What Owning a Cat Teaches You About Agency

Why Cats?

I love cats. Cats are regal, majestic creatures. They defy the laws of science by filling any container they curl up into. They purr, and rub on you, and curl up on your lap to snuggle. I have had cats from the time I was small. I cannot remember meeting a cat I didn’t like, though I’m sure I have. 

I once saw a meme that made me laugh out loud. It said:
“What if the Internet is filled with cats because dog people go outside?”


So, if you’re here on our website, then you are obviously a cat person. 

 

While that may not be true, it is true that if you follow Pet Harmony, you probably care a lot about your pet. You might have a pet whose behavior puzzles you. You may feel frustrated by the behaviors your animal is displaying. I promise to relate my experience with cats to dogs- and to other species, as well.

Cats get a bad reputation. I have heard many people describe cats as jerks. They’re not loyal like dogs. They make their own decisions. They never consider what you need. They’re independent, and they don’t really need us. Cats are lazy and prefer humans to dote on them like the feline gods they are!           

After getting my first two dogs, and becoming a dog trainer, I’ve met many people and dogs. Often, people are happy with their dogs, only wanting to prevent future problems with a new dog. Just as often, however, I’ve run into people who are frustrated with their dog’s behaviors. Since I have been a dog trainer for quite a few years now, I’ve noticed a trend among people unhappy with their dogs. They tell me:

“He never listens to me.”

“She only minds when she wants to.”

“He won’t stop getting on the counter!”

“She nips at me when I try to make her do things.”

I understand those feelings. I know it is frustrating to think you got a man’s best friend, just to find they won’t listen to you, destroy your house, steal your food, or even hurt you. Those feelings are totally and completely valid. When I hear these things, what I understand from it is basically this:

Their dog is acting like a cat. Well, a stereotypical one, anyhow.

 

Cats Are a Lesson in Consent. (And Agency)

What I mean when I say that their dog is acting like a cat is really that their dog has opinions. Their dog has things they like and things they dislike. Their dog likes some things better than listening, especially if they don’t understand why they should listen. Dogs are very social creatures. They descend from creatures that worked together to bring down large prey. Wild felines, however, are usually pretty solitary. What that means is though both wild canids and wild felines are individuals with wants and needs, our concept of “dog-ness” includes a certain level of “clinginess” and working for its “master” (which is a strange use of words we can get into another time). We expect dogs to appease us. However, our society’s concept of “cat-ness” is usually aloof and independent.

What a cat really needs, as well as any pet, is agency and consent. Agency is the ability to have control over certain outcomes in your life. This can usually come in the form of choices given to an individual. Consent is the ability to assent to or approve of something, especially something that is happening to oneself. Each of these creates a sense of freedom in the animal. Trapped animals lash out, bite, and scratch. An animal that is given agency will feel more secure, and less likely to lash out. 

Why Agency? Check out Allie’s excellent post about it, here, or read about it in Emily and Allie’s book, Canine Enrichment for the Real World.

How do I give my pet a sense of Agency?

Give them choices. That doesn’t mean that you open every door and window and take out any safety measure for your pet. It means you offer them choices that don’t endanger your pet or anyone in your home. If your cat (or dog) doesn’t like to be out when new people are over, make them a safe place to hide away from people until they leave. They may surprise you and come to observe the new person. Don’t pick them up and force them to interact. This is removing their ability to control the situation and thus limiting their choices. If you let them choose when, how, and if they want to interact, don’t be surprised if you find they are more willing to come out in the future. Conversely, if you force them to interact with someone, they may become more reclusive in the future.

When we brought home my cat, Sylphrena, she was 6 months old. My husband and daughter had limited experiences with cats, and were upset that she didn’t want to be held by them, but would (often) allow me to hold her. At first, I wasn’t sure why. After watching the way they held her, I realized why. My daughter and husband would often hold her tighter if she struggled to get away. This would result in a teenage kitty tantrum: scratches, bites, and occasionally growling. Obviously, she didn’t like it, but they couldn’t understand why she would let me hold her.

When an animal allows me to pick them up, I give them the choice to leave, by pulling my hands away, while still on level with the animal. If the animal runs away, so be it. Should they choose to stay, I try petting them and see if they settle down to snuggle. Then I can put my arms back around them. If they start to struggle again, I let them go. In this circumstance, I am both giving my pet choices, and allowing them to consent to being held (or not).

Allowing Sylphrena to feel safe by giving her the choice to leave really built her relationship with me. She knew I would let her go if she wanted, and knew she had agency if I tried to hold her. She wasn’t trapped.

 I taught my family how to help her feel secure and safe by allowing her to make the choice whether she wanted to stay (or not), and over time she has become more trusting of my husband and daughter.

 

There are little things you can do every day to give your pet agency and let them consent:

  • Petting consent tests (for any species)
  • Making different textures and types of chews and toys available (for many animals)
  • Sensory areas with pet-safe plants and textures your pet loves. (I will likely be making another blog specifically about this after I make one for my pets!)
  • Allowing your pet the choice to move away from other people or animals (do not force them to say hello!)
  • Making different textures available to scratch on for kitties
  • Having multiple litter boxes available in different areas for your cat (you can even provide different litter options to see what they prefer)

Many times, if we just look at what our pet is telling us with their body language, we can see what they really need or want– and if we can safely provide them with the agency to do that thing, we can improve their quality of life– and, in most cases, our own as well. Because a content and healthy creature doesn’t feel the need to lash out.

 

Now What?

  • Learn more about your pet’s species-specific body language, so you can tell if they like something or not.
  • Find one way to allow your pet more agency in their life
  • Research and prepare your home with appropriate furniture or enclosure requirements unique to your pet 
  • If you’re not sure where to start, try our free Facebook group, Enrichment for Pet Behavior Issues Community.
  • If you now want to own a kitty, or are just looking for another, check out this article on how to prepare your home for a new kitty!

Here’s an excerpt:

Bringing home a cat is an exciting time for the family. They provide laughter, companionship, and can even teach little ones about responsibility. However, preparing your home for a kitty can bring about some uncertainties and renovations to ensure your cat is well taken care of and comfortable in your home.

To help you get started, Redfin reached out to 14 cat experts, from Seattle, WA to Ottawa, ON, including us. Here is our best advice on how to prepare your home for a kitty. Check out How to Prepare Your Home for a Kitty: 14 Tips from the Pros.

