Creating an Enrichment Plan for a Senior Dog

A question that we get frequently asked is:

My dog doesn’t have any behavior issues! How can I implement your enrichment framework?

That’s a great question, and my answer is usually in the form of talking about what I do for Oso, my senior dog. Now, Oso was a behavior case when I adopted him but he’s at the point where those behaviors are either resolved or managed. Any lingering behavior issues are those that are increasing with age, like sensitivity to weather (common in aging dogs). 

So, let’s take a look at some tips to implement our enrichment framework for senior pets, and I’ll use Oso as my example of how I do this in my own life. 


List desirable and undesirable behaviors: Consider future problems

Step 1 of the Pet Harmony Enrichment Framework is to list desirable and undesirable behaviors. This is often the first hurdle for folks when it comes to creating a plan for their aging pet because they’re only thinking about behavior issues like counter surfing, digging, chewing, aggression, anxiety, or fear. 

But the truth is, aging begets problems in other ways; it’s one of the cruel facts of life. When folks ask me what they should focus on in their enrichment plan for their senior pet, I ask them to consider what they imagine will become a problem in the future. If you know your pet has horrible teeth, talking to your vet about a soft-food diet now might be an easier transition. 

For a dog expected to have vision loss as they age, you may want to consider setting up the environment and situations so they can get through everything without their sight. Loss of hearing is another common aging concern and I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen regret that they didn’t teach their dog hand signals in addition to verbal cues. For others, it may be getting them comfortable with the vet knowing they’ll need to go more frequently, or starting to look into therapies like cold laser or canine rehabilitation.  

For Oso, my 90-lb dog with funky hips in a house that requires him to go down at least 2 stairs to get outside, mobility is the problem I know we’re going to be up against as he gets older. We’ve been preliminarily working on that for years in the form of supplements and have ramped up efforts as we notice more signs of aging. He now has monthly massages and routine exercises to help with his mobility. And we can’t forget his stairs that let him get down from the bed safely!


Making sure needs are met: Look at the pet in front of you right now

Steps 2 & 3 of the Pet Harmony Enrichment Framework are to make sure your pet’s needs are being met and that they have agency. I go over the 14 enrichment categories in this blog post and the importance of agency- being able to make choices that result in desirable outcomes- in this blog post. 

Our needs change as we age, and that’s true for our pets, too! I discussed above some of the changes in the veterinary/medical category, but there will also be behavior changes. Typically your pet will need less physical exercise, and most prefer a quieter environment and often less spirited social interaction. When we think about the broad strokes of how human children and adults differ, there can be a lot of similarities with our pets throughout their life stages. 

This is another area that I often find people struggling with when it comes to developing an enrichment plan for their senior pet. They often are thinking about- and sometimes lamenting- what their pet used to need or do. I get it; there are things that I miss about Oso’s youth. But holding on to that doesn’t help him right now and no amount of lamentation is going to bring that back. So, onward we forge! 

For these steps of the Enrichment Framework, the best advice I can give you is to focus on the pet in front of you right now. Not the pet you had 10 years ago, last year, or even last month. Who are they right now and what do they need right now? I’ve adopted the mindset that I get to constantly learn new things about Oso and am delighted to see who he’s going to be. That helps to take some of the sting out of watching him lose his youth. 


Narrow down options & prioritize: Seek advice from your pet’s team

Steps 4 & 5 of the Pet Harmony Enrichment Framework are to narrow down your options and prioritize activities. I’ve talked quite a bit about how you might need a whole team of people to help a pet who is displaying behavior problems. I find that this is also true for senior pets. 

We’ve added more and more people to Oso’s team as he’s gotten older and I ask their advice to help me narrow down options for meeting his needs and what to prioritize. I recognize that there are nuances about the aging process that I’m not an expert in, but I can find someone who is! 

Here’s an example. In recent months I’ve noticed Oso displaying increased fear during windy days. It’s not uncommon for senior pets to develop increased anxiety to weather-related patterns (joint swelling is a thing for them, too!) Even though it’s typical, that doesn’t mean I’m okay with him being uncomfortable. Plus, him having to be under my desk on windy days isn’t great for me, either. 

I talked to Oso’s team about his new behavior. Knowing that I have a hard time being my own behavior consultant, I spoke with the Pet Harmony team about what I was seeing and got their feedback on my plan to move forward. I spoke with his vet and massage therapist. Each person had a slightly different perspective: a different element that mattered most to them. And that helped me to narrow down our options and prioritize what we would try first, second, and third in a way that was healthiest for Oso. 


Develop plan of action: Make sure it’s sustainable for you

Step 6 of the Enrichment Framework is to develop your plan of action. This is the who, what, when, and where of your decisions. I work with a lot of people who choose to put their pet’s needs and comforts first. Heck, I am one of those people! So I say this as much for myself as I do for you. 

When you look at your plan of action- how frequently you’re doing these activities, how much money you’re spending, how much time it takes- I want you to give yourself some grace to implement your plan in a sustainable way that allows you to also live your best life. For me, sustainability looks like asking myself the hard question, “Could I do this for the rest of Oso’s life?” 

Here’s an example. We recently rearranged our bedroom and loved the new layout. Well, the humans loved the new design. Oso: not so much. He decided there wasn’t enough space to be able to use his stairs (fair; he’s a long dog and we have small rooms). Although I was bummed, I figured out how I was going to decorate our room in stages so that I could change it to the new layout after Oso is no longer with us. His being able to sleep with us is something I absolutely do not want to give up for him or us and it was an annoying but ultimately easy decision. 

Compare that to the amount of money we’re eventually going to have to spend on physical therapy for him. There will come a point where our budget is simply not going to allow us to follow through with a recommendation that a specialist gives us (I’m assuming.) And while that will be a hard pill to swallow and I’ll likely write about all of those feelings in a future blog post (hopefully several years down the road), I know it will be the right decision for us in terms of sustainability. 

There will be elements you’re okay with doing for a couple of years but not longer. There will be activities that are just not tenable to do at all and others that are no-brainers. No one can make those decisions but you. Your quality of life is as important as theirs. I give you permission to create a plan that takes your sustainability into consideration. 


Implement & document: Ask your pet’s team what to look for

We’re finally here at the fun part: Step 7 Implement & Document. This is really no different than implementing an enrichment plan for a younger pet. My tip here, though, is to once again lean on your pet’s team and ask them what you should be documenting.

Again, there will be a lot of elements and nuances of your aging pet and you simply can’t be an expert in everything. That’s where that team comes in. I’ve asked Oso’s massage therapist what subtle signs I should look for to determine how well he’s moving. That’s something that I’m able to track in my head at the moment because she can also tell how he’s doing when massaging him. There’s someone else monitoring his mobility aside from me, there are several ways for us to notice this, and it’s evaluated monthly like clockwork.

In contrast, while discussing trialing pain medication his vet recently mentioned that it would be okay to give him a certain medication every now and then. I asked her how frequently that could be and what would happen if it was given more frequently. The result will simply be more frequent monitoring of his bloodwork. Makes sense! But because I’m the only one tracking it and the result does change our plan quite a bit due to safety concerns, you better believe I’m tracking this one on a calendar. I’m not willing to leave this element up to memory. 


