I’m sure most of us remember that math lesson that happens to very accurately describe a lot of unrelated topics:
A square is a rectangle, but a rectangle is not a square.
Funnily enough, Emily just used this example in a recent blog post without knowing I was using the same example while writing this one. It really does describe a lot of topics!
Recently, Emily came across a Facebook post where someone was asking about enrichment activities for their dog. The group moderator tagged her to see if she had any suggestions. The poster thanked the moderator for the tag but mentioned that her dog did not have any behavior problems, so didn’t think that our enrichment framework could help.
So the question became: does enrichment, and more specifically the Pet Harmony Enrichment Framework, require behavior problems?
Here, enrichment is the rectangle.
Behavior problems require enrichment, but enrichment doesn’t require behavior problems. In other words, our enrichment framework can be used for any animal, regardless of whether or not they exhibit maladaptive behaviors. However, if a pet does have behavior problems, we should absolutely work through those challenges using an enrichment framework.
The answer lies in the definition
Remember that here at Pet Harmony we use the original definition of enrichment: it’s about meeting all of an animal’s physical, emotional, and behavioral needs to empower them to perform species-typical behaviors in healthy, safe, and appropriate ways.
All animals have needs, ergo enrichment is for everyone!
So why do we always talk about enrichment in relation to behavior problems?
Well, it’s kind of what we do. We’re behavior consultants who work with pets who have maladaptive behaviors- like anxiety, aggression, fear, and compulsions- and we do so using the understanding that we need to meet all of the animal’s needs in order to help them be the best version of themselves and to help our clients reach their goals in a more efficient way. We always talk about our enrichment framework in relation to behavior problems because that’s how we typically use it.
In addition to that, we want to make it clear that enrichment isn’t superfluous. It isn’t an add-on or something to focus on only when an animal is bored. It’s an incredibly important element of behavior and by shining a light on how you can use an enrichment framework to solve behavior problems we hope we’re showing folks how important enrichment truly is.
How would you go through the Pet Harmony Enrichment Framework with a behaviorally-sound pet?
Glad you asked! Really, the process will look the same. The differences we’ll see between a behaviorally-sound animal and one with maladaptive behaviors are likely the categories of enrichment we focus on, the activities and how they’re implemented, and the goals.
Take a look:
- List desirable & undesirable behaviors. Even if your pet doesn’t have maladaptive behaviors, there are still behaviors you’re hoping to see more of and less of. That could look like being more relaxed at the vet office, greater mobility for an aging pet, or just displaying a wider array of species-typical behaviors (aka behavioral diversity). Even with a perfectly behaved animal, we still want those behaviors to continue and will need to reevaluate our enrichment plan as they age and circumstances change to set the stage for those desired behaviors to continue.
- Are needs being met? All individuals have needs. And needs come and go. We don’t eat one meal and then are satiated for the next several months. We don’t go on one run and that meets our physical activity needs for the next year. In addition to the cyclical nature of needs, including changes as an individual ages, they are also subject to environmental changes: things like moving, new household members, and things as inevitable as weather changes. All of that means that we need to keep an eye on our pet’s needs to make sure that we’re always doing the best we can for them, regardless of the situation. And for the household that already has an incredible enrichment plan? I recommend preparing for future, likely scenarios, like aging needs.
- Are agency needs being met? Remember that agency means having some level of control over the outcomes in a situation. For folks who have pets not displaying maladaptive behaviors, this is often where we focus in their enrichment plan. How can we work on cooperative care? How can we create more two-way communication between humans and pets? Have we recently performed preference tests to see if any preferences have changed?
- Narrow down your options. This part is exactly the same as working with a pet who has behavior issues. We still have goals; we still have current behaviors and behaviors we’d like to see more of or less of in the future. We still have a bunch of different ways to get from current point A to future point B and we’ll need to narrow down those options based on the resources we have at hand. Nothing new here.
- Prioritize. This part is often a bit easier than working with some pets who have behavior issues. The pets we see at Pet Harmony often have several different maladaptive behaviors and it’s imperative that we prioritize what to work on first to keep our clients from burning out. That’s not always the case with folks who have a behaviorally-healthy pet, though we do sometimes still see folks trying to do too much due to enrichment guilt. Prioitization is just as important for those pet parents to ensure sustainable plans.
- Develop your plan of action. This step is also the same as working with a pet who displays maladaptive behaviors. You still need to determine who is doing what, when, where, and how.
- Implement and document. I think implementation goes without saying, so let’s focus on the documentation portion. I do still recommend some level of documentation or data tracking when implementing a new facet of your enrichment plan with a behaviorally-healthy pet. Often, though, we’re able to get away with it being simpler. For example, when I started monitoring how well massage therapy was helping Oso’s mobility, I was able to do that in my head using jumping on the couch as our litmus test. When we first started his massage therapy, I hadn’t seen him jump up on the couch in at least a few weeks, if not longer. He would step onto the couch instead. That made it easy to notice when he would jump because it had become a rare occurrence. As he continued having more sessions, I noticed an increase in how frequently he would jump so I could conclude that it was, in fact, having the intended result. In that situation, I was looking for a simple “yes this improves mobility” or “no this does not improve mobility” and I already had a history of observing and making a mental note of the particular behavior that became our litmus test. If I was looking at more specific details or for a behavior that I wasn’t habitually noticing, I would likely have written down the results.
- Reassess, readdress, and do it again. We already talked about how needs are cyclical. They change with household changes, seasons, age, and more. That means our enrichment plan is never done. We always get to work on improving our pet’s quality of life. So even though you may go through this step slower with a behaviorally-healthy pet than with a pet who displays maladaptive behaviors, you’re still going to need to reassess, readdress, and do it again at some point.
- Ready to put this framework into action? Head over to https://petharmonytraining.com/enrichmentchart to get a free copy of our enrichment chart and a breakdown of these steps. Follow that free guide to help create your pet’s enrichment plan.
- Need more examples and details of how to do this? Check out our new Canine Enrichment for the Real World Companion Workbook here. This is an affiliate link. We receive a small commission for purchases made through these links at no extra cost to you. This helps us continue to put out free content to help you and your pets live more harmoniously!
- Get working on your pet’s enrichment plan! Share your results with us @petharmonytraining on Facebook and Instagram.