You Have to Practice Before the Test

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When I’m giving a client a new activity, I always tell them to practice first in scenarios where they’ll be more successful. For example, practicing loose leash walking or the flight cue inside. Or Look at That or a greeting strangers protocol with faux triggers or people they know. Every now and then, someone will come back to me with:

 

I tried what you said to do and it didn’t work.

 

After some sleuthing, we sometimes find that the problem is that they tried to use it in a more difficult situation before they or their pet were ready. That happens to all of us (myself included!) at some point! But, if we go straight to testing without practicing, we usually fail the test. 

 

Practice makes perfect

This cliche applies to behavior modification: practice makes perfect. Well, as close to perfect as we can expect from a living, breathing individual with free will. The situations in which we want to use our pet’s skills are usually higher stress situations, either due to excitement or distress. I liken this to a “test”, where you’re expected to perform skills you’ve been learning in a higher stress situation. But the only way to do well in that type of situation is to practice a lot in easier scenarios that gradually build in difficulty. 

Imagine we plucked someone off the street, told them the basics of brain surgery, and then asked them to perform brain surgery on someone. Show of hands of who’d like that person to operate on them? That’s a hell no from me! I want someone who’s gone through school, practiced on cadavers, and has operated on a bunch of people before me. I want someone who’s practiced. 

Teaching our pets something once or twice and then asking them to perform it in a high-stress situation is like asking someone we’ve plucked off the street to perform brain surgery. It’s just not going to go well. And, if through luck it does, it’s not going to be predictably replicable. We need to practice in easier situations that gradually build in difficulty in order for them to succeed. 

 

What do easier situations look like?

This will be different depending on the skill or maladaptive behavior we’re talking about and where the pet is in their learning journey. In general, easier situations can look like something as simple as you and your pet training in your living room without anyone else around or it can look like a watered-down version of the situation you’re working up to. You have a lot of options when it comes to an easier situation. In general, choose a scenario where you’re pretty sure your pet will be successful. 

Keep in mind that “easier” is subjective, and is based on current skills. Calculus is easy for someone with a Ph.D. in math but it’s hard for a 3rd grader. Staying still is hard for a puppy but is easy for a service dog. The goal is to practice in situations that gradually increase in difficulty but for each step to still be easy for your pet’s current skill level.

 

Now what?

  • Determine what an easier situation looks like for a skill you’re trying to teach. 
  • Start practicing! If your pet is doing well, keep practicing. If they’re not doing well in that situation, that means it’s currently too difficult for them. Go back to the drawing board to figure out what would be easier for them and try again. 

 

Happy training!

Allie

May 2021 Training Challenge: Overt vs. Covert behavior

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Happy spring! I have no idea how we’re already in May, but here we are. And with the new month comes a new training challenge. Here’s the challenge for May:

 

Describe 1 construct or label using overt behavior

 

Okay. What the heck did I just say? This training challenge requires a bit of a vocabulary lesson. Now, y’all know I try to not be super vocab-heavy or technical in these blog posts, but this is one where the technical terms end up being the easiest way to communicate this concept. I promise to make it as painless as possible! Let’s dive in. 

 

Overt vs. Covert Behavior

Overt behavior refers to observable, measurable behavior. Examples of this include:

  • The person took three steps to the right
  • The hawk is flying at 20 mph
  • The dog’s ears turned back and are sitting low against the skull
  • The cat jumped onto the counter

There’s no arguing whether these behaviors are or are not true because we can see them and measure them. 

Covert behavior refers to internal thoughts, feelings, motivations, and intentions. And a construct is our interpretation of those covert behaviors. If you want to think of covert behavior and constructs as the same thing for now, go for it. The technical differences between those two aren’t as relevant for our level of discussion. Examples of this include:

  • The dog is mad that I left him alone and that’s why he pees when I’m gone
  • The dog is anxious when I leave him alone and that’s why he pees when I’m gone
  • The dog doesn’t know to not potty inside and that’s why he pees when I’m gone
  • The dog is trying to claim his territory when other dogs pass by the house and that’s why he pees when I’m gone

As you can see, there’s a whole lot of debate as to whether these behaviors are or are not true. Here we have the exact same overt behavior- urinating when left home alone- but I’ve heard all of the above as constructs people have created to explain that particular behavior. 

Here’s the thing with covert behavior and constructs: we’ll never know if they’re accurate. Heck, we’re even terrible at guessing the covert behavior of our fellow humans, with whom we speak the same language! How can we assume that we’re better at guessing the covert behavior of another species that doesn’t speak the same language? 

One more vocab word to throw into this mix: labels. A label is something we use to describe someone. For example, we could say a pet is:

  • Stubborn
  • Fearful
  • Aggressive
  • Anxious
  • Sweet

All of those are labels. 

 

Why does all of this matter?

All of this matters for a few different reasons:

 

The words we use shape our judgment, and ultimately can shape how we feel about our pets

Let’s say we have a dog who sometimes lies down in the middle of a walk and cannot be coaxed to get up for several minutes at a time. 

Overt behavior: lies down while on a walk for several minutes

Constructs and labels I’ve heard people use to describe this behavior:

  • Stubborn
  • Too hot to walk
  • Scared
  • Watching everything; attentive or focused on their surroundings
  • Getting old and joints might hurt

Now, how do you think the person who thinks their dog is stubborn feels about them vs. the person who thinks their dog is getting old with ouchy joints feels about them? My guess is those two people have a pretty different relationship with their pets and feel very differently about this particular behavior. 

 

Our judgment shapes our decisions, for better or worse

Let’s continue with the previous example. Each of those people would likely choose a different path to change that behavior. This might look like:

  • Stubborn: force them to walk
  • Too hot to walk: manage by walking in the morning when it’s cool
  • Scared: seek help from a behavior professional
  • Watching everything; attentive or focused: train a watch me or attention cue
  • Getting old and joints might hurt: speak with their vet about pain management options

One behavior, 5 different options for treatment based on our assumptions about what’s happening. But, and I can’t stress this enough:

 

We don’t know if our assumptions about covert behavior are accurate.

 

That means that we can’t make training decisions based on covert behavior, constructs, or labels. While we might be right in our assumptions, we can end up doing more harm than good if we’re wrong. For example, if the person thinks their dog is stubborn but actually they’re too hot to walk or in pain, forcing them to walk could end up seriously injuring them. Assumptions do not make for effective decisions; observing overt behavior makes for effective decisions. 

