June 2021 Training Challenge: Focus on One Thing

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Happy June! Let’s get right into our June Training Challenge:

 

Focus on one thing

 

This one’s pretty straightforward, but let’s talk a bit about why it made the cut. 

 

If you chase two rabbits, both will escape

There’s a Chinese proverb that says, “If you chase two rabbits, both with escape”. While I wouldn’t condone literally chasing rabbits, figuratively, the proverb is spot on when it comes to behavior modification. 

Because of the nature of cases that come to us, we see pets who exhibit a vast array of maladaptive behaviors in just one individual. Rarely is there ever just one thing going on. I’ll often ask folks to prioritize the laundry list of issues they gave to me and ask which is the most pressing one. Essentially, what should we focus on first. For some people, that thought exercise is really easy. They may say something like, “We’ll manage the resource guarding and stranger danger, but the leash reactivity is really challenging because we don’t have a fenced-in yard.” Perfect! We’ll start with the leash reactivity and go from there. These folks tend to make progress more quickly and then we can focus on the next thing when the first item is in a good place.

Other times, though, I see folks who have a hard time prioritizing. They want to work on the resource guarding, stranger danger, and leash reactivity all at the same time. Or, I’ll sometimes see where in the first session we agree to focus on the leash reactivity, but when I see them a couple of weeks later they’ve been working on the stranger danger instead and haven’t progressed very much with either issue. 

If you split your attention between two issues, you won’t make a lot of progress with either. When you chase two rabbits, both will escape. You’ll make progress faster by managing the issues that can be managed and working on just one issue at a time. There are, of course, situations where that’s not entirely possible, but it’s possible to an extent in almost every situation. Focus and you’ll get faster results. 

 

Now what?

  • Make a list of the behaviors your pet does that you’d like to change. 
  • Go through your list and determine which of those are manageable and which aren’t. That will help you prioritize. 
  • Of the behaviors that aren’t manageable, determine which is the most pressing. It might be the one that’s the biggest safety concern or the one that’s the biggest annoyance.
  • Start working on your one thing! If it’s a safety concern, while highly recommend seeking professional help to make sure you go through the process safely. We’re here to help you with that with private sessions or our Roadmap for Behavior Solutions Program. If you’re not quite ready to take the leap into a behavior modification journey, our Beginning Behavior Modification course is right for you. 

 

Happy training!

Allie

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

 

March 2021 Training Challenge: Teach a Trick

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Happy March and almost spring! It feels like a good time to have some fun with our pets as the weather is warming up, so this month’s training challenge is:

 

Teach your pet a new trick

 

This is one that anyone with a pet of any species can participate in! I’ll likely work on a target with Zorro (the turtle) and some new fitness exercises with Oso. The word “trick” is pretty subjective so I think some of those exercises should be allowed to count. 

 

Why I love trick training

There are a lot of reasons to love trick training. Two of my favorites, though, are that it can be a great relationship builder and a great confidence booster. I find that when I see my clients working on training exercises that are supposed to serve a particular purpose, like teaching “place” with the intention of using it when the doorbell rings or working on Look at That for reactivity, they tend to be a little more tightly wound. 

In general, they get more frustrated when their pet doesn’t pick up on the exercise quickly and they’re more quick to get discouraged when it’s not going as planned. With trick training, I usually see them loosen up and be more forgiving of their and their pets’ mistakes. That can go a long way towards relationship building! Everyone just gets to have fun. 

It can also be a good confidence booster and a way for our pets to break out of their shells if they’ve had negative experiences with training in the past. I’ve had several clients who’ve started working with me and using a LIMA training philosophy after working within a different training philosophy with their pet. Sometimes, that pet is not too keen on training because training had been scary or painful in the past. With these pets, we’ll often work on them just feeling comfortable in a training scenario. That sometimes involves trick training! 

