November 2023 Enrichment Challenge: Observe Outcomes

As we move into the holiday season, I thought it would be a perfect time to circle back to a recent episode of the Enrichment for the Real World podcast.

In Episode 57 – Providing Environmental Complexity, Allie and Emily talk about providing environmental complexity for our pets, and observing the outcomes of changes that we make to see if they are positive, neutral, or even negative.

With the holiday season, and depending on if and/or what you celebrate, you may find that there are many ways that environmental complexity is introduced as we go about our human celebrations. It’s a fantastic time to take advantage of things already happening to see if they may help your pet year round!


Decorations: Delightful or Deplorable?

Growing up, Halloween was (and still is!) my mom’s favorite holiday. This meant elaborate indoor and outdoor decorations. Nearly every inch of the house was “Halloween-ified”, with wall decorations, mantle changes, window decorations, things in the trees, along the side of the house… For real, my mom goes all out. And for their current dogs, this is no issue! It really makes no difference in their experience and behavior over the month of October.

For some dogs, the motion activated wall hanging of a witch that starts talking and then sticks her tongue out at you would be way, way, way too much and absolutely the thing that is going to end their entire family. That element of spice added to the house would be detrimental. You may need to find some compromise, like that decoration gets the batteries taken out, but can stay hanging on the wall.

On the other hand, one of the things we commonly suggest to families is to utilize window film. Window film can be incredible for reducing their pet’s visual access to yell at all the things throughout the day, from the mail person just trying to do their job, to the leaf that rolled down the street. Growing up, we always put up Halloween themed window clingy that entirely covered both front windows, and that meant our dog couldn’t bark at the things passing by during the decorated season. Had that been a challenge for our family, that would have been a good test run for year round window film!

And something to keep in mind, is as you’re decorating, are you creating any grumble or growl zones?


Smells: Scrumdiddlyumptious or Shocking?

Holidays often come with a whole lot of smells that might be weird, new, or just out of the ordinary for our pets. Preparation for gatherings might mean that we use more scented cleaners than normal, or that we plug in some diffusers, or burn some candles. Gatherings bring people with their specific smells. For many holidays, we gather around food, and food has its own suite of smells. We may make food that takes all day to cook rather than our quick 20-minute dinner. Gifts may be of the scented variety, we may bring in plants that are out of the norm.

Especially for species that are olfactory focused, there is a lot of stimulation that may be introduced. That means, we can take a gander to see how all this extra stimulation is impacting their behavior. With any specific scent change, do you see that your pet offers more relaxation, or do you see the opposite?

While we don’t host gatherings at our house, our dogs spend a good 20-minutes sniffing us from head to toe after we go have dinner with family, and then get a little wild running around and playing. After I put on my lotion, both dogs will keep a good 3-5 feet from me, which tells me that they aren’t big fans of it, either they just don’t like it, or it is a little overpowering, or some third option I haven’t considered.

But I work with one family that brilliantly noticed that when they boil chicken to make training treats for their two pups, both dogs get super relaxed. With that observation, we were able to boil chicken during some stressful fireworks to introduce some feel-good feels into an otherwise challenging situation.


Sounds: Soothing or Stressful? 

Music!! Now, at least in my family, the biggest time of year for music is around Christmas; during the other holidays, it is less central. But seasonal music is a great way to see if layering some dynamic noise into your daily routine can have a positive impact on your pet’s behavior. During the summer, we tend to have a lot of sound masking going as the kids play outside, and it helps both our dogs rest while other people have fun.


Escape: Essential or Excessive?

Alright, with the above ones, the answer is really, “It depends!” Which, I know, is soooooo satisfying. But for this one, providing your pet the opportunity to escape all the stimulation and new, possibly dramatic environmental diversity is really important. Allie gives a great example of why in Episode 57 – Providing Environmental Complexity.

Building a safe space where they can rest and relax while humans frolic and make merry is important. Because we’re all out here trying to find harmony with our pets, and that includes compromise so that we can keep the things that matter to us, and we can keep them safe, secure, and living their best lives.

If you’re looking for more details on creating a safe space, check out these resources on building security and creating a restful environment. 

With the holidays approaching, you may find that elements of your routine and house become drastically changed. As you make adjustments, bring decorations out, plan for gatherings, observe your pet’s behavior to assess how these changes are impacting your pet. And if you need help crafting a plan, or finding compromise, that’s what your behavior consultant is for!


Now What? 


Happy Training,