 

Our assumptions cloud our observations

I see people on a daily basis who are struggling to reconcile seemingly incompatible thoughts, theories, assumptions, etc. that they have about their pets. The most common I hear is reconciling the “sweet” label with a dog who is biting people. This usually comes in the form of the following statement:

 

They’re so sweet 95% of the time but it’s just that 5% we’re worried about

 

It’s hard for us to wrap our heads around how a pet who is sweet can also bite someone; sweet individuals don’t hurt others. When I see this happen we usually have a discussion that we’re the ones setting up that false dichotomy; their pet can still be very sweet with them but also fearful and biting other people. They’re not mutually exclusive behaviors. 

Sometimes, though, I see people struggling with that more than others. In those situations, I often see where folks will hold fast to a label or construct that they have about their pet and it makes it so they cannot see overt behavior that contradicts that label. 

For example, I’ve worked with a few clients who had leash reactive dogs and would even bite other dogs in some situations. The dog was showing clear signs of stress around members of their own species and even though we went through all the typical spiels about anxiety-related behaviors, they still believed that their dog truly enjoyed other dogs because they had a dog friend as a puppy. They couldn’t see the stress signals I was pointing out to them because that contradicted who they thought their dog was. Needless to say, those folks made much slower progress than their counterparts until we reached the point where they were able to see with their eyes, not their ideas. 

 

Hold up. Don’t you use labels and constructs all the time?

Yep! I do. Even though we shouldn’t make training decisions based on constructs or labels, they’re really helpful for communicating as long as all involved parties are defining those words the same way. For example, if I had to describe leash reactivity as barking, lunging, growling, and air snapping at the end of a leash when a dog is near another dog every time I talked to a client, we’d never get anything done. Instead, I tell my client, “this behavior that you’re describing I’m going to call leash reactivity.” That way we can communicate more efficiently and be on the same page as to what we’re defining as leash reactivity. 

 

But, what about the anxiety label you use? Isn’t that an assumption?

Right again! Those of you who have done an initial consultation with me might remember that when I describe your pet’s behavior as an anxiety-based behavior, I’ll actually say it’s a behavior based in anxiety, stress, fear, however it helps you to think of it. The next sentence is usually something along the lines of, “Those are all technically different, but for our purposes, I’ll use those phrases interchangeably because we can treat them all the same way and that’s really what I’m more interested in.”

Those are, however, all still labels or constructs. The reason I feel comfortable using those to make behavior decisions is because of body language. There has been enough study on body language, and studies are still coming out, that we can make an accurate enough guess as to broad strokes of covert behavior– like excitement and fear. So really those behavior decisions are happening based on body language and other behavior observations (overt behavior), and we attribute those body language signals to different constructs or labels. 

 

Back to the training challenge

Alright, I think we’ve detoured from this month’s training challenge enough for it to now make sense. 

Your task for this month is to take 1 construct or label that you have for your pet and describe it using only overt behaviors. Here’s an example:

Construct: Zorro likes his new tank setup

Overt behavior: Zorro is spending more time basking, less time trying to escape, and less time performing repetitive swimming behaviors in his new tank setup than his old one. 

If you’re feeling extra ambitious for this challenge, you can then turn that overt behavior into a different construct or label so you can see how easy it is for folks to create different explanations for the same behavior, like this:

New construct: Zorro has realized that I have finally outsmarted him when it comes to him escaping and he’s given up. I’m finally smarter than my turtle. 

Turtle resting on artificial grass on a green wooden platform. He is behind plexiglass and there's a black lamp behind him.
What I describe as Zorro enjoying his new tank setup

Now what?

  • Choose a construct or label. 
  • Think about what your pet is actually doing when you use that construct or label. What do you see with your eyes? 
  • Share your results with us on Facebook or Instagram @petharmonytraining
  • If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, we have a video training on overt vs. covert behavior in our Beginning Behavior Modification course

 

Happy training!

Allie

 

P.S. We have something BIG in the works to help even more pets and their people. Stay tuned for an announcement later this month!

April Training Challenge: Drop It

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Happy kind of spring! We have another fun training challenge this month:

 

Teach a “drop it” cue during play

 

Playtime can very often double as training time. The two do not have to be mutually exclusive! 

Before we get into some examples of how to do this, let’s have a brief chat about what I mean by “drop it”.

 

“Drop It”: The Behavior

When I say “drop it”, I mean the specific behavior of removing an item from your mouth. I like to have specific cues that mean specific behaviors to limit confusion with a pet as much as possible. 

If you are using “leave it” for both behaviors of not putting something in your mouth and removing something from your mouth and it’s working, keep doing it. I’m not here to fix things that aren’t broken. However, if your pet is struggling to learn that the same thing means two different behaviors, then I suggest having one cue for each. Remember: just because we understand the concept of synonyms does not mean our pets do. 

Another reminder: our pets don’t speak human language. You need to teach your pet what the “drop it” cue means before it’s going to reliably work. Fairly often someone will tell me that their pet does not drop something when asked to. And, almost just as often, I’m met with blank looks when I ask them how they taught that behavior. Stubborn quite often means they were never taught how to do it in the first place. 

And, one last note: this behavior needs to be reinforced just like all others if you’d like to see it continue. If the only time you’re using “drop it” is to ask your pet to give up something amazing for nothing in return or only at the end of a play session, they’re going to discontinue following that cue pretty quickly. Like all behaviors, it needs to be worth it to the individual performing it.

 

“Drop It” with Fetch

There are a few variations that usually work for teaching this cue while playing fetch. 

Option 1: 2-Toy Fetch

  1. Grab two identical (if possible) toys that your pet likes playing fetch with.
  2. Throw one toy.
  3. When your pet brings Toy 1 back, make a big fuss over Toy 2. Make it seem like the most fun toy that’s ever existed. 
  4. When your pet drops Toy 1, immediately throw Toy 2. The hope is that throwing Toy 2 (continuing the game) reinforces the drop it, not any other behavior– like sit. We’ll only know if this is effective for this pet if they continue dropping the toy moving forward. 
  5. Pick up Toy 1 while they’re chasing after Toy 2.
  6. When your pet brings Toy 2 back, make a big fuss over Toy 1. 
  7. When your pet drops Toy 2, immediately throw Toy 1. 
  8. Repeat until your pet reliably drops the toy. Pay attention to the cues that they are going to drop the toy. Some will chew it a few times then drop, others it’s based on proximity to you, others it could be a change in head position.  
  9. Add in your “drop it” verbal cue right before they drop it. If you’ve successfully completed Step 8 you should be able to tell when they’re going to drop it and say your cue before the behavior happens. Reinforce by tossing the other toy, like before. Repeat until, in this context, your pet reliably drops the toy on cue.
  10. If you want to add some other behavior between the drop it and toss, now’s the time. 