We’ll teach them something that they have no prior experience with and make it super fun: lots of treats and lots of forgiveness for mistakes. When their pet starts understanding that training isn’t always scary or painful, we can then start moving on to other exercises. 

 

Some trick ideas

There are so many possibilities when it comes to trick training and there are a ton of great articles, YouTube videos, and resources out there to give you some ideas. Here are a few of my go-to options:

  • Nose to hand target
  • Nose to post-it note target, which can then be used to turn off lights, close a door, etc.
  • Spin right and spin left
  • Back up
  • Play dead
  • Roll over
  • Army crawl
  • Speak
  • Put toys away
  • Head down
  • Head nod “yes”
  • Head shake “no”
  • Sit pretty
  • Shake/paw
  • High five
  • High ten
  • Wave
  • Dance
  • Figure 8 between legs
  • Bow
  • Jump

And those are just a few options! If your pet is physically capable of performing it, then it can theoretically be taught. Keep in mind that there are some things you may not want to teach, though. For example, it’s a cool trick to teach your dog to open a door, but there may be some doors in your house that you’d prefer them not to know how to open. Think about potential future consequences of what you’re teaching your pet to do. 

Additionally, be thinking about the impact that the trick might have on their body. A pet doing a handstand looks amazing, but is not the greatest as far as wear and tear on their body is concerned. Just because we can teach something doesn’t mean we necessarily should. 

 

How to teach tricks

There are three ways that we at Pet Harmony recommend to teach a new behavior (more exist, but these are the most LIMA-friendly options): luring, capturing, and shaping.

Luring means having a treat (or toy, etc.) in your hand and moving that hand in a way that when your pet follows they perform the desired action. For example, to get a pet to sit via luring you’d move the lure hand up over their head and as the head goes up the butt goes down. 

Luring is an easy way to teach a lot of things and most pets do well with it. The thing to remember with luring is to fade the lure quickly so you’re not stuck having to have a treat in your hand forever. I generally lure 5 times then perform the same action sans treat in hand (this can act as your hand signal). If the animal does the behavior, great! We’ve moved onto a hand signal. If not, I lure 5 more times and try the hand signal again.

 

 

Capturing is waiting for your pet to do the desired action naturally and then rewarding them for doing so. Lying down is an easy one for this. Simply wait for your pet to lie down (which they’ll eventually do) and then treat. A marker is helpful for capturing. The downside is that the pet has to naturally perform the behavior for us to capture it. And, many people would say that another downside is having to employ the patience necessary to capture during training. 

 

 

Shaping is capturing and rewarding the baby steps, or approximations, towards the end goal behavior. For example, to teach a “head down” behavior you can wait for the head to move down a little bit and reward, then continue rewarding for the head moving down a little bit more and more. A marker is very helpful here. Shaping is the hardest of the three strategies for both the human and the pet to learn. However, it’s usually how you get all of the really cool tricks. 

 

 

Now what?

  • Choose a trick. If you’re newer to training, choose something that your pet naturally does or something similar to what your pet naturally does. It’s much easier to train a behavior that you know they can already do. If you’re more seasoned, try something a little harder or more involved. 
  • Develop your plan for how you want to train this trick. Can you lure it or do you need to capture or shape? If you try plan A and it doesn’t work, what’s plan B? Having an idea of how you’re going to train will help you make quicker decisions in the moment. We love Kikopup on YouTube for all things trick training. 
  • Start training! Make sure to have fun and that your pet is frequently being rewarded. Treats are easiest for this (which we talk about here). Frustration isn’t fun and not being treated frequently enough is frustrating.
  • If you’re stuck, go back to the drawing board on how to teach this particular trick. Be sure to make tweaks based on what you’re actually seeing with your eyes, not what you think is going through your pet’s mind or what your ideas may be trying to tell you you’re seeing. Stubborn in this case is really just not understanding, and that’s on the teacher, not the student. If you’re truly stuck, choose a new trick. Again, this is just for fun!
  • Send us pics and videos of you working with your pet on Facebook or Instagram @petharmonytraining. We love to see y’all having fun with your pets!