Reassess, readdress, and do it again: evaluate frequently

The final step of the Pet Harmony Enrichment Framework is to Reassess, Readdress, and Do It Again. AKA: go through steps 1-7 again based on the information you just documented. When I work with folks who have puppies or adolescents, they often remark that just when they figure something out, their pet changes! This can be true for seniors, too. I evaluate Oso’s enrichment plan much more frequently now than I did a few years ago. 

The question that I get here is, “How do I know when to reevaluate Oso’s enrichment plan?” Well, the short answer is that I monitor his behavior and when I see a new pattern emerge that’s when I evaluate his plan. I know that’s a hard answer because it’s not black and white. If you’re someone who needs a more concrete answer, then I recommend evaluating quarterly. It’s common to see changes with changing weather (for all ages, not just seniors) and so you’ll catch those changes if you’re evaluating quarterly. If you’re seeing noticeable changes more frequently then examine more frequently. 


Now what?

  • Start at the beginning! Even if you don’t have a senior pet these tips can be applied. 
  • Plan first, do later. I know planning isn’t necessarily the fun part, but Steps 1-6 of the Pet Harmony Enrichment Framework are how you work smarter, not harder. Strategic equals sustainable! Take some time to really develop your plan, but don’t get so attached to it that you’ll have a hard time changing it later. 
  • Do the thing! How long you implement will be determined by what you’re trialing. Diet changes can take a few months to see the full effect whereas a change in mental exercise can sometimes be seen in just a few days. 
  • Share your findings (or just cute pics of your senior pets) with us on social media @petharmonytraining on Facebook and Instagram
  • Professionals- if you’re interested in how to do all of this with your clients, join us for our FREE webinar: How to Use an Enrichment Framework to Solve Behavior Challenges: 3 Strategies to Uplevel Your Consulting Skills for Happier Pets, Happier Clients, & a Better Career. You don’t want to miss this!


Happy training,


5 Reasons Why Every Pet Needs an Enrichment Plan

If you’ve been following us for a while, you probably know that we think enrichment is a must. We still get a lot of questions, though, about if enrichment is right for you and your pet or if everyone needs an enrichment plan. My answer? Yes! Everyone should have an enrichment plan for their pet. Let’s get into 5 reasons why I think this is a must-have for every pet. 


Before we do that…

Let’s define enrichment real quickly for those of you who are new to us. We’re using the original definition of enrichment: enrichment means meeting all of an animal’s mental, physical, and behavioral needs in order to empower them to perform species-typical behaviors in healthy, safe, and appropriate ways. 

Enrichment means meeting all of an animal’s needs. 

While the term has been watered down on its way to the pet-owning world, it really means so much more than entertainment and boredom busters! We get into the deep dive of all 14 categories of canine enrichment in our book Canine Enrichment for the Real World. But in the meantime, just trust that we’re talking about ALL needs here. 

Now on to the good stuff!


1. Meeting needs makes everything else easier. 

None of us can be the best version of ourselves when our needs are not met. If you are tired, or hungry, or scared, or bouncing off the walls with energy, you are not likely to be the best you that you can be. That’s true for our pets, too. 

That means that those basic manners you want them to learn are harder. Those coping skills you want them to have when you leave the house aren’t as effective. The household rules are harder to adhere to. Everything is just more difficult than it needs to be. 

Ken Ramirez and Emily had a great discussion about this in a recent podcast episode. In that episode, Ken discusses his primary and secondary reasons for training. Primary reasons include those that directly benefit the animal: cooperative care, mental stimulation, physical exercise, etc. Secondary reasons include things that we train for us humans: manners, sports, service work, police work, etc. Emily sums it up perfectly by saying, “when you are focusing on that primary reason, first, it makes the secondary training easier and more successful because you’re working with a physically, behaviorally, and emotionally healthy animal instead of one whose needs might not be met and has some deficits as a result.” 

So regardless of what goals you have for your pet- snuggle buddy, athlete, gentleman, trick dog, resilient, well-rounded, relaxed, service dog- focusing on enrichment first will help you get there smoother.


2. Meeting needs helps curb behavior problems.

Unmet needs can cause or exacerbate behavior problems, from anything like attention-seeking nuisance behaviors to aggression and anxiety. Again, we can’t be on our best behavior if our needs aren’t met! And while not every pet exhibits behavior issues, those are the pets we work with here at Pet Harmony so I had to include this as a reason for an enrichment plan. 

We bake this step into all of our clients’ plans- even if they’re not aware of it. It’s one of my favorite parts of the behavior modification journey (are you surprised?) The reason that I love this part is because you get to see what is actually a behavior issue and what is an enrichment issue. 

Often I’ll start my clients off with activities to help meet certain unmet needs and they’ll come back just a few weeks later with a noticeably different pet. Not a perfect pet, mind you, but one who is exhibiting fewer or less severe behavior issues. At that point, we get to focus on the behaviors that truly require behavior modification instead of having to focus on every single behavior they originally came to me with. An enrichment plan often helps you work smarter, not harder, on your pet’s behavior modification journey! 


3. Ensuring optimal quality of life. 

A good life is one where your needs are met. I know you’re here because you want to make sure you are providing your pet with the best possible care and life that they can have in your household. An enrichment plan can help you know that you are providing your pet with a great quality of life instead of always second-guessing and worrying that you’re not doing enough. It provides peace of mind for you and a great life for your pet. 


4. Getting the most out of your relationship. 

Something that never fails to bring a smile to my face is when clients tell me how focusing on their pet’s needs has helped to improve their relationship. By viewing unwanted behaviors through the lens of unmet needs, they’ve been able to shift their mindset in a way that not only improves their pet’s behavior but also improves their relationship! 

I know this is true for me. There are times when Oso does something I’d rather he not. Being a professional doesn’t make me immune to my dog annoying me! In those moments I try to take a step back and ask myself, “What does he get out of this? What need is this behavior meeting?” Essentially, I put myself in his paws for a moment. From there, I can find a more appropriate option for meeting that particular need and that makes whatever he’s doing less annoying and allows me to enjoy him more!

5. You already have one, whether you know it or not.

You already have an enrichment plan, even if you’re not thinking about it in that way or with those terms. You feed your pet. You provide them with shelter. You’ve taken them to the vet. Chances are that if you’re here you have also provided them with a comfy place to sleep, some sort of training, food puzzles, and other activities. All of those are to help meet your pet’s needs! 

If an enrichment plan sounds cumbersome or superfluous or extravagant, think again. You already have one by virtue of caring for your pet. So if you already have one, why not make it the best plan it can be? 

The way to make it the best plan it can be is to make it purposeful. I wrote a couple of weeks ago about how being strategic with your enrichment plan helps to create a sustainable plan. When you have a clear vision of your goals and metrics for success you can lean into the things that work for you and your pet and scrap the things that don’t work. Again, it’s about working smarter, not harder.


What does an enrichment plan look like?

That may look different depending on where you are in this journey and what works for your household. It may look like a robust, well-fleshed-out plan like the kind we help folks create or you may be in the beginning stages of creating your pet’s plan or you may currently be at status quo with your pet’s plan until they get older or there’s an environmental change. That’s okay! The important thing is that it works for you and your pet and both of you are getting the intended results from your plan. 

Here’s an example of working through a robust plan: Part 1 & Part 2. 


Now what?

