#83: Enrichment for Shelters

[00:00:00] Emily: And contrary to my hazing love language, I got to come in with a compassion disclaimer: this is such an important thing to remember because working in animal welfare is hard enough without beating ourselves up about it. So, do the best you can with the resources and information you have. Anything you do to improve welfare is a win, and improving welfare is a never-ending, iterative process anyway. So, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, just do what you can and that’s good enough.

[00:00:34] 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…

[00:00:51] Emily: …and I’m Emily Strong…

[00:00:53] 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 Mara Velez, and one of the topics we discussed was how BEAR can help shelters. This week, we’re going to dive further into enrichment for shelters and talk about implementation with the animals in your life.

In this implementation episode, Emily and I talk about: 

  • Emily’s love language, which I don’t love sometimes, 

  • accepting a linear time frame and accepting that Kristina Spaulding can’t go back 20 years to write her book and have made past me and Emily better shelter workers, 

  • the sad trombone that sometimes comes with rest as a primary strategy, 

  • a turtle tirade, 

  • and cross ties for lickimats.

I can’t believe we made it almost seven seasons, seven complete seasons, without doing an implementation episode on shelters. It’s not like it’s where I started my career or where we met or anything.

[00:02:01] Emily: Okay, but in our defense, When we started the podcast, we were, like, real hung up on trying to be applicable for everyone. And we’ve gotten a lot more relaxed about, like, “Yeah, this episode is on a specialized topic. Whatchu gonna do about it?”

[00:02:18] Allie: I like how you made that way more accusatory than it actually is.

[00:02:21] Emily: Not accusatory, just confrontational. Like, “We’re here. We’re nerdy about very specific things in particular. Get used to it.”

[00:02:30] Allie: Okay, but like, needlessly confrontational.

[00:02:34] Emily: Would it help if I added a, like a, a please and thank you at the end? Should I turn my statement into a question? “We’re here? We’re nerdy about very specific things in particular? Please and thank you get used to it?”

[00:02:46] Allie: Now I feel like you’re just attacking me specifically. So let’s move on before it gets even more violent.

[00:02:53] Emily: Ugh. Finnnnnnnnnnne? Please and thank you?

[00:02:59] Allie: I hate you.

[00:03:00] Emily: You love me! And you know I’m just messing with you because hazing is literally my love language. But yes, yes, let’s get back on topic. So, uh, what you got for us today?

[00:03:11] Allie: All right. Shelters. I also have a very active turtle who’s going to insert himself into the background noise of this episode, so.

[00:03:19] Emily: I’m very pro-Zorro as our guest speaker today. So I think that’s fine. Let’s carry on with Zorro. He can pitch in his opinions as he desires.

[00:03:28] Allie: Red-eared Sliders appear in shelters quite a bit, so, he has feelings. Yeah. He has feelings. All right. Shelters. Shelter enrichment. This is an enormous topic, so we’re really going to have to do broad strokes for a lot of this because it’s its own beastie, all on its own.

But I think for those of you who are involved in shelters in any capacity, it’ll be good to connect some of those dots about how you can implement an enrichment framework into a shelter setting. And we should also say that this isn’t just applicable for folks in shelters. We make very similar recommendations for any facility caring for a population of animals.

So in addition to shelters, that can include boarding facilities, daycares. I’ve done this with a service dog organization that I was working with. So really, it’s just any facility that has a population of animals that you’re working with.

[00:04:22] Emily: And contrary to my hazing love language, I got to come in with a compassion disclaimer: this is such an important thing to remember because working in animal welfare is hard enough without beating ourselves up about it. So, do the best you can with the resources and information you have. Anything you do to improve welfare is a win, and improving welfare is a never-ending, iterative process anyway. So, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, just do what you can and that’s good enough.