 

Happy training!

Allie

February 2021 Training Challenge: Nose to Hand Target

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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

January 2021 Training Challenge: Video Your Pet Home Alone

 

We are full swing into our free Separation Anxiety Workshop this week! In honor of that workshop and our Separation Anxiety Immersive Digital Course which starts this upcoming Sunday 1/10/21, I wanted to do a separation anxiety-related training challenge this month. Here it is:

Video your pet home alone

Here are a few screenshots from one of our consultants, Ellen, doing this activity:

 

Why everyone should do this

In Ellen’s blog post about her dog’s separation anxiety journey last month (check it out here if you haven’t read it yet), she mentioned that scientists are starting to think that more pets have separation-related issues than we previously thought– up to 22.3% – 55% of the dog population. That’s a whole lot of dogs! Even if you think your pet is fine being left alone, let’s double check just to make sure. 

For those of you who do have a pet who you think may be displaying separation-related issues, this is definitely something you’ll want to do. The first thing we ask potential separation anxiety clients to do is send us a video of their pet home alone. With other behavior issues we’re able to ask questions about what the person sees their pet doing and we can determine what’s going on that way without needing to see the behavior (more info here). However, with separation-related issues the person can’t know what their pet is doing without a video. There can be other explanations for certain behaviors aside from separation-related distress, so a video is incredibly helpful in this situation.

Note: if it’s pretty obvious your pet is distressed being left home alone, work with a consultant before doing this. There’s no need to cause unnecessary stress and a professional can give you more specifics on the set-up than what’s feasible in a blog post. 

 

How to do it

There are a lot of ways to get a video of your pet home alone. Here are a few of our favorites (Disclosure: Affiliate links ahead. 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!):

  • Zoom yourself. Set up a zoom meeting between two accounts (both of which can be owned by you!). One camera stays in the house (laptops work great here) and the other goes with you (i.e. phone or tablet). I love this option because you get real-time streaming + recording function that you can send to your behavior consultant. 
  • Ring or Nest systems. A lot of folks already have home security systems set up in their house that can be accessed in real-time and can save recordings. If you already have something like this, use it! 
  • Furbo cameras. Furbos are designed specifically for knowing what your dog is up to while you’re gone. A super cool feature is their event-triggered recording option (available through an optional subscription with the device) so you can better learn what triggers a reactive dog throughout the day. 

What you’re looking for

Long-time readers of this blog won’t be surprised at the first answer: body language. We’re looking for stress signals before and after leaving. Everyone– pets included– shows stress a little differently so the specific signals will be dependent on the individual. Common signals include vocalizing, pacing, drooling, and destruction. However, shutting down is a not uncommon signal that can also be difficult to distinguish from true rest and relaxation. 

We’re also looking for how long it takes them to calm down if we do see stress signals. Some pets’ anxiety is more centered around the actual departure than being alone for a long time. A video makes all of that clearer. Again, if it’s pretty obvious that your pet is distressed being left alone I recommend working with a consultant first so they can give you more specifics on the video set-up. 

 

Now what?

  • Figure out the technology you’d like to use to get a video of your pet home alone. 
  • Record your video. Since it’s hard to go places at the moment, a quick walk around the block can be a good start. 
  • Watch your video. What body language signals do you see? What activities do you see them performing?
  • If you’re seeing signs of stress, we recommend starting on that behavior modification journey now before it becomes a real problem when we’re back to leaving our pets for longer. Our Separation Anxiety Immersive Digital Course or a private session are both great options. We recommend Ellen for separation-related problems– she’s finishing up a program to be a certified separation anxiety consultant! Email us at [email protected] to get started with either option. 

 

Happy training!

Allie

October 2020 Training Challenge

 

Part of me can’t believe it’s already October and part of me reminds the first part that this has been the longest year ever. Regardless, it’s time for our October training challenge!