  • Take stock of what your plan already looks like; remember, you have one by sheer virtue that you’re caring for your pet! Do you need to focus on creating a purposeful plan first or are you working on fine-tuning?
  • Build in that strategy. Your enrichment plan doesn’t need to be about adding more, more, more. It needs to be sustainable for you while getting the results you (and your pet!) want. If you don’t know what your goals are yet, that’s the place to start. If you know your goals but don’t yet have metrics for success, that’s the place to start. If you have all that but don’t have a way to track those metrics, then that’s what you should focus on next! 
  • Do the thing! Focus on improving one thing at a time. 
  • Need a clearer path to building your plan? I get it; it takes a few more pages than what I can do in a blog post 😉 Check out our new Canine Enrichment for the Real World Workbook for help with building and implementing your plan. 
  • Professionals: are you ready to take enrichment to the next level for your clients? Our Enrichment Framework for Behavior Modification Master Class takes you on a deep dive to help use enrichment to its fullest potential to help your clients get better, faster results. Register here

Happy training!


August 2022 Training Challenge: Add Sustainability to Your Enrichment Plan

If you’ve been following us for a while, then you know that we put a hefty emphasis on sustainability for pet parents. 

When you have carefully crafted a plan that is designed to meet your animal’s physical, emotional, and behavioral needs, to enable them to engage in species-typical behaviors in healthy, safe, and appropriate ways, it is because you love and care about animals in your life. 

Unfortunately, the best plan won’t meet your animal’s needs if you can’t sustain it.


Sometimes, it goes a little something like this… 

You catch the enrichment bug!

You read all the things. Listen to all the podcasts. Start collecting ideas, making plans, buying tools and toys, and filling so much time with these activities and ideas of what you want your enrichment plan to be. 

And then something happens. 

Maybe you get an extra project at work and start putting in some overtime. 

Maybe you get injured or sick and need to focus on healing. 

Maybe you get tired from doing all the things. 

But, you still try to fit all those activities, ideas and plans into time, energy, or bandwidth that you no longer have.

And it’s just not sustainable. You can keep it up for a bit, but eventually, the execution falls apart, and if you’re already feeling that enrichment guilt, you may even feel crummy because you aren’t superhuman. 

But, you don’t need to be super human if you focus on creating a sustainable enrichment plan! Sustainability is key to the long-term success of an enrichment plan. It is important for your pet’s welfare and your welfare, and it is doable! 


Sustainability requires multiple plans

A single, rigid plan will fracture and crack under the weight and variability of everything else that people need to handle in their day-to-day life. 

A single plan means that you are creating something that can’t shift and integrate into the very natural changes that occur day to day, week to week, year to year. 

So, this month’s training challenge is to start exploring flexibility in your enrichment plan. Let’s start with 1 goal or activity, and build from there! 

Sidebar: The following suggestions are working under the assumption that you already have a first go at your enrichment plan in place. If you are just getting started, then I suggest you start here, with our step-by-step guide for crafting the first draft of your animal’s enrichment plan! 


So, what might this look like? 

In my house, and for my clients, I work to create a tier system based on effort for the pet parent. 

Now, an important note: effort is relative. What I might label “low effort” for me, might be “high effort” for you, and that’s okay! There are so many things that impact how we grade effort. Avoid comparing yourself to others! 


First, list your goal

For example, in my house, for Griffey and Laika: relaxation and rest while I’m at work.


Second, list the options you have available to you that meet that goal. This is where your previous “trial and eval” comes into play!

Griffey and Laika: 

  1. Scatter feeds 
  2. Non-frozen lick mats
  3. Frozen food toy 
  4. Shreddables/Destructables
  5. Play sessions with me 
  6. Play sessions with each other 
  7. Social time 
  8. Teaching relaxation 
  9. 40-minute walks in the morning 
  10. Teaching a new skill or working on one of our training goals 


Third, consider the effectiveness of the activity in helping you to achieve your goal and the amount of effort that activity takes for you. 

I tend to use 4 categories:

High effectiveness, high effort – very effective, see large improvement toward your goal but also takes more involvement from me 

High effectiveness, low effort – very effective, see large improvement toward your goal but takes little involvement from me 

Low effectiveness, high effort – somewhat effective, see some improvement toward your goal may need additional activities, but also takes more involvement from me 

Low effectiveness, low effort – somewhat effective, see some improvement toward your goal may need additional activities, but takes little involvement from me 


High Effectiveness, High Effort 

  1. 40-minute walks in the morning 
  2. Frozen food toys
  3. Teaching relaxation
  4. Shreddables/Destructables
High Effectiveness, Low Effort 

  1. Scatter feeding 
  2. Non-frozen lick mats
  3. Play sessions with each other 
  4. Play sessions with me 
Low Effectiveness, High Effort

  1. Teaching a new skill or working on one of our training goals 
Low Effectiveness, Low Effort

  1. Cuddle time 


Fourth, amend your current enrichment plan to include options for varying levels of effort. 

You can even adjust some of your activities to be more clear. For example, I may have 3 tiers for different activities: 

Scatter feeding:


Teaching a new skill or working on one of our training goals (recall): 


Fifth, start adjusting your daily routine for sustainability. 

Some days you’re going to have all the time, energy, and bandwidth. Some days, you won’t, and that’s okay! Here’s what two different days may look like in our house: 

“I can do anything!” day

  1. Stuff and prepare frozen food toys 
  2. Take each dog for an individual walk, scatter feeding breakfast, practice skills on a walk
  3. Mid-day cuddle session 
  4. Frozen food toys stuffed in boxes for dinner 
  5. A rousing evening play session 

“I’m so tired” day 

  1. Morning cuddle session 
  2. Lick option for breakfast  
  3. Spend time in the sun – practicing the flight cue 
  4. Mid-day cuddle session 
  5. Short tug game if needed  
  6. Dinner scatter fed 


Start from a point of success 

I gave a lot of examples from my house, but remember, just like with your pet, you want to start from a place of success. If you aren’t ready to look at an overarching goal like “increased relaxation”, then start with making 1 of your staple activities more sustainable. Let’s build you an enrichment plan that works on your best days and your harder days. 


Now What?

  1. If you haven’t started creating your pet’s enrichment plan already, then start here, with this step-by-step guide to help you go through the process!
  2. If you’re ready to start tackling sustainability, then narrow your focus to one thing, either one activity or one goal, and go through the exercise listed above! 
  3. If you’re a pet parent and find yourself overwhelmed by choice, then email us at [email protected]! Our consultants have helped hundreds of families create an enrichment plan that addresses each family’s goals, meets the human’s needs, and meets the pet’s needs.
  4. If you are a fellow behavior professional that is looking to increase engagement and sustainability for your clients, then make sure to join the waitlist for our Enrichment Framework for Behavior Modification Master Class! We spend a lot of time discussing sustainability for your clients!

July 2021 Training Challenge: Evaluate Your Enrichment Plan

If you prefer to listen to this blog post, click here.

This month’s training challenge is about our favorite topic: enrichment. 


More specifically, evaluate your enrichment plan


(Disclosure: some of these links are affiliate links. 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!)

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.


Now what?

  • 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!


5 Reasons Why Enrichment Is Your Behavior Modification Plan

We work with families that are experiencing issues ranging from mild annoyances to struggles that are greatly impacting the quality of life for everyone in the home. And as a team, we utilize the Pet Harmony Enrichment Framework to help us, our clients, and their pets to have a successful, sustainable behavior modification journey. 

