it. It’s not like I did it and then I stopped. I’m bored.

[00:31:10] Emily: You touched on something really important when you said that Chicken is still, oh, I’m going to actually, I’m going to reframe what you said about Chicken, because it’s not that she hasn’t come out of her shell yet, it’s that she’s still in the process of coming out of her shell, right? Because when you see an animal who has been really shut down and fearful, and you see them start to engage with their environment, even if they’re doing it in a way that’s maybe not the way that we would prefer, we don’t want to, we don’t want to punish that behavior. We don’t want to shut it down because they’re just starting to offer behaviors. They’re finally starting to feel brave enough to interact with their environment. And we definitely don’t want to suppress that. We want to encourage more of that.

So, what you were talking about with their shoes, it’s like for whatever reason, what like her cute, little, quirky personality trait is that she likes right shoes instead of left shoes. Okay, so how can we set it up so that she has the opportunity to do what she enjoys doing? She’s telling you that she enjoys chewing on shoes. That texture, the smell, there’s something about the shoes that she really likes. So, how can we encourage more of that behavior without necessarily just accepting life as somebody whose shoes are always going to be destroyed by your dog, right? So, I love that you are talking about ways that she’s starting to engage, that she’s starting to come out, and she’s starting to show you what her interests are, and you’re identifying that and now it’s just a matter of figuring out where to go from here, right?

[00:32:50] David: Yeah, our old dog, not her old dog, but one of the dogs that we had to put down three years ago, I think it was Sharona. She was a boxer. And she was scared of everything, she was my wife’s shadow. And, we had Nellie and Sharona. And Sharona wound up, we believe, having a tumor, a brain tumor. And so, she started going from everything’s okay, to having focal seizures, and blacking out, and not knowing where she was at, and then coming to and being like, what just happened?

And so, we were doing a lot of crate and rotates with them and Nellie got really scared of Sharona because they got into a nasty blood, looked like a murder scene at one point, both dogs were okay. But we were like, okay, we got to crate and rotate. We got to figure out how to manage this because she had no idea what was going on.

She was the sweetest thing outside of those seizures times. But we got her engaged in playing with our toys and she was like, the noise, or the stimulus, or pressure was one that she just shut down. If you asked her to do something, she just shut down. She’s I’m not doing this. And then we gave her our toys and she was like, oh, this is how it works, right?

And so, she moved it, and then she’d look at us, and then she’s, “Am I doing it right?” And then she pawed it again and then she’d be like, yes. And then so, so then she’d go and play with it, and she was never the quickest. She was never as a strong as she, it wasn’t the best at anything, her growing from that little encouragement, hey, you did it. Good job. And looking at us and giving us the affirmation, had her doing more. To a point where one of my toys that I had for a while, it just wasn’t selling, but we had it around the house was like a windmill. So, we had created a windmill and you could spin the, spin it, and we taught her how to pod and the treats would come out the end and she would come over there and do it.

And this is something that you would have to teach up, but because she was so like happy with us engaging with her, and her being able to achieve something, even though she’s had all these other issues that are going on, but for her to do something, and us to be proud of her was so nice for us and for her in the last six months to year because we were actually given her time without her just having to be behind us and us tripping.

[00:34:51] Emily: So, what recommendations would you have for people who are trying to come up with good enrichment strategies and particularly toys, since that’s your wheelhouse, for their pets? What would you recommend to them to identify, or to look for when they’re trying to find a good toy for their pets.

[00:35:11] David: Look at your pet’s behavior of what have they done in the past? What have they played with and go along those lines. Because if you’re trying to get a dog to play with a tough or a stuffy toy, then but they’re not engaging, and you keep on, maybe it’s a different color, maybe it’s a different size.

They’re not going to because that’s not what they’re wanting to do. Likewise, with my toys, if they’re not engaging, is it because of the food? Is it too challenging? Did you buy the big one with all the rings and just said, “I’m going to throw this on there because they’re used to playing with other enrichment toys?”

If you’re getting into the enrichment game with your dogs or animals or other pets, start small. One of the things that we’ll recommend to people is egg cartons. Filling it up with kibble. It’s easy to destroy. It’s easy to get into. It doesn’t cost you a lot of money, and then when you go from there, go into other things, right?

Use those Amazon boxes. Think outside the box, and think about what you are doing, or what you’re trying to get your dog to participate in. Again, is your dog willing to work for food? And if they’re not, why? If they are, is it the right food? Is it the right activity? If it’s too hard and they just shut down, well maybe we back off and try to build it up.

There’s so many different opportunities for you to use your own brain. Yes, would I love you to buy all my products? Yes. Are you? Probably not. And I’m okay with that. But are you going to take my products and make it yourself? Or take some of the ideas and design something that works for you? Go right ahead.

I’ll help you. If you wanted a product, don’t know where to start on making it, shoot me an email. I’ll see if I can make it or design it. Something that’ll be similar to what you want. Start with what you have, and go with what you want. Building blocks, right? We didn’t become, you know, you didn’t start on the making this podcast because you just jumped into it.

You had a background education of working with animals, and working your way up, and now people are looking to you for advice. You’re not going to be the expert for your dog, but you’re going to have an idea of what your dog wants, and what your dog needs, and you should go down that pathway.

[00:37:10] Emily: I love that. One safety disclaimer is if you’re using egg cartons or boxes or whatever, make sure your dog is not eating the adhesives. And if they are, tear the adhesives off before you give it to your pet. Just got to say that. Cause I know Instagram is going to say it if I don’t.