List enrichment strategies you employ while you’re gone and objectively go through the list to determine if those strategies are effective. 

Not only is this training challenge dedicated to the “Independence” chapter of our book, it’s also a great exercise in taking a descriptive vs. prescriptive approach to your enrichment plan. (Note: we decided what the training challenges were going to be well before Covid hit. While you may not be gone at work all day at the moment, this exercise still applies for shorter outings!)

 

Descriptive vs. Prescriptive

For those of you who’ve heard us speak this year, you’ve heard us talk about taking a descriptive approach to your enrichment plan.

Descriptive: “I see a change in my animal’s behavior because of the activities we’ve done or provided.”

Prescriptive: “I provided an activity for my pet therefore he’s enriched.”

With the descriptive approach, we observe behavior to determine if the activity was effective instead of assuming that it was. Did it actually meet the animal’s needs as we intended? If it did, great! We can keep doing it. If it didn’t, well, then it’s back to the drawing board. Emily wrote a great blog post about this here. It’s not enough for us to just assume that our pet’s needs are being met while we’re gone, we need to actually observe that that’s true. 

 

How can I tell if those activities are effective?

There are a few ways we can tell if these activities are effective:

  • They’re being used. If you leave a stuffed Kong for your pet and it’s untouched when you return, that’s not an effective strategy. 
  • Watch your pet on video. Want to know if the window film you put up for your pet’s reactivity is actually decreasing reactivity throughout the day? It’s time to break out a recording option and see what your pet is up to during the day. 
    • Recording options can be high-tech, like Furbo and Nest (these are affiliate links), or low-tech, like Skyping or Zooming yourself or setting up a laptop to record shorter absences.
  • Observe your pet’s behavior when you come home. Providing activities while you’re gone can be the determining factor between having an adolescent dog who’s bouncing off the walls when you come home vs. one who’s excited but not uncontrollable. 

 

Now what?

  • Make a list of the enrichment activities you utilize while your pet is home alone. 
  • Make a list of desirable and undesirable behaviors that you’re hoping these enrichment activities address.
  • Observe your pet’s behavior. Are those activities effective in increasing desirable behaviors and decreasing undesirable behaviors?
  • Adjust your enrichment plan accordingly. 
  • Share your findings with us on social media! @petharmonytraining on Facebook and Instagram

 

Happy training!

Allie

August 2020 Training Challenge

This month’s training challenge is dedicated to the “Calming Enrichment” chapter of our book Canine Enrichment for the Real World and is one of my favorite exercises for clients:

Work on a relaxation protocol or mat work

This exercise is something that most pets can benefit from. I incorporate it into flight training, building a sense of security, teaching pets to be calm, and teaching them to hang out in a particular location. Almost all of my clients working through anxiety and aggression behavior modification plans get this exercise!

Oso demonstrating mat work on a pillow case.

Different options:

There are several different types of relaxation protocols and ways to do mat work. Even though some of the protocols don’t require performing them on a mat (or bed, blanket, towel, etc.), I still like to include one. Options include:

  • Dr. Karen Overall’s Relaxation Protocol
    • This is my favorite for so many reasons: the frequency of treating is higher than most people do on their own which lends itself to it working faster and more consistently & it tells you exactly what to do so there’s less room for error as long as you’re following the instructions. 
    • Emily has further developed this protocol and put a special agency twist on it which we’re finding makes it even more effective! She’ll be teaching a course on Pet Harmony’s version of this protocol for the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. Stay tuned for more info on that upcoming course.
  • Suzanne Clothier’s Really Real Relaxation Protocol (this link contains the first half of this protocol; the full protocol is available for sale here.)
    • I like this one for pets and people who need less rigidity than Dr. Overall’s RP and who also have some training prowess under their belt. It can sometimes be too loosey goosey for someone newer to training. 
  • Mat work
    • Similar to the Really Real Relaxation Protocol, but I would say even more loosely structured when it comes to relaxation as our goal. Some people start with this to teach their pet to go to a mat and then switch to one of the above protocols. 