When people hear that we utilize enrichment to address behavior challenges, they sometimes are a bit skeptical. Whether they are a pet parent looking for assistance, a pet professional looking to better help the families under their guidance, or someone who is both, it’s not uncommon for them to wonder… 

How do I incorporate enrichment into my behavior modification plan? 

If you’re working with, living with, or addressing behavior challenges, you may think you have your “behavior modification plan” and then your “enrichment plan”. 

But enrichment is all about meeting an animal’s needs, and that can look like a lot of different things. It isn’t an activity, it isn’t a toy or an object, it is the outcome of opportunities that our animal engages in. 

Sometimes you need to teach skills to help better meet an animal’s needs and sometimes you need to better meet an animal’s needs before they can effectively learn new skills. We can’t neatly separate the two, and as you make progress in one area, you will see changes and developments in others. With each sliver of progress, you’ll unlock new ways to adjust your plan.

Once you start measuring enrichment by the outcomes, not the activity, it opens up so many new opportunities for you and your learner. It adds depth, richness, and flexibility to your plan.

When the root, the very foundation of your plan is to change behavior through meeting your animal’s needs, then enrichment is your behavior modification plan, not supplemental.  


So, let’s look at some examples of why utilizing an enrichment framework is so important and celebrate some successes along the way!


Unmet needs can make teaching hard

If you are to look at what people often think of when they hear “behavior modification plans,” they are often focused on teaching a new skill or replacement behavior. The emphasis is on changing the behavior within the context that it occurs. 

And yes, when we work with clients, this may also be a goal that we have! However, when we don’t look at the full picture of what the animal needs, we may fail to address something that’s impeding learning, such as an underlying medical condition, chronic stress, the need for behavior medication support, or other unmet needs that make learning difficult. 

When we first start by making sure our animal is able to learn, that they receive any medical attention that is indicated, that they have the medication support to foster learning, that we’ve managed the environment and their stress, and/or identified any other roadblocks for them, then our teaching can really take hold. They can acquire new skills and learn to use them in new situations. We can teach them ways to better meet their own needs, and how to navigate the world more effectively. 

From the human side of things, it is not uncommon for families to come to us who have already been trying to teach their animal something for weeks, months, or years. To get no results, or very few results can be frustrating and demoralizing. Taking a step back and meeting needs to foster learning can catapult your progress in incredible ways.   

When we first started working together, Zena was barking at every little thing outside the house, through the windows, and in the backyard. Each little thing would send her into a tailspin that was difficult for her to recover from. The first step was to create an environment where Zena could learn, and as we discussed ways to decrease stress for the whole household, Zena’s person came up with the idea to use bubble wrap to cover the windows (without losing natural light!) and started utilizing sound masking to decrease auditory triggers. 

A week later we touched base, and those small adjustments led to improvements for everyone. Zena’s barking and reactivity decreased significantly, the rest of the house also had less stress, and Zena’s person saw that Zena was able to learn in ways she had never seen before. 


Meeting needs addresses the fuel, not just the flames

When we start by addressing unmet needs, then we are addressing the issue at the source. No fuel, no fire. 

And let’s talk about what happened next with Zena! Once Zena was in a place where she was able to learn effectively and efficiently, Zena’s person was then able to teach Zena what to do instead of running, screaming, spinning, and yelling at all the little triggers. Zena was using all her bluster and might to get the things to go away. A person passing outside? Bark and they go away. Dog barking outside? Bark and they go away. 

Zena needed space. She needed distance from the things and the only way she knew how to get it was to go on the offensive. So, we taught her how to get the distance in a way that didn’t disrupt the whole household, and frankly, was more effective! 

By seeing and acknowledging that Zena needed space from the things she found stressful, we were able to teach Zena, not only how to get distance on her own, but how to get distance and relief at the same time through the Flight Cue. Now that Zena is well practiced in walking away and finding relief, she’s able to do it unprompted, and with other stressors in her life. While we are working on teaching her that she doesn’t need to be stressed about those things, she’s made incredible progress just by having the agency to move away from uncomfortable things, and without that skill, we couldn’t teach her that the mailman isn’t a threat to her very existence as efficiently and effectively.  

Comment reads: “Today I had some big wins and need to share with a group that gets it.

1) I took Zena out on a 15 ft leash near my houe and she sniffed a lot, checked in with me and kept to her leash length. We heard something scary and I did our flight cue and we both ran the other way and she was happy!

2) I had a tree guy in the back yard. I forgot he was there and let Zena out. She barked at him, I did the flight cue and she came to me with a few barks over her shoulder. Both of these activities would have been a DISASTER before I started this training. I am overjoyed and feel so proud of Zena!”


Meeting needs promotes sustainability

One of my favorite examples of this is Barty Boy Neutron, a well-intentioned cyclone of a pup who was running his family ragged. They were doing ALL THE THINGS with Barty Boy, trying to meet all his needs, and still, even after HOURS of activities, Bart would parkour all over the house every evening. 

They tried all sorts of physical activity, foraging, and mental stimulation. They were dedicated to giving Barty everything he needed, but what they were doing wasn’t sustainable, safe, or realistic in the long run. So, we dove a little deeper into what Bart might need. He was getting adequate exercise. He was getting lots of mental stimulation, and foraging opportunities. He was partaking in lots of dog-typical things like sniffing, chewing, and licking. 

One of the things his people did observe is that he ran hot. He would seek out cool spots in the house. So, his family crafted him the perfect cool place to help him self-regulate his temperature. Once he had a nice cool place to relax and settle, we saw giant improvements in his nightly routine, and his family was able to execute a sustainable routine to keep him happy, healthy, and safe. 

Comment reads: “The reason I started a “settle” cue was bc about a year ago, Ellen suggested that he might not know how to calm and/or cool himself down after some play. Being 60% English Bulldog, #bulldozerbart is veryyyy sensitive to the heat. More than I ever would’ve expected as never owning a bulldog myself. He was outside for about an hour, medium activity level and the outside temp is 68* with 15mph winds, NOT what you’d consider warm but here we are. We stated giving Bart a cool place to lay and I worked with teaching him to settle on it with my gudiance for the last year. I had set the fan and mat up earlier figuring he’d want it at some point but I’d have to help.

I just found him laying here after playingoutside, mnowing he normally would come in and bounce around and not be ready to settle without help.

TLDR: Bart put himself in the “settle spot” tonight after playing outside when he’d normally need guidance to the spot. My boy is growing up!”


Meeting needs helps the entire family, not just one individual

When we’re sharing our space with other living creatures, our lives become acutely intertwined. When one being is struggling, it can impact the entire family unit. Using the Enrichment Framework takes into account all the beings involved, including the humans and the other pets. 

In some instances, families that come to use are working on inter-household conflict, and whether that is dog-dog, dog-cat, dog-human, [insert species here]-[insert other species here], it is stressful for the entire family. Everyone in the home is walking on eggshells, and feeling secure in the place you’re supposed to feel safe can be difficult. 

That was the case for Rylee’s family. Rylee, the dalamation pictured below, had started growling, snarling, and lunging at the other dogs and cats in the household. Family time was no longer something that felt comfortable and cup filling, instead, it was riddled with stress and grief. 

By taking an approach to meet Rylee’s needs to help him engage with species-typical behaviors in healthy, safe, and appropriate ways, his family was able to make incredible progress. Each step on their journey opened up new opportunities for them along the way. This involved working with their fantastic vets to meet his medical needs and that helped him to be in a place to learn. From there, we were able to teach him about his safety room, and with that progress, he was able to start communicating when things were just too much and he needed his safe space. 