[00:04:56] Allie: 100 percent. And along that vein, even though we’ll be talking about several things today, I challenge you to only take one thing away. Just one thing that you want to bring back to your sheltering environment. And when that one thing feels well integrated, then come back to this episode for the next thing. Too much change at one time is overwhelming for everyone involved, and is ultimately unsustainable.

So with that in mind, the first thing that we are going to talk about today is looking at your population needs first. So, when we are working with a facility that has a population of animals, one of the things that we teach is to have tiers of your enrichment framework, and that first tier is going to be your population needs, because that tier is going to address the majority of needs for the majority of your animals, and then you can get more specific with individual animals as you learn more about them.

So when you’re looking at your population, we need to look at what do most of the animals in your care struggle with, and how do you know that’s true? Essentially, what are you observing that indicates opportunities for improvement? So, for example, Emily and I have worked with shelters that have, like a population where they have like five kennels of dogs, and then we’ve worked with shelters that have 200 kennels of dogs, more than 200.

We came from a facility that had, what, 450 dogs at any one time? So, volume is a thing that we really need to look at. And when we have a facility that has a lower volume and/or a lower volume, and really more so what I mean by that is a lower pet-to-human ratio. So like, if you’re in a facility where there’s one human per one animal, then you could have an individual plan for each and every animal and that would be totally fine. But if you have, even in a low volume facility, you have 10 animals and only one person that works there, we’re going to be having to look at different things for that facility.

And so when we’re looking at volume – and really, I think more importantly the pet-to-human ratio of that – volume may indicate boredom and distress. Where maybe they only get a few minutes at a time with a special person that they really enjoy or a few minutes at a time to go outside or to train or to whatever it is. So. For a lot of those kiddos, we’re looking at enrichment strategies that are very easy to give to a lot of kiddos all at the same time.

And one of the things that I do in places like this is destructibles, scatter feeding, food puzzles, lickables, anything like that, where – especially if they have a volunteer team – one of my favorite things at one of the shelters that I used to work at is every now and then we would get like a corporate volunteer session where it was like a bunch of people from one corporate office that came and needed a project to do, or like a Girl Scout troop or something like that. And I was like, okay, here’s a whole ton of essentially garbage, make destructibles for the next three months for our pets– for the kiddos in our care, I should say.

And so that was one of my favorite things to do because we could build them in bulk. And for a lot of shelters that I’ve seen, there’s just like that giant tote bin of Kongs where it’s like if you fill all the Kongs and stuff the entire freezer, you have a month’s worth of Kongs. That’s one of my favorite things to do for volume stuff is for shelters where there’s a high volume, because you can make everything in a batch. We talked about batch-making things in a previous episode, and then it’s very simple to plop those items into each individual kennel, and those kiddos have something that they can do. And also for a lot of those enrichment activities, they end up being stress relievers for those kiddos as well, which is a thing that we’re going to talk about in just a second with stress because realistically, most of the animals in a shelter setting are struggling with stress.

[00:09:17] Emily: Yes, they are. And stress can express itself in many ways. And one of the other ways that we commonly see stress expressed in shelters or other large populations, is dogs getting really jumpy-mouthy and just over-the-top frenetic all the time. And that could indicate insufficient exercise, although in shelters, a lot of times, whether or not they’re getting a lot of exercise, if we’re still seeing that behavior, it’s also due to distress.

The good news is we don’t need to do a big intensive trial and eval process to assess if it’s exercise or if it’s distress, because either way, we can give them some really simple enrichment strategies that can help to reduce that behavior.

And one of my favorites is just Find It, especially when we’re trying to get people in and out of the runs, and the dogs are just jumping up at the gate before people even get into the runs. Allie and I would show this to so many shelters that would understandably have suss face at first and be like real dubious about it. And we would demonstrate how you can just play Find It, toss a treat to the back of the kennel, crack open the gate a little bit, Find It, toss a treat back to the kennel, crack it open a little more, Find It, toss a treat back. And by the end of a single session of just a few minutes, most dogs at shelters get the picture and they’re like, “Oh, I’m going to run to the back of the run when people come into the door.” And then the more people who do that with them, the more fluent that behavior becomes.