 

Option 2: Using Treats

  1. Grab a toy or two that your pet likes playing fetch with
  2. Throw the toy
  3. When your pet brings the toy back, show them a treat (luring) and say “drop it”. 
  4. When your pet drops the toy, give them the treat, then pick up the toy. If you’re having trouble with your pet grabbing the toy again when you’re reaching for it then toss the treat instead of handing it to them so they’re busy while you’re picking it up. 
  5. Because you’ve already rewarded the “drop it” behavior, you can ask for a sit or anything else you’d like before throwing the toy again. 
  6. Repeat the above steps 5 times. 
  7. The next time your pet brings the toy back, say “drop it” without showing them the treat. If they do, awesome! Hand or toss them the treat. If they don’t, repeat the above steps. 
  8. You can either slowly phase out the treat and just have the continuation of the game be the reinforcement (if it is, actually and indeed, reinforcing enough) or you can keep the treat in the game long-term. There’s no harm in that. 

 

“Drop It” With Tug

Let’s get one question that I hear frequently out of the way: does tug cause aggression? The short answer is no. The slightly longer answer is that there have been one or two studies looking at tug and aggression and they did not show that there was a significant correlation between the two. Now, two studies are not a lot and there could absolutely be more research done on this and that’s something we should keep in mind. Anecdotally, I frequently play tug with dogs who are considered “aggressive” and still have all my limbs (even the resource guarders!)

The way to teach “drop it” with tug is exactly how you would do it with fetch, just with tugging instead of throwing. I recommend playing for just a few seconds at a time (10-15 seconds). This can often make it easier for them to drop it because they’re not fully in the throes of tugging. 

 

Now What?

  • Choose your game and toys. 
  • Get to playin’! If you’re using treats, you may need to experiment with the type of treat to get the perfect value of “worth dropping the toy for” vs. “not too exciting that play stops”.
  • Share your progress with us @petharmonytraining on Facebook and Instagram

 

Happy training!

Allie

 

What’s Ab/Normal with Resource Guarding?

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Resource guarding can be scary. Seeing your sweet pet suddenly turn into a snarling mess over a chewy or their food dish is concerning. But while it’s concerning, one of the questions that I hear more with this behavior than with others is:

Is that normal?

 

Most people would call leash reactivity abnormal. Or light chasing or excessive tail chasing are usually thought of as abnormal (and they are). The behaviors that the average person labels as abnormal are usually the ones that they don’t see as frequently, whereas the average person would likely say it’s normal for dogs to bark at the mailman or to be afraid of thunderstorms. Normal and desirable are not always one in the same. 

The answer to this question when it comes to resource guarding is a favorite answer in the animal training community: it depends. Guarding in and of itself is normal, however, there are ways that it can present which are abnormal. As with most things in behavior, it’s not so black and white. 

 

Guarding is normal

We all guard or protect things we find valuable. Human examples can include something like hiding the chocolate from the rest of your household or locking your door. Humans are incredible at guarding their stuff; we have billion dollar industries devoted to helping us resource guard better. When it comes to our children and pets, though, we often expect them to relinquish their valuables much more so than we would do ourselves. But I digress. That’s a whole ‘nother topic. 

In short, guarding is a normal, natural behavior. It’s how our ancestors survived and it’s unrealistic to expect an individual to never guard something in any circumstance ever. That said, there are healthy guarding interactions and unhealthy guarding interactions. I think this may be more what people are after when they ask about resource guarding being normal: is this particular situation abnormal vs. the entirety of the behavior. Let’s take a look at some healthy and unhealthy examples. 

 

Healthy examples of resource guarding

Two criteria that I’m looking at when I’m looking at how concerning a resource guarding scenario is are:

  • The guarder’s communication (i.e. body language, like growling) is reasonable for the threat level
  • The other individual reacts appropriately by deferring to the guarder

What this can look like:

Fido has a bully stick and is happily munching away. Rover comes over and starts sniffing the bully stick that Fido is munching on. Fido shows his teeth and growls. Rover walks away. 

In that situation Fido’s communication was reasonable in that he warned Rover to leave his bully stick alone when Rover stuck his nose into the situation (literally). Rover deferred and listened to Fido’s communication by walking away. Neither dog escalated the situation. No harm no foul in this scenario.

While this may seem concerning because Fido is growling, remember that growling is simply a form of communication. It is also natural, normal, and healthy in appropriate situations. For example, no one would likely have an issue with their dog growling at an intruder. It’s not an inherently “bad” thing. We have a whole blog post here about why growling is okay and what to do about it.  

One note: “appropriate” and “reasonable” are in the eye of the beholder. There’s not necessarily a hard and fast rule when it comes to what is reasonable in a situation and there are several factors to consider. 

 

Unhealthy examples of resource guarding

It should come as no surprise that the criteria for unhealthy guarding is just the opposite of that for healthy (plus one more):

  • The guarder’s communication (i.e. body language, behavior) is unreasonable for the threat level
  • The other individual continues pestering the guarder or escalates the situation
  • There are a lot of guarded things

Let’s look at a few examples of unhealthy guarding behavior: 

Fido is happily munching on his bully stick again. Lola comes over and starts sniffing the bully stick that Fido is munching on. Fido shows his teeth and growls. Lola attacks him. 

Hoo boy, not a good situation here. Fido is again showing appropriate warning signs for this particular threat, but Lola is having none of that and instead of deferring, ends up escalating the situation. 

Let’s look at another example, which is similar but not as severe:

Fido is once again happily munching on his bully stick. Petey comes over and starts sniffing the bully stick that Fido is munching on. Fido shows his teeth and growls. Petey backs up a few inches, then immediately resumes sniffing the bully stick. Fido once again shows his teeth and growls. Petey continues backing up and immediately resuming sniffing the stick. 

This is not as severe as the situation with Lola, of course, but poor Fido can’t eat his bully stick in peace! Petey is being pretty rude by not respecting Fido’s request for space. Let’s give Fido a rest and we’ll look at another example. 

Helga is happily munching on a bully stick. Rover walks past her, about 4’ away, on his way to the water bowl. Helga lunges forward and bites him. 

In this example, Helga’s reaction is not in line with the threat level. Rover is pretty far away and presumably ignoring her and the item while he’s on his way to the water bowl. 

Let’s look at one more scenario. Peggy and Billy were told that Colonel Sanders was a resource guarder when they adopted him, but didn’t expect it to be anything like this! He growls if someone approaches his food or water dish, a chewy he’s working on, his bed and crate, and now Peggy whenever Billy approaches. Peggy and Billy are doing their best to avoid these scenarios, but it’s proving to be very difficult and they’re now worried about what else will set him off. 