By addressing Rylee’s needs, the rest of the family is able to feel safe and secure moving around their home. And I mean, come on, look at that smile!


Meeting needs helps you and your pet learn skills that will help for a lifetime

Our pets are living beings with needs that will change as they age and develop. What one dog needs at 6 months, won’t be the same at 6 years, and that’s just a part of life! 

When we take an approach to explore and meet our pet’s needs, we are taking an approach that will help us in the future. We are creating a more robust behavioral repertoire and a foundation that we can always return to if we hit a bump in the road. When we utilize an Enrichment Framework, we are building in checks and balances, we are taking a directed approach to behavior change that will help inform future decisions and adjustments.

And that brings us to Otis. Otis is a wonderful little pup that is learning that it is okay to be home alone. Otis’ person is working on teaching Otis skills to help him self-regulate, self-soothe, and to be safe and feel secure in their home. These are all things that directly translate to being able to be comfortable at home alone, but the exercises, activities, and skills that Team Otis is working on will do so much more than just that. They are building a strong relationship that can weather storms, Otis is learning predictable and safe patterns that will help him during life changes in the future, and they are building a system of communication that will help day in and day out.

Watching Otis breathe deeply while learning to spend time alone is a reminder that meeting an animal’s needs doesn’t always look like what you see on the internet. Sometimes, it takes information to know the true beauty and joy of what you’re seeing, and Team Otis is doing an incredible job. 


All of this and more is why we suggest meeting needs first.

The majority of the time, if you jump straight to the “problem”, you’re going to miss out on the low hanging fruit, you may be doing things that are going to be ineffective or inefficient, and you may dread the process. Working through an Enrichment Framework can help you take a directed approach where you know that you’re meeting your needs and your animal’s needs. 

Instead of thinking and treating enrichment as a supplement to your plan, center it in your plan, and your results might just surprise you.   


Now what:


Happy training, 


Enrichment Master Class: Payment Plan

Become a better behavior consultant for your clients and their pets.

Here’s a reminder of what you’re getting:

  • Enrichment Framework for Behavior Modification Master Class (starts 1/18/23)
    • 8 weekly sessions recorded for folks who can’t attend live (+ 1 break week to give you more implementation time!)
    • Multiple implementation sessions each week
    • Course-exclusive case studies
    • 2 months access to an EMC-Exclusive Facebook Community

Oh, and let’s not forget:

  • The confidence to work with more challenging clients and cases
  • A community cheerleading for you
  • Skills and tools to take your consulting to the next level

“I can’t tell you how impactful the whole journey has been so far.  I put it on par with Living and Learning with Animals. The thing I love the most is how you have given us the tools AND you and Emily have broken your process into small steps for us to learn exactly as we should do for the owners and their animals.” – Kathie

December 2022 Training Challenge: Explore Enrichment Outside of Foraging

Happy December, everyone!

It is time for our final training challenge of this year! 

This month, we challenge you to explore enrichment opportunities outside of the foraging category.

One of the questions we get asked often is, “What about non-food related enrichment?” And this month, we challenge you to dive in, look at some of the other categories of enrichment, and spend some time focusing on there. 

 (Disclosure: some of the links in this blog are affiliate links. 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!)


First, what else is there? 


And the answer is, so much! 

While foraging is a way that many creatures on this planet spend their time (finding and acquiring food to sustain oneself is pretty important to staying alive!), it isn’t the only thing that creatures need to survive. There is so much more when we are looking to help our pet thrive.

In Canine Enrichment for the Real World Allie and Emily outlined 14 categories of enrichment, and while foraging is one of them, it is only 1 of 14! 


So, let’s take a gander at the other 13!

A few weeks back, Allie wrote a stellar blog article, Dog Enrichment Categories Explained where she dives into each of the categories, gives examples, and inspiration. If you’re looking for a more in-depth description of each of these categories, make sure you check that out. 

For reference, here are the 14 categories: 

  • Health and Veterinary 
  • Hygiene 
  • Diet/Nutrition
  • Physical Exercise 
  • Sensory Stimulation
  • Safety 
  • Security 
  • Species-Typical Behaviors
  • *Foraging*
  • Social Interaction 
  • Mental Exercise 
  • Independence 
  • Environment 
  • Calming 

And of course, we need to give a shout-out to agency as well! 


Whoa! There are so many options! But what does my dog need? 

Now that we’ve briefly listed the categories of enrichment, the next question people most often ask is, “What enrichment should I use with my dog?”

Which is a great question, but one that frankly, I can’t answer for you without asking you a litany of questions and some trial and eval. 

There are so many factors that go into creating each individual’s enrichment plan. I have two dogs in my family, that have lived in 4 houses, in 3 states. With each move, they have different needs. With development, age, environment, location, and health their needs have changed. 

Allie discusses a couple of practical ways to explore and find what your dog needs in this blog, so make sure that you check out that blog before continuing! She went into much more depth than I will go into here, and it also includes a link to our “Are Needs Being Met? Checklist” to help guide you throughout the process of identifying your dog’s needs! 


Once you have an idea of where you want to focus, then you start crafting a plan! 

Start with a goal, and then ask yourself, “How can I achieve this?” 

It may be something like: 


“How can I help my pet be more independent?”

“How can I help my pet better self-regulate and calm?”

“How can I help my pet get their extra energy out?”


And from there, you trial and eval. 


Of course, we’ll use Griffey as an example.

Griffey has a bad back and has developed pretty intense allergies over the past couple of years. If you have heard me tell the story of Griffey, you know that we’ve tackled many challenges throughout his time with our family. We’ve worked on big responses to other dogs, discomfort around strange humans, being comfortable home alone, building lilypads of safety in the world, and generally trusting that the world isn’t full of scary monsters. 

And while there are overarching things that living creatures need (see the 14 categories of enrichment), how we met those needs shifted and changed through each of those stages of our journey. 

At this point, foraging is the smallest subset of Griffey’s plan. It’s a pretty well-oiled machine that doesn’t take much time, energy, or bandwidth from us. But we still utilize food in a lot of areas because it’s easy and effective. We are constantly teaching him new things, and for that, we may opt to utilize food rather than something else. 

So, for now, our focus is on meeting his health and vet needs, both as they are now, and how we predict what they will be in the future. 

Let’s look at some of the ways we’ve adjusted our plans in order to better meet his needs outside of foraging:

*Disclaimer: As mentioned above, each family and pet’s enrichment plan is unique to them and their situation. The details of Griffey’s enrichment plan shared below have been determined and developed with the help of Team Griffey, which includes many professionals with specialties (both medical and behavioral). None of the details below are intended as directions for your situation or may even be relevant to your pet. Work with the appropriate professional when developing a plan for health or behavior challenges to make sure that your plan is effective, sustainable, and helping you.* 


Health and Vet 

We’ve established with some INCREDIBLE vets to make sure that his health and veterinary needs are taken care of. This includes scheduling time with our vet so that she can become his friend before we need to do the icky things to him. We also have worked with our vet to develop a medication protocol for those visits that are just going to stink and an allergy medication regimen that takes his current skillset and self into account.

*Adding Agency* – Working on Care with Consent with the wonderful and amazing Sara McLoudrey, so that Griffey can communicate when he’s ready for things, and when he needs a break. Sara has a great Instagram here!