So that is a really good example of training as enrichment and also a really good example of very easy training that’s easy for people to do successfully that can make a huge difference. We can also have them playing Find It all the way outside. Later on, Allie is going to talk about a floor targeting game that she came up with that has been really effective, and I’ve used that with many jumpy-mouthy kids in shelters. We also like to have volunteers do Find It and scatter feeding outside while they’re taking the dogs on walks because the dogs can’t be jumping up on the volunteers if they’re finding food in the grass or in the gravel or wherever they’re walking. So a lot of times the enrichment strategy to help address either distress or insufficient exercise is just some kind of really easy to do nose work, like the Find It game. And then if there are, like, indoor-outdoor runs, or if dogs have access to a yard, then they can play Find It off leash in those spaces as well. So that’s a good example of a simple exercise that can be applied to most of the population. Obviously, it’s not going to be safe or effective for everybody, but it can make a huge difference with very little additional labor for the staff.

[00:12:13] Allie: And continuing with this stress train that we’re talking about, and I suppose I have to plug the episode that we did with Dr. Kristina Spaulding on The Stress Factor In Dogs because I wish her book was out when you and I were really active in the sheltering world. I think we would have been much more successful at a lot of the things that we were doing instead of having to trial and eval everything that we had to trial and eval if we better understood stress when we were working in shelters

[00:12:44] Emily: I 100% agree with you, and also I think it would have been a really good resource to give to shelters so that everybody on shelter staff could read the book – it’s a pretty quick read – and gain a better understanding of what’s going on with the animals in their care.

So I also wish that book came out like 20 years ago. Oh well, I guess Krasina Spalding can’t just travel back in time and write the book back then. So we just got to do it now instead of, back in the day. It’s fine. I accept linear timelines.

[00:13:15] Allie: Yeah, so, definitely, if you haven’t read Kristina’s book, go read it. If you haven’t listened to her podcast episode with us, go listen to that episode. We’ll put it in the show notes for you. But along that vein, one of the things that we’ve seen – I very rarely use all or nothing statements, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say – all of the shelters that I’ve been to, the animals are not getting enough sleep.

Just across the board, I have yet to meet a shelter where their animals were getting enough sleep. I think the only exception I can think of was like an old deaf dog in a shelter that, like, couldn’t hear all the ruckus around them, and so like wasn’t upset about that, and it was just like a chill, a chill dog in general. That’s the only kiddo I can think of in my 18 years of sheltering. So, animals are not getting enough sleep in shelters. We just, we know this because observation says that it’s so, and because research is a thing, and research is also saying that is true as well. And I’m going to speak for you, Emily, because we’ve worked in shelters long enough together that I know how you operate too in this regard.

When we go into shelters, one of the very first things that we recommend is how do we get your population more sleep? And it’s interesting. We’ve done this to a lot of places, we’ve gone into a lot of places, made this recommendation. And it’s so funny because the human faces fall where they’re like, “Oh, we thought you were gonna give us, like, fun things to do.” And we’re like, “No. We’re going to give your dogs sleep, is what we’re going to do. Like, and you’re not going to be allowed to go back into the kennels while they’re sleeping.” So, so it’s– humans are cute, is the moral of that story. But, go ahead.

[00:15:09] Emily: Yeah. It’s true. It’s true. It’s delightful. At first they’re like, ah, womp womp, and you can just hear the sad trombone in their head. But what’s also equally consistent is that when the shelters actually do implement a midday nap time, the feedback we get is like, “Oh my God, this is so much better.” It’s like, “Yes, you’re welcome.”

[00:15:33] Allie: Yeah, 100%. Like, once they do it, they are on board with our recommendation. And no longer sad that we didn’t give them something super fun to do. Emily just mentioned the midday nap. That’s one of my favorite things to implement in shelters.

