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This month’s training challenge is about our favorite topic: enrichment.
More specifically, evaluate your enrichment plan
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If you’ve spent 2 minutes putzing around our website or social media pages, you’ve likely gathered that “enrichment” is our jam. If you’ve spent more than 2 minutes, it’s likely that it’s yours too. You’re our people.
If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed with all the good ideas and desires to implement enrichment, you are not alone. When I started reflecting on what I needed to do to create the best life for my pup Opie, it was like a deluge of information that I loved kept overflowing my capacity to actually implement any of the ideas I had. I was so excited with every new bit that I read that I wouldn’t finish one thought before running off with another. Nothing ever stuck. What I needed was a systematic, step-by-step approach to reflecting on the aspects of enrichment and working through the steps to achieve my goals.
Today we are going to break down the 4 questions that guide you in creating an enrichment plan to meet your pet’s needs.
When reflecting on how we can create rich, fulfilling lives for our pets, it always comes back to enrichment–meeting all of our animals’ needs. For more examples of enriching activities, check out Ellen’s blog post Enrichment Isn’t About The Activity. For an even deeper dive into what “enrichment” is and isn’t (and how we can implement it in our animals’ daily lives), check out Allie and Emily’s book Canine Enrichment for the Real World.
Today’s blog is all about reflection. We need to think about what behaviors we want to see for all of the aspects of enrichment and how we are setting our furry friends up for success. For the purpose of this blog post today, I am going to zero in on ONE aspect of enrichment, but to get an idea of the full scope for any animal, you can sign up for our free Enrichment Chart Guide here. This guide will help you identify where to start.
The 4 Questions To Ask Yourself When Creating An Enrichment Plan
Aspect of Enrichment Focus: Physical Exercise
Question 1: Is this need being met?
This question may seem like a simple yes or no, but dig a little deeper into your answer. For physical exercise, consider your animal’s size, energy abundance, disposition, instinctual behaviors, and (if applicable) species/breed typical activity. Take for example: if you are noticing undesirable behaviors at 7 pm, does the amount of exercise in a day correlate to the frequency or intensity of that behavior?
Question 2: Am I providing my animal with agency?
Much like humans enjoy feeling in control of our choices, so too do our pets. Providing multiple appropriate options for our pets results in more confident, resilient animals. Pardon my double reference, but Allie and Emily’s book really dives deep into the legitimacy of this statement. It’s easy to assume that dogs want to go for walks, cats want to climb scratch poles, and horses want to gallop. It may well be true that your pet is fulfilled by these exercise options, but what would they choose if they had the say? Brainstorm a few options for your pet and let them choose their exercise for that day.
Question 3: What is the priority of addressing this aspect of enrichment?
As I mentioned earlier, it’s easy to get over-excited and overwhelmed with the awesome ideas you read about giving your pet a better life. I’m right there with you. Consider the importance that you place on each aspect of enrichment, review your Q1 & 2 answers, and give it a number from 1-10. If physical exercise is not being met consistently, you may score it an 8; however, if physical exercise is being met, but you have not yet incorporated agency, you may score it a 5. Address another aspect that has a higher number, enjoy the rewards of your work, and move along to the next goal.
Question 4: What is my plan of action?
Here’s where we get to it. Oftentimes, when we feel overwhelmed it’s because we don’t know what our next steps are. It’s okay! Take a breath, and let’s break down what we do know. Reflect on your knowledge, training, and expertise, and reach out to someone when you are stuck. If your animal has limited mobility, but you are not qualified to assess what physical exercise is safe and appropriate, call your veterinarian. If you only can think of taking the pup on a walk, pop on over to our Facebook page to get some new ideas. If your animal is reactive or fearful and struggles to get physical exercise, reach out to a behavior consultant.
I’ve worked with a pup who came to class jumping and lunging around barriers, unable to focus on his owners (and causing them the inability to focus on class), and passing notes at any opportunity. Turns out, because of the family’s schedule, the dad leaves right from work to pick up the pup for training class, skipping his normal walk in order to make it in time for class. With just a little stroll around the parking lot and a few rounds of “find it!”, the pup was eager (but not too!) and ready to focus in class.
People, we’re doing the best we can with what we have. The hardest thing for us pet parents to do is to toss out our preconceived notions about what we think our pet needs and rather observe what our animal is telling us. Asking yourself these 4 questions to create an enrichment plan will help to streamline the process of providing your pet with what they deserve.
Some things may work, and others may be back to the drawing board. Think less that your efforts are trial and error and more that it is trial and eval. I know you’re excited and want to get started. Take a breath, take a step, and enjoy observing what your animal is telling you.
To help organize your thoughts, sign up for our free Enrichment Chart Guide here.
- Ask yourself questions 1 & 2 to determine where there’s room for improvement.
- Assign priorities to those areas for growth and choose the one with the highest need.
- Develop your plan of action (or work with us to help you!) and get started! We have plenty of ideas in our Enrichment for Pet Behavior Issues FB group, or if you need more personalized help you can work with our consultants.
- Share your training challenge results with us @petharmonytraining on Facebook and Instagram! We love hearing from you.
You’re doing great!