In the above scenario, Colonel Sanders is guarding a lot of things: food, water, high-value items, space, and people. While guarding in and of itself is normal, this poor kiddo is likely stressed quite a lot of the time because of how many different things he guards. And, some of those things are not as manageable as others, like people guarding. Though he’s sticking with just warning signs and Peggy and Billy are doing their best to respect his request for space, we would still label this as unhealthy if only because of how stressed everyone is in this situation. Usually when I see pets like Colonel Sanders they often have other anxiety issues as well.

One last note while looking at abnormal and normal guarding scenarios: while I used pets in almost all examples, you could easily trade out a pet for a human in each of them. Humans often escalate guarding situations, like Petey or even Lola. We often also exacerbate resource guarding by trying to prevent it. More info about that here

 

Now what?

  • If you’ve seen resource guarding with your pet, think back to one of those situations. Do NOT illicit resource guarding for the sake of observation. Was your pet’s response reasonable for the threat? Did the threat (which may be you) respond appropriately? Which above scenario fits most closely with the situation you’re thinking about? Now you may be able to answer for yourself if your pet’s guarding seems normal or abnormal. 
  • If your pet is displaying guarding behavior, manage the situations so as to not illicit the behavior. This can be as simple as picking up toys that your pets fight over or feeding pets in separate rooms and picking up the bowls when they’re done. Item guarding is often quite easy to manage. 
  • Learn your pet’s body language. There are more subtle signs of guarding going on before the growl; we just need to know what to look for. 
  • If you need help with learning your pet’s body language or thinking through a management plan, our Beginning Behavior Modification Course is here to help. It goes through all of the foundation skills you need to be successful in a behavior modification plan. This is perfect for folks who have a pet displaying normal guarding behaviors but who want to make sure everyone stays safe and help keep the behavior from escalating.
  • If you have a pet displaying abnormal guarding behavior, check out our free Resource Guarding workshop happening next month. 

 

Happy training!

Allie

Agency: What It Is & Why Your Pet Needs It

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

A few weeks ago there was a discussion in our Enrichment for Pet Behavior Issues Community Facebook group where I realized that I’ve never actually written a post about agency itself. Sure, I’ve included this topic in other posts but I’ve never devoted an entire post to this topic alone. It’s about time that changed! So this week is solely devoted to a topic that I don’t think gets near enough attention in the pet community: agency.

 

What is agency?

Agency is the ability to have some level of control in our environment and be able to make choices that will result in a desirable outcome. One of the important factors here is that agency requires at least two desirable choices. A “cake or death” decision a la Eddie Izzard doesn’t fly. 

 

Doesn’t meet the 2+ desirable choices criterion

 

A pet example of a choice that fits the criteria would be the choice to sleep on comfy bed A or on comfy bed B. An example of a choice that doesn’t fit the criteria would be come when I call or get shocked. Make no mistake, though, it’s entirely possible to use food coercively as well. Such as, you can have delicious treats but only if you approach a person you find scary. Those examples don’t have at least two great choices to choose from. 

 

Why agency is important

There are so many reasons why agency is important that it would take me an entire book chapter to explain them all 😉 The short answer is it’s helpful in:

  • Combating learned helplessness
  • Creating resilience
  • Improving behavioral health
  • Improving quality of life (I don’t have research to back this bullet point up since “quality of life” is pretty subjective, but I think it’s safe to say that this is likely true from an anecdotal capacity and if we look at all the other things agency does for an individual.)

On a more practical note, having agency can be huge when it comes to how an individual reacts in certain situations. Here’s the example I use with my clients to illustrate this point:

Say that you’re at an educational wildlife event. The presenter is holding a snake. You hang out at the back of the room, fearful to move closer. The presenter continues talking about the snake they’re holding and offers for anyone to touch the snake who would like to do so. By the end of the presentation you’ve made your way to the front of the room and touch the snake. This was not a scary experience because you had full control over whether or not you put your hand on the snake. 

Now, let’s say you’re having a picnic. You’re sitting and chatting with your friends when you put your hand down– right on top of a snake. Chances are you’re not okay with this scenario, even though it’s the exact same behavior– hand on snake– as above. You may scream, run away, or perform some other fight or flight behavior. The difference between these scenarios is that you didn’t have the choice to touch the snake in the picnic but did in the presentation. 

We seem to see this with our pets, too. I often see reactive dogs who are far less reactive when they’re able to move away from the scary thing than when they’re made to sit there and watch it. Or dogs with separation anxiety who display fewer stress-related behaviors or less intense stress-related behaviors when they’re given more space to move about in the house (though, confinement anxiety is also a thing). While we can’t necessarily ask our pets in these situations if it’s agency that’s truly causing the change in behavior, we see it consistently enough that it’s a valid hypothesis. 

 

How can I provide more choices in my pet’s life?

There are so many ways to do this and we have a lot of examples in our book, Canine Enrichment for the Real World. Here are some easy options:

  • Multiple sleeping areas to choose from
  • Being able to choose where they go and what they sniff on a walk
  • Food preference tests
  • Toy preference tests

Here are couple that are more involved but also allow for even more agency in situations where it really counts:

  • Cooperative care & start button behaviors for medical and grooming procedures
  • Being able to choose whether or not they move closer to a stressor– without luring with food

 

But… what if they make poor choices?

Agency doesn’t mean that your pet has full authority to do whatever they want. If you have a pet who bites people coming into the house they still need to be managed to ensure they don’t bite people coming into the house. We should not diminish safety to increase choice. 

Agency means providing choices that don’t compromise safety, physical health, mental or behavioral health, or enable them to practice unwanted behaviors. That sometimes means that our pets may not have multiple choices in a situation. When that happens we can acknowledge that and work on training a skill that allows our pet to have choices in future similar situations. For example, a dog who doesn’t have a rock solid recall (come when called) shouldn’t be off-leash even though being off-leash allows for more agency. Instead of resigning to that, we can work on training a rock solid recall for future use. 

 

Now what?