And yes, there are a lot of logistics that sometimes we have to work around based on caregiver schedules, volunteer hours, adoption hours, things like that. But usually there is a solution that we can figure out. Sometimes it means changing some of those hours, but in my experience, when when a shelter has had to change volunteer hours, for example, in order to implement a midday nap, and they are able to explain to volunteers how important sleep is to their kiddos and that their kiddos are not getting enough sleep, the volunteers are so on board with that. The volunteers just want the best for the animals. in the shelters, and so they’re okay with like, “Alright, I have to change my volunteer time by, by a half hour.”

So midday naps are one of my favorites, and that is just turn off the lights, put on some music, all the humans vacate that area, and everybody gets to sleep. I like an hour, but if 30 minutes is all you can do, 30 minutes is all you can do, and that’s okay. That’s better than nothing.

Another option that you have for sleep in addition to those midday naps is I love outings and sleepovers for the ability to sleep. Like, yes, those things can be really fun for a kiddo and most of the kiddos that I have taken on an outing or a sleepover truly just want to sleep, and they get some of the best, deepest sleep I have ever seen them get, and that is so, so beneficial for them. So I love outing and sleepover programs.

There’s some really cool research that that is being done on outings and sleepovers in shelters that is also supporting our anecdotal evidence on that, and so I can’t recommend it enough–to do outings and sleepovers. And if sleepover sounds like a little scary, like, “Oh, somebody’s going to take our dogs overnight or our cats overnight,” or whatever it is, then outings for just a few hours with volunteers.

And sometimes when we were, at the, that large scale facility, I would take a kiddo home with me for just a few hours, like over my lunch break or something, and they would sleep on my couch and I would eat lunch next to them and life was good. Like, it was a happy day for everybody involved.

So it doesn’t have to be a big thing. It can be taking a kiddo to lunch with you and letting them sleep in the car while you go through, through the drive thru. The other thing that I wanted to point out when it comes to sleeping is, we’re talking a lot about dogs right now. I need to– I mean, we also talked about Zorro but, but like Zorro is not telling us that he– we need to talk about other species, but I’m just going to let it, you know– do it before he tells me that we need to talk about other species… Keep in mind how animals like to sleep and how they feel comfortable and safe sleeping. So, for example, I’m actually going to use Red-Eared Sliders as my example. We had somebody in PETPro who posted in the forum and she was like, we just got these turtles into our shelter. Turtle enrichment? Like what do I do?

And of course she tagged me in the forum and I was like, “Oh, let me tell you about turtle enrichment.” And so, in talking with her, one of the biggest recommendations that I made was to move where the tank was and if that wasn’t possible to include hidey spots. So, they were semi aquatic turtles, she wasn’t sure what kind of semi aquatic turtles. I’m gonna guess a slider or painted because that’s usually what ends up in a shelter. They were semi aquatic turtles and the only place that they could fit the tank in the shelter was in a hallway that people were walking past frequently.

So, I have a turtle who I’ve had for 15 years at the time that this recording is coming out, and he lives in my office, and he’s lived in my office in this house in the exact, nope, not in the exact same spot, but we’re going to say in my office in this house for five years, and there are days where I walk into my office and hang out for a second and then leave, and then he gets startled that I’m leaving the space that he just watched me enter and vice versa. Sometimes I’ll leave my office, go grab tea in the kitchen for a minute and come back in and he gets startled by me coming into my office like I do several times a day, every single day for the last five years slash 15 years that we’ve lived together.

So. The startle response is real. And so what I was telling her is that it’s probably going to be really hard for those, those kiddos to relax and sleep if there are people walking past them at all times. And so moving the tank. If that’s not possible, then having hidey spaces for them to go into.

