We’re all about sustainability here at Pet Harmony. And by that, I mean creating a behavior modification plan for helping your pet that is sustainable for you and your lifestyle (though we’re all about the environment, too!) We could create the greatest plan that’s ever existed, but if you’re not able to implement it, then it’s not the greatest plan.
Most of our clients are quite busy. They have full-time jobs and kids and often other pets in addition to the pet they’re seeking help for. Their behavior modification plan simply can’t be yet another full-time job. And, even if they do have the time for that, we don’t want our clients to have to do that!
That means that if we’re going to create a behavior modification plan that is sustainable, we need to focus on the activities that are going to give us the most bang for our buck. The ones that we can use and reuse in different situations. We need to know what’s working so we can do more of it and know what’s not working so we can do less of that. In other words, we need to be strategic.
What does “strategic” look like?
It’s easy to say that we need to be strategic in our behavior modification plan, but what does that actually look like? How can we get the most progress for the least amount of effort? Here are three ways that we use strategy for sustainable change.
Bang for your buck exercises
When I’m choosing which training exercises to give my clients, I’m always looking for the ones that can be used in a number of different ways or scenarios. I ask myself, “What’s the fewest number of exercises that I can teach that will still let us reach our goals?” As many of my clients know, one exercise can be used in a variety of ways!
Let’s use “Find It” as an example (check out how I usually teach this here). I love this game because I can use it for so many different purposes. It’s great mental exercise, can be used for calming and de-stressing, can be used to teach that scary things aren’t so scary, to relocate a pet without touching them, and more! While we could choose different exercises for each of those goals, why would we when one can suffice?
It’s easy to hop on Google and believe that you need a lot of different exercises to help your pet throughout their behavior modification journey. And while, yes, there are some cases where we need more tools in our training toolbelt, there are a whole lot of times where we don’t. We should lean into the exercises that work instead of always chasing the shiny new thing. And that leads us to…
Being an amateur scientist (it’s not as scary as it sounds!)
We can’t lean into the activities that are working if we don’t know what’s working and what’s not! Being strategic means being a bit of an amateur scientist. That might sound scary, but I promise that it doesn’t have to be! What this means is that we try one or two things at a time (preferably one but that can be hard!) and see the effect that activity has on your pet’s behavior. Once we know the effect that activity has, then we can decide if we should do more or less of it based on the results. Is the activity actually working as we intended it, or do we need to troubleshoot it or scrap it altogether? This is how we can make sure that we’re only doing things that are actually working, instead of doing a bunch of things that may or may not be yielding results.
Sometimes it’s easy to see those effects, but oftentimes we need some sort of data tracking to better see results. Again, it’s not as scary as it sounds! We set many of our clients up on a simple numerical chart where all they have to do is write down a number or sometimes we help them integrate this tracking into daily habit apps they already use. Just like with the overall behavior modification plan, it has to be a system that you will actually use!
The reason that we often use data tracking is because behavior change rarely flips on and off like a light switch. It’s more like a faucet where you see less of a certain behavior before it fades. It’s so much easier to keep track of frequency and intensity when it’s written down somewhere instead of keeping that all in your head. Plus, it’s easier for us as the consultant to help you when we can see all of that data! Check out our podcast episode on Data Tracking if you dig this topic.
Operating within a proven framework
This one’s a little harder to see from the client side of things, but having a framework that we operate in as the consultant helps to make things more sustainable for you in the long run. Operating within a framework (we use our Pet Harmony Enrichment Framework) helps us to move through your journey more systematically, knowing exactly where we are and what we’ve tried and haven’t tried.
But more than that, it can help you work through behavior problems the way that we as professionals do. Here’s an example. I just graduated a client to as-needed sessions (congratulations team Seneca!) There are more goals that this family would like to accomplish with their pup and he’s a candidate for future, unavoidable regressions (aren’t we all?) We could absolutely have continued our regularly scheduled sessions.
But Seneca’s parents and I could confidently, cheerfully graduate this pup because they know how to operate within the same framework that I used to help them reach this benchmark. They know how to observe his behavior, what activities to try, how to measure progress, and how to troubleshoot when things don’t go as planned.
And they were able to do that because I walked them through the same framework, in the same way, enough times that they can now do it themselves (even if they didn’t know that that was what was happening!) Plus, they know that I will always be here to support them if they need help in the future. That’s why we graduate to as-needed sessions.
If I had thrown a bunch of spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks or moved through their behavior modification plan in a different way with each new scenario, we would have had a different result. When your consultant models a strategic behavior modification journey it will be much easier for you to emulate it! And while I miss clients who have graduated, I’m always thrilled when they no longer need me. That’s my goal!
- Take a look at your behavior modification journey and ask yourself if you could do what you’re doing every day for a year. If the answer is yes, awesome! Keep doing it! If the answer is no, identify which aspect is unsustainable in the long run.
- Once you’ve identified which aspects are untenable, ask yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing. Is it because you tried a bunch of different things at the same time and don’t actually know which is working and which isn’t? Is it because you have one activity for each individual scenario? Do you have an unsustainable management plan which is likely to be resolved once starting behavior modification? Dig deep to discover why your plan is unsustainable. If you’re working with a consultant, bring your concerns to them and they can help you figure out what the problem is and how to resolve it.
- Now that you know the problem, you can resolve it! If you don’t know what’s actually working, you can discontinue activities and test one at a time to see the effects (sometimes you don’t have to discontinue and can separate them enough). If you have a bunch of activities, see if you can tweak just one or two to work in multiple scenarios. If your pet is displaying any type of aggressive behavior I highly recommend you work with a professional for this part. And if you’re stuck here, a professional can help you regardless! You don’t have to have all the answers; that’s our job.
- Professionals (I know you check out our blog posts to use for your clients, too!): if you’re interested in learning more about our Pet Harmony Enrichment Framework and how we create sustainable plans for our clients, check out our FREE webinar: 3 Strategies to Uplevel Your Consulting Skills to Solve Behavior Challenges: happier pets, enthusiastic clients, and a more rewarding career using the Pet Harmony Enrichment Framework. You won’t want to miss this!