There are other options out there but these three are my go-to exercises. No matter which option you choose, start working on this in just one location before taking it on the road. 

Now what?

  • Choose an exercise that you’d like to work on. 
  • Choose a mat, bed, blanket, towel, rug, or whatever works for you and your pet! We want to pair this mat with relaxation. I like bath mats quite a bit; the rubber backing helps it to not slide when you’re practicing. 
  • Start practicing! Remember that the goal is relaxation– not stay. I advise against using a “stay” cue and having that be the primary criterion. It’s okay if they’re not perfect at this yet! 
  • Send us your pics and videos of your pet working on the August training challenge! Email us at [email protected] or connect with us on Facebook or Instagram @petharmonytraining.

Happy training!

Allie

July 2020 Training Challenge

Wow! I can’t believe the Pet Harmony blog is 1 year old this month. Our business has continued to grow and evolve and I must say I couldn’t have predicted that we’d be where we are today a year ago (even without a pandemic!)

This month’s training challenge is dedicated to the mental exercise portion of enrichment:

Teach a trick of your choosing

I love trick training for a few different reasons:

  • Low stakes often means more fun. I find that people tend to give their pets more room for error when training just for fun instead of to teach a behavior that they’d like to use in real life. That usually means it’s more fun for both parties involved!
  • Cute behaviors can build relationships. Sure, Oso can do things that are actually useful– sit, leave it, come– but that stuff is far less endearing than his tricks– spin, play dead, head down, sit pretty. Having fun together while training can be a great relationship builder and trick training is usually more fun than basic manners training.
  • Trick training can be great mental exercise! This is the reason that we chose this challenge, after all. Certain forms of training in and of themselves can be great mental exercise (i.e.: shaping and shaping variations; more info on that in our book) and there’s no limit to what we can teach when we branch into the tricks realm. 
  • You can teach useful behaviors. There are a number of useful behaviors that we usually categorize as “specialty behaviors” or “tricks” instead of “basic manners”: closing doors, retrieving items for us, moving out of the way. That categorization is pretty arbitrary; there are plenty of behaviors that fall into the “basic manners” category that I don’t find super useful and there are plenty that fall into the “tricks” category that I find quite useful. That all goes back to our discussion or what our pets “should” do from an earlier blog post.

What can I teach?

Truly, the sky’s the limit. If your pet can physically do it then you can technically teach it (though I’d argue there are some things that we still probably shouldn’t teach). Here are some options:

  • Play dead (lying down, settle on side with head against ground)
  • Twist & shout (spin clockwise & counterclockwise)
  • Sit pretty (sit back on haunches, body perpendicular to ground, front legs in air)
  • Put your toys away (pick up toys in the room and put them in a basket)
  • Figure 8s (weave a figure 8 between someone’s legs)
  • Close a door (push a door closed)
  • Learn names of toys (touch or grab a specific toy when prompted by its name)
  • Army crawl (lie on belly and crawl on ground)
  • Head down (while lying down, put head between paws)
  • Bow (forearms on the ground, rump in the air)

Now what?

  • Pick a trick that you think your pet is naturally inclined to perform. Have you seen them do any behavior that you could put on a cue to use as a trick?
  • Start training! Remember that this is just for fun; choose a different trick if you’re struggling.
  • Ask your trainer for help if you’re stuck!
  • Post your results on Facebook or Instagram and tag us @petharmonytraining

Happy training,

Allie

scent work challenge

May 2020 Training Challenge

For those of you who have been doing training challenges with us for a while, you’ll recognize this one. It’s so beneficial to our pets that I had to bring it back!

Play “Find it” 3x per week

I’m a big fan of “lazy man’s” find it: scatter a bunch of treats or food on the floor and let your pet search for them. I play this with Oso while I’m watching TV at night. He has a great time and I get to relax. Win-win! 