Zorro has a lot of hidey spaces in his tank, and you can see him, like, sometimes he’ll be under a thing, like, with his head little poked up, and it’s like, bro, you’ve lived with me for 15 years. Nothing is going to happen to you, but I get it, you’re not actually domesticated, so, like, you do you.

The other thing with that, too, I just went on like a tirade about turtles, but a species that is more commonly found in shelters that we should be taking the same look at is cats. We should absolutely be having hidey spaces for cats, remembering that cats are both a prey and a predator species. And so they like sleeping in little hidey things, like cats in boxes is a cliche for a reason, and an adorable cliche, so like, we can’t even be mad at it. So, making sure that there are appropriate spaces for them to sleep, in addition to opportunities for them to sleep.

[00:21:28] Emily: I love all of that because, yes, I just think, in general, animals need more sleep. And, animals in captivity, animals who live with humans need more sleep.

[00:21:41] Allie: I mean, I’m a human who lives with humans and I need more sleep.

[00:21:44] Emily: I just think we all need more sleep. And so, yeah, it’s a huge part of enrichment that gets overlooked, and we’re here to say, “Rest is Resistance.” Also read that book, has nothing to do with animals or sheltering, but Rest is Resistance.

Okay. Next example is a lot of times we’ll go into shelters and they’re really struggling with getting dogs in and out of the runs. It’s really chaotic. It’s risky. Dogs get away from volunteers and it’s understandable, right? We can’t, there’s actually a lot of skill involved in teaching dogs how to slow their role enough to be safely leashed or harnessed and to come out of the run in an appropriate way that’s actually going to be safe for everybody. So, one of the reasons this is such a common pain point in shelters is because there’s just too many cooks in the kitchen. There are so many people in the kennels trying to get dogs in and out, especially if you have a large volunteer program and a lot of those volunteers are walking dogs. It can just get really chaotic, which can increase the stress for everybody: humans, dogs, the whole enchilada. So, One of the things that we emphasize super hard every time we are in a shelter is creating a kennel concierge position. It can either be a staff member or a volunteer, depending on how the shelter or the organization operates. But essentially, the kennel concierge is somebody who has been trained and is fluent at safely and efficiently getting dogs in and out of kennels in a minimally stressful way. I know you’re going to be shocked to hear this, but we use Find It to get dogs to keep all four paws on the floor and their head down towards the floor so that it gives people the time to quickly and efficiently get the dog leashed or harnessed up, whatever walking equipment you use. And then, you hand off– the kennel concierge hands off the dog to whoever is walking the dog.

So you have one person in the kennels getting dogs in and out which is less foot traffic, which usually means less reactivity. And because it’s a more efficient and less chaotic process, less stress for everybody involved. And then they’re just handing off the leash to the volunteers. When the volunteers come back– if it’s possible, which in almost every shelter we’ve been in, there’s a way to make this happen, but we have little targets for the volunteers. So when they bring back a dog, if there’s other volunteers waiting with their dog to be taken back by the kennel concierge, they’re staying a good enough distance apart to keep everybody safe and happy. 

One of the, one of the shelters that I implemented this in had a lot of acreage. They were out in the country. And so they were really blessed with space. And so we even had like reactive dog posts that were on different sides of the building so that the reactive dogs didn’t have to wait in line with the dogs who were okay with seeing other dogs on leash. So that was a fun little variation on the theme that I thought was really clever.

It was not my idea, somebody on the behavior team came up with that idea and I thought it was a really clever variation on the theme. We’ve seen lots of different permutations of what this kennel concierge role can look like, but it’s another one of those where people are like, “Oh yeah, we thought fun games and stuff, but actually that does sound like it would be helpful.”

