June 2022 Training Challenge: Track Your Pet’s Behavior for a Month


Happy June, y’all!

With Season 1 of Enrichment for the Real World coming to a close, we wanted to focus this training challenge on our final topic of the season, using data for enrichment!

Now, I know the idea of collecting data can be overwhelming, intimidating, and even seem unnecessary, but, as we work to create effective, efficient enrichment plans for the animals in our care, collecting some data can make a huge difference in doing that well without sacrificing ourselves.  

So, this month’s training challenge is to collect some data on the animal in your care! 

As Dr. Fernandez mentioned in this week’s podcast episode…

“Then the second part is test things and test things in a way that you can find some type of evidence. Because we’ve talked about the importance of being evidence-based, and that means any kind of data, any kind of data that you use, and as I like to say all the time, any data is better than no data.”


Data can look like a lot of things

When we are talking about data, we mean a range of information. We want what we are tracking to answer the questions or goals that we have. This could be a simple yes/no, a duration of something, a frequency of something, the intensity of the behavior, and more. 


Some tips to keep in mind

  1. Know your question or goal. Are you gathering baseline information, like the number of times you catch your dog licking their paws? Or are you trying to see if your routine changes are helping you to progress toward your goals? Are you trying to assess if your efforts are working? 
  2. Work at the level you WILL do, not necessarily the level you WANT to do. Some data is better than no data. Focus your efforts on something you can do, and make it easy for you to do the thing. It may be a piece of paper on your desk, a whiteboard in the kitchen, texting yourself every time something happens… Get creative, but make sure it is actually doable. You can always expand later! 
  3. Clearly identify what you are tracking. Look at overt behavior, observable changes, and things that you can measure rather than focusing on a feeling or vibe. 


So, what might this look like in a home?

Once you know your goal or question, then you can start doing some trial and eval! As I mentioned before, there are so many different things you can look at, but narrow it down to get the information that will help you assess your goals and plans. Here are 3 examples to get your creative juices flowing.


Griffey’s Skin Issues

With the onset of Spring came an onslaught of allergy issues for Griffey. We’ve been working diligently with our vet to come at it from a number of angles, and last week, we implemented 2 new treatment options: weekly medicated baths and a 3x daily topical treatment for lesions that were showing up. Our goals were to see improvement in skin and coat condition, overall comfort for Griffey, and quick healing of the lesions. To ensure that our treatment was effective, we have been tracking the number of variables through a piece of paper at my desk: 

  1. The number of times he can be redirected from licking vs not (will he do something else instead or not?)
  2. The number of lesions on his body 
  3. Amount of time spent itching and licking

Over 2 weeks of data collection, we have seen a drastic improvement. It is clear that these two interventions have improved his welfare (and ours!). The amount of extra effort that these activities take is worth it, and we can see we are on the right track. 


Brie and Copper Barking During Zoom

Somewhat recently, Emily moved to the good ol’ Pacific Northwest with her desert dogs. Both Brie and Copper were having a hard time adjusting to life in the cold, wet climate that Seattle is known for and they had become more restless and disruptive during her zoom meetings. So, in addition to their normal scatter feeding at mealtimes, she decided to do more intentional scent work during lunchtime.

The question Emily was looking to answer was, “How many times can the dogs rest all the way through a Zoom session?” With a simple system of Xs or checkmarks on a notepad, she was able to notate which Zoom sessions they rested through and which ones they were restless. She was able to see a clear correlation between doing daily scent work with them and how many times they could rest all the way through a Zoom session. Armed with that information, she was able to incorporate that change into her day-to-day life.


Working on Recall

Last year I worked with a client whose dog would chase and bark at wildlife in the yard. We were working to improve the dog’s come when called, and eventually, Flight Cueing away from the critters. 

In our first session, we discussed putting a pad of paper next to the back door and each day writing a tally:

  1. Each time you call her and she comes all the way back inside. 
  2. Each time you call her and she turns to look at you but doesn’t make it back inside. 
  3. Each time you call her and she doesn’t respond. 

Over our time together, we saw many more tallies in the “you call her and she comes all the way back inside” column compared to the “you call her and she doesn’t respond.” Eventually, we were able to adjust what we were tallying to include “times she comes in without being called.” Remember, you can always adjust in the future. 


Now What?

  1. Ask yourself, what’s a question or goal that you have for yourself and your animal? 
  2. Determine how can you collect information easily? Pen and paper? Whiteboard? Text/email? Spreadsheet?
  3. Decide what information would help you assess your progress toward your goal? If you’re trying to help your animal relax, then tracking the duration of rest may be helpful. If you are trying to reduce alert barking, then the frequency of barking might be helpful. 
  4. Do the thing! Keep track of your pet’s behavior and look for patterns and correlations. Sometimes, you’ll need to circle back and trial and eval something else, just like Allie did with Winter Oso

Happy Training,