I recommend playing for just 10-15 minutes to start with, 3x/week and see how that impacts your pet’s behavior. For many pets I see that this relatively small amount of scent work is sufficient to decrease attention-seeking behaviors and increase periods of rest. You may decide to increase or decrease how frequently and how long you play for depending on what you see from your pet! And keep in mind that this isn’t just for dogs; there are many species who would love to play this game, too. I’ve known many cats who love this!

Check out our Facebook Live Training Challenge video for instructions on how to teach your pet to play the “lazy man’s” version of “find it”:

Why “Find It”?

There are several reasons why we love this game and it’s one that we recommend to almost all of our clients. Here are some of our favorite reasons:

  • Great for relationship-building, especially for kids.
  • Ticks the box for several categories of enrichment: foraging, mental exercise, and for some individuals the calming category.
  • Fantastic for animals with anxiety, fear, and compulsive behaviors.
  • Can be built upon for behavior modification techniques later.

Now what?

  • Grab some treats and start playing!
  • If your pet doesn’t already have a cue to search for food on the ground, teach them a word or phrase (the video above tells you how).
  • If your pet is already a pro, you can increase the difficulty by playing outside in the grass or by hiding treats under furniture or items. 
  • Make sure you’re only hiding food in places where your pet is allowed to search. For instance, don’t place food on a table or counter if you don’t want your dog to search there normally!
  • Post videos on our Facebook page of your pet searching! We would love to see your pet enjoying this game.

Happy training!

Allie

Dog enrichment ideas

April 2020 Training Challenge

We hope you’re all doing well and staying safe in this crazy time! I’m personally really excited about this month’s training challenge as it’s something that I recommend to clients all the time:

Explore DIY Destructible [Trash] Toys

Not only is this a simple and cheap activity, but it’s often great enrichment, too! Dogs were made to destroy and gut things. But, unfortunately for them, we humans don’t love that natural doggy behavior. We get upset when they destroy their toys. We get upset when they steal tissues and paper towels and shred them to pieces. We get even more upset when they destroy our furniture. 

Toys that we purposefully give to dogs to destroy serve a wonderful purpose. Our pets get to do what they were made to do and we don’t get upset with them for it. It’s a win-win! An even larger bonus is that when we allow our pets to express their natural behaviors in appropriate ways, they are less likely to express them in ways that we’ve deemed inappropriate. Yep, that means that you can curb that annoying stealing-tissues-and-playing-keep-away-before-your-dog-inevitably-shreds-it behavior by providing these sort of toys. 

I’m always looking for a cheaper way to provide enrichment for Oso (who LOVES shredding things), so while I’ll occasionally get him stuffed toys to destuff from clearance bins, our go-tos are DIY trash toys. As the name suggests, I make them out of literal trash. Supplies include:

  • Newspaper
  • Toilet paper rolls
  • Paper towel rolls
  • Empty tissue boxes
  • Granola bar, cereal, and similar boxes
  • Take out beverage holders
  • Treats

Check out our video on how to put it all together here:

And here’s a video of Oso enjoying one of those creations:

It’s truly as simple as it sounds!

Now what?

  • Make some of your own destructible trash toys! Watch the above video for tips on how to make them. 
  • Give one to your dog and let them go to town! Watch your pup the first few times you’re giving them new items. While the majority of dogs will not ingest inedible items (especially if you’re not actively trying to get the item away from them), we want to double check to make sure they’re not ingesting them. A little bit of paper swallowed along with the treat isn’t a big deal but we don’t want them eating the whole thing!
  • Routinely provide your dog with these items for a couple of weeks. Do you notice any changes in their behavior? Let us know at [email protected]!
  • As with all challenges, we’ll check in with you on our Facebook page (@petharmonytraining) at the end of the month. Be sure to post pics and videos of your pets enjoying their toys there! 

Happy training!

Allie