And then they implement it and they’re like, “Oh my God, this is so helpful.” So that can be enrichment too, because we’re mitigating stress. We’re more efficient with getting dogs out on walks. They’re actually able to enjoy their walks because they’re not so amped up by the time they get out that they’re not even able to think and learn anymore. And just overall, we’re improving welfare and well being of everybody involved by just making that whole process more enjoyable and more efficient. Those are just some good examples of how we can look at the needs of the population first to determine what’s the most urgent thing we want to focus on, what’s the thing we can change right now, and the next kind of layer of consideration is which, of the strategies that you’re considering implementing, is the simplest strategy that will have the biggest impact. So some of the things that we’ve talked about are, like, pretty complicated, like creating a kennel concierge position. That’s a multi step process that takes a lot of thought and planning and training and stuff like that.

So that’s not necessarily a simple strategy and it may not be where a shelter starts off. But that can be like a later project if you’re just starting out. Because we really encourage shelters to start off with a Small Step, Big Win strategy. So something that they can make a small change to have a huge impact. So if you’ve got your wishlist of things that would help the majority of your population, and you’re looking at that list, start with the thing that is the easiest to implement with the biggest potential for impact. And I’m going to brag on one of my mentees in PetPro because he owns his own dog daycare and board and train facility. One of the kind of simple strategies that he was trying to implement in his facility was the lickables during quiet nap time. And he was really struggling because the dogs would try to lick the toy and it would flip around and then they couldn’t get the lickable stuff off of it. And so we were talking about okay, well, so what’s the issue? Like, why is this a difficult plan to implement? And when he told me about the flipping thing that was happening, I was like, “Oh, what if we attach it at like a cross, instead of just hanging it from a single thread? We attach it at multiple points to create more stability.” 

And so he just immediately went out and implemented that. And sure enough, that additional stability just overnight made the lickable process more effective, where the dogs could actually lick the thing without flipping it over and losing access to it. The other benefit of doing that was we were able to move the lickables inside of the kennel because they had them, they were just hanging them on the outside of the kennels. But then the downside, or the other downside to that was that the kennel staff then had to clean all the lickable food off of the bars. So it was also extra cleaning that was required from his staff. When we were able to move the lickable inside the door and give it multiple points of contact with the kennel door itself the lickable stuff was staying on the correct side of the bars and not getting the bars super dirty. So it also really reduced the kennel cleaning time. So, yeah, I got to give a shout out. So proud of him for taking a really thoughtful enrichment based approach to dog daycare and training, and then doing this trial and eval to figure out how to get those big wins for his staff and the dogs in their care.

[00:28:44] Allie: I like that story. He’s doing great.

All right, so the next part of this is to take your time. I know that everything feels rushed, especially in a shelter, but as Emily and Mara were talking about in the previous episode, slow is smooth and smooth is fast. So mindfulness is critical.

And one of the best examples that we have of this is something that Emily alluded to just a little bit ago of how we have implemented this, like, Hansel and Gretel target system for getting dogs out of kennels. And it’s one of those that when we show that– when we tell people about this, a lot of times they’re like, “Oh, it seems like it’s going to take so long,” and all of this.

And we’re like, “No. Just like, let us show you for a second.” And so we demonstrate this tactic for them and they realize that yes, it is going to take them a little bit longer. And it is so much better than the just wild getting dogs out of kennels that is often happening in a shelter setting. So, what we do for this is we take a Tag Teach approach to this, and I thought of this in a Tag Teach workshop actually, so I like to use painter’s tape for this because it’s really easy to get on and off. It doesn’t ruin the floors, all of that good sort of stuff. 

Put painter’s tape on the floor just every, I don’t know, foot or so. It doesn’t particularly matter the distance. It’s going to be dependent on the setup more than anything else. So we’ll say a foot and take it from there. If you want to do more or less, I don’t know, you do you. Trial and eval. 

So, put painter’s tape on the floor from the kennels to the outside. For some facilities, if you have, like, multiple doors for example, there’s a shelter that I work with here where if they’re going out the back door, really they just have to get to the garage and once they’re in the garage, life is better.