  • Assess the choices your pet currently has. Don’t be critical or hard on yourself; we’re simply assessing to see where we have room for improvement. 
  • In those areas where you find your pet doesn’t have agency, ask yourself why that is. Is it to mitigate safety concerns? Is it to mitigate unwanted behaviors? Or, are there situations where you’re not quite sure or because it’s what someone once recommended or you think it’s what you should be doing? Keep probing until you find those answers. 
  • If you’re newer to agency and thinking about your pet’s choices, choose one of those easier situations to increase your pet’s desirable choices. 
  • If this is something that you’ve been working on or thinking about for a while, you may want to consider one of the more involved options. Cooperative care is a great place to start for almost everyone. 
  • If you’re interested in learning more about agency and how to incorporate it into your pet’s life, check out our book Canine Enrichment for the Real World and be sure to join us in our Facebook group.

 

Happy training!

Allie

Behavior Modification vs. Weight Loss: a False Dichotomy

Click here if you’d prefer to listen to this blog post.

 

I’ve mentioned before that issues seem to come in waves. In the spring we usually get a lot of new leash reactivity clients. With the pandemic we got a huge wave of intrahousehold aggression cases. This winter, though, it seems to be pets who need behavior modification who are also on a weight loss plan. 

Whenever I find that I’m having the same conversation multiple times per week, I add it onto the blog list. So this week is all about how to use food in training while sticking with your pet’s weight management strategy. Let’s dive in!

 

Why we use food in training

I’ve talked in a previous blog post about why we use food in training so frequently. Check it out here for a more in-depth explanation. The short answer is that it’s easier to dispense than other options and usually more effective than other options. Our pets need food to survive which means that it’s valuable; if it’s not valuable (even in a specific moment) it means that there’s something else going on that we need to troubleshoot. Again, there’s a much more in-depth exploration of this topic here

There are plenty of times where the behavior needs and the physical needs of an animal seem to be at odds with each other. A pet going through a behavior modification plan and a weight loss plan at the same time is one of those scenarios. The good news is that we don’t necessarily have to choose between the two!

 

Cutting calories

There are a few different ways to cut calories for pets who need to lose some weight while continuing to use food in training:

  • Use smaller treats. Below is an example of how small of a treat I use for 83-lb Oso. He works better for larger treats, but these suffice for things he knows how to do really well and for playing “find it”. 
  • Experiment with fruits and veggies. If your pet loves low-calorie foods, use them! I trained Oso’s “out” behavior (hanging out outside of the kitchen) exclusively with veggie scraps. Check out the blog about that here
  • Lickety Stiks (below) or broth cubes. Great taste and fewer calories with these flavored liquid options! (Also, shout-out to Duncan’s parents for calling the Lickety Stik “bacon goo” in a recent session. I’m totally stealing the phrase and still giggling about it.) 
  • Use their meals for training. Set aside some of their breakfast to use for training throughout the day. 
  • Feed less at mealtime if it’s a treat-heavy day. If you know you’ve dispensed a lot of treat calories one day, take out the equivalent from that evening’s meal. Talk with your vet before resorting to this a lot to make sure your pet is getting the nutrients they need. 

 

small treat next to a penny for comparison
One thing to keep in mind is that treat value matters (more info here). It’s not necessarily as easy as switching out treats or using kibble in training. There are times where you will need to use the higher-value– and usually higher-calorie– treats to get effective results with your training. Talk with your behavior consultant about where you can cut calories and where it’s imperative to use the better stuff. 

 

Using other reinforcers

Although using food in training is effective and often easier, it’s not the only thing that works. You can absolutely experiment with using other things that your pet enjoys: toys, play time, petting, praise. And don’t forget those “real-life reinforcers”: going through the door, putting the leash on, coming up on the couch. Here’s a post I recently wrote about teaching Oso to stay out of our basement without using any food. 

Now, if you’ve been with us for a little while you probably know what I’m going to say next. Remember: only the learner decides what’s reinforcing. If you decide to switch from giving treats for a sit to only petting them on the head and they stop sitting, then petting on the head isn’t actually reinforcing that behavior. 

To label something as reinforcing we need to observe how behavior changes over the course of our training. If the behavior continues happening or happens more, then what we’re doing is reinforcing. If the behavior happens less frequently or stops happening all together, then it’s not reinforcing. 

Long story short: we should only use something other than food if it’s actually effective. 

 

Phasing out food

I often hear the term, “phasing out food” when poking around the dog training internet (and used to say it myself!) What this should mean (not what it always means when used, though) is that we switch from using food to using some other type of reinforcer for a specific behavior. It doesn’t mean we stop using food altogether or that we stop providing any type of reward for performing a behavior. Really this is another way of saying “using other reinforcers” like the above category.

One way to combat weight gain while on a behavior modification program is to phase out food for behaviors that your pet knows how to do really well in the situations in which they know how to perform them. Oso is great at sitting in the house. Every now and then he gets a treat for sitting, but more often than not he doesn’t. We’ve phased out food for that behavior in that context. Now, he doesn’t have as strong of a reinforcement history for sitting at the vet clinic. That’s harder for him to do and so he still gets treats each time he sits in that context. 

So if we’re concerned about weight gain while working through a behavior modification program, we can phase out food for some behaviors while using treats for others. 

 

Increasing exercise in other ways

One of the challenges for especially dogs going through a weight loss program and a behavior modification program at the same time is that often many of the typical exercise activities are out. Leash reactive dogs often need to limit walks in order to limit triggers. Doggy daycare is out for pups displaying dog-dog aggression. Finding a dog walker is challenging for those stranger danger kiddos. 

That doesn’t mean we can’t exercise our pets in other ways, though. We just need to get a little creative with it. Last year’s February training challenge went through several different ways to provide more physical exercise inside the house for dogs cooped up in the winter. Check it out here

Oso gets most of his physical exercise inside the house in the winter (and we certainly don’t have a big house!) It’s very possible to keep up with the physical exercise part of your pet’s weight loss program while following management strategies for their behavior modification program. Make sure to speak with your vet about incorporating different exercises into your pet’s routine to ensure that it’s safe to do so with them. 

 

Shelving parts of a behavior modification program while working on a weight loss program

There are several stages to a behavior modification program. The first stages are much more about human learning and behavior than it is about training your pet. That means that the first stages don’t necessarily require a lot of extra, high-value treats! If your pet is at a seriously unhealthy weight, let’s work on managing their behavior issues (the first stages) instead of modifying their behavior so we can progress quicker through a weight loss program. As long as we’re managing the behavior so that it’s not getting worse over time we can safely come back to it later. 

 

Now what?