With the direction of the veterinarian, we developed a bath regime to help with his discomfort. 

*Adding Agency* – We worked with Griffey to make sure he was driving the bus during bath time. We swung just a bit too far, and now, we can barely keep him out of the shower 😀 



We switched from a kibble-based diet to a canned food diet to manage the storage mites (one of Griffey’s most extreme allergy triggers). This means we also had to find different shelf-stable treats to station around the house in our treat jars since kibble was no longer an option.

*Adding Agency* – Griffey and Laika’s stomachs are good when we rotate through different flavors of the same food, so they get to pick which of the blends they get for their meals.


Physical Exercise

We do a lot of tug in the house. Grasses are another one of his big triggers, so during certain times of year, we spend more time inside than out. 

*Adding Agency* – He gets to tell me when he’s ready to continue playing, when he needs a break, and when he needs a quick game of tug RIGHT NOW. 


Sensory Stimulation

We have window film up in the front room, and keep sound masking on throughout the day. After this most recent move, it took us about 2 weeks to get everything set up, and ooohweeee did it make a difference in his ability to settle. 

You can find many options for window film to meet your aesthetic. 

*Adding Agency* – We also provide quiet locations throughout the house so that he doesn’t HAVE to listen to the sound masking if he doesn’t want to. 



We moved into a location that has two homes in it, and the other tenant has a dog. With Griffey’s discomfort around other dogs, we put 3 layers of barriers in place and a communication system so that we can feel comfortable that the only time they will have visual access to each other, they will be supervised. We are laying down rugs/yoga mats/traction mats on all the slippery surfaces so we don’t need to worry about him slipping out.



We have safe spaces peppered throughout the house, and gave Griffey a refresher on The Flight Cue when we moved this latest time. The window film and sound masking also apply here. 

*Adding Agency* – He has lots of safe spaces to choose from and ways to move away from his stressors. Both mom and dad are here to support him, so he gets to take his pick the majority of the time. 


Species-Typical Behaviors

Sniff walks, destruction, digging, and bed building are all common activities in our house. 

*Adding Agency* – Through the “Do You Wanna…” game, I can let him pick what activity he wants to participate in.



We have options for various puzzle toys, sniff activities, scatter feeding, destructibles, and more. The most common ones in our house these days are licking opportunities, like lick mats, toppls, and kongs to help channel some of his licking and grooming time toward something other than himself. 

*Adding Agency* – He gets to pick the format that he gets his food in most days. 


Social Interaction

He gets the opportunity to have time with my partner, myself, and Laika throughout the day. My partner and I facilitate play sessions with the dogs, and we make sure we carve out time to just snuggle and be present with both dogs. 

*Adding Agency* – Again, this is where the “Do you wanna…” game comes in super handy! 



Mental Exercise

Through puzzle toys, play with Laika, and our Care with Consent training, Griffey uses that noggin quite a bit! I also keep a small dish of treats available on the kitchen counter so that throughout the day, while I’m waiting for things to finish cooking or reheating, I can easily do a quick little training session with him. 

*Adding Agency* – Griffey gets to opt in or opt out of every single one of our training sessions. If he opts out, then he gets to choose what activity he does want through the “Do you wanna…” game. 



We worked hard on this one, and it’s a culmination of so many other things like security, calming, and more. 

*Adding Agency* – He gets to choose how close or how far he is from us. Sometimes, he needs a little extra love and support, and that’s okay. 



This, like independence, is a culmination of lots of little changes in other categories. Under this, I also include our home cleaning routine to manage his allergies, which changed drastically over the last year. 



We work on this all the time, and we have many routines in place to work on calming and self-regulation for him. This also includes many things from other categories coming together to create that restful environment for him.  And, I’m proud to say, it was clear during this last move that he has the greatest skillset of anyone in the home at this 😀 Make sure to check out Episode 5 of Enrichment for the Real World for a deeper dive into the Calming category!

*Adding Agency* – He runs this show, we are just there to support him. 


And keep in mind, this is always evolving. His plan 3 years ago looked VERY different than it does today, and it looks very different than it will 3 years from now. 


Now What?

  • Review the 14 categories of enrichment and determine where you’d like to spend your focus. There are 13 categories aside from foraging to choose from! 
  • Although we’re talking about non-food enrichment ideas, that doesn’t mean that we can’t use food as a tool. There are many activities that I listed above that I initially trained Griffey to do using food. Determine if training with food will get you further faster in the category you chose and if so, go for it! Non-foraging enrichment doesn’t necessarily mean that food isn’t involved.
  • It’s time for trial and eval. We only know if the activity or idea we chose is the right one after we implement it and observe the effects. Put your plan into action and observe how your pet responds. You can then tweak from there!

Happy training,


Dog Enrichment Categories Explained

We get asked all the time about what the “best dog enrichment activities” are or “what enrichment should I use with puppies” and the like. If you’ve been following us, you know that our answer is, “it depends on what your individual pet needs.” But, let’s face it, that’s not a really helpful answer sometimes. 

I find that when I explain the different categories of enrichment to folks, it’s often easier for them to identify what their pet needs. It’s hard to figure it out when you don’t even know what it entails! Now, there’s, of course, more to this story so we’ll come back to further identifying your pet’s needs next week, but for now, let’s focus on the enrichment categories. 

 (Disclosure: some of the links in this blog are affiliate links. 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!)


What is animal enrichment?

If you’ve read any of our blog posts about enrichment you know that I have to start here! The definition of “enrichment” has become muddied as it’s become more mainstream. The definition that we use here at Pet Harmony is the original, historical definition: enrichment means meeting all of an animal’s mental, physical, and emotional needs in order to empower them to perform species-typical behaviors in healthy, safe, and appropriate ways. When we think about enrichment as meeting all of an animal’s needs, that opens the doors for many more categories than folks often think of. 


The 14 categories of dog enrichment

These categories can be applicable to many species (in fact, we actually collated these from information about zoo enrichment and didn’t create them ourselves), but since we wrote Canine Enrichment for the Real World let’s stick to canines for this post! Since there are a lot of categories, I’ll provide a brief definition, example, and idea for each (usually of something I do with my own dog). Next week we’ll get more into how to figure out which category(ies) you should focus on with your pet. 



This one’s pretty straightforward; we’re talking about physical well-being. I think of this category as anything you would take your dog to the vet for. This can include things like pain management, disease prevention, and treating diseases and injuries. I want to stress that preventative care is just as important as care for diseases and injuries. I’ve talked about our foray into canine massage therapy as a form of pain management and prevention for my senior pup, Oso, and I think it’s a great idea for any pet who is okay with being touched all over. Here’s a post with him and his newest favorite person:



This one is obviously another physical well-being category, and I think about this one as anything a groomer would do. This can include cleaning ears, brushing fur, and brushing teeth. I’ve seen some folks put nail trims in this category and others put nail trims in the Health/Veterinary category. I don’t mind either way as long as they’re on your radar in some fashion! Grooming wipes are one of my favorite, go-to, easy hygiene recommendations. 



Another straightforward category that we humans are all too familiar with! Most folks think only about meals for this category, but I also add in treats and edible chewies here, too. That’s why treat preference tests are one of my favorite activities in this category. Check out how I do those below. 