They don’t have to worry about passing a whole bunch of other animals. They’re not walking past kennels anymore. So, for them, I’d say just do it to the garage. You don’t have to do it all the way out the door, but for some facilities, you’ll want to do it all the way to the door. And then, when you’re getting ready to take a kiddo out, go and put treats on those little pieces of painter’s tape.

I’m a really big fan of doing, like, squeeze cheese or the Kong Stuff ‘n’ Paste or something like that where it sticks to the floor and they have to lick it up.

It’s not something that you can accidentally kick and then you’re like, “Oh, well, there was supposed to be a treat there, but now it has rolled away,” and life is sad for you. So I’m a big fan of something that’s going to stick on the floor. So just a little tiny squeeze all along each of those pieces of painter’s tape, bring your kiddo out, and let them experience the licky that is on the floor on that piece of tape. 

The trick is to, in the beginning, space your pieces of tape close enough that the next one is very easy to figure out from that first one. So they’re getting finished with that first one, they look up and they’re like, there’s more! And then they go to the next one and so on and so forth.

And yeah, it is going to take you a little bit longer to get out that way. But, oh goodness, is it so much easier on everybody when the dog that you are taking out is just moving from one little piece of tape to the next, licking along the way, they’re nice and calm and cool and collected, and yes, everybody else around them is yelling their little fool heads off, but the dog that you have is nice and calm and cool and collected and licking and not darting in between all of the kennels and pulling your shoulder out of its socket and all of the things that often happen.

Once that kiddo learns the game – and it doesn’t really take that long, because in so many shelters they’re getting out multiple times a day, and if you’re consistent with it, that means they’re getting a lot of opportunities to practice this game – so once they get the game, then we don’t have to do every piece of tape.

We could do every other piece of tape until they get every other piece of tape, and then every third, and so on and so forth. So we’re just gradually spacing out those little Hansel and Gretel treats on the ground so that they know, “Oh, if I just keep on my little path and I keep looking at the ground, stuff is gonna happen for me.”

And that is such a better way of getting dogs out of kennels than what is normally happening in shelters. And so this is a really good example of slow is smooth. and smooth as fast. It is going to be so much easier and ultimately faster once all the dogs know how to do this. In the beginning it’s going to take you a little bit of time, but once you have a population who most of those kiddos are on every fourth piece of tape, every fifth piece of tape, whatever it is, it’s going to be so much easier.

And when they learn the game, a lot of times you don’t have to do the pre setup anymore. The pre setup is really helpful when you are first teaching somebody this game. And by somebody I mean a four legged creature this game. But once they get that stuff happens on the floor, then you can put stuff on the tape as you’re walking with them.

So it, that even saves a little bit of time once they figure out the game.

[00:34:04] Emily: And I just want to say because we’ve, I’ve, we’ve gotten this question many times that shelters who have a really fast turnover, like, the length of stay is three or four days at a time and they’re really high volume, have often, like when we’ve talked about this in workshops or presentations or private consultations, they’re like, “Oh my God, we can’t do that for every dog. And by the time a dog learns, they’ll be gone.” 

And our response to that is yeah, absolutely. Like for your facility, it doesn’t make sense for you to do this with every dog. So focus on the dogs who are really barrier reactive to other dogs as they walk by or are like jumping and like hitting the end of the leash, trying to get out the door as fast as possible and are pulling your staff over. Those are the individuals that you would want to do this with and the rest of the population you can just walk however you walk them. So you’re still doing this exercise in a way that is improving everybody’s well being by addressing these specific dogs who are struggling and letting the other dogs who aren’t struggling just do their thing. 

So again, like, it’s really about what’s going to have the biggest impact for your organization with your setup and everything. And you can still have a huge impact, even if you’re just working with the few dogs who really need that specific type of enrichment. 

