January 2020 Training Challenge: Part 2

Last week we started in our our first training challenge of 2020: Draft an enrichment plan for your pet. We had just finished filling out the first two columns for Winter Oso and were about to start in on the “Priority” and “Plan of Action” columns. Let’s pick up where we left off!

Here’s where we left off:

Aspect of Enrichment Is this need being met? Agency? Priority Plan of Action
Health/Veterinary   Likely  IP: cooperative care & happy vet visits    
Hygiene   IP: working on back nails   Appropriate    
Diet/Nutrition   Likely   Appropriate    
Physical Exercise Potential Room for Growth: winter behavior   Appropriate    
Sensory Stimulation   Likely   Appropriate    
Safety   Likely   Appropriate    
Security   IP: counterconditioning to fireplace   Appropriate    
Instinctual Behaviors  Potential Room for Growth: destuffing bed in winter   Inappropriate: destuffing bed    
Foraging   Likely   Appropriate    
Social Interaction   IP: meeting more people   Appropriate    
Mental Exercise   Potential Room for Growth: winter behavior   Appropriate    
Independence   Likely   Appropriate    
Environment   Likely   Appropriate    
Calming   Likely   Appropriate    

Oftentimes when people fill out an enrichment chart for the first time they’re overwhelmed with how much there is to work on and even feel a little guilty. We all want to meet our pet’s needs as best as possible and many times seeing everything in one place lets us know that we have more work to do than we were expecting. That’s okay! Oso’s enrichment chart definitely did not look like this when I first started on his enrichment plan; you’re looking at something that’s a few years in the making. It’s okay if there’s a lot to work on! We all have to start somewhere.

To help with the overwhelm, we put the “Priority” column next. It’s unrealistic and usually unproductive to tackle everything all at once. Additionally, if you add a bunch of things at the same time you don’t necessarily which is helping to change your pet’s behavior. The systematic approach is better in the long run.

When looking at prioritizing Winter Oso’s plan, I specifically want to pay attention to the new winter behaviors that I put on his list earlier (from Part 1). The other things that we’re already working on are built into his schedule, for the most part, and are a part of our routine. I can stay at a maintenance level with those for now and mark them as lower priorities.

Aspect of Enrichment Is this need being met? Agency? Priority Plan of Action
Health/Veterinary   Likely  IP: cooperative care & happy vet visits   Low  
Hygiene   IP: working on back nails   Appropriate   Low  
Diet/Nutrition   Likely   Appropriate    
Physical Exercise Potential Room for Growth: winter behavior   Appropriate   High  
Sensory Stimulation   Likely   Appropriate    
Safety   Likely   Appropriate    
Security   IP: counterconditioning to fireplace   Appropriate   Med.  
Instinctual Behaviors  Potential Room for Growth: destuffing bed in winter   Inappropriate: destuffing bed   Med.  
Foraging   Likely   Appropriate    
Social Interaction   IP: meeting more people   Appropriate   Low  
Mental Exercise   Potential Room for Growth: winter behavior   Appropriate   High  
Independence   Likely   Appropriate    
Environment   Likely   Appropriate    
Calming   Likely   Appropriate    

You’ll see that while destuffing his bed was on our “Undesirable Behaviors” list earlier, I marked it as a lower priority here. That’s because I believed the behavior to be a result of a different category (either mental or physical activity) instead of this one. If addressing the high-level priorities didn’t change this behavior then I would address this category. [Note about prioritization: Emily and I are working on a specific Prioritization Protocol at the time of writing this but it’s not quite ready for release nor did it greatly impact this post’s content. Stay tuned!]

Finally, we can get to our plan of action. What are we going to do to address those high priority categories? Those of you who’ve recently read the Winter Oso blog post, you’ll remember that I first tried increasing how frequently we played “find it” to address mental exercise. Here’s what the chart looks like with that added in:

Aspect of Enrichment Is this need being met? Agency? Priority Plan of Action
Health/Veterinary   Likely  IP: cooperative care & happy vet visits   Low  
Hygiene   IP: working on back nails   Appropriate   Low  
Diet/Nutrition   Likely   Appropriate    
Physical Exercise Potential Room for Growth: winter behavior   Appropriate   High  
Sensory Stimulation   Likely   Appropriate    
Safety   Likely   Appropriate    
Security   IP: counterconditioning to fireplace   Appropriate   Med.  
Instinctual Behaviors  Potential Room for Growth: destuffing bed in winter   Inappropriate: destuffing bed   Med.  
Foraging   Likely   Appropriate    
Social Interaction   IP: meeting more people   Appropriate   Low  
Mental Exercise   Potential Room for Growth: winter behavior   Appropriate   High   “Find it” with all dinners
Independence   Likely   Appropriate    
Environment   Likely   Appropriate    
Calming   Likely   Appropriate    

However, I didn’t see as much of a change in his behavior. Remember: activities must serve a function to be classified as enrichment! Even those “find it” and foraging are absolutely great exercises, do meet his needs in several categories, and theoretically could address the behaviors I didn’t actually see a significant decrease in his undesirable behaviors. That means that it’s not the activity he needs at the moment. With that in mind we increased his physical activity:

Aspect of Enrichment Is this need being met? Agency? Priority Plan of Action
Health/Veterinary   Likely  IP: cooperative care & happy vet visits   Low  
Hygiene   IP: working on back nails   Appropriate   Low  
Diet/Nutrition   Likely   Appropriate    
Physical Exercise Potential Room for Growth: winter behavior   Appropriate   High   Fetch outside daily, tug inside daily
Sensory Stimulation   Likely   Appropriate    
Safety   Likely   Appropriate    
Security   IP: counterconditioning to fireplace   Appropriate   Med.  
Instinctual Behaviors  Potential Room for Growth: destuffing bed in winter   Inappropriate: destuffing bed   Med.  
Foraging   Likely   Appropriate    
Social Interaction   IP: meeting more people   Appropriate   Low  
Mental Exercise Likely   Appropriate    
Independence   Likely   Appropriate    
Environment   Likely   Appropriate    
Calming   Likely   Appropriate    

Eureka! That worked! We started with a hybrid game outside (we’ve since taught him to play fetch) and tug inside each day and that has significantly decreased his undesirable behaviors and increased the desirable ones. It was physical exercise that he was lacking!

There you have it: a full example from start to finish of creating an enrichment plan. In our experience, it takes quite a bit of practice to look at behaviors in relation to their needs, so take it slow and go easy on yourself. And remember, we’re here to help!

Now what?

  • Time to finish up your enrichment plan for your pet!
  • An enrichment plan is fine and well, but the more important part is implementing it to see if your plan is beneficial. Have fun and experiment with some new activities! Check out our book if you need some ideas for the different categories.
  • Does this seem like a lot of work? Or overwhelming? Email Emily at [email protected] for an enrichment consultation and let her create your plan for you!