Physical Exercise

This is a category that many folks think of when they think of “canine enrichment”. I think it’s great that it’s on a lot of people’s radars already! There are so many examples that can go into this category, but some of my favorites are fetch, tug, flirt pole, hikes, weight pulling, and running. Oso and I are currently working on strength-building and purposeful movement as part of this category so he maintains his muscle mass as he ages. The nice thing about that means we get to work on physical exercise inside the house which is a win-win depending on the weather!

Sensory Stimulation

The category is referring to sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. While we can certainly have a pet who is understimulated in regards to their senses, oftentimes I found many who are overstimulated. There are too many sights or sounds or smells, etc. An example of this is a dog who is afraid of thunderstorms or fireworks. They would be much happier with a quieter environment at that moment! To help meet that dog’s needs, we may do something like sound masking where we play sounds or music to help drown out the offending booms. Enrichment isn’t always about more stimulation; it can be about less, too!



Safety means physically being out of harm’s way, regardless of how you feel about a situation. We’ve seen plenty of pets who feel safe in unsafe situations! This category can include things like removing poisonous chemicals or medications from your pet’s reach, planting safe plants in the yard, and keeping your pet on a leash while in a busy area. For Oso, this means having stairs to our bed so that he can safely get down without injuring his joints. 



Security means feeling like you are safe, regardless of whether or not you are. This distinction is often the culprit behind many new pet parents telling me, “I don’t know why they’re afraid of me, I’ve never hurt them!” Safety and security are different. This category can include setting up safe spaces and working through fears at your pet’s pace. Oso has several safe spaces in our house and is always able to access them when he needs to. 

Species-Typical Behaviors

This is just as it sounds: behaviors that a particular species performs. Dogs dig, chew, bark, shred, and destroy. Cats scratch, meow, purr, groom, and hunt. Birds preen, shred, vocalize, and nest. Often these are the behaviors that we’re not too enamored with from our pets; we are a different species with different species-typical behaviors, after all! But just because we don’t appreciate these behaviors doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t allow them to perform them. It just means having an appropriate outlet to do so. For example, Oso loves destroying things. That does not mean he’s allowed to destroy the furniture. It means that we have DIY destructible items (made out of literal garbage) that he can shred to his heart’s content. More information on that in this blog post about DIY destructible enrichment items. 



Foraging means searching for and finding food. This is a species-typical behavior, but it’s one that all species perform! If you think about animals in the wild, much of their day is devoted to foraging. Our households are set up very differently than the wild which means we need to provide foraging opportunities for our pets. This can be things like find it, snuffle mats, and hiding food puzzles around the house. Oso is a big fan of the “find it” game which I outline in this video. 


Social Interaction

Dogs are social animals (which is not true for all species). That does not mean, however, that there are rigid rules about which species they are social with. I’ve met plenty of dogs who care a lot more about humans than their own species and I’ve met plenty of dogs who don’t care at all about humans and love hanging out with other dogs. So while many folks only think about dog-dog interactions in this category, like playgroups and doggy daycare, hanging out and playing with their humans also fits this bill! Some dogs are not huge fans of other dogs, and that’s perfectly fine! You can get plenty of snuggle time in, instead. 


Mental Exercise

Here’s another category that many people think of when they think, “dog enrichment activities”. Again, I’m glad to see this coming to the forefront! Mental exercise can include training, food puzzles, and even foraging (a two-for-one!) I love trick training for this because there are so many options and it’s just more fun for everyone in my experience. Oso helps demo some activities for my clients, which I don’t count as mental exercise for him. They’re usually things he knows how to do very well and don’t require a lot of thought. However, when it’s just the two of us we work on new training activities and I can tell that that is more tiring! Here’s a cute Halloween trick we’ve been working on. 



Independence refers to being able to feel comfortable on your own and also being able to make decisions on your own or not having to rely on others for everything. Obviously our pets can’t be 100% independent because our human world is designed for opposable thumbs and money, of which they have neither. But that doesn’t mean we can’t help them gain more independence! Being comfortable with exploring the environment, being comfortable with being left alone, and gaining life skills are all ways that we can foster independence. We’ve done all of this with Oso, but I see it so plainly when he’s exploring the backyard. He’s confident, comfortable, and making his own decisions and problem-solving. I love watching him out there! 



This is a big category that involves a whole bunch of things: living in a city vs. rural area, who they live with, temperature, and so much more. There’s often overlap with the Sensory Stimulation category, and that’s okay. We talk about enrichment categories as discrete units because that’s how human brains work, but the real world isn’t so black and white. It’s more like guidelines.

When we were buying a house, we had Oso’s environmental needs in mind. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that we chose a dog whose environmental needs closely match our own. I need green and space to hang out and that’s also what he enjoys. We need a relatively quiet area and so does he. That might be an extreme example that we were able to do because we adopted Oso knowing that we were buying a house in the next few years, but there are certainly ways that you can set up your environment without moving or visiting places that work for your pet! Sniff spots can be a great option for folks who don’t have an off-leash area for their dogs. 



This category is one that much of the literature nestled within the Environment category and Emily and I chose to pull it out to highlight its importance for pet owners. Again, we often see overstimulated animals, and wanted to emphasize that rest and relaxation are just as important as mental and physical exercise! This can include safe spaces, relaxation protocols, massages, and anything else that induces a calm, relaxed state. We talk about that more in this podcast episode. For Oso, he uses shredding and chewing as calming activities (which are also species-typical activities, another two-for-one!) 


A note about agency

I can’t talk about the enrichment categories without mentioning agency: the ability to make decisions that result in desirable outcomes. Our pets need to willingly engage with activities for it to be considered enrichment (and we also need to see a change in behavior for it to truly count). Check out this blog post all about agency here and this one about when enrichment isn’t enriching here for more information on these topics. 


Now what?

  • If you’re brand new to enrichment as a form of meeting needs, chances are you’re a little overwhelmed! Take the next few weeks to just focus on one category at a time and identify what you already are doing to help meet your pet’s needs in that category. You’re likely doing more enrichment than you realize! If you’ve been at this for a while do a quick scan to see if you need to update any information about your pet’s needs.
  • As you go through, chances are that you’ll find a category that you think has some room for improvement (or maybe multiple categories). Choose one that you’d like to focus on and identify one activity to try first. Being systematic about this makes it more sustainable. 
  • Incorporate that activity into your pet’s plan for a couple of weeks and see if it helps to improve their behavior or gets you closer to your goals! For example, Oso jumps up on the couch better after his massage appointments and that’s getting us closer to our goals of maintaining his mobility as he ages. If an activity is making anything work, obviously discontinue immediately. 
  • If you’re looking for more about how to do this with your pet, check out our Canine Enrichment for the Real World book for theory and activity ideas and our Canine Enrichment for the Real World Workbook for the nuts and bolts of how-to. Professionals: we have a course that teaches you how to implement this with your clients, too! You can find more information about our Enrichment Master Class here. 
  • We have plenty of free enrichment information over on our Instagram and Facebook @petharmonytraining. Follow us for more!

Happy training!


5 Ways to Get Your Clients On Board With Enrichment Landing Page

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As a force-free pet behavior consultant, you know that enrichment is a critical part of every behavior modification program—but how do you get clients on board with the enrichment portion of your plan?


If Your Clients Don't Understand the Purpose or Power of Enrichment, They're Never Going to Commit

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We’ll walk you through how to integrate enrichment into your training plans so you, your client, and their animals are set up to yield the best results possible. 