Another thing that Mara and I talked about last week, that is a really big deal for being able to continually improve and grow as an organization, not just as individuals, is creating a company culture where we think of feedback as information rather than an indictment or criticism of your work or rebellion against authority or anything like that. So if your staff isn’t comfortable with something that you’re wanting them to do or if they say they’ll do it and then they’re not actually doing it, instead of thinking of that as non-compliant staff, think of that as information and get curious about what the pain point is and how you can help to alleviate that pain point to set your team up for success. 

Or conversely, if you’re a team member and you’re doing a thing and somebody has feedback for how you’re doing the thing, instead of thinking of that as a criticism, think of that as information so that you can be more effective at what you’re doing more efficiently. And oftentimes the things that we’re receiving feedback about are things that are actually going to make our lives easier and our experience better. 

And the hardest part is just being able to receive that information and implement the changes that are being asked of us. So being open to feedback, having a growth mindset, and getting curious about the information that we’re receiving is so crucial to having this long term sustainable success at building enrichment programs in any population. So that’s a really big deal that often gets overlooked when we talk about things like this, which is one of the reasons I was so thrilled to have that conversation with Mara, because it’s something that we don’t talk a lot about in this field, and we really should, because feedback is everything.

It’s how we assess the efficacy of our attempts, right? So that we know that what we’re doing is actually achieving what we think it is. So I’m going to brag on the same student from PETPro, the guy who has the dog daycare and board and train facility. Because when we were meeting for our coaching call and he was telling me about the– how his staff wasn’t doing the lickable stuff as, as consistently or frequently as he had asked them to, I just loved watching his thought process as he was telling me about this, because at no point was he like, “Grr, my staff, they just won’t do their jobs.”

Like his entire attitude was like, “I’m trying to figure out why this isn’t working for them. And I’ve tested this and I’ve tested this and I’ve tested this and it’s still a problem. And when I’ve asked them about it, they say it isn’t a problem, but the data is showing me that it is a problem. So how can I identify the pain point that can help them to be more successful?” And I was like, ‘You know what? If more bosses had that mindset when thinking about their staff, the world would be a much better place. I am so proud of you for thinking of this as information gathering and how you can adjust your strategy to set your team up for success instead of blaming your team. That is such a beautiful mindset.” 

And so we were able to do that troubleshooting together and find that really simple, successful strategy for him because that was his mindset. Instead of being like, “Grr, staff don’t work, grr, work ethic, where’d it go? Blah, blah,” all the stuff that people usually grumble about. So I was really proud of him and he’s going to go so far and his business is going to be so successful because that is his mindset. So if we can all cultivate that and if leadership can learn how to take that approach to team building, more teams are going to be more successful over the long run. I am so proud of him. It just warms my heart so much, just having watched him grow and develop into this, like, extraordinary human and business owner and team leader just warms my heart.

[00:39:30] Allie: And I think that’s a great point too, that when we’re talking about enrichment for shelters, there are a whole lot of stakeholders that we’re talking about. And so we really need to be approaching it from that team and cooperation mindset instead of an us versus them mindset that is so common in the sheltering world.

And I know that I would have definitely been a much more effective shelter worker had I learned what your student is learning much earlier in my journey of, really it’s team and collaboration and all of that fun sort of stuff.

[00:40:04] Emily: Absolutely. I agree. We, we both have grown a lot in the decade that we’ve known each other. And also I want to point out that a team can only be successful as their leadership. So the onus wasn’t entirely on us and I’ll just leave it at that. I just had to say it.

[00:40:19] Allie: Alright, so today we talked about enrichment for shelters, and that includes first taking a look at what your population needs. What do the majority of animals in your care struggle with, and what do the majority of them need? Hint, hint, it’s probably sleep. 

Then, look at what is the simplest strategy that can have the biggest impact. Start there. 

From there, take your time. Slow is smooth and smooth is fast. And finally, think of feedback as information rather than an indictment or rebellion. We need to assess the pain point for our human learners as well and find ways to address it. 

Next week, we’ll be talking with Kassidi Jones about anti-racism in animal welfare.

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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