[00:37:25] David: Yeah, I guess all the ones that we get are more natural. I don’t use the styrofoam,

[00:37:29] Emily: And don’t use it. Yeah, don’t give them the styrofoam boxes. Yeah. Okay. So aside from that disclaimer, I love all of that. And it’s, I think it’s so funny cause a lot of times people will well, tease cats or dogs, man, I bought you this expensive toy. And then you’re playing with the trash that the toy came in. And my reframe for that is, that’s amazing. Like you should celebrate that your pet’s favorite toy is trash, because it’s going to be so easy to keep your pet entertained if that’s their favorite toy, right? Okay. So, I love all of that. So, what are our observable goals and actionable items that people can take away from this discussion?

[00:38:08] David: One of the things that I believe is don’t force your pet to do something because you want them to do it. Let them be themselves and let, encourage and reward them for being good, right? Don’t force a toy on them because you spent money on it. If they’re not engaged in it, okay, move on to the next thing. Don’t try to force your dog to do it. Donate that toy to a shelter, or somebody else, because somebody else will be engaged in it. And don’t get mad at the toy for the toy quote not working because your dog doesn’t want to roll something, or doesn’t want to shred something, or it doesn’t work the exact way that you thought that it would. Let your dog be a dog. Let your cat be a cat. Let your bunny be a bunny. Your bird, let them be a bird. Remember, we’re trying to enrich their lives, not so much our lives, because we can’t enrich our lives if we’re forced something on somebody else.

[00:39:02] Emily: Yeah, our ability to enrich ourselves should not be contingent on our animals meeting our expectations. Yeah, so we should look at enriching our pets’ lives, and look at enriching our lives, and not make those two things necessarily contingent on each other. Although, we can certainly find ways to do things that enriches everybody. At the end of every interview, I ask the same set of questions, cause I love to hear people’s answers, the variety of answers that I get. The first one is what is one thing you wish people knew about either this topic, your profession, or enrichment your choice?

[00:39:39] David: One thing that I wish people would know more about, let’s see, I can’t say profession because I’m not everybody wants to be a manufacturer, or designer, or anything like that, but I guess I would go with enrichment. It’s okay for your dogs to fail, and it’s okay to learn from that. Because I look at it in my profession as an educator, and in medicine, of people fail, it’s how you overcome that and some of the best successes are after they’ve learned that they failed, what their mistake was.

And so, I think that just being a support system for your animal will be beneficial for everything. We can’t, got to stop beating ourselves up. And then I think the other part for the professional part of it is, we’ve got to stop bringing each other down. I know that’s been brought up multiple times, but we need to work together, and support each other. If we’re not setting a good example for other people, how are we supposed to set a good example for our pets? So, that’s what I would say.

[00:40:38] Emily: Okay. I love it. What is one thing you’d love to see improved in your field?

[00:40:42] David: Something I’d love to see improved in my field is affordability for enrichment products, pet products. Again, as I said earlier in the podcast, I try to make everything as affordable as possible, cutting out middlemen and just making things affordable because we’re already spending so much money on everything else.

My goal is not to own all the pie, have a slice of the pie, but I want people, and dogs, and cats, and other animals to live a better life. And if that means me not making a few dollars, and that’s fine because I’d rather your animals and pets to be safe, happy, and healthy. So, improve is people not trying to make a million dollars off of it and just being happy with what they have.

[00:41:26] Emily: I love that. What is one thing you love about what you do?

[00:41:30] David: I think my favorite thing is when a new customer gets one of my Euro leashes and is hesitant on buying it or one of my toys, and they come back and they’re like, this has changed my life. How I see things, how my dog is interacting, it loves this toy, I can walk hands free now, and I can hold a beer. Or I can eat dinner, or I can do all these things with the leash. And it’s changed the way that they are engaging with their pet to a whole new level that is just wonderful. And I love that. I just love being able to see the happiness on other people.

[00:42:06] Emily: I’ll say one thing that I love is your tags for the collars. They’re spicy. They’re saucy.

[00:42:14] David: That’s actually from a company out of Colorado. We started carrying those cause they’re just so much fun.

[00:42:19] Emily: They make me belly laugh. And I was like, can I collect them all like Pokemon? Because they’re hilarious.

[00:42:26] David: They are.

[00:42:27] Emily: All right what are you currently working on? If people want to work more with or learn from you, where can they find you?

[00:42:33] David: So, they can find me on ultimuttoys.com so U L T I M U T T O Y S there’s three T’s. So, currently I’m working on coming up with designs for Martingale collars that are efficient. And what they need to be able to support different breed dogs. It’s difficult for me to design certain things to be effective and cost efficient.

I’m also working on some new toys that are going to be for shelters. My wife works at a shelter now, and so my whole goal is to give back. So, I’m trying to get more toys. And more things for the shelters, that are affordable, long lasting, able to be cleaned, less maintenance for the shelter workers, because that’s a big part.

So, we’re coming up with some new things, so those will be out here pretty soon. But yeah, just trying to find more things for other animals to be better. So, if anybody has any suggestions, shoot me an email. I’ll give you credit.

[00:43:26] Emily: I love it. All right, well, thank you so much for joining us today. It’s been lovely speaking with you, and I look forward to seeing your company grow and flourish.

[00:43:36] Allie: I told you, goofy Golden Retriever, right? David is such a great model for what it looks like to run a business, but also wanting to help people. He embodies a phrase that we love, a rising tide lifts all boats, and we’re excited to see what other toys he ends up creating. Next week, we’ll be talking about how to avoid common enrichment toy mistakes.

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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