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Clear communication is key. If a client doesn’t understand the concept of enrichment and its benefits, they are not going to commit to the plan you’re proposing. You must help them understand the connection between enrichment and behavior modification to get them on board.



The last thing a busy client and overwhelmed pet owner needs is additional work. If you can make enrichment easy and fun, they will be more willing to accept your suggestions. Empathy and understanding your client’s needs is absolutely necessary for a productive partnership.



Your client’s behavior modification plan needs to be like airplane oxygen masks: they need to put theirs on first before helping those around them. If we put all our focus on the animal and disregard the needs of our clients, we may end up creating the perfect training plan for an animal that never sees the light of day.

The Client Enrichment Guide Will Equip You to Resolve These Issues Once and for All


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Meet the Pros


Allie Bender, CDBC, CPDT-KA, SBA

Allie Bender is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant, Certified Professional Dog Trainer- Knowledge Assessed, and a Shelter Behavior Affiliate. She has been in the animal welfare industry since 2006 and professionally training since 2012. She is the founder and co-owner of Pet Harmony, co-author of Canine Enrichment for the Real World, and a national speaker.

While in the animal sheltering industry, Allie realized that her passion lied in helping pets with maladaptive behaviors. Specifically, she wanted to help prevent animals with rehabilitatable problems from being euthanized. She loves working with dogs and cats displaying stranger danger, resource guarding, and leash reactivity. Her favorite thing about working with pets and their people is seeing relationships grow and seeing harmonious households develop.

Emily Strong, CDBC, SBA

Emily Strong is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant and Shelter Behavior Affiliate. She has been in the animal welfare industry since 1990 and has been a behavior consultant since 2008. She is the co-owner of Pet Harmony, co-author of Canine Enrichment for the Real World, and a national speaker. 

Emily started working with animals at a young age and struggled with the notion that you have to hurt, scare, or intimidate animals to help them. When she discovered the behavior sciences and learned that it wasn’t necessary to do so– that we can care for emotional, mental, and physical health simultaneously– she plunged headfirst into animal behavior. Emily loves helping current and prospective behavior professionals and working with pet parents through our in-depth services. She enjoys working with all species. 

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Enrichment Activities for Dogs with Separation Anxiety

This week, we kicked off season three of Enrichment for the Real World with an episode focused on Enrichment for Separation Anxiety, which combines two of my favorite topics. Enrichment and helping pets to be comfortable alone.

In this week’s blog, I decided to share some of my go-to recommendations for pups struggling with separation anxiety. And while this blog is tailored to folx who love a pet who struggles with separation challenges, these are great activities for any family that has a dog. They can provide benefits outside of the ones briefly discussed here. 

So let’s get into it!


1. Building a relaxation station 

This is a big one! Building a place where your dog can go and take a deep breath and self-regulate will help you so, so, so much in so many ways. Creating a restful environment for our pets can give them the ability to self-soothe and self-regulate without you, which is key for being comfortable at home alone and increasing their independence.  

If you’re ready to start building a relaxation station with your pet, then check out Episode 5 – Creating a Restful Environment for Our Animals and our April 2022 Training Challenge: Creating a Relaxing Environment for Your Pet. Each of those resources will dive deeper into what it means to create a relaxing environment. 


2. Long-term calming projects 

Many of the dogs that come to me for help with building comfort at home alone or separated are also working on building self-regulation and self-soothing skills. Long-term calming projects are an excellent way to help your pet start practicing those skills on a daily basis. 

When trying to find each dog’s optimum long-term calming project(s), I coach families to trial and eval a variety of options related to licking, sniffing, and chewing. Often dogs will turn to at least one of those activities already when they are trying to self-regulate. Providing dogs daily opportunities to practice these skills and engage in these activities can lay a foundation for you to further teach your dog self-regulation and self-soothing skills. 

Play around with the type of licking, sniffing, and chewing activities to see what is your dog’s jam, what can smoothly incorporate into your schedule, and which is most effective at helping your pet relax. 



3. Scent work 

A dog’s sense of smell is just incredible. There are very few things as “doggy” as sniffing, and harnessing a dog’s sense of smell is one of the most effective and simple ways to provide an enriching experience for your dog. The positive impacts of olfaction-based activities are numerous

So, all of that is to say, help your dog spend time sniffing. Sniffing, whether it is formal tracking and trailing, taking a sniffari stroll around the park, or scatter feeding can all help your dog be the doggiest of dogs, and can either directly or indirectly help them navigate the world. 


4. Bolstering security at home

Help your pup feel secure at home. Some of you will have pups that are completely unphased by anything when they are home. They feel safe as long as you are there and they are home. And that’s great! But, I know there are many of you that are reading this and your pet struggles with some stuff, even at home, and even with you around. I know because, well, same.

Implementing management, whether that’s window film so your dog isn’t sitting at the window exploding at every person, dog, or leaf that goes by, or turning on the TV to drown out a little of the outside nose, there are lots of small changes you can make to help your dog take a load off. It’s hard on everyone to be “on” all the time, we all deserve a little R&R. 


5. Foraging opportunities that have your pet practicing moving away from you 

A lot of separation-related stuff focuses on “Pup, you stay here while I leave.” But flipping the script and having your pup practice getting some distance from you in a way that is safe and fun for them can give you an excellent foundation to work from. If you have a pup that seems glued to your side, utilize puzzle toys that help your pup move away and come back, like the kong wobbler, or a water bottle with some holes *safely* poked in and some treats inside, or some treat scatters can be excellent options to practice that ebb and flow from you. 

Depending on the mode that you choose, and your dog engages with, you may also be getting some physical or mental exercise, and some species-typical behaviors. I’m all about those multi-tools!


But is it enriching? 

Remember, enrichment is about meeting your pet’s needs to encourage them to perform species-typical behavior in healthy, safe, and appropriate ways. By providing opportunities to engage in enrichment activities, we can help our pets be their very best selves and live happy, healthy lives. But not all activities are enriching. 

This is a fantastic list of possible activities (I know because I effectively use them with clients all the time), but if you’re anything like I was at the beginning of my journey with Griffey, you might see that list and think “I NEED TO DO ALL THAT?!” 

And the answer is likely, “no.” 

Because not all of those things will be effective for every dog out of the gate. Sometimes we need to prioritize one way for one family. Sometimes, there are other things to tackle first. You, your dog, your family, and your situation are unique, so in order to build a sustainable plan, you need to know what ACTUALLY works, and what is just MAKE work. 

And that’s something I can’t answer here, because, friend, I don’t know your specifics. But, that is something that I and the rest of the Pet Harmony consulting team help families with every single day. 

And even if the answer is, “yes, we need to do all of that.” We can help you make it sustainable and effective. Because the point isn’t to sacrifice yourself so your pet can thrive. We want everyone to thrive.


Now what? 

  • If you’re ready to incorporate some of these activities into your dog’s routine, then scroll back up and make a plan! 
  • If you’re ready for additional guidance and support, whether that is helping your pet learn to be comfortable at home alone, building a sustainable and effective enrichment plan, or anything else to build harmony in your home, then we’re here for you. Book a package with our consultants! 
  • And whether you’re a family living with a pet who can’t be comfortable at home alone (yet!), or a professional helping families navigate this challenge,  if you’d like even more tips when it comes to working with a pet with separation-related challenges, I’ve got you covered! Get 5 Tips for Working with Separation Anxiety Dogs here.