  • If you know your pet needs to lose some weight, your vet should be the first person you talk to. They can help you put together a plan to help your pet safely lose weight. 
  • Do a food preference test to determine what your pet’s favorite foods are and also what lower-calorie foods we can use in training. 
  • If there are behaviors that your pet knows how to do really well, start phasing out treats by decreasing how frequently you treat and increasing other types of reinforcers. Remember: if the behavior starts deteriorating you’re not actually reinforcing. 
  • Explore different types of exercise. Again, talk to your vet first to make sure the exercise is appropriate for your pet. But after that, have at it!
  • Speak with your behavior consultant about how to mitigate calorie intake while working through your pet’s behavior modification plan. We’re here to think outside the box for you!

 

Happy training!

Allie

February 2021 Training Challenge: Nose to Hand Target

Click here if you prefer to listen to this blog post.

Happy February! This month’s training challenge is with our upcoming webinar, Pandemic Puppies: Finding Harmony in the Future in mind. We wanted to include something that is helpful to the pets we’ll be talking about later this month in the webinar, but is also helpful for all pets and easy enough to include in a training challenge. So, here it is:

 

Teach or proof a nose to hand target

 

Ellen has a great video on what a nose to hand target is, how to teach it, and what it can be used for. Check it out here:

 

 

What is it?

A nose to hand target is when your pet touches their nose to your hand. We often just refer to this as “hand targeting” but I wanted to include the specificity here to make it known that an animal can target different parts of their body to different things. For example, one of the coolest applications I’ve seen is a hyena who was taught to target their neck to the bars of a crate so their caregivers could take jugular blood samples easily and in a way that wasn’t scary to the hyena. 

 

Why it’s useful

Ellen goes into a lot of cool ways that you can use a nose to hand target in her video. Here are some of my favorite ways that I’ve used a nose to hand target:

  • Teaching a more precise recall (come when called). You can get the pet into exactly the location and even orientation you’re looking for with a target which isn’t possible with a generic recall. 
  • Relocation. Want your dog to get out of the way? Hand target. Want your cat to jump off the counter? Hand target. Emily used a beak to spoon target for one of her birds who would try to bite hands coming into his enclosure to feed him. He was happy to move away to the spoon so that anyone who watched him could care for him safely!
  • Jump to hand target. I use this with those jumpy dogs who just need to get those one or two jumps in before they can sit and be calm. I talk more about this in this blog post about how the Water Principle in hapkido applies to our pets.  
  • Harness training. I worked with a cat years ago, Milo, who was comfortable with wearing a harness but wasn’t as keen about it going over his head. We taught him to put his own head through the harness with a DIY target stick (a pom pom attached to a chopstick). 
  • Hand shyness. While this isn’t always the most appropriate approach to hand shyness and you should absolutely work with a professional before trying this on your own, it can be an effective way to help pets who are uncomfortable with hands. My favorite example is Castiel, who was very uncomfortable with hands and eventually learned to target new people’s hands as the final step in his greeting protocol. 
  • Exercise. I worked with a pup who had hind-end mobility issues. His caregivers were concerned about how they would provide him with the physical exercise he needs. We decided to teach him a nose to hand target and would ask him to walk just a step or two at a time to touch the hand. This was plenty of exercise for him! Now, I ask Oso to run across the house and jump up to a hand target to get extra winter exercise. 
  • Tricks. There are so many tricks that can be taught using a nose to hand target (or other targeting behavior)! Spin, jump, bow, figure 8s, and more. 

And, the last reason I find this a useful behavior, is because it’s usually an easy behavior to teach. There are absolutely pets who say otherwise, but on the whole I see the majority of folks having quick success with this. Not only is it an easy behavior to teach, but I find that it’s often easier to perform than some of the more common tricks, like sit. There are plenty of times I’ve seen a dog who’s too distracted to sit, but not too distracted to perform a hand target. 

 

How to teach a nose to hand target

The simplest option is to extend your hand a couple of inches away from your pet’s nose, wait for them to investigate, then mark and treat from your opposite hand when you feel their nose or even whiskers in the beginning. Ellen does a great job of showing different ways to teach this in the video above. 

Note: if you have a pet who’s uncomfortable with hands near their face, work with a behavior consultant on how to safely teach this behavior. There are more options available than what we can get into in a generic post or video!

 

Who should learn a nose to hand target?

Almost every pet can benefit from this– including all species! A hand target specifically may not be appropriate for all pets, in which case you can use something else for them to target to. 

 

Now what?

  • Go forth and teach a nose to hand target!
  • Does your pet already know this behavior? Your training challenge is to then proof or strengthen this behavior. Check out the below videos on how to do that:
  • Share pics and videos of you working on a hand target with your pet! Email us at [email protected] or connect with us on Facebook or Instagram @petharmonytraining

 

Happy training!

Allie

How I Accidentally Taught My Turtle to Escape

I talk about my dog, Oso, all of the time but he’s not the only critter in our household. I’ve mentioned my turtle, Zorro, a couple of times throughout the course of this blog but today I want to devote an entire post to him. Specifically, I want to talk about a trainer/owner failure: how I accidentally taught him to escape from his tank. 

 

My management failure

A year or two ago I changed Zorro’s setup by building a platform that sat on top of his tank to allow for more water in it. As soon as it was installed, I questioned whether or not he would be able to escape from his new setup. However, instead of doing something preemptively about that, I decided to take the “wait and see” approach. 

 

 

This was mistake number one. Zorro tries to escape whatever enclosure he’s in. This has been true of every enclosure I’ve put him in in the last 12 years I’ve had him. I knew he would try to escape this new setup and I knew that it was more possible than it was with his previous setup. Yet, I still took the wait and see approach, even though I knew better. 

Sure enough, it took only a few days for him to start trying to climb out. Luckily, his tank is in my office so I was right there to put him back in. It quickly became clear that I would need to actually have some management solution in place to keep him safe. Instead of developing a great management solution, though, I put up a half-assed management solution. Again, I questioned whether or not it would be effective. 

 

 

This was mistake number two. Instead of putting a great management solution in place that I knew was going to be effective, I opted for the easiest solution I could think of and I still questioned whether or not it would be effective. Of course that didn’t work and he was able to climb out of his tank. What this did was teach him that if he just pushes the barrier a little harder, then it will work. 

Since that didn’t work I reinforced it a little more. I knew it still wasn’t perfect, but it should’ve been much harder for him to escape. However, because I previously [accidentally] taught him that if he pushes against the barrier harder then he’ll be able to escape, he was now able to get out of this more difficult setup, too. Mistake number two came back to bite me and provide mistake number three. 

 

 

This situation was 100% my fault. I knew Zorro’s past behavior; I knew he’d try to escape this setup and I knew that it was likely possible. Even with all of that knowledge, I still chose to take my chances and feign surprise when what I knew would happen actually happened because it was easier for me to do it that way. I didn’t have to put in the extra effort or forethought by taking the “wait and see” approach. And, because I didn’t do what I should have done the first or even the second time, I taught Zorro to try harder and how to escape more successfully.

The way that I taught him to try harder is through something called “shaping”. Shaping means reinforcing gradual approximations– or baby steps– towards an end goal behavior. This is the technique frequently used for teaching really cool tricks. Below is a quick video example of shaping:

 

 

How I used shaping here [albeit without trying] was by setting up gradually more challenging situations for him to succeed at escaping. If I had put a more rigorous management solution in place after the first time Zorro tried to escape, he would have failed and learned that it doesn’t work to try harder. However, because I set up an only slightly more difficult approach he did learn that pushing harder worked and was able to use that knowledge later for the next only slightly more difficult approach. 

 

 

The right way

This past summer I finally started building the dream enclosure I’ve been thinking about for Zorro for a while. And this time, I decided to do it right when it came to him escaping. When thinking through the design for his enclosure, I took into account all of the ways I could possibly think of for him to escape. I knew I wanted a plexiglass barrier surrounding it for aesthetic reasons, but decided to make the barrier taller so it wouldn’t be possible for him to reach the top and pull himself up and out. Anything that’s tall enough for him to climb on to then climb out is against a wall. We anchored the back walls so he can’t move the barrier off and slip under. 

When the top and barrier finally went up and he was able to move around, we reassessed our management strategy to make sure what we assumed and expected to happen were accurate. While watching him and testing the barrier for ourselves, we decided there might be one more possible way for escape: if he pushed it hard enough could he break the adhesive holding the sides together or bow out the plexiglass enough to slip out? Instead of taking our chances, we grabbed a few brackets so that even if he pushed he wouldn’t be able to bow or break the sides. We’re a few weeks in and he’s tried to escape as he always does. This time, though, he’s been unsuccessful and his attempts are dwindling. 

 

Still some work to do but it’s now functional!

 

How does this relate? A dog counter surfing example

The reason I wanted to tell this story is because I often see pet parents go through this same process of taking a half-hearted approach to management and inadvertently shaping their pet to be better at foiling those management attempts.

One behavior that I frequently see this happening with is counter surfing. Dogs are opportunistic scavengers. They are made to search for food and eat it when opportunity strikes. It’s what they do. Even though we know that, many people still opt for the “wait and see” approach when bringing home a new dog, just like I did at first with Zorro’s new platform. The “wait and see” approach here is to leave food out on the counter (even if it’s in a bag) and leave the dog unattended in the room. 

When that doesn’t work, many people will opt for pushing the food back on the counter so it’s harder to access but will still leave them unattended with the food on the counter. This is the part where we inadvertently train our dogs that if they try harder, they can still access the food. 

When that doesn’t work some people opt for the sink but will continue to leave them unattended. Again, we usually end up inadvertently shaping our dogs that they can still access the food if they try harder.

A more solid management solution to start with instead is to leave no food on the counters when the dog is unattended and if you do need to leave the kitchen while you’re cooking (when it’s difficult to put food away) to then keep the dog out of the kitchen using baby gates, doors, etc. It’s much harder to counter surf when you’re not in the kitchen when food is on the counters. 

 

Now what?

  • Think through your pet’s current behavior and learning history. Is there a behavior you’ve been trying to manage but are instead inadvertently shaping your pet to foil your attempts? 
  • Think about a management solution that would make it so your pet couldn’t perform that behavior. Chances are you may have already heard of the management solution but maybe thought it was too cumbersome (like I did with Zorro’s platform!) Is there a way to make it less cumbersome or easier to enact?
  • Enact your management solution and start breathing easier!
  • If you’re having trouble coming up with a management solution, email us at [email protected] to schedule a session or check out our Setting Yourself Up for Success: Behavior Modification Basics course. 

 

Happy training!

Allie

5 Signs Your Pet Needs Professional Help

 

I’m very much a Do-It-Yourself person– so much so that I consider it a fault. I will absolutely try to do something by myself and learn a new skill if I think that I can. I see this with a lot of my clients, too. They originally tried to tackle their pet’s maladaptive behaviors by themselves and eventually found their way to getting professional help. 

In many of those situations I wish that they’d contacted a professional sooner. Sometimes that’s because they’ve tried something that has actually worsened the behavior or because they waited until it was more serious or dangerous before getting a professional involved. But there are other times I wish they’d contacted a professional sooner simply because it’s easier to change a behavior that’s been happening for less time. Well-established habits are harder to change. 

I then occasionally get cases where someone has just adopted an animal and reaches out to our team immediately. In those situations we’re almost always asked, “Do you think it’s too soon for us to see you? Should we wait a bit?” Our answer is usually a resounding, “no, it was a great decision to involve us so quickly!” 

So, as someone who is a staunch DIY-er, who tries to tackle problems without additional help, but also recognizes that getting a professional involved sooner rather than later can be beneficial, I thought it’d be helpful to discuss some key signs that would cause me to recommend someone seek professional help for their pets’ behavior. 

 

  1. Safety is on the line. This could be the safety of you, your pet, another human, or another animal. If any individual’s safety is at risk you should immediately seek the help of a behavior professional. 
  2. It’s a behavior you haven’t dealt with before or dealt with recently. It’s much better to learn something from a professional the first time around instead of trying your hand at something you’re not experienced with. And, if you haven’t dealt with this particular issue recently, chances are that there are now more effective or empowering ways to work with the behavior and it’s time to update your skills. This field is constantly growing and evolving and that’s a good thing!
  3. You’re not making progress. If you’ve been working on your pet’s behavior for a few months and you’re not making any progress, it’s time to call in a professional. Save yourself the time and hassle by getting help. 
  4. You’re having to resort to more forceful tools and methods. It’s a myth that certain animals need more forceful tools or methods. We work with aggressive animals of all shapes and sizes for a living and can do so in a way that’s empowering and empathetic towards our animal learner. If you’re stuck and finding yourself reaching towards more forceful tools and training methods, it’s time to get help from a behavior professional who can keep you working in a Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive (LIMA) way.
  5. You want to make sure you’re doing something well and as efficiently as possible. There are plenty of things that I choose to muddle through myself, knowing that it would be more efficient if a professional did it. However, there are other things that I want done well the first time and don’t feel that I can afford the mistakes that come with learning (like our business taxes). If you feel that way about your pet’s behavioral and mental health, then look for a professional sooner rather than later. 

 

Now what?

 

Happy training!

Allie